August 3, 2016

I Don't Chase Storms ~ Storms Chase Me!

I am not one of those people who see a life threatening tornado and drive straight towards the danger zone.  Risk assessment requires the mental capacity to measure the magnitude of potential loss and the probability that it will occur.  When I see a major storm brewing, I tend to run the other way. 

There is no doubt this sounds like an introduction to one of my why I am still single stories. You know the terrifying tale of the psychopathic crane operator RD Choke who should be choking on something in jail for stealing my identity, like his criminal father before him.  Or the stalker-boy Hike-Ike, whose genetic anger monkeys should have him placed in a mental hospital, like his crazy mother before him.  We can't forget the Narcissistic Bish pilot. Wait, is that Bush pilot? His false self has me so confused.  

Sure, these storms are mine and they are frightening, but this tale happens to be about a real storm.  Ya know, the kind that crashes a party with frozen pellets, rain bullets and an acoustical display of electrical fury. 

On July 27, 2016, record breaking temperatures in Las Vegas were a merciful 115 degrees, tying for the same record high in 1943.  I had plans to hike in the Mt. Charleston area of the Spring Mountains.  The forecast called for thunderstorms in this mountain range and record high temperatures in the Vegas Valley.  My assessment determined that this combination of probable natural occurrences would yield a fun factor of some negative number. 

My good buddy Whore-Hey and I came up with a last minute plan to abandon the local scene and head to the neighboring State of Utah, where the temperatures were cooler and sunny skies were in the forecast. We decided on attending a Heritage Festival in Pine Valley, Utah, and then driving to Toquerville, Utah, where we would set up camp near the falls. 

Whore-Hey was a half hour late to the meetup location, claiming to hit all the red lights.  This was just a precursor to the series of comical events to unfold, or series of bad decisions (whichever way you want to look at it), that turned into an 18-hour adventure from Nevada to Utah, back to Nevada, back to Utah, and then back to Nevada. Seriously!

We drove to Pine Valley in search of a Heritage Festival.  The event was posted on a public forum, with a physical address and driving directions, albeit crappy instruction at best.  The address was 100 E. Main Street, just east of the Chapel.  We followed the written directions and drove back and forth on the Pine Valley exit before resorting to the smartphone. Google maps sent us several miles down the highway to Enterprise, Utah.   We drove back and forth on Main Street and all around the streets surrounding the Chapel.  Needless to say, we never found the Heritage Festival. 

Lesson Learned:  All Mormon towns have a Heritage Center, an address of 100 E. Main Street, and a Chapel. 

Next stop on the agenda was Cedar City, Utah, to pick up a few supplies for camping.  Well, not before driving back to Nevada.  We drove back and forth through the small town of Enterprise enough times to get disoriented.  Asleep at the wheel, or hazy skies (again, whichever way you want to look at it), we drove to the end of town and continued driving on W. Crestline Road until the road forked and turned to dirt.  We continued on the dirt road to a point that appeared to be past the point of return.  It would have taken us just as long to drive back to Enterprise to connect with Highway 56 then continue on the back country roads.  We crossed over the Nevada border, continued driving dirt roads (literally in the middle of nowhere) that eventually led us to Highway 93 just north of Caliente, Nevada.  I didn’t mind the diversion. It was a nice day and there was a cooler of grapefruit shandy to pass the time.  

We discussed driving to Beaver, Utah, to scout the area for a future event.  We already had a plan to camp in this area the following weekend and map a route to Delano Peak. But we were so close and estimated that we had a couple of daylight hours to spare.  The drive along Highway 153 is scenic. We drove through the lower campgrounds to document amenities.  When we arrived at the grassy meadow, known as Big John Flat, we quickly decided that we were going to camp here.  It was so beautiful! 
It only takes one small decision to create a cluster fuck, and usually only clear in hindsight.  I am torn whether we should have set up camp, only to have woken up to snowfall the next morning, or continued on our journey to find the unmarked trailhead to Delano Peak.  We chose to continue our drive up Big John Flat road, crossing several creek crossings, before locating the trailhead.  Our chance of setting up camp was waning fast.  We turned around and started our descent in search of dry ground when the mountain rumbled, saying How dare you leave me!

As soon as we were back in cellular range, we checked the weather forecast to determine where we were going to camp for the night. What do forecasters know anyway?  We expected sunny skies afterall. The forecast now reported 20% chance of rain in Beaver, with zero chance of rain in Cedar City and Toquerville.  Driving off the mountain we were pelted with hail and teased with rain.  As we reached Beaver, a dark blanket of storm creeped overhead.  Just head for the bright light!
Within a couple miles of the Cedar City exit there were a few drops of rain on the windshield.  We agreed there was no chance of setting up camp before the storm.  The weather forecast updated to 80% chance of rain in Beaver (yeah, we could have just told you that), 20% chance of rain in Cedar City and zero chance of rain in Toquerville.  Fine. We're camping in Toquerville.

The description of Toquerville Falls reads "an oasis in the desert that is best found by truck, SUV, or ATV. The road is rocky and rough, but well worth the trip". It's hard to say what conditions rate as rocky and rough until you've driven the experience. Jeepers-creepers, let's just say the road to Toquerville Falls is cousin to Rocky Gap Road in the Red Rock National Park. Once we reached the Falls, it truly was a beautiful place to camp.

