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.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Food is an important part of a balanced diet. (Fran Lebowitz)

Sometimes you eat to ride. Sometimes you ride to eat.

Hobe Sound
Al and I are eat-to-ride people, especially when we travel. Which is a good thing. Florida has areas with sophisticated dining, but it also has areas where the cuisine is based on barbecued critters, dares, and deep fryers. Because a lot of our travel is to places with few dining opportunities, we really appreciate road trips with cyclists who are in the ride-to-eat camp.

Walking to dinner on the nearby recreational path.
When we heard that a group of cyclists we'd met through the Everglades Bicycle Club was heading up to Jupiter for a weekend of riding, we jumped at the opportunity to join them. We had done this weekend road trip with them once before. This was a group that enjoyed good conversation and interesting places to eat. Excellent.

Jupiter is the northernmost town in Palm Beach County. Just an hour and a half north of Miami. (And just 20 miles north of Donald Trump's Florida home.) The area is great for cycling. It also has beautiful beaches, waterways, ocean parks, and  lots of restaurants.

We were staying at a hotel on the Intracoastal Waterway. It's a brilliant choice for a bicycle weekend. A paved recreational path runs behind the hotel. We used the path to walk along the water to a nearby marina and restaurants in the evening. The hotel's pool area had a couple of large tiki huts that made hanging out at the pool an inviting option.

When we arrived, we ran into another friend from the Everglades Bicycle Club. He and his wife were also staying at the hotel. He was doing a ride with some randonneurs on Saturday. (He is working on a 12-month award again this year.) He and his wife said they would join us for our Sunday ride to the Jupiter Donut Factory. (I ask you, who can resist doing a donut ride?)

The weekend's cycling was excellent. Our Saturday route took us past Blowing Rocks Preserve, to Hobe Sound, down quiet residential roads along the ocean, and over intracoastal bridges with lovely views. We looped back past the hotel, heading down to another ocean park before finally heading back. Sunday's route took us over a bridge or two and past a basball training park then on to an excellent donut shop. After a quick stop for a donut we pedaled on to the Jupiter Pier. We stopped for a stroll down the Pier. Then Al and I rode with the group back to the hotel to say our goodbyes. They would be packing up, checking out, and heading to a nearby restaurant for lunch. We were staying another day, so we were going to keep pedaling for another loop up past Hobe Sound.

Good food, good conversation, cycling friends, laughter, and beautiful summer weather. A perfect cycling road trip.
Amazing food and good conversation at The Food Shack.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Anytime you see a turtle up on top of a fence post, you know he had some help. (Alex Haley)

Sometimes I think I ride a bicycle as an excuse to take pictures.

My camera is an Olympus. It isn't fancy. We are talking your basic easy to use point-and-shoot.  Its picture quality is decent, and its HD video is excellent. Its best feature is that it is tough and waterproof. It has survived, mounted on my bike's handlebar,  rides in heavy rain. It has been in a couple of crashes (crashes that did more damage to me, my pride, and my bar tape than the camera). I've dropped it while riding. I've even accidentally stepped on it.

When I first got the camera, I looked at the instructions briefly. I figured out how to use it by trial and error. (Does anybody read the instruction manual?)

I got bored one day last week. So bored I read the camera's instruction manual. I was looking at all its settings when I saw one I had never noticed before. It simply said "Magic." Magic? Curious, checked it out. Turns out there are a dozen special effect filters built into the camera. Who would have guessed?

So I flipped the dial to Magic and started taking pictures. In the course of a week I went through all twelve effects, using each on different subjects and in different light conditions.

The appeal of using the built in filters is that they are easy, much easier than using an app or photo editor. Most weren't very interesting or useful. But two were outstanding. One filter creates dramatic shots in low light (think restaurants or the city at night). Another creates a mirror image (reflection). I found myself playing with that one quite a bit. It's most effective with very geometric objects. Like bicycles. And I take a lot of pictures of bicycles.

So I now have a new (free!) toy.

Hocus pocus, abracadabra!    ...Magic!