Winter Weather Wimp Gets Back into a Routine

I really am a wimp. It’s below freezing outside but there’s no ice on the roads so it’s safe to go riding. But I walk out the door and the blast of cold air pushes me down the stairs in to the basement where Big Nellie and Lincoln in the Bardo await.

I know I am a weenie because my bike commuting friends are out there slogging away to and from work. Although she doesn’t exactly slog, Mary the Coffeenuer is braving the cold and – for the most part – enjoying it. Her latest blog post pretty much is a call to arms, or pedals. So I resolve to get out of the basement as long as there is no ice on the ground. (It’s supposed to snow tomorrow night so this might be a pretty short lived resolution.)

An update on my recovery: I feel fine. I have my energy back. Mrs. Rootchopper says that my left calf looks bigger than my right. This is consistent with a deep vein thrombosis or big blood clot in my left calf. I have used a tape measure and I can’t find a difference. I also don’t feel any difference between the left and right calf.

I have ordered a mirror for my Cross Check just to decrease my chances of being run over by big metal things. And I have purchased a RoadID which is like a medic alert bracelet. It has my name and address, my wife’s contact numbers, my blood type and Xarelto, the blood thinning medication I am on. This is especially important in case I crash and hit my head and am knock out or concussed. Blows to the head can lead to runaway bleeding in the skull which can be fatal within a day or two. I want to make sure that EMTs and ER doctors know about my medication from the get go even if I can’t speak for myself.

Well, that was depressing.

My CT scan for tomorrow has been postponed because my insurance is flinching at having another one so soon after the last one. This is pretty routine.

Later this week I have a dental appointment. Hopefully I won’t need any crowns or fillings because I’d have to stop taking Xarelto for a couple of days and I really can’t do that right now.

I am getting back to the daily routine I was in before all this craziness took over my life.

  • Meditation for 20 -30 minutes – This is a hold over from self treatment of depression. I’m into my fourth year of sitting on a daily basis. Oddly, it’s also the last vestige of a friendship gone sour. Go figure.
  • Reading the newspaper over breakfast – I have been doing crosswords since college. Breakfast doesn’t seem right without a puzzle.
  • Reading – I am an obsessive reader. I can’t imagine living without books all around me. I am working down the pile of books I got for Christmas and as gifts for nearly dying. (I can’t die now, God.. I have four more books on my nightstand.) I should be coming up for air about May 1.
  • Riding – I am still searching for a good substitute for the best bike commute on the planet. And I have to get myself into some sort of decent riding shape because I fully intend to ride to Pacific waters this spring and summer.
  • Learning guitar – I am the least musical person on the planet. And I have small hands. So this is an uphill battle. Still, twiddling away at finger picking is strangely relaxing. And it’s a lot easier to learn these days because there are a bazillion instructional videos online.
  • Listening to music – This is something that has fallen by the wayside with all the bike riding that I’ve been doing over the years. I was browsing YouTube recently when I saw the name Brandi Carlile. I’ve heard her name many, many times over the years and never took the time to listen to her. Doh. She’s been making interesting music for 12 years and six (soon to be seven albums). So I am wearing out two of her CDs and I am about to buy all the others. This will tide me over until the next Neil Finn CD comes out later this year.
  • And doing at least one adult thing –  Today’s was driving my daughter’s car so its battery wouldn’t die. And doing a load of laundry. Hey, that’s two.

In addition to these daily activities I have a few other things I want to keep doing.

  • Socialize – I am trying to do at least one social thing a week so I don’t turn into a hermit. The weekend before last was brunch with folks from grad school. This past weekend was the wedding of the daughter of a former work colleague. It was at a mosque which made it especially unusual (for me at least) and interesting. This Thursday I am going to a #bikedc happy hour. I am not supposed to drink alcohol while on my medication but I think one drink in a two-week span won’t kill me. Then again, who the hell knows!
  • Advocacy – As a total introvert, I make a lousy advocate. Still, I hope to attend a meeting with National Park Service staff regarding the Mount Vernon Trail on Saturday.
  • Sportz – I don’t watch much sports but the NFL playoffs include the Patriots. I lived in Boston and Providence for 11 years during which time the Patriots were consistently mediocre. Their recent run of excellence has been fun to watch. I only watch during the playoffs. I don’t have time for the other 16 games.

