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Adult Things, The Gym

Trust on a Tandem Rocket Ship

This has been a summer of new challenges and unexpected stories.

A bag caught in the front wheel of a bike. Typing one-handed messages to clients and co-workers. Phone calls from my best friends on mountains thousands of miles away. Saying goodbye to a relationship that a tall, sweet boy and I had both grown out of.

For much of this summer, I’ve felt off-balance in more ways than one. I still can’t straighten my left arm all the way – my physical balance is teetering somewhere between dangerous and comical.  (Just ask anyone who’s watched me try to carry anything and open a door at the same time.) I’ve missed Abby and Julie almost as much as I’ve missed having two functional elbows. When I stopped being able to exercise after the accident, anxiety and self-doubt set in.

But over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about trust. Trust in myself, trust in my homies, but mostly trust in the universe/winds/spiritual beings at large.

Trusting in the great unknown is fucking hard. But – and this is important – trusting that good things will happen is a lot more fun than trusting that bad things will happen. At the very least, it makes being inside your own head more pleasant. (And at the end of the day, you’re the only one who has to be inside your own head.)

“Yeah dude, if we have a choice in believing that life is going to be great or shitty, we might as well tell ourselves that it’s going to be great,” Julie said as we laid on Jenness Beach a few weeks ago. (Oh yeah – did I mention Julie flew home for an impromptu family vacation a few weeks ago? We had 36 blissful hours together to drink iced coffee and make jokes about obscure battles in European history.)

Julie is really good at trusting that things will be okay. This is just another reason why she is the shit, and probably why I quote her like one might quote an eccentric, beloved, and elderly aunt. (“You know, this reminds me of something Julie always says…”) I am really good at trusting that things will be okay about 80% of the time. The other 20% of the time, Julie compares my worries to fretting over whether or not the sun will explode, and somehow I feel better.

Julie also wanted me to tell you that I’m good at trusting that things will be okay when she’s freaking out for no reason. We’re symbiotic that way.

This is the bike that I’ll be riding, along with the fabulous Dan Greer, for 192 miles next weekend. (Shoutout to Northeast Passage for helping us rent this sweet ride!) The seat in front shall be my throne. And no, I am not able to control any braking, shifting, or steering of any kind. I am, however, able to put the pedal to the medal without putting any weight on my still-technically-broken arm.

The Greers are longtime family friends from our time working in the adaptive program at Loon Mountain. Dan competed in the Lake Placid Iron Man last weekend. When he heard that I might need a partner to ride this crazy adaptive contraption that my mom had impulsively rented for PMC weekend, he volunteered immediately. (As previously established by his Iron Man completion, Dan is certifiably insane. But he’s also a nonstop pun factory, a superhero, and a very kind friend, so his insanity is much appreciated.)

Dan and I took our first long ride on Saturday morning with a few of our teammates. The 50-mile route was stupid-hilly, which Dan and I were both secretly excited about. (Riding the Pino on a stupid-hilly route now would mean that we would probably survive our stupid-long route next weekend.) We approached our first massive downhill within the first 10 miles.

As we passed one of those signs with a truck mounted on a steep triangle – HEY JUST SO YOU KNOW THIS SHIT IS ABOUT TO GET STEEP – I sat on my tandem recumbent throne and realized I had two options. Trust, or freak the fuck out. We crested the hill, and I went with trust.

Trust in Dan, of course. Trust that he’ll brake and shift and steer us in a way that keeps us both alive. That part was easy. (Like I said – Iron Man, superhero, friend.) But I took a deep breath and let myself trust in the other parts too. The pavement and the space between its crumbled potholes. The cars revving past us on the road. The wind that hummed in our ears as we rocketed towards the bottom of the hill. (That bike can get going.) It felt like listening to a really, really good song. That same warmth in your chest.

It didn’t take long for us to hit a sharp turn at the bottom of the hill, at which point I screamed and white-knuckled the handles at either side of my seat. But for a second there, I was really one with the spiritual beings at large.

Next weekend, I get to ride in the Pan-Mass Challenge even though I took the world’s lamest fall off my bike 7 weeks ago. I get to use my legs and be part of a team that’s pedaling for so many people we love. I get to remember and laugh and sing on a bike close to my bud Annabelle, which is really all I’ve wanted to do since that afternoon I tried to ride with a tote bag over my shoulder.

