Lady Shredders #MTB #CX #QueensOfDirt

I want to tell you a little story, Lady Shredder. My bike team is planning our upcoming mountain bike clinic, and if you are reading this, you may be interested in joining us. We work hard to raise money to support our mission to get more women and girls racing bikes. We have a limited amount of funding for scholarships, and I’m trying to connect our organization with other organizations who care about the same thing.

This post is to encourage you, Lady Shredder, who may need financial assistance to try riding and racing bikes. Contact me. I might know somebody who can help you.

And this is a big ask if you carry the shame of struggling with money. This I know. And I’ll tell you more about that in a minute.

Like I said above, we have a limited amount of money to share and we want to help women and girls with the greatest need. We pay coaches who make their living by doing this work (and other jobs) and this entry fee includes meals, snacks, and a party. It’s an all-volunteer effort and we’re a nonprofit. One of these days, I’d like to provide this clinic free for participants–especially juniors–completely sponsored by bike companies, organizations, and donors who want to grow the sport of womens cycling. And by “free” I mean other folks will pay for it in exchange for in-kind marketing, promotion, and donations.

Until/unless that day comes, we don’t know how to measure “financial need,” and frankly, I hate the idea of making people give us intimate details about their lives.

And asking for this kind of help is embarrassing. This I know. You might be too stubborn to accept help. This I know. You might also look at my team and think none of us have been in your position. I can’t speak on behalf of others, but I can tell you my story.

When you see me now, I have a beautiful Queens of Dirt kit and super-fly fancy dancy mountain bike. I sometimes go to my garage to just stare at my beautiful mountain bike. I smile so hard while I ride it, my cheeks hurt. Thanks to the generosity of my boss and his connections to Pivot Cycles and my bike sponsor Jacks Bicycle Center, I have the privilege of owning my Pivot Magic Machine. Hubba hubba!


Me on my Pivot chasing the coaches down Atomic Dog photo by Bryce Barry

My husband built the bike for me and he shares my philosophy of life that we’d rather have experiences than things. However, if we’re going to drop fat bank on things, we’re going spend it on bikes. We’re also quite happy to have crew of bitchin’ bikes while the futon in our living room is still the one we found on a street corner in Ballard in 2005. We bought a cover, used some sand paper to smooth out the scratches, and it looked brand new.

Every time I think of buying a new couch, I’m like, “Wow, we really should be better adults and get new couch. Or, I think, I could buy a [enter expensive bike part here]. Yep. Fuck it. The futon stays.”

I sleep really well on that futon after a mountain bike ride. It all works out.

Here’s the thing.

It’s been brought to my to attention that when you’re new to this sport, racers look intimidating. Lady Shredders look scary. I’ve written about this before, if you’re interested, and this post is another attempt to break down that fear of connecting with other women who ride/race bikes.

For instance, when you see me on my bike, you might think I wouldn’t understand needing scholarship or what it’s like to struggle to purchase a bike.

You’re wrong, Lady Shredder. I do. This I know. Had a Queens of Dirt scholarship existed when I first started mountain biking, I would have wept for joy. And I would have progressed much faster as a rider. To this day, I’ve only been able to afford professional coaching because of the generosity of my team.

When I got my first mountain bike, I paid for it by putting it on layaway. Remember layaway? If you don’t, it was the practice of putting a down payment on something you wanted to buy and then you paid that thing off increments. Back before you could get a credit card if you had a pulse, this is how you made big purchases when you were a pretty broke person with no credit history.

In 1994, I purchased my first mountain bike while I working as a waitress at a ski resort. I was chasing The Dream of being a ski bum, and let me tell you, I have no regrets. Those years were beautiful, fun, but very lean in the wallet. During the off-season when the tourists stopped coming to my town, The Dream wasn’t as fun. I struggled. And let me be honest, I could have borrowed money from parents, but I was too stubborn to ask for help. I couldn’t admit that my plan to drop out of college to become a waitress who skis everyday was a really stupid career goal and a waste of my brain (sorry Mom and Dad).

My boyfriend at the time was a pretty good mountain biker, and I really wanted to try it. He seemed so happy when he got home from muddy rides. What is this mystery sport, I wondered. He told me it’s just like hiking only you go faster. Sold! I’m pretty short in stature so it was really hard for me to borrow a bike, and most of my friends at that time were tall dudes.

So I made a layway plan at the local bike shop and I upsold the fuck out of expensive vodka to Canadians drinking Clamato Bloody Marys to increase my tips. (High-five, eh? Love you, Hungover Albertans!)

I flirted with disgusting men to get better tips. They would leave the bar thinking I’d call them, and I didn’t even have a landline. (High-five, Suckers!)

I chatted people up I thought were the most obnoxious snobs to increase my tips (High-five, Boring Rich People!). I worked doubles. I did everything my managers wanted to score the money-maker shifts. I put every extra cent I had towards those layaway payments for six months, and when I finally rode that 50 pound hardtail mountain bike home, I was elated. Overjoyed. Satisfied.

My first ride changed my life forever—Mountain Biking, I thought—where had you been all my life?

I rode that bike for ten years. I rode that bike through two major heartbreaks. I rode that bike in four different states while I moved around trying to figure out my life. I rode that bike when my car broke down and I needed a way to get to work. I rode that bike on one of my first dates with my future husband, and I impressed him (and myself) by climbing the fuck out of Cleater Road in Bellingham to chase him. When I could finally afford a new mountain bike, I traded it to a friend who knitted me a hat and a scarf as payment. She gave that bike to a friend who was starting “Pedal Smoothie” business. (People pedal a stationary bike to power a blender, if you’re unfamiliar with this technology). In short, that bike brought a lot of joy into my life.

Not having a bike is another major barrier, Lady Shredder. This I know. I don’t have the means to get you a bike, but I can get you a loaner for the clinic. You can email me about that too.

Okay, I need to post this, and get back to work. The lack of airplane wifi gave me some time to gather these thoughts, and Lady Shredder, I hope this makes you feel better about contacting us.

If you don’t get in to our clinic, connect with me anyways. We would love your help as a volunteer and you can also check out Shifting Gears and SheJumps and The Joy Riders. Bellingham is rad that way.

If you don’t live near me, check out Ladies AllRide and Roam, for a great place to start with clinics. Check out Facebook for local rides. Go to bike shops and talk to mechanics.

For now, I hope to hear from you. I might write you back super late or super early in the morning, but my inbox is waiting. If we don’t have room for you this year, keep riding your bike and connect with us next year. We’re also going to have clinics for Cyclocross in the fall.

Let’s not let money get in the way of getting rad, shall we?

I also want to thank The Queens of Dirt for killing it to raise money and for volunteering their time to help create more Lady Shredders.

And all my love to Jacks Bicycle Center, Liv Cycling, Kulshan Brewing Company, Clif, Giro, Continental Tires, Performance Health Northwest, Louis Garneau, Bank of the Pacific, Apex Bike Fit, ModSock, Bike Reg, NuuMuu, Cascade Cross and Bellingham Grindcorps.

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Last January, I adopted my friend’s practice of writing “Intentions” instead of “Resolutions.” I like the change in the wording. Rereading what I wrote in January, I’m a bit surprised that I accomplished 15 of the 20 that I set out for in 2018. I won’t share all of my Intentions because they are deeply personal, but I want to take a minute to reflect on a few here.

Somehow I have looked up and there are now two weeks left in the year–June somehow turned into December very quickly this year in ways that frighten me. I often quote Bob Dylan’s lyric “Time is a jet plane” and this year Time was a space-bound rocket. I’ve just had a very magical week personally and professionally, so before I meet up with some friends to ride bikes, I want to take a pause here and reflect on these 2018 Intentions intentionally. Here.

Read 52 Books

Nope. One book a week is super hard right now. I had a lot of time between classes as an adjunct, so I could pull this off no problem back then. I miss very little about those days, but I do struggle to make time for reading. As of today, I have read 39 of my 52 goal and maybe I’ll get two or three read by the end of the year. My top three favorites are Less by Andrew Sean Greer, The Tao of Bill Murray: Real-Life Stories of Joy, Enlightenment, and Party Crashing, and Walking the Dog by Elizabeth Swados. I question whether Less deserves the Pulitzer (they forgot to ask me to be on the committee), but I loved how the story moved through different locations. I’m a fangirl of interesting dialogue and landscape metaphors.

Gavin Edwards could have done so much more with the material of Bill Murray’s life, but this is on my list because I laughed really hard on a plane by myself when I read a few anecdotes from the Lost in Translation era. Like I really lost it. Like I had tears in my eyes from laughing. Like I laughed hysterically. Alone. Pretty sure several people wondered how I made it through TSA. Or if I was on something. I got side-eyed by more than one person about the noise I was making laughing. Exhaustion makes me silly. I won’t write the quotes here, but pay close attention to the anecdotes about the useful Japanese he learned while they were filming Lost In Translation. I laugh just thinking about it.

And then lastly, Walking the Dog may be my favorite book of 2018. I just picked this book up from a library display, and just fell in love with it. The narrator has this haunting way of telling the story in the present and the past simultaneously. I was so depressed to learn that Swados is dead and that she won’t be writing any new books. What an artist.

I’m going to round out the year with three more books Some Trick by Helen DeWitt, Michael Pollan’s latest book, and Small Pleasures by The School of Life. So you know, ten books away from goal. Not too bad.

Learn To Surf

YES! I stood up and rode that giant beginner board on my first attempt during my lesson. I loved that day of surfing so much that I’m relieved I discovered skiing in my 20s rather than surfing. Had I found my way to that life, I’d probably still be cocktail waitress living for the next tasty wave, but you never know. I met some locals in Maui who shared that they all had to come back to mainland after 911 because nobody was flying. Restaurants and hotels laid people off in droves. I started graduate school (the first time) that year, so you know, it all worked out. I can’t bring myself to learn how to surf in the PNW because the water is cold. When I see those surfers in their full body wetsuits, I’m like, NOPE. They look like human-shaped seals. Total shark bait. Freezing.

Ride My Road Bike More

Yes! I fell back in love with my road bike. The danger of cars is real, and I pedal in terror sometimes, but I love it again. I think I fell out of love with the road bike because it’s the one bike I own that doesn’t whisper that I’m out of shape, it screams like YOU ARE CHUBBY, INDRUNAS. It’s also my cheapest bike to maintain because I haven’t upgraded anything on it in years because I’m dedicated to the idea that if I want a lighter bike, I could just lose five pounds off my ass. Overall, it’s a great bike, and the road rides I’ve done this year made me really happy. Despite how hard it is to pedal uphill.

Paint Our Chalet

Nope. I like to call our condo a chalet because it feels like we should be able to snowboard right out our backdoor. We eventually want to have a house, but this was the best we English majors could afford, and we love it. It’s a pretty sweet little place, really. We put in new flooring in our garage and the mister created a bike shop for his art, and it’s the nicest “room” we have. The rest of the place needs to be painted and the flooring needs an update. Not this year. 2019 is the Year of Chalet Remodeling. We haz da plans.

Kiss Elroy Everyday

Yes! My little pupper is turning 14 in 2019, and when I’m home, I kiss him everyday. I didn’t really have to create an Intention to do this, but I wanted to record how special it is that he’s still kicking it. He’ll walk 2.5 miles like a boss, and he’s still up for playing. I’m not sure how well he can hear and see these days, but he’s still the same as he’s always been. Just grayer. Just less muscular. Just with stinkier breath. Like me.

Cut Back on The Twitterz

Yep. I’ve really scaled back on the Twitter. I go through waves but I’ve had to dial it back. It’s such a pretty hate machine thanks to our current president. Twitter helps express rage in bite-sized chunks that can be refreshing. Therapeutic. I get that. I do it. There’s something that has changed in the current political climate that has ruined Twitter for me. Don’t get me wrong, I still interact with that medium, but I’ve scaled it way back. When a swarm of like-minded people get themselves all riled up around an idea, I have a hard time seeing the value of Twitter these days. Remember when people used to share what they were reading? Or quotes from blogs they’ve read? Now it’s become a stream of privilege and power that deeply disturbs me. There have been a few times when I’ve seen personal attacks launched by the dozens and it’s so uncivilized. Just petty in the grand scheme of life. I’ve made a deal with myself that the minute I’m annoyed by what I see in my stream, I close it down. Just walk away. Or I check my favorite accounts like The Cat Rapper, Awkward Animals, Cher, WeRateDogs, and Black Metal Cats. Or I just look at Bike Twitter.

Keep Drafting My Book

Yes. I finally have an outline that will work, and I’m pretty excited about it. I’ve been talking about it for years, and it’s all started to come together. I’ll share more about that in the upcoming year. Truth be told, the only book I want to see finished in this household in the upcoming year is the Mister’s dissertation. And damn, I’m throwing a big fucking party when that happens.

Blog Monthly

Nope. I wrote a short piece for a bike zine this year, and I’ve done a pretty decent job of blogging. Given all of the other things. All the other things. My piece in the bike zine doesn’t have an author attribution, the editor totally changed my words in ways that I love, and it’s one of my favorite accomplishments of the year. Magic.

So. How to conclude this? Of all the special things that happened this week, here’s one.

I boarded a plane to Portland from Seattle with the members of Death Cab for Cutie. They obviously have higher status with Alaska Airlines than me, but you know, I was two rows back from the band. At the airport, I was in a work meeting tryna be professional and I locked eyes with Ben Gibbard. Or maybe I just imagined it. I have a sticker on my laptop that shows some love for Bellingham. So maybe he was looking at that–those guys were a college band in my town. They’ve written lovely songs about my town. Hey, there’s Ben Gibbard!

Then I saw the rest of the band. I didn’t say anything to them as I boarded the plane, but I have gone back and listened to all of their albums since then. I haven’t liked most of what they’ve put out since Chris Walla left the band, but Something About Airplanes, We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes, and The Photo Album have a tiny special place in my heart.

