thoughts

Back in the Saddle

…or the race seat, as it were.

Back in April, I had these dreams of grandeur that staying away from racing would make getting back on my feet easier.  There’s a reason they are called dreams (or nightmares, rather), because every time I saw race results on Facebook, or in SCCA press releases, I was instantly depressed.  While I’d found some other crafty things to do, and traveled to some truly amazing places, the racing bug had been eating away at me since the spring.

A visit from a DC region friend, a “F the world, I am a panda” attitude, and a very generous offer from a good friend led me to get back into the race seat in mid-October.  I wasn’t as fast as I’m used to, but I still didn’t suck 🙂

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Despite a setback with some unexpected challenges showing up, it was a good day.  I had a lot of fun and I needed the reminder of why I do things like this:  The challenge, the competition, the camaraderie, the adrenaline…I’d been away for far too long.  So two weeks later, when the last event of the season rolled around, I once again ended up in the S2000’s driver’s seat.

Feeling more confident and feeling welcomed back into the community the second time around made the day a lot better, even though it was cold and raining for the first half.  I ran the car in an empty class (if I’m going to attend an event, I want a guaranteed trophy for my $30 entry fee!), and I was truly competing with only myself.  Even though I wasn’t actually racing against anyone, the technical aspects, figuring out the nuances of the car, relearning the idea that the rule of percentages is actually a theory I learned from driving…it was all there.  Even discussing car setup, to the point where I stopped myself and asked, “Where did that come from?  Who am I?”  In the beginning, I used to just repeat what I heard, but after a decade, I guess the actual physics and theories sunk in and I can now speak intelligently about them.  Go fig.

And all of it paid off, because I ended up skirting the owner, bu 0.25 seconds, and nearly grabbing the fastest time of day. I know there were factors in my favor, but it was a sweet, sweet victory, and exactly how I needed to end the race season.

_20151025_204746rawThen, I began to wonder.  What kept me away for so long?  Didn’t I love racing?  Didn’t I miss it?  Why hadn’t I just relied on my friends, and trusted that they’d still be around?  Of course I love racing, and of course I missed it.  And with my travels this year, financing a full season would have been tough, let alone finding a consistent ride, and consistent friends, that wouldn’t cause drama based on what became a nasty split last year.  And I certainly didn’t want to have to choose, or force others to choose as well.  What it came down to was that I was afraid.  Yes, that is exactly as pathetic as it sounds.  I let other people dictate how I could spent my money, my leisure time, and let them make me think I wasn’t welcomed, or missed, or that it was even noticed I wasn’t there. I was afraid of what people might think, or what they did think, or what I thought they thought…even typing this makes me a little angry with myself.

Perhaps I did need a break from that life, and perhaps I did need a little time away so that the dust could settle.  I think the dust has settled, and next year will bring a new season, new cars, and hopefully a new region.  After the last two events, I think I could go back to racing, and while it would be a little awkward at first, in the end, I’d be doing something I loved, and I’d finally be doing it on my own and for myself.  No pressure, no expectations, just challenging and enjoying myself, for the sake of me.  I can’t ask for much more than that.
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Life is a Highway, Part 15: X Marks the Spot

I hiked a lot on this vacation.  Like, A LOT a lot.  Eight official 3+ mile trails and over three dozen small stopoffs that were anywhere from 0.25-1 mile long.  And sometimes, when I’d turn around, I’d think, “How the F*@#&$ did I get up here?”

The truth is, navigating the trails is a not always as easy as you’d think.  Well, sure, sometimes they’re totally clear cut in front of you, and you just have to walk right on through, even if the terrain is occasionally a bit steep and rough.

IMG_20150506_145823656Other times, even when the trails are partially covered, you still know where you’re going.  You might have to pass over a tree in your path, or a moose, or even a giant puddle, but you still have a good general sense of direction. It might not be the best, or easiest route, but you can still make it to the other side.

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But sometimes, the trail directions are ambiguous.  How do you know in which direction to go?  How do you know where you’re supposed to step, as to not destroy the precious flora and fauna?  Where does the trail lead?  How much further?  Where do we go after this?  Are we there yet?

hikespeak.com

Image from hikespeak.com

Thankfully, when the road gets rocky, most trails have cairns, little markers that let you know the general direction of the hike.  They’re cute little stacks of rocks, and though I’d seen them on the beach at home, I’d never seen them used as a compass before.  Being in the desert, with high winds, sometimes they get blown over, and people generally will repair them on their way to the next one.  Good Samaritans that don’t want you to get lost, and all…

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When there’s no clearly defined route, you follow the cairns, and they lead you down the trail.  These were a saving grace along some of the desert hikes, since I had to scramble and shimmy down boulders the size of elephants, and bigger.  I’d land in sand – with nothing for as far as the eye could see – and I’d have no idea where to go next.

