Monday, September 18, 2006

On the Road to Recovery

A lot has happened since the last post -- A lumbar disk (L4/5) blew out just before Labor Day. I endured 2 weeks of unabated, debilitating pain. I've tried every drug combination shy of intravenous morphine. I lost countless hours of sleep. Lost 15 pounds. The narcotics precipitated a nasty gastro-intestinal disorder. I had surgery on September 12th. Endured further intestinal problems and have had to put up with withdrawal symptoms as I wean myself from the narcotics. It looks like, and I say this quite a bit of caution and a lot of "wood knocking", the worst is behind me and I am slowly on the mend.

First the good news - the eye crossing, heart stopping, intense pain is pretty much gone. I have had a few episodes where if i turn my foot the wrong way or sit improperly that I have sharp spasms that eventually subside. If I'm careful and slow, I can get by. I can get my own socks on. I can walk up and down stairs. I can get through a day without consuming a medicine cabinet's amount of pills.

Now the bad news - I still have persistent numbness in both legs. I can't stand up straight. I can only walk a short distance. I'm constantly cranky -- so I've been told. Hopefully, all these things will improve with time - again "knocking on wood".

Highlights and Lowlights
I am very appreciative of all the support that you have shown. I've received many calls, emails, visits, and cards wishing me well. My new employer, Trapeze Networks, has been very decent and considerate since I went down on the second day of the job. Thanks everyone for your kindness and support. It has cheered me up especially since the local weather has been spectacular and I haven't had the opportunity to enjoy biking or attending Bears games -- well and a diminished general quality of life nor an ability to do simple things like walking around.

And now for an unexpected lowlight. I strongly advise if you're of a sensitive nature, that you skip this section and pick it up below where it says "Okay, you can start reading again." It's pretty impolite and downright icky. Anyway, don't say I didn't warn you. One of the side effects of taking morphine-based drugs is that they can be addicitive (of course we all know that) and incredibly constipating. I'm sure I've lost half of you by that sentence. Really, I don't mind if you skip ahead. Anyway, you hear about the good effects - like pain relief, rippin' good hallucinations. But they emphasize the addiction part but not that constipation part. I suppose that because I took Vicodin, Oxycontin, Duadid, NuCor (stronger than Vicodin), Flexeril (muscle relaxant), and Neurontin (nerve pain medication) that I had the adverse effects. Mind you, I did not take all of them at the same time. I don't want to get my good doctor in trouble here. We tried some medicines, if they did not work, we moved to others. So for ten days, nothing *ahem* moved. This weekend, 5 days after the surgery, I had the misfortune of eating something greasy from a fast food place. I can only describe the effect, by relating a similar incident. I recall one family vacation at Bryce Canyon in southern Utah and listening to a ranger describe a flash flood in a dry stream bed. The first thing about a flash flood is you can hear it long before it reaches you. You can hear loud crashing and rumbling. When you first see the flood, there is no water, only a mad collection of boulders, logs, and debris smashing everything in its path. This is followed by a furious torrent of mud and rocks violently racing down the mountain. Yep, that pretty much describes it exactly. As I endured my personal internal flash flood, I thought, (aside from "What next?" and "What did I do to tick you off, God?") I really need to take better care of myself. Let that be a warning to you - be careful with those drugs.

Okay, you can start reading again
I have a follow up visit with my good doctor on Wednesday. I hope the leg numbness is a temporary effect. I should be back at work this week. Again, thanks for your support and kindness. And though I hope you never have to endure similar problems, I am more than happy to return the support you've provided me.

So with this little twist of fate, I now have grist for my ongoing blog. I'll provide bi-weekly updates to this blog and update you on my recovery and progress. My goal is to walk normally, get back on the bike, get my BMI down to a 23, ride up Haleakala, become a TnT Mentor, and throw another Death Ride in there for good measure.

Steve

Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Fateful Day has Finally Arrived

"This should be interesting"
"I'm surprised you could walk in here"
"This is unprecedented"
"If this herniated section were any bigger you'd lose control of your legs and bowels...try to not make it worse."

These were all quotes that my surgeon said to me this Wednesday. After all my work and my training for the Death Ride the one thing I worried about the most finally broke...my back. I mentioned that I had two herniated disks in my back that were causing quite a bit of pain. Through some cutting edge treatments I was able to keep the disks in check and survive the Death Ride. But like a thread-bare tire, it decided to blow.

And like a blowout, it happened suddenly and furiously. My back had been sore for a few days prior and I had made an appointment to see the doctor later that week, but when I sat down in the wrong chair, I learned a new level of pain.

They say kidney stones are pretty painful. As are toothaches and broken bones. I've had kidney stones and impacted teeth and nothing compares to the pain I felt on Tuesday. Imagine pain so debilitating that there was no position I could take that would ease it. The pain shot up and down my back to my left leg all the way to my toes. I couldn't stand to walk out of the office.

With the help of some friends and a massive dose of Vicodin, I made it to the emergency room. There they gave me morphine and an epidural. Neither had an effect.

The next day my surgeon, Dr. Robert Rovner, took one look and made the comments above. It was plain to see that the disk had extruded into the spinal cavity and was filling three-quarters of the area that hold the spinal nerves. You know the ones that control your lower extremities.

So back under the knife I go. The good news is they don't have to do a disk fusion. The bad news is every day until the surgery is a new adventure in pain. I guess I'll appreciate the healthy times even more.

Go do your Pilates. You really do not want this to happen to you. I'll keep you posted and hope to get pictures of blown disk. Stay tuned.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Over the past few months, thanks to your generous donations, I’ve raised over $7,400 to fight Leukemia and Lymphoma in honor of my mother-in-law, Margie Griffin, who passed away from leukemia last August, and my friend Stacy Bowman, who is a leukemia survivor. I’m at 99% of my $7,500 goal; thank you for all your support.

