The holy, blessed martyr for to seek. (Shadow Boxing on Medicine Bow)

I went into the mountains looking for a story.

I went expecting an important, pertinent, pivotal moment. A point of growth. A marker, a beacon in the narrative of life that would highlight this very moment as significant.

I went, only to find that the point was insignificant. It was, in fact, pointless. See, while I wasn’t looking, I had changed. I have moved beyond the fixed, imaginary point that I held in my mind, and I moved beyond it before I had even reached what I had imagined would be its symbolic place.

––

Let me share a secret with you.

In every thing I write, there is something central, pivotal that I do not put into words. In every thing I write, I am writing around something unspoken. Something I may never speak out loud, let alone write for everyone to see. And yet, if I removed that invisible pillar, the narrative would crumble.

Go back and read. Can you feel it? The way the words dance around a ghost?

This time, I will tell you what the unwritten is, and in this telling, I unburden myself of my private shame.

––

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I came here to Medicine Bow Mountain because once upon a time, I came here with someone I loved. Someone who then betrayed me and in a single act tore me asunder.

Confusion. Embarrassment. Disbelief. Shame. Grief. And finally white hot rage.

I came here because I sought to erase him from this memory and in his place, recreate space for myself alone. I sought to claim this mountain as a space I love, no strings attached.

It is beautiful here.

I’ve always been drawn to mountainous places. The more rugged, the more remote feeling, the better. I like the way Medicine Bow strikes up from the ground, pushing toward the sky. Stone and air.

I’m in really good shape this summer, thanks to the century ride, so I hoofed it up the mountain, summiting in half the time that it took us when we together. And then I kept going, past where we turned around. Out along the spine of the mountain.

For long stretches, I ran along the trail, not minding the unergonomic weight of my pack, ignoring the pain in my foot.

I laughed when I found snow at the summit. I pressed my hands in it, the unexpected gift.

Funny – I don’t remember seeing a single man hiking alone. And yet, I wasn’t the only woman traveling with a pack and solitude.

––

Like a child, I  went into the mountains to prove a point.

There’s a song by Metric with these lines:

Like a child,

I stayed up to prove

I could keep up with you.

It was like that. It’s always like that.

But I’m at the point now where I’m wondering who the hell I’m trying so hard to impress. It’s certainly not him. It’s certainly not you.

Who is this specter I’m railing against?

––

There is a photo of two of us from this place. I look so happy in it. I’m standing on a rock, so we’re about the same height, and I’m leaning into him.

In fact, it’s one of my favorite photos of me. Wide smile. Crows feet erupting from the corners of my eyes like fireworks.

That smile is not reflected in him. He humored me when I asked him to take it with me.

The smile in my eyes is for the alpine. His is just waiting for me to put the camera away.

 

––

Friday night, I lay in my tent on my own. My first solo camping trip, tucked in a nook off of a dirt road, away from the RVs and Tacomas.

On my stomach, I read the last few chapters of Catherine the Great. It struck me: laying in a tent in Wyoming and reading about Robespierre and Marat in a book about a German princess who became the Russian autocrat.

Which, as it’s wont to do, brought this Star Trek quote to mind:

It’s not safe out here. It’s wondrous with treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross. But it’s not for the timid.

Thanks, Q.

Human beings are beautiful, improbably creatures. We climb routes up cliff faces that we could much more easily walk around. We build shelters with our hands. We set the sky on fire. We break bones. We break hearts.

And more grossly, we do these things on purpose.

We are careless and thoughtless in love.

We place our own limbs under the knife and ask the man in scrubs to make the pain stop. Hurt me now. Wound me. Cripple me. But promise me the pain will stop and that I will be as if I were new.

(I’m getting a bunion removed in a couple of weeks, hence the unsettling imagery.)

––

I am wasting my breath fighting a ghost I don’t know. It’s a chip on my shoulder that cuts down to the bone.

For as long as I can remember, I have felt the need to prove myself. To claim my right to occupy space, to exist, to be seen and heard.

I’m not sure what I’m fighting now. It’s not him. It’s not them.

Is it me?

Is that feeling so ingrained into me now that what was once an external ghost is just a mirror’s warped reflection?

––

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Friday night, after setting up the tent, I lay cocooned in two sleeping bags, too busy thinking about bears to think about him.

