Wednesday, June 27, 2012

My life is like the North-and-South Gate Junction of Mt. Diablo

Mt. Diablo-- the tallest one in the picture. This mountain represents so much to me since moving to the bay area. It represents adversity; it represents challenge and choice. But most importantly, it represents possibility.

If you've never been to the Bay Area, I'm not sure this post will mean much. Or, it might. I'm not an expert in these things. 

Roughly two years ago, I left the Reno/Tahoe area where I'd grown up and lived most of my life for a Master of Fine Arts program at Saint Mary's College, which is located in Moraga, California-- in the East Bay of the San Francisco area. When I arrived two years ago, I was an accomplished-- but not-quite-elite-- long distance runner with aspirations of going to the 2012 Olympic Trials in the Marathon Event. I was close in getting there. If it hadn't been for a series of injuries that made even walking impossible... who knows. But that's another blog and the subject of my forthcoming book-- not this post. 

But since I first became injured in 2011, I began to notice the tallest mountain in the silhouette of heights around me: Mt. Diablo. At its summit, Mt. Diablo is 3,848 feet above sea level which is considerable since its base is more or less at sea level. 

I first saw it from the pool, located in a park called Heather Farms not too far from the gates to the mountain (which is also a state park) itself. I had joined a swim team to keep myself from going insane while injured and also to learn how to swim, something I'd always sort of wanted to do anyway but never had, thinking the task impossible (for me.) 

Each day I drove to swim practice, I could see the ghost of its outline against the morning-dark sky. 

And then, its form lighted by dawn in hues of gentle yellow to rose as the sun crested its distant peak while I swam laps with the team. For each breath among the strokes from wall to wall, the image inspired me. What great heights there are in the world; perhaps it's only natural that some of us wonder if we can climb them. 

That would also be the year I'd jump into random cycling groups-- one that met at Sports Basement Thursday nights. It was a group of triathletes, mainly, and their routine workout was a tempo ride from Mt. Diablo's base to what's called the "junction." I was told by the man who organized the ride that a sub-40 minute time to this point (about halfway up the mountain) was pretty good for a recreational rider. 

And since then, sub-40 minutes has been my goal; mimicking the 5-6 mile running tempos I'd do every 14 days or so in my training cycle when my body could take the pounding of running. 

Again, if you've never been near or seen Mt. Diablo it might be useful for me to note that there are two ways to reach the summit. You can start in Walnut Creek and go up what is known as "North Gate" or you can start in Danville and go up "South Gate." These two roads diverge-- and merge-- into one at the junction. There's only one way to go up to the top after that.  

My usual weekly fitness test is to tempo to the junction to see where I am. If I'm flat or tired; if I'm improving. Since I've been on the bike following my sprained Lisfranc joint, I've gotten my time down to 34:05 (though tonight I did a 35:30. But I'll take whatever my body gives me. Last week, it was worse, but also hotter out. I hate the heat.)

And so, tonight I realized that my life is like this junction that is roughly 2,000 feet above sea level. 

"There's two paths that diverge in a wood and I must choose the less traveled by." 

Or, should I? 

I started the ride late and missed the team by about fifteen minutes, having been held up at work. I met them at the junction and chatted. They opted to go down South Gate; another group of women began to climb to the summit. Three options opened before me and I wasn't sure which one to choose. The riders I love to ride with wanted to descend via South Gate and travel back to Walnut Creek via Danville. And maybe I should have taken that route. 

Just like maybe I should have chosen to people my life long ago. It's not the most fun thing in the world to watch all your friends get married and start families while you remain alone. Once upon a time when I was a lot younger, I might have said this was because I was not a great athlete or it's because I'm not thin or beautiful. But really, like all reasons for one's path in life, it's more complicated than that. 

In my twenties, I decided to be a writer; I rented a remote cabin in the Sierra Nevada, living in a space with no telephone or internet or TV to write my first novel. And after I lost the job to sustain that life, I returned to graduate school and have so far earned 3 Master's degrees while also trying to be an elite long distance runner and a freelance writer. 

That's not exactly the kind of life that breeds human connection. 

And yet, I long for it ... now that the running is done. Now that I'm more or less sure that I'm not elite, even if I will never give up athletic pursuits because I love them so much. Just as much as I love the writing.

So, today, when I stood at the junction while flies buzzed around my sweaty head and was offered a choice: 2 routes were peopled. One was not.

I am astonished I still chose the solitary route, going back the way I came. 

Maybe solitude is safe. Maybe, alone, I can pretend to be someone I'm not. Someone greater. Someone more profound. Or, someone secluded.

Or maybe I can be who I actually am without the worry of pissing someone else off. I can close my eyes and feel the wind on my face and it's my wind, my face and just me and the slow summer twilight around me. 

But I feel this tug in my other life-- my professional life-- too. In the Bay, I am a writer. I create promotional material for other writers. I am a freelance reporter for a local paper. I train with two teams that I absolutely love. And yet--- the tug of home remains. 

If I were to return to Tahoe, I would not have the same writing opportunities there. I would work in a clothing store. But I would have people around me who loved me. 

