Goodbye, Rudyrides

•February 8, 2012 • 1 Comment

It’s been nearly a year since Rudy, the bike racer Rudy, hit the deck at mile 100.2 of an (otherwise) glorious spring training ride on March 19, 2011. It has been a long, difficult year, filled with new exciting adventures, and…challenges…to put it euphemistically. I wrote a bit about my recovery, hiking, etc. on the blog, and then I signed off and “closed the blog”. Or so I thought.

That last post, on July 18, uses the phrase “for now, at least,” several times, talks about my recovery, and when I’ll ride again.  Not really a clear message there.  Since then I had several people ask me when I was going to write another post.  And I can’t blame them.  I wasn’t ready to say goodbye.

A new day

A new day

It’s been really difficult to let go of racing.  That unmatched exhilaration of laying it all out on some mountain road for the sake of glory, fans/friends, shouting your name, living it through you, with you.  Raising your hands as you cross the finish line.  It’s tough to accept the idea that I’ll never feel that way again.  Even now, I don’t think I really have.

It’s like a drug.  You can race with just as much courage as a cat 4 as you can as a cat 1.  But once you’ve raced with the big boys, the local 5k just isn’t going to do it.  Yes it will be lots of fun.  More in some ways, because I wont be worried about the exact psi in my left sneaker.  But I’ve had fans chase me up climbs, shouting my name.  It’s incredible (and later it’s really flattering).  But in the moment it makes me want to eat big hairy babies.  If your not a bike racer, then that last sentence won’t make sense, and that’s the point — words alone can’t describe it, but racers know.  Trying to describe it to someone today had me physically shaking.  I can’t get that high from sprinting for 2,000th place in the Boulder Bolder.  I might still do it, just to see if that guy will take me on, but it’ll never be the same.

I’ll really miss that feeling, that addicting high that keeps every racer coming back for more, bigger races and better finishes.  I’ll miss that most, but there was much more to racing.  At Tour of the Gila with Exergy in 2010, we went out every day and fought hard as a team — together.  I remember on the Inner Loop day, we were in a chase group not far off the leaders.  I was frustrated with the group, and yelled something like, “Come on, just go steady!” And then Kai yelled “Motherfuckers!”  It was that tight.  We were finishing each other’s sentences.  Oh yeah, and this:

Teamwork

Teamwork

I loved the lifestyle.  You can’t have your cake and eat it — it’s hard work, and an early bedtime (though nothing like having a head injury), but the joy and satisfaction that come from perfecting that masterpiece, your fitness, through years of toil, is great.  I was fortunate to be able to give several years to the effort, and a full year completely to it.  It’s not an end-all.  But it’s a grand way to spend a few years in your twenties.

Again, it’s something you might not understand unless you’ve done it.  One time I went for my favorite Hanover training ride, over Moosilauke and Kinsman, 100+ miles, and drilling it the whole way.  I was spent when I got back into town, and I noticed the bus sitting at the stop — the Brown route, which goes through Norwich.  I lived in Norwich, which was another mile or so past town.  I took the bus home, rather than ride that mile.  I had nothing left.  That truly was a great day.  Or days like this.  You wouldn’t understand…

Scoots <3

Scoots <3

It wasn’t just the long days.  Some of my fondest training memories were the days when Patrick paced me on the scooter.  Going up the little hill out of Ely, just past 244 heading north on Route 5, sprinting behind him in my 53-15. I could hear my coach: “Your brain may not like it, but your legs love it.”  It’s true.  It’s a somewhat Buddhist thought.  Beyond my mind’s story about pain, I could hear my legs, like puppies wanting to chase the tennis ball.  And the pink scooter was my tennis ball.  Patrick yelling encouragement from the scoot just made it all click.  Those days made me happy.  And fast.

I remember learning fast, doing things my own way, and pushing limits: racing the Mogollon, my first big NRC race, the crosswinds were nuts, and guys were everywhere.  I grew up as a mountain biker, so I decided that I was going to be more confident than everyone about riding wherever I needed to be in the draft.  And I rode in the caravan, in the gravel, and in the grass to do it.  I was lucky, but I also had the result of my career.  I could see Armstrong cross the line while I was nearing the finish.  Yeah, so maybe he wasn’t on form yet.  Still counts.

