Tuesday, October 01, 2013

time for a panda break

with all that has been going on in dc lately, here's the baby panda wiggling and squirming in her mama's arms!

here's a bonus shot of mama holding her baby i took when panda cam wasn't down because of sequestration,

enjoy!  i can't wait for the panda to make her debut!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

it's almost vuelta time

la vuelta a espana starts in just four days.  it's the last grand tour of the summer.  as i said before, i feel like it's kind of the forgotten grand tour.  most cyclists give their all for the tour de france.    it's not uncommon to see key cyclists sit out the vuelta.   that being said, i love the vuelta.
one of the best parts of the european grand tours is the scenery.  spain is a beautiful country .  with 39 mountain passes, you can be sure that the vuelta won't disappoint.
i am looking forward to seeing a lot of good come out of some of the spanish riders.  most notably are joaquim rodriguez and alejandro val verde.  you can see the full start list here.
hope everyone has a happy day this sunday with the start of the vuelta.  

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

late thoughts on the tour de france

i find myself overwhelmed by twitter recently, especially during cycling races.   everyone is chattering, mainly about the same thing.  a crash, an illegal gel pack pass, or whomever won that day's stage.  i often think i have nothing more to add, as people post more eloquently than i.  so now, i'll present to you my thoughts on this year's 100th tour de france!
spoiler!  chris froome won.  was this a surprise to many?  no, not at all.  team sky has a knack for finding good riders, making them skinny, and leading them to a tour win.  they've become a real powerhouse in the cycling pro world.  don't worry, my heart still lies with garmin (whomever else decides to be a sponsor that year).  chris froome has an interesting back story too, so that makes him all the more appealing.  last year's winner, sir bradley wiggins, had already made his name in the world of track cycling.  i admit, i am jealous of the brits, they seem to have more readily accessible cycling viewing.  froome also had great assistance with his star domestique, richie porte.  it was also beautiful to have the final stage finish at dusk along the champs elysées.  i watched with my dad.  i cherished being able to explain the sport i love to my dad.
isn't that the best part of cycling for americans?  you are able to share your passion with your friends and family.  it's hard to ignore when cycling is engrained in you.
the rider that excited me the most this year was nairo quintana.  how fantastic of a rider is he?  i can't wait to see more great things from him in the near future.  he rides with pure panache.  not only did he get the white jersey, but also the polka dot.  for those unfamiliar with the tour, the white is the best young rider, and the polka dot is the best climber.  he's a bit like alberto contador reincarnated. hopefully without the cow doping. i am excited to see more colombians in cycling.  they seem like they were born for the mountains.
mount ventoux is always my favorite stage.  this time, the riders got to go up the mountain twice.  i am a big fan of uphill finishes.  the scenery is always fantastic.  i make sure that our office tv is always showing the tour de france.  it always starts a great conversation around the office, and i hope to get more people in to cycling.  the beauty of the french countryside helps a little as well.
all in all, the hundredth edition of the tour de france really lived up to it's hype.  there was the usual banter of doping and what not, but that's to be expected for the next few years.  sky seems to dominate the tour, so it will be interesting to see what happens next year.  until then, we still have the vuelta a espana as the last grand tour of the summer.  

