Whodunnit at the Hoodoo 500

Jim Pettett of the Bullshifters, one of my riding partners on the Death Valley Double Century last fall, just completed an impressive feat: finishing the Hoodoo 500 race up in St. George, Utah, racing 500 miles on a four man team — of riders over 70 years old.

They beat the course record for that age group. That’s impressive Jim! Kudos!

You can see his interview at the 5:15 mark on the video above.

Dark clouds fby rays of hope sunshine

Last week was a rainy one here in Phoenix. Our neck of the woods got dumped on numerous times during a very active week of monsoons. It’s been many a year since we’ve seen such rains.

There were other dark clouds … my therapy sessions really sucked. Progress seemed remote. I was sore, sore, sore after therapy on Monday a week ago, after my therapist dug deeply into weak hip and leg muscles using her famous elbow. By the next morning walking was painful, even with a cane. Balancing on my right leg felt a lot like it did in early July: possible but painful. I was definitely going backwards. Fears of a dying hip ball joint – a real possibility – reared its ugly head.

So I took it easy the rest of the week, not going to yoga or otherwise exercising, which meant no early morning walks either. By Friday I started to feel bit better, and by yesterday morning, I was shocked to discover only a little pain while walking, and subsequently managed to put in my first one mile loop to the local park and back without the aid of the cane — a significant milestone.

This morning, things feel even better. I still have soreness, but it seems to have lessened significantly, or a least shifted to other locations. (Mostly my knee). It feels like I have finally turned the corner. In therapy last night, with the help of my therapist, I discovered exactly which muscle(s) are the lingering problem. Turns out I have very little strength when doing external rotations with my right leg. It was painful even trying. The working theory is that this is the source of the last vestiges of pain I have while trying to walk and/or to balance on my right leg.

Of course, my therapist immediately attacked said muscle(s) and gave me homework with specific external rotation exercises to do. It appears this may be the winning strategy.

So rays of hope seem to be breaking through …

No pain, no cane

Okay, so I’m not really off the cane completely — just thought it made for a fun title.

But here at the four month mark, I use my cane sparingly, and mainly only for long walks. If going out to the store or to therapy or what not, I’ve stopped taking the cane with me.

I’ve reached milestones: Up to two miles walking (with a cane), and up to 1/2 mile without the cane. Yes, marathons are just around the corner. I just know it!

In therapy, a certain exercise called “monster walking” has been giving me fits. Monster walking involves strapping a big rubber band around my knees and taking “giant” steps forward, with front foot slightly off to the side, slowly planting my feet and working on engaging my hip muscles before completing each step. I do this forwards and backwards. It was, shall we say, monsterly painful at first, but the other day I defeated said monster and did all reps without pain.

My last exercise in a therapy session is usually “scooting” around on a rolling low stool, digging my heels in to pull forward, doing two laps around the therapy clinic. This asks much of my hamstrings, and I used to have to stop and rest often. But yesterday I completed two laps with only one rest stop. Yes, doing a double century this way is obviously the next progression, dontcha think?

I practice leg balances, and they’ve been painful at the “launch” (lifting up my left leg to balance on the right), until yesterday that is, when I reached balance without pain. Too bad I was only able to do that once. Hey, you gotta start somewhere.

My therapist is always harping on me to use my core muscles when exercising, to “squeeze my butt” and work those quads and hip stabilizers. Therein lie the last holdouts it seems — those persnickety hip stabilizers.

I’ve started taking yoga classes again — regressing all the way back to the intro series at the Yoga Pura studio, square one. Intro class gives me a chance to slowly reintroduce those ol’ familiar poses, and to discover just where my limits are. Until recently, those limits looked pretty darn narrow. Just about any warrior pose with right leg forward has been difficult, and a non-painful runner’s lunge seemingly remote. Downward dogs have been passable, but often cause my right knee to hurt, for some reason. (One of my therapists says it’s due to weak quads.)

The initial novelty of going back to yoga class wore off after a few sessions, with reality of lingering injury smacking me in the face. That is, until yesterday, when I was finally able to do downward dogs with minimal pain — and to even do three-legged dogs, even three-legged planks, and even fire hydrant pose. I surprised myself with the latter. Not in my wildest dreams did I think that would be feasible yet.

So I guess I’m slowly gliding towards normality. One of the problems now is my right knee. To counter this, I’ve discovered I can use the elliptical trainer quite easily, and if I ever start indoor “spin classes” like I keep threatening, these two exercises should eventually solve the knee problems.

