Tuesday, October 18, 2011

True Test...

The true test of any relationship is time spent together. So imagine spending an entire day tethered together on a bike doing one of the best known tour rides in the country. For some couples this may sound all together frightening or quite frankly, stupid. We decided to not label it until it was over.

The Hilly Hundred is known all over the country as one of the most challenging tour rides. The name says it all and no further creative marketing needs to be done. The ride swerves through scenic central Indiana country side with challenging hills and crazy descents. All of those details set aside, it is just another ride around town. Right? (Maybe not). Our ride would be on a tadem...a two rider bicycle. As the rear rider (also known as the stoker), I would not have any sight to see forward, no brakes and no gearing. It is not just another ride. The captain has to do a majority of the work and I have to trust the captain.

The tandem itself has been nothing but pure agony for me most of this year. Originally conceived and designed as a gift for someone other than myself, I never IMAGINED myself riding it. The thought never crossed my mind, not once. The bike was NEVER designed or built for me. When the gift was not wanted anymore and returned, I still refused to ride the bike believing that the bike was not for me and I should not ride it. At heart though, it is a bike and bikes are meant to be ridden, otherwise they collect dust. Quality bikes are meant to be ridden without drama. This tandem is designed and built for a specific size person. I said once..."I wanna try it all in cycling" and I decided the tandem had been collecting enough dust. It was time to ride and our first foray into tandem riding would be Hilly Hundred.

Tandem Timeline:

Friday Morning 7AM: We are up with the car packed and we are driving north to Bloomington, Indiana. The sunrise is just starting to peak over the tree ridge. I am still sipping a huge cup of coffee as my system is suffering from a lack of sleep. Perhaps it was my nerves or the many chores that needed to be done before we left  but I could not sleep much the night before.

8:45AM: We arrive to the Hilly Hundred vendors tent where we will work between riding. Don made us a deal to cover our registration if we work the tent. It sounded quite fair. At this time, I have still not seen, nor sat on the tandem.

9:15AM: Don Walker arrives with his trailer in tow. We unload the trailer, set up for the show where the tandem is now sitting, waiting for us to ride it.

JC and Don at the vendors tent
9:45AM: JC works on the tandem so it will "fit" me better. This required quite a few adjustments, tweaks and cranks of a wrench. We decide to do two loops around a parking lot totaling .25 miles. We did not incur any damages and we consider this a good sign of things to come. We dismount and work the tent the REST of the afternoon and evening. We escape to Upland Brewery for a delicious lunch and...BACON ICE CREAM. (I seriously forgot all about the approaching ride while consuming this ice cream).

Bacon ice cream...dissolves any nerves

4AM: I awake in an odd panic, not sure where I am, surrounded by darkness. A few moments elapse and I finally realize I am in Bloomington, Indiana, in a trailer, sleeping on plywood in a sleeping bag with a cold breeze blowing through the door. Somewhat panicked and otherwise calm, I attempt to go back to sleep.

6:30AM: We awake to wind hitting the trailer, rattling the roof overhead. It is really cold outside. I ask about the descents before either of us is unraveled from our sleeping bags. I am assured we will "take it easy." Hmmm. I have doubts about this but press on.

7:30AM: I am now in full ride preparation mode. I am up, working to assemble the vendors tent and making mental notes of all the little things I will need on the ride. Other riders start to arrive. A stream of headlights comes over the hill looking like little white ants.
Sunrise on Saturday morning...
8:45AM: I am preparing to ride. I have applied sunscreen to the face, pulled back the hair and laid out my kit in the order I will put it on. Each piece goes on as I dress in a dark wooden trailer. It is cold outside. Even with a base layer, sports bra, bibs, jersey, AND jacket, I am cold. By cold, I mean my teeth are chattering. My fingers are numb. The temperature outside is 45 degrees. I am told it will warm up. I believe this.

