Category Archives: Travel

Hey, Stranger

“Hey, stranger! How was Germany?”

Pat was already standing inside the pool lobby, waiting for Pool Guy to show up and turn on the lights at 5:45AM so that we could get our swim on. I hadn’t been at the pool since the 2nd of October, about three weeks earlier. (That’s my longest no-swimming streak in about four years, by the way.) Between traveling and recovering from the Bay State Marathon, last Friday (the 25th) was my first chance to get back in the water.

“I dunno. We never made it past London.”

A lot has happened in the last five weeks.

Following the JDRF ride, I moved on to preparing for a 10-day European vacation with Lisa. There were lots of (mostly pleasant) details to attend to: figuring out what we might do and see in London, Brussels, and Berlin; attempting to cram in as many German lessons as possible; buying travel insurance; packing; getting as much done at work and around the house as possible; etc.

Meanwhile, I was building up to a peak in my marathon training. Fourteen miles one Sunday, sixteen the next, an easy week, and then eighteen miles three weeks out from the race. The morning of my birthday (the 4th) I ran 20 miles, finishing my long run about ten hours before our flight to London (via Iceland) took off. I was looking forward to some easy running somewhere in London and doing a tempo run in Berlin’s Tiergarten. My foot was giving me fits the first couple days in London, no doubt due to the accelerated marathon training plan. Ironically, it felt much better after I almost twisted my ankle in Cambridge. By Tuesday morning, four days into the trip, I really needed a run but still wasn’t 100% confident that running was a good idea.

Monday night had been a flurry of activity. We arrived home from Greenwich to find an urgent message from my mom on Facebook that we should call her. She and Miles, her husband of twelve years, were midway through a cycling trip in Austria, Italy, and Slovenia when Lisa and I landed in London. Through the modern miracle of Skype, we called Austria from my mobile phone. It’s an understatement to say I was shocked to learn that Miles had a heart attack and died earlier that day (the 7th). A month shy of his 63rd birthday, he was still fitter than most people half his age. When we rode together in the summer of 2012, he matched the fast tempo I threw down as we raced the dozen miles back to town so we could pick up the car after Mom had a ride-ending flat.

A few hours of Skyping later, we had canceled our Berlin hotel and changed our flights home. The earliest flight we could get was late Wednesday afternoon, so the next morning—instead of taking the Eurostar train to Brussels—we slept in, saw a couple of exhibits at the V&A, and toured Westminster Abbey. It’s a strange feeling to do things one enjoys yet also to want to be somewhere else at the same time. We enjoyed our day, but my heart was hurting for my mom, who was also trying to get home.

It had been a long time since we bought tickets and then immediately checked in for a flight, but that’s what we did on Thursday. We were home for about 36 hours . . . just long enough to do some laundry, repack, get a week’s worth of mail from the post office, and drop off more food at the kittysitter’s. The next day we were in Casper. We did a bunch of odds-and-ends for Mom over the next week, but really the most important thing we did (I think) was just to be there.

The memorial service was Thursday, the 17th, and it was a rather tough day. Miles had made a lot of friends after almost 40 years in Wyoming, and everyone had heart-warming anecdotes to tell. Mom made a really wonderful slideshow with pictures from throughout Miles’ life. Thinking about where he had traveled, what he had seen and done, and the people he was fortunate enough to have been with, it really made me realize that Miles lived the kind of life that inspires others to get out and do stuff, too. I hope that someday I’m lucky enough for others to say the same about me; Miles set the bar high in this regard.

Three days later, I ran my marathon. (I’ll write more about that soon.) The two weeks since have been an attempt by me to transition back into work, home, and athletic endeavors. Despite not getting the full vacation experience, we were away from home and work longer than expected. I’m using my down time to catch up on things I’ve been wanting or needing to do for a while: practicing my Spanish, reading the newspaper, watching “Breaking Bad,” declutterring my life, scanning slides, and (yes) even writing dispatches here.

It’s good to be back.

Posted in NaBloPoMo, NaBloPoMo 2013, Running, Travel, Über Alles | Leave a comment


              M.     F.     N.    Pl.
Nominative:  der    die    das    die
Accusative:  den    die    das    die
Genitive:    des    der    des    der
Dative:      dem    der    dem    den

Nominative:  ein    eine   ein    --
Accusative:  einen  eine   ein    --
Genitive:    eines  einer  eines  --
Dative:      einem  einer  einem  --

It’s been years since I declined a noun. It was more than 16 years ago in Greek 102, in fact. (“ἡ γυνη σπευδει προς τῶν ἀγρῶν.”) But Berlin beckons, and I will be able speak a little German while I’m there next month, dammit! I know, I know. You can get by with English only, but . .  Well, I’ll let this passage from “Before Sunrise” sum it up:

Jesse: Excuse me, excuse me uh, sprechen Sie English? (Do you speak English?)

Man with jacket: Ja, of course.

Man with tie: Couldn’t you speak German for a change?

Jesse: What?

Man with tie: No, it was a joke.

Jesse: Well, listen, we just got into Vienna today, and we’re looking for something fun to do.

Céline: Like museums, exhibitions, things…

Man with tie: But museums are not that funny any more these days, uh…

Man with jacket: Uh, (looking at watch) but they are closing right now. How long are you going to be here?

Jesse: Just for tonight.

Man with tie: Why did you come to Vienna? What, uh, what could you be expecting?

Jesse: (Perplexed.) Uh…

Céline: We’re on honeymoon.

Jesse: Yeah, she got pregnant, we had to get married, you know.

