Category Archives: Health/Fitness

My Latissimus Dorsi Hurts

I’m lying in bed right now in a mild amount of pain. You know how, in the hospital, they ask you to rate your pain on a scale of 1 to 10, ten being the worse ever? My pain at this moment is about a 2 or 3. It’s a dull ache in my back, right side. But, if I move the wrong way, that becomes a 9, easy. Yesterday, as I was about to leave for work in the morning, I did not realize that my lawn sprinklers, having been blown by the wind, had coated my driveway with a thin, imperceptable sheet of ice because of the unusually cold temperatures that morning. So, when I saw my trash can had blown down, I did what I normally do, I went out to pick it up, in a hurry, of course, because I don’t want to be late to work, and I found myself on my back suddenly and harshly.

I felt fine at first. I got back up and actually rode my bike to work in the morning, after picking up the trash can and walking more carefully. Once at work, I felt a little discomfort in my back. Then, over the course of the day, the pain worsened. By 6th period, I had to teach from a chair. I asked my wife to pick me up instead of riding home in the screaming wind. Even in calm conditions, I think riding might have been a bad idea.

My wife took me to urgent care. The doctor their diagnosed me with a strain of my latissimus dorsi muscle which is ending up to be very painful. He prescribed rest, no lifting things, and NSAID along with some heat and ice. I called in sick because sleeping was hard but moving this morning was even more difficult. In fact, this morning, around 4 a.m., I thought I could try sleeping on my side. It seemed like a good idea. But, instead, it caused the most painful and excruciating muscle spasm I have had. Luckily, my wife had a muscle relaxer and she helped me get the heating pad under me while every slight movement send waves of nine-level pain through me.

I can’t classify it as ten-level pain because I just don’t know if I’ve had that yet. I think that is having-a-baby pain or gall-bladder-attack pain. But, this was still pretty bad.

I don’t know but I have a feeling I may be out of commission for a few days. I can walk, carefully, but I don’t know which movements will inspire a spasm. At this point, I have no idea if I can put on or take of a shirt. Lifting the toilet seat is scary and hurts a little. Even lying down, the muscle aches. It’s a bummer. I have a lot to do at school with my students, I have a Site Rep Council meeting tomorrow, I have bike rides I want to be taking, there’s work to do in my garage, and so on. I really hate being injured.

Besides that… oh, I finished my work bench. It came out pretty good. The first picture is the workspace in general. The second is a better picture of just the bench. I’m happy with it.

There’s little things wrong with it, but mostly, it is great. Maybe the wood isn’t the highest quality or something but some stuff didn’t line up the way I thought it would. However, it’s a good bench and looks nice while providing a great place to work on stuff. I really like the drawers even though that added a level of difficulty and I even had to make a new drawer because one of them didn’t fit. The finish came out nice, too.

In the first picture, you can see a cabinet/shelf thing I made, too. It holds all kinds of cans and bottles of stuff like wood, cleaners, WD-40, oil, grease, and so on. The door folds down to make a little shelf. It’s pretty nice and I hung in on the peg board using a French cleat. Also, I hung tools on the peg board. The peg board used to be behind several of those ClosetMaid wire shelves. I moved those to another wall and put the peg board to work holding up my tools. Much better. I really like having the tools on the wall. To me, it both looks cool but it means I am more organized and find the tools I want so much easier.

So, that was a successful project.

In this shot, you can see that I have attached boards to the wall for a French cleat organizing wall. I can make little cleats that hold hooks or other things to attach tools or whatever, to the wall. And, you can move the stuff around if you don’t like its placement. It’s an evolving project. And, on the right of the picture, at the top, you can see where I attached some rails to hold plastic totes for more storage.

I got all of these projects from the Family Handyman magazine website.

That’s how I spent most of my winter break. Since then? I’ve gotten a few bike rides in. Riding a bike in the cold is not a lot fun, unless you have something to warm it up a bit. I do, so that is okay. But, the other morning, I left to join the cycling group I belong to for the regular Saturday ride, and it had to be in the 30’s easy. The air hurt on bare skin wherever it touched. I used a “ninja mask” face cover and that helped quite a bit, actually. I was going to be riding my bike to work starting again this week, but then the back injury happened. So, it’s hard to tell how long I will be off my bike. Back injuries are not to be trifled with.

At work, we are looking at poetry. I used to hate poetry, especially in high school, so I am very sympathetic when students groan at the mention of poetry, or don’t understand this whole meter thing. I don’t get it, sometimes, either. I can usually recognize iambic pentameter when I see it, but I don’t know a trochee from a spondee or a dactyl from an anapest.

The Sophomores will read a little of this and a little of that. I’m a little disappointed that so many of the selections are modern and in free verse. The Juniors will look pretty closely at Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman. Those will be fun, I like those. Aside from teaching them to analyze poetry to find the theme, symbols, imagery, figurative language, and so on, I am hoping at least to help them gain an appreciation for the form and enjoy reading some poems.

Last year, I dove right into the poems and ended up finding that the kids didn’t really understand the things we were talking about, like symbols and metaphors. So, I had to teach that stuff in the middle. This time, I have opted to front-load all of that information via PowerPoint presentation. It’s not a lot of fun for the kids. But, I am able to break it up with some Think/Pair/Share activity and that helps.

Of course, I’m not doing much at all if I’m at home with a screwed up back. So, next time, I am going to remember that water freezes when it’s real cold and try not to fall down in the future.

The ride is done and I did it! Tour de Foothills Century completed!

