Tuesday, November 8, 2011

At Season's End

On Cloud 9 (Carolyn Campeau's photo)

Someone asked me the other day what I would name as my best "age" -- what age was your best year? After contemplating for only a couple of seconds, I said, This year. Forty has been a good year. And Lordy knows I wouldn't want to label the best year of my life as something I could never get back and I know I don't want to be 19 again.

And I'm not unimpressed with my year on a bike either (and I'm never getting 19 back there either) although I would subjectively (and there are objective results to prove it), say that it started off with a bang and went downhill from there, ending with me crawling throughout that cyclocross race out in St. Malo more like an 80 year old. I was done. I had my last good cross race at Whittier Park and there was nothing left in the tank to finish it off.  Done.

The blasted Sand Pit in Altona -- God I love those socks...

So I imagine this is what burnout feels like: I'm tired. I'm stiff. I feel like I can't bend over. I can't tie my shoes. I can't put on my socks. I'm doing Yoga again and it's doing nothing. My body has seized up. The last time I was like this, it was because I was over training. What have I done the last 2 months? I've raced cross, I've commuted on average twice a week, slowly. And I've raked many many leaves.  Every time I go for a massage, the therapist says I need more like 3 hours on the table because one hour is barely doing a thing.  I also don't want to do anything that makes me out of breath right now. Being out of breath, hurts.

I lack serious motivation and drive to win or try and catch people. For example, I fell over in the sand at St. Malo on Sunday and that was it, I stopped racing. I heckled people as I got lapped because there was a lot of that going on this year. And I had a smile on my face the whole time.

The blasted run up in St. Malo (WCW). If you didn't know cross, by looking at the pictures you would think all we did was carry and push our bikes around. 

Today I rode my bike to work and that made the grand total bike-ground covered for 2011 5037 km. That number does not take into account the fact that for me, 1 km on a mountain bike is like 3 kms on the road. And there were probably about 150 trail kms this year.

So where did it start:

It started last December with me on a trainer working my butt off with 4 to 5 bikes a week. Greg (the insane one... who's blog is back up, for now... and it better not go down again), kept warning me all winter, when I told him what I was doing periodically, that I was going to burn out. I didn't believe him. (I'll admit it Greg, I didn't believe you!) But he was right. He would know, he's been at this game a whole lot longer than me. I think it took me longer to reach burnout than he thought it would, but by March I was ready to throw the trainer in a snowbank and be done with it. So I pretty much did and went outside.

My over my head backwards shot of Don on the PCH -- that's the Pacific Coast Highway.

Then came California. It is hard to have a good summer on a bike when the best thing you did all year happened in April. That week, fundamentally changed the reason why I ride. And it was made all the more incredible by having the amazing Don right up there ahead of me, or beside me, or behind me. Depended on who was having the good day and who wasn't. But in reality, there could be no bad days on the road with Don.

We would touch the Pacific Coast and then we would end up waaaaaay up here.

And that was just supposed to be the training camp for the GranFondo in Penticton. What a lovely little town that is and some of the most beautiful riding in Canada, I am sure. I got through most of it riding on the wheel of the pleasant draft that was the James Dyker train but I finished too fresh and I could have gone harder. It was a great week and I rather enjoyed getting to know James and Karin better, as well as Rene and Carla. There is a part of me that wants to go back and do it again.

Rene, Karin, James and me... out for a test ride the day before the GranFondo at the Okanagan Beach

This would have been my view for about 110km

Then it was one stupid crazy enduro event after another.

The Falcon 8 hour where I learned how to Mountain Bike in a damn hurry or get run over. Scott B. gave a speech at the start, as he likes to do, and told me that eventually  my brain would shut off and I would just ride. And he was right. Every lap I rode something I hadn't been able to ride before, with my best lap being #4/6 with Vanessa behind me, we chatted the whole way and I think I rode 90% of the technical stuff on that lap.

Somewhere around Beausejour, on the Lac du Bonnet ride, when we still looked well and happy and healthy: Scott B., Greg L., and Ben V.  It was only me and Scott that turned around and came back by bike too. Ben went on to the Whiteshell, and Greg got picked up and taken to a camp by his family.

