Archive for Info

Thankful Sunshine

by Karen

I do love the temperate rainforests of the Southeast and I’ve spent a summer in the humid cloud forests of Central America with that one particular camping trip when I finally started wearing my wet clothes because the odds of my body heat drying them out was a better bet than leaving them on the line. I’m no stranger to the rain and humidity. This last bit of weather we’ve experienced here in Marietta was not really a planned experience though.

We’ve kept the windows open while home for most days over the summer to cut that awful spike in energy consumption that gives Georgia Power its strong 3rd quarter earnings and so we’ve missed out on the de-humidifying effects of air-conditioning as well. I washed some kitchen canisters and set them out to air dry earlier in the week. They did not dry overnight. Then I noticed that the dry clothes I pulled from the dryer were damp later when I began to fold them. The dew point inside the house felt pretty much the same as it did outside in all that constant rain.

Last Friday a neighbor lost a large old tree that shaded most of his backyard because the saturated earth couldn’t hold the root system (liquefaction). It caused considerable damage to his house. Once the repair and clean-up is complete, sunshine will soak his backyard filled with shade loving plants. Russ watched the tree fall from the basement. It stretched the full width of their yard and only brushed the fence between us, but there were a few exciting moments when he couldn’t really see what was happening very well and wondered if he needed to grab Pebbles (the Shih-tzu Princess) and run for the other end of the house.

Suffering a severe case of wet cabin fever, we were really needing to get out so we decided to run an errand and stop by a Cumberland Mall for a walk. We picked Cumberland because it is near the part of the Chattahoochee National Recreation Area that is at the intersection of the river and Hwy 41. We wanted to see what the river looked like there.

The parking lot where the Chattahooche River crosses under Hwy 41.

The parking lot where the Chattahooche River crosses under Hwy 41.

While driving over the bridge we heard the radio report about the I-75-85 Connector being shut down emphatically telling people not to come down town on the interstates. By the time multiple interstates began closing yesterday, and the news reported some very sad area tragedies everyone was checking on friends and family to make sure all was well. There was a mini-river running through my back yard and as I was photographing it a board floated by.

Street water runs down my drive creating this 6-8 inch stream with a board running through it

Street water runs down my drive creating this 6-8 inch stream with a board running through it

When we went to bed last night, we were braced for more of the same, but woke to bits of sunshine peaking through and the the sound of crickets rather than the sound of rain. The humidity was at 78% and it felt comparatively dry. 81 degrees and the blue skies were calling. When I lived in Southern California I thought that people complained too much about rain when it happened. I dreaded rainy days, not because they were rainy, but because so much complaining by everyone made the day drag. However, on this Tuesday morning I was a sun worshipper extraordinaire and I’m not sure anything could have kept me inside. We headed to the Silver Comet Trail. It is about two miles further to drive there than to Kennesaw Mountain, but we were afraid that the trails on the mountain might be washed out. At other times lesser storms have left the the steep paths well washed.

We saw signs of damage on the drive over as well as on the trail, but intentionally never really got close to any significant damage on either day. Knowing that water continues to rise in low lying areas well after the rain stops, we stuck to known safe routes and were thinking about topography and which bridges in this hilly terrain had the largest flood plain as we picked our route back home, just in case unexpected problems arose.

The retention/detention basins that have been required with new construction were surely a large part of the reason that the problems in Cobb County were not any worse than they were. I would like to see research on just how much difference that made. I hope that issues regarding planning, rainwater catchment, permeable surfaces and storm water management get the attention they deserve while the media are covering the tragic situations that some people have suffered. Tragedy is not preventable, but we can use it to learn and to reduce future risk. Now, while the drought of recent years is still in our collective memory, we are experiencing extreme flooding and the deadline on the mandate that we resolve the “Water Wars” within 3 years will only draw closer. With both extremes in a few short years and a potential legal battle ahead, this is a window of opportunity for media to seek out relevant information and benefit the community.

Neighborhood storm water catchment basin with missing man-hole cover, probably washed away during high flow.

Neighborhood storm water catchment basin with missing man-hole cover, probably washed away during high flow.


My photos and my experience are tame compared to stories on the news. Today I find myself thankful for the grace of safety and for the glorious sunshine. I am hopeful that those faring less well over the last several days find as much relief as possible.

A Hum Tater Lecture

I was doing some internet research yesterday and ended up on the Georgia Organics web page. I checked the calendar just to see if there was anything interesting scheduled. A wild edibles lecture was listed for a different organization, Mushroom Club of Georgia. It had not been two weeks since I had attended a wild edibles hike in a nearby state park. It was conducted by the summer intern and she did a great job, but she was not local and she was still early in her education. I didn’t learn anything and that left me wanting. You never know, you could end up lost and hungry. Russ and I decided to go.

