Acknowledging the Great Big Giant Elephant

Did you know that motivation follows action? It stinks. It should be the other way around, right? High action individuals never need to notice because there’s always action producing endorphins and feeding inspiration. Like the desire to ride a bike. It springs naturally from the endorphins you got last time you rode (unless you didn’t). Endorphins from any action make you want to repeat and receive the love again, a circular pattern that feeds itself until something breaks.

You have to start the cycle though. I think of it like the pull cord on gas powered lawn mower. For strong people, starting is thoughtlessly easy. But, I can’t reliably pull fast and hard enough to make the motor turn over and get things going. Russ mows and now we’ve gone electric. But, before we got the electric mower, I was never going to be a reliable second, unless someone was home to help me start the mower. There are so many ways we are each other’s safety net.

Why it Matters

Difficult starts and interruptions kill momentum, break the inspiration/action feedback loop and lead to rough stretches. Missing targets leads one to avoid the pain of failure. And there are so many things that also need doing. Unlike my example, sometimes someone to help you start isn’t enough.

I’ve literally been trying not to write this post for years now, (Russ read and approved more than one version). It seems important to address the elephant in the room, though.

We’ve been planning the video cycling project since before the pandemic, writing about it here, postponing our deadlines, moving slowly toward promoting it and kicking ourselves over delays for stated and unstated reasons. Still, we haven’t submitted to the funding process. There are a few reasons that go beyond insecurity and fear of the test. There’s stress we’ve been up front about. Then there’s that stress we talk less about, absent some details for privacy (not just our own). Often it feels like the real problem is too many responsibilities.

A meme in my feed recently said “I hope you win the battle that you never tell anyone about.” I liked it for the kind wishes, but I liked it so much more for the acknowledgement that most people have more to deal with than what they let others see.

Russ, the Giant Teddy Bear

Russ is the glue that holds our family together. The problem is that Russ hasn’t been ok. He wants to be. He’s called it a “funk”, but if it was just a funk, we’d be funded and done with the project, and on to something else.

Russ has been down hard and fighting for air. It’s difficult for people who have never suffered depression to understand. I’m down pretty hard right now myself, and I don’t even understand, not as deeply as he feels it. It’s a very lonely place to be.

In the absence of healthcare coverage, we tend to research the most legitimate information available. After Russ discovered that “freeze” had been added to the “fight or flight” scenario he recognized it as his stress response. “Fight, Flight, Freeze or Fawn” is the current full list of threat responses.

It makes so much sense for these more recent threat responses to be recognized. “Freeze” isn’t always such a bad coping device. It’s is the opposite of rash. It prevents every mistake except inaction. Inaction creates its own problems though, and “freeze” may be the hardest stress response for outsiders to recognize as any kind of a response at all.

And then…

Depression and anxiety are more challenging with added stress and the world reached new levels of being turned upside. In middle school, I remember wondering what it was like to have brothers and cousins on opposite sides of a war (like the US Civil War, or when families were divided by the Berlin Wall). People everywhere are reflecting on that again. No one really knows how deep the current rifts and chasms, both near and far will get. Many people are too distracted, busy or stressed to let themselves think about it.

Thinking about these things makes a positive outlook harder, but ignoring them has different risks, and depression happens regardless of how one handles stresses. The kind of widespread pain experienced during the pandemic overloaded the collective psyche while Covid crushed hospitals worldwide.

Our private and inner worlds were challenged and stressed before the world became so “stranger than fiction”. It’s no wonder that we’d come up with a project to help others increase health and deal with stress when there’s little or no money to throw at the broken healthcare system in the US.

Our personal challenges haven’t been at bay during the 20+ years we’ve been together. For a while our outlook was promising. But, the recession hurt, other things happened, and we made some choices that were what we needed to be doing for family, but they involved one of us being under-employed for the last 10 years. That wasn’t helpful for our financial recovery, or financial security moving forward. No regrets. None. But, it did add to the stress load.

Deeply Personal and Different for Everyone

Some people didn’t think the pandemic was even real, and others were confused about what to think. Repeating a history so reminiscent of a pandemic 100 years ago made it even harder to grasp in a modern world. Russ was convinced he was likely to die. Between preexisting conditions, his lack of health care coverage, his essential worker status, his now longer hours, and his exposure through work and living conditions, his known risks were high.

There were so many unknowns, a lot of bad information, a lot of bad acts. Denial and irrational fears were amplified by ugly politics. Extraordinary stress is hell on the immune system. Boom, another risk factor! Russ didn’t die, but his fear was not irrational. It was a recognition that this thing few people knew how to deal with was a bigger risk to him, and that many people who were unconcerned had an uncomfortable level of impact on his risk factors.

It didn’t grip me like it did Russ, but I wouldn’t have said with confidence that I expected to live through it. Our household included exposed “essential employees” and school children, as well as people who were reluctant to follow recommended procedures. I was in a higher risk age group and also without health care coverage.

Some of it was Surreal

Most people had surreal experiences. The most important bit of security anyone gave us during that dark time was when my Aunt met me in Birmingham with a refurbished oxygen accumulator. Meeting her was an eerie trip. The streets were empty. I went to the interstate on an 8 mile, divided 4 lane. It’s normally slow and go, with heavy commuter traffic. But, I wondered for a while if I would see a single car along the stretch. I went through every traffic light,16, I think, and none of them turned red. Under different circumstanced you’d wish for something like that.

