Saturday, November 29, 2008

Training - Motivation

Dateline - Jan 18, 2007

(imagine the teletype noise chomping away in the background...)

I started writing this post at the beginning of last year, and although I peeked at it for the next twenty odd months, I didn't have the "stuff" to finish it off.

Now I do.

Yeah, I can say I get burnt out now and then. It's usually a function/result of non-cycling life events or stresses like work, family, personal, etc. But if the other things are under control, or if my escape for those stresses is cycling, then my cycling stays pretty consistent. Once I got into the rhythm of consistent racing when I was a kid, I rode about 50 weeks a year for 10-12 years, taking time off only for sickness (usually strep throat). Somehow, at the same time, I was extremely motivated virtually every month.

Now it's not like that too much.

I figure there are two or three levels of burnout.

An obvious one is where you are physically unable to recover, even after a day or three of rest. This type of physical burnout is difficult for me to attain because I simply can't push like that mentally anymore. The year I turned "Senior" (18 years old), though, was a different story. I started it off by doing well in a bunch of races, and thoroughly inspired, decided that I had to suddenly train 300-400 miles a week to attain my Cat 2 dream. I cranked the mileage way up and my speed dropped way down. I think I finished one race out of 50 or so, and I was slow whenever I got on the bike. I never allowed myself time to recover and kept digging myself deeper and deeper into the training hole. I stepped down the mileage and did much better the next year.

Physical burnout is difficult to handle. You are motivated to train so you've pushed yourself too far. The motivation is the problem - you have to keep it under control, allow the body to recover, and let the body recover before going crazy again. I found it extremely difficult to cut down my training time but I finally used my motivation to do so. Since then I half jokingly say that I've been recovering a lot, i.e. not training. But resting does help if it's preceded by a heavy training schedule, one that requires rest and recovery.

Sometimes the physical burnout is actually a symptom of a real problem. Deep rooted fatigue can be a sign of various viruses and such. I remember reading about various pros losing a season due to Epstein-something virus ("mono") or Lyme or some other seemingly minor inconvenience.

The other types of burnout are usually mental, one where the rider finds it hard to ride or race mentally, even though the body is capable. One is where you hate the bike, don't want to go near it. I've rarely been at that stage but when it happened I just accepted it as how it should be and stayed off the bike. This happened when I had serious problems in my life, beyond a selfish level, like when the shop closed, or when my mom was very ill. These thing transcended anything at a more self centered theme like relationships or school or other more transient things. I never hated the bike but I could walk by it and not think twice about it. I recall thinking that I'd been walking around a bike leaned up near the washing machine for weeks - I was so unconcerned with cycling that I didn't even feel like wheeling the bike elsewhere.

Another level of burn out is when I'm not motivated to train too much. I want to race but I find it hard to go out and do an hour or two on the bike. This type of attitude has dominated the last ten years of my racing - I find it extremely difficult to go and train consistently, even when working through various cycles of peaks and valleys. This happens because of being "busy" and not having time or energy to work out, although I also learned the hard way that a block of 150 hours is about my limit without taking a focused break from the bike. This means I can ride 150 hours in a pretty intense schedule (it took me about 3 months), then I need to take some time off the bike, then I can think about doing it again.

In this type of "mental fatigue" state, I try and allot times to work out, pinpointing nice days, writing off poor weather days for mental breaks. I think group rides are excellent for working through these periods, and group rides like Gimbles basically saved my riding many summers in a row.

Finally there are the days where I just don't feel motivated to ride, even though it might be, say, a nice weather day where I targeted a ride. Since this is the most common problem I have with training, I thought of ways to "fix" it.

I realized I rely on a few things to keep me focused when I feel less than motivated. This works for the second and third examples.
1. Coffee, Coke, etc. Any caffeinated drink with sugar.
2. Music to get my psyched. Videos don't work as well because I end up watching the whole thing and get engrossed in the race itself. This is on a trainer, but I'll play MP3s on my phone through my hands free earbud. I don't blast the music - I keep it pretty low, letting my memory fill in the musical blanks. The combination of memory and the subtle reminders emanating from the earbud gets me psyched though.
3. Try new equipment, or use race equipment. Sometimes I'll go out on race wheels to reward myself on a day where I need to make hard efforts. The light weight and fast acceleration makes it difficult to control myself just pulling away from the first stop sign.
4. Don't try and do mentally difficult things. This means going out to do two or three 30 minute efforts, or to try and get to a certain landmark in less than 90 minutes (a California thing for me). That's very hard mentally. But if I go out to get some sun and chase buses and trucks at three or four spots on my loop, well, mentally it's much more relaxing. Sometimes, if I take a time check at that particular landmark, I'll find that, hey, I got there in 87 minutes, and that was without trying.
5. Mental imagery during the ride. I used to do this all the time on easy rides. I'll do things like practice bike throws at shadows across the road, climb slowly but pretend I'm climbing fast, etc. When I learned hard musical passages on the violin, I'd play them slowly first, get the form and technique down, then accelerate the pace. These easy days are like that, going slow, honing technique, but not actually making the efforts physically.
6. Work on form. Pure cycling form, not the stuff I just described above. I'd focus on pedaling smoothly, no upper body movement, relaxed arms, etc. Keep track of cadence, keep it steady, ride the white line, and time starts to pass pretty quickly.
7. Do a big loop instead of a couple little ones. This is my favorite way of getting longer rides in - if I end up 50 miles away from home, my minimum ride is 50 miles. In the cooler months the shorter days add another motivating factor - darkness. I ride a lot quicker as the sun sets, and time really flies when you don't want it to.
8. Finally, I find that long rides on the trainer have enabled me to churn out some decent amount of time on the bike without getting overly burnt out. Because I've stuck out increasingly long rides on the trainer, I build endurance in a safe and controlled environment. Then, when I finally get outside, I end up riding a lot before I start getting those twinges and such. Time really flies when I'm outside, and I'll find myself doing 2 or 3 hours before I start wondering how long I've been out. I should point out that some of my trainer rides can extend well past a full movie (120 minutes). A regular ride is about an hour, a regular long ride is two hours, and a long ride is anything over 3 hours. This is actual pedaling time since that's what the computer seems to track.

Having said all that, with my job, house stuff, family stuff, Bethel stuff, car stuff, heck, even my back, I've been riding relatively infrequently. The house stuff is especially important since it's unsettling to not be settled.

I figure it's okay for now but this is building my motivation to ride dramatically. Although I'm not riding too much, my "burnout" level is actually quite low.

This means I just have to make time to ride.

Which means... I'm heading downstairs to ride.

After we move the new mattress to our bedroom.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Bethel Spring Series - Planning For 2009

Ah yes, the next Bethel Spring Series. If I'm not thinking about the Series going on right now, I'm starting to stress about next year's Series. In the fall the stress level gets beyond sketching and writing lists and stuff - it turns into action.

So, the other day, I called and faxed the town. Once they approve of things then everything goes forward.

Remember that if you're promoting a race - get the town's approval first! Without approval from the municipalities whose roads you want to use, well, no race.

I've been sketching and listing things for Bethel somewhat compulsively for, oh, maybe six months now, starting the month after Bethel ended. The first month I usually bathe in the relief that another Series is done, but after a few weeks of that, well, I start thinking again. Plans for quicker tent set ups, plans for better sweep devices, even plans for having a more equipment.