9:30AM: JC is now finishing getting ready. Water bottles are filled. I adjust my jersey with needed items and extras like a camera. I speak to Don and remind him to remind JC that I have NEVER been on this bike before. I do not KNOW what I am doing. I do not want to crash.

10:00 AM: We are on the bike. Don snaps a quick photo before we take off. We push off in unison. We pedal in unison (you do not have a choice on the tandem). My view is JC's butt in front of me. This view does not change for the next 57-miles. It is freezing outside. My teeth are chattering and my fingers are already cold.

The before picture...
11:00AM: We are IN the ride now, and have completed a few small hills. I am on alert for any moment that could cause a fall or wreck but I am NOT in control. No matter what I do, I am not steering this bike. I cannot brake. I cannot shift gears. My ONLY job is to be a little motor in the back. I have carefully reminded JC that if he has a temper even once, any mild flare up, I will dismount the bike, flag down a SAG vehicle and ride back. My pride will not know the difference. He tells me he will not be dangerous and I have to trust him. I am clipped into this bike. IF I decide to bail, it will still cause harm because I will have to roll OFF the bike. There are hundreds of people around us, some of them riding quite dangerously ignorning any cycling rules. We see two serious wrecks and hear a helepad landing for someone injured. It scatters our nerves a bit and we are still freezing from the cold winds. Brrrr.

JC's butt...my view for most of the ride
Shortly before NOON: We arrive at lunch. Over a thousand people are crowded on a lawn. We feel good and find some space to take some sun in. We're still freezing! We have been standing for the hills at this point which literally causes people to gasp but it helps us motor up the hills with ease. We come over hills with little or no effort including a larger one that many people walk. I help myself to a tiny lunch of carrots, celery and a cookie. The lunch was scheduled to be fried chicken which I do not eat. JC eats a piece and it looks horrible as the soggy grease coats his fingers. We get back on the bike with our legs starting to tire bit. The scenery though really opens up and it is a pretty but cold day to ride.

Scenery along the way
1PM: Our legs are really tiring, the hills are getting harder. Now, JC is having leg cramps while I am starting to have arm cramps in my left bicep and tricep to the point that standing is nearly impossible because I may collapse. Hmmm. We summit a steep hill and JC gets off the bike to stretch his legs. Other tandems pass us BUT they have much better gearing. We do not have a "granny" gear and it is showing. We make the decision to limp along to the last SAG after a small discussion of quitting.

2PM: We are literally limping along. At any ascent we slow to a crawl nursing our sore muscles at every summit. I am thinking of muscle tearing, tendon issues, etc. JC cramps so bad at point, he jumps off the bike with me still clipped in. WHOOPPPS! I grab his shoulder and unclip as quickly as possible to hold the bike up. No wrecks today!

2:30PM: We roll into the last SAG, collapsing on the grass. We're still cold. We have both discussed but made the decision to NOT get a ride back to the end of the course. We are now only a short distance away from the end. We run into a friend who shares some cookies with us. They taste like the best cookies ever and JC scarfs them down. I text ahead to the end and tell Don "WE NEED MEAT." The lactic acid build up in our legs is to the point where you can nearly see it. Our legs are tight. Spinning feels good. Our friend Scott, an accomplished strong rider, agrees to stay with us until the end. We start to feel a little more energy.

The last crowded SAG

The best cookies EVER!
3:15PM: We depart the last SAG and immediately start into one of the last hardest hills. Uh oh. We ascend it seated. We sit, spin and rhythmically pull ourselves up. We realize that in a seated position we can climb but at a snails pace. We stopped caring about our time a long time ago. It is still freezing as gusting winds hit us from all sides. BRRRRR.

3:30PM: We are rolling to the end and I can hear people talking about the last few miles ahead. I get more excited but I realize that my sits bones are bruised. Every crack, bump, or pothole in the road make it feel like broken glass. I avoid any bouncing. My legs refresh a bit. My arm still cramps with any applied pressure but I do not need it anymore. JC and I can now see the water tower which is a part of the view from the school where we started. We are ALMOST done. Our friend scoots us up the hill pulling us in his draft and we turn to finish out the last few miles.