Man with tie: (Points at Jesse.) You know I don’t believe you, you’re a bad liar.

Anyway, now that I’m studying German, I’m back to conjugating verbs and declining nouns and adjectives. And I’ll just say this: I think Greek was easier.

Posted in General, Travel, Über Alles | Leave a comment

Spring Photos

We’ve had an exciting spring: a couple of day trips to New York, a charity walk, hiking, and a trip to Iowa. Ducky came along to Grinnell and was quite the camera hog. But he was super-happy to swim in the new 50m, Olympic-sized swimming pool. I understand why; it was pretty amazing, and I wish I could swim there every day.

Here are some photos from the last month and a half. Click on any picture for a larger version, or start at the beginning and just click through.

Posted in General, I am Rembrandt, Travel | 1 Comment

Sydney Panorama

When we went to Australia I made a lot of photos that I still love. In the first few days, we trekked up the hill to the Sydney Observatory, which has a fantastic view of Sydney. While there, I took a series of photographs that I finally stitched together. Here’s a panorama of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the city from the observatory. (Click through for a link to a much larger version.)

Posted in Australia, Photography, Travel | 1 Comment

Los Angeles

As I mentioned yesterday, I spent a little time in Los Angeles recently. I arrived Sunday afternoon and had a few hours of daylight to sightsee. Monday, the day of the developer conference, I was wide awake at 4:00AM. While I was able to fall back to sleep for another hour, eventually the jet-lag won. I spent some time in bed with Facebook before getting ready for an early morning run through downtown LA.

I brought my running shoes with me because (a) there was so much room in my bag that I had to bring them, (b) I have a running plan to keep up with, (c) running keeps me centered, and (d) I’d run in so many other places this year that I thought it would be fun to run in one more city. (Let’s see . . . I’ve run in Milford and nearby towns; Barcelona; Hamilton, Ontario; Philadelphia; Vinton, Iowa; Minneapolis; New York City; Casper, Wyoming; Colorado Springs and Denver; Cincinnati; Old Orchard Beach, Maine; and Los Angeles. Whew!)

Downtown L.A. felt safe to me—and I certainly didn’t have anything on me to steal—but all of the homeless people on the street at 6:00AM definitely made it a different place than anywhere else I’ve run this year. At one point as I was going through an interchange, a couple of guys on their way to work (I presume) were using the crosswalk perpendicular to me. They had the right of way, and one of them called out a friendly “¡Ay, perro!”. I responded with an “¡Hola!” before I realized that he was talking to someone coming down the sidewalk from the other direction. He pretended to run a few yards with me. Sometimes I miss how friendly places other than New England usually are.

The conference itself was pretty good, but that’s a story for another day. I wish I’d had more time in the city, since I think I’m finally starting to see it in a new, less pessimistic way.

Here are some pictures, mostly from Sunday afternoon and evening.

Posted in NaBloPoMo, NaBloPoMo 2012, Running, Travel, Western Adventure | 1 Comment

Shoulders, Elbows, and Arms

Sunday, I flew to Los Angeles to attend the bi-annual meeting of the International Color Consortium. On the way out, I did a bunch of reading and note-taking on stuff from the office. The ride was kind of choppy for an cross-continental flight, so I didn’t get a chance to stand up and walk around much. On the occasions when I did stretch out in my chair, I realized I was doing the extension drill that we’ve been practicing on Saturday mornings at the pool: arms straight up and pressed close to the ears, one hand over the other with the top hand’s thumb curled under the bottom hand.

During last Saturday’s class we worked on extension a little more and put on fins to work on our kick. I’m learning how to rotate my shoulder forward and inward so that my arm reaches as far out in front of me as possible. Not only does this prepare me for a good catch and a long pull, it tightens up my core and lengthens my body, making me more slippery in the water. I’ve been told to pay special attention to my hand placement so that my hips stay high in the water. There’s a lot to think about, which is why we do a bunch of drills so that it becomes second nature.

After about 45 minutes of drills, Patty (the coach) said, “Okay, let’s do a set. We’ll do 5×100 yards. Pause after the first one to get your pace.” Off I went. The pool was fast Saturday morning, and I was keeping up with the other four lanes as we led out the swim. Imagine my surprise when she called out a 1:30 at the end of the first 100. Either the YWCA pool is smaller than the high school’s or . . . I’m getting faster. Yay!

Of course, she also said during the third 100 that, as I tired, I wasn’t getting nearly as much extension as before. So I worked on that for the remainder of the set. That’s typical for me; my times at the beginning of a set tend to be faster than the later ones.

Yesterday, I flew home. Since there was no WiFi on this flight, I decided to read Swim Speed Secrets, written by American Olympic gold medalist Sheila Taormina. I had been holding onto the book for a few months, waiting until I could devote lots of thought to it. The time had finally come to learn the secret. It’s quite good—well written and perfectly illustrated for clarity—and I recommend every swimmer go through it.

What’s the secret? It’s super simple, really: Keep a high elbow during the pull and feel the water with the whole forearm and hand. By keeping the elbow high and the hand straight with the forearm, you create two levers with each arm and recruit a whole bunch of shoulder and core muscles to push yourself through the water. She provides the analogy of pulling yourself over a wall below you in the pool. (Here’s a PDF excerpt of what her form looks like.)

