Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Ack! I mean HELLO

If you've found this blog fairly recently and are wondering what the hell is up, join the club, because I have no idea. It's supposed to be about getting out there and making things happen which for me usually means I'm talking about bicycles. Aaaand sometimes I'm not.

I had a friend once who reveled in posting lists. Lists for the point of lists, lists to avoid heavy exposition, lists for laziness?I've no idea if he's still blogging and wonder if he saw the term "listicle" coined and thought, "OMG IT ME."

Listicles are articles that are 90% one or more bullet-pointed lists. Great if you're seeking specific information and you're short on time, like, for example, "Top tips when changing a bike tube," but really, who are we paying for "CLICK HERE for 5 Secryts to Happyness" and getting 5 line items ordering us to be grateful?

I'm always tempted to do a list.

OH right I was going to say hi to the new folks. Hiiii. My comment section doesn't work. I'm ... working on it.

While I'm very good with data and spreadsheets and systemic problem identification, I'm remarkably terrible with overall tech. I greatly prefer making my daughter figure out how to get Netflix to show on the television, for example, or reboot the router, or something-something-in the cloud-somethingelse.

Me, a list: I ride bikes, though I've never come back to pre-cancer mileage. I enjoy public speaking, though memory difficulties and other triggers can make it a challenge. I blame chemo and PTSD. I used to cherish hiking and backpacking, though that's impossible right now. Yes, I'd say I'm still in some sort of transition.

Questions, a list: What would make a person want to read a blog - to subscribe, as it were, to one person's yawps out into the void?

Why do I continue to read the writers I read? I identify with the writer or character, I find humor, I am prodded to ask questions, I'm given answers. Pretty much any of those.

I'm in a lot of pain every day. I try and fail not to talk about it, but it consumes every minute and becomes something I must plan around. Even though I know it's essentially constant, I've been known to openly defy it and not wear my binder and wow, sometimes it still surprises me, how dumb it is to tell pain to fuck off for a day. (Pain declines to acquiesce.)

What would be great is if other people who are frustrated or in pain or just want to start riding bikes from a new place in their lives -- if those folks found some sort of alliance or hope in what I write. I don't keep going day by day because I'm better than anyone else. I'm SUUUUPer not. I am stubborn though, dogged. I am vain. And sometimes that's enough to keep me pedaling to that finish line. You can too.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Say What?

*10/9 Edited, re: ringing the bell - I know I may be wrong. It's now been suggested multiple times that I should "check my privilege." I think that challenge can make a person respond defensively, which means, a person should instead ask, listen, consider. I am.

Say What Part Huh?
No really, say what? What did you say? I wouldn't have any idea because as I just learned, comments haven't been posting since sometime in April.


And here I just thought you didn't like me . . . . 

I'm so sorry I didn't know. I'll be moving to another host SOON by which I mean THIS WEEK. In the meantime, feedback of every kind is welcome via one of probably many other ways we're in contact.

Say What Part Uh Oh
Twitter is where I spend most of my online social energy. Until very recently, I followed a population of content that delivered a relatively balanced mix of bike stuff, politics, news, writers/writing, and humor. 

My own original Tweets are not overly frequent, don't typically gain more than a handful of likes (usually from people I know), vary widely in subject matter, and are not, as a rule, controversial.

Example, a recent poll:



A month or so ago, I followed and was followed by a few active Twitter users who have or had cancer. I was welcomed and felt my role was mostly as one who sent the occasional "I'm sorry / that sucks / go kick ass" or answered a hopefully reassuring "yes" to various "did you ever have x issue?" type questions. Several of these folks are in the UK and Canada and it's been interesting to "chat" about the different ways cancer treatments are handled.

I steer clear of interacting with the few angry ranters (one woman is very angry at nurses. Very!) and relentless complainers (I cannot help them). My presence amidst these folks has been simple and non-committal. Some are NED (No Evidence of Disease) but struggling with aftermath / Rx side effects like me, some are in active treatment for a primary cancer, and some are Stage IV in treatment or sometimes not. Among the people in Stage IV are those who self-identify as "terminal" - and some who assertively DON'T. Regardless, Cancer Twitter is not a place for assumptions or clich├ęs. A tossed off "Hang in there! It'll get better with time!" will not be appreciated. For some of them, it won't get better.

I am -- grieving? -- to bear witness to what's gotten the most attention ever in my history of being on Twitter. It is ... not flattering.

I own what I wrote, but feel like it's been exaggerated and misinterpreted beyond what's fair. (I know, I know = Twitter.) But it's the twisting of what I said that's gotten a lot of women yelling at me. Trying to explain myself in that venue will only make things worse. So I'm going to try here.

The original post from a person I decline to name:



And here, my question to her:



It's the final part that apparently pissed everyone off. I swear it wasn't intended to be provocative; it was an honest question: is it too hard?

A possible answer might be "Yes. Yes, it's too hard. I will never get to ring the bell so it's hurtful to hear someone else get to." (which begs more questions but okay)

That simple "yes" was not among the responses. My question assumed to be sarcastic.

I didn't say that those who ring the bell think they're cured forever, that I would want to "ring a bell for 30 seconds," have a loud, family-filled celebration in the chemo ward, or not understand that people have more than one round of treatment. I didn't call her a killjoy, or cruel for her opinion about the bells. All of those things have been attributed to me. I hit a nerve.

