So Many Changes

Oftentimes, it seems as though nothing changes in my life; every day is exactly the same.

But when things do change, they happen drastically, dramatically, and en masse—everything, everywhere, all at once, as it were.

Back in September, for example, when Nicholle lost so much of her mobility—and with it, much of her independence—there were so many changes and adaptions Nicholle, the kids, and I had to go through that life quickly became unrecognizable for us, though only for a short while. Just as we always do when MS flares up and forces us to play along with it, we adjusted to yet another new normal. It sucks, but that’s just the way life is with degenerative nerve diseases with no cure.

Over the past couple of weeks, another barrage of changes has been set in motion, this time for some good.

At the end of November, I’d received a text message from a friend at the local chapter of the MS Society asking if I had any desire or intent to give another rally for increasing my fundraising total for this year’s Bike MS event—which I didn’t get to (again) ride due to an MS flareup (again)—as I was on the cusp of being bumped out of the semi-prestigious Club 100, the top 100 fundraisers for the event. In uncharacteristic fashion, I messaged back with something of a dump of all the goings on in our lives and why I had missed out on participating on this year’s ride.

The topic quickly changed from “How much more money do you think you can raise?” to “How can we help you?”

In what seemed like no time, I was on the phone with an MS Navigator, a specialist with the MS Society at their main office in Denver who helps folks nationally connect with resources to help life with MS be more manageable. A list of what Nicholle and I had discussed was laid out with a plan for the Navigator to connect with Nicholle (as the person with MS) and formally set things in motion.

So it’s now been a few weeks, and here’s all that’s happened:

  • Patient lift hoist was purchased to help with transfers in & out of Nicholle’s wheelchair; cost reimbursed
  • Medication that was the most likely culprit in causing flareup symptoms back in September isolated & switched back to previous iteration; results, promising
  • Adjustable beds purchased, as hoist allowed easier access to bed for sleeping; Nicholle & I now sleep in the same room (and her in an actual bed) for the first time in years while also allowing her & the kids cuddle & cartoon time in the mornings during the winter break; cost reimbursed
  • Nicholle gifted a subscription to Zwift to allow her to resume use of BLE modules we setup earlier in the year; I also made some additional modifications to the setup to allow her to be more independent with exercising
  • A contractor has visited & measured the master bathroom for a ceiling-mounted hoist to help Nicholle be more independent; they may also be able to extend a ceiling track to the bedroom for even greater independence

It’s been a busy past few weeks, for certain—and not without issue. Despite not having to go to work the past two weeks, the daily toll & toil of being caretaker/husband/father/teacher/individual has again worn me down, and I am certainly not proud of how I’ve reacted. But I’ve some additional plans to put in motion within the first few days of the new year to help me, in turn helping everyone else.

Thanks for reading.


Working Title

Today is Thursday—or I’m pretty sure it’s Thursday.

This week has been a weird one and for more than just the regular reasons associated with the end of a grading cycle, as well as the semester. Tuesday marked 13 years that Nicholle & I have been a lawfully married couple, and we celebrated by getting takeout for dinner instead of the typical Wednesday. Consequently, every day has not seemed like the day it really is.

Or something like that.

Now that the timeline has been established, I’m thinking I might need to shut things down for the night. I entered into WordPress with the intent to write until I grew tired enough to fall asleep quickly (a power nap nabbed when I first got home rested me far more than I thought was possible), but it appears that drowsiness is coming over me more rapidly than I’d anticipated. Plus, it’s after eleven o’clock, and I want to again be up by five AM in order to be on the trainer. Unlike today’s & Tuesday’s sessions, though, this will be a ProRide in SYSTM; RGT on Tuesday and Zwift this morning has left me a little “meh” for riding in virtual worlds.

Right, so bedtime. Words are hard to wrap my brain around just now, so it’s best for us all that this ends here. As always, though, thanks for reading.


Anniversary Eve

I did not make this morning’s 5 AM trainer session.

