“to dust you shall return”

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I’m somewhat superstitious; at least with fortune cookies. I always eat it all before reading my fortune, which recently read: “This is a prosperous time of life for you.” 

I laughed loudly. Prosperous, I thought, was not having to worry about money, riding a born-in-the-last-decade dirt bike and flying to Palm-anywhere city for the weekend.

Prosperity is wealth and financial success; according to the dictionary, 1. “marked by success or economic well-being,” and 2. “enjoying vigorous and healthy growth.”

A few weeks ago on Ash Wednesday, the Catholic Lenten season started so I decided to give something up. This year, instead of giving up something like chocolate or sugar, I wanted to create space for something else (like God) to emerge by trying to see the good (the God) in whatever life brings me. I decided to make it a point to give up complaining, which I had been doing a lot of lately since I haven’t been able to ride that much this winter, and I’m not used to that having grown up in Florida where I can ride year-round. However, part of the reason I moved to Utah was to ride out west and grow in my faith by teaching at a Catholic school.

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Inside the Great Hall at my school.

So, this Lenten season, I stopped complaining. No longer would it be “too far to drive,” “not enough fun,” or “too slow.” (I rode three times in the past month for a combined total of about 2 hours, but who’s complaining?) 

In high school, unless I was grounded from riding my motorcycle or injured from riding my motorcycle, I didn’t have much to complain about. I just lived life to the fullest and experienced as much as I could. When you live like that, you get a lot done.

Life is why

Someone said a bad day of riding is better than a good day at home. Well, yesterday was one of the worst riding days ever. The plan was to meet at my friend Justin’s house at 10 a.m. “Try to leave by 10:15. Ride until sunset or until we are tired, go into Wendover for dinner, then head back to Salt Lake,” Justin wrote.

I checked the weather when I woke up – it was slated to be a perfect day – near 60 degrees and sunny with no snow in sight. I mixed some fuel and loaded up, got my bike in their truck and Justin, his dad and I headed out to Knolls. Pulling in, we noticed a lot of trucks and campers and Justin said he was “almost sad” that winter was over.

I mocked him, “No way.”

“Riding Little Sahara alone was fun,” he said, and I understood. 

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Looking down on the parking area at Knolls

After we parked, we geared up quickly before taking off down a long whooped-out sand trail heading south. I was riding behind Justin and in front of his dad, sandwiched in the middle, just like I like.

Snaking our way through the whoops, trying to find the smoothest line, the next thing I saw was Justin’s rear tire swapping right to left. For a second, it looked like he was going to save it but then the bike high-sided hard and crashed in a cloud of dust. I came upon him and his eyes were open but he wasn’t moving. Justin’s dad pulled up and dropped his bike. Something was terribly wrong. Justin was in a lot of pain and said he didn’t have any feeling below his chest.

Half an hour later, the University of Utah’s AirMed helicopter arrived to take Justin to the hospital. I stood in shock while the nurses and paramedics tended to him. I wondered why was this happening to us; we had barely broken a sweat. I prayed for him, for his dad and for me. By now, a group of people gathered around and offered to help get Justin’s bike and gear back to the truck. I kept thinking back to the last time I saw a helicopter landing at the track – after a friend crashed and broke his neck. I felt the same devastation that I did then, shaking to tears until a mutual friend came over to comfort me. “He’s alive,” I remembered him saying. “We can get through anything now.”

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Once the helicopter took off, I met Justin’s dad at the truck and we loaded up in disbelief of what just happened. We fought back alligator tears driving back to Salt Lake in mostly silence until his dad said: “I’d like to think that getting hurt, situations like these, freak accidents, puts things into perspective but they really don’t. Motorcycles are dangerous but so are automobiles.”

“And bicycles,” I said.

“My best friend in college died riding a bicycle,” he said.

We talked about how every time something tragic happens, everyone always says it’s time to throw the dirt bikes away but life is about adventure. So maybe stuff like this happens in order for you to act on some of the decisions you’ve been putting off. Because you never know.

You might as well do what you want.

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Ride or die

“Can actually ride”

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Sometimes you meet someone and you know within seconds of meeting them that they have a story worth telling. Well, that happened to me yesterday when I met up with a friend to go riding. After we loaded my bike on his trailer, a bright orange truck pulled up with two KTMs and I saw a girl driving but no passenger. She offered to let me ride with her and I thought, “Keep your friends close…”

I jumped in truck and that’s when I noticed this girl was driving with a prosthetic leg. Immediately I wanted to ask her what happened but I relaxed back into my seat for the 90-minute drive to Knolls Special Recreation Management Area: “Nearly 36,000 acres of sand dunes, hills, and mud flats located in the Great Salt Lake Desert.”

