Awareness, or Going from Soon to Nope

This morning I went out on my deck and made an obvious discovery. The suburbs are supposed to be quiet but they are not. It’s noisy out there. Somehow, in the grind of daily life, we tune it all out.

I was just sitting there feeling groggy from too many miles, too many midges consumed on the ride home from yesterday’s baseball game. I closed my eyes. And listened.

Crows. Cardinals. Assorted other birds. The general hum of the traffic on US 1 about a mile away. (Sounds a bit like a kitchen exhaust fan set on low.) The leaves rustling in the wind. The occasional jet plane over head.

Listen more closely.

A voice in the distance singing what sounds like a very spacy tune. The clacking sound of squirrels. The rumble of a truck on the nearby side street. The more I listen, the closer I pay attention, the more birds I hear. There are layers of them that I tune out. The coo of a dove. A horsefly buzzing by.

I found out later that meditators call this choiceless awareness. Of course, you can play the game with just one sense or all your senses, but that seems rather overwhelming. Hell, I can close my eyes and see all kinds of interesting things on the inner side of my eye lids. Floaters. Blood vessels. A glow from the light through the skin. A dead spot where my retina was reattached. The retina itself. More floaters. (Floaters are like bird songs. The more you pay attention to them the more you detect.)

This passive noticing is good fun. You can easily piss all over the fun part if you sit there with your eyes open and notice that the world is a rather grungy place. The deck needs washing. The lawn is too tall. There are spots of mildew on the siding. This chair has gross dirt all over it. I’ll keep my eyes closed, thank you.

A few months ago I noticed what I think is the opposite of choiceless awareness. It has to do with flipping your visual processing on its head. We see that we are passing through various environments. The shrubs on the side of the trail. Grass. The river, The tree limbs hanging down. There’s too much of it and we tune most of it out. This explains what going somewhere new can be overwhelming. We don’t know what is important for our task at hand and what is useless visual clutter. Which of those road signs matter? What landmarks are important? And so on.

So one night I stumbled into focusing my attention on a limb overhanging the trail as I rode toward it. Instead of me riding toward it past it, my mind flipped this on its head. Instead of me passing through the landscape, the landscape was passing by me. The limb took on an eerie fake 3-D quality with everything around it out of focus.

From time to time, I play with this inverted awareness on my bike commutes. Just another way to go into a bike trance.

This awareness game does not work at all with faces or names. At least not for me. I can’t detect Chris M. at all, but I have regular sightings of dopplegangers for Bob (Don’t Call Me Rachel) Cannon and Flogini. They are both distinctive looking but my brain just gets them visually mixed up with other people. I can’t even…

The other day I saw a woman on the trail riding toward me. I was on my recumbent. She smiled (this happens a lot when you’re on a bent) as she rode past and I nodded. There were familiar laugh lines on her face. And shoulder length dark brown hair fell from beneath her helmet. She was fit and riding an upright bike. Flogini? I haven’t seen her in over a year. Was it her? I texted her. He one syllable answer: “Nope.” Loquacious, no? We’ve gone from “soon” to “nope”. Maybe that’s the problem.

Oh well, things are always looking up.

Image may contain: cloud, sky, grass, outdoor and nature

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More Trail Droppings: Dinosaurs, Religions, Social Media, and Other Matters of Little Import (Rated PG-13)

At times, bike commuting, despite what Flogini says, is not particularly meditative. It’s quite the opposite, like giving acorns to the squirrels in my brain. Thoughts just careen about up there. So I write them down and contemplate them. Here are a few.

