Lili Mai

I began the day with yoga, physical therapy, and pain meditation. Pain meditation is when you try to meditate and all the body parts that you hit with the lacrosse ball and the football (a substitute for a foam roller) were busy screaming at you.

It was in the 20s outside. Too cold for a bike ride (at least for me anyway) so I decided to lace up my hiking boots and head to Great Falls for a hike. Along the way, it occured to me that hiking in mud was not likely to be a whole lot of fun. I have been meaning to go to Arlington Cemetery for a while now (say, 25 years) so I decided to check it out. My first few visits resulted in discovering the graves of several famous people by sheer seredipity so I decided to follow the same strategy.

I began with a visit to the grave of JFK and Mrs. Kennedy and their two babies. On the walk away from these graves I happened upon Bobby’s and Teddy’s graves which are much more modest.

I hiked up the hill and in short order came upon the graves of Abner Doubleday, the apocryphal creator of baseball, and Stephen Vincent Benet, the author of John Brown’s Body, a book length historical poem of the Civil War. Except it was not that Stephen Vincent Benet because the author died in the 1940s.

I trucked around in a great counterclockwise circle hoping to find more famous names but failed miserably. As long as I was away from the perimeter of the cemetery, the only sound I could hear was the sound of my breath and the occassional jet ascending from National Airport. I walked past thousands and thousands of graves. They serve as a reminded  sacrifices made by people over 250+ years. They also remind me of the repeated failure of humankind to live in peace with one another.

On the way out of the cemetery, I decided to check out the Women in the Military Memorial. I had heard that my kindergarten teacher, Lili Mai Kelly, was listed on the register. I went inside and checked out the exhibits for a while then turned to the register. Thankfully, it was computerized. I didn’t know her maiden name so I was hoping she was listed under Kelly. And after a few searches, I found her. Totally cool. (Sorry about the blurry picture.) She taught me and at least five of my six siblings. Over the years she became one of my mother’s closest friends. It seems she was in our house every week when I was growing up.

She signed up for the Navy WAVES in her mid-thirties to free up a man for overseas duty. She was stationed in New York City where by chance she met a serviceman while riding horses in Central Park. They married and had two kids who served as babysitters for my family for many years.

Many years later, we named our daughter Lily in her honor. (I had no idea of the spelling of her name until today.)

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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.

“Latin” Thai Massage with a Side of Reiki

I have only had one massage in my life. It came at the suggestion of my friend Paul. We had just completed our first century (100 miles) bike rides as part of the 1991 Bike Virginia event. Paul was about 3 weeks removed from breaking his collar bone (yes, Paul is an idgit) and I was amazed that he had done the whole distance. I suppose you would call what we had a sports massage. It only lasted 20 minutes but it felt so good I laughed my ass off for the entire thing. Despite the experience, I have never had a massage of any sort since.

A few years back (2011, I think), my Argentinian friend Florencia approached me in Meridian Hill Park on a lovely summer day. Stress was strewn across her normally cheerful face. She began to tell me of the oppressive weight of her unhappiness. She had a job, an apartment, tons of friends, more interesting activities than any ten people that I know, but she looked exhausted. “John, I am thinking of quitting my job and going to Thailand.”  After a half hour of discussion, I could see that she had thought this through. I don’t know that my approval mattered much, but a short time later she was on a plane for Bangkok.

Her first excursion took her, among many places, to the Thai Massage School of Chiang Mai. Once I started reading of her times there, it became obvious that she had made the right choice. During her subsequent travels that year she also learned Reiki in Mumbai.

Ever since, whenever she was in DC, she has offered to give me a Thai massage and Reiki but I declined. Over the past four years I have had so many orthopedic and neurological issues that the thought of someone pressing into my muscles and nerves was a real turn off.

About a month ago, after spending summer in Argentina, she returned and announced that she would be giving Thai massage “with a Latin touch” and Reiki. (Flor knows marketing too.) With my back feeling better than it has in years and only minor other aches and pains, I signed up for a two-hour session.

I met her at her place and after spending 15 minutes inadequately catching up on each others lives (we’d need 15 hours), she went to work. First, we discussed any physical issues that she should be aware of. After reassuring her that I trusted her (not that she needed to hear it), she began. She put on some soothing music and began by gently massaging my face. It felt wonderful. Then she moved to rest of my head. Nice. Then my neck, firmly stroking in up and down along one line then another. We were in Nigel Hufnagle territory now. (On a scale of 1 to 10, the neck massage was an 11.)

