Rise up, small town, rise up…

small-townI live in a small town, was born and raised in a small town. Stop it, John Cougar Mellencamp, this is my story. Like many, I couldn’t wait to get out of a small town, until I had kids. My children can walk down any street in this town. Everyone knows their names, who they belong to. My kids will eventually feel suffocated by this, but not me. Nope. This helps me sleep at night.

There are two seasons here: ice in and ice out. Whether for fishing or the two hockey arenas, it’s boat or fish house, skates or dryland. We have more churches than bars. This is Minnesota after all, not Wisconsin :). Our polling place is in a farm field. I kid you not. My husband brings out donuts to the election judges, and by the time I get there I’m treated to a full report of not only when my husband voted, but who he visited with. Often I feel like I live in Mayberry, but sometimes I feel like I am stuck in high school. Forever.

Sometimes small towns can be, well, small. Small-minded and full of nosy parkers. I’m not quite sure why I have Facebook, most of the people that are my friends on this medium see me grocery shopping daily and picking up my kids from practice. It’s hard to make a mistake and change in a small town, or to create a better version of yourself. Everyone seems to remember Fat Timmy, Drunk Bev, or that homewrecker, you remember the one.

But then, once in awhile, this small town knocks the curmudgeon right out of me and fills me with love.  When it comes to the nitty gritty, this town shows up. Whether that’s a fire, a car crash, or a brave little boy fighting to get well, the town answers the call. Rise up, small town, rise up. There is a family that needs you. Print the t-shirts, open the fund, fling wide the doors, invite others in. And we do. And we will. Because we live in this same small town…

Well I was born in a small town
And I live in a small town
Prob’ly die in a small town
Oh, those small communities

All my friends are so small town
My parents live in the same small town
My job is so small town
Provides little opportunity

Educated in a small town
Taught the fear of Jesus in a small town
Used to daydream in that small town
Another boring romantic that’s me.

Alright, John, you had your moment. Pack it in. I’ve got a little boy on my mind, just like everyone else in this town tonight. Rise up, small town, rise up. Let’s watch something magical happen, bigger than you, bigger than me, more than we could ever do on our own.

I hope all of you have a small town somewhere, at some point, in your history. They’re a good place to spring from and return to when you need it.

Keep sharing moxie.

 

The Iditarod Trail on Bike

People dogsled the Iditarod Trail, right? They also bike, run, and ski it. In the middle of the winter. In Alaska. Unsupported. For 1100 miles, 350 or 130, take your pick. This is not a joke. In our house it’s been on the bucket list of racing adventures for the last 20 years, within reach for 10 years, actively planned for one year, and completed in 6 days.

The Iditabike was started in 1987 as a 200-mile course on the Iditarod Trail. Racers didn’t know what to expect, but showed up anyway with their little mountain bikes and a hodgepodge of clothing and gear. Once a mountain is climbed, new feats must be sought and the Iditasport Extreme, a 350 mile event, was created and later expanded to the full 1100 mile race to Nome. The Iditarod Trail Invitational was created by a former Iditasport racer, Bill Merchant, a race for racers, unsupported, no purse, no mandatory gear, with no marked route.

Fatbiking has grown exponentially over the last decade and the mountain gear has been refined. The fact remains, biking, skiing or running on the Iditarod Trail, in the middle of an Alaskan winter, is going to be very hard. Some years are harder than others and 2017 was a doozy. Read below for my personal interview with a 350-mile ITI 2017 finisher.

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  1. What first interested you in the ITI? There was a mountain bike book I saw in the 90’s of the most extreme races in the world. Most people didn’t finish it.
  2. Why did you sign up this year? I’d had multiple years of good finishes in the Arrowhead Ultra (an 135 mile event in Minnesota) and my wife told me it was time to get out of my comfort zone. The greatest enemy to human potential is your comfort zone. I have that in my office and I figured I should follow my own advice. riding

3. What preparation for the ITI do you think helped the most? Beyond the riding, extensive training, it was the winter camping trips. It’s one thing to have gear, you need to know how to use it. I slept outside a lot this past winter in Minnesota. You need to be comfortable with going to sleep outside in dangerous temps. Mental preparedness. I obsessed over this race from the gear to potential equipment failures.

