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Monday, June 30, 2014

Prairie Spirit Fail with Tattoo Barbie

I wanted to do a training ride since I signed up for a gravel grinder. I had originally thought to sign up for next year's Dirty Kanza, but in the meantime I got in on the Pony Express Gravel Dash in Marysville this September. Only 120 miles.

Only. My personal record, mileage in one day, is 109.87 miles. That was on paved roads and I only averaged 9.6 miles per hour. It was in town, too, so I wasn't touring fully loaded or anything like that. I had bad cramps and almost couldn't finish, plus that was a year before I got split open for double bypass surgery. My personal mileage record since that was in the fifties. So signing up for a 120 mile 'dash' on any surface is a bit of a stretch for me.

And it's on gravel. Gravel roads, which I have historically dismissed as being made out of the shit they're supposed to sweep off a proper road. I can't say I've ever been a fan of grinding out miles on gravel, but I guess I want a challenge.

Which brings us to today. I got up at 3:30 in the morning in hopes of being at the trailhead by sunrise. The Prairie Spirit Trail goes from Ottawa to Iola, Kansas. It's a rails-to-trails deal, so no big hills and it's a fine, crushed stone so I figured it'd actually be a little bit easier miles than the Pony Express promises to be, but the round trip would be right around a Century so I figured at least I'd know if I had 100 miles in my legs these days and get some practice riding on a non-asphalt surface.

For a traveling companion, I had a Barbie doll my daughter had decorated that I wanted to photograph. Em appointed her with tattoos and piercings and her shirt reads 'FUCK THIS SOCIETY.' I thought of her as Barbie Suicide, thinking she looked like the models on the Suicide Girls site who all seem to have the surname 'Suicide' but I'm told that's not enough of a household name for people to get it, so it just seems like I'm being a dick about actual suicide victims and survivors. So I guess she's Tattoo Barbie, or Rebel Barbie or Biker Bar Barbie or something like that. I strapped her to the top of my pannier for the ride, which I think in hindsight might have caused more strange looks than I normally get with just my pink helmet mohawk.

When I got to the trailhead, there were some dejected guys loading mountain bikes and camping gear into a car with Nebraska plates. They told me the trail wasn't in good shape, maybe hadn't been maintained. A mile in, they said, huge cobblestones they had trouble riding on at any speed. Trees over the trail, cobwebs, etc. They got off the trail and took gravel roads, and every time they tried to remount the trail it was the same. They camped in a train storm at a Methodist campground and got up in the middle of the night and rode back to their car.

Sounds challenging. But my friend Phil had been singing the praises of the Prairie Spirit trail and he's not a masochist, so I figured I'd give it a go. About a mile into the trail, I crossed a bridge with no railings on it (it's wide enough but felt creepy), and on the other side of that I went off a pretty big drop off into some gravel so huge and loose I could barely ride forward. My wheels sunk a couple inches into it and my tires spun out. I walked the bike a bit and tried again. By the fourth or fifth try, I was like This is getting old.

As far as I could tell, it was the same story for miles to come, and I could see why these guys weren't thrilled with the trail. You could probably ride on this shit with a Pugsley or a Krampus, but they'd struggled with mountain bikes and it wasn't happening at all with my Long Haul Trucker. I probably weigh half again what either of these guys do plus my 700x35 tires are skinnier and more prone to sink in.

I headed back the way I came, rode the levee a bit, then decided to explore Ottawa preparatory to gravel grinding some gravel roads around the area since I'd come this far. I stumbled on the actual Prairie Spirit Trail, which is not connected to the Prairie Spirit Trailhead, but is on the other side of downtown Ottawa. I think the trail the Nebraska boys were frustrated with is the Flint Hills Trail, and I suspect it's under construction: it would explain the lack of railings on that bridge and the drop off into the huge, loose rocks. That's probably the foundation for a layer of crushed stone.

Sorry those guys had such a rough go of it, I guess their perseverance didn't pay good dividends, if they'd given up a little easier they might have found the trail they sought.

So I was off, and it was a fine day for it even if it was almost two hours after I meant to be pointed toward Iola. I have a bad track record of heading out on epics late in the day: my first Century I didn't even get on the bike until something like 10:30 in the morning. I did Critical Mass the night before my first interstate tour, overslept and rode 108 miles with a mild hangover that didn't finish until ten at night. Really, the fact that I got up at 3:30 a.m., had the bike under me around 6:45, and had backtracked from the first trail, ridden a bit of levee and gotten on the trail to Iola around 8:00, that's remarkably early for me. Pretty sure it's the earliest start I've made without an organized event or being on time for work to prompt me.

