The Big Finish – Part 3

Prednisone

Today was my final prednisone pill. It’s powerful stuff. It has interesting side effects. It makes you speedy, improves your mood, and boosts your appetite. Basically, you run around the kitchen eating all the Christmas goodies. It’s a dirty, lousy, thankless job but somebody has to do it. Oink.

Stenosis

After breakfast, I did a half hour of yoga for my back. Normally, I start by doing standing stretches, but today I did nothing but stretches and core exercises on the floor. Child pose is the bomb. I think the prednisone allows me to relax and stretch without muscle soreness. It’ll be interesting to see how my body handles some of these positions without the benefit of steroids.

Colonoscopy

Earlier this month I had a colonoscopy. The doctor found three abnomalities. He found one to be obviously innocuous. Two were suspicious. He biopsied the baddies and removed all three. Today, he showed me the results from the pathology lab. My two suspect polyps were adenomas, the kind of polyps that can develop into colon cancer. Had I not had this colonoscopy I might have been in for a rather rude surprise in 2020. Long story short, I’m good to go, so to speak, for another three years.

The Last Ride

After a 20-minute meditation session down by the river, I went for my final bike ride of the year. It was a 28-mile gentle meander on the Mount Vernon Trail aboard the Cross Check. My back did not much like the bumps on the trail. After the ride I lowered the saddle a couple of millimeters. We’ll see how that feels next time. (Later in the evening my hips and left leg were sore from stenosis. Hmm…)

Fleet Miles

I have four bikes. The end-of-year odometer readings are pretty cool. Clockwise from top left: Little Nellie, The Mule, The Cross Check, and Big Nellie. These are only outdoor miles. I put some miles on Big Nellie in the basement every winter so its odometer reading is probably short about 1,000 miles. Grand total: 135,050 miles since 1991.

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December Miles

In December I rode 667.5 miles. All but 44 miles were outdoors. I rode 24 out of 31 days. My long ride was during the Hains Point 100 when I did 37.5 miles.

2019 Miles

I rode a total of 10,618.5 miles in 2019, 2,978 of them during the No Name Tour from May to early July. During the tour, I climbed over 150,000 feet. I rode 188 miles indoors, evidence of a mild winter. I climbed 0 feet indoors. Boredom has its advantages.

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Miles by Bike 2019

2019 Events

In addition to the Hains Point 100, I squeezed in a few other bike events this year. I did my 11th Fifty States Ride, my fifth Cider Ride, another Great Pumpkin Ride (I can’t recall how many times I’ve done this one), a ride looking at murals in Alexandria, and still another with a George Washington theme.

A Decade of Riding

I rode 84,531 miles in the 2010s.

Miles by Year - 2010 to 2019

 

Happy camper on a bike

For the last six days I’ve been taking a declining dose of the steroid prednisone to calm the irritated nerves in my back and legs. Prednisone pills taste gross but they are very powerful. My pain became tolerable after a day. Although I didn’t notice, they improved my mood and, my wife and daughter report, even made me chatty. As I said, it’s powerful.

Until I took prednisone, I couldn’t tell where in my lower back my nerve problems were coming from. Now I can feel tension above my left butt cheek. Hello, you little bugger. I’m coming after you.

The best part of this pill party is that I am riding my bike like it was the summer of 2018. I have nearly zero discomfort, I am accelerating like a boss, and can cruise 20 percent faster with practically no effort. In five days, I’ve ridden 159 miles. Each day I stop long before I get tired. I could easily have ridden 50 miles today but decided to err on the side of caution and quit after 36. The Mule abides.

My leg ache comes and goes and the hot spot outside my left hip is still there, but otherwise my body is so much happier. I go up hills without a care. My back, arms, and shoulder feel relaxed as I pedal.

All of this makes me wonder if my hip and knee problems have been a side effect of stenosis, rather than in addition to stenosis. If I’ve been in low level pain for months, it’s no wonder my riding has suffered. Not the mileage, but the enjoyment. Riding across Kansas this year was work; riding across North Dakota and eastern Montana last year was play.

While I have the pain at bay, I have been blending yoga with my physical therapy. Up until now I had been doing PT in a very regimented fashion. This many repeats. Hold for this many seconds, etc. The idea was to build strength in particular muscles, mostly in support of my hip and knee.

