The Human Cause

Raising awareness of HIV and AIDS one mile at a time.

Archive for the category “Get Real”

Beyond Bake Sales and Bumper Stickers

I still remember. It was my first year at UC Santa Cruz, the spring of 1982. The gray skies were visiting less and less, the sun shimmering gold in the meadows. T-shirt weather had arrived and everything was in bloom, including my sense of myself as a woman and a feminist. Within the year, I’d begin to understand why I felt so different from the other girls growing up. I was exploring, barely scratching the surface of activism, social justice and the peace and freedom movement. Walking up to a booth at a women’s faire in downtown Santa Cruz, I came upon a table filled with buttons and bumper stickers. This wasn’t the first one I saw, but it was the one that stuck with me, and some 30 years later, the sentiment is at the heart of my passion and purpose to give back and make a difference.

Image

I didn’t buy the bumper sticker. I didn’t have a car, and let’s face it. Being a “starving” student in 1982 was a different reality than it is today. Spending $2 on something I didn’t need meant skipping my breakfast of oatmeal and bananas for a week, not simply passing on a soda. I did, however, immediately “buy in” to the concept. The idea struck me hard.

I began cycling in 1998 as part of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training fundraising program. TNT started in 1988 with just one man wanting to run a marathon to honor his daughter, a leukemia survivor. Since that landmark marathon fundraiser 25 years ago, TNT has raised $1.3 billion for blood cancer research and patient services. That sounds like a lot. It is. But to put it into perspective, that same $1.3 billion buys only four B-1 bombers.

There are over one million charitable organizations in the United States. Individuals like you and me account for 73% of all charitable donations. Bequests account for another 8% making 81% of all donations from “we, the people” in this country. With as much advertising and sponsorship as we see from the business world, one would be inclined to think corporations are the leaders in the “giving back” game. Not even close. Corporate giving accounts for only 5% of all charitable donations. Here’s a visual.

giving

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average household income in 2011 was $50, 054.

♥ 27% of Americans volunteer
♥ 65% of households give to charity
♥ 81 percent of philanthropic dollars are contributed by individuals and bequests (That figure rises to 88 percent if you include family foundation giving)
♥ Corporate giving accounts for only 5% of all charitable giving
♥ The average household contribution is $2213, about 4.3%

(Source: National Philanthropic Trust)

Charitable giving continues to rise, even in this sluggish economy. It doesn’t really matter where you give of your time or your money, or even how much. What matters is that you give. Give to causes that matter to you and your family. Teach your children the value of giving back. Two thirds of all Americans give to charities and one quarter volunteer. It does take a village.

A button I saw on that same day all those years ago sums it up. Wearing buttons in not enough. To affect change, to make a difference requires commitment and action. And courage. Sometimes, taking that first step, raising your hand to say “I will” presents the biggest challenge. The beauty of it is you get to choose how and where you will change this world. I choose stopping the spread of HIV and creating an AIDS-free generation. THIS is why I ride. This is why “the Ride to End AIDS” doesn’t end until AIDS ends.

Image

Advertisements

Do You Believe in Gay Marriage?

You know the scene: you’re on your way into a store, pressed for time (when are we ever not pressed for time these days?), and a very enthusiastic young man approaches you, clipboard in hand, and asks, “Do you believe in gay marriage?” I cringe because I want him to ask if I believe in marriage equality, not “gay” marriage. All marriages should be loving, nurturing, fulfilling – and gay, right? I wonder if his choice of words makes those who are opposed dig their heels in further and puts those not decided in a “gay” frame of mind rather than an “equality” frame of mind. Language is powerful. Is the power in his language helping or hurting the fight for marriage equality, for equal rights? Instead of stopping to tell him how I feel, I say, “Yes, I do. I am in a same-sex marriage.” I flash my wedding ring and a big smile. I tell him I have signed everything I can sign, thank him for his work and rush along – because I am pressed for time.

Just married!!!

This week, Carol and I celebrate eight wondrous years together. In 2008 on the fifth anniversary of the day we originally exchanged our rings, we went alone to City Hall, and without much celebration, legally married in the State of California. We did not have a ceremony or a party; we were cautious due to the possible passage of Prop. 8 and didn’t want to celebrate until we were knew the right to marry would not be denied by our fellow citizens. We all know how that turned out. Now jokingly but with an underlying sadness, we refer to ourselves as “outlaws.” Yes, our marriage is still recognized, but we could not marry again if we wanted to, our friends in same-sex relationships cannot marry. We do not enjoy the federal tax benefits or other legal protections of marriage. Still, we are second-class citizens.

On Sunday, the State of New York legally recognized the unions of hundreds of same-sex couples. Photos from celebrations across the state embody the very essence of “a picture paints a thousand words.” Women and men, varied ages, different races, shapes, sizes, abilities – and fashion sense – are represented here. How many years have some of these couples waited? How much discrimination have they endured, on many different fronts? How can my fellow citizens (who are afforded all the fundamental liberties of being an American) who voted against my right to marry, my right to live out the same dreams they have, my right to love and be loved, not see this as the America we all long for? How does my joy, my happiness, my being recognized as your equal hurt society? How does it threaten you, your family, your marriage, your children, your morals, your beliefs?

