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.

 

Old Man Drunk on Apple Fritters

Rachel and Katie – Part Deux

As it turns out Katie and Rachel are the Lennon and McCartney of get-well gifters. It was Katie’s idea to get me the t-shirt that gave me a dose of chronological reality with a side of laughter. Rachel’s part of the gift came in the mail today.

A couple of years ago Rachel did an internship at the Hammer Museum in Haines, Alaska. Food in Haines is expensive unless you want to eat salmon three times a day. In sympathy and in recognition of our mutual love for really unhealthy junk pastry, I mailed her a couple of apple fritters by surprise. She returned fire with a handmade postcard that really knocked me out (despite my rather grumpy appearance in the photos in the link).

I opened the box and pulled out a bag of a half dozen apple fritters. I can assure you that I am allowed to eat these because my blood thinner has virtually no dietary restrictions. It will take some time (mostly to avoid massive weight gain and pancreatic malfunction), but I will set my Old Man determination to the task.

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Six Fritters – Each One the Size of a Saucer

Rachel and Katie kind of gave away the surprise by telling me to look out for a second package. I was half expecting salmon, to be honest. I am pretty sure my letter carrier was happy it wasn’t. (As am I.)

Thanks again you two.

But That’s Not All

When I went to pick up the fritter parcel at our front door, I found, not one, but two boxes. The second package was a complete surprise. It came from my sister-in-law Leah. My in-laws hail from southern West Virginia. I have heard so much oral history in the last three decades from them but it has lacked historical context. Leah’s gift fills the void; it is a book on Appalachian history called Ramp Hollow. (If you are from West Virginia, you know that the title is pretty much perfect.)

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Many thanks Leah. It sits on top of the formidable Rootchopper Tower of PE Recovery Reading on my nightstand. I can’t wait to read it.

A Note on My Health

It had snowed in the night. The light coating made for a pretty early morning. I am grateful that we didn’t get a significant accumulation.

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My Front Yard Early This Morning

I am in no condition to shovel or wovel, even. Mrs. Rootchopper reminded me that the doctors said no bicycling for three weeks. It is unclear whether that applies to geriatric basement riding on Big Nellie. So I will be a good boy and talk it over with my doctor next week. There is also the issue of doing exercises for my back. Most of these are yoga asanas. I seriously do not want to shuffle off this mortal coil while doing a shoulder stand. (I’d give money to see the face of a yoga-mad friend when she heard that I died of acute salamba sarvangasana.)

I have strength but no stamina. Each morning I get up feeling better than the day before but even minor exertion causes huffing and puffing.

I keep hitting the spirometer to increase my lung capacity. You suck on the tube and the blue thingie goes up the metered column. They should put a bell at the top. Not that I have gotten anywhere near the top, much less my supposed goal of 3,250 milliliters of air. Still, it probably warms the heat of many to say that I suck a little bit more every day. (Maybe I could write a book called Ten Percent Suckier.)

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My mental state remains upbeat, although as I get incrementally stronger I can sense some restlessness creeping in. It is already sufficiently annoying that Mrs. Rootchopper has asked me to back off on the caffeine.

I’d rather die.

Just kidding.

 

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.

“Sorry”, Java, and Pop!

Thursday was a bikes and baseball game. Kristen and Sean invited me to a baseball game. It was an end-of-summer outing for their two school aged girls.

Of course, I rode.

The weather was wonderful. I was about three blocks from the ballpark when an impatient driver pulled out from behind a turning car and came within inches of me. All I could was yell. Fortunately, the passenger side window was opened and the driver heard me and stopped abruptly before hitting me. I turned toward the stadium. The car followed. The driver said, “Sorry.” All I could think of was: let’s change places so you can wet your pants when I swerve into you.

Rant over.

The game was a terrific one. I often see kids at games and they don’t pay attention and drive their parents crazy. As often as not, the family leaves early. Not these folks. The girls had fun with the game and scouted out some healthy food. I mean baseball and dumplings go together like tea and sugar, no?

I managed to ride home unscathed. The game started at 4 so I was riding home as the sun went down. I didn’t stop to put on lights. Just my wee blinkies front and rear. Just me, the river, and a trillion midges. Nothing makes for a lovely ride like riding through clouds of bugs having sex.