The original interaction has been twisted in threads and sub-threads, the angry replies to me are getting liked in the hundreds and retweeted, some with additional angry comments, all of which I'm tagged in, and it's not slowing down. A woman with "Dr." in front of her name replied that she "just stumbled across" (bullshit) an article "written just a few days ago" (it wasn't) that claims bell-ringing is psychologically damaging and cancer patients finishing treatment who ring bells are 85%* more damaged than patients who don't ring bells. Another 
woman suggested I probably want bells installed and rung when women have babies so all women who miscarried would have to hear it and suffer. FFS.

IT'S A BELL. I wanted to ring it when I finished treatment. She doesn't want anyone to ever do this. We disagree, but what I want has been vilified. I've been called insensitive, thoughtless, and cruel. I've tumbled into a rabbit hole of "us vs. them" in Cancer Twitter that I was very sad to learn existed. "Us" currently shows no evidence of disease (NED) while "them" are Stage IV and/or terminal. This is terrible. I thought we were supporting each other, all of us.

My bell backstory

My oncologist Dr. L moved away halfway through my treatment and while I immediately liked the new one I chose, it meant changing offices. The chemo ward Dr. S uses holds easily 4 times number of patients as my previous place. The nurses in the new ward didn't know me. Their procedures were different and nobody explained anything. We didn't trust each other. I saw them interacting with regular patients with warmth and affection but though I was there every week, I didn't experience that (TBF; I was really sick by then, and my perception was whack.) But consider this: their ward charged for snacks.
Like the three other chemo wards I'd seen in town, they had a "final treatment" bell and on several occasions I witnessed patients pull that ribbon for a muted "bong." I counted week by week until it would be me. It was a rite of passage, it was a goodbye to that place, it was, I thought, a soft chime of hope to the rest of the room.

On that last day, I felt tired and sick and alone and sad. I was finishing something I'd planned to endure and attack and conquer with Michelle, but she died before chemo started and my ferocity drained away. I was blessed to have a friend who'd agreed to sit with me. I was grateful and ungrateful for him. He was caring but would be leaving... unwilling to be who and what I wanted him to be. He was gracious and gentle with me. 

When the last IV was flushed, a nurse whisked the blanket away, waited for us to stand, and bustled us out of there, with a crisp, "Last one? Good luck, bye now," and my head turned to look at the bell as we fumbled our jackets and bags and water bottles. I practiced in my head a question, "Could I - May I - What about if I - ring the bell?" but as we shuffled through the doorway, I held my tongue. Everything felt final in more ways than one; nothing had turned out like I'd expected.

From the hospital we went to Michelle's grave with a bottle of champagne and three plastic cups. We took flowers. We took a Bud Light for Mike. She wasn't there, she was gone, she was away, at peace. Her memory was a kiss of spring in the chilly wind. She didn't begrudge my survival.

Twitter is a perfect place for bullies. It allows for perverting and piling on and it's no place for a complicated backstory. Do I owe the community an apology? Do they owe me? I own that I could be wrong but I don't think so? I think the most you can hope for in an environment like social media is that someone finds an answer -- or a question -- that they seek. My answer today is that I am sitting with the discomfort of a mini-furor that my words caused... and hoping that nothing I've written in this essay appears to make excuses for it.


*Or whatever %, I'm not going back to look it up. 

Thursday, September 19, 2019

CLEAR!

I appreciate a well-written suspense story as much as the next person, but when it comes to cancer scans, I love my family too much to bury that lede. My six-month scans are once again "clear with no indication of anything to worry about." Wow, I love to hear that. (Also? I love that my oncologist reviews scans and has his nurse call the same day. He knows we fear. He knows.)

I've had contrast CTs every 6 months since I finished chemo, but I've been in so much abdominal pain lately, we moved December's up to September, and that was today. With all the emotion around seeing Hamilton last night, I guess I put off stressing out about the scans until this morning, and then work was so busy, I was at the hospital halfway through the IV going in before that cloud of worry descended. Of course there's no point in worry, right? Worry won't change an outcome. But it's hard not to. It's too scary, the "what-if, what-if, what-if." I get very quiet. I try to keep my heart rate down. I work to keep my mind blank.

The team I see doesn't use the word "remission," but instead "NED," or "No Evidence of Disease." I've been NED since mastectomy in October 2016. That makes next month 3 years cancer free. At my summer checkup, I asked, "Three years, that's a milestone, right? At three years we...relax a little?" and he said, gently, "Every day is a milestone; there's no magic number. Let's get to ten years and then relax, okay?" I know why he says ten. It's because even though the risk of recurrence for my kind of cancer is low, say 10-20%, after 8-10 years of the oral chemo protocol, the risk drops below 5%. He doesn't use these percentages himself; he doesn't like them. There are too many variables in each person's cancer and treatment and DNA etc. etc. etc. Percentages feel like promises. And my risk reduction makes a large assumption: that I keep taking the drug. That's assuming a lot. The side effects are life-changing; they're terrible, and I honestly don't know that I can tolerate them for 5+ more years, or even 5 more months. But sort of like just pedaling a bike, one revolution at a time, I just keep taking them, one pill at a time, one night at a time. Cancer treatment is not a single battle, but a war.

Once again, I put away worry about cancer and return focus to reversing its aftermath, which is wrecked body, wrecked brain, wrecked finances. And how do I do that? I sit with it. I sit and allow all of the thoughts and emotions to come and I release them back. And then I'll go for bike ride.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Teravail Rampart ALL-ROAD L&S Review


Teravail Rampart
700c x 42 ALL-ROAD (Light & Supple)

Summary: Slicks? For gravel? YES.