Now I am letting my body dictate what to do. I am flowing from one position to the next, concentrating on keeping my motions fluid.  The regimented aspect has been one of the reasons I hate yoga classes. (And don’t get me started on yoga teachers who physically move you into the “proper” position. Must not kill!)

Instead I’ll hold a position for as many seconds as seems helpful then go right into another one without stopping. If a posture causes something to ache, I stop and move on to another posture.

A typical sequence might be (PT exercises in italics):

  • Step over a horizontal pole for 25 repetitions (A warm up that helps me getting on and off the bike.)
  • Stretch hamstrings
  • Stretch quads
  • Stretch iliotibial bands
  • Runner’s calf muscle stretches
  • Shoulder scrunches
  • Add standing yoga positions
    • Rishi’s posture
    • Chest expansions
    • Deep breathing
    • Toe touches
    • Side bends
    • Trunk rotations at the waist
    • Neck rotations
    • Squats
    • Dancers posture
  • Lay on the floor and do
    • Open book shoulder exercises 
    • Pull knees to chest, first one leg, then the other, then both
    • Ankle over knee and pull legs toward torso
    • Sway back and forth with bent knees at the hip
    • Hurdlers stretches
    • Groin stretches
    • Neck pushes
    • Toe touches
    • Back bridges
    • Side planks with torso on ground
    • Side planks with legs on ground
    • Bird dog
    • Cat/cow pose
    • Planks
    • Cobra pose
    • Locust pose
    • Twist torso while lunging
    • Lunges
    • Child’s pose
    • Shoulder stand
    • Plough
  • Sit ups (or crunches)
  • Set of super six exercises on a foam roller

That’s over 30 different exercises. And I left a few out. I have all of  them written down but I tend to do whatever seems to make sense in the moment. If I’m doing a pose while lying on my back, I might pop into a shoulder stand, for example. Then I’ll gradually fall into a plough (legs extended over head while on my back) and roll out of the plough and do a back bridge.

I’m trying my best to be gentle and not strain. Some of the positions are a little beyond my ability right now but I’ll get there.

Hopefully, I can get this routine established quickly. I have only three more days of prednisone pills, and then the effects will wear off.  And they can wear off rather suddenly if my prior experience with oral steroids is an indication. Taking them for long periods of time results in side effects like osteoporosis, cataracts, and growing a second head. (Okay, I made that last one up.)

Cheers.

 

 

 

 

Left leg saga continued

On Sunday, I rode the Hains Point 100, the final event ride of the year (for me anyway) in DC. The ride is 30 laps of a 3.3-mile circuit in East Potomac Park, down to Hains Point and back. It’s about as flat a course as you can find. Serious riders form fast-moving pelotons. We mere mortals ride a few laps, socialize, munch goodies, and hang out at the raffle. (I won a gift certificate to a taco place a mile from my physical therapist. The burrito gods are on my side.)

I had no intention of riding anything close to 100 miles. It was pretty cold, in the 30s for much of the time I would be riding. The Mule and I took it easy, rolling along, mostly at 12 miles per hour, but, occasionally cranking it up to 20. My legs were holding up just fine. Until about 28 miles into the ride, that is. The ache in my left leg, formerly only present when I was walking, appeared. I managed to ride another 9 1/2 miles with plenty of rest stops but I was really not a happy camper.

Fortunately, I made an appointment with my orthopedist on Monday. I felt fine when I woke up. Oh, great. What will I tell the doctor? I decided to do some stocking shopping before my appointment. I lasted 50 feet before my leg started aching again.

I limped a few blocks to and from a store and my left calf, groin, outer thigh, and butt cheek were having a contest to see which one could make me drop a salvo of F-bombs. (The calf won.)

At the doctor’s office, I explained my woes to the doctor. He nodded and smiled. When I told him about hurting after 50 feet of walking his eyebrows went up. Forttunately, this was obviously a no-brainer to him. 

He examined my legs and back. He was impressed. “Push. Pull. Resist. You’re strong,” he remarked. Funny, what 30,000 miles in three years can do.

Then he checked my back for flexibility. I acquitted myself well for an 85-year-old. I did however manage to touch the floor from a standing position without bending my legs. I took about 15 second for my back to relax though. “I’ll only be a minute.”