  • Shannon writes a very insightful blog about parenting that I have been following for a few years.  The other day we got into a twitter conversation about dinosaurs. Little kids love dinosaurs. Chris M. chimed in that Pokemon serves a similar purpose. Kids have very hungry brains. They need to fill them with facts. Dinos. Pokemon. Sports statistics. It doesn’t matter if the facts are organized or not, kids just jam them in their brains anywhere they will fit.
  • Adults need more organization for their facts. Publishers figured this out long ago. If you can’t think of anything to write about, make a list. “Five ways to survive allergy season.” “Six ways to drive your man wild in bed.” And so on.
  • Religions figured all this stuff out long ago. My dino knowledge was displaced by the Baltimore Catechism. It’s a Q and A of Catholic dogma. I only remember the first two (Q: Who made me? A: God made me. Q: How did God make me? A: In his own image and likeness.) For what’s it’s worth, I was an altar boy. I learned the Mass in Latin. Let’s see, do we have room in your head for one more “Mea culpa?” Oh yes, over there behind the fusiform gyrus.
  • Religions are bonkers about lists. The ten commandments. The seven chakras. The five pillars. The nine jhanas. The eight beatitudes. The holy trinity. The twelve days of Christmas. The four noble truths. The twelve apostles.
  • All religions boil down to one good idea: be nice. This, however, is far too simple. Sermons would be way too short. We’d have our Sundays (or Saturdays or Fridays) back. We’d get into all sorts of trouble. Can’t have that. We need some lists! Maybe if we have some lists the kids won’t notice that we are being shitty to each other. Thank God.
  • I think John Lennon had it right. Religions fail when they divide. My religion is the only true religion. My people are more better than your people. Be nice? Hell, no. Let’s kill each other. Ugh.
  • I follow Dan Harris’s twitter feed. Dan Harris is a newsman who had a full out panic attack on live television. Eventually it led him to start practicing meditation. Now he’s made a side business out of promoting meditation for skeptics. The other day he tweeted about meditation for golfers. I replied. “It wouldn’t help me. My best club was a machete.” (He liked my quip, BTW.)
  • I have a mantra I use whenever I play a sport that I suck at. I learned it from Canadian hockey players at Boston University. During my freshman year, I lived on one of the hockey team floors in a dorm. (This was actually a reasonably pleasant experience except when they would take slap shots in the hallway.) My roommate was not a hockey player. He used the word “bullshit” as any part of speech. I always thought this was rather odd until I played ping pong with the hockey players. Whenever they screwed up (they were, to a man, outstanding ping pong players), they’d say “Fuck me!” It’s really kind of mindfully Catholic. They never said “Fuck you!” It allowed them to move on without lingering on their failure. “Fuck me” is my mantra. Mea fuckin’ maximum culpa.
  • There must be something to this. One of the ping pong playing hockey players was a Catholic who ended up being the captain of the Miracle on Ice US Olympic gold medal team at the Lake Placid Olympics. How do you say “Fuck me” in Russian?
  • Buddhists would make awesome golfers. You have to be able to put the previous shot behind you, forget about what might happen, and just focus on the situation you are in at present. Play it as it lays. See the ball. Hit the ball. Deal with the consequences later. The reason you never see Buddhists on the PGA tour is they spend hours every day sitting under a banyan tree meditating and doing yoga instead of hitting buckets of balls on the driving range. You will never see me on a golf course. I spent way too much time in the woods saying “Fuck me!”
  • Another reason why I can’t golf worth a damn is the fact that I have floaters in my eyes. I hit a golf ball. It goes up in the air. And it joins dozens of floaters in my field of vision. My golfing partners would see it clear as day. I’d just say “Fuck me.”
  • I’ve known my first Facebook friend (FFF) for ten years (pre-dating Facebook, in fact). FFF unfollowed me about three years ago. FFF stopped socializing with me 2 ½ years ago. Next I unfollowed FFF. Six months ago I thought “Well this is stupid” and I unfriended FFF. A few weeks later I thought “Well that was stupid” and we refriended, after which FFF stopped communicating with me altogether. I sent FFF a Christmas card that went unacknowledged. I have an acute case of social whiplash. So I was going to unfriend FFF again. Then…
  • The other day FFF started following me on Instagram. I…just…don’t…get…it. I feel like I’m watching a dysfunctional ping pong match. 
  • I have asthma. Not the “Hand that Rocks the Cradle” kind where you have violent gasping attacks. When I have an asthma attack it’s very subtle. I just feel off. Sometimes I start involuntarily breathing deeply. Or I cough for no reason. It’s my body telling me I am hungry for air. I inhale some albuterol and ten minutes later I am back to normal lung function.
  • I didn’t realize I had asthma until I went to my son’s 8th grade Christmas show and started quietly weeping at everything that happened. My lungs were low on fuel and it was affecting my mind. When I took my first puff of albuterol it was a revelation. I had forgotten what proper breathing was like. I felt like I had been given a third lung, which, in a way, I sorta had.
  • A similar thing happened to me with allergies. One spring while living in Providence I noticed I was sluggish and had a head ache. After I moved to DC, the headaches got really nasty. I have always been allergic to poison ivy. As an adult, I became allergic to planet earth.
  • Riding up the little hill to the stone bridge on the Mount Vernon Trail the other night, a cyclist pulled up along side me. He: I like your bike. Me: So do I. He: We have the same bike. And we did. His Surly Cross Check was pea-soup green and had silver fenders. Mine is black with black fenders. He flew by me. His Cross Check is more faster than mine. Maybe I can blame my asthma. Fuck me.
  • Finally, okay, let’s vote:

 Is BlissfulBritt Ashley Judd’s long lost twin?

Errandonnee No. 4 – Humpday Headwinds

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So Little Nellie and I rode to work again. Big surprise, no?

We rode into a strong headwind the entire way. The winds got even worse north of the airport. Maybe it was the psychological effect of seeing white caps on the river. At least I won the battle of the TRUMP, the Teddy Roosevelt Uber Mulch Pit.

There is a pretty nice bike parking room in my office building. I park Little Nellie on the floor but soon the spring peepers will be here to steal my floor space. Little Nellie will go up on one of the 18 hanging racks we have.

My hard ride to work will be rewarded with a stop at the WABA happy hour tonight in Del Ray. One should never pass up a beer and a tailwind.

Category: Work

Miles: 29 1/2

Observation: Headwinds make you think about nothing but the task at hand. They may be physically exhausting but they bring on a sort of riding meditation: this is the present moment and the present moment sucks.

 

 

Stressing My Way to Work

  • Yesterday I drove to work for the first time in weeks. I honestly don’t know why anyone would want to use driving a car as a way to get to work. (I understand that many people have no viable option in the short term.) I was STRESSED OUT!!!!
  • On the way in, the waiting and merging and sudden stopping were an assault on my central nervous system. I played relaxing music (Mark Knopfler and Chet Atkins) and this helped some but not nearly enough. They should have meditation rooms in the parking garages around here. Seriously. So you can come down before you go into the office and start throwing coffee cups around.
  • The ride home had its joys too. Driving in the dark is no fun at all. And the 15 minute back up on I-395 felt like it would never ever end. No wonder this country has a depression and anxiety epidemic. I seriously thought about opening a bottle of wine when I got home. Instead I started my evening with 20 minutes of breathing meditation. I followed this up with my daily physical therapy. Instead of rushing through the exercises (most of which are based on yoga asanas) as I too often do, I slowed them way down. I took care paying attention to each stretch, making sure the muscles relaxed. I monitored my breathing. The whole wind down took about 45 minutes.
  • One thing I notice when I do breathing meditation is that I can get my heart and respiratory rates very low. My doctors are constantly freaked when they take my pulse. The last couple of times it was checked it was 44. “Do you exercise?” A couple of years ago my resting pulse was around 60. That’s considered on the low side for most people.  My low pulse is also a little odd when you consider I drink three cups of coffee every day.
  • This morning I jumped on The Mule with fresh legs (and a disturbingly bigger belly from last week’s Mexican food binge). The cold air felt so refreshing. And riding past the stalled traffic back up on the GW Parkway made me feel liberated. I truly felt sorry for all those people grinding their teeth and white knucking their steering wheels.
  • Of course, I also had the opportunity to stop and admire the early morning sun over the Potomac River. Most drivers don’t get to see this. Sucks for them.

