Snake Stories

The first day of my bike tour, I heard about a woman on the tour, cute, short auburn hair, wore dresses, from Georgia, who had got bitten on the foot by a copperhead the week before.

She limped a little, and I'd see her at rest stops with one shoe off to relieve the pressure from her still-swollen foot. And each day, inevitably, she'd pass me in a long line of efficient cyclists, and she'd chirp a "good morning."

The relative fame of the copperhead bite started a tide of snake stories around the campsites.

My favorite was told by a sun-burnt man with a southern drawl and provinces of white skin around his eyes. He and his wife had moved to South Dakota from Virginia. Being in the military, they moved a lot.

Driving, one day, Mr. South Dakota pointed out a water moccasin as they passed it on the road. His wife didn't believe that that was what it was, so he pulled the truck around to take her back and show her. He pulled to the side of the dirt road, and before he could get out of the driver's seat, his wife (I imagine wearing a floral print dress with a sash tied round the middle) had run over to the snake to pick it up.

The water moccasin latched onto her thumb, and by the time South Dakota got to her she was howling and whipping the snake around. Floral print going everywhere. SD had to kill the snake to get it off her.

(And that's my favorite part of the story, the fact that this woman exists, who's first reaction to prove her husband wrong, is to go pick up a poisonous snake.)

He wrapped the carcass (snake) in an old towel in the truck and got himself and his wife in the cab to drive to the hospital.

There was a hospital close-by, but he wanted to take her to the military one half an hour away. Her hand was swelling already. "She could have lost her thumb," he chose this time to tell us.

They make it to the hospital; she doesn't lose her thumb. The attendant at the desk is wary to let them in saying, "How do you know it was a water moccasin?"

South Dakota unfurls the towel, and the dead snake rolls onto the man's desk, serrated head gaping up at him. SD shows us with both hands how the man shoved himself backwards up against the wall. They got prompt service after that.

Once, years ago at the dog-run park in Colorado Springs, my brothers were playing in the creek while my dad threw the ball for Littles. I was sitting on the bank and saw opposite me a black and white snake (so thick I couldn't have gotten my hand around it) belly-crawling (as you might imagine) in the weeds next to where my brothers were playing. My mom saw it too. As it made its descent towards her babies she yelled, "Oh my Gawd! Tom, you should take a picture."


The Foibles of my Youth

Here's something else I've been thinking about: (while reading blogs like Kyle's and Mitch's and talking to folks like Lindsay)

A lot of my friends and I are in a post Christian-upbringing tension. The kind of rearing where only certain media was allowed, church participation was necessary and embraced, and lifestyle rules were maintained. Think Brio Magazine, the Newsboys and purity rings.

We find out, later on, that whole gardens of delight have been hidden from us: incredible varieties of music, books and beer and liberalism that by no means excludes Christianity. We have to deal with the obscurity and the enthusiastic uncoolness of our childhoods and early (or in my case, total) adolescence.

I mean enthusiastic: for the fifth grade talent show at my school, a friend and I performed a song by the Newsboys. It said "God" in it and we sang and danced and wore leotards. My parents were very proud.

Lindsay and I started a Christian music club. We bought CDs together -- Jars of Clay, DC Talk -- and then traded them back and forth like divorced parents do with children. One of our club activities was painting Veggie Tales characters on the inside of the Lung's shed by candlelight.

And on into high school (the club disbanded, unfortunately), the only secular-label CD I got my hands on was Californication. That was from Lindsay in the start of her "rebellious phase." (Quote from her recently: "If you're going to break some of the rules, why not break all of them?" I love her.)

An aside: Lindsay always has these unexpected opinions and traits. In the midst of her high-school ditching, boozing, puppy buying, outdoor peeing antics she had this great affinity for Precious Moments figurines. Even in my abject obedience, I never applied the word "precious" without biting sarcasm.

I asked John if he ever wished he could go back to high school knowing what he knows now. I could have used an angry girl band shredding their hearts out. Sleater-Kinney would've been a God send. Carrie Brownstein, I needed you. John just gave me a blank look. He will like what he likes and never apologize for it.*

This is sort of my apology. Sorry, self. Sorry, world.

