Wednesday, October 31, 2012

For medicinal purposes...

Last night I tested the candy (for freshness). 2 Peppermint Patties, 1 Twix, 1 KitKat. Green light! Then I smoothed over the little craters in the bowl where the candy had been extracted. 

Today I tested a Peanut Butter Cup. Protein, fat, sugar. Definitely not brain food, but does a great job boosting the mood. Cheaper than the pharmacy, too.

Our neighborhood is usually a destination for trick-or-treaters. In addition to the variety mix we've got extra bags of Tootsie Rolls, Peanut Butter Cups, Twix, and Peppermint Patties. Bring 'em on!

Also, we've got Bella:
Pink tongue sticking out a little...
She actually does that black cat thing where she arches her back at you and skitters sideways a little. The one on every Halloween chotchke, she actually does it. Just not for the camera, of course!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Wish I had a river

I wish I had a river I could skate away on
I wish I had a river so long I could teach my feet to fly
-Joni Mitchell
Today was the appointment with Valley Medical. The rehab medicine people that are supposed to help me move forward. 

One thing is clear: you all are buying iPhones and iPads. On Highway 280 the Exit Only lane for De Anza Boulevard is backed up onto the freeway and there's crazy merging of Apple employees in their vehicles. It's 9:40am, or Geek Rush Hour here in Silicon "we call it flex time" Valley.

I didn't even lose it on the freeway with the desperadoes and cement trucks, or during the 10 minutes it took to get to the roof of the parking garage at Valley Medical. Didn't lose it when the desk person asked for Danny's birthdate again (identity theft, anyone?). Didn't lose it when she put another one of these on my wrist:

Didn't lose it when the nurse said to me "THAT's a pretty top!" as she put on the blood pressure cuff. Didn't lose it when the young doctor came in with his white coat and he was not Benton Giap, the doctor that was recommended. Didn't lose it when there was no explanation why not. Didn't lose it when he asked for the name of my primary care physician. And why was I there? What with both these pieces of information already in the computer. I just quoted to him directly from my referral paperwork.

I thought I was doing pretty well.

Then he wanted me to go through the entire story again, from the beginning, with all my symptoms and gruesome details, which I already did at the clinic in order to get this appointment. And countless times over the last four years to various professionals who couldn't give a flying you know what. Or maybe they do, kinda, but are never going to see me as a person like them. Who sooner or later because of their own limitations would decide I was a "bad patient". That's when I lost it.

Poor guy. You know, he's just out of med school, probably in debt up to his nametag, and no one's told him yet that the system he bought into is totally inhumane and so far, useless. He doesn't understand that there is no way I am going to trust him and his white coat until I see some results. No, I am not going to run around to audiologists and psychologists and physical therapists and what-not. It's not helpful to me to drive the freeways of the Bay Area getting lost, going through the front office routine with a different set of people each time, getting copay bills that I forget to pay, and still not having a job. Just on the off chance that some of this might make me something like a regular human (though different). 

Not going to invest any more in this shipwreck story until we make some progress. That's my new rule.

The young guy eventually brought in a senior doctor, who among other things "just wanted to let me know" about some medication for people who get angry too easily.

As if this has been easy.

Afterwards I drove to Palo Alto and met Vic and Carolyn for a ride around the Loop. Two charming people on their tandem, experiencing the iconic Loop to Woodside for the very first time. Lunch on the terrace. A lovely fall day, sunny and low 70's. The best medicine anyone could hope for.

And then Danny came home from work. I'd done nothing about dinner. At least I can sob in front of him and say "I just wish there was some place I could go to, far away, where no one would notice". 

Some place that already has a village idiot so everyone can focus on that person.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Staying upright

On the way back from breakfast Jim says "Elaine, check your tire". I do; it has air.

Specifically, (nearly) the same amount of air in the soft rubber tube as the end of yesterday's ride. The pressure works with the outer, more robust tire to resist force against the rim. Acting like a spring against the road and creating what physicists call a contact patch, one of the right shape and size. Thus enabling the bike to reliably move forward.

In other words, ready to roll.

Tolstoy said that happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. On the bike, days that are full of struggle and hardship generate too many words. Even alone on the road yesterday, my head was noisy with thoughts. Am I going to make it to that point? What's Plan B (or C)? What's the best way to prevent this?