If you're interested in sponsoring me or learning what it's all about, check out my fundraising site at Steve's Team in Training Page Steve's Team in Training Page.

Working Every Angle
I decided to take a tip from the riders in the Tour de France and see if I could find anything to work to my advantage. Not being up to speed on blood doping nor having access to EPO, I tried to gain an advantage through moderate and, I might add, legal means. In addition to the weeks of training, I did other things to help give me an extra edge before the event. I started drinking excessive volumes of water, combined with electrolyte supplements. I had two deep tissue massages to make sure every joint and muscle was loose and ready. I even set aside my male pride and *gasp* shaved my legs.

On Leg Shaving
All professional riders shave their legs. And certainly there’s a good reason for it, though I’ve yet to hear it. I figured - they do it, they’re good riders. If I do it, I’ll be a good rider. And with that solid reasoning, on Thursday night before the Death Ride, I had my date with the razor. First, let me say to all the women that read this, I have a whole new appreciation for your grooming efforts. It’s not something I’d want to make a regular practice. It takes way too long and you have to contort yourself to make sure you can get the backs of your legs. Of course, you miss a spot only to be told so by your spouse. Frankly it’s a real hassle. Now it did not make me a better rider, and it did have a downside (more on that later) but it did garner me a few compliments. Most notably, a woman teammate, said that shaving my legs gave my calves more definition and made them better looking. That made my day. Maybe next time I’ll shave my belly :-D

Death Ride Day
We arrived at the start of the Death Ride at 4:45. With out much fanfare we were on the road at 5:15 and freezing. It was 44 degrees outside. After a chilly half hour the climbing began - so much for being cold. The forecast for the day was for it to reach 90 degrees with a chance of thunderstorms. The first climb was up Monitor Pass. I made it to the top by 7am. This was great news since I expected to be there by 7:30. I flew down the other side of Monitor Pass, hitting a top speed of 48mph, heading to Nevada. On the way down I saw several of my teammates already heading back up. Knowing they had a 40 minute head start, I was hoping to catch them. Traveling the 8 miles to the bottom in 15 minutes, I refilled my water bottles and headed back up. I realized that the 8 miles down hill is a lot farther uphill. I made it to the top of Monitor again in an hour and 45 minutes. So far so good.

I had a quick run to the bottom of Monitor and started up Ebbett’s Pass. I had told my friend Betty that I would be over Ebbett’s and down to the Hermit Valley between 11 and 1. If I wanted to make it by noon, I’d have to push a little harder. Pushing harder sounds like a reasonable plan, but putting it into practice is a bit different. Fortunately, about 7 miles from the top of Ebbett’s Pass they have a water station. At this rest stop all the volunteers are dressed in Hawaiian costumes. They were serving cold drinks and fruit. It was just what I needed to get me to the top. In my best Clydesdale fashion I slowly climbed to the top of the pass at 8700’. By now I was thinking I might have bitten off more than I can chew. I was passed by some guy pedaling a recumbent bike. Recumbents look more like a rolling chair than a bike. They’re generally ridden by granola eating, New Age listening, tie-dye wearing, hippie wannabes. I’m not a big fan. I descended into the Hermit Valley on the other side of Ebbetts. I made it by 12:15. 15 minutes behind schedule.

At the bottom, Betty Bennett and her husband Dennis were there to cheer on the riders. Betty is one of my sponsors and had lost a close friend to cancer. They drove over just to see the team and provide support. She provided good wishes and just as importantly, an ice cold soda and some ice for my water bottles. After some pictures and a soda, I waved goodbye and headed back up for the fourth pass. I started out great, but the heat and climbing were beginning to take their toll. About half way up, I had a stroke of good fortune.

As I was riding along someone came alongside and said that they had heard of Virsa. (Virsa is the company I worked for and is one of my sponsors. In honor of their support I was wearing a Virsa jersey.) It turned out to be Dave Harris, a co-worker from my ActivCard days. Dave and I talked on the way back up to the top of Ebbett’s. It was the distraction I needed to not think about the climb. I made it the top of Ebbett’s by 1:30. After a quick refill of the bottles and a repair to one of my cleats, I was heading back for the last pass. I was starting to get a little pressed for time. I decided to skip the lunch stop and gain ground by pressing on to the last pass.

To go up the last pass, you have to pass back through the starting point of the ride. A lot of people abandon the ride at that point. They realize that they’re in a lot of pain and would just as soon stop. Fortunately for me, I had some supporters that helped me along the way. As I was making my way to the last climb, my wife Sherri and my friend Scott were waiting at a turnout along the road. They had cold water, Red Bull’s, cokes, otter pops, and turkey sandwiches. Sherri also brought me a clean jersey, undershirt and socks. After close to 9 hours of riding, I looked like a salt lick. The change of clothes, refreshments and an opportunity to wash all the salt off gave me enough energy to make it to the next climb. I made it to the start of the next climb by 3:00pm.

At the Death Ride the riders have to make it through checkpoints by certain times. If they don’t, they have to turn around and head back to the start. I figured I had an hour and a half to make it to the next checkpoint. It was going to be close. I started the climb to the last checkpoint and things started to turn worse. I hadn’t had any leg cramps all day. Now when I needed to make up some time, the legs decided to not cooperate. My speed dropped considerably. I was in serious doubt of making the cutoff time. After about 15 minutes of slow, slow pace, I heard someone say, “Steve and Alex are behind you”. Two of my TnT teammates had caught up with me and were now right behind. I let them pull ahead and I used the other Steve to set pace. Once again fate had smiled upon me. We pulled into the checkpoint at least 50 minutes before the cutoff time. At the checkpoint, Scott and my wife were there with cold water and Red Bulls. Scott had filled the back liner of his truck with ice. I took advantage of the setup to soak my feet in the ice water. It was great therapy for hot swollen feet. Replenished and refreshed I climbed back on the bike to make the last 9 miles to the top of Carson Pass.

