Sunday, April 25, 2010

At Arms Length

For a while now I have wanted to write about this particular topic and I haven't been able to get a handle on how to verbalize what I want to say. I've started it twice and abandoned it. I knew that something would happen at some point that would tell me EXACTLY how to handle this topic without forcing me to get too personal or too woeful about it. The event that finally got my creative juices flowing occurred when one of my friends told me that when we first met, she thought I hated her. My reaction to this news:




I've always been wary of women. Groups of women, talking about what women tend to talk about (all topics to which I generally have nothing to contribute) make me want to shrivel up and hide in some corner. I will gravitate to men in a group any day. The idea of a "girls night" bores me. It always has. One on one with one close friend is one thing but I will always prefer mixed company. I can't remember a time I didn't feel this way. I've always felt a lack of kinship with women. Especially new women. And I've always wondered why.

So in light of being recently told that I don't give off the most welcoming vibes on first meeting, I've done some reflection. I am going to tell one story to represent the MANY stories I could tell. And some of this story might be true, and some of it might be coloured with 24 elapsed years of additional life experience, and some of it might have elements of other stories I have chosen not to tell all mixed in. And of course, as always, it is my one sided version.  So, to begin, lets,


I spent a lot of time at the lake when I was a kid. I had a friend out there who was a year older than me and we were different from each other in many ways. I was a school geek and she was not. I loved to read everything I could get my hands on and she did not. She liked to cook and I definitely did not. She knew things and I was naive. But our parents were close enough to each other that their property was our property. Their stuff was our stuff. We borrowed back and forth regularly. My parents were her pseudo aunt and uncle as hers were to me. We were both water babies and sporty girls and she inspired me. I wanted to be able to do everything that she could do. She was just enough older and just enough more worldly that I wanted to BE her. I copied her openly. We had our own little world out there and we played well together. We told each other we were "best" friends but she lived in one town and I lived in another for the majority of the year so, really, we were actually seasonal and weekend best friends.

Being a year apart is not much of an age gap. We are actually a year and 3.5 months apart to be exact. But there comes a time in girls' development when that one year turns into about 5 years in terms of psychological and physiological maturity. I'm going to say that in this case, it started when she was 12 and I was 11. We were good with each other one on one even at that age, but that all changed when she brought friends from her real life into the mix.

Most of her friends that she brought down to the lake were really cool and just as fun as her but there was one that I could never figure out. I will call her Ruth-Ann.  Ruth-Ann was constantly pulling my lake friend over and whispering stuff in her ear or dragging her around some corner to tell her something and then never letting me in on the secret. One day we were all together playing some game or having some conversation in the guest cabin and out of no where Ruth-Ann pipes up, "Kim, I think I hear your mother calling you."

"What? Really? I don't," said I.

"I heard her too," said my Lake Friend. "You better go check it out."

"Oh. OK."  I didn't want to leave. I loved being with this person. She was my childhood idol. It was the best thing about being out at the lake.

So I ran through the worn paths between our cottages, I knew them so well I could walk them barefoot without a flashlight in the pitch black. I was thinking I would be right back. I found my mother and asked her what she wanted and she said, Nothing. She hadn't been calling me. And I'm not sure who had the insight, whether I realized on my own, or if after a conversation with my mother she told me what had likely happened.

I didn't go back. There is nothing more disheartening in childhood than to realize that you've been hoodwinked into leaving because someone didn't want you around. I knew it wasn't my Lake Friend who didn't want me around. It was Ruth-Ann pulling the strings.

Sometime later, the same weekend or on some other occasion, Ruth-Ann apologized to me and said that she didn't really know me and she'd been nervous of me but now that she had spent some time with me she thought I was really cool and fun. And I was relieved and I accepted what she said at face value and I was just glad it was fixed.  

***Fast forward***

Me, age 13. Them age 14. We are on a boat on a lake. This time there are boys. Was I really allowed on a boat on a lake with no parents at age 13? We were experienced water kids and I'd (and they'd) been driving boats for years. The guy driving the boat is Ruth-Ann's boyfriend and he is sooooo cute. But I'm 13 and I am terrified of boys and it is 1984 and the big hair trend is just revving up and it is windy on the boat and my hair looks like crap and I am completely out of control with self-consciousness.

