Exhaustion has consumed me this week. Maybe after a week of insomnia I am now swinging the other way.
…I fell asleep before 9pm last night. Maybe it was the kava that did it…yes, kava..a south-pacific drink that tastes like dirt (“an acquired taste…” “people don’t drink it for the taste”) giving the body a high while still being cognitive. It’s supposed to be a relaxant…I think it worked.
At 6am I woke up with that slow very tired brain mush and pushed myself out of bed contemplating the closest place to get coffee that was open… a cafe that didn’t require a hill. “Mmm…bike ride?” Really? First, coffee. Always first. Coffee.
An hour or so later, reluctantly climbed on the bike and sailed down hill towards the park.This morning was another moderate ride of 20 miles. The fresh air felt good on the waking up from mush head and I played with the push and pull of my shoes on the pedals.
Discovery #1: My Feet!
While doing a balancing pose in a yoga class recently, a teacher suggested that we focus on the instep of the foot. I noticed immediately my tendency to shift towards the outer parts of my feet (towards the pinky toe) and how much concentration it took to press down with the entire foot.
I noticed the same on my ride this morning. In order to go faster I use the outer edges of my feet; so I practiced pressing down with the whole foot, which although, uncomfortable at first and had me slowing down was neat to realize the difference in the muscle usage and ultimately made for a more comfortable ride.
Discovery #2 Clip-ins!
At stoplights I always clip out with both feet which is incredibly ineffective. It’s pure fear. And so again today I played with clipping in and out and discovered that I could do it with relative ease (and fear).
Discovery #3-No hands!
Not yet….but for sure so much more comfortable in the dug-outs and also finally able to comfortably take my right hand off the bar and take a sip of water.
These are small easy bits that perhaps I should’ve mastered years ago when first starting out. But I didn’t; and it’s fun, now, to these abilities emerge while enjoying the ride.
The weekend of May 23rd was the most fun-disasterous-ego-busting-laughing-learn-my-lesson the-hard-way weekend of the year . My friend Kate and I had planned to do a triathlon on the coast of Ixtapa. It really was one of those everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong types of weekends, but so fun that everything worked out in a wonderful way. Here’s a “Fortunately/Unfortunately” synapsis of our weekend:
Start of the race in Ixtapa. Our international crew.
10. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find cheap tickets to the beach.
9. Fortunately we decide to take an overnight bus! And then, Kate finds cheap tickets!
8. Unfortunately, she bought them backwards. And so we have to buy a new set of tickets.
7. Fortunately, they have tickets available.
6.Unfortunately, the return flight is for Monday. This means we have to miss a day of work.
5. Fortunately, we have to miss a day of work to stay at the beach another night!
Suffering at the beach one more day.
4. Unfortunately, our flight is delayed….and delayed…and deeelaaayyyeed. (we spent more time in the airport than on the plane)
3. Fortunately, they gave us food vouchers so we got to eat a pretty good meal at the airport.
2. Unfortunately, we were going to get in after packet-pick up and registration closed.
1. Fortunately, the owner of the race was on our flight and so they kept registration open and when we got our packets just as they closed the doors!
On the physical side of things I had hurt my foot pretty badly the week before. “Tendinitis. Stay off of it for two weeks,” were the orthopedic’s recommendations. “MMmmm. Listen. I have a competition in a week. Let me do that and then I will rest for as long as I need to. And um, listen, I’ll just swim and bike if I need to, and will stay off of it for the run.” I pleaded.
I did realize the ridiculousness of my negotiation. It was as if I was six and my mom and I were negotiating how many more bites of broccoli before I could have dessert…only, I’m 33 and this is not about dessert this is about recuperating from an injury! What patience doctors must have working with athletes! It’s not like I can say to my foot, “Hey..pssst…just heal for now and then you can hurt afterwards.” [although admittedly, I did].
My most important rule about racing is that I cross the finish line with a smile. Races always have their moments, but I do this for fun.
“I really will just do the swim and the bike, and stop there.” I thought to myself. Yeah..right.
Unfortunately, I finished that race… with a grimace on my face. I think I came in last. What a lesson in humility, injury, and letting go. It was a great weekend-cheering on my teammates and spending an extra day at the beach with Kate.
Returning to DF I got a stern lecture from Coach 1, Coach 2, an orthopedic doctor, and my foot might-as-well… in which the message rang clear: OFF YOUR FOOT.
I asked my coach about his thoughts on this race.
“You did an ironman, Sarah. That’s awesome. But your ego made you do this race. And now you want to ride 90km on an injured foot. For what?” [I had just signed a teammate and I up for a ironman in July in which I was going to swim and bike and he was going to run] . Also, cut the bullshit. Start training.”
I was puzzled. “I am training. I’m training every day.”
Still not quite grasping his meaning another coach pointed out to me, “You come here tired and stressed.” Oh ,that’s true.
