Many years ago, I was riding my Tour Easy recumbent to Indiana. I had just had the rear wheel replaced in Frostburg, Maryland. After a half hour I crested the aptly named Big Savage Mountain. With about 35 pounds of gear, all over my back wheel, I began the descent from the crest. The bike had a full fairing, a Lexan windshield, that made it super fast on downhills. And within less than a minute I felt like I was riding a bullet. I looked down at my speedometer and saw 48 miles per hour. I was just getting started. I’d never ridden this fast on a recumbent before and all I could think of was: I hope nothing goes wrong or I am a dead man. So, in near panic I yelled:
I started riding the brakes to bring me down to a safe speed, all the while hoping the rims of the wheels didn’t overheat.
American sports fans my age well know that “Whoa Nellie” comes from sportscaster Keith Jackson. He was the voice of college football for decades. I don’t remember all that much about college football back in the day but I remember his announcing.
I named my recumbent Nellie after that crazy descent. (Today I call it Big Nellie because I named my Bike Friday folding travel bike Little Nellie after the kit helicopter in the James Bond movie “You Only Live Twice.”)
At the doctor’s office yesterday, I weighed 203 pounds, six pounds more than on the very same scale a month ago. Perhaps it is a coincidence but in the last six days I have downed six apple fritters, prescribed by the mental health professionals Rachel C. and Katie B. Suffice it to say, my pants are fitting a tad snuggly. My mood is good though.
As has been the case since I came home from the hospital, I felt a little better today physically. It snowed overnight. As much as I wanted to go out and shovel the inch of powder, Mrs. Rootchopper would have nothing of it and handled the chore with ease.
For most of the day I hung out reading and waiting for the mechanic to call about Mrs. Rootchopper’s car. The year and a half old battery died. Completely. It won’t even hold a charge. So the mechanics put in a new one. Then they checked the oil and found the dipstick dry. Oops. I hope this is not the beginning of old car syndrome, the affliction that kills both your car and your bank account.
While waiting for the mechanic to finish, I went into the basement and rode Big Nellie. It was my first ride or exercise of any sort since the embolism. I took it easy and noted a number of interesting things:
My megamileage base will serve me well. My legs were not the least bit stressed.
I felt a distinct cramping in my left calf. I never cramp so I am assuming that what I was feeling was the deep vein thrombosis, the source of the blood clots in my lungs. So there you are you little bugger.
About 25 minutes into the ride, I felt the familiar stabbing pain in my right lung. I backed off my pedaling, dropped to a lower gear, and the pain went away. (It’s a 3 out of 10 on the objective pain scale.)
I felt numbness in my calves. Since I have nerve issues in my legs whenever I ride my recumbent I thought nothing of it. The numbness went away once I stood up and walked around for a minute.
As I rode I read my book. Oddly, I read much faster when I am spinning my legs than when I am just sitting in a chair. I put the reading to a secondary use. I spent one page on each cog, going up and down the cassette in the middle ring. Then I shifted to the big ring and did the same. At no time was I out of breath but my heart rate was higher than normal for the effort I was putting out.
All told, I rode 52 minutes. I’d say the equivalent of about 8 1/2 miles at the pace I was going (about 10 miles per hour).
It’s not much, but it’s a start. Now that all the fritters are gone (oink) I can hope to gradually increase my time and intensity on the bike and drift ever so gently back below the Mendoza line.
I was being a good boy. Except for one holiday party, I had greatly curtailed my alcohol consumption since my bike tour. And I’ve stayed out of the junk food cabinet for two months. So I did the math: much less alcohol + no junk food + daily riding = pulmonary embolism.
Sooo, let’s reconsider. My recovery plan: more alcohol + junk food out the wazoo + daily sloth = bicycling fitness monster. What could go wrong?
In the hospital, my thinking was all about denial. I am going to get better in record time. No problem. My body, apparently, has other ideas. This is going to take a while. My body gets a little tiny bit stronger by the day. I am, however, a long, long way from being back to anything approaching normal.