Ruth-Ann's boyfriend seems to like me. He talks to me A LOT. At least, a lot more than boys at school talk to me. And I talk back, shyly and politely. I'm thirteen. I'm self-conscious. Boys don't like me. Ruth-Ann glares and is rude every time she opens her mouth.

Or maybe I wasn't so shy and polite. There are things I know now about myself that I didn't know then. Could I have been flirting? If I was, I did it without knowing it. Did I even know what flirting was at 13?

***Fast Forward***

Me, age 15. Ruth-Ann age 16. We work together at a restaurant in the lake town. She doesn't work that often and she refuses to work night shift and she tells me in private, with superiority, that she could work night shift but she just gets her parents to say she can't so she doesn't have to. I think this makes her spoiled. We are sitting at the staff table and there are other staff around and a few adult staff including Lake Friend's mother, and Ruth-Ann is gushing over me. I have great hair, great clothes and a fast worker and she is so glad to be on shift with me and not with anyone else. I smile and I am glad for this because Ruth-Ann is actually a really nice person. But I haven't forgotten that day at the lake in the guest cabin when she lied and told me my mother was calling me. I don't trust her.

Thirty minutes later we are in the kitchen and we are alone. I say something friendly to Ruth-Ann. She snaps at me and is rude back. And this is how she treats me when no one is watching. She tells me I didn't do something right and I need to do it again. She criticizes me every chance she gets. She says she's sparing me from getting me in trouble because if she didn't tell me then she'd have to tell on me. The problem is that I could never see what was so wrong with what I'd done in the first place. I am stunned and flabbergasted by this audacious change and still I still prefer to believe in the version of Ruth-Ann that is sweet and charming when others are watching. But the REAL Ruth-Ann was alone with me in the kitchen.


I estimated once that it took me 7 years to warm up to women in my circle but once I warmed up you were in for life. I think now I've managed to narrow that gap. There was a period of time from about the end of high school until I began my spiral of catharsis while writing my novel and watching my marriage fall apart where I cannot think of a single woman that became a new close friend. That is about 16 years.

I came closest in nursing school as a student but once I started working, the atmosphere and experience of being a new grad only firmed up my stance on keeping women at arms length. Nursing in certain areas can breed this environment of continuous levelling and personal sabotage. And I don't know if I can talk about this. There has been a lot written about it as a problem in nursing and it goes by the name of horizontal or lateral violence or bullying. I met more Ruth-Ann's working in a hospital than anywhere else in my life. All I can say is I couldn't wait to get out. Sometimes I suspected it happened because I was more educated and a product of the university they despised and disrespected. And I was working on a Master's degree. It seemed that particular individuals were far nicer to me before they knew this information. It got to the point where I stopped telling people these things. Or maybe it was because I was smarter and more self confident. So being envious of that, they would exert their power over me with the one ounce of control they did have -- experience. I wasn't allowed to make newbie errors with some people. I wasn't allowed to have crazy days and leave things unfinished. And I wasn't allowed to ask for help. There were circumstances where I felt like I'd been set up to fail. I got yelled at in front of patients and other coworkers. It was only a handful of individuals but they were the ones that had me scrutinizing my schedule and losing sleep and dreading certain shifts. And I didn't become friends with anyone.

Everyone knows of someone who's suffered really bad heartbreak or went through a particularly tumultuous relationship with a crazy, difficult, or abusive person and they never allow themselves to get into another relationship again or, at the very least, never give themselves wholly and completely. Everybody seems to understand and excuse those that make that choice because of these experiences, I don't blame him, they say. But it is difficult to make people understand the roots of my reluctance to develop close friendships with women. I told one story, but it is definitely not the pinnacle story of stories that I could have told. Ruth-Ann was a minor blemish in my history of appalling and negative interactions with others of my gender.

