Advice from Alaska

For the last several days I’ve been staying off my feet and taking over-the-counter pain medication. When I walk, I generally use a cane (if I haven’t left it somewhere). As a result, my pain level has been greatly reduced. I have no intention of sitting around for the rest of my days, however.

I am still riding but the arrival of winter has nudged me into dialing back the mileage and intensity. On Saturday, I rode Big Nellie in the basement for 80 minutes. It’s a nice change of pace and infinitely preferable to riding while anxiously looking for icy patches on the pavement. Yesterday, I rode the CrossCheck outside. Temperatures declined into the 30s and winds picked up with each passing mile so I cut the ride short at 17 miles.

As I may have said earlier, I quit PT and Feldenkrais, at least until I give the pain doctor a shot (so to speak) at my problem. My friend Julie (a Rolfer, jewelry maker, proud momma, and Alaska backcountry bad ass hiker) said that I should give Structural Integration a try. (This should not be confused with Functional Intergration which is the basis of Feldenkrais.) In my current physical state, I will have to take a pass on her advice; Rolfing (one method of Structural Integration) can involve rather aggressive manipulation of body parts (in contrast to Feldenkrais which more closely resembles Reiki).

Julie’s Rolfing suggestion follows up on part of the conversation we had in Astoria, Oregon at the end of my cross country tour. I mentioned to her that a few years ago I had a problem with sharp pain in my right leg. While having a Thai massage, the therapist hit the problematic nerve in my inner right thigh and I flinched in pain. The therapist decided to skip over that part of my body. Julie said that if it had been her she would have dug right in.

It’s interesting that massage, Feldenkrais, Rolfing, and, for that matter, chiropractic, all profess to address the same body problems. Whether one method works probably depends on the pathology involved. At the moment, I know from x-rays that my back is showing numerous signs of age-related deterioration, complicated by my genetic make up, a previous back surgery, and a whole lot of wear and tear. Hopefully, tonight’s MRI will give an better view of what is causing the specific pain that I’ve been dealing with.

In a few weeks, I may be able to ramp up my activity level without pain.

I met Julie the day after I reached the Pacific coast on my 2018 bucket list cross country bike tour. I was feeling what I called afterglow. I want to feel that way again.

Thanks, Julie, for your suggestion. One of these days I hope to meet again. Come to think of it, I haven’t ridden a bike in Alaska yet.

 

 

 

Not exactly an encouraging day

I was awoken by pain in my left ankle at 4:30 this morning. Apparently the acetaminophen I took had worn off. I relocated to the couch were I could more easily hang my left leg off the side. The pain abated after a half hour and I went back to sleep.

I made it through breakfast before the leg started barking at me. The ankle had calmed down but the calf ache was back, as was a new symptom that feels like a wad of clay inside the outer part of my left hip. Between the wad of clay and the nerve pain, my bio-mechanics are all messed up.

So I went for a bike ride. (You knew that was coming.) Within a mile or so my leg calmed down. I rode to the Lincoln Memorial and back on another exceptionally nice March day, except of course for the fact that it is mid-January. The CrossCheck and I are getting along very nicely.

I got off the bike a few times during the ride. As of two weeks ago, all the symptoms that bothered me during last summer’s bike tour had faded away. Today, when dismounting, the pain in my outer left hip came back. It feels like my leg is going to collapse. What fun.

After 30 miles I called it a day. If I couldn’t ride, I am pretty sure I’d lose my mind over this nerve problem.

I went to my second Feldenkrais appointment in the afternoon. The therapist observed my posture and my gait. She accurately noticed that in medical terms I am all kinds of messed up. Then she examined my neck and shoulders which seemed to be awry during my little walk across the room. Very tight.

Next she had me do some movements to loosen the muscles in that area. The movements actually work pretty well and are surprisingly simple. The idea is to learn or perhaps re-learn how to move making best use of the entire body. The best analogy I can come up with is learning how to throw a baseball. If you only use your arm, you can’t throw very well. If instead you involve the arm, the shoulder, the hips, the legs and the back, you can bring some heat.

After that, the therapist was going to examine my back as I lay in a prone position. My left leg decided to start barking again so I rolled on my left side and assumed a fetal position. The therapist spent ten minutes feeling various parts of my back and backside. She noted that my lower left back is very tight and suspects that this new symptom might be the result of a bulging disc. Oh joy.

