Thursday, April 26, 2012

In Memory of Bobby

I've been a little off lately.  So what else is new when the weather stinks and a 'breezy' day has winds of 25 mph?  I can't ride off my frustrations easily in the 40 degree, sleety nasty conditions of the last couple of weeks.  It gives me too much time in front of my laptop when I'm home.  Not that that's all bad.  I get a lot of work done on the Tour and my team (which incidentally, I should be doing now...but am not).  So it goes...

In regards to the aforesaid frustrations...Sometimes, you get a kick in the teeth that just takes the wind out of your sails and makes everything look just a little bit less sunny.  Such was my return from a trip a week or so ago.  I'm really having kind of a hard time getting around the news of my old friend Bobby.

Bobby was my conductor last fall on a work-train that I held until they chopped it off for the winter and sent me back on the road.  We had an absolute ball on that train.  He was counting the days until he could retire after 40-plus years in this line of work and nothing seemed to make him stop laughing about the good times he had lined up at his new digs in Florida.

Every day for those few weeks with Bob started with his 'Country Breakfast' (coffee and a cigarette) as the sun came up over the ball park in the east.  Then he'd tell me the news on the sale of his house in Pennsylvania, then tales of moving truckloads of stuff down I95 and the ongoing work on the new place outside Daytona.  He was as giddy as a puppy and even though I knew I'd rarely see him after the move, I was glad to see someone getting out of the grind with all the ducks in a row.  He said the days were dragging but the end of the line was in his cross-hairs and I was happy for him.

We had an old NW bay-window caboose (or 'shoving platform' as they now call them) on that job  that we kind of adopted.  The 'boose was a concession to the fact that we had to go backwards for long distances with the rail train we were hooked to and riding the side of a flat car for miles in the rain was something Bobby flat-out refused to consider.  We used our down-time to sweep the old wreck out, bagging up years of accumulated trash, wiping the dust off the seats and plugging up the worst holes with duct tape.  I called it  Bobby's pimped-out caboose after we got is semi-presentable.

Nothing in it worked of course; the coal stove was long gone and the old box radio was gutted to it's electronic innards on the wall.  The bank of batteries was still in the floor but they hadn't had acid in them in years and the generator was probably seized anyway.  Regardless, it became something of a prize.  Bob said it was pretty cool that he began his career on a caboose and was now going to end it on one.  Even this long after cabooses were abolished from everyday service.

I even learned to handle a train with a cabin on it.  It's a little different running when you have to think about smacking someone around who's riding on the other end.  You can slap them about pretty hard if you're not paying attention.  The stories from the old-heads of getting tossed against the wall or having their lunch fly out the window were strong in my head.   That was one of the reasons cabooses disappeared...too many injuries from ham-handed engineers running the slack in and out.  The later versions had 5-point harnesses on the seats like a fighter plane.  Wiggling the tail on 100 cars must have been like getting hit by a truck.  But I figured it out and if I did hit him with the slack, Bobby never mentioned it.  He kept the rail-train crew chuckling all day long while holding court from his rolling office like he owned the whole railroad.  In some ways, it seemed like he did.

I met him soon after I hired out way back when and once he found out I had a Harley, we were friends.  He was our union rep. for all those years and managed to save my skin a time or two when I rubbed the carrier the wrong way as well.  Sometimes I wouldn't even see him for weeks but then he'd call and want to know everything.

Then he surprised me by jumping on a long-pool job with me.  We spent months after that riding up and down the track between New York and Pennsylvania with an assortment of trainees and miscreants who were qualifying on the run.  It was a blast.  The tales of the Bobby and Harold Show would keep me blogging for months but nobody would ever believe any of it could was true.  It was one hell of a run.

Eventually, he went off on other trains and I moved around as we all do in this trade and we only ran into each other at union meetings unless I grabbed a vacancy on his job for a week.  We stayed close though and whenever the madness would get to me, I'd call and shoot the breeze for an hour.  Then the work train came up and the stars aligned just right for the old road-team to have one more go at it.  I was tickled to be able to hold the job with Bobby, even though I knew it was only for a couple of months until he was old enough to take his pension.