I did it! I completed the entire Tour de Foothills Century 2012!

http://app.strava.com/runs/27459483/embed/b604f3dddceff5211824147d3dc08b73ddbcb077

That’s my Strava post to prove it. I’m sure you, dear reader, believed me instantly. But, just in case someone less trusting is viewing. Plus, I think it’s pretty impressive to look at. One hundred and one miles. Seven thousand plus feet of climbing. Nearly 7 hours in the saddle. That’s a lot of bike riding!

It was a good ride. It was cold. Very very cold. I doubt that it got above 65 degrees all day. In fact, coming down from Glendora Mountain Road into East Fork, I believe it was in the thirties. There was ice on the sides of the road in the shadows! I was entirely grateful to be wearing a good base layer shirt that I bought the night before, and a wind vest, as well.

I like to give props to companies and products that are doing it right. Craft makes the base layer shirt, a long sleeve crew neck “Zero” layer, I think. And Showers Pass makes the wind vest, an excellent product. It blocks the wind on my front torso so that I’m not dealing with freezing sweat after climbing up and then going down a big hill.

Unfortunately, my Oakley Jawbones (Racing Jackets?) did not keep my right eye/contact lens from clouding up. I put in rewetting eye drops several times to no avail. By the time I was in the last five miles it was brutal dealing with poor vision in my right eye. It’s uncomfortable and makes it so much harder to ride. That, fortunately, was one of the only very bad things about the ride.

We began the ride early in Upland, a 7:00 a.m. start. Cold that makes your fingers ache. But, after a mile or so, I started to warm up and I found my friend, Mike. We rode through Claremont, then into Pomona and San Dimas. The first big climb was Via Verde, which, while steep, is short. A fast descent followed, then some flats into Covina and Glendora. We made our way up to Glendora Mountain Road. Mike went his own way to ride the Metric Century. But, I had a date with a mountain.

I had ridden this road many times, at least the way up. So, I knew what to expect. Most of it is about 5% – 6% grade, but there are sections that hit 8% and 9% with slightly steeper road in a couple parts. It’s about 8 or 9 miles of climbing and the grade makes it hurt. At the top was a rest stop where I availed myself of some Fig Newtons, some banana, and refilled my water bottle with an electrolyte beverage. Next was a very cold, fast descent, hitting speeds of 30 miles an hour into East Fork. Then, out San Gabriel Canyon. The wind was blowing into the canyon and I was lucky to find a few guys going my speed to help block the wind and pull me a ways down the road.

We made our way into Glendora again to another rest stop. I found some other people I knew and followed their wheels into Claremont for the next big climb, Mt. Baldy Road. This is some of the steepest road in the area. At one point, my Garmin indicated 13% grade. Ouch. At nearly 80 miles, this is a cruelty that is almost uncalled for. I paused at the foot of the climb because my right calf muscle was threatening to cramp and that was not something I wanted to deal with. I ate some energy gel blocks (Stinger) and took some Enduralytes, just in case, along with several drinks of water. Then, I began my assault on the climb. I put the bike into my lowest “granny gear” and went to work. I passed one guy walking his bike and another vomiting over the guard rail. Nice. My muscles complained but never cramped and I made it up the hill okay. Another rest stop at the top was welcomed. I refilled my bottles again and headed down.

Another fast descent down Mountain Avenue and then Euclid Avenue to 19th. Here began my existential bike ride. For some reason, I had ended up alone. Either I had left behind anyone I knew, or I had been passed by them. In any case, I rode alone down 19th Street through Upland. Yes, there was a bike rider here and there, but no one that stayed with me, or vice versa. I headed down Victoria Loop and to Baseline. The wind blew against me, mostly at about 10 miles an hour, but with gusts that were more fierce. I was riding into the teeth of the West wind and it was not fun. Ninety miles on my legs, vision impaired by a cloudy contact lens, and now, irritable because I hate riding in the wind. It takes your spirit and stomps it. See, you’re putting a lot of effort into the pedals. The wind hits you and you feel as if you should be going 20 mph but you’re only going 10 mph. It makes you feel weak and puny. Wind is a highly underrated weather event.

Finally, with about a mile to go, I found some other riders and we made our way to the finish. Then, to my surprise, my wife and kids were waiting for me, my son handing me my “Finisher” medal. Very cool. I was exhausted. My back hurt, my knee hurt and I was bone tired in almost every muscle in my legs and arms. But, I was happy. I had done it.

As I think about it, I did it as much to lose weight and get in shape, plus enjoy bike riding, as I did it to do something impressive. I wanted to accomplish something. Maybe this is a kind of “mid-life” crisis where I feel like I need something to point to as an accomplishment. I don’t know. I know it makes me happy because my kids are proud of me. My wife is proud of me, too. And, I’m glad because she helped a lot by supporting and encouraging me. Plus, she dropped me off and picked me up that day, too. I did lose weight, about 20 pounds. I have dropped a few percentage points of body fat, too. I learned that I can endure pain and discomfort. And, I made some friends. It’s a pretty good deal, all in all. I’m glad I did it. And, I plan to continue riding. I’d like to do more centuries. Palm Springs has a nice ride, I hear, as does Solvang. One day, I’d like to complete the Death Valley century, too.

And, that’s the end. I guess, if you need a take away, it’s that setting goals can be very useful. I pushed myself to improve over time, and I persevered. I don’t know if riding bikes is for everyone. But, you can do it, if you decide to. I don’t think there’s anything terribly unusual about me versus anyone else. But, if nothing else, choose something you want to accomplish and then lay out an achievable plan to get it done. Thanks for coming along with me. Hope you enjoyed it.

