Ch-ch-ch-changes

Time goes by pretty fast if you don’t take the time to look around.

(Time also goes by Clichepretty fast after 40.. how is it almost July??? And where are my glasses).

Grey hair, sore knees, sad eyes and that’s just the dog. Its true I’m starting to resemble him these days, but I refuse to resort to spending my days lying on the sofa farting and snoring… no matter what I feel like.

A few data points from the last year or so to catch you up:

  • 3 new bosses, 13 keynotes, 6 conferences, 18 town halls, 300+ powerpoints and 1TB of new content created.
  • 2 heads of state, 2 ambassadors, 6 tech icons and many of the Fortune 100 CEOs. (Favorite was the Dutch Prime minister who was delicious, weird and still lives with his mother. Wonderful manners).
  • $$$$$ earned. I mean ridiculous.

And in non work life;

  • 11 procedures via 2 shoulder surgeries, 32 weeks of PT, knee cartilage busted
  • 7 glorious weekends in St. Helena, CA
  • 3 dates with men who turned out to be married.
  • 3 apartment moves
  • 1 old flame
  • And I finally saw BRUCE in concert (Springsteen not Hornby and the Range)

And the best thing of all?

I realized I prefer working with and being around nice people over most everything else.

Life is just too short to run behind Mr.Big in 4 inch heels hoping that you’re having some positive impact on someone somewhere. No matter the astonishing people you meet, the innovation you’re absorbed in, the resources available and the learning you do… nothing beats working with a team of people who have your back, who treat you well and who share your values. Seeing the impact of your work. Having a team who knows you and doesn’t think its weird when you lend a hand, offer or ask for help. It makes all the difference.

I’m sure this reads like every cliché in the book.. but its been an eye-opening, life changing 18 months for me.  I’ve always been independent, up for an adventure and embracing of change.. and this time might be the ultimate challenge. Putting my values first and building the life I want around them.

Now.. does anyone have a use for some slightly used high heels?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the road again

santa-cruz-skateboardsEver the wandering non-Jew, I’m celebrating the season by once again packing up and moving to a new zip-code. I personally think its a GREAT way of avoiding dusting or ever cleaning the oven, but frankly this time its motivated by a need to find my tribe. Some friends. A life outside of work, and tech and Teslas.

My current locale has much in common with a Ferrari. Everyone agrees that its beautiful, but its bloody expensive, ridiculously ostentatious and its not exactly the ‘go to’ to for a single chica with tats and financial challenges. I look like everyone else’s dog walker.

So I’m heading over the mountain to the promised land. Aka Santa Cruz. The land of the Banana Slug. Where I can walk to the beach, ride my bike to the bar and my dog can watch for whales, seals and seagulls all damn day long.

Populated by students, dropouts, hippy throwbacks, surf addicts, completely normal people and mountain biking fanatics, its also a place where I’ve experienced a lot of positive things. Christmas on the beach. Girlie friendship. The psychotic reaction of my dog to a dolphin. Insane downhill. The ability to breathe out. Strangers telling me how to cure mange while exploring rock pools- (no mange here but now I have the cure!).

Suffice to say, its my kind of weirdos.

I know the common denominator in my moves is me, and I’d be the first to admit if I was trying to escape something, but actually this is more of a ‘find’. Finding the trees, air, beauty and silence of Colorado.. but next to the ocean and peppered with friendly folks with a 70s vibe. Finding my tribe of peeps who don’t judge, who disappear on a surf day and who let you turn right without laying on the horn. Who knows.. maybe I’ll find a dude who gets me, some friends to hang with and the secret of eternal life for my dog.

But first I just need to deal with the reality of sand in everything.

Coward Seeking Adventure

guzzi girlI started my “career” at the tender age of 21 on November 7th, 1994 in London. Wide-eyed, broke as all get out and thrilled at the thought of finally, finally being able call myself grown up. Flash forward 21 years and I’m thinking it might be time for a holiday. An adventure. You know, a gap year. Like everyone else had at 17. I think a break every 21 years is only fair.

Now I don’t have strong urge to sight-see with lots of people, and lying on beach sounds attractive for about 2 days, so I’m thinking a holiday would need to be more of an adventure. A trek. Something Wild-ish or Eat.Pray.Love (without the navel gazing). Something active, maybe a bit scary, definitely boundary pushing. Out of my comfort zone. Something that helps me figure out what I’m made of (other than tea bags).

Inspired by a colleague who recently took off to sail around the world, I pondered my options should I actually find a few weeks or months on my hands.

OPTION 1: A long long long hike. Like the Pacific Coast Trail. Or something a couple of hundred miles at least.

Pro: I’d have legs of steel, I like hiking and I have all the gear.

Con: Bears. Snakes, Mountain Lions. And weirdos who kill women on long hikes.

Pro: I could do it anywhere and it wouldn’t cost me tons of cash

Con: I could wind up dead from hypothermia, bear mauling or a bullet from a psycho

Pro: I might write an award-winning novel about finding myself which would get made into a movie starring someone you’ve never heard of because I don’t look like anyone on the TV

Con: Cheryl Strayed locked that shit up. And I can’t find a pen in an office. Never mind on a trail.

Conclusion: Potential for death = Medium. Cost= Low. Excitement Level = Low. After all.. its walking. A lot.

OPTION 2: A cross-country motorcycle ride. Like across a country. (UK excluded as I could probably do it in a day and it would rain the entire time).

Pro: See Ewan McGregor’s Long Way Down, and Long Way Round. Motorcycles. Camping. Exploring. Off-road. Awesome.

Con: I don’t know how to fix my bike and it only has a 130 mile gas tank. I’d be out of gas before I left my county. My longest ride this year was 75 miles.

Pro: Bike takes $7 to fill up.

Con: Bike tips over if I load it up with more than a laptop and me.

Pro: Bikes go faster than bears.

Con: Psychos can also ride bikes. Or drive into bikes. Or shoot at bikes.

Conclusion: Potential for death = High. Cost = Medium (my guzzi’s parts all need to come via Italy) . Excitement Level = AWESOME.

OPTION 3: India.. anywhere by train

Pro: Yoga. Indian Food. Indian People. Indian Culture. Plus they don’t use wheat flour.

Con: Ummmm??? Samosas?

Pro: Cheap. Like really cheap.

Con: Full of 17 year olds on their gap year smoking hash and talking about saving the world

Conclusion: Potential for death = Low. Cost = Medium (that flight isn’t going to buy itself), Excitement level = Medium/High (India!)

OPTION 4: Take six months to ponder options, solicit friends who actually do travel and plot new adventure which involves Indian food, minimal psychos and motorcycles.

Pro: Sensible, mature, thoughtful

Con: I’m not sensible.

So it looks like me and a bike in India if I find myself with some time on my hands.

India doesn’t have bears right?

The little things

006It’s been a tricky year in my new locale. New job, new company, new town, new state, new weather, new trails, new friends and weirdly no new men.

Trying to build life in a new place, amongst people who can’t tell you apart from a hole in the wall, and don’t have time to ask your name, well its pretty challenging. Doing it with a dog helps (especially when he looks slightly retarded like mine) but overall everything from finding a grocery story, new routes for an easy ride or even where to take visitors for a good meal can mean hours online, polling of work colleagues, and at least 3 U turns on the way to everywhere.

How I don’t have a ticket yet in CA is beyond me. The cops must be BLIND.

Along with all of this life building, I’ve been challenged by long hours at work, resistance from natives who resent us ‘new folks’ driving up rental prices, and for the last 5 months, a bum shoulder that refuses to heal.

I never realized how important that thing at the end of my collarbone was until now. Who knew?

Mainly I’ve missed my friends. All of the people who I knew well, or just slightly, but who at least knew my name. Knowing where the best taco truck is. And the bad sushi.

Finding friends in a new city, a new state is really f-ing hard at 40 something. It takes patience. Time. Extraversion. The ability to appear likeable over a 90 minute period.

See..??? Hard.

But since I’m British (well British-American), I vowed on this, my one year anniversary, to keep plugging away, looking at the palm trees and delighting in the little things I love about my new locale.