There were still very few people on the interstate. I wondered if gas would be available and how strange things might get, especially when I saw a military convoy headed who knows where. We met. My aunt gave me the machine, a package of disinfectant wipes, some laundry sanitizer, and a snack. She was taking care of me while she was taking care of me. Times like these are when people show you who they are.

There was gas. I got home. We were able to order hoses for the oxygen accumulator. Thankfully, no one needed it. But, the peace of mind it provided, knowing that if Russ, or any of the 8 family members who lived in our house before it was all over, went into respiratory distress, they could at least get oxygen as long as there was electricity. That was more priceless than any Visa commercial. Caring stands out when tragedy has become so ordinary for so many. Others not caring left it’s mark at times too.

Russ eventually caught Covid and later caught it again. Thankfully, it was after vaccines were obtained and treatments were developed. He made it through with care that cost hundreds of dollars that we had, instead of hundreds of thousands of dollars we didn’t have.

Mom had her dark experience just this summer while in rehab after a fall. There was an outbreak. Mom had been vaccinated and had good meds. Getting Covid after things were better made all of the difference for her. The quarantine was scary and some people didn’t make it, but Mom did. We recently celebrated her 90th birthday.

Four weeks back, I had my round with Covid. I was the last person in our house to catch it. I wondered if all the cycling gave me micro exposures that boosted my immunity, but never made me really sick. Or, if how often I wash my hands with housework was the reason. But really, who knows?

The pandemic was like life in that everyone is going through it, yet every person’s struggle was/is unique. So, I don’t know what to do, or write, or how to explain it when things aren’t on schedule with the project. Some people adapted, put things out quickly and leveraged all the change (for better or worse).

Some people have bounced back with double energy. Me? I still don’t know if continuing to pursue the project is what I should be doing. Can my dream really make a difference, or should I do something else. I know the project could help us, and others. I know he/we can do the job, but can he/we get the job? (flip on Joe Versus the Volcano intended).

One Step Forward

The risks were real, and some remain. The depression was and is real. We do a lot of DIY. It’s great that we can. Russ fixed a frozen pipe in the house before it became an insurance claim, but we’re not working on the project while he fixes our pop up problems, or someone else’s. It has all been big, real and debilitating, and I’ve had my own stuff to deal with too. Russ has been there for me in so many ways, but in others, I felt alone. He wasn’t present in the moment, or ready to move on. He spent a lot of time ruminating on fears he had no control over. He’s not mental health care averse, but there’s nothing in the budget to cover it.

It was so incredibly important to have income during the pandemic. It was important after too, but Russ lost his employment in January. Just as it seemed like things might settle a bit, boom, again! He went from “essential employee seeing a light at the end of the tunnel” to lost. Russ has made the most of his 6 jobless months in some ways, but in productivity, he froze. If he could retire to stay at home and cook and play with the grandchildren, he’d be in bliss, and he might be faring better if that were possible. Ironies abound. Not needing to pursue anything could loosen the stress and free up the mind space to… pursue anything.

And Then, Again

With all of this, we’ve come to and temporarily past the point of cancelling the project so many times. As much as we want to help anyone who’s interested in our project to get stress relief, escape, fitness and/or entertainment value from the project, there’s also a self-interested aspect. The project will have significant demands and stresses, but it will also do the things that we want to do for others for ourselves as well. It would lessen the impact of not having healthcare coverage (unless one of us has an accident riding).

We could benefit from a year of the heavy duty riding that is part of the project, letting all those demons work themselves out as we peddle. I hiked a lot when I was going through my divorce. I’d head for the woods, and after a day on the trail, whatever was weighing on me when I left had mostly lifted. It would be nice if Russ’s six months of unemployment had given him a head start on that, or progress in any form it might take, but that isn’t how it happened. Russ really does have a freeze response to threats. (And I have attention deficit, but, that’s another story).

I’m enough of an introvert that not being ok through the isolation was a real surprise to me. It piqued my interest in forming relationships and I desperately want to accomplishing things. The project is a two person job, and doing it without him wasn’t a step I was willing to take. I would ride and write to keep the project alive, but I still spend a lot of time feeling like I was alone or in hover mode. Recently, I started just doing things. It took a lot for me to just say I was going to do something and invite him along rather than asking what he wanted to do and make a joint decision. I didn’t expect him to, but Russ came with me. Most of the times I’ve really need him to, Russ has met me at least half way.

Things are getting better. Russ is working. It’s a financial band aid for our personal life and a mixed blessing for the project. I say band-aid because at this point, if both of us were working, that would just be a bigger band-aid. Americans spend twice as much on healthcare as other rich nations and still have a decreasing lifespan with poorer care. My healthcare.gov quote for next year was over 22K per year, even though I’m physically active, and some covered years I never went to a doctor… Seriously, in the last 10 of the years that I was covered, I don’t recall ever meeting a deductible. That’s rate is hard to accept.

Seeking employment that would move me toward having disposable income, or eventual retirement, rather than just paying for insurance for part of a catastrophic health failure requires that I get not just full time work, but demanding employment. Age and sex discrimination is real and my hodgepodge background doesn’t help. If I were lucky enough to get employment that would benefit the family rather than just cover personal health insurance, it would also require abandoning some other responsibilities I have been taking on, but how confident am I that I can get through another year without catastrophic coverage? If I had the coverage, would the cap be below the cost of whatever health failure I had? Riding a bike, even if it were a new high end bike, may well be the biggest healthcare bargain there is.