The visiting lecturer was Jerry Hightower, a 30 year veteran of the National Park Service and a local who grew up wandering the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area before it was a part of the National Park System. His lecture was a hum tater. That is a word he used to describe one of the refreshing beverages he was telling us how to make. “What does that mean?” he was asked. “You’re not from around here are you?” he answered, and then he said “Hum tater means that it is good”. And, by the way, I learned that acid content is what makes refreshing beverages refreshing and that there are several things you might have in your own backyard to make one.

Ranger Hightower had a great sense of humour and he was so jam packed with information that not even he could remember to say it all. Great questions from the room brought out even more. While the talk was given at a mushroom group meeting, none of his information was actually about mushrooms. He will give another presentation with a walk in the spring and promised to send us an email to let us know when. I’m looking forward to that.

The meeting was held at the Central Congregational Church in Atlanta, a very nice setting. Mushroom Club members were friendly and welcoming and there were plenty of well placed signs. The church has a long driveway that forks and other activities were also happening in the building. The signs kept us from needing to ask any questions anywhere along the way. Refreshments were served and there was a specimen table. I’ll definitely be going back.

Ranger Hightower had a table full of recommended books. Some of his recommendations are below. He cautioned that some of the books had great information, but were slim on actual identification (a pretty important part huh?). One book in particular had common names and was written from an European perspective, so that some of the common names were not the same as the ones that would be used here. It sounded like the best idea might be to get a few books and use the best parts of each. He said that most of the books were readily available from a number of sources, book stores, Dover. I didn’t hear him say so, but I expect they might also be available at the Island Ford Visitor’s Center.

Ranger Hightower singled out the next two books as recommended:

His version of this book was older and shared authorship with Dykeney

He also had several books by this author, including this one.

The Coconut Adventure

A coconut drupe!

A coconut drupe!

While visiting a friend in Florida we saw a coconut palm with a ripe fruit (called a drupe). We were about to see Russ’ nieces in Disney World and thought they might get a kick out of seeing what a green coconut with the husk looks like, so we asked, and when it dropped we picked it up. We didn’t have any tools though, so while we had an interesting artifact, that’s all it was. We kept thinking about ways to get into it, but without the proper tools we also kept imagining lost fingers. By the the time we got home, the husk was dry and brown.

For your viewing pleasure.

For your viewing pleasure.

Deciding what to do with it was a bit more difficult. I had seen an entire production in Hawaii with an immature green coconut and a machete. We were driving around the Big Island on one of those roads with the warning signs about the potential for unexpected floods and wondering if there was a surprise waiting in the roadway ahead. There was, but it was the Coconut King. He had long dreads bouncing off his shirtless shoulders, a Jamaican accent, a song and a machete. It was quite a production and there was no way to watch it all and then choose not to buy the coconut from him. The milk was sweet and the entertainment was a treat.

If you don’t have the benefit of meeting the Coconut King, there are plenty of instructions for a green coconut, even video on the internet. There are also a lot of instructions for how to open a brown coconut that has had the husk removed, but everything useful for what we had, a brown coconut with the thick brown husk still intact required the strong and skilful use of a machete.

Claw Method

Claw Method

Russ had seen a woman in an apartment complex take a green coconut and beat it on the curb until the husk fell away, so we decided to try that method. It was the safest of all ideas under consideration, but the previously soft green flesh was dried and stringy. You could see the fibers that make planters, door mats and the like very well. Trying to remove it by curb method was slow going. We were reluctant to take the machete route, seeing those tough fibers. The hammer was on hand so Russ turned it around and used the claw side. That was working much better, but still slow going. One of the demonstrations on the internet used a saw, so he cut off a portion of the end with a saw and started again with the claw hammer.

Saw on Tailgate

Saw on Tailgate

At one point, he was afraid that he pierced the shell and would loose the milk. The eyes appeared to be exposed, so he jumped ahead to the place where you pierce the eyes with a nail and about a cup of milk came out.

Removing the milk

Removing the milk

Then he continued with the claw hammer. Soon much of the nut was exposed and it seemed that breaking it apart and removing it from the husk rather than removing the husk from the nut was the route to take. We also got about a cup of coconut meat from this. The meat was very soft and tender, the softest I’ve ever encountered, with a more delicate flavour than dried coconut.
Russ’ Grandmother reportedly has the best coconut recipe on the planet and fresh coconut is supposed to be one of her tricks, so we will give it a try and see how it turns out.

