Team In Sanity – ride #1

Apparently hot toddies and junk food are not good preparation for riding your bike. If they were, I’d be kicking your ass after a long winter of hard training. Alas, spring has sprung, the sun has shone, and dammit, I need to get back in action. Maybe you do, too?

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Beat the crowds and start your weekend off right. (Tomorrow) Saturday morning ride with friends! Load up your bike and meet at Post Canyon trailhead – (the bottom) at 8 am. Wheels up at 8:15. Runners welcome too! (damn them for always going faster than me up Heart Attack Hill!). All speeds and skill levels should come – hikers, too.

And even more important…we’ll be snapping a few photos up at Family Man to post on social media and show our support of this amazing place (it’s on the schedule for potential logging. Read a well-done explanation here.)

Keep an eye out for future Team In Sanity rides – early mornings, nights with lights, and epic weekends that’ll keep you sane.

 

 

 

 

Reality, check.

Well, I am sitting in our truck, on the side of the highway. I’ve run out of gas. And with the exception of the car-shaking-semi-trucks that pass me every so often, this situation is very much like the day I wrote my wedding vows. Which was also on the side of the road, in our truck, while waiting for help.

Today I’m waiting for my riding-buddy and dear friend, Jos, to arrive with a can of gasoline. And much like that day before my wedding, when I was stranded on the side of the road in rural Oregon, it’s the kind of thing that can really throw a wrench into your plans. Unexpectedly, an errand that was supposed to take a half hour is going to take 3. Or all the things you thought you’d get done before lunch are going to have to wait until after, or until tomorrow. And then, maybe you get grumpy or pissy or stressed, because now all this time is going to be wasted. And I should probably cancel that dinner with friends to make up for lost time. Or, how am I gonna get it all done?

When I’m mountain-biking, these moments usually come when I’m zipping down a hill, feeling the flow, hitting all the kickers, and then SMACK. I’m on the ground, knee sliced open, all bruised up. And I get up wondering – well shit, where the hell did that come from?

It’s easy to see these times as the abnormalities in life. When you get knocked off your bike and you didn’t even see it coming. And so it makes sense that we often do whatever it takes to avoid them. We plan and consider and then carefully guard whatever route we see in front of us. Because it’d be totally scary to ride a trail if you could never look ahead and see what twists and turns were coming!

The irony is, that when I’m in these very moments – little ones, like running out of gas, to big ones, like losing loved ones, that’s when I really understand that we never truly see the path ahead. I realize how normal it is to get knocked off routeAnd that even though this makes things more scary and harder to control – it’s reality, so I’m damn well gonna embrace it.

After all, that’s the only way you can fully appreciate seeing a friend, running down the side of a highway, gas can in hand, smile on her face, as she comes to help you out. Now that’s what I call a friggin’ knight in shining armor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Time with Tom.

Over a decade ago I met Tom Standa. This week he died. And I have learned that there can be very different types of sadness. This one I feel for Tom is bittersweet. I include a brief reflection and a few photos here, because he was one helluva mountain-biker, and more importantly, one incredible man.

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Tom.

 

My Time with Tom –

Tom used to joke that I probably didn’t even see his face for the first few months that I knew him, because I couldn’t take my eyes off his calves. In a world where nothing’s ever perfect, they were about as close as you could get. And it feels ridiculous now, as I cycle through a confused sadness over Tom’s suicide, to find myself remembering his calves. Seeing them stride around REI, pedaling a bike in front of me, holding steady on boulder route, this nearly perfect part that caught my eye and drew me to an amazing man and friend whom I loved and learned from.

Tom and I were co-workers first. San Francisco was opening an REI. I think he was a manager of sorts, and I was just some yay-hoo looking for a job. We became fast friends and before long, the 2 of us were spending all free moments together, finding climbing routes in the city, teaching me to downhill ski, getting me back on a bike. It was one of the most wonderfully carefree times of my life and Tom was the ideal playmate. He was always patient with my lack of experience and enthusiastic to teach me in a way that didn’t annoy me or make me feel stupid and he seemed to relish my antics. I will never forget us boarding a San Francisco city bus, en route to an urban climbing spot. Tom, always the gentleman, had the massive crash pad on his back – bumping everyone as he walked down the aisle. I jokingly asked quite loudly, “Geesh, who’s the jerk with the giant backpack?” which drew horrified looks, but made Tom respond just as I expected, with laughter.

