One spun a time…

Back in the days before streaming services, before the internet, before TV, before radio, before rural electrification, we had to entertain ourselves on long winter nights.

Back then we also made our own clothes. Folks in these parts raised sheep, sheared those sheep, cleaned and carded the wool, and then spent those long winter nights spinning, weaving, knitting, and crocheting.

Most families had only one spinning wheel and spinning was a shared task. Therefore, the family would sit about the living room (or perhaps live about the sitting room), coming in out of the cornstarch to warm their mukluks by the cellophane on a cold winter’s night. One would spin wool into yarn while spinning yarns, while the rest of the family would listen.

“One spun a time” was literal – while one spun, that same one would tell a story. [And you wondered why storytelling is known as “spinning yarns”.] When electric lights and central heating came about, and families no longer had to stay in one room for light and heat, people forgot the origin of that phrase. Time took its toll and people began to start tales with “Once upon a time…”. (This type of mis-hearing is known as a Mondegreen, from the mis-hearing of an old Scottish ballad line “They hae slay the Earl of Murray/And laid him on the green” (but heard as “And Lady Mondegreen”, which now makes it sound like two people were killed.))

It is in that vein that I share with you one of our tales of ancient history.

Wisconsin’s heritage is thought of as mostly German, Norwegian, Finnish, Polish, Ho Chunk, and Ojibwe, depending on what part of the state you’re in.

Less well-known is our Pacific Island heritage. We all know that Pacific Islanders explored vast tracts of the Pacific by outrigger canoe. We know of far-flung inhabited islands and marvel at how people got there. But did you know about the town of Kaukauna, WI? Most of us pronounce it as “Kuh KAW nuh”, but it’s really “Ka OOH ka OOH na” and means “Big portage”. How did that come to pass?

Ancient peoples exploring the Pacific were caught in a strong westerly and blown to what is now California. Landfall was believed to be just north of San Francisco. They left their canoes at the shore and began to explore inland, figuring they would explore this island and return for their canoes when they reached the other side. If the island were big enough, they could build new canoes on the other side. Little did they know what they had stumbled upon.

They made their way across the land, marveling at the size of this island. Long discussions ensued about the wisdom of continuing the trek. After much debate (and much more walking) they eventually arrived at the Mississippi River near its confluence with the Wisconsin River (now the town of Prairie du Chien). They built canoes (outriggers being unnecessary here) and began to explore the old-fashioned way. They made their way down the Mississippi to the Wisconsin River and from there to the Fox. At this point, mutiny was imminent. Had they continued a bit further, they would have discovered Green Bay and perhaps found their way to the Atlantic Ocean. The group decided to settle in the Fox River Valley in what we now know as Kaukauna, WI. Exhibiting their wry sense of humor, they named this place for the “Big portage” of over 2000 miles required to get here.

In case one has any doubts as to the veracity of this history, we refer you to Brief of The Onion as Amicus Curiae in Support of Petitioner.

I was going to save this post for a cold winter night, but everyone is now referring to the case for which the brief cited above was written. By “everyone” I am specifically referring to my favorite Washington Post columnist.

Peace Train

Not bringing the sleeping bag was clearly a mistake. In the 40s last night and expected to be colder tonight. I may sleep in my winter tights; if I can get the tent dry. Rain in the forecast over the pass.

I woke up not feeling great. It had been cold all night and was cold in the morning. The day called for multiple layers and carrying a rain jacket. We started out of town retrograde for 7 miles, back to the same path we rode in on. There was an espresso stand after 2.7 miles and an excellent double shot cost $1.27. That and the sun coming out put me in better spirits.

Hitting the highway after 7 miles, I found The Dread Pirate Roberts and Hammerhead, two of the strongest riders in the group, riding at a doable pace. I joined on behind. We continued to pick up riders until we were 9. DPR dubbed us the Peace Train.

Some riders are strong on flat ground, some climb well, few do both. Th Dread Pirate Roberts led us out at 18-20 mph and could hold his line while shooting video.

I don’t often ride in pacelines, preferring to watch the scenery and stop and smell the roses. Not feeling well, I was willing to let others help me out and we covered the first 35 miles in 2 hours. That includes my 7 miles of moseying.

At 35 miles the road began to turn up. I stopped to remove a layer. After about 40 miles it started up in earnest. The final couple of miles were at a 10% grade until we topped out on Thompson Pass for a picnic. We saw a bit of snow at 3400 feet on the way up.

