xmlns:og>='http://ogp.me/ns#'> Pedals & Pencils: April 2010

April 30, 2010

Castles, Cows, and Rocks: Cycling in April

Dear friends and family,

April blew by in a rush of wind and rain, but when the weather cooperated, the sights from my bike were the kind that made me pull over and drink in the beauty that unfolded beneath my tires.

273 Miles

I set out to ride 400 miles this month and fell dramatically short.  Weather was uncooperative, but also my month was filled with writing classes and the only thing I love more than riding my bike is writing.  So, the goal of riding 400 miles is my carrot for May.

1 Herd of Scottish Steer

On Easter morning I went to my Gramma's church. (Yes, it starts out as an Easter story and ends with cows.  That happens more than you'd think on a bike.)  Where was I?  Yes, Easter morning at church.  Easter morning was particularly hard in the wake of my grandmother's death.  It's always a day brimming with emotion for me anyway, what with the whole Christ rising from the dead thing.  It moves me to tears, but the fact of the matter was that I was also profoundly aware of the separation between my grandmother and myself.  She is in Heaven.  I am on Earth.  The time and space between us crushes me.  And so there I was a weepy mess because of the goodness of the Lord and the profundity of my heartbreak.  What's a girl to do with all that raw emotion?  Work it out on the bike.  Terry and I yanked on our spandex for the second annual Easter ride with my Uncle Jon.  I say "second annual" because I'm hoping it will become a third and fourth and fifth annual Easter ride.   When I travelled with my grandmother, we had three daily goals: to see something new, to meet someone new, and to eat ice cream.  On that Easter afternoon we stopped at a convenience store where I met two men who marveled at how far we'd ridden.  It was only a short ride for me, but I took care to puff out my chest and throw my head back in my best superhero pose to properly accept their accolades.  Meet someone new?  Check.  As we rode, I brought the bike to a screeching halt.  Okay, not a screeching halt because I never ride fast enough to make my tires screech, but you know what I mean.  I stopped my bike and yelled "What are those?!?"  To my right were large, hairy, straight horned animals.  They had the body of a cow and the hair of a yak.  My uncle calmly replied "Cows.  They're cows."  I eloquently said something like "Nuh uh!"  They were Scottish Steer.  They are the coolest looking cows I've ever seen.

See something new?  Check.  And that night, we ate ice cream.  It was the perfect cure for missing my Gramma.

2 Stinky Jerseys

There comes a point in a cyclist's life when jerseys take on a life of their own, a stench of their own.  A point when they stink straight out of the washing machine.  A pair of my jerseys had reached this point and I had only two options: burn them or find a solution.  I don't even know if jerseys will burn.  I imagine they just glow and then the flame extinguishes itself in the face of all that neon.  I clicked around and found a website that claimed the smell was from bacteria living in my jerseys.  Things living in my jerseys?  Blech.  Let's all just put our head between our knees and breathe for a sec.  The website suggested washing the infested items in hydrogen peroxide.  So into the wash they went with a healthy pour of hydrogen peroxide.  And they came out all bright and sparkly.  I bravely held one up to my nose.  Know what I smelled?  Nothing.  And nothing has never smelled so good.

2 Insects

I rode East toward Whitmore this month, out next to the fields of volcanic rock spewed from Mt. Lassen.  It was beautiful.  There I was marveling at the views when I spotted a butterfly headed toward me, flitting through the air, rising and falling in the breeze.  I thought of how butterfly wings are powdery and delicate.  I watched the butterfly pick up speed.  I watched it pick up speed and hurl itself right into my helmet.  It make a surprisingly loud "Thwap!" against my helmet, shook itself off and flew away.  More power to you, kamikaze butterfly.  I do not possess such positive feelings about the second insect.  I was standing in my driveway after a ride with Terry when something began biting me inside my jersey.  I rushed into my open garage, shoving my bike against the wall and yanking my jersey off while screaming at Terry "Something's biting me!  Something's biting me!  What is it?  Do you see it?".  He did not.  He could barely keep a straight face as I stripped down to my bra and spandex and yelped like a crazy woman.  I never did see the thing that bit me, but I did catch a glimpse of my neighbor across the street chuckling in my direction while he mowed his lawn.

