Category Archives: USA

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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Posted in Cycling, Photography, Travel, USA, Western Adventure | 2 Comments

Casper

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.

Posted in Cycling, This is who we are, Travel, USA, Western Adventure | 3 Comments

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.

Posted in Diabetes, I am Rembrandt, Photography, Travel, USA | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Diabetes, Travel, USA | Leave a comment

Diabetes Snapshots: Paint Talks

Day 6 of Diabetes Blog Week: Snapshots!

In case you didn’t know: I’m in DC. I drove down here yesterday (Friday) to see a major Gauguin exhibit at the National Gallery of Art and to see some people from the diabetes community. Both experiences were really great.

I went to a few other museums in addition to the NGA, and it struck me that the people in the paintings and I had a lot of the same things on our minds. (I recommend clicking on the first image so that you can see all of the “What They Were Thinking” captions.)

Posted in Crusty Old Paint, Diabetes, Diabetes Blog Week, General, I am Rembrandt, Photography, Travel, USA | 4 Comments

Spring Cleaning

It was a long winter with more snow than I can ever remember. We had snow on the ground continuously from the day after Christmas through mid-March with an extra four or five inches on April Fools’ Day. Despite the weather, we did a lot . . .

  • Lisa and I took a day-trip to New York to see an exhibit on insulin and meet people with diabetes from the online community.
  • I visited the MFA several times since the new Art of the Americas wing opened.
  • I traveled to San Francisco to attend a couple of conferences.
  • We went to the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton.
  • And, of course, there was a lot training for a half-marathon in March and a triathlon in a few weeks.

Here are photographs from our five-month winter adventure.

Posted in Cycling, Diabetes, From the Yellow Notepad, General, I am Rembrandt, New York, Photography, Running, Travel, USA | 1 Comment

California Dreaming

I have stress dreams about travel. And I know they’re about travel because I’m traveling in the dreams. Sometimes the inkblots that are my dreams are quite easy to interpret. But I’m not sure whether I’m subconsciously manifesting my (small) anxieties about traveling to California tomorrow or about driving in the snow to my continuous glucose monitor (CGM) training later this morning.

Who knows? All I can say is that the city in my dream — a cross between Springfield, Pittsburgh, New Haven, and Hartford — was not as bad as you would think. After all, as the hotel clerk in my dream told me, “The city’s local museum has the finest collection” of a rare mineral whose name I’ve forgotten. . . . Just don’t try to get on the interstate. In that case you would need a map. And since I can’t read or see very well in my dreams, that wouldn’t have helped anyway.

Okay, I’m off to drive in the snow.

Posted in Diabetes, General, Travel, USA, Western Adventure | Leave a comment

Separated at Birth

It’s finally time to write that continent-sized post that I’ve been mulling for quite a while. After all, we leave for Australia in just 10 days.

I have a hypothesis — I’m full of them, by the way — that Australia and the United States are fraternal twins separated at birth. We (the U.S.) are the headstrong child who left home in a rage in our teenage years and forged a life of power and wealth. Australia is the marginally younger child who stayed close to the parents, even at a great distance — both physical and emotional.*

So how are our two countries similar?

We both speak English — or something like it — and have funny accents. (Well, Wisconsinites do, anyway.) Hugo Weaving and Nicole Kidman can pull off both of our accents very well. I’m fairly convinced, though, that no American can really do an Australian accent without sounding like an idiot.**

We’re approximately the same age in terms of European settlement, and we’ve each had our British colonial experience. Each nation had its own foundational myth that used the legal fiction of terra nullius to dispossess the native population.

We’re approximately the same size (if you leave out Alaska). And we’re both coastal nations, with the majority of our populations living within a few hundred miles of the ocean. And each country/continent has dry, sparsely populated regions full of ranches and deserts — the outback, if you will — where we like to engage in extractive industries and (occasionally) blow up nuclear weapons.

The U.S. and Australia are both “first world,” late capitalist, market-based, bourgeois democracies. We each have relatively low opinions of our governments. Each country has recently experienced troubles with its healthcare system. We even have our own versions of Medicare, too.

We love prisons and “football” and surfing. We both use dollars, which are currently moving away from parity in our favor as travelers. We each have an ABC television network. And we both like off-beat humor and alcohol.

Finally, we’re demographically similar. And each country has a sizable population that worries quite a bit about new immigrants and “boat people.”

