With the year 2020 now approaching fast, I sentence 2019 to the forever past.
The year 2019 started off well enough with a triathlon training trip to the mountains of Tucson. But my neck kept tightening up during the rides and nearly locked up completely on the descent down Mt. Lemmon when the temperatures dropped and our nylon windbreakers really weren’t enough to keep us warm. I pulled over before crashing due to shivering, only to get a bee stuck in my chinstrap where it stung me on the throat.
I should have seen that as an omen for the year to come.
Because in May I got tangled up in a strange bike accident where some inattentive soul stepped out from between two cars along a rural highway. I was looking back to check on traffic in order to pass the two cars parked right on the white line. When I looked up there was no time to stop and I struck the dude smack in the ass with my front wheel. It bent the rim and flattened the tire. He then filed a police report trying to blame me for the crash but the officer called me to say, “I’d like to hear your side of the story.”
A month later I got a call from the guy trying to collect money from me for his medical bills. I told him, “That’s not going to happen.” He threatened me with a lawyer and I said, “You go right ahead.” Because I’d already talked to one of the leading bike law lawyers in Illinois and knew that this guy was completely in the wrong.
I could well have pursued that guy to collect for the painful hand and wrist injury caused by the accident. But it was my fault that the injuries were made worse when I tripped over a tree root during a run in Madison and fell on the same wrist that was injured in the bike accident.
So 2019 was already a thriller of a year by mid-summer, because I’d also left a job in a Mutual Separation Agreement about which I cannot say a word other than to say that sometimes you suffer strange circumstances for trying to do the right thing.
Thus I was hoping the rest of the summer would settle down when a horrendous tooth problem flared up that forced me to head to the dentist. The pain was caused by some bad dental work I’d had done in the past, and that led to an infected molar. My regular dentist opened it up, took one look and said, “This is out of my league.” But the endodontist to which he normally refers patients was out of town for the 4th of July, or something like that. But I was in serious pain. So I went through other channels and found the Michael Jordan of endodontists, who was in and out of that tooth in fifteen minutes because he does 3000 of those things a year.
But the tooth was not to be saved. We tried a couple times more to seal off the roots but finally I was sent to an oral surgeon who said, “This tooth needs to come out or you could die.” My face was swollen and the pain required several doses of 800 mg NSAIDs per day to stay sane. And when the surgeon saw my condition he literally punched a hole in my lower jaw lining to drain the swelling and said, “You come back tomorrow, and call me anytime if you notice this getting worse.”
And I did. And even after the tooth was yanked it took two weeks of antibiotics and repeat visits to get the condition under control. And it was only August by then.
But I’d accompanied Sue to a Half Ironman or two along the way, including Steelhead in Michigan. And while I was riding my bike into town to pick up some cash to buy lunch, some guy with a chip on his shoulder started yelling at me for riding my bike on the sidewalk. Dozens of other people had been doing it all day, especially the out-of-towners trying to get from the race staging area near the beach back to the hotels, but this guy wanted to give me a piece of his mind. I kept riding only to have him come around the corner at the ATM and challenge me to a fight. And I thought, “That’s all I need. Get arrested and sued for beating up some idiotic sociopath.”
So it took all my self control to walk away from that bit of potential ugliness. But it’s a sign of the times that self-righteous assholes rave at people just trying to get along and enjoy life. We’ve got a president who does it daily. And his followers love to claim persecution while dishing it out in droves.
It just wasn’t my summer. That’s all I can say.
Because I skipped the two Olympic triathlons in which I’d hoped to compete. I was all ready to drive to Wauconda at 4:00 in the morning the day of the race in July when massive thunderstorms rolled over the Chicago area pouring rain and lightning down from the sky. So that race was not to be. I got up anyway to drive the race number I’d collected for my sister-in-law the day before and plied my Subaru through rivers flowing across the main highways. Then I drove back home wondering if I was a latter day version of the biblical character Job from the Old Testament. The race was cancelled anyway.
The tooth and face actually took forever to heal, but my cycling and riding weren’t completely lost during the process. My resting heart rate was still in the low forties and I rode fifty miles wity my wife on the weekends as she prepped for the Louisville Ironman.
Still we wanted to take a summer break in late August and joined a couple friends on their boat on the Rock River. Against my own best instincts, and forgetting what a curse the year 2019 had already been, I overcame my best instincts and promises to myself and agreed to try getting up on waterskis. I’ve done it many times before, but this was 2019. On the first try I felt a painful tug along the inside of my left leg. I’d pulled the long tendon of my left hamstring. Humbled and disgusted, I climbed back in to the boat and sipped a warm Pepsi, thinking to myself, “How stupid can you be?”
That reduced me to walking slowly for a couple weeks. But there was plenty of need for that too. We’d adopted a dog named Lucy, a 50% pit mix with border collie, boxer and beagle mixed in. High energy and nippy as a puppy, she gave me caregiving PTSD at the start.
So I vowed to live vicariously for the rest of the year, and keep things simple by training with Sue and not worrying about when I could or could not again. Because it plainly was not meant to be.
In October Sue rocked her full Ironman, minus the swim, which was cancelled due to high toxic algae levels in the Ohio River. And I thought to myself, “Well that’s par for the course this year.” And we had a scare the day before the race when Sue’s front bike tire popped and she bumped her knee on the pavement. Coming off the bike in Louisville, she told me her knee was stiff. I was sorely disappointed at the thought she might not finish. But she did.
And a week later we flew off to the Mediterranean for a Norwegian Cruise Line tour from Barcelona to Naples to Florence to Cannes and down to Majorca before coming back home.
As we flew home over the giant expanse of ice covering Greenland, I looked down and thought about climate change and how the world is changing in ways that some people refuse to recognize and others feel panicked at the rate in which it is occurring.
Such is the condition of life in general.
A couple weeks later while standing stock still at the dog park watching our dog Lucy play with her friends, a big, fat yellow labrador retriever mowed me down with a hard strike to my left knee. I landed on my ass and lay there in the grass for a moment thinking about all that had happened in 2019. And I said out loud, “What the actual fuck?”
The knee has been loose and greasy feeling for weeks, and I can’t yet tell whether the damage and slight pain is permanent or just the echo of the impact. A week ago I took our pup back to the dog park for some play and met up with some young guys running their collie-Shephard mix around. Our dogs played together and then I ran after Lucy at a decent clip to race her to a ball. Upon my return one of the young men asked, “How old did you say you are again? You don’t run like an old man.”
That felt good to hear. Trying to keep age at bay is a full time job.
But 2019 was not done messing with me yet. Three days ago I took Lucy to the dog park again and within five minutes a big Lab-Shepard mix snapped at Lucy, pinned her down and bit a hole above her eye. It required stitches to fix and a $250 vet bill to boot.
So yes, I’m hoping 2020 looks better than 2019 for me. Between all of this and living with the smell fascism in the air, it has been a year of struggle and infamy.