Crossing the 520 Bridge

The sun has only just set, dipping below the western hills toward the unseen vastness of the Pacific Ocean. Our little piece of the Pacific slowly darkens from blue-gray to a color of blue and black too dark to differentiate. Crossing the bridge now, I pass over wetlands and lily pad habitat, the land only hesitantly giving way to water. Fading light shines on smooth ripples, brightening the tops with white, and outlines bunches of sedges and rushes. It’s bedtime for most birds, but in the summer, waterfowl flock here.

A wooden trail, rife with its own series of tiny bridges and floating spans, cuts darkly through the grasses and across the water. Although I have ridden parallel to this path nearly every evening for over a year, I rarely see people walking there or using its small docks.

Once out on open water, the sky and the horizon take over. To the east, the setting sunlight gilds the newly risen towers in Bellevue, glints off windows packed into the dark Kirkland hillside, and highlights the snowy peaks of Mt. Baker and its Cascadian companions. To the south, lights on the I-90 bridge march toward the dark bulk of Mercer Island, while in the hazy distance Mt. Rainier rises in stately glory, dimly visible though the fading light.

The sky lives with the sunset, dark faded orange-pink brightening to the west into rose-gold and bronze, a halo of light silhouetting hills dotted with yellow windows of unseen homes, the hard-edged tops of skyscrapers, and the dark blue-gray bulk of mountains beyond. The water catches the sun’s last light and sends it back, a shattered reflection of orange, red, and navy blue that embraces the black hills and darkening sky above.

Upon the eastern side, another night grips the hills, the towers, the mountains. I ride on.

Iliac Artery Circulation Issues

I think I’ve alluded a few times to my leg, and dealing with excessive leg pain while riding, but I don’t think I’ve actually explained what the deal is. Partly that’s because I’m still not 100% sure myself, and partly because it’s hard to describe. But I am going to be trying not aggressively to figure out for sure what’s going on and, if I’m really lucky, find a treatment. I imagine I’ll talk about that journey here, so this post is the prologue.

Once upon a time, in April 2016 to be exact, I went out one day after work and did some very, very vigorous hill repeats. The hill was steep and I attacked each repeat with the ferocity of a rabid squirrel.

Towards the end, my left leg really started feeling fatigued, much more than the right. But I pushed on through, because that’s the point of intervals. If they don’t hurt, you’re doing them wrong.

I rode home and thought no more about it. I’d recover and move on with my training.

But my left leg didn’t recover fully. It still felt fatigued long after the right leg had gotten back to feeling fresh and ready to go. When I tried to do a hard effort, the left leg started giving out sooner.

One day, that winter, I was riding in a group up a hill. I have historically done well on hills, spinning up even fairly steep hills thanks to my beneficial power to weight ratio. But that day my left leg suddenly gave way: It went from tolerable effort feeling to excruciating, agonizing fatigue feeling in a moment. My leg burned, not a cramping burn, but the burn of pushing super hard, but beyond anything I’d ever felt.

I stopped. I’ve never stopped on that or any other hill, but I couldn’t continue. After a moment I limped on, but it hurt so much I was crying as I slowly crept up to the top.

My leg has never been the same since then. When I’m fitter or better rested, the fatigue sometimes takes longer to hit; when I’m less fit or start a ride more fatigued, it takes almost no time at all.

Training for the Levi’s Gran Fondo, every training ride was just a matter of time until my leg gave out. Whenever I tried to put out a lot of power — BAM. Whenever I tried to do long, aerobic spinning — BAM. It felt crippling at times, and I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to do the Gran Fondo.

I went to Dan Druckhammer, a cycling coach and PT I have many years of experience with. He did some tests and research and eventually diagnosed me with iliac artery compression.

This happens to 10% – 15% of cyclists who ride a lot over many years. There are various causes — a torturously long atrery, thickening of the wall at the bend near the hip joint — but the result is that the artery that carries blood to the quad and calf muscles is restricted. Less blood gets to those muscles. They recover more slowly and fatigue more quickly due to oxygen deprivation.

The only treatment at this time is arterial surgery. Professional cyclists sometimes get this condition, and some of them have the surgery with good outcomes… But at least one pro cyclist died from internal bleeding while on a ride after having the surgery. It’s a big artery and surgery is dangerous. Some pros choose to give up riding rather than take the risk.

Meanwhile, Dan has given me some stretching, to facilitate blood flow as much as possible, and some exercises to strengthen my glutes and hamstrings, which aren’t impacted by this circulation issue. I stand to climb hills now, when I very rarely did before, because standing uses those alternative muscles more.

But, to be honest, although I’ve religiously followed his suggestions, things aren’t any better. It feels almost random, that some days I’ll have an okay ride with mild pain, and other days it will cripple me. Lately it’s been more of the latter, and I cannot understand why.

I’m starting to feel really discouraged. What if this ends my cycling?

Before I give up, I’m going to get a referral to a sports medicine doctor to absolutely confirm the problem, and see if there’s anything else to be done. I’m not hopeful, but I’m also not ready to give up yet.

Long Week, Big Day

With New Year’s Day on Tuesday, we all experienced a bumpy transition back to work and school on Wednesday. Some of us contained our basket-casiness better than others, but I think that by Friday we all felt that the week had stretched for two, or maybe even three, regular weeks. I know for myself that even though I only worked three days, each day felt exceptionally long and slow.

Fortunately, today made up for so much! Benji started the day off right by finally losing his first top tooth, which has dangled by a mere thread for days.

