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A Ferret Called Wilson

Chasing Happy, Chasing Dreams

Month

April 2015

Lonely Ride of Betrayal

I would like to start by saying that I love Pikuro with my whole heart. She has never betrayed me, always been strong, never complained, and always volunteered for a challenge. I love this bike.

The boys, on the other hand, were much less praiseworthy.

I had gone into the shop after work on Monday to see if there would be practice for the Sado ride we are doing in just over two week’s time (a 210 km loop around Sado island). So far we have done a single ride of half the total distance in practice and I’m really nervous. I give up and go home without an answer only to get called just as I’m going to bed and told to be back at the shop at 6am the next day. It’s an hour and a half from my house. We were going to ride from Enzan station to the top of the highest paved road in Japan. I was thrilled at the idea, but tired and worn out. I agreed on faith, hoping that since the pansy girly-girls at the shop were doing the Sado ride that I would be able to do the practice ride, too.image

Barely fifteen minutes into the ride they disappear around a corner without a word. Luckily the road was pretty obvious, because they didn’t bother to give me directions. While I knew I would be dropped eventually, I told myself that they would come back soon to check on me and make sure I wasn’t lost or overwhelmed or something. I said to myself, of course they’ll come back! They’re so much stronger than I am that the extra miles will barely be a workout.

An hour goes by, then two. I look down at my GPS and I’ve climbed nearly a thousand meters in under fifteen kilometers’ distance. A map by the side of the road marks the peak at 2300 meters. I could only carry one water bottle and it was already dangerously light. There were no shops, no vending machines, not even any intersections in sight, just this long, steep, winding road disappearing off into the clouds.

Parched and exhausted I reach the Kotagawa Dam, and the first intersection in nearly twenty kilometers of riding. All the public toilets are bolted shut. There is no water. I am only halfway to the top. I sat down in the grass by the side of the road and tried to hold it together. I had no idea where I was and no idea where they were. Do I turn back? Do I push on? The gentlest grade on the entire ascent was 4% and the mountain road was tight, often only a single lane, and dirty with the dried leaves and seeds of a winter without traffic. With no cell reception and no backup, a flat tire or a slip on the way down could be disastrous, but my legs were already quivering with exhaustion.
imageAfter a nap in what turned out to be a grassy field of deer poop I decided I would ride the two kilometer scenic route to a flower bed around the corner. It would wake my legs up a bit and get me back in the zone to handle the very spookey descent ahead of me. Five kilomters and another 300 m of climbing and there were no flowers. Fuck it, I’m done. I’m fed up and pissed off and I’m going home. I did my best to ride clean and smooth on the descent, but the road was so dangerous that it was hard to really enjoy myself as I kept expecting a car to appear right in front of me around every turn. As much as I could see, I focused on my newfound technique: brake, eye the inside of the turn, keep your focus inside until either you start to creep toward the outer edge or the turn opens up, then look at your exit and set up for the next curve. I did well, though my knuckles were locking up and my shoulders were on fire by the time I got down.

Not knowing what to do, I headed for the train station and hoped for a place to get water. The boys showed up twenty minutes later, but after all that I had been through I was livid, fucking furious! I could not even speak to them for fear I would fly into a rage. It had been over four hours since I had any contact with any of them and they didn’t even bother to tell me what route they were planning to ride.

In the end, I still enjoyed the physicality of the day. I love my bike. I love feeling my muscles clench and churn, and the response of the bike surging forward with every pedal stroke. I love knowing that it is the power of my own body that drives the momentum underneath me. At the same time, I wanted desperately to have a group to ride with — to ride with friends.

