I was a late bloomer.
Bikes. Talking bikes here.
I didn’t learn to ride a bike until I was in the 4th or 5th grade, as we lived in the country on a road with no shoulder that was well-traveled by barreling sugar beet trucks and lumbering tractors. The nearby canal bank made for great adventures, but as a haven for goat-heads, it was best left to well-covered foot-traffic. (Those rainbow thongs- yes this was pre-“flip flop” era- that were all the rage in the 80s were not good protection from the spiky edges of nature’s version of stepping on LEGO. Except nature is crueler. You don’t have to pluck LEGO out of your own flesh.)
Once we did get bikes, we rode them endlessly in the neighborhood behind our place, flying down asphalt hills and hoping our brakes would at least attempt their jobs, giving boosts to friends when their bikes were sidelined by flats, and pedaling our hearts out to escape the barking dogs that roamed freely.
Since the endless days of childhood summer, I’ve ridden bikes off and on, but never owned my own again. I’ve had a few bike experiences, but always on borrowed wheels.
The last time I was in Lima, I took a bike tour of the city, which was great until I crashed (who waxes sidewalks?!), bruising both my back and my pride and obliterating the banana I had in my backpack for a snack later.
2020 and the pandemic lockdown introduced me to DC’s Capital Bike Share, which I used all of last summer to transport myself into the eerily empty National Mall, but I got tired of trying to figure out when/where bikes were available at the various racks and carrying my own Lysol wipes to avoid COVID cooties.
So, time for an investment.
I looked online at more bikes than you can count. But, every time I found one I was interested in, it was “out of stock.” Between the desire for alternate forms of transportation and bunged up global supply chains, bikes were not easy to come by. And they certainly don’t give bikes away! Before I started looking, I was thinking $100 bike from my ShopKo days would do the trick.
Ha! How little I knew. (And how old I am!)
I quickly realized that if I wanted something a bit nicer than the ones put together by 16 year olds in the back of the department store, I was going to have to raise my budget. (Having been an 16 year old working in a department store, I am well aware of the backroom shenanigans, and while fun as a participant, I’d rather not trust my commute to those yahoos.)
After looking online several times and then getting annoyed at the options, the prices, the overall hassle, I had mentally walked away and given myself over to another summer of rolling on the red shared bikes in DC. Until, the spouse of a friend and former middle school teaching colleague posted a BEAUTIFUL bike she recently got and I was back in the game!
It wasn’t going to be cheap, but since I don’t have a car/insurance payment, I decided to chalk it up to transportation needs and make her mine.
After much consideration (okay, mostly whining to friends on Facebook and WhatsApp), I finally took the leap and headed over to Spokes Bikes in Ballston. Almost decided, but not quite ready to tap the card, I watched the exact same bike wheel out the door while I waffled. It’s a lot of money and I was feeling like I needed to be all in our all out. The pressure was on. Until, the lovely salesman (who instantly knew the author of the quote tattooed on my forearm, so bonus points) said I could put a minimal hold fee down and have two weeks to consider it. This is exactly what I needed to ease my mind. I knew my pretty bike wasn’t going to go out the door (she was the last one!) but I could also go home and sleep on it a few more days. Needless to say, as I walked home that afternoon, the sale was already made. The shop impressed me with their customer service and openness to a new bike owner- there was no elitist aura like I had felt at other shops.
When was the last time I owned a bike? Maybe middle school! Definitely before high school when I was given the keys to the glorious Bedrock that would be the wheels for all three McDaniel kids. But, I was probably as thrilled with rolling my bike out of the shop at 40-something as I was with getting handed the keys to high school freedom at 16!
So, I’d like to introduce you to Petunia, my blush pink Specialized Roll Sport bike. As she is quite photogenic, I plan to bring you pictures of her summer adventures as we wander the metro DC area together. Join me here for regular “Petal Power” posts and she and I putter our way around town.
(Also, feel free to share your biking advice for this newbie! I only have about a quarter of an idea about what I’m doing when I’m out there “petal-ing” around.)
The Impossible First: From Fire to Ice- Crossing Antarctica Alone by Colin O’Brady
Up until now, I’ve avoided booking myself a ticket on the COVID-writing bandwagon. The internet is already full of homeschooling (gone wrong- will 2020 be the year teachers finally get the raises they deserve?) stories and baking tutorials that I could never hope to live up to (I realized yesterday I didn’t even own ketchup- I apparently have the kitchen skills of a sad 13 year old) and first-person essays about how we all need to learn a new skill and come out of isolation as better people.(Who needs new hobbies? I prefer Friday night Quarantini Zoom calls with my former Caracas-crew where I get pro tips about convict workout videos available on Amazon. Spoiler alert- they are heavy on the pushups and you have to supply your own teardrop face tattoos.) (Additional important information- I just looked these up and they are FREE with an AmazonPrime account. This changes everything…) But as it looks like it will be longer and longer before I book a ticket anywhere else, maybe it is time to join the masses with a post for all seven of my loyal blog-readers. (We’ll not talk about the tickets to Taipei and Kuala Lumpur and Accra and Ho Chi Minh City that had I to cancel this spring. That discussion would go in a direction that we’ll deem “mentally unhealthy” and bury away for another day.)
