daily distractions

When I moved back to Tokyo two summers ago, my mother was growing about three different things on the balcony. A net supporting a curtain of leafy vines stretched from our second floor balcony to the roof, sprouting delicate flowers.
"I'm growing bitter gourd," she said.
"Is it working?" was my response.

As this is Tokyo, where a backyard is considered a luxury, my mother's horticultural experiments usually take place in giant, black planters that resemble witches' cauldrons. Appropriately, they seem to yield little that is edible. In otherwise bountiful moments of the year, my mother will put on an old, wide-brimmed straw hat, pull on rubber gloves and disappear with a large garbage bag in hand. She'll return an hour or so later with a corpse of a blueberry bush, or some other casualty of neglect half protruding through the plastic.
"Can you help me move one of the big planters? I'm replacing the blueberries with eggplants this year," she'll say. "Oh, but be careful, don't try to do it alone, I'll help," this 5'3, 85 pound, 65+ year old Japanese woman who pouts when a size 0 ends up being too big will add, "I know you're not very strong."

My response is always something along the lines of, "what....what are you doing?" Because between the plants, the dog, the house, and making sure that my father doesn't die of starvation because he barely knows how to use a toaster, my mother's made herself into quite the accomplished lacquer ware artist. There are never enough hours in the day two weeks before a deadline for a competition, but she will insist on swimming lessons once a week and social obligations I wouldn't bother ever penciling in. I don't get it; it's like she hates sleep.

I've often looked at my mother's never-ending list of things to do and simply shaken my head. I always preferred to focus sharply, obsessively on my loves, because I didn't want the additional worry of other distractions. I also wasn't sure if my heart had room for too many extra things, as if loving something else would signify some hint of apathy. In those moments when I can't stand to turn the pedals without sobbing, my natural inclination has been to simply smother myself with the bike. I don't know, it always seems like a good idea at the time.
Looking back on those crazed moments, what I ultimately didn't want to face was doubt shrouded as "other priorities" that might crowd in and push out the sweaty suffering. I remember looking at the mess of scars covering both knees after a week riddled with too many meltdowns. Why did I do this to myself, I briefly wondered. I remembered something my sister had said the first time I tore up my knees: "Ew," she had scoffed, "I hope it was worth it; you can't ever wear a skirt again." And that had been okay, because when you limit yourself to one love, it has to be worth it.

The funny, inevitable thing is that I caved and wrenched that stubborn heart of mine open, just a little. A few weeks ago, I clipped out of the bike, inhaled, and let myself get distracted away from my watts by designs, secret plans, and other half-formed things that are currently tumbling towards a doozy fixation. I made a dress that will hopefully always show half my tan lines and all of my scars. You wouldn't know it from the arid desert this blog has turned into the past week, but I wrote, too. I lost some sleep doing all of the above, lost more sleep to ride and watch the Tour, and was surprised to find myself happier for my multitude of loves.

Like the omnipresence of some degree of Kevin Bacon in Hollywood, you could easily trace all of my current daily distractions to the bike and therefore claim that nothing has really changed. I think that’s the point: true loves – like, the really real ones – should never be so limiting that they impose straitjackets, blinders, or simmering doubts of potential loss. They should, instead, usher you out the door on sunny days to ride and put a book, a keyboard, or a sewing machine in front of you on the rainy ones. They should do things like wake you up at 5am to insist on some quality time together, yet share you without guilt or jealousy, allow you to kill some poor, unsuspecting plants every year, and never, ever be your obligatory one and only. They should set you free, really, and kiss you always so you keep coming back.
Again and again and again.

passion pit

While reading “The Secret Race” this past winter, Josh jokingly emailed me, claiming that Tyler Hamilton and I were essentially the same person. The claim was followed by copied sections of Hamilton’s book, in which he described his constant battle to lose weight.

I haven’t tried the seltzer water and sleeping pill combination, but I could sympathize. Even as the heaviest woman in my immediate family, weight loss never became a life priority until cycling came along. People tell me I “look fine,” but that doesn’t mean much when you want to climb faster, or when everyone you meet tends to look you up and down and ask, “well…have you considered track…?”
Yeah, yeah, yeah I have huge thighs. Thanks for pointing out the obvious.

When I read the book, what hit home wasn’t only Hamilton’s desperate attempts to shed kgs, but his darker moments, too. I am familiar with the depression that can slowly seep into your psyche until, one day, you wake up to realize you’re in the mental health equivalent of no man’s land. There’s a frantic pressure to keep pedaling – whatever’s chasing you isn’t ever too far behind – but you have no idea how much harder you have to go, or for how much longer. Lacking a support system, I don’t get the team car or the race radio murmuring encouragement. There’s only the sound of heaving lungs, the press of insufficient oxygen, and the impending sense that nothing will be enough. I’d scream if I thought it would make a difference, but depression ironically doesn’t allow for that much drama.
In those moments, my head fills with all the things that I can’t be bothered to think about when I’m happy. That I’m still too fat, too slow, too worthless. That my reluctance to pursue a legal career, despite holding both a law degree and a license, is proof of a complete lack of ambition or life purpose. That, res ipsa loquitor, I am a failure and a disappointment.

