Pandemic Tree

Every year for the past 20+ (except when they were out of town), my daughter and I have cut a Christmas tree together. We always do it on a Sunday morning. Our son was part of the tradition, but now just borrows the van to bring his own tree home.

Today was, ostensibly, no different. We had read that demand was unusually high this year, but were not prepared for the crowd, nor were we prepared for the fact that only Scotch Pines remained to be cut. All of the firs were gone already. And we were earlier than usual, as my wife insisted on waiting until after Hanukkah when the kids were little (unless the calendar made that impossible). The worker who greeted us told us that many people got their trees before Thanksgiving this year. When I said, “so they’ll be dead before Christmas”, she smiled, shrugged, and nodded. Warm weather and no snow also made it different.

There are those who claim environmental superiority for artificial trees, as though we were causing deforestation by cutting a tree. The place we go is a tree farm. They grow crops like any other farm in the area – just no corn or soybeans. They provide seasonal jobs for local students and longer term jobs for farm hands during the growing season. The trees absorb CO2 from the air and exude O2, just like trees in a forest. Cutting the trees gets people out of their houses and walking outside. I don’t feel bad about cutting down these trees.

The usual year involves a lot of wandering about, discussing the virtues of Canaan, Balsam, and Frasier firs; checking out the Blue Spruce and maybe a glance at the pines, Scotch and White. We pick out some trees and make note of where they are so we can come back to them to make our final choice. None of that this year. We cut the second tree we looked at, though we did take a quick gander at the woefully small remaining firs.

We cut the tree, took it home, and got it up and decorated. That’s all to make one small bicycling-related point. The ornament shown is from Markleeville, California, home of the Death Ride and home of the blog California Alps Cycling. Dang! Isn’t his name Mark? Maybe the town is named for him and I never realized it, even though he moved there only recently. Or maybe that’s why he moved there. Maybe we can get him to address that in a future post. Anyway, I bought the ornament while in town for the Death Ride about 30 years ago.

Paying for the tree was a new experience. Usually we go into a barn that has been turned into a small store. We browse their collection of ornaments and pick up some cashew brittle to eat on the way home – I mean to bring home to the family. Try the chocolate-covered. This year we paid at a window outside. Nearby, Santa Claus sat behind a snow fence. Kids could say hi to him from 6 feet away – no sitting on Santa’s lap this year. I’m hoping Santa will bring me a new president with a peaceful transition of power.

Green

The word pales in comparison to what the eye sees. Corn, soybeans, hay, maples, oaks – we call them all green but they are not the same. A nearly infinite variety of greens greets the eye on a long ride (or a single view).

If one tires of green (and how could one?), there are the roadside wildflowers (some are weeds or invasive species) to add variety.

ox eye daisy
Queen Anne’s lace
tiger lily
chicory
sunflower

The fields of flowers defy the camera. The eye and brain can focus on each different flower (those above plus clover – red and white – more kinds of lilies, fleabane, and several whose names I don’t know) and take in the whole array, shifting focus from the individual to the patch in a way that a still camera can’t and would be dizzying on video.

I rode my age Sunday. When I turn 100, that will be a big deal. At 75 it will be a medium-sized deal. The only significance now is how late in the year I did it for the first time. Pre-COVID, the plan was to ride the Death Ride Saturday, about double Sunday’s ride. Riding my age should have come in April to be in shape for the Death Ride.

Have you ever noticed that TV sound effects people use the sounds of loons and hawks when they want to evoke wilderness, whether those birds are endemic to that locale or not? I must say, a hawk sounds much more spine-tingling when it crosses the road 15 feet over your head and lands in a tree on the other side. I advise that you keep your wheels on the pavement while you are trying to watch that hawk. No harm, no foul, as they say in basketball.

Leaving Lodi (where I stopped at a convenience store to buy two bottles of water) I failed to fully zip my saddle bag. I discovered it about 25 miles later, and knew that my money clip was missing. I figured that it could have fallen out immediately in Lodi (meaning either it could be turned in or my identity could be stolen) or it could have fallen out on miles of back roads, where it may never be found. After I ordered a new driver’s license and went to bed, the County Sheriff called to say my money clip with cash and license had been turned in.

