First Ride

27 08 2015

My friends who have known me since long before I started blogging know that my first passion (even before airplanes) was horses. When we lived in England and I was 9 years old, my father’s work colleague’s daughter introduced me to horses. By 13 I was riding in international junior tournaments, and placing among the top competitors.

Me and Carlos, December 1982

Carlos and me, December 1982.

I went to summer riding camp in 1984 and won all of the championship ribbons there. At my home barn I was one of the better juniors, and among the most ambitious on competition day. And of course I thought I would be doing this forever.

But the logistics of life have a way of intervening. I had to go to college at some point, learn something sensible and begin working on a career of some sort. Horse riding cost money, and the day would come when my generous parents turned off the faucet. Not to mention the time factor. So when I realized that I did not have the clout, wealth or connections to make it onto the professional circuit, riding slipped into the background.

As an adult I took on a horse-sharing arrangement, where I had one lesson per week and one free ride out on the trails. Then it was just one trail ride a week. And when the horse I was sharing moved away, it dropped to zero. My interests shifted to cheaper endeavors like flying airplanes and skating marathons.

So yesterday was a premiere of sorts… I probably haven’t sat in a saddle since about 2008, and haven’t had a real riding lesson since way way way before then. Maybe 15 years? The first thing I noticed about this sport was that everything is even more expensive than it was 15 years ago.

My mount was a huge beast called “Bear” – a gentle giant, with a massive, loping gait, and an easygoing personality. His life motto could be: “Sure, whatever.”

Everyone, meet Bear. Bear, meet everyone.

Everyone, meet Bear. Bear, meet everyone.

In the hour or so I was on board, I was reacquainted with muscle groups that I had not felt in years, and knee ligaments that began to ache even before the lesson was over. It was an assessment of sorts, so that I could get the feel of the saddle again and gain confidence in my instincts, and also so that the trainers could gauge what I know. I was told I have a “very European riding style”, and (bad) habits that I would need to work on if I want to raise my skill to the next level. It’s a lot harder work than it looks, trust me. By the end of the hour I was soaked from the effort, out of breath and dehydrated. Lesson learned: bring a bottle of water to the arena and take breaks when the trainer tells you to.

But in the couple of first hours I spent in their company, in the saddle and on the ground, I realized once again that horses are my people. I love the beauty of their movement, the warm velvet of their noses and their gentle, forgiving spirits. I love being in a working barn: the sawdust and the muck, mixed with the smell of saddle soap, fresh hay, and sweaty horse. I love getting my hands and my boots dirty.

Later in the day I started feeling like I had been hit by a truck. I considered taking a few Advil before bed but thought to myself… Nah… I’m tough, I can take this. I slept terribly.

My husband often likes to remind me that I am no longer 25. I often hate to admit that he is right. Nevertheless, I am getting back on a horse next Wednesday morning. The pain be damned.





The magic of a sunrise

12 08 2015

When stuck in the grip of jet-lag, I often wonder if humans are really fit for transcontinental air travel. Sitting in a large shiny metal tube for up to 10 or 12 or 15 hours, moving at close to the speed of sound, traversing vast distances at 6 miles above the earth’s surface with no regard for the landscapes, peoples and cultures below. I suppose it’s the most efficient way of getting from point A to point B, when point B happens to be about 5,000 miles away. But it’s tough on the body and the soul.

There are days and trips when jet-lag has no power over me. Exhausted by the emotions and the anticipation of the trip alone, I arrive home, sink into my own bed, thankful for the peace and quiet of not having a carpet of noise produced by four CFM56-5C4/P engines thrusting the metal tube across the sky. I sleep the sleep of the dead.

This morning, though, I didn’t do so well. Shifting one’s internal clock by nine time zones is truly brutal. My night was over at 430am and my brain went into overdrive, as it usually does when I have about 5 million things on my never-ending to-do list.  It was still dark outside, but a light sheen was starting to illuminate the sky just above the hills beyond my back terrace. And so after about an hour of lying in bed, tormenting myself with problems that need immediate solving, I thought I’d go outside and watch the sun rise.

