Friday, August 22, 2014

In Which I Practice Taking Selfies By A Tank

Two bikers blocking your view of a tank down by the baseball diamond. Darn bikers get in the way all the time.

I took a morning ride with my son Jon. He’s just back in the states after a two-year stint in the Peace Corps. He’s visiting us for a few days before relocating to Pittsburgh, where his lovely wife is entering graduate school.

Anyway, he arrived late Tuesday and spent Wednesday visiting with his mom and one of his sisters and her children.

Thursday was reserved for his first long bike ride. Yes, folks, the owner of Fancy Bike is back in town and ready to roll. But, like a mouse’s plans, his Thursday ride didn't quite take place. Luckily his bike wasn't done in by a plow (bonus reference to Scottish poetry), but rain pelted down midday right after he got his bike ready to ride.

He did manage a short ride before going on a walk with his mother, but it wasn't exactly what he had planned.

Today, I had an internship meeting at a baseball stadium located across town. I offered to let Jon tag along so that I can refresh his memory on how to get to the Cedar River Trail.

It was very warm and muggy and grey when we started. I was worried we were headed into a rainstorm, since rain had popped up quickly yesterday. But, we were lucky and stayed dry. Well, as dry as you stay on a warm, super humid Iowa morning when you’re riding a bike—which isn’t really all that dry at all, and I wished I had on a biking shirt, but I had a polo shirt on so that I could look business casual and all sweaty. It worked.

Anyway, we had a bit of an adventure on the way there. I had ridden by the stadium on my wait to an interview at KZIA earlier this week, but clearly did not have perfect recall of the route, since we ended up lost for a time. It took an hour to get there—not much longer than it should have, but a bit.

Jon had popped out of bed and hopped on his bike, so he sat outside and ate a granola bar and banana while I met with an internship supervisor.

The meeting went well, and we found the street I had intended to use in the first place. But, surprise, surprise, I turned off too early and got lost again. This time, when I oriented myself to place, I knew we were six blocks or so from Czech Village, so that’s where we went.

I felt I should reward Jon for his patience, and reward me with second breakfast because of my patience, and reward my wife with some treats that she doesn't know about and which will be a surprise to her because it’s extremely unlikely she will read this blog post, so we stopped at a Czech bakery, Sykora Bakery, for some coffee and kolaches. You get a price break if you buy half a dozen, so Audrey, some apple and cherry rolls are headed your way.

Jon is eating his kolaches. I've finished mine. No wonder I look so serious.
After the break, we headed down the Cedar River trail through downtown Cedar Rapids. I am in my office, avoiding urgent work by writing this (although I have worked and it is noon, so I can justify this as part of my lunch break). Jon is out there, somewhere, riding, and not getting sunburned, I hope.

Anyway, it was a good ride. Oh, and in case you wondered, the heart test I had this week went well. I do have a heart and it apparently is working. The pain? “You might have some skeletal, muscle issues,” the doctor said.

Here’s hoping kolahces can cure that.

My coffee and some Czech roles. Not mine--I had rhubarb and strawberry. This is apple and cherry, treats for my sweetie.


Sunday, August 17, 2014

In Which The Local Trail Makes a Slow Comeback

Aug. 16--new interface at Thomas Park parking lot (above). Sidewalk under construction leading to side trail near Menards (below).


Over the past two weeks, I've been on the Boyson Trail area several times.

Since June flooding, the city of Marion has been working on the trail. They aren't just putting it back the way it was—there are some improvements. The parking lot near Thomas Park wont’ “cross” the trail anymore. A new sidewalk will lead from the end of a side trail to the city streets in the Menards area.

Well, it may be some weeks before it’s all done, and the way work has been going, some time before I can enjoy the results. But I hope we catch a break for a while from the floods—the trail is going to be nice.
OK, it has nothing to do with trail, but I was pleased to see full bike rack Friday at MMU.



Sunday, August 10, 2014

In Which The Fancy Beast Rides Almost 50 Miles

I knew I was going on a longer ride, so I ate a biker breakfast.

The bike. What shall I call it? Fancy Beast?

I took a bike we inherited from the Moscou’s storage shed, a Raleigh bike, out for a test drive.

I wasn’t expecting much. It’s a mountain bike like the beast. But it felt fast, a nice ride. It’s lighter than the beast, but when I was pumping along the trail just north of Boyson Road, it felt like I was going fast, faster than I do when riding Francis.

