Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Sold! And Lutsen 69er Talk

We've finally sold my mother's townhome in Lakeville and the new owners have a pod of their belongings in the driveway all set to turn the vacant house into their home. It took longer than we figured it would but a deal we had in the works fell through early on while at the same time 5 other homes on her street went up for sale. Our timing couldn't have been worse. More than anyone else I think Keith and Tracee are relieved to have it sold. Keith has done a lot of work to get it ready to sell in addition to managing the monthly bills that still had to be paid.

My GoPro Hero 2 has been serving me well for nearly 4 years but a scratch on its lens led to its somewhat early demise. I tried to replace the lens last week and thought I had its fixed focus set correctly and glued in place but it wasn't. The video was too blurry to be of any use. I could've probably putzed with it some more and maybe lucked out and correctly dialed in the focus but all along I've been warming up to the idea of a newer version GoPro. So, with a total lack of kicking and screaming, I clicked over to Amazon to check out reviews and see which camera a jury of my peers votes as best. The hands-down winner was GoPro Hero 4!

I took delivery with barely enough time to become familiar with it before leaving with Reid for Lutsen and the Lutsen 69er mountain bike race on Saturday.

Reid and I were both a little anxious about the race in the days leading up to Saturday because the weather forecasts were trending toward it being a washout with an 80% chance for rain, but in the hours before our 7:30 start time, my Weatherbug app came through with a forecast for only a slight chance of rain which we were both relieved to see.

I felt confident enough at the starting line having done some decent distance rides on my road bike but I'd be less than honest if I said I wasn't a little concerned about how I'd hold up not having done any longish rides on my fat-tire Sarma Shaman that I'd be racing on.

I settled on 13 psi in my tires, figuring that amount of pressure would be a good compromise between some of the rougher terrain we'd be negotiating and the asphalt and gravel roads we'd be on.

I told Reid I was going to try and keep my heart rate at something less than 150 bpm but once we got into the first series of climbs about 4 miles into the race, I was at 158 bpm with no sign of backing off. I was sizing up the other fat-bikes on the road, intent on doing as well as I could against them.

I'm terrible about consuming enough liquids on my rides but this day would have to be different. Both of my water bottles were empty by the time I got to the first aid station 24 miles into the race. I made a brief stop to refill them and was back on my way in less than 30 seconds. I was pushing hard. I don't have a watt meter on my fatty but I figured I was easily averaging upwards of 250 watts. Could I maintain it?

One thing I'd learn later is that my intermediate and final results were being posted to my Facebook wall in real-time. I love technology!

The air pressure in my tires was just what I needed and I felt like I was doing well against both fatties and regular mountain bikes but my fuel intake was less than it needed to be for me to sustain the effort I was trying to maintain. I felt like I was just barely keeping the bonk at bay. I had several gels in my back jersey pocket and I would use them sparingly to sustain me between aid stations. I'd had a decent breakfast so I was a little surprised by my need for so many additional calories but really, I shouldn't have been. I was working as hard as ever out there!

The Bally Creek Loop between miles 24 and 30 (map to the left) beat me up more than any other section and I found myself being more than a little envious of those with full suspension bikes. I was riding up off my saddle for much of the loop.

I would occasionally make brief contact with Reid who was riding ahead of me. I caught him at an aid station around mile 30 but by the way he rode away from me, I figured the only way I'd catch him again was if he flatted (we saw many of those) or bonked. He was looking good.

And then there was Jill. She passed me as I pulled away from the aid station at mile 30. She was looking so strong! She must be a cat 1 or 2 racer I thought. Nope. A CrossFit instructor! She made the highlight reel below.

I stopped to refuel at around mile 40 where one of the volunteers told me there was only one other fat-bike ahead of me on the course. But there was Peter. Peter and I had chatted earlier in the race and he was right behind me by no more than a minute I figured.

