Friday, September 26, 2014

Skull Valley: Double Entendre

Thirteen months ago, mid-August, 2013, I drove from Tucson to Prescott, about 250 miles, to ride the Skull Valley Loop with my cycling friend, Dan Fallon. Ours was not an organized invitational, just a Dan and me ride.

It’s an amazing 54 miles through the Prescott National Forest at an elevation ranging from a mile high to 6,100’; the roads are pristine, almost glimmer glass; traffic is minimal, a sweet descent on Ironwood Springs into Kirkland Junction, a 10 mile climb replete with switch backs, and rolling hills up the White Spars, AZ 84, and back down into Prescott. 

I never anticipated that The Valley Of The Skull would return with with me to Tucson and  take up residence in my skull for the rest of my life. But that’s exactly what happened. 

Two weeks after riding the Skull with Dan, I had my first-ever seizure; I have had, on average, at least one seizure a month since then, and I have not driven a car since driving to Prescott 13 months ago.

This summer, 2014, with temperatures consistently in the triple digits in Tucson and Phoenix, the call of cooler climes for Prescott’s Skull Valley Loop Challenge in mid September, sounded delicious. But Prescott is 250 miles from Tucson and I can’t drive.

One of the many things I have learned this past year living with epilepsy is that some of the spontaneity of my previous life must be moderated because to say “yes” to something often means asking someone else to say “yes” too.

And so, Kirk and I would spend a couple of days in Sedona (not a hard thing for either of us to say “yes” to) and he would drop me off in Prescott which was sort of, but really, on his way home to Tucson. Another recumbent friend, David Brake, who lives in Phoenix, would also be riding the Skull Valley Loop Challenge (SVLC). David would drive me from Prescott to Phoenix after the ride and I would ride my bike from Phoenix to Tucson (128 miles) following the Randonneur’s Permanent Route which would give me credit for my September 200k (125 miles). (One of my riding goals is to ride at least one 200k route approved by the Randonneur USA organization each month for 12 consecutive months.) 

There are racers and riders at the Skull Valley Loop Challenge (SVLC) who tow the start line with a range of hopes and expectations. Being less than a month away from turning 69, I had a strong desire to punch out a great time. But, another thing I have learned living with epilepsy is that I never really know who will show up each day, who I will be each day. I can plan, but I can’t plan the outcome.

Anti-seizure medications are central nervous system depressants replete with many side effects including depression and absence of energy. If I’ve had a break through seizure, even though I’m medicated, I can expect at least 12-36 hours of post-seizure energy depletion and struggle to function with any kind of normalcy. 

I really, really hoped I would tow the start line with a full tank of energy, no medication side effects, and be seizure-free when the Court House Clock gonged 7:30 for the start of the SVLC on Sunday, September 21st. But, if someone else showed up to ride my bike, well, that’s who would ride it that day. Weather or mechanicals can reek havoc with personal goals for all racers and riders; those are equal opportunity adversaries. Epilepsy, however, is my personal travel companion whose narcissistic needs will always pre-empt my own. 

As it turned out, a healthy me showed up Sunday morning ready to race. Rode from Dan’s house to Starbucks for a pre-race grande, medium-dry soy cappuccino. Life is good.

There were 204 racer/riders; I finished 99th with a time of 3:22 for 53.9 miles and about 4,000’ of climbing, depending upon whose GPS tracking device you use. 

But, life would have been good, too, if those numbers had been different, or even if I hadn’t been able to put my wheel on the line. If there is not joy, and gratitude, and community in the process of getting to the start line, well, the numbers are pretty meaningless. Life is, indeed, good.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

New Targets: R-12

Mark Pondering Ben's attempted crossing

Storm cloud over Baboquivari Peak
My 50-State goal is in the books which begs the question: What's next?

I love long rides, but I can't string so many of them back-to-back any more being nearly the ripe age of 69 in October. 200k Brevets are perfect for me, distance-wise. Longer than that I can't fuel since my food allergies/intolerance preclude eating out of fast food and convenience stores. 

My freedom to, at will, do Brevets with the AZ Randonneur Club is a bit challenging since I currently am not able to drive to remote starts, my recurring seizures put my driving privileges on ice.

Next best thing? RUSA Permanents originating in Tucson! There are currently four I can choose from and I plan to develop a couple more which will hopefully be approved by the national RUSA Permanent Coordinator. 

The R-12 is great, too, since I can start the 12-month cycle at anytime and I chose August, 2014 having returned from the 50-State quest in July. 

Mark Doumas, Ben Andrews, Margaret O'Kelley and I had a gloriously hot (mid-upper 90's), humid (it's monsoon season) 205k ride following the clockwise Arivaca route.

Ben the bandit

After lunch in Arivaca
The monsoon rains have been generous south of Tucson; none of us can ever remember seeing the desert being so lush and green. Truly, we could easily have been in Arkansas. The only giveaway that we weren't were the mountains and the type of vegetation. But green, green, green it was.

