Jul 19, 2014

Five Years: Better Than I Can Imagine

Long before I knew any better, I imagined life after a successful cycling career similar to that of say, Sean Kelly or Eddy Plankaert.  My last race bike, I dreamed, would eventually be altered with upright handlebars and a rack and child seat jerry-rigged to the stays for my kid to nod off in as I soft-pedaled around town reminiscing victories over cobblestones and mountain tops.

I have fond memories of myself as a pip-squeak on the back of my mom's green Huffy 3-speed. It had a black, metal framed child seat on the back. The vinyl cushion for the seat was red and black plaid. My thighs and back peeled off it, soaked in sweat, when we arrived at destinations. The bike creaked and moaned as she pedaled. The clunky shifting, marginally effective brakes on steel rims, and the whirl of the freewheel between bursts of her turning the pedals made the frame flex so much that the cranks scraped the chain guard. Riding on the back of her bike was a rhythmic song that often lulled me to sleep. I nodded off as dead weight, that nearly crashed us, numerous times.

Dreams and reality mix for a bitter cocktail. My last race bike as it turned out, the one I brought home from Belgium as pay-back for a harsh reality, was a Bianchi in celeste green and black.  Two years later I pulled it out of a travel case and started to occasionally show up to Saturday club rides. It was then I realized the beautifully hand crafted bike on which I'd suffered and starved was cracked in three of the lugs and was, effectively, a ghost of a past life. No child would ever ride precariously on the back of it. There would be no absorbing the passion and legacy of their father through osmosis.

Twelve more years rolled by and finally, as A managed through the last three months of pregnancy, I spent my days recovering from a broken hip and elbow, an odd combination of injuries that cursed me to a wheelchair until the week before our son was born.  I spent a large part of my recovery time scrolling the internet.   Of all my internet discoveries, the bakfiets cargo bike was my newfound mechanism of escape.

Over the course of the following year, while A began navigating a hellish recovery from child birth and continued to be in and out of the hospital, I kept myself sane by imagining what sort of adventures G and I would have on our Bullitt cargobike. It would be the first bike I purchased new since I was 14 (which also happened to be the same year I took wood shop in 8th grade).  I was excited about the cargobike.  But the cargo box for $400 extra did nothing for me.  What kid wants to sit in a box? I thought to myself. Kids turn boxes into spaceships! I knew I could do better.

My mobility returned and I took G for walks in his stroller that doubled as a walker for me. I tested his interest in bike riding with trips through the neighborhood in a milk crate on the front of the Schwinn I inherited from A's grandfather. During his naps I deconstructed the wheelchair ramp that my dad built in our garage. By Memorial Day I had a plan.  I decided to start building a boat to go on the front of our newly purchased Bullitt.

 Like all good projects, I have since learned, what I thought would take a holiday weekend plus seven days turned into ten weeks. At the time, I owned a drill, a circular saw, a hand saw and a beer fridge. The most recent project I'd completed was ten years prior, right After A and I got married. I made a head board and two bedside tables. Not since 8th grade though had I made anything that actually functioned. Neither bedside table was square or level. Had it not been for the fact that we couldn't afford to buy furniture, I would have burned them in the fireplace. So my boat project started innocently enough by ripping 2x4's into 5/8th strips and cutting half-inch plywood into ribs that looked sort of like what I had read on the internet about boat building.

I had roughly two-hours a day to work during nap time or after G went to bed. That included time to clean up and put tools away. Sometimes that even happened. For the most part, I was frantically working against the clock in a pile of sawdust and vague idea of what I was doing.  I wanted this project done by G's first birthday.

Building a boat to fit on a bike is not the same as building a boat to float on water. On the one hand, the boat I was building did not need to float. On the other hand, making room in a boat for a front wheel (for example) posed a design issue. Regardless, I fought on. I cut long pieces of wood into smaller ones. Small pieces into scrap and cursed quietly as I cut scrap wood into dust. Occasionally, I cut a piece that would fit into what ended up being perhaps the heaviest boat-shaped pile of wood ever. Everything about the project was a challenge. Even the paint refused to dry. Yet, by G's first birthday, the boat-bike was ready to ride. Or set sail. Or both.

To begin with, we started with small rides through the neighborhood building strength back into my leg.  We stepped it up to the route along the riverfront path and looped around downtown before heading back toward Mt. Tabor.  I was surprised by the attention the boat-bike received. People drove dangerously close, swerving at us while attempting to take a picture and tell us what a great bike we had. My favorite though, was a guy in a pickup truck yelling, "That's the stupidest fucking thing I've ever seen!"

