Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Merry Christmas to all of you! And I hope you have a happy New Year! I want to thank you for reading my blog, and especially for commenting. It helps to know that there are a few people out there who actually do read the things I write and seem to appreciate them. I want to make sure you know that I appreciate you, too.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 20, 2012


I grew up in a house filled with guns. Dad was in the Army, and so, of course, we had his old Army rifle, an Enfield .30-06 baseball bat of a gun. Grandad was in WWI, and so we had his rifle, too, his having died long ago and left it behind. It was a Krag .30-06 that seemed to me, as a little kid, to be 6 feet tall all by itself. It was a giant rifle.

Actually, I don't think it was the gun Grandad carried. I think it was older than that - Spanish/American War old. But we inherited it from him when he died. And Dad didn't carry the exact Enfield he owned, but he bought it later because he liked the gun. Either way, we took both rifles to various outdoor shooting ranges from time-to-time and shot them. Old .30-06 military rifles had hard walnut stocks with steel buttplates on the end. I don't know what the purpose of those steel buttplates were, certainly not to provide any comfort, but they would leave a mark in your shoulder after you fired a shot. It felt like being punched. And then you'd look inside your shirt and there'd be a reverse stamped imprint of that buttplate marking a bruise in your shoulder.

And loud, man, those guns were loud! BOOOOM! I mean, compared to the BB guns my brother and I grew up shooting a .30-06 was a literal canon. As we got older we advanced to .22 rifles. Crack! They really weren't much louder than our BB guns, although to us they were awesome. When Dad let us shoulder one of the .30-06s and fire it, we thought we'd officially grown up, like having your first beer or something.

Those rifles were SO heavy. I could see how the soldiers could use them for double-duty, firing holes in enemy soldiers and then bludgeoning their heads in with the rifle when the bullets ran out. I'd sure hate to get hit with one. It could take your head off. A baseball bat is light compared to those rifles. Truthfully if I had to choose between getting hit with a bat and an antique .30-06 rifle, I'd choose the bat.

Dad had handguns, too, all revolvers. Well, all except his Ruger 22 LR target pistol. That was his only semiautomatic pistol. He talked a few times about the Colt .45 semiauto that officers in the Army carried, and he himself carried one, having been an officer. But he had no love for them. He never expressed much interest in semiautomatic pistols at all, really. Now that I think of it, other than the 22s, none of his rifles were semiautomatics, either. They were all bolt-action rifles. And he preferred it that way.

Not Dad
My dad was not a hunter. He had hunted as a kid and didn't like it. He didn't say much about it, but he did say one time that he just didn't enjoy killing animals for sport, especially when he wasn't planning to eat it. He had no interest in that area of shooting at all. As a result, my brother and I grew up shooting paper targets, as well as bottles and cans, but never any animals. We were good shots, but the only moving targets we ever shot at were when we threw a bottle in a stream and tried to sink it before it floated away. Or each other.

It never occurred to me until today, following the massacre in Connecticut by a mentally disturbed man carrying an AR15 Bushmaster rifle, that my dad's interest in guns seemed to stop somewhere around the point of Vietnam-style weapons. As far as I am aware, and I haven't researched this, but apparently Vietnam was the first war in which American soldiers carried anything even remotely like the AR15, with its built-in handle on top and very non-wooden appearance. The rifles used in the military from Vietnam onward look and feel nothing like the previous military rifles. Even in the Korean War they carried the wooden-stocked M1 rifle. To this very day, enthusiasm for the old M1 rifle is very high among shooters. They love that gun. But the crowd that likes the more modern military-style rifles, the M16s and AR15s and such, seems to be a very different crowd.

Gun show
At gun shows there is every sort of person walking around looking to pick up a few things that they have a need or an interest in. There are book salesmen and knife salesmen and leather goods craftsmen and western wear salesmen and gun safe salesmen. You can find all manner of antique guns, going right back to black powder, with no shortage of enthusiasts for muskets and the like. You can find swords and suits of armor. You can even sometimes find metal-smiths who will make a suit of armor to fit you, if you really want it. There are lots of bikers, guys with long ponytails and leather vests with "Harley Davidson" written across the back. There are guys in military fatigues who clearly haven't been in the military for a very long time, if ever.

And those are usually the guys who want the M16s and AR15s and the like. Its the guys in military clothing who may or may not have once been in the military. I guess that's fair, considering my dad was in the military prior to the introduction of those type rifles and maintained his interest in the very guns he was trained with, but not much that came after. I suppose it's fair that a man trained by the Army to shoot an M16 would want to buy an M16 for himself when he was older.

A different breed
But somehow, to me, they seem a different crowd. First of all, those types of guns cost twice as much as all the other rifles. You can't walk away with any M16 or AR15 or anything of the sort for under $1000. That's quite a commitment to one gun. Guys like my dad wouldn't pay that for a rifle unless it came with a really nice scope, a carrying case, and some nice extras, like maybe a hooker. But a bare-bones gun costing over $1000? No way, not for my dad, not for Dad's type of shooting enthusiast, and not for me.

The Hello Kitty AR15 is the real thing
I don't know if it's fair to try to paint the type of shooter who pays over $1000 for a purely military-style gun with a broad brush. It probably isn't. But from what I've seen, the same guys who buy those rifles are the guys who'll pay $50,000 for a customized Harley, another $50,000 for a supercharged new Camaro, spend a fortune on leather goods that they wear to ride their bikes so they can look bad-ass, and then live in a dump at home. Those guys, and survivalists, seem to be the main people that I see at gun shows and gun stores buying the modern military rifles. Money is no object, just as long as it looks cool and bad-ass.

To politicians and the media, guns that look bad-ass are scary. And anything that looks scary can be portrayed as being evil and in need of some sort of government action by otherwise worthless politicians. It's easy to call for a ban on "assault weapons", for which there is no actual legal definition, show photos of the AR15, and then go and ban the Ruger 10/22 and other totally unrelated guns instead. That's what they always do. Even more worthless was the ban on high capacity magazines. No one ever died because of a high capacity magazine. Changing magazines in a rifle takes 1 second or less. And you can strap 10 of them to your belt if you feel the need. But the high capacity magazines LOOK scary - especially the drum magazines that remind us of the gangsters with their Thompson submachine guns of the 1930s. Scary makes for good press. Scary gets on the air. Scary gets a US Senator to hold it up over his balding head and shout that he will not rest until it is illegal for anyone (except his own bodyguards) to own one.

But getting back to my non-political point, I have never wanted to own an AR15 or an M16 or anything that costs as much or looks much the same. And my dad never wanted one. And I don't recall my brother ever mentioning the slightest desire to own one. I have never actually known anyone who owned one. Not one single person. And I'm in the NRA. I do remember my brother talking about what a huge piece of crap he thought they were, with their .223 caliber bullets and combination plastic and metal parts. Its not that my brother was any expert, but he knew how to lock onto an opinion that my dad would approve of, which means that he knew my dad had no respect for the modern military rifles either.

