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Monday, December 17, 2012

The Portland Garbage Underground




Garbage pickup in Chicago is pretty simple: you put your stuff in the alley, they pick it up.

That’s about it. You don’t even have to bribe them, which in Chicago is a miracle in and of itself. Not that I’ve tried it per se, but during the house-cleaning insanity, when I was dumping tons of crap in the alley, I happened to get home as the garbage folks were moving further on down the alley, so I trotted over to the guy in back to give him some cash. He actually shook his head at me, said “no no no, it’s our job, you don’t have to do that.” Weird.

And most of the stuff you put back there gets taken by the junk haulers. Anything metal? Yeah, it'll be gone in less than an hour.

But anyway, back to Portland. With this Chicago background in mind, the first week I was here I put out the garbage bin on Thursday night, for presumed Friday morning pickup. Note that I said garbage BIN – in other words, I put out the wee black one, and not the entire slew of 9 various receptacles that are congregating by my driveway. For those who think I’m joking:

Note also that the green and blue bins are massive, while the black one is…..but wait, I get ahead of myself.

So Friday morning comes and goes, and lo, the garbage is not picked up. Okay, this is a bit of an issue since the last tenants left it full to the brim, but hey, I can wait until next Friday.

The next week, I set it out again.

And again, nothing.

What fresh hell is this?

It’s only then that I learn about this wonderful quirkiness in Portland that is called “every other week garbage pickup,” or, as I like to call it, hell. You see, your huge blue and green bins o’stuff, namely the recyclables and yard waste, get picked up every week. The wee garbage bin, once every 2 weeks. So if you miss a week, basically you have garbage festering for a month, which I’m sure is quite lovely in summer.

But of course, no one would miss garbage pickup once you realize this, because to do so would be to invite madness. And decay and rats and bubonic plague and all sorts of pleasant things.

But back to my garbage problem – because now it’s been 3 weeks with no pickup of this stuff, and the bin was full in the first place so I have garbage bags piling up in the garage where I think there are mice. So I do the research and discover that – unlike in Chicago where you can pile up stuff to your heart’s content – you can set out an extra bag in Portland for an extra $5. I have no idea how they note this – do the garbage men have iPods in their trucks? No clue.

Beyond this issue of timing is the problem of trying to figure out what the hell goes where. I have 3 advanced degrees, and I still have no idea. Paper is recyclable, but paper towels go in compost. But other than that only yard stuff and food scraps go in the compost bin – oh, as well as pizza boxes. No other boxes, just pizza delivery. I’m tempted to eat nothing but takeout pizza in order to simplify things.

And then of course as garbage starts piling up, I start to wonder if there should be (or is) a Guerrilla Garbaging movement in Portland. Where people sneak around and dump their garbage wherever they can. Maybe this is why the dumpsters at the school next to the dog park where Kone and I go every morning are….locked. Yes, they have to lock up the garbage around here, to stave off desperate people. Umm, not that I checked or anything.

Of course, the bright side to all of this is that every 2 weeks, there’s a big celebration! First the anticipation and worry – did I do things right? Because the garbage men can refuse to pick up your bins if you’ve thrown things out incorrectly. Or if they’re too heavy. Yes, there’s a weight limit for the bins.

So all this leads to conversations like this:

Me: So I have some exciting news!
Patty: What’s that?
Me: They picked up my garbage this morning!
Patty: Awesome!

And now I realize why people are reluctant to give you extraneous boxes, like at Costco. “You don’t want a box for your things, do you?” Ha, I made that mistake once, and never again.

When I go to hang out at Kim’s, I bring containers that she’ll then have to discard, not me. “Oh I’d be happy to bring over a plastic container of orange juice! No problem!” Ha, my mother didn’t raise many foolish children, I always say.

Speaking of which, when my mom came to visit for Thanksgiving? Yeah, she gave up on the whole thing. “I’m leaving this on the counter, you can throw it out.”

I soldier on.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Greetings from BizarroLand!

Well, it’s been a long few weeks of driving that final stretch between Big Sky, Montana and Portland! Maybe it just seemed that way. Who knew that much of Washington state looks like South Dakota, and much of Oregon looks like Texas? I almost decided to turn around and head back to my sturdy Midwestern cornfield-homage roots, but instead called upon the pioneer spirit of my ancestors and forged on. It’s a good thing I did, too, because the stretch of driving between Hood River and Portland was gorgeous, as if to make up for the barren wasteland before it. Whew! I no longer feel gypped or deceived by laden promises of lush greenery.

Anyway! My nineteens of readers are surely wondering what I’ve been doing since I’ve been in Portland, thinking, have you cycled all the vastness of Portland yet, Miss Tasha? Started a crop of meconopsis grandis, aka the elusive Himalayan Blue Poppy (which I’ve tried to grow for YEARS, but the Midwest is not the proper environment; I have high hopes for the PNW though)?


The answer to that would be no, I have not quite managed anything that paltry, because I’ve had bigger fish to fry, so to speak. Yes, I had to take on the most critical yet difficult tasks that one could possibly ever have to navigate in one’s lifetime:

  1. Getting HRH The Kone settled in and happy
  2. Figuring out Portland garbage pickup

You can imagine the suffering I’ve had to endure as we worked our way through these weighty and seemingly impossible tasks.

First, The Kone. Our first few days here I believe we hit pretty much every dog park within a 5 mile radius – Brentwood, Woodstock, Mt. Tabor, etc. The Kone seemed pleased, and yet……he refused to get out of the car once we were back home. Hmm. And this was even with me carefully timing it so that we were outside only in between rainums. Hmm. I stopped at local Otto's Meat Market and got him some fine marrow bones. Meh. Kone and I went to Otto's since they sell yummy sausages from a grill outside (note: Portland rocks), and he was even given free spare hot dogs, and still the pouting. Hmm.