And the most recent one, the one that snapped the psyche stretched from a bit too much training and the stress of an upcoming move [and consequently, certain financial ruin], was the declaration that I am “short sighted” for limiting my pool of potential suitors to cyclists.
It was a statement made by a coworker in response to my casual remark that, “well, I only really date cyclists, anyway.” His response stung, mostly because in devaluing what I live and breathe, there was no way to prove him wrong. The disappointing reality is that it is impossible to convince those who lack passion that there is value in being consumed by it. To those in the know, it is probably not surprising that mine has dictated professional decisions, friends, how I spend my money, and people I’d consider dating. To those without obsessive loves, my behavior is foolish and stupid; the equivalent of throwing away life opportunities for a passing phase. The implication being, “well, you’ll eventually grow [up and] out of it, and regret the whole thing, anyway.”

Passions, though, by their nature, become non-negotiable simply due to their Madoff-esque returns on investment. The problem is that, perhaps due to their relative rarity, non-negotiable things can make people uncomfortable. Maybe being careless about a love has become so commonplace that to be resolute about one is seen as pitifully naive. I try not to understand it.
"God, do you know how boring you are? No wonder you have no friends," my sister once interrupted, as I chattered excitedly about bikes.
The declaration was crushing. As a highly functional obsessive In an attempt to be a functional obsessive, I ended up stuffing the most intimate, happy parts of me into a hidden internal drawer. I rarely mention my lifelines: the daily emails and gchats with Josh, pictures from Z from his latest ride up the Dandenongs, tweets from Dave N. about Italian bike trips, Tim and Chan's chorus of exasperated sighs whenever I open my mouth, and emails from A. Without cycling and the friends I've made that share my love - the people who make my life rich and downright fucking extraordinary - I feel as if I'm underwater; everything is muffled and a little hazy. Stay there too long and you can suffocate. The risk of drowning, however, somehow hurts less than getting stabbed in the heart.

"You're starting to listen to these people, and that's scary, Kaiko," Z texted, as we watched Paris-Roubaix in our respective continents.
"Yeah, I know," was all I could lamely type out in response. I knew he was right, but my legs were shot and it was getting harder to keep pedaling. To keep pretending that my life is boring and empty.

The following Monday, I gave that coworker my usual "good morning" and traded polite small talk. I didn't mention cycling, even when he asked what I'd done that past weekend. I tried not to think about how he had fake yawned the last time I'd mentioned a pro race, or a weekend ride, or anything that involved two wheels. I turned down the volume to my abrasively obsessive personality for the rest of the day, and plugged in my earphones for my 8 hour shift of stoic editing.
I lightly smacked the saddle on my mechanical love on arriving home. All my problems were still there, but their corners didn't seem so sharp anymore. I was starving, but couldn't wait to go to sleep, so I could get up to spin those wheels all over again.

playing the love lotto

I realized, a few years ago [yes, it took that long], that the reason I generally suck at relationships is because I hate to be wrong.
Not in the small things – I’d rather be happy than right, most of the time, unless it involves horses, bears, or salmon – but there’s a considerable amount of usually unconscious resistance at the idea that I’ve been wrong about…me. I have, admittedly, some difficulty facing the reality of having made a slightly regrettable choice a little too long ago to be personally acceptable. Denial morphs into the kind of optimism that's often referred to as "delusion." Somehow, it's much easier to blame the guy who breaks your heart than concede that you don't know yourself enough to make semi-prudent choices. "You're breaking up with me?" to my ears and ego sounds a lot better than, "...but how could I have been so completely wrong [about you]?"
It's made me a little commitment-shy. The shadow of a doubt tends to linger, like the creepy friend of a friend who won't get the hint that you are - under no circumstances - going home with him. Everything becomes a little questionable. Because who is to really know? Certainly not you.

There is little comfort in self-awareness of my complete lack of self-awareness. Like getting an award for recognizing how dumb you are, there's no real winner in this situation. You might be holding a gold star, but in the end, you're still stupid. And if you can figure out that much, well, then, the idea of base jumping into the abyss of "he must care because I do" starts to lose its philanthropic appeal.
It becomes easier then, to turn in your parachute, so to speak, and fantasize; to assemble a dream date in perpetuum, and front like you’re not scared shitless of being wrong, again. At least for a little while [or until some good friends throw you off that dating cliff, whichever comes first]. That would be the normal thing to do. What wouldn’t be so normal would be to swing to the opposite extreme, to dump all your chips onto one hope, with fingers crossed, until death [or finances or too many changes] do us part.
I married myself off to Lotto-Belisol earlier this year. It’s been a hell of a ride, since.

