That was the year that was (with apologies to Tom Lehrer)

January saw a tour of duty on the COVID unit and 20% of all patients in “my” hospital being COVID+. I spent a lot of time on the lake skiing or skating.

February saw COVID burn its way through our therapy department.

March was when I tapped the maple tree in my front yard and rode in shorts one day (73ºF, 23ºC), then in snow and 34º weather (1ºC) three days later.

April saw me giving up my bikes, kayak, and canoe for sports cars and a power boat in an April Fool post that fooled no one. It also marked my last tour of duty in the COVID-19 units, just after I announced my retirement.

May was for getting me and the bike ready for a major journey and tying up loose ends at work.

June was retirement, embarking on a coast-to-coast bike trip, contracting COVID-19, and almost giving up on the trip. On the morning of June 24, after 312 miles in three days, I wasn’t feeling great, though it was a beautiful morning. I rode in a paceline, pulled by two of the stronger riders in the group. I knew something was up but wasn’t ready to face the facts. Climbing Thompson Pass on my own, I knew I had COVID. I stopped at the County Health Department in Thompson Falls for a COVID test so I would show up in official statistics. They were closed. I tested postive in camp and took the next day (and half of the next week) off.

July marked my comeback. I made it over Teton Pass and decided I was in it for the duration. I celebrated my return with two flat tires on the 4th. July was marked by extremes of temperature and vicious wind storms, as well as COVID raging through the ranks of riders. It also included the most beautiful scenery of the trip and the pictures which made it onto jerseys and posters.

Endless gravel climb in South Dakota
Badlands photo by Adrian Amelse

The rain came harder and I stopped to put on a rain jacket. I also scarfed a bar, figuring I needed all the calories I could stuff into me for the final push. I figure that when 80% of the ride is behind me, I’ve got it made. Just past that point, the crosswind became too strong to ride safely. I feared I would be pushed into traffic. I got off and walked. A few more seconds and it was no longer safe to walk. Another few seconds and I could no longer stand. I crouched at the roadside and the wind picked up my bike. I was holding it by the top tube and it was standing out horizontally away from me at shoulder height, wheels toward the highway. If I let go, it would fly away. I would likely not see it again. I held on and got as low as possible to try to keep myself from becoming airborne along with the bike.

half-fast cycling club 24 July, 2022
The second or third windiest day of the month

August saw the hell of Michigan, even though we didn’t go through the town of Hell, Michigan. A few days to cross Ontario, a glorious week of the Adirondacks and Finger Lakes in New York (as well as a night in a milita stronghold of a campground), and arrival at the east coast.

September was to adjust to the idea of being retired without the structure of a coast-to-coast ride. A century ride in Door County and a new appreciation for bikes after flat tires on cars. The first of two (because we can, being retired, and because we couldn’t find a date we could all make) fall color rides.

October made me appreciate bikes even more with an expensive car repair in the works. The second of two fall color rides came the day after our first snowfall.

November started absurdly warm, with temperatures in the 70s (>21 C) to extend the long-distance riding season. The 15th saw the first accumulation of snow, with ski resorts set to open that weekend. I joined the ranks of indoor riders, buying a trainer (discontinued, on sale). I bought my previous trainer used 30 years ago.

December stayed warm longer than usual. Snow and cold arrived with a vengeance mid-month. I rode indoors (testing the new trainer) more than outdoors. One benefit of being retired was watching the last public meeting of the House committee investigating the failed coup of January 6, 2020. They recommended criminal charges against the former president, including conspiring to defraud the US, obstructing an official proceeding, and inciting, assisting, or giving aid and comfort to insurrection. And I finished the year with a performance of “Guys on Ice”, that ode to ice fishing and the guys who spend their winters in a shanty, sitting on an upside-down five gallon bucket looking into a hole in the ice. They taught us, in song, that “Leinenkugel’s beer ain’t just for breakfast anymore.” We celebrated the new year with a glass of Prosecco at midnight GMT.

“Who’s Next?” – Tom Lehrer on nuclear proliferation, 1965. From the album “That Was the Year That Was”.

I see dead people

In looking through WordPress statistics, I note that among my most-read posts are paeans to somewhat famous people (Bruce Gordon and Robert Ruck) I have known.

Bruce Gordon was a graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago. He studied framebuilding with the great Albert Eisentraut and then brought an artist’s eye to the building of bicycle frames and components. He designed one of my bikes (the “Hikari”), though it was built in a factory in Japan. When it was damaged by UPS, I took it to him for repairs so I had a chance to talk with him. He said the repair would cost more than it was worth and I could continue to ride it, as the damage was inconsequential, or I could buy his new bike (the “Rock ‘n’ Road”) which he called a better bike and was built in-house. Thirty two years after that conversation, I’m still riding the Hikari. I rode it today before I wrote this. With wider tires it could handle the off-road portions of the Spanish ride I posted the other day.