The plan was to set up our tents fast and hunker down for the night.  No sooner than pulling out our tent bags, it starts raining.  Fuck!  Gusts of wind whirl fine dirt in the air.  I lay out my tent footprint and weight down the corners with firewood.  As I turn around to grab my tent bag, the winds blows my footprint away.  I recover it and lay it out again, this time securing the corners with rocks.  Haha! I’m smarter than the average camper.

The rain is starting to pick up.  I’m torn whether to keep putting up my tent and get wet or find my rain jacket and risk getting my tent wet.  My vote was for getting my tent up and keeping my sleeping quarters as dry as possible. I pull out my tent poles and as fast as I can snap them together, my tent bag blows away. Once I recover my tent bag, I pull out my tent and the wind carries it in the air, whipping back and forth like a flag.  Although this display didn't leave me with a patriotic feeling.  

I digress.  This task is going to take some effort and so I go searching for my rain jacket.

Returning to the task of supreme tent master, I secure my tent poles and as I'm pounding the first stake into the ground, a gust of wind picks up my entire tent into the air.  Both me and tent are now wet and covered in a layer of fine sand. Fuck-Fuck!! I stand like a pouting child, face covered in gritty dirt, plastic mallet in one hand while holding my tent from blowing away with the other.  We need to leave!  Whore-Hey agrees without further discussion.  With little care, we roll up our tents into a wet mess and toss them into the back of the car.

Within minutes of leaving the Toquerville Falls, lightning strikes all too close for comfort.  The sky drops huge rain drops, hitting the ground with such force that it sends flumes of dirt shooting several feet in the air.   And we still have the dreadful rocky road to traverse in this crazy thunderstorm. God be with us. 
The rain is now coming in sideways, like bullets hitting the car.  Lightening dances in the sky all around us; a beautiful display of twirls, bursts, and bolts.  My stomach is in knots.  I apply humor to the situation to mask my frustration and fear. If I die from a lightening strike, at least people will say I died doing the things I love.  No, not chasing silly boys, nor storms. Remember, storms chase me! 
And chase it did! All the way back to Nevada. The storm did not let up until we passed the exit to Valley of Fire, which is less than an hour from Las Vegas. I made it home just before the stroke of midnight.  This camping princess sits defeated. I can feel the fine dirt between my toes and under my fingernails, as I scratch my scalp to the sound of grit. I desire a shower and a comfy bed, but first, I reach in the cooler and pull out an ice-cold beer.  Defeat doesn’t taste so bad after all.

June 14, 2016

Rocky's Raccoons

"I'm going on an Adventure" said with the inflection of a Halfling from the epic fantasy adventure film The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.  When it comes to adventure cycling, the best part of the journey is the unexpected. There is no plan for where to stop for food, what to cook for dinner, or when the first beer of the day will be consumed.  There is no guarantee that the ones you start the ride day with will be the ones who accompany you to your destination.

We decided on a three day weekender tour, along the ventured and trusted route from Santa Barbara, CA to Los Angeles, CA.  We have all done this route before, with the exception of Whore-Hey, who is an adventure cycling virgin.

Day One:  The tour started out as expected, closely adhering to the +1 Rule of Adventure Cycling; whatever the desired timeline may be, always add at least one hour.  This rule maintains harmony in the group.  Like when one person is still tearing down camp when all others are ready to roll, or when we all gather on the day of departure and one person has to go back home because he forgot his wallet.  It’s times like these when the initial gut reaction is to call FUBAR.  Nope.  You get one hour to fix that shit.  

The meetup location was the M Casino, Las Vegas NV, Northwest outdoor parking lot that faces Las Vegas Boulevard, at 6:00am. This is also the same parking lot where we park for local bike rides, so everyone should know where to go, right? Of course, it couldn’t be that easy. Fancy Phil and his son, Jayden, got dropped off at a nearby convenience store. This sent our two drivers to collect them. I assume both vehicles were dispatched, as it wasn't certain which vehicle would carry the tandem bicycle they were riding.  Me and Greggo carpooled together, unloaded our gear, parked my car in the garage and rode bikes back to meetup spot.  We waited. It took another twenty minutes of phone calls and text messaging to get all persons, bikes and gear bags to the rally point.  This is when I decided that the first shot of whiskey would be consumed as soon as we got on the Interstate 15 southbound to California.  My reasoning was two-fold; whiskey feels good in my belly, and after the first shot I am guaranteed not to be asked to drive. I hate driving through Los Angeles traffic. So why are we doing a cycling tour that starts and ends at the Los Angeles Union Station?

We held tickets on the Surfliner, 12:50pm train, heading from Los Angeles, CA to Santa Barbara, CA.  We arrived at the Los Angeles Union Station with one hour to spare. This is outstanding, we must really be getting good at this!  On my first tour of this same route, we arrived at the Union Station with just a ten minutes to check our bags before boarding the train.  On my second tour of this route, we didn’t have even one minute of time to check bags. We ran, pushing our bikes through the station, for the train doors to close only seconds after boarding.  On my third tour of this route, our train ticket did not include a bike reservation so we made the last minute decision to reverse our route and ride northbound. Little did I know, until this last experience, that there is a reason adventure cyclists from all over the world ride the Pacific Coast Highway, North to South...and not the other direction. Because headwinds suck.  

