Thursday, September 28, 2017

Taking The Knee

The call has gone out from the highest office in the land for professional sports figures to be banned from playing because they, for reasons of their own conscience, choose to kneel instead of standing for the national anthem. This a foolish thing in a long string of very foolish things. 

The call is for spectators to leave the stands and boycott the team unless patriotism is enforced and displayed prominently regardless of individual belief. 

Does anyone realize that mandatory displays of anything are simply displays of nothing? Fear is very different from respect. Compulsory respect is not freedom. 

My idea of patriotism and liberty would be this; that every one of the tens of thousands of fans in every one of hundreds of stadiums, speedways and arenas...just one time...kneels with the players before the first note blows from the bugle. For just one single, silent, solitary moment. 

In defiance of tyranny. For the love of country. For the sake of all of us.

Just for one shining moment...

That would be the sound of freedom roaring.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Irma, Florida and a Trailer Park

I watched Hurricane Irma tear up through Florida this week. And through all the bad news I wondered about one guy in a trailer park somewhere in the middle of it.

Tim Joe...I hope you're ok.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Days Away

I've been on vacation. 

For the last seven years, my habit has been to take couple of weeks off in August and this one was no exception. The difference this time around...there was no FLX Tour de Cure to fill up the first week. You can find that story here if you haven't read it. It's pretty strange.

My vacation was already assigned for '17 though and I couldn't really think of a reason to change it so I left it alone. I wondered what I'd do with myself if I wasn't painting arrows on a hundred miles of road and juggling a bike team. When the Tour shut down, I was pretty lost.

In the months that followed the cancellation, most of the people from the team sort of drifted away. There was a couple of less-than-pleasant Facebook exchanges so I closed the team page and called it a day. I lost track of pretty much everyone. I rode in the Saratoga NY Tour in June but it wasn't the same. It was corporate, shiny, slick and impersonal. It was a lot of good things to be sure, but there was no 'Train team tent with pink flamingos, sunflowers and conga lines in the parking lot. Nobody was laughing. I felt like a stranger to it all so I put on my best public smile and just drove away.

On the other hand, life being what life is...I found some sunshine to chase away The Black that was hanging around just off my wheel. After a couple of false starts, I met someone. But first; a little backstory...

I haven't said much about it but the main reason the Home hasn't been home much of late is that my thirty-year marriage dissolved in what the lawyers call "irreconcilable differences". Who saw that one coming? It's been many years getting to this and I won't go into the details here or now but suffice it to say, it's not been easy for a really long time. 

We all have our demons and mine were persistent bastards who found an open door through the proceedings and tried every trick in the book to destroy me. It's been a battle I wouldn't wish on anyone.

Along the way somewhere, I found that I had to wander back out into the world. Unless I wanted to live completely alone until the clock stopped for good, I had to leave Home once again. How do you do that when you've never even considered it? Counseling helped. My sister helped more. I can tell you that it ain't easy and as of this writing it still isn't over.

But my ADHD self is wandering around looking at squirrels again...

As I started to say, I met someone...on roller skates no less...who loves to ride bikes besides...and in a round-about way from that meeting, I relearned a few things:

I found out all over again that riding bikes can be a ball even when you don't do 'epic' mileage every time. Sometimes just getting on the hybrid in shorts and a t-shirt and cruising to an ice cream stand with someone who smiles at you every time you look at her is what bicycling should be. Yes, I rode some real miles in the years I was falling apart but a lot of them were angry miles. Miles that were to forget...not remember. And they were mostly alone. Don't get me wrong, I loved riding and a 200 mile day is still on my bucket list but it isn't as pressing as it was. I'm riding just to ride again like it was when I first jumped back on the pedals all those years ago. No kit, no funny shoes, no weird shorts...just a simple bike and some simple fun. My road bike misses me but we're still friends. We'll spend more time together again for sure but for's almost back to the beginning.

I also remembered how much fun roller skating really is. I skated more than I care to think about in my younger years. It seemed like if I wasn't working, I was on eight wheels. Most of my 20's found me at a rink somewhere jamming around in some form of hideous polyester under a cloud of big hair. I'm very happy there are only a few photos.

But leap ahead about thirty years and I find my old Douglas-Snyders still in pretty good shape...just as heavy as ever but still at home on my feet. I dusted them off, polished the boots and went back out on the floor. It seems that some things never change. 

During one session, I worked up my courage and asked that above-mentioned someone to skate with me. Got turned down flat because I was sweaty and kinda weird. But it didn't matter. We ended up skating together anyway...even though I'm usually still soaked like a sponge. The easy delight of skating along with someone to a slow song is what she calls "a happy place" and I know exactly what she means. 

