Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Fat Man in the Red Suit

I think I ate my weight in ham yesterday.  That's what it felt like.  We only eat ham maybe once or twice a year.  This is one of those times.  I know it's horribly bad for me - bad for my arteries, bad for my salt sensitivity, and pretty much bad for my waistline.  But it's so tasty.  So so tasty.

It's a good thing I got a decent ride in on Sunday.  The day that was supposed to be in the low 40's ended up hitting 55 degrees, and as soon as it did, I was out riding.  There was a bit of a wind, so I had to work a little harder than I normally would, but it wasn't enough to make me stop and go back.  I once again rode all the way to the airport, which gave me about 14 miles of riding.  It's still hard to believe I can ride like that. 

As usual, though, I managed to hurt myself not once, but twice.  First, I gored my thumb with one of the bungie cords that holds down my trunk when I put my bike inside.  Danged thing just jabbed me like it had a mind of its own, and I bled all over the place.  I finally wrapped a tissue around it tightly and put my gloves on, and by the time I was done with my ride, it was done bleeding.  Then, on my way back, I was going across one of the pedestrian bridges, and ran into the railing, bruising up my arm.  This particular bridge is after a long uphill stretch, and I'm usually struggling when I get to it, so I'm in second and weaving the bike back and forth, and then there was the railing.  Whenever I'm headed for something immovable like that, for some reason I forget I have brakes and that I can stop.  I'm sticking my leg out, trying to touch the ground, trying to turn the bike, and none of it works.  Brake, dummy.  Brake! 

Santa was good to me this year in the bike category.  Hubby got me an adapter bar for my bike, so I could put my bike on the bike rack I bought.  I bought a bike rack weeks ago, but couldn't afford the adapter I needed because my bike is a girl's bike.  He managed to find one for a good price.  He also got me a nice gel seat, and a ding-ding bell for my handlebars.  He also gave me a pair of flashers, one in red, one in white.  These are on little elastic straps and will be nice to have if I end up getting caught out riding at dusk.  And my daughter bought me a nice pair of compression pants.  I'm all set now!

I wish I could say I'll get to use all of these things soon, but we have 4 inches of snow on the ground, bitterly cold temperatures (it is 3 degrees as I write this) and no change in the forecast for the rest of the week.  Sunday might get into the 40's.  That's still a long way off, but I'm going to keep my hopes up!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Short Days

I managed to get in a bike ride yesterday. When the thermometer hit 45, I suited up and headed out.  "Suited up" basically means I put on my capris, big t-shirt, and pink hoodie.  I packed my gloves just in case.  The sun was coming and going behind some high, thin clouds, which are pretty common here.  There was, thankfully, no wind.

Last time I rode, I had adjusted my seat up another inch and a half.  I have very long legs, and I get better speed and push when my knees aren't up under my chin.  After several weeks of a lower seat, I thought it was time to try it a little higher.  It was worth the change, as it was a heck of a lot easier to pedal up the hills when I could mostly extend my legs while doing so.

I rode all the way to the airport and back, stopping halfway in between to eat a couple of cheese sticks and a big fat pear that came in a gift fruit basket we received.  Delicious.  I spent that break watching the silly geese on the frozen ponds.  They gathered as if there was water, sitting or standing on the ice and fluttering their wings while honking at each other.  What a noise!  I asked someone why the geese do that; remember I'm from a place where there aren't frozen ponds covered with hundreds of Canada gees.  They said that it is safer for the geese to be on the ice than in the grass along the edges.  This makes sense, as we have lots of fox and coyote, and big cat too.  So even if it is cold, and slippery, it is safe from predators.  Makes sense.

The forecast for the coming week doesn't look good for biking.  I might be able to get in a short ride tomorrow.  After that, it's snow, temps in the 20's, then more snow.  Yeah, it doesn't look good.

I'm hoping Santa is good to me this year.  I had an oopsie today.  When I get back to my car after a ride, I put the kickstand down and get the trunk open and ready for my bike.  My bike basket makes the front of the bike heavy, and if I'm not watching, it is enough to turn the wheel and dump the bike over on its side.  And that's exactly what happened.  My pretty Schwinn bike basket took the brunt of the fall.  There was a terrible cracking noise, and yup, you guessed it.  Bike basket is broken.  I mean really broken.  The frame cracked apart in two places, and it will never ride again.  I'm so bummed.  But maybe Santa will take pity on me and get me a new one.  I can hope, right? 

