Monday, October 31, 2011

Day 42: The planets align

Day 42 miles to/from work: 26.8
Total miles for S4S: 1119.6

We are not doers; we are deciders. Once we decide, the doing is easy.
                                                                                                                   -Ralph Blum

This is really hard—the last ride, the last post* of Sweating for Shelter. It's like saying good-bye to an old friend after amazing adventures of inner and outer discovery. The focus and discipline of S4S have been simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting, creating a confluence of regret and relief that this particular chapter is ending. But enough of the maudlin contemplation—you're undoubtedly anxiously awaiting the weather report.

Odd stuff, it was. Silver beauty and I started with sun in the east, threatening darkness in the west, and temperatures in the low 40s. The forecast was for a drop of 5 degrees by the time we got to work but with the compensating promise of cheery sunniness. The forecast, not surprisingly, told a half-truth. The cloud cover soon shut out all signs of the sun as my toes turned to ice. My friend Jan in Rockport, Texas, periodically reminds me, "I don't do cold!!!!!" (Exclamation points hers.) So for Jan and some of you other cold-phobics, it's hard to explain how a ride that's a little chilly and not optimally comfortable can be a thing of beauty and personal enjoyment. Other than my frigid digits, the coolness felt like a sweet breeze passing through me, clearing space for the day. I savored every moment, and with each landmark I passed, thought about the other 41 times it had greeted, taunted, embraced, and cheered my journey.

Along the bike path that is a primary portion of my route are cosmic signs, each with a picture of and information about a planet. I love these for their beauty and quirkiness. They are also symbolic of this project. I had been such a terrible procrastinator about biking to work and practicing my craft of writing. I wanted the motivation to consistently do both (not necessarily together). I wanted to do much more to support animal rescue.

That last weekend in August when Jazz and I were out for a run, the idea for S4S downloaded in an instant. And truly, the planets aligned. Each of you so kindly and enthusiastically embraced the project and me. When I say I couldn't have done it without you, it is no exaggeration. If I had only committed to myself that I would bike and write every day, I'm pretty sure that ultimately I would have been as much of a liar as

To know I have such support—people who believe in me and are willing to put money on my doing what I promised, money that will touch other people and animals in ways none of us will never know—how could I not get up each morning and take Silver Beauty for the next chapter of the adventure? No matter how late the hour, I wasn't going to miss a blog post, with many of you telling me that you actually want to read about how this is going and that you make it a part of that most sacred of rituals—your morning coffee. As inadequate as these words might be, I can only say "Thank you."

The ride home was like a ghost town with hardly any traffic and... oh yeah! It's Halloween! Go figure. It was fun seeing the yards with lights and pumpkins and kids in costume. The air bore the harbinger of winter, but was still pleasantly cool. As I sailed down hills, I felt like I was riding the last big wave of autumn. I counted down the last miles of S4S; and when I finally put Silver Beauty on her rack, it was with the sense that we had done a good thing.

Today I had a lovely email from my sweet sister Jo sending congrats on the finish of S4S. Her last sentence was: "If the animals you save only knew to what extent you love them...." If only they did, Jo, that would make it just about perfect.

*I will do one more post with pledge/donation info and when/where for the S4S celebration.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Day 41: Cold Snap

Day 41 miles to/from work: 26.8
Total miles for S4S: 1092.8

The only way to treat the common cold is with contempt.
                                                                                      -Sir William Osler

I awoke to two sets of cold symptoms—one in my head and the other outdoors. Even the sniffling, sneezing, and coughing couldn't detract from the beautiful sunrise. Wearing my bathrobe, I grabbed my camera and went outside in mid-30s temps to capture the moment. At that point, it wasn't like I was going to catch a cold.

Scott, already established as our S4S Hero, first found a decongestant for me, then assembled a take-to-work package with every cold remedy known to pharma. It was as though he were lovingly packing a lunch with all the food groups. "Here's some Airborne chewable. Zicam with zinc. Hall's mentolyptus lozenges. Sudafed...." I was set.

It was cold, but I was dressed for it. (You should have guessed that by now.) Since sunglasses fog up in the cold, and my safety goggles provide no glare deflection, I wore tinted ski goggles. I was attired with several layers of tops and tights, wool socks under neoprene booties, a balaclava, neck gator, and lobster gloves. Stylin'.

