Haunted Plates

June 10th, 2011

These plates.

These plates are a burden. These plates were a dream, and a promise, and a whisper.
I bought these plates when I worked at the Disney Store when I was an undergraduate at UCF. My girlfriend was a HUGE Maleficent fan, and in those days, there wasn’t a lot of collectible Maleficent merchandise yet. But then Disney came out with these 3D Relief Plates. They were numbered and VERY fragile. About 1/3 of them came in damaged and had to be destroyed. The ones that remained sold quickly, with the lowest numbers being the most desirable.
When a set came in from the movie Sleeping Beauty, I was the first to pull them from their shipping carton and paw through them all to find the lowest numbers. I spent a month’s wages purchasing four perfect plates, and kept them in their original boxes, in the shopping bags, with the original receipts. These items establish provenance, which makes them more interesting to collectors (so I was told; so I did it).
I had every intention of giving these jewels to my beloved, at some pivotal moment in our relationship (an engagement, perhaps?), but it didn’t work out that way. We broke up, as so many young lovers do. We grew apart. I finished college and went on to graduate school. She finished her degree, and entered the workforce.
I hung on to the plates. We would run into each other from time to time, sometimes amicably, others tainted by some icy hatred that I didn’t and to this day, don’t fully understand. The plates sat in my closet, then went into a trunk, kept safe against the golden day when they could be given to their intended. I thought perhaps they would make a great peace offering, and figured that when she got married, I’d give them to her as a wedding present.
Life moved on. Years passed. A decade passed. I got married and moved out of state. Still, the big trunk full of Disney Collectibles and these plates got hauled all over the U.S. I moved back to Florida and discovered that she had moved out of state, too. Word came back through the grapevine that she had no interest in communicating with me. She hasn’t married.
I feel a little sad. After all, I’ve hung onto these plates for so long. I could have eBay’ed them long ago, and probably should have when they were still worth something. We had dated for five tumultuous, sometimes beautiful, sometimes poignant years. We left childhood together, and held each others hands as we knocked on the door of adulthood. I remember everything about the relationship; the wonder, the anger, the passion and final sadness. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I recognize that it’s over, and we had good times, but I guess I always thought we’d be able to laugh about it together when we were older, with our respective spouses and children. We would both have finally gotten to the point where we understood why it worked out for the best, and be thankful for the good times, and grateful for what we learned in the bad times.
But that won’t be, and I’m ready to accept that now. These plates have haunted my storage places for long enough, and I’m moving out old ghosts so my children will have more room to play.
To the new owner of these plates: they were bought out of love, and they are given in memory of that love. But now I have other loves, and they need the space. And I will give it to them.

Pygmies, Shetland Burros and the Toad’s Script

April 6th, 2011

I dreamed my family and I were driving through the middle of Oklahoma. It was hot, dusty, and in the middle of a drought. Everything had kind of a monochromatic, rusty feel to it, and you could almost feel the water leaching out of you into the air. The little town we had stopped in was a leftover from 1978. All the buildings were one-story, flat-roofed cinderblock boxes, with broken neon signs, and hand-written, misspelled posters advertising dubious claims. We stopped at a hotel. Lori went to take a shower, and since it was still daylight, I went out to see the town. Driving along the dusty stretch of highway that was the main road, There were power lines, 40 year old cars, covered in dirt and rust, and these crummy buildings. Even the highway was fairly deserted. We’d been warned about the traffic problem of the burros. The migrant population had increased, and they were using burros to transport themselves and their wares to local markets. What they didn’t mention is that the workers were pygmy-height and the burros were the size of large dogs, like Shetland ponies, only smaller. I saw one as I was driving, and it reminded me of the banthas and sand people from Star Wars.
Then I noticed the toad. It looked like a large cow-flop in the middle of the road, but then, it would gather itself up, make a leap of about a yard, come splatting down on the asphalt, catch its breath, and do it again. It was like an almost circular toad with small eyes, and a wide mouth. I drove past, slowly.
I found what looked like a shopping plaza, and stopped there to get a Coke. I opened one door, but there looked like some weird kind of Jazzercize class going on. An instructor was teaching two women how to bump and grind, and there were several other women (all fully clothed) imitating the moves throughout the place. There were chairs like an 80’s diner. Metal frames with red, sparkly vinyl, and the denizens of the town were in them, the women grinding along with the instructor, and the bearded, missing-tooth men watching intently. I backed out slowly and went to the next restaurant in the plaza. Same story. Apparently, exotic dance as a form of weight-loss exercise had just hit this town, and was being taught almost everywhere, like the karaoke fad. Only in this town, the men paid a fee to come in and watch. The only way to buy a drink in these restaurants was to pay a cover and find a seat among the silent men, watching in prurient fascination.

So I left. As I was walking back to my car, I noticed a woman removing the largest crossbow I’d ever seen from a window. The window also had several other compound bows in it ranging from 4 inches to 8 feet in size. A hand-written sign said it was an armory museum. I was interested, so I walked into the lobby. The “museum” appeared to be the inside of an abandoned K-mart. In the lobby, another sign proclaimed the admission was either $7 or 100 cigarettes. I found one cigarette on a counter and offered it up, but I didn’t have any cash on me. The people behind the counter said they would comp me in, but they couldn’t comp the four people in line behind me. I told them I would go to the car to get more money or find 99 more cigarettes.

As I got out to the car, the toad had caught up and was hopping down the highway again. No cars were in sight, so I decided to move him off the road before he got squished. I picked him up by the sides, and brought him into the shade near the car, and realized I’d never seen anything like him before. He had teeth, which gave him a bit of a loathsome, unnatural expression, as they were crooked, jagged and mismatched. He also had a prehensile tail, like a chameleon, only a little stubbier. I pulled out my camera to take pictures of him, and he kept trying to climb into my lap, almost like a dog.

Then he started to talk. I put the camera on video, as the toad told me his story.
He had a script he was trying to sell (of course!) He’d written it, and it was going to get made into a movie, as soon as he could find a producer he could trust to do it justice because most people who claimed to be producers were really low-life scumbags who had no financial backing and just liked jerking people around.
The frog demanded I look at the dusty, dog-eared collection of pages held by dull, copper brads. It was the story of the frog’s life and the abusive relationships he’d had with his girlfriend, a prostitute, who gradually came to love him after he destroyed something to show how emotionally attached he was. The climax was a scene where, after an argument, he drove his ‘69 Mustang through the wall of the flop-house motel where the lived, did a donut in the room, sweeping walls and beds aside. Then he peels out, leaving the hotel a disaster. He stops the car, runs back to the girl, pulls her out of the wreckage, and they make sweet love as a gesture of reconciliation.
At this point in the dream, my cell phone rings. It’s my family, wondering where the heck I am. My camera is still rolling, and I have no idea what to do with this frog. I tell them I’m okay and I’ll be back to the hotel soon.

And then I woke up. I feel the need to get back to this dream, to find the Toad and tell him I know a guy; I’m sure the Toad had a phone number. I get the feeling, if I ever find that stretch of dusty highway, and the weird Grinder-cize restaurants, the Toad will have moved on. I wish him luck.

The Dogs of Lucky’s Lake Swim.

March 21st, 2011

At 4:15 this morning, I found myself wide awake. My wife’s insomnia had transferred itself, and I could only peek out the window at the unnaturally large moon.
“Come out and plaaaaay,” it called to me.
“Go away. It’s early. The kids don’t get up for another three hours.”
“Yes, but Lucky’s Lake is in two.”

