I Was So Hungry I Ate My Words

A mile from the top of Vail Pass
Finishing the most difficult part of the climb

Colorado is filled with extreme sports enthusiasts — marathoners, triathletes, cyclocross racers, river kayakers, rock climbers, mogul skiers, and myriad other endorphin junkies. Intrepid Coloradans trek up our 14,000 feet peaks each and every summer weekend because, well, they’re there. And everyday, run-of-the-mill, “normal” people take on day-long rides like the Triple Bypass where they cycle over 3 mountain passes, 120 miles with over 10,000 feet of elevation gain just to say they did it. What’s crazier than that? How about that people choose to do that same ride in reverse the following day to complete the Double Triple Bypass? With these things in mind, please understand that what I am about to relay regarding my adventure yesterday is not extraordinary at all. Oodles of people can tell the same story, so I am not being modest when I say that this is not a big deal at all. Except that it is…to me.

Ten years ago, we were driving back from a trip to Aspen and along the highway heading east over Vail Pass we spied some road cyclists struggling their way up the pass adjacent to the speeding cars on the highway. I remember hauling up the pass in our Jetta and remarking that those riders were insane. There is no way I would ever do that, I told my husband. Then, just five years ago, the darling man bought me a road bike. I went into the bike store dragging my heels because I was certain I was not a cyclist. Still I went along with it because I was 40 and I needed a decent form of exercise, one that hopefully would not tear up my knees or hips like running might. That year when we passed cyclists huffing and puffing their way up and over Vail Pass I said I could never do that. Simply putting in 15-20 miles was difficult enough. I didn’t think I’d survive a trek up a mountain pass. It seemed an insurmountable task. I had no intention of ever being that certifiable about exercise. Period.

Yesterday the unthinkable became reality. With three friends from our MS150 bike team, Steve and I rode from our hotel room in west Vail up to and then over Vail Pass and down into Copper Mountain before turning around and riding back up over the pass and eventually back to our hotel room. It was a 47 mile trek where we climbed over 4,000 feet in elevation in less than 4.5 hours. At times during our ride, the grade of the path hit a wicked 18%. That’s steep enough that even in my easiest bike gear I needed to stand up like a Tour de France racer to power my bike up the hill. I’ve never had to do that before. It was both annoying and awesome. We started our ride at 8,000 feet in elevation and climbed to over 10,600 feet so the air we were sucking was thin too. It was my longest ride of the season so far and the most challenging ride I have ever done.

At the top and geared up for the cold ride down to Copper
At the top and geared up for the cold ride down to Copper Mountain

As we flew down the last big descent of the day and my bike hit 34 miles an hour despite the headwind, I had a cheerful refrain echoing in my head. (It sounded exactly like this.) When we finally returned to our starting point at the Vail Cascade Resort I was Queen of the Freaking World. It is true. I had to chew up and swallow whole those things I’d uttered in the past about would never or could never. And while I normally don’t enjoy eating my words, yesterday I had no problem with it. Maybe it was simply because I was so hungry? I had burned over 2500 calories in 4 hours, right? Truth is, though, I have rarely felt as strong as I did when I clipped out of my pedals at the end of that ride. Not only had I done something I previously believed I physically and mentally could not do but I did it less than a week after turning 45. I never had to get off and walk my bike. The altitude never got to me. I fought the urge to give up when my quadriceps were screaming at me and I stuck it out. I rode my bicycle like a cheap, show pony. And while I may not be better, faster, stronger, or in any way more impressive than any other Coloradan who completes that identical ride, I do not care. I did it. I earned the right to eat my words and I still had enough room left over for a post-ride celebratory dinner at Terra Bistro. Suck it, 45!

10,000 Ways That Won’t Work

Joe on Mt. Sherman

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” ~Thomas Alva Edison

Had yet another rough day. Seems like there have been too many of those recently. So, I came here to write with a brain spinning with frustration and, therefore, too spun out to be creative. In these instances, one thing that often gives me a jumping off point for my writing is finding a quote I can relate to. I flipped through one of my books and found this one by Thomas Edison. It’s a quote about perspective and perseverance, and it perfectly fits what I feel I’ve been going through lately with my boys. I have been researching, reading, investigating, and conjecturing about every possible way I can help improve their lives as they struggle with learning disabilities. Yet, for all my effort, the results have been seemingly inconsequential.

