In two days it will be June. That is the official start of summer in my mind. Which meant it felt a little bittersweet to stumble upon this photo taken in August of last year. Summer often goes too fast…
None of us wants summer to slip by unappreciated. But life has a tendency to shove us through these three months no matter how we try to take stock, slow down and appreciate these summer days.
What do we want from summer?
I do know what I’d like to get from this year’s summer months. Perhaps you can relate. I want a number of long, unpressured bike rides that wind up at twilight with the air cooling down and the feeling of those miles in my legs.
But I also want those hard, fast nights when the air is warm and I’m cycling for all I’m worth, legs screaming as I rip along at 26+mph trying to break my record on a Strava segment.
That’s summer too.
It will be a great summer if there are also many long runs on grassy paths and gravel trails. It would even be nice to get lost in a deep, thick woods and have to figure my way back home on sandy trails in the north woods.
If there’s a cool, dark lake in which to swim at the end of some of those runs, that would be wonderful too.
Riding nowhere to get somewhere
Every summer a group of us gather to ride from St. Charles, Illinois up to Fontana, Wisconsin where we go for a refreshing swim in Lake Geneva. Then we retreat to the shady confines of Chuck’s, a bar overlooking the lake shore and all the boats. We drink beers and have burgers without worrying about getting a bit ripped because the designated driver with our bikes on the back of her car will usher us back home.
It will be a stupendous summer if a few races also plop into the schedule. For me that means a couple Sprint Tris and an Olympic (or two.) We may even do a crazy fun new race called the Loop Pursuit up in Verona, Wisconsin. Here are the raw details.
Sunday, August 4th, 2019 Total Distance: 50 miles Swim: .8 miles Bike: 39.2 miles Run: 10 miles
“Making its debut in 2019, The Loop Pursuit is the triathlon experience you’ve been longing for. We’re focusing on what you love about the sport — camaraderie, challenge, attaining a personal best — and leaving behind those things you don’t.The Loop Pursuit Triathlon gives participants a “right distance” race opportunity to use for long course triathlon training and a challenge for those wanting a bit more than a sprint distance triathlon.”
In other words, while all these summer sensations are great to pursue, it might be fun for all of us to break out of our training and racing routines this summer. I might even look for an Xterra Tri or some nutty thing like that.
Because the one thing that I want from this summer is to feel like I am truly alive. And so should you.
The photo above shows the goslings that come to our backyard bird feeder every day. They’re not ducklings, per se, but they are rather “ugly” as birds go. They’re still in their coating of down feathers. Soon they’ll be pushing out “real” feathers and taking on the general pattern of their parents with the black necks and distinctive white cheek patch of grown Canada geese.
We all go through awkward phases in life. Middle school is the worst stage for most people. That gawky era with bad glasses and seemingly malformed bodies is the worst. I adore the show Big Mouth for its honesty about the horrific transition through pubescence and its ensuing sexual curiosity and embarrassment.
My middle school years were split between a 7th grade in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and eighth grade in Elburn, Illinois. When our family moved I left behind close friendships built through elementary school and had to start all over again in the cornfields of Illinois. I was relatively popular and one of the top athletes back East, invited to the Kiss the Bottle parties and middle school betrothed to a girlfriend named Lisa who worse short skirts and made out with me in the dark with stacks of 45 rpm records playing in the background.
For the most part we were competing to look as hip and sophisticated as possible in late 1960s parlance with our longer hair and bellbottom jeans. When I moved my girlfriend gave me a photo of her and handwritten lyrics to the Carpenters song Close to You. Given my burgeoning interest in ornithology at that age, the lyrics turned out to be prescient in my lifetime:
Why do birds suddenly appear Every time you are near? Just like me, they long to be Close to you
Even as partly fledged human beings we were fully aware of tits and asses even in 7th grade. The girls back east wore miniskirts with fishnet stockings. We felt like we knew so much and yet we knew so little. At least I did. Once I moved away, I heard through a letter from a friend back home that one of our classmates got pregnant in eighth grade and had an abortion.
The summer before my eighth grade year I met all new friends and started forming a new life because that’s all you can do when you’re thirteen years old and trying to make sense of the mysteries of the world. I played basketball all winter and ran track that spring, and was pretty sure I’d go out for football in the fall because I’d won the Punt, Pass and Kick contest and advanced to districts because I was so competitive I refused to lose.