Ever since the event rides I did in August and early September, I’ve been wondering if something was wrong with me. I went from a bad climber to a horrible climber this year. My 50 States team had to wait for me at the top of every hill. It was embarrassing. Whenever I started climbing, my speed dropped like a stone and I had no ability to get it back. Was I throwing clots into my lungs this summer? Was my strong heart kicking out unnoticed clots for weeks? Whatever the answer, I am betting that I have much more cardiopulmonary fitness than the average PE patient. My doctors were pretty funny remarking on it too. I look like the average man on the street until you measure my vital signs and take an EKG. (Better knock some wood, right?)
I’ve been reading, watching movies, watching sports, and hanging with my family. This has really lifted my spirits. If I stop and think about things, my brain goes into weepy mode. Thankfully, it’s nothing like true depression. A tear here and there actually kind of helps. Even having not meditated in several days, I am confident that I have the mental part of this sussed. I need to be vigilant. Hearing words of support from friends and family and readers helps a ton. I am truly grateful.
Spiro, the spirometer, is not my friend. Spiro, you are dead meat. I am coming after you. I may be a wimp now but just you wait. I am going to kick your ass.
Since most of the clots and the pleural infarction are on my right side, I can sleep comfortably on my left side, which is how I prefer to sleep. If I turn over onto my left side, my breathing becomes shallow and labored.
My family gave me four books for Christmas. And cold weather cycling gear. I won’t make much use of the latter in the days ahead, but the books will come in handy. Once I get some strength back, I’ll be reading with Big Nellie.
Tomorrow we go for diner breakfast and the new Star Wars movie. Then I write some thank you cards. And we’ll see about some very light exercise too.
To recover from yesterday’s 55 mile meander I decided to do a 36 mile meander on Big Nellie. I mean why not meander while the meandering is good? Again, unbelievably, the weather was absolutely perfect for riding a bike.
Off I rode to do the Tour of Arlington, a loop around Arlington County Virginia entirely on bike trails.
I headed north on the Mount Vernon Trail. I stopped after a half mile to buy lemonade from a little boy and his mom. They were giving the proceeds to a hurricane Harvey charity.
Apparently the word got out that the trail is a nifty place to ride on a holiday with perfect weather because it was CROWDED!!!! Once I cleared Belle Haven Park I was enveloped with the scent of honeysuckle so I stopped to smell the flowers.
I took my time and rode into Old Town Alexandria. The streets were CROWDED!!!! I made it through unscathed and approached the warehouses at the north end of Old Town. I spotted a woman riding up ahead and thought it might be Emilia. Sure enough it was. She didn’t recognize me apparently because I was on my unobtrusive long wheel base recumbent.
Once I said her name and waved she said “Hi John. Is that Nellie?” All was right once more. Big Nellie was flattered to be recognized. If a bike could blush, she would have.
I rode behind a friend of Emilia. They seemed intent on making good time. Emilia and I tried to talk but the one-behind-the-other thing didn’t work. I rushed ahead to get a decent photo of them but they flew by before I could get my phone ready. Then about 10 other bikes rolled by. Soon I was faced with the task of getting past all these people and dealing with heavy on-coming traffic. This is harder on Big Nellie for two reasons: (1) Big Nellie does not accelerate fast and (2) Big Nellie is low to the ground so I can’t see what is coming and what is coming can’t see me. I think I kind of pissed off some people but I managed to get around the crowd and caught up to Emilia and her friends. Her friends went north on the trail at the airport; I followed Emilia west on the Four Mile Run trail. Now when I tried to talk to her, Emilia was on her phone. Oh well.
I sagged back a bit so as not to intrude on her conversation. That it was in Spanish meant that I had no idea what she was talking anyway, but I wanted to be polite. I kept pace and looked down. Emilia, riding a hybrid with wide tires and chatting on the phone, was cruising along effortlessly at 13 – 14 miles per hour.
I signed Emilia up for the 50 States Ride this year. Ever since she has been sending me messages that she is slow, that she is out of shape, and that I should be nice and wait for her during the ride. She repeated this today during our brief chat. The reality will be rather different, I fear.
Last weekend Emilia and some friends rode to Harpers Ferry (and back) along the C&O Canal. The distance including the ride from her house to the start was about 65 miles each way. Nearly all of it on unpaved surfaces, some of it muddy. When I saw a picture of her in Harpers Ferry on Saturday I thought “Wow, they must have left early.” I thought this because Emilia looked like she had showered and changed clothes. I was wrong. She had just finished the ride. She looked completely relaxed and composed.