A very long, hot 44 miles with no services between Arivaca and Three Points
The 44 mile stretch with no services between Arivaca and the grocery store at Three points was a bit too long for the water supplies we had with us. We shared what we had with each other until some construction workers topped off our bottles. Hindsight, we should have topped off at the Border Patrol station at about the halfway mark. 

I was beyond grateful to Mark, Margaret, and Ben for adjusting their preferred start time of 1700 to 0500 for me! They prefer to ride through the night when we're in these dog days. But I didn't want to risk messing up my stretch of no seizure days by going into sleep dep and/or totally confusing my sleep cycles. 

I opted out of dinner with the crowd at Don's Bayou since Kirk was only 5 days post-op from his clavicle reconstruction after his bike crash on the preceding Sunday.

Next 200k should be mid-September from Phoenix to Tucson following the Skull Valley Loop Challenge out of Prescott the day before.

I should add that Roger Peskett, our AZ Rando Perm Coordinator, is my inspiration having completed 32 consecutive RUSA rides of at least 200k. Can't catch him, but I'll try to stay on his wheel.

All 50 States


I don't rightly know when I decided upon the goal of riding in all 50 states. I'm sure it was a focused goal after my first transcontinental with PAC Tour in 2006, the southern tier from San Diego to Tybee Island, GA. I knew that when I achieved that goal I would get another tattoo of our country, featuring some key routes, and, of course, my faithful recumbent.

Turns out I rode exactly 25 states on a tour, either a transcon with PAC or a solo tour I designed, and the other 25 by just grabbing a state here and there as it came to me or as I went to it.

An ambler in Yellowstone too close to our new car for comfort
Turns out Kirk and I went to four states I needed this July: Montana, North and South Dakota, and Nebraska. 

Little did we know when we planned this 6,000 mile driving car trip from Tucson to Eugene, OR, by way of Nevada, California, up through Washington, Montana, the Dakotas, Nebraska, Utah, Wyoming, and northern AZ before coming back home, that Kirk would get to do ALL the driving. 

Yep, I'm still not driving because I can't seem to string together 90 seizure-free days to earn back my driving privileges. 

It was a special trip in so many ways:
  • completion of a bucket list goal--riding in all the states (see caveat below)
  • having a new car with a bike rack on the back so Kirk could bring his bike, too, and we could ride some miles together
  • visiting Pompey's Pillar in Billings, Yellowstone NP, Zion NP, Grand Canyon North Rim NP, Mt. Rushmore, Great Basin NP
  • spending a day with our good friend from Mt. Prospect, IL, Jack Verhasselt, who was visiting family in Billings the same time we were there
  • a surprise visit in our son's father-in-law's office in Billings where he is the school superintendent
  • a visit with a new friend in Cheney, WA who also lives with epilepsy daily
  • soaking in with awe the expanse of our amazing country
I wondered how I would feel having completed this bucket list goal: would it be exhilaration, kind of a "yep, got it done", sort of a let down that the target was not ahead of me and what would the next target be?

I was pleased that what I felt, mostly, was gratitude to Kirk, for Kirk, who participated in my attaining my goal with as much energy as I have invested in it. Behind that gratitude was more gratitude that at nearly age 69 I have been able to pursue and achieve my 50-State goal. And, behind that gratitude was just a most pleasant exhale of a job well done.

An unexpected joy along the way was discovering that my good friend, Barbara Cleveland from NH, had basically grown up in all the states we were traveling through. She's exactly my age; her Dad had been an executive with the Union Pacific Railroad which meant that she rode the rails with him most summers as a wee child, sleeping in UP bunk cars, getting separated from her Dad and ending up in some distant town and having to be shuttled back by train to wherever Dad was.

Didn't know any of this about Barbara until I happened to send her some pix by email early in our trip and her remarkable childhood stories just poured out of her. Day-by-day, I sent her more pix; day-by-day she shared more stories, and we both learned a lot about how we had become the adults that we have become. A treasured gift for both of us.
Leaving Yellowstone, heading east

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Badlands in the distance

Yep, you're right, Mt. Rushmore

Barbara Cleveland's bunk car, Ely, NV

Bristlecone tree in Great Basin NP in NV. Some of these trees are nearly 5,000 years old and still thriving

More UP cars for repairing tracks

Zion NP, UT

A little secret here: I am actually still 2 states short: Delaware and South Carolina. We could have gotten SC in 2011 when we were on our 12,400 mile, 99 Day Trek from Chicago to Tucson, but alas I broke my foot and was off the bike when we were traveling through SC. We thought I'd get Delaware this July when we took our son, Bryan, and his 11 y.o. daughter, Ayva, to Williamsburg and D.C. But alas, the tail of the state we thought was Delaware turned out to be Maryland. So, SC will have to be "gotten" in July 2015 and Delaware in the summer of 2016. But as long as we are both still alive, they will be "gotten" in the next two years.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

E Within Me: 12 Months Post Diagnosis Of Epilepsy

I’ve been planning to write this post about E, my E, for a few weeks, and what better day to do so than on the occasion of Kirk’s and my 45th anniversary, August 2nd.