The thing that no one tells you about the aftermath of an Ironman is how long the let down is going to last and how it manifests itself. I knew that it was going to be hard afterwards. I figured two weeks. Maybe a month at most. And the most obvious part of it probably lasted two months (the first month after everyone wanted to talk about it still, so that was fun!). But then regular life settles in.
Paloma (my partner in Ironman) and I would talk about this periodically. She was able to identify more easily her struggles with the aftermath. “I’m fine.” I told myself. “I don’t have a problem slowing down. I’m still training every day. But I’m good!” Or so I thought.
But really I wasn’t good. I was pushing at everything I was doing; I was afraid that I stopped pushing then I would lose all my strength, gain weight, and god-forbid, have no purpose! Enjoyment and ease of course did not even enter this conversation. I am an ironman. I am a long-distance triathlete. I must teach all day, tutor twice a week, teach yoga, complete a master’s program, and compete 90 kilometers on a bike because that’s what I do.
And so I pushed. I pushed at everything. And without realizing it I was just kind of physically present to whatever was there but didn’t have my whole being into anything in particular. And as a result: I lost strength, gained weight, and wasn’t sure for what I was training. And what pushed me to go and go and go? This idea that I couldn’t stop or else I’d be a total failure….look at all of the people around me and how fast they swim and their workload! Of course I can keep up…I have to keep up!
I finally hit bottom when I was examining yet another option for the summer and on the brink of taking it, I cried to my mom, How can I know what I want to do next when I have not even submitted grades yet. When my apartment is still a mess and I have to move in a week? My whole life I have been rushing to do the next thing and meet the next goal. I just need to be.
After that race in May I started counting my steps.Training was my godsend in the craziness that was going on and I showed up. Not always my fastest times or my “strongest” moments, but I smiled more. Started to become more conscientious of my body, my breath, my attitude, and the other people around me.
In the pool (where I was spending a lot of time since I couldn’t run) my coach badgered me. Every time I did a long distance work out he would say, Much better than Ixtapa, huh? 1500 meters in 32 minutes-not okay anymore.
Endurance sports are about personal bests for me. 32 minutes is an awesome time. So is 40. So is finishing! So is getting in the water and taking a stroke. . Everyone’s goals are different for them. So the time references here are not a general statement for what everyone should/shouldn’t do. For me I only use time as a reference because I know what I am capable of. 32 minutes is slow especially because I hadn’t been able to break that time in open water.
5:30am waiting to go to the start line for San Gil.
Sunday, July 13th I stood on the edge of the lake at the start of San Gil in San Juan del Rio, Queretaro. My race mate walked down to the start with me. I was freezing. It was 6:30 in the morning and the sun hadn’t risen yet.”Oh yeah, even in Mexico it’s cold when the sun’s not up.” I didn’t have a jacket with me.
My job was to swim 1900 meters in under thirty-eight minutes and then cheer on my teammates as they raced 90 km on the bike up a mountain and ran 21km for a strong finish. Nervous. That I’d get the route wrong and get my team disqualified. That I’d be stuck forever with the same speed in open waters even after two months of solid training in the pool practically every day.
Why? I thought. Why do I do this for so much anxiety. I don’t get money for it. Why? Ni modo. Here I am. My teammate who walked down with me to the start said, “You are so brave to swim in this water so early in the morning!” “The air is colder than the water,” I reassured him. And I knew it to. But still what if I was wrong and it took me the whole swim to warm up?
I stood, at my coach’s suggestion towards the front of the pack, ready to jump in at the sound of the race. What if I get run over?Yellow buoys to the right and green buoys to the left. Breathe.
The sound went off and so did we. Counting my strokes, listening to my breath, sighting the buoys. This was just like any other race. This was the pool…find the line, push the hand down in in the water, relax the elbow as it comes across…one, two, three…next buoy.
So why? Why do it? Every time: as I stand on the water’s edge, the stage’s edge, whatever edge…always, why? Am I an adrenaline junkie…? Probably. But then I am there: swimming, acting, being. And then the question becomes always, why wasn’t I here before? All I know in that moment is that I forget about what or why and hear only my heart beating strong.
The cyclist on our team just off the bike
It it only when I pass another colored cap, or when another swimmer passes me does my mind come back and say Yessss! or Shit, what place am I in? …and then it comes back for a split second when the coach is at the water’s finish holding up a 3 and a 7. Panting, slightly dizzy, and disoriented I can only give a thumbs up about ohmygawd37minutes!!! as I sprint up the cobblestones in bare feet to meet my cyclist who is waiting in the relays tent for me so that she can climb the mountain. With all the spectators clapping and yelling animo! I am there giving her a big high five send off as I collapse ready to enjoy the sun for the rest of the day.
Enjoying the sun with teammates.
