Monday, December 31, 2012

The ocean on the right


This morning in Fallbrook we all posed for a group photo. Ralph Elliott, whose family started this ride 56 years ago, said a few words about the route. One of the things he said was 'when you reach the ocean, turn. Make sure the ocean stays on your right!'

Today we rode in packs, giddy to be almost done. When riders saw the ocean and the pier in Oceanside, there was whooping that made the locals turn and look.

We stopped for coffee and pastry in Encinitas. We stopped for Baja fish tacos at the original Rubio's.

And then, we stopped at the finish.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Canyon of light


It rained all last night after raining all afternoon, too. Is it done raining? We don't know.

This morning the pack heads south out of Hemet on wet roads at a good clip. One lane of a two-lane road fills with cyclists. The Sage Road alternate is finally the official route.

Yesterday's ride was fabulous for a handful people, including me. The rain came just in Hemet. A half-hour later the first drowned and frozen rats began to show up at the church. Apparently the clouds headed for that notch in the hills, the official route. Everyone in that group got caught in a downpour. And it was sleeting, then snowing on the ridge in Mountain Center. Only the fastest riders came down from the ridge dry. Last night cycling clothes hung everywhere.

More than hypothermia, a number of us had accidents on the road yesterday, casting a pall over the group in Hemet. People are tired and bikes handle differently when the roads are slick. Eric, someone I rode with on Day 1, was hit by a car just a block from the finish. They took him to a regional hospital and this morning we found out he is probably going to be OK. We have his bike, with a taco'd front wheel. That was a close one.

My camera turns on but refuses to boot up. My body is going through something similar. Maybe it needs more than 2 weeks to bounce back from the flu! Or maybe it doesn't appreciate sleeping outside in freezing weather. In Sage Canyon, the fasties pass me by and rabbit on up the hills. Of course they stop by the side of the road and I blow by them. This is the game.

Mid-morning in Temecula there's sunshine, warm and dry, to bask in. I'm on a bench outside a Starbucks, drinking a mocha. The sky is still grey and threatening but these moments are important to savor. The cold and wet is starting to wear people down.

Tonight there's a motel room in Fallbrook with my name on it. After four days of communal living I'm really looking forward to it. We are about halfway between LA and San Diego and you can feel we are closing in. Yesterday I was in the middle of nowhere on a dirt road. Today I'm cruising through the Temecula wine country, buying a new camera at CVS!

Everyone is looking forward to De Luz Canyon, connecting Temecula and Fallbrook. This afternoon is our last rural road experience, and one of the sweetest anywhere. The longest climb comes first, at the entrance to the canyon.

At the top the sky is so dramatic I stop for a photo. Lightning flashes and thunder comes about a second and a half later. The camera goes back into my pocket and I ride on!

A creek runs alongside (sometimes over) the road. There are probably a half dozen stream crossings, some with a fair amount of water. The proper technique is to address the crossing at a right angle, while neither steering nor braking. Just coast on through...

Some time in the 19th century the creek was named Arroyo Corral de la Luz, which means "of light". Today the light is amazing.

Here agriculture still seems to be a viable pursuit. There are citrus orchards dotting the hills, massive avocado trees, even a nursery. Things love to grow here. This is how I remember California, from growing up. Beautiful hills and good stuff to eat, all visible along the road.

Mik from Meetup is riding slowly up a little rise near an orchard of orange trees, taking it all in. I ask if everything is all right. Wearing a big grin he says "this is great!"


Thunder rolls as I'm climbing out of the canyon and roll toward Fallbrook, dry and happy. Once again I somehow escape the rain and hail! The Fallbrook Country Inn has a shower and a hot tub, both of which are voluntary and welcome. 

I intend to ride a mile back to the church for the final night's presentation. We are each supposed to give our impressions and experience of the ride. But I'm too tired and it does not happen. It's more important to get some rest. 

What I would have said is, I'm so impressed by the riders on their first multi-day tour. In 1997 that was me and I still remember. This is not an easy ride; most people don't realize there are big mountains everywhere, and it's not always warm or hospitable. A lot of people would have given up or howled in protest. But these brave souls all seemed to hunker down and press on.

Gives me hope somehow. Hope that we'll make it through whatever we have to. At the end of the day it's good to have each other.



Saturday, December 29, 2012

Over the top

Even with a full moon rising, we could see Orion the Hunter over the desert last night. While we sleep the moon rides across the black sky. Leading us toward the morning's route.

We have a folio of the official routes, with cue sheets and maps. But those in the know tend to optimize. Today for example. The official route goes north to I-10 and Banning and Beaumont, then climbs Highway 79 and descends into Hemet. Headwinds, stoplights, gritty towns, and less climbing overall. Sound less than scenic? It is. Traditionalists, first-timers, and those with sore legs take this option.

