Well, I did it! Every mile, every hill, every camp night, every single ass-killing, hard-as-hell bit of it. And you know what? I hated every single minute of it. It was awful. It was hard and uncomfortable and exhausting and completely beyond me why people sign up for it year after year. And as I crossed the finish line, instead of reveling in my accomplishment and hugging all my fellow participants, I immediately peeled my butt of that unforgiving bike seat, yelled “Bike for sale!” and high-tailed to the hotel for room service and a 12-hour nap.
It’s taken me a while to sit down and write this post because I was hoping that after a couple of weeks of stationary distance from it, my memory of the experience would have changed, and I could talk about how transformational and wonderful it was. But instead I’m going to write about the truth of it—it was painful and I got tons out of it.
I learned that as much as I hate mornings I can get up at 5 am and take on a pretty difficult day. I learned that with some training and determination, even a hardcore sofa lover can take on some pretty significant physical challenges. I was reminded that every goal is obtained inch by inch and not mile upon mile. I got to hear about some pretty amazing personal stories of turning grief, tragedy, or sickness into power, growth, and change. I was reminded to be grateful for porcelain toilets and pillow-top mattresses. I learned that I am definitely not a cyclist or bicycle enthusiast of any kind. And most importantly, I was reminded that I’m not nearly as fragile as I always think I am. And for those reasons, it was probably one of the best things I’ve ever done.
I definitely won’t be signing up for next year, and I smile an evil grin every time I go into the garage and see my bike wonderfully neglected with a flat tire and accumulating dust (you will hurt me no longer, you vehicle from hell!) But I will take this knowledge, the things I learned, and put them into the next challenge, and the next, and the one after that. Because after surviving that week and those grueling 545 miles, I know I can probably do damn near anything–except ride a bike again.
Thank you again for your support, encouragement, donations, and sticking with me through all of this. And if you’d like to take on this challenge yourself next year, I know where you can get a good deal on a bike…
It’s just a few days away, and as this week began I had enough anxiety to kill a herd of oversized Yetis. This ride is taking me out of my comfort zone on so many levels that my consciousness is convinced that my utter destruction is at hand. Who knows? It might be right. But three things happened in the past few days that gave me crazy good perspective: a well-stated email, a really good movie, and the death of a child.
On Tuesday, the anxiety level was unbearable (evidenced by offering a few people $1,000 to break my leg so I wouldn’t have to go), so I reached out to a friend who is riding with me and who has done it before. He reminded me that the fear isn’t real and that I’m experiencing a “first world problem.” As this message was sinking through, later that night I watched the movie A Normal Heart about the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the early 80s. It was powerful, and my Kleenex box was almost as well used as my bike. But after it was over, the perspective bomb blew up in my face! Between my friend’s email and that movie, I was reminded of anxiety’s inherent selfishness and that a 7-day-long bike ride was a privilege, something I chose to do, something I was alive to do, something I have control over, an event that I’m supported in, instead of suffering that isn’t chosen.
The next morning, I learned that a dear friend from high school lost her baby just a month before she was due to give birth. It would have been her first child, and he was completely healthy but died from an undetected knot that had formed in the umbilical cord. The loss of life is tough enough, the loss of a child I can’t even imagine. She is in good health and has a loving husband and surrounded by lots of people, but there’s no way around that suffering. It is real. It is not a bike ride.
This blitz of perspective bombs doesn’t make the anxiety about the ride go away. It’s still there, still secretly wishing for a massive flu, but I can put it in its place now. I can ride this ride for the purpose in which it is intended—to honor and remember others. That makes it a whole lot less scary because it gives this challenge meaning, it makes it bigger than the pains in my thighs and the discomfort of a sleeping bag. And that’s what this happiness work is all about—to give you perspective and remind you that your life is not just about you, it’s about us. So wish us (my high school friend, those who have lost someone to AIDS, me and all of humanity) love and luck as we all keep pedaling forward.
This is my last post before the ride. The bike is tuned up and so is my attitude. My sincerest thanks for all the encouragement, the generous donations, the kind and patient people who have helped me train, and to my grandmother for putting me on this road to taking care of myself and understanding love a whole lot better. Thank you, and I’ll see you all soon!
It’s coming. It’s coming swiftly like a crazed cheetah with spokes for teeth. I know this ride is well supported, I know I’ve trained my brains and thighs out, I know it will all be fine, but I’m as terrified as lamb on a lion’s back (I’m going with this animal theme). I realized that all the anxiety I feel about cycling has everything to do with being exposed, being vulnerable, being outside in spandex where life could happen to me instead of nestled safely and warm in my cozy but oppressive cave.