Typical rifle collection
Looking around the web, I see a lot of shooting enthusiasts who talk with fondness and respect for the old army rifles, starting with the M1 and going backwards through history. Some mention the M14, which was a variation of the M1, but nothing like the M16. Several people on the net talk with derision of the M16s and AR15s. It seems that these ugly, underpowered, and politically expedient punching bags are not much loved by anyone who isn't a member of a SWAT team or survivalist group. And I'm not even sure about the SWAT teams. They carry them, but they don't buy them with their own money.  The point is, these rifles were made exclusively for governments intent upon waging a war as cheaply as possible. The M16 and AR15 is intended to compete with the communists AK-47, which is far more powerful, but no less cheaply made and quite a bit less expensive to produce. They were never intended to be very marketable or serve any sort of dual purpose between soldiers and hunters and target shooters. They are ugly and cheaply made, but accurate and lightweight - perfect for a weak politically correct modern soldier or a punk wannabe who hopes the Mayans were right and tomorrow really is the last day for civilization.

But for me, and for most shooting enthusiasts, those guns are just ugly, overpriced, glorified .22s that the government mandated to an army that had no say in the matter. And from what I hear, the soldiers that carry them into combat have been begging for something better ever since.

Please bring me a better rifle!

* UPDATE which wrecks my entire conclusion:

I talked to my brother-in-law about this and he said he was considering buying an AR15 to replace his old Ruger Mini-14 rifle, which he uses to shoot coyotes around his property. He heard the AR15 was incredibly accurate and it uses the same ammunition as the Mini-14 he already owns.

Then I talked to my cousin in Texas who has a problem with wild hogs and coyotes invading his property, harassing his animals and crops and endangering his kids. He said he tried shooting at the predators with an AR15 and could hit them with extreme accuracy from 200 yards away with multiple shots before they could turn and run off. He likes the gun so much for shooting wild predators and problem animals that he had a customized version made for his son to use. He used to think like I do, that these guns are useless, but after trying one out he was so impressed that he is now a believer and an owner of 2.

So my conclusion was wrong. Apparently they are great rifles for shooting 'varmints' and super accurate. For someone with a predator problem this kind of accuracy is worth the $1000+ price tag.

Sunday, December 16, 2012


I had the flu pretty badly about 2 or 3 weeks ago. And now I have it again. I was at work on Tuesday when I began to feel as if someone had shot me in the stomach and perhaps I needed to take the bullet out because it was still in there. So I knew this wasn't a normal feeling to have. On top of that, my stomach felt like it was blown up as big as the Hindenberg and might explode at any moment. So of course this was the time my boss picked for having lots of meetings. I had to sit in his office on top of his desk, as all the chairs were taken, while feeling like a gunshot victim. Before long my back began to ache, too. I was just in heaven. So there I was on my boss' desk with an inflated stomach rocking back and forth in agony. I could hardly wait for the meeting to end so I could go home and die.

So naturally the meeting went long. We left the office well after 5. I threw on my coat and stepped outside into the parking lot. As soon as the cold hit me I began to violently shiver and my teeth were chattering. OK, it was cold out, but it wasn't quite that cold. Clearly I was very, very sick.

I ran to the car and jumped in, started it up, and cranked up the heat. I drove home for nearly 1 hour with the heat going full blast. It did not warm me AT ALL. Another person riding with me said they could hardly breathe because it was so freakin' hot inside my car. But I couldn't feel any of it. I was still shivering.

Once I reached my own house I ran inside, kicked off my shoes, and dove into bed. Even with all the covers over my head and me curled into a ball I was shivering and chattering my teeth. At some point I got up, aimed the heater in the master bathroom towards the bed and turned it on full blast. Then I jumped back into bed. I stayed in bed from the time I got home until the next morning when I had to contact work to let them know I was not going to be able to make it in.

Must be the flu

So Wednesday and Thursday I was home feeling like death. But for some reason I felt sure I'd be back at work by Friday for sure. Friday came and I developed a new sympton - rocket propulsion diarrhea. NASA could've used my diarrhea to send another Space Shuttle into orbit without requiring any fuel tanks at all, I kid you not.

So I was not able to return to work on Friday either.
One of the weird effects of this flu is that I can't taste anything at all. Everything tastes like wax. I never had a good sense of smell, but I suppose at the moment I have none at all. My ears are ringing. They always did to some extent, but they're really loud right now. I'm not sure how much of this is from the flu and how much I just didn't notice before sitting home alone for 3 quiet, boring days.

My dreams are weird. I remembered a few of them at first, but now that I'm writing about this I can't remember any of them at all. Everything is hazy

I feel as if my muscles are being sucked dry on my bones. I haven't been to the gym in a very long time, so it's unavoidable that I've experienced some hypertrophy, but now I feel like they're just turning into dust. There's an ache that goes with shrinking muscles and boy do I have that ache, in spades. Just tonight I grabbed a 30 lb dumbbell from behind the couch and slowly and feebly pumped out 10 reps of overhead Arnold presses. I just needed the feeling of having something pumping into the muscles to bring them back to life again. It actually felt good. If I weren't still sick I'd drop to the floor and start doing pushups or something. If I could manage that I'm sure the renewed blood flow into my chest, shoulders and triceps would be a welcomed relief from this zombie-like decay I've been feeling.

Do I look smaller to you?
Anyway, that's all that's going on right now. This flu seems to be going around so I'm curious if anyone else has it that reads this blog. Of course, that's an audience of maybe 5 people, minus an old friend who just dropped me out of the blue without any explanation, so that's like 4 now. If you guys can avoid this flu, I highly recommend you do so. It's awful. And two times in a row is even worse.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Office Drama

I have some office drama that is bugging me. It's nothing as exciting as Minxy's Princess problems, but it is driving me up the wall nonetheless.

This is my cup. There are others like it, but this one is mine.
This is my coffee cup. It's an ordinary generic-looking blue cup that I have had forever. I take it with me from job to job, along with the cup warmer, so that I can be conscious in the mornings while I'm trying to work. Coffee is an essential ingredient to my work. I don't like coffee, especially, but I need the caffeine to make my brain go. And sometimes I need the warmth to help me dethaw on winter mornings.

Sometime in late August someone at my job decided that it was their job to take this cup from off my desk and go throw it in the break room. This happened several times, each time with the cup disappearing from my desk and reappearing in the breakroom. Sometimes it was on the counter. Sometimes it was in the sink. A few times it was inside the dishwasher.

I assumed it was the cleaning crew thinking this is a generic company cup that they have to clean, so I asked my boss to put me in touch with whomever is responsible for the cleaning crew. Then I asked that person to please ask his crew to stop taking my personal coffee cup. This is not a company cup.

The response I got back was that I should lock the cup inside my desk every single day any time I leave my desk and further, how do I know it is the cleaning crew since I don't have video cameras set up around my desk to prove that it was them and I can't just go around accusing them like that and it is my fault if I didn't lock it in my desk.

So I had to request a key to my desk and begin locking the cup inside my desk every day at the end of the workday before I went home. End of problem, right?

Wrong. The cup STILL disappears periodically from out of my locked desk and reappears in the break room. It disappeared again in September, several times, and then October, and again this morning. I guess they took November off or something? Anyway, sometime between Friday night and Monday morning someone broke into my desk and took my cup. I found it in the breakroom inside the dishwasher along with several other people's cups.