It’s been almost a year since E became a part of me and a part of Kirk’s and my life together. E’s coming was totally unexpected. Unexpecteds bring with them a very real sense of vulnerability, loss of control, fear, and, often, changes in one’s life course or life style. We are naive, indeed, if we expect that we will never experience unexpecteds.

Acceptance and gratitude can be gifts from the unexpecteds, but most of the time those gifts come only after some grieving, gnashing of teeth, 2 steps forward and 1 step back; maybe even sometimes only 1 step forward and 2 steps back.

And so it was August 27th, 2013 I ended up in the ER for more than 20 hours with the good folks there trying to figure out what had unexpectedly gone wrong with me.

Over the course of the next week or so the unexpected had a name: Epilepsy.

Even though I have a Masters in Nursing, my knowledge of epilepsy was really only quite topside. The next 12 months I was on a steep learning curve regarding triggers, medications, traditional and holistic methods of treatment and their respective practitioners, how to recognize auras, what it feels like to be totally wasted for up to 36 hours after a seizure, (post-ictal states) and all the myriad sensory, motor, and cognitive experiences of central nervous system misfirings happening within. YIKES.

You can do your own reading, if you choose, on E; plenty out there including some quite useful “coping with epilepsy” forums on the internet.

What I want to share with you is what it has been like to have E within me.

Without question the most significant and externally noticeable impact has been my inability to drive. Each state has its own laws about when a person can drive again after having had a seizure, regardless of what type of seizure, and there are many types. Arizona’s law says one must be seizure-free for 90 days. I had no idea that would be a hard number to achieve.

I was naive. I thought all I had to do was be given a diagnosis, be given a prescription, comply with the medication regime, and go on with life.

Not that easy.

Seizures happened with enough regularity that it took eight months to achieve those 90 days. I had driving rights for about 6 weeks and then lost them again because of more seizures. My vision is enough impaired now, (cause the effect or effect the cause? I don’t know.) that even if I were seizure free I would not feel safe driving further than Trader Joes which is only a mile away.

Early in my new life with E I was on a solo 90 mile ride, had a seizure, and had to call Kirk to come pick me up. We agreed that until I was 90 days seizure free that, in addition to not driving, I would also not ride a route alone that was more than 50 miles. At its apex I would then only be 25 miles out if I needed a pick-up.

Not driving didn’t hurt. That’s one of the beauties, joys, gratitudes of living in Tucson. I can ride 52/365 and I can ride everywhere to do everything. But not being able to ride long distance, now that one hurt. There are 100-200 mile routes around Tucson I would love to do; but I can’t right now without a riding buddy. Such buddies are hard to find. There are some around but they are either too slow for me or I am too slow for them. Neither is a good mix.

Not being able to drive also has meant I can’t, at will, get myself to rides with a remote start, like Northern Arizona, New Mexico, Southern California, Southern Utah. Kirk has been remarkable in his open giving, giving of his patience and tolerance of the new me, including my inability to drive. He’s oh so willing to drive me to a 5:00 a.m. start to a local ride; and he drove all 6,000 car miles this July as we traveled through MT, ND, SD,  and NE so I could come closer to my goal of riding in all 50 states. (Only 2 to go, SC and DE). But to ask him to give up a weekend so I can ride 130 or 185 miles in an adjoining state---well that’s too much to ask of anyone who is not riding the event.

Rides with remote starts need to be well worth the needed logistical planning. Here’s an example of such: mid-September I want to test my mettle (and metal) on the Skull Valley Loop Challenge (SVLC) out of Prescott, AZ which is about 200 miles northwest of Tucson. Kirk and I will spend a couple of days hiking and riding in Sedona; he’ll drive me to Prescott; I’ll stay with a friend for a day or so; ride the SVLC; a Phoenix friend, who will also be doing the SVLC, will drive me to Phoenix after the event; and I will ride home from Phoenix the day after the event by bike. Doable, all of it, but full of logistics that previously didn’t need to be considered.

One of my better qualities, I think, although it can have its thorns as well, is my steady, predictable persistence. That quality has served me well getting to all kinds of “finish lines” in life, most of which have not had the word “race” in them. Epilepsy is giving me a new set of rules to live by. Seems I can do all the right things and have a seizure or all the wrong things and have a seizure and with every seizure comes a post-ictal period when life seems to be sucked out of me. I have come to call it my Life Switch: no physical energy, no emotional energy, no relational energy for 6-36 hours depending upon the severity of the seizure. That makes planning difficult; that makes being responsible and accountable difficult. I’m having trouble accepting that part of this disease, that part of who I am in relationship to my world.

