Some books I read this year

I worked remotely this year. It’s interesting. The flexible schedule and workspace is great, but the lack of interaction with your co-workers leaves you questioning yourself and your sanity.

Communication has to be very proactive – you can’t wait for someone to check if you’re having trouble or need something to do, you have to go ask for it. I think this skill is some kind of dark art, and I haven’t gotten it yet.

Most of my non-fiction reading was about “soft skills”. The little things that ease friction between humans and help us enjoy each other more. I always feel that I’m deficient in those skills, so I look for books that might have answers. These are books that had answers – maybe not complete answers, but they brought me a little closer to being human.

Negotiating the Non-Negotiable, Dan Shapiro

Dan Shapiro gets world leaders and diplomats into a room together and makes them play games about peacemaking. You’d think those people would already be good at negotiating as it’s the centre of their jobs, but he still catches them off guard fairly often. He helped peace talks in Ireland and Bosnia in the 90’s, among other things.

His idea is that intractable disagreements come up when people’s identity feels attacked. Swallowing your pride, shaking hands and signing an agreement may be the logical thing to do, but logic isn’t the only master that humans answer to. If you read my previous posts, you’ll see one about identity that I did as an exercise after reading this book.

If you have to give up part of your identity to make peace, you may decide that peace isn’t worth it. By extension, if you can figure out how you’re threatening someone’s values with your seemingly reasonable proposition, you can better understand why they won’t accept it, and maybe find a compromise.

Works Well With Others, Ross McCammon

Ross McCammon is a senior editor at Esquire magazine. His job, aside from editing, is to schmooze and make the right moves in high-stakes social situations.

This book is about all the ways he’s failed to do that in the last ten years. It starts out as practical advice for when you’ve gotten a job you’re not qualified for and have to fit in with people who seem very, very cool, when you are very, very uncool.

Have you ever felt crippled by self-consciousness when deciding what to order during a business lunch? You shouldn’t, because the lunch is for focussing on the person that you’re with. But here’s some guidelines for getting past the mechanical aspects of picking your food, talking to the waiter and reaching for the bill as smoothly as possible so that you can pay attention to what matters. Also, what should you say when you interview Rihanna? Also a good question. In this case, asking about the house she grew up in as a child got her talking.

The advice gets less practical and more funny as the book goes on. I loved the part where Ross talks about a bench in Central Park where he used to hide after turning in an assignment. He had a thought in the back of his mind, “They can’t fire me for it if they can’t find me.”

After ten years, he doesn’t need the bench as much, but still goes back sometimes to remember what it was like.

The Art of Asking, Amanda Palmer

Amanda Palmer reminds me of the reason I haven’t written as much this year. Art only works when you’re being really, really honest. As soon as you try to hide yourself, creativity dries up.

Amanda stands on a box wearing a baroque wedding gown and holds a flower out to passersby, and only moves if someone puts money in her hat. It’s the most vulnerable thing she can do – stand in public and beg, with her whole being, “please notice me”.

Rocketships.ca is my email address and goes on every resume I send out. I don’t know how many employers get around to reading my blog. It’s gotten me a couple of interviews, but how many have I scared off? I want to write the really raw, horrifyingly funny stuff, but not end up unemployed because of it. But I know if this blog is ever going to be anything but a minor hobby that a few friends read, I’m going to have to go deep like Amanda does.

The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman

My mom read this book when I was a small kid and has been telling me to check it out ever since. I finally felt the need for it after tearfully explaining to my therapist that I couldn’t figure out how to tell my partner how much I loved him, or get him to believe me when I tried. It’s a book that found me when I was ready to listen.

My love language is Quality Time. The others are Words of Affirmation, Physical Touch, Receiving Gifts, and Acts of Service. I have a feeling that the guy is right, and if you can figure out what your partner’s language is, you’ll have a better time.

Boss Life: Surviving My Own Small Business, Paul Downs

Paul Downs makes custom, specialized conference tables in Pennsylvania. Most of his customers find him on Google, and everything they sell is produced in a huge warehouse by a dozen or so woodworkers.