Oh yeah, and the sun also rises in the east.

So let’s talk about differences.

Australia and the U.S. are mirror images. As antipodal pairs, we’re in different hemispheres, no matter how you look at it: east-west or north-south. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west; but at midday it will be in the northern sky when we’re in the southern hemisphere. I personally don’t care how water goes down a drain*** — that’s not going to help me navigate anywhere — but the sun being in the wrong place, that’s going to take some getting used to. Then throw in the whole driving on the opposite side of the road. . . .

I’m really, really looking forward to seeing a different set of stars, though.

We each have our own language quirks. Australia has wonky animals, all of which want to kill you. In America, it’s mostly the people who want to kill you. American football uses pads to dull the pain; Australian footballers use nothing more than toughness and alcohol, it would seem.

Now let’s get down to the big, big differences. Australia can go to the Commonwealth Games. We had this little revolution that got us permanently kicked out of the club. Australia stuck around; so HRH Elizabeth II is technically still the leader. I think she might be on some of their money, too.

Thinking of money, the GDP of the U.S. is roughly 15-20 times larger than our sibling’s. This — along with our youthful rebelliousness — has given us a particular swagger. The United States is an imperial superpower. We can do things that almost all other nations cannot do. (And probably would not do for that matter.)

It will be interesting to see how these differences and similarities appear from the opposite side of the globe. Stay tuned.


* — And then there’s Canada. I love Canada dearly, so I’ll just leave them be for now.

** — I’ve watched “Strictly Ballroom” and “The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert” probably a dozen times each and the only things I can say with any kind of convincing accent are “Hard?! You think this is hard?” and “bogo pogo.” I’ve decided that the best thing I can do in Australia is to talk like John Wayne.

*** — I’ve finally decided that the whole water down the drain thing isn’t (completely) an urban myth. Hey, precession happens. But the effect is so slight that you can say whatever you want.

Posted in Australia, This is who we are, Travel, USA | 3 Comments

A Day Late, A Tube Short

Yesterday was day #6 of Diabetes Blog Week. I managed to miss it because we were kinda busy. So I’m gonna make up for it today with two posts. First, some diabetes snapshots.

Diabetes Blog Week banner

Before the pictures, a little story. Remember that on Friday I wrote that I was going to do 90 mile ride in the Taconic Range today? Turns out, I forgot about an evening obligation, so I decided to delay the ride until next weekend and do a similarly sized ride starting at home but without any mountains.

About two hours into my ride through Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut — before I really even had a chance to get bored — I got a flat. After a year of riding, I was due, but it could have happened in a more convenient place, instead of halfway across the West Thompson Dam. My first thought was a hope that I could just raise my hand like they do in professional races and summon the neutral service vehicle for a quick wheel change. Oh, delusions!

After walking myself back to a place with a shoulder, I made a rookie mistake, breaking the head off the valve of my flat tube as I took it off the wheel. Had I been wiser, I would have also brought an extra tube with me. Like I said: rookie mistakes. Nothing to do after that but pack it in and call Lisa to pick me up. She’s a sweetheart, that girl.

Next week, I’ll be more sensible when I finally do that ride in the mountains.

Here are some pictures from the past couple days:

Eating Palak Paneer
Lunch of palak paneer and chicken korma

What?!
What?!

Testing
How did we do SWAGging lunch? Uh . . . coulda been better.

Bloggin'
Reading all y’all’s blogs

A movable feast
A movable feast

Bike in the graveyard
Stopping by the cemetery in Burrillville, Rhode Island

Joslin marker
Lots of Joslins in this part of Rhode Island and Connecticut

Dr. Joslin, I presume?
I thought at first this might be the guy we PWDs owe a debt of gratitude, but he seems to be an uncle of some distance.

Thompson, CT
Waiting for the cavalry in Thompson, CT

Waiting
I barely worked hard enough to muss my hair

Posted in Burying Grounds, Cycling, Diabetes, Diabetes Blog Week, Life Lessons, USA | 1 Comment

Some Patriots’ Day Thoughts on Militias and Tyrants

Sometimes, things happen that almost immediately crystallize an aspect of one’s life, splitting it into a time before the event and after. Your parent takes a job in a sparsely populated Western state and moves the whole family. A plane crashes with a family member on board. You drive a U-Haul truck from Oregon to Massachusetts without a job to start post-college life with your new spouse. You buy a home. You take a trip to India.

