I Put On My Big Girl Pants and Got On the Ski Lift at Natural Bridge

Natural Bridge State Resort Park, Kentucky, near Lexington

Do you ever push your personal boundaries, try to blow past your hang-ups? Or, at least take baby steps? I, the person who would rarely turn down a hot air balloon ride, am afraid of heights. That sounds irrational. And partly, it is, but, not like the person who jumps out of an airplane to get over their fear of heights. I’ll jump out of an airplane right after the pilot hands me a ‘chute, and says they’re leaving because they can’t land the aircraft. Why am I okay in a balloon? There’s no “walking through the fire” element for me there. In the basket of a balloon, I can see the condition of all the working parts. I know which weather conditions are safe. I trust the physics (and most Lighter Than Air (LTA) pilots).

My fear is both rational and irrational. My mother is afraid of heights. She never told me that she was, until I was grown and said that I was. Her theory: I sensed her fear, picked up non-verbal cues, and got it from her. Brains do work that way, but still, that’s the irrational part.

The rational part is my fear of things built by the lowest bidder, or a skimping contractor, or that were inspected by someone with things other than safety on their minds. Physical objects fail, and they fail especially badly when they’re not built to code, or maintained to standards. That goes for buildings, bridges, and roller coasters and ski lifts. As an adult, I’ve stood in line for a roller coaster with friends or family and not known, until the very last minute, if I would get on, or wait for them below. Those rides that mimic a falling elevator? I don’t consider them. I don’t even look in the direction of the screams when they’re running.

Sometimes I Deal with My Fear Better than Others

Once, my then husband grabbed me at the edge of a scenic overlook, and pretended he was going to throw me over. I wasn’t dealing with the fear well back then. Go figure, right? Something in him needed to get a big reaction, or maybe it made him feel strong. I don’t really know. After 2+ decades, I stopped trying to understand, or wait it out, and I ended the relationship.

I’ve been better lately, even occasionally wondering if the fear evaporated. I found out the day after the eclipse.

When ever we drive a long way, I start looking for things to do so we can make the most of resources spent. While doing so, I found Kentucky’s Natural Bridge. It became part of our trip plan.

Then, immediately before the trip, I had a collision with a doe. (BTW, when a deer runs in front of your car, the thing to do is look for pals. I did that, but I thought the other one had decided to turn around. Instead, she leapt and hit the back end of my car).

So, I had 24 hours to report and deal with the incident, to remove the pre-packing we had done. Sort stuff that always stays in the car, reassess- If I don’t need it on a road trip, do I need to have it in the car at all? I had to get an estimate and switch to a rental car, then re-pack. Then, I spent the night before we left Georgia tossing cookies and thought I wasn’t even going to make the trip. Russ thought it was stress. So much of life goes to eleven. I decided he was right. The symptoms passed in less than 24 hours without fever. If I wasn’t contagious it was ok to go, but I started the trip wrung out, none the less.

We enjoyed the eclipse with family, played games, laughed a lot and it was good. It was overdue family communion. But, now, I had the edge of a migraine creeping in, and that week before the trip, the week we had earmarked for getting a lot done on the T-shirts, Russ got a diabetes diagnosis. We spent that week dealing with the news and figuring out a lifestyle change instead.

When the time came, we were iffy about the Natural Bridge side trip. It was only an extra 40 minutes drive, but the weather was damp and cool. That rarely puts us off, but did cause us to opt for a hotel instead of pitching the tent. The truth of it is that we were exhausted.

Natural Bridge day was also Russ’s birthday, so I told him to decide whether to go. All things considered, it was near a coin toss, but we don’t make many trips, and being in nature cures some ills, especially those related to stress. We went.

We climbed up to balance rock first. It was beautiful and inviting, but both of us had lead legs and body pains. We usually want the exercise, but the steep grade wasn’t being kind to my knee, which was tired of being in a car. Russ asked if I wanted to take the tram up to the Natural Bridge. I did. We went to that parking lot. I said “Oh, it’s a ski lift.” Russ asked me if I’d be ok, and I said I would.

