Photo by Jason DeVarennes

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

On the Path to Recovery

A while back, I published a blog entry where I challenged myself to a personal bik-a-thon, starting the day of the last chemo and ending the day of my surgery. I asked my friends and readers to make contributions to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, either by kilometer or as a set amount.

How did I do?  I rode every day except one, where I did get out for a walk. I logged 2924 kms with 41,219 meters of climbing! It's the climbing figure of which I am most proud. I didn't set any speed records and the folks who rode with me on my last long ride can absolutely confirm that. I did my best to wear myself out so the enforced rest and recovery time after surgery would be welcome. As a final kick, I walked to the hospital the morning of surgery.

Sorry this update has been so slow in being posted. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Getting strong for surgery

After my last chemo treatment, I published a blog entry where I challenged myself to a personal bik-a-thon, starting the day of the last chemo and ending the day of my surgery. I asked my friends and readers to make contributions to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, either by kilometer or as a set amount.

Maybe friends and readers know me too well, because so far only one was willing to risk going broke with a pledge by kilometer. But Dena's pledge has truly inspired me to get on the bike every day so far. Admittedly I have taken some recovery days, only riding to the coffee shop, but I've still gotten out every day, and I'm accumulating some kilometers as well as some meters of climbing (since Dena added that as a bonus challenge).

I want to thank everyone who has already made a contribution, and ask those of you who haven't yet, please consider BCRF for your 2015 charitable tax credit.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Green River Riding

I still can't believe I live here! This is what I have to put up with...

on every ride...

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Raising Money for Breast Cancer Research

The distant rumble of thunder just stirred me from my slumber. The laptop is feeling toasty on my legs. The cat hops up to get in on the action of a warm lap. I try to jog myself awake and resume my editing of the most recent blog post. I switch tabs to wikipedia and look up the definition of tired. I see my own reflection in a mirror. Ah... the new definition of tired!

This kitten is a bundle of energy in comparison to me!

Monday, July 6, 2015

D2R2 inspires our move to the Pioneer Valley

For 20 years now, the Pioneer Valley and the Berkshires having been enticing us to come out and ride our bikes. Western Massachusetts is an amazing place to ride with a labyrinth of lovely quiet scenic roads with plenty of climbing providing endless breathtaking scenic mountaintop vistas. 

In 2005, Sandy Whittlesley ran the first Deerfield Dirt Road Randonee, more commonly known as D2R2, taking in some of his favorite dirt roads north of Deerfield, MA. With more than 16,000 feet of climbing and just over 100 miles, with 70% dirt roads, it was guaranteed to have great views and spectacularly fast and fun descents. This was our type of ride, and it did not disappoint. Now, this event makes our must-do calendar every year. And with so many roads to choose from, Sandy has created a variety of routes of different lengths, giving folks a chance to see even more of the area. At this stage, we've ridden most of the courses, exploring as many different routes as we can, riding a variety of bikes, including simple road bike, dedicated dirt road machine, single speed and tandem bike. Over the years, D2R2 has become the primary fundraiser for the Franklin Land Trust, an organization whose goal is to preserve this special place. Every year, veterans return and new riders come and see for themselves what a magnificent area it is and as a result become supporters of the Franklin Land Trust. In return, the Franklin Land Trust continues its efforts to buy and preserve more land, so Franklin County can continue to be this pedalers paradise. Thank you to Sandy and D2R2 for this showing us heaven on earth.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

DROVES 2015 - Day 3

DROVES - Day 3 - 1 Trapped Cat, 1 Vertical Mile and Lots of Tulips

First let me say that if you want an awesome campfire, invite Ted to your event. Ted builds the best fires. He's a pro, coming prepared with his own special fire starting kit, which he conveniently keeps in the trunk of his car at all times for the spontaneous campfire. 

Sadly for the curious cat, Megatron, open trunks must be explored, and while we were enjoying tall tells, strange music and great beer, Megatron was getting cozy inside Ted's car.