The diagnosis was stenosis.The passages through the vertebrae in my lower back are narrowing as I age. The nerves emanating from my lower spinal cord are being compressed. Lucky me, I’m old. The good news is that I haven’t incurred appreciable muscle weakness in my legs. (And you thought I was nuts to ride so much, didn’t you?)

The treatment plan is pretty simple. I am on a nine-day declining does of prednisone, a steroid that will almost certainly calm the nerves down. (I was on a seven-day course prior to my back surgery. It worked well. It wore off just as I was being wheeled into pre-op.)

The doctor gave instructions to my physical therapy team to change my PT regime. He agreed that the gentle yoga exercises I have been doing would be helpful.

When I arrived home, I looked up PT-for-stenosis videos. As it turns out, most of the exercises are already part of the yoga/PT routine I discontinued last year.

The plan is to follow this exercise regime for a few weeks, unless the pain doesn’t abate in which case we amputate.

Just kidding. If I don’t recover, we’ll discuss surgical remedies. Time will tell.

Ironically, my PT team has being trying to improve my posture, thinking this would help with my general mechanics, I suppose. Well, it turns out that stenosis patients find that a forward lean helps to attenuate symptoms. When I ran back in my 20s and 30s, I had a pronounced forward lean. When I sit, I naturally lean forward. Riding a bike puts my in a forward lean as well. 

So I asked the doctor, can I ride my bike.

Yes.

Considering the fact that two years ago I was in a hospital bed on anticoagulants and trying to breathe with one functioning lung, I’ll take this year’s medical conundrum any day.

Merry Christmas, y’all.

 

 

Pictures of the Year 2019

Well, once again I wasted untold hours posting this inane blog. In for a penny, in for a pound. So here goes with the pictures of 2019. With one, regrettably from a few years ago.

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I finally made it to the Kenwood neighborhood in Bethesda. Cherry blossoms are one of the best things about DC in the spring.
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The bike valet at Nationals Park is the best. My bikes spent a lot of time here this year
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Nothing says bike touring fun quite like two weeks of thunderstorms.
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Springfield, Illinois just around the corner from the grave of the Corn Dog King
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Mark, Corey, and me taking shelter from a storm in a church in Kansas
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Kansas was an ordeal. Little did we know that the Rockies would be brutal. The sign was pretty neat though.
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Electrically equipped apartments in Pueblo, CO
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Flooding in western Missouri and eastern Kansas on the way west
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Part of a farm building that was obliterated by a tornado near Golden City, Missouri. Three people died here.
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I rode to the top of this beast. The ride down was epic.
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Indomitable French sisters in Boulder, Utah
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Rocks out west
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Stupidest sign of the year
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More rocks near Bryce Canyon
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Hoodoos in the Amphitheater at Bryce Canyon
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The Mule poses next to the Cedar Break National Monument snow bank in late June
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Survival indeed
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Gio and Christina from Italy in Eureka, Nevada
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I thought these climbs would never end
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Downhill through California wineries
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Salt flats in Nevada
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Morning view from my motel room – Caples Lake, California in the Sierras
Sugarloaf with sticks
Hiking Sugarloaf, Maryland
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Lotus blossoms at the Anacostia Botanical Gardens
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Apollo 50 on the National Mall
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The Mule comes home
Dinner view
They won the whole damned thing. Unreal.
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Tired? Not me. Emilia at the Great Pumpkin Ride
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Autumn in Fort Hunt Park near home
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A stellar human being killed by an out-of-control driver. Still hard to believe Miss you Dave.

 

 

 

Top Ten of 2019

The year isn’t over yet so I am assuming nothing particularly notable will happen in the next 10 days. Except for the fact that we will be taking back some daylight from those thieves in the southern hemisphere! Here’s a list of ten notable things that I wrote about in 2019.

