Better or worse

My father was an ophthalmologist. When working up a prescription for glasses, he’s swap out lenses and ask “Better or worse?” That’s what I’m wondering about my knee and hip.

I’ve been doing physical therapy for over five weeks. A few days ago I asked on Twitter how much more of this I should do because I seemed to be getting no benefit out of it.

Each week I go to see the therapist. Each week she adds another exercise. Last week she added a step over exercise. Suspend a pole or rod between two lawn chairs. Stand with your hip next to the pole. Step over the pole with your inner leg, then with your outer leg. Then do the reverse. I do 25 reps of this.

I’ll be damned if this hasn’t actually helped. Progress at last.

A couple of days ago I switched from Big Nellie, my recumbent bike, to Little Nellie, my Bike Friday travel bike. I was getting discomfort in my hip and under my knee cap. After ten miles I dismounted and raised the saddle about two millimeters.

This significantly reduced the irritation under my knee cap and allowed my hips to open up a bit. Much smoother. And I seem to be getting some power out of my left leg. Dang.

I’ll keep riding Little Nellie for a couple of hundred more miles. Then I’ll reach a thousand mile threshold and switch to another bike, either my Cross Check or The Mule. I’ll make sure the saddle position is similar to Little Nellie.

I’ve already noticed that going up and down stairs is getting less uncomfortable. The real test will be how my knee and hip handle a hike up the Blue Ridge. That will happen in a couple of weeks.

Meanwhile I’ll continue to slog away at my PT and yoga routine. An hour everyday. Sooo boring.

Rain, Rest, Motivation, and Maps

Last night I took 2 ibuprofen PMs (ibuprofen with a sedative) to make sure my wonky left knee didn’t wake me. It worked. I overslept Friday Coffee Club.  This was pretty convenient because I would have ridden 15 miles to DC in a cold rain.

I needed the rest. I’ve been pretty disappointed with my body this winter. Sore knee, shoulder, hip, achy back,…., I want my mommie! Self pity won’t get my act together but exercises, new walking shoes, and riding my bike, alternating hard and easy days, will. So, for the last seven days, I rode 207 miles, mostly on my Cross Check. And I did a couple yoga torture sessions, a weight session, and two foam roller super six sessions. Each day included specific stretches for my iliotibial bands in hopes my left hip and knee will heal themselves.

Now that my body is starting to come around, I need to work on my brain. Bike rides and daily meditation are not getting it done. Two things happened the other day that should help. First, the maps for the middle part of my bike tour arrived. They span the gap between Pueblo, Colorado and South Lake Tahoe, California.  The thought of riding this section of the country is intimidating. I will sit down in the next day or three and do a day by day itinerary in the hopes of getting enthused.

The other thing that happened is I stumbled on a video blog about a coast to coast bike tour. Ryan and Ali are two film making fitness people who fell in love. Having been together only three months, Ryan didn’t want to ride across the country solo so Aly agreed to join him, despite her inexperience at bike touring. Being obviously smitten with each other they decided to interview people along the way and ask them the secret to maintaining their relationships with their partners. They called their tour LoveCycles.

To document the trip, Ryan made 37 videos, each about 20 minutes long. To be honest I found the love interviews a bit boring after a while, but the parts documenting the tour are amazing.  He even used drones to capture the spectacular landscapes and the two of them riding through them.

I’ve watched the first twenty videos. I was especially enthused by the first two that documented the Oregon beginning of their trip from Fort Stevens State Park (where I dipped my front wheel in the Pacific last summer) to Portland (where my trip ended).

Their ride through Washington State, eastern Oregon, Nebraska, and Wyoming is really beautiful. So if you want to get a sense of what bike touring is like out West, check their videos out.

There are a few things about their tour that differ from mine. First, they made up their route as they went whereas I use Adventure Cycling maps. It turns out the Google isn’t the best bicycle touring router. Yeah, well. On the plus side, they received great route advice from people along the way.

They also traveled with four panniers between them. How the hell they managed to do this and carry video equipment is beyond me. They each brought about a third the clothes that I do, for a start. Their two-person tent is about half the size (and weight) of mine. They have nothing on their rear racks and no fenders. So their bikes were considerably less heavy than mine. And their engines, lacking belly fat and boobage, were much lighter. (For what it’s worth, my father’s genome provided me with a competitively compact ass.)

