Getting Back in Shape

My body has had a tough winter. For a few weeks I was really falling apart. I couldn’t stand up straight. I walked with a pronounced limp with pain in my left knee and hip.

Setting Aside Little Nellie

It occurred to me that my back pain was probably caused by the impact shocks I get while riding Little Nellie. Those little wheels don’t absorb much of the hit from countless tree roots on the Mount Vernon Trail. (The National Park Service is starved for money and their maintenance has really gone south in the last two or three years.)

I switched first to The Mule, then to my Cross Check, both of which have normal sized wheels (700c x 35 for the bike nerds). My back responded almost instantly to the softer ride on The Mule. When I switched the Cross Check some new back and knee problems cropped up. I re-measured the seat height and the distance from the saddle to the handlebars. The seat was about 1/2 inch higher than The Mule’s. After I adjusted it, I took off. The Cross Check’s bigger gears were just what my legs needed. I feel like my old self again.

I rode it to Friday Coffee Club today. The strong, persistent tailwind made me feel like a bike god. The ride home was a bit challenging but I actually enjoyed fighting the wind. I am back to my old commuting mileages. My last 8 days were: 30, 23.5, 45.5, 28, 31, 32, 32, and 30 miles (252 total). A couple more weeks like that should put me in decent touring shape.

Cross Check at Dyke Marsh
The Cross Check at Dyke Marsh on the Mount Vernon Trail

 

Working Out Off the Bike

I am also doing on alternate days: yoga, weight lifting, and physical therapy exercises including some with a foam roller. I don’t much care for any of these but you gotta do what you gotta do.

Shopping

My pre-tour shopping spree has begun. I’ve bought mountain bike shorts, glasses (clear and polarized, both progressive for map reading while on the bike), Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires, Croakies, Koolstop brake pads, and a combination lock. (I am trading off weight for some security but I can’t recall ever having someone try to steal The Mule while on tour.)

The other night I attended a presentation by Jim Sayer, the Executive Director of  Adventure Cycling. Adventure Cycling makes the maps that I use. Jim’s presentation really helped get my head back in the game. Jim talked up La Route Verte, the bike touring network in Quebec. This is definitely going on my to do list. The website is amazing. (And it’s in both English and French, of course.) I need to do a key word search for “black flies” though.

And just to add to the preparations, spring arrived in DC. It may be temporary but two 70 degree days are just the tonic. I rode in shorts and a t-shirt today and it was bliss.

 

 

 

Getting Well

After my trip to London I was a physical wreck. I think I am starting to get well.

My one-month cold is almost gone. Lord knows my sinuses must be tired of producing so much gunk.

I have had a nasty pain in my upper left arm for more than a year. It’s occasional but extremely painful, like someone is stabbing me. It seems that the shorter stem I put on Little Nellie is helping a lot. I haven’t woken up with a dagger in my arm for a few days. Now that I think about it, the pain went away when I was on my bike tour on The Mule, a bike with a similar reach to the handlebars. (This is not a coincidence; Little Nellie was custom made to mimic the geometry of The Mule.) So, maybe the culprit is the geometry of my Cross Check. Hmmm.

My left hip is still wonky but it’s definitely better. I do two PT exercises specifically for it. Then I do my runners calf stretch. This, for some reason, helps with my lower back. After that comes my mishmash of about 20 yoga and PT exercises. The whole thing took me 30 minutes today. I am going to add some foam roller exercises soon because why be bored shitless when you can torture yourself too!

My left knee is still barking a bit. I use a pillow between my legs when I sleep and this keeps it from aching at night.

For whatever reason my legs no longer feel like concrete. My thighs are still tight, so tight as to completely rule out certain yoga asanas from the book I am using.

I was weighed at the doctor’s office the other day. 218 pounds is way too heavy for me. I spent some time backing up pictures from my laptop to an external hard drive. I saw a picture of me at the 50 States Ride, six months ago. Yep. I done ate too many cookies this Christmas. The added weight probably isn’t helping my legs, hip, and back when I walk 7 or 8 miles in one go either.

Off to bed for this busy boy. I have to get up at dawn to get a CT scan. They will inject me with contrasting dye. It imparts a warm tingly feeling from the top of the head to the groin (I don’t know why I’ve never felt it in my legs) as it spreads through the blood stream.