Night turns into day.

Night turns into day.

There is no sense of urgency at 545am. Mist slowly rises from the meadows below and the crisp, fresh air sits still as time creeps from indigo to light. The slightest crescent of a moon climbs into the sky before disappearing as the sun prepares to burst over the horizon. I sit on my back terrace in the half-light, my cup of tea cools before I can drink it all. A curious grey fox trots up to the fence that separates me from the wilderness, we look at each other for a moment before he loses interest, turns around and trots away.

A solitary single-engine aircraft crosses the clear light blue canvas above me from east to west. Its pilot is probably thinking the same thing that I am or she wouldn’t have made the effort to get up in the middle of the night, prep her airplane and take off at dawn to watch the night turn into day. (Or maybe she has jet-lag too.)

Jet-lag is a tedious by-product of travel. But a sunrise is simply magic.





First Flight

26 07 2015

In the event of am earthquake, the safest place to be is… in the air. (Right?)

So, it’s about time I went flying again.

A first flight in a new place is always really special. The anticipation of going somewhere you have never been, figuring out airspace particulars (for one’s own safety and to keep the authorities at bay) and to experience what aviators native to this corner of the world also experience. Every place is a little different. The procedures are basically the same wherever you go, but the details are what make flying in a new location a challenging, learning and thrilling experience.

The pledge I made to myself when I earned my pilot’s license 14 years ago was this:

  • I will always fly for fun, and fun only.
  • I will not fly if it is work, or requires more risk-assessment, concentration and thought than chopping an onion.
  • I will only fly for pleasure, and in good weather.
  • I will only fly when the conditions promise something so spectacular that I forget how to describe it in words.

Since then, I have operated small aircraft as pilot-in-command in seven countries. Within the United States I have flown in the Northeast and in Florida. This week I played in the sky on the west coast for the first time.

And whenever I get back into the cockpit after a few weeks away, the tower clears me for takeoff and I line up on the runway, the great big numbers and a clear blue sky in front of me… I always wonder… “What took me so long?”

Bay Bridge.

Bay Bridge.

xxxxx

Golden Gate Bridge and Marin Headlands.

The Golden Gate Bridge in the afternoon.

Golden Gate Bridge with a view to the City.

Financial District up close.

Financial District.

The City between spinning propeller blades.

Mission accomplished, pledge fulfilled, again.





First Earthquake

23 07 2015

When we moved to the San Francisco Bay Area a few months ago, all our non-Bay-Area friends talked about was the earthquakes. We laughed it off…. Yes, the earth moves and shifts all around us all the time and no, we are not overly concerned about this. Somehow a couple of million people seem to live here and go about their usual daily business like normal human beings all over the world.

I did take, shall we say, a new interest in this natural phenomenon, as any new resident would take an interest in something that is unique to the region to which she has recently moved. I installed a free app on my cell phone called, appropriately, “Earthquake Alert!” and I look at it at least once a day. As one does.

Then two nights ago at 2:40 am the earth literally shook under me, ripping me out of sleep. It was very freaky. It felt like someone had grabbed onto our solid wood headboard for dear life and was shaking it violently. There was little noise, just some creaking and the movement. I was wide awake in half an instant, sat upright, grabbed my cell phone and tapped on “Earthquake Alert!”. Turns out it was a 4.0 magnitude tremor on the Hayward Fault, and the epicenter was 7 miles / 11km  south of us. Nothing super-huge in the great big world order, but enough to unnerve me. I am, after all, a Yankee, and they don’t really have earthquakes on the East Coast.

First earthquake.

First earthquake.

My husband, about half a mile away in our king-sized bed, stirred a bit and I asked, “Did you feel that?”

“Mropohghllrr….unh-huh.”

“I think that was an earthquake.”

“Mmm-hmm…”

Next thing I hear him peacefully snoring away again.