It was a beautiful ride with spring ephemerals blooming, turkey pecking at patches of feed in the grass, and squirrels scampering about. My nerves started really talking to me when the steepness of the last section became apparent. If I’m going to do this ever again, I need to learn what keeps the the lift seat from slipping on the cable through steep inclines. When the fear starts, I analyze things like how far the fall is. Is it survivable? How far and rocky is the roll after the fall? Is that survivable? If survivable, would I ever be the same afterward? Then, I ask for conversation before I can go further down that road. Russ like most anyone else who is with me, starts to say soothing things about the safety of components to the ride, then I re-direct. “No, talk to me about anything else. It’s distraction I need.”

On Top of Things

As we reached the top, I noted the proximity of the landing ramp to the edge of terra firma and knew that on the way back down, I’ll have to be prepared for it to feel like the ground just dropped away immediately after my seat scoops me up.

The walk from the lift to the top of the bridge was fairly short and flat with trees on either side. Then the top of the bridge was wide and flat, easy to cross and very open. The wind was gusting on this side of the slope with a drop of rain here and there, and I was in residual fear mode. I told Russ to amuse himself at his own pace. I’d be along. His own pace, of course, is with a ready hand at my side. He’s a keeper.

We explored the bridge from different angles, went through “Fat Man’s Squeeze”, (maybe it’s time to rename that?) met another person challenging her own fears, and took pictures for strangers who reciprocated. People on the stairs and through the squeeze were all very respectful of each other. We had a good time, but didn’t stay long. The rain was picking up, and fears aside, we wanted to take the tram down. Hiking down slippery rocks when you don’t feel good could be its own can of worms.

I asked Russ to take this in front of the rocks behind the steeper incline, even though this is my white knuckle look. My arm is behind his because I’m holding tight to both sides so I don’t move in the seat.

On the way down, I settled pretty quickly after the steep section, but never let go of the death grip I had on the bars on either side of the lift seat, even though that grip was shoving my spine into the back of the chair uncomfortably. Wind on the tram side was much lighter, and it didn’t gust at all until we were pretty near the grassy bottom.

I do think I’ll read (or listen to) some books, watch some videos and do some meditations geared toward getting rid of this fear once and for all. After all, danger is real, but fear is in the brain, and it can motivate all kinds of bad choices.

Have a Glorious Day, and we’ll see you on the trail.

Mom! Why is My Skin Red?

Mom wasn’t an anti-vaxxer, she was distracted. I received my smallpox vaccine at school in Texas. I remember lining up in a huge lunchroom, but after that we moved back to the small rural town in Alabama where she and a few more generations of my family grew up. I really don’t know what happened, but the ball was dropped somewhere and the rest of my vaccines didn’t happen at school, or the health department, or the doctor’s office. My vaccine card was also missing Polio, maybe something else as well, but Measles and Polio are the ones I remember.

I was in the 5th grade when it happened. I noticed the rash in the bath at home. I don’t remember how quickly the shift from “not that sick” to “nearly dying” happened or how long I was sick. I remember lying on the sofa in front of TV (no remote, black and white) drifting in and out while Mom was at work. I lost 40 lbs. I remember Mom telling me if I didn’t eat they’d take me to the hospital and stick a needle in my arm. For a long time I remembered the weird hallucinations I had, and the delirious nonsensical conversation I was told about later, but those are lost to me now. I remember my hair falling out like a cancer patient, but only about half of it. Some of it never came back. I wore my hair in braids back then and they were never as thick again. No one else in my class got it. I’m guessing they were all vaccinated. I ate a lot after I got well and became chubby for a couple of years afterward.

I remember Mom telling me I had a really close call, but just how high my temperature got was a little fuzzy. The mercury was up in that tip of the old glass stick thermometer where the numbers end and just a little bit of tube allows the liquid to continue to expand into the twilight zone of “guess the temperature”. As an adult, I wondered if there was a way to figure out just how high it got. I looked up the symptoms and things that happened to me to see if they happened at a specific body temperature. It was disquieting. The phrase “denatured proteins” was in what I saw and it wasn’t very far from the temperature range I’d been led to believe my body and brain reached. The article likened denatured proteins to scrambled eggs for those who aren’t familiar with the term. In fact, the only reason I’m sure my temperature didn’t get all the way to that level is because I’m alive.