I probably amused the flight attendants yesterday on a couple of occasions by making small swimming poses with my arm to see what this felt like. (Fortunately for me, there was no one in the middle seat on my row.) This morning I went to the pool and paid attention to my elbow placement. I have two thoughts: (1) Even if Scott Johnson gushes over my V-shaped swimmer’s back, pulling with your elbows high uses the shoulders in a very new and intense way, and I need extra strength there to make this work. And (2) OMFG, the far wall approached really, really fast! I could feel the water better with my forearms and hands, and it really did feel like I pushing myself past something in the water. Not only that, but I could actually feel my stroke starting in my core more than before, and my body rolled the way it’s supposed to as the lever of my arm created a torque. My time for the first 500 yards was just under 9:15, which is fast enough that I almost worried I had missed counting a lap!

I still have quite a way to go before this is second nature, and it’s pretty clear that I have an imbalance between my left- and right-hand strokes. I also noticed that I was paying a lot less attention to my extension and kick (the things we worked on the last couple of Saturday mornings). Plus, as my arms grew tired, it was harder to keep my elbows up and have as strong of a pull, and my times suffered a lot at the end of my 2,000 yards. Friday, I’ll do more drills so that I can be mindful to each item in isolation.

The drop off in my speed at the end of the sets notwithstanding, I’m so excited about these two developments. Now I just need to practice, practice, practice. Fortunately (?) the winter is long.

Posted in NaBloPoMo, NaBloPoMo 2012, Swimming, Travel | 4 Comments

I Rode through the Desert on a Bike with no Name

I’m writing (most of) this dispatch on Sunday while flying home after doing the JDRF Ride to Cure Diabetes through Death Valley. There’s a lot on my mind that I want to get across and a little tiny screen and “keyboard” to use to do it. Bear with me, and hopefully I can fix all of the mistakes in post-production.


Climbing up Jubilee Pass wasn’t as hard as I had thought it could be. I had switched my Garmin bike computer to a screen that shows all the extra data that I only seem to care about when climbing. Usually I just see speed, distance, elapsed time and heart rate. Am I going fast? How long have I been going fast? Am I working too hard?

Now I was looking at total distance (closing in on 52 miles at the top of the pass), speed (8-10 mph), elapsed time (more than 4 hours), grade (3-8%), temperature (101F), and elevation (approaching 1290 feet). I could sense Greg (a great guy from Seattle) sitting just over my left shoulder as I made circles with my feet clad in my red polka dot socks, the ones I wear with my cycling shoes whenever I go mountain climbing. I may not have been the king of the mountain today, but we were slowly passing dozens of riders who had been quicker than us through the break stops.

I’ve climbed taller mountains with longer and steeper grades than this one, but never have I done a climb as hot . . . or as meaningful!

I did this ride for many reasons. I love cycling in new places, and I especially like a destination with a challenge. Plus, I wanted to see some of my peeps again. Those are the normal reasons. In addition, I wanted to show the kids with diabetes and their parents who were at the ride that it’s possible to have a great life doing the same things as everyone else. Diabetes is an obstacle, a challenge, an impediment, and a pain in the ass. It’s a disease, but I don’t let it stop me from doing crazy things. It has given me a different perspective on life for sure—perhaps it’s even made me a “better” person—but I’m always going to wish I didn’t have it. This ride’s goal was to raise money so that I (and millions of other people) one day might not have diabetes anymore.

The fundraising goals were big, and I’m still amazed that I was able to meet, much less exceed, them. (My mom told me the JDRF website says I had the 8th highest fundraising amount for this ride.) As much as I don’t want to focus on money, it really was the raison d’être for me being in Death Valley. I rode so that researchers can find a cure to my disease, develop a vaccine to prevent other children and adults from developing type-1 diabetes, and devise better therapies in the meantime.


Between looking at the white line marking the edge of the road, the riders we were reeling in, the moonscape scenery all around us, and the numbers on my bike computer, I was thinking about my donors and the other people with diabetes I know—fellow badass bike riders, coworkers, kids, the online community, and random people I’ve met at airports, interstate travel plazas, and everywhere else. I always love riding—and I would have done this ride on my own with lots of logistical support, but it meant so much more to be doing it with all these people for bigger reasons.

Greg and I made it to the top of the pass, took pictures to prove it, and headed 100 yards back down the hill to the rest stop to wait for Ross, an amazing rider and parent of a sweet seven year-old with diabetes. I talked a bit to Maria from the Netherlands whose boyfriend, Matthias, was riding. I talked to Bret, the ISU student whom Victoria and I talked into doing the ride, and to his mother who was also volunteering. They along with everyone else were the best volunteers I’ve ever met. If they were uncomfortable with the 100+ degree temperatures, blazing sun, and unbelievably dry conditions, they certainly never gave any indications.

And it was brutal around 11 AM when we arrived. We rolled out from Furnace Creek at 6:45 when the sun hit the peaks of the mountains to our west. Ross and I had talked about averaging 17-18 mph, although I was expecting/hoping for closer to 15-16. But no! Ross is a machine, and after the first mile-long climb out of town we were rolling along between 18-25 (30-40 km/h). I was okay with this since I was sitting on Ross’s wheel, and it was mostly flat or downhill to Badwater, the lowest point in North America. I thought, “We’ll see what happens after the first bit of adrenaline wears off . . . after we hit the sun . . . after Greg or I start taking a pull at the front.”

We rolled along past Badwater, where I joked, “It’s all uphill from here.” We watched the sunlight work its way down the mountains and race across the basin toward us. At the 23rd mile we were still in shadow but just barely. It’s tradition during JDRF rides to ride the 23rd mile in silence, and I spent those three or four minutes thinking about people the world has lost and continues to lose to this disease. In particular I thought of someone from the diabetes online community who recently died. She was a young woman with a Twitter feed that was full of life, happiness, and hope. Then it was abruptly silent. It’s not right or fair, and it’s a big reason why I was riding.

