Wednesday, August 6, 2008


(A lovely view of Mt. Tabor)

During the long dark teatime of the acute phase of my sprained sacroiliac joint, I rediscovered the joys of cycling. Instead of my morning yoga routine, I rode the long way to work—which happened to send me by the yoga studio where I tried not to lust after my mat as I pedaled by—to get my heart pumping. One Sunday the need for a cycling challenge bubbled inside of me. Although my bike is my primary form of transportation to work and around my hood, I am wimpy when it comes to cycling challenges. I will ride 10 blocks out of my way to avoid a hill. I call the final two-block incline to our house Hate Hill and am often muttering “hate, hate, hate” as I huff and puff the final yards. I have been known to dismount at the first sign of a steep incline. My years of living near the top of the West Burnside hill helped me to make some peace with riding uphill—and to lose 10 pounds—but still I flinch.

As I pondered my cycling options, my mental voice morphed into Chairman Kaga, the eccentric pepper-biter from Iron Chef who commands the battles with a dramatic “Allez cuisine!” (At least that’s the Kt translation.) The Kaga voice told me “For your next challenge, you must conquer Mt. Tabor.”

For those who do not live in Portland, Mt. Tabor is an inactive volcano nestled in the southeast part of the city (the only volcano within city limits in the US, trivia lovers) and also serves as a much-loved park. I tell you this because I don’t want to claim more credit than is due. Tabor is a bit of a slog but it’s no Mt. St. Helens.

My past attempts at riding up Mt. Tabor all ended in the dismount and walk method as soon as I reached the base. The ride to Tabor involves a steady uphill climb, which turned my wimpy leg muscles to jello before I could even take a bit out of the mountain itself.

The afternoon of my Kaga command, I pulsed with the manic energy of not-enough-yoga. I felt like a dog who’d been tethered to a pole for weeks, desperate to escape my dirt circle. I kissed Mr. Crud farewell and headed out on my bike. I took the trip to Tabor slow and easy, not blowing my wad trying to keep up with the Lance Armstrong speed demons that whizzed by. The weather was warm for Portland, but did not rate high on the misery index, although I looked forward to finding a cool spot atop the mount and hunkering in for some post-ride writing. (How artsy of me.)

I was breathing heavily once I reached the foot of Tabor. (Doesn’t that sound like an item on a fantasy novel quest? “Bring me the foot of Tabor, or DIE!!!”) Two runners beeped their car locked and started their own plod up the winding road. It took me a few minutes to pass them, which I did ever so slowly, but pass them I did and continued onward and upward, slowing down for some crossing pedestrians and taking in the joyful yelps from the playground near the top, but keeping my legs pumping. Sweat dripped from my arms and legs and I realized how much I missed the sweat-bath feeling of exertion. Once I reached the final climb and pulled into what I called the Victory Circle I could barely catch my breath.

“I….did….it,” I whispered to myself and relaxed into an easy lap around the circle.

Halfway around the circle I spotted two teenage gadabouts sitting on a bench up the hill from the Victory Circle. One sported an oversized Blazers jersey with pants worn just below the ass-line; the other wore a loose Budweiser tee with low-riding jeans.

(Time out: I know I’m old and all, but I really REALLY don’t understand the whole loose pants belted beneath the ass thing. Same thing goes for the ladies version: super tight hip huggers that cause the flesh of the stomach and ass to be smooshed over the belt line into a muffin top. I’ve road-tested both styles in the name of being down with the kids and found both to be unbearably, undisputedly uncomfortable. All theories are welcome. Now we resume our regularly scheduled, rambling story.)

The dudes sat wide-legged, loudly conversing in the whitey hip hop lingo of the day. I caught a “ho” here, a “bitch” there and then they collapsed into laughter and “Nawwwww.”

As I rode past, Blazer jersey hollered, “I’m going to have to give you a ticket for riding on this road.”

I snorted and continued on, but then I swear, swear to G-d, that I heard my name spill from his mouth, “Kt!”

And like a dog, my ears perked up and for reasons that I’ll chalk up to muscle fatigue-related punchiness, I swerved my bike around and headed towards the boys. (Or rather boyz.) Maybe he was a former advisee. In my previous profession I had advised the masses on university academic requirements and helped a few young ‘uns keep from failing out of school. You never know.

“Do I know you?” I yelled up to them, realizing the instant that the words left my mouth that I did not.

Shit. Hadn’t I learned my lesson in the line of duty of being a female in a world of hooting idiots who, for whatever reason be it feelings of powerlessness or superiority or boredom or desperation, feel compelled to yell at women? Hadn’t my junior high school times among the likes of Jim Parrish (where is he now and does he have roid rage?) who built a reputation for yelling at us awkward, self-esteem challenged girls, telling us we were hot/were turning him on/were looking good only to rip the rug out from under us by laughing uproariously should we look up from our heads-down misery march and believe him for the most momentary of moments? Instantly I flashed back to all the times I’d felt my cheeks burn with embarrassment and anger at the hands of Jim and his cronies. I also remembered that my name, Kt, has tripped me up before. If your name ends with an E sound, you feel me.

The dudes perked up at my approach. “What?” Blazer jersey asked.

“Oh, for a second you looked familiar to me. I thought I knew you,” I said. Smooth cover, Kt.

I turned my bike around.

“Do you know us?” Blazer guy asked in a mocking tone? “Do we look familiar?”

“No,” I yelled over my shoulder as I hightailed it to a spot on the opposite side of the mountain.

I settled into my pine cone blanketed piece of the mountain near a statue of one of a former Oregonian editor, and recounted my harrowing tale of junior high school recalling shenanigans to my always understanding journal. Every few minutes I checked over my shoulder to make sure that they hadn’t followed me. I felt silly, like I had fallen for an old trick, but instead of crying into a pillow as I relived the humiliation over and over—while wondering if maybe, secretly, Jim really did think I was hot, but was too caught up in the middle school bullshit to be able to act on his forbidden love*—I laughed.

Chairman Kaga would have been proud.

* This teen movie trope must die!