I drove up to Lodi Monday (home of Susie the Duck) and discovered that the finder had taken only a $2 reward before turning it in. Since I was out and about in a motor vehicle, I continued to Brigham Park to clean our adopted highway. Once again, Busch Light beer cans were the winner for volume. For number of items there was competition from cigarette butts and those plastic markers highway crews glue to the road to show the painters where to paint new lines. FYI they don’t remain stuck forever but end up scattered along the road.

The irony award goes to a whisk broom and dustpan set. Second place goes to three Mountain Dew bottles, two Three Musketeers wrappers, and an Acucheck bottle all in the same spot. Honorable Mention to a “Pandemic Survival Kit”. The only thing remaining in the kit was the mask. I guess the owner doesn’t really think the pandemic is a hoax (hence keeping most of the kit), but tossed the mask to protect his/her conservative credentials. Speaking of which, the cashier and I were the only people in the convenience store wearing masks Sunday. Today masks become mandatory in all indoor spaces that are not your own house (in this county), but Lodi is in the next county. There are no statewide regulations here, thanks to a Supreme Court that is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the ruling class, with major investors The Bradley Foundation and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, and a well-gerrymandered legislature. (If you ain’t from around here, the Court threw out the regulations from the Governor and Department of Health Services, and the Legislature shows no interest in regulations. Daily case counts are increasing rapidly.) (Speaking of the pandemic, the AP reported this weekend that the last words of a 30 year old man in San Antonio were “I think I made a mistake. I thought this was a hoax, but it’s not.” He died after attending a COVID party. And just so you know the US has no patent on crazy, a group of bus passengers in France pulled the driver off the bus and beat him to death rather than don masks.)

When I die, if there are any ashes remaining after they scavenge me for parts, scatter them here. If there aren’t any, burn some wood and scatter those ashes. I grew up in a church that didn’t believe in transubstantiation. We drank grape juice, symbolic of wine, symbolic of blood; and ate cubed Wonder bread, symbolic of the host, symbolic of body. Therefore, wood ashes could easily symbolize my remains.

The wall is where we sit, out of the wind, to eat our potluck dinner after rides. The bench is where we cheer on the latecomers making their way up the hill. The spot, the view, and the climb (right to left) are among my favorites, and why we adopted this stretch of road. If you need a place to remember me, this is it. Lest you think I’m morbid, I plan to outlive most of you.

Stop that train!

The Death Ride (billed as Death Ride Resurgence this year for the 40th anniversary) has been canceled. They said “postponed”, but for an annual event to be postponed for a year sounds a lot like canceled to me. So I don’t need to train for it, I can just ride. I am scheduled to ride a century in September, but that’s now a long way off and it is not at high elevation. If anyone needs a room in a mountain inn in July, let me know.

My workplace is incredibly supportive in this time of stress. In the lobby today, I saw these words of inspiration:

While we’re being inspired, and have no place to go, how about some more entertainment? Cab Calloway defines cool. The Nicholas Brothers have moves that would hurt just to watch, if they didn’t make them look so easy. If you’ve never seen this, you must. If you have, it’s time to see it again.

I love watching the tenor player

The Fleischer Brothers taught the world a lot about animation. Their animated Calloway is almost as smooth as the real thing.

Calloway’s moves might remind you of someone 50 years later.

Louis Jordan may also remind you of stuff you saw decades later that you thought was ground-breaking at the time.

So that’s it for today. No words of wisdom, no tales of epic rides, just some artists from the past that you oughta know about if you don’t and you need to revisit if you do.

I hate being a grownup!

Those who have followed my life since January, 2020 know that I’ve been dealing with some serious shit regarding my health, Worker’s Compensation, and Human Resources (a term that makes me feel like ore). For the rest of you, here’s a quick summation.

