Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Wednesday Montebello V

C. is coming to clean the house. Also I have an appointment 20 miles to the south. Time to work in a Montebello climb. It's been a while!

I've been dragging my feet since the 300k. The weather on the other hand has definitely not. Can't quite figure out how to get the March rainfall totals for Black Mountain. The Internet is great, but not that great! Let's just say "a lot". Finally, rain.

One data point is Mount Umunhum, the peak just south of Black Mountain. Last week over 9 inches of precip. Another is Stevens Creek Reservoir at the base of Montebello. As of today 65% full, after close to zero rain this winter.

Last night we stayed up to watch the weather person on TV. This morning would be wet and showery as yesterday's storm moved through. This morning looking out the window, more like partly sunny. No complaints! Like I said, meterology is a hard profession....

Packed laptop and a change of clothes and some warm stuff in a pannier. Headed off down our street on my smooth, comfortable, not exactly fast bike. That's because the new wheels are on, with the generator hub and everything! Ruffy Tuffies. Luggage on the bike. Slower but realistic.

Wow, that's hard.

Rounding the corner to Montebello Road, as usual I clank down into the little ring and keep clicking down gears. In the next-to-lowest gear I think I can do this. This is the reason for the low gears. The road is wet but loads of traction with the big tires.

Today's pictures are all of the sky.

At the Ridge vineyard at the top, a coyote sniffs through the rows of vines.

The turn around point has to be the gate because of mud issues and time constraints. It's not even cold on the descent. I head through Stevens Canyon, then south along busy Highway 9 toward Los Gatos. Los Gatos Creek Trail leads right to downtown Campbell.

Where it's time to meet a couple of folks from SBI about the auction....

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Food Review #2

Last Sunday after the 300k, Danny took us to a fancy brunch at the Hotel Sofitel in Redwood Shores. We felt justified after all. It's important to replace protein stores after the ride. We had to use up the gift voucher. And rumor has it there's more to life than Maruchan Instant Lunch (prepared by caring volunteers).

Unfortunately there were more dishes at the buffet than we could comfortably sample in one visit. Return visits might be required! No camera this time, sorry - brain focused on food.

Coffee, orange juice, and champagne. An optimistic start! After riding a bicycle many miles, I welcomed the service. It felt royal. And my toes were warm...

The first pass was definitely breakfast. Both of us gravitated to the eggs Benedict; we were not disappointed. Eggs poached just right (a little too runny for me), sauce rich but in the right proportion, ham good quality. The English muffin offered a solid amount of resistance, as if slowly toasted in an oven. It provided a sturdy foundation for the whole ensemble. We found it difficult to stop at just one of these. Discipline!

Bacon: neither thick nor thin, good quality, cooked to crispiness. Thumbs up! Sausage: lean but flavorful. An assertive spice factor balanced the sweetness of the pork. Also, just salty enough to restore electrolytes.

Danny sped through the first course so he could detour to the made-to-order omelette bar (a secret control?). Ingredients were onion, peppers, ham, and cheese. The result tasted fresh and simple and had "the proper amount of fluffiness".

The second course more closely resembled lunch. Resisting the call of another egg Benedict, I went for smoked salmon with capers and red onion, large cocktail shrimp, and Caesar salad. The salmon, tender and savory, was the standout here. Other salads at the buffet looked fresh but the Caesar's romaine lettuce was ultra dry, to the point of lacking flavor. The answer was a small filet of chicken breast with tarragon sauce on top. Yum! The potato roll had a tender texture but the flavor was so subtle it was  forgettable.

For dessert Danny sampled two different chocolate cakes and a chocolate crepe. All were OK but not worth finishing. Icing on the cakes was only fair. I went with a small slice of mixed fruit tart. The fruit flavors tasted authentic and fresh. The crust was buttery and yielded nicely to the fork.

Since the Sofitel is a French hotel chain, you might be tempted (like us) to head straight for the croissants. Memories of a certain breakfast bar in Ferney-Voltaire circa 1999 danced in our heads. Mountains of pain au chocolat!

Overall the pastries were the most disappointing offering. Perhaps our expectations were too high. But the dough lacked flakiness, indicating the flour-to-butter ratio needs adjusting in favor of butter. This should have helped freshness, as butter is what makes pastries go stale quickly. However, we found that neither plain nor chocolate croissants tasted particularly fresh. Perhaps they had met the oven yesterday, somewhere off-site. We wished we had spent those calories elsewhere.

Afterwards we waddled out to the lagoon for a stroll. Look, a rowing competition under a warm, partly cloudy spring sky. Memories of yesterday's mud, hail, and rain-fest took wing with the fat Canada geese. Voila!

Friday, March 23, 2012

If Mr. Lincoln drove a car...

One more historical note before heading south to Route 66...