Fine, I thought to myself. If I’m still awake at 5:15, I’ll haul myself out of bed and drive he half hour to Lucky’s Lake swim, and jump in the lake. After all, the tags are still on my wetsuit, and I’m NOT going to be the guy at the YMCA swimming in a wetsuit there.
Sure enough, 5:15 winked at me from the alarm clock. Logic was snoring peacefully in bed, but madness had risen early and already made coffee and grabbed the paper.
With a whispered “Boo-yah”, that sounded remarkably like “Unnnnh”, I grabbed my gear, threw on some clothes, and scuttled out the door without pestering anyone.
A quick scan of Facebook showed other friends were up and about, so I called one of them, and we discussed the joy (misery) of being so early.
The trip to Lucky’s is uneventful. Expressways and toll roads lead to Interstate 4, still slumbering, and I exit at Universal Studios. With the lights out in the parking garage, it too looks like a sleeping colossus, waiting for the hordes of tourists, smelling like sunscreen and easy money.
A zig, then a zag, and I’m outside Lucky’s gate. It opens automatically, with a gravitas that belies the foolishness of the undertaking. Anyone here at this hour is going to jump in the lake, and that’s just silly.

I pull into the driveway and park under the basketball hoop. “Lucky” is Dr. Meisenheimer. He has a modest home at the edge of Lake Cane. When I say “modest” it’s like saying a Ferarri is a compact car. Lucky is kind enough to share his property with anyone willing to haul themselves to the water’s edge, strong enough to swim a kilometer, and foolish enough to do so. His home is beautiful, and I always have a sense of peace there.

As I park, I’m greeted by the first of the dogs. There are many. You know the dogs in the Disney movie, “UP”? These dogs are very much like them, only they don’t speak. That aside, they do not lack for communication ability. I know they have names, but sadly, I don’t know what they are, so their names are all made up at the moment, but you’ll get the idea.

Belvedere approaches my door, and sniffs up toward the window. He’s a spotlessly white Scottish Terrier, immaculately groomed, as though he got up even earlier than I and had a professional haberdasher mould his appearance. I, bleary eyed and yawning, feel shabby next to him. At least I can see him in the dark. As I exit the car, I realize Ninja Poodle is RIGHT THE HELL NEXT TO ME, and I jump, causing Belvedere to question my worthiness. Ninja Poodle is jet black, and a BIG poodle, maybe with a little something else mixed in. He has curly hair, cut short, like an assassin. I’ve arrived early (how did THAT happen?), and the cars are still filtering in, one by one, guided in by Belvedere. Many of them bear stickers with no words; just numbers like 13.1, 26.2, 70.3 (mine) and a 140.6. These numbers are meaningless to most of the population, but to a certain group, they mean a lot.
The original meaning of “occult” is “Hidden”, and that’s what this shadow society is. Endurance athletes are somewhat of a strange group. They ride bikes for a really, really long time. They run a loooong way. They get up to go swim across a lake before the sun rises. I am one of them, but humbles by my superiors. I’m still new to the “club”, and learning.
At some invisible signal from an unknown origin, everyone starts to move to the dock. There’s a light under the water, highlighting the fact that there are at least 20 cubic feet of this lake that do not include alligators. One of the regulars scoops some turtle food into the water.
“Chumming for gators?” I attempt to joke.
“Naw” he says. “Just trying to distract them a bit.”

My wetsuit is new. When I realized that the Ironman I’m practicing for was in November, and the water was usually around 67 in November, I bought a full suit in hopes of surviving the cold. I also bought a neoprene cap and some webbed gloves. I know I can’t use the gloves at competitions, but I figured they’d keep my fingers warmer during training. My ‘suit is an Orca S3, purchased online. Ordinarily, I’d suggest trying your suit on before you buy it. In this case, I lucked out. The suit fits like a second skin. Better, actually. I wish my skin were as sleek and toned as my wetsuit. Two other people have ‘suits on, too. The hardcore people don’t judge, but they know who they are, and they wear Speedos. The water is 73 degrees. From experience, I know this is cold enough to make me shiver uncontrollably. I zip my suit up, put on my hat, adjust my goggles, and collect my thoughts. Belvedere and Ninja Poodle are joined by Benedict, a Saint Bernard who looks like he’d rather carry a margarita glass than a barrel of brandy. I suspect Benedict has his own collection of Guy Harvey aloha shirts and listens to a lot of Jimmy Buffett.

The dogs line up at the edge of the dock, which is the signal that it’s time. The humans shuffle down the steps and wade into the water. I’m not fooled this time by the concrete alligators at the water’s edge; they got me the first time, though. The big dog woofs, and we Transform into Water Creatures.

The water is cool, but not frigid. It creeps in through the zipper on my back, and sneaks in the neck opening, but in small amounts, and the wetsuit performs exactly as it’s supposed to. They tout it as being faster than skin in the water, but I have no way of knowing, watchless and timeless as I am. I am wearing an anklet that has my wife’s phone number and my blood type, in case of emergency. Of course, it’s pitch black, I’m wearing a black wetsuit, black cap, and black gloves. And an alligator is just as likely to grab the ankle with the info on it. Oh, well. You can’t plan for everything.
These are the thoughts running through my mind as I swim toward the distant lights of someone’s boat dock. Something brushes my leg, and I stop for a moment, panicked, to discover it’s another swimmer. A whole big lake, and two people bump into each other. The leaders have moved out of hearing range, and the only sounds I hear are my own arrhythmic splashings. I swim as gracefully as an eel waltzes. This morning, my groove is off. I chalk it up to the gloves (which are new), my tiredness (I swam a mile yesterday), and the moon, which is RIGHT THERE IN THE SKY!!! The stars are pretty, and I feel graceless and clumsy. I get tired in the middle of the lake, and backstroke to regroup. The stars are out, and dawn is only a promise of faith with no evidence.
I reach the doldrums, that part of the lake where nothing ever looks closer, and the side you left never looks farther. I wonder why I decided to do this, why I decided to do any of this, I can’t come up with a compelling reason.
Then the Devil swims up next to me. He’s old company at this point, and I was surprised I didn’t see him at the dock. He reminds me that I can’t touch the bottom, and suggests that I’ll drown. I tell him I can’t even SEE the bottom, and the alligators will eat me before I can drown. He swims off in a huff.
At this point, I realize that my goggles have been fogged up for quite some time, and I’m a lot closer than I think. My toes touch soft sand, and I’m standing in the shallows on the other side of the lake.
A few words of encouragement pass with another swimmer, and she strokes off for the point of origin. Leaving me to figure out if I can make it.
I decide to go for it, figuring I swam a mile yesterday, I can swim a kilometer today. The doldrums arrive sooner than anticipated. I came up with the idea to be methodical. I figured the doldrums were a finite distance, and if I could swim through that distance, I’d be noticeably closer to the endpoint. I count strokes. I lose count. I start over. I take a break. The stars are pretty, and false dawn is beginning to light up the Eastern sky. At about twice the distance I anticipated, the doldrums end, and I realize I’ve been swimming toward the wrong lights a minor course correction, and I slog through the shallows to dock, where the dogs are waiting with an expression that says, “What took you so long?”

The wetsuit clings with all the effort of a codependent octopus, I remove it, and set out to reap the rewards; a patch, a sticker, and the right to sign the Wall. I’ve swum Lucky’s before, but never claimed the prizes. I sign the ceiling, a long arm’s reach from the other signatures. I find a friend’s autograph, and smile, thinking about the small but feral community that lurks behind tired eyes and road-rashed bodies.