What an utterly gorgeous day. Severe clear blue skies, CAVU (ceiling absent, visibility unlimited). Every day is a good-to-be-above-ground day, but this one was particularly so. I pedaled off, happy to be here, and with a death grip on my bandanna.

Do you know how hard it is to blow your nose wearing ski goggles and big, clunky mits on your hands? Challenging, to say the least. I finally resorted to doing the occasional bandanna swipe and developed a rhythm of sniff-sniff/breathe, sniff-sniff/breathe—all nicely coordinated with the pedal strokes. Despite the tribulations of being a phlegm factory, the  ride to work was surprisingly quick and pleasant.

By the time I left the office, the sky had become ominously dark, with a thin halo of light at the horizon. The ride was an experience in weather Tourette Syndrome—angry outbursts of wind epithets were followed by the spitting of nasty bits of rain. An uneasy calm would ensue for awhile, then the whole process would repeat. The wind was at my back, and the rain did not get serious until I was safely at home. Another good ride despite less-than-optimal conditions.

Ahhhh... So good to be home with two days of rest in the forecast. Have a wonderful weekend, and be ready for our last S4S ride on Monday!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Day 40: A toast to the hero of S4S

Day 40 miles to/from work: 27.1
Total miles for S4S: 1066.0

The real act of marriage takes place in the heart, not in the ballroom or church or synagogue. It's a choice you make—not just on your wedding day, but over and over again—and that choice is reflected in the way you treat your husband or wife.
                                                                                                                              -Barbara de Angelis

For the past two months you've been reading the daily reports about all manner of weather tedium and the gear/attire carefully selected for biking in every climactic nuance. This morning I couldn't access the Internet, which meant no weather info. I could make a good guess about what to wear; but the small details of having one layer too many or too few, the wrong socks, or unsuitable gloves could make a big difference in just how much kvetching you would have to endure after the fact. (See? It's all about you.)

When Scott learned of the situation, he stopped his morning ablutions and immediately went to the basement to apply some kind of shock therapy to the router. He then planted himself at the computer, fully dedicated to ensuring I had every meteorological detail of the day. This is my husband:  the hero behind—and sometimes at the forefront of—S4S.

Many of you know him and need no introduction to The Hero aka Scott Zimmermann. All of you have caught glimpses of him as he has made cameo appearances in S4S blog posts. What you haven't seen have been the many evenings that he has cooked dinner after I've gotten home late, tired, and sweaty. "No, you go upstairs and get into warm clothes. I'll take care of this." Or the follow-up when I start to clear the table, and he insists, "I'll do dishes. You get started on your blog." The miles he's walked the dog because I've become derelict about what used to be routine runs with her. Scott often stays up past any sensible bedtime so he can read a post as soon as I've published it.

This project has been all kinds of wonderful. It has also been all-consuming and in many ways a disruption to the comfortable routine of our home life. Scott has been inhumanly patient, never complained, and been unfailingly supportive in ways both large and small.

Some of you have shared what S4S has meant to you—that it has inspired you, changed your perspective, given you something to read with your coffee, and motivated you to change a habit or two. My friend "Cyn" (Lisa Jeanetta) even referred to it as "proving you can work miracles doing what you can, with what you have, from where you are." As the S4S community, we have all accomplished it together; but I want to pay special tribute to Scott—the unsung hero of cameo appearancesfor being instrumental in making it possible. Thank you, Darlin'. I am so lucky to have you as a friend, life partner, and unflagging supporter and cheerleader. You are The Best! Here's to you, my hero.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Day 39: Lead

Day 39 miles to/from work: 26.8
Total miles for S4S: 1038.9

You can lead a horse to water, but a pencil must be lead.
                                                                                                 -Stan Laurel

Dense, dull gray. Leaden.

And that was just inside my head. Once again, sleep was in short supply following Last-Chance Tuesday (networking with rescues to save shelter animals scheduled for Wednesday morning euthanasia, as detailed in Saving the Gator and Another Close One), turning in at 1:30 am and arising—or grudgingly stumbling out of bed—at 6:15 this morning.

