So what is a course marshal?

Have you been stopped on the road by someone in a neon shirt or vest not for construction, or an emergency, but because they tell you a bike race is coming through? I'm sure your first thought was, "Like a real bike race and not some kids?" Your second may have been, "We have bike races in America?" Your third thought may have been either, "Interesting," or "I really have to get somewhere and a bike race is ruining my life!" Being on time to the doctor's appointment or work or your Great Aunt Hildegard's funeral is much more important than sitting back and watching 120 or so world class professional cyclists compete in something that is a a cross between an extreme marathon and a chess match. Very few Americans know much about bike races and so when a course marshal stops you, they get abused, yelled at, ignored, and generally have millions of rays of hate coming their way.

And we volunteer for it.

We volunteer to wave flags, stop traffic, pick and sweep up garbage and big rocks from the road (unless the road is gravel or dirt), shovel up road kill, tell people to get back, and hand out freebies. Some of us are cycling fans or cyclists, but being a fan doesn't mean you automatically want to subject yourself to abuse by strangers. I'm sure some have secret power-hungry longings that are only satisfied by the ability to stop traffic (major life dissatisfaction for the rest of the year). Maybe some have a strong secret love for wearing neon that they only indulge for e few days a year (not sure why, but maybe their spouse or life partner is allergic to it or it is a color that causes homicidal rages in a close friend). Being a course marshal has some benefits. Sometimes they pay us a per diem for food, our lodging, and a small amount (like $50 or less for an eight hour day). The best part of being a course marshal is being part of a sport we love and seeing some beautiful parts of the country.

A day in the life:
Many of us do not live locally, or if we do the race moves away from where we live. Bike races typically last a number of days and move around a state or area. If we are very lucky we can stay at home and course marshal, but some of us fly in (our expense) and stay at hotels along the way. We pile out of planes packing a few pairs of khaki shorts and some comfortable shoes and little else (I pack more but that's because I'm a girl and like to wear things besides my uniform at nights or any time I am not course marshaling). Picking up a number of (typically not flattering) shirts and other logo-festooned gear, we join the crowds of other race staff members. Our shirts and big credentials mean we are there to answer questions for the public (yelled from cars being driven a few lanes of traffic away), represent the race, and generally be informative about bike races in general (What's a peloton? Why are there so many cars following? Why do riders need teams?). On a race day, we get up early to gather, drive to the start of the race to collect food and drinks for the day. Then we go drop.

The vans occasionally get decorated in excessive ways
What's a drop? Wait a second and let me explain how we are organized so drops make more sense. Course marshals divide themselves up into teams. Each team has 8-11 people (or however many will fit in the vans the race provides). We stay in these teams for however long the race is. While there may be local volunteers to help with course marshaling, they have one location to stay in while the race passes. We have two or three locations where we go to course marshal. Bike races go along regular roads and loop around and through cities and towns. Each team is given a certain length of road to patrol, often with driveways and more cross-streets than they have people to man. You drive the length to look for gravel, branches, and road kill. Anything that could cause a tire puncture or stop the race. Then you remove it with any means necessary. You use your shoe on rocks if your one broom for the van breaks, You borrow brooms from people and businesses nearby. You do what you need to do.

Then you drop at all the turns and the biggest or busiest cross-streets. A drop is your place (corner, median, intersection, turn, bridge, hazardous area, local bar, sprint point with tons of spectators, or cross street) to patrol. Sometimes you ask spectators to help if you need it. Cops are usually very helpful, but as with us there are not enough. Then you wait. And sometimes wait some more. We don't have radios. We do have cell phones which means you have generally as much information as we do if you have the Tour Tracker app or a live Twitter feed. The van does a radio, but unless you are the driver, you won't see the van for a long while. So you wait until you see the first race vehicle with flashing lights. You flag that one vehicle if you have a turn, but really that guy is about half an hour or twenty minutes ahead of the race. You usually start stopping traffic when the cops do, and if there are no cops, then after you see a certain vehicle (they come in a certain order). If it is a mountain, the cops close down roads earlier because of how hard it is to get cars off a two lane road with no side streets. Traffic stopping is when the yelling and cursing begins. We clear the road for a long time ahead of the race so there are no concerns about safety or this happening when the riders actually get there. Like in the above video. Safety first for the riders and for the seemingly hundreds of cars that precede and follow them. This may annoy motorists, but it is important, especially where you see how fast those cars speed down the road. The cyclists too are moving at a fair clip and using the entirety of the road, and if you've ever seen how easily a wheel touch can cause a crash, just imagine of there were more obstructions on the road (like the crazy car).