An unexpected thing: walking around the pond in City Park in Denver, goose poop everywhere, Lindsay told me about how she's thankful for the way she was raised. She believes it saved her a lot of heartbreak and painful life choices.

And I tend to agree with her.

*Maybe this blog post confuses everyone. I could be the only person with a Christian-culture-recovery complex.


Some Like It Luke Warm

My Amtrack ride from Denver to Chicago was running in the range of ten hours behind schedule. There was a man in the seat behind me, a little ragged looking, old Globe Trotters jacket, faded hat, who I'd been overhearing on the phone.

"I'm going to fucking miss my connection. I have to go all the way to Chicago, and take a train, but those are full, or a bus, but those are booked."

He spoke in a low voice. Controlled but wavering slightly.

I thought to myself, "I hope he doesn't have a firearm."

He said, "I haven't killed anybody yet, but I'm close."

Then, "They're going to give us dinner, but guess what they're feeding us?" Disgusted, "Chicken."

As I got up to go to the bathroom I heard him say, "You don't have much longer."

When I read that now, I realize it doesn't sound that scary. But I was stuck on a train! And a bullet could have easily ripped through the plastic-cloth components of the seat back and pierced my heart.

We were just idling on the tracks. The chicken-hating man could have cornered me in the joint between the dirty window, with white smears of children's hand and face prints (probably tongue prints), and the geometrically patterned cushions. Or stood me up with the gun barrel to my head shouting---Get those freight trains to move their asses or the girl dies!

(Not a bad plan, actually.)

He was right about the dinner. It was a decent meal of mashed potatoes, broth and a croissant. I met a guy who had just finished hiking the 500-mile trail from Denver to Durango. He does a new long-distance hiking trip every summer.

I moved to the observation lounge with a beer and my book, feeling pretty good. An older man, whom I had heard heckling the attendant because he wanted dessert (Just a little square of cake...), sat down next to me.

He was on the phone: We're twelve hours late...unbelievable...and don't even ask me about dinner...yes, terrible...no cake.

He hung up and turned to me, "58 years...that was the most affable....conversation we've ever had."

Then he put his camera to the window to take a picture of the silhouette, the sun setting red and purple behind an Iowan farm house. He couldn't figure out how to turn the flash off. Flash. Flash -- obscuring his picture.

A woman behind us said, "Oh, lightning!"


Cadel Evans is Coming to Town

I had never boxed my bike before. I watched You Tube videos of men vaguely explaining what they were doing while they disassembled their bicycles into unrecognizable components. The pedals came off, the wheels came off, the handlebars dangled limply by the brake cables, seat posts were truncated. They lay in sad pieces while the men admonished, "Now the trick is putting it back together."

Shortly upon arriving in Chicago, I needed to take a train to Colorado to start a week-long bike tour with my mom and our friend, Terri. Late, Mitch had to drop me off on the corner of Union Station right downtown. He tried to pull as close to the curb as he could, but the street was three-deep with idling taxi cabs. Everyone was honking.

I had partially prepared my bike for boxing (in order to take it on the train it needed to go in a box), and its front wheel was off loose in the trunk. In the middle of the road, I grabbed my backpacking back pack -- full of stuff for my three-week stay -- my over-sized purse, my maimed-looking bike, and the front wheel. My train was leaving in 50 minutes.

Inside, there were lines everywhere.

I did make the train, and I almost cried only once. Down in the guts of the station, I bought a box, had to take more things off my bike and was gently scolded for my tardiness. "This should have been finished ten minutes ago." Story of my life.

On our drive to Grand Junction, the start of the ride, Terri (a cycling buff) told me that a pro cycling tour was beginning in Colorado Springs on the 22nd. I want you to understand the import of this: CADEL EVANS WAS COMING TO COLORADO.

(Cadel Evans...!)

And the Schleck brothers and about 130 of the best cyclists around the globe.