I can remember those years intentionally song by song. I’m thankful. I’m grateful. Intentionally.

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Reflections from The Podium

Oh, how I wish I was writing a reflection about my bike racing season, but um, I’m getting slaughtered this year. Destroyed. Annihilated. Nothing to see this cyclocross season.

I moved up into the Ladies A (expert/pro) category this year because on paper I look like sandbagger in my local series. Turns out, I can pedal with the fast ladies for less than a minute and then they are gone. Poof! Out of sight. Then I’m caught by the quick pedaling Ladies B and Single Speed racers. After that, I focus strictly on trying to take stylish hand-ups, not crashing, and heckling the dudes I know. It’s also entirely joyful to cheer on other women that I lap in the beginner category or single-speed category. The woman who is leading the A’s is my teammate, and it’s awesome and humbling when she blows by me on the last lap. We start at the same time, so she’s gaining a full lap while I’m out there goofing off.

So yes. Not that podium.

I want to share a bit about the keynote podium. First of all, a few of my friends had hilarious reactions to the news that I was a keynote speaker. One said, “Wow, I can’t believe you could be professional for that long. An hour seems like a long time for you.” Another told me that she was fed up with me reading all those “bullshit leadership books.” Another said, “What the fuck was up with that bingo card? You get paid to make dumb shit like that?”

Anyhoo. Needless to say, people’s reactions were beyond interesting. Whether I knew them personally or if I just met them for the first time; people had fascinating observations about what I said from the podium. And then later what I posted on this blog. Gratitude to everyone who shared, commented, and talked to me about that keynotery.

The keynoter gig wasn’t like doing a workshop or teaching a class or MCing an event or presenting at conference. It was way more interesting than those performances. It was probably one of the most engaging experiences of my professional life. I definitely overthought it. I definitely stressed out about it way too much. I wrote way too much. There isn’t really a how-to manual for writing a keynote. I mean, I think there probably is but it’s probably written by master of the universe man with too white teeth and sales pitches attached to his leadership mentor programs.

I’ve seen a keynote or twenty in my life. Some dreamy. Some amazing. Some controversial. Some delightful. Some confusing. Some bewildering. Some boring. Some hilarious. Some delivered with the thrill of a dial tone. Some passionate. Some clearly phoned in. When I thought about emulating the key note speakers I admire, I’d spiral into self-doubt. When I tried to think about being controversial, all I could think about was how my words could be twisted and manipulated into damning the work that I do and how that would hurt the team of people with whom I’ve shared three years of my life. They would have supported me, no doubt, but I didn’t want anyone else to suffer because of my unsubstantiated ranty rants.

And honestly, my favorite controversial moment in a keynote was from George Siemens who showed a slide with a dead animal in the desert while delivering a one-liner on how educational technology companies see higher education as the last carcass to feed on. I still laugh my ass off when I think of that line. I couldn’t deliver a controversial zinger like that without cracking myself up on stage. I think you need Siemens’ talent for research and a deadpan Canadian accent to really pull something like that off.

I also didn’t want to talk about what was wrong with education. What was wrong with technology. I didn’t want to invite Ol’ Ranty McRanty Indrunas to take the mic. I wanted to bring some joy to people’s lives. As silly as that sounds.

People who care about teaching with technology have pretty tough jobs. Conferences are a bit of reprieve from the woes of budget cuts, austerity, and challenges of everyday leadership. Who wants to hear from smartass rant machine from the private sector?

Wait. I think I just wrote my blog’s new tagline.

Where was I? Oh. Right. The keynote. So stressful! And I hate making slides. I thought about skipping them and going rogue, but then I felt like I was half-assing the job more than I was being defiant. I know some people claim that keynote slides deliver content to folks who are not there, but they don’t really work for me. I scroll through them on Slideshare and I don’t see the story. The person. The passion. Just small quips and images from the talk. Cliff notes of the cliff notes, if you will.

I stressed about making the slides look professional, and in the end, I just decided to circle favorite images from my paragraphs and when I was tired of writing, I searched open source photo sharing sites to find images. I had a lot of fun with those searches.

Here’s the thing.

The most fascinating part wasn’t the preparation or the delivery; it was hearing about what people connected with in their own lives. How people clung to the off-the-cuff things I said. The stories I shared. The ideas that I talked about. It was different for everyone. Midway through, I tried that trick that all Communications teachers advise about making eye contact. You know, like if you scan the room everyone feels like you’ve made eye contact. And oh my word, everyone was looking at me! I mean, nobody was checking email. Scanning their phones. I completely lost my train of thought to see so many eyes engaged with what I was saying next.

In the end, I suppose what resonated with most with folks had to do with what I said about leadership and cycling. I’m still teasing out those ideas, but it got me thinking. Perhaps the leadership gurus have it all wrong. Maybe we don’t learn about leadership through work, or our careers, maybe it’s something that comes together through everything we do in our lives. A wholistic experience of who we are. Every thing we nerd out about informs how we’d lead people. How we build community for ourselves and others. Not a very sexy thesis for a leadership book. Maybe a little too hippie dippy.

But I think there’s something there about leadership.

For instance, I had a very reliable bike race volunteer tell me recently, “I don’t want to be in charge, I don’t want to figure out what we’re doing. Just tell me what to do and I’ll be there. Just don’t ask me to make any decisions. Just tell me what to do.”

In another non-work situation, a person said to me, “That’s a great idea. We just need somebody with the time and energy to make it happen.” And that response is really somebody saying, “It ain’t me, babe.”

Okay, so I don’t really know where I’m going with all of this, but while I was working on this talk in earnest, I took a Community Education class. And yes, I had a year to write it, mind you, so I read for 10 months, stressed out and procrastinated for a month, and then wrote everything two weeks before the conference. I lost two weeks by shopping online and/or searching Redfin. Super mature.

I somehow organized four weeks of my life so I could take a 90 minute class every Thursday a month before the keynotery. It was a goal of mine to try creative writing courses. Again. This time I wasn’t going to care about grades or impressing my teacher.

Once upon time, I wanted to be a Continuing and College Education coordinator or director. I thought I was going to fight the Good Fight and make sure that my community had painting classes for the elderly, yoga classes for broke hippies, and courses for chakra reading life coaches. Pottery classes for aging punk rockers. Classes for people who wanted to learn about wine? Bring it, Amateur Sommelier who is really just a well-travelled wino. Classes for people interested in Norwegian knitting patterns and candle-making? I was ready to line up all the Hygge experts. Interested in cooking with curry? Fire up the naan oven and make a meal! Want to learn how to blow glass bongs? I’d make sure the kiln stayed lit while you sobered up.

You name it. I was going to fight for those budgets, hire the best people, write the coolest pamphlets to appear in community mailboxes, and curate all the life-long learning coolness. For The People.

Then I did the math and realized that I’d make less money than when I was adjunct. I’d work harder than I was an administrator for less money. That I’d probably have to wait tables on the side to pay for my school loans that were supposed to move me up the prosperity ladder. Continuing Education, I have a thing for Broke Artsy Types, but you know, I just don’t room for another one in my life. Maybe someday. Don’t call me. I’ll call you.

So anyways, I took continuing education classes on writing for four weeks in a row. I clapped my laptop shut after work, rode my bike to the class, and sat there silently in every class. I didn’t participate. I didn’t ask questions. I used the time to write and think. Two of the teachers were pretty mediocre–I’m very opinionated about what I think is “Good Teaching” so I’m the first to admit that sometimes I just need to STFU and be nice. Instead of feeling like they were wasting my time, I stopped paying attention and wrote. It was rude, but they didn’t know whether I was taking notes or writing my grocery list or my next novel. I considered my super cheap tuition a charitable donation the Continuing Ed Director who married up.

Holy moly, two of the classes were awful. Let’s just say that if you’re teaching a class on writing, reading your own work and quotes from others is not really teaching. It’s like showing a finished lasagna and then peeling off each layer one-by-one without talking about how you prepped any of the ingredients. Or it’s like painting a tree without really explaining how you do the strokes to make the tree look like a happy tree. It’s like you’re practicing for reading your own work as a creative writer and you’re not teaching a damn thing. But I digress.

One teacher was incredibly charming. I’d guess she was pretty green at teaching and had ten lesson plans when she really needed one. It took everything I had to not go up to her and give her advice after class. She had worked herself into a lather trying to cover everything. I saw myself in her marathon of 90 minutes. I make that mistake a lot. I so know, you just want TELL IT ALL. I so get it, sister.

One of the teachers really impressed me. She had skill. She made me think. She gave really good advice. I’m going to take a class from her again. I plan to read her book. I had this I-miss-teaching-sadness-brewing. I started down that magical ridiculous path I call “Will I Regret Not Getting A PhD Someday?”

And then one of the students asked a really fucking dumb question. Bubble bursted. Boom. Reality. Earth to Indrunas.

I know we all lie to another and say there are no dumb questions, but let’s face it, sometimes there are really dumb questions. Clearly, this student hadn’t been listening at all to the teacher. So frustrating! Thus, the answer to his dumb question had already been covered in her lecture.

And that’s when it hit me. I love taking classes. I love learning from other people. It’s the other students that crush my will to live. What a great reminder that I have zero patience for my fellow students in seminars anymore. No, I will not regret not getting a PhD. I can’t stand seminars. Right! Thank you, Dumb Question Guy! Yes! I’m done with school. Thank you! My current gig is rad. Note to self.

For example, one of the reasons I’m dedicated to a certain yoga studio is they have a strict silence rule. Total heaven. I get to listen to the teacher and I never have to hear some fellow yogini co-opting the entire class to ask questions about how “to release her anger” at her ex-husband from her tight quads and her third chakra. Or I never have to hear some horndog yogi tell me he “appreciates a flexible woman” while stretching his dirty eyebrows at me. Hell is other students, Sartre. Thank you, Dumb Question Guy.

So what was the question? He asked the teacher about memoir writing: “What if I can’t remember everything that happened?”


I looked at the teacher. Bit my lower lip. Waited for her response.

She said, “Going back to my Frank McCourt example,” she said patiently, “Do you really think he remembered all those details from his childhood? Sometimes you just have to trust yourself and make shit up.”

She earned my respect. That’s a good teacher. That’s the type of teacher I hope to be when faced with Dumb Question Guy.

I love Dumb Question Guy when I’m the teacher by the way. Ask me all the Dumb Questions and I’ll eat it up as a teacher. When I’m a fellow student, however, I can’t stand you, dude (keep in mind, I use “dude” interchangeably in the gender neutral).

As a teacher, I probably would have said something smartass-like, “Going back to my example of Keith Richards’ memoir Life, you really think he remembers any-goddamn-thing after he discovered heroin? It’s your memoir. Who’s gonna know you’re a liar, man? Nobody cares.”

More importantly, who is really going to care about the truth if you can tell a good story? Like to this day, I wish James Frey had said, “You know what, Oprah, screw you. I’m not apologizing for shit. I was trying to sell a book and I wanted a million goddamn pieces of gold in my bank account.” (I love Frey to this day, and I buy all of his books in hardback because he got a raw deal from Oprah. People lie. It’s called memoir writing and nonfiction).

What if I can’t remember?


Nobody cares.

They’ll follow along. Hopefully learn a thing or two. Enjoy the time with your words and move on with their lives.

Well, and since I brought up Keef, and his memoir, I’ll let him conclude this post. Life is one of the most disappointing rock-n-roll memoirs, by the way. The first third of the book is amazing and the rest you could just learn from a Google Image search. But even Keith, for all his liver abuse, has a poetic moment.

Indeed. Here it is. His best sentence. And might be a lie.

“My life is full of broken halos.”
― Keith Richards, Life

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#NWeLearn2018 Keynote: Change Management & Other Duties As Assigned

This is the keynote that I delivered today at NWeLearn in Boise, Idaho.  I skipped a lot of words and free-styled a bit during the actual preso, and here is a link to my slides. This is what I wrote in its entirety to prepare for what I said today. Thank you NWeLearn. 

Change Management and Other Duties As Assigned

Since I’m standing in front of academics the first thing I want to admit is that I struggled to come up with a title for this talk, and I agonized even more about my blurb. So let me try it out on you now just to see if any of you want to decide to do something else with your life for the next hour.

Here’s what I pitched: Attendees of NW eLearn are all too familiar with the phrase “other duties as assigned” in their job descriptions. Change management, innovation, and thought leadership, to name a few buzz words, end up in this catchall category of our job descriptions. Because student success—especially with educational technology—is in all of our job descriptions, how do we support one another as leaders through this process?  Whether you’re an adjunct faculty member or an executive administrator, you might be spinning a lot of plates to implement changes at your institution. This keynote will address the challenges and joys of our community of practice with other duties as assigned.

Did I get all the right words to sound key-notey?

But here’s the question that I really want to address today: How do we support one another?

How can we be more empathetic and kind towards one another as we try to connect and sort out the future of teaching and learning? Together.

Let me also first start with a bit of truth-telling. I haven’t done discipline-specific research in over six years. I’ve given up on trying to publish anything peer-reviewed about my current work because the last time I saw my name in print concerning educational technology, it felt so out of date that I felt embarrassed to say I wrote about iClickers and cell phone polls. Life comes at you quick. When I read my work in the journal, my ideas were positioned as the dissenting voice or critique of the technology that every other writer praised. The only response I got from readers were from clicker companies who wanted to give me a demo or additional support to “really know their product.”

I suppose I’m qualified because I read a lot and I write almost daily about things that I care about, so I’d like to invite you to take any of my ideas and make them more academic sounding. I’ll post this talk on my blog and license it for re-use. So what do I have for you in lieu of actual research? What makes me qualified to keynote when I’m not an academic anymore? I write a lot of nonsense, and most of my conversations about higher-education center around my rage about adjunctification of the teaching profession or my own navel-gazing reflections about my career path. I’m not affiliated with an institution, I’m not a teacher, not an administrator, or anything that else that really qualifies me to stand up here and inspire you for an hour. But maybe, just maybe, I can entertain you with a few stories, and give you something to think about in your own context. Your own lives. Your own professions. Your own joyous accomplishment with being a part of this community.

