Productive Failure

Today I got up early, left the newspaper on the kitchen table, and rode to a bike advocacy event. When I got to the venue, no one was there. I checked my e-mail. The event is next Saturday.

Doh.

I felt stupid but I didn’t much mind. With snow and rain in the afternoon weather forecast, I might not have ridden outside today but for my calendar screw up.

It was my first time on Little Nellie in many weeks so I took it easy riding to the venue. The bike  seemed to be resisting me the whole way. After realizing my mistake, I took a round about route back toward home.

Since the chain was moving sloppily over the sprockets on the cassette I decided to swing by my local bike shop on the way home to have it checked out. The mechanic put the bike on a repair stand facing away from me. As he checked the chain, the rear wheel turned. It wobbled from side to side. The rim was probably contacting the brake pad with every revolution. Aha!

The mechanic said my chain was long gone. My bike needs a new chain, a new cassette, a new large chain ring, and a rear hub overhaul.

The cassette and rear hub on this bike are of an unusual design that allows for a higher top gear. I don’t recall why I ordered this special hub and gear combination as I rarely use such high gears on this or any other bike. The special design also means that, in order to remover or install a cassette, a special tool is needed. And many bike shops don’t have one. Now that the wheel has 19,000 miles on it, I figure it would be a good time to replace the wheel with a conventional hub and cassette. This will give me a lower low gear and a lower top gear. Since the conventional cassette costs about $50 less, I will finance, in a sense, part of the new wheel’s cost by saving money on the new cassette and forgoing the overhaul on the rear hub.

So despite my scheduling snafu, I managed to beat the storm and diagnose some bike problems. Today’s ride goes in the books as a productive failure.

 

 

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Swinging Back the Joy

One of my favorite things about bicycling in DC is the weekly get together called Friday Coffee Club. Bike commuters would congregate Swings Coffee Roasters at 17th and G Streets NW, across from the Old Executive Office Building, to vent about their workweek, dream of weekend bike adventures, and ponder the magnificence of coffee and fritters. Many friendships were made. Remarkably, even by me.

Then tragedy struck. The building that housed our coffee house was renovated down to the studs. Swings closed. Panic! The coffee club relocated across town near K and 4th Streets NW at A Baked Joint. Despite its fine coffee and yummy breakfast sandwiches, A Baked Joint lacked the three most important things about coffee clubs: location, location, location. (Admit it, you thought I was going to say fritters, fritters, fritters, didn’t you?) Many of the original club participants, including me, stopped going.

This week Swings re-opened. Felkerino, one of the founding members, put out the call via social media. And the old gang re-assembled.  Ricky, true to form, arrived first. Mary and Brian, two of the other founding members, were there as were many unfounding folks. Kristen gets bonus points for making a special telework-day trip to the gathering to represent the K (Kristin, Katie, Kate, etc.) sisters. Bob (Don’t Call Me Rachel) Cannon bemoaned the absence of Rachel (Don’t Call Me Bob) Cannon. This brought to mind how truly amazing it is how much they look alike.

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This was the crowd when I showed up at about 7:50. It nearly doubled in size before work called people away.

Unfortunately, Swings does not yet have fritters for sale. (Oh, the humanity!) Andrea and I improvised by buying over-sized chocolate chip cookies. We touched our cookies together in a celebratory toast of sorts.

The place looks almost exactly as before the renovation. Why mess with a good thing, right? It was actually warm enough to sit outside but the outdoor furniture is not yet in place. So we gathered indoors and conversation flowed around the tall tables. There were so many people that I didn’t get a chance to talk to half of them. Even so, I learned about federal budget injustices and self-administering injections of blood thinner and notice-and-comment proceedings and bike swaps and optimal application of man-made snow, among other things.

After the gang dispersed to make their fortunes in the land of the paper pushers, I rode back to the retirement home. I stopped at the gym and lifted some weights. After that I swung by the local bike shop to have the chain on my Cross Check evaluated for wear. It’s only my second chain on this bike. I thought it would be a good idea to check it since the odometer crossed 8,000 miles on the way home.

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It was a fitting coda to a joyful morning.

 

 

 

Wetlands Never Disappoint

Wetlands never disappoint. Dyke Marsh along the Potomac looks different every day.  Sometimes it is a field of tall grass with great blue herons and snowy egrets among the reeds. Red winged blackbirds sing their distinctive song as they cling to the stalks. Other times it is a mud flat with no animals at all to be seen. In winter ice adds to the scene on the coldest days. These changes can happen over the course of a single day.

