California Enduro Series 2017 Season Finale

Fun.  Tribe.  Challenge.  Perseverance.  

All of the above words represent how this season of mountain bike racing with the California Enduro Series has felt to me.  It is hard to believe that just six months ago, I set out with a goal to race and eventually win the Beginner Women’s category series overall.  It has been an epic adventure, full of rich experiences; truly, a once in a lifetime experience.  Now that it has come to an end, I’m reflecting back upon the last half of the season (Rounds 5-8), and what this whole experience has meant to me, though I don’t know that words can fully describe just how awesome it was!

CES Round #5: Crafts and Cranks Enduro at Snow Summit in Big Bear, July 17-18

Snow Summit is a snow and mountain-bike park in the Southern California town of Big Bear, and the Crafts and Cranks mountain bike festival was three days of big air, pump-track, cross-country, downhill, enduro, and other races.  This was my first two-day race: half the race was on Friday afternoon, with the other half Saturday morning.  There were five stages over two days, with  part chairlift-assist: once per day we got to ride the lift to the top, but the other climbs were pedal-powered, steep, hot, and consistent at altitude.  

Like most places on the CES tour, I’d never ridden there until the race.  Leaving my house in Ben Lomond about 5 a.m. on Friday the 17, I drove through Tehachapi and the desert to Big Bear, arriving in time for practice around noon.   I had a hotel room reserved at the local Motel 6 in Big Bear for Friday night and would drive back home Saturday after the race.  Talk about a whirlwind trip – 14 hours of driving for about 5 hours of riding in 48 hours!

I got in a few practice laps before our afternoon race-time began.  The mountain didn’t feel overwhelming; it felt a lot like Northstar, or Downieville.  I felt tired from the early morning rise and long drive down, but I was happy I got to pre-ride most of the course except the last two laps.  There were only four of us in our Beginner Women category this time – our smallest turnout yet.  We raced our two laps within a couple of hours: fun, flowy trails.  Then, we all went back to our hotels, campsites, or cars for an evening of rest.

The next morning, we started with a long fire-road of a climb from the bottom of Snow Summit to the top.  The chair-lifts laughed at us as we climbed, at altitude no less.  Our hardest downhill was the first lap of the day called Miracle Mile: a rocky, technical run with tree-roots and log-drops interspersed for good measure.  We flew down the trail, in 30-second intervals, and finished the final two stages of the race within two hours.  I got 2nd place in this race.  I felt happy with how I did for not having ridden there before.  It was a really fun mountain – a lot like Northstar or the Tahoe area with lots of granite and conifers.  For Southern Californians, it’s the best downhill mountain bike park around. One of my favorite parts about the whole trip was watching the pros compete on the big air mountain bike park, hitting back-flips and no-handed, soaring arcs as graceful as a deer.  

I really enjoyed being somewhere new; it’s always fun to go somewhere you haven’t been, and get a sense of it.  Mostly, I like hanging out with “my people”; the tribal element of being among so many like-minded individuals buoys my spirit and inspires me.  There are so many cool, supportive women that provides a sense of sisterhood.  I met a lot of awesome people here!  It was after this race that I decided I was going to Ashland for the final sold-out race, CES Round #8; within a week, I’d gotten a transfer in and was committed to finishing the series.  A fire had been lit under me!


CES Round #6: Northstar at Tahoe, August 25-26, 2017

Northstar is the bomb!  Anyone who’s ridden there will tell you it’s one of the meccas for mountain biking in NorCal.  Luckily, this was the one course I’d actually ridden several times before.  And it would pay off.

Ron (my husband) and I drove up early Friday morning, rode Northstar, and set up camp at Prosser Reservoir just outside of Truckee.  It was absolutely gorgeous!  The weather was hot, and the sky crystal clear at night, with shooting stars streaking about.  

On race-day Saturday morning, we started with a long climb up from the base to the top of the mountain; again, those chair-lifts just laugh at us while we climb!  Our first stage was a mellow, flowy downhill called Coaster.  My head wasn’t quite in race-mode yet, and it wasn’t until stage 2, Sticks and Stones, that I really felt like I was in my groove.  By the third stage, Flameout, I felt confident I was leading the pack.  

That night, Ron and I went to Sierraville Hot Springs for a healing soak in their hot tubs.  It was absolutely magical.  When I awoke Sunday morning for the second half of the race, I felt well-rested and ready to go!

Sunday brought the gnarlier routes: we began with Boondocks, a loose, rocky downhill that everyone kept talking about.  Within our group of six women, we were all bonding over our experience on the mountain together.  One of my favorite parts about doing these races has been the camaraderie among the women I’ve met: we all share a love and passion for mountain biking, and it’s so cool to be part of that.  This trip was no different; we shared many laughs and stories in between our stages and transfers.  There were a few familiar faces, like Anne-Laurie, a nice woman who’s been at most of the races like I have.  A cool girl from Texas named Stacie showed me the highlight of the whole trip: the Ferda girls “Humble” parody.  You must watch it to understand!  Those women in the video are my heroes, depicting the all-too-common sexism often found in mountain biking and other male-dominated sports.  

It was also during our time hanging out together when I realized how basic my bike was compared to everyone else’s.  Here I was riding with 110mm front and rear-shocks, with no automatic dropper-post like they all had.  Everyone had more shock than I did; most had 160’s.  The girls were telling me I was crazy to be riding my bike there at Northstar; how could I not have a more downhill-oriented bike for this gnarly terrain?  When I got my Specialized Camber Comp 29’er four years ago in 2013, I had upgraded from an old Cannondale hardtail 26’er that would shake me like a rock-tumbler on anything remotely rocky.  Upgrading to a full-suspension mountain bike, with the rolling power of 29” wheels to boot, was like unleashing a cheetah: run, run, run was all I wanted to do! But among all the nice bikes with big shocks made me reconsider if I was missing out on anything: what if I upgraded my bike?  Would it open up a next level of riding?  Suddenly my bike seemed a little too cross-country.  Admittedly, my shocks had been underwhelming on the rocky downhill we were doing at all of the races.  My shoulders were always sore after the races from taking up so much shock on the downhills.  I’m strong, but I don’t want to work that hard if I don’t have to.  

Standing there on the mountain, readying to ride our next stage, I started daydreaming about a new bike.  As quickly as I did, I was reminded that I had ridden so many places on my bike, with “only 110’s” as some were quick to point out, and if I am doing this well in the races with my current bike, let that speak for my riding abilities: I can make a 110 work, even if I’m one of the only ones rocking one.  I felt confident in my steed, knowing how many trails she’s gotten me down before.

Our fifth stage was Karpiel, another fast, loose, technical descent, one I’d never ridden before until the race-day.  It felt a lot like the bottom section of Magic Carpet in Santa Cruz, a trail I ride all the time, so I just kept on rolling over all the rocks and log drops. This lap would turn out to be my fastest lap yet.  I felt pretty pumped after finishing this run!

We finished with our last stage on Gypsy, a classic downhill at Northstar.  By the time we arrived to our final stage, we’d been riding for a few hours at altitude, and I was definitely getting hungry; I was bonking.  I didn’t hesitate to take my last lap and finish the race, going straight for a snack and tons of water when I finished.  

Ron and I stayed for the awards ceremony, where I found out I’d won first place by a comfortable margin.  Again, there’s a clear correlation between pre-riding a course and doing well on it.  It felt awesome to win first place for the second time in this series (Mammoth Bar, CES Round #1).  Ron and I went for a swim in Lake Tahoe at King’s Beach before heading back home to Santa Cruz.  

This was such a fun race!  I was exhausted by the end, but I so enjoyed finding my flow and grace on this course.  I felt strong the whole way through, and happy with how I’d ridden.  Moreover, I’d spent another weekend in beautiful mountain country, one of my favorite landscapes around.  I feel at home in the mountains, and most of all, love going down them upon land or snow!

CES Round #7: Kamikaze Bike Games at Mammoth Mountain, September 16

Mammoth has long been an area I’ve wanted to go snowboarding at.  It lies high in the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains, an area I’ve spent a lot of time exploring through hiking and rock-climbing over the years.  But I’d never been to Mammoth, and I was really excited for this trip!  

I took Friday the 15th off work to make the early 5.5 hour drive down, driving through stunningly beautiful Yosemite National Park and Tioga Pass.  As soon as I hit Highway 395 at Mono Lake in Lee Vining, I felt like I was home.   How had it been five years since I’d been here?!  I wondered.  The last climbing trip I’d done to Bishop with Ron felt like forever ago, especially compared to how often I used to go in my early twenties when I was a real climber.  There is something strikingly gorgeous about the Eastern Sierras that is like nowhere else I’ve been on Earth: it’s a convergence of two completely different landscapes, and a juxtaposition of mercy and power that humbles you.  The geology is impressively awesome, with the steep scarp of the Sierras jutting up out of the high-desert plateau, to towering summits well over 11,000’.  The Long Valley Caldera below is alive with geothermal activity, providing some Eden-like hot springs to soak in after a long day out and about.  It is simply heaven out here.  And on this trip, I had the luxury of staying on-mountain at the Mammoth Mountain Inn, with my own “hot spring” located conveniently down the hall from my room.  

I made it to Mammoth by 11:30 a.m., and picked up my race-plate and t-shirt.  I kitted up quickly as we only had between 11:00 and 2:00 p.m. that day and 7:30 – 9:00 a.m. the next morning to practice the course; we could be disqualified for riding outside of those times.  I knew I would want to sleep in on the morning of the race, so I hurried off to start my pre-ride.

The first lap was down DC-10, which just about took my breath away when I hit the top of a super steep, loose section.  I have learned over the years to stop and watch others until I see how I could do it; once I’ve seen a possibility, it’s “Monkey See, Monkey Do” and I can visualize myself doing it.  I moved off-trail and watched as everyone from pros to beginners came through on their practice laps; I felt reassured by how many of them stopped like me to scope the approach before taking a deep breath and committing themselves (with some inevitably sliding out in the process).  After a few minutes, I walked my bike back up the trail to gather some speed for my entry, and dropped into that section thinking to myself, “I can, I have, and I will”, a common mantra I say to myself in times of uncertainty.  I can physically handle this; I am strong enough to hold my weight as far back as I can, while still keeping control of my handlebars and braking so as not to slide out.  I have done so many “gnarly” rides in the past; so many drop-ins where my heart was pounding out of my chest, but once I committed, I completed – with the rush of a thousand laughs.  The confidence that comes with experience gives me faith in myself and my skills: I know I can handle challenging, mountainous terrain like this.  I will do this – right now, no hesitation, no excuses. Just go: 100%, fully committed, Flow with Grace, Girl.  Be in your element; this is where you belong.  Mountain biking is in my blood.  

I made it down DC-10 feeling a little bit nervous about the rest of the course, I’ll admit (watch a video of it here; go to 5:00 in for the steep part I’m talking about).  It was so loose, steep, and had the “kitty-litter” texture I’d heard about that made it so untrustworthy.  I was a fish out of water, in completely new terrain and dirt.  But the Science teacher in me was geeking out on these rocks: the mountain ranged from jagged volcanic rocks like pumice and rhyollite, to plutonic igneous rocks like granite, with some metamorphic rocks thrown into the mix.  Mammoth Mountain itself is a dormant volcano, part of the Long Valley Caldera, which still rumbles with seismic activity today.  

I was able to pre-ride three out of the four race stages, missing the last chair-lift by only minutes; the course marshals were quite strict in this race about everything overall.  The second and third stages were nowhere near as intimidating as that section of DC-10, luckily, and I was beginning to really enjoy the conditions.  The famed Kamikaze Downhill was exhilarating with the wind screaming through my helmet as I soared down the fire-road trail from the top of the mountain at 11,053’ to the bottom at about 9,000’.  The goal seemed to be go as fast as you can without losing control and eating it, because the rocky surface threatened to wash you out like ball-bearings with any slip of the tire or improper weight-shift.  It might have been from the altitude, but my forearms were burning after this one from braking so much.  The third lap was pedaly and flowy (a section of it was even called “Flow”), and by that point, it was just as well that I was denied boarding the lift for that last lap.  I was exhausted, but was excited to see Devil’s Postpile, a geologic wonder I’d long wanted to see.

I made the thirty minute drive to the end of Highway 203 to Devil’s Postpile.  It was a short hike in, under a mile, to reach the hexagonal basaltic columns.  The Minarets rose dramatically to the North behind me; the middle fork of the San Joaquin snakes its way through the valley below.  It was wonderful.  

 

The next day, I slept in and had a nice hot tub to start the day.  Our race time wasn’t until 1 p.m., so I could take my time getting ready; the best part was I was well-rested.  All of my races until then had involved getting up early, and I am not known for being a morning person.  I felt charged.  

I saw two familiar girls, Jeni and Anne-Laure, at the start of the race.  We happily caught up with each other, and talked about the conditions.  Again, I love the women I meet and the camaraderie.  We had a lot of fun getting to know each other better throughout the day of the race.

We started our first lap, which had the steep section of DC-10 that kind of intimidated me.  But now I knew I had done it, if only once, and now when I thought I can, I have, I will, I really had faith in the I have part.  I made it through with some flow and grace, my shocks bottoming out in spots and kicking my upper body into overdrive as it served to take up the slack.  It was done, though, and I instantly felt relieved that it didn’t loom anymore.  Now I felt like I could relax a bit and enjoy myself, which I thoroughly did for the rest of the race.

I got second place in this race out of our group of six women.  Like most of the other races where I’ve gotten second, the first place has gone to someone who has actually ridden the mountain before, often regularly like a local.  That’s the interesting part about being in the “Beginner” category: you’re more likely to get a wider range of skill-levels and experience.  For example, a local sees there’s a mountain bike race at their mountain, on their home turf, but with little to no background in racing, they’ll enter as a Beginner.  It’s all part of being in the most mixed group of them all; our times have the widest ranges from each other.  When you look at the Expert and Pro category times, they are all within mere seconds of each other – typically ten seconds or less.  That’s how competitive it gets.  In our Beginner category, there are typically two and a half minutes between rider times.  For example, my total winning time at Northstar was 1:01.16, while second place was 1:03.49; the pattern pretty much continued after that.  I was happy with second place, and happy to have a nice hot tub and sleep in my hotel room.  Moreover, I was excited about seeing Mammoth and its intriguing geologic features.  

I drove home the next morning through the June Lake Loop and stopping multiple times on the way home: Mono Lake, Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite.  California is endlessly, epicly gorgeous, and I feel so grateful to live here!  

 

CES Round #8 Series Finale: Ashland, Oregon, October 7, 2017

Ron and I set out early Friday morning, October 6, for Ashland to pre-ride the course, catching a fully-packed four o’clock shuttle with Ashland Mountain Adventures up to Mt. Ashland Ski Area.  Our shuttle driver drove like a bat out of hell up the winding mountain roads, maximizing our centrifugal force with each curve.  “Anyone else seasick?” a rider quipped.  After he said that, it was all I could think about.  When we got off at the base of the Mt. Ashland Ski Area, it was blustery and cold, but I was relieved to get out of the van.  

We took off down Bull Gap to ride Stage 3, Lizard to Catwalk Trail.  This was a pedaly stage with the most uphills of all the stages I’ve done so far, and it was the longest stage of the four.  It was gorgeous, though: mixed conifer forests dominated the upper elevations, transitioning to deciduous woodland in the lower foothills.  Ashland is certifiably stunning!  I can totally see the allure of living here, especially with the abundant outdoor activities in the area.  I wish I’d taken more pictures on this trip!

By the time we reached Stage 4, Jabberwocky Trail, the stoke really kicked in.  This trail is an awesome flow trail, replete with jumps and tight turns, and a total blast!  I scared the heck out of myself a couple of times flying down it.  First, I went off a jump way too fast, and realized instantly I was higher than I’ve ever been. It was exhilarating, and sent my stomach straight up into my throat.  I straightened out my front tire, and landed with a hard thud as I maxed out my shocks (I have 110, not the typical 150-160mm of travel), but rode it out while exalting a loud “WOO!” into the forest.  I could have totally just eaten it! I mused; but I didn’t fall, and I wanted to do it again!  How much fun was that?!  

Pushing boundaries never fails to excite and enliven, and as Murphy’s Law would have it, I nearly hit a tree soon after.  I had time to anticipate it, but the trail was off-camber and extra run-out from all of the racers, inviting me to slide out in the loose dirt.  For a moment I felt like I was just helplessly drifting in slow-motion into that tree.  With all my might I leaned to the right and barely missed it.  We finished the trail at Lithia Park, and rode back to our hotel at the Cedarwood Inn.  We had one of the best Indian dinners ever at Taj Indian Cuisine Restaurant, which put us to sleep nicely with full bellies.

Saturday morning, Ron dropped me off at the race venue at the end of Lithia Park.  I began the 7.5 mile climb up the mountain, which lagged on for an hour and a half or so.  I had time to think about all sorts of different things, and then to not think at all.  It felt a lot like Hihn Road at Demo in the Santa Cruz Mountains; in fact, the whole terrain reminded me a lot of Demo overall.  I saw my friend Anne-Laure at the top, and we soon took off for our first stage – a fast, flowy trail down Horn Gap.  I didn’t get to ride stages one and two the day earlier, but fortunately both of these stages proved to be straightforward and were a ton of fun!  It was nice to have some downhill after climbing so long in the morning, and it definitely jazzed me up.

When I finished Stage Two, Hitt Road, I returned to the venue, reuniting with Anne-Laure and Jeni, two awesome ladies I’ve made friends with during the series, and met several other cool girls in our racing group of nine women.  We had about an hour to eat and rest at the venue before loading up into the bike shuttle for Mt. Ashland, to ride Stages Three and Four.  I tried to eat during this break, but it’s always hard for me to do so in the middle of exercising.  I can drink liquids fine, but eating almost makes feel nauseas.  But the more I race, the more I realize how important it is to eat.  I forced some peanut-butter filled pretzels and Luna bar down, and drank a ton of water.  