Recumbent tandem rocket ship is ready for takeoff. I am grateful, excited, and still not altogether convinced that I won’t pee my pants on downhill turns.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Pan-Mass Challenge, check out http://www.pmc.org/about/pmc-mission. If you’d like to donate to Hannah or Dan’s ride, just click on their names.

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Adult Things

The Summer of Slowing Down

So a lot has happened during our year-long sabbatical. Most notably, for me, was that I completed a year of graduate school. It’s basically consumed my entire life for the past twelve months, so whenever I go to write, it’s the first thing I want to talk about. But I know if I open up that can of worms right now, I’ll only end up ranting, and that’s not how I want to tell you guys about my experience. I want to wait until I get a little farther removed from the whole thing so I can approach those post(s) with wisdom and a meaningful, creative angle that will leave you all thinking wow, that Julie Riley is wise and mature as shit.

 

The truth is, I’m not there yet. Getting there, but not quite there. Right now I’m mostly ready to bitch. And that is not what I want to do.

 

What I can tell you is that this year has been one of borderline-painful growth. Have your parents ever looked at you when you were in the throws of some existential crisis/panic attack and told you honey, this is just growing pains. Because mine have, periodically, over the course of my entire life. To my family, growing pains come from a time in your life in which you’re learning or changing or maturing so much at one time that it’s PHYSICALLY UNCOMFORTABLE.

 

We’re all growing and learning and changing all the time, hopefully. But usually it’s subtle enough that we don’t notice it. It just feels like living our lives. But there are periods of time where so much is changing and we’re doing so much adapting and expanding the way we think that it just feels like OW. OW OW OW THIS IS TOO MUCH FOR MY STILL-DEVELOPING BRAIN TO HANDLE. It’s big transitions and formative experiences that take the way you once looked at the world and flip it upside down.

 

It’s both incredible and exhausting.

 

It’s been my reality for an unbelievably long time. Looking back, I can’t believe the amount of learning I’ve managed to cram into this past year. Eleven grad classes, two clients, endless meetings, a new job, new professors, three supervisors, and I still managed to find time to panic-cry on my way home from school once a week!

 

I’ve checked off more firsts this year than I ever thought possible.

 

To achieve this absurd amount of growth and learning, my life has been pretty fast-paced. Think high-stress twelve-hour days all the time.  Save the occasional breakdown, I became accustomed to this style of living. I learned to thrive off the exhaustion and found a borderline-sick pleasure in checking things off my to-do list. I started drinking coffee at 7pm.

 

 

The craziness continued right up until May 25th. Then it all came to a grinding halt when we landed in Colorado for our summer adventure.

 

Holy shit was this a lifestyle change. Compared with grad school, where every menial task felt like do-or-die, waiting tables is a breeze! Even if I completely fuck up and people wait a long time for their food, they’re probably not gonna die. How freeing is that?

 

Hannah and I have taken to calling this the Summer of Slowing Down. Hannah’s slow-down was a slightly more against her will, but she’s managed to find some peace in living with her new titanium elbow. How did we find this elusive peace, you ask?

 

I think the answer is not taking life quite as seriously.

 

It’s been a tremendous relief to take a quick hiatus from reality. Do you ever feel like you’re standing on a tight rope? Like you’re barely holding everything together, and if you make one wrong move then it all goes tumbling down? Don’t fail a test, don’t turn a report in late, don’t botch a session with your client while your professor is watching, don’t forget to show up to a meeting. When you’re working towards your future career, everything feels high-stakes.

 

I’ve messed up plenty of times at this serving job. I’ve broken glasses and forgotten to put in orders and spilled ketchup on babies. (Alright I didn’t do that last one, but I’m just waiting for the day when I drop someone’s dinner in their lap. It’s inevitable.)

 

   

(No matter what, Gail and I make sure we have a good time at work.)

 

And life goes on. Even if people get angry, eventually they leave and you never have to see them again! All it takes is a couple busy nights to learn that, when working with people, some things are out of your control. (Sometimes you wait on a table of old ladies who are hell bent on being upset about everything no matter what you do. Sometimes your elbow is swollen to the size of a grapefruit and you can’t actively train for the Pan-Mass Challenge.) All you can do is your best.

 

Sometimes your best knocks it out of the park, and sometimes it falls a little short. Friends, this is the Summer of Slowing Down. Whether we like it or not, we can’t be superhumans right now. And to be honest, I’m starting to dig it.