Meat removed from half husk

Meat removed from half husk

In the mean time, a friend shared this adult recipe with me. Now this is purely for the purpose of education and by no means a recommendation. Insert all the usual “Don’t try this at home disclaimers” here. Here goes… Apparently torpedo juice (fuel for torpedos) is (or was) very like the Everclear 190 proof beverage that you can get in the liquor store, I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this. A popular coconut treatment when torpedos and coconuts shared the Pacific Theater was to pierce the eyes on a coconut with an ice pick, then fill the coconut with the 190 proof torpedo or human fuel. Then you fill the icepick holes with toothpicks and set it aside. When the toothpicks shoot out of the coconut, your treat is ready. Something tells me that there’s another story here! My imagination runs with all kinds of catastrophe that might befall the person who attempts this with the flying toothpicks and strong alcohol involved. But when “Eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we may die,” is the prevailing mood, I can see how the risk/benefit trade-off gains a different perspective from the every day life that most of us know.

Apollo 11: Looking Back, and Forward

Today I find myself remembering a particular visit home to grandma’s house. My grandmother, Mimi, we called her lived in Evergreen, Alabama and we lived in Nederland,Texas, so it had been a long drive for my small attention span. Are we there yet? My mother (in the wisdom that is ingrained in a mother’s DNA) told me to look for the big red clay hill and then I would know we were there. Magic, no more questions, but then jumping excitement when the big clay hill beside Baggett’s service station was spotted.

This was not my earliest memory, but it was the earliest memory that I can date specifically because it was the summer of Apollo 11. We had traveled all that distance in a white mustang to visit with my grandparents in their antebellum home with the high ceilings and the crystal chandeliers. These were the summers of homemade ice cream, watermelon seed fights and Papa’s dog Peanut howling at the horn when the freight train came through town.

Shortly after we arrived the lunar landing was aired on television. I remember the image of my grandfather and his reaction better than I remember the actual landing and my own reaction. It was many years before I understood the significance of the history that was taking place or to appreciate its place for him.

Papa sat on a round piano stool next to the upright piano. It was the kind of stool that had claw feet over glass casters and a wide wooden screw in the center underneath the seat allowing you to turn the seat to adjust the height. I rarely saw Papa without the business shirt he wore every day, but on this day he wore a sleeveless undershirt. When they landed, he scratched his head and said “Golee”, not nearly as exaggerated, but somewhat reminiscent of Gomer Pyle from the Andy Griffith show. I don’t remember that being a word he used often.

As I grew older I began to hear my grandfather speak about his life and the things that he had seen. One of the things Papa remembered was when the first person brought the first car to town. I was struck by how much technology had changed from the time he was a small boy until the time I was a small girl. I watched the lunar landing with a man who knew a life before automobiles came into his.

Changing technology is constant and I have seen my share. I remember large cell phones with larger batteries, life before the Internet and I also remember my daughter questioning me as though I had misspoken “What do you mean you didn’t have VCRs when you were a kid?” Still, I’ve never seen change like he saw change. Trying to put myself in my grandfather’s shoes is difficult. This person who often drove me to Sleepy’s Drive-In for a soft serve ice cream cone after dinner remembered when it was the cost of hay that fueled transportation rather than the cost of gas and I was with him while we watched men walking on the moon. He saw many more changes before he left us.

Today as we look back and marvel that many Americans carry more sophisticated technology in their pockets than the computing systems that took men to the moon, I can only wonder what changes I may see when I have seen as many years as my grandfather did. When my son was young, I subscribed to MIT Technology Review because I knew that he would read it if it was sitting around the house. Every once in a while I’d be half listening as he, who was also a Star Trek fan, would talk about something he had read and I would have to stop him to check and see if he was off in the imaginary world, or if it came out of MIT. I am reminded of Arthur C. Clark’s quotation “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” I look forward to seeing the magic that will be our future and I hope that we use it well.

A Day Away, Space Shuttle Launch…manatees!

I went on my first tour with A Day Away Kayak Tours almost three years ago. It was the bioluminescent tour review here and it was wonderful. This time Russ was coming and the plan was to take the Space Shuttle Tour around dawn. The route is the same as the bioluminescant tour, only the focus is on getting there to watch the space shuttle take off so we linger at the best vantage point. Neither of us had done something crazy like drive all night for anything in a very long time. Launches are notorious for being postponed or canceled. That made it even more questionable, but we already had plans to go to Disney World and there was a lift-off on the schedule, so we gave it a try.

