“I act like someone in a bomb shelter trying to raise everyone’s spirits.” Carrie Fisher
I’ve spent the last month trying to write an article, my elusive book, and a serious essay, and I failed miserably on two of three. For a month of Thursdays, I rode my bike after to one of my favorite little bars to dork out, write for a few hours, and edit solo. Such joy.
On other days of the week, I woke up early in the morning to get it all down on the page before I started my day. So hard.
On other days of the week, I burned the midnight oil to write things I’ll never share. So weird.
I got one of the three goals completed, but I loved the trying. Loved the trying. Loved the tryna. And let me tell you, I write and talk all the damn day, so it’s hard to make time in front the magic machine for writing. This ritual of September felt really special.
I submitted my piece a few days ago, and now I can die a million times with the thoughts of another people reading what I wrote. Other people reading the words. I need to use this space to talk about how I tried tried tried to write a reflection of a bike ride that I attempted but did not finish. How I tried to mourn my failure without sounding like sappy jerk. Tried to reflect on how much I love really long bike rides now. How I fell back in love with my road bike this summer. Tried to explain in three different short groupings of sentences my experience of riding. It was hard. And get this. I whipped myself into a lather over publishing something in a bike zine.
I told the folks who are creating the zine that they can choose one of the stories and I’ll publish the rest on my blog. I noted confidently: “I’ll publish the rest of these words to die on my blog” (A Memoir).
When I submitted my writings, I half expected that they would hate everything. Regret asking me to write for them. I was, of course, shocked that they liked one of the three pieces, and, GET THIS, it’s the one I spent the least time on. The one group of sentences that I obsessed about the least. The one I like the least. The one I wrote quickly and just included at the last minute. A kind of rough draft that just appeared on the page.
Type. Type. Type. Fuck it. Submit. Send. Dammit. But that’s okay. I’m so stoked to see the finished product. It’s quite possible that I may not even be listed as an author. They have no idea how much the warning about a “lack of attribution” made my heart skip a beat. But that’s a story for another day.
Today’s story you ask? A teacher told me this week that she’s not interested in all the Open writing because it’s not done by professional writers. She knew nothing about me. Nothing about the origin of any of the courses we were talking about. Knew nothing about me. Personally. My background. She was ready, however, to tell me all about professional writers and it was my job to listen. My job to invite her into another way of thinking. Some days are easier than others.
“Writers who are worth anything,” she said, “get paid for their time if their ideas are any good.” I imagined her face scrunching up like she smelled shit as we chatted more on the phone. “Professional writers of content get paid for writing their ideas,” she said, “otherwise I can’t imagine anyone reading it and caring. It’s hard for you people outside of academia to understand.”
Yet here you are.
Here I am.
I probably spent about 30 hours unpaid time on that zine piece so I’m clearly a fucking loser. Not very professional. Not worth your caring. Not worth your time.
Unpaid Time: A Memoir.
Yet here you are. Here I am.
I need to relive the whole experience of writing this past September here. In this space.
For the zine, I was given a certain space instead of a word count, and that’s really hard for me. Not much of a spatial thinker, this gal, so I stressed out about what to write. People always think I’m going whip their ass playing Scrabble, and it’s really not about vocabulary. It’s about spatial relations and the luck of the draw. Space to write?
What to say. How many words can I fit in 4×6 space? Do I write it by hand? What do I write? I settled on one idea. Decided to write something joyful. Something positive.
A story that I wanted to hear.
So here’s what did not get selected. I can’t really say it got rejected. More like postponed for another day. Like today. Here’s what what I wrote about the RAMBOD.
RAMBOD stands for Ride Around Mt. Baker in One Day, which pokes fun at the more serious and much more expensive ride around Mt. Rainier. The plan among some frens was to roll out of Bellingham, ride mostly gravel to Baker Lake, hike up to Mt. Baker Ski area, and then ride back to Bellingham. There was a ragtag support system for our gear in the transitions, and I was aiming to make the ride/hike in less than 18 hours. Even if it killed me. Or I planned on my husband picking me up at the dive bar of my choice somewhere in Skagit or Whatcom counties. He just shook his head every time I mentioned this ride (not his gig) and he quietly tuned up my bike (it glistened).