Too bad this anti-freeze doesn’t linger in the system. I have a 35 mile bike ride to do tomorrow morning.

 

A busy week

It’s been a busy week:

  • Four medical appointments (endocrine system, eyes, teeth, skin), two indoor bike rides on Big Nellie, two outdoor bike rides on Little Nellie, a visit to the gym, five yoga sessions (on my own) (Did I mention I hate yoga.) A return to meditation after several months. One WABA event followed by a WABA happy hour. And Friday Coffee Club. Also, I stealthily bought Mrs. Rootchopper flowers for Valentines Day. And we went out to dinner.
  • I started doing yoga again because my body is a wreck. I suspect part of the reason it is a wreck is that I’ve gained about 20 pounds since last summer. My left knee, hip, lower back, and arm are all messed up. And very painful. My thighs feel like they are made out of concrete. So the yoga I am doing is very basic and emphasizes freedom of movement. My routine also includes PT exercises for iliotibial band syndrome (which I think may be behind the knee and hip pain) and runner’s calf stretches. I’ll give it another week before I go to my doctor and raise a white flag of surrender. The last thing I want to do is get on the medical hampster wheel again.

Next week promises to be busy as well.

  • A CT scan (as part of the endocrinology thing) on Monday at 7:30
  • A bike ride at 9:30 on Monday (I’ll probably miss the start because it’s in DC)
  • Breakfast with Mrs. Rootchopper at a diner on Thursday, an every other week thing.
  • The Hains Point 100/Bike DC 3rd Thursday happy hour. (This coincides with my friend Rachel’s trio playing at a local eatery. Sad face. Gonna miss it.)
  • Friday Coffee Club

I suppose I could be cavorting in Antarctica or Munich or some other far away land. But I’ll leave that to the young folk for now.

In a couple of weeks, the Crystal City Garage Bike Races begin. If you are in DC and want a cheap (i.e. free) night out, you should come.

 

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.

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    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

 

 

Errandonnee: Fixing My Bike and My Body

Yesterday, I tweaked the tension on the leather saddle on my Cross Check. After getting the swale out of it, I measured Little Nellie’s saddle for height and distance from the handlebars. I applied these measurements to the Cross Check saddle position. I moved it up and back about 1/2 centimeter each.

I’ve been doing physical therapy to get rid of pain in my left shoulder and upper arm. I had no appointments this week because my therapist was booked solid. Someone canceled and I took the 2:30 slot. I rode about five miles beyond the therapist just to try out the new arrangement on my Cross Check. Verdict: perfect.

Errand No. 9: Other

Destination: The Jackson Clinic in Old Town Alexandria (next to the Sport and Health fitness center)

Observation: It never ceases to amaze me how seemingly tiny adjustments to a bicycle saddle can take a bike from pain to pleasure.

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Winter Weather or Not

Nine years ago today, a 32-year-old bike commuting friend of mine posted these words on my Facebook page:

“I just could not feel my body in the cold. So I damaged it without noticing it!”

What a difference nine years makes! Today was almost summer-like in DC. I saw a roadside sign that indicated it was 78F degrees at 3:30.

Of course, I saw this sign while out on my bike.

I didn’t get started until just before midday. I had spent the morning eating diner food and going to the library with Mrs. Rootchopper.  With my belly and brain satisfied, I was off on my Cross Check for a jaunt up the Anacostia River.

I began my ride on the Mount Vernon Trail. I crossed the Potomac River on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Trail. Once in Maryland, I made the long slog up to Oxon Hill Road. The climb goes right past a massive MGM casino. The ginormous electronic sign indicated that Cher was performing there this month. I don’t gamble and I don’t Cher so let’s just say the whole casino thing is lost on me. I think the complex looks like the Imperial Star Destroyer from Star Wars. I prefer Mos Eisley bars to casinos.

Having reached Oxon Hill Road I made my way to Oxon Hill Farm and proceeded to ride right back down the hill to the river. Somebody’s got some explaining to do.

