Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Nats!

In the world of cyclocross, an obstacle course-type adventure racing that I've always wanted to try, "Nats" means "Nationals," as in, the National Championships. I was touched when my eldest son called a few weeks ago to invite me on a road trip to Louisville, Kentucky to attend these events, hashtag "CXNATS" (and shocked my mid-December calendar could accommodate it).

Henry and his girlfriend, a Louisville native, introduced me to many cool aspects of the town, including a holiday-themed light show in a drive-through cavern, some guidelines on sampling bourbon, and a blackberry chocolate ice cream for which a local shop is famous. I loved seeing examples of very old architecture, limestone everywhere, and an eerily foggy sunrise drive through Cave Hill Cemetery.  Cassius Clay, the great Muhammad Ali, is buried there. Henry and I drove a few miles through the massive cemetery sort of hoping to stumble across his final resting place, but not motivated enough to get out and ask at the office. It felt like it would break a spell.

It had rained the entire week and continued to drizzle through Friday and to storm Friday night. Joe Creason Park was a MUDDD FEST both on and off the track, but it was such incredible fun to experience. Never have I attended a national-level sporting event and had so much access to the event and its participants. It was easy to walk (I mean, as easy as I ever walk + thick, slippery, shoe-stealing mud) from the hill climb to the pits to the ramp to the finish line and see, up close, the riders and the terrain they attempted to conquer. A friend advised me in advance that a cowbell would be an appropriate accessory. What do you know, I have a giant and very loud Dirty Kanza cowbell... oh  yeah. I rang the hell out of that cowbell.

I'd love to talk to some of those riders and ask how the heck they keep going in all that mud. My sole experience dealing with it, during just the first few hours of this year's DK 200 was that it completely clogs up the derailleur and rear cassette. I stopped more than once to poke out and shoot precious drinking water at thick, clingy mud. How would one deal with that in a race? At the elite level, riders were using the pit to swap bikes at every opportunity, which was twice per lap. Pit crews washed bikes and readied them for another go. But even that would have been little help... from each stop at the pit it was mere feet until the bikes would be once again mired in Kentucky mud.

It was fascinating to see riders descend the steep ramp of the "flyover" and handle their bikes in the literal feet-deep mud, wrestling through a 90-degree turn where the ramp dumped them back onto the course. Initially, I thought it certain we'd see wipe-out city, but in fact the majority of riders maintained their seats and continued to pedal through the muck, most flinging a leg out to help maintain balance while entering the turn. Incredible leg strength had to play a part in any forward motion through that swampy turn, as well as confidence and a healthy dose of luck.

I feel further away than ever from a return to competitive cycling. (I write that as if I ever rode competitively, rode for the podium -- I haven't!) Okay then: a return to cycling events that happen to have prizes for winning. But while watching these amazing men, women, young adults, and children (yes! one event was a non-competitive U10 lap! Little bitty bodies on great big 29'rs!) I did feel my quad muscles start to twitch. I watched bike handling with interest. I want to get back to biking and do crazy muddy rides too. They do have a masters division, for old guys & gals like me. . . .

First things first: back to commuting. I pledge I will commute to work at least once before the end of the year, at least with the e-bike. That means one of these days:  December 21, 26, 27, 28.  ULP I might have typed a little ahead of myself. TOO LATE I'M COMMITTED. Hold me to it, people.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

NY-bound

Welp, a break and brief set-back in the training while I go back to New York for the ongoing reconstruction & revision surgery process following 2016's mastectomy.  Did you know 88% of women need more than one reconstruction surgery?  And 65% need more than two? And 39% need four or more? If you know multiple women who have had reconstruction surgery, it's probably no surprise. If you don't, consider this your public service announcement!

I am hoping to heal quickly and be on a stationary bike for easy miles shortly after surgery, but there's no timeline -- no more races this year.  I have until January to decide whether or not to sign up for big races & rides.  Oh except Dirty Kanza, I'm committed to that camp (April) and that race (June).  Oh and also Ride the 5 Boros in May, LOL.  And Gravel Worlds in August.  I mean... of course THOSE.  : )

As soon as I'm cleared to work a little harder, I look forward to starting the 12-week DK training package I bought and using a fun & functional cycling training workbook. I am not getting on a scale today -- I know it's BAD.  I did abuse a measuring tape & record circumferences of arm, waist, hips -- and HOLY SHIT it's the worst it's ever been not including pregnancy. My plan is to get through this surgery, get healed, and slowly and methodically get fit. Whole30 (or, for me, "Whole almost 14") was a nice kickstarter. Pain makes it tough.  All of the medication I'm on makes it tough, but I'll just have to be tougher. One healthy meal, one pedal revolution at a time.

