Thursday, September 2, 2021

It's just paint

Over the last week, I took another short ride through the city. About an hour seems to be all I can spare these days. My mission has been trying to figure out some different 15-20 mile routes so that I don't go too far over my self-imposed allotted time. 

One of the interesting features of this area is that there is a dedicated bike lane on the highway that runs through the city. It's something that I found unusual when we arrived because I haven't noticed such a thing in other cities (granted, I haven't been to every city, or even to most cities in the US, so my experience in this regard is limited). Because of the bike lane running along the shoulder, the speed limit for motorized traffic is 45 mph (or at least, that is my assumption for such a low speed limit on a highway); however, I have taken note that no one seems to actually drive at that speed and most of the time, even if going 10-15 mph over that speed, people seem to want to drive even faster. 

The route I took along the east side of town eventually took me back across to the west side and I decided to try out the bike lane on the highway to see if it was more efficient to travel than the route I was going to take. As I was riding back home, I had only a few miles to ride, but had to contend with several highway exits while continuing on my path. Because of the aforementioned speed of motorized traffic, I had no idea how unnerving it actually would be to ride here. I was quickly reminded that the painted lines do nothing to protect me and because the motorized traffic was hitting speeds easily 20 mph over the posted speed, I was concerned every time I had to cross over one of the exits. Each time I would cross, I'd stick my left arm out and wave my hand, just to make sure anyone exiting that I couldn't see would take note of the fact that I was crossing to continue straight ahead. 

This experience reminded me just how ineffective bike lanes can be. Well-meaning individuals create these spaces to allow for ease of travel, but often don't take into consideration the lack of safety for the individuals who are most vulnerable. I can't imagine that a more timid or less-experienced rider would ever ride in this bike lane (or at least they likely wouldn't make that choice more than once), and even with years of riding under my belt, I still found it intimidating, and if I'm honest, a bit scary! 

Have you noticed a path/space that seems unsafe that was designed to allow for ease of travel for those on bikes? Do people frequently use the path/lane, or do you notice that riders choose other routes?

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

OMG!!! We have a house!

HOLY smokes (ha... I'm laughing aloud as the sky is actually smoky at the moment - and yes, I laugh at my own stupid puns)! It feels as though it's taken a year to find a place. It may seem like a crazy statement because we've only been in Oregon since mid-June (well, Sam's been here since the end of May), but living in a very small space (less than 30 sf) and having to move every 7-14 days, has made time seem to drag on. We weren't sure we were going to get here, but after being under contract for almost two months, canceling the purchase, and then coming back to the same house, we have finally closed and have keys.

Our first day of truly getting to spend time in the house without someone hovering over us, we took the opportunity to do some work that needed to be done as quickly as possible (e.g. removing the absolutely disgusting carpet -- side note: please don't ever feed pets by opening the food and spreading it all over the carpet - it's truly disgusting and unnecessary as dog bowls are plentiful and are readily available, sometimes even free). We were pleasantly surprised to find original wood beneath all of the carpet, even upstairs (which was likely originally only used as an attic space, so we weren't sure what we'd find), so that has, hopefully, saved us money. Time, well, that may actually be a bigger cost as the wood is mostly painted, and apparently painted multiple times, so I'm going to need to do some work to see what the best method for finishing them will be. My guess at the moment is that they'll end up getting painted again, but I don't object to seeing if it's possible to actually stain the wood.

Anyway, lest I carry off down the path of rambling on about what we may or may not do to the house, I will stop that tangent here, adding simply that although I am grateful to have a new home, I am overwhelmed by the amount of work that needs to be done. 

I did get to take my first ride in Bend yesterday, which was pretty exciting. In the weeks/months we've been here, I have been unable to actually ride in the city, so it was nice to get out for a bit. Granted, it was a very short ride, but right now, I'll take what I can get. I have a feeling that short rides are going to become normal for quite awhile. 

B-dog seems to have taken rather quickly to the new house, so we're grateful for that, too. She's enjoying exploring (as we have been doing), figuring out who to bark at (she loves people, but she is definitely protective of home and there are a lot of walkers/joggers/cyclists who pass by the front of the house) and where the best spots are to fetch, swim, and lay in the sun.

We've been working different muscles since arriving in Oregon, spending a lot more time on foot, so it will be interesting to see if the return to wheels will be quicker than anticipated or if we'll remain primarily on foot for a bit. Either way, it's nice to feel like we're on our way to settling and it is definitely good to know that we won't have to move all the time.

Monday, June 28, 2021

Finally, a ride in Oregon

 "I have lost all of my riding muscles," I said to Sam, as we sat in our hot box (aka the camper we are currently living in). I just don't know if I'm going to get to ride at all until we have some sort of home. Not being able to leave our pup anywhere, not currently having the dog trailer I keep thinking about purchasing, and with Sam gone at work all day, I just haven't been able to get in any two-wheeled time.

"We'll figure something out," was his response. 

I knew that this was going to be an issue when we came to Oregon (well, during the transition period anyway), but I had no idea how much I would truly miss riding a bike. I knew we'd have to adapt, and I thought that I'd be okay with not riding for awhile. I suppose I also believed that finding a place to live would be much easier than it has been, so after having been here for two weeks and having spent the two weeks prior packing up the house, it had been nearly a month since I'd really had a chance to ride outside.

We were preparing to move "home" to a new location (as we aren't able to stay in one spot for very long, thanks to summer bookings) and Sam said, "Why don't you go on a ride in the morning before we leave? I'll take the dog on a walk and it will give you a chance to ride."