They do beautiful work and fully occupy their market niche. There’s plenty of demand for what they make – so why do they lose money? In 2011, Downs kept a month by month account of what happened.

He fixed their sales process so they’d stop leaking customers. He demoted a shop foreman who had served, resentfully, for over 20 years, and promoted a less experienced guy who wanted the job and cared enough to do it well. He went to the Middle East to look for customers, but found that there were plenty of customers right at home – after he caught and fixed a Google adwords bug that was putting his ads in front of the wrong eyeballs. At the end of the year, he finished with just enough cash to stay in business – he didn’t get to collect a salary, he only paid himself back for loans he’d put into the business.

It’s a story that will put you off the idea of starting your own business, for sure, unless you happen to have the kind of mind that hears about these problems and thinks, “oh, that sounds fun!” I took lots of notes.

Identity

In a conflict, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that identity is fluid and constantly in motion. Some parts may be fixed, but others are negotiable. However, when your identity is threatened, you hunker down in self-defence and think of it as a single, immutable whole. You demand that the other party agree to your perspectives, your sense of right and wrong, your values. But if the other side holds the same egoistic assumption, you get stuck in an ever-escalating impasse, until your conflict feels intractable.

This description comes from “Negotiating the Non-Negotiable”, by Dan Shapiro. His examples of feeling “stuck” when your identity is attacked strongly remind me of the “stuck” feeling that plagued me during my time in Denmark – and at lots of other times in my life. Based on the idea that maybe I felt that my identity was under attack, I’m going to go through Shapiro’s Five Pillars of Identity and figure out who I am. Bearing in mind that identity is fluid and none of the things I write down here need to be absolute immutable truth.

  1. Beliefs: convictions, principles, morals.
  2. Rituals: meaningful customs and ceremonial acts, whether holidays, rites of passage, regular prayer, evening dinner with family.
  3. Allegiances: deep loyalties you feel toward a family member, friend, authority figure, nation, tribe, ancestor, any other person place or thing.
  4. Values: ideals, which can be explicit or embodied in a memorable narrative.
  5. Emotionally meaningful experiences: intense events, positive or negative, that define part of your identity.

Not sure what the difference is between beliefs and values, but otherwise I’ll give this a bash.

What do I believe in?
Taking personal responsibility for my success and wellbeing. To me that means educating myself and making sure I can make a good living, not wasting time or money but using it wisely and conservatively.

Keeping my word once I’ve given it (even if it’s only implied). Being a reliable person that others can count on.

Telling the truth. Using the guidelines “is it true, is it kind, is it necessary” – I don’t need to say everything that is true, but I do need to only say things that are true.

Not everyone is as capable of being as self-reliant as I am, and I don’t require it. Therefore I’m happy to pay taxes or donate to charity to help others who aren’t doing as well. However I believe in taking care of myself first, so as not to put other people in the position of having to cover for me.

I am capable of learning all the skills I need to be healthy and successful. “I can’t” isn’t a valid excuse. I can do things.

I have enough self-discipline to accomplish whatever I set out to do.

Rituals

  • Christmas and Thanksgiving with family, New Year’s Eve with friends whenever possible. (strengthens my network and community ties)
  • Morning coffee and breakfast. Read with breakfast. (start the day off right and get in a healthy mindset)
  • Cooking at home, big, cheap and healthy meals, trying new stuff in the kitchen for entertainment. (self improvement and being healthy)
  • Riding my bike to work. (same as above)
  • Gym twice a week. (same as above)
  • Call my brother a couple times a month, talk to friends a few times a week. (good family relationships)
  • Turn up at friend’s houses to hang out with them. (strengthen community and network)

Allegiances

I’m not sure about this one. I don’t really feel like I’m part of any particular group. Well, my family for sure, but “Graham” isn’t really a strong identity. We all kinda do our own thing.

“Victorian” for sure. It’ll always be part of me, the good and the bad. Mountains, vegans, MEC, the West Coast Trail, beach fires, bitching about the price of rentals and arguing about bike lanes.

“Danish” – well I was only there for a short time, so maybe not as much, but it was long enough to change the way I look at things. So Danish, yeah.