The layers went back on to eat and stayed on for the descent. We descended at 30-45 mph for several miles. As we lost elevation we gained temperature and the layers came back off. We passed through a stand of bear grass at about 3200 feet. As I was pedaling along at 30 mph and getting sick, I chose not to lose that momentum (and it was a lot of fun!) to take a picture. At the last water stop I latched on to another small group that pulled me along at 24 mph until I stopped for a picture.

The weather app was ridiculously wrong and I mean that in a good way. The sun was to come out at 8 PM but was out all day except for the climb, in order to keep us cool. In Thompson Falls it is borderline hot in the sun, chilly in the shade and when the wind comes up.

I stopped in town and the pharmacy had no COVID tests, saying that when they got them in they were gone in minutes so they stopped ordering them – not sure I follow that logic. They referred me to the County Public Health office. No one was there. I will see if Greg has tests. Two people have tested positive in the past two days, so I’m a bit concerned. On the other hand, if I test positive, I can say I climbed 4900 foot mountain pass with COVID-19.

Near Thompson Falls

Okay, so maybe it’s not so cold. Maybe it’s my fever. The Firesign Theatre clip should be your clue.

Ready for anything?

This time next week I will be riding across Washington. We will ride 7 days before our first rest, then 6 days/week thereafter. We will ride in any weather.

We will ride in any weather (though I hope not like yesterday, with 70 mph winds). We lost power briefly a few times during the afternoon. The neighbor’s cottonwood dropped a few branches, including one that is hanging from a power line as we await a crew to remove it. We got lucky. An apartment building a few miles away lost its roof and a lot of trees are down. A cottonwood crushed the roof of one house I rode past and an oak took out a car and the canoe on top.

After 48 hours of rigorous dog-sitting, it was time to get back on the bike.

Some storms clear the air and it cools down with the dewpoint dropping in the aftermath. This one was the opposite, ushering in heat and humidity. I know in the southwest this is no great shakes but, as you can see from my thermometer, it’s kinda hot. (For those of the Celsius persuasion, those numbers are ~34 and 43.) I figured I should get used to it, so headed out for a ride with the sun high in the sky. As the day goes on, the temperature is rising but the dewpoint is dropping, so the heat index is staying relatively constant.

I rode past a trailered boat belonging to the Mad City Ski Team. It sported three 300 horsepower outboard motors. In my skiing days, it was a big deal when we upgraded from 60 to 75 hp. The fast guys had 100 hp engines. Now, one 300 hp motor could pull me out of the water faster than you can say Jack Robinson. Three of ’em could dislocate my shoulders faster than you can say, OW! That hurts!

Land of breakfast?

Before I leave the Land of Milk and Honey, as well as maple syrup and sorghum, I rode through the land of breakfast this morning. Corn on one side and wheat on the other. Tortillas? Toast? Corn flakes? Wheaties?

Wheat – closer to harvest than the corn across the road.


Back in my youth, the standard for early season training was LSD (long, slow distance). The idea was to get in some miles before any high intensity work. Lately, the fad has been HIIT (high-intensity interval training). While riding today, I wondered why training regimes sounded like thinly-veiled drug references.

Have another hiit

I decided to make up a couple of initialisms my own. I do not endorse any particular training method other than riding your bike. STP (Speed-Time-Power) is also the psychedelic drug 2,5-Dimethoxy-4-methylamphetamine. Amphetamine (AKA speed) has led to the death of cyclists including British cyclist Tom Simpson during the Tour de France (accompanied by excessive heat and dehydration). Time (as STP the drug is known for having a duration of effect up to 24 hours). Power, because serious cyclists nowadays ride with power meters and measure their output in watts. I prefer to hook up a couple of high-wattage incandescent lightbulbs and see how long I can keep them burning. Plus the heat output of an incandescent bulb helps mimic the tough conditions of a day like today. So STP involves riding hard for long periods of time.

DMT (N, N-dimethyltryptamine) was known as the “businessman’s high” as it is a psychedelic drug with a short duration of effects. The claim was you could get high over your lunch hour and go back to work without lingering effects. As a training regime, it stands for Distance/Minimal Time. It is a sprint training. You could do it over your lunch hour and them go back to work, where your co-workers would quickly invite you to go home early, since you’d be sweating like a pig and stinking up the workplace.

Lest you think I am endorsing these training methods, I will remind you that I am not a professional cyclist or trainer. I am a half-fast cyclist attempting humor after riding in extreme heat. Lest you think these references are the result of a misspent youth, I will inform you that I was once a drug crisis intervention counselor so I encountered these substances professionally. We took drugs very seriously.