I did ask for other things from Santa.  Compression pants for winter riding, and a ding-ding bell for my handle bars. A decent set of bike gloves, although those are pricey.  A holder for my Camelbak water bottle.  Useful things.  After all, I'm a practical girl at heart.

To close the post today, I'm including a little video I took of geese on one of the ponds.  This pond had some open water still left, and there had to be a thousand geese gathered around this water, most of them standing on the frozen part.  And they were noisy!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

What I See When Biking

Not much to say in today's post.  Too cold to ride, and we had snow today, so riding is definitely out!  It looks like I might get to ride this coming Sunday, if the weather holds out.  Cross your fingers for me!

In the meantime, Friday I will be going to the local Planet Fitness and signing up for their low-end plan that will give me access to the bikes and treadmills.  It will have to do.  I love winter, always have, but this is the first time in my life I'm wishing winter wasn't quite so long. 

Today I'm sharing a few pictures of things I see when biking.

What do you do when you run out of fence?  You use louvered closet doors instead! Leave them white and let them weather in the sun and rain for that shabby chic look.

Colorado houses can be quite colorful.  It is probably to make up for the long cold winters, when everything loses its color and the world is black and white.  I love the color of this house.

Goathead plants.  Most are dead and brown now, but I took this picture a couple months ago, when the plant was still green.  I am tempted to carry a spray bottle of herbicide with me when I ride, and I would spray every plant I saw.  Of course, I'd use about a bottle every block, they are so prolific. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Cold Biking

I'm a Colorado girl.  I can take it.  I got this.  That's what I tell myself, anyway.  It's winter.  Despite the fact that we have had warmer-than-usual weather and precious little precipitation, it is still too cold to ride most of the time.  The fact that it's winter and the sun goes down before I even leave work doesn't help.  In other words, biking days are few and far between.  The few days that have had sun and would have been warm enough to bike, I'm stuck at work.

Mid-40's wouldn't seem like a terrible time to bike, you wouldn't think.  And maybe if it were sunny at the same time, that would help.  But no such luck for me.  But I did get out on Friday and do my usual 12 miles (without the extra two and a half miles to the airport and back).  It didn't help my attitude any to see ice on the little river I ride along.  There was, thankfully, no wind.  My ears were cold, my toes were cold.  The rest of me was warm, despite the fact that I was wearing my favorite capri sweat pants and a long sleeved t-shirt under a short-sleeved t-shirt.  Maybe if I had better clothes, that would help, but because of the time of year, I still can't ride except for weekends when I'm off work.

I could certainly tell I hadn't ridden in more than a week.  My knees and thighs were feeling it.  Still are, two days later.  Ouch.

And I would have walked more this last week, but it appears that my foot injury has worsened.  I do need surgery, and was hoping to be able to put it off until next year.  The tear is at 2.5 cm, but will certainly worsen.  The pain isn't horrible, but I can feel it, even with my brace on as I walk.  So extended walking is out, which is my go-to exercise all along.

If the weather proves normal, I will be riding my bike once or twice every other week, and no more than that.  I am going to have to find another way, at least for the weeks when I get nothing.  There is a local Planet Fitness here, and it has a pretty low-end package that should only cost me $10 a month.  We also have a city-run rec center, but their fees are much higher ($6 to just walk in the door, and more depending on what I'm doing).  So I guess I'll be making a stop at Planet Fitness to check out the bikes and treadmills, and see what else they have that might be good for me.  Some weight training wouldn't be bad for me, but I'm really mostly interested in keeping my knees limber and pain-free, and since I've discovered that biking does that for me, I need to keep up with the biking.

It makes me sad to see my baby in the garage just doing nothing.  And I miss my rides.  They are an hour of my own thoughts, in relative peace and quiet (no one talking to me).  They are an hour of being reminded that I love my body, that I need to care for my body, and that every push of the pedal brings me closer to my goal of being completely pain-free.

I saw a poster the other day that I agree with.  It shows a woman working out.  The caption says, "Strong is the New Thin."  I will never be thin, but I can be strong.  I can be fit.  I can be in as good a shape as possible for my size. 

Go, me!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Five People You Meet Biking

I've been reading Mitch Albom's book The Five People You Meet in Heaven which made me think of this blog post.  There are five people you meet in biking.  And you kind of learn something from each one.