Back out on the course, I was finding a nice rhythm but still not feeling as strong as I'd like. A fat-bike rider came up on my left: "Hey California—how's it going?" he asked me. I was wearing my California Bicycle jersey. He stated that he'd recently completed two 70.3 mile triathlons as he cranked out a cadence in excess of 100 RPMs while looking much fresher than I felt. Is he trying to psych me out? I wondered. He started to ride away from me but I tucked in behind him and matched his pace. We got to a climb and I noticed that he wasn't as strong as I was and I went past him and didn't let up. He was the motivation I needed to kickstart me into another gear. Peter came on the scene somewhere in here and we traded 2nd place with each other a number of times over the next several miles as we took turns leading a group of 4 or 5 others.

At the 50-mile aid station, I pulled over and stuffed some PBnJ bites into my mouth and grabbed a few fig bars while having my bottles topped off. "You've got salt tablets?! Yes, I'll take one!!" Peter didn't stop and I lost sight of him. I could only hope that he'd come to regret not refueling but it wasn't to be. I wouldn't see him again until we chatted after the race and I congratulated him on his 2nd place fat-bike finish.

I had no idea how far ahead Reid was but I imagined he had at least a few minutes on me. I kept pushing hard and was getting more strength and determination with each racer I'd pass. On a long stretch of gravel road, I saw an orange jersey way up ahead and I was certain it was Reid. I pedaled even harder over the next several miles and managed to reel him in. He would tell me later that he was concerned about how I looked when I caught him. I don't think he could appreciate how deep I was reaching to be there with him at around mile 60.

All the while, I was teetering on the edge of my left hamstring cramping. That's usually not an issue for me on the bike but this was no normal effort.

I lost sight of Reid once again in the final few miles of the race.

I had heard about the finish and what a climb it is but I love hills so I wasn't concerned at all except for trying to keep from cramping up in front of a smattering of cheering spectators who lined the final half mile or so of the course. I remember thinking to myself, I've got this! I pushed hard to the finish and gave a fistbump to Reid who had arrived 30 seconds ahead of me and was waiting for me.

What a race! What a day! This was by far the most fun I've had since retiring—possibly the most fun I've had in many years. I needed that.

And yes, when I was feeling tired I would think about my brother Tim and imagine that he was with me in spirit and I wouldn't allow myself to even momentarily back off the pace.

Reid and I were talking on the drive home and he was mentioning how he feels he could've pushed harder through various sections and been a few minutes faster than he was. I like his attitude. My guess is he'll be back next year to follow through on his observations. I replied that I left it all out there on the course. I gave it all I had and in doing so I claimed a 3rd place finish among all fat-bikes. I'm good with that. For now.

But the boy inside this nearly 59-year-old man usually has the last say and he's telling me that we need to train just a little harder for next year and that we can do even better. Hmmm...

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Tim, Just One Last Post

This is a continuation of some of my thoughts about my brother Tim who recently passed away from colon cancer. The previous post is here.

We mostly made small talk as we drove around passing time before the anesthesia no longer posed a problem and I could drop him off. I did bring up faith and God at one point. It seemed that Tim had drifted away from his faith over the past several years as he consumed a steady diet of Christopher Hitchens YouTube videos while often sharing them on Facebook. I do think he had faith but not one that could fit neatly into the confines of any religion and not a faith that he was inclined to talk about, at least not with me. He was fine with Tammy and me praying over him at the hospital before his upper endoscopy procedure.

He commented more than once about his desire for something solid to eat—a hamburger or a hotdog. He couldn't wait to get back to Old Country Buffet but without any kind of appetite, nothing appealed to him now. He continued to shed weight—about 100 pounds since last fall.

On Tuesday, June 7th we took him to see his doctor and we were with him for the news about the surgeon's findings from the previous Thursday. As we expected, the news wasn't good. Tim's cancer had metastasized in his chest and was now considered to be stage 4 which meant his condition was terminal. Tammy and I were certain before going into the meeting that the counsel from Dr. Gall would center around hospice care but there was very little mention of that. He wanted to start Tim on a six-week course of chemotherapy. He stressed more than once that he has patients who live for years with cancer where before they'd survive for maybe six months.