Instead, I was successful in not only sleeping in and avoiding a semi-scheduled workout but also in giving others in my cycling circle advice on indoor trainers & training programs, neither of which proved popular among others in the cycling circle. But I know it works for me…when I actually use it.

Looking back a dozen plus one years ago, and I’m not sure if previous me would recognize present me. I was a very different person in so many respects, one of them being that I was single. At least for the next few hours.

Tomorrow, December 6th, is my 13th wedding anniversary to Nicholle. It’s her anniversary to me, too—and for the same number of years, if you can believe that!—but, rather than wax nostalgic and get all sympathetic, I’ve been thinking about the changes that married couples go through after a dozen or more years together but especially the changes in my own life, in our lives, in our relationship.

Rumors had it that some said we wouldn’t make it a year or another year after that one and so on. Despite—or maybe because of what happened with Nicholle’s diagnosis with MS 13 months after marrying one another—we’re still together and probably stronger than we would have been under different circumstances. Sure, she depends on me for so much of day-to-day life, but I depend on her as my bedrock. She keeps me grounded, keeps me focused on the realities of life.

There are no more weekends dashing one place or another for one race or another. While I do miss the thrills of racing and the perks of training (a much slimmer me, for starters), even without Nicholle’s diagnosis and what it’s meant to her with all that she’s lost, there’s so much for me to do at home that does not involve swimming or cycling or running. But I wouldn’t give any of this up for the opportunity to go galavant and play triathlete or bike racer or marathon pacer, no matter how exhausted being caretaker and spouse and dad and teacher in today’s climate makes me. Because I wouldn’t be me—I’d be that previous version of me who lacked the vision, lacked the ability to be all he needed to be. Heck, I lack a lot of that now, but what I do have was well worth the trade for whatever times I used to post, whatever milage I used to accrue. The fact remains that I can still crank out miles at a respectable pace, a respectable wattage, and I can do it all under and/or after what life continues to deal me.

While I may sometimes bemoan what has befallen us, I know we have to push on. It’s what we do, it’s what we’ve always done. Before it was through a race course, fighting for whatever finishing time we could muster. Now, it’s fighting for whatever scraps of life we’re able to live for one another, even if it is just making it through the perils of the day without going crazy.

It’s been an incredible thirteen years. I’m very much looking forward to what the next year and the years to come bring for our marriage, for our family. Naturally, I’ll keep you updated on what that is, so keep checking back as you can or are otherwise inclined.

Until then, thanks for reading.


One Hundred Years

NaNoWriMo wrapped a little over a week ago, but I didn’t write a single word for its 2022 running. In fact, I’ve written precious little since NaNoWriMo came to a close in 2021. It’s not that the much-embellished yarn of my neighbor’s cat exhausted me and all I had to say; rather, it’s been a question of pairing the right mindset with the needed amount of time to pry thoughts from mind and put them to words on a screen.

It’s currently a quarter past eleven in the evening, and I should have been asleep an hour ago in order to be ready to rise in time to be on the bike trainer by five, but I wanted to commit, first to writing something down because I feel like I need to. I owe it to myself (and my three followers here on WordPress, I suppose) to do better and avoiding doom scrolling through the hellscapes that all social media channels have become—except for Strava, of course, but there’s only so much scrolling that can be done there. Plus, I wanted to break in the new keyboard I finally convinced myself to buy in order to use my iPad as I had initially planned to when I bought it…nearly five years ago.

Ubotie’s keyboard has a nice-ish feel to its keystrokes but falls short of the tactile efficiency of Apple-branded keyboards. Its size and style and price, however, made it an attractive enough of a purchase, and it at least has me typing in bed by low lamplight as I had envisioned happening. All that’s missing are the sounds of wind and rain outside my window.

I’ve started & restarted this paragraph nearly a dozen times over the past several minutes, with pauses growing longer before each introduction. The pressure on my forehead tells me that it’s time to abandon this, turn out the lights, and go to sleep. The alarm clock will be sounding wretchedly soon enough, and then there’s still the responsibilities of being dad, caretaker, and schoolteacher awaiting me on the other side of the bike trainer.