Two days until the ride

I had written this days ago but forgot to hit “post.” Sorry about that. I will have an update soon.

I feel pretty good. My knee will probably hurt, but not bad enough to keep me from riding. My back, too, still isn’t 100% and I don’t know why. But, I know I will finish the ride, barring some kind of accident or something unknown. I feel ready, but I won’t set any course records on Saturday. I am hoping, at least, for some personal records, I guess. That’s what’s so cool about Strava and the Garmin computer. I will get a personalized analysis of my ride in a way that I never did before. It used to be that I could only get an average speed, a max speed, and a distance. But, now I can have all kinds of data. I will see my exact route, speed at any given point on the route, heart rate, too, and so on.

It’s pretty cool.

Anyway, I was thinking about how it’s going to hurt. I know that at many points on Saturday, my chest will heave, my quads will burn, my calves will ache, my knees will throb, and likely some other muscles or tendons in legs will feel tight and sore. My butt is going to hurt, I may even get sores. I will probably be too cold and too hot over the course of several hours, or even minutes. I will, at some point, look at my mileage and despair because I have so many miles left. I may be too hungry, lightheaded, nauseous, or just tired. My hands will likely go numb or tingle at times. My shoulders will hurt, my neck will ache, and my eyes will be dry.

All of that will probably happen and that’s the best case scenario. Worse case would be that I crash and and actually get injured. Or I get cramps. Or sick.

So much discomfort and even pain. Why do it? I often think about that. Sometimes I even try to figure it out during those times when it hurts so much. It is for the moments, I guess. There are moments when the surrounding are beautiful. I recall coming down Glendora Ridge Road and the sunlight sparkled through the maples and oaks on the mountainside. They were in the midst of changing colors (not the oaks, of course) and it was really cool. Sometimes it’s a moment where I feel good. My legs feel powerful, my body isn’t hurting unusually, and I am moving at a good pace. My pedaling is smooth, the bike tracks along the road and I feel the power transferring efficiently from my legs to the pedal, the chain, the cogs, the tires, and into the road. That’s a good moment, too.

I ride also because I can. I enjoy feeling like I did something that others can’t. It might be going up a steep climb, for example. Most people complain when the grade hits 2%. I like being able to climb four miles of 6-8% grade. I like getting to the top and knowing that I didn’t let the hill beat me. It also could be distances. Most people can’t even comprehend riding a bike for 100 miles, or even 50. It’s hard to do. It’s hard to be on the bike for hours at a time. So, there’s that.

I ride because it’s the most fun version of exercise I have found. I get injured running. Walking is too slow. I don’t want to use machines or lift weights. That seems pointless. Bike riding takes you places. You get to see things. I like the way the world looks from two wheels, and it does look different. Smells different too, good and bad. I love the smell of damp fields in the morning just beginning to warm in the sun. On the other hand, there’s the smell of a hot sewer or port-a-potty that has been cooking in the blazing Southern Californian sun. That’s every bit as bad as it sounds. Sucking in a lungful of car exhaust is no fun, either. But, a field of wild flowers is heavy with fragrance, or jasmine blooming in the later afternoon. Divine.

To some degree, cycling is about living with the pain, and sometimes enjoying it. Usually, it’s that the ride is better than the pain is bad. But, it can also be that the pain means you’re doing something worthwhile.

I’m looking forward to Saturday’s ride. It will be difficult. But, I have a feeling that I will get a little of everything from it. There will be pain, and beauty, loneliness (when I get dropped) and camaraderie. There will be ups and downs, good and bad.

How to start getting fit

I’m not an expert. But, I think my experience is valid and useful. When I started cycling at first, back in 2005, I was way out of shape. I was 35 pounds overweight. I rode my bike uphill, about 3 miles, up a sleight grade, nothing crazy. But, I was slow, going 3.5 miles per hour. I thought I would die. But, it was a start.

Look, exercise is hard and it often hurts. But, if I am eating too much, I have to exercise. I have to burn calories. If I am overweight, I have to burn more than I take in. You can lower your caloric intake and eat less and lose weight without exercise, but that’s way harder.

Exercise is actually a natural appetite suppressant, at least for most of the time you are working out. Of course, working out make you hungry, too. But, if you work out hard, you can eat more. That is a great thing about taking a long bike ride. After three or four hours of riding, I have burned over 1,000 calories. It gives me a lot more room in my diet for the day.

Another thing that helps is that I enjoy cycling. So, I look forward to the exercise and that makes it easier to continue doing it.

So, my first suggestion is to pick a form of exercise that you like doing. The second suggestion is that you commit to a reasonable goal. At first, I committed to riding my bike 3 times a week, minimum, for 30 minutes each time. Eventually, I increased that to 4 to 5 times a week and 45 minutes to an hour each time. If I missed my goal, I just started over. I didn’t give up just because I missed the goal. That was key, I think.

Another thing that helped was that I met some people that cycled too. Initially, it was mountain biking, but I also met road bikers, too. And, they were faster and had more endurance so I wanted to train harder to be able to keep up with them. I did the same thing this year and signed up for the Tour de Foothills century so I would have a goal to shoot for. But, mostly, the people become a kind of support group.

For example, they told me about doing interval training as a way to get fit with shorter workouts. Or, when I started getting cramps during longer workouts, my friend Mike told me about eating Tums or drinking pickle juice to relieve them. (Mostly, today, I try to drink fluids with electrolytes while riding, or eating stuff like energy gels or Clif bars.) Mike has been an invaluable resource, actually. I have learned a lot about cycling in general from him. From bike fit, to good equipment, to good rides, he has a lot of information to share. It’s good to find someone who can help you out like that.

