Monday, July 30, 2012

Birthday lists

As kids we used to tack a list of things we wanted to the refrigerator. The list would go up several weeks before the big day. Large items would land on top. It paid to be realistic though. This was the stuff we really wanted for our birthday. No "trip to Disneyland". More like "instamatic camera" or "5-way colored pen" or "label maker".

We knew not to ask for bubble gum or nail polish or pop music or store-bought cookies. Those were off the table.

Mom would also make us whatever we wanted for dinner, and the kind of cake we wanted. Every year I asked for chocolate cake with pink frosting. To me, chocolate cake and pink frosting just go together.

Today my list is full of people, and experiences. To have one day each year where people I care about send an email, or call and leave a message on the machine, that counts for a lot. Or they might meet me for dinner at a swank restaurant in San Francisco. Whatever, it's all good. I am lucky.

This year almost the whole family checked in. But the most surprising folks were the San Francisco Randonneurs RBA, Rob Hawks, and the California Triple Crown. Thanks Rob! The electronic card from the CTC includes quotes that apply quite nicely to this project. And there's a link in case I feel like looking back to see that I've finished a bike ride or two. It's as if they knew me well...

Friday, July 27, 2012

Back to the beginning

It's Friday. Leaving camp proves challenging as the kitchen refuses to go neatly back into its boxes.

The first half of the day I ride solo to Jacksonville. Solo, that is, except for Jim who peels off a pack going Mach Whatever to chat on the way into town.

A leisurely hour-long coffee break at the halfway point. It's tough to be on vacation!

The second half is old hat from 2 weeks ago, from the Applegate Valley into Ashland. With a few key improvements to the route. The main one is the Bear Creek Greenway, a bike path alternate to 99.

There are no real hills today. Just like that, another SuperTour is done. Someone commented last night that it seems like a lifetime ago since we were here. 900 miles should make you remember every little thing, but it does the opposite! Lots of new experiences and memories to crowd out the old ones.

Some impressions:

  • No sales tax
  • Crater Lake is breathtaking
  • When you forget to put a memory card back in the camera, lots of places sell them
  • Friends are everywhere, even new friends
  • Groups have dynamics and there's a spoiler in every group
  • Other people have your birthday, too
  • Oregon drivers are WAY more considerate than California drivers
  • Oregon log truck drivers are exactly like log truck drivers everywhere
  • WiFi is still scarce in the RV parks of the Cascades
  • Old mill sites make fine parks and campgrounds
  • It's impossible to eat too many berries
  • Bacon is a power food
  • Getting into camp early is overrated
  • Socializing is underrated
People and bikes pile into cars at Glenyan RV Park. I-5 takes most of us away. Jim and I motor southward, where Danny is waiting. One of the roads we take is Highway 128. Much easier in a car!

Our home for the weekend...
Many thanks to Mike for the inspiration, and Jim for the long detour to the Valley of the Moon!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The last hill

Last night at the meeting Steve told us to fuel up tomorrow at the store at mile 35. We'll need the food and water to climb a hill from there to mile 50. No services.

Somehow I told myself that Sharps Creek was the last hill of this tour. My legs are a little dead after yesterday. Push them and not much happens. Also, I've been awake since 3am when a freight train roared through camp. In fact the tracks run right next to camp, but sound like they go straight through my tent.

On days like this, SuperTour gets you on your bike before 8am.

Heading toward the ugly commercial strip near I-5, we have a little group in tow. The pace is a bit frenzied. Like galloping horses, the riders affect each other by proximity. Four of us, Mike, Jeff, Jeff, and me, stick together for the gradual climb along the Umpqua. We take turns at the front to help balance the effort. The pace is 18-20mph. For about 90 minutes.

At the Tiller Store (mile 35), we fuel up on whatever they have. A hot day calls for a spicy hot V8 and a stick of beef jerky. Need some sugar as well. Try two soft oatmeal cookies glued together with marshmallow creme. The cookie sandwich is a bargain at 99 cents, if only I could gag it down. All that matters now is the next 15 miles, the hill.

For 5 miles it's 18-20mph with Jeff and his buddy. Then I just let the two of them go.
Helping Chuck is a welcome break from climbing.
The last 3 miles get steeper. Jeff-the-GPS-guy is right behind me and we keep the same pace to the top. Pushing so hard my upper body is shaking. Jeff's vintage KISS cycling shorts would cheer up anyone. In fact, his whole outfit screams late 70's. He must keep that in a Ziploc bag at home to protect the elastic!
Looking back for the first time in 11 days.
Next stop, lunch.

Down and away, toward the tiny crossroads of Trail, Oregon.

It's early so we ride a few miles the wrong way to lunch in Shady Cove. No shoulder on the road. It's freakin' hot and the town offers neither shade nor cove. What it does offer are burgers and fries and Cobb salad and beer and AC at the Smokehouse.
Six of us enjoy some happy camaraderie at the table. We stopped thinking about tents, mosquitoes, schedules, laundry, or where to ride tomorrow. When we finally get to camp people want to know if we got lost.