This is the first drop. After the race comes through we run back to the van that is picking us up behind the race then we use our expert mapping skills to get around the race and further up the course to the next drop. Depending on the time constraints, we may be sweeping, shoveling road kill and dropping people for turns as fast as humanly possible. Or we may be having a leisurely lunch on the side of the road or at a park. Then we will be repeating what we just did, and then continuing on to our third drop (which is almost always rushed) or trying to get to the finish if we can (we are fans).

After the day is over we try to satisfy our fan urges and get signatures and swag (free stuff) but then we usually go back to the hotel or go to a new hotel where they have taken our luggage in a truck to check in and get cleaned off from sweat on the hot days, dried off from rain on the wet days, or warmed up on the cold days. Or a combination of the above. We then will try to do some laundry, get some food, and get ready for another early day tomorrow. And this is all if we are experienced enough not to be sunburned, sick, or wearing uncomfortable shoes for the day.

Why am I writing about this? While marathons and other races have course marshals, the experience of being a traveling course marshal cannot really be conveyed in a job description. It is exhilarating. You get really close to riders you are a fan of (and if you have to be on a median in the center of the road, you get very close). You get to help make sure a race with cyclists who ride the Tour de France, the Classics, and all the other world class races, have an incredible time at an American race. You make friends with all the other crazy course marshals. You get tired, cold, dirty, angry, and sick with them and it is awesome: a bit like camping trips that bond people together because of all the hardship and awkwardness you've experienced together.

So when you next get stopped, get out and take a look at what we've all been working on. You may get just a glimpse of riders on their stage (or day), but the line of flashing lights and cars and the helicopters circling ahead will hopefully make you realize that what you have witnessed is a sporting event that is one of the most strategic and physically difficult in the world. Bike riders burn more calories than runners do in a marathon each day, and the races are many days. They use so much energy they have to eat while competing, use the bathroom while competing (they go to the side of the road, though for number two I've seen a rider use a fan's camper van in Europe), get medical attention while still riding a bike, and get mechanical fixes while still on a bike. There are usually five prizes alone awarded at the end of each stage that each team uses their riders to get. But you can't get them all and while one rider may get a prize, a team is needed to help them. The complexities of strategy and decisions if there crashes, unintended breakaways, and things that happen during the course of each stage each have to be accounted for and decisions have to be made by riders and by the management as they communicate with riders over a radio from the cars. All this may not make up for the fact that you will be late for work as we stop you for the race. Experiencing the new and seeing the unexpectedly moving event is not as important to us now as being on time, doing the expected consistently, and going about the motions of living a life. But is it really living if we cannot take a moment out of our days and watch a world-class sporting event take place right in front of our eyes? It may be, but it is not the living I want to do. If you ever get stopped by a course marshal for a race, get out and stand near that marshal and cheer on those riders and watch the race roll by as quickly as they can. You may not see an event like that again.



A thunderstorm is coming. It is quiet but the still rumble that shakes my heart is in the distance. After a long weekend with General Conference (Mormon) and the end of a play followed by a long couple of days filled with work, my body and my brain want to jump up into the night and rebel. As a child, I used to go dance in the rain during thunderstorms and if I wasn't allowed out, I would sit by the window of our house in Cincinnati to try to be as close to the wild wind as I could. Sitting between the rustling houseplants, I felt freer than ever before. It is that same freedom I feel when I drive with windows open at more than 100 miles per hour, or jumping off the high diving board, or riding a roller coaster. Everything is lost in the beautiful sensation of power. The rain and wind falling all around produce an euphoria and I want to lose myself in a Mother Nature I have never met. Forgetting the assignments I have, I want to dance around until I am part of the storm.

