Just like riding a bike

Whomever coined the term “like riding a bike” assumed there was a certain level of coordination and skill to begin with.

He (or she) might have picked an activity that’s impossible to forget, even for those of us who are sorely uncoordinated. Finger-painting, for example. Blowing your nose. Pouring milk in the cereal bowl.

Because one thing that’s not just like riding a bike, ironically, is riding a bike.

Not in my experience, anyhow. At least not a road bike. Maybe he/she meant just like riding a Huffy?

Sure, I rode a bike as a kid. And yes, the training wheels came off at a respectable age. I must have been decently adept because many weekends I’d zip off on my bike in the morning and be off riding and playing with friends most of the day. I don’t remember ever being stranded at the other end of the neighborhood because I couldn’t make it home on my bike.

But all of that was of no help when I decided to buy a road bike five years ago after a twenty year hiatus from riding. “Where’s the kickstand?” was my first question.

My aunt accompanied me on my inaugural ride on my new grown-up bicycle. We covered maybe eight miles at a top speed of 10 mph – and that might have been on a downhill. Mostly we practiced stopping.

I dropped the chain twice. I spent more time riding the brakes than pedaling and I was terrified of cars, parked or otherwise.

As I proudly crested the lone hill on our second training ride, I asked her what she’d rate that hill on a scale of one to ten.

After a long pause, she gave it a two. My face fell. “Maybe two and a half,” she added generously.

A few weeks later, I decided I was ready to add clipless pedals to the bike. Which, in my opinion, is a confusing misnomer because clipless pedals are the type that clip to your shoe. Clipless is the “abridged” of the pedal world.

Friends will tell you clipping in is easy. They’ll say that everyone falls once, but then it’s like finger-painting. Keep in mind these are the same friends who can hit a tennis ball and ski without doing the pigeon-toed snowplow formation.

On my first attempt, the bike and I fell sideways into the grass. On the second, we toppled to the sidewalk. On the third, I crashed into a massive tree. Bloodied and defeated, I quietly wheeled Fuji back into the house.

It wasn’t always pretty but I did get back on. I made do with the clipless pedals for awhile, even when it meant pedaling with only one leg for three, four, ten miles because I couldn’t get the left shoe clipped back in.

After a couple bad falls, I eventually gave up on the pedals and went back to “normal” pedals with toe clips (the kind you don’t clip into). If they were good enough for the first 80 years of the Tour de France, they’re good enough for me.

I gave the clipless shoes and pedals to my sister, who only fell once. She’s one of those people who can hit a tennis ball and ski properly.

Still, I celebrate each little victory.

Like the a-ha moment when I realized how to shift gears to get up those hills. (It only took three years and a couple thousand miles.)

Or the first time I took my water bottle out of its holder without stopping. (Getting it back in place was, however, problematic so I just held onto it for twenty miles or so. It only took a few days to regain use of my thumb.)

Obviously, I still have much to learn but I love cycling so I’ll keep working at it. I aspire to pointing out potholes to riders behind me and standing up on my pedals on really steep hills.

And then, ever after, riding a bike will be just like pouring milk in the cereal bowl.

Good idea or great story?

Yesterday, the motivational quote on my disposable cup (you know, the little paper ones for teeth-brushing) read, “It’s either a good idea – or – a good story.”

My immediate thought went to book story ideas. What a myopic lens I’m viewing life through lately! I’ve been so engrossed in working on my manuscript that even the bathroom cups seem to be speaking to me personally, lending me writing advice.

When the next cup in the stack declared, “Wake up. Be Awesome. Repeat,” I realized these were not aimed directly at me. That Dixie was reminding us all that adventures that aren’t such a great idea, that we should probably avoid, make for great cocktail party stories.

Riding a bobsled, for example.

While in Park City almost precisely one year ago, three colleagues and I decided to spend an afternoon exploring Utah Olympic Park, home of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.

The most exciting draw at Olympic Park is the opportunity to ride the bobsled track, the actual course run in the Olympics and now a training track for future gold medal hopefuls. For just $100, you can sign your life away and experience hurling down a mountain at 70 mph.

Before being transported to the top of the mountain, an orientation video explained that we’d be riding in a 4-person sled, modified to run on wheels during the summer, with an experienced pilot who would control the steering and brakes. The track is 8/10 mile with 15 curves, including a 400-foot vertical drop. We’d be traveling with up to 5G’s of force.

No red flag went up during the orientation section entitled “If you are having second thoughts…” I was nervous, but in that scary-exciting way that one might be nervous before a blind date or singing karaoke.

