Any Road Tour – Afterglowing

This bike tour, far more than any other that I have done, has left me with after effects that I truly wish I could hold onto.

The Physical Afterglow

Despite eating and drinking an appalling amount of unhealthy things, I managed to lose weight just about everywhere except my legs. The upper body muscle weight that I gained from lifting weights all winter is gone. My belly, although still very much in evidence, is smaller too. Mrs. Rootchopper said that the roll of fat around my waist in the back is gone. I can tell because my pants fall off.

Of course, the upside to this physical change is my body is much, much more efficient on a bike. My pedaling goes more round and round than up and down. I am a few miles per hour faster, which is not surprising, I suppose. I can stand when I climb, something that normally tires me out, and find an extra gear in the process. I noticed near the end of the tour that walking up stairs or up a hill was a snap.

I stopped doing my daily stretching and physical therapy routines for the first time in ages during the tour. It was a complete shock to me that I was much more flexible in my tent than I have ever been.

One thing that didn’t change, and may have been worse than before, is the cramping in my legs and feet. When I was putting my sandals on in the tent, I’d have cramps in my feet. My feet felt like they were curling up, kind of like the Dr. Pepper dude in An American Werewolf in London. Sometimes when putting on shorts in my tent, I’d get a hamstring cramp.One night when my calf was swollen, I had a humongous, painful  cramp in my calf muscle in the middle of the night. Ayeee! Then there was the infamous hamstring cramp in Astoria that caused me to fall off my bar stool.

I could do without the cramps but the rest of these physical changes are quite welcome. I held onto my weight loss from my Key West tour for a couple of months, until pulmonary embolisms parked me on the couch with junk food for solace. It would be great to hold onto these changes well into September so that the 50 States Ride is relatively easy. (Doing it last year with blood clots in my lungs set a low bar for “easy.”)

The Mental Afterglow

After the Key West tour, I was totally mellowed out (except for my bruised rib). This feeling went far beyond mere satisfaction from completing an arduous task over a month’s time. After this year’s tour, I had the same mental afterglow but it was much stronger and more long lasting.

I have no idea what the endocrinology or neurology of this phenomenon is. I recall reading an article about a writer who microdosed on LSD daily for a period of time. (Basically, until her supply ran dry.) She just felt happy all day long. And much more productive. I can’t say I’ve been particularly productive, but the happy part sure fits like a glove. A friend of mine once did ayahuasca and described a profound experience that she “still need[ed] to process.” I feel that same need to process this post-tour mental afterglow.

I talked about my tour with Joe, a reader in DC, at a protest I attended last week. He says he had the same thing after his tour and, to this day, he feels changed in a way that he can’t describe. Andrea, my friend from Friday Coffee Club, said something similar last Friday. She did a tour very similar to mine a few years ago.

It’s a subtle feeling. It’s similar to the feeling I get immediately after I meditate.  (Ironically, I stopped my meditation practice during the tour because it was obviously superfluous.) Maybe it’s caused by a boat load of endorphins or serotonin floating around in my head. I wonder if it made me less introverted during the tour, talking with my Warmshowers hosts or the people in the park in Wenona IL or Martin or Maria and the plant nerds. I definitely noticed it when talking to Julie in the bar the last night in Astoria. I felt like I was talking to someone I had known all my life.

Regardless of the introversion angle, I feel very different. And, just like last fall, the feeling is fading.

Can I hold on?

In the interest of holding on to the physical and mental afterglow, I decided to go for a long bike ride today. The humidity was oppressive and, as the day wore on, so was the temperature. I managed to ride my Crosscheck 92 hilly miles to Poolesville MD and back.

After the ride, I was totally zonked physically. I think riding fast on an unloaded bike brings about a higher level of muscle fatigue that riding a loaded touring bike slowly. Mentally, however, I felt the same afterglow, albeit in muted form. Then I fell asleep. And the Sandman took it away.

 

 

 

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Any Road Tour: The Worst

Every bike tour has bad aspects to it. I was on the road for two months. And I am surprised how little went wrong.