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Adult Things

A Girl, A Bag, and A Bike

My bag was damned heavy. Auntie Donna had given me the bag for Christmas, and it was not only fashionable (black, patterned with subtle flowers, reversible for coolness), but it also fit everything I needed for my work day. I could store everything I needed in once place without feeling like a third grader with my L.L. Bean backpack (which I may have actually gotten in third grade).

On this particular day, I was carrying my laptop, my laptop charger, The Kite Runner, a pack of gum, my phone, my wallet, four pens, a water-damaged journal, the thick chain for my bike lock, and close to one million tampons in my black leather bag.
This was objectively too many things to be carrying in one bag.
Part of me knew this. As I walked my bike from my office in downtown Portsmouth to the free parking lot on the outskirts of town (where I park with the other town plebes), the straps were already starting to dig into my shoulder. My bike wheels click-click-click’d as I slowly guided it along the Market St. crosswalk.

I was on my way to the car so I could meet Annabelle for our very first ride of the season. I was so excited to get on our bikes so we could sweat a little bit and then get off our bikes and eat. My car was parked further away than I wanted it to be, and as we’ve already established, I was carrying too many things. I thought of the words of a sassy crossing guard I’d met that very same morning. You know, it’s usually a lot faster if you ride it. Damn straight it is, you municipal hero.

I hiked my bag up my shoulder, threw my leg over the bike saddle, and pushed down on the pedal with my right foot. (I was wearing the ultimate in cycling footwear – beige flats.) I could see my car through the trees to my right. My plan was just to glide down towards the parking lot and keep my right arm in tight so that my Mary Poppins bag wouldn’t slip. Totally quick, efficient, and easy.

It would be cliché to say that time slowed down as I was unceremoniously hurled over my own handlebars.
Except in my case, time didn’t need to slow down. I already was moving in slow motion. My bike was barely going fast enough to stay upright. My mega-bag had slipped off my shoulder, jammed itself into the spokes of my front wheel, and catapulted me over the handlebars before I even had time to react. (Except I was going so slowly that the whole thing seemed extremely low-stakes. I felt myself going up, then I felt myself going over, then I thought something like WELP, then I hit the pavement. Picture the Monty Python cow-tapault, at ½ speed and on a bike.)

Out of the corner of my eye, I’d seen a woman on the sidewalk watch me go up and over. We formed the kind of immediate bond that two people can only share if one of them has seen the other being a complete dumbass. My first instinct was to scramble to my feet and crack a joke so she’d know that, against all odds, I was super cool. But as I moved to do this, she was already kneeling at my side and pushing her sunglasses to the top of her head.

“Honey, I’m a nurse,” she said. “Are you okay?”

“Yes, I’m fine!” I said from the ground. Cool. Collected. Maybe she and I could be friends. She reminded me of one of my aunties, and pushed me gently towards the ground when I tried to sit up.

“I saw the whole thing. I think your arm is broken.” I turned to my left, and saw that my elbow… wasn’t really looking like my elbow. It looked like the bones in my arm were playing musical chairs.

“Oh no,” I said, as any poet would in this situation. “Oh… oh, no.” A small crowd started to gather to see why the girl with the curly hair and the crooked elbow was splayed across the street. I laid my head down on the pavement and looked up at the sky, feeling an intense tingle begin to crawl from my elbow to my fingers.

What did I just do?

Above all, I am incredibly lucky. My elbow will heal. It was my left elbow, and I’m a rightie. It was only my elbow. That much I will always be thankful for.

I could tell you how my arm almost immediately swelled to the size of a decorative pillow, or how I started talking about Harry Potter the second they gave me the pre-surgery drugs. (“I could really use some Skelegro right now.”) I could tell you how I almost puked in my driveway on the way back from my first OT session, how my mom and sister patiently washed and dressed me for a week, or how goddamn grateful I am for Big Little Lies on HBO.

I could tell you a million little stories about my elbow and me. But I won’t. (Not in this post, anyway.)
I’ll only tell you one.
Six days after I’d re-entered the world of (semi) independent living, I stood in front of my bedroom mirror with a hair elastic on my left wrist. I pulled my hair back with my right hand and clumsily tried to assist with my left, shrugging and bobbing until every curl fit under my fist. I pulled the elastic across my knuckles, twisted it once with my right hand, and winced as I reached towards the elastic with my left index finger.

My finger found the elastic. Pulled it back over the hair in my fist, felt it snap into place to hold my hair in an absolutely passable bun. I looked at myself in the mirror. Blinked.