On the 200k and 300k we used Pedrick and Sievers, two flat farm roads, to leave Davis and head toward the Putah Creek area. Sievers Road was where I tried to fix a flat tire in the mud on the 300k. On the way back it was also where I ran off the road into the mud. Proud moments!

These roads are part of the Lincoln Highway, the first transcontinental route for automobiles. No, really.
(but he was more of a cyclist)
In fact, until 2 years ago Sievers Road actually had a curved intersection with Currey Road, where the Lincoln Highway heads south. It was recently straightened to increase safety. A few years ago I heard about this ordinary-looking intersection from a fellow cyclist as we passed by. Writing this post has forced me to lift my head, which Mike Madison would approve of!

The Lincoln Highway, completed in 1913, connects New York City to San Francisco. Route 66, completed in 1926, connects Chicago to Los Angeles. Both had the nickname "the Main Street of America" at one time. It was the beginning of the automobile era.

Like Route 66, the Lincoln Highway used existing local roads, linking them together to define a long-distance route for cars. It connected over 700 cities, towns, and villages, feeding their economies through car traffic. Dixon was one of those towns, as was Davis. The appeal of bypassing communities and being able to drive fast came later, with the interstate highways.

Danny and I have inadvertently traveled the Lincoln Highway route on the way to ski at Donner Summit. And it turns out one of our favorite burger joints, Redrum Burger in Davis, began as the Sno-White drive-in. Mmmm. I am pretty sure back then they had not invented the espresso milkshake, but they should have!

More athletically speaking, Davis resident Bill Roe cycled the entire route, coast to coast, and wrote this book about the adventure.

Next year is the Lincoln Highway's 100-year anniversary, and yes, these folks are planning a tour and celebration. A group will be leaving San Francisco on June 23, 2013, using Sievers and Pedrick Roads on their way to Sacramento.

One thing is for sure - they'll be sharing the road with cyclists.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

So long, Route 128

Well the 200k and 300k have done their job - build fitness in familiar territory. Beautiful routes, but as you might be able to tell from the last 2 posts, tradeoffs had to be made. By accepting the structure and support, I ride more as an athlete and less as a tourist.

On this type of ride the focus is to solve problems that keep me (and only me) from moving forward. Time matters. Philosophical questions, self-reflection, historical points of interest...everything except the here-and-now gets pushed aside.

These days I'm more able to be in the present moment. Post-TBI I can focus on one goal in a way that just wasn't possible before. In a sense, this type of ride is great practice for life after TBI. Don't worry about what's behind you. Take what you need and just keep going. It's the opposite of nostalgia, the big draw for most visitors to Route 66.

But I am ready to savor the journey a little more. Slow down, see things that are all around but a bit hidden, let them come into focus. As a warm-up for a Route 66 adventure, here's a tribute to some interesting places and stories from Route 128.
  • The Native American people of this area were the Patwin (southern Wintun). They lived here for at least 1000-4000 years before malaria and smallpox epidemics in the 1830's killed most of them. There are very few visible traces left of these people. Around 2500 descendants and relatives live in Northern California today. The closest rancheria where they live is Rumsey, home of the Cache Creek Casino (which is not that close). However, a cultural center is being built on a 20-acre parcel along Chiles Pope Valley Road.
  • This area was divided during the Rancho era of California and has been settled by the white man since the 1840s. Before that it was officially part of Mexico. Rather than the automobile, the history of this area was made on foot, and by wagon and horse. The land here is good for farming and ranching.
  • The Putah Creek area was part of Rancho Las Putas. You can easily see the Wolfskill Grant marker, in a beautiful driveway to an orchard along Putah Creek road, near Winters. I always meant to look up why the site is officially marked. Now I have!
  • Mike Madison, a farmer and writer who lives in Winters, wrote this book about the bioregion along Putah Creek. As a native of this area, he provides one authentic, local perspective:
An occasional car may speed by, but traffic on the county roads is sparse. More commonly one sees bicycles. Some I think of as bicyclists from Mars. They wear bizarre costumes of stretchy, shiny material, and pod-like helmets strapped to their heads. Mostly they travel in tight packs at high speed. They seem to be aliens in the landscape, on tour from outer space, and probably one such returns from his thirty mile ride having seen nothing more than the rear wheel of the bicycle that is six inches in front of him.
Mr. Madison may not think much of cyclists, but I still recommend his book. You can also buy his olive oil at the Davis Farmer's Market. I haven't tried it, but opinionated people probably make excellent olive oil!
  • Lake Berryessa is the result of a post-WWII project to dam Putah Creek. In 1954 the town of Monticello was destroyed to build the dam. Several Patwin village sites in the valley were also lost under the lake. Here is a map of how the Berryessa valley originally looked. Two photographers, Dorothea Lange and Pirkle Jones, documented Monticello, California just before it was destroyed. Aperture magazine devoted an entire issue to their photo essay. Click here to see a few photos...
  • Chiles Grist Mill was the first flour mill in Northern California. It was built and operated by Joseph Ballenger Chiles, who also gave his name to Chiles Pope Valley Road. He was in the first party of emigrants to cross the Sierra Nevada by wagon train. 
Apparently the historical marker lies at the intersection of two roads on the brevet route, so while having passed it many times I've never actually seen it! The mill was built on Rancho Catacula, an 8456-acre Mexican land grant (relatively small compared to other ranchos).
"The plaque lies almost hidden from view in tall grass at the top of an embankment on a quiet stretch of the beautiful Pope Valley Road."
  • Nichelini Winery is my favorite winery in the area, just off the brevet route on Highway 128. It also happens to be the oldest.
  • Litto's Hubcap Ranch, just north of Pope Valley. This folk art project began as a way for owners of fallen hubcaps to reclaim them. As Litto Damonte hung more and more hubcaps, people started dropping off spare ones. Over a few decades it got a little out of hand!
  • Pope Valley was part of Rancho Locoallomi. April 21, the day of the SBI auction, is also Pope Valley Day at the Napa Valley Historical Society. They're doing a whole field trip thing, with lunch and guided tours. I'll be riding to Williams Arizona on that day. But, you could go!
Here's to returning some day, at a slower pace, to explore this "familiar" territory more!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

