Monday, May 30, 2011

Hamlet, and shit like that.

Rain on plain plains of flyover country, which, beset by endless rains and tornado pains, is both less dismissable and justifiably missable by those who fly from edge to edge of the country. And, we've got fungus on our mildew.

Soundset w/ Ben & Shana, and Flann. Parental obligation: to not bounce/dance more than my eleven-year-old kid was at any given time. And, not to shove her out of the way to slap hands with the frontman for the Dirty Crusty Clowns...

More pressingly, a dream was had last night (early this morn, really). Vivid and sustained. Attempt at capturing as follows:
One of those situations (within the dream) where it's kind-of like work, and kind-of not. I'm part of a crew called to a DOA. Then the medics, or the cops, or someone stops me and says, It's your mother. She's dead.
I respond, I know she's dead. She died in 1969.
No, she's upstairs. She slipped and hit her head. It was a bad head wound. ... We need to you identify the body.
We go inside and upstairs--a typical small, southside house; narrow rear stairs--to an entry hall then a small den. Wrapped in a sheet is a body. We unfurl the sheet. In the dream and in my consciousness as viewer of dream, I'm thinking--Oh, I hate the suspense of the reveal when we're on gory calls. Too many movies where it's a pornographic violence money shot (roll the corpse over to see exposed brain or eaten eyes or whathaveyou). I'm thinking, Hmmm, she looks small. And young. And, well, freshly dead.
It's almost as if the ancient Egyptians had handled the post-mortem, the way the body was spun in cheese cloth. At one point, we can see the body, yet the face is still covered. I can see the eyes, and the hair.
Hmmm, I think. She doesn't look very dead. The body has good color. We stare at her. Hmmm, it looks as if she's breathing, or trying to. Are you guys sure she's dead? I ask.
Those? That's just final exhalations. Gas leaving the body. End of electric circuitry.
We look at the body, unconvinced.
I tell the other firefighter to unroll the cloth on her face.
Sure enough, she takes a couple gasps. I tell them to use the BVM and give her some breaths.
Sure enough, she starts breathing.
Then opens her eyes, then sits up. She's very much alive.

There is only mild surprise in the room. Jaded EMS providers have seen it all, even the resurrection, apparently. Then I have a conversation with my long-dead mother. 'But, you're dead,' is how several sentences begin...

She says, yes, she is dead, and yes, she is here, now, alive, briefly. But not really alive. It doesn't look necessarily like her--ie, what my memory of photographs of her conjur as being 'her'--but it also feels like it IS her.
She turns her head to show me the left side, where she struck her head on the table edge. The hair is shaved/lost (like a chemo patient) on that side, and there's a six-inch open tear/gash along the entire side of her skull. She's dead, all right. Even if she wasn't dead long ago, this one looks pretty bad.

So we sit and talk, mostly enjoy each other's company. We hug, there is a corporeal feeling to the hug, in the dream and in my sleep.
She doesn't try to sell me any subscriptions to heaven and I don't beg her to stay.
After a while, she tells me she has to go. We hug again, and cry pleasantly. I can almost smell her hair and feel her/our tears. I start to walk away then stop and trot back to her. (As is the case in dreams, we were both still in the upstairs apartment and also outside, so I was walking along a straight path, slightly upward, then turned and was back in the room, sort of.)

It felt important for me to tell her not to feel badly for dying young. I didn't want her to hold that sadness and regret and guilt any longer (forty-two years seems plenty). That was the most-tangible sentiment in my dream, beyond a suffusion of warmth and loving calm, the need to tell her not to feel bad, that I was all right. She smiled and said she knew all that.
And then I woke up.

Biking to work in the barometric vacuum of humid pre-rain dawn, I mused about the dream. How seldom I think of Judy in this manner, and how very seldom I dream about her. I wondered if it was a Greek myth deal, Orpheus descending to rescue... his mother? (Who at this point would be considered too young for me, even were we not closely related...) Then I considered how much my/our sense of dead/dying have been shaped by cinema more than books: Debra Winger, Terms of Endearment seems the leitmotif for dying moms everywhere. I import the emotions I projected onto Debra's death scenes, which were also a replacement for my own unknown/buried/unformed response to Judy dying when I have 2.5. Watching Terms the first several times, I thought/wondered if that was what my mother felt, saying goodbye to me. If it wasn't, it felt close enough. So I assume that all dying mothers go through their Debra Winger goodbye and we lost children (sons) carry that burning maternal sorrow deep in our hearts.

Then I thought about The Lovely Bones (which could easily be called the Lonely Bones), both the book and the movie, and the notion of the dead hovering over their lost families. (I saw the movie recently and enjoyed it, while understanding how it was a commercial failure.)