On the other hand, days without any major trouble become long, quiet meditations. Just turn the pedals over and over, letting thoughts run where they will. With any luck today will be one of those days. The route is flatter and shorter than Friday or Saturday. There's one hill, a long, slow climb. The landscape is an ideal canvas - minimal traffic, transcendent sunlight. And the road itself is a dream, threading the contours of the northern Santa Lucias, golden California hills studded with oaks.

Today is a pilgrimage of sorts. The road (formally G16 but also Arroyo Seco Road, then Carmel Valley Road) is fairly remote and far from home. Once a year, with this group I'm here to appreciate it. Without understanding exactly why or what happens, the process or its transformative effects. Give me these 74 miles to get clean.

Here is the pattern that seems to work:
  • Climb the hill with reasonable effort and speed.
  • Chat on the way with other cyclists, nothing too deep or long. 
  • Don't solve the world's problems or even my own. 
  • Descend under a canopy of oaks toward Carmel Valley Village.
  • Keep the bike upright, away from vertical grooves at stream crossings. 
  • Turn at Tassajara Road and take the Cachagua loop. 
  • Breathe deeper in that section, one of the most beautiful roads anywhere. 
  • Find the hidden market and get lunch (green chili with pork and iced tea). 
  • Remember that the end comes about an hour after I'm ready for it.
Cahoun Pass (2400 feet), looking west.
Cahoun Pass, looking east.
On any given day, at any point on the earth's surface there is a hidden universe. A million billion things you rely on without realizing they can go wrong. Something like that little oval curved area on the surface of a bike tire, the contact patch. The way a tire actually acts as a spring when the tube inside is full of air.

A brain injury does not feel like one thing gone wrong in an amusing or at least interesting way. It feels like bad music, a set of things that went wrong and then decided to interact with each other. When this happens it becomes impossible to just live in the moment, on the surface of things. Life becomes about fixing it.

More than anything, I want more good days. I want to relax and not pay close attention for a while and just have things work out.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Magic Fingers massage

Awake. The clock reads 11:56pm.

OK, two beers wasn't the best idea I've ever had. Flattens brain waves, ruins sleep. Stomach ache. But I needed calories.

Shaking. More, then more, feeding on itself. Amplification.

Get out of bed!

On the upper floor of Keefer's Inn, the corridor is empty. Which is safer, second floor or first? I feel a little queasy. The earth has a flat tire.

Deep, the owner, is out in the dark parking lot with bare feet. His eyes are wide. "I just went to bed and this came! It's a big one!" It's cold and I'm glad for my hat. We can see the semi trucks rolling southward on 101, oblivious. He jokes that none of the other cyclists are out here because their legs are too tired.

He asks if the motel is OK. The motel is fine. He jokes that someone on the second floor made the whole building shake like that. Deep and Seema take care of us every year with humor and grace.

I reach Danny on the land line back in the room. If that was a Bay Area quake it was the Big One. He didn't feel anything so it was local.

Magnitude 5.3 with epicenter 16 miles NE of King City. Jim and I passed this spot on Highway 25 on our way to Bass Lake.

Now if I could just stop staring at the ceiling and get back to sleep...

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Happy in a crowd

Wild fennel, Pacific Ocean in background.
Three miles north of Lucia, Kim reaches into her seat bag and hands me a tube with a long stem. Her hands are covered with grease from helping out. She reminds me to check the tire extra carefully. It's a good reminder, one I don't actually need. I'm down two spare tubes already.

There's nothing telling in the tire.

The only choice is to put in her tube and hope for the best. When you need root cause more than anything, shut up and ride.

This is one of the world's most drop-dead gorgeous stretches of road. A guy from Haifa Israel, recently retired, keeps riding by and offering help. It was his dream to ride Highway 1 from Monterey to San Diego. He is living his dream.

For him today, the Big Sur coastline is shrouded in fog. For me, it's a flat and then another one. And the third tube proves unreliable. You're not sure how long it's going to be before you're pushing too hard, you look down, and there's the bulge in the rear tire again. You've been expecting it. It's taken over your thoughts.