Like the motorists who pull over to let you lane split. The seals who watch my dog as he swims for a ball. The smell of the beach on a Friday afternoon. Fresh fish that wasn’t flown anywhere. Riding in redwoods. Motorcycling  on curved mountain roads built for my Guzzi. The Golden Gate bridge anytime.

The little things can be breathtaking.

I miss my old home town, I miss my friends and I miss a reasonable mechanic who isn’t out to fleece me. But as long as there are phones and planes, and the temperature never dips below 50… I’m building my Californian home.

I’ll just have to start dating my mechanic.

Next up.. a plague of locusts

FloodSo the move to CA hasn’t exactly been what one could term ‘smooth’. Not unless smooth comes with pointy sharp bits, lots of water, electrical shockage and way too much time spent at Walgreens. On the plus side, they’re clearly putting crack in the water because I AM LOVING IT.

Read on.

I arrived after 19 hours of stare-it-tude (lord, Nevada looks like one long post-apocalyptic aftermath) and not a small amount of rain. Surprising since my research on South bay indicated low rainfall and extreme sun at all times. In fact, it was one of the reasons I decided to make the move. Lots of lovely dry warm sun.

Ha.

It’s not stopped since I arrived.

But I digress. My first night, I unrolled my air mattress, my sleeping bag, brewed up some tea and toasted my new citizenship with a disgruntled and somewhat damp dog at my feet.

‘Tomorrow, we’ll take a long walk, get in some food, chill out and just be mellow’. The dog looked at me sadly,  clearly hoping that non of the above involved any more driving.

We woke to more rain, but hey, being outside and not freezing my butt off was awesome. An hour later, we headed home for a big breakfast and to get a start on the day.

As I turned the corner of my apartment I heard rushing water and thought ‘oh how lovely, they have a water feature’.. Which they did. It was my apartment.

Due to a faulty mains pipe, while I’d been out with the dog wallowing in a balmy 58 degrees, the pipe had burst and my possessions were currently floating around in 6 inches of water. As I opened my door, my air mattress, now serving as water float, carried my sleeping bag onto the sidewalk. I watched my prescription bottles bobbing around, along with last nights underwear and my balled up pjs. Quelle horror.

My neighbors were similar afflicted. Dodging the large chunks of ceiling that were now raining down on our heads, we ran in and out of each others apartments, grabbing anything not ruined or waterlogged in hope of saving anything. Thankfully my laptop, my gun and one pair of underwear were dry. What more could one need?

My neighbor was crying at the loss of her wedding pictures while all I could think was ‘what a GREAT way to meet your neighbors’. Glass half full…? Or maybe just good medication? Needless to say, after a few nips of Oban whiskey (survived unscathed), she seemed less fazed by the whole thing too.

Within a day we were relocated to new apartments, slightly PTSD scarred and on high alert for anything sounding like running water. Which is when CA decided to really give some fun.

Day 1 – Apartment floods

Day 2 – Dishwasher decides that it no longer needs water to operate and commences cleaning via just heat. Handyman fixes dishwasher. Dishwasher then floods the new apartment. Everything recently dry near the floor, now wet again.

Day 3 – Fridge making sounds like the Tardis. Handyman turns off fridge for the day. All food ruined. Handyman finds a piece of tape in fan… source of noise… and turns fridge back on with joy. I dine on Shotbloks for the second night in a row as I’m not sure whether I can manage to eat 4lbs of unfrozen fish. Start drying out process again.

Day 4 – Washing machine decides it does not need water to operate but instead generates burning odor. Handyman fixes washing machine. Machine then floods the apartment. I receive electrical shock from new Rocku which I daringly left sitting on the ground. I develop slight tick at the sound of any running water.

Day 4b – Nothing floods. Take CA driving test and motorcycle test. Pass first time and only spend 45 mins in the DMV – SCORE!!!!!!

So as you can see I’m not yet a week in to my move and its been quite the experience. On one hand, everything I own is slightly damp (my work colleagues have been very understanding of my new unique style) but on the other hand it’s NOT SNOWING and I ROCKED my driving test.

I love California.

See… clearly crack in the water.

Riding with girls

01 MtnBikingWomen-2500pxI’m easily intimidated and not the most socially adept person when meeting men, women or small children (FYI: dogs love me), but this weekend I decided to do something that scared me, and signed up for a women’s mountain biking clinic.

The group name – Dirt Divas – was my first hurdle. Any association with the word ‘Diva’ implies Mariah Carey, high maintainance women and satin floor length dresses as far as I’m concerned.. non of which naturally sprang to mind in association with mountain biking. Plus ‘Divas’? Does this mean they’re all super awesome pro racers who sneer at us amateurs who still struggle to bunny hop up a curb? But I saw that the clinic was being run by pro downhill racer, Zach Griffith, and figured that I could use any advice for not overshooting switchbacks.. even if I had to do so surrounded by elite riders or chicks in evening gowns. I’ve provided the front range mountain biking community with enough YouTube clips this year thanks and frankly, 1/3 of my salary is going to Bandaids and gauze pads. So if the ‘Divas’ could waive the floor length satin dress requirement .. I was in.

Having ridden with dudes my entire life, I’m a bit tired of being dropped, panting my way up the trail only to have the entire group spring back on their bikes, just as I’m unclipping for a bit of a rest. I hate that dudes consider my walking a 3 ft drop as ‘pussying out’ and frankly, I know I’m never going to be awesome, so I just enjoy doing what I can. As a result, I’ve been riding alone this year. Something that is dangerous when injury is involved (a weekly occurrence for me), plus it changes the ‘post ride beer in the parking lot’ from a fun group activity to a weird ‘stay away from the weird alcoholic lady’ warning to small children.

I need chicks to mountain bike ride with. Women who can actually ride up rocks, but who know that waiting means waiting.. and won’t sneer when you can’t make it up the 10th washout board in the ladder. Who you can emphasize with you when the handlebar jabs you in the boob or when you didn’t unclip fast enough and hit the thorn-bush ass first. But I don’t know any… I did, but they all got married and quit, or now ride with their kids.

I had a moment of fear as I pulled up to the parking lot, frantically checking that no one was wearing downhill pads or a dirt bike helmet, but breathed out as I saw a chick wrestling her Ibis off her rack and not a Fox jersey in sight. In fact, as more of us pulled up, it looked more and more normal. Chicks my age, most of us driving trucks and 4Runners, baring scarred knees, junk in our trunk, dirty shoes and not a swipe of makeup amongst us.

As I stood with the other ‘Divas’ (never was a group so misnamed.. not an inkling of cleavage or small dog amongst us), a chick behind me said ‘I hope no one here is awesome, cos I suck‘ and I knew I’d found my people.

It was GLORIOUS.

The clinic itself – well I’ll skip the details as its only interesting to about 2 other people in the universe was great, but the overwhelming joy I felt was more due to the opportunity to do sports with other women. Something I don’t think I’ve done since high school.

Once we’d gotten over the ‘I’m crapper than you’ modesty show down (can you imagine dudes having that conversation?), it was all about asking for advice, guidance and at one point, a round of applause for some cornering which would make a slalom racer proud.

Do dudes applaud when someone nails it?

Our coach (married with 2 daughters, and seemingly endless patience for chicks) balanced delivering information en masse, followed by one on one, second by second coaching as we rode the course. What normally would have had me knotted and sweaty, morphed into memories of my dad showing me how to ride while running behind me with his hand on my seat. It wasn’t embarrassing or weird, or intimidating in the slightest. Just hearing that voice behind you, and shouts from the chicks waiting their turn, turned the day from a ‘how to’ into one huge bonding session. Soon chicks were videoing each other, showing each other where they were dropping the wrong foot or standing too high, helping to dissect their own and each others bad habits. And with the usual feminine  modesty prevailing, the atmosphere was weirdly supportive and fun rather than critical.

When I found out that the group rides during the week, takes weekend trips to downhill and explore the state both on and off-road, I was sold. Finally, a group of like-minded ladies who aren’t going to leave me in the dust, but still ride hard enough to give me lots to learn. Some are already racers, others (like me), getting the hang of a new bike, without the annoyance of being the slow poke of the group.