Which was weird. The Beast is a slower bike than Francis. And this mountain bike had a top gear of 6—it’s only an 18-speed bike, not 21 like Francis or the Beast, although it was travelling fast in 6.

I was not always moving fast. A long train late in the ride had me waiting for a while.

And I made a mistake. I don’t recall exactly why—whether there was a slight upgrade I started to climb or it was because I was coming to the first road—but I shifted. And since I was not used to the bike, I made my mistake.

I thought I was shifting from 6, the highest year, to 5. Instead, a number that had not been visible—hidden after a little gap.

7. Holy guacamole, this is a 21-speech bike, and there’s a faster gear than 6. And when I was in seven, the fat tires sung on the trail and I zoomed towards Lafayette. It was 7 miles and took about 35 minutes to get there.

Selfie at Tait Cummins before heading home.

So, what a surprise.

The long test drive of the new beast-style bike produced unexpected results.

I rode to Lafayette and down to Tait Cummins park. I don’t have a computer on this bike, but I think it was around 45 miles.

And they went by faster than I expected.

I saw what I thought was a swan  on the Cedar River, but it honked like a goose, and besides the white feathers, acted like a goose, honked like a goose and was handing out with geese. Well, there are species of white geese, but why was this one here?



It was the second day of new rides. Friday, Audrey and I rode out to Culver’s. That time, I rode the beast because it’s a closer match to my wife’s bike. I think it was our first ride of the summer, and it was really nice.

Two days and two new rides.

Friday night at Culvers. Our bikes parked at the rack.


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

In Which I Enjoy Some Cool-Day Lilies

Lily in garden behind Warde Hall. As you can see, it's a grey, cool day--but every outdoor thing seems fresher following much-needed rain.

Yesterday and today have featured some extra biking. I ended up riding 26 miles yesterday, partly because I had forgotten to get a check for my piano teacher and had an extra commute to and from campus as a result, and partly because one of my daughters invited us over for supper, and I bicycled out to her house.

And the extra trips continued today. It rained during supper, so I left Francis in my daughter’s garage. After morning exercise, my wife drove me over to retrieve the bike.

It was a cool, foggy ride home at a bit past 6 a.m. It wasn’t dark anymore, but fog made it seem dim, so I rode with lights on. My glasses started to mist up, but then cleared off by themselves.

After arriving at home, it was time to eat breakfast and prepare for the day. I was on an Iowa Private College Week panel, so I stowed an extra shirt in the van in case my first shirt got too sweaty on the ride to campus.

And another kind of lily from the same garden at MMU.

Luckily, the fog was still around and the humid air was still pretty cool. I didn’t seem too soggy at all, which is good, because it turned out my spare shirt is still in the driveway of my house—my wife decided to drive a car today.

Well, I think I got the better deal. Despite the greyness of this post-rain world, it is a nice day for a bike ride. I have more than 10 miles in today already, and we’ll have to see when the evening commute begins and what kind of mood I’m in.

Maybe it’s time to check out Lafayette again …

Saturday, August 2, 2014

In Which I Find Where Cheap Beast Bikes Go To Die

Bike lock at apartment complex locking nothing to the rack.

I've noticed before that bike racks near dorms at Iowa State University are a bit, well, chaotic, with many abandoned bikes accumulating.

They seem to run to inexpensive mountain bikes, like The Beast. I suppose if you had a nice road bike, you’d be unlikely to be taking it to ISU or parking it outside, for that matter.

Friday, we moved Ben back to college. He’s in graduate school now at ISU and lives in an apartment complex near the campus. And it seems the such complexes have racks much like a dorm building.

So this is where beast bikes go to die.

A cluster of dying bikes at a rack near ISU in Ames. Crazy wheels.

Ben is near a shopping complex with both a HyVee and a Goodwill. One end of the complex featured a totally empty bike rack, but then again it is summer in Ames, maybe it will see more use later. And it was near a health clinic—perhaps the sick don’t pedal to their appointments. To be fair, there were some in-use bikes chained up at HyVee.

Empty shopping mall bike rack. Near an SUV. Sigh.

Goodwill featured many pink girls’ bicycles—seems to be a glut on the market for those.