"Good for You!"
One day on my ride, an older gentleman (he was probably 60, so not THAT much older than me) slowed to ride beside me on a hill.  We chatted for a few minutes (me breathlessly), and he said he had been biking twenty miles a day to keep from having to use insulin.   He said he rode from Sandstone Ranch all the way to the airport, which is the complete run of the greenway.  I bike less than that, starting several miles down-trail from Sandstone Ranch, and never having ridden to the airport.  I told him I was a new biker, and that I was still struggling but getting better.  He said I could do it and to keep going, then he rode off.

I decided that day that I should ride all the way to the airport, and add some miles to my ride.  I had never taken that part of the trail, so this would be an adventure.  It meandered around between two farm fields and eventually ended at the airport.  Well, our excuse for an airport, anyway.  We see nothing but prop planes, and there is no control tower or radar tower.  The heaviest users of the airport are the two skydiving places that are housed in opposite hangars.  Anyway, as I huffed and puffed the last quarter mile or so of the greenway, I encountered the gentleman again, who had already made it to the airport and was heading back.

"Good for you!" he shouted as he passed, a big smile on his face.  I smiled back.  It made my day.

"Do I know you?"
One day I was riding to my favorite little coffee shop, to do some writing with my friends.  This ride takes me about a mile and a half, maybe a bit more, and I must stop and cross a pretty busy street.  I always use the pedestrian light and sidewalks at this intersection.  So I'm waiting at the intersection, minding my own business, when a guy comes past me on a bike.  He stops and asks if he knows me.  I look confused, but smile and say, "no, I don't think so."  He presses this issue a bit, and I'm friendly, because I'm happy and I'm on my bike.  That happens a lot.  Finally, he says "are you married?"

Yes.  Yes I am.

"Oh," he says.  "I was going to ask if I could take you to breakfast."

My town is full of plenty of people you don't want to get close to, including the drunks and recovering drunks that have lost their right to drive and are relegated to getting around town on a bicycle.  Some of them are also living in halfway houses or regulated housing and hanging onto life and sanity by their toenails.  He was one of those.  But he had a nice smile, and I take a compliment when I can, and I said, "I appreciate the offer" just as the light turned green in my favor.  He rode off down the street and I crossed to the other side, with a smile.

"Did you just ride down here from Estes?"

I rode to the bike shop from my house, intending to get some air in my tires before taking off on a short ride around town.  I was wearing one of my favorite t-shirts.  On the front it says "Estes Park, Colorado" and on the back is the logo above, "Got Oxygen?"  I wear this shirt a lot when I'm biking because it's loose and fits over my yoga capri's well, yet covers by hips when I'm standing.  Plus I like the snarky thing on the back.  Being a still relatively new Coloradan (it's only been about 17 months) I understand being out of breath in our thin air.  I'm much better than I was the first few months, but still, I can have my breathless times. 

So I'm in the bike shop, and this gentleman points at my shirt as I'm walking my bike to the back part of the shop for air and says, "Did you just ride down from Estes Park?"

Blink. Blink.

My little town is at about 5000 feet.  Estes Park is over 7500 feet.  I couldn't have ridden my bike up there, much less down.  But just the idea that someone thought I could ride that far, that much up hill, was sort of a surprise.  Here I am, fat old me, and someone thinks I can do that.

"No," I laughed at him.  "Maybe someday."

Not in a million years.  Or at least, that's what I'm telling myself at the moment.  

"Hey, Fatty!"

This doesn't happen often, but it does happen.  Sometimes it isn't said, it's whistled.  Or it's a look, a scowl.  As if I didn't belong out there biking, my fat butt out for everyone to see.  In my younger years, such a thing would have left me in tears, and thinking angry words all the way back to my car. Worse, it would have kept me from riding ever again.

I'm not a child anymore, and I'm also not riding to impress anyone but myself.  I'm riding to save my life.  To extend my life.  To keep me from developing health problems that fat people tend to get.  Yes, I'm fat.  I may always be fat.  But I have no excuse for not being in shape, for not trying, for not doing what I can do to keep myself from being the fatty who dies young. 

If someone is offended by me riding my bike in public, I can't help them.  I really can't.  I don't even have the energy or time to feel sorry for them.  I'm not doing what I do for them.  I'm doing it for me.

"Wow.  Nice Bike!"