I love the NW eLearn community.

This group of people gave me my first chance to change my career. After my very first NWeLearn in 2013, I felt like I had found My People. It was like a magical group of tech nerds who liked to geek out on the dorkiest topics. You understood wikis! You loved talking about workarounds and solving problems. You could out-snark me! You could make me laugh. You could teach me how to be smarter about educational technology. My People. I love the work that I do today, but I really miss this community. So thank you, NWeLearn board, for asking me to be your keynote today.

Prior to working in educational technology, I was a little lost. I was an English Composition teacher for over ten years. An “I-5 Flyer”–a contingent teacher who drove up and down the I-5 corridor in the Seattle area jockeying for a full-time position that never came my way. To make a very long story short, I took advantage of the WA State tuition waiver, and earned a second master’s degree where I focused on instructional design. I took five years to complete a two-year degree and I wrote about the open door policy of the community college, teacher burnout, educational policy, and leadership. I reflected on my own teaching career using fancy-dancy graduate school jargon. I honestly didn’t know that I was going anything innovative or interesting at that time; I was merely trying to figure out a way to make a living.

My first presentation at NWeLearn, I had fo to cancel and I was sure I’d ruined my chances of ever presenting again. My cousin was getting married that same week, and at the last minute his photographer canceled and my mother strongly suggested that I put my skills to use as a favor to the family. I had to make a decision to burn a bridge with the EdTech folks of the NW or be on my mother’s shitlist. Weeks later, I got a phone call from Jerry Lewis that people were interested in my session, and that they’d like me to present what I was going to say via webinar. I said, “Sure, that sounds great” and then I stewed in terror about something that would live forever on the internet. Then I volunteered to do another webinar on my failures as an online teacher, another on being a leader, and then another on open education, and I found myself saying, “Sure, I’ll try that” Or “Sure, why not?” or “Yes, I think I can do that” a lot.


And with that spirit, I accidentally found my leadership philosophy without even really trying. It’s a very simple philosophy. Just be the first person who is willing to say yes. Say yes. Just raise your hand and say yes.

While I’m talking about raising your hands and leadership, let’s do an informal poll to get some context of experience in the room. Help me do some informal research.

How many of you have been through an LMS transition? Raise your hands.

Okay, now keep them up if you’ve been through an LMS transition twice.

Three times. Four times.

[Keep counting until I get down to a dozen folks.]

Okay for those of you that have been through a major technology transition like that [X many times] raise both of your hands.

You’re the victors of educational technology leadership! You’ve been through the worst of the worst and you’re still here. You’re still saying yes.

Let’s give these people some applause.

Remember their faces and buy them drinks or give them extra dessert later. Ask them what they are going to do when they retire.

These are the people who continue to say, “Yes, I’ll do it” or “Yes, I’ll try.” And I realize that many of you did not have a choice. You were either voluntold that this was going to be your job or it was just part of that academic year’s mission. Either way, you recognized that this is the future. Whether your faculty wanted it. Whether your administration wanted it. Whether you thought it was the right thing.

You said, “Yes, I’ll do it.” You held onto hope you were helping students.

I have spent the last year or so reading the The School of Life series. These slim little aesthetically pleasing books have been a bit of professional development for me. My own joy of reading on the weekends.

From their website:

The School of Life is devoted to developing emotional intelligence. We address such issues as how to find fulfilling work, how to master the art of relationships, how to understand one’s past, how to achieve calm, and how better to understand the world.

In How to Be a Leader by Martin Bjergegaard and Cosmina Popa, they remind us that “Leadership is a choice, not a position…and [t]he best leaders in the world find what they really care about, and almost everything else flows from this point” (p. 10-35).

For me, I care about students. And I imagine if you are here today, you do too.

My People.

I care about creating opportunities for people who were born on the wrong side of the tracks. People without privilege. People without capital–social, cultural, economic–I care about students. I care about teaching. I care about learning. I also care a great deal about the people who supports this work in the behind-the-scenes.

The question we do not ask enough is: “Who supports the supporters?”

When I’ve done workshops on open educational resources, and I’ve lost count of how many I’ve done, I always advocate for time with the support folks so I can listen to their concerns without faculty present. It’s even better if their superior isn’t present. It’s the one way to truly get to know people who work as classified or professional staff in organizations and help them with their jobs. They get a lot of other duties as assigned.

This also gives faculty time to share their concerns about the people who support them. Faculty, by the way, are good at what they do because they don’t particularly like being supported. My favorite quote from a teacher when I worked LMS Admin. support was, “I need you to solve my problem and then get the hell out of my office because I have important work to do.”

Technology is stressful, man.

And this work of managing change–change management– is exhausting.

Before I go too much further, the former English major in wants to pause and put my foot down to reflect on the words “change management” because there is a lot of history in the ways we use these words. In human resources. Organizational change. Technology. Project management. There are 8 steps. There are consulting firms. Self-help books. Certificate programs. It’s kind of a silly phrase when you think about it. How can you really manage change? It’s like the phrase “organized chaos.”

Let me define what I think this phrase means in the context of open education.

Open education isn’t about licensing, adopting, adapting, building, curating, doing-it-yourself, debating about whether free, nearly cost-fee, or partnering with a vendor is the superior stance. It’s about supporting people through change. A pedagogical change that directly impacts the affordability of college for students. It’s a massive shift in our academic tradition.

You have to take this work step by step. You have to look for a path to sustain this work among the cairns. Whether you’re guiding students down new pathways or being tasked to be innovative, this work is about change. Some are resistant. Some welcome the challenge. Some will help you. Some will try to get in your way.

If you return to this question at the root of everything you do, then you will find the path forward.

Ask: Does this help my students?

Either way, leaders, you’re often in a position with your team where you have to admit that you don’t know how something will work out. Teachers, you’re in a position with your students where you have to admit that you haven’t done something before and it may not work.

And it’s exhausting. It takes its toll on people. Change management could be summarized by The Dude from The Big Lebowski when he’s talking to Maude.

Open education and change management is “a very complicated case…you know, a lotta ins, a lotta outs, lotta what-have-yous.”

A conference like NW eLearn can help recharge you. A conference like this is the rug that really ties the room together. Makes you feel a bit less alone. Some of you may be lone wolves at your institution. Some of you have a solid pack. Some of you are respected leaders in this community and beyond. Some of you are early-career. Some of you are late career. Some of you might be a bit star-stuck, and let me give you some advice. People that you might think are superstars are genuinely nice and dorky in their own right. Just talk to them.

If I’ve learned anything in the last three years it’s that all leaders need people. And it’s hard and dangerous to admit your flaws, your weaknesses, and what you don’t know.

I spent some time reading all the leadership books for this talk. I read about leaning in, finding your why,  the color of your parachute, and how radical your candor must be before I had to stop. Those books, albeit worthy of teaching us all something, they made me feel like leadership was this sacred circle of successful people who had all the answers. All the answers.

The first rule of Leadership Club?

Don’t talk about what’s hard. Only talk about what makes you perfect. Don’t talk about your failures. Don’t share the sordid details about how you totally blew it. It’s more the rage to get up in front of people and talk about all of the wonderful things, but let me tell you, this is the community where you can talk about what’s hard. What’s not working. If you’re doing something right, then make sure you share what you’re doing. Are you killing it back at your home institution?

Share everything with your peers here and then offer to speak at their institution. Sometimes having somebody from another organization speak to your people can make all the difference. There are a lot of schools within driving distance of this area, and there is a wealth of information to share to support one another. We can easily drive to share our ideas in this community. Truth be told, I’m with the character Miller in Repo Man when he says, “the more you drive, the less intelligent you are.” Maybe take the bus. You can do your best thinking on the bus. Or ride your bike. Just do it in person.

Who supports the supporters?

Let me start with a few of the challenges, and then I’ll get to the joys. All the joys. And then I’ll share some advice that I have not substantiated with research. Something that you can hopefully take back to your institutions. Something that can help make your hard jobs easier.

Allow me admit, I never saw myself–and still don’t see myself–as a leader; I just volunteer. I say yes a lot. Say yes. Maybe you’re the same way.

My first position as a leader of a project, I thought somebody else was in charge, and right before the start of the meeting she shared with me that she will provide the funding from her budget, but I was going to do the work. She got up and left. Told everyone I was in charge. Everyone in the room looked to me to start the agenda. I pretended like I knew what I was doing and that’s pretty much been a skill I’ve honed ever since. So now that I’ve admitted that I’m not an actual researcher and I’m not an academic, I think I’ve got a few good stories today about what I’ve learned since I’ve gone to work in the private sector. Here goes.

Over the last three years, I’ve been to over 100 schools–community colleges and universities–in twelve different states. I’ve talked to a lot of smart people about open education, open pedagogy, and the change they are managing at their institutions. It’s been magical. I owe all of my current thinking about education to the people I’ve met through Lumen Learning, and I’m eternally grateful for the opportunities I’ve had representing this company. This company that cares about students.

My People.

Allow me to address three problems that I see over and over again at institutions that I think are a barrier to managing change. The trifecta that makes the jobs of “other duties as assigned” so much harder.

The Ambitious Administrator

The Adjunctification of Teachers

The Always Changing Initiatives

The Ambitious Administrator—for those about to rock up the ladder of leadership, I salute you.

Ambition is a wonderful trait in a leader. Necessary. What’s difficult for the ambitious administrator is that you have to keep that ambition private, or it can kill the morale of your current team. Some of you have your sights on other jobs right now, and this presentation at NW eLearn might be that rung you need on your ladder. In fact, if that’s your goal, tell that to the person you hope to be your future boss. Why the hell not? Connect with them on the LinkedIn. On the Twitters. Invite them out to dinner. You never know.

I just beg of you to do one thing, Ambitious Administrator, leave a list of what to do for the people who will get stuck doing your job as other duties as assigned for the next six-eight months that it will take to replace you. Or what to do should they not replace you and distribute all of your duties to the other duties as assigned. No position in higher education is more destructive to innovative momentum of an institution than that of the Vice President of Instruction. Almost all VPIs or VPAs have their sights on being president. And that’s awesome. During the time that they are on the job market, however, every sexy line on their CV can mean more work for their direct reports who get left behind. So what do we do?

We can do better than exit interviews. We can leave people with a vision. We can help people make a plan. You can fight to promote somebody who you think can lead people through a change. If you can’t do any of that, then leave a checklist or a timeline of what you would do. I’ve had the privilege of helping a group of faculty from three institutions through a grant project where the writer of the grant and the main point person left for another job. No list. No timelines. Just the grant language. When I read through the grant, it was a blend of magical thinking, ambition. A pure brazen mess of open educational grant buzzwords. In other words, in between the lines, I could see this person saying all the right things to win the grant funding. I saw the super sexy line on the CV. And thankfully, I could see a path towards a solution and I could pretend like I knew what I was doing. One of the teachers said of this leader, “He’s burned a bridge with me because this work is impossible to do in one quarter.”

Sometimes the bridges we burn, light the way. I get it.

The next barrier is the ever increasing adjunctification of teaching labor. I have no quantitative evidence to support this theory, but I’d argue that when it comes to technology, we might be saving money short term in labor, but we’re losing tons of money in the long-term. I’d also argue that the labor that we expend in faculty support with technology, it’s actually more expensive to hire adjuncts in the long run. I don’t really have a whole lot to offer in the ways of solutions—it’s too personal to me. We can—and by we—I mean this group—can rethink how we support those faculty.

If you aren’t considering how to help adjunct faculty on a regular basis at your institution, you are failing your students.

In The Weekend Effect, a somewhat depressing tomb about how we have slowly let technology take away the two days that labor activists fought for, Katrina Onstad sums up the current state of our careers. She writes, “We carry our jobs in our purses and packs, on our bodies” (p. 36).

How many of you are checking email right now? Multi-tasking to keep abreast of the inbox. Inbox zero is the biggest lie tech people tell about their work. I don’t believe it ever happens for anyone, but I digress.

Onstad says,

Gone are the days of long-term employment in one organization, with decades of mutual loyalty and a gold watch at retirement; job security is a relic of the past, like a butter churn, or a Slanket. For many, work is painfully insecure, a patchwork of short-term contracts or a series of small jobs that add up to one fragile living (p. 8).

Students see this, by the way, but they don’t quite understand the labor conditions of our faculty. Hollywood movies and television do a nice job of fooling most young people into thinking that teaching is a stable career. And for some of you, it is. For others, you laughed-cried when Tina Faye’s character runs into the Mean Girls at the mall on a break from her night-time restaurant job.

Students trust us to have their best interests–their backs–and I’m not sure that’s always true with the way we run our colleges.

For instance, when I was an eLearning Director, I once had a student who asked me: Who is Dr. Staff and why does he teach so many classes? How to begin explaining to students that that one of the most expensive investments of their lives is managed by contingent workers who have little to no job security? How to explain that we have to enter “Staff” in those schedules because we care about print deadlines in 2018?

The Always Changing Initiatives

Despair not, My People. These initiatives hold so much potential for collaboration! Whether it’s Guided Pathways, Co-reqs, learning communities, there are ebbs and flows that lead to managing positives changes. As the noted philosopher Geddy Lee tells us, change isn’t permanent, but change is.

And this year’s Horizon Report–which I read mainly so I can understand Audrey’s Watters snark-tweets about it–summed up the challenges of leadership in technology and education. If you don’t read Audrey’s work–Hack Education–I am assigning this as another duty for you. She’s the most important journalist in our field. Read her work.

And note the “Wicked Challenges” in the Horizon Report–the use of the word “wicked” really made me happy. I’m married to a New Englander, so the word “wicked” has a lot of uses.