It is a relief to not climb 90 km up and down a mountain, nor run 21km in the heat of the day. It is so fun to spend the day in the sun with the other athletes on my team and cheer on the cyclists and the runners. And it is then that finally I see the results of my strength; the grin from ear to ear is back and it started the minute my teammates arrived the evening before and continued well into the evening of the race day and pretty sure it stuck when I went to bed that evening.
There will continue to be bad races, annoying training sessions, maybe hopefully no more injuries (please!), internal battles, and ego checks.
Our Awesome Relay!
I sometimes worry about my adrenaline junkie. It’s not very heart-oriented and I worry that because of her I will continue to seek these very highs that then lead to the very lows. But then I think that perhaps actually she is what takes me to that unknown edge even when there is fear and anxiety, and then my heart is what steadies me when I’m there. I never know what’s going to happen at the start of the race. Can’t control it. And that unknown space is the only thing that is real in this life.
I heard a car door shut and my coach’s voice, “Sarah, solo es tu y tu camino!” and then it was just me….well, me, my bike and a highway of roaring cars. This was back in November. The last long ride before the Ironman. I stared ahead of me and felt the beating sun on my face. I looked up at the green rolling hills and thought, “This is how I fell in love with Mexico.” And when I looked down at the white line that I was tracking I thought, “Oh hell, this road needs some song!” And assuming that no one could hear me busted out “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” at the top of my lungs.
When I was little my grandparents’ house in San Francisco was my magical kingdom: besides being spoiled rotten with sugar cereals for breakfast, jelly donuts on Sundays, two ice cream sundaes for dessert I was also the ever- gorgeous and willing model for my grandmother’s continuous clicking camera.
Upon arrival to the castle from Boston, I dropped my bags at the door, and raced up the winding carpeted staircase, where to the immediate left was the king and queen’s bedroom (my grandparents).My grandfather lay in his the big comfy bed with a breakfast tray lying on his belly and the crossword puzzle in his hand. Upon seeing him, I shouted “PAPA!” and he in his gruntling papa way would say, “Eyyyy, Sarahla, good to see ya.” Black and white photos taken and developed my grandma lined the walls with my mom, aunts and uncles, me and all my cousins.
But the best part…the real reason that I raced up those stairs so quickly was the Royal Closet. A three part door with mirrors on each one. When you closed the two doors it became a hall of mirrors…I spent hours in there making up songs and plays and conversations with the millions of mes so engrossed in my own imaginary play not giving a care in the world what adult might be laughing hysterically on the other side of that closet.
Fast forward twenty-five years, a little more hesitation and reserve has settled in. But on that hot November morning on the roaring highway, after 100 kilometers of riding, I really was not thinking about who might be on the lookout (well, except for maybe that broadway producer who just happened to pass by).
At lunch later that afternoon of the bike ride one of my coaches looked at me and said, “So in the car all the sudden I heard, ‘And IIII will always love you.” And everyone busted out laughing. So much for solitude. Another coach reprimanded me not for singing, but for my choice of song. And so began Sarah’s reputation for singing during whatever she does. (to this day, there are certain songs I am not “allowed’ to sing).
Around the same time, I was introduced to the rodillo libre–
the panic-and -run roller….
…a bike trainer in which the only way to keep yourself from falling is to breathe, pedal, balance, and relax. The first time I got on, my coach said, “Sing to me.” HA. I couldn’t tell him he was crazy, I couldn’t say anything but whimper and cry out “WOAAAAHHH!! AND DON’T YOU DARE LET GO!” nonetheless, not a single lyric would come out of my mouth.
My coach is in front of me saying “Relax!”
Rodillo and I have almost a year together. As much as I panicked (and still panic) over it, it has also been the best meditation. Letting go of the stresses of the day, focusing on just rhythm and breathing (cuz if not, the damn thing will throw me overboard),and allowing myself to be okay with not having a good moment. It has taught me what it means to to fall out and come back, to let go of disappointment, and know that no matter what happens I am loved…
as well of course balance, cadence, and hand position.
The rodillo libre is just me and my road…with the distractions of people moving around, coaches bumping into me as a lesson to keep pedaling and balanced, heavy rain falling on the tin roof, music blasting with coaches and my panicked mind saying “REEEELLLAAAAX.”
Thursday I had come a little late and so everyone else had finished their rodillo libre and went to swim. It was just me, the rodillo, and the wall. The music had stopped. “Coach! Please put on the music!” (I could finally say a few words that weren’t “Shit, I’m going to fall!”)
“What’s that one song that you always sing?” my coach asked me.
Oh how the coaches spoil me! Just me and my road, mirrors of myself all around. My choice of song and the echo of my own voice at the top of my lungs (well as much as my breath would allow)…my very own American Idol Diva Moment….all on tape. And I was not about to pass that up.
Ladies and gentlemen I present to you…free-rollin to karaoke.