    • Soul sucking headwinds. I had a couple of tough days in Illinois when I was surprised by strong headwinds (and hills). My ride from Circle to Jordan MT must have been a drag because I don’t remember much about it. I also had a tough day riding the last day into Astoria, but I didn’t realize it because adrenaline kicked in as I approached the coast. The baddest day was the 88 mile ride to Missoula. The scenery was gorgeous. The entire ride was downhill. The headwinds were punishing. Five days out of 60 is not that bad.
    • Defying death in Iowa. I got caught in a nasty storm in a hilly part of Iowa. My brakes were totally inadequate to the task. It was scary. I made a bee line for the flat Great River Road in Wisconsin.
    • Too many motels. Time and again, my camping plans were washed out by storms at night. My plans to camp out on the first three nights on the C&O canal were washed away. What the heck am I carrying all this camping gear for? I used my tent for the first time in Indiana.
    • Killer hills on day two. The washout on the canal meant that I had to ride over Catoctin and South Mountains in Maryland. I was not physically or mentally up to the climbs.
    • Days six and seven. Three steep climbs in a row. The second taking me from Pennsylvania into West Virginia and the Ohio River valley was truly the hardest climb I’ve ever done. I was weaving all over the road just trying to move forward. There was nothing meditative about the climb, it was just damned hard. Then I decided to skip a scuzzy hotel in Wheeling and climb back out of the Ohio River valley. Dang. The next day’s steep rollers made me feel utterly incapable. I made a wrong turn and traded scenery for flatter ground.
    • Hapless apps. Both weather.com and google maps were sources of frustration. Weather.com consistently got the timing or even the occurrence of nasty storms wrong. I was better relying on my eyes and ears. Google maps tried to get me to ride down a steep decline on a wooded single track trail in Shelton WA. Near Camano Island WA it told me to turn around and go down a nonexistent street. It was useless when I tried to cross the St. Croix River from Minnesota to Wisconsin.
    • Unreal food. Lord help you if you are a vegan or even a vegetarian and you try to ride your bike in rural America. Time and again, the stores had no fruit or other healthy food. I bought a sandwich in Sandpoint ID that was a soggy mess when I opened the wrapper a few hours later. I ate it but I wasn’t happy. And in Newhalem WA the only store for over 60 miles was closed because of a computer problem. Good thing I had a ripe peach and some downhill riding to get me to the next town.
    • Close passes and f-bombs.
      • I expected far more closed encounters with big metal things. The worst one was on my ride from Fort Stevens into Astoria. The bridge had only about a two-foot shoulder and the cross winds were strong and erratic. A tractor trailer passed about a foot from my left shoulder. There were plenty of other close passes but I had room to bail out if necessary.
      • I never really got used to the two-lane roads with a 70 mph speed limit in Montana. Objects in your mirror are closer than they appear indeed.
      • I think I had only one unpleasant encounter with a driver. He was annoyed that I delayed his access to the only road across Shelton WA. He dropped numerous f-bombs as I rolled past in traffic on a road torn up by construction. A mile later her caught up to me and started in with the f-bombs again.
    • Inhospitality

Many towns out west offer free or low cost camping to bike tourists. Iroquois IL and St Helens OR were two towns that didn’t offer this anymore. (I could have caught the latter if I had read the addendum sheet from Adventure Cycling.) Winnett MT had camp grounds but they all seemed to be closed. (I camped illegally next to an RV.) And the Warmshowers place in the town of Lewistown MT looked like a dump. The volunteer at the town greeting center told me that I couldn’t camp in the park with in Kettle Falls WA. I called the police and they gave me permission.