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Tom, spotting me at the Buttermilks in Bishop…infamous crash pad under his knee.

Gawd, he could handle a lot. I doubt I’ll ever again meet someone with as much patience as Tom. He moved into my apartment after we started dating and I can remember he would meticulously fold our clothes (a task he called “relaxing” and I called “torture”). He’d lay the folded clothes on the bed and when he was done, gather it all up and put it away. The room was very tiny and I could easily sneak up on him and launch from the doorway onto the bed – which I did more than once, rolling around on the bed and destroying all the work he had done.

I know. This sounds horribly mean, worthy of a fight. But Tom loved it. He understood it. Knew my trouble-making was a playfulness aimed at just getting him to smile. Which isn’t to say that after 3 times in a row he wouldn’t put his foot down, but up to that point, he knew I did it because it made us laugh. It was just the sort of thing that made his eyes squint with joy, to the point that they became little crescents, hidden under the top rim of his glasses. It seemed like when Tom smiled, all you’d see were the apples of his cheeks, magnified under those damn coke-bottle lenses he had to wear.

On weekends in San Francisco, Tom and I would escape the city, often driving 3+ hours to a magnificent day hike. We’d take his little red Civic hatchback – the car that proved to me that real men drive pragmatic vehicles, and we’d hit the road. Often the mornings were foggy and we’d grab a hot drink before heading to Point Reyes or Big Sur or somewhere further afield. We’d hike and explore all day and then turn around and head home. We’d usually stop somewhere for a burger and a milkshake on the way home and inevitably, I’d fall asleep soon thereafter. It made no sense to drive so far, but we loved it. And when I would awaken briefly to see how Tom was doing, and find the glow of the car dashboard lighting his contented face, it made me feel so peaceful, knowing that this was just another part of the adventure.

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On a hike, swapped shirts. Can’t recall if Tom was hot and wanted a tank-top, or lost a bet.

It wasn’t long after I first met Tom that I learned he had more than one bike. I’d not seriously ridden a bike since childhood and so it was beyond me why anyone would need more than one bike (how naïve I was!) Not only did Tom have multiple bikes, but I can recall him showing me old photos and there would be picture after picture of his bikes! One leaned up against a tree, another by the side of a trail. I wondered if the photos were because he was selling the bikes…nope, just wanted pictures of them or I needed to use up film (the good old days). It was a dorky pride that belied his generosity. On more than one occasion, he’d simply give one of his beloved bikes away to someone he thought should have it. I was the lucky enough to be one of those people. With little fanfare or discussion, he showed up one day with a Specialized Stumpjumper bike for me. In his understated way he explained how it was made in the 80’s, before Specialized switched their production to some other country (where, apparently, standards dropped). He pointed out the nice lugs, told me how a dog had attacked him once while riding it (hence the mangled handlebar grip) and was excited that I’d be able to use it to commute to work since I had no car or bike of my own. I rode that bike all over San Francisco and then Portland and now Hood River. It is by far the smoothest ride of any of my bikes (of which I have more than one, and do occasionally take their pictures…)

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The hallway in our apartment where Tom first showed me the Stumpjumper (Stumpy J). He had to haul it up 3 flights of narrow stairs to get it there.

