Follow by Email

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Armstrong Lie

I began cycling in 1990, a year after I moved to Laramie, Wyoming. The bike became my most frequent companion (other than my wife, Karen), riding the ranch roads and smaller state roads around Laramie, as well as a variety or roads around Wyoming on my annual visits to newspapers. I took it with me during a week in Bozeman, Montana, when I conducted a communications audit at Montana State University, riding up Bridger Bowl. Two years,  I went to the Carpenter-Phinney cycling camp in Frisco, Colorado, riding Vail, Aspen and Loveland passes. I was hooked

Late in 2003, I started suffering from a continual ache in the lower right quadrant of my back. I tried heat, ice, chiropractic. Karen bought me a massage pad for my office chair. Nothing worked. Finally, my GP ordered an ultrasound. I asked the technician if she saw anything where I felt the pain. "Not there, but there's a mass on your left side." One evening, soon thereafter, my doctor called and asked Karen and me to meet him that night at his office. Clearly, it wasn't good. We ate dinner at the nearby Wendy's, discussing the best- and worst-case scenarios. My doctor came right to the point. You have a tumor in your left kidney. It's probably cancerous.

We set up surgery for early January 2004. The surgeon conducted a total nephrectomy through a double incision still visible today. I was in the hospital for three painful weeks. Four weeks after my discharge, I went back to work, wearing a sweatsuit, the only clothes I could wear comfortably. It was quite a while longer before I could get back on the bike. I can't remember my first ride, but I remember ordering my yellow, rubber Livestrong band. I admired Lance Armstrong and his return to high-level professional cycling after cancer surgery. I vowed to myself that I'd get back to my previous level of fitness, and after five years as a cancer survivor I'd remove the band. Before I left Laramie, I got myself back up to 55-mile rides to the end of Herrick Lane, but I never did get out again to Woods Landing for the 60-mile rides I did in the late 90s in preparation for bike camp.

One day, a couple of years after my surgery, I received a morning call from my good friend, Charles Pelkey, inviting me over to his house for brunch. There was, he said, someone he wanted me to meet. When I got there, Charles, who by then was writing authoritatively about doping-in-cycling issues for VeloNews, introduced me to Greg LeMond. Over bagels and salmon, we talked about cycling, doping, and, inevitably to Lance Armstrong. I didn't get all of the technical data points, though I'd been reading Charles' articles for several years. It was clear that Charles and LeMond believed Armstrong had doped during his Tour de France wins. LeMond asked me why I was wearing a Livestrong band, and I responded that I was a recent cancer survivor. He wished me well, but suggested there were better cancer-fighting organizations to which I could give my money, referring to Livestrong as Armstrong's retirement fund.

I didn't want to believe Armstrong was a doper. I bought his argument that it would be unthinkable for a cancer survivor to take doping products into an already battered body. But, I thought over LeMond's reasoned arguments. I thought over Charles' writings. And I remember how, at Carpenter-Phinney one year, a camper, a licensed pharmacist, asked the late cycling fitness expert Ed Burke what performance enhancers she could take and not get caught at doping control. This from an amateur cyclist; a pharmacist.

I began to believe that Armstrong was a doper, a bully, a liar, and a cheat. I stopped watching professional cycling for a few years and cancelled my subscriptions to magazines that covered professional cycling. I rode for fitness; I rode for fun. In 2009, five years after my cancer surgery, I removed my Livestrong band.

All of this came back today while watching Alex Gibney's documentary, "The Armstrong Lie." Gibney, a serious and prolific documentarian whose work includes "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room," began work on the documentary as a confirmation of Armstrong's greatness as he attempted to win the 2009 Tour de France, four years after his seventh consecutive win. As Armstrong fell further and further behind eventual winner Alberto Contador, it became clear that the documentary would not have a happy ending. Gibney, at the time, did not know how unhappy the ending would be. Floyd Landis' 2010 doping confession and accusations against Armstrong; Tyler Hamilton's "60 Minutes" accusation; USADA in 2012 stripping Armstrong of all wins since 1998 and banning him from cycling for life; Armstrong's 2013 confession to Oprah Winfrey. Gibney lays it all out with interviews of Armstrong's former teammates, Irish journalist Dave Walsh, Betsy Andreau (his former teammate Frankie's wife), and more. And, in his own interview with Armstrong, Gibney presses for reasons - why did you cheat, why did you lie, why did you trash all your accusers. The answers are revealing of Armstrong's character, or lack thereof, essentially: "To win," "Because I cheated (though everyone else did too)," "And because I've always been a fighter."

