2012 retrospective


It was going to be the year of bike touring. I woke up in 2012 at Stub Stewart State Park, having biked there from Hillsboro with a group of friends to celebrate New Year’s Eve with two nights of cabin camping. Although it had been an easy 22-mile ride, I reacted to the dawning of the New Year with relief that I wouldn’t have to pack up my gear and pedal home that day. Most of my prior bike camping trips had lasted a single night each, allowing little time for laziness in the morning, as it was always best to head out by 11:00 to get home at a reasonable time. And mornings were always cold. This time we were tucked into heated cabins full of furniture, food, and board games that people had stashed in their panniers. I had the entirety of New Year’s Day to play silly games like Taboo, read my book, drink from various bottles of liquor sitting on the windowsill, and take a couple naps on the bunk bed while eavesdropping on friendly conversations. It was thoroughly relaxing.

Later that month, I bought some Adventure Cycling Association maps and cultivated the idea of a bike tour down the Oregon coast into northern California.


On a day in mid-February, I walked into my office for a day of work just as I’d done for the past eight months. Nothing was different except that I had just been converted from contractor to full-time employee of the company. Procedures dictated that I be treated as a newcomer and receive a two-hour orientation. I listened half-carefully during the session while skimming the employee handbook. At one point, the company president walked into our conference room and shooed us out because he needed the meeting space. He was friendly, and when he found out that we were new employees, he introduced himself to us. My hands were busy cradling all the orientation paperwork and a coffee cup, so unfortunately I couldn’t accept his handshake. He welcomed me to the company anyway, and some indignant part of me wanted to say, “Haha! That’s cute of you, but actually, I’ve been working here for a while and I’m too good for this orientation. Will you please tell this HR person to let me return to my work?” Instead, of course, I left quietly and followed the trainer into the lobby so she could finish telling me things I already knew. I haven’t had a chance to meet the president since.


I became a certifiably badass cyclist during a 64-mile (round-trip) bike camping excursion to the Clackamas River. The mileage wasn’t the impressive part; rather, it was the fun potpourri of Oregon Weather that we campers had thrust upon us. Our ride into the park was a little bit wet, and the evening was dry enough that we could sit comfortably around the fire, but the following morning brought heavy rain. We rigged a couple of tarps among the trees to protect the camp stoves as breakfast was prepared. I stayed beneath them for as long as I could, wishing that I had one affixed to myself like a permanent umbrella to shield my belongings as I packed them up for the ride home.

We mounted our bikes and set off under the downpour—out of the park, into Estacada, through semi-rural Clackamas County. Rain turned into hail, which turned back into rain, which turned into sunshine, which turned into more rain and hail. I couldn’t figure out which clothing layers to keep on. My first pair of gloves got soaked through, so I enlisted my backup pair. My face was stung by wind and hail. It was a blast.

Remarkably, the weather settled on “relatively clear and definitely not raining” by the time we got close to Portland. I arrived home in a state of dryness, save for the sweat of the bike ride.


My friend Jenny came for a visit and wanted to go skydiving. So we, along with my Portland friend Audrey, drove to the airstrip in Molalla and signed papers acknowledging that terrible things might happen to us. Audrey was there as an observer, but decided with a bit of prompting that she wanted to risk life and limb too. She and I had jumped together once before. We sat with Jenny, a first-timer, at the edge of the airfield to watch our peers float down through the sky. We waited nervously for our names to be called. At our turn, we had a brief training session and suited up to prepare for the colder altitudes. The videographer I had paid for came out to greet us and start recording my excursion. I could think of little to do but give him a series of thumbs-ups: while getting into the plane, sitting inside the plane, falling from the plane, and finally, standing on the ground far away from the plane.

It was a fantastic experience, better than my first skydive, during which I was too gobsmacked by the falling sensation to look around and appreciate the view. This time I was less frightened, and a little more present. I loved every moment.