4:00PM: The end of the ride is officially near. We roll through a neighborhood of small quaint houses and cars. I stop caring about the landscape, the views or anything else and we turn onto the last road into the school. Other riders have collapsed on the road sitting on the grass to our sides. We do not even pause, we head on straight to the bathrooms. It is my first time off the bike in a while. We get on the bike one last time and roll into the vendors tent where we first pushed off. JC's legs are cooked. My legs are seared. We are done. We are STILL cold. I immediately prepare to layer up.

4:20PM: We collapse for a brief moment onto our sleeping bags giggling because we just finished over 57-miles on a bike we had not ridden more than a few feet. Now, it's funny. We laugh at our own stupidity.

Afterwards everyone asks us about the ride and how we got along. We never fought. We made decisions together. We laughed a lot on the ride mostly at other riders in costume or doing things really odd. If I were in pain, I told him. If he was in pain, he told me. We spoke in grunts at times. There was nothing we could do to directly comfort each other but we made it known when something wasn't working. We made the decision to walk some hills. We stopped and drank water when we needed. We finished over the time we thought we would but we did not regret the ride. We regretted our miscalculated gearing and not packing our own lunches. To make up for a lackluster lunch, we ate a whole pizza in minutes and several ice cream treats. Honestly, there were not enough calories in sight. After a hot shower and a few moments of resting, the best reward....11-hours of perfect uninterrupted sleep.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

When in doubt, bake.

As soon as Labor Day settles, I would normally be preparing for cross racing season. I would normally be choosing my dates for races, registering myself, and preparing meals around recovery and preparation. This is not been a normal year though. Since losing my job on June 26, I have been thrust into a new type of living...called, "getting by" and moving to the next chapter. I would have it no other way.

Not for a minute do I miss my non-profit, corporate feeling job. Not for a second do I miss the long hours, countless parties, formal wear, handshaking, faux snobbery, that was my job. I do not miss the frantic people that were my coworkers who literally ran around the office as if it may not continue standing unless they completed their mindless tasks. In fact, the only thing I do miss is the mild flexibility of knowing I would have weekends off or knowing IF I needed I could rearrange my schedule to fit my needs. Those are honestly, the only aspects I miss.

While my schedule fluctuates in a retail environment and quite often I work well over 40 hours a week, I enjoy the calmness of not having a chaotic environment around me frought with people trying harder than ever to get to the next rung on the ladder. As I see it, I am happy on the step ladder and refuse to climb any other ladders upward. In my mid-twenties, my goal was to lead a non-profit in my hometown but that goal has shifted, since most leaders I know are burned out, ran down, and focused on making a board of directors happy versus making a real difference in the community. The only real reward I ever see them enjoy are the rare moments when someone praises their job well done. Many of them do not vacation, take care of their family lives, or have friends night out. They are reaching for an imaginary goal.

With my relaxed, less chaotic time, what do I do? I bake. The kitchen is my second home. I move about from ingredient to ingredient often ignoring any written recipe and crafting my own concoction. As soon as Labor Day faded, I could feel the twinges of fall settling in and I began to bake....cookies, cakes, pies, and the staples of any fall, loaves of bread. My house is often filled with the scents of cinnamon, vanilla, caramel, or coffee. My small oven produces four homemade loaves of bread an hour or 48 cupcakes depending on the pans used. Once upon a time not so long ago, I was racing home to fix a quick dinner which generally involved something handed through a window because I did not have the time to cook a full meal. Now, dinners are thought about early in the day and we can enjoy pulled pork empanada night, taco fiesta night, or even fish sticks when we feel childlike. There is no rush to anything.

My goals may shift again, but I am certain that I will not do a job unless there is some personal reward from it. If I cannot go into work and feel I can accomplish my job, then I will not do it. Bike riding is still my passion but I can even enjoy it more now. Rides are not scheduled to a science but done in windows of free time. Rides are fun now...I am not always thinking about work.