Almost as if on cue, minutes after we finished this very significant mile, we rode into the sun. Almost instantly the air became warmer. We had been hydrating for days and trying to take on board extra sodium. After the pre-ride briefing on Friday scared the crap out of us (and extra water into us) Victoria and I made a game of getting extra sodium and electrolytes. At lunch she was licking table salt out of her hand, and I was sprinkling it from the shaker into the water bottle I carried everywhere. Our hydration strategy was working so well that we all but raced to Mormon Point, 40 miles into the ride, since Greg, Ross, and I had been saying for 10 miles that we all had to pee in the worst possible way. In our haste, we picked up a bunch of riders, and I was surprised to see that I had pulled a half-dozen fellow riders (including my new friend Rebecca the ornithologist biologist) into the rest stop, where we racked our bikes like we were in T2 of a triathlon!


The wind picked up around this time, and we were almost glad for the uphill turn toward Jubilee, since it at least got us out of the wind. After about 40 minutes of climbing, we were celebrating and refueling for the trip back. My BGs started the ride at 122, dropped during the first hour to 97, rose to 148 over the second hour, and then hovered in the 120s for a couple hours. At the summit I was so pleased and extra determined to see if I could be “nondiabetic” during the Ride to Cure Diabetes. Ultimately, it didn’t happen, since I rose to 198 about an hour from the end—no doubt largely the result of the extra snacks and the long, fast, and almost effortless descent from the pass. One hour after a small correction bolus of 0.3 units and some hard riding, I rolled into the finish at Furnace Creek with a 97 on my BG meter!

The descent was the first time I lost contact with both Ross and Greg by going off the front. We had an understanding: While they were free to descend like grandpas, I was going to open it up and do what I love to do, after which we would all meet up again at the rest stop a mile after the end of the downhill. It was a great time, albeit a bit rough. My bike was really rattling under me at 35-40 mph, and Ross hit a bump that almost had him crash at 30+. When we watched the video from his handlebar-mounted camera, we were all amazed he didn’t slide down the mountain on his body.

We rode together for another 35 miles, and we all did a lot of pulling. I was doing extra because I sat in a bit on the way out before the climb. The day was getting hotter, and the road seemed to stretch on as far as the eye could see. We made good time over the long, gradual hills (both up and down), but my cohort was starting to hurt. Greg had a twinge in his leg that he felt a couple of times each minute, and Ross started cramping a bit and kept popping off the back. Just after hitting Badwater again on the way back, Greg and I had The Conversation. I was ready to be done and didn’t really want to stop one more time other than to top off my water. Greg said he wanted to slow up and ride in with Ross, since he was feeling a bit baked himself.


To say that I was conflicted would be an understatement. If I were a better man, I would have waited and spent an extra half hour in the sun. But I rolled off to do the last 15 miles solo, passing groups of riders and offering encouragement. Some folks from a large group of Ohio riders held onto my wheel for a minute or so as I passed, cheering on my polka-dot socks. The last stretch was long, hot, and difficult; on more than one occasion I thought, “This must be what the Hawaii Ironman in Kona is like . . . minus the swim beforehand and marathon afterward.” The final, two-mile climb with three miles to go felt especially cruel, being steeper and slower (but mercifully shorter) than the climb up Jubilee fifty miles earlier.

Finishing was fantastic. I was cheered on by the best group of volunteers ever, and I was so happy to be done. Done riding and feeling the ache in my legs and butt. Done wishing for shade and porta-potties on demand. Done eating energy gels and chews on the bike and peanut butter sandwiches and pretzels and pickles at the rest stops. Done drinking lukewarm bottles of Skratch Lab mix and water spiked with Nuun. (In all, I took in over 700 grams of carbs and drank more than ten full bottles of fluid. That’s more than 250 ounces, or 7+ liters.) Done with all that but definitely feeling guilty that I hadn’t stuck with Ross and Greg for the last 15 miles. I felt doubly worse when I heard them announced moments before I returned to the finish; I had waited a while for them to come in, but I needed to get my phone so that I could tell Lisa and the world that I did not die in the desert. They were so happy to be done, though, that I don’t think they even cared that I was 15 seconds late meeting them at the finish.

We hung out for a while before going our separate ways, cleaning up, and returning to wait for Victoria (from Alabama) and Renea and Elizabeth (from Seattle) to finish. We had seen them 30 miles out, and we knew it was going to be a long day for them. We chit-chatted about the ride and everything else until we saw our friends coming in, and we hollered and cheered and clapped for them heartily. Victoria, who had been having a really rough weekend, almost didn’t come out for the ride, and she broke into tears at the end. We all hugged a lot and congratulated each other and continued to give encouragement even after the ride was over.

This weekend was a fantastic and emotional experience, which we decided was a bit like diabetes camp for adults . . . well, at least for those of us with diabetes. Afterward, I still have diabetes and the blood sugars to prove it. I celebrated with a little too much ice cream and not quite enough insulin (for fear of going low) in the hours after the ride, and my blood glucose readings went from being nice and flat to looking like the high peaks that border Death Valley.

With every mile we rode and every dollar our generous donors gave, we’re helping JDRF make this disease one of the ghost towns that we passed along the route. Thank you all so much again—12,135+ times—for your emotional and financial support. (If you want to help make diabetes a thing of the past, it’s never too late to give.)

Posted in Cycling, Diabetes, I am Rembrandt, Travel, USA, Western Adventure | 12 Comments

Catching Up, Part 1 – Colorado Springs and Denver

Hey, everybody! I haven’t intended to be so absent, but there’s a lot going on round these parts. Let’s go through the last few weeks and catch up, shall we?