He had playdates with Lucy, his new BFF! A ridiculous number of toys and treats! A big yard to be all bouncy-pouncy in! Meetings with the chicken village next door!

Nada.

Clearly, he was feeling the pain of losing the Kone scones. Of course we needed to reprise our usual morning routine, as part of the strict disciplinarian approach I’m known for, so we started going to Brentwood dog park every morning, but then….where to go for the scone? My go-to coffee shop is Papaccino’s, where they already know my drink, yet they have nothing resembling a petite scone. Oh sure, I tried different things – Kone would either turn his head away, spit them out, give me a depressed long-suffering look, or all of the above.

We tried the Starbucks across the street at the Safeway, but those useless cretins don’t carry the petite scones, and the coffee was lousy to boot. We tried the further away Starbucks, which was too far away and had no parking so it all seemed a bit ridiculous. I mean really, we’re in Portland and I’m seeking out a Starbucks? So wrong on so many levels.
 
Our new solution: we go to the dog park, then Papaccino’s, where I get my (delicious awesome) coffee. Before we leave the house I put into my purse a substitute scone – or in the case of Angela doing some baking for HRH and shipping petite vanilla bean scones from Chicago – an actual scone. So when I get back to the car with my coffee, I can tell Kona that I have his yummers, and pull out his faux scone, and everyone is happy.

Whew. Major MAJOR problem solved.

Next up: Why one needs a PhD to figure out Portland garbage pickup….

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Kone Across America Tour


I’ve decided that South Dakota is pretty much the most awesome state we have. Why? Two main reasons:

  1. The 75mph speed limit. That ratchets all the way down to 65 in construction zones. That right there would normally be enough, but as a bonus we also have…..
  2. It’s not southern Minnesota.

Good god, people, could that stretch of MN be any more boring? I think not. There’s a good indication that even MN itself recognizes how god-awful the southern part of the state is. You see, I think of MN as an “urban” state – it likes to think of itself as being more hoity-toity with its big cities and its standard 55mph speed limits. (This is as opposed to the rough-and-tumble yee-haw cowboy states of, say, South Dakota and Nebrahoma.)

So the fact that even Minnesota throws us a bone by making the speed limit on that stretch a full 70mph is basically conceding defeat on their end.

Of course, one quickly realizes that the key reason the speed limit is in fact 75 in the cowboy states is because otherwise it would take about 10 days to cross each state, starting with South Dakota. I mean what the hell, you folks couldn’t have subdivided the state a bit? West Dakota? Dakoteappolis? Something? As it is it took me about 3 days, or maybe I’m still driving. It’s kind of all a blur.

As for Wyoming, there’s a state that shouldn’t have any speed limits whatsoever. What’s the point? We’ve just spent 16 days driving across South Dakota, I think we’ve got the driving thing down pat.

And when you get to Montana, hell, they should just strap the rocket boosters on your car as soon as you cross the state line. Talk about another endless state, with a lot of scrub brush to not relieve the monotony, and not even a Corn Palace. Hmph.

Speaking of the Corn Palace (which I am happy to note is open “year-a-round”), we did make our pilgrimage there, and The Kone and I were the only people there on a blustery morning, along with a family from Wisconsin, of all places. So after I took the requisite picture of them by the Big Ear of Corn, and they did the same for us, we discovered something astonishing when they heard me call Kona. Their dog back home is also named Kona. What are the odds? I take that as a sign that The Kone and I are on the right path in our quest for kayaking greatness in the PNW.

Other random thoughts on this endless drive:

  • The 9th circle of hell clearly involves having to listen to political ads the entire length of the state of Montana. Consisting of back and forth like this:
    • “Jon Hastert has promised Montana that he will fell every tree in this state, and he will not rest until we are completely deforested. This is the kind of man Montana needs.”
    • “My opponent Jon Hastert has promised the good citizens of this state  complete and total logging of every tree in Montana. I promise the same.”
    • I’m not even making this stuff up.

  • Dick’s Garage in South Dakota: it’s been 3 years since I’ve passed this way en route to Idaho for (ahem) Ironman CDA – yet your sign STILL reads “24-hour Toe Service.” Seriously? It looks newly painted too. Next time I come through here I’m bringing a bucket of paint.

  • All through these endless states are barriers that will block off the highway, and signs that will flash yellow lights if 90 is closed. I repeat, if 90 is closed. Umm, does this happen that often, that you close down an entire major highway? It must, if you have these permanent structures in place. What’s the deal, blizzards, locusts, what? I find this rather fascinating.

  • To the good people who named the town of Plankinton, SD. Why, I ask you, why? Why this level of unpronounceability?

  • Another thing you realize while driving across state after state after endless state – the highway system in this country is pretty damn impressive. (In spite of the stretches of I-90 in Wyoming that are chip seal. What the hell, people?) Mile after mile of road, going god knows where. Who planned this out? How did it all come together? Why, it must have taken weeks to build, weeks!

  • Speaking of, there’s a hell of a lot of land out there. What, we couldn’t coexist with the buffalo and the Indians?

  • Construction. Endless road construction. I don’t get this. I don’t know how to put this nicely, but no one drives through your states. How can the roads deteriorate that quickly?

  • Speaking of the lack of vehicles on the road, such that at one point I worried I had taken a wrong turn like I once did in Death Valley and found myself in a battle with almost certain death. Okay, not really, but I did get lost. Anyway. Back to those speed limits. How are you going to dole out speeding tickets? Station a cop at a “speed trap” where he has to wait until that day’s car goes by? Just wondering.
  •  
  • The Big Sky Motel in Superior, Montana - you're lovely and all, but point #3 on your list of rules for people who have pets? The one that reads "Pets are not allowed on beds"? Yeah, kinda laughable.