“Campbell River”. I never loved the place, but I sure am proud to tell people I’m from there. Weird.

“Canadian”. The Boy Scouts of the global economy. Yeah, I’ll take it.

“Cyclist”. Is it still a part of your core identity if you haven’t ridden a bike in weeks? Yes, yes it is. Always.

Values
Environmentalism – reducing waste and pollution through my daily habits. Less concerned about one-off events like flying in a plane or having a campfire, more with things I do every day. Ride bikes more, recycle and compost, use less packaging, drive a fuel-efficient used car, buy quality items that won’t end up in the garbage.

Kindness – make people feel good about being around me. Recognize their contributions verbally and publicly. Never make them feel stupid for not knowing as much as I do, instead take the opportunity to teach (if they’re interested).

Meaningful Experiences
That time when I was 10 and the neighbor asked me to water her garden while she was away, and mom did the whole job for me. I think that was the angriest I had ever been at age 10. Left me with a very strong reaction to people trying to do my work for me, implying that I’m not capable of doing it myself. I either react in anger or walk away altogether.

Shane and Dev when I was 18. They invited me over. I was odd as hell and didn’t know how to behave. They accepted me without question and never made me feel weird or out of place.  Reinforced that I want to be a person who is welcoming of new people.

Roger at Radar Hill. Trusted my opinion and judgment basically from day one. Never had the slightest interest in blaming anyone when things went wrong, only focused on solutions. A role model.

On Camino, Jette showed up at the hostel and asked if I wanted to walk with her. That was level of vulnerability that I would never have been capable of before I saw that she could do it.

I think its good to go through this whenever I feel stuck or in conflict, and think about what part of my identity feels under attack. Like when my mom is being overly helpful and solicitous, and it irritates the hell out of me even though she’s just being herself and doing absolutely nothing wrong. I get irritated because I can do everything myself, and I don’t need her help dammit! The “self-sufficient” part of my identity feels attacked.

Going through this list a couple weeks after I first wrote it, it strikes me that the first things I wrote about were being independent and self-sufficient. I probably would have been like that no matter what, but I think those values were reinforced in the years when I was deaf at school and had no friends to talk to or count on.

It’s a lonely way to live. I’m not sure I want to be like that. That attitude hasn’t helped my relationships and it leads to me being really hard on myself sometimes. Luckily this stuff isn’t set in stone, and I don’t have to give up old values to get new ones – I can build on the old stuff.

Japan Camera, Santa, and Danish modern design

I got a job! I’m working in a print shop. It’s called Japan Camera, and we do sell a few cameras, but it’s mostly about photo prints. I’ve been there for like 4 days now, and it’s legit so much fun.

People come in for passports, I get to take the picture and retouch it. Cool! That makes me a professional photographer, technically! The boss is running the Pics with Santa booth at the mall, which is why I got hired – they needed an extra person in the store while he’s away. I got to help at the Santa booth one day! It was crazy hectic, customers non-stop. I was tracking orders in our book, printing and packaging express prints on the spot, giving people directions to the food court, and making faces at crying toddlers all at the same time.

Most babies and toddlers cry when you hand them over to Santa. The parents are disappointed, but I think those shots are the best. You’ve got perfect focus and framing, bright lighting, and an active, engaged, ALIVE subject. They’re so real. I’m sure everyone wants the perfectly posed shot with two smiling kids sitting quietly, but give me the angry baby trying to escape anytime.

I’ve just spent the last 4 years working in a quiet office where the most excitement we ever got was when Dan brought his dog to work. I love it! I was only there for an hour – maybe it’s less fun if you’re doing it all day, I don’t know. But I’m so glad I get a chance to do it now, just for the next month.

Back in the shop, I do lots of different things – assembling calendars, printing mugs, ringing up orders, all kinds of shop stuff. It’s all simple, yet incredibly challenging when it’s all thrown at you at once. The boss, Ben, says I’m fantastic and that I seem like I know how to do everything already. Feels nice to be appreciated!