 

 

 

 

 

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Recovery: Back to Normal-ish

Three weeks ago my medical crisis began. Today was a normal day like any other with the minor exception that I rode in the basement rather than outside. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say I was healthy, well adjusted person. Okay, let’s settle for healthy. We can’t expect miracles.

I was a busy boy today. I made two appointments for scans ordered by my pulmonologist, helped arrange for the appliance guy to come fix our dryer, drove to Marlow Heights to get a second key for the Millennium Falcon, my son’s rattle trap of a car, and drove to REI to try on new shoes. (I didn’t like them.) Then, after a meditation break along the river, it was back home to find out I needed to make another scan appointment. Yesterday’s ultrasound didn’t give a clear enough view of my adrenal gland so we’re doing another CT scan. (Certain cancers cause an increase in clotting so the search is on to find or rule out cancer somewhere in my body.) Next up was a 13 mile ride in the basement while reading my book. (It’s called Ramp Hollow. It’s about how the people of Appalachia came to be in their socio-economic predicament.) Finally, I did my complete set of physical therapy exercises including a shoulder stand.

I don’t want to jinx anything, but I feel pretty normal. The only real way I can tell is to try to do more normal things and see what happens. So I need to take a bike out and ride it somewhere. I suspect that if I can handle 20 miles outside on my Cross Check I’m doing just fine. If I can go up a hill without dying (not literally, I hope)  that would be another milestone. Still another test will be to go to the gym and lift weights. I am not Ahnuld so this is more to see how my heart reacts to pumpitude.

Anyway, feeling somewhat normal is pretty flabbergasting to me. It’s been three weeks since the clots decided to go site seeing in my lungs. I felt truly awful for the first week after the pulmonary embolism(s) came to play.

Since it came up in a recent twitter conversation, I should point out that I plan on riding while on blood thinners. Nothing heroic or adventurous just my usual everyday cycling. With a helmet on, of course. For the short term, I just want to see where my fitness (and balance) is. For the long term, I need to be active or I will lose my mind. (Just ask my wife.) How all this translates to bike tours and events is TBD.

I also intend not to let this medical mess turn me into a hermit. In addition to seeing plenty of medical professionals, I plan on going to several non-medical events in the weeks ahead. There’s a wedding on Saturday, a #bikedc happy hour next week, a meeting with the National Park Service about the Mount Vernon Trail the following Saturday, and the WABA Awards get-together in a few weeks. I doubt I’ll ride to these events. There will be plenty of time for riding when it’s warmer and lighter out. Lord willin’ and the clots don’t rise.

 

 

 

Watchin’ the Wheels

I’ve been retired almost four months now. I have been asked “How’s retirement?” dozens of times. In a way it’s a bit of a pointless question. If it sucked I’d be unretired.

Last night this exchange happened several times at a holiday party I attended. I gave a flippant response until I found Klarence.

As readers of this blog may recall, Klarence is a pseudonym for a friend of mine who “fixed” me two and a half years ago. After dealing with depression for months and months, I sat down with Klarence for a drink after work. (Klarence had no idea that I was troubled.) It led to a four hour, brutally honest, one-on-one encounter session. Along the way, Klarence made me laugh and nearly brought me to tears. When we parted, I felt like she had lifted an enormous burden from me. I don’t think she had intentions of doing this; she was just being her true self. I walked away flabbergasted by my good fortune. And forever grateful to her.

We met three years ago at the same holiday gathering. So I made it a point to look for her last night. I almost walked right past her until she called my name. (Ironically, it was also Klarence who told me about my malfunctioning fusiform gyrus, a part of the brain that deals with facial recognition.)

We hugged our usual fierce hug (because that’s what you do with somebody who saves you from months of absolute misery) and then she asked with a serious look on her face:

“How’s retirement?”

It hit my mind like a club. It staggered me. I was tongue tied.

I don’t even remember what I said in response.

From day one, Klarence has had an effect on me. Her bluntness and honesty somehow compel me to ponder her words.

And I pondered.