  • If you look closely you can see that my pedals don’t match. This is a hold over from my bike tour this summer when my left pedal disintegrated. What you can’t see is that the chain is stretched beyond hope. So I am getting a new chain and cassette this weekend.
  • I mentioned the cold. As you can see from the picture, the bridges on the Mount Vernon Trail are decked with wood. They frost over. Shaded areas are icy. As I was approaching the beaver bridge (between Old Town and National Airport), an approaching jogger yelled a warning to me, “The bridge is really slippery.” It was slippery on the left hand side (where she had run) but not along the right edge. The left side was still in the shade. Just a couple of degrees makes all the difference. There were fresh gashes in the wood from where bicyclists’ pedals had made a mark during falls.
  • In a few days a cold front comes through with honest to god wintery weather. The battle begins. The holey sweater awaits. The mittens are ready. The chemical foot warmers are beside my shoes. My hair (what little there is) will stand on end as the head coverings draw all the oil out of it. My skin will dry up where the base layers and Buff and wool socks contact it.

 

TGIF – BOOM! or The Tao of Bike Commuting

Every bike ride this month was on Deets, my Surly Cross Check. It has been a terrific machine. Then today happened.

I was riding to work this morning. The Mount Vernon Trail was flooded near Dyke Marsh so I took my feet off the pedals and glided through the waters like a little kid. Wheee!

I rode down Union Street and saw more flooding at the intersection with King Street. Wheee!

isn’t it great how bike commuting can make you a carefree kid again. 

Just past the Washington Marina at Daingerfield Island:

BOOOM!!!!!

My back tire blew out. This is, I think, my first flat tire of 2016. When I took the wheel off I could see that I was not going anywhere on my back tire.My exploding tube had blasted the rubber from the tire off the wire bead that holds the tire to the rim.  I could have put in a new tube but the odds of having another blow out were very high.

So I started walking. I got to National Airport and walked to the bike parking area. As it turns out the area is open-air which is not good on a rainy day. Worse still, one of the bikes (the yellow one)  locked there had had its rear wheel removed. There was no way I was going to leave Deets there.

It was too early to put my bike on Metro (they allow bikes at 10 am, after the morning rush). So I resigned myself to walking to Rosslyn, 5 miles away. After a mile, I came upon the parking lot at Gravelly Point . There were several taxi cabs parked there including a minivan.

FWAAAA!

The driver agreed to take me. As I was putting my bike in the taxi I discovered that I did not have my wallet with me. I had test driven Mrs. Rootchopper’s car last night and left my wallet in my pants that were hanging on my bedpost at home. I could borrow the cab fare from a co-worker but the rest of the day would be a total hassle without my wallet. So I had the cabbie drive me home. This cost me $36. Oof.

People who know me well will be surprised to learn that at no point during all this did I lose my temper. I just laughed it off. I guess meditation is worth something after all.

Some people I know believe that the universe has a plan for each of us. We may think we are in control but it is an illusion. We control nothing. So you just go with the flow that the universe has created for you.

Or you can look at things another way. A former colleague of mine says: Life is a shit sandwich and everyday we take a bite.

Today I took two bites. 

Afterword: I went to District Taco for lunch today.  I always order a veggie burrito bowl and eat inside the restaurant. It normally takes 5 minutes to get your food. Today, I waited 25 minutes for my order  Finally, I gave up and tracked down the manager. My food was ready. It was packaged to-go. They had tried to find me in the scrum of take-out customers and gave up.

As shit sandwiches go, it tasted pretty good, despite the wait.
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UP Bike Trip: What Hit Me?

It has been a few days since I finished my bike trip. The short version is I rode 833 miles in 11 days on my 25-year old Specialized Sequoia touring bike. I camped out five nights and moteled five nights. Here are a few random thoughts now that I have had time to reflect:

  • I often talk about what my friend Flogini calls my meditation, that is, when I zone out on my bike commutes. The middle part of this bike trip, roughly from Days 2 through 7, was a rolling meditation retreat. I felt none of the stress of daily life. I didn’t think about work, friends, not-so-friends, family, or any obligations. I only thought about my legs spinning, my lungs breathing, and where The Mule and I were on the Adventure Cycling map segment of the moment. I sang songs, sometimes out loud. I gazed at the lake or the trees or the ferns or the lichens or the critters. I felt at peace. I wish I could bottle the feeling.