A little girl stands next to a water fountain. She thoughtfully looks over the glistening penny in her hand and focuses in on her wish. I hope my parents get back together she thinksas she whisks the penny into the fountain. She knows this is never going to happen and somehow she knows that it’s not a good idea, nor does she really know if that what she wants. So why wish it?
That is my adult analysis of my four or five year old self. My parents divorced when I was one, and I have no recollection of them ever being together. So it seems odd to me, having no memory of them ever being together, wanting that for myself. Could it be, so young, that I already was feeling that social conformity demanded that the family unit be a mom, a dad, and a child living under the same roof? Could it be that I just wanted things the way they were supposed to be according to what I saw around me? Quite possibly.
During school (especially math class) I found myself in the front lines of a war torn country, being the key to reuniting the two lands, or the heroine in a hostage story while my teachers droned on about adding numbers together. But I knew I had bigger things to conquer.
A psychoanalyst, I think, might have a field day with me: “Tell me about this unsung-heroism-fantasy of yours where you are off saving the world joining lands together?” Might this have anything to do with…your parents divorce at such a young age?
Or, is it just another childhood fantasy that I must be so unique in the world of divorced children that of course a psychoanalyst would find my case interesting?
We learn as adults that courage and heroism do not have to be grand gestures. It can be found in the every day random acts of kindness that we pass onto one another. And yet, there’s a small part of me that thinks that that is complete bullshit. How glorious to save the world in some valiant manner, nothing short of a cape or a glistening wand or the halo that teeters above my head.
Immediately following college I enlisted in a workshop with a political theatre group . In exchange for some hours of labor we were given a workshop in which we learned some fundamentals of melodrama and comedia d’elle arte. Our final product was three plays, written and performed by us. Our play, of course, was about the failures of our education system (we chose melodrama). Having somehow a cast of all different ethnicities we played up our stereotypes (me being the white nerd whose parents sent her to inner city schools because they thought it would be safer than a suburban school where a random school shooting might take place). Through a cookie, the students became indoctrinated with the politics of No Child Left Behind and it was up to those who hadn’t eaten the cookie to somehow save the school from the evil superintendent!
And so we did! Harrah! And as writers, in a fit of idealistic flurry wrote an ending so beautiful and magical in which the school became the most perfect, performing, multi-ethnic-everyone-getting-along school-after, and we all lived happily ever after killing the evil superintendent.
We read the script aloud, and marvelled at our brilliance. Yes, kill No Child Left Behind and leave our emblem of emblems of schools! And yet… somehow we knew even as we read the script for the first time, that even for the fairy-tale/fantasy play we created we had to shut down the school. With hanging heads and big sighs we walked over to our facilitator and broke the news. “We have to shut down the school.”
She looked at us with incredible empathy, and sighed.. “I know,” she said wistfully. We turned around, slumped back to our posts, and reluctantly began the sad business of destroying the school that we had created and had become so attached. If that’s fiction, how might we react to such scenarios when our ideals conflict with reality?
Just recently, I find myself in such conflict. The team that I have been a part of for what seems like forever (really since October) has decided to split into two. This occurred right before I was to leave for the beach for a week. Throughout this week, I took walks on the long sandy beaches, gazed into the sunset,
Sunset in Puerto Escondido
and knew in my heart: that I, heroine-extravaganza, could get both sides to see how important they were to me (oh, yeah, and everyone else) and then of course they would get back together.
Psychoanalysts get your pen ready!
Like the little girl at the fountain sure that the penny would fly like cupid into the hearts of my parents, and the playwright ten years ago, I wrote friends eagerly. “This could work, right?” “Yes!” they responded to me enthusiastically. “Yes! What a grand idea!” I planned my speech carefully-starting of course off with an apology for my lack of mastery in Spanish. And then with incredible articulateness, wit, and empathy dove into how the team had served me. “Too much about me?” I thought. “Maybe so…” and then revised it as such to make it more about “us.”
Returning to the city, ready with my post inviting both teams to a place of mutual agreement, I called my good friend for back up. “This is a good idea, right?”
“Yes,” he responded.
“Not overly idealistic and ridiculous?”
“No. Do it.”
All right. Ready to launch.” Excited and nervous I copied and pasted my comments on the two FB pages only to find that…one member was already talking about different logos. My heart sank. I called my friend. “This isn’t a good idea,” I said. “
No,” he said. “People have already moved on.” “
“Yes.” And sadly I erased my posts.
I have spent all week wondering at my dissapointment. I have told myself I am not disappointed. I have told myself to stop being so emotional about it. I have told myself that I’m fine. But for some good reasons it is a big deal. And there is nothing I can do about it, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s sad. And Goddammnit, as I make changes in my life It would be nice if just one thing stayed the same!! But we all know that the only permanence on this planet is change.
