Monday, January 24, 2011

Learning to ride- a snowboard

It’s hard to write about motorcycles when there’s snow on the ground and icicles hanging from the eves.  I don’t want to think about riding because I’ll just think about how much I miss it and sometimes I don’t want to think about what I can’t do- especially when I really want to be doing it.   Joe does ice riding but that’s a little too much work for me.   Several riders are also snowboarders and skiers- I’ve done a little of both and while it isn’t motorcycling, it’s a nice pass-time to get me through the Winter months. 

Mike loves snowboarding and goes out nearly every weekend.  He took a few of us out several weeks back.  I never made it off the beginner hill (calling it a hill is an exaggeration).  I couldn’t figure out how to position my body to get control of the board.  There was a guy on the same hill who rode his snowboard straight down the slope like a surfboard then dove for the ground at the bottom just before reaching the line of people waiting to get on the chairlift.  I don’t yet know how to snowboard, but I know how not to snowboard.  

When I was learning to ski, the first thing they taught us to do was to stop so we could stay in control of our skis.  It took me a few minutes to grasp the technique on skis.  The instructors next to me on the bunny hill were teaching young kids- 4 or 5 years old- to ski down the hill.  They kept saying “make a pizza!” to remind them to point their skis in a triangle shape to slow themselves down.  I wish snowboarding was as easy to pick up.  Four hours into it, I finally felt like I had some sense of how to control the stopping and starting, how to guide the snowboard into a turn.  At this stage of my learning I’m still focused on how not to hit something.  I look down the hill and see the group of people gathered at the bottom and all I can think about is how to stop myself so I don’t plow into them. 

When I was first learning to ride a motorcycle, I had the same fear.  There was so much for my body to remember:  clutch in with the left hand, front break with the right hand, rear break with the right foot, downshift with the left foot, put both feet down before I tip over.   Learning to snowboard, or learning anything really, is about this: how do I make my body do that?  How do I get my mind out of the way so I can enjoy it? I remember saying to a friend from RIDE in the first few years of riding: “I can’t wait until I don’t have to think about how to operate the bike so I can just enjoy the ride.”  Well, that time has come and I am grateful that stopping at least, is automatic .  

But learning how to operate the motorcycle is only the first step to learning how to ride.  Now I work on other skills and make adjustments to my riding style.  I want to be sure that what is automatic is actually what I want to be doing.   At last year’s Deal’s Gap trip, I worked on cornering by adjusting my entry and exit speed and changing my line through the corner.  I like being in RIDE because it encourages building skills like these.  We talk about gear,  how to safely ride in groups and how to improve handling and maneuvers.  I know some folks who are into stunt riding and others who ride for speed.  I appreciate the skills needed for all types of riding.  It’s also important to me to ride safely and in a way that doesn’t cause alarm to others I share the road with.  Speed and stunting can be threatening and make other drivers (and riders) nervous.   Some of my friends are sure to disagree with me on this but that’s alright, I guess.  I am a cautious rider and am aggressive when necessary to stay safe on the bike, but I’m also respectful.  Many people think bikes are dangerous.  I ride in a way that doesn’t fuel that perspective. 

I’m interested enough in improving my skills that I’m helping organize two RIDE Club education nights this Winter.  RIDE ed nights are also an excuse to meet with  other riders during the off-season to ease the wait through Winter until the weather warms up and the roads are clear.  The first event in February, we’ll be focusing on group riding techniques.   I’m eager to plan it.  It’ll give me something to do this Winter besides falling down the bunny hill with a snowboard strapped to my feet.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Birthday Wishes

It’s mid January and still my city here in west Michigan has not had our customary snow storm.  The other night enough snow fell to encourage one local entrepreneur to knock on my door and offer to shovel my walk and drive.  I did it myself though- one of those winter-time tasks that sometimes brings dread but more often invites playfulness.  I enjoy clearing my drive with the shovel.  I like the weight of the snow-laden shovel in my hands, feeling the muscles in my arms working in new ways.  I like the sound of the shovel scraping against the walk.  I like knowing I am clearing the way for myself, my visitors and for those who walk the neighborhood with their dogs.  I like shoveling just after dusk, the streetlight beams lighting the way.  Tall maples and oaks that line the streets, standing as sentries while I shovel, while I care for my house.  I look into my house from the outside and watch the light from within shine back out at me inviting me into its warmth.

