Zombie flies beat biker butt

I’m failing as a parent.

I know, I know…every parent thinks that, but this time it’s for real!

So how, exactly, am I failing. Drugs? Porn? Grades in the tank? Nope.

My son won’t bike with me. *gasp*little mac bike path

His resistance started two years ago when he and his sister were 11 and 13. It was spring break and I’d loaded up the bikes and headed to the Duck Creek Bike Path in Bettendorf. We had a history, us three, of rolling along on the Clinton and Fulton-Thompson bike paths. I wanted to increase our two-wheeled sojourns and introduce them to new views.

It was the first ride of the year so I knew it’d be short, but around 2 miles, KidBoy started to derail. His butt hurt. Despite several breaks, we eventually had tears…and a very brief ride. It pretty much set the tone for the year.Mo on trainer

So last year, saddled with new bikes and high hopes, the butt pain and tears continued. Not with his sister, though. Except for a literal run-in with a fence, KidGirl’s a natural, even on the trainer.

The kids wear all the proper gear, we’ve adjusted saddle height, tilt, even added one of those BS cushioned seat covers. But it’s clear, KidBoy doesn’t want to ride and is holding on to any excuse. While Marty and I both believe it’s a “time in the saddle” issue, our son is unwilling to put in the time to get his duff toughened up.

Today was their last day of spring break and since KidGirl was hitting the links with Marty, I offered KidBoy the following: an hour of relaxed cruising or sweeping the attic and ShopVac’ing a winter’s worth of nasty-ass dead and undead flies.

He chose the flies. FLIES!!! An afternoon in a gross, web-filled attic with a bazillion zombie flies vs. a glorious spring day in the fresh country air…20160329_131814

Last winter he made the comment, “Just because you like fitness doesn’t mean I like fitness.” Was he pushing my buttons? Of course. But was there a nugget of truth? A glimpse into his personal teenage angst? Probably. So what do I do???

A day at a time, a derailleur at a time

For 15 years I’ve swore & cried & sweated to overcome the ever-present urge to numb myself. As one of my Bitches told me, “Reed, you feel BIG.”

My emotions have been (& probably always will be) of the Herculean variety. My joy is usually brighter than rainbow-farting leprechauns while my darkness can be the most blinding, frightening black. It’s scary for me to feel . . . but scarier not to.

March 3rd 2001 was a warm, sunny day I spent riding Frankenbike by myself. I was hung over, ashamed of who I’d become & scared shitless. The unpredictability that ruled my life had shifted from carefree & footloose to dangerous & foreboding. When my unpredictability changed from fun-loving to WTF, I knew I was out of time & choices: I had to change.

Over the course of 5,479 days that necessary change would involve so much more than not drinking. It would require only that I change how I saw everything. That’s it, just everything. And if everything would just stay how I see it at exactly that moment, it’d be easy peasy, but it changes, constantly, & it’s very easy for me to fall back on the old familiar: scary, big feelings that leaving me cowering in corners, hiding, or zipping up the gorilla suit & kicking ass. Neither option is all that great.

For example, today’s March 3rd? It was the end of my second week working as a NEWBIE bike mechanic & I had to build a Salsa El Mariachi. Um, ok? As I unpacked it, the only thing I had going for me was knowing I had to attach the rear derailleur to the hanger. It was a struggle. A head-down, sweaty, brain-scrambling schooling in hydraulic disc brakes, front shock airing & the further nuances of limit screws. It was a scary fucking day. Turns out clutches aren’t just for old tractors & farm trucks. I felt dumb, inept, out of place, inadequate, old & just plain awful. This is the stuff the thirsty little fucker who lies deep down inside me starts excitedly rubbing its hands over.

After the thousandth time of pulling Bobby, Bruce & Adam away from their own projects & even Dan away from his birthday day off, I caught myself thinking, “The jig is up, Homes, you don’t belong here.” That’s when I thought it might happen, when I felt a little tingle behind the eyes. (Big feelings, folks, I still don’t handle them well.) Of course my brain went ape shit: “You’re crying?! You’re the only chick in this bike shop and you’re gonnawpid-0617_ov_baseball_tom_hanks_no_crying_in_baseball cry?!!!” I didn’t. I wanted to. But I didn’t.