It's sort of an interesting process. I suppose I always brainstormed, or thought about things, or whatever you want to call it. Obsess over them?

Something like that.

Brainstorming, though, I actually learned about in school when we helped an engineer living on the floor to get over 400 ideas on how to save people from a burning skyscraper (this was back in the mid/late 80s). I learned to think about ideas with no regard for reality, cost, or execution. For example, one of our "save people from a burning skyscraper" ideas was to make a lot of Jell-O so that people could just step out and land in some Jell-O.

The stickiness, suffocation, cost of making a few million cubic feet of Jell-O, that wasn't the point.

The point was that we had one more potential solution to the problem.

So, along those lines, I started thinking about Bethel. How to improve it, how to make it easier on the staff. The latter includes me, and since I stress about Bethel, my goal is to make the race easier on me too.

I started thinking of the crazy things, dismissing some of them pretty quickly. I still thought of them though, and eventually it'd be cool to make some of them a reality. But for now, they're just fanciful whims.

- Flying camera, mounted on a plane or similar. A friend with a pilot license wanted to take a picture of the race from above, even take video, but he found out the race is in an approach zone for Danbury Airport. Scratch that idea, but apparently there is someone out there shooting video from RC planes.

Now that would be cool.

Since I don't have an RC plane, nor any cameras which will broadcast that far, that idea went on a backburner.

This idea led to one of setting up wireless, self-powered security cameras all over the course so we could have a live video feed of the race at the start/finish line. I haven't thought this through so for now that too is on a back burner.

- Portable registration office. I was thinking a large trailer, heated, lighted, that we could use as a registration desk (imagine one of those food vendor trailers at a summer fair). Such a trailer wouldn't get blown over by even Bethel Spring Series winds, it wouldn't need to be put up and taken down each day, and it'd be easy to store. I even priced some trailers from a wholesaler and came up with lots of ideas on how to make it work. I want to do this eventually but I ran into a huge obstacle - money. We could buy a trailer at wholesale, but we'd have to buy five of them, which kind of blows the budget. At retail, well, we can't buy it.

Trailer goes on the Hold list.

- Efficient sweeping machines. I debate over this internally. The annual Sweep Day really brings together the folks that help out, racers looking to help and also looking for some free entry. Last year I think 30-odd people helped, which, if you figure out how many races I gave away for that, saved themselves $2100.

That would have paid for the rest of a single trailer at retail.

A few years ago, I decided that I'd try to make Sweep Day what I thought would be ideal - "a one hour, two man job." Or something like that. The problem is that it would then eliminate that community building Sweep Day. I really don't want to do that.

Nonetheless, over the years, I've thought about how to sweep the road better. The wet sand likes a broom run over it so it readily gets moved by the blower(s). The blowers are great except we can't put sand onto the lawns next to the road, so it would be ideal to vacuum the dirt into a bin in the van.

Following those straightforward principles, I've sketched a lot of Da Vinci like sketches of home made street sweepers. It's usually some variance of "three to five brooms clamped on pipes in front of two wheeled blowers blowing the loosened sand into a ramp like tube leading to a big bin to collect sand", but when I started pricing the parts, it got a bit crazy.

I've decided to compromise. I think that power tools help, even if they burn up some irreplaceable fossil fuel, but the Etch-A-Sketch slash DaVinci gizmos are a bit too outlandish, even for me. So, with the help of the understanding hardware store for whom I work, I'll be getting some Echo modular power tools with a rotary brush head. Since I know their cost and retail and all that, and that they make like $10 on every gizmo, I'll pay retail.

They cost about $800 for each set up.

Okay, so I think I'm getting one of them.

Combined with judicious use of a quiet generator in the van, a Wet-Dry vac plugged into said generator, and a big container for sand (like a wheelbarrow), I think it'll be possible to walk behind a backing-up van, loosening sand, and vacuuming it up into the van. We'd dump the sand in some subtle place (like in a cul-de-sac, or in a sandy dirt driveway). I figure we can clear the course in, say, 1 hour with maybe six people (three for the van-vac-powersweeper, and three more to do miscellaneous sweeping and such) . Or something like that.

Then later I'll make the enormous DaVinci-like homemade street sweeper. Heh. And if it works I'll market it as a low-buck alternative to those enormous, heavy, expensive, and unreliable street sweepers.

- Generators. Speaking of generators... I hate yelling over the generators. We have two requirements for power. The first is that we need it for two locations, the tent and the start/finish. The second is that we need to hear ourselves think, so we place the really noisy generator between the two locations. This way it's just an annoyance, not a downright crippling soundwave producer.

So the solution? We'll get two quiet ones, one for each spot. This avoids running the power cords all over the place, keeps the wires off the ground (since the generators will be right there, and everything can hang out together), and allow both ends of the race crew (officials and registration) to run smoothly. The problem is that each quiet generator costs twice that of the one big noisy generator we have, about $800 for each quiet one to $500 for the noisy one. I put this on a "must have" list though and I intend to keep them there.

- Tents and sides. Since we can't have a trailer for 2009, we have to stick with the tents. This is a big disappointment but financially I just can't justify it. The tents take forever to set up, so I started thinking of ways to make things quicker.

One is tying things down - using tie-down straps correctly (I learned this after the last Bethel we did) will help a lot. This beats what we use now, the stretching and unpredictable ropes which take forever to set up.

Another tent issue is dealing with the sides. They're a pain, they're big, and they like to blow around. We need some way of storing the sides (8' high, 10' wide) in a smooth and efficient way. I was thinking of a huge bar and rolling the sides up on it, kind of like a 10' wide paper towel roll.

We also need to attach the sides quickly. I've been perusing the hardware store's catalogs, looking for the quickest way to attach the sides. I can't say I've been successful but I hope I can come up with something. It should combine making the sides more rigid, making them more windproof, and make it easier to put up and take down.

Finally we need heat in the tents. We don't need it, but it would make life immensely nicer for the helpful registration souls if it was heated. A big hint is the fingerless gloves the missus has knit. It was good practice and, as she put it, "We can use it at Bethel."

Okay, I got the message. Find heat.

Right now we have a big LP heater but it's sort of primitive and not shielded at all. It melts things like tent sides, jackets, and anything else that touches it. I did briefly think of a wood burning stove (like a pot belly stove) but I figure that would probably bring down the wrath of the Fire Marshal. I'd like a safer heater but I haven't thought of one yet.

- Registration setup and process. We have the registration bit down pretty well but it takes too long to set up. I'd like a "pull up, park, and go" kind of registration process. Part of this means having everything prepared in advance, which, thanks to Gene, we do. But part of it means having computers and such plugged in and ready to go. That we don't do.

I want to build a big portable shelf unit thing, sort of like the things that bands use when going on tour. Or vendors use to pack their displays and product when going to Interbike. Wheels on the bottom, strong sides covered in some fabric (or unfinished, like a big crate), shelves inside, power cords all organized, just plop down a laptop, plug in and go.

Since this seems plausible, I'm leaving it on my "Do It" list.

