Getting Ready for the Big Night

Halloween is a big deal at my house. Every year I host a giant blowout, and this year I’ve really outdone myself.  It’s a Sherlock Holmes-style mystery, where guests can find clues to solve the Case of the Missing Mason Jars. Preparations started last month, and are steadily ramping up to the big night. Here’s a sneak peek:

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Why Endurance Racing is Somewhat Awesome

A gong begins to resonate through a dark campground. Energy buzzes in the air, crackling from tent to tent as campers emerge to light their stoves, brew their coffee, and stuff as many calories as possible into nervous stomachs. Orbs of light from headlamps bob from bike to bathroom to tent.

For me, the race is a mostly solo activity, at least after the first 10 miles. Sure, there’s the jackass who told me to “watch out” for my Black Sheep titanium fork, because he broke his, probably because he was twice my size and had no business riding an ultra lightweight component like that. (Who SAYS something like that at the beginning of a 100-mile race?)

Then there’s the shirtless guy wearing a giant Mickey Mouse head standing by an awesome section of downhill. I briefly wondered if I was hallucinating.

There was also the cute 10-year-old who patiently held my bike at Aid Station #2 while I scurried into the woods to pee.

Inevitably, when I’m pushing my one-speed bike up a mountain trail that resembles a log flume at an amusement park, I think about my Dad. The Dad that played volleyball and tennis and hiked every day, and seemed to be chiseled from stone, permanent and unwavering.  Not the Dad that sat in a nursing home, robbed of his voice and his mobility. I know that on some level, he would understand the impulse to doggedly push that bike in the rain, that it somehow makes sense, even though at the moment, the singlespeed is a bit like an elephant that’s been dropped high in the Himalayas. Experiencing this challenge–these thunderclaps, those torrents of water that spill off the visor of my helmet,  this mud that polishes skin as smooth as a newborn–brings his spirit so close it is almost tangible.

There is a purity of purpose in endurance racing that cannot be experienced in a short event. My trusty Spot is unflinching and brave in the face of it, and offers a chance for redemption with every turn of the pedals.

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Highlights from the Shenandoah Mountain 100

Hurricane Isaac might’ve put a damper dampening on the racing at this year’s SM100, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t memorable times to be had.

Inspiring Bromance:

  • When teammate Todd cartwheeled over the handlebars in a significant way, Scott’s thought was “at least now I can quit, because I won’t leave Todd out here until help arrives.” But Todd was uninjured, so the pair continued onto their glorious, mud-caked finish.
  • I’d decided to call it a day at Aid Station #3, but as it turns out, I didn’t need to go that far. Brent and Mac, 2 pals who do long mountain bike races on a tandem while wearing tuxedo jerseys, were coming back down the mountain toward me.  They were turning around too, and knew a shortcut back to the campground. I followed their fishtailing tandem as it slip-slided down the raging torrent of mud and water, a singlespeed remora zipping around a muddy red whale. It was the most fun I had during the whole race.

Moments of Transcendence:

  • I don’t generally like riding in the rain and mud, and I’m not great in slippery conditions. (I’m not really that great in dry conditions, either, but it gets worse.) On the first long downhill, I was tentative in the mud-chute of rocks. Water was flowing off my helmet and I reached a low point. Then something snapped, and I just started letting it rip. The rain was exhilarating, and I couldn’t imagine anything more awesome.
  • Riding up the first big climb, I felt unprepared to deal with the reality of slogging through the race for 14 or so hours. Then I caught up to tattoo guy, a skinny dude with a tattoo on his calf that looked like a knee sock. He was complaining about the blisters on his feet and his sore butt. I was suddenly glad that NOTHING on me hurt–no blisters, no sore butt (at least partially due to my awesome Voler shorts). But seriously–it was like 25 miles in….whose butt hurts after that?

Brief Moments of Awesome:

  • Hanging out. I was the last of our team to cross the finish line last year at the Wilderness 101, so it was actually kind of cool to see everyone else finish this time. By the late afternoon, the sun cleared out a big sky filled with postcard-perfect white clouds. Nothing wrong with relaxing on a blanket, drinking a beer and watching mud-encrusted racers ride down the hill.
  • The full moon at 2 a.m. Proper hydration meant numerous trips to the potties in the middle of the night. Pretty cool to see the moon shining down on all the tents and bikes, anticipating the early morning start.
  • The portable shower truck. It may be one of the best inventions of the century. After a disgusting racing experience, it was amazing to be able to stand under a warm shower and wash it all away.

Of course, there’s also some footage of the whole experience:

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The Final Countdown

The Shenandoah Mountain 100 is this Sunday. It’s basically a 100-mile mountain bike race through the Shenandoah National Forest and surrounding area. By “basically,” I mean “really f***ing hard.” I’m doing it on my singlespeed, which is how I roll. A bunch of us from this area are driving there and camping together, so we’re all deep in preparation for the big weekend. Fortunately, I had a little help today:

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Getting Canned

I remember carefully navigating the stairs into the basement of my grandparents’ ranch house as a little girl, stealing around the corner to where my Mommom’s canned goods perched. Shelf after shelf sat filled with glass mason jars.  Plump tomatoes suspended in their own juice, mysterious and organ-like in the dim basement light.  Peach slices the color of sunshine.  Juices in every color of the rainbow. (Actually, I’m romanticizing the part about the peaches–canned peaches are gross.)

I’ve gotten into canning (or “putting up food,” in the lingo), and I have to say it’s pretty rewarding to open up a jar of your summer bounty in the middle of February. It seems like magic that the exact same acidic bite greets me when I stick my nose in a jar of tomato sauce as when I processed it many months ago. Of course, that “magic” is the result of a half day’s labor for 7 pints of preserved tomatoes. Sure, I could buy that same amount at the supermarket for a couple of bucks, but it wouldn’t be the same.

So far this season I’ve made a couple batches of strawberry jam, and canned a batch of tomatoes.

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Cool Mint on a Steamy Afternoon

Loyal fans of The Rhetorical Purpose know just how well they are treated. Last Friday, as temperatures climbed into the 90s, a frosty, minty concoction awaited Friday Happy Hour attendees.

Chef Chloe’s vegan mint chocolate chip ice cream, as featured in the July/August 2012 issue of Vegetarian Times, was on tap. Perhaps the most intriguing ingredient was the small amount of canola oil, locally produced by Susquehanna Mills.

Hopefully, all the prep work paid off:

But did it?

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Friday Night Lights at the ChesLen Preserve

On July 13th, I attended “Friday Night Lights,” an event sponsored by radio station WXPN, at the ChesLen Preserve in Chester County. It was a fun evening of live music, s’more making, and visiting with live owls (one of my absolute favorite critters) from the Great Valley Nature Center. I went for the owls, but…

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