More and more and more

On the road back, down Cobb and back from Middletown through Long Valley, can't help thinking about the firm and fast rear tire. Thinking about it makes me hum. And Mother Nature adds a tailwind! As if she knows I am in a hurry, trying to make up time.

Dark clouds to the east as the road enters Butts Canyon. Another cyclist is putting on his yellow rain clothes at the little summit just past Langtry Winery. Uh-oh, I think, unwilling for this feeling to end.

Somewhere in Butts Canyon, in a shower of mixed rain and hail, a vague memory. Did a local rider once mention that Butts Canyon is a total magnet for precip? I ride on, refusing to stop and change clothes, refusing to give up ground. That option is granted by the grace of my thick wool jersey and wool leggings. I stubbornly watch as the white pellets accumulate on the jersey's black sleeves. But there are riders around me; I am no longer alone.

The clouds are unambiguous - dark and close on the hills in the direction of Cardiac and Davis. We are clearly in for it. 'If it doesn't stop in 2 minutes, I'll change into my rain jacket and rain tights.' It does not stop in 2 minutes. And I do not stop and change clothing.

Leaving Butts Canyon, at the summit of Honey Hill the rain slows, then stops for a few sweet miles into Pope Valley. At the rest stop it is 4:53pm. In deference to the obvious, I add a jacket and neoprene socks. Down a PB&J sandwich and a hot chocolate. It starts to pour, raindrops so big they make a slow rushing sound as they fall through a rip in the cloud.

Being out there on the road and in the elements without hard protection does sharpen the mind. It highlights priorities, among other things. My priority is to make it through the Cardiac area near Lake Berryessa before dark. The other cyclists wait out the downpour, but I head right into it. The good news is, soon every trace of the morning's mudbath is washed away. The bad news is I can't feel my feet.

Later someone asks me how long it rained. I have no idea. It rained as long as it did. Several miles outside of Moskowite Corners is probably where it stops. The road around Lake Berryessa is still wet, as if it was raining just 10 minutes ago. Near the summit the final rays of sun flash under the clouds:

Almost no traffic on a beautiful, hilly stretch of road. The daylight lasts almost exactly as long as I need, to Pardhesa Store.

Darkness falls all at once before the turn onto Putah Creek Road. The towns glow under a blanket of cloud cover: Woodland east and north, Davis due east, Dixon to the south, Vacaville south and west.

A quick mental note that in the dark, the way back on Putah Creek Road always seems much longer and the nuances feel more arbitrary. True this evening as well.

At one point the road edge jogs in suddenly and I am once again in a field, in quicksand mud. The bike stays upright - only one foot has to touch down. But, weird rubbing noises for the next few miles. This tells me that the wheels were coated in mud, which they have in turn deposited onto the brakes.

I clock in at the finish just after 10pm.

The grand prize: seeing Dan and Ann!
For about two hours I've needed dinner. OK, so it has to be McDonald's and they hassle me for coming to the drive-thru, and their fried chicken sandwich is sad and totally smothered by mayonnaise. Who really cares? The shower feels amazing. The bed in Room 125 at the Motel 6 is just the thing. Tomorrow these clothes will go in the washer and the bike will get a bath, and no evidence will be left.

Just the adventure...