I’ve been mountain biking for a handful of years now. And while my interest took off when I moved to the Gorge, my first official mountain bike ride was on Tom’s teal and purple Klein on a trail in Bend, Oregon. The bike had a huge pivot point right in the middle of the cross-bar. I remember it, because it bruised the shit out of my inner knees – which I’m sure is the result of poor form, inexperience, and simple knock-kneed genetics. We went out on the Deschutes River Trail. The ride sucked. I had no idea what I was in for. No experience, and, perhaps most importantly, no snacks. What I thought would be just an hour, turned into 4. Tom, of course, had plenty of extra food and water and shared it without second thought. He wasn’t deterred that I didn’t immediately fall for the sport he so loved, and over the years, when I would visit him at the REI store in Bend, he’d smile and nod as I regaled him with my most recent trail stories and new-found love of mountain biking. (This summer, I returned to that trail along the Deschutes – and I loved it.) I always assumed that one of these days Tom and I would ride together again and he’d get to see how far I’d come from that first ride. I’d probably try to hit a kicker and fall or go faster than I should and make some silly mistake and he would laugh, pick me up, then ride on without saying much – reminding me just how graceful understated can truly be.

We all have lows and highs in our lives and Tom was there for one of my lowest. I call it my Sad Bad Time. It was one of those periods when perspective goes out the window, you’re left feeling paralyzed, and isolated, and horrible. And you really don’t know if you’ll ever get out of it, and you have no idea how to even try. I can’t even recall if Tom and I were still dating or just friends, but I know he was my touchstone – solid as hell, like he’d been so many times before. I moved beyond that Sad Bad place thanks in part to Tom’s strength and clarity. He always rose to the challenge and he was so darn unflappable – (much to my dismay when I was hoping to get a rise out of him). Which is part of the reason it’s so hard now to reconcile how things ended. And why there’s this illogical part of me that feels it’s all recent enough and raw enough that there might be some way to just turn back the clock, and be there with Tom at the end. And if I could just get there in time I would remind him of riding a bus with a crash-pad, wrestling on a pile of clothes, exploring the outdoors together. I would make fun of his eyes disappearing when he smiled or joke about when he’d finally get that front tooth fixed. I’d tell him that the long underwear that he let me “steal” from him, are still in regular rotation – despite holes and poor stitch-up jobs. And that Stumpy J is still my favorite bike even though it’s old school and heavy and most people don’t understand why it’s amazing.

And then I would remind him what he used to tell me when I felt bad – you are perfectly imperfect. And we would sit back and look out at the world and feel only peace, knowing that above all else, this was true – for all of us.

Thank you Tom for the grace and patience and love and tenderness and laughter and wisdom that you gave me, and so many others.

Rest in peace my friend.

Love,

Sarah


February 8, 2017

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One of my favorites.

Dead Butts and Public Broadcasting.

Okay folks, we’re gonna talk about Dead Butt Syndrome. I can’t say for sure, but you probably have it and I’m sorry. I’m pretty sure I have it, too. I came to this realization when two of my favorite worlds converged – public broadcasting and biking.

Do you ever listen to OPB? If you don’t, you should. And if you do, then perhaps you’d recognize the dulcet tones of a Mister Casey Negreiff – Producer for Morning Edition (or the helluvastellar-journalist, Amelia Templeton, wife of Mr. Negreiff). Casey has to be at work really, really early in the morning. When most of us are logging some serious R.E.M.s, Casey is sitting down in front of a microphone where he’s expected to put together complete sentences using big words about complex topics. What he says will be broadcast all over Oregon and SW Washington and to anyone else in the world who streams the station digitally (which is a surprising number of people).

With a job like that you might think that Mister Negrieff would take it easy on himself, sleep in until the very last moment, then hop in his car and drive to work. But he doesn’t. Instead, he rolls out of bed and onto a bike. And when I first met Casey many years ago, he didn’t even own a car – which meant he biked to work 5 days a week, 12 months a year. Rain, shine, snow, ice, darkness. No other choice. No option to be late. Seconds count when you’re doing live radio.

So when Casey casually shared a bit of biking advice with me, I was all ears. Sometimes when I’m riding I try to focus on using different muscles. This sounds super nerdy, which is probably why I liked it and have continued to think about it all these years later.

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Two thumbs up for biking. Still standing after Lolo Pass.

As I can best recall, it’s the idea that sometimes you focus on your quads doing the brunt of the work, or your hammies, or your butt. Now Casey’s not a mountain biker, but he does do ridiculous long road rides like Portland to the Gorge via Lolo Pass. (I know, disgusting.) Still, we’re mountain-bikers not roadies. There’s no time to think about using different muscles when we’re trying to hit the skinnies and shred the gnar, yo!

