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Thursday, November 27, 2014


Pub N Pedal might rival this, but today I think Cranksgiving is my favorite alleycat. The fact that I basically never miss it probably says it all, I'm hit and miss on actually attending Pub N Pedal, as much as I do love it.

The first time I ever rode with panniers was my first Cranksgiving.

Of course it's fun to get to go riding bikes around town, and it's a good cause. If you don't already know about Cranksgiving, it's a food-raiser for St. Peter's food bank in the form of an alleycat race. The manifest includes a list of items the food pantry needs, and a list of ten grocery stores.

First person back with something from the list from every store on the list wins fastest rider. There's men's and women's categories, but I learned the first time I did this ride that I am not fast enough to compete in this category. Corinna has won fastest female a few times, but the time I did all ten stores, I got back and there wasn't any beer left. Granted, there's a hundred liquor stores where I can buy my own beer, but to get back to chili and no beer, well, that takes a little of the flavor out of Cranksgiving.

Fortunately, there are more ways to win. Though winning isn't a big deal to me, any competition is more fun when you have something like a chance. Which brings us to Heaviest Load. This is the genius category of Cranksgiving, because people competing for fastest rider might be tempted to buy the lightest weight items on the list, and in the smallest quantities to make sure they get back fast.

Heaviest Load, though, that's a category that generates donations. Personally, I came in with 62 pounds of stuff. I was buying whole cases of canned goods, gallon jugs of cooking oil, though I knew I really didn't have a dog in the fight Trailers are the key to Heaviest Load, and I didn't even have my front rack on my bike to allow four panniers instead of two.

When I got back there was a guy who'd already brought in 172 lbs, and shortly thereafter, the female winner for Heaviest Load arrived with a trailer rated for 300 lbs loaded with a whopping 480 lbs of groceries.

There was also a team Heaviest Load category, and the team that won brought in 1,161 lbs, which is how St. Peter's ended up more than doubling last year's total. Weight doesn't tell the whole story, I know, but well over two tons of necessities were gathered.

The after party is half the fun of Cranksgiving. Various breweries donate their finest to the cause and there's a chili buffet. 75th Street Brewery even donated five gallons of Golden Ale, which is nice, maybe KC Hopps can pay their printing bill while they're into the whole generosity thing. Sorry, maybe that's talking out of school, but that company stiffed my employer for something well into five figures worth of printing, and for me that makes their beer taste jank even when it's free.

Anyway, the chili buffet was really something. They had the table ranked from mild to hot, with a couple crock pots of chicken noodle soup. Naturally, I went straight to the hottest chili, which had a skull and crossbones sign and the bleached skeletons of previous consumers scattered around it.

They weren't lying, I felt that chili all the way to my bowels immediately after swallowing the first bite. So naturally I ate a whole bowl of it and let the endorphins kick in.

A good time was had by all.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Into the Cold

Perfect riding weather seems to vary widely from person to person. I have friends who have rules, no riding alone, no riding in the dark, no riding below 50ºF, not in the rain, and so on. I used to have some of those limits myself, with the result that the bike might not get ridden for a few months.

I started out with some of those rules, but it's so damned limiting. Next thing you know it's Valentine's Day, you're fatter than ever and your bike hasn't been out of the garage in months.

I confess my heart isn't always in it, especially at the change of the seasons when the body isn't acclimated to the new realities. I remember when I was a kid riding the bus to school, we had a cold snap that lasted several days where the daytime highs weren't out of the single digits. I got off the bus one afternoon with my coat unbuttoned, no scarf, no cap, no gloves, just relishing the sunshiny 22ºF weather. Once you get used to 6ºF, 22ºF feels like a heat wave.

We've had the opposite this fall, a total Indian summer, the Poet Laureate of Lobsterland was still harvesting chard and rhubarb in the middle of November. So when the cold snap it, under its new nom de guerre 'polar vortex' hit, I was still used to preparing for rides with the question of pants or no pants?