I went to the library and checked out Rocket Boys an audiobook of the memoir that the movie October Sky was based on, so as soon as Russ finished work we started feeding the CD player and settled in for the entertainment while trading off driving. We calculated the time in Google Maps and had a time buffer of about two hours, but it was a long trip and we were nervous about whether Google Maps got the time right or whether something might go wrong. Leaving Atlanta didn’t help. There were some fairly intense thunder storms that hit as we left town. Traffic was very slow. We compensated a little in the rest of the trip and managed to arrive pretty much when Google said we would, around 3:45 AM.

Driving up to the landing in the dark was a little special. I was having trouble remembering the landing exactly. I said I thought it was somewhere near the sign in the distance. That was correct, but the sign was not a road sign, it was a “No Wake” sign and it was maybe 20 yards out in the water. Flat sand, flat water, glad we were driving slow enough for plenty of reaction time.

We had just reclined the car seats for as much of a nap as we could manage when the phone rang. The mission had been scrubbed and so had the tour, but we could go at 9:00 AM for a manatee encounter or in the evening for a bioluminescent tour. Russ wanted the manatees! This trip is the same route as the other tours, but you linger in a place where the manatees like to hang out. Manatees are protected by law, once on the Endangered Species list, they are now upgraded to the Threatened Species list, these rules apply. Because it is spring the manatees were particularly frolicsome. Manatees came up beside most kayaks at one time or another, awesome! It tended to be a little bit private when it happened in spite of the crowd because none of the paddlers would call out to neighbors for fear of startling the manatees.

At one point we paddled up to a flat shoreline and took a break from the Kayaks. One person picked up hermit crabs to look and show them around, then set them down beside each other. There was a fight between the two crabs. I’ve never seen this before. We guessed that the one crab wanted to trade up to the shell of the other and someone joked about “illegal hermit crab fighting”. We all laughed, but then someone took pity and decided to separate them.

If it hadn’t been for the scheduled launch we never would have timed the trip in a way that forced us to drive all night, but the manatees were worth a trip in their own right. We were tired, and still wanted to see the launch, but not disappointed. It was enough fun to turn around and go right back so we kept watching the schedule to see if things would work out for another attempt. The launch was rescheduled for a couple of days later. It would have been a pre-dawn launch this time and we were looking forward to what would amount to a night paddle and a spectacular launch in the dark, but this launch was also canceled. There are a few more launches scheduled before the Space Shuttle program is cancelled, who knows, maybe we’ll get another chance to visit Florida.

Canoeing the Hooch: An Elaborate Ruse

The time/money trade off is at the heart of the challenge in making it through a span of unemployment. There are things you would like to do, and there is time to do them because you can’t spend all of every day seeking that elusive next position, but making the emergency fund last as long as it needs to is the background stress making you wonder if it is really ok to take some time for fun. We thought a canoe trip would strike the balance. We already had the canoe, it was not motorized so no registration was required. It would cost parking fees and gas. We were going to canoe the Hooch, from Powers Island to the boat ramp Northridge Parkway Parking lot in West Palisades Recreation Area so gas would be minimal and parking would be $3 at each of two parking lots. This was the same route I had taken on an outing with the Georgia Conservancy in a raft with a friend from Missouri a few years back and I knew that it was a nice stretch. Russ had Monday off, so we had a plan.

It rained all evening Sunday and the forecast called for more on Monday. We talked about the effect on the river and and changed the alarm. Monday’s weather was looking better and about mid morning I said that I was tempted to go look at the river to see what it really looked like and Russ said that he thought we might as well take the canoe while we were at it. In for a penny… The river looked just as I expected it to, fast, muddy and high. I said I was 50/50 and he could push me either way. Russ wanted to go. We had taken separate rental kayaks on flat unchallenging water together, but had never floated together in a canoe. I had been out with my father as a child, but he always made all the decisions and did all of the paddling. There is only so much you can pick up through osmosis. So I said a little more, that I didn’t have the skill and couldn’t swim against the current, only at an angle with it, but I was happy to go if he felt that he had the skill to go alone and I would help as I could. He was confident. We dropped the car and headed up to Powers Island to put in. There was a put in on the narrower east side of the island with a course marked. We decided that was the least troublesome landing to use in high water and we were off.