And there’s another truth to this…a selfish-morbid truth:the heroine who at four was so sure that she, single-handedly, could be the answer to her parents reunion, at thirteen could be the re-uniter of two war-torn lands, and at thirty-three, as she danced on the shores of sunset while the waves furiously crashed around her, could join two teams as one, would once again have to sink into the every-day reality of being just another human being.
I knew a couple things when I embarked on this “Ironman” journey. I knew it would be more mentally than physically tough. I knew that I would have to grapple with comparing myself and fears of not finishing, and good and bad training sessions. I didn’t know how much mindspace it would take up, conversations, grapplings, etc. I vowed never to be the person who could only talk about my training. I am that person right now.
It seems that all people ask me are “How’s your training going?” (because that’s all I can think about right now)And I either fiercely want to or don’t want to talk about it depending on how my training session was. And I find myself fiercely annoyed when people do or don’t ask me about it. Or putting up and taking down photos of myself at athletic events, and fiercely annoyed at people when they do or do not like the picture. I wonder if this is how famous actors feel (and there is a fair amount of drama that lives inside of me.). “How dare you talk to me…I’m out to dinner with my family.” “How come you’re not talking to me…don’t you know I’m famous?” I shouldn’t do it. Too much mind space.
I went out for lunch with two type A personality friends on Friday afternoon who also happen to be very competitive triathletes.They are in love with spreadsheets. That’s how I know that they are Type A.
I’m not Type A, but I’m collecting friends who are. They come in handy for spreadsheet making(and planning my life). A recent article was describing that the “ironman” are type A personalities sitting on the edge of their couch just in case something is about to happen. Right now I am sitting back in a chair with my feet up drinking a cup of coffee. I have no problem sitting back on my couch gazing at facebook for hours thinking how “I should go grocery shopping,” or grade some papers. Maybe I shouldn’t do it. I don’t have the right personality type.
And then there’s my friend who has done two Ironmans. Both of which she laughed and smiled throughout the trainings, doing it with her best friend, and without a care about time or pace, just having the time of her life with her friend (what?? you’re allowed to have fun???). Sometimes it’s hard. I shouldn’t do it because it’s not always fun.
Triathlons are trendy now I’m told. I don’t want to be trendy. Maybe I shouldn’t do it.
I am tired. Enough said.
“I cry when buying bread,” a new friend who is also doing her first ironman, confessed.
I cried for two hours on the bike yesterday, and cried some more when I came home before taking a nap. I’m crying too much. Maybe I shouldn’t do it.A dear friend, who has nothing to do with sports at all, commented to me yesterday, “Yeah, you know maybe do what you enjoy without this stress.”
I’m not going! I’m too busy hiding in my kitchen cabinet!
But there’s always been a level of stress in completing whatever goal I have at the time. Applying for a new job. Creating a piece for the stage (oh my gosh, a week before every performance I told my director, “I’m not doing it. And I mean it this time!!!) and she would nod her head and smile and say, “I’ll see you backstage!” And predictably I would show up and have the time of my life.
I wrote the above at 7:30 this morning. It is now 3:40 in the afternoon and I’ve just returned from a bike race that swore I wouldn’t do (after I picked up my packet yesterday) and then a run with a friend. A teammate who I met yesterday and I’m sure gave her an ugly stare as I frustratedly rounded corner after corner at the concrete jungle of a 4km track, found me lost (shockingly) trying to find the team this morning, pointed me in the right direction. Before the race started, my coaches said to me, “Today, I don’t want to see you riding alone. As a triathlete, yes, you go alone. But today I want to see you as a cyclist, working in a team.” I nodded solemnly.
“Smile!” my coach yelled at me.
During the race, that same teammate found me.”Vamos juntos!” she shouted, almost out of breath. We rode together, in front of a pack, and as we rounded the curve on the third round she whooped and hollered and from the sidelines we heard a blur of cheers meant for us.
And so it was that I cried for the thousandth time in the past two months.
I finished that race with my teammate. We howled and hooted through the finish line. Me: faster than I had ever ridden, wanting to throw up… and smiling. Greeted by friends’ congratulations and by coaches’ hugs and approvals.
Teaching in the classroom
So ironman, job, the stage…how about waking up each morning? The butterflies in the stomach, the excitement that today I’m going to make a difference!…and the fear…what if I don’t?
At the end of Nicasio Valley Road in Nicasio, California is Old Ranchera Road. For me, this road has been the joyest of joys to be at as it has meant 40 miles of riding and the home-stretch to my final destination. It means that I have just ridden through “the enchanted forest” up and down the hill of Nicasio Valley Road and now I get to reward myself with a little goodie to get me through the final bit.