Live Polio Vaccines

Shortly before I had my first child, I read an article about an unvaccinated farmer who contracted Polio when his daughter was vaccinated. When I took my son in to the pediatrician to get his Polio vaccination, I asked the Dr to vaccinate me as well. I told him about the article, and about getting the measles after missing that vaccine. He laughed and gave us both the drops. I didn’t mind the laugh. I wasn’t going to get Polio from taking care of my child and that’s all that mattered to me. We don’t give Polio drops in the US anymore. This article from the CDC explains that the liquid drops Polio vaccine can lead to what happened to the farmer in the article and that’s why those drops are no longer allowed in the US.

Catching the measles isn’t quite straightforward. There are some after effects. I wonder sometimes what new research could mean diagnostically to my health, so I look it up every now and then. The linked article talks about a loss of antibodies for other illnesses after having the measles and uses chickenpox as an example.

Shingles

There’s also a relationship between chickenpox and shingles. If you had chicken pox, you take one shingles vaccine, if not the other. While waiting for my Covid vaccine, I remembered that the age recommendations had changed I was now overdue for shingles.

My grandfather had shingles. The last 20 years of his life were marked by pain. He didn’t have the opportunity to take a vaccine. I owe it to his memory to do my best to avoid the pain he suffered, I almost took it first, but felt Covid was more critical (and there needs to be time between vaccinations). At a time when so many people were comparing Covid vaccine reactions, mine was practically nil, but when I got around to the shingles vaccine, I had the strongest reaction I have ever had to any vaccine. I rarely have side effects, but this was enough of an exception that it had me rethinking which vaccine I should have taken. I had the measles after chicken pox, so what if the immune reduction affected me? I finally decided I was ok. When my children got chicken pox, I didn’t get sick, so I must have had enough residual immunity to keep me from catching it again, therefore, the vaccine for people who had chicken pox was the vaccine for me.

All but Two of You Would be Dead

In high school chemistry, the professor told us to look around the room at each other, then said “Before vaccines, all but two of you would be dead.” I was already a believer by then, with personal experience to what missing mine almost meant to me. From time to time, when someone teases me about being distractible or forgetful, I wonder if I did experience some brain damage. I don’t really remember if people started teasing me about my distractibility before that illness, and no one else does either. In some respects it doesn’t matter. This is the one life I have and it’s had some pretty awesome moments that I’m grateful for.

I don’t want to dwell on this, but I do want to learn from it and avoid as much sickness and pain as possible, and I do tell the story fairly often. Measles is dangerous and the effects can compound. All the diseases that have been worth developing a vaccine for are better avoided. I don’t want what happened to me to happen to others. I hope that sharing my story will help people to avoid it.

How Much Could a Bike Ride Cost Anyway?

I’ve spent over a thousand dollars on major bike repairs and gear recently. It sounds like a lot, but some of it was way overdue. I hope I’m good on that for 6 months or so. Time will tell, but I’m hoping I can keep gear and maintenance to a $200 per month level. That will be more of a challenge as weekly mileage increases.

Transportation is the rest of the cost. This project is on a trail for the beauty and comparative safety. On trails, you only find the drivers who would be killers at intersections with roads. The only downside is driving to get out to the trail.

Some people think of the cost of gas as the cost of going somewhere and then never really figure out how much gas it took, especially on local trips. The cost of the car itself seems to get put in some other mental category called “having a car”.

Paying something closer to accurate attention to the cost of driving somewhere is a natural for me though. My father used to calculate the actual per mile cost of every car or truck he owned. Because of that influence, I usually figure that going to a fast food place costs about twice the menu price (ones I like are 15 minutes or so from my home). I’m more attentive than most, but still not as committed to an exact figure as Dad was. For a project like this though, I need to know.