Interestingly, it also has occurred to me that my circle of friends in cycling has given me a big boost in the sense that I have raised my expectations. I ride with people who regularly ride 50 to 100 miles without blinking an eye. They go up and down mountains. This is way different than hitting a bike path a couple times a week or riding around the block a few times. I ride 25 miles and then see that they rode 50 and I feel like I need to ride more. So, I think that is a good thing to have higher expectations.

And, then, there is Strava. I have way too much fun with that. I can see my ride on a map, see the numbers, and all of that. Strava is fun. And, segments give you a way to track your progress. If you ride or run, you should use Strava.

Summing it up, pick an activity you enjoy, set reasonable goals, and find some people to support your activity and/or participate with you so you will stick to your goals and raise the bar for yourself as you improve.

A post for the Fall Equinox

Happy Fall Equinox! I thought I would check in. I haven’t been writing much, I know. I guess I haven’t been sure I had much of anything interesting to say. I have been keeping busy, though. I am trying hard to provide some quality education to my students as well as training on my bikes to be ready for the Highlander Century in November. Plus, the normal, everyday stuff going on: helping kids with homework, spending time with my honey, and fitting in some relaxation time, too.

So, when I started riding again, back in June, I think, I was weighing around 195 pounds. Today, I am weighing more like 180. I’ve dropped a couple inches around my waist. So, that’s very good. I completed a “Century” ride called the Amtrak Century a couple of weeks ago. That was 94 miles at once. (We took a shortcut at the beginning of the ride.) I did over 60 miles a week or so before that, as well. This weekend I rode 58 miles yesterday and 52 miles today with about 3,000 feet of climbing each day. That’s pretty decent.

That’s my friends and I after the Amtrak Century a few weeks ago. I’m the one in the middle with the Dark Side of the Moon jersey.

I got a couple awesome accessories. I got a Garmin Edge 500 that is a GPS unit for cycling. It can tell me how fast I’m going, how far, my average speed, my heartrate, my cadence (how many revolutions my pedals are making), and, of course, where I went. I hook it up to the computer and upload the ride data so I can see all of that. I am using Strava track my data. It says I have ridden 485 miles so far in September. I have been riding my bike to work and back most days, as well as longer rides on the weekends.

In November, I will ride the Highlander Century. This will be about 100 miles of cycling with about 7500 feet of climbing. Not an easy day. But, I feel sure that my training will have me ready, though I may suffer and be slow on all that climbing. My Garmin helps a lot with this. Not only can I precisely check my mileage but it also allows me to see when I am really working hard, or just riding at tempo, because I can see what my heartrate is. I can also ride better because I can see when my cadence is too high or low and shift gears accordingly. For fun, Strava has segments on lots of rides so I can record achievements like Personal Records, for example, on certain portions of a ride. I created a few along my ride to work and back so I can track my performance and abilities. This helps me also to ride intervals where I go really hard for a portion of time and then rest by pedaling more slowly other times. I am under the impressoin that this is a good way to train and lose weight.

My other favorite new toy are my Oakley Racing Jacket (neé Jawbones) sunglasses. I have worn Oakleys for a long time. I know a lot of people think Oakleys are overpriced. Maybe they are, but my experience with them is that they are some of the finest sunglasses I have worn. My eyesight is fairly important to me. I want sunglasses that offer clarity and protect my eyes, particularly when cycling. I have gotten grit and dust in my eyes while riding and, as a contact lens wearer, this is very bad. Also, I have been hit by insects a lot. I’ve had had them hit my glasses, too. So, I think that eyewear is a very important piece of safety equipment.

I was wearing a pair of Oakley Half Jackets but I found I was getting cloudy eyes from riding. It was so frustrating! Every time I finished a ride I would have to take out my contacts. And, on the Amtrak Century, my lenses were uncomfortable and cloudy on the way home. Not fun. I went to Oakley and decided that the Racing Jackets were the solution. And, they have been! Maybe they look obnoxius (I don’t think so!)

That’s a picture I sent of a cheesy grin to my daugther and wife the other day while I was riding. Yeah, the glasses are big, but they work! I rode 53 miles today and my contacts are fine! So, to me, that’s money well-spent. The glasses have an odd little spoiler shape on the bottom frame and I sometimes wonder if that’s why my glasses keep the wind out so well. But, they don’t fog up too bad in the morning when it’s cool out, either, at least not so far. The lenses are great, too. They are made to create more contrast and I do think I can see better with them on. Also, the pros wear them so they kinda make me look more pro, I think. haha

One interesting development has been that I seem to have Exercise Induced Asthma. For years now, I would cough after riding. I thought, for a bit, that it was dusty out, or smoggy. I thought it was just a thing. Normal. But, it always happened and has still been happening. My chest feels tight and I cough after riding. Sometimes I cough at night, too. So, my doctor prescribed an inhaler with Albuterol to use prior to exercise and it seems to have had a positive effect. I still cough a little, but not nearly as much, if at all. I still get the tight chest feeling sometimes at night and I start coughing. But, I have a follow up appointment tomorrow so we will see what happens. I had an EKG, a chest xray, blood taken for testing, and a breathing test. Hopefully my doctor will be able to draw some conclusions from all of that.