Except those times when you’re not. And instead, you’re climbing and it feels like foreevvvver and you need something to distract from the misery. That’s a great time to do the Casey Method. Which is exactly what I was trying to do the other day on some horrible climb I’m sure I’d been coerced into, which is when I discovered something truly awful. I couldn’t use my butt muscles. No matter how hard I focused, they just wouldn’t engage. Which is ridiculous, because our glutes are all huge and meaty and seem like they should totally be our secret turbo-boosters on climbs (as I write that I find it hard to not picture myself riding up a hill with 2 flames coming off my ass – in a good way). 

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Climbing slickrock in Moab. No butt flames. Boo.

I made an offhand mention of this problem to Dr. Gerbi over at Hood River Chiropractic and she immediately responded “oh, yeah, Dead Butt Syndrome”. What?! Is it contagious? Curable? What am I up against? She went on to explain (in much more medical and smart-sounding terms than I’ll use here) that DBS is a silly name for a real thing, Lower Crossed Syndrome. Which is essentially a muscle imbalance where some of your muscles start doing too much of the work, resulting in other muscles saying sayonara baby! If you’re not using me, I’m clockin’ out! Before you know it, your hip-flexors are super tight, you’re walking ever-so slightly bent forward, your gut protrudes, your back hurts, and your butt won’t engage. Turns out it’s a pretty common problem among us ladies who’ve had kiddos (a natural next step following whacked out stomach muscles, crouched breast-feeding posture, toddler on hip etc.) But it’s also a common problem among folks who spend a lot of time sitting, at a desk, staring at a computer, like you’re probably doing right now.

So here we are, looking like a bunch of damn neanderthals as our sweet backsides waste away. It’s really so sad. And I’d like to tell you that I have the cure to Dead Butt Syndrome, but I’ve only just identified the problem in myself. So all I can do is wish you good health and good luck while I go donate to my local public broadcasting station and grapple with how to raise the dead.

UPDATE: 10/26/16 Nothing like a dead-butt to rally the troops. Check out this article just shared by the folks over at MTB Project. Apparently, dead butt can also affect our knees! Holy crap, that’s serious. Wake up your glutes, people! I’m doing the “fire-hydrant”as I type…

Dropper Seats & DIY Arm Warmers

This post is all about saving you money (and life).

As some of you may know (though don’t feel bad if you didn’t, cuz now you will) when you are about to ride a bunch of downhill on your mountain bike, it’s common practice to lower your seat. This is done for a handful of reasons that I’ll get into at another time – but trust me, it’s just better. When the downhill is done, you move your seat back up to your ‘normal’ riding height for climbing or cross-country riding. It’s way more comfy that way.

My first few years riding, I just opened my little quick-release lever on my seat post, pushed/pulled the seat to the right height, locked it back again and was on my way. No biggie, right? Totally. Which is why the first time someone told me about dropper-seats on mountain bikes I thought it sounded ree-diculous. (What’s a dropper seat? Well if you haven’t been to my handy-dandy-factually-questionable Glossary, you should pay it a visit. You’ll learn about everything from dropper seats to when it’s best to Ride the Lightning©.)

Okay, so Ridiculous Dropper Seats. Who needs em? They sound all fancy pants. They sound like something that would break easily. They clearly aren’t necessary since I’m already able to raise and lower my seat just fine. Another bike gadget that this pragmatic gal will pass on – thank you very much…

How wrong I was. Dropper seats are gonna save you money, and save your life.

Whoa, hold up – how does spending between $150-300+ (installation not even included!) on a stinkin’ seat post end up saving you money?! Here’s how. When you have to stop and adjust a seat by hand, sometimes you do it and sometimes you don’t. Which means not as much fun on the downhill, and (this is where the savings come in) doing a number on your knees by riding with a seat that’s too low for too long. Over time, that damage accumulates. Before you know it, you’re turning 40, 45, 50. You have regular appointments with a physical therapist. You’re buying neoprene sleeves to wear on your achy knees. You’re stocking up on Ibuprofen and drinking more beer to help ease the pain as you reminisce about the good ole’ days when your knees didn’t hurt after a ride. It’s all money down the drain, and it’s all because you wouldn’t invest in that damn dropper seat post. Not only that, you start adding up the seconds it’s taking you to adjust your seat manually – minutes if you have friends there heckling your analog ways – and you are literally losing bits of your life each and every time. You deserve better.