This hasn’t been much, but—after what feels like one hundred years since writing anything resembling substance—I’ll call it a start.

Thanks for reading.


Seven Rain

“Hold me,” he whispered, but the ghost gave no reply.

Darkness had long since enveloped the room. Its series of windows all faced to the east and were quick to grab each day’s first light—but also first to let it go.

As the pulse of his heart calmed, the continued hum of the refrigerator could be heard through the walls, through the closed door, closed to the rest of the house as he had closed himself off to the rest of the world. Beyond the windows, the occasional whir of wheels on pavement interrupted his attempts at slumber, cars bearing people living their lives. But so much time had passed since he had all but given up on living his—at least that’s what his friends said.

Or what they would have said, had he had any friends beyond the casual sense of the word.

And, so, again, tonight, just as every other night, he fed the cat, darkened the lights, and tucked himself into the bed, feeling the weight of the bedding fall about him, warming him slightly—but enough—against the pervading chill of the house. Through break in the chill, the ever-so-soft warmth of the covers, he remembered her and how she had felt with him as they would drift off to sleep together. He longed to hold her, to be held by her, so tonight he articulated it.

But there was no answer, no response, no closeness, no further warmth. There was only darkness, emptiness, loneliness. And cold—so much cold.

No matter the season outside, it was always winter within. Every surface, every nook of the house expressed itself through the discomfort of cold. Chilled air rushed from vents in every room, bringing a raw malaise to any who lingered in any one spot for too long. The tiled flooring absorbed the cold air, gnawing and numbing bare feet, necessitating slippers or socks or something to serve as a barrier from the iciness of the house. Heavy blankets were warranted as bed coverings.

And it was in one of these beds—the bed he and she had shared—that, night after night, he would plead to the dark, to the ghost, “Hold me.” And, night after night, the ghost would give no reply.

Maybe the ghost could hear the request, but most likely it could not; he was careful not to disturb the ghost any more than was necessary.

There was no fear of the ghost. The only emotion it seemed to illicit from him was one of nostalgia—a longing for how things had been, for they had been so good before disease came and changed everything and made the ghost that haunted his home, his mind, his very existence.

At first, the changes were subtle—being quicker to fatigue or not getting around so easily—but the changes increased, quickly and more drastically. Soon, she was reluctant to leave the house at all. Fatigue had given way to mobility issues; a former collegiate track and cross country runner could scarcely walk at all, requiring a rollator for balance and some semblance of stability. She no longer “fit in” with the fitness crowd with whom she had found herself, established her identity and very being. She appeared and was treated as almost a pariah, yet eliciting pity and pathetic comments of how “good” she looked.

Looks, as is so often stated, can be deceiving—and they were.

To everyone, for everyone, brave faces were put on, smiles to drown the tears. Only the children were able to see through the disguise, but the children were unable to understand why they no longer went out as often as they used to, why no one seemed to come over, the anguish in every move she attempted to make. The children could only watch as the ghost grew and grew before their very eyes as they attempted to make sense of the seeming anomaly in their midst.

Ghosts are horribly misunderstood.

Originally, stories told in the oral fashion fashioned the notions and forms of spectral agents in our plain of existence: The dead coming back in intangible form to torment the living in some real, physical, tangible way. The advents of film and special effects only furthered the stories and what ghosts were and what they were capable of doing. Turns out those notions were very much overstated.

The notion of ghosts goes back millennia. Certainly there’s the biblical sense, but secular stories of the shrieks and shouts accompanying the deceased were purportedly first told by those who had been in battle and were subsequently haunted by comrades whom had been dispatched or by those they had dispatched themselves through combat. Trauma, it seems, spawns the ghosts that haunt us. Ghosts are, quite literally, figments of the overstressed imagination, returning to haunt us when the mind is at rest and attempts to process what has been directly or indirectly experienced.

His theory of ghosts—that they were nothing more than memories we could not let go—was thought up over a lifetime of loneliness. For a while, though, there was partnership, there was happiness, there was love.