Ahhhhh, but the silver lining is often in the lesson learned.  These experiences taught me that there is no reason to check bags on the Surfliner, not ever.  Nobody is enforcing the carry-on bag limit, and if you forget to add the bike option to your train ticket (of which there is NO additional charge), there is nobody checking how many bikes board the train either.  With such knowledge and time to spare, my mind drifts.  Why the hell doesn’t the Union Station have a bar?  Where the Union Station failed, the Surfliner prevailed.  Not long after finding our seats, an Arrogant Bastard found its way into my hands.  No, silly, we are not talking about one of my x-boyfriends. 

Arriving at the Santa Barbara Train Station, we met up with Kona Kelly.  He packed light and rode a touring bike built of stealth-mode materials.  This is great!  Fancy Phil has someone who can keep up with him.  The first ride day was a short eleven miles to the Carpenteria State Beach Campgrounds.  Kona Kelly and Fancy Phil in the lead; caravan of Sutra’s trudging behind. 

Anticipating the unexpected, I was unanimously banned from the camp kitchen (aka the picnic table).  The reason for my exclusion was for spilling Rocky’s special mushrooms and dropping a steak in the fire pit on our last tour.  In my own defense, the mushrooms were still edible and it was my own steak that was coated in ash.  Once again, the silver lining can be a wonderful thing.   

Rickster:   Cyn, I heard about the dinner mishap on your last tour.

Cyn:  Yeah, I dropped my steak in the fire pit.

Rocky:  And you knocked over the jet boil.
 We had to salvage mushrooms from the planks of a dirty picnic table. 

Cyn:  Yeah, that too. But we still ate them. So, what’s the problem?

Rickster:  You are not to step foot near the camp kitchen.
  Don’t’ touch anything. Don’t even look at us.  Just set up your tent, sit in your camp chair and drink wine. 

Cyn:   Hmmm.  (smile on my face)  
My mind drifts to a scene from the movie Hangover where Alan threatens an old man at a gas station for looking at his classic automobile,  ‘Don’t touch it.  Don’t even look at it. Go on. Get out.  Don’t look at me either.’  (laughing out loud now) 

Rickster:  Damnit, Rocky, we've been tricked!  

Dinner was great.  The camp chefs cooked steaks and vegetables on the grille.  As I am beckoned to join the others at the dinner table, I raise my camp cup to a cheers “…and we eat like Kings (pause) and a Queen”.  Sometime during dinner I managed to cut a knuckle with my steak knife.  It was a small cut and didn’t even bleed. By the next morning my knuckle swelled, puffy and red. In fear of the health risks with infection, and the potential risk of losing the most important finger on my right hand, I am now further banned from cutting my own steak on future tours. Oh my gosh, this just keeps getting better and better! 

Day Two:  Our day started off with a breakfast of champions.  Rocky made grilled brie cheese breakfast sandwiches with strawberry jelly, and Carolans and Coffee. This was a nice start to the fifty miles that lay before us to reach the Leo Carrillo State Beach Campgrounds.  As we set around the breakfast table, we laughed at the tale of the pillaging raccoons who were trying to get into our bags the night before.  The story was told, just as it was witnessed from my tent window, how Rocky paced around the campgrounds in the middle of the night saying “fuck, fucking raccoons”. 

It was a long day of cycling, making stops at Starbucks, the hot dog stand, fruit stands, grocery and liquor stores, and the convenience store to fuel up and get lottery tickets.  This is what puts the Tour in the Adventure.  

It's common to talk to a lot of people on a tour.  The usual questions asked are “Where are you headed?” and “How much does your bike and bags weigh?”  This was the first tour where cyclists passing by were also asking if we were part of a cycling club.  After the third person asked us about our club name, Rocky replies “Rocky’s Raccoons”. We laughed about this the rest of the day, discussing what our club jersey will look like. Will the raccoon be a bad-ass like the character in the film Guardians of the Galaxy?  Will the raccoon be carrying an axe strapped to his bike pack, like the Rickster? Do we dress up the raccoon like a Camp Butler or just show all his furry parts? Is Rocky the Raccoon Whisperer?  

We arrived at the Leo Carrillo campgrounds in time to enjoy a salmon dinner cooked over the fire. Camp chair in one hand, camp cup filled with vino in the other, we ventured to the beach to enjoy the remaining daylight hours. One conversation was Rocky sharing with us how it feels when others are ready to roll after packing up camp, and they just stand around, silent, arms crossed, staring at him in disdain.  I guess I didn’t realize until this moment that the +1 Rule of Adventure Cycling is really just a way of silent scorn.

Day Three:  This was an epic adventure on several accounts.  Not only did we pedal upon a club name, but for the first time in my history of adventure cycling, Rocky was not the last one to pack up camp. Over the past few years, and several bike tours, our group has not only grown in size, but we share a common phrase that encompasses all the goofy shit that happens on an adventure:  Fuckin’ Rocky!  This phrase is muttered often, especially when Rocky is in set up and tear down mode, stuff sacks strewn all over the campgrounds. Our group has seriously considered getting this printed onto t-shirts. On this day, Rocky got to experience what it felt like to stand around, arms folded, as he watched his Raccoons get their shit together.

