Hurry Spring – February 2022 Recap

I have had just about enough of winter. Time for some shorts weather.

Biking

I managed a decent 685 miles in February, a rebound from my lackluster January. I ride farther when I am outside (if that makes any sense). I did the equivalent of 172 miles indoors. I rode 446 miles on The Mule until it passed 64,000 miles. It is now in the good hands of the mechanics at Bikes at Vienna. The remaining 67 miles took place on my Cross Check which I hadn’t ridden in two months. My long ride was a 50-miler. It was way too hilly for my winter level of fitness (or more accurately lack of fitness).

Watching

My watching game was not so good. Jim Allison, Breakthrough is a documentary about an eccentric research scientist who won a Nobel prize for figuring out how to use T-cells to attack cancer cells. It is not an exaggeration to say that his research saved my sister-in-law’s life. I highly recommend this movie.

I also watched the last few episodes of The Book of Boba Fett. This was an incoherent snoozer. It did have (spoiler alert) Baby Yoda and Ming-Na Wen, an actress who can do no wrong in my book.

Of course, we watched way too much Olympics. I just could not get into it but my wife was gaga over the skating. It had a few tedious controversies and a frozen penis so there’s that.

And, at the end of the month, I watched dumbstruck the Russian invasion of Ukraine. God help those people.

Reading

We are nearing the close of reading season. I started with The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Entertaining. An old actress tells her life story to a young woman reporter. Would have been a good beach read except I wasn’t at the beach. Next up came All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. This novel has been on the bestseller list for a long time and deservedly so. It’s about two kids, one German and one French, who live through the horrors of the second World War. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens was three books in one. The part that described the Swamp Girl, who was abandoned by her family only to learn how to survive in a North Carolina coastal marsh, was excellent. The author paints vivid word pictures of the marsh/ The murder mystery was okay. The murder trial part was meh.

Doctoring

I finally went back to my pain doctor to get another injection of steroids in my spine. It seems to have reduced the stenosis pain in my left leg. The bigger problem now is arthritis in my lower back. I’ve tried doing yoga for that with mixed results.

When I’m 64

The Mule reached yet another milestone today. It turned 64, thousand miles that is.

Will you still need me? YES!

I bought this bike from the Quaker Lane location of Spokes Etc. bikes in Alexandria Virginia sometime in 1991. I bought this bike because my Trek 1200 road bike couldn’t handle the stress of commuting. It’s a bit ironic that the Spokes Etc. chain of local bike shops recently was bought by Trek Bicycles.

It’s also a little odd that Spokes marketed this bike as a commuter bike. Little did I know that it was the best selling touring bike in Europe back in the day.

The Mule will be my steed for this summer’s bike tour. Tomorrow I’m taking it in to Bikes at Vienna for its annual fix everything service.

Right Turns and Tailwinds

One thing you don’t have to worry about while riding in the basement is driver behavior. Today I did a 45-mile ride mostly on trails. That didn’t stop me from encountering drivers doing things that could have put me in an ambulance.

I rode 15 miles to Georgetown. To get to the Capital Crescent Trail I had to back track several blocks on busy M Street. I rode like I was driving a car, too the lane (in very slow traffic), and made it to my right turn on Wisconsin Avenue. This is a crazy busy intersection with heavy pedestrian traffic. A few years ago a traffic cop was run over and killed here so my level of caution is always off the charts when I ride here. I was behind a white sedan in the right hand lane. We had a turn arrow but the driver hadn’t put on her turn signal. I was tempted to go by her to the right to turn down Wisconsin when I thought better of it. Sure enough, she turned right. Good thing the pedestrians (and I) were all out of the way.

A couple of blocks later, I followed the white sedan just off its right rear bumper. The driver without signaling pulled over apparently to get her bearings, nearly clipping my front wheel in the process. As I rode by I said, “Use your turn signal, please.” She mouthed “Sorry.”