Today I rode to Friday Coffee Club. I left at 6:30 around sunrise. I miss the long hours of daylight already. And it was 58 degrees. Just on basic stubbornness I rode in shorts and shirtsleeves. Twas a tad chilly with a steady headwind off the river.

We had our coffee indoors and the conversation was free flowing. I stayed to the end, through three shifts of bike commuters. Another retirement luxury. The ride home featured a brisk tailwind. There’s nothing like a tailwind to make you feel like you’re in great biking shape.

When I got home, I did my usual back exercises, which are mostly yoga asanas. One of my poses is a side plank. Lying on my side on the floor, I extend my left arm and raise my upper body off the floor. Then I extend my right arm up and point it at the ceiling. Typically I teeter a bit as my stomach and back muscles engage, which is the whole point of the enterprise. This time, I wobbled a bit and my lower left back or, maybe my hip, went POP! Dang, it felt like a knife. I lowered myself to the floor and waited for the pain to subside. I have never felt anything quite like it. Hopefully, it is nothing serious. I’ll know when I wake up in the morning, I guess. My advice to you is don’t get old. Your body betrays you.

As luck would have it, the forecast calls for rain tomorrow. So I will be a good boy and rest. Then on Sunday I have to say goodbye to an old friend; I am riding 25 miles to the Rock Creek Trestle. The trestle will be closed on Tuesday. Apparently for good. It was fun while it lasted.

On a final note, in 2014 I rode the 50 States in a group of ten people. Michael, a friend I met at Friday Coffee Club, led. He is doing a ride along the 185 mile length of the C&O Canal. It’s called WABA in the Wild. It raises money for WABA, the Washington Area Bicyclists Association. If you are feeling generous, you can help him reach his fundraising goal by going to his donations page.

Thanks.

Nobody Told Me It Was Fitness Friday

On the way to work this morning I was riding through Belle Haven Park when I spotted the strangest thing: a young man was walking toward me carrying a barbell across his shoulders. There were two huge circular weights on the bar, one on each side. He was followed by a small group of people and a woman taking a video. I could have stopped and taken a picture but I didn’t want to mess up the video. As a certified, retired altar boy, I gathered that this stunt had something to do with it being Good Friday.

In the evening as I made the turn onto Union Street in Old Town Alexandria, I spotted two women doing what appeared to be synchronized yoga moves on the loading platform of one of the Robinson Warehouses. This time I stopped. I asked them if they minded if I took their picture. “Do you want us to pose?” I laughed. “No, just go about what you were doing.” And they did.

 

Feel

This morning’s bike commute, my fifth this week, began with a sense of dread..Last night, for the third night this week, I woke up at 3:30 and couldn’t get back to sleep. My circadian rhythms are not amusing me.

I pulled on my overboots and layers and hat and whatnot. Ugh. I left early and was plodding away on The Mule. About two miles into the ride, my friend Reba blew by me like I was standing still. She made a friendly mocking remark about my utter lack of celerity. I mumbled profanities.dyke-marsh-and-mule

At three miles I stopped to sit on a bench and take a slightly pre-sunrise picture.

Do I have to get back on that bike? Can’t I just sit here and freeze to death?

The merry prankster in me said “Further!” and I mounted my two-wheeled steed. It’s so hard to turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream when you’re on a bike, groggy, and struggling upstream.

My head hung low but I slogged along. Then out of the top of my peripheral vision I saw something. I looked up. A woman was walking her large dog. She was on the right edge of the trail and the dog, on a leash, was on the left edge of the trail. I hit my brakes and the squealed. “Oh!” I shook my head as I passed. “Duh!”

Once I was at work and had switched out of my overboots and layers and hats and whatnot the muscles in my upper back went into spasm. Off and on. All day.

Then my head cold returned.

The first one of you who says “You should try yoga” is gonna get it.

Strangely, once I was back on my bike for the ride home, my back felt fine. The ride home had a tailwind-ish feel. A passing rider even said “sort of a tailwind.”

Riding down from a short bridge just south of Alexandria, my hanging head almost did me in again. The headlights of the oncoming cars on the adjacent parkway were blinding me. Then I saw them: two ninja walkers, dressed in dark clothing, backlit by the headlights. As I was about to go around them, two bike commuters came speeding past. The first one calling out his pass almost too late. The second one didn’t bother.