But then, without realizing he had a visitor, Ted closed up the car, and once the beer was gone and fire died down, we all headed off to bed.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

DROVES 2015 - Day 2

DROVES - Day 2 arrived with bright sunshine and much warmer temperatures. However, most folks seemed cautious and arm warmers and vests were still prominent as we gathered around the picnic table, getting ready for our attempt on Radar Road. It seemed that fresh memories from a very chilly descent to Lake Willoughby just couldn't be shaken. Nevertheless, as we mingled about pumping up tires and checking brakes, there was no denying that it was indeed significantly warmer. Some people even threw caution to the wind and stripped down to just shorts and short sleeve jersey. Still, being sensitive to cold, I traded leg warmers for knee warmers and kept my arm warmers on. I also carried my wind vest, just in case sanity left me and I climbed up to Radar and needed it for the descent.

As a special treat, Dave and Nancy came down from Waitsfield to join us for the day. We'd met them serendipitously at a Luka Bloom concert last year. While awaiting the start of the show, we discovered that we had more than musical taste in common, as Dave runs many of the Vermont brevets, and his sister and brother-in-law run Red Hen Baking Company, a bakery/cafe in Waitsfield that we love. We've kept in touch and when I sent out FB invites to come join us for rides and dinner, they decided to do just that.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

DROVES 2015 - Day 1

For many years now, we have spent Memorial Day weekend ascending and descending the many exquisite dirt roads of Vermont. This year would be no exception.

Megatron, The Barn cat, has to inspect everything.

We've been staying at the Burke Bike Barn since it opened in 2011. The first time we stayed, we fell in love with the place. So much so, that I booked it for Memorial Day and Labor Day for life. I'm not sure that Doug, the owner, thought I was serious at first, but we've been going up for these dirty climb-fest weekends at the beginning and end of summer ever since, and we aren't about to give up our reservation for the future.

The Bike Barn is exactly what it says it is. It's a big old barn that's been converted to comfortable accommodation for cyclists in the center of one of the best biking locations on the planet. We usually have a dozen folks staying at the barn, with frequent drop-ins for rides by folks who live or are staying nearby. At this stage, it all works like clockwork. We have a few routes, covering a variety of distances. Depending on weather, mood and other arbitrary factors, we will decide which route to do. The one thing all the routes have in common is lots of smooth-packed, quiet dirt roads and maximal climbing per mile. These are quality miles, such that even a 30 mile ride will not leave any sane person wanting more.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Hanging with Dwan from Co-Motion

Dwan Shepard's title on the Co-Motion Cycles website is co-conspirator. Dwan, along with his fellow co-conspirator, Dan Vrijmoet, founded Co-Motion back in 1988. Dan seems to be the shy one, and we've only seen him once, ducking behind a frame jig, while Dwan was taking us on a tour of the factory. Dwan is more of the public face, representing Co-Motion on various social media sites and at bike shows and such. This is how we've been lucky enough to get to know him.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Dear Cancer, You may slow me down, but you won't stop me from riding my bike!

This post was mostly written in my recliner at Mount Auburn Hospital Medical Oncology Department. I have treatments every three weeks, and treatment day is the one day where I sit still long enough to write a blog post!

The shirt is to support a fellow cyclist battling cancer along with being run over by a car. Read about Lynn here http://www.caringbridge.org/.../id/55005bf9ca16b44f0761bc73. And support Lynn's PT here http://onetoughbitch.com/

Biking to/from chemo!
For the chemo treatments, I like to imagine that we are battling my tumor, Davros, by pumping miniature Daleks into my veins. It is fitting that the exterminating obsessed Daleks are Davros' own creation, who have ironically turned on him because he isn't pure Dalek. So they now focus all their exterminating rage onto Davros himself.  As his current host and life support system, I will suffer some side effects from the battle, but I will live on, long after Davros is exterminated! Their attack is focused on exterminating him while saving me.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Dear Life, Please stop throwing shit at me, signed Pamela

Upon hearing my latest news, a friend counseled me that he was certain I could handle whatever life threw at me. My immediate response was that I sure wished that life would stop throwing shit in my direction, or at least not take such precise aim.