So next time you go to grab that quick-release lever, remind yourself that you’re worth it. Go get a dropper, save some money, and save some life.

And here’s a little bonus tidbit of goodness…

Now that you’re buying dropper seats, it means you’re probably also buying yourself expensive wool socks. And then, because you don’t have that many pairs of $20+ socks cuz that’s a lot of money for socks, you wear that one pair all. the. time.

And then, before you know it, that one pair gets a damn hole in the toe and you’re like, “What the hell, these are $22 socks! They should last forever!” And you feel like crap and can’t even imagine throwing them away, but you’re not gonna darn them anytime soon (do people still darn?) and so you think you’ve just poured money down the drain, but you haven’t!

Go grab a pair of scissors, snip off the toe, give those fancy wool socks new life and put em on your arms for chilly rides. Now you’ve got yourself some sweet, super fashionable, highly functional, bad-ass arm warmers! The heel of the sock even fits real nice on your elbow. And every time you look down at those cool sock arms as you push the button to lower your dropper seat you’ll feel proud.


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Logging in Upper Post Canyon

Logging has begun in the Post Canyon neighborhood of Dirt Surfer. I don’t know the upper trails that well, but you can see in the photos/video where we finally ran out of trail and met the clearcut (which was in progress this morning, Sept. 24, 2016).

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I’ve not had a chance to do much research or thinking on the topic of clearcuts and our mountain bike trails, which is what I’d want to do before I say much more. But I will point you to an older post (2012) by Temira (an excellent source of all things outdoor/play/weather in the Gorge) that takes a deeper look at logging and trails. I’d be interested to hear thoughts/facts/experiences from others who follow this more closely.

And, it’s a great reminder for all of us riders/hikers/runners who use these trails to give some time or money to HRATS (Hood River Area Trail Stewards) – who do so so so much to build, maintain, and advocate for our amazing trail system. Just consider the number of hours you spend on our trails, multiply that by the health benefits, whoops of joy, and good clean fun that these trails provide us all and it’s worth every darn penny.

 

Siouxon/Huffman Peak Loop

First things first. I don’t have a Twitter account, but if I did I would be using LOTS OF CAPS AND EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!!!!!!! in my tweets (how many characters do I get?) Because, for all you rad riders who’ve been surfing the end-0f-summer moondust on our local Hood River trails, the tide has turned! Our rain dances have paid off. There’s some tackiness on them thar trails. So get out and ride my people!

Yes, fall, sweet fall, has finally arrived. Our trails renewed, our souls rejoice. A truly magical time of year in our Pacific Wonderland. But, as with all things, there is a downside. With fall comes the eventual snow, which means the end of riding high-elevation trails. So, keep an eye on the blog for some trip reports in hopes that you’re able to escape to the epic highlands before winter descends.

TRIP REPORT: Siouxon/Huffman Peak Loop

Just as I was re-discovering my love of Falls Creek Falls, I was goaded into heading even further afield to ride the Siouxon/Huffman Peak Loop up in SW Washington. I went to sleep assuming I’d be heading up to FCF the next day, and awoke to a text from my riding buddy informing me she was on her way and the plans were set for Siouxon.

“No rush!” She said. “And, no choice”.
Followed by, “I have cookies.”

Peer pressure + cookies. She knows me well. So off we went to Siouxon. Before long, we were winding our way on gravel backroads into the hills of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. This felt epic! Out in the middle of nowhere! Huge, axle-sucking potholes to navigate! Not another soul in sight! Team Intrepid, bada bing bada boom!