He told me before he left that he was happy he had the chance to finish out his career with me as his engineer and he was glad we got the chance to work together one more time.  That meant more to me than he ever knew and I'll remember it well.  Sooner than I wanted to think about, he was shaking my hand for the last time as he headed south for his new place in the sunshine.  I never would have imagined it would be the last time I'd see him.

Bobby passed away suddenly last week at his home near Daytona.  He slept away in his bed which is a long stretch from how he ever expected to go.  Only a couple of months into his retirement that he worked so long to get, like turning out the lights, that was all she wrote.  He got to party with all his friends at Bike Week, sent them all on their way and then he was gone.  When I heard the news, another little bit of the good leaked out of the world.  I still haven't figured it out.

We all know that fairness doesn't enter into these things and sometimes fate is one cruel bastard but it leaves us who stay behind to wonder...why him, why now?  Nobody ever knows their time but how is it that the cards played out the way they did?

As my favorite author, Ernest Gann said, " what ends does a man ever partially control his fate?  It is obvious from the special history of our kind that favorites are played, but if this so, then how do you account for those who are ill-treated?  The worship of pagan gods, which once answered all this, is no longer fashionable.  Modern religions ignore the matter of fate.  So we are left confused and without direction.  Let us admit, then, that the complete answer may only be revealed when it can no longer serve those most interested."

I for one, wish I knew.  But until I do, he's a good man gone and I'm proud to have known him.  We'll get through the hard time somehow because he always did.  We might even end up laughing about it.  He would.  He was my friend and all I'm sure of is that I'll miss that man.  And it'll be a while before I get some of the wind back in my sails.

So here's to you Bobby...I'll whistle for you in the night like I do when I think of all the others gone before. It's a long, long line you've joined now Brother; hold me a place and we'll do Daytona when I catch up with you next time.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Hello Tim Joe

One thing I learned since I started The Home is that a (very) few people are actually bored enough to read it.  It was originally just kind of a vent/rant/therapy kind of thing for nobody but myself but over time, it picked up a follower or two.  Who'd a thought?

One of those is TJ...The Trailer Park Cyclist...a total stranger (stranger even than me) who happens to come by and post comments pretty regularly.  For this I'm very grateful because it at least gives me the illusion that my keyboard time isn't just a waste of somebody's ones and zeros that instantly gets lost in space on a server somewhere.  His descriptions of bike rides around the Florida countryside strike me as...well...something I'd be likely to do if I happened to be in that neck of the world.  Kindred spirits perhaps.

I was thinking the other day how it was funny that just this once at least, the connected universe worked as advertised.  I can talk bikes, beer and barbecue sauce with someone I've never really met and likely never will.  Barring a sudden vast increase in my pay scale, we'll never see one another face to face over post-ride beverages.  But as long as those ones and zeros keep zinging back and forth, we'll have something in common.  We might never drink beer at the Park or the Home; half-wheel along the beach or the Finger Lakes; but we can still tell tall tales and lies from the kitchen table realizing that somewhere out there...somebody knows what we're talking about.

So, Hello Tim's a little journey from up north.  Tag along if you like.  Only some of it is lies...

I watched the sky from the back window yesterday with an eye on going for a ride.  The weather service guys promised severe clear and cool which is great biking conditions for an old guy like me but they also noted that the wind would likely blow hard from the northwest all day with gusts up to 30 mph.  This is a little less than ideal unless you can do a whole jaunt on a southeasterly course and never come back.  Since I'm a round-trip sort of rider and have to be able to make it home,  the outbound leg took some thought.  I stalled around the Home waiting for the thermometer to creep above the no-go line and pawed through my dresser for cold weather gear.

The mountain bike was starting to look good because at least I could hide in the woods and stay out of the wind's line of fire but that would likely entail driving somewhere to get away from the same-old-same-old places I hack around in near home.  Have you bought any gas lately?  I hate burning the stuff unless I really have to and besides, there's something fundamentally wrong about driving someplace to ride a bike.  Finally, I came to the decision to go the pavement route, mainly because the dirt bike was hanging in a semi-inaccessible location in the back corner of the garage and the street bike was already prepped and ready to go.  There's probably something to be said as well about being too lazy to dig the mountain bike out when you're looking for exercise but we won't go there today.

