When I look down at my bare legs, my quads bulge out above my knees. Tan lines at the bikini line, mid-thigh and just above the ankle. My right knee is badly swollen and itchy with road rash. My back in sunburnt. My hair is all roots and split-ends. My arms are covered in little scratches from a mischievous kitten. The scratches have turned brown from the sun tanning the unhealed skin. I’ve never taken care of scars because scars remind me I can take care of myself. That is, when I’m not wrapped up in being someone else.
My thighs feel thick when I walk lately, like swinging barrels beneath me. Tired, but capable. I woke up at 5:45 am today to Finn biting my nose. If I don’t get out of bed when he does this, he’ll start to bite my ankles. Light doesn’t reached my French doors that early, so I made instant coffee and ate a small bowl of cereal while standing in the kitchen to stay awake. Finn drank from the faucet, and I ran through a ride checklist, staring at my bike.
I know a lot of people who ride their bikes in LA, cyclists. I have a few of their phone numbers and their emails, but at 5:45, I didn’t want to meet up. I didn’t want to start easy or make conversation or pick a route. I just wanted to ride. I wanted to lose my breath and feel the power that comes from syncing your cadence with the beat. I wanted to get lost. I wanted to escape. I wanted to capitalize on the oddly foreign feeling of optimism that was coursing through my veins this morning. Foreign because today was the first day in some time that I woke up excited. You have to be careful with that feeling, she’s delicate and simple, the soufflé of emotions. You need to tend to it, manage it, or it deflates into something like disappointment, discouragement, dis-what-have-you. And I had had enough of that.
I had been feeling the metaphorical and literal weight of the bullshit I was carrying for months. My shoulders slunk as higher and higher numbers on the trainer, on the blog, on all the media no longer met the expectations I set for myself. Alcohol was a convenient cover-up for not training hard enough. Heartache was a convenient cover-up for throwing back drinks. Work, just a cover-up for how miserable the other two made me. And all of it allowed me to be disproportionately disappointed in myself in relation to what was causing the disappointment. I wrapped up in the alcohol and the work and the heartache like a blanket of lowered expectations for life and myself. I wasn’t living up to what people wanted from the blog, or how far my teammates could ride, or any of the other haphazard constructs that I felt were being projected on me, and man, was I taking it hard.
Years ago, maybe eight?, sometime after my parents moved to Idaho, I visited them during a break from college. My father and I loaded two mountain bikes into the truck and drove to the Green Belt that ran through the city. Eight years ago I was not a cyclist. I was just a girl riding bikes with her dad through the park. As we rode, a gap closed slowly between us and a young woman on her bike in front of us until we were on her tail and I slowed slightly, adjusting to her speed.
“Pass her. Don’t let someone else set your pace.”
I pushed forward and overtook the girl I had been tailing.
The words turned themselves over and over in my mind, spinning like a weathervane, melding into the mantra that would soon become my own.
I remember the happiest moment of my life very clearly. I can feel it like a shudder when the air smells like water-logged wood and salt. No one took a picture of it, no one was there. I didn’t Tweet about it, or write a post for Facebook. I just thought to myself, “you should remember this.” And I did.
I was 23, it was 86 degrees F, and I had just quit the job that made me sallow and depressed. I had sent a resignation letter via email to my boss, too frightened of his explosive anger to quit in person. I had tried that once, and he hadn’t let me. And what could I say to anyone? Living that privileged life on a resort, fresh out of college - it had to have been my fault I wasn’t succeeding at the job, it had to have been my fault he was so unpredictably angry with me, it had to have been my fault I was so miserable. I kept trying. And I kept running to the top of the mountain at 4 pm every day to be somewhere no one could hear me cry. Six months in, it didn’t matter what my parents thought about me quitting my first job, it didn’t matter what people expected my experience to be, it didn’t matter I was going to be penniless and without health insurance in a foreign country, it didn’t matter I’d been an adamant rule-follower forever – all that mattered was getting out of there. So I sent the email. In response, he demanded I leave the island immediately.
And for the first time, instead of bitterly doing what I was told, I thought to myself, “fuck that.”