Yes, there is a sacrifice in pay but overall, my quality of life has improve 150%. I am accutely aware of the things I need versus the things I want. This lesson is priceless. My boyfriend is enjoying the rewards with each loaf of bread or cupcake cranked out.

Monday, August 29, 2011

And....we're clear.

Last week was nothing short of a huge roller coaster ride. My emotions were up, then down as I waited for Thursday morning and my first ever mammogram. Thankfully, I am in the clear, for now. One not-so-uncomfortable mammogram and ultra sound later...the conclusion is fibroid cysts. Doctors have no explanation for them but he is certain they are benign. These are the words I needed to hear. Of course, I am required to monitor my cysts for any changes but overall, I walked out feeling much better than when I had awaken that morning.

From that odd moment on...the week picked up even with only a couple of days left. Mom and I celebrated fibroid tumors at a small diner in town (Jerry's) where my grandfather had spent many of his mornings. It brought back many memories to the point where both mom and I teared up remembering the counter where pa-pa had enjoyed coffee with other retired truckers. Over a stack of carb loaded pancakes and warmed colored water they called coffee, we celebrated these small lumps and took turns naming them while exchanging stories about pa-pa.

This weeks begins the final chapter of an official summer. This summer was not what I planned or expected. I planned on bike rides, training, and enjoying a rhythm of life that was constant. Instead, there is no rhythm, life right now is more like a mosh pit. I am trying not to get hit in the face as I push through the crowd. Even in the down moments, there have been fun nights with friends, cocktails with girlfriends and the memories of past summers. The walking path right outside our front door is now complete and every evening, JC and I walk the dog through the new trees marveling at the deer and how they have grown over the past few months.

Deer family we see every night while walking the dog...
I have always heard it is about the little things in life but after this summer, I can truly believe it. Each piece of summer has a bit of enjoyment to it. The small bowls of ice cream with fresh fruit, cooking with home grown herbs, hugging a long time friend, watching deer grow their first set of antlers. I look forward to these things each night. At the beginning of summer, I was concerned about moving, getting the house together and now, I know it will happen if it is meant to happen. I still have bike rides to look forward to although they may not be on a schedule. Hours are hours...and I plan to use them all just not in a specific order.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

When life hands you lemons...

I had just finished a bike ride, which in the summer means I am encrusted in salty sweat, my hair is a heap of matted mess, and I need a shower. Peeling my kit off, I headed for the shower and just about the time I was ready to wash another 30-miles away, I felt something. I felt again...that was not there before. What is that?! I felt again. I asked my boyfriend to feel it. Hmm.

Breast exams are critical and although I can rarely find anything off the table in life to joke about...I am serious about breast exams (I'll joke about them too!). Breast cancer is no joke and when I found a small lump, I immediately began a course of action which included calling the doctor at 8:02AM the next morning, calling my mom and doing research on the web.

My family physician has been my doctor since I was eleven years old. He is patient with everyone, direct, and knows my history. His wife is a 19-year breast cancer survivor. When he entered the examining room, he was more somber than normal. He found a few other lumps but was not immediately concerned.

His best diagnosis was to have a mammogram and ultrasound which I have penciled into my datebook for next week. I chuckled when the receptionist asked if I had breast implants. The mere thought made me giggle out loud and I assured her I could barely fill out a B cup, let alone withstand implants. My doctor feels everything is benign but he wants to be sure. I would prefer he be sure. 

Did I also mentioned I am uninsured? When you change jobs suddenly, you become uninsured. If one more person suggests COBRA to me, I may roll up the enrollment packet they were obligated to send me and beat someone with it. The monthly costs for COBRA were approximately $379 per month. When your income is significantly reduced, COBRA is not an option but more like a decorative coaster on my coffee table that is covered in coffee stains.

