Why I’m Not Cycling Outside

I’m not cycling outside for one reason: risk.

Cycling is a sport that is wrapped up in a big blanket of risk. And  right now, I firmly believe that the best thing I can do to help myself and my community members is to mitigate risk.

So I’m not cycling outdoors.

There are two scenarios that are keeping me indoors, riding my bike in the basement:

  1. I get a flat tire, break a pedal, bike explodes, etc. – forcing me to interact with a stranger. Which then forces me to violate social distancing rules.
  2. I fall off my bike, get hit by a car, etc. –  forcing me to go to the hospital. Now I’m a drain on an already overburdened healthcare system, I’m willingly putting myself in a risky situation by exposing myself to seriously ill people, and I’m adding more stress to the healthcare professionals who are trying to look after the very sick.

Would I like to cycling outside right now? Heck yes! But, I can wait. And  I will wait until health officials tell us that we are safe.

But what if it is June and we’re still living under social distancing and essential services regulations? I’ll still be riding inside. I’ll still be cruising the streets of Watopia and watching NetFlix.

And I’ll still be safe. And I’ll know that I’m not adding to an already stressful and scary time by creating more risk.

This is why I’m not riding outside. I’m not telling you what to do. I’m telling  you what I’m doing. Everyone has to do what is right for them.

So, Now What?

For quite a few days now, I’ve told myself to sit down and write a blog post. But it simply hasn’t happened. I have lots to say. But zero motivation to get it out of my head and on the page.

Well, this all changes now. I miss blogging. I miss chatting and connecting with you. It’s time to kick the excuses to the curb and get on with it.

So, where to start? Life is weird. You know that. I know that. I could never ever imagined what we’re all dealing with now. Nope, seems like we’re living in some big blockbuster  movie. If only that were true.

The immediate changes to life here at ottawa.cx world headquarters are on the surface minimal. I already work from home. Marc is very experienced at working from home and has made a seamless transition. Calvin the cat is still bossing us around. We have a full fridge. And I fortunately did a big order of ostomy supplies before people started buying up alcohol wipes, non-stick pads, and other small medical supplies that make life much easier for us ostomates.

As for the rest of life. Well, it’s different. No cycling outdoors. No visiting friends. No restaurants. Our plans for a trip down to Georgia and Florida are now on permanent hold. We expect the wait for Marc’s heart surgery to grow from a 3-6 month wait to up to 9 months or longer. He is okay – we just  need that annoying hole fixed. Marc has got a top-notch heart surgeon who assures us that Marc can safely ride his bike, race, and live his life normally without putting himself at risk.

But really, apart from the heart surgery delay – these changes aren’t that  different than what you are experiencing. We’ve all had plans change. We’re all thinking about our jobs. We’re all worrying about what will come next.

Really, regardless of where we live, the jobs we do, the number of people in our family, and how much money we have – we are all in this together. I think this is an important fact to remember when out buying groceries. Everyone – the person who looks rather frazzled, the person who is walking slowly, the person who has red-rimmed eyes, and the person who seems oblivious to social distancing – we’re all in this together.

We are all trying to deal with this in our own ways.

This is a very good time to remember the saying “you don’t know  someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes”. So be patient. Be kind. Think of others. Smile, even when you’d rather shout. We can get through this. It’s going so suck for a good long while, but we can do it.

And now, to put a smile on your face. Here are some goofy drawings I’ve been doing. I’ve started doing the drawing  exercises in Lynda Barry’s incredible Making Comics book. This book is stretching me in so many ways. It’s not just putting lines on the paper – Barry has got me firing up my imagination muscles again. This is the perfect time for it.

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2010 Cyclo-Cross World Championships

I wrote this post 10 years ago. I had just raced at the World Cyclocross Championships in Tabor, CZ. It’s very hard for me today on January 31, 2020 to tell you what this race means to me and Marc. I could never have done this without Marc and my amazing coach Steve Weller of Bell Lap Coaching. These two men really believed in more than I did and made sure I got to the start line ready to race. 

Here I am 10 years later after achieving a massive goal – a goal many people told me I would never reach. So, what is next for me? What is my next big goal?

