Sunday, July 25, 2010

JRA... an abbreviation on cycling forums for just riding along and it usually precedes details of an unexpected occurrence. I was JRA yesterday afternoon in front of Fleet Farm on my way to do the Jordan Loop when a car sped by. There wasn't much more than a foot between us with the driver giving me the finger. A few years ago I would've responded in kind but now I simply wave and say 'thank you'. The driver no sooner got past me then moved into the left turn lane to go into Fleet Farm.


I followed close behind and met the kid as he exited his car. It's difficult to keep your cool when this sort of thing happens but I did my best. I asked him if he had any particular problem sharing the road with cyclists. He admonished me for being on the road at all and told me that my place was on the sidewalk. I politely explained that the law allows for me to be there in addition to a 3-foot buffer between my bike and any vehicle. He said, "that's fine but stay the fuck out of my way". I called him a punk and resumed my ride but not before getting a photo of his license plate and also a shot of him and his friend as they entered the store.

I got a mile down the road when I pulled over and called Lakeville police on their administrative line. I gave the dispatcher a brief scenario about what occurred.  She took my cellphone number and within a few minutes I was speaking with an officer in a squad car en route to Fleet Farm.  I told him that I have hundreds of thousands of drivers pass me safely on the road each year and of all those people, it's only ever 4-5 at the end of the year that stand out because of their aggressiveness and the danger they pose and this kid was one of them.

He said the car was registered to someone born in 1974 and that he was going to stop by their house and have a talk with the owner of the car. That's all I wanted. It's my hope that there will be a record of what happened in case the driver is involved in a similar incident so it can be shown that there may be some rage issues at play.

A few years ago I had a guy try to force me off the road in his black Volkswagon Jetta. The really disturbing part about that incident was that he had two children with him. Not only was the driver flipping me off but so were his kids. Some people shouldn't be allowed any sort of authority over young, impressionable minds.

I spent part of my weekend partitioning the hard-drive on my MacBook so I can utilize the Windows programs I need. I considered using VMware Fusion and may still go that route but for now, I'm content with Bootcamp, the program that came with my Mac for making it Windows capable.

I'm quite happy with my Mac so far. Whatever concerns I had about learning a new operating system were completely unnecessary. It's quite seamless.

My mom continues to make slow progress. Mornings are an especially difficult time for her as she finds herself struggling to do even the simplest tasks. With her heart pumping so inefficiently, she's not getting the necessary oxygen for her body.  My brother Tim recently moved in with her and I'm so grateful for that.

My grandmother died in October, 1969 and I remember our last trip to see her that summer. We were in her kitchen and Mom bent down to put her ear to her mother's chest to listen to her heart. She was shocked to hear how irregular her heartbeat was and described it as more fluttering than beating. My mom's heart is in a similar state now but she's got a pacemaker and drugs to sustain her; but for how long?

I'm in my early 50s and have just begun to contemplate my own mortality. I suspect there are phases we go through as we age with regard to our focus about the end of life. I'm curious to talk with my mom about her own feelings as she lives out her last years; her accomplishments, concerns, hopes, regrets and whatever else she'd like to talk about. Our conversations are seldom if ever very deep.

On the other end of our family's spectrum is Madden; Keith's daughter Lindsay and her husband Joe's son.  He was born May 7th and Tammy and I finally got a chance to spend some time with him last night.

And the circle continues.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Back in the Saddle Again

Keith took Mom to her heart specialist on Friday as a follow-up to her heart troubles of the last couple weeks. She's not out of the woods and has what she describes as a long road ahead of her but the prognosis was better than I think many of us allowed ourselves to expect. Her doctor isn't sure she'll ever get back to the level of heart-health she had before the congestive heart failure episode but with a new drug (Coreg) added to her regimen he's confident she'll make a very good recovery.

Rachel left Tuesday afternoon for Willmar and this year's Sonshine Music Festival. She and a whole lot of her friends got there a day early to stake their claims and set up their tents. She's not thrilled with the line-up of bands but that's only half the experience from what I can tell. Still, she's enjoying the show. She says it gets so packed with people toward the front of the stage that it's nearly impossible to work your way back through the crowd on foot to get out so it's easiest to crowd-surf your way to the back. Get somebody to lift you up and away you go. It struck me as funny because she said it so matter-of-fact like it's just their way of operating.