  • Medical woes. I pushed my body hard and it gave me plenty of feedback.
    • In Minnesota, my left calf started swelling up. Then I rode 136 miles in a day. I’m an eejit. Because of my recent deep vein thrombosis in that area, I had to visit an ER in Bismarck. Thankfully, it was a false alarm.
    • In the town of Square Butte MT, I ate a late lunch. I ordered a chicken Caesar salad. What I served was an elaborate dish, the biggest and best salad I’ve ever eaten. Unfortunately my tummy was not up to the task. When I dismounted in Geraldine, my head was swimming. Any thoughts of riding on to a Fort Benton with a tailwind were scotched.
    • When I dismounted in Missoula after 88 miles into a headwind, I had a similar experience with light headedness. I skipped the Warmshowers house and checked into a hotel.
    • Before the tour, I did two months of physical therapy for my left shoulder and arm which ached in random ways at random times. Winds pushed on my panniers causing me to use my arms and shoulders far more than on a regular bike ride. My arms and shoulders were quite sore from simply controlling the front end of the bike. After a few weeks the pain in my arm and shoulder went away.
    • The middle finger on my right hand has been numb for over a month. My handlebar tape was so compressed it offered no cushioning. Both hands feel stressed from holding on to the bars for so many hours. In Washington state, I noticed that my wedding band felt tight. My fingers were so swollen that I couldn’t budge the ring. (It comes off now with some persuasion so I think my hands will be fine with time.)
    • I have a history of lower back problems including back surgery. I’ve been doing physical therapy exercises every day for over 20 years. And my pulmonary embolisms presented as back pain last December. So I was a bit worried that all the riding, especially the climbing and riding into strong winds, would cause big back problems. My lower right back sometimes felt like it was being stung by bees. It may have been old scar tissue stretching under the strain. Regardless, my back held up fine.
    • The expansion joints in the highways of North Dakota beat my back and bottom up for several days.
    • Speaking of back problems, I stopped doing my back exercises for the entire tour. Not only didn’t I miss them, but I was much more comfortable in my tent. I could change clothes and move about without difficulty.
    • I had some perineum soreness. This came on especially when I was making a big effort. I noticed that I’d push down on the handlebars and saddle, digging in, when mashing the pedals. When I became aware of this, I’d focus on loosening my upper body and unweight my behind, often by standing in the pedals or stopping. Also, I had no saddle sores, despite discontinuing chamois cream somewhere in Minnesota.
    • A recurring problem was muscle cramping. Sometimes I’d get cramps in my feet or lower legs when changing shoes. Sometimes my calves would go haywire. The worst calf cramp happened the night before going to the ER. Then there was the massive hamstring cramp in Astoria. My advice is that if you’re going to fall off a barstool, get piss drunk first. You won’t notice how hard your right sit bone hits the floor. (Mine hurt for four or five days.)
    • With the understandable exception of the mother of all climbs in Pennsylvania, I did not feel any maxing out of my lungs. I breathed hard for long periods of time but I always felt like I had extra lung capacity. This is strange given that I have asthma. I didn’t use my rescue inhaler once.
    • My knees normally are all messed up but they only felt sore a couple of times, after difficult climbs. By the time I made it to the big mountains out west, my leg muscles were cooking with gas.
    • The black wasp sting in Port Townsend WA hurt big time. After an hour the pain went away but my lower lip was a swollen mess. The swelling went away in two days.
  • Mental problems
    • I can’t think of a single day when I was depressed. Tired? Yes. Anxious? Yes. Depressed? Nope. After the first days, I discontinued my daily meditation practice. Never missed it. After all, I was on a rolling meditation retreat.
    • As I explained before, I made it a point to focus on the short term. When I was under extreme stress, I’d concentrate on NOW. If I looked too far ahead, especially early in the tour, I ran the risk of being overwhelmed. Ironically, once I reached Astoria, I found it strangely discomfiting. I needed mental rest as much as I needed physical rest. Talking to Julie, Shannon, and Eric, mostly about their lives, helped a lot.

Any Road Tour: The Best

At the risk of leaving things (or people out), here’s a list of things that stick out in my mind as the best parts of the tour.