* * *

My second April adventure was a training ride in advance of the 100K bike ride (metric century) I had signed up to do on the first weekend of May down in Humboldt County. I wasn’t doing any proper training, but a week ahead of the event I challenged myself to a ride up the Columbia River Gorge. I packed my bike as lightly as possible, the way I thought I might prepare for the 100K, with minimal snacks and no extra gear. Starting near Mt. Tabor I pedaled to East Portland, to Fairview, to Troutdale, and onward up into the hills of the Gorge. When I reached the Vista House at Crown Point, about 24 miles from home, I felt wonderful and energetic. I decided to keep going east until I hit Multnomah Falls. At that tourist-packed destination I photographed my beloved bicycle with the dramatic falls in the background, so proud that I had made it. This was my turnaround point. It marked 31 miles of riding, meaning that by the time I got home, I would have done a full 100 kilometers. I felt absolutely ready to conquer the Humboldt County ride.

About halfway through the return trip, I felt a growing ache in my left knee. It hit me with each stroke of the pedals and did not seem to abate with resting or stretching. I was just outside of Gresham when I first noticed it. I could have stopped then, and caught a bus to get home, but I chose to believe that it was a passing discomfort. After a short while, the pain had me wincing. However, I kept biking until I reached my apartment, trying with little success to put more weight on my right leg than on my left. At home, I put my legs up and took a break from riding the next few days. The knee pain continued whenever I bent my leg to get up off the couch or walk up some stairs.

This was troublesome.


I drove across the Humboldt County line, into my former hometown, with my bike mounted on the car. My mysterious knee injury was still fresh, but I was hopeful that I’d be able to do the 100K ride after several days of rest. As a test, I biked a few miles around Arcata with no incident; then, not wanting to push it, I kept my bike locked inside the hotel for another day. Two days before the ride, I discarded all caution and figured I had better find out now what kind of shape I was really in. So I got out the bike and rode seven miles from Arcata to Eureka, tracing the edge of Arcata Bay. My knee started acting up again. I stopped riding and took a long break in Old Town Eureka, distracting myself with the joy of feeling like a tourist on my old home turf.

Later, I set off on the bike to visit my friend Ryan. I had gone about ten blocks when the knee pain flared up; this time, as on the first day of injury, it was bad enough to make me grimace. I angrily admitted that I was too hurt to ride anymore. I stopped at a drugstore to buy a sports bandage and epsom salts. Ryan and his family drove downtown to meet me for dinner, since I couldn’t get anywhere easily. At the end of the night, I put the bike and myself on a bus back to Arcata, where I soaked in the hotel bathtub and tried to ease away my frustration. The next evening, when early check-ins opened for the ride, my friend Brigitte took me to the headquarters so I could pick up my souvenir sweatshirt and water bottle. I accepted them with the bitterness of knowing that they hadn’t been earned.

Back at my doctor’s office in Portland, an X-ray and external exam revealed nothing useful. I took a few weeks off from biking before trying to rehabilitate the knee by pedaling slowly while wearing an ACE Bandage. Eventually I was able to ride a few miles at a time, but out of prudence I had to cancel any notions of bike touring that summer.


I attended the precious wedding of my little brother to his girlfriend of the past several years—and, by extension, her young daughter. The boy who had always seemed rather cool and emotionless stood in front of us, took the hands of his bride, and tearfully professed his love with surprising eloquence. I prefer not to cry in front of people, especially my family, because they would try to comfort me and I can be too stubborn to appreciate that. But I let myself lose composure when the new Mister and Missus left the altar and walked through the crowd, drawing away any attention that might have been paid to me. My brother had officially started the next generation of our family. I tried to let the weight of that sink in for a just a moment before the party began.

Into my own life I welcomed a measure of healing, as my knee started feeling good enough to let me do some fun bike rides during Pedalpalooza. It even allowed me to cover about 30 miles throughout Portland on the night of the summer solstice, when we started riding at sundown and (a portion of us) didn’t stop until sunrise. Exhaustion had me walking the uphill distance to our final destination at Pittock Mansion. Eighteen hardy, tired souls laid down their bikes on the manicured lawn and waited for the sun to show itself as the downtown traffic, visible below us, started to energize. With the day officially begun, I emphatically said “no” to the idea of joining the group for breakfast in the city and desperately headed home to bed.