I briefly worked for a company called National Opinion Research Center, (NORC) headquartered at the University of Chicago. They’re famous for opinion surveys, but they collect and analyze all kinds of soft and hard data. They did mileage calculations for the IRS in a manner to make the allowance adjustable. Have you noticed that the deductible allowance changes more often than it used to? Most of that change is due to fluctuation in gas prices because other costs do not fluctuate as often nor as much. The other part of the figure is calculated on the average cost of a car and maintenance. The cost of my car is 20% above average. (I’ve always driven economy cars, but now I sometimes need to carry 5-7 people, two of them over six feet tall). So the IRS figure is what you use if you want to take their average on business mileage. Keeping records and supporting a higher price is what you do if your car is more expensive than average. For this, I’m looking for the best approximation I can get without digging in my files.

The training rides I currently make are quite a bit further than my original plan. Now a ride requires a 96 mile drive round trip (RT) or $56 at the current IRS rate of 57.5 cents per mile. If you add an extra 10% because my car is 20% more expensive than average, that comes to $63.25. I’m currently attempting 3 of those a week, which is $189.75 per week or $796.95 transportation per month, plus the $200 in maintenance and gear for $996.95 total per month. While it is easier on my body to spread it out right now, actually sitting down to do the math increases my resolve to fit my training miles into 2 rides per week instead of 3.

As often as I tend to estimate the cost of transportation as being higher than other people do, the numbers were a surprise to me. And those numbers care about me like the virus does. None. At. All. The numbers and the virus simply exist. What the numbers mean to me though underscores the conflicting feelings that I can’t do this project now, and that I must. It took shelter-in-place to make it necessary to drive 96 miles for a “socially distant ride”, and it took spending time sheltering isolated from my rides and my fitness center to get me over my initial rejection of the idea that I could drive so far to ride. But, it only took that first short ride after sheltering-in-place, to make it pretty clear to me that riding was more important to my immediate health and wellbeing than anything else I could be doing with that same time and money. There’s always a rub isn’t there? I hope I can provide some entertaining footage to people who can’t make the trip.

How to be Karen Without Being A Karen?

That is the question.

It’s a challenge for those of us who are called by a name than has become name calling.

What it means to be a Karen, a Bad Karen, has morphed from simply the “May I see your manager?” type with a bad Posh Spice/Victoria Beckham bob complete with brash highlights, to a broader caricature that is offensive to a larger number of people (with a racial/racist component that kind of blindsided me because I didn’t realize it was a part of it all until the whole birding in the park incident). See this Guardian Article (there are countless others) for more on “Karen” evolution.

Posh, BTW, does seem like a more fitting moniker for a Bad Karen than Karen. Just think about it, from its elitist origins, to its current choice for an ungendered name. What other word ‘come name has a Snopes page about its etymology AND can apply to men and women equally? Because you know deep down Karenhood really isn’t a “girls” only club.

The first “Karens” I personally noticed were not older women, they were teens of both sexes. I used to volunteer in a local high school, and there were some kids who would say whatever phrase (to the principal if they had to) that got them what they wanted. It was never a true statement. It was simply saying the words that made the exception that got around the rules, an unscrupulous manipulation of the system for the purpose of having one’s way. The very epitome of entitled Karenhood, and yes, they probably learned the skill from their Boomer parents whose decades of egocentrism was peaking, or, at least I thought it had to be peaking, right?

Not. The. First. Time. I. Was. Wrong.

“May I see your manager?” can be a fun question if you have something good to say. I once asked to speak to my postmaster, and afterward my letter carrier beamed smiles at me for a year. She smiled bigger than big when she saw me right up until she was given a new route. It can be an important question if you have the right motive. Or, it can be meme worthy if you want a refund, privilege, reward or result you don’t deserve.

 “If you see something, say something” is where the real challenge comes in. We’ve been “Together-Apart” in so many ways since long before the pandemic. Doing your part to be part of a community is a challenge. Sometimes talking to the manager does need to happen when things need fixing. The phrase “If you see something, say something” was promoted by Allen Kay of the New York MTA after 9-11, and it resulted in a real reduction of crime.

We’re about to switch off of “Karen”. I can tell because there are so many articles out there on Karenhood. One of them suggested to just not be a jerk. That is nobler. We need to be involved, talk to a manager, or a representative, or a businessperson when it’s time. We all know there’s a lot that’s broken, and together, as well as apart, we have to fix it.

Just try not to be a jerk.