Belvedere greets me as I exit the pool cage. Benedict is sitting in a patch of dirt that looks freshly dug, and seems quite content. Ninja Poodle is nowhere to be found, so I suspect he’s right behind me RIGHT NOW!
The swimmers disperse like they’ve never even been here. “I come like water, and like wind I go,” says the line from the Rubaiyat, and it applies here. The magi of endurance set about their days and feats of amazement, leaving Belvedere to tidy up before sunrise and await tomorrow, when it will all happen again.

Except tomorrow, I will be sleeping.

I go both ways. Road, and Trail

March 11th, 2011

Today, I remembered why I bought a bike. For the past few years, I’ve been mostly a road-toad. Off-road cycling isn’t as easy with a family, and there’s no way to pull a trailer on single-track, over roots and such. IT just won’t work. Today, I felt the calling. It was a cold morning, for March. The temp was about 49 degrees when I dropped Rowan off at school. From the garage, there came a heavy sigh. It was Christine, my mountain bike. Lately, she’s been pulling workhorse duty, hauling the 100 lb trailer full of kids to the smoothie store on the weekends, grumbling under the load, complaining about the pavement on her tootsies.
The breeze was blowing, with nary a cloud in the sky; cool enough for long sleeves, but not so cold it burned the lungs. Yep. Today was the day.
I hitch Christine to the back of my SUV. I could feel her quivering like a puppy with excitement Dirt, she whispered, either a prayer or a wish. I wasn’t sure, but I knew I wasn’t going to disappoint her today.
I said goodbye to the family, and headed to Snowhill road, a really nice trailhead I used to ride about a dozen years ago. I love the variation of terrain. It starts off in a sand-covered palmetto strand, rolls gently downhill into a pine-straw wonderland, then a shady, leafy forest, before dropping a rider into a mud flat alongside the Little Econlockhatchee River.
In the past, my buddies and I would ride down to the river, have a swim and a snack, then ride back to the cars, getting lost and filthy along the way. Today, I was riding solo, and brought along my headphones for a change.

I paid the daily use fee (when did THAT happen?), and started off on a brisk pace. It’s been a long time, and I was a little afraid the skills would have left me. Riding on the rtoad is pretty easy. As long as you don’t hit anything, you’ll be okay. Riding the trail is a whole different ball game. The trail is trying to kill you. The trees need your blood for nourishment, and the predators will drag your carcass into the bushes so they can eat you in peace. The turkey vultures are always circling overhead, and I live in slight irrational fear of having a paralyzing accident and watching in horror as they land near me and consume the juicy parts first.
But these fea=rs are driven away by the immediacy of concentration. If you let your mind wander, your body will go into the bushes, so there’s no thought, there is only the trail.
The trail doesn’t really want to hurt you; the trail tests you, to see if you’re worthy. If you are, you will be granted skills to survive, and complete the sacred journey. The skills are paid for in sweat, and sometimes blood. Palmetto fronts have saw edges to them, and when you ride through, they like to nibble. You learn to use your helmet to nudge away the overhanging flora. You learn to steer with your brakes. When you come around the corner, you have no idea what you’ll find, but it’s too late, so get over it and keep looking ahead.
You keep your gaze about 20 feet in front of you. If you keep your eyes on your front wheel, you’ll eat it. Your body remembers what your eyes see, and will automatically guide the bike over the stutter bumps, and around the cypress knees. You absorb the shocks with your knees, and shift your balance too frequently to stay in the seat. If you bring a water bottle, it WILL wind up in your spokes.
The sand slides out from underneath the rear wheel, dropping the bike over on its side, and I eject like a pro, landing on all fours, grinning like a Cheshire cat. I’ve done this before. Christine is purring, and we launch down a straightaway, carpeted in pine needles. The air smells like lavender, a goddess’s perfume, and the fickle mistress tries to scrape me off Christine with low-hanging branches. The saddle pokes me in the chest as I almost wheelie to my doom, but we’ve moved on. Bar ends are no longer for hand-positions, but they’re armor against the trees that jump out and try to

Did I just run over a snake, or was that a root? I’m not stopping to check. We’re into the swamp, and the trail goes up and down like a roller coaster. Into the creek? No problem. Climbing up cypress roots with mud-covered wheels? Ain’t gonna happen. The brakes scrape, and Christine is unhappy with the mud that covers her. Time to get some more wind over us both and let it dry.
We climb up to the bank of the river. On the other side of the river, an 11-foot alligator is sunning itself near the water’s edge. I re-evaluate my plan to take a dip, and focus on not falling into the river. I’m thinking that with a gator that big, there’ won’t be any others nearby, but this close to the water, they could be anywhere, and I don’t relish the idea of encountering one on the trail.
It’s time to find my way back to the car. Only one problem; I’m lost. I’m not THAT lost, but I can’t figure out which trail leads back to the parking lot. The fire roads are two feet deep in loose sand, and walking is a challenge. Riding isn’t even an option. But then there’s another trail, and Christine wants to try it. Sure enough, it goes through a familiar creek, and we chug along the fire road until the parking area comes into view. My hear rate has averaged in the 160s for an hour. My speed is a third of what I’m used to on the road, and I have dirt in my mouth, but Christine is purring, and she hasn’t bitten me. I feel alive, and thrilled that the skills haven’t abandoned me.

If you see someone with a zigzag scar on the inside of their right calf, be understanding. They’re cyclists, but there are many cycles, all rotating together.
I may play a road toad most weekends, but I’ve got mud in my chainrings, and it won’t come out.

Don't wipe out at Snowhill. 11 footer.

Don't wipe out at Snowhill. 11 footer.

Warrior Dash 2011

February 1st, 2011

That was fun! Here’s the chronicle of Warrior Dash, as told by James:

The krewe showed up at 7:30, and we started loading gear and garb into Homer the Minivan. Lisa and Joe elected to ride separately. This was a good idea because the way Lori laughed there and back, I think someone would have gotten a drink snorted on them. The cockpit crew consisted of Jill, Lori, Matt, Pat and myself. We set out to the sounds of screaming and dismay due to the utter lack of visibility through the windscreen. Fortunately, enough caffeine, beef jerky and Twizzlers heated it up and we could see again.
WE drove to the middle of nowhere, and then turned off the paved road. We got briefly lost in Bumf*ck before we left those bright lights and aimed for the sticks. It’s so out there, cows won’t pee here.
On this day, there was a line of cars to get in, and a $10 parking fee that wasn’t mentioned in any literature. Sigh.
We parked, and limbered up. We had our gorgeous T-shirts, and trumpeted our arrival on the battle-horn. A 1/2 mile hike to registration earned us our ticket numbers and a raging desire to offload at the port-o-lets. Matt had to go so bad, he didn’t even save any for the mud-pit! Pat’s sister, Kathy came out to cheer us on, and it was chaos as we headed for the corral, said goodbye to loved ones, tightened out bootstraps, offered brief prayers to strange gods, and prepared our souls for what would follow.
With a giant fireball, the event began and crowd surged forward like the grand opening of the first Krispy Kreme in Sudan. The noise of booted feet on squishy ground was the accompaniment as we jogged out the gate, passed from view of the crowd and immediately dropped into a more leisurely pace.
We opted to let the crowd pass by, and took a stroll, saving our energy for what we knew to be coming. The first obstacle was a mud pit. Charming and piquant, like a ten-dollar hooker, it cradled our backsides, got us excited, and ultimately left us unfulfilled. With stained pants and wet shoes, we slogged on to the next obstacle. Hay hay hay! We clambered over the bales and fell in between bales and loose hay. Matt made some friends from the Redneck Reviewing stand, who were kind enough to offer a golden liquid offering. Not like that! They tossed us a brew, which some of us gratefully downed in observance of the festivities. Pat was a saint, and refused to be swayed from his dogged determination to finish this damn thing so we would quit bugging him.
There were obstacles! Tires to job through, cars to climb over. Some stand out in particular: The over the wall, under the fence, repeat four times. The little shaky bridge. The crawl-through-the-tent-on-your-hands-and-dear-God-what-is-this-goop-I’m-on-my-face-in? was fun…and gross. I haven’t been that hot, dark, wet and dirty since my Disney days! The Cargo nets. I don’t know if he noticed or not because he was concentrating so intensely, but Pat got applause when he made it to the top of the cargo net. Yeah, we made it over, too, but Pat did it carrying a lot more than anyone else on the whole course, and should have gotten TWO medals!
Toward the end came the fun ones: Run through the mud while an airboat blows hurricane-force winds at you. Crawl on your belly under the barb-wire. Jump over the fire!
And then we did it! Our team members and loved ones were there to see us slog over the finish line and accept our medals.
Then came the cold shower. No, really, they had showers, but no hot water. It was cold. That was it.
Well, almost, a mud pit provided too much temptation, and Matt, Jill and I ended up muddy again. We cleaned up, and changed clothes, then went back to the party for our beer and some turkey legs. Good legs; the beer was Bud. Eh.
Overall, it was a VERY fun event. For $40, you got a fuzzy hat, a t-shirt, a beer and a whole lot of fun! Probably one of the best values on the adventure circuit. Would I do it again? Heck yeah! Right now! We’re going nuts waiting for Muddy Buddy and Tough Mudder. I wouldn’t want to do it without my excellent teammates and the support of our loved ones.
The ride home proved to be uneventful, except for the live seagulls that kept erupting from the back of the van, as Lori and Jill pealed mirthful over a picture of my derriere (which has now made the rounds like a cheap case of scabies).
Some Bubbalou’s Bodacious Barbecue soothed ravenous Warrior bellies, and it was off to the home to sleep the sleep of the righteous and victorious, snoring mightily and dreaming of future glorious endeavors.
Until then, stay thirsty, my friends.