As I left the group, grinning like an idiot despite learning that I’ve been riding all kinds of wrong for the last 20 years, I realized that for the first time in my life I’d found a whole group of people just like me. Tomboys. Girls who like to get dirty and sweaty, but haven’t turned into dudes while doing it. Girls who aren’t competitive, but who want to keep learning and pushing themselves for no reason other than it feels good. Girls who don’t take it that seriously and who aren’t afraid to curse loudly when it all goes tits up.

And when someone said ‘lets ride Wednesday’.. I realized that these chicas actually recognized one of their own. And want me to be a ‘diva’ too.

6 years of therapy = one morning with some mountain biking chicks.

So I didn’t meet any actual “Diva’s” and I didn’t get that dirty, but I did learn that doing scary things always has a payoff. And doing scary things with girls doesn’t have to mean cliques, discussions about men, feeling old or being frightened by expertise. You might learn something, you definitely will meet some new people and when one chick mentioned that she’d gotten a new dirt bike, well I think I just met my new best friend.

Doing it alone

tendDoing it alone. No, this isn’t a post about masturbation…but if I had to draw parallels yes this about doing something on your own, and big yes, its about having a really good time doing it.

But no. This one isn’t sexy. Not sexy at all.

You see I’ve been on vacation for a week and using the time off to ignore Outlook, remember what its like to not sit with a headset on for 10 hours and generally enjoy myself. Part of which meant tackling a big of a fear of mine.. that is, to pitch a tent in the middle of nowhere and not wind up in a mental institution after 48 hours. aka Camping.. on my own.

I love to camp. Love it. It was the glue that attached me to my ex husband, and many of my best adventures in life have come by way of a smokey campfire, a ‘wet wipe’ shower and the joy of hitting the hay at dusk because you’re completely wiped. Camping gives you freedom from everything as life suddenly boils down to having something over your head to sleep in and preparing food to eat. Plus with the invention of really good coolers.. the beer stays cold for days now.

However since I’ve been single, I’ve rarely found a trustworthy camping buddy. I’ve tried. (and the stories are here if you want them), but I generally end up frustrated, exasperated and longing for my ex (the only time I ever miss him). You’d think in a state of 3 million self confessed ‘outdoorsy’ people, there would be a least few hundred dudes in my age range who’d enjoy slinging on a backpack, or packing up the truck with their dog, their bike and a cute chick… sadly, I’ve yet to locate this dude.

Now camping on my own isn’t something I won’t do. In fact I’ve tried it a couple of times.

The first time I drove up to Steamboat, pitched the tent, brewed up some tea and sat wondering what to do next. The sense of space, the complete silence, the aloneness and solitude. Just beautiful. How to savour it? The answer… apparently unpitch the tent, drive 4 hours home and decide camping alone wasn’t for me. Wayyyy too much time to think and realize how far I was from the nearest other person who could wrestle the bear who was bound to come along.

The second time I tried, I made it through the night, but only after the dog and I had clung to each other for 10 hours, jumping (me) and barking (him) at every snapped twig or rustle of a tree. By morning even he thought going home seemed like a less stressful idea than camping with me. I’m not sure what I was most frightened of.. bears? mountain lions? homecidal maniacs? weekend country rapists? All of the above apparently.

But as the summer cracks into high gear and the temps hit the 90s, I can either dedicate my next few months to loitering around REI in the hope that an outdoorsey dude picks me up or finally grab my ovaries in hand and just go camping on my own.

So at the age of 42 and with oodles of time on my hand I decided – fuck it.  I’m going, I’m staying and if I pee my pants when a deer starts nosing around camp or I hear a voice in the distance with an Appalacian twang or some banjo music.. well, so be it. Armed with about 16 pairs of pants, my new bike and an empty Beretta (I don’t want to actually shoot anyone), I headed across the state line into Wyoming.

For a few nights of starry skies and days of mountain biking, I figured Wyoming was a good locale. Fewer bears, fewer people and I figured packing my Beretta would scare off anyone who thought a midnight raid on my tent a good idea. Plus there’s some good riding and I don’t mind falling off so much when there’s noone within a 5 mile vacinity to observe it.

The outcome? Well I think I’ve cracked the code to camping alone. Be active as fuck during the day so by the time night falls, you can’t help but pass out without a care in the world. I rode like a maniac (i.e. a mentally challenged person), fell off a bunch, road alongside creeks and up the sides of mountains. I rode through something called ‘Pinball’ which bounced me off a rock every other pedal stoke, and laughed my ass off when I almost rode into a deer in the middle of the trail. Finally something more terrified of ‘wild things’ than me.

Sure, I’m now brusied, scarred and I look like an extra from Fight Club, but I put some miles on my bike, I only needed a few pairs of pants and I even managed to lull myself into a relaxed state of being. It was amazing to be away from wifi, from tv, people and noise. I lay in my tent listening to the wind, owls and yes, rustling trees.. but no bears or midnight cowboys intruded on my buclolic evenings.

I was relaxed, at peace and totally utterly alone.

Why I decided to start reading the new Stephen King book right at that moment I don’t quite know. I guess I brought those extra pants for something.

 

 

Drowning not waving

kid swimmingI’ve always been more a land lover. I mean, I’m the goat according to astrology, I hate heights and while I love to sail, you can count the number of times I’ve voluntarily got in the ocean in the last 10 years on one hand (does it count if the water doesn’t reach your knees?). I love looking at the sea, love being near it, the smell of it and being on it. But in it? Thats what fish are for. I’ll stick with my bathtub.

Why?

Given that I grew up in one of the wettest parts of the wettest countries in the Northern Hemisphere, I do realize that I’m inherently waterproof. I know that unless my head goes under the water, I am unlikely to drown. That oceans are essential for the longevity of the planet and the human species…. but I can’t help it, standing in large pools of water just freaks me out.

It started when I learned to swim.

NOTE: “Learned” being a metaphorical word for ‘didn’t drown but almost achieved success on several occasions’.

I was around 8 or 9 and cursed with a buoyant and enthuastic swimmer in the family, I learned that the placenta of safety and joy (aka my inflatable ring) was about to be cut, and I was ‘going to learn how to swim’.

A few days later I found myself shiverring with 20 other milk bottle white kids, goosepimply and panicing in a balmy 50 degree pool the size of Germany. I could stand up – barely – if I stood on my tippy toes, (which I did with hope that my mother would notice my balletic leanings and yank me off to ballet instead of this swimming thing). But to no avail. I was going to learn to swim.

Or so I think thats what she yelled when I started looking frantically for the exit.

Back in the day, our local swimming pool subscribed to the ‘sink or swim’ theory of learning. Literally – taken them out of their depth, tell them to push off from the side, and wait to see who makes it to the other side.

I sank to the bottom of the pool like a brick.

Something that nobody noticed other than my Mum, who had to yell from the balconey to alert the instructor to the kid in the brown swim suit, currently flailing around at the bottom of the deep end of the pool.

Which is when I was hooked out of the water like a pathetic excuse for a guppy. Choking, crying and really hoping that I’d made my point.

Unfortunately my mother, safe in the knowledge that her kid hadn’t drowned, had slipped off for a cup of tea, leaving me to the mercy of the instructor who decided that the only way I would learn, would be through repeated opportunity. I shouted ‘Muuuuuuuuuum’ in vain as I was frog marched to the pool stairs and told to get back into the water.

Lets just say I swallowed a LOT of pool that day, and I got hooked on several occassions.

Progress? Well he learned how to hook an 8 year old really fast.. me… I learned that there really isn’t a limit on how much chlorine you can consume.

Needless to say, swimming face down, across a pool, remains a bit of a traumatic experience for me even today. Age 42.

Now I’m not stupid, I can backstroke like a champ and I can breast stroke like a 90 year old church lady with the best of them. I mean I sailed competitively for 10 years – I knew I needed to be able to surive in water. But face down, head in the water, pushing off from the side into deep water for pleasure? Riiiiiight. I’ll be over here doing anything else.