The T-Shirts

With all these questions and challenges, we’re taking a side step into t-shirts. We have a theme and hope the T-shirts will have at least as much positive impact as we want the video project to create, as well as some needed financial relief. After that we’ll re-visit the trail video project. Hopefully the t-shirt project will produce enough income to make up some of our losses and then, perhaps, to allow me more time to pursue the video project.

We’ll see.

The Unemployment Tour Revisited

Truly, one of the better reasons to still be hanging around in Meta space is to be reminded that 13 years ago, during our first unemployment tour, we stuck it out and trekked down to the sunshine state for a third time to finally see the spectacle of a night time Space Shuttle Launch. It was expected to be the last one, but I think one or two others got shifted to night launches before the program ended.

We made two previous attempts without seeing the launch, both were pretty special for other reasons. For one trip we joined a tour with A Day Away (check out those bioluminescent tours too) and thought we’d see the launch from the end of Haullover Canal, but that tour shifted into an alternatively awesome dawn manatee trip when the launch didn’t take place.

Making the third and last attempt was a hard decision. As much as we were ready for a road trip, we really didn’t want to spend the money, especially not for another fail. There was a recession and unemployment was high. We didn’t know how long our place among the unemployed would last. We had the time, but could we afford to spend the money? That was anybody’s guess.

We decided to go, but not to book another kayak tour. It was awesome paddling around in the dark with strangers anticipating the ultimate viewing experience, but it wasn’t a first trip or a high end venture we were considering this time. Some locals and their guests waited and watched on decks and balconies, but we were out in a city park with a tent and didn’t expect it to be nearly so cold as it was. Hot cocoa was to die for and that nearby CVS was extraordinarily nice about letting people cue all through the store to use the bathrooms. But then, the personalities who get excited enough to go watch a shuttle launch at 4 AM tend to also be the kind of people who know they’re supposed to flush, wash their hands and buy something while they’re there :).

The actual experience was not at all what I expected. I envisioned a brilliant comet or meteor like arc across a dark sky. We were 7 miles from the launch. I didn’t expect to feel the roar vibrate, or the heat wash over me. The flames lit the whole sky with a gray-yellow light that killed the night. I was partly awestruck, but also remembering a criticism I had herd after the Challenger crash, that there was no reason to use so much power to get the shuttle out of the atmosphere so fast. It was not what I expected, but not a disappointment either, not at all. We were so glad we took the risk and had the experience.

I was thinking about this even before I saw the FB post reminder in February, and now again as I’ve come across this unpublished post. Here we are looking at another decision, wanting to do something, wanting to fully commit to getting the project submitted and weighing the odds. Right now the unemployment rate is just over a third of what it was then. By that indicator alone, employment should be pretty easily replaceable. The odds look good that a quick job search is possible, but, open jobs and jobs people want, jobs that pay the bills without sacrificing health and maybe have some benefits, aren’t necessarily the same jobs. There’s a correction happening, and while the unemployment rate is low, Russ isn’t alone in being laid off. There have been some very large, very public layoffs. We’re also 13 years closer to retirement than we were last time, and still just as utterly unprepared now as we were then.

Two roads diverged… It looks like we’re going for it this time too, we keep on deciding not to give up the project, even though it seems like insanity to keep backing up and drawing another deadline in the sand. We’ve put more time and effort in to our prep than we ever expected the entire project to take. On good days I can say that the level of fitness I currently have makes it personally worth while, whether the project ever becomes something to help others or not.

On bad days, I know that financially, I’d be better off if I had spent the free time I have in minimum wage drudge work (if my psyche survived that). Russ does not feel or remember the sting of targets missed the way I do. Right now it feels like I’ve been repeatedly deciding to commit to something that isn’t moving forward. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, but I really wish I knew which end of that tunnel I should be running toward.

Eventually we’ll be looking back on now and weighing the results of our choices and performance. We always seem to take the path less traveled, perhaps this one too will make all the difference, perhaps it will also be the difference we’re hoping for.

T-Shirts!

The Big Picture for Our Side Step into T-shirts

The trail video project has always been a good idea. We’re so ready to do that. There’s the matter of paying for everything though. We’re not ready for the successful funding campaign that has to come first. Frankly, now with Russ’ job loss, we’re worried about paying for the basics of life.

There Wasn’t a T-shirt Option Before

We’re intentionally making the video project low impact, so when originally considering supporter rewards for the video project, we considered a t-shirt, but decided to go digital for all the rewards. There were several reasons. First, because “no reward” support levels are often close to the same price point as “t-shirt reward level” support options. That can cause a supporter to think “Well, it’s free, I might as well go ahead and get the shirt.” When a person chooses a shirt that way, they aren’t necessarily interested in wearing it. It may go straight to a thrift store, or worse, it might even get round filed before it ever gets worn.

As a frequent thrift store shopper, I see Kickstarter rewards from time to time. Don’t get me wrong. Just because a reward made it to the thrift store shelf doesn’t necessarily mean it wasn’t a worthy item from a good project. But, if a lot of any given item makes it into the mega dumpster out behind the thrift store, that, of course, would be a different story. For a T-Shirt, that would be the worst form of Fast Fashion. Fast Fashion has big environmental and human costs, so we didn’t want to offer clothing that might not be used.

On top of all that, there’s the real dollar cost of production to the project. For every t-shirt reward the project gives away, the price of the project goes up and it needs more supporters to meet the project budget, which produces even more t-shirts that may never be worn. The negatives compound.

