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?

Equinox

I’m gonna pretend I can ride a century without training. I trained hard for the Horribly Hilly Hundreds in June; surely some of that will bleed over into September, eh?

The Ride is a century sponsored by my employer. It is on (approximately) the autumnal equinox; seems like a good excuse for a century ride. It’s in a not-too-hilly area where I don’t ride a lot. I oughta be able to do this. They want me to raise $350. I mostly want to ride that day. It’s a century and it’s the equinox and it’s a Sunday so I don’t work. Seems like enough reasons to me. (Reasons? I ain’t got no reasons. I don’t need no reasons! I don’t have to show you any stinking reasons!) Since it raises funds for the Carbone Cancer Center, I welcome your donations in my name (Half-fast Cycling Club).

This is going to spawn multiple tangents, so strap in for the ride. The Ride reminds me of a plan I once had for The One Ride. I designed the logo, t-shirt, jersey, and the tagline: “One continent, One rider, One cause.” It was to be a solo cross-country fundraising tour to raise funds for the JNCL Research Fund. It never happened.

JNCL is short for Juvenile Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscionosis, which is long for Batten’s Disease. Battens’ Disease is an autosomal recessive genetically-transmitted disease. In lay terms, you inherit it from your parents. If both are carriers of the gene, you have a 1 in 4 chance of getting the disease. What does it mean? “Juvenile” means onset in childhood. “Neuronal” means it involves the neurons – cells which transmits signals in your nervous system. “Ceroid” refers to a yellow to brown pigment. “Lipo” refers to fats. “Fuscin” refers to a specific brown pigment in the retina. “Osis” means an abnormal condition. In short, this whole thing refers to an abnormal deposition of pigment in the retina and fatty deposits along the cells which transmit information in the nervous system. (Lipofuscin is a specific fat-based pigment that builds up as a waste product.) In short, our body fails to break down certain cellular wastes, which build up and cause symptoms.

In practical terms, it means a disease which leads to blindness, night terrors, seizures, eventual deterioration of the nervous system, and death before the age of thirty. Why am I telling you this? Because I had two nieces who died of this disease. While rare, it is most common in people of Finnish extraction (that’s me). So I planned a coast-to-coast tour to raise funds for research. At the time, the genetic component was just being discovered. One lab in the US was capable of running the tests to see if you were a carrier. There is still no cure and treatment is only symptomatic. Trouble was, I had a job and two young kids, so the trip didn’t happen, and my nieces died. That was another impetus to finally make the coast-to-coast trip last year.

Anyway, The Ride raises funds for cancer research. I see cancer patients in my day job, so I thought I’d raise the issue here. Donate if you will – no pressure. Time for the next tangent.

This weekend is the 54th annual Orton Park Festival. It takes place in an urban park (which was once our first cemetery). The park is a tiny oak savanna. The festivities begin with a performance by Cycropia, an aerial dance troupe. They string trapezes and various other accoutrements from an old burr oak in the park. It is only August, but it has suddenly changed from Pilsner weather to Oktoberfest weather. In February it doesn’t change from Stout weather to Maibock weather.

Tonight was a performance by the band formerly known as Get Back Wisconsin. Due to a cease and desist order from someone who claims ownership of Get Back, they are now Madison Mystery Tour (As of this writing, the website is a work in progress, due to the name change.) They perform a concert of each Beatles album on the 5oth anniversary of the album release. Abbey Road will be performed Saturday, October 5, 2019, at the Barrymore Theatre. I’m only telling you this because I already have my ticket. Tonight was mostly pre-Abbey Road material. The encore was “Here Comes The Sun”, which brings me to the next tangent.

Get Back WI/Madison Mystery Tour

It was 1987 – “En 1987 aquí no se rinde nadie” was the national slogan of Nicaragua. It was done as a call and response. The leader shouted “En mil novecientos ochenta y siete aquí” and the audience responded “no se rinde nadie!” In English, that’s “In 1987, no one here surrenders!” For those too young to remember, the US was trying to overthrow the Nicaraguan government in 1987 via an illegitimate war funded, contrary to an explicit law, by the illegal sale of weapons to an enemy (Iran), with the profits diverted to a CIA-organized and funded mercenary army (the Contra). Clearly, this was an impeachable offense, yet President Reagan remains a hero to many – a mystery to me.