I was excited. And then worried. Unlike most who seem to retain their cycling fitness, if I don't ride for any stretch of time, any ability I had seems to leave very quickly, even if I'm doing other activities. I figured even if I could only do a few miles it would be worthwhile to get out and pedal, so I planned to wake early before the sun had a chance to start the heat (we were expecting temps to reach 105F that day) and knowing that we had to leave before 11a from the site, I believed it would give me a little time to ride, get back and help with packing up and we'd be on our way.

Sleep was nearly impossible that evening because the day had been so incredibly hot and the extreme warmth was retaining well in the tiny aluminum box in which we currently live. I was also so excited to get to ride. I know it seems silly, but it felt like an event that hadn't happened in an eternity.

When I woke in the morning (not nearly as early as I'd hoped), I dressed and prepared to ride. I had no idea where I was going, nor how far I would ride, but I was going to go. I told Sam that I'd probably only make it a few miles and I was off.

As I started pedaling, I heard all of the noises - the noises I'd ignored over the last several years. You see, this bike I brought with me is the same bike that's been sitting on my home trainer, getting used primarily over winter months, and that has really been neglected when it comes to maintenance and cleaning. I'd complained about noises even as it sat on the trainer, but it's easy to ignore when my preference is to ride outside. 

The pinging metal sounds, the scraping and creaking, the weird derailleur noises, all of the sounds began and I hoped it wasn't going to take away from the ride. I saw Sam standing at the fence, watching me pedal down the road and as I pedaled the first couple of miles, I started weeping. I think it was a combination of emotions: getting to ride for the first time in awhile, not having my usual outlet to work through feelings (there's been a LOT going on over the last couple of months), and maybe even a little sense of relief that I was still able to pedal (even if I wasn't convinced it would be for long). 

There has always been a piece within that knows how important riding is to me, but I don't think I truly understood the magnitude of that importance until this ride. As the waves swept over, under and around, I just permitted myself the time to cry, and it felt good. 

Riding toward Sisters on the highway.

Still unsure of where I was going, I thought about a highway path we'd driven to see a house in Sisters, Oregon, so I headed in that direction, thinking that I would just turn around when I was tired or ready to do so because of the heat. I just kept pedaling. Not fast, mind you, but pedaling and smiling. The more upright position of this bike was a little frustrating to my posterior (which is also out of saddle shape because I haven't been riding), but it gave me great sight lines to take in my surroundings. 

The day was already growing hot. It hadn't hit 8:30a yet and the temperatures were quickly closing in on 90F. I wasn't really focused on that though. It was just nice to be on a bicycle, pedaling without a care in the world. 

One of the interesting things I've noticed here (versus where we were in Colorado) is that when one rides "up" to a destination, it doesn't mean quite the same sort of ride. Typically, when we ride up, it's up the entire way and then a fantastic downhill return, but here the terrain seems to be more rolling, even if the general direction is up. I hadn't really taken this into account as I rode because I was just enjoying, and as my body began to fatigue I couldn't quite remember if it had been 15 or 20 miles out to Sisters from the starting point. I'd convinced myself it was 15, but when I hit that marker, I still hadn't arrived, so I just kept pedaling. 

Dismounted in Sisters for a couple of minutes... this poor, neglected bike held its own. Also, I did have tools with me, they were just in my Camelbak because I'd forgotten that this bike had no saddlebag and no bottle cages for the time being.

At around mile 21, I arrived in Sisters. After dismounting, to give my backside a break for a couple of minutes, I realized that the heat was coming in faster than I'd truly grasped and decided to head back. As I rode, I began to understand my mistake in thinking that the ride would be all downhill on the return. I tried to stand and pedal a little more, but that seemed to make the bike noises even worse. Around 5 miles into the return trip, I received a text from Sam:

Hey, you doin' okay? It's gettin' hot fast.

I was a little annoyed, honestly. I just wanted to go on one lousy ride and enjoy it. He had my tracking info for the ride that is sent by Strava when I began the ride, so why was he bugging me?

The auto-generated reply options for the Garmin popped up and I hit the "Yes" response and kept on pedaling. I could feel everything setting in though - the lack of riding recently, the heat, my annoyance from the noises of the bike. My cadence was starting to slow. I had to remind my body that it knows how to do this, and that the distance really wasn't that far. 

Yes, my body said, we know how to do this, but it's been awhile, and we're not normally on this bike.

It's amazing how slowly miles pass when one is tired. When I want a ride to last, it feels as though it's over so quickly, but every mile felt like ten, easily, on this return trip - at least to my body. My mind was content to just stay out in the heat and ride as long as possible.

Over the rolling hills I pedaled, slowly inching my way back to the campground. One last push on a hill before the upcoming signal that would have me back to base in a couple of miles. As I arrived back at the site (later than either Sam or I had anticipated), he'd already packed everything, attached the camper and was ready to roll. 

"You okay?" he said, with a smile that was both concerned and happy for me that I was able to ride.

"Yeah. Realized about half way through that I never buckled my chin strap for my helmet. Saw it flapping in the wind as I was headed back," I responded.

"Where'dya go?" he asked.

I was confused. Hadn't he been watching where I'd gone?

"Your phone did that thing again and never sent the email, so I didn't know where you were," Sam said, obviously guessing that I was not understanding. 

It all became clear in that moment that he'd simply been concerned because I'd said I was only going to ride a few miles and he had no way to know where I'd actually traveled because the message never sent. 

After a brief conversation about the ride, I changed quickly and we got on our way to our next temporary site. I was entirely grateful to have had the opportunity to finally ride, tough as it may have seemed in some of the moments. The good moments far outweighed anything that seemed less-than-ideal. Hopefully, we've worked out a system so that I can ride at least once each week until we have a more permanent setting for home... and who knows? Maybe we'll end up with that dog trailer and I can get in even a bit more riding with our pup in tow.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Bend!

