Best Marriage Advice? Your Best Friend Is You

I just read a short piece in Nat Geo Traveler magazine where the author interviewed the Dalai Lama, source of endless wisdom, about travel, life, and happiness. The Dalai Lama said that the key to happiness is a healthy body and a happy mind. And, most importantly,

“Remember that your best, most reliable friend is your own intelligence and your own warmheartedness.”

I admit that I can easily fall into a hole of bitterness and so this was a good reminder. For years I’ve ascribed to the saying, “The only person who will never leave you is you.” But that ends up sounding sort of melodramatic. Maybe I can take a page from the Dalai Lama’s book and reframe it his way.

I also think this is good advice for me, as someone getting remarried in a week. By being my own best friend I’m hoping to be a good partner. And I will say I’m always working on a happy mind because because you get out of life what you put in. “Warmheartedness” spreads out around you (and the opposite is true). I can’t wait for our simple little celebration and to give this marriage thing my best shot.

America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride with Team in Training 2016

On Sunday I completed the America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride (AMBBR) 100-mile bike ride around Lake Tahoe with Team in Training for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. This was my 4th event with TNT and was definitely the most special.

I started all of this (“this” = cycling) when I signed up for the DC AIDSRide in 2002. I wanted to give back to the DC HIV nonprofit organizations that were so amazing to me during the 30-day period after I got a false positive HIV test result (yes, it was really negative… yes, another story entirely). Over the course of several years I built a collection of “AIDSRide friends” who will always have a place in my heart.

When I came back to PA I started to rebuild my cycling group with Team in Training because the model was similar, and I was glad to hear that they make sure that 75% of funds raised go to the mission (not so with AIDSRide, as it turned out, and they went out of business). I’ve made some of the best friends I have now through TNT and this past weekend definitely reminded me of that.

About 5 years ago, one of our chapter’s coaches, Eric, decided to create a Facebook event for this year’s America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride, as a celebration of the remission anniversary of one of our patient heroes. A bunch of us said yes, and we actually stuck to it. Eric and I actually did our first TNT event together in 2008, so I wasn’t allowed to say no.

We had one of the biggest cycling teams ever in the Eastern PA chapter because of Eric. And the chapter might not have chosen to send a team to Tahoe this year if it hadn’t been for the fact that all these alumni bombarded them with emails about Tahoe. The final tally was around 30 people, after all was said and done with recruitment. And by this year we had not just one patient hero to honor and/or remember by doing this ride. A super awesome dude and TNT cycling friend of ours died 2 years ago of cancer, and before our last (80-mile) training ride, Coach Fred read a story about him and played a slideshow of photos that had me making an ugly-cry face. So we rode in his memory, too.

This training season was MISERABLE. It freaking rained and rained and never went above 60 degrees. Granted we started in February, but by April we were all feeling pretty demoralized by the weather. But, as coach Fred says, “nothing you’ll experience on the bike will ever be as bad as what blood cancer patients experience.” So we sallied forth. We met at ungodly hours of the morning, froze our asses off. We changed flats, we muscled through rides with broken bikes and broken bodies. We crashed. We got up. We dealt with angry motorists. We raised our fundraising minimums and more. And despite how tough it was, we always joked and had fun on the road. We were always laughing!

It turned out toward the end of training that one of our two head coaches had to be in Germany for work over event weekend. This just happened to be Eric, the guy who started this whole thing in the first place (see “Facebook event,” above). It was a huge bummer.

But we all shipped our bikes and then we flew out to Tahoe at the end of last week, including a friend who had signed up with her husband but then gotten pregnant – she supported us through the whole weekend, carrying around her future cyclist. And friends from other cities who used to ride/work with TNT in Eastern PA flew out to meet us to ride or cheer/help along the course. We all had an incredible weekend together. It’s hard to explain how close you feel to people who have this charity endurance event mindset. (Side note: I have never had so many social media notifications in my life.)

Here is a bunch of us with our sweet airbrush tats at the top of the switchbacks on practice day.
Here is a bunch of us with our sweet airbrush tats at the top of the switchbacks on practice day the day before the century.

And the LLS “inspiration dinner” the night before the event was the most moving any of us had ever been to – for me, it ranked up there with the riderless bicycle ceremony at the AIDSRide. The speakers were amazing – one woman told her story of “life minus 1” – before her husband died of leukemia he asked her to do the ride with Team in Training that they had signed up for when he was diagnosed. She and her father did the ride together on a tandem, and now she’s a TNT cycling coach. I had tears streaming down my face – and I know there were a lot of others who did, too.