Until now.

I love a challenge and every year I pick something that scares the bejesus out of me and try to tackle it. To date I’ve not died or suffered hospitalization, but I do carry a lot of Xanax around.

(Hey, I want to have a life.. even if its terrifying 50% of the time)

After motorcycling, getting back on a mountain bike, shooting, fishing, rock climbing and climbing 3 14-ers in a day.. I decided that screw my fear, screw the cold pee infused water, screw the likelihood of being hooked (I challenge any lifeguard to hook my ass out of a pool), I would learn how to swim.

Properly. Face down. In the water.

A few weeks ago I signed up for Adult Swim (20 classes for $44… the cheapest sport I’ve ever taken up and the only one which didn’t require a helmet), bought a terrible unflattering swim suit and last night.. I headed to the rec center for my first lesson.

As I scanned the list for my class, I noticed that a) I was the only one on it, b) the other class was 8 year olds learning butterfly and c) my instructor was a 16 year old called Joe.

Hey, I have no ego around this. I’m wearing a rubber cap and my boobs are smushed down to my waist.. my main objective is to not drown. All I care about is the location of the hook, and whether Joe’s waifish arms are going to be sufficient to lever me out once I start sinking. I pray for ‘wiry strength’ and climb in.

20 minutes later I’ve swallowed a few gallons of chlorine/pee flavored water.. and I’ve swum a width of the pool with my face in the water.

If I hadn’t been the only adult in the pool, and slightly less British, I would have had to air punch my victory. No hook. No sinking. No panic.. and once I realized that you’re allowed to take your head out to breath at any time… actual oxygen did reach my lungs on at least once occassion.

Joe encouraged me to swim a few more widths, but I knew I needed to quit while I was ahead. After all, we’ve got 19 more lessons to go. I don’t want to go too fast or he’ll be trying to get me to swim an actual length.

 

 

 

Steel Horse Riding – an anniversary and an ode

moto-guzzi-cafe-racerThis Thursday will be one year anniversary of my first ride on my own ‘steel horse’, my black and gold, 2010 Moto Guzzi V7 Classic. Its not a fancy bike by today’s standards – in fact its downright ‘manual’ in a world of computerized everything. (The thing doesn’t even have a petrol gauge). It doesn’t go very fast (with only 744 cc it barely makes 85 without some groaning at altitude) and with only 48 hp, I won’t be setting any land-speed records anytime..not even downhill with the wind at my back in a hurricane.

But she’s my baby.

I love my bike. I get a thrill just looking at her sitting in the garage. She’s 70’s styled, she’s as comfy as all get out and even when downtown traffic and parking dictate that I ride my -ever-so-practical- scooter, I’m sad to leave her waiting until next time.

She thrums like an older bike should – nothing Japanese or whiny about this baby – and just starting her up makes me heady. Where will we go today? Which new road do I want to explore? What do I want to see? Is it a roller day? A 100 mile plus adventure or just a heads down spin down the freeway so I can access the windy, pine scented twists of the front range? It really doesn’t matter where I end up – the place in my head is always the same. A sense of calm presence, contented peacefulness and all of those niggles that worm around my head have magically disappeared. I’m guaranteed to sleep like a baby.

Its hard to explain to someone who doesn’t ride what it is that compels you to ‘waste’ a few hours, a few days and several tanks of gas riding someplace for no real reason other than to ride. I know I never got it. The idea of driving somewhere – recreationally – for fun? That’s for Texans and people with Ferraris. But riding… its a whole other thing. And don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

No, its not about going fast. Certainly not for me. I’m a nervous nelly on a bike  (my instructor thought it was hilarious that I was even trying to learn, and peed his pants when I white knuckled my gear change into 3rd), and to be honest I hope that never changes. I have no desire to wheelie my way into a speeding ticket or instant death. I’m happy at 50, maybe 55. Anything over 70 and I’m grinding my teeth.

Its not about that ‘wind in your hair’ feeling that ‘Easy Rider’ portrayed. My helmet barely lets in oxygen, and my hair is plastered to my head throughout any ride. With all of the gear, its astonishing that you can move at all really – never mind rock a long haircut, some fringed waistcoats and flares. Clearly a movie. Today’s riders – well lets just say its certainly given me insight into why the S&M community embraces leather – this shit is binding.

Its certainly not about looking cool. In thermals, bulky leathers, a helmet that exponentially expands the size of my head to a Halloween pumpkin and shit kicking boots, I’m indiscernible from a dude at any speed. Add in my frequent ‘stalls in 2nd gear’ and ‘bike drops at the gas station’, I couldn’t be any less cool if I was wearing a Learner Sign on my back. I have more street cred in my PJs, and at least I don’t fall over quite as much.

Its not about turning 40 either. Sure its a ‘thing’ that people do crazy shit at mid life, but I’ve been doing crazy shit since I was 18, so I don’t think this is much different. I mean, I hitchhiked from Birmingham to Paris with no money when I was in college. In the middle of the night. By comparison, riding is one of the saner decisions I’ve made. If anything being older has given me the confidence and maturity to do more crazy shit but in a way safer way. (I don’t ride at night, I don’t ride and drink and I certainly don’t hitchhike anywhere anymore). Post 40, I’m less concerned about what people read into it, or what they infer from my actions. And if they want to see the tattoo’d, short haired jock woman getting off her bike as a ‘lesbo dyke’ or a ‘short dude’ (I’ve been called both at gas stations), so be it. (I’ve also been called ‘sweet cheeks’ and ‘hot ass’ while riding.. but hey, who’s counting?). But mid life crisis? Na.. I had mine back in my 30s when I got a divorce, cut off all my hair and decided to start doing what I wanted, not what was expected.

Riding my bike has been about doing something purely for the experience.  There is simply no other reason to ride a bike. Its not logical, its not practical and its certainly not a way to save money (though I’ve rationalized all of the above several times over, especially as I’m saving for new shocks).

But again and again I come back to the notion of my sitting in my dotage, clapped out, heavily lined and slightly demented (aka 2015) and having something exciting to remember. I know for sure I don’t want my memories to be about trips to Home Depot or shoes I once owned. Curtains I bought or baby showers I attended. No.. while all of these things are – in the right circumstances – the small things that make up a life, they’re not what I want to remember as I cruise towards my AARP membership. I’m done waiting for someone to come along and join me in my adventures, waiting for a partner to make it easier, less scary, more acceptable.. Life is too short to wait. And I’ve got a long list of stuff I want to experience before my brain wanders off into the never never.

I want to remember fear. And pride. Excitement. Shouting ‘wheeeeee’ inside my helmet while riding down a steep road or just the sound of my breath when I crest the Continental Divide. I need to know that I did stuff. That I can and will do stuff – no matter how old I am, or what people think. Even when its scary or lonely or without rationalization. I rage against being too comfortable in my life, (even as I layer up my  reinforced jeans with my silk thermals for a winter ride). Comfort, too much anyway, spells death of adventure. And life without adventure.. in whatever form, isn’t worth living.

Riding – by eliminating the noise, the cushioning and the distractions of today’s transportation – brings all of the small things right back to center stage. Which turns them into big things. The sight of a falcon following a rabbit over a field. The sight of two cyclists creeping up an 11,000ft mountain. Mule deer grazing on the foothills and yes, even the dead coyote on the side of the road that had a really bad day. The fisherman casting and recasting as they enjoy the last days of standing thigh deep in Rocky Mountain runoff. Things I’d never even notice, never mind ponder, as I pass through small towns and open spaces sit with me for miles.

And in a world where we walk and text, talk, Facebook and IM while trying to simultaneously navigate through the streets, spending a few hours noticing the small things, and the big things, isn’t a waste of time at all.

Here’s to riding the steel horse. My own black beauty.

Adventures I’ll never have

 Adventures I’ll never have (whew!)

I was perusing my latest batch of Whatsleft.com companions and noticed one specific individual who had spent the last 6 years living in Antigua, sailing. As I mopped up the drool from his photos (the boats, not the guy), it got me thinking about the adventures I know I’ll never have. Not because its too late (no such thing), but because I’m a wuss.