All of these trail markers made me think.  Hiking is a lot like life.  Sometimes your path is clear and easy, and there’s no mistaking it.  Other times, you come to a fork in the road and have no idea which way to turn.  And still other times, you have no direction at all, and could use some guidance.

Not every path is obvious, and at times, even the obvious ones are littered with obstacles blocking your way.  They are everything from inconvenient to terrifying to what seems to be impossible – but that’s when you have to remind yourself that nothing really is.  You just have to find the fortitude to move them.

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Sometimes even little obstacles in your path require a lot of strength!

And while you might have a good general idea of where you want to go, sometimes you take a wrong turn, and you end up on the edge of a cliff, looking over, wondering how you got there.  The important thing is that you remember that you can always forge a new way, or backtrack…just don’t jump!IMG_2977But most of all, these hikes, these trails are best traversed together.  When you find someone on his or her own journey, and your paths meet and become one – that’s the best part.  When your adventures become shared, and you have someone with whom to celebrate triumphs, grieve losses, and get through the tough stuff.  You hold hands, you run forward together, and you don’t look back.  And if you get lost, just look for the cairns.  They’ll show you the way.

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Artificial Ceilings

Recently, I started listening to podcasts.  My two go-tos are Freakonomics and The Tim Ferriss Show, both of which I find incredibly interesting.  Last week, there was a rebroadcast on Freakonomics – an interview with Kobayashi Takeru, the guy that revolutionized the world of competitive eating.  If you’re interested in the whole thing, here is the link.

Image from trendingsearches.net

Image from trendingsearches.net

The idea of eating even more than two (ok, three) hot dogs in one sitting sort of makes me want to yak, so when you say “as many as possible, and oh, the world record is X,” I want to crawl into the fetal position and die.  But it was this talk of the former world record, which was 25 1/8 hot dogs, that really struck me.  He destroyed that record, on his first attempt at the contest, and devoured 50 hot dogs.

Speaking through a translator, Kobayashi explained the idea of an artificial barrier, which is something I think I struggle with on a day-to-day basis:

I think the thing about human beings is that they make a limit in their mind of what their potential is. They decide I’ve been told this, or this is what society tells me, or they’ve been made to believe something.

Today, I reasoned that perhaps I’d been giving myself artificial barriers.  And I began to think about what might happen if I removed them.

I decided to start removing barriers at the gym.  I had the idea that I could only run at a 6.0 mph pace – maaaaaaybe 6.1 if I was feeling really ambitious.  But my coworker, who also has bad knees and rarely runs, told me that he sets the treadmill at 7.0 mph.  This got me thinking – yes I have short legs. No, I’ve never been particularly fast. But no, I’ve never tried going faster.  I just assumed I couldn’t do it.

Image from amazon.com

Image from amazon.com

And so, tonight, I tried something new for my warmup run.  Instead of starting out at 5.8 mph, I set the speed to 6.5, and ran for 1.5 miles.  For the next lap, I increased the speed to 6.6, and for the last two laps, I increased it to 6.7.  And what do you know.  I did it.

It was a happy moment – I felt accomplished and proud, and I realized that my dream of a consistent 8:45/mile pace is actually closer than I thought.  I am motivated, I am determined, and I now have the confidence I can do it.

Image from simpsons.wikia.com

Image from simpsons.wikia.com

And what if I applied that thought to finding a job?  Usually, it’d be, “I’d never get XYZ position, they never hire people with my kind of experience, I’ve never gotten an interview there before”…but if I bust through that wall and apply, you never know.  What if I applied this to finding a boyfriend?  “That guy would never talk to me, he’s out of my league, I can’t date that far up, I know what my limit is”…but maybe that limit isn’t actually there.

What if we all thought like this.  I realize this is a bit rose-colored (I’m probably still high on endorphins), but blindly accepting what we believe are the limits of our own abilities can hinder us – we stagnate, we don’t grow, we never achieve.  History is full of brave souls and amazingly intelligent individuals, but the only thing that makes them different from us is that they didn’t accept the limits society gave them.   What would we all achieve if we followed their example?

It’s just food for thought, but when your mind starts to wander, and you think of all the great things you might do….it’s a temping proposition to push the limits.

Life is a Highway, Part 8: Word Crimes

So….I might be a bit of a stickler about grammar.  This song might have been written for me.

IMG_20150109_092833….ok so I might be a bit more than a stickler.  The conversation above is one that bothers me immensely: less vs. fewer.  (But I still love the person in question – she rarely makes that mistake, anyway.)  I correct it so often, I do it without thinking.  And when it popped up in a recent Game of Thrones episode, I received a flurry of texts and IMs.