Hydration is so important on these things, and I had two quarts of G2 Gatorade and two water bottles filled with homemade gatoradeish stuff (I used the salts from an isotonic saline nasal rinse with vitamin C chewables and a bit of evaporated cane juice) when I left. I picked up two more Gatorades at Princeton, had a big glass of water with my Chinese buffet lunch in Garnett (where I hit the watermelon and pineapple heavily), then grabbed two more Gatorades and a liter of Diet Coke on my way back through Princeton. I hoped I wouldn't cramp that night. It would be nice to not cramp after an 80 mile ride.

The Chinese joint in Garnett didn't have a bike rack, but you can always count on the gas company. They install more bike racks than any advocacy group or department of transportation ever thought about.

I did worry about Barbie's t-shirt causing an uproar with the locals, so I stuffed her in my pannier when I went in to eat. I didn't think of this at the gas stations, so if someone walked by my bike with a kid of the right age, well, sorry.

Did I say I rode only 80 miles? Yeah, I was going for a Century, but the further south I got the slower it got. There were stiff headwinds, but I figured those would even out on the return. The problem was I was riding through an area that had almost two inches of rain the night before. I kept thinking I was getting a flat, only to realize it was more loose, muddy stuff. About two hours after I thought I'd have hit Iola, I was only a bit past Welda, going downhill and working to make five miles per hour. I thought I probably had the stamina to make Iola and back, but I figured I'd get to the car around midnight and have to work the next day.

Turning around, the tailwind didn't help as much as the headwind seemed to hinder, but that's always the way it goes. I ground out the miles, getting a bit hypnotized by the trail I guess. It's pretty monotonous. Pretty, to be sure, and I saw lots of cool wildlife as it scurried out of my way. I saw a badger, some sort of rat-like thing, a red squirrel, a great blue heron, two turtles, several snakes, and shit-eating butterflies galore. No kidding, I'm guessing from the size it was deer scat, but there was a swarm of butterflies fluttering away from every turd I passed.

About five miles from my car, I was crossing a road and when I looked to my left I thought I saw cyclists coming. I did a double-take, and no, it was a couple of dogs in the road, when BAM!

There's not much in the way of hazards to navigation on the trail. It's pretty wide open. The trees form a canopy over much of it, and the tunnel is, like I say, a bit hypnotic. I managed to get distracted at the perfect moment to collide with the concrete filled post that's used to keep cars off the trail. My leg started swelling immediately but seemed to functional to be broken. My bike frame, I figured I'd fucked up another one of those, but I couldn't find any wrinkle in the tubes or fork, so I figured I'd managed to get off with just a contusion on my shin and an embarrassing moment. Tattooed Barbie thought it was hilarious.

Then I put a foot to the pedal to take off down the trail and the crank arm snapped clean off. I guess given the injury to my leg, probably the crank arm took the impact. Ever try to ride a bicycle with one pedal? It's pretty ugly even if you don't have a child's doll taunting you. I'm mostly grateful that I was five miles away from my car instead of 40. And that a crank is way, way cheaper than a frame. I learned that one the hard way.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Critical Mass June

My first apheresis therapy session really made for a lousy day, but luckily that night was Critical Mass. One of the best groups I can recall, fantastic weather, good times.

Saturday, June 28, 2014


Since I planned to ride my bike to work in the first place, I rode it to my first therapy session at the apheresis clinic. I couldn't see any reason not to, I try to maximize my bicycle commuting, usually that's three round-trips per week (though not always round trips on the same day, I leave the car at work and ride home/back in quite a bit. Usually I can work it to where I get at least a 12-1/2 mile ride every day of the week.

When I was 32, I had a heart attack and was told at the time that elevated Lipoprotein(a), and at the time I was prescribed Niaspan, a time-released megadose of niacin that can reduce LP(a) levels a bit. It hasn't been demonstrated to reduce future cardiac events, though, and sure enough eleven years after the heart attack I was primed for another, managed to get on the operating table for a double bypass in time to prevent that. My surgeon referred me to the doc at the Lipids Clinic where, almost a year later (I was warned that it took a while to get in), I learned of a couple of things that might prevent me from clogging back up.