By the time we were dropped off at Mt. Ashland, however, I was even hungrier than before, and really feeling the fatigue.  Stage Three loomed ahead – the longest stage of them all – and I just felt like getting it over with.  I don’t have an automatic dropper-post, so I opted to keep my seat up for the pedaly, uphill sections; of course, this made the downhill sections that much harder and clumsier.  I almost fell in an easy rock garden that I’d rolled over without a second thought the day earlier.  This is your last race; don’t crash!  I didn’t want to eat it on the last laps, and I was bonking out.  Then I didn’t care anymore about how I did.  That was the cool thing about going into this race: I knew I already had the points to win the series overall, so it didn’t matter how I did in this last race.  I didn’t even need to be there; it was just for the fun of it.  Knowing how fatigue spells danger, I slowed my pace and decided to cool my jets a bit.  This was yet another stage in the series where I really wished I had an automatic dropper-post to adjust my seat while riding without stopping.    

The reward lay ahead, though: Stage Four, the Jabberwocky Trail!  This was the icing on the cake.  This was the last stage of the last race of the series, and I took a moment to soak in the finality of it all.  I enjoyed this last stage so much, despite the sections of chatter from all the brake-bumps.  I imagined this trail being extra sick in late Spring before all the riders tear it up.  I finished the last stage of the race with a huge sigh of relief, and a smile on my face.  

I turned in my timing chip to get my results, and redeemed my meal ticket for some much needed nourishment.  As I sat there eating by the beautiful Ashland Creek, watching the other riders hanging out in the beer garden and venue area, I realized just how special this entire experience has been.  It is really a once in a lifetime experience; you never know what the future holds, but I know I’ll never have this same experience again in my life.  Suddenly, I felt emotional and sentimental about the entire series, and how enriching it had been on so many levels.  And then I saw a man standing among the crowd; his stature showed years of experience and adventures.  The way he was looking among the crowd implied a nostalgia, a fond looking back on perhaps his years racing; of course, this could’ve been completely of my own imagining.  As I watched him happily linger among the crowd and his friends, the stoke on his face clear, I imagined myself at that stage of my life – older, wiser, so many adventures lived.  I teared up, realizing how special and temporary this all is; as I get older, I appreciate these moment more and more.  It’s made me happy on a spiritual level.  How cool to have all of these people, a tribe of enthusiastic, passionate, outdoorsy mountain bikers, who come together to challenge themselves in the spirit of cheerful competition?   Absolutely awesome!    

And then I recognized a handsome face in the crowd – my husband Ron!  I hugged him and thanked him for being there to support me; I shared my sentiments with him, and was so happy to see him.  What’s winning if you have no one to share it with?  

We ate some food among a celebratory crowd, and caught up on each others’ days.   The race organizers did an amazing job of keeping the crowd entertained while the race results were being finalized.  The beer garden was a popular hang-out spot, and there were several vendor booths to peruse.   People shared stories about their race days; some had bandages from falls.  But everyone there had a smile on their face.  The love we share for mountain biking is palpable.  They began the awards with the Pro and Expert categories, and the crowd provided a well-deserved, warm cheering as the winners were called up to the podium; a team of festive riders got their party on with keg-stands and a bottle of Jameson to boot.  Everyone was in a happy mood.

They called the Beginner Women category last, and I came in first; this was my third win for the series!  It feels fantastic to win, and definitely stokes me out.  There were nine women in our group this race, and the top five were called up to the podium.  We got some cool swag, and cheered each other on.

They finished off the evening with the Series Finale Awards for the season.  There were eight races total in the series, and they take your top six results.  I rode seven of the races (I missed the Mendocino race, although I rode some of the course at Jackson Demo this Summer).  First place is 50 points, second is 44, third is 40.  I had 282 total points for my top six results – three first place, and three second place (my third place from Toro Park was omitted).  It was a done deal.  Then they called me up for my award: First Place Series Overall Beginner Women!  I did it, I’m done, and I won! I was stoked, and a little bit proud.  All of the trips, planning, and energy had paid off.  It had come to an end, and I was standing exactly where I wanted to be.

 

Reflections…

I’ll miss these races now that the season’s over.  All the road-trips – new restaurants, hotels and camping, exploring amazing new places – and meeting so many cool people have made each event not just a ride, but an adventure.  California is a stunningly beautiful, ecologically diverse state, and riding in all of these new places has inspired me to explore it even more.  We are lucky to have so many amazing places for mountain biking!  I love a good weekend away, and there are many courses on this tour that I’d love to return to.  If I had to pick my top three races, I’d say Northstar, Mammoth, and then Mammoth Bar.  They’ve all been exceptional places, though.

Beyond the fun of riding in beautiful new places, I love the community and camaraderie among this stellar group of people.  I’ve met so many awesome women that have inspired me on many levels.  The friends I’ve made, laughs we’ve shared, and encouragement we’ve given each other has lifted my spirits and made this whole experience much more than just a “race”.

When it came to racing, my philosophy throughout this competition has basically been: 1) Ride each race start to finish, getting down the mountain in one piece; 2) Enjoy the experience, finding the flow and grace of the trail; and 3) Kick ass and ride my fastest. Pretty much that simple, and in that order.  I also think I can, I have, and I will.  Having a positive attitude from start to finish is key.

I love riding first and foremost, and it was important to me to have fun and enjoy each race.  If something’s not fun, I generally don’t do it; life’s too short.  Racing was almost a secondary goal, one which I explored this season with open eyes and ears.  I’ve definitely learned a lot along the way.  One of the most important, if not obvious, lessons was the advantage of pre-riding a course; you’re going to ride better on a familiar course versus a blind one.  I didn’t always pre-ride the courses, and a few I just rode blind.  

Each race brought a unique challenge, both physical and mental, that ultimately rewarded us in ways we didn’t expect.  I didn’t expect to win my category, and I didn’t expect to get so sentimental about the whole experience!  It’s been enriching on so many levels.

I’d never won first place in any organized sports competition before doing these races, and it felt pretty darn good to feel it!  I settled some old business with myself in that sense.  It was a lot of hard work – getting up early, driving all over the state, and then riding hard, long courses, most of which in hot weather, and mostly blind.  I gave it all I got, and when I couldn’t give anymore, I pedaled through the motions and kept on going.  I never crashed and hurt myself (though I certainly had a couple of close calls).  I’m proud of myself, yet I feel humble when I compare myself to the girls riding in the categories above me because I know the benchmark for mastery is higher.  I definitely have a fire lit under me to meet it!  When I compared my stage times to higher categories, in a few races I was actually competitive (if not ranking toward the bottom), so that motivates me.  Sometimes I wish I’d started racing at a younger age; this last race in Ashland was coincidentally my last weekend as a thirty-six year old.  As I bring in a new year October 10, I am keenly aware of the finity of doing the things I love, which makes me want to do them as much as I can while I’m able.  

Will I race again after this season?  You never know what the future holds, but I’d say the possibility is high.  If I do, I’ll race in the Sport 35+ or Expert category to really challenge myself.  Whatever the case, I’ll keep on riding my bike as often as I can.

Thank you for reading about my journey.  May we all be blessed with plenty of adventure, flow, and grace!

Katrin Elizabeth Deetz

The ABC’s of MTB

The ABC’s of Mountain Biking

I’ve been mountain biking since my late teens, and over the years I’ve created an alphabet called “The ABC’s of MTB”.  Each letter represents a quality or characteristic that I find helpful for successful mountain biking.  In particular, Flow and Grace are my two favorite letters of that alphabet, and were the impetus for starting this blog.  I don’t necessarily consider myself the top expert on mountain biking, but I have found a few things that work for me.  Perhaps you will relate to something as well.

Read on, and more importantly, get your ride on!

The ABC’s of MTB

A: Awareness.  This is the number one most important factor in flying by trees and rocks at high speed.  “Awareness” spans everything from overall trail safety, to body awareness, to spiritual.  Awareness of the trail, its users, and one’s own body movements are all crucial to a safe mountain biking experience.  Knowing the trail and weather conditions, and being cognizant of your energy level, mood, and ability level are fundamental to a safe ride.  Looking ahead down the trail, not down at the trail, helps you anticipate and adapt.  Moreover, try to take in the entire experience and its details: the way the ridgeline curves; the way a certain tree stands out among the others.  Notice as much as you can about your surroundings.  You might notice something extra cool – like an owl perched on a limb just above you.  Admittedly, this is best practiced on long climbs or flats; when you’re going downhill, you’re usually not birdwatching. It’s important to focus on the trail, but also appreciate the beauty of your surroundings.

It’s equally important to be aware of other people, especially in high-traffic areas.  I’m a huge fan of good etiquette and a good attitude.  Mountain biking has grown a lot in popularity over the years in Santa Cruz, and I don’t mind sharing the trails with others, as I am just another one in the crowd, no better than anyone else.  It just requires awareness and communication.  Keeping alert of upcoming riders (you hear the buzz of someone coming up on you), communicating clearly with conviction (“Go ahead and pass on my left!”), and moving out of the way (safely pulling off trail where there’s enough space to be passed) help the trails keep flowing.  Likewise, announce yourself if you’re going to pass.  We all share the trail – hikers, riders, and equestrians alike.  

B: Balance.  Balance is necessary to command a bike through and over nature’s obstacles.  Split-second, minute corrections to body-weight distribution can make all the difference between a bad fall and pulling through a gnarly section.  Balance is something you must be constantly aware of; if out of it, the consequences can be dire.  You must dynamically respond and adapt in small ways that make a huge difference.  Keeping your weight appropriately distributed is crucial to staying in control.  

It depends on the dirt you’re riding as well: Santa Cruz dirt is definitely not like what you find at Northstar at Tahoe, or Toro Park in Salinas.  That’s the fun part about riding new places: learning its geology, and the best settings for its conditions.  Your tire pressure, shock pressure, and seat set-up are key elements of maintaining balance.  When something’s out of balance on your bike, you’ll know it right away.  Keep both yourself and your bike in balance.  

C:  Confidence.  Confidence is surefooted, committed action; unwavering follow-through.  You need to believe that you can ride something well, but also know your limits.  It’s not about being cocky; rather, it’s having faith in your abilities.  Confidence is muscle-memory that you develop after riding a familiar trail many times.  Confidence is faith to try something that scares you. It’s what gets you over that scary section in one piece, not timidly front-braking mid-drop.  Confidence is knowing your strengths and weaknesses, and playing up your strengths.  We all bring different skill sets to the trail, and focusing on yours will help you excel.  

D:  Discipline.  It takes discipline to keep your body fit enough to charge trails.  Eat well, sleep well, drink lots of water, and take excellent care of your body.  Have the discipline to balance mountain biking with other activities; yoga, rock-climbing, trail running, and surfing are all great examples of balancing activities.  As fun as it may be, it’s hard on your body to mountain bike everyday, and I don’t recommend it.  Rotate activities and save your rotors.  You also need to have mental discipline; I know when I shouldn’t ride something.  If I’m totally fatigued, I may not ride that day.  

E:  Endurance.  Fatigue is the #1 enemy in mountain biking.  An exhausted, physically worn out rider is in no shape to respond safely to the challenges of riding, and thereby increases the risk of injury or accident.  It’s okay to ride when you’re tired, but not exhausted.  You know your body best and when you’re so tired you can hardly focus on reading a sentence.  Mountain biking requires a lot of endurance – physical and mental – and is key to pulling you through your ride.  Don’t leave home without it!  I’ve been racing the California Enduro Series races this year, and I know why they call it Enduro – it’s all about endurance.  I’ve realized how much mental endurance it takes, beyond the obvious physical.  Believing you can do the race in the first place, visualizing that completion, and then manifesting it calls for a sustained focus and positive attitude from start to finish.  Sometimes I think racing is more mental than physical!

F:  Flow.  Flow is the overarching goal of mountain biking in the first place, what it all comes down to, motivating us to ride at all.  Flowing among beautiful natural environments, often in the blanketed silence of being totally alone, is tapping into the pulse of life.  A rider wants to flow as efficiently and smoothly with the earth it’s riding upon.  The challenge of a trail is finding its hidden flow, its unwritten map to enjoying all its magical bounty.  Flowing is also better for the body; jerking is prone to cause aches and pains.  Your body is your shock absorber, responding to changing conditions constantly.  Finding the path of least resistance is all about applying physics to maximize or minimize inertia at the right time, like gathering momentum to propel up a hill, and shifting body weight to change your center of gravity.  It’s all about the flow.

G:  Grace.  Flow’s partner in crime is Grace.  Grace is the bridge between Flow and Humility, another important characteristic every mountain biker should have.  Grace is an awareness of your surroundings, and being conscientious about your interaction with those around you.  It’s remembering you’re not the only one out enjoying what nature has to offer; having good trail etiquette is an example of being gracious.  Be gracious to the animals and plants you are riding with, trying to avoid causing any harm.  Try not to cause trail erosion by overbraking, skidding, or going off-trail on a “social” trail.  Aim to be graceful in your riding – smooth, fluid body movements, smooth shifting and braking, the right speed for the right conditions.  Find the best line possible through a section, being graceful and fluid.  Have your own style, and express it in your riding.  Flow and Grace are the true elements of style.   

H:  Humility.  No matter how hard you charge, how high you jump, or how good of a rider you are, Humility is essential to not only being a cool rider, but recovering from setbacks.  If you ride challenging trails that push your limits, you are going to fall.  It’s a fact.  It might be a light fall if you’re lucky, but most of us will have an over-the-bars, face-planting WHAM! of a fall that scares the begeezies out of us.  And you may have more than one of these, maybe throw in a separated shoulder or cracked rib.  Worse, we all know what the worst possibility is.  So be confident, but not cocky.  Don’t forget that for all the “Control” we try to maintain while riding, life is unpredictable, and mountain biking is inherently dangerous.  Be humble.  When you do have a bad fall, learn the lesson from it.  Every fall I’ve ever had has taught me some kind of lesson.  

It’s also important to just do you, as in take care of yourself without worrying too much about others.  Who cares how other people are riding?  You can always find someone faster or slower than you if you look for it. There’s no need to compare ourselves to others (unless we want to through official competition), or judge each other’s riding capabilities and preferences.  Whether someone’s on a beach cruiser, a comfort e-bike, a hardtail, or the gnarliest full-suspension downhill bike around, we’re all moving on two wheels.  We all do it for the same love and pure, simple joy of it.  So ride to the best of your ability, and try not to compare yourself too much.  

That also means not getting too big of an ego.  Confidence is good, but arrogance is just obnoxious; it can also get you into trouble on the trail by trying something you aren’t quite ready for, and then hurting yourself.  If you can rip a good downhill, that’s great, but you don’t need to bomb past the sweet old couple hiking up the trail to prove it.  Be humble.  We’re all just people at the end of the day.  I’ve had complete strangers question my set-up before (“Are you sure you’re big enough for that bike?!  Are those yoga pants?!”), and I wish they would just take care of themselves instead of questioning me.  I don’t feel it’s my place to question other people’s bikes, gear, or doubt their skills. There is no “right” way to dress, just what works for you.  Sometimes I’d like to say to the people who question me: Just do you; I got this.  

For two hilarious videos full of righteous humility, check out How To Be A Mountain Biker and the Ferda Girls “Humble” Parody.

I:  Instinct.  When you’re flowing with grace, aware and in control, balanced and energized,  Instinct is what’s driving you along.  You’re in touch with your Animal Self in this state; not overthinking, just responding instinctively.  You also know when something is right or wrong, when to take a rest, slow it down, check your gear, or tend to an overuse injury.  Listen to your instincts – make sure you can hear them loud and clear.  Sometimes it takes a few minutes to hear your Instinct when riding, but once you do, it’s muscle-memory.  Riding is all about living in that dynamic, adaptive, instinctual state of being, where you just know what to do.  It’s getting out of your head, and into your body.  One of my favorite aspects of going for a ride is this state of being, where I am completely in my body, and out of my mind (in the best way possible).

J:  Joy.  If it’s not fun, don’t do it.  (Most of) the experience should be enjoyable from start to finish – gearing up, the relentless labor of climbing, and the reward of the downhill.  Riding provides not only a physical reward of a challenging whole-body cardio workout, but it buoys the spirit, clears the mind, and strengthens the mettle.  Barring a bad fall, no matter what I always feel better after going for a ride.  I’m happier to the core.  The joy of blending gravity, motion, and force into a vector of controlled borderline chaos provides a thrill and joy like no other.  It is the real reason I ride, and when I don’t get in enough of it, I’m cranky.  Biologically, it makes sense to feel some joy after a ride from all the endorphins your body has produced in its dynamic efforts.  It’s a “runner’s high”.  

K:  Knowledge.  The World of Mountain Biking is like a language, although a language that you really only excel at through experience over a long period of time.  Most people cannot become fluent in the subtle nuances of truly efficient, flowing riding styles in a short period of time; you only get better over lots of practice over lots of time.  That isn’t to say you cannot learn a great deal from talking with experienced riders, reading books and anecdotes on mtb forums online, and watching YouTube videos of the pros, instructional or otherwise.  The knowledge you need for riding is partly mental, but mostly it’s a physical muscle-memory that only comes with experience.  Like most things in life, the more experience you have, the more you know.  

L:  Labor.  Joy and flow and grace aside, mountain biking boils down to quite a bit of pure labor.  Labor on the uphill, and even labor on the downhill.  The pure labor of riding is inherent in the design of a bike, clearly, in that a constant pedal is usually required.  But on downhill, you cannot just sit down on the bike and passively hold on.  Your body becomes your shock, namely your arms and legs, while your weight needs to be shifted back and a squat-like position maintained.  I’ll never forget the first time I rode a challenging downhill and felt my arms rattling like wet noodles.  It was in that moment I realized I was in a dancer’s hold frame position with my bike, and needed to keep my arms and upper body stiff and responsive to whatever my bike threw at me.  It’s an active hold that requires flexion of the entire body. And it’s laborious.  When I’m climbing hills, I often think of four L’s: Lower, Lock, Lean, Labor.  Lower your gears, lock your shocks, lean in, and labor up that climb steadily.  