- One bit of registration is the back and forth of printing start lists and results and stuff. If we could avoid some of the running back and forth it would be good. But this would mean having a second computer at the start/finish for the officials, synchronizing the data, stuff like that. And that would mean...

Two laptops, a network printer, and therefore a network.

I have extra wireless routers, I bought a second laptop specifically for this reason, and we have our printer. The big crate thing would hold the wireless router, a UPS, and some other stuff so that we could have a big network (i.e. two laptops) up and running within minutes of arriving at Bethel. We'll share the registration document on the network and go from there.

A bonus would be to have a database we can update in real time, but that's beyond me for now. So we'll have two spreadsheets, results and registration, and we'll keep the printer at the registration desk.

- Finish line camera. I always, always wanted to have all the finishes saved on a hard drive, and with the second laptop, we can record directly onto the hard drive. I have to figure out if we can replay it as easily, but I figure we can. As a bonus I know the finishes are on there, and we can, for example, put them on YouTube or similar.

With the network, we could even share it and play it at the registration table. Maybe on a regular monitor, not a laptop one.

But if we have a regular monitor, we could use a regular keyboard. And if we had that, and a mouse, we could just use a regular PC.

- That brings me to another point. A server would be nice, to save the master copies of spreadsheets and video. Since, as the missus pointed, I have extra desktops, such a machine could reside in one of the aforementioned "band boxes". If I figure out how to program a database, we could save everyone's data there and just type in a license number and "blip" everything would fill itself out.

Heck, I even have a bar code reader - we could issue riders a Bethel Series card and scan their license number off that!

Okay, that's a bit much. So it's on sort of hold, this whole server idea. But it's worth thinking about.

Now, all that is moot if the town doesn't approve of the race.

So here's to Bethel and a great, great town in Southwestern Connecticut.

Even greater with the Bethel Spring Series in town.

Hint, hint.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Equipment - $2 For 2 Screws?

He'd gone into an LBS (where, a few weeks earlier, he spent $120 on bike gear) after he noticed that he'd lost a couple screws off his shoes. He asked for, and received, two screws for his cleats. The shop guy actually took his shoe and fitted the screws, thereby verifying that the screws indeed fit.

The shop guy then charged him two dollars for the screws.

The rider went and found the same kind of screws at a big box department store for a lot less, I think $1.13 for four more such screws. I think this made him think that perhaps the LBS had ripped him off, or was expensive, or something. It just didn't seem right. So he posted his question online.

He got a bit of a response to his question, ranging from folks questioning his financial status (why worry over a couple of bucks), the amount of free time (questioning online the value of two screws), to the predictable HTFU.

I've been on both sides of the counter on transactions like this. Let me point out that my bike shop failed in part because I was too nice to the good customers. They didn't make me do it - I'm the one that gave them the discounts, priced the product, etc. But in the scheme of things it's the little things that add up to whether a shop stays open or closes.

So, are two screws worth two dollars?

First, figure the shop guy's time is worth, say, $60+ an hour. That's conservative I think, but that's what mechanics needed to make the shop 10 years ago. If he spends 2 minutes finding the screw (i.e. he is helping you and only you out, not keeping an eye on the store, not assembling a bike while chatting, etc), then his labor needs to be covered. $2 is about fair for 2 minutes at $60/hour. At $90/hour (seems like the standard car mechanic rate around here) it's worth 90 seconds of rummaging.

If the shop is a mess then you subtract a little, but if it's spotless, figure it's worth a bit more money (since they're "more efficient").

Second, the screws are a little unusual (they were screws for Carnac shoes, ones that require a bit more length than normal). A quick way of getting them would be to strip a pair of shoes for its screws, then hoping that someone that buys them gets pedals that doesn't require those exact screws.

But that's not the best way of doing it. Buying the screws separately (and not stealing them from another complete product) is "correct".

And to do that costs money.

For them to order a couple screws (from a bike distributor or even a McMasters) will cost them probably more than just $2. I work now in a hardware store (little one, not a big box one). We ordered screws for a very, very good customer, one comes in 1-3x daily, four boxes total. One box of screws wholesales for $13.72 and retail for $15.12 (Midwest brand, the ones that you find in the little pull out drawers). Okay, so we can't give the 10% discount, right? The kicker was the $9 in shipping (!!) for 4 boxes. Now the boxes cost us almost $16 each (forget about ordering time etc) and they retail for less.

It comes to that saying "You can have it fast, good, or cheap. Pick two of the three."

Our customer got the screws at $18 per box ($20 - 10% discount). He waited 3 days for them. The original online questioner got his two screws at $2, and waited, hopefully, a couple minutes for them. The convenience of not having to walk through Home Depot on a ride is worth something, maybe a not-stolen-bike, not slipping on the floor, something. The cost of the screws are not the point, it's the time efficiency and the fit (of the screws).

However... I've also been a customer. Even at large bike shops (Supergo somewhere in CA) I understand that things are not free. I bought 5 chainring spacers there when I realized I'd lost the spacer (but not the bolt) off the 5th hidden chainring bolt on my Record crank. The shop gave me a plastic bin of spacers to rummage through (took 10 seconds for the guy to pick it up and hand it to me). I know that this bin costs something like $50 wholesale, no shipping, not worrying about minimum orders, and the place that sells them requires, typically, a $600-1000 minimum order. After a minute I found the chainring spacers, took pretty much all of them (I think I needed five of them), pointed this out to the mechanic, and asked him how much for the spacers in my hand. I felt a fair market value was $5 ($1 each), a discounted price $2 (40 cents each), and a high price $10 ($2 each). I decided I'd pay $5 for the five spacers.

"A buck."

I protested. This was below even a "good" price.

"A buck? It's got to cost you 20 cents a spacer. It's got to be more than that."

"A buck."

I've never seen him before, never saw him since. Since he stood his ground, I let him. I went to the register and let the guy know there that the mechanic told me it was a buck. Because I felt bad about basically stealing from the shop, I also bought energy bars and tried to convince myself that I needed some carbon fiber dropped bars (they didn't have my size). I also came back to buy a cheap mtb frame (house brand, $150 for the frame) but they didn't have my size in that either, but I was too far away to carry it on my back while on my ride when I got the chainring bolts.

I know that the original questioner spent about $120 at the shop a couple weeks before, but that's not a huge transaction in the scheme of things - a couple tanks of gas now, or one tank a month ago. It could have been huge if he had engaged one of the smarter employees in some discussion about his love for cycling, how he's looking to buy an electronic DA bike in a month, etc etc. Then, if the shop (and its employee/s) was smart, he'd be on the very short "potential good customer" list. But if he was not engaging, not outgoing, shrugged when someone asked if they could help him, then he didn't make it on that list. He's a "regular guy" to them. Therefore there are no exceptions made unless that's how they are regularly.

Keep in mind too that even huge bike shops are closing due to various economic forces. That guy who helped out the original questioner might have just gotten a big lecture on how "we're letting the shop bleed money from the little nuts and bolts we give away for free". And then the guy comes in and ask for two screws.

I don't think that the $2 is the point here. It's the principle of the transaction. It seems to me the guy hadn't thought about the other side of the counter, and apparently, after he got a bunch of responses, he hadn't. At this point he's happy.

But when he found the screws at Home Depot, he wasn't.