A girl on a bike is a lonely, lonely creature. There is no culture for female cyclists, no products that suit our bodies, no events appropriate for our skills. I searched in the States, and I’ve been searching in Japan. At first I said to myself, you just need to get a little stronger. You’ll be amazing as a woman, but you’ll still only be able to ride with the beginner and weaker guys, but it will be a ride with a group in any case so set this as your goal. I did that. I got stronger. I got faster. I took on challenges that most other women would cringe at and what did it get me? It got me dropped without a word in the mountains in the middle of nowhere with no water, no support, not even a goddamn map.
image

I don’t curse my bike, the road or even the sport. I curse the privilege of the Y-chromosome, the infrastructure, and the dehumanization of women. I curse the blithe and cavalier attitude of the boys who say to me, “look, we didn’t treat you any differently than anyone else. If these other guys couldn’t keep up, we would have dropped them, too.” And they have the audacity to complain that women don’t want to ride with them! Dear boys, this is the world that you create. Stop being such fucking assholes about it.

Baltimore Violence

Living in Japan means I am often late to hear news of events in the US. A friend shared the below article with me and, while I am saddened by the death of this young man, I do share the bafflement of the public. Real life violence is ugly, uglier than the most graphic movies can ever suggest, and the story of this man’s death is tragically not unique.

An officer made eye contact with Gray. Gray, for unknown reasons, ran. The officer and his colleagues then detained Gray. They found him in possession of a switchblade. They arrested him while he yelled in pain. And then, within an hour, his spine was mostly severed. A week later, he was dead.

The police were in enemy territory from their perspective. Gray showed fear by running in reaction to making eye contact with the police. Also in a state of fear themselves, this primal interaction triggered the balance of fear in the officers’ favor, sending them into the tunnel of violence from which the only exit is exhaustion or physical restraint.

The true ugliness behind violence, particularly of the police brutality kind, is that there is no rational explanation. Moreover, we like to believe that this degree of viciousness is restricted to a select few, evil members of society. If we could only punish them hard enough, or predict and thwart them consistently enough, we could erase it from our collective existence. But the potential for violence is in all of us and if the circumstances are just so, each and every one of us is capable of murdering our own best friend. 恐ろしいでしょう。

The “non-violence” this article calls out may come from the wrong side of the fight. However, we all must keep our eyes on the goal and our hearts in love. Mr. Gray would be better honored if peace could be found between the police and the people. The city of Baltimore would be a better place to live if a conversation could be had where all could be heard. No doubt the police did a terrible thing, but to punish without mercy is to start a war. To forgive and remedy is to have peace.

The choice before the people of Baltimore is not riot or not riot, it is a choice to grow or to fester. To grow is difficult and requires love, but it is without a doubt the more beautiful path.

Continue reading “Baltimore Violence”

応援し放題!Cheering Squad Unleashed!

Over the past month I’ve gone to three of my friends’ competitions. Two were to support my girl friend in her return to sport climbing. She was amazing! The third, and I wish there had been a fourth, was to support Thunderthighs and the Giant Everwin team in their first race.

My girl was absolutely fantastic. I’ve never seen her so focused, and at the same time so completely in her own. Strong and confident, she gave me exquisite pleasure just to be there, cheering her, secretly saying to myself “Hey all you people! That’s MY friend there!”

Working the overhang like a beast
Working the overhang like a beast
Resting between climbs
Resting between climbs
Sending the first route of the finals. Tricky and balancy, but just what she's good at
Sending the first route of the finals. Tricky and balancy, but just what she’s good at.

The next week I went out to 群馬 (Gunma) with the racing team to see what a road race looked like. It was fun from the start, with an easy atmosphere despite the fact that the start was at 3am.

How are we all gonna fit?
OhaYO~!
Checking our gear at the start line
Checking our gear at the start line

I would have been intimidated if I was showing up alone to race and saw all these guys with all their bikes and tools spread out all over the parking lot. But since I was with the group, to me it was just exciting to feel all the tension buried just underneath, ready to explode at the sound of the gun.

いってきま~す!
いってきま~す!

These two were a father-son pair and it was the first race for both of them. Fight! Fight!