  • East to west is best. The conventional wisdom says that riding west to east is best because the winds are mostly at your back. If true, I totally lucked out with tailwinds. I was the envy of every eastbound bike rider I talked with. In Washington state, several people told me about the eastbound riders who quit after a week. The climbs to the series of five mountain passes are a brutal way to begin a tour.
  • Wonderful solitude. With the exception of days with strong headwinds, I loved riding alone for hours and hours with my legs spinning away and my brain squirrels running all over the place. Time after time I would come to a place where I had planned to stay the night. When I realized I had four hours of daylight left, I’d get back on the bike and pedal, simply because it was so much fun.
  • Mindfulness in motion. Riding up the long hills and mountain passes out west should have sucked. (The steep hills in the east were another story.) Each one was hard in its own way. It would take a while but I’d get into the rhythm of the climb and just enjoy the view. When the road steepened, I’d look down at the twenty yards of the road in front of my wheel. All I have to do is pedal that far. Stay loose. Don’t tense up. Pedal smoothly. Breathe. Pedal that far. Pedal that far. Every twenty yards, simply begin again.
  • Are you kidding me? Seeing a mountain pass sign a mile or two or three before I expected it was a great surprise. This happened at least three times. I was actually disappointed when I got to Rainy Pass. So early? I was robbed.
  • Chuffed and knackered at the pass. When I got to the top of my first pass, Rogers Pass in Montana, I was hurting, then I saw the sign. I did it! More importantly, I knew I could handle the five passes yet to come in Washington state.
  • My longest day ever. The 136-mile ride from Morehead MN to Gackle ND was epic. A mini-tour of Fargo. Chats with several eastbound riders. Tailwinds on a pool table. A doe and fawn in the grass along the road. Twilight on the prairie. A sunset seemingly too far north. Darkness. Bugs. No more tailwind. Rolling hills. Rain. An owl in the road. Finally, waking up Martin at the Honey Pot, the beekeeper’s house, just after midnight.
  • Going down. Riding down mountains out west, especially from Sherman, Loup Loup, Washington, Rainy, and Wauconda passes, at 25 to 35 miles per hour for an hour or more. Surely this hill will end. Nope. On and on and on. Stay loose. Watch for bumps or cracks in the pavement. Look around. Let the bike run. Use the force, Luke.
  • Square Butte. It looked like I’d be at its base any minute but the vastness of the plains distorted the sheer mass of the thing. It took hours to get close to it. I was shocked when I saw the sign indicating an 8 percent grade into the canyon around the butte. White crosses indicating fatalities all over the place. Do you believe a Mule can fly? Yes!
  • Badlands, are you kidding me? I had no idea I was going to see a painted canyon. I could not believe my eyes. I just walked around the viewing area stupefied. WOW.
  • The GAP Trail. I’ve ridden all or most of it five times. It never gets old. If you live anywhere near DC or Pittsburgh, you have to ride this trail. The Southside Travelers Rest hostel in Pittsburgh was a terrific place to stay too.
  • Painted farmland. I was only in Iowa a couple of days, but I thought the farms planted in concert with the terrain were agrarian paintings.
  • Grog and vittles. I can understand great craft beer in a big city like Minneapolis, but Wibaux, Kettle Falls, Anacortes, and Astoria? What a treat. Oh, and don’t forget the outstanding pizza in Minneapolis and Wibaux.
  • Hosts of hosts. Whether they were people I knew from my past or from Warmshowers, I stayed with or visited so many people who treated me well.
    • Pittsburgh, PA: Earl and Anne Price. Fed and watered me. Helped me find a belt. Gave me a cook’s tour of The Burg.
    • Watseka, IL: The town park’s representative, a kid named Connor, and the town police officer all treated me like a visiting hero. Breakfast in the bar the next morning was a bit surreal, but my time in the park was splendid.
    • Twin Cities, MN: Cathy Combs, Russ Pylkki, and Krista Combs Pylkki treated me to my first day off. I was more tired than I realized.
    • Royalton, MN: Alice Winscher hosts touring bicyclists at Alice’s Attic. I stayed in the loft of her barn amid dozens of antiques.
    • Morehead, MN: Terri Trickle and Drew Sandberg along with son Scott and dog Poppy made me feel like family. How can you not love people who keep cookies and snacks in their old oven? Seriously.
    • Gackle, ND: The unseen Millers are migrant beekeepers, a profession created by their great grandfather. They put touring bicyclists up at their home. It’s a place called the Honey Pot.
    • Missoula, MT: When my friends in DC heard I was going to Missoula, they all said you have to meet Emma Wimmer. Emma gave me a tour of the Adventure Cycling Association offices where she works and made several recommendations for my day off in Missoula. The next time she’s in DC, I’ll give her a tour of the fabulous Rootchopper Institute. When those five minutes are over, we’ll go for a ride.
    • Republic, WA: Dianne Hewitt (a postmaster) and her husband Boyd (a gold miner) hosted Martin and me. They fed us to the max and talked our ears off.
    • Bike Camp near Mazama, WA: Jim Gregg is the Gyro Gearloose of Warmshowers hosts. His bike camp includes an outdoor shower and a composting toilet. And, when the clouds go away, awesome views of the stars. Oh, and his dog Stout is an excellent co-host.
    • Camano Island, WA: Tim Jones and Michele Wentworth took me in for a day off at the start of the home stretch in Washington and Oregon. I could have stayed on their deck gazing at Mt. Baker forever. And Tim set up a Facebook call with Steve Fisher, an old friend who lives in Prague.
    • Portland, OR: No bike tour is complete without an attorney. Eric Koetting and I worked together as attorney and client off and on for over 25 years. Eric kept me fed and watered for three days. He took me to Multnomah Falls, a rose garden, a Japanese garden, and the spectacular Oregon coast. He also drove The Mule and me to a bike shop so that I could ship The Mule home. After that we went to an Army surplus store where I bought a duffle bag to consolidate my gear for my flight. And he drove me to the airport to boot.
    • Portland, OR: Jeff and Shannon (my niece) Ryder let me stop in and play with their son Tommy who is learning to crawl.
  • Friendipity.  I am a total introvert. It takes me a very long time to feel comfortable with people. Three times on this tour I met wonderful people by pure luck.
    • Martin Arnold quit his job in the elevator business and started his tour in Switzerland. It seemed that any time the grind of the tour was getting me down, Martin would just appear and cheer me up. We met or hung out in Gackle ND and Circle MT, outside Colville WA, and in Republic WA and Marblemount WA. I hope I cheered him up too. Martin would fit right in with the BikeDC crowd.
    • Maria Mantas was my personal Rogers Pass welcoming committee. She took my picture then enthusiastically invited me to be her guest at the Montana Native Plants Society annual get together in the woods outside Lincoln. I didn’t learn much about plants but I did discover that hiking in the woods is hard on the body and good for the soul. She is without a doubt my favorite plant nerd.
    • After I dipped my wheel in the Pacific, I needed a day to decompress. Out of the ether came Julie Councellor Crabtree. It may have only been for a couple of hours but our conversation was nonstop and effortless. A Hoosier transplanted to Juneau Alaska, Julie is an artist who, in addition to painting, makes jewelry from materials she finds in nature. She is also a Rolfer.  Her finest creations are her two boys about whom she boasts with disarming charm and obvious momma love.
  • The Support Team. Although this was a solo tour, I didn’t ride alone. I had tons of help. Thanks to one and all.
    • Mrs. Rootchopper who held down the fort at home through torrential rains and searing heat and stifling humidity.
    • Marie and Roy shared the blog of their 2015 tour along a similar route to mine. From time to time they left me comments on this blog about places to visit or avoid.
    • There were trail angels too numerous to count. The woman who bought me breakfast in Pennsylvania. The man who guided me to a bike shop in Longview Washington. Stephen who showed me how to get out of Fort Stevens Park and back to Astoria. The motel clerk who gave me a towel to clean my chain. (It made it to Washington state.) The folks from Smith’s Bike Shop in LaCrosse WI who gave me energy gels.
    • The ER at Sanford Medical Center in Bismarck was efficient and calming. I was seen right away. And best of all, the news was good. I did not have a blood clot in my leg and my tour could continue.
    • I had tons of moral support from readers of my blog, in the comments, in emails, and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Next up. The worst.