Once we reached the summit, however, I spent a lot of time staring at the “EXTREME CAUTION–Severe injury or death can occur beyond this point” sign as we awaited our turn. I texted my mother and got her commitment in writing to adopt Wrigley if I didn’t make it home. I let her know who to contact regarding my life insurance policy.

Ten seconds into the run, I was ready for it to be over. What followed was the longest 51 seconds of my life.

I made the mistake of attempting to sit upright, thinking it would create drag and slow our momentum. I silently begged please, please, please slow down. Please let the end be around the next curve.

I was a bobble-head doll in the heavy helmet as we whipped down the bumpy track. At one point I heard a crack and my head ricocheted backward. I thought I had smacked helmets with the person in front of me. But it was just my neck.

The week that followed, back in Virginia, was a streak of oppressing hot days where there’s no way to avoid wearing sundresses and tank tops. But I wore my skinned elbows and softball-sized bruises as badges of honor on each arm.

“You may think I was beat up in a back alley, but in actuality, I went bobsledding last weekend,” I proudly announced to the salesman at the car dealership. During one of many physical therapy sessions that followed for the neck pain, I boasted, “No car accident here! It was the Olympic bobsled track that did me in.” With anyone who would listen, I shared my newfound respect for bobsledders and the sport’s physical demands.

So was it a good idea, or just a good story?

I think my sled-mate summed it up perfectly, as we recounted our bobsled experience for the upteenth time recently. “I would probably regret it… except that I like telling people I did it.”

So if you’re tempted to add the bobsled to your bucket list, I might suggest sky diving or hanggliding instead.

Unless, of course, you’re looking for a good story. In which case, riding the bobsled is great fodder for years of dinner conversations to come. A once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Because, trust me, you won’t consider doing it twice.

When I grow up, I want to be an astronaut. Or a unicorn.

Tonight, I attended my niece’s pre-school graduation. I’ve made fun of preschool and kindergarten graduations for years. Forgive me – I didn’t know what I was missing! Watching thirty-some five-year-olds sing and dance in miniature graduation robes was adorable. But the high point for me was the list of aspirations the teachers read as each student crossed the stage to accept their diploma.

“Grace wants to be a wrestler when she grows up.” “Henry previously wanted to be a scientist, but has now decided to be a ninja.” There were many with very traditional goals of becoming doctors, veterinarians, teachers and engineers. We saw a future banker, dentist, several police officers, a firefighter. One little girl wants to be a zoologist.

Then there were the ones that reminded me what it’s like to be five and live in a world of make-believe. My niece aspires to being ballet instructor. A puppy trainer. A boy band back-up dancer. A horse hair braider. A rock star. An ice skating princess. A lifeguard. The queen. And a castle guard. And, yes, a unicorn.

Lately, I’ve been rethinking (again) which manuscript to tackle first. And I’d come to the realization that although there are some bigger, harder, more emotional stories I will eventually write, writing should be fun. It should be like playing make-believe.

I heard several authors mention recently that they set out to write the book they wanted to read. Which makes total sense! So I decided to define what my perfect book would be, as a reader.

I listed out the last fifteen books I read and it wasn’t what I expected – there was no literary fiction among the last fifteen. It was about evenly split between fiction and nonfiction. Multiple young adult fiction books in the mix. The overall themes seemed obvious – tales of survival, fantasy or dystopian society, and a maybe a little romance for good measure. Jane Austen meets Into Thin Air meets The Hunger Games.

Instantly I knew which scrap of a story idea I was going to write. It’s one I’d shelved after one chapter a couple of years ago and I won’t give the details yet, but I’m so excited to play in this make-believe world!

I’m forcing myself not to think beyond the first chapter until I get it all down on paper, but I haven’t been this excited to write in ages. Maybe this is what it’s supposed to feel like? A story I’m so excited to explore that I’m giddy with excitement to write it because until I write it, I won’t know how it ends and what happens along the way.

I feel like I’m five years old again, sitting on the playroom floor, making up elaborate worlds and storylines where Brother Bear and Smurfette live next door to Strawberry Shortcake and her older brother, Mork. Where it’s not strange at all that a stuffed peach’s best friend is a Care Bear. And no one questions why a horse is driving a pink convertible.

Funny that no one said tonight that they wanted to be a writer (maybe that will change once they learn how to read!). Because the secret I want to whisper is – being a writer means you don’t have to choose. You can be a scientist and a ninja. A teacher and a race car driver. An astronaut and a unicorn.

(The pic is me at Johnson Space Center a couple years ago, playing astronaut for the day.)

Challenge accepted: 5 days, carry-on only

I’m doing a bit of paying it forward here. My obsession with packing began with a blog and I spent hours reading posts and watching YouTube videos learning from the best. So I feel compelled to share my favorite finds, as well.