The pursuit was incredibly rewarding over the long run.  I remember showing up at Dartmouth as a freshman, and trying out road racing by borrowing a road bike.  Mike Barton was a god in my mind.  Some six years later I was duking it out with him at the top of Middlebury Gap at the end of the GMSR Road Race.  Years of consistent hard work.  Yeah, he beat me, and he’s one hell of a sprinter to be beating a guy my size up App Gap, but I’m making a point.  That was a big moment.

It isn’t a lonely journey.  A team training camp can be one of the most fun bonding experiences of your life.  Riding hard all day.  Cooking big, fat meals at night.  (Maybe scraping lost/dead teammates off the road).  Then doing it all again the next day.  Sometimes going into town to buy BBQ pork, done right.  It’s hard work, but it isn’t really all “hard”.

Not all the joy or satisfaction comes on the road, or from the bike.  Even this blog, and all of you, readers and commenters.  My life as a racer was exciting enough to read about, or at least it was headed that way in spring 2010 especially, with hundreds of readers on some days.  I have to admit, all the attention sure is flattering

All of those years of (joyful) hard work, all of those battles, won and lost, as a team and alone, they are all in the past.  Being so good at something just feels so good.  It’s interesting to look at where I started — with this blog, at least.  “Thus begins my adventure.”  As with any adventure, one can’t plot the course, or it wouldn’t be it an adventure.  This truly is an adventure, and not over yet.  I don’t regret any of it.  Not for a second.

Many of these things I can replace.  I can go hard running, and race too, but I’ll never reach the level that I was at in cycling.  So I’ll never reach that same level of motivation, weather to sprint for a big race result, chase after the scooter, or push through and hammer the last 10 miles in training.  I can go hard, but I’ll never be that absorbed and motivated in sport.  What I had is gone.  Time to let it go.

It all disappeared in an instant in May 2010.  I recovered somewhat after that, but things were never right.  I spent a year not myself.  Check out this blog post I wrote the morning of my TBI this past March.  Reading it gives me the willies.  Then, of course, I finally was given the most gentle warning I would heed (I had ignored the doctors).  March 2011 I finally started the journey back, and laid bizzaro rudyrides to rest.  Today I begin my work in truly saying goodbye to rudyrides.

Seeing this again makes me want to scream

Seeing this again makes me want to scream

Thank you all so much for the support.  I regret being a flash in the pan as a racer — there were some high times.  And it’s all been quite an adventure.  Those experiences, those feelings, exist only with me now.  I’m never going to have them again.  I hope I’m trying to accept this on a really deep level.  Only then will I truly find new meaning in my life.

Nothing more to see here.

Yours truly,

Rudyridesnolonger

Sounds familiar.

Sounds familiar.

Brain injury: a full time job

•July 18, 2011 • 2 Comments

Wow, it’s been awhile. Sorry, loyal readers.

Lots of news! I just moved up to Sugarloaf, ten minutes outside of Boulder, and the tranquility of the mountains has been a potent medicine already.  Mom’s been visiting me, driving me to my appointments (and helping me keep track of them!). I’m seeing eight different doctors and three different rehab therapists! Plus I go to “hyperbaric therapy” six days a week and sleep in the chamber for 90 minutes:

Hyperbaric chamber

Hyperbaric chamber. Loving the nap-time. (That

I can’t complain about the hyperbaric therapy. Honestly I love the guaranteed nap in a quiet chamber every day.

Oh, and I’m sleeping over 12 hours a night. 12 hours sleep, hyperbaric, one or two other doctors appointments or rehab sessions around town, plus 2 hours of rehab “homework” every day, and an hour mandatory nap. Do the math; there aren’t too many more hours in a day!

I’ve still been able to get out for some runs, though — I never would have thought that running could be so much fun. The great mountains and trails of Boulder surely help!

That brings us to my final point: Rudy doesn’t ride so much anymore. The doctors don’t want me to touch a bike for two full years. Important upcoming dates:

  • March 19, 2012: Rudy can drink again.
  • March 19, 2013: Rudy can ride again!
  • June, 2014: Rudy gets a Ph.D.?