Seven to Seven

I’ve don’t like being idle so today was my kind of day. I was running around and doing stuff from 7 am to 7 pm. After breakfast and reading the newspaper I did this:

  • 15 minutes of physical therapy exercises
  • A visit to the pulmonologist. She has pretty much decided to let the hematologist determine whether I should stay on blood thinners indefinitely. This was quite a surprise to me. This assumes that my lower leg is free of the deep vein thrombosis that dispatched the clots to my lungs. When I get back from my bike tour, she’s going to experiment with lowering the dosage of my asthma medicine.
  • Checked out patio furniture at Home Despot. It looked crappy.
  • Took my car to a state inspection station to find out if it would pass inspection with a ding in the windshield. He said “yes”.
  • Bought bird seed coated with hot pepper powder. (Alas the neighbor’s squirrel appears to be adapting to the stuff.)
  • Got my haircut so that I don’t look like I am undergoing electric shock therapy
  • Meditated for 30 minutes
  • Ate lunch
  • Rode Little Nellie to DC for one last look at the cherry blossoms. Okay, I might go tomorrow and Friday buy this is peak bloom and there’s no telling when it will end. The Tidal Basin was crowded so I skipped it and rode through the tunnel of blossoms in East Potomac Park instead. If you still plan to go this year, tomorrow or Friday before work would be best. Walk around the Tidal Basin and go snow blind. Then take a bikeshare bike (the dock was full when I was there) to ride the tunnel.

    IMG_1024
    To be honest, this picture doesn’t do the road to Hains Point in East Potomac Park justice.
  • Rode to the gym to lift weights lamely. I tried some free weights today.
  • Rode home feeling tired.
  • Ate dinner
  • Turned on the Nats game right about now

 

 

Winter Weather Wimp Gets Back into a Routine

I really am a wimp. It’s below freezing outside but there’s no ice on the roads so it’s safe to go riding. But I walk out the door and the blast of cold air pushes me down the stairs in to the basement where Big Nellie and Lincoln in the Bardo await.

I know I am a weenie because my bike commuting friends are out there slogging away to and from work. Although she doesn’t exactly slog, Mary the Coffeenuer is braving the cold and – for the most part – enjoying it. Her latest blog post pretty much is a call to arms, or pedals. So I resolve to get out of the basement as long as there is no ice on the ground. (It’s supposed to snow tomorrow night so this might be a pretty short lived resolution.)

An update on my recovery: I feel fine. I have my energy back. Mrs. Rootchopper says that my left calf looks bigger than my right. This is consistent with a deep vein thrombosis or big blood clot in my left calf. I have used a tape measure and I can’t find a difference. I also don’t feel any difference between the left and right calf.

I have ordered a mirror for my Cross Check just to decrease my chances of being run over by big metal things. And I have purchased a RoadID which is like a medic alert bracelet. It has my name and address, my wife’s contact numbers, my blood type and Xarelto, the blood thinning medication I am on. This is especially important in case I crash and hit my head and am knock out or concussed. Blows to the head can lead to runaway bleeding in the skull which can be fatal within a day or two. I want to make sure that EMTs and ER doctors know about my medication from the get go even if I can’t speak for myself.

Well, that was depressing.

My CT scan for tomorrow has been postponed because my insurance is flinching at having another one so soon after the last one. This is pretty routine.

