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:

Why ride a bike?

Part One, The Practical Reasons:

  • A bike is faster than walking.
  • A bike is faster than taking the bus (especially if you consider the time spent waiting for the bus and walking to and from bus stops – you can’t just walk out the door and have the bus magically arrive).
  • A bike may be faster than a car (when you consider getting stuck in rush hour traffic and the time spent parking/getting to and from your parking place).
  • A bike is cheaper than a car:
    • cheaper to buy – you can buy a phenomenal bike for $10,000 – like a Ferrari but $2-300,000 cheaper (depending on the Ferrari model). A bike for basic transportation is maybe $15,000 less than a car for basic transportation. (Comparing a Trek FX or Zektor to a Toyota Yaris)
    • cheaper for daily use – no gas or electricity to buy, no parking fees to pay.
    • cheaper to maintain – a bike is much easier to work on yourself – no sheetmetal in the way; if you pay for maintenance, it is still way cheaper
    • cheaper to insure
  • A bike is cheaper than a car for society:
    • fewer resources used to produce them
    • no fossil fuels burned to power them
    • fewer urban acres devoted to parking, which makes more land available for other development (at a higher use-value) or open space, which creates less impervious surface, thus decreasing urban runoff:
      • this means less pollution of waterways
      • fewer urban floods
      • faster recharging of underground aquifers
    • less wear and tear on existing roadways, less need for ever-larger roadways
    • A bike is the most efficient form of human transportation in terms of energy usage per mile traveled.
    • I’ve never fallen asleep riding a bike.

Part Two, The Health Reasons:

A picture is worth 1000 words. So two pictures must be worth 1000 words plus a whole lot of data I therefore don’t need to cite.

  • riding a bike burns fat
  • riding a bike leads to greater aerobic fitness
  • riding a bike causes minimal stress on joints
  • riding a bike leads to lower stress levels, reducing mental health costs
  • as obesity and cardiovascular disease lead to greater societal health costs, riding a bike has public health, as well as individual health, benefits

Part Three, The Fun Reasons:

  • Riding a bike can be done alone, with family, with friends, with strangers – whether you like your fun in solitude, with loved ones, or as a way to meet new people, you can do it on a bike
  • Riding a bike lets you observe the little changes in the world around you – you can see your surroundings more easily than in a car so you can see wildlife (whether urban or rural), watch seasonal changes (seeing flowers bloom, trees bud out and leaves change color, watch and hear waterways freezing and thawing) [We won’t repeat pictures you’ve already seen here – scroll back through old posts for more.]
  • Riding a bike gives you time to think and reflect – or to stop thinking and just feel the rhythms of your body and your interactions with the bike, the road, and the world around you.
hoarfrost
Half-fast Fall Classic, Devil’s Lake
Sunset, stormy night (NOT a fire in the distance)

Part Five, Because Frazz Does It:

Short subjects (or, in Herb Caen parlance, three dot journalism…)

Ice fishing season started before deer hunting season. That is not normal. To continue weather weirdness, I saw all of this within a couple of minutes, on the same small bay:
* piers dismantled and stacked neatly by the shore
* piers frozen into the ice, likely destined to become scrap metal by spring
* ice fishers
* shoreline fishers working a 30’x30′ opening in the ice
* someone fishing from a boat…

I just watched “The Donald Trump Story” on television, but under its original title “Gaslight”…

I hope to answer the question “Which is harder – the Death Ride or the Horribly Hilly Hundreds? ” I rode them 27 years apart so it’s not a fair comparison so far. Both are about 200 km or 125 miles. The Death Ride climbs 15,000 feet, the HHH about 11,000. The Death Ride climbs to over 8700 feet. The HHH never reaches 2000. The Death Ride contains five epic climbs; the HHH about 40 short and steep ones. My experience is that a long steady climb allows one to settle into a rhythm. A short steep climb tempts one to charge up it, only to have to do that 39 more times – so my current hypothesis is that the HHH is harder (for me), as long as you hang out at elevation before Death Ride…

If I fail to answer the question, at least I plan to have fun and tell you about it after. Now I just need to get the time off work and make the arrangements for the 40th anniversary Death Ride.

I got two STDs. The Death Ride is July 11, 2020. The HHH is June 20,2020 -doing them three weeks apart wouldn’t be a fair comparison, either. Save the dates…

I just earned my last badge.

At work I was invited to try lovetoride.net. We formed a team and recorded all of our riding for a month. At the end of the month I won a dozen tamales, so I did it again the next time. In addition to tamales, one can earn virtual badges for things like encouraging others to ride, riding a century, commuting by bike… Last year I noticed the badges were piling up but I was missing two: “Legend”, for recording 10,000 miles on the app, and “Super Commuter”, for commuting by bike 200 times in a calendar year. So rather than just recording rides for a month when they were running a promo, I started recording all rides just before the coast-to-coast trip. 10,000 miles came soon after. 200 days came in November 2019. No big deal. That’s just doing what I normally do for the first 40 weeks of the year. But now I have a fake badge to show for it…”Badges? We ain’t got no badges. We don’t need no badges. I don’t have to show you any stinking badges!”

