Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Lake Country Classic

Before undergoing last weekends surgery, I was able to get in one last good ride with good friends. This particular group of friends is spread all over the country, so it was great to get organized and actually meet up to ride again. Some drove in from St Louis, some flew in from UT, I came from STP and we all met a friend who lives in Milwaukee for the Lake Country Classic in Oconomowoc, WI. Getting ourselves there and set up for the ride was a bit hectic. I waited in St Paul for our UT friend to fly in, as she needed a ride to Milwaukee. This got delayed as we're all on the non-rev, standby plan, so we didn't arrive until 3:30am. Already set up to be fatigued on our 7:00am start time for the ride. To make things later, she flew in with an S and S bike, so we needed to stay up and put it together. My mind wasn't working the greatest, and it took me longer than necessary to build it up. Then for whatever reason, I couldn't fall asleep until around 5:30 for a 6:15 wake-up. Ouch. Oh well, worse things have happened, and I was still excited for the ride and to hang out with everyone. As mentioned a couple entries ago, I'm currently limited to my Long Haul Trucker for road riding as my Lemond is down. And add the info from my very last entry, and you'll realize my sternum was broken (although I didn't know it at the time). Yeah- big recipe for success right? Well, I realized I wasn't going to keep up with anyone on the full 100 mile route, and opted to ride the 65 mile route instead with two out of the group who had chosen the same.
Next issue- we got a mile and a half into the ride, biking through some pleasant light rain, saving us from the weeks oppressive heat indices, and I noticed while watching the slightly greasy road in front of me that my buddy Chris's rear wheel was wobbling like a drunk. It was pretty bad. So I checked it out, and discovered his hub was super loose. We nursed it back to my truck, where I had my tool box, and tightened things up, but then upon looking further, found two broken spokes. Ugh. After deliberating, he decided he'd ride carefully, but most likely ruin the wheel, and go forward with the event. It held the whole ride. Thumbs up to Mavic cross wheels.
Now that the ride was finally on for real, we enjoyed 68 miles of Wisconsin back roads, and I remembered why there are bike companies based there- it really is a peaceful place to ride a road bike. I'm going to have to do some day or overnight trips over there next year to explore some more of the area.
The food was a little comical- they advertised "famous baked-goods", which I think meant that a ton of grandmas made a ton of cookies for the ride instead of Costco (which was nice), and they made a big deal out of having chicken-wings at one of the stops. I really didn't think wings sounded good in the middle of a bigger ride, but I did eat a couple.
After the ride, we all regrouped for mexican fare and margaritas, reminisced of good times, and talked of making an annual century trip somewhere to get everyone together more often. I hope we do- it was great.

"Everyone say Facebook!" (I think that was Julie's quote when setting this up.) :)
Yup, I guess we're eating wings on a long hot bike ride...

Hmmm...broken stuff everywhere, hubs, spokes, sternums...

Always worth riding the heavy touring bike in case you need to carry a spare tube on your 80 lb. limit rack... :)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Surgery Part II

Well, I didn't get out a pre-surgery post like I'd intended. To fill everyone in, I had the bar from my pectus excavatum surgery removed this past Friday. It had been inside me for just over a year, and had gotten very uncomfortable. Most people that have a Ravitch procedure as I did don't have to keep the bar in for quite that long, but my case was a nasty one, and there were signs I wasn't healing correctly (and I wasn't). My doctor decided it was time to have it out, and to go in through my original incision site to do some bone grafting. This was due to the "clicking" and "crunching" I had felt through the entire year, which I've described on this blog. What we thought was causing it, and usually is the case, was a rib or two being loose- not having attached properly to the sternum after the original surgery. This does happen to a small percentage of pectus repair patients. In my case, when they x-rayed and opened me up Friday, they discovered that the movement and discomfort was happening because my sternum was still broken! Yeah, it never healed from having the chunk of it removed in the first surgery. So, it received a whole bunch of bone grafting along with a rib or two, and I now have two permanently screwed in titanium plates holding my sternum/ribs together. It feels wonderful not to have movement going on in my chest where it shouldn't be any longer. I was beginning to feel like a whiner before this last surgery, as I was always uncomfortable, but now that I know my sternum was broken the whole time I think I did pretty well.
Everything is still pretty swollen and sore, and I don't know what it will look like in the long term, but feeling solid again is great, and I'm hoping that was the last time a surgeon will have to rip open my chest.
I will have an appointment in a couple weeks to discuss how I'll need to go forward with recovery. At this point I don't know what my restrictions will be, but it doesn't sound like I'll be riding or climbing for a several months again. I knew that was coming, so it's not so bad, but it kind of sucks to have to return to being weak after just starting to get back to my old self. I'll live. There will be plenty of fall day hiking and fresh air even if I can't ride.
Anyhow, I won't get too long winded as I'm not completely following all my thoughts due to percocet. More from me later...