The same was true today. She just cruises along. No effort. Today she told me she no longer drinks alcohol or eats sugar. I’ve got a bad feeling about this.
Como se dice “sandbagging” en Espanol?
Anyway, when she got to the end of the Four Mile Run Trail she turned left to go home and I turned right to continue on the Washington and Old Dominion Trail.
After a few more miles I turned right onto the Custis Trail that heads back to the river. The trail has a series of rolling hills. Big Nellie started hill hopping, flying down one hill and up the next. This was why god invented bicycles. Fortunately, this trail was not at all crowded. Wheee!
Back at the river the trail was once again CROWDED!!!! I took my time and pedaled onward. I stopped at Gravelly Point to take some pictures.
I arrived in Old Town to find it even more CROWDED than before. I think it had reached peak tourist. The intersection of King and Union was absolutely gridlocked with cars and walkers. I rolled to the front of a long line of cars waiting at the stop sign at King Street. A huge pick up truck was stuck in the middle of the intersection unable to move because of all the pedestrians. When a gap in the pedestrians opened up, I slowly rolled past the rear of the pickup, waited for a gap in the pedestrians crossing in the next cross walk and rolled free. Alexandria really needs to ban cars in Old Town on days like today. They serve no reasonable purpose.
A few blocks further on, I spotted a massive line of people winding along the sidewalk from the left and turning down the sidewalk along Union Street. The line was 3 or 4 people wide. It turned out that all these people were there to see a tall ship that had docked this morning.
I cleared the mass of humanity and headed for home amid the breezes and the warm sun and the smell of the honeysuckle.
I woke up late for the rest of my life. That’s how it felt anyway. I looked at the alarm clock and it said 6:45. Nooooo!
I swear these thoughts actually entered my brain on my first “work” day of retired life. All of a sudden I felt like I needed to maximize every second of the day.
Then I took a deep breath. Actually about 15 minutes of them. And did my back exercise routine. And it was just another day. I read the newspaper over a cup of coffee and headed out on Big Nellie to get a certified letter being held at the post office.
Once the chore was over, I could do whatever I wanted. I could go home and continue repainting the shed or I could go for a bike ride. My back was achy from yesterday’s chores so it was not a difficult decision. Big Nellie won the day.
My neck of the woods has more elderly people than any other in the DC area. They toot their horns at bicyclists, don’t bother with turn signals, and change lanes at random. It was good training for riding in Florida.
I rode down flat streets aimlessly. At Ft. Belvoir I decided to check out the new bike lanes. There is a wide side path and an unprotected bike lane in the road. The speed limit varies between 35 and 50 miles per hour which begs the question, why did they bother putting the bike lane in?
I rode all the way to Lorton then came back on the unprotected bike lanes on Telegraph Road. Going downhill I did a waltz with a massive pickup truck. Its driver wanted to turn. Then he didn’t. Then he did. Into and out of the bike lane. I finally said fuggit, took the lane and past him going 30 miles per hour.
I rode into neighborhoods just to add miles. As I went, my legs adapted to Big Nellie.
After 30 miles (not coincidentally the length of my round trip bike commute), I arrived at home after noon. After lunch I sat on the deck and watched the partial eclipse. We here in DC were at about 80 percent of totality. So for those woo woo folks who think an eclipse is a time of oneness with the universe and all living things, I hate to break the news. We were at 80%ness. So even at its closest to a full eclipse, 20% of the universe and living things didn’t give a rats ass. It was more like woo wo.
My intent was to finish the shed painting project. Alas. as the eclipse just passed its peak, clouds rolling in. Rain drops started plopping. Doppler radar showed storms all around me. So I will paint another day.
So at 4 o’clock I threw in the towel on my first day at my new job.
Friday Coffee Club made my week. I love how DC has so many interesting clever people.
For the second week in a row, I got all turned around getting to A Baked Joint, but I made a rather splendid recovery and avoided riding on sidewalks or through nearby construction zones.
Friday Coffee Club is best when it is about tales told well. Michael B. was in fine form telling us all what it was like to scuba dive in the Philippines among whale sharks. Their tales look so smooth swooshing slowly back and forth. This, combined with the sheer mass of the fish, makes it look like the shark is moving slowly. Quite the opposite, so divers beware. Also, if the tail hits you, you’re chum, dude.