The next day while I was at a PT appointment, I added a new goal to my list. I said that we have to fix my flexibility so I am better able to duck when shit is thrown in my direction! OK?

Well, too little too late.  Shit has good aim, and apparently I'm just lousy at getting out of its way.

When the doctor told me I had breast cancer, my first reaction was it is simply not possible, since I do not even have breasts. Well maybe I have them technically, but really, it's in name only. My pixie moniker comes not just from the distinctive blond pigtails! Really, how is it fair that I couldn't have the benefit of even a little cleavage, to then have these tiny creatures betray me in such a way!

So off with them, I said. But then the doctor said I would have to keep the traitors for a while, since the Her2 Positive breast cancer I have is aggressive and needs to be treated with some very targeted drugs and chemo before surgery. They told me that this was good news: In fact, when Herceptin was found, it was heralded as one of the biggest breakthroughs in cancer treatment, to such a degree that some scientists remember where they were when they heard about it!

So Yay! Science! Let me say that again, Yay! Science! And because research is fundamental, I want to do my part to support the actual scientific research that will someday make stories like mine a thing of the past, so I'm putting my efforts into raising funds for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

I had the mammogram and biopsy on a Tuesday and then had several days to absorb the potential for bad news. I reached out to friends on social media asking for folks to channel some positive energy my way. When the doctor called Friday morning to say positive, I realized that I should have been a bit more specific in my request for positive news! I won't make that mistake again!

John and I spent that day wandering between doctors' offices, numbed by the sentiment expressed by Robert Burns that the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

The doctors cautioned me against self-diagnosis on the internet, against second guessing, and against obsessing on the negative. So we concentrated on the positive and looked through the glossy brochures from the cancer center discussing Herceptin.

The next morning, as I sat reading through this literature, the words heart damage lept out of the page at me. Seriously, it's not enough that I get hit by a truck, break my back and get cancer. But now you have to go after my heart too!

That had to be my lowest moment. There is no doubt that at times I might come across as strong and stubborn. But honestly, every long distance cyclist shares these qualities, and being stubborn might not be a trait to be proud of. But I do have some soft spots, and when those soft spots are targeted,  it can be pretty crippling. This was a pretty targeted assault! John immediately ignored advice to stay away from the internet and did loads of research on this type of heart damage, coming away with good news. I think by the time we arrived for our appointment on Monday that I'd been singling along with Elton John and Kiki Dee for a while. "Don't go breaking my heart."

But the doctors already knew. Apparently my reputation preceded me and my surgeon began by telling me that the head of Oncology mentioned me at a clinic that morning and talked about the type of rides I do and the importance of cycling to me. They quickly understood how critical it was not to break my heart!  

The next week was full of more tests, appointments and anxiety. My PET Scan and lymph node biopsy were both positive in the good sense. The cancer appears contained. I started chemotherapy last Thursday, and it went well. I even managed to get out for a couple of bike rides over the weekend. The last two days have been a bit of a challenge, but I was somewhat prepared for this. When we planned out which day to do chemo, they told me I'd feel OK for the first couple of days and then have a rough patch, so I said, let's give me good weekends!

Among the many positive comments I received from friends, I got one that I made me wish fb had a button 1000 times more powerful than like. My friend, Dan said that what the cancer doesn't know is that it's just been diagnosed with a case of Pamela Blalock!  I think he's saying that you don't want to get on my bad side!

As word has seeped out, loads of folks have reached out to me. Dwan Shepard, from Co-Motion, a cancer survivor himself, was one of the first to reach out to me directly. His words were very kind and touching. He told me how he'd named his tumor and even wrote poetry, as a way to capture his emotions. I think he saw in me the need to write things down to act as a release. Inspired by Dwan, I named my cancer Davros. Dr. Who fans will instantly get the reference. Davros is one of The Doctor's greatest enemies. He has caused trillions of deaths, and even his own invention seems to have turned on him. While The Doctor may show mercy to his enemies, in some feeble hope that there is still something good to be found inside them, fortunately MY doctors and I don't harbor such hope with cancer. It will be exterminated!