But I won't. I will sit by the window and read my book. As a child, I wanted to be everything. I wanted to live forever and learn everything there was to know. I wanted to read every book ever written and name every star I'd ever seen. But now, I am only left with remnants of that beautiful embracing wonder I used to have. The tornado warning siren just went off and I remember the first time I saw the movie Twister in the theater. I wanted to go chase tornados and part of me still does. But I grew up. I want so many other things beyond simple sensation. I've experienced pain and illness. I've seen death and it doesn't scare me. It makes me appreciate every feeling I have. When I was a child, I thought I could have everything. I now know that I can't, but what I know was gained through suffering, which is something I didn't believe in as a child. Suffering and agony are what make me want to go dance in the rain and they are why I still sit next to the windows during a storm. Because I now know how precious this pure sensation will always be.


When a guy asks you to a game night . . .

When a guy doesn't ask you out, but asks you to a game night he is having at his place for friends, what is that? I asked this guy out more than a week ago, and I'm into him, but I don't think he's into me. Then he asked me to this game night over at his place. It was me, another girl I know, and the rest were guy friends of his from med school. It was fun and I had fun, but I think it is definitely signaling that we are just friends. But there was only one other girl there, so maybe he likes me a little but isn't sure if I like him. I don't know how to read signals at all and I don't know how to flirt, so I am really bad at communicating subtle relationship stuff without saying it. Relationship communication is always very ambiguous and can be interpreted so many ways, it confuses the more straight-forward of us. I could ask questions circling around forever, but I would still end with the fact that I don't know if he likes me and I'm not sure how to subtly indicate that I like him. I ask him questions, talk with him, go to his game nights, show concern for decisions he has to make. I don't really know how to do much more. I'm not one of those girls who can flirt or indicate interest in a guy without even thinking about it. The only flirting I can do is when I'm pretending to be someone else in a play and the lines are already given to me and they tell me where to move. Anyway, much as I like this guy, I think I'm going to have to give up and ask someone else out in a couple more weeks when I find some time after my play opens and closes. I have to give up on this though I like this guy and feel comfortable talking and having fun with him. I may not like the next one. I'm not that picky, but sometimes the most random things put me off.


Why BYU rating #1 as institution with both hot and smart students is not true and not something to be proud of.

So this article was posted recently and since I recently graduated from BYU, it was posted by many friends on facebook. Colleges Where Students are Hot and Smart 2013 I actually didn't like this so-called survey since it had no scientific basis and because of the methods involved. The survey is based on calling students and getting their opinions of the campus' level of hotness. This would be fine if it was looking for individual opinions and not using unverified opinions as research data. Beauty or hotness is not something that can be qualified because "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" as the old saying goes. And if it can't be defined, it can't be quantified. So what does this survey tell us? This tells us that the people called from BYU are
1. Very enthusiastic about their campus
2. Good at lying
3. or delusional.

This may seem mean because we do believe that every person is a child of God and that they have infinite worth, but this survey is wrong (I hope). I think all people do have worth, but beauty is not equivalent to worth. "Hotness" is something that society has dictated to have value. The fact that the person quoted in the article said that "Everyone at BYU is very attractive; I've yet to see an ugly person here" makes me wonder if people who aren't attractive are invisible to her. Was I invisible to her? There is the argument that she was talking about inner beauty, but if so she shouldn't have gone on to describe physical appearance. She actually went on to describe a dress code we have at the school that may constitute "beauty" in her mind, but it is her own interpretation of it if that is so. That would be the delusional aspect of my three points - that people pretend ugly people don't exist, don't want to see them, or have created their own definition of a word.