Here’s what those wicked smart people predict:

The experts identified political and economic pressures as those that create a wicked challenge—one that is difficult to define and even more challenging to solve. Similarly, rethinking the roles of educators is also considered a complex problem to define and solve.

For the record, the word “wicked” appears in the report only nine times. And if I can hop up on a soapbox for a minute, the easiest–and I mean the easiest complex problem that we can solve and define is the cost of learning materials. Period. In fact, when I see the word “wicked” I start hearing Public Enemy’s “Welcome to The Terrordome.” I know Chuck D. wasn’t talking about how to save students money on their textbooks, but this works for me:

I got so much trouble on my mind/Refuse to lose/Here’s your ticket/Hear the drummer get wicked

There are solutions from section to system on how to do open education, and I know of one that works exceptionally well. I don’t have The answer, but I have AN answer, and we need to include educators in the conversation about redefining their roles. Wicked. Indeed.

And let’s be honest, we can feel the pain of everyone and then we feel nothing.

If I can use the NWeLearn tagline right now, then I can transition to a new point.

Here’s where it gets interesting.

In my mind, there are three broad categories of leadership.

You can be a Champion or a Chicken Little or somewhere in between. In a blog post, I called this in-between space as being a chump.

Forgive me, I haven’t seen the Disney version of the Chicken Little story, but I know the folktale. An acorn falls on Chicken Little’s head and he thinks the sky is falling. He can only see the ultimate worst catastrophe. Chicken Little is paralyzed by fear. Change is hard to manage when you are scared.

A Champion, according to the lovely people who edit and contribute to Wikipedia, can be a noun or a verb. A state of being or an action. Yes!

According to Wikipedia: In an ideological sense…a champion may be an evangelist, a visionary advocate who clears the field for the triumph of the idea.

I love that definition, whoever you are, Wikipedia author. The Triumph of the Idea might be the most perfect memoir title for an academic.

The Chicken Little story stuck with me because it makes a lot of sense if you help people who teach with and without technology. The sky is falling! The sky is falling! The acorn is a new LMS! The acorn is new software! The acorn is new courseware! The acorn is big giant budget cuts that are going to gut everything you’ve been doing! The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

It also applies to leadership because you can tell your team “Chicken Little don’t work here, y’all.

I didn’t hire him. The sky is not falling. We just need to _________.”

And they laugh. It helps to diffuse the pressure.

A Champion is poetic. A bit more romantic. A bit more heroic. A bit more intelligent. A bit more versatile. I’m thinking Knight In Shining Armor type-champion. Brienne of Tarth-type badassness. Your job is a noun. Or your job is a verb. Thought Leaders champion ideas and people they like. Ideas and people they can trust. Ideas and people worth following. They look up and down to make sure it’s the acorn and not the sky. They don’t use exclamation points lightly.

They don’t run around getting everybody all worked up.

Here’s what I know: I’ve had quite a few Champions along the way in my career and I think it’s worthwhile to champion for people and for ideas. When I spoke to the SBCTC New Faculty Institute a few years ago, I asked everyone in the room to think about the champions who helped them get there. My audience was newly hired tenure-track and FT temps in the CC system. They got that rare full-time job. That even rarer tenure-track position. Here I was talking to the very people I had at one point in my career hoped to be. I stared down a room of teachers and asked them to think of their Champions. I saw some smiles. Nodding heads. Some furrowed brows lost in thought. I paused for silence.

It was the moment I felt a real connection in the room among the group. If there were thought bubbles above their heads, I would have seen photos of their Champions. And then I asked them to champion their colleagues who are adjuncts. Help them get here next year or some place else someday, I said.

What unknown pleasures might lie in advocating for others. This is something I’ve learned from my colleagues in the eLearning Council in WA State.

Here’s my (choke, cough) *leaderly* thoughts/advice:

Don’t call yourself a Thought Leader if you are trying lead people. (That title is for others to decide about you. Don’t call yourself that. You sound like a Chump).

Talk down the Chicken Littles (they are reactive Chumps, not proactive leaders who think).

Be a Champion (somebody was for you, right?)

In another School of Life book, A Job To Love, Alain de Botton sums up a lot of our experiences in our careers and the careers we are helping students discover:

…it’s eminently possible that the kind of work that someone is best suited to (and around which it will be possible for them to love what they do) doesn’t exist yet. One might have a great deal of potential for a kind of job that has yet to be invented (p. 8)

Think about that–most of us do work that wouldn’t make any sense to our grandparents. Most days I talk to my laptop for hours. I interact with people in five different states synchronously on an hourly basis. Who could have predicted this?

Think about the future our students are facing. What their jobs might be like.

Let’s return to other duties as assigned. Do you see a future job in your department? Do you see a lot of little duties that add up as other duties as assigned that could become a job. Like an OER Coordinator. An Instructional Designer. Faculty Technology Consultant. Student Technology Support Mentor. Apprenticeship Project Manager. Digital Equity Consultant. Accessibility Advocate. User Experience Guru. Digital Redlining Destroyer. Open Pedagogy Evangelist.  

Alain de Botton outlines five distinctive skills which [he] believes are key for effective leadership (p. 86). The instructional designer in me loves a good list of verbs:

  1. Inspiring, storytelling, enlisting and selling
  2. Understanding what others are saying
  3. Resolving conflicts and misunderstandings
  4. Being open and transparent, including about the difficult stuff
  5. Creating a space where others will feel safe to tell you the truth

Hopefully you know this. You practice this. You can take these ideas back to your team.

Some of the best lessons that I have to share about leadership, actually come from cycling. In my spare time, I advocate for girls and women to ride and race bikes. It’s really more about the camaraderie than the competition, and this community-building has taught me just as much as my work in open education.

  1. You are only as fast as the slowest rider in your pack.
    • What this means is that if you are truly working as a group, you can only achieve what’s possible for the slowest rider. A ‘no drop ride’ means you make sure that person is okay with your pace and your distance. It’s really not about who is in front, it’s about who is the last in the pack. For me, in open education, it’s about the early adopters or even the second generation, it’s the people who have yet to join who will influence this movement in ways we have not yet seen.
  2. If you can’t ride the course or the trail, run with your bike as fast as you can.
    • Every trail–initiative, policy, practice–has a bail out line. You can make it down any trail you want.
  3. You can win (or lose) right up until the last corner.
  4. Every great ride or race usually has more suffering that you lovingly reflect on as fun later.
  5. Riding and racing is always safer and more fun with friends.

So what can I offer you here, my dear leaders? What can I give you that will set the tone of the conference? Let me give you some Hot Tips. My grandmother played the lottery pretty much everyday of her adult life, and the Pennsylvania Lottery put out Tip Sheets based on myths, ridiculous statistics, and trends.

Hot Tip, Baby Doll, she’d say when she felt good about a number. And really, everyday held the potential of hope until they drew those three numbers at 7pm. So here we go. Hot Tips.

Hot Tip #1: Count The Students Not The Teachers

If you work in professional development of any kind, and faculty members attend your session, count how many students they teach with your reporting to the Budget Big Dogs. Don’t just list how many faculty are in attendance. Count the students that they teach.

Let’s say you JUST have four faculty members in your session. You loser! For the record, I’ve flown over 2,000 miles to have that happen to me. Good times.

Before you cue up the sad trombone and don that hair shirt, consider that each of those faculty members might teach 125 students per term. Each.

So that’s 500 students with those four faculty. All those students. Or 1500 hundred students a year if you’re on a quarter system. Or 1000 per semester. The return-on-investment with professional development dollars go way up when you calculate it that way. If you want to account for the labor you and your team invested in to create that one hour workshop, it looks a bit more worthwhile if you count the students that you’ll reach.

Hot Tip #2: Keep Everything So Simple. Easy.

So what do you do for your faculty to keep their learning about technology simple? If you’re a teacher working with students, what do you do to help your students? For your workshops? How do you think of small solutions that will have a big impact? If you have one match to burn, what fire do you want to start?

For instance, if there are thirty things that you think is really cool about Open, just talk about five things. Maybe less than that. Tone it down, man, you’re overwhelming people.

In fact, I’ve learned from a colleague who teaches math that maybe you just focus on three items. Five things, Indy, are just too much when there are a lot of hard things to learn. Give me three things, he says, I don’t have the attention for five. That’s all I can remember when things are hard. So okay. Yes. Three things. Simple. Just not in this blog post.

In fact, get faculty to teach other faculty. That’s how I got my start. I was a faculty member who won a grant to teach my peers about technology, and I found a whole new passion. Faculty members in attendance, these are the people to tell that you want to do that work, and it should count for your professional development.

Hot Tip #3: Start with what faculty want to learn.

It’s super scary to teach teachers. Holy mother of all the gods I don’t believe in. So hard.

They are the best and worst students. Mean. Direct. They are the best because they care about their work. They love learning.

They are also the worst because they multi-task and they talk while you’re talking. They don’t like the vulnerability of appearing like they don’t have all of the answers. They’re used to being the smartest person in the room. They’ll sass you. Put you up against the ropes before you can even make fists for the fight. And they get angry when you waste their time. Gloves off if they do not agree with your version of Open. Your version of teaching. Of learning.

So I recommend starting by asking for their questions.

What do you want to learn today?

Just roll with the questions. If you don’t know something, admit it. The best facilitators I’ve seen use this approach. You can establish a clear ethos from the start. People stop checking email and they listen.

The willingness to go off script changes everything sometimes. Or this is the lie that I tell myself most often.

For those of you speaking in session over the next two days, I’d love to see you start by asking why people chose your session. What did they see about your session that they thought they could learn? Be willing to bounce around a bit, and you can use your pretty PowerPoint as a follow-up. Pass around a sheet. Get people’s email addresses. Start a slack channel. You need this support when you go back to your gigs. I promise.

Most importantly, ask people who are attending your session what they wanted to learn from you. They read your blurb, decided to be in the room with you, so they must have some ideas. Even if it means totally scrapping your presentation just roll with their questions and have a discussion. Your powerpoint and notes will make a brilliant follow-up email and continue the conversation.

Hot Tip #4: Explicitly include your adjuncts.

State directly “Adjuncts are encouraged to attend.” For every event on your campus. And don’t remind them that they won’t be paid for attending the event. They know. It’s insulting.

Better still offer the same training/professional development online. Asynchronously, you radical. Or hold online office hours. You can work while you’re waiting to hear from somebody. Be consistent with those hours and be patient.

Are you skilled enough to virtually connect people with face-to-face folks? Check out what Virtually Connecting does–you could easily adopt that model if you’re confident with the technology. Their on-site/remote buddy model is one of the strongest examples of online hospitality that’s adjunct-friendly that I’ve seen. I just wish I had more time to participate in what they are doing. Maybe you do. Maybe someday for me.

If you’re not up to that style of facilitating, that’s okay. It takes does take some practice to run it all smoothly. But why not jump in? What the hell? Nobody needs to know it’s your first time.

And honestly, if everything goes off the rails, have a real honest to goodness heart-to-heart with the people in your workshop. At the point where everything is falling a part. Pivot to these three questions and pretend like it was part of the plan the whole time.

Have them fill in the blanks for the statements below:

  1. What scares me the most about teaching with technology is__________.
  2. This year I would like to try _________.
  3. When I was an undergraduate, my favorite teacher helped me understand_______.

Listen. Write things down. Look everyone in the eye and tell them that it’s probably “other duties as assigned” for you, but you’ll try to help make this happen.

Because there are no easy answers to any of this work. There is no handbook for what it means to be an effective leader in these austere times. So what can we do for one another during these next two days? We can be kind and open when we’re listening to one another’s ideas. We’re trained as academics to parse out differences, unpack difficult ideas–to point out what’s missing. We live in exhausting times–let’s use these two days to be generous towards one another. For instance, if you are presenting ideas from a well-funded university with a team of support staff, make sure you present the alternative for a leader who has no support, no funding, but wants to bring that ideas to his students.

If you are presenting from an urban school with a massive population and your enrollments are up, share a strategy of what you would do if your enrollments were down. Imagine how what you’re doing might work at a rural school.

If you’re presenting a strategy for professional development, share all of the details and make sure it’s something that you can also do for an adjunct who gets hired on a Thursday to teach a class on a Monday. In fact, all of our professional development should stem from that very reality.

Who supports the supporters?


Just remember that things are going to change. It’s the nature of our field. Remember and be quite aware of what you’re going through. You can watch the ripples change their size but they never leave the stream (really poor David Bowie remix).

I’ll conclude today with a bit more Alain de Botton because I think this quote gets at the heart of what it’s like to be a part of change management in your other duties as assigned in educational technology:

“Much of life is spent on the cusp of uncertainty and ambiguity” (p. 151).

One thing is for certain, we’ve got a great conference for you. Enjoy it and your time together.

Thank you.

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Story That I Wanted To Hear

“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.”


You People.

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?

Hats off.

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.

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The Right Time to Burn A Match

There’s a saying in bike racing that I always find interesting.

“You need to be strategic about where you’re willing to burn a match in a race.”

In race reports, you might read, “I burned a match on that switchback and I couldn’t recover.”

Or if somebody won or did well, they might say, “I burned a match trying to pass a few people and it paid off on the last lap.”

If you’ve ever tried to create a fire from a limited amount of matches, you know you  have to be strategic.

If the wind blows a certain direction, you have to wait until the time is right to strike.

You have to be patient or you burn a match and your effort is all a waste.

I recently had a heart to heart conversation with a person who is in a position to be such leader in all things Open.

And she/he/they is choosing to not take the opportunity. Thanks. But.

No thanks.

The demands are too high. The hours are too long. The work is too thankless. The work removes all possibility of a work/life balance. The work removes all possibility of joy.

Really hard frickin’ work.

And I gotta tell ya, the work takes its toll on people.

Here’s the sentence I can’t stop thinking about. This is the sentence that haunts me:

It’s more work than I can possibly do and still enjoy my life.