 

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When your spokes are frozen, you know it’s cold.

 

4. It’s been said that going out on the trail changes you. Did it? Yes. I’m not sure of all of the ramifications yet. From a riding standpoint, it pushed me beyond what I thought was possible. For my family, hopefully, I’m a role model to my kids. Not everything was within my control. It scared me. We were caught in a snowstorm and the temps were -50 on the trail. Because of the extreme weather, there was so much clarity. It was basic: hydrate, eat, and move forward, but all of it was an enormous challenge in the weather. Being in a 50 mile an hour headwind through a mountain pass gaining elevation at -20 to -40 below temps, it’s relentless. It’s scary seeing people turning around like they had seen a ghost while you’re trying to decide if you should continue on or not. Bivvying outside those nights, I knew there wasn’t a margin of error. None of my gear had been tested for that.

 

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Climbing Hell’s Gate

 

 

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Pulling out every piece of gear. The final balaclava.

5. Highlights? Best moments? Finishing. Most didn’t. Really though, being immersed in the Alaskan interior, it’s beautiful. Stopping at camps and being welcomed into some of the culture and living in the moment.

 

There was a 22-year-old guy camping by the river all winter. He invited me in for lynx and coffee. The lynx was burnt, the fish was being boiled for his dogs, and the skinned beaver was a little alarming when you biked up, but the kid was so friendly and welcoming.

6. What advice would you have for others considering this? Overprepare. If you don’t live in extreme conditions, find them and train in them. Learn how to push your bike for hours. There was one entire day that I had to push my bike, because the trail was unrideable. gorgepushing

7. How would you characterize yourself as an endurance athlete? I’m good, but not the best. I have a high dose of experience in extreme conditions and a lot of tolerance.

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8. What’s next for you? I don’t think there’s anything that can compare to the ITI when the conditions are extreme, like they were this year. The hardest part of the trail, with the most elevation change, is in the first 350 miles, but riding to Nome would be a great experience. Some have done the ride to Nome ten times. You get addicted.

9. Final thoughts? Standing in a swamp looking up at Mountain cliffs makes Alaska what it is. The people of Alaska in the backcountry are amazing, self-reliant, but helpful. They aren’t looking for handouts or attention, they just want to be outside in Alaska. I get it now.

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Riding the Iditarod Trail for 350 or 1100 miles isn’t my dream. It may not be yours either, but you have to respect those that are pushing the limits of their experience and ability to endure. Keep sharing moxie.

artbike

 
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Iditarod Musher’s Ball

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The convention center was packed with $1,000 tables, the dress casual, as all Alaskan events seem to be, and the mushers mingled in the crowds. My favorite part of the night? The clear fact that the mushers would rather be on the trails than mingling, the times their faces really grew animated was when talking about their dogs.

I am here in Anchorage this week by happenstance, others because being a part of the Iditarod is on their bucket list. The Musher’s banquet was filled with the founders, memories of them, and racing legends. The Iditarod has groupies like you would expect at a rock concert. People lined up to have their favorite mushers sign their shirts and take pictures (see picture below of an acquaintance pictured with two identical twin mushers). I saw a book of trading cards even. As with every sport, there is a culture, and the Iditarod is no different.

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The Iditarod Sled Dog Race was co-founded by Joe Redington who wanted the Iditarod trail listed as a National Trail, much like Lewis & Clark. He became friends with Dorothy Page who wanted to save the sport of dog mushing. The combination of their two interests became one and the Iditarod Sled Dog Race was born. It’s the 45th running of the Iditarod this year and Joe’s three grandsons are entered in the 2017 race carrying on the family tradition and his crooked grin.