  1. Before I left for my bike tour, the Washington Nationals were a complete flop. So disappointing. When I got back they were playing great and having a blast. Baby sharks were busting out all over. I must have gone to 20 games. Many with my daughter. Improbably, with one of the worst bullpens in history, the Nationals won the whole damned thing. Unreal.
  2. My daughter received her masters degree from King’s College in London so we went over the pond to celebrate and play. We visited the Churchill War Rooms, saw Book of Mormon, checked out the Greenwich Observatory and the British Museum, and had breakfast at Dishoom. Twice. (Try the granola with coconut milk yoghurt.)
  3. My son came home from Thailand this fall. So great to see him. He earned his PADI certification this year. When not taking tourists on scuba dives, he works at an Internet-based marketing company.
  4. In April, Dave Salovesh, a dear friend, was killed by an out of control driver in DC. He always seemed to be everywhere. And now he’s nowhere. In death as in life, he brought us together. Too many tears. I can still hear his warm, calming voice in my head. It was a pleasure knowing him.
  5. I rode my bike from Indiana to San Francisco. One day outside Saint Louis, I was scraping Mississippi River mud from my tires and fenders on the side of a highway. Jerry, a retired chef, pulled up in a white pick up and all but ordered me to get off the pavement. Seconds after I did, two cars crashed where I had been standing. Channeling Samuel L. Jackson, Jerry remarked, “That would have fucked you up!” Indeed, it would have. It was a stark reminder that just like Dave I could go at anytime.
  6. The other people who helped me on my trip across the country were amazing.  An especially kind motel owner in Westcliffe, Colorado. Bicycle mechanics. The inspiration of a Buddhist monk in a cowboy hat walking along the highway in the Ozarks. Warmshowers hosts. Mike and Jessie who met me at the ferry terminal and housed, fed, and “watered” me in San Francisco. And a woman giving out cold water out (and letting me use her bathroom) on the side of the road in Kansas. I could not have made it without them. Proving once again, that there is no such thing as a solo bike tour.
  7. Mark and Corey let me join them for the ride across Kansas. You couldn’t find two better people to ride through floods and endless prairie than these two. Corey stopped to take pictures of flowers everyday, and sent one home via his online trip journal to his wife Lynn each night. Mark was the master of logistics. I think the floods near Chanute, Kansas receded when they heard he was coming.
  8. I rode the Nigel Tufnel edition of the 50 States Ride (my 11th time), once again joined by a posse of friends. In reality, I have ridden in 34 states. Maybe I should knock off the other 16. What do you think? I did four other event rides in the fall, three of them with my friend Emilia. Estoy bien.
  9. Several times a year, friends from grad school get together to celebrate birthdays. This year we got into day hiking. I hadn’t done much hiking in the past couple of years. I think I did four or five hikes with them. The hikes were a welcome break from the bicycling grind.
  10. For the second year in a row, I rode over 10,000 miles on my bikes. I cycled through 5 new states (Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada). From Pueblo to San Francisco I climbed (and descended) over 150,000 feet. For the first time ever, I walked up hills, mountains really. My legs are still trying to forget. I hope my mind never does.
  11. And, a final extra note to three traveling bloggers, Lily, Jessica, and Brittany. Thanks for keeping me inspired to go somewhere far. The next time I find myself pushing my bike up a mountain, I’ll remember that I could be sipping tea in a cafe somewhere civilized.

The saga continues….

Today I cancelled Monday’s PT appointment. Yesterday I did a two-hour recumbent ride in the basement. My wonky left leg felt fine throughout. When I walked away from the bike, the ache in my leg returned.

I did a very abbreviated PT session, took two Tylenols, and chilled.

Today, my leg felt fine for a few hours after waking. Then, as I was telling Mrs. Rootchopper that my leg felt pretty good, the ache returned.

I went for a 30-mile ride to test out the repairs done on Little Nellie. The shifting works fine in the front. I still get some chain misbehavior in the rear but that’s the norm for this bike. I wonder if there isn’t some kind of flex in the frame caused by the folding mechanism.

In any case, my leg felt absolutely fine for the entire ride. The left knee hurt a little going up hills or grinding big gears. There’s a small painful spot on the outside of my hip, as well. I don’t know if the leg could handle a mountain out west but for present purposes it’s okay. I stopped to shop at a store and within a few minutes my leg was aching again. I think weight bearing is triggering the pain.

When I got home, instead of PT, I did a short version of my old yoga routine. There are over 30 poses involved. I spent about a minute on each. By the end, my leg was very achy.

It has been suggested by several people (my physical therapist and my brother, a retired nurse, who has similar back problems) that this ache is referred pain from a pinched nerve in my lower spine. My lower back doesn’t hurt any more than usual. It’s always stiff thanks to the family genome. I’ve had sciatica in the past as well as a herniated disk. My current symptoms don’t follow the classic knife pain from butt to calf of sciatica, nor do they follow the aching thigh numbness of my slipped disc. Still, some sort of nerve compression in my lower back is a pretty good candidate for the cause.

