Sunday, September 28, 2014

Down Time and If She Could Speak, The Stories She'd Tell

I'm off from work this next week and what a beautiful week of weather it looks to be. I'm also still very much sidelined as I recover from my bike crash last Monday night.

I get a little frustrated thinking about the riding or outside yard work I'm missing out on but rather than focus on those two wants, I'm choosing to count my blessings instead.

I'm sitting out on the deck with the pups at my feet and feeling no pressure from my to-do list. It's kinda nice.

I tried to come off my pain meds after two days but soon realized they prescribe them for a reason and went back on them. I'm getting around much better now and being mobile is as important as any other part of my healing process because I really don't need another DVT (blood clot) developing in one of my legs from all of this sitting around. My exercise consists of a daily 1.5-mile loop with the pups. This is as sedentary as I get!

I had a follow-up appointment with my doctor on Friday. He went through my ER report with me then asked me for my explanation of what happened. "I fell asleep on my bike and crashed" I replied. I could tell from his sideways look that he wasn't buying it. "You fell asleep while out riding your bike? does that happen?" I went on to explain that had it not happened to me I'd be skeptical as well but I can think of no other explanation. I told him how I don't have any memory of the moments leading up to the crash but that I was very much awake just before the crash and for all points afterward. Had I passed out while riding, I can't imagine I'd come to just prior to hitting the deck. He nodded in agreement. He said he was concerned about some kind of seizure but after hearing how conversant I was right away after the crash he ruled that out. Had I experienced a seizure it likely would've taken much longer for me to be as communicative as I was. He would eventually come to agree that falling asleep is the most likely cause, as odd as it sounds.

He had his nurse perform an EKG on me and said that when I heal up he'd like to have me follow-up with a treadmill stress-test.

My MacBook Pro is over 4 years old and showing signs of its age. I spent yesterday going through it and removing some dead weight that's been slowing it down. More importantly, though, I got the PC side of it humming! That alone was worth all the time I spent putzing with it.

I mentioned a couple of posts ago about the recent sinking (in a training exercise) of the ship I served on while in the Navy. I came across a video of its sinking this past week; a video that I sort of didn't want to see but at the same time, had to see. She withstood a lot for not putting up a fight before going under.

I would've so much preferred if she'd been turned into a memorial or attraction as is sometimes done with retired ships. They could've used it as a recruiting tool in some port city that could accommodate a ship its size. I would've loved the opportunity to make a trip and go visit it, no matter where, and walk its decks again and tap into so many memories that I'm afraid may now be out of reach.

As I watch the video below I can't help but visualize the stark contrast between the vibrant ship I once called home with the one being pummeled. I think back to the barbecues we'd have on the fantail to break up the routine of being out at sea for weeks on end or the rare Shellback initiations that played out on her decks over the decades. I think of all of the ports she visited and the many sailors' memories she's a part of and I think to myself, if she could speak, the stories she'd tell.

But retiring her in a setting where she could speak of an era gone by wasn't to be and I'm saddened by that. This wasn't the ending that either I or any of the tens of thousands of men who served on her ever hoped for.

Valiant Shield 2014 SINKEX from on Vimeo.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Did I Ever Mention That I Have An Incredibly Understanding Wife?

I can't honestly say if I'm a type A or type B personality. The question was asked of me the other night in the ER at Ridges Hospital and Tammy answered that I'm a nice type A (I suppose rather than an obnoxious one). I can't disagree with her assessment but there are things about a type B personality that I very much identify with (see the image to the left) such as being reflective and creative. That's a huge part of who I am but I also see some type-A traits in me as well, like being goal-oriented and driven to achieve. It's good to have goals in life but I suppose it's in how one goes about achieving them that matters.

I'm kind of type A when I'm on my bike. I want to be as strong a rider as I can be and not just someone who leisurely devotes a few hours here or there to the activity. I was the same way when I was a runner and it's pretty much why I had to stop running in 1992 after years of pounding the pavement to be as fast as I could be. I enjoyed those years and my accomplishments on the road in addition to my fitness but was it worth it? If my knees could talk, they would say no.

I don't race my bike because I know I'll push myself harder than I should in training and on race day and that my riding will soon go the way of my running and be no more. My knees are happy with this decision.