Many people get this far and they have nothing left. The turn their bikes around and head back down the hill. After climbing 7 miles towards Carson Pass only realizing you have 9 more to climb can be pretty demoralizing. At times like these you have to look inside to understand why you’re doing it. At this point of the Death Ride for most people it’s all about will, not ability. I think it’s only fair to tell you why I decided to join Team in Training and to do this challenge:

As you know, I’m doing this ride to honor my mother-in-law, Margie Griffin. Margie was a kind and giving person. She knew I was a big fan of cycling in general and Lance Armstrong in particular. She went into the hospital last August with a lung infection. When she went into the hospital she said she had a gift for me and said she hoped it would arrive soon. Margie was in the hospital for several weeks and her condition steadily worsened. We went to the hospital to visit and she was heavily sedated with morphine. She was not expected to survive much longer. I was there with my family when my sister-in-law handed me the package that Margie had ordered for me. Margie had purchased a book that was a collection of all the articles that Sports Illustrated published about Lance Armstrong. It was a small but generous act that touched me deeply. As she lay there dying she still had thought of others. I was too choked up to mumble an intelligible thank you. Margie died the next morning. When I heard about Team in Training and the opportunity to raise money to fight blood cancers, I felt that it was a way to say thank you to Margie.

I had 9 miles to go to the top. With a fistful of endurolytes, Advils, a couple power gels, some water, and a lot of determination, I covered the 9 miles in a little over an hour. It was the fastest I had climbed all day. As people were trudging along the side of the road, I was passing. I flew past several riders along the last half mile including a guy on a ridiculous recumbent bike – (I really don’t like those bikes). I crested the top and rolled to the last rest stop. I met several members of the TnT group. I’d finally caught the group that had left earlier.

We waited for the last few TnT riders to come over the top. We had a celebratory ice cream, donned our jackets, and raced downhill to back to the start. Our best laid plans went slightly astray when on the way down it started to rain. A summer thunderstorm had formed from the hot weather. I quickly discovered the disadvantage of shaved legs. Water flows much more quickly down a smooth leg and straight into your shoes than a comparable hairy leg. The women on the team confirmed my assertion. With soggy socks and shoes, the team crossed the finish line as a group. 129 miles, 15000 feet of climbing, 13 hours on the bike and about 11,400 calories expended, we completed the Death Ride.

A Million Thanks
Thanks to all of you that have supported me. It’s a great cause and every donation moves us closer to finding a cure and to helping the victims of blood cancers. Special thanks go to my sadistic coaches that trained us well. Thanks also go to the Sherri, Emily, Rob, Jimmy, Scott, and John that came out on training rides and the Death Ride to provide SAG support.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Welcome to the next to last installment of my latest challenge. Over the past few months, thanks to your generous donations, I’ve raised over $7,200 to fight Leukemia and Lymphoma in honor of my mother-in-law, Margie Griffin, who passed away from leukemia last August, and my friend Stacy Bowman, who is a leukemia survivor. I’m close to my $7,500 goal with a week and a half to go until the Death Ride – a one day, 130 mile ride, climbing 15,000 feet, over 5 mountain passes.

If you're interested in sponsoring me or learning what it's all about, check out my fundraising site at Steve's Team in Training Page Steve's Team in Training Page.

In my last update I wrote about the grueling challenges that our coaches had cooked up for us. One would have thought that they had exhausted their list of torturous routes. We were wrong. Have you ever said, “It can’t get any worse.” Only to find that things can, and do, get much worse. This is one of those times. They told us last week that this last Saturday we’d be doing the “Vertical Challenge”. As the week wore on, the temperature started to climb and what was to be a challenging ride became…

Hell on Wheels
The forecasted high for this last Saturday was an unpleasant 103 degrees in the shade. The team was a little concerned about the riding conditions. The plan was to ride 102 miles and climb 11,000 feet. Seeing the dilemma, the coaches decided to alter the route to a pleasant 90 mile ride with 8000 feet of climbing. And since they actually ride the route with us, (remember they’re sadists, not masochists), they wisely recruited more SAG support. SAG support, for those new to this cycling thing, stands for Support and Gear. These are volunteers that are stationed at points along the route and they provide food and water to keep the team going or, in this case, upright.

The ride started pleasantly, much like the Titanic’s maiden voyage, with the temperature at 78 degrees. We started climbing Mines Road just south of Livermore. Oh by the way, did I mention it was 6:40am. By 8:15 at the first SAG stop, the temperature was 84. By the time we got to SAG stop three at mile 40, at the base of Mt. Hamilton at 10:10, the temperature was in the 90s with no intention of going lower. Now the fun begins.

For those of you that have not been to the back side of Mt. Hamilton, this is likely the most desolate part of the Bay Area. Known as the San Antonio Valley, no one goes there, and for good reason. This is a sun-baked section of rolling farmland. You’ll find a few ponds that are usually dry by mid-summer, some rocky ridges, and very little shade. The only wildlife I saw were vultures that reluctantly abandoned their roadkill feast when we rolled by. The brown menace (squirrels) didn’t show themselves because they’re too smart to go out in this heat.