Mitch and I got to watch the Tour de France because it was on at the time we quit our jobs. It was wonderful: we'd sleep in, get up, eat breakfast, flip on the Tour, and pack and clean and veg. Cycling is the only sport I've watched where the athletes complete the stages utterly exhausted. These are very fit men, but they can't get subbed out. They roll across the finish and their pit crews have to hold them upright so they don't topple off their bicycles. It's amazing mental fortitude.

My mom likes to refer to the Tour athletes as "the skinny butts."

I got many miles of distraction out of the fact that the tour was doing some of the same route that we were. Cottonwood and Independence Pass were each a day of riding for us. The pro riders are going to do it in one day (stage 2, this Wednesday). Here are the elevation maps for those days:

The thirteen miles to the summit of Cottonwood Pass are a dirt road. We were told that the road had been treated with something to make it less dusty. But nothing had been done to make that road smooth. The last six miles I spent at a good clip of five miles an hour, and I spent that time thinking how disappointed Cadel was going to be.

He's not going to be happy with those washboards. I'll bet he hits that pothole.

Independence Pass was the longest day of the ride. 8 hours and 50 minutes spent on my bike seat. Also my first century. :)

The only day I broke my cool was the end of day five. It was a 80-mile day with one of the smaller mountain passes. The last twenty miles we were riding downhill but against a strong headwind. It was over ninety degrees as we peddled for the very small town of Hotchkiss. We stopped under a rare tree and I believe I told my mom that I hated Hotchkiss more than any other town on earth. The only good thing about the debilitating headwind was that it kept brief the wafts of the abundant baking roadkill.

(Pictured above) Day 3, in Gunnison, we woke up to frost on our seats and handlebars and a temperature of 31 degrees.

When we got back to Colorado Springs, we started to cruise daily on our bikes looking for pro cyclists. Teams came a week early in order to adjust to the altitude -- 7,000 feet being as high as many peaks in Europe. They'd ride in their matching jerseys, going two or three across, taking up the right lane (usually being able to keep up with traffic just fine).

Mom and I got in the paper when we were on one of these recon missions:

The day of the Prologue (which was a time trial, each rider starting by himself, one minute apart from the riders around him), mom and I sat on the outside curve of the most technical part of the race.

The above picture is Andy Schleck.

Nobody crashed on this less-than ninety degree turn on a tilt. The closest point to disaster was when a spectator's full diet coke bottle rolled into the middle of the turn in front of a cyclist. He avoided it.

I could smell burnt rubber.

Each cyclist was led by a motorcycle and followed by a team car with spare bikes stacked on top. (Except for this one cyclist, and we still don't know why he didn't get a team car.) Between riders people would chat and banter, except for after the second-to-last rider. Cadel was the last rider to go, and for the time before his ride, the crowd was silent. The video at the end of this post is his run around the corner.

Pictures below this are of some Garmin cyclists warming up and of the finish line area.


Follow Your Folly


I am in Ft. Collins writing on my Environotes tablet (later translated to blog post). I finished the Colorado Rocky Mountain Bike Tour (450 miles + one hitchhiking trip) with my mom and came straight to my brothers' house by CSU. It's very important to spend time with family, but my brothers work. So this Colorado extravaganza has turned into a visit-breweries-while-my-friends-are-at-work deal.

Yesterday, I went on the Odell Brewery tour. Two reasons there are so many breweries in Colorado (second only to California): 1) the water is soft, fresh and delicious. Soft meaning it's devoid of minerals that contribute to taste, which are much harder to remove than to add. Fresh because it's filtered mountain snow melt. And delicious because it's Colorado.

Okay, so 2) Unlike the majority of states, it is legal in Colorado to sell beer right out of your car. Most places it takes three transactions to get it into someone's mouth.

Today I went on the New Belgium brewery tour (got in after waiting 90 minutes and being first on the wait list).

Some facts: The difference between German and Belgian brewing is that for years German beer-purity laws required that bier contain only hops, malt, yeast, and water. This while those Belgians could add whatever they wanted: fruit, veggies, spices, tree bark. New Belgium pulls off that dump-truck-of-stuff tradition.