Once you float underneath 285 there are a couple of apartment complexes and then things begin to look remote. There are hiking trails, but not much human activity until you near the take out ramp. Traffic sounds are quieted by the tree covered bluffs. Heron, ducks and other wildlife can be seen on the river and there is very little sense over this part of the river that you are in the middle of a large metropolitan area. We were having fun and getting used to paddling together. Russ was steering and giving me instruction the way we learned in previous raft trips. I was very comfortable. The things he was telling me to do were the things I would have chosen myself and we were working well together. We sailed through Devil’s Race Course and Russ decided we should pull out and look at the river ahead. We pulled out on the west side and there was a map posted on the trail along with a good view of the river ahead. We got back in and headed downstream again.

Things were going great until they weren’t. I’m not sure what turned us over or exactly where we were. I didn’t feel it when it passed underneath me so it must have been just a tiny unexpected bump as opposed to all the more seemingly risky things that we had passed through without incident. That little surprise and boom. As soon as we came up and both grabbed the boat and Russ said “This was all an elaborate ruse. I knew if I asked you to go swimming, you’d say no”. You’ve gotta love a sense of humor that is stronger than the current.

What we learned is that we work well together while wet and that we are actually able to right a pretty much sunken canoe and get back in it under less than ideal conditions. It took two attempts. During the first attempt I didn’t raise my end high enough and it didn’t quite empty. Russ’ Chapstick came out of his pocket. We both watched it float across the space between us and then away. Neither of us said a word. Neither of us was willing to let go of flotation, paddle or canoe to reach for it. It was a strangely quiet little pause as we both watched it pass.

I got to a higher rock. We righted and emptied the canoe. He held it steady while I stepped up still higher on the highest rock my feet could find, into the center of the canoe and then moved up to my seat. I knew that the canoe would begin to move downstream as soon as Russ tried to enter the boat. I looked straight forward and tried to be the best counter balance I could, but there was no need. I couldn’t believe it worked. I had prepared myself to take another dive. Not only was I surprised by the fact that we were under way and dryish, I was also surprised by the next thing I heard. Russ said “Ok, now this will really be a team building exercise because my glasses are at the bottom of the river. You need to be my eyes.” I hadn’t even noticed. We were also down to one paddle now.

I began to look for calm water and to direct him toward it. We used the standard clock type communication…”It’s at 10:00″ and so on. To make sure there were no hearing problems I began to confirm information with my arms like a cheerleader with big arm movements, left or right when he needed to go that way, then clapped together above my head for straight ahead. We looked for the paddle as we floated the remainder of the trip and never found it. Russ paddled alone for the duration. In a small tributary on the west there was a man with his dog. The man would throw float toys into the water and the dog was playing the happiest game of fetch that I think I’ve ever seen.

We got out at the boat ramp and both felt a little rush of gratitude for landing without further excitement. The trip was a good bit more expensive than planned with the loss of the glasses and the paddle, but all things considered we really weren’t too much the worse for the wear and we’re already talking about our next trip.

This Schoolhouse Rocks!

This morning, July 2, the East Cobb Neighbor, a free local paper was delivered to my home. Back on page 6A there was an article Cobb jobless rate highest since ’76. Being among the 9% of Cobb County residents currently seeking employment keeps me from sleeping as well as I might these days, but experience also teaches me to be optimistic.

When I was in grade school I loved Schoolhouse Rock’s I’m Just a Bill up on Capitol Hill. It had personal meaning for me because my father made it come alive. He was the Chairman of the County Commission in rural, south Alabama, so government seemed reachable from an early age. Being a part of forming government came into my consciousness when a guest came over one evening. I was just young enough to be amused by the fact that his name was Rhodes Johnston and he was also a Rhodes Scholar; and I was just old enough to be impressed, both by the Rhodes Scholar status (mother explained that it was quite an accomplishment) and by his association with National Geographic. Mr. Johnston and my father were writing a bill for the state legislature. I think it had to do with one of the local rivers. I later learned that the bill passed. Of course it did, my daddy wrote it! Like most children I saw the world of the possible as being at least as large as my parent’s accomplishments and the lesson stuck.

Years later I joked with a political science professor about sitting down on the living room floor to write a bill (yes, they sat on the floor to write it). Her eyes widened and she said that it wasn’t that easy. I never explained why I made the comment, but I did eventually ask her for a recommendation to a study abroad program in Central America. I didn’t expect it to lead anywhere, but I asked the questions anyway. I asked my professors “Would you like to write a recommendation?”. I asked grandma “Would you like to keep the kids for the summer?”. I asked all my questions and filled out the application. Before long that fat envelope that means “yes” was delivered to my mailbox, my children were visiting Grandma for the summer and I experienced the tropical cloud forest. It was not legislation, but it was a dream. I was awed by the colors, textures and sounds that were the cloud forest. I came to believe that if something so beautiful could exist, there must be something right in the world and I was able to experience it because I kept moving toward something I thought was an impossible, or at least unlikely goal. The kids came down for a visit after the program and I was able to share it all with them. Like Woody Allen said “Eighty percent of success is showing up.”