G took well to riding. We explored park after park and found ourselves far from home, out of diapers, teething crackers or snacks more than once. I learned that he especially enjoyed riding next to the MAX tracks as the light rail trains rolled by. Most evenings, and nearly every weekend, we spent exploring his new world, sometimes a few blocks from home and other times miles and miles away. He learned to count and recite the alphabet on our rides. A was able to get much needed rest after multiple surgeries while G and I were boat-biking. I was able to ponder and appreciate the fact that real life is never what we dream it will be but so much richer than what one can imagine.  In hindsight, now five years later, the 50 pound boat I made out of a wheelchair ramp, led to the most fun and cherished bicycle adventures I've ever had.

May 21, 2014

25 years: May 17, 1989

I reminded myself to take in all the sounds and smells and sensations as the dust coming into the car through where the windshield had been switched from light to dark and the car rolled front over ass-end and sideways five times. My hips jammed deeper into the crook of the drivers seat with each roll and the seat belt whipped my chest like I was getting a spanking with my dads belt when I was younger. I remember seeing four mailboxes on a posts coming at me into the passenger seat.

I don't remember the windshield actually shattering. I must have raised my hand to protect my face. The sound of metal twisting and crunching like a giant aluminum can being stepped on in slow motion was constant until it all stopped. Later I associated the switch from flipping sideways to end over end to the moment I slapped the phone poll with the back of the car.

When the car stopped nose down in a ditch, I turned the radio off, climbed out the front and slid down the hood. I walked along the passenger side of the car to climb out of the ditch and saw that the rear of the car was missing. It occurred to me that there was no way to fix this. Not even enough for my dad to not notice.

 Dust was still in the air and I heard a dog barking. I walked around the back of the car to survey the rest of the damage. I stood in the middle of the road for a bit. Maybe more than a few minutes. I wasn't sure if I should walk home and get tools or what to do next. The road was dirty with debris. Pieces of wood mixed in with metal and plastic. I began feeling nauseous about when I saw an old farm truck driving towards me but swerving all over the road. I was concerned he was drunk. The old man in the truck slowed even more as he approached before
he stopped. He opened the passenger door, told me that I was hurt and that he would take me to the hospital. He was sun baked and wrinkled like all the farmers in the valley. He wore a plaid long-sleeved shirt and faded denim overalls. I started to talk to him but he quickly shut me up.

"I don't want to know anything. I'm gonna drop you off at the Hospital and call the Highway Patrol about cleaning up the car you spread all over that road."

It was 3 and-a-half miles into town to the hospital. We had three and-a-quarter more to drive. I knew the whole valley and every  road into the hills from riding my bike. Not so well from driving my moms Honda Accord at 90-miles an hour.

The previous summer I started working for my dad. Until he fired me. About that same time, puberty had finally kicked into full swing. I was finally getting results in the bay area criteriums and on the track at Hellyer Park.  I used the newfound testosterone to pedal as fast and as far as I could. A good winter of training followed and also included some unsurprising head-butting at home. I got a job bussing tables to pay for my trips to the OTC in Colorado Springs. I had all but quit school. It was no surprise that I wouldn't be graduating after 3 years of poor attendance.

The weekend before, I crashed in a bike race and hurt my knee. It was a criterium during a stage race on the northern California coast. I was desperately trying to move up to the front of the race, took a corner too wide on the outside of the pack and clipped the curb when I ran out of road. A whole pile of guys landed on top of me. It was my first big race in the Seniors during my last year as a Junior.  

All of that is how I ended up in this old farmer's truck. I had been driving my training rides at ridiculous speeds while the swelling went down in my knee and the road rash on my hips and legs healed up. The Hospital was only a few blocks from my house. We'd almost pass it on the way. The farmer was driving maybe 45 mph.

 "I could jump out of the truck and tell my dad I ran out of gas," I thought to myself. "I could say the car was stolen and some other delinquent ripped it in half."

I looked down at my shirt for the first time and realized all the blood on it and my lap. I looked at my left hand and saw bloody stump of my thumb. It was all curled up and slashed open. I turned my palm out and saw the gash where most of the blood was coming from. The truck bounced and jerked as we hit some potholes and dropped down the hill to cross the bridge at the little creek bed at Santa Anna Valley Rd. My hand jerked in my lap contracting my ring finger and I saw a tendon move in my gashed open palm. I couldn't believe that I really saw that so I moved a few fingers again. Sure enough the tendons moved and shards of square safety glass glimmered as they sat in a puddle of dark, healthy, blood. My stomach turned, I almost puked.

