Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year's Eve Montebello

When things don't make sense and clarity is needed, make a circle. A circle makes sense.

Don't worry if it's not a perfect circle. After all there are few or none of those in nature. Even the earth is not a perfect sphere; it has a bulge near the equator as a consequence of rotation. And rotation keeps us going, moves us in and out of light.

On the day before crossing over into a new year, I need a loop. Lumpy, imperfect, but going to the highest point around. (It's warm here, except at night and in the shade.)

The person who originally showed me this view, this vantage point, decided that my brain injury was a fake. That I'm a sham. Because unlike the view, you can't see a thing.

Still, how could you not be happy up here? Grateful for ever coming to know about it, however that happened.

To make a new start maybe it helps to visit the old wounds. Feel new strength growing in the broken places.

Then move on.

More photos here.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Out with the old!

When I got back from Australia, Danny let me know that his company has fired Blue Shield of California as our health insurance provider. Tomorrow is their last day.

Don't let the door hit you on your way out...

For some reason last week the pain in my cervical spine flared up. For a few days it really hurt, a burning, localized pain that also brought some numbness to my hands. But I knew the root cause, which is huge. I knew what to do (use a travel pillow, tuck in my chin, go to yoga) to make it better. As long as I do those things to self-treat, it's not damaging to ride a bike.

All this knowledge was bought by the MRI. It took almost 9 months from Dr. S. ordering it to getting stuck in the metal tube in the machine of Valley Medical. According to the bills that came, total cost was ~$3000.

If that sounds expensive, it's around the cost of your average ride to the hospital in an ambulance. We  know that because one of Danny's colleagues had to cover an ambulance ride for his critically sick kid out of pocket. Blue Shield wouldn't cover that either. There must have been other employees who received similar treatment from them.

My first-rate health insurance that would pay for HBOT was sacrificed with my job. That's gone for good. Danny's company is a large start-up that has zero bargaining power with health insurers. The replacement is no picnic either; several years ago his company switched from them to Blue Shield. It would be tough to outdo Blue Shield on this score, though. 

We shall see. Stay tuned... 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Yes to pumpkin pancakes with ginger

It's a 5 (not an S), as in five years after brain injury...
These can be gluten-free. Just use a GF baking mix in place of flour, baking powder, and baking soda.

1 cup flour (can be GF)
2 T packed brown sugar
1 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1 t cinnamon
1 t ground ginger (powdered)
1 t nutmeg
1/4 t salt
1 large egg
3/4 c milk
3/4 c canned pumpkin
1/4 c plain yogurt

1/4 c candied, crystallized ginger, chopped

Mix dry ingredients in bowl. Whisk egg, milk, yogurt, pumpkin until there are no lumps. Mix with dry ingredients only until mixed. Cook on hot surface.

Top with maple syrup, raspberry jam, and of course the crystallized ginger.


Somewhat round

A long time ago when life looked very different, I toured a huge ginger plant in Queensland. Don't remember the name or exactly where it was but this is probably the one. They processed raw ginger, producing ginger in all its ready, commercial forms: raw in a jar, cooked into syrup, dried and crystallized with sugar.

Kinda, sorta, round.
This was in the early 1980's, before the ginger boom. You couldn't just go to your local market and pick up little discs of crystallized stuff in the bulk food bin. I'd never given any thought to ginger before. No one I knew used it in the kitchen. Touring the machinery and the gift shop I was bored. Along the lines of this must be what it's like to be a member of the Royal Family...

Then we got samples of ginger candy. A great idea. Ginger may not look like much but that taste…pungent, lingering sweetness, then spice. Lots of heat. Wow!

The stuff I bought the other day is sweet, spicy, and definitely not hot. Not sure where it comes from. The folks in Queensland kept repeating that their plant was the largest in the southern hemisphere. Which sounds huge until you realize, as I did today, that Australia produces less than 1% of the world's ginger each year. It's probably not from that factory! (They should have been saying our ginger is rare and special and has lots of heat…)

But this is not about ginger, or even Australia.