Colorado Springs by Bike: As you might remember, the last time I wrote, I mentioned having to stop myself from passing a park ranger’s car in Garden of the Gods at almost double the speed limit while doing interval training. The consensus of everyone who heard about that ride—including Lisa—is that I should have pushed my luck and celebrated my bad-boy accomplishment, whichever way it turned out. (Next time.)

I did one more ride in Colorado Springs—a four-hour, 53-mile ride that took me over a lot of ground in the foothills and canyons along the city’s western edge. Rounding one corner I found myself slipping past a sign announcing the major street was for “Local Traffic Only” and suspected I was entering the area that had burned extensively in the previous weeks. I had seen a bunch of signs—both handmade and professionally produced—earlier in the ride thanking the civilian and military firefighters, first responders, police, and volunteers for their efforts in saving buildings and neighborhoods, so I figured I must be close to the burn area. I wasn’t at all prepared for what I saw. I’ve seen the scorching effects of wildland fires before, but I’ve never experienced what happens when they come into town. Whole blocks were burned to the ground, some so badly that chimneys were the only evidence anyone had inhabited the place. It was remarkable and tragic.

Earlier in the week, I had been stymied in my attempt to ride up Casper Mountain because of the wind and the elevation and the steepness of the climb. I wouldn’t exactly say that I was looking for some kind of redemption on this ride, but I definitely threw in North Cheyenne Cañon on the aforementioned long ride as a way of seeing exactly what I was made of. The climb started 35 miles into the ride, when the elevation was already 5,850 feet (which was actually the low point of the ride). Three miles, 33 minutes, and 1,200 feet of climbing later, the road turned to dirt. Turning around, I was happy to spend the next five or six minutes freewheeling down the winding canyon road. I didn’t pick up an excessive amount of speed—though I easily could have doubled the speed limit—because I needed a little time to catch my breath, give my blood glucose a few minutes to rise, and get ready for the fifteen hilly, gusty miles back to the hotel. At one point, a double-amputee passed me, which gave me a little extra motivation on the way up the hill, but basically I was pretty spent by the time I got back to the hotel.

Family Reunion: It wasn’t all bike riding in Colorado Springs. Lisa, her brother, and I went to the Western Museum of Mining and Industry, which was old-timey but well-curated . . . and ridiculously hot (but that’s hardly their fault). We also went to the tourist trap that is Seven Falls, which is next to the much nicer (and free) North Cheyenne Cañon Park where we returned later the same day I rode it on my bike, continuing onward after the road turned to dirt for an exciting mountain drive.

Speaking of mountains, the whole extended family (all 33 of us) took the cog railway up and back down Pikes Peak. Everyone was wearing their family reunion shirts, which conveniently let everyone else know who belonged to whom and who the crazy people on the train were. The same could not be said later the same day when we took the family portrait at Balanced Rock in Garden of the Gods. But you could still tell, because we were the camera-weilding people all crowded around a big a rock. A couple days later, as we left Colorado Springs for Denver, nine or ten of us showed up to tour the Manitou Cliff Dwellings, a tourist trap with a tragically fascinating gift shop.

Antibiotics: Before leaving Colorado Springs, I also took my last dose of penicillin for the massive strep-B infection that I had a couple weeks earlier. I hadn’t been that acutely sick in a very long time. A 103-degree fever for three days, chills, dull pain throughout my body, weakness, fatigue, dehydration . . . I had it all. Fortunately, the chest X-ray indicated that the crackling in my lungs was not pneumonia. I suspect that I had a minor infection around the time of the NYC Tri, which I probably could have soldiered through if it hadn’t been for the dehydration during and after the tri. I can’t prove any of this, but I think the dehydration and an electrolyte imbalance, prevented me from adequately regulating my body temperature when the illness started. Instead of what probably should have been a low-grade fever and a bit of malaise, I spiked the 103 and was out for days. Within a day of starting the antibiotics, I was feeling so much better. Unfortunately, I had to keep taking them for another two weeks, which I understand even though I didn’t like it all.

Coincidentally, I’m on a different antibiotic right now . . . my third of the last six months. The ciprofloxacin—which has an amazing FDA “black box” warning—is for something completely unrelated to anything else. In a nutshell, I had some very localized pain that typically is either completely unbearable and the cause for immediate surgery or merely awful and indicative of a bacterial infection causing a painful inflammation. My doctor’s nurse practitioner said that I seem to have a high pain threshold but would definitely know the difference. Anyway.

Denver: After Colorado Springs, Lisa and I spent a few days with just her brother and my mother- and father-in-law in Denver. We saw some of the more- and lesser-visited sights, both the zoo and the aquarium, plus the Wings Over the Rockies air and space museum. (My g-d, we spent a lot of money during the Cold War to blow up the Soviets and to keep them from blowing us up.) We also went to a Rockies baseball game against the hated St. Louis Cardinals. I don’t want to offend any Cards fans—as one of my college friend’s aunties said, “Just because they worship the devil doesn’t mean they’re not nice people”—but I finally understand what it’s like when the Red Sox go to another town and their fans take over the stadium, turning chants around until the people who run the PA system just give up and go home early.

The night before we left, we headed back to the LoDo area from our hotel out by the airport to go to one of Lisa and my favorite restaurants: The Keg . . . or “Le Keg” as it’s called in Montréal, where we travel for the occasional food booty call. At one point, I involuntarily moaned while eating my delicious steak. It was quiet, but Lisa heard it and made fun of me a tiny bit. What did I care? I had all the love I needed right there in the form of food.