Then I saw this quote. It made me laugh. Maybe I’m just approaching this all from the wrong angle? Yes. I’ve tried a whole heap of things to help them. I’ve felt worthless because nothing has worked out. But, just because I haven’t found the answer yet doesn’t mean I’ve failed. Like he said, I’ve simply found 10,000 ways that won’t work. That’s not negative progress. That’s 100% progress in the right direction. That’s 10,000 steps closer to my goal of finding a solution. I simply haven’t found it yet. But, I’m narrowing the field down and, sooner or later, I will hit upon what I’ve been searching for. I’ve eliminated enough variables that the solution must be getting close.

I need to stop being so damn hard on myself. I’m doing the best I can. I need to tell the little boss inside my head to shut up. I’m busy working.

 

Do The Thing You Think You Cannot Do: A Coward’s Guide To Becoming Brave

Me with the lovely and talented Miss Vivienne VaVoom

Last weekend I had the opportunity to hear New York Times best-selling author Richard Paul Evans speak. Although he’s sold millions of copies of his books, I’d never read one of them so I had no idea what to expect from his speech or what, if anything, I might glean from it to help me on my own personal book journey. He spoke about the realm of self-publishing and what it takes these days to become a best-selling author. He was engaging and personable, full of positive energy and self-confidence, which is probably how he has gotten as far as he has because publishing is a difficult business that can diminish even the bravest souls. I watched him carefully, trying to determine if I had the same chutzpah he does, wondering if I could be bold. Then, he made a statement that caught my attention: “Every time I take risks, my life gets better.”

I’ve been repeating that statement to myself for five days now. As it has flipped over and over in my head like a rock in a tumbler, it has become shinier and brighter and more attention worthy. Life does get better when we take risks. We get nowhere when we are cautious or fearful. We stagnate when fail to use our imagination. The accomplishments in my life of which I am most proud were only realized after I’d been willing to move in a direction that made me uncomfortable in some way. I probably haven’t been uncomfortable enough often enough.

But, there have been moments when I did take what I felt was a personal risk. At those times, I’ve definitely come away a better person than I was before I began. I once took a dance class from burlesque queen Vivenne VaVoom. This required me to rehearse, create a costume and persona, and perform for an audience. I became much more self-confident after that exposure. And, there was my master’s thesis. It was a three year ordeal that I nearly didn’t finish because I had a child and then became pregnant with child number two. All the while my yet incomplete thesis postured on my desk and hurled taunts at me: You’re not good enough. No one really cares what you have to say, anyway. You think you’re special or something? Still, I pushed myself. I wrote while my son sat in his exersaucer in the room with me. I edited while he slept. I wrote four rough drafts before my thesis director was ready to let me defend. I flew back to Illinois for my defense, pregnant and nauseous, but I at last earned my master’s degree. In doing so, I learned that even with kids I could accomplish goals I set.

Now, I prepare for another uncomfortable risk as I stand on the precipice of authorship. It’s scary up here. I’ve started writing, but I’m not sure if I’m heading in the right direction. I do know, though, that my life will not get better if I don’t take this risk. Still, I’m talking to myself a lot to steel my nerves: You can do this. You’ve got it in you. Believe in yourself.  The part of me that is angry with myself for not taking this risk sooner gets a regular backhanded smack from the part of me that knows that I could not have attempted this in my 20’s because I wasn’t brave enough then. I needed these extra 20 years to set down firm roots so I could begin to inch ever so slowly up and out of myself. Above my head at my writing desk is this quote by Eleanor Roosevelt: “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face…do the thing you think you cannot do.” Writing a book has always been the one thing I was sure I could not do. I wanted to do it. I just didn’t think I could. I’m setting out and taking a risk to prove myself wrong and to create a better, stronger, wiser me.

What is the thing you have told yourself that you cannot do? Are you brave enough to risk it to see if your life gets better? What is one risk you have taken that made your life better? Please share your stories because I need all the inspiration I can get as I continue this journey.