I realize that not everyone is as passionate about this as I am.  Maybe it’s because I read so much.  Maybe it’s because I think words are incredibly powerful – especially when they are constructed with impeccable syntax.  Or maybe it’s because I have nothing better with which to fill my time?  Either way, poor grammar is a pet peeve of mine, and it bothers me most when I see it in signs for public consumption.

On this road trip, on the 2459 miles driven, I saw enough of it to drive me batty.  Much of it was contained to what I can only assume were low-wage workers with no fucks given.  But seriously.  Grammar abusers are EVERYWHERE.

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Ignorance breeds ignorance, and believe you me.  There’s more than enough to go around.  But I also realized that there are still a few strong grammar vigilantes left in the world.  Those of us still fighting the Good Fight.  Those that immediately say “fewer” without thinking, when someone around us says “less.”  The accidental proofreader, that edits documents and make corrective notes in the margins without being asked.  The silent educator, that take it upon himself to correct public signs anonymously.

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Here’s to you, my fellow grammar buddies.  You know the importance of an Oxford comma, the dire consequences of improper diction, and the delicate constructs of using a semicolon.  Grammar buddies, I salute you.

Life is a Highway, Part 5: Does the Pope Shit in the Woods?

Well, I can’t comment on the Pope, though I suppose if he really had to go, he would, but I certainly can comment on bears.  The answer is a resounding “yes.”  Yes, they do shit in the woods.

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I know this because I hiked many, many miles.  I climbed over big rocks, frolicked through misty meadows (ok, they were only misty because it was sort of raining), and traversed the well-worn trails in the Rockies and Tetons.  I also trudged through sand and across canyon rims in the sweltering heat of the desert of south Utah.  I climbed steep rock staircases and scrambled sideways to avoid falling into pools of tepid water.  I was walking through nature in all forms, and I loved every second of it.

In the past, I wouldn’t say I liked hiking.  I actually had never really done it before.  Sure, I walk a few miles a day, and am a runner, but hiking was just so….meh.  I always sort of figured it was simply difficult walking, and being the klutz that I am, I was fairly certain I didn’t need to make walking any more challenging than it already is.  But for some reason, I found myself in my trusty Merrills (purchased years ago, on clearance, for rain-day races, and worn exactly once prior to this trip), pushing to find the more challenging, longer routes that would show me more and force me to exert myself to levels I didn’t even know I had in me.

Definitely not my style, nor my favorite shoes, but I was happy to have them!

Definitely not my favorite style – where are my Louboutins?

There’s a lot to be gained from it – views, adventures, a bit of rough and tumble, a sense of accomplishment…  It’s soothing to the soul – but definitely not the body.  My hair was a mess, I was sweating like a pig, I was tired, and I was getting a little muddy/dusty/sandy from the trails.  I felt the burn in my muscles and the warm bottled water was barely enough to quench my thirst.  But the soles of the shoes were sticky, and my spirit was indomitable, so still, I pressed on.  I could not wait to take in more of the majestic views.

IMG_20150510_180611It was never my deal in the past.  But now, difficult walking really does have its place, and it’s something I can say I truly love doing.  I can safely say I’m a convert – but who wouldn’t be, when you reach the top, and see that?

On Love, Life, and Racing

The Fast and the Furious.  2001.   This is one of my favorite movies of all time.  But…I hate to say it…Vin, you’re a bit off.  Winning is great – and everything is WAY more fun when you win.  But sometimes, it’s not the winning part that makes it worthwhile.

You see, I race cars.  I’m good at it – really good.  It’s taken me years to become so.  I win a lot – sometimes by an inch, and sometimes by a mile (figuratively).  My racing is far less fast and furious – it’s technical and controlled, and more like downhill skiing than anything else.  It’s not a wheel-to-wheel race; it’s timed, and the fastest time wins.  If you hit a cone, they add 2 seconds to your final time.  I struggled with developing my skills for many years, but in mid-2012, something clicked and I haven’t looked back. I’m not a National Champion, but I’m at a level where they’ve made me an instructor, so I can teach the new kids all my bad habits 😉

I drive around cones arranged in a predetermined course layout in a parking lot or airfield.  Sometimes we have a drag-racing start, and sometimes we don’t.  It sounds simple, but there’s so much more to it.  There are sweepers, and slaloms, and blind corners, and giant turns with both increasing and/or decreasing radii.  There’s looking ahead to where you want to go (which is sometimes behind you), there’s planning your line (do you make arcs? Is it point-and-shoot?), and there’s knowing when you’ve got to grow some balls, get out of your comfort zone, and take that risk, because the reward will be great.

2013 East

The 2013 Solo National Championships East Course Map. You get to walk the course before driving, so you have an idea of where it goes, but you really don’t know what happens until you’re behind the wheel – much like life.  You might think you know how you’d handle things, or what they’re going to be like, but you never really know till you’re in that situation.