The Oxon Cove Trail winds its way to a enclave of public buildings including a police training facility, a city bus maintenance yard, some Smithsonian greenhouses and a vocational training complex. After perusing all these fine public sector facilities, I rode right back up the hill to Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue.

MLK Jr. Ave is not exactly where it’s at. I think maybe it’s were it might have been at about 80 years ago. It’s actually kind of depressing. My ride north took me past the grounds of St. Elizabeth’s nervous hospital. The complex is being taken over by the Department of Homeland Security which probably says something snarky about DHS.

The ride through Congress Heights and Anacostia was interesting. Drivers in this part of DC use the freestyle method of motoring. Random u-turns, lane changes, horn honking are the rule. I waved a thank you to a driver for not cutting me off and he laid on his horn. De nada, dude.

Suffice it to say, my rather precarious medical condition made me apprehensive for this part of the ride. I was happy to see the Anacostia River Trail which runs rather appropriately along the Anacostia River. And so, like a Yogi Berra malapropism, I took it. North. The scenery was still the grays and browns of winter but the temperature told me it was late spring.

I rolled along the trail past the garbage consolidation facility (helps with the sinuses don’t you know), past the Aquatic Gardens (the flower show happens much later in the year), through assorted fields, both natural and athletic, and around a cement plant to Bladensburg. As I crossed over the Anacostia, I passed about five priests (or, more likely, seminarians as they all looked pretty young). We waved at each other. I said “Mea Culpa” three times for good measure. (I was a altar boy who had to learn the Latin Mass and the English Mass, a biographical fact that dates the crap out of me. )

I am kidding about the Mea Culpas, by the way.

Once across the river I consulted the Google for advice on how to ride home without retracing my steps. I rode up the river until the trail split into the Northeast and Northwest Branch Trails. I took the latter and spotted a cupcake shop, a landmark from the Cider Ride last November. I didn’t stop. (I know, what a fool.) But I did find a trail that would take me back toward DC.

After a few miles I bailed on the trail It would have taken me to Queens Chapel Road which I am familiar with. Basically, it’s a bicycle death trap. So I started riding neighborhood streets and following the sun. I found myself back in DC riding a straight street to the west. In these parts “straight” almost always translates into “hilly”. As I slogged up one long hill, I passed an old man doddering around his front yard. He looked at me and remarked, “Better you than me.”

I love it when I’m mocked.

Soon I was in familiar territory. Monroe Street leads to 8th Street which leads to the Metropolitan Branch Trail. How nice of someone to put a trail with very few cross streets right in the middle of a city. The trail took me back southward and after a wiggle and waggle I was on a cycletrack that took me right past the incomparably boring Bureau of Labor Statistics.

I rode past a scrum of photographers at a courthouse. They were waiting to take a picture of a Trump associate who was being charged with treason or money laundering or some such offense. (I can’t keep it all straight, to be honest.)

Soon thereafter I was riding along the National Mall pretending I was in the Olympic tourist dodge event. I was pretty proud that I didn’t hit a single one.

After the podium ceremony, I rode around the tidal basin and over the 14th Street Bridge to the Mount Vernon Trail. The 12-mile ride from the bridge to my house was interrupted by a stop at the gym, because nothing improves a 48 1/2 mile bike ride quite like lifting weights.

Fug.

I arrived home exhausted but still had some physical therapy exercises to do. I am doing these because my left shoulder is on the blink.

Despite trying really hard, I did not damage my body. I guess you need cold weather to do that.

 

 

Recovery Milestone

Today it was warm and the weather begged me to go for a bike ride. Who am I to argue? So I decided to re-do the 36-mile ride I did the day before my pulmonary embolisms hit. Tempting fate?

No way!

I rode all 36 miles and tacked on another mile for good measure. The route took me down to Mount Vernon. I did a three or four mile loop through the Woodlawn area then rode up the big hill on Jeff Todd Way. At Telegraph Road I took a left and rode further up hill until I reached Beulah Road. At no time did my legs or lungs crap out on these hills. I don’t think I ever fell below 7 miles per hour. I rode up the long hill to US 1 and had no problems. This hill usually kills me. Then I turned left and pedaled back along US 1 past Fort Belvoir. I headed back to Mount Vernon and down the trail to Fort Hunt Park where I did a couple of celebratory laps.