I labored over my opening line because I was anxious to establish CRED right away — that I’m an experienced and observant rider and gravel influencer… um, what?  I’m totally not! I quickly realized that as a newer gravel grinder and gear geek myself, I’d rather read a review from someone who was more like me. And maybe others would too.

When my friends at GRAVELBIKE (gravelbike.com) asked, “You have a Niner, right? Can you take a 42?” I said, “Sure!” because I’d spent a whole 10 minutes reviewing my own bike’s specs on the Niner website and was relatively sure I knew what I was agreeing to.



When I opened them up, they looked huge and — slick!  Slick gravel tires? Sounds … crazy? Except just the previous week I’d heard my friend Scott talking about this very creature. I was definitely intrigued. One wrinkle — just a few days earlier I’d had new tires set up for Dirty Kanza, and I try not to break the “don’t introduce anything new on race day” rule. Kanza and that sick flint? I wasn’t going to take untested tires out there.

After Kanza, I pulled out the Ramparts for a closer look. I asked a friend with a basement shop if I could borrow his bike stand and compressor, but I still had a problem: I’d never set up tires tubeless before. It’s true, I admit it: I’ve been a woman who “pays for it.”

I studied the tires and asked a few friends who’d converted conventional tires to tubeless and it wasn’t easing my anxiety. I kept riding on my Maxxis Ramblers, which have served me very well, and kept thinking about it. Meanwhile, I reached out to Ponderosa Cyclery owner Vince Asta for a tutorial. Vince and Jessica shared the process, recommended a few go-to products and tools and answered my many questions with patience and humor. Biggest benefit: I saw with my own eyes that it was not only possible, but likely that I could set up the tires using a floor pump and forego the air compressor all together. I was pretty excited about this because I’d had vivid visions of overfilling the tires and having one explode off the rim, slinging slime in my face and all over the walls of my friend’s basement.

RAGBRAI approached. I planned to ride 3-4 days of pavement through Iowa and find some gravel on the side if I could. This would be my 14th appearance on RAGBRAI, the last several riding my steel Surly Crosscheck. Roadies may sneer, but I love that fucking bike. I load up my pannier with snacks, supplies, and six-packs (or, on bagger years, with sleeping bag, tent, and camping gear) and I think *most* of us agree that RAGBRAI is not a race.
The point is, here up was another event and I was still not testing these new tires. So I posted my conundrum in a group bike chat with friends, comparing my Surly to a dependable wife and the Niner with slicks to a hot new girlfriend. The response was universal: take the hot girlfriend.

If you’ve ever read my blogs, you know I have a terrible habit of burying the lede. And here I am 500-plus words into this review, finally telling you how smoothly the install went and how much I enjoy riding these tires. 

I flipped the bike rather than using the stand - it’s the way I’ve changed every tube and tire and I was more comfortable sticking to what I knew. I got the Ramblers off without issue and set them carefully aside. They’d only been installed a month earlier; the sealant was still liquid, pooled in the bottom of each tire. Could I recycle it? Hmm.
I followed Vince’s advice placing the tires around one edge of the rim and decided to pour the sealant from the Maxxis tires into the Ramparts. This is a pretty dumb idea because when trying to get the second edge of the tire into the rim, you are then juggling to keep the wheel vertical and prevent that sealant from spilling out. Probably this would have been highly entertaining to an observer (an observer not easily offended by a few choice epithets) so I’m glad I was alone.

I did not follow Vince’s advice to use only my fingers to get the tires off or to seat that second edge of the tire. My hands simply aren’t strong enough. To pull the tire into the rim I needed my trusty Silca tire lever - I think I would have broken a plastic lever. This is nothing against the tire, and Vince explained his reasoning, which is sound: using a lever to jam the tire in the rim provides the opportunity to tear the rim tape, and that rim tape needs to be well-sealed. Vince tip: once the tire is in, push your thumb in the center of the tire and repeat all around the tire to help center and seat it in the rim.

Okay, moment of truth #1, would I hear those lovely POPs using only a trusty hand pump? YES I WOULD. I almost wept. A soft “popopop” followed by two loud “CRACKS” as I pumped and the tire was on. I repeated the process with the other tire and got both wheels back on the bike. I spun the wheels and observed no leaks = my face remained slime-free.



Moment of truth #2, would they hold on a brief ride? YES THEY WOULD. Do you remember the first time you changed the oil in your first car? It felt like that. I was proud and elated and grateful that the tires were so very easy to install for an absolute beginner.

Moment of truth #3, RAGBRAI. Was I really going to take these barely-tested tires out for a few hundred miles among 20,000 of my closest friends? YEP I WAS. And I had not a single issue. I pumped them up hard and rode pavement. I let out a little air and rode pavement in the rain (though was extremely cautious on turns), I let out a little more and  rode short sections of crushed rock. In every case, what I felt was a cushiony comfort that I’ve never ridden before, not even on the fat bike at 7 psi. Once back from RAGBRAI, I continued to ride socially on pavement and was reluctant to return to my “wife,” the Surly. The Niner on Ramparts was just too comfortable.