I hastily sent an email from the office computer to some recently acquired acquaintances. Sir Richard Branson owned the neighboring island, Necker, and had made a habit of hiring the most beautiful and charismatic people you’ve ever met. People wildly intimidating to me. But they would come to my island and light up the night, dancing and laughing, and you could see their camp-like romances cropping up in the corners of the bar. I wasn’t one of them, and I knew I never would be, but they were my only hope. I needed a place to stay, to hide, and after being evicted from the grounds where I lived, having my cell phone taken from me, my old laptop crippled with water damage, with only a bag of discount store dresses and flip-flops, one of those charismatic Necker kids replied to my plea and hesitantly offered me refuge in the basement of an under-used and dilapidated staff house. Down a set of unkempt and uneven steps of stone, you would pass the entrance to the main house and continue on to the basement. The wood was weathered beyond repair, the sliding glass doors no longer slid, there was no shower curtain, no sheets on the bed, there were spiders and abandoned cleaning supplies in every corner. Outside the doors, hidden in the overgrowth was a rotted dock. It could precariously support the silent footsteps of a 23-year-old girl in hiding.
It was perfect.
I scrubbed the floors and the shower and swept up all the cobwebs. I put the single fitted sheet I had over the musty mattress, putting the one stuffed animal I kept in my suitcase for comfort in the center. A little brown horse, about eight inches long. It was a gift from my friend Mary from when my horse Snicker had died. Snicker’s death was sad, but not devastating. I kept the stuffed animal not so much as a reminder of the horse, but as a reminder that people like Mary, people thoughtful and kind, actually existed. In the shower, I hung the flag of the islands as the curtain. It was old and weathered and had been given to me by a Captain who had no use for it after replacing it with a brighter, newer flag. The flag had weathered enough storms to weather a shower. A slightly less mighty position than flying on a 60-foot catamaran, but no less loved, surely.
Things were cleaner. Not shiny, barely livable, but I was safe and harbored with a bed and a dock and a shower. I collapsed onto the bed and extended my limbs, curling my fingers up in the excess of the queen-sized sheet on the full-sized bed. I rested my head on the little brown horse, the only pillow I had. I didn’t have a phone or a laptop or a job or money or any semblance of a plan for the future and I squirmed and giggled and nearly ruptured with joy.
I had turned out to be a total failure – broke, unpopular, jobless – and it was the happiest I have ever been.
A few times in my life I captured an essence of this feeling, but never quite in the snapshot way of the first time. I think its rarity lies in that moment being the first time I never owed anything to my parents, to a school, to a job, to anyone. It was the first time I had done whatever I wanted. Truly, whatever I wanted, without considering anyone else’s opinion or the consequences.
It was the first time I wasn’t remotely bothered with anyone’s pace but my own. I needed to go slower then. And I had needed to go slower a few months ago. Gearing down into the speed that allowed me to climb the mountain I alone could see. When I’m intimidated by someone else’s success, when people say maybe I should take it a little slower, when I’m just not ready to give up quite yet. Don’t let someone else set your pace. When people post baby photos, job promotions, engagements, race times, diet plans, re-blogs, retweets, redesigns, renewed leases, renewed vows, re-done bathrooms, torn out kitchens, torn up contracts, taped up boxes, and tallies on life’s smallest achievements, don’t let someone else set your pace.
Don’t let them rush you. Don’t let them restrain you. Don’t let them tell you that it’s too late or you’re not ready. If you need sleep on a Friday night, take it. If you need a drink or four on a Tuesday night, get it. If you need to keep going, do. If you need turn around, turn. If you need a break from life, block as many of the mind-cluttering websites and people you can. If you need to get back into high gear, absorb all of the music and fun and suffering you need to get you there. Don’t let them say you should be further along. Don’t let them say you should be happy with what you have. Don’t let their expectations of you cloud your expectations of yourself.
Your finish line is different. Your half-way point is somewhere else. And when you become obsessed with what people expect of you, with the image you think you need to project, you lose the ability to surprise them. You lose the ability to surprise yourself.
Reset. Figure out what it is you want for yourself. And the next time someone tries to set your expectations for you, smile, walk away, and say, “fuck that.”