Exterior conditions were in perfect sync with my interior landscape, plus the added bonus of a chill wind. Oh boy! Let's get on a bike! From the beginning it, surprisingly, wasn't too bad. Employing leaden legs and mind to grapple with a cantankerous wind did not make it a pleasure cruise; but the routine of rhythmic motion melted away the miles and got me to work.

When a bus passed me with the sign "100 Lives Lost to Breast Cancer Every Day", it made me consider that tragedy—then wonder about other types of loss. How many lives or fractions thereof are lost to inertia every day? How often do all of us get caught up in busy-ness and demands that have no real meaning or simply procrastinate taking the first step for something that would matter to us? I believe we each have a parade to create and lead—or maybe many of them—and so often they never take form. "How stupid would I look? How many people would I annoy? How many people would change their opinion of me (or confirm the worst)?"

The Nike logo "Just Do It" is simple and brilliant. Great marketing, but also a mantra for livin' the dream. Most of the things that, with our last breaths, we will be grateful to have done will probably not happen out of the blue, when we're well rested and excited to do them. They will be those things that even when it's uncomfortable, inconvenient, and the last thing we want to be doing, we nevertheless "just do it".

After almost six decades, I'm still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up, but S4S gives me a glimpse of how I want to live
—being on the edge, pushing the envelope, seeking the support of a community of loving and like-minded others. Let's keep this community going as we support each other in seeking our personal and collective parades and dreams and "just doing it" whatever that takes. There is a parade waiting for each of us to lead with flair, energy, and our unique brand of whackiness. Without us
without you—that wild, colorful, inspirational event that might have been, which could have drawn countless others into its fabulous and creative vortex,  will only exist as an empty street with some elephant droppings. If you're sitting on the sidelines, get the lead out of your butt, pick up your baton—and lead.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Day 38: I have biked 500 miles, and I have biked 500 hundred more

Day 38 miles to/from work: 26.8
Total miles for S4S: 1012.1

Who travels for love finds a thousand miles not longer than one.
                                                                                                               -Japanese Proverb

At home while getting ready for work, I half-mindedly wondered why the dawn was taking so long to show even thin streams of light in the east. The dawning that finally occurred was in my blonde head. Oh. It's not all Mary Sunshiny because it's raining, overcast, and freakin' dark with that angry cloud cover. Drat.

By the time I left, the rain was light enough to use only my screaming yellow windbreaker for protection, but threatening enough to pack my rain gear. The temperature felt relatively tropical at almost 50 degrees. After only a few miles, the rain stopped altogether and left a quiet hush, as though the world were holding its breath. The remainder of the ride felt like moving through the calm stillness of a Buddhist monastery.

During the afternoon, I had a scoop from Jan Viney at DCHS on our pelican and beaver friends: "Over $4,500 and counting has been raised for our special beaver and pelican patients. The pelican is officially blind in her right injured eye, but she is continuing to eat well and remains in good spirits. The beaver's hind leg injury is being closely monitored and medical decisions and relocation options are being discussed for him. We'll keep you updated! Thank YOU for your support of our companion AND wild animals!"

With apologies to The Proclaimers for ripping off/paraphrasing their song title—but (and really... you must click the arrow to the left for the full effect of this moment and to be part of this celebration) it seemed appropriate for this S4S milestone. On the return ride home I passed the S4S 1000-mile mark. (Are you listening to the music? C'mon. Click the arrow. Sing along! Par-tay!) When my odometer read 14.7, I stopped Silver Beauty, gave a little whoop (which scared a passing runner), took a couple pictures, and—well, it's not like I had a magnum of champagne with me—I got back on the road to home. I can't say it enough that you have been with me every pedal stroke of the way in this labor of legs and love. Thank you ever so much.