I would write more, but I need to scrub my brain from the suffering of trying to find any kind of radio stations to listen to. Next up: Radio stations in Nebrahoma, the 10th circle of hell.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Don't cry for me, Chicago



--> I love Chicago. I really do. I was born and raised here, and I am a Midwesterner through and through. Chicago is in my soul, it’s part of who I am.

But I can’t live here anymore.

When I first moved back to Chicago after business school (ahem, Wharton), I was the most ardent evangelist for all this city had to offer. I scoffed when people asked if I would live anywhere else. Why would I ever leave Chicago? It’s livable! Manageable! Inexpensive!

It’s none of that anymore.

I’ve watched over the years as my property taxes have gone up to ridiculous levels (no, I can’t afford $9,500 a year, which would be more if I didn’t contest it every time), my water/sewer bill has shot up just this year from $700/yr to $1100/yr, we pay the highest sales tax in the country, the highest gas taxes – and yet we have the crappiest roads and the most broke state in the nation.

This is not my Chicago, not anymore. Not when I can’t use a simple quarter to park anywhere anymore, where we’ve been sold down the river by our former idiot mayor who just kept kicking the can down the road as he doled out hefty pensions and cushy deals to keep the peace. And now the bill is coming due. Yet, no one – or very few – seem to realize this. They don’t seem to get that this state is beyond broke, that we pay all this money yet the schools are no good, the streets are terrible, and things will get worse. Much, much worse. The pension crisis is coming to a head, and it will not be pretty. In fact, it’ll reach new depths of ugly that’ll make the Council Wars of old look like a Sunday in the park. We read in the papers daily about the cronyism and corruption and deals, and yet nothing ever changes. And everything is for sale to not even the highest bidder (hello, former Sears Tower!), but to those who have the most friends and family in high places. Or any place in government or politics, for that matter. It all reeks to high heaven.

And do people here really realize just how badly off the state is in terms of fiscal health?

Does anyone care?

I don’t know anymore. I know that I do, and have, and yet there are only so many letters that can be written, so many idiots voted against, so much yelling and ranting that one can do. And so I am finally leaving my once beloved Chicago. On some level it saddens me to be leaving, but then I always remind myself of the bottom line: I can’t afford to live here anymore.

That’s really what it comes down to.

That’s why my street, my little enclave of St. Ben’s, is becoming a haven for the rich, with almost every 2-flat being turned into an opulent single-family home.

That’s why those of us who can are leaving while we can, while there are still rich people who want to buy our houses, who can afford those insane property taxes.
That’s why early tomorrow morning I am leaving for a new life in Portland. My mom, who’s gotten on a mailing list for property in Portland, recently sent me an article about that city, where Portland was described as “livable, manageable, affordable.”

And I thought huh – it’s like I’m going back to Chicago. My Chicago of old.

And then when a dear friend told me that it was the end of an era, I thought huh, you know, it wasn’t all that great of an era.

I am hitting the reset button on my life.

A grand adventure awaits.

And Chicago will always, always have a place in my heart.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Graduation Day!




 
Ah, there we are, a fledgling group of kayakers having made it to our last day relatively unscathed. Vineyard gets to be the princess on the raft today, since she hurt her foot, but the rest of us are as gung-ho as a bunch of newbie kayakers can be when told we’ll be facing CLASS FIVE RAPIDS! Okay, that’s a lie. Maybe Class 3. Maybe.

As usual, I get helpful tips from our kayaking instructors as they attempt to make me less of a spaz. Special Sauce is especially patient, teaching me how to turn the kayak around as I keep spinning and spinning. She also suggests that instead of overthinking as we hit the rapids (which of course I do, every time), I try talking or singing. Hey, great idea! I immediately start belting out the song “I Hate My Life” – assuring everyone that it’s an ironic singing.

“So sick of the people….
Who can’t drive their cars…
Well you better get outta my way before I start falling apart….”

I also take to telling Angie to stop tipping me over. “Cut it out, Angie!” And hey, it works! I am a kayaking superstar! No swimming! None at al….oops, I go over. Damn.

Though once I get that first swim out of the way – and it would have been a beautiful T-rescue as well if my spray skirt hadn’t gotten loose – I’m much more relaxed. Unfazed. Leading to conversations like this one with Cougar, one of our most awesome FD volunteer/helpers:

Me: What the heck is that up ahead, Niagara Falls? Listen to the rushing rapids!
Cougar: Oh, that’s just the Death Sieve.

(pause)

Me: Okay then, the Death Sieve it is!
Cougar: I’m just kidding – the rapids always sound so much worse than they are.
Me: Bummer, I was kind of looking forward to traversing something called the Death Sieve.
Cougar: Well then, that’s what it is – let’s go!

We cruise down unscathed through these Class 5 rapids (3, maybe) and just as I’ve been all week, I’m as happy as a person can possibly be.

We all then eddy out so that we can get instructions from Spanky, who explains to us that the next rapid coming up in a little while is the Challenge by Choice rapid, called Macdonalds. Which we can choose to do or not, because it’s pretty hard – but of course all of us badasses decide to do it. No question.

This is how Spanky instructs us to handle this rapid: “go careening wildly across the water, sharply edging over to the right so that you potentially catch as many waves as possible. Then slam into the huge boulder, rebound, and try to get your bearings before you segue into the eddy, where you’re also likely to go over.”

Okay, so I’m paraphrasing slightly, but that was the gist of it, or at least as I apparently heard it. But first we have a little ways to go, so we all get back on the river, and of course I forget everything I’ve learned thus far, including the singing and chastising Angie, and so I manage to go over in some rapids with – ouch! – tons of rocks. Ouch!

Me: AHHHHHHHHHH!

That was me getting my arm temporarily caught by a rock, anchoring it while I was still moving forward, and basically pulling a muscle.