Weather permitting a small group intends to go "over the top". It means climbing the same escarpment we descended yesterday, over the crest of the San Jacinto Mountains. The road goes up and up, right from the church. It has several unofficial names. One is Seven Level Hill, maybe because the long winding climb is reminiscent of a layer cake. Another is the Palms to Pines Highway. That's what the maps and AAA magazine call it. Cyclists use the other name because we feel the many levels in our legs.

There was a weather panic in camp this morning. Someone said it was "raining in Hemet", sending invisible ripples through the group. Rain in Hemet might mean snow on the ridge. But we can do a visual check right here from Palm Desert. Looking west the sky is completely clear over the mountains, where the moon sets. That's the tried-and-true way.

This year there's also WiFi at the church. And according to the National Weather Service, no rain in Hemet at the moment. It will rain today, mostly after 4pm. So, OK. Over the top.

At about mile 13 Jeff the Fastie yells behind me 'you mean we have 12 more miles of this?!!!' He's from Maryland, where there are no hills. The grade is never terribly steep, but 25 miles of climbing does make for a long morning... We cross the Pacific Crest Trail at a false summit. The air turns cold and the big red jacket goes on, paying its rent and then some.

The sky is clear except for a few puffy grey clouds to the west. A good jacket and a beautiful road, it's enough. Life really is this simple.

I've been craving eggs; thus far on the trip breakfast has been only carbs. Everyone stops at the Paradise Valley Cafe so there is no shortage of company. Of course, everyone else at the table is named Jeff. One is having a slice of apple pie; the other a breakfast burrito with two kinds of homemade salsa. For me it's a Santa Fe omelet and coffee.

Faced with a sudden swarm of hungry cyclists the crew steps it up a notch. My plate arrives and is quickly polished clean. Food and company; today things are coming together.

At this point the group splits again: one group takes the ridge road to Mountain Center and the other descends and take the dirt. At the end of the day we'll all end up in Hemet. Only one problem. This year there's a shortage of people heading for the dirt. For safety reasons I don't really want to do it solo. It's too isolated and there's no support. After 4 years do I even remember the way?

Outside clouds have gathered into a grey mass. The front is moving in. The wind is blustery and cold, a reminder we're at 4700 feet. On days like this it can be a good idea to get to lower elevations quickly. Jeff offers to send a posse if I don't show in Hemet and that's all I need to hear. Down the hill, into a quartering head wind that makes the bike shiver.

It takes some sniffing around the town of Anza to find Bautista Road. Memories of riding here with Jim B. and Bonnie, maybe 8 years ago. Keeping me company despite their absence. They would know the way, they would be entertaining too. I keep checking to my right for a notch in the hills. At the west end of town there it is, complete with street sign!

View Larger Map

It seems like a great stroke of luck, a graded dirt road out here in the middle of nowhere. One leading straight to Hemet.

At some point you realize it's not luck, it's someone traveling the way ahead of you. It's a leg of the historic Anza trail from 1774. That's when Juan Bautista de Anza rode from Mexico to San Francisco. To me it still looks and feels like it must have 250 years ago.



It bends your mind for a while, this time warp of a road. A way forward that is both gentle and rugged. Packed dirt and loose sand, together. The rocks sticking up from the road bed remind me that the earth is not overly kind. With the sage and curves of the hills and contours of the creek it is not hostile either. It just is. Here we are on terra firma. Soon when the gathering storm breaks there will be water for every living thing.

Out here I know my place. I'm a strong rider but not a fastie. I'm not sure of the way but I can find it. There's no one with me and yet I'm far from alone. Though the clouds are spitting drops, it's not full on raining yet.

Life is full of meaning and there's nothing to say.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Oh, desert!

At the coldest part of the morning I woke up, put on a hat, and went back to sleep. Now I know what  "bitter cold" means. Never really felt that kind of cold that hurts, scours, is an adversary. It coated the tent with dry cracklings of ice that fell to the ground when it was time to break camp. It froze the remaining water in a bottle. And it might have done something mysterious to the circuitry of my camera, which no longer takes photos.

Which is so unfair because the scenery today is what originally made me fall in love with this ride. We climb 1500 feet, gradually, inching toward the eastern edge of the plateau. Then there is a little hump where the road doesn't go upward anymore, and the sky is all that lies ahead. It beckons. We crest and start to go down, down, down. The road snakes along the side of the giant escarpment, with each switchback unfolding a different view of the desert down below and the backdrop of giant mountains looming.

I would love to show it to you, the gorgeous layers of pink and grey and tan in the mountains against a clear winter sky. The first time this landscape appeared in front of me I was speechless. It is simply stunning. Click here to see what Anza Borrego looks like on a bicycle. I think the winter light is even more delicate and lovely.