I bundled into a couple layers of jerseys and jackets, leggings and full gloves anticipating that it's probably going to be cold on the downhills.  Out the driveway, two lefts and directly into the teeth of the wind.  Might as well do it while my legs are fresh.  As expected, it was about an 8 mph slog until I hit some descent, then it was a 15 mph slog pedaling downhill.  The front wheel was doing a little happy-dance back and forth in the crosswind and visions of prior fork-chatter adventures again kept the fingers poised over the brake levers.  It obviously wasn't going to be a fast trip.

Since I figured it would be slow going until I turned for home anyway, I opted for a loop I did with my brother-in-law as my nearly-final ride before the snow last fall.  It was a pretty good climb the way we did it in October but this time I wanted to go backwards and do the steepest part first.  I'm in training for the Tour de Cure you least that's what I keep telling myself.  If you can't go far, go high...and slow.  At least the wind isn't as much of a factor when you're already in creeper low and grinding.

A long chug up out of the valley is usually followed by a view from the hilltop and this one was no exception:

Severe clear was the truth.  I think you could see all the way to Syracuse if you looked in the right direction.  That stiff breeze blew everything out of the air and the bright sunshine made everything look brand-new.  Somewhere down there is Cayuga Lake and Ithaca but that way-far horizon was the real reward.  About 10 miles, 1200 vertical feet and 8 million crank revolutions down the road on the right is the bottom of the hill.  It always looks a lot better when it's behind the seat bag.

Now on the ridge of Connecticut Hill, I figured I could coast a while and let my legs regroup.  Or not.  The crossroad I was hoping for never materialized so it was more miles straight into the wind before the turn for home.  Talk about false-flats.  I could see it was all downgrade but I had to stay in the middle ring most of the way just to keep moving against the gusts.  A couple of them almost pushed the Trek backwards.  I've never ridden in reverse but there's a first time for everything.  I wondered if I held up my jacket if I could get home without pedaling at all.  Somewhere along there, I came across another old barn for my camera.

I take a lot of shots of assorted barns and junk.  I love old buildings and old machines...must be because they're usually the only thing around older than me.  I can almost hear stories and see other days in them.  They were new and someone was proud of them once and if the old boards and bolts could talk...what a tale they could probably tell.  I'd like to hear them all.  I've been told I have issues.  I'd like to think so.

Tooling along the wind induced upgrade, I eventually turned tail and suddenly it became a sled ride for home.  I never did try sailing with my jacket but my average speed went to double-digits for the first time all day.  I could actually hear something besides wind noise even in the big ring.  A pair of guys on bikes and a low-rider on a 'bent went by in the other direction crawling upwind.  I feel your pain boys.

The cramps and leg-burn faded out after a while and the countryside cruised by.  Around another little lake and over a ridge brought me out on the last leg.  The daylight is a little short still so a pause to look around, capture a pic and it was settle in to head for the Home.

The fields are plowed and the grass is greening up.  No leaves on the trees yet but any day now...

The temperature started down pretty fast as the sun got low but with the wind at my back and all those layers, I didn't care.  I made one more stop for one more pic as the sun dropped behind the hills.

I work for a railroad after all so I noticed I was perched along an old right-of-way.  That streak of dirt is all that's left of the Lehigh Valley Railroad mainline to Buffalo.  Another long-ago place that could tell a world of stories if anyone was listening.  If the miles of old stones and abandoned bridges could only talk...

As it was getting dark, the last road for the day ended up behind me and I rolled into the driveway.  Only 57 miles this time but hey, the season is young and I'm not. I'll get back in shape once the weather figures out what month it is and the temperature gets higher than my age before noon.   The cramps in my thighs should be gone in plenty of time for the Tour...I hope.  I've got a lot of miles to go and a lot to see before then.  If I wasn't such a sucker for a climb it would help...