The rest of the ride was actually pleasant. When I got home I did the back exercises (that Mrs. Rootchopper calls the “Y” word). While in a shoulder stand, my upper back went into spasm. I rolled out of the position, sat, and breathed calmly. Go away spasm. And it did.

And so ends six days of riding 179 miles in January. At age 61. Feeling every year.

 

 

A Slow Start

This month started as a downer. For the first two weeks I fought off the blues, a carryover from November and December. Everything just seemed to drag me down. My days seemed to lack light, both figuratively and literally. When the month started I was hell bent on getting my head squared away. Given the amount of days off the bike due to ice I was facing an uphill fight.

At least I wasn’t in the hospital like Little Nellie, my Bike Friday. Little Nellie was custom made to my specifications. Because the handlebars sit atop a very long stem, I upgraded to a Chris King headset. After 7 years, it died. So I shipped it back to the manufacturer and they agreed to repair it under warranty. I should have it back on Monday. I can’t wait to ride it again.

As for the rest of my stable, Big Nellie was used only once for commuting and only twice for weekend jaunts. Big Nellie is a long wheel base recumbent with about 70 percent of its weight on the rear wheel. This uneven weight distribution makes the front tire prone to slipping. I don’t ride it much during icy conditions.

The Mule did eight commutes and two weekend rides. All told I rode only 372.5 miles, about 90 miles less than last January. 275 miles were just getting to and from work. I rode on 13 of 31 days. I can’t remember when I rode fewer than half the days in a month.

On the plus side:

  • I didn’t crash once.
  • I managed to get in two hikes and one long walk around my neck of the woods without back, knee, or foot discomfort. This is a huge step forward (no pun intended) for me physically. I can’t wait to take on some day hikes in the mountains nearby once the weather improves.
  • Toward the end of the month I moved my saddle up about a centimeter and the constant aching and spasms in my lower back went away overnight. 
  • My right foot started going numb in November. After three visits to an acupunturist, I decided to get an EMG test by a neurologist. She confirmed that my back isn’t causing the numbness and has sent me for physical therapy. (Yesterday, my right foot felt almost normal for the first time in weeks. I don’t care why. I hope it stays that way.)
  • On doctor’s orders, I did yoga at least once a week. Alone. You will never see me in a yoga class. Been there, done that. Just ain’t gonna happen. Alone or in a class I am confident that yoga is not and never will be my jam, jelly, or other sandwich spread. I suppose if I were stretchier I’d like it more, but 35+ years of running and cycling has turned my hamstrings into steel cables. And my quadriceps are boulders.
  • To get my head screwed back on straight, I started taking big doses of vitamin D-3 (a blood test confirmed that I was severely deficient) at breakfast and started practicing meditation daily. It’s possible that my mental state would have cleared up anyway. It’s also possible that either the vitamins or the meditation are having a strong placebo effect. Whatever the case, something is working really, really well. I even managed to go through one of my most stressful workweeks in years with a smile on my face. 

So I finish the month with low mileage and a much improved body and mind. Not a bad start to the new year.

I May Be Sick but I’m Not a Yogi

Last night Mrs. Rootchopper and I went out to dinner in Old Town at a place called Everwood. It’s pretty nice; the food is tasty, the beer and wine selection is good, and you can actually hold a conversation. Mrs. was especially happy that she could ogle her man. Not me, Paul Pierce who was playing basketball on the TV over the bar. (It doesn’t bother me. If she runs off with him, I get Keira Knightly.)

I had a couple of pints of craft beers with my meal thinking nothing of it. This is because I am an idiot. Nine times out of ten beer keeps me from falling to sleep. (Of course, one solution would be to drink ten craft beers and I’d lapse into unconsciousness. That is undignified, however.)  So I was up most of the night. Tossing and turning and, of course, obsessing about all the things that I promised myself I would not obsess about. Just as I was finally nodding off around 6 a.m., Mrs. Rootchopper let out a howl. Leg cramp. This is no doubt a residual benefit from being run over by an SUV.  It was over in a few minutes (easy for me to say) but the drama did its thing and I was awake for good. Need less to say, so was she. I stayed in bed for another 90 minutes to no avail.

I surrendered and went downstairs to do my Saturday morning yoga routine.This involves nearly every posture in the yoga book we have (plus a few more I have seen on friends’ facebook pages). I say “nearly” because there are a few that ain’t going to happen.

