Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Overnight

Twenty-three years ago, I became a suicide survivor. I was nineteen, and had a week left before high school graduation. My best friend and first love lost his battle with depression on May 1. Seemingly, he had a lot to live for - college, a loving family and friends who adored him. None of that was enough to save him.

I still remember that day vividly, down to what he was wearing, and the fact that we fought - our final words to each other. That experience shaped me for the next several years as I struggled to understand, to make sense of the non-sensical. The memories have not faded, nor will they ever.

Last year, I became a second time survivor when my thirty-eight year old younger brother ended his life on May 14. I was celebrating my birthday with friends when I got the call from my mother. In an instant, life was turned upside down. He left not only my mom & dad and myself, but also a six year old daughter. Once again, I struggled to understand.

They say that hindsight is 20/20. In hindsight, looking at my brother's behavior over several years, he was most certainly battling some sort of depression. His highs were high, but the lows were at the bottom. In some conversations, I felt as if I were walking on eggshells, just waiting to step on the right one, and have it crack. Despite my previous experience, I was oblivious to my brother's illness.

In the days, weeks and months after Brad's death, I shied away from telling people about how he died. Society has placed a stigma on suicide and depression. Both are looked at as character flaws, weaknesses. As I have continued to heal, I realized that this stigma is just that - a label that is convenient, but wrong. We are accepting of diseases that can kill, like cancer, diabetes, heart disease - even AIDS. But mental illnesses (which can also kill) are still something that society feels should remain a "dirty little secret".

Last night, I took a step (18 miles worth, actually ;)) to erase that stigma. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) hosted its annual walk, "The Overnight - A Walk Out of the Darkness". Accompanied by good friends Hannah, Michele and Sue, and my new friend Lindsay, I walked to help raise awareness - to remove the stigma attached to suicide and depression - to help just one person make a different choice and get the treatment they need.

This was an emotional journey that started when I decided to sign up for the walk in late May. First, I needed to tell my parents, who are still healing themselves, what I was planning. They were both very supportive and even helped to spread the word to their friends. Next was actually putting out to the world via email and Facebook that my brother had committed suicide; a major step, but one that was met with compassion and understanding.

In fact, the response to what I was doing was overwhelming to me. I heard from so many people who had in some way been affected by depression and/or suicide. Brothers, cousins, fathers and uncles lost, children struggling, personal struggles. It was an honor to share those stories with all of you and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the support that you gave, both in financial contributions and emotionally.

I knew going in that this event was not going to be easy. I wasn't so much worried about the walk, as the emotional aspect that I would face. And, as I registered and got myself squared away prior to the event, the emotion hit full force. As part of the event, walkers are sent luminary bags to decorate which are then used to light the path back to the event in the early morning hours. I found pictures of Brad and I from 1974 and 1995, had copies made, and attached them to my luminary, as well as writing a note. When I went to hand the bag off, I just couldn't do it. It was just a symbol, but it was symbolic of the relationship we shared, and the first tears were shed. I ended up carrying the bag to dinner, but did manage to turn it in (tear free) before the walk started.

The opening ceremony was another very emotional event. Here we were, sitting in City Hall Plaza, almost 2000 people who all had lost someone to suicide/depression, or were themselves, battling to overcome the disease. Twenty-three years ago, I felt like NO ONE, with the exception of my friend's family, knew what I was going through, and that I was alone. Last year, again, I felt that sense of aloneness - people couldn't possibly understand what this was like. And last night, I was surrounded by 2000 people who all KNEW exactly what it was like.

The personal stories were heart-wrenching, as were the reactions of the people in the crowd. In front of us, a mother, father and daughter all clung to one another - they had lost their son/brother. Beside us, a woman on her own (who we later walked with for several miles), remembered her best friend's father (her best friend was married last week, and the absence of her father was difficult for everyone). Brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. So much loss in such a small space.

But, as we began the walk, the mood shifted. People were excited to be underway, to be walking to make a difference. Tears were replaced with laughter. Conversations were animated, and many stopped to take in the sights along the way.