I kept the bar. :)

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Road deliberations

I've been going back and forth on a project for some time now involving my starting-to-age road bike. For the past 11 years I've been riding the same Lemond Buenos Aires. No, I don't think most roadies keep a bike this long, and I suppose it either earns me style points for becoming "retro", deducts me style points for not keeping up with the current trends/technology in cycling, or simply makes me cheap. Not sure, but hopefully some sort of acceptable middle ground. Either way, I've come to a decision point with my ride, due to the fact that I recently discovered a crack in the old Icon Carbon Classic fork it sports. I've been a bit concerned about riding a old carbon fork with a ton of miles of it for a while, but a crack is the sure time to move on. Now the issue I'm fighting with is this- I love the frame. I'm not opposed to buying a modern road bike. I've never owned a carbon bike, and I certainly understand the draw. However, there are things I hold on tightly to when it comes to the Lemond. No, it's not a boutique brand that will catch eyes, it's even a defunct company, but there's nothing to scoff at when looking at the ride quality and long life span of a good steel frame. This one is a Reynolds 853 main triangle with 525 stays. To get a frame built with this grade of tubeset, and this particular tall-man fit these days, I'd probably have to go to a custom builder and pay out the nose. The big-name bike brands just aren't doing much of this anymore. Plus, the custom bike likely would not end up being much different from what my Lemond is now. And speaking of fit- it works for me very well as a tall guy with long arms, which is very hard to do when shopping amongst most current bike companies. There are few big name brands that offer bikes that will fit me these days. I simply need a top tube length longer than "normal" riders. So here's what it comes down to. I want to keep my Lemond frame. I've been shopping around a lot for a fork to replace the cracked one. I'd like to go for a quality steel one, to keep the overall genre of the bike consistent, and end up with a frame/fork set that will last many more years- even if I buy a carbon machine sometime as well. I just love this bike and want to keep it a ridable member of my fleet of toys. I haven't been sucessful in finding anybody other than custom outfits that can do a 1" steel fork with a long enough steer tube, and acceptable rake and length specs. It doesn't seem to be out there. So, unless I find something soon, I think I may pull the trigger on something custom, and then slowly, in addition to the fork, re-spec the whole bike as necessary. I'm sure there are plenty of riders who would consider this to be a foolish endeavor, as when you add things up, I could easily be purchasing a new, modern road bike. But as stated, I love my frame, it's got a ton of life left in it, and I think the project is worth it to me. I still like steel in a world obsessed with carbon. Those that have loved a good bike for a long time will understand, and those that have to have the latest race machine each season may not.

The Lemond at Minnehaha Falls in MPLS...

Monday, July 04, 2011

Another catch-up post...

Wow, another dry spell on the blog. My apologies.
Quite a few things to report. The most notable was pointed out in my last post- Minot, ND, where my parents live, has just experienced it’s worst ever recorded flooding event. The Souris River crested at 1561.7 ft about sea level. It wiped out my parents neighborhood, and although we still don’t know the exact condition of their house, all the talk that’s been heard suggests that most homes will be condemned as a loss. This one hurt a lot of families. Ours was at least fortunate to have a family farm north of town near Glenburn that my parents are now occupying. We are in a waiting game now to find out what’s next. The river is still very very high, and will take some time to recede to a point where officials can get in and make a call on what do to with everyone’s homes.

Sadly, this is my parents neighborhood; their house is obscured by trees in this shot...we still haven't seen the house. This is from a military helicopter shown on the news...

