Cancer touches all of us - half of all men and one third of all women in the U.S. will get cancer in their lifetime. These figures are shocking, but, I believe we can change the stats by funding lifesaving research at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
All of us participating in Obliteride will come together August 9-11, 2013 to tell cancer we're not gonna take it anymore. And here's where I need your help. I've made a big commitment to make a statement against cancer. And I hope you'll make a statement, too. With 100% of every dollar donated going directly to cancer research at Fred Hutch, we can make a direct impact on research to save lives faster. I hope you'll donate as much as you can because you believe in me, what I'm doing and that together, we can defeat cancer.
That's the pre-printed stuff. Here's my story. I am now in that one half of men. I had a rare cancer which has had a massive shift in treatment in the last four years due to ongoing research. I spent three months riding my bike around Seattle back and forth to treatment. The pic is from a ride I did up Mt. Ranier after the first stage of treatment but before the last two. Now I hope to ride around Seattle again, cancer free.
My Personal Web Log
More than Expected, Part II
I was on the return leg home. I remember flying down the steep hill, just about jumping off the railroad crossing and then the sharp hairpin at the bottom, and thinking to myself, "That was fun." I have got to admit, the Obliteride 100 mile course was not for the faint of heart. So there I was climbing up an approximate 14% grade to someplace that actually had a name (Norway Hill), with my legs cramping, and my thoughts angry. And then I thought of Jens Voigt (a pro-bike racer for those who don't know, and one of the few whom I believe when he says he never took PEDs) and his famous admonition of why he never quits when it hurts: He just tells his body, "Shut up, legs!" And then he keeps riding. So I did the same, and it worked. I was a little slower going up, but the cramps eventually passed and I had no problems after that, even though the hills were still not over. And believe me I was ready for them to be over. Pretty soon I was in Kenmore and the signs were directing me to familiar territory, the Burke Gilman trail. I was hopeful, but not very optimistic, that this would be the route back to Magnusson Park and the finish. The Burke-Gilman, being an old railroad bed, is flat, flat, flat. And the memories came back some more. Last October I had thought it would be fun to ride around Lake Washington on my way to radiation therapy from my parents house near Sea-Tac. It was right at this section of the trail on my bike that the symptoms of radiation sickness began to effect me. For the first three weeks I had sailed through without much difficulty. I had been warned that I might feel tired and that it could hit fairly sudden, but I didn't expect it like it did. I had sprinted up the east side of Lake Wahington, climbed over Juanita Hill with ease, and all of a sudden, on the level Burke-Gilman just south of Kenmore, I suddenly felt exhausted. Thirty minutes before I had been passing everybody. Now they were all passing me. And it stayed that way for the next few months. So anyway, here I was heading for the finish on the same stretch and I was feeling good, still riding at a good pace (I won't say how good because the posted speed limit on the trail is 15mph). Soon I was heading down the finish chute, waving to my wife, daughter, parents, sisters, and nephews, gazing at the beer garden across the way. (My Death Valley ride taught about the restorative power of a pint of beer.) It was good to see some the people who had supported me on my cancer journey and demonstrate to them that I was fit and healthy.
To end this post on an eerie note. Debbie, Kristin, and I were walking by the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance on our way to the Obliteride kickoff celebration, and the scar in my leg began to tingle. It reminded me of Harry Potter's scar whenever he is near Voldemoort. Didn't tingle when I was near the UW research labs however, and I'm pretty sure that's where my cancer tissue lies. So maybe it's just a side effect of my electroporation therapy. :-)
More than Expected, Part I
Well, the ride is over, and it was a heck of a ride: physically, mentally, and emotionally. I have ridden so much over the past two years, including one other century ride for cancer research three weeks ago with my daughter which we did on a whim, so I thought I really knew what to expect. But I was wrong. Saturday's ride surprised me in so many ways that it is even hard to recount them.
But first, a little background: I skied my first cross country marathon about 15 years ago with some training, very little skill, and even less knowledge. I think it took me almost 5 hours to complete a 50K course that took me three hours two years later. Every feed station I passed was out of food, because not only the 50K racers, but the 40K and 25K racers had been there before me. At the finish line, the only people still there were my brother's family and my family and for some reason some race volunteers who greeted me at the line and told me they were out of finishing pins. I trudged up to the day lodge to find out Great Harvest had no more of their wonderful bread and the pizza was all gone. At least the water fountain worked. I learned from that day to prepare better for endurance events.
So I awoke at 5AM Saturday feeling ready. Admittedly, I had spent the last week and a half ripping out our downstairs flooring and laying new flooring in its place, sandwiched between a lot of shifts at work. I had done this in Place of riding my bike because it's always good to taper off before a big event and because I wanted to surprise my wife with the progress as she was gone at that time hiking with her sister and niece and our daughter, Kristin, in the Olympic Mountains. After a thirteen hour floor laying marathon session on my one day off, I began to think maybe I had made a mistake, because my legs cramped up while lying in bed that night. Flooring involves doing a lot of repetitive squats over and over and I think that's what did it.