The next morning, pulling into the parking lot, I really didn’t think about him all that much.

Instead, I offered my palms to every dog I met on the trail. I wondered in the power in my own legs, made strong from cycling. I thought about Catherine the Great. I imagined what my nephews were doing at the lake right in that moment.

(On Sunday, my father took the old meat grinder in the basement and set up a makeshift cider press. In the photograph, their three heads are bowed over a tupperware container of juice, feeding crab apple slices into the teeth of the machine.)

And, I also looked inside of myself for the face of the one to whom I have something to prove.

I found no one to whom anything was worth proving.

––

I don’t have to prove that my heart was broken. Neither do I have to justify it.

I don’t have to fight for my space in the world. I just have to occupy it.

I don’t have to stay up all night, like a child, thinking about bears and wondering where I packed my spare headlamp batteries to prove that I’m tough. I am tough. I used Catherine the Great as a pillow. How many people can say that?

 

––

As I hiked, the strangest couplet came to mind. It played on loop, like a commercial jingle set in Old English.

The hooly blisful martir for to seke

That hem hath holpen whan that they were sike

It’s from the opening lines of The Canterbury Tales.

I went expecting to have to fight the ghost of him. To face him as my personal demon. But he wasn’t there. And I don’t miss him. In fact, it’s been a long, long time since I missed him.

Instead, there was me. No revelations. To profundity. No feelings of a battle well fought, a war well won. It was just me.

And I liked it.

The holy, blessed martyr for to seek

That had helped them when they were weak.

Mountains are medicine.

Even when you don’t know for sure what has made you weak.

∆∆

The Rules of International Travel

We hadn’t even made it back to the US when reverse culture shock slammed me in the chest. The couple sitting in the row in front of me, a young couple from Kansas stated “Oh, it was wonderful but we’re so glad to be going home.”

No, I thought. I don’t want to go back. Don’t make me go back.

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I ❤ Norway.

We flew into Bergen, Norway, where we rented a car and drove to Oslo. The next day, we jumped on a ferry from Oslo Fjord to Kiel, Germany, where we rented a different car and drove from Kiel to Amsterdam, The Netherlands for one more night. Then, on to Brussels, Belgium for two nights. Then to St. Malo, France for two nights. Then, to Paris for one night for an early morning flight out of Charles de Gaul. From our takeoff in Denver to our landing in Denver, we had 10 days. This is not a good way to see and experience Europe, but it was the perfect way for us to be. We missed more than we saw, but it was perfect.

I traveled so much as a kid, that it’s ingrained in my muscle memory. The only thing more fundamentally comfortable, more soul-relaxing than being surrounded by a landscape and language I don’t know is skiing.

On this trip, I was with someone who had not been out of the United States since he moved here ten years ago. This was his trip, really, and it was my job to show him how to wander well. I shared what I know, my rules of international travel.

You’ll notice that a lot of these involve food. It’s funny, because the idea of “traveling to eat” confuses me. But. I am a hungry, hungry hippo who could eat her weight in French butter if given the chance. Being hot, tired, thirsty, and hungry is the worst state in which to be while traveling. You’re likely to do something stupid.

Never Eat Anywhere That Has Pictures of the Food on a Placard. They are often captioned in English. I don’t even understand why anyone would fall for this. The pictures don’t even look good.

Never Eat Anywhere That Has English Posted Prominently Outside. This includes: English phrases like “Best Coffee in Brussels” (I promise it isn’t), and exclusively in-English menu posted outside. This does not include: English translations of menus presented once you sit down.

Take Advantage of Specialty Shops. Find the bakery/cheese shop/butcher/wine merchant/farmer’s market stall with no photos or English displayed. Walk in. Do not expect anyone to speak English. If necessary, point to the things you want. Pay for them. Eat these things with your bare hands on a bench, in a park, on a stone wall. It’ll be the best god damn meal you’ve had all trip. Repeat tomorrow.

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Lunch with a view.

Never Go Anywhere Where Someone Speaking English Tries to Hustle You Inside. This includes: restaurants with food-picture placards, gift shops, things masquerading as educational tours. If it’s 2pm and the guy tries to hustle you into doing a tour immediately because the last tour is at 6pm, you leave. I’ve also noticed that this kind of person tends to speak very quickly (even if they speak perfect English) as if aiming to confuse you into compliance.