So there you go TJ and everyone else out there who happens by.  Pictures and random chatter from the cold end of the east coast.  As I'm so fond of saying, it's always something...

Come to think of it...the Wayward Home is still a kind of therapy for me but pushing pedals around the New York hills is too.  You never know where it'll all lead but I kind of hope someone sticks around for the ride.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Why of it All Part II

I've been here before.  There really are reasons to be the captain of a bike team...sometimes I just need a reminder.  I have to thank my wife Chris for the inspiration.  She was very, very right.

If you've been around the Home at all, you know that the team takes up a pretty good chunk of my off-time.  Sometimes more than I bargained for but I keep on doing the captain gig because...
A:  There really is a Why of it All as I wrote before.  And...
B:  Because of people like Angie:

Let me explain a bit.  Ang was one of our original 'charter members' the first year we ran the team.  It took a little doing but we got her interested in biking and as always seems to thing led to another.  After some small amount of pressure from certain quarters, she bought a hybrid, learned to ride all over again after years off a bike and just sort of took off from there.  Mileage and upgrades ensued and it was fairly obvious that she'd been bitten by the bug.

Last year on her second go at the Tour, she was determined to make a Century on that hybrid.  It turned out to be more than enough miles and after a fight that left me in awe, she finally agreed to get in a SAG truck just before she outright collapsed from sheer exhaustion.  She didn't give up though.  At the end, she got back on and rode the last leg in to the finish line and came through the gate with the team.  I was most impressed to say the least.

Now comes around another year.  Angie has a new bike, time to train, inspiration and motivation.  This time, I have no doubt that the Century will fall.  But as I found out, there's much more to it for her than just a ride.

I've known Angie and her husband Elton for years.  She's my sister-in-law after all so it isn't like we'd never met before the two-wheeled adventures began.  She and Elton were always around but somehow, he and I never talked too much...different backgrounds and whatnot.  I did notice that he was ever-present whenever Ang rode with us.  We couldn't convince him to try it but regardless, he was always just hanging out, waiting for Angie.  Always supporting, always encouraging.  I never realized that Angie isn't just riding; she's on a mission.

I can't tell it any better than she does so as a special guest at the Wayward Home...Angie in her own words.  It's a pretty amazing read:

"This is why I ride"

"When Chris and Harold first asked me to ride with them I thought sure this will be fun.  I hadn't been on a bike since I was like 16 and I was now...well a lot older.  I had been living with diabetes for about 5 - 6 years but I hadn't really realized how many people this devastating disease really affected.  I knew the struggles of the disease but it just seemed normal by that point in time.  The more I became involved with the ride the more it made me realize that there are lots of people out there who don’t understand the struggles that a diabetic and their family faces everyday.  My personal goal is to finally ride my 1st century but the real reason I ride to for my husband Elton and everyone else that battles with this disease every day.

Elton was first diagnosed with diabetes about 8 years ago.  It happened on a Friday night in January when we were playing cards with some friends and he all of a sudden got really pale and said it was really warm in the house and went out on the porch.  Then we heard a thump! He had passed out on the porch.  We all ran out there and got him up on the bench and he came to for about a minute and passed out again.  We got him to come to again and got him something to drink and got him in the house.  Of course being a typical man would not let us call the ambulance! So We got him some more to drink and some food he started to feel better but not right. By Monday he decided he needed to go to the doctor.  They of course thought it was his heart so we were referred to a cardiologist.  In the meantime they did blood work and the results changed our lives forever.  When the doctor told us he had diabetes we were both just shocked.  They said he had type 2.

Over the next 2 years we went through nutrition education, countless doctors appointments, numerous blood tests and several different medications.  They were still concerned about his heart so we also went through several appointments and tests at the cardiologist, including a scare that he had a blockage, which turned out to be false.  He still goes to the cardiologist every 6 months to make sure everything is OK because diabetes can raise your chances for stroke or heart attack.  During this time we changed our diet and carb counting became a way of life.  Even with everything we did to control his sugar it was nearly impossible to keep in under control.  The doctors kept changing his medications and nothing appeared to be working. At this point, 2 years later, we were referred to an endocrinologist and on the first visit the doctor did blood work and came back and told us the current medication was not working because he does not have type 2 diabetes he has type 1!!