M:  Magic.  Sometimes you have an indescribable feeling of pure magic when riding.  Maybe it’s the fact that you’re hurling past trees, over boulders and log-drops with precision.  Or the fox you see run out of the way of the trail.  There’s a real magic to being in the forest, in nature, and moving through the landscape on a bike; to a good ride coming together, every factor working in tandem.  It can be the way the sunlight filters through the redwood trees before sunset; the way a bat flies alongside you for a moment.  Being outside, the further from cities the better, opens the door for magic to happen.  

It’s especially magical when you see animals, like the time I rode up on a mountain lion on Mailboxes trail in Santa Cruz.  It quickly turned and ran, its long tail advertising its irritation as it flicked, and I stopped on the trail as my husband stopped behind me, barely catching a glimpse of the puma as it ran off.  It was absolutely magical.  It was my second time seeing a mountain lion; I had seen one a few years before while running the Zane Gray trail at Wilder Ranch.  I realized it was kind of magical to see a mountain lion twice; your odds of seeing one are pretty low.  They’re elusive animals who don’t want to see us any more than we want to surprise them.  I have a great respect and fascination for mountain lions, and on a side note, I’ve had recurring dreams about them for years, in which I’m not attacked, but am sometimes in fear of it.  Whatever the case, I love seeing any kind of animal when I’m out on the trails.  It elevates the whole experience.  

N:  Nurture.  Mountain biking is hard on the body, no matter how strong you are.  From pedals smacking your shins, to getting scratched by a tree branch, or just being sore from overexertion, riding takes a lot out of you.  It’s important to nurture yourself in your down-time.  Taking excellent care of your whole self – mind, body, and soul – helps keep your ride flowing smoothly.  Eat well and hydrate often.  Stretch; do yoga.  Take a hot bath or shower to relax your muscles (and be sure to wash your helmet while you’re in there, or risk getting “strapne” – acne from a dirty helmet strap.  Yay!).  Sleep well so your body can recharge itself.  And by all means, if you’re injured, let yourself heal before riding again.   When I got my first full-suspension bike over four years ago, I rode it every single day for a year.  I loved all of those rides, but I learned over time it wasn’t good for my body to push that hard everyday.  It was important to have rest days between rides, even if I go for a run, do yoga, or cut bamboo in my garden.  Cross-training with different activities keeps you strong and balanced, and hopefully, avoiding overuse injuries.  

O:  Obstinance.  Sometimes sheer stubbornness is needed to make a ride happen.  Weather, traffic, and mechanical issues with our bikes or cars can slow us down and threaten to derail even the tightest of plans.  I’ll never forget when part of Highland Way was closed in the Santa Cruz Mountains from landslides, and we had to drive around the long way via Eureka Canyon Road to get to Demo (Soquel State Demonstration Forest, one of the best places for riding around here).  It took some real commitment and obstinance to keep going despite the longer detour.  Social commitments can also bite into our riding time.  There are multiple “excuses” to keep us from riding should we let them; this is where obstinance comes in.  Sometimes we just have to declare that we are going.  This applies to the act of cycling itself: you just have to keep on pedaling, despite being exhausted and wanting to stop.  You’re going to get to the top of the hill no matter what.    

P:  Preparedness.  Whether you’re riding through your local trails, or heading out for an epic ride in the wilderness, it’s important to be prepared for many different variables: bike issues (like flat tires), weather changes, and food and water.  Preparation can spell the difference between an emergency and an inconvenience.  Trust me; I know.  My husband Ron and I spent the night on the Third Divide trail in Downieville, among the Sierra Nevada Mountains, with no food, water, or protection like extra clothing.  Though Ron had a patch kit, circumstances combined to render it futile in the long run.  It proved that you have to be prepared for the unforeseen random thing going awry.  Most of the time, things go according to plan.  I’ve always been pretty good about knowing the weather forecast, local topography of where I’m riding, and I have an excellent sense of direction.  But that 1% of the time when your husband gets six flat tires is when you want to be prepared to hike out or spend the night.  From now on, whenever we go on “epic rides” in the mountains, we come prepared to spend the night or hike out (flashlights, extra layers, food, and of course, about 6 tubes to be on the safe side!).

The funny thing is I was a Girl Scout as a kid.  What’s our motto?  Be prepared…

Q:  Quickness.  There’s no getting around it: you need to be quick in your reaction times, decisions, and movements to safely mountain bike.  You don’t have to be the quickest rider in terms of downhill speed, but it’s helpful to be quick in your action.  Hitting a rock, root, rut, or otherwise at the wrong angle can forcibly launch you over the bars if you’re not quick to pull up on your bars, sit back as far as you can, and keep off your front brake.  You need to be ready at all times to change what you’re doing as the conditions around you change, and the quicker you adapt, the better.  

R:  Resilience.  If I were to count up all the times I’ve fallen off my bike, I might stop riding altogether.  How many scrapes, bruises, concussions, and road rash have there been?  Whatever the number, this is where resilience comes in.  Every time you get back on your bike, you learn from your fall and don’t let it stop you from progressing.  Every time you go for a ride despite the cold weather, traffic detour, or sore body, you are showing resilience.  

S:  Stoke.  It’s all about being stoked!  Stoke is the fire, passion, contagious enthusiasm, life breath that keeps mountain biking fun.  Stoke is what makes us want to go ride again after a long, hard ride we didn’t think we could accomplish.  Stoke is the whole reason we ride at all.  If you’re not stoked, something’s wrong – check your shock pressure, your seat set-up, or maybe just your attitude.  Mountain biking should be fun, and make you smile like a child on a roller coaster. It’s not something to endure, but something to enjoy. Be stoked and spread the stoke!

T:  Tenacity.  Much like obstinance and determination, Tenacity is that never-give-up, I’m getting to the top, bull-headed mindset that can make the difference between giving up and pushing on.  It’s also how we improve.  Say you try something a little beyond your skill-level, and fall the first time.  But you go back another day, and watch some people go down it from the side of the trail. Then you try it yourself.  Maybe you fall again.  But you keep trying, each time getting closer, until you send that line.  Tenacity is the follow-through of Obstinance.  It’s very mental, believing you can do it, and not giving up until you achieve it.  They say it’s not the size of the dog, but the size of its fight, and that totally applies to mountain biking.  

U:  Understanding.  Mountain biking is based upon many universal truths, and understanding those fundamentals is key to finding your flow and grace.  Everything from keeping your weight back, lowering your seat on the downhill, and mastering the art of braking are essential.  I’m a huge fan of watching tutorial mountain bike videos, especially from Global Mountain Bike Network, where the physics of riding specific features are explained in vivid detail.  I also watch GoPro footage of trails before riding them (I did this for my mountain bike races with the California Enduro Series this year).  Understanding your bike’s geometry – whether you’re rolling 26”, 27.5” (650B), or a 29” like me – is crucial.  When I first got my 29’er, I’ll never forget asking the salesman why the handlebars were so wide.  He explained how the bigger wheel necessitated a wider bar, which helped maintain control as you went downhill.  He also added in how I was going to find myself rolling over things like I wouldn’t have on my old 26’er hardtail.  Once I went on my first ride with my new steed, I knew what he was talking about: flying down the trail, making drops I would’ve gone around before, smile jumping off my face.  Understanding the design of your particular bike helps you understand how to ride it to its fullest potential.    

V:  Vitality.  Mountain biking is a vigorous sport, and it helps to approach it with energy, vitality, and a positive attitude.  Staying in the moment, enjoying the ride, and keeping up your energy are all essential elements of a good ride.  A good ride, in turn, rewards with you vitality.  During and after a ride, I feel energized, powerful, and exuberant.  Riding makes your entire body strong; not a single muscle is left untouched, it seems.  On days when I’m feeling tired, a ride will charge me up again, getting me out of a funk.  A good ride is good medicine, and hopefully, will help me to live a long, healthy life.

W:  Wisdom.  Every experience you have out riding builds up your knowledge and expertise.  More importantly, reflecting upon those experiences offers opportunities for tidbits of wisdom to emerge.  The longer I’ve ridden, surely the wiser I’ve gotten on the trail; but I’ll never assume I’m “done” growing, learning, and getting wiser.  The moment you decide that you’ve figured it all out and are done improving is the moment you learn just how much further you have to go.  There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging mastery of a skill; if you’re good at something, celebrate it.  But I think we should always aspire to grow, improve, and learn the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) lessons along the way.  It’s like teaching: I’m a seventh grade Math and Science teacher, currently in my twelfth year as a teacher.  I’ve grown leaps and bounds in my profession during that time, and consider myself a “good” teacher; however, I’ll never assume that I’m done growing, reflecting, and edifying myself to be even better.  The same attitude goes for mountain biking: although I feel I’m pretty good at it, I’m always trying to get better, and that means getting wiser.  I’ve learned how to ride within my boundaries while simultaneously pushing, redefining, and often obliterating, them.  I know when to back off something, and scope it out before hurling myself over it blindly.  Everyone has their own comfort zone with pushing their limits, and we should always respect whatever those are, including when we limit ourselves.  It’s better to leave in one piece than leave in no peace (as in hurt with your tail between your legs).  

X:  Xactitude.  Precision and exactitude are paramount to keeping some semblance of control on a ride.  Having good physical technique while riding, dynamically adapting to your conditions, requires you to be exact in your actions.  Braking, pedaling, and shifting techniques can help keep you flowing smoothly with less jerks and stops.  When I shift gears, I try to make it as quiet as possible (this isn’t always the case, inevitably); if my brake pads start wailing on the downhill, I replace them.  Keeping your bike properly maintained to its exact specifications keeps your ride fun and flowing.  When things aren’t precisely aligned, you’ll know it.  Anything rubbing, dragging, clicking, or otherwise being noticed needs to be addressed.  Keeping your bike set up exactly as it’s designed will help keep it on-point for a smoother ride with less chance for issues.  

Y:  Yen.  No, not Japanese currency.  Yen is the intense desire and passion for something; a need, a must, a mandatory activity.  Always itching to ride somewhere new, try a daunting feature you haven’t yet sent, and wanting to get in even better shape is yen.  Mountain biking isn’t always easy or convenient.  It often calls for early mornings, grueling climbs, and logistical challenges.  The excitement and anticipation of doing something you love to do keeps your spirit up despite the inconveniences you may face.  Having a fire lit under you to go out and ride can spell the difference between staying home and having the ride of your life.  Yen’s relative is Zeal.

Z:  Zeal.  At the end of the day, there is nothing like zooming down a trail with the wind in your face, scents of the landscape perfuming the air, beautiful scenery unfolding at every turn;  loving the entire experience of a ride, not just the moving on two wheels part.  Having a deep zeal to do something, a true passion, is the driving force behind why we ride at all.  Over the years, I’ve developed a somewhat spiritual relationship with mountain biking.  It’s been my escape, a catalyst for self-improvement and growth, and downright hella fun.  I love nature and being outside, and riding through the forest is an idyllic way to relish the great outdoors.  I’d like to think of myself as a “soul rider”.

Whether you’re riding on two wheels, walking on two feet, or otherwise moving over the landscape, the important part is to get outside and enjoy it.  The time we spend in nature buoys our spirits, motivates us, and calms us, making us feel part of something so much bigger.  We are meant to be outside in natural settings; we are animals.  I am passionate about spending time outside, and that includes protecting the environment.  

As mountain bikers, we sometimes get a bad rap as being bad environmentalists, causing erosion of trails, sediment loading of fish-habitats, and contributing to the deaths of plants and animals we supposedly run over.  It’s not the case for all of the mountain bikers I know, and our local organization Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz continues to be stewards of our local trails, employing environmentally sustainable methods of trail building and maintenance.  As an Environmental Studies major myself from UC Santa Cruz, I also feel misunderstood when I read letters to the editor about how awful mountain biking is for the environment.  Though there are undoubtedly a small contingent of riders who may cut irresponsible lines, the majority of us care passionately about the environment.  We pick up trash on our rides that we find on the trails.  We stay on established trails; we look out for endangered species like the Ohlone Tiger Beetle when we ride through Wilder Ranch.  We donate and volunteer.  We walk the walk, not just talk the talk. 

It is possible to be an environmentalist mountain biker; they are not mutually exclusive.  Rather, mountain biking can actually foster environmentalism, as the more time we spend in beautiful, natural places, the more we want to protect them.  We are passionate not just about mountain biking, but appreciate the land that we ride.  Our passion for riding permeates to all facets of our lives.  We can be better friends, spouses, employees, and people when we are doing what we love to do.  

May we all Flow with Grace…and lots of Stoke!

On Faith

Faith [noun]: complete trust or confidence in someone or something.

That’s one of the definitions you get when you google the word “faith”.  I’ve long considered myself a person of little faith, but as I’ve gotten older, I’m interested in how it can help us in life.  As I explore the topic of faith, I do so with humility; I’m no expert on the subject.    

It all started with a chance meeting: I met a professor at El Museo de Prado, in Madrid, Spain.  

It was late August, 1998.  I was 17 years old, on my first trip to Europe with my older sister Bonnie.  We had a marvelous time in Paris and Provence, where she had friends we stayed with; we had enjoyed Lisbon, its gothic, sooty architecture guarding the city like lions.  Our last stop was Madrid, where the sweltering Summer heat was in full effect.

We went to the world-famous El Prado Museum.  Hours were spent meandering contentedly around museum halls, where we were joined by Bonnie’s friend, and her little sister too, who were also on a European getaway.  I came across a guitar vendor in a plaza out front of the museum.  A gorgeous, seemingly custom guitar gleamed at me, costing “only” $400, about the amount of money I had left for the rest of the trip, which was wrapping up in about a week.  Knowing that, my wiser, older sister interjected: “I don’t think you should get the guitar, Katie.  You’ll blow the rest of your money, and it’d be good to have something left over to come home to instead of being broke”.  

She made a good point, but I was stubborn and wanted that guitar.  I got upset and angry at her, and we separated for some cooling off time; she returned to the museum, and I went into the center outdoor courtyard for some air.  

A row of mature trees and park benches lined multiple walkways.  I found a perfect, shady spot to sit down and take a deep breath.  I sat down, exhaled deeply, and closed my eyes for a moment.  Why won’t she let me get it?  I irksomely pondered to myself.  At the age of seventeen, most people are ignorantly stubborn, but I was probably being especially so at the time.  I realize now, of course, it was the right thing to do not to get that guitar.  

But it’s not the guitar that was the important part.  It was what happened afterward in that courtyard that made such an impression on me that it’s become a theme throughout my life ever since.  One professor changed my life in the course of about a half hour.  

He is responsible for illuminating one word for me: faith.

Faith.  La fé.

Soon after I sat down on that bench, a man approached me:

“You look like you could use a break”, he said.  “May I join you for my lunch break?”

He spoke in Spanish, in which I am proficient, and replied back, “Yes, for sure”.  For ease of translation purposes, I will quote our conversation in English.  Our conversation was carried out in Spanish, however.

He began eating his lunch, and started up small talk.  He asked if I was traveling; was I going to college in the fall?  Yes, at UC Santa Cruz.  He told me that he was a professor of philosophy at the university.  Qué interesante.  He was quite handsome, and I’ll admit that made me pay closer attention.  He was married, quite happily it seemed as he spoke of his wife.  

“Why did you seem so stressed out when you first sat down? he asked.

I explained what happened with my sister; how I wanted the guitar, and felt like she was being too protective of me.  He offered a more mature perspective: I was in Europe for my first time, as a child really, and when I got home I’d need that money for college.  Coming from him, it seemed easier to understand.  

He asked what I was going to study at UCSC; what I cared about.  I really care about the environment and animals; I would love to do something to help the environment, I said.  He nodded with interest as I continued on about my concerns about the planet, and where did I fit in with all of it; that sometimes I felt like you just have to live your life in ignorance just to avoid depression.   Humans seemed like a plague on the planet.

I shared with him about my parents’ recent divorce, which I presented as if I was totally okay with, though it had brought so much into question.  As he ate his sandwich with the hurried focus of a seasoned educator on a tight schedule, I felt like I was talking to a therapist or something.  He was so easy to talk to, and I certainly liked the interest he showed in me.  It wasn’t a romantic interest, but a genuine, humanistic interest; for whatever reason, he might have thought we would have a connection.  

After talking for some time, he paused and offered some advice, which resounded like a bell with me, loud and clear.  He said much more, but this is basically the gist:
You will be successful in life.  You understand things very well, and your intelligence will help you create the life you want to live.

But you lack faith.  That’s the area of your life that you need to work on.  You need to find your faith to get you through your hard times, whatever that faith may be, God or otherwise.  I can see it so clearly: you need faith.

Smack upside the head, those words reverberated with me like my own heartbeat.  Tears flowing silently from my eyes, like I’d just heard a mirror reflection of myself be verbalized poetically in Spanish, I felt like I’d just been truly seen.  In less than thirty minutes, he had cut through all of my facades to my most raw, vulnerable self.

Have you ever felt so alive and in the moment you felt you were buzzing?  So full of energy that your whole being is quite actually buzzing?  Like you’re so vibrant and aware, you are simultaneously connecting with the entire universe all at once?  I think it was one of the first times in my life someone had so accurately and piercingly seen right through me, to my very vulnerable core.  And I’d just met him.  

“I must be getting back now,” he said, reality-checking me.  Our lunchtime serendipitous meeting on that bench came to an end; it was time for office hours.  He gave me an assuring smile, and said he knew I’d find my faith.  I felt a calm sense of serenity, like he was right.  

La fé, were his final two words, as if to challenge me.  As he walked down that courtyard, I sat on that bench both crying and laughing, overcome with emotions.   I couldn’t believe how right he was.  I totally lacked faith and he could see it clear as day.  Though our interaction was brief, I’ll never forget how much of an impact it had on me; he made me think about my own relationship with faith, and what it means to me.  He was the catalyst for self-reflection on faith that continues today.  

I collected myself and met up with Bonnie inside the museum, where I agreed it was best not to get the guitar.  More importantly, I had the coolest story to tell her!  We quickly reconciled, I never bought that guitar, and onward we went about our vacation, happily so.