They had met by the lake, beneath a blank sky of slate. Months later, reintroductions were made by another lake as the sky blazed blue overhead. But not until the following year, in a room of darkness did they find one another: As he lay on the floor, he stretched out an arm toward the bed where she slept, though sleep had not yet claimed her; she, too, stretched out an arm into the darkness. Their hands clasped, fingers interlaced, and they breathed in the scent of the night together. A memory made, a love born. Loneliness banished.

For a time, anyway.

The disease would not come for a few years, though they were both vaguely aware of its existence and its implications—only not so close to home. It would not be until after the purchase of their own home a year after saying “I do” in secret to one another on live television and in a crowd of other runners. But even then the disease was relatively benign, so much so that there would be one child and then another. A short time later, the true nature of the disease took root in her brain and spinal column. And the ghost began to take form.

Ghosts—in the traditional sense—were a staple of his childhood, dating back to the stories told by cousins of the haunted attic-cum-guest-room in a relatives home. Ascending the stairs to the room or even sitting within its darkened walls, however, left no eeriness, no sense of foreboding. There were no shrieks or rattling chains or other ghostly evidence to be observed. Even the birthday photo of one of them with a card allegedly suspended by some phantasm or other could never be located for any sort of proof that ghosts were something in which to believe.

Similar incidents persisted into adolescence and the teenage years: Always a story or experience by another, never any discernible proof.

The closest to “proof” probably came in middle school when a classmate became uncomfortable at an abstract of the visage of William Shakespeare, whose eyes seemed to “follow” viewers around the room, but such was the apparent intent behind the poster itself. This same classmate also alleged to have seen “things” creeping or crawling or flying about about in the classroom and would shudder and shake and seek confirmation from someone else that they saw them, too. So, bored as he was in language arts, he would play along with the classmate, pretending to be encountering some ghostly thing or other in the aged halls of the school.

(Incidentally, the classmate and his brother would grow up to produce and host a show exposing ghosts in area buildings and other landmarks.)

At some point, he began to develop his theory of ghosts, that they were little more than memories that, literally & figuratively, haunted the memory holder in one form or another: In realtime or in dreams. Regardless of form, it held that ghosts themselves held no form and existed only to or by those who held some facet of knowledge about what the ghost had been in its mortal existence. Before it came to be recognized as or called a ghost.

As a means of protection against ghosts, though, he learned to block unpleasant memories. Turns out, there was a lot of unpleasantness in his memories, so there was a lot to block. Only in his own slumber would the ghost wake and roam his mind, so he learned to deprive himself of sleep, only that was not without its own consequences—though never in the form of spectral visitors from beyond the grave.

But, now, in his very own home, in the very next room lived a ghost. It was ever-present but strongest at night when the mind was at its weakest, when utter exhaustion would claim the body, causing it to sink deeper into the bed as the mind would sink into the past, deeper and deeper. The ghost would whisper what had been, what could be, but so seldom what was the reality experienced day in, day out, oftentimes so painful as to question the validity of Job’s argument.

Or so he thought.

The memories they had made gave the ghost its glory, the good fondly, often recalled or rehashed; the bad, glossed over. He found himself not haunted by any ghost as much as he tormented himself over what it was he could not let go—the ghost. In frequenting moments of despair, he would isolate himself in reflection to the point where there would be, nor could there be, any relief, painting himself into some proverbial corner, going mad as he waited for the paint to dry, only to apply another coat of paint, insisting to himself that it was the only way forward. Eventually, he was sure, he would recognize his folly, recognize that ghosts were not worth holding onto at the expense of the moments unfolding before him.

Indeed, life was different than what it had been, but such is the progression of time: To change and to allow change. There was no room for ghosts.


Her Sovran Shrine

I’ve been listening to The Cure for a very long time.

My first awareness of them as a band came with the video for “Just Like Heaven,” memorably seen on a television in a mall display window for whatever shop was next door to Alamo Music at Windsor Park Mall, back when it was the place to be. Back when it was a place, as a matter of fact. (It’s since been converted to the headquarters for Rackspace.)