My students this year are good. I like all five of my classes. I have three classes of Sophomores and two classes of Juniors. The vast majority are good natured and work in class. I have a couple kids who don’t work but they arent defiant about it. I am making a firm effort to always been up and about in the classroom. If the kids are working independently, I have to circulate to offer help and supervise, not sit at my desk. I think this helps a lot. I am using Class Dojo, a web app at http://www.classdojo.com that tracks student behavior and I like that, too. Overall, that has been goodd.

So, that’s where I’m at these days. Things are going well. Today is the Fall Equinox; the days will be getting longer now. The year is 3/4 over and the 1st quarter at work is almost done. Good time to check in with my four readers. Hope your time is going as well as mine, if not better.

Forty-Eight Miles and a Wedding

Note: that’s not me. In the future, when I get stronger, I’ll be taking my own pictures. But, it is Mt. Baldy Road.

Yesterday, I endeavored to take a longer ride, still in training for my Highlander Century. So, I went out to ride with the Cycling Connection. I left the house late and met up with another rider a few miles out from the meeting place. I drafted off him for bit. He was obviously much stronger than I and we were cruising along around 23 mph. I offered to pull for a little, as it was polite, and did so. But, our pace dropped a couple mph, to 20. We arrived at the coffee house and saw the group had already left. We also met up with another rider at this point. I really need to get a Cycling Connection jersey. Both were wearing one and they seemed to know each other.

So, the three of us set out and used a rotating pace line which, embarassingly, needed to be explained to me. I did my best and we actually caught the group by Haven. So, now with the group, we continued the ride. I had decided to do the long ride, which included going up Mt. Baldy Road, to Shinn Road and then down to Mountain Ave. That’s a tough little climb there. My knee didn’t hurt too bad. Mostly, I was riding alone, though. The majority of the group went down Padua. I don’t know if the riders doing the long ride are that much faster than me, or what.

It was a good ride, though. I don’t mind riding alone as I do a lot of it. There were a few times where I felt pretty fast. I past a small group on cruising bikes in Rancho Cucamonga and it was like they were standing still. I caught a couple guys who asked me for directions. They were ridng with the group, but got separated it seems. I caught a kid who was solo. He had a decent bike and seemed to be a rider of some capability, but he was going too slow and I passed him. He either couldn’t or didn’t want to keep up with me as I dropped him immediately.

And, so it goes. I feel strong sometimes and others I can feel my lack of conditioning. Last time, all I did was get stronger and faster. But, this time, I remember what it was like to power up a climb without really caring much about it. I remember climbing Glendora Mountain Ridge Road and enjoying it! But, yesterday, going up both Baldy Road, and the climb up to the top of Day Creek were both exercises in will power.

I have learned at a big part of cycling, both moutain and road, is psychological. My mind will give up long before my body will. My legs can keep going, but my head can’t take the pain signals coming from them. And, that’s the other part of it. Cycling is an edurance sport. How long can you endure the discomfort and/or pain? There’s the pain in your legs, the pain in your butt, the pain on the soles of your feet, the pain in your lower back, the pain in your neck, and sometimes the pain in your hands, too. That’s the thing you have to endure to go cycling.

So, I either needed to distract myself from the pain and just pedal, or find a new mini-goal. It’s a good mental trick. I just need to pedal to the top of that rise. I just need to pedal to the next stop sign. I just need to pedal for one more minute. This is nothing. I’ve done this climb before. It’s nothing. It works, most times.

I was stronger this time than last time. I got back to the Grind but I didn’t see any point in stopping. I had no money on me and I didn’t really know the rest of those guys. The friends I have in the Connection were on a different ride out to Pasadena and back. Some of you might be thinking (ha ha, I’m pretending people read my blog!), “Dude, how are you going to meet people if you don’t talk to them? Well, the thing is, I am a Socially Awkward Penguin.

That is, I just often feel like it’s very difficult to be gregarious with people I don’t know. I have a hard time just walking up and talking to people I haven’t met before. It’s uncomfortable. So, I just kept riding up Day Creek.

I headed down the Pacific Electric Trail, to Etiwanda, up to Banyan, across to Wardman Bullock up to Summit, then to Citrus and home. Forty-eight miles, total. I don’t know how much elevation I climbed, but it seemed like a lot. By the time I got home, my legs were fried.

We had a wedding to go to, so I got ready and we went over to the Mission Inn of Riverside. The ceremony was in the St. Francis chapel and it was nice. I thought it was touching that they wrote their own vows and that the groom even made a vow to be a good step-father to the children. I don’t what it is with me, age, trauma, or just plain sensitivity, but I found myself getting a little emotional as the bride and groom expressed their love and devotion to one another. Maybe it’s just that I know that feel, bro. I adore my wife and feel so lucky to be with her. So, it was a nice ceremony and romantic. The chapel was beautiful. I’d been outside the Mission Inn before, but not inside like this, so it was very interesting.

The reception followed. The meal was pretty darn delicious for hotel food. It wasn’t quite gourmet 5 star fare, but it was delicious nonetheless. The filet mignon was tender and light pink in the middle. The salad was very good and the cake was so good my wife stuck my hand with a fork when I made a move toward hers, for which I don’t blame her at all. Very yummy.

Stairs, however, were not fun. My quads were so tired from the ride that I had to walk slowly down stairs, like an old man. My wife and I danced for a couple of songs when they played a little merengue/disco hybrid. We can never resist Elivs Crespo’s “Suavemente.” But, her back and my legs meant we quit after two more songs. But, it was still fun.

That is just a darn good day, you know? Bike riding, good food, dancing, and spending time with a beautiful woman. Darn good day.