It’s time for my next round on a COVID-19 floor. This time it’s the ICU. I have been on General and Intermediate Care on my previous tours. ICU is for the sickest of the sick. My patients are on ECMO (Extra-Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation). This isn’t merely a ventilator that assists you to breathe or breathes for you. This is an artificial lung. Your blood leaves your body via a ½ inch or so diameter line, runs through a machine to remove CO2 and add O2, then sends it back into your body via another line. (That’s what “extra-corporeal” means – outside the body.) One line comes out of your neck and the other your groin. Mobilization is a bit tricky. You don’t want any leaks.

Ready for action as soon as you add gown and gloves. The conehead look isn’t the most comfy, but it’s cheaper than the 3M PAPR (Powered Air-Purifying Respirator). There is no patient information on the wall behind me.

Some of these folks have been in this hospital for two months. They came from smaller hospitals that didn’t have the means to provide the treatment they need, after exhausting all options available to them. At least one has been sick since August – 3 months and counting. They are young and unvaccinated. Will they survive? Beats me. Are they anti-vaxxers? Beats me. My job is to help them, not to second-guess them.

(But since you ask, let’s just say that, if I were a betting man, my money would be on “yes” to surviving. As to whether they are anti-vaxxers or just think they are immortal, that one’s a tossup. This batch of patients are young enough to be my children and have survived two months in the ICU.)

A friend and spouse are vaccinated. One of their two adult children is vaccinated. The other is not, along with spouse and kids. We’ll call my friend Vac and the child Not. Vac was at Not’s house and Not confessed (after several hours together) to feeling ill. Vac had a home COVID test handy – Not was positive, confirmed by another test the next day in a health care facility. Not’s spouse and children are all sick. Vac remains well and has tested negative twice since that exposure. Vac’s spouse and other child are also fine. Do you think maybe the vaccine works?

One of the anti-vaccine arguments is based on “natural immunity”. People want their own immune systems to fight it out with the novel coronavirus. Note that name: novel. Our immune systems work by developing antibodies against invaders. If an invader is known, we have the means to develop a specific defense rapidly. If the invader is unknown (novel), we toss stuff at it while we try to figure out what to do. If the virus is strong enough, we may die first. (Or, in the case of the polio virus, just some motor neurons die. If enough die, we die. If we’re lucky, we’re paralyzed.)

What does a vaccine do? It enables our body to recognize the invader and develop specific antibodies. If we then come in contact with the disease, our immune system is up to the task. The vaccine enables our natural defenses to work.

Did you go to public school? You probably had a bunch of vaccines before you were allowed to attend. We don’t want you to come into close quarters with others and infect them with measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, pertussis, poliomyelitis, etc. It’s what we call Public Health. That’s why you should get the COVID-19 vaccine. On one level, I don’t care whether you get the disease. You are “free” to get sick and die if you so choose. Should you also be free to infect others or use scarce resources by running to the hospital when you get sick? Should you be free to demand that said hospital treat you with horse dewormer or a “cleaning” with an injection of a disinfectant like bleach?

Don’t tell me you “did your own research“, like a certain professional football player. Those of us who use research in our lives know that research involves experimentally testing a hypothesis. Before you do your research, you do a literature review, to see what has already been done. Is that what you did? A lit review? Did you actually read the literature, or just listen to a talk radio host talking about the literature? When you do a critical review of the literature, you appraise it against a set of criteria. There are what we call “levels of evidence”. Some evidence is better than others. No study is worth a lot before it has been replicated by someone else. Did you believe one person who runs counter to the mainstream because they say they are a doctor?

If you’re against vaccines (or at least this one) because they’re “unnatural”, are you against soap and water or antibiotic ointment if you get a cut? Why not just let your body’s natural defenses go to work? Maybe you’ll live, maybe you’ll die. Maybe that cut finger will result in being faced with the choice of death or amputating the arm. Amputation is unnatural. Death is completely natural. Decision made.

After all, life is 100% fatal. Why wait?

[Editor’s note: Sorry, it has been a rough week at the hospital. The writer apologizes to those who do take care of themselves and others and is not wishing an early and painful death on anyone. He is tired of reading about people refusing help until it is too late and then demanding their own particular choice of help. He is tired of reading about people looking for lawyers to sue hospitals for employing the standard of care instead of listening to their half-baked theories. He is tired of reading about people who refuse to take action to protect themselves and others, then beg for your prayers and money for funerals and to raise the children of stupid people who refuse the vaccine, refuse to wear masks, and think they are standing up for freedom. He is sick and tired in general this week – and he hasn’t even finished the first week of this rotation.]