Of the 15 people that started, 7 completed the ride. Only one of the six women finished and she’s a fucking badass Canadian. Ladies who grew up riding bikes up north of where I live?
Okay, that’s the context.
Here’s what I wrote:
The RAMBOD Rains
Submission One: Three Thoughts
First Thought: I know very few people who’d get up at 5am in the morning to suffer on a bike all day. Who are you people? Where have you been all my life? Didn’t you see the forecast?
Second Thought: If I complete this ride, I’ll give myself gold stars. In the form of IPAs. A lot of gold stars in the shape of delicious IPAs. I’ll work off those Structures’ Fuzz calories. I might need to choose the bail out line for this ride. I’ll then forgive myself. And let me be clear, every Grind Corps ride that I showed up for in 2018, I planned to be rescued. Maybe I could do it. Maybe I’m getting old. Either way. I was going to try.
Always know the location of the bail out line. Even if you don’t use it.
Third Thought: Good golly goddamn, there are a lot of logistics to make this happen. Should I pack a bottle of whiskey just in case I bail out at Mt. Baker?
Submission Two: Practice Suffering (this one got selected so I won’t publish it here, but OMFG a bike zine, y’all! I’m like the oldest most unhip fucking zine writer in the history of zines).
Submission Three: Raining Around Mt. Baker in One Day
The painful love of living in the PNW is accepting that summer can disappear in August. Winter can show up for a day or two. No autumnal transitions. No slow progression of color. No leaves to peep. Nothing. Just rapid ass-kicking cold. Winter rains on you during the summer months. Perfect predictable PNW.
Here’s the thing.
When the RAMBOD rains hit at first, we loved it.
Amber remarked how wonderful the rain felt after weeks of smoky air when our forests to the north, south, and east burned. I smiled yes and tilted my face towards the early morning mist as I rode down a relatively car-free quiet Chuckanut Drive. Felt glee as I gazed out at the lowering clouds over the San Juan Islands. Kerri stopped to take a video. We rejoiced.
Then the rains fell harder. Temperature dropped. The white ceiling of the sky dropped lower.
Within an hour, we finally hit gravel. We were really soaked.
I calculated at least four dive bars where I could get a whiskey and some coffee until my rescue ride arrived.
No. Keep going, I thought. Keep pedaling. Keep pedaling. Pedaling. Pedal. Pedal. Pedal.
That’s when I started to pay attention to the sound of gravel under my tires.
How different it sounds from the scraping braking sliding on loamy downhill mountain bike trails.
How different gravel sounds from the steady consistent buzz buzz buzz at speed on a road bike.
How the tiny pieces of gravel create their own inconsistent hum under your tires. How you feel every shift in texture on the road through your handle bars. Gritty gravel gliding under your tires for miles is really quite a sweet sound.
On my ride back to Bellingham after my group split at the Birdsview Brewery, I was solo for another 50 miles home. Still a respectable day in the saddle. A cold as hell century.
That’s when I started looking around.
Long stretches of bike trail filled with puddles spanned for miles. Misty fog in the foothills rose. Saw big mounds of dirt. Farmland. Working soil. Baby cows.
On the paved roads back to the Skagit/Whatcom line, the rains and clouds lifted. The front of my body was dry with grit and I had on every bit of clothing I had packed. My exposed skin was gritty with sweat and dirt. My bike was covered in mud and tiny bits of dust and dirt.
All the while I kept thinking: Next year. Next year. Next year. Be happy you rode 100 miles. Feel joy. That’s an accomplishment.
I looked east towards Mt. Baker as I rode into town. My house.
Mt. Baker? Nowhere in sight.