It matters a lot, the way facts are presented. Perception is not everything but it's often how things happen in the world. That is the realm of lawyers, a nugget I've gleaned over the past 5 years. It's in no way fair or necessary to still have outstanding legal claims. We should not be making people with brain injuries ride a 1200K when it comes to disability, medical care, or insurance claims. But if it has to be like that then I'm so, so lucky to have a good lawyer. Bring on the heat...

Today makes 5 years since the accident. Still here! More good days than bad now, overall. And you know what that means…Last week I took a little vacation from the basics. Had a glass or two of wine with dinner, um, several days in a row! Even a small daily dose of wine is not in the cards. For me it just wallops on memory, balance, and mood.

One of those nights had a beer as well, an Eel River IPA. Beer has less alcohol, but I was further reminded that almost all beer contains gluten. It's good to remember stuff! Let's hope I remember better and faster next time.

Bicycle wheels need to be pretty close to perfectly round to function properly. Most other things work fine with a few bumps and imperfections. For example:

Pumpkin pancakes (GF) with raspberry jam and crystallized ginger - yum!
Am coming around to accept a few bumps and imperfections. Not quite there yet, but getting there. It seems to beat the hell out of pretending to be what others want. That takes a lot of time and energy, and it's good to be mindful of how we spend those things.

Feel like celebrating with me? It's easy.
  1. Find or make something yummy. It could be pumpkin pancakes or something else. It cannot look perfect, that's the only rule.
  2. If you have some ginger handy and it goes well with ginger, even better. 
  3. Eat, experience, plunge right in! 
Leave a comment to share whatever it was. Or, just enjoy!

Monday, December 16, 2013

I'm so naiive...

I'm so naiive, this didn't even occur to me. It. Didn't. Occur. To. Me.

And then I read it and banged my forehead and thought Of course! Dr. L., the rehab medicine guy in the machine! Or Dr. Pill-Happy at UCSF, the guy who has an assistant weigh you and take your blood pressure before you meet for the first time! (so he'll know what dosage to prescribe)

I mean, I've had my head down reading about The Exercise Cure and Exercise as Potent Medicine. Busy riding a bike. What was I thinking?

They're being paid to write prescriptions!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Bum rap

The little helpers
This is one of those abstract, what-if, philosophical posts that will really make you think.

Oh wait, that's a different post… what this post is really about is your bottom. Or, how to condition the part of your body that sits on the bike seat for hours on end. (pun intended)

All this talk about What, the many photos and words describing long rides that are good for your brain. Why not a little How? Because you know you've been wanting to ask about this subject. You know it, I know it, the whole Internet knows it. So...

First, if you want to ride many hundreds of kilometers in one go, your training rides are important not just for your legs but for also your posterior. We call it Butt Conditioning, those hours in the saddle leading up to a long brevet. Very important. Your skin and sit bones and soft tissue actually do get used to sitting on a saddle and being in bike shorts. With repetition the butt gets used to it! Time in the saddle, very important.

And before we get to the items in the photo, let's state the obvious: the right saddle should be your first priority. There is no ONE right saddle. Every butt is different. Sorry, but you'll find Your Saddle through trial and error. The width of your sit bones is one of the variables, and your local bike shop might have a device to measure this. It's a good jumping-off point for experimenting with saddles.

On your next long ride look around at what kind of saddles others have. That's how I found the original Terry Butterfly (I still use it today). Here in California, it might be how you discover Rivet saddles. Deb Banks rode a Rivet Independence on Sydney Melbourne, partly because it's an excellent saddle and partly because Rivet is her company. Order one from her.

So, you have an excellent saddle with many miles spent getting to know each other. Great! Good work! On an actual ride, what else can be done to ensure a happy relationship? Because like any relationship, what you get out of it depends on what you put in.

Everyone's routine is different. Here is mine:
  1. Before packing 4 pairs of bike shorts into my luggage, I butter up the chammies. That's right, I rub Chammy Butt'r (mineral oil in a more convenient form) all over the chammies and let them dry. The oil sinks into the foam chamois so that it's not abrasive to start with.
  2. While the chammies dry I make sure Bella does not eat them. (You might be able to skip this step.)
  3. Just before getting on the bike, I apply Body Glide to the skin that will be in contact with my saddle. Body Glide is paraffin, or wax. It won't prevent serious chafing but it will buy you time. Also, it doesn't have a scent and it's not sticky (so no ewww factor). (In the photo it looks like a deodorant stick.)
  4. On the bike I carry a small tub of Lantiseptic. This is the new Bag Balm, a petroleum based anti-friction agent, shall we say. Hospitals and nursing homes use it to prevent bed sores. The secret sauce is lanolin, which forms a barrier on your skin. It also has menthol. Apply as much as you can stand, periodically throughout a long ride. It's best to find a discreet location, if possible.
  5. The last thing is a film canister…you remember these? Tough and tightly sealed, if you can still find one they're totally ideal for carrying an absorbent powder like cornstarch in your drop bag. Not for baking, no. The real enemy of the skin on a long ride is moisture. On both SBS and Sydney Melbourne, we had rain on Day 1 of a four-day ride! Wet shorts are the thing you really have to worry about. Rain can quickly transform high-end Lycra shorts into sandpaper on your skin. And cornstarch just fixes that. Rub cornstarch on your skin the morning of Day 2 (and 3, and 4) and nothing will stick to it so it can heal. 
Each night after showering I use aloe on any irritated skin, to cool it down and heal while I sleep. Not the crap green gel for sunburns that has hardly any aloe. The real stuff, like Jason. It lives in my drop bag.

Some folks also use a diaper rash cream. Since with moisture and bike shorts we are basically talking about diaper rash, it's worth a try.

The final tip, for you randonneurs who have read this far, is the Secret of the Double Shorts. In the middle of an event even when your skin is chafed, you have to keep riding. What to do? The secret is, wear two pairs of shorts. The one next to your skin goes on inside out (chamois facing away from skin). The other goes on the normal way. So the other riders don't talk about you…no one has to know. No chamois next to the skin! I own a pair of slippery shorts whose sole purpose in life is to save my butt on a 1200K.

Saving your own butt is a big part of surviving a 1200K. There are a lot more tricks, too. Go ahead, if you got 'em, share 'em! Use the comments field...

Friday, December 13, 2013

Feelin' groovy

Life is good. No brain fog this week. Clear skies with good visibility. Had to stop playing the game 4 Pictures, 1 Word on the smartphone. It's just not a fair fight any more. I feel guilty taking all those points.

It may be impossible but I'd still like to know why. Almost as much as I want to celebrate. Could it be:

Some combination thereof? Doing the right things, does it actually pay off?

Or in the words of Dan Shadoan, "you know, these brain injuries just take 5 years to heal". He and Ann should know.

So yep, it's for real. Coming up on 5 years. On December 25th maybe we'll have a party. With gluten-free cake!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Wiggle

If you're a cyclist living in or near San Francisco then you know and love The Wiggle.

The Wiggle is an east-west route through a city that is famous for awe-inspiring hills. A route from downtown to Golden Gate Park that manages, via strategic turns and timing, to be miraculously flat. How about that?

When you do the Wiggle, it kind of feels like threading a camel through the eye of a needle. Unlikely and wonderful.

Some people tend to seek out adversity, thrive on it. Under normal circumstances I'm that kind of person. The chance to get stronger, bring it on!

The hills of San Francisco, though, are several orders of magnitude steeper than anywhere else. There are a lot of them and they're too steep for cycling. They're too steep for driving, really. What they're good for is comic material:

This is how I first learned about the hills of San Francisco, before seeing them in person. What I've learned in the interim is when you can do The Wiggle, you should. Every opportunity, you should take it. Definitely.

Today I rode my fixie against a bitter wind to the Bike Exchange workshop. To accomplish something worthwhile. To take my mind off Life Challenges of the Moment. Picked out a kid's bike, then on the way to the stand noticed a strange wobble in the rear wheel. Had a premonition it would require a lot of wrenches and axel work and skills I don't have. A can of worms.

Quickly felt overwhelmed, like I was in the wrong place. Shouldn't have come. I don't need more problems to solve.

This was just a feeling, mind you. The old me would have insisted on throwing everything I had at the crippled bike. Toughing it out, no matter the personal cost. A matter of principle. Just do it.