Eyes wide open, adrenaline spiking at a moment I was supposed to be deep in my REM phase (and jealous of my husband who was able turn around and pretend it never happened), I lay there totally awake, wondering what would come next. Sirens? Evacuation orders? Gas main fires? People running into the streets? About a half hour after the first jolt there was another, weaker, shorter tremor, that, turns out, was a 2.7 aftershock. According to my smart app there were a few more, but they didn’t reach me.

I was still wide awake an hour later but it seemed the rest of the world, like my husband, had gone back to sleep. There was no panic, the coyotes went back to howling in the dark, our neighbor’s chimes continued to tinkle in the wind. Just everyone going about their usual business.

Then this afternoon someone at the US Geological Survey used the words “Hayward Fault”, “major quake” and “any day now” (or something similar) in the same sentence.

I’ll just pretend I didn’t hear that.





First Bike Tour

21 07 2015

So there are a bunch of exciting new firsts when you move to a new place, right? First night in your new home. First barbecue. First load of laundry. That kind of thing.

The other day I went on my first bike tour. My birthday present from my husband this year was a brand new bicycle, the first new bike I have owned in almost three decades. The last time I owned a new bike I was still in my teens and Ronald Reagan was still president (1988). It was a blue Bianchi mountain bike that, after 27 years, creaked and squeaked with every turn of the pedals and most of its parts had been replaced over the course of those three decades. It was a trusty old ride and it served me well, but it was also time for it to retire to a good home.

My new ride is a gorgeous, sleek, black and silver number, very chic. I feel very young and very cool while riding it. After taking it around our new neighborhood, I decided it was time to venture further afield and show it off.

Me & my brand new ride.

Me & my brand new ride.

I chose an early Sunday morning and the Iron Horse Trail for this baptism of my new iron donkey, figuring a 20 mile ride on a paved trail (with no cars) would give me a good idea if I could see myself still riding it 27 years from now.

The trail is really beautiful. It stretches 30 miles through the hills of the East Bay and follows the Southern Pacific Railroad right-of-way established in 1891 and abandoned in 1977. It’s flat and wide and full of folks just like me looking for a place to spend a few quality hours with their bicycles, dogs, spouses and/or kids. It is also, apparently, covered with invisible thorns, one of which found its way into my rear tire when I wasn’t looking.

When we bought the bicycle last month, the folks at the shop tried to sell me a membership to their “Flat Tire Club” – a $40 deal that would pay for all flat tires (materials and labor) for the life of the bicycle. My old Bianchi had had a total three flat tires – one per decade of my ownership. I declined the membership.

Silly me.

So suddenly on this gorgeous Sunday morning in the middle of nowhere, my nice new bike got sluggish, and I looked to see what the problem was. Most of the air had escaped already, and I was practically riding on the rim. I was already on my way back, but still about seven miles / 11 kilometers away from my starting point (and my car). I continued on, gingerly, standing in the pedals and shifting my weight to the front as much as I could. (What, was I supposed to walk back seven miles??) But after about 20 minutes of this the tire itself seemed to be coming apart. I had no choice but to get off and start walking.

Many passing cyclists took pity on me (“You’ve probably got a thorn! Happens all the time! It’s thorn season!”) but strangely none of them had a pump. About a mile from my car, a good Samaritan named Rob helped me out with a blast of gas into the tire so that at least I could ride the last little bit back. He told me to pay it forward and spread the good Karma.

I loaded my bike into my car, drove to the shop and joined the Flat Tire Club.





Going places in an electric sports car

19 06 2015

About a million years ago, when I was young, naive, and full of optimism and potential, I was chosen for a prestigious fellowship that allowed me to spend a year in Germany, on someone else’s payroll. My alibi was that I was “working”, learning about and looking to advance the transatlantic relationship when I returned to North America. For the sponsoring foundation, nothing less than five stars was ever good enough, and the group had a standing annual invite to visit with the Chancellor and the President of the Federal Republic of Germany.

I was 23 and boy, was I going places.

Fast forward 20 years. I returned to North America two decades after they expected me to return, with a healthy dose of cynicism and significant life experience. I am no longer the bright-eyed bushy-tailed young upstart that I once was… I am now middle-aged and much wiser, and definitely more realistic about my abilities and my station in this world.

