Saturday, July 30, 2011

Going Off Course

I did it again. I missed a turn during a century ride and went totally off course. Thankfully, because I know the area so well, I was able to make my own route back to the starting point. Unfortunately, I ended at 95+ miles, missing the 100 mile goal. As penance, I rode home from the starting/finishing point to get to the 100 miles. In the end, I went 103 miles.

Most of this course I've ridden at one time or another. There was only one section I've never experienced. This section was hilly but manageable. And this section led into another that I've ridden before that I knew was very, very hilly. All last evening, I thought about one hill in particular and decided if I had to get off and walk, so be it. Century riding for me isn't a race. It's an opportunity for me to get out and ride a longer course than I usually do, enjoying the scenery along the way. The century route today was beautiful, and when I reached the section I knew was extremely hilly, I looked to my right and saw a fawn standing by the road. Doesn't get much better than that. As I came around the curve that led into the feared hill, I shifted into the granny gear and started the climb. Midway up, I glanced down at my speed: 4 mph. I told myself I can do this, and when I reached the top, I whooped a "hell yeah!" What I didn't know at that point was another more demonic hill was awaiting me a couple miles down the road. At the bottom of this hill was a smiley face and "going up" painted on the road. Halfway up, I looked down to see "don't suck" and a frown face. Not about to let this hill get me after conquering of the previous hill, I dug deep and continued on. Just about to the top, I looked down to see "hurting yet?" Yes, my thighs were screaming, but I had to make it to the top. And I did. I didn't have the breath to whoop another "hell yeah" at this point. I needed all the air I could get to keep going forward.

From there the landscape smoothed out, with just some rolling hills here and there. I stopped in at the gas station rest stop, downed some food and drink, then continued on. This is where I missed my turn. After reviewing the route, I figured out why I missed it. I was supposed to turn left right after leaving the gas station. This was when a truck pulling a trailer laden with furniture and appliances was coming up behind me and going around. Another truck was behind this one. I never saw the arrow as the trucks covered it as they passed by me. About two miles beyond, I knew I was most likely off course, but I didn't want to turn around. I decided to make my own route back.

The rest of the ride went by smoothly, and I was alone, just the way I like to cycle. Today, when I pulled into the driveway after serving my penance of riding home since I missed my turn, my kids and Hubby came out onto the deck, clapping and yelling congratulations to me for finishing 100 miles. My youngest came up to me and kissed my cheek. My gentle giant of a 14 year old gave me a big hug, laughing at how sweaty I was. And my lovely daughter smiled, saying, "Good job, Momma." I knew at that point that I was back on course.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Week With Mom

My lovely daughter and I spent the last five days as caretakers for my mom who is living with MS. My dad is her primary caretaker and has been for the last ten years. When my mom was diagnosed with MS in 1997, the doc told her she'd have at least ten years of being able to walk. In reality, she had about five years. She started using a wheelchair in 2002. At that time, she could still lift herself up, stand for a minute or two, and generally do things for herself with just a bit of assistance. By 2006, she couldn't stand for more than a couple of seconds, and because of inactivity, her strength began to lessen, making her unable to lift herself. At that time, my dad took over lifting her and doing so many things for her that she used to be able to do herself. He lifts her from the couch to her wheelchair, from her wheelchair to the commode, and then in reverse, many times a day. He's never complained. He's never expressed a desire to leave. He's never brought up the suggestion of putting my mom, his wife of 54 years, in a nursing home. He just very lovingly takes care of her.

But he needs a break every now and then, way more often than what he gets. Being a caretaker is tough, and after a while, all of the pressure of being the person who has to do everything starts to chip away at the caretaker's emotional well-being. The last three summers, I've gone over to stay with Mom while Dad gets away. He's gone fishing in Canada, taken a trip to Yellowstone, and this time went to Michigan to fish for a couple of days followed by a trip to Ohio to visit family and friends. The first summer I stayed alone and we managed okay. While I'm in pretty good shape, lifting an individual who has no leg strength and cannot hold herself up in any way can be difficult. I was glad to be able to help, though, and seeing my dad return re-energized made it all worth it.