As Gibney notes in the documentary, the use of performance enhancers has always been a part of cycling. Alcohol, cocaine, strychnine, caffeine used as early as 1886. Amphetamines were used by the likes of Italian champion Fausto Coppi; French champion Jacques Anquetil; British cyclist Tom Simpson, who died on the slopes of Mont Ventoux in 1968; and the greatest rider in history, Belgian Eddy Merckx. Cortisone, hormones, steroids, blood doping, EPO, human growth hormone. On and on, scandal after scandal, illness and death.

I'd like to think that professional cycling is cleaner now. I'd like to, but I can't. Enhanced performance is intoxicating. When I moved from Laramie (7,200-foot-altitude) to northern Idaho (2,250-foot-altitude), I had an immediate two-week boost in fitness from having trained many years at altitude. When I developed kidney disease in my right kidney after losing the left one to cancer, my nephrologist proscribed a short-course of EPO to help build red blood cells. That was nice. And when I had a blood transfusion in the early days of my disintegrating pancreas to remedy blackouts from anemia (internal bleeding), I felt like Superman for a week or two.

But it's all illusion. You are what you are, you ride as you ride. I'll never be a strong rider, because that's my physiology. I'll always climb like a cat without claws. So what. As Armstrong wrote (with Sally Jenkins), "It's Not About the Bike." Maybe that's the truest thing Armstrong ever said. It's also not about winning at any cost. It's not even about winning.

For me, it's always been about enjoyment, and in more recent years it's been about staying healthy enough to live through another surgery if it becomes necessary. It's why I suffer nearly every day during winter with my bike locked onto a trainer, building endurance and strength, so that when spring comes I can take my bike back on the roads and trails around Northern Idaho and Spokane, and ride the Tour de Cure, an event that, as a Type 1 diabetic for the past four-and-a-half years means a great deal to me.

My performance enhancers: Gatorade and homemade energy bars that prevent my blood sugar from dropping and causing crashes, both metaphoric and literal. It's not about the bike. It's all about going out for a ride, having fun, and coming home in one piece.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Things That Go Beep

Last night, Karen woke me from a deep sleep. "Something's beeping," she said. I didn't hear it, turned over, and went back to sleep. Repeat. Repeat again, but this time I heard it. After shuffling around the house for about 15 minutes, I figured out what it was. That got me thinking about things that go "beep," and there are way too many for my liking:
  1. The refrigerator (when door stays open)
  2. The microwave oven (when you do anything)
  3. The wall oven (setting temperature or time, or when either is reached)
  4. The clothes washer
  5. The clothes dryer
  6. My cell phone
  7. Karen's cell phone
  8. My bike computer
  9. My digital watch (on alarm or timer)
  10. My insulin pump (last night's culprit)
  11. My old VW (when door left open)
  12. Karen's new Subaru (ALL the time)
Wishing I could still step out on to the balcony and nap in my hammock, with only the tinkling of Pepper's dog tags as background music.

Monday, October 6, 2014

1st Step Toward Tour de Cure Century Ride

After I finished my 50-mile ride in the 2014 American Diabetes Association Tour de Cure, I pledged to ride 100 miles in 2015. My first "century." Pretty ambitious, since I'd never ridden more than 60 miles at a time. But, having sorted out some issues with my equipment (shorts, saddle, pedals and cleats, chamois cream), I think I've got the little things down. Lance Armstrong was right - it's not about the bike, it's about all the other stuff.

The day dawned beautiful here in the Inland Northwest, so I hopped on the bike and went off for a ride. Didn't know how far I was going to ride, but on the way to Coeur d'Alene, I thought this might be a good day to do a birthday ride, something I hadn't done since I was 55. It's a pretty common tradition to ride one's age on or around his birthday. I won't be 64 until the 15th of the month, but this just seemed to be a good day to give it a shot. Riding my age gets me closer to my "century" goal for next year's Tour de Cure.

The computer doesn't lie
In downtown CDA, I rode up to another cyclist, a guy a few years older than I, and we rode together up to Higgens Point and back to Sherman, where he peeled off and I rode out along Fernan Lake for a few miles. A quick stop on the way back at Vertical Earth to pick up some additional energy bars and to reapply some chamois cream. The wind came up, and I rode the rest of way home, getting a bit weary as I neared the 60-mile mark, stopping at a c-store for some more Gatorade. Finally, back at my car at the State Line rest stop. 64.4 miles.
After the ride - tired but satisfied







It was hard, but satisfying. And, if I'm going to ride a "century" at next year's Tour de Cure, it will take a lot of hours on the trainer this winter and a long spring. But I'm motivated. And, I'd really appreciate your support of my Tour ride. If you'd like to help in the fight against diabetes, go to my Tour de Cure link and make your tax deductible donation.

Thanks, and see you down the road.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Old Friends

Old Friends

I spoke today with my old friend, Andrew. Tomorrow is his 64th birthday. Normally, we exchange life updates by e-mail, but today just seemed right.