At this point everyone is miles ahead because they're not changing tubes or pushing a pudgy tire. After a robust lunch (I'm starving), they're climbing the big hill. Talking with friends. Enjoying the day. Their back muscles aren't on the verge of spasm. They take leisurely stops, not a couple of Advil.

This morning when I pulled the Seven from her luxury bike locker, the rear tire was flat. Root cause was a mystery (faulty rim strip?). The tire wouldn't go back on the rim. The wheel wouldn't seat in the dropouts.

Panic. Supposed to meet everyone 6 miles down the road. Very, very late. I climbed the hill to Carmel, then descended gingerly on half the normal pressure. 50 psi makes you a little wiggly. By some miracle a van and a couple of people remained in the parking lot. The van had a floor pump. I was all over that.

The second flat came around mile 30 (something sharp in the tire). The third around mile 53 (root cause unknown). I tell Kim, don't wait. If you don't see me I stuck out my thumb and got in a truck heading for King City. At Lucia she hands me a brand-new tube out of the van. Just in case.

Then I'm climbing that epic road, Nacimiento Fergusson, alone. Today it's quiet. Foggy, not hot. Things are starting to turn good. The tube holds. No lunch but leftover pancakes from the hostel. Pockets full of bars.

Usually I track mileage markers on the climb. Today whether it's the Seven or my own panic at being left, it's just one all out push.

Made it. And I have the descent all to myself; not even one car heading the other direction. Gorgeous, the way the shaded road snakes around the rocky hillside. Yellow leaves on both flanks. Occasional glimpses of the Valley of the Oaks below. The way it all still looks like 1740.

Flashes of last year on the tandem with Jim, carefully threading this section. Hot dogs, the ones that sit on those metal rollers, from the PX at Fort Hunter Liggett. Hot dogs taste good against any backdrop: a quonset hut, or a 300-year-old California mission.

Later, in the hot tub there will be root cause analysis. A delicious ice bag for my QL muscle. A combo plate at El Taco Bravo. Everyone howling about the headwind into King City, like every year.

In a happy crowd, I might be the happiest one.

Silent movie

At the hostel last night I couldn't sleep right away. This particular mattress was both thin and squishy. There was the weird crinkle of a plastic barrier under the sheet. The lamp stayed on to help a late-comer navigate. And the air was stuffy, no open window like at home.

Eventually sleep must have come because all night I dreamed about one thing: a man with three holes in his skull. The holes were round, clustered near the right side of his forehead. They were a dark grey color against his light skin. Probably caused by bullets, but with no hint of blood or swelling. Just the fact of them. The man was conscious and walking around.

There was no talking, no soundtrack at all. But the subject of this silent movie was how to fix him. Everyone in the dream was focused on that. I didn't recognize any of them, not the man or the helpers.

I did my part though, dreaming and dreaming all night long. Letting them move about and discuss the problem silently. Letting them examine him, lay him on his back, put him into machines under the lights.

When the alarm had been going off in the dark room for 3 minutes, I had to leave them to it.

Probably they're still working.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Win win

Nothing like getting out of the house to clear your head.

Walking along Lighthouse Ave. in Monterey, looking for a certain restaurant a realization came to me.

It's not necessary to tell the doctors exactly where they're wrong. I can go along for the ride, thinking my own thoughts.

Also, no need to lament what my insurance (Blue Shield) does or does not cover. They're going to cover only whatever they feel like covering. It's always going to be less than what I (and most other people) need.

The real solution is to admit being depressed, very much so, in every doctor's office every time I am prompted. Take the prescriptions for antidepressants, fill them using my insurance, then sell them on the Internet. To people who actually want them and need them.

Divert the money to hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

Why didn't I think of this before?

Away from it all

It's impossible to look away from the fall leaves in Stevens Creek. The light is hitting them from every direction. They radiate sunlight.

Getting on the bike can be an irrational act.

Two days ago an email reminder came for a yearly ride, an informal ride, an excuse to see friends. But I'll skip this year. Better to create something new, not recreate the past.

This morning I liberated the Seven from the garage. Lubed her chain and pumped her tires. Gathered a change of clothes, toothbrush, not much else. Headed into Stevens Canyon, up Redwood Gulch and Highway 9 to the ridge. Then south.

After a month off the bike, what the heck am I thinking?