So I looked up yoga videos for lower back pain. The three that I found all include positions in my routine. Most include extending the leg away from the body, either while doing a standing yoga position or a kneeling one. (Some of them involve reaching back and pulling the foot back toward the body.  Ain’t gonna happen.) The level of difficulty of these is easy to moderate, for me anyway. If I had full blown sciatica, they’d be impossible.

Another candidate for the pain in my calf is repercussions from my blood clot episode of two years ago. It turns out that some people who have had a blood clot called a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) in their leg have residual pain that can show up much later and last a life time. The pain is caused by the body reacting to the DVT by redirecting blood flow around the DVT. After the DVT is gone, the blood flow gets discombobulated and pain and swelling results. (When I had the DVT,  I had no pain or swelling. It was a sneaky little bastard.) Depending on how my visit to the orthopedist goes on Monday, I may make a follow up appointment with my hematologist.

Digression: one way to tell that you are old is by the number of medical specialists you see. My specialty list includes ophthalmology, neurology, hematology, pulmonology, endocrinology, orthopaedics, and physical therapy. If this goes on much longer, I’m going to need a psychiatrist. As long as my list does not involve a mortician, I’ll consider myself ahead of the game.

A third possibility is acute Christmas cookie intoxification. ACCI is a bitch. The only known cure is January.

I happen to have a vibrating massage gizmo that I acquired during one of my many episodes of back pain many years ago. It’s basically been useless until now but it turns out to be surprisingly effective in calming my calf muscle down. This device can target the muscle tightness much better than a foam roller, massage stick, or a lacrosse ball.

So for the next several days it’s biking, yoga, massage gizmo, Netflix, and pills.

Flossing ain’t getting it done

For the last couple of days I’ve rested my legs and done nerve flossing. Last night my left leg was killing me as I walked 1/2 mile from the WABA holiday party to the Metro station. It nearly seized up as I was crossing U Street, a chaotic traffic mess of a road. It ached at night and all day until I went in the basement and started riding:

I’ve been going at it for over an hour. No pain at all.

After 10+ weeks of physical therapy and three cortisone shots, other than when I’m riding, I’m in more pain than when I started. They say that doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity

I’m cancelling my Monday PT appointment and going back to the orthopedist instead.

In the meantime, I’m discontinuing all flossing or stretching or leg strengthening exercises as long as my leg still aches.

On Sunday morning I’ll be doing the last event ride of the year, the Hains Point 100. It’s a flat ride in 3.3 mile laps. If you do 30, laps, good on you. I usually ride 7 to 10 laps, stopping to chat with friends and eat junk food. And Advil.

Flossing amid the winter gloom

So the weatherman cooperated with my new regime. Yesterday I didn’t ride at all. Not riding makes my brain restless so I started the day with 20 minutes of meditation. I haven’t done sitting meditation in a long time, because long slow rides make it superfluous. (Most meditation teachers would disagree but I doubt they’ve ridden a bike across Kansas. Then again, I did run into a Tibetan monk in a cowboy hat walking down the road in Missouri this summer so what do I know.)

Cold drizzle made outdoor riding unappealing, so I rode Big Nellie in the basement for the first time since last winter. Two hours on a bike indoors may sound boring but I multitasked with a Bill Bryson book, Neither Here Nor There. It’s his account of travelling solo through Europe.

After that I did a PT session. After reviewing several YouTube videos on nerve flossing, I decided to stop beating my left leg up with the foam roller. I did four or five flossing sessions (they only take a minute). So far, I am seeing no noticeable change. If this doesn’t work, I’m going back to my yoga-based routine from 2017 – 2018. In many ways it is quite similar to the PT I’ve been doing but costs nothing. I tried some balance moves today. The Flying Wallendas will not be calling me anytime soon. I also did a shoulder stand that I cut short to avoid taking out the router on the table next to me.

After that I watched Room on Netflix. A gloomy movie for a gloomy day. Lots of really good acting though.

Tomorrow, I hope to pick Little Nellie up from the bike shop. Then I’ll go to the WABA Holiday Party. I’ll be the guy with the pronounced limp on the left and the beer on the right.