Instead I felt like running away. Quietly, so no one knows I was even there. This, too, seemed unsatisfying. Like a waste. After all, I'm here and it's freakin' cold but I've got a hat and a jacket and it's not raining like the forecast said. In fact, the sun is shining.

So, I wheel the little bike back to the pile for someone else to tackle, maybe later. And pick a different one. It looks better, but you never really know. Still feeling overwhelmed and not knowing where to start. Too proud to ask a mechanic for help. Sooner or later, you have to try standing on your own.

I start by cleaning the bike. Something I know how to do. It was kept indoors, which is good, probably in a garage or some other space that was shared with a long-haired feline. Lots of soft, long cat hairs in the spokes and components. It takes a while to get all that off. In the process I notice a loose reflector, a crooked seat. A wobble in the front wheel that turns out to be just an issue with the way the tube is seated inside the tire (no truing required). A dry chain in need of lube. And so on.

A mechanic comes up and starts pointing out issues and what to do with them. Some of which I had noticed, others not. It's all good! As she points things out I start knocking them off. On the front brakes, making the right tiny screw a quarter-turn tighter and the left one a quarter-turn looser. Otherwise, as soon as she leaves I'll forget the whole list. But this is not how she wants to work. She wants me to just listen and remember everything and then do it. When she says "you'll have to choose between working on the bike and listening to me" that feeling of being overwhelmed and wanting to run away, it comes right back.

This is a pseudo-work situation. Can I survive, with my limitations, in this type of situation? Where someone is prescribing not only what needs to be done but how to do it?

It's a volunteer gig. So I wait for her to leave and somehow at that point only the rear brakes need adjusting. The bike passes QA! Maybe a local kid whose family can't afford one will get a red bike for Christmas. Clean and good and totally functional.

Having wiggled around the first bike, the uncertainties of the second, and the mindset of the mechanic, I am completely giddy with success. My next employer will need to know about the brain injury. Flying under the radar, bad idea. But it's way, way easier to accept this on the heels of a win (or two).

Friday, December 6, 2013

Cave into winter

At this very moment, Bella is burrowed under layers of flannel sheets and duvets. Totally under, out of sight, a small lump in the bed. She says it is winter. Time to cave.

It's been 10 days since Melbourne, with its ~14.5 hours of daylight.

Today in California the sun will grace us with 9 hours, 40 minutes of its presence. Outside (next to the house) it is 58 degrees (14 C) but this morning it got down to 28 (-2 C). Danny reported frost on the solar panels.

I couldn't see the frost with my own eyes because they were shut. I was deeply asleep. Dead to the world. Last night, for 11 hours.

Say the alarm goes off at 8am. It does register that something is happening but because the concept of alarm and really the whole outside world has no meaning whatsoever, I turn over and resume sleeping. For hours. Without turning off the alarm.

The change in seasons has been a bit of an adjustment. It feels different from jet lag. The weird dizziness and sudden urge to nap, that went away in a couple of days. Instead, this feels like an epic circadian shift. A recalibration.

There's hunger, too. Two nights ago Danny was forced to make a couple of giant burgers for dinner (with cheese and bacon, sans bun). It was the only way to stop the repeated mentions of burgers in casual conversation. It went like, blah blah blah BURGER blah blah. Then I whipped up a batch of salty-sweet chocolate lumps for dessert and now they're almost gone.

Good thing I'm not expected to show up at a formal place of work right now. It feels really good to sleep and eat. It does not exactly feel productive.

So to feel better about that, let's review what actually got done this week.

  • Made one (1) trip to Hacker Dojo.
  • Attended one (1) Spinning class and one (1) TRX session and one (1) yoga class at the gym.
  • Cooked two (2) dinners.
  • At Pet Club, bought Bella a huge bag of food and a soft pet bed. Totally hip to her world...
  • Talked to Johanna Heller at Waterford, who says It looks like a drop out replacement is necessary given the crack.
  • Took the Waterford to a local bike shop. After shedding all the parts not welded on, they sent it on to the spa in Waterford, Wisconsin. To see a therapist who massages TruTemper OX Platinum steel into new dropouts. Get a full series of exfoliation and renewal treatments.

They'll do all that while I wait sleep.