冷静でハイテンション
冷静でハイテンション

Even I’m nervous at the start line to a running race. These guys must have been so much more so, but they hid it well. Thunder did not keep his nerves in check as well. He exploded to the front of the line, and then imploded a few laps later. A shame, but still impressive to have held on as long as he did.

最初から先頭
最初から先頭

Going home, a few of us had to be reduced to “cargo” status, but apparently cargo is a pretty comfy ride.

Comfy? Zzzzzz
Comfy? Zzzzzz

All the guys did their best and it was a thrill just to be there. Something about knowing the competitors, knowing their histories and the reasons why they are racing, makes everything more exciting, more meaningful and more fun.

I like having fun. Cheering my friends is stupid fun!

Dear Mate

Dear Mate,

You live a small life. It’s not that I have anything against you, on the contrary I wish you the most extraordinary happiness. It’s just that you and I do not get along and the reason is that the boundaries of your tiny world suffocate me.

To be certain, excelling at your job is a commendable goal. The time and effort you devote to courting your girlfriend, and your determination to marry her properly, cannot be faulted. You are well dressed, punctual, charismatic, and stifling.

Has it never occurred to you to dream? To dare? To adventure? Have you never stood before the swirling, screaming, horizon swallowing, towering wall of a sandstorm and chosen, rather than to take sensible shelter, to push forward through the rage to test your own strength and discover what exists on the other side?

Is the praise from your Sempais and colleagues truly what your heart yearns for, taking pleasure in your own casual humility as you pretend that you don’t revel in their compliments? Or would you be willing to defy them in pursuit of a more complete knowledge? Does the commitment of your woman make you feel safe, even as you allow her to harness your masculinity and corrall you in her bed? Do you no longer remember the fiery heat of unbridled, hungry passion?

Mate, you live a small life. Everything you have chosen for yourself you have mastered with impeccable skill, and yet, in the face of all that there is and all that is yet to be discovered in the world, you have indeed staked out a very tiny plot. You guard it fiercely from me like a shepherd guards against wolves in the night, but be at ease. I don’t want your narrow space. I am simply standing here at the gate, inviting you out into the wild open, where there are storms that could batter you into pieces, and love that could glue you back together more vibrant than when you started out.

I am simply inviting you to live.

image

On the Importance of Playing

I’m sick with a cold again. Actually it’s a sinus infection, but whatever. I pushed through three hours of lecture and dinner with a friend I hadn’t seen for a while and the end result is I have no voice today.

If you ride your bike, everything will be better. 自転車で走りさえすれば、人生の何でも良くなる。

Knowing this to be true all the way down to my bone marrow, I tried three times to take Pikuro out this morning, ultimately failing. The reason is that Pikuro and I have discovered speed and I am no longer able to ride her lazily or slowly. The speed just happens. I’m ok with this; I’m thrilled with this, in fact. However, with my body wracked with fever, my face heavy like someone stuffed my nose holes full of lead up to my eyeballs, and my legs as slippery and liquid inside as barely not melted butter, I knew that Pikuro and I would not be able to play well today. We would try, but the weakness in my body would just knock me out before I reached the top of the river bank.

What to do? What to do? I wanted to play on my bicycles, but my body wasn’t cooperating. Solution? Carbon fiber, XC racing, tubeless, 29″, full rigid Chamerion to the rescue! I recently put her flat pedals back on so she is in 100% play mode, too.

Once I picked my bike, the next choice was destination. I knew the mountains had to be off limits despite the gorgeous sunshine and perfect trail conditions — I would just hurt myself with my butter legs. But where to? The idea of running errands on my carbon race bike just punctured my heart. I needed to play, but I needed to keep the intensity down.

So, here I am at a cafe in the local mall, sipping a latte and making a point not to accomplish anything. The thing with Chammie is that she just plays all by herself. I just happen to be along for the ride. All I needed to do was give her some space and not crowd her energy out with Adult-like notions of getting anything done. Because, the reality is, I don’t like being an adult. It’s done nothing for me and only made me feel guilty for wanting to go out and play.