Last summer, when I was asked to stay a week with Mom, I hesitated. I knew my mom's health had declined further and she needed even more help. I also knew she'd gained some weight, which would make lifting her a bit more difficult. My dad needed a break, though. After a lot of thought, I asked my lovely daughter if she would assist me, which meant giving up a week of her summer to do all the duties a CNA does, including bathing her grandma. Without blinking an eye, she said absolutely. While my mom was somewhat embarrassed to have her granddaughter see her naked, see her at her most vulnerable, she quickly found out her granddaughter wasn't the least bit put off. With my daughter's help, the lifting, the changing of clothes, and the overall care of my mom was so much easier. My daughter showed nothing but love, compassion, and care the entire time. I was truly moved by what I experienced that week, watching my daughter partake in the care of her grandmother.

Last week, we returned and spent five days with my mom while my dad took a much-needed break. The day after we arrived, a couple of my daughter's friends showed up, along with my two boys. Their chattering and laughter filled the house, and from where I was sitting in the living room, I could see my mom enjoying the young people and their antics. My daughter's friends talked to my mom, filling her in on their lives and the things they were doing over the summer. They also spurred us to dig out the cards and play euchre. We spent many hours at the kitchen table playing bid euchre, imparting to my son and daughter all the secrets to the game. My son is now hooked. 

My dad returned home yesterday, somewhat refreshed, but I thought I could also see some remnants of fatigue remaining from so many days and nights of caring for Mom. I want to help more, but I don't know how. For now, I just have to hope that Dad enjoyed his time away, that Mom enjoyed her time with her grandchildren, and that we'll be able to return next summer for another week.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

1 out of 2 Ain't Bad

Recently I received an email telling me one of my short fiction pieces was accepted for publication. This came right after another short piece was rejected. The pattern has become one rejected, one accepted, which I'm perfectly fine with as this gives me a 50% chance of acceptance whenever I send two stories out. Today, I went to the literary mag publishing my story, and there it was. Seeing the title along with my name is just so satisfying. For anyone interested, you can read "When X is Twice the Size of O" at Berg Gasse 19.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Changing Things Up

Time for A Clunk Upstairs to get a face lift. As I am not one to do anything in a hurry, the change will occur over a few weeks. My daughter, if she were here, would take over the typing of this post and tell you the change will actually take years. That's how long I've been working on an altered book I started for her over a year and a half ago and still haven't finished. I tend to get sidetracked, go to other projects, dilly-dally. I promised her the book will be finished by the end of the summer. By my calendar, I still have a couple of months.

In any case, the blog will change some. I'm finding my focus changing from running and cycling to mostly just cycling, with tangents about the goings on in my life thrown in here and there. Since the Illinois countryside is becoming a larger part of my experiences, I thought the new banner appropriate. I'm sure there will be more pics of the countryside as time goes on.

Change is good. Change is inevitable. Change is growth. I'd like to see where the blog can go with some changes to it.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Long Ride Effects

The cycling was interrupted this week with the unexpected visit of a friend. She came in on Wednesday and resumed her journey late Thursday afternoon. Because I tend to be quite anal about the condition of our home when company is coming, I spent Wednesday cleaning before her arrival, so the ride didn't happen. While I longed to get out, I think not riding was a good thing after my 133 miles on Sunday. Having extra recovery days most likely didn't hurt things at all.

During Sunday's ride, I thought some about the effects I would feel from cycling over a hundred miles. I found out day by day this week. Monday my quads were sore, like I'd done a lot of squats, and by mid afternoon I needed to take a nap. Tuesday, the soreness had eased, so Hubby and I went for a short ride, actually two short rides. The first was an early morning twelve miler around the lake. The air was cool, the sun was shining, and according to the turbines the wind was non-existent. The second ride came about after my new Garmin arrived. I had to try it out, and since we were still in our cycling shorts and jerseys, we jumped back on the bikes and went out for a seven mile ride. The Garmin is absolutely awesome. I can now keep track of my cadence and heart rate, giving me a clear idea of just how much effort I'm not putting in. Let's just say I found out I've been a slacker. I'm hoping to see a significant difference in my speed/distance now, given the Garmin will push me to go beyond my usual effort levels. Maybe by the end of the season I'll be able to do a century in five hours.