Uninsured, facing a mammogram, ultra sound and constantly fondling myself in my spare time, I have found some lemonade in my life, no less from the Federal Government. The government has a program to refinance interest rates for homeowners should they become underemployed. I completed the 60-page intake forms, had them copied, notarized, and met with my HUD agent today. She was so pleasant. We chuckled at the maze she had to navigate on the homepage of the program. Always an overachiever, I walked in with all of my papers signed and prepared in blue ink. She noted my attention to details. 

Yet, still in the office as she ran back and forth to the copier to grab the series of papers, I would feel my lump. I have never been so vigilant about something on my body. It feels very foreign because it is. Mom insisted after the HUD appointment, that we have lunch. We saddled up to a greasy local pub whose specialty ranges from chili to an amazing grilled cheese. Mom further suggested a beer, implying I deserved it. She was paying...I was drinking. I enjoyed it...with a perfectly toasted grilled cheese, extra dill pickles and seasoned salt on my crinkle cut fries. Again from time to time at lunch, I would feel my uninvited guest nestled just below my skin with my salty fingers. 
Mom had water, I had "flavored" water

Benign or not benign, the fear alone is something that stops you cold. I am constantly surrounded by breast cancer ribbons and various pink breast "cancery" things. Oh the irony of me hating pink is funn right now. I did not like pink when I was two...I do not like pink now. 

Even if benign, surgery may be needed to remove this parasite. Did I mention I was uninsured? Oh...I did. Surgeries are not free but I will cross that bridge when I get to it. Right now, I deal with one task at a time and enjoy everything that has nothing to do with this lump including a girls night out, walks with the dog, new haircuts, house warming presents for friends in New York, bike rides, and looking forward to my boyfriend being home at night. 
New hair
As the phrase goes, when life hands you lemons, make lemonade. Do you know anyone who likes natural lemonade? Me either. Lemonade is good only when amazing delicious sweet sugar is added. I prefer to make a simple syrup when making homemade lemonade (remember, I am an over achiever). So I say when life hands you lemons, hand them back and go buy some lemonade. Homemade lemonade takes forever and a full pitcher takes a lot of lemons. I deal with things one by one right now. One lemon at a time.
Enjoying lemon meringue cake with the cat and dog...

Thursday, July 21, 2011

You can learn a lot from a fat cat...

Meet Victor. He is the most ordinary 20lb house cat you will ever meet. He eats, sleeps, stares out the window and generally has a dull existence. Since arriving shortly before Thanksgiving four years ago, Victor has been the main cat of the house. He does nothing too extraordinary, except everything. What I have realized in these few weeks of stress, life change, and general circumstance is Victor knows what's right in the world. Meditation, yoga, hours of bike rides, friend phone calls, and long emails taught me nothing about life. Victor has.

1. Victor really does smell the flowers. By this, I mean, nothing gets by Victor. Whether its a bag of groceries, flowers, new clothes, or wet bike clothes, Victor notices everything. He approaches each new thing with care...giving a slight sniff as if scanning it into inventory. Nothing disturbs Victor. Loud noise, crumpling plastic bags, and even a large barking dog do not bother him. Each new item seems to be accepted into his world no matter what it is.

2. Victor is not afraid to be vulnerable. At some point during the evening usually while we are catching up on our trashy reality TV for the day, Victor will come into the living room and roll onto his back. Note this is his most vulnerable position and yet, every night he does this, stretching and lulling himself to sleep with only his paws twitching in a dream like state. He does not mind if I steal a rub of his super soft fur. He is content upside down, quite content and he isn't afraid to show it.

3. Victor is a leader. Victor ignores all species boundaries and prefers to be inclusive. You can imagine how confusing this is for an 80lb golden retriever with chronic anxiety. Victor never fails to include Buddy in his daily relaxation. Often Buddy is tense and nervous but Victor is always there to set an example of peace and tranquility regardless of supposed IQ differences. In fact, Victor hates to quantify any being. Numbers are for humans.