Me: Ah! ACK!

That was me again after hitting my hip on a couple more sharp rocks, as I’m being towed to the shore by Cougar.

I’m laying by the shore like a beached carp, keeping my hip in the cold water as instructed by Cougar so it doesn’t hurt as much (which actually helps!), noting that my right arm, the cancer arm, is kind of non-functional at the moment. I then hear Twinkletoes muttering, and it sounds to me like he’s trying to figure out how to get me down the river SANS kayak!

TT: I’m not sure where Babe is with the raft, or how we could get him back up here….

No no no no nononononono! I interrupt his musings right away.

Me: Oh, I’m okay to go on, at least for a while!
TT: But the next rapid is Macdonalds.
Me: That’s fine, I’m good with that. If I swim, I swim – I’ve had plenty of practice.

And it’s true. And the water, the rapids, the kayaking – I fear nothing. Back when people would marvel at how fearless I was? (Which was usually in the context of hockey, as I’d go after guys twice my size.) Yeah, that’s me again. Finally.

Plus I mention to TT that I want to end on a high note, since this will probably be my last stretch seeing as how my right arm isn’t very useful at the moment, which could make getting in and out of a kayak a little difficult. So Macdonalds it is.

I’m pleased to note that I handle it exactly as instructed, heading directly into the huge boulder – but this time, the whole “kiss the rock” thing works, and I start to slope away from it gently. Hallelujah! It works! OMG IT WOR…..bloop, over I go, as in my excitement I forget to paddle.

Oops. I’ve clearly forgotten the immortal words of Babe: “If you’re going to go down, go down paddling.”

Words to live by indeed.

So, I swim again. Big deal. As another wise person once said, we’re all just in between swims anyway.

* * * * *

I get relegated to the raft, and thus have a front-row seat when the rest of the campers get to Graduation Rapids. At first they’re around the bend getting final instructions from Wildflower, and then they’re supposed to come down the river one by one to tackle these last rapids.

Which is why we’re all so surprised when they ALL appear up above, like a little pod of ducklings clustered together. The reaction from the instructors is instantaneous.

Stepmom: What are they doing??
Spanky: Okay, obviously they didn’t get it at all.
Mrs. Robinson: Totally unclear on the concept.
Twinkletoes: Carnage. It’ll be carnage.

We all watch, fascinated, as they start coming towards the rapids as a unit. Then suddenly – Bloop! Bloop! – they’re all going under! After the first three, we figured out that they were doing it on purpose. All going swimming!

I’m not sure if the instructors were more stunned before or after, because to a person, they all said that in all their many years of kayaking they had never seen any other group do anything like that.

Nicely done, my fellow campers. Nicely done. The inaugural FD “You had me at 40” group, marching to the beat of its own drum. They embody the FD slogan – “Out living it!” –  and I know that this week I’d have rather been in my kayak - upside down or no – heading down the Klickitat than anywhere else in the world. And my heart overflows with love for these people, these gracious fellow travelers who have given me back to myself.

* * * * *

That evening we have campfire, and talk about our experience this week. And I have to say that this week was transcendent, life-affirming, life-changing in a fundamental way. I have to admit, I pretty much think I’m the bomb. I’m smart, funny, I write a mean blog – what’s not to love? But for all that, even I have my fears and doubts, things that hold me back or keep me from doing what I want or should be doing.

Now I feel like I can conquer the world.

The week also helped restore my faith in humanity, as I’ve never been surrounded by so many genuinely good and kind and wonderful people. The other campers, the FD staff, the Wet Planet instructors, all the FD former campers who came out as kayaking helpers all week to help keep us from drowning. I look at Wildflower and think how proud his parents must be, that they raised such an amazing human being. I feel this way about everyone here, which is balm to my cynical and battered soul.

And something else I discovered to be true this week is this:

I suck at kayaking. Truly.

But I’m pretty good at life.


Friday, September 7, 2012

On being a kayaking disaster

 

Wednesday was our “off” day, during which we went rafting on the White Salmon River. You’d think that this would be a disaster-free day, but then you underestimate my capacity for Schleprockedness. Because there I was on the raft up in front with Vineyard, and we were very smart in our strategizing: if there was a point where we were told to duck towards the middle of the raft, she would go forward and I would go backward. Problem solved.

Except I neglected to clear this plan with Stepmom, who was directly behind me.

So yes, the first time we did this Stepmom and I clunked heads so loudly I think the sound is still echoing among the canyons of the White Salmon. Of course, this made the rafting all the more exciting because now there would be TWO of every beautiful thing. Win-win!

Mrs. Robinson had told us the day before how beautiful the White Salmon is, and I of course had to have the smartass comeback: “Oh, because the Klickitat is such drudgery?” Because the Klickitat is indeed a gorgeous river to kayak on.

I was proven an idiot (what a surprise) because indeed, the White Salmon River is not just beautiful, it’s transcendent. Like a Disney ride! Okay, better than that. I still have this vision in my mind of how perfect it was - the cold clear water rushing over the rocks, the trees hanging overhead, the feeling of being miles away from civilization – and I say, I’ll be back, my White Salmon River, oh yes.

But in the meantime, there was kayaking to be had. Thursday we head to another put-in point, higher than we started out before so we’ll pass the same points and keep going. Mountain Goat and I decide to incentivize each other to NOT tip over in the same spots – for me, The Tree, and for her, Two Waters. I tell her that if I get dumped at The Tree, I’ll have to rummage through all my random shit already packed and find for her the Walkman that I know I have there somewhere, because I saw it in the first round of packing. This of course is powerful motivation, of not wanting to dig through tons of crap.