What about cycling outdoors? Well, I could do that now,  but I’m going to wait. I’m still not sure if and when I’ll be doing any outdoor riding, or in what capacity. I’ll let these things come about the way they want to, and see what happens.

I did experience a bit of wistfulness the other day when the Moon Valley group came rolling by as I was out walking the dog with my wife. The Bullshifters amongst the group all yelled hello as they rode past, and I wished I could have gone with them …


The AJ’s store is/was on the way to many of the popular training routes in the east Scottsdale / Fountain Hills area.

Went down to AJ’s this morning, the one on the corner of Mountain View and Via Linda in east Scottsdale. Ordered food and an ice tea and sat at my usual table on the patio out front. It was a grey, cool, (for a Phoenix summer day, anyway) morning.

It was lonely too. No one else was on said patio. I waited for ten, twenty minutes to see if any familiar cyclists might show up. A few eventually did, and it was fun getting to briefly chat with them. After they left to continue their ride, it was back to being lonely. This place is usually packed with cyclists on a Saturday morning, but most of them have apparently chosen to stay away.

For good reason – this popular cycling water hole will be disappearing soon, the store closing come mid-August. So the groups that might have stopped here were probably off finding new places to haunt.

Change is a part of life. No changes, no life. I know that. But stopping at AJ’s was a Saturday ritual for me and many other riders. I’ve been coming here regularly for eight years or more. It’s sad to see it go away.

Sitting at the table while waiting a while longer to see if anybody else chanced by, I reflected on the changes that have occurred in my (and many other’s) cycling history in these here parts. I started riding out this way regularly in 2006, first as part of the Wheezer Geezer Saturday ride, and then as part of the Gainey Village / Tri Scottsdale early Thursday morning training romp out to the Hills of Via Linda. The Thursday group used to do a series of three hills out this way: Desert Cove, Hidden Hills, and Scottsdale Mountain.

Just Hills of Via Linda
The original Hills of Via Linda.

Back in those days, you could ride all the way up Desert Cove, ending on a short, steep (16%) grade to a cul-de-sac. At the time, no houses were on the cul-de-sac. Eventually houses were built, and eventually a gate was placed across the road to block access. At first, you could easily go around the gate by using a sidewalk. But another gate was eventually placed on the sidewalk too, and that steep, short climb became unavailable. This meant stopping at the gates and turning around.

Just to the north of Desert Cove, on Via Linda, is the famous / infamous Hidden Hills climb. Used to be, you could ride to the top of this as well, ending once again at a cul-de-sac. The gates to this area were purposely designed to allow cyclists through, this being on a public easement. However, a few years ago the gates were closed to cyclists, with no indication when they would be opened again. That meant we could ride only as far as the gates.

Oh well, at least we could still ride up Scottsdale Mountain. Except there are gates on Scottsdale Mountain as well, though for a while we were allowed through. The Thursday morning Gainey Village / Tri Scottsdale group used to ride past these gates, waving and saying hi to the guards on the way up, ending the climb at yet another cul-de-sac.

This, the last of the series of three climbs, became more and more popular to other groups. That made me worry whether we would lose access to this area. Alas, that came to pass last fall.

So, the tops of the three hills of Via Linda were taken away from us, one by one, over the past few years. Like most living things, the Thursday morning group just adapted, and began doing a different circuit out this way, riding as far as possible up all the hills in the area, including the now shortened ones. There are seven (I believe) such possibilities. Even though none of the climbs are long or steep, there’s enough of them to constitute a decent workout. We make the best of it.

I was just getting used to this new early morning circuit, when, alas, I crashed in April, ending my weekly training rides for now and probably altering them significantly in the future. This last, personal change, is of course a big one for me. But all I can do is adapt, and figure out some new routine.

Another thing these weekly group rides have shown me is that groups themselves are alive, in some sense. They are ever-changing and take on various personalities as time goes by, as people come and go in a steady stream. The groups are born, they grow, and they die, just like living things.

Don’t know what all this means. Just making note of it.

I can’t help but think, though, that this presents a perfect opportunity to consider one of the core philosophies of Eastern thought: That nothing is permanent, and the most sensible thing to do is to get used to it — embrace it even.

Of course, that is a paradox of sorts — to embrace something as slippery and elusive as change is.

Going mobile

I write these blog posts about injury recovery in case other unfortunate souls find these pages, and can see what someone else who has crashed with a hip injury has experienced. I think it’s helpful to know what to expect.

Three months out from injury, I’m still using a cane but have had significant milestones in my recovery, the progress coming ever quicker:

I traversed stairs for the first time. Had no idea how that would go, but it was fine, as long as I went slowly and carefully. Escalators? Not so much. Didn’t particularly like the transition exiting from them. My surgeon had told me to avoid things like treadmills because I wouldn’t be in control of the movement. Now I see why. Escalators are kind of like that.

I went for my longest walk since April, going for 1/2 mile around a loop on a dirt trail in a park in southern Ontario (with a cane, though). That’s after walking earlier on uneven grass filled with holes and tree roots and what not.

Then, a few days later, I walked into the kitchen and my sis-in-law commented I didn’t have my cane. Oh yea, guess I was walking around the house unaided, without realizing it.

Wasn’t long till I was frequently losing where my cane was, needing it less and less.

The ultimate though, was being able to balance in “tree pose” on my (injured) right leg. That’s a big sign of progress! Look out yoga class!

Then to top it off, I actually danced a few dances at my sis-in-law’s wedding reception, realizing that some of the moves (like the two-step) were exactly the kind of exercises prescribed by my therapist.

I still use the cane a lot of the time, though, for with it, I walk with better form, or better said, it allows me to train myself as to what good form is. That will pay dividends later. I won’t be developing bad habits (like limping).

Next up: Starting regular exercise on an elliptical machine, and perhaps joining a spin class with cycling buddies that used to ride with me on the Sunday rides I once led.

It won’t be long I’ll be going mobile for real, taking the dog for walks, maybe going for bike rides — even if those rides will be more of the “ceremonial kind.”

Don’t know if this kind of progress at three months is typical, but I’ll take it …

Hurry-up Cane

Recovery is coming along — ten days ago was Freedom Day: I was finally allowed to put full weight on my leg.

I thought this meant I’d be walking on my own immediately. Just abandon the walker and begin my freedom. Ha ha! Somehow, it didn’t quite work out that way. Something about muscles, having sat idle for so many weeks, needing to be kick-started again …

By the way, part of my muscle kick-starting routine is to do “clam shell” exercises, “butt squeezes,” and “quad squeezes.” Yessirree, I’m getting that Brazilian Butt Lift. I just know it.

For the first few days after Freedom Day, I continued to use the walker, disappointed I couldn’t just toss it right away. But this week, at the prompting of my physical therapist, I made the transition to a cane. She thought that, even though I might be a bit wobbly on it, I’d progress much faster.

It’s been slow going. Not the recovery process using the cane, but my walking speed. It’s less than half of normal.

“Hurry up!” My therapist says to me, after seeing me walking slowly today, albeit more stably than last week. “It’s time for you and that cane to start walking faster.”

I guess it is.

So you might see me out and about, me and my “hurry-up cane.”

It could happen to you

I suspect many people who hear I crashed on my bike and suffered a fracture have some kind of vision of me riding fast and recklessly in a large pack, or zooming down a mountain at high speeds. They envision the spectacular bike crashes that happen often on the pro-cycling circuit.

Thing is, none of that was the case. Sure, I was riding with a small group of people, but slowly (probably 5 mph at the time.) And sure, we were riding through some construction, which could have been avoided. But nobody was racing, and no hills were involved.

All told, it was a simple crash — a simple (if forceful) fall at low speed. It could happen to anybody who rides a bike. And I mean anybody.

The reaction that comes after hearing of my injury tends to split into two camps: Those who ride bicycles regularly, and those who don’t. Those who ride regularly apparently think that such an accident won’t be happening to them. After hearing my story, all my avid cycling friends have continued to ride without so much as a visible second thought. Every single one of them. I find that fascinating.

Those who aren’t regular bike riders tend, in so many words, to say I need to “get a different hobby”, or “need to be more careful.” They lecture me about being a foolish bike rider. As if they don’t do things that can cause serious harm. Who amongst them does not participate in a least one of the following activities: Water skiing, snow skiing, snow boarding, rollerblading, heck, even playing soccer, basketball or football? Who amongst them doesn’t drive a car? Don’t they know how dangerous that is? And let’s not get into the hypocrisy that comes out of the mouths of those who, gasp, ride motorcycles. (Disclaimer: I used to ride motorcycles too.)

When I suffered my injury, I was being just as careful as anybody is likely to be, say, walking down a flight of stairs. That’s the way I view the type of accident I had. Yes, you can have an accident at anytime walking down stairs, and can trip and break bones, even badly. It happens all the time. But most people don’t avoid stairs after having such a fall, (well, at least after they’re healed and can actually walk down stairs again.) So why the puzzling reaction to cycling accidents, like the one I had?