This was not the first time I met with unexpected yes. The first time may have been when I was twenty. My brother-in law died in the service of his country and I was moved to write an op-ed piece. His brother, now my ex-husband, gave me the “Aren’t you adorable?” look when I showed him my work. The L. A. Times was more respectful. They printed it. Years later, I began to design clothing. I called my favorite magazine and asked if they would like to publish my work. They did. My favorite designer saw that work and used my design on her wedding dress. These are not world changing events, but they are life changing events. When your work, what ever it is, is appreciated by the people you admire it feeds the spirit. It gives you the audacity to keep seeing opportunity and to follow it even when you are certain that failure is likely.

When my supervisor recently called me into a private conference room, I knew the “no easy way to say…negative company growth…” was coming. People asked me what I would do next and I said two things. I gave the light-hearted “I’m going to Disney World” because the trip was already planned and it just happened to be true. Then, on a more serious note, I said that I would walk through the first door that opened. On second thought, I’m idealistic enough to amend that. I’ll walk through the best door that opens! I don’t know what lies ahead, but I do know that it has the potential to be more than what I left behind. I haven’t found the right questions to ask this go ’round, but I have learned that when I do, I will ask them because when the answer is yes, the dream is alive.

Diary of a New Bicycle Commuter in Atlanta

By Karen

I’ve been trying to find a way to come to terms with my daily grid. It’s not such a bad life, but at the same time there are things that need to fit into the course of a day so that there are reasonable levels of enjoyment, health, and free time. I was spending a lot of time in my car driving the 22 congested miles to work. If I could take a bus or the metro I could at least read along the way. However, I live in East Cobb, an area where there are poor commuting options. This is by design. There are also fewer people who demand those options, but I was among those who would prefer to let someone else drive rather than stressing through the crazy drivers and arriving home exhausted and uninterested in heading for the gym.

I ran through all of the public transportation schedules with a friend, just to make sure that I hadn’t missed something. The amount of time it would take meant that there really were no realistic options available. I mused that I could ride my bike to the MARTA station in Fulton County faster than I could get to it by car or bus and the idea was hatched. That is exactly what I decided to do. Beside the many other benefits. if I could incorporate my exercise into my daily commute, I could be sure that I would get it and that would then would free up time for other things. Perfect!

That was about a year ago while gas was climbing to the $4 mark. I was checking out routes and building stamina. I ruled out riding to the the bus station in Marietta because it was about the same distance as MARTA with the same number of scary intersections and passages, but the route had no stretches of pleasant view and few bike friendly areas. Then, once I got there, I would still be on a bus subject to traffic jams and route interchanges, rather than traveling a bit faster on MARTA direct. I was definitely headed to Fulton County. This meant that crossing the Chattahoochee River and that was a big challenge. Both places where this is possible are traffic bottle necks and quite intimidating. That wasn’t all I had to overcome. The commute and the 8 hours sitting at a desk had added extra pounds over recent months and I wanted to build up a better level of fitness before I embarked on the adventure.

Planning was going along nicely. A locker room and showers were available at work. I bought a second set of toiletries for the locker. The fit was tight, but I was able to put a weeks worth of clothes in the locker and drive only once per week to resupply. There were bike racks in the parking garage. It was a pretty friendly environment for what I wanted to do. I also hoped that if I eventually built up to riding the entire commute on my bike rather than taking MARTA half the distance that
I would get into good shape for the the fund raiser bike ride that I wanted to do at sometime in the future.

First Attempt
I’m in an in between category in several ways. Aware that some people thought I was crazy for wanting to ride my bike in Metro Atlanta, and also quite aware that for some people it was much, much less of a “big deal”. I’m not old, but I’m not still so young either, ugh middle age, and that combined with the desk job and long commute caught up with me. Shortly before I was going to make that first bike trip I stepped out of bed in the morning and nearly fell over in pain. I went to an orthopedic surgeon. He told me I had a pinched nerve and that I had to stay off of it. I’m sure that I must have looked very disappointed. He said “It’s not cancer. This is small.” No, it wasn’t cancer, and I am grateful for that and many other outstanding blessings that I enjoy. It was, however, the crushing of a coping mechanism that I had worked out for myself. There is really no way that I could have explained to him that this was, in many ways, about survival to me. It was about finding a way to make it through the throngs of people mechanically grinding through one daily commute after another. My interstate commute reminded me of a Disney cartoon from way back, a short that starred Goofy. Alien life forms observing from afar thought that cars were in control on earth and that people were the infecting parasites. The Dr. was in a hurry and wanted to go play golf. I didn’t explain the distress on my face, only listened to his assumptions and advice. I was a little indignant that he told me my shoes weren’t sensible enough. I thought I was the queen of ugly sensible shoes, but I listened to the doctor quietly.