But I digress.

The Cure is brought up because they and their music are often used as the butt of a joke for depression. Look no further than Better than Ezra’s 1993 album Deluxe and its track “Teenager”:

Wrap yourself in black / Listen to The Cure

“Teenager” by Better than Ezra

And then there was this skit from MTV’s Half-hour Comedy Hour:

Robert Smith 1-900 Parody from MTV’s Half-hour Comedy Hour, circa 1990

All of this is brought up to not just to further magnify the GOAT band that The Cure is but to show that, when it comes to recognizing depression, I’m pretty good at it. Recognizing my own depression, that is.

Though I’ve never been diagnosed by a medical doctor, psychiatrist, or psychologist, the symptoms have been manifest in me for as long as I can remember. I’ve seen it in other family members, too, both those older and younger than myself, so I know it’s not just a me thing. So The Cure really has naught to do with it for me, but it seemed like as good of a segue as any, so here we are.

Still couple of months shy of my 49th birthday, I’ve been feeling myself slipping into a deep bout of depression. Yes, things have grown infinitely more complicate over the past 30+ years since I first became cognizant of what depression feels like, but those 30+ years have also helped become more aware of myself and when things don’t feel “just right.”

You need to find time to take care of you.

Everybody, when I mention an inkling of what’s on my plate.

Getting into cycling, running, triathlon—becoming (somewhat) of an athlete, I guess—has been infinitely beneficial. It has not only made me more aware of what feels “just right” and when anything is even slightly off, be it physical or mental. However, part of the infinite complications in life has been finding the time to cycle or run—there’s simply no time to race, these days, especially triathlon. Taking care of me often has to get put to the proverbial back burner because there is no one else who can do what needs to be done. Ironically, this compounds my depression, my helplessness, my hopelessness because this is my life.

Yet all is not lost.

While it still inconveniences me at having to juggle a schedule based on the ever-changing wants & needs of others, I’m still & often able to carve out some time to do something. Sometimes it means a long, lonely session on the bike trainer or an even longer, lonelier ride outside, or a run on darkened roads because it’s simply too hot or humid or something to run when it’s light out, but it’s always after everyone else’s needs have been met. If it’s to be before, it’s because everyone else is still asleep.

Like today.

Because it’s now summer, it means my favorite race, El Chupacabra de San Antonio, is coming up—third Friday in July, just like always. Unlike always, though, I’ll not be running in it to be competitive, but I will run.

And, just like the past few years, I’ve begun doing pre-race runs in the park in the wee hours of the morning, with a guy I met through Strava who has become a good friend and running companion—despite his puncturing his shoe and his foot on his first running of El Chupacabra and how I always seem to trip him when we trail run in the dark, even if I’m in front by several feet. It’s a gift, what can I say?

A— and I met up this morning for a pre-dawn run around the Blue Loop at McAllister Park where we chatted about life, the universe, everything since we don’t get to see and/or run with one another as often. But it was a good run, a good conversation, and a good reassurance that none of us are alone no matter what it is we’re going through. Because we’re all going through something, relatively speaking.

Get the Balance Right by Depeche Mode

For me, multisport has and continues to be a positive outlet to—well, to borrow from Depeche Mode, get the balance right. No matter how low I’ve gotten, a solid ride or run can usually refocus me. I liken it to a splash of cold water or a slap across the face. It’s just enough to bring me back to where I’m needed.

Despite, for lack of a better term, exercise’s physical & mental benefits, I am all too aware that it doesn’t work for everyone every time. The death of Robin Williams serves as too-stark of a reminder that sometimes, we need something more than to just ride our bikes. Sometimes we need something, someone more.

So I just tuck that away, knowing that if there ever comes a day where I’m the exact same after a ride as I was before, it’s time to get help. Fortunately, I’m not there, yet—and I hope you’re not, either.

