Ancient Wings

I once trained for a half marathon. It was only because we’d bought a treadmill, and I found that thirty minutes a day could grant me three miles and burn 300 calories, so I figured, why not?

I soon learned a huge mistake that many beginning runners make: running on a treadmill cannot properly prepare you for running 13.1 miles on city streets. The only way to train for running on roads is to run on roads.

Once I began running on roads, I immediately hated it (your muscles have to work much harder), and I almost immediately injured a tendon at the top of my foot.

After a visit to the doctor and an analysis of my gait and purchase of new running shoes, the experts advised that my training could ensue on my bike, and I should accept that I’d be walking the half marathon.

I was thrilled. When you run, if you haven’t been lately, it’s a heavy-breathed torture every time. I was literally running in circles in my neighborhood, going nowhere … slowly.

When you click into your pedals, you can feel distance build between you and an actual destination. You can push yourself up a steep hill and discover utter joy while gliding down the other side rather than sketchily searching for a safe place to land your foot.

Alas, by the time the half marathon day arrived, my foot had healed, and I did run it. It felt… like a denouement of minimal satisfaction, and ten years later, I’ve never really run again.

I spend a quarter of every day on my feet, though, putting in as many miles as time will allow. All because of my Pomapoo who forces me out of bed, whom I’ve trained to only poop on walks, who smiles back at me everywhere we go.

My Pomapoo who has an unparalleled love for hiking, scrambling up rocks, dashing ahead, whimpering to go as soon as he sees the backpack appear in the living room.

Since I have an endlessly jubilant companion and we both love hiking, I always have trail running shoes on hand because I despise hiking boots but I need good traction.

All of these things—the dog, the shoes, the stolen bike—came together during the past two days in this little city called Prescott.

It may be known for the university we came to visit where my daughter hopes to study aerospace engineering or for this gorgeous lake or for Whiskey Row which once had fifty saloons for blocks and blocks, but it holds another appeal to me: trails.

Miles and miles of completely empty hiking trails right within the city. Two trailheads are within walking distance of our Airbnb!

The first had a nice view of Thumb Butte, but less than a mile of trails.

The second I discovered while looking for a park. Prescott’s version of a park is a trail through rocks and trees surrounded by the houses that encroach upon everything that is perfect in our world.

Still. A silent, empty trail where my dog can run leash-free for what ended up being four miles? What are these people in these mansions doing at dawn rather than running this trail with me? It’s way too hot mid-day to even consider.

And I thought the flippant Google Review I saw where the guy said he couldn’t find the easy-to-spot, well-marked trailhead was just “off” by throwing in, without description, a picture of a giant boulder with what looked like petroglyphs on it. But when I got to the trailhead myself in the pre-dawn dark, my leash light lit up the map that led straight to Petroglyph Point. A goldmine of luck!

Haitz and I raced up the trail, me thinking it’d be less than a mile like the other. Dawn came and went and, running out of time before my class started, I had to run back.

Boy was I scared. So many rocks, gravel, sore muscles, fear of falling, no experience.

And, despite searching along the sketchy boulders at the peak, I never could find any petroglyphs, and I was beginning to think it was all a scam.

I made it back just in time to shower and pop open my computer for another fun day of remote learning, determined to return the next morning.

Rising at 5:00 today, I was under the dark sky for fully the first half of our adventure. Haitz stayed right at my heels, too nervous to take the lead without light.

Once the sun came up, he bolted ahead in his usual jubilant fashion, always searching for something that might be just around the bend. It will never cease to amaze me—the love and loyalty of a dog.

We jogged up, me slowing and speeding up depending on the size of the rocks, and made it to the peak once again. I scrambled to the top, flashlight ready in the early-morning light, searching every boulder for a sign of an ancient artist. It seemed like a fitting place, with the sun rising over the distant peaks, for someone to carve their message to catch the morning light.

But I still couldn’t find it. I scrambled back down, ready to give up, and circled back beneath the peak when, looking up, on a rock that seemed precariously placed and impossible to reach for human hands, I saw the carving.

Perhaps they wanted to catch the light of the sunset instead. Perhaps they wanted to send a message to their descendants about the animals they lived amongst during their time. Perhaps they were simply trying to relieve the stresses of the world with art as so many artists do.