I think the psychology boils down to the notion of fear or lack of it, and the false belief of being in control. I’ll have more to say about this in a later post, once I’ve fleshed out these thoughts.

Groundhog Day, all over again

For the past few weeks, each day has been the same. Lie in the recliner, and lie there, and lie there. Yeah, I can distract myself with the laptop, attempt to program in C++, browse the web, listen to music, watch endless movies on Netflix, and watch dreadfully bad TV. It’s like being trapped in some sort of Groundhog Day time loop — you know, like in the movie?

It’s Groundhog day in another way too: Going through the recovery process, the physical therapy. It all seems so familiar. Too familiar. I can’t believe I’m going through this again.

I will say, this time has been far, far easier than when I injured my shoulder. That was painful. It took almost a year to get back to any semblance of normal. This time, the main problem has been having to be on my back, either lying down or in a recliner, almost 24/7, only getting relief during brief periods of stand-up exercises with the aid of a walker. Don’t know about you, but I have trouble sleeping on my back. During the past few weeks, I’ve really, really wanted to roll over on my side. It’s the only way I can truly rest.

Sleepless nights have become the norm, especially after the anesthesia from surgery has worn off, and the pain medication has been dropped. But not being able to sleep is one thing. Having restless leg syndrome kick in is another. My legs are so used to being in motion, from all the miles on the bike. They don’na like being still.

So I’ve tried yoga meditation. It’s helped somewhat. Trying to clear your mind while being in a bit of pain — and with restless legs — is challenging. You’d think I’d be better at it, for that’s exactly what the yoga classes are for.

I’ve tried listening to meditation music, mostly in the form of recordings from “New Age” artist Steven Halpern, recordings like his Chakra Suite, Deep Alpha, and Deep Theta CDs. These have also helped to a degree. Ironically, the Chakra Suite puts my wife to sleep almost instantly. She’s snoring within minutes. Me, not so much. I’ve found the Deep Alpha and Deep Theta CDs to be more effective. Their purpose is to slow your brain waves down, and they do seem to do that.

It wasn’t until today that it dawned on me I have another CD to try: Be Still, by Reggie & Jenny Young. Aptly titled, isn’t it? Filled with tunes from the Christian tradition, this is an album of guitar and cello. Reggie is a famous studio musician from Nashville. His wife Jenny used to be my fiddle teacher many years ago, in what seems like a former life. It’ll be interesting to see how well their music works on stilling my legs — and my mind. It’s funny thinking how I might reconnect with my former fiddle teacher in such a way.

Meanwhile, yesterday I was given approval for 50% weight-bearing on my injured hip/leg. This means more mobility, more independence. I can even start pedaling on a stationary bike, if I want.

More importantly, it means I can now roll over on my left side. What a relief! It’s not exactly comfortable yet, but as Bill Murray says in Groundhog Day:

“Anything different is good.”

Update: Since this post was written, I realized another connection to Groundhog Day: When I went for my post-op checkup the other day, it was sunny. I could see my shadow, and that of my walker. Yep. Six more weeks of “winter” — six more weeks before I can ditch the walker entirely. So sayeth the doctor.

Taking a “break”

I took a fall off my bike the other day, which has forced me to take a break — in more ways than one. Back tire got caught up while going around a corner in some uneven construction, which slammed the bike down hard to the right, my hip taking the brunt of the impact. I now have more “hardware” on my right side.

A few months of recovery and I’ll most likely be able to ride again. The question is, should I? Do I even want to?

As far as recreation is concerned, cycling is the thing I most enjoy doing. I can’t imagine not doing it anymore. I also can’t imagine crashing again and landing anywhere on my right side

Is it time to find a different form of recreation? How to keep all the fitness built up from many, many miles ridden the last ten years? Swimming? Not having full range of shoulder motion limits that somewhat. Running? I doubt my knees (and now hip) could handle that. What else? I already do a lot of yoga (a great complement to cycling, by the way), and do enjoy hiking. But none of these alternate forms of recreation have the appeal that cycling does. Part of that appeal is the social aspect. I’ve met lots of great people out on the road. I’d really miss riding with them.

One thing that’s helping: yoga. It’s not just the poses and stretching. The mental discipline I’ve acquired means no excessive worrying about my recovery process, or about what will come next, nor am I playing any “what if” mind games. Several friends who visited me in the hospital commented on my cheerful spirits. I seem able to approach the matter with calmness.

They say life is all about being presented challenges. We get to solve these challenges one by one, only to have more present themselves.

I guess I’ve found my next challenge, and now must reconsider the question asked in the previous post.