I know most of my friends and family are on the side of marriage equality so most who read this need no convincing. But if you or anyone you know is on the fence about this issue, or is completely convinced marriage equality is wrong, I throw out a challenge to sit with these photos. Look at them for a moment. Look as if it were your parents’ wedding. As if it were the joy of your daughter or son, the celebration of your best friends, or even your own. Ask what any human being gains in denying rights and love and joy to another human being. If you know Carol and me, you know our marriage is “gay” – that our love lifts the world. How does that not better the human cause?

April in Paris - the city of love.

A Community of Heroes

“It is not every day that you meet a true hero. It’s certainly not every day that you meet an entire community of heroes.” – Michael Barron, Director of AIDS/LifeCycle at the Closing Ceremonies.

Tattered and soiled, the message is still the same.

I was graced with the opportunity to spend eight days with this incredible community of heroes – 576 Roadies and 2361 Riders. The love and energy I experienced this past week buoyed my hopes for finding a cure, preventing new infections and making the world a better place for every human being.

It was apparent from Day 0, Orientation Day, that this community was special. We had heard about the energy, the love, the kindness, the inexplicable feeling of being a part of something this beautiful, but it wasn’t until we arrived at the Cow Palace in San Francisco that I started to feel it pulsing through my veins. Each of us was required to attend a safety video before we could pick up our packets. As we sat down, we were asked to turn off our cell phones and give our undivided attention to the most important aspect of the ride: safety. And everyone did. Five minutes in, I was amazed that I could hear a pin drop; thirty minutes in, still, we were all riveted to the information being presented. No one was looking at their cell phones, there were no side conversations going on. I couldn’t remember the last time I felt like everyone in a room (including me) was actually engaged, present in the moment. It reminded me to slow down, look around and take it all in. This whole experience, we’re told, would be over in the blink of an eye and I didn’t want to miss a thing.

My intention going in to the ride was to post regular updates to facebook, but between all that was happening every day and limited access to charging our phones, I found it difficult to keep up. The time I could find to post was usually at the end of the day, as we were settling in, and I usually chose sleep over posting. Over the next few days, I’ll be blogging about some of my experiences on the road, on the SAG buses, in camp, at the rest stops and meeting extraordinary people from all over. There is no way to replay the entire experience, either in my head or here on this blog, but I’ll share some of my memories, and you’ll get a sense of just how special “special” really is.

With riders of all ages, shapes, sizes and abilities on this ride, there is a constant flow of passing riders, going up hills and down, and on the flats. For both safety and courtesy, a passing rider calls out “on your left.” The passed rider says “thank you” to acknowledge they are being passed. I was passed a lot on the ride. A lot. I’m sure those passing got just as tired of saying they were passing as I did acknowledging them. I joked at one point I should invent a detector that would say it for me as a rider passed. But then each time I said “thank you” I began to feel gratitude. Gratitude for just being out there; gratitude for having the health and financial means to commit to making a difference; gratitude for sharing the experience with Carol, Carin and Tammy; gratitude for Team San Diego; gratitude for making cherished new friends in Nicole and Lish; gratitude for the guys who hauled our gear; gratitude for everything – even the stuff that was difficult day in and day out; gratitude for the community of heroes I was now a part of.

So for now, go ahead and pass me on the left. I’ll shout out a big, heartfelt “thank you” and we’ll catch up on this blog at the next rest stop.

Flying Solo vs. Being Alone

My love affair with cycling was rekindled in 1998 just as my 11-year relationship was ending. Physically, emotionally, spiritually, cycling saved my life. Unemployed at the time, I had lots of time to train during the week, but no one to ride with, so I spent many hours in the saddle flying solo. Over the next couple of years, I would do many things solo, some for the first time. It seemed odd to go to a movie or out for a nice dinner alone, but on my bike, those solitary miles felt natural – like I was at home. I had plenty of time to think; I had plenty to think about. One thing I didn’t think about was being vulnerable or less safe than when I was riding with a group. That all changed when a friend was killed on a bike, hit from behind by a car just a few minutes after leaving home on a ride she had done countless times.

Being off the bike for three months no doubt affected my psyche. It wasn’t just that I was in pain and concerned for my health, or that I was missing out on training and building relationships with me teammates. Looking ahead, I knew that once I did get back on the bike, the team training mileage would be so high there was no way I’d be able to ride with the group. Outside of those training for AIDS/LifeCycle (ALC), my other cycling buddies were training for the San Diego Century, so their mileage was also out of reach for me. Riding solo was the only way I was going to get in any training before the ride. I got some good advice from a couple of different veteran cyclists who ride long miles, much of their training done alone. With that and a heart grateful to be getting back on the bike, I took the proverbial leap of faith and never looked back – except to check traffic.

In mid-April, I took my first spin around Fiesta Island on a mellow Saturday evening. I figured this was a pretty safe place to be alone on my bike. Carol took Birdie to the dog park there and we made it a family outing. Next, a lunchtime ride around work on roads I know well. Then, my first ride on my new bike the afternoon of Easter Sunday. While the weather wasn’t much fun with a cold wind and a light drizzle, the streets were deserted making for another safe ride.