Travel used to look like packed REI duffle bags (purple and monogrammed, of course!) and international tickets (see above parenthetical about voided trips) and a Jansport (pink with lots of pockets) full of books. Then just getting to Main State became a bit of a daily adventure with a llama-covered lunch bag (pb&j, cheese stick, and Cheez-Its), trains running on reduced schedules, and a Jansport (gray polka dot with just two pockets) loaded with my to-do list and planner. Now that I am fully ensconced in the “work from home” life, travel looks like a phone tucked into the waistband of yoga pants, a pair of Nikes, and Shell’s HotJamz on Spotify.
Oh, how the world has changed in four short (long?) months of one Blursday after another. As much as it pains me to admit it, on more than one morning as I brushed my teeth- the one necessary hygiene undertaking that MUST be completed before logging into work- I have had to ask Alexa what day of the week it was before she played my morning NPR updates. Hair brushing and face moisturizing happen on a mid-morning break and a swipe of mascara and pinch of blush only brighten my face if I’ve got a Teams call on the docket. (Side note: Always give your colleagues a 15-minute heads up if you are going to video call. It’s only humane. I can do a quick “tra-la-la-la-la” when my phone rings at 10AM and I realized I haven’t spoken out loud yet and don’t want to sound like a crazy old man grumbling into the line, and then answer as if I’ve been holding high level conversations all morning, but when that video call unexpectedly pops up on my screen, I cannot run to the bathroom, bust out the Caboodle and throw together enough face to not look on the brink of death in the time it takes before you hang up. 15 minutes. It should be a rule as sacred as the 5-second rule for food on the floor.)
The stir-crazy hit hard today. I don’t know if it was the gorgeous sunshine coming in through my sliding glass door or Diet Cherry Pepsi I have been mainlining or the really productive video call (I know, right?!) at the end of the day, but when 3 o’clock rolled around, I needed out of the “office.” (The office right now has two main spaces- a gorgeous desk that I am going to claim I built, which is “kinda’” true, but was mostly a matter of some basic hex key turning, pulled together with a flamingo-printed swivel chair and sitting on a high pile carpet on my living room floor, folded between the couch and the ottoman like a deformed pretzel. I vacillate between the two spaces, mostly dependent on where the current kinks in my back lie, but also occasionally by where my laptop is plugged in and how close to dying without a charge it is.)
Regardless of why, I had ants in my pants.
So, I changed out of my day sweats (differentiated from my pajamas only by the fact that they are what came out of the dryer first this morning) and into yoga pants, tied up my green and pink sneakers (I’m kinda’ dying for a new pair of brightly colored kicks..maybe a post-isolation treat) and headed out the door to stretch my legs for a bit. Opting for music over an audiobook (I needed something that required less brain power), I chose the aptly named “Shell’s HotJamz” station on Spotify and headed out. I must say, the curator of that playlist deserves a raise. She deftly maneuvered from Bon Jovi and Madonna to Nirvana and Cake with a fun swerve into Nick Jonas and Maroon 5. And, not to be left out of the menagerie of genres, an occasional Clay Walker or Reba McIntyre made a showing in the rotation as well.
I was that crazy person this afternoon that you switch sides of the road to avoid. (Luckily, any sidewalk changing can be chalked up to social distancing and is now not only appropriate, but encouraged!) Walking through the gorgeous neighborhoods of highly manicured yards in Aurora Hills, I air-drummed along with the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Californication”, fist-pumped to Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger,” and finger-wagged at TLC’s “Scrubs” with the best of them. Luckily, the only real witnesses to this momentary madness were the beautiful red cardinals flitting between sculpted shrubs and the bushy-tailed fox that meandered up the road, as if social distancing were his cue to retake the Washington D.C. suburbs.
Do I know that these long walks, meandering through neighborhoods that I will never be able to afford are good for me? (Ironic, right?) Of course. Do I make it out each day to get lost trying to find a route to the Air Force Memorial without getting run over on a freeway? Nope. I always have good intentions, and yet some days it is easier to log off work and curl up on the couch with a new book or the latest episode of a reality TV show. The hard truth of it is that some days I am going to “HotJamz” it around the District and others I’m going to “warmcuddlz” under a heat blanket on my sofa. As long as I’ve not broken down and started doing “Convict Conditioning” in my workplace (because, you know, my living room would have to do triple duty for relaxing, working AND gyming), I’m chalking it up as another successful Blursday.