I remember telling my freshman year of college roommmate, Suzanne, about this experience one evening as we lie awake in our dormbeds across the room from each other.  Each detail vividly brought the encounter back to life for me, inspiring me again.  Having had a couple of months since our meeting, I’d had time to reflect upon what faith meant to me.  

I’d come to realize there were two words I felt were particularly challenging to faith: hope and fear.  They were the antithesis of faith, which is trusting.  Hope and fear were words of predication and stipulation; of ifs and whens; of variables often beyond your control.  They seemed to have great power over my friends and family, myself included, during times of transition and challenge.  But I didn’t think it was productive to hope for things.  It was productive to work toward those things, to take action, but hope in and of itself wasn’t helpful.  Hope is an empty promise, and often an excuse for inaction.  Hope puts the onus on something other than you.  

Fear is equally disempowering.  Fear paralyzes us from taking action; it gives way too much power to that which we cannot control.  Fear makes us act irrationally.  When we’re afraid, this is where Fear’s partner Hope steps in: Hope is the antidote to our fears.  We hope that everything will be alright; we hope everything will get better; we hope so-and-so will do x-y-and-z for us.  And when our hopes don’t go according to plan, we fear again. It’s a cycle.

This is where Faith comes in for me.  Faith is the antithesis of Hope and Fear.  Faith is the trust that everything will be okay; the muscle-memory, in-your-gut knowing that in the end, it’s all good.  Faith is love and acceptance.  The world may be falling apart, but Faith allows you to sit with that, authentically, without shying away from what is.  Faith is what I’d love to feel when I’m in my darkest moments, grasping at straws for any sign of light.  I still have a lot of work to do on Faith, but it’s an evolution, not a destination to reach and be done with.  

Faith means many different things to many different people.  Why do we need it at all? Comfort.  Faith comforts us in our anxious moments, in times of the unknown; faith comforts us when we’re going through a hard time.  Faith can also explain: for many, faith is part of a religion which comes with its own explanation of how the world was created, why humans are here, and what happens to us after we die.  It provides a framework to live within, trusting in its purposeful and holy design.  For years, religion has given mankind a structure in which to live with faith.  I’m no expert on religions, but I have great respect for their foundations and the people who practice them.  They just don’t work for me.  

Even from a young age, I didn’t have strong faith.  My mom took us to an Episcopalian Christian church on holidays and the occasional Sunday, but we didn’t go all the time.  I remember sitting in church one day as we were reading passages from the Bible.  I saw a room full of people reading those words with conviction, faith, and love.  I felt like I didn’t belong; like I just didn’t believe in it.  I couldn’t get past the story; that there was an omnipotent God somewhere out there, possibly watching and judging us.  Heaven or Hell?  That’s what happens when we died?  I had so many questions.  

Questions are excellent conduits for learning, and by my high-school years, I realized how much value I placed on knowledge, facts, and data; basically, Science.  The Latin root word of Science is scientia, meaning “knowledge”.  Science means knowledge.  Science is the practice of observing without letting yourself get in the way; it’s evidence-focused, quantitatively measured, with reproducible results.  In Science, there were Laws and Theories to explain almost every single thing in the world.  And it made sense to me; I could see it.  There was proof.  I had faith in Science.

I could especially see Science when I was outside in Nature.  The more time I spent in Nature, the more I saw Science within it: the birds nesting outside my window; the patterns of stars in the night sky; the deciduous trees shedding their leaves in Autumn.  Everywhere I looked I could see Science in action.  That’s when I realized that although I wasn’t religious, being outside in Nature was kind of like my “church” or “religion”.  I trusted its framework, design, and felt inspired spending time in it.  

But I still didn’t have a lot of faith – in other people, in the world, in myself.  My nihilistic tendencies were firmly set and growing stronger.  Nothing really mattered, especially not in the big scheme of things, and there was no grand design to Humanity or the world. We were simply animals with a high brain to body size ratio.  We were crafty.  But still only animals, prone to the same cycles as they.  And we seemed to be a scourge on the Earth and its creatures.

As I continued on through college at UC Santa Cruz, I had the perfect opportunity to delve into these philosophical questions in various classes, groups, and ad hoc dorm discussions in hallways at questionable hours of the night.  I’ve read a plethora of philosophy books, but have a couple of favorites: Basil Johnston’s  The Manitous: The Supernatural World of the Ojibway , and Lao Tzu’s  Tao Te Ching.  Both influenced how I feel about faith and life.  The former was a book my father gave to me for my fifteenth birthday, sophomore year of high school.  I read it with passion, its tales from the Ojibway people beautifully described with some key takeaways: respect Nature, tread lightly, and be good to the Earth and its creatures.  I have re-read that book many times, and still have it today.  

I read the Tao te Ching as a senior in high school, again in a college Philosophy class, and again after graduating college, at which point it really resonated with me.  I was feeling quite faithless, having finished UCSC with my fancy degree, and no fancy job to go with it.  I was waiting tables and waiting for my life to really get started.  In that time, I had the opportunity to go to Bali for a month with my friend Joelene.  That trip slowed me down enough to realize it was okay that I didn’t have a fancy job yet; it was okay that I was feeling faithless and hopeless about the future.  I should still appreciate what I have right now.  Upon re-reading the Tao, I realized my nihilistic ways offered an opportunity for filling the void; the empty space invited filling.  By letting go of expectations, I allowed what was to take hold.  A blank slate became a springboard for imagination and creation.  If nothing really matters, then have at it and go after what matters most to you.  And when there is the desire for something more, let go of it and return to serene emptiness.  It’s all about striking balance.  

In 2006, during a transitional time in my life, I was reading the Tao at the San Diego airport waiting for a flight home from visiting my sister.  I was feeling down, and struggling to find balance in my life again.  My faith-tank was on empty.  Clearly, I was lacking faith in the words I was reading, once familiar passages now menacing in their stoic simplicity.  Screw the Tao; life is way more complicated, I must have thought.  I wrote the following poem on the back page of my Tao while waiting at the airport:

Sitting, waiting…

Wondering how to live the Way.

What does it mean to suffer, to die?

What does it mean to feel ecstasy, to live?

Simplicity always sounds so easy,

Yet in action, all its meaning is lost.

Pain feels relentless, cruel, and vindictive

While pleasure is all of life’s meaning in a single breath

Relativity creates degrees of separation, stratifying oneness

Creating rifts among the masses.

Black and white create shadows, light, and space

Color glows uniquely until another hue drowns it out

Yet all color comes from the same source.

Selfish intentions satisfy the moment,

While selfless actions satisfy for a lifetime.

In giving, we become lighter, free of possession

In taking, we become heavier, weighed down by the burden of ownership.

In physical unity we feel at home

But in solitude, we merely yearn to go back home.

Within disability comes creativity and conviction

Or else we die before our bodies perish.

With opulence comes the desire for the intangible

In destitution, we embrace the intangible only long enough

To fight for the tangible, the material.

Walk together or walk alone, we all long for more time

No guarantees, just today

***********

I’m not sure what all I was getting at in that poem, but surely some of it speaks to how reading the Tao te Ching has influenced me.  I still read the Tao from time to time, often reading a random passage for thought.  Its raw beauty soothes me.  I’ve read other books that have influenced me as well, and enjoy reading others’ writings on the topic of faith.  Hearing what “faith” means to other people is endlessly intriguing, sparking new ideas and viewpoints.

What does faith mean to me today?  Faith is a muscle-memory reflex that takes over when you’re in doubt.  It is the comforting warmth when you’re unsure about something.  Faith is trusting in the nature of things as they are, without trying to control them, since no one can control anything anyway.  Faith is confidence.

I don’t rely on faith for something in the future.  When I want something to happen, I don’t have faith it will happen; I work to manifest it.  I don’t have faith in a higher power, omnipresent force, or God, but I have faith in life itself, and in myself.  Faith is confidence, built from layers of experience and wisdom.  Some say that faith is belief without evidence, but I also think evidence provides faith; experiences give you more faith in yourself.  When you can point to evidence, it puts any doubt to rest.  I’ve had so many experiences where challenges were overcome, building confidence.  With experience and confidence comes faith.  

I wouldn’t say that having faith alone is responsible for getting us through challenges, or achieving our dreams.  Hard work, resolute action, and circumstance combine to see us through.  Having faith can make things a little bit easier sometimes, though.  When Ron and I had to spend the night in the Sierra Nevadas without food, water, or shelter?  I had faith we would make it through that long night; faith in our fitness and circumstances.  Sure it was inconvenient, but I trusted we weren’t in great peril.  Faith helped me make it through a difficult situation.  Knowing I’d spent the night in the wilderness many times before gave me the faith that we would be alright, even making me feel at home.  Again, with experience comes confidence, and with confidence, comes faith.  When I wanted so badly just to go home, as in to own a home of my own in Santa Cruz County, the overpriced, out-of-reach for working class teachers like myself, dream bubble?  I had faith it would happen, and over two years ago, I made it happen.  I spent many days longing for a house I could call my own, living in some challenging situations, and to finally be here makes it feel all the better.  Faith didn’t get me this house, but it made the time waiting for it a little easier.  

Another benefit of having faith is letting go of what you can’t control, a common philosophy.  If you truly trust that all is going to end up well, you can let go of trying to control every little detail of life.  Life is unpredictable, chaotic, beautiful, and complex.  There is very little that we are actually in control of.  We are powerless in many regards, so letting go of that which we have no power over frees us of that pressure.  

Having faith provides calming comfort to the uncertainty of life.  People need to feel secure and grounded, and for many people I know, having faith anchors them.  I completely understand why so many people practice religion; most of them are structured support systems with a strong positive social network, that provide guidelines for living life with integrity, love, and of course, faith.  

I have a lot of faith in Nature and its cycles.  I’ve often thought of Nature as both my religion and my church.  I am happiest outside, among natural habitats, recreating freely about the landscape.  From a young age, outdoor adventures and sports have dominated my life, with pleasure.  Observing animals in their wild habitats, large and small, makes me smile from ear to ear; I especially love birdwatching.  We are animals, of course, and the more time I spend outside, the more I know we belong there.  I know that we need money to live in our current modern society, but I don’t know that human beings were meant to work endless hours inside office buildings, day in day out.  In the transition from agrarianism to modern day, something has been lost in our connection to the Earth and its cycles, seasons, and phenomena.  I don’t want to regress to the olden days, but I’d love to see people staring at beautiful landscapes instead of inanimate screens.   So I spend as much time as I can outside, whether it’s running through the forest, gardening in the yard, or simply sitting somewhere gorgeous and inspiring, soaking up the phytoncides from the trees.  Nature is healing, and I feel most alive, most happy, when I’m interacting with it.  

I have faith in myself and life most of the time, but I have work to do, especially around mortality and loss.  The thought and reality of loved ones dying rattles my foundation like breaking ice – splintering, fracturing, a domino effect of painful scars.  The loneliness of losing a loved one sucks the warmth out of me like a vacuum, and threatens any last sliver of faith I’m clinging to.  I know all of us feel this way about death, but I wonder if those who have a strong religious footing feel less anxious about it?  Perhaps they find comfort in whatever their religion teaches about death (and what happens afterward)?  I think no matter your religion, losing a loved one has to be the hardest thing we’ll ever experience in life.  Just the threat of losing our pets can be just as wrenching.  My cat went missing for 24 hours recently, and I just about worried myself sick with anxiety, crying and blubbering for him to come (luckily, he did come home).  During that time he was gone, when I was freaking out and going over all the possible scenarios, is when I could have used some faith.  The thought of losing him leveled me. I have work to do on faith, especially around loss.  When I think about the world’s problems, I don’t have a lot of faith in them getting any better until I see evidence that it is improving.  Environmental issues and climate change are monumental problems that need to be addressed, and I get down a lot about them.  I could use some more faith in our future, but that’s only going to come with proof that things are improving.  

My own death?  It doesn’t scare me so long as I imagine it happening instantly, like in some crazy specific meteorite strike over my room at the old-folks home at 113 years old.  What terrifies me is knowing I am in the process of dying, even though I technically already am in that process of “dying” as I age day in day out.  That’s where I feel I don’t have much faith; where I feel like none of it matters at all.  It is weird to think how in a hundred years, and beyond, I won’t matter, and none of what I cared about while I was here will have mattered.  But that’s also when I go back to the impetus: if nothing really matters, then go after what matters most to you.  Time is ticking.  

What does Faith mean to you?  How much do you rely on it in your daily life?  Do you feel comfortable speaking about your faith with other people, including those who feel differently than you?  Faith is a universal concept, but open to interpretation.  To some degree, I think all humans will need to have some sort of faith at some point in their lives. “Faith” doesn’t have any rules or exceptions, so it can be anything to anyone, religious or not. Whatever your faith, if you have it, hold onto it tightly and cherish it.  It doesn’t matter what it is, or if it’s different from someone else’s version.  More importantly, share it with others when you can.  We all have the power to be someone else’s candlelight in the dark cave of fear and loneliness.  

Millennials: A Keystone Generation?

I was born on October 10, 1980.

Depending upon the source you consult, this most often puts me on the older end of the self-absorbed, entitled Millennial Generation, but occasionally I’ll be lumped in with the counter-culture, self-starting Gen Xers.  Increasingly, I might be classified as an “Xennial”, or part of the Oregon Trail Generation, covering those born between 1977 and 1983, raised doing book reports with actual books, but among the first to take advantage of the modern technological revolution.  If I had to choose, I feel like I fit in mostly with the Millennials.  

I’ve become interested in what it means to be part of a generation.  What common traits do we share?  Where are we most divergent from our closest generations?  Within our generation, what axioms are most truthful, and which are just stereotypes that don’t accurately portray the majority?  Where do I fall into?  I do agree, to a certain extent, with some of the generalizations assigned to my generation: specifically, that we are self-centered, tied to our electronics to the fault of expecting instant gratification, and entitled.  What I hope we’ll be remembered for, however, is being a generation that was aware and that cared – about the environment, human rights, and our future generations.  If we can catalyze that caring into actual progress and change, we just might not be dismissed as the Selfie Generation.

First, a couple of disclaimers: though I enjoy reading articles and books on the subject of the human experience and characteristics of generations, I would not consider myself an academic on the topic, though I have peppered some links that I find especially interesting and credible.  Admittedly, my perspective is built mostly upon personal experience and observations from my own life; I’m biased.  I’m not trying to speak for my generation, just myself.  Second, I will be using the word I a lot.  I am aware that this is a word strongly associated with Millennials and their purportedly self-centered ways.  I’ve read articles where the author has denounced himself for the numbers of I’s he used.  Tsk tsk.  Sorry in advance if I use too many I’s for your taste.

Now that that’s all cleared up, let’s get back to my generation, also known as The Me Generation.   The first and foremost characteristic that may come to mind when one considers a Millennial is self-centered.  Celebrities become famous by being self-centered; our social media pages are filled with images of ourselves celebrating our hobbies, talents, and skills.  I do not think we are all as self-centered so much as we are misunderstood.   From an outsider’s perspective, I could see how we might seem self-centered: we spend hours on our hobbies; we make special requests for everything from our coffee to whether the painter we hire uses non-VOC paint or not; and most of us share every last detail of our lives on social media.  We were raised with a strong sense of self, and a focus on self-development.  Most of the friends I knew growing up had multiple awards and pictures throughout their homes from all of their milestones and sporting events (my home included).  We were celebrated for just being ourselves.  But we focused on doing what we loved to do.

I realize that doing what you enjoy doing can make you come across as self-centered.  In the contexts of the Baby Boomer and The Greatest Generation above me, I would likely be viewed as self-indulgent.  Starting a blog just for fun, because I feel like it?  You’d better get your priorities straight, they might’ve told me not so long ago.  But thanks to the powerful fight of so many before us, it is considered acceptable if not encouraged today for someone to pursue their passions, whatever they may be, whatever age they may be.  Our generation may be a bit less apologetic about making time for those interests.  We enjoy enriching ourselves intellectually, physically, and emotionally.  

Today, there are people in my generation who make a living by explicitly living out their dreams: outdoor athletes who travel the world, sponsored by big brands (rock-climbers, surfers, snowboarders, etc.); bloggers who resonate with millions like a ripple on the internet; people who have invented something.   We Millennials love our hobbies like family and fiercely defend our time with them.  There are so many interesting things to explore and learn about in the world, and that’s what I’d like to spend my short time on earth doing.  Is that so wrong?  Can’t I still show good civic duty while perfecting my mountain biking skills?  Doing what you love to do doesn’t make you entitled, self-centered, or lazy.  It makes you happy.  Which leads me to a counter-argument against being self-centered: Millennials may be nicer (see article Why Millennials Are Generation Nice).  A result of spending so much time making ourselves happy, and being raised in a comparatively more tolerant society, may be the nurturing of kinder, more accepting people.  Certainly this isn’t the case for all of us, like when you throw the blanket of stereotype onto a group, and some are left with their toes uncovered.  They don’t belong under that statement.   Every generation has its bad apples.  But I know many like-minded Millennials who do what they love, and are overall happy people who are kind and conscientious in their actions toward others.  Millennials just may be the generation that truly considers its successors: many of us want to leave the world a better place for the next generation.  We’re enjoying our time here, and want others to have the same opportunity.

It’s a theme I’m seeing more among not only my age-group, but all generations today: caring more.  We are aware of the plethora of serious problems facing our world, and care about them.  The friends and family I have all share a deep concern for the state of our ecosystems and communities. They care deeply about the environment and animals, human rights, and making progress as a human race.  They take little actions in their daily lives to make a collectively large difference, and consider their impact on the planet.  We donate to charities; we volunteer at beach clean-ups and the like.  We recycle every last bit of what can be recycled, use our own reusable mugs, water bottles, and cloth shopping bags whereever we go; we try to support Fair Trade businesses with sustainable farming or organic practices.  We stay up to date on the latest news articles, and read the newspaper everyday.  We watch the news fastidiously, to a fault, especially in our current political climate, and curse every step backward from environmental progress.  We cry when we hear yet another study about how the record has been broken, yet again, for the hottest year ever, or when we read about yet another polar bear found drowned amid wafer-thin icebergs in the Arctic.  I’d like to think I fit in with this group, even as images of Kleen Kanteen-swigging, big-bearded, techie hippies on a restrictive diet probably come to mind.  Again, we all are affected by stereotypes, myself included.  I can’t say that all Millennials care more.  But I know the ones I hang out with do, even if they’re only in my bubble.  