He was a disappointed and upset customer, the kind you do not want to have in any kind of economy. However, by asking the question online, and even putting up the poll, he asked the rest of us to address the principle of the question.

My answer?

If he had ordered the screws and they came in a couple weeks later (i.e. the shop scrounged together a minimum order to cover shipping, or at least an order large enough to absorb the insane shipping costs nowadays), and they charged him $2, that might be on the high side. Better would be "Well, they're supposed to be $2 but we're charging you $1".

If he'd bought a bike or two there (and the pedals and the shoes, which seem to have been bought elsewhere), I bet the screws would have been free no matter how much the shipping ended up costing them.

If the guy helping him said, "Look, I know the price is high, but that's what I have to charge, I'm really sorry, you can buy them or I can put them back in the drawer", then I think the original questioner might have been soothed enough not to say anything.

The communication between the shop and the customer is key.

If effective communication occurred at the original transaction, the original questioner wouldn't have felt a bit ripped off. He wouldn't have posted his question online.

And this post would be... not here.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Life - Kittens

The kittens are growing quickly, even if they look like they're just sitting around.

The before size:
Hal is on the left, Riley the white on the right, Bella up top.

And the after size:
They dwarf the little bed now. Bella is the one with her paws out, Hal is looking up at the camera straps longingly.

The four kittens have now been to the vet three times. I think we're pretty close to, say, one carbon deep profile wheel into these kittens. Priorities change, I guess, and although I just wrote that I could have had an aero wheel instead of these healthy, allegedly temporary except Bella kittens, I actually had to think about what their vet bills would have bought.

In other words, it's okay that I don't have another aero wheel in my quiver.

As a follow up to their last visit, the missus called the vet to get some test results. The data showed that the kittens are negative for all those terrible feline diseases. So, in celebration, we let them mingle with our other cats.

This led to what some might consider to be a feline infestation of the house.

The above is actually a paraphrase from a movie I watched recently (Transformers), and which has prompted me to think about training and wattage and other things for a bit. But I digress.

Tiger is of the opinion that there is an infestation.

Tiger is "only" about 11 pounds, but his lean, muscular body is huge compared to the just over 2 pound Bella. Kind of like Optimus Prime compared to Bumble Bee. Yes, I just compared the cats to the Transformers, but there's a point to it. I'll get to it later though. A later post, not this one.

Lilly thinks there's an infestation too, but she is curious about the little critters that appeared recently.

Lilly is a bit more plump (about 15 pounds), not as tall or long as Tiger, but even she towers over the little ones. She has a more decisive swat, more efficient combat capacities (it must be her 7-8 years of experience versus Tiger's 2-ish), but she hasn't demonstrated it in the presence of the kittens.

What Tiger doesn't realize is that when he first arrived he was about Bella's size and he'd been rescued from a cold and bitter outside existence. He, too, was a feral kitten, born to a wild mom. She nursed them until they were weaned (the last bit in captivity), then they went their separate ways.

So, in a way, Bella is a new Tiger.

Hi Bella.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Life - MRI

Thanks to my achy back, the last couple days have seen me hobbling around like an old man. I wince in pain when I stoop over, hold my back when I straighten up, and ask customers to pick up heavy things. I generally got an idea of what I'll be like in, well, 20 years. At least I hope I make it that long before I start acting this way all the time. The only thing I'm missing is a cane to shake at the young whippersnappers in my way. I can just hear them now.

"Yeah, that crazy guy says he used to be a bike racer. Right."

One of the things I did was to get an MRI. This is where you get pictures taken using some enormous magnetic field so the pictures show what's going on inside your body. Due to the magnetic fields, and horror stories like someone getting killed when an oxygen cannister got sucked into the magnetic field, I wondered if I'd find out that, yes, indeed, I stepped on a sliver of brake cable 25 years ago, and yes, it got stuck in my heel, and no, I didn't want the MRI machine to pull it all the way through my body and pull it out my nose.

Hey, CSI, I have another "death plot" for you.

I've also heard about how claustrophobic it can get in those machines, so I steeled myself by pretending that I was a special ops guy that had to crawl through a tight tunnel. I'd have to control my breathing, consciously relax, and not freak out.

Hey, look, it beats being a prisoner trying to escape through a sewer pipe, alright?

The missus drove me to the MRI place, not a necessary step but just something to show her support in all my back pain antics. I left her behind when I got called in, and like the lady on the phone, this lady started asking me if I had a variety of implants in my body. There were a couple I thought were interesting but I forget what they were. The reason why was the sight in front of me - the side of a big, special, 18-wheeler, parked next to the building, with an allegedly temperature controlling air cushion filling the gap between the trailer and the building. Think of one of those always-inflating amusement park bouncy shapes, and now picture one acting as an air seal between the trailer and the building. I say allegedly because in my hospital pants and the 2008 Nutmeg Games t-shirt, I felt a bit chilly. On the side of the trailer was a large lift, big enough to fit a stretcher (I guess that would make sense, right?).

I stood on the yellow dot as instructed and we rose up to the trailer bed level. Then a side door, like a garage door, opened up.

It was like Space Odyssey 2001.

White, blinking computer terminals, three smiling brunette technicians in white suits (including the one that walked me from the waiting room), and a passage way to a white tube leading to nowhere, something that, to me, looked like an enormous air intake port for a car.

Or maybe a ship, I don't know.

That was the MRI thing.

I lay down, did the Pharaoh thing (holding the "let me out" button in my hands, both crossed over my chest), and closed my eyes as soon as the bed started moving.

A reverberating brunette voice told me it would be 30 seconds. Then a bunch of Krups Espresso machine-like burps and beeps filled the air. No sign of an espresso but the bed suddenly started getting warm.

I thought of how much the electric bill must be for this thing.

A pause. Then the voice told me three minutes. More beeps and such, some machine-gun-like in their staccato rapidity. The warmth soothed me. I had to make sure I hadn't dropped the "let me out" button. A pause. The voice came back, told me there'd be another four minute session.

I drifted off.

I woke up as the last session ended. I can't remember if there were three or four of them, but at the end the bed started sliding out of the tube. When I felt it safe to open my eyes (the sounds around me sounded less tinny), I did.

The tube was only a few inches above my face. I was glad I kept my eyes closed the whole time.

Then the tube went out of view and there was a smiling technician.

The rest was anticlimatic - I left, got lunch, went back to work, and winced and groaned and moaned when my back bothered me.

I hope that I can get back on the bike shortly, that I can start doing some all-round exercises. I'm feeling lethargic, flabby, and un-bike-racer-like.

And I hate that feeling.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Life - Not Training

My self-medication didn't work out too well. My back spasmed slightly later that night, and the next morning as well. My legs went limp each time, and along with the missus's worried glances, I booked an appointment with my doctor the next day. The fact that he saw me only an hour or two after I called meant that this back thing was kind of serious.

Mind you, things could be worse. I like my doctor. He's enthusiastic, friendly, and knows his stuff. In a lot of ways he reminds me of the doctor that operated on my late mom, one that I hold in high esteem. Not only does he seem to bleed medical knowledge, he's also open about how things work in the insurance world, an important factor in this country. He always keeps in mind the insurance company's ability and willingness to pay for things (as well as mine).