Next up is my upcoming second surgery for my case of pectus excavatum. The metal bar from my first surgery has been in my chest for a year as of the 14th of this month. It’s loose in my chest, and moves- very gross feeling. I’m excited to get it removed, which will happen on the 22nd if all goes as scheduled. That may be the extent of the surgery, or, my surgeon has indicated I may need more work to secure loose ribs that have not healed to my sternum, as I’ve blogged about before. I’d actually prefer to undergo this extra procedure right away to make sure things bond, as I don’t want to go any longer with loose parts, plus have another surgery later this year. We’ll see what happens. As far as how I’m feeling about it all, I still am unclear as to whether the surgery was worth it. Externally, anyone would diagnose me as having a significant chest wall deformity. Internally though, there are signs of hope. My latest chest x-ray shows that my heart has moved 1cm to the center of my chest cavity (more toward where it should be, and this suggests that it is not as squished as before surgery last year). Hopefully my second (and possibly third) procedure(s) go well. I’d love to be done with all this.
Moving on to my continued attempt to bring myself back to where I was physically before this major surgery- I’m doing a bit better. I can't claim any real disability as I'm doing things that a lot of folks wouldn't even without chest problems. I actually met another goal last month that I’d set earlier on this blog- I ran my first trail half marathon. I’ve been pleased that my chest seems ok with running, as some things, such as climbing, have not gone very well with the bar installed and bothering nerves. There was no event run, I just went out to Afton State Park and ended up extending a run that was planned for about 6 miles to 14. The course was not exactly easy either- lots of hills, some pretty steep (yeah, they exist in the Midwest). I’m getting more and more convinced that trail running is easier in a way than road. Road is so repetitive, using the same muscles over and over and over, whereas trail mixes things up a lot- going up, down, around obstacles and differing terrain. Doing the run in FiveFingers was also a highlight. Been seeing more and more people out in them on good trail.
First half-marathon face...

Speaking of good trail, I also had my first backpacking trip following last years surgery. (At some point I’ll have all the “first-since-surgery” stuff done- it seems to take forever, still haven’t done any real mountain biking or outdoor climbing, but I’m getting there.) Alison and I headed up to the Superior Hiking Trail last weekend and had a overnight trip that was somewhat lazy mileage wise, which was on purpose to see how my chest did. It wasn’t comfortable by any means, but perfectly tolerable and doctor-ok’d. We hiked around 6 miles from Lutsen to Lake Agnes, had a great lazy Saturday there, and hiked out the next day. For small miles, this section had some great varied scenery. It started with the Lutsen area, which is probably the most “mountainous” MN gets. It then descends into the Poplar River Valley, which is thick, wet, scrubby, moose country. Then it passes through some great maple forest before dropping back into Lake Agnes, which is an inland lake gem, perfect for hanging out on a lazy Saturday. It was great to get out with a pack again.

Chest is handling a full pack again...good.
Alison smiling through the overgrown Poplar River Valley...lookin' for moose.
Lake Agnes, where we spent the night...get there early, it's a popular backcountry site...
Heading back out with Moose Mountain in the background...

Moving on to riding, this weekend was a bit exciting. Alison, myself, and our friend Jonathan were out for a longer road ride, as I’ve got a century coming up this month (gonna try to get the full Shrapnel Benjamin after coming up short on the MN Ironman in the awful weather at the start of May.) We were out in the Afton area descending a winding hill. I was in front, Jon next, followed by Alison. We were pretty spread out. The bottom of the descent ended up being a hard left corner, and this day was covered in a ton of dark gravel, which was hard to see on the black top in the shade of some nearby trees. Bad mix. I happened to see it, chose to stay straight and avoid the washout as I was going to fast to corner on the gravel. I managed to stop just prior to leaving the roads edge, and as I turned to warn Jon and Alison, all I heard was skidding. Bummer. Jonathan had just gone down very hard, striking his head (he was luckily wearing a helmet) and picking up a lot of road rash. Alison avoided the gravel and stayed out of trouble. Jonathan seemed alert, and nothing seemed broken. However, he didn’t remember how he had gotten there, or any part of the day. His short term memory was gone, and he kept looping, asking us to tell him what happened in the previous two hours. We had an ambulance on the scene within 15 minutes, and they took him to Regions in St Paul. Alison and I didn’t have a ride bake (everyone’s gone for the 4th weekend), so we had to ride the 23 miles back home, and by then visiting hours where over. We did get in touch with his family and he had them with him in the hospital. We got to see him yesterday. There was no bleeding in his head; he suffered a concussion, hence the memory issues, but is getting better quickly and looping less and less. Doc’s say he’ll be fine. So, I’m gonna plug helmet use again as always. Somehow I’ve never laid down my road bike, but I’ve been with many riders when they’ve spilled, and seen a ton of helmets do their jobs. Don’t forget it- care more for your brain and life than your hair. (My latest drivers license photo will display this balance- I biked to the DVS on a hot day to renew and I had some mean helmet-hawk and pad marks on my forehead. Hot.)
Lastly for now- I finally pulled the trigger on a project I’ve wanted to do for a very long time. I’m getting an S and S coupler retrofit on my touring bike. I don’t know how I haven’t done it yet considering I work for an airline and should be traveling more with my bike. Bob Brown in STP will be doing the job, and he’s hoping to be able to get it done sometime this month amidst many other custom jobs (he’s in pretty high demand and I’m excited that he’s able to do the work for me). So, if I can get some time off in the fall it would be great to get the bike out somewhere for some distant touring. The project should result in some good times.