The methods of the survey tend to favor those campus students called who don't have any ugly people on campus, which is a lie. There are people everywhere who do not meet the world's standards of beauty. I think they are just as worthy of the best in life, but why do we feel that we need to call people beautiful? I'm not beautiful. I'm cute on my better days (which is the only time I allow pictures to be taken). Why do people feel the need to lie about students being beautiful? It is because our society has put such a high value on beauty that we want to make sure everyone has this value? Beauty by society's standards is not something I think should be valued above honesty and telling the truth. But I will admit that beauty has a very high value at BYU, as in the rest of the world to the point that someone would feel it necessary to lie because she is afraid of truly examining her love of beauty as opposed to looking at ugly people who are just as worthy and full of value as anyone, not dependent on society's standards.

As a religious institution, we believe in having different standards from society and this survey worries me because there are ugly people on BYU campus. It bothers me that people would be more concerned about beauty than telling the truth (which is part of a code of honor at our school in addition to our dress code). As much as the world wants us to value beauty, it is fleeting. Honesty is forever.


Game change for me (I think)

Rules of life:
1. Ask guys out. They aren’t asking you out and if you want to find a good one, you might as well ask them out.
(I started this list when I turned thirty and realized I had only been asked out by one guy ever. I was cute, not overweight, smart, talkative, nerdy, and on the whole pretty awesome according to biased sources. So, since I wanted to get married and have kids, I decided to ask guys out. This may seem a bit forward, but there was nothing left to be done since I dislike online dating. I used to be extremely shy as a kid and over the years I sort of got over that, but it comes back sometimes. Asking guys out is when it comes back. But I need to get over that and just do it, since I never have before. So, I asked a guy out. Via text. Much easier than in person and over the phone. He accepted and we went out. It was great. We have somewhat similar backgrounds and he’s really cool. He’s into extreme sports and martial arts. Frankly, he is way more awesome than me. He also seems to not be totally into settling down, etc. But anyway, this date lead me to make up some more rules.)
2. Don’t mention naked Greek-style wrestling ever. (Yeah, sometimes my mind makes the strangest, worst connections.)
3. Don’t mention anything involving eating disorders, rehab, psychological issues and any problems stemming from those things until like date five or so. (I didn’t mention this, but I had to make the decision to be very vague right there when he asked me about my crazy adventures. I stuck to vague round-about talk about high school and mentioned my spur-of-the-moment camping trips, which I loved taking. This goes on to another conversational rule.)
4. Do not talk about professional cycling too much unless he’s into that. (I allowed him to judge me and mentioned that this made me a nerd for liking cycling, but I may have mentioned it too much.)
5. Don’t ask him out on a second date. (Since I asked him out first, this seems a solid rule. First, it determines whether he likes you or not since if he doesn’t like you that way or doesn’t want a relationship, he won’t ask you out. I decided this is a good rule since I think I like this guy more than he likes me. This may suck, but it’s better to let him be the decider of whether you will be in a relationship. I may mention what a good time I had when I see him next, but that’s it. I may be slightly desperate, but getting into a relationship that wouldn’t go anywhere isn’t worth it. This guy was a bit out of my league, but really sweet and he likes Pink Floyd and Sherlock. I may want to go out again, but most guys I know consider me friend material. According to guys, I am not date and girlfriend material. Which points out again rule #1.)
6. Wait a week and if he doesn’t ask you out, find someone else and ask them out. (I would really like to have a kid before I can’t, so that means giving up and moving on to try someone else. There are other guys out there and maybe one of them will think you are awesome. Giving up is not an option.)
I will keep you updated on any more rules that come along. There probably will be more since I am new to dating and not that great at it.