Pyrates of the Carabiner Warrior Dash 2011

Pyrates of the Carabiner Warrior Dash 2011

I don’t always attend races, but when I do, it’s with the Pyrates of the Carabiner.

The Great Squirrel Rodeo

October 11th, 2010

Oddly enough, in retrospect, I read an article recently about how to get a wild animal out of your house. In case of bird, raccoon, fox, etc… Isolate the animal in one room, closing off doors to other rooms. Open a window, and wait until it leaves. This, alas, would not have saved me.

Saturday, I woke Lori from a nap. “I need your help,” I told her “There’s something in the fireplace.” Earlier, I heard a commotion in the area of the flue. Usually, you’ll hear birds clambering around the chimney, and the sound carries very clearly down the flue in to the living room. This time, there was a LOT of scurrying, and debris raining down, like a small anima was trapped just above the damper, and trying to climb back out.
Lori didn’t believe me. She gamefully climbed out of bed, came downstairs and examined my handiwork. I’d created a corral from the fireplace to the back door, worthy of the bulls of Pamplona. She nodded approval, and reminded me that the birds often sound like they’re in the chimney, when, in fact, they’re not.

So, of course, no animal was to be found. I get the “You woke me for THIS?” stare, a kiss that says either “It’s a good thing you’re cute” or “It’s a good thing you’re handy when the toilet breaks”, and she snuck back to bed, leaving me with my leather gloves on and no excitement.

Next day, Grimmy, the Cat, is disturbing naptime by actually chasing something. Movement is a rarity for this beast, and downright Activity is usually cause for investigation. I put it on my to-do list, and fell back asleep with the rest of my brood. After nap-time, Lori was bathing the kids, and I came downstairs. Grimmy was sitting at the top of the stairs with a grin that said, “I’ve got a surprise for you!”

Then the curtains moved. A tiny, furry head poked itself up over the back of one of the chairs, I swear he flipped me the bird, then the squirrel ducked down again behind the curtains. I looked to Grimmy for an answer. He just shrugged, as if to say, “What, I thought you wanted it in here.” I called to Lori to come and verify that I was not hallucinating, and she, too confirmed the squirrel.

The Squirrel, belonging to the family, Sciuridae.is related to chipmunk, woodchucks, marmots, flying squirrels, and I swear, Sabre-F-ing tooth tigers. They live throughout the Americas, and Lori used to think they were cute, because there are no squirrels in Hawaii (They have mongooses, there). They were first noted in 1327. I’m sure there were squirrels before then, but I think Noah left them off the Ark, deliberately. The Squirrels never forgot this.
This squirrel was a healthy-looking brown specimen (There are Black Squirrels in St. Cloud, check ‘em out!). He was hidden in the 20 cubic foot junk pile next to and behind the chair in our living room. I cornered him, rebuilt my corral, and started removing boxes and bags of craft supplies, trying to get him located and vacated. I found him, wedged in a two-inch space between a bookcase and the wall. Secure in my knowledge of superior intellect, strength, and the thick, leather gloves I was wearing, I called the family out for the show.
“Hey kids, come sit on the stairs and watch the Squirrel Rodeo!”

The rules for Squirrel Rodeo are simple. Catch the critter and hang onto him for eight seconds and you’re good. Let him go inside the house and it calls for a do-over. Release him outside, uninjured, for maximum points.

I got a stick (What would Jeff Corwin use?), and started probing at the fuzzy mass trapped in the corner. The squirrel offered a taunt/ insult in squirrelish. I got the tongs, and found his tail, the soul of the Beaste, and slowly got the tip of it between a leather-clad thumb and finger. Gently, I prized him from his hidey-hole, until I had his little squirrel legs in one hand, then his squirrely belly, then I got his shoulders.

Now, contrary to the following narrative, I ain’t dumb. I KNEW he would bite me. That’s what the gloves were for! I figured he’d squirm, hiss, spit, and nibble the glove. I’d hold him aloft, the family would cheer the mighty hunter, and I’d release him outside to go pelt acorns at me when I leave for work in the morning. Thus, I was a bit surprised when the schema did not unfold along these lines.

Squirrels consist mainly on plants, and nuts. They develop large incisors that grow throughout their life. As you can imagine, if you ate nothing but nuts, your jaw muscles would grow quite strong.

This squirrel went for the gold. He bit through the glove and into the fleshy part of my left index finger, right in the middle section. I just had enough time to exclaim, “Ouch! HE BIT ME” before the varmint got his bearings, and bit through the glove, and through my finger.

Panic set in. This was NOT part of the plan! With the whole family watching (oh, NOW they were paying attention!) I ran outside, muttering curses in four languages, and set the little demon-spawn in the grass, with a whisper of oh-please-let-go-oh-please-let-go-now.

He withdrew his razor fangs, and flicking his tail at me in derision, ran to the fence, where I think he laughed himself into a coma. I didn’t care. It was OFF me, and I had wounds to attend to.

He looked something like this, but bigger

He looked something like this, but bigger

It was pouring blood. My first thought was that he’d bitten an artery, followed by a questioning of arterial anatomy, and then a curse at my lack of knowledge about the anatomy of my hand. Then shock set in and I got all woozy and had to sit down. Lori kindly closed the back door so the vicious beast couldn’t get back in a steal my wallet and email passwords.
She ransacked the medicine cabinet and came back with a bottle of something that looked healing. We poured it over the wound, only to realize later it was witch hazel. Oh well, couldn’t hurt, right?
The next several hours were spent driving around trying to find a Centra-care or Urgent Care facility open after 6 pm on a Sunday. Fat chance. One place closed, as we pulled into their parking lot. The bleeding stopped, we had applied hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol and anti-biotic ointment. It was a classic cluster. We went home and applied 30 ccs of cane-based alcohol, to be taken orally as needed. Once again, Captain Morgan proves to be a valuable member of my crew.