7:06 pm • 22 July 2014 • 226 notes
Anonymous said: How many times have you fallen in love? Is it always better than the last time?
Love is supposedly getting wrapped up in someone else, but it’s really tripping into a labyrinth of yourself. Sometimes you’re lucky enough to step into a room that brings you joy and kindness and strength with indoor waterfalls and couches like clouds, to find the switch that lights up every corner in the house. Sometimes you explore long, twisted hallways with compelling arches that lead you deeper and deeper into yourself ‘til you’ve lost your way and all you can do is run your hands along the wall hoping to find a door to let you out. Some people find the light switch first. Some people never do. But when we step into someone else, we inevitably get lost in a part of ourselves we never have before.
It’s the lessons you take from each trip that can make the following better, or worse. There are parts of the house I don’t care to see again and parts I never would have found without getting lost with someone else. Insecurities that needed to be aired out. Passions that needed to be opened. Our relationships with people are what help us build and discover our home. And I am happy to live in the house I’ve made forever, but I dream of the rooms someone else might unlock, that someone still could.
But it’s still your house. And the quality of the life you build in it is determined by how well you take care of it, by the effort you put into it.
Every time I’ve fallen in love, it’s not that the love has been better, it’s that I have been better able to love. It’s that I’ve torn down walls and lit up dark hallways and aired out old shame and cleaned out old losses. It’s that I’ve made space for someone and I’ve made it beautiful and I’ve made this house a home that I love and I cherish.
The hardest part for me is when I love the way the light comes in and the way floorboards creak and the way the kitchen is just a little too small and then I let someone in who says, “this house is so wonderful, this house is so perfect, though the light comes in early, and the floorboards are loud, and that kitchen is really too small.” Because then the things that I love turn from quirks into flaws and I find myself tweaking the things I found charming because someone thought the rest was good enough to stay.
This is your home to live in forever and by god, you better make it good. But make it good for you and when buyer after buyer says it’ll do, so no thanks, because you’re looking for someone who thinks it’s beautiful too.
That’s how love gets better. When you love yourself better.
12:09 pm • 15 July 2014 • 120 notes
Anonymous said: Hey so is this blog dead?
For years, this blog has been such a great way for me to feel like I play a part in empowering women. And recently, something cool happened in my life where I got to take this pursuit off the screen and into the world: I got chosen to be part of Rapha’s Women’s Ambassador program.
Yadda, yadda, you guys know that. Look, there’s even a fancy press photo of me for it:
(Same face I make at guys in bars.)
So Rapha whisked me away to sleep-away camp with a handful of incredible women (downhill mountain bike racers! Olympians! National Champions! and um…a dating blogger?) and I have never been so intimidated in my life. I dubbed myself the token novice because once we hit the road, I wanted a built-in excuse that allowed me to not keep up, padding my embarrassment by playing the jester.
But let’s be real, I was straight-up scared.
I was scared of them judging me, of wondering why I was there, of forgetting I was there.
And I pushed myself harder physically that weekend than I ever have.
That’s a lie.
I pushed myself relatively hard and then slunk down like a child behind their mom anytime the challenge looked like too much. (22% grade on Paseo Miramar? You bet your untoned-ass I walked my bike up that hill.)
The weekend finished with new friends and new goals, but I felt like a disappointment. I felt like a fraud. (Oh, shit, it’s like annfriedman said, I have impostor syndrome.) What, other than luck, had earned me a spot with those champions? That thought lingered with me. And after ignoring all the wonderful people who
were trying to get me to shut up said I had earned it, I figured the only way to ease my mind was to become the woman I believed would have earned the spot.
So I got on my bike. 6 am training schedule. Goal of 120 miles a week. Spinning on the stationary bike during the day at work. Switching back into my kit after work to spin more. Going to sleep at 10 pm on weekend nights so I could slam out 70 miles the next day. Emailing these people, tagging that, texting those people, creating routes and nutrition plans, trying to be a leader in my community by recruiting, offering to take out newbies, lending out my gear, my bikes, my time. And fuck, do I miss getting shit-faced with my friends. I miss brunch. I miss sleeping in so much. Like I would give up orgasms for three months to just be able to sleep in for a week straight.