We drove to the ride start with perfect weather as we pulled into the parking at the UW. Kristin was riding the 50 mile course, the day after returning from her hike which had turned out to be epic for many reasons. Briefly, it involved fording two rivers, climbing a ridge via rope, a 17 mile day, and a 14 mile day, with hundreds of extremely large, downed trees on the trail. And she looked fresh and ready to go.
At the start we took our respective positions and headed out. My group left before Kristin's, so I didn't see her until I finished, but my family told me they thought she was the first woman to finish, and she finished about the same time I was starting lunch at mile 49 on my ride, so pretty impressive.
I somehow started at the front of the 100 mile riders, probably because I did what I was told and went to the chute when it was first announced. When we launched it was at a fairly good clip, about 22 MPH. The road was fairly flat for a few miles and then the hills started. Seemingly gentle at first, they soon became short, steep, and repetitive. Before my inclinometer got out of level, I noted that 12% was a fairly common reading. I had looked at the race profile before I left and I remember thing, "Looks like a lot of climbing," but since the maximum elevation was only a little over 600 feet it really didn't click how much climbing there was. After all, I had already climbed over 4,000 feet in a stretch at Death Valley, and over 6,000 feet in the Beartooth mountains this year alone, and that didn't include all the hill climbs I did in the Chugach mountains near Anchorage up Clarks Road and Toilsome Drive to Glen Alps, where the grade hits 18%. I figured I was ready for hills.
Basically, the Obliteride turned out to be about 80 miles of hill repeats, really steep hill repeats, and on these first hills we were flying. A few times I would look at my heart rate monitor and see 179-180 BPM, which is pretty much my flat out maximum heart rate. One is rarely supposed to redline in an endurance event, and it's especially stupid to do so in the first few miles, so I tried to throttle back a little since I knew we had a long way to go and I wasn't totally sure what to expect up ahead, but it seemed to me if this type of climbing continued it would be an interesting day and I wanted to make sure I could ride strong. And I am a strong rider, not the fastest, certainly not a light little climber, but one more in the one day classics mould. So I was a little surprised how long the group I was in stayed together over the first few hills. I kind of wondered how long I would last at this pace, but when I looked around I wondered how long some of the others would last at this pace. But like any endurance event with a mass start, a lot of people rabbited out, fueled by adrenalin, and then as that turboboost faded, they faded. So after a while the riders finally started to thin out, which suited me fine because I'm so used to riding alone that I like to go at my own pace. Having said that, while riding the Prouty, Betsy and I got caught up in a pace line where we were doing well over 20MPH on the flats and that was a total blast. But the Obliteride did not offer much of a chance for that because there were fewer riders and even fewer flat sections. So after a while I was pretty much riding by myself. Occasionally I'd catch up with some other riders, ride with them a while then go on ahead. As I neared Carnation, and lunch, I caught up with another rider and for a while rested behind him, and then switched and pulled into the lunch stop. I was quite surprised when the volunteers there told us we were the first to stop for lunch, and one of a very few to actually come through the road. I hadn't realized the ride had thinned out that much.
The rest stop was at the old Carnation Dairy Farm, which brought back nice memories. I remember going on field trips in elementary school to watch the cows being milked and then having ice cream afterwards. My parents also to take us to Carnation on the Fourth of July to watch the parade, so really good thoughts flowed through my mind as I wolfed my sandwich and refilled my water bottles.
And then I was off. And for the next 50 miles I was alone. I think I saw only one other one hundred mile rider the rest of the way in. Since we were not allowed to wear ear buds on the ride, I had a lot of time to think. Usually, I'd be rocketing along listening to AfroCelt Sound System, the Who. Rush, or the Police (to name my favorites), but on this ride I had a chance to think about all that has transpired in the last year. I remembered a particularly blazing ride last summer when I came home, took a shower, and discovered a weird lump in my right groin;too low to be a hernia, too rapid in growth to be a benign lipoma, and seemingly an unusual place to be a lymph node, as they are rarely that far down the leg as well. And that started me on the path to learning about Merkel Cell Carcinoma, electroporation, Interleukin-12 gene plasmids, tissue for research (when you have a rare cancer you are a real prize), and linear accelerators. Something emergency physicians should never have to know.
The miles ticked by and soon I was somewhere around 25 miles to go. And they hit. My legs started cramping. Both of them, in multiple different areas. First my calves, then my quads, then my hamstrings. I know I had hydrated and fed well, so I don't think it was a lack of nutrition. It might have been the fast start, but I had literally ridden thousands of miles in the last year, so I don't think it was that. Certainly could have been all the hill repeats. I had never ridden this kind of terrain for this long all year. But I chose to blame the flooring, and I got angry. Separated from my family for four months, unable to work during that time, riding thirty-six miles a day to radiation therapy, getting shocked by 1500 volts/meter six times in a second, three times in a week, wanting to turn this into a positive by riding a hundred miles to raise money for research to help others in the same position I was in, AND MY LEGS WERE REBELLING.