I'm making my way to Denver tonight. Would love to tour Great Divide. Oscar Blues would be an enormous plus -- I'm not sure where it is. Longmont? - Oh and how about Avery?

For the moment, I'm at Fort Collins Brewery having a seven-beer-taster plate. (My mom about me: "Oh, she is such a lush.") And you should fucking see my handwriting.

Hope to go to Illegal Pete's tomorrow, have a burrito and a Rockslide IPA. Maybe hit up Tattered Cover Books.

Wish Mitch was here; most of you know how sad life is without him.

I've lost track of where I was going with this.

Moved from Washington -- an awesome state and beer state -- took a vacation in Colorado (and well, I'm blushing just thinking about it) to end up in Illinois where (as far as I know) the beer is expensive and macro brewed. I have half a mind to start home brewing.

At least we're planning on going to the Minneapolis beer fest in September.

Three more tasters. Wow.

Water is life, people.


In a more sober state, I am writing from the Falling Rock Tap House in Denver. (LoDo more specifically. Coloradans love their "o" sounds: Fo Co, Bo Co, Co Spo.) There are more beers on tap here than I want to count -- over fifty. Some highlights: Dogfish Head 90-minute, Avery Maharaja, New Belgium Kick and Clutch (new sour beers, Kick being a collaboration with Elysian Brewery), and Dale's Pale Ale. I'm having Dry Dock Imperial IPA -- amber colored, seven different hops to it, lemon sweet and a bite. It's from a brewery out of Aurora that won the small brewer's award last year.

My brothers turned 21 in May and as part of their apparent quarter-life crisis (and due to an excess in funds accumulated from their can jobs) they bought motorbikes. There are four bikes in their garage, two of their friends being proud parents as well. We went salsa dancing Tuesday night. Me in a dress and flip flops showing some leg down College Ave, the first person the boys had carried as motorbike passenger. (When did my family become cool?)

Nate, Nick and their roommates are part of a Christian club at their school. As part of leadership, they recently signed a contract regarding alcohol. They don't remember what it said.

Wide-spread beer stigma in the Christian community is extremely consternating. As far as inebriation goes, beer is third effective to hard alcohol and wine. Second, the most demonstrably committed Christians, nuns and monks, have contributed more to beer development than any other group. (They suggest that communities grow barley.) I'm not convinced that Christ wheedles more people through the Church and the Word than he does through the Cup.

And finally, beer avoidance is simply a shame while living in the country with the most exciting up-and-coming breweries and brews in the world.

If that contract said anything I hope it said: "I will not be cajoled by stupid multi-million ad campaigns that promote weak-ass beer in a carousel of changing containers. I shall not drink Light Beer, Clear Beer, or Low-Carb Beer." It would be a spot of legalism that would make me feel alright.

Oh, and Lindsay and I visited Great Divide. It was strong, sweet, dark, and delicious.


A Bunch of Opinions You Didn't Ask For

Don't take this post very seriously. I suspect I don't know what I'm talking about. Hence I will give you my estimation on things:

I've been thinking, lately, about band class. I love music, but I am afraid I am not very musical. About the only thing I took away from the five years I played trumpet in middle and high school was our slightly deranged band director sweating like the dickens and motioning underhanded to his right -- MORE TUBA. He talked about the pyramid of sound. How we need more of the low registers to balance the shrill-sounding higher instruments that usually carry the melody.

Now, it would be just like a trumpet player to equate melody-carrying instruments with good and lower-pitch instruments with evil -- or in case that's too extreme, maybe "badness." I'm not what you would call a trumpet player; I'm more a trumpet put-in-the-closet-er. But, yes, I am using that metaphor.

I am motivated by my dislike of messages that promise only flutes. Stuff like advertisements. Minutes ago I saw a yogurt commercial that showed a woman working in her office. She opens her inoffensive white plastic carton of Yoplait and is overcome by its pink creamy contents. Her life is an image of bliss. There is a swing of garland flowers involved.

Like the perfect nuclear family -- see my previous post.