The anxiety starts the night before every ride and stays there until I’m home. Usually starting about 2:00 in the morning, I think things like, “Is this the day I die? Is that car being driven by a coked-out psychopath hell-bent on the excitement of destruction? Is a wildcat going to jump out of the bushes and attack me while I’m clipped into the pedals so that I can’t run away and I get devoured while still furiously pedaling toward my death? Does that rider behind me think I’m fat?”
And in 2-and-a-half weeks, it will be that every day. Me and my anxiety on a weeklong trip together, every day pedaling further away from the safety of my cave. Oh, and let’s add some camping with a few thousand strangers on top of that. Introverted, body-shamed Randy in a sea of tents, public showers, and port-a-potties. This is either going to be a nightmare or completely transformational. And more realistically, a mix of both.
Today I have to send a very silent shout-out to meditation. I’ve been doing it pretty much every morning, give or take a day, and though we had a tough relationship in the beginning, we are crazy tight now. I’ve even learned to do it on the bike by counting my breaths when I climb up hills. I am enormously grateful to the inner Randy that had the forethought to get back up on these happiness tasks before this ride because I am definitely going to need them. So I’m saving a seat for meditation on this road trip in hopes he can shut anxiety up long enough for me to make it. Fingers crossed.
I’m not one to complain. Hahaha! Sorry, I couldn’t even type that without laughing. OK, I am one to complain. I try not to do it out loud so much because I know how annoying it is, but I complain a lot in my head. Sometimes out loud more than I should. But this particular mental bitch fest has grown so loud the past couple of weeks that I have to let it out. Here’s the deal: I am so god-d&#% sick of cycling that I am a spoke’s length away from throwing this fu@&ing bike over the next mother-freakin’ hill that dares to shove it’s ugly f-in head in my G.D. face. Seriously. Sick. To. Death.
It takes up all of my weekends. It’s hard as hell. I’m achy and hungry every damn day. I’m spending more money than I have on spandex and electrolyte tablets for Christ’s sakes! Who the hell does this? And people are singing show tunes behind me when I can barely breathe while pedaling up a mountain that a car would have trouble with. No. Just no. I’m done. I’ll keep going. But I’m done. Not really. But really. But not. Remember when I said how fun it was? How nice it was to be out in nature and the friendliness of all the riders and community? How the challenge was challenging but so meaningful and yada yada? Well, that may all be true, but I’m done. But not really. But I am. In my head. I hate it. I hate all of it.
“You must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.” This is the new mantra. It’s also the mantra I use when I’m depressed. Is there such a thing as bike depression? If so, I’m having it hard. I suspect, though, it’s a natural phase in any challenge you take on, a moment when the work clearly becomes work. My higher self says this to me, somewhere I know it’s true, but the me self says “suck it, higher self.” I’m tired, and I want my weekends back. I also feel great. And I have no idea how to reconcile that. So I’ll go on. But know that if I could cycle while kicking and screaming without possibly dying, I would totally try that. So in short, I hate it. But I’ll keep going.
June 1 is not creeping up slowly, it’s racing faster than I could ever pedal. The training has been going well and my leg muscles are growing in some parts and creating weird indentations in others. It’s strange when your body parts change shape. It’s like having a new pair of hard pants, and I keep hoping no one catches me feeling up my strange new thighs. The rides are still hard, but the progress has been phenomenal. I wasn’t feeling so well last week and missed an important training ride. But my legs didn’t deflate and I didn’t beat myself up about it. We keep going, right? (See? It’s not just my legs that have grown!)
In the spirit of keeping going, I’ve been back on track with the happiness work and have meditated, exercised, gratituded, journaled, and kindnessed my way through the past couple of weeks. If I miss a day, I feel horrible. When I’m back on, I feel better. Funny how that works. Even funnier is needing the constant reminders. Humans, eh?
But if you’ll recall, one of the big realizations from the initial 30 days was the addition of a 6th task – every day you should work on the thing that you love. For me that is writing. When I was blogging everyday, that task was built in. Now that I’m posting once every couple of weeks this one has suffered a lot of starts and stops.