I’m happy to note that when I see the rock and tree that foiled me on Day One, I manage to bypass both, The Tree included, which I nickname “Walkman” for this purpose. “No Walkman!” I yell, as I go zipping on past. Yes!! Mountain Goat also manages to successfully traverse Two Waters, because she too is a kayaking goddess much as I am. (Even though she's scared of fuzzy fruit, like peaches and apricots - but hey, we all have our crosses to bear.)

Or at least I was for the first part of the day. Because you see, this is Miss Tasha’s problem. She gets a wee bit cocky. Wee. So there I was having handled the first part of the river with no problem, and immediately I start thinking how totally awesome I am, and how naturally all this kayaking stuff comes.

That was before I kayaked right into a huge boulder and went over. And before I got sucked into those DAMN EDDIES that are evil personified! Relaxing and calm my ass! They just ACT that way and then they suck you in! So now I’ve already gone swimming three times today, but much like a Ronco commercial, wait, there’s more!

Every time I’ve gone over I’ve attempted the T-rescue, and have been close, but there’s a fine decision line between trying the T-rescue and realizing you have to pull the spray skirt or you’ll start chugging water. This is bothering me to no end, this inability to do the T-rescue.
 
So when I get dumped in a 4th time, I try the T-rescue again, thinking dammit this time I’ll get it, and lo and behold, it works. IT WORKED! OH MY GOD I AM A ROCKSTAR! No seriously, that’s how excited I am – you’d think I had just discovered Higg’s Boson or something. No, it was better than that!

Umm yeah, I was a little excited.

Shortly thereafter I went over again, and this time it was in a shallow part of the river where I was getting hammered by the rocks, so Babe pulled me into the raft. And I suddenly found myself going down the river like the queen of the Nile. Hmm.

I stayed on the raft. There’s just so much humiliation one can handle per day.

Not that I really feel humiliated. Even if my campmates are wondering WTF is wrong with me and my total lack of kayaking skills, they do a good job of hiding it. It’s funny but one of them later mentions that an instructor was worried that I was getting frustrated and not having fun – which was kind of funny in and of itself because I was having a blast. WAY fun! My friends who saw my status posts on Facebook knew this – they know how my life works and that this was par for the course.

Stacey: “Have you EVER been on a trip where there’s not some kind of debacle?”

No indeed, and proud of it. Or at least used to it.

So no, no frustration – after all, if my life were just one halcyon day after another, what would I have to blog about? I only feel bad about being such a disaster because I feel like the yoke on the shoulders of my kayaking pod-mates. Because every time you go swimming, you need to somehow get your ass to shore and then drain the kayak. Which takes time, so I feel bad that I’m such a time-suck and keep slowing things down.

Otherwise, these are good times. Especially since I’ve figured out what the problem is: Angie is tipping me over. No seriously. What other explanation could there be? Especially since I’m going over in EDDIES, for god’s sake! I’m athletic, graceful, took dance/ballet for years, so this should not be a problem. Angie is clearly the reason I’m happily kayaking along and then bloop go over just as if someone is tipping me over, and then giggling about it as Angie would do.

She and I are going to discuss this on Friday, oh yes.

But in the meantime, we’re heading back to our amazing lodge, and there we are, cruising along in the van, belting out songs, the stunningly gorgeous Columbia river to the side, and I am with some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. Life is good. In spades.

That evening we have our usual campfire – complete with a campfire image on an iPod – and tonight we’ve picked names and are describing people in three words or phrases. Wildflower comes up with “determined, full of grace, and badass” – and almost before the words are out of his mouth, Mountain Goat has guessed me. And it is. Me? Really? I’m surprised, touched, pleased, humbled. Happy. Sometimes it takes someone else looking at you with fresh eyes before you can see yourself.

There aren’t even enough words to describe how badass I feel right now.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Wait, we’re kayaking in THAT??

We get to our put-in point on the Klickitat River on Tuesday morning, and right away I see that there’s been some kind of miscommunication here. Rather than the gently burbling water I expect, what I see are clearly class 5 rapids, maybe even 6. How high does the scale go? Because these are off the charts, a maelstrom of frothing water. My god, they really ARE trying to kill us!


Spanky: Okay, so as you can see, these are some nice calm….
Me: Class 5 rapids!
Spanky: Umm no. Right here I think we’re at a 1, maybe a 2.

Hmm, I’m skeptical, but so be it, I’ll let the instructors have their little delusions. We learn about eddies, the calm spots that we can eddy into and relax and chill. I love eddies, their calmness and predictability. Eddies are my friend, so easy to manage (note: more foreshadowing here).

We then get our starting out instructions, for handling this obvious Class 5 rapid in front of us.

Mrs. Robinson: So you want to head towards that rock on the other side, then let the current take you to the right, but the most important thing to remember is to NOT look at what you’re headed towards but rather where you want to go, down the river. I repeat, don’t look at the rock or tree, but down the river.

Of course I take these words to heart, and after I bypass the rock, go straight towards the tree, locking it in with a laser beam focus.


As I hone in on it, pulled in seemingly by tractor beam, I’m thinking, hmm, a tree. Should I try to grab its branches and brace myself so that I can then push myself away? In the back of my head the laws of physics seem to dictate that that would be a really stupid idea (rapidly moving object + static object = sheer stupidity), so I then wonder if I can duck under it. As I’m pondering this existential dilemma, holding my paddle delicately in front of me, I hit the branches and bloop go under.

Two minutes in and I’m already going swimming.

Story of my life.

I panic slightly as I find myself in some tree branches and bumping up against some rocks, then attempt a feeble t-rescue, then start yanking at the spray skirt pretty much right away. Of course, the key to kayaking, as with life, is to surround yourself with people who can help you navigate the rapids. And so, once I stop flailing about, I realize that plenty of help is at hand, and just like that I’m okay again. I got this. And I do. I pop up, grab onto someone’s kayak, and get towed into an eddy so that we can drain my own kayak.
 