With my familial hypercholesterolaemia and elevated LP(a), it turns out apheresis therapy may be my best shot at becoming eligible for a Senior Citizen discount at restaurants. Heart attack at 32, bypass at 43, this is not a trajectory that inspires confidence that I'll live to draw down my Roth IRA.

I hate needles. I'm not into pain, either, and this involves both. Every two weeks. For the rest of my life? I asked the doc. Five or six years, he said. There's a drug in clinical trial (which I'm also a candidate for) he thinks is five or six years from market that will make apheresis obsolete for treating my condition. If I go into the trial for that drug, I have a fifty-fifty shot I'm getting the drug, so since my insurance will pay for the painful needle trick, I decided that was my best option for now.

I was told the therapy takes two to four hours, so I took a half day off work. KU Med is on a hill, and I chose my route poorly I think. I went through the West Bottoms to avoid crossing I-35 on 7th Street. I've done that crossing in evening rush hour, and it's no fun at all. Too many lanes, too many people coming on and off the highway not understanding what a bike is doing in a lane they plan to sweep across. Morning rush hour, add to that the drivers are half asleep, steering with their hips as the juggle coffee and phone. The West Bottoms is out of the way, but I came out on Southwest Boulevard pretty easily and then planned to climb Roanoke. Which would have been an okay choice, maybe even the best, but there's a fork in the road as you start to climb it, and I could see that Wyoming angled more in the direction of the hospital and since I was cutting it close on time, I decided that direct counted.

Wyoming turned out to be one of the steepest hills I've ever climbed, and right when it looks like you're reaching the top, there's a corner and a bit more that's even steeper. Yikes.

So anyway, a very pretty nurse with a good bedside manner was soon running needles in my arms and starting the process of filtering out the junk in my blood. Well, not that soon, there was the initial paperwork and other first-time formalities so after arriving at 8:00, I think it was a little past 9:00 when the bloodletting began.

I had figured while I sat there for two hours, I could probably fidget with my phone. A reliable balm when I'm anxious and doing medical shit, but it turns out they want you to sit still with needles in both arms. Maybe she explained to me that I had to not bend or move the arms and I missed it, I don't know, but after a slow start (apparently first treatments take longer) my face itched and without thinking I reached up and scratched it. This got a rise out of the nurse, who told me if my face itched I needed to tell her and she'd rub it with gauze or something.

I learned the reason for the rise I got out of her when the machine started beeping and my right elbow started to get a little lump in it. I had 'infiltrated' I was told, meaning basically that the needed had gouged through the vein wall and wasn't returning my red blood cells to the blood stream but was rather creating a bit of a hematoma. I mentioned I'm not great with needles, right, I about fainted in the chair just realizing what had happened.

They tried to get it started again with a needle in my right hand. Then in my left. Then the doc came through and pronounced the situation hopeless since I'd been there four three hours and had only filtered 400 ml of the planned 3 liters, but the nurses thought they could salvage the situation and since I didn't want all this discomfort and disgustingness to be for nothing, I stayed put. They eventually got the original site going again, the swelling had gone down and apparently I clot well.

Having to sit perfectly still makes me want to bend my arms and fidget all the more, but I settled for sitting totally still and watching a bit of TV. The unit has a little TV included that can be moved around to wherever is easy to view. I had to have the nurse change the channels if I wanted a change, of course, and after growing bored with the History Channel I decided to try Food Network. Which was a mistake.

I'd been there half the day and I was getting hungry. It only took an hour and a half of Bobby Flay torturing me with his barbecue addiction for me to realize how miserable the food porn was making me and ask for the TV to be turned back off.

Finally, my three liters of blood was filtered, my plasma was rinsed back into me and I was free to go. I'd missed the whole day at work, basically, I had a caffeine withdrawal headache and I was starving—having only had a dry granola bar fed to me by the nurse and a few sips of Gatorade. I was told to maybe not ride my bike to therapy, that working out before the session makes your blood flow slower, too (counterintuitive, I think, but I can put my bike on a bus next time and not sacrifice that many riding miles).

And I'd produced a filter full of yellow gick. I asked, "Is this the stuff that gives food its flavor?" I teased that I should go get a big fat slice of pepperoni from d'Bronx to replenish my bodily fluids, though while LDL is part of what gets filtered out, the LP(a) is the real reason for the therapy—it doesn't really respond to diet or available drugs or else Humana wouldn't be paying to give me these exotic oil changes.