Look Closely At Positive Reviews. Just because a bunch of Americans “really liked” one coffee stop doesn’t mean it’s any good. In fact, that might mean that they specialize in the sugary, weird, five shots of flavored coffee drinks that Americans like. That said, use Google. Especially when you’re there. Especially for restaurants. Look for positive ratings. Look for positive ratings made by people writing in different languages. That, my friend, is where you want to eat. Do the same for attractions. I don’t really use Trip Advisor, but I’m sure this law applies there, too.

This is Madurodam. It was the coolest, most random place I've ever been.
This is Madurodam. It was the coolest, most random place I’ve ever been.

Not All Tourist Traps Are Created Equal. By this I mean, some tourist traps are entirely worth doing. Poo-poo city bus tours all you want, but if you want to get oriented to a city, there are much worse things you can do.

Get Lost. Take a wrong turn by accident. Pull off at a random roadside attraction you’ve never heard of before. Let plans fall apart or, even better, let them not exist in the first place. Take a nap on the side of the road. Lose yourself in the weightlessness of bombardment by words you don’t recognize. For what is perhaps the first time since you learned to speak, struggle to communicate. 

You can debate forever the merits of travel. Whether it can really make you grow, expand your horizons, change your life, blah blah blah. I don’t think travel does any of these things. You are not more profound for getting your passport stamped.

The important part of traveling is learning to be comfortable with being misunderstood and comfortable in that you , too, will misunderstand. But, like a good existentialist, you must not accept this. You must try–struggle, even–to be understood and (most importantly) to understand.

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This is the face of pure fear navigating the Arc de Triomphe rotary.

In Between Home

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Have you ever experienced the feeling of being not-quite-home?

I’ve been in this place a lot, at the intersection of one life and the next.

Where the place I am doesn’t feel familiar enough, but the place I’ve left feels just as strange.

It’s been more than six months since I packed up my world and moved to Boulder. 

But, Boulder doesn’t feel like home yet, either. I step through my routine of sleep, coffee, work, run/bike/hike, repeat. Write a little. Read a little. Call my mother. Send love notes to my friends.

And yet, Boulder isn’t quite home yet.

The landscape (dry, even after weeks of rain) is so foreign to me. The flora (sequoia pines that smell like butterscotch when you press your nose against their bark, sage growing wild by the trail). The fauna (rattlesnakes, mountain lions, magpies).

I hike and sit on the rocks, slowing turning bright red from sunburn, looking out over the plains with something akin to confusion. Then, I turn my back and look west toward the mountains, bravely white-capped against the warming world.

In the city I make small talk at the coffee bar. I bike along the creek to and from work. The living is easy here. Easier, I think, than what I’m used to. Even having a food allergy is impossibly easy. “I have a soy allergy–“ “Oh, we don’t use soy in this restaurant.” “What? No soy in anything? Not even the chocolate cake?” “That’s right.” “Give me six of the chocolate cake, then!”

I learned to make Cuban coffee in a moka pot, although I use less than half the normal amount of sugar. I learned, too, how to stuff herbed butter under the skin of a Cornish Game Hen and how to trim climbing skins and how beautiful the Flatirons are when illuminated by alpenglow.

The beer’s not as good here. But the mixed drinks are much better.

I’ll make it back to Vermont next summer, I hope. Right now, I’m on my way to Baltimore for my cousin’s wedding and I wonder, I can’t help but wonder: what will it feel like to come… home?

I Go To Seek The Great What Does This Button Do

So guys, I found this really cool thing on Pinterest? I'm totally never going to make it.
So guys, I found this really cool thing on Pinterest? I’m totally never going to make it.

A month and a bit into living in Colorado and I am still catching up with friends. I moved here so suddenly that there were a lot of people that I didn’t get to see, didn’t get to say goodbye to, didn’t even tell. In these conversations, phone calls that linger on and on, some form of the following statement is said: I’m so impressed that you were brave enough to do this. Even my mother says it, adding, What you’ve done is a scary thing.

Scary? If this was supposed to be scary, then why wasn’t I scared?

A while ago, I found this image while trolling Pinterest. “I Go To Seek A Great Perhaps.” I thought it was nice. The words felt good on my tongue as I whispered them out loud, full of promise.