Nearly twenty(!) years ago, The Cure released DVDs of a concert performed in Berlin, consisting of their three “dark” albums, Pornography, Disintegration, and Bloodflowers. The release was aptly titled The Cure: Trilogy and featured the three albums played in the entirety for one incredible show. (Indeed, seeing/hearing the whole of Disintegration performed live gave new appreciation, admiration, and love of “The Same Deep Water as You”.)

But before the first note of “One Hundred Years” resounds or the the opening credits track “100 Seconds” resonates, a quote from John Keats’s “Ode on Melancholy” appears on-screen:

Screenshot from The Cure: Trilogy (2003) of excerpt from Keats’s “Ode on Melancholy”

It’s a reminder for me to be aware of myself and all that dwells within, “veil’d” or exposed.

Thanks for reading.


The Timing of Traffic Lights

As we wrapped the final installment of the first volume of S4 of Stranger Things, Nicholle & I made plans for breakfast in the morning from Dunkin’ Donuts: Coffee for the both of us and breakfast wraps for the kids; we would forego the doughnuts since we had partaken in Friday’s observance of National Doughnut Day. (Seriously, it’s a thing.)

The cat’s annoying antics roused me around eight o’clock, so I got myself ready & fed the cat, trying to quietly skedaddle out the door. Success, thus far, so the day’s off to a pretty good start, eh? Breakfast, transfer Nicholle to her wheelchair, then kit up for a nice, couple-of-hours ride on the road bike.

I made my usual left-right jog out of the neighborhood and hit the usual traffic light at the first major intersection. After that, I hit every one of the six traffic lights between the neighborhood and Dunkin’ Donuts, having to stop just when I was getting going.

This happens regularly on this stretch of roads, as I’m sure it happens to countless people on countless stretches of roads all over the world, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating. It does, however, reach somewhat deeper for me, personally.

Among the myriad things that make Nicholle & I a good fit for one another is that we’re both Type A people. Sure, Nicholle’s more A+, and I’m more A-, but we’ve both the traits of Type A, especially the ability to build a plan towards most any goal or objective and work together to achieve success by sticking to the plan, making minor adjustments when needed. This process has been true from the minute to the major—meals to marathons to major purchases. But life with MS has complicated this facet of our relationship, of ourselves to a high degree.

Almost without fail, anytime a plan is established, be it for the next couple of hours or days or weeks or months, something happens to derail the plan. Maybe the timing is just off (it can sometimes take thirty or more minutes to get Nicholle successfully transferred to her wheelchair in the morning) or maybe it’s something else, but something almost always happens, and it’s utterly frustrating.

But, just like with hitting red light after red light on a seemingly short trek to get coffee or what-have-you, there is nothing that can be done about it. So I can either sit there and be frustrated, or I can adapt.

Swim. Bike. Run. Adapt.

Much of the past several years have been about adaptation—change, if you will, and change is always hard, especially as one ages, just as I have. However, much of what I’ve learned from triathlon and its comprised sports is that adaptability—change—is part of the process and must be part of the plan. A user from a triathlon forum I still occasionally haunt instills this idea through his sig file:

By all means have a plan. But make sure the ability to change the plan is part of the plan.

Paraphrased sig file from a Slowtwitch user.

Change is hard. Being slowed down or even stopped from wants or whatnot is hard, too. And it’s annoying, it’s frustrating, it’s downright maddening.

But it’s also inevitable.

Sure, changes can be made to alter the timing of the traffic lights on my commute to get coffee, but changes to my the interruptions of the figurative commute through my day are a lot less likely to happen. No city manager can help with that.

It’s taken me a few hours to write these few hundred words, having been interrupted a few dozen times by one thing or another, one person or another. (Three times just writing this paragraph, as a matter of fact.) But I’ve just attributed it to the timing of traffic lights, the fact that sometimes some things happen. That, sometimes, I just need to adapt and move on as best I can. It might not be the pace that I want or the exact sequence that I had planned, but what needs to happen somehow & usually winds up happening. My happiness with the process is irrelevant.