Suppose you asked a kid “How’s childhood?” He’d say “Okay, I guess.” In a sense, retirement is like childhood; it is what it is. It’s an endless stream of Saturdays. You can read the paper in the morning. You can sleep in. You can do what you want, when you want. You can wear your jammies all day long. All of this is pretty damned sweet.

Of course, my earnings dropped by 70 percent but you can’t have everything – especially now! This aspect is a little unsettling, but I live a very modest life.

There is a sense that asking someone “How’s retirement?” is a bit like asking a Ph. D. student, “How’s the thesis?” Or a 21-year old, “So what are you going to do with your life?”

AYYYYYY!

It brings on a sort of performance anxiety. Especially for someone like me who has lived with imposter syndrome his whole life.

I have another friend who used to give me unease because she seemed to want to fill every second of every day mindfully accomplishing something that would bring her happiness and be somehow meaningful for humanity. I don’t socialize with her anymore. She was stressing me out.

So here’s an answer that maybe is a little more honest than the inarticulate response I gave to Klarence last night.

Retirement is being free of working on projects that suck your soul.

Retirement is not having to work to arbitrary deadlines that shift with the wind.

Retirement is not having to ride to work when it’s dark and rainy and 33 degrees with a 15 mile per hour headwind. (Yes, this happened a few times every year.)

Retirement is setting your own schedule. Answering to your own inner boss. Filling your day with things you find personally fulfilling and that are true to who you are like:

  • Riding my bike in the daylight.
  • Taking care of my aging carcass by lifting weights.
  • Taking care of my mental health by meditating for 20 or 30 (or, like today, 45) minutes and not feeling guilty.
  • Trying rather comically to learn a little guitar (and avoiding tennis elbow in the process).
  • Reading books without interruption. (Current book: The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins)
  • Spending two days in court to lend moral support to some friends – who introduced me to Klarence three years ago. (This is called paying it backward, I think.)
  • Volunteering and attending bicycling advocacy events.
  • Planning the next big thing. (How hard is it to ride to the Pacific anyways?)

Where does this all lead? Does it accomplish a big thing? Does it make my life worthwhile? Will I make a big ego-boosting mark on the world so my life will be one big selfie? Is it okay not to give a flying fuck?

For now, I am content and truly grateful to abide by the words of John Lennon:

I’m just sittin’ here watching the wheels go round and round. I really love to watch them roll.

And to say, once again, thank you, Klarence.

 

 

Work? No, Thanks. I’m Busy.

I received a job offer yesterday. I think I’ll pass. I am busy being retired. My typical day goes something like this:

  • Read newspaper over breakfast. Defeat Sudoku and the crossword.
  • Play on social media sites.
  • Do one productive thing such as go to the doctor, get the car inspected, get my haircut, mow the lawn, volunteer, etc.
  • Go for a bike ride.
  • Go to gym (three days a week) or do physical therapy (basically, a short yoga session).
  • Meditate for 20 – 30 minutes.
  • Practice guitar. (I just started. By the time I am 110 years old I’ll be able to play The House of the Rising Sun.)
  • Read. (My family bans me from buying books in the weeks leading up to Christmas, Father’s Day, and my birthday. So I raided my daughter’s bookshelf.) I am currently reading Water for Elephants.
  • Listen to a Podcast once or twice a week. I follow 10 Percent Happier.
  • Write an insipid blog. (You are reading it.)
  • Write in my journal. (You are not reading it.)
  • Watch something on TV or Netflix. Or listen to music.

Well, it felt like I was busy…

After breakfast, I made a to-do list for the day.

I rode 13 miles to the Lincoln Memorial. I was going to ride to the gym which is only four miles away but the weatherman said it would start raining about 1 pm and I wanted to get a warm dry ride in.

Of course, it didn’t rain. So I rode back to the gym. Because of new nerve problems in my legs, I decided to lay off the leg machines. Instead of doing two circuits on all the machines, I did three circuits on the upper body and core machines. This was probably not a good idea. For a start, my right foot went numb after I used the first machine (a shoulder raise gizmo).

I stuck with my plan. I arrived a little before 11 am. The people in the weight room were all business. There was no chatter, no sitting around. So I made it out of there by 1 pm without having to wait at all.