The guy at the bike shop sold me exactly what I needed.  The frame is sturdy, the seat and handlebars adjustable in height for my long legs, the seat substantial, and the tires fat.  The bike is easy to ride, easy to pedal, easy to shift, easy to enjoy.  It is a very very nice bike. :)

Monday, December 10, 2012

And The Wind Blew

Last Wednesday I took off work to enjoy one of the last days of warmth.  My intent was to get a decent bike ride in, since biking this weekend was going to be out of the question in sub-freezing temperatures.  I got a few things done around the house, then headed out, my bike packed in the trunk for the short trip to the local greenway.

There was a bit of a breeze, but my naive mind said, "eh, no biggie," and I pulled the bike out, put on my helmet, and started off.  I was heading west, toward the mountains, which is where all our wind comes from.

It was soon evident that the wind WAS a biggie, and I, not being all that aerodynamic in shape, was going to fight this all the way to my usual destination.  But I kept telling myself to push through it.  Places where I'd normally get out of third gear and up to at least fifth gear, I was still in third, and a few times I was even down in second.  About three miles into the ride, as I was riding past the wood processing place and the quarry, the wind was kicking up dust and grit.  At three and a half miles, where the trail opens up onto a long, flat run, the wind was so strong that it almost threw me off my bike. 

That was the end of that. 

I turned around and rode in 7th gear all the way back to the car, the wind making a great riding companion at that point.

The worst part was how disappointed I felt.  I'm a strong girl, I know I am.  I should have been able to ride that day, despite the wind, right?  Excuses are for wimps, and I'm not a wimp.  No one who knows me would call  me a wimp.  But this wind.  It took everything out of me, and I had to stop.  It was only later I realized the wind was 20 mph with gusts to 30.  No wonder I couldn't ride against it.

The acuteness of the disappointment still sits with me, though.  Even after the windburn on my cheeks is gone, and days have passed, I still feel so disappointed in myself for not making it.  And it doesn't help that I can't see riding in the foreseeable future due to weather.  This morning it is 6 degrees, and the next range of forecast shows more of the same.  It is going to be a long, cold winter for me. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Product Review: Schwinn Quick-Release Collapsible Basket

Today's post is a full review of the Schwinn Quick-Release Collapsible Basket, a purchase I made several weeks ago.  I had a home-made basket for the front of my bike, made of blue fabric and with button closures, but it didn't hold enough if I wanted to go shopping or had more than a couple of books to take back to the library.  After a few weeks of use, I am very happy with it and figured I'd give this a decent write-up.

This is the basket at its usual, with the stabilizer pieces in the sizes and the shopping handles on top.  It is about 10 inches high, 12 inches wide, and 10 inches front to back.  An aluminum frame gives the basket its shape, and sturdy, heavy-gauge nylon canvas makes up the sides and bottom of the basket.  When not in use, the basket can be fully collapsed to hang on the wall.

The basket can be used with or without the stabilizer bars that go on the sides to keep it upright.  I have used it both ways, depending on what I'm carrying.  The stabilizers are flat pieces of hard plastic that slip into a sleeve on either side.  The basket itself can be removed from the frame (it is attached with heavy-duty velcro) so that it can be laundered.

The basket comes with a small zippered attached pouch big enough to hold a small wallet and my cell phone, and a nice little pocket has been sewn next to it.  The pocket is big enough to hold my chapstick and my multi allen wrench tool. 

The basket is quite large on my handlebars, but the size is important if I'm going to take it shopping.  It attaches with a simple clamp with screws, which fits snugly on the handlebars.  The basket simply slips into the bracket attached to the handlebars, and has a slide-lock to hold it in place.  To remove it, simply slide the lock to the off position and lift the basket right off.

The nifty draw-string top makes sure none of my stuff flops out when I go over a bump, and the shopping handles velcro together and lay nice and flat and out of the way.

The best part?  The basket is good for some small shopping!  Since I intend to use my bike around town on a regular basis, I need to be able to bring a few things home with me, without having to drag a big back pack along.  Also, when I'm riding, I like to take my Camelbak bottle with water in it, my phone, my camera, a few little snacks, and my bike cable and lock.  The Schwinn Quick-Release Collapsible Basket does all of that for me!

And it doesn't even look dorky if I have to carry it in the store!

