Thursday, January 30, 2014

Thursday Montebello

A small pile of spin clothes. Next to that, a larger pile of street clothes. Time to get going.

I look at the piles and abandon the plan. Open the garage and pull out the Seven (new chain) instead. Head out to the base of Montebello.

Just can't handle the gym lately. Lots of changes, most of them not healthy for Route 66, a journey. TRX and Spinning schedules, all over the place. Shades of what happened with my job

New people, too. A spin instructor, a non-cyclist. With her pack of devotees and a style that both grates and makes the red EGO light go on. Went to that class exactly once.

This is the hard core class someone warned me. No breaks the teacher agreed. There was a pause as they looked over at me.

I think I'll survive is what came out of my mouth.

This little drama sinks back down where it belongs, on the valley floor. In the whiplash confusion of schedules and agendas, we can still choose the company we keep.

While climbing the mountain, my brain plays back a question I heard over and over in Las Vegas. People are surprised, when they learn you've had a brain injury, to see a pretty darned functional person with a positive outlook. What's the gift? they ask. Your brain injury, how is it a gift?

There are lots of ways. But the gift du jour is clearly, minding who gets to be around you. Anyone who is working to reinvent and rebuild a life, looking for the not-so-obvious gifts, we all have something in common.

We have to ask, who do I spend time with? And who gets to spend time with me?

Before the accident, I hung out with a default set of people based on proximity and shared activities. Coworkers, extended family, activity partners. Most of us are casual about who we let in our social circles. I liked being casual about it.

After the accident I had to think about this very carefully. And still, it's a process. What I can say is, if you want to test your social network, really measure what you have, may I suggest something fundamental and challenging and invisible. A minor traumatic brain injury, for example.

No real treatment, that's a plus. When I don't need what people offer, haven't asked for anything but patience and understanding and empathy, the reactions are telling. Denial, discounting, anger, blaming, silence. Wow. Revealing truths about someone's character that under regular circumstances would never see the light of day.

You get to see the people in your life with the same clear lens as the people who run your gym, yet rarely seem focused on your health.

So, you wonder, what's good about that?

Well, their gift to me is the truth. And the idea that maybe, something better can be built.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Wishing for the right things

Last week at a party someone remarked that the blog and travel stories let them live vicariously through me. In other words, they wish they were doing these things...

I'm standing here because about 2 miles ago the Seven's chain broke. It got spliced back together with half a link and some of Bonnie's duct tape, and this is where it's decided to give up the ghost.

Bending over a hopeless drivetrain, I hear myself thinking well at least it's not raining. At least it's a gorgeous day. And at least it's not a tire problem that can't be fixed. Can't even ride downhill in that case.

This exact spot is middle-of-nowhere Sonoma County, on Sweetwater Springs Road. Beautiful, but not the place to be chain-less. Kind of worst-case-scenario. From this point it's about 2 miles to the top of the hill. Which I'll be walking. The hope is to coast down the other side into Guerneville. Where my ride will be coming to an end and I'll be piecing together a way home on public transport. ~125 miles.

And that's pretty much how it goes, except the mile-and-a-half on Armstrong Woods into town is not really flat. Not a hill, but not level either. The Seven becomes an expensive, incredibly overbuilt scooter. Pushing off with one foot or the other, gliding as far as possible, then pushing off again. There was a guy who completed Paris-Brest-Paris on a scooter in 2003; he wore out a couple of pairs of shoes.

Here's what I found:
  1. No one, not the sheriff, not the cast of characters at the bus stop in a funky little backwater of a town, wants to talk to someone with grease on their face. No one. If you want help from strangers, be good-looking.
  2. Dove bar soap is not effective at removing grease from the skin. 
  3. Chains can't really be mended en route, unless you have a master link or a chain tool.
  4. Guerneville doesn't have a bike shop!
  5. For $3.05 you can spend an hour studying an incredibly rich cross-section of humanity.
The really amazing thing is, sometimes you can make a huge mistake, like reading a schedule wrong. Scooting an extra mile-and-a-half in Santa Rosa to a bus stop, then realizing that the southbound 72 runs only in the morning hours. The times on the schedule are not bold. At 4 in the afternoon, only the northbound bus stops there. You've ruined everything...

Then the Airport Express pulls up, because it happens to stop at the same place. And they'll take you to SFO, which is way further than the public bus goes. It has comfy seats and charging stations for your smartphone (which is now dead). It has WiFi. And the people are super nice.

Even when you make a huge mistake, and you're tired and not as greasy as before but still greasy and you've spent time sitting next to someone who habitually smokes pot, if you stay with it things can work out. As unlikely as this sounds, you can get home from Guerneville. One local bus, one deluxe coach, two BART trains, and a commuter train.

Then you can scoot the 4 blocks home.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Milestones, and the road ahead

In the past week this blog reached two important milestones.

First, it's two years old. Two years since the first post on January 12, 2012. Getting ready for a Route 66 trip, a lifetime ago. As a friend says, "the journey goes on and on!"

The second milestone is number of posts. The Sydney Melbourne post Down the Riverina is number 400. 400! (If you've been staring at the top level of the blog wondering why it seems to be static right now, this is where most new content is going.)

Thanks for coming along for the ride!

New Media Expo in Las Vegas had some really good speakers and sessions. This triggered some thinking on how to reach a larger audience. Build a community. People interested in brain injury and neuroscience are starting to pop up on social media. That's new and good!

As I work on reaching that community, you might see some ripple effects here at Route 66, a journey. The plan is to launch a podcast series in March, with survivors of brain injury as well as (select) professionals in the field. If you know anyone like this, please! get in touch. I'd love to talk with them.

I'm also starting the process of looking for external work. This has been great brain exercise, and very fulfilling, and wonderful in many ways. The discipline of writing has been helpful. But currently no dollars are coming in. The Internet changes everything, except when it doesn't. On the flip side, I'm feeling better and am probably ready to venture forth.

It's possible I'll be posting here less frequently. Right now I'm having trouble balancing everything that needs to happen. We'll have to see how it goes. I probably won't write about every single bike ride in 2014. But you never know, those (two-year-)old habits die hard...

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Weigh in on gyms

What's left of the Violin Memory building, and its neighbors...
On returning from Melbourne, I turned the corner near Hacker Dojo and there was a huge empty space. Daylight and lots of it. When I left that was a city block of one-story office building, circa 1985 construction. Totally gone. Heavy equipment and the street blocked off. Now a new compound is rising from the dirt.

Reinvention. It's not just for brain injury survivors...

This is basically a constant process in Silicon Valley. Recently, a bunch of new members and instructors and spin bikes have popped up at my gym. They're refugees from a gym near the Dojo that closed its doors. Dirt is just too valuable in the Land of Google and Facebook. Gym owners and landlords take the money and run. 

I lost 2 gyms before making some compromises and joining the current one, Overtime Fitness. It's small and inconveniently located and expensive and a pain in the neck, recently. (pun intended)

Today one of my spin colleagues and I debated the social value of gyms. I said that everyone's brain needs physical exercise, so everyone needs access to a gym. Working people often have only an hour to exercise. And there's evidence that perhaps one-third of people need group exercise to keep fit. 

She said, there are many ways to get exercise. She'd rather be hiking today, for example. (It was 78 degrees and sunny.) There are walking groups all over the country, even places where the weather is terrible most of the time. People get together and walk around indoor malls. We've only had gyms for a few decades; before that, people found a way to exercise.

What do you think? Is it a public health issue, the ability to work out indoors? Or just another option in life's buffet of many options? If no gym were available, would you find another way to get and stay fit?

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Slow learning

On the bike, while I am moving time is often standing still.

The world goes by at a pace that feels natural. Everything seems more tangible, easier to remember. The trees standing like so, the fields, the hills watching over them since geologic time. Next time I pass this way, they'll still be here.
This is my excuse for being stunned at the news that on New Year's Day one of my host dads passed away. I got to see him 6 weeks ago, after Sydney Melbourne. He and his wife Phil, in the same house with the kitchen table I remember, the sliding glass doors out to the pool and beautiful garden all around.

We had tea. Eddie carried the cups since Phil uses a walker now. There was a photo, me at 16, pinned to the wall with many others. Many stories of a life together. He looked at me and said "Look at you, all grown up!"

I thought I'd be wiser by now.

Looking at Google Maps, trying to reconstruct the experience of riding Sydney Melbourne, in my head it's Eddie's voice saying the names like Beechworth, Shepparton, the Grampians, Bright, the Snowies. Wagga Wagga (actually just, Wagga). Benalla, Yarra Glen. He never lost the places he'd been.

Somehow he knew of Silicon Valley and even had a personal computer when they were rare. In 1982 (!) somehow he knew it was the Next Big Thing. Over tea at the table I got to tell him, he was right.