We are unofficially living in Bend, Oregon. I still cannot believe the whirlwind that has taken place over the last several weeks. It feels as though life has completely changed (because it has), but I don't think my brain and body have quite caught up with everything. 

Our stuff... getting ready for storage until we find home again.

For a quick catch up, Sam accepted a job offer in Bend and we put our house in Colorado up for sale. The house was under contract in two days and closed in early June. The new owners were kind enough to allow us a little extra time to pack our stuff into shipping containers after closing and even after getting rid of what seemed like half of our belongings, we still didn't have enough storage so we ended up having to give up a lot of furniture the day we were leaving. It was upsetting in the moment, but I know that nothing was of any real value, so I have recovered and am looking forward to finding different stuff as we move forward. 

The real trouble has been that there is nothing to rent in the Bend area. Apparently (as we've been told), rentals in Oregon in general are an issue and there is an extreme shortage. We have been living in our 1960 camper (sans bathroom or sink, which is interesting, to say the least), searching for a home and in the interim trying to find anything to rent. Finding a place to put the camper is its own challenge as well because summer seems to be a time when every campsite within a 50-mile radius is full. Which means that we have to move every couple of weeks -- but we're figuring it out as we go. 

Because I cannot leave B-dog in the camper alone (both due to campsite rules and because it's been brutally hot and I wouldn't do that to her), I haven't been able to ride since arriving here a little over a week ago (and hadn't ridden much before we left either due to packing), but B-dog and I have been busy exploring different areas on foot. I pondered picking up a rather cool-looking dog trailer so that we could adventure together on the one bike I have with me, but after reading reviews, I became concerned that it wouldn't be suitable for her, and not having normal tools at our disposal, I think we'll have to continue on foot for the time being.

In 1989, my family came to this area to visit, thinking that we'd move here as my parents pondered future retirement; and in 1995, a friend and I drove to Bend to visit his grandparents who lived here and to allow us to get in some whitewater rafting, so I was somewhat aware of the area, but wasn't sure if my memory would match reality. After wandering for a bit, I'd say the answer is "somewhat." I remembered a lot of trees... and there are definitely a lot of trees, but I couldn't remember much else, other than the river. 

The Deschutes River from Drake Park

The things that surprised me? The clouds seem really close to earth. It was the first thing I noticed driving in to Oregon, actually. They seem as though I could get out a ladder and touch them -- that close. I had also forgotten how much desert-like landscape is around. As green as Bend itself is, desert foliage (if I can call it that) is also plentiful and the landscape seems to change very quickly from one spot to the next. Lava rock abounds (I keep thinking I should send some to a jeweler friend who looks for different sorts of materials to make items) and I've tripped no less than half a dozen times on it because I wasn't paying attention on trails. It seems like it has its own special mix of California and Colorado in the greenery, honestly, which probably makes sense given the weather fluctuations and elevation.

The people here also seem incredibly friendly. As I was passing by an intersection I was witness to an incident between a cyclist and a driver and it was entirely cordial (which kind of freaked me out, I will admit, as this is not my typical experience with drivers at all when I'm on a bike); but even beyond that interaction, people are generally friendly, wish a good day to passers-by, and on the whole, it has been pleasant thus far to not feel as though we've landed in a place with people who are rude or unfriendly. Those do exist here, but they seem to be more the minority.

Pilot Butte view from the top, looking west

Yesterday, B-dog and I decided to climb a "mound" that we kept seeing in town. It's called Pilot Butte and is actually a lava dome formed by an extinct volcano. I had seen people running and walking up and down it but when I went to find an entrance, it had a locked gate and said it was closed. Still, I kept seeing people so I knew there had to be a way up, which we eventually found. The views on the way up are quite spectacular, and honestly, none of the photos I took do any of it justice. The Cascades to the west and even the view to the east, north and south are a sight to behold. 

We've explored the Deschutes River thoroughly from various spots as well and have learned (particularly on these very hot days experienced recently) that everyone seems to spend the day in the water on a raft, tube, paddle board, or canoe, so my dreams of paddle boarding with the pup may come true. Yay! I keep reminding myself that we need somewhere to keep such things though, so for now, we just watch others and B-dog swims a bit to keep cool.

Food. There seems to be a lot of good food in this area. I am definitely no foodie by any stretch of the imagination, but I have had some of the best food of my life recently. Normally, we wouldn't eat out so much, but because of the housing situation, it's been more than I imagined. It's nice to know there are places to go though - whether for ourselves or when visitors stop in. 

We have walked more in the last 10 days than I have in a very long time. This morning, my hips were hurting so much that we had to dial it back a bit. I miss riding a bicycle, but I know that this is temporary and that hopefully, life can return to some sort of normal in the near future. Not having access to our stuff is a little frustrating, but I've learned how little we really need to survive. Which isn't to say that I don't miss some of the stuff (especially my art supplies and bicycles), but rather that I'm a bit more adaptable than I thought. I hope that home is coming and that we won't have to wait too long for it, but in the meantime, it gives time to check things out and get a sense of where things are in this new-to-us place. 

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

When life gives lemons

 *Just a couple of quick notes. To anyone who is currently subscribed via email, Feed Burner is discontinuing service for Blogger as of July 2021, which means that you will no longer receive email notification for posts after that time. Unfortunately, I have no control regarding this change, though I am looking into possible solutions (but cannot promise any resolution at this point, unfortunately). However, I thought it important to pass along the information for those who are subscribed and expect to receive emailed updates. Also, as you may have noted, I am back to writing here on Blogger. The Wordpress blog will also continue to be updated with posts for the time being, and at some point I will make a decision as to which platform is the best for my purposes, but until then, you can follow along here on Blogger or over at Wordpress here, if you prefer to get email updates regarding posts. Thank you for continuing to read and for sharing your thoughts.