What Changed?

Life Changed. When Russ lost his job, he broke the news with the joke that he’d have plenty of time to work on the video project. In truth, the newfound freedom could be a potential stroke of serendipity that would make everything work out for the best, and things may still work out that way, they just haven’t yet.

The job loss blindsided Russ, and we needed to reassess personal threats and potentials to see how much actual freedom we had for the project in stress mode. We went in a few directions all at once without knowing what to prioritize. It doesn’t help that I’m so overdue to be earning something myself. Ongoing family obligations, the pandemic and the project have tacked years on to what would have otherwise been a short break from paid work for me. I don’t have any regrets about choosing family, or pursuing the project, but the financial downside to those choices has been life changing.

As much as I need focus, direction, progress and movement right now, Russ has needed time. It’s just a really good thing that we love each other because we’re not in the same place and it feels like love is all we have right now. We keep recommitting to the project, but the challenge is how to get there from here without having epic failure rock our world even more.

What’s Different About a T-Shirt Now?

The T-Shirt we’re thinking of now IS the point. It’s the product.

When our life changed drastically, we came to the idea of doing a t-shirt as it’s own project, one that people would buy because they wanted to wear it. That makes all the difference. A loved T-shirt that gets worn is worth producing, especially when we’re going to resource it as responsibly as we can.

We’re willing to offer T-shirts as a stand alone project because people wear them. People wear them a lot, and the ones they buy because they want the shirt won’t have the short life cycle that is the trademark of fast fashion. So we’ll do our best to create and offer a t-shirt that people will want to wear and use, responsibly sourced shirts that last well and can be recycled or up cycled.

I can’t wait till we have them ready to show you! They’re going to be great!

Why allow $992 for Water?

I mean, we would drink water whether we were riding or not, right?

It’s the little things that kill your success, but not in the “Forego avocado toast and you can have a McMansion” way, in a more real way.

Yes, we drink water straight from the filter on the fridge when we’re home. Water on the trail has to be planned though. Hydration is critical.

The fountains on the Silver Comet are always turned off in the winter, from well before danger of first frost until well after danger of last frost. I don’t get this. It takes more than a frost to freeze a pipe, but that’s how it is. Since the pandemic, the water has been turned off year ’round.

When the fountains are on, I would likely fill at Tara Drummond, Cedartown and the Chief Ladiga visitors center on the state line. Water availability becomes more sketchy as you move west and, if you started on the east end, that’s when you’re tiredest.

What can you get for $992 on the trail? That’s a $4 allowance per rider per ride day*. That may be generous on average if the fountains come back on for part of the year, but the rest will come from some other bucket in the budget if they don’t.

Casual riders can decide on a ride to ride basis if the nominal cost of going out on any given day fits easily inside the resources they want to use. But, when making a commitment to ride twice a week every time it’s rideable for 62 weeks, accounting for all of the places where you will drop a grand is as critical to a successful project budget as hydration is to a healthy ride.

*There’s no allowance for training days because we can carry enough for most of those days.

Tuesday Trippin’ July 12

It’s not just hot, it’s been hot long enough that people are tired of it, especially here in the south. and in some places we are breaking previous heat records for highest (“reliably measured”) temperature on earth, and other extremes regularly, including highest lows.

Locally, there’s been a small respite. Hurricane Elsa, the fifth named storm of the season passed south and east of us bringing rain and some cooler temperatures, a bit of an irony, because warmer ocean temperatures favor storm formation. Elsa was the earliest named 5th storm in history.

The weather made riding hit or miss, with a few good hits. The knee pain was medium to mild, but still around, then almost gone by the time I posted this. It turned out not to be caused by the strength training. I didn’t see how it could be, but the timing made me wonder and I couldn’t think of any other reason at the time. I discovered it was actually because we didn’t get my seat height and angle properly adjusted after the musical bikes. That’s all better now. I’m still liking the new flat bike shoes and pedals, but they’re not 100% at taking care of the tingle and cramps I get in the right foot. I got rides four days in a row. After giving it a rest for a bit, it could be that no shoe would help. Irregular activity levels irritate my problem.

On one of the earlier rides, I saw a newborn fawn. It was the first time for me. As I was approaching, I thought it was a thin sick dog, but then I saw the wet, vibrant dark red brown fur with the bright white spots and thought “Oh dear, where’s Mama? I hope she knows I’m not gonna hurt her baby.” Then the fawn ran away more awkwardly than Bambi on ice. Just afterward I bought a new “flagship” phone. It might give me some better options for getting the unexpected images while riding pre “official” project start time. It’s definitely going to give me better stills without having to carry the Nikon.

I’ve been writing a lot, mostly some of the (not yet finished) posts that should be up when I launch the kickstarter. I’ve also been applying to jobs. It’s not that I can do both the project and a job. I can’t. The project is more than full time for both of us and I’m still trying to get my expected project hours per week down much closer to 40. And, it’s certainly not that I have given up on the video project. Doing something that fits my need to make a difference could be the most important thing I might do next. And, Russ could use a break from his current life to do that as much as I could. What he could really use is about 20 hours a week when he gets plenty of exercise and doesn’t have to manage the expectations of a dozen people in an hour. Really, the reason I applied is that some of the jobs I once wanted very much came floating across my laptop. They did that now. I don’t know that I’d even get an interview for any of them, but back-up plans are pretty important, especially when you’re chasing a long shot, and I may have and answer on this project before any of those companies are ready to interview, so it’s not irresponsible to apply for a job I might not be able to take. If I ever get myself into consideration for the positions in the first place, I can responsibly take myself out as soon as appropriate.