Friday, July 26, 2013

on being bipolar, or how cycling saved my life

to be honest, the title of this post isn't really far off the mark.  i've been toying with this blog post since the end of july 2011.  the only reason i have been trigger shy, is because it's very personal.  even now, trying to sort my thoughts, because i have so much to say seems difficult.  might as well start at the beginning i suppose.  this is only my personal story, so please don't compare it to anyone else's you may know.  i have been luckier than most when it has come to dealing with bipolar.
starting around the age of 19 and my first year of college, i suffered my first major depressive episode.  nothing gave me hope, and i tried to OD.  i got some charcoal in my tummy, and somehow convinced the doctors to not commit me that night.  within a week though, i was in a psych ward and back in it 2 weeks later.  psych wards are a weird place.  despite the air of depression, it provides a controlled environment to receive medication and sort out whatever is bothering you.  i sort of felt like a little kid, going to art therapy or playing a board game with whomever visited me.  little did i know, i'd be making a trip back 11 years later.
to avoid making a super long post, i am just going to sum up my 20's.  most of it, especially 20-25 was a major blur of depression, partying, feeling on top of the world, alcohol, drugs, and being an underground socialite.  i went to raves, but i was never a raver as most of the internet knows it.  i was a house head.  music was my church.  the best compliment i've ever received was at one of my best friend's birthday/new years eve party.  a girl came up to me to praise my dancing style.  she said she used to always watch me when i danced at an old party (fever) in baltimore.   she loved the way i danced so copied my style, a pretty huge compliment.  so i guess all that partying paid off, but i have also gained so many lasting friendships from those years.  
my 20's were a tumultuous period for sure.  many relationships, friendships, passions.  nothing ever seemed to stick, except for the friendships.  i wasn't right mentally.  i saw psychiatrists on and off.  got some sort of benzo and antidepressant concoction, heard that i was clinically depressed, and took my medications.  i would take them for awhile and then feel too wonderful, and then i went off of them.  hindsight is definitely 20/20, and frankly, my behavior and cycles of depression and elation were not normal.  i really wish i knew then what i know now.
i broke my foot one spring at work.  it was pretty simple, a box fell on it and broke the third metatarsal.  i didn't even realize i broke it!  i attempted to go running that night and walked on it for two weeks, before finally going to the emergency room.  i got a sweet hard cast, and no, i didn't allow anyone to sign it.  i ended up gaining a few pounds from being so inactive for a few weeks.  when the cast finally came off, i decided to dust off my old mountain bike, as i wasn't allowed to run quite yet.  i also took up swimming again.  i quickly became addicted to both.  i forgot how much i loved cycling and swimming after so many years of partying and depression.  i decided i wanted to do a triathlon.  i bought my first road bike, and one of my biggest purchases to date.  i ended up going with a 2008 specialized ruby elite.   i learned all i could about fixing my bike thanks to an ex who was a mechanic.  he also helped me train, as we would often ride together. i learned quickly with some other patient male friends and my brother.  i absolutely loved cycling.  
after september of 2009, i fell in to another deep depression.  elation to depression was the cycle i constantly dealt with.  it was exhausting and taxing.  in september of 2010, i changed careers.  at 30, i felt like i was finally "getting my life together".   i never went without and relied on myself, but i felt that the career change was what i needed.  i am lucky, i found a wonderful place to work.
in july of 2011, i found myself in a horrible state.  i was barely keeping it together.  life was, wake up in a panic, throw up, get it together for work, come home and drink until i could fall asleep.  i've experienced horrible anxiety throughout the years, but nothing like this.  my mind raced, my speech was fast, something i had grown accustomed to, but this was different.  i was at my wit's end and suicidal, because i just couldn't "come down".  i called out of work for the day, and decided i had to check myself in at the psych ward.  i was afraid, i would end up killing myself otherwise.  i went to sibley hospital, chain smoking the whole time.  i also drank a large bottle of wine that morning.  by 11am, i was in the emergency room and sending out texts to friends to let them know.  after a few hours, i was admitted upstairs to the psych ward.  oh my old friend, how i missed you.  not much had changed in the 11 years i had last been there.   
the first day or two is always awkward when hospitalized.  you feel even worse, like a failure.  it's also hard to be around other people who are just as bad or worse off than you.  eventually, you end up making friends.  the nurses encourage you to eat.  it slowly gets better in the week you are there.  my psychiatrist was a godsend.  off the bat, she diagnosed me with bipolar 2, since i was in a hypomanic state upon admittance.  i was awoken to vitamin b shots in my hip every morning, and ingested a whole slew of pills, including the old stand by lithium.  now, i am resigned to taking a ton of pills everyday for the rest of my life.  after 2 years of trying out meds and few relapses in to depression and hypomania, i've finally found the perfect cocktail of drugs (for now).  
so how does biking relate to my story?  it gave me hope and sanity.   i finally found a hobby that i loved and was good for me.  recently, i've added weight lifting as well.  it's nice to see progress and feel myself get even stronger.  thanks to years of cycling, my legs are my true strength.   life is just better on the bike.  it's a sport i love, and one that i love to follow.  it gave me hope when i had little.  even today, when my mood is off, i can always count on my bike to improve it.  i can never discount my meds and will take them for the rest of my life.  but the best part of all this?  i will always have cycling and my bikes to help keep me sane.

national suicide prevention lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

keirin in japan!