On the final day of our adventure, we split up into small groups as we rode the thirty miles to Santa Monica, CA where we met up for lunch at Back on the Beach Café.  On past tours, we dreaded the miles from Venice Beach to the Los Angeles Union Station; eighteen miles that felt like eighty.  We were all too excited to learn about the new Expo Light Rail.  Nobody was opposed to cutting the ride short. We jumped on the Expo Line on Colorado Avenue just off the Santa Monica pier, getting off at Vermont to catch the Red Line to the Union Station.  It was a longer train ride than anticipated. Although, I would rather be on a train for fifty minutes than riding the caravan through downtown Los Angeles, where the homeless invite me to camp with them under an overpass. If they only knew how much money we spent to live from our bicycles, would we still appear destitute?  
It was June Gloom in California.  The temperature was in the exhilarating 60’s, day and night.  On the drive home we took a toll on what the thermometer in Baker, CA was going to register. This is the world’s tallest thermometer, built as a commemorative landmark for the record breaking temperature of 134 degrees in Death Valley.  As we approached Baker at dusk, the needle beamed 106 degrees. 

As I stare off into the horizon, my mind drifts, thinking of the next great adventure.  The mountains are calling to me, and so I must go.

February 11, 2016

But First, Love Yourself

My reflections of the past year sound like a repeat of stories long told, about a hopeless girl still wading through the muck in Singleton, looking for her prince charming but unwilling to kiss a lot of frogs to get to her castle. This past year was a good year. It was a year of love.  It was also a year of self-discovery. Just when I was starting to think that I had it all together, I am reminded that I still need a lot of work. This past year has taught me the meaning of “self-compassion”.  It takes a mindful, emotionally intelligent person to execute a life of compassionate love. But where I have succeeded, I have equally failed.

Compassionate love, for me, is like riding an emotional teeter-totter.  It’s easy to judge others when dealing with one's own flurry of emotions and feelings.  It’s easy to have our feelings hurt by others who take our love but don’t give it in return. On the flip side, it’s easy to be grateful when we are overflowing with good fortune and bliss.  I teeter back and forth between my own matters of the heart; being mindful and compassionate when I’m up, and feeling betrayed and victimized when I’m down.  I realized that no matter how much compassionate love I surrender, I was still unhappy not receiving the same in return. 

Buddhist teachings are centered on the Four Noble Truths.  The First Noble Truth being - life is suffering.  To live we must suffer.  We all endure suffering, from physical sickness to basic emotions: desire, fear, anger, loneliness, shame, disappointment, happiness, love, etc. If suffering is part of living, then why let the roller coaster of emotions make for unhappiness?  This is so much easier to say, than do. Only when I can say that I have mastered the art of suffering, will I possess the tools to enable me to move on to greater enlightenment. And so, on my life journey, I have decided to take the kind gestures and affirmations that I bestow upon others and invest the same in myself. 

There is no shame in knowing what I want in life and living with the conviction that I will treat myself the way I want others to treat me.  Some people strive for the next promotion at work, others to play a musical instrument. I encourage and support their accomplishments. That I seek a romantic love story, that ends in happily ever after, is no less noteworthy. Why am I not entitled to the same encouragement and support, without judgement?  Friends say that the "problem" is that I'm too this-or-that:  too picky, too desperate, too independent, too negative, too intimidating. Really?  Or is it that I don't choose to settle for less than what I'm willing  to give. 

I have redefined the altruistic principle "do unto others as you would have them do unto you” to "do unto YOURSELF as you would have others do unto you”.  

But First, Love Yourself. 

Some of the more profound words that I read last year came to me through an e-newsletter. It was a random Monday morning. I recall this day being a low for me. The night before I fell asleep with eyes wet from tears.  I prayed for a message, and for serenity.  Checking my email the next morning, the words jumped off the screen, “Leave if Your Love Hurts You”. Was this the message I prayed for?  The words resonate in my soul, leaving a painful mark that feels a little like hope.  

Leave if your love hurts you.

Leave if it is always more pain than it is joy.
Contrary to what they'll tell you, love does not make the world spin around.
You can want someone, baby.
You can want them until you're raw.
That kind of longing can turn you into water after a live wire has been thrown into it.
It can turn you into the hand holding that wire, but that doesn't mean it's right.
Don't hang around just because you're scared that you'll never feel that kind of electricity again.
It's not true, it never was.
The thing is, you were made to be touched by hands, attached to a body that finds itself at rest when it's with you.
That finds itself quietly trembling when you're together.
Those hands need to come with gentle words and an honest mouth.
A mouth that says your name in a way that sounds like the very definition of "falling".
So don't take less than that.
Don't take half of that.
Above all, if it hurts, go.
You'll fall in love so many times that you'll lose count and it'll shake you.
Tiny vibrations like tectonic plates with every stranger who you looked into the eyes and made your body feel new. 
Find a love that makes you feel new, and better.
Always like you're moving and staying still at the exact same time. 
Grow, expand, and if it hurts, leave. 
     ~ Azra T. 

This new year, I am going to try new things.  And if not new things, I am going to try old things, a new way.  I am going to first - love myself.  I may take up a new sport or learn the art of making sushi. I may foster new friendships and gracefully let go of those that were not meant to be. I may rekindle the love that I struggled so hard to hang onto, or write a dating profile that will surely get more reads than my blog. This may not land cupid on my doorstep, but at least I’m putting myself out there saying, 'hey, this is me'. 