Del Mar

Stopping to smell the roses near the end of my first long ride.

Over the next couple of weeks, I was thrilled with the opportunity to ride with my friends and teammates, at least for some of the miles. One Saturday, I rode up the coast with ALC Team San Diego. Not more than a few miles out, the group was out of sight, but Brian, one of the training ride leaders (TRLs) who had planned to focus on his own training that day, stayed with me until I decided to turn around about 15 miles out. He helped me ride within myself – steady and strong but not too fast. I couldn’t have asked for a better partner that day and I appreciated that he gave me that time at the beginning of his training ride. The day was special, riding with the team and getting on my bike for a longer ride. I was so happy, I’m sure I had a smile on my face all the way back to the car. The next Saturday, I rode up the coast with the Trek group who was headed to San Clemente. I said farewell to them in Carlsbad and then again headed back to the car solo. The conditions were tougher that day with a strong crosswind and chilly temperatures, but I was pretty pleased with getting in another long ride. And on Wednesday following, I got out for my first Wednesday night ride of the season. I wasn’t yet climbing longer hills, so as everyone headed down Torrey Pines, I returned to the car on my own. Another satisfying ride, I was lucky to pedal some of those miles with Coach Darryl who has been helping me to get back on the bike since January.

With all of this solo riding, I was gaining confidence and once again enjoying my “alone time” on the road. Riding safely is always on my mind, but I began to realize that my fears about my safety while riding alone were staying in the back of my mind. I am a safe cyclist. I obey the rules of the road, pay close attention to my surroundings, avoid getting distracted, especially in tight situations, and work hard not to anger any driver. Still, just as with driving a car, you can be doing everything right and not avoid mishap. Life on a bike is still just life.

Taking the ferry from Coronado to San Diego after my ride with the team turned solo.

No matter my level of confidence or comfort in riding alone, I still prefer to ride with friends. For me, cycling is a social sport where I have forged many special, lasting friendships. One Saturday, I jumped at the chance to ride with the ALC folks again, but not long into the ride, it was clear that I couldn’t keep up. For all my training, I still wasn’t in good enough shape to hang with them, and what started out as a group ride became a solo ride by mile 10. Looking back, if I hadn’t put in all the solo miles to that point, I don’t know that I would have had the confidence to continue on my own. I knew Carol was available to pick me up at any point, but knowing what I was capable of, I chose to ride on. From the time we parted in the South Bay until I pulled into the driveway at home, I had logged 34 solitary miles, my longest solo stretch ever. Chilly, windy and damp, the physical challenge compounded the mental challenge. Yes, adversity builds character, and I did feel a huge accomplishment that day, but I was exhausted. The next day, I should have gone out for an easy spin of 15-20 miles but I just couldn’t. When Carol asked if I was going on a ride, I said no – I had left every last ounce of my mental toughness on the road the day before and I just couldn’t face riding alone again. Instead, I talked myself into getting out of the house to put in some time at the gym with a late afternoon spin and light weight training. That workout helped me not feel totally defeated – and my legs appreciated it!

Last weekend, I knew if I wanted to get any riding in, I’d be on my own. Everyone I knew was either participating in the San Diego Century or otherwise occupied. I mapped out a route that was mostly familiar to me, but that I had never done in it’s entirety: from my home in Allied Gardens to Cabrillo National Monument. It was about 36 miles with some climbing and as it turned out, it was the perfect ride for that day. The thermometer read 65 when I left the house around 7:30. It was a bit cool, but there was no wind as I headed west through Mission Valley. I fully expected the winds to appear up on Pt. Loma, but nothing there either (except the treat of seeing Carin and Tammy on their way down from the point as I was headed up). It was such a pleasant ride, I didn’t give much thought to being out there solo. Riding down my street, I could feel the warmth on my back as the sun started to break through the May gray. I was home, and once again feeling at home riding solo – not alone.

Like more than 16.6 million children world wide, HIV left these Cuban school boys orphaned.

I wrote earlier that riding alone leaves a lot of time for thinking. I reflected on the five years I spent single after my devastating break up in 1998. It took time, but I developed a rhythm living by myself, and like riding solo, really began to enjoy time on my own. Sure, I felt lonely on occasion, and during that time, I had one really bad case of the flu when I wish I’d had someone there, but I was never without family or friends; there was always someone who cared. HIV and AIDS have left many to die alone. Fraught with fear and ignorance, the early days of the AIDS crisis saw families, friends, entire communities abandon those infected and dying. Today, we know more about this disease, but the stigma alone continues to destroy lives. Regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation, whether in the United States or somewhere in the developing world, lacking the knowledge or means to seek treatment can be a death sentence. An entire generation of children around the world is growing up without parents, some of them born with HIV. Who will care for them when they become ill? Who will hold them when they die?

None of us can predict how life as we know it will end. Like my friend on the bike, some of us will never see it coming. But more likely, in this day and age of medical miracles and ways to prolong life, most of us will see it coming, in the distance, the end of our natural lives coming into focus. If we’re lucky, we’ll have our friends and family with us until the end. Dying alone isn’t in anyone’s plan, but for some with HIV and AIDS, it is reality. My hope is that by raising awareness and funds through our participation in AIDS/LifeCycle, someone will get tested, someone will get treatment, someone will get counseling, someone will not have to face this disease – or death – alone. If just one person is helped, then every mile pedaled and every moment spent asking for support will have been a priceless investment in the human cause.