Huntley Meadows Park is a nature preserve about two or three miles from Dyke Marsh in Hybla Valley. It acts as a massive filter for all the homes and motor vehicles that climb the hills around it. Unlike Dyke Marsh this wetlands changes over longer periods. A few years ago, park managers decided to let the park go, to let nature do its thing unimpeded. Beavers began constructing dams and now the water level which used to come and go with the rain and snow.

After a day of appointments, I was not in the mood for a bike ride so I took a three mile walk in Huntley Meadows. There was no foliage on the trees. The park was all grays and browns amid overcast skies. The path into the park leads to a boardwalk over the swamp. The water level was as high as I have even seen it thanks to the beavers. Canada Geese were holding a get together next to the boardwalk. Dozens of them sticking their beaks in the mud to get the roots of the swamp grass.

As I proceeded along the boardwalk it became clear what “like grass through a goose” means. Footing was rather messy as the geese had gone for a stroll along the boards.

A few mallards and what looked like a pair of hooded mergansers darted away as I walked along. It is too cold to see turtles and amphibians yet. Better that the sights were the sounds. Mostly there were none. The faint rumble of a passenger jet or motorcycle gave way to quiet.

The dams had allowed water to build and build into the woods where the boardwalk gives way to a groomed path. If you want to use the dirt service road you’ll need a pontoon.

After a second loop through the swamp I head back to the car.

I thought about being a kid running through the swampy woods near home. All that remained of our local wetland was Dead Man’s Pond where we made rafts out of felled tree trunks on summer days.

Wetlands never disappoint.

Getting Off the Hamster Wheel

Today was my second trip to my lung doctor. After a scheduling snafu, I managed to get in to see her. She confirmed that my lungs are clear and sound great, as does my heart. There is some residual damage to my right lung but it’s nothing to worry about.

We discussed my outlook. She thinks that my complaints about breathing problems while bike riding last year may be indicative of blood clots in my lungs long before my December ER visit. I recall complaining during rides back in August. I told her I had no strength in my legs.

She’s inclined to keep me on thinners for at least a year. No news there. She also said that while I am on anti-coagulants we can try lowering the dose of my asthma medication. And if that works, lowering it further still.

I told her about my plans for a big bike tour to the Pacific and she moved up our follow-up appointment to make sure we had my medication situation squared away.

After tomorrow’s lab tests and a trip to the pharmacy I am off the medical hamster wheel until mid-March. Finally!

Grocery List: Coffee, Cucumbers, Lab Tests,…

On we go with the never ending parade of doctors and tests. During my hospital stay, a CT scan showed an abnormality on my adrenal gland. About six weeks later I had a slightly different, but more focused CT scan done of the area. This scan showed an adenoma, a small growth almost certainly benign. I know this because the interwebs told me so. But the interwebs are not enough and today I went to the endocrinologist.

She told me essentially what the interwebs told me. When CT scans are done, anomalies are often found. Most of them are utterly innocuous. This adenoma has all the signs of being a nothing burger. However, just to be sure, in case I am the unluckiest man on the planet, I need to have blood and saliva tests.

The tests will be done at a blood lab in the local Safeway. Right next to the condiments section, no doubt.

The doctor said the adenoma had nothing to do with my blood clots.

I really need to get off this hamster wheel soon or they’ll be sending me to McDonalds for x-rays.

Tomorrow I go to the pulmonologist. I’m going to see if I can order a shake while I’m there.

Right now I am going for a bike ride. I need one.

Desultory Bicycling

Here we are on a raining February weekend and I am contemplating something that is lacking from my bike riding. Purpose. Over the years I became accustomed to having reasons to bike.