Andrea then weighed in on tales of bike touring and RAGBRAI. She and her husband concocted a three-month cross country tour. For comfort, and to be in harmony with her bent hubby, she bought a Tour Easy, the same recumbent as Big Nellie. She went to pick it up two weeks before the tour only to find out that the wrong size had been order. Ack! After some phone calls to a competing bike shop, she scored a bike in the right size and color two days before the tour. I can’t imagine jumping on a recumbent for the first time and riding 4,000+ miles. Dang.
Next Andrea told us about her recent participation in the annual cross-Iowa bike event called RAGBRAI. The ride starts on the banks of the Missouri River on the west border of Iowa and heads to the Mississippi River on the east side. She flew to Minot SD only to learn that her bus to the ride start had been canceled. Within minutes she had hitched a ride on a converted school bus designed around a Blue Oyster Cult theme. This never happens to me. Ken Kesey phone home.
RAGBRAI is also a rolling party with pie and alcohol and other ingestible goodies. Being somehow in possession of numerous airplane sized liquor bottles, she needed a way to carry them. So she acquired a bandolier from a hunter friend and put the bottles in the shell holders. Genius! We don’t need no stinking glasses.
It doesn’t take much to be a thoughtful friend.
We sometimes forget to stay in touch with friends. And when we do, the communication can be somewhat perfunctory. I am heartened to know that there are people who I don’t often see but who go to the bother to let me know they are thinking about me.
Today, Rando Mike sent me a message out of the blue congratulating me on my retirement. You are two weeks early, my friend. No worries, I’ll stop by your house (an official rest stop) during the 50 States Ride before heading off to Key West. Mike has been trying to talk me into riding somewhere else. He won’t succeed.
From time to time, when I haven’t heard from her, I send Klarence an email just to make sure she is doing okay. I’m sure she’s fine, but it doesn’t hurt to check on a friend who did me a massive good turn two years ago. A few hours after Mike’s tweet, Klarence sent me an response to my most recent “Are you okay?” email. She has been busy stalking her favorite jam band, working her ass off, and moving so it has been a while since our paths have crossed. Somewhere in all that chaos she quietly kept tabs on me via social media, liking this tweet and that Instagram picture, a sort of electronic way of waving. Regardless, I have no reason to believe she has any idea what’s going on in my life. So she ends her email: “Ready for retirement??” And you wonder why I am ever grateful, Klarence.
My co-workers are busy trying to squeeze some fun out of my imminent departure for Seizure World. Their glee is palpable. They’ve already scheduled chips and quac during an afternoon in the office. My co-workers vastly prefer chips and quac to actual work. Or to me, for that matter. There also will be a happy hour of sorts. Kelly, who once ran her sorority in college, is losing her mind. She’ll be away for all this social stuff. Of course, she couldn’t care less about me. She’s just a maniac for parties.
Co-worker Amanda returned from her vacation, a birthday recon trip to Key West. She reports that Key West is chock-a-block full of good restaurants and saloons. She sampled them all. Well done, my young apprentice. I may need you to scout out west coast destinations for my cross country bike tour next summer. Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to travel to San Diego, San Francisco, Astoria Oregon, and Seattle. Eat, drink, and take notes.
Home is where the chores are
The contractors finished the refurbishment of the 8 x 14 shed we call the Rootchopper Institute’s Headquarters. We are dumping the forest green color scheme and matching the shed colors to the house: gray with white trim. Mrs. Rootchopper has taken over the painting. The particle board is sucking up paint like a sponge. It’s taking as long to paint the thing as it did to rebuild it. So it goes. Looks great though.
The contract called for all kinds of extra payments for additional work. Despite doing quite a bit of extra tweaking to the framing, the bill arrived with no additional payments on it.
My car did not fare so well. I took it in for an inspection and after replacing the front brakes and doing an alignment (as well as other assorted maintenance), I walked away $600 poorer. Andrea, got any of those bottles left?
I found a wet parcel on my doorstep after a storm yesterday. Inside was a new Kryptonite U-lock. I had first bought a Kryptonite literally decades ago. There was a bit of a scandal when some YouTube dude showed you could break the lock with a Bic pen. So Kryptonite re-designed the lock and gave owners a new one. That happened about 8 or 9 years ago. The lock mechanism on my replacement lock started failing a few months ago, so I contacted Kryptonite and they sent me a new lock. For free. Awesome.