Some other events are just as important but only in retrospect. These are subtle things, a turning of the tide. A high school student teaches you a bit of French in fourth grade and inspires a life-long interest in la belle langue and the nation of France. You go to camp a couple years later where you bicycle a couple hundred miles around Iowa and realize that cycling is the activity that you really love. You appropriate the family camera on a trip to Yellowstone and pick up the habit. You ride the 80 bus from Watertown to Cambridge and start to give up most of your conservative political views as you see that the working people (of which you are one) need more opportunity than they’re getting. The tragic, brutal death of a young gay man in your home state makes you rethink some of the other bullshit ideas you had.

Another thing that slowly changed me was the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building fifteen years ago yesterday.

I should note that I was in my second year at Grinnell in the spring of 1995. I loved Grinnell, but I felt like I lived in a cave. Very little news made it my way. That is, I consumed very little of it. I remember the Republican revolution of 1994 — I may have been one of the few students there who didn’t really mind it. I seem to recall there was (still) a war in the Balkans. And the farm bill was rewritten. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to know what was going in the world; I just wasn’t very connected to the media at the time.

McVeigh and Nichol’s act of terrorism really struck close to home — figuratively, of course. At the time, I still considered myself a Wyomingite. Like many people in Wyoming I felt that the federal government was a more-or-less foreign, colonial power. DC is almost 2000 miles from the Equality State, but unelected officials there ultimately control how most of the land in the mountains and plains can be used. With only three electoral votes, our Congressional delegation might have had disproportionate power relative to our population, but we felt marginalized on the national stage. It seemed like a lot of the issues that mattered to us didn’t matter to the rest of the country, and vice versa. People on the coasts and in the cities wanted to take away the guns we (truly believed) we relied on for our protection. We might not have had “Live Free or Die” on our license plates — we had a broncobuster — but we felt like we actually lived what New Hampshire was trying to claim.

I knew a guy — a sort of family friend/hanger-on — who taught me about the militia mindset. He spent a lot of time at the gun shop. (I should say one of the gun shops, for there were several.) And he would tell us what he heard and (thus) believed. He was a real life Dale Gribble. The government had designs on our guns and our liberty. For reasons I didn’t understand, the Clinton Justice Department was training a secret NATO army using black helicopters to impose the “one world government” under the auspices of the UN. The Federal Reserve was part of an ancient secret society that finally surfaced at the Bretton Woods summit in the 40s; they too were part of this enormous plot, and at the appointed time this unelected body would devalue the US dollar for their nefarious ends. Ruby Ridge and Waco and Vince Foster’s suicide were visible corroboration of the dozens of other insidious events for anyone who would just bother to connect the dots. He buried guns and ammunition in PVC pipe in the backyard so that once ATF agents came to take his “sacrificial” firearms away, he would be ready to carry on the fight. He stocked extra food and claimed to have survival skills. And he “knew people” who claimed to have shot down a helicopter that was scaring their cattle on BLM land. But the “real” militia action was always over the border in Montana, where the crazy people live.

(If it weren’t for the talk about aliens, it was almost conceivable as an alternate reality. After graduating college I watched “X-Files.” And I felt like I had heard all of the stories already. The guy I knew was a wannabe Western version Fox Mulder, uncovering the evil machinations of the Cigarette Smoking Man. After my first year working in tech support where I frequently helped people working in the defense industry on government contracts, it became crystal clear to me that the very idea of a “massive government conspiracy” crumbles because it’s just not possible to hold it all together secretly. Even people working on secret things need help completing their part of the secret.)

So when a couple of “lone wolves” put an actual plan into effect, I was stunned. I knew that some people believed the government wanted to make them slaves to its bureaucratic will. I knew that there were a lot of well-armed, slightly off-balance people out there. And I knew that there was a lot of angry — or, at the very least, agitated — rhetoric. (“Talking treason” the guy I knew liked to say.) But I didn’t think anyone would actually do this sort of thing. If I were old enough to remember the Weathermen, it wouldn’t have been so surprising.

After the bombing — which thankfully didn’t actually touch my life directly — just about anything associated with the militia point of view rapidly lost whatever bit of Revolutionary-era-throwback legitimacy I had carved out for it in my mind. These are modern times; there’s no need to “water the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants,” because we are so far away from tyranny. Government wasn’t the problem; it was the bulwark against domestic terrorists. Gun legislation might not always be consistent; but it seems like a necessity. There should be no such thing as a “well-regulated militia” except as run by the states.