Thank gawd I’m not newly sober. Thank gawd I have coaches and cheerleaders who continually remind me how to take my life “a day at a time.” Thank gawd I didn’t start crying until after I’d left the bike shop, when I could talk with another sober person who understood exactly this kind of crazy & how to cut through the thick emotion & remind me, “Dude! It’s all good! You’re learning! You’re new! They didn’t fire you!” Um, yay?

I still want to run, take the easy way out & just hide. But I’ve done that. And it sucks. And every time I do it, it sucks worse! And I’m 45 & I simply lack the constitution for that level of suckage! So I’ll keep at it, just as I’ve been taught, a day at a time, a mile at a time, a derailleur at a time.

Northeast wins in cakes & melons


It was a double-win weekend for Northeast! First, the Fine Arts Boosters held its annual cake auction Friday between the girls and boys varsity basketball games against Cascade. Though the basketball victories may have gone to the Cascade Cougars, the cakes went to Rebel supports like . . . well, hot cakes!

During the live auction, my husband Marty hoped to take one back to his employer, but as bids climbed toward $1,000 he opted to snag a couple of smaller ones from the silent auction.

For one who has a major sweet tooth, but tries to eat healthy, the cake auction was a mine field! I fantasized about scooping up palms full of frosting and shoving it in my face. As we sold pieces by the slice, I actually had to tell myself (out loud), “Don’t lick the knife.” I fingered the $20 in my pocket, trying not to throw it down and flee with a box!

I refused to let Marty bring his two cakes into the house. Having enjoyed a slice at the auction, I knew how wonderfully delicious they were. It was either devour an entire cake or resign myself to a few smaller cakes of the dry, puffed rice variety.

In all, the Northeast Fine Arts Boosters took in over $8,000! But that would not be the end of Northeast success for the weekend.

It’s hard to believe it, but the 2015 triathlon season is underway, kicked off last Sunday in Muscatine with the 21st Annual Try Melon Tri at the Muscatine Family YMCA. While this indoor sprint tri is a standard for many of my pals, last weekend was my first time. And what a time!!!

I wasn’t sure what to expect. Obviously the event can’t start with all 106 people cannonballing into a pool at once so participants, who are assigned a timer (mine was volunteer Lisa Longtin of Muscatine), are placed into 9-person start waves taking off every 30 minutes.

Start times are based on one’s estimated swim time for 900 yards (or 18 50-yard laps). I didn’t think my 15 minute estimate was overly ambitious, but it put me with the Big Guns in one of the earlier waves. When the whistle blew the field left me choking on their splash.

I felt like a tug boat slowly chugging along, especially given the two young women on either side of me who apparently had gills instead of lungs, flipper vs. feet. They slipped along, seemingly without effort, gliding smoothly through their laps.

ITry Melon Tri 2015 bike was second to last out of the pool, posting a time of 18:14, much slower than I hoped. Oops. After wasting three minutes drying off and pulling pants on over my swimsuit as well as socks and shoes onto my feet it was off along a carpeted runway to the stationary bikes.

Prior to the start, a stationary bike at the registration table allowed participants to determine their appropriate seat and handlebar height. When I reached an open bike, I quickly made my adjustments and started spinning, my timer Lisa doubling as a wonderfully supportive towel/water girl.

A small handlebar monitor provided distance and time. I finished the 10 miles in 19:09. Again, given the time I lost in the pool, I was second to last off the bike.

It was time for the “fun” part: 40 laps/2.5 miles on an indoor track. While running is what I do the most, it remains my weakest sport. I’m a turtle, a back-of-the-pack’er! While I shuffled around and around, I found myself in the opening scene of last’s year’s Captain America movie “The Winter Soldier.”

Remember how the movie starts, in the pre-dawn hours on Washington D.C.’s Mall when Sam Wilson aka Falcon is out for his morning run? He’s soon lapped THREE times by Steve Rogers aka Captain America, saying, “On your left.”

I felt like I was standing still as a pony-tailed blur in black and blue flew past me. Then it hit me! This was the woman I chatted with before the swim, the same woman who, when I told her where I was from said, “I grew up near Charlotte!”