Long story short, she said that I was a pretty complicated case. It probably has been developing over a long period of time and would take a long time to reverse (with, of course, no guarantees).

I have to agree with her. It seems like every day I get a new symptom. They all seem to conspiring to keep me moving like a robot and to keep increasing my pain and discomfort.

I have to say that I am disappointed. I thought the idea of these sessions was to teach me how to do a regimen of movements to alleviate my pain symptoms, but that didn’t much happen. I realize I can’t expect immediate results, but I feel like I’m treading water. In any case, we agreed that I would keep next week’s appointments on her schedule for now.

Tomorrow I go back to the orthopedists to get his take on my situation.

I won’t stand for it

Yesterday turned out to be a pretty miserable day. I spent the morning at a brunch, the afternoon helping my daughter move to a new apartment, and the evening at a holiday party. I didn’t ride my bike and did only a few gentle stretches for my back before the day got underway.

At the brunch, my aching leg made it impossible to stand. This was okay since we were mostly just eating and chatting. Several people went for a post-food walk in Rock Creek Park but I decided not to on account of my back.

During the move I found that standing around made my leg ache. Walking up and down the hallway, sometimes carrying lightweight items for staging at the elevator, actually relieved the pain somewhat.

After about three hours of this, my leg started to ache. We drove to the party and, by the time we arrived, I couldn’t stand. Fortunately there was an ample supply of chairs and red wine.

We arrived home at 11:30. My leg was on fire. I could now feel pain in my left butt cheek and it wouldn’t go away. I lied down on the couch and gently stretched my lower back by raising my knees to my chest. After about an hour, fatigue conquered pain and I fell asleep.

At 2 am I awoke. Once I stood the pain came back. I did some gentle pelvic tilts in my easy chair and the pain subsided. I went to bed for five hours.

In the morning I had breakfast. As long as I wasn’t standing there was no pain. After breakfast I went back to the couch, put on headphones, and meditated for an hour.

Now I feel okay but I know that once I stand the pain will come back.

It’s cold and windy outside. I’ll probably go for a ride after lunch. Then, I’ll attempt some stretching exercises.

I am not having fun.

Back and Withholding from the Man

Well, there is good news and there is bad news. It always seems to work out that way.

First the good news. My aching lower back is all better. You know that stretching exercise that runners do where they lean against something and stretch their hamstrings and calves? That very exercise is like a pain killer for my lower back.

I spent a bunch of time trying to push walls down in my house yesterday. Then I carefully went for a ride in the basement. No problems. I woke up today pain free. I pushed on some more walls then decided to brave the wind and the cold. Off I went on the Cross Check. The two and a half miles to and from the drug store were sweet. So I headed out again. This time on a Mount Vernon Trail meander through Old Town to Four Mile Run on the Alexandria/Arlington border. Then I reversed course and headed back down Commonwealth Avenue because it’s a lovely street and because it’s the street that my college was on. (Except that was in Boston. And the locals pronounced it Cawm Ave.)

Anyway my riding amounted to 25 miles and I am feeling no pain. I even did my full array of back exercises – the ones that Mrs. Rootchopper calls yoga.

No worries. With plenty of energy left, I sat down to do our taxes.

Our tax situation this year was complicated. There were so many changes for us last year, mostly related to retirement.

So the bad news is that we under withheld. By a LOT. Holy smokes.

I wrote this on my tax form:

YOU’LL NEVER TAKE ME ALIVE. TOP OF THE WORLD, MA!

Then I paid the man.

So when you hear that the deficit is getting bigger, don’t blame me.

 

Flor Weather: T-shirt. Shorts. Water. Recumbent. Go!

T-shirt. Shorts. Water. Recumbent. Go!

I love commuting when I don’t have to deal with layers of clothing.

I was out the door and headed toward Alexandria for a visit to my finger doctor. I had surgery to remove a cyst and a bone spur on my right middle finger. Thanks to the motorists of the DMV I was able to assure the doctor that my middle finger is now fully operational. He was pleased with the result and said in a few months all the swelling and numbness would be completely gone. I was good to go.

The finger doctor was only one of several on my medical to-do list. He was a professional and easy to deal with but I am glad I now have him in my rear view mirror.