I have learnt over time that women experience this kind of treatment from other women purely because of envy -- because you carry some unnamed X factor that the other person covets. They despise themselves and have no faith in their own gifts so instead of learning from you, they attack you and try and steal it away. Like the way Ruth-Ann thought I was stealing her best friend and then her boyfriend of which I was doing neither. But I guess she didn't like herself enough to be confident that our mutual friend could be friends with more than one person, or that her boyfriend was just being nice to the guest and would still be with her when I left. After all, reality was, I was a temporary problem. Soon I would be getting into the backseat of my parent's car and driving back to my own town where I had my own friends and my own teenage insecurities.

I have always been reluctant to believe that anyone could be envious of me, as if somehow thinking someone could be jealous of me speaks to my own arrogance and self-importance rather than acts as rationale for rotten unnecessary and hurtful behaviour. Jealousy is an interesting emotion. It's a taboo emotion. People would rather tell you they hate you than admit to being jealous.

And I'm not going to say all this from up on my high horse and then tell you I've never been jealous. I have been. And I'm sure I've been snide (my attitude of defence, I find), and perhaps occasionally snubbing. But I've never set anyone up, and I've never started rumors, and I've never tried to sabotage. I could never live with myself.

So if I seem aloof or difficult to access, its not you. I'm still feeling you out for Ruth-Ann-like traits. And I'm gonna scrutinize you for a long time before I decide you're safe. One of my best friends was my office mate for 5 years before I even had a significant conversation with her. And it happened because during one of my greatest moments of need, she looked at me and said, We should go for diner sometime. And we did. And I let her in. And its been beautiful.

And if I see any hint that you are not safe, rather than try and run the other way, as I should, I will probably go to great lengths to win you over. I'm a nurse after all. I am, by nature, and by career choice, a rescuer. I've been fooled too many times but I still have too much hope in the deep-down goodness of other people that when I see deliberate sabotage now, I still react with dropped-jaw naivety and feel blindsided and wounded. And I always walk away with the same thoughts. Is it me? Is it something I'm doing? Because I feel I have an above average track record in bringing out the green-eyed monster in other women and enduring all the back-stabbing goodness that goes along with that.

And I know I'm not the only one who's lived through things like this, but there have been many times when I felt like I was. So please, feel free to share your stories.

Friday, April 23, 2010

What Happens When Girls on Bikes Can Beat Boys on Bikes

Sometimes I seriously lack self awareness. Sorry guys, I don't MEAN to do it. I really don't think a lot about these things. When I am riding to work my intention is just to get from one place to another and when I am leaving work, my sole goal is to get home, man.


There isn't a commuter on the road that I can't over take if I try. Most of them are on gigantic heavy mountain bikes with fully treaded tires wearing the least aerodynamic clothes possible. It's not hard. There was just this one time on Pembina Highway with a 30-plus km/hr wind behind me that some young strong guy on an ancient ten speed and no helmet, feet in running shoes and traps, took off at a red light and I couldn't keep up even at 47km/hr. He eventually cut between a bus and a line of traffic and I draw the line at potentially getting killed. Race over. You win.

So today, as I rode home down Berry, minding my own business, I didn't think too much about passing the guy on the mountain bike with slicks, wearing jeans and cycling bull-legged like there was no room in there to tuck his knees in (or at least, so he thought, -- that's foreshadowing by the way). I had been BLOCKS behind him and I caught up to him while riding at recovery pace. I have a rule for myself for my commutes, now that they are only 10k and I am not so pressed for time: No faster than recovery pace. I've done enough damage to my body going all-out under unnecessary circumstances. Save it for race day. So when I passed him just before the stop sign near Silver, I didn't think anything of it.

I carried along on my merry way, recovery pace, and sometime just before Ness, I noticed there was a shadow of another cyclist behind me, and perhaps a little heavy breathing too. A glance over my shoulder told me it was my friend Mr. Jeans.

Now don't get me wrong, I like when I can beat the boys. I have always liked when I can beat the boys, but I found this curious. I caught up to this guy without any difficulty at all when he didn't know I was there, and here he had been sitting on my tail for the last half kilometer or more. Something curiously fishy was going on here. Something that seriously reaked of male preening and ego.