As expected, he eagerly listened to my back spasm stories, a smile on his face, nodding enthusiastically, asking some pointed questions (which, among other things, made me realize my legs collapsed when my back spasmed), and plotted out a plan to check things out.

"There are two things we can do. One is to do nothing. The other is to do some tests. Since you had bilateral somethings (I don't remember what the word was but it meant both my legs went limp when my back spasmed), and it occurred multiple times, we can call it a recurring bilateral something. And then we can get you an MRI, which is what we need to do to check your back."

And it was so. I am awaiting my turn to experience the tunnel known as the MRI thing. I went through a pretty thorough questioning process mainly regarding whether or not I have any metal in my body. I realized that MRIs are those really powerful magnetic things that suck in oxygen tank, screws, and whatever miscellaneous ferrous things happen to be in the area, and one thing you don't want is to have such a machine suck a ferrous thing out of your body.

For the life of me I can't remember if I have some fragment of a brake cable stuck in some weird forgotten part of my body, like in my heel or something. I guess I'll find out at 1 PM Thursday. If some small bit of steel goes ripping through my body... well, I just hope it doesn't.

As a bonus I used this back thing as an opportunity to start drinking heavily. I'd like to lift, but I can't, so I tried to do something for my sanity. I had two drinks on Sunday (a bottle each of lager and cider, mixed together) and one drink on Monday (about 1/4 cup of white wine, courtesy a Bethel racer - yes, Brian, we finally cracked open the bottle from this year!). I think I even had another 1/4 cup of white wine on Tuesday.

No, today is Tuesday, and I only had coffee.

Anyway, all this heavy drinking is part of my secret training plan. A few guys have told me how they lost 15 pounds when they stopped drinking. I figure if I try and drink a bit, then I'll lose 15 pounds when I stop. Hopefully at the end of this week I'll be 15 pounds lighter.

Isn't that how it works?

Maybe not. As the missus pointed out to my pretend dismay, they probably drank a little more than, say, three drinks before quitting. Hey, maybe the three drinks are worth a quarter pound. Who knows? Whatever, I have a new goal - drink the rest of the bottle of wine before it turns into vinegar.

And lift a bit.

In the meantime, I've converted some of the folks at the hardware store to cat loving folks. Not that they didn't like cats before, but they're so inured to the idea of small mammals being pests (mice, rats, chipmunks, squirrels) that cats are just one step above that. Nevertheless they showed a bit of progress. I saw that they'd put up pictures of Hal, Riley, and Mike, letting everyone know that they're up for adoption, and that they are "adorable". In addition one of the owners happily reported that her (grown) daughter fed Grey (and whoever else) on Sunday, and that she herself fed them on Monday. I fed them on Tuesday and managed to requisition a few bags of cat food about to expire in a couple weeks. Due to be tossed anyway, they'll feed the cats for a month or more.

Finally, with the temperature overnight expected to be about 20 degrees F, I left a cat bed, an upside down box with an opening, and moved some stuff around so that the crawlspace would be a bit more pleasant. I was getting pretty anxious as the temperature dropped but when I went crawling under the building, I found the area surprisingly warm. So my heart lightened up and I set up what I hope will be a nice area for Grey and the two other cats (which still need to be caught, fixed, and released).

I've also been spending some quality time with their kittens, the ones at our house. Last night my back really bothered me, driving me out of bed at some inhuman hour. I felt most comfortable on the floor on my hands and knees with a blanket over my back. After sitting like that on the living room floor for a bit, I realized I could have some friendly company if I moved upstairs. I gingerly made my way up to the kittens' room and got back down on my hands and knees.

Bella, Hal, and Riley zipped under this new, heated, interactive shelter. Mike, usually aloof, decided to hang out on the blanket's fringes.

And for the next hour plus I watched as one kitten after another sprawled out in the warm blanket, purring (even Riley, who rarely purrs, purred up a storm), stretching, kneading, yawning, rolling, and generally acting like happy, content kittens.

They fell asleep finally, all but Hal, he being the most active of them anyway. My back felt better, probably simply because it felt good to have all these adorable cute felines curled up next to and on top of me, but I finally had to get back to bed.

I let Hal down gently - he was busy running around on my back - and lifted my body from over Riley and Bella, both females looking up sleepily as the roof suddenly lifted from their world. I left them the blanket, covering up all but their heads, and they sleepily accepted this substitute, at least at that moment. Mike barely batted an eye, dozing on his paws only a foot away.

I made my way downstairs and crawled back into bed, my back protested every bit of the way. The missus murmured something indecipherable and I murmured something equally indecipherable back. Content, she went back to sleep.

My back ached but I felt tiredly happy and content. I closed my eyes and waited for nothingness to wash over me. Yeah, I need to train a bit. I need to lift, to get fit, to feel taut again. But for the moment, right now, this was fine.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Training - Back Dimples and Spasms

The other day I was brushing my teeth, just about to get into the shower, and realized that, well, I'm not fit.

I turned around to check out my back. If that doesn't have some definition then things are grim. I saw some definition, but I noticed something else. And this reminded me of just how skinny those pros are in the Tour and such.

You see, there's a spot (two of them) in your lower back where your pelvic bones sit just below the skin. There is no fat, no muscle, nothing between the two spots and the outer layer of skin. When I'm fit I can barely tell where they are - my skin dimples just a bit, but if I move at all the dimples disappear.

When I looked at my back with my toothbrush in hand, I had two big dimples.


This meant I was carrying around a lot of extra fat. My body had outgrown my pelvic cradle.

You ever watch those pro races where they're climbing some big climb and the camera is behind them? Pick a stage in the Tour, maybe one where there's a long break and the camera is following the guy 5k from the line, about to win.

Check out their lower backs.

You'll see the two pelvic bone spots. But instead of dimples, you'll see them jutting out of their jersey. They're so skinny their pelvic bones are sticking out of their body.

They're so skinny they've shrunk to the point that their pelvic cradle is too big for their body.

I don't ever remember being like that, but I didn't know to look for it when I weighed 100 or so pounds. I figure at 100 pounds my pelvic bones probably stuck out, but at my current 180+ (gasp!) they make for big dimples.

So this is something I gotta work on, one of the problems I have right now.

The other problem is that my current job, working in a hardware store that sells feed, has me constantly lifting heavy things. It's rewarding work, true - I feel like I've done actual work when I leave in the evening. I've always said I wanted to work a job like this, and it's still true. After work I'm inevitably exhausted, tired, and want to relax. But with neglecting my abdominals for a bit, lifting with my back, and the cooler weather, my back has been under considerable stress. This came to a head while I was blowing leaves off the small deck behind the house a couple hours ago.

One second I was figuring out the best tactics for getting leaves off of a square deck which has walls on three sides.

Then a crackle and a pop (no snap, so no Rice Krispies jokes) and suddenly my legs bent and I sank to the deck. My legs had given out because my back suddenly refused to support my upper body.

My back really didn't hurt until I tried to do something like, oh, say, sit. Or roll onto my side. Or stand. Or even reach to the handrail to stand.

Then it hurt.

But on my hands and knees, on the deck, I was totally comfortable.