i visited japan again for the first time in three years.  i was soo excited to visit this time, as i was going alone and it was the end of a long busy season at work.   my brother has lived in northern japan (hachinohe, aomori prefecture) for over ten years.  i couldn't wait to see my super kawaii (cute) niece and super cool nephew.
first though, i had to plan my trip.  i bought my airplane ticket on a whim in january.  i found a great deal via singapore airlines.  seemed cool enough, and i didn't mind a layover, as i find the direct flights from dulles to narita a bit irritating.  there is just something about sitting in a tube in the sky for 16+ hours.  let's not kid ourselves though, no matter the flight length, xanax and bloody mary's make them more tolerable.  i was soo busy at work for two months, that my planning fell within two weeks of me leaving for tokyo.    one thing was for sure, i had to see a keirin race, and there were none scheduled for my 3 days in tokyo, before i headed up north. 
i desperately emailed my brother and sister in law.  japanese websites translate inconsistently, and i was lucky if i clicked the right links to find a calendar.  i figured out that the takichawa velodrome had nothing going on with help from the guys at tokyo cycling club, but there was still another one in tokyo and the aomori velodrome, a two hour drive from my brother's house.  thankfully my sister in law works at the local high school that is known for it's sports programs.  the cycling coach there steered us to the aomori velodrome that was having a large race my second week in japan.  i couldn't contain myself.  even though, that was two days before i left japan, it couldn't happen sooner.
of course, i did some other things.  i went to the studio ghibli museum while in tokyo, and i went to the calico cat cafe!  it was awesome!  a friend of mine and i spent the day exploring kichijoji and drinking beer.  there are no open container laws in japan.  i couldn't help but laugh as we sat in the bank exchanging my dollars for yen with a tall boy of kirin each.  we then went and had more beers at iseya, a yakitori bar that has been there since 1928.  to be honest, i don't think it has been cleaned since 1928, but a great spot for chain smoking, japanese beer (and hoppy!), chicken on a stick, and hilarious conversation.  finally, my friend's wife joined us around 5, and we went to a dinner serving okinawa type cuisine.  we talked and laughed some more, while imbibing in too much shochu.  i must admit, i remember saying goodbye and walking to my hotel across the street.  how i got in to my room is a mystery for the ages.  the next day, i toured tokyo and made my way to tokyo station to catch my shinkansen to hachinohe.  i took in the beautiful japanese countryside and napped off the previous day's debauchery.
i was met at the train station by my brother and his family.  my nephew ran up to me, screaming my name as i was barely off the escalator!  i scooped him up and my 40lbs of luggage and kept us moving out of the trail of people behind me.  it was great to be with my brother and his family.  i hadn't seen my niece since she was just a big, fat baby and my nephew i saw briefly a year ago.  we had a blast hanging out, playing, shopping, and checking out the hirosaki cherry blossom festival over the weekend.
finally, the second week came and wednesday arrived.  my niece woke up with an ear infection, which delayed us leaving for aomori by a few hours, as we dropped her off with her grandparents and other aunt.  so, my sister in law, john, and i left for aomori with a day of keirin ahead of us!  we finally arrived two hours later to the velodrome.  i was soo excited.  i told my sister in law about keirin, and it's traditions.  stuff, that even she wasn't aware of.   keirin exemplifies deep japanese culture.  it's state sponsored gambling, like sumo wrestling and horse racing.  for instance, the popular pachinko parlors, while in essence are like a casino, you are only awarded funny chips and prizes.  conveniently, there will be a house nearby where you can exchange your winnings for actual money.   the keirin track can best be compared to horse racing on bikes.  there are odds, rider history, betting tickets, betting windows, and men standing there watching the monitors.  i was the only gaijin, one of about 10 women, and the youngest by about 40 years.  needless to say, everyone seemed to stare at me and wonder what the hell i was doing there.
i picked up my newspapers, betting slips, and pencil.  i asked my sister in law for help translating the japanese.  she is japanese and was confused about how the riders were rank, their odds, etc.  so, i decided not to bet and just enjoy the races.  we bet amongst ourselves and would all pick a color.  my five year old nephew was best at this.  after, i questioned why i didn't just use his pick!  we listened to the count down song 3 minutes until betting closed.  we got all excited when we could see the riders down below on their way to the surface.  they walked their bikes, stopping to bow to the keirin flag girls, mounting their bikes and then putting them in their gates.  they bowed to the crowd, and my nephew and i bowed back.  we waved and yelled at them.  i was soo giddy.  as soon as the gun went off, we sat there yelling our color we wanted to win.  the average 70 year old spectator stared at us in curiousity, since we weren't there to bet.  it was amazing to see them on their last lap and a half.  their speed was mind blowing, the buzzing of their bikes and them yelling at each other.   i never wanted the race to end, but alas they did.  all the men in the crowd gave their shouts of disappointment at their pick.  the scene would then repeat another 15 minutes later after every one had their time to place their next bets.