This sure sounds like the cleaning staff to me. Does it to you?

Anyway, another person somehow involved in this suggested that it is merely a prank by coworkers who sit near me. I said I didn't think so because A) it isn't at all creative B) it isn't at all funny and most of all C) I never said anything to them about it or even indicated that it was going on, so they didn't even know it was happening.

Ah, but this person took it upon themselves to go and question my coworkers anyway, months ago, in fact. And after that my coworkers said to me "we didn't take your stupid cup" and mostly stopped talking to me altogether. Thanks so much for accusing my coworkers on my behalf after I said I don't think they had anything to do with it. Now they think I am some sort of paranoid schizophrenic who randomly accuses people of the very odd crime of stealing my cup out of my locked desk and washing it. So awesome.

In the meantime, I have encountered the cleaning crew on a few occasions. They are contracted from another company. Many of them are mentally handicapped. We used to call this 'retarded' but then one day a wave of political correctness swept the nation (Clinton was elected) and suddenly we weren't supposed to use the word retarded anymore. I personally think that the mentally challenged retarded people who clean our offices believe that my generic blue coffee cup is their responsibility to clean. I think that they believe it to be company property and that they should take it wherever they find it, clean it, and leave it in the break room for any random person to use for their coffee as they please. This is why I specifically asked that the cleaning crew be informed that this is my cup and not to be taken. But they refuse to do this. They refuse to talk to the cleaning crew about it because they say that is an accusation and I don't have proof. But they questioned my coworkers about it even after I said I don't believe it is them. And now my coworkers most definitely feel accused and won't talk to me. So awesome.

Coffee cup ... must take it

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

So here's the thing ...

So here's the thing, I've been to the doctors, had lots and lots and did I mention lots of blood drawn and sent away to be tested. I had the unique experience of a doctor stopping me in the hallway of a major medical center to say "you're bleeding in the floor." I had just had blood drawn and was sent on my way with a cotton ball when I noticed that my arm inside my coat sleeve felt wet. Then a random passing doctor commented on blood dripping from my sleeve. I looked down at my arm.


I spun around and entered the nearest bathroom. (Let me correct that statement - I entered the nearest men's bathroom. The nearest bathroom was the women's.)  I yanked off my coat and sure enough, blood was streaming down my arm from the spot where they stuck the needle in. My first thought, of course, was to turn my coat sleeve inside out and start frantically wiping off the still-wet blood. Once the coat was as clean as I could get it, I started working on my arm. The active bleeding seemed to slow enough that I was able to wash blood off my arm and hands. I didn't put my coat back on, though, because I wasn't quite that confident that there wasn't more bleeding to come.

Anyway, so far the rest results show nothing. I don't have diabetes. I don't have Lyme disease. I don't have rheumatoid arthritis. I don't have anything that they can point to and say "there, there is why you are having these strange problems, injuries, pains, etc."

But that's not necessarily a bad thing. I mean, NOT having the things I so far know that I don't have is good. It's possible that I'm just getting old and creeky and my body is rebelling against years and years of physical abuse in the form of various sports I got involved with as injuries drove me out of one and into another, or boredom did. Either way, I'm hoping for this all to just heal. If it doesn't, I have to go back for more tests. Next time I'll wear a less expensive jacket.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Strange Days Indeed

Something funky is going on. I don't know what to make of it. I wrote a little about it in my previous post. I had a thumb and wrist that wouldn't heal. I originally began having problems with it in March. No explanation. But it was hurt like hell and wouldn't heal. Around the time I went to the doctor I was having odd pain in my left knee. Then my ankle. And I didn't do anything to either one of them. They just hurt. No explanation.

Since then, I went to the doctor. Doctor gave me some sort of steroids for inflammation. The steroids seem to have solved the problem with my right hand. It doesn't bother me anymore. But my left hand is another story. While I was at the doctor my left pinky was swollen in the center joint and stiff. I couldn't figure out why. Maybe I did something to it? I didn't mention it. I figured the medication for my other hand would take care of it.

By the time I had taken all the doses of steroids I was prescribed, my right hand was mostly OK. My left pinky was only so-so. And as it healed, or seemed to, my left middle finger began to get stiff in the same joint, the middle joint. There is no reason for it. I did nothing to it. So for a time both my left pinky and left middle finger were pretty useless. I couldn't make a fist or open my hand all the way. Either extreme was just not possible.

Meanwhile, every afternoon, when I'd get up from my desk, my left knee was stiff. It wasn't stiff like it was swollen or injured or anything. It was just stiff like it didn't want to work. And if I tried to turn my foot to the left or right, it wasn't going to allow it. I'd walk around the office and it would mostly work the stiffness out. But still, there is no reason for it in the first place. Something is wrong.

My ankle, which was mysteriously aching without any cause, had mostly stopped bothering me. Every now and then it comes back, but not much.

My back, which I had hurt, would stop hurting when I did some ab exercises. Now it just aches, as if it has nothing to do with any injury.

Today I went back to the doctor. They took a lot of blood. They're going to send it away for a lot of tests, some of them for some seriously unpleasant stuff. I'm hoping all the results are negative. I'm hoping this is all just a freak thing and it is going to go away just as mysteriously as it appeared. But we'll see. If the tests don't show anything, they may have to take more blood and do more tests.

In the meantime, I finally got my bike back from the bike shop. It's all fixed up nice. Both the front and rear deraillure have been replaced. It rides nice again. Of course, with Autumn fully here now, it gets dark before I get home from work, so I wont have very many opportunities to ride it for about 6 months.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Warrior Dash 2012

I did it again. I ran the Warrior Dash one more time. I was in lousy shape, with a sudden onslaught of mysterious and frustrating injuries and pains that have come from out of nowhere and seeminly have no cause and no cure. Even Aleve didn't help.

Earlier this week I went to the doctor for a injured thumb that hasn't healed in over 6 months. "Doc, what's up with this hand not healing? All I did was plant some trees and since then my hand has felt like I hit it with a hammer. My thumb has felt broken. I didn't do anything to it."

X-rays showed a calcium deposit that could indicate a healing break. There is no way to know for sure what happened. So later that same day, it's 5 pm and I'm getting up from my desk to go home and exercise before the race. My left knee hurts like I've destroyed it. This is out of nowhere. I didn't hurt my knee. I was at my desk sitting on my butt all day. What is going on??

So, injured knee means I'm not going home to run. My road bike is still broken. So I pull out my mountain bike and ride that. Oh Lord, it has so many more gears than my old Bottecchia road bike and they are so much easier to use! I'm flying down the road.

After the workout I felt fine. I showered, ate, and relaxed for the rest of the evening.

Friday, I get up to go to pack my truck for the race and then drive to work. My left ankle is killing me. "WTF?? I didn't hurt my ankle! I went biking! I didn't hurt my stupid ankle!!!"  I find some ibuprofen and take it. It has no effect.

At work my ankle still hurts. So does my back. OK, Wednesday I did legitimately hurt my back. It is an old injury, but I reinjured it while lifting weights. I take more Aleve. No effect.