A Tale of Two Rides, Part III
Our riding partner thought we were doing about 25MPH over those 15 miles and based on the few times I have been at that exalted speed for an extended period of time, I think he was probably right. It was pretty exhilarating. Our pace line broke up at the next SAG station as Betsy and I continued on. We continued through picturesque New England villages as we headed south through Vermont back to Hanover. I kept thinking of Jens Voigt's famous quote, "Shut up, legs!" as we climbed some hills near Hanover. Betsy knew the route well and kept me informed of the coming pain. However, the last hill was soon in sight and as I crested it there was a long line of seniors from the retirement home at the top of the hill with a sign which read, "We're Over The Hill And So Are You." One has to admire that kind of spirit. The finish line was about half a kilometer further on, and as we crossed it Betsy and I felt pretty good, emotionally and physically. We had had a great ride together and still had enough strength to dance a little and enjoy life. Later that evening Debbie and I met Betsy and one of her roommates at the Skunk Hollow tavern for dinner. A perfect ending to a perfect day.
So as I near August and riding the Obliteride, it occurs to me that in preparation for this ride, I have many miles behind me in 9 different states since January. But it all began with riding back and forth to radiation treatment last fall in Seattle, ticking the pedals over no matter how tired, bored, or frustrated I felt. I rode because it was one of the few things that brought me happiness in a difficult time. Now that time is behind me, but riding still brings happiness, and now maybe a little hope for others who are, or will be, in the same position as me.
A Tale of Two Rides, Part II
Fiscal reality forced me to work for a couple of weeks after we returned from Montana, but we had already planned a trip to the east coast for July to visit my daughter who would be spending the summer at college in New Hampshire. Debbie and I could be there for her birthday and at the same time cross another item off my life list, a visit to Maine. Growing up on Puget Sound, I had always felt an affinity for what I had read about Maine, another community with a vital connection to the sea. As I wrote previously, I am pretty sure much of this came from reading Robert McCloskey. Our trip was also partly to explore possible sites for retirement, as I feel I will be ready as soon as possible. I guess having had cancer does that to one; there is a realization human time is not infinite. Our plan was to spend a couple of days in southern Maine, then drive to visit our daughter in Hanover for a couple of days, then drive up to Camden, north of Portland for four days before returning to Alaska. Although Maine and New Hampshire are right next to each other, there is no direct route from Camden to New Hampshire because of the mountains. What would be a two hour drive in Washington is a 4.5 hour drive in New England. I had reserved bikes for rent in both Kennebunkport, our first stop, and then in Camden. That way I could still get in some two hour rides without dragging my bike and box all over New England. In addition, I could try out some new road bikes as the one I currently have is twelve years old and I can foresee the day it might have to be replaced. (It's a LeMond Zurich, a great bike.)
When we arrived in New England the temperatures were in the 90's! I had some great rides up and down the coast. There are lots of beaches in the area and I also rode by Walker Point, home of the first President Bush. (I can never keep track of their middle initials.) The terrain was mostly rolling hills and the best part was whizzing by all the cars slowly moving on the highway because the traffic was so heavy heading to the beaches. The Giant bike was fairly stiff, which I like, but I certainly missed my Ultegra shifters. Both of my rental bikes had Tiaga's.
My daughter Betsy came to visit us in Kennebunkport for the week-end and while there asked me if I wanted to ride the Prouty with her. I didn't know what the Prouty was. Turns out the Prouty is Dartmouth Hitchcock medical center's version of the Obliteride. Or since the Prouty is older, it's probably the other way around. The logistics seemed difficult. We didn't have a place to stay reserved in Hanover and a few quick cursory calls showed that all of our usual places to stay in the area were booked because of, yep, the Prouty. Furthermore, I had to find a bike I could ride in New Hampshire, since I couldn't use the Camden bike as there would not be enough time after the ride to drive to Camden to return it and then drive to Boston for our flight. And all of the possible rental bikes near Hanover were reserved because of, yep, the Prouty. One of us finally hit on the brilliant idea of renting a bike on the way to Hanover from Maine that would be on the same route from Hanover to Boston, which is how I ended up renting a Cannondale from Goodale's Bike Shop in Hooksett, NH. It's a great bike shop, and as the home of the White Birch Brewing Company, which makes great beer and is available here in Anchorage, Hooksett will always have a warm place in my heart. I also had found a place about twelve miles from Hanover for Debbie and I to stay on the weekend of the Prouty. It was way out in the woods along the Connecticut River, which would have made a great romantic getaway, but it meant I would be getting up a little earlier to make it to the start.
So on July 9th we left Kennebunkport, drove to Hooksett, picked up the bike, and then headed on up to Hanover for Betsy's birthday. After our arrival, Betsy took me on one of the loops the Dartmouth cycling club uses for their training rides. It was up and down over hills with beautiful little towns and farmland. Just the opposite of where I live here in Alaska which is either leg breaking climbs (12-19%) or lots of traffic. It was wonderful, if a little hot. The heat wave continued.