Wrapping my handlebars for the first time

I have decided to do as much of my own “wrenching” on my bikes as I can. Some things are a bit beyond me, yet. I won’t be doing any bottom bracket work, for example. But, I decided I needed to re-tape my handlebars on my Allez. It’s funny to me because I’m finding out all kinds of new things that are like, duh! Like, people get their shocks serviced every six months to a year. Or, they replace the bearings and relube their hubs at least once per year.

And, they replace the tape on their handlebars once per year, I guess.

Now, this might sound weird, but I was scared to do it. For some reason, it totally intimidated me. I figured there was some arcane, mystical weaving method to it that I would completely screw up. But, there’s not. It’s not complicated at all. And, in an ideal situation, shouldn’t take more than an hour or so.

The tape on my Allez’s bars bugged me from the beginning. It was white. Maybe it looks good, but it’s a pain in my arse. Because, if I get a flat, or my gears throw the chain (which happened far too often) and I got dirt or grease on my hands, it would seem that I could never get them clean enough after. Inevitably, my tape ended up looking dirty. And, I couldn’t seem to clean the tape, either.

Then, this happened. That piece of tape was always sliding over and exposing the bar beneath. Drove me crazy. I was always trying to pull it back over. Finally, the other day, it tore. So, I ordered some Fizik Microtex tape with gel. I also went on YouTube to watch some videos.

Can I just digress a moment to say how much the Internet has changed my life? Even back in 2006 when I was working on my bike, I don’t think YouTube had as many videos for how to work on your bike. Now, you can look up almost anything! Then, there’s the Park Tools site. Why even buy a repair book (of which, I have two), anyway?

So, this video was extremely helpful to me. Without it, I probably would have screwed it up way more than I did. So, far, I have done half of the bar. I did it last night, but it was getting late. It was bloody hot in the garage, too! Even at ten o’clock!!! So, I will try to finish tonight. I thought I would share a couple pics with you of the work, in case you’re interested.

Yeah, that tape is a little dingy, huh?

With the tape removed, I found that Specialized had added some kind of gel. It looked pretty bad, actually. KInda like snot, or ectoplasm. So, I removed that and the tape that still stuck to the bar.

Finally, the bar was clean so I could start. I decided to even retape the brake cables. So, I did that with some “strapping tape.” Specialized had used some kind of thin, clear tape that looked cheap and left a nasty, gummy residue.

Here’s the bars with the strapping tape in place now. Much better.

The bar tape I bought was well-reviewed and seemed to be a kind of gold standard for bar tapes. I also saw Cinelli’s cork tape and Specialized Roubaix tape get favorable mentions. But, this Fizik Microtex seemed to be the one I wanted. I chose to get the gel, too, even though that got mixed reviews. I didn’t know my bars already had some gel on them, so this well help make that consistent. I don’t know that the gel will make any big difference, but it seemed like a good idea.

So, I got to wrapping. There’s lots of examples of how to wrap your bars, so I won’t go into it. But, I will say that it takes practice to do it right. I guess I could change them every six months, or so. It’s not as if the tape is expensive, between $12 and $20, more or less. I did well enough. I’m happy with it. It’s not perfect, but a least it doesn’t look dirty, probably won’t look dirty for a while, and there’s no more annoying gap where the tape isn’t laying right. I’m thinking maybe the person who put it on didn’t stretch it very much. I made sure to stretch the Microtex so it would lay nice and flat. Here’s the results:

I think it looks good, but not great. I also got my new torque wrench and used it to properly tighten my carbon seat post which I inspected carefully and did not find any cracks. So, the Allez is in pretty good shape right now.

The Goal – Going Cycling Again

Back in 2005/2006, I had been cycling quite a bit. I was mountain biking and road biking, both. Probably I was on the dirt a bit more. But, I logged a lot miles, either way. It began when I realized I was over 200 lbs. and I just felt weak. Actually, that’s not true. What happened was I was teaching a Drama class and we were working on Improv. In an improvised scene, anything can happen. And, since the students always wanted me to act with them, I was in the scene. It seemed that every class had one or two kids that lacked a mental filter to keep them from saying something awful. I was on stage with one of those kids. I don’t remember her name, but I remember that she had an awful childhood, full of moving from city to city, mom going to jail, dad not in the picture, low income, that kinda stuff. I don’t think either parent were really there for her. But, she loved Drama, even though she had an attitude and a mouth on her. This day, she and I were arguing in the scene. She let it get personal and said something like, “Are you six months pregnant or something?” to me. I didn’t let it show, but it really bothered me. So, I got my dusty old hard-tail mountain bike out of the garage and started riding. I rode up Beech from Baseline to Summit. That’s 3 miles and uphill. Not terribly steep, but it’s up. I swear, I thought I was gonna die. I was struggling to go 3 miles an hour, as if I was climbing some peak in The Pyrenees. But, I knew this had to be done. I had always enjoyed riding bikes and got into it now and then. I hadn’t really ridden in five years or more at that point. Athletically, I’m not very big, although, compared to Jaquizz Rodgers, Reggie Bush, or Maurice Jones Drew, I’m tall enough to be a running back. In any case, I was never much good at most sports. I tried playing basketball (ha ha!) and soccer in high school, but only was good at Cross Country running. I wasn’t fast, but I always finished. When our team trained by running 10 miles in the Glendora hills, I recall the coaches remarking that, unlike several others, I had finished the run instead of quitting. So, I rode my bike. I made a goal to ride 3 times a week, at least 45 minutes each time. I held to the goal and eventually started losing weight. I bought a real mountain bike, a full-suspension model, and started riding local trails. I hooked up with new friends via http://www.socaltrailriders.org. They were faster and stronger. So, I trained more. I increased the distance I could ride. I found that dirt miles were harder because of the difficulty of the terrain. It seemed like 5 miles on the dirt felt like 15 on the road.