All of the quad soreness disappeared by Wednesday, but with the waning of the soreness, one other painful side effect came to the forefront: a very sun blistered lower lip. With each stop during my ride, I made sure to slather on the sunscreen. I forgot to protect my lips, though, and now I'm suffering from blister on top of blister. I've always wondered what I'd look like with collagen-enhanced lips. Well, I now know what my lower lip would look like as it puffed up rather nicely. Eating hasn't been fun the last couple of days, so I turned to protein shakes; drinking is a lot less painful than eating.

Today, the lip is on the mend, and I'm not feeling fatigued, in need of a nap. During last evening's ride, I felt stronger all the way around. I kicked the effort up for about six miles to see how I was feeling, and according to the Garmin, I kept the speed over 20 mph the entire time. I love looking at the numbers as I'm riding and seeing my heart rate over 170. That tells me I'm actually doing something. I also like knowing I'm keeping my cadence between 75 and 95. Knowing this info at all times truly makes a difference in the overall effort of a ride. I won't ride hard all of the time, but being able to change things up and set a variety of goals should make things even more interesting.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Happy Cyclist

I tried. I really did. But after much thought, and though I feel like a complete failure, I've gotta do it. I've got to give up the running. I never enjoyed starting out for a run; I never enjoyed running three or four miles; I never felt like I just couldn't wait for my next run. So as of right now, the old tennis shoes, which haven't even been on my feet for the past month or longer, will only be on my feet for leisure purposes. Though it makes me sad to admit this, I have to to clear the path in front of me: my heart just cannot give itself to putting one foot in front of the other, repeat, repeat, repeat.

Whew! I feel so much better now. Trying to be something I'm not, and trying to force myself to become something my whole body rebels against just by the very thought of it, ate away at me for a long, long time. I kept at it, thinking I would find the key to happy running. After all, so many people seem to have found the key and are extremely happy runners. I thought I, too, could find that key. I read books about running, magazines about running, and blogs about running by those who love to run. I tried different kinds of shoes and no shoes. I worked on my form and my breathing. The happy running key, though, remained hidden. I thought maybe stepping away from the running might make me miss it, and all the sudden one day I would feel the urge to put on the shoes and go run. I never missed it. The urge to run never filled me.

But I'm okay with not finding the happy running key because I found something else--happy cycling. My every thought about cycling is happy: getting up early for a ride, getting dressed, filling my water bottles, starting out, each pedal stroke, each mile that slips by. Everything about cycling fills me with contentment. I am not a runner. I am a cyclist.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

My Summer Epic Ride

One of my summer goals was to ride from my home to my parents' home which is 133 miles away, in another state. I've been keeping check on the weather for a while, never liking the wind situation, and kept saying maybe tomorrow. Well tomorrow came today.

I started out at 5:35 am, and after ten hours, 7 hours 59 minutes being actual riding time, pulled into my parents' driveway. This ride was everything I thought it would be: fun but extremely challenging at times.

Now, almost 17 hours after beginning my journey, I'm home and ready to call it a day. I'm pretty sure I'll sleep really, really good tonight.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Life's Highlights

Took off early this morning for a ride east of town. Many of the roads have been tarred and chipped, so the ride was bumpy to say the least. I turned south for just a short ways, hoping to find better roads, but the County has been very diligent about the road work this summer, much to the dismay of cyclists who have to deal with the gravel they use as part of the road surfacing process. Since this is one of those matters beyond my control, all I can do is suck it up and ride. So I rode, getting in a 58.5 mile ride.

The route south did take me to some countryside I've never ridden before. There I found hills. Nothing terribly steep or long, just nice little ups and downs to enjoy. I finally found myself meeting up with a high traffic road that doesn't get the tar and chip treatment, and when I took it for about a half mile, I was in heaven. The smoothness was bliss. Interestingly enough, my speed went up quite a bit on this road. It's amazing how those bumpy, pebbly-stones covered roads bring the speed down dramatically. Unfortunately, I didn't stay on this beautifully smooth road very long as I don't like cycling with semis barreling down on me.