So this is a whole different ball game now.  Type 2 diabetes can be controlled with diet and exercise, type 1 can not.  The difference between type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes is that type 2 is caused from an insulin resistance, the body is creating enough insulin but it is not being used they way it is supposed to.  This can be controlled by diet and exercise and medication if needed.  Sometimes people with type 2 diabetes may have to have insulin. Type 1 diabetes is caused by the pancreas not working, it is destroyed by antibodies and people with type 1 diabetes will always need insulin.  With the pancreas not working the body is creating little or no insulin.

So the doctor immediately started him on insulin shots.  At least now the control was better but still not good.  The amount of insulin needed depends on carb intake and what your insulin levels are at the time.  After still struggling with controlling Elton’s blood sugar levels the doctor recommended he go on the insulin pump, this was two years ago.  After looking at the different pumps we decided on the Omni Pump which is completely tubeless.  Which is great with the type of work he does.  The way this works is there is a small pod which he adheres to his side once he has filled it with insulin and when he activates it, it inserts a small mono filament line just under his skin which is used to feed him the insulin.  He has a controller that is a little bigger than a cell phone that is used to test his sugar and tell the pump how much insulin to give him.  The pod system is programmed to give him insulin every hour.  The amount of insulin it delivers changes at different times during the day.  When he eats anything he tests his sugar and tells the controller how many carbs he will be eating and it calculates how much insulin he needs, sends the signal to the pod and the pod delivers it.  So during the day Elton tests his sugar about 8 – 10 times and has to calculate the amount of carbs in everything he eats.  It has taken several adjustments to the pod settings to get the amount of insulin delivery correct.  Since getting the pod Elton’s sugar levels are a little more under control but there are still days that are bad.  When his sugar is high he will sit down on the couch and be a sleep in seconds.  This is dangerous because if his sugar keeps going up there is a chance that he might not wake up.  We struggle with is nightly, I never know if it is because he is really tired or his sugar is to high.  If his sugar is to high we have an emergency insulin kit that we can use to administer a quick dose of insulin to lower his sugar.  When it is low he gets very, very warm and could go into a diabetic coma.  When it is low we need to get something such as a glucose tablet or two in him to bring his sugar up.  Everyday is so different even if you don’t change anything such as exercise or carb intake.  His sugar levels can be affected if he is stressed or sick also.

Our scariest moment since Elton was diagnosed with diabetes was the night he woke me up at about 2:00 in the morning because he was breaking out in a cold sweat and didn't feel very good.  He checked his sugar and it was 30, normal should be between 80 and 120.  He got some juice into him and some crackers and maybe even some cereal to get his sugar up to a safe level.  If he hadn't woken up he might not be here today.  I pray to God every day that he will have a good day and he will be with us a while longer.  Diabetes is one of those diseases that affect so many things that you really never know what could happen next.

I could really go on forever but I will try to sum it up.  You need to test constantly, keep track of the carbs in everything you eat, carry supplies with you in case of high or low sugar spikes.  You have to watch your blood pressure and cholesterol.  If you are sick it takes longer to get over it so it is important to get your flu shot every year.  If you have a cut it takes longer to heal so you have to keep it tended so you don’t get an infection.  Diabetes can cause damage to your nerves, eyes, heart, skin and kidneys.  Living with diabetes is a constant struggle."

That sure puts things in a different light.  Now I'm really in awe.  Ang and Elton...I never knew but now I surely won't ever forget.

So to honor Elton's fight and Angie's mission, I'm taking the captain's privilege to announce that Elton White is who Team PowerTrain will ride for in August.

He is someone who quietly battles diabetes every single day.  He's one of the millions who live with it because for now, they have no choice.  He's one person among many who puts a face on diabetes and so shows that what we do isn't just about a cause or a disease, it's about's for people.

And I'm very happy and proud that we're going to ride our 2012 Tour de Cure...

...For Elton