Get me out of here.

It takes a day to ride to Monterey. And it takes at least a day on the bike to become obedient, patient. Those impulses to escape, rebel, destroy need calming. Calming. Mundane thoughts provide diversion.

    A friend calls out to me from the side of Summit Road. Dogs in the back of the car. Says "you're on the way to Kim's ride, aren't you". Yes, yes I am!

    Summit Store. On solo tours I never pass without stopping. Twice baked potato and limonata. Mmmm. No Summit Store, no trips to Monterey.

    The surface on Highland Way/Eureka Canyon is as bad as it's ever been. And that's saying a lot. Both hands firmly on the drops, photos impossible. With no one taking photos, how will Jerry Brown ever know it needs fixing?

    Watsonville, horrendous traffic. When will this poor town leave its car culture behind? Will they ever figure out how to ride a bike?


    Elkhorn Slough. More people living out here than I remember. The smell of decaying algae is somehow...calming. At least it's natural.

    The Elkhorn Superette upgraded its sign. On the Seven, the 5 little hills are behind me before I notice. They're over with. Onward.

    In Castroville, fields of bold green artichokes in the fog. The bike path. Dusk coming early.

    At the Monterey Hostel Tom checks me in. He's worked here at least 5 years. One time, he held a bed  as I biked in the dark through Seaside, past the seedy motels. Held it past 10pm when the front desk closes. On the phone he said "you don't want to stay there".

    He gives restaurant recommendations, three new ones!

    Non, peut-etre

    At TRX class someone read our horoscopes. Something about having an opportunity to travel, but I should pass it by.

    Marche, vieux Nice
    This came in the middle of the night.

    Bonjour Madame,

    Actuellement votre pathologie n'est pas prise en charge en thérapeutique hyperbare en France.
    Mais avant de prendre une décision définitive, je vous propose de prendre un rendez-vous de consultation auprès d'un des médecins hyperbaristes du service pour une évaluation clinique et une lecture de votre dossier.
    Les coordonnées du secrétariat: Tél +33492037772 ou

    Très cordialement

    Docteur Andreas KAUERT
    Responsable de Structures Internes
    Centre Hyperbare-UTOH
    CHU Nice - Hôpital Pasteur
    30, Avenue de la Voie Romaine
    B.P. 69 - 06002 Nice Cédex 1

    It's kind of a no, maybe. No, but I should see one of the doctors who do HBOT for a consultation and review of my medical record. So, maybe.

    Dr. Kauert says the French don't as a rule treat TBI with hyperbaric oxygen. Why not? Google turned up more than one professional association with the charter to reach agreement on treating humans with oxygen. It appears that the need to agree across the EU has slowed progress to a crawl. They discuss imaginary risks, they meet for years, they toe the line. The hippies in San Francisco can be more laissez-faire.

    But the views and croissants are better in Nice.

    Saint Jean Cap Ferrat (from Mont Boron)

    Le handicap invisible

    Silhouette, le gros chene, Saint Jeannet.
    My French escape jag turned up this document. It helped with vocabulary for the letter.

    English is supposed to be the most precise and direct language. For some reason however these descriptions of sequelles (symptoms) hit the mark better than anything I've read so far.

    Is it possible that the invisible, subjective nature of TBI symptoms are suited to an indirect language like French? There's a lot of ways to say maybe or probably. Even certainement means probably.

    I can say this: in France you won't find people spending their day chasing their tails, insisting on empirical proof for every little thing. Ambiguity doesn't make them suspicious, it's just a part of daily life.

    Ambiguity is the norm.

    Thursday, October 18, 2012

    Nouvelle vague

    Contemplating the schedule and price tag for the hyperbaric oxygen treatment (HBOT) in San Francisco. Brutal.

    In the face of regimen, my thoughts turn to escape. Time to innovate! If I'm doing exactly the same thing at the same time for 8 weeks, if life is going to be highly structured and humorless, is it possible to work in something enjoyable?

    Could I go back to intensive French school at the Institut de Francais near Nice? Speak French all day every day? Pick up that valiant yet exhausting project from nearly 2 years ago? It did help to wake up my brain...  The cost of plane ticket + school + after-school HBOT would roughly equal HBOT here. Sad but true.