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  • Speaking of breathing, I have mild persistent asthma that, when left unattended, can bloom into some serious breathing problems. The air in the north woods of Wisconsin and on the UP of Michigan was incredibly clean. I had no asthma symptoms at all for most of the trip.
  • I entered this ride with worries about whether my 60-year old body could take the stress of so many miles (and three ferry rides) in so few days on a conventional (non-recumbent) bike. I even padded my schedule with a 12th day to be sure. Unlike tours in my younger years, I didn’t become noticeably stronger during this tour. This may be because the last three days were the hilliest and had the most consistent headwinds. I am now confident that I can ride 60-mile days on end, which is to say, as far as my bike will take me.
  • Last year I told Mike, a.k.a Rattlingfender on Twitter, that I needed a new touring bike because mine was 24-years old. He scoffed and said that the fact that I am still riding The Mule means that it is a reliable machine. Mike was right. Even after 25 years and over 41,000 miles, The Mule abides.
  •  I had relatively few physical problems.
    • My left tricep started hurting after about a week. This is because I am right handed. I would take pictures or eat with my right hand leaving my left hand to steer The Mule. The stress took a toll on my upper arm.
    • My bottom was not happy at all. Despite my trusty Brooks Champion saddle with its cushioning springs, the flesh where my inner right leg met my pelvic area was super sore most of the last week. It’s a guy thing. It has to do with how my personal parts interact with the nose of the saddle. I had to consciously twist my seating position to the right on the last three days. I don’t quite know how to fix this in the future but I will need to figure it out. It’s a bit like a swimmer needing to learn to breath from both sides.
    • I can’t sleep worth a damn in a tent. Sleep is incredibly important when you are riding so many miles.
  • It took me a full day to stop thinking about my speed once I turned south into the headwinds on the lower peninsula. When touring on Big Nellie, I used to cover the speedometer with my map. Unless you are adhering to a strict schedule (which I do not recommend), forget about speed and miles. Just ride with the flow of the day. A good example was Day 9 when I ate dinner in Traverse City. After dinner I had renewed energy and the weather was absolutely perfect for riding, so I reeled off another 18 miles.
  • As much as I hate sleeping in a tent, I love the flexibility that having camping gear along for the ride affords me. Without camping gear, I probably would not have added the 18 after-dinner miles, but I knew there was a campground a mile beyond Suttons Bay so I went for it.
  • Trail angels are the best.
    • The folks in the bar in Wrightsville, Wisconsin who served me three ice cold beers in frosted mugs. For $1 each.
    • The  man at the gas station in Freedom who pointed me to Rico’s diner where I had mass quantities of food for breakfast on the Fourth of July.
    • The retired truck driver and his friend who helped me out at the campground in Tilleda Falls, Wisconsin. And the other camper who gave me a huge bag of shrink wrapped trail mix.
    • The Little Pine Motel owner in Hiles, Wisconsin who handed me a bottle of ice cold water, then a can of ice cold beer when I checked in.
    • The westbound tourist who told me about the campground at Lake Pentoga, Michigan.
    • The three bike shop people who fixed my rear hub at Mr. Bike  in Escanaba, Michigan while I waited.
    • The two gas station clerks who practically pulled me out of the pouring rain in Manistique, Michigan.
    • The pizza shop workers and customers who gave me so much encouragement in Naubinway, Michigan.
    • Toby, the man who explained the Bliss Festival to me, over lunch at a gas station picnic table near Bliss, Michigan.
    • The folks at the Bahnhof Sport Shop in Petosky who stayed open on a Sunday evening and replaced my broken pedal.
    • The campground manager at the Wild Cherry Resort near Suttons Bay, Michigan who also stayed open to get me situated in a campsite.
    • Holly and Kristen who gave me much info about the biking and moteling in and around Arcadia, Michigan.
  • I am still flabbergasted by the size of food portions in Northern Wisconsin. Cheeseheads can pack it away!
  • Accents were a pleasant surprise. I went from “Da Beahs” to “Fargo” to “Hosers” in the course of the first week. Eh.
  • I had read an account of a bike tourists who rode across the UP on US 2. He really felt uncomfortable with the logging trucks blowing by him. Now that I have ridden to work twice since returning and I’ll take logging trucks over the drivers of DC any day.