The ride to Lac du Bonnet with Scott as his Leadville nutrition test on August long weekend was a 234.5 km round trip piece of torture. Only my longest ride ever by 4.5km but definitely the hardest because if you know Scott, there ain't much draft there and we had to battle 40-50 km/hr winds on the return trip to Winnipeg. That ride was followed by 64km with Alter Ego on the Sunday and 92.5 km on Monday, partially with FOG (where my dead, done body after powering up the hills on Garvin finally said ENOUGH and I kept getting dropped, over and over and over) and partially just me and Jason C. crawling from Birds Hill Park to Lockport where we enjoyed a nice bacon and egger and a large coffee, and then back to the Legion.

Somewhere beyond the 200km mark as we stopped at the Half Moon in Lockport to fight off Massive Bonk #2 of the ride.  Wind burnt and salt-crusted.

Scott also looked awesome! And I must say, I can't say I knew Scott very well before this ride either and it was good getting to see another side of him as well.

And all this 2 days after a 4 hour torture session on the tattoo table with Andy for phase 2 of my mid-life crisis tattoo. Here is what the now finished product looks like.

I love the whole thing but my favourite part is that little leaf growing out of the chain up at the top right. 

My feeble attempt out at the Back 40 in Tinker Creek was pretty good evidence that I was fading. But that still wins for the best race outing of the summer with the Alter Ego trailer in tow. The laughs that were to be had with Adam and Dave and the wives. And Paul and Penny and "the other" Dave and Kevin. Can you say, ROAD TRIP? And we won't mention what happened in the bathroom at DJ's on the way back from Morden.. will we? What happens on the road trip, stays on the road trip.

Dave C. of course just being Dave

And then it was just a lot of racing. When you race that much, what do you peak for? From end of August to November I did 10 races: 8 cyclocross races, road provincials, and the Tinker Creek back 40. You simply can't be much better than average if you are going to race road, and mountain bike and Cross. I envy those that can. I'm not one of them.

And if we add the Portage stage race (3 races), the River Road Stage race (2 races), the Grand Beach mountain bike race, and the Wednesday night Burr Oak series (I did 2) that is 18 races for the year.

And look at this! Proof that in May, I could hang on a train pulled by Willem B. (Stefan Isfeld, photo)

I did no triathlon. I helped run the show out in St. Malo but the running thing was not working for me this year. The legs are not handling it. So I'm trying to find out what might happen if I lose the shoes and go barefoot or minimalist. I've had some moderate success. Stay tuned. I'm hopeful.

So what's on the agenda for next year?  Good question, but I'm open to suggestions. Money is a bit tight and I need to be careful about that. I would like to be able to run again. Is this a pipe dream? I think the best thing I can do to help my biking (and probably my running too) is lose 20 pounds. That's hard.

I've always wanted to ride my bike from Winnipeg to Kenora, maybe that will happen next summer.  I'd love to go back to California, but not without Don. Maybe I'll do the Penticton GranFondo again, but I hate doing the same thing twice.

I've contemplated riding my bike from Winnipeg to "Somewhere," as in a really long bike trip.  I have a friend in Hamilton, for example -- I even mapped out a theoretical route around the Great Lakes. But I don't want to go alone. Anyone else get the summer off??  Or at the very least... two weeks in August?

That's the wonderful thing about this sport, isn't it. The possibilities are endless.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Catalogue Shopping, Disposable People, and Pre-nuptials

We have these things to sort out
between us, furniture, cars, nest 
eggs and air purifiers, souvenirs
 of past lives, past loves. Your cool damp
basement, my unlit closet. Assumptions
about who I am and what I have
without you. And as for the wounds
and the weight of desire
they are nobody’s property
the debts are paid, the account is balanced.
Pre-Nuptial -- Laurie Block (2006)

Although I am not a poet, the verse I quote above is from one of my favourite poems. And I'll admit that is biased because Laurie was my writing mentor back in 2006, two years preceding my love of bikes, and the same year my seven year old marriage was quickly and quietly slipping into the dusty pages of marital history books. 

The poem is about starting a new relationship post divorce. I can still see Laurie standing at the microphone at McNally at his book launch, telling the story of what he referred to as "resorting" to the personal ads, after a certain amount of time being single, to look for love. What he found there was a recurring theme: No baggage, please.

