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Sunday, May 10, 2015

A Stepmother's Love Story

I have been blessed with an abundance of patience and tolerance, virtues that support me for my most meaningful role in life, T-bear, AKA, stepmother. I was not surprised when I found out Marion had a daughter. He had an aura of sweetness around him that could only belong to a father. Many people asked me why I didn’t run for the hills rather than run toward an “off the bat” complicated relationship, but to me it just felt normal. Then I met Hannah, and my heart began to beat. I knew the moment I saw her little 5-year old body bounce through Marion's apartment door wearing her ponytail tucked under a baseball hat that life as I knew it would never be the same. I was in love with both of them.

Bike ride in the park, 2004.

However, there was another important person I met that day, Hannah’s mom, Johanna. I don’t know if I had ever seen a more beautiful woman in person; she was effortlessly striking, yet easy-going and kind. She shook my hand and exchanged quick pleasantry’s with Marion, gave Hannah a big hug and kiss then left us alone to have what would be our first night together as a family. That was nearly eleven years ago. All of these years in between have been filled with heavenly highs and blindingly crushing lows. Nevertheless, I consider the opportunity to be a parent to Hannah the greatest gift and honor in my life.
Average Friday night, 2014.

I have done a lot for her, and there is nothing I wouldn’t do. I have faith that she knows she can always count on me, even if I bug her, or tell her “no”, she knows T-Bear won’t let her down. By the way, T-Bear is my nickname. I think Marion takes credit for it, because I am big like a bear, ha, ha, anyway Hannah stills calls me that, even at 16, and I will always be her T-Bear.

The cool part about our story is that Johanna is one of my favorite people in the world. We respect each other and genuinely enjoy each other’s company. I believe she is an extraordinary mother, and I am humbled that she has encouraged me to make an impression in Hannah’s life. Interestingly, she and I are physically complete opposites. Johanna is a gorgeous petite Colombian, while I am a tall white girl, but we are both ripped, and could talk for days about the virtues health and fitness. Above it all we love Hannah.
Mama and StepMama - 8th Grade Graduation, 2013.

I know that I would not have had the courage to become a stepmother if I did not have the greatest one on the planet as my own. I have millions of magical memories sharing deep thoughts with Sally over the years. For example, she took me to my first concert. I was 12, and won tickets on a radio station, and was bursting out of my pimply skin to go, but had no volunteers to drive me. Then Sally stepped up, and offered to take me. It was one of the most hysterical nights of my life, a true “put that in your pocket for later” gem of a memory that still makes me smile. To be honest, I have had many difficult moments with Sally, too, but now that I am a stepmother I understand her point of view and am  thankful to have her in my life.
Sally and me in Loreto, Mexico - Girl's Trip, 1998.

I am proud to celebrate Mother’s day in May and every other day of the year with these phenomenal women in my life.

Cheers to all of us!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Boston 2015

The 119th running of the Boston Marathon took place this past weekend. The conditions were bleak; there was rain, wind, and sub 50-degree weather. Nevertheless, your favorite marathon enthusiast decided to throw her Southern California sun kissed face into the fray and run her heart out alongside the world’s best runners, and fans.

The trip began late Friday night when I boarded a red eye Virgin America flight from LAX to Boston. While I was sitting reading the latest esquire magazine, my first vacation treat, I couldn’t help noticing all of the beautiful people walking in and out of every Virgin gate. It felt like I was inside in a magazine shoot, men, women, children, they were all effortlessly gorgeous. I hoped I would sleep on the flight, and I think I did, because I kept waking up, so I must have fallen asleep. Before I knew it, I was up for good when I saw the pink horizon of a new day streaming in through my window.

I asked my cab driver to drop me off at my hotel and I explored my way around Boston from there. The hotel was lovely and geographically desirable sitting a few blocks away from Boston Common, and a mile or so from the finish line on Boylston, but the view was a slightly sad. Nevertheless, I learned from my last trip to Boston ten years ago to simplify this time around and stay in a conveniently located hotel; a decision that paid off BIG on race day.

I began my walk-a-bout headed east on Tremont street past Boston Common, then a right turn north onto Boylston St. toward the Convention Center which hosted the Expo and packet pick up. I walked on the north side of the street and soon came upon the finish line, and realized I was standing close to the bombing site. I’ll never forget watching the Boston Marathon on TV in 2013 when the bombs went off. Tim called me from Basel right away to check in. I was stunned, confused, and heartbroken. Marathons are by nature celebrations, not tragedies.