4. Victor smiles. If you know other cat owners, it is likely they have told you stories of a hissing, clawing meowing beast called a cat. In the time I have had Victor, he has never hissed, growled, or clawed at me. On any given vet visit, even with a thermometer applied to his rectum, Victor has never been aggressive.  Instead from time to time, he will fall asleep in my lap, purring loudly and grow a small smile on his face. Perhaps it is nothing more than relaxed feline muscles but I like to imagine that he is so content, he smiles.

5. Victor cares. When I brought Victor home, he took to a small beenie stuffed bunny. At first, I thought it was him needing a cat toy. I raced to the store, purchased other cat toys only to find Victor carrying "baby" around. Years later, because of my care and sewing skills, "baby" is still toted around at least 2-3 times a day. Victor carries him like a kitten around the house, dropping him off at the water bowl, food dish, and near the shower at times. Victor bathes "baby" and he is generally easily spotted in the house. This activity caused me to ask the vet who explained some male cats have female actions. Victor is being nurturing despite the fact he has no obvious way of producing kittens. It is a scene that will cause laughter and giggling watching him toddle about the house with this small creature in his grasp. He cares for "baby" and there is NO substitute. I was thankful to see the beanies fall out of favor of collectors because I was able to score a replacement at an antique mall for a dollar one morning. I keep it stored for the day that "baby" must be replaced.

When I adopted Victor, like many people, I thought I was adopting a pet but there are times when I swear Victor is trying to talk to me. He has expressions on his face and far beyond our daily routine of being fed and being cared for like a king, Victor is more than a cat. When I walk in the door, his almond shaped eyes greet me and he runs to me, often competing to beat the dog. He wins every time. In fact, I'm pretty sure it is he who adopted me. I was just there to write a check and drive a cat carrier home.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

HIRE ME! Or please let me be productive.

My first paying job was when I was 16, literally 3 days after my 16th birthday, I got a job. I worked in an ice cream shop known for a specific number of flavors. I made sundaes, doled out ice cream scoops, and learned how to count change back. Since then, I have not had a break from employment until now. Monday, I lost my job.

When I say no break from employment, I mean all through high school and college I worked full-time, sometimes two jobs to pay for a degree. I worked full-time through graduate school to pay for my lab fees, books, and research needs. Mom and dad have shallow pockets and the lesson taught was, if you want something bad enough, you will work for it.

At 34, I am not reacting any differently. Upon cleaning out my office, dropping an email account from cell phone and brief call to wallow with mom, I was on the job hunt before noon. Presently, I will return to my early teenage roots of retail. While an extreme diversion from my present day, it is still employent.

When I started college, I had the hopes that one day I would become an English professor mostly because of my love of reading. My house is filled with novels, novellas, poetry, and such. I could discuss literature all day. One afternoon after a British Literature course, the professor listened to me idolize his career while sitting in his cluttered office. There, sitting across from me in his bow tie, navy wool jacket, and pressed kahki's, he said, "You do not want this Melinda, you are meant to work with people." Even when I protested expressing how interacting with students was being with people, he shared a darker side of university that included things like tenure review, demands of research, seeking funding for a department. He said, "you will teach one hour a day and work the rest to save your job."

While some people are content with a job, I need passion. I need to be around people. I need to be around like minded people who enjoy reading, discussing the world, and generally enjoy positivity. The world has changed much since the completion of my first degree in 2001. Often now, people work jobs they cannot stand, tolerate employer abuse and compromise their integrity as a person.

I promise you that even working in a consignment store, I will take it seriously, work with care. I mean, I get to talk to women about fashion. How can that be a bad thing? Will it pay my bills? No, but I will work as hard or harder than I need to take care of myself. There is no room to be a victim or cry a river for myself. Instead, its onward and upward. I'm never going to be in Forbes magazine but if you are a woman and need assistance putting together something classy for an evening out...I can point you in the right direction.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Surviving the Indy 500-A Pictorial

A friend residing in Indianapolis invited the boyfriend and I to the Indy 500. He happens to own a business only steps away from the track. We really didn’t hesitate to say yes as it was a milestone 100th anniversary and we were offered prime viewing and parking spots. The following story can serve as a guide should you find yourself considering to join the thousands of people all cheering on very fast cars in the hot sun. Taking advice from the local who advised us to give ourselves plenty of time for travel, we woke up at 5AM to be out of town by 6AM to arrive in Indy by 8AM. Thankfully, I packed a race day survival pack the night before.