I worry more about dying young for my kids than my lost mother. I tell the girls often things I'd hope would/will resonate in their consciousnesses when they're older or if I'm gone too soon. We were talking the other morning and I observed, apropos of something--can't recollect what--that for most people, a sense of self, a sense of being loved and belonging, can provide the best compass to negotiate the seas of life. It's not an antidote to living and losing and learning, but to have that core piece solid is to have a foundation to build on.

Maybe it's the weather, or maybe it's the onset of middle age, where my mortality begins to feel palpable.

So I went to Soundset w/ Flann. Ten hours of outdoor rap festival. Lots of drunken kids (17-30 year olds are kids to me...) but the gloomy skies kept the dehydration to a minimum. It was a good experience, I suppose, for her to see the less-glamorous side of party life. Dope was thick in the air, everywhere, and it irritated her eyes. I mentioned that it's less detrimental than booze, except for the criminal risk and attendant stupidity of those trying to score weed.

She was a good sport and made it through a long day. She got to meet and talk (however briefly) to her heroes in Doomtree. We watched the meet-greet line from the outside afterward, noting the balance of PR and good-sportedness the bands must achieve, since small groups (even local superheroes) still need fan support so the posing and hand-slapping and being grabbed are all part of the equation.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Almanzo recap, 2011

I'm warm now, and that putain soleil has deigned to show its slutty mug in the sky, but it's Sunday, a day after the Almanzo. I am sure I am not alone in having a strange day-after blend of sentiments. I can imagine that in most cases, when a significant number of people DNF a race, there's morning-after regret: 'If only I'd done x, or y, or z'; 'If I hadn't done...' and the raft of self-recrimination and second-guessing.

Honestly, I bet a paltry few of the legion of DNFers are saying that. Sure, this surreal sunshine makes for hallucinatory daydreams, but really, most of us were cooked--by the elements, not the course. I cannot fathom how those hard-assed men & women were able to withstand the chill, the invasive & penetrating wetness, the bone-cutting combo of supersaturation and windchill. The break area at Preston, esp inside the general store, was less filled with people who were having second thoughts than those who were shivering uncontrollably.

It was a gorgeous ride, the scenery is simply stunning and varied, and with the shifting layers of clouds and rain, the palette was a swirling mix of asphalt, cobalt, gray, etc. I wished to snap some keepsake photos at some of the panorama vistas or some of the micro oddities and natural coolness, but my fingers were squishing inside the gloves and the camera-phone's screen was not able to function in the wetness and grit. In my head, it was glorious.

I'd worried and pondered and fretted all week as the weather reports were grim. Knowing myself, I worried I'd sweat too much if I over-dressed; I also know I lose function when feet & fingers get too chilled. I dithered and diddled, switched and re-switched my packing list. In the end, I chose to overpack (so I thought) and tote a change of socks, gloves, jersey, etc, in my backpack, which has good side holsters that held extra liquid for me. Mistake. The weight of the pack pressed and rolled against my lower back and within five miles, I was feeling tightness, spasms, and burning in my back. And it didn't go away. I was near to crying for the sheer un-stopping-ness of the pain. Low-grade and temporary, but for the matter at hand, a real bummer. I stopped a few times and tried to stretch; I'd shift and stretch while coasting, but to no avail. Then, for brief periods, it would subside and I could pedal freely.

I threw in the towel mentally pretty early. My fingers and toes weren't hurting yet when I knew the back would just get worse the longer the day went on, the more tired I got, the colder/wetter I got. Plus, my legs were feeling shittier the more I struggled with my back. Gun to my head? I could have made it further, but probably not the entire route. By mile 25 or so, my fingers and toes were really wet and getting numb. The mud was smeared so thick I couldn't accurately read the odometer, and the cue sheets were hard to read. Fortunately, there were hundreds of tire tracks leading the way through the mud.

It was interesting to feel the battle between mental and physical take place in my back rather than in my legs or mind. I'd expected to struggle and suffer in the course. I was aware that the second time I rode it last year, it was far easier to bail on the second half's hills--knowing how hard they were, despite being in better riding form than when I did it as a rookie, totally unaware. I offered up the vision of bailing in Preston, which removed some of the psych worry. Then, when I felt better briefly, I WANTED to continue further, but the reality that I don't know my way around down there and could easily be a long, far-flung journey back to the base if I by-passed Preston--that got heavy in my mind & legs. I finally yielded to common sense: nothing could would come of pushing a twingeing back pain in such hard conditions: the wind, the hills, the rain, the temps...