Next up was a more interesting test - a 20-miler of Nebraska gravel hills and back roads. I’m going to admit right here that I don’t consistently measure psi. I squeeze. Hard for pavement, a bit of squish for gravel, a bit more for MMR / sand / mud / poor conditions. The day was hot and dry, as were the roads, but I knew I had at least one section of freshly-dumped crushed rock, plus I’d be revisiting the site of June 2018’s terrible crash. Decision: a bit more squish. I took the bike out near the Linoma lighthouse and rode south from there. I felt confident through the flat section of fresh rock - riding slightly wider tires does that! I rode up and down the hills of Pflug road past the glass chapel (Holy Family Shrine) and on up to Highway 31, where I turned around. One question I’d had with the slicks was whether I’d be able to get going again in loose rock if I stopped on an ascent. I stopped a few times and it wasn’t really an issue, but the road surface had plenty of hard-baked dirt. I made a note to try it again on a looser surface.

I am slightly more hesitant hurtling head-first down hills since my crash… but only slightly. I’d set these up myself. Was I confident enough in my work to really let ‘er rip coming back on Pflug? The three hills between the highway and the chapel are steep enough that coming north, you can pick up enough speed to pop right up the ups, no pedaling needed — if you’re willing to let the bike have her head. Was I? I WAS. Minimal handling needed, I pointed her nose toward the bottom and off we went! I have a mantra I’ve been known to chant when starting a steep descent, “The path is clear and the bike knows the way, the path is clear and the bike knows the way.” But there also might have been a hollered, “YAHOOOO!” or two heard by local farmers. Bombing down hills is FUN. The ride was comfortable and I had all the speed I needed. 

The final hill down from the chapel to the 90-degree turn west I took slowly, as I have since I wiped out there in 2018. (Coincidentally, it was the same time of day — 5 PM — and that same older couple in their same old truck was closing the gate at the chapel parking lot. They definitely watched me and I wondered if they recognized me from that sunny June evening a year ago. That’s a story for another day, but suffice to say the tires handled my slow-ass turn just fine. The rest of my ride was relatively flat as I continued on to a picnic by the river. The tires rolled fast and smooth and even through sections rutted by farm equipment I felt noticeably less impact to my body than on the Ramblers. Something I didn’t expect was for my hands and arms to be less sore. I suffer from neuropathy and am typically fighting off numbness within the first several miles, regardless of how I’ve adjusted bike geometry. Thanks to several surgeries (blah blah, cancer, blah blah) I simply won’t ever have the core muscles that could help keep all the weight off my hands. (Why do I mention this? Because 1- there are plenty of riders out there who don’t know strengthening the core helps with numb hands and 2 - plenty of riders need tips other than “strengthen your core.”) Huh - could plusher tires be part of the answer?



TIME FOR THE SHOW. You’ve got to be wondering if I’m ever going to get these skids out for a real ride. OH YES I DID. I lined them up at Schillingbridge Brewery last weekend for Gravel Worlds. And about 17 hours after that 6 AM start, I pulled the plug at just over 121 miles. We’re not going to talk about why a person who rides at a pace of 7 mph is riding Gravel Worlds (because it’s there?) we’re going to talk about the dude with the guitar who noticed these tires at Branched Oak Farm, otherwise known as Checkpoint 1.

“Are those Teravails? Are those slicks? Are those new? What do you think? Are they, like, plush? Have you tried them in mud? What about loose gravel? Any issues stopping uphill?”

So that was fun. I appreciated that he asked the same questions I’d had - almost to the letter. My answers: Yes, yes, yes, I think I love them, yes, not yet, and — about that loose gravel…. 

These tires are amazing and will be my go-to tires for hard-packed conditions and dry gravel. Uphill loose gravel or sand is a challenge, especially if one has to stop mid-way. The Denton Wall on the Gravel Worlds course is steep and sandy. I started up but almost immediately dismounted and walked. A stronger rider with better handling skills and some momentum may have been to maintain a slow and steady pace in uphill sand but for me, it was impossible. 

GW conditions were ideal this year (2019) and even though I walked up the Denton Wall, there were zero moments I regretted riding these tires. I was more comfortable at mile 100 of GW than I was at mile 60 of Dirty Kanza with all other equipment and gear being equal and in similar conditions. Were the tires the difference? It certainly wasn’t that I trained a lot more between races, because I didn’t.
The GW course is hilly, but other than a few short sections, it really wasn’t technical. Even the MMR sections were mostly dry and totally rideable (remember, I was at the very back of the pack — the MMRs had had a chance to dry out in the sun from the overnight rain). 

I found myself thinking of Kanza and the flinty road surface and frequent crevasses, boulders, occasional cattle guard. How would these supple and comfortable tires fare? Can a review be complete before this experiment?

One more test: I rode out just for a short jaunt yesterday, once again leaving my poor Surly wife in the stable and taking out the Niner girlfriend. I was over on the Iowa side of the BK bridge riding on the Riverside trail and decided to go down into the (closed, flooded & mudded out) casino parking garage. Here I had the opportunity to ride in deep sand and honestly, I had no idea I was even in deep sand until I stopped pedaling and put a foot down to look at the river. The tires handled beautifully, almost floating over the sand as long as I kept moving. It was flat, but there were some fun piled up sections of sand along the edges of the parking lot where I thought I could ride without ticking off any of the workers who’d been busy bulldozing giant mountains of mud left behind by that spring’s extreme and devastating floods. (Note: photo is the Niner posing by the Platte, not the Missouri River.)