I managed to ride about 25 more miles without encountering a vehicular threat until I reached South Washington Street in Old Town Alexandria. I climbed a small incline on the Mount Vernon Trial to get to South Washington. If the pedestrian light was lit, I was going to ride across South Washington and take the on-street route home. The pedestrian light was red so I turned left to continue along the sidewalk on South Washington which is a part of the Mount Vernon Trail. A driver coming out of an apartment access road to my left, blew through the red light and made a right turn, ignoring the No Turn on Red sign. Luckily I was a few seconds too slow to beat him to the crosswalk. Had it not been for way too many Christmas cookies I could have been hit.

About 100 yards later down the trail I came to the access to the Porto Vecchio condominium complex. This is where I was hit by a driver in a hurry to take a right on red without stopping. I complained to the city and, after more than six months, they changed the ambiguous No Turn on Red When Pedestrians Are Present sign to No Turn on Red. Cars leaving the complex are supposed to wait at a stop line behind the trail. This is where the camera mounted above the traffic light will detect them to give them a green light. Today the driver of an SUV was completely blocking the trail as I approached. I could see the driver checking traffic to his left for an opening for his right turn on red.

I rang my bell repeatedly then stopped perpendicular to his passenger side door. “What are you doing?” “Back up” I yelled. He wouldn’t look my way. “Get off the trail.” He then looked my way. I pointed to the No Turn on Red Sign and yelled “I was hit here!” and then told me to eff off before taking a right on red.

I wonder if this man behaves this way in the supermarket. Or in church. Or at the office.

Something about being behind the wheel of a car makes some people feel even more entitled than they already do. In each of these four incidents the drivers could have simply done the right thing. How hard is it to use your turn signal? Is 20 or 30 seconds of your time worth putting someone in the hospital?

For my trouble I was rewarded with two tailwinds. The wind direction changed almost exactly when I arrived in Bethesda. The bike gods were with me today.

Always Check the Cue Sheet

We had an abnormally warm day on tap for yesterday so I decided to go for a ride that would stretch me out a bit. Rather than do my normal 50-mile out and back ride to Bethesda, I opted to download a cue sheet from a ride developed by my friend Josephine.

This ride was the Chainsaw Art Ride, a 24-mile meander around Arlington, Fairfax County, and Falls Church in Northern Virginia. The closest the ride came to my house was about 13 miles away so the plan was to ride to that point, do the ride, and ride home. And, Bob’s your uncle, I’d have a 50-mile ride.

I rode The Mule five miles before it became obvious that I was overdressed. I took off my jacket and soldiered on to the closest point on the route. I hadn’t paid much attention to where this ride getting there was pretty easy. This 13 miles was nearly flat and I had a bit of a tailwind so I started the route ready for action.

A half mile later the route went up, as in straight up. As in I can’t breath. As in I think I hurt my lungs steep.

I survived. Barely. One thing I re-learned is that I am horribly bad at climbing hills.

The cue sheet soon had me wandering around the Sleepy Hollow/Lake Barcroft neighborhood. Up and down and up and down. I was supposed to be looking for carvings made out of trees. I found a rather impressive robin, and a somewhat surreal looking cat. Not bad. I also made a couple of wrong turns that led to me riding a few unnecessary hills.

Did I say this was a hilly ride?

You know you are hurting when your brain starts to do the math. Only 27 miles to go. You can do this. Only 26 miles to go. Toughen up you fat load. Only 25 miles to go. I want my mommy.

I managed to survive Sleepy Hollow and a crossing of the US 50 car sewer near Seven Corners. Whenever I go to Seven Corners I think of the time the DC snipers shot someone in the parking lot of the Home Depot. Seven Corners is not a place of joy.

The route eventually took me through North Arlington and around Bishop O’Connell High School. I would guess that at least one-half of all colleges in the US are smaller than this school. And the parking lots, sadly, seem to go on forever.

North Arlington is rather hilly but, having survived the first 15 miles of the chainsaw route, I knew I could handle it.

I think I failed to find about half of the carvings. The late afternoon light made for bad picture quality for the ones I did find. At some point I stopped looking for them.

As the ride progressed, the sun started sinking toward the horizon. Once the route was done, I headed home, keeping to level ground.