At the lights at Portage Avenue. I stop close to the curb, unclip, and sit and wait. It proves to be a long wait -- long enough for me to contemplate rolling myself over to the crosswalk and press the button to request to cross. I don't because more interesting things are happening behind me. My friend has also stopped about 10 feet back and far off to the left. Ah. Pole position. There was a car behind him. I turn to see if this car has its signals on to indicate which way it is going -- left, meaning I am not in its way. Mr. Jeans, however, is.

When the light turns green, not needing to clip in, Mr. Jeans sprints cutting off as much of that turn arc as he possibly can (and probably pissing off and blocking that car that was behind him also turning left). Now with a tail wind behind him, he's cooking it down Portage Ave tossing little glances over his left shoulder the whole time. Me, needing to clip, and NOT in race mode, am slower to get started. I am gaining on him just as I reach my turn. He goes straight, I turn and I say good bye and good ridence to what is clearly a testosterone motivated act of prowess.

So I head on down behind the government building, down the ramp through the condo parking, under the St. James Bridge and down Wolesely. I am just reaching the entrance to the path when  I see Mr. Jeans also heading to the same path from off St. James Street. He's just taken a different route and he's cutting me off at the pass.

At this point the question needs to be asked.... has he seen me on this route before? I don't recall seeing him before on the road on my commutes but he wouldn't exactly be the kind of rider I would pay attention too. He wasn't a REAL cyclist. Where's the spandex shorts? The team jersey? The clipless pedals? The fingerless gloves and the bad farmer's tan? Did he know I was going to turn at the government building? Did he know I would end up on that path? One has to wonder because the route he took to the path would certainly not be the most efficient route. It wouldn't be the quickest either unless you were deliberately cooking it with the wind down Portage Ave just to beat a girl. Frankly, the last place I want to be riding at 5:30 at night is on Portage Ave. GET ME OFF. The one block I do is enough.

I give way and let him on the path first and the whole time, his head is doing the little twist to glance over his shoulder, no joke, probably about one glance every 3 seconds like he is being chased by an axe murder. I am full-on amused now. I also know what I am capable of. I've already won this race. I passed him like he was standing still without even trying way back on Berry and I got his goat. I got his goat good. There was no way he was going to let a GIRL, a SPANDEX laiden GIRL none the less, on a SINGLE SPEED BICYCLE overtake him.

I'm sure you can see my eyes rolling all the way through your computer screen.

But he is kinda in my way now. And he's pretty slow on this path and there is that short steep uphill at the end to turn onto the footbridge so I am hanging back because I know this dude is fatiguing is not strong enough to power up that little bit of hill as fast as me and, if I am too tight on his ass, I will be right in his back tire. And sure enough, I read his abilities correctly, even hanging 20 feet back, by the time I hit the top of the little hill and make the turn onto the bridge, I am right on his back tire. We both get held up on the bridge by other slow cyclists, dog walkers, and random derilicts, but at the down slope off the bridge, he tucks like a pro and and kicks up dust behind him at full speed, once again doing those little neck spasms that cause his head and eyes to glance behind. I wonder if he even knows he is doing this?

We both slow as we get closer to Wellington. I can see through budding leaves that there is a stream of cars coming close to where we need to cross. I prepare to stop. I'm already twisting my ankle to unclip. I sense determination in the pedal strokes of Mr. Jeans, screw those approaching cars, says he. I will risk it all to beat this chick. And without much hesitation he is gone.

I skid to stop in the gravel. As I said earlier. I draw the line at death.

I wait for about 8 cars, cross, and enjoy the wind behind me as I ride East. I am nearly running out of gear. My last sighting of Mr. Jeans is just before I turn on Oak street. I've gained on him but he's still a block ahead. His body is in a full twist now taking a good long glance over his left shoulder as he rides off into the sunset.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Climbing Tucson: Part II

Well it has been a stressful couple of days since returning from Tucson. As you may or may not know, my bike took a little detour on the way home. I think he was pissed at me for not riding Mt. Lemmon again, so he pulled a rebellion and refused to leave Arizona. Hid from the baggage people and decided to not get on the plane and just make my life miserable with worry for a few days. But no worries now, he’s back. He just so indulged himself along the way I can’t lift him out of the car.