  


It wasn’t flooding on my mind as I pedaled back to Omaha, but flint. How soon could I steal away to Emporia and test these tires or, more likely, their “durable” sisters, on the flint hills of Kansas? 
In the meantime, I’m calling the Teravail Rampart “ALL-ROAD”  Light & Supple (black with tan sidewall) tires a 10/10 for pavement and for hard-packed, dry conditions and an 8/10 for crushed rock and loose gravel damp or dry. I’m not going to comment on these tires in wet and muddy conditions. Frankly, I think it would be a struggle with no tread. I’ll be planning a weekend in Emporia this fall where I’ll try out the Rampart “ALL-ROAD” Durable version (all black.)
Until then, for newer and more experienced riders, I encourage you to give slicks a try on gravel. Your body (and your booty) will thank you.

-Ann Gentle is a hike chick, bike chick, step-up-to-the-mic chick who wrote about kicking cancer’s ass in the Ann Gentle’s Cancer Show blog on CaringBridge and currently writes about returning to biking in a changed body and reclaiming her life in the Go! blog hosted (for now) by Blogger. She’s here to affirm that anyone of any size can ride a bike and have a damn good time. Follow her on Twitter @huckle3erry or read the active blog at  https://gogulf.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Things She Carried -- Part I: What Touches the Bike

Apologies to Tim O'Brien for co-opting his title. It's a haunting title and a haunting book (The Things They Carried) and you should go read it right after you finish reading and leaving amazingly supportive comments and curious questions on my blog post here. HA.

I've had it in mind for some time to detail for a beginner audience what I wear, pack, and carry for an unsupported race or a solo ride of 50-150 miles. Unless otherwise mentioned, assume we're talking about a gravel century with no outside support and minimal, if any, chance to resupply other than with what you brought or might buy at a convenient store (if you can find one AND if you have time to shop without DQ'ing yourself).

Welcome to Part I, where we explore the needs of the three points of contact between you and your bike.

What touches the bike? Feet, booty, hands, or, hopefully: shoes, shorts, gloves. These are very important items! They're so critical that the top of my packing list under "GEAR" says, literally, "Shoes! Put them in the bag NOW."  And as soon as I've pulled out my list to start packing for a race and read those words, I heed them. I bet you can guess why. Oh look, here's a picture:



Feet
Shoes: Unless you're racing in a remote location, you can probably borrow or buy a pair of shorts or gloves, but shoes are more problematic. A borrowed or brand-new pair might work for a short distance, but if you've got over 50 miles in ill-fitting shoes, you're going to be in a world of hurt. Personally, I learned that my deadly cute Specialized Tahoes . . .



... work just great for about 100 miles of riding, but if I've walked several of those miles (coff, hills, coff coff), they start trying to kill me about mile 85. I'm being flippant and unfair to the shoes - compared to 90% of the bike shoes out there, these are eminently walk-in-able while boasting a stiff enough sole for solid power transfer. Overall, they're outstanding for the long haul. Plus ... TEAL.

Socks: Once it's warm enough outside, I wear Keen sandals with no socks on paved rides, but it didn't take long to learn that on gravel rides, full shoes & socks prevent nasty ankle scrapes and irritating shards and pebbles underfoot. Sock preference is personal - go with the height and thickness you like. Remember your feet may swell if you ride all day, and don't discount the lovely feel of a fresh, clean pair of socks at a checkpoint if you've remembered to throw a pair in your drop bag. (Longer races may permit you to fill & send ahead to a checkpoint a "drop bag" of extra food, clothing, supplies, or other motivation. The most common drop bag is one of those string backpacks you got at your last charity ride. ­čśĆ )

Booty
Cream/powder: I heartily encourage applying something before a long ride to help prevent chafing. I forgot my chamois cream once before a multi-day ride on the Cowgirl Trail and the closest thing I could find in Norfolk, Nebraska on a summer Sunday was some sort of antibacterial powder with "FOR MEN" emblazoned on the label. It worked and I still shake some in my socks and the legs of my shorts for long rides. On more delicate parts, I'm a strong supporter of using Chamois Butt'r. (Disclaimer: I've met and ridden with Curt Shelman, the company's COO, and though I was using the product before I met him, I'm an even bigger supporter now that I have. GREAT guy and truly an uplifting and motivating riding coach.) In the Chamois Butt'r product line, I've tried the Original, Eurostyle, Her, and Coconut creams and will typically be found using the pH-balanced Her. Bonus: Her ingredients include lavender, tea tree oil, and aloe vera so can be used before, during, and after a race even if skin is irritated. (Be aware if you try that with the Euro: it includes menthol and THAT on broken skin will wake you UP.) I pre-load my shorts chamois the night before a race, apply cream directly to my body the morning of, and take 1-2 packets along with me and/or in the drop bag/s depending on how long I expect to be out riding. I suppose I reapply after every 5-6 hours.