We are in the midst of a bit of upheaval at the moment, and I tend to start questioning life in general when big changes or problems occur. I start to wonder the whys of things and what it is I am supposed to learn from the situation. Sometimes, there are answers, if I look hard enough, and other times it equates to more of a random sequence of events that is taking place that could happen to anyone. 

One of the unfortunate big happenings recently was discovering that our sewer line was collapsing. We had been having some drainage problems in the tub and sometimes with the toilet, but thought that the problems stemmed from a weeping pipe under the tub and some hair (mine/dogs) that likes to get stuck in the drain. After several attempts to resolve the issue, a plumber was called out at which point we were informed that the 60+ year old clay sewer line was cracked, shifting, collapsing, and likely wouldn't last longer than a few more weeks to perhaps a couple of months, if we were lucky. 

I was working in my studio when Sam came in to tell me the news. "Sixteen to twenty-two," he said would be the cost of replacing the line in the least expensive manner. 

"Well, it could be worse, I suppose," I responded with a slight facial twinge and shoulder shrug.  "That's a lot of money, but I guess we can figure it'll end up at about twenty-five hundred, just in case, and we'll eat lighter for awhile."

Sam looked at me a bit bewildered and then said, "No, THOUSAND, not hundred."

I gulped as my eyes widened. "You have to be kidding me? Why would it cost that much? It's a pipe.... in the ground... that's..." I trailed off for a few seconds. "It's... that's... a car... a down payment on a house... SO many bicycles ... it's..." I was still trying to understand how a single run of pipe could be so much money. "How do we even pay for something like that?" I questioned aloud. "How does anyone cover that sort of cost?"

We talked for awhile about the whys, the hows, and so on. We'd had the sewer scoped when we moved in over six years ago and it was "perfect," as the plumber had told and shown us, but things happen over time. Our temperatures fluctuate day to day a lot in Colorado and we have seasons of drought and then severe wet, which isn't ideal for a clay line, and certainly not one of this vintage. Whether we were prepared to deal with the issue was not a matter of debate. We just had to figure out how to resolve it and how we would financially handle such a huge amount at one time.

Generally, we are do-it-yourself kind of people, and if we are able to do so, we prefer to go that route, but this was not an instance for which we would be able to handle matters on our own, and the costs associated with not being able to perform the repair ourselves was not helping the mental struggle.

I was watching a brief segment on a home fix-it show recently and the individual said in the most blissful tone, "I feel like my life is just the best dream ever!" and it struck me because it's rare to hear someone claim that s/he believes their life is so fantastic that it feels like a dream. I started to think about moments that have felt like a dream in my life, and sadly, most of them seem to lean more toward nightmares than good dreams. Inevitably, this makes me wonder if I did something wrong and that the unfortunate moments are a result of my bad behavior -- that karmicly I have somehow brought about the misfortune. I have no delusions of being a saint, and I've perpetrated many wrongs over my multiple decades of life, but is there really a cause and effect, or is it simply a perception, a means of coping for humans that prompts us to look for a relationship in all things? 

When I look at matters from another angle though, I think about the fact that we are fortunate to be able to do many things for ourselves. So often it feels like life is throwing fire darts and we are weaving and dodging to steer clear; but in reality, if the same obstacles were presented to another person, they could be completely catastrophic. Even though I've dealt with some pretty horrendous moments in life, some of which I thought I'd never survive, I have managed to come through the other side relatively unscathed - or at least better off than some others might have.

It has been a rough few weeks at our house. The sewer line was replaced, but it came with a hefty price tag. The damage created in the yard was more significant than we anticipated, so of course, that had to be dealt with as well. 

Last week, we were also scheduled to say goodbye to our nearly-fifteen year old Labrador, who has endured so much longer than we ever thought she could, but I just couldn't go through with it. The struggle of determining when she is ready to go, and how much she is suffering can be so difficult because our pups hide so much of what they're really going through. It is the part of pet guardianship that I dread. 

Unfortunately, early this week we had to actually say goodbye to our girl. I remembered from past experience that there is such sadness, but I had forgotten how empty I would feel. I look for her everywhere in the house, reach for her, thinking that she's going to brush by me, looking for a pat on the head or a scratch, and then remember she isn't there. We removed all of her dog beds because I didn't think I could handle seeing them empty without her, but even removing the reminder has been difficult. There is a giant hole in my heart and I can't seem to stop sobbing. I know that time will heal the pain, at least to some extent, but no matter how many fur-kids we lose, I never get used to the agony of their passing. For me, it is like losing a close member of the family.

I am grateful to still have our Golden-girl, and she is doing her very best to comfort us as she feels the loss of her housemate as well. It's during these rough times that I find myself wondering and thinking about the whys of life, my purpose, and the reasons for most everything in day-to-day life. Often, I am unable to come up with any explanations, but I still attempt to make some sort of sense and order of it. I get up each day and try to get through the little moments, knowing that there is ultimately better, good times in the future. Some moments are tougher than others, but if I can fumble my way through, hopefully, I'll come out the other side a better version of myself, with a few more experiences, and better able to understand it all.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Deciding between a road or gravel bike: A year+ testing the Specialized Ruby and Diverge

Toward the end of summer in 2019, I started yet another hunt for a road bike. I’d been riding my second-hand Bianchi circa early 2000s and was enjoying getting some speed back in my life. The problem I’d been having though was with my hands and wrists. Since I couldn’t get anything above a 23mm tire on the bike (I had 25mm on the wheels, but they didn’t really fit without major problems), the hand pain I was experiencing was more than I could handle. I made the decision to start looking again to hopefully find something that would give me both a little more comfort for my already damaged hands and keep the lightness and speed I was growing accustomed to enjoying.