Ooh, Ooh, That Smell: Safety Planning for the Long Haul

What’s “safe”, or relatively safe, makes a pretty big difference to me and my partner, Russ, as we look at how best to be healthy while planning and completing the remaining 2ish years of this cycling and video project in Georgia and Alabama through the pandemic. Smells never used to pose the same questions they do now. I mean, when I ride by someone who’s freshly coiffed and perfumed, I do still wonder what was the point of getting dolled up for exercise, unless it was a date. Some smells are messing with my chi right now though, especially on Big Creek Greenway.

The original basic plan was to make the project goal on 8 paved miles of the Big Creek Greenway in Roswell and Alpharetta, Georgia. We would ride both directions 2 or 3 times per week for 32-48 miles with the near certainty that we’d get 30-60 minutes of good video for every week with rideable conditions and hopefully capture the occasional spectacular wildlife sighting. Big Creek is the shorter drive from home and the gently curving trail along the streambed is pretty with good habitat for wildlife viewing. It was perfect for the smaller basic plan, “was” being the operative word.

With the Shelter in Place order came change. The bike shops were deemed essential and they sold out. The people who bought all the bikes (and those who didn’t) showed up on trails everywhere straining park staff and facilities and crowding green spaces. The Greenway was filled with people not following social distancing nor mask guidelines, sometimes they even look at us a bit funny when we do. It seemed like we would have to postpone or cancel the project. After a couple of months of staying home, we realized that the project was more important than ever.

By definition, there’s no long standing science specific to any novel pandemic. There are guesses based on similar diseases, and a developing knowledge base that changes as we learn. Mistakes are made in haste and under pressure. Good information takes effort to find and it is hard for people without a science background to interpret or distinguish the good from the bad. People get burn-out, especially with the politicization of the subject. Some are too overloaded to even try to sniff out any answers.

What I’ve been able to find suggests 16-20 yards of separation is probably safe cycling. But, there are all kinds of variables. As Russ and I discuss what we will or won’t do, we’ve had some pretty detailed discussions, and even though we both have science backgrounds, we haven’t come up with the same safety parameters all the time.

One day, I was riding a remote section of the Silver Comet with, maybe, one trail user per mile. A guy passes me easily and when he’s around 30 or 40 yards beyond me I catch a whiff of “he’s been riding for a while”. Body odor or perfume is not something you pay much attention to until there are people dying and you’re trying to figure out how not to be one of them. Smelling smokers and other odors through my mask, especially when riding to, and through, Brushy Mountain Tunnel has caused me to wonder all kinds of things.

The tunnel is really damp. There is usually water trickling down the exterior sides at the entrance, and unless we’re in drought conditions, there are puddles on the tunnel floor. Air passing through the tunnel has been moving eastward since I started paying attention. So, as I come up to the tunnel from the east, I feel cool, damp air with a slight headwind well before I get there. Recently, I smelled a smoker on the far side of the tunnel while I was still at least 50 yards away. The tunnel is 800 ft long (about 267 yards). So I was able to sense particles, some of which came from inside someone else’s lungs, in the air over 300 yards away. I was really questioning that 20 yard figure.

It makes me all the more wary of sharing crowded trails with unmasked hikers and bikers who think business as usual is fine. Russ says “But smell particles are so much bigger than virions…” Well, you know I had to look that up. Turns out he was correct related to smoke particles, but incorrect about most smell particles. But, here’s the thing. Does size really matter? I really don’t know that much about the fluid dynamics and aerodynamics of nano or micro-particulates.

I do know virions like humidity, the kind the south is known for, the kind the tunnel is filled with. Should I be paying attention to smell and humidity? I often take several deep hyperventilating breaths as I approach a trail user, hold it as long as possible while passing and exhale slowly afterward. I have varying levels of success depending on my level of exertion and how soon I saw them. And when the trail is too crowded to have time for that my comfort level riding goes down.

Am I being ridiculous? I don’t know. There are enough variables to drive a girl crazy, even one who’s comfortable with science.