There is nothing good about cancer. Cancer can be hereditary, striking families.  It sometimes has environmental causes and finally it can just be random and vicious. Cancer steals joy and hope. Cancer kills innocent babies and ruthless dictators, indiscriminately. I may risk alienating some of my friends and family with what I'm about to type, but I think it's pretty well known already that I'm not one who believes in an interventionist God. I just don't think people get healed because someone prayed or they deserved to get better. I do not believe people survive because they are strong.  I do not believe that people get sick and die because they were bad. People are cured because science and research have found a way to handle it. People die because the science wasn't ready yet.

Don't watch the Stephen Fry video at the end of this post, if you are likely to be offended by this sort of thing. But he says what I feel in much more powerful words.

Now this is not to say that I do not believe a positive outlook will not help me or others. I believe I will be cured by modern medicine. And if nothing else, being positive and seeking joy where I can will make me less miserable, happy even! So my plans are to push away negative thoughts and concentrate on what is good, right now. So it's OK to channel positive energy my way and I won't deny anyone their prayers. But don't even think of coming near me with negative energy. Instead, channel it into positive actions, whether it is fundraising for research or driving a local cancer patient to an appointment or just saying please and thank you when you can.

And please support scientific and medical research in whatever way you can. And elect people who actually believe in science and support research. And since we have some many in office right now who seem to believe in anything except science, please make contributions to foundations who help fund this vital research. I'll just put in another plug to my fundraising page at the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

Also, let me try to pay it forward in a different way. Right around the time that I broke my back, an innocent child was born with Cystic Fibrosis. Everyday, this child struggles with the challenges of digesting food, thriving, breathing and staying healthy. Despite everything going on in her life, his mother, my dear friend, Dena, reached out to me to ask how she could help me. She is the epitome of positivity, maintaining such composure and taking on this challenge as a scientist and humanist would. She has continually reached out to help me, and I could never have hoped to find a better friend. So please also join me in helping Dena raise funds to do research in CF.

Because Yay! Science!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Oregon - Eugene

Know your Source!

One of the disadvantages of travelling without firm plans and reservations is that you may find that the place you'd really like to stay has no vacancy. For our time in Eugene, we had hoped to stay at Velo B&B for 3 nights while we explored the surrounding area. However, when I called for reservations, while they had a room free for the first and third nights, they were fully booked for the second night. Despite that, the lads couldn't resist the allure of staying on Bailey Hill Road, so we decided to bookend our stay in Eugene at Velo B&B and just find a motel in town for the middle night.

1 happy cow
And what a good decision that turned out to be. Almost as if a welcoming party was planned, we had a friendly encounter with one of the riders on the team that Rob sponsors as we spun our way up the aforementioned Bailey Hill Road. Next, Misha made us feel right at home when we finished our hillclimb and gave us the tour. The immaculate, thoughtfully laid out and well furnished rooms further cemented the feeling of a decision well made.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Oregon - Coast to Eugene

After taking advantage of the pleasantly cool coastal temperatures for a few days, it was now time to say farewell to the breezy seaside and head back over the coast range for a couple of nights in Eugene. Sadly, the temperature all along the Willamette Valley had been spiking into the 90s everyday, and the forecast did not show any relief on the horizon. (Although as I write this, it is almost 90 degrees colder than that here, so I'm having a little difficulty remembering why we weren't looking forward to riding in these conditions.)

Since we had winched ourselves up Ten Mile Creek the day before, we decided to avoid riding the same road in the same direction and instead chose to climb out of Yachats on Cummins Peak Road. It had nothing to do with which climb might be easier! Really! Well maybe, since we were back to hauling our gear, we decided to aim for the slightly easier option, where easier is a relative term. 

When I plotted the route on the computer, it looked like we'd get 80% of the climbing for the day in the first 15 miles, but that climbing was not insubstantial and we'd have a fair amount of gravel to boot. At least we'd get the big climb on the cooler coastal side, before descending into a furnace on the far side. 