They hung out at the mall one day and saw Despicable Me and loved it. She wants to see it again with us when she gets back.  She says it's my kind of humor.

Bryan, Melody, Scott and Liam arrived in town from Portland last Wednesday and will be with us through the early part of next week. Charlie has found a new playmate as has Liam. It's nice to finally meet the little guy and see Melody and Scott again. It's been seven years since they were last in town.

For the past few months I've neglected my bike in favor of projects around home and other commitments or distractions but all the while I'd been eyeing this past week off from work as a time for me to do some riding...and I did, to the tune of 621 miles in seven days which included one day off. I enjoyed being out riding as much as any time in the past. A new pedal stroke I've been working on for the past year and a refined position on my bike as well as a new saddle gave me as much comfort as I've had in too long. I've had to sacrifice speed for that comfort but if that's what it takes to reduce the debilitating knee pain I've been struggling with it's a small price.

After last Saturday's 124 mile ride I took Sunday off. I went out Monday for what I thought would be 35-45 miles but as I approached St Paul, rather than turn southwest for home, I crossed Wabasha Bridge instead and biked Summit Avenue working my way west toward South Minneapolis. I reminded myself that I was on vacation, Tammy was in the office and I had no pressing reasons to be home so I set my sights on Shakopee and committed myself to a much longer ride than I'd intended. As I came through Shakopee I started doing the math and toyed with the idea of a 500 mile week; something I haven't done in a few years and wondered if I'd ever again. I managed 95 miles that day and after the ride, I did my best to suppress the 500 mile week nonsense but the thought intrigued me and I kept coming back to it.

It was going to be a hot week and Tuesday's high temp of 85 degrees would seem cool in comparison to what would follow. I was a little sore to begin my ride but around mile 60 I found my stride. I'd tack on 83 miles to my weekly total and with this effort I'd pretty much convinced myself that I was all-in for a 500 mile week.

Wednesday surprised me. I should never have felt as good out there as I did with the ridiculous temp and dewpoint (90/80 the last hour of my ride) but I didn't question it. I let my Edge 705 guide me along some unfamiliar roads southwest of New Prague and enjoyed the sense of exploring. I spent a good part of the ride dodging some nasty weather that was popping up all around me. My Droid is paying dividends with its radar imagery.  The most difficult part of the ride was trying to keep the sweat out of my eyes; a useless endeavor but I had to try. Staying hydrated isn't easy on a day like that but my pre-ride weight and post-ride weight were the same. Another day 83 mile day.

I began Thursday with 385 miles done and two days to cover 115 miles to achieve my goal; a piece of cake. I left a little before 9:00 AM under blue skies and a temp somewhere in the 70s—almost cool in comparison to the previous day. It wouldn't take long for the temp to reach the upper 80s but the dewpoint was much more reasonable which made all the difference. Coming out of Norwood/Young America I headed west to pick up highway 25. Both my water bottles were empty and I was in need of a fix. The gas station I'd intended to refuel at was no more and I became concerned because I didn't like the thought of going much further without more fluids.

Out of what seemed like nowhere I nearly passed a small restaurant set back off the road. I circled back to have a better look. The Hillcrest Cafe' came as a great relief. I leaned my bike up against the front of the building being careful not to trample their flowers. It was an older lunchtime crowd and I felt that every person in there had their eyes on me as the cleats of my shoes announced my presence with each step toward the counter. I didn't feel comfortable taking a seat next to another patron considering how hot and sweaty I was so I ordered my ham and cheese sandwich with large lemonade to go and took it out by the side of the building to eat.

I'd begun the day intent on doing not much more than 70 miles but somewhere during the ride, that all changed and I knew I wasn't bringing it home until I'd reached my 500-mile goal. 122 miles later I was home with 7 miles to spare.

I considered taking a pass on riding Friday but it was a fleeting consideration. A solid effort on Friday would give me many more miles in one week than I'd ever achieved. I headed out into a beautiful sunshine filled morning with another hot day in the making. I was a little sore to begin the ride but that's understandable. I'd spend the first couple hours soft-pedaling it until eventually finding my stride.

114 miles for the day.

I couldn't have been more pleased with how my knees held up during the week. I've never been one to stretch but I took extra care to stretch before, during and after my rides. That had to have helped.