  • My bike commute was the anchor of my riding life. For an average of four times a week, I would pedal the 29-mile round trip along the Potomac River on the Mount Vernon Trail to work. I was acutely aware of how fortunate I was to see the sun rise over Dyke Marsh, the planes taking and landing over the the trail, the boats bobbing in their slips at the marina at Daingerfield Island, birds and other wildlife going about their day, the sunlight falling on the monuments across the river in DC, and the occasional wave of fellow bike commuters as they passed going the other way.
  • Errandonneuring is a term and a friendly competition invented by Mary over at Chasing Mailboxes. I run errands all the time on my bike. Some of my favorites are
    • The 12-mile round trip to the eye doctor in Old Town Alexandria
    • The 2  1/2-mile round trip to the pharmacy, hardware store, and grocery store
    • The improvised commutes involving taking one of our cars to mechanics in North Arlington. I’d drive to the garage and ride the six miles to and from the office.
  • Picnics in the Park: A friend of mine used to invite me to hang out in Meridian Hill Park in DC. At about 16 miles from my house, it was the perfect place to go to and sit on a blanket and watch the improvised amateur circus of slack liners and hula hoopers and acroyoga-ists. My friend would always invite a mix of eclectic and eccentric people to keep conversation going. The rides home at sunset made the day complete.
  • Rides to baseball games at Nationals Park. What could be better than to ride 16 miles to the ballpark, take in a game while sitting in the sun, then riding home either in the cool of the evening or late at night as the moon reflects off the river? Parking at the bike valet often means surprise encounters with friends.
  • Friday Coffee Club was always a go-to for me when I was working. Getting up 15 minutes earlier wasn’t much of a sacrifice for socializing. Construction caused the location to move to the eastern side of downtown, a location that never did float my boat.
  • Happy hours are always a good excuse for a bike ride. Third Thursday happy hour would involved a diversion of only a few miles from my commute.

With the exception of errandonneuring, I have lost many of the reasons to ride every day. I don’t work so I think riding to the office would be regarded as rather pathetic by my former employer. It’s not baseball season so riding to the ballpark would be fruitless. Being on blood thinners means I can’t drink so riding to a happy hours is sad. My friend who used to invite me to picnics moved out of Meridian Hill Park’s neighborhood.

Some of these losses are temporary, of course. And I suppose my desultory biking life will be at an end when warm air returns. For one thing, I haven’t done any bike overnights, out-and-back rides to a nearby destination such as Harpers Ferry. Or perhaps The Mule and I will travel further afield for an additional day or two. And weekday trips to museums will involve two wheels rather than Metro. There is hope.

Hurry spring.

 

Recovery – Seven Weeks In

Here’s an update on my recovery.

It’s been seven weeks since my pulmonary embolisms came for a visit. I feel perfectly fine. Normal. No pain. No breathing problems. No swelling in my leg. Just the usual insufferable me.

On Monday I had an echocardiogram – an ultrasound examination of my heart – and a computed tomography (CT of CAT) scan of my lungs. Both came back normal. No heart damage. No clots in my lungs. My lungs have some residual tissue damage from the clotting episode. Despite the damage, my lungs seem to be functioning normally.

I went for my first visit to the hematologist today. His job is to determine the status of my blood, my blood’s clotting function, and whatever clots remain. He had already seen my recent medical history. He was very upbeat. Unless we find something seriously wrong with my clotting mechanics or my deep vein thrombosis doesn’t resolve itself, he’s inclined to take me off blood thinners in six to twelve months. If things don’t pan out, he’ll recommend I stay on them indefinitely.

The plan of attack is pretty straightforward. First, we do what we can to find out why this happened to an otherwise healthy person who does all the right things. I exercise regularly. I am not obese. I don’t smoke. I am handsome. (Okay, that last one’s both irrelevant and dubious).

He had beaucoup vials of blood drawn to for tests. Some of these are genetic tests. Unfortunately, the tests are not covered by insurance so I will be out well over $1,000. I wasn’t thrilled with that aspect but I really want to know as much as I can about what happened to me so I can make informed decisions.

Next month, I go back for the results. The following month, assuming all is going well, I go for a sonogram of my calf to find out if my DVT is cleared up and if there is any related damage to the vein in my leg that we need to worry about. And if everything is fine, I go back in May to get his recommendations for on-going treatment.

My pulmonologists warned me that hematologists tend to be more optimistic about on-going treatment. She predicted he’ll want to take me off blood thinners in six months or a year. She was right. I go back to her next week to see what she has to say about my lung function.

I also go to the endocrinologist next week, likely to have more blood drawn for tests on the little abnormality on my adrenal gland. As I understand it, we are trying to rule out cancer. According to what I read on the interwebs, the probability of my abnormality being cancer is very, very small.

Seven weeks ago I was scared to death. Today, I am wishing it were warmer out so I could go for wicked long bike ride.

Fingers crossed. Knock wood. Hope the creek don’t rise.

A Winter Retirement Day by the Book

My schedule for a winter retirement day is pretty simple. In no particular order: eat breakfast, read the paper, ride my bike (or go for a hike), do either physical therapy (a.k.a. yoga) or go to the gym to lift weights, read a book or magazine, meditate, and do one adult thing.