And we raised a bunch of money for LLS. The largest individual fundraising amount was $174,000! He was a 4-year survivor from Ohio whose 3-year fundraising total was $550,000! The 800 cyclists for TNT – 100 of whom were survivors – raised a total of $3.6 million. I’m so impressed. It means a lot to actually meet people who have benefited from the money we’ve raised. We had 3 survivors on our team alone, and one was celebrating her 30-year remission anniversary.

So, event day finally arrived, and at 5am (thanks, Fred) we all gathered to head over to the start. The sun was still rising, we ate a few nervous mouthfuls of bagel or whatever, and rolled over to Harrah’s. And we rode 100 miles to find a cure for blood cancers. The weather was amazing, too.

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The team getting ready to hit the road on event day. They’re peeps on our heads… born in Bethlehem, PA. lol

My little ride-day “pack” consisted of my ex roommate (who I met through TNT), her Iron Man partner in crime, and another TNT hero who rode across the country last summer to raise money for Team. We added one more who dropped back from our very front group for the last half.

Poster children / the pack.
Poster children / the pack.

We saw many friends along the way, and tried to give them all a “GO TEAM” as we rode by. At lunch, our friend who used to work for Team in Training in Philly and had driven from San Diego was at the ready to help. She literally RAN across the street to get me a Coke Zero when I said I was fantasizing about it. Another ex participant ran for sunscreen. Whaaaat?! And they did this for our whole team. Like I said, these people are amazing. We laughed, we pushed, I almost died on the 7-mile uphill that is Spooner.

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This is what I look like close to death. Not so bad, eh?

We screamed down the hill after Spooner (my max = 40.1 mph – not my fastest ever, but we were braking to take in the views). We ate fruit, energy bars, trail mix, potatoes, more fruit, more potatoes. We ate lunch at King’s Island beach. We rode all the way around Lake Tahoe, with a little swoop off the NW corner to Truckee and back. My stats:

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And we all made it safely and happily across the finish line! I’m so proud of everyone. There was a TNT victory tent, and a beer tent, at the end, thankfully. As we were watching a few more teammates cross the finish line, I noticed a buzzed head and sunglasses that I recognized – I yelled, “IT’S ERIC!” He had flown directly from his meeting in Germany and driven from the airport just in time to see half his team cross the finish line. It was a really special surprise for all of us. Again, more crying.

With our surprise cameo coach!
Right after the surprise coach cameo!

It really could not have been better in any way. Oh, and get this! Two of our participants even got engaged over the weekend (Roomie: “I SO wanted someone to get engaged this weekend!”)! Thank you to all of my amazing teammates and coaches. I love you. My heart is full. And that’s saying a lot for someone who’s getting married in 6 weeks!

For good measure, here’s a video TNT produced this week after the ride (it even features one of our peeps! Also, THAT’S what those kids were doing with that drone. Duh.).

Die Doing What You Love

NPR shared a special story this week that I haven’t been able to get out of my head. Jane Little was a tiny 4’11” double bass player who joined the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra when she was 16. I’m sure it was great to watch the smallest person in the orchestra playing the biggest instrument. She became a Guinness world record holder in February for performing with the orchestra for 71 years, at age 87. She was set to retire next month. And she died while performing on stage this week.

She literally died doing what she loved, weeks before she was going to stop doing it. I watched that video and teared up. It seems like her life was perfect, she was so happy, and she never retired. This brings me to the question of whether people die soon after they retire because their purpose for living is gone. The Guardian published an article about this earlier this month that cited a study that found that “healthy retirees who worked a year longer (over the age of 65) had an 11% lower ‘all-cause mortality risk.'” People talk about how they can’t wait to retire, but maybe they don’t know what they’re asking for.

So, the solution? Be like Jane. Make your job something you love, and you can do it for the rest of your life. (Aside: Can I make drinking wine and riding my bike my job?)

Sharing the Road

It’s not easy for cyclists or drivers to navigate sharing the road. The law states that cyclists are equal to cars but a lot of  drivers don’t know this, and some who do know it don’t care. There are also cyclists who do it wrong, too, by not signaling, not wearing lights, running stop signs. There’s a lot of confusion on both sides.