My father over ruled those instincts and sent me out for the cross country team as a freshman. Running cross country didn’t seem to impress the girls as much as playing football might have done. But running did provide a temporary release for all my anxieties. It also assuaged my teenage angst and anger and provided a healthy release of teenage hormones. For the most part anyway.
I was still an ugly ducking with a pile of thick hair on top of my head and a close-mouthed smirk in every photo because my teeth were crooked. There were times when I felt like I was truly flying out there on the cross country course, and I made the Varsity as a freshman. Yet there were also times when I felt like a flailing ugly duckling making it up as I went along.
Once in a while I go cycling past Kaneland High School out in the cornfields west of Elburn, Illinois. By my sophomore year we moved again and I was forced to leave behind the friends and status I’d worked so hard to earn through those ugly duckling years. The lessons learned from all that change still run through me to this day. No matter how successful people become, it often takes a daily dose of wing flapping to keep those ugly duckling beliefs about yourself at bay.
That fishy character named Dory originally depicted in the movie Finding Nemo always advises “Just keep swimming…” as the means to get through life’s challenges and absent-minded mistakes. I prefer to think of myself as a bird, an ugly duckling with full feathers and the need to molt now and then.
“Just keeping flapping…” is more my mantra when I feel like flying.
The events I’m about to share happened quite a long time ago. But like a good Bob Seger song, some things never quite fade from memory.
It was May of 1975. As a senior in high school I was gunning to make the state meet in the mile run and had reached the qualifying time five times leading up to the state meet trials. I lined up for the race feeling confident that I could make the top six places, but wound up flailing down the home stretch in seventh place and did not advance to the state meet after all. I’d reach the time, but not the place.
It was disappointing. All that running in high school and I never did make it to a single state track meet. The same was true in cross country, where our sectional meet featured teams such as York and the Glenbard schools along with a host of individual competitors able to crack 15:00 with ease for the three-mile distance. So I never advanced from sectionals in cross country either.
All the same, a few buddies and I decided to drive to Charleston, Illinois to cheer on the guys that we knew that were competing from our school and others as well.
Perhaps I’d have had better luck qualifying for state if our family had remained in that little town where I’d attended a Class A school through my sophomore year. The transfer to a Class AA school put me in a more competitive bracket and tougher qualifying times than the single A level. That said, my former teammates would win the state Class A track title that year. That made my own experience bittersweet. But I cheered hard for them just the same. It proved to be a long day sitting in the heat and sun, full of thirst and just wanting to go back home.
When the meet was over, my buddies and I piled back into the ’67 Chevy owned by my best friend and we heading up the long road home home. About 3/4 of the way back from Charleston I looked over and noticed that we were passing a vehicle filled with girls from my former high school. I said to my buddies, “Let’s moon them.”
Letting it all hang out
And so it began. Two carloads of bored and sunburned kids flashing each other as we took turns roaring past with our nakedness showing. “Let’s give ’em a fruit basket,” one of my buddies chortled. We soared past with his nuts pinched between his legs and ass.
The girls came back past us with breasts and butts and everything else smashed against the rear windows. The driver sat behind the wheel smirking. I couldn’t believe I was seeing the boobs of gals with home I’d gone to school since eighth grade. None of us were complaining.
Somehow during all this nakedness with genitals and breasts and balls and dicks flying around I scored the phone number of one of the prettiest girls in the car. The next day I called to invite her out to a movie, and she said yes. That surprised me because I’d never dated her during my time attending the other school. But again, I wasn’t going to complain.
As luck would have it, the movie Shampoo starring Warren Beatty was showing at the theaters. The whole flick was about having sex. I sat next to my date trying not to look too eager about the whole affair.
And then just like the Bob Seger song Night Moves we drove out into the cornfields to go parking on a remote road and had fun like teenagers do.
I was a little too tall Could’ve used a few pounds Tight pants points hardly reknown She was a black haired beauty with big dark eyes And points all her own sitting way up high Way up firm and high
Out past the cornfields where the woods got heavy Out in the back seat of my ’60 Chevy Workin’ on mysteries without any clues Workin’ on our night moves Trying’ to make some front page drive-in news Workin’ on our night moves in the summertime In the sweet summertime
That time with her almost made me glad to have missing qualifying for the state meet. And had I actually learned something from that encounter, such as the fact that women are frequently just as eager for dalliances and adventures as men, I’d have likely had even more success in that field of endeavor.
But you know, fear and lack of confidence crept back in. Those two traits have killed more ambitions than any two things in history.
