Uncle!

“No exposed flesh” is a reasonable dictum in mid-January. When winter is still six weeks away, it is almost enough to make a long-term resident cry “uncle!”

The temperature should not be in the single digits (Fahrenheit) in early November. When I got my bike out of the garage to go to work, the wheels wouldn’t turn. The tires were frozen solidly to the fenders and I had to chip them loose before I could roll the bike out of the garage. It wasn’t quite icy enough to lace up the skates but it was close. I usually put the studded tires on between Christmas and New Year’s Day. I may have to move that up to tonight. [And yes, the studded snow tires are now on.]

Meanwhile, corn and soybeans are still in the fields. Fall was too wet to harvest. Now the beans are beansicles. Flood watches are not normally issued in late fall around here, but we have them again this week. On the other hand, the university crew was out rowing yesterday. It may be below freezing, but the lake is still liquid, so they can still train on the water.

This is the first fall in memory in which I mowed the lawn and shoveled snow in the same week. The wet fall meant the grass had not yet gone dormant even after the first snowfall. Green leaves fell during the first snowstorm.

Usually we wonder if we’ll have a white Christmas. This year was a white Halloween/Samhain/Día de los Muertos.

“Winter Wonderland” Chet Baker (but it’s still fall!)

Checking my old backup hard drive, I came across a little something I did back in 2007. It was the magazine open on the lap of the snowperson in the photo below.

I also found a picture of my old bike.

Lake freezing before my eyes
Rowing season may have just ended. But I was wrong – they were out the day after this photo was taken. I don’t think the crew bought an icebreaker.
Might be time to get the piers and boat hoists in before it’s too late.

The half-fast cycling club got together to do what we do best, in accordance with our slogan: “When the going gets tough, the half-fast go for a beer.” The occasion was the 25th anniversary of a local brewpub, and even those we haven’t seen on a bike all year showed up. Not to be dropped by the group, I spent the week in training with single malt Scotch.

If it’s too cold and snowy for you to want to ride (we’ve already set records for both), and you’re in Madison WI, save the date: Sunday, December 8 at 3PM at Trinity Lutheran Church for “War and Peace: Music of Remembrance” with the Choral Arts Society.

In Praise of Snot

The other day I heard Bill Bryson on NPR talking about his latest book. To paraphrase, he said that our bodies deal with cancer on a nearly daily basis. Usually we recognize mutated cells as invaders and destroy them before they cause damage. This is, of course, a completely unconscious process. Our bodies are way smarter than our conscious minds. (Imagine having to take responsibility for beating your heart every second, and still having enough consciousness left over to decide whether The Bachelorette was making a smart choice.) It is only on the rare occasions that those cells divide uncontrollably that we are faced with what we know as cancer.

That got me thinking about mucus. Over the years I have seen a lot of fad diets come and go. In the ’70s, the “mucusless diet” was a big thing. The theory, as I understood it, is that when we have a cold we have an excess of mucus and therefore mucus is bad. We have a stuffy and/or runny nose and we don’t want that. The next step was that certain foods cause us to produce mucus and we should avoid them. Among those “mucus-producing” foods were all dairy products. Being a Cheesehead, that was pretty hard to swallow. No 11 year old Cheddar? No Brie? And don’t get me started on the Velveeta on which I was raised.

What if that is bass-ackwards? What does mucus do? It forms a protective barrier. When we leave a dusty environment, we notice that we want to blow our nose. When we do so, we blow out some pretty disgusting-looking stuff – dusty mucus. The technical term for that is boogers. Our body makes mucus (snot) to line our mucous membranes. That snot ensnares toxins in the air we breathe – dust particles and god knows what else. It traps that gunk so we can get rid of it before it gets into our lungs and causes some real damage.

When we have a cold, that system gets overwhelmed. Something has gotten past the defense. Our body makes more mucus to try to repel the invaders. Too much, too late. That we have failed doesn’t mean the system is bad. Our body also has an inflammatory response. Sometimes it, too, is overwhelmed. At that point we suppress it with ice, elevation, and anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen or steroids. Does that mean the system is bad? No, it just means that it sometimes overcompensates after its failures. (Sound familiar?)

Likewise, mucus is not bad. Mucus is a good thing. We need it every day. It is only when it is overwhelmed and tries to overcompensate for its failures that it becomes excessive.

Long live snot! (And eat cheese if you want to.)

Epic Ride

I missed a turn at Uranus and ended up in Deep Space. To get to Deep Space, I think I went down four levels of escalators. Worse yet, I also went Through the Looking Glass.

