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Hrm, so it’s been nearly a year. Maybe I needed a break. Maybe I felt like I didn’t have much to say. Maybe it’s been nice just to not be tied to posting. I don’t know what it’s been, but I just haven’t felt like writing.

So I’d been thinking for awhile that November NaBloPoMo might be a good way to get started again, and lo and behold, it’s freaking November all ready. Yikes!

So, I’m diving into the deep end head first.

Here’s some things that have occupied me since I last wrote:

December: A wedding and a 90th birthday in the family! What fun to get everyone together and celebrate throughout the holidays. Very joyous, although the 5 year anniversary of the date we lost my cousin did dampen the spirit a bit at times.

January: Another massive neck/shoulder injury. Ugh. Xrays, several specialists, and back to physical therapy. Happy times.

February: We found out that there was going to be a baby! No, not mine, but my best friend’s! So excited for her.

March: Massive last push for data in the lab begins and ends. I basically decided what would and wouldn’t be in my thesis and went from there. Not much sleep occurred.

April: The Cough of Death and thesis writing were not a good combination. Too much sleeping, and the rest of the time was spent writing. Thank goodness for cough medicine!

May: I DEFENDED MY FREAKING THESIS AND EARNED MY PHD!!!

June: I GRADUATED! ALL OFFICIAL LIKE! THAT’S DOCTOR SARAH TO YOU NOW!

July: Month o’ Travel! We went to Ecuador for four days and the Galapagos Islands for eight. Massive amounts of fun, and stories to come. Promptly upon arriving home, we drove the 18 hours to Wyoming for a massive week-long family reunion that my mom organized for her 60th birthday year. Then, as soon as I got home and did laundry, it was off to Salt Lake City for a conference. Ugh. But I did get to see a friend who lives there now. Oh, and a snake. Never going back. Ever.

August: Oh crap, you mean I have to find a job? Two interviews, two job offers. Neither is perfect, but both work.

September: Realized I wasn’t as close to being done with the old job as I thought. Another interview, again not quite perfect. Must I make up my mind?

October: Hrm, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel to finish this job, plus some exciting job prospects–two tentative job offers that I’m super duper excited about! Things are looking up! Except for that downer where my grandmother-in-law shattered her femur and got shingles and had an allergic reaction to morphine that swelled her throat closed. Needless to say, we traveled home for an emergency visit just to be on the safe side. She’s hopefully starting to recover. And I have two tentative job offers

Now: The San Francisco Giants won the world series. Huzzah! And I started blogging again. Huzzah!

One down, twenty-nine to go!

Last week, on one of the days John had off, I left work somewhat early and we went out to one of the bayland parks for a walk. Since my activity involving shoulders is so restricted, walking is about my only form of exercise. I’m feeling slothful.

Anyways, we’ve been going out to the park, walking and bird watching. Yes, I apparently am my parent’s daughter, seeing as how I’ve finally admitted an interesting in figuring out what bird I’m looking at and putting it on a “life list”.

Plus, it’s been fun to just walk with John, to catch up and meander and be together.

So last week when we were out there, we’d walked about two miles around the outer park loop and had four ahead of us. It was freakishly windy, so instead we turned back to redo the two we’d already done. There were a lot of little estuaries, most of which were mud as we walked out, but were slowly filling as the tide came in on our way back.

And then, there it was.

A snake.

A big snake.

And no, I’m not exaggerating. John says 3 feet, at least. Brown. Trying to swim across one of the estuaries.

Away from us, at least. Right up until it gave up and came back to the bank that we were on.

I spotted it, and John immediately put the binoculars to good use. He joked about a diamond pattern. Funny guy. Hmpf. (My dad, the snake expert, says it was probably a gopher snake. He was much more excited to hear about it than I was to see it.)

In true form, I froze, but mostly just did that. A bit of shaking, a bit of tear-welling, a bit of jumping at rustling bushes, and a bit of keeping an eye in all directions. But mostly I just stood there. No binoculars for me, but no extreme panic.

I spent the rest of the walk back to the car with one eye in all directions at all possible times, and was a bit jumpy, plus I was pretty thankful to be back safely in the car, but I thought it was good progress.

So apparently, even if I didn’t see a sea snake in Fiji to test out my “okay-ness” with it, the therapy worked at least a bit.

There’s probably more therapy in my future, as I wasn’t entirely okay with the situation, and I still don’t know what I’d do if I came face-to-face with a snake instead of being 40 feet away.

And as I just jumped at the NHL Stanley Cup commercial with a snake in it, and as one of the dive sites in Papua New Guinea is called the “Snake Pit”? Some work still needed, clearly.