Joshua Tree. I'm gonna go there some day.

The descent is 10 miles, cold until the very end. In Borrego Springs the temperature might be mid-50's and all the riders strip off clothes to put in the van. A little farmer's market is on in Christmas Circle, with citrus fruit and avocadoes as well as some regular produce. There's music playing and local characters greeting each other. I inhale a couple of homemade tamales. It's been a long morning and today by the time we're finished it will be 100 miles.

The first wave of fasties goes by about 10 miles from Salton City. We grab a struggling tandem and hold on for a while. Mostly the pavement is great but we cross into Imperial County and there's one quarter-mile section that is rough. I mean, the roughest pavement any of us have experienced. I survive by riding far to the right, on the white painted line. The tandem is not so lucky; on the final descent their speed and the force on the bike gives them a pinch flat and a blown tire sidewall. They're out of commission for a little while.

Mexican food for lunch in Salton City. Important to have real food for a century ride. I also would love to show images of this place, which has the quirkiness of Route 66 and then some. Here are some photos from Google. Today the color of the water is cornflower blue, matching the sky.

Going north toward Palm Desert there is a tail wind. So rare on this stretch; it is the great equalizer. The pack from lunch never catches me. Another pack that left Salton City shortly thereafter takes 25 miles to appear. They've had 4 flats and are about to have another one. I leave them and somehow pound to the finish behind two fast guys.

Actually one of them is a fastie and the other keeps saying 'you guys are killing me' and 'oh god'. Why are we pushing ourselves? Well, it is not a competition or a race and yet somehow, it is.

It means a really great spot for the tent in Palm Desert.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Lost and found


Greetings from Warner Springs, a very small place with a post office and a school, where we are staying. We are up on a plateau behind Mount Palomar and 5000 feet above Anza Borrego. This is my favorite place on the trip. The stars are amazing out here, and the school has plenty of room to spread out. Of course, I'm in a tent.

It's around 37 degrees and colder by the minute.

If I had to give a highlight and a lowlight of the day, that's not hard, not hard at all. The lowlight was a decision to head to Sunrise Highway, the high road, after rain overnight in Pine Valley and a low of 29 degrees there. Sunrise Highway, one of my favorite roads, one to revisit. For the first 4 1/2 miles, no problem.

Then we came on an inside curve still shaded by the hill. Riders were losing traction on the road. That's what happens when it's a sheet of ice. We started walking. I walked a half-mile without seeing any improvement, watching oncoming cars careen down the hill.



After taking a glorious photo of a tree it dawned on me that this winter wonderland is perhaps not the appropriate place for me on my bike. That maybe I should be listening to a few of the warning signals going off in my head. Like 'is this going to be the way that I die?'

Then a sag van pulls up and Gene from Chicago rolls down the window. He says "Have you considered turning around and taking the low road? Cars can't even get up to Mount Laguna from the other direction (we can't help you if something goes wrong)".

I took a few more steps, unhappy, thinking. Then crossed the road and began walking gingerly downhill the way I came. When it was safe, I and some others got back on bikes and headed to Pine Valley for the second time this morning. A 9-mile detour.

The highlight? After 15 miles on the oversubscribed low road we found a new alternate, Engineers Road, to bypass Julian. It was incredibly scenic, not as cold as Antartica, and completely deserted. Except for me, Chris and Jay from LA, and a number of happy, peaceful examples of avian species.

Actually, when we kind of needed directions a friendly local showed up. He rolled down the window and said "Lost? I've lived here 26 years, I know the look". This guy would probably have talked some sense into us this morning. But we'll take his guidance in the afternoon, no problem.

Time to hit the mummy bag.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

An inauspicious beginning

Breakfast is pumpkin pancakes, yogurt, and coffee. I make for the elevator, but the doors are already closing. Wait several minutes as it lurches down, then up again. In the lobby, I ask the desk about the shuttle for the Christmas Ride. The hostel folks look at me dumbfounded. "What?" I said. It was 7:00am.

"It just left," one of them managed to get out. After a little push they phone the driver and the van circles back for me. I choke down the righteous indignation and get in. Can't wait to get my bike and become self-reliant. It's a grey and rainy day-after-Christmas, barely dawn. We miss a turn or two on the way to the start. Hoping the ride itself goes better than this.

The mood is brighter at University of San Diego. It's a big meet and greet! There's Mark S. and Michael K. Nancy from Death Valley, Ellen and Jeff from SuperTour. The venerable former organizer, Don. They've improved things a bit, starting at the bottom of the hill, inside a parking garage. There's my bike, leaning against the curb! I snag a pink frosted cake donut. The sugar rush is not enough to ensure that the repacking goes smoothly. My camera gets left in the duffle and is loaded onto the truck.