Eventually I overcame those limitations as well. And every year when the state track meet comes around, I think of that race where I didn’t qualify in the mile and the swift part of that memory flashes through my mind. I remember many times thinking that being an athletic star would get me girlfriends. But then I realized it’s more about having the confidence and wit to just go up and talk to them. And perhaps be a little dangerous or interesting in whatever way you can muster. Women genuinely seem to like that.
Who can blame them? Don’t we all have the right to make life more interesting?
That said, I never saw that girl again. Years later I was told by one of our mutual friends, and one of the gals that was in the car that day… that she married a rich guy and is quite happy with him. Then her friend said, “She was one of the prettiest girls I ever knew.”
What you’re about to read is insulting to many people. But either I’m honest about what I think about life or I should quit writing. And I’d rather cease existing than do that. So here goes.
See those shoes in the photo above? I hope I never wear them. It’s not that I don’t like the brand. I love New Balance shoes. I currently run in New Balance 880s. They are great running shoes. The other New Balance gear that I own is great stuff as well. I own an NB running jacket that is thirty years old and still looks and feels new. I owned a training mock turtle that was also thirty years old and got lost in my move a few years ago. Otherwise I’d still wear it.
But the New Balance shoes above are not designed for anything but doddering through life on a cushiony platform designed never to exceed about two miles per hour.
I see models such as these on the feet of many older men. Now truth be told, some would consider me an older man. I’m sixty-one years old. But I still run and stand up straight. Even my injuries don’t really slow me down.
I know younger men that wear these New Balance shoes that just like them because they’re comfortable. And I get that. There’s just something about the doddering nature of these white NB shoes that makes me queasy. They fall into the category of expandable waistbands and pee diapers.
Yes, that’s mean of me to say. One should not criticize or judge others, lest ye be judged. As for self-criticism, I genuinely deserve to go to hell for a long series of really bad hats that I’ve worn during my lifetime. Looking back at some of those bad hat photos makes me cringe. It’s no wonder that when I was wearing some of those hats the women of this world ran the other way. When I took off the hats, good things happened. We either learn from our mistakes, or we don’t.
We traveled to Madison, Wisconsin this weekend for a training trip, joining the crew from Madison Multisport and its coaches Steve Brandes and Cindy Bannink. The purpose was to ride the Madison Half-Ironman course, which loops south of the city into hilly terrain and back again. And from the get-go, I felt great. And grateful.
So many times I’ve gone into rides like these over the years not feeling confident to cover the course on pace with Sue or the crew. This time that was not that kind of ride. I welcomed every uphill climb because we’ve already done a lot of that this year. Our trip to Tucson was a climbfest in February and our ride in Galena two weeks ago was called Ups and Downs. So my brain was liberated from worries about whether I could pedal proficiently.
So I had to laugh when checking in at the Courtyard by Marriott hotel to find the rooms still equipped with dial-up ports for the Internet. That seemed to symbolize how my brain functions when I lack confidence…a long hairy dial tone followed by weird noise and a slow connection.
The only remaining concern was a continuing injury to the muscles behind my knee. It has been sore to the point of avoiding runs for the most part and being extremely judicious while riding not to stay in high gears (grinding) and cause the leg to flare up all over again.
The hurt began after climbing steep hills in Galena without a light enough gear to spin up them. Sue has a new climbing cassette that was specifically purchased for the purpose of handling the Ironman hills both at the Half this summer and the full this fall. She’s been joyfully spinning up those hills since installation of the new cassette.
But I wasn’t riding my Specialized Venge this trip, because the setup created on my Felt Tri-bike is working out well. That frame is light and smooth and being able to get down in aero is saving me precious energy when riding with other triathletes. No longer am I fighting 20% more wind resistance or trying to suck wheels in order to stay in the draft. Frankly that doesn’t work all that well when the person riding in front of you is in aero.
So I was charmed and excited by the ability to whizz along with the other aero riders out there on the flats. And when it came to climbing, I’ll have to check the gearing on my Felt and see what my gearing actually is. Because it seems much easier to climb on that bike than my Venge. Perhaps a few more teeth on the cassette?
I’m not that sophisticated when it comes to all that. But I do know this: I’m riding faster and more efficiently in aero when in the company of other triathletes. When I ride with my roadie friends, I’ll use the Venge.