We left the next day so Betsy could get back to business and we could go to Camden. Camden was beautiful. For once Debbie and I both agreed we could see ourselves living there. (She's already nixed Death Valley and its surroundings.) Since our time in Camden had been cut in half by my decision to ride the Prouty (actually it was a mutual decision, because it meant more time with our daughter), I didn't spend as much time riding around the area as I had planned. We spent more time exploring the town on foot. However we did make a plan our first day there for me to go for a short ride up Mount Battie, which is directly behind the town, met Debbie up there where she planned to go for a run, look around, and then I would ride to Rockport and back to explore it and meet her back at the B and B.
I figured the ride would be a just a leg loosener. Since I had to ride 100 miles in a couple of days, I didn't want to do anything too strenuous. Plus I wanted to feel fresh enough to be able to walk around town without difficulty. And I figured Mount Battie would be just the ticket. The distance to the top from our B and B was only a couple of miles and the top was only 1,000 feet. And I had just been climbing mountains at altitude in MT a couple of weeks before. How tough could it be? Turns out plenty tough. The road to the top is pretty much straight up, with some slight curves. It was very much like the hills I climb around Anchorage into the Chugach mountains. My legs were definitely loose when I got to the top. They were screaming. But the climb was worth it. Debbie was waiting at the top and we walked around looking out over Penobscot Bay, which was beautiful. We had arrived in a fog the day before, so we really had not seen much, but the view on this day was spectacular and more than made up for it. After a walk around the top, Debbie went for her run and I descended and headed off for Rockport, about five miles away. Once again rolling hills, fairly easy ride, and another small harbor with a few schooners and some farmland in between. I love the rocky Maine coast with its snug harbors. I never was much of a beach guy.
So next, the Prouty. We arrived in Hanover on Friday and I made arrangements to meet Betsy at her apartment at 0630 so we could ride to the start line together and avoid the parking hassle. Debbie was going to see us off from the apartment and then eat the breakfast at the inn that I would be missing by leaving so early. Then her plan was to run a few errands for our college daughter and hopefully catch sight of us occasionally on the route. Saturday morning dawned much better than the day before. The heat had let up some, with forecasts in the 80's, and the sky was bright blue. Betsy and I met up at her apartment and then road down to the middle school which was the start of the ride. As we grew closer we joined, and were joined, by more and more cyclists. We reached the middle school, made a quick stop at the porta-potties, and we were off. Since I didn't have my usual electronic gismos, I didn't have any idea of our speed, but based on our time to each SAG station, I would guess we were making about 16 MPH. About 20 miles into the ride we met another rider who pretty much matched our pace so the three of us rode together for the next 50 miles or so. Turns out we were both history majors as undergraduates, but he went on and got his PhD while I followed a different path. It was great riding with Betsy, our first long ride together since riding to Fairbanks the summer before I contracted my cancer. Unlike then, when she waxed me over 300 plus miles, we were pretty evenly matched and it made for a lot of fun. At one point we joined up with another group and just flew for the next 15 miles. To be continued. . .
A Tale of Two Rides, Part I
It's been a while since I last reported my training progress. The reason is simple: I've either been working or travelling and riding my bike. After facing my own mortality last fall, I decided, with my wife's whole hearted concurrence, that I needed to work less this summer and enjoy life more. So I spent this summer crossing two items off my life goals, riding from Billings to Yellowstone via Beartooth Pass and visiting Maine, where I've never been but have always wanted to visit after reading the books of Robert McCloskey as an adolescent and as a parent.
Beartooth Pass was first. Twenty six years ago, while in medical school, I had rotated through Billings and on Memorial Day weekend took a trip to Yellowstone. I had my bike on the back and rode around the park, but on the drive there, as I climbed Beartooth pass, I had imagined riding up it, and the image has stuck with me ever since. So in mid June Debbie and I packed up our bikes and flew to Billings. The plan was for me to ride from Billings to Yellowstone in three days, about 60-70 miles a day. Debbie would drive ahead to our next destination and then go for a ride there, meeting me when I arrived. Twenty six years ago the temperatures had been in the 80's and 90's and I had been prepared for that. But when we arrived in Billings they were in a cold wave and the temperatures were in the 60's and low 70's. Kind of like an Anchorage summer, but this was at 3,000 feet above sea level, and I was going to about 11,000 feet.
The first day from Billings to Red Lodge was fairly quick and boring. I had a headwind most of the way and a gradual climb to 5,000 feet over 40 miles, so the whole ride took about three and a half hours. The road was straight and the climb was deceptive, I felt like I was riding level but my inclinometer told me it was a steady 2-3%. We stayed at a great old hotel in Red Lodge, the Pollard, which had a good restaurant and an OK pub. Good brewery in Red Lodge, though, and I enjoyed the beer, always my preferred method of rehydration after a ride.