I got a car, it’s a 2007 Toyota Matrix with 122k on it – brand new, as far as I’m concerned. It’s the first time in my life I’ve ever bought a car that wasn’t a shitbucket. I got it because I knew I would lose my mind since I’m living with my mom and dad in Royal Oak right now, a million miles from town and up in the hills, and I needed to get out of the house – but I wanted  something with good resale value too, just in case I get my head straightened out enough to let me go back to Denmark in like, a month.

So I got a Toyota! And now I’m flat broke and can’t afford to move out of mom and dad’s house even if I knew where I wanted to go. The only place I drive besides work is the gym but I go there three times a week.

That’s because I’m actually working two jobs right now. The print shop is 20 hours a week, and the other one is a secret at the moment unfortunately. It’s not an exciting secret or anything, it’s just a temporary remote job that I can’t talk about. But that means I’m working more than 40 hours a week at two different jobs, my free time has evaporated, and I haven’t seen a paycheck yet.

It’s too bad, because before I started work I was trying to hustle up a business idea – fill up a container with Danish Modern furniture provided by my excellent contact in Denmark, and sell it here in Victoria. I went around to the four shops in Victoria that sell that type of thing (and three other shops that are kinda similar) and made friends with the owners. They’re all interested, but all of them told me they can only take a few items, they don’t have inventory space, their customers are very particular, and Vancouver is a much bigger market. They even gave me lists of places I should specifically go check out.

So I’m keen to go to Vancouver and make some more friends there, but like I said, working full time and then some now. Next time I have time off will be after Christmas.

Hopefully, by the time that happens, my contact in Denmark will have started talking to me again and forgiven me for the gigantic asshole I acted like last time I messaged him. He reads my blog, so who knows, it could happen. And that’s where my life is right now – all over the place and no idea what’s happening next.

U2, Berlin, 2017

(skip to the part about the concert, if I’m too long winded for your taste)

It was 1:00am when Odin and I finally got to some dinner, samosas in a little Moroccan restaurant next door to our hostel. The conversation was getting silly so I finished with “tak for mad”, intending to get up and go to bed, but I didn’t quite get up.

“You know, all those times you make dinner, I never say tak for mad, do I?” It’s been five months of dinners now, and this is maybe the second time I’ve thought of it. “Do you notice?”

He didn’t answer for long enough to let me know he noticed. “I got used to it.”

Danes always say “Tak for mad” after they eat. It means “thanks for the food”, and everyone old enough to know their own name is expected to say it after every meal. It’s ground into them from a very early age and they never forget and always notice. Except, “But you never say it when I make dinner?”

Odin squinted at me and took another long pause. “Yes, I do. Every single time.”

Crap. So not only have I had lousy manners, I’ve failed to notice his good ones.

The people at the table next to us get up to go, wishing us good night as they leave. They shared their appetizers with us earlier, and the woman has on a U2 concert tshirt. They were at the same show we went to. U2 at the Olympiastadion in Berlin, along with the fifth person in the restaurant, a guy falling asleep in his curry behind the other two. The shop normally closed at midnight, and it seems like the owner kept it open tonight just for us.

The concert started, for us, on the 11th, driving down from Denmark in a cheap car we bought the day before because our usual ride, a diesel Hyundai hatchback, developed an expensive brake problem. It’s a Suzuki Liana, well known for being a Reasonably Priced Car.

Once we found the hostel, the next step was to find a parking spot. I’m from Victoria, where parking is mostly never a problem. Usually I travel on foot or by motorbike, and then it’s even less of a problem. The idea of planning a parking spot in Berlin didn’t occur to me. I asked inside the hostel for suggestions, but the manager started with, “Yeah, parking in Berlin. It’s bad. Here, let me show you the map…”

Bo’s good attitude did not crack during the 15 minute walk, carrying duffel bags, back to the hostel. I took his cue and kept smiling.

At the hostel, I found that my planning had let me down a second time. The room I thought I had booked for two people, was actually a single room.

“Yeah, one room, but two people can fit in it, right?”

“It’s a single bed.”

“Yeah, but…”

“There’s nothing I can do.”

“But I booked it on the website, I swear I entered ‘2 people’ in the form?”