Despite the relative joys, the weather did turn wet toward the end of our fifty-six mile, 3:20 ride. We had to ease back on the pace as the roads got slick, especially on downhills coming into traffic lights. By the time we got back to Madison the skies had really opened up and everyone gathered under the MM tent for a mini-feast of munchies. I even allowed myself a few Oreos as a reward for riding well.
Face yourself, pace yourself
Sue was concerned at the beginning of the ride that I’d burn myself out leading the way around the course. After ten miles we synced back up and she advised caution. But I felt fantastic from the start and her goals of riding a pace that would allow her to get off the bike and run thirteen miles meant that we weren’t killing ourselves out there. It was her goal to find out how to ride so that she could apply that experience to her upcoming race. I learned from that too.
So it felt comfortable and fun riding up the hills and coursing down the other side. I did learn that there’s no sense in trying to shift from the drops to aero while going 30+ mph. It’s unstable and not really worth it. Plus deep down the bike wobble experience with that bike more than seven years ago makes me want to be a bit more cautious until I sense how it performs with aero bars on the front.
No rain, no rain…
A massive rain storm was predicted overnight and into the next morning. So we wavered on whether to stay another night and try to run in the morning. To our good fortune, the rain held off until 11:00 a.m. on Sunday (as Sue willed it so) and she got all thirteen miles done in four loops around the Pheasant Branch Conservancy park in Middleton. It was smooth going on the soft surface, and I ran a loop and then parked my butt in the back of the Outlander to write while she did her longer training run.
Sue happened upon a beautiful rooster pheasant striding through the grass. The fields and woods were alive with birdsong. We also spied a massive wild turkey perched in a low shrub along the trail. Middleton does such a nice job of managing that park. And yet a recent hard storm drove the creek to rise and it washed out a fifty yard section of trail while gouging the sides of the sandy creek bed. Nature will not be denied.
On occasion I’d take a break from writing in the back seat of the car to jump out and pet the many doggos being walked in the park. One gentleman led two boxer and a wiemeraner on a walk together. I nuzzled the pops and got some kisses. Gotta love me so dog time.
Every time Sue came by the parking lot she looked smooth and capable. She’s looking so much stronger and lighter on the run these days. Meanwhile my leg is healing up and I’m going to cancel the scheduled appointment with the orthopedist today because the muscles are healing and the tendons are not so tight. It’s all proof that sometimes you just have to wait things out and see what comes next. As in all of life, it’s all uphill and downhill from here.
Way back in 2003, I decided that it might be interesting to try triathlon. But it didn’t start well. I took my first couple swim lessons and lost one of my contact lenses in the pool while taking my goggles off. Rookie mistake.
A week later I actually tore my ACL playing indoor soccer. Thus my triathlon dreams were put on a semi-permanent hold. I waited six months to have surgery and then did a year’s worth of rehab. Something in me wanted to prove that I could return to playing soccer and played for two more years before tearing the ACL again.
That convinced me the days of ballistic sports were through. So I started a bit more serious riding on the Trek 400 road bike that my brother-in-law had given me. It was the same bike he’d used to start his cycling career, so I gave it my best shot tooling around with that open frame and the shifters on the down tube.
A real road bike
But eventually I saw the need for a “real” ride to support my Road Child persona and purchased a Felt 4C Carbon fiber road bike. The transformation from struggling rider to an eager new Road Child was instant. I’d never owned a bike that smooth and fast. So I started racing criterium events and learned through experience the joys, thrills and dangers of riding at top speed in a field of 20-30 riders.
That bike took me through many seasons and plenty of challenges outside the world of riding. That bike was my therapy during years as caregiver to a wife with cancer and a father who was a stroke victim. Being the simultaneous guide to both those loved ones was a test of mental strength, spirit and resolve.
There were days when I barely had the will to ride. My competitive verve was essentially flattened by the combination of work, health-related finances and caregiving. There were more than a few times that I simply gave up and got dropped on the weekend group rides because my determination was wicked away by that roll call of obligations.
This is not to say that I regret any of those circumstances or experiences. But it was rather symbolic that my Felt road bike finally succumbed to an absent-minded moment. I returned from a fall road ride on a cold October day when I wasn’t feeling well and drove my car into the garage with the Felt still on the roof rack. The impact broke the front fork at the top.
It was such a depressing little moment that I hung the disassembled bike up in the garage and didn’t ride at all for two whole months. By then my brother-in-law had willed me another of his bikes, this time a beautiful blue classic Waterford, but the frame was slightly small for my long torso and try as I might, that bike was not destined to be my main ride.