I also caught myself saying this week that I love this time of year because I can work 12 hours and still have enough daylight to rip it up on my mountain bike. That’s a crazy fucking statement when you think about it and I’m probably drinking way too much coffee right now. But I digress.

It’s more work than I can possibly do and still enjoy my life.

Wait. I know that tune.

That’s the familiar drum beat on the songs about burning out.



How do you do this work and not burn out? (A Memoir)

How do you do it, I get asked.

Okay. Sure, I say. This. That. I say.

I can’t say for sure that I know what I’m talking about. Ever.

Perhaps I have a few answers because I’ve already lived through two career burnouts. Thus all of what’s hard about the current work I’m doing is still very interesting. Fascinating. Positively engaging. All good problems to have. I’m ya girl.

I could have gone into restaurant management if I hadn’t seen that work as a dead-end. The metrics of success were simple. Boring. The shorter my skirt, the greater my tips.

I could have been a contender. I coulda been somebody in that business.

I could have also become a lifelong adjunct quietly teaching section after section until I died.

I could have been a variety of things if I hadn’t always been obsessed with the idea that there was something more interesting right around the corner. Right around the corner. What I’m involved in now is so interesting there aren’t enough hours in the day.

And as tired as I may feel sometimes, nobody has asked me to clean out the fryer after working a double-shift because the cook is passed out drunk in the walk-in freezer. Good times. Nor am I asked to work a double shift because the person who is suppose to relieve me did too much cocaine last night and is still asleep at the dinner rush. We need you to cover until he gets here, I’d hear. Good times. Nobody has asked me to mop up barf in the bathroom because the bachelorette party of 12 got a little out of hand and I knew what I was doing serving them another round of margaritas (Hell yeah, I did, they drank top shelf margaritas for hours, which meant a higher gratuity for me). I should have cut them off, but I knew they had a stretch limo ready to take them to their hotel. Can’t let that mess sit until the janitor comes in the morning, I’d hear. Here’s the mop, Indrunas. Good times.

As burned out as I may feel, when I work hard, I see the rewards of that work. I also don’t have to figure out how to pay my bills four months out of the year because the organization I work for can’t find the funding for a full-time position for me. Refreshing.




I’m laying it on a little thick. This I know. Career Burnout; It’s What’s For Dinner.

How to avoid burning out your teachers at the start of another school year?

I think the most powerful you can do right now for your staff, your teachers, and yourself is to be upfront about the potential of burnout during your Welcome Weeks. Convocations. Week 0s. Before you start another year, be honest about how hard it all can be.

If we tally up all of the things we are asking teachers to do to be a quality educator, it’s an oppressive list ripe for cultivating burnout.

Let me get this straight. You need to make sure your students have access to a food pantry. Check.

You need to remove as much of the cost of their educational materials as possible. Check.

You need to change everything you do as a teacher to meet every avenue of inclusivity and accessibility. Or you’re a fascist pig. Check.

You need to use at least five digital tools to show innovative practices. And you need to apply for a major grant in less than 20 days to fund all that work. Check. Wait. What?

You need to generate data to support the latest initiative that your local/state government has created to improve teaching and learning. Check.

Oh, and while you’re at, let’s dismantle every woe of late capitalism with a smile on your faces.

Check. And after a long day of teaching and committee work, we need you to attend this campus safety meeting just in case there’s a shooting on campus. Check.




Okay, before you get offended, let me just be clear. I’m exaggerating for the sake of my point. We’re asking for a lot these days. And we’re so outraged when we don’t see what we believe is The Right Solution.

There’s so much to be outraged about right now. So much to be outraged about right now. There’s a lot we can’t control. There’s just a lot.

Personally, I’m tired of being outraged. It’s too easy.

I’m more interested in talking about solutions. I’m more into talking about what’s easy to solve.

What can make a teacher’s life easier? What can help a student learn?

Welcome Week is an opportunity to plant some seeds for the spring. Or for the next year. Or next week. Why ignore the potential of this opportunity? Burn the match and take a few chances with being creative.

Classes start soon and I promised a few of you that I share some ideas, and I’m frankly drowning in things I want/need to do. Who the fuck isn’t? Here goes.

Five Big Questions

Here’s a short reflective activity for faculty who are game for professional learning opportunities. Gather your teachers together and ask them to write short brief thoughts answering the following the questions:

  1. What‘s the best thing you teach your students? In other words, what’s one thing you hope they remember from your class five years from now?
  2. What do you wish you had time to do differently?
  3. What’s the hardest thing to teach your students?
  4. What would you like to learn from your colleagues today?
  5. What would professional learning look like this year if nobody could say no to your ideas? If time and money were no issue, what would you do for your department? 

You can use these questions to facilitate a good discussion about what faculty want for the upcoming year. Focus group style. Create time for a small group activity where you have fun gathering ideas. Just enjoy talking and listening. It’s the start of the school year, man. People are usually happier than they are come February. You can get a lot more from people by talking face-to-face than you can from surveys.

What follows are my greatest hits that I’ve been sharing all week so I thought I’d write them down here. I keep sharing these ideas over and over and over again. Indy, what should I do during this time? What should I do? What would you do?

You might think that talking about the same things would lead to burnout, right? Saying the same things again and again can be a bore. Sure. But you know what? It’s way better than asking if you want wheat, white, or sour dough bread with your sandwich.

Or pretending like you’re the most fascinating man on Earth because I think you’ll leave me a great tip. Good gawd if only I could get those hours of my life back–standing in beer soaked Doc Martens listening to some rich dullard drone on and on. My current gig is The Shit compared to that, y’all. And if I cut buying books from my monthly budget, I can donate a tiny bit to Audrey Watters and WMBC. And I utilize my public library more to free up the money we use to spend on books. What I donate isn’t much, but it’s a tiny bit of generosity that makes me happy. Win. Win. Win.

All I have to do is close my eyes and I can remember a time when I thought I’d be a 50 year old waitress. Good times.

So when I hear people complaining about burning out, it takes every bit of strength to not snark, “You know what’s really fucking hard? Being poor.”

Oh shit. Hold up wait a minute. Let me put some Ranty Indrunas in it. She’s having her way with my blog again without knowing when to STFU. She’s got deep class resentment issues and she’s kind of a saucy unpleasant bitch who I really don’t like too much.

Where was I?

Hot Tips For Welcome Week: WOOT! 

Number One: Count The Students Not The Teachers

When faculty members attend your session, count how many students they teach with your reporting to the Budget Big Dogs. Don’t just list how many faculty are in attendance. Count the students that they teach.

Let’s say you JUST have four faculty members in your session. You loser! For the record, I’ve flown over 2,000 miles to have that happen to me. Good times.

Before you cue up the sad trombone and don that hair shirt, consider that each of those faculty members might teach 125 students per term. Each.

So that’s 500 students with those four faculty. All those students. Or 1500 hundred students a year if you’re on a quarter system. Or 1000 per semester. The return-on-investment with professional development dollars go way up when you calculate it that way. If you want to account for the labor you and your team invested in to create that one hour workshop, it looks a bit more worthwhile if you count the students that you’ll reach.

I can’t use the phrase to “touch students” by the way–I know it’s all the rage, but I hear how successful somebody is by “touching 100 students” and I’m grossed out. “High-Touch/High-Impact” just sounds kind of sick and dirty to me.

Number Two: Keep Everything So Simple. Easy. 

When I have a free minute sometime after the start of classes, I’m going to listen to the keynote recording of Jade E. Davis from the Digital Pedagogy Lab. I dig her work because she blends a pragmatic message about teaching and learning with the real substantive issues of inequality both from the a systemic and personal perspective. She’s got the pulse on how the infrastructure of digital technologies limits the potential of teaching and learning. Her “Frugal Innovation in Digital Literacies rocks my world. Hot damn!

Note her use of “Keep it simple” in the article I’ve linked above. Wisdom!

So what do you do for your faculty to keep it simple? For your workshop? How do you think of small solutions that will have a big impact? If you have one match to burn, what fire do you want to start? 

For instance, if there are thirty things that you think is really cool about Open, just talk about five things. Maybe less than that. Tone that shit down, man, you’re overwhelming people.

That last sentence is advice for myself, by the way.

In fact, I’ve learned from a colleague who teaches math that maybe you just focus on three items. Five things, Indy, are just too much when there are a lot of hard things to learn. Give me three things, he says, I don’t have the attention for five. That’s all I can remember when things are hard. So okay. Yes. Three things. Simple. Just not in this blog post.

Number Three: Start with what faculty want to learn.

It’s super scary to teach teachers. Holy mother of all the gods I don’t believe in. So hard.

They are the best and worst students. Mean. Direct. They are the best because they care about their work. They love learning.

They are also the worst because they multi-task and they talk while you’re talking. They don’t like the vulnerability of appearing like they don’t have all of the answers. They’re used to being the smartest person in the room. They’ll sass you. Put you up against the ropes before you can even make fists for the fight. And they get angry when you waste their time. Gloves off if they do not agree with your version of Open. Your version of teaching. Of learning.

So I recommend starting by asking for their questions. What do you want to learn today?

Just roll with the questions. If you don’t know something, admit it. The best facilitators I’ve seen use this approach. You can establish a clear ethos from the start. People stop checking email and they listen.

The willingness to go off script changes everything sometimes. Or this is the lie that I tell myself most often.

Number Four: Document every damn thing.

Follow-up messaging is really important. Make promises and keep them. Even if what you deliver totally sucks. A Memoir.

In my eLearning Director days, I loved loved loved sending All Faculty emails. I loved sending messages to people that I thought I could help. All Faculty emails! Yes! Clicking submit made so happy.

Yet the only people who would respond were the ones who just wanted to bitch. After six weeks of not hearing anything positive, I stopped writing those emails. I gave up.

I fell into the familiar vast pit of despair I call my self-esteem, and I assumed that nobody read anything that I wrote. That I was wasting my time. That I was biggest loser in the world. That I had nothing to offer anyone. That my words were meaningless.

Then I held a Canvas training on their rubric function and when I walked in the room, several adjuncts asked if I was okay. They looked so concerned. They were crushed that they hadn’t heard from me in weeks. Why had I stopped sending the eCULT emails? The eCULT was eLearning & Canvas Users Learning Together and prolly my best acronym.

They launched into talking about the things that they learned from my emails. They laughed quoting some of my jokes. They talked about how they looked forward to those tips and read every single one of them.

One teacher said, “I like to sit down with a glass of wine after midnight and I learn so much from your emails. It’s awesome to sit down in my home office and learn at the end of my day.”

Two things of note here. 1] The end of her day was after midnight. So file that tidbit under substantiating How Teachers Burnout. 2] And she was digging on asynchronous learning. With wine. So ten thousand rainbows bloomed in the sky for me.

They also told me they didn’t respond to my emails because they knew I was busy. We didn’t want to cloud up your inbox, they said. Meanwhile I responded HOURLY to a few haters about why we left Blackboard for Canvas. FFS.

I learned a valuable lesson that the haters have all the energy in the world to share their outrage but the people you really want to reach respect you, your time, and what you’re doing and they are often too busy to take the time to express gratitude.

Haters thrive on sharing outrage. It’s so easy, but nothing seems to please me–just like Axl Rose told us circa 1987, amirite?

Number five:  Explicitly include your adjuncts.

State directly “Adjuncts are encouraged to attend.” For every event on your campus. And don’t remind them that they won’t be paid for attending the event. They know. It’s insulting.

Better still offer the same training/professional development online. Asynchronously, you radical. Or hold online office hours. You can work while you’re waiting to hear from somebody. Be consistent with those hours and be patient.

Are you skilled enough to virtually connect people with face-to-face folks? Check out what Virtually Connecting does--you could easily adopt that model if you’re confident with the technology. Their on-site/remote buddy model is one of the strongest examples of online hospitality that’s adjunct-friendly that I’ve seen. I just wish I had more time to participate in what they are doing. Maybe you do. Maybe someday for me.

If you’re not up to that style of facilitating, that’s okay. It takes does take some practice to run it all smoothly. But why not jump in? What the hell? Nobody needs to know it’s your first time.

And honestly, if everything goes off the rails, have a real honest to goodness heart-to-heart with the people in your workshop. At the point where everything is falling a part. Pivot to these three questions and pretend like it was part of the plan the whole time.

Have them fill in the blanks for the statements below:

1. What scares me the most about teaching with technology is__________.

2. This year I would like to try _________.

3. When I was an undergraduate, my favorite teacher helped me understand_______.

Listen. Write things down. Look everyone in the eye and quote James Baldwin from The Fire Next Time.

Because there are no easy answers to any of this work.

Tell it, James:

The impossible is the least that one can demand.

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Why I Race: A Memoir

I’m 39 years old and I’m finally learning how to race my bike. ~Katie Compton

I’d like to start by expressing gratitude to all of you who read my last post. I thought it was so silly when I was writing it, and your positive response was a delightful shock. One of the reasons I love the bloggy blog bloggery is that it’s a medium where you never know who the audience will be, and thus it forces you—forces me—to write for myself. If you are a fan of the professional learning/Open/teaching/learning blatherings of this blog, I’m working on a post on planning Welcome Week for faculty. Stay tuned.

Riders ready? Beep beep beep…This post is about bikes!

I got some very good news this past week that will allow me to continue helping my bike team–The Queens of Dirt–put on the first all-female race in Bellingham! Yay! I was feeling beyond panicked about feeling over-booked, stressed, and I was losing sleep agonizing about how I was going to be able to fit everything in. Then everything worked out after one difficult conversation. Deep breath.

Here’s the thing.

Kirsten, our co-caption, Sabrina, who just finished the BC Bike Race (woot!), and I met last week, and we’ve got a plan to make it all happen. The women of the Queens of Dirt are magic. They get shit done, rock my world, and they are all so smart! Every member of the team will help in some way or another, and we all have one job: Bring The Awesome. We put that phrase on the job duties spreadsheet because you know, spreadsheets are too serious sometimes. We all need to share one job and it’ll be to Bring The Awesome.