It was Nancy Foxen, daughter of the late Don and Judy Paulsen, 1996 graduate of Northeast! And she DOMINATED! Turns out this indoor tri thing is her deal! And she lapped me way more than three times.

When I talked with Nancy several days later, she said she ran track and cross country in high school, but it wasn’t until after college when her husband’s work lead her back into sports. Chris is the high school track and cross country coach at Muscatine, “my husband is definitely a big influence on my health,” she said. “Running just got more important.”

As Nancy and I talked, she shared that swimming was her weakest area and that it was only six years ago when some friends taught her to swim. She competed in the Crossroads Tri in DeWitt a few years ago, but the swim portion wasn’t fun.

Nancy explained if she’s going to participant in an event, she wants to enjoy it and perform well. Open water swimming can be nightmarish, which I can certainly attest to, and because of this, she limits her triathlons to the indoor variety.

Last Sunday marked her third year of taking overall women’s honors at the Try Melon Tri, making her the winningest female in the event’s 21-year history! Not only that, but each of the three years she has bested herself and Sunday’s time of 49:42 was the fastest women’s time ever posted!

The event attracted 88 men and women as well as 18 teams. Way out of Nancy’s league, I posted a 1:05:54, good enough for a second place age group award. Medals are fun, don’t get me wrong, but it’s meeting people like my timer Lisa and especially Nancy that make these endeavors all the more worth it!


Originally published 31 January 2015 in The Observer.

Triathlon: From sprint to 70.3 in 12 months


At this time one year ago I was in the final days of training for my first triathlon, DeWitt’s own Crossroads. Last weekend I completed my first Ironman 70.3 in Racine, Wisconsin.

I’m sharing this not to brag or boast, but to encourage any of you who ever had a whisper of a thought like, “Could I?” to prove to you, “Yes, you can!”

When I completed last year’s Crossroads, my goals were pretty simple: don’t drown, don’t crash, don’t crawl. Time? Reaching that finish line was Numero Uno.

After I finished, I was quite certain I’d do more triathlons and within just a couple of months, with one sprint tri under my belt, I registered for a half Ironman. A couple of my training buddies found it humorous that I’d take such a leap, but given my propensity for action before thought, it made perfect sense to me.

Racine 70.3I am lucky to have a host of local friends who regularly do this type of sport. They are completely to blame, not only for infecting my goals, but also in seeing I achieve them. While some people may have the moxy to train and prepare without the support of others, I am not that island.

So how does a half Ironman compare to a sprint tri? At the Crossroads, the swim is 500 yards in Lake Kildeer compared to Racine’s IM being 1.2 miles in Lake Michigan. The bike is 15 miles of rolling hills as opposed to 56 miles of mostly flat, though bumpy roads with the run being a single 3.1-mile out-and-back route compared with a 2-loop, moderately flat course totaling 13.1 miles.

Because I’d already done plenty of running this year, I cut back my normal running schedule and focused more on swimming and biking. Factor in that I’m an old RAGBRAI’er at heart, even the biking wasn’t too strenuous as muscle memory, even from years ago, allowed me to ramp up my mileage fairly quickly. That, and finally, after enjoying my road bike since 2000, having a “fitting” done.

With several people referring me to Dan Adams at Healthy Habits in Bettendorf, he put my bike on a trainer, watched me ride and then began tinkering. He replaced my stem, handle bars and bike seat, added aero bars and with mere millimeters of adjustment, had me feeling so fabulous I’d swear it was a different bike!

The only thing left was to address my swimming. Throughout the winter, my friend and trainer Ray Porter had dissected and rebuilt my crawl stroke to improve efficiency and power. That’s well and good, but last month’s QC Sprint Tri proved the second I hit open water, anxiety completely renders me incapable of anything other than laying on my back and kicking my feet.

I’m not afraid of the unknown beneath me and while I initially thought it had to do with the feeling of my wetsuit around my neck, is something weirdly mental that seems to only happen in open water. Does it go back to my days as a lifeguard at Wacky Waters when we’d do early-morning lake searches for possible drowning victims? Who knows, but it certainly could.