Red IS My Color – Red is the Color of Hope

It seems the entire month of April passed without a post – and now May is nearly over. This wasn’t a planned hiatus, but as life continuously reminds us, things don’t often go according to our plan. Needless to say, a lot has happened since March. Briefly and quickly, I turned a year older, we went on vacation experiencing our first cruise (much to my surprise, I was seasick), returned from vacation to start a new job while still doing my old job until my replacement started, finally got in to see a physical medicine specialist about my pain, went to L.A. for Carol’s Roadie training, filed a tax extension because the new IRS requirements for same-sex married couples in a community property state are complicated and lack supporting documentation, got to go to a Padres game, ate at a food truck for the very first time in support of Dining Out for Life, a fundraiser for The Center’s HIV and AIDS services here in San Diego, and pulled more weeds than I ever remember pulling – and there’s still more to be pulled – organic gardening trade off. It’s a busy life, but it’s a good life.

And, I got back on my bike for the first time in months. And then I got back on again. And again. I’m feeling good while riding with only the usual post-ride soreness. The aching and burning in my muscles that took me off my bike back in January have thankfully disappeared, slowly over time as was predicted by the physical medicine specialist. His diagnosis: muscle damage resulting from the statin drug I took to lower my cholesterol. He said it could take months to heal completely, and there could be permanent damage. I’m so thankful I had read the medication insert and was informed of all the possible side effects and stopped the medication just a few weeks into treatment. So far, it seems my muscles have recovered. I am all too familiar with the fatigue and soreness I am experiencing both during and after rides. This is what training feels like when one is not in shape and is pushing to improve. This hurt is good.

Headed out for a lunch ride.

After riding my old bike for a couple of weeks without any pain, I hopped on my new bike – the bike I bought back in January just as the pain from my muscle damage was peaking. This new bike is a sweet ride. A red and white Trek Pilot, she’s carbon fiber and three pounds lighter than my aluminum Cannondale. After one ride, I was hooked.

I do have to say I was at first reluctant about the color combination, though I was happy the white wasn’t around the drive train – white is sleek and pretty when clean, but doesn’t stay that way for long. But then there’s the red. You see, red has never been my color. When I was a kid, I was all about green or blue – never red. Like most kids growing up in the 1960s, I almost always had a bike, but never a new bike. We’d get our bikes at garage sales or the swap meet and they all seemed to be blue, usually messily painted a flat royal blue that only comes from a can of spray paint. One day my dad brought me home a white bike with pink trim. The tomboy in me was mortified. As soon as we could, we took that bike apart and painted it metallic gold. Instantly, I was one of the boys, out hopping curbs and exploring the open fields in my neighborhood that were quickly being gobbled up by apartment complex sprawl (eventually, I’d live in three out of four of those complexes built in the early 1970s). Painting that bike made it mine, and new or used, it was the coolest thing I had ever had.

My first love looked pretty much like this Le Mans.

Looking back now, I think I can actually credit that little bike with the love I have today for tinkering with my bike, cleaning it and doing some of my own maintenance. It wouldn’t be until I was fourteen and had earned enough money babysitting and mowing lawns that I would own my first new bike: a burgundy Centurion Le Mans for $149.99 plus tax, every penny I had. It came only in two colors, dark blue being the other and I was not buying a blue bike of any shade. That bike gave me freedom and continued my love affair with cycling adding the dimension of the open road. I could go so far and so fast on that bike – it was true love. Like most first loves, it would eventually be replaced, first by a moped and then a car, but I took it to college with me and reluctantly sold it only when I thought I had outgrown riding a bike. Silly me.

When I bought my Cannondale new in the summer of 1998, there was no choice in color. It was the end of the model year and I was buying the bottom of the line bike so it came only in white with black and yellow accents. I named that bike Stinger (see Mile(stones) for more on the name) and like that little gold bike from 30 years earlier, she was mine right from the start. I guess you could say she was my first grown-up love. Her colors became mine, and once adopted by Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong, white, black and yellow became trendy and I found a cool helmet to match. Together, Stinger and I have traveled enough miles to have made it across country and back – twice. That’s a lot of special memories. Letting go was hard.

I put off buying a new bike for a very long time, and had only started thinking seriously about it late last year. My plan was to do AIDS/LifeCycle on the Cannondale and retire her after one last, big event. She’s been a great bike, but like most anything else these days, bicycles have advanced by leaps and bounds due to the rapidly changing technology; she was obsolete before I even got her home in 1998. She had only eight gears in the back – the new models for 1999 were sporting nine, and just ten years later, eleven gears in the back would be introduced. My new ride is state of the art in every way and I feel it on every ride.