There, in the aurora of September’s last day, before the sun beat down, before most people would crawl out of their slumber, I could feel the ancient hand of indigenous people who had painstakingly taken the time to create this everlasting masterpiece.

And even though I didn’t need to, I ran all the way home. I felt the need to run in a way I’d never felt—not when I pushed myself to run 9-minute miles on the treadmill, not when I wanted to run instead of walk my half marathon—just the pure joy of a carving on my soul, energy in my veins, and the wings of our ancestors bringing my feet to each perfect landing.

I’m Sorry

Dear Bike Thieves,

I hope that you love this bike as much as I do. I hope that when you text your husband at 12:20 a.m. from the Middle of Nowhere, Arizona, and he doesn’t respond till ten hours later, reading your pathetic apology for being so stupid, his words will have an equal measure of love.

I’m sorry you lost your bike. That does suck since you’ve had that one for so long and rode so far on it. Sorry babe. 😓

He will never say, “I told you so” or, “Why didn’t you…”

He will be right there with you at 12:20 a.m. when your dog barks and you hear voices and you step out of the hotel room into the Dark Sky Universe and all that your blurry-without-glasses eyes can see is… the absence of tires.

Because he was there when you got that bike, nine years ago. When you went to the spring extravaganza under-the-tent bike sale with $1000 in your pocket from that year’s tax return–the only expendable money we had for a year–placed upon its pedals, teacher’s salary, three kids at home, him not working, “Can I buy it?”

“Of course.”

Of course you can set your alarm for 4:16 a.m. and pedal uphill in your new click-in shoes, before the sun rises, before you can even afford a light, before the world is awake, to put that bike along that endless road for thousands upon thousands of miles.

Of course you can register, pay for, and race a train up and down a mountain with this bike, this bike, these tires, this set of wings.

Of course you can buy a bike box and bring this bike to Spain, wrapped in bubble paper and soul tissue, and ride it to school, to twenty tutoring jobs a week, to the end of the road where the mountains meet the Mar.

Of course you can drive down I-25 on a 90-degree Sunday, new tent in the trunk, and watch your bike fly off its flawed bike rack into six lanes of Denver traffic, and watch your husband, afraid of nothing when it comes to his love for you, stand on the shoulder and wait for the right car to allow him to dash into the middle of an INTERSTATE and save that Baby Number Four.

Of course you will never feel the FEEL of the Sun Road in Glacier National Park without this bike vibrating under your palms.

But it is dark. I have driven 500 miles in a day only to be told by my boy, “I told you so” and “I don’t need to waste a photo on a pile of rocks” when looking at the GRAND CANYON, and…

Thieves. Boys. Oppressed.

You have my bike.

I hope you fix the red handlebar tape that was flapping for 500 miles to Arizona.

I hope you ride it to the edge of the reservation and demand that our government give you running water and a better chance at a decent life.

I hope that you sell it and feed your family for a month.

I hope that you love it as much as I have loved it. That you feel the wind in your hair, the beauty in 600 million years of piled-up rocks, and the words of my husband.

“I’m sorry.”

It’s so fucking simple. And so goddamn hard to say.

Road Trip 2020 (Always Bring Bikes)

For every road trip, I have an itinerary. True, it isn’t based on plane or train tickets. We may not have a specific moment to be at an airport, but you can bet your ass that alarm IS going to wake you at 4:48 am if that is my plan for the day.

Years ago, it was a simple Word document with a table. It has morphed into a full spreadsheet on Google Sheets, shareable and so easy to punch in formulas for costs.

Costs. How much is this view worth? A million dollars for anyone who lives to see it as much as I do. So $35 for the entrance and $55 for the extra rental bike seems like an amazing deal if you ask me.

Arguments. I have five, yes FIVE, teenagers in my car. Mostly non-driving teens except for a small stint and ever-open road when I felt it safe enough for my permit-only fifteen-year-old to take the wheel. And I have to drive them everywhere for too many hours in the car, I have to wake their adolescent brains way too early for their underdeveloped prefontal cortexes, and I have to argue with them about all the things they don’t want to do because they haven’t read my itinerary that I shared two weeks ago.

But there are no arguments here.

Or here.

Or here.