1 Castle

Somewhere in Millville there is a small castle by the side of the road.  It has a sign that says "Look in here." with two eye holes.  I peered down into the holes and saw nothing except a pool of water.  I swept back the ivy twisting along the top of the castle and was delighted to discover that it's called the Blarney Castle.

In the front of the castle, there's a sign that has been washed away by time and weather.  I tried to find the story behind the tiny castle.  Who built it?  What was I supposed to see?  Does it have anything to do with the real Blarney Castle in Ireland?  It remains a mystery, one I'll have to investigate further as I ride by it again next month.

1 fifteen Passenger Van

A mile or two from home, I rolled up to a four way stop.  Perpendicular to me was an approaching 15 passenger van with the license plate KID MKR.  If you take populating the entire earth as a personal challenge, that's your prerogative.  It's not my bag, but to each his own.  After stopping and waiting my turn, I proceeded with caution through the intersection.  I say with caution because Mr. KID MKR was busy policing his multiple back seats and couldn't be bothered with a pesky stop sign.  He would not have even looked up had it not been for Mrs. KID MKR, who upon seeing me, swatted at him with a rolled up newspaper.  He stopped and looked at me like I'd appeared out of nowhere.  Mr. KID MKR, it's obvious that you and I differ on our ideas of how to responsibly populate the planet.  And that's okay with me.  It's okay with me right up until the point when you start easing the overpopulation problem by taking out cyclists.

$493 donated so far

Thank you Christine W., Heather F., Jill S., John, P., MaryKay S., and Sallie C.  I appreciate your support and generosity.

$1,507 until I reach my goal

If you'd like to make a donation to the Lance Armstrong Foundation on my behalf, please go to: http://sanjose2010.livestrong.org/aliciamccauley.  You can donate in memory of a loved one's life cut short by cancer or in support of a loved one who is battling cancer now.

1 field of rock stacks

On the ride out toward Whitmore, there are stacks of volcanic rocks, giants looming on the horizon, casting their shadows over the fields.  I love these rock towers.  They remind me of the story of Joshua leading the Israelites across the Jordan River.  As they crossed the riverbed, they lugged 12 boulders on their backs, one for each tribe, and built a monument to remember that God was with them in their hour of need.  I don't know who built the rock towers in Whitmore.  I don't know why they took time to stack them one atop the other.  What I do know is that they remind me that the Lord is with me in my grieving, in my hour of need.  And that is something I desperately needed to be reminded of this month.




April 26, 2010


Honeyrun.  Even the name brings goosebumps to my arms.  It's one of those words that I feel like I have to utter in hushed, reverent tones.  Honeyrun is the towering mountain on the Chico Wildflower bike ride.  We go way back and my memories of Honeyrun are anything but sweet.  There was the time I couldn't ride all the way to the top and had to hoof it for miles.  Then there was the time my pants kept falling down, showing a full moon in broad daylight.  These memories are punctuated by frustrated grunts and unchurchly words spewed while my legs and lungs threatened to collapse.

Today I faced Honeyrun again.  The morning was cool and the fog that sometimes masks the valley below was nowhere to be found.  I'd begun the ride early enough that I had Honeyrun mostly to myself.  I dropped into my lowest gear, spinning slow, careful circles, craning my neck to see the pieces of the valley that had previously been kept secret from me.  The green of the trees was the deep green of growth, of roots pressing down into the soil and drinking deep.  Everything was hushed, save for the quiet rhythm of my legs pressing and pulling my pedals.

Each year, people spray paint messages over the gritty asphalt of the road.  This year someone had spray painted the words "hope and serenity".  As the words passed underneath my tires, I pondered them, savored them in my mouth like a rich chocolate.  Amazingly enough, I was not out of breath and I chatted with other cyclists who passed me or the occasional cyclist that I happened to pass.  But mostly I kept to the quiet of my mind, thinking of hope and serenity.

I thought of how I hoped the crest of the hill was just around the next corner.  I thought of how serene Honeyrun really is before she is crushed by throngs of neon clad cyclists, carving her corners and cursing her voluptuous hills.  I thought of how hope is hard to have in the envelope of grief.  I thought of how serenity has eluded me so much of the year.  And yet here they were, serenity and hope, rising up from the pavement to greet me on Honeyrun.