But just because I'm not racing doesn't mean I'm not still being competitive on my bike. Strava is a site where people can upload data from tracking devices used in cycling and running plus some other activities. Once your data is uploaded, you can analyze it and see how it compares with others who are training over the same routes. It's not ideal because too often you're comparing activities done in varying weather conditions but still, it gives you somewhat of an idea about how you measure up against those in your age group or overall. The easiest way to see this is through what are called 'segments'. A segment is where someone will identify a stretch of road (oftentimes a hill but not always) on the Strava site and if you know where that segment begins and ends, you can give it your all and see how close to the top of the leaderboard for that section you can get. Do you have what it takes to capture the KOM (King of the Mountain) for a segment? Strava tracks it all. It's fun and adds some motivation to a ride when I'm feeling up to it.

I went out last Friday, intent on placing my name toward the top of one of the segments I often ride. It's a two-mile section of road not far from where I work out in the cornfields of Farmington. It didn't help that I had over 350 miles of riding in my legs from the previous week but it helped that I had a nice breeze to aid me.

Video of my KOM attempt.

How quickly things can change. I couldn't do that ride again tomorrow to save my life because it appears I let the type A part of my personality get the better of me.

I went out Monday after work intent on trying to get in 70 miles before the sun went down. All was going well until 47 miles into my ride when I fell asleep. I actually fell asleep out on the road on my bike and I crashed hard!

I couldn't believe it!

There was a man and his son who witnessed my fall from the oncoming lane and came to my aid. Jeff said it appeared to him that I passed out just before I went down. I thought about what he said while we waited for help to arrive and no, I couldn't recall the moments before my crash although I could distinctly recall sensing that I'd lost my line on the road and I was very much conscious in the moment where I tried unsuccessfully to make a correction just before going down. I think I must've felt my center of gravity shift from possibly slumping from my position and that's when I awoke and realized too late what was happening.

It's easy to get into a rhythm out there, in fact, that's what you strive for. Couple that with Pink Floyd's Echoes which was playing in my ears, it appears it was too much for my sleep-deprived body having only had 4 hours the previous night.

What's really odd for me is that the data collected by my Garmin Edge 705 shows that right up until about 4 seconds before I nodded off I had a good cadence and was generating no small amount of power. The graph on the left shows my speed, power (measured in watts), heart rate and cadence for the mile before the crash. I would've thought that there would've been a gradual decline in output leading up to the crash but there wasn't; just maybe 4 seconds where I simply stopped pedaling.

Jeff asked if I needed him to call someone. I felt that was a good idea as I sat dazed and hurting on the shoulder of the highway. Deputy Sheriff Duane arrived a few minutes later and asked me some simple questions to determine how best to proceed: what's today's date and who is the president? I passed but he still felt it best to have an ambulance crew look at me. They would eventually arrive from Shakopee 15 or more minutes later. After checking my vital signs and answering some questions for them, they gave me the all-clear to proceed home with the recommendation that I go in for X-rays.

I was so grateful for Officer Duane's offer to take me the 25 miles to home. Tammy was working in her office and the last thing I wanted was for her to get a phone call telling her that I'd crashed my bike. One of those calls is enough and I wanted to be there when she found out.

After several hours in the ER at Ridges Monday night, they determined that I didn't sustain any fractures, just contusions and soft tissue damage to my tailbone, hip, and ribs. Painful stuff though that makes some of the simplest movements nearly impossible. I'm thankful for pain meds! It was all I could do to shuffle my way upstairs and into bed after finally getting home.

But I'm on the mend.

Did I ever mention that I have an incredibly understanding wife?

(The video below begins 60 seconds before my crash)

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Goodbye Old Friend

I came across some sad news earlier in the week. Last Monday morning just after midnight CST, the ship I was stationed on in the Navy, the USS Fresno, LST 1182 was used in a training exercise and sunk in 18,000 feet of water about 250 miles northeast of Guam, in waters I'd sailed across many times with her. I never envisioned this being the demise of the old girl.

The last I'd heard the ship had been sold to the Peruvian Navy but apparently that deal was never finalized.