Where do I start? How do I start? I fear that this racing experience might just simply be too grand for me to capture with words. It was that amazing. That huge. Really there is no race quite like the Cyclo-Cross World Championships. I was pretty confident that I was ready for the spectacle – I’ve done a lot of World Cup this year (all of them except Roubaix) and I’ve raced in front of some big crowds in Belgium.

But, really, nothing compares to the frenzy, emotion, excitement, and noise of a Cyclo-Cross World Championships. Take every racing experience you’ve ever had, multiply it by a billion, and then multiply that by a gazillion. You might come close to the experience I had yesterday.

I do have to say that the World Cup racing experience and my full season in Europe, did at least help me prepare for race day. My pre-race routine worked perfectly. Over this season I’ve worked out a warm-up and pre-race routine that allows me to get to the start line feeling refreshed, focused, and ready to race. I used this same warm-up and routine on Sunday. It worked perfectly.

The race was simply incredible. I had a blast. I tried to smile. Tried to soak it all in. I raced hard. Really hard. I knew I’d have to dig deep to finish on the lead lap. It was close, but I did it. And I know I have the abilities to ensure that next year, there won’t be any doubt of my finishing on the lead lap. I took risks on Sunday. I rode some of the more challenging lines out there. Partly because I struggled with grabbing the posts and pivoting on the ice and partly because at times, the steeper drops or crazy lines through the corners just seem to work better for me. So long as I stay upright, and I get around, I’m happy.

I felt super focused out there. There wasn’t a moment where I had a negative thought. In fact there are parts of the race that I can’t even remember. One of my race goals was to have an “experience of letting go”. I really think I accomplished this. At times it was as though my bike was piloting itself. Perfect! Just what I wanted.

I had a great picture of the course in my head. So as I was racing I could remind myself how to set up for different sections. I remember to stay wide to the left for the off-camber and to take the line along the fence. (Awesome to have the training crew from Floreal Lichtaart there to cheer me on and point me to the fast line!). After the second set of stairs I remembered to really rev it up so I could float over the slippery little climb and to then pedal through the fast and icy down/up. I focused on looking up and pedaling constantly. These were two other race goals. I didn’t do this all the time, but I’d say 75 per cent – so I take this as a success.

Really, when it comes down to it – I can say that I had a good race. This is massive. You know me. I’m very critical of myself. So for me to say I had a good race. This means I actually had a great race.

Favorite moments of the day:
– waking up and seeing the excitement and pride in Marc’s face
– hearing Marc cheer me on every time I went by the pits
– see the Team Canada boys running all over the course and cheering me on
– hanging out with Luc before and after the race
– seeing my cyclo-cross racing friends
– hanging out in the staging area, looking at my racing idol Hanka Kufernagel – knowing that anything is possible
– hearing my name announced over the loud speaker – have to love Richard Fries – no one calls a race like him
– racing and seeing/hearing/feeling the fans
– hearing the bell lap – nothing quite like that for me
– crossing the finish line alone, sitting up, smoothing out my skinsuit, sitting up proud so everyone could see the red maple leaf and the words Team Canada

It was just so amazing. So perfect. I’ve written a race report over here.

After the race I rolled back to the hotel with Connie and talked her ear off. Connie was amazing this whole week. The night before the race I was having a minor panic attack and Connie really helped me out. She reminded me of the hard work I’ve done, how I deserve to be racing at the Cyclo-Cross World Championships, and just gave my confidence a massive boost. Thanks so much Connie!

Marc, Matt, Alex and I walked back to the race course but first we made a detour. We were on a pastry mission. The first bakery was closed. Then I remembered the bakery at the grocery store… It was open. We all loaded up on pastries. Then it was off to the race, where we all got something else – burgers, frites, beer, fanta. It was all consumed! Then it was the elite men’s race. What a blast. We all went our separate ways and watched the race. I met some guys who live in Westerlo (just down the road from Blauberg). I took a bunch of pictures (yes, I’ll post them – tomorrow!). Cheered on my favorites. And then I hung out with the guys from Mongolia. A good day was had. Walked back to the hotel with Marc and Luc. Frantically packed up our hotel room and made it to Prague.