Do squirrels carry rabies? Eh, not likely, according to the Nurse Hotline (NOTE: if you accidently find the Hot Nurseline, they will NOT dispense medical advice, and it’s more expensive). Squirrel bites are not even accorded the dignity of Wild Animal bites, but are under the category: Livestock Bites (sheep, cows, goats, rabbits).
The Seminole County Health Dept. says there are no squirrel-related outbreaks in the area.
According to my doctor, there is a slight risk of Lyme disease, and infection from the wound, but we’re going to take our chances, treat the wound, and I will never go outside again.

The little devils are everywhere. In the meantime, I must go. Fall is upon us, and I must bury pop-tarts in the yard for the approaching winter.

Moving Forward

August 12th, 2010

Moving forward,

Okay, I’m starting to move again. Enough of the pain has gone away, I’ve signed up for a ½ marathon and am eyeballing a little triathlon in a month or so. I bought some Vibram’s Five-Fingers shoes. They have toes! They look really funny, but they’re incredibly comfortable. I started trying to do the Barefoot-style of running. Instead of landing on the heel and rolling to the toe, you bounce off the balls of your feet. I have VERY flat feet, so this seems like it might be less impact on my knees and joints than traditional styles.
I also bought a heart rate monitor, the Garmin Forerunner 305. I got mine for about $150 at Best Buy. It is VERY easy to operate and provides great data about heart rate, distance travelled, speed, etc… In my other life, I teach Statistics, so having data to analyze is very interesting to me.
I met a buddy to go jogging at about 6am last weekend. Ugh! The sunrise is kinda scary on the other side. It’s dark and muggy. Once out on the trail around Lake Baldwin, it was really kind of nice. I brought a water bottle of a Sustained Energy drink. Works well! I was actually able to jog for a little while in the new shoes. My heart rate stayed between 120 and 175. I’m hoping to et the rates figured out and determine what I can realistically sustain. I did a little over 4 miles in a little over an hour, so my speed is good.
Boy, was I sore! The new shoes work different muscle groups, and REALLY give the calves a workout! The heart rate monitor was super-simple to set up and use, and gave great feedback in useful outputs. The soreness went away with some deep-tissue massage and a healthy dose of rum.
The main point is: Look out! I’m back! And there is NO WAY I can do anything but improve!

Along the Bamboo Bike track: I’ve purchased a Truvative adapter from Harris Cyclery. Sheldon Brown offers a LOT of valuable advice and strange parts for antique bikes through this company. This adapter lets you put a European Bottom Bracket in an Ashtabula-style frame. I got a crank from Nashbar, but the bottom bracket is on back order. I also got a new handle bar and some aero bars that are lighter than the boat anchor I’m running now.
The Bamboozle’s biggest issues right now are the clunking in the bottom bracket and the weight. If I can fix these, there’s no telling how awesome it could be! Well, okay, I’ll be telling people how awesome it is, if awesomeness can be quantified. What unit would it be in? Rads? Nerd joke!