I started riding my bike to work. This made a huge difference. I was riding further and faster all the time. My friends took me on the trails in the Angeles forest. I got tired of having people wait for me all the time, so, I pushed myself even more. Weekends were long rides, weekdays, training, riding hard to and from work. Where once I was going uphill at 3 miles an hour, now I was going 15 miles an hour, uphill, carrying a change of clothes and my work laptop. I got a bike trailer and towed my kids with it.

At the peak, I was able to ride a full century (100 miles) or 30 miles on the dirt. I rode the Amtrak Century from Irvine to San Diego. That was amazing! I remember finishing the ride with a lap around Sea World and couldn’t believe I did that! I also rode The Cannell Plunge which was about 25 miles of very challenging trail. Heck, I did it twice, and it was much easier the second time around!

People weren’t waiting for me any more. I wasn’t the fastest, but I wasn’t the slowest. I had to wait for other people. It was nice. So, what happened? Well, the short version is I got divorced. For one thing, it took a lot of emotional energy to deal with the divorce. It sucked because cycling is something that helped me a lot during hard times. In fact, the day after my ex-wife told me she hated being married to me and that she was only staying with me because we had kids (that was a pretty big shock to me as I had thought we were in love — oh and that’s an awful reason to stay married, by the way) I had taken a long mountain bike ride by myself into the hills above Lytle Creek. I was devastated, occasionally sobbing aloud, but also soothed by the dirt, the wind, the trees, and the rustle in the bushes. I often had seen red-tailed hawks riding the currents during my rides and today I found one keeping me company. A mile up the trail, a single hawk feather lay in the trail center. I picked it up and kept it. It seemed, at the time, as if even the hawk wanted me to feel better. But, the divorce was nasty and consumed great amounts of time and money, far more than was necessary. I rode less. On the days I had my kids, I didn’t want to ride so I could spend time with them, be there for them. And, on the other days, I felt to tired to put miles in. I would ride now and then, sporadically, but not enough. My job at work made it tough to ride there anymore. I needed a car, also, to pick up the kids from day care or from their mother. So, bicycle commuting made less sense. Recently, I found that my weight was up again. It wasn’t a news flash. But, once I hit 197, I knew something had to be done. I was using the elliptical but it was boring and I wasn’t doing it enough. I was eating too much. And my bikes were gathering dust. I pulled out my old commuting bike, my first mountain bike now outfitted with fenders and a rear rack, and I went riding again.

So, for a month or so now, I’ve been riding again. I have been riding to work and back, hooked up with my old friend Mike to ride some dirt, too.

I made a goal. I’m going to be able to ride a century again by November. I signed up for the Highlander Century as part of the Tour de Foothills. I think I can do it. I am going to be riding as often as possible. I’m planning to ride to work again, and to do longer rides on the weekends. I want to ride the Palm Springs century, and hopefully the Death Valley century, too. Riding has been going okay. I didn’t lose as much as I feared I did. My legs are coming back and I rode with the Cycling Connection on Saturday. I wasn’t terribly fast, but I completed 43 miles and didn’t feel too bad afterwards. I can average 13 miles an hour coming home from work, which is pretty good. If I try, I can make the round trip to and from work in an hour and two minutes. That’s pretty good for now. I really like cycling. I like the feeling of doing something that not everyone can or will do, whether it’s riding 100 miles at once or riding a dirt trail that is too challenging. I like the feeling of the wind in my face, my legs pushing the pedals, and feeling that power translating out the back wheel. I like seeing the city from two wheels. I like the endorphin high you get during and after the ride, when all feels right with the world. I like the simplicity of the bicycle, a machine unrivaled in its efficiency. I like riding a bike around. I have even been teaching myself to work on the bike. So far, I have overhauled hubs, overhauled the rear shock on my mountain bike, trued my wheels, cleaned and lubed my chains, changed tires and tubes, changed seats, adjusted my deraileurs, and so on. It’s not much but I’m getting there. So, this week, I will be riding to work Monday through Thursday. I will probably take Friday off, but I’m planning to ride again on Saturday, hopeful a long ride with the Cycling Connection. I’ll let you know how it goes.

In Which I Has Me Some Back Spasms

I love going to the doctor and hearing, “That’s stress induced.” Isn’t it always? Headaches are my number one stress induced ailment. And, lately, back and neck spasms. I get this muscle right beneath my shoulder blade, either one that just clenches right the heck up and radiates pain down my arm and up my neck.

Yay! Fun!

I’m trying to relax, honest, ma. But, it’s tough, lately, as you can imagine. But, it will be over soon, I guess. I never got this kind of stuff before. Teaching is hard, yes, but these high profile events, like graduation, tend to bring the pain.

Yesterday I had an assembly with the Seniors. We practiced graduation and got ready for the big day. Me and 500 high school seniors. True, I had some administrators popping in and out from time to time, but mostly, it was me. Friday, I had a brief assembly with them, too. Nobody in there but me. No teachers, no security. Just me.

I don’t like “tooting my own horn” but I gotta say, it’s not luck that the Seniors sit, listen, follow directions with just me. It’s a learned skill, born of four years doing this, plus 6 more years of drama work and I have to believe that my training as a writer/director from film school helps, too.

