Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Breck Epic, Part III

It's 3:00AM.

We begin stage three in a little over five hours. I'm tossing and turning in bed; occasionally falling short of breath with a resting heart rate now double the norm. Fifteen month-old Amelia woke everyone around midnight, and I've been restless since. She was up long enough to shake the figurative cage, and now she's back to sawing logs.

Ryanne's parents are in the next room over. They've been a great help; caring for the little one through the Colorado nights. As if we absolutely need the support- Ryanne's in a class with no other riders, and I'm drinking beer at every aid station.

I think about the upcoming day. I wrote in Part I that my recollections of Breck 2012 were mixed up and jumbled together, more or less. One of the most vivid memories I retained, though, was the descent coming off the other side of French Pass, over the Continental Divide and away from Mount Guyot.

Over the course of the entire week, it's not the best downhill the Breck Epic has to offer. But for a few reasons, it was my favorite. It notched a little space in my heart and found a home there for five years. Yes, it was the first time I felt a good connection with my month-old Naked frame. And even more-so, it's where I gained a new level of confidence in descending that I hadn't been able to reach before.

But there was more to it. And I'm afraid that after living it a second time, the magic will be gone.

Even though I can't adequately describe the feeling.

I lift the beanie covering the green glow of the clock. 3:04AM.


"What's your favorite song?"

It's early in the morning. I'm at work.

I stop suddenly in a corridor. A young kid who works in the warehouse is standing in front of me. We're still under night lights; every other fluorescent cool since last evening. I'm normally the only person in the building at this time, so I'm a bit startled to see someone else.

"Well? What do you think?" He sounds congested.

His look reflects mine, though his mouth hangs open a little. And through the tiny vacancy, the smell of Butterfinger and blueberry vape smoke slowly escape. The aroma attacks me. And like dozens of plastic Green Army Men melted to a mailbox, it begins to overwhelm me. He starts to tap his finger against a can of Red Bull that hangs at his side. It looks big; a 20 ouncer that can't be more than half-full based on the tinny ticking that's now penetrating my ear.

I seem to be in one of those hazy chrome dream states where you don't know if you're actually dreaming or just recollecting a real-life moment.

I resume my blank stare. I can't seem to answer him, so I must be dreaming.

Although the Butterfinger really does smell like Butterfinger. I'm confused.

We play music in our house on an almost constant basis; near any style. I have fond memories of going to Hills with my brother and buying blank VHS tapes by the ten-pack to record Alternative Nation most nights. I loved Kennedy and her grungy angsty attitude in both real life and dreams. No confusion there.

From anger to love, music's an accelerant. It can make a good moment great and regrettably, do just the opposite; even more-so when it comes in the form of a coincidental accessory. You know, your sensibility at the moment you tune the radio to something that perfectly fits your current circumstances.

I shouldn't say a person can't have a favorite song. For a person sitting next to their sedentary friend on a hospital bed as they take their last gaze and Let It Be emanates through a staticky mono speaker?

I can't relate.

As it may be, we all have songs that crash a chord in life's specific moments; the ones that elicit the emotions deep-seated in our guts. It can be Lee Ranaldo ripping a ten minute mind bender on his Jazzmaster or randomly popping on Tears for Fears; 'tis no matter who you are or what you like. They don't have to be good songs.

You can listen to them over and over and over again, and they'll do nothing for you.

But when they materialize at the perfect moment to meet the matters in our lives?

That feel-good feeling you get?

That's how I felt when I last saw Mount Guyot.

Mount Guyot - 41 Miles / 8,100'
I'm knee-deep in the lifestyle single speed class. My father in-law picked up a twelve pack of PBRs for me. And the timing couldn't be any better. We have three aid stations today. So, three beers. I pack a vest in two of my bags. We're going up to 11,900 this morning, so I'll be sure to grab the windbreaker at aid one and haul it to the top in case of a quick change in weather.

Dicky and I line up at the start. Kenny from Canton shows signs of wanting to join the party.

We enter the loose double track climb. The grade isn't super aggressive, but it has its moments. The ground is hard. And it's littered with billions of bits of gravel or stones or tailings or whatever you want to call them.

Pebbles, I guess.

You remember the scene at the end of The Last Crusade when Indy walks across that invisible platform then throws all the sand and shit on it to remind him where it was all along? It's kind of like riding on that thing only going uphill.

Yeah, that's actually pretty accurate.

It's a prolonged climb. We funnel into some single track and continue our ascent. The three of us regroup at the top. We continue along a ridge and arrive at the top of Little French.

It's a really fast and loose downhill. We hiked up it at the end of the first day. You have to be pretty tight on the line, or you'll end up in some shaley sections that can really suck time.

I did get loose on a section, but I felt like I hit it pretty hard. For anyone into Strava, I ended up with a 3:52 on the segment. Jeremiah Bishop got the top spot at 2:51. Someone would later say at one of the rider meetings that the pros are fast not just because they climb well. I guess I'm just saying that again.

I pull into the aid station. The volunteer already has my beer out. He pulls the tab and presents my reward. I offer him first swig, though he declines. He states that he would love to indulge but needs to stay on top of his game. I appreciate this, as I know he'll be retrieving beers for me at future aid stations.

Dicky arrives and skids some gravel into the woods. Dust wafts into the trees. He remarks the oddity of seeing zero riders with flats along the side of Little French. The gray dust cloud still slightly visible as it creeps away, and his Coors is already half gone.

Kenny arrives and pounds the last few ounces of my PBR. He smashes the can with all his might, while at that moment realizing he just swallowed a bunch of Larabar backwash. Or maybe he's just learning of this now.

From the aid station, we deploy as warriors wearing Lycra. There is slight trepidation.

Before us lies French Pass. The traverse is nearly 1,400' of ascending over four miles. While not the steepest of grades, it carries its own set of challenges. And at this moment, it's time to become reacquainted with those demands. We don't hesitate. We begin our assault.

The mount is footed with a rocky roadbed. It winds between trees; the overgrowth masking the upper-body of the beast. Concentration is needed. Some lines are smooth, though most everything else is not. A momentary mind lapse is paid for with valuable energy needed to navigate the rocky terrain on the backside.

Dicky charges ahead and pushes the pace out front. He's soon off and hiking several hundred yards ahead. Kenny valiantly follows, though falls back with me in due time. This was preferred. He's good company.

The surrounding crop of trees dissolves behind us, and we're left facing the long pass ahead. The narrow path is dynamic. It's a deceiver, a charlatan and a phony. It's a three-mile-long chameleon. It's never fully rough, though it's never fully groomed. Off path, it's semi-tall grass strewn with chunky rock.

It never flattens out and though not a significant pitch overall, there is one steep section. Other than that, the grade changes, and it changes frequently; pretty-well comparable to Alicia Silverstone's style changes in Clueless. And it does so through and through. All the way to the end when French Pass makes a conscious effort to not be such a scatterbrain and starts sleeping with Paul Rudd.

In 2012, most riders hiked this section. Specifically, the riders who were alongside me. However, there are a couple differences this year. The first being that we had a staggered start. Pros/Cat 1/Single Speed categories all went off twenty minutes before the Cat 2/3 riders. Second difference? The SRAM Eagle groupset.

Many riders who I did not expect to see riding sections were riding sections that I did not expect to see ridden.

You know, the Eagle thing. Or maybe another thing I can blame on the single speed thing.

Kenny and I make it to the top. Dicky's descending in the distance. For the last hour, every time I looked at him his small body became smaller.

You'd be remiss to not appreciate the landscape. I take a moment to look around. Mountain sides to the left and right; more hiking for those who hadn't enough. Behind me, the valley from where we came. And emerging from it, a snake of riders; each of whom is waging their own campaign along the fickle path. The air is thinner, though few are taking breaths at this moment.

It truly is wonderful.

And last among the beauty- the person dressed and dancing in the GU rabbit/creature/whatever costume. Their effort and enthusiasm, impeccable. I can only imagine what they could sell if given a good sign and a well-trafficked intersection.

I breathe whatever oxygen my lungs can locate. Dicky slinks over the horizon. I step over the top tube; a position I hadn't felt in three miles. I turn to Kenny and remind him to revel in the midday victory. I wish him luck. I turn to the GU creature and flash it a peace sign. It reciprocates.

I'm outta here.

The beginning of the descent is a slim and precarious path which winds away in the distance. It's trench-like and shallow; as though it was mindlessly scraped into the grassy mountainside in such a way a kid carves a finger in the sand.

It's mostly gritty dirt and occasionally some loose rock, obstacles which create their own modulation; a vibrato of sorts. You remember all that stuff I wrote about a good song fitting a great moment?

Though there are better downhills, I really do love this one.

And yeah, the magic was still there.

It was during the end of the descent I noticed my rear brake was fading out. I realized the section was long, but I definitely wasn't using it so much to cause it to heat up enough to fail. I figured something was going wrong at that point, but after pumping it several times it started to build up pressure again.

I wasn't doing much of any bike maintenance. I'd end up going the entire week without tightening my chain or attaching a pump to my tires. Because, lifestyle class. I wouldn't bother to look into my brake issue until a couple stages later when I found a puddle of hydraulic fluid on the garage floor.

Out of the second aid station, we have another 1,000' climb ahead of us. Like the long hiker yesterday, I spent a lot of energy today trying to keep pace with Dicky on foot. I felt drained, though not terribly awful; pretty much just overcome with a shite aura.

Kenny's surging. He's pushing pretty hard, and from my vantage point it looks like he's keeping up with Dicky.

We begin descending a portion of the Colorado Trail that is very reminiscent of the East Coast. Much larger rocks than the norm litter the trail on its second half. They're a little slimey in spots from the overnight rain, but most sections of the segment aren't too much trouble. It helps that the grade is about 3-5% downhill the whole way through.