I decided to go on a long-ish ride to reach a milestone on Big Nellie. I stopped at Canal Park along the Mount Vernon Trail. My friend and fellow bike commuter Linel had taken a picture at this park a few days ago. I have been riding past it daily and never knew it was there only a short walk from the trail. (Bike riding is not allowed.) It is a wonderful place to go to contemplate your navel, read a book, or just hang out. (There are plenty of benches and very nicely maintained lawns.) There is also some odd public art.
I rode to Key Bridge (basically my commute) and then into Georgetown. Traffic was very light. Turning left on Wisconsin Avenue I rode up and up and up to Cathedral Heights. I turned downhill and found my way to the new Klingle Valley Trail, over 20 years in the making. It’s only 0.8 miles long but it is worth checking out. I only took one picture because by now anybody can search for it on Flickr and find dozens of better pictures. One you get past this barrier you descend down a curvy paved path into woods. Sweet.
I got home after 42 miles in increasing heat and humidity. Big Nellie reached another milestone, 41,000 miles. She will get a rest now. Well done.
It promised to be a splendid day. I was really tempted to go for a long ride but decided to do a few minor chores and run a couple of errands. One of the chores was to liberate Big Nellie, my Tour Easy recumbent from the basement where she had been parked all winter. Of course, we had to go for a spin so we rode to the hardware store where I bought some Hot Meats. These are hulled bird seeds mixed with cayenne pepper powder. Squirrels will take one bite, shake their heads, and go elsewhere. No mess. No squirrels. They come in 5, 10, and 25 pound bags. You don’t want to crash and have a bag of this stuff split open on you. While I was tempted to try to transport a 25 pound bag. I chickened out and went for the ten pound bags. It turns out that a 10 pound bag fits perfectly in my old roll top Ortleib pannier.
Miles: 2 1/2
Category: You Carried What on a Bike?
Observation: I have clipless pedals on only one bike, Big Nellie. The hope was that they would help with nerve problems in my feet. They don’t. And my concern over getting properly unclipped makes me tense. This nerve problem really reduces my use of Big Nellie, down to about 1,000 miles per year. Most of that is because I feel like a should ride it just because it takes up so much space.
Those of you old enough to know who Arte Johnson is know that he made famous a couple of bits of schtick. One was a lecherous old man who mumbles and grunts at Ruth Buzzi’s old lady in a hairnet until she whacks him with her purse. The other was of a man on child’s tricycle riding until he falls over sideways.
I pulled Big Nellie, my Tour Easy recumbent, out for the first time in over two months. I planned on looking at colorful leaves and the upright seating position on this bike is just the thing I needed for maximum enjoyment. Sadly, peak foliage around her is at least a week away. (This is great news for those of us who will be riding the Great Pumpkin Ride in Warrenton VA next week, however.) Of course, if I wanted to see foliage, I should have gotten out of bed and driven to the Blue Ridge. But I slept in.
Big Nellie is my only bike with clipless pedals, the kind that attached to the bottom of your shoe. I anticipated that this might be a problem and I wasn’t disappointed. After dodging 4,397 runners, walkers, cyclists, and escaped convicts on the Mount Vernon Trail, I made my way down Union Street in Old Town Alexandria. I had made it half way through the tourist zone near King Street when I came upon a Mazda stopped in front of me at a stop sign. I rolled slowly up to it. It didn’t move. Nobody was in its way. It just didn’t move.
As I came up to its bumper I realized I was going to have to stop. I went to unclip and nothing happened. My left foot wouldn’t release. So I veered to the right of the car as I frantically twisted my foot to no avail. I lost my forward momentum and started falling to the left. I reached out to brace myself on the Mazda’s back left fender. Then it moved and I completed my Arte Johnson and landed on my side on the pavement.
My recumbent seat is only a couple of feet off the ground to begin with. Breaking my fall by contacting the Mazda made the normally uneventful fall even less so. Yet I was still lying on my side in the middle of the street with this ginormous bike attached to me.