And now that I’ve gone under for the first time, I’m a pro at this swimming stuff. Swim Team Captain, that’s me! Oh sure, Navigator tries to usurp my exalted status, but to no avail – she only goes under two times to my three. Nice try Navigator!

At one point later in the day we pull over by a bridge, and I hear Twinkletoes saying something about “so you can walk to the top and then get up and jump off the bridge…”, and I figure he’s joking. That’s before I see GI Jane up there, getting read to jump off. Well okay then, why not? There’s something about FD that makes the seemingly crazy or impossible seem totally doable and logical. Like bridge-jumping. Makes perfect sense to me!

I head to the top, clamber up onto the bridge rail, and after I look at the distant swirling water down below for way too long, I jump, and immediately realize why people jumping off really tall bridges usually die. Because you feel how quickly you pick up speed, and hitting the water is kind of like hitting cement, or at least soft cement. But it’s awesome, and I’m grinning as I swim to shore, just as I’ve been smiling like a fool all day long. This is the BEST!

That day’s award truly goes to Vineyard though, who wasn’t going to jump, as she noted “I can’t swim very well” – but then decides what the fuck, and jumps anyway. I think that’s the motto for the week – saying fuck it, and doing things anyway. Life’s too short to do otherwise.

That evening I realize my true purpose in being at FD: to serve as a warning to others. Because there we are talking about other FD camps and activities, and we’re talking about surfing, when I pipe up: “Oh yeah, I tried surfing in Costa Rica – it was great – at least until I clotheslined myself with the surfboad.”

Mrs. Robinson: That reminds me of something –I’ll be right back.

She comes back with the waiver form from Wet Planet for all of us to sign, stating that if we’re foolish enough to drown or maim ourselves, we won’t hold Wet Planet responsible. See, never let it be said that my stupidity doesn’t come in handy.

We have another amazing meal that evening prepared by our chef Molle, who is making healthy foods that taste wonderful. That’s another thing – it’s weird to be so spoiled and pampered, as I’m just not used to this. Sure, I have friends and family who’ll help me out when things are dire, but on a day-to-day basis, I’m used to fending for myself with pretty much everything: cleaning, fixing, cooking, getting shit done, figuring things out, etc. Here anything we need we’ll get help with. It’s almost bizarre, but hey, who am I to argue with it?

Monday, August 27, 2012

I am Goddess, hear me roar

The next morning, we head over to the little inlet where we’ll be learning some kayaking skills, and I quickly rack up my first major triumph of the day, which allowed me to call upon all my skills as a triathlete: I got my wetsuit on. Yep, pulled that sucker on like it was nothing, and raised my hands in victory. Rock$tar!

Of course, this was before I realized that that was the easy part, and that in kayaking the real pain in the ass is getting the little jacket thingie on. It’s sealed with, I don’t know, cement or something, so you’re basically vacuum sealed in there for the duration. And let’s not even talk about the spray skirt, shall we?

We then get in the water, and of course the first lesson involves being dumped over into the water so that we’re dangling upside down. This is just for a quick second, but then we dump ourselves for real so that we can practice doing a wet exit, or getting out of the kayak by releasing the spray skirt. In kayaking parlance, this is called “swimming,” and I will just say that it’s a good thing I mastered the wet exit with speed and aplomb (in writing circles this is called “foreshadowing”).

The next several hours are spent learning a bunch of other skills, from turning and paddling to practicing the t-rescue, which is what you do when your kayak goes over but you don’t swim. Basically, the t-rescue involves waiting upside down in the water once you tip, after you’ve thunked the sides of the kayak to draw attention to the fact that you’re burbling about underwater, and then using another kayak as leverage to right yourself.

It’s pretty damn cool, and of course I master it right away. Piece of cake! In fact, everything we do is a piece of cake. I actually say at one point to Wildflower, after he’s explained one maneuver or another: “Yeah, that’s pretty intuitive.”

(pause for reader laughter to subside)

Let’s just say that a lot of things that seem intuitive when you’re on a very calm inlet in relatively deep water can seem a bit……NOT so when you’re in a rapidly rushing river with rocks a’plenty. Just sayin’.

But for now, we leave off for the day and I feel like a total rockstar. I will master the kayak! Be one with the river! Paddle along like the river goddess that I am! Yep, some of us are just born to certain sports, clearly, and this one is mine.

What can I say, it’s a gift.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

"My god, we're torturing cancer patients!"

 
By the time I read that in this excellent series of articles about First Descents, it was too late to back out. Not that I would have, of course, as I like to embrace my motto whenever possible (read: “doing the stupid things, so you don’t have to”). But it was probably a good thing I was too busy getting my house ready to sell to google or read up about “whitewater kayaking” or I might have driven myself insane. Well, more insane than I already was with the house thing.

Anyway. The first order of business with First Descents is picking out or getting a nickname, which in my case is pretty obvious. Several of us are getting picked up by Wildflower at the Portland airport, so we start discussing this.

Wildflower: Do you have any nicknames?




Me: Well, I AM known far and wide as Tasha the Triathlon Goddess.
Wildflower: There we go. Goddess.
Me: That works.

What can I say, sometimes things just fall into place as they should.

* * * * * *

We all head over to the lodge, which is a wonderful place owned by an amazing woman who lives next door, and which is nestled in the woods and has a perfect view of Mt. Hood right off the deck. There are 9 of us campers at this retreat for First Descents, which puts together these adventure trips for cancer survivors. Other than conferences, this is the first cancer retreat of any kind I’ve gone to, so I have no idea what to expect. Lots of kumbayaing? Who knows. All I know is that some of us are sitting on the deck, chatting, and I make a stellar first impression by suddenly starting to yell: “AH! AH! AHH! AAAHHHHH! SHIT!!!!”