Last Saturday I called together a small group who have become my family of friends since moving to Grand Rapids.  We celebrated my 40th birthday.  I am so grateful for these friends, for this life, for this home.   I am grateful for snow, for shovels, for the lights and sounds of friendship and for the measure of a life I treasure.

This was not always so, and if I am truthful, it sometimes still, is not always so.  I wish that I could say everyday is filled with mirth but this is not so.  Sometimes life surprises me and I am left feeling “without.”  Days come and go and I don’t remember what filled the time or what made it worthwhile.  These times happen often in the Winter, of course.  When I can’t get out for a ride and when the cold keeps me bundled up and hunkered down.

So it is good that my birthday falls in January, good that I can share my home with the warmth of friends and friendship, with love and laughter, surprises and smiles.  A week later, my home is still filled with the energy of the evening.  Memories flit by, glimpses of conversations that were started and never finished.  Glimpses of the group, some new to each other, grabbing at threads and weaving them back into each other over the evening – threads that bind together, connect one conversation to another, one life to another.

Each gathering here has its own feel, its own energy yet still it connects to the other gatherings with the same faces.  Anita arrived early, as has been her custom, to help with last minute details, to provide her grounding presence for the group, to connect with me before the busyness begins.  She answered the door and welcomed the first guest while I took a deep breath and relaxed into the evening.  Amy brought Michael and I am glad they share together in the friendship I have quite singly with each of them.  Patrick brought his wife Haijin, Ken his laughing eyes and bar jokes.  Joe came with his Tiffany and Lisa with her bellydancing.  Kym and Rob brought poems to share.  Patrick and Mary came, too with gifts of food and drink. We dined on strawberries and grapes and cherries, fresh cheeses and chocolate cake from Marie Catrib’s.  White tulips and miniature plum calla lilies sat smiling in a vase in the center of the table.  The room was softly lit by candles and jazz played in the background.  It was a beautiful evening.  Just the right kind of evening, with just the right people to help me usher in my 40th year. 

And although not all days, especially Winter days, provide me with something to remember, this day surely does.  Thanks to all the friends who make the journey worthwhile and thanks for all the birthday wishes.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Steps to a New You

Since it isn’t the season or the weather to be riding my motorcycle, I am back to doing the house chores that build up when weekend after weekend, I choose the ride over the work.  I hung a door up and fitted a closet in a downstairs bedroom in preparation for a new roommate.  Upstairs, I painted a room I’m making into an office.  I also painted the upstairs hallway floor.  Some projects seem to take forever. Like the stairway project.  In this case, I waited months to pull up the hall carpeting that had been damaged by my cats.   Small rolls of pad and carpet sat piled in my driveway for weeks before I finally hauled them off to the dump.  For another month, I walked down the steps with shoes to protect my feet from the nails and staples.  Finally, I started the next phase of repairing the steps- pulling small staples and bits of blue foam from the stairs.   Still ahead: filling the holes and sanding the steps to paint them.  I dreaded this project so much I kept breaking it down into manageable pieces.  Pulling the staples and nails up seemed especially monumental for some reason.  I did it three steps at a time- the first 3 while watching a Netflix movie on my computer, the second 3 while talking with a friend late last night and then this morning while listening to NPR podcasts.   Throughout the project I continued to look up at the completed stairs so I could measure my progress and take some pride in it.  I reminded myself how long I had been meaning to do this.  Told myself it would feel like it had taken no time at all once it was done.  How, once again, I would come to know my house in a new way for having cared for it with time and attention and detail.