Monday, March 19, 2012

Ode to Joy

We've been riding for about 45 minutes. Across the fields outside of Davis the usual clear vistas to the horizon are gone. This morning everything is hidden in a low, dense fog. Even in a pack of cyclists my legs are working hard and the bike is slowing down. My rear wheel feels wiggly, not right.

There's a bulge in the tire. I signal and pull off. The pack rolls on toward Stevenson Bridge Road.

In the last 24 hours it has rained cats and dogs here. There's no shoulder, not even a white line, only a wide median of brown mud between me and the fields on either side.

In the fog, drivers won't be able to see. Must get off the road now.

10 minutes later the sticky mud is everywhere - a brake lever, the rear tire, between a few chain links, the pedals, and especially my shoes. It sticks to itself and has turned my feet into massive, heavy flippers. I flop around in despair. Everything I do seems to make the situation worse.

Out of the fog emerges a van. I wave my arms wildly above my head and after a few dicey moments Lee Mitchell hits the brakes hard. The van comes to a stop in the middle of the road. Working quickly we get me and the bike into the van and Lee finds a driveway 100 feet further where it's safe to pull off.

The scene that follows should be a routine flat-fixing exercise, but it's not. The tire doesn't want to come  off the rim. On a muddy tire, it's impossible to find root cause. Something made the tube lose air, where is that thing? No choice now - if I want to stay in the ride, in goes a new tube and back on goes the tire.

The new tube has a short stem but the Waterford's wheels need the long stems. Lee holds the pump head on the valve. I pump furiously. The air seems to hold. 

Meanwhile, a furry ball of a puppy has wandered down the driveway, attracted by all the fuss. He tries to engage us, to no avail. He absconds with the tube box and my sunglasses in his mouth, spits out the glasses and chews the box. Bored, he then wanders into the road where a passing car just manages to stop in time. There is a lot of honking and the puppy reluctantly wanders back into the driveway. Not car smart. Each time he approaches the road I throw rocks at him, heart breaking.

Lube (thanks to Lee) goes on the chain and I use a stick to poke the mud between links. Finally, progress. Lee gifts a replacement tube with a long valve, just in case. Mud-crusted and nearly beaten, I'm back on the road alone, heading toward Winters. 

Pre-TBI on unsupported brevets this would have been completely my own nightmare to fix. Lee's support (and his counterpart Elinor's) are part of the reason I come here to Davis. Somehow I manage to feel sorry for myself anyway, left by the pack, bringing up the rear alone. 

To pass the time I come up with various scenarios of how to quit this ride with the least amount of fuss. Turn around in Pope Valley, we know that's 200k. Ride to the turnaround and back just to Pope Valley, 200k. Do the ride but go up an easier climb out of Middletown, Big Canyon. Tell the rest stop workers so they don't wait for me.

Heck why not move to Winters today, right now?
The notch in the ridge up there is Cardiac.
In a few minutes I'm joined by a couple of friends out for a Saturday ride. After a few minutes of their chatter I'd trade anything for some quiet. Riding faster is the answer...

Lee passes and leans out the window to make sure I'm all right. He happens to mention there's a rider just a couple of miles up ahead. The red-winged blackbirds flit and cheer along the road.

My thoughts turn to motivation. It seems like there's at least two kinds: motivation to move away from something, like mud or talkative cyclists. And there's motivation to move toward something, like that rider who is allegedly 2 miles up ahead. I'm no expert but out here I can tell myself whatever. No one can argue.

Anyway, I've got both kinds of motivation working for me now. The next time the van passes, Lee blares Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" from his loudspeakers! By this time of course I'm totally enjoying being out here on my bike. In Pope Valley, a few riders are still at the Farm Center, gathering their stuff...

Tough love: Laurie says, you can quit at the top of Cobb (but not here).
The weather is actually pretty good, especially compared with the forecast. The creeks are rushing with new water.
Top of Honey Hill, entrance to Butts Canyon.
At the base of Cobb Mountain that soft feeling in the rear tire returns. A small piece of wire has worked  through the rubber of the rear tire. So at least now we have root cause. 

In the shoulder while forcing air into a new tube, the cymbals of Ode to Joy crash in my head. Every second beat, one pump. The music has an incredible encouraging effect - just the right thing at the right time! Unfortunately the air in the tube is not encouraged in the same way. At the top of Cobb we find only 40 pounds of pressure...easily fixed.
Dave Leonard boosts the rear tire to 100 psi.
Hey, the tire is finally good to ride at the turnaround. My luck might just be on the way back...

Friday, March 16, 2012

Looks can be deceiving

Packing goes faster, thanks to the 200k the week before last. Did find the neoprene socks. One of the problems with owning neoprene socks is being drawn to situations where they might be useful!

But the weather gods have grown more optimistic. Now it's only a 30% chance of showers, a high of 41, and probably no snow accumulation.