My upper body was a tad annoyed with me. I could hear my biceps saying “You are such an asshole” all the way home on Little Nellie.

Gym and bike ride done!

Next came lunch. Then a clock reset-a-thon. I have four bike computers, three different kinds. So I had to find out how to do the deed without obliterating other settings. After about 1/2 hour I succeeded. In the process, I saw that my computers have over 112,000 miles on them. Whoa.

Reset the bike computers. Done!

Next up were the clocks in the cars. Done!

Then I took a picture of a foundation wall crack in the back of the house and emailed it to a contractor who knows about such things. He emailed me back to tell me to keep and eye on the cracks. They are probably caused by the marine clay soil under the house drying out from the summer with very little rain. I am taking his advice because I can do nothing like a champ.

Deal with foundation cracks. Done!

Laundry was next. Done!

Bill paying. Done!

Check book balancing. Done!

I meditated for 30 minutes. Done!

The only things I haven’t done are shredding (our file cabinet is bursting at the seams) and read my Fredrik Backman book.

So what do you do when you retire? All the crap that you cram into the evenings.

Still, it didn’t feel like I accomplished much.

I’ll try again tomorrow.

 

No Way So Hey – Day 17

The day began with a 1 1/2 mile ride to a diner where I stuffed myself with all the things. 

Belch.

Then I went back to the campground, packed up, and paid. I got a senior discount. Woot!

I hit the road late, 8:30, and I knew I would pay. The early morning hours have pleasant temperatures but some uncomfortable humidity. From about 10 to 2 the sky is cloudless and the heat wears on you. After that the sun is low enough to cast shadows across the road and the puffy white clouds lend a hand.

Today’s ride was more of the same. Farms and swamps. Run down shacks and beautiful country homes. I saw some peach orchards today. At one of my rest stops I asked the clerk for done bananas. We don’t have any. You should try our sliced peaches. Holy crap. I hoovered them. Just perfectly sweet and juicy. 


And I saw a cotton field that looked ready for picking.


Toward the end of the day I saw farms with livestock and chicken houses. I was also chased by a big mean dog who didn’t have the leg speed to keep up with The Mule. Instead of “Beware of the Dog” signs, some people put up “Bad Dog” signs. This made me think of putting up a sign that says, “Dog of Poor Moral Fiber”.

Hills have made a reappearance too. I don’t mind. Just drop to a lower gear and spin.

For the first three or four days your brain is all monkey mind. After that you just become kind of mesmerized by the sound of the chain, the turning of the pedals, the pumping of your knees. Your brain goes off on tangents then it locks back in on chain and pedals and knees. 

I’m getting closer to the Okeefenokee Swamp. The Saltilla River seems to be everywhere. I stopped to take a picture of the swamp trees with their wide bases.


I cruised into Nahunta Georgia just before 5 pm. I’m staying at the Knox Hotel which looks like something you’d see in Mayberry or Petticoat Junction. 

The hotel incurred some minor hurricane damage to its roof. The owner told me she took in many people displaced by Irma a few weeks ago. 

After 85 miles on breakfast, convenience store food and peaches, I’m ready for a shower and dinner. 

Total miles 1,242.5. 

Tomorrow the Okeefenokee Swamp and Florida. 

An Accidental Return to Ashby Hollow

The weather was perfect. I haven’t gone for a day hike in months so I grabbed a print out for Ashby Hollow – Mt. Weathers from a backpack I use for hiking and took off.

I had this weird feeling of deja vu. For good reason. This was my first solo hike on the Appalachian Trail a few years ago.

The drive up a dirt road to the start was an adventure. The road was all ruts and washboard. The car’s autotraction was going nuts. My wheels were spinning but I made it in one piece.

I immediately recognized the start. Oh well, no sense in going looking for another trail. Off I went down the rock trail.

I remember this hike as very difficult footing. And it was but not nearly as bad as others I have done since. The low humidity and comfortable temperatures combined with persistent shade to make this just a glorious day to be in the woods.

Once I warmed up, I could just truck along. Unfortunately I had to look mostly at the trail because of all the rocks and tree roots. While doing this it’s really hard to think about anything but the task at hand which ends up being kind of meditative.