So, today, in the stadium, I ran graduation practice again. No administrators. No teachers. One security guard who lurked way down on the end and then, near the end of practice, another CSO showed up to help. I’m grateful, no doubt, but I wasn’t having behavior problems. The kids got in the stands, took their panoramic picture, then followed directions and got in their rows.

Did I mention that the microphone for the stadium sound system wasn’t working and my bullhorn decided to take a siesta? No? Oh, that’s what happened. So, there’s me, 5’7″ me, with no sound amplification, giving directions to 500 giddy seniors. And, they listened and followed them.

Not only that, but we practiced the procession. The seniors walked in single file as instructed and simulated processing into the arena for commencement. And, it was just me and some Junior Honor Attendants acting as traffic cones on the field.

I wonder where the back spasms came from? Could it be the stress and pressure of producing one last good graduation? Maybe. Yeah, that could be it.

Honestly, I don’t want to care. But, it’s not the kids’ fault that I’m being replaced. I guess it’s mine for being me. So, I don’t want the kids to have to suffer a poor graduation as a result of me being demoralized after having bled black and green for four years, being told, “This is your school” when clearly it is not. If it were my school, I would have kept me.

I’m a big fan of my work, as you can imagine.

So, it’s rest, muscle relaxers and ibuprofen to get my back right for the big day. Graduation will be fine. There will be some nice plants on stage, that I arranged to get there (you’re welcome FUSD). In appreciation of my efforts I’m being given some time off and some Junior English classes.

I’m just gonna say, maybe my replacement is awesome. But, if not, then they are gonna need tons of help. ‘Cause next year, if they throw some first year Activities Director out there on the field with no teachers and no administrators to help them rehearse their first ever graduation that they’ve never planned before… well, I’m guessing someone else will have some stress induced ailments too.

Dry As a Funeral Drum

“I feel one of my moods coming on,” sang Roger Waters as the fictional Pink in The Wall. For Pink, it was a rage-filled depressive episode where he tears apart a hotel room and terrifies a groupie that followed him back after a show.

For me, it’s the sinking feeling that everything is coming apart. All that I love, all that I care for is lost to me. No, not now, but shortly. In minutes, hours or days, it will all be gone. And no matter how fictional I know this feeling is, I can’t make it go away. Even now, as I type this, my eyes fill with tears in the certain knowledge that I am an abject failure in all that I’ve done. Anyone that says otherwise is just misinformed or blind to the truth.

It’s depression, and it’s treatable.

I feel that I am an awful father. I can feed them, clothe them and give them a roof over their heads, but I can’t make them love me, want to be around me.

It’s depression and I don’t have to feel this way.

I feel that I am a failure of a man. I stand over the ruins of a failed marriage, one I willing agreed to, and I completely misjudged my chosen mate. I had children with her. It’s not that I couldn’t keep the marriage together, it’s that I married her in the first place. And now, I feel that I won’t keep Her around. I feel certain that she, too, will tire of me, that she will grow weary of the moods, the neediness, the anger management issues and on and on.

It’s depression and I keep this blog post intact to remind me that I don’t feel like this any more

Everyday I am reminded by another call from a creditor, or a text or email from a bank that my finances are in ruins. I have no savings and no real property. I have the retirement from STRS but my guess is that it will hardly be sufficient to support me When The Time Comes.

I am a failure as an employee. Most of my coworkers tolerate me, or actively dislike me. Sure, the students like me, but children are easily fooled. I am a sham, pretending to know what I’m doing, dancing as fast as I can, hoping against hope that no one will notice.

And none of it is true.

But, the ideas won’t stop running through my brain. It’s like a crow, flapping its dark wings and screaming the same thing over and over.

She doesn’t love you. They are growing up and will leave you. He’s going to fire you. You’re going to die alone and afraid. She doesn’t love you. She has come to her senses. They fear you. Did you see the look in the boy’s eyes just then? You should never have had them. You will fail them as you have failed everyone else.

The thoughts in italics are old.  They are the thoughts of depression.  They are real and false at the same time.  Real because they happen, in my head, and false because they don’t reflect the reality that everyone else sees.  Real because they become my reality in that moment and false because they are over-amplifications of the world as I see it.

Caw. Dry as a funeral drum.  Tight as a tourniquet.

But, I don’t have to feel that way.  And, most of the time, I don’t feel this way.  If you feel sad a lot, or just overwhelmed.  If you feel tired and unmotivated, you might suffer from depression.  It might be transitory and it might be chronic.  But, it is treatable.  First, you must talk to someone.  I recommend a therapist who understands depression.  I think a psychologist is best but you can also use a licensed clinical social worker or psychiatrist or even a marriage and family therapist.  You need to be honest with them about how you feel.  One of the ways that depression kills us is by isolating us and making us think that only we know the truth and only we feel the pain.  Tell someone who loves you, too.  And, I think that if you have a good doctor to help you, then medication is a good way to deal with it.  For many, depression is not just feeling bad because life sucks.  It is a chemical imbalance that leads to your brain not performing correctly.

Behavioral therapy in conjunction with medication is, in my opinion, the best way to go.  But, you must submit to the therapy and follow doctor’s orders.  Do not take the medication in any other way than how it is prescribed.  And, be honest with your medical practitioners about how it makes you feel.  Let them help you adjust the dosages.  And, follow the advise of your therapist.

You don’t have to feel that way.  If the thoughts above look like yours, please get someone to help you.