I have always experienced myself as being one with lots of energy, a lot of rah-rah, go-get-’em, anything’s possible with a plan and the needed preparation. It’s hard for me to rightfully use those words to describe myself now, since E. Subdued is a word that fits much better today. That’s not a word I like to use to describe myself. Not only have I lost some freedoms, but I have also lost my ability to predict what my energy resources will be from day to day.

I’m embarrassed to own those realities about myself when it’s just epilepsy, for goodness sake. Many people my age (69 this October) are dealing with life and life-style show stoppers: joint replacements, organ replacements, cancer, end-stage diabetes, mental illness, crippling PTSD, addictions, loss of spouses or partners, and so much more.

For now my joys and gratitudes include: Kirk, some dear friends and family who are unwavering in their support of both Kirk and me, some health care professionals who are committed to hanging in there with me, and my continued ability to ride.

I truly believe that more joys and gratitudes will be revealed from living with epilepsy, but I’m still in the early stages of grieving the losses, accepting the newness of my life, and finding new ways of offering experience, strength and hope to others who have found themselves being smacked with an unexpected.

Guess I’ve just committed myself to a new post a year from now to see what new gifts and gratitudes have been revealed in my 2nd year of living with E.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Arid Desolation

Kingman, AZ is not much, although it still stands tall and proud in its Route 66 heritage. Today, it is however, a crossroads for car trekkers heading to the Grand Canyon, to Death Valley, or Las Vegas. We would be one of those trekkers heading through Las Vegas en route to Hawthorne, NV.

Lunch would be in Tonopah, NV, a town with a rich history in silver mining but now currently used for nuclear weapons stockpile reliability testing, research and development of fusing and firing systems, and testing nuclear weapon delivery systems. Chatting with our server at lunch, who has lived in Tonopah for 4 years, she travels 3 hours to Las Vegas once a month to shop at Wal-Mart. No local options for her. So, she takes her young daughter, overnights in Vegas, takes her swimming at a hotel, and stocks up for the month.

Kirk off-loaded me and my bike in Tonopah after lunch; he read at the local Burger King and visited the Tonopah Museum while I busted it 47 miles West on US 95. It was a glorious ride descending about 1,500' from the Tonopah summit of about 6,000'. Road was good, often not much shoulder, and what traffic there was flew at or above the posted 75 mph speed limit. 

I laughed out loud riding through this arid desolation (8% humidity, 95 degree heat) with not the first hint of any living fauna for my 47 miles. After I reloaded in the car we passed through two ghost towns, Mina and Luning. I don't know, maybe they weren't true ghost towns since they are reported to have 50 and 150 people respectively depending upon your source. I laughed because a friend who came to ride with me in southern AZ was quite concerned about the desolation between Sonoita and Mustang Corners. Had to wonder what she would have thought about this stretch of aridity.

Overnighting in Hawthorne tonight, home to 2,700 Naval Ammunitions Depot Bunkers. Erie landscape, all these underground bunkers with only a little roof mound.

Pix will have to follow.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

On The Road Again!

June 26, 2011 Kirk and I left Chicago, home for 42 years, to begin our 99 Day Trek To Tucson (which actually ended up being 108 days) and 12,400 miles. Clearly we did not take the most direct route. We mused, wondered, and fantasized what Tucson and retirement would really look like.

I can tell you, in real life it is even better than any of our musings, wonderings, and fantasies. 

June 27, 2014, immediately after Kirk was installed as President of his Rotary Club, we left Tucson for a 27 day, 5,500 mile trek, this time see some National Parks and give me a chance to ride my bike in 5 of my remaining 6 states fulfilling a goal of mine to ride in all 50 states.

I have no lofty goal of riding all the way across these states; I'll be happy to ride 40 or so miles in each. Kirk has brought his bike along for the ride, too. So some days he'll ride ahead, park the car, and ride back to meet me and we'll ride to our waiting car, which BTW, is a new Subaru Outback. 

I rode today about 6:00 a.m. in Tucson, celebrated with Kirk at his installation as President of his Rotary Club, and then off we drove, 320 miles to Kingman, AZ. We continue to marvel at the awesome wonder of Arizona. Tourists don't flock to Illinois to see black dirt and fields of corn and soy beans. 

My friend, Barb's comment was right on the dime: that Kirk and I have this motel trekking down to a science. It takes us but minutes to unload just the right number of food bags from the car, along with just the needed overnight clothes, books, and computers. Of course the bikes come in, too,  for safe-keeping. We learned 3 years ago that not all motels have adequate wattage in their reading lamps; so we carry our own light bulbs, just in case. I travel with my AeroPress and "frother" to make my own tasty cappuccinos, Kirk brings his travel Keurig replete with a variety pack of K-cups.

Heading to Hawthorne, NV tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Australia: Factoids and Impressions

Square mileage-wise, the US and Australia are comparable, but population-wise quite disparate: US about 312 million; Australia 23 million.

