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?

Adopt-a-Highway

Due to the lack of motorized transportation (the van brakes broke and no longer brake), the cleanup of our adopted highway is postponed to Sunday, October 13 and will honor the birthday of one of our riders who will be off to Spain and miss all the fun. Come and join us to clean one of the most beautiful miles of road in the county.

The next day will be the Half-fast Fall Ride. We’ll miss our weary traveler off in Spain but hope for another great ride, great food, and some fall color. Great camaraderie goes without saying. We’ll let you know how it went.

The reports are in and The Ride (the benefit for the Carbone Cancer Center) had its best fundraising totals yet. One might say this is remarkable since we didn’t even ride (canceled due to thunderstorms with torrential rains), but maybe that’s why it did so well – no day of ride expenses (but they must have had a lot of bananas to donate to the food pantry). Thanks to those who donated on behalf of the Half-fast Cycling Club, and all other donors.

The Ride 2019 Fundraising total

Floods are back. We usually have spring flooding here, if at all. Last year the river was out of its banks in August. It looks like tomorrow the banks will no longer hold. We know someone who had to sleep overnight in her office due to flooding last night.

Full service Hotel

The Ride

The night before The Ride, the forecast for ride time is a 90% chance of rain. During the course of the day, that dips to as low as 75% briefly. If this were a ride just for fun, I’d bail about now. But this is a fundraiser, and folks have donated on my behalf. I feel a responsibility toward them. Besides, 70 degrees and rain is way better than 40 degrees and rain. So I readied my gear, with some choices for weather: do I wear a rain jacket and pants to stay dry from the outside, or do I forgo the rainwear, figuring at that temperature I’ll get wet from the inside if I wear waterproof clothing? Do I wear the raingear so I’ll stay warm, or will it be warm enough to be a non-issue? Maybe if I just wear shoecovers to keep my feet dryish and warm. Regular jacket? Long sleeve jersey? Leg warmers? I tossed them all in the car. It’s not that far to the ride start, but do I want to add 18 miles to a 102 mile ride, arriving at the start already wet, and riding home wet? No; I’ll drive to the start and be able to dry off and change clothes before I go home.

Four nights in motels, four days sitting in conference rooms, not in the saddle for more than a week – probably not the ideal training, but I can say I was tapering so as not to be over-trained. Yeah, I can say it.

After a quiet night, the first thunderstorm rolls in at 4:30 AM. A flash flood watch is in effect. The forecast has been revised to 100% chance of rain most of the day, dipping to 80% from 10-11. The time comes to leave the house. No lightning at the moment, but the rain is coming down so hard I can barely see the car parked at the curb. I’m not so sure I want to drive in this weather, much less spend 8 hours out in it. And it’s still dark out, which does not make it more inviting. Decision made: I wouldn’t let a knight go out on a dog like this. Responsibility is one thing. Foolishness is another. As I said in a post a month ago: “I mostly want to ride that day”. Well, that day is here. I mostly don’t want to ride. The money I spent to register and the money donated by others will go to cancer research whether I’m on the road or not. [See below!] Since I’ve already had a double espresso, I probably won’t be going back to bed.

The half-fast fall ride is just around the corner. You can pretend you’re donating in honor of that, if you’d like. It’s still a long bike ride, just no support unless you count the resturants we’ll be stopping by.

It rained for 12 hours. Only a bit of flooding, at least from where I sit. I stayed in all day to prove I’m half-fast. I didn’t just lie around and drink beer and watch football (or eat bon bons). I have a short-term job. I’ll work for 14 hours later this week. To do that, they required 4 hours of computer-based training. I spent the morning staring at a computer screen for courses on data security and workplace harassment. At 6 pm I finally went out and got my stuff from the car. The sun was shining.

The first day of fall dawned beautifully, with clear sky, crisp air, 55 degrees (13 degrees C). A perfect day for a ride; just a day late.

