Posts Tagged: aryn henning nichols

I Might Be a Mountain Biker


By Aryn Henning Nichols

I’m standing at the edge of a steep single-track slope – c’mon, let’s be honest: it’s a cliff – with a mountain bike between my legs. I’ve freaked myself out and am stuck looking down.

ArynJosie“Eeeee! I can’t do it!” I shout ahead to my totally rad and more experienced riding leader (the ever-awesome, Josie – pictured at right with me).

“It’s okay to walk,” she says.

No it’s not. I can do it.

Trust your body, trust your bike. Trust your body, trust your bike. Trust your body, trust your bike. This mantra floods my head as I climb aboard to ride to certain death.

“Woohoo!” I shout ahead. “I did it!” I hear a “wooo!” back and we keep riding.

The next day, I don’t hesitate at the cliff. And it’s amazing.


Mountain biking is something I’ve always wanted to be good at. I mean…it’s a pretty badass sport. Those craggy rocks and towering bluffs are some killer personal trainers, and running an endless “trust your body, trust your bike” mantra is, literally, meditation.

The amazing Benji Nichols (my husband) has known this for decades, so I don’t know why it’s taken me almost a decade into our relationship to give it a fighting chance (okay: running a magazine, having a baby, watching all the Netflix…those are probably the reasons).

But no more! Over the past month-ish, I’ve been renting mountain bikes from Decorah Bicycles to see if I can somehow be a badass-mountain-biking-bitch.

ArynPinesHere are 5 things I’ve learned (spoiler: lessons may also be applied to life):

  1. You’re going to crash. Once you get the first crash done, the next one doesn’t seem so scary.
  2. Uphill climbs are so hard! But they get better if you keep working at it.
  3. Using your body AND mind to navigate roots, rocks, twists, and dips is an amazing experience.
  4. You might run over a dead mouse every now and then. It’s okay. Get over it and move on.
  5. If you can’t get through a section of trail right away, go back and try again. And again. Victory is exhilarating! (Don’t be alarmed if you accidentally shout, “F#*k yeah!” Swearing is acceptable encouraged.)

After a week or two of riding by myself and with Josie, I went out with Benji (yikes, I was nervous!). I had ridden with him probably five times before probably five years ago, and I really wanted him to think I was kicking ass. Of course, I crashed. But that was after I kicked ass.


We climbed up and rolled down the challenging single-track of Decorah and I was proud of myself. There were many “woohoos” and lots of sweat. At the top of Van Peenen Prairie, I looked at Benji, smiled – excited – and said, “I think I might be a mountain biker!”

He looked at me and snorted. I expected one of his usual snarky remarks, but instead he threw a hand up for a high five and said, “I’ve got news for you: You are a mountain biker.”

F#*k yeah!


Wanna ride with me? Let’s rent bikes together (it’s a great way to figure out what you like to ride, or if you like to ride)! Or join Josie and Travis at Decorah Bicycles for their weekly Sunday FWD Rides. Get more details and sign up here! Ride on, you unicorns!

Momentum vs. Motivation


Fall seems like a good time for doing things. Days are still long, the weather is good and opportunities (necessities?) abound for fun, exercise, and taking care of da house and yarden. But that very fact often drives me into a funk. Because I’m all like, I don’t wanna do things! Mainly, I want to drink beer with friends and/or watch all the Netflix. But, ultimately, doing things helps you get out of pretty much any funk, so here I am, doing things. (Because, yes, even this crazy cheerleader-type lady who started a sun-shiny magazine about inspiration gets in some funky darn funks.)

So what things am I doing? Well, for starters, I’m writing! (I know; it may not seem like it just yet.) Taking the time to just write (Ha. As Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do it sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”) is something I haven’t done in a long, long time. And that’s a damn shame.

My trouble is finding the motivation.

The ball we need to get rolling can feel like an 800-pound boulder. But if we can just get it rocking past the tipping point, we can watch that mother-flipping thing roll down the whole damn hill. Momentum, baby. It’s what we’re trying to harness here. I have a few tricks to make this work in my life and I thought I’d share them here today (spoiler alert: I’m a list fan).

1. Lists: Today, To-Do, Life

It’s fitting that the first thing on my list today is “make a list” (check that off the list, woot!). I have three lists: “today” and a general “to-do” one sitting next to me, and a “life list” on my computer. Let’s talk about today lists first.

A. Today lists:

Sometimes I look at the big (giant) general to-do list of things I need to get done and I feel over-freaking-whelmed. Give yourself a break –make a breakout list! Breakout lists are smaller – for me, usually just a quarter of an 8.5×11 page – and only have the things I need/want to get done on one day. Breakout lists also give me the chance to cross things off twice (on the to-do and today lists), which is so very, very satisfying (amIright?).

But still: how to get the motivation? Do the easy stuff first. I have been known to write, “take a shower” on my list. (Especially post-becoming-a-parent, because, damn, it can be hard to find the time!) We work from home, so my day list is a little unique in that I can include housework too. The thing that gets my ball rolling is laundry (that sounds a little dirty, ha)! That blessed machine does all the work, but somehow makes me feel like I’m getting sh*t done! I often do laundry first-thing in the morning. Sometimes I even shower WHILE the dryer is going…cause then we’re really getting somewhere! If you have a more traditional job, maybe you can write, “organize desk” or “make office coffee” or even “clean up computer desktop”. A tidy workspace can make the day seem so much brighter. And, look: You can cross something off your list already. Go, you!