Looking 6

Then while I went for a ride, Benji and Mom did a playdate with a friend from Mom’s church while Ian had some introvert time. I had a nice ride and my leg didn’t bother me as much as it has on recent rides — more thoughts on that later. It’s really a whole post. But the point is that, despite my getting a flat, the weather held out and I got in some good miles for January.

I arrived home just in time to scarf food and quickly whisk off Ian and Benji to the pool at McMenamin’s, where our church organized a play time. It turns out I don’t even own a swimsuit at the moment, so I couldn’t go in the pool, but Ian and Benji had a super fun time.

By sheer coincidence, a friend of Benji’s from school, Henry, was there with his mother and sister. I chatted with the mom while Benji, Henry, the sister, and a crowd of kids from church played in the water. Benji and Henry were really thrilled to see each other there, and the pool was shallow enough that the kids could safely play without close supervision.

After swimming, we dropped Ian off at his D&D game and came home and drew imaginary Pokemon characters. I know they’re all pretend… but I guess these are even more pretend, because we completely made them up ourselves? Anyway, I drew outlines and Benji colored them in. He found it encouraging to see that I made mistakes while drawing, too.

We created Blinkeon, Flareon, and Blazeon, which all have blinking or glowing antennae and tummies. I got to draw each one three times, one for each evolution, so if we do this again I’ve learned to make them very simple. Slugeon, Wormeon, and Snaileon, here we come!

So it all worked out well in the end. I’m hoping the weekend will help us reset back into a more normal feeling week next week… preferably with each day feeling shorter than 72 hours.

Land Use

Today a coworker and I went for a short (but blustery and damp) walk at lunch time. Walking for recreation downtown isn’t that enjoyable to me; you’re always stopping and having to avoid cars and such. But you do see some interesting things.

For example, the graffiti on a sign announcing the replacement of a nice old stone church with another shiny glass skyscraper.

Here’s the whole sign…

And here’s the graffiti.

Honestly… I kind of agree with the anonymous writer.

New Look, Same Great Taste

You may notice that the look and feel of my blog has changed. I felt like it was time for a facelift.

The only real change you might see is that I’ve added a menu at the top. Not that there a lot of navigation that you might want to do, but there it is.

Hope you enjoy the updated theme, and let me know if you have any suggestions or ideas for improvements.

Cozy Coloring

Computers sure do smooth out some things. Coloring on my Surface allows him to erase more easily, use colors that can’t exist in real life (rainbow, star sparkle, and hot lava are popular), and — best of all — undo mistakes.

I also like not using up reams of paper on half-finished scribbles.

We keep computer usage under close control, but this is a case where it really does work for us.

Christmas Movie Madness

My team at work is doing a rainbow unicorn Christmas decoration theme (I found this!). In the spirit of embracing the utter silliness, I have embarked upon an ambitious scheme of watching one Hallmark-style* Christmas movie every weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Madness, indeed.

Not that they’re hard to find on Netflix, but I’ve found a handy list of all the Christmas movies available right now.

I’m just going to give my elevator-pitch summary of the experience. I’m not going recap plots, which are trivially easy to find online (let’s be honest: so are reviews). I’ll also include a link to a review I think pretty accurately reflects the experience.

When Christmas is over, I may try to synthesize my sincere thoughts on these — there’s a lot to say about stuff like gender equality, glorification of wealth and consumerism, women’s role in society, and so much more — but for now let’s just leave it light and fluffy.

Week 1 | November 25, 2018 | The Princess Swap

In this movie, you’ll literally know exactly what’s going to happen from the moment the premise is revealed. There’s not one single moment of surprise or even concern that you might not know what’s going to happen. In fact, the director even said so himself:

Most of the similarities between The Princess Switch and its obvious predecessors—particularly The Parent Trap and The Princess Diaries—were intentional. “All we’re really doing is doing a new arrangement of somebody else’s orchestration, and putting our own color to it,” Rohl said.

Vanity Fair: “The Princess Switch Director Answers Burning Questions About Netflix’s Christmas Sensation.”

Sadly, there’s not much chemistry or even acting involved, although there are the occasional wacky hijinks.

Yet it checks all the boxes of a classic Hallmark Christmas movie (including incredibly low production quality), with the kind of mindless sweetness and predictability you must might be hankering for as an escape from the harsh reality of immigration conflicts, climate change politics, etc.

Overall: I acknowledge that it was formulaic, yet I still loved it.

Review

CNet: “The Princess Switch review: Not the classic holiday rom-com 2018 deserves.”

Week 2 | December 1, 2018 | A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding

If you didn’t watch A Christmas Prince last year, don’t worry, you didn’t miss anything that won’t be amply recapped in the first five minutes. Plus, like A Princess Swap, they strictly adhere to the formula, ensuring that you don’t even need to stay awake for the entire movie to know exactly what’s happening at every moment. On two separate instances, Ian anticipated word-for-word the exact next phrase the character would say.

Unfortunately, I found this way less enjoyable than the original Christmas Prince or A Princess Swap. It’s ostensibly a romance, but most of it follows the strangely hapless, clueless Amber as other people trample her desires — no romance in sight. The few scenes with her and the prince (King?) are so lacking in chemistry they can’t make up for the lack.

Overall: Meh.

Vox: “Netflix’s A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding is straight trash. But it’s cozy trash.

*”Style” because (a) they are probably going to be made by Netflix, not actually Hallmark; and (b) I’m counting Muppet Christmas Carol, which will, without doubt, be the best one of the lot. Because it’s one of the, if not THE, best Christmas movie of all time.