if you are ever in japan, seek out a keirin race!  you will be amazed at the tradition and beauty!  until that time, check out this brilliant 8 minute documentary by jonathan de villiers.  it will give you a better insight in to keirin. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

on my mind as of late...

it's been awhile since i posted here.  a lot has gone on, some good, some bad, but nothing i would change.  i've always viewed any experience a positive one.  there is something you can always learn.  in terms of cycling, i missed part of the tour while in the hospital for a week.  i'm not ready to explore that here now, but perhaps one day i will share.  it has been on the tip of my tongue.
it was amazing to see cadel evans win le tour.  since i missed some of the tour, i made sure to watch la vuelta every day.  last time i checked, people were still pointing fingers about cyclists doping.  i said goodbye to both my nana and kitty this fall.  the pages keep turning, and i feel many wonderful things on the horizon. 
this past weekend, i finished reading 'my war gone by, i miss it so' by anthony loyd.  it was amazingly well written.  while not being the history lesson i hoped, it was very insightful in to the horror that is modern warfare.  i remember hearing about the various yugoslav wars on the news and reading about it in the washington post, but admittedly pretty naive to the clashing sides' reasons.  i can't imagine living in a country where any trip outside could mean death.  what was living in a police state like?  anthony loyd poetically, yet graphically describes some of the scenes he witnessed.  sure, i live in the city and gang violence or a domestic crime makes the news often, but what if an army just invaded dupont circle and wiped out my neighborhood only because we all worshiped our iphones and blackberrys?  the modern, american way of social cleansing.  how would one deal with finding their entire family dead, killed by naive hands, a minuet between comander and soldier?  even in my wildest dreams, i can not relate.
this morning, i made my usual morning commute with my inevitable arrival to bethesda.  now, i have been working in bethesda for just over a year.  to be honest, for not being dc (the city i love), it's a pretty good suburban city.   you can walk everywhere and there is plenty to do.
since i have worked there for over a year, i have the unfortunate luck of knowing the last possible train i can catch.  by the way, it's the 8:09am train.  i enjoy the time between my initial alarm and the numerous snoozes in between.  thanks to my ability to run up and down escalators, i can still arrive at my desk two minutes shy of my 8:30am work time.  so i had just walked up the bethesda escalator, all 213 feet 10 inches of it when i got to the tunnel under wisconsin avenue.  i noticed a bunch of montgomery county cops and tsa agents.  i realized i was witnessing one of metro's bag checks.  they had stopped a man who was brown skinned, either hispanic or middle eastern.  i didn't know for sure because of my haste.  this bothered me, it was obviously racial profiling.  my mind started reeling with the bullshit that was this fake security blanket.
what exactly does a random stop do?   you have the right to decline one.  it's as easy as walking to the next stop or another entrance.  also, i think a terrorist has already taken the random, irregular bag checks in to consinderation.  i'm sure someone on twitter or another social media site has already made the internet aware of where to expect a bag check.  i could keep going, but in other words, it's a thinly veiled attempt to catch a blue collar worker illegally or the guy who forgot that rolled joint in his backpack.   basically, i didn't commit a crime by deciding to wake up and go to work.   the united states is a free country.  why is some man with a badge given the right to search me?   this has to stop.  this is america, the home of the free.   george orwell was right, my country is slowly becoming a police state.
after discussing the aforementioned book with a croatian friend and then complaining about what i witnessed this morning, she replied, "it's kinda interesting to me because I used to live in a police state, but now it's just a criminal state and funnily enough that seems to be better".   sadly, i think she is right.  our country was founded on the principle of freedom.  we fought our british overlords, we won.  now, i can't even commute to work without some police officer searching my gym bag.  what if i forgot the knife i carry with me late night in there?  what if i forgot a joint?  do i face possible jail time or interrogation while innocently traveling to work one morning?  when does it stop?  
please, i beg of you, don't roll over and just take this.  we are slowly saying goodbye to our freedoms.  you were lucky enough to be born in a beautiful country.  stop big brother before he gets bigger.