“It says here that there was only one.”

“Look… can I talk to the manager? I’m sure this isn’t right.”

“He’s in Portugal.”

Odin stepped in. “Let’s go outside for a minute.”

We went outside and sat on a low concrete wall, a few feet away from the manager (you know, the one who’s in Portugal. The one who helped me with the parking. That one.), who’s on his smoke break.

“I don’t understand it,” I said, loudly enough for him to overhear. “I swear I entered two people on the form. I’m so sorry, I don’t know how I screwed it up.”

“It’s okay,” Odin said. “You have a hotel room for the night. And I have my towel.”

I glanced at him.

“It’s hot. There are parks.”

We burst out laughing, and I said “No, I don’t want to stay here with these obnoxious Germans and without you. I’ll get whatever money I can get back from him, and Visa will give me back the rest.”

We sat in silence for a few more minutes, while I tried to come up with a solution for this hard math problem. Odin went back inside, and talked to the desk guy again.

Eventually he came out and fished his credit card and passport out of his wallet.

“The guy sitting there overheard us, and he told his man Benji to figure something out. Someone else booked a double room, but he’s only one person and he hasn’t checked in yet. So we pay a little more, he gets his money back, everything is fine.”

I laughed some more.

“See what you can get with a little smile?” Odin lectured me. “The guy said, since we weren’t losing our cool or yelling or anything, he wanted to help us. If we got mad, he would have done nothing.”

“Yeah, sure,” I grinned. “Let’s go up.”

A couple raindrops fell that evening as we set out to find the stadium, but I was still uncomfortably warm in my sweater. “Thinking about if I should bring this,” said Bo, indicating an extra hoodie. “I think it’ll be okay,” I said. “I don’t think we’ll need it, these things are always hot, and I wouldn’t want to carry it.”

He left it at the hostel. I had a raincoat too, but I left in the car, 2km away. It really was hot when we got to Berlin.

When we came out at the Olympic stadium though, with about 4000 other people (in that car alone), I started questioning my choice. Everyone else had raincoats on, and many had ponchos as well. A few more raindrops fell.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As we followed the crowd down a broad footpath lined with sausage stands and beer gardens, the clouds got darker and more rain fell, and I remembered the part where “stadium” means “outdoor venue”. Odin was still looking cheerful though. “Want a drink, before we go in?” I suggested. “Do you have any cash?” “No.” “Alright”, We got beers, and I questioned that choice as well. Lunch was at noon, we never got dinner, it’s 6:30 now and the band won’t even be onstage til 9… should have gotten the sausages. And I think I just spent the last of Bo’s cash.

As we lined up at the gate, a guard pointed at a different impossibly long line stretching across the plaza. “Bag check over there”, he shouted. “Okay,” I shouted back.

Odin scouted the front of the line while I waited. A pedicab pulled up near the line, and a cheerful gentlemen got out with half a bottle of rosé and started taking selfies. When Odin came back, he said, “This is the right line, and they charge 2 euro per bag. What are you going to do?”

I checked my pockets – I had 40 cents.

“Well, I guess I could rob someone… or I could use whatever you have in your hand there.”

“Last one!” he grinned and passed me a euro toonie.

(#)

We fought our way through 70,000 stoked people to our seats in section 34, and I learned, to my deep and profound relief, that we were under cover. The rain wasn’t stopping.

In the row ahead of us, a woman couldn’t contain herself. As Noel Gallagher and the High Flying Birds chugged resentfully through Wonderwall, she was rocking out. She lost herself to dance. Her whole body had a song in it and that song needed the two seats adacent to her as well. Her boyfriend grooved a little more sedately and protected their beers.

Noel Gallagher's band playing Wonderwall

Noel’s band were huddled under tents, and though they were soggy, they got through Champagne Supernova and Don’t Look Back In Anger, as well as a couple of their new songs, before packing it in. Once they left, crewmembers came out and swept an alarming amount of water off the stage, and seemed to have a disagreement about whether the tents were coming down or not. In the end they came down.