She was home to me for more than 3 years in the mid to late '70s and whether I realized it or not then, that gray lady had a place in my heart. How could she not? Together with the other crew members, we'd spend countless hours tending to the ship's needs; painting, mopping, waxing, and preventive maintenance. It was never-ending. She returned the favor by keeping us safe in some difficult seas and carrying us around the globe. So yeah, it's a little sad for me to think that she's now laying at the bottom of the ocean after having been blown apart and sunk. She deserved much better.

Here's a link to some photo pages I assembled years ago from my time in the Navy: page 1page 2, page 3, page 4, and here's a link to a series of blog posts I wrote reminiscing about those days.

During my last Western Pacific deployment, I noted each day in my journal our latitude and longitude. My plan was to someday have a large wall map where I could plot out those coordinates to easily look back on where I'd been. Never did I imagine then such a thing as Google Earth (you'll need to download Google Earth to view the kmz file that follows) and the ability to merge those coordinates with my journal entries as well as photos from those days into one package as I've done with this file. The video below is a tutorial I put together to show you how to work with the file and view the data. It's quite cool actually.

The Flexible Frez is no more but she continues to live on in the hearts of those who served on her. Goodbye old friend.

Edit: I just came across this video of the actual sinking of her. She stood strong!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Delaying Gratification and Not So Sorry

The Marshmallow Experiment was a series of studies conducted in the late '60s and early '70s that delved into delayed gratification. Children age 4 to 6 were placed in a room with no distractions except for an inviting treat placed on a table in front of them. They were told that they could have the treat now or they could wait (about 15 minutes) and receive two treats. On average only a third of the children were able to hold out for the extra treat.

What was interesting about the experiment was a follow-up study done years later which suggested that those who were able to wait the 15 minutes were significantly less likely to have behavioral problems or issues with obesity and drug addiction later in life when compared to those children who showed less willpower during the test. Those who successfully passed the marshmallow test also scored an average of 210 points higher on the SAT.

I'm not sure how I would've done had I been given the test. I'd like to think I'd have passed but I really don't know. All I do know is that I'm sort of immersed in my own version of the marshmallow test as I try and delay the gratification of retiring now for the easy life and instead, continue the trek into the salt mine each week with hopes that our delaying retirement gratification will be worth the wait. Time will tell.

I think the Synvisc injection I received in my right knee back in the spring is beginning to wear off. I'm noticing that familiar pain out on the road once again but I'm not complaining. The benefits of the shot were amazing to me and I hope to have another next spring before road-riding season spools up.

We've both been struggling with our eyeglass prescriptions lately. I was trying to read the fine print on the back of my insurance card and couldn't discern a 6 from an 8. I knew it was time to get a stronger prescription. We found a place close by (Lakeville Family Eye Care) that did a much more thorough exam on us than what we typically receive at the more common eyeglass shops in the mall. I was a little shocked at the $185 price for the exam but our AARP membership brought it down to $45 and also qualified us for a 30% discount on frames and lenses.

Rachel is back from her camping trip to the Boundary Waters. She and Tony and their friends came out of the woods a few days early which didn't surprise me. Ten days is a lot to bite off for the first time I would think. Still, they made it one week and did well together. They stopped by the house on Friday on their way back into the cities and spent the night with us. We had such a nice time catching up and hearing about their trip. Tony mentioned how his dad always said that you never really get to know your partner until you've spent some time in a canoe with them. Haha—they had a few trying moments out there but nothing more than just that; moments.

I stopped by Mom's yesterday on the way into work. She met me out in the driveway with her walker. I was a little surprised by how fast she gets around with it. She took a while to warm up to the idea that she should be using one but once she accepted it there's been no looking back for her. She was as happy as I'd seen her in a while and that was nice. She showed me all of her walker's functions which included a storage area under the seat, perfect for storing her mail. She's come a long way in the last year considering the loss of vision in her right eye and the loss of her ability to drive. Having Tim living with her has been such a blessing as he's been able to cushion the blow of these losses for her.

Thanks, Tim!

Monday, September 8, 2014

A Hurdle Too High

This first section is a little heavy. Sorry, but I need to fit this in somewhere because it's been on my mind and that's partly why I have a blog; to occasionally write about such things.

Ours can be such a gruesome world.