The whole shoe adventure was a series of indignities that would have been laughable if they hadn’t actually happened. I looked for shoes that were better for my feet. My Keen sandals were the only shoes I had that the doctor had given approval, but finding something that matched the Keens in fit, something that had a big toe box, yet would stay on my heel while also being appropriately dressed for work was a real challenge. In addition to the pay check I spent on medical costs, I spent a pay check trying to find acceptable shoes over the short term, and more as things went on. Spending a lot on shoes is supposed to be for fashionistas right? Au contraire, many shoes seemed to feel good in the store and began to hurt or slip and rub blisters after half an hour of wear. Once a month we have casual day at work and I wore the sandals then. There was no pain on those days. I guess the doctor was right about my shoes, but I was reprimanded for not meeting an unspoken casual day dress code. In an old traditional company I was experiencing a gap in policy and expectations. For the doctor, my shoes were not practical enough, but for my workplace… Damned if you do… How could one person’s feet be such a bother? I did additional research and bought toe socks to separate my toes. I behaved. I waited, eventually the pain and the twinge that preceded the pain had mostly disappeared.

Second Attempt
I found a commuter van while healing, but I had to choose whether to use the van exclusively for an entire month at a time. May was the month this year. The first was on a Friday. I started in May for the weather. I decided to dispense with the build up of stamina on the bicycle this time, partly because of the commuter policy, and partly so that I would have a greater chance of getting at least a few bicycle commutes accomplished before the foot pain returned.

The morning commute went smoothly. I intended to get out at 5 AM and it was more like 5:45. I had a headlight and a flashing rear light and I wore a reflective safety vest. Part of the ride went through neighborhoods, part through Chattahoochee River National Park. The crossing of the river was not as intimidating as it might have been at this early hour. I was not happy with the location where I had to cross over Hwy 400 and the ride took longer than I expected, but all in all it was OK and I made it in to work just fine. Once I got down town, the streets actually seemed safer than in suburbs and there were other cyclists on the road. I felt great all day and had a lot of energy.

The ride home was less optimal. I chose to test a different overpass crossing Hwy 400 and it put me on Roswell Road, a very busy 4-lane artery, much sooner than before. Several vehicles came terrifyingly close to me. It was the large industrial vehicles that really did it, not the average car or truck. Riding in the area is doubly difficult because bike lanes simply disappear without warning. As a cyclist I feel like the road just disappears out from underneath my wheels when this happens. For the motorists…well, they don’t have cause to even notice until they come upon me, and then there isn’t really much adjustment time. In rush hour traffic, the vehicle in front will often block view of a bicycle. I walked my bike much of the way home to get off the road. While walking I thought a diary telling how the good and the bad had all worked out for me over time. I thought that how I adjusted to things along way might be interesting or helpful to someone like myself who was considering something similar. I began to think of things I might share. It was getting dark. It was becoming Friday night, party night, and I was exhausted. I didn’t want to unpack my headlights and flashers to put them back on the bike. I brought home more than I expected on that first day and I wasn’t sure I still had the strength to zip the bike bag back up if I opened it. I was pretty close to home, but I called a friend and told him that I would wait in a local fast food restaurant. He came, we had supper together and we packed the bike.

It rained for all of the following week. I was mentally running through potential routes that might be safer. I was planning to drive through a neighborhood that had the potential to keep me off of Roswell Road until shortly before I needed to cross the river. I never got that far though. I received notice in the middle of the week that the negative growth at my company had finally caught up to me. Short cycling diary! I’m glad made the ride though, if only for a day. In some respects it seems like it was the bike ride into unemployment. There was a lot of preparation for a single commute, but I’m glad I did it.

The fund raiser I want to participate in, organize and run actually, is for Patch Adams and can be seen at this E2EFundraiser. While the ride across England seems a dream of the past, I would still like to be able to begin at Marietta Square near a clown shop and ride my bike to Patch’s campus in West Virginia. It should be something that could be accomplished on a two week vacation. We will see what the future holds. For now I’m back at the base of Maslow’s Hierarchy.