So there I was, about to climb 2000 feet in about 5 miles. For those scoring at home, that’s over a 7% grade -- typically regarded as steep by most motorists. As I started up I noticed two things, one that it all of a sudden got much hotter and two, my heart rate decided to climb faster than the temperature. As I climbed through the sun scorched landscape certain things caught my eye – the oil in the asphalt was starting to liquefy. There were patches and bubbles of oil that I made a note of to avoid on the way back down. There are also several hairpin turns where the road gets considerably steeper. After an hour and two minutes and having expended over 1000 Calories I made it to the SAG stop at the top of the mountain. The fast thin riders were already there. I took some consolation that they didn’t look any better than I did. (except for the fact that they actually look like cyclists) After two cokes, water, an otter pop, and a sandwich, I headed back down to the valley that earlier in the morning was at 90 degrees. After a slow descent and an emergency stop to shake a bee out of my helmet, I made it to the bottom of Mt. Hamilton. I noted the temperature - 103.

The road through the San Antonio valley has a couple of substantial climbs with several sections of the road edged by a rocky canyon wall. The combination of direct sun, little breeze and reflected heat from road and rocks made for a blistering combination. The temperature on my bike computer is saying it’s over 110 degrees. At one point it recorded a high temperature of 121. And that’s when the leg cramps started.

Most people’s experience with leg cramps usually happen when they’re relaxing at home or sound asleep. Your muscles involuntarily, and painfully I might add, contract. Usually people try to “walk it off” hoping to stretch the muscle and relieve the pain. Since I’d have to be a Chinese acrobat to walk around on my bike, there’s only one thing to do – gut it out. Cramps are caused by a lack of electrolytes, which get depleted when your body sweats. Cyclists take electrolyte tablets to counter this depletion. However, if your body is sweating an extraordinary amount, it’s hard to replenish them fast enough. I don’t have to be a doctor to know that 110 degree heat likely promotes excessive sweating. I made a conscious effort to drink more fluids and take more electrolytes.

I rolled into the rest stop at mile 65, which looked like the heat stroke victims unit at a Day on the Green concert (Lollapalooza for the younger audience, Woodstock for the old folks). Everybody, including the SAG volunteers, was feeling the heat. The temperature on a gauge in the shade at the SAG stop said it was over 100.

I rolled out of that stop and braced myself for two long, slow, and hot climbs. At a snail’s pace I made it over the two climbs. Thanks to the alert roving SAG people who cooled me down with cold water when they found me sitting in the shade on the side of the road. I made it to the last stop with 15 miles to go. I sat for 20 minutes with a cold wet towel over my head. Finally I was ready to end this ordeal. With minimal energy and some abatement from the leg cramps I slogged it back to the cars.

I figured I drank 8 - 24oz bottles of water, 5 sodas, two Red Bulls, and an otter pop. That’s over 2 gallons of liquid! My clothing and skin was so salt encrusted I looked like a human pretzel

Three riders had to be SAGed back to the cars. Under normal circumstances they’d have been fine. Thankfully, the SAG folks were there to help us through. If this doesn’t make us ready for the Death Ride, I don’t know what will.

Stay Tuned – Next up, the Death Ride
You don’t want to miss the thrilling conclusion of this challenge. Look for the next and final update to come after the Death Ride. The ride is on July 8th in Markleeville. Will the Clydesdale ride to victory or will he be dropped at the side of the road like about half the people that attempt the Death Ride? Can we find humor in such a grueling endeavor? Will all this training be undone by a squirrel with a grudge?

Friday, June 16, 2006

Welcome to another installment of my latest challenge. . For those of you new to receiving these updates – here's the deal: I've taken on the challenge of completing an epic endurance event with the purpose of raising money to fight Leukemia and Lymphoma. I decided to take up this challenge in honor of my mother-in-law, Margie Griffin, who passed away from leukemia last August, and my friend Stacy Bowman, who is a leukemia survivor. My goal is to raise $7,500 to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma society through the Team in Training program. My personal challenge is to complete the Tour of the California Alps, also known as the Death Ride – a one day, 130 mile ride, climbing 15,000 feet, over 5 mountain passes.

If you're interested in sponsoring me or learning what it's all about, check out my fundraising site at Steve's Team in Training Page Steve's Team in Training Page

A Near Death Experience
Since the last time I wrote, I have discovered new levels of pain and excitement. In a 19 day period I rode 560 miles and climbed over 52,000 feet. On Memorial Day I rode up Mt. Diablo three times, the following weekend I rode the Sierra Century followed the next day by riding the America’s Most Beautiful Bike ride century around Lake Tahoe, the following weekend we went to High Altitude camp and endured two days of pain, finally capped off by riding Mt. Diablo over three times. And of course the answer to the obvious question is, “Yes, my butt is sore.” Some of the more memorable experiences were riding to the top of Ebbett’s pass at 8723’ and having snow banks piled over my head on both sides of the road, passing a frozen lake, descending at 47 miles an hour and have a high-speed wobble develop in the rear wheel. A high speed wobble is like your bike getting the shakes. If the bike were an animate object it would be telling me “Aaaiiee! Get off me clydesdale we’re going too fast.” There’s nothing that raises your heart rate quite like blazing down the road and having your bike tell you, “I’m trying to shake you loose.” A trip to the bike shop to tighten some spokes should shut the bike up.

Scott’s Big Ride
The most memorable ride was the one around Lake Tahoe. I promised my friend Scott Leatherman that if he signed up for Team in Training that I would do the ride with him. Scott signed up to do his first century with TnT. The ride they prepared him for was America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride (AMBBR). After riding a very hilly century the day before, I rolled out with him at 7:00am on Sunday morning. The weather was great and the views of Lake Tahoe were spectacular. Since this a national TnT event, there were 3000 riders from all over the country. Additionally there are thousands of supporters along the sides of the road for the whole ride cheering you on. There’s nothing quite like having fans. I started out by smiling and waving at the cheering throngs and transitioned to getting “high fives” from people along the route. Had I been out there longer, I would have started giving hugs and kisses. Though I suspect the supporters did not want to touch a big, sweaty, cyclist.