The next morning was cloudy and cool as I left Red Lodge, which I figured would be OK for climbing to the top of Beartooth Pass, and the climbing started as soon as I left Red Lodge. Gradual at first, the road really kicked up when I hit the switchbacks going up the sides of the mountain. I could tell the altitude had some effect, because I was about two gears lower than I would have been on a similar grade going up a hill in Anchorage. And it was cold. My guardian angel decided to hang close rather than drive on to our next destination. She would drive ahead to check out the scenery and the road, and then come back to check on me. The outside car temp read mid 40's and was dropping. Occasionally the sun would come out and I would feel hot, but most of the time I was pulling my arm warmers up and trying to pedal hard enough to stay warm. As I approached the top of the pass the views were magnificent. I could see for hundreds of miles in most directions, but not south over the pass itself, because there I faced a mass of black clouds, right at ground level. And sure enough, as I topped the pass I found myself caught in mass of turbulence. Hail blowing sideways and temperature at 32 degrees. With my back to the wind on a switchback it was fine, but heading into the wind I could hardly see, the hail was so painful. And then I started to descend. OUCH! I ride in the winter here in Anchorage and have a balaclava, occasional neoprene face mask, winter tights, and lots of layers, as well as winter bicycling boots, not to mention studded tires on my bike. Twenty below is cold, but easily doable. But I had none of these at 11,000 feet. So when I started to descend it didn't take long to figure out I was in for a lot of misery. And I decided I wasn't on the trip for the misery, so I packed it in and rode the next 30 miles in the car with Debbie, shivering all the way. It wasn't until I had sat in the hot tub in Cooke City at our hotel, the Big Moose resort (great people) that I finally felt warm.
The next morning was sunny. I had about 70 miles to ride before my arrival at the Lake Hotel in Yellowstone, so I started with a good breakfast at a local bistro in Cooke City. The night before, while eating at the Beartooth Café, another great place for beer by the way, my wife and I had noticed a group of cyclists eating at a table not too far from ours. While eating breakfast I watched them ride down the road the same direction I was heading. My competitive nature had me thinking, "Could I catch them?" I thought they were part of a group like Backroads, who I have encountered on every ride I have done this year outside Alaska, and so I figured it wouldn't be much of a problem. It turns out they were a group of retired friends from Gunnison, Colorado, who organize a trip like this every year. I was pretty envious. Retirement once again beckoned. I ended up riding with them off and on for about the next thirty miles.
If the previous day's ride had been epic, this day's ride was magical. The weather was absolutely perfect. It didn't take long to really sense the Yellowstone of popular perception after I passed the park entrance. As I entered the Lamar Valley I could smell sulfur as I passed Soda Butte. And then a couple of miles on I noticed a lot of people were stopped because a herd of bison was slowly crossing the road from the hills above. After waiting a bit, I decided bison must be like moose, they are not going to waste the energy to attack you unless they feel threatened. So I slowly moved forward, making sure I gave them time to move out of the way and keeping my distance. Sure enough, as I moved forward I found the stream of bison separating, some to go in front of me and some behind. We were probably never closer than 25 meters from each other and was a pretty cool moment.
Once past the bison, it was time to fly again, and I have never had a more perfect ride. Interestingly, I am watching Stage 20 of the Tour de France as I write this, and the network just made a big deal, with ominous music, that the stage ends in a climb to 5400 feet. In Yellowstone, the valleys are above 7,000 feet, and I had to climb over Dunraven Pass to drop into the Lake Hotel, which sits at 7700 feet! The weather stayed perfect all day, not a hint of rain, and the variation of the scenery was incredible. The Lamar Valley was beautiful; wide, open, and bison everywhere. Then there was a small climb near Tower Falls, with my first views of the Yellowstone River and its yellow cliffs. Next was the alpine climb over Dunraven pass, and at the top incredible views of the Shoshone Mountains, and then a rapid drop into Canyon Village, where I met Debbie for lunch. After that, it was another fast ride through the Hayden Valley, following the Yellowstone River with all its geothermal features, including boiling water in the river itself as I followed the rolling hills to the Lake Hotel. About a mile from the hotel I had my first view of the lake itself. The lake is huge and the hotel is a perfect place to end a ride, with its welcoming sun room, good beer, and beautiful views of the lake itself. Twenty-six years ago I had sat in the same room reading Evelyn Waugh and writing letters to friends. Sitting there again made me feel truly like my pilgrimage was complete.
I wrote a little more than I planned today, so I'll save my Maine trip for the next trip. The terrain was totally different, and it includes riding a century with my oldest child, which was in itself a special treat, so I will continue this later to give it the credit it is due.
Surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, I have really come to enjoy the writings of Neil Peart, the drummer for Rush. He was an avid cyclist and wrote a great book about biking through Cameroon. He lost his first wife to ovarian cancer and wrote a very interesting book about his journey afterwards, Ghost Rider. Most recently, he wrote a book called Traveling Music about a trip to Texas from California where he discusses music that was informative to his career. So here is my traveling music while riding my bike over long distances.
For simple cruising, I don't think anything beats either Afrocelt Sound System, U2 or the Police. I listened to both while cruising through Death Valley and the miles just melted by. The music transports me along with the bike. While riding back and forth to radiation therapy, I spent a lot of time listening to Tom Petty and Neil Young. Tom Petty can definitely energize one when climbing from the Duwamish Valley to the hills around Sea-Tac. Neil Young's music was thoughtful, almost mystical, as I pedaled, to and from therapy.
And then there is the music I listen to while climbing 12-19% grades. For this nothing less than the Who or Rush. Their power comes from their drummers, which can drive me through hell.