There’s an insane hornet that’s gotten between my toes and is stinging the crap out of me. As a group, however, we’re nothing less than completely prepared, as I have heavy-dosage painkillers, Navigator has lavender oil to put on it, and Mountain Goat instructs me to soak my foot in Epsom salts, which I do. In spite of the burning/stinging/shooting pain, I’m happy, because this is totally in keeping with my Schleprockian existence. Stung by a hornet on Day One? Of course! Bring it on!

* * * * * *

Another thing we do that afternoon is go over our medical history with Special Sauce. I’ve filled out the form and don’t have too much to add, but when she asks me if I have any concerns for the week, I ponder. If I think about it, I might have something like the following blurt out of my mouth:

“Well, I’m worried that I might not fit in the kayak, or be able to get out of it, or will in general look like a bug stuck on its back trying to do either of the above. You see, I used to be thin, pretty, athletic, capable, but cancer treatment and cancer drugs have put on all this weight which is almost impossible to take off, no matter how little I eat or how much I exercise. So now I’m fat and ungainly and I don’t even know who I am or how to deal with this me.”

But even though I know Special Sauce would understand perfectly every word I’m saying, I stay quiet – because I don’t even know where to start….or end.

* * * * * *

But then I’m over it, because that evening we go to get outfitted at Wet Planet, where we learn we’ll be kitted up like Staypuff Marshmallows in order to stay afloat. I sense that my biggest triumph may just be in getting this stuff on and off every day, because it’s like a wetsuit multiplied exponentially. In fact, there IS a wetsuit, which is just the bottom layer – but being the triathlon superstar that I am, that should be the easy part. The Wet Planet people are in the running with the FD folks for “nicest people on the planet,” so I’m starting to think there might be a possibility I won’t drown during the week.

Of course, I’m thinking this as I’m hobbling around with a pack of ice on my foot thanks to the hornet sting, so clearly, all bets are off.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Where you been, Miss Tasha?

I know my legions of fans, aka the twenties of readers I have, have all been silently seething wondering where the expected tales of one debacle or another are. Where are the RAGBRAI chronicles, whereupon this year was EVEN HOTTER than last year and 4 people died just from the heat? Where’s the synopsis of the hellaciously hilly Dairyland Dare? Where is the impending sense of doom from hearing about Miss Tasha’s soon-to-be trek to Oregon for some insanely crazy whitewater kayaking?

Well. Now that you ask the question, I will answer. This is where I’ve been. In other words, getting my home of 12 years, which had degenerated into one pile of crap after another, ready to put on the market.

This was not easy.

Did I mention the piles of crap? The stacks of papers, the magazines, the tchotchkes, the random shit that eventually went into boxes labeled “RS,” aka Random Shit?

Yeah. It was ugly.

But that’s where I’ve been, getting my damn house that I never want to see again but that I don’t want to move from because it looks so pretty now ready to sell. And because I like to impart bits of wisdom where I can, here are some observations or things I’ve learned along the way:

  • You know you’re getting a little batty with the whole “staging”: concept when you find yourself staging your dog’s toybox. Yes, I was pulling some things out, arranging others just so, so that it would look appropriately sophisticated. This is batshit crazy.

  • These days you have to make your house look like no one lives there – or in my case, as if the place belongs to a jaunty jet-setting couple who went to (ahem) Wharton and have so many exciting hobbies (triathlon/Ironman, hanging out in places like Tibet, heirloom gardening) that they don’t need furniture or other worldly possessions because they’re never home.

  • It pays to have the best friends in the world. Because there I was, feeling quite like the Little Red Hen, as I was slogging through another pile of crap and wondering how I’d get everything done, when who should come to save the day? Yes, SuperCori! Who came over with her Bagsters and her cleaning supplies and her iron will, and while I looked the other way got my kitchen cleaner than it’s EVER been, even when I first moved in. Not to mention the hall closet and part of the basement. I remain in awe, and forever grateful.

  • That is some of the hardest work I’ve ever done in my life. It is exhausting and back-breaking. Trust me on this, NEVER let your house descend into such a state  - it will be better for all involved. The only time I was a bit sad when I was cleaning was when I got to one of the rooms in the basement, that used to be my seedling room, where I’d pot up plants and the like. I had decorated it and made it homey, and then kept shuffling more crap into there until it just descended into squalor. It is a slippery slope between having too much junk that you won’t get rid of, and Hoarders.
 
  • My place looks fake, a cross between Pottery Barn and odd staging. Between the umbrella from Burma, the rice paddy hat from Vietnam, the Tibetan prayer wheels, the snazzy tri bike, the heirloom tomato stuff everywhere – it looks like someone is trying WAY too hard.

  • Most of my Facebook updates over the last 2 months have been in some way related to the house prep/cleaning. This has probably kept me somewhat sane, as I’ve given away, junked, packed, or freecycled 90% of what I own. At one point I sent out a plea to my friends: “Don’t ever let me buy ANYTHING ever again! Ever! Again!” Okay, maybe I need to revisit that “sane” concept.

  • Speaking of, I have now become somewhat of a virulent anti-Hoarder. I went out to dinner the other night with Stephanie, and as we were leaving, I saw the wrapped mints and contemplated, then recoiled. “NO, no mints, then they’ll just stay in my pocket and poof, next thing you know, a basement full of crap.” I did the same thing to the Streetwise guy after I gave him a buck and he asked me if I wanted a paper. “NO! NO PAPERS!” Unleashing my inner Joan Crawford there.
 
  • I am resentful at having to get rid of some furniture to make the place look more “open” and “spacious” – because HRH The Kone is NOT pleased. He has to squish himself into chairs and on the wee couch, and this is just not comfums for him. So please, someone buy my place quickly so that I can make my first planned purchase: a new couch for The Kone.