It was all part of something that got lost along the way. Something that somehow became sad. It got misplaced somehow with so many other little joys that eventually drained the life out of everything I did. But I think I've found it again and it seems that it never changed. Only I did.

And yes, I found out that something as simple as holding hands is still as wonderful as ever. Just plain wonderful.

In the dark times, I used to watch people walking and holding hands. My soul ached for that tiny, fleeting touch that meant so much. That one easiest of things that I no longer had. I found that I missed it more than almost anything. Something so small. I think it was one of the first things we lost when everything fell apart. Maybe that's why I missed it so.

Something so easy. And so wonderful. It just makes me smile.

But now the vacation is over and it's back to work. There's memories that make me happy. And I've got time to think about what to do for next year. I think I'll keep the August time off just as a tradition but who are supposed to be about adventures so you never know.

 Hey, at least I can think about next year...that's sort of a vacation in itself.

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Losing My Religion (apologies to R.E.M.)

Can I tell you a story? It's about a kid and and a long, twisted and confused journey. It's about how this one kid grew up in a belief and then grew out of it somewhere along the road. It has a lot to say about how things change and how they stay the same; about faith and how it both succeeds and fails. If you want to hear it, read along.

It starts with me as a very young boy. I grew up in the 60's but didn't really live there. Not being old enough to sample the psychedelic side of that legendary decade or absorb its politics and assorted movements, I did soak up a lot of the side effects. Vietnam, the draft, the music, the protests, the chaos, the feel of it all sort of got inside my head and stayed there. It influenced many things now that I look back at them but at the time, it was just the way of the world.

During those years, I went to very old Methodist church with my parents...sometimes under duress because I very much disliked getting scrubbed and polished to go sit through something I didn't really understand. I was a trial to my mom and dad when they tried to get me dressed up for church when I really would rather have been outside getting muddy or sandy. When I did go, I remember sitting through the beginning of the service and then packing off to the basement for Sunday School and hopefully a cookie or two. It was during one of those downstairs lessons that someone said something to me that I'm sure they never intended to do what it did.

They were teaching us about faith and how strong it had to be if you wanted to go to heaven. Who could tell a child what heaven was supposed to be like when they were about seven or eight? Nobody. I didn't then and I still don't have any idea what they were talking about. All I knew was that it was where you were supposed to want to go when you died no matter what. I didn't even know much about what dead meant but I had heard it was bad unless you went to this wonderful place afterwards. But back to the lesson...

I don't even remember the teacher who said it but I do remember very distinctly how they said that if it came down to a time when your faith was questioned by anyone, you had to stand by it no matter what. As an example they said that if someone (they never told us who) gave you the choice to say that you didn't believe in Jesus or else you'd have to watch your parents be killed right in front of you, then that's what you'd have to do. Either that or you'd go to hell. I didn't know what hell was either but I knew it was bad. They told of how in the Bible, people were tortured (another word I only knew was really bad at the time) or eaten by animals or beaten and yet still refused. Those were the good people. People who said they didn't believe were bad.

I was terrified. I couldn't even comprehend my Mom and Dad being hurt and who would want to hurt them anyway? Who was coming to do such horrible things to us? Why would this happen? I had nightmares for weeks after that. Night terrors of awful things. Screaming, awful things that haunted me for days. One little lesson in one little Sunday School class by one person who thought they were doing good put a terrible fear in a small boys heart that lived there for over 50 years.

Time went by as time does and the nightmares faded into the usual boy-stuff of stitched-up knees, broken bicycles, homework and long days of lawn mowing. I sort of drifted around not thinking much about that old lesson. Then one summer, the old country church right behind our house opened back up with a new and very young pastor at the helm and things turned a little different.

There was suddenly youth groups and Bible School and services within walking distance from our back door. It was fun and exciting and it felt good. The Baptists got a hook in my and started reeling in the line. I believed.

I believed so much that one fine day, I waded into a mildly slimy pond in a white shirt and was ecstatically baptized. It was like joining a special club and it truly did make a change in me. I believed that I believed...then. I looked at things differently after that. It was life-altering and it was part of who I became. I don't regret it but at the time, I didn't know what it would do to me.