The next few medical visits were supposed to be: MRI for my back tomorrow. Back doctor on Monday. Eye doctor on Tuesday.

It looks like I may now wiff on all three.

The eye doctor had to be rescheduled to August because the calendar on my stupid iPhone did not sync up with my work laptop. So I scheduled a meeting involving 3 consulatants from out of state for the same time.

The back doctor appointment is contingent on getting the MRI.

I arrived home to find a copy of my insurance company’s approval for the MRI. I was dated May 7. It was a copy of a fax. They cc’ed my primary care physician and my back doctor. I checked my home voice mail. The radiology center called to tell me that they haven’t received authorization so they canceled my appointment for tomorrow. So my MRI and my Monday doctor appointment will get rescheduled. This is the second time I’ve rescheduled because of clerical problems.

I’d be really pissed about this except for the fact that for the last two days my back has been almost painfree. Pain in my left hip and left knee at 5 in the morning are a reminder that all is still not well. It may be that the NSAIDs and muscle relaxants are helping. I am certain that riding my recumbent is a postive factor as well. Something about the mechanics of riding a bike while pushing my lower back into the mesh seat back seems to relax my lower back.

So I may still be dealing with this back thing until after Memorial Day. Then I can go back to the skin doctor and the dentist.

As for the ride home, it was hot and muggy so the Mount Vernon Trail was not very crowded. (I call this Flor weather. My friend Flor lives for it. Pretty much everyone else I know hates it.) Nothing beats ridng home in hot weather. I was going to drive to work so that I could go to the MRI place tomorrow, but now I’m going to have to ride instead.

T-shirt. Shorts. Water. Recumbent. Go!

P.S. On the way to work, I watched as a guy on a water board went flying as he hit the wake of the tow boat that was pulling him.

Biking on Drugs

What a beautiful day. The weather that is. My back not so much.

After dawdling over the newspaper and eating some a muscle relaxant and an NSAID, I decided to go for a short, gentle bike ride on Big Nellie, my Tour Easy recumbent.

I loosely planned to check out some bald eagle nests along the Mount Vernon Trail, maybe grab some lunch in Old Town Alexandria and head back home.

Getting started hurt. A slight hill near home hurt. Then I loosened up and Big Nellie and I were cruising. My first stop was the nest in Fort Hunt Park. I spotted it from the MVT. In a few days as the trees leaf out, it will be very hard to find. There were no eagles about so I took a picture and then made a note of the landmarks nearby so that I can find the nest again. 

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Bald Eagle Nest in Fort Hunt Park

I started up again. Ow. Once underway the pain subsided. I took the trail with all its curves and bridges and ups and downs all the way to the Morningside nest. The new bridges on the trail along this stretch are a terrific improvement over the cheap ones they replaced. 

At the Morningside nest I struck up a conversation with a photographer. It turns out that she is the same photographer that told me where the Fort Hunt Park nest is last summer. She’s a real bald eagle addict. She told me that both the Fort Hunt and the Morningside nests have eaglets. Three other nests, one along Spout Run in North Arlington, one south of Mount Vernon on Ferry Landing Road and the one at the Belle Haven country club, have been abandoned by bald eagles. The Belle Haven nest has been taken over by ospreys. She was going to Alaska for a cruise this summer. I mentioned that she’d be seeing a ton of bald eagles on her trip. She mentioned that she will be stopping in Haines. I told her to stop at the museum and say high to Rachel, one of my #bikedc friends who will be working there this summer.

After our talk, I headed north to Old Town. The traffic on the trail was pretty busy. The usual asshat MAMILs (middle aged men in lycra) were indulging their athletic fantasies by riding way too fast. One woman walker yelled at a close passing cyclist to slow down. He had it coming.

Under the Woodrow Wilson Bridge two little boys were showing off their bicycling skills for their moms. The rode their itty bitty two wheelers in tight circles, all the while having a blast. 

I rode through Old Town. Not yet hungry I decided to ride over to Del Ray to see if any food looked good. All the restaurants along Mount Vernon Boulevard had people eating outdoors. I was tempted by a couple of Mexican places but rode on.

I kept heading north through Arlandria, Crystal City, and Long Bridge Park, past the vast Pentagon parking lots and into DC across the Memorial Bridge. The tourists were out in droves. I resisted the urge to run them over. 