We had a fantastic team dinner last night. Went to an amazing restaurant. There was an incredible salad buffet and then the servers came by with meat that they would slice and serve to you. I stuck to the salad buffet but I watched a lot of tasty looking meat get consumed. Amazing how much the junior boys can eat! Then it was time for walking. Matt, Marc, and Alex and I took in the city. We walked for close to three hours, crossed the Charles Bridge, took in the sights, chatted (okay – I talked everyone’s ears’ off!), laughed, and simply had a great night.

Great way to cap off a fantastic day. Everyone else is on their way home now. Marc is still asleep. But in a little bit we’ll get out and explore the city before driving back to Belgium.

This whole experience has been like a dream. Thanks for being involved. I’m already making plans for next year. I’ve recruited a couple of patient juniors (Karl and Conor) to help me out with my mountain biking skills this summer. I’ve got a loose race schedule taking shape. Looking forward to a solid off-season of training, growing, and learning. I’ll take a couple of weeks off and then get back at it.

The fire has been lit. It is burning hot and bright. Can’t wait to see what next year brings. I am so happy right now.

Playing Catch Up

Do you ever feel like you just don’t have enough time or energy to get through your days? Lately I’ve been feeling this every single day. I wake up in the morning with a strange sense of elation and dread.

Elated because it’s another day and I’m here, living, breathing, feeling, thriving.

Dread because I just don’t know how I’m going to do justice to the day that is.

Maybe this is a bit too much big thinking. But it is what it is right now. I suppose this is because I’m feeling particularly grateful and lucky. There is so much bad stuff happening and here I am – healthy, loved, and supported.

For me this underscores the need to do good things, big things, fulfilling things, things that matter. This is a lot. Some days it happens. Others not so much. But I think the secret to this is realizing that the small things add up.

Holding the door, smiling at a stranger, casual conversation in line at the grocery store, letting a car into the line of traffic, slowing for the pedestrians, and generally treating people the way you’d like to be treated.

For some reason these small gestures are a big deal. I really don’t think it used to be like this. I think that people used to have more patience, grace, and understanding. For some reason, everyone is so hyper-focused on their own needs that they neglect the obvious – we’re all in this together – so be nice – you never know when you’ll need that stranger to help you out.

So yeah, this is where the elated dread combo comes from. I feel lucky to have this. Perspective. So important.

And can I make a confession? I just spent 60 minutes watching Carpool Karaoke on YouTube. Geez. Never have I watched 60 minutes of videos on YouTube. It started with Billie Eilish then it was Celine Dion then Madonna and finally my BFF of all time Adele. Really some power ladies right there.

Some of you who follow me on Instagram will know that the shingles has made a return to my day-to-day. The good news is we caught it early. My eye was in a funk and is still not 100% but it’s much better. The bad news is that I’ll never be free of the damn shingles. It thrives on stress. And geez, I’ve had some stress as of late. Most of it self-imposed by my need to pack everyday to the maximum with all the things.

So thank you shingles for the wake-up call and reminder.

I recently listened to a very enlightening episode of Don’t Tell Me The Score with Liz Clarke-Saul. This episode is a must listen. Hopefully it will remind you of what is so damn awesome in your life right here and now. Here’s the show synopsis (listen to it – you’ll be glad you did):

What facing death can teach us about living life, with GB Para-cyclist Liz Clarke-Saul. Liz is 30 years old- and has incurable cancer. She was first diagnosed with adamantinoma – an extremely rare form of bone cancer- at the age of 12 in 2001. Liz had her leg amputated because of the disease two years later, and she was inspired to take up para-cycling after London 2012. But last year- with Tokyo 2020 firmly in her sights- Liz found out the adamantinoma had returned, and that it was now incurable. In this episode- Liz talks about the importance of appreciating how precious time is, and why big birthdays shouldn’t be seen as something to dread- but as a privilege. She talks about applying the power of sporting mantras- like ‘control the controllables’- to her situation, as well as the importance of living for the day- because you could get hit by a bus tomorrow.