If you’re not blazing a trail, you’re just breaking wind.” Frazz, by Jef Mallett

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!)

Horribly Hilly

Yes folks, it’s time to fulfill the promise I made to a guy in Texas I don’t even know. One year after leaving for the coast-to-coast trip, it is the infamous Horribly Hilly Hundreds (or “Death Ride of the Midwest” as I call it), not to be confused with that other HHH, the Hotter ‘n Hell Hundred in Texas.

But first things first. Last week was the Marquette Waterfront Festival, the gateway to summer around here. Four years ago, we were wowed by the appearance of the March Fourth Marching Band, as they marched, danced, and stilt-walked their way through the park to the stage for a show that was talked about for the rest of the summer. Everyone wondered when they would be back.

Two years ago, they were scheduled to close out the festival again; but they called from somewhere in the middle of Iowa. A broken-down bus on a Sunday in Iowa is not a good thing. When we heard they were coming back this year, we were ready for them and hoped they were ready for us. A new(er) bus rolled slowly down Yahara Place at 5; just in time for the 6:30 set.

MarchFourth (they shortened the name) is one of those bands that everyone says you have to hear live. Everyone is right. But I did find a video that gives you a flavor of their work. If I had to describe them in a word, it would be “steamfunk”.

We had seats near the front, right behind the dancing section. The seats were not used.

MarchFourth

A year ago today (Saturday) I was waking up in a motel at the SeaTac airport, then shuttling to the starting point of the coast-to-coast ride. Sunday we dipped our tires into the Pacific Ocean (and I sealed up a vial of Pacific water) and started east (more or less).

Yes, the Horribly Hilly Hundreds is horribly hilly (but also breathtakingly beautiful). When it was a mere 100 miles, it was just the “Horribly Hilly Hundred”. Now there are 100K, 100 mile, and 200K options. 200K includes an alleged 10,700 feet of climbing spread over “40 significant rises”. While the Death Ride includes 15,000 feet of climbing over the same distance, it is confined to five major climbs. Spreading the climbing out means you can’t just psych yourself up for the passes and it is tempting to see the top of the rise and power over it…until you realize somewhere along the way that doing that 40 times will reduce your legs to jelly.

And jelly is what my legs are now. I left home at 5:15 AM. Heading out Verona Road, many of the cars had bikes on the back. Turning off to head up to Blue Mound, the traffic became bumper-to-bumper, and everyone had a bike on the back.

Traffic coming into the park as I rode out.

Start line

We reached the park and got ready for the day. The first 1.6 miles didn’t count, as we rode into the town of Blue Mounds for the oficial start. The road out of the park was steep. In the back of my mind was the knowledge that we would have to ride back up that hill after 120+miles of riding.

Start line

The route was divided into 5 “stages”, roughly 20% of the miles each; except that the 4th stage was over 30 miles and contained some of the toughest hills of the day.

Enchanted Valley. Note tiny bikes on the road.

The day started cool and sunny. All week the forecast had been for scattered showers throughout the day. This morning it changed and called for later afternoon rain. Around noon it was bordering on hot, when clouds rolled in to cool things down. The clouds looked ominous at times but the rain held off – until about mile 110, when it let loose. I put my jacket back on and tried to scrub rainwater off my rims on a long downhill. The rain stopped in time for the final climb up the infamous Mounds Park Road and the even worse final climb to the park.

I overheard a guy in a “Triple Bypass” jersey telling someone that the HHH is harder. She asked, “even with the elevation?” He said yes, because the mountain roads are only 5-7% grades and the HHH has many stretches of >15% and “you have to go anaerobic to get over them.”

I was thinking that this was harder than the Death Ride for the same reason; though I can’t make a fair comparison since I rode the Death Ride more than 25 years ago. Maybe if I were to ride it again next summer I could compare. I will say this was the hardest single day experience I have ever had. Being 66 years old could have something to do with that;)

Finish line.
Food by Friends of Blue Mound State Park.

I stayed in the saddle for all climbs for the first 30 miles. In the last 30, I got over them any way I could. A friendly farmer’s offer of rhubarb water got me over one climb. (Rhubarb water: a lightly sweetened infusion of rhubarb, seasoned with cardamom.)

My calves started cramping at mile 25 – a bad omen with 100 miles to go. Bilateral quad cramps and a left sartorius cramp followed. Lots of pickle juice as well as electrolyte drinks and Clif Shot Bloks (the extra-salty margarita flavor) helped stave off the cramps. My triceps are not happy – but I am.

The free post-ride beer was a raspberry radler. I don’t know about you, but I like fruit and I like beer, but I like to keep them separate. When I was a teen (in the era of the 18 year old beer drinking age) there was a product called “Right Time Malt Liquor”. I referred to it as “training beer”. It was an attempt to market to teens, to get them drinking even if they didn’t like the taste of alcohol. (Sound familiar? Just like the tobacco industry making fruit and candy-flavored vaping products as training cigarette to hook kids on nicotine; though I don’t recall the beer industry was “shocked” to find kids drinking.)