The packet pick-up area in the convention center was vast but efficient. On the other hand, the Expo was a crazed maze of overstuffed booths that felt more suffocating than inspiring. I wanted to escape as soon as possible, but first I was on a mission to find Joan Benoit Samuelson, the first female Olympic marathon gold medalist. I read on Twitter that she would be there between 10:00AM and 12:00N, but I had no idea where in the cacophony of merchandise she would be. Luckily, a determined volunteer in the Information booth tracked down her whereabouts, and quickly I set off to meet a legend.

The absolute highlight of Sunday was spending a couple of hours catching up with my high school cross-country friend, Le Banh Nelson for coffee at Au Bon Pan. We had not seen each other since the late 90’s, but through the magic of Facebook we re-connected for a wonderful afternoon in the cool, yet sunny streets of Boston. I was traveling solo, so spending time with Le proved priceless for my heart and spirit going into the marathon. She was one of my first friends on the team my freshman year, she and a couple other Sophomores took me under their wing, and made me feel at home as a runner. She is still as exceptional as ever, and I was thrilled that she took the time and effort to drive into the city on a tourist crazed Sunday to spend time with me. Thank you, Le.

I slept a few hours on Sunday night, but was wide-awake and refreshed when the alarm went off, Marathon Monday was finally here. The endless line of school buses was a sight to see. I loaded onto bus #27, and soon the engine rumbled and we were off 26.2 miles west to Hopkinton. I dosed off here and there, but mainly spent my time eavesdropping on two women chatting a few rows behind me. I was seconds away from chiming in, but when they started talking about the gross misjudgment of running more than 2 marathons per year, I resisted the urge to be social. I had a feeling they would frown upon my running 16 marathons in the last 3 years. Boston would make it 17.

However, I did make some friends from Albany in the holding tent at Hopkinton high school. One was an Ironman triathlete and the other was a sub 2:40 marathon runner, both were teachers. I also met a guy from Sweden, another from Seattle, a lady from Ohio, another woman from Michigan, and finally a lad from Palm Beach. He and I were both freezing. That is why Boston is so special, runners from all over the world travel to run this marathon. Plus, it’s like Top Gun, the best of the best.

After the gun went off, I jostled around over the first few miles trying to find a good niche, but the crowd was immense and uneven in pace, so I relaxed and stayed safe. My plan was to push my pace, but not be burdened by my watch, so I vowed to only look at it every few miles. The key was nutrition. I was slightly off my routine for the LA marathon, and I paid the price, I did not want that to happen again. I would eat one Cliff Block at the 5-mile mark and every third mile after that. I first tried this plan at the Honkers marathon, #31, and it worked beautifully. I had faith in my fitness, and muscle memory, it just came down to execution.

Thankfully, the rain did not keep the spectators away; in fact a high light was running by a bar at around 10:35AM and being cheered on by a jolly beer chugging crowd, love. That said, nothing compares to cresting a hill at mile 12 and hearing the deep hum of roaring college girls just a half mile ahead at Wellesley College. Last time I needed these girls, this time I wanted them. I laughed and cheered them on as I ran by yelling, “You girls are the best!” I was pumped and joyful, yet stunned that I was already halfway through the race. I felt a twinge of sadness because my happy place is running marathons, is it crazy that I didn’t want it to end?

I slowed my pace and swerved a bit around mile 15, I blamed the cold and lack of sleep, but I regained my balance and flipped the switch at 16 and was back on track. There were about 3 decent hills between miles 17 and 21; the finale is Heart Break Hill. I am not built to fly up hills, however, I treat them like I do on a bike, I just gear down, quicken my cadence and crank on up. On the flip side, the bonus of my long-legged bod is that I am built for running downhill’s. I usually earn poetic justice on those tiny jackrabbits that blow by me going up, because I leave them in my dust on the way down. Thank you, Coach Ede.

The remaining five miles were pure fun. The course was virtually all down hill, and the streets were lined on both sides with screaming Boston accents that kept my heart and legs pumping with pride. I wrestled my emotions to maintain my composure, but once I crossed 24-mile mark I started to lose it. I was crying and laughing which is not a healthy combination when one is freezing, because I started to lose my breath. I didn’t want to hyperventilate before the finish, so I breathed deep, regained my focus, and picked up my pace to finish Boston Strong.

Just after mile 25 the course went under a tunnel beneath a walkway, which was a helpful reprieve from the cold, then we ran up the other side and made a quick right onto Hereford St, promising the final left turn on Boylston was only yards ahead. I was running fast at this point, I sneaked a peek at my watch and saw 7:30, a first at mile 26 of any marathon I have run, but this was not a normal marathon. When I made the turn onto Boylston I was flooded with emotion, the finish is the sweetest moment of any marathon, but knowing that the people of Boston celebrated all of us runners after the bombings rocked their city just two years ago was miraculous. I was humbled, honored, and overjoyed to be a part Marathon Monday.

I was also thrilled to see the clock read 3:27, which meant my time was around 3:25, an exceptional time considering the weather and challenging course. The next half hour was the most difficult part of the day. I had to filter through the finish area, teeth chattering, and frozen to the bone, until I could walk the mile or so to my hotel. I kept my key inside my shirt, but my hands were too stiff to unzip my pocket, so I asked a very kind housekeeper to unzip it for me. Fortunately, there is no drought in Massachusetts, which meant I took a guilt-free steaming hot thirty-minute shower to thaw out. Once I could feel my extremities again I called my #1 fan, my mom. 

The rest of the night I relaxed and enjoyed the high of finishing my 38th marathon, 2nd Boston marathon, and knowing that my 35-year old self, 3:25, crushed my 25-year old self, 4:11. I hope to find out what I can do at 45:)

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Saltwater Weekend: Tears on Saturday, Sweat on Sunday - The LA Marathon

I'm doin' this tonight,
You're probably gonna start a fight.
I know this can't be right.
Hey baby come on,
I loved you endlessly,
When you weren't there for me.
So now it's time to leave and make it alone
I know that I can't take no more
It ain't no lie
I wanna see you out that door
Baby, bye, bye, bye...

Bye Bye
Don't wanna be a fool for you
Just another player in your game for two
You may hate me but it ain't no lie,
Baby, bye, bye, bye...
Bye Bye
Don't really wanna make it tough,
I just wanna tell you that I had enough.
It might sound crazy,
But it ain't no lie,
Baby, bye, bye, bye

I had this classic N’SYNC song blasting out of our computer the morning my husband left for New Mexico. He was leaving for a work project that would have him away from us for six months. That’s a hockey season. The weepy, blubbering tears had stopped days before, so did my passive-aggressive taunts at his allegiance to his job over his family, there was no point; I could not make him stay. Instead I took a shower, put my clothes on, while quiet, surrendered tears leaked from my eyes, and played “Bye, Bye, Bye” on YouTube. Finally, I smiled. Hannah looked at me like I was crazy, which was fine, I just laughed, and enjoyed those three or four precious minutes when I could forget my love was leaving me on purpose for nearly half a year, and danced like teenager. 
Thankfully, I could not be sad for long, because I had to prep myself to run a marathon the following morning. Yep, homeboy left me the day before a marathon. It wasn't his fault, his entire crew was ordered to leave a week earlier than planned, but I thought it was cruel. The upside is that it was actually a fantastic way to handle my stress, and sadness, because I had focus on the race. 

Once again I had a fabulous time trouncing all over Los Angeles. I met friends at the starting line, and played "Salt Fairy GodMother" through out the hot morning dolling out my salt tabs to crippled runners cramped on the side of the road. My feet hurt more than usual, which was annoying, and slowed me down. I held on to a quick pace the first twelve miles, then lurched myself along the next ten, and finished strong the final four. There was a spectacular crowd, festive music, and thousands of runners enjoying the greatest accomplishment of their lives. I was so happy to be there.

I arrived home to an empty house, except my lovely dogs were waiting with barks, smiles, and hugs, but no husband. Oddly enough I was not sad anymore. I was not mad anymore. I was just existing, and coping with the reality that he wasn't there, and wouldn't be for a very long time. We talked on the phone about four times that day, he was proud of me, and upset that he couldn't be there to share the accomplishment, but he has a job to do. If he didn't work so hard I wouldn't able to run my many marathons, and reach for the starts to keep running more and then write all about them to share with all of you. Marion is my biggest fan, which is such a gift, I just miss him, a lot.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Outside My Comfort Zone - The Spartan Super

The start of 2015 began with a devastating kick to the gut when Hannah returned home from her three week vacation in Colombia declaring she wanted to stop playing volleyball, and join the dance team. My heart was broken, and Marion went catatonic, she was becoming a great setter, but it’s her life, and this was only the first of many big decisions that she will make in her lifetime that we may not be fans of, so here we go. To be honest, I remember making a similar proclamation to my mom just before my freshman year in high school when I decided I wanted to quit soccer, my life-long obsession, and play basketball instead. A decision I have never regretted a day in my life. In any case, the up side to January was that just a couple weeks after the volleyball bomb dust settled I spent a marvelous evening with my darling niece Darby, who is blessedly too young to talk and break her parent’s hearts. All she does is smile, squeeze, and love. I needed a heaping dose of that sugar the night before my most treacherous race yet, the Spartan Super.

The Spartan races are part of the obstacle course phenomenon that is sweeping the entire planet. I decided to sign up for the Super distance, 8+ miles, because it seemed sensible and challenging. The Spartan brand is very Cross-Fit driven, which is not my forte at all, but I respect all forms of athletic competition, especially those that inspire the ordinary “Joe’s” to get off the couch and push themselves beyond their expectations. I have never been to a Cross-Fit class, and I doubt I ever will, but I had a blast running, bleeding, and cheering on fellow racers through the dusty and windy conditions at Vail Lake in Temecula, California.

I started the day in awe of the bodies all around me. There were many men and women who were ripped for days, but there were also body types and ages representing every demographic imaginable, it was truly inspiring. I was very happy I made the choice to step outside my comfort zone and try this kind of race; it was going to be a very fun day.

The race kicked for me at 8:45AM, at 8:46AM I was chest deep in cold water and mud, game on! The first mile was up a steep hill, the last 50ft. or so we had to climb up with ropes, it was very Princess Bride cliffs of insanity-esque, and I loved it! My not-so buffed out arms showed up, and cranked up and over the crest more nimbly than a few of the dudes on either side of me, so that was exciting. The next few miles or so, we cruised down a dynamic ridge that overlooked the region, it was gorgeous. Once at the bottom of the hill I conquered a heavy pulling obstacle, yay! The next few obstacles were a success, however, reality hit once I had to climb around this wall deal, with pegs, I fell instantly, and was ordered to do 30 burpees, the standard punishment for not completing an obstacle. If you are unfamiliar with burpees, think of them as the love child of a jumping jack and a push up, good times.

Next up was the spear throw, yup, more burpees for me! Luckily, I was running quite quickly in-between obstacles, but the obstacles that required epic upper body strength alluded me because of my long, tree trunk legs kept weighing me down. Surprisingly I did make it half way through the monkey bar obstacle, and nearly to the end of the reverse rope climb, until I reached for the finishing bell and collapsed to the ground in a pitiful thud. I quickly rolled over and hopped to my feet flushed in humiliation, because my fall happened right in front of a volunteer, but she just dazily pointed to her right and I quickly fled the scene with an inch of pride intact.

The next couple of miles sent us up a steep and dusty climb that crumpled many competitors to a death march, but my legs were too strong and prideful to shut down just yet. I have put them through many, many torturous days over the years which made this race feel like an adventurous romp to them, while my arms were weeping. I careened down the back side of the hill and continued on the trail then was stopped in my tracks by another by obstacle. Thankfully, it was a sled-like deal that my legs demolished, which was a welcome confidence builder leading into the final mile or so of the race.

I ran past mile seven then the trail dipped down into a wooded area with twists, turns, and jagged terrain that demanded a few leaps and bounds until once again a monkey bar-esque obstacle was right in front of me. This time I went straight to the burpee section. I am sure it wasn’t an inspiring sight, but I knocked out the 30 burpees, and ran off past mile 8 closing in on the finish line.

The next obstacle was a humongous ladder/net crawl deal that required a keen mind, and careful body positioning. I was anxious to finish so I scraped my bloody knees across the net ceiling section crawling in slow motion to the other side. I was impressed when a spider like dude bounded across the net to my right, but was reassured when he mumbled, “I’ve done this before.” Once I made it across, I carefully descended the ladder back down to earth, turned to my left and ran down a grassy hill with a smile on face; I could smell the end to this battle.

I laughed out loud when I saw the last obstacle before the finish, a rope swing over a mud pit, yeah, no way! I jaunted right over to the side, and dutifully began my 30 burpees. After what felt like a million seconds I was done, finally. I jumped to my feet, and leapt over the fire pit only yards in front of the finish line to the most understated fanfare I had yet to experience in any race. I wasn’t even sure if I was done until a volunteer handed me a medal and asked for my chip. At last, my first Spartan experience was in the books.

I was inspired by the course, the volunteers, my fellow competitors, and myself. The Spartans really asked a lot, to which I answered, “I am Sparta!”

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A Note About My Dad - Kauai Christmas, 2014 -

Happy New Year all! Wow, I am thrilled beyond belief that 2015 is here, and 2014 is nestled safely in the record books. It was a great year, but a little tougher than I would have liked, so onward to 2015! I do have one final special story to share about 2014 featuring a few of my favorite people in the world, and starring the coolest graduate out of St. Monica’s high school, my dad, Pete Kelly.

My dad is a dashing Richard Gere look-a-like circa Pretty Woman, and a former football and baseball high school and collegiate stand out, who actually turned down an invitation to the Angels training camp in order to pursue his graduate degree in business. Therefore, it is no surprise that he has always been supportive of my athletic efforts from year one, we are both natural athletes, and bonded over that connection. Moreover, he has remained in tremendous shape throughout his Silver Centrum years, and I have many fond memories of weekly football games at his house growing up with him slinging the ball better than any Peyton of today to all of us Kelly/Fox kids as we raced for touchdowns and roars of approval. Honestly, I was not the happiest child, but I was my best self-playing sports, and catching my dad’s touchdown passes were valuable highlights of a few too many dark days during the late eighties/early nineties.

It is difficult to be a child of divorce, there is no way to comprehend why your parents break up, there is no need to, even though I didn’t see my dad every day growing up, he has given me immeasurable opportunities, and has always been there for me when I needed him. I am sure he has not understood many of the decisions I have made in my life, for example studying film in college, but he supported me, and helped me get on my feet in production the first nine months after I graduated college by letting me live with him and my super-step mom, Sally until I had enough change in my pocket to rent my first Studio apartment in Venice, Ca. The day I moved in my dad famously said, “You’ll remember this shoe box when you are a famous producer someday.” Ah, fatherly encouragement. However, I would expect nothing less from my dad, he works hard, is successful, and believes that I can do and achieve whatever I put my mind to, and I do, too. Thankfully, I am a lot more like him that I ever thought I would be, I eat almonds with a Hansen’s soda during cocktail hour like clockwork, a slightly PG version of his gin and tonic with Goldfish crackers, but we are both creatures of routine, and I could not be more proud.

The past ten years or so have been an interesting journey with my dad, navigating an adult relationship with your parent’s is different for everyone, and we have had our share of troubling moments, but I am thankful for every painful and empowering conversation, each one strengthened our relationship, and brought us to this very special place we are today. Did I mention that I just spent a week with him Kauai, Hi? Oh okay, I will get to that:)
In late September Sally emailed me asking if Marion and I would want to come with her, Dad, and my sister Sarah to Kauai for Christmas. She knew Hannah would be with her Mom’s family in Colombia, and my other siblings were with their spouses’ families for Christmas, so it made sense, but I thought it was too much, and felt overwhelmed about how to handle it. Then Marion nearly made a hole in our ceiling by leaping out of his skin when I told him, he had never been to Hawaii, and we have not been on a vacation since our honeymoon in 2006, so he thought it was a no brainer, we were going! What it really came down to for me was the chance to spend quality, uninterrupted time with Dad and Sally, because time is fleeting, and I knew this time together would be special. Also, who turns down a trip to Hawaii??