There was a frazzled-looking woman in the lobby of Central Library. I set my bag on the bench next to her to put away some books. She was making little vocal expressions of frustration, in the way that people do when they’re looking for attention. I took the bait and asked what was wrong. Oh boy … did I ever find out what was wrong. The woman had financial struggles, was going through a breakup, needed a job, and had a family who treated her poorly. She spilled it all to me unexpectedly. It took a few minutes for me to realize this was happening. I’d been standing at first, since I was on my way out the door, but that became awkward as it grew obvious that she wasn’t moving anytime soon. So I sat down to listen. It was Saturday and I didn’t need to be anywhere else.

People tend to feel comfortable opening up to me. This woman’s face showed a lot of pain that didn’t seem to have had an outlet until I let her talk freely. She had no friends or counselors in her life. While telling me outright how grateful she was for my attention, and how alone she felt, she started crying, and became embarrassed at showing tears in public. I encouraged her not to be ashamed of her feelings. I told her that she needed to find her strength. Using very broad strokes, I described to her my experience with developing ways to cope with depression. She was at least ten years older than me, but she took my words to heart. I believe that I really helped her, if only in a small way.

Unfortunately, her problems ran too deep for me. There was a gambling habit that sucked away some of her rent money. She talked about abusive behavior by her ex-boyfriend, whom she still loved. And there was an overarching sense of emotional instability, which really should have stopped me from giving her my phone number. But at the end of our hour-and-a-half “session”, she plaintively asked if we could talk again sometime. I gave in. Over the next week, I believe she called me about three times. It was always a rehash of the issues she’d already described to me, with a tone of desperation leading into a near-blatant request for money. I refused that politely, knowing that it was a big red flag.

The kind thing to do would have been to meet with her one more time, buy her a coffee, and explain why I couldn’t talk to her again—I didn’t have the capacity to be her counselor or friend. We came very close to setting up a date downtown. But I simply didn’t want to deal with her troubles; also, I worried that she would eventually take advantage of me if I let my guard down. So I stopped answering her calls. It took about a month for them to cease.


In August, I became a cowgirl: I rode horseback for the first time, and shot a gun for the first time.

My mentee, nine-year-old Simone (not her real name), was in love with horses. Ever since we’d met I had known that I wanted to take her horseback riding. This summer, I finally decided to do the research and rather quickly found a ranch out in North Plains that offered guided rides. I got lost while driving us there—so lost that we ran about 30 minutes late for our appointment. I forced myself not to think about how Simone would feel if she missed this opportunity. She had ridden a horse once before, but it was something her family couldn’t afford to do regularly. Thankfully, the staff at the ranch were very friendly and took us in with no trouble. I was introduced to a horse named Willy, and Simone to a horse named Jimmy. We learned how to groom them before taking them into the ring for a basic riding lesson. It felt very odd to have a mechanical sort of control over a live being. I was timid until the fact sunk in that these horses had already been broken into submission. In effect, they were “programmed” to respond to my commands. This idea pierces me with a small dose of guilt.

When we set out upon the trail, I found it pleasantly challenging. Simone rode in front of me, attached to the guide’s horse by a kind of leash. We rode at a leisurely pace through the forest, learning how to assist our horses across downed tree limbs and over small hills. Simone frequently piped up about how well she and Jimmy were doing. She also made conversation with the guide, which I was frankly grateful for, as it allowed me some time for peaceful enjoyment of the beautiful setting and animal beneath me. I think I had nearly as much fun as Simone did, although the occasion was more meaningful for her. On the way home, she actually thanked me for doing this.

My shooting lesson also required a long car trip to the woods, but this time much farther, into the mountains of rural Tillamook County. My co-worker John had invited me out to shoot with his friends and family. I rode in his Bronco to an abandoned quarry site, where they set up all manner of weaponry and targets. Then I became John’s student. First, I practiced the simple act of holding a gun—a .22 rifle—without being shaky or skittish about it; I had never been near a gun before. In order to load the rifle, I had to point the barrel downward and rest the end of it on my foot, which felt highly unnatural, although I was highly unlikely to accidentally shoot myself. The bullets went in; i raised the gun, took my ungainly stance, and shot at a picture of a squirrel mounted on a piece of cardboard. After going through a couple rounds, I had killed that squirrel good. The .22 was fairly easy to use.