So, it seems like, for now at least, the days in which rudyrides have come to an end (although the woman working at the cafe did just call me out as a cyclist – I had to explain the whole story…). But my legs are hairy, and my tan lines are fading away. Thank you for reading. If you find yourself in Boulder in the next few months, or New Haven, CT anytime over the next few years, look me up. I bid you all farewell — for now, at least.

Another backpacking photo essay

•July 12, 2011 • 2 Comments

Yet another, because this trip was too freaking awesome to care about being repetitive on the blog!  I can drive again, have enough sense to plan out a route in advance.  But still not too much common sense: twice over the divide, and lots of class 5 creek crossings!  But lets start with day 1:

I started early afternoon, after yet another doctor’s appointment in the morning, and made it up near Lake Isabelle by evening.  When I stumbled upon this spot, it was time to camp:

This'll do

This'll do

Room with a view

Room with a view

Early sunsets in these parts

Early sunsets in these parts

I could see the lights of Boulder, miles and miles away (and below!), and a beautiful starry night.  And I had some company in the morning!  What an auspicious start for day two.

Mornin', chuck

Mornin', chuck

After breakfast, I headed up towards Pawnee Pass.  It wasn’t simple; all was still covered with snow, and the trail was mostly covered.  So I had to chart my own path up to the ridge.  Exciting and fun!

Got to figure out how to get up there. I'm pretty sure I'm supposed to cross this divide-thingy.

Got to figure out how to get up there. I'm pretty sure I'm supposed to cross this divide-thingy.

Panoramic from the pass, looking east.

Panoramic from the pass, looking east.

Pawnee pass, ~12,500'

Pawnee pass, ~12,500'

I reached the divide around lake morning, and started down towards Pawnee Lake.  The terrain on the western side of the divide was astonishing.  Huge rock pillars, hundreds of feet tall, precariously perched on the steep slopes of Pawnee Mountain.

The west side of Pawnee Pass was nuts.  Look closely down below, you can see the trail zigging and zagging down to Pawnee Lake.

The west side of Pawnee Pass was nuts. Look closely down below, you can see the trail zigging and zagging down to Pawnee Lake.

The trail cut tenaciously into the landscape.  Its construction must have been a grand undertaking.  Large stone retaining walls held the steep mountain back above the path in many places.  And upkeep was clearly no small task either.  Large sections of the trail had been destroyed in rock slides through winter.

Glad I wasn't here when this went down...literally...

Glad I wasn't here when this went down...literally...

Below Pawnee Lake, I descended into lush woods.  I realized that I was the first person to take this route in a long time; there we only animal tracks in the snow.  Where trees had fallen across the trail, and I was forced to break some branches off to push through the timber, no other branches had been broken before me.  No human evidence at all.  And there were some gnarly crossings!

Before: nervous. Those are some nasty consequences.

Before: nervous. Those are some nasty consequences.

After: Phew! Little wet, but glad to be on dry ground!

After: Phew! Little wet, but glad to be on dry ground!

Better wet than sorry!

Better wet than sorry!

I stuck with the old strategy: if things are dicey, forget about staying dry.  Just focus on staying upright and don’t fall or get swept downstream.  In this case, this meant wading, and holding on to pine branches for dear life.

Glad I'm not fording that.

Glad I'm not fording that. Getting wet from here.

Wow, a handrail and everything.  Luxury.

Wow, a handrail and everything. Luxury.

Practically the Golden freakin' Gate

Practically the Golden freakin' Gate Bridge.

I was tired and happy; upon spotting some cozy woods and a stream off the trail, I started towards sleep.  Threw up the tent, and cooked some tasty black beans with shredded coconut for dinner.  But I couldn’t find my pot grabber — I must have left it at camp this morning!  Bummer.

I improvised an oven-mit (some clean socks) but spilled about half my dinner trying to take the boiling pot off the roaring coke-can-stove.  I sparingly cooked some more, worried that I wouldn’t leave enough to the nights to come.  I woke up hungry, got up and lowered my bear-bag for some midnight snacking, but again made sure to leave enough food to get home.  It was a long and hungry night.  Still, morning came quickly, and a big hot bowl of oatmeal drowned all my worries!