So today I began with a half mile walk to the hospital where I had a CT scan on my lungs and an echocardiogram. I’ll count these as one adult thing. After an administrative snafu I got signed in and escorted to the CT scan room. There I was passed under the machine once. Then I was injected with a dye and passed through again as the dye sent eerie warmth through my chest and head. (I really should do this stoned at least once.) Done. It only took five minutes.

The CT tech took me to ultrasound where I was given my echocardiogram. I was positioned on my left side allowing me to watch the screen as the exam took place. The tech told me my blood pressure which was well within the normal range (as usual). She also told me my resting heart rate was 45. This is the first time since my DVT/pulmonary embolism crisis that it has been below 65. To me this is great news because my pulse is normally in the 40s. As I watched I could see the line for my heart going boing…thud……..boing…thud and so on. At one point there was audio. My heart sounds pretty cool. DOO…duh…..DOO…duh. I am pretty sure that my former co-worker Kelly would confirm that this is the only part of my body that has good rhythm.

The tech cheated a bit and told me that  my heart looked and functioned normally during my December echocardiogram. She was not surprised that it still did. That’s one organ less to worry about as far as I am concerned.

I walked home in a cold wind and ate breakfast and read the paper. There was ample coverage of the Super Bowl which I thought was great even though my team lost. We can now move on to the winter Olympics and make a smooth seque into Spring Training. Yes, yes, yesyesyes.

After my repast, I headed back out into the cold wind for a bike ride. I had on my normal winter bike commuting stuff: skating cap, heavy-weight neck gaiter, base layer, holey sweater, rain pants, and neoprene overboots. I was comfortable within a mile.

I headed south past Mount Vernon and Fort Belvoir. I used the bike lane on US 1, a busy four-lane highway. I wanted to see how my mirror would work. It did fine. There were literally no surprises in that I saw every car, truck, and bus well before it was close to me. I turned north on Telegraph Road, the kind of totally inane roadway that Fairfax County is known for. Lanes come and go seemingly without rhyme or reason. Bike lanes also come and go. I came flying down a hill at 35 miles per hour in a bike lane. It was a good thing I came to a red light because 100 yards beyond the light, the bike lane disappeared.

I rode all the way to the Beltway, took a right to go east on Huntington Avenue, and headed south on Fort Hunt Road where I stopped after 25 miles to go to the gym. For some reason my left arm is unhappy. It shoots sharp pains whenever I lift a weight above my head or push one away from me. Even though I use very light weight on two machines that move in this manner, my arm still hurts. I’ll bring this up with my doctor during my physical later this week.

Finally, I rode 4 miles home into the cold wind. It was nearing 4 p.m. but the sun was still well above the horizon. We are now getting about the same amount of daylight as in early November. Works for me.

When I arrived home, I had a snack and a shower. Then I sat down to meditate. And the phone rang again and again. It was Verizon calling with an offer for its mindfulness long distance plan. (I made that up.)

All that’s left is some filing of medical stuff including beaucoup CDs and DVDs of my scans. Then I can read and eat dinner and call it a successful retirement day.

And one more thing. My wife told me about this really cool National Geographic travel package. It takes you all around the world to Machu Pichu and the Holy Land and Burma and Paris and everywhere in between. On a private jet. Just $99,000 per person.

Spit take.

 

Back and Withholding from the Man

Well, there is good news and there is bad news. It always seems to work out that way.

First the good news. My aching lower back is all better. You know that stretching exercise that runners do where they lean against something and stretch their hamstrings and calves? That very exercise is like a pain killer for my lower back.

I spent a bunch of time trying to push walls down in my house yesterday. Then I carefully went for a ride in the basement. No problems. I woke up today pain free. I pushed on some more walls then decided to brave the wind and the cold. Off I went on the Cross Check. The two and a half miles to and from the drug store were sweet. So I headed out again. This time on a Mount Vernon Trail meander through Old Town to Four Mile Run on the Alexandria/Arlington border. Then I reversed course and headed back down Commonwealth Avenue because it’s a lovely street and because it’s the street that my college was on. (Except that was in Boston. And the locals pronounced it Cawm Ave.)

Anyway my riding amounted to 25 miles and I am feeling no pain. I even did my full array of back exercises – the ones that Mrs. Rootchopper calls yoga.

No worries. With plenty of energy left, I sat down to do our taxes.

Our tax situation this year was complicated. There were so many changes for us last year, mostly related to retirement.

So the bad news is that we under withheld. By a LOT. Holy smokes.