Then I left home and came here, and now the words don’t make sense. A Perhaps is, maybe, what happens at Wanderlust Fest when you’re blissed out on yoga and kombucha. Maybe a Perhaps is the music/time passing sequence in a rom com. Something sort of tame and pleasant and predictable, which is all well and good… But, to be honest, I’m more of a What Does This Button Do kind of girl.

My good friends all come to recognize a particular mood that comes over me. I don’t know what to call it, but when I’m in it… I’m apt to dissect remote controls, climb on buildings, eat the entire pie. I turn around and talk to strangers and follow people I barely know into strange places. I don’t stand still; I want to know what is behind the curtain, even if it’s just more of the same.

Maybe it’s curiosity. Maybe it’s recklessness. Maybe I’m just compensating for all of the time I spend shy and nervous and uncomfortable standing in the corner at parties wondering if it’s socially acceptable to crawl under the table with the dog because, man, he just gets me.

But it’s a pretty good way to live.

I Go To Seek The Great What Does This Button Do

Laney writes: “Low-novelty seekers like to see the big picture before plunging ahead…” And low-novelty seeking correlates strongly with introversion. Apparently, no one told me this when my brain-chemistry was mixing in the womb. I nail every other introvert trait except for that one, as if even as a pupa I rebelled against my own nature… as if… as if I went exploring through my genome, turning things on and off according to a set of printed out directions until I came across this one tantalizing gene… proto-Liz paused there and said, “Huh. I wonder what this button does.”

The Girl on Silver King

This story occurred before the invention of cameras, so I do not have appropriately dated imagery for the occasion. Here. Have a map instead.
This story occurred before the invention of camera phones, so I do not have appropriately dated imagery for the occasion. Here. Have a map instead.

Once upon a time (as all important stories begin), a little girl stood on a ridge line high above the tree line. She was 13 years old, and she was terrified.

“I’m not going,” she said. “We should turn around,” she said.

“No way,” her eldest brother said.

“Just a little farther,” her father said.

The little girl tried every excuse in the book, anything except admitting that something about walking along the ridgeline made her feel dizzy and sick. On either side, the drop seemed impossibly sheer, the rocks impossibly dark and sinister against the beautiful, powdery white. (She realizes almost ten years later that she is afraid of heights.)

Her brother took her skis. Her father prodded her along, offering words of encouragement and promises and threats. She knows that they don’t know anything about avalanche danger, but she knows, too, that arguing this fact is useless and doesn’t want to think of it anyway.

To her, it feels like an hour before her little troop catches up with another group. First, two men carrying two pairs of wide powder skis and one sit-ski. They take turns carrying the heavier equipment. The men smile, laugh, and wave the little girl ahead. “We’ll catch up,” they say, as if this meeting was planned

The lump in the girl’s throat sinks into a pit of dread in her stomach. Shame starts coloring her face before they even get to the third man. Moving along the path in front of his friends was Jim. His legs stopped at his knees, but he navigated along the narrow path with the ease of familiarity. He looks up and says hello cheerfully.

The girl considers flinging herself off the edge of the next cliff in humiliation.

Unlike so many locals, Jim and his friends welcomed the three outsiders into their group. Their smiles were large and genuine and without hesitation they invited the little group to join them.

She stood there feeling like an idiot (because, obviously, the little girl was me). She spent the entire hike psyching herself out and making her brother and father miserable, and yet here was someone with a physical impediment who had made the very same climb with a smile on his face. She was thoroughly ashamed.

She stuck close to the locals, in complete awe. When they dropped over the cornice, She followed without question and landed her first 10 footer completely by accident. (“Oh, it’s just a little drop,” her father said. Her father is a liar.)

That run is seared into her memory as the best run she’s ever taken. Almost a foot of fresh snow had fallen overnight and even my straight east-coast skis floated through the fluff like a dream. She followed the white clouds kicked up by the locals, delirious with the feeling of flying through powder snow.

Several in-bounds runs later, maybe after a bathroom break, she was walking to catch up with her family. A snowboarder with long, straggly blond hair held out a hand to stop her. a”Excuse me,” he said, “Were you the girl on Silver King?”

