Sunday, October 30, 2016

If you haven't got anything nice to say about anybody, come sit next to me. (Alice Roosevelt Longworth)

Al and I were mountain bikers years before we decided to pedal around on road bikes. Back then we lived in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and mountain biking was just what you did there. Unfortunately, mountain biking had a shorter shelf life for me than other types of cycling. Mountain biking is exciting, but it also has constant pounding on tendons and joints. I finally decided the rougher stuff was something best left behind. It was fun, and I've got the memories.

Al and I still own and ride our mountain bikes. We just do it a lot slower than we used to. And with our tires in constant contact with the ground. What we do these days is the mountain biking version of hiking. We go out and enjoy nature and wildlife and skip the adrenaline stuff.

But back to the point of this post.

I am sitting in our tiny Miami condo recovering from a crash I took on a road bike. And this past week my entertainment has been some very funny mountain biking friends. Friends that have made me laugh by shamelessly making fun of my whining and complaining.

They do not tolerate whining. Or pity parties. And why should they? Each of them has survived a serious crash or two. They are supportive, but they are quick to let me know when I need to suck it up and get my act together.

Their current undertaking was getting me to put more weight on my left leg. I whined that it hurt and that I just looked like a penguin. Of course I was immediately inundated with penguin GIFs. So I sucked it up and started working on learning to put weight on the left leg. And (surprise!) after a wickedly bad couple of days, it got better. I still look like a penguin. (And will for some time.) But I'm a much happier penguin.

You just can't have too many crazy friends.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society. (Mark Twain)

I have never considered myself an athlete, just someone who enjoys being active. So I was retired before I joined my first sport club. Naturally, it was a bicycle club.

Teams and clubs, I learned, have uniforms. In sports these are referred to as kits. I don't know much about sports, but I love clothes. What could be better, I thought: Sports let you play dress-up.

I really wanted the kit of my first cycling club. But when I went to buy it, I discovered that women were expected to buy the smallest men's kit. I was skeptical. I am barely 5'2", which is to say way shorter than even the shortest man in the club. I went to a local bike shop in the little rural community near our home, and I tried on the jersey. It was just so funny. The jersey was so long I could have belted it and worn it as a tunic! Needless to say, I skipped buying that particular club jersey.

Not all clubs and teams made this fundamental sizing mistake. In the years that followed, our jersey collection grew. And grew. We've belonged to several clubs, often more than one at the same time. And there were groups that came together just for an event or tour, using an event jersey in place of a club or team jersey. We soon needed rules to keep the number of cycling tops we owned under control:

  • If there was a date on them, they had to be retired in a couple of years. 
  • Immediate retirement for white ones that got dull and dingy. 
  • Ditto sun-faded or raggedy ones. 
  • Absolutely no magenta or brown ones.

It is tremendous fun to run around with friends who are all wearing special jerseys. Some folks get pretty emotional and territorial about their team or club kits. But I think most of us understand that kits are an adult dress-up game that should be enjoyed for what it is. Particularly in very large clubs, it is inevitable that common interest sub-groups will coalesce and want their own special kits. Fine. The more the merrier. After all, it is all about friends, riding bicycles, and memories. Life is too short for childish bickering over minor matters.

Wearing a team or club kit gives you a sense of belonging. It also communicates our shared understanding that we have the responsibility to ride safely and take care of each other. Each time I peer into my drawer of cycling jerseys, each different jersey reminds me of fun rides where I wore each one. It is a collection of treasured memories of riding with special friends.

Back to that club that didn't have women's size jerseys for women members. I decided not to argue with the guys. From their decidedly sexist point of view, most of the women fit into the men's jerseys so there wasn't a problem. Life being too short to bicker, I decided to go out and buy a tacky, cheap garage sale rhinestone cocktail necklace. I paired it with my usual tank jerseys, and it became my bike club outfit. I enjoyed the comments about the necklace but never explained it to anyone.

We moved before another woman my height joined the club so we both could wear tacky, cheap rhinestone necklaces.  It would have been a lot of fun.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

We scare because we care. (Monsters, Inc.)

It wasn't my first visit to an emergency room. The first time was when I was a kid, competing with my next door neighbor to see which of us could swing highest. Coming down from the very top of our highest arc, laughing at the fun of it all, our laughter suddenly turned into hysterical screams when, Billy, my neighbor's pet goat, wandered into the path of our swings. The goat survived with a minor lump or two. My neighbor got stitches for an ugly gash on her shin. I broke my collarbone.