I ride through the stream into the third aid station, choosing not to ride the dilapidated railroad tie that was once part of a much larger bridge.

Dicky's sitting in the grass with his bacon and Coors. I start on my PBR and join him. We watch one of the riders from Spain try to ride the railroad tie. He goes down.

No sign of Kenny yet. I put some time on him on the descent. It was a warning of sorts to pull back on the last couple climbs of the day; like a gorilla that punches another gorilla in the jungle. He really is pushing it hard, and Dicky doesn't need the encouragement to go any harder himself. I don't mind riding alone, but I don't want anyone waiting on me either. And I don't want to feel wasted tomorrow.

Kenny arrives.

More chunky roadbed climbing. More washed out steeps.

Dicky's barely within eyesight on the last section. I don't see Kenny. There's no way he got in front of Dicky. Oh well. Who cares. He's not behind me.

We'd cross the finish line together, though I know Dicky was waiting at the end for a few minutes. He rode really well. And I was surprised by Kenny. In my mind, it was Dicky's strongest performance of the first three stages. And as it would be, likely the best stage of the series for him; aside from the celebratory day on Gold Dust.

I would come away from the day feeling satisfied. Though I felt tuckered on the last couple of roadbed climbs, I never felt wasted out of my skull. The next day would bring Aqueduct, the stage I probably struggled with most in 2012. But, I knew I was climbing much better this time around. There is a shorter hiker in Vomit Hill, though I felt confident to be able to dispose of the seven mile monster chunk climb out of aid station two that zapped me five years ago.

I grab a Coke and some chips then sit on a giant pile of river rock to wait for Ryanne to come in.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Breck Epic, Part II

If you missed it, Part I

The second stage of the Breck Epic is the Colorado Trail. In 2012, we had what Mike McCormack described as an anomaly.

From my limited experience, Breckenridge typically gets a tiny morsel of rain some time in the afternoon hours. And that's it. To experience a downpour like we see once a week in Pennsylvania? Well, that would be an anomaly.

Five years ago, we lined up at the start amidst a light sprinkle. It looked like the weather pattern was going to pass within a half hour, but it decided to stay put for about seven hours. Half of the field would go on to finish the day. The other half was pulled off course. Most suffered some degree of hypothermia. I came through the finish line and was immediately wrapped in a horse blanket. What came next? Hot tub.

The Colorado Trail - 43 Miles / 7,200'
I walk out to the garage. My Naked's leaning up against the well. No creaks in the bottom bracket yesterday, but a random dinging was noticed. I put a little grease on the seat rails knowing that won't do the trick, but I feel good about it any way. I give it the paper towel treatment to wipe off some dust from Pennsylvania Creek. The tires get a couple terse grabs, and I decide not to mess with them.

My chain? Feels extra slack. Just the way I like it.

I yank the purple bandana off the top tube that I rode with on stage one. It gets wrapped in a ziplock. I had written five names on five bandanas the day I got out to Breckenridge. My only criteria was it had to be a friend who wasn't out in Breck. My bandana for the Wheeler stage was left blank until the morning we left. I figured the Gods on Wheeler would tell me a name after I pushed my bike to 12,700'.

I slept well last night, and I'm yearning for the stage to begin. As long as it doesn't rain, I'll be better off than I was five years ago. There's a monster climb to the top of the Colorado Trail, but the payoff is just that- the Colorado Trail. It's a seven mile descent on pure and pristine singletrack. I'm beyond excited.

Ry, Ian and I ride down to the start. We confer with friends from Pittsburgh.

I find a spot in line and move a little further up in place. Dicky and I hadn't quite committed to riding the whole week together at this point, so I'm still not sure what he's expecting of me. It's like elementary school dating. Yeah, we're together, but when the couple skate comes around, I'm not sure if I'm supposed to go out with him or continue putting quarters in Galaga.

I think he wants to ride with me. But...I don't know. I still haven't seen him. I twiddle my thumbs a bit. I look at the ground a little, then give a few sheepish looks around. I see him off to the side talking to someone else. "Who is that?" I think. He catches my glance and gives me a modest look.

He walks over and stands next to me. He quietly says something about having tried to fix the groan in his bike. From his tone, I don't think he was successful.

We're off. We start the climb out of Breckenridge on the road. It's a short piece of pavement. The pros are already out of sight. Just gone. Stupid, stupid pace. All but a few of the single speeders are spinning on the flats. Dicky makes an analogy between bread once costing a quarter and remembering when he still used to be able to see the police car a few minutes after the start of the race.

Spin, spin, spin.

We turn left onto the dirt. It's semi-loose double track and 700' over 0.8 miles. Between breaths, what would become a week-long pattern started to emerge. When the ascents were under 8% or so, I didn't have too much trouble keeping up with Dicky. And even on the quick, steep punchy stuff I felt OK. But the prolonged steeper climbs...he just went faster. I'm 148 pounds, and I'd venture his "heavy" weight is ten pounds off that. That, and he's just a better rider going uphill.

But single speeds can move pretty quick on climbs, especially when the rider remains seated as often as they can, and notably on the loose grit. But on the line where I'd shift from sitting to standing, I'd find myself getting up with trepidation, while he'd remain down. Therein lies the difference.

We hit Heinous Hill. We're off and pushing. It's steep. It's long. And it's a washed out, bombed out, kick you in the face until you want to pass out kinda climb. Dicky's setting the pace out front. He's a fast hiker. You know, all that cross country running stuff helps. I look at the ground. But soon the sound of metallic clinks and clanks raises my head up and to the right. A mere mortal spins up beside me. He's huffing. Another clink and clank, and he's shifted into his Eagle. Though despite my body's short legs, he's no longer keeping up with our walking pace. It's too steep, and he inevitably spins himself to the ground.

We crest the top and rail the descent. I see the blue aid station tent ahead, though I still haven't committed to the lifestyle class at this point. You know, the whole couple skate / Galaga thing.

But Dicky still opens a cold can of Coors, and I help him with some of it. I munch on a few banana halves and make chit-chat with some of the volunteers.

First aid station-

The climb up to the Colorado Trail is next. It's 1,100' over two miles. A 10% average. We maintain a good pace on the beginning singletrack section. It switches back. Up, up, up. Another switchback. Up and up. The grade feels good and my tires are connecting. My legs still have some spring left, and I don't regret my gearing choice.

But even in Colorado, shit rolls uphill. The grade picks up a few points.

I groan.

We switchback again.

Dicky groans.

Then we navigate a rooty section.

Dicky's bike groans.

We're about halfway up. I'm feeling the effort put into the first climb and the subsequent hike up Heinous. Dicky's not talking to me, and I'm not talking to him. Even his bike knows this isn't a good time to say anything.

We're like a family who fought over which Christmas tree to get. And now that we've got it, we're staring at the road ahead with arms crossed, driving a van with three missing hubcaps and rusted out fenders; the Douglas Fir that neither of us wanted lies innocently in the back as its needles fall out by the hundreds every minute. I can't wait to see all the sap that gets stuck in the living room's shag carpet that he just had to have. Maybe I'll be allergic to it, too. Another 300' to go. Merry Christmas, we're in the thick of the Breck Epic.

So, it wasn't exactly like that. But as the grade picked up, my pace fell off Dicky's. There may have been a couple sections he rode that I hiked, but when we both hiked, he was more expeditious.

I can now say there were two moments in the entire week where I really felt it. Not bonking or slammed against the wall, just really gassed out. I was hiking too quick and recovery wasn't coming as fast as I needed it to. If I could have gotten on my bike to pedal it out, I would have been better, but it just wasn't happening at that point. You know, too steep and too rutted out. Anyway, this was the first of those two moments.

We make it to the top of the Colorado Trail. I'm pretty sure Dicky let me go down first. But, I don't remember. Either way, the descent is one of the many reasons to go out there and ride. We just don't have trails like it in Pennsylvania. It is so well-built and over seven miles in length. You swoop and sway and switchback for more. It really does go on and on and on and on.

I reach the bottom, and all I can think about is my satisfaction in being able to ride that downhill during the day's perfect weather conditions. As last time was not so warm and dry, it nearly made my week right then and there.

The second aid station is in sight. Another can of Coors is cracked. I push the two remaining climbs that lie between us and the finish out of my brain. Though they need conquered, at this moment in time they are not of importance. I start to ponder the remaining four stages. And I contemplate my future with Dicky. Stopping for a beer at every aid station isn't going to significantly impact my times. And what do I care any way? I'm riding well and having a blast. As it may be, Dicky is pushing the pace when we're riding. I'm faster with him.

I can't decide.

Galaga. Or couple skate?

I look up at the cloudless sky, and my mind starts to wander.

A hazy blur turns clear. My fantasy has brought me to Skate Castle in Butler. The glass screen in front of me carries a glaze of pizza grease and cigarette tar. Behind it, the flickering flashes of exploding aliens. It's Galaga! My hand bats the buttons below as the joystick recoils in perfect synchronicity. My ears are intruded by the din of hot dog machines and crane game failures. My eyes reflect the glints and glimmers of the glowing lights around me. A row of quarters are on the rail of the arcade cabinet, designating who from the fourth grade crowd will be next to take control. They surround me. And we're all drawn to the eruptions on screen.

The taste of Coors hits my lips, and a ray from the real world invades my daydream. And in a spark of comprehensible clarity, I am enlightened. I turn myself from the screen as my uncontrolled ship is blasted to smithereens. I grab my half eaten popcorn ball from the console and push through the crowd as the kid next in line witnesses a pixelated Game Over scrawled across the monitor. I snatch a root beer from a boy in a Billy Idol t-shirt and take a sip before throwing it in the garbage. I test my toe stops, then head toward the rink as Steve Perry belts out Open Arms over the sound system.

"Are you ready to get the fuck out of here?"

I'm rocked back to reality. Dicky steps on the Coors can and shoves it in his back pocket. He belches loudly.