Nearly 40% of Australia’s population is fairly evenly distributed in Melbourne and Sydney 

About 5% of the US population is identified as Asian compared to 12% of the AU population

Indigenous people (Aborigines and Native Americans) currently represent about 2-3%  of each country’s total population.

Both countries developed their white growth through emigration/immigration as a result of disenfranchisement in their country of origin at about the same time in history, roughly the late 1700's to mid-late1800’s.

The dominant culture in both countries have willfully practiced racism almost to the point of extinction in terms of each country’s indigenous peoples. Those who call Australia and the US home have painfully experienced the devaluing of their culture and heritage. Thankfully the voices of the African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans peoples are gaining strength and their cultural contributions are being recognized and more oft valued than in our early years as a nation. 


We stayed in a time-sharey kind of place in Melbourne in the Central Business District (CBD) which would have been like, location-wise, staying at the Palmer House in Chicago.  We had unbelievably easy access to EVERYTHING our hearts desired. Free trolleys squealing around the equivalent of Chicago's Loop, in addition to trolleys that had a farther reach for a fee. There were busses, subways, suburban commuter trains, cabs, and infinite number of bike commuters EVERYWHERE wearing business suits, urban commuter clothes, and spandex, all outfitted with water-proof panniers or backpacks. 

American obesity has not taken the country by storm, although I heard somewhere that our bad habits are gaining a belly-hold. 

Back to accommodations.

Time shares typically don't have room service but once, mid-week. That's usually more than fine. If you need more toiletries or towels, no problem, just ask, and voila, they're happy to accommodate. Not so at our Melbourne place. We needed more towels which they would be happy to give us, but for an added charge of $10.00. Wasn't going to happen, no way.

Prices down under are absolutely out of reach. Convenient store pricing is more like ball park or stadium or movie theater pricing. A small bottle of filtered still water will be $3-4. They LOVE their coffee and Starbucks is, without a doubt, the lowest on the totem pole of choices, hardly even considered coffee. Whole new language for how to order your bev of choice, flat soy, flat black, long. Not sure what all of that means yet. A young man from Perth said a regular cup of coffee in his home town is typically $7 or $8 dollars. Lots of rich miners there. 

Sydney is a different story altogether. Staying in a Hilton here, also pretty much in the CBD, and a spit away from the train system, which is European, modern, sleek, clean, with digital signage everywhere. Puts Chicago to shame. Rotary will pick up the tab for our Sydney room and all of our transportation for the duration of the conference, along with the $29.00/day internet charge to access their wifi from our room. There is free wifi in the lobby, but that's not where I want to cozy up to do my internet when our room is on the 22nd floor and the glitz of the first 5 floors is that of the Palmer House or other more modern equivalents. 

Our Sydney room is less than half the sq footage of our Melbourne place, no microwave, no burners. These rooms are equipped with the "modern" minibar technology whereby if you lift any of the mini bars items from where they sit your bill will be automatically charged. No matter that you drank their Red Bull and replaced it with one that you bought at the convenient store. Red Bull from the in-room minibar costs $9.50. 

Most grateful for my AeroPress coffee maker. Otherwise would have gone broke.

Sorry to go on and on about food stuffs, but with prices being what they are and allergies being what they are, Maslow's hierarchy of needs, the first of which is Food, takes on a preoccupation. 

Oh, and at the Sydney Hilton the only way to get ice you have to call the front desk and they bring you a big bucket the likes of which you can chill a couple of bottles of wine in. All I want is enough cubes to chill a Red Bull and put in my NutriBullet, now called a George Foreman.

Here's how that story goes. I finally understand and appreciate the difference between an adapter and a converter. I had brought my bag of international adapters that I got when I went to Vietnam and used to charge my iPhone and iPad. Used my adapter to turn on my Nutribullet in Melbourne and there was lots of arcing, smoke, and god-awful noise. The Nutribullet is dead. Now how am I going to make smoothies which was to be the mainstay of my second meal each day? Kirk bought me a George Foreman that is similar to the Nutribullet, but an inferior, distant cousin. Certainly grateful for it though in these down under circumstances. 

Australia has been all about 1 to 6 degrees of separation, a trend that started our first full day in Melbourne. 

Kirk had spent a few days in Columbus, GA less than a week before we came down under. The primary reason for his visit to Columbus was for his 50th HS reunion. Of course, while there he visited his mom and went to her Rotary Club where he met Mike who would also be attending the Rotary International Convention. Mike and his wife would be spending a few days in Melbourne before making their way to Sydney. So, we made arrangements to have dinner with them our first night in Melbourne at an Indian restaurant, their first ever taste of Indian food. So much for the cosmopolitan influence in Columbus. Of course the first things you say in those situations is where did you grow up, etc.

Well, Mike's wife, Susan, grew up in Columbus, GA and graduated from Kirk's HS one year behind him. Mike grew up in Indianapolis, graduated from North Central HS one year behind me and we lived only a couple of miles apart from one another! Now what are the chances of that??