Life Crisis

I decided that it was about time to have another identity crisis. I was about to turn thirty on Friday and on Wednesday, I was cast in a play as a fifteen year old high school student. That would have been fine if all the other people cast were older too. They were not. This is a college student production and all the other people cast were eighteen to twenty years old. I am the only grad student and an old one at that. I don’t look like it though which is why I was cast as the youngest character in the play. The play has eight high school students and I am the younger sister of the main character, making me the youngest. I didn’t think being cast as someone half my age would be an unpleasant experience, but it was. One of the resolutions I made when I was coming up on my thirtieth birthday was to stop lying about my age, which I have been successfully doing for years. I usually admit to twenty four or twenty five. But now I am letting everyone know I was turning thirty. Then a few days later I receive confirmation that I still resemble a high schooler. I would have been fine with college age but high school age is too much. I almost feel insulted by my face. I want to tell it to look older.
But this is where the crisis comes in. I think I do look older. I have fine lines around my eyes. My forehead is more bumpy and one wrinkle sometimes stays put. After staring at the mirror and seeing evidence of my decay, I want to yell at the undergraduates of the world and ask them why they cannot see I definitely look much older than all of them. That didn’t happen, but I wanted it to. It really makes me question the order of death and destruction in the world when I now look younger than I used to look, or the same as I have looked for the last fifteen years. I finally figured out the best hairstyle for me and in the last couple months have got it as close to perfection as I can. I finally started using face cream after I got back from Europe a few months ago. I guess the real problem is that I thought I would be further along in life by the time I was thirty, and that I would look it too. Thinking back to my first identity crisis when I was nine, this one is barely a blip, but that nine year-old expected her thirty-year-old counterpart to at least have been on more dates and be married by this point. I had a real job for a while before going back to school, so I don’t feel like a failure on that front.
This crisis is nothing like a couple others I’ve had. I started lying about my age to avoid crisis. Acceptance and being okay with my age was something of a healthy move. But was it? Should I have kept lying to myself? I don’t think I mind being thirty. Being single and thirty is more troubling. Just ask my parents. Being single, thirty, and being unable to date anyone your age because you look like a kid is torture. Have you ever had a crush on a guy and then discovered he is ten years younger than you? It is a bit disturbing. And if it is disturbing for me, I can imagine it’s worse for the guy.
Maybe I can just put this down to being in too many rehearsals for Oedipus at Colonus or reading too much Freud for my psychoanalytic literature class this semester. Or maybe I’m cursed to be single and look far too young the rest of my life. It may sound good but it isn’t.


Flying into the past

I love the idea of flying west to east across the international date line into the night cutting through it to see the dawn. I also love the idea of flying east to west across the Pacific to try to stay in the light. On this flight from Beijing to San Francisco, I slept a bit, watched some programming, read, and watched some Downton Abbey. One more episode to finish the second season. Anything over six hours in a plane becomes extremely uncomfortable and a bit of a marathon. I have two hours left of this flight and I probably don't smell great or look too great. Once I get to San Francisco, I can change clothes, use some body spray, deodorant. Maybe a store will have some dry shampoo, but no certainties. I should be back in St. Louis in twelve hours and in twenty-six hours I will be heading to a rehearsal. I am going to miss that day of rest I had scheduled which was swallowed by my cancelled flight in Beijing. Luckily my room is clean and many of my clothes are clean, I just have to unpack and buy some food and caffeinated beverages. Then class on Monday. Back to busyness and not looking forward to it yet.
Now we are approaching San Francisco and the sky begins to turn blue from the black it was before. The dark of the ocean blends with the lighter azure of the sky. Then comes the line of palest yellow which fades to the palest blue with no green between - straight yellow to blue. Then we descend to the fog and I can no longer tell what is sea and sky. Slowly blue fades to white and I see the tops of clouds and pink demarcates the sky and a final horizon. The pink spreads to peach and purple and a smeared watercolor sits above the white clouds. No wonder we flew so fast to meet the dawn. The molten honey of the sun outlines the faded plum mountains of a distant fairyland. Deep purple blue darkness breaks out from beneath the clouds and I don't know if it is sea or mountains until one shows a velvety moss covering wrapped in morning gray. All becomes clear as rough mountains frame the end of the color-streaked sky but mist still obscures more past the horizon as we fly into the mist and leave clarity behind.
But the concerning thing about flying west to east across the Pacific is that technically I arrived in San Francisco before I left Beijing. I am now in the past because I have now been in two places twice at the same time. A bit trippy.