Bikes for sale at Goodwill. All the small girl pink bikes you can possibly want.

The empty bike rack was a bit discouraging, sort of like an empty park on a beautiful day. Oh, wait. Ben’s apartment is next to a nice city park. With an empty playground on a nice summer day. Parents, turn off the electricity in your house and chase the kids outdoors. Even if the kids are in their 20s. Bike racks and playgrounds are only good if they are used.

Empty city park on a nice summer day. And only person we saw recreating outside was a comply lass in a tiny bikini working on her skin cancer. It's a crazy world.



Thursday, July 31, 2014

In Which My Achy-Breaky Heart Rides 22 Miles

Late afternoon sun on Cedar Lake, it was a gorgeous day to ride around the lake and a gorgeous day to be alive.

As you know, blog pals, I had some disturbing symptoms on RAGBRAI. Mostly, they were on Tuesday’s long, warm ride.

A spasm in my chest. Fatigue. Dizziness. A burning sensation in my upper left arm. Pins and needles in my left foot.

Whoa, you might say. Did you stop? Did you catch a ride in the cherry-topped sag wagon, aka an ambulance?

Well, no. And I’m not totally cray cray, either. Each of the symptoms is something I've experienced before, and each has an innocent explanation. Fatigue and dizziness can be dehydration. Arm pain can be, well, arm pain. I fought a headwind in the first 20 miles of the ride, and my body was crouched in an unnatural position. Even today, my left shoulder and left upper arm are sore, and it’s muscle and joint soreness from that headwind 10 days ago, not cardiac arrest.

Spasm of pain? Well, I've been treated before for acid reflux, and although I don’t commonly have digestive problems, heartburn is an experience I've had before. So, I could rationalize, drink some water, rest a few minutes and solider on.

But, as the week wore on, the fatigue did not quit. My RAGBRAI team members envied my ability to quickly fall asleep, which is not unusual for me, but it is unusual for me to get 7 hours of sleep and still feel so totally lethargic.

I had little energy for the rest of RAGBRAI, and it worried me, so I went to my doc’s office.

My doctor, by the way, is a very nice lady, but I've rarely seen her. I’m almost always seen by a PA, but that’s OK. Anyway, the PA took my blood pressure (a little too high), listened to my heart (it must have been ca-thumping pretty normally because he said nothing and had no reaction) and took note of my symptoms.

Not classic heart symptoms, he noted. But, on the other hand: “I don’t think you’re here because your left shoulder is sore. I think you’re here because you’re concerned about your heart. And while the symptoms aren't classic, it’s hard for me to ignore a spasm and left side pain. Go to the hospital and get an EKG.”

So off to said hospital I went. The technician didn't shave me before she put the sticky sensors on—she explained that most patients don’t want to be shaved—but lady, I would have gladly been shaved because I knew that what goes on must come off. A few minutes later, I was done. And, OUCH!

Later that day, an aide form the doc called to say preliminary EKG results were just fine. But the office would call the next day with final results.

As fate would have it, the next day’s call was a bit different. I don’t recall all of the details—for some reason, when important medical information is given to me about me I start to quickly fade out into some odd mental limbo—but I clearly recall: "We've made an appointment for you with a cardiologist."

The problem isn't major or imminently life threatening. Or so I suppose, since the lady on the phone didn't seem to be in a hurry and she didn't give me any advice about living like an invalid. The EKG showed a “left anterior fascicular block,” whatever the heck that is. Google gave me lots of confusing disinformation, but the impression I get is that it’s a common problem and is either no big deal or indicates YOU ARE GOING TO DIE.

Then again, my favorite Onion headline of all time is: “Death Rate Continues At 100 Percent.”

I’m not fatalistic about it. I intend to be very serious about getting and following medical advice. I want to live decades more and ride many more RAGBRAIs. And I’ll be calling the PA back, because right now we’re dealing with this one problem—I haven’t really had a full physical checkup.

And “left anterior fascicular block” or not, the real take away for me, the thing that in the long run is probably more personally dangerous given my family history, is the blood pressure.

Anyway, doc talk was Tuesday. I rode my bike 12 miles Wednesday. I rode it again 22 miles today. So far, no spasms of pain and no sudden fatal heart attacks, I’m happy to report.

