default icon

Notes from the first half-century (in miles)

(Alternate Title: How having a doctorate does not protect you from being Der StupidPants, albeit with a good result.)

So, did you all hear about this woman? Got a bit turned around and ended up winning a race twice as long as the one she entered? This is the absolutely true story of how I am nothing like her.

[For starters, I don't run.]

I rode the Mid-Hudson Bicycle Club Century Ride yesterday. For those of you who are largely sane and therefore not familiar, a century ride is pretty simple: you ride 100 miles. They're not timed; there are no places or ribbons and the only person you are racing is yourself. You can do it on your own or do an organized ride like this one, paying an entry fee of between $35 and $75 depending on the event. Organized rides provide course support vehicles, "refueling stations" aka tents with snacks along the way, cue sheets, and road markings - little arrows painted on the road at the turns. In theory, these markings obviate the need for the cue sheets, which are turn-by-turn directions you print out and clip to your bike handlebars (example here) but in practice it's a good idea to have both, since if you get turned around, or if something happens and you need to call for a support vehicle, the cue sheet will help you identify your location, especially in an unfamiliar area. Just blindly following arrows is kind of dangerous, especially if you don't fuel up right and start to bonk.

When I had started this whole "training for a century ride" thing back in June, I identified the latest local event -this one-and knew there was no way in hell I'd be ready for the full 100, but most of the organized rides offer a choice of distances, some as short as 11. The different routes will use different colored arrows for the road markings so you know you're on the right course for your chosen distance. For this event, the shortest distance was 50 miles, which was about what I thought I could handle. I had done 47 with some pretty steep hills at the Tour de Goshen in August, and while I hadn't been training as much as I should, 50 didn't feel like much of a jump. So that's what I entered - the half century. Which had blue arrows. The 75 and 100 had white arrows (surprising, since it's considered bad form to use the same color for two distances and spray paint is cheap, but there you are. I assume they covered the divergence on the cue sheets.)

Here is the map of the route I rode. You will notice, first, that it was actually 55.9 miles, not 50. You will also notice that little stick up at the top of the loop. That is the extra six miles - 3 up, 3 back.

Guess what I did.

Yep, I blindly followed the arrows. This might have been fine, except (and this is the only explanation I can come up with) I was wearing a white shirt and a white jersey, so I followed the white arrows. I was when I got to Milan Hill Road that I knew something was wrong, because I know Milan Hill Road and would have noticed it when I was reviewing the cue sheet. Bad words were said, bicycles turned around, routes retraced, and I eventually rejoined the blue arrows.

And then there was a confusing 5 miles where I was convinced I was once again on the wrong route because I'd accidentally put my cue sheet back on the wrong side after taking it off to verify the big uppercase bolded FOLLOW BLUE ARROWS right at the top. Despite knowing that the 75 was on the white arrows with the 100, I was positive I was on the 75 on the blue arrows because that was the way my day was going. I was frustrate. And then relieved when I turned my cue sheet the right way around. A much easier fix than biking an extra six miles.

So, that is how I absolutely never considered finishing an event double the length of what I intended. The minute I realized what I'd done, I was lickety split back the right way. Despite my absolute "F" in reading comprehension, I'm still feeling pretty good about the way it turned out. I finished what I wanted to do plus a bit more. Today I'm a little sore (obs.) but not at all stiff, which means my muscles were ready for what I put them through, and my actual speed stayed pretty constant. Which brings me to what comes next: there is NO WAY I'm ready to ride a century at my current average mph. The really conditioned folks can do them in under 6 hours. It would take me more than 9, and that's without food stops and potty breaks. So, I've set a target of getting my average mph up to about 14, which would let me finish in about 7 hours. My bike is a steel hybrid and not really designed for serious speed, but setting aside that a new bike is not in the financial cards in the unemployed interim, until I verify the problem is the bike and not the rider, I'm going to pursue this as a training goal. I got a good cyclometer on closeout on REI and am scouring Craigslist for a used trainer so I can work on it through the winter. (A cyclometer is a computer that gives you performance data like average speed and cadence so you can set goals and verify achievement. A trainer is a device you hook up to a road bike to turn it into a stationary bike. The best ones, which I'm holding out for, use a fluid system to simulate road resistance.) It'll be boring as hell but hopefully when spring comes I can hit the road ready to really cut loose.