She proceeded to work on my arms begining with each finger, gently but firmly pulling each one. Then she worked her way up each arm in a straight line mostly pressing in discrete spots along the line. Once she reached my shoulder she would go back to my hand and start anew on a different line. Eventually, my upper arms and shoulder blades were pushed this way and that. Each of these manipulations was gentle but firm. It was clear to me that she was carefully looking for signs of discomfort and tightness from me. At this point I was a happy camper. My eyes were closed as I just let her do her thing.

She moved to my feet and things got interesting. The bottoms of my feet are extremely sensitive. She pressed against the lines in the bottoms of my feet along the plantar fascia and OW! (This also happened with my acupuncturist so I wasn’t surprised.) She continued but backed off on the pressure. All was good. Next came my notoriously tight calves. Her manipulations and pressings were a bit uncomfortable but nothing too unpleasant. When she reached my thighs she found my true weakness. Each time she pressed it hurt. She later told me she wasn’t pressing hard at all but after tens of thousands of miles of biking and running my thighs are super tight and sensitive.

Along the way some of her manipulations were done with her feet. She would press her foot against the inside of my thigh and pull on my leg with her arms. It felt wonderful. She did a similar manipulation with her foot on my back and pulling on my arms. Ahhh! (I don’t think I would have realized this was what she was doing had I not watched a few videos. This looked scary in the videos but really felt great.)

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Flor Giving a Massage in Thailand. Photo by Flor

She turned me over and massaged my back along my spine, kneading my back in small circles and moving from my head to the base of my spine, one line after the next. This felt great except for some minor discomfort when she was working near my old surgery incision (which I neglected to tell her about).

Next she gently laid her hands on my back and stopped just for a minute. By this time I was so mellowed out I don’t remember what came next. I eventually was lying on my back and her hands were gently placed on my forehead, then face, then chest, then stomach. She later told me that this was Reiki. Feeling her warm hands against my face after the Thai massage felt incredibly calming.

I had absolutely no idea how much time had passed. She said she stopped after 90 minutes. She decided that because of the discomfort in my legs that she would forgo some of the leg work that would take up about 30 minutes time. “Better to do too little than too much.” During the massage and Reiki we spoke hardly at all. “Just relax and meditate.”

Given the fact that my body is a bit of a train wreck, I’d say my first experience with Thai massage and Reiki was a resounding success.

I rarely see my friend Flor in a serious setting such as this. The vast majority of our times together have been at picnics and bike rides, casual events. To be honest, I had misgivings about having a friend in my personal space for as long as two hours. Flor put me completely at ease with her calm, caring, professional demeanor. I would recommend her Thai massage and Reiki to anyone.

After the massage, it was time for goodbyes. Flor is off to India in a few days for yoga training. As always, I will miss her, but I look forward to the next chapter in the life of my friend The Impermanent Resident.

Trifecta of Pain?

My body does not do change well. When I went snowshoeing the other day, it seemed fine while I was out and about, but my little excursion, only 1 1/2 miles, followed by woveling snow and slush gave me a sore iliotibial band at my left hip. The iliotibial band was invented by Satan to stabilize man’s outer thigh. It starts just above the point of the hip and extends to the tibia just below the knee. When it gets inflamed it is hard to calm and can cause serious pain.

So tonight I go for my first ever Thai massage. In keeping with my style I signed up for a two-hour session. yes, i am an idiot. Sam and Jeff, two #fridaycoffeeclub regulars, had Thai massages from the same therapist earlier this week. Sam loved it. Jeff liked some aspects but not others.

During Thai massage the client remains fully clothed. The massage therapist manipulates body parts and muscles using his/her body and forearms and such. It actually looks quite a lot like some of the manipulations my physical therapist does.

So I fully expect to be a little sore tomorrow. This is just as well because we are expecting snow overnight and I will likely be woveling again during the day. By something of a coincidence, I have a late morning physical therapy appointment.

So by about 1 pm tomorrow, I expect to be sore in places I didn’t know I had. This may make evaluating the Thai massage somewhat problematic. Stay tuned.

Redfeather Wovels

After spending riding in the basement this morning, I took a break for lunch and watched the snow fall.  I looked on Facebook and saw a picture of my friend Flor wrapped up like Luke Skywalker on Hoth. Unlike Luke she was all in black and snow was clinging to her scarf, hood, and coat. She had a big smile on her face. What? She HATES cold. I figured if she was smiling, it must be pretty nice outside.

So as the snow fell I put on my bike commuting gear which is geared (no pun intended) for temperatures in the ’20s. Instead of my bike shoes, I put on my Goretex hiking boots. And Redfeather snowshoes.  I bought the snowshoes after Snowmaggedon a few years ago. Finally, I had a chance to try them out.