I’m the person who learned to ride a motorcycle without breaking the 10mph barrier (my instructor thought it was a hysterical idea that I’d ever buy a bike), I can’t look down from the top of a 14-er or I’ll puke (the whole point of hiking for 5 hours really), and the notion of not having a job fills me with fear. The one time I was laid off from consulting, I had another job within 24 hours (admittedly at Macy’s, but hey, I had a mortgage). I admit it, I’m kind of a wimp which means some things I can dream about, (and safely know that I’d never have to actually do that because I’d have to wear Depends the whole time).

Kayaking in Alaska

This is top of my ‘want to do, won’t ever do’ list. I love the idea of Alaska, the last frontier, the wilderness and natural beauty. Eagles, whales, seals and of course ice floes.  I love to be on the water and sea kayaking is fantastic fun, plus it puts you smack in the middle of all that nothing. Which is where my knees go weak and I think ‘oh hell no’. What happens if I drop my paddle and it sinks? What happens if, by random chance, a whale decides to surface right underneath me (it has happened folks – hear the screams in the video? that would be me)? What if an ice flow crashes down on my head? Or my kayak springs a leak? Or a bear decides to go for a swim? I’m terrified of bears and being in the water is no guarantee I won’t meet one. So my idyllic natural adventure trip is suddenly Grizzly Man: The Aquatic Version and instead of the peace of paddles dipping and water lapping, its the sounds of screaming as my kayak is upended and whales, bears and who knows what are fighting over my various limbs like Thanksgiving dinner.
Pass.

Sailing Across the Pacific

I love to sail and I’ve been doing it since I was 11. Being on the water is one of the few times I’m in control, I’m at peace (even if I’m racing) and exhilarating doesn’t begin to explain the feeling of flying when the boat starts to plane. Growing up sailing in the UK means most of my experience occurred in full wetsuit, drysuit, booties and all manner of gloves, gaiters and hats. Sailing meant being wet, being cold and often, freezing your eyelashes to your face. Not how most people would choose to spend 4 or 5 evenings a week, but for me, an addiction I thought I’d never break. But here’s the rub, I’m terrified of actually being in the water. I swim with the dynamism of a brick and I float just as well. It actually makes me an excellent sailor because I can capsize and right a boat within seconds, and sometimes without even getting my feet wet. The fear of being in the water stems from early swimming lessons where I was only rescued from drowning because my mother (watching from balcony), noticed that I was sitting at the bottom of the pool and not moving. It didn’t get much better as I got older, but I became excellent at being on the water. Just not in it. Fast forward to my fantasy; sailing in warm breezes across the ocean, nothing but water and the occasional island or sandbar. Dolphins swimming alongside the boat, the spinnaker raised, the only sound of the boat hitting the waves… and me screaming. Because what if the boat sank? Or a whale surfaced under the boat? Or they didn’t actually kill Jaws? Or I got lost and endlessly circled the globe without ever seeing land again? I know I’d spend the voyage in a low crouch, roping myself to the mast while everyone else lays around in bikinis and shorts, and counting down the days until I could touch solid ground. Because the what-ifs are too many and they outweigh what I suspect would be the adventure of a lifetime. On the plus side the likelihood of bears would be low.

Backpacking Through Asia

I love to backpack. The idea of carrying everything you need, being perfectly portable and self sufficient appeals to my British blood enormously. Filter my own water, erect the tent and I’m making tea within minutes (yes, I always carry powdered milk and teabags). Backpacking frees you from having to book hotels, carry suitcases and enables you to stay in places not big enough for a hotel or an inn. I’ve backpacked through wildernesses, camped on the edge of an Alp and been woken by seals on the beach. Backpacking in Asia would combine my love of self sufficiency with my desire to get out of the city and into the country, experience the actual countryside of a foreign land.
 But in reality, the allure of exploring remote villages, wandering around Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia is outweighed by my fear of having to eat food that has tentacles. You can show me all the photos of rice paddies, elephants, beautiful villages and cute squatting children, but I’m worried about the tentacles. I don’t need or want to eat a bug. I don’t care how lovely they are or how they’re the indigenous food of X, Y or Z. I don’t like seeing them alive, so I certainly don’t need to ingest them when they’re deep fried. My cholesterol is bad enough. Plus I’m a celiac – how do you ask for gluten free anything in a third world country? Knowing my luck the only thing on the menu is fried crickets and some specialty grub-worm.  Nope. I’m a wuss. Insects are off my menu and therefore so is this particular adventure. Plus, there might be bears?

Cycling through Europe

And finally, the one which I’m the most embarrassed about. I love to ride. I love Europe. God knows I spent a lot of my childhood in France, Germany, Italy and the UK. I’m not scared of the food, I can make my way through the languages with some good miming and a smattering of French. There are no bears and I don’t think whales make it into the Rhine. I have no excuse. And this one isn’t about being a scared wuss. This about being lazy. Because Europe makes me lazy. Whether its because I tend to be drinking a lot of wine, loading up on fantastic food or just the pace of life gets under my skin but once I land in Paris,Turin, Marseille or even Frankfurt.. I slow down. I meander. I luxuriate in leisure. The idea of getting on a bike and cycling for a week or two.. C’mon. Are you high?  Sure I’ll go for a bike ride, I’ll even go for two. But why would I want to sweat it out on the roads of the Pyrenees when I could be drinking Chablis at 2pm while eating poached trout? And if I want to see cycling, I can watch the Tour De France pass through… why on earth would I want to spend days in the saddle? Heads down. Sweat beading between my boobs as I pant my way up a pass? I’m not likely to be looking at the scenery and I’m sure not going to care about what I eat or drink once I’m done… which I always think is the point of Europe. Eating and drinking. Maybe some smoking, but definitely eating and drinking.  And sex. And whats the one thing I don’t want to do after a day in the saddle? Yep, you guessed it . Sex. And whats the point of great food, wine and warmth, days without agendas and time to slow down? Sex. Which won’t happen if I’ve had a Specialized between my thighs all day.
Hence, the image of me riding down a road edged by sunflowers or vineyards is idyllic, but it ain’t going to happen. You have at it. I’ll be sitting on the patio with a bottle of Chablis when you’re done.
Ready for all that sex.

The one achievement I didn’t actually want…

Well I’ve long joked with friends about this and unfortunately my latest achievement it was confirmed by eHarmony this weekend. Yes Lay-dees and Genle-men….I have outdated Denver.  I have apparently, dated all the single guys within a 150 mile radius of the Denver metro area.

How did I come by this fact? Glad you asked.

I was alerted to this new status via an email from eHarmony (my 1 month membership expires this week), informed me that my requirements for potential suitors were too strict ‘regarding location’ and suggested that should I wish to extend my membership, and my willingness to travel 300 miles +, they were sure they could help me find ‘that special person’. But within my current range (Colorado), there was no-one they could match me with.  Not even close.

Huh.

Now I know I can be demanding, requiring not only a pulse but brain cells in my potential suitors, but I didn’t think I was that picky. I checked and rechecked my ‘Must Haves’  (a Job, Not Married) and ‘Not Important’ (Salary, Kids, Education, Height, Weight, Ability to distinguish between ‘they’re’ and ‘their’. ).. but nope… other than location, pretty much everything else was wide open. But I thought.. hey its a state of 5.18 million (over half of which are men).. there has to be at least one guy who can stand the sight of me and entertain a few dinners.

Which brings me to the conclusion that I have in fact, dated everyone in Denver.

And so now I must move.

Or become a lesbian.

So..???? Sorry. Can’t do it.  The girl thing.

Which means I need to move.

Yes, I know I’m being over dramatic. Not everyone internet dates and there are lots of lovely single men out and about who just haven’t met me yet (and vice versa), but it does cause me to wonder if, in this state of married folks with kids and 22-26 yr old mountain bikers, hikers and skiers… maybe my dharma is trying to tell me that a change is in order.