Life in the Foreign Service is a bit like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. There is a basic plotline that the story is going to follow (A-100, 2 directed 2-year tours, promotions, mid-level tours, etc.) but that main narrative can take more twists and turns than the Road to Hana, depending on the choices you make:
- Unhappy with your housing assignment? To appeal, go to page 5. To stick it out and find cool things about what you have, go to page 11.
- Struggling to find EFM employment? To publicly complain/blame others, go to page 14. To update your resume/interview skills and keep plugging away, go to page 21.
- Don’t know where to go on your next R&R? To spin the globe and pick a spot based on where your finger lands, go to page 23. To just go to Singapore and people watch at the Merlion yet again, go to page 31.
- Getting kicked out of your host country with less than 48 hours to prepare? To pack calmly and methodically and with thoughtful intent- Not an option. To pack after not sleeping for more than 24 hours and after working a 17-hour day- This is your only option. Turn the page. Keep reading.
With all its ups and downs, I know I live a charmed life and have no room to complain. I checked this book out from the library and refuse to return it, regardless of what lies on the next page or the one after that. Fines be damned.
Thad’s job with the Foreign Service allows us to travel the world, living in and visiting far-flung corners of the globe that seemed unattainable to my 8th grade self, sitting in second period World Geography with Mr. Shake, grumbling about having to memorize countries and capitals. (If only at the age of 14 I knew that I would visit Borneo multiple times and stand on the geographical center of the Asian continent and take a death-defying flight over Angel Falls and plummet down a hillside in a giant hamster ball in New Zealand. Maybe I would have focused more on the location names and less on the how to best color-code my map to get the right mixture of ROYGBIV before stashing it away in my knock-off Trapper-Keeper.)
The Foreign Service lifestyle has given me the chance to choose my own adventures that led to bathing with elephants, holding a koala, petting a panda (illegally, but I saw my chance and took it), cuddling a wombat, sharing my water bottle with a quokka, and swimming with dolphins and sea turtles.
But it has also taken some crazy turns that make me think it would have been nice to hold my place with a finger while I took a sneak peek at the outcomes of the options provided.
This last tour in Caracas took would definitely have been nice to cheat and see my full range of options before picking. (Not that I would pick differently, but maybe I’d change a few decisions along the way.) Getting pulled out (or kicked out, depending on your point of view) of the country with a mere moment’s notice meant leaving behind all of our personal belongings. As of right now, nearly everything in the apartment I have been living in for the last five months is not mine. I own two dish towels (thank you Shannon!) a vintage typewriter (long story about how it ended up here, but thanks Melys and Matt!) and what came out of Venezuela in my luggage a few months ago, including way too many scarfs and not enough sundresses. It was January and I had no plans to be here until June!
I do not have my photos from our time in Peace Corps China. I do not have the thoughtful Christmas gifts sent by friends and family over the holiday season. (My new Caboodle!) I do not have the ugly circa-1970 orange and yellow casserole dish that is perfect for a two-person family and that I love so much. I do not have the wall hanging my best friend quilted for me a few years ago. I do not have my hilarious #2 pencil costume for Halloween or my awesome beach hat that got to go to the beach one last time the weekend before we evacuated. I do not have the fertility gourd that was our going away gift from our danwei (Communist work group) leader in Chengxian. I do not have my books or my patio chairs or my super comfortable memory foam mattress topper.
This things are all still in my apartment in Caracas. The bed is made. The towels are hung. I could walk in tomorrow and take up my life without missing a beat. (I know this because our amazing housing team from Embassy Caracas sends me pictures each week, letting me know that all is well.)
There are so many things that I do not have, but all is not lost.
Today, I added one more thing to the collection of “items I own while on Ordered Departure.”
Today, a daring escape was made!
Today, I was reunited with an old friend who has been to sleepovers and family vacations and college and study abroad and Peace Corps and a million other places with me.
Zugly, my dear buddy that I wrote about in “Moments” successfully made his way out of Venezuela (I wonder if the immigration team photographed his visa on their personal cell phones, much like they did mine on my last trip out) and to Washington DC. It took the help of a wonderful member of our local staff in Caracas to get him on a plane (carry-on—no luggage hold for Zugly!) and bring him “home” so he’s ready to embark on whatever adventure story we pick up next.
We are still awaiting a final say on where our next book will be set- it could be Asia or South America or Africa or here in Washington DC. It is still up in the air, but wherever the globe stops spinning, I’m ready to choose. Ready to choose to be excited for the new adventure. Ready to rejoin the hunt for employment. (Hopefully it is a short one!) Ready to uncover a new neighborhood, meet new colleagues, and make new friends.
It is time. I am ready to choose my next adventure with Zugly in the suitcase and a promise to always add him to the top of the evacuation pile.