Going back to the drawing board, it seemed like the most logical thing to do was to test ride bikes I could find locally instead of jumping into yet another option that I’d have no means of riding before buying. What I’ve realized over the years is that I do much better with bikes I can test ride prior to purchasing. My luck with both mass production mainstream manufacturers and custom builders has been unfortunate though, and so when I set out on this particular round to find a road bike that might work, I wanted to at least have an opportunity to test several possibilities to see if one of them could be that perfect (or at least close to perfect) road bike, without needing to go through the ordeal of a custom frame.

As with many other cities, there are few local bike shops with stock on hand outside of the Trek, Giant, Cannondale, and Specialized brands. To make matters even more challenging, a lot of shops don’t carry sizes that are appropriate, but rather stock the typically-sold sizes ranging from about 54cm to 58cm. So, if one is not 5’8-6′ tall, finding testable choices can be even more difficult.

Trying to remain open to possibilities of new technology or even different materials, I wasn’t ruling anything out. After reading a lot and test riding too, I wasn’t really finding what I wanted. I rode some Cannondales and quickly ruled them out. They just didn’t feel right to me. I also briefly rode a Specialized Diverge and enjoyed it, but thought that it seemed like a do-it-all bike. Not a bad quality by any means, and I recall thinking that if I had only one bike, it would likely be something I’d pursue, but it just wasn’t giving me quite the feeling I was wanting in a road bike.

After returning home from one test-riding session, I happened upon some information about the Specialized Ruby (which has now been eliminated and the Roubaix has taken over for both men’s and women’s version of this bike). Why hadn’t I thought to test that one, I wondered? So, after looking to see if anyone had one in stock, I did a quick roll around the shop’s neighborhood to check it out for myself. It seemed comfortable, thanks to the future shock up front, and relatively quick, but it’s so hard to commit to something with such a short ride. The shop was agreeable to permit me time to ride around the neighborhood, but I knew that taking it for a couple of hours just wasn’t possible.

Deciding that I needed more than a 10 minute ride under my belt with this bike, I rented one from a shop for a day and took it out on a 45-miler to see what it really felt like on the roads I regularly ride. It was amazing! I was in love with this bike – both due to comfort and speed. I was shocked that I had seemingly found the unicorn that allowed me both the ability to go fast and not have hands in pain for the duration of the ride. Where had this bike been all of my life?

I didn’t have a lot of options for purchasing the bike because the Ruby model was being discontinued, but I was also still hesitant to buy one because of my poor luck with road bikes. Ultimately, I decided that my rental test seemed pretty great, so I was ready to move ahead. I bought the same model-level I’d tested during the rental and tried to wait patiently.

When the Ruby arrived, I got to work testing it. My first ride was about 30 miles/48 km and went very well. I had close to the speed I wanted AND I was comfortable. It was like a great epiphany — my heart was so happy. My second ride was close to 30 miles but wasn’t quite as fast as the first one. I ended up dropping about 1 mph average, which was disappointing, but I’d done a little more climbing, so it made sense in my mind. By my third ride, I was ready to go a little farther so I got in a 45-mile/72km ride, but my speed dropped even more, putting me down nearly 2 mph average from the first ride. For the fourth ride, I wasn’t having a great day physically and ended up stopping short at just under 20 miles, but had also dropped a little bit of speed yet again. By the time I reached my fifth ride which lasted a smidge over 40 miles, I was still down an average of 2.5 mph for the entire ride.

The Ruby at the top of NCAR in the spring 2020.

Regardless, I was happy with the bike and because we’d rolled into October and things were cooling off, I figured my body was just entering what I call cold-weather-mode, during which I seem to naturally slow down. I shrugged it off and figured I’d revisit the speed issue when late spring rolled around again.

Around this same time, I spotted a Specialized Diverge for sale online. It was new-old stock (2018) at a shop back east, but was being sold at a terrific price. My mind began to plot. If the road bike was so good, maybe the gravel bike would be great too? I had enjoyed the test-ride I’d taken at the bike shop on the Diverge, short as it was, so maybe it was supposed to be with me? I knew I didn’t need it… after all, I have bikes that can travel on gravel roads, and even the new road bike was okay on them, thanks to the slightly wider 28mm tires and geometry, but it was calling to me and I really felt some strange pull to buy it. Sometimes, there’s just no explaining things I do, I suppose. Plus, I figured if I didn’t end up liking it, I could always sell it and break even (or come pretty close to doing so).

So, after some plotting and calculating (and selling some stuff I wasn’t using), I ended up with the Diverge in addition to the Ruby. After riding them both for a good year plus, I realized that the two bikes are pretty similar, though there are a few differences. The Diverge has the capability of taking up to a 42mm tire, the Ruby can handle up to a 30mm tire. The Diverge feels a bit more squishy when riding — not in a bad or good way, just a little different feeling, but is appreciated on rougher roads/gravel. Weight-wise they aren’t as far apart as one might think, with the Diverge being ~3 lbs heftier (most of which seems to come by way of the wheels). With pedals and saddles (knowing that I ride leather saddles and platform pedals, so this will affect the weight), the Ruby weighs in at just about 21 lbs and the Diverge at approximately 24 lbs. The geometry of each is close to the other, but slightly longer and more relaxed on the Diverge.

Over the colder months of winter 2019-2020, I spent more time on the Diverge than the Ruby. I found myself really enjoying it. I was slow (even slower than I’d been toward the end of the season on the Ruby), but I seemed to be having fun. Plus, I was getting in some rides on roads I typically avoid because of my hand issues. While the majority of the riding for the Diverge was meant to be on dirt and gravel for me, we have some pretty rough paved roads to the north, and it works well on those as well.