Big Thoughts about The West: On the flight home, I thought a bit about our trip. It was our first multi-week vacation since going to Australia in 2010, and our first summertime trip to the Rockies since 2008. I really love the scenery of the mountains and red rocks and grasslands. There’s something amazing about watching a storm blacken the sky to the west as the clouds unleash vivid lightning and shed sheets of monsoon rain. The pace of life is slower, it’s less crowded, and I feel relaxed when I’m there.

It was the first time that I trained at altitude for extended periods since 1994. In high school I had a ridiculously high hematocrit. Now I’m 20 years older and more-or-less anemic. (My red blood cell count and hematocrit have been marginally low or just within the normal part of the reference range for the last three years.) And when you combine the hills, mountains, wind, and elevation, it’s rather more difficult than at home. I hope the benefits will stick around through my tri on Sunday. Even if the blood benefits are fleeting, I think the difficulty of the altitude and wind has been a good preparation for being tired during the end of the bike and the run.

Training on unfamiliar terrain and roads has been strange. I had to buy a couple of maps to figure out my long ride and long run routes. I got lost running in Denver, but the trail system is so nice and extensive that I was able to put together a 14 mile run without having to cross any roads or stop at all. But living out of a suitcase and doing everything “new” feels a bit like living in a different country, and by the end I was ready to be home, ready for something familiar.

And it really does feel like a different country in other ways, too. It’s a conservative, gun-toting, bible-carrying country where people’s homes are saved by public-funded services despite an insistence that government doesn’t do anything right and that taxes are too high, where a man is charged with 156 felony counts after shooting up a cinema and people want more guns in everyone’s hands, where the land has as much of a voice as the few people who live on it. Don’t get me wrong; I know there’s only one America—and we’re both equally American—it just different in the West than in New England, and I’m very attached to where we live now. I just wish it weren’t so far away from all of the things that I love about the West: our families and the scenery and the ability to get away from it all.

Oh, and I love my bike.

Next time: Pictures from the trip and a ride with my dia-bestie in New York State.

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Garden of the Gods

Yesterday, we left Casper and drove to Colorado Springs. This is part two of the Great Rectangular State Adventure of 2012—the part where we visit Lisa’s family and see if we can get run out of town just a head of Johnny Law.

Speaking of The Man, today was all about the Garden of the Gods Park, starting with an early morning bike ride there where I almost had a run in with a park ranger. Literally. There is perhaps no more beautiful place to do interval training than Garden of the Gods Park, and I was having a good time sprinting along the flats, grinding up the hills, and zooming down the other side. I might have been exceeding the posted 20 MPH speed. I might have been going 40 MPH. I might have come upon the back of the park ranger’s patrol car driving close to the speed limit. He might have slowed down to see if I was going to pass him so that he could pull me over to give me a ticket. But I didn’t pass him, and he eventually turned off, and I got back to my speeding ways.

After my ride and breakfast, Lisa and my in-laws and I drove back out to Garden of the Gods to see the sights. Here’s a bit of what we saw:









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Lisa and I are finishing up the first part of The Great Rectangular State Adventure of 2012. We arrived in Denver on Saturday and drove up I-25 to Casper, Wyoming, to visit my mom and her husband.

For those who don’t know, I was born in Iowa, but I grew up in Wyoming. The Equality State holds a special place in my heart (despite everything that’s “wrong” with it from the perspective of an urbane person who lives in a major Eastern metropolitan area with high-tech jobs and cultural attractions and diversity and laws). I made great friends here, did a lot of fun things, and heard so many fantastic stories about all of the crazy things that happen in a state with more cows than people. While hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, and driving around the state alone and with friends, I built up my own trove of Wyoming lore, too. (Most of it’s even true.) High school cross-country and debate trips were almost always overnight affairs with lots of shenanigans and fun. I estimate that I met 10% of the people my age during the three years that I lived here full time.

But, like most of my friends, I went away for college and never moved back. We’re a band of expatriates, and—as with all people who move away—when we come back this place is strangely familiar and foreign at the same time. I walk a line between nostalgia for an idealized golden age and trying to appreciate the state for the way that it really is now, warts and all. I love thinking about this place and all of the things that we did at the same time that I wonder what I’m possibly going to do this time without just doing the same things that I’ve done in the past.

(One of my best high school friends keeps finding her way back to Wyoming. She’s the most improbable native daughter a state like Wyoming could ever have. We had hoped to meet up, but sadly, we’re just going to miss her on this trip and won’t be able to make the reading from her collection of short stories, “Cowboys and East Indians.”)

This trip is one of the rare times that we’re here in the summer, so we’re doing more outdoorsy things. Wyoming is a great place to be outside, even when it’s been hot like this week. (Although, it’s definitely nicer when you’re not in the direct sun.) Because I’m deep into triathlon training, I brought my bike, so this is also the first time that I’ve been cycling here in almost 20 years. Hiking and cycling in Wyoming is so much different than where Lisa and I live now. The mountains are higher; the roads and trails are less crowded; and views are much more impressive.

The elevation is much higher here, too—5000+ feet vs. 300 at our house—and I can definitely feel it. Actually, I feel it a lot! Tons of sparklies everywhere I look. (I think it’s also wreaking havoc with my blood sugar, making me low all the time.) Sunday’s 60-mile ride with Mom and Miles was a bit more challenging than I expected. And my plan to ride up Casper Mountain this morning was thwarted after the first six miles by a 25 MPH headwind and the sparklies. (Although the 50+ MPH ride back down was totally sweet and all too short!)