Our friends-group ski trip is coming up soon, and while the state of my knee may not allow downhill skiing, all looks okay to cross-country ski or snowshoe maybe? Still rehabbing the knee, elbow, foot, face. Oh I, um, harvested? two tiny fresh pieces of gravel from my chin yesterday. Startling, but strangely satisfying.  Still have a few pieces in my chin and upper lip and I don't care? I feel like I'm carrying them around for a reason right now and they'll work their way out if and when it's time? I KNOW I'M SO WEIRD.

It looks like the next several weeks need to a time of rest and healing for a lot of things, physical, emotional, social. Like I said on the caringbridge site:  October is hard, but I have a lot of people on my team (Hi team!) and I know what I need to do. I mean, as long as that thing includes riding bikes.

Thank you to my friends & family, especially my mom & sister who will be watching over the Omaha kith & kin, and to Dad who continues to so lovingly care for our touchstone, Grandma Z.

PS: The title NY-Bound is only funny if you know that after each of these abdominal / breast reconstruction surgeries, I'm in an actual, physical binder for another six months. Get it? Hilarzzz....

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Home(stead)

I can't tell you how happy I am to have (finally) ridden my bike all weekend.  It wasn't going to work out for me to camp out with the Shenandoah Gang, but I had other opportunities to tackle good long rides in the perfect September sun and for that, man, I am a lucky gal.

On Saturday, Noah was with his dad, so I rode to see Grandma and she was so much better I almost burst into tears right there in her face. At meals she complained about her food and about being fussed over and I celebrated that with her, recalling only a week ago that she was so sick the family was feeding her, encouraging every bite and sip beyond every refusal, counting her total daily food and beverage intake in ounces.... It's amazing she has once again been strong enough to bounce back.

[hold for photo]

The route to Grandma's is mostly via the Keystone Trail, which I do not love, even as I feel lucky to have it. It does allow a certain mind-wandering that gravel and street traffic decidedly do NOT, and it's paved and relatively safe.

About that: I did have an experience that I'm feeling alternately scared and guilty about. Scared because of a screaming, enraged, likely drug-trippin mad Scotsman who flung his arms about, yelling FUCK YOU and various versions of FUCK THIS and FUCK THAT as he punched his fists and clomped his legs with knees high in the air, the overly exaggerated movements of a band leader, highlighting the neon yellow hi-viz vest or something tied around his ankle and kicking up the dirty pleated kilt he was wearing.  Yes, kilt.  And I felt guilty because I didn't call the police.

I saw him from a long way off, far enough away to see that all around me was nothing & no one that would come to my aid.  No golf course, no houses, no parking lot, no businesses.  The terrain at this point fell away steeply from the trail; there was nowhere to go, so I pedaled harder, barreling on at top speed as the unthinkable happened:  he stepped directly into my path, blocking the bike.  Mere feet away I started yelling back at him in as deep a voice I could still scream loudly in, "MOVE!  MOOVVVEE!!!"and OMG he did, he stepped back, enraged, livid, still yelling.  He didn't stop yelling as I pedaled hard away, deciding to stop the bike with I was a safe distance and call the cops.  When I felt like I'd ridden a safe distance, I paused the bike and put a foot down to turn & look for him and he was RUNNING FULL SPEED AHEAD RIGHT AT ME so oh hell no, I jumped on my bike and listened to him yell behind me for what felt like the entire ride home.

SHUDDER
No such drama on the Homestead Trail - it was AWESOME.  L* and I joined a group of friendly women that I'd met before but didn't know. We had a lovely ride from Beatrice to Marysville, KS yes that's right I rode my bike to Kansas !  For those of you keeping score at home, that's 78.2 miles Beatrice to Marysville thankyouverymuch and my knee, while not thrilled, did not give out on me.  (Thank you, ibuprofen and ice packs!)

The trail is very well maintained, flat, and has a good bit that's shaded and a good bit that's alongside a river or two. It reminded me more of the Katy than the Wabash, if we're comparing rails to trails.  Other than those of us riding the Homestead 100, it was not busy.  The trail has covered rest stops every 5-15 miles with picnic tables, water fountains, and bathrooms (bathrooms will be locked & water shut off November 1st).  The rest stops include images of the trail network, trail history, and other interesting information.  One section of the bike trail corresponds with the Trail of Tears and has been deeded over to the Ponca Nation.  Another section was visited by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and a quote from her describing the area is on the wall.  While I mentioned several times how "new" I found the trail and its amenities, of course it's not new at all.  Many feet --human and animal, and many travois and wheels -- wooden, steel, and now rubber passed along the route long before we did.  It's good to be reminded.