One thing hasn't changed - we roll at the crack of 9. In California, we have cities and then lots of suburbs all around, connected by strip malls. At mile 26 a rider next to me says "we're halfway there and we're still in stoplight hell". Yup. She's from San Marcos, Texas. That's a large town about 1/50th the size of San Diego. I'm not the only one who prefers things on a smaller scale...

It's been threatening rain all morning, and we've even had a few giant drops. We climb to Alpine for lunch, usually the best part of the day. It's the day after Christmas so there is one guy at the deli, probably the owner, making dozens of sandwiches. There's a huge rain shower while we wait and eat. No one is too happy about that.

Time to compare notes on what's next. Three options: Interstate 8, a longer, hilly loop to the south, or beautiful dirt Viejas Grade. There's some panic about what the rain has done to the surface of Viejas. Almost no one is willing to go. In the end it is 3 women: Patti, Ellen, and me. We brave the snarling dogs and find what I guessed we would, hard-packed sand. Good for riding. Beautiful views and zero traffic. Things are looking up!
Viejas Grade: like this but with wet, packed sand and dramatic rain clouds.

Yeah, it is harder than I recall, climbing 3.5 miles on an irregular, unpaved surface. But, shades of Route 66. You can climb the hill on the interstate or you can climb it on a deserted dirt road. Had some really good conversation with Patti and Ellen that would not have happened on a main road. Also fending off raging canines (No! No! NO!) has a way of creating a bond among packmates.

Extending that experience, in Pine Valley Ellen and I work on dinner. We wash and chop 18 heads of lettuce, 10 tomatoes, 10 red peppers. Add shredded carrot. Voila! Salad for 128 people. A record turnout this year.

The night is cold (as usual) and the facility is cramped (as usual) and everyone is amazed I'm sleeping in the tent outside. I can't believe they're sleeping in a couple of huge stuffy rooms, like sardines. That's why mummy bags were created. Whatever, Day 1 is behind us, as are the stoplights. Tomorrow we head into the Laguna Mountains for some sweet bike roads.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Turning two hundred

Happiness is not having what you want. It is wanting what you have.
-Rabbi Hyman Schachtel
Seana and Sandy dressed up the tree
It would have been poetic to celebrate today by going for a ride. Today, a clear day among days of torrential rain. (Yesterday 2 inches!) 

Today, the Waterford's 1st birthday.

Today, a festive Yoolis Eve.

Today, the 200th entry in Route 66, a Journey.

But the Waterford can't be here today. The orange bike is celebrating in someone else's car, a kind woman named Kathy. Tomorrow Kathy will drive to San Diego. I'll ride a plane and meet her and the bike to ride the San Diego AYH Christmas Ride.
John and Libby customized the yard sculpture


So Danny and I went for a walk. We found all kinds of bright things. 

It's not possible to list everything there is to be grateful for. Space constraints, etc. A short list:
  • family & friends old and new
  • loyal blog readers (you!)
  • the chance to write about what I'm going through
  • many, many trips to beautiful and interesting places
  • a comfortable, light, loyal orange bike
  • Nature made the Toyon tree
  • the chance to volunteer at SBI, Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition, Bike Exchange
  • Hacker Dojo, with just enough structure
  • learning to live a new life
Go on, try it, try making a list of the bright things around you.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Looking for the right questions


Want to climb Montebello but
  • this thing is sitting up there on the ridge
  • I'm still sick, so it would be stupid
Enjoying the Winter Solstice indoors, watching the rain come and reading The World is Flat. Wondering how I can be sick for the fourth time in seven months since returning from Route 66. Maybe wondering where money and health insurance is going to come from in the future.

Finished How to Find the Work you Love. Highly recommend for those in transition at work. A couple of days ago, a realization: I've never actively chosen a job or career path. Never had the chance. Don't know how!

I like the way the book teases apart difficult issues and questions, defuses them. It's clear, gentle, and profound. Just the thing to start reengineering my life. Unlike Bella I can't hunker down against the coming (weather) apocalypse. It doesn't work that way for humans. Even in a squall of uncertainty.

Mark Templeton, the CEO of Citrix, said something in this interview that resonated with me. At the end he talks about two different ways of navigating life choices, paint-by-numbers and connect-the-dots.
So with the paint-by-number set, you know ahead of time what it’s going to look like. Then, by contrast, with a connect-the-dots puzzle, you can only guess at what it might look like by the time you finish. And what you notice about that process is the further along you get, the more clear it becomes. It might be a beach ball, or a seal in a Sea World park or something. The speed at which you connect dots gets faster as the picture starts coming into view.
You probably get the parallel. This isn’t about what’s right and what’s wrong. This is about getting it right for you.
For some reason I keep carrying the book around. Maybe until the next dot comes along.