Wrigley stayed home (to her dismay), but the luggage above is everything I took with me to Chicago last week. I was determined to pack carry-on only because I like the challenge and efficiency. It keeps me from over-packing. And I had a tight timetable once I landed at O’Hare so waiting around at baggage claim wouldn’t be ideal.

I could not have done it without my new Osprey Fairview 40! It held more than my traditional roller-board carry-on ever could, even though they’re about the same dimensions. Plus, with the stowaway harness and hipbelt, my luggage felt less cumbersome and I had more freedom than being tethered to a rolling suitcase in the airport.

“Is that all you brought? For a week??” were some of the first questions when I arrived at the office. Yes! Proud moment.

So here are all the details in the spirit of sharing for future travelers. Hint: The secret is packing cubes.

Last summer, a friend sent me the link to Travel Fashion Girl‘s post on packing cubes. The headline reads: This Video Will Change the Way You Travel. And it did. I became an instant convert to packing with cubes and will never go back. You can view her full video and recommendations HERE.

Using her method, I packed two eBags slim cubes with leggings, sweater, scarf, gym clothes (in case, fingers crossed, I actually made it to the gym), undergarments, six tank tops, five blouses. I used a small Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Cube for socks, a small Pack-It Specter Sac for jewelry, and a large one for sneakers.

With the handy pockets, sleeves and compression straps in the Fairview pack, I also fit in two pairs of pants, a jean jacket, iPad, flat iron and four quart-size Ziploc bags/reusable pouches with liquids, toiletries and other personal items (cosmetics, toothbrush, nail files, band-aids and such).

In addition to my laptop, the Delsey Montmartre+ Journée Laptop Tote held a Marmot quilted jacket (because temps were still chilly at night in Chicago), a pashmina, umbrella, tennis ball (great back roller when traveling), water bottle, headphones, cords/chargers for four devices, and miscellaneous items – several packs of gum, business cards, pens, wallet, medications (hurray for allergy season), lip balm, zip drives, etc. Plus the latest issue of Outside magazine, a box of Page Stationery notecards, and a book (What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding: A Memoir by Kristen Newman).

I’m so enamored with my new Fairview pack that I’m already dreaming up trips to take just to test it its limits. Can it hold enough for two weeks? Three?? I should take it to Africa! Or Iceland!

In the meantime, Wrigley is glad we’re both home and staying local for the time being.

Rethinking everything I planned to write…

Inchoate. adj. just begun and so not fully formed or developed; rudimentary.

I came across this word while reading Meg Files’ Writing What You Know and now it’s on my list of Words I Love To Say Out Loud. Right up there with Adirondack and Onomatopoeia. It’s also how I’m feeling about my writing – not so fully formed or developed. Rudimentary.

I picked up Writing What You Know on a whim while browsing the aisles before David Baldacci’s book signing to promote The Fallen last weekend. And although I’m ready to dive in to writing a specific project I’ve been noodling on for the last couple years, the more I read of her book, the more I realize I’m headed in the wrong direction. All that noodling has been for naught. Continue reading “Rethinking everything I planned to write…”

The kind of day the gear is designed for

Protean. [proh-tee-uhn] adj. able to do many different things; versatile.

Days like this are why we pay the extra bucks for protean gear.


When we stepped out the front door of our hosteria in El Chalten that morning, the sky was black to the north. Mount Fitz Roy was visible, but wrapped in clouds. But off to the right, only the nearest mountains were in view.

Everything else – in the direction we were headed – was obscured by dense, dark clouds. It was 7 a.m., the sun was shining to the East, but the north sky looked like the dark of night.

Yet we set off and our shuttle driver dropped us off about 17 km north of Chalten at El Pilar in Los Glacieres National Park. We began hiking south through a lush forest of lenga, on a path mostly parallel to the Rio Blanco. Through breaks in the trees, we caught glimpses of mountains and hanging glaciers across the river.

Luckily, what looked like it would be downpour had receded to a light rain, but the fog and clouds were still obstructing most of our view. I can only imagine how breathtaking the same hike might be on a clear day, but even though we missed out on stunning glacier vistas, the most amazing rainbows followed us as we trekked.

This panoramic was taken by a hiker from the UK that same morning. We met on a shuttle ride to El Calafate a few days later and he was kind enough to send me a copy. Photo credit: Tony Finlay.

A couple hours later, we reached a decision point – do we continue on, cross the Rio Blanco and make the steep hike up to Laguna de los Tres, or do we take a left and hike south to El Chalten? Our guides decided that despite the weather, it wouldn’t be unsafe to do the climb to Laguna de los Tres. So our group split into one group heading up and one group heading down.