I highly recommend the El Ranchero restaurant in Marysville though will caution those of you who are looking for an ice-cold beer on a Sunday ride will be disappointed -- Marysville does not sell alcohol on Sundays.  (I congratulated myself with pizza and an Odell's Rupture IPA on return to Omaha.)  Mmmm pizza...

  I admit it: I'm very proud to have ridden this distance.  It's my longest this year, one of my longest since I got sick, and certainly the longest since I crashed in July. It made me so happy to make the trip with a good friend and make new friends besides.  It made me so happy that I could use the knee without killing it. I am back home, home on the trail!  Maybe there's cross-country bikepacking hope for this grrrritty grrravel girl yet.


*I don't use names without permission.  Unless I've given birth to them.  (Sorry, Noah!)

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Looking Up, Looking Down

Bike crash recovery isn't going exactly as planned.  I had no idea the knee injury was this big a deal until I started asking questions like, "when can I put weight on it without pain" and heard that the answer is probably never.  The PCL is gone and the MRI showed that the MCL is also damaged and the kneecap has some fissuring, which sounds the scariest but apparently is the least of my concerns.  Now I'm wondering if I have some kind of stress fracture in my foot, which was so far behind the rest of the injuries in terms of severity or pain that I ignored it, expecting it to heal on its own.  It hasn't. Or, you know, it's foot cancer.

Don't you wish we had those Star Trek devices that could be run across a body and instantly and precisely diagnose problems?  What if we could run something like that across our brains or hearts and determine how to best heal them? 



At various times just this week, my heart has broken for others -- it's been a very hard week for some people I love -- but my brain has failed to come up with how best to help them.  I can speak up, I can show up, I can listen, write, and thank.  

How best to help myself is to ride, but I'm struggling, struggling.  My answer to "why don't you wear a brace" has been, "because I want to feel it -- I want to feel when it's hurting too much so I can stop" was accepted by doc and PT alike, but I think it's time to pull one on. At least a sleeve would help keep the knee from wobbling all over the place when I try to pedal, it would help me direct the force downward like I'm encouraged to do.  Pulling backwards and lifting up are still too painful.  The hope is that my quad and calf muscles can be developed enough to take over and that at some point, I'll walk and cycle, maybe not normally, but tolerably.  I had a readjust my goals a bit without letting myself plummet into despair.  I did plummet into a bag of Arby's roast beef sandwich, a side of potato cakes, and a jamocha shake last night.  Sorry, Whole 30, I hardly knew ye.  Mo money, mo problems?  I say mo problems, mo carbs!

Riding scared the crap out of me last Thursday --er, a week ago Thursday.  I rode on the trail, less than 30 miles out and back to the new Taco Ride -- the BBF Taco Ride that's every other week at the Bellevue Berry Farm right off the Big Papio Trail.  I actually thought, in my head, "this isn't fun" and "I want this to be over" and even, when it was time to ride back, "I don't want to do this."  I was so demoralized, so down, I didn't ride for over a week.  Last Monday, in another form of giving up, I rode the e-bike on a group ride about the same distance but on the Keystone, i.e., also flat.  That hurt too, and I'm really not sure why.  I called it another form of giving up there, but that's not fair.  I showed up, damnit, in the best way I could.  

In training, you do a bit, push a bit, it hurts a bit, then you come back and can do a bit more next time.  Healing from this crash hasn't worked out that way.  It's often felt more like one step forward, two steps back.  But bit by bit, a lot of things are changing and bit by bit, I am choking it down.



Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Got Any ID?

I feel like an imposter on both blogs now.

A) Though still struggling with the havoc it & its treatments wrought, I'm no longer a cancer patient.  So I should be here!
B) no matter how many times I insist that I am, I'm nobody's idea of an athlete.  SO I should go back there to whine and cry.
C) Sigh.

Though I'd like to be done with caringbridge, I still feel the need for vehicle for venting ... and also, it feels wrong to leave it before I'm done with surgeries and stable under meds.  (She said "stable," LOL.) 

I've read many other cancer blogs, and one thing has been almost universal: they stop suddenly.  Either the author passes away or the writer gets better.  Either way, there's never that dénouement, and there's very rarely continued writing about cancer's aftermath...the quotidian struggles of a drastically changed life.  As an avid fiction reader (and shitty fiction writer), I'm spoiled by getting to know "the rest of the story."  I love movies like "Animal House" where we learn what happens to each of the main characters years in the future.  Senator and Mrs. Blutarski, etc.  So I'm un-quitting caringbridge.