Update: Russ and I have been spending a lot of time out on the Silver Comet. On the day we made 50 miles, we realized it almost as an afterthought. Riding to Anniston, AL for the weekend is our current goal. I had thought we’d make it this fall, but the cold weather is right around the corner and I think it will be spring. Appreciating the irony, sometimes you can attend to the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy while waiting for the bottom to resolve itself.

Oprah and Me, or How I Reluctantly Kicked the Habit of Being Sick

A little more than a year ago I traveled to Japan to do some volunteer work. While there, I shared an overnight train with someone who was very sick. He coughed and sniffed with a rumble that filled me with dread until he left the train car after hours of exposure. Two weeks later I had the same noisy rumble. Months after I recovered I went to a business conference in Chicago during a winter cold front. For a week I shared a conference room with people who brought cold bugs from all over the country. I was miserable and in bed considering myself lucky that I happened to be waiting for an assignment while recovering. Then there was the cold I got at the office here in Atlanta, no missed work, but it seemed to last forever and I didn’t want to be the person filling others with dread. With three nasty sinus problems in less than a year, I finally decided that home remedies were not doing the trick and it was time to seek antibiotics. I went to a local doc in a box and they didn’t have my medical records. It had been too long since I visited and they wanted to charge me as a new patient. I hung my head and said “You know, $150 is a lot to pay for permission to get a $7 drug.” Amoxicillin, a drug that costs less than most health insurance co-pays, has always done the trick for me. So, they told me about the Take Care Clinic in the Walgreen’s at Sandy Plains Rd and Shallowford Rd in Marietta. I went see the nurse practitioner there. The fee was less than half of what the other facility was going to charge and I was thankful to know about it. I asked the nurse practitioner about my mother’s favourite home remedy, the salt water nasal spay. She said that it was a good treatment, but that you needed to use it several times a day to get benefit and then recommended a neti pot as a better choice. I didn’t know anything about a neti pot. She described it as looking like a teapot and being used for nasal irrigation. She also told me that Oprah used it and had shown one on TV. I later found out a couple of people I knew also used them and loved them.

My antibiotics worked and I was healthy, but I was curious. I always try to follow simple self help when I know about it. I wasn’t looking forward to pouring water “up my nose”, but I didn’t want to be sick next time I was exposed to the crud either, nor did I want to spend a lot of money on medical care. I bought the plastic version sold in a kit with packets of rinse mixture at Walmart for a low cost trial. The price varied by $4 at different Walmarts, the first time I had ever noticed something like that. It took me a couple of months to decide to buy one. I kept looking for the lower price and did not find it again until after I had already bought mine. Then it took me a couple of months to get the nerve to use it. My boyfriend was teasing me about the whole thing while the kit sat in the bathroom unused. A girlfriend was visiting. She was curoius and she tried to get me started. I just said “Okay, if I’ve put it off this long, I’m not doing it with an audience for the very first time.” More delay…. but the winter cold season finally rolled around again and the pressure was on. I finally submitted to the teapot of nasal irrigation and now I too am among the ranks of those who swear by the pot. One friend advised that I only need half a packet of mix and that seemed to work. My personal choice is half a packet with a half-full pot. There have been no sinus problems this winter and I am a believer!

Neti pots are available in ceramic, plastic and metal from local spas, discount stores, pharmacies and on line. When I searched for a sampling of different pots I noticed that neti is part of the practice of yoga and there are many types of pot as well as rinse. I recommend a simple kit, at least for starter. Make your choice of material and shape based on price, appearance, break-ability, portability and how comfortable you are with the shape at the nostril. The elephant is pretty cute! A simple salt based rinse has worked well for me but there are also rinses that contain zinc and/or herbs.

If you would like to find a Take Care Clinic at the Walgreen’s near you, I think it is easier to use Anywho.com than it is to use the Walgreen’s web page to locate it. Anywho.com gives addresses which were missing when I looked on the Walgreen’s page.

And, if you are interested in more about the trip to Japan, some reviews of my trip are shared on Viewpoints.com and can be found here.

I have never used the syringe shown below, but if I take another extended trip like the one in Japan, I think I’ll consider taking one rather than trying to find something unusual in a country where I don’t speak the language.

Editors Update: The true test of something is longevity and I am still using my neti pot. I have now tried a few of the varieties above. I think I may prefer the long narrow design (the one that is a little like Alladin’s Lamp). It seems to put a little umph behind the flow with just a little bit of tilt and it packs well in a suitcase. I still recommend trying a variety though. Preferences are as individual as people.