Riding during the winter months on the Diverge.

Speed-wise, I was frustrated, but I was enjoying not having hands in so much pain at the end of rides… and, I know that cold tends to zap my power, so I just enjoyed riding, knowing that things would probably change when temperatures began to warm again.

There’s been a lot of discussion over the last few years about whether or not the future shock is of any value. If you don’t know what this is, it’s basically a spring that’s been added at the head tube that behaves like a miniature shock, absorbing some of the road chatter. Some argue that it slows the rider down, but on the whole most seem to like it. I fall into the latter category, definitely. Even if it is mildly slowing me down (and that is an “if” because I don’t feel like this is affecting my speed), its advantage far outweighs whatever small speed deficit there may be. It’s allowed me to ride roads I normally avoid and to be spared a lot of the associated pain due to those rough paths. Both the Ruby and the Diverge have performed well in this regard.

As the spring of 2020 rolled around, I went back to riding the Ruby more regularly, but found that my speed was still suffering more than I would’ve liked. Because of the pandemic, I was spending more time riding than usual so I was getting a good sense of both bikes, but also began to see via real-life rides how similar these two bikes truly are — and that I really didn’t need them both. Of course, I knew that from the start, but as the year moved along, I knew I’d probably make a decision at some point to let one of them go.

The bikes have pretty close specs. Both are carbon, they both run Shimano 105, and both are outfitted with the CG-R seatpost (which looks funny, but works well). The only real difference in parts is the wheels, and while neither is anything to write home about (DT Swiss R470 for the Ruby and Axis Elite for the Diverge), there is a weight addition with the Diverge wheels.

I performed a few rounds of quite unscientific testing, riding the Ruby one day on a specific route and then on another day riding the Diverge on the same. What I found after several of these was that my speed really wasn’t much different, if at all, from one bike to the other and that knowledge sat and festered a bit in my mind as I tried to decide what I wanted to do, if anything.

My unscientific documentation of various rides comparing the two bikes.

After using the Diverge for a small amount of time as my main bicycle and because I still felt as though the Ruby was a little heavier than I’d like for a dedicated road bike, in the summer of 2020, I decided to let that one go and kept the Diverge. To date, I haven’t regretted that decision.

What I’ve learned from this longer term experiment has been personally useful. I was already aware that there is a lot of talk about gravel bikes and the differences (or lack thereof) from road bikes. What I learned, particularly in this instance, is that they really aren’t all that different from each other. Perhaps if I’d gone with something more race-oriented for the road bike I’d have had a different experience, but other than rather small details and some wider tires, these two bikes are very similar and ride/perform nearly identically. If I were presented a choice between the two having the knowledge I have today, I’d go with the Diverge/gravel bike (as I did), only because it’s a little more useful to me being able to take it on gravel paths with a bit more ease due to the tire width. I recall reading at one point that if one rides more dirt/gravel to go with the Diverge and if the rider chooses more paved paths to go with the Ruby/Roubaix, as they can both handle either. I would agree with that assessment.

Although I am by no means a speedy rider, I have days during which I enjoy trying to be better, faster, and push myself. Finding that sort of bike has been a challenge for me partly because of physical limitations and injuries and partly because finding the right fit can be difficult as well. I also likely have an unreasonable expectation of what a dedicated road bike will be for me. What I’ve decided is that unless I am willing to endure road chatter, a more aero-like positioning, and thus hand pain and numbness, I don’t know that I will ever really find a road bike that gives me the speed I’m always trying to achieve during these experiments. I have days when I am able to achieve speed, but it seems to connect more to 1) lack of wind, 2) my feelings on a given day, and 3) how my body is doing overall. I know the day will come when I will care less and be far less capable of attaining any sort of speed regardless, and in that sense, it would be wise to give up the hunt for this elusive road bike. I have also discovered that so often the problem is really me rather than the bike. At a certain point, I have to accept that I am simply not a racer and never will be; and, though I don’t mind being slow, it can be an incredibly frustrating realization on those days when I just want to move swiftly.

All of this has caused me to reflect a great deal on the bikes I have owned over the years – both those I let go because of a want for something better, faster (whether real or imagined), or different, and those that I enjoyed but sold to fund another purchase and then lived with the regret. Nearly a decade ago I wrote about the grass-is-always-greener mentality when it comes to my bikes and I can’t help but wonder if that thought process or feeling ever goes away — if there will ever be a time when I’ll appreciate what I have when I have it and stop worrying about how fast (or slow) I am on a bicycle, or whether there’s something that functions better.

The Diverge, in some ways has been like my Rivendell Sam Hillborne. They are, of course, very different bicycles, but with each of them, when I ride, I tend to worry less about speed. Oh, I have days when I get frustrated or feel slow, but something about this bike gives me permission to simply ride, and I think that’s what I’ve enjoyed the most about it. As I accept the fact that I am a mere mortal, and not a particularly athletic one, I begin to appreciate the bikes that allow me to enjoy the moment, the ride, and not obsess about every minor detail over a route. Although I have given up trying to guess which bikes will remain and which will go, this one seems to provide something I was missing and I can appreciate it here and now for that very reason alone.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

My experience getting the COVID-19 vaccine

*This post is not intended to offer any medical advice to any individual. Please follow the recommendations of your personal health professionals – always – but I did want to offer up my experience because I have been fortunate enough to be able to get this vaccine fairly early on and thought sharing might be beneficial to someone.