It’s true they didn’t read it. They didn’t know that today’s plan, after removing the wheel from bike number five, positioning it in the back of the Pilot, after renting the sixth bike fifteen minutes early, after driving and stopping for pics and sucking in the perfection that is every other second of Montana… The parking lot 5.88 miles further up the Going to the Sun Road was already closed at 8:20 in the morning.

This is why you always bring bikes.

According to my itinerary, we were going to ride seven miles up the hill from Avalanche Creek. There’s a turquoise river, a climb, and views of the actual too-soon-to-be-melting glaciers.

But not everyone in my car is a cyclist like me, and getting to Avalanche Creek, upstream, took a lot out of them.

My itinerary today included this Trail of the Cedars, “not a real hike, it’s wheelchair accessible” is how I “sold” them on it.

So began, after the small cycle, the gasps. Trees so tall you can’t understand how they’re in Montana. A creek so pristinely protected you want to gulp it into your whole soul. And, more miraculous than anything you could lay your eyes upon, teens without cell service viably impressed, their joyous outbursts as beautiful as the scenery.

So energized were they that they agreed to another two miles up that sun road, took immeasurable moments to skip rocks in the river, to enthrall themselves in the imperfect beauty that is nature.

And my itinerary?

“Quedanse juntos. Me entiendes?”

I sent them back down the road, alone, my credit card in Mythili’s pocket. And goddamn it if I didn’t ride those seven miles and capture within my worldview this million-dollar pic of peaks made by glaciers.

And goddamn it if my teens put all those bikes on the rack without me asking, without watching my how-to video, adding in their Black Lives Matter proclamation to the world and all of white blood Montana.

And my itinerary? It didn’t include a fishing pole, kids pushing each other into the picture-perfect lake, or the road still being closed to cars.

It is just an idea, a well-researched idea to drop off the dog, pick up the extra bike, add a couple of kids, and have the time of your life.

I wish I could capture in a spreadsheet, in words, in pictures, what it feels like to have a perfect fumbled plan and ride down that mountain on two wheels after sweating up it, but the wind never stays too long. The sun sets.

My boy of few words described it best: “If this were in Honduras, it would be so filled with people you couldn’t see the shores.” When Riona asked me to translate, the words he didn’t say meant more: “You don’t even know how lucky you are.”

And there’s always another adventure tomorrow.

The Climb

I am at the top of the seven-mile climb and have already paused my watch, have my phone in hand and am ready to record the view, vastly different from yesterday’s downhill meandering. At that exact moment, my oldest calls me from 1200 miles away, tears caught in her throat before she can fully say hello.

There I stand, at the top of the bike path as cyclists whiz past, waving, acknowledging, or ignoring my very private conversation, completely unaware of the pain that crosses the miles.

I just wanted a picture. A moment to myself. That ever-satisfactory moment of redemption only a cyclist can truly appreciate. Because unlike hiking up to the top of a mountain where the downhill return can be just as challenging, unlike the easy ride of a chairlift to a blustery peak followed by a set of skis pointed downhill, there is a deep-rooted satisfaction in your quads building, your breath running out, your energy sapped, your pedals pushing, that will soon be released into a rush of downhill glory once you have reached the top of that hill.

 

I have made the climb, and now I must make the talk. It isn’t easy. It never is. Not when they’re two days old and won’t wake up or won’t stop crying, not when they’re two years old and won’t listen, not when they’re twelve and won’t do anything with you anymore, not when they’re seventeen and still need your advice no matter how far they’ve flown.

And so I stop. I listen. I console. I advise. I calm her.

And I click into my pedals and head back down the other end of this glorious hill for the glorious downhill home, the view, the path, the beating sun, the other cyclists, the climb behind me.

Knowing that there will be another path to take tomorrow. Another strenuous climb or an easy meandering jaunt. Knowing that she may call, that my boy may cry, that my youngest might resent me for always forgetting her, my middle child will likely toss her snarkiness my way, that there will be a million more incidents like the call I just took at the top of that hill.

Knowing that I can still have my moment because this, THIS is my moment. Being their mom. Whether I’m pedaling up or clicking back in for the thrill-ride down, they are with me.

They are part of the climb, the downhill, the wind blowing at my back or in my face, the muscles I build and the pain and joy and exhilaration and love that is cycling.

They are this picture from the top of every hill, blue and perfect, clouds waiting. Life.

They are my life.