My relationship and resulting marriage to a triathlete drew me into the worlds of duathlon and then triathlon. Thus after the Felt got crunched I went searching for a new bike and found a Specialized Venge. I thought I’d struck on the perfect combination of an aero bike for road and triathlon racing.
Ooops on the aero
There was just one problem. Specialized at that time did not make acceptable aero bars for use on the Venge. So I raced the best I could on that road bike and was able to compete at just over 20 mph in Sprint and duathlon races. But I sensed there was a missing component in my racing as people on aero bikes flew by. So I tried attaching aero bars to the Waterford, but that did not work.
So this past winter I pulled the Felt frame back down from the wall and took it to the bike shop for a thorough inspection of the frame. A close friend and bike mechanic insists that I should never ride the Felt again on grounds that the frame could be cracked and possibly dissipate under my weight.
But I was no so sure about that. So several people at Prairie Path Cycles looked at the Felt and determined that the only real damage done to the bike was the front fork. So we bought a new fork and installed it along with aero bars. Now I’m not only a Road Child, I have an alternate identity as Aero Boy.
Aero Boy can really fly
And that bike can fly. It was always a smooth ride. The Felt 4C was originally named Bike of the Year and called the Red Rocket by Bicycling Magazine in 2006. So it’s nice to have that sweet ride underneath me again. In aero position, I’ve been able to ride more capably with Sue on days when we both ride the aero bikes. It was always difficult to draft behind her on my road bike, especially on longer rides when the 20% factor of greater wind resistance sooner or later wore me down.
Yesterday we finished together after 35 miles of riding during a windy day. That would not have happened on the Specialized road bike as Road Child.
Just last week I was mentioning this history during a visit to Mill Race Cyclery (I like to resource with several local bike shops) That’s where I met the Specialized rep. He looked at me funny as I told him about rigging the Felt for aero riding and he pulled out his iPad and called up several options for aero bars on the Specialized Venge.
I’d called Specialized a few years back when I bought the bike and they told me not to put aero bars on the flat handlebars provided with the bike. But now they’ve overcome that issue with new designs and I’m curious how that bike would feel in aero position as well.
So-called purists can stuff it
Sure, there are people who would scoff and say, “Just buy a goddamned tri-bike and be done with it.” But I know plenty of folks who race quite well with the road-aero configuration. So this is my path for now.
Ironically, as Sue and I were riding south on Deerpath road to start our ride, a group of ten roadie cyclists caught and passed us. Sue was riding in zone 2-3 so we didn’t attempt to trail those boys. Yet a part of me wanted to yell out, “Hey, I’m not just a tri-guy!” See, there’s a bit of prejudice among real roadies toward tri-bikes and that whole hunched over posture common to aero riders.
But I’m happy with my dual personality. Some days I’ll go out as Road Child and other days be happy riding like a bullet as Aero Boy. Every superhero needs a couple personalities, do they not?
This past week the neighbor kids up the block were dribbling and shooting a basketball in their driveway. I was headed out for a run when the ball escaped them and rolled to my feet. I scooped it up and started spinning on my finger.
That stunt always gets attention from kids and adults alike. Spinning a ball on the fingers isn’t all that uncommon among people that have played the game. But among those that have not played the sport, it seems like magic.
Spinning a basketball is a pretty useless skill except for brief moments of entertainment. I can also spin the ball around my cupped arms again and again. But that’s…another pretty useless skill.
Such are the vagaries of youthful obsessions. It took quite a bit of time to develop the ability to spin a basketball. As a ten-year-old kid who admired the style of the late Pete Maravich, I wanted to do everything just like him. I learned to dribble between my legs and behind my back and taught myself other moves made famous by Pistol Pete. All told, I became a flashy player to the consternation of several coaches along the way.
Those coaches considered the flashy elements of my game to be fairly useless skills. To some degree, they were right. It is true that playing basketball involves plenty of individual skills, if you want to win it remains a team game. Fundamentals help you do that. Flashiness can just get in the way and interrupt the flow.
Unless you use it right. Which was always my goal. To make the flashy look easy and make it fit into the flow of the game, or improve it when possible. And to my own credit on many occasions, that’s how it turned out.
Because by the time I hit my 20s I spent plenty of time on basketball courts playing at open gyms and in leagues. My game actually improved as a result, and the truly useless parts were eventually weaned away. But I did not abandon the flashy elements completely. It was too fun and often practical to put those useless skills to work in a world where they were also often appreciated. Then players such as Steve Nash and Jason Kidd were lighting up the NBA. It felt like life had come full circle. Perhaps I was just ahead of my time?