Last, but not least, is my all rounder, Yonder Mountain String Band. They can drive me fast, or cruise me along, depending on the terrain. In any event, they are always fun to listen to.
I may not be able to listen to these bands on Obliteride, but I'll certainly be listening as I climb over Beartooth Pass next week. I'll have more to report then,
Still Training (or more truthfully, Living)
It's been a while since I last wrote anything, but I'm still "training" for the Obliteride in August. But actually, cycling for me is a lifestyle. I feel emotionally so much better when I ride and so much worse when I don't. When I was being treated for cancer it was a great stress reliever. I can ride home after work feeling tired and when I arrive home, feel energized. And I love being active on vacations. Although I can sit by the pool with anyone, I hate taking tours or being escorted around a new place. I would much rather experience life on my own terms and cycling is a great way to do that. It's why I took time off in the winter to cycle Death Valley and why I'm leaving this week to ride from Billings, MT, to Yellowstone National Park via Beartooth pass. As a medical student I spent six weeks in Billings and drove to the park over Memorial Day weekend, with my bike on the back. As I drove over the pass, I thought it would be a wonderful ride, and now 26 years later I am going to do it. If this ride doesn't get me ready for the Obliteride Century, nothing will. I'm only doing about 60 miles a day, but the lowest elevation is around 3000 feet in Billings and tops out around 11000 feet over the pass. My wife is driving a support vehicle ahead of me, and then hopefully riding back to meet me as I hit the next destination. This way we can both ride at the same time even though we have different abilities at the moment. I was feeling a little intimidated about the trip, but I rode a triple hill climb on Father's Day and felt pretty good at the end. Only rode for about two and a half hours, but it was 4500 feet of climbing over about ten miles with the grade hitting 19% in places. Yikes!
The weather in Alaska has been beautiful lately and I have had several rides down Turnagain Arm as well as a round-trip to Eagle River for some hill climbing with a friend. Interestingly, during this time I have been trying to get my FAA medical recertification back, a little difficult since my cancer diagnosis and medication I am taking, and it reminded me of my friend and instructor, Chuck Potts, who passed away with a rare cancer 4 years ago. He was a great guy and I had some of the most fun flying I ever had with him. Once again, cancer is an awful disease.
My next blog I hope to talk about some of the music I listen to while I ride. Of course I can't do that during the Obliteride. Actually, on my last cancer follow-up in Seattle in April, I rode from Seattle to Anacortes without listening to any music, just to prove I can do it, in preparation for August. But I listen to music a lot while I ride because I have been honked at a lot more by motorists trying to harass me than I ever have been by those trying to be helpful (one can tell because the honk is usually followed by an obscene gesture or shout) and I prefer to visually look around to assist my safety, since I can't hear a car until they've about hit me anyway. Big debate in the cycling community. Anyway, next time, the Beartooth adventure and music.
Cancer Touches Us All- A Lot
As an emergency physician, I had grown used to caring for patients with cancer. Usually I was managing complications of treatment, occasionally I was making the primary diagnosis, but it was all part of the job. I kept these interractions in the preofessional compartment of my mind. To some extent it is what I was trained to do and to another it is how I cope in what can be an emotionally draining specialty. But the disease became personal when I was diagnosed with a rare cancer about which I knew nothing.I went from being a healthy, fit, cyclist taking a shower after a ride and noticing a lump in my groin to a stage IIIb Merkel Cell Carcinoma patient in about four days. The interesting result of my own experience is that although previously I had seen cancer patients professionaly on an almost daily basis, I now have become more aware of the people who have cancer that I have come to know outside of my professional life, and it has been an eye opener how many there are.
For example, I am trying to get my FAA medical certification post cancer and as such need a cognitive screening exam. I had set this up with a psychologist in Seattle who I learned while talking to him also had cancer. He had had a recurrence but seemed to be doing well and I looked forward to meeting and speaking to him in person. When I arrived for my appointment two weeks later, I was saddened to learn he had passed away suddenly a few days before from a complication of his cancer. His office was near the University District and I had already planned to ride to Orcas Island after my appointment for some much needed down time and personal reflection, and my thought as I left his office was that I have another person for which to ride the Obliteride.
During the same trip to Seattle, which centered around my own cancer follow-up, I spent some time with another colleague from Alaska who is in Seattle for treatment of his cancer. So I also will ride for him. And my brother, also a physician, told me of one of his colleagues from here in Alaska who is spending time in Seattle for his cancer, so I will ride for him. (Lest you think we don't have oncologists in Alaska, all three of us have very rare diseases and required subspecialty care.) And my friend from high school who is currently being treated for colon cancer, I ride for him. Then there is my mother in law who was diagnosed with her cancer the same time as me, I ride for her. And my friend and colleague who was the previous owner of my sailboat and died of his cancer, I ride for him. In my circle, I know more people who have been hit by cancer than I do who have had heart disease. Now that I have become more aware, I am amazed.