This section of the AT is called the roller coaster. On weekends it’s crowded but today I only saw four hikers in three hours, two of them passed me withing 200 yards of the finish. This time of year there aren’t much in the way of flowers so I basked in the green. There were no vistas on this hike at this time of year. The foliage is just too dense. No worries.

Despite having hiked this before, I missed two turns. I haven’t seen a blaze in a while, have I? Nope. When you wander off, just return to the trail and begin again. Sounds like a Joseph Goldstein meditation video.

It took me about 3 hours to do the entire 6 1/2 miles.

The ride back took me past vineyards and horse farms and through tony Virginia towns like Upperville and Middleburg. With windows down and the sun shining through puffy clouds it was a lovely end to another day of slacking.

 

Tick, Tick, Tick

I feel like I am riding the last couple of days of a bike tour. The end is just down the road a bit. I want to savor the last bits of riding but the anticipation of completion is yanking at my monkey mind.

That’s what the last week of work before retirement is like. It would feel worse if not for the fact that DC is a sauna this week and I am mighty happy for the air conditioning in my office.

Today, I erased all the scribblings on my office white board. The list of hikes I meant to do this year. (Intentions count, don’t they Ultrarunnergirl?) And the list of 17 states I have ridden a bike in. And the list of 31 countries that various members of the family Rootchopper have visited. (The family Rootchopper sounds a bit like we should be escaping the Nazis over the Alps. Given the recent news, it might not be a bad idea.) Down went the list of clever phrases I came across during my six years while at this job, such as

  • The future is a foreign country  – Finn Quinn
  • You are what you do, not what you say you will do – Carl Jung
  • Is this useful? – Joseph Goldstein
  • Simply begin again. – Also, Joseph Goldstein
  • Ride and shine – Me. A fortuitous typo of “Rise and shine,” the words my mother used to say to wake me up for school
  • Fusiform gyrus – the part of the brain for name/face recognition. By way of Katie Lee who says mine is broken. She’s right. I am pathetic.
  • Full hearts, clear mind, can’t lose – from Coach Taylor’s pre-game speeches in Friday Night Lights.
  • Culo y calzon – literally “ass and panties”. Spanish language idiom that (very) roughly means “thick as thieves.” Used with coy double meaning in one of Florencia Renedo’s blog posts.
  • Let it go. Move on. Fuck [’em] – Katie Lee who had to tell me this too many times before I finally listened to her. Still grateful.
  • Are you happy? What will make you happy? Do it with everything you’ve got. – Speaker after speaker quoting their departed friend Lorena Gimenez at her memorial celebration.

So tomorrow is closing time. Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.

Time to get to know the feeling of liberation and release.

 

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.

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Ear Bud Coffee Ninja Tuesday

Yesterday on the Mount Vernon Trail was Butt Cheek Monday. My thanks, once again, to the designers of skin tight running shorts for women. Today was Ear Bud Coffee Ninja Tuesday.

Image may contain: bicycle, outdoor and nature

I was plodding along going up a slight rise in the trail. The base of the rise is where I was nearly shuffled off my mortal coil by the driver of an SUV a couple of weeks ago.  As I made my way past the bus stop, a man came off a staircase to my right and walked directly in front of me. He was in ear bud heaven and his left hand held a cup of joe at about the level of my head. If I had hit him it would have been a literal hot mess.

I froze, proving that meditation can get you only so far in bike crash world. I swerved left and came to a stop avoiding making a four-ten split of some more folks waiting for the bus doors to open. (Why the heck do all these people have to stand when the bus is just sitting there with its doors shut?)

I said something exclamatory that did not include the letter f, shook my head, and rode away. Ear bud coffee ninja didn’t say a word.

I have ridden past this bus stop thousands of times. This is the first time I nearly crashed into someone. Maybe all my past caution has given me a big balance in the karma bank.

Today was cool with rain and wind. By Saturday, it will be 90F degrees. Bring it on. I am torn between riding 16 miles to the Climate March or riding 16 miles to the Nationals baseball game. (They are both in DC, about a mile apart.) Everybody knows that saving the planet is roughly as important as winning the NL East.