I looked in my bag to find 85 cents. Snickers bars cost $1.25. I glanced at the mini york peppermint patties on the counter, and said to the clerk, “I’ll just take this.” “That’s it?!?! Go get your snickers bar! Do you want something to drink? Might as well fill up!” I gave her my water bottle and she very kindly filled it to the top with tap water (well-water as I found out) and we struck up a conversation that began with me saying: “Sooooo is the road to Petaluma veeeryyy hilly?” (That and how much further usually have unhelpful answers, but nonetheless I still ask them). “I’m jsut so impressed with all of you cyclists,” she said. “There are people that roll in here that have gone 70-80 miles and they just shrug it off. I mean I used to ride 4 miles to pick up my son from school and that was a lot. And I guess you just can’t think about how far you have to go or you get overwhelmed. You just think one mile by one mile. And it just makes me think, what have I done today? I mean just in life, you know?”
The night before I had visited a dear friend who has recently been diagnosed with cancer. She relayed a story of a friend of hers who had been in the hospital recently. Nachshon, a slave under Pharoah’s rule was considered the brave one. However, he did not know how to swim. When the Red Sea parted, he walked into the water and for all intents and purposes should have probably drowned. But he didn’t. He just kept swimming.” On bad days, these two will text each other and say, “Just keep swimming.”
I told this story to the clerk at the general store. As I was telling it, her eyes were darting around the store and I thought that perhaps she thought that I was a religious zealot trying to convert her…however when I finished, she looked down at her arms and said, “I just got goose-bumps, wow.” And then, “Yeah, so I just ask myself every day…what have I done today?”
“Well,” you talk to cyclists every day and (others I’m sure) and offer words of encouragement and let them have snicker bars for 40 cents less than they are worth!” She shrugged and said, “Yeah, I guess.”
Now, fully fueled with my well-water and snickers bar I got on my bike and headed out for the “homestretch” of my journey. It was…considerably hilly (um, duh, Northern California) and as I spun my pedals trying to make my feet go at 100rpms a minute, I focused on the ground ahead of me, gathered up the kind words of the woman at the general store, and chanted, “Just keep swimming… Inch by inch. Mile by mile.”
Thanks for doing something today, General Store Lady.
Edgar (university friend of Lalo and Mierny)-Road bike
Sarah-Road bike (random client at People for Bikes where Lalo works)
Eduardo or Lalo-Touring Bike (employee at People for Bikes)
Manuel-urban bike (frequent client at People for Bikes)
Mierny-Urban bike (Lalo’s girlfriend)
I have many MANY fears. It may center around of not being in control. Yet one thing I am so grateful for is my fearlessness of letting other “fools” into my life. Those fools have only continued to expand my understanding of how limitless living can be. From artists, to cyclists, to yogis, to school teachers, travelers, writers, fighters, clowns, all share something in common: a passion for living and connecting others through their passion. It is hard to remember sometimes that even in the every day routine when other worries get in the way that passion exists. But sometimes you need a vacation to help you remember.
On Monday I rode from my house in DF to Cuernavaca, a city in the state of Morelos (known as the state of Eternal Springtime and for having more pools per square mile than any other place in…Mexico? North America?
Wanting to be ready for a six am departure from my house I woke up at 5, drank my coffee and a pot of oatmeal ready for adventure. At six am I walked Cannondale downstairs and waited for the other cyclists. Forgetting that I was in Mexico (being prompt has its downside) it was a good hour and fifteen minutes before my companions showed up at my door.
As we waited for the last rider, Manuel, a 60-ish year old doctor explained a little bit of the route to me…”when we get into the entrance of Cuernavaca,” he started, “it’s “pura bajada…’ ” (straight downhill)….greeaaat. “Oh but don’t worry, it’s not for awhile.” Okay, I won’t worry. Edgar, our last cyclist showed up fiiiinaaally. “Me choco!” he said excitedly, and showed us a fresh scratch on his hand from running into a truck on his way over. Oh yes. Urban riding.
Urban riding takes on a new meaning in DF…and it is super fun. I know this sounds weird, but there have been many times when I have been so envious of cyclists riding in the city, weaving through traffic–just the independence of getting around, the feeling that you get from really being in the city that you don’t get from being in a car. But it is quite the adventure and I was happy to have three expert urban DF riders with me.If you’re going to ride in DF always take a whistler and a signaler. We took the metrobus lane (public transportation) to the south of the city, someone now and then shouting “Metrobus!!” (geezus) and someone else constantly whistling at the drivers with the windows up (most drivers in Mexico City keep their windows rolled up for the fear of getting mugged. Sad, huh?). When we reached the edge of the city, Lalo called out, “7 kilometers!” Ay. Even on a bike there’s traffic.
As I was riding I was writing this blog post in my head (I wish there was a way to attach a tape recorder to my body to record all my amazing thoughts in the moment). when at one point Lalo shouted out “Las Tortugas de la Colonia Roma!” (The Turtles of the Neighborhood Roma), which then became the title of this blog. It was an appropriate name too, as we definitely took our time (fine with me).
“Are you going to ride on the highway?” a friend had asked the day before.
“Of course not!” I, the spoiled cyclist from San Francisco, answered.