(And on behalf of my friend Mich who works for the other airline I am supposed to say: Damn West Jet.... damn damn West Jet. There you go! By the way when I picked up my bike, there was a gentleman ahead of me picking up TWO bikes. HA!)

But there were so many other rides to do and I was bone tired. Mt Lemmon is one of those rides where, especially the first time you do it, you should take a day off after and recover but with only a week in the town that has multiple rides you need to do before you die, there were a few other rides to be done. And one damn good hike.

Picture Rocks and the Saguaro National Park Tucson District (there are two of them as you will see)

Tuesday happened to be a stinking hot day. We drove to the West end of the city. The plan: Sonora Desert Museum with a little ride along the way. I set out with the fast boys again and lasted about 18km (admittedly downhill and with the wind the whole way). This was the day I got dropped because I couldn’t get clipped fast enough at a stop sign. I’m really bad for that. I’m told I need to be ready before everyone else just to be able to keep up. I think I do it on purpose though, to have an excuse for getting behind.

The roads were crap most of the way and there were quite a few stop signs. We did 62km total and I did about 40 of them by myself. This is the only ride I did where when I pulled into the parking lot of the museum at the end that I truly felt done. DONE! And it was 93F which is somewhere in the neighbourhood of 32C. There was a huge hill at about km 50 or so that was about 10-12% grade. It flattened out in the middle and then carried on. Neither section was very long but my heart rate was 178. I stopped in the middle. I hear rumors that I wasn’t the only one. But the truth of that will remain as legend as I was not a witness to this alleged event. Then there was this nasty looking kamaze piece of downhill that required both hands on the breaks and when you get to the bottom of that you’ve reached mile zero, according to the signs, that is until you turn toward the museum and ride that final 8km into the wind uphill. Oh yeah! I was DONE. Recall this was the day after Mt. Lemmon. Total ride time 2:20.

We paid $13 dollars to get into the museum after that and I felt nauseated at the start but I dare say I looked more healthy than Michael did at the end of the day. And I had my hair tied back which I almost never do so that meant that I neglected to put sunscreen on my ears. I’m still peeling the remnants off the tops.

The Desert Museum was a cross between a small scale zoo and any desert you can see in Tucson for free. Highlights of the day were mating doves and phallic cactuses. Stig and I politely walked around for about 30 minutes before, and I think it was me who spoke up first (because I am less polite than he is), “Alright, I’m ready for beer.” And so started the desperate search for beer. So in addition to stinking hot temperatures, animals that were hiding from the heat (why weren’t the humans also hiding?), all the restaurants were closed by 3PM and there was NO BEER TO BE FOUND. We eventually wandered into the coffee shop and found Kim W., Chris, and Sean in the same state (minus the search for beer for 2/3 of these folk). Michael wandered in about 10 minutes later looking like death and the consensus was, Why are we here when we could be in a bike shop?

Saguaro National Park Rincon Mountain District; Old Spanish Trail, Colossal Caves

Wednesday had us once again sleeping in and driving East this time to a Safeway parking lot. Total km for the day amounted to about 88 for me. I did not last long keeping up with the boys this day. They even tried to create a double pace line for me and put me on the leeward side of the wind in the back left corner. We had wind coming from the side and a little bit from the front and the whole way to Colossal Caves was uphill. Deceivingly uphill. I just thought I was losing my touch the whole way out because it really really looked flat. I was about 10 minutes behind them or so by the time we arrived. I batted my eyes and said I was with all those boys over there and they didn’t make me pay to get in. When I mentioned to the boys that I got in free and that it paid to be cute, Jim T. asked which one of them was I talking about. I knew then, officially, I had been accepted as one of the boys. It warms my heart to think of it.

We rode up a steep hill to get to the touristy part of the caves, fondled the statue of the cave worker who had the most humongous disproportionate arms – kinda like Barbie’s breasts.