The water off the wet leaves soaked into my gloves, but my back was comfortable. So it wasn't a bad thing, the wet gloves. I could feel my knees get cold as the moisture seeped through my jeans. But my back felt fine, so my wet jeans were fine. Plus, after a minute or two of wet knees, I didn't feel cold, not as long as I stayed still. Moving exposed a different part of me to wet, damp clothing, and, yes, that was cold.

I decided to shut off the leaf blower and the sudden quiet disoriented me even more.

Finally, after a few minutes of experimental movements, I could stand. I couldn't bend over though, and I must have looked kind of funny trying to pick up the leaf blower while keeping everything above those pelvic bone dimples (yeah those deep ones) nice and vertical.

I kept testing limits, learning that I could move this way but not that. I gave up, for now, on the hand held leaf blower (since my back has to hold it up) and decided to push the wheeled one around. After a bit of that my back seemed even better.

I did discover that the wheeled leafblower doesn't like being upside down. It rolled completely over - i.e. onto its back and then onto its wheels again - because my back limited my ability to keep it grounded on a sideways slope. Surprisingly it only started to hesitate while upside down, and when it righted itself (I let the blower complete its roll over thought), it roared back to normal.

I surprised myself by being able to use the handheld leaf blower (I'd figured out a way to do the deck and wanted to try it), and then I surprised myself even more by crawling under the deck (!!!). Those of you who know me know that I will not crawl into low dirt areas with bugs and spiders and icky things, and our deck is about 2 feet above a rocky bed of concrete, dirt, and leaves. Nevertheless I crawled under the deck to try and hook up a hose. It didn't work.

But I think of my sniper crawl under the cobweb-ridden, dirt-floored, wet and gross leaves/dirt covered sub-deck to be my 2009 HTFU boot camp. Saxo Bank, eat your heart out.

I have to admit that crawling didn't hurt my back at all, so that sort of encouraged me to do it.

I reported my progress (as well as non-progress) to the missus who found me trying in vain to hook up a hose to the spigot (an angled spigot which is located about 1/2 inch above the deck - so not very conducive towards screwing on a hose which is 5/8 inch in diamter). She'd whipped up a batch of shrimp scampi, placed the brownies next to them, and had Tiger come to the window and see who was making all the noise on the deck.

I decided to come in to try and relax my back a bit. Gathered food, sat at the table. Pulled out a bottle of hard cider and a bottle of lager and poured equal portions into a glass.


A nice soothing drink. To, you know, relax my back.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Life - Family and Visits and Running

The other week my sister flew out from the West Coast to visit, bringing her sub-one (year old) son. They stayed at our new house to rest and recover for a day before making the trip down to my dad's place. My brother and his wife drove down from Maine to my dad's, and once the missus took my sis and her son there too, most of the family was there since my other brother (and his wife and three kids) live there too.

The family was all together, except me. And I live only a 5 hour bike ride away.

With the kids somewhat spread out geographically, these family get-togethers are unusual, and I took a very precious evening, night, and half of a day to drive down and hang out with them. I drove instead of rode to cut down on how much time I'd spend in a delirious half-conscious state - and driving takes less than two hours.

Usually it's not a big deal to go down to visit the family but in the last month or so I hadn't had any time off, and my non work days seemed even busier than my work days. This resulted in a down-to-the-bones weariness that made me fight just to get regular chores done. I managed to control my deep-rooted fatigue and got to Wilton with no problems (driving seems to perk me up), although I completely forgot to call the missus to signal that I'd accomplished the task.

We stayed up talking as we usually do. My sister told me stuff that I don't remember at all, which I'll have to write about later, about my fund raising efforts for my first and only bike-a-thon. My Maine brother telling us about their new house, a handyman special if I've ever seen one. Since my brother is in the house restoration business, he qualifies as a "handyman". It looks to be a daunting task, but his presentation was such that it looked, well, doable. Since I've gotten less done on the red car in three years than he's done in the three months on the house, I am supremely confident that my car will still be sort of the same while my bro and his wife are living in a newly restored couple hundred year old house in Maine.

After we all called it a night (I think it was about 11 PM), I went upstairs to bed. At this point I did fall into some state of delirium as I decided that I'd read as much of a book (Digital Fortress by Dan Brown) as I could. Eyes burning, mind incoherent, rambling thoughts disrupting my reading (one of the random thoughts was "I am cold"), I finally fell asleep at some extremely late hour in the early morning, perhaps 2 or 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning.

I got up really late, went downstairs, sipped coffee, ate eggs and toast, and stared bleary eyed at everyone. I felt like what the kids at ToPA looked like, staring at nothing, eating and drinking like automatons. Difference was that I wasn't doing a stage race, just living life.

The kids (the nephews, not us brothers and sisters) were jumping up and down as usual, and with a mission at 2:30 PM (pick up a typewriter), I checked the clock. I'd spent a good 30 or 40 minutes down here already, and if it was, say, 11 AM, I'd have to start thinking about leaving to get the typewriter.

It was 8 o'clock in the morning.

No wonder I was so tired.

My brother's wife (the Wilton one) asked if I wanted to go to the town library. I'd mentioned it the night before, lamenting on how things stay the same. My first job, at 15 years old, was at the library. I shelved books, trudging around the library pushing a narrow, low cart full of books. Now, 25 years later, I find myself in a hardware store, trudging around pushing a narrow, low cart full of hardware store things. Ironic, right?

Whatever, I thought it would be fun to check out my working birthplace, and it certainly beat going to the Y to do an energy sapping run and ride. That was the other option - and my sis-in-law has been pressing me to go workout so that I could break the bike machine at the Y.

We got to the library (with 3 babyseats in the minivan it's quite a task to just go somewhere) and it was closed. So we went to a nearby pond/park. I used to cut through this park when I trained on my bike in high school, and I even did intervals on the path connecting this place with my elementary school. Now its big feature, for the kids anyway, is a huge jungle gym kind of thing. Other than walking around a bit, I only did one pull up, barely. I mentally told myself I need to do some exercising.

Properly refreshed, I got goaded into going to the Y for that workout. I changed in the locker room and met my sister in law in the fitness center. She was already cranking along on the treadmill. I, of course, haven't run anywhere since I don't know when, so I started off by walking for a while. Then I jogged a bit at some awful slow pace (10-12 minutes/mile), decided that was a bit much, and started walking again. I covered about 2 miles while she covered 4, and when I glanced over at her control panel, she asked me if another 15 minutes would be okay.


I felt I should trot a little more, and I upped the pace again. Suddenly an urge hit me - I think this is part of what defines why I like bike racing, not just bike riding - it's these self challenges that I make myself, accept, and then try and meet. Earlier this year I'd spent a lot of time pushing myself to do 1.5 miles in less than 14 minutes, and although I did it in 12 minutes in practice, my official test time was almost 13 minutes. I felt disappointed in myself for this poor performance and wanted to prove that it wasn't "normally so".

I decided I'd see if I could do a 12 minute 1.5 mile run.

Now mind you, I hadn't run since, oh, a little after that test, maybe five or six months ago. And running uses enough different muscles from cycling that I get really sore if I haven't run in a while. But with no races coming up, nothing cycling important, I had nothing to lose.