  • Head stand – I like my cervical vertibrae just fine the way they are, thank you
  • Lion – this involves making a face and spastically extending you arms, fingers and tongue. In short, it looks as if you are having  a seizure. And there is drool. Not for me.
  • Bow – Lying on your stomach you reach back and grab your ankles and gently rock. Reach back and grab my ankles? LOL
  • Behind the back hand pull. You reach one hand over one shoulder and the other hand under the opposite shoulder blade. Glasp you hands mid-back and gently pull. The last time I was limber enough to pull this off I was wearing Doctor Dentons.
  • Scalp pull – yes, take fistfuls of hair and gently but firmly pull from several directions. I lack sufficient hair for this one.
  • Alternate nostril breathing – Seriously?
  • Candle concentration  – stare at a candle for a long time. I have enough vision problems without seeing a candle in my line of sight for an hour, thank you very much.

I can do pretty much all of the other postures, at least to the extent that my steel hamstrings allow. So I spent 40 minutes contorting and stretching and bending and balancing. I am pretty sad at the balancing part. I try to stay away from breakable household objects during the balancing bits.  I do try though. I am pretty proud of the fact that after several weeks of trying I can do a backward bend and sit on my haunches without crying.

Once done with the self abuse, I launched a 20 minute video with nondescript relaxing music and I meditated. This involves sitting still and thinking about your breathing and only your breathing. The idea is not to get frustrated when you mind inevitably drifts, but to simply refocus on your breathing. When the time is up, I feel infinitely better than when I started. I have yet to rule out the distinct possibility that my improved state of mind is the result of hyperventilating, however. Today, I learned that 20 minutes is a bit too much for my level of competence so it’s back to 15 minutes for the forseeable future.

After breakfast I was planning on going for a bike ride but all of a sudden my tummy did not feel so good.

I tried to nap. No go. An hour passed. Two hours passed.

I put on my homeless-man-on-a-bike gear and went out for a ride. I had nothing.  I managed to cover 11 1/2 miles before packing it in. I gave myself a pat on the back (figurative, see discussion above) and chalked up my first 100-mile week of the year.

And now I am going to sleep.

Tubes and a Lunchbox

It was 70 degrees here yesterday. Tonight we are under a winter storm warning. The weather gods have been drinking.

I took off on The Mule today to get some tubes from my local bike shop. This would be the Spokes Etc. store at Belle View Shopping Center. They are a pretty good resource for bike commuters. They do small repairs while you wait. When I had only one bike, I abused this service. They never complained. 

They give a discount if you buy three tubes so I bought 2 for The Mule and one for Little Nellie. 

I rode back home and stopped off at Sherwood Gourmet on the way. They make a sammich called Gary’s Lunchbox that I am addicted to. When I got home I mainlined it.

After lunch, I went out to the shed to do some maintenance on my bikes. The rear tire on The Mule has had a slow leak for over a week. I can’t find the leak so it either has a bad valve or the rubber has become permeable. I pulled my old spare tube, the one that I had been carrying around for months, out of my saddle bag. It had an extra long valve that had come apart. It’s a good thing that I didn’t get a flat during my commutes or I’d have been stranded. 

My tire is a Schwalbe Marathon which are notoriously hard to get on and off the rim. I think I have mastered the technique though. It went off and on without a fuss. The wheel didn’t want to go back on the bike however. After a few minutes of wrestling with the bike, I got it all straightened out. The Mule was nearly ready for action.

While at the bike shop, I asked the mechanic to check my chain for wear. He said it was worn and should be replaced. He also recommended replacing the cassette (the gears in the rear of the bike). I figure if the bike still shifts okay and I have to replace both chain and cassette anyway, I might as well keep the chain on the bike until the shifting deteriorates, then replace the chain and cassette.

I oiled the pulleys and cleaned and lubed the chains on both The Mule and Little Nellie. The chains were kind of gunked up from all the sand on the sides of the roads. When I was done, both chains spun over the gears like buttah.

Now I wait until my third and hopefully final wovel-fest. I am sick of shoveling snow. 