Yeah in a way, we kind of did.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Crossing the Divide

Slept well after a long and happy ride yesterday.

Vic warned me about today's ride as well. If I liked the climb to Cottage Grove then I was REALLY gonna like Sharps Creek Road. I asked how long, how high? 3-ish miles and 3000 feet.

Hope he is wrong about that. Only one way to find out.

The road winds gradually along the creek. Rushing water, lush forests, filtered morning light. The earth feels alive, rejuvenated, kind. The air smells good, makes you want to breathe. Wildflowers by the side of the road. We are in a rainforest wonderland.

Vic said the real climb starts right after the turn onto the forest service road. And not to expect relief on the switchbacks. One thing about Vic, he is always telling the truth. The pavement is rough chipseal, providing maximum friction. As the road tilts up you can almost feel yourself slipping down, back toward the river. Panic makes us push upward. For slightly more than 3 miles and 9%, with one long pitch of around 15%.

At a point where a creek tumbles down the hillside mosquitos start landing on me for an early lunch. It turns out I can actually ride faster up this hill!

The reward at the top is a beautiful meadow filled with wildflowers. Huckleberry Mountain, says the map. Calapooya Divide.

It's turning into another hot day as we descend down, down the other side of the ridge, dodging log trucks that are pedal to the metal up the hill. They have to shoot the moon! That's the reason these roads exist - timber companies need to get into the logging roads branching off either side. Rock Creek Road is falling down the hill in several places as well, so we dodge the work crews and patches of gravel.

At the end of the day riders will weigh in on Sharps Creek versus Westfir. Most of us found Sharps Creek to be easier. It's steeper but shorter - maybe 8 miles total with 3.5 of those steep climbing. But after lots of rolling hills in the afternoon most said today's ride was tough. Unexpectedly tough. When the Waterford's top tube feels warm, the air is more than 92 degrees. Someone's smartphone says 98. Humid, too.

We are hitting the drink coolers like there's no tomorrow. Or like tomorrow's ride is easier. Which it is!

Myrtle Creek is a tiny place with a split identity a la Route 66. The older part of town, where we're spending the night, has character and a covered bridge. The old sawmill site next to the bridge has been turned into a city park, a baseball field, and our RV park. On the main drag maybe a third of the businesses are closed. The newer part of town, near I-5, is ugly and busier.

Too hot to get in the tent, so we walk downtown in the dark and wrap up at the Town Tavern.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Local hero

According to Steve (the organizer), when he put the route together tomorrow was the big problem. Most maps showed no obvious way to get from Westfir to Cottage Grove without riding all day on busy highways. Talking to locals he discovered there is a road, there is another way. That's the good news.

Bad news, the road climbs to over 4400 feet. Narrow but paved, it traverses a huge forested ridge. The climb starts at mile 6 and ends at mile 20. Another 14-mile hill! We've been doing a lot of those. At mile 23 we'll start to descend. Steve also tells us to carry lunch and at least 3 water bottles. There are no services of any kind until the afternoon.

From what Vic says it must be a steep climb:

  • West Cascades Scenic Byway is nothing compared with this ride.
  • Hope you have a triple (crank) on that bike.
  • This ride is "easy".

Vic, a Route 66 buddy, happens to be a local here. We ran into him and his wife Carolyn on the rest day in Bend. He's actually ridden his bicycle on the road in question. He's gonna ride it again today with us.

The day begins as a foggy cool morning. After not sleeping well I am feeling hazy and slow. Luckily having Vic to follow makes it easy. We ride through Oakridge and then hang a right. Right again at a functioning log mill. Up we go.

Some folks start rabbitting up the hill. I just gear down. For 4.5 miles the grade is steep, maybe 8 or 9%. Even the bunnies aren't talking much. Around mile 5 it becomes a regular hill for 10 more miles. The fog is burning off and it's a warm humid day. My gloves are soaked with sweat. The road winds on and on with no cars, just us. It's a real epic ride.
At the top!
It is hotter at the summit than on the descent. Vic says there must be an inversion layer today.

The busy road carries log trucks and locals, but a rail trail runs parallel. It gives us 17 easy and picturesque miles into Cottage Grove. My legs are lagging for no good reason. And at mile 63 both of us seriously need food. Vic knows a nice Thai restaurant right on the route. The waiter is so shy he almost doesn't speak at all. Green curry chicken and Thai iced tea hit the spot.

View 1 of Lorane Store
View 2 of Lorane Store
Ready (or not) for the out-and-back to Lorane. Several miles ago we passed the turn to the campground at Lake Dorena, and this extra leg rounds out the day's mileage.

We land at Lorane during the hottest part of the day, with cicadas buzzing in trees along the road. This farming community feels unchanged since, say, 3 or 4 generations. True to form, the store says it closes at 4pm but actually closes at 3, right after we get our cold drinks.

Vibrant is not exactly the word for this place.

My legs come alive in time to push back over the hill. The wind is at our backs, helping us in. In Cottage Grove Vic says goodbye just as Bonnie is rolling up. We get a chance to chat before landing in camp around 5. It's too late to nap in the tent but we're already relaxed and smiling. Our wooded campsite and lake view, icing on the cake. 100 miles, 7831 feet of climbing.