I didn’t really do much shopping for a bike, though I had a budget in mind and some specifics about frame material and component group. Then along came the Trek Pilot offered for a screaming deal that I couldn’t pass up. But red and white? Could I see myself on this bike? I pushed that aside and headed to the Trek store to check it out. Then, in the middle of my test ride, as I was looking down to check out the new gearing and different shifting, it dawned on me that red is the perfect color – it is the color that has come to symbolize the fight against HIV and AIDS, the color of the AIDS ribbon, the color of hope for finding a cure. At this point in time red is my color – red is the color of hope. And with that came her name: Hope.

An Indian couple walk past a 50 foot (15.24 meter) long AIDS red ribbon sand sculpture, created by Sudarshan Pattnaik on World AIDS Day in Puri, India, Monday, Dec.1, 2008. (AP Photo/Biswaranjan Rout)

This journey with AIDS/LifeCycle hasn’t turned out the way I imagined it. I imagined months of training building relationships with my San Diego teammates as we became stronger riders. I imagined riding every mile from San Francisco to Los Angeles as my way of honoring all those touched by HIV and AIDS and as a thank you to those who supported us in every way imaginable. Then I was sidelined, and week after week, as what I had imagined was clearly not what was to be, I’d get stuck in my head and all caught up in my ego. And then something would remind me that the ride is not about me. I’d see a story on facebook or meet someone living with HIV for many years and I’d be brought back to why we are riding, why we are fundraising.

My sweet new “little red sports car” isn’t about me or my unique take on a mid-life crisis; it’s about the AIDS crisis. It’s about reminding people that HIV and AIDS continue to affect millions, and in affecting just one of us, it affects us all. As diverse as this big wide world of ours is, we all have one thing in common: we’re human. No matter who we are or where we come from, we all bleed red. The blood running through us is what ties us together as human beings. Through triumph and tragedy, joy and sorrow, we share this human experience. And therein lies the hope that we will come together to find a cure for HIV and bring an end to this crisis that I have known for all of my adult life, a crisis that has taken the lives of more than 25 million men, women and children from all over the world. A crisis that must come to an end.

Comfortable with Uncertainty

I borrowed the title for this post from American Buddhist nun, Pema Chödrön. Her book, Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion, is described as “short, stand-alone readings designed to help us cultivate awareness and compassion amid the challenges of daily living.” I turned to this little gem today in search of a coping strategy; uncomfortable and uncertain are just a couple of words that capture how I’m feeling right now. Being familiar with Pema’s work, I knew deep down she would ultimately leave me with more questions than answers, but on the edge of desperation, I jumped in anyway.

Four weeks ago tonight, I got off my bike, sweaty and spent from a grueling 90-minute trainer class. I felt good after the workout. I had been focused, worked hard and still managed to have some fun. Best of all, I was bringing home my new bike! That was the last time I was in the saddle, the last time my legs pedaled even one stroke. Each time I pull into the garage, I am reminded of my hiatus. Flanked on the passenger side by my loyal ride of 12 years and on the driver side by my new ride, I sigh and say to myself, “Soon.” Then, “But how soon?”

Despite a month of treatment and absolutely no riding, I’m still not seeing much improvement in terms of pain and tightness in my knees, upper legs, hips and glutes. I can’t really give you much detail about my condition because there isn’t really much to tell except that my muscles are bound in scattered hard knots, I hurt mostly when sitting and none of this seemed to bother me while riding. If I’d broken a collar bone, or were recovering from some sort of surgery, I’d have a target date for getting back on the road. But at this point, there is no certainty to what I have, no diagnosis, no defined treatment protocol; and there is no date, nothing to shoot for. Frustrated – another adjective that’s annoyingly permeated my vocabulary. I’ve resisted seeing my primary care physician knowing she’ll probably just throw anti-inflammatory meds at the symptoms, but I have to start there to see about some tests and possibly physical therapy. Sigh.

As we get closer to the ride in June, I feel a mounting sense of urgency. With each passing week, the mileage builds and the intensity increases. I watch enthusiastically as my friends and teammates post their rides on facebook, but I can’t help feeling left out. I’m happy training is going well for them, some reaching milestones with every ride, but still, I’m anxious. According to the training schedule, this week we should ride 30-40 miles with some moderate hill climbing. Before the injury, that’s just about what I was doing. I was on track early.

By the middle of February, I had hoped to be feeling good about my training – and maybe even be down a few pounds from all those miles on the bike. Instead, my training is indefinitely on hold, and with the inactivity, I’m battling to keep the numbers on the scale from heading in the other direction. By this time, I figured I’d be blogging weekly about new training routes and adventures with cycling friends old and new. Now, I’m scouring the internet, pouring over books in search of answers for a condition that doesn’t seem to exist, except in my body (or maybe in my mind). Ice and heat are my new teammates, the foam roller and stretching mat, my new equipment.

I've always iced my knees after riding. Now I'm icing to get back to riding.

When I picked up the book this morning, the pages fell open to reading 47 – Recognizing Suffering. It spoke to me even before I read a word because of my 47 years. Then the first paragraph: “Disappointment, embarrassment, and all the places where we cannot feel good are a sort of death. We’ve just lost our ground completely; we are unable to hold it together and feel that we are on top of things. Rather than realizing that it takes death for there to be birth, we just fight against the fear of death.” Oy. Seems I didn’t pick this reading – it picked me. Having previously trained for long days on the road means I am acutely aware of what it takes, what I should be doing right now to be on top of things. Yeah, I’ve lost my ground. Completely. Of that I am certain.