    19 Novembre 2010, la Baie des Anges, Nice.

    Hyperbaric oxygen has a long history. It was first used as a medical remedy by a French doctor. Might there be a facility in or near Nice, fifth-largest city in France, a first-world country?

    Yes, the main Hopital Pasteur in Nice has one! Their web page lists conditions they will treat using oxygen. Sadly it is a very basic list. It looks like the clinic was created to help scuba divers. They don't treat TBI (lesions cerebrales). 

    The French medical system can be more progressive than ours. They have different criteria for approving therapies, sometimes looser criteria. Treatment often costs a fraction of what it does here, even for the uninsured (like me). They basically want you to get better. And of course, the croissants...

    But if the French say they don't treat something, my experience is it's REALLY not happening. "Non" means no. While chez l'Institut 2 years ago there was a mini-crisis when it turned out what the school called "coffee" was actually "decaf". I found out that caffeine does not exist there in pill form. No Vivarin at pharmacies. They just don't do that.

    In the spirit of cognitive exercise I wrote a letter anyway:

    Monsieur le directeur,

    Je fais une recherche d'un centre hyperbare pour faire therapie de
    l'oxygene hyperbare. Il y a 4 ans apres un accident voiture ou j'ai eu
    une lesion cerebrale. Malheureusement, malgre une blessure "legere"
    j'ai toujours des sequelles cognitives.

    Chez vous est-ce qu'il est possible de suivre une programme hyperbare
    comme traitement des lésions cérébrales acquises?

    Cette maladie ne figure pas dans la liste de prestations sur votre site web:
    C'est la raison pour laquelle je pose la question a vous. J'ai bien sur
    une prescription du medicin.

    Je vous prie de bien vouloir m'en faire savoir.


    Mme. Elaine ASTRUE

    Your call is important to us...

    You are here...
    On hold with Valley Medical Center for the past 35 minutes. The music is upbeat. Bad, but upbeat.

    Valley Medical closes at 5pm and my call came in at 4:55. After searching high and low for the referral paperwork. Worked hard for those two sheets of paper, then lost them. Found them leaved inside a New York Times Magazine in my computer bag.

    A wise friend used to say that if you can't find something, it probably looks like something else. It's shifted its shape and doesn't look like your mental image of it anymore. It's not lost, you just don't recognize it.

    The goal of this phone call is an appointment with a rehabilitation medicine doctor. A guy who comes recommended. In TBI cases, you're supposed to have one of these people coordinating your recovery. Almost 4 years in, I'm getting one.

    I don't think they're going to answer the phone, though. I don't think the next available agent shall assist me. They're not going to be right back with me. My call is not important to them. Probably they stopped taking calls at some undefined point before 5. When they felt like it.

    Lately I seem to be stumbling across lots of interesting, hidden operating rules. Arbitrary. Created to satisfy some other party's needs. To tell the truth, the whole process of trying to get help has been like that. An obstacle course without end. So far it hasn't yielded anything for my recovery.

    To get the referral, I had to go to a separate clinic. They created a new patient record, like it was a prize or a lottery ticket. I have a number now, and the number is really important to them. It enables me to make an appointment, wait at reception, repeat all my contact and insurance info, give photo ID and insurance card. Wait. Then, wait. Weight, blood pressure, pulse. Wait. Repeat entire story to the doctor: accident, symptoms, medications. Do another neurological test.

    Dog, book, grass (I think). Tuesday. Barack Obama. Valley Medical Center Clinic. Sunnyvale.

    The doctor is a nice person. When she says I seem highly functional and my forgetfulness sounds normal, I don't even attack her. Just give me the f---king referral.

    Gotta feel for these people. They think they're dealing with your average suburban matron when I am in fact Jason Bourne.

    When she gives me a look and asks about depression after the head injury, I shake my head no. Speechless.  No more words for you. I'm paying all of your salaries with this mock visit. This is anger, not depression. Just give it to me.

    Eventually, she does.

    Monday, October 15, 2012

    Remember to breathe

    I know that our bodies were made to thrive only in pure air, and the scenes in which pure air is found.
    -John Muir
    This project began about 9 months ago, to show what it means to have a brain injury and raise awareness about about the work SBI does.