And then, just as quickly as it had come, our Spirit of Adventure began to fizzle. Around the bend we go, and there’s a cute family camping. A few more turns, more campers. Then a group of 6 cars. Then more cars coming and going. And finally, oh finally, the Siouxon Trailhead. Totally packed with cars. Where the hell had all these people come from? It is so deflating when you are sure you are Living on the Edge, only to find out that so are grandmas with walking sticks, a handful of small children, and a bunch of perky families and their dogs…geesh.

Okay. Okay. Time to regroup. We would not let this get us down. We’d driven too far. We’d somehow found a parking spot. So we loaded our bags with plenty of snacks and
water. And hit the trail.

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Oreos shoved into the mesh pocket on the side of your pack seems like a really bad idea…until you’re a couple hours into a 22 mile ride.

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Finding toy cars in your bike bag –  standard practice.

It. Was. Beautiful. Flowing single-ish track (a bit wider perhaps). The occasional fun root section, not much up, not much down. Waterfalls. Big trees. And a whole-lotta people. We passed only one other biker – he was on his way out and said to us, a bit too loudly, “It’s not worth it. There’s just too many people.” Determined, we carried on and soon came to a bridge, followed by a creek, and then a waterfall. Hmmmm…things were getting good. With icy water up to mid-calves, we crossed the creek and headed up to a trail junction. (Be sure and bring your maps and directions, folks. We left ours safely in the car and had to snap a photo of one courtesy of a friendly hiker.) Just a handful of miles into the ride, and the crowds had entirely disappeared. Now, this is what we’re talking about.

You may have noticed that in the name of this ride there are 2 words, Sioux and Huffman, followed by the word, peak. As you might imagine, anytime you have the word peak preceded by multiple names, you are gonna do a helluvalotofclimbing. In this case, almost 6000 feet of climbing. We knew this was coming and now, just as the crowds had dissapated, the incline had appeared.

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The great thing about having to walk your bike is you can take pictures at the same time.

Still fresh, we started to ride up the hill, but it wasn’t long before we had to dismount and walk. This might be a good time to let you know the definition of hike-a-bike. Hike-a-bike is when you go on a hike and bring your bike along. It’s kind of like bringing a dog on your hike; it keeps you company and you don’t have to worry about picking up poo. It’s also what you do when the trail is so darn steep, or you’re so whooped, that you just have to walk along pushing your bike. For those venturing to S/H Peak, plan on a lot of this. Even you super fit folks will find plenty of opportunity for head-down bike-pushing.

So right now, as you sit back in your chair, wondering why anyone would bump their way to a far-off trail, packed with people, to walk their bike up a 6000′ of incline, I want you to consider something – this is exactly what makes mountain biking so friggin’ incredible.

Regardless your skill level, your fitness, your age, whatever, mountain biking will get you out exploring places you might never go to otherwise. And with your 2-wheeled stallion, you’ll be able to go further, faster, even if you have to hike some.

After enjoying the view from the top of Siouxon Peak (well hello there Cascade Mountains) you will soon begin your descent. And, as you may have guessed, if you come up 6000 feet, you will also get to go down 6000 feet. Swooping turns, massive trees whizzing by as you rip-roar through a gorgeous forest on flowy singletrack. Any doubts you had about the ride will disappear. With one final stream crossing you’ll do a bit of up-and-down over drainages as you make your way to your car (note: the Siouxon/Huffman link above suggests parking at a different location that’s before the official trailhead. We, however, preferred the route we got by parking at trailhead, in which you’d take a left instead of a right at the junction following the final creek crossing. Either way, you ride it all, it’s just a matter of when you’ll ride the section that goes up and over multiple little drainages – at the start or the end, as we did, of the ride.)

By the time we were done, we wondered if Siouxon/Huffman Peak trail might be a bit like labor; you do it and then you say “boy, I never wanna do that again.”

And then, before you know it, you find yourself thinking..hmmm…that wasn’t really so bad. In fact, that was one of the most awesome things I’ve ever done…I think I might just do it again. 

(*Thanks Kristen. And a very belated happy birthday. Next time we’ll hike…errrr…ride this together.)

(**No Mom, the final sentence about labor and babies is not me telling you that I’m pregnant. nor planning to be pregnant again.)