I don’t often ride 35 miles for lunch, but this was a special occasion; a tour of Epic Systems and lunch with my son. Deep Space is the 11,000 seat auditorium that they use for staff meetings and trainings. It looks like a small mound in a prairie from the surface. It is deep underground.

The campus is whimsically arranged in thematic areas. One building contains a tiny room with equally tiny furniture, but a large bottle that says “Drink Me”. Another building is protected by a moat, guarded by a three-headed serpent. There are upside-down staircases, and furniture on the ceilings. As far as I could tell, none of the staircases move when you’re on them, taking you somewhere else.

Despite there being about 10,000 people working there, you see no cars. Almost all of the parking is underground. Plantings cover the parking garages. Footpaths get you around. There is a fleet of bikes if you have a long way to go. A now-closed local restaurant had a carousel out front. That carousel has been reassembled at Epic.

We saw the film The War at Home on the 40th anniversary of its world premiere (which we also saw). Co-director Glenn Silber spoke at the showing, as he did 40 years ago. He hasn’t changed a bit (though he had a baseball cap on – maybe there’s no hair under that cap). The film chronicles the effects of the Vietnam War in one US city. It has been newly restored and released on DVD. See it if you can.

Speaking of homecomings, we also saw Tracy Nelson along with Corky Siegel (formerly of the Siegel-Schwall Band), a string quartet, and a tabla player. But here she is with another Nelson (no relation, though similar in that she left San Francisco for Nashville and he left Nashville for Austin – both risky career moves). After 50 years, her voice still gives us chills.

We cleaned our adopted highway Sunday.


Total Haul: 11 pounds
Category Winner: light beers
Brand Winner: Anheuser Busch
Product Winner: Busch Light
Nostalgia Winner: Lucky Strike cigarette pack
Road kill: One deer, one pheasant (we left those behind)
Category, brand, and product were all repeat winners. If this keeps up, we may have to retire those categories. On a ride in another county the next day, we noticed a lot of Busch Light cans. This may be the favorite of litterers throughout the area.


Half-fast Fall Classic

We had our end-of-season Blue Spoon to Little Village ride today. For those of you who insist on data: breakfast was pancakes with maple syrup, two eggs over easy, and coffee. One rider was late, so we added a morning bun with a second cup of coffee so he didn’t have to eat alone. Selfless, aren’t we? Lunch was a grilled chicken sandwich (with Swiss, bacon, and Dijon mayo) with chips and pico de gallo, accompanied by an Australian Shiraz. We were too full for the bourbon pumpkin cheesecake, so had an espresso. Post-ride was a nitrogen-infused smoked Scottish Ale with a flatbread pizza (pesto, heirloom tomatoes, pine nuts, fresh mozzarella, with a Balsamic vinegar drizzle). Blue Spoon is no longer open after 3 PM, so we had to move down the road to Vintage Brewing for post-ride refreshments.

Oh yeah, we also rode. We rode fast enough to not fall over and slow enough to obey speed limits. It stayed chilly (33-50 degrees F, or 0-10 C) but the sun shone all day. Traditionally, this is our last group ride of the season. After this, it’s mostly commuting and errands until the New Year ride.

“It was a fine fall morning; early and cold and sweet as cider. It was one of the prettiest times of year at one of the  prettiest times of the day…” (Ken Kesey, Little Tricker the Squirrel Meets Big Double the Bear)

One of our members is in Portugal and sent a few pictures:

I bet he’s sorry he missed the ride!

The trip that changed my life (by request)

The Dihedral just ran a post about their dream van. One of their friends and frequent commenters, Martha, added a comment about her 1972 VW bus breaking down and spewing oil. I added a bit about our bus breakdown and said the trip changed my life. The Dihedral wants the deets. So here goes…

It was late summer 1973. I had spent 4-5 days camping alone in my friend’s back 40, engrossed in activities such as drying herbs with binoculars. I returned to town to find my roommates gathered in the living room, packed for a trip of their own. They asked if they could use my tent. I handed it over. They asked about the stove, the cook kit, etc. One by one I pulled things out of my pack and handed them over. Then I stopped and asked where they were headed. They said, “John got a temporary layoff from work, so we’re headed to the American Legion State Forest to camp for a week.” I said, “Sounds like fun. Maybe I’ll join you.” They said, “Don’t you have to work tonight?” I said, “Yeah, but…”. They all got silly grins and started swapping knowing looks. They finally confessed that they were off to Colorado.

[By the way, I was planning a major trip to South America the following spring. The Rockies seemed like a good warmup for the Andes.]

[Also by the way, when I eventually made it back to where I had then been working, to pick up my last paycheck, they offered me my job back. I turned them down – more on that below.]