That was a 621 mile (1000 km) week—the most I've ridden in one week (and that included a day of rest).

I used to kick around a plan for celebrating my retirement by taking 5-7 days to bicycle out to Rapid City, SD (a little less than 600 miles) and have Tammy meet me there. I lost sight of that dream a couple of years ago when I began to wonder if my long-distance days were behind me. I believe I may have some planning to do.

A few random photos from the week.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Heart Health Plus Some Odds and Some Ends

Keith and Tracee took Mom to Michigan's UP last week and along the way or before they ever left, Mom developed what was later diagnosed as an acute case of congestive heart failure. Lots of swelling in her legs and an inability to breath deeply or breath very well at all for that matter plus a lack of energy. She made an appointment with her doctor as soon as she got home and was put on Lasix to help rid her body of excess fluid. An EKG was also done and the results indicated that her heart is struggling and very much dependent on her pacemaker.

My older brother Bryan who lives in Portland and was just here last month is returning with his daughter, her husband and their one-year-old to spend some time with her. It's difficult to know if she's in her last weeks/months or if she'll rebound and return to her normal self for possibly years to come. They didn't admit her to the hospital so I would think that would be a good sign. She'll be 82 in November.

We took Manny and his friend to see Toy Story 3 a few nights ago; Rachel joined us too. It's an excellent movie. I don't know if I should admit this but I actually got a little choked up at one point. Go see it.

We spent a few hours experiencing Cruise Night in Lakeville Friday evening. It's a part of our city's weeklong Panorama-of-progress (Pan-o-prog) yearly celebration. The weather was perfect. My Flickr photos of the night.

I'm enjoying a week off from work. I've been looking forward to this time to do very little of anything other than some serious riding and relaxing. Last month during a week off I had so many projects to take care of that it was a relief to go back to work. I don't want that to be the case this time.

I spent a good part of Saturday on my bike. I woke up to sunny skies with a threat of thunderstorms but all indications outside our kitchen window were for good weather. I figured you can almost always find a chance for thunderstorms in any summer day's forecast so my only real concern was the direction of the wind and how much of it there was: southwest at 5-10—that would work.

My aim was at least Belle Plaine and possibly beyond. As I neared Shakopee the sky ahead of me was filling in with stratocumulus clouds. I pulled out my Droid to see what was beyond them but there was nothing, yet. I continued on with the realization that the chance for thunderstorms was more than just filler for the forecast.

I hit the first raindrops 50 miles in just north of Henderson where I hid inside a gas station to refuel and avoid the rain. I left Henderson intending to head for home not wanting to push it too far but when I reached highway 169 I had a strong urge to take it south to Le Sueur and reevaluate my options once there.

Pressing on further south, the skies opened up just as I was getting into Le Seuer. I took cover under the overpass of highway 169 but hordes of mosquitoes had me on the run after less than a minute. The Holiday station proved more suitable so I ducked in there and took on a little more fuel while waiting for the storm to pass.

Ten minutes later my Droid showed that there was nothing behind the line of storms so I headed back out into what looked like a scene out of a movie where the road is wet and the sun is shining. The rain had cooled me and my legs were feeling stronger as I went. I could see another storm developing to the northeast and estimated it was maybe 20-25 miles away. I dialed up the radar image once again to learn that it was 45 miles away, over south Minneapolis.

I'm really not hooked on Facebook but I have to admit that I was Facebooking as I rode—uploading a couple pics and exchanging a few messages as well. I never would've imagined my biking morphing into this back in the mid '70s when I began this two wheel obsession.

One last stop in Montgomery for a pack of Hostess Cupcakes and to top off my water bottles before the final stretch home. The tailwind wasn't a lot but it helped as I worked my way north on Highway 13. Rather than take the most direct route home when I got to New Prague, I continued north to Jordan on highway 21 figuring I could add maybe another ten miles to my total.

Just east of Prior Lake I could feel the bonk coming on but I was so close to home that I decided I'd push through it all the while hoping that no kid on a Huffy and wearing tennis shoes came up behind me because I'm not sure how much fight I had in me.

I brought it home with 124 miles behind me knowing I could've easily squeezed out more (with more food) but happy to be home. Heck, I've got a week off to scratch that long-distance itch should I feel the need and I'm quite certain I will.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Chasing a Dream

This is a continuation of a series of writings about my time in the Navy. The first in this series of posts can be found here or go here for the most recent.