I moved to the US, and Colorado 17 years ago. And other than a ill researched 2 years stay in Seattle, I’ve resided in Denver and Boulder for the majority of those 17 years. I travelled a lot during my consulting days, living in cities and diverse as Detroit, Dallas and Minneapolis, but I’ve never found a city that made me want to move. I loved the sunshine, the mountains, the small town-ness and did I mention the sunshine? All 330 days of it a year. Even between the snow storms.

Sure we get now get snow in May and 70 degrees in January, and the small town feel of Denver has rapidly vanished as the metro area expands and grows. But with change has come culture and great food, but also shitty traffic and terrible terrible drivers.  House prices are still in the ‘sane’ range and there are always the mountains to escape to (especially if you like sitting on I70 on Sunday afternoon for a few hours). Its a great place to live… but its not the only place to live.

While I’ve always tolerated our winters, lately its really gotten me down. My SAD renders me blue for a couple of months, and my blood thinners mean head to toe thermals from November through April.  My snowboarding/ cross country ski days are so few in number that I could probably do both more often if I actually moved somewhere warm and took ‘ski’ weekends. You know, being cold.. for fun. And after 17 years, I really would like to live closer to water. I worked out that my nearest ocean is 18 hours of driving away…thats just wrong.

But what about friends, family, community? 17 years is a lot of roots. Well it is and it isn’t.
I have a few close friends in town but the majority are ‘lovely to see you’ acquaintances who I see maybe once or twice a year. All of my family is back in the UK and my community? Well other than my community garden, nothing other than my extensive network of doctors really tethers me to the state. I’ve downsized, I rent, and I literally could work anywhere. The friends who matter will stick around, the rest will stay connected via Facebook.. its remarkable really, how ‘footloose’ I am at the age of 41. And there’s something good and sad in that.

But I could move somewhere warm all year round. By the ocean. Where there are mountains and outdoor activities and bugs the size of my scooter. Maybe they have men there.  But not horrid traffic. I don’t need good schools (no kids), good roads (SUV) or great houses (I’m loving renting). Just good people who like some adventure and a job that interests and sustains my short attention span.
Yes, Colorado will always be my state.. but maybe I could dip my toe in other waters for a few years.

So I guess I should thank eHarmony. Its a humiliating achievement.. to have outdated my state. But maybe it will kick off my next adventure…

Adventures in hitchhiking

 I’m taking a few days vacation from work next week and as I was thinking of how to fill my time (without opening my wallet), I couldn’t help but recall an adventure from my college days when I decided to hitch hike from Birmingham (UK) to Paris (France) without spending a dime.

As with all great adventures, the idea was hatched in the pub after a few libations and by the 4th pint of beer we’d arranged a spur of the moment ‘race’ to Paris. Loser buys dinner. Oh, and you weren’t allowed to pay for any form of transportation. You had to travel for free.

What can I say, we’d had a few drinks.

My co-racers were a motley crew of dudes I sailed with, and with no romantic interest in any of them, I picked the one who looked the least threatening. I figured he’d be easier to put on the side of the road and not look like a serial killer. He was short and blond after all and probably more recognizably feminine than me.

We raced home for our passports (and in my case a toothbrush), then headed for the nearest freeway.

Which is where the largesse of our task became apparent. Race to another country, across a 27 mile wide sea (this was pre-tunnel), across a not insubstantial area of France and into the center of one of the most expensive cities in Europe. By the next morning. Without spending any money.

The rain poured down and as it drew close to 2am, so we just decided to just start walking.

Let me explain to you non Brits. Birmingham is kind of the Cleveland/Detroit of America. Industrial. Lots of heavy machinery and big highways. Its a place people drive through but don’t exactly pull over in a rain storm at 2am on a Thursday night to consider some drowned rat students.
And with 173 miles from the coast.. it was going to be a long walk. During this walk I learned that, lets call him Roger, was kind of a pussy. He tried to fake enthusiasm but it was clear that within a few miles, the only reason he was out there was peer pressure. Here was a guy who clearly had never spent his vacation being yelled at ‘DONT TOUCH THE POLE’ from inside the tent or tryed to light a camp stove in 55mph winds. Clearly a hotel type of guy and boy did he moan.
I heard all about his exotic vacations to Cuba and Mexico, to India and Peru.. non of which seemed to involve standing on the side of a free way with a slightly drunk English chick in the pouring rain.

When I couldn’t take it any more I told him to hide in the bushes, took off my rain jacket and gamely smiled into the darkness hoping that someone would at least consider me rapable enough to slow down.

A trailer pulled over within minutes… at which point Roger jumped out of the bushes and we ambushed the poor lady. Luckily she was heading to the coast and seemed to take us for newly weds (cos that’s how honeymoons go apparently in that part of England), so we played along. talking about our love for each other and how we were off on this romantic trip to gay Parree.  She was enamored and drove us over 100 miles before treating us to a 4am cup of tea and a blown kiss out of the window. Wow… people were weird. Nice but weird.

The ‘newly wed’ thing seemed to have worked for us so we decided to play along.. posing in a romantic cinch in the parking lot of the gas station, attracting a few wolf whistles and a trucker bored enough to want to take us the remaining 70 odd miles. We arrived in Dover just as the sun rose and thrilled with our luck, figured we’d sit at the terminal until the ferry to France started running .. and try to figure how to get on the boat without paying.

As as we sat on the see front, watching the changing sky and testing our lies on each other, a lady walking a dog stopped by and joined us on the bench. Sure it was 5am but apparently some people really are lonely. 15 minutes later we were sitting in her living room- Margie- having a nice cup of a tea and a cookie while she asked all about our adventure. Her husband worked nights so she kept his hours, staying awake through the night and sleeping with him during the day. Noticing Roger’s nodding head, she offered him their bed and pulled out blankets for me on the sofa. We were out within minutes.

,Margie woke us both up with a cup of tea at 9am just in time to catch the 9.30 ferry, slipping 20 pounds in Rogers pocket to cover our ferry ride and heading off to pick up her shift-working husband.  In return she wanted a postcard of the Eiffel tower (‘cos I’ve nivver been’) and the chance to tell her husband about her adventure.

Brits… weird.. but so so nice.

We decided to forgo the lies (he was Catholic and my mothers voice acts as a surrogate god in my head), and since the money wasn’t ours.. we figured it was kind of ‘free’ so we boarded the boat and sat down to figure out how to make the remaining 180 miles to Paris before tea time. Not that challenging except for our lack of language skills, a map or cash.  Our collective French involved ‘do you speak English?’ and ‘I am twelve’ (I stopped listening in French class a long time ago).. not really helpful in the hitchhiking community (pedophiles not withstanding).

So as the ferry docked we figured we’d just walk and see… good things seemed to have happened.. hey, it would work out.

Lets just say I walked 16 miles before anyone picked us up.. and it involved Roger stripping down to his tighty whiteys.

I guess the French are more discerning than the Brits.

This time we played ‘lesbian and gay friends’.. which made for hysterical (in our head), references, much hamming it up and in the case of Roger, some serious questions about how much acting ability he actually had vs. exploring his pysche.

Luckily for me, ‘lesbians’ of the short haired variety don’t interest the average French truck driver, but Roger got us all the way to Nante… 380 miles… in pretty much the wrong direction.

We disembarked, Roger looking decidedly shaken (and not a little aroused) at which point he pulled out his credit card and offered to spring for train tickets. Definitely not part of the race, but at this point, I didn’t care who won .. I just wanted to sit down and brush my teeth.

At 9pm we arrived in Paris at the appointed restaurant. Last place. 
Our friends were full of good cheer, snails and gallons of wine, celebrating their wins and the joy of being anywhere except Birmingham. But non had spent the evening in a strangers bed, or watched their friend discover he was gay or been handed 20 pounds in exchange for a postcard.

Which we sent to Margie from Dover. With many many kisses, thanks and promises not to forget her kindness.  Which, 20 years later, I never have.

So as I consider my options for an adventure without money, I don’t think I’ll be hitchhiking. I’m no longer that naive and you don’t get lucky twice. But I will keep my eyes open for strangers bearing cups of tea at 5am… However unbelievable.

Vacation

Well its that time of year when work commitments mean I need to take a week’s break from writing.