Years passed and after a while, the shine faded a bit. I kept the faith because it was all I knew. But through it all, I still felt like I was missing something. The faith I kept started to feel like guilt. I think maybe because I was human? I grew and it seemed like everything I did was somehow wrong if I clung to that faith. I prayed because I was supposed to but I didn't get the foot-stomping, rolling-in-the-aisle feeling that everyone said I should from it. It was all about guilt. The endless, promised comfort and happiness were things I couldn't seem to find. And some of the people who professed to be such faithful Christians were in fact, really awful. They were not who I wanted to be or who I wanted to look up to. I remember thinking that something was wrong with me. There turned out to be no joy in it.

The turning point finally came when I went to a service many years later in another little country church. The pastor put on quite a show of hellfire and brimstone on a subject that was pretty close to my heart. I've made some mistakes in my life as have we all but he drilled right into the darkest place where I needed forgiveness the most. He didn't know it but he looked right at me and told me I was going to hell. I couldn't breathe. I was devastated. He took me right back to that Sunday School lesson so long ago when I knew that I could never be what religion wanted me to be. I felt like I'd been kicked in the teeth. Everything I had hung onto for so long turned into grief, guilt and pain. It was one of the worst days of my life.

I think I knew then that something was gone for good. It took more years but at some point, I realized that it was all over. I'd had my crisis of faith and come out the other side. I stopped praying but more importantly, I stopped feeling guilty for everything. A load lifted off my back that had been there for far too long.

And here I am. I've come around to something I never would have expected. A life without the fear of what will happen after that life. I found a place where I no longer worry about what an all-powerful, faceless, capricious and incoherent thing thinks of me. I'm ok with the end of my life being the end of all things. From nothing we come and to nothing we go. My life is meaningful enough without needing it to last for eternity.

I'm not an atheist. I'm just me. I don't care what anyone else believes or why. I just don't have it in me to search and yearn for something that can never be anymore.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Home is Where Wayward Lives

Home sure means a lot of different things these days. It's still the roof over my head and the catch-all for years of accumulated junk (read that 'bicycle parts'). It's where I land after every train trip and bike jaunt. It's a place at the end of the road. In more ways than I care to think about...

Home is a strange word sometimes. It carries meanings beyond just a place to live. It's supposed to mean a shelter; an island where you can rest; a place where there's comfort and safety. A place where there's love and caring. This house has not been any of those since I moved in. And I've missed having a home for such a long time. 

So many awful things have happened inside these walls and yet, there may still be a time where I can live here in peace with all of it. If I'm not actually happy with this little patch of ground, at least I can say I'm maybe feeling...what's a good word? Content perhaps? That might work for now.

Life still goes along and everything changes with the ups and downs of the thermometer and the color of the trees. The roar and rush of the world blows across the days but underneath, there's something different. I'm not sure what to call it but I'm quieter now than I have been in years. The storms are really just the weather, not screaming hurricanes in my head. The tone of my life has changed again. 

I used to say that calm was all I wanted. A quiet place amidst the noise. A place to rest for a while. I didn't think it would ever happen but maybe...just maybe...home will really be a Home someday. 

I did in fact plant an oak tree in the front yard a while ago because I read somewhere that a man who plants a tree has hope. I'll never live long enough to see it grow up but it's a promise in some ways to a future I might be a little tiny part of. Hope is something I lived without for far too long you see so it seemed only right to try to grow some at the Wayward Home. It's where I live after all.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Ride Report

Enough being serious for a while. Let's just do a ride report and call it good.

Yesterday the old mountain bike called from the garage and said, "Lets go out in the rain and mud and see what happens."

Well who am I to resist the call? Loaded up and off I go to some trails near the Home. At least the rain stopped but it's pretty gooey in the woods all the same. I've been on these trails before so I know where I'm going but it's been months since I was last here. The climb is always worth it.

The whole thing was mostly uneventful and I was taking some cell-phone pics as I went along. That's my favorite thing sometimes...just cruising the hills and looking around.

Speaking of looking around...I'm not exactly sure what this was but I was hoping whatever was chewing on it wasn't still hungry.

And this spot is one of my favorites. I've taken some great pics here before and once again, it didn't disappoint .

All was well until the descent back to home plate. I took a little-used side trail that at one time was a road of sorts. The usual assortment of down trees and mud was the order of the day until I got almost to the bottom...

Slick me decides to be all Red Bull and bunny-hop over a little gully across the trail. Good idea, poor execution. Missed the timing and planted the front wheel directly into the opposite bank of the ditch. This resulted in the most instantaneous stop I've ever experienced. 

In less than an 'oh shit' period of time, the back wheel leaped over my head and I absorbed a fairly significant landing by planting my face in the mud. My helmet kept the impact from shoving my glasses into my eyeballs but the rest of me catapulting overhead gave my spine a crack that probably echoed off the hillsides. 