Further up someone had painted the Olympic rings and the Olympic Creed "Citius, Altius, Fortius."  Swifter.  Higher.  Stronger.  I know the Olympic Creed because my grandmother and I talked about it during the last winter games.  I wished I could send her a picture of the Olympic motto, painted yellow against the black asphalt.  How appropriate to be pressed with being swifter, higher and stronger here on this particular road that was carrying me higher until I touched the top of the treeline.  And the simple act of turning the cranks over again and again was making me stronger right here, right now.  As for swifter, well there's just no hope of that.

And there I was again, thinking of hope and serenity.  I thought of how serene my grandmother looked when she was asleep and I kissed her goodnight one last time.  I thought of Psalm 31:24.  "Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the LORD."  I thought of how my heart was keeping time so effortlessly up this climb.

Before I knew it all of this thinking and pedaling brought the crest within sight.  I was sorry to leave the beauty of the valley, sorry to turn onto a regular road void of words to ponder.  I looked over my shoulder at Honeyrun splayed out behind me and for a second I thought about riding back down and pressing up that mountain again.  Instead I took my heart, full of hope and serenity, and pedaled to the top, making sure my pedal strokes were just a little bit swifter than before.

April 19, 2010

Letter #2: My Stone Face

Dear Gramma,

I wrote about you on Saturday during the writing workshop I was leading.  I write about you all the time actually.  On Saturday I wrote about sitting on the edge of your hospital bed, reading poetry to you.  You kissed a lipstick print onto my cheek and I wiped it away, a quick reflex, a careless gesture.  I wish I hadn't wiped it away.  Had I known it would be the last time, I would have left the shape of your lips on my skin a little longer.

I'm sorry that my last words to you weren't 'I love you.'  I said it probably hundreds of times during your last days here and countless times during my life.  It's not that I question whether or not you knew I loved you, love you still.  I know you knew, that you know right now.  And I know that you loved me.  I do.  Telling each other so was the period at the end of each of our conversations.  I'm sorry, then, that when I kissed your forehead and said goodnight that I didn't say 'I love you' one more time.  I thought I'd see you the next morning, but you slipped into Heaven while I dreamed in your house.  I didn't know.  I just didn't know.

On Saturday one of the workshop participants wrote about her grandmother dying of cancer.  When snippets of her piece were read aloud, I froze thinking 'Did I write that?  I had to have written that.  I don't think I wrote that, but I must have written that, right?  How could someone else have written about my life like that?'  I listened to the lines and I tried to keep my composure.  Underneath the veneer of my face I could feel the blood seeping from my cheeks.  I felt pale.  And exposed.

Do you remember that castle we saw on our trip?  Not Dracula's castle.  Not Kalemegdon.  The other castle.  The pretty one.

It was drizzly that day and I took this picture of a stone cherub.

Something about the cherub's face moved me.  Like being exposed to the elements somehow peeled away the layers revealing a more honest face, a scarred face.  That's how I felt on Saturday listening to another person's words so accurately narrate my own life.  I was terrified that my face, still raw with all my missing you, would show.  And maybe it did.  I don't know.  I stood there, an exposed statue, and said something to close the session.  I have no idea what I said.  I hope it was coherent.  Or at least real words and not just a mash of stuttered consonants.  I don't know.  I really don't know.

My mom wore your favorite turquoise shirt tonight.  It looks pretty on her.  For a moment tonight she was standing in front of your photo, the one from your birthday where you're wearing the turquoise shirt.  I looked back and forth from my mom's face to your face.  You are so much alike.  I wish you were still here finishing her sentences and laughing at the same things.

Mother's Day and your birthday are just around the corner.  It doesn't seem fair that I have my mother and she doesn't have you.  The rows and rows of Mother's Day cards in the stores are so unkind, so cruel to the motherless.  I wish you could tell me words to say to her that will make those days easier, words that would flush away some of the anguish.  I'm afraid that when the time comes, I will stutter consonants and cry and the right words will lodge in a lump in my throat.  I need those words.