I arrived home exhausted. 50 miles completed. Put a fork in me.

I took an edible to see if it would help my recovery. It didn’t, but it did knock me senseless for most of the next ten hours.

Is Nebraska hilly? Asking for a friend.

Summer Tour 2022!?

The prospect of doing a big summer tour is a daunting and exciting one. As is almost always the case, the winter has brought a struggle with physical challenges. My stenosis and arthritis problems continue. Add to these woes, the fact that my engine is two years older and about 20 pounds heavier. I don’t have nearly the strength and stamina that I had in 2018 when I rode 4,300 miles in two months. I have to remind myself that I did that tour on the heels of a four-month recovery from pulmonary embolisms. The thing is, stenosis and arthritis don’t bother me on the bike. Can’t help it if I’m lucky.

During my 2019 tour, I met up with Corey and Mark and rode across Kansas and eastern Colorado with them. We made for a compatible trio despite the fact that they were quite a bit faster than me. Had it not been for Mark’s saddle miseries and Corey’s picture taking, I don’t think I’d have been able to keep up.

At the Rocky Mountains, I headed west on the Western Express route and they headed north, continuing on the fabled TransAmerica route. After beating my body up pretty badly, I abandoned my plan to ride north from South Lake Tahoe through the Sierras and Cascades to Portland, opting instead to finish in San Francisco. Likewise, they abandoned their tour near Silverthorne, Colorado in the high mountains west of Denver.

A few weeks ago, Corey texted me with the news that Mark and he are going back to Colorado to finish their tour this summer. They have asked me to tag along, starting in Colorado Springs in mid-June.

In a bit of good fortune, I am attending a wedding near St. Louis in late May. That would make for a convenient starting point. I can take the Katy Trail across Missouri, but after that my route is uncertain. The thought of riding across Kansas again really doesn’t float my boat. So I’d like to ride north into Nebraska for the thrill of corn and to check my 35th state off my 50state list.

In any case, the ride to Colorado Springs is about 1,000 miles. I should be able to do it easily in 20 days. This will give me plenty of time to acclimate to Colorado Springs’ 7,000 foot elevation. (One big mistake I made in 2019 was not acclimating properly. I rode from 4,500 feet to over 9,000 feet in one day. It was a miserable experience that I don’t want to repeat.)

There are several ways to get back on the TransAm route from Colorado Springs. We could ride through the mountains to the north of Pikes Peak or to the south.

The rest of the tour from Colorado Rockies through Yellowstone to Missoula and onward to the Oregon coast would be another 1,800 miles. (In the map below, its the section from, roughly Pueblo to Oregon coast.) This section of the TransAm is going to be amazing. And really hard. I’m going to need my A game.

The Yellowstone Park portion of the proceedings has me worried a bit. When my family went there in 2000, we had close encounters with bison and elk. Since Corey and Mark are much faster than me, perhaps the bison will chase them while I cower behind a tourist bus. In any case, if we camp in Yellowstone on this tour, I will need to bring some Depends. There is also the problem of finding camping. Yellowstone will be mobbed at peak season.

There is an interesting alternative, ride through the Tetons to southern Idaho. There are gravel farms roads and a pretty cool rail trail that locals use. Of course, this is bear and wolf country so we will be picking our poison.

We managed to circumvent tornados and historic floods in Missouri and Kansas in 2019. And I managed to cross hundreds of miles of desert and climb over 100,000 feet on the Western Express on one hip and one knee. (The remaning TransAm is slightly less climbing spread over 300 more miles.)

Bison, Elk, Bears? Hell, the wolves will kill, you.

We got this. Lord willin’ and the Covid don’t rise.

Now all I have to do is get The Mule ready, re-stock my gear, and, most importantly, figure out how to carry my bike on Mrs. Rootchopper’s SUV to Missouri without damaging the paint job. Oh, I forgot. It probably wouldn’t hurt if I lost 25 pounds before we head west.