The next day Kirk rented a bike in Melbourne and our plan was to circumnavigate the city of Melbourne via their multi-use path. We stopped at a Children's Farm on the Path to use the restroom and Kirk fell into a long chat with a couple of women who had similarly paused. He told them we were in AU for the Rotary International Convention and they said, "Oh, a good friend of ours will be attending also." Kirk gave them his card. The end.

First day of the Convention, 18,000 attendees. We're standing in line at the coffee kiosk and a woman looks at Kirk's name badge and remarks with glee that she has his Business card, a friend had given it to her. Yep, it was the friend we met at the Children's Farm. The Rotarian called her friend in Melbourne and Kirk was able to tell her that the circle of connection had been completed! Now what are the chances of that??

Leaving the Olympic Park, the same day as coffee kiosk encounter, we're standing on the platform for the commuter train to take us back into Sydney proper and who do we end up standing next to: the Columbus, GA couple! Now what are the chances of that out of 18,000 people all leaving the venue at the same time??

A couple of days later I'm going down to Olympic Park several hours after Kirk went down, so riding the train alone. A couple sits down next to me and we fall to talking. They're from Olympia, WA where Bryan and Daniel both graduated from The Evergreen State College. So, chat, chat about that which trends into what kind of work everyone is in. Turns out both of them are in education, she a former principal, he continues as a school  superintendent. By any chance did he know Terry Bouck? They both did; they knew him well! Now Terry is Bryan's wife's Dad who was a school superintendent in the Tacoma area. Now what are the chances of that??

A couple of days later I'm attending a breakout group and a woman I've never seen before comes up to me and introduces herself to me because I have on my El Tour jersey, since I was working the El Tour booth that day. Turns out she is the incoming President of a Rotary Club in Tucson and lives 1/2 mile from us on the Rillito Path. She will be the President of the Club where Randy Brooks is a member. I hired Randy as a counselor when I worked for Parkside Medical Services in Park Ridge, IL back in the early-mid 80's. He only worked for me for about 9 months before returning to Tucson. Randy's and my path had already crossed through Rotary since I've been in Tucson, but now here is this woman....Now what are the chances of that??

Today this guy from Northbrook where we lived for 12 years tracked down Kirk at the recommendation of a member from our Wilmette church. He and his wife and we attended a delightful musical event together. While waiting for the concert to begin she and I are chatting and she mentions she attended undergraduate at a very little school in Central IL, Blackburn College. That's where my parents met back in the mid-30's. This woman is on the Blackburn Board of Trustees and so plans to do a bit of archival work to see what she can learn about Dwain Walcher and Emily Jones, my parents. Now what are the chances of that??

I don't know what to make of all these 1-6 degrees of separation. Is it a Rotary thing? Is the world really just that small? Or?

Sidney felt like NYC in terms of HEAVY ped traffic, amazing car traffic, no bike lanes at all, at least where we were, and then, of course, they ride on the wrong side of the road, at least to us they do. 

I did venture forth on the roads in Sydney for about 2k in a protected bike lane to Circular Quay where I caught a ferry over to Manly Island, about 30 min by ferry. Reminded my of Washington Island, a ferry ride north of Door County in WI. Did ride around there for about 15k and then ferried back to Sydney. By then it was rush hour, couldn't find the protected bike lane street so walked back to the hotel. Not a problem to walk, just an absence of riding.

Kirk and I were going to spend a day on Manly, he renting a bike. But, winter hit Sydney which means that it rained all day. So, no biking, lots of walking, and touring. Sidney is a wonderful city, but we were much more fond of Melbourne in terms of being bike friendly and just plain accessible in all regards.

I don't know what one does if he/she is physically disabled in either Melbourne or Sydney. So NOT handycapped accessible. Lots of steep steps to get from one street to another or one layer of train station to the next. Few lifts anywhere in sight. I had to carry NWT'n up and down more and more steps on my Manly excursion. Sounds like it should be easy, but he's just not light and nimble.

Nice coffee cruise this a.m. Visited with a 30 something who had come with 3 of her colleagues from Brisbane to Sidney for the day having won some kind of an award at work. Saw several suburbs along the harbor front where the houses ranged from $8-55million including Nicole Kidman's house that sold for $15mil and Russel Crowe's.

Arrival of produce at the restaurant next to our Barely Adequate Southern Hotel


Of joy, pleasure, humor, words, playfulness, or maybe just plain sanctity, you decide.

Upon our Sydney arrival a week ago we boarded one of their suburban trains to the train station in their CBD (Central Business District) and then walked the final block-ish to the Hilton dragging over a hundred pounds of suitcases and backpacks. Of course, one of those 50 pound suitcases carried NWT'n. 