And in other exciting news, one of my favorite athletes wrote a book. Hillary Allen is inspiring on so many levels. Pre-order her book. Follow her on Instagram. She has been there, been through it, and keeps on doing it. So resilient.

Oh, and it’s the World Cyclocross Championships this weekend. Can’t wait to watch the racing on Saturday and Sunday. Kind of weird to realize that 10 years ago I raced this race.

Cyclo-cross World Championships

 

A Quick Look Back

Well, it has been a year. What a year it has been.

This time last year I was not in a good place. I had the shingles. I felt terrible physically and mentally. I was done. Ready to give in.

What a difference a year makes. I was doing some sketching the other day and I flipped back in my sketchbook to see what I was up to on Dec. 20, 2018… Nothing… There is a big gap between Dec. 16 and 29, 2018. I guess this is when the wheels fully fell off.

The good news is, the wheels are back on and the spares are ready to go. I’m finally starting to feel more like myself. Slowly but surely my energy is coming back – I attribute this to finally getting my vision problems (thanks shingles) fixed. I’ve got a contact lens in my right eye and a brand new eye glass prescription  – and now I can see again.

What a difference. And I fully believe this is why my energy is starting to rebound. Not being able to see is a struggle. Seriously, go get the Shingrix vaccine… I wish I had had the vaccine.

So, enough about that. So long 2019. Bring on 2020.

I don’t set New Year’s resolutions. But I do try to make small changes in my life on a regular basis. There was that time I decided to give up peanut butter… yeah, that didn’t last too long.

I read a post on Instagram where the author suggested choosing a word for the year. I like this one. I wasn’t sure what to choose and then this morning I didn’t go swimming and I started obsessing about not working out/training today. I was doing a good job of beating myself up for not training today…. and then my word came to me:

Flexibility

This word has a lot of meaning for me. I’m a planner. I like schedules. I like to know every single detail and have my days mapped out (well in advance). Kind of the opposite of flexible. I do this planning because it helps me lower my anxiety and stress over uncertainty. But maybe, this planning habit is actually creating more stress. Overthinking, planning, scheduling – whatever you call it – I do it big time.

I’m not going to fully let the reins go and stop planning. But I’m going to work hard on being flexible. I slept in, didn’t get to the pool – no big deal. It’s too warm to fat bike – okay, so I won’t fat bike. And that’s it. No ruminating, overthinking about what I could do instead, and hand-wringing because I didn’t train. Just, accepting it and moving on. This is my version of flexible.

Okay, end serious stuff….

It’s the end of a decade. Here’s a couple photos from what was happening my life 10 years ago:

IMG_1837Run Vicki Run!Just a little bit furtherLet the bike do the work

It feels like a lifetime ago that I was in my prime physical fitness, racing and training in Belgium and getting ready for the 2010 World Cyclocross Championships.

These photos are a great reminder of what is possible:

IMG_1889IMG_3606-800Cyclo-cross World ChampionshipsCyclo-cross World ChampionshipsCyclo-cross World ChampionshipsIMG_3627-800

 

Truth Telling

The truth is, I keep writing blog posts and not publishing them.

I’m not not publishing because I don’t like the writing. Nope, it’s the words that give me issue. I worry that the content is too heavy and will be not taken for what it simply is – words on the page.

Just know that I am writing but I’m not sharing. It feels strange for me since my philosophy from the outset of creating this blog was to be honest with you. Honest about life as an elite cyclocross racer and being honest about life with an auto-immune disease. So not publishing feels like trickery.

Life isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. There have been some very low points for me in this year. I keep telling myself that things will get better and that it’s really not that bad. But geez, some days I wonder how much more is going to happen.

And still, I know I have it very lucky. So it makes it hard for me to tell you about the bits in between the bikes, cyclocross racing, working, living, traveling, and ice cream eating. Just know that the bits in between are making me feel less-than-lucky, not-so-resilient, and definitely-not-inspiring.

I suppose I need to remember a sentence that I recently posted in response to an Instagram post by a young Canadian cyclocross racer: “Remember, you’re only human.”