The Sunni jihadist group ISIL have beheaded two western journalists in recent weeks and have threatened to do the same to others in their captivity if the U.S. doesn't stop airstrikes against them. Apparently, the videos are online but I'm not one that has any desire to see them. It's disturbing to think that any human being could be so ruthless.

But here's what's been troubling me just as much.

As I read and listen to what people say about the horrific nature of what ISIL is doing, about how Islam is such a violent religion, I can't help but think back to the origins of my religion and see some events that make ISIL's barbarism pale in comparison. In the Old Testament where God commanded the Israelites to do exactly what ISIL is doing to those who didn't believe as they did. Except in the OT, God didn't give them a chance to convert or be killed as ISIL has.

Samuel 15: 2-3: God commanded Saul and the Israelites, "This is what the Lord Almighty says: 'I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys'"

Deuteronomy 20: 16-18: However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them, the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites--as the Lord your God has commanded you. Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God.

I'm not excusing ISIL in any way. I'm just feeling a sense of lostness and confusion because if I'm honest with myself, I see that at its core the origins of my religion very closely mirror what I'm seeing in the actions of ISIL. I'm left wondering how I can possibly be expected to accept and embrace that which was described in the scripture above? That was supposedly my God talking!

Reconciling what happened in the OT with the instruction of Jesus in the New Testament to love our enemies has become a hurdle too tall for me and I simply can't get over it. I have yet to hear anybody put forth any sort of explanation that doesn't require me to set aside my common-sense and just accept that what God did back then was just. I can't do that.

Moving on.

Rachel is in the Boundary Waters with Tony and two other friends for a ten-day camping experience. She was a little stressed about it before they left, concerned that she'd covered all the necessary angles to ensure a successful trip. I hope it's going well for them. So far the weather has been great with moderate temps and no rain. I don't think they could ask for better weather this time of year.

I would imagine they're mostly in the throes of cellphone withdrawal now but they should be through that phase before too much longer. Haha!

We've taken a little hiatus from glassblowing as the summer is winding down. I feel a need to be on my bike and just doing outdoorsy stuff as much as I can. There'll be plenty of time for Foci once the weather turns cooler.

Speaking of Foci: they won the People's Choice Award for "Best Attraction" at the Minnesota State Fair! Very cool! They're set up in the newly revamped West End Market area. We spent some time there during our time at the fair; it was buzzing with fairgoers. That was nice to see.

I've been putting out a hummingbird feeder for several years but I never seem to be able to attract any visitors to it other than bees. I moved it to a new location this year from the side of our house to a place on the deck but I still wasn't having any luck. I decided that maybe the problem was with the bottled concoction from Fleet Farm that I'd been using to fill it. I instead decided to try a recipe my mom has been using for years with great success. Hers is a common recipe of 4 parts water to 1 part sugar, and it works!

We've now got a pair of 'hummers' frequenting our feeder and I'm really happy about that! I don't think they'll be around much longer before flying south for the winter so I set up my Sony video camera and my GoPro over the weekend to get a better look at them while I still can.

I can totally see myself in retirement being that guy who creates a hummingbird haven so busy with the little guys that I have to refill my feeders every morning or at least every other day. We'll see.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Climber in Me and a Once in a Lifetime Experience!

The first entry in this series of posts can be found here. The most recent, here.

Our last day in Rapid City was Monday, my 57th birthday. Our plans from a few weeks earlier were to go skydiving in Hot Springs but after talking about it some more we decided to hold off and save the daredevil stuff for someplace closer to home. Yes, we're both having 2nd thoughts but we still want to do it. Tammy found a place in Winsted where jumps are made from 14,000 feet rather than the more common altitude of 10,000. Go big or go home, right?

We decided to drive a couple hours west into Wyoming and see Devil's Tower instead. It was a good choice. We were there once before (in 1999 I think) but I don't remember seeing any climbers. There were several on this day and it was quite cool to watch. So cool, in fact, that I decided to give it a try myself! Tammy used the super-duper-zoom on my camera to get this photo of me well into the climb. Locate the climber just above the trees and then go up from there to see me again in this photo. All done without the use of equipment. I'm a natural!

Yeah, just kidding.