We’ve already had some ups and downs, but the beauty of sports fan-dom [and probably, arranged marriages] is that the decision has been made for you. You’ve been committed, which means you better fucking make the most of it. Despite the mega hotness present on the team, it’s not easy, but I’m learning. A lot. Like how worrying about team rankings and Greipel’s lead-out train might temporarily make me feel better about being completely powerless, but ultimately won’t make any difference in the end. And how my mental health is slowly becoming dependent on the ability to maintain a frantic sense of optimism at the beginning [and end, if the results were less than spectacular] of each stage. I'm even trying out visualization, i.e., focusing on something and trying to will it to simply happen. It usually goes like this: JULY. GREIPEL. GREEN.
I still fall back into bad habits. There’s been pouting and groans of disappointment. I’ve used my fan status as an excuse to slip into bouts of self-righteous rage. I’ve even considered divorce and infidelity. Neither are really options...or so I like to tell myself, though my relationship with Lotto is more like an unrequited crush than a marriage of two very unlikely partners [most of the time, I don't even know if Lotto knows I exist...!]. The relationship, though, remains oddly fulfilling. In that ridiculously fun sort of way.

I know, I know. You're all rolling your eyes and muttering things about how it's still the honeymoon period, and how I'll end up fleeing into the arms of OPQS or Sky before the end of the Giro. But really, do I come off as so fickle? And so predictably boring? And would I set the picture above as my iPhone background if I wasn't 120% committed?

No, you're right. That's all bullshit I've spewed before, only to end up either very, very sad and/or very, very pissed off. But apparently being terribly wrong about everything doesn't buy you karma. You still end up being wrong. Kind of like any good lottery. But sometimes, like when Kenny Dehaes wins Handzame, or when JVDB grabs 4th place on the queen stage of the Volta a Catalunya, you will be right, and all that blind, manic trust will somehow make everything that much sweeter. And you'll just know that vicariously tethering your soul/happiness/sanity to the wheels of H[enderson,]G[reipel,]H[ansen] et al. this season was the right thing to do.
Or here's to hoping, anyway.
[Amazing pictures above obviously taken from various sources.]

bike rides and valentine's day

I saw the guy move from that same table to another across the room as soon as its prior occupants vacated it, and still I didn’t get it. I made a bee line for that precious table at Cafe Fixe; prime, coveted real estate in the sparsely furnished cafe. I put down my Americano, opened my notebook, and took a backseat to the argument unfolding between ex-s at the table in front of me.
I can only imagine the importance attached to an issue that will instigate near-shouting matches involving spitting out the phrase, “it was only a fucking kiss, i didn’t do anything else with him, okay?!” in the middle of a very quiet coffee shop while everyone else sort of stiffened their necks to keep from turning and staring. And while I’ve been guilty of the same crime of fighting in public, that certainly didn’t keep me from passing judgment. But come on, I mean, I was literally 3 feet away from them! How could I not?!
Ah, love. So complicated. And to complicate things even more, there’s Valentine’s Day coming up. Yup, that’s Monday. And no, I’m not implying anyone forgot about it.
But just in case you did, or you just haven’t found that perfect gift yet, or you haven’t decided what to heavily hint at wanting, or you just want to know what I would get for myself because I am philosophically opposed to the celebration of Valentine’s Day but am not opposed to buying myself things, here’s a list, compiled with my bike and a ride in mind:
Rapha Women’s Winter Collar


Yeah, I have the black one. But assuming that I would be content with one color would be like implying that I could live the rest of my life painting my nails the same shade of red. Not possible. Besides, it’s pink. And as most of my gear is in the exciting shade of black, a splash of feminine color is always welcome. These collars can keep you hot [literally], and should be on everyone’s must have list. Unless, of course, you live in California or you have somehow managed to pink out your bike, kit, shoes, iphone cover, and helmet and have consequently turned yourself in the personification of Valentine’s Day in flux. In which case, please do not buy this product.
Chomper Body Muscle Butter


Mr. G + D had a jar of this goodness a few months ago and after rides would slather it on his legs. And I would start breathing deeply. Panting, almost. Not to accentuate my chest [although I can use help in that department, too] but because it smelled so good. Like a walking peppermint. My mouth is actually sort of watering thinking about it. And no offense to Mr. G + D, but it’s the idea of minty yumminess massaged into my legs post-ride, combined with heart-shaped boxes of chocolates that’s getting my juices going. It doesn’t prickle like embrocation, either, so even with this stuff on your legs, you’re free to pursue whatever activities are in store, post-ride.
Skins Women's Travel & Recovery Long Tights


