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.

 

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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.

January Rebound

After crashing and burning in December thanks to blood clots trying to do me in, I made a guarded return to cycling this month. And I’ll be damned if I didn’t kick some ass.

I rode on 26 of 31 days. Half the rides were in my basement on Big Nellie. This kept me allowed me to gradually get back into the swing of things without crashing and causing myself to buy the farm.

I started very slowly, waiting for clearance from my doctor. On January 4, I did 8.5 miles in my basement.  I guessed at mileage based on time. As I got my legs back the length and intensity of the basement rides increased. I figure that conservatively I averaged about 11 miles per hour. So I guesstimate that I did 183 miles indoors. The remaining 363.5 miles were done outdoors. The first ride was a bit scary. I was paranoid. Over time, I settled in. In the end, I did 340 miles on my Cross Check and 23.5 on The Mule. My longest ride was 46.5 miles.

After all that medical drama, doing the math, I managed to ride 546.5 miles. If you had told me on January 1st that I’d ride more than 200 miles this month I’d have thought you were crazy.

 

February awaits. I’d love to go somewhere warm, but I have scans and doctors visits out the wazoo.  Each visit seems to bring on a follow up visit of one sort or another which makes planning ahead next to impossible. This medical nonsense should settle down soon.

Of course, the February to do list includes some fun stuff too: a hike or two, a happy hour, at least one foray to Friday Coffee Club, many bike rides, more reading, and a rare day (tomorrow) of museum-ing. And, in two weeks, the return of baseball. Somebody pinch me.

 

Solitude and Prapanca

It was a cold and blustery day. I could have gone for a ride outside but Big Nellie was all alone in the basement. So I went downstairs with a magazine, a book, and two water bottles are started spinning.

An article in Adventure Cyclist magazine about Joe Cruz (great name), an accomplished cycle tourist, had a paragraph that really resonated with me. Every time I do a solo tour people ask me if I get bored or afraid. Solo touring has made me appreciate the difference between loneliness and solitude. And as Cruz says:

Being by yourself makes a tremendous difference in how open you are and how you put yourself into the cultural context of the place your visiting. …[W}hen I am solo, I am getting a great big hug from the place, surrounded by mountains or terrain that grabs me and holds me and over hours lets me disappear, and the chatter in my head goes away and the place I am visiting becomes part of me.

I am infinitely more loquacious when I am on a solo bike tour. I talk to everybody I meet. Considering how introverted I am, this is quite a feat.

There is something to be said for touring with others as I did in 2016. And I find I much prefer doing event rides with a group of friends. Solo touring is a whole different ballgame.

Of course, solo touring can be a drag if you let it. More specifically, if you are prone to letting worries run away with your mind, you are in for a very miserable time. I was on my way to Indiana along the C&O Canal towpath in 2005. I was about 40 miles into the day bumping along on Big Nellie when I found my mind hijacked.

“This is so bumpy. All the weight is over the rear wheel. What if my rear tire blows out? What a spoke breaks? What if it starts to rain? This is going to suck.”

Over and over again. For hours.

After finishing the magazine I started reading the new book Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics when I learned that this kind of escalating worry binge has a name. Buddhists (in the ancient language Pali) call it prapanca.

I was crushing prapanca all the way to Brunswick, Maryland when I stopped my bike and literally gave myself a good talking to. Out loud. (The other trail users gave me a few hairy eyeballs.) I resolved to forget about all the catastrophes that might come and enjoy the fact that it was a perfect summer day and I was on vacation doing what I love to do.

And off I went with a smile on my face.

A few days later, I noticed that my rear rim was cracking. I stopped at a convenience store. The clerk told me about a nearby bike shop. The bike shop dudes told me that they’d replace the rim and pointed me to a Mexican restaurant and a motel. The next day I was back on the road with a full tummy, a good night’s sleep, and a new rear wheel.

Take that prapanca.