I believe God speaks to me in dreams and I dream of you almost every night.  Sometimes they are dreams invented in my imagination, but other times they're dreams pulled from the pages of my memories.  I hope I'll dream a memory of your words tonight, that I dream of something to write, something to give my mom on Mother's Day.



P.S-And just so it's the last thing I say to you tonight, I love you, Gramma.

April 17, 2010

Letter #1: Dear Gramma

Dear Gramma,

The day before you died I walked the pier, breathing in the tang of the salty air.  Beneath me volleyball nets stretched taut across the sand and balls popped in the air like popcorn.  Surfers dotted the ocean below in their wetsuits.  They bobbed in the water, feet dangling, black sea dwellers waiting for the right wave to curl up underneath them.  An old surfer paddled alone on a bright red longboard and I thought of the bright red lipstick marks you used to leave on my cheek and then I thought of all the blood that had to be transfused into your body, how the cancer ruined all that pristine blood.

I stopped in a shop on the pier.  It was a kaleidoscope of windsocks and flags shivering in the wind.  The kid behind the counter said “How are you today?” and before I could stop it, the word “fine” fell out of my mouth and broke into pieces on the ground.  Tears threatened to spill onto the floor with it, but then my eye caught sight of a dragonfly flag and I thought of how you are a dragonfly, waiting to break free from your old skin, waiting to soar away.

I walked to the end of the pier behind Ruby’s where you and I used to slurp chocolate milkshakes.  A fisherman baited all of his poles and leaned them in a row against the railing.  I stood between the poles and leaned over the edge watching the gray ocean turn against the pillars of the pier.  And then my tears slid down my face and dropped into the deep.  I watched them fall and wondered how much of the ocean’s water is birthed by grief.  A pair of dolphins porpoised in the water below me and I marveled at how time and again they came up for air and slid back into the water with such ease.  I thought of your breathing machine and I prayed that your lungs would easily fill with air each time you needed it.

I walked in the shaded sand underneath the pier.  I wished that we were walking arm in arm together, but my arms were empty save for the socks I’d peeled off and stuffed into my shoes.  At the shore the water washed my feet and the sand was covered in thousands, maybe millions of shells.  I picked one up.  And then another.  And then another until my hands were full and I poured the shells into my sock.  I fingered each one hoping that by collecting these fragile pieces, I was keeping pieces of you.  I picked the smoothest ones, scrubbed clean by the sand under my feet and my tears in the saltwater.  They clicked against each other in my sock as I approached the number nine lifeguard station where we always met.  I set my shells inside my socks, inside my shoes on the sand and traced the smooth, black nine with the palm of my hand.  I snapped a photo, amazed that the view was the same as the one in my memory.

The day before you died I stood by your hospital bed and told you about the beach and how much I loved you and how much I’d miss you and how you were the best grandmother a girl could ever want.  I talked to you until there was nothing left to say except “I love you”.  And so I said it over and over again.  I kissed your silky forehead and held your hand and rubbed your swollen legs.  Your room was filled with our family laughing and crying, sometimes both at the same time.  Uncle Murray recited a verse about everything coming to an end, except our love for you.  I saw your face in his and wished you could see it, too.

The night before you died, I told you good night and kissed your forehead.  I slept in the bed next to my mother in your house.  I’d borrowed a sweater from your closet and after I’d taken it off, I fell to sleep with the scent of you on my skin.  Under the covers I dreamed that you died and that our family took a trip together.  I wish I could tell you our destination, but the ringing phone pierced my dream and then it pierced my heart.

The morning you died I held my mom as she sobbed listening to the news that you’d taken your last breath while your oldest daughter kept watch, holding your hand.  My mom felt heavy under the weight of her grief and we held each other.  All the words I said to comfort her felt inadequate, falling short like words plucked from a greeting card.  I wish you’d been there to comfort her, to tell her all the things she needed to hear.

The morning you died I brushed my teeth and looked in the mirror to see if I could see your face in mine.  I looked for the smiling dimples you gave me, but they were ghosts.  I pulled on your sweater and drove your car, with the glove box full of peanut M & M’s, toward the hospital.  An accident blocked traffic for hours, and try as we might we could not get to the hospital to see your face again.

