This year, I resolve …

… to do the following:

  • Reduce my weight to 165 pounds
  • Do an Oregon bike tour of at least four days
  • Reconsider self-centered behaviors
  • Take music lessons
  • Go on three photography walks
  • Run a few miles every week
  • Write for at least two hours per week
  • Catch up with car maintenance
  • Add [a certain amount of money] to savings account
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Crater Lake

I’ve seen rainbows in the sky, in the mists of city fountains, and among the spray of waterfalls, but only once have I seen a rainbow in the middle of a lake. Everybody was in awe at the Crater Lake Lodge. Drink and meal service stopped as guests and employees came out to the back porch with their smartphones and cameras. The rainbow was a short, pale arc emerging from cobalt-blue water and dissolving into the wintry air. There had been snow, rain, and hail that day, marking the end of autumn in the mountains of southern Oregon, and we felt this was a reward bestowed by a temporarily clear sky. It was too cold to stay and gaze at it for long. We, mostly strangers, smiled at each other and filed back inside to enjoy our hot drinks.

I had been on the other side of that rainbow a couple hours earlier, on the rim of Crater Lake, riding my bike on an empty road with my friend Fiona. Park administrators had closed the road to motor vehicles for the weekend to give cyclists a rare opportunity to enjoy it without the fear and stress of car traffic. They, and we, had expected nicer weather and a much larger crowd of visitors. I had helped to lead a caravan from Portland the night before, transporting about 13 people. Most of us had ratcheted down our cycling ambitions after we’d arrived and found ourselves pitching tents under freezing rain. Many people wanted to ride the entire car-free portion of Rim Drive, which was about 26 miles. A handful of them followed through, starting early in anticipation of a snowstorm. Some went a few miles before heading to the lodge or back to the campsite. One didn’t even leave the campground. Fiona and I biked about seven miles before encountering a few friends who were going the opposite direction, and reversed course. They told us it had begun to snow at some of the higher points of the rim. So far, we had gotten no worse than an interruption of sleet against the persistent chill of the air. (more…)

Pushing it

I wore a mid-afternoon veneer of sweat and sunblock, in a mixture that dripped helplessly down my body. I gulped the last of my warm Gatorade and moved on to the bottle of water, which was also warm and getting close to empty. The temperature in the sun was about 96 degrees, and perhaps a few degrees cooler where I stood on the shaded sidewalk. My bike was near me, idling against a fence. I started to relax as my body slowly cooled. I had been biking for 37 miles, and another 11 stretched between me and my apartment. Under better conditions I would have had no trouble completing the ride, but the hottest day of the year had gotten the better of me. I had just come down from the Columbia Gorge Scenic Highway—shady, downhill, river-adjacent—and found myself on the completely sun-exposed shoulder of Halsey Street in Troutdale. It was 3:00 and I could no longer handle the heat radiating from the asphalt. I caught a bus, put my bike on the front rack, and returned to Portland in air-conditioned comfort.

Earlier that day, while debating whether or not to go out in the forecast heat, I assumed I’d be home before the temperature hit its peak. But I hadn’t started early enough. My 9:30 breakfast stop turned into a sojourn, since my little pre-ride to the restaurant had me sweating already. I wondered if I should go on, even as I downed the stack of pancakes that I ordered specifically to fuel a long bike ride. In the end, I couldn’t convince myself to give up the goal of reaching Crown Point in the Gorge. This was the very ride that kickstarted my knee problem over a year ago and prevented me from riding the Tour of the Unknown Coast, and generally sidelined me from doing long rides for a while. (more…)

Into the light

Dear friends,

I’m about to fall in love for the second time in five months, and it’s with a baby girl. My brother’s first daughter was born two weeks ago. A photo of her is pinned up in my cubicle; her eyes are gazing upon her daddy while her mouth forms a serious little O. I look at her and try to see the different generations of my family. The shape of her features will become more apparent as she gets older, but right now, I could swear that the nose definitely comes from her daddy, and from my dad and grandfather. I can’t wait to hold her and make her smile. In two days, I’ll be in California to get my turn.