Like how you will really never have a reason to be unhappy if you live in the United States (the best country on Earth) because of the suffering (you could presumably compare your perceived unhappiness to) in Africa.

How if you live in a white suburban neighborhood void of smoking, homelessness, and teenagers, you can be assured of your safety and of the goodness of humanity.

The message that if you do a few simple things (acceptJesusintoyourheartgotochurchreadyourbibleprayevangelizesupportprofessionalministry) you will become a Good Person.

They reek of bullshit. Yogurt, or any product, will not ensure my happiness or save the world, education, our children, engorged fat cells. Being related to someone or contractually bound does not produce harmony, or a life more put together, or a moral high ground. You cannot be assured of your safety anywhere; bad things happen. And people who do those few simple things are not more morally justified than people who do not.

I feel like I can hold onto messages that are a pyramid with all the bad news at the bottom. For example: people are very bad. Their reflex to manipulate one another comes practically from their brain stems. Their highly-held ideals like rationality and compassion are ultimately subject to the mechanism of their selfishness. When they don't shower, they smell awful. They transcend sometimes to do something amazing: Einstein, Beethoven, Stu's dad who farts (intentionally?) when he's lecturing Stu making it impossible for Stu to really take his dad's anger or disappointment seriously.

I have drawn an example of how I see my band analogy/ possible exploitation play out in nature:

There you have it: irrefutable fact.

So stop, world, giving me dingy messages that aren't comforting because they don't seem to touch reality. I'll feel comforted when the message seems sort of true.

Here's something else: I think that with the bulk of bad news, you do get the piece of goodness on top. I don't believe it makes up for the bad stuff. It doesn't make the pain worth it or "Okay after all!", but there will be small reliefs. Leaves, noticing cute guys, laughter when it really shouldn't be funny.




First, see Jon Fox's post.

Jonathan Franzen in his book, Corrections, writes the Lambert family into existence. He does this in such seriousness that I felt like he pushed me into the skin and consciousness of each character. The Lamberts are a nice Iowan family, and like most families they are terrifying.

For years, my family would go on summer camping trips with others from our church. We'd roll into KOAs within a two-state radius in our mini vans and pulling our pop-up campers, aluminum boxes whose lids lifted connected to canvas walls and had beds that would pull out of either end. We were all Good Christian families. Parked in adjacent spots with our water and electricity hooked up and a tree in the yard if we were lucky, I could hear the late-night arguments and comments from where I slept on the end of the pull out next to my mom.

Families bring out the worst in people. Chip Lambert feels he could handle his parents if someone would have sex with him a fraction of each minute they were around. Denise gets along great with her mother... for the first twelve hours. Each character has his and her aggressions, agendas, and illusions to uphold, and each will use harm to uphold them.

I grew up in the same city as the Focus on the Family headquarters. In FOTF's pamphlets and magazines there'd be photos of serene people spending time together. The woman would have an aura of fluffy bangs. The children would be seated attentive and wearing clothes in navy blue, forest green, and ivory white.

I'd ask people about what they wanted out of life, and they'd say wistfully, "I'd like to, you know, start a family someday." Like it was the most relaxing way they could think of spending fifty years.

Why not interact with people from a reasonable distance? It gives everyone the space to be charming, shiny, and pleasant. The intimacy of families brings out personal ugliness and vulnerabilities. What's there for it?______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ (Not rhetorical, please fill in your answer above.)

Moving with the former Riverside trifecta brought me back to the days of my dad shouting at me to stay put and help set up the pop up. And me sobbing, "But I want to go fucking rollerblading."

In the last week and a half, we suffered some casualties. Christa's hand shook as she drank her lemon drop. I withdrew into a catatonic haze. We sweat a lot, had to share the same towel, moved so many boxes, half heartedly ate dinner. It was very familial.

The morning we left John and Christa in St Paul, Mitch drove because I was hung over from the screwdrivers we drank and cards we played the night before (Hungover Amy). Wisconsin sun over us, Mitch reached across the cab and caught my fingers in his hand. Sweetness engulfed me like we were being cast in amber.