He discovered quickly that “baggage” was a code word for “children” in personal ad lingo. This was a shock for Laurie, who has two daughters who would have been much younger at the time.

But of course, baggage, in relationship terms, and what became the inspiration for his poem, is also about everything you bring into a relationship from your past. And the conclusion Laurie came to was, Why would you want to reject someone else's baggage? It makes them the wonderful person that they are today.

Now I’m not sure if personal ads even exist anymore in that form. Do they? I’m sure they have been replaced by online dating. I’ve been separated/divorced for over 4 years now. Is that too long to go without having found the next love of my life? Is there a time limit on such things before society defines you as perpetually and irrefutably single?

I’ve had a couple significant relationships in that time and a lot of bad dates and false starts. I tried online dating and I, and most everyone else I’ve talked to who has done it, has found it a huge waste of time.

I’m jaded now though, you understand. But I walked into the process of meeting people online full of optimism. Anyone who was willing to put out that kind of money to meet people had to be serious about it. Instead I found a lot of unfinished profiles with pat, safe statements that could be true of everyone (I’m inspired by my grandfather and I'm passionate about my kids), but gave no hint about what made them who they are. 

It wasn't long, and after a couple of weird dates with people who seemed normal, and even awesome, in writing and on the phone, before I began to suspect that most people in the online environment only thought they were ready to date. Some of them are just trying to replace something and fill voids as quickly as possible. I see a lot of anger and bitterness reflected in many men’s profiles; the only word many men can come up with to describe what they are looking for in a relationship is, "honesty." Nothing wrong with wanting honesty, I want that too, but that one single word sitting in the large space they give us to describe our hopes and dreams for a relationship, to me implies that dishonesty burned him in the past and he is still obsessing about it. I've also seen pleas from men for women with "issues" to please stay away. As someone who is often too honest and definitely has baggage and definitely is still scarred and conditioned from a traumatic and toxic past "relationship," I find it sad. I'm not looking for someone to be my therapist (nor do I want to be your therapist), I'm looking for a partner. 

It made me quickly start to wonder: Was I catalogue shopping for a mate? Felt that way. Flipping through profiles and pictures rejecting people based on nuances and photographs. Most of the time I read profiles and thought, "I don't know."  I could muster up no more enthusiasm than that without the aura of the real person in front of me. I made a pact with myself that if someone contacted me I would always answer. And, for the most part, I stuck to that.

The problem is that when someone is an object in a catalogue, they become disposable. I can be brushed off without even being tried on. And I can do the same to them. And people shouldn’t be disposable. A paradoxical trend seemed to emerge in my online pandering: If I did find some guy's profile interesting and having depth, I would often come back to look again at a future date after I contemplated making a move, and found myself "archived." Really? You didn’t even say hello.

One guy had "sex" identified on his list of "things you can't live without." I thought this was amusing and honest and, beyond bikes and coffee and writing, I was having difficulty coming up with two more, so I stole his idea. I left it up for about a week and then decided to succumb to society's stereotypes and removed it, because as a woman, I knew men would take my intentions the wrong way. Why can't I want a deep relationship and like sex too? But my experience in life has told me that as soon as I admit I like sex, the odds of me getting a relationship with someone with depth post that admission decreases significantly, while the number of shallow approaches increases exponentially.

By the way, I had two guys approach me during that week. It took another 3 months before there were 2 more after I removed it. Nothing like playing on a cliche.

Another guy told me that on another dating site he was in, a free dating site, one woman told him he was the first man who had contacted her who hadn't immediately asked her what colour her underwear was. Touché.

Stereotypes's exist with the athletic thing as well. Especially endurance athleticism. Especially female endurance athleticism. Lots of people are active but, nope, they're not really active. Endurance athletes get each other. We go for 3 hour bike rides in lousy weather and up steep hills because it is therapeutic and soothing and more than a little addictive but, let's face it, the rest of the world thinks we are nuts. As one guy I met online said to me: “I like that fact that you are athletic. It's very rare, you know.”