Today proves that to have a good day on the bike you don't have to be a criterium racer. Physical exertion and speed and ability? Not so much. I was sleepy and slow as a slug. But everything else went swimmingly: weather, food, company. The luxury of a local guide and domestique almost all day. It's been fabulous to catch up with Vic and meet Carolyn, too.

Our daily schedule and routes and even the menus are totally planned out in advance. Plans are good, but surprises can be sweeter.

The SuperTour charging station at Lake Dorena.
Tomorrow's ride is hard, too. Time to hit the tent!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Bridges of Lane County, Oregon

Last night at dinner someone called The Bridges of Madison County a chick flick. I mentioned that Clint Eastwood, aka Dirty Harry, directed the movie. A conundrum. In large groups questions can get thornier and more complicated.

On the other hand problems that seem insurmountable can and do get solved. Excellent coffee every morning for 50 people in camp. A homemade contraption, part bicycle pump and part pressure cooker. A shifter fixed with instructions from the Internet and a slightly melted WD-40 straw. A tandem permanently fixed to the top of a car, liberated when someone's key matches the lock. Such are the benefits of traveling in a group.

A detour featuring this covered bridge.
From Camp Yale at Belknap Hot Springs we set off down a busy local highway with marginal shoulder. One SuperTourist had already scoped out an alternate parallel route starting at mile 4. He announced it at dinner and this morning everyone followed the new improved route. The local roads were densely forested and carried little traffic.

Our cue sheets were no help at this point. But with Jeff-the-GPS-guy in our pack, we successfully navigated the turns.

On a fast downhill, trouble ahead... a disorganized clump of cyclists in the road. A crash? A mechanical issue? No, just a local attraction. Today's route is a moderate 70 miles, encouraging stops for exploration.

Then comes the left turn onto a road we follow for the rest of the day. Its formal name is the West Cascades Scenic Byway. And scenic it truly is. 60 miles with no turns. Lush fir forests. Rivers following along the road. Cool temperatures under the shade of countless trees. 

Conversation drops to a minimum and soon stops entirely. Mike and Jeff continue up the hill while I stop at a campground for a snack. Time stretches into long dreamy moments, marked only by birdcalls and the rushing of the McKenzie and Willamette Rivers.

Riders emerge on the other side near Westfir with a look that says 'this is why I love riding my bike'. 

Just before town the road passes under this railroad bridge. I can't help gazing at the underside with its structure totally exposed. Wonder if the bridge is still used. Then comes a distant whistle. A few moments to decide: stay underneath or make a getaway. 

Unlike the soft quiet space inside the Belknap Bridge the train is unapologetically loud and fractious. It rattles the air below the structure like an echo chamber. The bridge itself does not vibrate or budge an inch, even under thousands of tons of rushing equipment. 50 feet above tiny Westfir, the long freight train passes without a glance.

This is just the kind of experience that used to terrify me after the accident. I'd be overwhelmed by the loudness and vibration. I'd watch for signs that the bridge was about to collapse under the weight of the train. The neuropsych folks call this "fearing the worst will happen" on their tests. Today it's only noise and no big deal.

Just a few yards away, another covered bridge. Every one of these bridges is slightly different.

The Office Bridge, longest in Oregon.
This one led to the mill in Westfir, which burned to the ground in 1984. At its peak the mill employed over 500 people. You can still tell the timber industry was strong here. Tall hills on every side are covered with second-growth trees. All the forest service campgrounds along the scenic byway are on former timber land. This mill site is now the trailhead for a huge network of mountain biking trails. Both Westfir and nearby Oakridge are banking on mountain biking tourists.

A mile or two down the road the large open field at Casey's RV Park hosts us for the night. The showers are a fair walk but after a serene and gorgeous ride, we have few complaints.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

One perfect day

All quiet in camp at dusk after a glorious ride.

From Bend this morning we rode to Sisters, OR for coffee and pastries. On Sunday morning, it felt kind of like a routine weekend ride, the kind most SuperTourists could do in our sleep.

And then for something different, McKenzie Pass. The old road is narrow with light traffic, winding through pine forests. Near the top of a 16-mile climb, the view changes to lava and rock. Open vistas, panoramic views of no fewer than 6 snow-capped peaks. Each peak has a different shape. There are several volcanic cones as well.

To help orient visitors like us someone built an observatory at the top of the pass out of the volcanic rock. We can view each peak through a small window in the tower, where its name is also etched.

Only Mt. Hood, 80 miles north, is obscured by haze. The Three Sisters, Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Washington,  Black Butte, and many others surround us.

Because of its length this climb was not a normal Sunday ride. Even more special is the panoramic view of the Cascade Range. Often you climb a mountain pass and descend the other side without ever seeing the scope of your work. Even in the Alps it's not typical to have this kind of visibility at the top of a pass. It's an unexpected gift.

We linger, taking it all in.
When it's time to descend, the effort of climbing disappears so fast it just seems to vaporize. The pass is 5 miles or so longer on this side, resulting in some high speeds. If a rental RV hadn't been creaking around the corners in front of me, it would have been a screaming descent.