“You can’t just get any vaccine! You need to talk to your step-dad. His son’s a nurse and has told him all about how the…” we were 20 minutes into a phone conversation and my mom was vehemently resisting the idea of me getting “just any” vaccination while we spoke on the phone. She trailed off for a couple of seconds, so I tried to head it off while she was paused and responded with, “I will get any approved vaccine that is offered to me. We need to get vaccinated so that life can return to something resembling normal. I am tired of this and I want to be able to go about life – I want to see you, and others too. Besides, we know that people won’t likely have an option as to which version they are able to get.”

It was of no use though as she continued on, calling for my step-father in the background to come and fill me in on this “information” she had received that was going to help me realize that getting “any” vaccine was a bad idea. “The Pfizer and Moderna ones are going to mess up your DNA! You can’t get them! You need to wait for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine,” she continued with her thought that had trailed off seconds prior.

At this point, as the conversation had been going on for quite awhile (and it wasn’t the first time this subject had been discussed), I could feel my patience hitting its limit. “Listen, I don’t know where you are getting your information, but it isn’t –” my volume was increasing, but I was interrupted by my step-dad’s voice as he began to “fill me in” on what my mother had been trying to explain earlier. I stood listening, phone to ear, mentally rolling my eyes, but trying to have the patience to allow him to finish. He managed to make it through without interruption, and finished by stating that they (he and my mother) would get the vaccine, but they are waiting for the J&J one that should be coming out soon.

With my mother back on the phone, she implored me, “I am your mother, and I want what is best for you, and I am telling you, you can’t get those two because -” I cut her off. I just couldn’t take any more of it, and at this point I was very nearly yelling. “Again, I will get any vaccine that is available to me. None of them are going to mess up my DN –” I was cut off with, “YES, they will. You CANNOT get them,” my mother insisted.

Our conversation went on a bit longer before ultimately ending in my mother hanging up on me. Perhaps it seems a bit unnecessary to go through this conversation, but I doubt I am the only person who has had this sort of back-and-forth with a family member, neighbor or friend. It’s a very frustrating situation and honestly, my family are the last people I want to fight with. My annoyance was stemming ultimately from the fact that they refuse to use common sense, listen to scientists and doctors, or to even perform a simple search online which would have yielded answers very quickly to what they believe to be truth, but which is in fact, not at all the case.

Interestingly enough, a few days after this conversation, I was offered the opportunity to sign up to get the COVID-19 vaccine shots. I was ecstatic because I thought it would be months before I would be able to sign up. Teachers are included in the next phase of Colorado vaccinations, so I was able to sign up via the school district through which I am employed. I was told that anyone who wanted to sign up, who was eligible to do so, would have the opportunity for a limited number of days. After the sign-up portion, a lottery/randomized system of selection would be used to decide who would go first.

As it happened, my name was drawn very quickly. The available dates/times were limited and I didn’t have much of a selection as far as where the vaccine could be administered. The closest location was about 30 miles from home and the available date for the first dose was coinciding with a previously scheduled appointment for one of our dogs (who was having a tooth extracted, and also couldn’t be rescheduled at this point as the vet is overloaded and booked several weeks out). Sam reminded me that this is important and that we’d figure out all the details later, but to get the appointment set. At the same time, I had to schedule the date for the second dose and was informed that it was important to choose dates/times that would not require rescheduling as they are doing their very best to get as many vaccinated as possible in the shortest amount of time.

The available date for the first round would be February 15, but it seemed like it would be okay because the pups’ drop off time was at 7:30a, and I wouldn’t need to be to my appointment until 9:10a. It seemed feasible that both could happen on the same morning, and so I signed myself up for both round one and the second dose, which would take place three weeks after.

A few days after, I met up with a friend outdoors to walk our dogs. We’ve done this occasionally since the start of the pandemic, so as to not feel completely isolated and to allow our dogs to see each other (because they love each other and get very excited to do anything together). I am comfortable meeting up with her because 1) we both wear masks and maintain distance while we’re together, even though we’re outside, and 2) I know that she and her boyfriend are not having unnecessary contact with other individuals and they share the same philosophy about being around others during this time.

While we chatted, I mentioned that I would be getting the first round of the vaccine a couple of days later and also talked about some of my frustration with the conversation I’d had with my mother. I realized that it’s amazing how false information can seep into my brain and cause anxiety. I had been feeling some anxiousness about getting the vaccine because, even though I know they have been through trials and at this point several people have had the vaccine, I couldn’t help but wonder about the possibility of something going wrong. After all, I have a lot of allergies (to foods, environmental, and to some medications). What if something happened? What if the anti-vaccine people were right?

It didn’t help matters that the day before the appointment I received my electronic notice to check in online so that everything would be taken care of before my arrival the following day. The consent form was a little unnerving as I read through it, and I did actually read it in its entirety. The ingredient list alone might as well have been in another language because I understood very little of it. Then, the risks of obtaining the vaccine were listed, including the more severe possibilities of a reaction. It also detailed out what an EUA (Emergency Use Authorization) is and what it means in relation to this particular vaccine. Particularly after all this reading, I could definitely understand why there are so many who are hesitant to get the shots. I understand that this information is to educate individuals, but can also see how it could create situations in which people then don’t want to receive the vaccine.

The night before the appointment, I didn’t sleep much. There was a lot running through my head between the dog’s appointment (I never like to see them go under anesthesia and I was worried about her) and my own scheduled first-round of the vaccine. Despite the logic that was present, that little bit of the unknown was floating through my mind and it was hard to allow the 95% of the science/logic/reality side to win out over the 5% that held on to doubt, fear and uneasiness. As I filtered through thoughts in bed, I told Sam, “If anything happens to me, make sure to pick up our girl in the afternoon, okay?” He laughed and reassured me that I would be just fine, but that, yes, he would pick her up if anything happened. “You will both be just fine,” he said again before he drifted to sleep.