FL Half Ironman or How to Finish Last and Win

May 18th, 2010

The story of this race does not begin on Race Day. It begins more than a year earlier, after the Disney Marathon. I look around and thought, Well, I survived that. What’s next? Then I heard about the Half Ironman. I figured that since I had done most of the distances (except the swim), it should be pretty easy. Haha! Folly is rewarded with PAIN!
The race is not cheap, Fortunately, Vitamin Water stepped in with some extremely generous sponsorship, and support. Thank you Sharlie, for making this a possibility! Your contribution played a bigger part than you know in the final hours of the run portion!
Then there was the bike. I didn’t own a road bike. Funds were tight, so I built one out of bamboo and carbon fiber. I found other people online who had done it and followed their excellent and well-documented examples on Instructables.com and other places. Huge thank-you to Brano Meres and the others who were generous with their experiences and thoughts. Thanks to Ben Willard for helping me figure out how to use Carbon Fiber, and To the Orlando Bicycle Community, specifically: “Rob” from Craigslist, Kyle of Kyle’s Bike Shop, and the team at Orange Cycle. All provided great advice, parts, service and were willing to answer questions from an amateur bike maker.
The Bamboozle was built! If you go to www.jamesjessup.com and click on the blog section, the saga of it’s birth is documented there. There are other bamboo bikes, prettier bamboo bikes and faster bamboo bikes, but not in my garage!
There was training! We swam! In a 25-yard pool, it takes 42 laps to go the full 1.2 miles. I worked up to it and did it… with many breaks and stopping to stand in the shallows, look at the clock, go Geez, I don’t know if I can do this! The usual bugaboo. I swam in Lucky’s lake. I made the 1K crossing in about ½ an hour, and figured I could do it again if I had to. The water was warm and clear, and I didn’t panic too much as the opposite shore kept sneaking away, elusively.
We biked! We rode most of the major trails in Orlando. We preferred the Cross-Seminole to Cady Way trail, from Oviedo to Baldwin Park. Take a break, grab a smoothie, sit for an hour, and head back. It’s a fun way to log 20 miles, especially towing a 90-lbs trailer with two kids in it. The Seminole-Wekieva trail is beautiful, with gentle hills and lots of shade. If you catch another leg of the Cross Seminole trail in Oviedo, you can go about 30 miles on it. The West Orange trails goes from the slums of Apopka to the hills of Winter Garden, and is a great way to get a good 40-mile ride. Lori, Lisa, Joe, Matt, Vince, and Leslie were frequent riders, and I appreciate their company.
We ran! Oh, wait… no… no we didn’t run. The last time I RAN, a bear was chasing me in the woods in the middle of the night. No lie! I don’t run well. I don’t run fast. I walk fast…enough… I thought…
I felt ready! Race Week arrived, I was fit, strong and mentally prepared… to have a panic attack the day of the event. I was also ready to push though it and keep moving. Then, the Friday before the Sunday Race, I woke up sick. Sore throat, coughing, headache, watery eyes. Merde! Racing was going to be hard enough. How do you swim a mile when your lungs are full of snot? I vowed to find out. Cold Meds: Check! Check them against the Banned Substance List so I don’t get DQ’d for taking Sudafed: Check!
Saturday, we went to check in. Lori and I got our bags, checked our swag. The Bamboozle proudly hung on the rack with the other racers’ bikes. It gathered a LOT of attention! People took pictures of it. I’m wondering if that’s because it was cool, or if it’s because they wondered who would be foolish enough to try to ride a homemade bike in this event. In any case, the Vitamin Water sticker affixed to the frame got lot of exposure, and it felt nice to have something I had worked so long on be appreciated by fellow competitors, in addition to all the great feedback I’d gotten from my friends.
Lori and I dropped the kids off with my Mom, and went out for a pre-race dinner of sushi. I still wasn’t feeling well, so instead of carb-loading, I ate 4 pieces of fishie and some rice, and called it a night. I think we were in bed by 8 PM. Ever try to fall asleep quickly when you know you’ve got a big event the next day? Doesn’t work so great! I kept going through the race in my head; what each section was going to look like, where the turns were, how I was going to feel. It worked. The alarm went off at 3:30 AM, and we were out the door.
We arrived at Disney about 5:00ish, boarded the shuttle bus from Parking to the event, and then we were there! So was everyone else! In the dark, people were going about their business with a purposeful look. We checked our gear, prepared the transition area, and marked our numbers on our bodies. In addition to the body-marking, Lori and I both wore a necklace with our vital info, an anklet with the same info, and a timing chip to record our times. waiting
In the pre-dawn, we wandered around, and the tension mounted to palpable levels. Usually, this is the point where I purge myself of anything I’ve eaten, but I’d eaten so little the day before, it didn’t happen. Or, I was better prepared. Or Lori’s nervousness trumped mine. In any case, I was ready. As dawn broke, a blast of the cannon announced that the first swimmers were in the water, they churned through the lightening water, following a line of buoys that seemed to stretch out of sight. They would be out of the water within half an hour- before I would even enter the water. swimstart
At 7:09, it was my turn. Surrounded by a group of men approximately my own age, we ran into the water, and took off swimming, before realizing that it was faster to just slog through the shallows for the first 10 yards or so. Then we began to swim. It was a nice swim. I kept thinking I was going to be more tired, but I’d swim, then backstroke to catch up. Then a wave would go over my face, and I’d choke and sputter, and flip over again. At this point, I’d realize I was off-course, and swim determinedly in the right direction. I tried to stay away from the pack for the most part, to avoid getting kicked, and this plan worked. I think I kicked more people trying to pass me than I got kicked. I was passed a lot. I’m okay with this. My goal for the swim was to exit the water before time was called, and I actually surpassed this, leaving the water about 1 hour after entering. I did not rest, although it was offered by friendly kayakers with floaty-things.
Ted and Cheryl met me as I slogged out of the water. It was nice to see some friendly faces as I jogged to the transition area. The weather was perfect. Not too cool, not too hot…yet.
Lori was waiting at the Transition with words of encouragement and a look that said, “I still think you’re crazy.” I washed my feet off, dried them carefully, and put my socks and bike shoes on. I prepped some bottles with Hammer Sustained Energy (which tastes like drinking bread, but keeps me going), and then trotted off through the transition area to the mounting point. T1
The bike portion started off beautifully, though tree-lined paths and streets of Fort Wilderness. Roads got bigger and bigger until we were riding along a blocked-off section of the super-highways that connect Disney to the World. There were a few turn-arounds, and then we headed out to Hwy-192. The course was well-marked and police were on hand directing traffic. I can’t think of how it could have been better managed. Around mile 30, my back started to hurt for some reason. I still can’t figure out why. My body started to realize that most of my training rides had been about 20 miles, and I was beyond this distance. At mile 40, my left shoe started to squeak, and the bottom bracket of Bamboozle developed a clunk. Squeak, Clunk, Squeak, Clunk, for 16 more miles! Left knee started to hurt, too, and I started to fall behind my schedule.
Then the Devil appeared.
“You know you’re not going to make it,” he whispered. I don’t know how he had enough breath to talk so easily. He’d been biking for more than 40 miles, too, and looked like he had enough energy to go all day. At this point, I’d been biking for over 3 hours and was starting to tire. You don’t look so good, he said. You’re not eating enough. He was right. I had loaded my bike with about 4000 calories and only taken in about 500. I should have been filling up, but my stomach just did not want any. Additionally, the wind gave me a nasty runny nose, which I had inadvertently blown… all over the mouthpiece of my Camelbak.
“If you’re too sick to finish, maybe you should just drop out now and save yourself the hassle. You’re already exhausted, and you’ve still got half a marathon to run…IF you make it back to the transition area. Oh, and I noticed you forgot your bike pump, so if you do get a flat tire, you’re S.O.L. It’s been nice riding with you, but I’m going to finish this, so I’d better pedal a little faster. See you at the loser tent! ” And then he pedaled off into the distance. I could hear him laughing until he was well out of sight.
I’ve seen him before on rides like this. His gear is impeccable, and he rides effortlessly. But I’ve never seen him at the end of the race, only on the tough stretches. I decide to keep going. I really wanted to stop at a rest stop and stretch my back out, but I didn’t. I have this fear that if I stop, I won’t start again. Momentum is more valuable than comfort. I think this is one of the more important lessons of this event. A few minutes later, I start thinking of good comebacks for the Devil, and vow to taunt him, if he shows up again. He doesn’t but the headwinds are more than enough to keep me occupied. I saw a snake… and some buzzards. I didn’t like the way they looked at me. “You bag of guts, you’d better keep moving, because if you stop, you are just so much meat, and we don’t care if you have an MBA. Your eyes will taste just as juicy.”
So things get a little hazy at the ragged edge of endurance. I don’t know what goes through other peoples’ minds, or how they deal with the madness that creeps in. I like to imagine that the Elite are just focused on nothing but winning. I wonder if that’s just a fiction, though. I forget the distance of the bike ride, and thought it was only 54.6 miles. It was 56. I almost cried for the last two miles, but I didn’t have the energy.
And eventually, painfully, the bike ride was over. I walked my bike into the transition area, and my loving wife was there. Just seeing her really added a lot to a failing system. I put on two knee braces, my Injinji toe socks and my running shoes, grabbed a water bottle and trotted off with a confidence I faked.
The crowds of well-wishes fall off after a quarter mile, as well as my ability to trot. I settled into a brisk walking pace behind a man old enough to be my grandfather. My own grandfather was smarter than to spend his remaining heartbeats in the agony everyone felt. I’ve seen pictures of the Bataan Death March that looked about like we felt. The trail had three U-turns that felt never-ending, a few aid stations that provided life-sustaining fluids, and above all, ICE! Thank the gods for cold water. I don’t think I could have endured without cold fluids to keep my body temperature down. The trail led off the roads into the fire roads along the canals of Disney’s wilderness. They are hot, humid, dusty and endless. Did I mention we had to go three laps? The Run portion is half a Marathon, 13.1 miles. Each lap is about 4.3 miles, so it’s tough to do that calculation. It’s really tough to do math in the heat and exhausted. And everyone was exhausted. Exhaustion Management is the key to success, scratch that, SURVIVAL in this event. At about mile 3, I started getting stomach cramps. I’d heard that this happens after the bike, as your body tries to absorb the food on the run. Then, on a 2 mile stretch of nothing but heat and humidity, the Devil caught up with me again.
He was jogging, I was barely walking. “Cramps, huh?” I shook my head, dully. “That’s too bad. At this rate, you’ll never make the three o’clock cut-off for the last lap. You know about that, right? If you don’t start your third lap by three, you’re not allowed to finish. You need to walk 4 miles an hour, but you’re barely able to maintain 2. What are you going to do?” I didn’t have a good answer. He was right. That’s what I hate most about him. But I knew something that he didn’t. I am the James. And I know what that means. In this case, it meant that I was not going to quit while I could still keep forward momentum. If I fell, and someone had to carry me off the course, so be it, but while under my own power, I was going to continue toward the finish line.
What could I say to the people who put their faith in me? To Lori, who stayed there all day in the hot sun; How could I tell her I started to hurt and dropped out? To Vitamin Water, who had enough faith to sponsor me; How am I going to tell them I wasn’t comfortable so I bailed. That’s not the way I want people to think of me. If I fail, it will be beyond my control. While I have any say in the matter, I’m going to keep going.
I looked over at the Devil, “Dude.” Yeah, I called the Devil, Dude. “This is the freakin’ Ironman (well, half). Do you think that I thought it would be easy? I knew there would be pain. I was READY for there to be pain. And now the pain is here. This was all part of the plan, just like your arrival. Everyone hits their own wall, and you showed up right on schedule. You are completely predictable, and I was ready for you. So find some sucker who thought this would be easy, because you’re talking to a lost cause” But I was talking to myself, because he was already gone.