I started this project because of Wendy Davis. She set herself a scary challenge; prepared for it, followed through, and achieved something remarkable. Whether or not you agree with her politics, you have to respect her commitment. Hers was scary for different reasons mine is scary. No one is threatening to kill me for spending too long on a bike. It's still scary through. I cannot tell you how many different fitness training programs I've started, but I can tell you how many I feel like I've achieved my goals on: zero. That's a lot of history sitting in the back of my head, taunting me, telling me I'll fail this time too. If there's one thing this first half century has taught me it's that it's not ONE GOAL, it's a series of them. Decide what you'll tackle next to advance, and enjoy each win along the way. All progress is incremental, and all increments are progress.

And always, always, always: doublecheck your arrows.
default icon

Being the absolutely true story of a bug in my ear. This is not a metaphor.

[If that title made you squirm, you might want to skip the rest. Also: photo of a dead bug.]

Picture if you will a perfect Maine summer day. Clear blue sky as far as the eye can see, which is pretty far because you're standing at the top of a hill in a wide open field.It's a might windy though, which is germane to this story. Because a gust of wind caught a bug and blew it directly into my right ear.

I don't know if you've ever had a living bug in your ear, but feeling it flapping around in there was a total freak-out. I think my family thought I was having some kind of seizure. Then there were two sharp beeping noises and the fluttering stopped. We tried to flush it with water and alcohol but no joy, although there was some blood. It didn't hurt, precisely, but felt seriously weird, like my head was lopsided or something. The googles told me as long as it wasn't, err, *discharging*, it wasn't an emergency. I was due to drive back to NY on Tuesday, and decided to deal with it there.

Flash forward to Wednesday morning. Let me at this point state two additional points:
1) I'm still unemployed and uninsured and
2) My primary care practice is a Federally Qualified Health Center, which means they are a safety net provider that is adapted to provide care for the uninsured. I picked this practice because FQHCs are known to provide more holistic socially adapted care, and pay their providers on a different model that doesn't necessarily encourage a lot of unnecessary procedures. They're also nearly always 501c3 non-profits.

This digression into the virtues of FQHCs brought to you by why I wanted to go to my practice rather than an emergency or urgent care facility. At least I'd be able to afford it.

By Wednesday, immune response had started to kick in and I had an ache down my neck. The physician came in with an MS3 and took a look. At first he couldn't see it until he moved the looker-thingy (technical term) and then went "whoa." Then he had the MS3 look, because "you're not likely to ever see this again."


It was all the way down next to the drum, and in its flailing had damaged the surface enough to make a fairly substantial scab. Unfortunately, its location meant the internist couldn't remove it. He tried, because he understood the financial issues (FQHCs...) but the tools available at that level were not up to the task. So, off to the ENT the next day. And this one doesn't have a handy sliding scale based on income.

Having a living bug in my ear was off-putting. Worrying a tiny bit that the bug was still alive for the next 5 days (I blame far, far too much science fiction) was emotionally wiggy. Neither of these things held a candle to the actual experience of having a tee-tiny vacuum cleaner inserted into your ear, followed by a curette, the vacuum again, and then finally about 2 cups of water sprayed in at high pressure. It wasn't even painful persay, just extraordinarily uncomfortable, like pins and needles that keep going on and on and getting worse. It finally came out after what felt like an aeon, but was actually about 10 minutes.

And what was this monster that took over my life for two days and has left me with a mild headache since Thursday?


Yep, that ridiculously tiny black dot. Best guess is it was some sort of gnat. A gnat that cost me $233.

So, there you go. How to get bugged, and then debugged. The good news is all I have left is the headache. There was no permanent damage to the inner ear, and I don't even need drops or antibiotics. The ache is gone in my neck, and aside from having to be careful about getting water in it for the next few days, it'll be fine.

