Spring pigeons

pigeon prep final
Image of pigeon prep, adapted from here.

A few weeks ago I reached a milestone in yoga class: I was finally able to settle into the pigeon prep pose on my right side, (shown above), something that a few months ago was unthinkable.

This pose is a preparation for more advanced poses, all with “pigeon” in their title. (Hey, google it!) Pigeon prep is a great pose in its own right. It’s a great hip opener, and is regarded as one of the best poses that a cyclist can do. It seems to counteract tightness in the hips that comes from miles and miles of cycling. For me, that tightness mostly involves the muscles in the general area of the piriformis muscle (see this site). After having suffered a hip injury last year, that’s now more true than ever. If I don’t stretch the hip muscles on my right side daily, they tighten up like a wet drum. Pigeon prep is the perfect counter for this, though I often don’t think that when I’m in the pose — it’s a burn for sure!

An alternative form of pigeon prep is to lie on your back, and starting with both knees bent and feet on the floor, cross one ankle over the knee of other leg, bending the first leg into a “figure-4″ like pattern. (The link mentioned in the last paragraph shows variations of this.) That’s the alternative I had to use for months and months, and even that often caused more burn than I wanted. I would limp out of class with very sore hip muscles (which usually felt better by the next morning.)

The day in class when I finally managed to fully settle into pigeon prep with my right leg forward and crossed over, as in the figure above, I was so proud of myself! — only to have the instructor move the class into more advanced forms of pigeon. Thanks a lot Jen!

1-2-3 Hills

IMG_2458 small
My co-conspirators of Los Freeloaders fame from last weekend, who witnessed my amazing strength and prowess on the climbs. I would’ve included a selfie here, but I couldn’t find the “tummy tuck” tool in Photoshop. Hee hee.

I’m slowly (and cautiously) returning to cycling, having ridden five Saturdays in a row, under glorious spring weather.

My first two rides were flat as a pancake, no hills at all. I rode with a few friends from the Los Freeloaders, and on the second ride it was all I could do to reach home some 36 miles later.

The next weekend, I did my first hill (Hidden Hills) since last spring. Woo hoo! 36 miles! Completely wiped out the rest of the day! Woo … hew.

The next Saturday after that, I did two hills in a row! (Hidden Hills, 128th St). Woo hoo! 42 miles! Completely wiped out the rest of the day! Woo … hew.

Then last Saturday, I did three hills in a row! (Desert Cove, Hidden Hills, 128th St). Woo hoo! 46 miles! Not completely wiped out the rest of the day!

And so it goes, this humble journey back into the world of cycling. I still don’t know if I should be doing this, and it’s weird riding the old haunts — the old roads, the neighborhoods, the hills I’ve ridden so many times in the past. It’s like those times were yesterday, though yesteryear is more accurate. On the climbs, I’m a mere former of my shadow self. But still in those legs is the ability to keep going. Something those legs haven’t forgotten, apparently.

Why, it’s almost like learning to ride a bike. Once you learn, you never … oh wait!

Flowing yoga, melting concrete

Yup, that just about sums up the past few months. Trying to attend yoga class a bit more regularly — taking a vinyasa (flow yoga) class twice a week, trying to melt those various muscles and sinews which currently feel like concrete.

Progress is slow, but it is real. The warm, 85 degree temps during flow class do help loosen up things. The classes are challenging. I can only muster half the poses, if that. But who’s counting? I just do what I can.

On the cycling front, I’ve been out riding three Saturdays in a row. The weather has been too nice not to! A 36-miler last Saturday was about 12 miles too many, though. I was completely wiped out by the time I got home. Felt like I used to after, say, 120 miles. Oh well.

While on these rides, every now and then a whiff of warm breeze has come drifting by, reminding me of all the many hours once spent on the bike in days gone past — reminding me that I once enjoyed this sport immensely. Will that feeling return?

We’ll just have to wait and see.