But does that mean it’s OK to be a moron? NO. Unfortunately you can be a moron and drive a car or ride a bike. My 2 Team in Training teammates and I had maybe the closest call any of us has had with a car on Saturday. All 3 of us felt the heat of this van’s engine and were all pulled in momentarily toward it by the air flow around it. It just makes me wonder how many more times I can tempt fate before I am hit by someone texting and driving. Another friend was hit last year on her bike by someone who ran a red light, and she is still recovering. It’s terrifying to be on the road, and it shouldn’t be. I know there are more and more bike lanes being installed, but that still doesn’t teach drivers to drive in the presence of bikes. Bike lanes appear and disappear, and drivers pay no attention to them anyway. Can we improve driver and cyclist education? I know my teammates try to. A woman came up to us as we were stopped at a Wawa recently, and said, “I don’t want to be insulting, but WHY do you people have to go on the roads? It makes me so nervous! They make bike trails for a reason!” We tried to explain the law and how many miles and the kind of training we were doing, but in the end her question was rhetorical. She walked away before we could finish.

At least that was a little better than the “GET OFF THE ROAD!” and aggressive honking we get at least once on every ride.

I’m probably preaching to the choir to most of the people who will read this, but I’d like to ask all drivers to remember and help spread the word that cyclists are legally considered cars. If you come to a cyclist, you can pass her, but if you don’t have a clear view to pass with 4 feet between you, just hang back for a minute. Don’t zoom around a blind corner past her while leaning on the horn. Don’t yell obscenities at her. Don’t throw things at her. Cyclists are people, too.

 

Schlepped All Over Vancouver

20160401_180827I’m here in Vancouver for work. I feel sort of bittersweet about this trip because I ended up missing a ton of important things at home this weekend, but I didn’t realize how much I’d love this city. It’s plunked down on a peninsula right in the middle of a harbor and surrounded by snow-capped mountains. It’s so beautiful.

I landed in the afternoon 2 days ago and took the opportunity to find the two walking-distance things I’d saved on TripAdvisor, the Vancouver Lookout and the steam clock. The clock was cool; it’s entirely steam powered — even the chimes are like a steam engine whistle. I also grabbed a vanilla stout at Steamworks Brewery, a fun Vancouver staple.  I actually took two trips up the lookout tower because it was a 24-hour ticket and I realized I wanted to see the sunset. It was worth it.

My afternoon was light yesterday so I got adventurous and walked across the peninsula to catch a ferry to Granville Island (just a few bucks), which was originally an industrial area that was revamped into sort of an artist colony. I checked out the public market, full of food vendors of the organic/crunchy variety and all sorts of really talented artists and artisans – I think one of my favorites was the obsidian knives. I ate lunch outside by the water. There was live music, and I overheard a musician, who was getting his stuff ready over by the boats, tell someone that the fee was really reasonable to reserve a spot on the market pier to perform on a regular basis. There were a ton of people there, so maybe it’s good exposure. I walked around the island, which has an art school and a bunch of art galleries. There was a chalk paint wall that invited you to write your thoughts about love. I heard piano music start up and peeked through a door and saw a ballet class going on. There were enormous industrial tanks painted with what looked like hipster luchadores to me. I saw a seal come up for air and dive back down under the boats. The walk itself to and from the ferry was fun (except that I felt old and slow — I’ve lost my city walk). It reminded me of being in Dupont Circle in DC. Also tons of cyclists who looked like they were not afraid for their lives.

On my hotel bartender’s recommendation, I had dinner last night at Miku, a sushi place that distinguished itself here with its “aburi” sushi, made with a flame-searing technique that didn’t sound all that awesome until I tried it. I’m actually lucky I got in; I had to show up before 6 to even catch a seat at the bar. Speaking of my hotel, I stayed at the Pinnacle Harborfront, and was very happy with everything except the gym (yikes). And the bartender there gave me a small lesson in British Columbia wines (Jackson-Triggs is a popular local wine, and I thought the chardonnay and the sauvignon blanc were pretty tasty).

Turns out yesterday I walked something like 8 miles. No wonder my feet feel like ground beef today. Anyway. Some photos are below. The photo that looks like the aftermath of a fatal car crash is actually a movie set a block from my hotel. There’s a picture of houses; I really liked the architecture of the houses in the residential areas (although apparently real estate is SUPER expensive in Vancouver – cab driver told me his house value has doubled since 2009).

The woman on the Toronto-Vancouver flight with me was also originally from Philly and moved to Vancouver with her (Canadian) husband. She spent most of the time we talked telling me I should really check out the immigration application because it’s amazing out here. Now I see what she was talking about.

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Glen Arbor’s “Big Storm” of August 2, 2015

I got a call from my mother on a Sunday afternoon, and from “hello,” I recognized the apocalyptic tone in her voice.

“Everyone’s OK, but we just got hit by a tornado.”