Oh, and I also have one more thing. Anyone know how to preserve really tiny dead bugs?
default icon

Thoughts from a sideline

I've spent some time on sporting event sidelines in the last few years. (5K and triathlon, mostly. Rae hasn't quite worked up to a marathon yet; I give it a year or two.) Here's the thing about these sidelines. They're like parades, but *better*. Objectively, a race is less interesting to watch than a parade; just a bunch of people doing the same thing as a bunch of other people, and none of them are twirling batons or banging a big drum or throwing candy. On these sidelines, there is a palpable joy/energy/excitement that someone *we know* is doing something amazing and heroic; remarkable and challenging. We cheer on our special person and total strangers, caught in the spirit that says each finish is a miracle to be celebrated whether the racer is an experienced old hand or a rank beginner, fighting for every last step to that banner. The camaraderie of the sideline is real, with little kids shouting "I see her! I see Mommy coming in!" and older children who momentarily break their too-cool-for-school mask when their person crosses the line and parents who occasionally seem baffled yet proud that the kid who didn't clean their room for five years straight in the mid-90s demonstrates they can set a goal and achieve it.

Sidelines are special in a way I can't fully articulate to people who've never experienced them. A bomb in a crowded space is a tragedy, but that this specialness could be a casualty is heartbreaking. That it should come later, with the novices and the personal bests and the there for the joy of achieving the previously unachievables... that is almost more than I can bear. But bear it I intend to, from the next sideline and the next and the one after that, for as long as my sister wants me. The meaning of the sideline is that we are there to support, however meagerly, someone who saw their potential and met it. Please, let us not lose that meaning as well.
  • Current Music
    All the Trees of the Field Will Clap their Hands - Sufjan Stevens
  • Tags
festive icon

The stuff isn't enough

While I was in graduate school, I took up knitting. I wanted a hobby that would be inexpensive and that I could do while watching television. I had sewn in high school and college but it had been more than a decade since my sewing machine had moved out along with the roommate it actually belonged to, and a pair of needles and skein of yarn were less than $10 at the local big box store. Oh, little did I know the rabbit hole I was falling into….

Collapse )

Discovering the Maker movement - becoming a Maker rather than someone who knits - provided an answer to that vague sense of unease and discontent I had been feeling before then. The degree of passivity it is possible to live with today is not only crazy - it's dangerous. It's the earthbound version of Wall-E; a society with no curiosity, energy, or drive to create. It is a stagnant, vulgar parody of life. I chose all things fiber. Others choose gardening, or hardware hacking. It's all Making. And honestly, it doesn't take much to start. Once you stop and think about how your life is created; once you take an active role in your consumption choices and say "the stuff isn't enough," you have taken the first step. Once you cook an easy meal rather than nuking a Hungry Man, or stop a sales clerk and ask about the production conditions of the goods sold, you have taken the first small step. Reject passivity and become active. Produce your own life. Make it. Live it. Because at the end, it's the only thing that's truly yours.
default icon

Things to be grateful for

A mountain to climb below and a perfect clear blue sky above...


A light snow frosting the trees


making a winter wonderland so perfect it would be rejected as too fake by a Hollywood set designer...


A view from the mountain top to take your breath away, making the struggle to summit worth every moment


and good friends with whom to experience it all with, including the ice flumes down, and maybe, how the mountain got its name.


Slide Mountain, NY
February 19, 2012
  • Current Mood
    content content
  • Tags
festive icon

These are not first world problems, or, my day with Andrew and the National Guard

I know a lot of people think Irene was a whole lot of big whoop about nothing and would rather read El Bloombito (and OMG the things I could tell you about her....) but we're only just now seeing the end of the flooding here. Next comes the cleanup, and on Friday night, Andrew Cuomo announced volunteer cleanup days over Sunday and Monday of this weekend - Labor for Your Neighbor. Volunteers congregated at one of four staging areas and be taken to the towns with the worst flooding to help. I signed up for the Catskills site, so at 7.15 am this morning, I was on my way.

Here's the thing: water does not care what religion you are; if you've lived an honorable life or are a sunovabitca, it does not care if you live in a trailer or a rather nice 19th century farm house. Water only cares that it wants to be over *there,* and if you are between it and over there, well, too bad, so sad. In one trailer park we walked through some of the home were almost entirely intact, perhaps because the ones upstream had been picked up and carried downstream, slammed together to form an impromptu dam that shielded their neighbors. Everywhere you looked, you saw piles of debris. Everything tossed all over, jumbled up with clothes and tree limbs and kitchen supplies and car parts and everything covered in a thick layer of black sludge. (I have photos, but believe me, there is basically nothing less photogenic than a recovering flood zone and I'd really like to not post them because it turns out one of the less attractive things about a flood recovery effort is dealing with the creepy voyeur disaster tourists.)