I’ll be back in a week with fresh stories. 
Until then.. I invite you to scroll back and read some of my older posts, check out Jezebel or turn off your laptop and go hunt down some beards.

And if you have 2 minutes to waste, you can’t waste them better than with some Jimmy Fallon.

Proud to be a new American

Yesterday I became an American citizen. Holding the hand of a lovely lady from Algeria (who barely spoke English), and croaking along to ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ with my hand on my breast ( who knew how hard that is to sing?) I surprised myself and truly abandoned my British heritage by blubbling like a baby. It was unbelievably emotional. Unexpectedly so.

I’m not sure if I was crying with joy or relief to finally finally be done with the process. Its a toss up.

Basically you spend 5-15 years standing in queues (or ‘lines’), getting documents stamped, reviewed, resubmitted, trying to convince administrators that yes, my hair has changed a lot in 15 years, providing x rays of your chest, verifying that you don’t have TB, HIV or Syphilis (yes, no STDs in America kids!) and hoping that the FBI doesn’t consider your numerous speeding tickets as any indication of your moral fiber.
When you finally, finally arrive at the immigration office, you sit in front of your file (mine is about 14 inches thick), and basically try not to say anything too stupid.

I’d just ended a frustrating call with my mother before my interview, and when asked by the agent ‘how is your day going?’, I casually mentioned that I wanted to kill my mother.

His eyebrows hit his hairline and I backtracked at high speed.

‘No.. not actually want to kill her… just .. well you know, drives you nuts etc etc.. not kill’

He suggested that I take a seat and stop talking.

We sat face to face as he sat and read every single sheet in my file. At least 400-500 pages. The sweat beading on my back was starting to drip down to my pants and the silence was so extended that I seriously thought I was about to be escorted out the back and shot.

He eventually looked up and asked me to start my Civics test. I giggled with relief and then swallowed my excitement with a burp.

Here’s the weird thing. Even though there are 100 questions and they’re not too tricky, you just know that they’re going to ask you the ones you don’t know. So despite me knowing the years in which the constitution was signed and who signed it, he decided that the theme of the day was civil rights.
Cool. I’m all over that, I confidentially sat up with a big grin of relief.
And got the first question wrong.
Because when someone asks you the  name of the movement that address inequalities between people the only word I could think of was segregation. Never mind that I had just heard the word ‘civil rights movement’ from his lips.. nope.. I was stuck on the word segregation. Which I KNOW is the opposite of civil rights.. but could I remember the words civil rights??? Not a hope in hell.

I even starting reciting Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech thinking that it would jar something but I still couldn’t remember the name of the movement.. and now I’m impersonating MLK, complete with Southern twang and deep baritone. The agent clearly thought I was a lunatic and starting flicking back through my file to check that I hadn’t been recently detained at a medical institution.

He gently suggested that we move on.

Thankfully the other questions were less ‘tricky’ and I was informed that I passed. The writing and oral parts of the test flew by (to be honest as a ‘communication’ pro, you’d worry otherwise), and suddenly he’s telling me that I’m being sworn in as a citizen in 60 minutes.

I swear, I now know what it must feel like to be proposed to, to receive an Oscar and be nominated as President all in the same day… I was verklempt. Floored. The tears started right there and then… I couldn’t actually believe that it was done. I was in.

An hour later I sat with 52 other citizen-to-be’s, clutching our American flags and reciting the Oath of Allegiance in unison. 28 countries were represented and not a single unlined face amongst us – our unifying identity seemed to be one of relief and tiredness. As the montage of old photos from Ellis Island flashed on the project screen, one by one, people started to weep. The lady standing next to me took hold of my hand and squeezed it as the tears ran down my face. The local area IN guy intoned that;

‘Your bank account, your social status, your parents, your race, your sex, your age, your station in life in your former country no longer matter. You are an American. Your future is yours to define’.

Amen.

Impulse control

If you’ve been reading this blog for more than 2 seconds, its pretty clear I have a a problem with impulse control. I love love love making decisions. Really fast. And informed by the minimum of data. In fact, if I don’t know anything about it and you need to right know now, well I’m practically a PhD candidate on why you should, definitely, go for it (but wear good underwear).  It might be due to a career spent in consulting (the land of the instant expert), but I seem to remember it plaguing me back in elementary school when I demanded and pleaded for a haircut because Carl Postle dared me. My mother saw her opportunity to be permanently relieved of braiding duty and aided my impulsive decision. The next day I returned to school sans 11 inches of hair and with bangs which refused to lie down. I inadvertently became the only punk in 3th grade. Good decision? Well it’s taken 30 odd years to grow back but meanwhile I’ve rocked every color and style under the sun, so.. kinda?

I’m clearly from the school of ‘whats the worse that could happen?’ and since I’ve not yet been arrested or had a haircut I can’t live with .. well it seems to have served me ok. When someone asks me whether I have regrets, I’m with Frank- ‘ I’ve had a few’.

My first tattoo
I’d always wanted a tattoo but given the associations in the UK – prisoner, hooker, sailor – I’d held off throughout my rebellious years, through my 20s and well into my 30s.  I regularly wrote on myself – but largely decisions I had forgotten to make or reminders about milk – and I loved the idea of permanently painting something on my body. I didn’t actually like the way tattoos looked – not that I knew many hookers, but some of the locals were decidedly sketchy back in Wales- but since anchors, ‘Mum’ and boobs seemed to feature, I figured that it was just choosing the right design. Fast forward to 9am on my 38th birthday as the guy is inking a large Union Jack on the back of my neck. And by large, I mean LARGE. This thing practically wrapped around my shoulders like a post Olympic run. The flag was a quick idea that I’d had while driving to the shop – I’ll always be British, ergo it will always been relevant – and it seemed like a good idea until I realized that a large red, white and blue flag on the back of my neck might be considered non business attire at work. Time to start growing my hair I guess. I wore scarves and turtlenecks throughout 2009 and finally worked up the courage to show my mother. That’s when I learned the flaw in my speedy decision.
Apparently in my absence from the UK, the British Nationalist party (aka the British Nazis) had adopted the ‘flag on the back of the neck’ tattoo to indicate membership of the party. I was basically walking around with a swastika tattooed on my head.
I now have an enormous, slightly square butterfly on the back of my neck.

Marriage
I’ve mentioned this before, so I won’t repeat myself. But I do know this. No-one should think on the morning of their wedding – ‘ oh well if it doesn’t work out, I can always get divorced’. Nuff said.

The ‘Money Pit’
After a few years living in a tiny duplex I developed a passionate desire for more space and a garden for my dog to run around. When I say developed, basically I got pissed off in the space of a snow bound weekend. The sign went up and despite warnings from my realtors that the house might take 30-60 days to sell, it sold in 4 days. Oh shit. I hadn’t looked at a single house.
In a frenzy of activity I started viewing every house within a 10 bock radius (I loved my neighbors, my ch ch neighborhood and our annual street party) to no avail. That was day 1. By day 4, I was desperate, my price point had escalated by $50,000 and I was now looking in neighborhoods with no name. Where the residents considered the walk back from the bar at 3am a street party. And shifty guys actually pushed shopping carts filled with cans. My realtor, excited by the escalating price point told me it was an ‘up and coming’ neighborhood as the dollar signs spun in her head. 
I settled on a house in a no name neighborhood with no street parking, lots of rental units and 1 block from a major artery into the city. Because it had a red wall in the living room. Yes, a $375,000 decision based on a wall. I walked around the house once for about 10 minutes and decided to buy. I loved that red wall. 5 weeks later I was moving in and the lack of data aspect of my decision started to reveal itself.
First the water heater blew. Then the HVAC guy told me that the boiler was undersized for the square footage of the house. I hung curtains and noticed that the crack in my window was creating a jet stream through my bedroom. And then one day while walking the dog I returned to find the front of the house had actually fallen off. Yes.. my beautiful Craftsman tiling had dropped off revealing 100 year old wooden planks. Which were rotten. As the snow fell – outside and inside my bedroom- I realized that despite my beautiful red wall, I might have made a bad decision.  The nail in the coffin for the house  came 2 days before my parents were due to arrive from the UK for an extended stay. I noticed that water was gushing down the side of the house and was informed by Dave, my HVAC best friend, that my swamp cooler was busted. He climbed on the roof to inspect further and shouted down with some glee ‘…and did you know you need a new roof?’
After spending $38,000 on local tradesman and numerous weekends at Home Depot, just 42 weeks after buying the money pit, I moved out.  I now rent a 600 sq ft apartment.

