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”.

Decisions, decisions

Life is hard when you’re retired. Today’s forecast was for a high of 67 (19.5 C) with ample sunshine and little to no wind. The next few days are to be even warmer. This is not normal for the end of October/beginning of November around here. What to do?

Those of us of a certain age remember cigarette commercials that seem to apply everywhere 😉

I planned on a bike ride for the afternoon. Two friends/neighbors were busy. I raked leaves this morning as it warmed up. Getting the rake out of the garage, the kayak called my name. I can ride my bike tomorrow and/or Wednesday when friends are available. The water won for Monday.

At a paddling workshop I learned you should dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature. That advice is so you are always prepared for a dunking. On a calm day on known waters, the chances of that were pretty slim. I was overdressed. The local paddling shop is having a moving sale. I bought a waterproof phone case with a lanyard, which gave me the confidence to take pictures as I paddled. If I were to drop the phone it wouldn’t sink and it would stay dry. You can take pictures through the case (more of a heavy-duty plastic bag), as you can see above.

I turned downstream to the lake. Hugging the shore I came into a nasty algae bloom, rendering the water opaque and pea soup green. I moved farther out into the lake and made my way across to Olbrich Park. As I neared the beach there, the water got thick again so I turned back to the middle. My paddling route was pretty close to my skiing route from last January’s post.

Crane/My Sunday Feeling

After my short jaunt on the bike Wednesday, a half-fast friend called about a ride on Thursday. I had afternoon plans so we had to go in the morning. We took variation 17A to Paoli. I just made that up. I’ve written about riding to Paoli before; a popular destination before I began riding there nearly 50 years ago. We rode a different route than I’ve ever taken.

One can no longer fill one’s water bottle at the town pump. They removed the handle early in the pandemic and have not put it back. Or else the pump don’t work cuz the vandals took the handles.

We came home through the arboretum. Just past Longenecker Garden we came upon a woman standing in the road photographing a sandhill crane standing in the road. We slowed down and passed between them the only line available. The human seemed to take more notice of us than the crane did.

As we rode away, I marveled at how inured to humans cranes have become in the past few years. Just then a shadow passed over me, close enough that I ducked. The shadow had a huge wingspan, appearing bigger by the fact that it was no more than five feet above me. I looked up to see a crane (the same one?) soaring just out of reach and then landing in the grass twenty feet off the road.

Photos: a selection of local cranes; none the crane from this ride, to the best of my knowledge.

My Sunday Feeling

Sunday is still laundry day, retirement or not. It was gratifying to see that there were no socks when I hung my laundry. No socks means no work. The newspaper today reprinted an editorial from 1922 asking “Is the barefoot boy a vanishing institution in our cities?” Bill Camplin, in his great 1993 kids’ album “Flying Home”, said “I Will Never Wear Shoes”.

“I Will Never Wear Shoes”. Bill Camplin, from the album “Flying Home”

Saturday is the day that retirement really sunk in. I went to the big local farmer’s market – I haven’t been able to go to that market on a non-holiday weekend for 22 years. I saw my old friend Bob and he showed me a poster they placed near his stand to commemorate the market’s 50th anniversary. It was a picture of him at his market stand in 1973. When I became produce manager at the co-op in 1975 I began buying apples from Bob and his cousin Edwin. Edwin doesn’t go to the market but Bob’s wife Jane does. She wanted to talk about bike touring, as she has toured England and France and the coast-to-coast trip intrigued her.

Wednesday Night Bike Rides no longer have to be on Wednesday nights, nor at night, for that matter. Monday afternoon the half-fast cycling club returned to one of our favorite Wednesday night rides out of Mt Horeb, touring the hills of western Dane and eastern Iowa Counties – the edge of the Driftless Area. Dinner followed at a Mt Horeb brewpub. Having just watched the Tour de France over the past few days made me wonder how/if these hills would be categorized on their system.

By the time you read this, my bike and gear should have arrived via van and trailer from the east coast. The bike will need some TLC before it returns to the road for the Peninsula Century Challenge next month.

Now what?

Reflections after two afternoon beers and two evening margaritas…

Gloucester harbor (same image is on the gym floor at the high school)

We arrived in Gloucester, waited for Tony to arrive, then headed to the beach with our police escort. Returning to the high school, we showered and changed. My former co-worker, then boss, now neither, just friend, met us at the school, walked down to the beach for the ceremony, then dropped off a few beers for me. I soon headed into town for dinner and to await our cruise.

I ate at the Minglewood Harborside. I admit I was attracted by the name. After a lobster roll with Parmesan truffle fries, I had crème brûlée and coffee before heading to the wharf, just a few feet away.

Server’s t-shirt
Based on a 1920s song first recorded by Noah Lewis

I sat at the wharf, looking out over the harbor. A cover band was playing, close enough to hear, far enough to not be overwhelming. I reflected on the last nine weeks and saw other riders drift by occasionally.

I alternated between “yep, we’re done, time to go home” and “holy shit, what have I just done?!” I looked at the other riders and thought, “No one looking at us would guess what we just did.” We are ordinary people who just did an extraordinary thing. We rode our bikes across the continent. To see us walking down the street, you would not guess that. We do not look like elite athletes. We look like the people you see on the street every day. We are the people you see on the street every day.

Despite spending a few hundred miles in the COVID bus, I rode a bit over 4000 miles. Coming close to flying home from Wyoming to recuperate, recovering enough to climb Teton Pass within a week of contracting the disease, and riding about 3000 miles after that made this trip special in an unanticipated way. I wouldn’t have wished for that, but I don’t regret it. I learned something about myself and others in the process.

At the appointed time, we boarded the boat for “a three hour tour”. We cruised the harbor, out past the breakwater into the ocean, then back again. We drank margaritas. We chatted, knowing that we would never see each other again. We shared, for the last time, this incredible experience. But we didn’t talk about it as an incredible experience. We talked about it as our daily life for the past nine weeks – the way you would ask your partner, “how was your day?”

In the morning I will pack up one last time and board the van one last time for a trip to Logan Airport. On Wednesday, if plans don’t change, I’ll meet Ed and Jerry as Ed drops off our bikes and my duffle bag, and we’ll toast the end of this long, strange trip with a beer on the Union Terrace.

Then it will be time to start this new post-retirement life.