I was done trying to keep up and the ride to the turnaround point contained some of the sketchiest roads yet with piles of asphalt crumble to dodge. The reward was the downhill the whole way back with bonus side winds to nearly blow me into the cacti at the side of the road. We ran into Jim M. On the way out and the boys decided to try and catch him but Stig and I turned around and went to Saguaro National Park and rode a loop of the coolest road ever. I would have loved to have done video but it was another ride where both hands on the breaks was pretty much a requirement. 

We rode back to the Safeway to find the van gone which meant we had to ride the extra 8 or 10 miles back to the ranch. I called Jim T. and the fast boys met us at Starbucks. On the trip back, I hung on for as long as I could and promptly got dropped again (but... probably only at the 2 miles from the ranch point). It is a good thing that I am well aware that comparing me to them is like comparing a rattler to a garter snake, or perhaps a better comparison, a Greyhound to a Chihuahua. Or I might have come home from this trip with no self esteem whatsoever.

It was a nice night of alone time for Stig and I which sounds all fun and romantic until I tell you that we did laundry and watched Sideways and could barely move all night.

Catalina State Park

On Thursday the gang had to move from the Ranch to a hotel. To make a long story short there had been a screw up in the booking and the ranch double booked itself. So they moved to a gorgeous high end hotel, the Hacienda Del Sol which was probably typically $400 per night. We did however spoil ourselves later that night by going out for dinner at the hotel restaurant which included free intermediate courses and dinner served in unison with 8 waiters. Wow.

It was truly a much needed day off the bike. As hard as it was to do that while in biking heaven, my legs told me a different story. But the day was spent hiking up a mountain. So much for recovery. It was so worth it though. We hiked to the pools on the Romero trail, described as a 7 mile hike with a 1600 ft elevation gain. I’ll say it in pictures. We had lunch at the pools and then lunch again after the hike at a happenstance found Danish Bakery conveniently located in a strip mall with two, count em, TWO bike stores. I told you I was in heaven.

Deja Vu

I really wanted to climb Mt. Lemmon again. I probably should have as Sophie and Margaret did and said it was far easier than Monday, but I had no legs. We went out instead and did a repeat of the Colossal Caves ride and Saguaro National Park part II..... and it was so worth it. I even did a brick after riding 60 km and it felt OK which was surprising given that the run was downhill on the way out and uphill the whole way back. I decided to do a 20 minute run and I was feeling so good at 10 minutes out I decided to run for another couple minutes, knowing it would take me longer on the way back.

Coming back I came upon a stick in the middle of the path. That stick eventually caused me to stop dead in my tracks because it was moving, ambling, slithering, across the path. Rattlesnake. I let out a girlish shriek and ran back about 10 feet and gave it lots of space to cross. And he looked kinda like this dude right here. The next thing I thought was where is my camera. But no camera. You’ll just have to take my word for it. I haven’t gotten the hang of using my sixth sense to tell me that I need to have my camera with me because events will transpire that I will want to write about.

By the way. I negative split that run.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Climbing Tucson: Part I

As I write this, I am sitting at the desk in my hotel room in Phoenix. Everyone else has flown back to home. In fact, by my calculations the plane lands in about 30 minutes but given I booked into the training camp a little later than others, the cheapest flight home was leaving a day after everyone else, so here I am in Phoenix alone.

Every time I touch my ears I can feel the flakiness of them from when I sun burned them somewhere on the Picture Rock ride on Tuesday (which, by the way, has nothing to do with pictures or rocks, it is just a hole in the wall town) or from wandering the Desert museum. I’ve put in about 365 km of riding, the majority of that uphill, about 12 miles of hiking and running, the majority of that also uphill, and not one single lap of a pool – oh wait.... I did swim across the ranch pool once or twice and dipped in the hot tub.

Despite what amounts to about 20 hours worth of time spent with a heart rate above 135 bpm, I think I likely gained weight on this trip. Stig’s Garmin calculated that he burned over 15,000 calories. We figure we must have ate about 30,000 in return. Double sized breakfasts at the hotel continental breakfast (waffles, eggs, yogurt, friut, and horrid watery coffee), road food was our typical lunch, and we stuffed our faces daily at dinner because we were ravished from a day on the road. It is hard to imagine how one can gain weight after all that but I suppose anything is possible as you encroach on 40.