People often ask me how I managed to ride across the country alone. After watching these videos you’ll see that spending 24/7 with someone under stressful conditions can be trying. (Much of the stress happens off camera, but they make it clear that the trip wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns.) After over 2,000 miles, I actually welcomed Martin’s fitful companionship as I rode through North Dakota, Montana, and Washington. It added variety to the proceedings. It’s a good thing he’s a nice person though. In general, however, solitude works for me.

So it’s back to the videos, only 17 more to go, then a big time bike planning and itinerary session.

Enjoy the rain.

 

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.

 

 

 

Ten on a Sunday

  1. I hate pathletes. These are bike riders who ride trails as if they are in the Tour de France. They have no regard for anyone else on the trail. With nice weather, they were out in force today. May they die from infected saddle sores.
  2. I am no big fan of parents who take their kids on the trails either. Yes, I realize it’s a park but little kids have zero situational awareness and run in front of bikes and scooters. I saw several near misses today.  (That said, there were so many cute little kids out there today riding their teeny bikes and running on wobbly legs.)
  3. Weathermen are not floating my boat lately. They’ve over forecasted the temperature two days in a row. I go out thinking it’s going to warm up and end up freezing my butt off. You don’t need a weatherman to know that how fast your noonoos are freezing. Didn’t Bob Dylan say that?
  4. It took me most of the afternoon to ride 45 1/2 miles from my house in Fort Hunt to Bethesda and back. From DC to Old Town I had nothing in the tank. I rallied for the last six miles though which gives me cause for optimism. It was my longest ride in over four months.
  5. Before my ride, I spent 45 minutes doing my yoga routine. Some people believe yoga is self love; for me, it is self torture. Whoever invented the side plank deserves a special place in hell.
  6. I haven’t ridden Little Nellie in over a week. My body is nearly pain free. It may be time to find my Bike Friday a new home.
  7. I do my best thinking on my bike. Today, for instance, I figured out when I hurt my left rotator cuff. On my 2017 bike tour of Wisconsin and Michigan, I took a ton of pictures with a point and shoot camera while I was riding. Being right handed this meant that I had to control my loaded touring bike with only my left hand. When I was done, I noticed how sore my left triceps was.
  8. I destroyed the map case on my old Ortlieb handlebar bag during last summer’s tour. My bag lid closes with metal snaps. The more recent design of the bag closes with magnets. It also uses a redesigned map case. Last night, I stumbled on a website that carries the old map cases. So I guess I won’t have to buy a new bag.
  9. My friend Charmaine found $52 on the street while riding her bike. She’s buying.
  10. I follow someone on Twitter who likes bicycling and Neil Finn, and named her dog Lily (which is my daughter’s name). This has all the makings of a horror movie. Cue the Bernard Hermann strings….

Hamster wheeling

Although some of this is planned, I have been on the medical hamster wheel now for a month. Dermatologist, pharmacy, endocrinologist with blood work, ophthalmologist, pharmacy, dentist, dermatologist again, CT scan, and more blood work. Most of this is routine or follow up to last winter’s medical madness. So far there is good news and bad news.

On the good news front, most of the blood tests done by my endocrinologist came back negative (i.e., normal). One came back positive so I repeated that test yesterday at a lab in a grocery store. (Right next to the dairy case. Seriously.)

My CT scan confirmed that the thingie on my adrenal gland is not growing, as my endocrinologist expected. However, the scan discovered some odd fatty mass in my gut (a wayward apple fritter?) and now I have to go back to my internist to follow up. This isn’t all that bad. I get the chance to explain to him how my left knee, elbow, lower back, and arm are all FUBAR.

To combat my left fubaritis, I have begun doing a shit ton of yoga and physical therapy, I did 45 minutes today. I do every exercise that I know of and am capable of. I can only do beginner’s yoga poses. And if it involves pulling my foot up to my buttocks, fugetaboutit. My body refuses to cooperate. Also, balance-oriented asanas are not exactly my forte. (Timber!) Any time I see an exercise that looks useful, I add it to the routine. I’m up to 22 poses and stretches. When I am done each pose  three times, I go back through them all, one after another, without stopping.

Boring AF!!! I cannot comprehend that people pay to go to classes to do this.

My back feels a little better, and my thighs are no longer filled with concrete. My left side issues not so much. I’ll keep at it.

In other news, Kryptonite is not replacing my broken lock. They say I should be squirting light-weight oil into the mechanism. I’ll give it a try. I’m not crazy about getting oil on the key though.

This coming week looks pretty eclectic: bike advocacy, doctor, reflexology, concert (maybe), coffee club, and bike races in a garage.

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.

 

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.