Fred is coming with me to even the score in our relationship—I’ve already met every member of his immediate family, while he’s only met my brother and sister-in-law via Skype. Fortunately for me, my brother’s family lives in the same town as our parents, and I have aunts and cousins the area too. As the word spreads, I imagine lots of people “just stopping by” my parents’ house to see my male caller. It’s been almost eleven years since I have brought a boy home. Fred is already being treated like part of the family from afar, so I know how warmly he’ll be welcomed in person. (more…)

A love of Saturday

Dear friend,

This was a very Portlandy day in Portland. I felt more at ease than I had in quite a while. The air felt substantially warmer than it had in the past few weeks; our winter has been quite frosty in January. Today we had friendly clouds with a bit of drizzle and a smattering of sun. I started my day with a walk down the street for coffee and pastries, which I ate while browsing Caturday pictures on my laptop. Under most circumstances, it takes little more than that to make me content.

To get from contentment to happiness, though, requires a bike. And I’ve been using mine consistently over the past few weekends, as Fred has borrowed my car to get to his job on Saturdays and Sundays. It’s been a pleasant reminder of how little I actually need my car. I admit that I’ve often succumbed to the cold, nasty weather as an excuse not to get around by bike, even though I’m well equipped for staying warm. (The main problem is with my glasses, which get fogged up easily.) In today’s mild weather I biked just a mile or so to meet a friend for lunch at Portland’s best Lebanese restaurant. On the way back, I hauled myself up the old Salmon Street hill, expecting to run out of breath quickly—most winter cycling trips remind me that I’m out of shape—but found it very easy to keep a steady cadence with only a couple of downshifts.  (more…)

Dreams for the new year

Some friends of mine have a Dream Collage party at the beginning of every January. They gather a bunch of people in their little apartment with piles of magazines, sticks of glue, sheets of poster board, and pairs of scissors, with the intent of having us depict what we wish to happen in our lives over the coming year. I think of it more as an Intent Collage, since I don’t believe in the direct manifestation of thoughts and dreams. (Probably few of us really do.) I created my first one two years ago and still had it hanging on my bedroom door until yesterday. I filled it with pictures of things that I wanted to cultivate in my life or in my personality—but then mostly forgot about it. I’m sure I could have put it to better use by letting it be a reminder of what I had wanted for myself.

Anyway, this year I’ve made another collage, and a few themes emerged.

Dream Collage

Bikes: Always bikes. Every year, bikes. Not so much like that girl in the photo, who is clearly out for more of a cruise than an adventure. (Hey, it’s all relative.) I don’t often wear a dress while cycling, but it’s a cute photo, showing an environment that I’d be happy to find myself in. But I’d rather be in the top-left-corner scenario. It’s not unattainable just because it was staged on a mountaintop. I’ve had a mind to ride across Mt. Hood one of these days, and up to the rim of Crater Lake another one of these days. Either or both may not happen this year, but somewhere, somehow, I must go on a tour. (more…)

Christmas grows up

Dear friend,

This is not the house I grew up in. It’s been about ten years since we’ve celebrated Christmas in a house that I had ever called “home”. My parents are restless and easily dissatisfied. After trying out a gleaming subdivision, a 20-year-old ranch-style home shaded by trees, and a small rural house in the Sierra foothills, they have now settled in another subdivision even as they dream regretfully about the country-style suburb we lived in while I was in high school (which, also, was not a house that I spent my childhood in). And my dad dreams about the actual countryside as he plans to cash out some of his retirement savings and buy a few acres of property. But they have forced themselves to stay put for a few years, at least, in this suburban town outside of Sacramento. The house is new, stuccoed, and neutral in color like its neighbors. I can look through the window at a freeway carrying shoppers to the nearby mall. I can go for a walk along the paved path that winds through the entire subdivision but passes only a single point of interest, at a patch of wetland where ducks and egrets reside.

Being here does recall, in a sense, what it was like to grow up where I did. It’s just … very suburban. If you came of age in a similar setting and now have a healthy dislike for it, then I don’t need to tell you what that means. For those who are unsure, I mean that my brain feels dulled by boredom and the constant noise of television. I can’t quite remember how I spent my time when I was growing up, once I moved past the age of playing with Barbies. I know that I went to stores and malls quite often, after getting a driver’s license, even when I had nothing to buy. When I hung out with friends, we’d listen to music—we were totally rockers because we favored the “alternative” radio station, have sleepovers in a backyard tent, and put on goofy shows in front of my dad’s video camera. When I was alone, though, what did I do at home? I’m recalling a few things: I learned HTML and built myself a website. For a while I published a e-zine on AOL. I met strangers in chat rooms. I gorged myself on photos and news articles of my favorite band, Third Eye Blind. I practiced art photography while wandering through our neighborhood. I read books and played with our dog. (more…)

Things said to me by people in cars

As a cyclist, I’ve gotten a few comments from people with whom I’m trying to share the road.