In fact, some people, people who care about me might ask why I’m even thinking of spending another year and a half pursuing unpaid work. It’s really hard to explain. Money is important. Everybody has expenses, and the more money you have, the more options you have. Options are good. I’d like more of them. At the same time, money isn’t what motivates me most in life. It’s the pursuit of whatever I’m following at the moment that lights my fire. I get it. In the world we live in, that takes money, which is why I’m planning a kickstarter. But, my great pleasures are thinking and doing and giving. I don’t get so much pleasure from earning money, I get pleasure from earning opportunities. The distinction may sound trivial, but I’d be a happy clam in a Star Trek Universe where money isn’t really a thing and science, discovery, connection and truth are not just valued, they are the whole point.

I’m thinking about these things at the same time I’ve reached that place in this project where I sometimes give up on myself. That’s not related to those back up job applications I just mentioned. Those were just the choice to have backup potential. It’s related to refining an idea so well, while at the same time keeping most of it in my own head, (and some of it here in these posts). I believe in this project strongly, but I haven’t shared many details, even among some of my closest people. Part of that is because I’m accustomed to caring deeply about more things than most of my people are even interested in knowing exist. I have written 40+ Tuesday updates, but not even Russ has read many of them. When I tell my granddaughter I need some time to work on the computer, I suspect my children assume I’m typing furiously in a FB group (which is only true sometimes :).

The isolation I feel is partly because it’s my MO to be self contained about my ideas, and it’s partly because things are so busy and stressful too. All that stress I mentioned in one of those Tuesday updates? So here’s the thing. I’ve both applied to jobs and hit my wall, both at about the same time. I probably understand my strengths and shortcomings fairly well, and I’m still spending all the time I can pursuing this project. It must be what I am supposed to do next. So, for right now, I’ll just keep plugging along and make it work.

Tuesday Trippin’ June 29

New Bike Shoes, Flat, Stiff and Wide

I ended up buying new shoes just before the century. My go to pair is getting worn, making my tingly toes worse. Breaking in a new pair of shoes is not something I’d normally do for a big event, but it was time and I don’t really remember noticing a “break in” period on bike shoes.

I don’t like clips. I’m afraid I’ll forget to release in an emergency and wrench an ankle. My MTB riding grandson had mentioned I might like flats a while back. Then when we stopped by the recumbent store, the owner showed us extra large flat pedals and said that that they were good for preventing tingly toes. I hadn’t even mentioned that was an issue for me. They look a little clunky. Apparently he recommends them often and his customers love them. They’re not sleek, but I’m all about functionality and plan to follow his advice.

Flat pedals for the recumbent bike

I was already thinking about flats when I ended up using my spare shoes. I keep my, new old stock Keens that are too narrow for me in my car for emergencies and noticed that they are wide enough in the summer with no socks. The stiff sole feels good too, but if I wear them a few times in a row without socks, they’ll start to leave rub damage on my skin. All signs were pointing to flats.

I asked the REI sales rep for something stiff and wide. I expected him to show me flats, but I was leaving the door open to learn something new. Flats it was. I needed to buy the pedals as well. These are much more comfortable to walk in too. Ask me how I know!

New flats after the flat. The cleats on the new flat pedals are sharp!

Training and the Hospitality Highway

I decided early in the week before the century (link is not my video) to give the Y a shot. I was riding down the Greenway thinking about driving to the Y nearest the house when I got home, but I was almost at the Y on the Greenway. So I parked my bike and went in. It was time to start going, or to stop paying for the membership after a year and a half of not using it. (It did open back up months before I decided to go.) Under current conditions (the crowding level I experienced this week, combined with the risk level of the current Covid variants status locally and my status being fully vaccinated) I plan to go weekly, hopefully 2-3 times. And, I’ll try not to get too burnt out on the chore keeping up to date with current conditions (has a variant blown through the vaccine?). I’m looking forward to getting back to strength training. It should help my shoulder, back, knees and hips, and keep me riding through more adverse circumstances. I was surprised that my knees hurt after the workout, I didn’t push it at all. I wondered if strength training after so much time without it was part of what made me feel so bad through the rest of the week, but I think it’s more likely that I took my opening to ride almost every day all month in climbing temperatures without having managed to reach an optimal weight. I’ve been busy too. I hardly know which thing to write about.

Highway 400 is apparently called the Hospitality Highway. I learned that when we picked up our t-shirts. The ride (link is not my video) was fun, the week leading up to it was not. I had a flat on Tuesday, a really difficult and draining ride on Thursday and felt bad Friday and Saturday. It wasn’t my best training week at all. I had spasms in my leg, which according to the internet could have been stress, exhaustion, dehydration or the beginning of rare and horrible things. I’m leaning toward stress and exhaustion because I’m pretty good at hydrating.

I was a bit nervous at the start of the ride. It was raining just enough to make the roads slippery. This crowd was full of energy, but crowds in general aren’t my favorite riding situation and the busy roads in areas with high population density aren’t either. I was having a little bit of that nervous feeling I had just before that time I was getting ready to rappel off the side of a waterfall. “Am I really going to do this?” was floating around in my mind, and I was remembering the time I flipped over my handle bars. Flying through the air, I wasn’t scared, I was angry. I thought I was about to miss things I had planned to do because I did something stupid. If I were to have a wreck in this pile of 1650 people, how hard and long would it be to recover? That’s the thing. It’s not the immediate pain, it’s the time you loose.