 

Notes on the Road to Recovery

  • Yesterday was my longest ride since November 4,  46 1/2 miles to and from Bladensburg by way of the Anacostia River Trail. The ride was about as flat as possible so I wasn’t exactly taxing my heart and lungs. I’d have gone further but when I turned from home, I inadvertently took a short cut of sorts. It turns out that there are entire sections of the DC area that I get lost in. I become un-lost when I stumble on a street that’s on the 50 States Ride route. Yesterday I was good to go when I found West Virginia Avenue.
  • Thanks to my CT scans I have a new wardrobe. You can’t wear anything with metal on it to a CT scan so sweat pants are ideal. Mrs. Rootchopper was so embarrassed by my threadbare sweat pants that she bought me two new pair. Now I have CT Scan clothes!
  • When I moved to DC I had to jettison my Mr. Michelin down winter coat. You know, the big, puffy green ones that keep you warm on the tundra. The coat took up a ton of closet space and had no usefulness in the mid-Atlantic. I also stopped wearing sweat pants because, well, you sweat in them. I get plenty of sweating just by living in this swamp I don’t need help from my wardrobe. I had three pair of sweats (one was thermal!) and they were all falling apart from age. My new sweat pants don’t have a heavy lining; they are more like pajama bottoms. Yes, I am that retired guy that lays around his house in PJs and sweats.
  • Ultrarunnergirl just tweeted a link to information about deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolisms. https://www.webmd.com/dvt/ss/slideshow-visual-guide-to-vein-and-artery-problems. She is awesome for doing this. And it reminded me that I haven’t seen her in ages. Ack! Massive hugs to you Kirybabe.
  • Even though I have read a ton of stuff about DVTs and PEs, I still am perplexed by what caused mine. Lately, I’ve been thinking that I’ve had PEs for a long time. But what caused the sudden eruption of clots in my lungs in December? The WebMD article offers some possibilities. Athletes, especially endurance athletes, tend to get clots more often from injuries, dehydration, and travel. https://www.webmd.com/dvt/ss/slideshow-dvt-surprising-causes  I think the DVT forms from dehydration and travel. An injury to the DVT breaks a chunk of the big clot off and it travels to the lungs becoming a PE.
  • My ride to Key West had all three aspects.
    • I fell from a porch and my bike landed across my body. I don’t know if the bicycle frame whacked my leg. I was too worried about my smashed ribs. Still it’s the only impact injury I have had in a long time.
    • The south is humid. It’s hard to stay hydrated, especially when you are riding in a tropical depression and getting sandblasted by gale force winds.
    • I rode back on the train. Despite being able to walk around, I was stuck in my seat for several hours when my seat neighbor fell asleep.
  • Today is a rainy day. It’s warm enough to ride outside but the gloom doesn’t float my boat. So I re-acquainted myself with Big Nellie in the basement. I rode for 1:13 or about 13 miles at a snails pace.

 

Breakfast Cereal Quilter Quiz Answer

The other day I asked readers why my quilter wife would be interested in me eating more breakfast cereal. There were some really interesting answers in the comments of the last two blog posts. I have to give Rachel “Don’t Call Me Bob” Cannon credit for persistence. But her answers, like all the others, were wrong.

Here’s the answer.

One of the most fascinating things about little kids is watching them explore their world. You can take a kid to the most amazing place on earth but don’t be disappointed when they fixate on a bug on the ground.

Babies take this sort of exploration to the max. Babies explore their world with all their senses. They love slippery things and things they can stick their fingers through. And they love things that feel interesting and make noise. Crackling noises are big favorites (for instance, our son loved potato chip bags).

So the reason my wife wants me to eat more breakfast cereal is so that she can harvest the bags inside the box to make crinkle quilts. The breakfast cereal bag (after cleaning and drying) goes between the inner and outer quilt fabric. The perimeter of the quilt includes loops of slippery fabric. So the baby will play the blanket to get it to make the crinkly sound and play with the loops on the edges.

My wife is busy making these for friends with babies.

Here is a picture of a recent creation (I added the calculator for perspective):

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For my crafting readers, here’s a website that explains how this all gets put together.