After my less-than-successful attempt to ride up the mountain, we all drove up in the car a little bit later. We took a short hike, saw a rattlesnake, and visited a fantastically beautiful (and new-to-me) part of the mountain. I loved being on the edge of one mountain, seeing the range extend far into the distance as the shadows from the clouds moved across the meadows between them, the air full of the smell of sagebrush. This particular park has a quirky, New-Agey mythology to it that is very much not normal for Casper, and it just made me very happy to be there.

I’m kinda sad that we’re starting the next phase of our adventure tomorrow when we drive to Colorado Springs.

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Snapshots from the Midwest

Here are some random photos from my trip last week. Enjoy!

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100 Easy Miles

Where do I even start? I have a dozen different directions that I could go and enough material for a few different posts. Let’s start at the end and work our way backward to the end again, à la “Memento.”

Home: On Sunday I was back home for the first time in nine days. While I enjoyed my trip very much, I was eager the whole time I was gone to see Lisa. I thought about her all the time and wished that she had been with me. Everyone was sad to learn that Brown’s commencement on Memorial Day Sunday kept her from being able to come along. Trips are just much more fun when she’s with me, and not just because the only conversation I had on most of the long drives were in the form of podcasts. She’s a great traveling companion, and we have a lot of fun as connoisseurs of human folly. (I did get a nice two-hour long gab session with Mom in the car on Wednesday, though.)

I was surprised how much of Sunday I was able to make it through in a lucid fashion. On Sunday morning, the alarm went off at 4:45AM so that I could make my 6:55 flight home. Even with that much lead time and no traffic, I still almost missed it. (Thanks for nothing, closed gas station and slowest TSA security screening line ever.) It was the second night of little sleep. Friday ended late, Saturday started earlier than Sunday, and when I know I’m not going to get much sleep I tend to get insomnia.

(I had thought that I might be able to catch up on some sleep during the trip, but that was not to be. This trip was basically me getting up early to do my normal tri training—except for swimming—driving to a place where I could meet friends and/or family, visiting with them until late, getting less sleep than I expected, and repeating the whole thing the next day.)

Saturday . . . ride day . . . the day that spawned this whole trip . . . started early. Fortunately I got my bike, kit, and all of my food prepped on Friday night before bed. (Man, that was a late night, too. After a kinda disappointing VIP event, Scott, Scully, Nikki, and I went on an extended Tour de Coffee in Saint Paul. Scully needed the caffeine, but everything was closed, except McDonalds. They dropped me off at the hotel late, but it was so much fun!)

Where was I? Oh right, the ride. :^)

The Ride: Heather talked me into doing this 100-mile ride months ago, and it was finally here. The weather was perfect for cycling: cool, clear, and calm. I wasn’t sure what to expect from an urban/suburban century ride, but after riding around Minneapolis’s urban bike paths the previous two days, I was hopeful that it would be a good route, and it didn’t disappoint.

There were so many “Red Riders” (cyclists with Type-1, LADA, or Type-2 diabetes) near us at the start. The whole Red Rider concept is great. (Thanks for coming up with it, Mari!) I admit that I felt awkward having people doing the same event cheer me on just because I have diabetes, especially since Scully in her Team Type 1 jersey wasn’t getting any special attention from the crowd. But when I looked around at all of the people with diabetes at the start, I admit that it was a bit moving. We really can do anything. And it was pretty badass powering along the route past all of the wonderful people who raised money for my disease, knowing that Scully and I are both dedicated athletes out for an easy ride.

We decided before we started to take it easy. It was 100 miles after all, and there was no special reason to keep a particular tempo. Plus, the trails were a bit packed with all of us. I’ve never used my brakes so much on a ride before. Scully said that when you’re in the pack in a race, you’re constantly on and off your brakes, and I got the sense that she was having a good time. (The day before, when I asked her how close they ride during her races, she pulled to within a foot of me. Then she said, “Sometimes we’re actually leaning on each other a little,” and proceeded to demonstrate by moving even closer until her arm rubbed against mine and then pushed a bit for a few seconds. We both kept going straight, and I thought, “Damn, it feels good to be a gangster!”) Eventually the pack thinned out a bit, and by the time we got to the second rest stop and headed out onto the country roads, it was pretty easy to roll along and have some good conversations.

At first, I talked to some of my fellow Pancremaniacs along the route. Eventually, on one of the first big hills, Scully and I just kinda rode away and began a six- or seven-hour, nearly nonstop conversation about anything and everything. In Wyzata, we rode up on the back of a small pack, where we stayed for a few minutes before Scully sprinted off, passing them all and leaving me flat-footed with a freshly opened package of Clif Bloks energy chews in my hand. “Bitch, no fair attacking in the feed zone!” I playfully scolded when I finally caught up with her after my own head-down sprint past people saying “Go, Red Rider!” As we rounded the next corner to go out of town, the hills started before we had a chance to recover from the sprint. Take that, Scully!

It was the best-feeling long ride I’ve ever done. It was long, but it didn’t hurt or cause me any pain or soreness or boredom. I could easily have gone another 20-30 miles. I think this is because of the camaraderie, the relative flatness of the course, the great weather, the slightly slower pace, my consistent nutrition, and being very well-hydrated.

My diabetes management wasn’t perfect. After an amazing overnight where my BGs were between 100-120 for six hours, it started slowly climbing as soon as I got out of bed—a trend I’ve been noticing lately—and then picked up the pace when I had “breakfast” just before the ride started. By the time Scully got coffee at the second rest stop, I was 311 mg/dL (17.3 mmol) and had taken about 2.0 units of insulin. If you know me, you know that exercising with insulin freaks me out, but in this case, I knew that I needed to take some. Eventually I came down to the 180s (10s) for many hours before rolling across the finish line at 102 (5.7). I basically stopped eating during the last hour, since I’d had it with snack foods and knew that my BG could hold out with what I’d already put into it.