We started the walk at City Hall Plaza, and headed to Beacon Street - past the State Capital, the sunset reflecting in the gold dome. We crossed the Charles on the Mass Ave Bridge, and walked along the opposite shore - flanked by MIT on one side, and the Boston skyline on the other. And then, back across the river and back into the city - past BU and around Fenway Park. By this point, we had come from some of the last walkers to start, up through the pack to pass much of the peloton (oh - wait - this isn't supposed to be a race report!).

It was at Fenway, at mile 6.2 (and after 10 pm), that Mike was waiting. He had ridden in from home to cheer us on, and to show his support. Along the way, he'd gotten lost, but was determined to be there when we walked past. It meant a lot to me that he was there, just as it has meant a lot to me that he has supported me through this difficult time in my life. I don't say it to him often enough, but I thank him for being there, and helping me along the right path.

We left Mike and Fenway behind (he later texted to let me know he'd gotten home just before 11:30 - by then, we were in Southie!), and continued walking all the way down Boylston St - through the shopping district, past many VERY busy bars, along the opposite side of the Boston Common, and into Chinatown. We saw some pretty interesting characters on this stretch of the walk. I'm not sure some of the skirts could have been shorter, or the heels taller! DOH - that just showed my age, some ;).

From there, we passed South Station and headed into the Seaport district. We were excited along this part of the route to pass the halfway mark - nine miles down, and only nine more to go! All five of us were still hanging tough, ready to conquer the remainder of the route.

I had never been to South Boston before, but the neighborhood here was actually quite lovely. Nice architecture, and we walked along L street to the shore, where we were greeted with the ocean, some fireworks, a lovely park, and lots of "kids" just hanging out. We reached the "dinner" stop on Castle Island around 12:30 a.m. I didn't realize that a ham sandwich at that hour could taste so good ;). We spent a bit of time here, eating, stretching and changing our socks. We were at mile 12.3, and on the homeward stretch now.

But, just like on a long bike ride, the stop likely wasn't a great idea. It was about this point that the tired started to settle in, and the aches started to be more pronounced. Around mile 15, as we passed Rowe's Wharf, Lindsay claimed that she felt as if she were waddling - it took all of our effort to pick the legs up and move them forward without swinging them in a half circle. Our last pit stop came around mile 16 at the New England Aquarium. By now, all 5 of us had sore feet, sore hip flexors, and were pretty fatigued. We felt a few splatters of rain as we passed the TD Garden, but it was, thankfully, short lived.

We knew we were near the finish. As we approached City Hall Plaza just before 2:30 am, we were all tired. What greeted us there were cheery volunteers, 2000 lit luminara telling the stories of victims and survivors, and - breakfast. We took one last photo together - we made it. Eighteen miles all to help make a difference. My feet were sore, my legs were sore, and I was ready to go to bed. But none of that compares to the pain and suffering that my brother dealt with. I can only hope that he was watching over me last night, proud of what I was trying to do in his honor.

At the end of 18 miles

We were too tired to sit for three hours for the closing ceremony, so we all headed home. As I drove on 128, the sun began to rise ahead of me, with the full moon in my rear view mirror. I had accomplished a lot - not just overnight, but in the months since Brad's death, and certainly on the journey. I watched the sunset over Boston, and watched it rise again in the morning - literally walking out of the darkness. In my car, I whispered, "I love you, Brad", and knew that we had done a good thing.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

No Racing...

... so you get kittens instead (which will make a couple of you happy).

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

All For the Glory?

Pushed. Elbowed. Sworn at. Buzzed. And this wasn't even WalMart at 4 am on Black Friday - there wasn't a 50" plasma TV waiting for the low, low price of $2.50, just a medal and bragging rights.