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Fresh desert air and 50-degree temperatures

For most of the day, I stayed behind her not knowing where I was going and she led us around last year’s desert race course, which was still pretty tough and beat up and thus made for excellent training. The snow was pretty much melted if soft in some spots, and we bushwhacked through the desert trying to avoid long sections of desert whoops. Across some of the flats, my little 125 was tapped out where she was only in third or fourth gear but I tried my best to keep up. When we got back to the truck, we talked for a bit about hitting the next race together. She told me she was thankful to meet a girl “who is cool and can actually ride.” I said, “My thoughts exactly.”

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Struggling to sweat

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“If you feel something weird, that’s good. If you feel something good, that’s weird.”

I’ve been having a hard time coming up with things other than bikram to write about since I haven’t been riding and I don’t do much else besides work. And, despite bikram yoga founder Bikram Choudhury’s recent sexual harassment lawsuit in which he was ordered to pay $6.5 million to his former legal adviser, I’m still a fan. In the last 30 days, I counted 15 bikram yoga classes and, while I haven’t really noticed any changes to my physical being, (I should have taken before and after photos), I feel a lot stronger mentally and more centered. It’s a lot easier now to keep my mind from taking over and remember that everything is temporary.

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The view from my classroom sure has changed
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The best thing about inversion is the killer sunsets!

Bikram is the hardest thing I’ve ever done besides racing enduros and hare scrambles in the Florida heat, and it’s been taking the place of dirt biking since there’s too much snow on the ground to ride anywhere around Salt Lake. Plus I can’t see myself driving 4 hours just to ride for 2. So, I’ve been sweating it out inside instead and I’m sad my 30-day challenge is behind me. My last class was probably one of my worst in terms of feeling like I was going to pass out, but the day before that, I nailed every posture. The best part of the challenge was having those 90 minutes all to myself in “open eye meditation” on my own body in the mirror. I learned something about myself every class and came to appreciate my instructors giving me small correction; I knew they could tell I was taking it seriously and trying my hardest.

“Smile. It’s only yoga,” they said.

It’s way more than that.

 

 

Riding through the clouds

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If I take more than a day off from bikram, it’s almost like having to start over with some of the poses and all the progress I made last time. Or, I’ll get dizzy and lightheaded when I never did before. Still, either way, every time I make it to the mat, the class is almost always full. The goal, the instructor says every time, is to stay in the room, “but if you do have to lie down, do it.” In the past month, I haven’t lied down yet, but people do. My goal is making it to class three to four times a week. So far, so good.

On Sunday, I met up a new YZ250X-riding-friend – one of the few people I’ve met who are willing and able to ride in sub-40 degree temps – and we drove out to Fivemile Pass and burned some two-stroke fuel. It was my first time riding across completely snow-covered terrain, which I guess is kind of like skiing (even though I’ve never been.)

Usually, when I’m out riding, I can go as fast as I dare, but not in the snow. It’s risky riding across what felt like a foot of snow up to my foot pegs but was probably only 6 inches. I underestimated not being able to see the bottom and crashed a bunch trying to weight my rear wheel while controlling my front end according to no real trail ahead, navigating across meadows of powder only marked by rabbit prints. It takes a special kind of rider to just go for it; it’s a different mindset blazing your own trail through fresh powder rather than trying to stay in a slippery rut. Still, no matter how cold you are, freedom rings riding motorcycles.

“There was a star riding through clouds one night, & I said to the star, ‘Consume me.’” – Virginia Woolf

Thought upgrade

I spent Sunday morning unable to ride my dirt bike anywhere around this frozen tundra so I found myself walking into the Mountain Life Church in Park City for the first time. I was welcomed with warm greetings and outstretched hands from smiling strangers at the front door, which was held open for me. The sun and blue skies probably had more to do with my smile than anything because of how bad the inversion in the valley has been lately. Inside the lobby, more people welcomed me with a handshake as I noticed others helping themselves to free coffee, water and juice. The laid-back vibe was just what I was looking for and once Pastor Scott started his sermon about kicking off the New Year thinking the best thoughts – our brains process more than 70,000 thoughts per day on average – I knew this was right where I belonged.

Last night at bikram, I arrived just a few minutes before class started and found a spot on the back row before settling into Savasana aka corpse pose.

Once the instructor walked in and noticed how crowded the back row was, she volunteered me to move to the front row right next to her. I hesitated. “What? You’re ready for it,” she said. No more hiding, I told myself as I moved. After the first 30-minute standing series, we take our first water break aka “party time” before finding our way down to the mat for our first Savasana. My mind started to wander about all the things I wanted to do and write – this blog – my words coming easy and flowing fast. The instructor must have noticed since I was lying about two feet away from her. She reminded the class: “Bring your awareness back to the breath. In through the nose. Out through the nose,” she said. “Try to stay in Savasana,” which is hard for most of us to do. She referred to it as the “monkey brain,” and said, “Just try to just keep it quiet for a little bit longer.”