Robert Ruck designed and built classical and flamenco guitars. An issue with acoustic guitars is volume – how do you design and construct a guitar that is loud enough to be heard in a concert hall without amplification and still produce a quality tone? Bob experimented with ports in the upper bout and different bracing styles to improve both. I never owned one of his guitars. I knew him because we studied and taught Tai Chi together for years.

The other category near the top is the series of COVID-19 posts. I guess that one is less surprising, as I spent a couple of years on the front lines and then got the disease myself. There are too many of those posts to provide all of the links. If you really want to read them, you can enter “COVID” in the search box and WordPress will take you there. (I just did that and it gave me 16 pages of results. WordPress is a bit liberal and inconsistent when it comes to finding connections. I did the search a second time and the list shrunk to 11 pages with the first hit semi-relevant. The list is not just the posts in which I tagged COVID-19, so I don’t know how WordPress’ algorithm works. I linked to my first post after getting the disease, the post from working in the ICU which generated a bunch of comments including an indirect death threat from an anti-vaxxer, and the one that WordPress tells me was the most-read on the topic.)

The final category that hits near the top are posts in response to/inspired by some other blogger. One could argue that WordPress/the blogging world is a community in print, or a closed loop, or self-referential. Take your pick. Other bloggers inspire me to think about things that I might not otherwise think or write about. (Which makes me think of Matthew Harrison Brady in “Inherit the Wind”: “I do not think about…things I do not think about.”)

Finally, in a sign that I may have too much time on my hands, I found that this blog has been read in 78 countries and all continents except Antarctica. I’m blown away by that. The reach of the internet is phenomenal. If people all over the world are reading the ramblings of a half-fast bicyclist, how far do actually significant words travel? And if you know anyone in Antarctica, ask them to read this so I can add the last continent. Maybe the ISS, too 😉

And that brings us to the end of the year and the first six months of retirement.

All that glitters is not glass

The thunderstorms that were threatening all evening never materialized. We were in Buffalo High School, home of the Bison. With a short ride today I lingered over a second cup of coffee but still covered the 34 miles to picnic by 9 AM. There’s something a bit strange about eating the second meal of the day that early.

One of four bison heads in the cafeteria.

This ride was the scene of my worst day in 2018 so I was happy to have a different route. Of course, that meant that 60 miles were on I-90. I had never before ridden o an interstate highway. There was a wide and well-paved shoulder, usually clean except when covered with the remains of blown tires. Very few exits and no one exiting or entering, as they were all dirt roads to someone’s ranch. The “exit ramps” were essentially 90 degree angle turns with 10 mph speed limit. From the fog line there was about a 2 foot buffer, then rumble strip, then our riding space, so we were well separated from the minimal traffic.

The router let us know we were starting with a 2 mile climb. What he didn’t tell us is that there was a 5 mile climb to the first water stop, with 3 false summits along the way – one actually descended 40 feet, which we quickly made up. The climbs were gradual, not much steeper than railroad grades, so speed remained in double digits.

I left picnic with 4 others. One quickly dropped behind while 3 sped ahead. I stayed in the middle, figuring I’d ride alone. I caught the group on a climb and stayed with them for the rest of the day. I was riding with “the big kids”, or “the animals”. The old man kept up.

Not a commentary on my riding partners, just the wandering mind when someone called the fast kids “animals”.
Diamonds or just broken glass? For me, the revelation of this album was the bass playing of Ray Phiri.

In the early morning light, the pavement glitters. Some of it is bits of glass that must be dodged, some of it is just bits of minerals in the aggregate. Some might be glass safely ensconced in books and crannies. You pay attention and dodge those that look suspicious and hope you are right abut the ones you ignore. The bits of wire from blown tires are pretty much invisible. They are the real tire flatteners. Three flats so far, so three tubes to patch this weekend.

Often we are riding between rumble strips to our left and a beveled shoulder leading to the abyss on our right. You don’t want to be on the bevel, as the bike wants to go down that slope. You pick a line between those and avoiding the debris. Sometimes that line is pretty narrow so it takes concentration. (Insert “Hold that line” football chant here.)

Riding on an interstate highway is not an invitation to linger and take pictures, nor is it particularly picturesque. It is a day to cover a lot of miles quickly. At mile 27 we had our last view of the Bighorn Mountains, the last snow-capped mountains we will see. By noon I was ensconced at the Ice Cream Cafe, enjoying two scoops (coffee bean and salted caramel) along with an espresso. At home I have only one scoop when I go out for ice cream – here I will burn all the calories I can eat. I lost 15 pounds on this ride 4 years ago and no longer have 15 pounds to spare.