Living with Eddie and Phil at the house was their intellectually disabled son. Also a character. They accepted him completely. Appreciated him for who he was. It was a powerful example, one that has taken years to absorb.

Everything I learned was still there, in that tricky way of memory. Feeling accepted in their home, not a stranger any more. Sharing food and experiences and eventually, who we are.

Fifty years from now someone with a PhD will do a study. It will show that human beings learn and remember and function better in the presence of empathy. That it changes us, forging new and different neural pathways. It will show that the changes last longer, are far more resilient than anyone expected.

How lucky are those of us, who already know.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Another one bites the dust...

There are 3 insurance companies in this story. The first was the car insurance company for the car I was in at the time of the accident.

It was a long time before they got my claim, maybe more than a year. Yes, I thought the whole concussion thing would blow over and heal itself…the way doctors said it would. And it did not. And so I filed a claim.

Well they dug right in. Insisted on proof from a neuropsychologist. Meanwhile they were pressuring the policyholder, using fear tactics. (Hard to believe, I know.) Saying that the humans involved were liable for my claim, instead of the company. Putting them up to pressuring me.

Nice, right?

When this company finally got their proof they offered $5000. For my brain. It turns out getting the right lawyer, one who knows brain injury, can be quite effective in this type of situation.

Meanwhile everyone was so stressed that a key detail of California law got buried. In this state if an insurance company offers any amount lower than the maximum amount covered per person, and as a result there is a lawsuit for a lot more money, the policyholder is not liable for any damages. The insurance company is. This is to protect California consumers from insurance companies who cheap out and refuse to pay claims.

Eventually with the right lawyer and a thick case file and a lawsuit, this part of the story had a happy ending.

Here's the kicker…the insurance company in question (its name includes the number 21) was our insurance company too. For 25 years Danny had been giving them money. Paying them to behave like this. He was loyal to them and it took some convincing on my part to get rid of them.

As of today, they're fired.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The road to gluten free

Every so often someone asks how the focus on gluten came about.

How did I figure it out? Good question. A riding buddy asked the other week, on our way to Tunitas Creek Road.

It was gradual and sort of unconscious. First I gravitated toward energy bars, like Kind and Larabar, both gluten-free. Then having a gluten-free breakfast before long rides. Still not aware of what was happening.

Half-conscious of stomach issues after eating bread. Especially on long rides with the stomach under stress. Over time, ingesting smaller amounts produced more of a reaction. Making the connection more obvious.

Aha! Light bulb.

Except that's not the whole story. Just got back from a hair appointment and remembered another piece involving Gloria, my hair person.

The color that was stripping off my scalp and itching badly. Apparently not a normal reaction (thank goodness). Having some experience with food sensitivity, she asked if it could be caused by gluten. Never thought of that. And started consciously subtracting it.

Then over time, ingesting smaller amounts produced more of a reaction. Making the connection more obvious. And then, aha! It was Gloria that actually brought the pieces together. What the doctors completely miss, the attentive person who cuts your hair might notice.

Thinking back, right after the accident a different hair person had made a similar comment. Being impaired I hardly noticed. But there you go…

While I hate being one of those special-diet-people in restaurants, my brain has been thanking me for it every day.

Can't get there from here

Back from Vegas. Happy, overwhelmed with tasks.
The trip was fruitful but not easy.

Yeah the air travel piece, an endurance event... A storm on the East Coat hit us in sunny California by grounding airplanes! A game of Magic Squares. Friday afternoon and much of the evening spent at Terminal B in the San Jose airport. After 5 hours the flight to Las Vegas was cancelled. Mad.

Rebooking chaos ensued. Epic queues and a 25-to-39-minute estimated wait at 1-800-I-FLY-SWA. Saturday morning at 6 the airport thick with humans and the air of desperation. Those poor TSA people hustled and everyone recovering from brain injuries did our level best not to make mistakes in the security line.

Finally in Vegas, took a cab from McCarran International right to the opening keynote at New Media Expo. Groggy, disheveled. At least I was there.

On the way home on Monday, still a mess. Flight 90 minutes late. Exhausted. Monitors at the gates displaying The Way We Were, not The Current State of Things. People with quote unquote normal brains could not keep up! 

I was thinking ha, now you know what it feels like ;-)

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Sadistic and Masochistic 1200K

Here you'll find the Sydney Melbourne Alpine 1200K posts, in chronological order!


This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body…  
-Walt Whitman, from the Preface to Leaves of Grass 1855