Again, we thought our timeline was planned PERFECTLY as we encountered no traffic all the way up I-65. We had even given ourselves enough time to stop for quality coffee and one final trip to a clean bathroom. We were further prepared to enter the heart of Indy through the side streets unknown to many out of towners but given to us by the local. We had this down! By making good time, we were on schedule to be at our friends shop by 8:30AM where plates of eggs, bacon, biscuits and gravy were being served.

Items packed for a day at the races
WRONG! All plans were abandoned when we found ourselves less than 3-miles from the track at a dead standstill of cars all headed towards the Speedway. Indianapolis is not a fully integrated gridded city thus allowing for only 1-2 routes to enter the Speedway area. For the next 45-minutes, we sat in our car not moving more than six to ten inches at a time. Our coffee was emptied, our patience waning from minute to minute as we both hate to be tardy anywhere. Our host and us were exchanging constant text messages about our location and literally we were just under 3-miles away. It was past 9:30AM now and we failed to move more than a foot since we had last moved. Our only consistent scenery was a gentleman passed out on a bus stop bench who failed to wake to the thousands of parked cars surrounding him. The traffic was growing restless with horns blowing and we quickly realized we would not reach our pristine parking space in time to see the start of the race at the rates we were moving. GRRR! Thus, we had a backup plan as we packed our bikes among our survival goodies. The boyfriend and I made a last minute decision to abandon the car in a CVS parking lot and bike it in to make it to our locale in time. I was loaded down with the days necessities of sunscreen, waters, munchies, while the boyfriend refused to leave his cooler full of Blue Moon. It made for an odd displacement of items on our bike. Sadly, we left our "friend" on the bench to sleep off the morning.
Man sleeping at bus stop
We weaved through traffic like New York City couriers, often bending basic driving laws (what red light? yield?). To avoid the mass of walkers, we rode head on into oncoming traffic carefully between the double yellow line dodging large trucks with mirrors jutting out and moving over for one determined ambulance. We reached our destination in minutes (literally 15-minutes) but our wits were frazzled as we found ourselves swarmed by tons of people of all sorts. Families, frat boys, party girls, elderly couples, and ultimate race fans who had obviously started partying at dawn covered the streets, sidewalks, and few grassy spaces.

Streets lined with people
Our local guide cut through the crowds like a hot knife through butter. He knew exactly where to enter the track, how to get to our seats and when to get there. We learned the lay of the land quickly noting restroom locations and making mental notes of appropriate food choices for later. The ninety degree heat in the afternoon turned our seats into slotted frying pans slow roasting our legs. The smell of sunscreen was occasionally overtaken by the smell of pulled pork sandwiches and beer. We agreed it would be best to consume neither in the heat and drank waters. Race fans are pressed tightly into the rows of bleachers and even with ear plugs, I could hear the cheers of a young race fan to my right who downed several beers over the course of the afternoon. There was constant visual stimulation whether from the talented Indy Car drivers or the spectators who dressed themselves in bikini wear to keep cool throughout the day.

Over or under dressing is not a concern at Indy 500
The race itself was purely amazing. I understand why someone handed me ear plugs. You need them. The cars create a constant vibrating roaring hum that only slows during a caution flag. Fans cheer each lap jumping from their seats fanning the cars in the appropriate direction towards the finish. It’s hard to not be excited but I was reserving my strength for end when we had to make our way back to our friends shop. Elbow to elbow people lined the streets cheering, singing, dancing and creating quite the party atmosphere.