On the medical front, I have had to stop taking Vitamin I in advance of finger surgery in a couple of weeks. The stiffness in my lower back came back as soon as the medicine wore off, as did the pain in my hips and left knee. Oddly enough, I am having no pain to speak of while riding my bike. It seems the yoga sessions I do after waking up are doing some good in this regard. I can’t remember when I have felt this comfortable riding a bike. 

Errandonnee Summary

Errand # 11: Spokes Etc. at Belle View

Category: Bike Shop (#1)

Miles: 4 1/2

Observation: If you don’t patronize your local bike store, it won’t be there when you really need it. Show them some love.

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Errand #12: Sherwood Gourmet

Category: Lunch

Miles: 4

Observation: About a half mile from the shop, I was buzzed by a corvette. The driver gave me about a foot of clearance as he passed me. I am pretty sure it was deliberate. 

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Errandonnee #6: Little Nellie Goes to Work

Between oversleeping and a longish yoga session, I was out the door 30 minutes later than normal. I overslept because I took Vitamin I with a sedative before going  to sleep. I hope the I works as good as the zzzz.

The good part about my departure was that it was daylight. The bad part was that The Mule had a flat rear tire. Well, at least it didn’t go flat on me on the road.

My only option was Little Nellie, my Bike Friday. With its little wheels it’s a bit hard on the back. Given my recurring back woes, I wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of riding her. Of course, that didn’t stop me. I hopped on Little Nellie and took off for work.It was in the 40s, too warm for the holey sweater but too cool for shorts.

The ride in was uneventful. I saw a different set of people than usual, except for the Hoppy Runner. I normally pass him as he heads south but today I passed him heading north.  I was pleased to make it all the way to work without any significant stiffening in my back or hips. Taking 600 mgs of Vitamin I may have had something to do with that.

Errandonnee #6: Little Nellie Goes to Work

Throughout the work day I alternated between sitting at my desk and standing. I spent much of the day reading a document about the Internet in 2025.  One of the experts cited was Bob “Don’t Call Me Rachel” Cannon. It never ceases to amaze me that so many people I know are experts. Somehow we got put in charge. Yikes. Does this mean I have to grow up?

The ride home was pretty damned awesome. 70 degrees!!!!  The Mount Vernon Trail was pretty crowded. Nearly everyone was well behaved. One exception was this man, about 55 to 60 degrees who was walking south just past Gravelly Point park. As I rang my bell to pass him, he stopped turned and yelled at me. He did this last week too. I didn’t respond but I am wondering if this guy may be the same person who pushed a cyclist off his bike a few weeks ago.

I stopped on one of the flyover bridges at National Airport to shed some outerwear. Off came the jacket and the skull cap and the glove liners. It felt so good to feel the wind on my arms.

I must have had a tailwind. I was going 2 to 3 miles per hour faster than usual. I seemed to actually have my mechanics back after so many weeks of fighting with my back and hips. Yoga is making me much more comfortable on the bike, too.

Just south of Dyke Marsh I came upon a man standing next to the trail. He seemed to be buttoning up his dress shirt. He was ratty looking. I don’t often see homeless people this far south. He had gray hair and a messy short beard. It occurred to me that he vaguely resembled the sketch of this Alexandria homicide suspect. Except the suspect looks well groomed. The more I look at the sketch the more I think I’ve seen this person before. The twist in his lip and the eyes remind me of someone. Creepy.

A few hundred yards later, just before the Morningside nest,  I came up a large limb across the trail. I dismounted and started to remove it when another cyclist hopped off his bike and grabbed the opposite end. We had it off the trail in a matter of seconds. I later learned from Nancy “Two Sheds” Duley that the disheveled man had been spotted throwing debris onto the trail.

Speaking of the Morningside nest, I spotted a picture on a Flickr page from a local photographer. A bald eagle has returned to the nest. Soon breeding season will begin.

After arriving at home, I started to change to tire on The Mule. I could not find a leak. I pumped the tube up until it looked like an inner  tube but it wasn’t leaking. Maybe the valve is bad. I decided to put the tube back in the tire, remount it, and check again in the morning. Since it was so nice out, I did some maintenance work on Little Nellie, too.

Tomorrow is supposed to be another warm day. With thunder storms. March is tempermental.

Errandonnee #6

Category: Work

Miles: 30

Observation: I was pretty pleased that the new fair weather commuters were all well behaved today. No one buzzed me too closely. Except for the two loonies, people were smiling.