I’m healthy as a horse. If the horse has an asterisk on its chart and has an appointment with a heart doc. And you knew, didn't you, that I couldn't resist:



Sunday, July 27, 2014

In Which I Share My RAGBRAI Wisdom

The ride is almost over and Eldon and I check out the Father of Waters.

Each year, RAGBRAI asks for feedback. Well, I will share some. And each year, other riders don’t ask for feedback, but they’ll get it anyway.

I didn't know about the two deaths on RAGBRAI this year right away—when you don’t camp in the campgrounds, you don’t get the free Registers handed out there, and I was cut off from news. Sad tidings.

Anyway, advice to myself, my team, my fellow bikers and RAGBRAI:

RAGBRAI, mark the darn route more clearly. I don’t mean the bike route—the support vehicle route. It’s marked as it if were being used by bicycles—tiny signs right at the exit you are supposed to use on a 4-lane highway, for instance. If you were riding a bike at 15 mph, you could see and react to that sign. In an SUV at 65? If you’re not watching the map like a hawk (and who wants drivers to do that?) it’s often a case of, “damn, I missed that exit.” And the code is confusing—Pink? Green?

Team Joe, go to the driver’s meeting, or send a representative. Maybe it’s partly our fault the vehicle signs did not make sense. On the other hand, we did scout the destination town and anticipated that traffic would be terrible. The scouting trip was a good idea.

RAGBRAI, add more information to the web site. Easy to find links to planning committee web sites in overnight and meeting towns, for instance. Detailed maps of said towns that show the bike and vehicle routes. I went to the Iowa DOT web site and downloaded maps for our team, which Eldon had printed. Those maps were very useful--but not as easy to get as RAGBRAI could make them.

Our meeting spot after the ride.
RAGBRAI, fill those rumbles. I don’t mean all of them—rumble strips on a flat are amusing, not consequential. But on the final day, in the infamous “W,” which I named that because there is a distinct W shape on the elevation profile due to two consecutive valleys with steep ascents and descents, one rapid downhill run ended in rumble strips. And several RAGBRAI riders ended their rides with broken bones there. I remember whizzing along at something close to 40 mph and seeing the little sign that said “rumbles ahead” and thinking, “really?” Most riders missed that sign because they were moving at car speed. And, as noted, some shattered bones resulted—I didn't see the fall, but I saw one aftermath, and during our break in Garber, several ambulances sped by, from, I’m assuming, deathtrap rumble strips hill.

Riders, "car back” means move over, jerk. Fast bikers often cross the center line. Well, if they have a clear view, OK. But when someone yells “car back,” quickly find a gap and move right, fast peddlers. The “car” is often an ambulance, and it could be a friend or, someday, you in there. For safety’s sake and as a courtesy, make a hole.

RAGBRAI, clone those Edgewood farmers. In the final meet town, the tiny village of Edgewood, farmers on ATVs actually escorted vehicles to specific parking places. It was a slick, nice system. Getting to the town was not so easy—the route markings were confusing and led Eldon and I to drive too far towards Guttenberg (I’m looking at you, RAGBRAI!)—but once you got there, you were briefly detained at city limits until a tan farm man on an ATV took you to a parking place. Our escort said there had been some complaints. We could not figure out why. There was no other town so easy on support vehicles along this year’s route as Edgewood was. Kudos, Edgewood. RAGBRAI, can you find out who planned that stop and hire her or him as “meeting town czar?”

My "Hello Kitty" system worked well--vital supplies, such as this, my bathroom bag, were easy to find. In my bike bag, I had the "on the road" kit in case Mother Nature called, and she did. As I was walking to a kybo holding a small lunch box with vital supplies inside, one lady I passed noted "I love your purse." It was very functional.
CR Joe, train more. I promise on a stack of Participant Guides that I will call my doctor tomorrow (Monday) and make an appointment. I had some symptoms that I described after the ride. My sister said, “I didn't know about the left arm pain.” Her spouse, a nurse, said: “If you feel those symptoms again, go to the ER.”

I’m happy to say I didn't end up the third fatality on this year’s ride. My vital organs are still functioning, although I don’t guarantee at what capacity. No Joe bones were broken, either. Here is my Facebook album of this year's ride. And RAGBRAI was so much fun that I will surely participate again.

After a medical checkup.

Friday morning in Waverly. It was wet. This is Brigid's trike, and she and I drove that morning. I don't think we regret it.