Needless to say, we didn't "blend" as other guests arrived by taxi with porters ferrying their bags from taxi to check-in and ferrying further to their room some 25+ stories upward. Our view from our Hilton window was that of a construction crane, actually the control cabin of the crane some 22 stories up. The crane reminded us of our obstructed view through the port hole of many cruise ship cabins. 

The Hilton scored a 10 on glitz and about a 3 on functionality when it came to in-room cooking accommodations.

After the Rotary Conference crescendoed to a breathtaking finale with Australia's own Ten Tenors singing Turandot's Nessun Dorma, we checked out of the Hilton, at its nearly $300/night on the Rotary tab, pulling our 3 suitcases, wearing our backpacks and I my helmet on my head. I was pushing NWT'n and pulling Kirk's small overnight bag while he pulled my LARGE PAC duffle bag and NWT'n's personal suitcase now filled with rank, well-worn laundry. 

It was steady raining as we negotiated erect umbrellas through the glitz of noon-hour rush in the surround of the Hilton and moved to our new hotel at half the nightly rate, The Great Southern Hotel. We re-dubbed it the Barely Adequate Southern Hotel, or BA for short. 
Great Southern Hotel

Sydney Bridge

About a kilometer down the road the Hilton glitz was replaced, the closer we got to BA, with pawn shops, Adult X shops, The Pleasure Chest, LentMoney, and too-many-to-count Thai Massage Spas. I'm assuming they were sex spas since they were all upstairs via a staircase off the Main Street advertised by a well-worn, young, thin, Asian barely-a-woman holding a cardboard sign with the words Thai Massage $39 or whatever the price. Starbucks was a couple of blocks away with 30 min of free wifi per purchased drink. That beat the $20/20 minutes or $22 for 24 hrs at the BA.

The upside to the BA was its amazing closeness to the train station that would get us ANYWHERE we wanted to go and a Vietnamese restaurant next to The Pleasure Chest that served Pho, Vietnamese noodle rice noodle soup, (pronounced phuh). The proper spelling of Pho has a squiggly accent atop the O that makes the pronunciation phuh. Without the squiggle it would be pronounced as you would think, with a long O. But, I'm squiggle-less on my English keyboard. 

Onward with more sanctity of life's fabric.

Yea for the Aussie's absence of pennies. They simply round up or down to the nearest 5 cents. 

Yea for the Aussies who print Look Left or Look Right at the curbs especially since there is not even a 3 inch gap between the curb and passing big-wheeled traffic. 

Yea for the Aussies who have a flush option on all their toilets for liquid or solid. Far too many of American public toilets are equipped with auto flush that either don't function and you have to search for a nigh invisible button the size of a number two pencil eraser to override the non-functioning auto flush, or it they over function acting more like a bidet. 

Yea for the Aussies who oft have such a gracious way of communicating their expectations for public behavior like mind the gap; dispose of your rubbish thoughtfully; or allow us to seat you. 

But the billboard that read: "Trouble Falling Pregnant?" took a bit of work. I thought it might be quite scary for a young child who might interpret that if she fell, she might get pregnant. But in actuality I think it really was trying to communicate to those who wanted to get pregnant but were having trouble doing so. Falling would certainly never be the word Americans would use for such an event.

Another Continent!

Along the Multi-Use Path in Melbourne

Australia has always been on the “we hope we can figure out how to get there some day” travel bucket list. We certainly had no idea Kirk’s Rotary Club in Tucson would ask him to be its President in 2014-2015 and that one of the perks of the Presidency is an all-expense paid trip for the incoming President and spouse. Wow! Two continents in less than 6 months.

And so we said farewell to our kitty, Marlie, on Wednesday afternoon and arrived in Melbourne, by way of Sidney, Friday mid-day. It’s hard to know what time it is when we crossed the dateline and 17 time zones; found ourselves at the beginning of Winter in June; that peds, cyclists, and motorized vehicles all prefer navigating via the left side of the road; that a plain cup of coffee can cost $4.00 while a cappuccino or such could cost $7-8. YIKES.

Trying to keep my anti-epileptic medications on an every 12 hr cycle, which has worked well being at 6:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. for the last 9 months or so now seems to be confounded. Just what time would that be in Australia?? Hard to know.

Bikes, peds, and motorists in Melbourne share the roads, sidewalks, parks with gracious respect. I, however, just couldn't get the hang of having to cross multiple lanes of traffic to make a Right Hand turn. Scary. Stuck to the Multi-use paths. 

We found WiFi abundantly available in Nam; many villages didn’t have indoor plumbing, families were accustomed to sleeping in hammocks or on the floor, and “chairs” often were 50 pound bags of rice, but somehow virtually EVERYONE had a cell phone and a satellite dish on their roof. 