I do fear the death of my dream of doing AIDS/LifeCycle and I am fighting against this fear. In my last post, I talked about adjusting my expectations. The longer this condition keeps me off the bike, the more that becomes reality rather than just paying lip service to acceptance and surrender. Pema concludes this reading with, “Everything that ends is also the beginning of something else. Pain is not a punishment; pleasure is not a reward.” I guess that’s her way of saying, “It is what it is,” and, “It’s not personal.” So I’ll work on taking it one day at a time, tending to my physical and mental health, trying not to need answers, striving to be awake to everything that is being born around me. And I’ll focus on what the ride is really about: bringing awareness to HIV and AIDS and raising funds for those bravely living with this disease. In the end, it’s not about me, and to borrow the title of Lance Armstrong’s book, it’s not about the bike.

Illness, Injury, et al

This past weekend produced another sunny San Diego Saturday. Usually such a splendid Saturday morning would be spent on my bike with the best of friends, logging essential miles in preparation for June’s AIDS/LifeCycle. On this morning, however, I found myself writing instead of riding, my new bike sitting idle in the garage while I sat idle on the couch reading up on the latest obstacle to my training: iliotibial band syndrome. To steal the title of Gilda Radner’s autobiography to describe my recent frustrations with missing out on miles, “It’s always something.” Over the holidays, the rain washed away multiple opportunities to ride. The morning of Christmas Eve when I thought folks were too busy to ride, I saw a friend’s facebook post from a ride around the South Bay. Turns out a missed text was the culprit. The next week, abdominal pain sent me to urgent care thinking I might have appendicitis. And now this.

Of course, Gilda’s “something” was her battle with terminal ovarian cancer. My “something” is simply a nagging injury that is keeping me off my bike, spiking my anxiety because I can’t seem to develop any consistency to a training regimen that must be my life for the next few months. Stressed and depressed is how my Saturday began.

Enter Carol. She and her daughter had morning plans for a trip to dog beach in Ocean Beach. She encouraged me to go along, to leave behind my disappointment about missing training, shelve my injury concerns and open up to the possibility of finding joy in another realm. I was reluctant. When I’m struggling with something like this, I tend to withdraw and want to be by myself to go through my process. Gently she pressed, pointing out that while I had no control over my injury, I did have control over the day that could be. And that I had never been to the beach with Birdie, never seen her really run. Carol’s gentle cradling of my heart melted my reluctance. I wiped away my tears and opted for some family time at the beach.

Tails waggin' - all smiles.

It was a gorgeous day to be outside. Sunny and 70 in January, a true blessing. As my bare feet sank into the warm sand, I could feel the muscles in my legs begin to relax. I wasn’t going to attempt wind sprints, but moving my body slowly and deliberately felt good. We let the dogs off leash and they ran wild, playing with each other at first and then moving on to investigate other dogs. Birdie ventured into the water a time or two, but she really wanted to run and play. I so admire dogs’ ability to live in the moment. Joy. That’s all they seemed to know on this playground. Dogs exhausted, we headed to get some lunch. We found a place where we could eat outside so the dogs could be with us and we could soak up more of the spring-like weather. Turns out it was a beautiful day spent with loved ones, a day I would not have experienced had I been out on my bike or stayed at home working through my process.

I’ve never had knee problems. Tens of thousands of squats assuming the position of catcher in my youth gave me strong legs which in turn protect the knees. Ankle injuries – now that’s an entire blog post in itself. Since taking up cycling in ’98, I’ve never really been sidelined with an injury, so this is a completely new reality for me. It doesn’t hurt when I’m riding, but shows up the next day as pain, burning and a general tightness that is just plain uncomfortable. A trip to the chiropractor revealed tightness at both ends of the IT band so deep tissue massage and foam roller torture are in my future the next few weeks, but I should be back on my bike soon.

Earlier this week, everything fell into place for a spontaneous dinner with friends and AIDS/LifeCycle teammates, Carin and Tammy. Spontaneity does good for the soul of someone who’s a planner (read “anal retentive”) like me. We shared a long, slow dinner filled with laughter, a few tears and some serious conversation around recent challenges we’ve each faced with our training. For me, it’s all about adjusting my expectations. In training for past events, I’ve been consistent and physically able to get in all the miles leading up to the event. The result: I’ve completed every mile of every event. I’m proud of that, and therein lies part of the problem.

AIDS/LifeCycle is a different event on so many levels. It may be that physically, my body won’t be capable of cycling an average of 80 miles a day over seven days. It may be that the goal is to ride every mile completely rather than to simply complete every mile. It may be that being present and open to all that is possible in any given moment over the course of those seven days is the very essence of this event, this cause, this human experience. Already, we’ve met some amazing people, been touched by stories of tragic loss and inspiring triumph and been blessed with the support of friends, family and colleagues far beyond our expectations. Goal?