Friday after work I drive to where I'm staying. The race is about 4 hours from my house. I'm staying nearby so I can just get up, head to the race, and go for it. Me, my ankle, my back and my seemingly broken thumb go to bed.

Saturday morning, the day of the race, I wake up. My middle finger on my left hand feels broken. But it isn't. I can't pick up anything with this hand without that finger screaming in pain. But I can grab the finger and press on it and it is fine. Just don't put any pressure on it or bend it. WTF???!!!! More Aleve, which does nothing. My ankle, meanwhile, is hurting again as if I have horribly injured it. I never did. I ignore it.

When I arrive at the race parking, which costs $20 just to park, I am quickly reassured that I did the right thing in driving my 4x4 truck to this event. It rained last night and the parking area is just a big field. After thousands of cars and trucks have driven down the specified paths, they are motorcross-worthy mud pits. Cars in front of me are struggling despite their front-wheel-drive. I drop down into 4-high and slide around a little, but keep moving forward. My back window quickly spackles over with mud splotches. I'm already having fun.

At the race, all around me are college-aged runners dressed as The Avengers (Thor ran the entire race with hammer in hand), Jesus and the Disciples plus 2 nuns, several Wonder Womans, a Tarzan, three guys in Spandex tuxedos with 2 girls in sequined uniforms, pirates, the most attractive 80s workout girl I've seen since the '80s itself, and lots and lots of tattooes everywhere I look. I'm boring. I'm just wearing a running shirt and some cotton workout shorts. And I have no tattooes. I'm dressed for a regular 5K race, which is just so wrong for so many reasons.

Last year we ran a full mile before we hit a single obstacle. This year the first half mile was filled with obstacles - out-of-shape people walking. There must have been over a hundred people who just stopped and walked the moment they crossed the STARTING LINE. They were grumbling about being out of shape. I heard one person say they hadn't run since the Warrior Dash last year. That's September of 2011. And they are surprised that they were out of shape 12 months later? People walking right in the center of the course are everywhere. Entire teams are walking and stretched all the way across the path so there is no room to pass. People are pushing through. No one fights about it or gets nasty, but it is truly annoying and selfish of them to block everyone else and not get off to the side.

I am stumbling along at my fabulously slow pace, shocked at all the ruts and holes in the path. I'm forced to look down almost all the time to see what I'm stepping into. Several times I step into a hole or rut and roll my ankle a little. Ironically, it doesn't hurt at all despite bitching at me for the past 2 days as if it were in ruins. In fact, nothing is hurting. Except my lungs. My lungs are really unhappy. It's a big pollen season right now and I have bad allergies. Ragweed and sagebrush are in full blast bloom and I'm sucking in all their toxic whatever with every breath. I feel like my lungs are going to swell shut and send me into an asthmatic fit. But other than that everything is going well.

I end up running at a steady pace behind a pretty woman in tight black shorts. We're doing the same pace and because I'm looking down so much I find myself hypnotized by her buttocks. I'm just staring non-stop at her butt. It's a nice butt. I can't look away from her butt. This is embarassing. Finally we hit an obstacle, a mud pit. Or rather, 4 mud pits in a row. They are 4 deep trenches filled with deep mud at the bottoms and you have to run down to the mud, leap over and climb up to the top of the next one. Then do it again through 4 of these pits. But there are a lot of us and we are all jammed in together. The hypnotic butt girl is ahead of me and I'm trying to make it through without running into her, or stopping and getting run into from behind. I'm going great. Then on the last mud pit, she stops short and stands there. Someone is blocking her butt. I mean, someone is blocking her and she can't get up the dirt embankment. I am already leaping across. She is in my way. I'm going to crash into her butt. I mean, I'm going to crash into her. I stop short, landing with one foot on dirt and one foot sinking up to mid-calf in pure mud.

The magnificent butt finally climbs up the embankment, making room for me. I try to pull my leg out of the mud. It pulls my shoe off and keeps it. I had that shoe double-knotted and tied tight. It didn't matter. It just came right off and is now somewhere down there deep under the mud. I can't go on without it. This is only the first obstacle and I'm not even going to consider trying to do some of the rougher ones without my shoe. So I have to step my other foot into the mud, bend down, and reach my arm as far into the mud as I can to look for my shoe. Once I find it, I have a hell of a challenge pulling it out. It really doesn't want to come out. Finally I got my shoe out, but now my sock-covered foot is in the mud and so is my other foot. It is extremely difficult to get both feet out without losing either my left sock or my right shoe in the process. I honestly don't know how I did it.

I can't tell you how difficult it is to stop running and bend down to struggle with your shoes while heaving and gasping for air. Your lungs want all your ribcage capacity available to them so they can fully expand. But when you have to bend down to struggle with a now solid-mud-covered shoe, it compresses your lungs to about half-capacity, if that. So there I am struggling with my shoe, unable to breath, about to pass out, and a race official asks me to get off the mud berm and move to the side while putting my shoe on. I'm barely conscious at this point from lack of air. I stumble to the side. Once I get my shoe back on, I am just totally out of air and energy. So I start walking on towards the next obstacle.

OK, so 1 obstacle down and I'm already muddy. And my feet are sliding around. So of course the next obstacle isnt far and involves climbing up a wooden stand, something particularly hard to do with mud-covered slippery shoes. So I'm walking, climbing very slowly, like an old lady who might cry "help! I've fallen and can't get up!" But I made it over and walked on towards the next one. At this point I was joining the legion of Warrior Walkers. There was no dash in me now. I even had to blow my nose in order to get more oxygen.

I am the only runner in any race I have ever seen who has such bad allergies that I have to carry a handkerchief in my pocket. Hence, the long cotton workout shorts with pockets. I look like a dork, but the alternative is to pass out in the middle of the race from snot-suffocation.

After awhile I got sick of walking and started trotting along again. Under normal circumstances I feel like hell for 1 mile and after that my body admits defeat and stops complaining. From that point on I get into a groove and can run for a long time. But the mud pit/shoe loss really threw me off my game. I never recovered. I spent the rest of the race trotting, climbing, walking, trotting, crawling through mud and barbed wire, walking, trotting - on like that again and again. I walked almost as much as I ran. This is unusual for me, but it is what it is. I just couldn't get my lungs to open up and let me breath and my body never got into a groove.

The obstacles weren't the same this year as last year. Some were, but there were some new ones. And there were more of them. Seeing as this race is mostly about the obstacles, that's a good thing. It makes it harder, but its the reason we're there so its fun.

At the end of the race there was a huge tower covered in a grid of rope that we had to climb up and over and down again. The up is fine. The down is fine. But the its the over and try not to fall on your head that's the real challenge. You are so tired at this point that your coordination isn't the best and you are about 3 stories high trying to get your whole body over a 2x4 while maintaining your balance and turning around backwards to get your feet down into a rope, all without falling or passing out from lack of air. A few people did have partial falls, where they slid until they became entangled and caught themselves. They hit their butts on 2x4s while falling and it clearly hurt. But they didn't die or break their necks or anything.