Owning a home and owning a motorcycle are similar commitments for me; I’m dedicated to caring for them, dedicated to keeping them in good repair so they will support me.  It requires commitment to see a project through.  It requires discipline and dedication.  Beginning a large project is daunting.  It often requires doing things about which I have little knowledge so I must begin with research- asking friends, consulting books and reading internet instruction guides.  Getting myself started can be the hardest step but then it is also hard to walk by the evidence of a project still in process and wonder how much longer it will take.  How much energy it will require.  I find it draining to bring myself back to the same project day after day, week after week when I don’t see an end in sight, when I can only look at the work that has been completed as proof that I’m on the right track.  
I find myself reviewing the diligence it takes to complete long range projects not only because of my house, but because of other projects in the works.  I am working with RIDE Motorcycle Club to build a website, am helping to plan a family reunion scheduled for July and am working on several writing projects. 

In my writing life, the writing itself is easy enough.  Sometimes I have to push myself to sit down to write, but the writing, once begun, flows through me without continual reminder for “just one more sentence.”  Not so, with the staples and not so with finding places to submit my writing.  I hate the part where I try to find someplace that will appreciate what I have to say and how I say it.  I am not entirely sure why this part seems so difficult for me.  One thing I know is that I do not write like what I see around me.  There are no “7 steps to a healthier you” on my writing horizon.  I’m not writing things like, “3 ways to please your man every time” or “10 things you can do to stay on track in the new year.”  I have no interest in giving advice.  I just want to keep learning how to listen to my own inner voice and follow it.  So in the absence of clear examples of writing “like mine” I find myself writing, more than looking for places to send my writing.  For this reason, among many others, I am glad for my fellow writers who help me find places to publish and who also are dedicated to writing their own way, in their own time.

This facet of writing shows up in motorcycling when I just get on the bike to ride with no plan in sight- with just the purpose of freeing myself up from my thoughts so I can find my way again in life.  I love this kind of ride - the one where I hop on the bike for no purpose - I ride because I need to, because it frees up my mind and my thinking self and allows me to be in the experience I am having.

One of my other projects, the RIDE website, has taken a detour recently.  We built several websites with the intent of launching them in the next month, when it became clear that these sites and the host were not the right fit for our needs.  Initially, it felt like 8 months of work was wasted.  Within a few days though, it became clear that the work was not fruitless.  It has given our group some valuable information about what we need and what’s possible with the new host for our site.  I had to look back at what we’d done together, just like I did with those hallway steps, to see that we are on the right path.

I’m planning the family reunion with several cousins on my dad’s side of the family.  We’ve been having them every 5 years since 1976.  This is the fourth one I’ve been involved with.  I had thought the last one in 2006 would be my last.  Within hours of my dad’s death, though, I knew I’d help organize this one, too.  I want to connect with my family, with his family.  My grandfather was one of 13 - the family that gathers are their descendents.  We meet in Grand Blanc, Michigan for three days of activities- a dinner party on Friday, a picnic with "olypmic games" the following day, and on Sunday, church, brunch and a round of golf.  It’s a big weekend with lots of events to coordinate.  It is best if I think of it in terms of small steps, otherwise the details become overwhelming.  So far, we have a date and a place for the Saturday events.  The rest will come. 

This week I plan to finish the hall steps.  The biggest hurdle is over- pulling out all those staples.  The rest seems easy from here, though still time consuming.  I may continue to do it just as I did with the last part of the project- 3 steps at a time.  However it gets done, I know the biggest part of it is done and the rest seems manageable.  I’m past the half-way point.  Past the point where I have to force myself to do it.  I like it when I get to this phase in a project.  And from now on, I’ll be able to look to these steps for inspiration on completing all the other projects I’ve got for the year- the writing, the RIDE website and the reunion.  It will all get done, one step at a time.  And at the end of it, I’ll have new information - about myself, my family, riding, and my writing.