But every year the foundation that sponsored my initial expensive jaunt through Europe throws an alumni weekend party that rivals the fellowship itself. There is always crazy, fun stuff to do, interesting speakers, high-profile guests, fantastic food and appropriate adult beverages.

This year’s party included a tour and a test drive in a Tesla.

The factory in Freemont, CA.

The factory in Fremont, CA.

I won’t go into the background of where, what, when… you can research all that on the internet yourself. But one interesting factoid I would like to add: The brain behind this unbelievably fascinating and disruptive new technology is my alma mater’s most famous non-graduate. After two years of business school there (which actually coincided with my own time on the same campus) he said, “Ahhh…. toss it. I have better things to do with my life.”

And he did. And all I can say is… well… wow.

xxx

Hello there, Beautiful!

As you can tell from the photo, the Tesla Model S is a luxury ELECTRIC sports car, and it can go 0-60 miles per hour in just over 3 seconds. I tested that myself on a road where the speed limit was a paltry 35 mph. It seats seven (including two rear-facing child seats in the back trunk), it has every electronic gadget, bell and whistle you can think of… and many, many more that would never even occur to you. The engine has only 17 moving parts and uses no oil… so it never needs to be serviced. The battery pack is located in the floor of the vehicle so as not lose any interior space.

xxxx

The view from inside.

Looks pretty good on me, huh?

Looks pretty good on me, huh?

I posted this photo on my Facebook timeline with the caption: “Test drove my new car the other day.” To my great amusement, a whole slew of my friends actually believed I had purchased a vehicle which costs more to buy than the entire pre-tax salary I earned in 2014.

So I guess I still am going places. Just maybe not the places I thought. Evelynn Starr, 40-something super action heroine and Tesla driver. Nice.

But seriously though, I’m not sure how the esteemed German foundation will top this at next year’s alumni party.





Reason #6 for moving to the Bay Area

10 06 2015

Moving to the Bay Area took a big leap of faith on my part. I left the Northeast, the part of the country I was most familiar with before this. Even though I was born in South Florida and technically I have only spent less than one third of my life actually physically in the United States, it was the Northeast with which I most closely identified. My family held season tickets for the Philadelphia Flyers (1985-87), I grew up saying “wooder” (water) and anything west of Pittsburgh and south of Washington DC was a great big black hole for me.

But my husband, a citizen of a country that is not the United States, who fell in love with the West during a previous life as an adventure guide for European tourists, opened my eyes to the wonder, beauty and possibility of this part of the country almost exactly eight years ago this week. It was our first big trip as a couple, a little more than a year after we had met…. a road-trip through the southwest, starting in Los Angeles, snaking through all of the highlights like Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion, Las Vegas, Death Valley, and ending in the Bay Area. That’s when we started preliminary discussions on the possibility of moving here for good, at some undetermined moment in the future.

So now we are here, in our house and getting to know our new community. To help assimilate and acclimatize, I am compiling a list of reasons it’s nice to live here. I’m only up to about 6 so far (we have only been here 2 weeks), but yesterday added a pretty significant one: Day-trip to Yosemite National Park.

Half Dome.

Half Dome.

Okay, so it is kind of far for a day trip from the San Francisco Bay Area (about 170 miles / 270 kilometers each way), but it’s possible and that’s the main thing. R. and I packed some sandwiches, fruit and water and headed into the hills. It was the hottest day of the year so far (103 degrees F / 39 degrees C) but we still managed two hikes that included some significant elevation changes.

Yosemite Falls.

Yosemite Falls.

Yosemite remains in my “Top five places to see in the United States” and I continue to be stunned by its breathtaking beauty, even after visiting it several times in the past couple of years. The views just never get old.

IMG_4377_1

From the bridge below Vernal Falls.

Vernal Falls.

So yes, I think I’m acclimatizing well to my new surroundings out here on the left coast. It’s not a black hole after all.








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 56 other followers