Geoph lived in a comfortable home in San Francisco with his family of nine, some biological and some otherwise chosen. He left that home and family and hit the road in his tan Mazda pickup truck, with carpentry tools in the back, to visit intentional communities around the US.
He spent time at EastWind in Missouri (purveyors of fine nut butters), Twin Oaks in Virginia (makers of rope hammocks) and The Farm in Tennessee (foremost trainer of lay midwives), among others. He became known as “The Peripatetic Communitarian” and wrote extensively for Communities Magazine and produced films about the world of intentional communities. (Image fromic.org)
One of his communities was Co-op Camp Sierra, where our paths crossed every summer. In the summer of 2007 he stopped in San Francisco to visit his daughter on the way to camp. He wasn’t feeling great and she thought he looked worse. She convinced him to go to the doctor while he was in town. He never made it to camp that year, or ever again. He died that fall of pancreatic cancer.
Jerry was a carpenter. He built the steps in front of my house. He built his house. I was doing a bathroom remodel and called him to help hang some drywall. At nearly 80 pounds per sheet, lifting them overhead and holding them in place while screwing them into the studs required two people in my book. He came over, picked up the first sheet by its top edge, lifted it into place, held it with one hand, and screwed it into place with the other. I was just in the way. He had more strength in his fingers than I had in my whole body. When I tried to pay him, he said, “You just owe me an hour of labor next time I need an extra pair of hands.” He never got to collect. A misstep walking into the garage shattered a hip weakened by leukemia and he never recovered.
Lloyd was one of those people who made this town my home. I never knew him well but we had many friends in common. He walked into the hospital for a bone marrow transplant and was carried out when his weakened immune system could carry him no longer.
Karl was a weightlifter, a writer (at least one novel and one true crime book), a cook (which is how I met him) a runner, and a purveyor of fine running shoes. He autographed his novel for me during the first of many hospital stays, when he famously said to his surgeon, “I didn’t know you were going to make me look like Mr Potato Head.” [Ed. note: now known simply as “Potato Head“.] Head and neck cancer eventually claimed him but didn’t seem to slow him down before that. (photo by Rob Kelly)
On the other side of that coin, in my work I see women (and the occasional man) the morning after mastectomy pretty much every week. They have a cancer which is curable and often cured. I am no longer surprised by the ones who look great and are ready to move on after a few weeks to recuperate.
Cancer is one of those words we have learned to dread. Once it was seen as monolithic. Eventually we came to understand that there are many types of cancer. Some we can cure, some we can control, others are pretty universally killers. So why am I talking about cancer in what is, ostensibly, a bike blog?
During this pandemic, life has been confined to going to work five days a week and staying home the other two. I used to go on a weeklyride with friends and acquaintances. I used to ride on Sundays with a local club. I rode centuries, I rode across the country. Now I ride alone.
I have now registered for The Ride, a fundraiser for the Carbone Cancer Center. I hope to be able to ride 100 miles with others by late September. Even if the ride is canceled, cancer continues. Please consider visiting my fundraising page and making a donation in hopes that your friends don’t have to join mine in this list of stories. And if you have a story to tell, or a friend’s story to tell because they are not here to tell it themselves, please add it in the comments below.
I’ve had some time to think while home recuperating. I was going to title this post “Back in the Saddle Again” to commemorate being able to ride a bike again after a month. I already used that title over a year ago, including a link to Gene Autry singing the song.
No, this calls for much more. I’ve had a great deal of difficulty working with Worker’s Compensation insurance and with my employer’s Human Resources department. They may be trying to make life difficult for me in hopes I will leave, or they may be incompetent. I’m not sure which is worse. Or, maybe:
Okay, benefit of the doubt is over. It is not merely a failure to communicate. The Worker’s Comp insurance company’s doctor has determined that my work injury has nothing to do with my work; that it is a congenital condition that took 66 years to show up and the fact that the symptoms appeared right after an encounter with 425# is totally irrelevant – not just not causal, but not even an exacerbation of my “pre-existing condition”. Then there’s the fact that HR canceled my family health insurance plan and gave me an individual plan. After I (and my boss and her boss) raised a stink, they reinstated the family plan and canceled my dental insurance.
At any rate, I was excited to read about our President’s new Space Force, and I signed up! If I can’t count on having Worker’s Compensation insurance and I can’t count on having health insurance, it’s time to change careers! I know I’ll get good healthcare in the military! Here is my new uniform patch:
I report for basic training April 1. I will be proud to represent my country in space.
Not Gene Autry.
Have you noticed how much the current Republican Party resembles the Death Eaters from the Harry Potter series? The very people Lord Voldemort Donald Trump insults (e.g. Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz) fall all over themselves and each other to praise him, even if they previously called him “a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot” [Graham], or said “Donald Trump’s consistently disgraceful behavior is beneath the office” [Cruz]. Everyone lives in such fear of him that no one is willing to say the emperor has no clothes. I tried rearranging the letters to “Donald John Trump”. I didn’t come up with “I am Lord Voldemort”, but that doesn’t prove anything. Let me know in the comments if you come up with anything interesting. If you see weird tattoos on their forearms, let me know.