After one of those starts, I sent out a few works to some publications and every one of them got rejected. I’ve been at this long enough to be used to it, but for some reason it harder this time, and that awful little demon voice came in to tell me I suck and should give up. So I did. And when I did, I imagined my life without it – never putting fingertips to plastic ever again, never hearing the tick-tick-typing of hard-fought creativity. It felt enormously depressing, despite the meditating, exercising, gratituding, journaling, and kindnessing. But the demon told me I sucked, so it had to be. But then a wonderful thing happened. I found myself in a position where I had to defend my writing. Out loud. To someone other than my demon. And some sleeping writerly tiger inside me finally woke up and roared, “I’m a writer!” And that cliché came to mind about loving something and setting it free. I set mine free for a week. But then someone asked me where it went, so my writer tiger leapt up to successfully hunt it down.
I want to focus this post on gratitude—mostly because I need it. You’ll notice that I’m a week or two late. For some reason, this week was a tough one. All of the progress I’d felt I’d made came tumbling down this week as the funk enveloped me in its cozy darkness. I didn’t exercise, I didn’t meditate, I didn’t do anything except binge on food and drink and TV and misery. I don’t know why this week was special (or decidedly un-special), but I’m still trying to turn myself from a scared and angry puddle on the floor to something upright and human. It’s those hills again, right? Those moments in the valley when you notice a hill’s coming up that you’re going to have to put some effort into climbing. God, I hate hills.
I started climbing back up yesterday when I was at the market, and I ran into someone who works there, someone I suspect is an angel in disguise. He shows up at important moments, and although we have a quick, friendly exchange, he usually ends up surreptitiously revealing something to me. We were talking about the upcoming ride, and he said, “I hear that it becomes this big love fest, not that you need anymore reminding that you’re loved.” Wait, what? It hit me like a ton of bike racks—I’ve been feeling all lonely and depressed all while people are sending in donations to support me, commenting on the blog, giving me tons of encouragement in all kinds of ways. I remembered that I’m not out here on my own, and damn it why won’t this lesson stick?
So I got home, and I picked the tools back up. I read through my previous entries reminding future me that this would happen again, that depression would inevitably rear its ugly head and that I have the tools to cope with it. I read through the blog comments reminding me that I’m not alone in this. And I read through the roster of donors to remind me that I have people who support and care for me. And today I feel better and have the advice of past-Randy and a ton of other people to thank for it. To commenters, fellow depression fighters, friends, donors, and Alan at Whole Foods—I am so incredibly grateful to you for getting a man up a mountain. Thank you!
I know you’re sick of me talking about hills, maybe just as sick as I am of riding them, but bear with me just one more time because I think there’s a lesson here. AIDS LifeCycle has a series of training rides each week that help get you ready for the massive 7-day ride in June. On my very first ride a couple of months ago, I started hearing whispered and horrific tales of massive hills that would kill a leg dead. These hills didn’t have eyes, they had names—things like “Three Bears” and “White Hill” and even one called “The Quad Buster.” Naming something makes it far more terrifying (e.g. chick with snakes for hair vs. Medusa – see what I mean?)
On the first ride I would overhear in hushed tones, “Has he done Camino Alto, yet?” followed by a smile that I couldn’t read, one that warned me of pain to come. Then one day I met Camino Alto. He was exactly the beast that everyone described—a winding monster, miles long that burned my legs with its dragon fire. I hated that hill. I hate that hill. But I got to the top of it and flew down the other side with a huge feeling of accomplishment and relief. Until I discovered I had to climb it again on the way home.
But apparently that was nothing. There were hills more terrifying than that, a whole family of dragons that increased in height and length. Last week, I made plans to do bike rides on Saturday and Sunday—the first time I’d be doing two long rides in a row—and again people were clear that these were much harder than the last (trying their best to describe them with encouraging tones and failing completely). So I did the Saturday ride and climbed that massive, horrible thing. Slowly but surely I made my way to the top, covering the road with curse words as my riding mate waited at the top, barely out of breath.
Then the Sunday ride. The hill on this one was supposed to be even worse. “White Hill,” it’s called. A pretty name for an instrument of torture. The worst part was that to get to this White Hill, I would first have to go over Camino Alto—the first terrible hill in this story. Funny thing was, though, that when I got to Camino Alto, I zipped right on up. It was hard, still unpleasant, but miles easier than the first time I tried it only weeks before. Yes, I’m getting stronger which helps, but what really helped was that it was no longer unknown. It wasn’t this thing of tall tales with a foreign name and a dark reputation. I knew this hill, and I knew what to expect. And when I finally reached White Hill, I just kept thinking “It’s like any other hill. It’s like any other hill.” And it hurt like the hell fire, and it was hard and seemingly never-ending, but it was just like any other hill.
