It’s fitting that my essay appears in the back of the Globe and Mail, on the same day that Stephanie Nolen’s byline is on the front page. Back in King’s J-school, she would submit her flawless article at the same time I was in the back of the class asking when it was due.
A step ahead, that girl. Stephanie’s success was as predestined as Justin Bieber’s fall.
Another chasm of note: her article is about the suspicious death of a prosecutor in Argentina, mine is about the experience of being bitch-slapped, in a manner, during facials.
Look. It’s not high-minded stuff, but before you discard me as intellectual wasteland, relatability, in this day and age, is worthy of broadsheet space, too. Profound insights and waterfall music are not mutually exclusive.
There is a class where cycling and souls collide. Since I mentioned class, I can hardly believe it; classes, especially of the fitness variety, not being my thing. But this was a class unlike any other. It inspired a wardrobe – I’ll get to that.
Close your eyes and imagine a hip hop concert, a yoga class, and a bicycle ride all mixed together in a sweaty stew. The bubbly mixture is simmering on the best burner on your stove, a pinch of salt away from Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica. If you smash your plate after you lick it clean, shards will hit the Pacific Ocean.
Like everything else in LA, this stew is gluten-free, and it fortifies your resolve while you sweat out negativity. Natch.
One-two-one-two-unh, says David, the leader of this SoulCycle class and guru. He has four candles burning around the pedestal that holds his bike. He is part dancer part drummer part cyclist on his chariot. His feet spin so fast he looks like the Roadrunner.
I didn’t know spinning required coordination. With David’s class, it does. One-two-one-two-unh.
David asks us to turn our knobs to the right, but he doesn’t like to call this turning up the resistance. He prefers turning up the courage. David challenges us to go deeper. I’m hyperventilating, but I’m under his spell. If this is a religion, sign me up. I’m a disciple of David. Oh, hang on…
No seriously, my arms are buckling under my one pound weights (don’t laugh), but I will. Not. Stop. Because David is two feet in front of me, off his bike and watching his perfect self in the mirror.
The playlist meanders from smooth hip hop remakes to Billy Jean and baby, we are sweating in the dark, the wine I drank the night before is seeping from my pores in pool of regret underneath my bike. Unbelievably, an acoustic version of Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams is followed by Philadelphia, and David tells us that when he heard this song this morning, as he held his baby, he burst into tears, because so many people don’t see the beauty in this world that is right in front of them.
Under normal circumstances, you might think, like I might, flakey. But in the mecca of SoulCycle it was touching.
And so I was moved to buy a t-shirt on the way out. Like when you’re leaving a concert, and you feel the need to commemorate the moment. Bottle the vibes and keep them for future whiffs.
Yeah, I got soul, and the t-shirt to prove it.
Taken in isolation, a 1500 meter swim isn’t hard. A 37 km bike ride is certainly not daunting. And a 10 km run? Please, I could do that in my sleep. Backwards.
So entering my first Olympic distance triathlon, I told myself, was nothing to write home about. (Sorry about that, mom.) It would be an interesting experiment, a way to celebrate my year of finally learning how to swim, Phelps style. (Because in my mind’s eye I swim just like him.) It would be – and I really thought this – easy.
And what better place to spend a few hours splashing around than Squamish? Fresh from the running Whistler Half Marathon in early June, I put the Squamish Triathlon on my race calendar for early July, enabling me to wallow away the remainder of summer nights reliving my triumph over copious glasses of Pinot Grigio, until it was time to cheer on my (crazy dedicated) friend Chrissy and her (crazy dedicated) buddy Steph in the #Ironman late August. You know, a real triathlon. The big show. At which point the celebration would kick up a notch.
Typical me, I under-trained and paid the price. But you just never know until you try. So. Now I know.
Still, a very cool and gratifying experience, if heavy on set up time (and supposedly training time, who knew?). I balked when the website requested athletes be on site at 7 am despite a 9:30 am start, to set up transitions. My sleep requirements go way past the beauty, and verge on the sanity, so this threw me off. Unlike running races, there is no fall-out-of-bed-get-yo-ass-to-the-start.
And transitions remained a rather murky concept to me – what did I really need for each one? Towels, food, iPhone to text for help? I hated the thought of needing something I hadn’t thought to leave myself. What if I was bored out of my mind and craved music for my run? What if I needed a cheeseburger after the bike? Or a bed to rest in? What then?