I think the filter unit is about a quart in volume, but the filter medium takes up space so no way did a quart of fatty crud get removed from my blood. Quite a bit, though. I asked if I could take it home with me and make soap, Fight Club style, and I think they thought I was kidding.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Trashboat Regatta Banner

The sixth annual Kansas City Trashboat Regatta is coming up in a few weeks, July 12. I'm stoked. Our boat is about ready, Gallmeyer is towing again this year, and I suspect the event is getting bigger. I'd made some cards to hand out for the organizers, a gift suggested by Corinna that was very well received. They inquired about a banner, and I delivered it today.

I stripped off the specifics, even the 'Kansas City' so it could be reused as many times as possible (theoretically even to promote the regatta in other cities). It's a national movement, after all.

For the uninitiated, the Trashboat Regatta basically involves making homemade boats out of buoyant garbage, found items, junk and scraps, and floating it down the river a ways. Not far, just Kaw Point to 'Glow in the Dark Park.' No motors, no spending over a hundred bucks on your boat, wear a life jacket, don't get all boozed up beforehand, I think that's about the extent of the rules. Ideally, the boats should be towed to and from the river by human power, but some really creative people started showing up with boats that had to be hauled to and from the river by pickup truck and nobody seemed to mind. The Admiralty of the Theoretical Honorary Kansas City Inland Imaginary Navy is the prize if you make it down the river fastest.

As the banner says, what could go wrong?

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Sanctuary of Hope

We took the dogs and Mo to Sanctuary of Hope for some off-leash running and tramping through the woods.

Which was a fine idea except for the parts where I slipped and fell in poison ivy and Mo having a seizure before we got back to the car. Oh, and Foster rolling in something noxious and stinky, which is her specialty. That dog has an affinity for stink, she'll find it and roll in it no matter what.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Neighborhood Garage Sale

So we saddled up to do the neighborhood garage sale. I hitched the trailer to my bike, Corinna and Mo got on the tandem. Mo has ridden the tandem once or twice before, but only that. Me, I'm new to pulling a trailer, the main difference I notice is having to be aware of my width.

I'm pretty paranoid about it, actually, I picture hooking the trailer wheel on a parked car or something and just going over the handlebars. Anyway, the first sale we stopped at, they had another trailer for sale and I tried unsuccessfully to lobby against its purchase. We already have a kiddie trailer, we need a cargo trailer. Corinna assured me she'd find a home for it, and I was like, that's these people's job, it's their trailer. Someone who needs it can buy it from them, we don't need to be involved. Next thing you know, I'm pulling two trailers.

At one sale, I said, 'If only I could find a combination toenail clipper/cigarette lighter in the shape of a Buddha,' and then looked and saw a Buddha desk fountain. The cats like to drink from a fountain, and when it runs dry because I don't notice it making that one noise, Corinna ends up ordering new pumps from Amazon for like ten bucks. So a five dollar fountain is worth it just for the pump. By the end of the day I had two of them. I also picked up a couple of fans, you can't have too many cool spots to sit in when you don't have the air on, and there was the big Rubbermaid water cooler I knew a friend was looking for, and since it was only five bucks, into the train it went.

By the time we got home, there was a delayed reaction when I braked: the bike stopped, the trailer hitched to it pretty much stops with that because it's a hard attachment, but then the second trailer would catch up and right when I'd be letting off the brakes, I'd get a shove forward.

Mo was having fun riding stoker, I think, though mainly she was having fun hitting lots of garage sales and getting guys to mutilate and dismember. I don't know what she gets out of this, but those little stuffed animals, Barbies, Bratz and whatnot, it's a good thing they only cost a quarter because she scalps them, strips time, and throws them in the trash as if that's what they were for. We've tried, unsuccessfully to battle this senseless destruction, but it's like arguing with the weather.

We stocked up but rationed her when we got home, the bounty of multiple garage sales shouldn't go in the trash on day one.

By the time we were done scavenging the neighborhood, I think it's safe to say we found everything we didn't need.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Critical Mass May '14

I'd really needed this, the week I'd had.

In case you're new, I'm a pretty regular participant in Critical Mass. It's basically half party, half parade, half protest, half not very good at fractions.

I don't generally think of my job as stressful, but there are circumstances where it can be and those circumstances abounded this week.