So this is me, being human. My current answer to “How are you?” is “I‘m tired. I’m tired of being tired. And no, rest doesn’t help. Something is not right. Oh, and I have a raging ear infection. My left ear feels like it’s on fire. Yes, I’m going to the doctor on Friday. Really all I want to do is to put on my track pants and eat peanut butter from the jar, but I know this is only a temporary fix. And besides, the peanut butter is frozen solid. I stuck it in the freezer so I’d stop eating it every single day at every single meal. Instead I’m hooked on decaf instant coffee. I know, not really coffee. But it is what it is. So yeah, this is how I am. How are you? Oh, are you watching Season 3 of The Crown? I’m thoroughly addicted and trying to pace myself.

 

 

Vision, Swimming, and Everything Else

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I haven’t written in a while. I’ve wanted to write but frankly by the end of my workday, I’m tired. Yes, tired.

My brain is working overtime to see properly and it turns out this is very exhausting. I had my cataract surgery on October 22nd.

The double vision hit me hard on October 23rd. And now, almost four weeks later, I’m not a big fan of my new vision. The rampant double vision hasn’t really gone away. I spend most of the time seeing blurry, shadowed, moving, and hazy text on  my laptop, Kindle,  and in anything else I’m trying to read.

I saw my optometrist yesterday. Turns out this is because my brain is struggling to process the two images I’m seeing – the images from my left and right eyes. Complicating matters is that my right eye is  -4… And to make things even more challenging for my little old brain  – it’s extra hard to process two images when wearing glasses (lots of intense science but basically it’s hard for my brain to understand and communicate what it’s seeing because of the distance of my glasses from my eye). I know – fascinating.

So for now, I’m making do. I’ve learned how to cope with this crazy vision. I’m driving but only under ideal circumstances. I front load my workday to compensate for the fatigue.

I have a follow-up appointment on December 2nd. More tests will be done and then there might be a plan. Current ideas are: contact lenses (maybe fancy progressive lenses or maybe mono vision) and an end to wearing glasses. If the contacts don’t fix the problem then I’m off to the Eye Institute for lens replacement in my right eye.

Moral of this blurry story: get your vaccinations! Don’t get the shingles. This is all because of the damned shingles and uveitis that I ended up with last December.

Now for something shiny and bright….

I’ve started swimming! Yep, swimming. I had my ileostomy surgery in August 2016. I haven’t had a bath since. I really didn’t know what would happen with my pouch – would it still stick, would I get leaks, would disaster strike?

For the last few months I’ve had this nagging feeling about wanting to go swimming. I used to swim when I was in university (not on the swim team – just thrashing around in the pool) and when I worked downtown.

After some deep thinking, lots of question asking of my pals in the Ostomy Lifestyles Athletes Facebook group, and some chats with friends who swim – I decided to go for it. I figured the worst that could happen is my pouch would leak or I would drown.

So this past Monday, I did it. I went swimming. Wow – what a feeling. I’ve gone three times this week and have signed up for a technique improvement session with Technosport.

There is something special about swimming. It’s so different from everything else I do. I find it calming and challenging. I’m stoked to improve on my skills and to get better. And no, there are no triathlons in my future. This is purely for fun and another way to relax my brain and get some exercise.

That’s about it. I’ve started sketching again but this only happens when my brain is firing on all cylinders. I’m excited to read Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann.  I listened to an interview with Lucy Ellmann on The Guardian books podcast and I found her to be a fascinating person. Apparently the book is very long – hard to know since I used a mega-large font on my Kindle…. Are you watching The Morning Show? It’s such smart television.

And well, that’s it. This eye/brain connection will get better. When I think back to how awful I felt this time last year – this vision shituation doesn’t feel that bad. It was right around this time that I ended up in the hospital with acute peritonitis, I was asked about my living will, Marc had to change his Belgium travel plans, I had to cancel my trip, and then I topped it off with the shingles and uveitis….

So all in all, wonky vision is frustrating but I feel like I’ve got lots of experience now with wonky and frustrating health challenges. Things can only get better from here.