It took her a confused moment to answer. He wasn’t one of the locals we skied with, and she hadn’t seen anyone else on that part of the mountain. “Um. Yes?” she mumbled, already trying to move on.

“That’s awesome,” he said.

She felt a jumbled mix of shame and pride, a strange combination of sensations that is as seared into her memory as the heavenly run itself.


 

I’ve tried to write this post so many times. I’ve started, and stopped, and put it away. Sometimes I saved the draft. Sometimes I deleted it immediately. While I’ve told this story countless times, but for some reason it’s difficult for me to place it in written words. Part of this is because I still feel that uncomfortable mix of emotions. I hardly deserved the praise. But I was a 13 year old from Massachusetts, a long ways away from big mountains and powder days in the double digits.

That day marked a turning point for me, as if that day I became The Girl on Silver King. Three years later when I hiked Tuckerman Ravine for the first time, I insisted on carrying all of my own gear, although that same brother offered to help. I also made sure that I carried my share of water, wine and food. I learned my lesson.

It’s crazy to think that I’m already double the age I was on that peak. I still think of myself (with pride) as The Girl on Silver King.

Silver King is adjacent to Crystal Mountain. I do not recommend or condone out-of-bounds skiing for those without avalanche training. Mountains are big. Always tread lightly around things that are bigger than you.

Climber’s Faith

Now here is something worth writing about:

In all sports, you must learn to trust your body. In skiing, you place your trust in the power of your legs, the pressure of your shins against the front of the boot, the angle of your hips. You trust your body to control your speed and propel you forward, to absorb impact and launch you into flight.

But I think… In one sport, it’s less about trust and more about faith. Trust has a logical basis. Faith is at least a little illogical. Faith requires a willful denial of logic. Which sport is this? Climbing.

In climbing, you must have faith that your hand will not slide and that the strength in your fingers is enough to hold steady. You must have faith that your reach will expand that extra inch, that your jump will bring you just a little bit farther than seems possible.

More than anything, you must have faith in your feet. Faith in the ability of your feet to find a hold where none exists, to turn rock crystals into a perch that will bear your weight just long enough to follow your momentum to the next hand hold, the next foothold-that-isn’t-there, anything to move forward.

Can you tell that I just went climbing after a hiatus of years?

Climbing near Stratton
Climbing near Stratton

I was very rusty. It was awesome.

Musings from the flatlands

On my first visit back to Illinois since the tornado turned my parents’ neighborhood into toothpicks, I thought I was going to have Opinions. I would share those Opinions here, going on a tirade about, presumably, the foolish folly of man against nature. The biggest surprise of being back here is that I don’t have an Opinion, let alone Opinions.

Riding around the neighborhood, some houses are aesthetically repaired to their original big-box-store perfection. Others, just two doors down, have holes in their roofs and entire walls hanging precariously off. The juxtaposition is bizarre.

From the saddle of my beautiful borrowed bicycle (a loaner from the local bike shop – the Specialized Ruby), there’s nothing to say that Robert Frost hasn’t already said: “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.”

Yesterday I watched a rabbit take shelter from the rain under the neighbor’s red Honda.

Whether we rebuild or not, life goes on.

On an entirely separate note Dad bought me my first pair of cycling shoes as a “thank you” for finally buying my own car and therefore getting off his car insurance. The shoes (Specialized) match my black and purple Louis Garneau kit. I’m That Cyclist now, and I have no intention to apologize for it.

Now I need a bike rack so that I can transport the bike somewhere that isn’t uphill in every direction.

26 in 26

Last year I started a tradition of making birthday resolutions. The goal is to complete a number of tasks or goals in a year. The number of tasks equals my age. I didn’t even manage half of my resolutions from last year, but I find something soothing about this list-making and goal-setting practice. More satisfying to me than accomplishing things on this list was seeing how many of the items were simply… no longer important. Accomplishing them was just frosting – a nice perk to the last 365 days of my life rather than an imperative need.

Here it goes: my 26 in 26. (In no particular order.)