In all seriousness, EFTA's Pinnacle was the most un-sportsman-like race I have done - EVER. Despite a decent start in my field (the Cat 1 women, Master Men and Juniors all went off together), as soon as the Cat 2 men (who started a mere 30 seconds behind us) starting catching, all h*ll broke loose. We climbed on a tight trail filled with wet, slimy roots and rocks. There wasn't a good place to pass a single person, never mind having 50 testosterone-laden men racing for 20th place breathing down your neck. And once ONE person flubbed anything, it caused a chain reaction of people off bikes. Getting back on the bike, and into the conga line was near impossible. Within the first mile and a half, after all of the pushing, elbowing, swearing and having my tires buzzed multiple times by one rider, I literally gave up racing.

As I continued to climb, I thought about quitting. The course didn't suit me at all - there was a lot of climbing, the roots were wet and slick, and there were bridges (did I mention the wet part?). It wasn't fun. And then I even got yelled at by some of the WOMEN riders for riding down the left side of the Plummet - "Left is for walking, right is for riding" they chided as they dismounted and I rode. Oh well - I rode the left line every time down. I crossed through the start/finish after the first lap, STILL thinking about quitting. Then one of the women, who was literally in tears, said that she just didn't want to DNF. And I worried about what Mike would say if I quit. So, I kept going.

In lap 2, the Elites and some of the Cat 1 men started lapping me. This wasn't as bad, as I could get out of the way of most of them without having to get off the bike, or being pushed ;). In fact, many of them were downright pleasant, with one apologizing to me after he passed, and I slid on a root. Quite a difference in attitudes, and these guys were racing for more than just a medal!

At the end of lap 2, I looked directly at my friend Meg (who was cheering wildly) and said "This sucks" to which she replied, "But at least you're finishing". I gritted my teeth and said, "I have ONE MORE LAP TO GO". Ugh. But, off I went. And partway through the final lap, Keith caught me (cue angelic music from above here). It was nice to see a friendly face after all of that time - especially one with a halo circling his helmet. I tried to move out of Keith's way to let him pass, but he literally decided to ride the entire last lap WITH me. That was my saving grace. Being able to ride the remainder of the race with someone, and following good lines was the only thing that got me through the rest of the race.

Keith and I literally crossed the finish line within seconds of each other, both excited to finally be done. So, DFL for me (and in more than one category...), but I finished.

That is it for me for mass start MTB races though - never again after what I experienced at this race. Yes, you're racing and yes, you may be faster than me. BUT, I was racing, too. I paid the same amount to race as you did. Let's all get along out there - we're all doing it for fun, right?

Saturday, June 12, 2010


Our first quest of the day took Mike and I to Gordon College to go and ride our SS MTBs "somewhere different". We haven't ridden here in years, so there was some circular navigation for a little while before we found the really HARD trails. Let's just say that to me, the SS was like bringing a knife to a gun fight. Yes, there was also a lot of walking ;)

But, we missed most of the rain, and managed to stay relatively dry.

The second quest of the day? Donuts. You see, Mike loves donuts, but he likes GOOD donuts. We discovered Kane's a couple of years ago, but every time we've been back, they've been closed. So, an Internet search revealed that Verna's, on Mass Ave in Cambridge had donuts, and they had good reviews. We made it there just in time for closing, so our options were limited, but they did have jelly - Mike's favorite! I'm sure this will be awesome pre-race food for tomorrow ;)

Friday, June 11, 2010

EFTA Big Ring Rumpus

Photo: Caroline Cardiasmenos

For those of you keeping track, this was race number 3 of my "not racing my MTB" year ;). Guess that was a giant fail! the good news is that it means I am having FUN racing my MTB this year.

Like some of my other [female] teammates, given that this race was pre-reg only, I knew going in that I was going to win, but was also going to finish DFL - it's all about perspective, right? I was still ready to go out and race, and decided to see where I would be against the rest of the Expert Women, across all of the fields. Most of them had been at Weeping Willow as well - another fast power course where I did reasonably well.