I've got it down to a science, or nearly: above 60ºF, cycling shorts, Chacos and a Hawaiian shirt, that's all I need for a ride. Below 60ºF, the Chacos lose out to Brooks Adrenalines, and I might wear pants over my cycling shorts. Below 50ºF, now we want sleeves, probably a long sleeved t-shirt under the Hawaiian. If it rains, we're now getting into the Rain Suit Zone where I'll put on my waterproof over-layer that was probably designed for wrestlers trying to cut weight. If it's warm and you get rained on, it's just supplemental sweat. But cold and rainy, that's another story. Below 30ºF, you won't get rained on because it will be snow and sleet, and that's actually easier to deal with. Jersey gloves start to come in by the mid 40s and so do balaclavas. Layers start to include wool, thermal underwear, wool socks.

Monday was full bore cold weather gear. Screw those Brooks running shoes with their mesh tops, I wore my Red Wing Oxfords, wool socks, Carhart thermal underwear, a long sleeved T, the sleeves from my Pearl Izumi cycling jacket, a virgin wool sweater made in Canada (I think meant for crab fishermen), and a Hawaiian shirt because you gotta keep it real. I had a balaclava, cycling gloves for padding, jersey gloves, and the lobster claw military surplus sniper mittens Corinna got me for Christmas a few years ago.

And I was still pretty chilly when I got to work. Should have put in chemical warmers in my toes, I know that lesson, be out for an hour in the teens, you'll be glad for Toasty Toes. Might have benefitted from them in my mittens, too.

Got home, had the hardest time warming back up. Finally took a hot shower, put on my one-piece thermals, sweatpants, wool socks, a sweater and then realized the thermostat was set to OFF. Corinna's tinnitus makes my CPAP unbearable, so she sleeps in the basement by the furnace that's not much better on that front, so the thermostat sometimes gets set to nevermind.

Anyway, I got my epic on, just under 26 miles round trip with temperatures never going above 20F. Hardcore points, cool points, bike commuter points, headwinds coming home points: whatever they are I guess I earned them. But my schedule basically doesn't allow me another bike ride this week, at least not a commuting ride, so Monday was now or never on that.

It was 17ºF when I rode out in the morning, all layered up. Northwest winds meant a tailwind so it was cold but at least the wind was at my bike. Coming home in the evening, the thermometer was officially two degrees higher but that northwest wind in my face, it felt way colder. Going down hills my sinuses ached from the cold where the balaclava doesn't cover.

I was cold but I was also struck by the image of Westport Presbyterian being rebuilt. It burned a couple years back, and they've been reconstructing in fits and starts. One of those churches that didn't draw so many to service on Sunday morning but did (does) tons for the community.

I'm not sure I really got the shot, but I parked my cold bike and walked about around the site for a few minutes and tried.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

How Do You Like Dem Apples?

Corinna's fregan fall bonanza is in full swing, she's been harvesting, drying, milling, cooking, canning all manner of free produce. Pears, apples, crabapples, pomegranates, something called autumn olives, if it can be picked for free, it comes home, gets processed or sometimes given away.

She enlisted Mo's help de-stemming crabapples to dry.

Saturday, November 08, 2014


I hadn't ridden my bike in a week. My bike rack was destroyed in the car wreck, and the car it should be attached to was in the shop for repairs.

Monday I would have ridden round trip to work but that was the day I had to take my xB to the body shop and get the rental car Met Life is paying for. That scrubbed that day.

Tuesday I had apheresis therapy, and they don't like me to ride my bike to it because working out right before makes your blood harder to filter for whatever reason. Normally, I'd put my bike on the rack, drive to apheresis, ride home from work that night and back in Wednesday morning, but that was problematic with the rental car.

I could have tried putting Corinna's rack on the rental car, but I feared it would leave marks on the car. It's left them on her car, and for that matter, every bike rack I've ever owned has marked up the cars I've had them on, which is fine unless you have to take that car back to Enterprise.

So we'd scrubbed Monday and Tuesday right off in terms of bike commuting. Wednesday night, as usual, I had Mo, took her to the doctor and then to school Thursday morning, and normally that'd set up a ride home Thursday night and back in Friday morning, but that whole bike rack situation. Yeah.

I worked it out with the artist formerly known as Frau Lobster to bring her to my house Friday night and I'd take her back Sunday (as opposed to meeting half-way both times), thought maybe to ride to work and back on Friday, but I had put my car in the shop on Monday and they said they'd need five to seven days to finish. If they called me at work on Friday afternoon saying I was done, but the rental was at my house, I was potentially screwed into paying for a rental over the weekend. Met Life is paying for the rental while my car is being repaired, but if I'm not set to return the rental when the repairs are done?