Fortunately my open water freak outs began decreasing thanks to specific breathing exercises that address the limbic system in my brain where my emotions are controlled. (Like I said, WEIRD.) These, coupled with doing more open water swims at Scott County’s Lost Grove Lake and Lake G, helped get me comfortable in my wetsuit.

But no matter what kind of preparation a person does, once you stand on the shores of Racine’s North Beach and stare at that massive body of water that you’re required to swim in? The prayers come quick and fast.

Fortunately I was not alone in this endeavor as DeWitt resident and local trainer Matt Dingbam of No Limit Fitness and his student (my cousin-in-law) John Melvin, also of DeWitt, committed to the Racine IM, too!

Each of us had our own reasons for doing so and our own goals to reach. And reach them we did! For now, however, I’m saving the experience for next week to encourage you to participate in next week’s Crossroads Triathlon, Saturday Aug. 2!

Whether as a member of a 3-person team or solo, it’s a wonderful event for a first-time tri. It’s not too late to get in on the fun so visit www.crossroadstriathlon.com for event information and registration.

You never know what you can do if you don’t try, or what dreams and goals a tri can unleash!


Originally published 26 July 2014 in The Observer.

Traithlon: Three athletes—one goal—all Ironmen


I’ve seldom met a hair-brained idea I didn’t like, and apparently I’m not alone! Enter No Limit Fitness owner Matt Dingbam and his client-friend (and my cousin-in-law), John Melvin.

Both DeWitt residents and I were among the 2,606 athletes who competed in last month’s July 20th half Ironman in Racine, Wisconsin.

I remember speaking briefly with Matt at last year’s Paul Skeffington Memorial Race during which we both mentioned the I-word. Forget the fact neither of us had an ounce of experience with triathlon, the idea of taking on an Ironman was brewing in each of us.

flat jenny Racine 70.3 2014While I’d run countless races including several marathons, that Skeff Race was quite special for Matt and John. It was their first. EVER.

Their experience in DeWitt, from the cheering crowds to seeing family members on the course, prompted the two of them to sign up for more races throughout 2013, culminating with the IMT Des Moines Marathon in October. From 5 miles to 26.2 miles in four months! Even I’d call that cray-cray!

This seemingly over-zealous approach to running offers us a peak into the psyches of Matt and John. Meeting each obstacle with fortitude, each goal with tenacity, it’s no surprise neither man shied away from the challenge of the 70.3, which represents the cumulative mileage of a half Ironman—1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run.

While I’ve logged thousands of miles on foot and bike, and probably as many laps as far back as college, I had a smidgeon of what would be required of me. Matt and John? Gut instinct, alone.

“I had always thought about triathlons,” Matt told me, “but I had never even road biked or really swam for distance. I decided to ‘Go Big or Go Home’ and signed up for Ironman Racine, knowing I would figure it out along the way.

“Of course, John Melvin followed my lead as he did not want me to do this alone!”

John and Matt knew each other, but it wasn’t until John began attending boot camp at No Limit Fitness when Matt unlocked John’s potential and the two developed a friendship that would transform their goals into a partnership.

Matt came at the 70.3 with calculated training and focus while John brought the grit, fine-tuned by his years in the military.

“I’ve always reminded myself to ‘Embrace the Suck,’” noted John, using a mantra made common by Iraq war veteran and writer Col. Austin Bay.

“The truth is that my preparation plan was changed constantly due to weather, work, family, money and any other reason.”

In fact, John’s work took him out of country to India for three weeks during the final month before Racine. As if the surroundings weren’t taxing enough, the 16+ hour work days prevented any training and it was then that John decided the Ironman was lost.

Perfectly understandable, life getting in the way and all, skipping the Ironman gnawed at John. Yes, the training wasn’t there, “but why not try?” he wondered.

At the last minute, John opted to ‘Embrace the Suck’ at a level few of us will experience. “Using this logic,” he explained. “I’ve been able to adapt to obstacles on and off the course that are always working to keep you down.”

He, Matt and I met up at the Ironman Expo the day before the race and then John and I drove the bike course.