A soak in Belknap Hot Springs, a nap before dinner, a perfect day.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Rest day

Bend, Oregon. 84 degrees, no mosquitos! Last night there were lots of takers for the 51-mile optional local ride. This morning, not so many. The prospect of a day in street clothes is too tempting.

Besides good food and the Ryder truck with our gear, laundry is the other priority on this trip. Barbie the Taxi Driver shuttles us into town at 9am. She gives us her card for the return trip.
Laundry, oh so good!
It was a productive hour at the downtown Soap 'n Suds. After living in a tent for 6 days, stacking my clean clothes is a religious experience. Well worth the cab fare into town.

We're camped out at Starbucks, sucking up bandwidth. So far Mike's had a coffee and an iced tea and Jeff's had a coffee with 2 refllls. The Cascade Cycling Classic is in town for a criterium race. Downtown the roads are roped off and Team Competitive Cyclist is here sharing the patio with us. They're eating pastries and discussing how many calories are in a Krispy Kreme donut. Jeff just said he sure wishes he were riding his bike out to Smith Rock... We could use a bike ride to work off the caffeine!

It's a rest day for us, not the racers...

Wind, water, and smoked salmon mousse

Wind shook the sides of the tent all night long. After a beautiful grey dawn rain came around 6am.
Odell Lake, 6am.
Cyclists ran for their GoreTex and scurried around in various stages of panic. Most ate breakfast standing under the awning. I kept warm by helping Mimi (cook) and Jack (wrangler/mule). About half the group headed out into the rain after breakfast; we waited until the rain stopped around 9. The clouds slowly broke up as famished mosquitos descended upon us. Hasty exit from camp!

The wet roads and passing semis resulted in a few impromptu, unwelcome showers. But as the weather cleared spirits improved. We averaged 17.4 mph for the first 47 miles. I'm ravenous. Mike and Jeff listen to me fantasize about bacon for 20 miles. Finally we reach Elk Lake and the cafe and the Californian sandwich with sweet potato fries. It's bacon on ciabatta with melted brie and mushrooms. Mmmm. That goes well with the party music: ELO, George Thoroughgood, Credence Clearwater Revival. Those with smartphones tell the rest of us about the movie massacre in Aurora, Colorado.

With this kind of day-on-day mileage I can only focus on the here and now. The past 2 days I've run out of fuel mid-ride, usually in the middle of a climb. That's the metabolism engine kicking into high gear. Now it's eat, ride, eat, ride, sleep. Repeat. The stock of Mimi and Jack and the rest of the crew has reached a local peak. The food and operations are a finely tuned machine. Last night dinner was pork stew with veggies over wild rice, with a fresh cabbage slaw. Chocolate cake and fresh strawberries for dessert. We're eating better in camp than at home.

We also have a mascot dog, Max. Max lives with tandem team Patrick and Grace, but you can usually find him around Mimi's mom Beba.
Max and Beba negogiate the smoked salmon mousse.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

3 lakes

Diamond Lake this morning.
You can't see the mosquitos. But they're there! Was riding with Bill P. this morning. His quota for mosquito bites was reached last night. What's the quota? 65. Yesterday they bit me during the ride around Crater Lake. Welts all over my body. Isn't that against the rules?

Entrance to Odell Lake.
We ended at Odell Lake. In between Diamond and Odell we rode a not-strictly-necessary out-and-back up to Waldo Lake. Beautiful lake, but a very hard 45 mile leg. Just over a hundred miles overall.

Glad to be back in camp. No showers, so we dunked in the lake!

Ring around a crater

Been having some weird dreams lately. Some really disturbing ones, some good ones.

I was riding around a huge crater, on a road that humans built for this purpose. I was with my friend Mike but there were a lot of other people we knew as well. It was an outdoor party or something.

To see the crater and get to the road we climbed for 22 miles. Uphill forever. There were other cyclists going fast the other way, down the hill.

Then I recognized someone so I yelled her name "Eleanor! Eleanor!". She stopped and it was indeed Eleanor from the trip on Route 66! After hugs she said she was with PAC Tour, headed to Ashland. I said make sure you go into town, you will love it.

We all took pictures of each other and kept on climbing the hill to the crater.

The sun shone on the crater filled with blue water. The island in the middle looked like a miniature mountain.

As the clouds moved the light kept changing and everywhere we passed different arrangements of trees and rocks and water and sky.

We rode on and on. Sometimes we stopped to take a picture of the blue lake in the crater. There were a lot of hills and sometimes the road was narrow but we rode on and on.

Thunderclouds gathered but no rain. Best day on the bike in a long time.

When a giant  mosquito bit my foot, I woke up!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Green Springs Summit, Pacific Crest Trail

Today we climbed another hill. It's a SuperTour moment when you look down at your speedo and it says 11.2 miles and you think 'great, only 3.8 miles to go before the top of the hill'.

Aileen and Tom near the top of the hill.
At the top is the Green Springs Inn. Their pie is legendary. Might be a little early in the day for pie. Gotta keep moving...