All was good until I got home. I did my usual physical therapy exercises which my wife insists on calling yoga. Then my lower back started to go out.

You should do yoga! Yeah, right.

I took a nap.

Then I spent the rest of the evening watching a movie on TV: Into the Wild. It was pretty brilliant. Very true to  the book. And for the second night in a row, the main character was emaciated. (How the actors pull this off is beyond me.)

So I am back to where I was a month ago. I never thought I’d get to this point this fast. It blows my mind that a month ago I was lying in a hospital bed gasping for breath with pneumonia, a collapsed lung, and blood clots all through my lungs.

Despite all the medical insanity, I have ridden 349 miles in January, almost 2/3rds of it out of doors. I can’t believe it.

 

The Trifecta of Pain Post Mortem

A couple of days ago I was somewhat concerned that Thai massage, followed by snow shoveling, and a physical therapy session, all withing the space of 17 hours would wreck my body. As it turned out, I made it through the Trifecta of Pain with flying colors.

The Thai massage (with a bit of Reiki at the end), although painful at times, was a very soothing experience. I don’t normally pamper myself like this, but I am glad I gave this a go.

This morning we had three or so inches of wet snow. I pulled out the wovel and went at it. Each time I use this gizmo I am amazed. Snow shoveling is one of the most stressful things you can put your back and heart. Woveling is a piece of cake. It is actually not much harder than mowing the lawn. And it makes quick work of the snow.

Later in the morning I went to my physical therapy appointment. We worked on my balance. To my surprise, after some awkwardness, I did most of the exercises without losing my balance. I don’t know if this gets me anywhere with my numb foot but it helped my ego quiet a bit. The PT folks were curious to hear about the Thai massage. I mentioned the pain I had with my quadriceps and IT band and that became the focus of the session. We used a foam roller to massage both areas. This was incredibly painful, much, much more so than during the massage. Then we tried using a lacrosse ball to work out the tightness in my IT band. This was not as bad.

And so the Trifecta of Pain is over. It was not nearly as painful as I had expected.

Climbing aboard the PT Boat

Today was my second physical therapy appointment for my numb right foot. Of course, this meant that when I woke up my foot felt fine for a few hours. I drove to the appointment because the temperature was dropping almost as fast as the wind was howling. Along the way, my foot became number than it has been in weeks.

At the PT place, the therapist I saw last week, put my right foot, now back to its usual numbness, through various gentle twists and turns. The working theory is that a big nerve in my foot has been damaged or is entrapped. The gentle twists and turns of my foot, ankle, calf, and entire leg are attempts to address this.The technique is actually called nerve flossing. I didn’t notice much difference. I was handed off to another therapist who gave me a number of exercises to do that seemed simple but actually were not all that easy, if done correctly.

Most of the exercises were designed to address my lower back and core strength to deal with the possiblity that my problem was related to my back. The doctor had alread ruled this out but the first PT person said that it’s possible that the EMG test was done when the nerve was not fully misbehaving, and thereby led to a false assesment.

I was doing fine, partly because many of the exercises were variations on the PT I routinely do for my back and core and on the yoga poses I do. Two exercises were particularly notable. First, I was doing something called the pointing dog. It involves kneeling on all fours and extending your right arm and left leg while squeezing your stomach and butt. Nearly all the exercises involved squeezing core and butt so by the time I got to the pointing dog my stomach and butt were pretty much all squeezed out. When I did the exercise my numbness in my right foot untensified and spread from below my ankle to pretty much my entire foot. Instead of numbing it was now tingling. We modified the exercise and made a note.

The second exercise that seemed to be fruitful was using a lacrosse ball to knead the muscles in my calves, my quadriceps and my hanstrings. This had no discernable effect on my hams or quads, but it hurt like hell on my calves. Each calf was all knots of tight muscles. Ah ha!

Of course, I have no idea if this has anything to do with my numb foot but it was interesting none the less. I go back next week for two more PT sessions. In the meantime, I am reconsidering rolfing, because it seems as if it might involve the kind of deep muscle massage that the lacrosse ball is getting at. A friend of mine highly recommends a rolfer in DC. Once I close the loop with the neurologist at the end of the month, I may give the rolfer a call.