Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Diana Takes a Bite... of Dirt

Despite running competitive cross-country for eight years and often being mistaken for a basketball and/or volleyball player, I am not exactly a "sturdy" sort of gal. I am tall, but gangly; muscular, but lean like a skinless chicken breast; and in-shape, but devoid of any coordination required for most athletic endeavors.

In my post-collegiate life as a "delicate flower" with more skirts from Anthropologie than I have pairs of underwear, I tend to avoid physical activities that could potentially result in scrapes, unsightly bruises and broken bones. Every fashionista knows that short hemlines don't look nearly as adorable when juxtaposed with a pair of purple, blue and scabbed legs! So when my older brother told me that we, my other brother and my sister-in-law would be driving ATVs (All-terrain Vehicle) last weekend, my immediate reaction was to cash-in my plane ticket to Phoenix and go to a spa instead.

Ok, so that was actually my second reaction. My first was googling "ATVs" to figure out what the heck they were, and then proceeding to become increasingly horrified as I read in depth descriptions about the dangers involved in the extreme sport of riding and operating the off-road motorized vehicles. Girls who wear pink dresses do not do "extreme." Unless it is "extreme" mascara (which btw, is quite effective for plumping up thin lashes). Despite my strong inclination to tell my brother I would rather eat dirt than risk life, limb and the attractiveness of my skin on an ATV, I decided to be a "trooper" and at least pretend to be adventurous. I eat raw fish and things with squid ink -- I do take some risks!

With my brother's assurance that I would be "fine," I approached the whole ATV situation as though I was approaching the sales rack at the Nordstrom's 1/2 Yearly Sale -- I would conquer all (and defeat that scrawny bitch trying to get the last size-26 pair of Joe's jeans). At the time, I didn't realize that conquering all translated into three hours of traversing poorly marked trails that were rife with sizable rocks, precarious bushes and uneven surfaces just waiting to toss me from my pretty red ATV.

It was fun at first. My brother lead us down wide trails that beckoned my siblings and I to test the speed on our ATVs. I even made a few "zooming" noises as I accelerated over the sandy surfaces of the path. I felt powerful, in control, and in sync with my machine and inner (really really inner) nature girl. When we took a short break at the half-way point, I turned to my brother and asked, "So that's as bad as it gets, right?"

He nodded, but something in his eyes made my stomach lurch with anxiety. It was an odd moment in my stomach's life when the lurching was not the result of hunger.

As we started on the next part of our reckless journey, I began to panic. This part of the course did not beckon me to toy with my accelerator. It was full of hills, sharp turns, narrow pathways, rocks, and bushes - lots and lots of bushes. My ATV, previously a good friend that I inappropriately named "Leslie," suddenly seemed to turn against me. When she hit an uneven surface, she darted to the side, necessitating quick action to avoid a collision with a tree, cactus or other bruise-inducing item. Whereas before I had relished the strength I felt as the hot Arizona wind blew dust and dirt in my face, I was now feeling weak and incapable of controlling my vehicle. I was scared.

Every time I approached a rough section, I steeled myself for injury. I prayed more during that ninety minutes than I did during the entire Lenten season, pleading with God to get me back to the site without more than the sizable bruises and scrapes that my limbs had already accumulated through my several brushes with "nature." As I climbed up hills, and narrowly missed tree branches, it was almost inevitable that I would begin philosophizing about the experience. Just the day before, I had been worrying about Excel documents and grids, and whether certain rates and discounts made sense. These matters seemed inconsequential as I clinched the handlebars of my vehicle, convinced I would sustain one of the 136,700 injuries associated with ATVs (as reported in US hospitals in 2005). The contradiction begged the question -- why did I spend so much time focusing on things that didn't really matter?

When my brothers, sister-in-law and I finally made it back to the site, I was overcome with a sense of euphoria and adrenaline. I was also covered in dirt and the very unsightly bruises and scratches that my skirts feared. Oddly enough, it didn't bother me. Not even when the bruises stretched into saucer-sized splotches on both my knees. Not even when my brother insisted on photographing them. I was proud of the markings. They signified my accomplishments -- overcoming my somewhat irrational fears and "delicate flower" syndrome to do something that went totally against my character (and body type).

"My Markings"

While I've had many memorable foodie moments in the past year (including the pasta tasting menu at Osteria Mozza), the memory that will stick out the most for me is not the way the Orecchiette with Sausage and Swiss Chard serenaded my tongue or the Paparadelle Bolonegese caressed my stomach. My 2008 fondest "foodie" memory will be the taste of the dirt that flew in my mouth throughout the three hours of my personally harrowing ATVing experience. I don't think even Mario Batali could make dirt taste as palatable as it did when I finally turned off the ignition on my ATV.

My sister-in-law Amy and me, covered in dirt

Today, as I sit in my office, cognizant that I should be working on my corporate meeting notes instead of blogging about my weekend trip, I am also cognizant of my need for a little perspective in my everyday life. Course some might say I'm already off to a good start -- I just wrote an entire blog entry about ATVing and made it somehow relevant to the general theme of food.

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