My experiences with a semi-automatic rifle and a 40-mm handgun were more intense. Each had a strong recoil that I wasn’t ready for. I grew more nervous with every shot, and wasn’t getting close to my targets. Realizing that I was becoming shaky, I laid down the weapons and sat down to pet John’s dog while the other folks kept shooting. That was enough for one day.


After breaking up with a boyfriend in August, I started a small flurry of activity in September: jogging, buying my first smartphone, and getting a new couch for my apartment. I also joined some friends for an all-women (well, women and dogs) camping trip to a quiet lake near Mt. Hood. The setting was pristine, and the weather exquisite. It was a perfect day to go skinny-dipping. At the lake’s edge, I stripped off all my clothes except for my panties. Standing out in the open, naked, provided strong motivation for me to get over my wimpiness about the cold water. So I jumped in and swam. Another item crossed off my bucket list.


A lanky man with a leather jacket and fedora walked past the front window of the restaurant I was sitting in. He recognized me, smiled a wide happy smile, and waved through the glass before coming inside. This was my first date with Fred, whom I had met on OkCupid a few days earlier. “Nice to finally meet you, Kristen,” he said, which surprised me. Finally? It seemed like a quirky thing to say. Neither of us could have guessed at how significant that word really was. It wasn’t known yet that we would quickly grow to feel a kind of love that we’d both waited years for.

On our second date, six days later, he brought me a rose. By that time I knew I felt something special for him, and the flower told me that he felt the same way. But we didn’t say it until we’d warmed up our vocals with a night of karaoke. After leaving the bar, we kissed, and he lifted me off the ground in a tight hug that said he already loved me. Over the next two weeks he expressed thoughts that, according to any dating manual or my own skittish relationship history, should have smothered me and sent me running. But I wasn’t scared, and I wasn’t anxious. This was unfathomable. It was healthy. And it felt like magic.


After several months of consideration I decided to stop being a mentor to Simone. My patience had been nearly exhausted, and although I loved her, every outing felt like a chore. I was no longer giving her the best of myself. Still, I struggled with the choice. If I tried harder, and reset my focus, could I do a better job? Had two years of mentoring been enough? Would she be better off with me than with no mentor at all?

I had already talked with friends, program support staff, and fellow mentors about possibly of quitting. The main thrust of their advice was that I had given Simone plenty, that it would be okay for me to leave. Relationships change, and it seemed to all observers that this one wasn’t working for me anymore. I had to let those ideas sit with me for a while before deciding that I really was okay with leaving the program. I broke the news first to the staff, then to Simone’s mom, then to Simone. She reacted calmly, seeming not at all upset. I was relieved.

I scheduled our final outing for the following weekend. We spent an entire day together, doing three things that she had chosen from our activity list. Fred joined us for breakfast at a restaurant where we made our own pancakes on a griddle built into the table. He shaped one into a rocking horse, and one into an elaborate choo-choo train, for Simone’s (and my) entertainment. I then took her to my friend Eric’s apartment, where he made us root beer floats as we watched a Christmas-themed movie. Simone was all sugared up at the end of it. Fortunately, our next activity was roller skating at Oaks Park. I was getting tired and tried to take a lot of rest, if only to have some moments of quiet with myself, which Simone didn’t like much. I accepted that I would need to try extra hard to give her my attention for the next couple hours. She deserved it. So we skated next to each other for most of the afternoon.

When I dropped her off at home, her scrappy attitude fell away and she was sad to let me go. But I had emphasized that we would still be friends. I could never forget about her.


It was a month of warm ‘n’ fuzzy as I indulged my every corny Christmas-related desire. I spent an entire day baking cookies and peppermint brownies. I wasted away a few evenings watching terrible Hallmark Channel-type holiday movies on Netflix. I alternated shopping for Christmas gifts with shopping for myself. Fred and I sang carols together on the street while he wore the Santa hat I gave him.

I spent Christmas with my family in California. It was a special holiday for us, too, as we’re anticipating the arrival of my brother’s first child in a few months. Baby Macy had her own stocking up at her parents’ and grandparents’ houses. Her mommy and daddy are thrilled. 2013 is going to be another landmark year.

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