I'm not sure which route to choose. 

In lieu of a decision, I stare at Mt. Diablo. Perhaps that is my flaw. And yet, who knows what can happen when one decides to climb a mountain? You might do it faster than you thought you would. Or, you might find a team to carry you along. Or, once you get to the top, you might see something you'd never spot from your usual perspective at the bottom. 

And so, I keep climbing.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

And the journey begins...

There's a lot of things that are going to change around here. One is my writing style. I was once a fan of metaphor and subtly. But now, I'm going to be frank and to the point. There's really no reason for evasion because you'd probably find out the truth anyway and how annoying is it to read a person's blog and they don't just tell it like it is?

So: here is what's wrong with me:

The Lisfrac Joint in my right foot is sprained. I did this on a trail run with my running coach three months ago. It hasn't healed yet. This is probably because I cannot lay in bed keeping my foot free of the forces of gravity for six weeks. I have a job to do that requires me to walk, and well, I'm the sort of person who needs to get their heart rate over 190 everyday.

I also don't have health insurance, and having just completed a third Master's degree, I don't have a lot of money, either.

So: what do I do? I join a swim team and jump in to a cycling club. It's better than being placed in a straight jacket, though I'm still depressed about my inability to run. But that's another blog. I'm going to write about cycling today.


I have been riding with the Diablo Cyclists out of Walnut Creek, California for about three weeks.

Prior to this, I hadn't ridden with any clubs before, and hardly any people. In 2009, I did a Century Ride-- the Tahoe Sierra Century-- alone. Nine or so months later, I did the Solvang Century--alone again-- despite having not ridden a single mile due to the demands of finishing duel-MA degrees. (Slight digression: I wouldn't recommend riding 100 miles unless you've ridden at least some miles before. I was praying for a support vehicle to take pity on me at mile 70 when my back felt like it might give birth to some alien invader that had decided to gestate there. I limped my way to the final 100 miles with nothing other than sheer will and stubbornness.)

But today, I rode 90 miles with the Diablo Cyclists into areas I'd never seen or heard of. You know, there's nothing like seeing country on a bike. Unlike a car, you feel every inch of it: the air, the terrain, the shade and sun. There's no better way, I think, to discover a new place than on a bike, even on those hills when your legs and lungs feel on fire and you just don't know if you can push and pull your way for the next quarter mile, but you do, happily, again and again and again...


The first long ride I did with the Diablo Cyclists ended up being a self-supported Century in the Point Reyes/Mt. Tam area. I had expected to ride 60 miles that day, but Cisco Dave and Jay-- my idol-of-all-things-cycling--- both said I could do the bonus miles without issue. So 60 turned to 102 or so, complete with wind, a mountain or so to climb, broken derailleurs (not mine, thankfully) and Tums to save the day.

One of the ride members, Jay, told me that what motivates him is not the clock or necessarily the distance; but instead, the possibility of making your own personal best each and every ride.

I like that.

Be the best you can be.

It seems so simple; and yet, revolutionary in this world where "the best" means only one thing: beating everyone else no matter the cost.

I have no doubt I'll be a better rider by tagging along with this group. But I also have the sense that I'll gain something more than that. There is merit in hard work and hard training; you become better that YOU would be which is what sports is all about, anyway.

What seems so simple can become a tangle: doping vs. not, drugs or no drugs, vitamins and no vitamins. What I remember-- and what I love so much-- about riding these long distances with this crowd is what, I believe, sport is essentially about. It's about pushing yourself and finding your own new boundaries.

I can't think of a better lesson for me, while I heal.

I'm so grateful for these athletes I've found.

They make me better than I could have been before.

And what a gift, right? It's the best kind there is.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Is this the beginning or the end?

Just wow. 

In the past two years, I've managed to graduate with an MFA degree in nonfiction writing, fail to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Trials in the marathon event and injure myself so severely that I have not been able to run a single step. 

I'm elated and depressed. 

My life is a contradiction. 

And yet, I've joined a swim team and learned to swim. I can do the butterfly, even, for 50 meters, which is something for a person who never thought they could. 

I've also joined a cycling club; and I've seen my cycling fitness improve. Two weeks ago I rode an unsupported century, leading most of the way, feeling fit and light in my pedals. 

However, I miss those runs. 

So I decided to start a new blog. Mostly because I'm lonely and depressed. No one will ever read this thing, I'm sure, but maybe if I can write to myself I'll get through the sadness I feel every day I can't run and the solitude of these days when I wake to ride/swim before the dawn and work an office job where nothing I do truly matters. 

I miss my family; I miss my boyfriend of five years who lives 200 miles away. 

Training-- and the hope that I can heal and one day complete an Ironman distance triathlon-- is really the only hope I have that makes me wake up each morning to do it all again. 

So, that's me. Nothing special. 


See, that's the funny thing about sports and why I have chosen to pursue this path in lieu of many others. You never know what your body will give you on any given day. There is only the daily practice of the athletic life and the faith in yourself that you're more than you thought you were. 

So for now, for me, that has to be enough. I pray it will be.