On a whim I made my way to Carpe Diem, the little used bookstore that Rachel had been working in.  I had a specific book in mind but,alas, it was too old and obscure. 

Next up was a side trip to Mount Vernon Square to check out the building that collapsed the other day. Only a few years ago, the streets of this neighborhood were lined with two and three story buildings. Now, most of them are gone, replaced by modern mixed use buildings. The streets were alive with young adults milling about. The collapsed building and the ones next to it looked utterly out of place among all the new buildings, one of which housed a “gentleman’s club.”

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Collapsed Building in DC

Having satisfied my curiosity I worked my way back to Virginia. During my time in DC I saw literally dozens of women walking the streets carry yoga mats. You could make a decent living selling yoga mats around here.

Once in Virginia I turned south on the MVT. Normally on such a nice day, the trail is packed with runners, bladers, cyclists, and walkers. Today it was crowded but not enough to slow me down. South of the airport I saw a women on skates heading toward me. These weren’t rollerblades or traditional roller skates. Instead they had big skateboard style wheels, four to a skate. Must be a new thing.

Many of the cyclists were riding CaBi bikeshare bikes. In Old Town and for the next couple of miles I got stuck behind three groups of Bike and Roll customers riding their rental bikes south. The first two clusters of renta-riders had about ten people in them. Under the Wilson Bridge I encountered a line of close to 20 bikes. They were going slowly and Big Nellie (and my back) were feeling fine so I passed them in one go. This never happens, by the way.

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Long Line of Rental Bikes under the WWB

The last three miles were a bit of a slog. I think my muscle relaxant was wearing off, but I made it home without any pain. The walk into the house reminded me of my back woes. I look like an 80-year old with osteoporosis.

So my little jaunt lasted 39 miles. Success through chemistry. 

 

Oh Doctor! Please Help Me. I’m Damaged.

I finally decided to stop trying to heal myself and go to a pain specialist, a physiatrist. His office is about 200 yards from my house as the crow flies. I, not being a crow, had to take the roads which made it 1/2 mile. I debated on whether to drive there which would entail getting in and out of the car. Given the fact that I was standing like Quasimodo, I thought it would be less painful to ride Big Nellie, my recumbent. It was less painful getting there but parking the damn thing nearly did me in. I had to find a street sign which was in a landscaped berm on a hill in the parking lot. (This is Fairfax County Virginia. We don’t do bike parking.)

Once in thedoctor’s office I filled out a stack of forms while sitting next to some pretty sorry looking patients. None of us was having much in the way of fun.

At exactly 10 am, my scheduled appointment time, I was taken through the door of relief. As the nurse weighed me she set the heavy weight on 150. I moved it to 200. She was surprised. I guess my skinny bikey legs threw her off. I weighed 212 pounds. Yes, I have gained some weight but I was wearing clothing and had pockets full of stuff and had just eaten breakfast and was still carrying dinner around. (Icky alert: back pain often causes constipation.) So on a good day I figure I’m in the 205 neighborhood which is to say 2 long bike rides from the Mendosa line. Vain? Moi?

The doctor came in stinking of gin.

Well, no. He was sober. He asked me what was going on and took extensive notes. Then he pushed and pulled on my legs and systematically examined my back one vertebra at a time. He spent well over 1/2 hour with me. He wrote down four possible diagnoses based on my story and my symptoms. Each has an associated treatment, Each treatment involves injecting something into the problem area. One of the diagnoses was for lumbago. I cracked up. The last time I heard the word lumbago was during an Alan King routine on Ed Sullivan. (“My lumbago is acting up.”)

The good doctor prescribed muscle relaxants and pain killers with tummy medicine so that I don’t end up making an offering to the porcelain god. He then sent me to the hospital for seven x-rays of my back. And submitted a request for approval of an MRI to my insurance company. This doctor is pressing all the right buttons with me.

I climbed on Big Nellie and rode around the corner to Mount Vernon Hospital. (Helpful real estate hint: if you have orthopedic issues buy a house 1/2 mile from an orthopedic hospital.) Miraculously I found a bike rack next to the emergency entrance. After locking up and going inside I discovered that radiology was on the other side of the building. So I hobbled through the corridors which helpfully are lined with rails for pathetic creatures just like me.