Speaking of bringing the awesome–I got a couple of essay-like text messages from Kirsten Jensen, and she mentioned a book that she is reading, Start With The Why, by Simon Sinek which I read when it first came out. And like all motivational leadership books for me, there were really useful parts, good parts, mediocre parts, platitudinous parts, and parts that test my patience. Thinking about this book is very timely for me, actually, because I’ve been trying to read a lot of leadership books for a talk I’m doing in the fall, and I’m still searching for one that I love. What I like about Sinek’s work is that his message is grounded in pragmatism about human beings and emotional appeals–people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

Yes, and I wish it was that simple all the time.

For the purpose of this bike race, it’s easy to express The Why using one photograph.

Imagine every category at a bike race from Juniors to Masters having this many women.


Queens of Dirt MTB Weekend 2018, Bellingham, WA  Photo Credit Bryce Barry @brycebarry_ website:

And you see those little girls on the picnic table in the middle of the photo? Those are our Little Big Whys.

We’ve decided that we are going to ask women who race to explain why they race as a way to motivate other women.  Yes! So I’m going to get this party started with a hashtag and a social media campaign.

#QoDMTBRace here we go.

Why do I race?

I race because I love the camaraderie with other women, the act of scheduling my entire week around attending a race, and the conversations that I have with my friends after the race. Before I go into great detail about these three reasons, I need to admit to you, my dear readers, that I’ve never won a race. Ever. My best result is 2nd place with the Seattle Cross Revolution Cyclocross series as a Cat 4, and I got passed on the last corner towards the finishing line. I’ve “won” the Cascade Cross series C and I’ve been on the podium for the Bs–only because I show up the most. I don’t race to win; I race because it’s really frickin’ fun.

Make Frens. I’ve met a lot really good friends at bike races. Turns out most people who race bikes are Good People. A lot of folks show up for their race and leave immediately afterward, and that’s fine, but you’re missing out, man. Sure, you can totally get an awesome workout in before noon, and still have a Sunday for other things if that’s your scene. Or you can do what I do, and hang out to watch other people race and chat with folks. I’ve met a lot of strangers who turned into friends just from hanging out at bike races.

Hot tip: Talk to other women in the lineup. Look closely and you’ll see the really fast women are joking around and talking before the start. They’ve known each other for years. Race face commences just before the start, but prior to that, there’s a lot of banter. Look to your left and right, and if somebody is quiet, lean over, and admit how nervous you are and smile. Everyone is nervous and chatting and joking will help you relax. If you see a woman who is stoic and quiet, let her be. Chances are she doesn’t like talking on the line but she might throw down some Fireball whiskey and party hard after the race. Everyone is different. Me? No surprise, I like to chat, and these days a lot of my friends are faster than me, so I try to make frens with strangers.

When you pass a woman during the race, don’t just say on your left. Be encouraging!  If you have the breath to say so, grunt “Good job, lady.”

And most importantly when you make a new race friend, say “See you next week?”

Time is a Jet Plane. Sometimes it’s really hard to carve out a Saturday or Sunday to race because of the jobby job, amirite? Do you have kids? A spouse who travels for work? Take care of a parent? Are your kids competitive athletes? The list can go on and on to substantiate why you can’t find time to race. It can be expensive. Intimidating. I understand. Believe me I understand.

There is something deeply special me about dedicating the time to a race. I need something to look forward to. Something to plan for that’s just for me. I’m hopelessly devoted to the Cascade Cross series in Bellingham, so barring some disaster in my life, I’m going to be a season pass holder for life and support my local series. I used to race the other two series in Seattle regularly, but I got a little burned out with their early season schedule. September is glorious for the high alpine hiking or mountain biking, so I’ve adopted a new philosophy that helps me. If it’s a dusty, flat, grassy crit-like course, I’ll prolly stay in Bellingham and mountain bike. Or I’ll hang out with my hiking friends. If I’m coming off three weeks of non-stop work travel, I’ll go to spectate and sit out a race. If the weather forecast is looking treacherous, muddy, and cyclocross magical, I’ll consider driving down the I-5. I never miss Enumclaw and Woodland Park because I love love love those courses.

My entire weekend–and thus my work week–is shaped around being able to make these races in the fall.  I can’t sustain this pace all year, but every autumn, it’s on, y’all.

Hot tip: Do you have kids? Talk to the race ladies who have older children. Chances are they have some lesson learned that can help you, especially if you and your spouse race. I’ve seen children passed as batons between races, and I’m really impressed with how many families pull off racing. When I see the kids who go from toddlers to junior racers in a full-on family affair, I die from all the cuteness. Those Skuut Bike races are adorable defined. Most of the fast ladies I know have kids, and they will talk your ear off on how to train while having kids.

I love Race Reports: A Memoir. So what’s just as fun as racing? Talking to people after the race! Save for the races when my Mister has a mechanical or DNFs (so grouch-tastic), I love talking to him about the course and his race. All my lady and dude racer friends? Love hearing about it. My team will post race reports and I read and respond to every single one. Love it. One of the reasons I love cyclocross is the hecklers.

How was my first race you ask? Well, I crashed really hard and slid down the flyover near where the Hodala team gathered it was probably the worst–and best–place to crash–right in front of a team of drunk smartasses. Get UP, lady! They yelled. This isn’t slip-n-slide, this is cross! What are you doing? Etc. I had a lot of mud on my feet so I was having a hard time getting back up the slippery muddy ramp, so I felt like I was struggling in front of them forever. They were yelling all kinds of inappropriate things, and it was cracking me up. So, I looked at them and yelled, “SCREW YOU!” and oh my gawd did they cheer. When I came back around the next lap, they cheered me on and I overheard one of them say, “Here’s The Screw You, Lady.” Go Screw You Lady! Screw you!

To this day, I’m so glad they were too drunk to remember that nickname.

Hot tip: Everyone crashes in bike racing. It’s okay. Check your body, check your bike, and if you can, get back on it and pedal. As you race, take note of who heckles you and give it back ten fold. For years. Keep it family friendly if there are kids around and be vicious to the sandbaggers. Heckling is an art.

These are my three reasons and quite honestly, you’ll need to find your own. I can’t tell you how to live your life. I can tell you that I’ve seen racing empower women and girls and grow confidence off the course. I’ve seen women cry because they had so much fun and didn’t think they could finish a race. I’ve seen women go from Timid to Total Killer in a few years. I’m inspired by every woman who shows up to race in a sport dominated by men.

I know plenty of women who aren’t very competitive but they love racing because it’s silly and fun. You do you. And when you hear a woman talk about her love of racing, you can say “ME TOO!” to her without craving a gin & tonic when you say that phrase.

If I had to distill why I race, it’s because it’s fun comraderie with really cool people on bikes. I like a good party, Good People, and bikes—all three come together on race day.

If you’re in the area, I hope you will consider joining us on September 22, 2018 at Lake Padden for the first ever and (hopefully) annual Queens of Dirt Mountain Bike Race. I’m hoping that the fun you have on this day will get you excited about #CrossIsComing and you’ll Bring The Awesome to our local series.

All participants who register for QoD Mtb Race prior to August 15th will be entered into a raffle drawing race day for a full entry to QOD Mtb Weekend (value $350, see photo above)! The weekend is magical because we have some of the best coaches in the NW (and Asheville, NC) show up to teach their hearts out.

Here’s how you sign up. Check out our page on Bike Reg:

Do you want to share your Why as a bike racer? You don’t have to windbag it up like me–you can do it in a Tweet! We’d love to hear from you. Respond below, email us, post to FB and Insta using the hashtag #QoDMTBRace and tag @queensofdirt

Thanks in advance to all the Queens of Dirt race and club members, Jack’s Bicycle Center, Liv Cycling , Cascade Cross Series, Bellingham Grind Corps, The Bellingham Parks Department, & Matt Curtis (our photographer) , & Angi Weston/Radical Roots, and everybody else who is going to make this happen.

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Reflecting On Some Things: A Memoir

“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” ~Leonard Cohen

I’ve been writing three blog posts for months, and I just need to post one. My mind is buzzing with all of the conversations that I got to be a part of this past week. I learned a lot from a bunch of really smart people that I’m honored to call my friends. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about leadership, change, and open pedagogy. For a lot of folks who are dog-tired of hearing the same soundtrack about how to do and be Open, it’s a conversation they are hungry to have. What’s next? Now what? How do you define open pedagogy, they ask. What do you say to faculty who are interested, they ask. What are some great examples that you can share with me, they ask. Is this the way we get people interested, they ask.

I don’t know. Maybe. Here are few things I do know.

The first thing I share is that I think we need to quit calling it open pedagogy when we’re introducing faculty to The Idea. For a faculty member who doesn’t know Open and hasn’t had much experience with pedagogy, we’re using jargon. Meaningless words. We’re asking faculty to play “Icky Thump” when they haven’t mastered “Love Me Do.” We’re asking them to knit complex cables when they haven’t even combined knits and purls. We’re asking them to bomb down a black diamond run when they haven’t figured out how to stay upright on the green run. We’re making things harder before we even get started. Throw in licensing, the 5Rs, and some technology into your talk, and you’ve lost the whole goddamn room save for a few people. How do I know? Because I’ve done it.

After that Shit Show Preso, I started by asking teachers how they get students to collaborate. Didn’t use the words Open or Pedagogy for most of the talk. I listened to them talk about their craft. Chances are faculty are doing something already that is either very close to the principles of open pedagogy or they are doing really cool work but they don’t know what to call it. Usually without getting compensated for that time.

The third thing I share is that I don’t trust anyone or any research that claims to have it all defined. The ones I trust are still questioning. Don’t get me wrong, there are amazing projects that work towards those definitions, but it’s all too new to be named. If you know my bloggy, you know I’ve written about this idea before and if you want all 20,000 words, it’s here. In sum, when REM played David Letterman for the first time, he asked them what they were going to play and Peter Buck shared that the song was too new to be named (It was “So. Central Rain”–love that song). Such chutzpah–I mean what the fuck Peter Buck–you’re on Letterman and you don’t have a title for your song. Wut? BRAZEN. BADASS. Just got up on stage and killed it. If you watch that clip or if you were old enough to remember that night on TV, note/remember Michael Stipe. Interesting. Okay, where was I?

Here’s the thing.

If you’re a leader, you gotta be like Peter Buck back then. Be willing to be a rock star while your Michael Stipe figures out how to own the stage. You sometimes need to let your drummer quit and become a farmer. Accept that you need a Mike Mills back-up and that’s okay. You can’t do everything. Just play the damn song and do it. I’m not sure what I have to say in this post but I just need to process some ideas before I get started on things I promised my frens this week.

So maybe here’s The Thing. I just need to reflect. Here goes.

A few nights ago, I was scrolling through the Instagramajama and somebody had put together a clever remix of the 24 Lessons for Filmmakers.

But they called it Lessons for Life. Ooooohh, do I call them out for getting the wrong title? Do I slam them for breaking copyright practices? Do I judge them for not doing what I’d do? No. Who gives AF? The post made me think. So here’s what I thought about most of the night when I couldn’t sleep so I drank and wrote. Totally healthy. I’ve been on the Hemingway’s advice of Write Drunk, Edit Sober wagon quite a bit lately. So here goes. Let me remix some Werner Herzog wisdom (in bold) in the context of trying to figure out what I think about opening the pedagogy. And other things. Mostly other things.

  • Always take the initiative. 
    • Ya damn right. Just try. It doesn’t have be perfect. Admit to your students that you’re experimenting with some new teaching methods. There might be a dork like me in your class eating up everything you’re doing while dreaming of becoming a teacher. Dreaming of what she’ll do as a teacher.
  • There is nothing wrong with spending a night in jail if it means getting the shot you need. 
    • Seems a bit extreme, Werner, but what I think he’s saying is that you need to take chances. And be held accountable. Sometimes you have to put yourself out there and try something new. Ask your students about the assignment and what they got out of it. Chances are if it failed they can help you fix it for the next batch of students. Our best resource is often the students themselves.
  • Send out all your dogs and one might return with prey.
    • Okay, I’m not going to write anything about this one because I think Werner probably stole this one from the one and only Linda Williams.
  • Never wallow in your troubles; despair must be kept private and brief.
    • Good goddamn this work is hard. It’s really hard. I’m not going to write about that today.
  • Learn to live with your mistakes.
    • Some of the best examples I’ve seen of opening the pedagogy is where students create materials for other students. One teacher shared with me that she has her students write short letters of advice on how to cheat in her class. She said when those assignments come in at the end of the term, she reads them after she submits grades. They all get credit, she said, and I learn more about my own teaching then any peer observation or self-reflection. She let’s her students read the best ones from last quarter at the start of the next term. Simple yet genius. And before you get all, “I don’t want my students to cheat…” and start assessment-splaining me, I invite you to rethink cheating. We might call it saving time or collaboration in other realms of adulthood, like say, in the jobs that students hope to get when they graduate. Just sayin’
  • Expand your knowledge and understanding of music and literature, old and modern.
    • Viva The Humanities. I prolly shouldn’t write about this one or I’ll get Ranty McRanty Indrunas fired up and she needs STFU and take a little holiday break.
  • That roll of unexposed celluloid you have in your hand might be the last in existence, so do something impressive with it.
    • This is one of my favorites because it’s about being brave.
  • There is never an excuse not to finish a film.
    • I have to politely disagree because sometimes life gets in the way. Shit goes down. Maybe you’ve had an idea that you’ve wanted to do for quite some time but you haven’t found the right moment. Maybe this is more about overthinking the finished product. Just finish it.
  • Carry bolt cutters everywhere.
    • I’m pretty sure this one is connected to the statement about being willing to go to jail, but maybe that’s just me. Tell it, Werner.
  • Thwart institutional cowardice.
    • YES. Figure out the work around! Want some help? I’m ya girl. When you hit a barrier because of an institutional policy or tradition, ask the people in charge if there is a way to change the policy. It’s easier to change policy than tradition, and that’s a longer conversation. You’ve got to be in the long game. There are no pedagogies to open if everyone loses their jobs because institutions close. Enrollments are down. It’s scary for a lot of people who are contingent. Budgets are tight. People are making hard decisions.