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At first they felt ungainly. I even fell when I crossed the snowshoes on some uneven terrain. Once I got the drift (sorry) of keeping my feet wider apart I was trudging along in comfort. My feet were at first cold but warmed up and stayed bone dry despite all the powder I was slogging through.

Since this was my first real foray on snowshoes I didn’t want to go too far. During the tumble I tweaked my left hip so that reinforced my sense of caution. I had to cross several plowed driveways which are actually harder to snowshoe on than powder. The snowshoes have metal teeth across the ball of the foot and these work best when they have something to bite into.

On my little trek, I watch a cyclists make his lonesome way along Collingwood Road near my house. He didn’t look like he was having a whole lot of fun.

One of us is crazy

At one point I tried a small uphill section and to my surprise found it easy as pie. I could really get into this!

After about a mile and a half I took off the snow shoes and broke out my wovel, which I wrote about almost exactly a year ago. There were about 2 inches of powder on the ground and the wovel made easy work of the driveways and sidewalks at my house and the house across the street. I find it fun to use and enjoyed having a reason to stay outside with beautiful flakes falling all about me.

Snow falling on Hondas

Winter’s not half bad when you go with the Flo(r).

In the Basement No One Can Hear You Scream

I’ve now logged three straight days of riding in the basement. The meditative calm of the first day has given way to stupefying boredom. This despite the fact that, while riding, I am reading Nick Hornby’s latest novel, Funny Girl, which is every bit as good as his others.

After yesterday evening’s “ride” both my feet went numb. This is a new one on me. I noticed that just before finishing my calves felt like bocce balls. I came upstairs and rolled them on a lacrosse ball, stretched my hamstrings with a belt, and did wall leans until they loosened up. And the numbness was gone.

Today’s spin was preceded my about 45 minutes of yoga mixed with physical therapy exercises, including the three mentioned above. I had no numbness at all in my feet. So after nearly four months I think I have this foot numbness thing finally figured out. I only wish I could make it go completely away. At least I have discovered some exercises that make my lower back pain free in the bargain.

Right now it’s snowing outside. From the looks of things we should get a couple of inches before it turns into an icy mess. Lucky for me, I bought tickets to a concert this evening in DC (a Christmas present for Mrs. Rootchopper) .So it should be an interesting night. (As I wrote the previous sentence the phone rang. It was Ticketmaster letting me know that the show will go on as scheduled.)

The Cycling Underground

No this has nothing to WWII. It’s winter. The National Park Service refuses to plow the Mount Vernon Trail making biking to work virtually impossible. It’s also incredibly cold and windy outside. And I am still recovering from food poisoning. Are those enough excuses?

I moved Big Nellie, my recumbent, into the basement the other day and put her on a resistance trainer. It attaches to the big back wheel. You then ride it like you would outdoors. Except for the important fact that you don’t go anywhere or see anything.

I used to do this a lot before I joined the Order of the Holey Sweater. Now I do it only when I would lose my mind without exercise. If I want, I can use this mutant exercise device to become a workout monster. I can shed buckets of sweat on the damn thing.

It's come to this. Riding Big Nellie in the basement. The corners are tight!

I used to do that. Now I read and pedal. Over the years, I have found that I read much faster and become more absorbed in whatever I am reading when I am riding. It’s also oddly meditative. I completely forget about the world. It’s just me, the book, and the endless hum of the chain. Hmmmm.

For people who are not used to it, this can be torture. In fact, I’ve been thinking of a second career as an enhanced interrogator.  I could put some Doris Day movies on a TV in front of the bike. I’d break the most badass terrorist in 30 minutes.  “Please, sir, I’ll tell you anything you want, but not another minute on that godforsaken bicycle.”

Hurry spring. I’m losing it.

On the Mend

I spent the better part of the last 34 hours either asleep or lying around moaning. I’ve been on my back so much I’ve had to change venues. First, a recliner, then a couch, then my bed, then another couch. My back actually hurts from lying down so much. This concerns me because my back has been in exceptionally fine fettle for over a month.

I had planned to go outside to shovel the snow but Mrs. Roorchopper took one look at me and said, “Fuggitaboudit.”  So I did. Zzzzzzz.

About 9 a.m. I ate an English muffin. It tasted sooo good. I hadn’t eaten any food in my system in over 2 days. Then I drank ginger ale. Then water. Then Gatorade. I did a bit of work and fell asleep on the couch for 30 minutes.

At lunch time I has some Jewish penicillin and, throwing caution to the wind, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I am happy to report that it has not re-appeared in four hours. Will wonders never cease?

I still feel slightly light headed. Probably because of dehydration. I sure hope that my self diagnosis of food poisoning is correct because I would hate to give this to anybody.

Nap time.