This is not ideal because in that same short period of time between sudden stop and having grass and mud shoved up my nose, I remembered that there's no cell service in this area. And of course, nobody in the world knows where I am or when I might be due back. Note to self...

I wondered if I'd actually broken my fool neck and if I had, would the coyotes or bears find me first? Funny how much you can think about when the ground comes rushing up to meet you.

In that moment after impact, I mentally ran through the checklist to see if any parts were not answering orders to move. All the extremities seemed to be responding but why the hell does the world look all crooked? Oh, that's because your glasses are on your chin and you're actually upside down with grass hanging off your helmet mister. 

Now it's time to wiggle out from under the bike and take stock. I very slowly managed to get oriented to the horizon and checked again for anything broken or leaking. Minor stuff mostly except that the vertebra in my neck feel like they're still embedded in the stream bank. I wonder how many are crushed and how long I'll be in traction...

But soon enough, the adrenaline rush fades and I manage to find my feet on the end of my legs right where I left them. Small moves...swab most of the mud off glasses, readjust crooked helmet, untangle sod and goop from handlebars and very gingerly saddle up. It's only a short coast the rest of the way down the hill to the truck. Good thing because I'm not sure I could ride very far.

Back at the trailhead, I had to carefully change back into my sneakers, peel off the soaked gloves and muddy helmet, load the bike and ease my sore self into the truck. It's always something.

You'd think I'd learn at my age that I'm not 25 anymore and this kind of stuff is probably pretty stupid...but how good is a story about tripping over your slippers? I've just gotta work on the bunny-hop...

Friday, April 7, 2017

The Black

I've been watching a lot of traffic on Facebook and elsewhere lately wanting everyone to share a phone number for a Suicide Hotline. I won't say it's wrong but seeing it from a slightly different perspective, I would say that a far, far better idea is to look around you. Look closely.

There's this place that I call 'The Black'. It's not a real place and I can't actually describe it but I know it's there. It kills hope. It kills people. 

Who do you see who hasn't been around much lately? Who hasn't called in a long time? Who has been avoiding you? Who's having trouble at home? Or work? Or who seems ok but somehow you know really isn't?

Think. Hard. That one you haven't heard from may be the one in the Black. That one will not call a hotline. That one is sure it's already too late. That one may already have a plan and a goal and is waiting just long enough to convince themselves that the time is now. 

Or that one has no plan at all. They're only one little nudge away from never coming back.

Or that one will come to believe that nothing else matters and no one else cares and so will go into The Black alone. 

Suicide is all about being alone. So alone that you no longer fear anything except another day. So alone that hurt is all you know and you'll do anything to make it stop. Think about that. Being alone kills people.

Nothing will stop that one missing person except maybe, just You have a power that no stranger on the other end of a phone can ever have. The power to be a friend, an ear, a shoulder. Trust me in this. 

Posting a number on your social media isn't necessarily a bad thing and maybe it'll help someone somehow but the one really looking down the barrel probably isn't reading Facebook. They don't want to see how happy everyone else there is; how wonderful their lives and kids and spouses and homes and jobs are. It's all an illusion that only makes it harder to breathe. They don't want to know. 

They've heard that suicide is 'the easy way out'. They know you think it's selfish and cowardly and a sin. They know you think they don't care about anyone else. And they know you're wrong but they're so lonely and afraid that none of it matters anymore. They know that life hurts so much that they're willing to leave it.

What they really need to know is that they're not alone. They need you. Not to tell them to suck it up or look on the bright side. Or say you know how they feel because to them at that moment, no one can.

Don't tell them to do anything because where they are, they can't. Just be there and watch out for them. Hug them while they cry. Help them any way you can.

Call the number yourself if you have to because it's pretty likely...they won't. They're afraid that if they call, they'll lose their job, lose their kids, lose everything and then it loops around to, "Why the hell should I call and make the misery even worse?"

It isn't logical. It isn't fair. It's The Black and it twists everything.

It makes a holiday into a nightmare; a birthday into regrets. Anniversaries become unbearable and sadness is the new normal. Pain is all there is in the world. It's The Black and it closes around you like a shell. Nothing gets in and nothing gets out. People in that place all die alone. 

So no, I suppose posting a number isn't wrong. Going on a walk to 'raise awareness' is probably ok too if you don't happen to be suicidal but believe me...people who are have already raised their awareness as high as it'll go. 

I know with all my heart that anyone looking down that road is not listening or looking at anything but an end. They need a human touch and a human voice. You, not an 800 number are suicide prevention.

Look around. Look hard. Someone needs you. They always will.