I was injured at work. My compensation claim was denied with the declaration of a Pre-existing Condition that I never knew I had, nor had any doctor I’ve seen in my life (and that’s a while). My HR department canceled my health insurance. When I fought back, they reinstated it with an “oops”. Then they canceled my dental insurance. Another “oops”.

The company that administers our FMLA plan told me (on Feb 5) that I had to be back at work by Feb 4 or risk termination. This, despite the fact that my continuing post-op restriction essentially defines my work. Try “no stress or strain to the abdominal or core muscles” while doing direct patient care in a hospital. To extend my leave requires a signed statement from the surgeon. Will he do it? Does he have time? Does he agree with the nurse who revised the restriction from “no lifting >20 pounds” to “no core stress or strain”? Stay tuned.

A big part of me wants to say “Fine. Fire me. It still hurts too much to go back to work.” The grownup part says that my Social Security benefit will be significantly higher if I stay there for 3 more years. That same grownup says that if I quit, give up my health insurance and go on Medicare, I won’t be able to provide insurance to my child until they turn 26, which was my plan; especially if they go to grad school in the fall and leave their job and that insurance. The grownup says: “You’ve stuck it out 20 years. You can live through 3 ½ more.”

See why I hate being a grownup?

Interval training with the Stray Cats

It has been exactly one month that I’ve been off work. To rebuild the endurance to get back to work, I stayed out of the house for half the day yesterday, running errands. It was exhausting. It is time for the next step – interval training.

The Stray Cats were my training partners for the day. With tempos ranging from ~60 bpm to over 100, and a couple of breaks for them to get a drink and between encores, they were a great inspiration and well-paced. I matched their tempo most of the time (hence the intervals). I managed to get my hands in the drops today for the first time – I haven’t been able to bend that far and have been on the bar tops exclusively until today. No fancy Smart Trainer for me; just the one I bought used about 30 years ago to rehab from a prior injury. (Yeah, I have to take it apart and fix it when it gets hot and falls apart – that may be why the original owner sold it – but that gets me another break.)

Health insurance rant

Ten years ago, I had a company paid health insurance plan. It was through an HMO. Everything was covered. Their job was to help me stay healthy. Then everything changed.

Health insurance costs began to rise precipitously. Wisconsin Act 10 banned union activity at my place of employment, so I lost my contract and my union’s protection. The Affordable Care Act set minimum standards, so employers raced to the bottom, choosing to meet the bare minimum.

The result? My health insurance now costs $231/month, I have a co-pay for each doctor visit, I pay 10% co-insurance for everything other than a routine doctor visit (lab tests, x-rays, surgery…). My maximum out of pocket expense is now $13,700/year (not counting premiums). My actual maximum is therefore $16,472, compared with zero dollars ten years ago – in practical terms, a massive pay cut.

Death Ride

Monitor Pass (snow should be gone for the ride), photo from California Alps Cycling

Registration is now open for the Death Ride on Saturday, July 11, 2020. Enjoy beautiful Alpine County, California, climb your choice of 1-5 mountain passes, and ride up to 129 miles (~200 km). For anyone planning to travel out there, a couple of handy options I recommend for sleeping – Turtle Rock Park for those of the camping persuasion, and Sorenson’s Resort for those of the sleeping indoors persuasion. Both are right on the route. Now that my reservations are in, I can tell the rest of you. This will be my return to the scene of the crime after 28 years. We’ll see if my legs and lungs still have it. Registration is also open for the Horribly Hilly Hundreds, the midwest’s answer to the Death Ride. HHH starts at Blue Mound State Park. Camping is available there or at nearby Brigham County Park. Both are great. I have no recommendation for sleeping indoors. HHH entry is by lottery, so get your application in by February 16. The ride is on Saturday, June 20. No, I’m not going to do both.

 A view from the top of Blue Mound.
View from Blue Mound, photo from WI DNR

Winter

If you live in a cold climate, remember your friendly neighborhood botanical garden. My first introduction to summer in the winter was the Mitchell Park Domes in Milwaukee. Today I visited Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison, where there is a special orchid display this month. I kicked myself for forgetting my camera with macro lens, so you’ll have to settle for iPhone photos. Check it out: