Due to some commute traffic excitement, I ended up commuting home by bike on Friday. I always, always rest on Fridays because my legs need one or, before a super strenuous ride, two days to rest completely for optimal performance. Even a super-easy slow ride seems to have a very tangible impact in the next day’s performance.
The weather was really marginal: thunderstorms and stiff winds, accompanied by the occasional wind gust for excitement. It’s late September; that’s what I’d expect. Unfortunately it coincided with the final peak training ride for the Levi’s Gran Fondo I’m doing on October 6.
I’ve been dealing with iliac artery compression in my left leg for the last year and a half. I could write a whole post about this, but the upshot is that when my heart rate gets high, I experience excruciating, crippling pain in my left quad and calf, far beyond anything I’ve ever known from exercise before. It’s like an 11 on a scale of 1 to 10. If I try to push through, the leg weakens until I can’t pedal anymore.
I’ve been training for this Gran Fondo with my friend John Jester, who’s gotten super strong and fast the last couple years. Now, with my leg, I can’t exert myself to chase people who are faster unless I want to experience excruciating agony. It’s incredibly frustrating. Anyway, John and I have been training together, and yesterday we met up for the last of the hard training rides before the Gran Fond itself.
We’ve ridden up Squak Mountain a bunch of times the last few weeks; its sustained grade and length make it a perfect training hill. Yesterday as we started climbing, a thunderstorm hit with torrential rain. I’d brought a jacket (the best on-bike rain jacket I’ve ever owned, bar none) and stopped to put it on. This was an on-again, off-again day, as it was in the mid-60s, making wearing too many clothes an issue also.
But after that, I struggled. I went slower and slower as my leg failed. When I finally got to the top and saw John completing multiple laps of the top loop, I felt such deep shame at my weakness mixed with misery, frustration, desperation, and hopelessness that I wanted to give up. I wanted to get off my bike and lie down and cry.
I kept riding, but after that, it was an endless slog of misery. I feel bad for John, who had a strong ride and had to keep waiting for me; I wasn’t even very good company. It took everything in me to just keep going. I finished, slow and miserable. I did cry when I got home.
Yesterday Benji finally started full-day kindergarten at our local elementary school. The last week or so my Facebook feed has filled with moms posting pictures of their kids going to school for the first time, nearly all of them posed in their school regalia with a sign saying something like “Benji’s First Day of Kindergarten, September 11, 2017.” The caption almost always says something like, “I can’t believe how my baby has grown up so fast!”
While I empathize with the sentiment, this school year starting hasn’t fazed us that much. It’s a new school, yes, and a new teacher, new kids — all these make it challenging. But we’ve sent Benji to some kind of preschool for the last three years, and the year before that he did a mini-school program at Kindering. Plus he did daycare for a couple years and Y summer camp for about eight weeks this summer.
This all adds up to us feeling pretty sanguine about starting kindergarten at public school. In so many ways, we’ve practiced and prepared for this transition for years. Now it’s here, and it’s no big deal — or, at least, no bigger deal than any other similar transition.
What I am glad about, though, is deciding to wait to start kindergarten at age six. Not only did it let Benji practice and learn a lot of academic material last year, but he’s shown huge growth in maturity in the last couple months. I’m really glad we gave him time to mature a bit more before leaping into the demands of five days a week of all-day school.
I’m also really glad we did Y camp this year. I can’t overstate how great it was for him. It basically served as practice kindergarten with no pressure. The adults really helped the kids get ready for the amount of independence kindergartners get at school. I was really impressed.
So between half-day kindergarten last year and all-day Y camp this summer, yes, Benji is ready to do well at school this year. And I haven’t felt the need to shed even one single tear.
This year our family trip to Seaside took place over Labor Day week, later in the year than we usually go. The last couple years I’ve skipped it, but this year I came along, and I’m so glad I did: Not only did the weather produce possibly the finest stretch of days I’ve ever experienced on the Oregon Coast, but we just had the most unalloyed fun of any family vacation I can think of to date.
We drove down on the Sunday before Labor Day, and traffic was minimal. Ian and I had planned out a bunch of possible places to stop to charge the car, in case we couldn’t make it, but we had plenty of charge remaining when we arrived — 47 miles minimum, after driving about 210 miles. For an electric car, that’s pretty great. It started our vacation off on the right foot, and it kept going well from there.
Naturally, we went to the beach first thing.
On Monday, Ian and I went for a hike out past Cape Falcon.
That evening, we let Benji stay up “late” (8:00 pm! Wow!) to do his first-ever beach fire and s’mores. Needless to say, he loved it. Marshmallows were popular, of course, as was burning various things.
The next day, we drove to the Tillamook Cheese Factory, where Benji took care of the most important part of the day: ice cream. We had enough time, and he was doing well enough, that we played for a long time at Oswald West State Park on the way home.
We weren’t actually prepared to play in the water, so Benji ended up with no pants or undies… but the shirt was just long enough.
The next day was our last full day in Seaside, and Ian and I did a few errand-type things — I got a massage, Ian went to the outlet malls, and we both bought hats.
We also went and saw Mission Impossible: Fallout in the Seaside movie theater, which was crammed with two other people. I never saw an actual employee the whole time. Benji hung out with Grammy and Papa and they put him to bed, so we got a little date night. It was nice!
And that was pretty much the vacation.
We drove home on Thursday and dove into real life again, with a school meeting on Friday and then a regular weekend before Benji’s first week at school. It was a great break.
Yesterday I got to have a microscopic vacation, 12 hours completely by myself. Wow! What did I do to earn this wonderful reward? Nothing; Ian made it possible out of the goodness of his heart.
Also, he understands how much training for this upcoming Gran Fondo means to me, and he’s being extremely accommodating.
Double also, the Washington Department of Ecology once again rated air around here “Unhealthy,” thanks to the wildfires that have filled our air with toxins and haze for the last three weeks. My solo adventure stemmed from a desire to find somewhere else with better air to train.
Now, one challenge this week is that all my usual suspects for riding with had other plans. Dad jetted off to the East Coast, presumably to bike the Cape in air where you can see more than a mile away; my other buddy had plans; and that’s it. I’m low on training buddies right now. (Note to self: Gotta make some new friends, or refresh old relationships. Biking alone isn’t the most fun.)
After much debate and route consideration, I opted to ride to the Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument Johnston Ridge Observatory. Say that six times fast. I did this for two reasons: 1. As mentioned in the first challenge, I’d be riding alone, and I knew the route (there are literally no turns), which also met my training requirements to ride long, steady climbs; and 2. The air quality in southwestern Washington looked quite a bit better than the Seattle area.
Challenge number two: We own one car. This becomes a problem only on extremely rare occasions, such as yesterday, when we have to go opposite directions. We solved this challenge easily by borrowing a car from my parents. But also incidentally, the one car we own is all-electric. Again, has never yet proven problematic. We rarely want to do drives that exceed the 250-ish miles we can go on one charge.
Well, except yesterday. Mt. St. Helens is about 120 to 150 miles from our house, depending on where you stop. I opted to stop at the Mt. St. Helens Visitor Center, 47 miles from Johnston Ridge and about 125 miles from our house. (Fun fact: The visitor center is run by Washington State Parks, so you can park there for water and bathrooms; use your Discover Pass to park all day. Handy!) I knew, from mapping the route ahead of time, that I could get to the visitor center well within range for our Bolt. However, it wasn’t well within the range roundtrip.
Like Scarlett O’Hara, I decided to think about that “tomorrow.” And by “tomorrow,” I actually meant after I finished my ride.
Suffice it to say that I arrived at the visitor center after about a two-hour drive. Then I rode my bike a long way, up a lot of hills. I felt good–it was actually nice to ride alone, keeping my own pace, not having to wait or try to catch up. My left leg, which I’ve struggled with, never experienced the crippling pain it gets every ride; but I also saw only 30% to 40% power from that leg. More on that in another post.
Here’s where I went. Very exciting route. (Note: It looks like the WordPress update has broken the iframe from Ride With GPS. Click View Full Version to see the actual route.)
At the halfway point I stopped at Johnston Ridge Observatory, paid $8, and enjoyed their nice clean restrooms.
I also looked out, but overall the view wasn’t what it has been in the past. I’d ridden through a layer of clouds at around 3,000 feet (and wished I’d brought more than just a vest and light arm warmers), which looked like riding through a white nothing, and smoke did haze the view. It was better than at home, but not as good as in past years.
After a quick snack, I started back down… although it’s not exactly all downhill from there. There’s one significant climb on the way back, and honestly even the small little dips and rises feel plenty hard by the time you get there. Also, a west wind develops in the afternoon, and of course I spent the entire time riding west. This improved air quality, but made my ride quite a bit harder. Riding up little bumps with a wind felt like sheer torture.
Honestly, one of the happiest moments of my ride was when I thought I had a mile to go, and I saw a sign for the visitor center 1/4 of a mile away. Hallelujah!
The car was still there (I did worry a bit), and as I pulled up and started to discombobulate my gear, I felt a raindrop. Then another. Then several more. I hastened my putting-away procedure and as I got into the car the rain started in earnest.
Not that earnest, though, because only a couple miles away it stopped and I never saw another drop.
Now we get to the third challenge: Range. When I got started driving again, the car estimated I had 119 miles of range. But I’d driven 125 miles to get there. After consulting with Ian, who’s really the expert on the car since he drives it every day, I decided to stop at the fast charger at the LeMay Car Museum in Tacoma. I’d been to the museum before, and it’s right off the freeway. But I’ve never tried fast charging the car; we have a level 2 charger in our garage, which is ample for charging overnight, but too slow for a trip like this.
By the time I got there, I had an estimated 40 miles of range left, but 45 miles to get home — and 40 miles is just an estimate. Freeway driving tends to drag down the range substantially. So I stopped and found the charger. After a little finagling (the credit card reader on one charger didn’t work, but it worked fine on the other charger. Thank goodness there were two!), I got charging started.
The speed of charging astonished me. I could’ve left after 15 minutes, but Ian wanted me to stay for 30 minutes to see if it really added 90 miles as advertised. It did. That’s impressive. I blithely drove the rest of the way home without worrying about my charge level. With that I dealt with challenge number three.
I got home just over 12 hours after leaving, just in time to read Benji a bedtime story and say goodnight. Then I ate more food and went to bed. Despite the smoke, it was a good day.
Here in Seattle, people always joke that maybe climate change wouldn’t be so bad. We wouldn’t mind a little extra warm weather in the summer, thank you very much!
Well, here’s what that looks like.
Thanks to smoke from wildfires burning in Canada, Eastern Washington, Oregon, and California, the air quality has degraded to dangerous levels around here. It gets especially bad when our handy-dandy oceanic air conditioner turns off, like it did on Sunday.
Now we can’t go outside. Our home is hot, and getting hotter, and we can’t cool it off because we can’t open the windows. I can’t commute home by bike, let alone keep training, because I can’t breathe — it hurts eyes, nose, and throat to be outside any extended period of time (like more than 10 minutes), and goodness only knows the long-term impact to our lungs. We all feel low-grade sick, with runny noses, sore throats, and coughing.
Here’s what that looks like on the ground.
This is what climate change looks like in the Pacific Northwest. Now tell me that we should consider cutting the Clean Air Act, vehicle fuel standards, and other environmental protections designed to combat climate change.
I like bike/bus commuting. Or, let me put it this way: if I have to spend 60 to 90 minutes each way commuting, I prefer to include my bike as well as the bus. I like being able to ride my bike home directly. If I’m taking a bus home, the bike lets me catch any of about five different buses that all go within about five miles of my house.
But. The catch. There’s always a catch, right? Here’s the catch: Metro buses only have space for three bikes on the front rack. When that rack is full, any other riders with bikes have to wait for the next bus.
This almost never happens. It’s amazingly unlikely. Until a few weeks ago, I’d had maybe one time when the rack was full in 18 months of daily commuting.
Then something changed. Now the rack on my normal 7:15 bus is almost always full before it gets to my stop. So I leave the house at 7:05, wait about 10 minutes, and the bike rack on the bus that pulls up is full. I have to wait for the next bus, which comes between 7:30 and 7:35. By then I’ve been at the stop about 30 minutes. Unfortunately, traffic is worse at that time, so that trip takes several minutes longer than the 7:15 trip.
That means that instead of getting to work a little before 8:00–and thereby being able to leave between 4:00 and 4:30–I get to work at between 8:20 and 8:30. So then I have to stay at work 30 minutes longer, get home 30 minutes later, and spend an 30 minutes less with my family. On those days, I get home at closer to 6:30, which is barely early enough to do bedtime with Benji.
So when the bike rack is full, I leave the house at 7:05 and get home at 6:30. That’s just frustrating. I already have a long commute, and then having the stupid bike rack full makes my commute and my whole day even longer.
Today, the third time this happened this week, I saw the rack was full and just sat down and cried. It was so frustrating, so unfair, so infuriating, so disappointing and discouraging, after weeks of dealing with this happening repeatedly, it finally crushed me. I didn’t even care that this line of like 20 or 30 people all waiting for a bus was watching me have a meltdown.
I sat and cried, and you know what? From that long line of cynical commuters pretending not to see me fall apart came a really sweet young lady. She came over and asked if I was okay and if she could do anything. When it was clear there wasn’t anything to be done, she offered to just give me a hug–which I accepted. Then she sat and talked with me until her bus came. She’s going into her sophomore year in college next year and hopes to play viola professionally when she graduates. She was incredibly sweet, kind, and amazingly empathetic and mature. I was deeply impressed.
I’m sure there’s a lesson in there somewhere: people aren’t all terrible, or the power of kindness, or something. I’m not going to worry about the moral of the story, but I know she gave me a lot to think about.
Because that’s who I want to be. The person who sees someone in pain and doesn’t just pretend it’s not happening. Who steps out and gives kindness when it’s needed–not on a big national scale, worrying about big political disasters and impacts to millions of people, but at the one on one level where we all live every day. That’s what we all need.
If you’re like me, you’ve heard urban legends about the transformative power of power naps. The anecdotes I always heard involved some high-powered, on-the-go person who carved out just a few minutes a day to rest at work and voila! Life miraculously makes sense again. More energy throughout the rest of the day, more effective at work, etc., etc.
Sure, sure. Whatever you say.
A few months ago, I was extra-exhausted at work. I forget why, but the afternoon doldrums hit particularly hard, and I could barely keep my eyes open. It felt like given even the tiniest opportunity, I’d fall asleep right at my desk.
I figured, okay, I’m not getting anything done anyway. I’ll go just sit in one of the phone booths with the light off and rest for 15 minutes. To be safe, I set an alarm on my phone.
Needless to say, the second I got relatively comfortable in that dark little room, with the whoosh of the elevators and the murmur of devs talking about things I don’t understand… I feel asleep.
About 10 minutes later I woke up, disabled unneeded the alarm, and went back to work. At first I felt a little groggy, but within a few minutes I actually did feel better. The entire rest of the day, in fact, I felt more alert and engaged. So much better than I’d felt only a few minutes before.
Since then, when I’m overwhelmingly exhausted and ready to drop off at my desk, I’ve napped at work. Every time I fall asleep, and every time I feel 1000% better afterwards. I have been astonished at the difference such a short rest makes in the remainder of my day.
I guess I’ll join the ranks of the power nap evangelists, because I’m a total convert.