In 1987, I was in Nicaragua, working for an organization called APSNICA (Architects and Planners in Support of Nicaragua), building housing on cooperatively-owned cattle ranches. We selectively logged the forests, milled the lumber, and made concrete from sand and gravel dug from the riverbank (mixed with water from that river) combined with cement from a local plant. We leveled building sites with picks and shovels (but we did have a theodolite [a precision optical instrument for measuring angles between designated visible points in the horizontal and vertical planes.]). We poured concrete slab floors and built masonry half-walls from river rock and concrete. Framing and siding were from the trees we cut and milled on-site. Zinc roofing and nails were imported from Canada. We constructed a potable water system, dug outhouses, and built a school for each group of twenty families.

It rained all night. The next morning clouds were thick. I was on the trucking crew and we were driving the loggers out to the woods. Keith Greeninger was on the logging crew. The clouds parted and the sun appeared. Keith and I were standing on the rear bumper of the truck, holding onto the superstructure onto which we would, before lunch, load freshly-milled lumber. We looked each other in the eye and began to sing “Here Comes the Sun” to each other. It was one of the more magical moments of my life. We had not spoken on the ride. We just burst into song together, there being no other apt response to the abrupt change in the weather. An hour later, he was being rushed to the hospital in Matagalpa to suture a large gash on his forehead. Upon returning, he was not able to go out and do the dirty work in the woods, so he stayed in camp and wrote songs. He is now a professional singer-songwriter. “Here Comes the Sun” still brings tears to my eyes.

Not the song I’d like to post, but that one was never released.

The song I’d like to post, “Another Nicaraguan Night” captured those nights sitting in darkness after the generator was turned off, trading songs with the Nicaraguans. Keith tried out his new songs then. This one was also written in camp. The original title was “Eyes of Your Young” but people misunderstood the chorus, so he changed the title so that phrase was written out. (It was an unfortunate Mondegreen.)

I returned to the US, moved to San Francisco and became a plumber. But that’s another story for another time.

By the way, the third Grand Tour, La Vuelta a España, is now in progress.

Breaking News!

Details have been released for Cycle America 2020! Now you too can ride coast-to-coast! The ride departs Seattle on Sunday, June 20 and arrives in Boston Saturday, August 22. You can ride all 9 weeks or any part thereof. Total cost is less than $7500 with early discount. That includes route planning, sag support, most of your meals, and a place to lay your head every night! (Not to mention good friends, beautiful scenery, and seeing the country at a pace amenable to that.) For those of the Facebook persuasion, you can also find info and lots of pictures from past rides here. (And even the non-Facebook users can still see the pictures – they’ll keep asking you to log in or open an account, but you can skip that.) Such a deal! Tell ’em the half-fast cycling club sent you.

A special shout-out is due to my friend at Plant-Powered Pedaling, who just completed Paris-Brest-Paris – 1220 km in under 90 hours! PBP is the ultimate in endurance rides. I’ve been following this guy for a while – I use the term “friend” in the internet sense of the word. We’ve never met. I read his blog, maybe he reads mine. He completes epic rides and (as the title implies) does it on vegan foods – not only does that mean you can perform tremendous feats on a vegan diet, but you can somehow find food while riding for hundreds of miles without external support.

Copyright and Courtesy of Plant-Powered-Pedaling (and he drinks beer after riding!)

And now for something completely different

Riding a bike isn’t the only thing we do. People who ride (and write about) bikes have jobs and families and friends who don’t ride bikes. (Duh.)

After a 14 mile ride for an appointment this morning, it seemed prudent to get out on the water and not spend the day inside working. A couple of hours in a kayak does wonders for changing one’s outlook, and the view from the middle of the lake is a nice change from the shoreline. Staring at a computer screen can wait.