The farmer looked over at me and nodded, "Your face is all cut up too. Don't touch it, you'll just smear the blood all over. I don't want you leaving a puddle in my truck."

I stared at the horizon like I would when fishing in Monterey Bay in an effort to not get sea sick. The sun was starting to set and turn the brown grass gold on the rolling hills that makes the central coast of California so special. The smell of bell peppers and garlic was in the air as we slowly left the fields for sub-divisions of town. The wind was drying the blood on my face and as my face stiffened and scabbed, I started to feel the throbbing and burning of open wounds in my thumb and hand.

The farmer stopped at the entrance to the small hospital. I got out and he said, "Good luck."

I walked into the Emergency Room cradling my hand not knowing what to do next. A row of 6 or 8 chairs lined each side of the room. There was just enough space for an aisle way to the front desk. A woman sat behind a glass wall with a hole to speak through. She stared at me and looked surprised so I decided to speak quickly to fill the awkwardness. "Uh, I need band-aides?"

I was put on a gurney and taken around the corner. A nurse had me sign a few documents. She asked if I was in pain. I saw my reflection splattered in blood in the metal light above me that was not turned on.  I said yes and she injected me with morphine.  A doctor started digging into my hand and the nurse asked me again if I was in pain. I realized since I was now 18, I didn't need permission for pain medication. I said yes every time she asked and when she didn't I asked for more.

I felt pretty good by the time the Highway Patrolman came in. As we discussed what happened, the magnitude of what I did started to sink in. The doctor continued to dig in my hand and face pulling little square shards of glass out. My dad burst into the room toward me with the look and pace of rage. I yelled, "Get him out of here!" The CHP stepped between us blocking my dad from my sight. He told my dad to follow him and they left. 

What seemed like only a few minutes was likely closer to more than an hour. The CHP and my dad walked back into the room. The doctor was still digging glass out of me. My dad was pale and somber. He put a hand on my head and said, "There is six-feet of pole left in the ground, and about four-feet hanging from the electrical wires. Everything else is splintered across the road and field. We found most of the car except for the jack and spare wheel."

May 20, 2014

Thirteen Months

Last summer for his 5th birthday, G wished he could be six when he blew out the candles. His wish is getting closer to coming true as kindergarten is a mere week-and-a-half from being over. Next thing I know, we'll be planning the big '0-6' party.

Kindergarten being what it is, a cesspool of disease smeared by dirty little hands, snotty noses and un-guarded sneezes that, amazingly, can cross a room at remarkable speed for coming out of such small barrels, has had it's moments where I thought this year would never end.

I've been anxious for the last year to end too. There has been some disagreement as to what makes a year in our house. A: January - December , or B: 12 continuous months . I choose B because it can start from any chosen moment and life is too short to wait 8 months to start trying to get out of a bad groove simply because of a twelve pack of numbered pages hanging on the fridge. We've been close in years past, but every year something goes wrong and somebody breaks something or somebody has a surgery that turns into two or three more to fix whatever went wrong in the first one..

So this year, the one where the Newmaforma manages 12 months free of hospital stays, surgeries, screws, pins, casts or sedation finally happened a few weeks ago. Our first Hospital free year since September of '06. I wanted to celebrate but...black cats, walking under latters and all, kept me more cautious than joyful.

The party balloons popped sooner than later. A kid at school gets sick, then 5. A week later half the grade school is absent and a note comes from the principal explaining that Parvovirus is not just for dogs. Further research reveals that Parvo in humans, Parvovirus B19, is commonly called Fifths disease and is normal for kids to get and less so for adults. If a K9 and kid virus is rare for adults, A is certain to take it to a new level.

Words like 'rare', 'uncommon',' unique' are peppered throughout A's medical history. Of course the recent pricks, swabs and prods have left the local medical community scratching their heads. This shit is off the hook. A called one of her specialists who led her back to the E.R. Now her throat's so swollen and painful she's spitting saliva out into a coffee mug instead of swallowing it. She can't talk so she texts me like a teen-age girl. The fever is unrelenting and she only sleeps in fits every few hours day or night.  This virus she's hosting only fed itself on little kids as an appetizer and has turned to A to show its monster-self for the real meal.

Maybe we've moved on from invasive treatments, but the girl raised in Africa is getting her ass kicked by domestic kindergarten germs.