My little LED runner light just finished a lap so I cranked the speed up to an 8 minute mile. If I could maintain it I'd do the 1.5 miles in 12 minutes, and all I had to do was increase my speed at the end. A sprint, so to speak. And I know how to sprint.

After a quarter mile I felt a bit on edge, my heart rate stabilizing at 173 or so, at least that's what it said between the scrolling warning banner that said that using the heart rate handles was not recommended over 4 mph. Next time I'll bring my HRM watch and chest band.

My sister in law leaned over, checked out my control panel. Her eyes widened a bit, she looked at me, and tapped her control panel. Her speed climbed. I smiled inside.

After a half mile I realized that I could do this for the 1.5 miles, that it was extremely possible. At one mile I bumped the pace up to a 7:35 mile, but after a quarter lap (of about 440 yards, so about 100 yards) I dropped back to an 8:00 pace. I felt less certain about doing half a mile at the 7:35 pace. I'd save the faster bit for the last quarter mile, the last of six virtual laps.

As my LED runner hit the start/finish line for the sixth and final lap, I went back to a 7:35 pace and started running faster. I think I bumped it up again, possibly bringing it down to a 7:00 pace, my adrenaline and motivation pushing me faster and faster. My heart rate had climbed to 178, very high for me, but I felt good, I felt like I was accomplishing something, and I wasn't falling off the back of the treadmill.

The LED runner hit the finish and I backed it down to a 30:00 pace, sweat dripping, legs quivering. By the time I stopped I'd done almost four miles on the treadmill, a record for me. But it was worth it - I'd done an 11:35 or so 1.5 miles, and although that may not be fast in the scheme of things, it's good for me. I briefly thought about how sore I'd be but focused more on hoping that my legs would not buckle when I stepped off the treadmill.

I successfully made the six inch step down and wobbled over to the bike thing. It's the same NetAthlon software I had on the Cycle-Ops Electronic Trainer, where you "race" digital folks, but this version had steering - you could (and had to) steer. The wattage seemed a bit optimistic because I comfortably held a steady 280 watts, something impossible in real life. I zoned out and looked up to see myself bumping up against the curb, sort of like a car in Gran Turismo if you slam into the wall at low speeds.

I did all of two miles on that but it was fun, engrossing, and I want to go back and do it for real. I have to get a better saddle, a more precise saddle adjustment, and I want drop bars as the upright position bars are both tall and non-adjustable. Since those are sort of big obstacles I want to ponder a bit on it.

Then, with no time to lose, I jumped in the car and picked up the typewriter (a few minutes late, but I'll blame that on my aching legs not meshing well with the gas pedal), and then drove home.

The next day I staggered along at work, feeling a bit like I'd aged about 25 years overnight. My legs were uncomfortably sore, an expected outcome from running at full tilt after a long layoff, but my knees and shins were fine, a pleasant surprise. I wanted to do some active recovery so I decided to, well, you know.


I hadn't ridden in a while, and not consistently for who knows how long, maybe since September. I figure a month off is good (I only rode about five times in October). So the beginning of November I got back on the bike. My feet swelled up, all sorts of muscles started cramping within 30 minutes of riding, my arms were tired, but hey, it was all good.

It's the start of my 2009 season.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Racing Trivia

Cycling Trivia is back.

I always do horribly on these if the race happened before 1983, except for a lucky guess here and there. But after 1983 I usually hold my own. Usually.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Life - Mike

Introducing Mike. He likes being up high, in this case about 10 inches off the ground.

Mike is the oldest of the kittens we're temporarily sheltering. With age came some real life experience, and he was the toughest to catch - two days of chasing him around and almost a day with a trap out didn't work. In the end the cat food in the cage seemed too tempting because I found him scared and trapped in the cage.

Once I brought him inside the store (until the evening's vet appointment), he decided to make sure that all of the food was gone. After all, if he's stuck in a cage, might as well eat, right?

We had to bring him home since the vet couldn't house the kitten - they had some other kittens there that were sick or something. Or her, as we thought at the time, because the vet declared Mike a "her" at "her" first appointment. A week later we brought "her" back to the vet and the vet proclaimed her a him.

He seemed a little standoffish compared to the other kittens - different litter (although same dad we think) so sort of a cousin. His size - he was twice their weight at first - also made it difficult to do anything rough with them. They'd squeal in protest and eventually he learned that he could really only bathe them gently, or tag them with his paws. He readily runs for shelter but if you approach him he lets you pick him up.

Mike (at left) with the others.

Interestingly enough he was the most passive of the four kittens when I hold him. The others still squirm and try to escape when I trim their nails, but Mike waits for me to finish before he squirms. Well, I get the front ones done, and some of the back ones, then Mike gets impatient. And, since Mike seems to wait until the last possible moment to use the litterbox, I let him go if he starts looking longingly over to the litterboxes. Once I made the mistake of thinking he was squirming just to squirm, but when I put him down he started dropping things as he scampered away. Now I let him go - I can always finish later.

At play. He already knows how to bat without claws, but he likes to play wrestle fully armed too.

Mike has big ears like Batman (the Michael Keaton Batman), big mitts for paws. Someone said he has some Maine Coon in him, and that's a distinct possibility. His fur is also incredibly soft, softer than the others. He is a very good cat to hold, soft, passive, and gentle.

Note big paws, big ears. Showing a little claw.

He got the name Mike because, well, he looks like a little angry Mike. He did to the missus, and when she said the name Mike, he looked exactly like that to me too. So we named him Mike.

I brought home a few play mice from work one day, to entertain the kittens. Tiger and Lilly always liked the fake mice, and I thought I'd treat the littles ones to the same pleasure.

Problem was that they felt somewhat threatened. One of the twins approached it, but didn't really want to touch it. Mike approached, sniffed, growled, and attacked. As soon as he growled the other kittens scattered, running for shelter. And although Mike seemed to really like killing this mouse, the other kittens' fright had us retrieve said mouse.

The mouse. Mike, I think, would be a good mouser.

We are looking to adopt out Mike, as nice as he is. A nice couple came into the store to check out pictures and perhaps they'll take him, but if not, he's available.


Thursday, November 06, 2008

Life - Grey

Grey is female cat, the mom of either the three kittens or the larger kitten we've come to call Mike. Based on her behavior, I'd guess it was the former.

She was around a bit at the store since I started working there, darting in and out of the spaces left by the various pallets of dirt, rocks, and other yard type stuff. With no obvious external markings we had no idea if Grey was a female or a male.

The kittens were the first hint.

The fact that every time we saw the kittens, we saw her scampering away, that was the second hint.

We put out some food for Grey, and when we saw the kittens munching on it, we knew we could capture all of them since the kittens were weaned.

I caught the three little kittens by hand, tracking them to some of their favorite hiding spots, uncovering the spot (the worst was moving about 20 pressure treated 4x4s, but one involved only moving one layer of plastic sheet), and then returning an hour or two later. Predictably they trotted to their hiding spots where, suddenly, the ceiling had disappeared. I'd scoop them up, Bella being the easiest (she was the rear guard and tried to protect herself - the twins would run though).

Mike was more of a challenge - he preferred to hide under 2000 to 4000 pounds of various soils and such, and as much as I wanted to catch him, moving a couple pallets of topsoil by hand wasn't on my list of "things I can do in a few minutes". I focused on the little kittens and Grey because we had a vet appointment and I still hadn't caught Grey.