Marion and I flew out on Sunday, December 21st, Sarah arrived the day before, and Dad and Sally had been there since the 16th, so they were already in their Kauai routine. We did have a slight hiccup in that our luggage did not make the second flight to Kauai on time, but it arrived at our condo before bedtime, and I had carried on all of my running gear, so I was fine. We ate the first night at the local Poipu fish/bar restaurant, Brenneckes, it was delicious, and the laughs were as free-flowing as the fruity margaritas Marion ordered, it was a fun and a festive way to kick off the week.
The following morning Sarah, Marion and I went for an epic run up to Spouting Horn, a historical site overlooking the ocean, and back down the beach toward the Hyatt and back up Poipu Road. Next, we spent hours in the sun laying on the beach, my absolute nightmare scenario as a kid because I usually walked away with a sunburn vs. a golden tan, but this time I let my porcelain stomach sear in the sunlight, it was a Christmas miracle.

The next few days were various versions of the same schedule of bliss, early rising, long fun runs, sunshine, and tasty dinners. The absolute high light for me was taking everyone out to a hoity-toity dinner at the local hot spot, The Beach House. The setting was gorgeous, the food was incredible, everyone ate their body weight in fresh fish, and I ordered two veggie dishes! It was the best time I have had out in over 35 years:)
Sarah and I started Christmas day watching the sunrise over the pacific during an early run, kudos to her for that genius idea, it was spectacular. Next, we attended a beautiful mass at St. Raphael’s Catholic Church, the oldest Catholic Church on Kauai, and the only church in the world where flip-flops are acceptable footwear. Marion fell in love with the service, the priest, the songs, and the company; it was a special mass for us, and hopefully the start of many more in our future. I was slightly let down that the exit song was not the standard “go-to” Christmas song, “Joy to the World,” but rather, “Go Tell it On The Mountain,” it was still lovely, yet not the usual gateway into Christmas festivities that I am used to. Oh well, Marion told me to embrace the Hawaii-esque theme of the “Mountain”, so I let it go. Clearly, I haven’t let it go, because I am re-telling it here, but I refused to let the lack of my lungs belting out “Joy to the World” ruin my Christmas. We spent the remaining hours of the day lying on the beach, swimming in the ocean, and eating a scrumptious buffet dinner over-looking the sunset, pure bliss.

The following morning I had Marion up early because he and my dad were going on a deep sea fishing trip. This fishing excursion was Marion’s only request of “things to do”, so he was very excited, and thankfully my dad loves to fish. However, I find the idea of bobbing around in a boat miles away from shore revolting, so it would just be a floating opportunity for some father/son in law bonding, while I remained safely on land.  A few hours later Sarah and I wrestled us up for one last long, eleven plus mile run along the coast and across uncharted trails that were simply breathtaking. The hills were green and alive, and cliffs were craggy and gorgeous, it was a runner’s paradise.  

Our final night in Kauai was simple and sweet. Dad and Marion caught some lovely yellow fin tuna on their fishing trip that Marion barbequed and Sally sautéed, both preparations looked delicious, even though I still stuck with salad. As we sat together around the dinner table I felt calm and content, a familiar feeling that I used to have every Saturday night at my dad’s house growing up; always-wonderful food to eat, and fantastic stories to share. My dad told stories of his memories on the island, he has been visiting Kauai for over thirty years, and as I listened and smiled I felt thankful that he invited us here and proud to be his daughter. I hope to live my life with generosity, and kindness like my dad, he is a wonderful role model and an amazing human being.

Marion summed up the essence of the week, and his new “bromance” with my dad on the drive to the airport when he said, “I’m really going to miss you, Pete.” On the other hand, I couldn’t say much at all, I was too sad, a happy sad, because the week was so special, but sad to wave good-bye to my dad as he drove away from the terminal. For the first time in at least fifteen or twenty years I felt like all I was in the world was my dad’s little girl, and it was nice to feel that innocence again, to know that once we hit eighteen, or get married, it isn’t lost entirely, just buried underneath grown up responsibilities, but able to pop up once in a while to let us breathe easier, knowing our amazing dads are always looking out for us.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

PEDAL Ride, AKA Finding My Smile Again

Last weekend I rode my bike a lot. In fact, I was sitting in the saddle for over eight hours Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. I have not been riding all that much the past few months because of all of my agro running mileage, and because I wanted to take a breather from riding altogether. I was getting to the point where I really enjoyed my “running” life, not having to worry about fitting in swim work outs, or long bike rides, but then I remembered I committed to take part in the first PEDAL ride from San Diego to Los Angeles for my friend Steve, a good friend and former colleague. The ride would benefit Pangea Educational Development’s campaign to raise money to build a piggery in the Gulu Remand Home in Uganda. So, around early October I started to get my act together, and put in some time in the saddle. 