We had a big day planned. I'd made a reservation at Velo B&B in Eugene, about 95 miles away.  I teased John that he could have, at most, 10 photo stops, since there would be no magic shortcut option.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Winter Bikes

As I work on this article, we have more than three feet of snow on the ground with a couple more feet on the way. Rumor has it that the groundhog was so fed up, he just packed his bags and moved to the other hemisphere. Sky high snowbanks line our roads and sidewalks.

Each time the roads are plowed, more and larger potholes emerge, although emerge may not be the proper word, as they are often hidden under puddles filled with slushy, sandy salt water. Then as the temperature goes down with the sun, scattered patches of ice make walking or riding a game of chance where suddenly you may find yourself Slip Sliding Away

Now take a good look at your fancy lightweight racing bike with its smooth narrow tires, shiny anodized parts and carbon rims. If nothing else, the lack of fenders makes it less than ideal for riding on wet, mucky, salty roads. Those high pressure, skinny tires lack grip on ice, bounce around on the uneven pavement or get swallowed up by deep ruts, cracks or potholes. The salt and sand will destroy the shiny finish on those anodized parts and grind away the carbon bits. Better just save that bike for dry rides on pristine pavement in warmer weather.

You need a winter bike!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Caring for your Wool

One of the many advantages of wool is the fact that it doesn't retain odor, and can be used many times between washings without getting stinky. I usually just hang my wool sweaters and jerseys to air out and only wash them when they are actually soiled, or if they do start to smell. 

This feature makes wool an ideal fabric for travel. 

The (slight) disadvantage of wool is that when you finally do need to wash it, it should be handled with care, as it were.

Wool naturally contains lanolin, a waxy substance secreted from the glands of wool-bearing animals. Lanolin helps protect their skin and keeps their wool soft and supple. Lanolin also repels water, making wool good in rainy weather. Detergents strip out the protective lanolin and can damage wool fibers, causing wool garments to full - puff up and get fuzzy.

There are a few well known detergents (Woolite among others) that claim to be made for wool. They may be milder than other detergents, but detergent really should be avoided if you hope to keep your woolies looking good for years.  

We recently started using a lanolin-based product, Kookaburra Wool Wash. It is designed specifically to protect and extend the life of wool garments. Rinsing is optional, simplifying hand-washing and shortening the machine wash cycle. According to Kookaburra's recommendations, we just run (only) the rinse cycle (on our front load washing machine) putting the wool wash in the fabric softener dispenser.

A reader here just recommended Eucalan, which appears to be very similar to Kookaburra Wool Wash. I now have a bottle of Eucalan on order, and look forward to trying it as well.  

Finally, remember that dryers are the enemy of wool. Woolies should be dried flat or hung on a rack or clothesline out of direct sunlight and away from any heat source.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Oregon - Another day of climbing at the coast

Yachats, eh?

We asked the ranger we met in the forestry office in Waldport, how to pronounce the name of the village 15 miles to the south. He laughed. He'd had this question many times before. He said people in Waldport jokingly call it "Yatch-hats", but the proper pronunciation is actually "Ya Hots" (baby!).

We had descended into "Ya Hots" a couple of days before and found a quaint coastal tourist village, complete with bakeries, caf├ęs, restaurants and motels. We had originally aimed for Waldport, in part because the Epic Route started from there, but also when looking on-line for lodging, I only found results in Waldport. Despite my claim that we try to tour without plans and reservations, I was a bit nervous when I only found a few potential places to stay, so I booked a cottage I had found online in Waldport.

Sadly, Waldport was just not as charming as Yachats appeared. And it was surprisingly lacking in good eateries. Pizza and burritos were good to fill the void, but where was the seafood?

Dressing for Winter Rides

On this very cold snowy day, I was reminded that it's been a while since I updated the article on dressing for cycling in the winter. So with some time on my hands during the blizzard of '15...

It is often said there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.