  1. Get a dog.
  2. Finish the HackVT app content.
  3. Finish writing Drinking with Galatea.
  4. Go on a trip. Plane required.
  5. Get into the Christmas spirit.
  6. Read S.
  7. Ski an absurd number of days.
  8. Take snowboard lessons.
  9. Be a good long distance friend.
  10. Get a new car.
  11. Get a PO Box.
  12. Do Tuckerman Ravine this spring.
  13. Find a nice, dog-friendly apartment.
  14. Tag along on a sugaring session.
  15. Stop biting my cuticles.
  16. Explore southern VT.
  17. Pay off one student loan.
  18. Bike the Dirty 40 or an entire Century Ride
  19. Start swimming again.
  20. Swim from camp to the sandbar and back.
  21. Watch Man on Wire.
  22. Read A Moveable Feast.
  23. Drink loose leaf tea more often.
  24. Take a photography class.
  25. (Re)read The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays.
  26. Go camping.

That’s about it, guys. xo

Labor of Love: An App is Born

HackVT is a 24hr coding competition “where friends and complete strangers will work to build a killer app for the state of Vermont.” From Friday to Saturday, a whole bunch of programmers packed into the old mill, fired up their computers, and got to work. Most teams were stacked with coders working furiously through the night. Our team went about things a little differently. Actually, a lot differently. Only one of us, Justin, knows how to program. Brad and Craig are graphic designers. And then there’s me: a writer. Together, we swore off sleep and built a beautiful app.

I can’t say much about it yet, but I can share that it’s an app for people like you and me; people who love exploring the outdoors. This is the about page, which shows off a bit of the heritage-inspired design and the open, conversational brand voice.

When I finally got home, I pawed slowly through our swag bag, browsing through the brochures and the single copy of Ski Vermont Magazine. The first page I turned to was the letter from the editor, titled “Do What You Love.” Even in my delirious, sleep-deprived state this felt significant, as if the stars were aligning just to tell us we are doing exactly what we’re supposed to be doing.

For each one of us, this app is a labor of love. Justin is dedicated to building iOS apps that work as beautifully as they look and are as useful as they are intuitive. Brad and Craig live and breathe the kind of design that makes you fall in love at first sight. I believe strongly in the power of the humbly written word to inspire and support people I have never and will never meet.

Rome wasn't built in a day, but this was.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, but this was.

All of that love must have shined through, because even though our presentation went terribly wrong (the app worked, the presentation tech did not), our team walked away with an Honorable Mention.

I’m looking forward to seeing the official photo of our shocked, delirious, sleep-deprived faces grinning like fools.

While we have the skeleton in place, here’s still a lot of work to be done before the app goes live. Rest assured, I’ll be sharing more about the app as we continue to fix bugs, add content, and streamline features. We aim to have it available in the app store by Spring 2014. Until then, enjoy this teaser screen. Let’s go explore.

Let’s Do That

A sinus infection laid me low without my even noticing it. I’m the sort that blames every scratchy throat or fuzzy headache on allergies, or a passing cold. Before I know it, three weeks pass and I’m sitting in the doctor’s office, the nurse gasping at my 104º temperature. I had no idea I even had a fever.

The week before, I alternated between the sun, the water, the shade, and 27 mile bike rides with my father. Uphill both ways, as they say.

Before that, I was in New York City, head tilted back and marveling at the fireworks, Amazing Grace on my lips.

The New York trip was a complete spur of the moment impulse. A new friend invited me. The next day I bought my ticket. Two days later, I was on the bus – Burlington to Manhattan. What a change that was.

But what a change it wasn’t. Maybe my head was already thick with the infection I wouldn’t notice for two more weeks, but the process of arriving in the city made me calm. Usually not a fan of cities, I felt relaxed and comfortable.

I love traveling.

But even more so, I love being impulsive.

This is a trait I’ve worked quite hard to quell through random acts of mindfulness, repetition, and routine. I’ve been so “good.” So “steady.” This is all well and good when it comes to major decisions. Job changing. Job searching. Roommate-picking. Interpersonal relationships. But, gosh is it dull!

Haters gonna hate, but Citibikes are awesome.
Haters gonna hate, but Citibikes are awesome.

I love the moment when a metaphorical button is pressed, and before I know it the words are falling out of my mouth. “Yes. I am going to do that. I am going to do that right now. If you’d like to come along, great. But I’m not waiting anymore. I’m going.”

Reminds me of the “Let’s do that” Subaru commercials that were all over the Tour de France coverage.

C’mon. Let’s do that.