The afternoon of the day you died I sat alone in your house, surrounded by your pictures and the memories you collected from the corners of the world.  I willed my legs upstairs into your room where I turned one of your chairs to the window.  The trees bowed their heads in the wind as it coaxed mournful sounds from your house.  With my eyes closed, I pretended that the sounds came from you writing letters in your office or eating ice cream at the kitchen table.  I opened my eyes to see your bed empty, the covers pulled taut.  Everything in your house was still, except for my fingers writing this to you and my tears dropping onto the chair in your bedroom.

The day after you died I rode my bike, crying when I crept up behind the mountains you loved, wrecked by the fact that you would not see these earthly places of beauty again.  I pedaled by a cacti farm and wished you were there so we could talk about that cactus that had a heart filled with liquid that replenishes itself.  You would have known the name.  I took my empty heart and pedaled back to your house, half believing that you would be there to hear about my ride.

The week after you died flashed by with arrangements and plans and flowers and phone calls.  It was so fast and I wanted time to rewind or slow or stop or do anything but whip by so callously.  I put together a photo montage of your life.  You always told me that I’m a writer, a storyteller.  We always said that everyone has a story.  Your life is my favorite story of all and I loved weaving it together.

At your memorial, I spoke about our trip together and about how you used to tell me I was the perfect child.  A lump bobbed in my throat and my knees knocked so violently that I thought I was going down.  I wished you were there because we would have laughed at how grief and nerves almost did me in.  There were so many times during your memorial that I looked for you, to catch your eye during a funny story or to watch you humbly accept the compliments your loved ones lavished on you.  At memorials, people tend to exaggerate about the wonderful qualities of the deceased, but not at yours.  You were such an amazing woman and you lived such a remarkable life that it left no need for exaggeration.

The day after we lowered you into the ground, I went to your church for Easter service.  I cried when the pastor talked about Jesus’ crucifixion and ascension to Heaven.  It always makes me cry, but especially this year because you are in Heaven and I am on Earth without you.  I know I’ll see you again, but the expanse of time between now and then crushes me.

The day after Easter, I returned home.  I took the sweater I borrowed the day before you died.  And I took your mini trampoline.  Terry just shook his head when I asked him to load it into the car.  I always laughed at the sight of you bouncing around on your trampoline.  After all the times I teased you about springing around on that thing, it now sits in my living room.  Twice now I’ve started dialing your number only to get halfway through before realizing you can’t answer.  I read books and think of you.  I watch Amazing Race and wish I could call you to talk about it.  I wish I could call you to talk about lots of things.  I miss you.  I miss you so much.  And do you know what makes my sadness recede to a bearable amount?  Jumping on your old trampoline.  How’s that for irony?

I’m presenting at a writing conference Saturday and I’m nervous.  You always knew the right words to say to make me feel better and now I wish I’d written some of them down.  My mom is saving scraps of your writing that she discovers in your house because I find myself desperate to squirrel away your words, even if they’re in the form of grocery lists and reminder notes.

I love you, Gramma.  I love you in grief.  I love you in joy.  I have loved you all my life and even though cancer proved to be a swift thief, Uncle Murray had it right: my love for you does not end.



April 6, 2010

Saying Goodbye: Cycling In March

Dear friends and family,

What a month March was, full of laughter, wet with tears and crammed full of cycling.  I'm glad you're with me for another season of adventures.

85 years

My grandmother lived 85 vibrant years.  In March she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and on March 25th she left this earth peacefully in her sleep.  Many people, in an effort to find the right words, have said to me "Sorry for your loss."  The sentiment is sincerely appreciated because in times of mourning, there aren't right words, but saying something lends comfort.  At her memorial service, my husband, Terry, said that something can't be lost if you know where it is.  My grandmother loved the Lord all her life and I know where she is, but I still wish she were here with me, kissing her trademark red lipstick onto my cheek.