Shorts: The kind of shorts you wear is a personal choice, but I'll say for certain that you're going to get what you pay for in this department. Expect to pay $70 and up for good shorts, and more for bib-style and knickers. Here are brands that come in all sizes (my big ass is usually in XL or XXL) and in my personal experience, will last all day and are worth the dough: Pearl Izumi & Terry (I've only used for road), Primal, Voler (I've used for road and gravel). All of the shorts I've been happy with on 100+ gravel rides came from gravel clubs (Pirate Cycling League) or gravel races (Dirty Kanza, Gravel Worlds). Most are bib style and I have come to prefer bibs for comfort. I also have a pair of Club Ride drop-drawer bib shorts that I've worn on shorter gravel rides and 50-60-mile road rides. The CR bibs are very comfortable, but I haven't worn them on an all-day ride since RAGBRAI when I learned those cooling mesh panels? Aren't sun-proof. Ow.
These bibs are unique in that they have zippers down each side to facilitate dropping the back panel (not unlike old-fashioned long johns) so one can wear bibs AND use the bathroom without taking off all your other clothes.
Many friends wear a loose baggy short over their Lycra. It's not just for style points or modesty, but also for protecting those expensive yet delicate nylon shorts, especially when using a Cambium or other cotton- or canvas-covered seat. More on that in a minute. For me a pair of overshorts is just more fabric I'm going to catch on something or pee on while dropping trou behind a tree.

Saddles: Saddles are even more personal -- and harder to personalize -- than shorts. There's no shortcut to finding the perfect saddle for you, but there are shops and organizations that can get you started by analyzing the span of your sit bones (Google "saddle fit" or something similar.) YMMV ("your mileage may vary") in this category more than any other, but let me say three things.
One, because I mentioned it earlier, is that many of my friends and I have experienced damage to Lycra shorts using the Brooks Cambium saddles. The Cambium line are seats made of "vulcanized rubber with an organic cotton top" (this from the Brooks website), and unfortunately the fabric can fray along the edges of the seat & its stiff fibers can really tear up bike shorts. I heard that the 2019 seats don't have this issue, but I can't confirm that. So... why do I still use this saddle? Because it's so awesome (for me) that I forget its there, and, side bonus, it's cotton-topped rubber = no amount of rain or mud is going to damage it.
Two, a seat is to support your sit bones. Not your entire butt. Those extra-wide, squishy seats, the gel seat pads, the sheepskin seat covers, heck, any seat covers - get rid of them. Your back will thank you. Trust me.
Three, the most important thing is that your saddle is not damaging you. Yep, it's sore getting those sit ligaments toughened up & butt muscles strengthened enough so that every ride doesn't hurt. It's normal to be sore if you haven't ridden much or in a long while. But if you are hurting or swelling or bleeding, if something really feels wrong, stop. Talk to a fellow rider or your local bike shop owner or DM me. Lay off the bike until you heal completely and then try a different saddle. A good bike shop will have loaner saddles you can try out for a week or two. Find something that doesn't cause you pain. It's out there, I promise.

Hands
Gloves: One of the chemo drugs I was on causes neuropathy, and for my hands that means numbness in my fingers and weakness in fingers & hands. It also means my hands and forearms, sometimes up to my shoulders will go completely numb if I'm not regularly stretching and changing hand positions on the bike. Good gloves help. Many gravel riders prefer full-finger gloves for protection in case of a fall. I don't have enough feeling through the gloves to switch gears, so am sticking with the more common "pickpocket" fingerless style. I'm using MTB gloves because the padding is thicker and they seem to delay the ultimately inevitable numbness.

I know - we can't go even one post without mentioning cancer? I guess not? The cancer is gone but its impact and the impact of treatment will be with me always. My job is to make the modifications I can to minimize pain and maximize life. Shrug. Sometimes, that means a big fat martini.* And sometimes, that means MTB gloves.

Coming up in Part II: What Touches the Road, an actual legitimate review of a product that a company sent me to review. WHAT COULD IT BE?

*You're going to think this is funny, coming from me, because I'm no teetotaler on a bike (helloooo, RAGBRAI?), but I'm definitely not endorsing drinking during a race. Martinis, beer, whatever, I recommend saving for AFTER. Gravel racing is challenging enough. You're going to want all your faculties intact.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Full of Shit

When I was in high school, I first saw David's painting The Death of Marat with the murdered revolutionary in a bathtub. I recall reading that Marat spent so much time in the bath because of a skin condition. In the painting, Marat is holding a letter and a pen and alongside his tub is a makeshift writing desk.

We'd been studying the French Revolution and had seen far gorier art - I guess that's my excuse for focusing not on the poor dead man but instead on the fact that he'd been writing in the bathtub. I instantly coveted his tub desk and when I got home from school that day, I went hunting for the Amazon.com of the 80's - our Sears & Roebuck catalogue. I'd certainly spent more time than my family appreciated reading books in the bathtub, but now I could write? Heck ya.

Before I could find where the catalogue had gone to rest after the five of us kids had abused it circling our desired Christmas presents (using different-colored markers, of course), I realized I could just drag one of the kitchen stools into the bathroom and have a little tubside desk, not unlike the unfortunate Marat. Few and far between were the times I could claim the bathroom to myself long enough to enjoy reading -- and writing -- in the bathtub. Somehow this is STILL far too rare!

That painting of Marat was the first thing to mind as I grabbed the laptop, a few books, my journal, and a TV tray and dragged them into the bathroom along with Gu Roctane electrolyte mix (Strawberry lemonade! nothing red, blue, or purple!) AND, dun dun dun, the GaviLyte prep for tomorrow's colonoscopy.  Ahh, yes, the title, the references... all coming together. As I come apart! Just when I started to worry the stuff wouldn't work, my tummy made a rumble. Don't worry. It works.