Today my legs feel recovered, but that is the one thing on this trip my body wasn’t prepared for – constant abuse with no recovery. How this training benefited me won’t be known for a few weeks I am sure. I’ll know when I get out to Bird’s Hill Park and do a lap and wonder what happened to the hills. I’ll know when I am riding to/from work into 30-plus km/hr winds on my single speed and it doesn’t feel so bad. I'll know when I pull off a sub 1:20 Olympic bike (HA!). I’ll know when I’m pulling the ride group at 35km/hr for 10 minutes straight into the wind and my heart rate stays below 160 (yeah, like that is gonna happen, but a girl can dream can’t she?).

That is one thing I can say about Tucson, there is no escaping the hills. There is no such thing as an easy ride. Often what looks like a flat section of road is really sloped very gently in one direction or the other. So riding in Tucson means this: you either feel like you are dying and something is majorly wrong with you today because you have no power in your legs, or you think you are having the best ride of your life and you are the fastest cyclist around and you could probably beat even Lance at his own game today.

We rode for 5 days with one day break in the week. Two days if you count today which was going home day. I rode hard. I dare say I rode harder and more to my max than anyone else on this trip. I was the only woman on the trip who wanted to do the distances. The other women had different goals. My goal was to ride as much as I could. But the guys doing the distance can also pull off 1:10 or faster (including transition time) 40km rides in Olympic distance triathlons. I busted my ass to keep up with them. And here is the thing. I was pretty successful at it by my standards. More successful than I ever imagined. One day I stayed with them for 17 out of 60 km. So what if Chris got up Mt. Lemmon 37 minutes faster than me with Michael about 10 mintues behind and Sean about 10 minutes behind that. I would have thought he could get up there a whole hour faster.

The problem was that there was no such thing as an easy ride when trying to keep up with riders of that calibre. I went into this trip with the attitude that I was going to do the distance and I didn’t care if there was no one my pace to ride with. I didn’t want to hang back with the women because, well, I’m a woman. I went into these rides expecting to get dropped and I did. Often quickly. Sometimes too early. Sometimes not because I wasn’t strong enough. A couple times I got dropped because I was too slow getting clipped in at red lights or stop signs. Sometimes it was because it was too early in the season and I haven’t reacquainted myself with riding as close as I could to get the draft. Once I got dropped because I was about 4 feet back and it allowed just enough room for a gust of wind on our windiest ride day to push me back and out of the draft. I got dropped several times because of my hesitancy on sketchy roads. But it didn’t matter. Most of the time I used getting dropped as an excuse to slow down and ride with some sanity. I was dog tired by Wednesday.

I didn’t expect Stig to hang back with me either. He did a much better job of hanging on in those guy’s draft and for far longer than either of us thought he was capable of and I would say that was thanks to Cervelo S2 and Troy Jacobson and maybe a little fear that his girl was gonna outride him (snort!). He did say all winter that he was OK with it if I was faster than him this summer, to which I just rolled my eyes and said, Whatever Mr. Ironman. But he did get dropped at times, sometimes because he was at his limit and sometimes by choice, and he would slow up and wait or... not.

Mt. Lemmon

I found out I was climbing Mt. Lemmon the following day on Sunday night just as I was swallowing the last mouthful from my 4th alcoholic bevy. Let’s just say I might have made different evening hydration choices if I had known earlier. (And may I add as an aside, if I had remembered to grab the itinerary from my work printer prior to leaving, I might have noticed the schedule change all on my own.) I didn’t know how I was going to handle 25 miles of climbing so I took it easy. Bob and Margaret and Sophie and Jim, who have climbed Mt. Lemmon about 5 or 6 times, in whole or in part, since they’ve been out there told us that the day we road Mt. Lemmon was the hardest it ever was for them. But given the wind factor on the next two days, I’m glad we did it Monday. Certainly up to about mile 5 you could feel that you were working against the wind in places. It was a warm day too. I was sleevless all the way to the top, only putting on warmer gear for the decent. And I am sure I was dehydrated.