In the morning, I dropped the dog off and told her that I’d see her in the afternoon, as I headed to my own appointment. It was a very cold morning at -8F/-22C and the roads were likely going to be icy as we’d had snow the day prior. Still, I arrived to my appointment about 45 minutes ahead of schedule. As I nervously waited to go inside (I had been told not to arrive more than 10 minutes prior to my scheduled appointment), I tried to distract myself.

At 10 minutes before my appointment, I headed inside. At the entrance, I was screened with a temperature check and asked if I had been exposed to anyone who was known to have COVID and was then guided to follow the signs posted. I followed the maze, went down an elevator, and exited to a moving line of people who directed me to the back of the group. The line seemed to go on for an eternity as I twisted around corner after corner, eventually reaching the end. “Why did they bother making appointments?” I muttered half-aloud to no one in particular. I wasn’t upset about the wait/line (I know they’re trying to get the shots to as many people as possible), but having an appointment time with hundreds of others made it seem rather silly to go through the bother of making a scheduled time to arrive. But, people were kind and everyone waited at least 6 feet behind each other and the line moved fairly swiftly. In total, it was about a 30 minute wait, which didn’t seem too terrible.

When I arrived at the room full of tables for my turn, the nurse was very polite and even happy. I asked if people had been kind to her and she said things were going well. She asked if I had a preference of the arm being used, and since my right side was closest to her, I told her we might as well go with that one. She asked if I had any allergies, at which point I proceeded to run down a list of items, which didn’t seem to concern her. I was also asked if this was my first or second shot so that she would know whether to give me a vaccination card or to fill out the one I’d been given. After cleaning the area for the injection, she then stuck the needle in.

“All done!” she exclaimed.

I was confused — “Is that it?” I asked. “Do I need to wait around or anything?”

She responded by saying that if I was concerned about a reaction, I was welcome to wait 15 minutes in one of the chairs in an area that had been set up, but otherwise, I was free to go. Not really wanting to hang out indoors with a bunch of people, I opted to head outside, but as soon as I got to the vehicle, I started having second thoughts. Maybe I should have waited to make sure? I sent Sam a text…

It is done. Should I wait before I leave, or just head home? They don’t seem to require me to wait, but I’d hate to have something happen on the way home.

Sam said to wait if I wanted, but I would probably be fine to head back, and, not wanting to really sit there with my anxious ruminations, I headed home. As I started back, my thoughts got the better of me. I seemed to be having some tightness in my chest and I had a mild headache and felt tired. Of course, these things could be explained in other ways. I hadn’t really slept the night prior, it was a really cold day and I have asthma/allergies, which often causes tightness in my chest. I also hadn’t had any food yet for the day and it was after 10:45a, so that could very well be inflicting the mild headache. None of these things were intolerable, but just enough that I noticed. Still those little seeds that had been planted hung on for a few hours before I was finally able to relax.

I went about my day as planned – the grocery store, working out, walking the dog (the one not having a tooth removed), riding a bike (though on a trainer, as you will recall that it was a very cold day), working a bit, and eventually picking up the other pup in the late afternoon (who came through her surgery very well, in case you are curious).

By late afternoon, I could feel that my arm was not happy. I would say it was a moderate level of ache in the shoulder area down to just above my elbow — something I hadn’t really anticipated – akin to having someone punch me really hard in the arm/muscle. When I’ve had shots in the past, I’ve never experienced this, but Sam has mentioned it over the years when he gets his flu shot, so this may not be as unusual as it seemed to me.

That was the worst of it though. The second day, my arm was still sore, but I could pick it up easily (unlike the day prior). I was tired in the afternoon for a few days after the shot, but whether that is because of the vaccine or for other reasons, it’s difficult to say. I’ve also noticed that my mouth has been very dry. I’ve attempted to drink more than my usual amount of water (and I normally drink a fair amount of water), but that hasn’t seemed to do much, so I’m curious to see how long that lasts. Overall, nothing has been unbearable or even difficult to tolerate, and frankly, I’m not convinced most of the happenings are even from the vaccine.

I have two weeks until the second round shot, but I believe everything will go as expected at that visit as well. I feel less anxiety about the second round, having now gone through it once, so I think that’s beneficial. My mother- and father-in-law have both just finished up their second round shots and have experienced no ill-effects. I’m glad that they were able to get them done as they are both over 70 and have health issues that could cause significant problems if they were to get infected with COVID-19.

Hopefully, Sam will be able to get the vaccine in the relatively near future. He believes this won’t happen for him until summer, but I hold out hope that anyone who wants the vaccine will be able to get it much sooner so that life can begin to resume some sense of “normal,” whatever that may be.

In the meantime, we continue to mask anywhere we go, keep our distance when we cannot avoid other people, and look forward to getting back to some of the more normal activities of spring and summer in the coming months. Hopefully, this year will be much better than last for all of us.

We cannot eliminate (at least for now) this virus from our communities, but we can protect ourselves and our loved ones by getting the vaccine when it is available to us as individuals. My point in sharing all of this is not to say that I am special or that I am the rarity. Instead, my hope is that others who are fearful of the vaccine will take this opportunity to seek out or read about others, every day people, who have had the vaccine and come out the other side without issue. I also know that I cannot reach everyone, and in particular, I cannot reach the populations who likely need to read these experiences the most; but I hope that as I share this, others who have had the opportunity to get the vaccine will share their experience as well so that we are able to develop herd immunity – and that those who have family members or friends who are hesitant or resistant to getting the vaccine will share these experiences and know that we are benefiting ourselves and those we love.