That's a hard profession, meteorology. Buoys, satellites, computer models. Hard to know what's actually going to happen until the moment arrives! The thrill of uncertainty might explain why it also happens to be an obsession of cyclists. Weather speculation, that is. We talk about POPs (probability of precipitation). We check the RAWs data (remote weather stations). When a cold front approaches, we know it from the south wind. It rotates counterclockwise around a massive hub of low pressure.

They think this particular front will split in two tonight, with one half scooting north toward the Pacific Northwest and the other dropping south toward Monterey. The 300k route is somewhere in the middle, so tomorrow we might only deal with cold temps.

Bella, Resident Kitty, also seems to know when an area of low pressure is on the way. When this happens or when stressed for other reasons, she chews on things. Usually fabric.

For example, the top of Cobb would be the perfect place to don my Capilene balaclava. Only get to wear it once in a while...

Unfortunately it won't be coming on the trip. Its body was discovered a few weeks ago under the bed. Bella had stashed in under there and worked on it.

Adorable, no?

Salad day

Climbing up Altamont this afternoon was the rare kind of quiet you could actually hear. The clouds were low and misting a little on this ridge behind the valley. A few birds sang introspectively, in an unhurried way.

No one on the roads but the yard maintenance guys in their trucks. They work no matter what.

Couldn't resist this hillside turning green. Look closely - there are 2 deer nibbling at the fresh salad bar. After all, we've had some rain and this is Grand Deer Central.

The salad bar with a view of Silicon Valley (and SBI) 

I shouldn't push it today, probably should not have even added this hill. This is a leisurely ride to get out of the house, a recovery ride after 2 Spinning days, and a warm-up ride before this weekend's 300k. Spinning actually put the ache in my quads!

Thoughts turn toward the 300k. This little ride today is stolen in between storms at home. Up north in rural Napa County, serious weather is predicted for Saturday.

The route is the same as the 200k, with a 32-mile extension. Still out-and-back. At the turnaround lies the infamous Cobb Mountain. It's an epic climb on a highway where the locals drive fast. We'll be climbing steep grades up to 2600 feet. According to the National Weather Service, the high temperature Saturday will be 37 degrees with thunderstorms and 'new snow accumulation of 2 to 4 inches possible'.

This is a qualifying ride when I'm not qualifying for anything this year. What part of Route 66 requires climbing Cobb Mountain? It would be smart to just not show up.

Spring in Woodside
At the same time I'm wondering where those neoprene socks and windproof mittens might be - house? garage? basement?

After last year's rendition of this ride there can be zero denial about what it will be like. People ask all the time 'why do you do it'? There are lots of answers. Frankly sometimes it's just 'because I signed up'. Or 'because I made a motel reservation'. Or 'there's only so many times a person can ride to Woodside'.

This type of ride is an opening, a chance to build a certain level of mental and physical fitness. That level of fitness comes from challenge, from riding hard and long. Only afterwards will I know if it was worth it.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Quadratus Lumborum, a haiku

Oh, mighty QL,
mysteries sunk deep in spine,
bridging rib and hip.

The QL muscle was what pre-empted the Sierra Foothills credit card tour, and caused all those visits to Dr. F and Dr. S.

Quadratus lumborum muscle pain is usually deep, cryptic, and aching, but may be lancinating during movement. In severe cases it may prevent clients from standing or walking, and its “devastatingly urgent” pain may necessitate moving on the hands and knees until relief is obtained.

The hands-and-knees pain, that was 2 months ago. Today thanks to skilled practitioners, there's pretty much no pain. We may disagree on root cause but cycling seems to help overall (as long as I'm careful not to yank it around).

With continued wellness, my QL can accompany me on Route 66. If needed, the motels have ice machines and my gear bag will carry the ibuprofen. The practitioners don't need to know, do they?

Fun and games

Check out this article about what Jane McGonigal is up to.  Way to go putting the fun back in TBI recovery!

I still believe really strongly that gamers can solve some of the world's toughest challenges, but some of the world's toughest challenges are very personal.

The article goes on to say that Ms. McGonigal created SuperBetter as a way to jump-start a slow recovery from a serious concussion. SuperBetter is a customizable, social game that you design to help you reach your goals.

The site says: Resilience means staying curious, optimistic and motivated even in the face of the toughest challenges.

I've never heard of SuperBetter before and am in no way an online gamer. But doesn't this sound  curiously in line with what is going on here at Route 66, a journey? I went to the site and created an account. Love the Internet!

The game creates a structure around whatever your goal is. You tell it the kind of resources you need to achieve the goal, and you keep creating new goals. It provides game-like concepts like quests, power-ups, and bad guys.

New users get a walk-through of the basic ideas and motivation behind the game. Text and videos describe the science behind physical, mental, emotional, and social resilience. Science! OK, I'm still with you...