Scott is not the type of guy you usually see on a bike. He used to be a football lineman in college. In other words, he’s un-svelte. He thinks I’m thin – ha! Scott made it the entire 101 miles and climbed over 4000 feet. Given the particularly strong gravity that day, that was pretty impressive. He literally worked harder than 95% of the other riders out there.

On the last climb up Spooner Summit, a 5 mile climb, Scott would tell me to ride ahead and wait for him at the top. I’d go ahead to the next rise in the road and wait there. As I waited there the most irritating thing happened. As I’m standing there, first time century riders would be going up the hill and they’d tell *me* things like “It’s the last hill. You can make it don’t give up.” At first, I’d smile and say I’m fine. Scott would come rolling up, I’d ride with him a while and go on the next rise. Again, while I was waiting at the next rise people would tell me that I should just keep trying. Now I’m annoyed. I get it, I don’t look like a cyclist. That doesn’t mean it’s my first time here. At least I got some consolation. Generally at the rest stops you talk to the other cyclists and they ask if this is your first century ride. I’d respond with, “Actually, no, I rode one yesterday too.” The stunned looks were priceless.

On Fundraising
I’m near the $7000 mark. If you want to make a donation, here’s your last chance. We need to have our collections done by June 23rd. Thanks to all of you that have been supporters. If you’re still on the fence, it’s for a good cause.

Watch Out for that Food
Every long-time road cyclist has a story about someone throwing food at them. Typically, they’re burritos or sodas. A friend of mine said he had a hamburger hit him square in the chest. Usually the culprits throw the food at you from their fast moving cars. Leaving you no chance to catch them or, ideally, return the favor. My son has the best story of such an incident; and since he doesn’t have his own blog, I’ll tell it here.

My son, his friend and his friend’s younger brother were on their bikes heading along a busy road to the store. A white car with four guys in it passed them. As they passed, someone threw a burrito at them, hitting the younger brother. Further down the road, they spotted the white car in waiting at an intersection for a left turn light. My son and the older brother thought since there were four guys to their two and a half, and that they had a car vs. their bikes, it was best to let the issue drop. Of course, they neglected to tell the younger brother this. So, as they passed the stopped car, the younger brother took his water bottle, which contained red Gatorade, and sprayed it through the open windows of the car containing four, now very wet and angry, guys. A fact that my son and the older brother didn’t realize until they heard the yelling and the tire squealing as the car was trying to accelerate out of the left turn lane. I’m sure at this point, several thoughts went through their heads about chastising the younger brother, but the immediate need for self-preservation did not give them an opportunity to ponder them. Fortunately, they were near the shopping center parking lot. They took off into the parking lot with the white car in hot pursuit. They jumped islands and maneuvered through the parking spaces; eventually cutting behind a car that was backing from a parking stall. The car blocked the way for the white car. Despite the white car’s insistent honking, they were able to make a narrow escape. I don’t recommend this tactic as a practice. However, it certainly gives the rest of us some satisfaction that someone got their comeuppance.

Stay tuned for the next update
Next time I’ll have completed several more hundred mile rides. With the temperature increasing, it should be loads of fun. In the meantime, check out the blog and tell your friends and neighbors to sponsor me.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

I finally cracked the code.
After all these years of riding I learned what my biggest problem has been. Thanks to my coaches from Team in Training, I've learned that I generally start out too fast, bonk, and suffer through cramps the rest of the ride. For the first time, I've been able to tackle a really hard ride without any leg cramps. I kept my heart rate at a reasonable level and took Endurolytes. So far, it seems to work.

Saturday, I rode 75 miles with over 10,000 feet of climbing. For a picture of pain, look at my heart rate chart from climbing Mt. Diablo three times in one day. (Known as a 3-D). No kamikaze squirrels this time - just a curious coyote.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Welcome to another installment of my latest challenge. . For those of you new to receiving these updates – here's the deal: I've taken on the challenge of completing an epic endurance event with the purpose of raising money to fight Leukemia and Lymphoma. I decided to take up this challenge in honor of my mother-in-law, Margie Griffin, who passed away from leukemia last August, and my friend Stacy Bowman, who is a leukemia survivor. My goal is to raise $7,500 to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma society through the Team in Training program. My personal challenge is to complete the Tour of the California Alps, also known as the Death Ride – a one day, 130 mile ride, climbing 15,000 feet, over 5 mountain passes.

If you're interested in sponsoring me or learning what it's all about, check out my fundraising site at Steve's Team in Training Page Steve's Team in Training Page

I’ve created a blog of past updates. It also includes the unabridged version of this update. If you want to see pictures of the team and more cycling tips go to http://notabouttheback.blogspot.com/

On Training
Our sadistic coaches have stepped up the training regimen over the past few weeks. I’ve complete two grueling rides of 109 and 115 miles respectively. The 115 mile ride was particularly nasty because in addition to 9000 feet of climbing we had a 30mph headwind to fight against on the way back. It made for a long slow day. Last Saturday I rode up Mt. Diablo twice. Mt. Diablo, as its name would suggest, is not for the timid. For those of you unfamiliar with the Bay Area, Mt. Diablo, is a real 3849’ mountain, not a sinister name made up by some misdirected cyclists. Fortunately for me, or unfortunately depending upon how you look at it, the top of Mt. Diablo is 16.3 miles from the end of my driveway. Not a bad way to get in training rides. My goal is to ride it 4 times in one day. That will be a personal best and undoubtedly win me the admiration of the coyotes, squirrels, turkey buzzards, deer, and snakes that will see me several times that day.