We are certainly not the only generation to care about the environment (Hello environmental rights era!), or care about endangered Amur Leopards (of which there are roughly only 60 remaining at last estimate), or donate to charities with a text from our cell phones (which anyone can do, obviously).  But we almost have to care more: we see the consequences of human impacts all around us; they are no longer a future projection, but a reality harsher than our predecessors surely ever planned for.  Since most of us plan to stick around for at least another seventy years or so, we’d better figure out how to fix them.  

To most of the people I know, there is an obvious, scientifically grounded, and direct link between human activities and climate change, and the multitude of ecological disasters unfolding.  I am sure I don’t need to inform you of them, but I’ll list just several of the most pressing environmental issues of the moment: climate change from increased global carbon-dioxide emissions, which brings its whole slew of side effects including, but not limited to, rising sea-levels and displacement of large populations of humans; species endangerment and extinction (we are currently causing the Sixth Mass Extinction event on planet Earth); access to clean groundwater (exacerbated by industrial wastes, including those produced from natural resources extraction processes like fracking); shifting agricultural zones, bringing food shortages and famine; widespread drought and extreme weather events, like Superstorm Sandy; biodiversity loss from monocultures (like palm oil), and invasive species inhabiting new niches as our climatic zones shift; widespread pollution of every state of matter – land, air, and water – particularly with neurotoxins and carcinogens, plastic pollution that is poisoning us and destroying our oceans, especially among the 5 Gyres; and at the root of most of these problems lies the pinnacle of human overpopulation.   

Down yet?  Or have you, like the rest of us, inured yourself to them like just another weather report?  There’s a famous Tim McIlrath quote: “If you aren’t angry, then you’re not paying attention”.  Words couldn’t summarize it better.  There are some days where I feel so down and depressed about the state of affairs in our world; about the lack of significant progress toward ameliorating this seemingly infinite laundry list of problems; about my perception that most people just don’t care enough to change their behaviors to affect any real change.  I can be a little bit fatalistic, thinking everything is just kind of doomed for most living things in the immediate future; that only Deep Time – that healing of millions of years – will cover the scar that Humanity left on Earth in the short time we were here; how in just about one hundred years time, we’ve stripped the earth of its most precious resources, degrading its intricately woven, complex ecosystems, thinking it wouldn’t matter.  But we quickly learned it did matter; our government established departments (the US Forest Service, the BLM, National Park Service, the EPA, etc.) to protect and manage our natural resources after years of unfettered logging, mining, and fishing took place, collapsing the local ecosystems in many cases.  There has been progress in renewable energy sources, toxic remediation, land-use management, and habitat restoration, but the bottom line remains the same: we’ve got a giant mess which will dominate for decades to come.  

We have the opportunity to take measurable actions to ebb the tide, and progress is being made.  Many in our generation, though raised with the silver spoons of materialism, are embracing the adage Less is more.  I hope that we’ll be a generation that shows you don’t need so many things to live happily; that we can strike a fine balance between enjoying electronics without being ruled by them.  Millennials are known for being obsessed with their phones and electronic devices; many of the twenty-to-thirty-somethings I see prove that on a daily basis.  You can do a lot of cool things with your phones these days: watch TV, order food, shop for anything under the sun, get a dopamine hit from your social media alerts.  We’ve come a long way from the early days of the Internet.  I remember being a junior in high school, spring of 1997, and our class was going to the brand new computer lab to go on the World Wide Web!  We used Netscape as our web browser, and explored some government archives or something related to that.  It took awhile to load content, undoubtedly, but it was the coolest new thing.  I remember our teacher highlighting the significance of the moment: You guys are some of the first students using this; you’re lucky!  We soon learned how much was at our fingertips.  We were living on the crest of a new technological revolution, one which would prove to be a constant source of companionship for most people.  We went from having to pore through books and articles for information, to googling that shit (or gts in textspeak).  

We are never “alone” when we have our phones and devices present, it would seem, but really we’re drifting further apart from common social graces.  Say “Hello” to someone in an elevator?  They may just completely ignore you and keep looking at their phone, using it as an excuse to separate themselves from the strangers they share such a small space with.  Patience?  It’s hard to come by these days.  We’re spoiled.  Everything comes too quickly; we are overconvenienced. People’s people skills are worsening with every day spent not speaking and interacting with people face-to-face.  None of what I’m saying is news.  Less human interaction equals more distance between us; more human interaction equals less.  Praise?  It’s common to see it online, but it means so much more in person face-to-face.  Kind words delivered eye to eye sink in that much deeper than a pixelated posting.  

Speaking of praise, our generation may have gotten too much of that growing up.  A common joke of our generation is, “Everyone gets a trophy”.  Many of us were raised with no shortage of praise, pomp, and circumstance at life’s every event.  We were told we could be anything we wanted to be, and that the world was our oyster to enjoy.  And many of us ate it right up, believing the world was ours for the taking, and that we could truly do anything we wanted to.  So we went after our dreams, with positive self-affirmation, and perhaps, too much confidence and naivete.  We had expectations, and it made us entitled.

I remember when I graduated from UCSC, excited to have my BA in Environmental Studies. I thought I’d be off on some impactful career saving owls in no time.  It wasn’t that easy, and  I’ll never forget going for an informational interview with an environmental consultant who was kind enough to give me a few minutes of his time.  

“Get experience,” he advised.  

“How do I get experience if no one will hire me?” I asked.  

“Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but did you think you’d just graduate college and get a job right away, in Santa Cruz no less?  Try interning; volunteer even.  Keep at it, but it’s cutthroat around here for jobs.  Don’t expect any handouts”.

He was right.  I waited tables for a year and a half before landing an entry-level job at a groundwater quality consulting firm in Santa Cruz, only to leave within the year to pursue my teaching credential.  His frankness stuck with me, though.  I didn’t want to be seen as just another entitled Millennial who expected to be handed a job fresh out of college.  It humbled me a bit, and reiterated a valuable lesson first posed by my father: no one owes you anything.  Don’t be entitled.  Prove yourself through your actions.  Walk the walk, don’t just talk the talk.   I believe in a strong work ethic, despite my entitled whines about wanting to retire.  

Recently, I won my first First Place award at a mountain bike race for the Beginner Women’s category.  There wasn’t an awards ceremony that day, so I didn’t get a medal (pure gold that I’m sure it was!).  I emailed the race director, asking if it could be mailed to me, but got no reply.  There could be multiple reasons why, but part of me wondered if he just laughed at the request: Entitled Millennial wants her trophy, I could imagine him saying.  Or my email just went to his Junk folder, never to be read.  

Either way, when I think about Generation X, which I am on the cusp of depending upon how you look at it, the words that comes to mind are cool and fun; it’s actresses Alyssa Milano on the hit 80’s TV show Who’s The Boss?, Christina Applegate from the equally popular Married…With Children, Brenda and Kelly on the cult 90’s hit 90210. These were the cool chicks I wanted as my friends, out having fun and living like there was no tomorrow.  There was a carefree spirit, but not an innocence.  This generation had a skeptical edge to them.

They might look at us Millennials as something like a flea: we keep bouncing back, we annoy with our incessant self-centered bites for your attention, and there are simply millions of us.  That’s because Gen X’ers were a little too cool at times, aloof and unimpressed by our bubbly, look-at-me ways.  This is the generation who challenged the status quo; this is the punk generation.  They embody cool.  I have friends who consider themselves firmly among Gen-X, and they’ve honestly said before how much my generation bothers them.  Our narcissism, whininess, and entitlement are among the reasons given.  We speak in annoying uptone, or voicefry downtone.  We’re not always very cool, especially how we overshare.  But we’re so close in age, I think there is a lot of camaraderie and harmony among Gen X’ers and Millennials.  

How do Millennials compare to Baby Boomers (including my parents, born in 1950)?  My father has worked not just a steady job, but usually overtime, in construction for most of his life.  My mother worked hard raising us three daughters, and in her career in real estate.  Together, they taught me to work hard if I wanted something; to be self-sufficient and prepared; to take risks and learn from them.  When I tell them how much I’d like to retire, albeit in fantasy mode, I wonder if they think I’m being entitled?  Someone in their generation was probably less likely to voice that dream, let alone with conviction and faith, less fear being laughed at or thought of as lazy.  

I knew the word impose from a young age.  I recall my mother gently reminding us not to impose when we went to our friends’ houses.  

Mom, can I spend the night? I’d excitedly ask over the phone from my friend’s house.  

She’d reply with something like: Well, yes, if it’s okay with her parents, of course.  I just don’t want to impose.  It wasn’t that she thought I was an imposing child, I’m sure, but she did teach me to ask permission, respect boundaries, and not be entitled.  She was raised with a strong emphasis on etiquette and social graces, and it was important to her that we act accordingly in certain situations.  Her good manners and upbringing helped shape me into the conscientious person I consider myself to be today.  

My father was also similarly on-key with my mother.  He definitely didn’t want me to impose on anyone, or be a spoiled brat, so to speak.  I remember having so many conversations with him, especially in my high school years, about life and how to live it.  I forget how this one particular conversation started, but I got some sage advice from him during it; he said something to the extent of, No one owes you anything in life.  No one has to do anything for you, just because you want them to.  You can’t control people.  It wasn’t that he was saying you as a darted, personal you at me, per se, because I knew he didn’t think I was a controlling, entitled person.  But the advice spoke to me in a powerful summary: Just do you, is basically what he was saying.  Just take care of me and what I’m doing, without putting pressures, expectations, or stipulations upon others, and don’t stress over what others do or don’t do, think or misunderstand about you.  If you want something, go after it with full ownership.

Both of my parents raised us to be respectful, conscientious, self-sufficient, and ultimately, empowered, women.  I’m sure there are some Boomers, and those from other generations, including mine, who question why a woman these days doesn’t want to get married or have kids; or why one would rather travel the country living out of her car (that always sounded cool to me).  That only reflects the reality they may have grown up in, when it was socially expected to follow a more typical “American Dream” pathway.  Of course, mavericks exist in every generation.  But I think there was more pressure in their generation to walk the line.

What about the Greatest Generation?  I don’t claim to be an expert on our most esteemed, wisest of the country.  I’d gamble that they most definitely think Millennials are lazy, entitled, and self-centered.  When they were growing up?  It probably wasn’t common to spend hours on sports and hobbies.  If you did, you might’ve been called selfish for pursuing your hobbies with the regularity that people today do.  Pragmatism, selflessness, and a steely work ethic are some of the traits that come to mind when I think of my elders, grandparents included.  My grandmother, Sheila Prentice Craig, has often referenced a wonderful saying, which I try to live by: Don’t complain; don’t explain.  It’s simple, but it works: keep it positive, don’t whine and be negative. And don’t feel like you have to justify yourself to everyone.  You don’t have to explain yourself, and it’s okay to say no just because you feel like it.   

Living through the Great Depression shaped them into some of the toughest, most steadfast generation.  Through struggle, they persevered.  Perseverance gave them resilience, which would serve them well in future challenges, providing a grounding faith and quiet strength.  When I compare today’s youth to my elders, the main difference I see is in their perseverance.  

Today’s youth?  I taught sixth grade Math & Science (11-12 year olds) from 2006-2016, before switching to seventh grade Math & Science in 2017 (12-13 year olds).  I’ve watched this age group go from the dawn of the I-Pod, one of the first no-no’s to be snuck into class my first year of teaching, to the I-Phone, a bread-and-butter staple of almost all of my students today.  This newest generation, of which there is no official agreed upon name for yet, would be in the roughly twelve to twenty-two age range.  In the time I’ve taught this age, I’ve observed some overall trends, many of which have already been expounded upon by expert sociologists.  

First, the obvious: they want instant gratification, too.  If we can have it now, why can’t they?  With technology and the internet, they’ve been raised getting what they want with the push of a button.  If the answer isn’t found easily, spelled out in black and white, they may give up on finding it.  They don’t always know how to persevere.  I’ve had kids google “What is global warming?” when they were asked to explain it in their own words.  Surely I’d hit the concept hard enough with them, right?  I pondered.  Why did they feel the need to consult Dr. Google when asked for a simple summary?  I was disappointed.  

But then again, how many adults, of all ages, don’t enjoy the impressive computing power now available to us?  Haven’t we, too, become a little accustomed to instant gratification?  It’s hard to say if it’s a sign of the times, or a sign of the generation.  With every year that passes on, it certainly feels more like a sign of the times.

Second, they are more self-centered.  Pot calling the kettle black, you may ask?  I realize how hypocritical it may sound for someone who doesn’t want to be called self-centered calling another group of people that very same thing.  It’s what I see, though, and some of it is almost inherent within the context of technology.  Because of their smartphones, because of the Internet and social media, this upcoming generation is by default more self-centered.  They spend more time looking at things that interest them specifically; they can spend hours watching YouTube videos on any hobby that exists.  They spend time updating their settings and preferences on their devices; adjusting their screenshots and profile pictures.  Screentime is driven by interactions on social media platforms, participation seemingly required less they miss out on something.  Yes, other generations, including mine, do this too.  The difference is we weren’t raised doing it as children and teenagers during our formative years like they are now.  Being raised among our new Internet reality challenges our youth because they are forming their identities in the process.

In the eleven years that I’ve been teaching, I have seen a devolution in both overall awareness of others, and expressing interest.  They’d often rather sit with their computers among each other than actually get to know each other.  Few questions are asked.  I used to have several students ask me how I was doing, or what I did on the weekend.  Now?  Virtually none of my students ever ask me how I’m doing, or what I like to do when I’m not teaching.  I’ve had times where I decided to share something, and had my students ignore me from the very start: they open up their Chromebook or silent-reading book; the binder opens to the classwork.  I know it’s part of teaching middle-school aged children, but sometimes I wonder if this is a sign of their generation.  Are they really this self-centered?  Is conscientiousness a rare-earth mineral now?

Conscientiousness.  It’s the trait I try to foster in my students.  Conscientious means being aware that you are not the center of the universe, nor the center of anything; that you share your surroundings with other equally important beings, human and non; that your actions, large and small, affect others.  It starts with awareness, and focusing on what’s happening around you; being less self-centered.  

Their physical awareness of their bodies seems to have diminished as well.  I’ve had so many students walk into each other (or me) because they were looking down – not at their phone, but just in that habit of looking down and not paying attention.  I’ve seen people get hurt walking into objects in and out of the classroom – the playground at recess, after school as they walk around town.  There is a tendency to look down and not look up in front of them as much.  As they adapt to looking at their phones more, their overall focus shifts downward, too.  To be fair, there are many students who do not follow this behavior; however, this is the overall theme I see.  

Lastly, their perseverance is in decline.  This goes partly with the whole instant gratification idea.  Being used to getting things so easily has created a misconception that everything in life ought to be that way.  As a Math teacher, I struggle with this a lot.  A student will struggle on a concept, surrender, and give up trying.  Despite what any research says about methodology, pedagogy, or theory about mathematics instruction, the bottom line is a student is only going to get better by practicing more often.  They have to put in the hard work, the blood, sweat, and tears, so to speak.  And it can be like pulling teeth to get them to take ownership of their efforts.  When they do have that ownership, however, it can be the difference between mastery and proficiency.  Calculators?  That’s a whole different topic, but I personally think math through Pre-Algebra doesn’t need it.  My kids hate me for it, and go crazy on the rare occasions when I do allow it (large number statistics and data analysis problems, typically).  It would be so much easier if they could just use their phone calculator on their homework, but alas, I enforce a common math teacher policy of “No work, no credit”.  The answer doesn’t have to necessarily be correct, but I need to see the process used to get there.  It’s in the process that they learn the perseverance.  

Perseverance doesn’t just pertain to academics, technology, and daily life activities, but spirituality and emotional well-being.  How connected do today’s youth feel to nature and the environment?  I hope most of them do.  Perseverance isn’t just getting through something hard, it’s having the integrity to stand strong and trust yourself through dynamic situations.  How many of today’s youth spend time outdoors in challenging situations that test their mettle?  Again, I’d like to hope that it’s a lot, but I think many of them may be on their electronics inside.  The same could be said for my generation, though; many of us were raised with Nintendo, Sega, and X-Box.

There are moments when I am truly inspired by my students, when I believe one of them just may be the one to invent a better plastic substitute, or develop some new kind of nanotechnology that will break down all the waste we’ve already produced.  I have to believe in their potential, because my future lies partially in their hands.  How they treat the environment, are informed, and care will influence the next generation.  It’s a domino effect.  If I can get them to care about the environment, and to take some accountability for doing something about its infinite problems, I feel I’ve done my most important role as a teacher.  I’ll never forget the times my students make important connections.  There was the day when a girl asked, quite matter-of-factly, “So, they’re putting toxic plastic microbeads in our toothpaste?!  Like what we use to brush our teeth and put inside our bodies?!  That’s disgusting!  How is that allowed?!” Bam!  She hit the nail on the head, and it was one of my most inspired moments teaching.  There’ve been other equally astute observations made in class that sometimes gives me a sense of promise within this next generation. I believe they will find their balance between using technology and having real human interaction.  They sure do make me laugh, though.  Middle-school is never short on sarcasm and humor.

It’s All Been Done…Just Not Like This

As unique as I’d like to think any generation is, or this particular time in history is, part of me who believes another old adage: It’s all been done.  When you look back in time, the same themes play out over and over; the same roles are played, only by different actors and actresses.  The emotions range the same, whether you lived 1,000 years ago, or live right now.  There has already been a “Katrin” just like me, so when I write about “my generation”, I do so knowing how fleeting, insignificant, and unimportant my words are.  None of them will mean anything in the not too distant future.  