    At that time I was pretty sure all I needed for myself was to find the right neurologist and get a recovery plan in place. Until that happened I was going to ride my bike.

    Climbed a lot of hills, posted on this blog. Spoke at the SBI auction from Route 66. Check check check. But sadly, boys and girls, a complete dead end on the medical help and recovery plan!

    Who would have thought that the hard part would not be riding a bicycle thousands of miles (safely) in unfamiliar territory. Or writing 155 blog entries (with photos). Or using FaceTime over a WiFi connection to project my face and voice at an event hundreds of miles away.

    The hard part would be getting some f---ing help. I'm still working on it.

    The fact is there is no right neurologist. Their charter is not to help you get better, nor refer you to appropriate help. (What DO they actually do?) A contact at SBI says the next step is to find a rehabilitation doctor, someone to oversee and facilitate recovery. OK, I can do that. Have to go through a clinic to get the referral. Uh huh. 5:45pm tomorrow.

    The same contact recommends a treatment, hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT). The idea is the exact opposite of being outside in the Sierras, breathing thin air. You lie inside a bubble and breathe pure O2 under pressure. On the phone, the person at the San Francisco Institute of Hyperbaric Medicine says they've had extremely positive outcomes with closed head injuries.

    That's the good news. And it sounds very, very hopeful!

    The bad news? A treatment this promising has to be, um, progressive. Hardly any MDs recognize it (focused as they are on a canon of nothing useful). And you need a prescription. Insurance doesn't cover it for head injuries. It's 5 days a week for 2 months. In San Francisco. And it costs more than $7000.

    That's with a discount for paying for 40 sessions, all at once. Did I mention I don't have any income?

    Do they throw in a deep tissue massage with each session?

    At the end of all this, my vocabulary will consist of one word and it will be f---. It's a real risk. We might be pretty close to that point, in fact. The blog definitely helps me practice other words. Thanks for listening while I do that...

    Essentials, like sleep and oxygen

    Keep close to Nature's heart... and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.
    -John Muir

    A journey of any length is a collaboration of body, mind, and spirit.

    Hiking in the Sierras is the best way I know to unplug and get in sync. Walking all day long calms my thoughts. The air is fragrant with pine needles and cones and sap. Incense cedars, with bark just like redwoods. The air smells so good that you just want to breathe.

    Breathing is a problem, though. It's not evident during the day, with plenty of distractions and things to engage in. But at night... That ethereal thin air, so refreshing in daylight, so frustrating when you wake up at 2am every night. And at 5am.

    Hiking in the Sierras may be a pleasure but maybe not the best medicine for brain injury. As exercise, hiking is not vigorous enough to force blood into your brain. There is such a thing as too relaxed!

    And the thin air definitely deprives your brain of oxygen. So I might be calm and happy, but I'm also stupid.

    Finally, sleep, sleep... sleep is essential for well-being. Coming at the end of a long, light summer, after this trip I just didn't feel rested at all. Cranky, off-balance.

    Sleep is really important for recovery after TBI. And unfortunately, many of us survivors have some sort of sleep disturbance. Sleep can be disturbed by brain changes after the injury, by psychological challenges of dealing with the injury, or by medications. I thought this presentation gave a good summary.

    Anyway, this is the worst I've ever slept at elevation in my whole life. Back at home, I'm making up for lost time, sleeping and napping with abandon. Doing not much else. Feels great.

    Wednesday, October 10, 2012

    TBI Survival Guide

    Found via Google:
    The TBI Survival Guide by Dr. Glen Johnson

    Dr. Johnson is a clinical neuropsychologist in Traverse City, Michigan. He developed this (excellent) guide to brain injury for survivors and their families. It describes what to expect in plain, helpful language.

    If you know someone who is recovering from a brain injury, or has a family member or friend who is recovering, IMO this guide would be useful information for them.

    Was searching Google for ebooks related to TBI. I'm thinking about writing one. At the beginning I was really ignorant about how to get help. It feels like I tripped at  every step:

    • the various professionals involved
    • how to get real help and what/who to ignore
    • insurance claims and lawyers
    • testing
    • recent research 
    • how to get on with life

    For example, Dr. Johnson is the type of neuropsych who actually helps brain injury survivors. There is another type of neuropsychologist, the kind who testifies in court. This type is trying to find inconsistencies in your story, to prove that you're faking. So it's important to know the difference. There's no branding - the two types look identical from the outside. You have to ask which kind they are!