Yeah, I don’t think I’ll be doing that dive, mmkay?

There is little in a not-so-good week that a good meeting with the boss, leaving work a smidge early, a trip into the city, a visit to the Nightlife at the Cal Academy of Science, a gin and tonic, good friends, a glass of red wine, some Thai noodles, and a lot of good conversation, not to mention some very cool exhibits, can’t fix.

Not even an anaconda in the tropics tank can bump all that! Or the baby snakes in the aquatics area!

Here’s to Friday and a lovely weekend!

Sort of. Not that we’re packed or anything.

But mentally? I am already on a plane winging its way to Fiji.

That’s right, Fiji.

James F and Cara, James W, Nate and Shelly, Rae and Aaron, some various other people and John and myself leave for Fiji in just over 24 hours.

Between me and that flight is:

  • a large pile of laundry
  • an empty clothes suitcase
  • a surprisingly full gear suitcase that doesn’t contain all it needs to contain
  • a meeting
  • a bit of time left at work
  • a To-Do list and a To-Pack list that probably put all other lists in existence to shame (although maybe not Julie‘s since she’s got a baby Ella to pack for)
  • upteenzillion errands

We’re all off for a dive vacation at the soft coral capital of the world. And let’s not forget the shark dive: up to 8 different species, including bull sharks (*shudder*) and tiger sharks (*complete stillness, too afraid to even shudder*).

It’s going to be awesome. Pictures and stories to follow when I get back, both of the underwater variety (I’ll try for ones of the sharks) and the above-water variety (especially for Brat).

And I’ve had two unexpected TV encounters with snakes (both on M*dern Marvels: Mold and on a preview for one of the wilderness shows) and met the snake that lives next door to James and Cara. All told, there was a bit of tensing and gagging (TV snake was being eaten by the theoretical survivalist in the wild) and a bit of crying (the real snake), but things went far, far better than they have in the past. So this phobia isn’t behind me, but hopefully I’ll live through any encounter with the sea snakes we meet in Fiji.

Yep, that’s right, Fiji.

WHOOHOO!! I am so freaking ready for this vacation.

So here’s the deal: I’m a wee bit afraid of snakes.

Okay, okay, I’m completely and utterly and psychotically afraid of them. All of them. Even the small ones. Even garter snakes.

ALL OF THEM.

VERY, VERY AFRAID.

I’ve had this problem as long as I can remember, and no, I’ve never been attacked or bitten or even really threatened. And it’s not that I’m afraid of that–no, I’m afraid of the damn things themselves. My brain rarely makes it past “snake!” and on towards “poison! constriction! what fun!”.

I’d figured, for the longest time, that I was afraid of them due to the following memory: When I was about 5, I went to a birthday party at the zoo, and we got taken behind the scenes to see some of the baby animals or animals that weren’t on display. At the time, there was a large boa of some sort there. I remember some adult taking my hand and forcing me to touch it, probably to make me realize it wasn’t slimy or going to hurt me in any way. I remember being absolutely terrified of it.

I mentioned this to my parents, and my mom said that that person? Was her. And I was already terrified even before she made me touch it.

The only possible explanation she or my dad had was that when I was a couple months old, they’d been out hiking in the deserts around Tucson and had seen some fairly rare rattlesnake. Now, my dad’s a reptile person–he works with lizards and has always liked them and snakes. So, naturally, they wanted to get a bit closer to see it. I was in a little backpack thing on my dad’s back, and apparently just started screaming my head off. (Clearly I was smart back then–who’d willingly want to get closer to a rattlesnake??) My parents think that the backpack or a diaper pin or something poked me, and now I associate that pain with seeing the snake. Possibility.

So in general, I’ve avoid snakes like one might avoid the black plaque. Let’s just say that The Crocodile Hunter wasn’t my favorite program on TV, eh?

This fear generally manifested itself irrationally–I actually went to see Anaconda when it came out (brilliant, I know–my earlier brains had deserted me in the face of peer pressure and a lack of any other summer movies worth seeing), and had to get up and walk out of the theater, but not until I’d left fingernail scars on the arms of the two people on either side of me.

When I’d be flipping through TV channels, if I came across a snake, I tended to scream, cry, hyperventilate a bit, throw the remote away and press myself as far back into the sofa as possible. This usually resulted in John coming and turning off the TV with equal parts exasperation (WHY would you throw the remote away? WHY not just change the channel?) and sympathy (It’s okay, it’s gone, stop crying).

It wasn’t fun, but it didn’t really impair my life in anyway.