Near the start line, pre-crowd compression. Our email from the organizer said there were 1650 riders, including some who did volunteer work so they could ride for free.

There was a young man in a Georgia Tech jersey going over safety rules with a man I soon learned was his father, saying things like “Go across the seams between lanes at an angle, don’t let your tire get a tire stuck in the crack).” I was tuned in to hear what ever I might have forgotten to think about. It was a family activity. The parents were celebrating their 39th wedding anniversary, on the day of, by participating in the ride with their sons.

The ride was good. Were were in a midlin’ good position. As we went under the overpass that was in about the middle of the freeway section, there were already large numbers of riders crossing it, and by the time we got to that place ourselves the police cruisers were pulling up the rear, one to each lane. I didn’t see this effect in any of the videos I watched, but, where I was, there were large numbers of riders with bright tail lights ahead and, from a bright red lights standpoint, it looked much like rush hour with cars on the road. I heard other cyclists remark about it too.

We crossed the Chattahoochee River twice. It was beautiful. The rain wasn’t falling at that exact moment and the early morning fog was rising from the water. I didn’t feel at liberty to give it more than a seconds worth of attention, but I made sure to appreciate that it was there for longer. There were plenty of cool sights to file away. At least one person did wreck. Russ saw a cyclist who had an accident and said there was a lot of blood coming from her head. That really surprised me because helmets usually keep that from happening.

I went up some hills with confidence building ease. We loaded the instructions for the 43 mile ride. It would pass nearby our house at the 30 mile point and we could stop if we wanted, or ride it on in if we didn’t. The last hill before the nine mile route ended is called “Mother-in-Law” (no, none of these named hills were named for men). I walked half way up Mother-in-Law and asked Russ at the top what he wanted to do. The conversation took a little longer than necessary because neither of us wanted to say it, but, we were wiped. I stuttered around and said “I only got 4 hours sleep last night.” We went home and showered and napped, then went back to listen to bands and cheer the 100 milers in. Like most things I start thinking “Am I really going to do this?”, I was glad that I did. After I work my way through this video project, it would be fun to look for some other challenging centuries to ride. I’m sure this particular century will have a new home by then.

Mom! Why is My Skin Red?

Mom wasn’t an anti-vaxxer, she was distracted. I received my smallpox vaccine at school in Texas. I remember lining up in a huge lunchroom, but after that we moved back to the small rural town in Alabama where she and a few more generations of my family grew up. I really don’t know what happened, but the ball was dropped somewhere and the rest of my vaccines didn’t happen at school, or the health department, or the doctor’s office. My vaccine card was also missing Polio, maybe something else as well, but Measles and Polio are the ones I remember.

I was in the 5th grade when it happened. I noticed the rash in the bath at home. I don’t remember how quickly the shift from “not that sick” to “nearly dying” happened or how long I was sick. I remember lying on the sofa in front of TV (no remote, black and white) drifting in and out while Mom was at work. I lost 40 lbs. I remember Mom telling me if I didn’t eat they’d take me to the hospital and stick a needle in my arm. For a long time I remembered the weird hallucinations I had, and the delirious nonsensical conversation I was told about later, but those are lost to me now. I remember my hair falling out like a cancer patient, but only about half of it. Some of it never came back. I wore my hair in braids back then and they were never as thick again. No one else in my class got it. I’m guessing they were all vaccinated. I ate a lot after I got well and became chubby for a couple of years afterward.

I remember Mom telling me I had a really close call, but just how high my temperature got was a little fuzzy. The mercury was up in that tip of the old glass stick thermometer where the numbers end and just a little bit of tube allows the liquid to continue to expand into the twilight zone of “guess the temperature”. As an adult, I wondered if there was a way to figure out just how high it got. I looked up the symptoms and things that happened to me to see if they happened at a specific body temperature. It was disquieting. The phrase “denatured proteins” was in what I saw and it wasn’t very far from the temperature range I’d been led to believe my body and brain reached. The article likened denatured proteins to scrambled eggs for those who aren’t familiar with the term. In fact, the only reason I’m sure my temperature didn’t get all the way to that level is because I’m alive.

Live Polio Vaccines

Shortly before I had my first child, I read an article about an unvaccinated farmer who contracted Polio when his daughter was vaccinated. When I took my son in to the pediatrician to get his Polio vaccination, I asked the Dr to vaccinate me as well. I told him about the article, and about getting the measles after missing that vaccine. He laughed and gave us both the drops. I didn’t mind the laugh. I wasn’t going to get Polio from taking care of my child and that’s all that mattered to me. We don’t give Polio drops in the US anymore. This article from the CDC explains that the liquid drops Polio vaccine can lead to what happened to the farmer in the article and that’s why those drops are no longer allowed in the US.

Catching the measles isn’t quite straightforward. There are some after effects. I wonder sometimes what new research could mean diagnostically to my health, so I look it up every now and then. The linked article talks about a loss of antibodies for other illnesses after having the measles and uses chickenpox as an example.

Shingles

There’s also a relationship between chickenpox and shingles. If you had chicken pox, you take one shingles vaccine, if not the other. While waiting for my Covid vaccine, I remembered that the age recommendations had changed I was now overdue for shingles.