Above all, the tremendous amount of lost life, the needless deaths, and the premeditated brutality of the Oklahoma City bombing shows us the danger of unchecked bullshit. I don’t claim to know what was in McVeigh’s mind, though I hear he was upset about Waco and Ruby Ridge (which were unfortunate and needless in their own way). But the idea that these events herald despotism makes no more sense than the gun shop hearsay that the family friend shared with us.

Looking at American history, we see that our form of government is more durable than we let on. We have never had periods of despotism. The Republic has never fallen, although it did crack apart from within during the Civil War because of or own inconsistent ideas of “liberty.” Neither fascism nor communism — the two greatest external ideological threats to democracy — took hold. (The methods of prophylaxis — Palmer raids, strike-busting, Pinkertons, McCarthyism, widespread FBI surveillance — may even have been worse than what the forces of stability were trying to prevent.) We have survived wars and contested elections and depressions. The historical power behind the idea of America is the strongest argument against militia activity.

In fact, militias have only gotten us into trouble since they peeled us off from the British Empire. (And depending on your point of view, maybe even then too.) Shay’s Rebellion helped destroy the first post-Revolutionary confederation. Armed white civilians moving into the interior of the continent committed ethnic cleansing and spread race-based tyranny. John Brown’s raids and the Missouri troubles hastened the Civil War, while the South Carolina militia’s siege on Ft. Sumter actually started it. The Ku Klux Klan began as anti-Reconstruction civilian militia. The Gilded Age’s corporate militias killed working men and their families. The counterculture’s left-wing terrorist/nihilist militias in the 1960s and 70s helped usher in the current generation’s culture wars.

So it bothers me very much to see a contemporary resurgence in the kind of sentiment and speech that I heard in my late adolescence, the kind of words and ideas that led McVeigh and Nichols to kill 168 people fifteen years ago. I didn’t say anything about the notions I heard before Oklahoma City because I thought it was diverting, idle chatter — a jester’s story, if you will. Now that I’m starting to hear the same BS, I must say that it’s time to stop . . . before our nation’s adolescent obsession with civilian militias gets people killed again.

Posted in Historical Record, History, Life Lessons, This is who we are, USA, Western Adventure | 2 Comments

A Different Kind of Reading

Lisa and I made it home from Wyoming to find the house still standing, the heat still working, and the kitty still happily away at his little resort until tomorrow afternoon. We have completely unpacked, and Lisa even set out all of the Christmas decorations. That’s a little easier to do this year, since we aren’t decorating a tree. We love getting a Christmas tree, but it doesn’t make sense to put one up just to let it dry out while we’re spending the week around Christmas in Oregon.

I was a bit nervous about today’s journey. Casper was forecast to have two inches of snow, starting right around the time this morning that we were to leave. And somehow I got us a the Casper to Denver to Chicago to Boston itinerary with tight layovers of less than an hour at each stop. But after the frustrating travel experiences we had last month on our way to and from Kansas, we had good travel karma today. We even walked out the door at baggage claim just as the Logan Express to Framingham rounded the corner. That never happens.

We very much enjoyed spending time with my mom and seeing friends in Wyoming, but it’s nice to be home. Nice to be back to sea level. To be back to my pile of reading.

While my two shelves of books will persist into the new year, my periodicals stack won’t. At the beginning of the year I set myself a goal of cleaning up the big shipping box full of various magazines and issues of the New York Times Book Review that I had amassed over the two and a half years that I was in grad school. What I haven’t finished at the end of the year goes into the recycling. “Out with the old” and all that.

Sadly, I haven’t made much progress throughout the year. But I did manage to read a bunch of magazines on the flights last Sunday and today, so maybe there’s hope after all. The Runner’s World article on 1980′s hurdling phenom Danny Harris, who destroyed his career with cocaine, and the National Geographic Adventure feature on a new hiking trail across Nepal were my favorites. The Scientific American article from last year about how the Large Hadron Collider will likely reshape physics reminded me that when I was younger I wanted to be a particle physicist. Oh well, something more to read about next year.

Posted in Book Notes, NaBloPoMo, NaBloPoMo 2009, Travel, USA, Western Adventure | 3 Comments