During my enlistment, I was very good about sending money home to be put into a savings account which wasn't readily accessible to me. I'd managed to squirrel away over $5000 in that time on wages that ranged from $5000 to $7500 annually. However, my days of living debt-free and being able to easily add to my savings were coming to an end and I knew it. I'd soon be on the hook for rent, utilities, car, insurance and I could only imagine what else—and what sort of work would I find to pay for all that? For the past four years, I'd not had one monthly bill. But still, I had one last purchase to make, knowing that if I didn't act on this impulse now I'd be hard-pressed to justify it later. 

With all the cash I'd spent building up my Eisentraut frame over the last year, I would've thought that I wouldn't want for anything more but that wasn't so. I loved my bike but I'd also been eyeing a Colnago Super frame at California Bicycles, one that would fit me even better than my Eisentraut. Most of the components would be interchangeable so I'd only be out the cost of the frame to allow me to have a choice of two bikes to ride. I put the frame on order but within a week of getting it and building it up, I was sending it off ahead of me with the rest of my possessions to meet me back in Minnesota when my enlistment was done.

My Colnago would serve me well over the next 20 years and would be my main ride, in fact, one of the last big rides I did with it was the Headwater's 100 road race in 1997 where I finished with the pack in 3:57.  It's still a part of my collection of bikes.

November 4th, 1979, the U.S. Embassy in Iran was overthrown by students and our embassy personnel were taken hostage. The end of my enlistment was drawing near but I couldn't help but be a little concerned that there may be a moratorium of sorts on departures from the military with all the saber-rattling that followed. Although the situation was a serious one, my personal concerns were for naught.

As I got closer to my release date, I became more serious about my return to civilian life. I limited my trips with friends to the clubs and found myself becoming more of a loner which also gave me time to reflect on where I was headed. College for sure but to become what? And what about integrating back into my family after four years away? This, taken from my diary 11-6-79, "What's the relationship going to be? I've got the subtle feeling that they really don't have a lot of confidence in me back home. When I left, I left a lot of doubt within them but even as I've made it as I have I can't help but think they still don't know me."

Stan Whitmarsh was getting out the following summer and we were kicking around plans for buying motorcycles to tour the west coast together. Our rendezvous never materialized but a Yamaha XS 850 Special did—my first bike. Stan would eventually leave Navy life for work in the mines in Upstate New York. We briefly connected online a few years ago.

Sylvia McGregor was my first crush. She was cute, 12 (I was 11), tomboyish and she lived two doors down from where I grew up in Bloomington where we spent a good part of 1968 hanging out together. I called her Sylve.  I remember being in her basement playing pool when news broke of Bobby Kennedy's assassination. She entered middle school a year ahead of me and from that point on we'd see less and less of each other.

A few weeks before my enlistment was up, I had the most vivid dream that I was down on the pier where our ship was tied up. I was using the payphone and talking with directory assistance trying to locate Sylvia. I couldn't get the dream out of my head. The last address I had for her from my former girlfriend's sister was in Davis, CA, and without much hesitation, I found myself down at the payphone on the pier just like in the dream following this whim. Within minutes I had confirmation that she was still at the same address. I wouldn't have tried to contact her but the dream was so real. My crush on her was ten years removed but I at least had to write to say hello; I didn't feel comfortable calling her.

She responded to my letter with one of her own and an invitation to fly up and see her before I left for Minnesota. I had no idea what to expect but I'd be less than honest if I didn't admit that I had my hopes up for something more than a passing friendship. This had to be destiny I thought. She met me at the airport in San Francisco and commented that I'd just missed Graham Nash as he was walking through the terminal. We spent the day kicking around the city and reminiscing before leaving on the 90-minute drive northeast to Davis where she lived with her mother and where I'd spend the night.

We went out with her sister and brother-in-law to see the movie '10' starring Bo Derek. Unfortunately, whatever romance was playing out on the movie screen didn't transcend to us. There were no sparks. I don't think either of us had regrets about meeting up again. I at least had to know.

I returned to San Diego to finish out the last week of my enlistment and the cold reality that there would be no soft landing back into the civilian world to distract me from getting on with my life.

I can do this!