Mmmm, breakfast.

Mmmm, breakfast.

As usual, I had company at breakfast, and ambitiously began day three.

and some company at the table! (look closely on the log)

and a guest at the table! (look closely on the log)

I hit the trail again, back up towards the divide; this time Buchanan Pass.  And winter’s ravages continued to dominate the scene.

Winter was rough on the infrastructure.

Winter was rough on the infrastructure.

But winter gives and takes. Snow bridge!

But winter gives and takes. Snow bridge!

Again, the trail was obscured with snow, and it was map and compass time!  Once above treeline it was a playground.  I just had to look at the map, figure out which mountain was which, locate the pass, and walk towards (and up to) it.  And, as Alex wisely instructed, “Just don’t ever walk under any cornices, or on anything steeper than you’d climb when it’s not snow-covered, and you’ll be fine.”

Yikes. Almost to Buchanan Pass.

Yikes. Almost to Buchanan Pass.

There were these red streaks in the snow everywhere. Wow that's a lot of mountain lion kills or...?

There were these red streaks in the snow everywhere. Wow that's a lot of mountain lion kills or...?

I made the pass, again in late morning.

Up at Buchanan Pass, looking west.

Up at Buchanan Pass, looking west.

Up at Buchanan Pass, looking east.

Up at Buchanan Pass, looking east.

And the trip down the eastern side was anything but arduous:

See that look on my face? That's the grin on a dude who just butt-sledded down a thousand feet from the continental divide into a bowl on Sawtooth Mountain.

See that look on my face? That's the grin on a dude who just butt-sledded down a thousand feet from the continental divide into a bowl on Sawtooth Mountain.

and there's the evidence.

and there's the evidence.

Another few miles, and I made an early camp, in the temperate woods of Peaceful Valley.

Reading Sogyal Rinpoche in an afternoon thunderstorm

Reading Sogyal Rinpoche in an afternoon thunderstorm

The next morning, day four, my last day, consisted of a few miles on 4WD roads, and a section of the Sourdough Trail:

There's my red (well, orangy red) white (err....yellowish-white) and blue for 4th of July!

There's my red (well, orangy red) white (err....yellowish-white) and blue for 4th of July!

What an adventure!  It was nice to be home, and I had a top-notch welcoming committee:

Committee member #1

Committee member #1

Committee member #2

Committee member #2

Happy 4th of July!  I wasn’t able to stay awake late enough to see any fireworks.  Surprised?

My mountain playground

•June 11, 2011 • 2 Comments

I’ve had two GREAT weekends in the mountains.  Maybe there could be more to life than bikes.

I started off with a solo trip in the Roosevelt Wilderness, with a long trek more-or-less in the direction back to Boulder (walking home, since I can’t drive!).  I invite you to relive it with me, in my photo-essay herein.  My route:

The route.

The route. Four days, three camps marked by red dots.

My great friends Alex and Liz (after an awesome lunch at Katmandu all-you-can-eat lunch buffet), dropped me off at Caribou park and I embarked on Caribou Road, a closed 4-WD road still mostly covered in snow.  It was periodically clear of snow, and I had to take my snowshoes off an put them back on at least a dozen times.

Caribou Road

Caribou Road

There had certainly been a lot of snowmelt recently, because this creek crossing was raging!

That was dicey.  Glad to be in one piece!

That was dicey. Glad to be in one piece!

It was a short first day (starting after lunch), but boy, I was glad reach Rainbow Lakes and get in the tent!

Tent sweet tent.

Tent sweet tent.

I awoke to some fresh fluffy.  In June, not bad!

Snow!

Snow!

It was beautiful.

Peaceful morning

Peaceful morning

Oh, yeah, I almost forgot — my bear bag rope got tangled in the tree last night, and I was too tired to deal with it.  Nothing like a little tree climbing first thing in the morning.

Rudy in a tree

Rudy in a tree

I was a little chilly and not very comfortable sleeping. The reason quickly became clear: my brand new thermarest had a big cut!  I think the pad actually came that way, and I didn’t think to check before I went out.

Bummer!

Bummer!