But what will matter is how we leave the planet for the next generation.  That hasn’t been done yet.  

As much as there are similarities among age groups and people, each generation is given the privilege and opportunity to impart their footprint in their own unique way.  We ought to consider not only our children and future generations, but the future of all living things on Earth.  What kind of legacy do we want to leave for the future?  A nuclear wasteland; a toxic dead zone?  How we treat the organisms we share this special home with may determine our future success or failure; how we manage our natural resources, and their wastes, is paramount to sustaining a large, technologically dependent human population.  We haven’t done the best job yet in meeting these challenges, but, sometimes, I’m hopeful.  

I invite everyone to consider what they can do to reduce their impact on the environment, and help leave a better planet for our future generations.  Whatever generation we are part of, we ought to consider the next.  We ought to be aware of the trends, problems, and challenges of our times, and care deeply about tackling them.  The issue of our time is our environment, and we all should be doing our part to help.  Do the “little things” on a daily basis that add up to make bigger differences; take whatever action you can to reduce your footprint.  Stay informed.  

Be aware.  Care.

I hope that Millennials will be remembered as a generation who genuinely and effectively cared about the environment and the next generation; that instead of being just a bunch of selfie-posting egomaniacs, we actually knew our place in the big scheme of things: we were just a small part of something much bigger.  I hope we’ll be remembered for using our voices to make a difference on the environment and the advancement of human rights, building upon the efforts of the courageous generations who came before us.  We are merely a puzzle piece among the jigsaw of Humanity.  Whether we are a keystone in that puzzle, or just a small detail piece, remains to be seen.  Being a keystone isn’t about being important or recognized, but actually helping to strengthen the planet and our civilization for our predecessors.  Like the keystone of an archway, it helps bridge and strengthen; or a keystone species, like a sea otter eating urchins in a kelp forest.  Take away the otter and the urchins will overpopulate, eating away the kelp’s holdfast, eventually making the entire kelp forest ecosystem disappear.   If there are not enough urchins, on the other hand, the entire kelp forest community suffers. The sea otter has a crucial niche to fill as a keystone species, balancing consumption and production.  Like the otter, we too must find our balance.

We ought to aim to be a keystone generation.  

 

Breathing In The Slow Flow of Summer

I love every season.  Each has its own flavor, enriching the year and bringing festivities. But there is one season that I’ve always associated with freedom: Summer.  Since childhood summer vacations from school, the slow rhythm of California in the summertime has long rocked my heart.  

I just finished my eleventh year of teaching.  Being a teacher has kept me pretty much on the same schedule I’ve had since I was a child in school, and my summers are now a monumental part of the year that I look forward to with earnest.  I had Summer jobs before, but that changed when I started teaching full-time.  After my first year, I taught Summer School Math; I didn’t feel recharged when I began the new year in the Fall.  After that, I decided to just take the time off and enjoy it for what it was: vacation.

This Summer in particular feels especially needed: after ten years of teaching sweet, innocent sixth graders, I moved to seventh grade last year.  I had new Math and Science curricula to teach, and a slew of challenging social dynamics to figure out.  What a difference one year makes.  I felt like I’d finished a marathon by the last day of school on June 8, exhausted and emotionally spent.  I was ready to sink into sweet summertime.

As a teacher, Summer is fundamental to recharge myself.  These 9+ weeks are sacred; I cherish everyday.  There is such beauty in the simple freedom of not having to do anything.  Lifting the obligations of work buoys my spirit and inspires me to seize my free time to the fullest.  Knowing that I am committed from late August to early June every year, start to finish, day in day out, is enough to make me really appreciate every day off in the Summer.  

My job is so time-bound: I must follow a bell-schedule with 47-minute time periods; I must plan and pace my curriculum so as to cover all of the required standards, and decide just how much time to spend upon those content areas.  Restroom breaks are strategically planned around the brief reprieves of passing periods.  Everything about my job is time-oriented.  And I know that until the last day of school in early June, I am responsible for my sixty-odd students and their learning of Mathematics and Science. Therefore, when I reach the end of one school-year, I really like to celebrate just being done.  I don’t want to look ahead at next year’s kids, or plan my first days; I want to take a breath and reflect upon all I’ve just completed.  I love being done.

Free time, choice, opportunity.  What a gift to wake up in the morning after sleeping in to my heart’s content, a promising blank slate of a day greeting me with so many choices.  Beach day?  Trail running day?  Getaway trip to ride somewhere new?  Living where we live presents a plethora of recreational choices to choose from.  I love California, and the Santa Cruz Mountains where I live.  

Choices also include doing “nothing”, which I am a huge fan of.  Unstructured time to yourself is a beautiful thing.  There are days on end in the Summer where I may not even leave my driveway.  Hours are spent moseying around the house contentedly bouncing from one project to another.  This is truly precious time.  Although I certainly get out and stay active in the summertime, I find these stretches of homebound time really ground me.  Long yoga sessions, gardening projects, and harmonizing the house fill a Summer day quite nicely.  After all, how many times during the school-year do I think to myself, I just want to be home?  Therefore, I soak up this opportunity to really be at home.

I think of Summer as a bit of a hibernation, despite Winter being associated with that process.  As a teacher, this is my least social time of the year if you consider the amount of interactions and talking I’m doing each day.  September through June, I give so much of my energy to my students and my job.  I must speak often, interact with many different people of all ages, and overall be “out of my shell”.  This is the one time of year where I can focus on what I want to do everyday, planning not thematic units but enriching activities of interest.  Going “in the shell”, so to speak, allows me to reflect and rejuvenate.  

It all starts with slowing down.  The slow pace of Summer is one of its most therapeutic effects.   I mean really slowing down, like taking an hour to read the Sunday newspaper with your coffee, or strolling through a forest at a snail’s pace birdwatching, in no hurry at all.  Not having a schedule allows such freedom.  This slow flow invites us to enjoy the simplicity of life, all the little things.  

Slowing down is also a conduit for gratitude.  Only now, on July 16 in the middle of Summer, am I truly feeling that deep sense of appreciation for exactly how things are now.  Over this last year, I’ve used the word “more” to describe my general attitude on life.  “I want more!” was pretty much how 2017 kicked off for me.  I was feeling very happy with my life and the way things were going: in 2015 I got married to the love of my life, Ron, and we bought a house in Ben Lomond that same year.  We had a great new life in the Santa Cruz Mountains with our cat Beau.  I was healthy, and having fun with my hobbies.  My job teaching was admittedly at a shifting point; I’d had many changes over the last two years with new curricula to teach, and moving from teaching sixth to seventh graders last year.  Certainly I was feeling a bit of burn out.  

I was also feeling really tired of getting up early.  I know that may sound spoiled, but I have a medical reason for it: sleep apnea.  I was only diagnosed in 2015, after a friend recommended I see a doctor based upon her friend’s similar symptoms.  It explained so much: why I always hated waking up early for school as a child (especially as a teenager); why I still as an adult hated waking up early so much, sometimes so much I am angered by it.  All those mornings where I kept snoozing my alarm clock; mornings of sleeping through my parents yelling at me to get out of bed, or often announcing that they would be leaving in ten minutes with or without me.  Falling asleep in class.  My occasional night-terrors made more sense; my doctor said many people have them who have apnea, and they are often linked to episodes of hypoxia, the moments when I am not breathing.  

Not breathing.  Not breathing is my biggest fear in life, a fear I share with many others, surely.  Allow me to digress about that for a few paragraphs now.  

When I was two, I was saved from my grandmother’s pool by my older sister Mary.  I had apparently sunk to the bottom of the shallow end, and was just sitting there holding my breath at the bottom of the pool.  No one was directly watching me in that moment, but my sister took notice.  She remembers it clearly; I actually remember how the water and sunlight danced as I sat there on the pool floor.  She grabbed me out of the water, and I was fine after coughing a bit.  But if she hadn’t noticed me, things could’ve gone a lot differently.  I owe my sister my life.

Then, when I was around six years old, I was learning to waterski with training skis that were tied together.  There was an attached rope which an adult was to hold onto in the boat, letting go upon the skier falling.  There was a separate training rope with a handle for me to hold onto, which was connected to the skis.  But I had no control over the rope attaching me to the boat, and was relying upon my mom, who was holding the other end, to let go of it should I fall underwater.  I wore a life-jacket, of course.

My dad checked that I was ready, and I replied with his preferred signal to go: “Hit it!”

He slowly pulled the boat forward.  My feet tightly suctioned within the skis, I pushed as hard as I could, doing what I’d been told.  Lean back, Katie, they told me as well.  But nothing was happening except for my head and entire body were being dragged underwater at a suddenly faster speed.  The water was rushing over my skin so forcefully I remember my skin felt like it was flapping in the wind or something.  I wasn’t scared at first about having my head underwater; just keep leaning back and pushing, I told myself (and my parents were probably thinking that, too).  But after about what felt like ten seconds passed (mind you this is a six year old’s memory, so I may be off on my timing), I felt the need to take a breath.  But my entire head was still underwater.  I tried in vain to get my head above water for a breath, only being pushed further back by the force of the water.  I tried again, glimpsing my family on the boat, my mom holding the rope.  Why aren’t they letting go?! I remember thinking.  That’s when I started to panic, and desperately started trying to move my arms above me in the air and bob my head out of the water, anything to alert them.  I was consciously in a survival mode, aware that I needed air and could drown if they didn’t let go of that rope soon.  

And then I was free; the rope let go of.  My life-jacket’s buoyancy helped surface me, and I took a huge gulp of air, swallowing some water from the big wake, coughing as I struggled to catch my breath.  By the time my dad had circled around to retrieve me, I was crying and panicked.  

“Why didn’t you guys let go?!” I angrily cried.  

They apologized and said it wasn’t that long of a time; that sometimes it takes that long to stand up on skis.  Clearly it wasn’t on purpose; they didn’t mean to scare me.  But I was shaken by that experience.  However, I didn’t let it keep me from the water.  We went boating often, as my parents were waterskiers, and freshwater was my home.  We belonged to Las Trampas swimming pool near our house in Lafayette, going there often in the hot East Bay summers.  We played often in Las Trampas Creek behind our house.  Water was my home, and I wasn’t going to let one experience keep me from it.  Resilience was the lesson here.

A few years later, when I was eight, we were houseboating at Bullard’s Bar, an awesome lake in the Sierra Nevada foothills of California.  I was kneeboarding, and had the knee strap wrapped around my thighs.  Being a tiny little eight year old, we had to make it as tight as it would go, and it still was a bit loose.  

“Hit it!” I hollered to my dad.  

Off we went, just the right speed – a cool 13 mph, probably – and I was kneeboarding with a smile on my face.  I’d done it before, but this time I was going to try going crossing the wake for my first time, not a particularly easy thing to do as a child when the wake is nearly as big as you sitting down.  I made it over the left side of the wake to the sound of cheers from the boat.  I took my time enjoying being outside the wake in the relatively glassy waters, proud I’d made it.  But now I had to go back inside the wake.  I angled my board subtly toward the wake, making progress back toward it.  I made it over the peak of the lip, but nose-dived on my way back down, flipping forward and upside down attached to the kneeboard.  

I felt like I was trapped.  My kneeboard upside down, me stuck to it underwater.  The strap was wrapped tightly around my upper thighs by now, and my head kept hitting the kneeboard when I tried to come up for air.  I tried to unvelcro the strap, but either I didn’t have the strength to undo the full length of it, or I was too focused on trying to get my head above the water for air that I simply couldn’t undo it.  Within seconds, I made my head up again and gasped for air, catching a glimpse of my dad jumping off the boat and into the water to come help me.  He swam as quickly as he could as I flailed, panicking, trying to catch a breath.  He flipped me over quickly, unstrapped that darn knee-strap, and I immediately started coughing, breathing hard, and of course, crying my eyes out.  I was so scared.  But my dad and sisters were really comforting to me afterward, and I was kneeboarding again the next day (we forwent the knee-strap, and I just stayed in the wake).  But within a year, I was actually kneeboarding: crossing the wake, using the knee-strap (around my knees, and carefully so), and learning to do a 360 (it took a few seconds for me to turn around and go backwards first, then whip back around, but I still called it a 360).  

Again, resilience was the lesson.  

I kept going in the water, frequenting our local creeks, and traveling often to lakes and rivers with my family.  When I moved to Santa Cruz as a 17-year old to attend college at UCSC, the pervasive surf-culture beckoned me to the ocean.  I was more timid in the ocean, however; most of my water experiences had been in freshwater, not the ocean.  My god, the ocean was a whole different beast.  Sure, we went to the beach as kids occasionally, but freshwater was always our main gig.  It took me some time to reorient myself as an adult with the ocean and its dynamic, awe inducing power.  The fear of drowning in it lingered, especially because currents and waves were capable of rendering you powerless, not to mention it was so huge.  I felt out of control in it, not in a scary way per se, but in a way that didn’t make me want to go in it that much.  Little by little, I got more comfortable being in the ocean.  Wearing a wetsuit offers some buoyancy, and having a leash attached to your board makes the experience a lot more comforting.  I love both the ocean and freshwater now, though freshwater still feels like my first home.   

I must take a moment here as an aside to offer gratitude to my family, whom I was blessed to share so many formative and fun memories with as a child.  I am extremely thankful to my parents for taking us on so many cool vacations as children!  We traveled throughout California, camping and boating at so many lakes and cool places.  When I reflect upon my childhood, the overarching theme that dominates is being outside in nature having fun.  How cool is that!  Go Mom and Dad!

Back to the gist: I have a deep-seated fear of not breathing.  I know I’m not alone in that; it’s a very common, and natural, fear to have.  But when I found out I had apnea, I literally almost fainted at the doctor’s office.  As soon as he showed me the sleep-study graph of the times I weren’t breathing in the night – Here’s the first twenty-three seconds where you’re not breathing – he explained, I felt all the energy in my body empty through my feet.  I laid back on the exam table, and the accompanying nurse quickly asked was I okay.  I took a deep breath and said, “I feel like I’m going to pass out”.  She quickly got me some water, and the doctor turned his attention to me.

Tingly and light-headed, I said, “I just need to breathe for a second”.

There it was again: that breath that I so desperately needed.  I closed my eyes, taking deep breaths, my doctor’s hands on my wrist, assumably monitoring my pulse.  

“It’s okay; a lot of people get anxiety in the doctor’s office.  Have you ever had an episode like this before, like where you felt like you were going to faint at the doctor’s?” he gently posed.

“Well, I used to almost pass out when getting my blood drawn; I’m better about it now, though.  And apparently when I get big medical news.  When I saw that graph of me not breathing…and heard you diagnose my apnea…I think I just got really scared.  Not breathing is already a big fear of mine”, I explained.

The nurse and doctor were extraordinarily kind to me, taking the time to explain what it really meant for me (it’s common to have apnea), and what some potential solutions were.  Knowledge is the antithesis of fear, so I read up on it further.  I tried the CPAP device with another sleep study about a month later, but I felt completely claustrophobic with it, and kept ripping it off in the night.  

For now, I have settled on not doing much about it, except for making sure I get about 9-10 hours of sleep per night to accommodate for all the times I wake up in the middle of the night to catch my breath.  Although I never consciously wake up during these moments of apnea, my doctor explained how they interrupt your REM and sleep cycles, leaving you feeling exhausted in the morning.  Finally, I had a reason for naturally wanting to sleep in most days that I’m not working.  On a more somber note, I am not happy to know that sleep apnea increases your risk of heart disease, and can contribute to other health issues.  I may explore some other treatment options again in the future, but for now, am just trying to make sure I get enough sleep.

Which ties back into finding the balance between wanting something more, and having gratitude for exactly what is now.  

Over the last year or so, the resounding theme was that I wanted something more.  I wrote about it in my journal, talked about with friends and family, and thought often about what that more really meant to me.  I generally do the things I want to do soon after thinking of them, and this year, I certainly did more.  Once I have a goal in mind, I go for it with urgency and intense focus; I’ve always been that way.  I signed up for my mountain bike races, and trained harder for them.  I started this blog; I’m sharing the words I’ve longed to share, and it has been an amazingly powerful catalyst for self-reflection, discovery, and human connection.  I gave more to my marriage and husband; gave more energy to keeping up our home and garden.  I tried harder to take better care of myself.  I had my maiden trip to the Carrizo Plain for the wildflower superbloom; went snowboarding 17 awesome days this Winter season at Kirkwood.  I’ve been mountain biking like a machine; and writing happily, if not compulsively, at times.  Toot, toot, I know.  

But still I wanted more.  And then I realized exactly what that more was:

More time.

It was that simple.  

I just wanted more time to do the things I love to do, to be with the ones I love, and to learn all I can about our incredibly awesome Universe.  Yes, I wanted more money, and yes I wanted to travel more and do more with my life.  But all of that was nothing without the time to do it all. I know that, again, I probably sound a bit like just another spoiled Millennial, but I don’t want to work anymore.  If I didn’t have to work, I would actually have more time to do the things I love to do (that’s where the desire for more money comes in, knowing that with just the right amount, I could retire).  As I’m getting older, I’m realizing just how much we don’t have more time to count on; there’s no assurances of tomorrow, let alone ten years from now.  Time offers no guarantees, no promises, and certainly doesn’t go easy on our physical bodies over the years.  It’s cliche, but I’ll repeat it: all we truly have is now.  

We may not have more time in life, but we can definitely have more gratitude.  

Once I realize that, I feel perfectly content with everything exactly as it is in this moment.  Then I might forget a few minutes later when I get a bill in the mail to pay, or I find myself cursing last night’s burnt-on spaghetti sauce from the stovetop as I scrub it away.  We’re only human.  I admire people who can stay in this state of “now”, of meditative mindfulness, constantly throughout their lives.  I certainly try to, but I’ve definitely got some room for growth.  

Which is why Summer is such a gift: by giving me all of this time off of work, I can realize, yet again, how precious life is.  Feel true gratitude.

It all begins with breath.  Slowing down, enjoying each breath; deep and full, without stress.  