As our dinner wound down the other night, in the midst of my monologue on preparation and disappointment, I had an epiphany. My ability to complete all 545 miles between San Francisco and Los Angeles is not a measure of me as a human being. That I have opened my heart to doing this – riding, fundraising, increasing awareness, fostering understanding, touching lives and being touched – is. So now I’m working on acceptance. And my ego is learning there is much, much more to the human experience than a 545-mile goal.

Soggy Surrender

I like the rain – always have. As a kid, I enjoyed being out in it, playing tag or football, doing what kids do. I left San Diego to head to college in Santa Cruz knowing there would be more than twice as much rain there as here. My first winter turned out to be the wettest on record with more than 20 inches falling over a three-day period just after the new year in 1982. Flooding and downed power lines prompted the closing of the university for an entire week which ultimately resulted in Saturday classes and final exams during spring break. The following year, we all learned about El Niño when even more rain fell than the year before. Still, I liked the rain.

When I got involved in cycling, I became a weather watcher. Training schedules don’t care about the weather. You have to put in the miles to be prepared for your event, but riding in the rain is neither safe, nor desirable for most recreational cyclists. The past couple of weeks, I have been glued to the Weather Channel app on my iPhone, hoping the days I could ride would align with the rainless days. With 16 days of vacation on the horizon, I was certain to get in a few training rides and some fun saddle time with some of the very best people I know. Then came last week and six solid days of rain. Combine all that sogginess with holiday commitments and my saddle time half way through vacation comes in at a big fat ZERO. Sigh.

I write a lot about silver linings, being thankful for what’s good in life rather than focusing on what’s not, but I must admit I’ve had a pretty good pout going on this last week (Carol can confirm this, I’m sure). And the one sunny day I could have gotten in a ride on Christmas Eve, I didn’t know anyone was planning to ride until I saw a mid-ride post on facebook. UGH!!! With all our tech tools and means for staying connected, how did I miss it?

So here it is Sunday morning, another opportunity to ride and I awaken to a light rain and wet roads. As I write, the rain has stopped, the roads are drying and the sun is being a tease, but with an afternoon “eat and greet” engagement, there is no ride in the cards today. Another training opportunity literally down the drain. I know I am still more than five months from that 545-mile ride down the California coast, but I am starting to get anxious about getting in the miles. The long-range weather models predict we will get most of our rain early this winter – already I am crying “UNCLE!!!” Honestly, I don’t really care how much it rains, but I DO care about WHEN it rains. Leading up to vacation, we had lots of nice “sunny and 70” weather during the week, but the weekends have been “soggy and 60” for sometime now. Yes, I’m whining again. Still.

Since I can’t beat the weather, or bring synchronicity to the sun’s schedule and mine, I’ll focus on the silver linings and the ways in which life is STILL good – here’s my Top Ten:

10. Paid vacation

9. Watching football on the TV while pedaling the bike at the gym (miles in the saddle, right?)

8. Knowing the Winter Solstice brings with it a return to more daylight each day

7. Good food shared with cherished family and friends

6. Gift cards for REI and Hi-Tech Bikes

5. Morning mocha courtesy of Kona coffee from a colleague and homemade cocoa from Kristi

4. Carol’s festive decorations to brighten the dreary days

3. Slow, cozy mornings with Carol and Birdie

2. Having the means and good health to do AIDS/LifeCycle

1. The unending support of friends and family who give me strength and inspiration to commit to raising $5000 and riding 545 miles in support of those battling HIV and AIDS

Yep – life is good, I am blessed, and the sun will come out – tomorrow – or the next day…eventually, I will ride again.

The Busyness of Life

It’s been a month since my last post – a very busy month. A month that has seen Birdie’s first trip to the vet (ear and eye infection now cleared up) and my first trip to a new doc (take an anti-inflammatory for the shoulder tendonitis and ease up at the gym, and nothing wrong with the lungs, which may or may not improve). Two four-day weekends clad in pristine weather offering multiple opportunities for bike rides (and apparently few opportunities for cleaning the house) and another four-day weekend with not-so-great weather which mattered not as we celebrated my mom’s 75th birthday at Disneyland (with a return visit to Steelhead Brewing Co. which confirmed they really do make the world’s best burger, at least in my world). At work, meetings and more meetings, the launch of our much anticipated campus-wide advising council (with monthly meetings to follow), and lots of students with lots of questions (the very best part of my job). And the last class in my exercise science/fitness instruction certificate program at UCSD (completed the intensive one-year track – internship and exam still ahead to actually get certified). Whew! Those were just the headlines.

Some big story lines, to be sure. But as we know, life is in the details, covered in one or two paragraphs often buried on the inside back page. This has been a particularly challenging year for me on the job with service on committees tasked with improving systems and advising services on campus. The real task is to do more with less in this time of budgetary uncertainty while upholding the mission (and quality) of public education. I am thankful for the many talented and wonderful colleagues I have the honor to work with on these initiatives. Together, we make it through the day, valuing each other and believing we do make a difference in the lives of our students. Still, at the end of the day, I feel spent. Completely spent.

Enter the ritual of renewal, all those things we do to get us through the trying times in life. We are doing them all along, really, but when things are running smoothly, we don’t really notice we are laying the foundation of our sanity. When the going gets tough, we each have to find a way to “go home” lest we go crazy. For me, it’s bicycling, my family and friends, making muffins, walking the dog or simply watching an afternoon of football while Carol is away at chorus rehearsal. Even being present in seemingly mundane moments – running errands, cleaning house, pulling weeds – brings renewal, if I’m paying attention.