To be continued...

Monday, July 5, 2010

Life in Suburbia

I set my laptop up in the geek room at work last week but couldn't get the screen to come to life. I could hear the hard-drive booting up but that's as far as it would go. I pulled out my Droid and searched for similar problems with HP laptops and found a few forum threads related to the issue I was having. I tried some of their suggestions and after a few minutes of fiddling with it, it came to life. I decided it was a good time to make sure I'd backed up anything remotely important onto my external hard-drive.

My HP has served me well for 3.5 years so I'm not all that surprised that it's begun to show its age. There's a problem with the wiring in the hinge causing a short-circuit of sorts the best I can figure. It continued to operate sporadically over the next few days before I decided it was time to look for a replacement. Was it finally time to consider a Mac?

We'd just been to the Apple store at Mall of America the week before but buying a new laptop wasn't on my radar at all. We were too busy goofing with the iPads.

The Apple salesman welcomed me to the Mac family at approximately 2:07 Thursday afternoon with my purchase of a MacBook Pro with a 17" high-resolution anti-glare screen which includes a whopping 500 GB hard-drive with 4 GB of RAM and a 2.66 GHz processor. Simply put, it's a very sweet machine.

Transitioning to the Mac way of computing doesn't seem to be nearly as difficult as I'd imagined it would be. I was off and running in no time. The only real reluctance I had about abandoning my PC ways was with the Windows-based programs that I use regularly but won't work with the Mac OS. As it turns out, I'll be able to partition the hard-drive and easily have more than enough room to operate Windows XP and the programs I was concerned about. That cinched the deal for me.

Switching gears.

I've had a couple good weeks of riding. I actually rode pain-free (knees) on Saturday night for the first time in probably more than a year. I almost forgot what it felt like. I was careful to not mash my pedals too hard and just enjoy the beauty of being out there doing what I love to do. There are a few things I've changed that could be helping but I'm not sure which one(s) may be helping most: my new saddle and position on the bike; the stretching I'm doing before the ride and periodically throughout the day or the fact that I'm riding more regularly—something I haven't been doing enough of. I hope I'm able to fine more regularity to my riding for the next several months. You would think that less riding would lead to less pain in my knees but that's not been my experience; just the opposite (within reason).

We have an annual neighborhood party/house-hop around Christmas and it's always a good time. Karen, My next-door neighbor, mentioned to me two weeks ago that we should put one together for the summer too. And so she did. Tammy and I were secondary hosts for it but Tammy became too ill to make the party with a head-cold and headache so I pretended to do the work for both of us while I schmoozed.

When I'd last seen Tammy in the morning before she left for work she said she was feeling better and that she thought she'd make the party but I got a text from her just as the party was beginning: "the garage door just lost a wheel...i have a really bad going to lay down...i love u". Hmmm. I saw the part about her not feeling well and having a headache and all but honestly, my mind sort of latched onto "the garage door just lost a wheel" part of the message. I had to go have a look. I told Karen I'd be back as soon as I could.

Sure enough, the garage door was cockeyed and no amount of budging it this way or that way was going to close it. It would have to remain open all night. I searched the stickers on the door for the last guy who serviced it as I was pleased with both his promptness and price. I left a message for Chris from Superior Garage Door and he promptly returned my call saying that he could be there by 8:00 the next morning. I didn't even ask him to give me an estimate as it was 4th of July weekend and he said he'd be there in the morning. That much worked for me and that's really all that mattered. I went in to see how Tammy was doing (not well) then headed back to the party. I'd make periodic trips to check on her before finally packing it in at 1:00 AM. It had been a full day and the party was a rousing success and will no doubt be repeated next year.

I set my alarm for 3:30 AM to check on the garage but I really wasn't too worried. I had all of the lights on and our vehicles out of the garage and parked in both the driveway and the street so nobody with evil intentions could hide behind them in the garage. The flat-screen TV would have to fend for itself as I wasn't concerned enough to bring it into the safety of our home. Not that our neighborhood has been immune from garage break-ins. My next-door neighbor, Bob, is a part-time Dakota County Sheriff who was actually a victim of a break-in a few years ago.  He told me the trouble is coming mostly from teenage kids looking for fridges with beer and steaks. Not flat-screen TVs, just beer and steaks.

This is suburbia after all.