Sled dogs used to be the major mode of transportation here in Alaska. It was the 1925 serum run to Nome, also known as the Great Race of Mercy, a transport of diphtheria antitoxin serum by dog sled relay across the U.S. territory of Alaska by 20 mushers and about 150 sled dogs 674 miles (1,085 km) in five and a half days that put dog mushing back on the world’s stage briefly before airplanes changed the face of travel completely. The Serum Run saved the small town of Nome and the surrounding communities from an incipient epidemic and the lead dog, Balto, became a legend. By the 1950’s and early 60’s families weren’t passing down methods of dog mushing to the younger generation and it was beginning to die out. The Iditarod Trail race has become the iconic symbol of this state and frontier life. It accomplished both Dorothy and Joe’s goals, to bring life to the Iditarod trail and renewed interest in dogsledding.

Iditarod 2016

It isn’t called the “The Last Great Race” for nothing. In a world where constant communication is normalized, mechanization is prized, and comfort is sought above all, the Iditarod Sled Dog Race is a uniquely special event. The mushers have to train their dogs all year, yet elements of the race can’t be controlled now, just as they couldn’t in 1925, racing to Nome. Weather can be harsh, dogs can struggle, yet the mushers continue on.

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For me, I started the week not caring a fig newton about this race, and now I’m fangirling. Susan Butcher, the late female racing legend of the Iditarod, named her firstborn after her lead dog, Teckla, that made the first dog-sled ascent of Denali. The Iditarod has strong women, strong men, all heart, and a crazy love of nature and animals. We could use more of this in the world. Iditarod, welcome to your newest fan.

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Hello, I’m a closeted introvert

fill-your-cupHello, I’m a closeted introvert. Actually, I’m an introvert operating as an extrovert out of professional necessity. Are you? Truth is, my ideal weekend is to come home on a Friday night and not leave, well, ever. Does this sound familiar?

When people talk about what fills their cup up and recharges their batteries? Not spending time with more people. Can I say that? I just did. I have enough people in my professional life that are ready to pounce with a canister of need as soon as my office door is open. I retreat to survive. I need books, coffee, and solitude (rinse and repeat) in order to face the music every week. Can I get an amen?!

Social media gives us the illusion that we are in contact with people, that we know what is going on in their lives when we actually haven’t seen them in 10, 15, 20 years. I love this. The feeling of connection without putting on shoes or make-up? Yes. It’s not real though. I know this, but I’m not sure how much my younger counterparts realize the dimensions of connection that are lost in translation online. Sometimes we need to suit up to do the #wholethingandadeal. Once in a while, we need to change out of sweatpants and see our friends, but most of the time? Nah.

myers-briggs

If you haven’t taken the Myers-Brigg or done any personality typing, that’s ok. I think most of us know what fills our cup up. (disclosure, because I’m sure you’re waiting with bated breath- I’m an INTP, borderline INFP). I had some friends recently confess that they eat most of their meals out because one of them can’t stand to be at home, they just want to talk with people. I must’ve looked at them like they had two heads. I was reminded that there is a very wide spectrum of means to replenish and maintain one’s cup.

 

Over time I’ve come to realize what turns me into a sneering piss ant, it’s when I don’t have time to read and be by myself, when I feel hedged in by people and their tidal waves of requests (even my family, yikes, I’m getting Oprah honest here).  My professional life is filled with people, counseling, and lectures. My personal life? If I see that my calendar has two or three commitments requiring small talk and glad-handing on a weekend, I’m overwhelmed with a sense of dread and foreboding.

If you’re anything like me, perhaps you might acknowledge that you are, in fact, a closeted introvert. Throw off the chains of social niceties and start turning down more invitations than you accept. If you’re going to be a miserable schmuck sneaking off to read in the bathroom, you might as well have stayed home. (confession: I have on more than one occasion snuck out of a wedding, a dinner party and a birthday party to read a book like a junkie).

Let me be clear, it’s not that I can’t interact with people, and it’s not that you can’t either, it’s just a simple acknowledgment of what fills your cup up and what drains it…and the wisdom to know the difference.  

Keep sharing moxie.