People are afraid to be vulnerable; to say too much, show their feelings, or feel too deeply. When the fear of emotional injury keeps me from opening up, I will remind myself that being vulnerable is not about showing the part of me that is polished, but accepting and revealing the part of me that is kept hidden. If I share my genuine self with others, and I am met with rejection, yes it’s going to hurt.  I will remind myself that rejection hurts, love does not. 


August 5, 2014

Axiom Does Not Earn an 'A'

Once you have the determination, it takes just a few things to take up adventure cycling as a recreational sport. You need to acquire a tour bike, the right cycle/tour/camp gear for your desired adventures, and panniers or a bike trailer to carry all your gear. I was already seasoned in camping and backpacking, having all the lightweight camp gear required, and so my transition from road warrior to adventurer was relatively inexpensive. I was only a tour bike and pannier bags away from spinning my first cycle tour.  

When I bought my Kona Sutra tour bike, I went to my favorite local bike shop in Las Vegas that promotes adventure cycling, Southwest Bikes, and said "sell me a tour bike!"  The Sutra had a learning curve and took a few minor adjustments to get it dialed in properly, but I couldn't be happier with my new caravan.  

Similar to my bike purchase, I went to the same local bike shop and asked the trusted sales associates which panniers to purchase. Of course they are going to promote the product line their shop carries. At the time of my interest, the Axiom panniers were offered and superior to the shelf product that this brand recently replaced.  

Unlike my bike purchase, I did not make an impulse buy. I did some comparative shopping and read extensive product reviews and bike forums.  The Las Vegas area does not have a large adventure cycling community and so I didn't have many trusted friends to interrogate. Each brand of panniers that I researched had its pros and cons. There was only one brand that had just one downfall ~ the price. My trusted bike shop did not carry Ortlieb at that time, instead offering the best of the lessor products.  

Axiom Performance Gear has a wide selection of pannier bags and their website has professional video tutorial's showing the functionality of their products. The panniers appeared to be stylish and functional so I took the plunge and bought the full Modular Grand Tour Series:  two front bags, two rear bags, and one tent pocket, at a cost greater than $600. After a few local overnight tours, a multi-day tour of the California Pacific Coast, and a week-long tour of the Oregon Pacific Coast, my product review is that Axiom does not earn an 'A' rating.
I purchased one set of Modular Grand Tour 45's for my front panniers and one set of 60's for the rear.  These bags offer some great features.  They are waterproof, which makes it convenient when riding in humid or wet climate. Having to put rain covers over your panniers makes it difficult to get to your gear with any ease.  I spent an entire day riding in the rain along the Oregon Pacific Coast Highway and these bags and my contents stayed completely dry. The clip-n-strap system turns your storage into a quasi-compression bag. You can tighten your panniers down and loosen with ease. The external pockets come in handy for items that you want to access frequently or for the quick drop of cold weather items, such as full finger gloves, arm warmers, beanie and most importantly quick access to your flip flops. These external pockets are also removable for shorter tours where they may not be needed. And where safety is concerned, these bags are bright, can be seen by passing motorists, equipped with built in fabric loops for attaching your rear lights and the Axiom logos are reflective for added protection.

The Axiom Modular Grand Tour product line however, falls short is in several areas. The internal and external zipper compartments are practically useless. Internally, they are hard to get to with any ease and any items that you would want to carry in these pockets would be more easily accessible in your handlebar bag or external zipper pocket. But when the bag is full of gear and fabric extended to the seams, the external pockets don't give room for access, rendering them unusable as well.

The bungee cord system worked brilliantly on my Kona Sutra but if you don't have a bike designed for this kind of attachment then you may have a tough time securing your bags to your bike.  This could result in losing a bag when you hit a bump in the road. The flip-lock system works great to keep your bag in place, again, if the bag design fits your bike.  My front bags locked in place but due to the design of the rack on the Sutra my rear bags could not be secured properly. On my first tour I nearly lost a bag and had to use extra bungee cords to hold the rear bags in place. During a cycle tour your p
anniers will be taken on and off the bike often. Having to struggle with so many bungee cords to secure your bags is not only time consuming but it's frustrating when your ride partners are ready to roll and you are still fucking around with getting your bags properly attached to or detached from your bike.

The worst design in the Modular Grand Tour product line is the Tent Pocket.   The only thing that makes me feel better about this purchase is that, in my life, I've definitely spent more on less.  As much frustration as I've had with this tent bag, I have surprised myself that it hasn't been tossed in a creek bed with the velocity a pissed-off golfer chucks his club after missing a shot. My rational thinking is that I will continue to wait patiently for Axiom to make good on their lifetime satisfaction warranty.

I first used this Tent Pocket on a 2-day tour of the California Pacific Coast, carrying only a tent and tent stakes in the bag. My tent is a 2-person backpacker that weighs 2 lbs. This is hardly a lot of weight. The Tent Pocket is designed to connect to one of the rear panniers, replacing the external pocket. From my first use, this bag would not stay attached. Just in case you think it may have been 'operator error' my trusted ride partner, who is also the local bike shop owner where I purchased this product, couldn't get the bag secured. Several times this tent bag stopped our ride because it was dragging on my bike tire or on the ground.  
A fellow adventure cyclist provided a temporary fix by securing the tent bag to the rear bag clip with a zip tie.  It worked, but then my tent bag was permanently attached to my rear bag until such a time that I could cut the zip tie.