I hope to follow up this blog with some of my training rides, which have been fun and educational. But I wanted to focus on why I am planning to ride with a lot of other people, something I seldom do. I used to ski the Tour of Anchorage cross country ski race, but have found I enjoy skiing by myself or with a friend a lot more than with 1800 other people. I expect it will probably be the same with cycling, but I think the Obliteride is a great way to push my individual boundaries and raise money for a cause that effects us all.
Back to Winter
Well, riding in Death Valley was a great memory and a wonderful oportunity. But now that I am back in Alaska I took a little break from cycling and went back to cross country skiing. I decided bike legs are not ski legs, but after a couple of weeks back on the snow I am feeling a little more comfortable dancing on my skinny skis. I also have gone running a couple of days and definitely have decided biking legs are even less running legs than skiing legs. I could barely walk for a couple of days and even had difficulty tying shoes. But as of yesterday I am back to the occasional spin in the basement. The roads should be clear here in another couple of weeks and I am looking forward to riding outside again.
Finally, A Ride Outdoors
I have now ridden three days in a row outdoors. The first was an easy twelve mile uphill ride from Furnace Creek Inn to Dante's View cutoff in Death Valley. After riding indoors for the winter, it was nice to feel warm air and not drip with sweat after ten minutes of waorking out. Of course, Death Valley is so dry that one hardly ever sweats. I didn't push it, because I knew I had harder rides ahead of me and I just wanted to make sure I had reassembled my bike correctly after the flight from Alaska
The next day I rode a little further, 34 miles to Badwater and back. I had originally planned to ride to Rhyolite that day, but Debbie convinced me it would be better to rest up and recover from several days in a row with little sleep. Once again I tried to keep my heart rate low and felt great riding to Badwater and back on a perfect day. Lots of blue sky.
Today was the big test. Eighty miles to Rhyolite and back with a 4,400 vertical foot climb over 14 miles over Daylight Pass before dropping onto the plateau where Rhyolite is located. That turned out to definitely be the climb from hell. I rode the first 15 miles from Furnace Creek to the turnoff for the pass into a headwind, but still was able to maintain about 18 miles per hour and felt pretty good. But as I turned of onto the road to Hell's Gate and then to the pass, the wind kept getting stronger as I climbed, with frequent (like every few seconds) gusts to 30 MPH. I slowed to about 4-5 MPH and what was a six percent grade began to feel like 9 or 10. And the road never let up. IT was just one continuous climb to the pass. After I passed Hell's gate, the last 5 miles to the pass were a little more protected, but still a battle. It took three hours to cover 14 miles and I felt awful when I got to the top. My wife was waiting for me with some Clif bars, which I ate cautiously because I felt so whipped, and then I took a 15 minute nap before I began to feel better. The altitude might have something to do with it as well, as my heart rate recovered fairly quickly, while my respiratory rate stayed pretty high. Still, I felt much better after I put on my jacket and headed down the backside of the pass towards Rhyolite, and old mining ghost town, and the turnaround point for the Hell's Gate 100. THe wind was still strong enough that the best I could manage was about 24MPH in my highest gear even on a fairly steep descent. It was another 12 miles to Rhyolite where I met my guardian angel, took some pictures, and ate an orange and another Clif Bar. Then it was turn around and head back to Death Valley. With a tailwind I made about 17 MPH back up the plateau and then climbed to the pass at about 8-10 MPH.And once over the past I had a blast. I hit, and sustained, 45 MPH coming down the 5 miles towards Hell's gate. Just before I arrived at Hell's Gate, I started to be buffeted by some crosswind gusts and had to slow down as I almost lost control of the bike. The wind really hadn't died down a lot. About two thirds of the way down I ran into a film crew. I had ridden by them climbing up and hadn't paid much attention. But this time they made me stop as they didn't want me to get in the way of their shot. Talk about a self absorbed lot. I had run into one of them the night before and they really seemed struck by their own self importance. So after riding for seven hours in the sun and wind, I had the invaluable opportunity to stand and wait for five minutes and listen to some awful dialogue. And of course there was no other traffic, just me. So if you ever see a movie set in the desert featuring a 1960's black Chevrolet where a woman steps in front of the car and makes it hit her and then she shoots the occupants, but doesn't kill them, you can know that I was there.
After my release I continued down into the valley and then headed south towards the Inn. My wife had a cold beer waiting for me and I made it a special point not to limp or walk slowly up the steps to sit by her and drink it. But it took a real force of will to accomplish it. All in all a great day, fun and challenging ride, and a good building block for riding in Seattle.
Getting Ready to Break Outdoors
Yesterday was my last indoor ride for a while. In three days my wife and I leave for Death Valley where I can ride outside for a change. I plan to ride from Furnace Creek to Beattie, NV, and back via Hell's gate. Eighty to one hundred miles round trip depending if I take any side trips. And 9,000 feet of climbing.