Edge showed his face on the catwalk a couple times, to riotous cheers, but he was just chatting with a security guard. We did a couple rounds of The Wave, and people kept on flooding down the stairs and packing tighter on the floor.

Finally around 9:30, Larry Mullen Jr, the drummer, came down the ramp and started up the drums. “Sunday Bloody Sunday” was the opening song, and with the first note the whole stadium came to their feet as one.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The next couple hours were blurry for me. As the light faded, Bono ordered phones up, and everyone turned on their phone flashes and held them up. The stadium bowl turned into a galaxy. There’s a 40-foot high video screen, but the band weren’t on it for the first 4 songs or so. The people on the floor had the cheapest tickets, but to get a chance to buy those tickets, you have to be a paying member of the fan club for over six months. They take great pains to prevent floor tickets from going to scalpers, and the people who get into the front rows have to line up for hours before the gates even open.

They’re the true believers. U2 played Sunday, New Year’s Day, Bad, and Pride (in the name of love) just for them, on a catwalk extending out onto the floor. There was a Singin’ In The Rain singalong before they returned to the stage.

Next they started into the Joshua Tree, Streets playing while the video screens took us on a high speed trip through the desert. The show was a little light on politics, for a U2 show. The focus was on refugees and human rights, and Bono seemed to understand as few other people do, that railing about a narcissistic orange oompa loompa isn’t a good use of time.

They rolled out a massive flag with Malala Yousafzai’s face. She’s 20 and she won the Nobel Peace prize for her work in advocating for education for women and girls in developing countries. It was her birthday. The flag made a lap around the stadium, passed from hand to hand.

I thought the best song that night was Red Hill Mining town, a version totally reworked from the album version, with a Salvation Army brass band joining in on the video screen.

They took a break after the Joshua Tree, ripping wet clothes off as they left the stage, and came back for a solid 6 more songs encore. A girl came up on stage to dance in Mysterious Ways, standard practice. Bono grabbed the video camera that they keep specially for him, and took selfies with everyone. Whoever thinks that selfies are an annoying new trend started by 14 year olds is straight wrong. Bono has been doing it since film was invented.

A fortuitous sign in the parking lot outside the stadium

During Ultraviolet, they did a cool thing showing a video from the HERstory project, founded by Alice Wroe, whose goal is to tell the stories of women who have made history. Someone is keeping a list of the people who were featured – http://www.u2songs.com/news/the_luminous_icons_of_ultra_violet_leg_two

For an egomaniac, Bono sure didn’t spend a lot of time on the video screen.

My first U2 album was Rattle and Hum when I was 10 or so, and I think I stole my brother’s copy. Next was All That You Can’t Leave Behind, followed by Achtung Baby and every other album after that. I’ve been memorizing lyrics and following their story since then, and it’s been my dream to see U2 in person. It took moving to Europe to finally succeed in getting tickets – they always sell out in seconds when they play Vancouver. Safe to say I was just as stoked as the guy in the seat right next to mine, who looked over his shoulder to flash a huge grin and a thumbs up every time a new song started, and having Odin the Norse god behind me with a solid good attitude made the show the best it could possibly have been. I recommend bringing your own viking if you ever have the chance.

Here’s a decent cam version of the show for anyone who wants to share it, for however long it stays up.

Here’s a (partial, I did my best) list of poems scrolling on the screen before the show started.

Learning to Love America
BY SHIRLEY GEOK-LIN LIM

Preface to Leaves of Grass
Walt Whitman

Praise Song for the Day
Elizabeth Alexander

The Powwow at the End of the World
BY SHERMAN ALEXIE

Puerto Rican Obituary
BY PEDRO PIETRI

Carl Sandburg
Prairie

Kindness
Naomi Shihab Nye

I Hear America Singing
BY WALT WHITMAN

Ghazal for White Hen Pantry
BY JAMILA WOODS

Wingfoot Lake
BY RITA DOVE

Viking Biking

At five I knocked off work, ate some leftovers, and packed my bike on the car. I dressed up in the closest approximation of “serious cyclist” I could come up with – running tights, rain shirt, and hiking shoes – and secretly prayed that I would be late, no one else would show up, and I’d be spared the social pressure of introducing myself to a bunch of new Vikings. I came to Denmark one month ago and know hardly anyone yet. I’ve got to make some friends, but it’s still scary.