Then there was the medical front. After a ten month wait, I finally got in with the guy who is supposed to the man when it comes to my crazy, heart-disease-causing lipids disorders. He was recommended to me by my cardiothoracic surgeon, the one who did the double-bypass I needed at 43, elven years after my heart attack & stent at 32. The surgeon said, Look, you have an inherited condition, I know a lot about it because I have it, too. I'm one of his patients. It won't be quick to get in to see him, but make an appointment.

I went expecting to hear nothing I hadn't heard before. Eat less, move more. More rabbit food, less pogey bait. Statins, beta-blockers, fear the salt-shaker.

But apheresis? I knew I had eleveated LP(a), a relatively unknown issue that's strongly correlated with early onset heart disease. It's a treatment that amounts to donating plasma to yourself, they suck your blood, filter out the lipoproteins and whatnot, return plasma and red blood cells. Two to five hours, twice a month. With an umpteen gauge needle that hurts enough they will give you lidocaine to put on the target an hour before your treatments.

I hate needles. But this treatment is apparently the only thing the FDA has approved that's got a track record of preventing cardiac events in people like me. It seems like the choice, if my insurance will pay for apheresis, is do I want to live long enough for retirement savings to matter? Because I might as well start partying with my Roth contributions if I'm not going to see 59-1/2. Camera lenses and gear, bicycles, a new iMac, temperature controlled cylindriconical fermenters, get them while the getting's good, and don't buy any green bananas.

So all this was percolating through my brain in I went to Mass. Sorry, Julie, I know you asked for my text to have some bearing on my photos and I tried but this post is a fail on that point. It was a great Mass, with lots of first-timers, and probably the biggest field I've ever seen turn out. I shot some video with a used Powershot I picked up off Craigslist, but it really didn't capture the size of the group. I'm guessing 250 riders total. We had a small amount of drama when a cop on the Paseo decided to try and single-handedly stop 250 cyclists holding a protest/parade/party/bad-at-fractions ride, who bizarrely raced ahead of us and then parked his car across the lanes.

To my astonishment, a substantial number of people stopped, but at least as many decided to try going around, and the next thing I know the cop had retrenched in the opposite side of the street. If I'd been close enough to talk to him, I would have simply said, We're exercising our First Amendment rights to free speech, to petition the government for redress of grievances, and free assembly. Happy Friday, if you want to provide us an escort, that's great, but this isn't Hell's Angels swooping into town to steal and rape. Well, I would have said some of that, I've never met a cop who will sit there while you speak in carefully constructed paragraphs, backspacing and re-phrasing everything.

Since he seemed to have given up on stopping whatever we were doing, we all joked about how many bike racks they'd need on the paddy wagons if they arrested the whole Mass, and about how if we were going to take an arrest, this was the people we'd want to be arrested with, all that. But as we went down the hill toward Troost Lake, the cop came screaming down with his siren on again, and when I looked over my shoulder as I tried to get out of the way (250 bikes, it's not like we can all get out of the road simultaneously), I see the cop jump a curb and jump out of the car and tackle one of the riders.

I'm thinking, I don't know what that guy did, but whatever it was, bad idea. I later learned that the cop let the guy go, but I guess it started with the cop thinking he'd told this guy to stop and the guy didn't stop, at which point he cop decided he was attempting to elude. With so many of us, I don't know how the guy would know he had personally been targeted to halt, and that may have been part of why the cop didn't go through with arresting him. The other thing I heard after the fact, and I don't know if it was factual, was that there was a high speed chase proceeding through that part of town the cop was afraid we were about to run into. That sort of makes sense, but the supposed high speed chase was, according to legend, a grand theft auto incident, and I thought most police departments had quit doing high speed chases over stuff like that. It gets people killed, especially when your foolish chase runs through a big, buzzed bike parade.

Hell, when my car was stolen, the police could barely be bothered to fill out a report. An expensive car, one that qualifies as a 'grand theft,' the owner probably has insurance and resources galore, so if anything there is less justification to endangering people in the pursuit of justice.

But you know that old saw about how you know it's a good party when the police get called? Well, when the police interfere with Mass, you know it was a good one.

Yeah, well anyway, all my pictures are pretty much from the tailgate because the first stop, by NDS this time, it was starting to look a lot like rain so all my electronics went into dry sacks. The rain didn't materialize, but the cameras were done (in any case once the sun goes down, hand-held street photography is pretty much not happening).