Why am I writing about colonoscopy prep? Because getting screened for cancer is important and we should normalize it. Yes, a colonoscopy involves something going up your butt. Yes, the prep involves systemic diarrhea. For hours. And? Prostate exams involve penis-handling, mammograms involve boob-smashing, none of this is particularly fun. You know what's less fun? Yeah, you do.

A few years ago, my insurance company reduced the age at which they pay for screening colonoscopies from 50 to 45. I'm 48 and thought, why wait to get in on the fun? I'm kidding. Both my primary doc and my OBGYN recommended I have one and both said if it were up to them, everyone would start at 45.

I think in years past, the process was quite a bit more unpleasant. (Because this is not a big deal, what I'm - umm, experiencing right now? It's just like peeing. Except from the butt. And without any warning. Not a good time to go anywhere at all. Channeling Marat.)

I've never been particularly nervous about it. For one, I've heard Bill Engvall's comedy bit about his first colonoscopy and if you haven't? DO. It's very funny.  More important --more influential -- is my friend C* who has been getting them since she was younger due to family history. She was very frank and shared all the details that she was awake to report. She said she considers it like "a spa day," because it's recommended you just go home afterwards and rest. Her husband waits on her the afternoon / evening after she has hers and she does the same for him when he has his. Probably not something they put on the family holiday card, but still.... awwww.

I'm going to take a moment to assure you that the hands typing on the laptop have not been anywhere near the toilet, other than an occasional mercy flush, followed by a quick shot of hand sanitizer. I will stop typing before I start any cleanup process. Which is probably pointless to begin anytime soon. I just really needed to say that because um... gross.

The CaringBridge blog was always candid and I hope I always write that way, especially about medical stuff, but also about feelings stuff. Yes, you got "peeing from the butt," and you also get **YAY BONUS NERVES ** because it's that time of year - irregular mammogram anniversary. End of June through the first 10 days of July is the time frame around a doctor's appointment for what ended up being a heart murmur diagnosis. That appointment ended with a nurse noting my file that showed it had been 3 years since my last mammogram, so "Let's get that scheduled, shall we?"

I have been back to that doctor and the nurse on duty helped me figure out which nurse it was. She was there that day and I got to say thank you. THERE WERE TEARS.

From that mammogram was another, then an ultrasound, then a needle biopsy, and on 7/7 I think, lucky 7, the cancer diagnosis. So in my head it's this time of year these things get diagnosed (I know, that's stupid) and breast cancer is one thing but colon cancer is totally different. Not so many success stories. A few years ago, colon cancer took my dear colleague Nancy Rase at 35, and a healthier, more vibrant, more lovely person you'd be hard-pressed to find.

Because there wasn't cancer in my family, I never worried about screenings before. A mammogram was just a boob-smash. Now I am the cancer in my family. I'm a box everyone close to me has to check on every medical form, forever. And even though having one kind of cancer doesn't mean I'm more likely to get any other kind of cancer, well, I don't know, it feels that way anyway. Having something inside you that wants to kill you is scary. That it might be there without you knowing it... terrifying.

So that's why we screen, to know. It's a privilege, to have insurance that pays for this procedure, for this knowledge. This chance for me to say, at least once every 5 years, that I am totally, truly, not full of shit.


XO go schedule yours.



Sunday, June 16, 2019

Race Report - DK Kanza 100

Spoiler alert: I finished and am currently not dead. Yay!

My first gravel century -- 104.6 miles to be precise -- and while "riding time" was 10mph, that's not what counts in a gravel race. Total time is the key measure and mine averaged, ulp, over 12mph. Sheesh, though, I ain't mad. I have the data, including splits; I know what I need to improve.

The DK offers chipped timing -- a chip is imbedded in the bike tag -- so a rider's time doesn't start until that bike rolls over a pad at the starting line. This is especially appreciated in a race with 3,000 participants -- it hardly matters that I started about 15 minutes late! Nerves!

I've realized my first 5-10 miles I remain a bundle of nerves. It takes me awhile to calm down and get into a groove. Once I did,  I was feeling pretty good. I stopped a few times early on to check on some solo riders who were stopped at the side of the road. I knew I was at the very back of the pack and I hadn't yet seen a support vehicle. Once I'd been riding awhile I came across the sweep Jeep loading up some riders who were calling it quits, I felt better just calling to a "you OK?" to riders on the side of the road, and I kept rolling. You don't get on the podium stopping to help people in a race, but I was many hours behind anyone who was going to be on that podium, and some of the people stopped really looked like they might need help. But I admit, even early on I started to worry about that midpoint time DQ. (My line was going to be "you don't get on the podium stopping to help people, but you don't get into Heaven ignoring people who need help" which I think is cute but not really what I'm trying to say.)

When I checked in at mile 54, the halfway point at Council Grove, I was happy to learn the checkpoint wouldn't close for another 25 minutes -- I'd made it! There were kids at the entrance with their hands out for high fives and this 5 or 6-year old little dude said "GOOD JOB" to each one of us. I had all of that 25 minutes, if I wanted, to rest, refuel, and relieve myself -- the last in a flushing toilet, a luxury on an endurance ride.

I hadn't even dismounted when a volunteer appeared to take my bike and offer to refill my water bottles and bring me a PB & J, a banana, a pickle, and a Payday bar. YES PLEASE. I sat at a picnic table in the shade and put my feet up on the bench. Dirty legs but I didn't see any swelling or other alarms. It was delightful to be handed water bottles & hydration pack freshly filled with delicious cool water. I was glad I'd packed an extra water bottle in my drop bag, because I'd run out about 10 miles before the checkpoint. It was turning into a much warmer day than anything I'd trained in, because we simply hadn't had more than a few warm days yet this year.