The kids got their breakfast and are safe & well. Nicholle & I got our coffee, and she is safe & well. My planned, outdoor road ride will just get altered to a mountain bike ride or something on Wahoo X.

Plan. Adapt. Breathe.

Thanks for reading.


Keiser Söze

Sometime in late 2020, I joined the Flogging Pit, a beta tester group for my training app-of-choice, The Sufferfest. Longtime readers (do I have any of those?) know I have talked a lot about SUF on here, and I’ve no intentions of stopping, even if it only exists now as a “channel” of a larger collective.

When I joined, they were working towards something big for the near future: A redesign of everything. later to be revealed by their purchase by Wahoo Sports, who would rebrand The Sufferfest as Wahoo SYSTM and eventually Wahoo X, following their additional acquisition of RGT. But I digress.

In early 2020, Nicholle purchased a Keiser M7i elliptical, unique in its design in that it allows wheelchair users to stay in their wheelchairs while exercising. It is billed as a “Total Body Wheelchair Stepper,” though still stubbornly refer to it as an elliptical. Regardless of name, with the M7i, the user’s feet get strapped into foot straps rotating in an ellipses (See? Elliptical.), while the wheelchair itself is secured to the elliptical using a locking hook system with locking, retractable straps. Arms help with putting & keeping things in motion.

With a relatively low profile, the Kesier M7i takes up precious little space in a bedroom.

In addition to a traditional cardio exercise display, the M7i also features Bluetooth connectivity, presumably for just connecting a BLE (Bluetooth low energy) heartrate monitor. But, under closer inspection, it is actually capable of much, much more.

The M7i’s display in ID mode for setting up advanced connectivity.

From the beginning, Nicholle loved what the M7i allowed her to do, with relative independence. As it was positioned, she could watch a TV, listen to music, and just kind of lose herself in the motion of exercise. But I thought there could be more. After all, if apps such as SYSTM existed to connect to smart trainers to make indoor cycling more enjoyable, shouldn’t those same apps not be able to connect to any other indoor fitness device?

The process would prove more challenging than initially expected since available third party devices such as speed/cadence sensors and footpods did not work terribly well with ellipticals; the very design of ellipticals is so vastly different in how it functions to record data—especially power. Keiser, though they make power meter adapters for their indoor exercise bikes, does not make one compatible with the M7i, nor did they seem terribly interested in doing so. Despite making an excellent inclusionary piece of hardware, this lacking piece of circuitry & code excluded a demographic already largely excluded from so much from getting more use, more joy out of their routine.

This did not sit well with me.

One night this past January, I posted a part rant, part plea to the Flogging Pit (FP), asking for a feature request to add ellipticals to work with SYSTM. What I got was more than I could have hoped for.

It didn’t take long before someone in the FP named Paulo chimed in that he was willing to help from across the pond in Portugal. A programmer by training & trade, Paulo was keen on the idea of not only helping my wife get going in SYSTM but also with how quickly he could complete a project like this.

Within seemingly no time, Paulo had assembled a proposal, including parts and requirements on both our parts. He had already obtained from Keiser a development kit and emulator from the manufacturer to simulate on his computer what a real M7i elliptical would act like when interacting with BLE sensors. He had begun generating code within a couple of hours.

First draft of code Paulo threw together while I was still loafing on my sofa.

A plan was put in place to use a pair of M5 stacks (ATOM Lite ESP32s would fit the bill, one for power emulation and one to send/receive data) with Paulo tending to the coding on his end and me dumping his firmware onto the M5s on mine. The biggest setback was the time involved in receiving the M5s from the manufacturer due to supply chain, shipping, or whatever issues there were. Yet, all told, within six weeks, hardware & software were ready for launch.

Except that I sucked at getting the M5s to sync up with my hardware and hit some other snags most easily attributed to general inexperience, incompetence, or what-have-you.

After a series of failures to understand what, exactly was going on on my end, we finally found success in getting the firmware installed and pairing up with the actual M7i.

A very ugly video edit, but it accomplished what it needed to.