Then continues, "We got two more climbs, then it's time for more beer and no bike maintenance."

I look toward the trail ahead. There's nowhere else to go, and I have nothing to lose. I guess I'm with him for the rest of the week. I slip my gloves back on and notice the shimmer of popcorn oil catching the gleam of the Colorado sun. It's a sign of good times ahead.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Breck Epic, Part I

Burro Trail. Minnie Mine Trail. French Gulch.

Pennsylvania Gulch.

Maybe another French-something?

Oh yeah. Little French.

And Aqueduct. Ugh...

It's been five years since my last Breck Epic. And that's five years of trail names swirling in my brain. I've knowingly rehashed many stories about my first experience at one of the most difficult mountain bike stage races. I even wrote a blog about it.

But over the years, those stories would get mixed up and mashed down to a pulpy mess of internal confusion. I'd think...was Heinous Hill on Aqueduct, or am I remembering Vomit Hill? Was the big and gnarly descent on Guyot?


They all have big and gnarly descents.

Either way, I needed a refresher.

Never done Breck? It's really well-run. There are staff members and volunteers everywhere. They've been there and done that. They do awards every evening and dish out race leader jerseys for each stage. They also conduct a thorough review of the following morning's stage. They take a lot of pride in their backcountry. They don't abuse the trails when they're soaked, nor are they easy on racers when there's litter left on the ground. Simply put, they really have their shit together.

As for the tangibles, you get the normal swag of a t-shirt and socks, but also a Castelli race jersey. The Panache I got in 2012 is still one of my favs. I wore it every stage this year. Also, there's an awards banquet at the end. And if you finish? The belt buckle, duh. That's what we're all here for.

Also, Breck's trails are pretty great. They're fast and flowy. They're fun. And, when you throw in some good-old Colorado climbing, they're challenging. You really need to put in a lot of time riding before you get out there.

The price? Early registration is $700. Over six days and all that's included, it's worth it. How about a clichéd example? You can't buy the feeling you get when you're finished.

I don't have my 2012 Strava numbers available to see how much I had ridden before my first Breck Epic. I know that I had front-loaded that year. I spent a lot of the earlier months commuting to work, but by the time June and July came around, my training faded. This was no good.

I hadn't ridden much in 2016, so I had some catching up to do. I spent a lot of time on the trainer the first few months of this year but also forced myself to be outside despite the temperature. I rode for fun. And when I was tired, I rested. I wanted to still love it in June and July.

My goal was 35,000' of climbing per month. I tracked my mileage to try and keep the ratio at 100' per mile. The hours would work out on their own. I did most of my after-work road riding on my El Mariachi with knobbies. My commuting was all on my Fargo with a pannier holding a towel, shoes, pants, shirt, socks and underpants. Loaded down, this weighs 38 pounds. I could have left many of these items at work, but I learned when prepping for Maine that riding with extra weight can quickly improve your strength and fitness. It was something I definitely needed. So, although difficult, I forced myself to carry this stuff.

I kept a lot of my early-year rides private on Strava. I knew I was riding my slowest times in eight years. I only focused on the miles and elevation that I was putting in. I didn't want to look at individual segments, so I blocked it all out. I tried not to look at others who were riding on the evenings when I was either too tired or working late. Mentally, I tried to shove it to the side and do my own thing.

While I had a lot of commuting miles, I had also committed myself to some really long rides. We ventured to Pisgah in March. I did the 2x12 at Big Bear with Scott. In July, I ramped it up a bit. We did a 55 mile day at Laurel Mountain with Don Hosaflook, Scott Root and some other guys. All but a few of these miles were in the woods on rocky singletrack. The following weekend, we made another trip to Laurel for another 5,000' day. I also got the KOM on the Super Hol-E-Fuck Downhill on Ian's bike. He came in one second behind me on my Naked. I really felt like I was starting to rise up. I felt good going uphill, and my descending skills seemed to have come back. My confidence for Breck grew.

At the end of July, I had 259,500' of climbing, which came out to about 37,000' per month. By forcing myself to reach these numbers, it prevented me from falling off in June and July as I had in 2012. I only focused on a couple of metrics, but it really seemed to help this time around.


Pennsylvania Gulch - 35 Miles / 6,000'
We line up at the ice arena start. I look around. There's a rider leaned back and stretching out on his bars. He's jovial; clearly a veteran. Some of the others? Not so much. I'm surrounded by cold, dead eyes; their owners attempting to visualize the struggle which lies ahead. I see one guy who looks pretty nervous. I want to explain that he's blind to the inevitable suffering. But, like a ship being swallowed by the ocean, we're all in this together. And though I've been in the water once before, it's only moments before I decide whether I'm staying in the wheelhouse or pulling a double gainer off the bow.

Mike McCormack gets on the mic. He says a few things about integrity and having fun. Then he reminds us not to throw our shit on the ground. I check my pockets. I got a Tulbag and a pack of shot blocks in case I end up where I expect I'll end up. Other than that, we have two aid stations on the first day.

We start the neutral roll-out onto the road. We have about 650' of climbing on pavement in the first two miles. It's the only significant chunk of paved road we'll hit the entire week, but it's pretty necessary to break the group apart.

We hit the hairpin turn about halfway up, and the pace picks up. I probably started a little further back in line than I should have. I know the first piece of singletrack gets pretty tight, pretty fast, so I step on it. I get past quite a few riders and hit the next switchback in the road. I look to my right and see the nervous guy far below. He's wearing some heavy layers which are now all unzipped. His head is red, and he's spinning his brains out. He's already blown up. He's done. The water's rising, and he can't get out. I think of Quint kicking at Jaws before he slides down the deck of the boat. I can't look any longer.

I hit the singletrack. It's rolly. Flowy. Downhill. I distinctly remember this lush green section being punctuated with blacked-out, oxygen-deprived brain cells. This time, it's beautiful. I'm breathing better and recovering quicker. We hit some steeps, and the train backs up a bit. I pass where I can, but it's still tight.

I find a group that's moving at a quicker pace. We stick together and continue our swirl to the bottom. We have to be close. I look at my Garmin. We're at about 9,800' elevation. As soon as I look up, I see the beginning of the Coronet Drive climb just ahead. At 1,200' over 2.5 miles, it's the first of two pretty difficult ascents in the stage.

The gearing on my bike felt pretty great. I had used a 32x21 five years ago but had moved to a 34x22 this year, which is only a smidgen harder. I normally run a 34x20 in Pennsylvania, so I think gearing down two in the back is pretty much the ticket for Breck.

Breck Epic provides three swag bags to be used as drop bags at the aid stations. Some stages have two aid stations, while others have three. The volunteers will carry whatever you want to the aid stations, as long as it fits in the bag. I have yet to test the limits of this claim.

Either way, all you need to do is drop your bags off in the morning. It's pretty swell. I wrapped the handles of my bags in green tape to help identify them when I picked them up in the evenings. It also helps keeps others from accidentally taking your bag. In each swag bag, I kept a basic repair kit. These were gallon ziplocks filled with a spare tube, two CO2s and a quick link. I also kept a vest in each bag. And after the second stage, I kept a PBR w/koozie in each one. More on that later.

I come into the first aid station. No need for the aid bag. I swallow two banana halves and start chomping on a third as I climb a rocky steep that levels out into some singletrack. Most of the section between aid one and two is singletrack punctuated with quick-ups and chunky litter. It reminds me a little of Blunder Trail and Goat at Kennerdell.

Oh, and there's also some really great downhills. Most of these have good lines, but the rocks are packed tight enough that if you go for a pass off the line, you're still pretty safe.

It's at the second aid station that my week changes. Dicky's standing off to the side eating bacon and "yelling" at random riders. He hands me his can of Coors, and I figure he's been there for about five ounces, which really tells me, or you, nothing.

We roomed together at Breck last time I was out, and we had gotten together for some riding at Pisgah and Single Speed USA in more-recent years. Like most people, I usually read his blog while going to the bathroom in the morning.

A few single speeders had joked about lifestyling the Breck Epic this year. You know, drinking beer at every aid station. Ripping the downhills. Suffering together on the climbs. Hanging out. And acting like we don't care when we really do, but can't do anymore than we can.

He proposes the idea over a few remaining ounces of watery booze and bacon grease. I accept.

We ride off into the woods. He instantly discloses and apologizes that his bike is making a groaning noise. I wonder why he didn't tell me about this before I committed to him, but I feel it's too early in our lifestyling relationship to do anything rash.

Though truthfully, I could never hear anything any way.

We discuss how we wished the second aid had been a little closer to the finish. It's about a fifteen mile stretch. We have a few good sections of singletrack to cover and Little French to climb. And by climb, I mean hike.

We hit the Veni Vidi Vici trail. Damnit. I totally forgot about this section. It's another reminder that every stage in Breck could end about three miles sooner. The way the stages are setup, you're led to smell the barn a bit too early. I stand up and pedal. Elation wanders away, and a new trespasser arrives. Torment.

It winds up the rocky ridge. An uphill bridge crossing just ahead.


*Thimp* *Thump*

I snap around. Dicky's bike is hanging halfway off the side of the bridge. His body is splattered all over the wood. The metal slip preventer makes it look like he's lying on a cheese grater. I laugh at him, and he laughs at himself. He scrapes up his little body as shreds of dignity fall to the side of the trail.

We continue through the rest of it, and we're dumped out on the Barney Flow descent.

Dicky already wrote about The Passing Incident. Breck Epic more or less commented on it, as well. And maybe I shouldn't refer to it as an incident as that implies bad things, which it wasn't, but it was interesting nonetheless. And because we encountered a similar situation on stage five, which I'll get to later.

The two of us got behind a woman who was descending a bit slower than we were on Barney Flow. I was directly behind her and called out that we'd like to get around her at the next opportunity to let us by.

No response.

Dicky rings his bell a few times. Nothing.