When I am instructing, the first thing I try to teach my students is to separate your inputs.  Make sure that when you are braking, accelerating, or turning, you’re doing one at a time (and do your accelerating and braking in a straight line).  After they’ve mastered that, I teach them to think about blending inputs – but to be cognizant of the fact that you can only ask the car to do 100% – in any combination.  You can do 44% turning and 56% acceleration, or 28% braking and 72% turning, but you can’t ask for more.  If you do, you’ll spin (see the end of my YouTube video), get off line, hit cones, scrub speed, break something…in any case, it most likely will not be your fastest run.

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Not my fastest (overturning and braking at the same time, with no ABS), but I suppose it made for a cool photo!

The more I’ve raced, the more I’ve realized that principle of blending inputs is more applicable to life than one would initially think.  Any given person has career, family, friends, hobbies, a relationship…that’s a lot of directions in which to be pulled.  And you can’t dedicate more than 100% of your time, effort, attention – your life, basically – to any combination of them.  There are some people that have to dedicate 100% to work sometimes.  Or 100% to family.  I was nearly 100% hobby for a while.  And that’s okay.  The remaining components of one’s life just have to wait.

I have always believed relationships are 100/100, not 50/50.  Each person gives 100% – of what they are able.  Love is a series of percentages of input.  Sometimes it’s 100%, sometimes it’s 50%, sometimes it’s 2%.  If someone is at 90% work and 8% family and 2% relationship, that 2% is 100% of what he can dedicate to the relationship at the moment, and that is all that anyone could ever ask for.

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Of course, 2% forever might not be ideal, but that’s the other beauty of racing and life.  If you’re turning at 100%, and there’s nothing left for anything else, it’s difficult, and frustrating, and very much not what you want to be doing at that moment.  Believe me.  To have your hands and arms crossed up, fighting the car to make sure you’re still turning while losing speed….it’s no fun.  I also tend to hold my breath and forget to blink when I’m at nearly 100% of an input, so that’s also not great.

One of my favorite instructors taught me that while entering a corner, I need to find my exit – the moment when I’ll be able to reduce steering and increase acceleration.  Even if I can’t see it upon entry, or even halfway through the corner, I need to trust and have faith that the exit is there.  And then when I find it, I need to recognize it, unwind the wheel, take a breath, and get back on the gas.

Of course, this is easier said than done…”ask any racer, any real racer.”  We all just want to hit the gas and go!  Go fast!  Faster!  We want to win!  We want to do it all, have it all!  But the truly skilled drivers know that sometimes they can’t, and the go-fast-pedal has to wait.  These drivers are also the ones with the most faith – in the car, in the course, and in themselves – especially when they can’t see the end of the turn.  It might take a lot of seat time, but they inherently know that eventually they’ll see the exit.  And when they do, they can unwind the wheel, roll on the accelerator, and they will be able to breathe and keep going.

Vin Diesel, I very much disagree with your statement.  It might be great, and make it more fun, but it’s not all about winning.  It’s about how you get there, how you win, and how you balance your inputs.  Sure, life is a series of connecting, never-ending sweepers, and it can be hard work to traverse them sometimes.  But it’s that constant adjustment and the faith that there’s an exit that helps us keep going forward.  When things get tough, when you get crossed up and start losing speed, when you’re at 100% with one thing, it’s so important to remember that you’ll always eventually unwind the wheel, and when you do, you’ll be able to breathe again and hit the gas.

 

Paying It Forward

I usually write my end-of-year posts with the Counting Crows song, Long December.  But really, I don’t think I can wait that long.  It’s been a long, LONG November.

This is one of those philosophical posts based around limited anecdotal evidence.  But bear with me, because just sometimes, good things happen to good people, and it sort of renews my faith.

Three things have happened to me over the past few weeks, despite my general melancholy and forlorn disposition, that made me realize that things are looking up.

1)  The director of the pharmacy brings in bagels occasionally.  I happen to like the cream cheese (seriously, shocker – I dislike dairy for what it does to me).  I asked where it was from.  A few days later, he came in with a big bag and four containers of it.

2)  The pricing of a medication changed – originally Zyrtec was $8, and when I went down a few weeks ago, it was $11.  I brought down $10.50 – I was intending to pay for medicine, and then buy overpriced hummus and pretzels.  The lady at the counter pulled out a dollar, and covered me and I almost cried.

3)  I wanted to go racing.  Someone I am good friends with offered me his never-been-raced daily driver as a ride.  Of course, there were caveats (don’t spin, don’t hit cones – both of which I did on my first run), but someone handed me his brand new $25,000 car with $4,000 worth of upgrades without the blink of an eye.

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It helped me to realize that I still have friends, people still love and trust me, and that being a good and honest person is far more important than being “famous” and “popular.”  It also helped me to realize that kindness happens when you least expect it, and to always be paying it forward.

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