I knew I would not ride on my Triathlon bike because that would just be silly riding that thing in a group setting for three days, so I commandeered Marion’s road bike instead, a Fugi Gran Fondo. It’s a good thing he chose the medium frame, because it fit me perfectly. I attended two training rides, the first in early November, the second in in early December, the latter was in the rain, good times. The people I met those two days were excited, and kind; my favorite combination. The best part of my ramp up to the PEDAL ride was I started to get excited about riding bikes again.  I had been living in my running bubble for months, and now I was starting to realize “I DO love riding bikes!” Next, of course came a flood of training ideas and expectations for triathlons to race in 2015, but first was the PEDAL ride.

I signed up for this event because Steve asked me to, I am always up for a physical challenge, especially when I can help others with my efforts, but what I learned throughout the weekend about the charity, and the people who run it, just about bowled me over with warmth and faith in humanity. The funds raised for our ride would go towards building and funding a Piggery for the Gulu Ramand home. The Piggery would provide funds to boost the teaching staff from one to three, and provide real-world skills for children awaiting trial to utilize once released and make a successful life for themselves. The fundraising goal was $7,500, and we raised over $8,000, amazing.

We decided to take the Amtrak Surfliner train on Friday morning out of Union Station in Los Angeles to downtown San Diego where we would then hop on our bikes and start riding north. Our first stop was Carlsbad, nearly thirty five miles north from downtown, and at 12:30PM we were off! The first few miles carved through the city, and then we were out on the rolling hills leading into La Jolla, where we stopped for a special photo op in front of the Pangea Parking lot at UC San Diego, cute. 

Next, we cruised up, over, and down into the Paragliding Launch just off campus when one of the most courageous riders, Judy, screamed, “This is the best time of my life!” Suddenly, I heard Clinck, clang, her left break fell off her bike! “What? The what?” My heart sank, especially because she was riding a single speed bike, not a fancy, schmancy one like me, which basically let me choose how much pain I wanted to feel, every hill was a grind on Judy’s bike, but she was loving it! I was impressed with her gumption, and felt horrible about her brake falling off, but her spirits were not deterred, she was my hero.

We stopped for too long in the parking lot of the Hangliding launch, but it was worth it because I had the chance to chat with most of the riders, and fuel up on a peanut butter sandwich.  There were twelve of us total, and they were all such magical, hilarious human beings, I knew I was among my people. Then we met Scooter. Scooter is a pot-bellied pig who lived “in the back” of the Hang glide house and is parented by a man who is not a huge fan of the justice system, but apparently a friend of livestock. After many, many minutes waiting for the Red Bull car to meet up with us for a photo op, we decided to roll out and start making our way up north through the quaint and enviable coast towns, Solana Beach, Del Mar, until we would stop at a bike shop so Judy could get her bike fixed. I felt a little queasy because we would indeed be riding in the dark, honestly not something I expected, and I had no lights. Thankfully the bike store was fully stocked, so I bought a rear light, and said a prayer that we would make it safely the final ten plus miles in darkness to our campsite in Carlsbad. However, the best news of the day was Judy got her bike fixed free of charge, aren’t people wonderful?

I am not a fan of night riding; I do like Michael Hasselhoff, but not getting dizzy staring at a red blinking light fifteen in front of me while perplexed drivers whir past me in darkness. The scariest moment of the ride was when shrouded in pitch black we careened down a hill which ended at a stop sign, then started right back up again into a steep incline, which was exhilarating, and terrifying. Thankfully, we all made it to the campsite in one piece, but the first day was long, longer than I expected, and we only rode 33 miles… We had an 80 plus mile day ahead of us on Saturday, no doubt a much longer day in the saddle.

We were treated to a delicious pasta dinner prepared by Steve’s roommate Eric’s sister, Heather, and their Uncle, I ate two heaping platefuls, and felt fine about it. Next, we spent hours swapping stories and delving deeper into each other’s souls while roasting marshmallows and pitching tents overlooking the magnificent Pacific Ocean. I was very proud to be among these wonderful people, and thrilled to be right in the middle of such a looming adventure, the only way home was on our bikes.