Later this week I have a dental appointment. Hopefully I won’t need any crowns or fillings because I’d have to stop taking Xarelto for a couple of days and I really can’t do that right now.

I am getting back to the daily routine I was in before all this craziness took over my life.

  • Meditation for 20 -30 minutes – This is a hold over from self treatment of depression. I’m into my fourth year of sitting on a daily basis. Oddly, it’s also the last vestige of a friendship gone sour. Go figure.
  • Reading the newspaper over breakfast – I have been doing crosswords since college. Breakfast doesn’t seem right without a puzzle.
  • Reading – I am an obsessive reader. I can’t imagine living without books all around me. I am working down the pile of books I got for Christmas and as gifts for nearly dying. (I can’t die now, God.. I have four more books on my nightstand.) I should be coming up for air about May 1.
  • Riding – I am still searching for a good substitute for the best bike commute on the planet. And I have to get myself into some sort of decent riding shape because I fully intend to ride to Pacific waters this spring and summer.
  • Learning guitar – I am the least musical person on the planet. And I have small hands. So this is an uphill battle. Still, twiddling away at finger picking is strangely relaxing. And it’s a lot easier to learn these days because there are a bazillion instructional videos online.
  • Listening to music – This is something that has fallen by the wayside with all the bike riding that I’ve been doing over the years. I was browsing YouTube recently when I saw the name Brandi Carlile. I’ve heard her name many, many times over the years and never took the time to listen to her. Doh. She’s been making interesting music for 12 years and six (soon to be seven albums). So I am wearing out two of her CDs and I am about to buy all the others. This will tide me over until the next Neil Finn CD comes out later this year.
  • And doing at least one adult thing –  Today’s was driving my daughter’s car so its battery wouldn’t die. And doing a load of laundry. Hey, that’s two.

In addition to these daily activities I have a few other things I want to keep doing.

  • Socialize – I am trying to do at least one social thing a week so I don’t turn into a hermit. The weekend before last was brunch with folks from grad school. This past weekend was the wedding of the daughter of a former work colleague. It was at a mosque which made it especially unusual (for me at least) and interesting. This Thursday I am going to a #bikedc happy hour. I am not supposed to drink alcohol while on my medication but I think one drink in a two-week span won’t kill me. Then again, who the hell knows!
  • Advocacy – As a total introvert, I make a lousy advocate. Still, I hope to attend a meeting with National Park Service staff regarding the Mount Vernon Trail on Saturday.
  • Sportz – I don’t watch much sports but the NFL playoffs include the Patriots. I lived in Boston and Providence for 11 years during which time the Patriots were consistently mediocre. Their recent run of excellence has been fun to watch. I only watch during the playoffs. I don’t have time for the other 16 games.

 

 

 

 

 

Recovery: Back to Normal-ish

Three weeks ago my medical crisis began. Today was a normal day like any other with the minor exception that I rode in the basement rather than outside. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say I was healthy, well adjusted person. Okay, let’s settle for healthy. We can’t expect miracles.

I was a busy boy today. I made two appointments for scans ordered by my pulmonologist, helped arrange for the appliance guy to come fix our dryer, drove to Marlow Heights to get a second key for the Millennium Falcon, my son’s rattle trap of a car, and drove to REI to try on new shoes. (I didn’t like them.) Then, after a meditation break along the river, it was back home to find out I needed to make another scan appointment. Yesterday’s ultrasound didn’t give a clear enough view of my adrenal gland so we’re doing another CT scan. (Certain cancers cause an increase in clotting so the search is on to find or rule out cancer somewhere in my body.) Next up was a 13 mile ride in the basement while reading my book. (It’s called Ramp Hollow. It’s about how the people of Appalachia came to be in their socio-economic predicament.) Finally, I did my complete set of physical therapy exercises including a shoulder stand.

I don’t want to jinx anything, but I feel pretty normal. The only real way I can tell is to try to do more normal things and see what happens. So I need to take a bike out and ride it somewhere. I suspect that if I can handle 20 miles outside on my Cross Check I’m doing just fine. If I can go up a hill without dying (not literally, I hope)  that would be another milestone. Still another test will be to go to the gym and lift weights. I am not Ahnuld so this is more to see how my heart reacts to pumpitude.

Anyway, feeling somewhat normal is pretty flabbergasting to me. It’s been three weeks since the clots decided to go site seeing in my lungs. I felt truly awful for the first week after the pulmonary embolism(s) came to play.

Since it came up in a recent twitter conversation, I should point out that I plan on riding while on blood thinners. Nothing heroic or adventurous just my usual everyday cycling. With a helmet on, of course. For the short term, I just want to see where my fitness (and balance) is. For the long term, I need to be active or I will lose my mind. (Just ask my wife.) How all this translates to bike tours and events is TBD.