We've been friends since 8th grade, and were practically inseparable for years. When we discovered tennis at age 14, we played most every day during the summer, in the evenings after we got summer jobs. We double-dated to our junior prom. During college, he'd visit me in New Jersey, and I'd visit him in Boston. I remember one particular New Year's Eve when we trudged through the snow with two friends of his to a Clint Eastwood film at the Orson Welles Cinema.

After school, he moved to northern Virginia with his then-girlfriend, now wife. Shortly after, I took a job in Richmond. We'd get together for tennis at local courts in Arlington. I was best man at his wedding in western Maryland. He was to have been best man at my wedding to Karen, but had to move his mother to a nursing home that day.

Karen and I lived in Crofton, Maryland, and Andrew and his wife would come for dinner, or we'd see them in Virginia. We both worked in Washington for a while, and we'd get together for lunch in the District.

We didn't see each other much after Karen and I moved to Wyoming. On occasion, I'd have to fly to Washington, and we'd have lunch. I saw him and Teresa when I went east to my 20th college reunion; he drove up to New Jersey for my father's funeral.

It's been 12 years since we've seen each other, but we've stayed in touch. Today, it was just like old times. We compared the effects of aging. Talked about who was (and was not) recognizable in 45th high school graduation reunion photos. He told me he was thinking about learning radio production at a local community college in hopes of hosting a radio show; I reminded him of the days when we'd sit with an old Wollensak reel-to-reel tape recorder at my house and pretend we were on radio. We talked about what his two kids and my stepson were up to. I invited him to visit us some time on their way to Hawaii, where they have a condo. He allowed as how, now he and his wife are retired, they might come our way to see some of the western national parks.

And it will be good. Like old times, I hope.

I once thought we'd grow old in Trenton, like Simon and Garfunkel's old friends, sitting on a park bench, like bookends. Now, it's e-mail and cell phones. But, still old friends.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Last Post From Scotland - Random Photos

BT supports cycling; but roads too narrow
Abandoned cupola in the countryside



 
Beached boat at Castle Maol, Isle of Skye



Old photo of Castle Maol
















Castle Maol today
Well-kept black-faced ram
Feral black-faced ram

Didn't have ice cream, but did have cullen skink

For people who plan to be cremated, we visited a lot of graveyards

Laggan Dam on Loch Laggan

Eilean Donan Castle, major tourist trap



Feeding ducks on Caledonian Canal



Glen Elg rotary car ferry

George (don't know his master's name)


Interior of broch

Kayaking at GlenElg

Karen, my lovely traveling companion

Lamb on a rock


Lambs to the slaughter, at Inverness



Inverness signs, old and new

Pottery at Cromarty

Pictish art

Paw prints and seaweed at Loch Ness


Skye Bridge from Kyleakin side

Stacked rocks on Loch Ness beach; mine's on top

Stufffed badger, Inverness museum

Standing stones

The Five Sisters

Wool skeins at Highland Folk Museum

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Tropical Scotland

On our first visit to the United Kingdom, we spent a week in Cornwall, the southernmost peninsula of the island. We were surprised to see palm trees, apparently enabled by Gulf Stream warming. That said, we never expected to see palm trees in Scotland.

Plockton is a small village on a sheltered bay of Loch Carron. The National Trust for Scotland conservation area served as the fictional village of Lochdubh in the British dramady Hamish Macbeth, starring Scottish actors Robert Carlyle and Shirley Henderson (Moaning Myrtle from Harry Potter movies). And, so, we went.


 







We didn't recognize Plockton from Hamish Macbeth; it looked, in its own way, like Cornwall. Palm trees, lush gardens, small harbors filled with small sailboats, rowboats, and kayaks. Rocky beaches. Colorful restaurants and pubs, specializing in seafood (cullen skink sounds awful, but is a delicious haddock chowder with cream, leeks, onions, ham, and potatoes). The only reminder of the TV show was the sign for the local newspaper, where Henderson worked.

Boat house with sea eagle sculpture
Sail boats in Plockton harbor











Kayakers in wet suits
The Fish Bar




Plockton's newspaper and gift shop







Plockton corgi

Support for Scottish independence












Tuesday, June 24, 2014

"This Country Was Their Training Ground"

When a country has fought as many wars as has Great Britain, one would expect war memorials in every town, and that's certainly true of every town we visited in Scotland. Most commemorate a specific war or event, but one remains a living memorial to a group of soldiers from World War II through the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan - the Commando Memorial in Spean Bridge. The memorial, dedicated to the men of the original British Commando Forces, was raised during the Second World War. It overlooks the training areas of the Commando Training Depot established in 1942 at Achnacarry Castle and Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles.


 





Near the memorial itself is the Area of Remembrance, an open circle of tributes to commandos in more recent wars. Many bear the commando logo, the Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife; some bear photographs, unit crests, artificial poppies, whiskey bottles, and flags.