It was during that drive when he verbalized the essence of strength: facing the fear regardless of outcome. Fear of the unknown robs so many from achieving greater heights. Sure John wanted to finish, but it was facing the possibility of trying and not finishing that was his foe.

But is it such a novel foe? Matt, John and I all brought our own fears to the 70.3 table. Turns out all three of us were less than enthused about the swim in Lake Michigan.

“When I arrived at Lake Michigan I got a sick feeling,” Matt admitted. “I could not quit looking at the lake and wondering how in the world I was going to be able to swim 1.2 miles in this huge body of water.”

Though water temperature was a chilly 61 degrees that Sunday morning, we were lucky to have calm conditions and a glass-like lake. Starting in waves divided by gender and age, we each navigated the breath-stealing cold and fell into steady swims that, once finished, buoyed our spirits for the remaining bike and run.

While Matt and I were confident of our abilities on the bike, John faced the real “meat” of this challenge during the ride. Prior to the Ironman, the longest John had ridden was 25 miles. Aside from the common aches and pains every cyclists copes with, John rode a borrowed bike in which the seat sloped downward. This would be his proverbial shining hour, shining four hours, to be exact.

He knew he could probably reach the 30-mile point, and the 13.1-mile run? If all else failed, he could walk it, but those final 26 miles on the bike? It was a giant, looming cloud of wonder that he answered with a ROAR by cruising through those 26 miles and on through the run.

All three of us reached our goals.

For Matt, this was his first triathlon and he finished in 6 hours and 28 minutes. “The sense of accomplishment and ‘runner’s high’ lasted for two days straight!” In the Finisher’s Tent, Matt met Lionel Sander, the overall winner who snagged victory with a time of 3:45.

“Even though I was totally satisfied,” Matt said, “I knew I would need to do a full IM (Ironman) to reach my full goal! At the same time I was thinking this, I got a text from John that said the exact same thing!”

For John, this was his second triathlon and despite the training woes and borrowed bike, he conquered the fear and crossed the finish line at 8:04!

“There was a time when the Crossroads (Triathlon) was the most difficult obstacle in front of me, then a marathon, then a 70.3,” John said. “My point to anyone thinking about doing something outside the box is this: keep moving forward and focusing on your goals. Everything else always seems to fall into place.”

Myself? I came in at 7:03, 27 minutes ahead of my goal! And yes, as with Matt and John, I too have set my sights on the bigger, badder full Ironman: 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run.

Matt put it best, “To be continued . . . when (we) sign up for the 140.6.”


Originally published 2 August 2014 in The Observer.

With the men away, in Madison we’ll play


I’ve seldom met a hair-brained idea I didn’t like. Most of them I let slide, but every now and again you just need to yell a hearty, “Why not?!” This was how my daughter and I ended up in Madison, Wisconsin, earlier this week.

It was totally impromptu and I blame it partly on the people I train with, and partly on lack of sleep due to Sunday night’s storm. The day was supposed to be fairly normal beginning with an early-morning training run. While storms usually lull me to sleep, the massive thunder and light show allowed me to see every hour until 3 when I messaged my running buddy and cancelled.

20140701_151442_AndroidAfter a couple more hours of tossing and turning, I watched my husband ready and leave for a day trip to Ames. With our son departing later in the morning to join buddies for a few days at the Dells, I began weighing a thought that flickered to life a couple weeks ago: Madison.

Why? Because the area offers a great selection of triathlon shops and I’m actually beginning to enjoy this tri business. Though I refuse to purchase a tri bike and am certain I’ll NEVER want an aero helmet, I’m pretty excited about the regular swimming and biking that’s been added to my training.

I’ve been squeezing more open water swims into my schedule and though I’m comfortable in a one-piece swimsuit and Lava pants (capri pants made of buoyant Neoprene) I was recently reminded the water conditions of my next triathlon will be significantly different than the lakes and ponds of Clinton and Scott counties.

Later this month I’m doing the Racine half Ironman and the 1.2 mile swim will be in Lake Michigan. With a current water temperature hovering in the 60s, I need a full wetsuit.

Add to that, my bike could use a new seat.