It's been a really good day. And an incredible journey of 1000 miles.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Day 37: The Mother Nature Casino

Day 37 miles to/from work: 26.8
Total miles for S4S: 985.3

A lot of people would rather tour sewers than visit their cousins.
                                                                                                               -Jane Howard

This was the kind of morning that made even the sewage treatment plant look good. Brilliant sun and blue skies accompanied temperatures back up to the balmy 40s, while the fields emitted that mysterious and distant Mists of Avalon countenance. I'd had a weekend replete with sleep and fun, and I felt great. "And you couldn't wait to get on the bike, right?" Are you kidding? I wanted my car. I wanted to burn fossil fuels and go fast and be to work in 15 minutes. I wanted constant, instant gratification. I did not want to pedal. But... I pedaled.
A corollary to Murphy's Law states that Mother Nature is  a bitch. She is certainly sneaky and capricious. As I was reluctantly pedaling along, thinking fondly of exhaust fumes and resisting the siren song of this alluring day, I passed a red-winged black bird. I kept going, then had to turn around. The bird was beautiful and made it abundantly clear that he found me annoying and intrusive. He chirped bitterly at me and petulantly refused to show his red side for the camera, then flew to another perch a few feet away. Tiring of my persistence, he finally flew away, knowing I would not.

I had barely gone another 100 feet before I was looking at an impressionist painting in 3D. Oh sure, Mom N, make me feel how wonderful it is to be going to work in nature, close to the earth, surrounded by beauty, sweet-smelling air splashing my face interwoven with the occasional odd thermal. Show me your cornucopia of flora and fauna and defy me to get this experience from the interior of an enclosed machine. You win. Bitch. I had no choice but to enjoy the rest of the ride.
Dusk was coming on in earnest when I left the office a little after 6:00.  Mother Nature, the seductress, continued with her coy ploys. Something about the deepness of twilight on a clear evening gives the feeling of moving through space on a stream of silk. Smooth. Gossamer. It is an alternate universe that doesn't exist when the sun is high. Silver Beauty and I shimmied our way in the night with the bright-night-train light carving out our path. Within a couple miles of home, the cornucopia held one more gift—adolescent deer grazing just off the bike path. Their presence was ephemeral and breath-taking.

Deer may be as prevalent as taverns in Wisconsin, but to come upon one and behold it at close range for long moments, particularly without it being impaled on the grill of a car, is an uncommon and moving event.

Mother Nature is the Vegas of life. She holds the cards and stacks the deck. She can be hard and cruel. But when she pays off, it's the jackpot, baby.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Day 36: Wearing stripes with plaid and maybe a little camo

Day 36 miles to/from work: 26.8
Total miles for S4S: 958.5

Once you can accept the universe as being something expanding into an infinite nothing which is something—wearing stripes with plaid is easy.
                                                                                                                                   -Albert Einstein

I had to buy a coat rack for my office. It's actually a "something on which to hang sweaty biking apparel" rack, but "coat rack" is simpler and sounds less... umm... descriptive. Even before the weather started cooling to require more and more layers, draping damp gear over every available surface made my work area look even more appalling than usual.

This morning I wore every item you see to the left (except Austin Powers and the printer), and some that are lost in the forest of layers. At departure time, it was 32 degrees with a mid-20s windchill. But—hallelujah and pass the biscuits!—there was no wind. There was sun. There were 
plenty of blue skies to go around for everyone. It was divine.

I've made mention in various posts that riding a bike with the proper gear for safety and comfort is not for the vain. However, if ever there were a time for the high-vanity crowd to give it a whirl, that would be now. 

Although you will look worse than geeky-horrible-ugly,  you will also be unidentifiable. You can wear stripes and plaid without fear of recognition by the fashion police. Today's temperature brought on a few more layers, including the balaclava. I wore my safety goggles, designed for industrial chemical splashes, but also excellent for biking in the rain and at night. My sunglasses fogged over the minute I stepped outside into the cold, but the goggles worked great. And my lobster gloves—ah, blessed lobster gloves—kept my fingers toasty warm for the entire ride.

I know you won't feel quite complete without the usual Friday mantra, so here goes: My legs were tired. Oh well. Who cares? It was a great ride.

I rode home was with the same windless, cloudless conditions of this morning, except for an additional 20 degrees. It was the perfect end to a biking week. 

As someone who loves dark, gnarly, chewy beer, MHL is not exactly the official beer of me. But this billboard, with its "Get ready for weekend!" feel, is on my route; and it always makes me smile. Also, the guy pictured looks like my friend Dave Erickson—made famous in S4S for originating the "I'll double my donation on the days you bike in the rain" pledge. I emailed Dave to ask about the resemblance, and he replied, "It’s not me. The only camo clothing I’ve ever worn is a Santa hat." Thank you, Dave, and all of you on the S4S Team who make me smile every day. Happy weekend!