A HavAHart trap did the trick and Grey found herself at the Hopmeadow Animal Hospital about 30 minutes later, a kind group of people who did all they could to make her comfortable. After gaining some weight, a "fix" (spay), and some rest & recovery, I went and picked up Grey.

I'd been feeling conflicted about this bit the whole time Grey was at HAP.

It didn't seem fair that the three kittens would find homes, or even Mike, but that Grey couldn't get that. She never attacked anyone but she seemed very afraid of people. Her experience in the cage and the carrier taught her that she had no control in such areas, and her behavior reflected this concept. She'd lay passively if you pet her, staring at you, but she wouldn't try and get away.

On the other hand, she resisted fiercely when transferring her from one cage to another (or to a carrier). I waited about 10 minutes for the assistant to bring out Grey - apparently she fought ferociously to stay out of the carrier, but ultimately, with a couple people there, her fight ended unsuccessfully.

She showed she has some spirit, some fire. But she's not "gone", not in the Colonel Kurtz sense.

Her fur is battleship grey with only a tiny bit of white, I think on her underside. It looks sleek, much more sleek than a feral cat "ought" to look. Her compact size (she weighed 7.5 lbs when we caught her, she's probably a bit heavier with a regular diet) fits my idea of "a cat I'd like to have".

So how could I let her go? Winter approaches, and with it comes extremely cold temperatures and, I think, scarce food.

But when I thought of Grey sitting in a house, or in a cage, with windows separating her from the outdoors, I could only think of one thing.


Elsa was a cub in the movie Born Free, and it was one of the first movies I watched that struck me at my core. I was only a kid at the time, so maybe my emotions were even more jumpy than usual, but I remember the aching I felt when I realized that (at least in the movie) Elsa really belonged in the wild.

Grey was our Elsa.

So I picked her up, talking for a few minutes with one of the HAP people about her, getting the various reports on her health and her possible future with a people family, and left with a twitching nose Grey.

I thought of a lot on the short drive to the store. I was going to splurge for a Frontline treatment, but that was nixed by the fact that Grey had gotten a flea treatment at HAP. I didn't want to poison her. I had contemplated getting a flea collar and decided against it for the same reason. I would like to build her a little shelter, one that would help her keep warm and allow me to get some flea powder in her bed when it gets warmer again. But that will be in a short bit - right now she'll have to make it on her own.

She complained a bit on the way to the store - cats, I find, don't like the combination of carrier and car. Her head sank a bit, the nose twitch gone.

When I got out of the car, though, her demeanor instantly changed.

Her head lifted up, her nose twitched again, more than when we first left HAP. She started looking around, her head darting this way and that. She seemed excited, if I can use that term with a cat.

I walked to one of the few openings into the crawlspace below the store, the one that she ran to each time I approached the nearby kittens.

I set the carrier down gently and paused. I didn't know what to do. I wanted to find someone that would take her, to protect her from all the dangers living in the wild. Okay, even if it's downtown Simsbury, we have bears walking around regularly, so it's wild enough.

Then I thought of Elsa.

I opened the top of the carrier. I hoped that in the brief moment before she ran away that I'd be able to have her get my scent, to show that I wasn't a threat. Or maybe she'll associate me with the hated carrier, I don't know. But I pet her, rubbed her, opening the carrier a little more every minute or two. Although she never totally relaxed, she did let me check her neck for what I thought was a tick or a flea (it was a scab which I picked just to be sure).

After ten minutes or so I'd opened the carrier top all the way. Nothing between her and the world, just my arm poking in and stroking her head. Her tail never fuzzed, her mouth never opened, and her claws never extended in attack. She sat there, nose twitching, looking around.

Then it was done.

She jumped lightly out of the carrier and trotted into the crawlspace, taking a left under there, and disappearing from view.

I crawled over and poked my head inside. The crawlspace, perhaps three feet tall at the opening, is separated into dirt banks of sorts, one bank per set of posts holding up the building. The next bank was only six or eight feet away, and I couldn't see anything beyond it.

I stopped and listened, but she was too wary or too far.

I picked up the extremly light carrier and went into the store, to report that Grey was back in town. I picked up some odds and ends I needed for the house and left. I took the long way back to the car, walking down the dirt driveway next to the building, the driveway where we leave our outdoor-able pallets.

I looked for a flash of grey, maybe a pair of eyes peering at me from under a pallet, but I only heard the slight rustling of leavings, the crunch of my boots on the dirt and gravel. I drove away still feeling a bit hollow inside.

This morning, when I got to work, I set out a bowl of food inside the crawlspace.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Life - Cats Three

So I gotta do a catch-up post because, well, frankly I haven't been posting much. Usually this means either I'm nowhere near a computer (highly unlikely, although this was the case last weekend) or I've been unable to complete a thought (so to speak). And the missus asked me to update the folks that follow the non-cycling aspect of this blog - with pics of the kittens of course.

Without any further ado...

The twins. Cat 2, so to speak. Boy and a girl.


Leaving the fuzzy PJ bed. Heated (I was still in them). The girl is staying.

At some point they went to sleep - the pet carrier is their new favorite bed.

I got on my hands and knees to take the above picture. Suddenly I felt some whiskers on my stomach. Bella had jumped up into my (loosely hanging) shirt. Of course I pointed the camera down my shirt.

She was looking for a warm spot I guess. Note my leg behind her - she's suspended but just barely.

A few minutes later she was asleep.

Note the "few minutes later" bit. I didn't want to move because, well, she seemed too precious where she ended up. The problem with this is that I can't do much like, say, write while kneeling in front of the pet carrier and taking pictures down my shirt. Hence the sporadic post schedule recently.

Eventually I scooped Bella into the carrier with the other two. This made for the following picture.

Cat 3. You knew it was coming.

They woke up briefly, I forget why.

They shuffled around a bit.

The girl twin (we haven't named them) fell asleep first, as usual.

A few minutes later they had all snuggled in together.

We also have a kitten named Mike, who will get his own separate post. We also fixed, treated, and released the (one of?) mom cat who will be known as Grey. I'll explain later I guess.

The important thing about the kittens is that Bella (the little tabby) is staying here but the others are ALL up for adoption. We're paying all their bills and such, and we have some interest in the twins, but we'd like to find good homes for the three kittens - the twins and Mike. We'd prefer to keep the twins together since they seem to hang out together, so they're a "twofer" deal. Mike is good with the other three kittens but he seems to be okay solo as well.

So to return on topic, I, ahem, rode for two days in a row. Yay! This after I got on one of those medical scales and learned I weighed about 184 lbs with light sneakers, shorts, and a shirt. Boo! And my watch and my wedding band, can't forget I had those on.

I felt horrible the first day I rode - my feet were swollen, my legs were cramping, I felt out of breath. Second day (just now) was much better - feet fit my shoes, legs didn't cramp one iota, and I actually rode a bit harder when some faster music came on. I can say that you really need a "pre-" day (i.e. an easy hour ride) when coming off of a break from riding, but I can also conclude that watching Syriana is not conducive towards hard riding.

Tokyo Fast and Furious is.