After the rope covered wall, you are back near the start area. People are all gathered at the fence taking pictures and cheering. Some runners stop to dance. There is a live band playing and you can hear them easily at the finish. I am a lousy dancer so I didn't stop and dance. I ran to the next obstacle, the two rows of fire. The wind was blowing towards us so before I ever reached the fire I got a face full of black smoke. I was already not breathing well so this was awesome. I'm sure I looked like an idiot, but I covered my face somewhat with my arm and ran through the smoke to the fire, jumped over it feebly, then on to the 2nd one and again over it. After that is the mud pit. The BIG mud pit.

Last year people ran and jumped into the mud pitt like a swimming pool. Some people did cannonballs. Some people did belly flops head first into the mud. There is a big sign that says "don't dive into the mud" but people ignored it. So this year they put up barbed wire BEFORE the mud, so that you have to stop, get down and crawl into the mud face first. Once I got into the mud I found that I had a problem. My cotton shorts seemed to fill with air and float my ass like a raft. So my knees weren't getting good traction. I was moving slow. People were passing me. It's the finish and people are passing me! I found that if I just stretched my legs out behind me and walked purely on my hands, almost swimming through the mud, I could move faster. So that's what I did, only my shoulders and head were out of the mud, but I was making up lost ground at least.

Something I noticed while in the mud was that for the guys, being mostly taller, we could keep our shoulders and heads out of the mud. But for the girls, being mostly shorter, they had to really get down into it. They were just heads bobbing along in a river of mud, almost fully covered.

After climbing out of the mud, I tried to run for the finish line. I passed 2 people who were walking/staggering. The ground was pure mud, too, and I was sliding all over the place. I don't know why I bothered to run. I didn't even see a clock showing my time and it wouldn't have meant anything to me even if I had seen what my time was. I can't remember my time from last year. And I don't know my time from this year. I never saw what it was. But I consider myself a runner, despite my jogging and walking and patheticness, so I ran across the finish.

After finishing, you have to walk all the way to the other side of the ... what do you call it? ... the arena? The big area filled with partying people in muddy costumes who already ran and the costumed people who are about to. You have to walk to the other side of the grounds to where firetrucks are located and firemen are standing on top of them spraying down muddy runners with firehoses to get the mud off. These firemen love their jobs and I'll tell you why. Everyone is so covered with mud that all sense of modesty goes out the window when it comes to getting hosed down and getting the mud out of crevices and cracks of the body that would otherwise hold onto it. Shirts are flying off. Women are pulling their sports bras out to get the water down into their tops and under their boobs where mud hides. More than once I heard women say "oh to hell with it" and just pull their boobs up so get water under them, showing the whole package to the firemen and anyone else who was looking. The firemen were VERY happy men. And most of the women are gorgeous.

Here is where I discovered the hazards of wearing standard cotton workout shorts in the Warrior Dash. No matter how much water was sprayed on me, there was always more mud pouring out of my shorts. The cotton had just soaked it up like a sponge and would not come clean. My upper half was as clean as a firehose could get it, but my shorts were continuously pouring mud down my legs and into my shoes. I almost took my shorts off and stood in my tighty-whiteys just so I could hold my shorts in front of the hose and wring them out. But I thought better of it and didn't. Eventually people shoved me aside and took my spot in front of the hose. Apparently they felt that I was clean enough. I didn't agree, but I was ready to give up on cleaning my shorts.

So here's the lesson I took from the Warrior Dash, which I should have learned the first time: wear some nice nylon or otherwise plasticky running shorts to this event. Don't wear cotton. It sucks up the mud and turns you into a walking turd despite the firehoses trying to clean you off. I took the shorts home in a bag and threw them into the washer, along with my underwear, socks and shirt. I ran it as a full load even though it was only those few items. When it was all done the shorts came out with dirt still plastered to the leg and a hankerchief in the pocket that was brown and full of dirt. I'm going to try running the shorts and handkerchief threw one more time and after that I may burn them.

If you see a chance to enter a Warrior Dash near you, I say go for it! It's a wild experience that you'll never forget. Next year I'm going to splurge and order the plastic viking helmet. Several people ran in their fuzzy viking helmet, but I kept mine as a momento. I'm dorky like that, I guess.

* I don't own any of these photos. It's hard to take photos and run at the same time. Some people have lots of friends who take photos of them while they run, but I don't have that luxury. If I have borrowed your photo and you don't like it, please let me know. I have no problem with taking a photo down.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Run, Run, Run for the Bathroom

My bike is still broken. Friday after work I tried 2 different places looking for a new derailleur. Apparently sporting goods shops don't carry much in the way of bicycle parts. And bike shops close at 6 all week long. Why 6 I don't know, but it's very annoying. So anyway, my bike is still broken.

I planned to do a workout after work Friday night. Instead I stopped at Sonic and ate a hamburger. I thought I'd hit the gym Friday and then fix my bike on Saturday. By the time I'd gotten home and eaten supper it was after 8. I ended up sitting on the couch in front of the TV.

A small town adjacent to where I live has an annual craft fair and car show. I went to it today at around noon. It's a big deal for the town and every year the show/fair grows a little larger. This year was the largest number of cars that I've ever seen at this particular car show and the booths for crafts, etc, completely encircled the town hall. I was there for hours, just walking and looking at cars, taking photos, occasionally talking to people about their cars.

By the time I left the car show I was sunburned. In fact, I seem to be about as burned as a hot dog after its been on a stick and held over an open fire. I drove a half mile down the road and stopped at an Italian restaurant for lunch/dinner. It was about 4 o'clock. I ate a Stromboli and went home.

My bike was still laying on the back porch where I'd left it following the storm that I got trapped in when the bike broke. I picked it up and rolled it into the shop out back. There was no point in leaving it out if I wasn't going to have new parts to fix it with for awhile. Then I reluctantly put on my running shorts and shoes and went out for a run.

It wasn't particularly hot outside, but with my sunburn I couldn't seem to tell exactly what the real temperature was. I ran for maybe a mile. A deer in the field next to the road suddenly leapt up and started running through someone's crops away from me. I wasn't doing very well, but it's normal for me to struggle the first mile. What isn't normal is what began to happen in my abdomen. I was rumbling like a volcano. I started up the cascading hills when I heard a car coming down. These hills have a lot of blind spots because of the way they're formed. A runner is easy to miss until your car is directly on top of him. There isn't really a shoulder for me to step off to. It's just ditch and snakes and things.

My sudden rumbling inside wasn't going away. I decided to cross the road before the car came down and killed me and start running back the way I'd came. I was fast developing an emergency need to take a crap and I was out a mile from the house on the same stretch of road that my bike had broken on and left me stranded in the rain. I ran a little and decided that if I didn't want to crap in my shorts it might be best for me to stop and walk. I don't ever walk when I'm running, but this seemed like a special situation.

I walked until I was nearly at the base of the super hill, the short, very steep hill that I like to run my sprints on. At this point I had to run. I figured this was a crap workout and I wasn't going to get much out of it, but at least I could run my favorite hill. I straightened up and got up on my toes. I tried to stride like an Olympic runner, with perfect form. That's how I felt, but I'm sure I looked quite a bit different to anyone else who might've seen me. Still, I managed to run up to the top of the hill without crapping myself and that was an accomplishment.

