This bike looks suspiciously like a snow shovel

The year opened with warm weather. Nearly warm enough for shorts on the bike. So naturally I took The Mule out for a couple of rides, managing 62 miles to and from DC. The streets were eerily empty.

Then the storm hit. For the first time in three years we were socked with an honest to god snowstorm. By the time it ended we had 11 1/2 inches in our yard. Wet snow. Good packin’ snow as we used to say during my snowball fighting youth

.I broke out the Wovel and went to work on Monday. Neighbors kept remarking at what a clever invention it is. My back was happy. There is no lifting involved just pushing down and thrusting with the legs. The only drawback was that the was so much snow that I ran out of places to put it. After about three hours, I finished the task of freeing up the cars and went inside. My triceps were screaming at me. All that pushing down was like being in a gym on one machine for hours. I went inside, ate, showered, and hit the couch for a well deserved nap.

Madman with Wovel from 2014

On Tuesday morning I went out for round two. On Monday I moved nine inches or so. Tuesday I moved the rest. Same result. I was sore and tired afterward. I repeated my post-shoveling ritual: I ate, took a shower, and fell asleep on the couch.

Yesterday there was no snow to move. Time to ride! But there was no way I was going out on streets narrowed by plowed snow, covered in brine and sand and salt. So I took to the basement for my first bike/reading session of the year. I managed to last 1:48, what I guess is the equivalent of 19 miles. I did a ladder workout. Starting in the lowest gear, read a page, shift up. Go up to the top gear in that chainring then reverse. Next, shift to the big ring and go back up the ladder. I did two sets. My knees were screaming at me.

Big Nellie on a resistance trainer in the basement.

After my ride, I went upstairs and helped Mrs. Rootchopper and our daughter finish the 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle – an end-of-year tradition at our house – we had begun a few days earlier. Eduard Munch’s The Scream.

You’d scream too if you had to do this puzzle.

Today, I planned on going out to deal with the storm damage in our yard. A cedar tree in our back yard had split near the top. The debris came down and was sitting on the power line to our house. Mrs. Rootchopper cut off some of the lower part of the fallen tree top. This took some weight off the line. For the rest we called Dominion Power. They had a crew out in a couple of days. The crew left their cuttings on the ground. A redbud tree on the side of the house had split down the middle of its main trunk. A couple of other large branches were hanging off other trunks.

Top of tree resting on power line.

I first had to move a pile of snow to make way for the new branches. Next I moved a big pile of branches from my wife’s previous efforts out of the mouth of the driveway. Then I started hauling branches, cutting them so that they would stack neatly, then adding them to a huge pile. I planned on 30 minutes. I even put a load of laundry in. Alas, it took three hours. I slipped and fell twice. It was not a lot of fun.

When I finished I came inside and felt like someone had beaten me with a bat. Every muscle ached. My back. My legs. My hands.

So I ate, showered, and took a nap. And did more laundry.

I hope to ride again tomorrow. That may not pan out. There’s another storm coming overnight.

Snowday!

The government agency where I work usually operates when the rest of the federal government does not so I rarely get a snow day. Today, I got one. Yay me!

There was a power outage at work and the computer system crashed and there was no way for most people to get there so they just said “Fuggit. We’re closed.”

Works for me.

I set my alarm during the day on Sunday and forgot to unset it.

BEEP BEEP. 6 am you are so cruel.

I went back to sleep.

After waking I did my daily morning routine of back exercises and meditation. During the last three days, Mrs. RC and I shoveled out our neighbor’s driveway so we could park three of our cars there. (Two belong to our kids who are overseas. My wife drives her 12 year old Accord to work. My car is a driveway ornament.) A humongous pick up truck came and parked in the driveway. Oops. Later it was joined by an SUV. The drivers were remodeling the house. So I needed to make curb space to get our cars out of their way.

The snow plows had made a hard bank of snow about the width of a car on my side of the street. The bank was well over two feet deep. One shovel at a time, I cleared enough space for my kids’s subcompact cars. This took two hours. How the hell did I, a sixty year old, do this on top of about 9 hours of shoveling over the last three days?