Advocating and Zoning Out

Advocating

Last night I went to a meeting of the Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling or FABB. This is an advocacy organization with a geography problem. Fairfax County wraps around Arlington and Alexandria. This makes it impractical for people in the southeastern part of the county (where I live) to attend meetings in the northern part of the county. So I have never gone before. Until this year, FABB has focused on the parts of the county far removed from my home. Last night they moved the meeting to 1/2 mile from my house. So I went. Irony alert: I drove.

It was a pretty crowded meeting and without seven cyclists that I know who live nearby. Much was discussed. A representative from the Mount Vernon Supervisor’s office was there. (Supervisors are like mayors of the county’s various districts.) Also, Adam Lind, our fearless county bike person, came.

What became apparent was that the Mount Vernon District has issues that no other part of the county has. Despite the fact that Fairfax County is one of the highest income jurisdictions in the country, there is precious little money to spend on bicycle and pedestrian facilities, unless the project is part of a enormous road construction project. If you want a bike project funded you pretty much have to organize a whole mess of people and raise a big stink. Repeatedly. Ugh. Or you can move to Arlington or DC.

I have been saying for quite a while that Arlington and DC are far more attractive to young professionals that Fairfax because they are less car oriented and more livable.  I heard this same sentiment last night. I’d say Fairfax is at least 25 years behind Arlington and DC in its approach to livable communities. This meeting, like every meeting I have attended in Fairfax, has had at least one non-cycling resident who thinks everyday cycling is inherently reckless and that cyclists must be protected against their own inability to assess risks. This kind of attitude creates inertia that takes years to overcome.

Zoning Out

After a five-day break, I was back on the bike today. The ride to work was highlighted (pun intended) by the fact that the sun was out when I left the house. Yesss!!! This didn’t stop me from taking my sunrise picture though. There as a small amount of black ice on the Mount Vernon Trail but nothing I couldn’t ride over. I didn’t much care for the cold headwind but the fact that I wore sunglasses the whole way pretty much made up for the discomfort.

The ride home was in daylight for about 1/2 the ride. I could get used to this. Plus I had a tailwind. I was about 2 1/2 miles from home when I went into a bike commute trance. My meditation. I looked up and noticed houses that didn’t look familiar. I had missed a turn. A turn that I have made hundreds of times. No worries. I took a different route and had a laugh.

 

 

 

 

 

Losing My Mind

My co-worker Kelly likes to run. She always wears headphones to listen to music and audio books. I told her I used to run 70 miles per week and never wore headphones.

Kelly: “If I ran that far without headphones I’d lose my mind.”

Me: “That’s the whole point!!”

The best parts of my runs back in the day and the best parts of my bike rides today happen when I am on autopilot. It’s just me, the pavement or trail, and my body. My mind goes to another place. The sure sign of a good ride is when I have that “How did I get here?” thought. (This sometimes causes me to miss a turn. Then I actually need an answer!)

There are times (lots of them) when my brain goes round and round on a subject as I am rolling along. Work. Relationships. Plans. That jerk in the car that nearly killed me. More often than not, the rhythm of the ride short circuits the internal chatter and I go back to my trance.

Any time I read a decription of simple breathing meditation I am reminded of my bike rides. Which is why a yoga-loving friend of mine calls my bike commutes “your meditation.”

If you get bored while you are riding, go with it. Let your thoughts take a mini vacation. Just until the next intersection. Then do it again. And again. Your thoughts have earned it. So have you.

You won’t get lost, but you might get found.

 

My Top Ten of 2015

The year began with a paper lantern rising in the post-midnight sky over Old Town Alexandria. I hoped it was a sign of good things to come. Here in no particular order are the highlights of what followed:

Around the World in 19 Days: When your kids move to the other side of the world, you have a perfectly good excuse to go visit them. We flew via LAX to Sydney to meet up with our daughter who was studying abroad at Macquarie University. We explored Sydney, Uluru, and Melbourne in Australia and Rotorua in New Zealand. Then we flew to Thailand where our son now lives, teaching English at a school in Phuket. We flew back via Abu Dhabi and JFK, completing our trip around the world. Speaking of travel….

Six Days without a Plan: I did my first bike tour in ten years, riding 370 miles from Pittsburgh to home, nearly entirely off road in six days. Kevin and Ryan made for good company. The Meth Man not so much. Earl and Anne, two friends from my years in Boston,  met up with us for Mothers Day brunch. And we saw the Pirates execute a triple play at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. Speaking of baseball….

Where’s My Ring?: I pretty much went all in as a Washington Nationals fan this year. I attended 8 or 9 games (one was a rainout) and watched dozens more on the tube. In the process I discovered the wonderful bike valet service at the ballpark, bottles of ice water (mostly ice) sold outside the stadium, and SeatGeek, a web service for cheap seats. Sadly, the Nats completely fell apart in August and September ending with the sad display of a bad apple reliever choking the eventual league Most Valuable Player. Speaking of things surly…

Getting Surly: My bikes were getting old. And so was I. So I decided to buy a new one, just for riding events and such. I bought a Surly Cross Check on the enthusiastic recommendation of a half dozen friends who own one or wish they did. I’m still working on giving it a name. My fleet of now four bikes carried me over 7,000 miles this year. Speaking of mileage….

Turning the Odometer: I hit 60 in August. My brain still can’t believe it but my body does. Denial only gets you so far in life. I celebrated by hiking Old Rag. My advice is to do this hike long before your 60th birthday. Mrs RC made me with a quilt  from my old running t-shirts. This totally surprised me with it even though she made the thing right in front of me. Still, turning 60 was inescapably depressing.  Speaking of depressing…

Goodbye Blue Mondays: I started the year dealing with rather severe depression, not the “I’m sad” kind but the clinical kind. It’s a drag just thinking about it. I forced myself to socialize (see below), ate vitamin D supplements (I had a severe deficiency), and began daily meditation at the repeated suggestion of a friend. You could say that when it was over I had become comfortably numb. Speaking of numbness…

My Right Foot: I also started the year with a mysteriously numb right foot. I saw a neurologist who was incredibly enthusiastic, competent, and beautiful about my case. She sent me to a physical therapist who gave me a set of exercises including bird dogs, side planks, and nerve flossing that I still do every other day. On a whim, I went for a Thai massage. It didn’t do a thing for my foot but it was just about the most relaxing 90 minutes I can recall. “Use your third eye, John.”  I also went to an acupuncturist who didn’t do a thing for my foot either. He did fix a pain in my upper arm and recommended some orthotics for my shoes. Speaking of shoes….

Ramping Up My Hiking:  After each of my hikes last year, my back and knees were killing me.  The second I put the orthotics in my shoes, my back felt better. I did ten hikes this year, most of them in Shenandoah National Park and a little further north on the Appalachian Trail. All but one were solo hikes. The exception came when Ultrarunnergirl kicked my ass all the way to the top of SNP and back. My knees and back hardly protested. Speaking of protests…

What’s a Park It?:  Bike riders in DC had been getting hit by cars turning illegally through the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes. I attended a protest that was designed to bring awareness to the fact that new barriers called Park Its had not been installed on two blocks of the avenue. The protest was successful (the Park Its were installed a few months later) and was a great opportunity to get together with friends old and new. Speaking of new friends…

Do I Even Have a Fusiform Gyrus?: Three months after apparently meeting me at a December 2014 holiday party, a woman walked up at a post-ride reception and said “Hi John.” I had no idea who she was. She later said I needed to have my fusiform gyrus checked out. So began my improbable friendship with Katie Lee. A few days later we spent four hours in a booth in a downtown tavern. Two peas in a pod, pod people you might say, engaged in an incredibly intense conversation. I felt as if I had caught lightning in a bottle of Shiner Bock. On my way home for the first time in months the fog of my depression had lifted. Like a paper lantern. I know a sign when I see one. Thanks for showing me the score, KL. 

Encore, you say?….

Sitting in the Lap of the North Wind: A year or so ago, Mrs RC bought me a CD of celtic sounding music by a Quebec folk group called Le Vent du Nord. As luck would have it, they played very small venues near DC twice this year. We were in the second row for both performances, practically in the lap of the foot drumming, song singing, fiddle player. Even though I studied French in high school and college I can’t really follow their lyrics but I have no trouble enjoying their hurdy gurdy fueled music. Tres bon.

 

I’m Only Sleeping

For most of my life I have been an incompetent sleeper. This turned into weeks on insomnia last winter. Over time I have tried various remedies for my sleep woes. Here are the best ones so far:

  • Thermarest mattress: I have had a gimpy back since I was 19. About 20 years ago I had to have back surgery. Conventional mattresses are brutal on my back, particularly if my back muscles  go into spasm. Some time ago we surrendered and bought a Thermarest mattress. This mattress is made out of high density foam of some sort that conforms to your body. You sleep in it as much as you sleep on it. Because of the foam and the fact that it cradles your body, it traps body heat. (This takes a bit of getting used to). As soon as we started sleeping on this, my need for sleep decreased about an hour a day. One added benefit is the fact that your partner can get in and out of bed and you don’t feel it. The only deficiencies that I have found its that it is harder to sit up and read in bed and the mattress is expensive.
  • Ear plugs and eye mask: I used ear plus successfully on my spring bike tour.Last winter I tried using a Buff as an eye mask. It worked well but 8 hours of use dried out the skin on my face. During my recent around-the-world vacation, I switched to  using a drug store eye mask. The mask and ear plugs kill about 90 percent of the sound and virtually all the light in the room. This is incredibly helpful when your sleeping partner is prone to snoring. (I snore too but unfortunately we don’t cancel each other out.) One caveat: you really shouldn’t use ear plugs if you have kids.
  • Sweat shirt and long sleeve t’s: I find that I get more restful sleep when my body doesn’t notice the decline in temperature from our thermostats set-back feature.
  • Over the counter drugs: My knees and back sometimes want to bark at me in the night. I take ibuprofen with a sleep aid (Advil PM or its equivalent) and I am out like a light and stay out. Since I am allergic to planet earth, I occasionally use the generic version of Nyquil or Benedryl. I think they all have the same drowsiness chemical. The downside to taking these pills is that you wake up a bit groggier than usual, sometimes with a dry mouth. I’ve tried taking melatonin.This is supposed to give you intense dreams as a side benefit. It doesn’t do a thing for me. Obviously, using drugs to get to and stay asleep is not something you want to do on a continuous basis.
  • Exercise: I’d be lost without my bike or my hikes. When I don’t ride, my body isn’t tired until much later than normal.
  • Meditation techniques: if my brain is still filled with chattering monkeys when my head hits the pillow, I use simple meditation techniques to calm it. It’s a bit like counting sheep. Just focus on your breathing. As you relax and your brain calms, you breathing slows. With any kind of luck you’re out like a light in a couple of minutes. (This is probably why some meditation teachers insist on you sitting upright and/or keeping your eyes slightly open.)
  • Alcohol: I get to sleep and i sleep much better when I don’t drink alcohol. Decisions. Decisions.

Using a mix of these things, I have cut my time for sleep down to 6 1/2 to 7 hours. This wasn’t intentional. I think that before I tried this mix of solutions, I’d wake up intermittently, making my sleep much less productive. To get the same amount of rest I’d need many more hours of time in the bed.

I now routinely wake up before 6 am without an alarm.  It’s dark. Maybe I should move to the southern hemisphere for the next five months…