I wrote this on my tax form:

YOU’LL NEVER TAKE ME ALIVE. TOP OF THE WORLD, MA!

Then I paid the man.

So when you hear that the deficit is getting bigger, don’t blame me.

 

Taking the Day Off

My lower back hurt. It’s a recurring thing. Whenever I switch back and forth between different bikes, my body rebels. So I’m not surprised. It hurts on and off and makes me walk like an old man. (No jokes, please.)

So I took the day off. I drove to Metro and took the train into the city. My first stop was a relatively new art space. It’s neither a museum nor a gallery. It’s a place for artists who use technology to do their thing. A year or so ago a friend of mine went to one of its exhibits and took some pretty awesome pictures and video. In that abstract light show, the exhibit responded to viewers movements. I planned on going but I didn’t get my act together and it sold out.

A couple of weeks ago I heard that it had a new show. This one is called Parallel Universes. It’s a black and white light show where the lights are visualizations of the music that’s playing. At least that’s what happens in the main room. Three walls are covered with visuals that pulse and flash and change and move to the pounding music. You sit in the middle on comfy chairs that look a bit like marshmallows and stifle saying, “Wow” until you can’t any longer. Here are some still pictures from the main room.

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There are three other smaller exhibits that are interesting but not nearly as Wow. I spent about 40 minutes wowing before heading out to my next stop.

I walked to the nearest Capital Bikeshare station determined to finally use my membership. I tried and tried to undock a bike. Finally, I called the company. The station was out of service. I was not loving the CaBi experience. So I walked another station  a couple of blocks away on the National Mall. Once again my bike wouldn’t undock again. I called for help. Not a happy camper. In a few minutes, the customer support person and I got it to work. Yay. (Of course, by this time I could have walked to my destination. Bother.)

I adjusted the seat and headed north into downtown. In traffic. Without a helmet. Good thing the bike outweighed the cars in the road. Truthfully, it wasn’t nearly as tank-like as I expected. As the cars came closer I repeated: “Hail Mary. Full of Grace, The Lord is with Thee.” Well, actually I didn’t. I am a heathen. Heathen’s prayers are answered with lightning bolts. This is especially true of former altar boys.

I was a bit surprised to find that the ride was rather plush. Well, it would have been if the bike lane wasn’t blocked by a taxi. It was so tempting to just ram the cab. Urban bike rage is so tempting when your bike is humongous.

Sparing the cabbie from certain whiplash, I made it to a massive docking station near the Phone Booth (our local NHL/NBA arena). As I was approaching the station, I noticed a large bearded man on a hybrid bike. The bike was carrying all kinds of stuff. It even had a floor pump strapped to its rear rack. He had on sunglasses and was creeping along rather cautiously. I wondered if her wasn’t some sort of two-wheel street person who offered to pump up your tires for a buck.

I docked my bike and headed to a fine eatery. I ate things.

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Fortunately, this fine eatery is right next store to the International Spy Museum, my next stop. My friend Rachel (Don’t Call Me Bob) Cannon works there. A while back she invited me to check it out so I did. In the process of chatting, I learned that the large bearded man with the floor pump on his bike was Rachel’s boyfriend Tyler. How did I not recognize him? Oh yeah. That fusiform gyrus thing again.

Rachel showed me in to the museum and gave me some quick spy pointers. And left me to my explorations. I am not a museum kind of person, but I spent two hours in the place reading nearly every exhibit. I am now totally paranoid. There are more spies than bicyclists in DC. They even have their own hashtag: #SpyDC. I am not making this up.

There was even a big James Bond exhibit. I have read all the Bond books and seen all the movies. I am pretty much Bond-ed out already so I spent more time checking out the other actual spies. I think my favorite is Moe Berg. He was a big league catcher for over a decade. He was once sent to assassinate a scientist named Heisenberg who was working on an atomic bomb for the Nazis. Berg didn’t kill him because he realized that Heisenberg had not made significant progress in his bomb-making research.

I was pretty much exhausted after my afternoon with the spooks. So I made my way to the Metro and headed home. I consider myself lucky that my back held up quite well for about six hours. When I got off the train, I was in pain again. Sometimes it helps if I do the lean-against-the-wall thing that runners do. So I did that and made it up three flights of stairs to my car.

Big thanks to my #bikeDC friend Linel whose recent Instagram pictures alerted me to the Artechouse exhibit. He description was pretty much on the nose: “Mind blown.”

And extra giant non-hugs to Rachel. She’ll know what I mean.