Bike abundance at the Dojo
Yesterday someone spotted it on the table at Hacker Dojo. A former manager in a corporate bank tower in Manhattan, he went back to school to become a software engineer. He just knew the right path when it was in front of him. The book's next stop is his son, a new grad who is finding his way. 

I'm not quite done with it. It's OK, a copy of HTFTWYL, the Zen of Making a Living, and the Tao of Abundance will land on my porch Christmas Eve. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A fog of inflammation

Raise your hand if you know what a cytokine is.

Me neither.

A family member sent me this link and it kind of sounds too good to be true:
New hope for survivors of stroke and traumatic brain injury

I've been trying to understand what it means. The press release itself is clear enough. A new study shows that a single dose of a drug causes rapid clinical improvement long after brain injury. It seems to work in both TBI and stroke survivors. The drug is Etanercept, a biopharmaceutical that inhibits Tumor Necrosis Factor (TNF). TNF is a cytokine and cytokines help regulate your immune system.

Crystal structure of TNF
How can this be? A single dose of an immunosupressant improves motor impairment, spasticity, cognition, and other lingering impacts of brain injury. On average the TBI subjects were ~10 years post-injury. The stroke subjects were ~4 years post-injury.

Even if there's no miracle cure, lingering effects of brain injury have something to do with the immune system. The protective system that rushes to help at the time of injury ends up inhibiting the healing process.

In public high school, even though Mr. Gelatt was a great Biology teacher (as well as kind and funny), we didn't learn a thing about the immune system.

Found this article:
Traumatic Brain Injury and Inflammation: Emerging Role of Innate and Adaptive Immunity

After about the third pass through, I understood a lot more.

Our brains are usually protected from the antics of our immune systems by the blood-brain barrier (BBB). After a brain injury, the BBB opens twice; once immediately after the injury and again 3-7 days afterward. The second opening can last from days to years. All kinds of substances employed by your immune system reach the brain during this time. Some try to repair damage and reduce inflammation, while others encourage inflammation.

The article talks about the accidental impact white blood cells can have on your injured brain:
Leukocytes are believed to be important in the initiation and progression of inflammation following TBI because they contain and release a significant number of inflammatory mediators that injure neurons.
They think this might be why after repeated 'brain insults', there is a higher risk of Alzheimer's disease. The repeated immune response and inflammation in the brain seem to snowball.

Why don't we just go find some Etanercept (Enbrel)? Because if something seems too good to be true, then it probably is a scam!

Update: the San Francisco Chronicle, which no longer practices real journalism, fell for this. I would guess this content  is a paid placement by the Institute for Neurological Recovery, portrayed as a real article.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Loop the loop


Been sick with flu and still not feeling 100%. Yesterday I kinda shoulda gone to the gym for Spinning or yoga. Today should be Spinnning or yoga. I mean, yoga's pretty low-key. As the hour approached, neither sounded good.

It's a fine day. On impulse I leap on the Waterford and head out to Woodside. Just enough time to fit in a ride before 2, before a bike fitting at Bicycle Outfitter. A ton of pain in my neck and shoulder lately. Dreading a visit to Dr. F, who's convinced cycling is the root of all evil. My immune system is not up to Dr. F. at the moment.

We're in some kind of cold snap the past few days. High temps in the high 40's to low 50's. Woodside is 18 miles into a freezing headwind. I'm happy anyway. Good to be out on the road. Mental note: buy toe booties.

It takes a certain minimum amount of time to inhale a pumpkin cream cheese muffin and small coffee at Roberts Market. Everything in there is good. How many other country stores have hardwood floors and credit accounts for the 1%? Hard not to linger. It's 1:15 by the time I skedaddle.

Luckily a massive tailwind along Foothill pushes me south and I have good light karma too. It's exactly 2:01pm. Mike never shows. But Manager Dave sets me up and measures stuff and lowers the seat a tad and says the Waterford is fine. Check check check.

That's out of the way. When we talk about "structural changes" in my neck at Valley Medical next month, no need to talk about bike fit. Next up, the fixie!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Showing up

Showing up is not all of life - but it counts for a lot. 
-Hillary Clinton
A short list of changes since the accident:
  • Gyms (3)
  • Hair stylists (4)
  • Health insurance 
  • Doctors (3)
  • Credit union (almost)
  • Job role (3)
  • Employment status
  • Lawyers (3)
  • Family support
  • Car
  • Bike, clothing, and all equipment (stolen)

When Hacker Dojo announced it was moving to a new location, it wasn't really what I wanted to hear. The new building is 2 miles further down the road. I just kinda got used to where the old building is.