One thing that’s apparent, yoga and cycling do go hand in hand, and both are making a noticeable difference on my healing process, even if it is slow.

Now, to just stay away from piles of gravel and construction zones …

I’m done!

With “formal” physical therapy, that is. I finished the day after the Winter Solstice. ’twas only fitting to have this astronomical connection, seeing’s how crashing and subsequently getting back to riding also occurred near major astronomical events, in those cases, total lunar eclipses near the equinoxes. Since the first ride back, though, I’ve only gone out twice more. It seemed a bit premature.

Took longer than anticipated to get through the therapy process. It was deceptive. Unlike the years-earlier broken shoulder injury, this hip injury wasn’t as painful, so I figured a few months at the therapy clinic and that would be that. But the sessions dragged on, the progress slow. The breakthrough came in mid-December when I found out my hips were out of alignment, and that was the source of most of the lingering problems.

Now what?

So, it’s a new year and all. What will it bring? Will I join the ranks of avid cyclists again? It’s a question I’ve yet to answer. I don’t know how to feel about it. But I imagine I’ll be back at it eventually.

One thing’s for sure, I now deem it not worth riding when the temps are not pleasant. No sense in exposing myself to further crashes doing cold weather riding. Looks like spin-cycling classes would be a good option right now.

Hmm… maybe I should work up to doing a full century on an indoor-trainer. Would be a good challenge, mentally and physically.

And it would be a bit more difficult to crash. Ha!


Luna(r eclipse)cy

Lunar Eclipse 4_14_2014
I crashed last April, the morning after a total lunar eclipse, which was part of a rare pair this year, the other one appearing tomorrow. So it seemed only fitting to start riding again now, when the sister lunar eclipse is about to occur. “Yes,” I decided when I woke up this morning. “It’s only fitting to bookend these eclipses.”

So that’s what I did. Rode down to the coffee-shop where the TriScottsdale riders like to hang out after their Tuesday morning romp. I rode as an act of defiance, I guess. Take that, you lunar eclipse gods!

It was either courage on my part — or hubris, or lunacy. I’m not sure which.

It was a scary ride at first. I stopped and got off and walked around any corner that had gravel. One of the riders I talked to afterwards thought I was being foolish to worry this way — that to give into my fears and be too cautious was the wrong thing to do.

But last time I rode, my inner voice was telling me to get off and walk through the construction we were riding through, and I didn’t listen. This time, I wasn’t going to make that same mistake!

Someone asked me how the ride went. “I was so out of breath,” I replied. “Saddle sore, hands numb, sore knee, sore hip. Other than that, it was a great ride!”

Actually, I was surprised how sore my hip was. This hasn’t occurred while riding the stationary bike at the therapy clinic. The worst part was getting off the bike. It was hard swinging my leg around to dismount. Curiously, getting on the bike wasn’t so bad.

Does all this mean I’m back to riding regularly? It’s been many a moon coming back from injury. How many moons before I’m completely healed, physically and mentally?

Well, the mental part might never be cured. And perhaps I was “mental” before all this anyway. You know, a bit .. er … loony.


Ready to ride. Not ready to fall.

Last night I had a dream where I was with a group of cyclists, but walking my bike. (Hey, it’s a dream. It doesn’t have to make sense.) The group rode away, and in an impromptu moment, I decided to hop on and ride — to catch up with them. I rode tentatively through a parking lot, wary of potholes and gravel, and then pedaled with more speed. After catching the group, I tried to get them to understand how momentous this was.

That’s when the Bullshifters came by, but on mountain bikes, not road bikes. And they were heading for the trails up a mountain pass nearby. I watched them go with a bit of longing.

I turned around and rode down a street by myself, first a mile, then another, wondering if I could actually ride all the way home.

And then I woke up.

I guess this dream means my spirit is ready to start riding.

My body is ready too. What it’s not ready to do is fall again.

Hence, an impasse.

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.