I mean, what is the point of being alive, after all, if growing up means you’re not allowed to play anymore? Give me my toys, ideally give them to me in carbon, and give me my wide open spaces! I have some trails to destroy, some air to catch, and some serious speed to produce! And keep your silly notions of responsibility to yourself.

The playing will be had!

Curse the God of Mornings!

@5a-fucking-m

Sick Ride of Sickness

Continuing the theme of my reinfatuation with cycling brings me to the topic of bicycles and health. Some people believe that when you catch a cold you need to lie in bed with lots of blankets, drinking soup and being generally incompetent. I, on the other hand, believe you need to ride your bicycle.

Yesterday morning I woke up with a distinct coldy-feeling in my throat. Ugh. I just got over one bug and I seem to be picking up its ugly cousin barely a week later! It was a teaching day, so I went to work anyway. As the day progressed I developed a fever and by the time the bell rang for my final class to begin I was delirious. Personally, I don’t mind fever induced delirium so much. It’s like being drunk, but without the alcohol. My students also think I’m hilarious when I attempt to teach class in a fever induced semi-stupor. Overall it was a good day, you know, except for the part where I was sick and teaching class in a fever induced semi-stupor.

I went home right after class, not even bothering to go back to my office for my things. At 7pm I was in bed and while I knew I was incapable of doing anything that involved being out of bed, neither could I sleep. The reason was that my fevered brain kept sending images of thigh-rippling, spandex clad, fierce eyed cyclists burning lap after lap across the back of my eyelids. On through the night they rode, chasing each other up hills as if they didn’t understand how gravity works, and around corners as if their wheel secreted sticky juice like spider man. By midnight I knew I had a problem. By nine the next morning I was facing a decision: is the sickness of my legs stronger than the sickness of my face (also known as a head cold)?

It turns out that my legs do not like reasons. I tricked them into a baby ride by picking a road that, as far as google maps can tell, dead ends along a river 10km from my house. It doesn’t actually dead end, just sort of wanders off into the mountains, but the pavement gets nasty quickly and I figured I would promise my legs a ride up to the God Rock if that wasn’t enough, but was hoping they’d be too distracted by the second half of my plan to take me up another 500m of climbing while still mildly feverish.

The highlight of today was my cornering practice. I read an article on cornering on a road bike that said smooth is the most important goal. It also explained what the apex of the turn is, which apparently I never knew and that’s why cornering was scaring the shit out of me all the time. In case you’re wondering the “apex” of the turn is the innermost point of the road that you will pass with your bike. The “exit” is the outermost point of the road you will pass after which you straighten your line and are no longer turning. If you’re a “roadie” or some other hot shot and disagree with me, go crash your bike somewhere because this understanding changed my life! On the descent, which had me in my full gear most of the way, I focused on taking every turn smoothly and safely. Specifically, I made braking, looking at the apex, then looking at the exit my main priorities. There were some turns that scared me quite a bit, but I promised myself that I would follow my instructions — brake, look, turn, look, exit — no matter what. If I spooked, I said I would give myself a meter space between me and the edge of the lane and if it looked like I was going to ride into that meter, I would use it solely for braking in an upright position.

And you know what? I DESTROYED those curves! Some spooked me at the onset because, being in the mountains, most of them were blind and some were blinder than others. However many of the spookey entrances turned out to be nice smooth sweeping corners that were only blind because the mountain was cut close to the road. Others spooked me mid way through. But the amazing thing was that I didn’t have to bail on a single curve the whole way down! When my internal alerts went off all I did was recheck my edges: Had I reached the apex yet? If not then I could still turn in harder. Was I approaching my meter margin already? Look at the exit and correct your line. At no point did I actually have to brake mid-turn just by using these rules.