For those of you interested in the effects of riding mountains, check out the image of my Mt. Diablo training ride. You’ll have to go to the blog. The chart shows the elevation and heart rate over time. At the very top of Mt. Diablo there’s a 1/3 mile section of 17% grade. In other words, it’s really, really steep. At the very top, there’s a large spike in my heart rate. That’s when, much like those cartoon characters that when they get excited their hearts literally pound through their chests, I’m ready to explode. Fortunately I bought a fancy heart rate monitor (HRM) with a built-in defibrillator. That way if my heart does explode, someone will have a nice HRM.

Riders – 1 Squirrels – 0
A couple updates back I wrote about the kamikaze squirrels and their amusing penchant for waiting until you’re very near and then they run in front of you. As I was riding down Mt. Diablo the first time on Saturday, a squirrel ran in front of me, juked left then right, and then returned back to the point it started. It wasn’t the first squirrel of the season, just the most brazenly annoying. I got to the bottom turned around and headed back up the same road. Near the same spot that the squirrel taunting occurred there was a cyclist coming down the mountain. He was coming to a stop and turning around to head back up. (This is odd behavior since he had not made it down the mountain yet.) Anyway, he continued up the road another 100 feet. As I was next to him I could see a squirrel lying on the pavement. Sure enough, he actually hit the taunting squirrel. I was slightly saddened as I thought of the taunting squirrel’s little squirrel friends, family and co-workers and I considered sending consolatory flowers or nuts…the thought quickly passed. As I left the little “Blood on the Highway” scene, the other cyclist was yelling at the bushes along the side of the road – “Let that be a warning to the rest of you”

What about the “Discogram”?
Last time I wrote, I was preparing to go in for a discogram. Let me preface this by saying, if your doctor ever offers one of these procedures to you, say “No”. Despite its pleasant sounding name it’s quite the opposite. This was related to me as I was talking with a nurse at the surgical center prior to the procedure. She said, “Discograms are the most painful things we do here.” If she was trying to calm me down, it wasn’t working. They injected me with valium and applied lidocaine to the treatment area – that was more effective than the nurse. I then had to lie calmly on my stomach. The doctor proceeded to insert 4 long needles into the disk tissue between my vertebrae. I know this because he gave me an x-ray picture of the needles stuck into my backbone. Then the fun begins. He injected fluid into each needle one at a time and asks me to describe the pain. Particularly he wants to know where the pain is occurring. Interestingly, though he is affecting the area in my back the pain occurs somewhere else in my body and in some happy instances, every where else. He continues this process until he can recreate the pain that I’ve been having in my back. Once he was able to do that, he can say with certainty that the problem is originating from that specific disc. Well the good news is he determined which disk is causing the problem. The bad news is they’re still not any closer to fixing it.

More Bike Riding Tips
Last update there were several bike riding tips. Of course, unless you went to the blog, you missed the better tips. You can still check them out any time you like. I thought I’d offer a few more.

Rule #5
Shift before the hill. This rule becomes more important the steeper the hill. If you wait until you’re on the hill you’ll likely drop your chain and end up t-boned on the top tube of the bicycle. Getting t-boned is the bicycling equivalent of getting a line drive to the groin. It’s the type of experience you’ll do once and know better the next time.

Rule #6
Always lie about how much you ride. If someone asks you if you do a lot of riding, always give them a ridiculously low number. The party asking is likely trying to size you up. Cyclists are pretty competitive and though they don’t say it, they’re always looking to ride better than you. If you give them a low number, they’ll think you’re a sub-par rider. Of course, they’ll figure out you lied when you pass them down the road.

Rule #7
If you’re going to yell at the driver of a car, make sure you have a quick exit strategy. The driver usually has an unfair advantage since they have the 4000 pound car to push you around. Your 20 pound bike is no match.

Rule #7a
If you’re going to yell at the driver of a car, yell loud enough for everyone around to hear. Other cyclists will think you’re a weenie if you only mutter your gripe at a driver.

Stay tuned for the next update
Next time I’ll have completed several more hundred mile rides. With the temperature increasing, it should be loads of fun. In the meantime, check out the blog and tell your friends and neighbors to sponsor me.

Steve

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

I'm back, or if this is the first time you're seeing this, welcome. This is my third update about my latest challenge. For those of you new to receiving these updates – here's the deal: I've taken on the challenge of completing an epic endurance event with the purpose of raising money to fight Leukemia and Lymphoma. I decided to take up this challenge in honor of my mother-in-law, Margie Griffin, who passed away from leukemia last August, and my friend Stacy Bowman, who is a leukemia survivor. My goal is to raise $7,500 to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma society through the Team in Training program. My personal challenge is to complete the Tour of the California Alps, also known as the Death Ride – a one day, 130 mile ride, climbing 15,000 feet, over 5 mountain passes.


If you're interested in sponsoring me or learning what it's all about, check out my fundraising site at Steve's Team in Training Page Steve's Team in Training Page


I’ve been remiss in writing, it was our company’s end of quarter, the company was acquired by SAP, and we held a customer conference for 400 people, we started remodeling our kitchen and family room, I’ve made trips to Las Vegas, Philadelphia, and Nashville, and I’ve been squeezing training rides and trips to the doctor in between all of that. It’s been quite busy. Here’s a quick update.