Bikram can be a daily practice, if you stay hydrated enough, even though some students worry that they might get bored doing the same postures every day but there’s actually so much to each of the postures that every day is different.

Later, I was trying to get into the Fixed Firm Pose that just kills my ankle, which she must have noticed that, too, because seeing that I was in pain she told me to back off a little and then reminded the class not to do anything that might make them cry. “Just be patient with yourself,” she said. “If there’s one thing this practice is good for, it’s patience.”

I kind of half chuckled to myself when she said that. Patience is my word for this year. My dad said it best:

“Settle down with what life brings you and not with what you want. You will be overwhelmed with happiness.”

New year feels

Well, I finally did it: I joined a bikram studio in Utah. I don’t know why it took me 6 months but I made it to my mat four times last week, which is more than I can say since this summer in Asheville.

Bikram, 90-minutes of 105 degree yoga, is “One of the most intense forms of body shaping…and is taught in 1,600 studios worldwide.” It’s the same order of 26 postures anywhere you go, which is a bit of a comfort for someone like me who gets anxious when I don’t know what to expect. As much as the workout is always the same, my body never is. The first class is always hard adjusting back to the heat and humidity, especially during winter in Utah, so I went back the next day and it wasn’t my lungs that were hurting; my shoulder started popping halfway out of socket every time I put my arms over my head. Ouch.

I took it easy on the third day and by the fourth day, my shoulder was stronger and no longer my biggest worry. Now, it’s all about finding a moment of stillness in every posture. I’ve had three instructors at the studio, all women, so far, and the room is usually packed with at least 30 others of all ages, shapes and sizes. One of the instructors must have sensed I was new because she came over during one of the postures and helped stretch me a little deeper:

It was the floor bow pose, which is one of those postures that makes you feel open and vulnerable. Then she told the class, “You might want to push a little harder if you’re not feeling anything.” She reminded us that every day, you learn something, and it might be something new or it might be the same thing over and over again; you will leave old aches and find new ones, and tomorrow is an accumulation of today. She left us with this quote:

“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” – St. Francis of Assisi

Still searching

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It’s been 30 days since I turned 31, and it’s almost taken me that long to figure out what growing old will be for me. Everyone says, “In your 20s, you figure out what you want, and in your 30s, you go get it,” or, “Your 20s are a mess and then you turn 30 and everything changes.”

For me, I spent the first year of my 30s getting rid of things I don’t want and in the last year have said goodbye to more homes, jobs and personal items than I imagined. In terms of materials things, chalk this last year up to a loss, for sure. But as for my emotional awareness, I’ve been reading up on welcoming my emotions as teachers: “The longest journey that you will make in your life is from your head to your heart,” the author writes.

When I flew to North Carolina on Monday, the first official day of Christmas break from the high school, my sister picked me up from the Charlotte airport, after pinning it from Florida just in time for my arrival, and I drove us the two hours to Asheville in pouring rain. It’s rained pretty much ever since, except yesterday; we made a day at Grandfather Mountain, hiking hours down the most strenuous trail on the map.

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The Grandfather Extension Trail started around 5,000 feet.

I thought about my focus with one foot in front of the other – Pop’s hiking boots I wore were hooking up solid – and I took the lead, more confident than usual about the unknown journey in front of me.

Marry a mountain girl and you marry the whole mountain.

 

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Gone goes November

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I set some records this month in traveling to Florida twice – once for work and once for food, family and friends. I turned 31 on Friday and, instead of freaking out, I am just trying to focus on entering my early 30s with patience and gratitude. My friends tell me your 30s are the best decade of your life – I’m so ready! Just yesterday I rode in the snow for the first time ever – more on that later.

On the plane to Florida for Thanksgiving, I finally finished reading “The Untethered Soul,” a book on “the journey beyond oneself” and the basic decision to be happy no matter what. This year, I’m not only a year older, I’m a year wiser and a year closer to achieving my goals (Ph.D., publish my novel, ride…) Life isn’t about how much I make; it’s about what I make of it.

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Yesterday, I tested myself by agreeing to go ride in 20 degree temperatures. Ride or die, right? So, I layered up and hit the sand dunes, which were covered in fresh powder. It was an interesting sort of motorcycle ballet letting the bike dance under me while trying to find traction between the sand, snow and ice patches.

I was grateful to break a sweat ripping across snow-covered sand whoops and happy to have grown up riding Florida’s deep sugar sand, learning how to stand up, float my weight and steer while staying on the gas and keeping my feet up. After all, sand, like life, can be challenging and will control you if you let it; when in doubt, gas it out!

More speed = less sink.

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