    I'd like to save other survivors the experience of figuring this out. That would be something.

    Saturday, October 6, 2012

    Feel small to feel big

    A last picture of Yosemite, to hold you until you can get there yourself. And you will. (And not in a tour bus!)

    This spot is at the eastern edge of Yosemite Valley,  ~15 miles (if you were a bird) from Inspiration Point (where this photo was taken). It is also the top of the Snow Creek Falls trail. The two photos face each other like bookends.

    Friday, October 5, 2012

    Carpe diem

    Good news - was not hantavirus. Tempting fate, it's back to Yosemite! To the backcountry above the valley. Winter is on the way and life is short.

    Dinner last night was quinoa and beef chili, cole slaw, corn muffins, and hot chocolate. Fuel is essential to hiking and the little backpacking stove does more than stump coffee...

    The sign at the trailhead says 8.6 miles to El Capitan. The top of El Cap is only about 1000 feet higher than the trailhead. It could be a flat hike.

    Or not. Our goal is to walk all day and discover things. We'll get as far as we get.

    The first few miles of "trail" is actually pavement of varying condition, covered with pine needles. Later we'll figure out it's Old Big Oak Flat road, the old road leading into the valley. Everywhere there are signs of a recent major burn. An hour spent on an abandoned road scarred by recent fire. Thinking about how things change, then change again.

    Charred dead trees side by side with healthy living trees - how can that happen?

    Leaving the road, we hoist ourselves ~2000 feet back up to the granite batholith. Up there, life is exposed to the elements and left to progress, undisturbed.

    The soil is a bare minimum, mostly crushed granite covered in needles and seed cones. There are short, new trees, bright green needles, springing up from the forest floor. Strong full trees with dark bark, lighter branches, dark green needles.

    Older trees starting to lose lower branches, arranged below them on the ground. Spare grey skeletons with many grey branches in shards around the trunk. Newly fallen trees, adorned with lime green lichen. Fallen trees that have been lying so long, you have to look twice for their outline. Their bodies are merging into the soil.

    It's things becoming other things.

    Meanwhile animals are doing their best to resist that process. Many seed cones have been stripped by some creature, eating for winter. This is the season of panic for them, triggered by shorter days and cold nights.
    Cone buffet
    Rodent hole, reused by a funnel-web spider
    After 4 hours with no visual hint, when we get close to El Cap it is somehow unmistakeable. It draws you in... 
    Trees on the verge
    Why do we make a pilgrimage to these rocks? Maybe it's that they're recognizeable and to us they seem unchanging. Time seems to stand still for them. Fire has no effect. Our footprints are invisible. We can't actually see them becoming the soil.

    The granite plates slope down, urging you to take a closer look and...

    No railing!
    Yep, I feel alive.

    Wednesday, October 3, 2012

    Q & A (not)

    Sick for days. With either the flu, or hantavirus. Will keep you posted.

    Rode 26 flat miles today, to SBI and then back home. After four super hot days in a row, today is just very warm.

    The audience was a group of 16-year-old boys from a San Jose private school. SBI has a cooperative program with the school. This is class time for them. What a cool idea!

    As a break from working with SBI clients, they view Brandon's Story. It's a film about a local student living with brain injury. They also hear a little bit about what happened to me. Where Brandon Silveria's injury was severe, mine is mild. So they get both sides, visible and invisible.

    I talked about how at first I didn't know anything was wrong. Not telling the people at work, how I had to walk a tightrope to cover mistakes. The frustrations of forgetting passwords, forgetting on Friday what happened on Monday. Finding exercise again. And the high note, my Route 66 trip. Wearing my Route 66 jersey I got to say I rode 1800 miles in April. Felt good.

    It's always fascinating to hear what interests people about brain injury, their questions. I learn a lot from questions. Even when it's not 100% comfortable.

    The intent was to post Q & A from today's session. But the boys didn't have any Q's. Nada. Rien. Zilch. They were listening, though - good eye contact.

    What I thought but did not say: I hope you never have to deal with what I've been through.