Does anyone else out there wake up some mornings and wonder if this is really the world we are living in? Where “if a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be a kind of quid pro quo which results in impeachment”? Where the argument can go from “it didn’t happen”, to “it might have happened”, to “it happened and that’s OK”, to “it happened and that’s a good thing.” In another bit of surrealism, Sen Lisa Murkowski announced, “I have come to the conclusion that there will be no fair trial in the Senate” as she announced that she was voting against allowing any witnesses or written evidence, thereby assuring that there will be no fair trial. As the Red Queen said, “sentence first, then verdict”. In this case it’s “acquittal first, then evidence.”
Tailwinds Across America
Thanks to richardtirith4919 for alerting me to the book “Tailwinds Across America” by RJ Kinderman. Kinderman and his then SO of 10 months embarked on a cross country bike trip in 1981. They followed a northern tier route similar to that of Cycle America, leaving Vancouver with $475 ($1400 in today’s dollars, per USDL BLS* calculator) and arriving in Maine broke. The book came out in honor of their 30th wedding anniversary, so clearly the trip strengthened their relationship. That much togetherness under those conditions could make or break a new relationship, so I honor their trip and their commitment. The book brought tears to my eyes more than once. You could think of it as this coast-to-coast blog after 30 years of reflection. Since Bob and Diane were self-contained, they had some very different experiences than ours in a supported tour, but it was a way for me to travel vicariously when I couldn’t even get on a trainer. I highly recommend it as a fun and quick read!
Back in the saddle; really
On January 31, I put on the bike shoes, set the resistance to its lowest level, shifted into my lowest gear, and got on my trainer. I planned a 10 minute easy spin. I checked the clock to see how close I was to being done – 3 minutes had passed. This wasn’t going to be easy. It did get better. When I set a stopwatch so I could count my cadence, the minutes went by more quickly and I did manage 10 minutes in my lowest gear at 90 RPM. On day 2 I managed to shift up, though still with low resistance, and ride twice, for a total of 25 minutes.
This post was waiting for the official announcement of the 2020 Death Ride. I’m not waiting any longer. Registration was to open in December, then January. Now it’s February. Maybe this will cause them to spring into action so I can make my summer plans. [Ed note: The groundhog was declared officially to have seen his shadow this morning. I suspect he was basking in the sun, wearing shades due to the reflected brightness from the snow, and didn’t really notice the shadow. The temperature is headed for 50 degrees F (10 C). I’m heating my house with passive solar today – the door to the front porch is open. Shorts and t-shirt weather!]
Instead, the post is going up due to the death of Karl Harter. I met Karl about 45 years ago. He was cooking at the Main Course, a down-home restaurant with home-cooked meals at reasonable prices; the sort of food I would normally cook myself but I was either feeling lazy that day or I was on campus and hungry. I sold raw food (working at a grocery co-op) and Karl sold cooked food. That was our initial connection.
Karl was also a runner, weightlifter, yoga practitioner, and writer. He started and ran Movin’ Shoes, a shoe store and gathering place for runners. I went to the release party for his first novel, In the Skin, about a young weightlifter in Trenton, NJ. It was released as a mass market paperback, with a rather lurid cover illustration. Karl had just learned that he was expected to market the book himself if he wanted a contract for his next book. He was pretty clear that he was a writer and not a promotor. While the book never made the best sellers list, he continued to write and publish.
Years later he autographed that book for me when he was in the hospital for the first of many surgeries. A tumor had been removed from his head and a free tissue transfer performed to cover the defect. That means that muscle and skin from somewhere else is used to fill the space. Since the muscle will later atrophy, it is initially oversized. This gives a rather lumpy appearance for a while. When the surgeon came in and asked Karl how he was doing, Karl said, “Fine – but you didn’t tell me I was going to look like Mr. Potato Head!” (As you can see below, he no longer looked like Mr. Potato Head.)
Karl also wrote the true crime novelWinter of Frozen Dreams (subtitle: “The shocking true story of seduction, suspicion and murder in Madison”). A film adaptation followed. More on Karl can be found at The Ride website. This is the group for which I was going to ride last fall. The ride was canceled due to thunderstorms with a flash flood watch.
One of Karl’s obituaries said, “He used words like macadam and ephemeral.” Maybe that’s another reason I liked him. In a 1999 essay about my life in community radio, I wrote, “part of the reason I enjoyed live radio was its ephemeral quality. What I did went out over the airwaves and was gone”. [Now, if you want real weirdness, the next excerpt is from an essay written by my brother for the same anthology. He had worked for a previous radio station in the same studio. We each read the other’s words only when the book was published. “It was the ultimate in ephemerae, leaving a trace only in the minds of those who did it or those who heard it .”] **
Feel free to join me in making a gift in Karl’s memory at: https://www.supportuw.org/how-to-give/school-college/medicine-and-public-health/karl-harter-scholarship/. Normally I’m not a fan of the phrase “courageous battle with cancer” (to which my daughter will attest), but Karl lived with cancer for over 20 years, losing parts of his body over that span. In the past few years I occasionally ran into him at a favorite breakfast spot and he never lost the zest that I loved in him 45 years ago. For most of us, life is ephemeral and we die “leaving a trace only in the minds of those” we touched. Karl will also live on in the books and the store he left behind.
* USDL BLS = United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics
**WORT-Madison; 25 years of Community Radio Copyright January 2000 by Back Porch Radio Broadcasting, Inc.