Long Ride, Pleasant Dreams

I rode 120 miles today. It felt great.

Then I woke up.

I needed a day off the bike and the couch was the right place to spent it.

In the morning I went for my annual dermatologist appointment. The doctor froze three pre-cancerous lesions from my face. This is the price I pay for any Anglo-Irish heritage and spending so much time running and riding and hiking in the sun.

After that I spent a couple of hours reading and meditating. Then I went to the dentists where I had a filling in one of my few remaining virgin teeth. Once I saw the novocaine needle I tensed up. My hands were fists. I used meditation/breathing techniques and I relaxed through the entire procedure. No pain. I truly hate going to the dentist.

I planned on going for a ride but the wind was blowing and it was cold and I was feeling all rubbery in my face so I sat down and promptly fell sound asleep. I dreamed of warm summer days and riding The Mule across the prairie. Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above….

I get next week off from medical madness. Then it’s two more weeks of scans and visits to all four doctors including my annual physical. I imagine these visits will spawn more visits. And scans.

Pitchers and catchers report to spring training in 20 days.

In Baseball Speramus.

Quiz note: There is still no winner to the Cereal Quilter quiz. Why would my quilter wife need me to eat more breakfast cereal?

Another Day, Another Doctor

Is that a Tumor on Your Gland or Are You Just Happy to See me?

After a couple of long-ish days back to back, I decided to take it easy today. I was 18 miles into my ride when I stopped at the gym to re-acquaint myself with the weight room. I still hate it but it is a good thing to do to maintain bone density, especially when the only exercise you get is non-weight-bearing.

When I stopped, I checked my phone. My doctor had left me a voicemail about my CT Scan results. He referred me to an endocrinologist to have some tests done on my adrenal gland and its hitchhiker (an adenoma a little over 1 cm x 1 cm).

So I am up to three specialists so far. Four if you count the fact that my hematologist is also an oncologist.

None of this is bad news, by the way. I am grateful that I have a personal doctor who is thorough.

There is a tid bit of good news to report: I tried the spirometer today. I broke 3,250 ml. This is the target level for a healthy six-foot 62-year-old male. It’s a bit like ringing the bell at the circus. It’s pretty good news considering the fact that I am asthmatic.

The Cereal Quilter Quiz

I am not surprised that no one has guessed the answer to my quiz: Why would my quilter wife need me to eat more breakfast cereal?

A point of clarification: we are talking about ready-to-eat breakfast cereal, not oatmeal or cream of wheat.

I’ll give the answer in a couple of days.

 

 

Two for Tuesday

I Rode a Jackie Robinson Today

The thermometer said 73 degrees. I stepped outside. It was no lie. Dang! I went for a ride, of course. In shorts. Yes, shorts!

I know I am supposed to be taking it easy but did you hear what I just said? 73 degrees in January. And SHORTS!!!

So I went for a level-ish ride on some local trails, mostly the Four Mile Run, W&OD, and Mount Vernon Trail. With a steady wind out of the west, the ride out the W&OD was a bit of a slog. I decided to turn around to have a little fun with a tailwind.

Wheeee!

I timed the turn around just right. Near the end of the ride it started to feel a little cool on my legs.

My odometer read 42 miles. That would be 79 miles for two days. I haven’t done this much riding since early November. And my heart and respiratory rates stayed down the entire time. My windpipe, which has been tight for weeks, felt like it was wide open.

All I can say is WOW. I can’t believe how good I felt for all 42 miles.

I know. I know. Take it easy, you idiot.

Cold air is coming. That will mellow me out.

The Cereal Quilter Quiz

Mrs. Rootchopper is a quiltaholic. She’s made 37 quilts last year. It was an off year for quantity. (I kid you not.) She spent more time than she had intended preparing donated blankets for distribution to sick kids.

She makes a lot of quilts and other fabric creations for sick kids. The quiz question is: why would she need me to eat more breakfast cereal?

 

 

 

 

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.