We come upon a road crossing which leads into the last mile of descent to the finish. Perfect opportunity to get around, I think. I say we're going to come up on her left. No response. As we're dumped onto the road, she stands up to accelerate into the singletrack. Oh my goodness.

We're descending at about half the speed we normally would. I'm not concerned about our time, but I do want to enjoy the downhill. Also, if you get caught, you should let the person pass at the next opportune time. Which, is pretty much what happened next.

So, we're cruising along in our three-person train at a point where the trail switches back a bit. A fourth person comes up fast and passes Dicky, me and the women in front. It's a woman and her pass was pretty impressive.

We eventually work our way to the bottom at which point the lead woman finally lets us pass, and we cross the finish line together. Dicky goes and finds the other woman who made the pass on the three of us. It was Katie Compton. Or, Katie Fucking Compton for those who know her personally. The two of them have conversation. I go lie in the grass.

Stage one was pretty great. I felt well enough to enjoy it, but it was still hard enough to kick everyone in the face. Stage two would be a bit different.

Not from the first stage, but still in the honeymoon phase-

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

(Almost) New Belt Buckle Time

The last couple months have held some really great rides. And notably, I've felt pretty good. Having had zero fitness in 2016, I'd say I'm on the up and up.

Commuting to work tolerably often has helped. It's a shite start, but we have fun with it; the inauguration of a new morning filled with hazy grades and Thurston Moore.

Riding on the road has been an occurrence with more frequency than ever, in spite of the dire need for improved conditions in Pennsylvania. It's a bit easier to fit into my schedule at this point in my life. I don't love it, but I do like it.

My road bike has been serving a four year sentence in the basement since the spectacular shellacking it took in West Virginia; alike a criminal who had been shot up, treated, then carted away to prison.

It was granted parole this past weekend for a century ride that was planned sorta last minute. Throughout it all, I bested my times on every hill that I've ridden a hundred times before on my Fargo; the considerable commuter weighing 38 pounds with one pannier and work clothes in tow. My road bike is a smidge over 18. Apparently weight does matter.

And all this evaluation completed after I chased a medium twist cone with two bowls of chocolate Cheerios. And then wine and more dark chocolate.

Why all the riding? Breck, duh.

And an attempt to get another one of these-

Breckenridge is where this whole thing started five years ago. Writing, that is. And I wrote at the beginning of this year that I would like to continue on with it. You know, writing more often. That, and perhaps a little more photography. My renewed effort has been lackluster. So far, anyway.

But, maintaining a blog with any sort of regularity isn't my thing.

Assuredly, Breck 2017 will offer moments worthy of writing. But at this moment, I'm simply satisfied that it's about here. Ryanne will finally appreciate the event that I've ofttimes spoken of. And there's happiness in knowing that. The camaraderie of strangers and the intimacy of alone ascending a new route; one and the other, it sustains a spirit all its own.

For first-time friends, it'll be a thrill.

My Naked was finished a few weeks before Breck in 2012. As it were, we became quick acquaintances. And though seeing my El Mariachi with its groupset has been oh-so very tempting, I really can't imagine riding anything else this time around.

As for myself, I can't say whether I'm in any better or worse condition than I was before. Not that it matters. I'll feel well enough to push the steeps and rip the downhills. And stop for a few beers along the way.

Apparently all the single speeds are now going to be placed with the Pro/Category 1 group. Which, ok. I'll be finished twenty minutes earlier than normal every day. And for a dad with newly-developed time management skills, that's pretty much a bike wash, a beer and every Back to the Future film.

Aside from the category shakeup, those who normally smoke will still get smoked. I'm kind of in the group that rides through the spot where the smoke has more or less dissipated, but is still kinda stinky.

So, looking past my upcoming ass beating, where will that leave the rest of 2017?

There are a lot of good bands coming through Pittsburgh in the fall, which is pretty excellent. I'll likely get on some lighting stuff and photo framing. Also, dad things.

And cherish some moments spent with friends both old and new.

Yeah, that all sounds about right.

Oh, and work.

I imagine I'll be keeping up on the riding, too. An overnighter on the C&O would be nice. Or, a daylong group ride to New York. Something quick and fun; good friends and less Lycra required. Maybe two daylongs.

I may very well carry some of this into next year. I purchased the ACA Tour Divide maps, but they're currently bound up on the back of a motorcycle that hasn't been run since last summer. So, just assume I'm not doing Tour Divide next year, nor riding my motorcycle.

Nevertheless, daydreams deliver desires, and desires leave you desperately wanting. Even if you don't know what it is you want.

Except glory. We all want glory. It's everything else that's confusing.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Full Circle


And a new post? Yeah, I'm surprised, too.

Nearly five years ago I started this thing, and it's been in a decline ever since. Someone told me to rename it Perpetual Motionless, but that would come across as trying to be funny, and I'm not like that. In addition, it's just not a good joke. And in the end, to stay true to the horrid trademark, I'd have to continue to not write.

As it may be, I really would like to start writing again.

I got into this whole thing at the end of 2016. Really, it was right after I finished the Breck Epic in 2012. That inaugural post remains my most viewed. It's closely followed by the novella I wrote about feeling alive aside the Potomac. With a dose of realism, my pessimistic side reminds me these posts only compete against my other "material".

Speaking of- I've signed up for the Breck Epic again this year. Ryanne, too. Also, many good friends have registered as well. I don't anticipate we'll have the same numbers that we had in the fart cave, but I conclude we'll end up with a good flock of heavy-breathing east coasters.

I so very much want to do the Three Rivers trail in Oregon. But 2017 is just not the year to do it. Ryanne and I had biked Nova Scotia a couple of years back, then went to the United Kingdom in 2015. With the arrival of AJ this past year, the grand adventures came to a quick and prompt end. We really didn't take any trip this past year, aside from those few days in hospital. And with the babe still being relatively young later this year, we felt going to Breckenridge would work hand-in-hand with permitting us to ride bicycles again, yet still allow us to be with her.

So, while she's being pushed around the posh streets of Breck at 9,000 feet, I'll be pushing my bike up Wheeler Pass at 12,000.

I can't wait.

I'm looking forward to 2017. But some great things happened in 2016. Most important was the babe-


We hiked Seneca Rocks-

seneca rocks

Lit Up Night-

lit up night 2016

Ryanne didn't kill me-

amelia earhart tattoo

Hit Single Speed USA (this one in PA!). Photo by Colleen-

ssusa 2016

Rode (and wrecked) a tandem-

tandem mtb

Finished it all off with a house full of friends and inhibitions. No bad photos of good times posted here.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Love to Mother, Part II

If you didn't catch it, Part I

"What seemed so distinguished became plainly vanquished, when I went to find life on my own."
-Bonnie Prince Billy

The Young and Adventurous.
She was everything we know of her, nonetheless she was more.

In her beginning, she became her grandmother's namesake. And in life, became the allegorical inspiration for an immeasurable number of people.

The three autobiographies she left us were written in an uncomplicated manner. They were straightforward. Effortless. Candid and plainspoken. When it came to her personal feats, her presentation was spotty. Not vague or guarded, but simply not focused on the accomplishments that handed her worldwide notoriety. Some historians even describe her published works as written somewhat aloof, not very forthcoming in specific detail.

But, her considerations were on other things, too. Other than her path in life which made her most famous, she's probably best known in the present day as being an early proponent for gender equality. And she was succinct and sensible in how she presented these views. Most importantly, she was rational. Although her writing was forthright and more explicit on this subject, it still only dredged the shoal of the massive basin that was her life's innermost feelings.

And in this deep is where one will truly and assuredly find Amelia Earhart.

Her memoirs cast thoughts to pre-aviation life. She and her sister spent most summers with their grandparents, although their family moved around often during the fall and winter months of her teenage years. She spent high school between six different cities, still finishing in four years. Her father worked various jobs, eventually becoming increasingly dependent on alcohol.

When her dear grandmother passed, the moderate wealth she had was left to her mother, keeping legalese in place to prevent her alcoholic father from having access to it. Her mother would later use some of the inheritance to partially fund her first flight lessons.

She penned her sentences carefully. They were deliberate and precise. And despite living many of her later years in New York and California, she never lost her heavy Midwestern accent.

And it's not hard to hear it come out of the pages.

Born in 1897 in Kansas, she was the namesake of her maternal grandmother.

Her middle name, Mary, was taken from her paternal grandmother.

Her younger sister couldn't pronounce her name as a child, so instead used the nickname Millie, which would stay with her forever.

At twenty, she visited her sister in Toronto during the first World War where she saw four soldiers walking arm-in-arm down the city street, all with legs blown off. Changed, she enlisted as a nurse at Spadina Military Hospital for the remaining war days.

During her time in Toronto, she had inherited a chronic sinusitis which would later inhibit her ability to stay at higher altitudes for prolonged periods of time. The pain in her head was near unsupportable. As antibiotics were not yet available, she underwent multiple surgeries over the course of several years. She ultimately had a piece of bone removed from her sinus cavity to provide relief.

Her nursing experience eventually brought her to New York City to study medicine at Columbia. During this time, her beloved mother's marriage was continuing to fall apart due to her father's vice. Further worsening matters, most of the inheritance her grandmother left was lost in a bad investment made in gypsum mines.

Disheartened, she departed Columbia after a short while and would subsequently spend several years caring for her mother and working assorted jobs to save for flight time and ultimately, her first plane. She worked as a photographer, drove trucks and was also a short-hand stenographer for the local phone company. 

Early in her flying years, she observed that all women aviators, as few as there were, had short hair and wore weighty and worn-out leather coats. At the time, she had neither. Her first assignment was quickly met after she found a used coat that still looked somewhat new. Although perfectly functional, the heavy hide, shimmering with inexperience, made her look like a pilot who had never been in the air. Disenchanted, she would sneak it into her room at night and wore it to bed, helping to expedite its creasing and cracking as she dreamt of the world "up there".