In reflecting on this past month, I can see there’s a whole lotta living going on in this life, though sometimes it seems the “busyness” obscures my view resulting in a feeling of overwhelm rather than overjoy. Then, maybe with a gentle nudge from Carol or a sincere smile from a stranger, I remember. Remember the gift in being healthy enough to be busy with a jam-packed calendar and a Contacts app full of friends and family to share it all with. Remember the blessing in having the means to choose my ride: the bike, the Prius, the Matterhorn, and now, AIDS/LifeCycle.

So before the holiday hustle ramps up too much more, I am sowing the seeds to remember. When it’s busy at work, remember. I have work – meaningful work with wonderful people. When it seems there’s one too many events on the calendar, remember. I have friends and family who choose to be with me. When the house isn’t as clean as I’d like it to be, remember. I have clutter because I have stuff. When I think I’m done with all my holiday errands and discover there is still one more, remember. There is privilege in even having errands. Remember, that woven through all this blessed busyness is the gift of life, and that in itself, is renewal.

Lemonade Best Laid

Friday, 4:15 pm. South I-15 Friars Road exit. Five short minutes from home after five full days at work. So close to the weekend, to my PJs, a nice dinner in, and some cherished downtime with my pup and my love. Really? Telling Carol about a weekend assignment, I have this sudden fear that I left the folder with all the necessary papers at UCSD. Not in my office where I can easily, though inconveniently, get to it. Instead, it’s sitting on the counter at the UCSD General Store where I set it down when I stopped to make a purchase (darn those M&Ms). In my mind, I try to recall putting the folder in the back of the car, try to feel it in my hand as I walked from the store down Gilman to meet Carol. It isn’t there. I remember the colors of the M&Ms pouring them into my hand, two or three at time. I remember really enjoying them. I don’t remember awkwardly carrying a folder. We stop at a light. I crawl to the back of the car – nope, not there. REALLY?

I put my iPhone into action for something more than cruising facebook or checking the traffic. I Google the General Store, and give them a call. Yes! My folder is there. The store is closed but folks will be around for another couple of hours for a meeting. The nice young man remembers me stopping in and says just to come by. I say, “Darn those M&Ms.” He replies, “Darn that chocolatey, peanutty goodness.” Humor. Levity. I needed both.

Relief. Crisis averted, the tears began to flow. A trip back to work wasn’t in my plans for Friday evening. I’m exhausted. I just need a break. Enter Carol. She is so gentle with me when I get into such a pout, gifted at getting me to refocus and find how to see something not so positive as a gift. Earlier in the week, we had packed our dinner and the dog and headed to the beach to enjoy the warm October evening before the light leaves with the time change. We’ll just do it again. Our errand-turned-adventure started taking shape. We stopped by the house, threw together dinner, grabbed Birdie and then returned to the scene of the middle-aged moment.

A loving nudge from Carol to shift my perspective allowed me to enjoy the ride. Birdie stood the entire time tuned in to everything going on around her. Like Jasmine, she’s a “go dog.” Folder safely in hand, we had a Groundhog Day moment as we once again drove down Gilman to I-5. This time, we got it right. Mission Bay was the scene (two middle-aged women eating dinner in their truck, their dog, a black Standard Poodle, longing for a dinner of water fowl just outside the window). The changing light created spectacular images painting water and sky. All Birdie could do was sit patiently in the truck longing for her time to explore this new territory. Toward the end of our walk, we ran into two friends from UCSD, one a former colleague I hadn’t seen in several years. The gifts kept coming on this Friday night that hadn’t been part of my plan. Things were going my way. Really.

The year I was away from UCSD with a work-induced injury was a difficult time in my life. Dealing with worker’s comp and an insensitive surgeon added to the physical and emotional pain. But during that lemon-filled year, the lemonade flowed endlessly. In the spring, my Uncle Butch lost his battle with lymphoma. Being off work, I was able to be with my mom as she went through the grief of losing her baby brother. In the summer, my cherished companion, Jasmine, succumbed to cancer. Those last few months home with her were priceless. And my dear friend, Claire, was just beginning her battle with lymphoma. Her good days gave us time to just be together, her bad days gave us lessons in love. We all thought she’d beat her lymphoma. The odds were way in her favor, especially with a sibling match for a bone marrow transplant. When she passed in the spring of the following year, that time we spent together was a gift that helped me through my grief.

The older we get, the more we face death. We lose loved ones, we struggle with our own health, we face our own mortality. With Claire, I learned about battling a life-threatening illness and getting through the day with small victories. I didn’t learn these lessons first hand, but because of Claire and too many other cherished friends, I try to embrace what it means to live life as if you were dying. To take the lemons and make the lemonade even in what seems to be life’s most trivial moments. And Carol is there to remind me that mostly, life is full of trivial moments.

So I’ll take those darn M&Ms – with a splash of lemonade. This was yesterday’s tasty “Flavor of the Day” – what’s today’s?

Post Navigation