I was commenting to Tammy that it would be so fascinating to see a time-lapse of how the mountain (and the Badlands as well) were formed. The base of Devil's Tower is littered with pieces of rock/columns that have fallen off over the years. Nobody knows for sure how often a large piece breaks free but they estimate it could be every 10,000 years or more. It's difficult for me to comprehend that given my relative flash-in-the-pan existence.

Heading back to Rapid City we got off the freeway and went out of our way a little to pass through the town of Deadwood. We drove through it a couple days earlier on Saturday but it was so crowded with a classic car show event that we couldn't find a place to park. No such problem on this day, but honestly, there was nothing for us there. It's a nice enough looking town but it's not much more than just a lot of small casinos with slot machines and some small gift shops. Tammy made a quick $7 on the slots before getting some waffle cones and heading out.

We let our Yelp app help us choose a dinner destination for that night: Independent Ale House. It was a good choice.

We were on the road back to Lakeville by mid-morning on Tuesday. We'd only been gone 5 days but it seemed significantly longer—in a good way. This was such a nice break away from our normal lives and routines. I was especially happy for Tammy because her focus wasn't at all on her job where it's been so much lately. 

There was one tense moment on the way back. I missed the exit at Murdo where we were going to refuel. My Forester was telling me I had 30 miles of fuel left but as soon as we passed the exit my Garmin said the next fuel stop was 43 miles away. I didn't want to stop and back up or do any sort of reckless maneuver so I pressed on hoping there would be another exit before too many miles. There was, 9 miles up the road. I got off and turned back toward Murdo but by now my Forester had stopped indicating how many miles of fuel remained, opting instead to simply show a couple of dashed lines. That can't be good. We eventually arrived with fuel to spare but I have no idea how much extra. I pumped 15.51 gallons into the tank.

We had one last detour along the way before putting our stamp of approval on our vacation: the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota! In all of my many times passing through Mitchell over the years, I'd never once gone inside this well-advertised tourist attraction.

Mitchell Corn Palace. Check.

I'm guessing that for most people it's a once in a lifetime experience.

And that's a wrap!

Remind me not to wait so long before taking another road-trip!

Here's a link to some photos I put on my Flickr account.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Mt Rushmore and Harney Peak Revisited

I thought that one blog entry would be sufficient enough to jot down some memories from our vacation but it just wasn't. The first post in this series can be found here. Part two can be found here.

We developed a routine early on where we'd feast in the mornings at the breakfast buffet at our hotel and then stop somewhere in the afternoon for a waffle cone. That was usually all we'd need to carry us over until dinner. The breakfast buffet was done really well and came complete with a chef to cook you an omelet or Belgian waffle.

We got in the car Saturday morning and started out toward Mt. Rushmore but with one slight detour along the way. Just before coming into the town of Keystone we saw a sign for Black Hills Glassblowers. "Cool," we thought, "let's go check it out!" We were both impressed with the studio and its location but the owners weren't friendly at all. No photographing allowed and they spoke not one word to the handful of people who filtered in and out to watch them blow glass.

We left after 10 minutes with a boatload of suggestions that we shared with each other as we drove away about what we'd do differently if that was our studio.

We've been to see Mt Rushmore a few other times but a trip to the Black Hills wouldn't be complete without another visit to see it. There's always a bit of excited anticipation as you near the monument, wondering if it's just around the next bend in the road. "There it is! I see it!"

We didn't spend as much time there as we have in the past but enough to get some nice photos and walk around the base of the monument.

Harney Peak was our main focus for Sunday. It's a 7.3-mile round-trip hike with lots of climbing. I encouraged Tammy to leave her fleece jacket in the car because she'd soon heat up on the climb and wouldn't need it or so I thought. I was wrong! The sign at the trail-head warned of the potential for much cooler and windier conditions at the top. The temp was only in the upper 40s as we were starting out so back to our car I ran to retrieve my jean jacket and I was glad I did. It came in very handy when we reached the summit. The hike was fun but by the time we reached the top, Tammy was ready for a break. She found a spot to rest on some grass somewhat sheltered from the wind while I climbed around taking photos and video. She found her mojo again on the way down right where she'd left it.

I'll have just one more entry in the next day or two about our small vacation, I promise, and then it's back to boring bike ride stuff and all that.

To be continued...