A person in a blue jacket is standing at the pull-out for the PCT. His name is Dan. He started at the south end of the trail May 18 (2 months ago). According to Dan, all the thru hikers are progressing quickly through California because of no snow in the Sierras. He's moving faster than most.

Of course, speed has its price.
Dan's advice is to never switch shoes, as he did. When you know something works, just stick with it. A zero day in Ashland helped with the pain.

Brave Dan from Fairfax, Virginia.
He's also looking forward to a resupply box at Crater Lake. SuperTour will be there one day ahead of him. Word among the thru hikers is that the trail at Crater Lake is really rough. I can relay that the roads around the lake have just been cleared and the temps are on the way back up. Good for melting the snow.

He gives the Waterford a wistful look. Bikes move so much faster than walking and he has a mountain bike at home. When he sees a big downhill he wishes he were on a bike. I tell him think about mechanical issues, and flats.

Good luck, Dan!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Out and back

It's Day 1 of SuperTour and the route is a climb to the top of Mt. Ashland. It's 18.6 miles from the campground to the ski area.

That's a lot of pushing. The kind of ride that's good for the brain.

Mike and Jeff lead the way to the top. Panoramic views. Look south and see... Mt. Shasta.
Shasta, barely visible in the saddle
Trust me, it's there! So beautiful. The weather is cooling off; the high clouds signal a front moving in from the west. Rain and thunderstorms on their way.

Coming down, a fast free ride. Just one swath of gravel. Wheee! A confidence builder for launching  tomorrow morning out of Ashland.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

As you like it

  1. Free and good coffee at the hostel
  2. Laundry facilities
  3. Farmer's market: raspberries, pain au chocolat
  4. Midnight blue sleeveless velvet sheath, $8
  5. Chicken caesar salad at Greenleaf
  6. Nap
  7. As You Like It

Friday, July 13, 2012

No such thing

At 1:28am, a strange noise then silence. Someone might be removing a glass louver from the bathroom window, as a prelude to breaking in. Wait and listen. OK, probably no one is in the bathroom. Scurry in there to retrieve my pepper spray. Should have put it by the bed in the first place.

At 9:20 roll out of Patrick Creek. Kinda late, but breakfast was worth it. Western ommie, hash browns, banana bread. In-room coffee, made double-strength. Ready to go.

Was chatting with a teacher from Humboldt State who is clearly a regular at the lodge. She is a connoisseur of swimming holes of all things, collecting and swapping intelligence on them like some people collect baseball cards. This is her furthest point east along 199. She dunks herself in the river here, then stops at a couple other choice spots before heading back to her teaching life.

Her reason for coming is "y'know, playing in the water". She says the water is so clean it's a spiritual experience. Apparently the Mattole, Eel, and Klamath are the warm rivers. The Smith, like the Trinity River, is cold and fast. Clear, no algae at all on the rocks. According to her the Smith River is the #1 cleanest river in the country. Aside from that empirical data point are the many seekers who are drawn here for subjective, mysterious reasons. She tells the story of two siblings who carried their father's ashes. They were looking for a creek that had been dedicated to their mother, a place to reunite their parents forever. She says the old hotel has a ghost, a woman abandoned by her true love.

She says she meets such interesting people out here. She's interesting too, maybe with a tinge of sadness.

I've been warned about the next few miles of road, that they're narrow and steeper. It's no problem though. Warnings like this are usually misfires from car drivers. A bike is made for roads like this.

The Collier Tunnel, 1000 feet long and without shoulder, is an exception. To avoid it I take a left on Oregon Mountain Road. It's clearly signed, which is nice. The biggest treat of the day, a drop-dead gorgeous road  almost totally shaded by trees. Manzanita, fir, pine, and maybe madrone. Paved except for one short gravel section. 7 miles without another human soul. The road actually winds across the top of the tunnel, without giving a clue, and dumps out at the Oregon border. Perfection!

It's windy in the Illinois Valley and I find the towns depressing. Liquor and thrift stores. Shuttered old motels and other businesses. No folk art, as people struggle to make a living. Fox News on the TV at the Wonder General Store.
Turkey sandwich with a side of Fox News
Applegate Valley, another excellent bike route. 20 miles of gently rolling farmland along the Applegate River. Reminds me of the Swedish countryside. The wind mostly at my back. Wave to the first cyclist I've seen since leaving the coast. Grateful to give Grants Pass a miss.

Today and yesterday there have been emotional moments on the road. They come in waves, uninvited. That's unusual; when I ride there's a goal and a means to achieve it and food stops along the way. Lots of welcome distraction in the scenery and people I meet. My life is still in ragged pieces, maybe that's the reason. Or seeing all the places of my childhood again, with their trigger points.

Sort and then sort some more as the pedals spin.This is a way of honoring my family. My parents' values and where I grew up. Piloting my little ship along new and different roads. Taking care of everything myself.

At the end of the day, dinner is waiting at the Ashland Food Co-op. It was a hot afternoon, a hot ride. My iced tea comes in a glass bottle with a cap. Turn the cap over and it says:

There is no such thing as too much love - even too much is not enough.