This visit to the emergency room, a lifetime later, was because of a bike crash. Al and I were out on a group ride. Someone lost control of his bike and swerved into me. Fellow riders handled moving us off the road, calling the police and ambulance, and answering all the necessary questions. I was put on a stretcher and lifted into the ambulance. I had identification and my insurance information with me. (Never go biking without them. And there is one thing I am going to add to my bike wallet: a laminated card with the names of my doctors, a brief list of my medications, and a note about my most important medical conditions. I fumbled to give them this simple information, and it made me feel frustrated and helpless.)

Here are the two points that I didn't know would be important:
  1. My bicycle helmet came with me in the ambulance to the hospital
  2. How fast I was going when the crash occurred was important. It determined which hospital I would be taken to. The faster you were going, the higher the level of trauma care they anticipate you will need.
When I arrived at the hospital, I was whisked into the emergency room. At this point hospital protocols took over. I was immediately put into an examination room, and the first of wave after wave of nurses, doctors, and other hospital staff began coming through. My lycra bike clothes (or rather what remained of them) were removed, and every bump, bruise, scrape, bit of road rash, and other areas of suspected injury were quickly probed and catalogued. My helmet was examined, and they actually discussed whether and where the helmet had hit the pavement. (They even matched up some minor abrasions on my head with the cable ties used to secure my helmet mirror to the helmet!) Then I was rolled off for head to toe CT scans. Back in the examination room, more questions from the doctors, more people walking in and out. The doctors pronounced that I had a broken pelvis. I had also fractured a vertebrae in my neck. There was some concern about the possibility of internal bleeding in the area of the duodenum. There was damage to a vertebral artery leading to the brain. That artery was a serious concern and their first priority. I was whisked off to a Neuro ICU, my hospital home for the next 12 days.

If you have never been in an ICU, all you need to know is that patients are hooked up to all manner of monitoring machines. This in addition to IV drips and the like. I teased the nurses that leather bondage fashion would make as much style sense in an ICU as hospital gowns. From the patient's viewpoint, an ICU is a place where everything beeps and pings, constantly, 24 hours a day. But it is also an amazingly comforting place. (Then again, that may just be a result of whatever they added to the IV drip running into my arm.) In the next hours I was whisked off for MRIs and blood was drawn repeatedly. My last memory of the evening was a doctor coming in and summarizing my condition and reviewing what was going to happen next.

Was it scary? Of course, it was. But my personal take-away was this: Everyone that was part of this experience, from the ambulance attendants to the trauma team to the nursing staff, knew what they were doing and did it well. Am I OK? Yes. Thanks to the excellent care at the hospital, I am feeling good and am on the mend. The doctors say I will probably be able to start riding again in January.

And, oh yeah, I learned something valuable about my friends and family. Not one person suggested I should stop riding my bike. Not one. And they all asked, "Is the bike OK?"

Are these great people, or what?

Monday, September 19, 2016

Progress is man's ability to complicate simplicity. (Thor Heyerdahl)

Improving at a sport you enjoy is one of life's simple pleasures. The small markers of progress are both fun and genuine points of pride.

Al and I love riding our bicycles, and we ride a lot. When you do something (pretty much anything) a lot, you do get better at it. We use bike rides to see things. We are basically bicycle tourists. We are particularly fond of rides over and around water. Florida, being a long peninsula, has miles and miles of just this type of thing.

Because of the type of bicycle riding we enjoy, endurance is something we are always working to improve. We take 3 to 5 hour bicycle rides four days a week, a pattern that keeps our endurance at about the level we need for the types of bicycle rides we enjoy. Now it would seem hard to mess up something as simple as this, wouldn't it? The complication that trips us up is getting enough rest days.

It almost happened this week. After a week of day-after-day long energetic rides up in Franklin County, we looked at all the interesting group rides happening over the weekend in Miami. Tempting but foolish. We needed to do of what friends here call a recovery ride. So we ended our week with a familiar ride with a friend we enjoy, a ride long enough to satisfy but at a pace that allows the body to recharge and consolidate its gains.

Riding a bike is simple. Sometimes getting better at it can be its own complication.