She would secretly shorten her hair in the evening hours, cutting off small pieces at a time, attempting to fool her mother. And it wasn't long before the elder Earhart recognized the change. But her mother always felt it was important to let her daughters go down the paths in life that their hearts told them to. Although she was concerned for Amelia's safety, she knew her daughter's love of flying was too great for her to overcome had she even tried. So, she encouraged her. Nor did she keep her from trimming her hair.

The still-young and fledgling flier, who would forever be known with the short and tousled hair began flying in 1921, and soon after, broke speed and altitude records before becoming the sixteenth woman to receive a pilot's license in 1923

Still in her mid-twenties, Amelia used flying as a solitary escape from a world she seemed to not quite yet understand. Her sporadic adventuring continued over the years, and when her mother's marriage finally ended, she tried to provide her creator with an escape of her own. Although apprehensive at the beginning, her mother would find much joy in the air with her still-obscure and unknown daughter. And long after Amelia was gone, her mother would reflect on the peace and beauty of observing the backside of her child's head as she was navigated through the sky; wind blowing at 8,000 feet and the piston engine rattling their craft. Although the younger Earhart did not yet know her path in life, her senior knew she would find it.

Their explorations continued on terra firma. It was still an age where automobiles broke down with relative frequency and got stuck in poor roadways. But, Amelia could fix near anything that went wrong with her Kissel Speedster, which she had nicknamed the "Yellow Peril". So, on a near whim, she picked up her mother and they drove cross country, an almost unheard of venture.

The two stopped in all the national parks to hike and take photographs. After seeing the Pacific northwest, they traveled to Calgary and Banff, taking in the Canadian wilderness and Lake Louise before returning to the east coast. She would later reflect on this as being one of her most memorable experiences, because of the effect it had on "Mother".

She moved to Boston earning employment as a social worker at a settlement house in the later 1920's. She was six years into aviation at this point and near 30 years-old, still not very sure what she wanted to do with herself.

Deep sea diving off Rhode Island. Summer 1929.

The Atlantic. Plus Two.
The first of her published memoirs is primarily limited to her original flight over the Atlantic in 1928. At the time, there were several groups vying to put the first woman over the ocean. A British woman named Amy Phipps Guest, a relatively wealthy woman with family business ties to Andrew Carnegie, wanted to be the first. But soon after developing her plan further, she realized the danger was too great and instead, decided to finance another team to make the attempt. As long as the woman chosen was right.

Amelia was a fairly well-known pilot in the northeast but wasn't famous. She was still in Boston doing social work at the Denison House when she received a call asking if she would be interested in coming to New York to talk about the possibility of simply being a passenger on a flight going "over".

This was only one year after many men competed for the Orteig Prize, which required the first successful non-stop transatlantic flight from New York to Paris or vice-versa. Completing it solo was not a requirement. Many people died making attempts in the years leading up to 1927. Surprisingly, most perished trying to lift their heavy aircraft off with so much fuel. Others who managed to actually lift off, were lost in weather. Which, is understandable, considering how primitive weather forecasting was at that time. Predicting weather patterns was essentially compiling eyewitness reports from ships and other various locales which were cabled back to the States, then charted on a map. By the time this was completed, the information was already twelve hours old. Pilots couldn't comfortably rely on it, and they routinely found themselves in trouble. Over the ocean their options became very limited, very fast.

Lindbergh won the Orteig Prize after pulling an all-nighter the day before he even departed. When he landed in Paris, he hadn't slept in 55 hours. He was so tired on his flight, he sometimes flew only ten feet above the water to keep the sunlight in his eyes. Lindbergh would go on to have his own well-known family troubles, just a few years later. Further, even more-so, a few decades after his death in the early 2000's, when it was revealed he had three secret families in Europe on top of the one he had at home.

Amelia kept a mindset of mediocrity while being interviewed, knowing if she were "too much a complainer", they'd pass on her. On the contrary, if she were too well liked, they'd reject her for not wanting to likely drown a nice woman.

Her act of ordinariness paid off, and she accepted the offer to likely vanish into the cold and deep Atlantic. At that point, no matter the outcome, she knew her life was dedicated to aviation. 

A year after Lindbergh's triumph, Amelia was in a different position. She admitted, time and again, that she didn't have much to do with her first hop over. She would merely record a log of the flight, which was commanded by two men, Wilmer Stultz and Louis Gordon.

Stultz was a well-known pilot and also a well-known alcoholic. The final two weeks leading up to the flight were spent painfully waiting for a perfect weather window at Trepassey Bay, Newfoundland. Amelia knew Stultz to be punishing himself quite regularly during those agonizing days, as he was commonly drunk. But, if she contested his pre-flight behavior, she likely would have been out. Stultz, at one point, had been the top choice to fly socialite Mabel Boll over the Atlantic, as it was her rich fantasy to hold the title of being "first". Coincidentally, the celebrity was there and ready to takeoff with her own team, so there was always the fear of Stultz jumping over and leaving with her instead.

They had so many false starts in the previous days, so there was little fanfare when they actually managed to find a hole in the weather. The plane was overloaded with fuel, which required more than one attempt to manage a takeoff. When they finally lifted, she noticed Stultz had smuggled a bottle of liquor onto the plane. She struggled with the notion of dumping it into the ocean below, through a small hatch. However, the thought of his anger at 14,000 feet in a tiny cabin that was occupied by nothing but 700 gallons of gasoline kept her from saying anything. He never went for the bottle and honorably kept to the mission. She did end up dumping it, but not until they got over the Irish Sea.

Near the end, still over water and with no land in sight, they flew over a large vessel. At that time, it was common for both homeowners and shipmen to keep buckets of paint at the ready, so they could quickly spatter bearings on roofs or decks to over-passing airplanes. Stultz circled low to the craft, hoping to get them to do so. But the three fliers got no useful response from the deckmen who had stopped to stare at the foreign object in the sky.

They didn't know how much further they had to go to find land, and fuel was running low. Amelia quickly jotted a note, describing their directional needs, and placed it in a small bag weighted with two oranges. She attempted to drop it onto the ship, but as she later described, missed it very miserably.

Their plane was outfitted with pontoons instead of landing gear. So, they could conceivably set down and survive on water, as long as the conditions were suitable. They discussed the option of landing next to the ship; failing the mission but ensuring their safety. They decided to fly on, and it wasn't long before they found the coast of Wales.

Shockingly, her parents didn't know she was involved in an attempt until they took off and the national newspapers ran with it. She was just shy of 31 at this point. She had written a note to her father, to be delivered in the event they failed. She wrote that she wished she had won, but it was worth the risk. She also noted that, in death, she had no faith she'd see him again, but hoped she might. The note was about four sentences.

Conversely, the letter for Mother was much longer.

The success of the event made her a name in the still-blossoming aviation world, and generally, a name all over the world. It would provide better opportunities, but it didn't bring ease to any of the challenges she still had in front of her. And it wouldn't be long before she faced those.

She returned to social work for a short while. Wilmer Stultz, the pilot who heroically carried her over the Atlantic, died a year later in an aviation crash at twenty-nine years old. He was intoxicated.

These sordid details she left out of her writings. As I wrote, her focus was either on the progress of aviation or the progress of educating a 1930's world on gender equality. She always wrote that a woman shouldn't have a job that a man is better at, but if the woman is more capable in that particular instance, why can't she have an opportunity to prove it?

Moments before leaving on the first flight over the Atlantic.

In between Gordon and Stultz. In Boston after they arrived back in the United States.

With actress June Travis. Despite the press that followed her, there aren't a whole lot of photographs of her wearing flight goggles. She normally put them on as soon as she lifted, then whipped them off on landing.

When she was heavily involved with cross country speaking tours, she normally traveled by herself in her plane. During most of these flights, she normally wore a dress or skirt with a heavy leather coat to keep warm.

In 1929, she competed in the first Women's Air Derby, which was a race from California to Cleveland. Twenty women started. Most of them had setbacks and difficulties. One dealt with a mid-air fire caused by a cigarette that had been thrown into her plane before takeoff. One crashed into a vehicle that had come onto the runway. Another got Typhoid Fever. Ruth Nichols crashed altogether, and another pilot even found her wing guide wires sabotaged with acid (something that would happen to Amelia later in life). On top of all these, another aviatrix crashed and was killed. They continued the race in her honor, and Amelia finished third in what would end up becoming known as the Powder Puff Derby.

It was also in late 1929, the still-limited number of women involved in avionics decided to form their own group to help promote women in aviation. At their meeting, all these wild women struggled to come up with a name for the group, to which Amelia suggested the name be based on the number of charter (or initial) members. The attendance climbed as the night went on, and they settled on the Ninety-Nines. She was elected the first president of the famous group which still operates today.

Along with Ruth Nichols and Louise Thaden. All three widely acclaimed and credited with promoting women in aviation.

It was thought Ruth would be the first woman to solo over the Atlantic. She would go on to set many of her own records. At age 57, the U.S. Air Force permitted her to pilot some of their new technology, where she became the first woman to fly over 1,000 mph. Two years later, in 1960, she died of an accidental overdose on barbiturates after battling severe depression.

Louise Thaden won the first Women's Air Derby in 1929. In 1936, she won the overall in the cross country Bendix Trophy Race in the first year that women were allowed to compete against men. She flew a single engine biplane, where most men were using twin engine aircraft specifically built for racing.

The Atlantic.
In 1932, exactly five years after Lindbergh made his solo hop, she decided to go for it on her own. No one had soloed it since Lindbergh. She consulted with many of her mentors in aviation- pilots who had already done long endurance flights themselves. She wrote that if any of them had said they didn't feel she was capable, she would have put the thought to bed and moved on from it.