The PBS country music series is back on. Last night was a reminder of the social consciousness of country music in the 60s. Loretta Lynn wrote the song “The Pill”, in which she stated her refusal to be a brood hen anymore. (She had four kids by the age of 20, six by the time she wrote the song – which the label refused to release for a few years.) She also addressed the issue of marital rape (though not in so many words) with this song:

Merle Haggard sang of turning “21 in prison, doing life without parole”. (He was actually in for 15 years and did get out on parole.) People know him for “Okie From Muskogee”, far from his best song. He also sang of a man on death row. On his way to the gas chamber, he asked to have a buddy sing his last request – “Sing Me Back Home”. He sang of his “Mama’s Hungry Eyes”, growing up as a dust bowl refugee. But among his most poignant was the song of a single parent, pretending that the birthday gift for his daughter was from the absent spouse who didn’t bother to remember.

And in 1964 Johnny Cash released the album “Bitter Tears” about the mistreatment/genocide of First Nations people by the US Government.

Breaking News

Call me a wimp no more. I just checked my work email and The Ride was canceled. It wasn’t just me. (Interesting: at 1:01 AM they notified me the ride was canceled, at 6:01 AM they reminded me to sign up for Live Tracking and at 6:23 AM they notified me again that the ride was canceled. And I’m always checking my work email at 6 on Sunday mornings.)

Frenchtown Rock

This area used to be home to the mound builders, including those we call the Mississippians. The Ho Chunk called this home. In the 1800s, German and Norwegian immigrants moved in. Then there was a small settlement known as Frenchtown. As usually happens, one person moved into the area and told others. Soon (in the 1850s) there was a small enclave of French immigrants among the First Nations, German, and Norwegian people who were already here.

image from Big River magazine

The other night I went for a ride on Frenchtown Road. It was hot, after a few weeks of fall-like weather. It was humid, during a brief break from the rain – a flash flood warning was issued just before I sat down to write this. One good thing about Frenchtown Road, riding on it always makes me think about Bob Marley.

I am a doer, not an organizer or a fundraiser. As a result, my fundraising for The Ride has been pathetic, and the ride is this weekend. We’ll see if I’m in any shape to ride after four days in motels and conference centers, talking instead of riding. I’m going to ask again for donations, as this hit close to home recently. Thanks again to Vikki for being the first donor on the half-fast page. The Ride is a fundraiser for the Carbone Cancer Center, and one of the half-fast riders recently had a biopsy for suspected cancer. That person doesn’t have cancer, but it reminded me that one needn’t look sick, feel sick, or seem sick in any way to have cancer. It is an equal opportunity destroyer.

Some rides come with unexpected thrills
Moonset after Fri the 13th full moon

It’s a beautiful evening for a walk, but I’m in that god forsaken wilderness made up of motels and chain restaurants; a landscape designed exclusively for the automobile. I walked to and from a nearby restaurant, strolling through parking lots and meandering entrance roads – the sort that are supposed to feel “organic” I guess; curving paths that might be intended to seem like they acknowledge the landscape, but are merely someone’s perversely poor attempt to do something other than make a straight road. Can we tell them there is nothing wrong with a straight road, when the landscape is open and flat? Okay; I know that’s not all it is. Those roads wander apparently aimlessly but not really aimlessly at all. The point of roads through shopping centers is to get you to drive past as many of the stores as possible in order to get you to spend more money. If it’s hard to find your way out you’ll drive past even more of them.

So while hanging out in cheap motels this week, I’ve been watching the Ken Burns series on country music on PBS. The most recent episode featured one of the best recordings around -the incomparable Patsy Cline singing one of Willie Nelson’s greatest songs:

I learned something new on the show. The song “Family Bible” was written by Willie Nelson. I was introduced to the song not by the original 1960 Claude Gray recording (which didn’t credit Nelson as the writer), but by the 1971 release by Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen (lest you think I’m a purist).

That album also brought the (in)famous country tearjerker “Seeds and Stems Again Blues”. This was a great crying in your beer song about lost love and lost everything else, with an obligatory spoken verse and a sobbing steel guitar, but maybe if it were written by the Onion (actually Bill Kirchen and Commander Cody). They don’t seem to want me to embed this video, so find it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GNWw2NFo_ec

Rather than give Commander Cody the last word, I’ll also add that it’s time to clean our adopted highway again. We’re looking at Sunday, October 6 at noon tentatively. Let us know if you can make it. The Dane County Highway Commission will supply the safety vests, gloves, and trash bags. The Dane County drivers will supply the trash.