Godzilla Sleeps

Last night Mrs. Rootchopper and I went to the movies (Kinsgman: The Secret Service. Save your money unless you like faux Tarentino and/or Colin Firth.)  After the movie we went out to dinner. I had fish tacos. They seemed fine.

This morning they weren’t. After staggering around the house (it’s a federal holiday), trying to eat a little breakfast, and feeling unwell, I did my best Godzilla breathing fire imitation. Yes, I called Ralph on the porcelain phone. I made an offering to the porcelain god.

When it was over I felt awful. So I went back to sleep. Or tried to. An hour later I was ingesting over the counter drugs like there was no tomorrow. (And there is no physical therapy tomorrow because I canceled it.)

At 2:40 pm I woke up. I feel better now. Not quite to James Brown but really how’s he doing these days. Snow was just starting to fall. I went outside to retrieve Big Nellie for indoor use. I put it on a trainer in the basement. Not a lot of fun but it is a bit better than nothing at all. Next I postitioned my Wover next to the front door. It’s a warning to the snow gods that they’d better not mess with me.

Now I am back under a pile of Snuggies (don’t knock them, they are really warm). And I amd drinking a ginger ale that Mrs. Rootchopper just brought from the store. When I am sick ginger ale is the nectar of the gods. When I am well, I can’t look at the stuff.

Now I lay me down to sleep….

And the Nominee Is

Fellow bike commuter and blogger Bri nominated me for a Versatile Blogger Award. This is a nice thought and I appreciate it. The award does have all the earmarks of a chain letter though. It asks participants to post seven facts about him/herself. And link to 15 other blogs you like.

I’m not going to perpetuate the chain but for those of you who don’t already know, here are seven facts about me:

  • I used to run marathons. I’d give my left knee to run again but alas it’s already trashed.
  • I have met, by my count, 65 people because of the 50 States ride. This astounds me because up until the 2006 ride I did nearly all my riding alone.
  • I spent two summers driving a cab in Boston. It has taken me nearly 40 years to unlearn all the bad habits I acquired.
  • I hate traveling but have managed to rack up several foreign countries including Denmark, Portugal (twice), England, India, Canada, and West Virginia (at least 100 times)
  • I used to contribute material to Crazyguyonabike.com . This is an excellent website dedicated to bicycle touring.
  • I once smoked two packs of cigarettes a day and quit cold turkey.
  • I once lost 70 pounds in a year.
  • I am the son of an ophthalmologist. Ironically, I have worn glasses since 3rd grade and have had 6 eye operations in the last 15 years. If I were born 100 years ago, I’d have been eaten by wolves before I turned 40.

If you want to know my favorite blogs you can look at the list on the right. Here are the ones that I really look forward to:

The Impermanent Resident – The adventures of my friend Florencia who dropped out of  conventional life to travel the world, explore her spirituality, and live by her wits.

Chasing Mailboxes – The biking, running, and fitness blog of Mary whose incessant picture taking indirectly resulted in me meeting about 50 of the 65 people above.

Tales from the Sharrows – Brian’s blog contains often surreal tales of his travels back and forth between work and home in DC.

Ultrarunnergirl – Kirstin’s blog is mostly about running incredibly long distances and the nutrition, medical, and mental requirements to get from here to there on two feet.

Bike Like Crazy – Bri’s blog is all about bike commuting through the winter in the frozen north of upstate New York. I simply don’t know how she does it.

My Year with Kerouac – Michelle tries to kill me with her WABA events. To make up for it, she writes in the style of the master.

We’ll Eat You Up We Love You So – The addictive tales of Shannon, a bicyclist new to the parenting game in suburban Rockville MD.

Pennine Pedalling – Georgie bikes in scenic rural England. Georgie is currently very pregnant.

PortaJohn – John invented the Hoppy 100 ride. I have done many rides with him. Most of them involve consumption of craft beer. He moved to Baltimore a few weeks ago but I’ll keep tabs on him through his blog posts.

Bike and Brain – I have always said that running and cycling are not about the body. They are about the mind. Matthew’s blog explores that train of thought.

Bikeyface – Becca bike commutes in Boston. Her humorous cartoons about riding in the city are always entertaining.

RamblingRider – Lisa and I have done many rides together since meeting three years ago. She doesn’t post often enough but I always look forward to her tales.

A Girl and Her Bike – Kate rides Molly and Kermit on the streets of DC. She used to ride for work, as a DC police officer. She’s still a LEO but no longer on two wheels for work.

Longer Baca – The off and on blog of Alex, who moved to San Francisco for career and boy, but misses DC something awful. We miss her too.

The Daily Randonneur – Ed and Mary (yes, that one) ride bikes incredibly far.