This bag is reasonably priced at $22, and I have seen it available not only in bike shops but in major discount retailers.  I got mine at Target.  If you're looking for a decent basket with a variety of features, this basket is for you.  The Schwinn Quick-Release Collapsible Bike Basket.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Remarkable Things Are Happening

I had my first knee surgery three years ago, after tearing my meniscus in a fall at an event I was working.  It was several months between my injury and my surgery, and it was my third surgery in two years.  I had gone from being relatively healthy, despite my size, to having some structural issues that needed care.  I had my shoulder fixed (rotator cuff tear and bursitis the size of a half-walnut shell) the year before, which had followed about six months after I had an urgent hysterectomy.  It is likely my should injury occurred when I was being shifted during or after that initial surgery.  There are dangers to being a fat person that don't even involve things I do to myself, unfortunately.

Anyway, this whole knee thing was bad, and the surgery was good, but afterwards, I looked at my car and thought, "I'm never going to be able to get in and out of that thing again."  To me, it looked like this:

That's worse than a low-rider.  I was going to have to bend up my legs, AND get myself almost to the ground to get in.  It's a Corolla.  Lifting it would be insane, but I have thought about it.  I love my car.  I was going to make do.  I had to.  That car gets 35 miles to the gallon!

After a while, the knee was strong enough to lift me better, but I was always pushing off of the seat or the back of the seat to get myself to standing.  I do the same with chairs that are too low.  I'm tall anyway, and any chair that has my knees bent higher than my hips is going to give me a problem.  Wallowing off the couch is also dicey.

Then, horror of horrors, the other knee needed to be worked on.  Presumably my "good" knee was now going to be in as bad a shape as my "bad" knee.  Getting out of the car after that surgery (now two years ago) was even worse.  I felt like I needed a good pulley system or something.

Of course, I went through all the physical therapy I was prescribed after all of my surgeries.  To this day, I still do my daily exercises for the recovery of my knees.  Since moving to Colorado, I've seen two new orthopedists to try to fix my knees and my foot.  The most they can do is tell me to keep up with my exercises and to lose some weight.  Oh, and here, have a cortisone shot while you're here.  Same advice I've been getting for years now.  Same advice that isn't really working.

That's why I started walking.  Maybe lose some weight, maybe strengthen my leg muscles.  Maybe give me some stamina.  My real desire, secretly - shhhh, don't tell anyone - is to be able to hike and ski.  I live in one of the most wonderful places in the world, where "outdoor" is a normal state of mind.  There are places to hike and ski just a few miles away.  Why live in such a place if you can't do those things?  But all that walking didn't give me what I needed - strength in my awful knees.  I lost weight, about 20 pounds.  I had plenty of stamina and could now walk and stand for longer than I ever had before.  I didn't get breathless as easily.

But what I couldn't do was climb the stairs without pain.  And I couldn't get in and out of that damned car without finding something to push on to help me stand up.

This week, I realized I was getting out of my car without pushing off.  I had my arms full of stuff, and I just stood up.  Just like that. I was in the house before I realized it had happened.  I looked back at the car to be sure it was mine.  Then I put down my stuff and went down the stairs to the basement, where my office is.  There was no pain in my right kneecap.  I turned around and went back up.  There was no pain in my right knee cap.  No fear of it buckling or being unable to push.  Nothing.  It felt normal.  It felt like it hasn't felt in years.  Maybe in decades.

What my original orthopedist, and my first orthopedist here (the one who was so cortisone-shot-happy) didn't tell me is that biking is the exercise I should be doing.  Walking is fine for building stamina, but it does nothing for the support muscles of the knees.  All of my exercises, including wall slides and squats and stair hovering cannot and did not do for me what riding my bike did.  That constant pedaling touches just the right muscle groups, provides the right type of resistance, and even though it is sometimes painful in my knees to ride, the end result is no pain in my knees when I'm climbing the stairs or getting out of my car.  This is what my surgeries were supposed to do for me.  This is what I've been waiting for.  My second orthopedist had said I needed to find another form of exercise to avoid further injuring my foot and damaging my knees further.  He had suggested biking.  No one had ever suggested that to me before. 

I know I'm not ready to climb the mountains, or ski down the other side of them, but I am closer than I was two months ago.  I'm closer than I was a week ago.  I'm closer than I was yesterday.  I am dreaming of snow shoes and hiking boots with red laces, and of fresh powder on a bright, sunny day.  For the first time in my life, I think I might actually be able to do these things.  As the kids would say, "fur realz."

I wish I'd known about this whole bike thing long ago.  I wish I'd been brave enough to try it.  Thanks to my mom, and my current orthopedist, now I know.  And I will be forever grateful.