There’s a fantastic line from an even more fantastic movie, As Good As It Gets.  If you’ve seen it, you’ll likely remember the scene where Jack Nicholson is in the waiting room of his psychiatrist’s office.  After poking some fun at the variety of patients, he asks them: “Don’t you people realize?  What if this is as good as it gets?”  

As good as it gets.  That line spoke to millions of people, no doubt, and it was just one of many poignant yet wry lines from a phenomenal movie.  

It really spoke to me when I first saw it.  This is as good as it gets.  I can’t say I’ve always felt that way about my life; I’ve often felt the need for something more, or accomplishing the next goal.

The older I get, though, the more that line starts to resonate with me.  Maybe this really is as good as it gets.  Maybe I don’t need anything more.  Maybe all I really need is to just slow down and take it all in – flowers, butterflies, warts and all.  Maybe I just need more gratitude.  It’s life, and it’s happening all around me all the time.  And it’ll be over before I know it.   

So I’m slowing my flow and soaking up the summertime.  It’s alright to want more, but I must appreciate what I’ve already got right now.  Things don’t have to be “perfect” in life. As long as I have my breath, I have my body; and as long as I have a sound body, I have the opportunity to seize the day and make the most of my short time here on Earth. Having gratitude for life is really what it’s all about.

However you may be spending your Summer, I hope you’re enjoying it whole-heartedly. Whether you’re on vacation or not, we all can appreciate this time of year.

Now time is ticking; get after it!    

Some Songs I Wrote

I’ve been playing the guitar, singing, and writing songs since I was twelve years old.  The following is a set of my top 20 songs written thus far, and are from different ages and times in my life.  Most have chords to go with them, but I wanted to publish the lyrics as a start.  I’m not saying they’re any good, or sound any better when I sing them.  I also apologize to anyone who actually knows about songwriting that they’re probably not formatted correctly.  But I’ll tell you I’ve loved every second of writing and crafting them. Music is a passion that connects us all on a deep level, and I’ve always dreamed of being part of something greater than myself.  I hope you will find something you relate to in my words.  If you want to listen to some pretty old (and slightly embarrassing) recordings of a few of them, check out my relic of a MySpace page here.

Thank you for reading!

All songs written by Katrin Deetz.

**************************************************

“925” 

[Verse 1]

I am begging to shine

A light from deep inside

It’s been awhile,

But I know it’s still here in me

Dull and dusty, like old china

Resting on the shelf

In an abandoned house

Forever forgotten

[Pre-Chorus]

But I am sterling silver, 925

Polish me up and let me shine

[Chorus]

Shine, shine, shine burning light from the inside

Shine, shine, shine like 925

[Verse 2]

At the pawn shop,

All the others look so nice and shiny

Compared to me, I’m not sitting so pretty

Oh but I’m sterling silver, 925

A pretty good conductor of electricity

If you wanna give it a try

Dust me off, polish me up

Bring me into the light to shine

[Pre-Chorus]

[Chorus]

[Verse 3]

I am begging to shine, shine, shine

Like perfectly polished 925

Sterling silver so bright

Just like a mirror

Sometimes in life

We get a little dull

All we need’s a little bit of

Love to shine again

[Pre-Chorus]

[Chorus]

**************************************************

“Big” 

[Verse 1]

She was only eighteen, living a dream

Big dreams, big smile

Big plans, going somewhere

Passport to anywhere she wants to see

It’s time to celebrate living big

[Chorus]

How did fifteen years fly by like the night?

Somewhere along the way I gave up the fight

What ever happened to livin’ big?

[Verse 2]

Started with the rent check,

Became so much more

Just scraping by, forget about living the dream

Want to live big

But I’m just trying to survive

Years are flying by like the cars on Interstate 5

Relentlessly remind me I am running out of time

[Chorus]

[Bridge]

Is growing up growing out of your dreams?

I wanna live big, big, big

[Verse 3]

Thirty-three, so it be

All I have is now, it’s all on me to see

What I need to believe

That I did not let fifteen years fly by in the night,

No that’s simply not me

Finally I see, I am already

Living the dream

[Chorus – modified]

I don’t let time fly by like the night

I live my life…big

**************************************************

“Blank Slate” 

[Verse 1]

I looked ahead down the road today,

Turned around, smiled at how far I’d made it

When suddenly out of the warmth and grace,

Stared me squarely in the face, a blank slate

[Chorus]

Life’s looking me right in my eyes

I can’t just sit and watch the days pass by

Gotta go out on my own and fill that blank slate

[Verse 2]

Turned back down the old path for just one more day

Acted like the queen of the world, had so much to say

Then daybreak reared its pretty little head,

Time to move on face the music ahead

[Chorus]

[Bridge]

A giant vacant path lies ahead

Demanding my attention like a baby that just won’t go to bed

That glistening blank slate, so blinding

[Verse 3]

Years long ago, memories engraved in time

Like pictographs in desert stone

They’ve all got a story to tell

Now I’ve got a blank slate to fill, new picture to tell new stories

[Chorus]

**************************************************

“Breakthrough” 

[Verse 1]

Wanna shut the world away, be myself today

Need some faith, even just a taste

I’ve been livin’ in misery, stuck behind this wall,

Wanna tear the fortress down, watch it fall

[Chorus]

Breakdown, breakthrough

Make my way out to something new

Breakthrough, breakthrough

[Verse 2]

I can smell the roses, on the other side

Tease me like a little boy, go run and hide

Wanna the quiet the noise in my head,

Wanna live but I feel dead

[Chorus]

[Bridge]

Stone wall, but piece by piece not so strong

[Verse 3]

Eyes run dry like the Mojave sky

Can’t cry no more

I am nothing more than dust,

Time weathers me like rust

[Chorus]

**************************************************

“Barely Hanging On By A Thread” 

[Verse 1]

Wake in the morning, to the same old story

You’re lying on the couch, I’m getting ready for work again

It’s been a long year, of getting nowhere near ahead

He’s one in ten, out of a job

[Pre-Chorus]

And it feels like we’re hanging on, just a spider web in the wind

Loosely connected, I’m hoping that we make it

[Chorus]

(Cause now) I’m barely hanging on by a thread

Longing for the life we once knew

Barely hanging on by a thread, unraveling

[Verse 2]

I’ve been waiting, but my faith is fading

Away just like the sunset in your eyes

Don’t know whether it’s just the stormy weather

Or is it your fault we’re drowning in the rain?

[Pre-Chorus]

[Chorus]

[Bridge]

I can’t save you, I can’t make everything alright

Can’t fix it, though I’ve tried

[Verse 3]

I can’t change you, I can’t make you

Want to spread your wings and fly

You’re my best friend,

Nothing less than

The one I want to shoot across the sky

So when it feels like we’re hanging on,

Just like spider webs in the wind

Stay by my side, and I know that we’ll make it

[Chorus]

**************************************************

“Dominoes” 

[Verse 1]

I try to push it down below

But it’s everywhere I go

Wanna burn it all away, yeah

Send it out to sea

Let me get back to feeling like me

[Chorus]

(Oh) I need another distraction

To numb my reaction

I’m falling down like dominoes again

[Verse 2]

I walk the maze

My head in a haze

Just counting the days that you’ve been gone

It’s not enough, to say you messed up

You’re gonna pay the price for rolling the dice again

[Chorus]

[Bridge]

Time is up, I’ve had enough

Can’t fake it anymore

[Verse 3]

Try and stand up on my own two feet

Walk on and show the world I’m fine

Pretend that all my dominoes are lined up neatly

That I’m not suffering inside

[Chorus]

**************************************************

“Dream Legs” 

[Verse 1]

Dream legs, mushy feet dragging

Clumsily toward the unreachable end

Paralyzing every muscle

Bursting with anticipation

[Pre-Chorus]

Trying to run forward but still I remain

Treading water with my dream legs

[Chorus]

Dream legs, holding me down

It’s time to get a move on but I can’t get out

Stuck in these dream legs, dream legs,

Feels more like a nightmare

[Verse 2]

Frozen solid in my tracks

Feels like I keep sliding back

The light gets further away

Sinking into darkness and decay

[Pre-Chorus]

[Chorus]

[Bridge]

The siren is blaring, fire’s ablaze

Time to run, here’s your chance to escape

[Verse 3]

If life’s all about how you see things

Maybe my vision just needs adjusting

Maybe I’m not as stuck as I perceive

Maybe these dream legs aren’t my burden to carry

[Pre-Chorus]

[Chorus 2]

Set free from these

Dream legs, holding me down

Was paralyzed, but look at me now

Running like a horse let out the gate

Running free from those

Dream legs

**************************************************

“Glass Ceiling” 

[Verse 1]

Lately I’ve been feeling, oh

Just a little unsatisfied

Tired of waking up to the same old rut,

Living hand to mouth

And I’ve started believing it’s all I’m worth

Waiting for the payback that says I’ve made it

Wouldn’t it be nice if I could have a slice of the pie

So I can do everything I want to do before I die

[Chorus]

Staring up through a glass ceiling

Beneath the party, party, party where I belong

[x2]

[Verse 2]

I watch them all, celebrating their riches

Living like they’re the center of the world

Truth be told, I’ve had it both ways

And the richest one is the kindest one, always

But wouldn’t it be nice if I could have a slice of that pie

So I can do what I need to do before I die

[Chorus]

[Bridge]

The kindest one is the richest one

Happy with no strings attached, so free

[Verse 3]

Feels like treading water,

Every month a struggle

Living on a shoestring budget

Hoping the car doesn’t break down

So wouldn’t it be nice if I could have just

A little slice of that pie

Just another way to do all the things I wanna do before I die

[Chorus]

**************************************************

“Homeless” 

[Verse 1]

She opens up her eyes,

Suddenly aware of all the lies

She knows it’s time…

Memories fall, like waterfalls

Pouring down the cliffs of yesterday

Pouring down, down, down

[Chorus]

If home is in my heart, I can’t find it here

Jeckyl and Hyde, both screaming in my ear

I am homeless, homeless

[Verse 2]

By myself again,

Left you alone at the corner

Once together, now undone

History runs deep, but now feels so shallow

Just memories in the past, there is no now

[Chorus]

[Bridge]

I don’t know where my home is anymore

But I know it’s no longer with you

[Verse 3]

I hurt you like a lion kills its prey

Sharp claws are those words I say

They strike you down, lightning on the sea

You never saw this side of me

[Chorus]

**************************************************

“How Long?” 

[Verse 1]

I’m trying to shed my skin

I want to break out of this prison I’m in

Winter wind’s howling, leaves flying past

High tide’s rising, water’s coming fast

[Chorus]

How long?

‘Til I set myself free

Open my eyes, see the signs around me

It’s time to say goodbye, time to say goodbye

[Verse 2]

You sure like to tell me, how I’m almost good enough

If I just change who I am, then maybe you’ll give me your love

But now I see, your shadow’s come to light

Everyday’s just the same, it’s not worth the fight

[Chorus]

[Bridge]

My eyes are open wide, and there’s no reason now

It’s time for this bluebird to fly away, fly away

[Verse 3]

But I wake in the morning, to another cloudy day

To the silence between us, things we need to say

Held down in the blue water crashing overhead

Hold my breath and count to ten, somebody give me some air

[Chorus]

**************************************************

“I Can, So I Do” 

[Verse 1]

The sound of my voice

Never sounds good enough for me

Always straining for something more

Never seem to stay on key

But there’s a true love

I simply need to, I must

Even if I’m the only ears

Listening with rose-colored headphones

[Chorus]

But I can, so I do

Because I want to, need to, love to, have to,

I can, so I do

[Verse 2]

I push too hard

For your uh-huh

Trying to find where I stand among the crowd

Do I fit in here?  With the real housewives of Anytown?  

I find myself alone all the time,

Just me myself and I

Because I’d rather sing the truth

Even if it only falls upon my own ears

[Chorus]

[Verse 3]

With every single day that passes

Time’s running out for the things that we love

Like spring wildflowers, bursting with life

Then fading away

Though I may sing off key, though I may try too hard

As long as I’m here

I’ll be doing what I love to do

Because I absolutely need to

[Chorus]

**************************************************

“Only You” 

[Verse 1]

Only you can decide how you live your life

You gotta let your fears go, know it’ll be alright

You’ve got friends and laughter, it’s the good life you’re after

Just remember along the way…

[Chorus]

Only you can choose

To spread your wings and fly

Only you can choose

How to live your life

Only you, only you

[Verse 2]

May you learn it’s okay to be imperfect

Though you may struggle it’s all part of it

It’s never too late, to start over again

You can change your mind when things don’t go to plan

[Chorus]

[Bridge]

You’ve got everything you need

To do as you please

All the power’s deep inside you

[Verse 3]

The easy road is a thief in disguise

Robbing you from becoming wise

Take a stand for yourself, don’t wait for someone else

Your power lies inside you

[Chorus]

You’ve got everything you need

To do whatever you please

**************************************************

“Rising Above” 

[Verse 1]

My eyes are wide open, I finally realize

What it’s all about, Finally got it right

Feels like I’m making up for lost time

Thinking back on all the days I wasted, long gone

[Chorus]

Now I’m rising above you,

Taking back my time

Rising above your disguise

[Verse 2]

I was drowning, sinking deeper and deeper

I was hanging onto, my only friend

Now I’m no longer down, no longer your keeper

Feeling freer and freer, now you’re not around

[Chorus]

[Bridge]

Look at me now, Standing on solid ground, solid ground, solid ground

[Verse 3]

Now I’m seeing clearer and clearer, Living back in the real world

Feeling so good now that you’re not around, yeah

Better and better, beyond measure

Flying higher than ever, you’re not pulling me down

[Chorus]

[Verse 4]

I gave you years of my life, How quickly it passes by

Sneaking up on me like a cat stalking his prey

Little by little, my power just faded away

The light in my eyes dimmed to a smoky haze

So far away from myself, so consumed by you

[Chorus]

I’m in no hurry, taking my sweet time

**************************************************

“Roll the Dice” 

[Verse 1]

I rolled the dice, I didn’t think twice

Before I threw all my chips in

I took my pain and sent it through my veins

Rushing like a driving train

[Chorus]

It’s a long, long way, back home

To the love I had known

[Verse 2]

Stood in the rain, I just couldn’t explain

Everything I’s feeling inside

Crawled in my skin, committed a sin

Just looking for a place to hide

[Chorus]

[Verse 3]

Looked in the mirror, tried to see a bit clearer

The fire burnin’ from my eyes

Down on my knees, heart’s aching to breathe

Drowning in a sea of lies

[Chorus]

**************************************************

“Sick and Tired” 

[Verse 1]

Driftin’ along, got no place to be

My bank account’s steady losing steam

Gotta piece of paper, says I’m good enough

To get that dollar, but I ain’t seen a dime

[Chorus]

Hard times fallin’ on us

Standin’ in line, waitin’ for a piece of the pie

(But) the line keep’s on growin’, well

We’re just growin’ sick and tired (x2)

[Verse 2]

Everybody’s strugglin’, tryin’ to get by

One paycheck away from the poverty line

If it’s all relative, no we’re not poor

But to make it here, we need something more

[Chorus]

[Verse 3]

They’ve got a trillion dollars, throw it at their wars

Show each other who’s really in control

Once was a dream to have so much more

But now it’s all a memory

[Chorus]

**************************************************

“Song for AG”

[Verse 1]

Born under a bad son

Out of the pain he was the one to succeed

He was my lover, he was my friend

But now he’s reached the end

A confused and rebellious boy,

But he somehow made his way

But all the anguish led him to decay

[Chorus]

Fly away, somewhere you won’t be in pain

Fly away, somewhere you won’t drown in vain

Oh Adam, you know you’re cynicism kept you strong

[Verse 2]

Through all you masked to the world

I loved you even when you were cold

Cause deep inside you were warm

And that’s how I remember you

The boy at the football game

That I kissed behind the bleachers

You wouldn’t let me have white candy

On Halloween cause you knew it would hurt me

You really cared enough to stop me

[Chorus]

**************************************************

“South of Mission”

[Verse 1]

Like a headwind on your downhill

Where we live south of Mission

On the lower Westside

Where the homes are old

But neighborhood’s filled with pride

South of Mission

Cracks in our sidewalks

Boys hangin’ out in front of the liquor store


[Chorus]

We are South of Mission, where we call home

South of Mission, we’ve got heart and soul to give

South of Mission, that’s where we live

[Verse 2]

Head North up the highway

Not too far until the fancy cars

Land of castles, separated by just one mile

But it feels like you’ve gone to Mars

North of Mission, oh

The land of opportunity

North of Mission,

Where I’d kind of like to be

[Chorus]

[Verse 3]

Living so closely

To the world of the mighty high

Sometimes makes me feel like

I’m South of all those people up there

But South of Mission’s where

We’re down to Earth

Living each day for all its worth

South of Mission’s where our heart beats with love

[Chorus]

**************************************************

“Summertime Chime” 

[Verse 1]

Sittin’ in the shade, sun is creepin’ closer

Just another inch and I’ll have to move over

It’s hot as jalapenos on your tongue,

Hot as jalapenos in the sun

Wind!  Chimes!  Blowin’ in the wind

Chimes don’t rhyme with my musical rhyme

Wind!  Chimes!  Blowin’ in the wind

Chimes out of time with my musical design

[Chorus]

Summertime, summertime chimes (x2)

[Verse 2]

I’m kickin’ up my feet, not going anywhere

Spend the day just doing what I care

The birds in the trees all agree with me

Singing along in perfect harmony

[Chorus]

[Verse 3]

Wind!  Chimes!  Blowin’ in the wind

Chimes don’t rhyme with my musical rhyme

Wind!  Chimes!  Blowin’ in the wind

Chimes out of time with my musical design

[Chorus]

**************************************************

“Thirteen” 

[Verse 1]

Only thirteen, baby of three girls

Look into the mirror, see my dark eyes

Sinking into a velvet sea of escape

Makes it all feel better, til it fades away

[Chorus]

A skinny little girl looks in the mirror

Only thirteen, my perfect world is gone

[Verse 2]

Look into my eyes, I’m crying out inside

Save myself the pain, go for a magic carpet ride

I don’t feel a thing, floating high above

Until the morning crashes down

[Chorus]

[Bridge]

It’s not okay, I’ve lost myself in the storm

Need a lifeline

Somebody to save me from myself

[Verse 3]

Can I go back to the days, when I was just a little child

When the world was right, everything all right

But people die, mothers and even fathers cry

Our family’s broken, I’m holdin on to thin air

[Chorus]

**************************************************

“Yes You Are” 

[Verse 1]

Sometimes she gets tired, tired of being tired

Working at a dead-end job

Dreaming of a life,

She has visions in her mind

Living in a big house, traveling the world

She wants to be a rockstar, rocking hard

Rock, rock, rock star

[Chorus]

Yes you are, yes you are,

A real rockstar [x2]

[Verse 2]

Trying to make every dollar last

Stretch it out to connect the dots

Just think positive, Mama always said

But it’s hard to do when you’re living on a thread

She wants to be a rockstar, every night she’s rocking hard

Lost in a happy world, playing that guitar

[Chorus]

[Bridge]

She’s looking for an answer, looking for a savior

Doesn’t she know it’s all within her

Honey it’s time to rock and roll

[Chorus]

**************************************************

California Enduro Series MidTour Update: A Beginner’s First Mountain Bike Racing Season

This year, I am racing my first season of the California Enduro Series, or CES.  After years of riding, I am finally dipping my toes in the world of mountain bike racing.  I did the Sea Otter Classic enduro races the last few years, and the Santa Cruz Old Cabin Classic as my first races.  This year I committed to doing seven races: the 2017 Sea Otter (see previous blog post Flow of A Ride: Sea Otter Classic 2017), and six of the eight CES races.  I’ve been learning lots of valuable lessons along the way, and committing to the series has certainly changed the way I’m riding in my free time these days.  Now that I’m half-way through the series, I thought I’d take a moment to reflect upon my progress thus far.