I managed to figure it out by simply attaching myself to a couple that seriously looked the triathlete part (sculpted cheekbones and Oakley’s) and were so in love with each other that they didn’t notice me skulking around them the entire time. And beside them at each transition. Stalking has its advantages. I watched them hawk-eyed as they hung their bikes and carefully laid out a tiny towel on which to put their accessories. (Me: folded my beach towel to look tiny and placed socks and gels inside my shoes, just like the beautiful couple, then stealthily put my sandwich I’d prepared to the bottom of my bag before anyone noticed.)
There seemed to be a discrepancy as to wear a wetsuit or not, but when the charming ones donned theirs, I donned mine. I could use this duo in my everyday life. Decisions have never been so easy.
A fellow swimmer didn’t crack a smile when I asked him if he’d mind zipping me up – hard on my ego, but then those swim caps aren’t for everyone – but redeemed himself my giving me a few tips. And then I realized he was gay, so redemption all around! He encouraged me to get in that water and warm up so the start will be less biting, and to swim wide of the buoy markers to avoid the traffic jam. Noted.
My game plan was to hang back and swim wide of the chaos, in my own little world. And so I did, zigzagging myself towards buoys (sighting still not my strong point), and by the time I’d reached the second of the three turns, I started to get into my groove. Basically, just in time to get out of the water. Which would be the theme for the day.
So I made some mistakes. People flew out of transitions like they were on fire while I debated eating my Cliff bar. I had to stop and ask the crowd for directions on the bike, and asked a competitor, how many laps are we doing again? By the time I started the run (what were my words, in my sleep, backwards?), the relief I expected to feel (finally, my sport, this one I can do!) never came. Instead, just point me to the finish line please, I want this to be over.
And so with 1 km to go, and my legs finally beneath me and my stride lengthened at long last, I missed a pesky rock on the trail and took one on the chin. Literally. Sailed through the air and landed on my chin in front of two volunteers, shocking them out of their engaging conversation, in my best Jack Tripper imitation.
So there was that.
But also, there was this: Accomplishment. Pride. Sweat. Happiness. Triumph.
And the best part was that my two biggest cheerleaders, my girls (my oldest away with friends so MIA), were there every step of the way, and were more excited than myself when I finished.
Success, and love.
Never bite off more than you can chew, they say. ‘They’ are generally unnervingly conservative, however, so I tend to toss out those words of wisdom with the bathwater. Forget about the baby. Instead, I embrace the idiom ‘seize the day’. Spoiler alert: seizing the day is exhausting.
Being a tourist is hard work, and I made one key rookie mistake while visiting NYC. My plan to not sleep while visiting the city that never sleeps was more than a little daft. We arrived in Newark at 11 pm, and by midnight were seated comfortably in a bar in Soho. At 1 am we were seated for dinner. When 3 am rolled around, we rolled down the street to another bar. The story has it we arrived back at our hotel at 5 am, but I can’t verify that with any conviction.
The three-hour time change notwithstanding, this was a victory. This is the kind of stamina I haven’t seen since my university days. However, unlike those moments as a student when I would bounce back from those typical Tuesday nights, I spent the rest of our time in New York recovering from this initial binge; whereas that was supposedly only the beginning. Not the first time in my life my best laid plans have backfired like Lindsay Lohan’s attempts at rehab.
My nocturnal challenges aside, I feel like I grew because of this trip, and not just in waist size. Truthfully, big cities are not my thing; I am as uncool as I sound. Concrete jungles only make me long for the solitude of my North Shore mountains. However, eight million people live there for a reason, not just to check out the view from the Empire State Building. Amongst our fantastic dining experiences, we went to a rave and watched some incredible performance art that you didn’t need to be high on E to appreciate (just wine). We went to Cindy Sherman‘s exhibit at the Moma, a woman who has photographed herself in various forms of disarray over forty years and has the breadth of work to prove it – a brilliant satire of life as we know it, and more thought provoking than I can explain with mere words. We saw The Book of Mormon on Broadway – if I say uproariously funny will I sound like the pamphlet they handed me when I stepped into the theater? Truly hilarious, what else would you expect from the creators of South Park? The New York Public Library featured an exhibit on the letters and manuscripts of Percy Bysshe Shelley, whose real life played out like a soap opera well before its time. A little gallery of heaven right there.
These experiences, easily, were the highlights. The things I will hold close to my heart and take with me past New York and beyond. The rest was tourist play. Why I can run easily run ten miles, but have great trouble walking a couple of miles worth of city blocks is one of life’s great mysteries.
I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a vacation, but visiting New York was invigorating in a different way. You might say the Big Apple took a bite out of me, instead of the reverse. But I chewed as much as I could in my attempt to seize the day, and I was happy with the contents of my Granny Smith.