A Latina pedestrian came over to help. She was saying something in frantic, accented English but I couldn’t understand her. During the fall, my left foot unclipped but my right foot stayed attached. As she was speaking, I was twisting my right foot and hoping it would release so I could get my body out of the street.
The driver and the passengers in popped out of the car in a panic. ARE YOU OKAY? No, I have a really bruised ego! An my foot is stuck!
A cyclists with gray hair flowing out from under his helmet appeared. Her grabbed my right arm to pull me up. No. Please. I am fine. I just feel like a complete dweeb lying in the street with this chaise lounge attached to my right foot.
Finally, my right foot released and I stood up. Latina smiled. Gray hair bike rider looked relieved. Mazda people got back in car free from the fear that they had somehow contributed to the clumsiest cycling accident of the month. (As I write this four hours later, only my left knee feels any pain. Mostly from getting whacked by the bike’s top tube as I twisted my right leg to free it.)
Well, if any of the people who were there are reading this, thanks for your concern.
I continued riding up the trail of a million weekend warriors until I reached Teddy
Roosevelt Island. I ride by TR Island every day on my way to work, but the last time I set foot on it was at least 20 years ago.
I locked the bike and went for a calming walk on its dirt trails. The island is an oasis of green in the Potomac River only a few hundred yards from the Sunday brunchers on the riverfront in Georgetown. It would be an incredibly relaxing place but the noise from airplanes flying into National Airport and the cars rumbling across the Teddy Roosevelt Bridge ruined the ambiance.
Before leaving I did an Interwebs search for pizza. I was hungry. There’s an Italian place right next to the Custis Trail about 2 miles away. It’s called The Italian Place. Damned clever if you ask me. So I rode up the long hill out to Rosslyn then up some more until the universe decided I had had enough. After a half mile down hill run, I came to the place. They should change its name to The Place with the Incredibly Long Line. I was took a number. 87. Then I heard them call “47!” I walked out.
I continued on the trail up/down/up/down/up/down etc. Until I came to a flat stretch. Lance Mamilot came riding past from the other direction. He blew a snot rocket to his right. Then just as I reached him he blew one to his left. What an asshole! I got a misty spray of his nasal excretions on my left leg. Ewwww!
At the W&OD Trail I headed back toward home. Nineteen miles down, only 17 miles to go. I decided to leave the trail at US 1 and work my way through the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria. I stopped at Del Ray Pizzeria. I was going to get t
hat pizza after all. Sadly, they don’t serve individual slices. This was almost as upsetting as the snot rocket and the Arte Johnson. I had a cheese steak instead. It was humongous. I looked great but did not live up to its visual wonderfulness. It was probably a good cheese steak as cheese steaks go, but I am not much of a cheese steak person. Nick Hornby once remarked that there are well written books that are poorly read. Perhaps this was a good cheese steak that was poorly tasted.
In any case, the cheese steak came with tater tots. Tater tots cure everything. I’ll bet that if Arte Johnson ate tater tots, he’d have stayed upright.
I think I did a healthy amount of riding this month. My longest ride was a 50 miler on Deets, my Surly Cross Check. I rode to work 19 times, 10 on Deets, 5 on Little Nellie, my Bike Friday New World Tourist, and 4 on Big Nellie, my Tour Easy recumbent. I rode to four Nats games (and drove to three more with my kids). The Mule got the month off for good behavior. For the month, I racked up 684 miles, with 400 on long-neglected Deets. It turns out that my Cross Check may be my favorite commuting bike.
For the year I’ve ridden 5,239 miles. 3,367 of those miles came from riding to and from work. 832 came from my bike tour. I’ve ridden to work 115 times.
The biggest accomplishments came in the form of milestones. First, I hit 100 commutes at the start of the month. Then, Big Nellie hit 40,000 miles. Little Nellie got jealous and hit 17,000 miles. I capped it off on my birthday when my four bikes together crossed the 100,000 mile mark.
September holds two bike events and a bunch of baseball games. One of these days I might actually go on a hike. And somewhere in this mess of activity I might actually ride or hike with someone other than my own self.
Being confronted with adversity in your life is inevitable. Just keep in mind that it does not have to defeat you. Adversity is often short lived. Giving up is what makes it permanent. As a certified fitness professional, this blog is my way of helping you feel capable of anything.