At the pre-race meeting we were told that the Auburn Fire Department was monitoring the weather. The forecast was for SEVERE weather at some point in the afternoon, and because we were running late, there might be a chance we would see it. If necessary, the promoters would pull us from the course for safety reasons. Other announcements were short so that they could line up the Elite/Expert fields, and get us underway. Only one teeny, tiny issue - 60+ racers were staged across the course, with sport racers still trying to finish their races! Every time a racer would come through, yells of "Racer Back" would make their way through the staged racers, the seas would part, the cheers would be loud, and the Sport racers ran the gamut. Likely intimidating for them, but great to see the cooperation of the other fields as well.

The Expert women took the line with the Master (50+) men. I knew about half of this field, and was both intimidated and confident about racing with them. On go, there was a good amount of jostling as racers 4 across attempted to get into a single line. The Junior woman took off like a rocket on the right side, while I hopped on the back of the Masters train as it left the station. Before going half a mile (but not before I got worried), the junior racer fell off, never to be seen again. And I ended up with my good friend Dave L, who came by me telling me that I had a good gap, and to sit in.

And so it went. Dave and I traded pulls every lap, seemingly through the same sections. It was so much easier to be WITH another racer, especially on this course. Who knew that drafting could play such an important role in a "mountain bike" course? At one point, I tried to jump on the wheel of a passing single speeder, but that didn't last long, and Dave and I were back together, counting laps.

After finishing 6 laps, we were both pretty excited to be going into the final lap of the race and also glad to still have all of our fingers attached to our hands (we were responsible for counting our own laps, and before the race Dave could be heard telling people the chewing off a finger a lap meant that when you were down to just thumbs, you were done!).

While cloudy, the rain had held off, but that was all about to change. Suddenly, the skies turned BLACK, and then opened. And it didn't just rain - it came down in SHEETS. Thunder was booming, lightning flashing, and marshalls were being pulled from the course. It was scary, and then got dangerous. Glasses on - couldn't see through the water and mud. Glasses off - couldn't see through the water and mud. Essentially, Dave and I were riding blind for the second part of the final lap. I later said that if he had ridden off the face of the Earth, I would have been right behind him. Thankfully the non-technical nature of the course helped us, and coming into the final chicane I ripped off my glasses, glad to have finished, and wanting desperately to get out of the storm!

Oh - and I guess I achieved my goal. Working with Dave, I never saw any of the other Expert women after the start until we were all huddled under the tent looking at results :).

Friday, June 4, 2010

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

How Far?

After a 4.5 day weekend, re-entry at the office yesterday was a little tough. The weather over the past few days was perfect for our planned trip to Maine for LOTS of riding. Mike and I headed north on Thursday afternoon, and were later joined by John and then Wayne and Jean.


Friday morning, Mike, John, Wayne and I headed to Gorham where we met Alexis and Michele. The six of us were in for an extended version of what I like to call the "Around the Block Loop" - Gorham to Jefferson Notch, up and over the highest state maintained road in NH; down Crawford Notch, up over Bear Notch to the Kanc, down to Passaconaway Rd, out West Side Rd to Rte 302, and then, finally, up and over Pinkham Notch. Alexis had his GPS running, so we were able to get the map and elevation profile.

Promptly at 9:32 (oops!), we rolled out for the day. Our first adventure came as we detoured from Rte 2 onto a parallel side road. The road was officially closed for bridge repair, but the construction crew let us "pay the toll" to cross through. They already thought we were nuts, and we were only just starting out.

We hit the base of Jefferson Notch together as a group, but that wasn't to last. Mike and John, followed closely by Wayne and then Alexis, and finally myself and Michele made our way up the long, steep, dirt climb. We had to use some 'cross skills on the way up, either bunny-hopping (the boys), or dismounting to get over a log across the road. There was tons of debris that we had to be careful didn't get lodged in the derailleurs. We regrouped at the top of the climb - one down and two more to go!

Our last trip down Crawford Notch saw us pedalling like gerbils only to go about 16 mph. Thankfully the wind wasn't a factor this day - I hit my highest speed ever descending there - about 48 mph! We maintained a pretty strong paceline down into Bartlett, where we stopped to refuel before our next climb.