Rousing Moira from her late-morning summer slumber, she was game for our 3-goal plan: wetsuit, saddle, bike ride.

A mere two hours later via highways 61 and 151, Moira patiently waited while the experienced folks at Madison’s Endurance House walked me through the specifics of owning & using a wetsuit. I settled on a sleeveless number to help alleviate my claustrophobia, not to mention the significant price difference between that of a full-sleeved number.

20140701_134653_AndroidWith the first of three goals accomplished, we searched out our hotel just as dark clouds were gathering. I’d hoped we might check out the Capitol area including Monona Terrace, but with thunder rumbling Moira talked me into a late-afternoon showing of the new Transformers movie “Age of Extinction.”

The movie was enjoyable enough, but the real entertainment was watching my skinny 14-year-old pack away chicken strips, mozzarella sticks and cotton candy. I’m quite sure this aided her buoyancy during our short pre-bedtime wade in the hotel pool.

Tuesday morning’s clear skies set the scene for our next goals and after clearing out of the hotel (and Moira feasting on THREE donuts from Lane’s Bakery in Madison’s Villager Mall) we began my search for a new saddle. Unfortunately, spur-of-the-moment road trips do not bode well for impromptu saddle fittings. We quickly learned reknowned tri shop Cronometro had a calendar requiring 10 days advance notice for scheduling a saddle fitting. The Trek Bicycle Store was about as helpful.

With the second goal a bust, admittedly both Moira and my sails were sagging. As we pondered our third and final goal: 20 miles of bicycle cruising, Moira argued for heading home. Then we spotted a vintage-looking ice cream shop and cut a deal, “Fifteen miles and then ice cream.”

Given Madison’s impressive labyrinth of bike trails, renting a bike was an easy alternative to lugging Moira’s heavy mountain bike from home. We chose to use the lake-side Machinery Row Bicycles where I secured Moira a Trek commuter bike for a base fee of $20 a day.

Within minutes (yes, it was that easy) we were off, pedaling along the shores of Lake Monona, past Olin Park which served as the starting point for last year’s Ragnar Relay Chicago and onto Waunona Way, through Paunack Park to the Yahara River at Squaw Bay.

As we cruised, we chatted. We noted the beautiful homes along the lake, the various smells of herbs, flowers and garbage cans wafting on the breeze, how she might want to try RAGBRAI “once I’m in college” and how her legs were indeed strong enough to make it over the next rise.

She reminisced about last summer’s vacation to Yellowstone and the anguish she felt during our bike ride along the George S. Mickelson Trail in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Moira admitted this ride was much easier and more fun, but added she was tiring. Not wanting to tarnish this positive experience we turned back and logged exactly 12 miles, enough to stretch the legs, re-ignite her enjoyment for cycling and work up an appetite.

After a quick return of the rental bike, we headed to the promised ice cream of Ella’s Deli. When we initially drove past, it was the large carousel in front that caught our attention, but upon entering, neither Moira nor I could process the visual Laughy Taffy that stretched around us.

It was as if Walt Disney and Willy Wonka built a clubhouse! Equal parts “It’s A Small World” and Chocolate Factory with dashes of Tiki Room and Galena’s Kandy Kitchen, everywhere you looked there was something bright and fantastic whirling and moving.

Cable runways strung along walls and across the ceiling for all sorts of characters: Harry Potter swooping along on his Nimbus 2000; a mini Elvis Presley rocking his guitar; Bart Simpson skateboarding overhead. There were dancing peanuts, old timey propeller planes, candy striping and more!

As if the décor wasn’t trippy enough, the menu was a thick, multi-paged binder offering breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as the sweetest confections. We opted for a late lunch, Moira going with a blue slushy drink and fish and chips. I chose a pink, smoothie-like drink dressed with a pillow of cotton candy along with a cheddar and broccoli-smothered baked potato that came with tomato and rice soup.

Despite the long counter of various ice creams, we were too stuffed to indulge ourselves further. As we left Madison, I couldn’t help but question why we don’t visit more often? A mere two hours away, closer than Ames, Des Moines and Chicago, we’ll hopefully have another report, soon.


Originally published 5 July 2014 in The Observer.