The registration clerk was a helpful 30-something guy who referred to me quaintly as “Buddy.” If I had a cane I would have clubbed the young whippesnapper. (Actually, he was saying it tongue in cheek so it was pretty funny.)

The radiology tech had me put on a gown. The first one came down to just below my personal area. She got a good laugh out of it. Not wanting to awe my hospital peeps with my awesome bikey legs I switched to a long gown and was taken immediately to the x-ray machine. (From bike to scan in ten minutes. Not bad!)

The tech was gentle and made sure I was in minimal discomfort. Having digital x-rays is great because the tech can tell if the picture is usable. We had to take 2 repeats probably because I spasmed during the exposure.

Ten minutes later I was on my way to the Hollin Hall drug store. The ride was two miles and it was not a lot of fun. My back was getting sorer by the minute. I had to wait ten minutes while Eun the pharmacist called the doctorand my insuranc company to cleared up some problems with my prescription. She was so good on the phone. (“He’s in a lot of pain.”) Thanks, Eun.

Back on the bike I rode back past the hospital to Sherwood Hall Gourmet to buy lunch. I didn’t have to order. They know I always have a Gary’s Lunchbox roast beef sammich. I rode home and celebrated five whole miles of biking. Then I told my boss that I wasn’t coming into the office. I would spend the day writing a paper for work at home. (To my surprise I actually knocked off a pretty good first draft.)

I can’t tell if the medicine is working but I can tell that I still can’t come close to standing upright. The weather is perfect for bike riding and I am sitting here on my deck wanting sooo much to go for a spin.

@bobbieshaftoe just tweeted “Who’s riding this weekend?”

ME!!!

I wanna cry.

 

AMA Man of the Year

Every winter, I makea to-do list. Get the cars fixed. Get some stuff done around the house. Deal with medical and dental issues. I figured I could pick off one of these a week. I got new tires for my car. I got body work done on my son’s car. I took my wife’s car in for its inspection. I had a plumber install shut off valves for the outdoor faucets.

In early February, I had a an electrician come to do some work on some light switches. In the process I helped him test whether certain circuits were live. I went to pull the tester out of a socket and my back went out. So it began.

I figured my back would correct itself after two weeks. Not this time. I’ve tried everything I know. I’d already been doing daily physical therapy for my back for 20 years. Rest didn’t help. Light exercise didn’t help. I even tried icing my back for hours each day by putting an ice pack in under by belt all day at work for three or four days. No luck.

I was hoping that switching to my recumbent would help. It did but then a chain link got bent and I had to switch back to a conventional bike. 

I also went to the dermatologist to remove a cyst from my finger. The dermatologist ended up freezing a couple dozen lesions off my face, arms and legs. She gave me a cream to essentially strip the bad skin off my face. That was fun. After a second round of freeze offs, I was refered to a hand surgeon. It took a month to get the surgery done, and now my middle finger is on the mend but still oddly both sore and numb.

Last Monday, I took some Advil for my back and rode to work. At around 9 in the morning I started having cramps in my intestines. Six days later I am still having them. The upside is that I do not have diarrhea or vomiting. The bad news is I am bloated and constipated.

I am currently scheduled to go back to the hand surgeon in four weeks and the dermatologist in June or July. I hate going to doctors almost as much as I hate shopping for clothes.  On Monday, I am calling my doctor and requesting referals to a gastroenteroligist and a physiatrist (pain specialist for my back). I’m sick of this crap.

Funny thing is, the one thing I can do without pain, is ride my bike. Go figure.

Errandonee #5: Car Repair by Bike

There is something not quite right about getting new car tires by bicycle but that’s what I did today. I put Little Nellie, my Bike Friday New World Tourist, in the trunk of my car and drove to the dealer in North Arlington. Normally, buying tires from a car dealer is dumb but I wanted the same tires that came on my car. And, the dealer cost was $1 more than the Firestone place near my house. Unlike my local Firestone place which screwed up an alignment the last time I went there, my dealer’s mechanics seem somewhat competent.

I took a picture of Little Nellie with my car. As you can see, I pulled into the gray 2009 Accord line.

Errandonnee #5 and #6: Car Fixin

The service clerk asked if I wanted a ride to the Metro and I said, “No thanks. I’ll take my bike.” (Kinda has a nice ring to it, don’t it?)