Fields of gold
The road I turned onto was another bumpy, tar and chip disaster, but here I was treated to a very cool scene of three huge hawks circling then alighting on power line poles. The screeching was awesome. I tried to video one of the hawks, but apparently I had stopped the video when I thought I had started it. The video clip I did manage to get is blurry and short, so that didn't work out. Watching the hawks and listening to them, though, was truly the highlight of the ride.

Heading towards home I had the wind at my back, so the last 20 miles went by quickly. When I pulled into the driveway, Hubby was already in the pool, cleaning it so I could jump in and cool off. Sitting in the cool water after a 3 hour 30 minute bike ride was highlight number 2. After the pool cool-down, showering, and eating lunch, I settled on the couch to watch the Tour de France Stage 8, tivoed this morning while I was out. Highlight number 3. Life is good.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Nothing a Kiddie Pool Can't Cure

Today, after a bit of a stressful phone call from my dad, after settling down in front of the computer at work to try and get something done, I just couldn't find it in me to be productive right then and there. I texted Hubby, asking him to come get me after only being at work for a half-hour. He was there in no time. He knows me so well and could tell I had reached my near bursting point. I had decided I didn't care if I ended up with the shape of a band-aid outlined on my cheek, I was going to slap one on to cover the scab and head out for a ride. Hubby said he would join me for a slow, easy 25 miler.

Before we returned home to gear up, we stopped by my favorite cycling shop. I drooled over the Madone 4.5, talking with one of the shop guys about it, then checked out some new cycling shoes. I had picked out a pair that look like tennis shoes but have recessed clips that allow for walking. I thought these might be perfect for the long rides I do. Unfortunately, the shop didn't have my size in stock. Since our rather small city is blessed by having several cycling shops, we hopped in the truck and headed over to my second favorite cycling oasis. There I found a pair of cycling shoes I absolutely fell in love with, and even though this shop didn't have my size in stock either, I went ahead and ordered them. These shoes are about $15 cheaper than the ones from the first shop, so I saved some money. I like saving money.

By this time, I was starting to feel the stress dissolving some. Perhaps it was the act of buying something I've been wanting for a while now, or maybe it was being with my best friend in the whole world who always makes me laugh even when I feel like crying. Whatever it was, I could feel the last few days slipping away and not mattering like they had at the time. We returned home, had lunch, then geared up for our ride. After positioning the band-aid on my cheek, slathered suntan lotion all over the rest of my face, neck and shoulders, I was giddy with the thought of getting out.

Twenty-five miles later, Hubby and I pulled into the driveway. We parked the bikes, took off our gear, then jumped into the little 12' x  36" pool the kids bought with their allowance money, each contributing an equal share. Within seconds, the boys were on the deck, eager to join us in our silliness. For the next hour or so, we played in the cold water. And life is once again on an even keel.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Getting Back in the Groove

The Tour was downright ugly today. I found it difficult to watch at the end when the peloton was taking that last sharp curve. I was certain another wipeout was in the makings. Thankfully, all the cyclists managed to stay upright and headed towards the finish line. The couple cyclists who went down, one a RadioShack member who is out of the Tour for good, and another from Quick Step who got back on his bike but was definitely injured and didn't catch up to the group, showed guts and determination. I loved that my two boys were sitting with me, watching the cyclists dig deep to finish off this stage of the Tour, and cheering for the guys right through the finish line.

I can tell my mental state is much better today. Though the cheek is a bit swollen and hurts, I'm determined to ignore it and go about my day, getting things accomplished. So far, I've managed to gather some information my boss asked for, gotten a good start on a brochure for one of the programs at work, and started a proposal for a presentation at a national conference in February. I also opened and read an email containing a rejection for a short story I sent out a few months ago--win some, lose some. And now I'm going to take that very same story and send it to another market. The one piece of advice the publisher at the writers conference kept pushing was if a story is rejected, turn right around and send it out to another magazine. Don't revise it, don't let it sit around, just send it right back out. I'm going to give that a go and see what happens.