But I'm going to keep this one going too, because I do want a place where cancer & its trappings are NOT the main subject, and where I can geek out to my heart's content over a discussion of 1x gearing.  (TL;DR: Yesterday I got excited reading a blog entry & Twitter chat about 1x gearing for gravel racing!)  ((TTL;DR: It was my birthday and I squee'd over whatever I damn well pleased.))

Mainly I was excited because I knew what the hell they were talking about -- a rarity for Ann In Raceland (or Ann In Gearland, or Ann In Mechanicland).  I knew because when I bought the Niner RLT from Jason @Method Cycles last January, we discussed the pros & cons, I chose that very setup for the build, and have never regretted it.

It could be that someday in the distant future, this blog becomes more a place for race and gear reviews, and I'd love to kick that off with a detailed entry about 1x gearing and what that means to my riding, but at this point the review would be full of words like "doohickey" and "the thing that does the thing" because seriously, I don't know what the hell I'm doing most of the time. 

I pedal.  I make circles, with one foot anyway, so it's not the "perfect circles" I advocate.  I'm uneven.  Until the left knee's ligaments heal or the muscles take over, I have been riding clipped in on the right but not on the left.  I can't risk twisting that knee on a need to quickly unclip & get my foot down. 

After riding the Haddam Hounds Hundy & Gravel Worlds with one Keen SPD sandal and one Nike trainer I finally pulled a pair of never-worn Pi tennies from my bike shelf and added a cleat to one and left the other with the cleat placeholder intact. YAY, my shoes match AND are both flush to the ground AND I can clip in with the right and not worry about twisting my knee on the left.  It's not perfect but I'm doing the best I can, sort of limping up hills and straddling both worlds.  Kind of like with the blogs.  Kind of like with my life.   


Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Girls Club

Their names are Audrey, Erma, Evelyn, Mary Ann, and Ruth.  They are five women - of sometimes up to a dozen - that live in a cottage that's part of a retirement community south of Omaha.  I love their sweet, old-fashioned names.  Erma is my grandmother.  With the rest, I exchange smiles but we rarely speak to each other.  Most of them can't.

I don't know the name of the lone male who is currently there. I can tell you he likes Husker football, and his habit after finishing his coffee is to lift and drop the spoon in his mug so it rhythmically "ting, ting, tings!" against the rim.  He wants more coffee, but he knows, like the others do, that there is a lot of waiting for what you want.  He's a little bit ornery, which I think might be the better way to be, in a place like this.

I know the statistics, we all do: women outlive men. The Institute on Aging reports that two-thirds of Americans age 85+ are women. And as you'd expect, the employees -- care directors, cooks, nurses, aides, therapists -- are also mostly women.  It is a place of women, run by women, and they will try to fit you into how they think things should be run.

What you want to believe is that for enough money (and it IS a lot of money -- average monthly cost for a private room in 2016 in the US can be $3 - $10,000 per month depending on the level of care needed), you will be cared for by kind and gentle professionals who are delighted to be with you and have your best interests at heart.  Don't get me wrong -- I have observed no activity or evidence that anyone in the cottage is being mistreated.  But nobody's wiping old lady asses from the goodness of their hearts.  There are schedules and rules and power hierarchies.  There are passive-aggressive little nudges letting you, the family member, know that you are the outsider here.  "Oh, you didn't order your lunch when you arrived this morning?  Sorry, cook says there isn't enough food for an extra meal today.  You should have told us when you got here. Next time tell us as soon as you come in."  I can tell you there is almost always extra food, and at the end of the day or when they have downtime, the aides are eating the food.  Is it a small benefit from a thankless job?  Okay, sure.  And it's one of those things you can't accuse them of - they're not doing anything wrong. Just asserting their power in they ways that they can.

My grandmother is a strong and vibrant woman. Dementia is robbing her from herself, and from us, but like all of the residents, she deserves care and respect. The staff know her as a relatively placid woman, often confused, while I know she is anything but.  Was.  The funny thing is, I think the staff do care about her.  It's the rest of us who get in their way, interrupt their schedules, hold them to higher standards.  (Tough shit.)

It makes me think of the way women in the workplace sometimes treat each other.  I have a situation now with a colleague getting in micro-digs, typically when she's been embarrassed by something she didn't know or screwed up, especially if it's something I advised her not to do.  I'm not 25 anymore, I cuss it out among friends, but ultimately I'm not worrying about it.  As a former boss told me in a similar situation, "Ann, everyone knows."  And they do.  People like my colleague dig their own graves.