And speaking of buying, my listing went live on Friday afternoon at around 3PM. I fully expected that, given the beauty and wonder of my place now (go ahead, take a look at the link, see what I mean), it would sell within, ech, 3-4 hours. Tops. Sight unseen. People would be clogging up Henry’s voicemail trying to be the first ones to see the place and immediately put down a bid. I had visions of having one of the quickest sales in recent history – especially given that a house down the block from me went on the market last week and was under contract within 6 days. And while that place looks nice from the outside, inside it’s kind of dumpy based on the pictures – ugly carpeting, grandparent furniture, lace doilies, etc.

To say I had high hopes was not an understatement.

Behold, Day One.

Saturday morning

There are 2 showings today, one apparently to people who had been interested in the house down the street, so I get up at 6AM to head to the farmers’ market to get fresh flowers, to freshen up the place and all that garbage.  It’s a pain, but it’ll be worth it when my place sells in a day, whee!

As I’m walking around taking one last look, I spy the toilet paper roll, and think hmm, a bit of origami perhaps? I even touch the end, wondering if I could whip something up quickly. We then leave the house quickly, because clearly, this way madness lies, so we head out to Huntley, to be out of the way and because I’m leaving on my whitewater kayaking trip tomorrow. (As an aside, as I have noted to friends: if I drown on this damn trip after ALL the work I’ve put into the house over the last 2 months, I will be PISSED OFF!)

A couple of hours later, I get a call from Henry, my realtor.

Henry: “So the first couple was completely not interested and….”

WHAT??? What? How dare they?? Who do they think they are? I am completely outraged! No really, I am. How can they not love my beautiful gorgeous shiny huge house? Yet they were interested in the place down the street which is a total DUMP, one step up from a slum! Slumlords trying to pawn off a decrepit old dump on unsuspecting people! Yet this couple scoffs at MY gorgeous abode. Henry is still yammering on , something about how they felt it needed more “updating” (bah! Yuppie scum!), and I go to a happy place in my head, a land of bike rides on windless days and food on a stick.

Henry: “….and so Tash……Tasha? Are you still there?
Me: “Oh yeah, of course. You were saying something about these people with no taste whatsoever who are both blind?”
Henry: “Umm, yeah…..and then the other couple asked the right questions, like how quickly you’re looking to sell and so on, so we’ll see about that.”

We’ll see? What happened to my instantaneous offer, of people pulling out checkbooks and elbowing each other out of the way to put in a bid?

This is too upsetting to deal with. Even though at that point it's almost noon and I usually only go riding in the wee hours of the morning, an exception must be made. I head out for a fast ride, and regain some semblance of sanity, albeit still infused with outrage. WTH!

I will report back.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Surviving RAGBRAI


Remember last year when it was an insanely hot and humid RAGBRAI – the hottest one in the history of said RAGBRAI – and I very astutely noted the following: “Self, this sucks. Truly. But there’s no way it can ever be this hot again, so next year should be golden. Fucking golden, as we say in Illinois.”

Well. Hmm. Wasn’t it pretty to think so. Because THIS year? Yeah, it was even hotter – at least for the first part of the week until the cool front came in on Thursday and brought temps into the mere 90s. A veritable chill in the air, I tell you.

Oh, and did I mention that 4 people died this year during RAGBRAI solely because of the heat? Meaning, not because of the crazy crashes that always happen when idiot people careen in front of you and almost take you out causing your heart to jump out of your chest and go scampering across the cornfields. Not that that happened to me, of course. Well, not more than twice.

Anyway. Yes, the RAGBRAI chronicles you are eagerly awaiting from me will be coming forthwith, with the pathos! tears! hilarity! puffertjes! that you’ve come to expect. Right now, however, I am still in the throes of getting my house ready to put on the market to sell, and have a few more days of grunt work before I can get back to my real life, i.e. riding my bike, eating bonbons, and writing my blog. (I would add “doting on The Kone”, but let’s be real, that never falls by the wayside.)

Not to go off on a tangent here, but do you all know that just the act of getting your house ready to sell is as time-consuming (if not more so) than actually moving? Apparently these days one must have 90% of the shit in their house packed up, so that people who look at it only see a halcyon carefree existence of jaunty trips to the art gallery, as opposed to the dirty socks and zen of real life. It’s exhausting, quite frankly.

But there is light at the end of the tunnel. Basically because 2 more days of cleaning and I’m essentially saying “fuck it, this is as good as it gets.” So, bear with me, my 20s of readers, soon the miracle of how Miss Tasha survived RAGBRAI (and tips thereof) in the 110 degree temperatures will be revealed…..

Thursday, July 19, 2012

This year's RAGBRAI adventure awaits!

Tomorrow Team Sloth heads out to Iowa for Ragbrai, or as Kim put it - "your stupid-ass batshit crazy ride across barren wasteland." She may have a point there, at least on the batshit crazy part, because we all know how I love my bucolic countryside and country roads.

But while I know that all of you out in BlogLand are eagerly awaiting a repeat of my idiocy last year, when I fried myself to a crisp on day one, and also severely burnt my lower lip (which led to my sounding like a moron all week - "Ah buhnt ma wower wip!") - you will be gravely disappointed, because I have approximately 12 different kinds of chapstick thingies in my possession. Burt's Bees, Aquaphor, Blistex, ChapIce, some special kind from REI, etc.

I am prepared.

Of course this means I'll just have to find NEW stupid things to do, which for me, won't be very difficult. I'm already planning on doing the Karras Loop - those are the additional miles that take you beyond the regular route's 81 miles that day to not just a century total on Day 3, but to 105 miles. Adding insult to injury, as it were. In the blazing heat and sun amidst Cornlandia. On a Karras Loop that the Ragbrai people are calling "the toughest Karras Loop in the history of Ragbrai."

This is why I have the motto that I do, Gentle Readers. And I never disappoint.

Courage.