The route over Bear Notch, down the Kanc and back into Bartlett was relatively uneventful. We made our second stop as we entered Glen, and by that point, we were all getting tired (some more than others!). Unfortunately, we still had 22 miles to go, and most of it was UP! On the first pitch after our stop, the boys were off, and Michele and I were left to climb up Pinkham alone. We slogged it out - my arms hurt, my back hurt and my feet were killing me. We felt a sense of accomplishment getting to the top, but that was short lived - the downhill back to Gorham was into a demoralizing headwind. Add a dropped chain part way down, and we were SO HAPPY to get back to the cars - 96 miles, 5115 ft and almost 6 hours later.

Unfortunately, ahead of Michele and I, Mike and John were descending at about 38 mph when John's wheel hit a piece of tailpipe laying in the shoulder. Mike looked back and saw John flying through the air, hitting the ground and sliding. John did make it up, but with less material in his jersey and shorts, and a skin donation on the pavement. Lucky for John, and off-duty EMT happened by, providing some ice packs, and a lift back down to the cars. Hopefully John heals quickly, and is back on the bike in no time.

After dinner we set out on a moose hunt up to Grafton Notch. Given the time of day, we figured it would be prime moose sighting, but alas, it was not to be. Instead, we had a nice stop at Screw Auger Falls, and then went hunting for ice cream ;)

(Wayne and Jean - oddly, we ended up seeing a moose just off the highway on the way home on Sunday!)


We packed as much into a day on Saturday as possible! We started the day with a delicious breakfast, and then Mike and Wayne headed out for their ride. Jean and I stayed behind to do a few errands before heading out on a ride of our own.

Mike had mapped out a route for us that was to be about 53 miles, starting from the house. Starting out, I told Jean that the only rule for the day was that the ride was about having a good time. It's a good thing there wasn't any pressure, because shortly into our ride, I took us in the wrong direction and we had to double back to get onto the route we were targeting.

Part of our route took us onto Rabbit Rd - a snowmobile trail in the winter, and dirt road in the summer. With the dry weather, parts of the road were big sandpits, requiring us to dismount at one point! We traversed water crossings, rock gardens and washboard roads before turning onto the next section of dirt road - rocky and rooty, and requiring some deft handling skills. Jean handled it well, with only one minor mishap (how's that bruise???). I think we were BOTH glad to get back out onto the pavement.

After riding past Round Pond, and then along North Pond, we ended up on Rte 232 with only 18 miles. Somehow, I had done something wrong in my navigation - there was no way that we were going to hit 50 miles (I forgot the Andover part of the loop). So, I sort of offered Jean an alternative (talking while riding in the direction I was talking about going...) to ride along the Androscoggin to Rumford, and then back to Bethel. Somewhere along the way, I learned that Jean hadn't done a 50 mile ride this season - she did an awesome job getting around the loop with no complaints. It was a sense of accomplishment for Jean, and for me (it made the week my longest of the year).

Surprisingly, the boys were back when we got to the house. They had cut their plans of 100 mile ride, and finished up with 70 for the day. After eating and cleaning up, we headed out for our reward - beers at the Sunday River Brewery. We followed that with a visit to Bethel's Casablanca Cinema to see Iron Man 2, and then dinner at the Jolly Drayman. It was a full day, and we were all pretty beat when we got back to the house.


The lack of motivation Sunday morning was palpable ;). It's not often that we spend a leisurely morning just hanging out, but that's exactly what we did. We were all still in our PJ's at 10:30! I think it was at that point that we all decided we weren't up for any big activity, so we packed up and headed back home.


After a day off the bike, Monday brought another big ride for Mike and I. We went out on the tandem and tried to find flat roads after all of the climbing we had already done on the weekend. Somehow that landed us on 117 all the way into Leominster! After some navigating in the downtown, we ended up on Rte 12 into Sterling, and then onto 62 and then 110 to get back home. It was a tough ride (with more wind), but we added another 75 miles to the weekend's tally.

So, a long weekend with lots of riding (I ended up with 221 miles total). And I have to say, it was WAY more fun than I would have had racing at Killington ;)