I did a lot of talking to myself. After lap one, I realized that I was NOT in fact going to make the cut-off time if I kept going so slow, so I had to find a way to get rid of the cramps. I visited the port-o-let, and that seemed to help. This would be the only time throughout the day I wasn’t moving forward. The cramps backed down, and I realized I also hadn’t consumed as many calories as I thought I would, so I grabbed a couple gels from an Aid station, and started refueling. This worked, and I jogged through the gates to the magical third lap just ahead of the cut-off. No, seriously. I was the LAST ONE THROUGH.
Previous laps, there were lots of people moving forward, passing me, talking and keeping up. “We’re almost there!” they’d say.
“Not me!” I’d cheerfully reply. “I’ve still got more laps to go.”
“Oh,” they’d awkwardly respond, but by then they had moved on.
At this point, I couldn’t see anyone coming up behind me. There were only six people within the mile ahead of me that I could see. As I kept walking at my fast-walk pace, a golf cart crept up behind me. A voice said into a radio, “Athlete number 1785 is the last one.”
The Last One. I’ve been there before. At a previous adventure race, my team came in absolutely last, and officially didn’t finish because we forgot to punch a card at a checkpoint. I was okay with that. We finished. At this point, there was nothing that could stop me. Every race has someone who comes in last. I was that person, and therefore, I HAD TO finish. It was a natural fact. My father used to say, “You know what they call the person who graduates last in his class at Johns Hopkins? Doctor.”
I caught up with the two people in front of me at the Aid station. The volunteers there knew they were near the end and were having a fire sale trying to unload 40 lbs of bananas and about 30 gallons of water on us. We marched off together, happy in our knowledge that we had secured significant positions in the race.
We kept up a decent pace. We probably could have gone a little faster, but I’ll confess, it was like a weight had been lifted off our shoulders, and we frankly forgot about the rules that the race officially ended eight hours and thirty minutes after the last wave hit the water. As we got to the last Aid station at Mile 12, we were in high spirits, until an official told us we might not be allowed to finish. This caused a minor panic, and we set off hobbling at an advanced pace. It’s not that we were lollygagging, we just knew we’d want to jog in for the finish, and frankly, had to save up the energy for that.
Two Medical techs on bikes kept pace with us the last mile. They commented that one guy had been pulled off the course with a fever of 107.5. Ouch. That can kill. A final reminder that not everyone who tries and is in phenomenal shape finishes. We pulled into the final stretch and broke into a light jog.
It was the scene from Memphis Belle, where most everyone has gone home, and given up, except for a few people emotionally invested, vowing to wait to the end, and beyond . The crews were cleaning up and tearing down, and the announcer goes over the air to say that the final three runners are coming in. And we crossed the finish line, not to adoring crowds, but to the dozen or so people that were around and not at the awards ceremony that was going on by that time. We jogged over the line, and bowed our heads to receive finisher’s medals. We had won our races, not against our competitors, but against ourselves. finish
Lori was there to see me finish. She’s been with me through the dead of night, mosquitoes like vampire clouds, sweltering heat and frigid colds. I can’t wait to be given the opportunity to cheer her the way she’s been there for me. Thank you, Lori. I love you more than I can express.
A few people wanted pictures of the Bamboozle, so we obliged, and dragged our gear and selves back to the bus to the parking lot. It seemed like a loooooong time since we’d driven in. So long, in fact, they dropped us off in a different parking lot, and we thought we’d lost the car for a few minutes.
At home, I was dirty, incredibly sore, and spectacularly sunburned. Oops. I even put on sunscreen! Oh, well. Small price to pay. It took a while to sink in that it was done, and I’d finished it. More than a year went into the planning for this day, and now the execution was complete, and as planned, more or less.
Lori reports that there were many people who didn’t start the bike ride, and even more who didn’t start the run. I know of several who didn’t make the three-o’clock cut-off for the third lap. I feel fortunate that I was able to finish. I am humbled by the many athletes of all ages, sizes, and shapes who finished ahead of me. There was one man who had no arms. He was so far head, I only saw him once on the run. The man with no legs likewise dusted me, as did a very nice 64-year old woman who shared the trail with me briefly. There are many people out there who make commitments and see them through, beyond the pain, beyond the doubts, to victory over self.
This would not have been possible without you. I didn’t have enough strength or endurance on my own to complete this. Without the resources I tapped into, the creativity, the skill, the knowledge, support and encouragement, I would have failed. I was thinking of you out there, and it helped me keep going.
Special thanks to Vitamin Water, who provided generous funding and support. Thank you, Sharlie for making this a possibility. Our jerseys looked great out there, and lots of people got a kick out of the XXX label on the Bamboo Bike. Ben Willard, thanks for the Carbon Fiber and the knowledge of how to use it. The bike worked great, and nothing fell off! Kyle of Kyle’s bike shop was great about finding hard-to-find parts for custom bike. Nowhere else in town has a claw adapter for a rear derailleur hanger, but Kyle has one. Orange Cycle was great with the tips for nutrition and had some great sales on apparel. Track shack was helpful in finding me some orthopedic insoles so my flat feet didn’t ruin my hip joints on the long run.
Thank you Mom, for watching the kids. Thank you Rowan and Morgan, for keeping an eye on Gramama. Thank you Dad and Cheryl for getting up crazy early to watch a fool hurl himself into a lake, and then drag himself out again an hour later. Thanks Jaime and Lisa for your care and for keeping Lori busy with updates. Thanks Joe, Matt, Vince/Pat/Pal, and Leslie, for all the fun training rides and the liquid Carb loading. It worked! Thanks to my Full Sail buddies; Cassi, Laresa, Jim, Bekka, Charles, and the many others whose ears I bent about this. Thank you Robin, for the warm wishes and thinking to wish me well. It was deeply appreciated. Thank you to Pat, my mother-in-law, who supported us in this endeavor. You weren’t here to see it happen, but we brought you with us in our hearts. Thanks go to YOU the person reading this! Thinking of the tale I’d have to tell made me hike a little harder. Studies show that positive thoughts can improve healing, even when the person being focused on isn’t aware of it. I could feel the love, mixed in with a lot of , “Dude, you’re nuts!” Yeah, but it keeps me out of trouble.
Finally, my thanks go to my wife, Lori, who set out on this journey with me, and saw it all the way through to its conclusion. Your faith in me never wavered, even when mine did. I love you, and won’t put you through this again.
…any time soon.Finished!