Cycling indoors has given me an interesting perspective on winter training. Most of the training DVD's I've been watching are geared more towards racers, and the coach encourages one to get stronger so that one can crush one's opponents. In my case, I have never raced and don't really have a lot of plans to do so. But I do like to go for tough, long rides where my effort is fluid and constant over an extended period of time. I don't believe I ride effortlessly, but I do like to believe I ride seamlessly, where my cadence changes with the terrain without any conscious input and my heart rate stays constant. So I guess my opposition is the terrain, the weather, and the road itself. I've spent a lot of time doing climbing repeats and long workouts the last few weeks and it has given me pause to think of cycling as an activity versus a sport. One of my dvd's has me riding with professional racers as they climb passes that are part of the US Pro Cycling Challenge. The scenery is gorgeous and there is some inspiration in watching a cyclist like Andy Schleck launch an attack after a few hours of intense climbing. But just as inspirational has been my training DVD up Beartooth Pass, a destination I hope to cycle this summer, something I have wanted to do since I spent some time in MT twenty-six years ago. Here one just rides with three cyclists out for a training ride. It's almost like I am there. Almost. And then lastly, I've been doing some long Spinerval workouts with names like "Tough Love" and "have Mercy." It's a little tougher to remain focussed when the only scenery are other stationary cyclists sweating just like you. It will be so good to be outdoors again.
Which brings me to cycling as a sport. I used to joke while I was having treatment that it would be nice to get my PED's afterwards so I could be the first fifty-one year old to win the Tour de France. But seriously, I think it's sad that such a beautiful sport has been so ravaged by the perceived need to dope. I love to watch the races and imagine cycling in some of the same places. In fact, in 2009 I had just such an opportunity. I don't race, but I had just as much cycling on the same roads, except I could stop in some of those beautiful small villages and have a glass of wine or a beer and a good meal. And still feel tired at the end of a long day.
The Benefit of Blogging
It's been an interesting winter for fitness in Alaska. At least for me. The snow has been so light that it has been difficult to get into cross country skiing, not to mention all the freeze-thaw cycles Anchorage has been having. My family is still not too keen on me biking to work since cycling through Anchorage traffic in the winter is not without some risks, including the occasional moose, which are dificult to see in the dark. So I'm still riding my bike on my trainer in the basement, watching DVD's on an old 20 inch screen cathode ray TV with sweat pouring onto my glasses so that I can barely make out what I am watching. I was riding to a Spinerval DVD yesterday, "Have Mercy,"and this is where the blogging benefit kicked in. I was 15 minutes from the end: bored, anaerobic, and ready to quit, justifying it to myself because I had already done 105 minutes and it was no longer fun. And then I thought to myself, "How can I write about that? I've signed up for a 10 mile ride but I can't even get myself to finish a 2 hour work out?" It seemed pretty lame, so I hung on for the last fifteen minutes. It was this blog which helped me finish it. And I felt good about myself when I was done, just like Coach Troy always says I will.
I have found some other cycling DVD's lately to which I'ver really enjoyed riding. They are from Epic Planet and one is a climb up the Beartooth Highway in Montana and the other is a ride through the California wine country in Napa. I'm actually planning on riding from Billings to Yellowstone National Park this summer via Beartooth Pass, so I found that one especially enjoyable. I have always wanted to do that ride ever since I drove it while a medical student doing a rotation in Billings, MT. I actually do ride in Alaska, but as there is only onre road north and one road south, it does tend to get kind of monotonous.
I'm taking a couple of days off to recover after four days in a row of fairly hard workouts hanging right around my anaerobic threshold. My wife and I are going to Death Valley in a couple of weeks to enjoy some warmth and give me a chance to ride outside for a while. One of the rides I hope to do is from Furnace Creek to Beattie, NV, and back, a ride of avout 80 miles and 9000 feet of climbing.
I am really trying to stay fit as I believe it was my fitness level that helped me do so well during my cancer treatment and probably led to a quick diagnosis when it first presented. I had lost a lot of weight just a few months previously by cycling and made it much easier for me to detect the enlarged lymph node in my leg that led to the diagnosis. And I also think that commuting 36 miles to the majority of my radiation appointments and back 5 days a week helped diminish my risk of lymphedema in that leg after surgery and radiation.
Well a couple of days off then back to more suffering on the bike. My whole goal for the Obliteride, aside from fundraising, is that I'll feel so good afterward I'll be able to enjoy a beer and dinner afterward with my family.
I rode the epic climbing DVD again on Sunday and then watched the Super Bowl. A great game. Took the day off on Monday so I could recover after two hard indoor rides in a row and went to work. Rode the spinerval DVD today around the Lake Placid ironman course. I only rode for two hours as I wanted to work on my 1963 Chevrolet Truck restoration on my day off as well. But I figure I'll do another 2 hour ride before I go to work tomorrow. I found a DVD today which is a virtual ride over Beartooth Pass! Can't wait to do that one indoors and then do it for real. My right leg has been a little swollen of late, which I think might be some mild lymphedema after my surgery and radiation. I wouldn't even notice it if I wasn't so gun shy after my forced vacation thisw last fall.
Winter Training in Alaska
Due to the fact I had a couple of accidents riding last year, I've been doing a lot riding on my trainer in the basement. Today I just rode with Carmichael Training Systems' Epic Climbing DVD. Definitely the funnest ride I've had in a couple of weeks. It follows the US Cycling Pro Challenge through Colorado and it's beautiful. One more place I have to visit and ride.