Physically speaking, Hacker Dojo is chairs and tables and couches and electrical outlets and a freaky fast fiberoptic connection. That's it. It has too many members for the current space. Also, the current warehouse would be too expensive to bring up to code. There's really no one to blame.

Sure I could just run away, but where would I go?

A month passed. It became clear that despite pleas for help, move tasks were being ignored. Stuff lying around would need to be dealt with. I'm not even talking about the huge wooden airplane hanging from the ceiling. The oversized public phone booth (blue!). The thing that looks like a vending machine but sells...electronics equipment. Someone else will have to address those.

I grabbed a box and started packing up the Library.

At first, resentment. What about my leadership skills? The guys walking on by, what are they doing that's so critical? Saving the world? Do they have to assume I'm the fucking admin here behind the front desk? Yeah, I make coffee too. How is this not like my job? Will the world ever take me seriously? Am I doomed to scrub the floors for other people?

In college I worked in food service. I am handy with a mop and its squeezer bucket thing. I can remove forks inserted into the wall by frat boys (probably Wall Street bankers by now). I'm still better than average at removing grease and tying large garbage bags. The resentment comes from wondering if this might be all I have to offer. Or, all that will be accepted from me.

Each day I took a whack at a few boxes. Filling with books, taping, labeling. After about 10 boxes and 3 days, the desk person thanked me.

I started glancing at the books as they went into the box. O'Reilly titles like Python for Data Analysis and JavaScript The Definitive Guide. Robot Modeling and Control. The Four Hour Body. The Feynmann Lecture in Physics. Hacking Across America (a guy with laptop open on a recumbent on the road). A Walk Across America.

All the books are donated. I started to appreciate the mystery folks who shared their books. The authors who share their experiences. Fellow seekers.

The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman. How to Find the Work You Love by Laurence G. Boldt. Both of these came home with me.

Ghost in the machine

My brain loves a pattern. Once something gets set up in my head it can run forever. It becomes a machine. Watch it go.

Then the wind of change comes. Dismantling machines is painful, unsatisfying work. A process that no one looks forward to, it is more wrenching after brain injury. TBI survivors rely on routine to navigate life. When life changes rapidly, paradoxically we need routine even more.

If you've been reading this blog you know one of its central themes is exercise. Exercise after TBI is the one therapy that every neurologist I've seen agrees on. And it should be easy to have an exercise routine. Tuesday and Thursday, Spinning and yoga. Commute to work by bike. Most weekends go for a long ride. Just do it. Right?

Riding a bicycle a hundred miles a day has been simple, if not always easy. Keeping a gym has been downright impossible.

After the accident my gym closed. One day the door was locked and a sign said 'lost our lease'. Perhaps meaning 'we stopped making payments'. I was at a loss. The most important thing on the checklist was location; this gym had a killer location on my route to and from work. It took 4 months to find another gym along this route. It took only one month of no yoga, though, for my whiplash injury to permanently set up shop. That building became a stealth startup (tinted windows, no sign) and now a dollar store. I need my neck and shoulder to function. Does the world really need more dollar stores?

Its replacement was miraculously on my commute route, as well as brand new and sparsely used. It had a very light group exercise schedule. It was a pain to get to. It was closed on Sundays and every holiday seemed to trigger a 3-day closure. I worked around these issues. For free towel service, I'll work around many things! But a year ago, this second gym went private. All the public members (like me) were ousted. Only employees of on-site companies could belong. (Yeah I thought about that, but companies move frequently too.)

My luck had run out. On the bright side, my luck had run out at work too! I took a medical leave and slowly tried out other gyms. They had deal-breaker prices, locations, or both. Silicon Valley is a tough place for ordinary businesses to operate. 

For a few months I've been riding 3 miles to and from Overtime Fitness. It's your basic small office building that's been outfitted with weights and machines. No hot tub or sauna, only 2 showers. No electronic lockers. But, towels. The Spinning and yoga classes are frequent and they've embraced TRX. The schedule tells me when to show up. Most days I find myself there doing all the right things for TBI recovery. Right now yoga and TRX are helping with balance and spatial ability. Yoga is essential for the whiplash. And of course, Spinning for that blood-pumping machine inside the chest. Hey, hey it keeps on running!

Overtime isn't on my commute route. It's in the opposite direction from my employer and traffic is terrible. If I ever return to that employer, I'll need to work remotely. Strange to choose between health and employment; that's just the way it is right now.

Monday, December 10, 2012

All that you have is your soul

Found a good set of of slides last week. Tedd Judd, neuropsychologist, gave a presentation on TBI five years ago. Wondering what TBI looks like to a trained professional? You could start here.

He must be one of those neuropsychologists who treats people, tries to help them recover. Because the one thing missing from these slides is skepticism. He gets it. For the first 3 years every health professional seemed hell bent on discrediting me. They drove out of their way to pin my symptoms on something else. It was baffling, infuriating. It's still a relief to find validation.