Today it's probably the emotional resilience that needs a boost. Positive emotions help creativity, will power, and stamina. Apparently, positive emotions also help you grow new neurons faster!

It just occurred to me that this is a huge improvement over the scientific view about brain cells and neurons just a couple of decades ago. A brain injury was mysterious and sensitive and out of control. Capability only went down with injuries and with time. It's almost like the white coats took pleasure in saying 'it's hopeless, give up'! I like this science better.

The rule is 3-to-1. For every negative emotion, conjure 3 positive ones. Do 3 quick things that feel good to get back on track. 

1. Investigating SuperBetter and posting on this blog.
2. Lunch at Yakko (now).
3. TBD.

Will report back...

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Time for fitness


For the past few days, my motivation to come up with rides and execute them has been at an all time low. Really abysmal. The weather has been nice, until now, so that's not why.

From the forecast above, I can tell that the Hills R Us gang will not be riding tomorrow. So I will not be able to leverage the group.

Clearly it's time to activate that gym membership. Get some structure and go spin! Last night it was Max, who took it rather easy on us. Hmm. 2 gyms ago, Max was a maniac who pushed classes to tears or fainting, or both. No mercy. Now he is trying not to kill us. What's up with that?

This afternoon, Bob. Intervals. Good stuff. The body gets used to riding at a certain pace and shifting gears to accommodate that. Intervals shake it up.

As an aerobic workout, highly recommend Spinning. Very efficient for time, too. allowing a few errands to be knocked off the list after class.
Before. The horror, the horror.

Today is the day to deal with the tragedy of the paint chips on the Waterford. Otherwise, rust will eat the steel machine. My first stop is the optimistically named "Beauty Unlimited" in, you guessed it, a strip mall on El Camino Real.

The clerk was sympathetic. They had really tasteful, muted shades of nail polish, for the most part. "Clubbing Til Sunrise" was the closest to metallic orange.

$9.29 with tax for a high quality polish! Could this be why my salon stopped carrying this brand?

I also stopped at Target, but no joy. Wish I could remember the names of the orange shades...anything but demure. Did you know one of the Kardashians has a line of nail polish? Very bold...

After. (The horror, the horror)

The polish kept sort of dripping down toward the bottom of the top tube. One thing is for sure: I will never earn a living applying polish to nails!

But, let it rain.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Putting it out there

At the end of the trial run, the camera guy tells me very nicely 'at the end of the script, just look at the camera - don't do anything with your face'.

OK, I can remember that.

The script is exactly 30 seconds long, talking as fast as I can. My sisters talk this fast but I'm not so good at it. We practiced outside in the car, this morning over the phone. On camera, as it happens it's all about breathing. It helps with nerves and getting all the words out.

I am literally just trying to make it through the next hour.

On the way to the studio I had to find lunch. Downtown San Jose is redeveloping itself so it's still a bit uneven. Behind me on the sidewalk a homeless woman falls in, yelling something as if she's alarmed, I don't hear what. She's loud, though! In the doorway of the restaurant, a sensation reaches the back of my neck. Wet. Twice more I get doused from a water bottle before she moves on, still yelling.

At SBI, someone guessed that I had a strong network of family and friends. With TBI it's so important for countering the loss of self, the daily challenges. There was a silence. I just didn't know how to respond.

TBI definitely impacts your relationships. In my case it's not that people are unsupportive. Most people don't seek out ways to withhold support. Like this woman on the street, everyone is in their own world. They have their own challenges. When you go off-script sometimes people will keep on walking. My guess is this response is very common. Like the medical community, we hope TBI will go away on its own.

For me, at first going public was involuntary. By keeping under the radar I felt my chances were better of keeping relationships intact.

At least while I'm staring at the red light, it feels like my choice. The truth is inconvenient and messy, but at least it's real.

I suffered a brain injury in a car accident Christmas Day, 2008.
Many tasks I’d done all the time -- like riding my bike long distances -- became confusing and sometimes scary.
Now I ride 60-100 miles a day -- but I’m still recovering. Through my riding, I connected with Services For Brain Injury.
I learned that you don’t have to recover from brain injury on your own. Services For Brain Injury provides rehabilitation for all stages of recovery including vocational training and helping you find and keep a job.

The second take goes fine. We're done.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Ride like you stole something...

Today, something completely different.
  1. Get out of the house by 9:45am.
  2. Ride with a group.
Western Wheelers, the local bike club, has a ride every Wednesday called Hills R Us. Today's route was Page Mill, Portola State Park, West Old La Honda. Simple, right?

We met at a park in Los Altos and used back roads to get to Page Mill. Which these guys, mostly retired, climbed like it was nothing. Page Mill, 9-mile former stagecoach road with pitches over 15%. My nemesis climb. A piece of cake.