Then, if you remember, there were snakes galore up in Chico in May when we (Amelia and I) rode the Wildflower Ride. There were two snakes encountered on that trip–one crossing the road while I was driving, and one (dead) on the side of the road. Neither experience went very well, let’s just say.

And my reaction to the dead one that I biked past? Was to swerve out into the road, far away from it. Aside from the general crying/screaming/hyperventilating, swerving out into the road on a bike is not a good idea. I’m just sayin’. If there had been cars, I know that wouldn’t have stopped me. This was too instinctive, too “get far away right damn now”, to control. I just went.

And that was a bit terrifying to realize. A dead snake, or even a live snake that I bike past, hopefully isn’t going to do me too much damage. A car, on the other hand? Will do a lot of damage to a biker.

General safety point number 2: We’re going on vacation next week with Nate and Shelly, James F and Cara, James M and Rae and Aaron. We’re going on a dive vacation, to be specific. And we’re going to a place that has… sea snakes.

So, if my instinctive panic-reaction (prior to any sensible rational reaction about 10-20 seconds later) is to get as far away as possible, there are two options. One: I’ll turn and swim away at torpedo speed. Two: I’ll use my low pressure inflator button to shoot for the surface at rocket launch speed, possible bursting my lungs or giving myself an air embolism or giving myself decompression sickness in doing so.

Like arguing with a car while you’re on a bike, these are all things best avoided. Death is not really preferable to a snake encounter, no matter what the irrational part of my brain says.

So it was decided, in company with John and Amelia, that phobia therapy was in my immediate future. Luckily, Student Health is (not) equipped to deal with this. Bah.

But go I did, for 6 sessions. We mostly talked about snakes, although at my first session the guy wanted to know all about my family and my relationships, my medical history, if I’d had any thoughts of suicide, etc, etc, etc. I appreciate his thoroughness, but really? Snakes, buddy.

Step one was to buy a large toy snake, which John did for me. He was 5 feet long, blue, fluffy, and had purple eyelashes. I named him Jake, as in Jake the Fake Snake. Since then, I’ve decided that Jake may be female (see above, Re: eyelashes) but oh well. Jake wasn’t too bad, although he gave me the willies at first. Then the therapist decided if Jake was sort of okay, we’d move on to step two: watch a video.

Unfortunately, the first one he pulled up on Y*uT*be was of an anaconda (see above, Re: Anaconda the movie) that had crawled into someone’s livestock pen, eaten a member of the livestock (goat? sheep?) and now was too big to crawl back out of the pen BECAUSE IT HAD A FREAKIN’ GOAT OR SHEEP INSIDE IT!!!! Needless to say, this did not go well. I’m not sure what the people in the rooms on either side of us thought, but I think I did prove my point to the therapist that this was irrational and debilitating at times.

So we took a step back to pictures, and eventually to videos, and eventually, on my 6th visit, I made it through 6:30 of a 7 minute video of a guy playing with a 14-foot King Cobra. I kid you not. Google it. The thing is damn scary. The guy says that it’s highly venomous, though not at the top, but given it’s size, it probably packs enough venom to be the single most deadly snake out there. And he’s playing with it. And his dream in life has been to touch one on the head. Which he does.

Umm, I’m so not there. But hey, I watched most of it, right?

Since then, I haven’t had too much exposure, other than attempting to visit the snake that I recently found out lives next door to James and Cara. It wasn’t home (or at least, it’s owner wasn’t), so that may be the plan for this Saturday. There had also been a plan to visit the SF Reptile House, but that was nixed when we did the math of gas prices+time+(theoretically) easily accessible snake next door.

And last night, when the snake came on in the show? (The show about mold–WTF?? I think it was a metaphor for how fast mold can strike, maybe? Still, WTF??) I tensed, I shook a bit, but that was about it. There was no screaming, no crying, no hard breathing, no real panic.

All of this bodes well, but the real test will be when I see one in the ocean. Let’s just say that my fingers are crossed, and I’m feeling sort of maybe okay with this.

Tell me, if you were watching Modern Marvels: Mold, would you have expected to see a rattlesnake strike at the screen????

That said, apparently the phobia therapy is working better than I thought. No screaming was involved, and really only a mild jump.

The two highlights of my week so far right there.

Saturday was a mostly lazy day, with nothing much happening other than a lot of productive football watching. We gave up on the USC-Ohio St game at half-time and headed to James and Cara’s place for the night, where much grilling and Xboxing was done by all.

Sunday, we went diving, and it was easily one of the top 4 dive days I’ve ever had in Monterey. Flat water, partly sunny, no swell or surge, beautiful visibility. Best of all, we were helping Nate and Shelly with their “supervising certified divers”, the last requirement for their Divemaster candidacy. This means we’ve helped them go from Open Water divers and in the ocean for the first time ever all the way to professional divers. It’s a super cool feeling.