Sent via Josh, who suggested that I might want to “look good in the bedroom,” [see the second bullet point] once I saw how sexy these are, I couldn’t say no. I mean, what kind of male cyclist would NOT be turned on by the image of me squeezed into these amazing compression tights? Just try to ignore the fact that those tights are on a male model. Sexy, right? Additional points for the brand name which is what we call condoms back in Japan.
But, okay, fine. These are way sexier.
Rapha Women’s Wind Jacket


To complete the outfit. In white, because it’s not entirely opaque and therefore completely appropriate as a seduction tool. And because anything with that “R” logo will get my cycling-and-style-obsessed boyfriend’s intensely focused attention faster than a really nice [bare] rack ever could.
And there you have it. The female cyclist's dream Valentine's Day. Just remember, even if you don't exchange presents on Monday, if you want to make a female bike nerd happy, going on that ride is still mandatory.

the keys to my heart

There's an odd painting hanging in my sister's apartment. A man and woman are facing each other, playing poker. The man is fully dressed, the women completely nude. And yet, you can see the man's hand, while the woman keeps hers [cleverly] out of sight from the viewer.
Ah, men. So predictable [if you replace "common sense" with "what would make sense if you just wanted to get laid"].
Unfortunately, I sometimes feel like I'm completely naked and showing off my hand. I make it too easy, I guess: I perk up at the mention of bikes, I gush when anyone asks about cycling and training rides. I even smile and giggle.
Talk to me about bicycles and there's a good chance I'm going to walk away loving you.


And while those less closed-minded than me might entertain the prospect of dating a non-cyclist, [assuming I had the time for a relationship] for me...well...that's not really a possibility. Because cycling ends up seeping into your skin and permeating every aspect of your life if you get as addicted as I have. Cycling doesn't become a smaller part of your life. You just end up rearranging life around cycling.
And I don't even race [yet].
Sure, I'm predisposed to guys that ride hard [pun intended], but that doesn't keep me from thinking that it's great that newbies are out there these days, testing the Boston commuting waters. Because it is, and the streets seem to be crowded with strings of slightly blatantly inexperienced commuters. It's just that, even if that means more eye candy for me, a lot of them are simultaneously breaking my heart.


Call me neurotic...but...really? Sure, a bike is just a bike, but like a trophy wife/husband/girlfriend/whatever, that doesn't mean you're allowed to blatantly parade around the fact that you think it's dispensable. I think it actually took more time for my brain to process everything that was wrong with this picture than it would to cut through the lock and steal the bike.
Yes, I love cyclists; but no, I could never date this guy [assuming he was hot and interesting].



And apparently it's not just isolated to male cyclists. It's good to know that if I wanted a relatively new pale blue cruiser, that I could have one within 5 minutes. It's a cute cruiser, too, and one that probably gets its fair share of love. Just, maybe not enough from the right source. And though I don't doubt that the owner has good intentions, she's never going to realize what she had until she loses it.
We've all been there. With things possibly more precious than a bicycle. And there's really no point in setting yourself up for unnecessary heartbreak. Which is why I don't like to make it easy. I'm not condoning playing games; that's a waste of everyone's time. Just, you know, make it a little more challenging to steal the object of your unconditional affection.
Seriously. U-lock that shit.

stretched thin

I haven't seen you in months. And while I never thought it would work out between you and me...well, I'm having doubts.
Because these days, we've been seeing so much more of each other. I've been resisting it, though, and I always tell myself how it might not be a good idea to pay yet another visit. But I do anyway - it's becoming part of a routine by now - convinced that I'm going to leave in tears.
Is it me or have you changed? I'm actually starting to enjoy our time together. You're so different from everything else I'm used to...and I'm starting to feel like that that isn't so bad. And after our sessions together, I come home, lie on the floor and just think about you. Staring up at my ceiling, slightly dazed, trying to absorb what just happened.


That's not to say you don't leave me in some pain. You do. Oh, you do. Some days more than others. Which is why I've avoided you for so long. I couldn't keep up with you physically, so I just gave up and didn't bother trying.
I guess it's better to fail than to never try at all. Or, at least that's what I've been thinking these days. See, you've even gotten me being kind of optimistic! Seriously, sometimes I really question what's been going on. And I'm always questioning "us".
You know I'm careful with that kind of thing, though. And with everything on my plate, I can hardly manage a relationship.


I don't want to scare you away...but...I don't know...I might, just might, be kinda falling for you.
Oh, gym, do you think we can make it work?