Once I reached the top I had planned to walk, but it was all downhill after that for a ways so I decided to just cruise and keep jogging along. I jogged to the bottom of the hill and then turned north onto the connecting street. I jogged along until I reached the bottom of my own street. I was slumping down and running with pretty crappy form at this point. I decided I'd straighten up, focus on my form and stride to the first telephone pole. After that I'd walk to the house as a cool-down.

I walked all the way up to my house and started to walk past it to finish my cool-down. But I heard something behind me. It was a strange sound. I finally turned around as I was well past my house and in the process of passing my neighbors' house. There, out in the street chasing after me, was my retarded cat. And she was making strange sounds at me. Maine coons don't really meow much. They don't have strong voices. She was meowing as much as she could, apparently panicked that I was leaving her behind again. She had followed me across the yard when I had first started out for my run and I left her behind somewhere on my street. I hadn't expected her to be waiting for me. My cat is a stalker.

She and I went into the house and I sprinted for the bathroom. While I sat on the toilet I had a chance to look at my arms and legs. They were a lot more burned than I had realized. I was a lovely shade of purple. No wonder I was feeling so bad.       This was a crappy run. I don't think I accomplished much. And now I'm burned, too. I have a race in 2 weeks and I've got a lot of work to do. This isn't a good start.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Cycling with a Twist

I'm supposed to be getting prepared for the next Warrior Dash. I'm totally out of shape and I haven't felt like running at all. So I've been cycling. Tonight I got home a little later than I had wanted, so I rushed to get my bike out and hop on. There were some dark clouds in the sky, but they were far away and appeared to be moving in the opposite direction from me. I took off on my usual route.

I took my street down to a connecting street, headed south and pedaled as fast as I could to where that street dead-ends into a much longer road. This is where all the hills are.

I turned west and started pedaling up the first steep hill. As I crept up to the top I saw black sky off in the distance and lightning. I studied it hard. It still appeared to be moving away from me. It shouldn't be a problem. So I shifted into my fastest gear and started pedaling as fast as I could. I flew down the hill with the wind whistling through all the holes in my dorky bike helmet. I was really moving.

I flew as fast as I could down the straight, flat part of the road and reached the bottom of the cascading hills in record time. I struggled up the first hill, caught my breath on the level part between, then strained up the second hill, caught my breath again on the next flat part, and then really strained to get up the third hill.

As I was reaching the top of the last hill I looked off to the north and saw a flaming orange sky. It was freaky looking. To the west it was black and there was a lot of lightning. And to the south there was a starving dog trying to tear into a discarded bag of trash looking for food.

What the hell?

I turned my bike around at the top of the hill and stopped in front of the dog. He was so pathetic looking. His hips were poking out he was so skinny. He hadn't even gotten the bag torn open yet from what I could tell. He stood there halfway cowering and just looked at me. I stood there still on my bike and tried to figure out what to say to him. "Hey boy, you need to come home with me so I can get you some food. I can't carry a dog with me on my bike, especially since I don't know if you're wild or not." The dog just stared at me. I had seen him before, along this same road sniffing at another discarded garbage bag. I don't know why there are so many discarded garbage bags along here, but they don't seem to contain enough food in them for this dog to survive. He looked AWFUL.

What do you want and why aren't you feeding me?
I tried to somehow convince the dog that he needed to come with me so I could get him to my house and feed him. But he didn't seem to be grasping the idea. He just crouched there and looked at me, halfway squatting and halfway standing, just like he had been the entire time. I was starting to wonder if he might've died while still standing and I hadn't noticed. Finally I gave up and decided it might be best if I rode home and got some meat and then drove back in my truck to give it to him. So I started to pedal away, downhill.

As I struggled to get my feet into the toe clips a truck came flying around the curve behind me. I could see its headlights glaring past me. I had my taillight on and they apparently saw me at the last minute and avoided killing me. Glad for that. Once I got my feet situated I shifted into my fastest gear again and flew down the hills. I could hear something clicking as I pedaled. I looked down and noticed that my pedal was hitting my chain guide.


I decided that the hitting of the chain guide probably wasn't the best idea, so I shifted gears, or tried to. Too late. The chain guide popped loose from the frame and twisted my chain. Something actually fell off my bike and into the street. My pedals locked up.

Oh, and it started to rain.

I coasted to a stop and laid the bike on the side of the road while I jogged back to pick up whatever it was that fell off my bike. It turned out to be the tire pump that I had mounted on my frame. I picked it up and jogged back to my bike. I looked it over and tried to figure out how to fix the chain guide. It was hopeless. Something was missing. Whatever held the guide to the frame was gone.

Lightning flashed overhead and the wind started to kick up really strong.

I stood my bike up, checked to see if both tires would roll, and then started jogging towards home with the handlebars in one hand and my stupid pump in the other. It started raining harder.

When I came to the last hill, the steepest one before I reach home, I had to stop jogging and walk to get up the hill with my bike. The wind was really strong now and the rain was coming down harder. At the top of the hill I climbed onto the bike and coasted as far as I could. The rain was pouring down in sheets and lightning was flashing constantly. For a short distance I had a killer wind at my back. That helped. But it didn't last long.

Tut tut, looks like rain
Once I ran out of momentum I had to get off the bike and jog again, splashing through puddles that were forming. My shoes were now completely filled with water and I was soaked all the way through. But the rain was still coming down and I had further to go before I reached home.

The street leading to my house is uphill and I was having trouble controlling the bike while jogging. It was swerving and I nearly dropped it. I finally had to give up and just walk. I was already as wet as I could possibly get anyway. It didn't matter how hard the rain came down now. I could have jumped into a pool of water and not gotten any wetter.

When I reached my house I pushed the bike across the front yard and headed for the back door. My brain damaged cat was on the front porch acting frantic to get into the house. I called to her to follow me to the back door, but she's retarded and ignored me. She was plastered to the window next to the front door, as if there was anyone inside the house to see her and let her in. (There wasn't.)

I laid my bike down on the back porch and went in through the laundry room. I was leaking water from my shorts and shirt like a bucket with a hole in the bottom. I stripped and threw my clothes into the washer. I figured they could drain there and not hurt anything. I don't generally stroll around my house in the nude, but this was a special occasion. I didn't have any dry clothes handy and I was going to have to streak. I showered for a very long time. Once I was dried and had some dry clothes on I went slowly to the door and turned on the porch light. Sure enough, a mentally challenged cat was plastered to the glass. I opened the door and let her in. Rather than thank me she made a beeline for her food dish. Yeah, cats are like that sometimes.

So my bike is broken. I'm not sure what it's going to take to fix it. I have a race coming up and I haven't felt much like running to train for it. But I guess I'm going to have to.