We don’t know that we can be safe, but we do know that strong and healthy is better than weak and stressed. So, as I’m looking at the project and making choices, I’m looking at three things. 1.) If I do get sick, my chances of a complete recovery will be better if I’m healthy and cycling regularly. My health and mental health were going downhill fast during “Shelter in Place”, so, I’m going to do everything I can to get out there and build my health back up, even take it to new levels. 2.) There are fewer people, and fewer unique people on the trail out in the rural areas of the Silver Comet and and Chief Ladiga Trails, so the basic plan needs move out there, even with the extra time and cost. 3.) Much of the stretch plan is already possible. There’s a good chance of a vaccine or better treatments as time goes on, so there is also a good likelihood that the whole plan will be possible.

Edit: The vaccinations make a world of difference to our riding safety confidence, but we’re still trying to be careful. Being better about our health habits will, I hope, be a lifelong new habit… well, it will, but I hope that’s a long mostly disease free life.

Karen Goes and Goes

After changing careers a while back, I was thinking “What next?”. My sysadmin (also my son) recommended Karen Goes as a url that would easily be relevant to whatever I might do next, then next, and then after that. It was just before “Karen” became synonymous with the world’s most heinously entitled women, those exemplifying everything selfishly wrong with people who have “First World Problems”.

So, now that I’m off on another trip, I’m looking at that name. My next project is underway and the title “Karen Goes” is particularly appropriate for a distance cycling name, but I still thought about leaving “Bad Karen” behind.

Then I remembered some advice I gave a person who thought about changing their name legally to keep from being confused with another person. I said make your name who YOU are. I thought about my father’s favorite Jim Croce song too. I had other favorites, but his liking this one made me notice what a really nice song it is.

Like the pine trees linin’ the windin’ road
I’ve got a name, I’ve got a name
Like the singin’ bird and the croakin’ toad
I’ve got a name, I’ve got a name
And I carry it with me like my daddy did
But I’m living the dream that he kept hid

Movin’ me down the highway, rollin’ me down the highway
Movin’ ahead so life won’t pass me by

Like the north wind whistlin’ down the sky
I’ve got a song, I’ve got a song
Like the whippoorwill and the baby’s cry
I’ve got a song, I’ve got a song
And I carry it with me and I sing it loud
If it gets me nowhere, I’ll go there proud
Movin’ me down the highway, rollin’ me down the highway
Movin’ ahead so life won’t pass me by

And I’m gonna go there free

Like the fool I am and I’ll always be

I’ve got a dream, I’ve got a dream
They can change their minds but they can’t change me
I’ve got a dream, I’ve got a dream
Oh, I know I could share it if you want me to
If you’re goin’ my way, I’ll go with you

Movin’ me down the highway, rollin’ me down the highway
Movin’ ahead so life won’t pass me by
Movin’ me down the highway, rollin’ me down the highway
Movin’ ahead so life won’t pass me by

Like the pine trees linin’ the windin’ road
I’ve got a name, I’ve got a name
Like the singin’ bird and the croakin’ toad
I’ve got a name, I’ve got a name
And I carry it with me like my daddy did
But I’m living the dream that he kept hid

Movin’ me down the highway, rollin’ me down the highway
Movin’ ahead so life won’t pass me by

Like the north wind whistlin’ down the sky
I’ve got a song, I’ve got a song
Like the whippoorwill and the baby’s cry
I’ve got a song, I’ve got a song
And I carry it with me and I sing it loud
If it gets me nowhere, I’ll go there proud

Movin’ me down the highway, rollin’ me down the highway
Movin’ ahead so life won’t pass me by

And I’m gonna go there free

Like the fool I am and I’ll always be
I’ve got a dream, I’ve got a dream
They can change their minds but they can’t change me
I’ve got a dream, I’ve got a dream
Oh, I know I could share it if you want me to
If you’re goin’ my way, I’ll go with you

Movin’ me down the highway, rollin’ me down the highway
Movin’ ahead so life won’t pass me by
Movin’ me down the highway, rollin’ me down the highway
Movin’ ahead so life won’t pass me by

I always thought that was written by Jim Croce, but it was actually written by Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel, and I’m such a sap for it. Thanks Dad.

So, about that name change? Nah, it’s my name. And, I’ve got a dream.