The photos streamed in over the following days via Facebook and text, with updates from my family as they cut out through the downed trees, which just so happened to cover the roads a half mile in either direction from the end of our driveway. Huge swaths of forest were completely clear cut. Winds up to 100 miles an hour. There was a huge number of family and guests staying at our house that day, an unexpected number of people who then had to spend even longer stuck with no power or running water. They had to bring buckets up from the lake to flush the toilets. Craig and I were the only members of my family who weren’t there. My brothers took on massive chainsaw endeavors to try to clear some of the 35 trees that had fallen on our property alone. Our place:

trees on house

I kept tabs on the whole thing via screen, 800 miles away. The photos and videos of the storm itself are chilling. Check out this slideshow of storm photos by MLive.

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Photo via Glen Arbor Sun; reader submitted

It wasn’t exactly a tornado, said the weather service in the end. That part I found to be pretty fascinating. People who witnessed it were sure, based on the way the trees seemed to be twisted, that this was not a straight-line wind storm.  And they were pretty upset to be told otherwise. But there was a lot of fascination with it – there’s even a book that’s already been published about the storm.

The damage, last I heard, was estimated toward $30 million, yet not one person was injured. That’s the real surprise, and a pleasant one. Everyone was affected, no one was hurt. And people really came together to help each other – the chef at Blu in Glen Arbor fed the people who were stranded and camping out in the township building. Volunteers cropped up from all over to help clean up the town. Members of my own family even helped cook for folks.

We lost our garage and two cars, and also our massive canopy of woods. But it could have been much worse. When we got up there for our vacation in the end of August, there were enormous stacks of tree trunks on the side of the road everywhere you went. Everyone had their story they wanted to share. But mostly people were grateful there were no injuries and happy that the community banded together to clean up.

Today, the Glen Arbor Sun published a great piece titled “Time Heals,” which puts things in perspective: our town’s culture is shaped by the natural disasters and other tragedies that have happened there.

Adopting the Senior Dog: It Was Worth It

20131215_201005March 30, 2013 was an exciting day that brought me unexpected surprises, laughter, tears, frustration, joy. I adopted Arthur (formerly Cheech), who was 11 at the time. His family had to surrender him and I had decided I was prepared to bring a senior dog home. I trekked to Staten Island with my ex boyfriend, who was part of the whole adoption process, and brought home my 70-lb bundle.

This dog. He was hilarious and ridiculous. In the beginning, from trying to eat his harness when I came toward him with it to doing unmentionable things to his dog beds (I blame it on the steroids), there was no end to the excitement. He became attached to me and got VERY agitated and would throw himself against the door whenever I would load things into the car. And there was a LOT of loading things into cars, considering I moved twice in the 2 years I had with him. OH yeah, and the pooping in the car thing.

How about the time I tried to pin down his beds under the feet of the couches so he wouldn’t hump them and he just yanked them all around the living room, along with the couches, and then tore the bed up and spread the stuffing everywhere? Oh, and this was while I was away and my friend was dog sitting.

But then there was his hop dance.

I learned a lot about bulldogs and their health conditions, and dog health in general. Yeasty skin? Check. Abscessed teeth? Check. Dry eye? Check. Deafness? Check. Aural hematoma? Check. Skin allergies? Check. Staph infection? Check. Canine MRSA? Check. Infected anal gland requiring hospitalization? Check. Enlarged heart? Check. Suffocating gas? Check. Incontinence? CHECK. The list never seemed to end. Maybe my vet was right when he told me he thought only veterinarians should own English bulldogs.

But Arthur was such an irresistibly grouchy, stubborn old man. I fell for him. I loved him and his squishy face and I loved giving him bulldog hugs and loved getting his shy, tiny kisses. Last October he and I moved into Craig’s place and Arthur weaved his way into Craig’s heart and into McKinley the bulldog’s heart, too. He was well loved by everyone he met. When we were walking, people would actually pull their cars over to look at him and tell me they thought he was great.

About 2 weeks ago, our old Bubba developed bloat (gastric dilatation and volvulus) suddenly and an hour after we noticed something was wrong we had to make that incredibly sad decision to say goodbye to him instead of putting him through a major surgery at almost 14 years old with heart disease.

At the risk of sounding dramatic, it was all worth it. I’m so glad I got to spend these couple of years taking care of this boy, really keeping him comfortable. Every hour of sleep lost running downstairs at the sound of his toenails clicking, every twisted back muscle from carrying him up and down stairs for never-ending bath routine, every penny I spent, worth it. My good boy was a good boy and he deserved it all.