It's totally overwhelming. But you throw 120 people at a problem, and you can make a pretty good dent. They split us up into teams of 8-12 people and assigned us each a National Guard leader. My team shoveled out 3 basements (yes Dad, I stayed out of the basements -I was the person loading the mud from the buckets into the wheelbarrow) and stripped out 2 first floors of all furniture, cabinets, appliances - everything covered in mold and mud and all destined for the dump.

There were frustrating moments. It turned out one of the owners was planning to get it all cleaned up, close the door, and just walk away - she was abandoning the house and not coming back, which made all the effort seem wasted. There were the inevitable hurry-up-and-wait times where we would finish up with one house and have to wait until they figured out where we were going next. There were a few houses we weren't allowed to work on because of spilled diesel fuel or fuel oil, which requires a hazmat crew. We could see the mud *right there* and the homeowner would be looking all thrilled that all these people had shown up with shovels and buckets to help, but we had to move on.

Our last stop before we had to wrap up was the town recreation field, where, I am NOT KIDDING - the briefing included the sentence "Don't worry about trying to get the picnic tables out of the trees". Because of the flood pattern, a great deal of the debris and detritus from the entire town had ended up dumped in great piles here. We spent an hour on it and barely made a dent. Here's the list of what the citizens of Arkville, NY lost, that I found, caught in the trees around the rec center:

a cooler
a massaging foot bath
a shop vac
a child's fire truck
3 right shoes (one slipper, one work boot, and one rather nice saddle shoe, all different sizes)
a tackle box
a small tool box, tools intact
a six pack of beer, one missing
assorted half full bottles of cleaning products, such as one might find under your kitchen sink
2 recycling bins
5 tires (assorted sizes)
a fabric child's doll (embroidered face, yarn hair)
4 jerry cans
some sort of large fabric thing - curtains, maybe?

There are lots of things you can do to help - United Way is taking donations, or more long term, you could book your next vacation in the Catskills (its principal industry is tourism for a *reason*, yo). But if you do nothing else, be a witness The next time you hear someone whine that Irene wasn't as big as promised, say that in Arkville, there's a little girl missing her dolly, a fisherman with no tackle, and three people trying to figure out what you do with only the left shoe. There's a wall of trailers slammed together, like so much kindling. There are houses flooded with mud mixed with diesel fuel. There are kitchens sitting on front lawns.

And then ask them again - was Irene a whole lot of fuss about nothing?
default icon

From 191 to 13 (no, not my IQ)

If my IQ was 191, that would be really cool. really *really* cool. But no, that 191 was my LDL cholesterol. And 191 is bad. REALLY REALLY BAD. It wasn't just the LDL - all the numbers in my lipid panel were in the wrong place. It was so bad my primary care physician made a joke about checking I was still breathing, right before she started making noises about starting lipid meds. And that's where the story gets complicated.

Collapse )

My PCP was floored when the last round of labs came back. My LDL is still high, although it's come down precipitously from 191 to 125, and that's before I really started biking in earnest. (Exercise more directly raises HDL than lowers LDL, but increasing HDL, along with lowering LDL and triglycerides is part of the process by which hyperlipidemia is controlled.) More importantly, my resting heart rate is down, I'm losing a ton of weight and fitting into clothes I haven't worn in years, I'm sleeping better, and I feel great. Because tonight I biked 13 miles, and kicked 191's ass. I love being in control.
peevish icon

Whiny McWhinypants whines again

I have lived in the Northeast almost my entire life. I look forward to the turning of the seasons. I prefer cold weather to hot. And I have HAD IT with this winter. Somewhere on my front lawn is a 7 foot Christmas tree. I put it out there for the recyclers in early January. It was never collected and is now totally lost until spring because of the 40+ inches of snow on top of it. And now there's another 8-12" in the forecast, with sleet and freezing rain behind that. And all I can think is "Your family has a house in Puerto Rico. You could be there *right now*."

I don't think I can handle another month of this.