She made great efforts to keep the press from knowing her plans. There was so much risk in an attempt, and she felt the chances were still pretty high that she would either not make the attempt or ultimately die trying. She knew it was possible for a woman to go it alone, because a man had already done so. And as she said, "Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others."

Her plane was outfitted with extra fuel tanks. To save weight, she would leave behind clothes, extra food and even her life raft. She would not use pontoons, so a water landing would not be a possibility. As she knew, all she would ever need was her fearlessness.

So with a can of tomato juice, twenty dollars and her timeworn flight suit, she took off from Newfoundland, just a couple hours before dark. The moon came up and provided some light for a short period of time. It was cloudy. About four hours into the journey, her altimeter malfunctioned and broke. In all the years she flew, this had never happened. Not knowing how high above water she was, her options were to either keep going or turn back and attempt to get on the ground. Her thoughts were that even if she did find her origin, her shot at landing on the strip with no altimeter, in the dark, would likely roll her up into a fireball. Cool and collected, she kept eastward.

Soon after, she noticed a weld failed and burnt through her fuel manifold on the outside of the Lockheed Vega. For the duration of the flight, she watched this hole grow larger as a steady flame shot out of it.

In the middle of night, she ran into what she modestly claimed was one of the worst storms she had ever experienced. The rain and wind, being relentless, caused her to enter a tailspin. And despite the term, the plane is actually spinning and falling nose down. She managed to get out of it and climbed above the clouds, searching for more-favorable weather. Once up there, she started accumulating ice on her wings and window, causing her to lose control of the craft again.

So, she flew low to the ocean in the warmer air. She was still flying "blind" at this point, merely staring out a black window, squinting eyes, trying to catch a glimpse of moonlight hitting a breaking wave. Without the altimeter, she didn't know her height above water but figured it to be between 50 and 150 feet. 

With the leaking manifold, she worried about making it to the European coast with enough fuel. She turned on the reserve tanks. The gauge on the reserve broke and leaked gasoline through the cabin for the rest of the flight.

She flew into sunrise. The burning manifold didn't seem as threatening, as the bright sunlight helped in hiding the flame. She described the last couple hours of an ocean flight as being the most difficult, as the fog and haze makes you see a mirage of land just ahead, but it's still hundreds of miles of open water.

The only equipment she had was a compass, an air speed indicator, and a watch. There was no way to determine how far off course the winds would have pushed her over the duration of the flight. When she finally found land, she had no idea if she was over England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales or France. She ultimately landed in a pasture in Ireland. She emerged from the ship covered in oil and gasoline, then made quick shout to the farmer who approached her to extinguish his cigarette. He asked where she came from, and she said "America".

Her life was never the same. She would stay abroad for a few weeks to briefly tour Europe. She met kings and queens and then went on to receive almost every award imaginable. The commendation followed the world-famous aviatrix upon her return to the United States. Parades and front-page headlines would become commonplace, and it became a struggle for her just to decline the many ceremonies that she could not attend.

Despite the swath of fame, she always kept her young, vernal and matter-of-fact spirit. The great aviatrix, who was no longer obscure and ordinary, was still a plainspoken girl from Kansas at heart.

Just before taking off from Newfoundland.

Ireland. Probably one of the most famous photos of her. At this time, most people had never seen a plane.
Not to mention a woman pilot.

After the Atlantic, she used the Vega to become the first woman to fly coast to coast from Los Angeles to Newark. It took her 19 hours, 5 minutes. She would beat her own record the following year by two hours.

She replaced this plane with a similar model, which she would subsequently use to do the Pacific and Mexican flights.

Endeavors Until the End.
After her Atlantic chapter closed, she spent much of the time in her remaining years giving lectures and speeches. Like her writing, she was always apprehensive of speaking about herself or her accomplishments. People would ask, and she would subsequently divert to commend Lockheed or Pratt & Whitney, the engine manufacturer. Other times, the compliments went to other pilots who helped in her preparations. She would speak about all aviators, both male and female. Their accomplishments and the boundaries they pushed were of great interest to her, and she spoke of them proudly.

Most of the money she made in her lifetime was through speaking engagements, but she did delve into other areas. She was an integral part of the Transcontinental Air Transport, as well as the New York, Philadelphia and Washington Airline. She wanted to make air travel accessible to many more people than it was in the 1930's. Many people who saw her speak would ask in wonderment, "What is it like up there?"

Her husband, George Putnam, the well-known publisher whom she had met when interviewing for the first Atlantic flight, had proposed to her six times before she reluctantly agreed. She wrote a well-publicized note that she gave him on the morning of their wedding. She stated that she didn't expect him to be faithful to her, and he shouldn't expect the same in return. She asked that if she wasn't happy after one year, he would have to promise to let her go. She felt getting married at that time was foolish and stated, "I cannot guarantee to endure at all times the confinement of even an attractive cage."

Putnam would end up being pretty calculating in how Amelia marketed herself, for better or worse. He even went as far as to recommend she kept her lips closed as much as possible to hide the gap between her front teeth.

This was taken during the world flight, only a few days before her last flight. Most of the film that she shot was mailed back home during her stops, so an abundance of the photographs she took were saved.

Later in life, Putnam wrote she was regretful for accepting $1,500 to endorse that Stultz and Gordon carried Lucky Strike cigarettes on the plane with them during the first Atlantic jaunt. She was reluctant to do the endorsement, but was looking for a way to donate some significant funds to Commander Byrd's arctic expedition. Byrd was integral in getting her on the initial Atlantic flight, and she wanted to repay him. She signed the $1,500 over to him. This controversial endorsement would cause her negotiations with McCall's magazine to fall through, but would inevitably lead her to be an editor for Cosmopolitan.

Putnam would recall a time when they had friends visiting at their home. They got on the topic of smoking cigarettes, to which she was questioned why she had never smoked. Saying nothing, she took three cigarettes from her friend, lit them, and sucked them all down in no more than three drags. Extinguishing the butts, she exclaimed, "There! I smoked. And I probably never will again."

Further, at another time, she was in her home and family friends visited with their young son. She had accumulated many medals and awards from her various achievements and also had some medals that only military servicemen received. The Senate actually passed a bill to allow her to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross as a civilian. The boy asked to see her medals, and she tried brushing it off, saying they "weren't much important". He insisted, so she brought a locked bag down from upstairs to show him. Her husband remembered that as being the only time she brought them out.

In 1934, a fire destroyed a large portion of their home in Rye, NY. She was away at the time, and her husband phoned her. She asked about the damage, and he confirmed it was severe. She asked about a Rockwell painting. "Gone", he replied. He was devastated that a lot of her personal writings from her younger years were lost. She said not to worry and that she would try to remember all the stories and poems and rewrite them later. She never did. Many years later, he wrote that she must have assumed the locked bag and her medals were also lost, but she never had asked about them.

1935 California after being the first person, male or female, to solo the Pacific.

In 1935, she became the first person to fly solo from Hawaii to the mainland. She remarked this flight as being much less difficult than her previous challenges and even tuned her radio to the New York Metropolitan Opera for the last two hours.

A few months later, she flew non-stop from Los Angeles to Mexico City, then finished non-stop to Newark.

Although her most rewarding experience in 1935 came when she joined Purdue University as a visiting faculty member. She enjoyed the time with the students so much that she ended up moving into a dormitory for some of the school year. Purdue would be integral in helping to fund the purchase of her Lockheed Electra, the famous plane she would ultimately be tied to in history. Her time at Purdue was limited, as she was gone two years later.

Teaching aviation at Purdue.

Friends and family asked her to take some time to relax and reflect on what she had done so far. She made the comment that she would do those things later. "When I am old."

In her later years, she and her husband were in Brooklyn and had driven up to an intersection where they watched an elderly homeless man struggle to cross the street. She painfully observed him, then proceeded through the intersection. She drove a couple blocks before turning around, commenting that she was going to give him money. The man was lost in the crowd. Sadly, she turned to her husband and remarked, "It is hard to be old. So hard. I'm afraid I'll hate it. Hate to grow old...I think probably that I'll not be old."

The world flight was something the public more or less knew she would come to do, but she initially pushed it off, giving people the impression it wasn't on her mind. But it always was.

After traversing nearly the entire globe as close to the equator as possible, she took off from Lae, New Guinea on July 2nd 1937 en route to Howland Island, which is about halfway to Hawaii. She and her navigator Fred Noonan were lost. Putnam had her declared dead in January 1939 and re-married four months later. He would later write that she was rich in life and adventure, but financially, any wealth she left behind was worth far less than the plane she disappeared in. Her mother would spend the rest of her long life devastated over the loss, always dreaming of one more earthly exploit with her fellow adventurer; the daughter who was anything but ordinary.

Poetry, Writing and Her Hope for a Year.
At a younger age, Amelia wrote with great frequency. She emotionally described her feelings on adventure, life, and most famously, courage. Many years after she was gone, her husband recollected that at one point, she had begun work on a fictional short story, loosely based on her life experiences. Being a publisher himself, he noted that he enjoyed the content, but structurally, the story wasn't very good. Going through the belongings she would eventually leave behind, he found the manuscript missing and later stated she likely destroyed it privately.

As a child, she would write poems with words beyond her time, but also playfully make up her own vocabulary as she went along. Her poetry progressed with maturity into her adult years. It could be described as filling a jar with the combined feelings of melancholy, pain, bravery and unrequited love, shaking it up, then letting it spill out on an empty notebook.

She was known for her privacy and great reluctance to share any of her personal life with the public, so her wishes were to keep her private writings just that. Given the occupation of her husband, had she wanted any of her poetry published, she likely would have done so. Most feel she would have been more likely to publish her personal writings had she not been surrounded with fame. She surely would have wanted her poetry to stand on its own merit, and given her status, that would have been difficult.