Saturday morning came quickly, which was wonderful because it meant that I slept. Steve had us up, packed and ready to roll by 8:30ish, pretty impressive. At breakfast we laughed over Larabars and bananas, while dreaming of coffee, but were excited to be roughing it, and ready to start pedaling.

As we cruised through the heavily active cycling community of Oceanside we were jeered a few times by the peloton’s in spandex who had egos as over-priced as their bikes, I felt protective of the team, and did not want any of them to lose their spirit by those jerks, and they didn’t, again, an amazing group of people.

Soon we were showing our ID and pedaling through the rolling hills of Camp Pendleton, the US Marine base in Oceanside. I had ridden there a few times during triathlons, so it was a little strange not to be killing myself those first few miles like I do in a race, but this was not a race, and it felt good to encourage people up the hills, instead of zooming past them.

The day was getting hot and the miles were slowly ticking by as we rolled into San Clemente Cyclery bike shop just before Noon. Then a few more hours of riding, and another stop
behind a Costco, in their rear parking lot I should say, so, still on their premises, we found out later they did not like our intrusion, but it was a needed respite before our last long push of the day. We fueled up and got psyched up, because the steepest climb of the entire trip was on the other side of our break. We crossed the busy street packed tightly in a single line, thundered down the hill outside of Costco, made it through the light, then powered up the hill like maniacs, it was awesome! I was so proud of everyone, the hill was scary steep, but we all made it to the top in one piece with spirits intact. There were smiles and relief all around because we only needed to cover a mere thirty miles until reaching our refuge for the night in Huntington Beach, it was 3PM, we had less than two hours of daylight.

The course sent us on gorgeous trails along the freeway through Irvine and up to the lip of Huntington Beach. The trails were fun in the daylight, but treacherous in the dark. I nearly crashed making a tight right turn from the street down the path parallel to a waterway, but thankfully I righted my wheel in the nick of time, and no one was the wiser. The remaining miles on the strand along Huntington Beach were glorious, but never-ending. It was nearly 8PM when we reached our exit toward the Promised Land, Ben and Annie’s house in a lovely gated community on the northern tip of Huntington Beach. We all stuffed our faces with pizza, shared our “highs and lows” of the day, and then slept soundly for the night, because there was talk of coffee awaiting us in the morning.

When I woke up Sunday morning I was surprised and pleased that I was not sore from two solid days of riding, it had been months since I had spent that many hours in the saddle. That said, I was not exactly excited to be riding another four plus hours until we reached our final destination of South Central LA at CicLaVia. Nevertheless, we were in it together, and I was looking forward to finishing this epic journey alongside some of the most kind-hearted, and hilarious human beings I had ever met.

The first twenty miles or so felt fast and fun. The ladies in the group huddled up near the back of the pack for some delicious girl talk, a luxury I have rarely indulged in since college. Next, we spent most of the latter part of the day riding along the Los Angeles river trail that starts in Long Beach and continues through Compton, Bell Gardens, etc., until we hopped back onto the city streets in the not-so-pleasant smelling city of Vernon. One and done for me, Vernon, thank you. Soon we were in the middle of South Central LA, and the road was closed to traffic, which meant the finish line for us! We made it to CicLaVia! They close the roads off to all vehicles so people of all ages, shapes, and sizes can pedal up and down the city streets on their two-wheeled Freedom Riders, their bikes! I was proud to be among my fellow Angelenos, and to share such a special finish with my PEDAL comrades.

We hurried through our good byes, gave quick hugs, and then scattered to find our various transports back to our homes, and reality. I was happy that my Uber driver arrived quickly, because I missed Marion and Hannah, but it felt strange to be sitting in a car, rather than riding my bike.

I arrived home happy, because I gained my sense of humor back, finally. I have spent so many years as a “responsible” grown up, that I lost the part of me that laughs with others, but also makes others laugh, too. This past week was the easiest and most authentic I have felt in my own skin in a very long time, and I give much, if not all of the credit to my fellow PEDAL riders. I hope that they all continue to ride bikes, for themselves and for others, I know I will.

P.S. If you want to laugh, and appreciate brilliant comedy, check out my girls Caitlin and Katie here:

Then, watch your listings on TV Land in JULY:)