Monday, July 28, 2014

The Tiny Hammer

I came in like a wrecking ball
I never hit so hard in love
All I wanted was to break your walls
All you ever did was wreck me
Yeah, you, you wreck me

For those first promising 2-3 weeks of mountain biking in State College, it seemed like I was on a nice trajectory out of the disrepair into which my fitness had fallen during the stressful transition into moving here. Then a bunch of stuff happened: work conference, furniture move, crazy junk food fueled working weekend during our software upgrade, the cold from hell and its lingering life-sucking effects, shoulder and hip pain from my not-so-ergonomic desk at work, and various other social obligations. For nearly three months now, I’ve never managed to make more than a week’s worth of forward progress before something happened to set it back again.

It hasn’t really taken much to get off-track, as I haven’t ever gotten the chance to get that solid foundation of seeing real progress that I’m highly-motivated to keep up in the face of adversity. Things always feel incredibly shitty when you’re trying to get back into a positive routine, but I haven’t yet made it to the point where I start to get past the shittiness and start to feel good again. The fact that my ability to physically recover seems to have tanked since moving here doesn’t help; is 33 really that much older than 32 was? It’s just shitty white-knuckling, interruption, regression, repeat.

This summer has been metaphorical exercise in trying to tear down a brick wall with a childrens’ toy hammer. When I first started to see what I was up against, I thought the answer was to maybe walk away and let erosion work on the wall for a while, or hope that maybe someone would leave me a bigger hammer to work with while I wasn’t looking. Instead, every time I come back to the wall, I find that someone has filled in any minor chips that I was able to make before and maybe even added another layer of protective coating. Then I have to just start smacking again with my tiny hammer just to get back to the pathetic place I was before.

One good thing we did do this week is implement the Tuesday Night Mountain Climb, which I only regret not doing sooner. It's a really effective workout for relatively little time or mental effort.

So a couple of weeks ago, I noticed this pattern and started to get pretty pissed about it. I also got pretty pissed at anything that was keeping me from improving it. Hammering away at the wall with my tiny hammer feels terrible, but letting the wall stand is also not an option. For the last couple of years, I’ve been trying really hard to stop being that lame-o person who puts training over social connection, but I started to get stressed out and panicky about how I just wanted to make a noticeable dent in that fucking wall, and that I kept being asked to do other things instead.

I didn’t get that far into resolving those two conflicting desires, but on Thursday I was so anxious and depressed that it seemed like I forgotten to use my tiny hammer and had simply started beating the wall with my head. So I decided that I should stop hammering with my head, and spend the evening focused on cheering myself up and, you know, not being an asshole to my boyfriend. So instead of dragging my exhausted, ragey butt to the gym, we went out to play mini golf, which lead to restaurant food and beer. It also lead to me feeling and acting less like an asshole. So the real task here is to figure out a way to hold on to my tiny hammer tight enough to keep chipping away at the wall, but not so much that it makes me angry at everything. I also need to find a way to cheer myself up that minimizes backsliding on what progress I do make, which was more the point of my last post than anything that actually had to do with cooking.

So after calming myself down a bit, I made what I felt like was the imperfect but best choice under the circumstances for the weekend. The biggest factor in my panic was that Frank’s aunt was coming to visit, and wanted to leave for New York very early Saturday morning, ride the Brooklyn Bridge, and then spend the night in NYC. I’ve obviously turned into a much better traveler than I’ve been the past, but it still takes a lot out of me, and I feel like I’ve gotten not nearly enough home time since moving to State College. I also didn’t want to miss another weekend of mountain biking; since the weekend before had felt so awful, I wanted to give myself a chance to crack the wall a bit more instead of coming back in two weeks to a newly impenetrable surface at which I would once again have to start chipping away.

When I considered skipping the trip, and there was something uniquely upsetting about my first time voluntarily doing something separately from Frank. I guess a little part of me believes that it’s a slippery slope from choosing to do one thing apart from him to regressing to a relationship where carpooling to races together is the closest thing to intimacy. I was also stressed about family politics and whatnot, so even when I made the decision not to go, it didn’t give me much relief.

I learned that if you make it to the top of the Peep Trail and still have the energy to keep going up the road, you land on this nifty trail where you can take a (solo) #scenicvistaselfie while standing right in the middle of #eastcoastrocks.

It’s too soon to say whether I made the right decision or not, as I still don’t really feel that good about it general, but I do feel really good about the ride that I got in at Cooper’s Gap on Saturday instead. I was still ridiculously slow, but at least it felt like I had a little more to give and was merely metering my effort for what I knew was coming on the Peep climb. It paid off, too, as I made to the final rock-covered 25 meters without the soul-crushing exhaustion I felt last weekend. I still didn’t have enough energy to monster-truck the rocks on top of that, but I got closer at least.