The Return of Dr. Pain

My Ow History

A couple of years ago, before and, especially, after my 2019 bike tour over the mountainous terrain of Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and California, I was in a world of hurt. My left knee and hip were screaming at me. I had some symptomatic relief from cannabis edibles I bought in eastern Colorado. Back home, I went to an orthopedist who gave me cortisone shots in both areas. After two rounds, my pain all but disappeared. But I was still in pain. Whenever I walked, my lower back and left leg became progressively more painful. The situation escalated to the point where I could not walk 100 feet without excruciating pain in my lower back and left leg. My orthopedist examined me and concluded that I had classic symptoms of spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal that pinches the nerve roots emanating from the spine. The orthopedist referred me to a physiatrist, a medical doctor who specializes in pain management. I will henceforth refer to her as Doctor Pain.

Dr. Pain, I Am at Your Mercy

Step one in my treatment was an MRI. This helped identify pinch points and the interesting fact that I have six vertebrae, not the more common five. Step two was listening to my description of specifically where I felt the pain and what made it worsen or abate. Dr. Pain determined from this information the likely location of the irritated nerve roots.

I laid face down on a cushioned table. Using a needle, the doctor applied numbing medicine to the skin and muscle near the injection site. The pain from this was similar to having a novocaine injection for dental work. Not fun, but not the end of the world.

Next she and an assistant positioned an x-ray guided injection machine. This machine placed a targeting cross, like you’d see through a rifle scope, on the area of interest. Then the fun began. The doctor proceeded to inject anti-inflammatory and numbing medicine into the specific areas near the disturbed nerve roots.

Because my nerves were so inflamed these injections hurt like hell. With each injection an electric shock shot down a nerve in my leg all the way to my feet. Dang! I lost track of the number of shocks. Afterward, I waited a few minutes to make sure I didn’t grow a third leg or have other ugly complications and went home. Free to do whatever I wanted.

The injections worked pretty well. They calmed most of the pain and allowed me much more movement. I was going to have a second round of shots but the pandemic hit. Then Dr. Pain left her practice. So I decided to do daily physical therapy exercises to help calm the pain beast.

Shoot Me, Round Two

By January of this year I was starting to have increasing pain and discomfort, especially in my lower left calf, so I googled Dr. Pain and found that she was back in business at another practice. I saw her two weeks ago. She agreed that another round of shots would help. She reviewed the MRI and her notes from 2020, and we repeated the discussion of where my pain was located. She concluded that my leg pain was probably from stenosis but that the ache I was experiencing across my lower back pain was likely caused by arthritis.

We agreed to treat the stenosis first. Before continuing, however, she sent me for a doppler ultrasound to rule out a recurrence of a deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a painful blood clot that I had in my left calf in 2017. It caused me to develop dangerous pulmonary embolisms.

I had the ultrasound on Monday. It was painless. Since the tech did not send me to an emergency room, I knew I did not have a DVT. Today I went back to Dr. Pain for round two of the epidural injections.

We went over my symptoms again. She reviewed her notes from 2020. And we decided to move the injections down a notch in my spine. Again, I was placed face down on a padded table. Working with a technician, the doctor, as before, injected the muscle in my lower back with a numbing agent. Then she positioned the machine of certain agony and started the epidural injections. Not that I could tell. I could feel pressure from the insertion of the needle and feel the location on the needle but i experienced no pain. Hmm.

She continued until she made the money shot. BANG. She hit the irritated nerve. An electric shot when right down my left leg. I could feel it travel through my thigh and knee then into my calf. At their direction I did some deep breathing, then she injected me a few more times. These were painless. Thank you, Jesus.

Next Steps

After a short precautionary post-injection wait, I was sent home with no restrictions on activity. The leg felt a little numb but I walked without any pain back to my car. This afternoon, with temperatures nudging 70 degrees F, I went on a 30-mile bike ride, deliberately cranking big gears for the last ten miles. I walked a few hundred feet in my yard afterward. Only after going inside and crossing my legs at the kitchen table did I feel minor discomfort in my calf. I uncrossed my leg and it went away.

I’ll be keeping a pain diary for the next three weeks. I’ll be taking short walks to test things out. Then Dr. Pain and I will do a follow-up visit remotely.