Someone asked me why they don't want to help. The short answer is, because they can. The long answer is really about numbers:
  • Our culture is suspicious of and aggressive toward people who need something. Collectively, we fear dependence and deny our own connected-ness. We have an idealized, childlike view of ability. We choose not to see that what goes around, comes around.
  • It is completely legal for insurance companies to treat those who make claims as cheaters by default. To deny, delay, and defend every claim based on a slight possibility of fraud. We do not punish them for this behavior. On the contrary, the profit motive rewards it.
  • Doctors and neuropsychologists who make extra money testifying in court follow the insurance industry's lead. They are unwilling to risk their professional capital on any case that might not be a slam dunk. Yes, they are clever but also greedy and self-serving. No one manages them or holds them to a higher standard. There is no oversight.
  • These same professionals were trained 10, 15, 20 years ago. They all were told 95% of mild TBI cases resolve themselves fully within 1 year. I don't know where this data came from but it's  inaccurate. However, it results in more skepticism and fewer dollars paid out to victims. So it persists as the standard. 
  • If you're in the miserable minority, 5% or 33%, it does not matter. For you it's a 100% thing. 
Slide 22 says that fully one-third of TBI survivors still have symptoms after a year. The "miserable minority" is what Dr. Judd's profession calls us. One-third sounds about right. That's an expensive number, too.

And that number was out there, all along.


Calling all raptors

On that difficult Tuesday morning from Tomales with a storm coming in, I was literally surrounded by other living beings. No, there was almost no local traffic on Highway 1. The residents of Point Reyes were hunkered down in warm houses.

But hawks were sitting on fenceposts and telephone wires. Lots of them. Those spacious marshes along Tomales Bay must be great for hunting. Loads of visibility.

The last hawk I passed was sitting quietly on a fencepost right next to the road, so close it was tempting to take a photo. But I felt lousy and didn't want to interfere with whatever was going on. Perhaps the annual Point Reyes Rodent Festival? I wondered, struggling onward to Fat Angel Bakery. Where the humans in this region hunt for warmth and calories and caffeine....

The chest was a rust color dappled with white, that's all I remember. You could see the rosy rust area quite clearly. Never seen it before. I checked photos in the Audubon Field Guide to Birds (Western Region). At least 3 kinds of hawk can have that coloring. The only one ruled out was the Red Tailed Hawk.

OK.

I looked up hawks and falcons that frequent Point Reyes, to cross-reference with the ones with the right coloring. Well, Point Reyes is Hawk Central. Twenty species, or the whole Audubon list, hang out there! Too much information makes things worse.

Look closely, middle right.
I know bird people and also know I am not one of them. Smaller birds and their quick flitting and detailed quirks are not my thing. Reminds me of the most annoying aspects of my job.

For some reason I do love raptors. Their physical beauty and the way they fly (or just sit there) makes me happy. Maybe it's their calm presence, neither defensive nor aggressive. They know how to just be.

That morning passing the Druid's Hall in Nicasio and the Spirit Rock Zen Center on the way to White's Hill, aren't we humans searching for something like that?

Whatever else happened this year, I crossed paths with not one but two Peregrine Falcons. One in Humboldt County in July and the other in the Sierras in September. Both on days of inner turmoil.

In their presence I felt calm. Like there's an inherent order to everything and they are guiding me to it.

It was time for another look at the Field Guide and a Google Images search for "red shouldered hawk". Many images did the trick...

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Old Pedro Mountain Road

If you're not trying new things, you're probably stuck in a rut. That got me on the bike today.

With 4 other people, mostly strangers, I'm standing at a trail junction in the hills a thousand feet above the ocean. Gazing at Montara Mountain, sharing a Clementine orange. Discussing an irrational hatred of the word "ma'am". A word that gets invoked to control behavior. How it pisses me off greatly, thereby having the opposite effect.

This is a Meetup ride, old Coast Highway to Half Moon Bay.  Lincoln is the organizer. As of this morning I had not met him, nor Rob nor Chris.

Jim, of course. Jim is the one teasing me about the "ma'am" thing. On our last ride there might have been an incident involving a road closure and an unreasonable worker. At the time my fellow cyclists used the word "brazen", which is perfectly fine with me. But I am wondering what it will take to live that one down...

Today the old is new. Bonnie loves the old highway to Montara, has always talked about how great it is. Its formal name is Old Pedro Mountain Road. Never had the chance to ride it. Don't know the route. Heard it was rough and rocky, probably not a solo thing. So I've been waiting for this chance. Peaceful and quiet and 100% legal.