I also intend not to let this medical mess turn me into a hermit. In addition to seeing plenty of medical professionals, I plan on going to several non-medical events in the weeks ahead. There’s a wedding on Saturday, a #bikedc happy hour next week, a meeting with the National Park Service about the Mount Vernon Trail the following Saturday, and the WABA Awards get-together in a few weeks. I doubt I’ll ride to these events. There will be plenty of time for riding when it’s warmer and lighter out. Lord willin’ and the clots don’t rise.

 

 

 

Watchin’ the Wheels

I’ve been retired almost four months now. I have been asked “How’s retirement?” dozens of times. In a way it’s a bit of a pointless question. If it sucked I’d be unretired.

Last night this exchange happened several times at a holiday party I attended. I gave a flippant response until I found Klarence.

As readers of this blog may recall, Klarence is a pseudonym for a friend of mine who “fixed” me two and a half years ago. After dealing with depression for months and months, I sat down with Klarence for a drink after work. (Klarence had no idea that I was troubled.) It led to a four hour, brutally honest, one-on-one encounter session. Along the way, Klarence made me laugh and nearly brought me to tears. When we parted, I felt like she had lifted an enormous burden from me. I don’t think she had intentions of doing this; she was just being her true self. I walked away flabbergasted by my good fortune. And forever grateful to her.

We met three years ago at the same holiday gathering. So I made it a point to look for her last night. I almost walked right past her until she called my name. (Ironically, it was also Klarence who told me about my malfunctioning fusiform gyrus, a part of the brain that deals with facial recognition.)

We hugged our usual fierce hug (because that’s what you do with somebody who saves you from months of absolute misery) and then she asked with a serious look on her face:

“How’s retirement?”

It hit my mind like a club. It staggered me. I was tongue tied.

I don’t even remember what I said in response.

From day one, Klarence has had an effect on me. Her bluntness and honesty somehow compel me to ponder her words.

And I pondered.

Suppose you asked a kid “How’s childhood?” He’d say “Okay, I guess.” In a sense, retirement is like childhood; it is what it is. It’s an endless stream of Saturdays. You can read the paper in the morning. You can sleep in. You can do what you want, when you want. You can wear your jammies all day long. All of this is pretty damned sweet.

Of course, my earnings dropped by 70 percent but you can’t have everything – especially now! This aspect is a little unsettling, but I live a very modest life.

There is a sense that asking someone “How’s retirement?” is a bit like asking a Ph. D. student, “How’s the thesis?” Or a 21-year old, “So what are you going to do with your life?”

AYYYYYY!

It brings on a sort of performance anxiety. Especially for someone like me who has lived with imposter syndrome his whole life.

I have another friend who used to give me unease because she seemed to want to fill every second of every day mindfully accomplishing something that would bring her happiness and be somehow meaningful for humanity. I don’t socialize with her anymore. She was stressing me out.

So here’s an answer that maybe is a little more honest than the inarticulate response I gave to Klarence last night.

Retirement is being free of working on projects that suck your soul.

Retirement is not having to work to arbitrary deadlines that shift with the wind.

Retirement is not having to ride to work when it’s dark and rainy and 33 degrees with a 15 mile per hour headwind. (Yes, this happened a few times every year.)

Retirement is setting your own schedule. Answering to your own inner boss. Filling your day with things you find personally fulfilling and that are true to who you are like:

  • Riding my bike in the daylight.
  • Taking care of my aging carcass by lifting weights.
  • Taking care of my mental health by meditating for 20 or 30 (or, like today, 45) minutes and not feeling guilty.
  • Trying rather comically to learn a little guitar (and avoiding tennis elbow in the process).
  • Reading books without interruption. (Current book: The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins)
  • Spending two days in court to lend moral support to some friends – who introduced me to Klarence three years ago. (This is called paying it backward, I think.)
  • Volunteering and attending bicycling advocacy events.
  • Planning the next big thing. (How hard is it to ride to the Pacific anyways?)

Where does this all lead? Does it accomplish a big thing? Does it make my life worthwhile? Will I make a big ego-boosting mark on the world so my life will be one big selfie? Is it okay not to give a flying fuck?

For now, I am content and truly grateful to abide by the words of John Lennon:

I’m just sittin’ here watching the wheels go round and round. I really love to watch them roll.

And to say, once again, thank you, Klarence.

 

 

Work? No, Thanks. I’m Busy.