CES Round 1: Mammoth Bar: May 6, 2017

On Saturday, May 6, the series kicked off at the Mammoth Bar OHV area near Auburn, California.  To get a sense of the race, watch this short Video Here.  

Pre-riding a course seems like an obvious thing to do before racing it.  I had rented a car on Friday, leaving work at 2:30 p.m. for Auburn.  Silly me.  The Bay Area traffic has become insufferable at certain times of day, proving to be the case.  I sat in line for the 680 North onramp from Mission Boulevard in Fremont for 25 minutes, moving literally about 10 feet, all the while watching SigAlert get redder and redder as the minutes crept on.  It would probably have taken me about six hours to get to Auburn with the traffic that lay ahead.  I decided then that I would turn around and go back home, forfeiting my opportunity to preride the course, but saving my attitude and happiness.  I was back home to Ben Lomond in less than an hour, and riding my bike that evening.  Of all the things in life that really bother me, which I’d like to think of as very few, traffic nears the top of that list.  In hindsight, I should’ve taken the day off of work and driven up in the morning when the roads were clear.  

Lesson #1 learned on this tour: go up the day before (or sooner) to preride the course whenever possible!  

I woke up at 4:30 a.m. the next morning, pouring my coffee and heading out by 4:45.  At that time of day, traffic is virtually non-existent.  As much as I hate waking up early, I admit I love this early hour for road travel.  I made it up to Auburn in a few hours, but got a tiny bit lost finding the Mammoth Bar OHV Trailhead where the race was due to start.  My GoogleMaps directed me to some park headquarters office a few miles down the road, so I hied it back to the actual start after calling my husband for some guidance, who was able to quickly look online at home versus me waiting for spotty mobile data to load on my phone.  By the time I found the trailhead, all of the racers were lining up at the start of Stage 1.  I parked my car, kitted up as quickly as I could, and set out up the steep, paved hill I’d just driven down to the start of the first stage.  

Upon my arrival, I was the last of a handful of Beginner Women, my racing category, lining up to start in 30-second intervals.  I exchanged a few brief hellos with the women, who seemed more welcoming and cool than my admittedly stereotypical presumption that most racers have some level of attitude: that in-your-face, I’m-better-than-you-and-I-know-it presence I’ve seen among some riders on the trail.  Perhaps this is just a misperception on my part, judging by how nice these girls were.  There were 10 of us total, and I went last.  The first stage was pedaly and relatively flattish, meandering up and down crumbled metamorphic rocks.  I passed one girl, and finished just behind another.  I felt pretty good for my first run in a new place.  

The Enduro racing format is based upon your cumulative Stage times, so once you finish a timed stage (you wear a computer chip to log your runs), you can relax a little on the untimed transfer stages in between.  I climbed what I heard others begrudgingly called the Mile of Terror, or something like that; it was essentially a relentless climb up a fireroad, which many people were pushing their bikes up.  I enjoy a good climb, so climbed that fireroad all the way up to the top without stopping.  Although it felt good to pass people on the way up (“They should have a category for fastest to the top!” I silently mused), it didn’t help me in the long-run: my Stage 2 start time wasn’t for two more hours.  2 hours to kill sitting around, watching the Pro’s, Experts, Sport, and Beginner Men’s categories all go before us.  There were water jugs and port-a-potties, and about a couple hundred riders waiting around in various groups.  People shared the 411 on their gear; debates about whether 27.5” or 29” tires were better for the course carried on.  A group of energetic teenage boys jeered each other playfully, poking fun and psyching themselves up.  One of them looked very familiar: it was my former student from the sixth grade, Conor!  Always a nice kid and a great athlete, I was happy to see him here at the race.  

“Miss Craig!” he recognized me.  I still love hearing my maiden name, seeing as how it’s barely been two years since I’ve been Mrs. Deetz.

We said “hi” and chatted about the race before I went down to a viewing area alongside the trail.  About thirty or so people were lined up along a drop in the trail, and the riders were coming through on the verge of control every half minute or so.  We all cringed as a few of them lost control and flew over their handlebars, eating dirt before quickly getting up and continuing along the course.  Lesson #2: If you fall but you can still ride, by all means get up and keep going.  Bruises, cuts, and scrapes can all be cleaned up, iced, and elevated later.  Surely you’ll know if you’re too hurt to keep on riding.  I’ve had a few minor falls in races now, and each time I hurried back onto my bike and kept going, losing ten seconds or less per time.  The end-goal would be not to fall at all during a race, of course.  But that’s simply not the reality for most riders, professional or beginner, I’m learning.

By the time the second stage was due to start, I was hungry, tired, and my muscles were cold and tight.  I’d been talking with the girls in my group, relaxing as we all agreed to have ghost riders for the rest of the race, since we were the last to go.  A “ghost rider” adds an extra 30-seconds behind you, so instead of the next racer starting 30-seconds behind you, they start one-minute later.  It reduces the chance of them catching up to you, which, for many of us beginners, can be a disconcerting feeling.  Being passed can be nerve-wracking.  You hear the buzz of the cassette coming toward you like a dragonfly; you immediately look for a safe place to quickly pull off the trail and let the approacher pass.  However, there aren’t always convenient places to do so, and it can be tricky to pass.  The few times I’ve been passed, I had good places to pull over, and clearly communicated that with the incoming rider, allowing them to flow past me without slowing down.  One of the things I get nervous about is interrupting someone’s flow by bogging on a pass.  So taking a ghost-rider is a great way to reduce that chance.  

The second, third, and fourth stages of the race all flowed like butter.  Despite being new to the trails, I felt at home on the style of mountainous terrain.  I really enjoyed the shale rock, dense yet crumbly, finely ground to a silt in the depths of trail corners.  The last stage #4 was the most fun: a flow-trail of well-banked berms and turns through oak woodland, finishing down at the race headquarters, where the smell of barbeque beckoned us from the hilltop.  

After finishing the race, I felt like I’d flown through it.  

“I think I might’ve won,” I thought to myself.  I had some lunch and hung around with people after the race before they announced they didn’t have it together to have a Podium awards ceremony that evening; I wouldn’t get to find out how I placed or if I won.  Around 4:45 that afternoon, I got in the car and headed home, feeling happy with how the day went.  

When I got home and saw Ron, I was telling him how the race went and how I felt like I might’ve actually won.  “By a minute and twenty-nine seconds?” he asked (he’d gone online and seen the results, clearly).  That’s when I knew: I had won first place!  Not only had I gotten first in my Beginner Women’s category, but I also would’ve placed first in the Sport 35+ category above that.  I jumped around my living room emphatically celebrating, pumped up like I’d won money or something.  This was my first time winning any kind of official race, and it felt amazing.  Finally!

After winning that race, I signed up for the rest of the series.  From that point on, I was committed.

Mammoth Bar 3Mammoth Bar 2

Mammoth Bar 1
480 is #1!

 

CES Round 2: Toro Park: May 27, 2017

Watch the Video Recap Here to get a sense of this course.

Toro Park is part of Fort Ord National Monument near Salinas, California.  I’ve ridden the trails of Fort Ord several times; the Sea Otter Classic is held across the park closer to Monterey.  These trails are notoriously sandy: loose, beach sand style pits sneak up on you and trap you; slide-outs on the corners are almost unavoidable.  Sand is not my favorite soil type to ride on.  The trails I ride in Santa Cruz are mostly a nice loam (clay, sand, and humus blend, heavy on the humus with all the redwood forest duff).  The clays compact and make the trails tacky and trustworthy. Sand, on the other hand, keeps you on your toes; you can’t fully relax riding in it, or you’ll likely fall (like I have, many times).  I’ve been riding a place called Bear Mountain near my house which is known for its sandy trails just to get better on the sand; it’s helped, but I’ve still got some work to do.  

I managed to pre-ride half of the course the Friday before the race; Ron (my husband) and I went down after work and rode stages 2 and 3 (there were 4 total stages).  

On race day, I showed up nearly late, again.  Lesson #3: Give yourself plenty of time to get ready for your race.  I hurried up to the start of Stage 1, and had a small slide-out in a sandpit.  I was fine, but my left elbow was literally sandburned.  I kept going, but was humbled by that fall from there on out.  I was more timid in my approaches, although I did get a stage win on Stage #2.  I finished the race feeling like I could’ve gone a bit faster, especially on the last stage, which was a pedaly surprise to me.  

I placed third in this race.  Although it was nice to place so high out of 16 women, it didn’t feel as good as winning first.  I admit I was a tiny bit disappointed.  But I only had myself to blame: I lived an hour away, but how much had I pre-ridden the course?  Just once, and only half the course.  Sand may not be my home in terms of dirt, but there’s only one way to get better at something.  Again: pre-ride whenever possible!

ToroPark1

CES Round 4: China Peak: July 1, 2017

Check out this video of the action: China Peak Recap

Of all the stops on the tour, China Peak loomed like a fogbank.  Stories of untrustworthy, loose rubble, and awful crashes sprinkled my narrative.  I’d never been there before, but heard it was one of the gnarlier stops on the CES tour.  Everyone from the pros to the beginners seemed to have a horror story to share about falling there, and on race-day, arm-slings, bloody clothes, and tales of flying over the bars were all the buzz.  Such a comforting way to begin a race somewhere new!  

I’d planned to drive up on Friday 6/30 to preride the course.  But snag after snag held me up at home, starting with snoozing my alarm at 6:30 a.m.  Slept in til 9:00; woke up to my back tire leaking air; 4th of July holiday weekend traffic was building up.  I basically blew my chance to get up early and preride.  The worst part was I would have to figure up how to make that four hour drive by 7:30 a.m. the next morning…

I woke up like a zombie at 3:30 a.m. Saturday morning; poured my coffee, jumped in the car.  No one was on the road, and I made it to China Peak in only 3.5 hours!  Epic time. Got my race-plates and wrist chip at check-in; attended the Racer Meeting at 7:45.  It was already hot and sunny, and the altitude of 7,000’ at the base of the mountain was reminding me to down more water.  Hydration is always one of my top priorities.  Water, water, water…just like a fish.

I had time to take a short one-hour power nap in the back of my Outback.  This helped recharge me for the race.  Our start time was 10:45 a.m., and at about 10:00 a.m. I loaded my bike onto the chairlift to get to the top of Stage 1 (this was the only stage of the race where we’d get to ride the lift).  I met some cool girls at the top of the stage who’d preridden (smartly so) the day before.  I got some trail beta from them: watch the deep, silty corners that can grab you; stay right on the rock garden section about half-way down; look out for the deep mudpits and board bridge at the bottom.  I had watched several YouTube videos of the race in the week prior, and felt intimidated by what I’d seen, and now what I was hearing from the girls.  I really felt like a dumb-ass in this moment for not making it up to preride.  Especially when I read it on the China Peak recap: “China Peak is not a place to ride blind”.  Duh.  But it was too late.

I made it down Stage 1 with relatively good flow and grace for being blind on it.  No falls or close calls.  The dirt surely was loose and kept me far back on my bike, but so far, so good.  Stage 2 was a bit harder, but I felt more comfortable on the terrain by this point. Upon finishing the second lap, the climb up to Stage 3 presented itself like a laughing clown: “Haha, all you mountain bikers who think you’re in such great shape!  See how you do against my wall of a crumbly climb in this heat, at this altitude!”  I’d heard it was a tough climb, and it proved so right away.  People were pushing their bikes up the steepest sections (myself included); the little amounts of shade that spotted the trail were occupied by weary, sweaty riders trying to regain their composure.  

By the time I made it to the top, I was definitely feeling exhausted from my alpine start and long morning.  I felt like I could take a nap.  I sat for about 20 minutes in a shady spot, eyes closed every now and then, to just really unplug and rest.  This might’ve been the wrong move, however.  By the time I lined up for my last lap at the top of Stage 3, I felt too relaxed, tired, and hungry: all I could think of was food waiting for me at the bottom of the mountain.  To add to my feeling of being underprepared, riders started telling me about the lap: it was the hardest lap of our race (mind you the Pro’s and Experts also road a 4th and 5th stage, which were even harder), and lots of people had crash stories from a particularly challenging rock garden section.  Awesome.  All I could do was try it and do so within my limits; I didn’t want to lose control and crash.  

I started Stage 3 with loose, tight turns, and about halfway down the mountain, the granite started to appear.  Entering the rock garden, I thought to myself, “Keep right”.  I was far left, however.  There was a crowd of people lined up alongside the trail watching and cheering, which can be distracting.  I lost my flow and grace and took a little fall here, nothing bad but enough to lose about 10 seconds.  Quickly got back on the bike to keep going, but as anyone knows who’s fallen, it’s sometimes harder to get going again once you’ve lost that flow.  Sure enough, I took a small fall again just a few feet later.  Argh!  Another 10 seconds lost of recombobulating myself.  Surprisingly, I navigated the rest of that rock garden with some poise, actually taking a graceful line down one of the sketchiest sections.  Some redemption for my falls at the top.  There was a huge boulder at the end which you had to ride straight over the top of, or risk falling down the side of if you weren’t careful.  Cut over that like a waterski on water, nothing slowing me down.  Kept on until the finish of the stage a few minutes later, where I happily rested with some food and water among the finishers.  

I placed #2 in this race, not bad for riding it blind on little sleep.  I stuck around for the podium awards for my first time, and got to stand up there with my fellow Beginner Women to get our awards.  I was happy with my results, and contentedly exhausted.

There is nothing quite like the feeling of being done with a race.  I think it might be one of the best feelings around.  Before a race, there is so much anticipation.  Not quite anxiety-inducing, but enough to keep you up thinking about all the different variables (What’s the dirt like?  What kind of tire pressure would be best?  I hope I do well!).  There is so much preparation: booking hotels or campsites; planning the drive; packing up the car; bringing back-up supplies just in case; mentally making sure you’re feeling confident, calm, and in charge.  So by the time the race is actually done, that relief is a huge reward.  It just feels so good to finish something you started!  Especially something hard.

ChinaPeak2

ChinaPeak1
After the race
ChinaPeak3
Podium

As I reflect upon my race progress halfway through the CES, I’m definitely learning a lot on the way.  Not just practical lessons (like the importance of preriding a course), but emotional, mental, and physical lessons as well.  The obligation of having to do something?  I admit it’s made me rebel subconsciously; I find myself making excuses here and there for not riding.  When I’m supposed to do something, I have a tendency to rebel against it, which is funny, because I’m the only one telling myself I’m supposed to!  It’s not like anyone’s making me do these races.  I find my old rebellious ways coming back, and I have to laugh at myself; more importantly, laugh and then get back on the bike.  I’ve had to remind myself that regardless of how I place in these races, I love riding, and that’s really all that should matter.  Yet adding in the element of race-training has definitely changed my rides a bit.  I work harder; I try to climb faster.  Tightroping between your top speed and staying in control is a constant balancing act for any rider. Surely, speed is important for winning a race.  But it’s nothing without the control and grace to get you to the bottom in one piece.  

I am not overly concerned about being the “best” rider out here.  My main challenge with racing at the moment is purely mental: how can I tune out the background noise and distractions?  How can I bring my A-game to any venue, anywhere, in any conditions, and still demonstrate flow and grace?  How can I focus on riding my best, despite how my competitors are riding?  Learning to just stay in my zone is one of my main goals during this competition.  

Occasionally I wish I’d gotten into mountain bike racing at a younger age.  Looking at the U-18 groups of teens, and I can see myself among those boisterous, youthful riders.  I don’t spend a lot of time regretting things that can’t be changed in the past, but do sometimes wonder where I’d be if I’d started this journey at a younger age instead of 36 years old.  I suppose the same could be said about other hobbies and interests.  But at least I am trying now.

I currently rank #2 overall in the Beginner Women category, and would love to finish in the top 3 by the end of the series.  Here’s hoping!   Of course, I would love to “prove” myself competitively.  Winners are determined by taking your top 6 race results (out of the 8 total races).  I have three more stops on the tour: Round 5: Big Bear “Crafts & Cranks” Enduro, Round 6: NorthStar, and Round 7: Kamikaze Bike Games in Mammoth.  Until next time…back out to the trails!