I rode out from the ranch with the boys despite being offered a ride in the van to a closer starting point. And, may I add, I didn’t get dropped the whole way in but I was working pretty hard to be sure I didn’t. We did an 18 km warm up to the base of Mt. Lemmon and as Michael so aptly pointed out, Mt. Lemmon is like dying. It is just one of those things you do alone. I stopped a few times on the way up but my ride time, excluding stops, was 3 hours exactly. Stig figures I was only about 10 minutes behind him, including stops. My total ride time for the ride was 5.5 hours. My total time out on the ride was 6.5 hours and that includes a 20 or so minute stop at the top, another 15 minutes on the way down when we stopped to strip out of our long sleeves and pose for numerous photo ops, and about 10 minutes of stops on the way to the mountain when we lost Chris and Jim T. (due to technical difficulties) and stopped to wait.

I stopped at mile 5 to check on Jim S. who was having a bad day. As he was clipping in to start off and up again he lost his balance and ended up on the ground. He turned around to go back at that point. He knew he was done.

I made a brief detour into one of the camp areas around mile 6 to look for water as I was one bottle done by then. No water to be found. I carried on from there all the way to mile 14 which is known as Windy Point stopped and took a self portrait, looked for water (none) as I had sucked the last mouthfuls at that stop. I had seen numerous spring run-off streams up to that point so I carried on hoping there would be others to use as a last resort, but all I saw for a few miles was snow. I stopped around mile 16 to fill my water bottles with the cleanest snow I could find. I stuffed one of them in the back of my shirt hoping my body heat would melt it quicker. No go. But just past mile 18 I hit my oasis. There was a spring run-off waterfall right by the side of the road. I filled my water bottles and all I can say is this:


I drank down about half a litre right there. But don’t try this at home folks. Spring run-off is not to be trusted. I was desperate.

And from there I carried on right to the top. At mile 20 there was an information centre where I could have bought water and had I known, I would have waited, but I passed by without stopping. There was a brief reprieve of downhill for about 2 miles from about mile 20.5 to mile 22.5 which was a wonderful relief until you realized that when you turned around to go back, legs ceased from resting post 23 miles of climbing, that you had to climb that two miles to get to the downhill. Piece of cake.

I celebrated at the top with a Coke. Best Coke I’ve ever tasted. And, of course, a nice commemorative photo at the mile 25 sign.

And a word about altitude riding: we went up to 8000 ft after starting at about 2500 ft. At the bottom of the ride a heart rate of 165 was a manageable state to be in. By the time I was at 7000 feet, a heart rate of 150 was barely manageable. When I climbed up the short hill from the convenience store at mile 25 I was sucking wind so bad I thought my heart was going to burst. My heart rate there was 135.

And the way down was amazing if not a little nerve wrecking at moments on some of the switch backs. I had visions of myself catapulting over the guard rail and down the mountain. That was enough to get me to back off at moments. I did hit 60 km per hour or higher in places. I don’t know the exact max speed as I didn’t have that set to record on my Garmin. The wind wasn’t too much of a factor coming down. Chris went up again to mile 18 a couple days later and he said coming down was far more treacherous on that day with side gusts of wind. He couldn’t get over 45 on that day.

Stig, Michael and I rode back to the ranch together and there was one thing we all agreed on. None of us knew how we were going to top this ride. I would have liked to have done it again before we left but by Friday, the fatigue in my legs didn’t leave me with a whole lot of confidence. And there were other rides to do and other places to see. And a week isn’t enough time to do every ride available in the amazing Tucson area.

Jim S. did eventually make it up Mt. Lemmon. He psyched himself out (pun intended given he is a psychiatrist). He did get dropped on the ride to the base (uphill and against the wind) that morning and he mumbled behind me before starting into the ascent that he didn’t think he was going to make it. I think he had made his decision right then and there. He’d had a series of small injuries all winter that had killed his endurance. But he was the only rider in the group who didn’t make it to the top that day. So he went out the next morning by himself and he did it then. I asked him later that evening if he was happy with himself. His response: Well, Kim, I’m never happy with myself but at least now I can live with myself.

Yes. This is a sickness.