St. Charles is about a 40 minute drive west from our house. We drive west because that is where you can ride. Without traffic lights, stop signs and oodles of useless suburban traffic all pent up from the work week driving squirrely to the shopping malls on a Saturday. From Leroy Oakes we ride even further west to towns with populations of less than a thousand, with names like Plato, Virgil and Wasco.
We ride across the rolling hills until the road plateaus to the flat expanse of farmland. To the right we see quintessential farm scenery; an open field ready for corn, a red barn, a silver silo rising up from the field, the familiar green and yellow of a John Deere tractor all set against the blue sky.
It was so hot that you could actually see the heat radiating in squiggly lines off the silo in the distance this photo.
This is home. And to me, this is, in a word – beautiful. In a Midwestern way. No bottomless blue ocean and white sand beaches here. The only ocean you’ll see will spread across the fields in a late summer, an ocean of green waving grass. This open field will be knee high by July and by late August so tall you could walk in and never find your way out of the corn-lined rows.
Of course we rode all 4 hours then ran 30 off the bike like someone opened the oven door and let me run towards the back. I got back to the car and Chris said to me this is the workout that counts. He was right. It’s been awhile since I felt like I’ve accomplished something that counts. It was one of those workouts where your body throbbed from the effort level of seeing your HR pegged around 170 for what felt like 5 hours.
What qualifies a workout for “counting” is to have most of the “H’s” present. The 4 H’s started out on Ragbrai. That would be hills, headwind, humidity or heat. Mathematically speaking:
Hills + Heat + Humidity + Headwind = HARD
Hard is hard. Added up those conditions make for a long day where paying two bucks for 10 ounces of cold Gatorade alongside the road feels like heaven.
A few years ago on a 100 mile ride in the dead heat of the summer, I added a fifth “H” for hives.
Hills + Heat + Humidity + Headwind + Hives = HELL
*Jen just informed me that the 5th H on Ragbrai is hangover.
You cannot scratch yourself out of hell no matter how bad you get the itch. Just like that one day I broke out in hives on my bike, today I broke out in hives too. Today we faced heat, hills and hives. 3 of 5 isn’t bad. Headwind would have completely put me from cooked to overdone. And the hives? Could be heat related. Could be allergy related. Could be my body’s way of saying enough biking for one day, its’ time for coffee.
Somehow I convinced Chris after all of this we needed coffee. He settles for a froofroo iced coffee drink complete with whipped cream and chocolate chunks while I go for the hot stuff. About two sips into it I ask for a cup with ice, prefacing it with a warning to Chris: tell no one about this, this will ruin the ELF’s reputation if anyone knows I poured my coffee over ice.
I did and it was good. And cold. Reputation wrecked but let me tell you: so worth it.
Back at home we convinced Chris’ parents we needed to go out for dinner. We went to Weber Grill which doesn’t sound like a great place but don’t be fooled. They know meat and know it well. Plus they have Malbec on the menu which goes so well with grilled meat. The conversation filled with bounty hunters, shooting clay targets and machinery. As you can tell, no one other than Mr. Tom partook in most of the conversation. Still, you interject what you can, eat good food and learn a lot about machinery.
Afterwards in the car, the conversation turned to bistro tables for the backyard. Chris’ mom is obsessed with creating the perfect backyard party place – recent acquisitions include an entire stone patio, a trellis, an open fire pit, a fence, new landscaping….shall I go on? I made mention to my mother in law that Kohl’s actually has some nice bistro tables for a cheap price.
My mother in law is a world champion shopper, F60-64. She has special shoes for it. Like we have racing flats, she has her shopping shoes. When she confirmed that they were in the car, it was off to Kohl’s we would go.
Shopping with my mother in law is something not to be taken lightly. Again, she’s world class. She is so hard core that neither of his sisters have lasted an entire day shopping with her. They have to split it up into shifts of morning and afternoon. Imagine a small Chinese woman barely cracking 4 feet, 10 inches tall carting a Prada bag she very well could fit into – and all of this done in a terribly comfortable pair of “shopping shoes”. She locates the bistro table while I locate my new ride.
I love my iPhone because it captures random moments of ridiculousness like this.
When mominlaw decides she needs 4 bistro tables, I realize we might be in the store for awhile so I test the aero position of my new ride.
Somewhere on a forum they are discussing how my seat is too high.
After we learn that the Woodridge location has 4 tables – not just 1 – mominlaw asks how late they are open and imagine her delight when we learn tonight they are open until 11 pm. Know what that means? Late night shopping trip to Kohl’s. It’s like going 124 miles on your bike, thinking you are done and then finding out you have 18 more to go. You know you can do it but you just want to be done already.