Those flashy skills such as spinning a basketball on your finger actually do reflect the fundamentals. It shows that you’ve spent considerable time getting to know the central tool of that sport. Doing flashy things with a basketball or a soccer ball demonstrates confidence and control.
Control and confidence
Interestingly, there is no real parallel to spinning a basketball in endurance sports. The visual that supplants useless skills in triathlon is equipment and gear.
When someone wheels a glimmering $8,000 bike through transition, that’s the equivalent of saying “I’m invested in this sport and I’m going to kick your ass on the course.”
One still has to back that flashiness up, of course. Otherwise it’s the equivalent of spinning a basketball on your finger in the pre-game and not scoring a point the entire contest.
Getting a leg up
The same goes for cycling roadies, but it kind of works in reverse. The tradition of shaving one’s legs is so strong in the road cycling world that showing up with hairy legs means one of two things. You either don’t know the tradition or else you better be so good that you can ride the legs off anyone, hairy legs or not.
I’ve never been so good at cycling that I can flaunt tradition or expect to ride the legs off anyone else. But once in a while, when I’m feeling really good and the legs are good, I’ll sit up front and spin the cranks because I can. It’s a mostly useless skill, but damn it feels good to use it.
Years ago during a training trip out west in the Grand Tetons, our cross country team ran from Jenny Lake at 6000 feet up to Lake Solitude at 9000 feet and back down again. We did that run without water, and it was strongly advised not to bend down and drink from a stream or lake due to the presence of giardia, the microorganism that infects waterways throughout the West.
So the first nine miles were not so bad. But coming down another nine miles without a drop to drink turned into a cringefest. I was getting dehydrated in the dry mountain air. Plus the angle of the trail was steep in many places. My thighs began to ache and it was hard to put on the brakes with every step. In youthful courage I let the feet fly at some points. Finally after a solid hour of downhill running I arrived back at camp sore and thirsty.
You’d never think running downhill could hurt worst than running uphill, but it did that day.
Recently on our anniversary weekend out in Galena, Illinois, I had another downhill running experience that added up to pain. We’d cycled 50+ miles in the Ups and Downs Ride sponsored by the G.O.A.T.S club in Jo Daviess County, and it was fun.
But I was a little stiff the next morning after all that climbing in relatively cool weather. We got up to run on Sunday morning in more cool weather and started east from our hotel toward the riding stables at the bottom of a valley in the Eagle Ridge Resort complex.
We went down and down and down. At one point the degree of incline reached probably 12% for a short stretch. That’s when I felt a sharp twinge at the back of my left knee. It kept up the rest of the run. That’s never good. For days now after the trip the back of my knee has been sore enough that I have not chosen to run at all.
There’s a good reason why it might be hurting. There’s no ACL in that knee, and last year I had meniscus surgery to remove a bit of torn material on the inside front of the kneecap. But this was a new type of injury than I’d previously experienced.
I’m supposing the reason for what happened is simple: Without the forward/backward support of an ACL to stablize my knee, the back of my leg experienced a hyperextension due to the extra motion created by downhill running.
The fact that it still hurts is a bit worrying. It feels most like muscle soreness with some compensatory ligament strain. So it may take time to heal.
I’ve also biked twice with the knee since last weekend and am not certain whether that is a contributing factor to the soreness or not. Doing all that pulling with the hamstring during some long and steep climbs last weekend may well have caused a strain of the muscle at the back of the knee. Many cyclists do get knee injuries from overuse.
So I’ll have to wait and see a few more days how this scenario plays out. The ironic aspect of this injury is that we were running quite slow going downhill that morning. Yet that may be the actual cause of the injury. Rather than floating down the hill as I once might have done, every step was a brake action of sorts. Getting older is a tautology of sorts when it comes to pace. If you go fast it hurts, but if you go slow it can hurt even more.
Yesterday afternoon while cleaning out the bird feed bins I looked around for the container of black oil sunflower seed that has supplied the cardinals and other birds with food all winter. It started with a 60 lb. bag from which I’d shovel a big servings every day for distribution at the foot of the feeding station.
Now the seed stock is down to a few pounds so I poured it all into a plastic bin and stored it at the back of the house. The squirrels found their way into the bin and so did an opossum.