The diving itself was pretty awesome, too. We’d planned to head out to the Metridium Fields (think super large white anemones that look like bunches of cauliflowers), but as we kicked out, we realized we were about 20-30 feet from a mother and baby dolphin, who were splashing and playing and possibly fishing right beside us. There were a lot of schools of fishes, so that may be why they’re in the area, but they’ve been reported at Breakwater beach for about a month now. We just floated in the water for quite awhile, letting them swim around us. Then, instead of heading to the Metridiums, we dropped and headed in the direction of the dolphins, hoping to see them under water.

No such luck, but we still got to play with a friendly harbor seal, and saw a ton of fish and crabs, including one of the biggest ones I’ve ever seen at Breakwater. It looks like the marine protected area restrictions are working out–there’s a lot more life at Breakwater now then I’ve seen in the past. We swam in and around the kelp, enjoying the dappled light and just being underwater, for about 45 minutes.

Our second dive was out along the Breakwater wall. We swam freakishly far out before dropping, and ended up in the 30-40 foot depth range along the wall, where the visibility opened up to probably close to 50 feet, which was pretty amazing. We had another harbor seal come play, and also saw a ton of fish and crabs, lots of nudibranchs–Sea Lemons, Mimics, and San Diego Dorids. A lot of the nudibranchs were pretty big, as in the size of a sub sandwich. It was pretty cool. We saw what we thought might even be a crab eating a nudibranch. Or they were just getting up close and personal. John and I also found a 2.5-foot cabezon (lingcod maybe?). Those suckers are ugly, but damn tasty eating.

All in all, an awesome day, and Nate and Shelly are officially Divemasters–the lowest rank on the Professional totem pole, but easily the hardest rank to earn. This is what John and I are, although we’re working on Assistant Instructor. Good times.

We also learned, upon arriving home, that our white cat, Tubby McFatterson, can hold his bladder for at least a 24 hour period. Poor guy snuck into the bedroom, and then got locked in there while we were gone. This also means that it is definitely the gray cat, Baldy McSkinny (I’ll post pics soon), is the one pooping on the bed when he gets upset with us leaving him alone. Mystery solved.

Then, Monday, Bob arrived! My new computer is shiny and fast and wonderful and I love him. He’s all that I hoped he could be. And best of all, I can check email at work now (or, you know, blog a bit) without worrying about using one of the public computers. That said, it’s been a bit of a crazy week, with lots of stuff to do during the day, but also something diving related every damn night. I’ve headed south (or will head south) all 5 nights this week–twice for meetings, twice to take a class, and once to teach a class.

I only hope something else super good happens–good things come in threes, right? If I could pick, it’d be a successful visit to the reptile house at the SF Zoo on Sunday, but I’m not holding my breathe. We’ll see if the phobia therapy has paid off. Cross your fingers for me, eh?

Last night at the bar with Amelia and Steven and some others, I made the comment that I’m both excited and terrified to go home again in July.

And then managed to grin for a moment before tearing up, and if it hadn’t been for some good hugs from Amelia and the fact that I overheard someone in the group say something that I could joke about, thus diffusing the situation, it would have been very, very bad. Break-down-in-the-bar-with-people-I-don’t-know bad.

Maybe it was the alcohol, or just sort of the unexpectedness of that thought occurring to me, but I’m clearly not quite ready to sort this through yet.

*****

So some fun thoughts instead:

We’re going to see Sex and the City tonight. And yes, we’re going drinking first. Amelia, Cara, me, and one or two of Cara’s friends. Should be a very appropriate night.

I have a cute new purse. It holds more than just my wallet and two of the three: sunglasses/keys/phone.

The Belmont is this afternoon. Go Big Brown! No one get hurt!

I’ve named my fake snake Jake. He’s my therapy snake, and he’s blue and fuzzy. Bob was suggested by many, but deemed just not right.

The white cat, Tubby McChunkerson, has forgiven us for our absence and decided he now needs to be as close as humanly possible to me. This means following me and attempting to get inside my skin any moment when I’m not standing.

It’s a nice day out. And I’m going into lab. Huzzah!

Whoever found my blog by searching for “turned the hairs on my head to snakes”???

Please don’t come back.

You scare me.

We need to talk. And not in a good way. We have some issues to sort out. Just a few…

Ok, so.

Amelia and I headed off to Chico around 1pm on Saturday, which put us there right around 5pm. Not too bad. We went and checked in, and were given pretty bags with all our swag, mostly lots of advertisements, but also a water bottle, our jerseys, and our shirts.