The hills will keep coming, and there are only two options: you give up, or slowly and surely get yourself up until you get to the incredibly delicious coast on the other side. And those of us searching for happiness don’t give up. We may stop and rest, but eventually we get to the top. Then we do it all over again because sitting still can be awfully dull.
It’s been just a little over three months since I’ve recommitted myself to the happiness tools, and doing them for this long every (mostly) day, I notice the taking-care-of-myself spirit bleeding into other parts of life. One of them is food. So the other day I picked up a salad for lunch and decided to replace a huge hunk of bread for a banana. The Randy of yesteryear would scoff at such a granola notion, but the Randy of today realized he needed more fruit in his diet. Holding my banana like a nutrient-loaded pistol, I walk back to the office and see a very chatty homeless man at the crosswalk. The light turns red just as I approach, so I know I’m going to be stuck talking to him. I’ve been told I have an “approachable face” (which I think is secret language for round and naïve), and now that I make eye contact with pretty much everyone, it’s kind of inevitable.
He asked for money, and I replied I didn’t have any cash, but how about a banana? He says that he already ate, but everyone could use more potassium, so I relinquished my attempt at more fruit. But it’s a long stoplight, and he has more to say. So he says very matter-of-factly: “You can tell by the way I use my walk that I’m a woman’s man with no time to talk. Music’s loud and women warm, and I’ve been kicked around since I was born. But it’s alright; it’s ok. You can look the other way. Or you can try to understand the New York Times’ effect on man.”
It was only when the light turned green, and I smiled and walked away that I realized he was reciting the lines of “Staying Alive.” I didn’t get it at first, though, from the way he was saying it, and it totally and completely changed the lyrics. What I heard was that he’s been kicked around since he was born and that people tend to look the other way. Wow. Who knew the Bee Gees understood the plight of the homeless so well. Seriously, never did that song sound like anything other than a cheesy disco number, much less a sincere expression of how one guy is trying his best to stay alive. The man is a genius.
Fast forward a few days, and I’m proudly returning home on my bike after a 50-mile ride, feeling all smug and full of myself because the hills were significantly easier this time, and I wasn’t bleeding or crying internally. Hubris is the downfall of many a hero, as it was for me that day. Riding over the Golden Gate Bridge, I run smack dab into a side fence and crash to the ground with my feet still stuck in the pedals. A few scrapes and bruises, nothing too severe. The thing that was damaged most was my ego. The thing that frightens me most about doing new things is people seeing me fail. But I remembered that guy holding my banana (seriously, no pun intended there) and saying something profound about keeping on. And it occurred to me that whether I’m a brother or whether I’m a mother, I’m staying alive. We’re all doing our best to keep on keepin’ on, and we all look like klutzes sometimes so screw it. So I painfully shook it out, got back up on the proverbial and literal saddle, and finished crossing that bridge–bruised but alive.
One afternoon when I was six years old, my mother came home from a shopping trip with new clothes for me and my brother (yes, I have a brother but that needs its own blog). I was much gayer as a kid and excited about things like new clothes. Sadly, adult Randy gets more excited about new episodes of American Horror Story than clothes—okay, still pretty gay. Anyway, she comes home with a bag of shirts. I am thrilled and ravenously tear open the bag like a stoner holding a new bag of chips. And what did I find? Sleeveless shirts that were also cut short so the belly was exposed. It sounds like my mother was trying to dress me like a hooker, but I guess it was a style in the early 80s. My excitement turned to rage. How dare my mother buy me shirts like this when she knows that I’m fat! This was deliberate and cruel punishment and she deserved my wrath. Yeah, seriously. I was 6.
Suffice it to say, that me and body image issues have a long and intimate history. Though I was never fat, I was always convinced that I was. So sure of it, in fact, that exposing any part of my body between knees and elbows does and has always filled me with quiet panic. Thank god for the dark (and pre-unscrewed light bulbs so there’d be no argument about it). Now that I’m 40 and the metabolism has changed, along with increased wine and burger consumption over the past few years, I am now officially and decidedly overweight. It’s actually not in my head this time, it’s in my gut. And biking clothes ain’t baggy. So I’m on this spindly bike, overweight, out of shape and in tight clothes that leaves nothing to the imagination, panting my way up hills, knowing the bike is going to buckle under my extreme weight, and fully convinced that I’m being judged and quietly laughed at.