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Congratulations!!

congratulations

Congratulations to Heidi Lien! Winner of my 1st Anniversary giveaway! I hope you enjoy the Amazon gift card and donation to your favorite library. Who wouldn’t? 🙂

This celebration and drawing brings to mind other moments of unexpected joy… to the Colton Ladies Aid Bingo night with my Grandma when I won $5 and had to split it with two other winners. BINGO! Many thanks to Super America that drew my name and awarded me a 5 foot tall stuffed snowman when I was 13. I was nine kinds of mortified when they posted the picture of me. And most recently, my big winnings of $16 after guessing the first commercial following half-time during the Superbowl. I am a lucky girl indeed.

One thing I never managed to win, but was hopeful every time, was lucky tray day at Riverview Elementary school. NOT ONCE in 6 years was I ever the proud recipient of a lucky tray. Did your school have this blessed event? The line in the cafeteria on lucky tray day snaked out the doors. It wasn’t until years later that I learned the truth. I was still lamenting this (I’m a little pathetic),  when a friend told me the reason I never won. I didn’t shove to the front of the line, grab trays, and feel for the tape underneath. Lucky tray, my Aunt Sally!!

I felt much better after the revelation. I didn’t budge in line and I wasn’t a cheater. I hope I’m still that kind of person. I think I am. If you can’t win while playing by the rules, it’s a bit of a hollow victory. I just really wanted to be lucky.

Heidi, rest easy, you won fair and square. My daughter drew your name out of a bucket. Enjoy!!

Feeding Someone with Love

My new litmus test for humanity is this: are you the type of person to visit someone in a nursing home and feed them soup? There is much banter over kindness, giving of yourself, and loving one another, but at the end of the day, what does that really look like? I’ve seen puffed up pretty boys expounding on good deeds and beauties talking about volunteering, but if I can’t see them feeding someone soup, their words ring hollow to me.

Love? Humanity? For me? It’s the lasting image of watching Bill feed Enid soup. I spent the better part of two years visiting one of my parents on a locked Dementia care unit. Eating was the last thing that my family member still enjoyed, and he did so quickly and with gusto. Enid was on the same unit and shook, so she had a harder time eating. Her husband, Bill, came to visit faithfully and helped feed her, slowly, wiping her mouth between spoonfuls. Talking all the while to her and other residents. After meals, they would often retire to the t.v. area, holding hands on the couch.

If this sounds like a Nicholas Sparks novel, you’re not far off. What’s missing is the banging and the groaning of the other residents. The repetitions of the agitated. There was always a scent diffuser going full blast to mask the smell of urine. It was, and remains, an impressive care facility, so I’m not knocking it, far from it. Alzheimer’s is a lot of things, but beautiful isn’t one of them. Not so for Bill and Enid. They were couple set apart, love personified. It was an inspiration to watch how Bill cared for his wife.

After one particularly trying visit to the unit, my husband asked me what was the matter. “I just watched the most loving thing today. Bill was feeding Enid soup. I don’t think you would do the same thing. I totally bet on the wrong pony.” My spouse assured me that he would feed me in my later years if needed. I hope so, but I doubt it. The way I see it? I have about 35 years to turn him into a guy like Bill. He’s not there yet. To be fair, I’m not there yet either, but I’m trying to be.

This year I’ve watched some of the greatest generation pass away. Octogenarians and their peers that were the backbone of our community and maybe of yours, too. 42 years on the fire dept, 37 years as a girl scout troop leader, veteran, Salvation Army volunteer, Gold Star families. I’m worried that my generation isn’t quite up to snuff to fill these shoes. Most of us aren’t the type to visit loved ones in nursing homes and feed them with love. Every. Single. Day.

My Facebook feed has been as divided as our country lately. Yours, too? I work with teenagers and college students. Their level of narcissistic tendencies, if unchecked, makes me shudder and a little sick to my stomach some days, yet hopeful on others when I see them trying to understand and learn. I’m not impressed with indignant social media posts, they alone don’t accomplish much. I’m impressed with Bill feeding Enid soup. Each person can actually do something to help us all: Raise a Bill in your home, in your community, within yourself, and we’ll all be better for it. Set the bar higher for humanity. Feed someone with love.