You know, I had said I was thinking about trying to do a triathlon. It's just occurred to me that I biked, ran and swam tonight while trying to get home. I hadn't planned on doing a triathlon, but I sort of just did. It wasn't that much fun.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Pedal Till Your Legs - Part 2

Tonight after work I rode the same course as I did last week, hills and all. I even went a little further down the road this time. Before I rode I measured the distance I had gone last week with my car. It was a whopping 4.5 miles. Hardly what anyone would call a long bike ride by anyone's standards. I think I may have added another half mile at the end, which I then had to double back and cover again on the way home, so I suppose I rode about 5.5 miles tonight.

I still have no clue about my gears. I think I'm doing it right and then suddenly it doesn't work. I got the main gear at the pedals to shift over to the larger, faster gear all of twice. When I duplicated what I'd done to get to that gear it simply didn't do it all the other times. One time it dropped the chain off the gear entirely. That happened as I was coasting down the cascading hills. I had hoped to build up a lot of speed and then fly down the straightaway to the hill from hell, but when the chain fell off that option was out. But as long as I was coasting and not able to do anything much I decided just for the hell of it to shift the gears and pedal to see if I could magically pop the chain back into place. And damned if it didn't work. The chain popped right back on again and I didn't have to stop and fix it.

The main thing I got out of tonight, though, was a very simple yet critical lesson. Biking is a lot easier and less work when your tires aren't flat. Yep, write that down. It's gold.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Pedal Till Your Legs Fall Off

On Wednesday I had a Microsoft-induced disaster at work. Windows took a giant jump into the lake and left me without a working computer for the entire day. As a result, I got off work earlier than usual. Having been sick for about 3 weeks in a row and not having exercised much during that time, I was feeling a bit agitated. I needed a workout.

I have a race coming up in a few weeks. The 2012 Warrior Dash is just next month, and this month only has a few days left in it. I haven't run at all since my last race. That was quite some time ago. And having been sick between in addition to not exercising has sucked all the endurance out of me.

Gonna go for a run
So, having extra free time and being home before most of the heavy work traffic hit, I thought I'd go for a run. I put on my running clothes and pulled out my brand new running shoes, which I got courtesy of Fleet Feet and their video run monitoring system that helps choose the exact shoe for your particular running style. And I started to water up. I hadn't drank much water all day.

I had complained in the past about how this new area where I've been living for the past 6 months doesn't have any good hills. There is a road near my house with a few ups and downs, but nothing like the area I lived for the previous 3 1/2 years with it's long, steep mountainous climbs that would make my heart explode if I tried to run up it too fast. I grumbled about that to myself while putting my shoes on. Running in an area without hills just bores the crap out of me.

And then I saw my brand new, never-used bicycle helmet in the coat closet underneath the stairs. Hmm, bike helmet. I think I have some sport sunglasses. My legs are pretty wobbly for running after being sick for so long. Maybe I should take the bike out instead?

Gonna go for a ride
So I put my shiny new bicycle helmet on, grabbed my obnoxious red sport sunglasses, and went outside. I dragged my Bianchi road bike out of the shop where it was leaning against my antique Suzuki Duster 125. I briefly remembered for the 1000th time that I still need to find a welder to fix the kickstarter for my Suzuki so I can start it up and run it before the engine seizes up on me. I popped a cheap generic Kroger bottled water into the water bottle holder on the bike frame and started trying to slip my new running shoes into the toe clips. These shoes and these clips clearly were never intended to be used together. Still, I made them work.

The bottle of water fell over sideways as I stepped into the pedals and began moving down the driveway. When I sat down on the seat the bottle nearly fell out entirely. I reached down to straighten it up, swerving towards the grass as I did so and nearly wiping out. This never happened when I was a kid. I was the Evil Knievel of bikes when I was growing up. Today I nearly bust ass in my own driveway over a bottle of water.

As I finished straightening up my bottle of water I noticed that my tires seemed a little flat. I had given them a basic squeeze test before I got on and they seemed fine. Now that my big butt was on the seat, though, they seemed pretty flat. I was thinking about this when I reached the end of my driveway and nearly slammed into the back of my neighbors' new Toyota Sequoia. They had backed down their own driveway as I was swerving wildly down my own and we were now meeting in the middle. I couldn't blame myself for the near collision. Anyone could miss seeing a big black Toyota Sequoia SUV moving directly at them at low speed in broad daylight. I'm sure this happens all the time, right? Sure it does.

Hi neighbor!
Once I avoided the potentially fatal collision (for me) with my neighbor and got myself all straightened out and moving down the road, the sense that my tires were insufficiently inflated for my particular weight was even worse than it had been in my driveway. I could swear that every single pebble in the asphalt making up my street was hammering away at the rims, front and back, but especially the back. That's where most of me is.

I thought about turning around and going home again to pump them up a bit more, but as I had nearly died coming out of my own driveway the first time I was afraid to go back and give fate, or my neighbors, a second shot at me. I continued on.

Luckily for me, I live near the top of a hill, or slope rather. So the ride to the end of my street is easy even with under inflated tires. I was quickly going very fast. Why turn back for a tire pump? I was making good progress. After my street intersects with the next one, there is a short uphill climb and then its mostly flat for about a half mile. I pedaled past woods and two large dogs and some horses and then  took a right onto the long and winding road that has all those little hills that underwhelm me when I'm out jogging.

I remember when I was younger, I used to say that I am not a jogger, I am a runner. There is a difference. A runner is fast and competitive. A jogger is old and slow and wears headbands and iPods and carries a cell phone, maybe some keys, looks a bit awkward and sweats in all the wrong places. Well, I used to be a runner. Lately I'm more of a jogger. Any 5K time over 29:59 is officially a jog. I'm sorry, I don't care how hard I'm working to go faster, it's not real running if I can't finish the race in the 20s at most. Teens would be better, but I haven't run a 5K in a time beginning with a '1' for a very long time. 

The first real hill I hit on this road is probably the best of them all. But I was on the wrong side of it. It is a climb to reach the top, but it's the other side that's the real challenge. It's shorter and steeper and I use it to run sprints on when I'm trying to work on my speed and strength. Riding down that short, steep side on my bike made me a little nervous. I seemed to be really moving. I hunkered down and dropped my hands from the top of the handlebars to the lower 'rams horn' part. I don't know the official word for it. I think 'rams horn' communicates what I'm talking about so I'm going with that. Anyway, I was hauling ass. But even as I reached top speed I knew I wasn't going very fast relative to the speeds I used to ride as a kid on bikes with no gears and sometimes no brakes either. I stepped into it a bit and pedaled, trying to keep the speed up as long as I could. Half a mile more down the road is a series of hills with flat spots between them where you can catch your breath before hitting the bottom of the next hill, one building on top of the last, until finally you reach the top.

Fast as lightning on a downhill
At the bottom of this series of cascading hills I shifted to an easier gear and stepped into it. Halfway up the first hill my bike decided to shift itself. I didn't tell it to and I sure didn't want it to. The gear it shifted into was harder and I nearly fell over. I was huffing away and struggling to shift it back to the correct gear when the gear at the pedals snagged my shoestring and started trying to eat my brand new running shoe. I had to stop, mid-hill, snap my feet backwards out of the toe clips and jump off the bike, all without falling over as the steepness of the hill instantly stopped all forward progress as soon as I stopped pedaling.