And what did I take in over those eight hours and six minutes? In no particular order:

  • 2 salted nut bars
  • 3 or 4 gels
  • 2 glucose tablets
  • 1.5 Clif Bars
  • 2 packs of Clif Bloks
  • Some Star Wars gummy snacks that stuck in my teeth and spawned a funny conversation about my non-folding tongue
  • Maybe something else
  • about 150 oz of water, occasionally using a bit of Nuun for electrolytes

That’s roughly 200-250 grams of carbs with just 2.0 units of bolused insulin (plus about 3.5 units of basal insulin using a temporary reduction of 30%). It’s crazy!

Poor Skullz went low right before the end, though, and we kinda took it really easy on our way to crossing the line together. About an hour later, I had to pull the car over on the way to the hotel because I dropped like a rock. Evidently bolusing the full amount for my post-ride chocolate milk wasn’t necessary at all. I understand there are incriminating pictures floating around of me with my cheeks full of Gu Chomps that I stuffed in with my shaking hands.

Afterward: I was expecting for the ride to turn difficult at some point; for a pain to arrive in my knee, foot, or hip; for the inside of my quads to start complaining or my lower back to get sore; or for the pedaling just to become hard. It never did. Interestingly, the biggest hill on the route was in the last five or six miles, and we just kinda powered our way up it. When I got off the bike, I was expecting fatigue or soreness, but that didn’t happen either.

Later in the day, as the Pancremaniacs hung out at the Chatterbox Pub and then even later when Scully and Scott kept me entertained while I packed, I expected to get stiff and achy. Nothing. Ditto for the next morning, when I hopped out of bed and felt no pain at all. In fact, I almost started to wonder whether I had actually done a century the day before. The Tour de Cure was almost magical in this respect!

It was, simply, a great ride in the middle of a fantastic weekend at the end of a wonderful Midwestern trip. I hung out with some great people, had some fantastic conversations, rode a scenic route, and spent some quality time on a bike. I can’t really express how wonderful the whole experience was.

Posted in 101 in 1001, Cycling, Diabetes, I am Rembrandt, Photography, Travel, USA | 7 Comments

Iowa – Part 3

I’m reserving judgment about Des Moines until tomorrow. I’ll just say this: Usually when I think of Des Moines, I’m happy . . . because I’m not there.

But so far so good. I had a fun evening today with Kelly Rawlings and her son in Des Moines. The city is starting to seem a bit more urbane and less like all of the rest of Iowa writ large. But then again, I was in the newly hip part of town and not the frequently methed out part.

Let’s see what happens tomorrow.

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Iowa – Part 2

I have been listening to a lot of “Fresh Air” podcasts over the last couple days. I stopped listening to nonmusical podcasts at work a while ago, and I’ve really fallen behind with my subscriptions. I’ve been catching up as I put a lot of miles on the rental car and a bunch of hours on the iPod.

I like a road trip. I like going somewhere, seeing new places and things, and being with people I know and like. Sadly, Lisa isn’t with me on this trip, so I’m getting all my conversation via “Fresh Air” in the hours between when I’m with my family and diabetes peeps.

Today was a short driving day, starting with a half-hour trip to see my brother. We hadn’t seen each other in a few years. It wasn’t a particularly easy visit, but it was good to finally catch up.

After that I got back in the car and followed the easiest Google Maps directions of all time. “Go west on Hwy 2 for about 2 hours and then turn left and right and left and you’re there.” Or something like that.

What followed was a fun afternoon and evening with Kim, Aaron, and Billy the corgi, involving food, ice cream, conversation, gossip, and barking. Now we’re relaxing and watching cartoons animated features on television while Kim weaves her Texting My Pancreas magic.

Tomorrow I’m going to see my mom and even more of my relatives. That’s worth at least five more hours of NPR interviews.

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Iowa – Part 1

I’m ready for a ride. I packed the bike last Thursday after a fast interval session, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Most of that is just the general desire to go for a ride, but a bit is because I’ve been trying to figure out where I was going to get a torque wrench to put it all back together again after my flight to Minnesota on Saturday. And then, once I picked it up from the enormous REI store in Bloomington (which I had called to hold one for me) I started wondering where I was going to get the hex drivers for my new wrench.

Fortunately, Scott Johnson, everyone’s favorite diabetic hugger, suggested that we look at the Sears at the Mall of America. (Voilà, all set.) We were at The Mall to meet a bunch of his local Minneapolis peeps with diabetes. I met a bunch of fun people, and I think we all had a great time. Scott’s a great guy with a great family, and I’m so thankful that he kept me entertained between the time that I arrived yesterday and when I left for Iowa today. Thanks again, Scott.

I’ll be in Iowa for most of the next week visiting my family and some more diabetes peeps before the Twin Cities Tour de Cure ride next Saturday. Today, I spent time with my father’s side of the family, most of whom I hadn’t seen in three years. Tomorrow, after a short ride in the morning, I’m going to visit my brother.

It’s strange being back in Iowa, a place that I feel I should like more than I do. I was born here. It’s where I passed the first fifteen years of my life and where much of my family still lives. It’s also—most importantly—the place where I went to college and met Lisa. And it’s pretty . . . in a very Grant Wood kinda way.

Until next time, here are some pictures.

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