Come to think of it, their combined body fat might have been equivalent to the fat grams in one piece of cake! They looked like mosquitoes.

Damaged goods, on Page Mill I wheeze, breathe hard, and curse my lower back. Oh, and ride slower than almost everyone. True I am not dead last but my ego is about as happy as the muscles in my lumbar region. I hang on by thinking negative thoughts about Danny, who encouraged me to do this ride.

Then, I'm imagining the best way to explain this foolish caper to Dr. F. when my back goes into spasm again (as it is just about to do).

On the other hand it was a beautiful day, with nearly ideal weather on world-class cycling roads.
Summit of Page Mill, 2250 feet
The view of the ocean from West Alpine was stunning and clear. We did a gratuitous descent and climb back out of Portola State Park that I never would have done on my own.

Mike H. climbs Portola State Park Road. Impressionistic sweat halo added by me.
While chatting with the guy in the photo, my back pain just kind of went away (!). I rode faster than usual, which in turn helps develop speed. And we lunched together in La Honda. 

The market in La Honda values its customers!

As an outcome, very, very good. ~56 miles, 6300 feet of climbing. Home before dark, too!

P.S. At the park this morning while riders chatted, gravity intervened. The Waterford fell against a lamppost and now the top tube has 2 huge ugly scrapes in the paint. Virtually impossible to fix, too. I'm still in the denial stage of grieving, so no photos at this time...

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Are we there yet?

This feeling has been lurking for the past week or so. Am I better yet?

One thing that's helping right now is new research. I've been reading, and it's starting to make sense, how I was treated and why there's been such a battle to get my injury recognized. Among neurologists the conventional wisdom was that mild TBI clears up on its own over several months. Some people have symptoms that linger for a year.

It's been 3 years and 2 months. So the more I tell this story the more it's like, what's going on here? Why so long? Where's the end?

Two new findings help validate what I'm going through:
  1. It turns out that the estimated 20% of people with mTBI that have lingering symptoms (for up to 1 year it was thought) has probably been underreported. Their lingering difficulties tend to be with headache, fatigue, inattention, and forgetfulness.
    The underreporting makes sense. Why would the patient initiate contact with the neurologist in order to report vague, lingering symptoms that the neurologist can't fix? Leaves them both wondering what the purpose of the appointment really is.
  2. A study published in the January 2012 issue of the Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology shows that young adults who had sustained an mTBI in their distant past had lasting changes in working memory. For over half of participants, it was 5 years or longer since their head injury.
    There is a silver lining to this result; those with lasting memory effects took longer to perform the test but actually were more accurate than the control group! Researchers think that the injury trained their brains to slow down and focus more effectively.
Given a choice, I'd rather be in the group without lingering symptoms. I'd rather be 100% better today! But to have what's going on backed up by objective data is a relief. A big relief.

Monday, March 5, 2012

New tools are coming...

Finding Unseen Damage in the Brain - ABC News

All I can say is, this is totally cool. My brain injury was not severe and today that means that I have to fight really hard to get others to believe it's real. Having an invisible injury is so complicated. Family members, for example, might prefer to stay in denial. Insurance companies and their lawyers want to argue you're faking it. Wouldn't it be great if everyone could actually see what I know is true?

The Veteran's Affairs Canada folks published an excellent problem statement for mild TBI:

mTBI (concussion) has long been a challenging public health issue. The following points are discussed in more detail later in this report:
  • Many who suffer from a concussion do not seek medical help at the time of injury.
  • The definitions of “mTBI” and “concussion” continue to be controversial. 
  • After an mTBI, an important minority of persons report subsequent symptoms and difficulties with jobs, relationships, community life and recreation. 
  • Symptoms reported after mTBI are nonspecific, meaning other physical and mental health causes could explain them. 
  • Symptoms may be subtle, especially cognitive problems. 
  • Some persons may have symptoms that are not easily recognized by themselves or others as possibly being due to an mTBI. 
  • No diagnostic test confirms with certainty that mTBI-induced brain damage is the cause of post-mTBI symptoms. 
  • Treatment of persistent symptoms after concussion is more effective when provided by a health care provider team capable of managing the full range of somatic, psychological and cognitive issues that may be reported after brain injury, but organizing such teamwork is challenging.

Got wheels?

Last Thursday the UPS guy stops in front of our house and wants to know what's in these crazy-shaped boxes:
My new bicycle wheels!

Most people never buy a set of wheels separate from a bike. Most people have never ridden on a wheel that's seriously compromised. But if you've ever had a flat tire (a punctured tube), you know how important it is for the wheel to be in good shape. Progress just stops. If you've ever broken a spoke (like the guy in front of me last year on a long event), you know that fragile feeling of limping to wherever help is available. And wheel failure on a tour, with a dented rim or multiple broken spokes or a busted hub? Either there's a wheelbuilder with a shop nearby, or you're hitchhiking.