So now I’ve made cracks in the wall two weekends in a row. It still feels pretty terrible, but at least I can see them forming. The next couple of weeks should be a little less daunting as far as making progress goes. I think the important thing I need to focus on is to keep hitting away with the tiny hammer even though it’s no fun, but not drive myself to the point of hitting with my head. Hitting with my head is bad, mmmkay? For now, I have to work with what I have and hope for the best, but I’m adding “bigger hammer” to my Amazon wish list just in case.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Zorro Circle, Part I

Last week was rough for me. I got really down on myself for continuing the general backward trend in my weight and fitness since moving to State College, the number of obstacles that would make reversing that trend in the near future extremely difficult, and feeling like I had to choose between either letting myself down or letting Frank down because it was becoming pretty obvious that I was failing at doing it all. I know that trying to find solutions from a place of negativity is probably not going to be successful, so in planning this week’s post I was trying to figure out a way to make it something besides just whining. So I just started typing, and what came out was a very specific story about developing successful coping mechanisms, so I think is what I will limit my scope to today. Maybe this is the Zorro Circle in which I should start digging my way back out, and this week will require multiple posts.


One thing that really turned the tide for me when I was getting my binge eating under control in the fall of 2012 was to simply make not binge eating my number one priority. I know this sounds silly in its simplicity, since I’d been unsuccessfully trying to kick the habit for over ten years, but I realized that the biggest driver of my binge eating was the need for relief, usually during a bad day at work. So the fantasy of binge eating would get me through the afternoon, and when I got out of work, I felt obligated to act on the fantasy I’d had all afternoon. Then I figured out how to get past the window where the need to act was so acute and that if I could get home without buying food to binge on, I could also let go of the stress that was triggering my urge to binge once I was safe at home. Part of making home “safe” was letting go of the notion that cooking a full healthy dinner from scratch or eating a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and half a box of Cheez-Its were the only two options.

 On the worst days, it was good enough just to eat something tasty and easy that would keep me from being hungry until breakfast. It didn’t have to be super nutritious, just not harmful or something that would trigger cravings. When I was first breaking the habit, there were a lot of days that I just dumped almond butter on top of a cut up banana and then turned my brain off for the rest of the evening. Working out or cooking real dinner were considered bonuses until I got the bingeing under control, but as I grew stronger, I managed to do both of those things more and more often until both my body composition and fitness were the best that they’d been since my college running days.

Now that my living situation has changed and I have to learn new coping mechanisms. I no longer have a two-hour window in which to binge eat, then hide the evidence before my significant other returns to judge me, so coming home to another person at home who is thankfully non-judgy but in front of whom I’m still too embarrassed to down massive quantities of junk food is an automatic stop my binge eating in the traditional sense. However, relief doesn’t come so easily for me now that I have another person depending on me for dinner, and an almond butter covered banana won’t do. Therefore, I’ve found myself saying, “Let’s just go out” way too often since moving to State College, which might not quite be as bad for me as binge eating, but at the frequency it’s been taking place is doing nothing positive for my weight, health, or my ability to deal with stress. I actually enjoy cooking a lot, especially when I’m doing it for someone I love and not just feed myself. When my love guru Sarah Fredrickson tasked me with making a list of must-have qualities in my future mate, “Not vegetarian or vegan; preferably enjoys when I cooked big-ass steaks for him” was near the top of the list. However, some days being a kitchen superstar is just too much pressure, so now I need to develop a new coping strategy that is something other than just saying, “Let’s go out.”

 I haven’t really found the answer yet, but I feel like talking through how I was able to figure it out in the past might help me find a new strategy now.


In riding news, we rode some new trails in the Cooper's Gap area that we hadn't done before. The Cooper's Gap Epic has now surpassed Raystown as the number one ride in Pennsylvania on the MTB Project, and now that I have seen the what the world outside Rothrock has to offer, I believe that is probably an accurate assessment.

Of course, we didn't finish the whole epic what with the still backsliding fitness and all, and the climbing was pretty much killing my soul. However, all the rest breaks did allow me to capture some good photo inspiration for the "Rocks and Rhododendrons" tattoo that I would like get sometime this winter when I've saved my dollars and found an artist that I trust with the task.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Don't Crash the Bride

This weekend I made my first real return to Indiana since moving to State College, not counting the quick overnight trip to get my furniture. The occasion was the wedding of my friends Sarah and Josh at Brown County State Park, to which I've been looking forward ever since I moved.

It was just as fun as I hoped it would be. Luckily, no one crashed the bride at the "Don't Crash the Bride Ride", and it was a really fun, not overly serious wedding. It made me so happy to see Sarah and Josh finally tie the knot, as they are both such great people and go so well together. Witnessing the kind of relationship they had with each other was a big part of what gave me the courage to look for that kind of love for myself.

The leisurely contingent of the "Don't Crash the Bride Ride"
Photo Credit: Erin Baumgardt

I was also glad to see all of my other friends in person again, since I'd been missing my Indiana people really badly in the past few weeks. It's hard being away and feeling like it's just a matter of time before people forget you when your relationship dwindles to Facebook-only. Plus, I've been pretty busy at my new job and social media time has been greatly reduced. I know it's partially my own fault, as I don't pick up the phone and send "How you doing?" texts enough, but I feel the good parts of my life back in Indiana slipping away. Being able to reconnect with a bunch of different people over the weekend made me feel a lot better about things, although I still need to work on staying in touch and maybe even making some friends in State College.