There’s this one ride in LA along one of the man-made concrete river paths that I’ve been using to track my progress. It’s a six-mile stretch. These are my times since January:
I shaved five minutes off a six-mile stretch. And right now, I hold the time as the fastest woman to have recorded her time on Strava on that stretch, out of 180 women. And I fucking earned that. (By the way, if we include guys, I’m 49th out of 1527 people.)
This sounds like bragging, or how-to-make-people-hate-you-on-the-internet, but cycling changed my life. I couldn’t get behind the wheel of a car or stand at the altar of a friend’s wedding or get on an airplane without sobbing from anxiety before cycling. I was broken, and it fixed me. And then someone was like, “would you like to be part of a program that encourages women to cycle?” and all I heard was, “would you like to save other women?”
And I said yes. Every ounce of energy that doesn’t go into paying my bills has gone into that.
So the blog isn’t dead. And god damn do I wish that after a hard ride I could just sit down and write something awesome. But lately, that just hasn’t happened. I feel really strongly that if I don’t have something wonderful to share, that it’s not worth sharing anything at all. And when I have gone against that instinct and written a post just to throw something up here, it’s been embarrassing and waste of my and your time.
Maybe you’ve spent a cumulative of five minutes (maybe) checking to see if there’s new content over the past few months, but I’ve spent weeks writing… well, crap. Take a look around my Google docs (please don’t.) It’s a graveyard of posts-that-could-have-been. I’ve been trying and nothing, man nothing, is coming out as “you know who might like reading this? The internet.”
It’s a bummer, guys. Like, a real soul-crushing bummer.
And what do I do when I feel soul-crushed?
Get on my bike.
So come to LA. You can borrow one of my bikes and I’ll tell you everything I haven’t found a way to write down. Like how I got picked up in a Ferrari for a fried-chicken date. Or how my own ignorant prejudices against mental illness have created a rupture in my family life. Or how I have muscles in my shoulders I have never seen before. Or how my grandma ends every phone call with “have a nice life!” because woman is so psyched to meet God and see her husband. Or how my ex is only sort of my ex some of the time. Or how I got kinda handsy with a girl at a club. How Finn bites my nose to wake me up, how I felt when I found out I have so many cysts!, how I’ve been practicing pulling out and extending my bike pump in one swift motion to turn it into a weapon, how I’ve been saving money, how I’ve been spending money, how I’ve been emailing my editor all the time with limited response, how worried I am about the book, how badly I want to succeed at cycling, how bored I am with my job, and how I finally perfected beach hair.
Or you could just keep checking the blog.
I’ll be here either way.
4:15 pm • 10 July 2014 • 85 notes
Anonymous said: I love the advice you give, you have been such an inspiration. My question is about a guy I just started dating. I've known him for years but just recently have gotten back in contact. We went on a date. I, with no self control, internet stalked him first and found out he just had ended a long term relationship. I thought, a date is a date. But midway through, he gets a phone call from who I think is his ex. He says he'll call said person back later. Is this worth pursuing?
It couldn’t have been his mom? His sister? His step-father? His realtor? His landlord? His roommate? His drug dealer? His parole officer? His colleague? His intern? His web designer? His bestie? His worstie? His vet? His doctor? His grandma? His second date of the evening?
Even if it was his ex, did he say I love you? Get up and leave? Start crying? Talk on the phone in front of you? Carry on as if you weren’t there? Tell her they’d get back together after this date was over?
I think it’s worth taking a deep breath and remembering that if it was his ex, he didn’t choose that call over you. And a phone call from an ex could be about: her picking up her things, that he owed $35 for the last cable bill, that the dog they had together made it out of surgery OK, that she’d run into his mom at the market and it was super awkward, that she found his favorite sweatshirt and dropped it off at his place.
It could have been any person about any thing. If you’re going to be spinning stories, at least spin fun ones.
That, or ask him what he’s looking for. If he says, “I just got out of something serious so I’m just looking to have fun,” then you can make an educated decision about whether he’s worth pursuing, instead of just blindly throwing spaghetti at the wall in the dark.
1:19 pm • 21 June 2014 • 29 notes