It was later revealed she had submitted four poems to Poetry magazine in her younger years under a male pseudonym. Her entries describe heartbreak and love, the passing of time, and a romantic perception of death. The effects of aging and her fear of declining years is also apparent. This angst can be seen in many of her personal and public documents, as she had often listed her birth year as 1898, despite being born a year earlier. This incorrect year would eventually be used on some of the memorials and statues placed around the world.

In one of her poems, she describes Death as a bird of prey that mercifully ends the lovelorn suffering of the living. In her notes accompanying this piece, she describes, "The vulture is kind. Life is merciless."

But not all of her poems were dark. "Snatch molten moments from the fire of Life, holding them until the brief glow fades and they are hardened to their everlasting shape." This carpe diem attitude would singly define the individual who was Amelia Earhart.

Putnam had written that it was her desire to have one year to herself. One year where she would step away from aviation, teaching and all of the speaking tours. A year to simply and solely lay outside and write. To write stories. To write poems. To reflect. And to remember. He concluded in saying it brought him sadness knowing she never got her year, "for that is what she really wanted."

When Putnam passed in early 1950, he left an enormous wealth of her letters, documents, telegrams, photos and more to Purdue University to be a part of their massive Earhart Collection. It was somewhere around fifteen cubic feet of files and artifacts. However, a lot of her personal writings were kept in his estate to keep to her wishes of not sharing her personal life.

These writings, including her surviving poetry, would eventually end up in the hands of his granddaughter who donated the additional materials to Purdue in 2002, completing the collection.

Lost and Found. Though still Lost.
It's become so ingrained in our culture that Amelia and Fred got lost, missed Howland Island, then subsequently crashed and sank in the Pacific Ocean after running out of fuel. The Lockheed Electra, the bimotor "Flying Laboratory" which had so-far carried them 22,000 miles on the world flight, being their aluminum grave under two miles of deep water. This didn't happen.

Since 1989, we've also been told they may have crash landed on an island south of Howland, then died as castaways. This also didn't happen.

It's widely documented, but of course not widely reported, that they landed in the Marshall Islands on Milli Atoll. An atoll is essentially a coral reef that, over a long period of time, forms around a volcano which eventually submerges into the ocean. What's left is the wide ring of coral and a lagoon in the middle. There are thousands of atolls in the Pacific, and their islands are inhabited by many.

From there, they were detained by the Japanese, who at the time, were beginning to militarize the islands in preparation for the next World War.

And we knew they landed there. How? The Japanese were always better at radio technology than us, but at the time, we knew how to break the encryption of their radio communications. From intercepted messages, we knew they were detained, but telling the Japanese we knew would also confirm we knew how to break their encryption. So, we waited for the Japanese to come forward and tell us they were detained, but they never did. At that point, Noonan and Earhart became expendable.

The Japanese didn't want the Americans near the islands, and we stayed away. Remember, this is the pre-satellite age and regular air travel over these mandated islands was nil, so we really had very little idea what was actually going on over there with regard to their military operations.

The Electra and the two fliers were eventually moved to Jaluit, which is an Atoll just west of Milli. They were witnessed on two additional islands, before ultimately making their way to the military headquarters on the island of Saipan where they met their end, some time likely within the next year or two. Most research points to the end of 1937 or some time in 1938.

Most researchers have come to the conclusion that Noonan was executed by beheading. Amelia either died of dysentery or had dysentery and was subsequently executed. That she had dysentery was very well documented, but the exact cause of her death is not as clear.

It was often spoken that Noonan drank frequently, and there were reports of Amelia having to "pour Noonan" into the Electra before taking off from Lae on the final flight.

After crossing through Africa and India, the city of Lae was one of the more civilized and sophisticated stops they had in a long while. Because of this, there were fears Noonan would "go all out in Lae", but those with him over the final few days would later claim he never picked up a drink when they went out to dinner.

Amelia had delayed the takeoff from Lae for a day. She sent a telegram to her husband explaining the delay by writing "personnel unfitness". Many speculate this meant that Noonan was incapacitated. Others feel she may have also meant "personal unfitness", which could possibly mean that she, herself, was exhausted or under the weather. 

Noonan had distinguishable features, himself. He was ruddy, square-jawed, tall and very thin. He had a hairline and look that most thirty and forty-somethings, today, would envy.

His features would be spoken of by the natives who later saw him. Imprisoned in Garapan Prison on Saipan, his execution may have been expedited by Earhart's death of dysentery. Other accounts say he was executed after he threw a bowl of soup at a Japanese guard. Either way, 
his legacy is largely overshadowed by who he disappeared with, and he shouldn't be forgotten.

He was the best navigator in the world in his time. His goal was to start a navigational school, which would have been heavily promoted through his involvement in the world flight. He was married a few months before he and Amelia left the public eye. He left no surviving family.

So what's the evidence? First, there's the eyewitnesses on the islands. The true boots-on-the-ground Earhart researchers first published their findings nearly fifty years ago, after interviewing dozens and dozens local Marshallese and Saipanese people who distinctly remember seeing the two white American fliers. And it wasn't just eyewitnesses who saw them, but individuals who also interacted with them.

Look back to the world in the late 1930's. This was not the world as it is today. It was very uncommon for any of these people to have ever seen a plane. Not to mention two white Americans, one of whom is a woman with extremely distinguishable hair and clothing. And, as it would turn out, almost everyone of these witnesses commented how one flier was a woman with short hair like a man and wore pants like a man. The other flier was a man, who was very thin and tall, much taller than anyone they had ever seen before in their part of the world. Noonan stood at just over six feet.

From island to island, eyewitnesses corroborated these specific details, including the common knowledge of Noonan's leg injury, as well as a bandage wrapped around his head. Injuries sustained in the forced landing on Milli.

One specific eyewitness was a sixteen year old medic in the Japanese Navy, who was summoned aboard a cargo ship to treat Noonan. He changed his head wrappings, but claimed the wound in his leg was too deep to stitch, so he left it open in order for it to drain. He saw a white woman sitting in a deck chair next to Noonan. She had short hair and a fair complexion. The medic did not speak English, but his fellow servicemen made remarks that the Americans were pilots and had come down on Milli Atoll. Talking in a surprised and curious manner, they discussed that the woman, who they referred to as "Meel-yah", was the one who actually flew the plane, something they could not fathom in their part of the world.

He would go on to say that he distinctly remembered treating Noonan and staring into his blue eyes, an eye color he had never seen before. It wouldn't be until 1993 when American researchers could say with determination that Noonan's eyes actually were blue.

The former Japanese Navy medic, Bilimon Amaron, would come to be known as one of the most honest and upstanding men in the Marshall Islands. His reputation was sincere and pristine, and he would go on to be interviewed and recorded, many times over, until his death in 1997.

Robert Reimers, a business tycoon in the Marshall Islands, began his career before World War II, selling and shipping construction materials throughout the islands. He would later go on to own hotels, shopping centers, hardware stores and docks throughout the Marshalls. He was interviewed one year before his death in 1998 and would be another voice in the ever-growing line of testimonials, claiming that the Milli Atoll landing of Earhart in 1937 was common knowledge among his people.

Keep in mind, the Japanese Military was absolutely brutal to their prisoners during the war. Over 40% of Americans who would go to a prisoner camp would be killed. Those held would routinely be woken in the middle of the night, be made to dig their own grave, then shot. This brutality was passed on to their own civilians. And this fear carried on long after the war ended. Even in the 1960's, common Japanese and Marshallese people were still worried of execution or imprisonment for reporting something they had seen decades prior. Nearly all of the eyewitnesses gave their interviews in the presence of a priest, to help alleviate their fears.

Most witnesses would go on and be able to identify both Earhart and Noonan from photo lineups of random people. The Marshallese even issued stamps on the fifty year anniversary of their landing at Milli Atoll.

The airfield at Lae ended with a 200 foot cliff. The Electra was pulled back as far as possible, partway into a field of overgrowth and trees. Witnesses claim Amelia held the brakes and throttled both engines at 100% before letting it go. The Electra was so heavy with fuel, it dipped nearly 200 feet off the cliff-side runway. Its propellers skimmed the top of the water, before finally finding lift.

It would be nearly 17 miles out to sea, before it had regained the 200 feet in altitude.

Once down, the Electra was hoisted onto straps on the rear of a Japanese fishing boat, The Koshu. It went from Milli, to Jaluit, to Kwajalein, to Truk, and finally Saipan.

More-so, in June 1944, the United States invaded Saipan in what was the lesser-known "D-Day of the Pacific". Over 3,400 Americans were killed and over 30,000 Japanese. The troops fortunate to live through it, went home to America to try and resume their lives in normalcy.

Later in life, dozens and dozens of marines came forward to discuss their findings of evidence of Earhart, Noonan and even the Electra on Saipan, all those years ago. Tangible evidence, like her briefcase with maps and permits, a diary, various journal entries and even photographs. Most of this was turned into commanding officers. Several testified seeing the Electra in a guarded hangar after Saipan was captured, only to see it subsequently torched by the U.S. Navy and buried. 

And it wasn't just lower-ranking marines and natives from five different islands who corroborated all of this. Several high-ranking officials also made statements. Fleet Admiral Nimitz, who represented the United States in signing Japan's Instrument of Surrender and is the last five-star Admiral we've had, even stated that Earhart and Noonan went down in the Marshalls, before being picked up by the Japanese.

General Graves Erskine, who was the officer in charge of the American Marines during the Battle of Iwo Jima and Battle of Saipan, stated in 1966 that it was established Earhart was on Saipan, and "you'll have to dig the rest out for yourselves."

Also, General Vandergrift, who commanded the 1st Marine Division in WWII, wrote a letter in 1971 stating that it was substantiated Miss Earhart met her death on Saipan.