Got to hang out with my favorite puppy, Lo. Yes, my hair is also purple.

The other big part of the trip for me was getting to ride BCSP again having spent three months riding the East Coast Gnar. It was especially interesting because BCSP was trending as the highest rated trail system in the country on the MTB Project a couple of weeks ago. Of course, since Raystown is the highest rated trail system in Pennsylvania, I knew such judgements couldn't really be trusted. When I left Indiana, I was so sad to be taken away from BCSP, but upon my return, I wondered if it was really as great as I remembered and were the hard parts as hard with my new-found gnar skills.


The answer is that, yes, having seen both ends of the spectrum of what Pennsylvania has to offer, Brown County is a really good trail system. You can go fast, but it's got enough stuff going on that it is not boring like Raystown. The "hard" parts are kind of funny, though, as it's weird riding trails that were designed to be hard as opposed to trails that just are hard naturally. That being said, I wasn't much more skilled on Walnut than I was before I moved. I'll monster truck over all the the rocks when there's room to fall, but my confidence is still not that great when I risk tipping over the side of a bench cut trail if I fail. We rode half of Schooner Trace, but it was just like I remembered it: just a lot of really purpose-built super hard obstacles on which you will fall off the side if you don't make it over smoothly. So I may have hated Rothrock the first time I rode it and couldn't believe I was trading Brown County for it at first, but now I would definitely take John Wert over Schooner any day.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

I (Still) Want To Ride Bikes With You

At long last, I seem to be breaking through the fatigue that has plagued me for the last couple of months. Frank and I got back into the gym a couple of times this week, and while I'm feeling unsurprisingly sore, I'm not feeling like my basic life force has been sucked away. I feel like I'm actually going to get stronger from it once I recover. We also had a great three day weekend where we explored some new mountain bike trails on Friday, hiked Mt. Nittany on Saturday, and did a nice couple of hours of mixed road, (weedy) singletrack, and gravel today. After my first solid training week since the week I arrived in State College and didn't have to work yet, I'm still tired and wincing from the soreness every time I get up, but I'm not overwhelmed with fatigue. Hopefully I've finally clipped in on the path back to fitness this time.

I had no idea what was in store when Frank said, "Let's go hike Mt. Nittany. It wasn't exactly the recovery day I had in mind, but it was a lot of fun.

Our Friday adventure was to check out the Rattling Creek IMBA Epic. It's about two hours away, but it looked really fun, and I'm enjoying the chance to check out some new trails instead of concentrated on Rothrock for a while.

The trails delivered on the "rocky flow" that was promised. They definitely still had plenty of rocks and a general Pennsylvania backcountry feel, but with a more cruisable flow to them. The climbing was gentle and the descending meandered around more for maximum enjoyment, rather straight downhill bombing. We only had two complaints, the first of which being that some sections were so ridiculously overgrown that it felt like bushwhacking rather than mountain biking. The other was that the trails were very poorly marked.

Looking derpy but staying upright on a rock garden.

Complaint Number Two turned out to be the theme of the day, as we started off spending a lot of time driving around gravel roads after driving right past the parking lot, thanks to trying to follow Google maps to the mapping point provided on the MTB Project app. This was followed by going a down a big paved descent first thing (and then having to climb back up), since the unmarked first trail was simply described as "across the road" from the parking lot, but they didn't say in which direction. And so it went, trying to find our way around the prescribed epic course, and it ended with us getting about 19 miles (the epic course was 22) but a few of those being riding around aimlessly on the road.We both got different amounts of frustrated at different times. Frank's mostly had to do with the suckiness of the map; mine mostly had to do with when I had to do unnecessary climbing as a result of a navigational mistake.

Bridging out of the brush

During all of the wandering, I thought of last summer when a package arrived in the mail from Frank. The great collector of tiny hats had sent me one of my own, with the words "Get Lost" under the brim. He included a note saying that he saw it and thought of my experience at the Gravel Metric, and that he had also purchased one for himself. The rest of the note was incredibly sweet and talked about how he looked forward to the adventures that we would have together. I reread it many times over the next few months whenever I started missing him too badly.

So I found it kind of funny as we were in the midst of one of those adventures actually happening that it was less romantic than we had imagined it to be. I've been stressed lately about the terrible state of my fitness and the continuing roadblocks that stand in my way, but then I remembered the the kind of relationship that I was looking for when I met Frank. It was one year ago this weekend that we took our first rides together, and after which I wrote "I Just Want to Ride Bikes with You".

As much as I miss being fast(ish) and competing in races, I remembered that right now I'm living out the days that I was missing for all those years when I was completely focused on (unsuccessfully) trying to be fast. Now I've tasted success in both areas and sometimes get frustrated that I have thus far been unable to have both at once. This weekend reminded me that stressing about my lack of fitness won't help, and that I just need to keep focusing on doing the best I can and appreciating what I already have.

Even when I get lost and it feels like I'm no closer to my goals, I still want to ride bikes with [Frank].

Whatever Instagram filter I used makes me look like an Oompa Loompa, but you get the idea.