Thursday, July 12, 2012

The epic past, the liquid now

Woke up at 6:30am to a couple of loud thumps against the house. Eventually, Tupelo's brown goat face emerged around the corner as she snacked on foliage. Later I came upon the contents of my canvas Bike to Work day bag strewn around the deck. Mostly OK, just a little nibbling on the corner of The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick. Also, the bag collected an amazing amount of dirt. And a little of the foam padding was liberated from my helmet. Goat-ed!

A bittersweet farewell to Dad and a hug. Out of Trinidad in the grey mist. Lots of touristas pushing south out of Patricks Point State Park. Full saddlebags with camping gear. I feel a little guilty with my fast-packing setup.
Morning light on Big Lagoon
As I will tell the waitress at breakfast tomorrow morning, the idea of this ride is the unknown. To ride roads that are new to me. And to meet the other crazies in Ashland the day after tomorrow.

When I was a kid we rarely headed north. The route to Portland, 8 hours in a car. Cyclists also rarely head north on 101. Moss invades the northbound shoulder, already miniscule in spots. Glad for my neon yellow jacket.

Leave the highway at Prairie Creek. The sign says 'no commercial vehicles allowed'. Over 20 years I might have visited the park a couple of times. Couldn't really understand what the fuss was about. This quiet road stretches north past the park entrance.

Then, unbelievable trees. Trees upon trees. Along the road and deep, too, as far as the eye can see. Old, huge giants. Redwoods, yes. Can these be Coast Redwoods? The SMALL ones? These are huge, silent, elegant witnesses. Not just redwoods but also cedar, spruce, and fir. From their root systems, patterns of bark, green offshoots at eye level, 300 feet upward into the sky. Incredibly moving just to be in their presence. I  ride slowly. Even the cars show respect.

After this 10-mile reverie, back on 101. Not every road can be the Redwood Scenic Parkway, but in the midst of Pacific vistas and old growth forests the highway somehow manages to be an ugly experience. I imagine three generations of logging trucks hauling away the corpses of trees. A 5-mile hill with bad pavement. Then a fast, long downhill with no shoulder and the aforementioned moss. Semis and cars steaming down the hill behind me. It's never good when the sign says "Watch Your Downhill Speed". Hard to believe this is part of the Pacific Coast Bike Route. I (and the other cyclists) survive.

To restore some faith in humanity I'm gonna bypass Crescent City. Right turn on Humboldt Road before town. Past the Elk Valley Casino, now called Howland Hill Road.  A sign "trailers not recommended". The road tilts upward. Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. The surface becomes dirt, extremely smooth and well-graded.

All around me is, improbably, another old growth forest. This one-lane dirt road winds through it, trees all around. It's possible to put a foot down and touch them. I've stumbled on some kind of ancient tree vortex. A healing vortex. The world's largest redwoods are here. And unlike us the trees do not run or turn away. They bear everything, with silence.

Signs lead to the Stout Grove and a trail down to the Smith River. I ramble to the river bank, gaze at the water. On a gravel bar a group of school kids enjoys their lunch. Lots of people walk the interpretive trail, their expressions peaceful, open, smiling.

A young woman emerges from the river bank and we talk on the way back to the parking area. A local from the other side of the river, for her it has a mystical, therapeutic presence. She loves its clear, cold, cleansing properties. After spending four years in Davis she was drawn back to the Smith River. Probably as some kind of guide. There's a good swimming hole near Gasquet, according to her, and I have to go in the river to experience it.

A few hours later, after a lovely gradual incline along the river up to Gasquet and Patrick Creek, I do just that.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Throw the stick!

I'm always looking for inspiration. For motivation to repeat what works for brain injury. Sometimes it's boring. Sometimes I can't see how doing the same thing over and over could be worthwhile.

Plenty of smart animals do the same thing over and over. Karma, for one! She could play this game all day long for the joy of it. She can also read minds, solve problems, and understand English. She could probably run the country, for that matter. But she really wants to chase the stick.

Over and over...

Sunday, July 8, 2012

We need the eggs...

Greetings from northern Humboldt County!

The chickens at my dad's place are in high gear. 34 eggs in 2 days... The eggs go to a local cafe where they become high-quality baked goods and breakfast items. Also, Dad and I had a frittata for lunch :-) .

This doesn't have much to do with Super Tour, except it's on the way to Ashland. Sort of. In a few days I'll set off on in that direction on 101 and 199. That route is completely new to me and it's a bit worrying. For now, rest is the order of the day. I'm sleeping off the stresses of home.

Protein loading. Consuming photons, and wine.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Packing :-(

Packing is where it all began. I could not do it for months post-TBI. Packing now is possible, but takes 2x, 3x, 4x as long as before. With many inefficiencies.

Packing is nerve-wracking, frustrating, hand-wringing, fraught with peril. It is not just the process that wears me to a nub. Chaos! It is also knowing, knowing for sure, that at least one of these things will not make it home because I will leave it somewhere on the trip. So don't get attached.