I debated. On the one hand, I was tired of hiking in the rain. There was a chance the views would be so obscured at the top that our effort would be for nothing. On the other hand, I didn’t travel all this way only to have a little rain ruin our plans.

“This is what the gear is designed for, right?” I decided whether there would be a view or not, whether we’d get to see Fitz Roy up close or just a stack of clouds where the massif ought to be, these conditions were why I’d spent a nauseating amount of money on gear with features I might never otherwise use. So up I went.

I went through every combination of clothing in my day pack that afternoon. Rain jacket, fleece, windbreaker, short-sleeves, down jacket, spare socks, gloves, baseball cap, winter hat, buffs. At times wearing as many as five layers. Patagonia had lived up to its reputation – we experienced four seasons in a single day.

The ascent was slow going after we crossed the river and began the real uphill portion. Although only a horizontal quarter-mile, the steep pitch of loose rock took more than an hour to cover. Looking at the trail ahead, some portions appeared sheer vertical from a distance.

We were not greeted with a great view when we reached Laguna de los Tres. Or if we were, I might have missed it. We barely lingered long enough to snap a few pictures at the top due to the biting cold. My face was freezing and I was exhausted from fighting the whipping wind on the open expanses of rock scramble. I spent most of those five minutes at the top head-down, hunched against the wind, trying to keep my balance. The fact that it was snowing(!) at the top was reward enough for me.

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Five layers kept me warm and relatively dry! The Patagonia Rainshadow jacket was phenomenal; Black Diamond Distance FLZ Trekking Poles kept me upright on the steep ascent; and I fully appreciated the sunglasses loop on my Camelbak Rim Runner pack (I was constantly putting them on and taking them off depending on the wind and sun).

By the time we reached Campamento Rio Blanco, the base camp for those climbing Mount Fitz Roy, the sun was shining. We started shedding layers as we dried out and warmed up.

It was bittersweet when we saw this view an hour later. I had several pangs of jealousy that the folks we passed going up as we were coming down were getting this spectacular weather. But they didn’t get snow, I kept reminding myself.

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The Patagonia Airshed was a great lightweight layer over a tech-tee for breaking the wind and under a down jacket for warmth; a winter hat with fleece band kept my ears toasty; and Merrell’s waterproof Moab boots kept my feet dry and gave great traction, even on steep portions of loose rock. (L to r: Toshi, Heather, Patrice and Pedro, our guide from Walk Patagonia.)

When we reached Laguna Capri, the clouds almost fully cleared. We took a break on the beach to bask in the sun and even waded into the frigid glacial lake to cool our tired feet.

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Carrying very little yet being prepared for a myriad of weather during a nine-hour hike meant every piece of clothing and gear had to be versatile. Protean.

Jackets folded up into their own pocket to clip on a carabiner and keep handy for the next drop of rain. Poles could be extended or shortened with a flip of a switch as terrain changed. Even my soft shell cycling gloves got a new gig as they kept my hands safe from scrapes on rock scrambles and blocked the wind for warmth.

I hope I’ll have the opportunity to one day return to Laguna de los Tres and see on a clear day what’s touted as one of the most stunning views in the Chalten area. But until then, I’ll remember this as the day I put my gear to the test and discovered it was worth every penny.

perspicacious poetry

Perspicacious. adj. [pur-spi-key-shuhs] having keen mental perception and understanding.

I recently fell in love with the beautiful poetry of Atticus in Love Her Wild. It’s amazing how a few brief lines can be so poignant. He seems to possess the precise words that every girl is longing to hear.

“It didn’t matter that she fell apart, it was how she put herself back together.” – Atticus

The first time I heard of Love Her Wild, we were standing in my sister’s kitchen when she asked if I was familiar with this Instagram sensation poet, Atticus. She read me a handful of excerpts from his Instagram feed and instantly the acute eloquence had my eyes stinging with tears. When she gave me the book for Christmas, I devoured it in one sitting.

afraid of heights (above) is one that especially grabbed me for perfectly capturing how I feel at this moment. I’m nervous (let’s be honest – terrified) to walk away from a comfortable, consistent, successful career and leave everything to chance.

But the greater fear is never having taken the chance, rolled the dice, gone all in. Fear of playing it safe and not risking everything for the rewards. Of taking a leap of faith without knowing if there’s a safety net.

And now Page Stationery has an equally beautiful line of Love Her Wild letterpress stationery and art prints! Today, I’m off to buy picture frames to adorn my walls with this fabulous collection as a constant reminder that doing the things that scare us most also have the greatest rewards.