The water bottle? Was white. Which means you can’t see the level of water left. Which can be a problem. But it did have a Sierra Nevada logo on it, which was a plus. It was supposed to be our ticket into the rest stops. The jerseys? Were pretty. The shirts? Were not. Bah. And while the jerseys apparently run small, a medium shirt was meant to fit a herd of people. I kid you not.

We were also given arm bands to get into dinner the next night.

Nowhere, on nothing, were we given any sort of rider identification. Yes, we carry IDs, health insurance cards, etc, with us. But what happens when there’s a 19-bike pile-up and I’m separated from said identification? To get around this, the Cinderella Ride provided a number to be twist-tied onto your bike, and an arm band (the kind you get when you go into a bar) with your name, rider number, and emergency contact on it. Awesome.

The name bands we got from the CVWR people? Green with yellow smiley faces and no information on them. Which was rectified with a pen. If I’m going to be possibly injured, I want people to know (a) who I am and (b) who to call.

Minor details, apparently.

Speaking of minor details, there was the map. Yes, it had the pertinent route information on it. If you don’t mind a complete lack of detail. It had distances, but they were approximate at best.

But we took our map and went off to drive up the infamous Honey Run Hill. Not too bad for the first 5 miles to the covered bridge. And then we started climbing. With lots of switch backs. And we just. kept. going. for. ever.

Until, there, in the middle of the road, giving a very ill-timed flop, was a snake.

Keep in mind, people, that I am rediculously terrified of snakes. And I was driving.

So what did I do? Nothing more (or less), than slam on the brakes, duck my head down where I couldn’t see the road, and start screaming and crying. Luckily, given that the road was about a car-and-a-half wide, there was no one coming. And the whole “brace yourself for a crash” panic that set in kept my foot locked on the break.

Amelia was smart enough to put the car in park and then proceeded to hug me and tell me it was okay. And it was. Eventually, I lifted my head long enough to see open road, and started driving again. And this time, instead of scanning the road for oncoming cars, I was scanning it for oncoming snakes. Fortunately, there were none. Unfortunately, my brain was now wired to think of Honey Run Hill = Terrifying Snakes.

(You can’t see me, but I’m totally having full body shiver freakouts as I’m writing this. I swear.)

At the top, we made the colassal mistake of not going to drive Table Mountain Road. We figured Honey Run was supposed to be the hard one, we were short on gas, and hungry, and thus Table Mountain would just sort itself out. It wouldn’t be as bad as what we’d just driven.

Right? Right…..

Off we went to get pizza at Woodstock’s Pizza, which James had told us was not to be missed. On the way, we swung into one of the local bike shops and came away the proud owners of (clear) Sierra Nevada bike water bottles. Awesome. As was the pizza. Very tasty. Then it was off to our hotel, some 30 minutes away, to prep ourselves and our bikes.

We did have one snafu in that Amelia’s tire, the one that went flat on the Cinderella and was pumped up by a helpful Prince Charming, had the valve break off. We hoped it was in the ‘closed’ position, but figured if it went flat, it would do so early and we’d know.

In the morning, after loading everything and eating breakfast, we headed back to the course. It opened at 6, and we were ready to go and on the road by 7. We opted to bring arm warmers, given the bit of chill in the road, but leg warmers were left behind. This, by far, was the option of choice for most riders who were leaving, so we figured we were in good company. Mine, however, rubbed off a nice ring of sunscreen, and I ended up with a lovely little circle burn around the tops of my arms, which has turned into a lovely little circle of deep tan in the surrounding light tan…

Moving on.

Heading off down the road, our first complaint was the crummy course markings. There was a small orange arrow on the road at one point, and if we hadn’t known to turn on 9th, we would have missed it. As it was, the other people with us only caught it because they noticed us turning. And that was the only arrow we saw. Instead, we got a cutout man pointing in random directions. Helpful. And usually with little warning, to the effect of “shit, shit, turn, turn”. Fun times. Bah.

So we headed out into the country for the first hill. Approximately 700 feet of climbing, on a bumpy, bumpy road. I would not have taken my bike, with road tires, on this road by any sort of choice. A number of people commented that they usually skipped this road for exactly that reason. I swear it hadn’t been paved since the dawn of time. Amelia and I decided the road upkeep was the responsibility of a local bike shop (not the one we frequented) that was camped at the top selling new tires for $5. Which was helpful, given the number of people I saw with flats. Amelia didn’t get one, and neither did I, thank goodness. Her tire actually held for the entire ride. Woot.