So I got home from work Friday itching to ride. I had a small check to deposit at my bank, some movies to return to the library, decided to make a ride out of it. I rode out through Turner, stopped for Powerade at County Line and 55th/Switzer, where the cashier was listening to a shortwave radio, a language I didn't think I'd ever heard before. Wolof, it turns out (I asked). Where do the speak Wolof? Senegal.

I know, that means I have the Ebola virus now. But whatever, it was such a beautiful night to ride, up Antioch in to Merriam, up Antioch, took the Turkey Creek trail over to Foster, down the almost reconstructed Johnson Drive to make the world's most elaborately prepared ATM deposit at Capital Federal. I had 27 miles and change when I got home, so I guess I rode about 18 to make this deposit.

Then back through Roeland Park, Westwood, down Mission Road to the Boulevard, and eventually around to the West Bottoms where I found these fireeaters. Julie, where you wondering if my text was ever going to jive with the pictures on my post, here it is: I met Tammie and Shawn in front of the Edge of Hell and took some fun pictures on my big long bike ride.

I struggled with camera settings, but I got a few okay shots in. Fortunately I had my tripod, I forgot it at first, got around the corner, realized it and went back for it. I almost didn't go back, it was feeling so good to just ride, but then it sure came in handy.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Making Tracks

When it comes to the apheresis therapy, I feel a bit like that Tom Lehrer line about being a Christian Scientist with appendicitis.

I'm getting better about my needle phobia. I used to faint during the anemia test at the blood bank, where they prick your finger and squeeze out a drop. I had to leave the room when someone else was getting a shot, and if there was blood to be drawn, I made them lay me down first, I was headed that way no matter, so might as well get there while I was conscious.

Now I can actually watch as the nurses come at me with meat hooks, not a lot, but a little, and I can look at the needles in my arms and not get queasy most of the time.

But the therapy that's supposed to take half a day takes a little more than that, owing mainly to the fact that it takes a couple of hours to get my right arm stuck. I'm not exaggerating, I've timed it. I sat down in the chair at 8:10 and it was 10:20 when they finally had the therapy going. My noon arrival at work ended up being 1:30.

Since I'm basically a one-man department, this is a problem. Besides which it's frustrating as hell. The left arm is no problem, these nurses aren't clods who don't know their phlebotomy. My right arm is compromised by having my radial artery removed and grafted onto my heart last year. Stuff just doesn't flow the same way on that side, I guess, and I get stuck five or six times before they have something good enough to work with. To really get the therapy over quickly, they'd like to use a 17 gauge needle, but the veins they can get on the right side won't support that, I guess, so they go with a smaller one, meaning that even once they get shit going, it takes longer for the filtration process to complete.

They tell me I don't really want a fistula, where they'd surgically install something in my left arm to bridge the gap between a couple of things and make the access quick, instant and one-armed, but the other patients who come in get there after me and leave before me and they don't seem to go through quite the level of suffering I do.

Besides the mess this makes of my arm every two weeks, it's not cheap. I have good insurance, but right now the billing department is looking for almost four grand from me, which is a bit of a shocker since my insurance is supposed to have a three grand max out of pocket. There's a financial aid office, and I visited them, got some paperwork to start, but besides the fact that it's an enormous amount of pain-in-the-ass paperwork to possibly get some of the balances forgiven, you can only apply every six months, it only takes care of what you've already racked up, and they send stuff to collections faster than six months if they don't think you're paying. Meaning that at best, the financial aid (if I'm deemed needy enough), will at best take the edge off the out of pocket.

So that out of pocket, that looks poised to eat up whatever I could potentially be putting in a Roth to save for my retirement. And there's the Catch-22, the Tom Lehrer reference above. I have good reason to believe that this therapy is the best shot I have at ever being a senior citizen: heart attack at 32, bypass at 44, I'm not on a track that leads to events happening in your sixties and seventies, I'll be lucky to see the bulk of my fifties at this rate. In which case, what's the point of saving money for when I'm 59-1/2?

I can do this therapy, maybe I find my self still alive in my sixties but unable to contemplate retirement because I blew my retirement savings on apheresis copays, coinsurance and all the other ways insurance companies pretend they're covering you while making you drain your bank account.

As a bonus, I have a right arm that looks like a combination of a survived suicide attempt an heroin addiction.