On a bike you can get out there in the middle of nowhere, very far from any mechanical help. PAC Tour will carry some supplies in their van, but anything more serious than a broken spoke might be a deal breaker on Route 66. According to Gary Kern, Albuquerque is the only town with bike shops. Over 1100 miles, one town. That's what we need to prepare for.

Wheelbuilding is a specialized skill, and a bit of an art. Here's an overview of the process:

When you order a set of wheels you'll specify a lot of details (too many). How many spokes, front and rear? What kind of rim? What kind of spokes? What brand of hub? How much do you weigh? What is the maximum weight you'll ever carry on these wheels? Your thoughts will spin like the wheels that don't yet exist! You'll summon the mental image of being stranded in the middle of the Mojave Desert when you write the big check. Someone in a workshop will build them, usually by hand (spoke by spoke).

And then the funny-shaped boxes will arrive. Mine came from this shop in New Hampshire. They're relatively lightweight touring wheels, with 32 spokes front and rear. More spokes is a good choice for rough pavement and dirt. We'll encounter plenty of both on the old roads. The wheels that came with the Waterford are lighter, faster, more aerodynamic; these are slower but more durable. Tried and true.

Also, the front hub generates electricity, for chasing coyotes!

For more cheap fun, try reading this rant from the wheelbuilder. If it doesn't make you roll on the floor laughing, at least you can tell from the number of words that wheels are important.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Once more to Pope Valley

It's a springtime ritual, the pilgrimage from Davis to Pope Valley and back along Highway 128. Kim sent out an email last week and I replied. The night before it hit me. 130 miles!

At least it's not an ugly route. 30 miles through the flat farmland of the Central Valley, then the orchards along Putah Creek. Lots of right angles around farm parcels.

Then we climb around Lake Berryessa and turn north through rolling oak chaparral, the classic California landscape. In another 20 miles, Pope Valley has everything: store, school, grange hall, and a place that repairs farm machinery. Machines in all states of repair are on display along the road. We check in and then head back to Davis the same way.

Maybe it's spring but it's very early spring; outside Motel 6 there's an unmistakeable bite to the air. I'm a little underdressed.

Why am I here? Don't know.

At the tent in the parking lot there's Dan! and all the social circuits start clicking. After many miles with him and Ann they've become role models: gracious, accepting, smart, down-to-earth, courageous. He was up past midnight, getting things ready for us.

Kim's been riding plenty! Jim helps un-crust her chain.

More and more riders show up. It's the social hour! JT is here - so is Rob, Paul, Eric, Don, Cheryl and David, Kim, Jim, Ken, Tim... Time accelerates. Dan gathers us all for a few words, then calls the 90-second warning.

Ready or not...

Once we roll, it's good. I can do it. The trick for motivation is getting to that point.

Route 128 is where it all started, my first 200k. It was 1998. Heading west toward the hills and Lake Berryessa, the past keeps catching up. Nostalgia for old friends, old routes, the former me. It's a beautiful sunny, crisp morning. This time the bitter is definitely mixed in with the sweet.

Climbing Cardiac, a rider asks where I live. This seems abrupt, but sometimes on-bike conversations are like that. "Silicon Valley", I say back. Too bad, she says, because we are similar pace and style. She lives in Sacramento. I'm definitely looking for new people to ride with. Hmmm, the train goes to Sac...

It's a day free from TBI, except in Pope Valley itself. We have to memorize a phrase at mile 16.6, then write it down at mile 65. The volunteers just have to give me the words. Then, I look all over for a sweatband that is actually around my neck and everyone laughs.

There's some wind and it's great to take turns pulling with Cynthia. She rides strong and smooth and thank goodness, doesn't stop much. All business, no ego. She's glad I know the turns. How many stairsteps on the backside of Cardiac (4). Which way the wind usually blows on this section. The location of the water hose at the Pardhesa Store (OK that was a lucky guess).

Turns out she's done 8 Ironman triathlons, but is kind of done with running. Eight! Her goal this year is the Davis Double Century. I've done that ride a time or two.

Both our husbands worry while we're out on the road. Both of us are looking for the next goal. My lower back hurts like heck. She's not totally comfortable, either.

It might not be the glory days, but today is OK. It's OK. I collect other people's hard-luck stories:
  • Torn ACL (mostly healed).
  • Arthritis in knees.
  • A bum shoulder after a broken collarbone.
  • Burnout.
  • Congestion, nausea. 
  • Broken derailleur cable (30 miles in one gear).
And as one volunteer tells another at the finish, "men are from Mars and women are from Venus"!
    I know the way to Pope Valley and back. Just need to find the way forward from here...