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Nice day for a shovelfest, no?

I attribute my shoveling survival to two things. My back didn’t go out. And my heart kept pumping without red lining.

My back benefited from three exercises that I added to to my morning routine. Two are versions of a side plank. In one version, I hold myself up with one stiff arm to the floor while the other arm reaches for the ceiling. My trunk is perpendicular to the floor. I am careful not to mess up my shoulder muscles when I am doing this. I just stay in that position until it starts to become uncomfortable then I switch sides.

For the other version, I am in the same position but supporting myself on my forearm. I then dip my hip to the floor and raise it. Over and over. As I do this. I move my free arm down to the floor with my hip and point it up to the ceiling as my hip moves up. I do one set of ten dips on each side.

These exercises have given my lower back lateral stability. I learned these from my physical therapy sessions last winter but I am certain that these, like most PT exercises, is a variation on a yoga asana.

The third exercise is a bird dog. Again this is a PT exercise that is stolen from yoga. On your hands and knees reach one arm out and the opposite leg back. Tighten your belly. Hold it. You can sense your lower back decompressing. It really feels great. I do ten of these on each side.

(Yes, I know. I have said I hate yoga many times in the past. What I don’t like about it is the dedicated time commitment and the routine. I do yoga asanas for very specific purposes. The thought of doing yoga continuously for an hour makes me want to run screaming down the street.)

In the past, I only did crunches and similar exercises for my abdominal muscles. This was great until I twisted my torso under load. Then my back would go out. Twisting under load is what you do when batting in baseball, bowling, golfing, and shoveling snow. It is bad news for someone like me who has had a disc removed from his lower back.

My other survival strategy is riding a bike. (Running does the same thing. Actually better but my knees won’t go there anymore.) Once I get warmed up, my heart rate stabilizes and I can ride for hours at a conversational pace. The same holds for shoveling. In all those hours of shoveling I never once felt my heart racing. I just kept chugging along like I was riding my bike to work. The snow will be moved eventually. Just keep shoveling. Wax on. Wax off. Go with the flow.

According to my friend Rachel, who only cusses during snow crises, I shoveled several fucktons of snow this weekend. (Yes, I know at least two area women with masters degrees who use the term “fuckton.” Reason number 2,120 why I love DC.) My shoulders, neck and upper arms are sore. My lower back is fine. My lower arms are in good enough shape to fill and empty several glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon. Three ounce curls are therapeutic.

After my shoveling session, I finally put on my snowshoes and set about playing in the snow. This lasted for all of a quarter mile. The snow was not compacted enough to support my weight even on snowshoes. I kept sinking nearly a foot into the snow. My heart was racing as I powered my way forward. I fell twice, once when my shoe caught on something. Another time a snowshoe came off leaving me wallowing around in a snowbank like Tian Tian. Tian Tian looks cute. Me. not so much.

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The bunnies were doing much better than me

So I headed for home. Time to have a glass of wine and call it a day.

 

Taking the Rest of the Day Off

Five hours.

Yep, Five hours. I wovelled my ass off today. I did it in two shifts. The first go ran from 10 am to 2. I added an hour after the snow stopped falling.

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Looks weird. Works wonderfully. Look at how much snow is on that sucker!

Mrs. Rootchopper had to work so I was working solo. If I didn’t own a wovel, I’d be dead now. I used a conventional shovel for a small amount of the work around the edge of the cars but otherwise it was me and my fulcrum. (Wasn’t that a Harry Nielson song? I guess not since nothing rhymes with “fulcrum”.)

In spots, our 4 or 5 inches of snow was really 2 or 3 inches of snow on top of two inches of heavy slush. It was a work out. I will have awesome triceps from pushing down on the handle of the wovel. They will hurt like hell. In fact, by about 9 a.m. on Wednesday I’m gonna be in a world of hurt.

For now, I am taking the rest of the day off