The next four are just too perfect for me to muddy up with my thoughts. Just read them.

  • Ask for forgiveness, not permission.
  • Take your fate into your own hands.
  • Learn to read the inner essence of a landscape.
  • Ignite the fire within and explore unknown territory.


Walk straight ahead, never detour.

  • So connecting this one to opening the pedagogy, I’d say this has to do with confidence. If you are uncomfortable admitting to your students that you’ve never done something before, then keep your chin up and pretend like you’ve done it a million times. Fuck it. Are you an aspiring leader? Fake it till you make it, baby.
  • Also I feel like focusing on renewable assignments from the get-go is a major detour and it’s hard. Or pitching a framework where “contributing” is the first step towards changing your pedagogy is a lot of pressure. (See Icky Thump/Love Me Do comparison above). Faculty are very insulted when you tell them they have assignments that are disposable. They are very insulted when you tell them that what they are doing isn’t good enough. Disposable and Renewable are terms that are brilliantly–visionary and useful–but really hard to conceptualize for faculty. At first.
  • An easier question might be: What’s something simple you have your students do every term? Make them think about connections with your previous and future students. Let them define it, not you.
  • Maneuver and mislead, but always deliver.
    • So let me be clear here, I can’t lie to teachers. The work of teaching and learning is too personal for me. I can’t look myself in the mirror if I maneuver and mislead teachers. For example, if you are an instructional designer, you have to earn the trust of faculty to do your job. It takes time to do that work effectively (unless you have a top-down initiative and then chances are they think you’re the Learning Outcomes Police or the EdTech Soul Killer). When you are working with a faculty member, what about sharing an idea that YOU know is open pedagogy? Just don’t call it that. Cut the jargon and just talk to faculty about good teaching ideas. Save the cool theory talk and fun facts for your Open Frens.
  • Don’t be fearful of rejection.
    • Don’t overthink it. Don’t take it personally if your students tell you they hate the assignment. If you’re a leader and you feel frustrated that faculty say no to your ideas, be patient with them. Don’t give up. If it makes you feel any better, I sometimes have more people turn me down by lunch time than you might in six months. I translate the phrase “I’m not ready to do ________” in my head as “You should talk me next term.” It’s my own bit of self-care to stay optimistic.
  • Develop your own voice.
    • So let me tell you a quick story. True Confession. This maybe should be another post, but I don’t have an editor and who cares.
    • I got an F in English 101. Fer realz. Failed that class as a college freshmen. Failed THE class that I couldn’t wait to take. You know I had visions of Dead Poet’s Society type shit where we were going to read, think, and be DEEP, man. I was trying to be an English major. And I got an F. Instead of having a teacher who cared about me and my learning, I had a very opinionated teacher who was a fascist about the way we interpreted everything in the class. Two weeks into the class, my teacher was on some windbag lecture about Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. A depressed woman writing Big Thoughts was my jam! Let’s rap! And this teacher had it all wrong. All wrong. So I raised my hand and asked why we were talking so much about Plath’s life, the teacher’s research, and not the book. I had a few sentences I underlined and annotated that I wanted to talk about that. Let’s talk about the art not the artist!
    • If you teach writing, you know that I was an ideal Book Nerd right? Not to this Joy Murderer. She destroyed me in front of the class. Told me that we were setting up a discussion and that I needed to be quiet and take better notes. You could use some practice focusing on directions, Miss Inder-Ind–In–however you say that last name of yours, she said. Then she returned to her “research” and the windbaggering. During the break, I left the class and never came back. I didn’t know I had to fill out paperwork to drop the class in order for it to not appear on my transcript. I knew nothing about being a college student. Nada. Neither did my friends. I got two As and an F that term. When I taught College Success, I told that story to every class. It blew their minds. How did a college professor get an F?! I told them that I kept reading. I kept writing. My next English class I was invited to be in the Honors program, but then I dropped out to take a dreamy job. I found my own voice outside of class, and so will you, I would say to my College Success class. Graduate first. That dreamy job will still be there. And I taught them how college worked (I hope). I’m more ashamed about wasting my parents’ money than I am about that F. I should have just stuck it out and got the credit.

If you pause and read the next five lessons as a poem, it’s awesome. Find your poet voice:

Day one is the point of no return.

A badge of honor is to fail a film theory class.

Chance is the lifeblood of cinema.

Guerrilla tactics are best.

Take revenge if need be.

Herzog, so poetic!

The Herzogism below made me go back and look at the mission statement kind of thing that I wrote as an idealist future instructional designer four or so years ago.

I would like to be an instructional designer who advocates for the poor, the underserved, and the underprivileged. I’d like to examine the necessary balance of power and influence to support open education in my corner of the world. But maybe what I want to do is just too new to be named.

So I’ve lost thread of the opening and the pedagogy here, but I’m really just thinking aloud about leadership. Just thinking out loud, really. My hope is that we think about the words that we use when we talk to faculty. The words are the lesson.

I’ll let Werner close it out because this one is my favorite.

Get used to the bear behind you.

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Two Rides, Two Lanterns Rouge: A Memoir

I lived near the train tracks when I was kid, I distinctly remember the red light at the end of the trains that rolled through my town. The air brakes of trains were deafening, and we used to ride our bikes under the tressel and up and down the same road all day. I had a curfew to be home when the streetlights came on and then I’d pedal like mad to get home. If I heard “Alyson Michelle” I was in trouble for being late. I had no idea back then that bike racing existed, but I knew that red light. It was the end of the line. The last car. The caboose.

The Lantern Rouge as defined in Wikipedia is still a competition, and I totally get it. You still finish, and you might as well get in the history books. Better to finish then DNF. Here’s a report of my last place finishes so I can remember distinctly why I should start training in February or at least keep my shit together better over the winter months.


Ride 1: The Stotty 60 & Flipping My Wig

Sixty miles is a long way no matter what the mode of transport, but let me tell you, it’s really fucking far on a mountain bike.

Unless you’re among the fittest and fastest, it’s really hard to sustain a fast pace on a mountain bike for that long. Climbing is hard. Riding switchbacks requires concentration. Gunning it down gravel roads can be sketchy. Over a month ago, I started training in earnest, and by that I mean I stopped drinking so much beer and I put on the rain gear when the weather was bad. I started riding consistently. I’ve always wanted to do in the Stottlemeyer race in the NW Epic Series, and for some unknown reason, I decided to jump right into the 60 miler. They offer a 17 and 30 mile version of the race, but I really wanted to see if I could do it.

Had I not done the Whatcom Grind the weekend before, I don’t think I would have finished. Pretty sure everyone I told I was doing it didn’t think I’d finish. In fact, I didn’t think I’d finish. I went into the race with the thinking that I’d at least try to finish 3 laps or 45 miles. In addition, I’d try really hard to not get lapped by Ben Shaklee twice and I’d try to finish in 7:30. The Shak Attack only got me once (yay!) and I finished second to last in 8:25. That’s a long-goddamn-time on the bike. I stopped pedaling 7 times the entire day–four times for a nature break (as Paul Sherwen likes to say) and three times for food and water at the aid station. It was a very hard day on the bike. Towards the end I did walk some of the steeper pitches thanks to some advice of a woman who passed me on the 30 miler. At that point, walking was just as fast–or just as slow–as riding.

So what follows is race report-ish writing. If you really want a detailed account of the Stotty race, you should read this post from Bellingham’s Logan Wetzel and this one from Angela Sucich of Sturdy Bitch Racing. If you’re super-duper-silly nervous, I recommend you watch this video in 10 minute segments to see what the terrain is like if you can’t make it there to pre-ride. I didn’t watch all of this video, but I clicked through it to see what the terrain was like–I’m always curious about people who can watch those GoPro videos. I get carsick and nauseous, but more power to you.

Just let it be known, if I can do the Stotty 60, so can you.

After taking the ferry from Coupeville to Port Townsend (my favorite ferry commute in the The Sound), I got to the campground when it was dark. My two teammates were already there with our Liv Tent and I was instructed to look for the rainbow lights. Yay!  They had tables and chairs set up, so we were all set at the Start line. Perfect! I put my tent up by headlamp, and we chatted for awhile just hanging out in the dewy grass. There was another crew with a fire, and I thought about making friends with them but I decided it best to crawl in my tent and call it a night. The dew was up–it was a damp night but I slept right through to the sounds of a frog party. The frogs were so loud! Right at dawn a flock of geese flew really low over my tent and woke me up with their honking. Oly Peninsula magic!

I made some coffee walked to the registration table with my teammate and it was nice to beat the masses who were coming in from Seattle. My other teammates started to arrive, and everyone started getting ready. I ate a simple breakfast of a bagel and cream cheese with a side of yogurt. My teammate was cooking a ton of eggs and bacon, but I knew that would mean heartburn for at least two hours for me (TMI, I know).  I love bacon, but it doesn’t like me. I also brought a boiled egg from home that I added some salt and pepper to right before I finished my coffee. In short, whatever you might eat for breakfast at home before a long ride, I recommend doing the same before the Stotty. My teammate who banged out the bacon and eggs got third in her division, so you know, you do you.

I wore a Camelbak for easy access to water, and I noticed a lot of Killers just used their water bottles and jersey pockets. Many folks had taped their spare tub and patch kit to their downtube. I decided to pack all of my gear into my Camelbak and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, two packs of shot blocs, one granola bar, and my emergency airplane biscotti cookies.

The Stottlemeyer 60 consists of 4 laps of 15 miles that’s mostly single-track. It’s a blend of fire roads, double-track, and relentless climbing in exposed clearcuts. It’s got a bit of everything single-track-wise and it’s never boring. If you look south, you see Mt. Rainier. If you look west, you see the Olympics. It’s an amazing spot to ride your bike, and the main benefit of this race, is I know those trails really well. The weather was perfect, and the trails were lush and green. The switchbacks were flowy, and I did hear complaints about some of the trails not having enough “flow.” I dunno, mountain biking is supposed to be hard yo. Quit yer bitchin, I thought. Roots, rocks, trees, and all other natural bits of terrain are part of the fun. But then again, I’m an old cross-country loving middle-aged rider who thinks what the kiddies are into these days is a snooze-fest. Downhill pump tracks are fun, but I have strong bias that fanny packs should stay in the fucking 90s. Don’t even ask me how I feel about shuttling…But I digress.

The hardest aspect of this race for me was the third lap. I rode with this woman and we traded places on different terrain and it was fun to either catch her or pass her. She was fast on some of the downhill parts and the climbs, and I could climb the steeper parts of the single-track to catch her. I could descend the double-track and gravel roads faster. Super fun. When I got to one of the aid stations for the start of the fourth lap, she was nowhere in sight. Then just as I was ready to pedal away, she came up to me, high-fived me, and said, “You are super strong, lady. I’m out. I got a cooler full of beer and a burrito with my name on it in my car, and that’s all I can think about. I’m out.” And with that, she ripped away on the descent. As I pedaled through the clearcut one last time, I struggled with my sanity. I never even caught her name. It was going to be a long 15 miles alone. I looked down at my Garmin, and I calculated that I could probably make the cut off and I needed to just do it. My mind was wandering and I’m pretty sure I started to hallucinate. I had Husker Du’s “Makes No Sense at All” looping in my mind. “Fuck, Bob, you’re right. It makes no sense at all that I’m out here so long on my mind (makes no sense at all),” I thought.

I don’t have the tiger by the tail, Bob. Makes no sense at all. Walking around with my head in the clouds. Makes no sense at all. And so on. I somehow responded to the lyrics and I’m pretty sure I started singing out loud to see if I could exorcise that song out of my mind. Christ, I was losing it. Twelve miles to go.

Eight miles from the finish, I caught some guy who was a teammate of a person I had seen crash on one of the downhills. Seeing his buddy with the medics isolating his head as he moaned gibberish, really messed with my head on lap two. I slowed down for miles thinking about that dude. So thanks to this crash and that dude’s generous teammie, I was not going to be in last place, but that really didn’t matter. I was going to finish within 40 minutes of the cutoff.

When I finally saw the finish line through the trees a half mile to the end, I almost started crying. Then hoots and yells started and I laughed. My teammate Suki, her husband Josh, and a few other friends were at the finish along with the organizers. They were a bit in their keg cups and really funny–they handed me the best PBR of my life and celebrated my finish. High-fives and hugs all around. I got to the finish line 40 minutes within the cutoff. Holycrap, I did it.

On the ferry that night on the way home I sent the photo of me crossing the finish line to my husband, and responded with, “What? No wheelie?”

Next year. I’ll beat my time and do Peter Sagan style wheelie. I “raced” 60 miles and climbed 7,008 feet and I did it. Boom y’all!

Ride 2: The Leavenworth Gran Fondo & My Foul-Mouthed New Friend

After my last Gran Fondo, I got a little overzealous and signed my Mister and I up for the Vicious Cycles Leavenworth Gran Fondo. I booked an Air BnB that allowed dogs and we packed up the car for a weekend adventure on the east side of the North Cascades. The night we arrived, it rained in inches. Poured. I had specifically signed up for this ride because it went through some of the most gorgeous parts of the faux Bavaria woods near Leavenworth. I’ve only hiked in that area and the thought of being on a bike in that neck of the woods was really appealing when I was sitting at my desk at home.

Thanks to the rain, they had to change the course and we went from riding a beautiful circle through the valleys to an out and back. I totally understand that the rain made some of the roads a muddy mess, but I was pretty disappointed to miss all the beauty of the rugged mountains out there. I didn’t get the experience that I wanted, but I got to see a whole new tunnel in the Pain Cave.