But what if it weren't like that.  What if this young up-and-comer didn't feel threatened by me and instead could be honest about what she really wanted and why?  What if women really truly supported each other instead of resorting to sabotage?  Sure, the men hold the higher-level jobs and political offices and make more money... but we're going to be around longer.

I am incredibly lucky to have a number of strong women who have supported and continue to support me. All of us, women and men, need to encourage each other to tell truths and share love. Nursing home aides shouldn't need to score points to assert dominance. Family members of Audrey, Erma, and the rest should feel welcome to tell the stories of their mothers and grandmothers, sisters and great-aunts and celebrate these women. And celebrate the women who care for them.



Saturday, August 18, 2018

But I Get Up Again

Well dangit, now I have that Chumbawamba song stuck in my head.  Oh wait, I can link it here -- YOU LUCKY PEOPLE!  Aaaaaand now it's playing and I can't wait to get on my bike and RIIIIIDE.

It's absolutely perfect weather for a long bike ride.  Lucky again, it's time for Gravel Worlds!  I signed up once again for the full ride, 150 miles of delicious Nebraska gravel.  And once again, I know I won't ride 150 miles.

Last year, my first attempt at GW, I was less than 3 months after finishing chemo.  I was still mostly bald, I was so exhausted, and I was terribly, terribly slow.  But I was buoyed by OOODLES of encouragement from many friends, and I was grimly determined to say FUCKCANCER in the best way I knew how.  My good friend S* was riding with me and provided ride support, navigation, reminders to eat, and of course, his signature cheerleading.  Still, when we reached Malcolm at mile 75, it was time to face reality.
"I'll ride with you if you want to finish. And there will be somebody there at the finish line -- they'll wait for you."
But
"But if you want to bail out, we can call for a ride..."
Or
"Or I think I can plot a ride back to the start... it would be about 10 miles."
And that is what we did.  There's a fantastic barbecue joint at the Malcolm stop (this year at mile 90 on the GW route) but it's not a food I'd typically want in my belly if I still had a half-century or more to go.  With only 10 miles, I cheered up a bit, bought a Coors Light at the tiny grocery and a pulled pork sandwich from the heavenly-smelling place next door.  We sat in the grass as S loaded the route and I tried not to feel like a total failure.  I was giving up, which was probably the smart thing to do, but I also knew I could do more....

I've spent this whole year calling that finish a failure, quitting other rides early and calling them failures, beating myself up as I encounter setback after setback, eating and drinking too many calories, not riding and not riding as I gain weight and, along with it, a healthy dose of self-contempt.

"Once again," I tried to joke with J*, "I'm signing up and paying for rides I can't finish!"
 What a loser.  I thought.  What a waste.

"But you're supporting efforts that you believe it," she said, smiling, and we started talking about something else.

And she's absolutely right.  She meant, I'm sure, that I'm supporting the races, the organizers, the events.  But I read a little more into it.  Because supporting these events is supporting myself, myself as a person who rides bikes crazy distances in all kinds of weather. A person who races gravel.  And I DO believe in myself.

I don't know J well, but we spent some time together at the Dirty Kanza camp last spring and she's staying with me at the lake cabin weekend. (Slumber party!  Because that's what gravel brothers n sisters do....open homes... and hearts.)

So I'm not going to attempt the 150-miler this morning.  I have a torn PCL, grade 3 and a damaged MCL, grade 1, and I'm just 5 weeks out from the crash that caused those injuries, along with elbow, face, etc.  150 miles isn't being tough, it's kinda stupid.

I have permission to ride (you know how well I follow directions).  But seriously, the ortho doc I saw yesterday said he was very pleased -- I'm healing fast!  (This still amazes me. During all of chemo and for the year after, even a scrape on my skin took weeks and weeks to heal... normal healing now feels like superpowers!)  After reviewing the MRI and the PT notes & our discussion, Dr. H said he saw nothing wrong with doing about 20 miles.

I had just told him I rode about 18 miles of gravel, including a few hills, in Kansas the previous weekend.  I rode with one SPD (shoe that can clip in to the pedal) and a regular tennis shoe on my left foot, since that twisting motion to release the clip I can't do, and that worked out well.

"Fifty," I said firmly (thinking "One-fifty").

His eyebrows popped up.  "Okay,"  he nodded.  "It's okay to push it."

I am going to push it.  Not 150 miles, to set myself up for something I know I can't and shouldn't finish, but 75 miles.  The short course.  I think I can do it.  I have the bike, I have the food & water I need, I have the determination.  I am going to finish a race.

More importantly, though, no matter how many miles I get or how long it takes, I am going to call this a win.  I am supporting what I believe in.


*(I don't use names without permission)