However…. The road was bumpy enough that it rattled the water bottle cages off the back of my seat. Which meant I had to stop in the middle of the climb, get out my bike tools, and spend 10-15 minutes putting them back on. Which meant first disassembling them. It sucked. And wasn’t easy. And meant that a worried Amelia waited somewhere up ahead not knowing what was going on. And no SAG support went by to help. In fact, I only saw 2 of them on this part of the road, but figured they were off helping people with flats.

And of the 50 or so people that passed me? Only 3 asked if I needed help. Which was about par for the day, given how few people were kind enough to announce things like “on your left” when they went to pass you. Bah. Etiquette, people, etiquette!

We made it up to the top, and then had a straight, fun downhill. I hit about 33.4mph top speed. Wheee!

Then through some country roads and on some local bike paths (where some shit was kind enough to try to run Amelia off the path, given that he was special enough to be traveling with his bike groupies and we were two single riders and thus clearly beneath him), and off to the covered bridge on Honey Run Road.

So far, so good. We goo’d. We drank. We peed. We were off and climbing. And it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. For one, no snakes, which I was insanely grateful for, especially since my climbing mantra was “Please no snakes, please no snakes, oh god was it right here? Please no snakes!” And the road was nice and shady, which was great when you needed to stop and rest. And it often had little flatish spots where you could get going again and clip in easily. It was a long-ass climb (6 miles, 2000 feet), but we later decided that, with respect to the other hills, it was fine. Not fun, but fine. And we both made it to the top just fine, slowly but fine, and were off to the first rest area.

Where the food was crap. It either looked or tasted unappatizing, and if it hadn’t been for the bananas, we wouldn’t have eaten at all. Then it was off to Table Mountain. At this point, there were some rolling hills, and I didn’t have a whole lot of gas left after Honey Run. And my knees were hurting when I climbed, probably from standing. But I made it to the downhill. Which was fun. And terrifying.

I hit, at one point, 37.7mph on my bike, and was on a road with signs warning cars to take the curves at less than 35mph. Thus = Me. On a bike. Going way to fast. I love downhills, and I love the rush, but not when they’re twisty downhills. Then they’re just sort of terrifying. As in, “grip your bike handles for dear life and hope your breaks don’t give out” terrifying.

Amelia and I met up again at the point where we turned off for lunch (65 miles) or Table Mountain (100 miles). I didn’t know if I had much left, and was hesitant to do it. I didn’t want to wimp out, but I didn’t want to get in over my head. Amelia’s point was, “What do you want to tell the internet you did?” Ah, the power of society’s judegement. (You guys aren’t judging me, are you? Right?) A chick we asked about the climb said it was only 2.5 miles of hard climbs. She said it was steeper than Honey Run, but more fun. So off we went.

Some light climbing under the baking sun, and we made it to the next rest stop, where I accidentally discovered, when faced with a large Park&Rec sign detailing how to “identify my friendly neighborhood snakes”, that the one that scared the shit out of me on Honey Run was a gopher snake. Oh joy and rapture! No screaming and crying, but my bike was parked in front of the sign, and Amelia had to go get it for me. My bike, not liking the snakes, attacked her in the process. Sorry!

((People! This isn’t necessary! I thought I was done with the snakes!))

More crap food, and thus only more bananas for us, and we were off to climb. 11 miles, according to the map, from the turn onto Cherokee road to lunch. 11 miles. I can do 11 miles. And only 2.5 miles of it was climbing, right? According to the girl, right?

Right up until there was a giant snake on the side of the road after a couple miles.

LUCKILY(!!!!!) my brain realized that the snake was not a part of the living world and managed to insert the word ‘dead’ before the word ‘SNAKEOHDEARGODAGIANTSNAKEPANICPANICPANIC’.

And yes, that is one word, why do you ask??

I screamed. Good practice if someone ever attacks me. I got about 100 feet down the road and stopped. It’s hard to bike when you’re mildly hyperventilating and crying and screaming. There was no one else around, for which I was thankful for (I’m not real proud of this rediculous reaction), but if a SAG guy had driven by about then, I would have asked for a ride back to the start. I was ready to be done. With the road, with the ride, with the snakes, with Chico in general. I was not having fun. (Poor Amelia noticed the snake, but when she asked other riders, no one had, so she spent the whole hill (MOUNTAIN!!) hoping I hadn’t seen it either. No such luck.)

I walked my bike a quarter of a mile or so while I calmed down, and eventually got back on it and resumed climbing. Up. And up. And UP.

2.5 miles, right? Around mile 2, by my count, I’d walked only about a third of a mile for the 1.7 miles of climbing I’d biked. I figured, my bike and I could still make it to the top, but I needed to use different leg muscles at times. A bike climber I am not, apparently.

So I figured I was within spitting distance from the top. Well, can you spit 2.2 miles? That’s how far a guy who was stopped in the shade said it was. And about then the road started getting steeper, and my walking to biking ratio switched to more like bike 2/10ths, walk 8/10ths instead of the other way around. I rode the flatter or less steep bits, and walked the more steep bits.

The third SAG guy we saw was driving up and down the mountain. He kept asking if I wanted a ride, and warning me it only got steeper each time he passed me. The guy who’d told me it was 2.2 miles and I were walking together by this point, and talking. The company was nice to have on the walk, as bike shoes aren’t meant to be hiked in.

About 0.5 miles from the top, I’d been walking for over a mile, and I decided it was stupid. I was clearly going to walk the rest of the way. The SAG guy asked, and I accepted, a ride. So what if my bike and I didn’t travel that last half mile under our own power? We could have, with me pushing it, or we could be driven and get there that much faster. The SAG guy said that he’d been doing support on that part of the road for 15 years and had never seen (a) so many people stopped and walking or (b) so many people accept a ride.

When we got to the top, it was 100 degrees!! And I was sure there were still snakes around!! So I thanked him for the ride, said so long to my car companions, and took off for the downhill. We get to go down now, right?

Well, turns out that Table Mountain is rather flat on top. Who would have guessed, right? And that I had to go through about 5 miles of flats or ups/downs before getting to the down? My legs were pooped at this point. And the twisty, turny downhill didn’t help. Especially when my phone rang, and I, assuming it was Amelia wondering where the heck I was, slammed on my brakes. Turned out to be someone from my college, wanting me to donate money (and money involving a number plus zeros at that) out of my miserly grad student salary. I told them it was a horrible time to talk, hung up on the poor girl, and resumed my downhill race. Again, with the poor markings, I nearly missed the turn for lunch.

And when I got there? About 2:30, maybe? 3, maybe? They were packing up and THROWING OUT THE LEFT OVER FOOD!!!! Because, clearly, the 30-50 riders still behind me clearly didn’t need lunch after climbing over 4000 feet and biking more than 60 miles. Fuck you, CVWR. That was not a nice thing to do. It was totally not necessary to throw an entire tray of sandwhiches in the dumpster. I got lunch because Amelia grabbed food for me, but what about all those other people? I was highly unamused.

And the lunch pickings? Were as dissmal as the other food choices. Pre-made sandwhiches, bananas, cookies. Unlike the Cinderella, where they put out a smorgasboard of culinary treats, let you make your own sandwhich (PB&J, meat, veggie, all three, whatever your little heart desires), plus have cookies and M&M’s and pretzels and goldfish and windmill cookies and fig newtons and all sorts of snack food to replenish your energy with. Bah.

So, with 40 miles to go, we headed out. I was tired. And hot. But it was 40 miles, and I can do 40 miles. Especially of rolling hills and flats. I lost Amelia on the first couple rollers–she’s a much stronger biker than I am, and I was still a bit beat from the climbs. But I was moving along at 16-18mph, doing well.

Now, I will admit that, on this ride, I did something I never do. I set my bike computer to mileage. Usually I watch time, or average speed. Anything but mileage. This time, I needed the mental “only x more miles” to get through the damn thing. Which, given that there map said 11 miles to lunch and it was more like 14? Was highly unhelpful. Because on this stretch, I was checking my mileage every mile or so. Which wasn’t good.

Anyways. About mile 70, I was going along, pedaling fine. Hot and tired, but not too bad. Then, the tingles started on my skin. And when the wind cut out for a moment or two, I felt chilly. People, it’s not possible to be chilly when it’s 90+ degrees out. Umm…yeah, that’s one of the first signs of heat stroke.

Now, I hadn’t seen a single SAG guy since the hill, and let’s face it, he was only the 3rd one I saw altogehter. So I figured my choices were to make it to the next rest stop, or to make it to the next rest stop. I did, at one point, begin to consider flagging down a random car and asking them to take me to Chico, but sanity (and the whole I’m a woman and afraid of doing shit like that) prevailed and I didn’t.

And then a SAG guy drove by. I threw up and arm, and thankfully (and I may have become briefly religious at this point), he noticed and stopped. My mileage hit just over 70 by the time I rolled up to his car.

And you know what? 70 miles in one day is admirable. 4000+ feet of climbing, even if some of it was walking, is admirable. Dammit, I was proud of what I’d done. And not stupid. I didn’t need 30 more miles to validate myself. Sort of like I didn’t need to have heat stroke to validate my supidity.

Turned out it was the same SAG guy from Table Mountain. And here’s the thing that still gets me. If some girl hadn’t gotten to the next rest stop and given up (my plan, remember?), he wouldn’t have been driving past. And he wouldn’t have seen me. And I still had 5 miles to go. Again, fuck you, CVWR, for having such shitty support. I appreciate that guy and his services, but overall? You failed completely.

By the time we got to the rest stop, I’d sucked down an entire water bottle, enjoyed a bit of a breeze from the open window, and was feeling a bit restored. We picked up two girls, and about the time we did, Amelia rolled in.

I told her how I was feeling and that I was done. I felt bad for leaving her alone, and apologized, but she told me not to be stupid and that I was doing the right thing. I’ll admit that the better I felt, the more I felt like I’d given up. After a couple hours, though, I was just back to being proud.

So the plan was to go back to the fairgrounds and get dinner for the both of us and be waiting for her. Given that dinner closed at 5pm and all. Yes, that’s right. 5pm. As in, you’re not back, too bad for you. Dear god, do these people just hate anyone who doesn’t bike professionally and rediculously fast???

So I got back, opened up the car, and sat on the trunk sucking down more water for awhile. Eventually, I got the bike loaded, packed up my shower stuff, and headed into the fairgrounds. I did find the showers, after asking 4 or 5 people and hiking around a bit, and I think I’ve never felt so good in my entire life. Seriously.

Then it was off to stand in line for dinner. They were nice enough to let me take a second plate for Amelia, which I piled high with some of everything. Including the pizza. Because they’d run out of the promised tritip and were now serving pizza. Bah. Having made friends with those in line around me, I ate with them, and Amelia rolled in about the time we were getting to dessert. Thus, ice cream sandwiches started off her dinner, which is a great way to go.

She did all 94 miles of the damn thing. And I don’t think she walked the hills. So proud of her!

And yes, 94 miles. Not the 100 miles we were promised. CVWR, you can’t claim it’s a century and then only provide 94 miles. We were robbed! Well, she was robbed.

Anyways, we ate, then she showered, and then we went and got pizzas from the famous Woodstock Pizzas to bring home to John and James. And were off for home. We stopped at one point to get coffee, and the act of getting out of the car and straightening legs that had been bent for an hour was not fun. However, back in the car, and off we went. We made it home about 11:30, chucked my bike in our apartment, grabbed John, and went off to IHOP for the most delicious meal I’ve ever had.

Thus, to ring my birthday, I could be found in IHOP burying my face in a plate of hashbrowns. Never, ever, have I tasted anything more delicious.

So. Yes, that was the ride. And we did it. And we’ll never do it again.

To recap:

  • No one checked us in or out. What if we’d been stranded out there? Who would have known?
  • No identification was provided. What if we’d been in an accident? (Amelia, we totally need to look into getting those rider arm bands.)
  • Very poor course markings and maps. Who knew where we’d end up?
  • Very poor course support. What if that SAG guy hadn’t been driving past? What if I’d needed help elsewhere on the course? I’d’ve been SOL.
  • Very poor roads at times. Not the sort of road you want to be biking on. Please pave it. Or pay to replace all the tires it punctures.
  • Very bad food. We’re riding far and climbing high. Calories are needed. Edible calories. Yes, I know this makes us picky, but still.
  • Packing up rest stops and dinner before people get to them is very poor form. We saw some poor guy bike into the parking lot at 6:30. No dinner for him, and I bet he didn’t have lunch, either. Oh, and I didn’t mention, they told us they were running out of food at lunch. So they why the fuck were they throwing the food away?!?!??!
  • There were no wildflowers. Or, more accurately, there were more wildflowers on the table at dinner than there were anywhere on the ride. Bah.
  • The course was 94 miles. If you advertise a century, you should provide 100 miles. It’s only fair. And truth in advertising and all.
  • There are too many snakes in Chico. And I haven’t even mentioned the many that were flattened and nearly unrecognizable on the road, but that still get my heart pumping and the adrenaline flowing a bit.

A day or two ago, Amelia got an email telling her they’d like feedback. You just opened up a can of worms, people. Here’s some of the things they plan on improving for next year: “changes at the rest stops, porta-potties, after-ride dinner, course markings, course signage, course monitors, rest stop timing, coffee and many other other area.”

Get ready for an earful, CVWR–I’m gonna be sending you a long letter detailing how you can improve.

Anyways. Go us! We biked far and climbed high.

And Chico Velo Wildflower Ride? You can bite my ass.

Now let us never speak of this again.

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