I jumped in the bus with them and off we went. After the trip, we all agreed that it was too short and began scraping money together for a longer trip. As fall came, we had enough to head for the Canadian Rockies. We got about 100 miles. I was in the back, over the engine. I suddenly heard an unpleasant sound and yelled to John, “Shut it down and pull over!” We pulled over and the engine died. We had it towed to LaCrosse, where we got the bad news.

VW buses of that era had an Achilles’ heel. The third cylinder exhaust valve was tucked into a spot where it tended to overheat. When the valve burned, it broke up and scattered bits of itself through the engine. A rebuild was in order. When we were ready to hit the road again, we didn’t have enough money to satisfy Canadian border agents that we could support ourselves in their country. (They had a per person minimum at the time.)

It was time for a new plan. We continued west, but in a more southerly direction – to Estes Park, Colorado. While there, we headed into Denver so I could get my shots for South America. After getting my Yellow Fever, Cholera, and Typhoid immunizations, the Public Health Nurse asked if I had any aspirin. She advised that I get some and take two immediately, two more before bed, and two more as soon as I woke up. I said, “I’m gonna be sick, eh?” She said “Sicker than you’ve ever been.” The next morning I was able to crawl out of the tent and sprawl on a picnic table in the sun. I stayed there all day, too sick to move. Twenty four hours after the shots, I was fine again. If that’s the prevention, I’d hate to have the disease(s).

We stayed in the area until a sudden squall. We dove for the tents, leaving our dinner dishes on the table. When we awoke, we had to break ice out of the dishes before we could put them away. We decided it was time to head south.

We drove to New Mexico and made camp in the Sandia Range, just outside of Albuquerque. There we were hit with a hailstorm that dropped six inches in a few minutes. It melted as quickly as it came. My friends decided they needed some city and I stayed behind. We agreed on a day and time they would return to rejoin me with fresh provisions.

When the time arrived, I headed down the trail and posted welcome signs for them. Jumping across the stream to post a sign, I landed badly and heard a loud crack. I stuck my foot in the stream and iced it down. I made my way back to camp to pack up, figuring they’d take me to the hospital rather than rejoining me to camp longer.

At the appointed time, only one of them arrived. He told me he brought food for three days and they would return to pick us up at the trailhead. He brought some steaks, which had spoiled on the hike back. We spent the next three days crawling off to the woods with diarrhea, digging holes as fast as we could. [The idea of packing out excrement was unknown to us back then, not to mention it would have been a difficult cargo to pack.] In my spare time, I fashioned a crutch.

At the newly-appointed time, we made our way back to the trailhead. We got in the bus and made it to the ER, where I was swaddled in what I now know as a “bulky Jones splint” and fitted with store-bought crutches. It was time to head back to Wisconsin.

bulky Jones splint; from a YouTube training video by the Washington University School of Medicine.
Mine was longer, ending just below the knee.

As winter settled in, I realized there was something more wrong with my ankle than a bad sprain. My peroneal tendon had an unfortunate tendency to dislocate when I walked. It did not seem like a good thing to have happen on narrow Andean trails. It wasn’t altogether pleasant on sidewalks.

Image from CMMG via Pinterest. The purple line (added by me) is roughly where my peroneus longus would end up, instead of its usual spot tucked behind the now-shredded retinaculum. Imagine a rubber band stretched from your knee to the bottom of your foot, then twanging it at the ankle. That’s what it felt like. It would now go slack, which made it hard to stand up.

I paid a visit to my local community clinic. The doctor there had no clue what was going on, but referred me to an orthopedic surgeon who diagnosed the problem when I walked across his office. He said he could fix it Monday. I called Fred to tell him I couldn’t make it to the Andes and scheduled surgery.

While recuperating, I began volunteering at the clinic. I also heard about a new co-op trying to get off the ground. Having nothing better to do that winter, I began to go to organizing meetings. I worked at that co-op for the next ten years, which led to a continuing career in co-ops in California and Nicaragua, which led to where I am today (two careers removed from co-ops, but that’s another story for another time). P.S. Happy 45th birthday, Willy St Co-op; which opened 10/09/1974.

Also that winter, I had a roommate who went ice skating every day. Feeling sorry for myself that I couldn’t go with him, I started plotting for spring. When spring arrived, I bought a new bike. (That story earned a paragraph in the January 20, 2018 entry.) That bike took me on my first tours, which led to the transcontinental tour of 2018.

So that, Dihedral, is my story. And I’m sticking to it. How an injury leads to a career path and a new bike, then a 4400 mile bike trip 45 years later. Way more than you bargained for, eh?