Just a few thousand of our closest friends
Our Indy 500 was a 16-hour day complete with a 2-hour drive home. Thankfully we got a ride back to our car to avoid a short but dangerous bike ride back. The boyfriend slept as his nerves had bent to the end from all the people, fried foods, and the over stimulation of various fashion choices ranging from casual to "oh-my-goodness-why-are-you-wearing-that-in-public." If we were going to make it to an Indy 500....this was the one to go to. We have agreed that in the future should we attend another Indy 500, we will make some fashion adjustments.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

This thing on?!

2008 Susan G. Komen Walk/ Run
Hello? Anyone there? It's me, Melinda. Hello? Oh wait! These things never work unless you plug them in. Hold on. Just a second. There we go! Okay, I think that is better. I feel like I have been on a writing hiatus, too busy to bother with random life updates but all the while, I write in my mind and have the hundreds of files to prove it. I am back...with nimble, quick fingers and blistering thoughts.

Whew! I wish I could say my own hiatus was some philosophical removal of my hobby from my hands to cleanse my soul or discover my inner youth; however, my life is much more uneventful than that. I would describe these passing months as going from zero to sixty in milliseconds. The mere G Force alone was such that I was lucky to keep my skin intact and eyelids working. Work took its toll testing every hour I had in a day, bending the parameters of sleep into new dimensions. The holidays flew by with an assortment of decorations, meals, friends and pet love. Finally, I think I have been able to strike a balance between my home and office that carves more distance than a mere 11-miles.

When the New Year came, I refused to declare any resolutions on a"to-do" list as so often I have found resolutions require a list of excuses when you do not accomplish them. Instead, I thought about focusing on one aspect of my life and that was to ENJOY it. As usual, I was quickly reminded that I am not in control of this life I drive. My friend, former co-worker, career confidant, Judi Olsen (Cooper) gave her life fighting cancer this past week and with a few text messages and Facebook updates, I was thrust into a world of feelings and loss that I was not ready for. Judi, cannot be described in the usual terms associated with many cancer patients. The best way to discuss Judi is as a fighter and one hell of a lady.

Caner is not a new word to me. Like so many others on this planet, I came to know cancer in my early childhood, first with my great grandmother and again in adulthood with my grandfather. There are days when I try to recall their presence in my life and I can see their faces and hear their voices. Both persons were pivotal in my life but honestly, they were not fighters...not like Judi. Judi took her diagnosis by the horns, grasping them with white knuckles and punched cancer in the face, defying odds and diagnosis like no other. Every step was some new accomplishment even noted by doctors. Just standing with her for a few moments, you could feel nothing but pure awesomeness.

In this self centered, uncaring world, Judi embodied what it meant to be a giver. All through her battle, she gave more to others than herself. She gave hugs, smiles, laughter, and hope all wrapped with a huge bow. She convinced us all that she was not going anywhere. If there is anything that can stop you in your tracks...if there is such a thing as a wake-up call...this is it. Judi lived life, fighting, pushing, and never giving up. No matter what odds were scrolled across a doctors note, a computer screen or survivor’s cancer blog...Judi ignored all these things to carve out the most unique path a person can make...her own. Judi did not care for being a victim or a patient. She was Judi and although she had breast cancer, she did not declare loss, ever.

None of us ever believed she would not be here. We called her, emailed her, and read her blog all the while believing she would never leave us. I am now reminded of what my grandfathers oncologist once said…”Cancer is hungry and it never stops feeding.” So while Judi continued to give to all of us, while she continued to fill us with hope…Cancer continued its savage feeding on her body. I would never tell you that Judi lost her battle. She won. You only lose when you are defeated and as I hugged her last week and felt her arms clutch my neck, pull me in close, and truly grasp my body, I knew she was not defeated.

Grief is humbling. It doesn't matter how strong you think you are or how thick of a skin you show off to others, grief seeps inside and hurts. While bouncing from various stages of my own grief, I have been reminded that few things matter in this life except passion for what you do, happiness with yourself, and leaving the driving to someone else.