B. To-do lists:

This is the stuff you need to get done – written down because you don’t want to forget, but know you can’t possibly get it done in one day (or month) – all in one place. This list is often long, and can freak me out. I sometimes hide this list and only look at what’s on for today.

C. Life lists:

What are your dreams? Your goals? Think this month, this year, the next five, and, ultimately, your entire life. Breakout lists can come handy here too! 🙂 My current life list is titled “35 Before 35” – I turn 35 next year, and made this list at age 30. Before that, I had “30 before 30” made at age 22. I had some “rollover” goals move from that list to current – NBD, folks. Just writing goals down is a motivator. If you’re making a life list like this, make sure to also include some easy stuff. (See 1A, re: motivation.)

2. No fun Internet until you get the most important thing on your list done.

Simple concept; big impact.

3. When you find yourself getting off track – trailing into your time-wasters – go do something else on your list. For me, it’s usually house stuff or prepping/cooking food. I recently starting making exercise the “hey, do something for yourself” thing I do too (hopefully that’s a new habit!).

None of this is to say you can’t spend a little time on Facebook or searching for vintage campers on Craigslist; just recognize when you’re doing those things to simply avoid other work.


4. Pat yourself on the back

Stop being so damn hard on yourself. Once you give yourself a break, you’ll realize you’re doing pretty well in this here life. Did you get one thing done today? Did you even slightly utilize your day in a way you wanted? Then give yourself a high five, friend, because this is LIFE! No guilt, no worry, no regret. Are there only five minutes left in the day and you didn’t get one thing done? Do one little thing, then plan to ride the momentum into tomorrow. And then pat yourself on your damn back. You got this.

Science, You’re Super: Butterflies!

(And other holometabolic insects…)


Beautiful photos by Joyce Meyer Photography!

By Aryn Henning Nichols • Originally published in the Spring 2014 Inspire(d)

Many of you know the story: the one about the caterpillar that’s hungry. Very hungry. He eats and eats and eats. And he is STILL hungry. And then he becomes a butterfly! (Sigh. If only that would happen to humans…)

But HOW does that chubby little guy turn into a beautiful butterfly?

Let’s learn! There are four stages of a butterfly’s life: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. (1)

In the first stage, the mama butterfly lays a very small, round or oval egg (appearance depends on the type of butterfly). She picks a very specific leaf that she knows her little babe will eat once it’s hatched a few days later. If you look closely enough at the egg, you might even be able to see the tiny caterpillar growing inside! (1)

Once hatched, the egg has progressed to stage two: the caterpillar, or larva. This is the part where the gluttony begins (although, unlike the book, caterpillars don’t generally eat pickles and salami and ice cream…). The caterpillar behaves like a free-living, eating, growing-but-developmentally repressed embryo. (2)

During the few days or weeks that it is active, it will devour its favorite plant to the tune of its own weight many times over. (2) They stuff their faces so they can grow quickly. And grow they do! Their exoskeleton (skin) doesn’t stretch or grow though, so they “molt” (shedding the outgrown skin) several times during this stage. (1)

Once the caterpillar has reached critical mass, it’s ready to move on to stage three: The pupa or chrysalis. That hungry caterpillar finally gets full, and finds a comfy place to molt into a shiny chrysalis. That’s where the magic happens. Within its protective casing, the caterpillar radically transforms its body.?But be prepared – magic isn’t always pretty!

First, the caterpillar digests itself, releasing enzymes to dissolve all of its tissues. It basically becomes a nutrient-rich soup, feeding the imaginal discs. These highly organized groups of cells survive the digestive process – they’ve been a part of the caterpillar it’s entire life. Before hatching, when a caterpillar is still developing inside its egg, it grows an imaginal disc for each of the adult body parts it will need – discs for its eyes, wings, legs, and so on. In some species, these imaginal discs are dormant; in other species, the discs begin to take the shape of adult body parts before the caterpillar forms a chrysalis – some caterpillars walk around with tiny rudimentary wings tucked inside their bodies.?Inside the chrysalis, once all of the tissues are digested, those discs use the protein-rich “soup” to fuel the rapid cell division required to form the butterfly body parts. One disc could begin with only 50 cells and increase to more than 50,000 cells by the end of metamorphosis. (3)

This type of metamophosis is called holometaboly – a full change – and is the complete – and often dramatic – change from a worm-like larva to a large-winged adult. It’s a highly sophisticated chemical suppression of developmental processes. Though only 9 of 26 insect orders are holometabolic, this accounts for 80 percent of all insects (butterflies, beetles, moths, flies, bees, wasps and ants are majority stakeholders).(2)


Once metamorphosis is complete, the caterpillar is ready to emerge in its final, adult stage: the butterfly. When it first comes out, both wings are soft and folded against its body. It rests a bit, then pumps blood into the wings in order to get them working and flapping. They’re ready to fly just a few short hours after cracking out of the chrysalis and head off in search of a mate in order to continue the cycle!


Aryn Henning Nichols repeatedly said, “Whoa” while writing this Science, You’re Super. Butterflies! They’re crazy amazing!