A snake in the grass beside the road took off as my feet hit the ground. I tugged my shoestring out of the gear and stuffed as much of the shoestrings on both feet into the shoes as I could. Then I had to struggle to get back on the bike, into the toe clips, and moving forward as quickly as I could before the bike fell over, all while halfway up a steep hill.

Yeah, a steep hill.

On foot, running, er, jogging, these hills are nothing to me. I love running hills. I can't think of a better workout than sprinting up a steep hill as fast as you can. On a bike, an old bike with only 10 speeds total that jumps out of gear at random mid-hill, these hills were steep. It's all in your perspective. It all depends on what you're doing to get up that hill and how good you are at it. I can run this hill all day with no problem. But biking it, I was huffing.

This section of hills, I believe, is a cascade of three or maybe four connected hills built one upon the other, so that you climb them like giant stairs until you reach the very top. Halfway to the top I began to be aware that my legs were hitting something as I leaned into the pedals and pedaled for all I was worth. Something was in my way and banging against the tops of my thighs. It was my stomach.

Pregnant cyclist
Oh, for crying out loud, my own fat stomach was getting in the way of my legs! I could barely breath pedaling up this friggin' mountain and catching a knee to the stomach every pedal rotation wasn't making it any easier. It just seemed too ironic that my stomach was in my way pedaling the bike. This sort of thing never happened to me when I ran. Or did pretty much anything else. Ever.

I`ll bet Lance Armstrong never had this problem in his entire life.

Once me and my stomach finally reached the pinnacle of the mountain, as I was contemplating turning around, I became aware that I was steadily speeding up rolling down around the curve and further up the road. Visually it appeared to be a flat, straight stretch of road, followed by another sharp curve and then a steep downhill, but my bike's steady acceleration was saying that I was already on the other side of Mount Everest and heading down rapidly. I figured I was tired and would just ride it out. What harm could it do? I needed the rest anyway.

Down the other side was maybe 1/8th of a mile, possibly more. By the time I reached the bottom, which dipped sharply before immediately heading up another hill again, I was flying. I had hunkered down, gripping the lowest part of the handlebars, which I'm calling the rams horn whether you like it or not, bucko, and pressing myself down to avoid the wind as much as possible. I supposed I was making myself aerodynamic like a competitive cyclist, but I'll bet I looked more like a fat blue ball with a gay helmet and sunglasses on a bike with 2 flat tires creeping along the road at a modest speed to anyone who saw me.

My momentum carried me surprisingly far up the next hill before I had to start pedaling again. I pushed my way up to a large, brick gated driveway and decided to turn around and head back home again. I was already worn out.

Turning around I was faced with the long, deceptive hill that I had just allowed myself to coast down moments before. I built up as much speed as I could on the downhill I was currently on before reaching the bottom, waving to a blonde woman taking out her trash, and heading up the monster hill from hell. It was awesome when I was coasting down it, nice and long and gradual and so easy. Now it was just long and endless and I wondered if it would ever end so I could catch my breath and not pass out here with the snakes and random stray cats and dogs and my shoe-eating Italian bike.

After an eternity I reached the top, hyperventilating and likely turning blue from lack of oxygen. I was excited about the fact that I was now at the very top of the long progressive series of hills I had climbed already because it meant I had a lot of time to sit up straight on the bike and catch my breath without doing any pedaling while I coasted down and down and down until I finally reached the bottom where a long, flat straight hill-free stretch of road awaited me.

So in 2 seconds flat I was all the way down the series of hills and doing about 40 mph. I had been forced to press myself low to the handlebars to get out of the wind and avoid bullet-like bugs and the occasional bird trying to take my head off. 40 feels pretty fast on a bicycle with flat tires. I suppose if the tires had been properly inflated I could've gone even faster.

Seemed longer riding up
I took my sweet time pedaling down that 1/2 mile stretch of straight, flat road because I knew what was waiting for me at the other end - the killer mountain cliff that I once enjoyed running sprints up, but now dreaded the way a child dreads going to the dentist. I was all out of gas, but much too stubborn to simply get off the bike and walk it up that hill. And I knew it.

I hit the bottom of that hill with no speed at all. I just crawled up to it. An old man could walk faster than I was pedaling. And when I got to the bottom and started up it, I just pressed my gear levers as far down as I could until my pedals barely felt like they were doing anything with each rotation. I was in the easiest gear I could find without dropping my chain onto the street, which I have been known to do.  The slope of the hill began to increase rapidly. And my bike began to strain against it, as my pedaling grew more difficult, and my gears chose themselves seemingly at random, kicking the chain from one gear to the next, each one harder than the previous and inspiring me to curse to myself in my head. I would've cursed aloud, but I didn't have enough oxygen to spare. I thought about my shoestrings and how my bike had tried to eat them the last time I was working this hard to climb a hill. I became aware of my own sweat dripping onto my sunglasses right in front of my eyes, almost as if my eyeballs themselves were sweating from the tremendous effort. I wished I hadn't worn the dorky helmet because it felt as if it was squeezing my skull like a grape and it was hot. I needed all the air circulation I could get. I began to swerve a bit, left and right, not doing a very good job of holding a straight line.

A truck passed me. There was someone inside who looked back at the crazy blue man trying to pedal a bicycle up this impossible vertical cliffside. I saw them out of the corners of my vision, but I never once looked up. I don't believe in looking up while climbing a difficult hill. I think it is counter productive to look up. All you're doing is checking your progress to see how much further you have left to go. And invariably you feel disappointed. You feel as if you've gone a very long ways. You feel as if it should be over already. You are convinced that surely the top is a mere inches away. And so you look and discover to your dismay that you are barely halfway to the top. And that's when you tell yourself that it is OK to stop and walk.

It isn't OK. Don't look up. If you just keep plugging away you'll get to the top eventually. Looking up doesn't help get you there. Keeping your feet moving does. Your mind plays tricks on you when you're working that hard. You want it to be over so you fool yourself into believing that you've gone much further than you really have. Keep your eyes down.

I crept to the top of the hill. I was really heaving by the time I reached it. I was swerving and sweating and gasping and inhaling pollen and bugs and whatever amount of air my wide opened mouth could take in. My face was like a jet engine sucking air so hard that people would be in danger of getting sucked in if they stepped in front of me. I felt as if my lungs were going to burst. But I reached the top. I didn't stop and walk. My bike didn't eat my shoes. And my legs felt as if they were made out of freshly boiled spaghetti. They were just about useless.

I had one final downhill to coast down at this point. I needed every bit of it. I reached the bottom of the hill at good speed and when I needed to make a 90 degree left turn I did it without slowing down. I rolled for as far as I possibly could and then began pedaling. It was like trying to push a pedal with a rope. My legs had nothing left. I don't know how I made it home. That easy slope up my street to my house felt like another mountain climb. I eventually reached my driveway and slowly weaved up it to my house.

When I reached the end of my driveway and had to step off the bike I nearly fell down. My knees buckled and I almost dropped the bike on ground. It was all I could do to roll the bike back into the shop. I leaned on it pretty heavily. And once I got it back into the shop, I leaned it back up against the Suzuki and pumped up those damn tires.