At one point near the end of my descent there was a long high speed (40kph+) S-curve that really pushed my mental edge. I wanted to get out of the saddle. I wanted to hit the brakes midway until I was back at a rolling speed again, but I did neither. I kept to my course, followed my own instructions for success and BAM! out the other side of the curve without so much as feathering my brakes! I was so happy I cried. I’m trying, but I feel like I can’t come close to explaining the amazing difference in sensations I felt on those final corners. It’s like, before I made myself this recipe for success I would just panic. Now, I would sense fear but also maintain control. I can say with certainty that I was well within the physical boundaries of safety on those turns, even in the wet conditions of the day.

So, to sum up, what have we learned today? First, we learned that being Sick means that being sick will not keep you off a bike and you will be better for it. Obviously, my cold is already in remisison. It’s just that the symptoms haven’t gotten the word yet, but they will. On my next ride. For sure. Second, we learned how to corner like a motherfucking adult! Ok, that’s not quite right. We learned to corner like we know what we’re doing! …not as satisfying, but yes. But perhaps most importantly we learned that riding makes everything better. Take a day that doesn’t involve riding your bike. Then consider what that day is like when you ride your bike. Instant better, right?

Obviously.

…and Lighting and Crashes

I was so inspired by my ride with Thunder on Tuesday that when I heard his team was competing in their first race of the season this weekend, I couldn’t help but tag along. I went for support, but also for curiosity. Part of me always knew how wonderful bikes are, but I never knew how much fun road bikes were until our epic rainy mountain adventure.

The race was in Gunma and it was a sort of warm up for the “real thing” next week. I’m not really sure what that means because I asked “does this mean that people aren’t going to ride full out today?” and the answer was a resounding “no.”

I got a chance to ride most of the course during the award ceremony. Oh my goodness it was fun! A twisty windy mountain loop of about six kilometers and no traffic. There were two turns that were pretty tight on a descent — one was an obvious hairpin and the other was what I think people call a composite turn? It starts out with a certain radius and then when you think you’re almost clear, it tucks in harder right at the end and you’re like “shit! I’m going to go off the road here!” Then there’s a section called “the heart burst” which is a short and steep little climb close to the mid point of the race. I didn’t get to ride the last kilometer because my legs were total trash after tuesday (and wednesday, and thursday, and friday), and I couldn’t make the whole six in under thirty minutes. I also had a late start.

The team that raced turned out to be nothing of what I expected. One of the participants is a middle aged guy I rode trails with a few times who I always took for a downhiller, but apparently does some road, too. Another guy who came was pretty quiet and laid back, but apparently races enduros for fun and so surprised all of us with his skill. There was a father-son pair, both riding their first race, and a kid just barely 18 years old by the look of him. And of course, Thunder. The father-son pair both did amazing, twelfth place and first in age class! Enduro-guy, the kid and the downhiller all had a great time, but didn’t place anywhere close to the top ten. They were great fun to cheer, though! Kept switching it up and getting lost in the pack. We never knew where they would be!

Thunder didn’t do so well. He started out with, pardon me, thunderous speed, but started to burn out about half way. At the eighth of twelve laps we thought he had crashed because he had gone from first to a shakey second, to a solid fourth and then to dead last. The lag between him and the leader was so huge we weren’t even sure if he would show up again or not. It turns out that, while he didn’t crash his bicycle, he crashed his legs with serious cramping that was impossible to recover from. What I didn’t know at the time was that it was his first race in three years. No wonder!

Over all it was an amazing day. I got up at three in the morning so we could make the start line by eight. It’s almost eight now as I type this. But I couldn’t help but feel an undeniable thrill being there watching people I know push the limits of their abilities. I found that I wanted to know my limits, too. I have always held back from racing because I know I am not talented. I injure easily and my asthma only leaves me alone if I leave it alone, but not pushing my edge. But today I had a new desire. Of course I would love the chance to win, but I know I will not win, especially when there isn’t even a women’s class. However win or not win, the only way to know exactly how fast I can really move is to get out there and race.

I’m not ready yet, but I feel as if I’ve gotten infected with a new strain of sick. Not just miles, I need speed now.