Lalo and Sarah on the way to Cuernavaca
Come to find Cannondale and I riding up the side of the mountain with about three feet of space-on one side the cars zooming by and the other, a side of a cliff.
At one point we stopped because of a bike mechanical issue. Three of us were on the side of the road chatting while we waited for the other two. Manuel, the 60-year old doctor began telling us about all the horrible accidents that had happened or could happen on this road. “Um, can we wait until we are at our destination to hear those stories, please?” including, “We should really stick together so that we have less chance of being assaulted.” Fabulous. “At any point, if we do get separated we’ll meet at the gas station right before the Tres Marias.” Perfect!
Well Cannondale and I floated up the side of the mountain. The only thing stopping me at several points was realizing that I was alone, with Edgar shooting ahead, and the others behind (I wish I could take credit, but Cannondale is an “avión” (airplane) as Manuel liked to point out. I was glad to have a reference point as every traffic signaler, cop, and truck driver stopped on the side of the road knew what gas station I was talking about. I pulled into the gasolinera, and Edgar greeted me with a huge smile, “You made it!!” and we sat in the Italian Coffee Company while we waited for the others (Manuel joined us shortly thereafter, and Mierny had had a flat tire).
We stopped again ten minutes later at Las Tres Marias for tacos (um, I had amazingly delicious guacamole) and beer which I did not drink right before facing my phobia.
Beer and Tacos before la bajada a Cuernavaca
I quizzed the table about the descent…”soooo is this pura bajada like the one we just did? Is it super fast?” Until finally Edgar said, “Just let it be.” Okay, I’m just gonna let it be. “I’ll stay with you. Don’t worry.” And so we began…the road bumpy, the cliff on the right and traffic on the left, the downhill constant. Which way would you like to die today? Was unfortunately the only thing going through my head. The first ten minutes I took deep breaths, thinking of happy things, and chanting yoga mantras. I will not lie, I was totally plotting an alternative route to meet the rest of the group in Cuernavaca…hitchhiking, perhaps?Edgar was patiently behind me patiently encouraging me to “let her go…” and “relax a little bit.” The rest, waiting at the first part of the descent. “Did you enjoy the downhill? Isn’t it pretty??” “No, I didn’t really enoy it. And I don’t know if it was pretty cause I was too busy focusing on the ground in front of me, thank you very much. “Why don’t you let her go a little bit? You know if you break too much you’re going to wear out the tires and then it could explode!” This is not a theory I was unfamiliar with…it’s just that an irrational fear means that it’s not explainable, and so I’m not letting go of the breaks. Telling me my tires are going to explode just encourage my fear, and makes me want to hold on tighter.
We took off again, and this time we rounded a corner in which I felt for sure I would fall over if I continued. I clipped out and told Edgar I was walking. He looked at me. “Sarah, solo 1 kilometro mas.” I stared at him. “Mmmm…tal vez dos.” It was the biggest piece of bullshit that I had heard that day, but I decided that I would believe it. I ended up walking much of the way and convinced Edgar to go ahead of me. I will tell you I definitely enjoyed a two hour pity party, always greeted by my companions with smiles and a kind of optimism that I could only appreciate afterwards.
Lalo’s family lives in Cuernavaca. The plan had originally been to ride to Cuernavaca, have lunch at his family’s house, and then return by bus the same day. As it was getting late however, we decided that we would spend the night in Cuernavaca and return early the next morning. When we finally turned off the highway and into Cuernavaca I immediately fell in love.
Cuernavaca is a beautiful city, and knock on wood, I have always had a wonderful experience there. Las estacas, the watering hole I wrote about in the last blog post is right outside of Cuernvaca. I was super curious about Lalo’s family, only because the degrees of wealth are so exaggerated in Mexico. You just never know if you are going to be greeted by someone’s butler or end up in a tiny little shack.
I knew we were getting close when all of the street vendors started shouting “Hola, Lalo!” and we pulled in front of a bright blue house, his mom in the window shouting, “Oye, Lalo! Que haces aqui?” (Lalo, hi! What are you doing here?) at which point two simultaneous thoughts were going through my head: one, WHAT??? YOU DIDN’T TELL YOUR MOM THAT SHE WAS GOING TO HAVE FOUR PEOPLE OVER FOR LUNCH???” and two, a breath-taking moment of oh my gosh, I am in Mexico now. I was twenty-two, wide-eyed and full of awe and absorbing the colors of the street, the house, and the sweet calls of family. Two very happy dogs greeted us as we entered the gate of a small compound. A beautiful mess of a garden surrounded us—cacti, mango and avocado trees. His aunt greeted her nephew with a hug as he gave us a tour. His grandmother, who had passed away just two weeks before, was Mayan. So his aunt and uncle had taken great care to decorate the house with a Mayan décor…brightly colored walls, and Mexican pottery hung tastefully around the kitchen. I really was in Mexico.