Drop bags can come in many forms, but in general, it's a small bag you pack yourself and leave at registration for use at a checkpoint. Checkpoints may or may not have anything other than water - NEVER ASSUME! so the drop bags are a way you can have snacks, electrolyte powder, extra chamois butter, fresh socks, a Rick Springfield poster -- whatever you think you might need at that point. For the DK 100, there's one checkpoint, for longer rides, there are usually more, and you designate bags for that particular point in your ride. Checkpoints are the only place a support person can help you. Any help out on the course that's not "neutral," i.e., available for all riders, like the AMAZING FARMER WHO HAD CHAIRS & SHADE SET UP BY HER COLD WELL WATER PUMP AND THE SIGN "FREE WATER FOR RIDERS" oh yeah I'm still so grateful for that - anything not at a checkpoint that's not offered to all will get a rider disqualified.

As the checkpoint announced, "FIVE MINUTE WARNING!" I filled up my bottle again and prepared to mount up. A woman rolled in and learned she had 5 minutes to roll back out over that checkpoint pad or she'd be DQ'd. Her face just absolutely fell and she looked so beat - but only for a moment, because she was instantly swarmed with volunteers who pulled the pack from her shoulders and the bottles from her cages; they were an Indy 500 pit crew, efficient and supportive, handing her a  banana and tucking Payday bars and squares of PB & J sandwich into the feed bag on her handlebars and telling her gently but firmly she'd be better off peeing out on the course somewhere than risking DQ trying to get out and back into sweaty bike clothes in the bathroom. As I rolled out she was back on her bike and getting a hug as the bottles were stuck back in their cages and the freshly-filled hydration pack was ready for her to grab - the checkpoint volunteers cheered as she rode back over the pad with a minute to spare. (Another spoiler: her name is Jennifer, I had a chance to chat with her a few other times on the course AND I saw her the next morning -- she finished too!)

The reader pads are not only at the start and finish, but also at a point a few miles from the finish, which alerts the finish line team to the race order coming into the chute. They always like knowing the order for the lead riders, right? They get the crowd pumped up and the people get excited hearing who is in front and which riders are right on their tails. When riders enter the chute, Jim announces name, event (200, 100, 50) and home town (and the crowd goes wild!)

The chute is this amazing corridor protecting the riders as we barrel to the finish, and it's lined on both sides with the whole town standing and cheering like crazy, banging away on cowbells with adults and kids alike holding out hands for high fives from incoming riders. I mean, I was HOURS after the first place group and the cheers and welcomes and high fives were still there for me.

Food trucks and other booths are in the streets and the whole town comes out for the party. Dirty, sweaty riders mingle in the crowd, proudly sporting "finisher" tags and hang over the chute, chugging water or chocolate milk or beer and stuffing their (our) faces with walking tacos while cheering in other riders. It's a good idea to keep moving, to keep legs from getting stiff, but at some point it's time to head back to the motel for a shower and sleep. It's a big giant party for DK and as tired as we are, it's hard to leave.

I'd like to share my gear & clothing notes in a separate post but will include here a few things I learned. First: I'm a goddamned rock star, Haha, who wrote that? In all seriousness, I found the pain and then I found the strength and will to push past it. I simply wasn't going to give in. A great bike in top form saved me. Cold well water saved me. Finding Salsa's "Chase the Chaise" chaise / photo op at mile 80 inspired me out of a very low point. Remembering words of encouragement and support from coaches and friends buoyed me.

I found that my bike geometry isn't quite right, because my lower back & triceps were hurting more than anything else by the end, along with my feet. My right tricep just totally gave up and would not support my upper body weight - this with 6 tough miles left in the race. Because I'm missing important abdominal muscles, I need those arms to hold me up. So those last 6 miles took me over an hour because I tried to ride flat sections one-handed and stopped multiple times to rest and stretch and massage my arms.

I may need to use different shoes for my next century. I love my snazzy teal Specialized kicks, but my feet went from sore to painful to numb toward the end. There's a tradeoff between power (super rigid soles that transfer leg power to pedal power) and comfort. And... I think I have plantar fasciitis.

The biggest thing I learned was how to push through discomfort, pain, and the voice in my head that whispers I have no business being there. Two things in particular were those pushers: 1 - my absolute unwillingness to disappoint my Camp DK coaches and 2 - Wendi Shearer's parting words as I reluctantly rolled away from her.

Wendi is an incredibly strong rider and a very nice person. She'd had a catastrophic mechanical failure that was unfixable on course. Her race, a second year attempting the DK 200, for which she'd trained, prepped, and planned for a year, was over. She knew I'd also attempted the 200 in 2018, and she knew that on good advice, I'd reduced my sights to the 100 this year. We talked and offered each other snacks for a few minutes before she encouraged me to go on, saying, "Finish for both of us."

I did, Wendi. Thanks to you and Kristi and Kristen and Nick and Curt, to Aaron and Treva and Brigit and Sarah, to Jim and Lelan and all the organizers, coaches, volunteers fo Dirty Kanza and to the welcoming citizens of Emporia, especially Emmy E and also the guy I talked to at the bar who just moved there and was like, "WTF dude this shit is crazy," I did, I finished. I motherfucking did.