“No problem,” I thought. “I brought the patch kit with me!”  Not so much.  Turns out the little foil tube of glue was filled with air and not glue.  I think my brain is working better and better all the time, though, because I found a solution!

Trusty ol'...

Trusty ol'...

I’ve actually been amazed at how well the duct tape has held!  After a nice easy walk down the (plowed) Rainbow Lakes Road, I headed north on the Sourdough Trail.  And came upon this interesting sight:

Snail!

Snail!

A pile of rocks, a small stake in the ground, and a plastic snail perched on the top of the stake.  I…don’t…understand…  But it made me smile nonetheless!  Easy going, patchy snow cover turned to deep snow as I climbed higher, and the travel grew steadily more difficult as I went.

Peace memorial bridge.  Under eight feet of snowpack.

Peace memorial bridge. Under eight feet of snowpack.

Crossing Peace Memorial Bridge, I could see the creek breaking through the snow.  With the extra eight feet from the snow pack, the creek was more than twenty feet below!  After crossing the bridge, I couldn’t figure out where the trail went.  There were no tracks to follow, and no trail markers in sight.  I walked in circles, looking for a marker, for at least an hour.  Finally, I decided to just bushwhack with map and compass in the rough direction of the trail.  I was certainly nervous, in unfamiliar mountain territory.  But it was easy going, and the snow-cover was patchy.

The trail!

The trail!

And voila!  Before I could get into any real trouble, I spied a trail marker on a distant tree.  Tree wells, snow-drifts, off-camber, and slippery mash-potato snow made for tough going.  After a few miles, I decided to seek an alternate route, and bushwhacked downhill along a creek, with the intention of meeting up with an old abandoned logging grade.  Once again, bushwhacking proved not just easier than the trail, but downright pleasant.

More idyllic bushwhacking

More idyllic bushwhacking

And soon, I found the abandoned road, in great condition.

Quite pleased with myself indeed.

Quite pleased with myself indeed.

I came out on the Peak to Peak highway, and continued east on the California Gulch road.  After being chased by a few dogs, I came to Lefthand Canyon, and a perfect spot to camp, complete with bubbling creek.  Bed before sundown.  The next morning, I started out on the Switzerland Trail.

Switzerland trail, smooth sailing.

Switzerland trail, smooth sailing.

After bagging the Sugarloaf summit, and some searching for water, I made camp next to another stream.  Sleepytime before sunset again!  I could get used to this.

Day four: an easier start, some meditation by a gorgeous pond (where I watched a gnat stretch its wings while sitting on the tip of a blade of grass — I’m so freakin’ zen), and some maverick map and compass reading on a network of abandoned mining roads, brought me to Boulder Canyon Drive.

Good morning!

Good morning!

Abandoned mine

Abandoned mine

It didn’t take much thumbing to land a ride back to Boulder with Travis, an ex-musician who was working in solar panel installation.  A great four days!

And congratulations if you’ve made it all the way to the end! At 806 words, this may be my longest entry yet!

…and another thing!

•May 2, 2011 • 3 Comments

Man that felt good.  I’m going to do one more (got to balance-out all the upbeat-ness lately, right?).  I’ve got a few more lamentations:

  1. I am now set for life on irony.  Too bad I didn’t have this story when I was in grade school (or on the GRE), since every writing prompt was some version of “write about an example of irony.” I’ve got it covered now: I guest-rode for Team Exergy at Tour of the Gila, did some of my best racing ever, and had the most fun week of my life with those guys.  I raced against all the big teams and famous riders.  It was a fairytale; a dream come true.  And I did pretty well, for an amateur.  Life was grand.  So of course I decided to take time off from school and chase the dream.  And about a week later I crashed at Bear Mountain, and that was pretty much the end of my career.  Ironic.
  2. Will anyone want to read a blog about some guy in grad school?  My dream, my exciting life, is over.
  3. I’ve put years of training and discipline into my current fitness.  And now I get to watch my body deteriorate.  It’s hard.
  4. I made a list of Boulder beers that I want to try when I’m allowed to drink again.  Then the doctor told me I can’t have any alcohol for an entire year, or my brain won’t heal fully.  So much for that.
  5. I try to make plans for dinner as much as I can, to avoid lonely evenings and help keep the blues away.  I’ve had folks cancel on me at the last minute; different people, sometimes several nights in a row.  Of course these things happen, but it hurts.