On Training…
Since the last time I wrote, our coaches have found new sadistic ways to torment us. Four weeks ago we rode 65 miles in the hills on the San Francisco Peninsula. It was cold and wet. Three weeks ago, we rode 70 miles in the Berkeley Hills. It was cold and wet. Two weeks ago we rode 75 miles in the hills of Marin County. It was cold and wet. This last weekend we rode 78 miles on Saturday. It was cold and wet. On Sunday, I rode 104 miles. It was cold and windy, but not too wet. In case you haven’t picked up on it, there’s a definite pattern to our sadistic adventures… we always ride in the hills. Each ride gets hillier and longer. And as hard as the rides are, there only half of what the Death Ride will be.

In the picture, I'm the third on the left. This is the group with whom I've been training. If they all look faster than me, it's because they are.

Last Sunday’s ride was called the Primavera Century. I’ve concluded that “Primavera” is Latin for “wind in your face”. So not only was it cold and sometimes wet, the wind was blowing at least 20mph for much of the way. The wind pattern in the east bay is that it doesn’t start picking until the afternoon. So in the morning, when I was supposed to be riding with the wind, it wasn’t blowing me along. When I turned around and headed back to Fremont from Livermore, it was blowing against me the whole way. Wind is just nature’s way for providing hills for people that live in flat areas.



On Fundraising…
I’m pleased to say I’ve hit the $6,500 level for my fundraising efforts. Thanks to everyone who has donated. As I said in my previous email, I’m shooting for $7,500. As a special offer for anyone that donates over $100 in the month of May, I am offering a bike tune-up (parts, if needed, not included). I've resurrected a few bikes that have been in disrepair. I'm sure I can help you out.

On Bike Riding Tips…
I’ve decided to impart some of the helpful tips that I’ve learned in this training process. I’m providing them as words of wisdom for other riders

Rule #1 – When riding down hill, keep your mouth closed…tightly. There is nothing worse than when you’ve just finished a climb and as you’re catching your breath going downhill, you swallow a bug. Usually a bug in the mouth is easily remedied with some convulsive hacking and spitting and a healthy assortment of expletives.

Rule #2 – When you have to spit, spit to the right. Spitting is usually caused by a bug in the mouth, see rule #1. Savvy riders know to pass on left. But since your mind is usually occupied with other thoughts, you won’t be aware that they’re trying to pass you. Therefore spitting to the right is simply good manners. As a general principle, other riders don’t like to be spat upon. They will either think that you’re rather impolite or you are from England (where they ride on the wrong side of the road). They may retaliate by spitting back, squirting you with their water bottles, or other rather disgusting tactics. The exception to this rule is when you’re passing someone. In which case, spitting to the right is very much frowned upon. Then they’ll think you’re boorish or a professional rider from France. In which case, you better ride like a professional rider, because the response is likely to be most unpleasant.

Rule #3 – Always pass on the left. If you don't know why, you haven't been reading.

Rule #4 – When traveling downhill, zip up your bike jersey. Three times I’ve had bees fly into my jersey. It’s pretty unpleasant too. No, I have never had a bee fly into my mouth. The worst incident was when I was traveling down a four lane highway at 50mph. Traffic was still passing me and I didn’t have a safe place to stop. Usually when something is stinging you, you grab the area of your jersey in the vicinity of the stinging you bunch it up in your hand and try to squish whatever it was that was stinging you. By the way, it’s always good practice to wear a colorful jersey; it hides the squished bugs better. Anyway, while traveling at 50mph, taking a hand of the handlebar is not a good idea. The bee stung or bit me three times before I could stop.

More useful tips to come in future updates.

On riding, not walking…
I’m sad to say that the ongoing back treatments have been ineffective. I can ride my bike, I just can’t walk or lie down without significant pain. The doctor is scheduled to do a “discogram” next Monday. One would think it’s a singing telegram that specializes in Bee Gees songs. Instead, iIt’s a detailed analysis of the disks in the back to determine exactly what the problem is. Until then it’s ibuprofen every four hours.

Thank you again for your support. Stay tuned for future updates.

Steve

Saturday, March 11, 2006

My Latest Challenge – Update #3

This is my third update about my latest challenge. For those of you new to receiving these updates – here’s the deal: I’ve taken on the challenge of completing an epic endurance event with the purpose of raising money to fight Leukemia and Lymphoma. I decided to take up this challenge in honor of my mother-in-law, Margie Griffin, who passed away from leukemia last August, and my friend Stacy Bowman, who is a leukemia survivor. My goal is to raise $7,500 to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma society through the Team in Training program. My personal challenge is to complete the Tour of the California Alps, also known as the Death Ride – a one day, 130 mile ride, climbing 15,000 feet, over 5 mountain passes.

If you’re interested in sponsoring me or learning what it’s all about, check out my fundraising site at Steve’s Team in Training Page Steve's Team in Training Page

Updates:

Why Quit Now…
Thanks to the generous contributions of so many of you, I’ve reached my original goal of $5,000. So of course, with a few months to go before the ride, I’ve raised my goal by 50% to $7,500. After meeting so many cancer survivors and patients, I know it’s going to a great cause.

They shouldn’t call it the Death Ride, they should call it Death Training…
We’re one month into the training regimen and we’re piling on the miles. We’re routinely doing 60 miles every Saturday and will be up to 100 miles by April. The coaches make it a point to find the hilliest routes they can. We also learned that bikes work just fine in the rain. On one ride through the Oakland hills, we had to navigate around patches of ice lest we go sliding off the road. With the recent snow in the bay area, we had an even colder and wetter ride. It’s bad enough that bike shorts are akin to riding in your underwear, but when the water from the rear tire sprays up your back and on your shorts, that just adds insult to the misery. Not to mention the fashion faux pas of having a brown strip running down your spine, making you look like an enormous spandex clad chipmunk.