But here’s the thing—I’m not. The people that I ride with are kind and encouraging and have been out of shape beginners, too. Everyone has suffered from this. But my ego is convinced that I’m the only one; that no one knows this pain but me and everyone is looking at me. Me, me, me. I’ve never been as harsh in my judgments of others as I am with myself. And that’s why, this week, I’m particularly thankful for people. I’m grateful that this out-of-shape introvert has accidentally discovered that he needs social exercise, people around him to get him out of his own internal mean-girls movie and into reality where everyone’s too worried what they look like to worry about anyone else. People that care more about your success than your failures, that can encourage you up a hill because it’s a challenge, because you can do it, and not because the overweight deserve suffering. And I’m grateful for the people who are in this with me and joined me at spin class last night then laughed with me over salads afterward. Thank you.
Lastly, for anyone who followed my 30-day experiment, you might remember a podcast I referred to. There’s some real nice gents who put together a fantastic podcast series called “The One You Feed” all about this constant work to be good and happy. They are fans of the blog and asked me to participate. It was great fun, and now it’s up and downloadable if you’re interested in giving it a listen. I’ve listened to all of them, though, and they’re all inspiring so check it out while you’re biking up some hills.
It’s been almost three months since I recommitted to picking the happiness tasks back up, and though there’s been a day here and there where I didn’t reach all five, I’ve done a pretty damn good job for the most part. I think the difficulties of the holidays and turning 40 slowed the results down a bit, but last week I noticed the shift—less fear and anxiety, less of that darkness that feels like your bobbing alone in the middle of the Pacific at night waiting for someone to save you or something underneath to eat you. Note that I say “less,” and not “none.” Because I’m reminded that those things don’t go away, you just learn to bounce back a little quicker. They become episodes, blips, instead of permanent ways of seeing.
A friend of mine forwarded me a Fresh Air interview with Scott Stossel who wrote a book about living with anxiety. It could not have been more well-timed because the less I rely on quick fixes like booze, TV, and constant napping, the more I see the symptoms that led me to those in the first place. Anxiety has been a big one, and now that I’m not constantly numbed out, I see it everywhere. I live every day worried that I’m going to get fired, that someone’s angry at me, that the train I’m on is going to explode, that I’m going to get evicted, that I’m one bad decision away from being homeless, alone, or destitute. It’s there all the time, and those numbing devices take it away instantly. This happiness work doesn’t; it’s not instant, it takes time and work and a constant shift between frustration and success, but it helps in ways that are way easier on the skin, liver, and ever-growing ass. This Scott Stossel guy was talking about meditation as a way to help—not to get rid of it, but to learn resilience.
“Resilience? Screw resilience! I want this shit out of me!” said the panicked, desperate voice that is usually the first of my inner others to react. But the more I thought about it, the more it sounded pretty spot on. Getting rid of anxiety or depression completely is the stuff of myth that sets you up good and proper for a whole mess of failure. Learning to cope with it, to talk to it, to bounce back when it crops up—not the easier answer, but definitely one that makes a whole lot more sense. It’s the difference between chopping off your head because your brain doesn’t work right vs. learning to use your brain. And with the TV and the booze, I’ve pretty much been chopping off my head.
For my 40th birthday, some friends and I rented a house near Mendocino on the coast. These are dear friends that I’ve known for a while but haven’t seen in some time. I was terrified of two things: 1) the news that it was whale migration season and we’d probably see them passing from the house (you know how I feel about whales); and 2) that so much time had passed that we wouldn’t know each other anymore and we’d have a terrible time quietly tolerating each other. I took brief meditation times during the weekend (nothing showy, just took a few moments to breathe and focus), and two things happened: 1) the whales didn’t get me and looking out for them was kind of fun; 2) we had an amazing time doing nothing but talking and laughing like teenage girls on a Frappuccino bender, and we love each other as much as we ever did. The anxiety was for nothing. It was there, but I didn’t let it get in the way, and when it cropped up, I talked it off the ledge. I was resilient.
I also did a 40-mile ride on my bike last weekend and climbed some pretty gnarly hills that seemed to stretch for miles. I didn’t quit, curse, or shoot someone, so I’m calling that resilient, too, because the last time I tried those hills, I swore someone would die if they took me that way again. We all lived, and I’m the stronger for it.