Two nights ago the opossum apparently climbed into the bin to gorge itself on the sweet smorgasbord of plant protein. Unfortunately the bin must have tipped and dumped the opossum into our five-foot-deep window well. There is slept the day away despite its circumstance. The lifespan of most opossums is not much longer than four years, if they’re lucky. Many die as road kill or are attacked by owls or other predators. Some just starve or freeze to death.
I find wildlife encounters fascinating. So last night I brought everyone out to see the opossum. The fur is beautiful, and yet one of our children remarked, “It looks like old man hair.” It certainly did. All silver at the base with untamed strands poking up like the head of Bernie Sanders.
I thought about the origins of that opossum. Here’s a description of their lifestyle and biology:
Opossums are cat-sized mammals with a pointed snout, grayish fur, small ears, and a long, scaly tail. It can use its tail to hang from tree branches, and it has paws with opposable “thumbs.” Males are usually larger and heavier than females. The opossum is active only at night, and is a solitary animal. They have an eclectic diet and will eat both plants and animals, including rodents, young rabbits, birds, insects, crustaceans, frogs, fruits and berries, and vegetables.
I find facts like these fascinating. Opossums are also appreciated for their habit of gobbling up ticks, the most horrid creature on the face of this earth as far as I’m concerned. What is there to love about a blood-sucking critter that in some species can transmit Lyme disease to humans?
I was bitten by a tiny deer tick fifteen years ago and got the radar rash. That sent me straight to the doctor for medication. Thankfully I did not contract Lyme.
Regular old ticks are just as unnerving as those that spread Lyme and finding a tick on your body is always a disturbing moment. I’ve been running in our local grassland forest preserve and come home with four or five ticks in my socks. But far worse than that, I’ve found them crawling up my neck a half day later. Ticks are sneaky bastards, so I’m glad that opossums eat them. I hope they spit out their little tick souls in the process.
So I say “Welcome to my house, opossum.” There is a faint trail across my side yard where the critter traipses to our home during his nightly visits to our bird feeder. But the true trail of that opossum to our home goes back much farther than that. Opossums have come a long way through history to haunt our yards.
The website Sciencedaily.com offers fascinating information on the life history and evolution of marsupials such as opossums: “Marsupials migrated between North and South America until the two continents separated after the end of the Cretaceous period. Marsupials in South America diversified and also migrated into Antarctica and Australia, which were still connected at that time, Bloch said.”
“North American marsupials went extinct during the early Miocene, about 20 million years ago. But after the Isthmus of Panama emerged to reconnect North and South America 3 million years ago, two marsupials made it back to North America: the Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana), a common resident in the Southeast today, and the southern opossum (Didelphis marsupialis), which lives as far north as Mexico.”
The reason this information is so important to our existence as human beings is that it reveals the miracle of nature on its own terms. The long history of the planet earth and its paths of evolution are evidence of cause and effect. These dynamics undergird the rational foundations of all reality.
As human beings, we rely on cause and effect in our everyday lives. One common example is that cause and effect drives the training of athletes. It provides a foundation for the prediction of performance. When we say we’re “in shape” it means we have used the cause (training) to achieve the desired effect (racing and performance) around which achievements are based. We don’t just wish our way to success in any endeavor. Cause and effect gets us there.
Survival of the fittest
The colloquial term “survival of the fittest” that is traditionally associated with the theory of evolution is essentially a broad-based description of cause and effect. The opossum in my window well is the product of millions of years of cause and effect at a local, regional and global scale. From the continents shifting across the face of the planet to seas rising and falling as a result of those movements, creatures such as the opossum have been crawling through time to arrive at our doorsteps.
Human beings are not immune from the forces that shape and change our planet. Yet some people try to deny that fact on basis that we’re “specially created.” This claim rises from a literal interpretation of scripture found in the Book of Genesis, a document originally based on oral tradition that was written down more than three thousand years ago.
Noah and the Flood
That worldview includes the clearly mythical tale of Noah’s Ark, in which all the living things on earth save a few specimens are wiped out during a great flood.
The story of Noah and the ark is clearly is not literal in nature. There are far too many missing facts and enormous improbabilities for the myth to hold up as a scientific theory. Consider the opossum in our window well. Did the ancestors of that creature (was it a pair, or seven?) somehow swim across the salty stretches of Atlantic Ocean, cross deserts and mountains to board the ark and then swim back over the ocean again to settle in North America? No, they did not.
The flood narrative does serve as a paralyzingly cataclysmic morality tale. In its brutal finality, it demonstrates the inescapable truth of cause and effect. It warns the human race that arrogance and selfishness can lead to destruction at the hands of nature.