There’s a reason why the best riders are so small…
Our coaches are on the smallish side, tipping the scales at a buck fifty. I and some of my teammates tip the scales on the north side of 200 pounds. We are quick to point out to them, that because we weigh more, we’re doing much more work than they are – (a point that I proved with a lengthy physics discussion on one ride) It did not deter them from prodding us up another hill. They refer to us as “Clydesdales”. I’m beginning to think there’s a little bit of sadist in some of the coaches. If they make us pull a wagon as part of the training, I’m going to put my hoof…er…foot down.

What’s the hardest part of riding?
Some people may talk about the long hours in the saddle or the agony of leg cramps, but those are minor irritants. Come spring and summer the country roads, particularly on Mount Diablo and the Alameda Creek trail, will be besieged by the bane of many cyclists…kamikaze squirrels. I have ridden countless times down a road, approaching a squirrel that’s sitting up on the side of the pavement. As soon as you are within a couple feet, he darts right in front of you. Usually a quick swerve avoids disaster. I’ve had a couple occasions where the squirrels run between the front and rear tire. I’m just thankful that one hasn’t tried to jump through the spokes. I’ve heard riders tell their tales of broken spokes while tactfully avoiding the distasteful description of what befell the poor squirrel. I’m thankful that my lunch time rides to MC Hammer’s old house is not a squirrel-riddled route – yet.

If you want to know more about why I’m doing this and some of the tips picked up along the way, you can visit It's Not About the Back

If you want to be removed from this email, just drop me an email. I know you get lots of email, so I won’t take it personally.

Thanks,
Steve

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Thank you to everyone that has sponsored me for my challenge of raising $5,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and for my personal challenge of cycling 130 miles, 5 mountain passes, and climbing 15,000 feet. I am raising money in tribute to my mother-in-law, Margie Griffin, who passed away from leukemia last year and for my friend Stacy Bowman who is in remission from leukemia.

Instead of repeating the previous emails, I'll answer a few questions that people have sent:

What about the back?
Many of you know that I had back surgery to repair a herniated disk in December 2004. This prevented me from doing this ride last year. In November of last year, two lower disks in my back decided to degenerate further. My doctor, who happens to be a cyclist, has committed to keeping me together until the ride. (Much to his better judgment, of course.) So every week I get shots of ozone in my back to relieve the swelling - I'll skip the details. We'll keep it together until July. After all, to paraphrase Lance Armstrong, it's not about the back.

Is that ride you're doing called "The Death Ride"?
Actually, yes. I preferred not to use that terminology because it seemed less than politically correct. Regardless, it is known as "The Death Ride" or the more recent, "Tour of the California Alps". It gets its name from the simple fact, it is really hard to do. Half of the people that attempt it, don't finish. Do I have to donate now?You can donate whenever you feel like it. I set the deadline for April so people would not forget. My wife's cousin made a donation of $1 per mile, she paid up front to make sure I completed the ride. If anyone wants to donate $1 per foot of elevation gain, I won't turn them down :-D.

Can I send you a check instead of donating online?
Yes. Drop me an email and I'll send you the instructions.Will you make your goals?I am 100% confident that I will reach the fundraising goals. I will probably raise my goal. Don't worry, I won't ask people to sponsor me twice. As for completing the ride, the miracle of modern medicine will get me through.

How can I get you to stop sending emails?
Drop me a line and I'll take you off the distribution list.

Again the link to my fundraising page is http://www.active.com/donations/fundraise_public.cfm?key=SAsche

Thanks for your support,
Steve
The last time I wrote to you I told you about my latest challenge - to raise $5,000 to fight Leukemia and Lymphoma in honor of my mother in law, Margie Griffin, and my friend Stacy Bowman. As part of my personal challenge, I've been training to ride 130 miles and climb 5 mountain passes in one day. So far 16 people have donated to help me fight leukemia and lymphoma. Many more have offered their support. I've been overwhelmed by the response. There have been many people that responded that said they had a relative or friend who passed away. The stories have been gut wrenching to say the least.

So far I'm at 25% of my fundraising goal. Thank you again to all of you who have sponsored me. In addition to the fundraising, I've begun my training for the ride. The first official training ride was this week and it was a fast and chilly 25 mile ride. The group I am in has two people who are cancer survivors. One common comment from the cancer survivors is that they profess that they're fortunate and lucky. That they're also planning to do the same grueling ride is especially impressive.

If you are considering sponsoring me or if you'd like to forward this email to an associate, you can visit my web page at http://www.active.com/donations/fundraise_public.cfm?key=SAsche

Thanks for your support,
Steve
Hi All,
After many years of self-indulgence, I thought it was high time to do something meaningful. Last August my mother-in-law passed away from leukemia. She was very close to my family. So I decided to find a cause that would help others that were fighting leukemia and lymphoma. The Team in Training organization does just that - by raising funds for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. So as part of my tribute to her I've decided to raise $5,000 by April in her honor.

Team in Training raises millions of dollars to fight blood cancers, help victims, and raise awareness. As part of the challenge I'm taking on a personal challenge of completing a grueling 130 mile bike ride over 5 mountain passes on July 8th. The personal challenge is a symbolic way of showing that great challenges, like fighting blood cancers, can be defeated. With continued research and care for the afflicted, these diseases will be overcome.
This is a great cause and, having seen the effects of leukemia first hand, know that these are diseases that have to be overcome. If you, or anyone you know are interested in supporting this cause please check out my web page at http://www.active.com/donations/fundraise_public.cfm?key=SAsche

Thanks for your support,
Steve