Thunder and Rain

It was around 11° this morning when I woke up. The sky was gray and the clouds heavy. It was going to be a wet day.

Today, however, was also going to be a good day. It was my first “solo” ride with a guy I nicknamed “Thunder Thighs” because his thighs are as thick as tree stumps and the first time I ever saw him on a bicycle, he came up behind me so fast I was sure he was on a motorcycle. I even jumped at the sound of his tires spinning down the pavement. Hence, the thunder. It was during a group practice to E no Shima, an island in Yokohama that’s a little over 50K from the shop. Waiting for a stoplight near the turn around point, he leans on his bike and says to me, smiling, “If I had my way, I’d spend all my free time on a bike!” It was at that moment that I knew I had just found another with the Sickness.

A few weeks passed with practice being continually canceled due to weather. We are all training to ride the border of Sado island, a 210K loop, in mid May. I have never ridden further than 113K before, so I am more than a little nervous. Every time I would see him at the shop, though, we would end up talking about riding this or that and how there’s always more we want to ride. Practice was canceled again this week, so we made a date to ride duo.

We started out late as he got a flat and had forgotten his tire pump. Luckily he was close enough to my place that I rode out to meet him and we were on our way soon enough. We took a turn down a road that I’ve ridden past, but never had the nerve to follow. It ended up going to the top of a mountain with sections that were over 10% grade. By the time we reached the top I was breathing hard, my legs were wobbling and burning and I was going so slowly that I was afraid I would topple over. We soared down the other side of the mountain, a slightly harrowing but still beautiful ride, only to take a detour on the edge of town to ride up another mountain, you know, because. This second climb was true torture, except that I loved every second. We would turn a corner and my eyes would bulge with the realization of how much more we still had to climb, and how steep it was, and how, never ending, the road just went on and on into the mist ahead. This time, I started letting out a stream of f-bombs, wailing and begging for it to end while at the same time loving every painful, thigh-burning second. Twice I had to stop to catch my breath and let my legs recover. The second time I was so wobbly that I was worried I couldn’t unclip my pedals without tipping over. I just flopped limp over the handle bars.

We ended the ride at his place on the other side of town just as the rain was picking up. He drove me and my baby Pikuro back to my house and then we went for a soak in the local hot spring. The “onsen,” as it’s called in Japanese, is a natural thermal spring with water that feels thick and slippery against your skin. Outside the rain continued to fall, and between the sound of the river rushing below and the warm soothing water sending swirls of steam up over my shoulders, I nearly fell asleep right there in the bath.

I’m not a strong rider by any means. For all the hours I’ve spent on my bike, my body just doesn’t get faster. However, I’m hungry. I want to ride, I want to ride fast and strong. I want to feel the bike moving underneath me and if I see a hill, I want to climb it. If I see a tree root, I want to jump it. I love riding with my entire being. I said to Thunder, “My body is weak and always has been. When I started training in endurance sports as a college student, I couldn’t run a quarter kilometer without getting winded. My heart, however, is strong, and there’s no amount of abuse that I can’t take on a bike.” Later as we descended the second climb of the day, he aceded to me, “Yup. That’s 100% accurate. I’ve never met a girl who could take punishment like you do!” As he was dropping me off at my house at the end of the day, he had already started planning the next ride we’re going to do when “I get properly strong at hills.”

As if the day by itself, with the riding so intense and satisfying that we totally forgot that we were dripping wet, shivering and covered in mud, wasn’t fabulous enough, as if a long soak in a natural hot spring after a day on the bike wasn’t perfect enough, he had to go and acknowledge me as a rider, too. By the numbers, I’m nothing. I’m not fast. I’m not strong. I don’t ride long distances or place in races. But those who have the Sickness can recognize a kindred soul when they meet one. Thunder most undeniably has the Sickness and he acknowledges it in me, too.

Today was gray and wet. It was also magical. Today was a day spent in heaven.

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