A Dailymile friend suggested I set up my bike on the trainer to get in some miles. Doh! Why didn't I think of that? Though it'll be incredibly hot in the garage, I think I shall do just that and ride for an hour or two. I know being stationary, not having the beautiful scenery to enjoy will make for a boring ride, but any ride will be better than none, even a trainer ride in a dark, hot garage.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Lows and Highs

I'm always surprised about how a visit to a doc and having some kind of procedure done can make a person feel like sleeping for the rest of the day. I had to return to the doc today for a very, very, very minor procedure on my cheek, related to that super freckle that had decided to go ballistic on my ass, getting almost cancerous and all, and afterward, all I wanted to do, actually still do, is sleep. I've already napped once, missing part of the Tour de France, and another nap is beginning to shape up. I think it's the stress of the doc not being happy with the way I'm healing and lecturing me about my diet being the culprit, though I thought everything was looking super and I do get more than enough protein thank you very much--just look at my daily food journal which calculates how much protein I'm taking in--and the freezing spray he used to numb the area. It was kind of hard not to breathe some of it in as he was spraying it and saying at the same time that breathing it in would make me sleepy. I also think my sleepiness is caused by my own reaction to how my cheek looks now--not so super. In fact, it looks downright awful again. The doc did say the scab this time won't be as thick or last as long, only five days at most, so if there's an upside, I guess that's it.

Really, I know there's quite a bit more upside to the whole matter. No more brown spot. No cancer to have to deal with. What I'm feeling today is just me being a baby, which I'll get over. Well, all except the not getting enough protein part. While I don't eat a lot of meat, I do get protein in other ways, and according to my food journal, I'm getting 75 grams or more every day. The doc said I need at least 64 grams daily, so I don't think my diet is all that bad.

I'm just going to chalk today up as one of those that slaps you as soon as you wake up, and doesn't get much better as it goes on. Thankfully these days are few and far between for me. To make myself feel better, I keep opening an email I received Saturday, telling me another one of my short stories has been accepted for publication. This is a story from the collection I'm putting together, so I'm stoked that the stories are finding homes before the collection is complete. Hopefully this will sway a publisher into taking on the collection as the stories have already received positive attention by those who are in the know.

Sunday, July 3, 2011


71.05 miles yesterday! 300 miles for the week! The only problem with going farther and father each day is now all I think about is can I do even more?

Friday, July 1, 2011

First Week of 200+ Miles

Thanks to the century ride Sunday, I have been able to log more than 200 miles this week. So far, 227 miles, and I still have tomorrow to add more. A mere 73 miles will give me 300, so . . . ..

Small town park: ready for July 4th
Today I went west to a small town I've been to once before. Instead of heading south once I arrived, I continued on, going further west, the farthest I've ever gone, reaching the county line. I could see another small town in the distance, so I cruised along, deciding it would be my turn-around point. Small, sleepy summer towns are the best, and this one didn't disappoint. I pulled into the park near the grain elevator to call Hubby and let him know where I was, and to drink some water.

Old Elevator
From there I rode south about a mile, finding what looked like the perfect road to start the ride back home. This five or six mile stretch took me to a town I've been to several times before, and I was right about the road--it was perfect. No traffic, smooth, mostly flat. Couldn't have asked for a better stretch given the fact that the wonderful county in which I live has decided all the rural roads need a layer of pebbles laid down. They call it tar and chip paving. I call it a pain in the rear. Because of the way the process works, the pebbles are loose for quite a while, until enough cars have driven on them to smash them into the tar so they become one hard surface again. This is rough on road bikes and dangerous for riders.

One of my fave rest stops
Despite the irritation with some of the roads, I got in a great ride of 52 miles today. I noticed the fatigue from Sunday has disappeared. Around mile 45 I was considering extending the ride, heading south again and looping around to come in from the east, but then I thought it'd be nice to get home, shower, and just chill the rest of the day. And that's exactly what I've done. Definitely a good Friday.