Right at the start of the race, there were a ton of serious roadies. The pace at the rollout was way too fast for me, and I settled in the back of the pack. Once we hit the dirt roads, I looked down to see several piles of barf and a few switchbacks later I heard two dudes ralphing their guts out. As I passed their greenish looking faces, they said, “Too fast. That pace.” I asked if they needed anything, and one said, “Just my bed.”

Then I settled into climbing, climbing, climbing. It was like I suddenly dropped into Colorado and it was steamy hot. It reminded me a lot of the canyons outside of Boulder. Then the motorcycle support guy was stopped to help a woman with her bike who had that look of rage one gets with a mechanical. I thought she would quit and I was surprised to see her much later. Turns out, she was a new friend who helped me finish the whole day. Without her, I’m not sure I would’ve kept going.

There was a point on the climb back where I was so tired. I was running through my mind of what I would say to the Sag wagon guy. Or where I could have the Mister pick me up once I got back into cell service. She was two switchbacks ahead of me, and I was feeling pretty whipped seeing her climb so steadily.

Right as we were climbing, it felt like we were close to the top. Nope. Then the valley opened up and you could see the 2k climb that we were about to do, and she yelled “FFFUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCKKKKKKKK” so loud it echoed in the canyon. It was suddenly the funniest thing I’ve ever heard and I started cracking up. Her total exasperation mirrored mine, and I was determined to finish. Towards the top, I was still on my bike and she was walking. When I passed her, she said, “I’m never fucking doing this fucking Fondo again.” I could barely talk because I was so knackered. I said, “Lesss jusss finissss laydeee ca monnn.” She said, “Fuck this. Why didn’t I fucking mountain bike today. Fuck this climb. It’s bullshit.”

I have a healthy appreciation for rage filled F bombs and profanity. It’s an art. So I felt motivated to keep pedaling. I saw rattle snake sunning itself and I pedaled 4 miles an hour past it thinking that if it bit me, I’d feel better about my DNF. I didn’t care. By the time I got to the top, I was dreading the downhill. My arms hurt, my shoulders hurt. I was so deep in the pain cave I started building a house in it and all I could think about was sleep.

My new foul-mouthed friend passed me on the roads once it got back to pavement. She’s roadie and once she got down in the hooks, I couldn’t keep her wheel. I was coasting when I could and she ended up getting to the finish before me. She told me later that I was great motivation for her to finish and that she spent the whole day pissed off. I know, I said, and it really made me feel for you. A mechanical so early into the day sucks. We talked about mutual friends that we have and shook hands. “I’ll never do this again, but I’m glad I fucking finished that shit. Now for some fucking food and a goddamn beer,” she said. Me too. Me too.

Nothing against the Vicious Cycles organizers or anyone else who is totally into that sufferfest grind–it’s just not for me. If I’m going to suffer on dirt roads and grind on the gravel, I’ll just stick around Bellingham to do it–that was the last time I’ll travel for one of those Gran Fondos. I’ve got a rad little adventure organization here at home, and I’ll do all of those rides. My Mister felt the same way and was pleased that he met his early season goals. He was on his way back up the climb and we passed eachother as I was heading to the aid station. “Go got it, you killer!” he yelled.

A true Killer I was not, but I did ride 78 miles and climbed 7,334 feet seven days after The Stotty. So good goddamn, I’m pretty pleased with myself.

Next up is Ski to Sea.

I’m hoping to beat my time from last year and do better overall in the cyclocross leg. Those 13 miles will feel easy AF compared to the last two weekends. I’m really proud of my little team for jumping into doing a race they’ve never done before, and I love being the captain. Twenty years ago when I was partying with all the cool kids who BBQ oysters and drink all day during Ski to Sea, I would not have believed you if you’d told me I’d captain a team someday. Life. This life. It’s magic.

To conclude this post, I’ll quote the great French rider Bernard Hinault:

As long as I breathe, I attack.

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My First Grind Corps Gran Fondo: A Memoir

First of all, let me start by saying that if you’re checking out this post hoping that I’ll have some magic formula about bike gearing and fitness about gravel rides, this post may not be for you. I’m also taking a break from writing about all things related to Open, adjuncts, and leadership so if you want that jobby job talk, check back in a week or so, and I’ll try to write about that magic.

Here’s the honest truth of my first Gran Fondo experience: I had NO idea what I was signing up for when I rolled into Bloedel-Donovan last Sunday for the Whatcom Grind p/b The Bellingham Grind Corps.

I had four goals. 1] Have fun while riding my bike (Check!) 2] Enjoy my day away from the laptop and phone and be in the mountains (Check!), 3] Support my friend Kip who is totally rad about sponsoring my bike team (Check!) 4] Suffer my way to some better fitness (Check AF!).

When I finally rolled into my garage that evening, I had ridden 59.7 miles and 7333 feet of elevation. True, I was the Lantern Rouge when we arrived back to Lake Padden, but I did it! That’s some serious riding in my book, and let me tell you, I put the Gran in the motherfuckin’ Fondo!

And oh-my-gawd I loved every minute of it. It was some of the most beautiful suffering I’ve ever done on a bike. It was akin to everything I love about backpacking with that feeling of being far away in the mountains only I was on my bike. I can’t stop talking about it, so I should prolly blog it out.

Here we go in some Lessons Learned style of bloggy blog blog bloggery.

Lesson 1: Listen to people when they advise you about gravel grind gearing.

I was really stubborn (surprise!) about not wanting to purchase the right gearing for my cyclo-cross (CX) bike and I regretted it. I love my CX bike, and I refused to listen to the Mister about buying new gearing. What if I don’t like this kind of riding, I said. What if I’m able to ride some of the steeper pitches, I said (ha ha ha, hindsight). What if I regret not putting the money towards my future new sleeping bag, I said.

He sighed and shook his head. I could put what I have on your bike but then you’ll spin out on the road, and I think you’ll be unhappy with how slow you’ll be on the 25 miles of pavement, he said. We should just run down the shop and get you a [enter all the bike gearing talk here], he said. We could do [enter money that I didn’t want to spend here], he said.

Fuck it. I’ll just ride what I’ve got and suffer through it, I said.

When I finally resigned to walking my bike up the switchbacks for the first time I hated myself for being so stubborn. What a frickin’ loser I am! Why do I have to be so stubborn? Why me? Why didn’t I research more? Why did other people know to have plate-size gearing and I chose to ignore them? Why! [Shakes fists at heavens!]

All I needed to do was spend the money (I get a discount with my bike team sponsorship) and I’m married to a very skilled obsessive perfectionist meticulous bike mechanic who would have installed everything for me.

Ready to slap me yet?

In my defense, I have very specific financial goals right now, so avoiding some risk on gear for an outing that I didn’t even know I’d like is my version of being a responsible adult.

So now that I know I LOVED it, I’ve got a little list that will make my bike a magic machine for the uphill spinney-spin-spin. I can’t tell you how many times I clicked my gears hoping there two–three–no–wait–five–no seven–any–easier gears. Nope! The hike-a-bike miles were unavoidable but I know I could’ve ridden a few more of those switchbacks had I listened to my Mister. As much as I hate to say it, everyone I didn’t listen to was right. Dammit.

Lesson 2: Ride with friends and give zero fucks about the killers going race pace.

When I rolled to the start, I knew almost half of the people there. And if I didn’t know them, I recognized them from racing. There’s a whole group of folks who live to destroy one another with their pace on a bike–bless their hearts–and albeit I adore them as people, I learned long, long ago that I can not and should not ever care to keep up with them. Drop me, bitches, I care not! A Killer, by definition, is high-praise from me, and there are a ton of those people here in Bellingham. A Killer is person who spends a fair amount of time suffering while riding very fast. Usually finds a way to a podium or five per year during various race seasons. Trains hard to stay fit year ’round. This sister? Not so much. I’ve named my current muffin-top “Kittens Mittens” after my favorite winter beer. As in, my “Kittens Mittens” has made my jeans tight but I know I’ll lose those ten pounds by June. As in, my “Kittens Mittens” brings all the boys to the yard, damn right, I’ll lose it by June. And so on.

Prior to the ride, I made a deal with myself that I would ride as best as I could, and when we started, I felt great. Like really good. My quads were a bit tired from rides earlier in the week, but I felt pretty okay. Like my own version of being a Killer.

And then we went up and up and up and the views of Lake Whatcom were lovely. It was hot and sunny and gorgeous and green. The Chanterelle Trail was all the Pacific Northwest beauty. I had six teammates at the rollout, and three of them were with me. The sun was shining like it was summer. Yes, Dolores, I have seen something so full splendor.

I had a plan that if I couldn’t do both climbs, I’d bail on the second and ride the roads home. Or I’d find a convenience store, buy a 40 with paperbag and drink it while I waited for my Mister to come pick me up. Me and my “Kittens Mittens” would bail with some style. You know. Klassy.

Another motivator was this new idea (to me) of a “supported ride.”

I’ve never done a supported ride, and I’ve always thought that Gran Fondos were for The Swells. And a lot of them are with all the sag wagons and champagne and fancy foods and costly entry fees. And I’m sad to report that I didn’t join the Grind Corps crew earlier because I thought it was only for The Killers. And it can be. But it’s also for people like me. People who look forward to cheap beer, a sandwich from Cafe Velo, an aid station with cool people to talk to, and friends who were in it for the fun of riding and walking bikes in the mountains. People who sample everything at the aid station. And love it. Like me.

Lesson 3: Stop and look at the views. PRs be damned. Let the clock tick.

I took a long time to finish. In fact, I was the Lantern Rouge of the entire pack. Last place.

Kudos to the volunteers and my teammates who hung out waiting for us to arrive. I really appreciate the time that they took out of their weekend to make sure I had everything I needed for pure joy on the bike. For a very reasonable price, I was set up for a day of adventure! I’m pretty sure the guy who came in first was already back in Seattle going for a local recovery ride by the time I rolled in, but again, see Lesson 2.

Lesson 4: Take more pictures.

I wish I had stopped to take several photos that I skipped because I was suffering to push my bike. My phone was in Camelbak and taking it out to aim a photo took effort. I was super sweaty and I know that’s when I drop my phone so I just kept it in my bag. I missed the opportunity to take a photo of a dead crow that was gorgeous and dark deep blueish black. So Goth! Missed the barn where they had bikes hanging from hooks as decoration. So cute! The brown lawn ornament that was a Sasquatch cut out with glitter. So Out County! All the flowers. The view of Skagit county going up the Anderson climb? Gorgeous! Some of the switchbacks that just kept going up and up and up. The hilarious spray paint art that one usually sees during aerial shots during the grand tours. Cheeky course organizers! The smiley faces on the rocks in the clearcuts. Or did I imagine that?

I also wish I’d documented my own version of the ride markers that either directed us to go left, right, caution-a-gate, or continue straight. We called them route markers at first and then magic circles and then suffer circles and then eventually beer dots.

“Let’s connect the dots to the beer at the park” we said.

Lesson 5: Slow the heck down on the descents and give your hands a break.

I loves loves loves me some fast downhill on a bike. I got bugs in my teeth from smiling so much and I let it rip way more than I should have. My Garmin told me my top speed was 33.8 and you know, that’s kind of badass, but totally unsafe on gravel roads.  By the time my hands were hurting from braking, I was close to not having the hand power to grip my brakes.

My middle-aged lady hands aren’t as strong as they used to be, so I need to slow this sister down in the future to make sure I stay healthy. It made typing (which is mainly how I make a living) a bit hard on Monday.

Lesson 6: I wish I had encouraged more women to join me. 

I can recruit ladies to race cyclocross and cross-country all the live-long day because I love it. If I truly love something, I like to encourage others to join me. My friends Kerri Love and Marcy Sutton did these rides last year, and I found their enthusiasm contagious. Marcy’s a hardcore single-speeder and she bought a geared bike (wut!) so that was a sign of serious fun-to-be-had. Kerri pitched the idea to our team several times, and I’ll now join the Kerri chorus for all the ladies.

So if you’re reading this, and you’re on the fence about joining the fun, hop on over to Bike Reg and sign up. I’ll be the Lantern Rouge so you don’t have to, and I’ll make sure we set a slow-so-we-can-survive pace. I’d like to go a bit faster for the next ride, but we can sort that out once we get there. Either way, it’s a different kind of day in the mountains, and more women should do it. Beer tastes especially sparkly delicious at the end, and you can look up at those mountains and say you did the grind on your bike to get to one magic dot to the next on mostly gravel.

And if you’re a Lady Killer, there are women you can ride with too. It’s a great way to train and suffer on the bike. You can race one another if you want to do that. I’ll support you by drinking your share of the beer. Kidding. Not kidding.

Concluding Thoughts on the Lessons Learned:

I need more adventuring in my life. It felt really good to set out with a goal of trying something new and doing it. The work that I do is really unpredictable, ever-changing, and filled with ups and downs. Plans change all the time. Priorities can switch hourly. It’s been awhile since I put myself in a position of doing something new and unknown yet I teach/train people to do that all the time. New terrifyingly hard experiences remind me to be more empathetic and patient. I talked my Killer Mister into joining me so now we’re spending twice the money. But who cares? I’m stoked he’ll join me or The Killers and my sleeping bag will have to make it another season.

Prior to the ride, I thought I’d spend some time thinking about a few projects I’m working on and that I’d be able to draft some thoughts in my mind. HA! I only thought about the next switchback and my own suffering. It was perfect. Just want I needed.

This post is, of course, not that serious. Some of the other writing that I’m working on outside of the jobby job is. Let me conclude with sharing a quote from The Weekend Effect: The Life-Changing Benefits of Taking Time Off and Challenging the Cult of Overwork by Katrina Onstad.

A good weekend is alert to beauty. A good weekend embraces purposelessness. A good weekend wanders a million different paths, but always involves slowing down and stepping out of the rushing stream of life (p. 12).

The Gran Fondo, or gravel grinding, for this working gal, makes for a great weekend. Thanks for reading, friends.

Now go ride your bike.

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