Plus I had to get out of that damn skirt.
The next day I woke up feeling like a million bucks. Or about 240 bucks worth of bistro tables and 2 glasses of wine. In other words, I FELT GREAT. Good thing I had a run on schedule. 4 x 1 mile repeats which I didn’t just nail, I actually pulled out the nail gun and fired away. I haven’t felt that good running in months. My biggest worry during the run was not hitting the pace – that I was sure of - but being sure that my Fuel Belt didn’t get stolen. I even told the Trail Patrol to please not touch my Fuel Belt that I had hidden behind the tree. All 3 of the Trail Patrollers look at me like uh, crazy lady no one wants your stupid velcro toolbelt filled with plastic bottles. After the last mile repeat when I saw a woman and her dog suspiciously sniffing my Fuel Belt I almost went into zone 5c shouting THAT IS MINE!
I got back home and realized that yet again I had broken out in hives over every part of my body that was exposed while running. Enter Exhibit H:
I decided the cure for hives and sore legs would be an ice bath. Boss decided he might want to get into the bath with me.
But I guess he can smell icy cold. So instead he sulked, stared at me and when he got bored with that...he caught up on Running Times...
Disgruntled that he could not be in the tub with me, he ran away to play with his stuffed hedgehog (who shortly thereafter suffered a terrible death by stuffing extraction).
The highlight of Sunday was not nailing my mile repeats. It was having my mom over for dinner. The one thing you’ll learn quickly about my mom is she never arrives at your home empty-handed. She always comes bearing gifts of mail, newspaper clippings or home trinkets. Today she brought this over and before I could open it she said, “in light of your most recent race”.
(it was a magnet that said:) I’d stop drinking coffee, but I’m no quitter.
Between my mom and Paulo there is just no escaping myself or my race results. Thanks, guys, for keeping me real.
I’ll tell you what – I might be DFL at times but I’ll argue that right now those 3 letters stand for:
Damn Fine Landscaping
That’s right, I have possibly the most exquisite landscaping around. I waited all weekend for my favorite day of the year:
I am a plant freak (I did work at a plant museum for 7 years….) and look forward each year to watching my hostas break the ground. I told Chris we can leave everything else behind when we move (furniture, dog, bikes) but we must take the hostas.
There is nothing more enjoyable and relaxing than getting your hands dirty and digging in the ground. I quickly turned our yard from shade to part shade and some areas to full sun. Despite what might be consequences from the homeowners association I removed some hideous shrubs, gave the Arbor Vitae a much needed haircut and planted beautiful perennials instead.
In between planting we headed over to the beach for an “open water swim”. Thank goodness it was wetsuit legal because the air temperature was 60 degrees and it was raining. Would you believe we were not the only fools there? Amanda H. of “I’m going to swim 28 miles around Manhatten Island in ass cold water with NO wetsuit” fame was there doing laps. She even brought her own thermometer to verify the water was 65 degrees. Chris regretted grabbing his sleeveless wetsuit and during the body count break he started shivering. I went back for a few more laps of the perimeter and enjoyed having the beach mostly to myself and swimming in the rain.
Back at home I got back to planting, mulching in the rain. I figured I would get dirty so what’s a little rain too. After all was planted I realized we needed a border. When I was planting I noticed a bunch of rocks in the ground. More than just a swim cap rack, I put my head to use and realized rocks = landscape edging. So I set out on a mission to dig up any rock in a 3 yard radius to haul back to my yard. When my neighbor came out to start her grill, I said “you don’t care that I’m taking your rocks do you?” I asked in a such a way that she’d be crazy to answer anything but no or else have to get between a woman covered in mulch, her small shovel and her growing pile of rocks.
The neighbor then came over to look at the yard and said:
Oh, more hostas.
She said it in a way that made me think I have a reputation for being the crazy woman with too many hostas. But then again I’d rather be that than the crazy neighbor that throws their dog crap in the field behind our house.
This would be only some of the hostas. There are more to the left and a bunch behind me too. It’s safe to say I have a hosta problem. And I’m not about to detox myself any time soon.
When I was all done planting, rocking and dirty enough, I stepped back to see what a day’s worth of digging and such can produce.
That's just some if it and yes, folks, that is what I consider: Damn Fine Landscaping.
And as soon as I (steal) get a bistro table from my mother in law, our backyard will be complete.
And now the weekend is complete too. I'd say it has all the components of a success. The 4 "H's" if you will...I'm trying to come up with 4 new H's but all I've got for you is..
Holy Hostas. I'm going back to the store tomorrow to fill the other spaces in...