I received a job offer yesterday. I think I’ll pass. I am busy being retired. My typical day goes something like this:

  • Read newspaper over breakfast. Defeat Sudoku and the crossword.
  • Play on social media sites.
  • Do one productive thing such as go to the doctor, get the car inspected, get my haircut, mow the lawn, volunteer, etc.
  • Go for a bike ride.
  • Go to gym (three days a week) or do physical therapy (basically, a short yoga session).
  • Meditate for 20 – 30 minutes.
  • Practice guitar. (I just started. By the time I am 110 years old I’ll be able to play The House of the Rising Sun.)
  • Read. (My family bans me from buying books in the weeks leading up to Christmas, Father’s Day, and my birthday. So I raided my daughter’s bookshelf.) I am currently reading Water for Elephants.
  • Listen to a Podcast once or twice a week. I follow 10 Percent Happier.
  • Write an insipid blog. (You are reading it.)
  • Write in my journal. (You are not reading it.)
  • Watch something on TV or Netflix. Or listen to music.

Well, it felt like I was busy…

After breakfast, I made a to-do list for the day.

I rode 13 miles to the Lincoln Memorial. I was going to ride to the gym which is only four miles away but the weatherman said it would start raining about 1 pm and I wanted to get a warm dry ride in.

Of course, it didn’t rain. So I rode back to the gym. Because of new nerve problems in my legs, I decided to lay off the leg machines. Instead of doing two circuits on all the machines, I did three circuits on the upper body and core machines. This was probably not a good idea. For a start, my right foot went numb after I used the first machine (a shoulder raise gizmo).

I stuck with my plan. I arrived a little before 11 am. The people in the weight room were all business. There was no chatter, no sitting around. So I made it out of there by 1 pm without having to wait at all.

My upper body was a tad annoyed with me. I could hear my biceps saying “You are such an asshole” all the way home on Little Nellie.

Gym and bike ride done!

Next came lunch. Then a clock reset-a-thon. I have four bike computers, three different kinds. So I had to find out how to do the deed without obliterating other settings. After about 1/2 hour I succeeded. In the process, I saw that my computers have over 112,000 miles on them. Whoa.

Reset the bike computers. Done!

Next up were the clocks in the cars. Done!

Then I took a picture of a foundation wall crack in the back of the house and emailed it to a contractor who knows about such things. He emailed me back to tell me to keep and eye on the cracks. They are probably caused by the marine clay soil under the house drying out from the summer with very little rain. I am taking his advice because I can do nothing like a champ.

Deal with foundation cracks. Done!

Laundry was next. Done!

Bill paying. Done!

Check book balancing. Done!

I meditated for 30 minutes. Done!

The only things I haven’t done are shredding (our file cabinet is bursting at the seams) and read my Fredrik Backman book.

So what do you do when you retire? All the crap that you cram into the evenings.

Still, it didn’t feel like I accomplished much.

I’ll try again tomorrow.

 

No Way So Hey – Day 17

The day began with a 1 1/2 mile ride to a diner where I stuffed myself with all the things. 

Belch.

Then I went back to the campground, packed up, and paid. I got a senior discount. Woot!

I hit the road late, 8:30, and I knew I would pay. The early morning hours have pleasant temperatures but some uncomfortable humidity. From about 10 to 2 the sky is cloudless and the heat wears on you. After that the sun is low enough to cast shadows across the road and the puffy white clouds lend a hand.

Today’s ride was more of the same. Farms and swamps. Run down shacks and beautiful country homes. I saw some peach orchards today. At one of my rest stops I asked the clerk for done bananas. We don’t have any. You should try our sliced peaches. Holy crap. I hoovered them. Just perfectly sweet and juicy. 


And I saw a cotton field that looked ready for picking.


Toward the end of the day I saw farms with livestock and chicken houses. I was also chased by a big mean dog who didn’t have the leg speed to keep up with The Mule. Instead of “Beware of the Dog” signs, some people put up “Bad Dog” signs. This made me think of putting up a sign that says, “Dog of Poor Moral Fiber”.

Hills have made a reappearance too. I don’t mind. Just drop to a lower gear and spin.

For the first three or four days your brain is all monkey mind. After that you just become kind of mesmerized by the sound of the chain, the turning of the pedals, the pumping of your knees. Your brain goes off on tangents then it locks back in on chain and pedals and knees. 

I’m getting closer to the Okeefenokee Swamp. The Saltilla River seems to be everywhere. I stopped to take a picture of the swamp trees with their wide bases.


I cruised into Nahunta Georgia just before 5 pm. I’m staying at the Knox Hotel which looks like something you’d see in Mayberry or Petticoat Junction. 

The hotel incurred some minor hurricane damage to its roof. The owner told me she took in many people displaced by Irma a few weeks ago. 

After 85 miles on breakfast, convenience store food and peaches, I’m ready for a shower and dinner. 

Total miles 1,242.5. 

Tomorrow the Okeefenokee Swamp and Florida.