My best purchase so far, in Thompson Falls, MT. Stainless steel, seals with an o-ring and screw top, and holds the noontime addition of sunscreen. Sorry it’s out of focus. I was in a hurry.We won’t say why.

The rituals and rhythms of this life are obviously different than at home. I wake at 5 (same as home). For the first week I was always up before the alarm. When I got sick, the alarm woke me up. (My alarm is the Everly Brothers singing “Wake up Little Susie”.) Breaking camp (including bathroom rituals and dressing) takes less than an hour. We load the trailer, eat breakfast, and ride. Arriving in camp, we unload the trailer, dry out the tent, sleeping pad, and anything else wet, set up, then take a shower and change clothes. Bike clothes get washed in the shower (if I wear them into the shower it takes very little extra time, water, and soap compared to washing me) and hung on a clothesline (or a chain link fence in a pinch). Avoiding saddle sores/infections is helped by washing clothes right away. I rotate 4 sets of clothes – essentially randomly but I may choose a particular jersey for inspiration (e.g the Horribly Hilly Hundreds jersey for a difficult climbing day). If we arrive early, we go out for refreshments first. The rest of the day is available to explore the town, shop for anything needed, rest, read, write, hang out until dinner and our after dinner meeting. Bedtime comes pretty early. Other laundry waits for the weekend.

We have become our own Superspreader event. We are well into our second wave of COVID infections. We range from barely symptomatic to going to urgent care or home. How many asymptomatic (or hiding minor symptoms) but positive folks there are is anybody’s guest. I would guess at least ¼ of us have tested positive so far. New protocols are in place. I still have an ample supply of N-95 masks, though I hope my recent infection offers additional protection to my 4 doses of vaccine. The COVID bus is filling up.

Back among the living!

My private dining room in the Holiday Inn – soon to be joined by another COVID+ rider. Yes, it’s a storeroom.

Frost on the tents in West Yellowstone. Going to sleep at 70 degrees (21 C), it was hard to imagine that it would be 36 (2 C) by morning. We had to sleep with a pile of clothes to put on as the temperature dropped. Again I rued my decision to leave the sleeping bag in the closet.

The creeping cold comes like an Ambush in the Night.

We slept on the high school football field, with meals in the Holiday Inn – white tablecloths for dinner, red for breakfast. 25 miles in the COVID bus followed by 40 on the bike as I work to get back into riding shape.

As I finished the last dose of my 5 day drug regimen, things started to look up. It took the full 5 days, but I feel better. Now it’s mostly the rigors of life outdoors on the road; that and the need to regain the strength I lost.

We rode through Mesa Falls on a Scenic Bypass. I was going to ride the COVID bus to the water stop to leave 40 miles to ride. Due to circumstances I wasn’t dropped until the Scenic Byway so I rode part of the route twice to get to the 40 miles I wanted for conditioning purposes. I have no pictures of the falls from 4 years ago because we rode out of West Yellowstone in a hailstorm and cold rain continued all day. Today’s 75-80 and sunny was highly preferred.

Lower Mesa Falls
Alpine meadow

At 10 AM, Grand Teton appeared on the horizon, perfectly framed by trees on both sides of the road. We were aimed straight at it, though it will be a while before we get there.

At the end of the ride I found a root beer float with my name on it.

COVID-19 has changed my life in ways I hadn’t imagined. Riding alone early in the pandemic made me realize I wanted to make this trip and that I was willing to retire in order to do so. COVID helped me decide to retire earlier than I planned to.

I look for places to eat/drink outside; now to protect others from me instead of vice versa as it has been for 2.5 years.

Sitting with a dying man as he enjoyed possibly his last pleasurable moment helped me to savor those moments. Having COVID-19 myself this week put me through a lot. I still have flashes of “COVID brain”, like today when I got out of the shower and realized I hadn’t brought clothes with me. I put my wet cycling clothes back on and made my way to my tent for clean clothes.

I found emotions much more powerful, with tears easy to come by. I bought a plane ticket home, ready to throw in the towel on this ride, and now every mile feels like a gift. Tomorrow will decide whether I get on that plane or give up my seat and prepare to ride through Wyoming next week.

Riding today felt good. I had the occasional burning sensation in the main stem bronchus, for those of the anatomical persuasion – windpipe to the rest of us.

Tomorrow we climb Teton Pass and descend into Jackson Hole for a day off. We’ll be staying at a science center outside of town. If I make it over the pass, I’ll let you know.