“YES!” I actually shouted, so loud that I could hear my roommates pause what they were doing downstairs. And then I one-arm danced.

Sometimes the little victories move you further than the big ones. Sometimes slowing down feels like missing out, when it’s really more like opening up. And sometimes you should probably just wear a backpack when you bring your bike to work.

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Adult Things

The Comeback Kids

Hi, guys.

So it’s been a while.

It kind of feels like we’re old friends that lost touch, then felt guilty about losing touch so we avoided you for far too long and now we’ve run into each other at some mutual friend’s party and we don’t know what to say.

I guess we can start with a few things we’d like to get out of the way:

Yes, we haven’t blogged in over a year. First we were busy graduating college, and then we were busy figuring out what the hell life looks like after you’ve graduated college. There were more than a few times when we looked at each other and went, “shit man, we really have to start the blog back up again.” And then whenever either of us had free time, we ended up eating M&Ms on the couch.
We’ve wanted to melt your brains with our awesomeness since May 2016. At the end of senior year, we got really attached to this idea of a grand finale. We’d sum up everything we’d learned over four years of college and three years of blogging, tell a witty story to end it all, and leave the fate of the blog hanging in the balance. Then we’d come back with a surprise grand premiere in the fall, garnering critical acclaim from our kingdom of delighted fans. (We know how this goes. We’ve watched half a season of Game of Thrones.)
Life got busy, and our plans got big. Our plans for everything got big – this blog, our jobs, the new kinds of adventures we started to find. As far as our writing went, we wanted to build you something incredible. Something bigger than our out-of-the-box free WordPress site, which was starting to feel a bit cluttered after close to three years of posting. We wanted an upgrade.
Websites are hard. If there’s anything that I (Hannah) have learned in the past 12 months at my agency job, it’s that websites are devious little fuckers. They freeze and delete all of the edits you’ve made for a whole afternoon for no discernible reason. If you don’t tell them exactly what you want them to do, they will give you the middle finger and then moon you. Building this new website has been like battling a tornado with a spoon. It’s still a work in progress, but everything we’ve made so far is only possible because we have a kickass group of very smart and patient friends. (Lookin’ at you, Dave.)
After a year-long sabbatical, we’re ready for our comeback. Like a rag-tag underdog sports team post-inspirational-getting-better-montage.

If you haven’t already figured it out, this is one of those posts where we’re both writing things until our voices kind of morph into one and you never know who exactly is saying what. You’re welcome.

This is still Hannah, by the way. Jules can take it from here. (And also, Julie wrote the intro paragraph. I can’t take credit for that. It made me laugh too hard.)

As a result of having no idea where to begin here (and in an attempt to keep sweep our unexplained hiatus under the rug), I’m going to pick right back up where we left off.
There are so many details and stories that I want to share in this post (sort of like word-vomiting life updates to a friend you haven’t seen in a long time at a party), but I won’t do that. That’s not what I want this post to be. To be honest, I really don’t know what I want this post to be, but I do know what I don’t want, you know?

So I think I’m just going to share our biggest and most obvious life-update.

It all began on a hungover, semi-anxious Sunday morning in Dover. I was curled up on the couch and Abby was in her room, both of us feeling a little like death and staring resentfully at our schoolwork. Every 20 minutes or so Abby would march into the living room and say something along the lines of, “this BLOWS.”

We’d recently gotten into the habit of scheming about what we’d do for work over the summer. We contemplated being camp counselors, nannies, waitresses, and seasonal farm workers. Our goal was to have days off together so we could hike and explore as much as possible. Then Abby started telling me about a website called coolworks.com. You can apply to tons of jobs in and around National Parks for seasonal work. That day we lied on the floor and applied to dozens of jobs in parks out west. Glacier, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Zion, Grand Teton, Rocky Mountain. We were looking for serving jobs, but we entertained the idea of being Chief Cattle Wranglers and First Mates, too.

We figured, why not? It’s our last real summer before we jump into the professional world. Out of the dozen or so jobs we applied to, only one called us back. They offered us both serving gigs, and a room together in the employee housing. In Estes Park, Colorado. Starting right after finals.

We agreed immediately, and resolved to figure out the details later.
Now we’re here.

We still can’t believe it either.

If it weren’t for school, I’m not sure we’d be able to convince ourselves to go back.

We’ll be back here every Monday with stories about our post-grad adventures, our existential crises, and our moms.

Let the comeback begin.

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