I was ten minutes early and the Vikings were very nice. The meetup spot is called Kirketorvet, and it’s a church on the east side of Kong Christian bridge in Sønderborg, Denmark. If you’re from Victoria, picture yourself standing at the lights on Pandora St facing the Johnson St bridge. To the right of the bridge there’s a building called the Janion – it occupies the same spot, both geographically (in the middle of town) and spiritually (overlooking the water), as Kirketorvet in Sønderborg.

The church steeple is Kirketorvet

I introduced myself to a couple of people, and failed like I always do to understand their names. There was a good mix of ages and at least a few women, and everyone was riding the same kind of bike as mine – hardtail mountain bikes with fat knobby tires. They all had more spandex, more plastic in their shoes, and more carbon on their bikes than I did, but I felt like I was close enough to pass. One lady let me know that though she was the slowest rider here, she was in charge of this horse race.

“Perfect,” I said. “I’ll be right behind you.”

First we did laps around a block adjacent to the church. We sprinted up a narrow lane, down a steep descent to the water, hooked hard left at the bottom, and scrambled up a stretch of twisty cobbles, then the same again three more times.

After that we rode along the water to the castle (Sønderborg Slot, complete with cannonball holes in it’s rocky flanks), which, if we’re still superimposing this town on Victoria, is more or less where Bastion Square is.

Sønderborg Slot

There’s a little woods near the castle. The others did four laps through the woods, dodging around some joggers, down a flight of stairs, and back along the paved path. I did three, with the self-proclaimed slowest of the pack trailing me encouragingly.

We continued along the water to the back lawn of Business College Syd, where they’ve got disc golf, a high ropes course, and a little piece of single track that we lapped four times. “I don’t like it,” said the leader, as we paused at 3.5. “The track is okay but the sprint across the lawn is annoying.”

“Ah,” I said. “Could I borrow some water?” I got to keep the water bottle.

We turned into the wind and continued up the coast. Sønder Skovy (Southern Forest) is criss-crossed with single and double track with hardly any underbrush. The ground is hard clay with not much roots or gravel. Except for the total lack of hills, I’d say it’s the perfect cross-country forest. Actually, if there were any hills it probably would have killed me, so no worries.

“I’ll stay with you for the first lap,” said my new friend, whose name I still haven’t learned. “So you can see the way. But take your own pace. We do two or three laps then stop for a break.” I nodded. “You’re okay?”

“I’m okay,” I said, “I just can’t go any faster! I’ll do two laps if the others do three, no problem.”

We ripped up a short distance of double track, a flat single track through the woods, then turned left along a cliff facing the ocean. We scooted up a ladder of roots in hard white clay, down the other side, and another single track through the woods to the starting point. The woods were crowded and we dodged around some more joggers – luckily they all wear highlighter jackets so you can see them coming. The wind was fierce and stirred up the ocean so it looked like there were almost enough waves to surf on, but it didn’t get through the trees.

Just a little bit choppy

After those laps we bumped through the woods on another little singletrack that was unmarked and invisible until we were on it, to another flat loop closer to the road. This one had a shallow but sharp ditch across the path, and a plank bridge. The others flew across them without pausing, but they still scared me a little. There was definitely a time when I was not as scared of tiny obstacles like this. I’m not sure what happened.  Maybe some practice will get me past it.

As we turned back to town, I noticed that our group was smaller. I guess some people ride home and that’s where they split off, but I drove to the meeting spot so I had to go back. On the way back, though, the wind was with us and the return trip took half as long as the ride out. I talked to the other lady in the group. I don’t know her name either, but she’s a children’s nurse and said that I ought to come to beginners technical practice on Saturday morning. Since she’s the third person so far who has said I ought to do that, I guess I will.

I wore a helmet and everything

I’ve been riding my bike nearly every day since I was a teenager, but I never pushed myself like that. But it’s awesome. I think I had better keep doing it.