So there you have it. Impulse control. On the positive side, poor impulse control led to me moving to the US, finding amazing friends, some crazy crazy nights. I’ve had some amazing adventures, not least my decision to the move the US, hiking the Grand Canyon on Christmas day in the snow, moving to Seattle, learning to ride a motorcycle and following the Tour De France through the Alps. On the downside, I’ve had to support some terrible terrible decisions and my therapist has a lot of work to do.

But I’ve quite the bank of stories for my dotage.  Which apparently I’ll be spending in a wheelchair with a full face tattoo and a Mohawk.

Those who race bikes

Since it seems to be cycling week here on the blog, I can’t skip racing. Much as I scorn the cyclists obsessive nature and his fixation on improvement, when it comes to racing it actually make sense. These guys (and gals) get a pass. Don’t be confused, they’re still psychotic and sadomasochistic, but at least they do it with purpose.

Take my friend L. Since joining a team and starting racing in her early 40s she’s undergone a complete transformation. She’s become the person I believe she always was. Focused, driven by competitive desires, enjoying comradeship from her team mates and I have to believe, a more fulfilling self of sense. I don’t see that look of ‘I wish I could’ that most of us fall into after a certain age. She did just it and now into her second winter, she looks insanely good – ripped even – happy and she just shines, even as she’s climbing exhausted into her car at the end of her race. Certainly, I’ve spent more time looking at her podium shots that any hetero woman should admit to. How did she get those legs??? (cycling.. idiot!)

My other friend Hope took up cycling as part of her triathlon training. As soon as she suggested a tri I really did have to fight the desire to delete her number, but since she’s a good friend I put it down to mid life crisis and temporarily oxygen deprivation after a long run. Now she rides flywheel and rode over 500 miles in December alone. While she might be approaching crazy-ville, she looks great, she’s discovering the competitive edge in herself and its exciting to see where she might take it.

Neither of my girls are going to give up their jobs, families and move to France to pursue their TdF dreams, but both seem to have used their love of the 2 wheels to take them out of their rut, fuel some inner competitive edge and drive change in their lives. 

Of course not all racers take it up as part of mid life crisis. My friend Bob has been racing for years and boasts one of the best ‘masters’ asses I’ve ever seen (his partner knows I check it out and I’ve not been slapped yet. I think she revels in it). Not only does it keep him fitter than most 30 yr olds, he’s powered through medical issues, life changes and challenges by remaining focused on the next crit.  When some might be thinking ‘ I should hang it up’, he’s learning to surf, riding harder than ever and amazingly, still improving his performance. Bob’s a lifer as far as cycling goes and I can see him riding for another 40 years since his cyclist psychosis is tempered by an enjoyment of all things culinary and an extremely health sex life. Clearly he’s not spending too much time in the saddle.

All of these guys race and yet instead of spinning themselves into deep psychosis, it seems to keep them in touch with reality. They seem to thrive on competition – so much you can actually see it. Maybe because they’re spending their time channeling their sadomasochism into some form of tangible achievement instead of spending hours checking Cycling News, researching the latest derailleur wire and obsessing over the weight of their rice portion. Or maybe they just like winning and we don’t much opportunity to win anything after the age of 10.

I wish I had a competitive bone in my body where cycling was considered – it seems nothing but positive as far as I can see. Ripped bodies, satisfied Sunday nights and the opportunity to stand stiffly on a podium and feel like a winner, even if your audience is composed of spouses and prairie dogs. Sadly I’d no more chase down a cyclist to pass them – just for fun – then I would ask them for their digits. I guess I need to get my kicks in other ways… and no, dating doesn’t count as a competitive sport.

60 mph

Today I certified my woman card (lord that sounds masturbatory)  and hit 60 on my bike. No big deal for 99.9% of the riding population, but for me, a major milestone and a revelatory moment.

As a fairly new rider I’ve been zipping around the streets on my scooter for 6 months now and 35mph is my safe place. I’m in control at 35. (something I’ve never said before). But since I got my ‘big girl’ bike all I heard was, ‘have you been on the freeway yet?’ and ‘when are you heading up the mountains?’ I even got a ‘ooooo the freeway is going to scare the pants off you’. After two weeks of riding, every time I even saw a sign for the freeway I would grip my handlebars as though they might  somehow force me down the on ramp, out of control and screaming as I headed to the Wyoming border. Even thinking about 4th gear and hitting 40mph+ was enough to make my knees wobbly and an afternoon at the mall seem attractive. But after 2 weeks I couldn’t put it off any longer. I decided to stop tip toeing around and confront the big fear. Hit the freeway. Well the baby freeway. Fast enough to get into 4th gear but so not fast that I would be required to assume the fetal position on the bike.

Here’s the thing. Other than thinking that my head was actually going to blow off my shoulders, I wasn’t afraid. Sure, my head might have been bobbing around like a 2 month old, but there were no white knuckles  or clenched jaw. I didn’t spontaneously pee my pants and other than a very small squeak I wasn’t screaming as I accelerated over 50. So I wasn’t exactly punching the air or standing on one leg, but I made it 5 miles at 60 mph. And drove home feeling like I’d conquered Everest.

Its so rare in life to get the opportunity to scare yourself, and to enjoy an accomplishment without any reservation. There was no-one holding my hand. No-one cheering me on – except me. No-one talked me into it, tried to talk me out of it, and there was no urgency to make me do it. I knew I could and I did. And when I was done, I felt good. For the first time I felt confident and strong, in control and competent. Not words I’ve ever applied to myself and believed. Whats next? Flying a plane? Black diamond ski runs? Singing in public? Well lets not get ahead of myself. I felt confident, not insane.

But it does make me wonder..what else can I do? What might I accomplish if I didn’t mentally scare myself into stasis? And where can I get more of this confidence thing?
This is 40? 40 rocks today.

Owning it

Today I became a woman.

No, I’m not the oldest pubescent in the world, but I did finally make the switch from thinking of myself as a girl, to mentally owning the word ‘woman’. There isn’t really a female equivalent to ‘growing some balls’ (‘ovary up’?) but today, whatever it is, I did it.

How?

I bought a motorcycle. And rode it.

Notice that I separate the two actions. I bought it. And I rode it. The time in between the two actions was dicey, and my hands are still shaking but I bought and used something purely for the joy and fear of doing it. I can’t claim that its a ‘next step’ in adult hood, or that its advantageous for tax purposes. Its not going to extend my life, make me rich or attract a mate (lord I hope not, biker guys are scary). I can’t blame someone for making me do it. It serves no unique role that isn’t already filled by my truck or my scooter. No. Today I bought something purely because I was scared and excited to do it. And because I finally had the ‘balls’ (ovaries) to do it.

Having spent my girlhood largely following expectations in order to ‘fit in’, my inner desire seems to have finally ‘ovaried up’ enough to do what I want.. regardless of what other people might think.
Yes, sailors and hookers have tattoos… but so do lots of regular people, including me. Yes, bad ass drug kingpins ride motorcycles.. but so do lots of regular people, including me. I’m not taking on the stereotypes to piss off someone.. its more that I finally realized that people are, or aren’t, judging me anyway about things that I largely don’t have control over. So why not have them judge me doing the things that I want and do have control over. So, shaking like a leaf I bought the bike.
Then 6 hours later, shaking like a leaf and resplendent in leather, I rode it around the neighborhood.
The result? I have no desire to get a ‘Love’ or “Mum’ tattoo on my hand, hard drugs are still repellent and I don’t think that I’m ever going to want to drink bourbon, no matter how cold it gets. But today I owned it. I challenged myself and I finally thought of myself as a woman.

Does this mean I can finally bury the white picket fence ideal?