Both Fear Rothar and I are year-round cyclists, and have been for more than 30 years. In that time, we have learned and changed a few things, but the fundamentals haven't changed - dress in layers, starting with a good wicking baselayer, add additional layers as temperature dictates and top off with a wind/waterproof layer, as conditions merit. Complete the ensemble with good gloves, warm winter shoes and a proper hat.

In this article, I will talk in both general and specific terms. For instance I discuss what to look for in shoes and then I will include details for shoes that work well for me. In some cases I'll provide links to sources for harder to find items. In many cases, I'll suggest google or your local outdoor or bike shop.

Let me emphasize that one does not have to spend a fortune on equipment and clothes for winter riding. However I believe that good gear is worth its weight in gold - whether it is 0F and snowy or 35F and rainy. My winter arsenal includes a few pricey items, most notably, my winter shoes. If you are looking for bang for the buck for winter cycling comfort, winter boots are the place to start.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Oregon - Epic Gravel

Or More like Epic Photo Taking

As I mentioned in the previous post, our plan for Tuesday was to ride the Oregon Coast Gravel Epic route. The actual event was held a few weeks before our trip, but we found GPS tracks online, so we figured we could just go out on our own epic ride. 

We planned to stay in Waldport for a second night, thereby allowing us to do this very challenging route unencumbered. Since daylight hours were limited, we tried to get out early, but early is  relative when one is on vacation.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Oregon - To Waldport

Our plans for the second part of our Oregon holiday were somewhat fast and loose. Before the trip, we had talked about getting out to the coast as well as making our way to Eugene at some point, but otherwise didn't really have any firm plans.

This is typical for us when we tour on our own. Other folks might start out with two weeks worth of motel reservations and pre-planned routes, with detailed research about specific landmarks along the way. We just tend to make it up on the fly, rarely planning more than one or maybe two days at a time. With this flexibility, when we stumble upon something interesting, we can easily change things up to take in a new road, interesting village or cool looking hostel. This approach would drive some people crazy, and admittedly has occasionally resulted in some scurrying to find accommodation, but more often than not, we have discovered some amazing places that we might have otherwise missed.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Oregon - Salem and Corvallis

It's bittersweet when friends move away. Naturally, we miss seeing and riding with them on a regular basis, but it is also nice to have friends living in exotic travel destinations!

So I tried not to take it personally last year, when my entire 2011 Fleche team moved away. I really don't think it was to keep from having to take part in another Fleche, although admittedly, after 2011, Susan had actually vowed never to do another. Still, she could have just said no when I asked. She didn't actually have to relocate all the way across the country! And Dave and Dena didn't actually have to follow her lead and move away too!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Oregon - TREO

--The upcoming series of posts from our trip to Oregon in September is way, way overdue. Hopefully, over the next couple of weeks, as I finally sort through all these photos of cyclists wearing just shorts and sleeveless jerseys on days where the thermometer regularly topped 90F, the memories of hot weather will make me feel warm again during these mid-winter days when hardly any Fahrenheits are out and about. And if you are tired of reading about excessive rain in Ireland, read on...

Early in the summer, as my activity level seemed to be returning to normal, we started to talk about a cycling holiday. I had resumed regular riding and, while I was still battling pain, it was time for a proper cycling vacation.

For a while now, our friend Dan Morgan had been suggesting we take another trip to Oregon. We've done quite a bit of bike touring there over the years, and it's really not a hard sell. We love the area. Dan and his wife, Janet, live just west of Portland and have been gracious hosts to us on several occasions.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Rapha Festive 500 :: 2014 Edition

--Today we interrupt the way overdue series of posts from our trip to Ireland with a slightly more timely post about the 2014 edition of the Rapha Festive 500. But don't fret, I will finish the photo essay from Ireland, and next month I should even get the Oregon photos posted. ---

It's a slippery slope. You are used to being strong and fit and then you get injured. When you come back, you have memories of being strong and fit, but the legs and lungs seem to have forgotten. You get dropped. You are alone. It hurts. You get discouraged.

What do you do? Do you give up? It's a vicious circle. You want to get back to your old self. But you can't go fast or it hurts to go hard. So you ride slower. It hurts more. You ride slower still. And you are all alone.