Given our experience of ubiquitous connectivity in Nam, I fully expected connectivity Down Under to trump that of Nam. Nope, not so. Oh, connectivity was available, but at a steep price, like $29/day in our hotel, or 30 minutes free from the hotel bar (with a drink, of course) or Starbucks (with a drink, of course, and a wifi code good only for 30 minutes). Or we could walk 3 blocks to McDonalds and have unlimited wifi use.  Hmmm

We decided to spend a week in Melbourne (pronounced Melbun. By American English standards, Aussies don't do "r's" very well) before Kirk’s Rotary Conference in Sydney which would be hosted on the grounds of the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Visited many museums, walking tours all of which helped up appreciate the culture and history of the Country. In many ways they are ahead of the US when it comes to honoring their indigenous peoples and consciously working toward reconciliation. 

There were maybe 40 such "If I were white statements at the Reconciliation Museum. Just a sampling here.
 Kirk rented a bike in Melbourne and we had a couple of simply delightful rides along the coast of Port Phillip or the equivalent of Tucson's Loop Path around the city of Melbourne. 

 Below is a close up of the padlocks lovers affix to the bridge cables. Kinda of clever idea. We didn't add our lock of art and love to the mix.

Life Saving Clubs were everywhere, of course so is water. Had no idea what one was. Turns out instead of the city or park district hiring life guards, theirs are all volunteers, kind of a social thing. 
 After you work your hours, then you go to the pub together and enjoy each others company.
Hmmm, interesting choice of words. 

Tuesday, April 08, 2014


Crepuscular Dawn

April, 2001, after 11 years of living with acute and chronic back pain and on the cusp of disability because of unrelenting back disease, I asked Deb, my physical therapist, when she thought I might be able to do something physical again.

Her response was classic: "Well, Susan, what did you have in mind? Let me remind you that your current rehab goal is to be able to roll over in bed." 

"I know", I said, "but I think I might be able to ride a recumbent bike." 

Now, I have no idea where I came up with that idea because I don't remember ever even seeing such a thing. 

But Deb was wise.  She didn't roll her eyes or laugh, or poo-poo my idea in any way. She simply said, "You get the bike and we'll figure out how to get you on it."

In less than a month I had bought my first recumbent (now on about my 5th), crashed it on my maiden ride resulting in a broken jaw, several broken teeth, broken wrist, and lots of lacerations, all without hitting anything or being hit by anything or anyone.

Thirteen years and 135,000 cycling miles later, April 1, 2014 age 68-1/2 after that inauspicious first ride, I found myself alongside Eagle Eye Road, a deserted desert road 5 miles south of Aguila, AZ about to begin my 2nd official attempt of completing 200 miles in 12 hours, a "bucket list" goal.

This 200/12 idea has been percolating since May 2011 when I completed 186 miles in 11:30 at Calvin's Challenge, a 12-hr Challenge ride in Springfield, OH. That had been my goal that day: a 300k (186 miles) in 12:00 or less. I stopped riding when I reached my goal. It was only later that that I began the mental calculations, both mathematical and logistical, of what it would take to successfully complete a 200/12. 

In the crepuscular scrim before sunrise, my husband Kirk, my friend Dan Fallon, and I busied ourselves with disgorging and gorging our respective vehicles of bikes and supplies. Kirk would deposit Dan's Subaru at the intersection of Eagle Eye and Salome and would then ride his own bike back to our vehicle left just under the Eagle's Eye. He would spend his day in Wickenburg while I hammered out solo miles and Dan served as my domestique. 

My first 50 miles were completed in 2.5 hrs, my second 50 in 3.0 hrs for an average elapsed speed of 18.18, two mph ahead of the minimum I would need to have a successful 200/12 completion.

All I had to do was ride and enjoy the faces and memories of so many who have been a part of my being able to be on this road on this day: Kirk who has supported my spirit and passion through it all for nearly 45 years of marriage; family who have encouraged me even if they aren't riders themselves; bent riders and upright riders who have pushed and pulled me through the miles; bike mechanics who have taught me self-sufficiency; PAC Tour who has helped me develop as a cyclist and provided me with the vision of things beyond my imagination a few years ago including completion of two transcontinental rides in my 60's, body workers and therapists who gave me hope that physical recovery was possible when I had lost all hope. 

By the time I began my 2nd hundred miles tumbleweed was flying across the road in front me and I either listed at a 15 degree angle or nearly ground to a halt in the head wind. 

With 135 miles completed I had only 4 hrs and 16 minutes left in my 12 hrs to complete the remaining 65 miles. Those were numbers outside my realm of capability. 

I rolled up alongside Dan's vehicle and said: "I'm done. I can't ride 65 miles in just over 4 hours." Would have been very doable with normal winds, but today's wind was not supportive of my efforts.

We loaded my bike in Dan's car and headed back to Aquila to meet Kirk. Dan got up at 3:15 that morning, April 1, to drive from Prescott, AZ to our rendezvous spot on Eagle Eye Road. We got up at 3:30 that morning to drive from Wickenburg to that same rendezvous spot.

I know I'll be back to Eagle Eye/Salome to vanquish the 200/12. Who knows, I might bring some other 200/12 hopefuls with me and we'll make it a party!