323 Miles

March began with a friend of mine committing to cycling 300 miles in a month.  The gauntlet was thrown down and I saddled up to ride 300 miles, too.  At the beginning of the month, I was angry at cancer for having invaded my grandmother's body.  Initially, the doctors gave her 6 months to live.  Then 6 months withered into only a handful of days and my anger was washed over by grief.  I spent much of the month sitting with my grandmother in the hospital in Southern California.  I read my latest poetry to her, watched her grin as I fed her an ice cream sandwich, and told her how deeply and truly I loved her.  I will treasure those days for the rest of my life.  In between my trips to the other end of the state, I rode my bike.  I rode my bike for my Gramma Betty.  I was determined.  I was broken.  I was fierce.

1 Cactus Nursery

In the shadow of things I could not control, I clung tenaciously to my goal of reaching 300 miles.  The day after my grandmother passed away, I was still short of my goal and so my uncle took me on a ride.  I believe grief wears many faces and I have worn them all this month.  I laughed as I struggled to unclip from the pedals on my uncle's bike, almost toppling over at every stop sign.  The sweeping green foothills that surrounded us brought me to tears as I realized my grandmother would never see them again.  My tears and laughter both faded as I climbed uphill and my uncle snapped my picture in front of a cactus nursery.

I once heard about a type of cactus that has a heart filled with a liquid sort of like water.  If you cut out the heart and drink the water, it will be full again by the next morning.  The day after my grandmother died, I held my "Win, Gramma Betty!" sign in front of the beautiful blooming cacti and I felt a little drop of happiness settle into my heart.  There is still so much of my heart that is feels empty, but I have hope that each morning I will wake up with just a little more of the joy that was a hallmark of her life.  It was on that ride that I surpassed my goal of riding 300 miles in March.

2 Pairs of Underwear

Don't get all flustered and blush like I'm going to tell you about my underwear.  I'm not.  Mostly because cyclists don't wear underwear under cycling shorts.  Now we're both blushing.  See how I made us both feel awkward so you wouldn't be the only embarrassed one?  You're welcome.  Even in times of sorrow, life is funny and there are always things to laugh at on the bike.  In early March, I was on the road to Keswick Dam when I saw a pair of men's black underwear on the side of the road.  I zipped by, pondering what exactly was going on in that car.  The next day I rode in Platina, a gorgeous little place West of Redding.  It has sweeping views of canyons and snowcapped mountains.  I was riding uphill when I saw another pair of underwear hanging in a bush.  This time they were men's black long underwear.  Seriously, what is going on in those cars?  Allow me to make a quick public service announcement:  If you are doing anything other than driving while operating a vehicle, please pull over and stop while you do it.  And when you are finished, please retrieve your underwear from the side of the road.  Thank you.

3 Funny Names

Since I am a slow cyclist, I get a kick out of anything that makes the ride go by quicker.  I'm especially fond of the names people come up with for streets and things.  Three names in particular cracked me up this month: Sharpen Up Ranch, Go Away Ranch, and Rosannadanna Creek.  Gotta love a little Saturday Night Live humor out in the middle of nowhere.

44 and 3.9

My top speed was 44 MPH.  I was cruising downhill with the wind at my back and a smile on my face.  My slowest speed was 3.9 as I grunted uphill, completely unaware that my brake was rubbing my wheel.  Needless to say, I fixed that immediately upon discovery and will have to come up with a different excuse for being so slow next month!

$213 donated so far

Thank you Christine W., Heather F., Jill S., John, P., MaryKay S., and Sallie C.  I appreciate your support and generosity.

$1,787 until I reach my goal

If you'd like to make a donation to the Lance Armstrong Foundation, please go to: http://sanjose2010.livestrong.org/aliciamccauley.  You can donate in memory of a loved one's life cut short by cancer or in support of a loved one who is battling cancer now.

1 Winner

Last year Team Fat Cyclist rode in support of Susan.  Our slogan was, "Win, Susan!", and when she passed away, our slogan became, "Fight Like Susan".  This year I've adopted my own mantra, "Win, Gramma Betty!".  Although my grandmother has passed away, I can't bring myself to change my sign because she won in so many ways.  She was an amazing wife, mother, aunt, friend and grandmother.  She lived her life seeking out the best in others with reckless abandon.  And so in April, when I am tackling my goal of riding 400 miles in a month, I'll be pushing up mountains and dropping down hills all the while crowing, "Win, Gramma Betty!", because her life was the greatest win of all.