But DO get attached enough to put it in the duffle, now. At the start. Here's what's left:
sleeping bag + pad (basement)
day pack (basement)
swap out wheels and tires
get cash
vet contents of large duffel
pack for trip to dad's
minimal toiletry kit
vitamins for 3 weeks
rain jacket

And the master list that Steve the Organizer put together:

Camp Chair
Sleeping Bag
Sleeping Pad

Tent Pee Bottle (Cindy's best idea ever!)
Day Pack 
Luggage Bags (2)
Energy Bars
Frame Pump / Co2  & Adapter
Driver's License
Credit Card
Handlebar or Seat Bag
ATM Card
Extra tire
Cyclometer + Extra Battery
Change $ for Showers/Lndy
Water Bottles (3)
Cell Phone + Charger
Alarm Clock
Toiletries: bandaids, foot cream, skin cream, toothpaste, suntan lotion, shampoo, razor, Ibuprofen, insect repellent, chapstick, floss, ear plugs, clothes pins, chamois butter, "whatever else…"
Lndy Soap
Clothes Line / Pins
Tubes (2-3)
Camera + Charger
Extra Spokes (front & back)
Power Strip for charging
Extra Cables
Extra Cleats
Chain Lube
Degreaser + Rag    
Tail light    
Bike Multi-Tool    
Bike Cable Lock
Flashlight/Headlamp + Batteries
Small Towel
Bike Shoes
Bike Socks (2-3)
Rain Booties
Bike Sunglasses
Short-Finger Gloves
Full-finger Gloves
Bike Shorts (2-3)
Leg + Arms Warmers
Bike Jersey/s
Wind Vest
T Shirts
T Shirt - LS
Rain Jacket
Skull Cap
Sweat Band

The letter T

TBI. PTSD. These acronyms have more in common than just the letter T.

The event that caused the brain injury might have been traumatic, causing fear to be stored. And TBI actually messes with the limbic system in your brain. That's the area responsible for all the squishy high-value stuff: emotions and mood, regulation of emotions, motivation, pleasure, hormones. Can't easily be controlled in quote-unquote normal folks. Frequently haywire in TBI folks. Also one of the hallmarks of PTSD.

One set of people, Camp A, believes they are mutually exclusive. Meaning you either have one, or the other. Both are kind of invisible injuries. So Camp A folks could just parse a person's symptoms to tell whether they have PTSD or TBI. Right?

Actually the list of symptoms for both is remarkably similar (slide 10). So good luck with that.

Another set of people, Camp B, believes they can coexist. Meaning they interact with each other, making each other worse, better, different - depending on the context. This is a much more complicated scenario.

For example, if a TBI survivor seems irritable or tearful, someone in Camp A would deny mild TBI because they would deny the interplay of cognitive and emotional symptoms in TBI. To them, only purely cognitive symptoms can indicate TBI. Emotional symptoms contaminate the diagnosis and can mean only one thing: PTSD.

Someone in Camp B could also deny TBI because of the overlap in symptoms. They could adopt the point of view that emotional symptoms must be subtracted in order to understand and treat TBI. They could even deny TBI altogether because mild TBI is said to eventually resolve itself in something like 95% of cases. (If you have the exact statistic, comments welcome...)

In my case sometimes I wish I could deny something! My TBI symptoms are clearly both cognitive AND emotional. Whatever is not TBI is related to caffeine. And cognitive issues, like not being able to track or remember what still needs to happen for Super Tour, bring post-traumatic symptoms to the surface. Recovery from the brain injury drives both types of healing for me. This puts me in Camp B.

Forensic psychologists and the military folks who treat returning soldiers are intensely interested in this topic. In Camp B you will also find the author of the linked presentation, Douglas C. Johnson, PhD of the Naval Medicine Center in San Diego. For him, PTSD and TBI are two sides of the same coin. They interact in unpredictable ways.

Dr Johnson's conclusion seems to be that the two disorders are so related that diagnosis has to be collaborative. If PTSD is suspected, a psychologist needs to evaluate that. The thing he says distinguishes PTSD from TBI symptoms is Criterion C (slide 28).

Criterion C: Avoidance & Emotional Numbing C. Persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma and numbing of general responsiveness (not present before the trauma)
  • Efforts to avoid thoughts, feelings or conversations
  • Efforts to avoid activities, places, or people
  • Inability to recall important aspect of trauma
  • Markedly diminished interest or participation in activities
  • Feeling of detachment or estrangement from others 
  • Restricted range of affect
  • Sense of foreshortened future
PTSD is a diagnosis that only a psychologist who specializes in PTSD is qualified to make. WiTh loTs of daTa poinTs. 

Monday, July 2, 2012

Cry me a river

The last post turned up something important. There's a common thread in all the people who have treated me like a fraud. Pressed for time? Aren't we all. 100% normal and healthy? Not likely.

They can't cry.

No joke, they need to hold back somehow. Control their own emotions. These are generally not the artists and musicians in the crowd. By the way this does not mean right-brain dominant people are automatically more empathetic. That would be an ecological fallacy.

No, think more analytical, maybe a bit emotionally damaged. Everything has to fit in the box. Because I need it to.