Lately in addition to longer rides I've been running errands on the fixie and hitting the gym 4 days a week. Mental clarity is a lot of work. I'm definitely tired. If someone sets the place and time for a ride I can show up. Otherwise...

We are graced with incredible weather and Lincoln's planning. Meeting at Daly City BART, also a first. Tacking on city streets and lots of hills to Pacifica. Scuttling across the current Highway 1 to the old road. Climbing roughly to the top of Pedro Mountain on a once-paved surface that was abandoned in 1937. An experience worthy of Route 66.

Naturally, from this point on the guys are calling me "ma'am".

From 1915 to 1937, driving south along the coast from San Francisco meant going over Pedro Mountain. Drivers found the road a challenge; they frequently ran off the road and word is, the wrecks can still be found. It's no problem on a bike! Not rough at all. It's 80% paved and none of the grades are very steep. Anyone with experience on a mountain bike can handle it.

In October 1937, Highway 1 took a different tack. It used the old Ocean Shore Railroad alignment near the ocean. This stretch of direct and aggressive road is known by locals as Devil's Slide. It has turned into a bit of a disaster, with closures due to landslides and accidents. A tunnel bypass is underway - we can see the project far below. The tunnels were supposed to open this week! Now Caltrans is saying February.

The old Highway 1 will become a trail. Cyclists on the Pacific Coast Bicycle Route will be happy about that, as Devil's Slide lacks a shoulder. Local cyclists avoid it for that reason, seeking out this beautiful, abandoned alternate.

After winding our way up and around and down the mountain, in Montara it's easy to follow the twists and turns of the old road. It feels natural, integrated into the town streets. The function of a road is balanced with the human scale of the town.

This balance feels both distant and familiar. Like the house of my grandparents in San Francisco. They must have come this way. My grandfather  would have driven both roads, Pedro Mountain Road and the new Highway 1.

Another goal today is to stay off Highway 1 entirely. In San Mateo County it's still scenic but a busy thoroughfare. We cross over to a series of trails along the ocean.

Miramar Beach is packed with sun-seekers and their deliriously happy dogs. It's noon. The smells from restaurants prompt a query about lunch. Lunch will be in Half Moon Bay, 4 miles south.

The surf is calm and people frolic in the water like summer in LA. The crowds and festive atmosphere with swimmers, surfers and paddleboarders, is reminiscent of Maverick's. That's the annual competition where surfers from around the world come for the big waves. The window opened exactly one month ago. Sure is hard to imagine big waves out there today.

Finally, at San Benito House, artichoke soup and a half sandwich (egg and avocado). Limonata. Barbeque chips to share. Onward to Lobitos.

There's a ridge between us and the end of this ride. Real hills to test the legs. This group has been anticipating them all day long. Every so often someone makes an ominous comment. Now it's time.

The Internet brings people together to ride, brings new folks into cycling. Totally great. You find roads like these by following someone who knows the way. Now you can do that on a smartphone.

Social networking gets you to this point, and then what? The guys are telling stories about riders who didn't know what they were getting into. Who didn't have the climbing legs for making it to the top. Or the fitness to enjoy the process.

Lobitos, a toasty climb in the coastal hills. Tunitas, a cool dark forest. Deserted, with needles  in the middle of the lane. These roads never were a highway. They were always like this.

We all make it to the ridge just fine and today, I get to enjoy the process.

Jim went his own way an hour ago. Now the rest of the group scatters toward home, one north, one south, two eastward to BART.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

After the deluge

After a bike trip the transition back to routine is never easy. Life at home does not stand still. Seems like there's always an urgent message from the lawyer waiting.

Lawyer email, check.

I tell myself it makes zero sense to collect stuff that's falling apart in the world. That's a job of infinite proportions. And the bad stuff is not related in any useful way. There's no pattern. Still, a bike tour strips life down to manageable details. Like, where to have lunch. Where to sleep. Away from phones and the Internet, it's serene and quiet. I really notice when that simplicity goes away.

Wednesday morning it was time to wake up and smell the coffee:

This morning Bella capped it all off by abandoning a live rat in the bathroom. When frightened, they jump! And when they jump, you wake up fast. For the Worst Housemate (the WHammy) award, she's the runaway favorite... she brings them in and they run away.

Where's the good stuff?

If life at home has taken on a tinge of nightmare, it might be related to the disturbed sleep and dreams  haunting me for the past month. Every night, starting the night of the Valley Medical debacle. It just occurred to me that it could be related to alcohol. After a head injury, the brain is often more sensitive to alcohol and its effect on neurotransmitters. Maybe it's more sensitive to withdrawal as well. So far haven't found any supporting info, but nothing contradictory either. 

On the plus side Danny swung by Katy's Smokehouse and we now have plenty of canned albacore. A stick of smoked salmon jerky in the fridge has my name on it. Brain food!