I snickered when I read this in his message. He was "athletic" too. One of his things he couldn't live without was "a gym." Rare? Not in my circles. In my circles, I don’t know anyone who isn’t like me. In fact, I have a rather low weekly output for someone who considers herself an endurance athlete. I have "baggage" (i.e. children) remember. 

All the men I've connected with online have only been conservatively active, and they don't get it. And I’ve sensed a threatened attitude often, ("I don't know if I could keep up with you." "I'm not interested in doing that much"), I can’t help but notice, looking around the athletic community, that it doesn’t work in reverse. Women aren’t threatened by men who are endurance athletes. Most women are quite content to support their guy and stand on the sidelines and cheer if they aren't interested in doing that much. Because it is OK, via the stereotype, for women to do less than their man athletically. 

And what about that whole evolution of attraction thing? I have a (guy) friend who teaches evolutionary psychology at various educational institutions around the city and when he is trying to get my goat, he shows me charts about how smart women with high incomes are not what guys want -- from an evolutionary stand point. Well... what does one do with this knowledge?  I'm smart and educated, I have a good job, and I have children (i.e. baggage). I'm doomed. But apparently we can't fight evolution. Making choices based on evolutionary factors and social stereotypes is unconscious.

I suppose those unconscious "evolutionary instincts" were all fine and dandy when we only lived to be 40 or 50 years old. But they are pretty useless and outdated now that we are living to be 80. I can't imagine living the rest of my life with someone who didn't challenge my thinking or wasn't my intellectual equal as discussed in one of my other favourite literary outputs, You Should Date an Illiterate Girl.

And while we are at it, here is my other controversial opinion, I think "Till death do us part" is also an outdated concept. Who we are as people is constantly changing and evolving, who says we are meant to be with the same person for 50 years? But society still looks at divorce as a personal failure.

Don't worry. I won't make you agree with me if you don't agree. Related to that opinion, I also think it is far too easy too get married and far too difficult to get divorced. And yes, I am a little bit left winged.

But there are a lot of evolutionary theories about physical attraction too. How our pheromones draw others to us. In fact, regardless of appearance, we will be most attracted to someone who is as genetically diverse from us as possible because natural selection dictates that couples who are genetically diverse will produce stronger children with "fitter" traits. Ever been addicted to how someone smells? It is kinda like that. That isn’t possible to detect when you are only looking at a picture on a website. Attraction is about how someone moves, talks, expresses themselves. It is about connecting with someone and feeling, I like having this person in my presence. And you can't even explain why this person and not another. All the psychological profiling and matching in the world will not find you that. 

In the online environment, there are no pretences about why you are making your approach. This is helpful, but it makes all your interactions, relationship-like from the very start. Unlike when you meet someone in person and see them in group functions on a regular basis and you go for as long as possible without making your intentions known. Things are more subtle in the real world.

But I've met guys online and I don't even know their kids names or where they live or where they work (you are deliberately protective about that information online, while it is the first thing you talk about when face to face) but we are already, to use the words of my mentor Laurie's poem, talking about the things to sort out between us. Those nest eggs. You dig to find each others’ wounds and find out if debts are paid and accounts  balanced.

And that's emotional wounds and balanced accounts and debts. Not the literal kind. 

And when one person decides "this is not the thing for me," even if it has only been a handful of emails, it requires a mini break-up speech (assuming you are gracious). And we each say thanks and we go our separate ways back into our separate circles never to cross paths again. And, God forbid, NO facebook friendship. This person could still be an axe murderer for cripes sake, even though he might now know more about the pain of my marriage ending than my next door neighbour.

Catalogue shopping, false intimacy, wipe the slate clean. Done.  

I went online to get out of my circles. To expose myself to people other than athletes, people I might not normally come in contact with in my day to day life, because there is far more to who I am than the fact I ride a bike. But it ain’t working. And I hate how it operates. And, to be honest, I would rather have fewer quality dates with people I've gotten to know in person first, who came out of nowhere like God-sends and took me by surprise who love the same things I love, than many false starts and awkward dates with people a computer has told me is "my match."

And at the very least, if you don't love bikes the way I love bikes, you must respect that I do, and you must love that I can do things like I do in this blog and I can write from my soul,  because this is who I am. 

So what next?

Patience, I guess.