Even the time at the keyboard required a break, as a sudden downpour hit before I put the kayak away – can’t let the boat get wet;) The sun remained shining as torrential rain fell for about ten minutes. It’s 80 degrees (27 degrees Celsius) and the sun is blindingly bright. If it weren’t for the fact that I just changed clothes and my hair is still dripping, I’d think I imagined it. Now to go bail out what got in before I closed the hatches and covered the cockpit.

http://simplycastlink.uwm.edu/wypA?recipient_id=14k0X-2cRRPaUO0T9RrdVKbgfzIvRzCFcf6uEuGUkWlOgbqueajjG7zA
https://rehab.pesi.com/Search?keyword=acute+trauma&keywordSearchType=All

So what else do we do? One of us trains Occupational and Physical Therapists (and Assistants) for the acute care of patients with multiple traumatic injuries. While the odds that one of you reading this fits that description are slim (unless a search engine brought you here), maybe you know someone that fits. Nurses and Speech and Language Pathologists may also find value. This is a two day course, offered in the Detroit area September 17-20 (two presentations in different locations), downtown Milwaukee September 27-28, Kansas City area October 28-31, and NYC area December 10-13.

This is a trial run. If these seminars are successful, the program will be offered nationally next year. There will be a live webcast of the Kansas City presentation (which will be available on DVD) but, in our humble opinion, a webcast of a hands-on seminar sorta defeats the purpose, or at least limits the opportunity.

If you have questions that aren’t answered here or in the links (one to UW-Milwaukee, the other to PESI Rehab; both with copies of course brochure available), the instructor can be reached at OTTrauma@gmail.com. Please help spread the word. Stay safe out there! We’d rather see you on the road than in the hospital.

We’re official! We just received a photo of our sign:

And one last word from the road via Charlie, who finished his eighth crossing of the continent by bike:

Nothin’ half-fast about Charlie. He didn’t even mention his partial crossing of the continent with us last year, ended early because he had a date to go climb a mountain.

I renewed my half-fast credentials…

on a recent ride with the Bombay Bicycle Club. It started innocently enough.

We met at a park near the edge of town. There were two options – short (30 miles) and long (70 miles). The ride leader urged those going long to head out first. There were maybe 8-10 of us. There were maybe 25 more doing the short ride.

As we headed out, we coalesced into one big group. A few folks worked their way up on the left. As we headed into more open road, the group started to spread out. A few faster riders began to disappear ahead. That was as it should be. I settled in near the back of the next group, at my usual leisurely pace for the first five miles. As we began to climb, I found myself moving to the front of that group. Another hill or two and I was in between the two groups. That was fine. I could enjoy the scenery and not look at a wheel or a back.

The fast guys must have gotten stuck in traffic at a crossroads, as I somehow found myself with them. The pace picked up to about 20 mph. Fine, as long as I was in a group. There were two guys who would ride along in the middle of the group, then one of them would accelerate up the left side and set a 25 mph pace. The next person would grab his wheel and we’d be flying along for a mile or two. Then he’d drop back and we’d settle into our usual pace. Then the other guy would do the same.

One year ago, crossing into Canada

It was exhilarating riding at a pace faster than usual. I had divided the route in my head into 7 mile segments – each 1/10 of the ride. At mile 21, my brain said “3/7 of the way. I can do this”. A bit later I said, “wait, that’s 3/10 of the way – this is not sustainable”. I drifted off the back. No way a half-fast rider can ping pong between 20 and 25 mph for another 50 miles.

One year ago – 100 is only a number. No century today.

I caught up with them when we all stopped for cold drinks at a gas station/convenience store. I had the sense to wait until they were out of sight before heading back out on my own, at a reasonable pace. I reached the MacKenzie Environmental Center, near the midpoint of the ride. The cue sheet said continue straight. The sign said “Road Closed”. The pavement said “I haven’t been maintained for 20 years.” I checked my phone for another route, but had no service.

I rode back out to the main road and picked up a signal. I began to plot a new route, when the map disappeared and all I had was a blue beacon telling me “you are here”; but there was no here there. The signal came and went. Three more riders appeared. They acted like they knew where they were going. I decided to follow them.

We rode back to the “Road Closed” sign and rode through the barricade. Garmin said to continue, according to one of them. The mix of pavement and green was about 50/50; except for the places where it was obscured by all of the fallen twigs and small branches. We picked our way through and, just as I made a cyclocross joke, the pavement came to an end. There was an expanse of grass ahead of us; nothing even remotely resembling a path – but we could see an actual road just ahead so we continued on. In retrospect, there oughta be some pictures here. I didn’t realize this was going to be a story.

Back on the road, we had about 35 miles of headwind to home. I managed to hang on.