Tim was relieved. "I'm glad it's manageable. Those are words I wanna hear" but neither Tammy nor I were convinced. We had seen Tim age 25 years in the past 8 months but the doctor wasn't privy to that change. Dr. Gall's words to Tim were: "You're not the picture of health by any means but you're still well enough to treat and that's why we're not having a hospice discussion today."

Tim would die 8 days later.

We spoke on Monday morning and Tim seemed pleasant on the phone. That was the last time we talked. I texted him Thursday afternoon but there was no response. Jackie called me at 7:00 Friday night to tell me that Kris (the woman he rented his room from) contacted her to say that Tim had died in his bed and to ask if I could go to his place and meet with the police.

It was such a sad scene inside.

We could've maybe gotten him into hospice but Tammy is pretty certain that he wouldn't have stayed and I think she's right. They actually wanted to admit him to the hospital just a few days earlier for observation but he walked out against doctor's orders and caught a cab home.

In looking at his cellphone, his last outgoing message was at 9:12 Wednesday morning to Kris and it didn't make sense in the context of the texts preceding it. He wrote: "Asprin". There were several text messages that went unanswered beginning around noon. I can only guess that he died sometime Wednesday morning. There was no autopsy performed to make a more definitive determination and without one they would list his date of death as Friday the 17th when he was found.

Looking back, I feel bad that we were never able to take Tim into our home to live with us as we'd intended to so we could make his last days as comfortable as possible. Despite the relatively optimistic words his doctor was saying it was evident to us that his needs were more than we were prepared to take on.

Tracee, Keith, and I were back at his townhouse a few days later to remove all of Tim's belongings. It's hard to know what to keep and what to throw out. As we were leaving, I placed a plastic penguin Tim had been hanging onto for at least the last 30 years in with the trash. I didn't want it and I figured nobody else would either.

Later that night as I was laying in bed, I was thinking about all of the stuff of Tim's we were throwing away and how we were sort of removing any physical memory of him as well. I thought about that simple, plastic, hollow penguin and decided that I wanted it after all as a memento of Tim—and I had the perfect spot for it in our garage where I have it now and where it will remain for as long as I'm around.

Tim loved his guitars but in all of the time I've known him to play, I never once sat down with him and asked him to play something for me. I never heard him play. I have many regrets over that now but not only that; I think of how I should've done a better job of reaching out to him in other ways and taking the time to show some interest in the things that were important to him. He was skilled with his RC helicopters and once tried to show me how to fly one. I should've come back and taken more lessons from him. I get that it's not all on me but a significant part of us not connecting most definitely was my fault.

Tim's good friend Tony races at Elko Speedway on Saturday nights. Going to the track to watch Tony and the other drivers was one of Tim's favorite pastimes when he was well enough. Tony posted to his Facebook page last Friday "TOMORROW I RACE FOR YOU Tim Gilmore". I saw that and thought we really need to go and be there in honor of Tim. And so we did.

We got there plenty early and watched the crowd filter in as the drivers competed in the qualifying rounds. We kept looking for Tony on the track but we didn't see him. Then Tammy saw on his Facebook page where someone had written that he was hard at work trying to replace the clutch in his car and would hopefully be done in time for the main event.

A prayer was said before the racing began and in it, there was a small acknowledgment to Tim and two others who had passed away recently. I was not expecting that and found it very moving.

Tony made it to the main event but he was positioned in last place. It was going to be next to impossible for him to challenge for the lead but he still did well. He passed several cars as he raced his heart out in honor of Tim. I caught some video of him (beginning at 1:30, car #7 in the video below) as I sat there watching with a huge lump in my throat and tears in my eyes as I imagined Tim being with us and enjoying the scene. Tony finished 12th out of 20.

I'm leaving for Lutsen in the morning for a mountain bike race on Saturday. I have no illusions of winning anything in Tim's honor but you can be sure he'll be on my mind the entire way.

Until we meet again, Tim...