And I was off. Somehow I managed to nearly get killed twice on the ride to work . My rear brake is not working properly. I rode Quincy Street (named after the TV pathologist) to the Martha Custis Trail.  It was a breezy ride to Rosslyn with some interesting swales in the surface of the trail where winter had been unkind. The little wheels on Little Nellie made them rather nauseating.

I got to work but neglected to take a documentation photo so I can’t count this one as a work errand. No worries, I’m riding to work tomorrow.

During the day, my Saturday bookstore errand was disallowed as a library trip but it still counts as a trip to a store other than a grocery store.

An update on my back: I have been dealing with nasty back problems for about a month. Lately they have migrated to my left hip and knee. I did some web surfing and found out that one side effect of back spasms can be hip bursitis. The treatment is ice and ibuprofen, neither of which I have been using. I took some Vitamin I and slapped some ice on my hip last night. This helped until the ibuprofen wore off at 2 a.m. I woke up for some more “I”.  Suffice it to say I was groggy when I woke up for my first daylight savings time workday of 2014.

I did another set of yoga exercises after awakening today. I can safely say after two weeks of yoga that I have little chance of playing Mr. Fantastic in the Fantastic Four reboot. I looked like a fish on deck trying to do the bow exercise: (1)  Lie on the floor face down. (2) Reach back and grab both ankles. (3) Draw ankles forward toward butt. (4)  Arch upper body up and back. (5) Hold.

I got to (1). This is Spinal Sap.

After I sort of did the yoga routine, I read the “Thoughts for the Day” page in my yoga book. It was all about how housewives would be less miserable and get all the housework done by incorporating yoga into their daily lives. And they’d be all refreshed and invigorated when their husbands came home.

It’s an old yoga book.

Errandonee #5:

Miles: 6 ½

Category: Store that is not a grocery store

Observation: My dealer washes my car whenever he works on it. Wouldn’t it be cool if bike shops did the same with your bike?

The Snowman and the Mule

My back bothered me all day yesterday.Nevertheless, I decided to give bike commuting a try this morning. Dressing wasn’t a whole lot of fun but I got out the door bundled up for the 22 degree start. Once I got on the Mule I was fine.

I was a little concerned about ice on the Mount Vernon Trail so I walked the first icy patch on the Dyke Marsh bridge. I could have ridden it as it turns out. Just before re-mounting I spotted a little snow man perched on one of the posts on the boardwalk.

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Whenever I have to deal with extreme cold or rain or wind, I approach the ride with a sense of dread. Far more often than not the ride ends up being just as much fun as on a nice day. Today was no different. Once I was back underway, I fell into my usual morning bike commute trance.

I modified my route to avoid some icy spots. It wasn’t until I reached the 14th Street Bridge 12 miles from home that I encountered one that looked troublesome. I rode it without trouble, but just seeing the ice made me tense up. Just south of the Memorial Bridge I came upon about 50 yards of serious ice. I tried riding past it on the grass but my wheels sunk in. Dismounting was pretty painful.

There was quite a bit of ice on the TR Bridge boardwalk. I rode the entire thing trying not to tense up as I did.

I used a head pad on my back during the day. This seemed to loosen things up.

After work I went to the new Heavy Seas Ale House to have a drink with fellow bike blogger Tinlizzie. The beer was good and the conversation even better. She pointed out Bike Arlington’s Tim Kelley and I introduced myself. Later, I met Suzie, who works with TInLizzie. Suzie wants to start bike commuting from Alexandria to Rosslyn. Allow me to be of service!

We talked a lot about what bike she should buy. What route to take. What things to avoid (aggressive gearing). What she would need (lock, method of carrying stuff). I neglected to mention the Circle of Death. (Everything in its proper place.)

After two pints of beer on an empty stomach, I began the long journey home. As soon as I left the garage I was hit by a powerful wind. Dang. And I was in the middle of a traffic jam. Dang again. And the wind was swirling. Dang dang dang.

Once I cleared the high rises and made it to the Mount Vernon Trail the wind straightened out and gave me a nice, steady tailwind. Most of the ice from the morning was gone. I was a little wobbly for the first 7 or 8 miles but I steadied for the second half of the commute. And my back felt fine the entire way home. Go figure

My only regret about riding home was that I had my back to a meteor in the night sky.