Why gather up any evidence and hide it away? Amelia was gone for seven years in 1944. Seven long, grueling and violent years during which the greatest war to hit this world took place. The allies were winning. Germany would surrender ten months later, and Japan soon after. The United States knew they would have to reform relations with Japan and sell the general public on bringing the Japanese on as close allies. Amelia Earhart was a beloved American hero. At that moment in history, revealing the truth of her captivity and death at the hands of the Japanese would only pour salt in a wound that had not even begun to heal.

Amelia's mother would pen a 1944 letter to Neta Snook, the famous pilot who had given Earhart her flight lessons decades earlier.

It's a powerful letter. She describes utter heartbreak and feelings that she had hoped the Japanese were more civilized than she came to realize. She knew.

Sure, there are details that even top researchers don't have answers to. Such as, how and why did they end up at Milli Atoll in the first place?

As some speculate, they flew to the Marshalls intentionally to visually inspect those islands. You know, to take a peek and see what the Japanese were up to at the request of higher-ranking officials. Using the world flight as an excuse to get close to those mandated islands wouldn't be too terrible of an idea. Although, the revelation of Amelia being asked to do reconnaissance for the United States wouldn't go over well with the public, which would be a reason for keeping her true fate sealed. 

Or, did they legitimately get lost and turn west toward Marshalls as she said they would if they couldn't find Howland? The map they used to base their navigation had Howland plotted five miles off its actual location. Noonan was the best navigator in the world at the time, already having charted most of the Pacific routes for Pan America. But as great as he was, Noonan was still limited to celestial navigation at night. Making it to Howland would still require the final few flight hours to be in daylight, so any variance they made after the stars faded away would be critically detrimental. Howland Island is only two miles long and a half mile wide. After a 2,500 mile flight, to find this speck would be incredibly difficult. Especially since their map wasn't exact.

Holding the famous Bendix radio directional finder loop that sat on top of the Electra. Her radio behavior on the final flight would go on to be highly scrutinized.

This original photo was taken by her personal photographer, Albert Bresnik. He then developed a single original and included a note on the back. Most of his originals were donated to museums or universities as his health wound down in the late 1980's. I came into possession of this one after it was found behind a non-Earhart related print. There is a more-famous photo of her staring through the loop, which was taken just before or after this.

This photo hasn't been seen by very many people, until this blog post, where it will certainly be seen by dozens and dozens more.

Nearly eight decades have passed since. I waded into all of this a while back, initially learning what I could by casually reading articles that were at the top layer of the onion. You know, the Earhart-related news what was widely available and published by the majors.

Progressing to books, I dove in. I consumed as many as I could. I've spent time corresponding with the authors who are still around, as well as having the privilege of communicating with many other researchers, most of whom have a heavy multitude of years behind them. Many more than me. The amount of information out there is staggering, and it's well beyond the purpose of this post.

And while there are still questions, that's the long and the short of what happened. I'd bet my life on it.

Sadly, many people have made a living by writing books and promoting expeditions in the process of trying to push their own theories, hypotheses, conjectures...whatever you want to call them. But even more-so, many have ruined their lives trying to break down walls and show the world what actually happened to Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan.

The only way to prove the Electra is not at the bottom of the ocean is to prove it was somewhere else. Definitively showing they were alive on those islands via a "smoking gun" will happen. And it won't be long before it does.

Vanity Fair, photographed by the great Edward Steichen.

The hammered silver and elephant hoof bracelet is seen in most photographs. She wore it on nearly every one of her flights. Her good luck charm, she left it behind for her mother to hold during the world flight. It's currently in the Ninety Nines Museum of Women's Pilots in Oklahoma.

Showing French actress Claudette Colbert her bracelet. After crossing the Atlantic solo.

This photo from the Purdue Collection.

Perpetual Cogitation.
Someone like Amelia Earhart would normally be too well-known for someone like me to call a hero. I commonly gravitate toward the less popular and more obscure. I'm attracted to the unusual and the uncommon. As Ryanne once suggested, perhaps she is a muse. Someone to mull over. To reflect on. As it may be, she is not the obscure and unusual choice, but she is the right choice.

People get lost. People disappear. And people die all the time. Does the enduring mystery help propel her notoriety? Of course. But does it dilute what she stood for and what she accomplished? Absolutely not.

Yes, she was immensely popular. But she was immensely popular, because of what she stood for and what she accomplished. And it wasn't easy.

She lived in a mid-depression United States where it was safe to stay the common ground and keep your mouth shut, especially if you were a woman. She used her immense fame as a platform to spread her message in the short time she had. She wasn't a fanatic or extremist. Instead, her word was intelligent and well-thought. She gave millions of women the assurance they could do the things they once thought they couldn't. Or, were once told they shouldn't.

Nor were her flight attempts without great fatal risk. Aviation was making vast progress in the 1920's and 30's, but it was still new technology. Imagine the mindset of jumping in a plane where your single engine is responsible for calculating thousands of explosions per minute and one misfire puts you in the drink. Fly too high, and you'll gather ice. Fly too low, and you'll hit an iceberg. Into the cold and black. No boats. No radio. Nothing but you and your final thoughts before fading off into darkness.

She conquered the oceans and an archaic cultural mindset. Alone.

Then, after all the accolades that she found uninteresting, she went home and gardened. Or, sat in front of her fireplace, which she called the "liver toaster", studying maps and planning the next great adventure.

Why care so much? I don't know. What I do know is that had she simply grown old like her sister and mother then passed on, this post would still exist. However, it being in shorter form.

While I'm more interested in her life before the world flight, I felt compelled to figure out the rest of it on my own. And while I feel I made the right decision to go down that path, like all things, I still don't know what lies at the end. So far it's brought forth a jumbled abundance of sentiments. First was intrigue. And then, clouded confusion. Following me into the murk was an eagerness to learn more. Insight was a torch that revealed clarity, but also uncovered disheartenment.

And maybe that dispirited feeling comes from the affirmation of the struggles we all face in life; the knowledge and awareness of the sadness and despair that is delivered to us all, no matter how exceptional one may be. We all choose to walk specific paths in life and hold hope of what's to come at the end, despite knowing we'll encounter challenges and outcomes that are undesirable.

Undoubtedly, Amelia's poetry and private writings committed to her some of life's greatest joys. To be a great writer was a dream to her. And while she didn't believe she could be known as both a great aviator and a great poet, it was still her dream to have. For what is life, any other way?

But her path in life, once lighted so bright with bravery and cordiality, ended with darkness and heartbreak. At her finish, very akin to the words she once wrote, Death was a bird of prey and Life was merciless.

In my own writing, I reminisce about the adventures and experiences I've had in life. I write about these moments in a wax poetic sort of way. Not necessarily romanticizing, but trying to express the experience in the way it overcame me in that present moment. Confessing exploits in the truest manner possible, per se.

Reading how she chronicled her own her published memoirs, you don't really come away with that feeling, and to me, that always stuck out. In fact, it struck me. It inflicted a blow. And it left my right hand regrettably sensing the dwindling number of remaining pages. I'd read these words about her incredible moments, and I'd be dying for something more to bite into, even if only a few more paragraphs of her Midwestern accent. I'd come away without it.

She just didn't care to openly reflect on those things. At that point in her life, anyway.

I suppose when you're young and life is traveling a million miles an hour, you'd feel as though you'll always have time to do those things in the twilight of your life. To Amelia Earhart, there was always "later".

Whether or not she really believed it.

Maybe she truly felt she would never grow to be old, as she said all those years ago in Brooklyn; having already accepted a somber and early end. And wistfully, brushing aside the wishes and hopeful dreams of solely writing for that one year.

Though, perhaps she dreamt of finishing the world flight, finally being able to lay in the grass under a tree and watch another tousled hair girl do something revolutionary, "up there". Then, look down at an empty notebook and be overcome with thoughts of fictional adventure and memories of courageous accomplishment; eager to shake that jar of melancholy and fearlessness, then see what spills through her slate-tipped pencil.

Through writing, your best reflection and composition can come when you're aware nobody will ever read it. Although sad, this lonely way of autography can also bring great internal happiness and joy. It is authentically gratifying to search deep into the basin that is your life's innermost feelings. To go well beyond the shoals. And from the cold and dark, bring to the surface your hopes and dreams and wishes and feelings of despair; the raw silt of emotions that are scraped from the bedrock that lines the bottom of your soul. Without pause, thrust it all through your heart and onto the paper before you. Read it to yourself. Then read it again, and imagine how it may affect those around you; both loved ones and strangers alike. And finally, when you're solemnly at ease with each of your chosen words and content with the completed work, throw it in the fire.

But, to instead present your finished arrangement to the world is delivering yourself to the inferno. Doing so requires a height of courage that Amelia knew when she stepped in front of thousands of people who only believed, "I can't." Her reply, simply being, "You can." The same level of courage she knew when she confronted the world's monumental mountains and seemingly-endless oceans; she was Mother Earth's once-great challenger. And though she had not yet realized that courage in professing her poetry, she would have.

Whether she was able to wax poetic through writing and reflection during the months in which the world thought she was gone is another question that'll likely never be answered. I find myself adrift and lost in thought. In a dull state of reverie, my only escape is by having hope that she found peace in being able to do so. I have doubt, but I also have hope. For I'll never know otherwise.

All her life, the credit and compliments that so often poured on her were inevitably pushed onto somebody or something else. She taught the world so much through the way she lived. To love your family and friends. To treat people equally. To adventure. To wear what you want to wear. To be who you want to be. To be courageous. And ultimately, to follow your heart.

And as Ryanne added her name to the short list, I knew to follow my own heart. I'll continue to mull over an early 20th century aviatrix, but Amelia Jane Palermo will grow to be my true and natural, everyday hero.

As for Amelia Earhart...In her final moments, I long she was able to foretell and understand the influence and inspiration that would forever come from the way she lived.

And at her end, I imagine the great aviatrix going silent. What seemed so distinguished became plainly vanquished; the young and vernal spirit, finally encountering a level of peace and freedom at a height that not even she had ever experienced.