We entered his parents’ house next, Lalo’s mom scolding him for not telling her earlier as, how would she ever have enough food? (meanwhile putting out a spread of jicama with lime and chili, a plate of sliced oranges, mangos, tortillas and cheese with adobo sauce, and those who eat meat, chicken). Lalo gently explained to his mom that he hadn’t told her because he knew she would worry the whole time about them on the highway. Knowing she might be a little annoyed (but not too much because what Mexican mama or any other mama can be upset at the sight of seeing a visiting child), he had picked her up a bag of sweet bread from the Tres Marias (which we very happy accepted from her along with a cup of nestcafe-which I will tell you has never tasted so good as that moment).
We peeled out of our disgusting bike clothing and accepted clothing from Lalo’s sister, and never had I been so happy to step into a warm shower (really everything just was the best tasting, the best feeling, the best everything after such a long day) and eventually were released to go to sleep after everyone had showered.
Tuesday we returned early in the morning, and it was super fun riding back from the bus station as I started to recognize where we were and how the streets were connected in the city.
Tired cyclists happily sitting after a long day.
Dar Williams, a folk-singer has a song, “Oh What Do you Love More than Love,” of which I think of often when I’m surrounded by people who just love what they do for the pure love of it. And I think that was the best part: to just be surrounded by, yet one more group of fools, who just love to do what they do for “la pura amor de la bici.”
My first night in Lake Atitlan in Guatemala last summer I met two wonderful girls. The first night I was walking with C. As we rounded corners and quickened our pace to match our conversation pace, she started telling me about a “healer” whom with she had an incredible connection (more like mentor, mentee) and who had helped her and her friend with some sticky issues that they had both been battling.
So, I went to see him. And helpful he was. Once back in Mexico I kept in touch with him occasionally. I went through a particularly eye-opening, weird, vulnerable experience, some might call it falling in love, in which he helped me see the gift of opening yourself up to someone regardless of what happens in the end.
This so-called “falling-in-love” experience has made my emotions a bit volatile and has sent me into a bit of hibernation mode. The thing about being abroad is that at first everything is amazing and so exotic. Then things settle in. This isn’t bad! You find a slow cooker and curry…and you realize you have friends. A routine. And then you run into yourself. Again.
Towards the end of last week I emailed a friend apologizing if I was a bit difficult sometimes. It was a conversation in Spanish. I understood everything up until he wrote, “solo se tu mismo.” I kept translating in my head, but I wasn’t getting it because the only way I was interpreting “se” was the conjugation of the verb saber, which is “to know.” I typed it into google translate. Staring back at me were these words:
Just be yourself.
After further reflection with a friend (thank gawd for hummus therapy), it was perhaps thought that maybe I don’t trust other people with who I really am because ta-da, I am flawed!. So what better way than to trust someone with who you really are than to go for a bike ride with two two-time ironman finishers outside of Mexico City after not having ridden in over a yearIt was a beautiful day up in Tepotzatlan. A bike rider’s dream. A forgotten road. Hardly no cars. Hardly any cyclists. Rolling hills. Mountains in the far distance.
Clean air. Pink and purple flowers popping up everywhere.
I have a paralyzing fear of going downhill. I will walk in clip- in shoes two miles down just so I don’t have to ride, what will take, 10 minutes.
It’s more dangerous to slow down and brake than to just let yourself fly. I know. If you’re scared you’re gonna fall, you’re probably gonna fall. I know. I know. I know. So, there I was, having just rounded a corner and for no particular reason here comes a small downhill and I am frozen. My friends, so kind and patient, coaxed me back on the bike and rode with me back to the car.
I have a love/hate relationship with endurance events. I love them because I love race day. I love them because it gives me a reason to get out of my house and out into the sunshine (or fog). I love them because really and truly exercise is my prescription drug, and I’m more likely to take it if I have a goal.
I hate them for the amount of work they seem to take sometimes, and for the confrontation of all the emotions that come up (especially the bike) in one or two hours. One minute, I am experiencing the complete joy of pedaling myself through such beauty, the other, cursing uphill and missing that damn third rung, and freezing at the downhill, all the while knowing that if I can just let myself go, trust the bike and let it, take me down and then power me through the next uphill the experience might not only be more safe, but also more pleasurable. I struggle with this by myself. I know myself. But to let someone else see that? And, it wasn’t like I could run out the door (I am notorious for leaving classes).
I think I have gotten to the point in my life where I would rather just struggle by myself, get through it, hibernate, and come out when I’m chipper again. Sometimes being alone is just easier. And it’s so hard sometimes to admit that you need or want help. Because you need help cause you can’t do something and you’re “flawed.” And sometimes it’s hard to admit that you’re sad because well isn’t that a flaw too? And what’s really hard? To realize, that, at the end of the day, that the only person who’s really running away from you, is you.