I used this Tent Pocket a second time on a week-long tour of the Oregon Pacific Coast. The only thing I placed in the bag was a sleeping pad and tent stakes. The sleeping pad was much lighter than the weight of my tent on the previous tour. This tent bag was, once again, connected to the rear pannier by use of a zip tie.  On the first ride day the pull of the tent bag broke the plastic clip on my rear bag, now making it impossible to attach the tent pocket as designed.  This was the day that I added a second item to my don't leave home without 'em list:  duct tape, because it has a zillion uses, and now extra bungee cords.  

Rocco had brought with him just one bungee cord and since he wasn't pedaling Axiom panniers it just happened to be available for my use. This makes me many fucking bungee cords does it take to complete a cycle tour pedaling Axiom panniers?!? I'm better off taking a wild guess at how many licks it takes to get to the center of a tootsie pop. Not only is this Tent Pocket completely useless but now one of the clips on my rear bag is broken, I can no longer attach the external pocket to this rear bag, nor can I properly secure either of the rear panniers to my bike due to design flaw. For the money I paid for this collection I definitely expected a tad bit more excellence in product quality. 

Considering the pros and cons of these Axiom products, my suggestion for consumers would be to make a more educated purchase than I did.  For my Kona Sutra tour bike, a better set-up would have been the Axiom Modular Grand Tour 45's or 60's for the front, something like the Ortlieb Back-Roller High Visibility panniers for the rear, and to buy a bottle of scotch with the money saved on the Tent Pocket. For your particular tour bike design, you may want to spend less on something that gets you from point A to B, saving yourself the agonizing post-purchase rationalizing, or spend a few more dollars and be happy that you bought Ortlieb.  

Good luck with your cycling adventures!

May 1, 2014

It's Not All Splatter

When I look back over the past year, through all the tears and grief, the residual image in my mind is that of splatter.  It's kind of like red flags, only flags are meant to serve as a warning sign. The splatter represents the road map to my broken heart.  I connect the dots in my mind, and apply my own psychological splatter test.

Motivational life speakers,, say that it all matters in the end…every blessing, mistake, tear, smile, laugh and struggle. They say that “the seemingly useless happenings add up to something.  The minimum wage job you had in high school.  The evenings you spent socializing with colleagues you never see anymore.  The hours you spent writing thoughts on a personal blog that no one reads.  All of this has strengthened you.  All of his has made you who you are today.”

Some of life’s lessons are meant to be painful.  In the last year, I lost a lot.  I loved the best man I have ever met.  I lost this great love to the heavens. My time with John Wayne was some of the happiest days of my life; without him the saddest.  With equal conviction, I also endured an Emotional Vampire who goes by the initials R.D.  He preyed on me at my time of weakness.  He was charming and cunning, powerful in the dark, and unable to see himself when he looked in the mirror. This vampire nearly sucked the life out of me. Mental health professionals would label him a Psychopath; a predator who takes advantage of others using charm, deceit, violence or any other method to get what he wants. I lost this love interest to expectations. 

Some people come in your life as blessings. Some come in your life as lessons.
Mother Teresa
I believe that expectations are the root of many failed relationships that have crumbled around me; be that in self, friends or family.  My theory on Rising Expectations is that men’s expectations of women continue to grow over the duration of a relationship until man's ideal image of a partner eventually becomes unrealistic.  In the beginning, he just wants a woman who is attractive arm candy, gives up sex on command, is not needy or clingy, and allows him to maintain his secrecy and independence. If a woman has these basic traits then she is a keeper. Then his expectations begin to rise over time until he no longer finds his partner desirable and he's either running away or dipping his stick in the office egg. 

Over the course of a typical relationship, man's expectations continue to grow to expect women to read their mind, build their self-esteem, and continually stroke their ego (and their man tool).  Man expects his partner to manage her own finances but not question where he spends his money or if he pays his fair share in the relationship, let him go out with his friends but not ask for the same investment of time in their union, say all the right things - all the time, be a good girlfriend/wife/mom, plan the vacations, tend the household chores, keeper of the dirty laundry, do the grocery shopping, cook the meals, and rub his tired feet when they both get home from a day at work. He expects her boobs and ass to stay forever firm or he should not be judged for looking at others that are more pleasing, that she should be a total freak in the bedroom and if performance is not to his satisfaction then it's acceptable to turn to strippers and porn to fulfill his fantasies, or simply just have another relationship on the side. 

If the woman questions any of these behaviors, then she is labeled as 'controlling, needy and psycho'.  He will say  I love you  with such conviction but behind her back he will tell his friends that she's only good for a fuck and refer to her by nicknames like "Cynthiapath". Trapped in his own web of deception and lies, he must then devise an outrageous breakup strategy to save face, which is nothing more than a disguise to keep everyone from finding out that what he is really up to is stealing her identity! This particular story happens to be pulled from my own bank of life experiences. Yet others continue to ask, which such judging curiosity, why it is that I am jaded?