“Get a car, asshole!” — Speeding BMW driver who craned his head out the window to yell at me. I was having one of the finest days of my life, riding down a rural highway on my way to my first bike camping adventure at Champoeg State Park. The driver proceeded to flip off each of my bike-riding friends as he passed them. They grinned and waved back. I thought about my car, and was happy that I’d left it at home for the weekend.

Seriously. Ride faster, or move over.” — Emphatic pickup driver on NE 28th Avenue, where I was riding more or less with traffic to avoid the parked cars that line that entire street. It was my birthday, and I was on my way to have dinner with friends. We were stopped a red light. In order to align himself with me so he would be heard, he nosed past the white line and edged the front of his truck into cross traffic, eliciting angry honks from other drivers.

“Don’t fall!!” — Frat-boy passenger of a car that passed me going eastbound on the Hawthorne Bridge. It was rather late at night, and few people were around. He scared the crap out of me but clearly thought he was being funny.

“You know, it’s pretty dangerous to be riding your bike around here with these blind corners. People up here are getting fed up with cyclists and their ‘rights’. We can’t drive on Skyline [a popular rural residential road for cyclists] anymore, and now you guys are up on these roads, and soon we won’t have anything left. … [more blather] … Anyway, it’s nothing personal, but I hope you understand where I’m coming from.” — Pickup driver on a quiet rural road who thought it was acceptable to pull over and deliver a five-minute lecture to me, a solo cyclist who had stopped to eat lunch and enjoy a view of the mountains.

“Hey, beautiful! What’s a guy like me gotta do to get a girl like you’s number?” — Grammatically awkward dude who tried to hit on me as I rode on NW Glisan Street through downtown. I was sweaty and wearing rain gear. When I stopped next to the guy’s car at a red light, I promptly turned onto a different street.

I’d ask the world to dance

There was a strobe light on me the first time I enjoyed dancing. My college friends had bought the light and were testing it out with a three-person dance party in the living room of their rental house. I had joined them after spending an earlier part of the evening at the computer in my own rented bedroom, in a house across town wtih absent roommates. I was about 21 at the time, still very shy, with a self-image flattened by the depression I’d been suffering for two years. On nights when I didn’t have to study or work my job at the mall, I was typically alone and adrift. But I did have friends, and on this particular dull night, one of them contacted me on AIM saying I should come over for dancing and margaritas.

It was a small thing, but it may have been one of the first times I was able to listen to the inner voice that begged for fun and camaraderie, without letting it be muffled by fear. Exacerbated by depression, the inertia that settled upon me every day was hard to overcome, and it was powerful when combined with my general timidity toward life. I  managed to break out and drive to my friends’ house that evening. They liked me in spite of my asocial tendencies and wouldn’t care if I was a terrible dancer, which I was sure I would be. (Prior to this I had taken half a semester of swing dance, in which a friend of mine remarked, “Kristen, you’re very stiff!”) The strobe light was a welcome surprise, as it made everybody’s moves look otherwordly and not subject to the rules of what was actually good. (more…)

Smarts

It’s a wonder that my most recent job interview was not a failure. I managed to arrive at least fifteen minutes late, even after leaving my office extremely early with the excuse of a doctor appointment, and it was for a most embarrassing cause that I could not have predicted.

Traffic wasn’t the problem; it was a quarter to five, but I was traveling against the predominant flow of traffic, from Portland to the suburbs. My driving directions weren’t exactly the problem either, as they involved a pretty simple set of turns. It came down to my anxiety and unfamiliarity with the suburbs I was driving through. I ended up on Millikan Way—a street of car dealerships and bland office parks—looking for a five-digit address. I knew the name of the cross street I was headed toward, but didn’t know how much farther down Millikan I had to go. I had no idea what the building looked like, or whether there would be a sign with the company name visible from the street. For some reason, I was terrified of bypassing it and having to turn around, or getting stuck on some major road that I didn’t know how to navigate.

When I saw a fenced-in complex with a gate, it seemed promising, since I’d at least been told that I would have to pass through a security checkpoint. So I pulled up to the gate, and it swung open a moment later. Not a person was in sight, but I figured that somebody had spotted me on a security camera and pressed the magic button. (more…)

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