Despite the obviously allegorical purpose the flood narrative, biblical creationists are eager to defend a literal interpretation because it feeds into the notion that human beings are the saviors of the world, with Jesus at the top. This is cause and effect as described by religion. It likely has roots in a flood of immense proportions but the inherently limited knowledge of the world at the time of its recording precludes any claims that the flood was indeed a worldwide event. So the literal interpretation of that narrative is literally stupid. The choice to embrace a brand stubborn literalism is evidence of willing ignorance.
Instead we need to recognize that human beings are lucky to have evolved in the form they did. We have enough intelligence to calculate our own survival prospects, but not if we deny the material evidence that undergirds that existence. Depending on anachronism to describe the origins of the universe is not intelligent. It is selfish and dangerous.
Setting nature free
The wisdom of setting nature free is why we stuck a ladder down the window well to let the opossum creep out on its own. No need to call Animal Control or trap the animal and send it off to isolation or likely death in unfamiliar habitat. For the most part, the opossum has minded its own business along with the many creatures we watch our the windows of our house. Wood ducks. Canada geese. Numerous songbirds. And come spring, eruptions of migrating frogs. All have their rhythms. All living within the boundaries of cause and effect.
Nature knows what it’s doing far better than the impositions of human judgment and arrogance. Unfortunately, millions of species of animals are at risk of extinction due to human interference with the environment. That’s a cause and effect that should be unsettling to us all. Yet some people are too arrogant or religiously stubborn to comprehend the cause and effect of our own impact on this world. Perhaps those folks need to spend a night in a window well to help them realize life really is a product of cause and effect.
I hopped onto the website for The Rules of cycling as described by a less-than-merry bunch of riders who go by the scribe Velominati. There is plenty of good and wise advice on the site for anyone seeking to slot into the world of cycling without being considered a douche, a Fred or a hopeless hipster.
Yet there’s always room for breaking The Rules as mapped out by any sort of religious authority. And if you don’t think cycling is a religion, then you don’t know any real cyclists.
I know quite a few, and the best riders I know do indeed adhere to some version of The Rules because they’ve been 1) cycling a long time and 2) simply know better than to wear a road riding bike helmet with the visor still installed.
I made that mistake the first time I showed up for a ride with real cyclists. I also still had the reflectors on my wheels. But I’d just purchased the Felt 4C road bike and new helmet and Specialized cycling shoes, so I was an admitted rookie.
That day I hung on for dear life and came home tired and gratified to be initiated. Then I removed the reflectors from my wheels and took the visor off my helmet and the rest has been a matter of close observation and learning to shave my legs without any risk of razor burn.
But I’ve been a rule-breaker in so many other ways in life that my adherence to the canon of cycling has in fact encouraged me to reach outside The Rules and invent my own set of standards. This has included involvement in the sport of triathlon, which is described in unforgiving terms by the Velominati:
Rule #42: If it’s preceded with a swim and/or followed by a run, it is not called a bike race, it is called duathlon or a triathlon. Neither of which is a bike race. Also keep in mind that one should only swim in order to prevent drowning, and should only run if being chased. And even then, one should only run fast enough to prevent capture.
Well, I was frankly screwed in this category from the get-go. After all, I came to the sport of cycling from a long career as a runner. I was a good runner. I freaking won races. Lots of them. So I’ll not apologize for that history under any circumstances.
I also learned to race bikes… once I got a decent one. Lots of criterium races. Hard riding at top end while learning to draft and figuring out how to catch back on if you get dropped. You ride like an SOB and hope you can catch a wheel.
The more I rode, the harder I trained. That’s one of the tarsnakes of cycling, it never gets easier. I was a man who loved his work. That included a day going out into the rain on the bike. That’s not an easy thing to do, to walk from your warm house and pedal into driving rain is at first shocking. Then you realize it’s so fun you keep going.
That’s the same attitude I bring to triathlon and duathlon. I do it because it’s hard. Swimming has been one of the hardest things I’ve had to learn in life. And I don’t pussy-foot on the bike or the run either.
I do know enough not to bring a triathlon bike to a road group ride. That would be dumb. But I’ve also watched pro cyclists race their time trial bikes and there is no difference between the bike I’ve set up for tris and the bikes raced in the Tour or other time trials.
So sure, I’m breaking The Rules in some respects. But I’ll break them as hard as I can, and Harden the Fuck Up along the way.