I feel comforted to know I have a divine spirit looking out for me, especially when I'm not in the frame of mind to look out for myself.  John Wayne has visited me in my dreams. Maybe it's just my subconscious mind that chooses his image to be my messenger. After all, I did love and trust him best. In a dream John tells me where to look to reveal RD's deceptive lies. John first said to me "his heart is in Tahoe".  I didn't know what this meant. Eventually, it was revealed that the liar maintained a relationship with his babies mama. She lives in Reno; the two of them share a dream to have a home in Lake Tahoe. I brushed this off as a very strange coincidence until I had another visitor, only this time in the form of a motherly figure. This figure and I sat in chairs, facing each other.  I did not speak. She repeated "everything he says is a lie". And so I watched and listened, tolerating RD's abusive disposition; prying only by way of verbal inquisition. To be reasonable and fair, I trusted his responses to be truthful. After all, he could have meant anybody.

The last time John visited me in a dream he said "it's in the phone".  I didn't understand this cryptic message until the opportunity presented itself some months later. Yes, I snooped on RD's phone without his permission, just like he was stealing my identity without mine!  The process was slow to transpire.  I would ask to use his phone to take a picture, for example, and he would have excuses like his camera card was full or his battery was dead. I would watch his behavior and when he was around me he would turn his phone face down and wouldn't leave the room without taking his phone with him, yet I dismissed this red flag along with all the others. 

It was only a short time later that I made a grueling discovery. Over a period of a few months and on multiple occasions, he had managed to crack the code on my gun safe and had been criminally photographing my personal documents; social security card, birth certificate, names and social security numbers of my children, bank statements, check routing numbers, every page of my divorce decree, medical records, prescription bottle labels, legal documents, envelopes that showed previous addresses, documents with my signature, etc. I will accept my share of the responsibility.  I had after all trusted him to be in my home while I was at work. My date of birth was also my safe code, which didn't take a hacker wizard to figure it out.  My part was poor judgement and stupidity.  His part was psychotic and criminal! 

What on earth was this crazy asshole planning on doing?!?!  Was he premeditating murder and a way to devise some cover-up? Unlikely.  Was he planning on selling my identity to one his hiking buddies or construction workers? Probably. He already peddles his own piss on job sites so why wouldn't he sell my identity?  What person in their right mind would do this to someone who they claimed to love? A Criminal Mind ~ is the only answer! 

What I have learned from this experience is two-fold.  If love is true, it will last an eternity; through life and death! Secondly, you should always trust your gut. You know, that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach is actually your head talking to you.  When that voice says *something isn't right* ~ investigate!  Because an honest person will have nothing to hide. 

Getting back on the subject of expectations.  The expectations that women place upon men is pretty simple.  From the beginning of a relationship, women want a commitment from a strong, loyal, honest, sexy (to her), mad-monkey-alpha-male-lover who will be the protector of her heart.  She wants to feel that her man loves her, is attracted to her, and that she finally found her ‘end all love’ in life. She wants someone to love her like Jesus does, or her Mother, or whoever else she labels an unconditional love guru. Fast forward months, years, or decades into the relationship, where her partner has put on 20+ lbs., balding...more, replaced all motivation to nurture the relationship with desire to watch a cooking show on television, pets his dog instead of her kitty, continues to talk about the gorgeous cheerleader he dated in high school because he still sees his own reflection in the mirror as the buff football stud that he never was, and has taken to masturbation because it’s just a whole lot less effort than pleasing the woman before him. When this emotional abuse happens, the woman still wants what she always wanted; a man who will be the King of her Heart, commit to love her and treat her as his Queen, and be the protector of their castle.

It's approaching closer to two decades now that I have been wading through the muck in Singledom.  Damn, I'm getting old!  Over the years I have listened to relationship experts give advice.  I have listened to my friends tell me that my expectations of a partner are too high.  Why can men have rising expectations of women and mine should wane, I argue? I have listened to my married friends tell me how they wish they were single.  I have listened to my single friends ponder where the men of marriage material have gone.  There was a period of my single years that I questioned if I were not the common denominator in my failed relationships. An honest observation led me to challenge myself to let go of reasonable expectations.  I convinced myself that acceptable attributes in a potential partner should not be his views on marriage, religion, finances, or future plans that he wants to make with me.  I convinced myself that I should not ask his values on honesty, monogamy, sexual compatibility, family, charity and community. Does he have a job or at least employable?  Does he have all his teeth?  Can he lift heavy things? Will he carry my rocks on a hike?  Does he understand that Vino is most definitely a food group?  Ahhhh hell, as long as he understands the later then we should be golden, right? 

Wrong!  What I have learned through self-discovery, and I am still learning through experience, is that ‘expectation’ is the common denominator in the demise of my relationships. So, I guess this really does make me the common denominator in my relational lessons. And I’m okay with that. In letting go of expectations in a relationship, I welcomed into my life partners who exhibit very disturbing behaviors: commitment phobia, love avoidance, paranoia, poor communication, betrayal by omission, addictions to work/drugs/alcohol, depression, dishonesty, immaturity, short-tempered, self-centered, anti-social, narcissism, sexual incompatibility, or erectile dysfunction (that will become the woman's job to cure like she's some dick genie). Discounting values and expectations of a romantic partner devalues self-worth and eliminates the most critical components of a successful relationship – Commitment, Communication, and Compromise.  Without expectations in a relationship, it just makes for a total crap-shoot if two people’s realities will actually align.  

Expectations are meant to nurture our individualism, provide boundaries on what is acceptable and unacceptable in a relationship, and serve as an indicator when it's time to step the fuck away. Good communication and honesty builds intimacy and trust, sexual compatibility creates harmony, and emotional intelligence provides the tools to be able to empathize and compromise.  These are the legs upon which a loving and committed relationship stands. This is the love and commitment that I hope to find again.