My grandfather had shingles. The last 20 years of his life were marked by pain. He didn’t have the opportunity to take a vaccine. I owe it to his memory to do my best to avoid the pain he suffered, I almost took it first, but felt Covid was more critical (and there needs to be time between vaccinations). At a time when so many people were comparing Covid vaccine reactions, mine was practically nil, but when I got around to the shingles vaccine, I had the strongest reaction I have ever had to any vaccine. I rarely have side effects, but this was enough of an exception that it had me rethinking which vaccine I should have taken. I had the measles after chicken pox, so what if the immune reduction affected me? I finally decided I was ok. When my children got chicken pox, I didn’t get sick, so I must have had enough residual immunity to keep me from catching it again, therefore, the vaccine for people who had chicken pox was the vaccine for me.

All but Two of You Would be Dead

In high school chemistry, the professor told us to look around the room at each other, then said “Before vaccines, all but two of you would be dead.” I was already a believer by then, with personal experience to what missing mine almost meant to me. From time to time, when someone teases me about being distractible or forgetful, I wonder if I did experience some brain damage. I don’t really remember if people started teasing me about my distractibility before that illness, and no one else does either. In some respects it doesn’t matter. This is the one life I have and it’s had some pretty awesome moments that I’m grateful for.

I don’t want to dwell on this, but I do want to learn from it and avoid as much sickness and pain as possible, and I do tell the story fairly often. Measles is dangerous and the effects can compound. All the diseases that have been worth developing a vaccine for are better avoided. I don’t want what happened to me to happen to others. I hope that sharing my story will help people to avoid it.

The Sisters, 400 and Me

There is the matter of that century I signed up for… the 400 Century. The first 3 miles are on a large limited access divided highway. That’s what even the 9 milers are signed up for, to get to go faster down that stretch of concrete on their bikes than they do in their cars. Those who finish the whole ride will also do 97 miles of local roads that I choose not to ride on under any other circumstances, after having made a few exceptions over the last 30 years. If getting chased by the Great Dane was the worst of it, I might ride these roads normally. It’s more the near misses and the times I got yelled at because drivers don’t want to share the road (and you know the kind of profane ugliness that comes with the road rage of the frustrated American driver). I only signed up for the century because it was the last time there would be a ride on 400 due to construction and it’s on that pesky bucket list of mine. It’s so hard to watch a bucket list item go away and do nothing.

In truth, conditions have improved with the advocacy of groups like the ABC, Bike Cobb, Bike Alpharetta, Bike Roswell, and others, but it hasn’t been too long since I went to a town meeting where a planning official was being abusively berated at length by an angry driver that didn’t want bike lanes. We still have far to go. Rage is a dangerous thing, more dangerous when you’re not the one in a 3000 lb vehicle. I’ll be safer in a large group activity with support, but riding these roads is not my comfort zone.

To prep for this discomfort that I not only willingly signed up for, but also dragged Russ into, I decided that on days when I don’t ride (the trail), I should go out and practice “the sisters”, those challenging hills on the century that are right out my back door. So, I went over to Big Sister. Usually when I’m on that hill, I’m walking and it’s easy to forget how long the hill stretches out. I ride flat rail trails and stream beds. I deal with hills by building momentum. But, you lose momentum at the stop sign, and even if there wasn’t one, momentum doesn’t last through a long slow grade.

After walking up Big Sister with my bike, I came home to check published elevations to see if I was initially wrong when I guessed the Big Sister was not a higher climb than Trash Mountain (The biggest elevation change on the Silver Comet, graced by the scent of the adjacent landfill. It’s built in a place where railway right-of-way wasn’t available during construction, so it’s the “real hill” on the Silver Comet). The Big Sister and Trash Mountain are comparable in elevation gain, the whole difference (to me) is in the distance the incline is spread across on Big Sister.

I noticed something else while I had the elevations up. The Sisters didn’t really stand out so much on the graph. There are a lot of hills on the ride. It’s just that the sisters come nearer the end when riders are tired.

When I first started to write this piece, I was talking about needing to train a lot and maybe even completing the whole century. I haven’t really done that level of training. I kept riding through the family trip and the musical bike repairs pretty well, but it turned out to be maintenance, not century training. In most ways, this century is irrelevant to the video project. The timing and requirements are different, but I thought throwing it into the mix would make me a stronger rider. Now, I’m looking at the ride being next weekend, and it’s taken a lot of effort just to ride at all. On top of that, there’s time of year. If you look at a temperature graph of Atlanta, the highs peak right about when the ride is scheduled, stay high through July and start to break around the first week in August. Heat is not my comfort zone either.

Of course, I knew this, and was remembering this, when I signed up. Awareness doesn’t keep it from being a pretty big deal though. I can’t just ignore it. My biggest limitation in riding is heat tolerance. When I get overheated, I get a migraine (unless it’s actually heat stroke, IKR?). I have a tell. When my face looks red, I’m still fine, but when it feels red, when I feel intense heat on my face, that’s when I need to quit and take aspirin, or suffer. I got right up on the edge during a ride a few weeks ago. I stopped when I needed to. It happened to be at the end of my ride. I didn’t take the aspirin though. My face had just started to feel red. I didn’t feel like the terrible symptoms were coming. They didn’t. That made me feel pretty good. I hope it was because I’m more fit (or maybe I just stopped at the right time).