But apparently I don’t have it in me to make an entirely negative post:

A box full of cheer-me-up!

A box full of cheer-me-up!

I found this on my doorstep the other day.  A great friend and amazing person sent me a box of goodies!  And how could a package that looks like this not cheer me up?

An explosion of cheer!

An explosion of yay!

Thank you Sarah!

Doing it right

•April 19, 2011 • 1 Comment

I’m in Florida, visiting my grandparents.  My grandfather (I call him Sabba) had a fall a few weeks ago.  They just discovered a hairline fracture in his pelvis, and he’s stuck in the hospital.  He’s doing well, though: his grace and charm still shine through!

They held hands the whole visit.

They held hands the whole visit.

The previous night, the air conditioner gave out and caused a minor flood in the laundry room, during dinner of course.  Someone must have mentioned the story when we visited Sabba, because he called that evening and discussed at length with my uncle how best to get it fixed.  Then he called again later to make sure that my grandmother had taken her medications with dinner.  Then again, to say goodnight to his wife (see above photo and smile).  The nurses love him (he asks for only what he needs, doesn’t complain, and has the Awerbuch good looks).

Update! Sabba was transferred to a rehabilitation center (and of course he loves it there, he’s so easy to please).  That means he can check himself out to come have dinner with us!

We picked him up at Rehab. He was in good spirits, of course.

We picked him up at Rehab. He was in good spirits, of course. And looking good!

I bet he’s up from his nap by now, so I’m gonna go hang out with him!  Maybe I’ll learn how to live a little better by spending more time with him.  Because he sure knows how to do it right!

Rock Bottom

•April 13, 2011 • 3 Comments

So you know how I’ve been hikinglike, a lot?  I maybe overdid it just a little.  I can’t walk.  Well, more accurately, I’m walking like I’m elderly.  One more thing added to the list of things I can’t do:

The consensus is that it’s probably plantar fascitis (combined with some mighty-sore medial collateral ligaments).  Unfortunately, riding the trainer makes it feel better.  Oh, the irony.

Safety first.

Safety first. Don't need any more head trauma.

On the plus-side, yoga and swimming also do it good.  Yoga was pretty touch-and-go, since my balance was so bad from the concussion that I couldn’t even stand on one foot.  But this week I’ve been on fire!

"Bird of Paradise"

"Bird of Paradise." The sense of balance is coming back.

I also went swimming.  True to form, I overdid it, and swam 50 laps, 1.5 miles.  Thankfully I didn’t hurt myself, but I was nice and zonked.  My first swim since the river last summer.  Maybe my future is in triathlon.

I’m getting into a nice routine: an hour on the trainer first thing in the morning, then a core workout, then yoga.  It has been keeping me relatively upbeat.

Which brings me to my next point.  Everything is not, in fact, rainbows and freaking unicorns.  I try to keep the blog (and myself) upbeat, but it’s time to vent.  This sucks.  I miss riding. I’m sick of paying $2.25 (in exact change every time) each way to ride the bus anywhere.  And I’m sick of being trapped within a three block radius of my house otherwise.

I used to galavant around the mountains.  I’ve probably seen as much of the front range in the last three months from behind the handlebars as a lot of Boulder locals.  It feels like I used to be able to fly like a bird, and now I have broken wings.

And another thing.  I had been training my ass off.  I have the data from that last, fateful ride; it was a breakthrough ride (until I got the concussion…), some of my best performance of the year.  And now all that fitness is just going to fade away, wasted.

The leg vasculature. It will all be gone soon.

The leg vasculature still shows through the leg hair. Lots of hard training in those legs. It will all be gone soon.

At least today was free cone day.

Ben and Jerry's free cone day.  Bonnaroo Buzz.

Ben and Jerry's free cone day. Bonnaroo Buzz.

I’ll leave you all with a picture (From a doctor’s office, ironically.  I’ve been spending plenty of time in those):

Sounds familiar.

Sounds familiar.

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.