People were in great fettle, digging the absurdity and camaraderie, but after three hours of it, a good many started to flag. It was a treat to see many local faces, mud-covered and grinning, as we be-spattered ourselves. Plus the many who'd traveled from afar for the event. Great spirit overall. And we suffered together. The hills, of course, never take a vacation, and they were no shorter for all the rain and wind. When I pulled the plug, I found myself shaking violently at the store in Preston; tried to pee to get the excess liquid out, but I couldn't. The more I stood there trying to stretch, the colder and stiffer I got. I found another guy heading back and we rode out together on the asphalt. He was in worse overall shape than I, so I tried to pace & support him back. Fortunately, it was all on Hwy 16, so there were no directions to follow. Still, he was fading. I tried to encourage him, but he was throwing in the towel. Another abandoner zipped up behind me and I mistakenly thought it was my riding pal with a second/third wind, so we upped the pace. After a mile or so, the guy came around me--different dude altogether. I looked back and the first guy was vanished. We'd seen a steady caravan of bailing bikers in cars passing us, and a smattering of cyclists also on the road. The man wasn't in jeopardy: he was cooked and done, but not in peril. I needed to get dry. I needed to get my back free of the weight. I plodded on.

I am so completely in awe of all those who got past Preston, let alone those who completed the 100, and the truly hardy souls who knocked off 162 miles... Words fail me. I can easily yield to the better bikers, stronger riders with good legs and engines, but I genuinely cannot understand how they were able to withstand the same brutal crap for so long. I wore winter boots w/ gore tex & all that, & I dumped out six ounces of cold, muddy water when I finally disrobed. It's not just the gear, and not just the skills--something remarkable. Many folks who likely could have legitimately finished also chose to call it a day. Lower competitive thresholds or less desire to suffer for glory. Even a 57 mile day in cold rain, 2/3 on gravel, with hills, isn't particularly easy.

Chris Skogen, who originated this particular race, which is now the centerpiece of the local gravel century race series, is a remarkable fellow. His dedication and vision and enthusiasm and humility are astounding. The volunteer crew are selfless and sacrificing. It's an honor to be a part of it, and I felt the most shame to bail out if only because I felt the organizers had put so much into it, I hated to undervalue their efforts.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Gravel: craven gravel-grubbing ravens

It's all mental. It's all mental. It's all mental. It's physical. That part, the physical, is also largely mental, until it's merely physical. It's all mental. It's all mental.

I sweat heavily. In winter (ie, 2/3 the year here), I run a risk of over-heating within my protective layers. I daren't underdress; I dress correctly but the sweat at my hands, feet, neck, face, congeal and freeze if I'm out for much more than twenty minutes. XC skiing, too. I start too cold, get really hot, then the sweat chills and my body thermometer gets screwy.

Warm temps, well, I just sweat. So for longer endeavors, I must monitor my fluid intake, but the stomach cramps and bloat aren't particularly pleasant, either.

Managed a couple nice rides in between rainstorms this weekend. Lonely trail ride Saturday, pretty and buccolic and whatnot. Wanted to make a 50+ out & back but the trail evaporated on me in Winsted and after 500 yards bushwacking in crushed cornfields, I lost spirit and turned around. 65 miles of gravel, no hills... Almanzo is going to draw some deep, dark spiritual blood this weekend.

Last year, I'd never ridden on gravel, nor completed a century ride. I managed to stay pedalling on ALL the hills. Four months later, with a lot more miles in my legs, I had no mental reserve for the hills: knowing they'd suck, I pulled the trigger on 'em early, and walked several of the biggest ones. When I tried to harden up and pedal instead, there was no fire to do it. Strange. Sucky.

I love cycling. It's a challenge and a thrill. It's dangerous--even if the overwhelming threat of vehicles and their distracted, hostile, oblivious drivers are avoided, there are still crashes w/ major consequences. It takes so little to hurtle us unprotected.

Rain is the rule (now that we seem 'safely' past the snow season), with torrential, stormy, ceaseless, lingering--so many types of rain, the mud people must have 1000 words for it. Better find a rain jacket that breathes a little, too, lest I melt or dehydrate myself during the 700 person leadout Saturday morning.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Show em the bones, shake them and rattle them, toss them like dice.

We're so divided and distressed that the meta-critiquing and ceaseless bitching can't pause. By alienating the other (literally making alien, other, foreign, threatening), we put ourselves in the stupid corner and can't risk allowing the others to be human, let alone correct, occasionally. Our heads will explode before our faux-orthodoxies will.

We killed Osama bin Laden. Small joy. Note the frenzy of micro-navel gazing: media fetishizing of the Seals, of Malinois, of stealth planning. It's the elite military branch. I fucking hope they can do what they do. I'm glad they did it well. But the immediate grinding of gears and axes is nauseating. Rightists cannot give Prez Obama a lick of credit and must smear a good united moment. Tired and pathetic. News covers all the wrong angles.

Tired bullshit. And we haven't strung two sunny days together in months. Grrrrrrrr. I'd say bring on the easter bunny for slaughter, but, apparently, I missed that one, too.