Regardless, I’ve been pushing my heat tolerance all month because the century will be hot. That push is beginning to wear on me. Some days I’ve been tired enough not to do anything very physical except my ride. It’s time to go back to riding in the cooler temps and quit pushing the heat limits. This century will be cool at 7AM when it starts and will heat up later when I’m tired. I’m going to have to treat this as a fun diversion and make sure I don’t stress my body on a level that will cost me in the end. It would have been nice to make this last (and my first) 400 Century Ride a full century for me, but as I look at it from a week out, I’m having to face that for this ride on this day, that’s not going to be the smart choice. That’s ok. It will still be a glorious day.

Tuesday Trippin’ February 23

It’s been a week. I’m grateful that things weren’t worse, but I’m still ready for much better ones. The weather has been great, but I’ve only been out in it once. We had medical emergencies, including one that increased my childcare hours so that a Mom could be in the hospital with her child. Geographically distant relatives also got Covid.

The mask shot

The one day I did ride, was gorgeous, and crowded, at least for out where I was riding it was crowded. I saw a dozen Catrikes. I’ve never seen that many three-wheel recumbents on a single ride, ever. I wondered if it had demographic shift significance. It could have been a fluke, but I was still curious. Was it pandemic related? A wave of retirements related? Just a shift in popularity of cycle type? Some combination of those and other things?

I rode a little less long on that than I otherwise would have because I planned back to back rides I thought I’d get more overall miles if the second ride was the push ride “…best laid plans…” I don’t know what the coming week will bring, but it didn’t bring a ride today, which is the start day of my ride training report week. I’ll see what it brings and meet you back here, same bat time, same bat channel.

The exploration of equipment goes on. Second hand bikes still seem overpriced.The first bike I looked at this morning was probably the right size, but it reviewed as mediocre and was priced above manufacturers suggested retail. I haven’t decided if I should still comb the ad photos of listings that don’t give a size to see if there’s a photo of the size printed or stamped on the frame. I’m not sure why so few sellers list size. I’m a little afraid that those might be more likely to be stolen bikes, or the type of bike that someone who doesn’t even know that adult bikes come in sizes ends up with. I don’t know if the rush to sell that follows the rush to buy will coincide with my time frame either. That desire to clear out the garage comes after the sense of utility slowly fades and asking prices for serious sellers will come down over time, but I haven’t found a deal on a bike that is a fit for us, in any sense of the word.

I found a store in Murfreesboro, TN that deals in recumbent trikes. Their website says they are open by appointment. Going to Murfreesboro is 3.5 to 4 hours, so it’s doable, especially if they have several recumbent trikes in stock to try out for comparison, but a quick look at their website shows brands that are 3 and 4 times the cost of the brand that is available locally, and I don’t know what is actually in stock until I call, and that needs to be just before I’m free to go up there. There’s a real risk in finding out that one of those brands will actually make a significant difference to the success of the project. In theory, the better bike will have a smoother ride, which will result in less required image stabilization, which will result in less image loss. Better images are a totally worthy budget item, if the theory holds water.

Glorious Tuesday Trippin’ February 8

A small older man with a small dog used to sit on this bench, or the other one directly across the trail from it. He would greet people and wish them well. The first few times I saw him, he was smoking. The smell was strong, and while I wanted to feel differently, I wondered how the smoke could be so intensely strong and displeasing. I was thinking “Well, my day would be better if you weren’t smoking it up.” I would give him my best effort at a smile, but the irony! The irritation was probably evident in my body language.

In the spring and summer I would see him often, almost every time I rode by. Then after a while, he wasn’t smoking anymore, at least not when I saw him, and I found it easier to respond to him the way I wanted to. His hands now only held a leash, he would shoot the empty hand up, his arm high and straight in the air, all five fingers planked tightly together as though there was nothing in the world that he could possibly want more than to have the teacher call on him. And, as he did this he would shout “Hello. Have a glorious day.” projecting strong sincere energy in high fidelity and sometimes saying even more.

I started looking forward to seeing him. I was even thinking of stopping to talk to him. I’m usually eager to strike up a conversation with anyone who looks open, but I do this less in a world of masked and unmasked people than I did before.

I haven’t seen him in a long while. As the temperatures dropped, I hoped it was the cold that kept him away, but there have been pretty days that were warm enough over the winter. Of course, it could be that he’s just there at a different time from me now.

As time passes, I fear it could be lung cancer that caused him to stop smoking, or Covid that has kept him away, or some other awful permanent or terminal thing. I miss him and his uncommon exuberance. I hope he’s okay. I hope he’s better than okay. I hope he’s having a GLORIOUS DAY! I hope I get to talk to him some day, to learn his story, to wish him well.

The Training Tuesday Part

As for the training part of the week, a lot of my rides had glorious moments. This week had fewer. It was on the cold side, and I was feeling pretty punk. I donated blood, but that was after the riding and wasn’t responsible for all of my low energy.

According to the Red Cross, I still don’t have Covid antibodies. No surprise, but being higher on the risk side, and lower on the vaccine priority side, it would be welcome to learn I’d had that magical case that was so mild I didn’t know it happened until the antibodies showed up.

I did some of my riding indoors on the recumbent. That keeps me going. I don’t get the leg pain from not riding and it fills some of the exercise endorphin drop that happens when my exercise levels decrease. Still, I don’t count that in my weekly mileage. This week I’m going to be happy with considering it part of my training though. I can ride outdoors in the more miserable weather conditions once I’m filming for the project.

Until next time, here’s hoping you find it easy to feel the glory in your days.