Pedal, pedal, pedal.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Promised Land always lies on the other side of a Wilderness. (Havelock Ellis)

For a lot of years, Al and I loved going to wilderness areas. Deserts. Mountains. Backwater places. They were beautiful but seriously lacking in creature comforts. Great fun, though, even with the bugs, sunburns, scrapes, bruises, cactus stickers, heat, cold, wet, and all the other inconveniences that came with the experience.

As we got older, travel with comforts and simple luxuries became more appealing. Lately I began pondering why wilderness areas are so darn appealing. (Other than the allure of being difficult to reach.) For me it is the solitude and serenity they provide, an appealing interlude in the noisy, busy pace of everyday life at home. It seems reasonable that even a state as densely populated as Florida had places that could provide us with small pockets of that same solitude and serenity. Florida has a wealth of beautiful places. Maybe we just needed a place where our cell phones wouldn’t work.
So this week we are back in Franklin County up in the Florida Panhandle. It is one of the least populated counties in the state. Huge areas filled with state and federal forests. A bunch of wildlife refuges. Protected wetlands.

A span of an old bridge is now a fishing pier. The new bridge is on the right.
A river runs through the center of the county. One cellphone service kinda, maybe, sorta works on one side of the river. Another cell phone service kinda works on the other side. Go out to the barrier islands and you may get another carrier to work...sometimes. All we can tell you is that our phones have a big X on the signal icon...wherever we go.
On our first visits to Franklin County we carried our phones with us everywhere anyway. Like little security blankets. But soon we just left them our hotel room. We are used to hopping online anywhere, anytime, via our phones. Here in Franklin County, the phones will work on wifi...which is available only in your hotel and a couple of coffee shops. Not much use when you are out riding your bike.
Yep. A touch of wilderness, Florida style. (We will be doing more of this in the months to come...)
The bridge between the mainland and St. George Island is 5 miles long.
A river in Tate's Hell State Forest
On the highway through Tate's Hell State Forest
The bridge over Apalachicola Bay early in the morning.

Monday, September 5, 2016

The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot. (Michael Althsuler)

Labor Day is always a bittersweet holiday.

As a kid, Labor Day weekend meant a great parade in the little town where I lived. There was always a big family get-together. At least one friend always had a pool party. So it was hard not to like Labor Day. But Labor Day also meant the end of summer vacation. School was starting.

These days my feelings about Labor Day are still the same. The good: The Labor Day weekend is always filled with fun things to do with friends. Summer is ending, and good cycling weather is coming. (I always liked what one writer said about Florida having just two seasons: Summer and FallWinterSpring.) The bad: We will soon be traveling and biking around Florida, which, while fun, means missing many rides with friends in Miami.

So Labor Day weekend must be enjoyed and savored:

  • On Labor Day itself we headed out on our favorite ride to Key Biscayne. It was just the two of us. (And hundreds of other cyclists, since the area is a favorite of Miami cyclists.) 
  • The Sunday before Labor Day we rode up to the Hollywood Broadwalk with a few friends for our last official Summer 2016 Breakfast on the Beach Ride.
  • And on Saturday, the first day of the weekend, we rode down to Robert Is Here with the West Side Sunset Bandits. It was a fun and memorable ride. An early start, the group's bike lights blinking in the pre-dawn darkness. Then sunrise, La Casita, Robert Is Here, the ride back to our start point (which included a brief but drenching rain), and a pot-luck tailgate birthday get-together for one of the WSSB guys.

Summer may be over, but life, as they say, is good.
Photo by Alex Pruna

Monday, August 29, 2016

Every man is a damn fool for at least five minutes every day; wisdom consists in not exceeding the limit. (Elbert Hubbard)

Obsessions are wonderful things.

Bicycle obsessions especially. The endorphin-driven elation of setting a personal best: riding faster or longer than ever before. The excitement of finding and trying new bicycles or gear. The adventure of searching for new routes to challenge the legs, for new scenery to delight the eye.

Labor Day is a week away. The heat and humidity of the South Florida summer will be waning in the weeks ahead. Florida's best biking weather is coming. Our calendar is rapidly filling up with bicycle travel and bicycle events. The bikes have been tuned up and checked; new gear has been fitted and readied for use.

We are set to saddle up our favorite obsessions and let them stretch their legs.

And why do we do this? Well, we'd be fools not to.