Oh wait, is this about me? Or you? Confused.

Seeking help for a brain injury you might also get a first-hand education in the latest brain research on empathy... When someone is listening and trying to empathize and they get it wrong, the reason is the whole conversation has become about them. They've quietly hijacked it to get it under control and make it serve...them. Weird, huh? Kind of backwards.

Empathy plays a role in whether you seem credible, too. Apparently whether someone is inclined to believe you reflects whether they see you as like them, or unlike them. If you have a brain injury, look for similarities with the people trying to help you.

We humans cry for lots of reasons. Sadness is one, but also anger, fear, frustration, fatigue, helplessness, joy. On Thursday my tears came from being so, so tired of working so damn hard. And I'm angry no one can or will help me.

Thanks for listening. Pick a reason or two and have a good cry on me, OK? It's good for all of us.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Get real

One thing about traumatic brain injury is it's (mostly) invisible. That can be a plus for casual interactions. I can go to a party and dress in nice clothes and talk like the Queen of England. Curl my pinky finger. No one will ever know the difference!

People who spend time around us day in and day out, that's another story. They notice the little gaps and repetitions and inefficiencies, partly because they remember how we used to be. And it's different from how other people operate. How many of your friends have lost 5 pairs of sunglasses this year? There are tangible gaps, pretty easy to pick out over time. The same piece of music played by a different artist.

Not everyone has the luxury of time to figure out what's going on. As injuries go TBI is inconvenient and less than straightforward. You might be faking it. How would they know? They need a lot of data points, more than they have. So it's pretty much guaranteed that at some point, someone at work or in your family or in a doctor's office or at an insurance company will question whether your brain injury is really real.

It's still a tree, right?
Thursday I was in tears talking about my brain injury and the aftermath. As a life chapter this one has truly sucked. Because of this and since I was irritable for months after the accident, someone suggested that I am depressed now (3 years later). Clearly I need treatment in the form of antidepressant medication. This felt like such a bastardization of events that I got more emotional. Which of course seemed to confirm I was depressed! Excellent.

It's possible to be so fast off the line you drive right past the truth: the multiple double espressos needed to chase away the brain fog at that time. Irritability was a side effect of my medication, if you will. Now I'm only irritable when people get things wrong ;-) Tempts me to go all Lisbeth Salander on them. Ride a motorcycle real fast. Carry handcuffs and video equipment.

I would like to thank this person for the motivation to ride 90 hilly miles on Saturday and fold all the clothes on my dresser. Pack most of my things for Super Tour. Host a barbeque. And empty the compost.

To anyone else who is going through a similar process I offer encouragement, the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo books, and this list of fallacies. When experience tells you one thing and someone else puts it together differently, feel free to stick to what you know to be true.

It all comes down to whether they're inclined to believe you. Here are the rationales I've run into out there, the ones for avoiding the real story:
  • Ego - need to prove they're smarter/better than you
  • Ego - professional reputation or promotion on the line; not sure they believe you
  • Money - lose money if injury is real
  • Jealousy - have to work while you receive disability
  • Jealousy - impatience with long recovery times and care required
  • Denial - something they're attached to would be threatened
There must be more and different ones, too. Your input goes here.

5 creeks, 1 lighthouse

It was odd, she thought, how if one was alone, one leant to inanimate things; trees, streams, flowers; felt they expressed one; felt they became one; felt they knew one, in a sense were one; felt an irrational tenderness thus (she looked at that long steady light) as for oneself.
 Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

Today lacked one thing: a goal. The lighthouse was pressed into service. It was an impulse thing.  Because I have to ride and it's been at least a year since I was out there. Because it's a nice day and not too hot. Even after 11 in the morning...

The roads are eerily quiet, even the streets of suburbia. It happened all at once, like someone turned off a spigot. Heading out of town for a long long weekend Somewhere Else. A few stragglers, heavily loaded, make their way to 280. Pescadero Creek Road carries some cars to the county parks on this side of the hill.

Tourists hang out near the shore on Pigeon Point Drive, occupying the benches and viewpoints.

Pescadero, Gazos, La Honda, Alpine, and Adobe. Santa Cruz Mountains creeks. All except Adobe Creek head west toward the Pacific, from the ridge. All except Adobe donated their names to the roads that run along them. In the valley, roads are often named for people, like Portola. People are more important than water. And in the valley the creeks are small affairs, dry in warm weather.

It's nearly July and these creeks are still running. All that March rain still with us. There is something peaceful about riding next to them. The water moves at a civilized pace. The dark and shady creekbed, the oaks and California buckeye and wild fennel and wildflowers of all kinds lining its banks.
Aesculus californica on the bank of Gazos Creek.
Plants of every shape and size pay homage to the creek water. If you were patient and still, the animals would reveal themselves as well. Sooner or later, everything comes to water.
Car flower planters on the bank of Gazos Creek.

The Pope family lives next to Pescadero Creek.

Alpine Creek nurtures this mighty thing.
90 miles, 6740 feet of climbing. I may or may not be ready for Super Tour. So be it...