To take away such fundamental variables will cause any relationship to eventually crumble and drive one partner bat-shit-crazy trying to hold it together. So why do I do this  ~ drive myself bat-shit crazy trying to anchor a fleeting ship?  Over the years I have also become somewhat addicted to self-help books. I remember a summer staycation at Mandalay Bay with a good friend. We were in the hotel room getting ready to head to the pool. I brought two books for reading: Bicycling the Pacific Coast and Facing Love Addiction. My friend picked up the books, and in the same nature that a bible thumper would impose their Christian beliefs on another, she says “Cyn, you are NOT taking this book 'Facing Love Addiction' to the pool. This is a red flag.  No guys are going to talk to us if they see you reading this book!” We shared a good laugh, instead taking with us a bottle of wine. 

The closest I have come to self-diagnosing this perplexing question has been to identify with having a Love Addiction Personality Type. There is no other explanation for why I would let the Real Douchebag's of society into my life. Love Addicts assign a disproportionate amount of time, attention and value (above themselves) to a person to whom they are addicted. They have unrealistic expectations for positive regard from their partner. The most conscious fear for the Love Addict is abandonment which comes from childhood experiences where the child was physically or emotionally abandoned and/or neglected and did not experience enough intimacy from their abandoning caregivers. This creates a self-defeating dilemma of love addiction in adulthood where the end result is tolerating a partner who is emotionally/physically/mentally abusive, all the while coming up with reasons to justify staying in a toxic relationship.
Love Addicts are subconsciously attracted to people who have a close resemblance to those childhood influences that created their fears.  They are generally attracted to the Love Avoidant Personality Type. Why? Most simply put...because a Love Avoidant is what feels familiar. Love Avoidant's evade any intensity in a relationship, create addictions outside the relationship (e.g., drugs, alcohol, work, recreation, endless projects), and avoid sharing emotions or any form of intimacy. Love Avoidant's will put up walls to protect themselves instead of establishing healthy boundaries with their partner, and at the first sign of feeling engulfed by the relationship, the Love Avoidant runs away.  By rejecting intimacy the Love Avoidant protects himself from feeling controlled and keeps the Love Addict constantly chasing after his fleeting love. 

Love Addict and Love Avoidant personality types cannot have a healthy relationship. Love Addicts, like myself, should form relationships with mature and secure individuals.  But how do we know if a potential partner is mature and secure until we experience a period of discovery? On the other side of the coin, Love Avoidants need to do what they do best - avoid being in any form of relationship or find another Love Avoidant personality type. But how dreadful that would be for two people to be constantly avoiding and running away from each other?

The painstaking realization is that my attraction to the Love Avoidant is a subconscious desire to fill the dark hole in my soul left from childhood; a subconscious belief that through a love connection I can somehow erase the memories of a father who did not love me or show me even negative attention, a mother who neglected me to nurture an abusive, raging-alcoholic stepfather; parents who did not teach me love and support but how to live with the constant pain of abandonment, and struggle to find comfort and esteem. Chasing after the love and attention from a Love Avoidant is a subconscious drive to seek out positive regard from a partner who treats me the exact same shitty way as those who created this darkness in me. 

It takes darkness to be enlightened!

I love with my whole heart.  I love this about me.

I feel lucky that I can identify with my own issues.  I don’t blame others for the hand I have been dealt or the mistakes that I have made.  After all, making mistakes in life is as certain as paying taxes; nobody gets to evade either. But I don’t always get it wrong.  I have, after all, got it so very right before and I know what it looks, tastes and feels like. It's likely that I will always suffer from some level of love addiction.  Understanding this dynamic of how and why I make relational decisions provides me with the knowledge and tools to better serve my well-being.  I do not need "help" or "years of psychotherapy" as the tattoo artists of my splattered heart so eagerly want to prescribe.  They are the fools who cannot self-evaluate and self-prescribe.  There is nothing wrong with me that need "fixing". I am perfectly imperfect.  I do not need to "seek professional help" because I believe the greatest gift in life is to love, and be loved in return.  I do not suffer from "low self-esteem" because I have made some poor relationship choices or that I have nurtured or struggled to hang onto such empty promise. 

Everyone experiences pain, grief and suffering. We all wake up each day with some sort of challenge or obstacle to face.  To each of us a story, and they cannot all be about good times and noodle salad.  When I look back on my life, especially this past year, I see the joy and pain endured, and that which I have shared or inflicted on others.  I see the mistakes that I have made and the injustice I have suffered.  I see the great love that I found, embraced and ultimately lost.

Emerging from the ashes and anguish, I embrace a place of calm. It is in this place, the center of my being, that I feel gratitude for all the joys and accomplishments of my life.  It is in this place where I find myself capable of forgiving those who don't ask for forgiveness, or arguably, don't deserve it.  When I redirect my focus away from life's misfortunes, I feel blessed to have good health to ride bikes and enjoy the great outdoors, to have two beautiful and healthy daughters, two handsome and healthy grandsons, and to have the support of great friends who love me just as I am.  I will continue to navigate through life with strong values and a solid moral compass. When my charter gets off course I will take out the needle to my compass, sew up my broken heart, and continue with my pursuit of love and happiness. It's not all splatter.