Out of the night that covers me…

May 10th, 2010

Well, I went and did the last thing on my training checklist; the Open Water Swim. There’s a guy in town who’s kind enough to let people swim in the lake his house is on, and Lucky’s Lake Swim is an early morning legend with the local triathlete community. I got up at 5:15 and fought my way through rising panic to arrive at his (huge, gorgeous) acreage by the 6:30 AM start time. As I slipped my wetsuit on (I’ll explain later), I could feel the anticipation running through me. I don’t like it. For some reason (and I m deeply ashamed of this), I get panic attacks at the start of early-morning activities. I don’t know why. My thoughts race faster and faster, I start to shiver uncontrollably, and then my blood pressure drops. Sometimes, I get extremely nauseous and get sick. Sometimes, I get narcolepsy, and cannot stay awake. Sometimes, it’s all of the above. I’ve tried eating, not eating, meditating, sleeping more, sleeping less, various herbal remedies, and nothing seems to make it go away like just getting the job done. Before the Disney Marathon, I got sick and lost all my carefully-loaded carbs. I started the marathon on empty. I’ve been training to do the Half-IronMan the same way. I’m resigned to getting sick. I’m adding it to my morning checklist, and accepting my own weakness. I don’t, however, have to like it.
So there I was, shivering in my wetsuit, hoping I didn’t throw up in this nice man’s lake. There are several nice dogs in the yard that are perfectly content to greet you at your vehicle, inspect your choice of swimwear, and wander off with the attitude of, “If YOU want to jump in a lake at 6:30 in the morning, you’re welcome to. I’m going to go dig a large hole !” And off they trot.
As Go Time approaches, the people and dogs move down to the covered dock at the edge of the lake. The dawn is just breaking over the horizon in a cloudless display over clear water. I look down, and almost jump out of my goosebumpy skin, until I realize that the large alligator I’m looking at, hanging out just under the surface of the water near the shore, is made of concrete, and part of Lucky’s sense of humor.
The Athletes congregate on the dock. Friends engage in small talk. Most of them have The Look. Body types range from Walrus to Minnow. I’d say the ages ranged from 17 to 65. There was no one there who wasn’t dedicated though. Of course not! Who would get up so early to go swim a kilometer across someone’s lake? Preposterous! And I hear these evil voices chattering away in my head, doubting my abilities, mocking my determination.
Why are you here, James? You’re not an athlete! You’re a joke! You’ve deluded yourself into thinking this Half-IronMan is something you can actually accomplish. You’re going to fail, and everyone will know you’re a fraud. You bluster and talk a lot of hype like you’ve got what it takes (whatever that is), but deep down, you’re scared you’ll fail spectacularly and publicly. This morning, you’re shaking in your flip-flops, terrified that you’ll get to the middle of the lake, get too tired, and won’t make it to one side or the other, and no one here can save you. There are alligators that will drag you under, and crush your limbs, and you’ll bleed out, while the last of your air bubbles toward the surface. And then who will take care of your family? And another
Okay! That’s enough of that kind of thinking. The first of the swimmers is in the water, and it’s time to put up or give in to the demons. I’m not quitting today. I step into the water, which is crystal clear, and surprisingly warm. This is a good sign. Cold water really makes me shiver uncontrollably, and I don’t know what will happen if I attempt to swim too far in it. So I wore a wetsuit just in case. As the bottom drops away, and the swimmers start thrashing for the other shore, the pack breaks up, and everyone engages in their own battle. Who am I here to beat? Only myself? Why am I doing this? Because I’m not sure if I can, and I need to know if this is indeed a limitation, or if, as I fear I truly have no limitations, and everything really is possible.
I take a break, switching to the backstroke. I have so little body fat that I don’t float very well. Most of my swimming energy is used trying to keep my body in proper position. The wetsuit provides a modicum of buoyancy, very welcome in this uncertain environment.
I look back and realize that I’m still (surprisingly) close to where I began. I flip over, and look at the far shore. It appears no closer. It will not get any closer for another fifteen minutes. Ordinarily, fifteen minutes doesn’t seem like a long time. But think about being stuck in traffic and only moving half a mile in 15 minutes. Now imagine that if you stop doing whatever it is you’re doing, you’ll drown and die. Fifteen minutes stretches out into a lifetime.
I stroke out in a strong freestyle, trying to keep proper form in mind. It’s been 20 years since I took swim lessons, but I still remember the basic ideas. Proper form is important to maintain efficiency. If I keep my head down, I’m not using my neck muscles as much, and thus, can go for a longer period of time. I look, through my goggles, into the murky depths of the lake. Sweet Jesus! What the hell was that shadow? Did something just move down there? I abandon proper form, lift my head and search for the far shore desperately. Am I there yet?
Not even close. I give up. I surrender to the lake. If the monster wants me, it can come get me. It will find me still swimming toward the opposite shore. I start going through “Invictus” by William Henly. By the time I get to, “In the fell clutch of circumstance/I have not winced or cried aloud/ Under the bludgeonings of Chance/ my head is bloody, but unbowed”, I’m feeling more at peace with my decision to just keep swimming. If the alligator grabs me, I will fight it, kill it, drag its carcass to the shore, and eat it raw. That’s my plan. I start taking longer, more powerful strokes.
As I’m on my back again, taking a breather, I notice three birds circling overhead. Osprey, I think; they lack the white heads and tails of eagles. Then I realize that my wetsuit is black, and I’m wearing a black swim cap. The only thing one could see from above would be my exposed neck. My demons present me with the image of a 20-pound hawk striking my jugular with its razor talons, and me trying to swim to shore while holding my shredded neck together. I force the demon to admit that this is ridiculous; the osprey sees much better than I do, and there is no way that’s going to happen.
And then I’m there. Several other swimmers are standing in the shallows, catching their breath, thinking their thoughts. What demons do they have, I wonder? And then I realize I’m not there for the demons. I’m not entirely sure why I’m there, but I know why I’m not there. The sun breaks over the horizon and spills GLORY and AWESOMENESS into the lightening lake. I feel tired, and my throat burns a little from all the water that’s come in my nose, but I’m not to worn out to swim back. I hope.
There’s no pressure to perform from anyone else. No one says when to go, or that you have to go at all. Everyone is a volunteer, and driven only by their own needs. I strike out back the other way. Through the surface of the water, the rising sun is a liquid flame, and I am swimming in a pool of divine liquid, just the right temperature, sacred and sacrosanct, even though I blew my nose in it.
Lucky’s dock refuses to get any closer. I roll onto my back, backstroke for a while, and resign myself to the ennui of endurance events. I converse with myself, argue theology, wonder why they don’t do things this way, ponder my career, think about the reason old girlfriends don’t call, and ponder the glory of the sun, which is now shining directly in my face. Eventually, this seems odd, because it was at my right side a moment ago.
Something doesn’t click with this revelation, and I flop over to realize I’ve gone off course by ninety degrees. I am swimming in the wrong direction! Razzum-frazzum, stupid, broken GPS. No I don’t need directions. I’m FINE!
But five minutes later, the sun is in the wrong quadrant again. I learn that I cannot backstroke in a straight line, unless the sun is directly behind me. I abandon the backstroke, and go for freestyle.
And then the bottom appears, gracefully rising from the gloom. There’s the concrete alligator and the shore. There are also two large turtles, with carapaces like hubcaps, observing these silly, slow, graceless humans that foolishly left their element and tried to pretend they were water creatures. Some swimmers head out for a second lap. I choose not to. I feel like I could (Good! Because the Half is 2K in length) but I’m not feeling like pressing my luck now. I dry off, and follow the crowd back to the parking areas.
I got rolling before 5:30 AM. I swam in open water at 6:30. I swam 1K. I didn’t throw up. I didn’t quit. I fought the demons, and didn’t give in to them. These are the victories I’m taking with me today. I didn’t cure cancer or win the lottery, but I feel more accomplished than I would have if I’d just slept. I’m going to have to fight the demons again at the Half IronMan. I’ll have to fight the ennui and the Never-Nearer- Shoreline, too. “Finds, and shall find, ME, unafraid.”

Smooth like butter

March 31st, 2010

IMG_8384Wow! These new shifters are great! I got some bar-end shifters off Ebay, and they work very well! The right one is an index shifter, meaning it clicks into each different gear, and the left one is just a friction shifter for the front derailleur. I need to adjust the front derailleur (probably with a hammer and anvil. The large bamboo seat tube puts the derailleur too far out to use the smaller chainring. To try to put the chainrings a little farther out, I made some washers out of aluminum, IMG_8377and put them on the one-piece crank between the chainring, and the nut that contacts the bearings in the bottom bracket. It moved everything over about a quarter inch. Not sure how that will work with everything else, but it seemed easier than messing with the derailleur. I’ll see if I can tweak it. The shifters work well and accurately. I got new cables, too, so that helps as well.
The cable bosses I installed give the bike a cleaner look, as opposed to the cable ties that I was using to hold it all together.