Following this, we were able to figure out that SYSTM had some security issues when it came to MacOS and the M5 stacks, but Zwift worked just fine.

Zwift recognized the Keiser M7i (Nicknamed Keiser Söze because what else should it have been called?) right away.
Power & cadence were captured from the M5 stacks.
Using my old Zwift profile (and Tron bike), Nicholle was rolling from the comfort of her own wheelchair. Even if she appeared as a guy.

Once Nicholle was rolling in Zwift, the project was essentially finished from Paulo’s side of things. There’s still the hope that another set of M5s (still sitting in an envelope on a bedside table) can be set up to emulate a footpod for running in Zwift (Nicholle was always more of a runner than a cyclist, anyway), but, in the interim, there’s still the option of cycling in Zwift. (RGT, now part of the Wahoo family, seems to have the same issue that SYSTM does, in that Keiser Söze is detected but does not receive [or at least act on] data to put the avatar in motion.)

Right now, the M5s are plugged in to a mini USB hub, itself connected to a port on a charger. They rest easy on a nightstand and have no issues when the cat knocks them down, causing them to dangle over the edge; the entire setup is little more than a few grams.

Needing little power and having excellent transmission range in the house, the setup gets signal to the Apple TV setup in the room where the Keiser elliptical resides, allowing for a quick, easy setup to get moving each evening when I help Nicholle get strapped in for her sessions of ten minutes or more.

The whole process took roughly two months to complete, working around my & Paulo’s own jobs and lives in general on separate sides of the Atlantic. Just as Nicholle refuses to be stopped by everything MS throws her way—and MS does throw a lot—the process helped demonstrate to me and to the Flogging Pit community that we all have talents and can accomplish great things when we working together and communicating effectively.

We like to think of technology as anything with a circuit board and/or using software. But technology is really just the application of science—of knowledge—to solve a problem. Though this particular problem is quite unique and for a very specific audience, the joy it’s brought to a special someone in my own life is beyond measure.

Thanks for reading.


Varying Degrees

The idea for writing this first occurred to me in August of 2020, but it’s taken me until mid-May of 2022 to finally put the thoughts into words into sentences. Some things just take a bit of time.

Like my going to college—the first time.

College was just something that had not figured into much of the equation for my young life. No one in my family I knew had graduated college, and friends whose parents had been never talked with me about it. All I knew of college was the pictures of Texas A&M University adorning the walls of the pool room at the Floyd’s house. The whole process of applying and getting in and finding something to do with the rest of one’s life was as foreign to me as another continent—of another planet for that matter.

It had never occurred to me to ask my teachers because why would I? At that point I didn’t even know all of them had been, and, again, it never occurred to me to ask.

So I graduated high school in ignorance of post-secondary education and went off to join the Marines. It was there, at MCRD San Diego, that the bug was really planted by the base commander who lectured me and the other washouts who were cleaning his office one night that we should take the opportunity of getting out so young and to go to college.

(Because I, at the know-it-all age of 18, had told those at MCRD that I would not, in fact, change my MOS to marching band [instead of air traffic control] despite their insistence that I would—and that my JROTC paper work had not been forwarded, so my pay was half of what it was supposed to be—I was discharged as “failure to adapt to military lifestyle.” It is my greatest shame and my second-biggest mistake.)

Within a short amount of time I had enrolled in a community college, taking a few classes, but I was still as lost as I had been in high school, so I dropped out in nearly no time until L— convinced me to re-enroll and take classes with her at Palo Alto Community College. She even helped me pass the maths section of the requisite test with extensive tutoring so that I could stay in college and start to find my way as a major in the management of information systems.

After several starts and stops with classes due to failed attempts to salvage my young marriage, I finally found my footing in August of 1998, finishing a summer semester with all As and thinking I knew how to go about things.

Then the shooting at Columbine High School happened in April of 1999, and I found myself dropping the MIS degree plan and going solely for a degree in English with the intent to teach at the secondary level. (I had added English as a second major at the behest of my Freshman Comp II professor, Dr. Raphael Castillo. He was & remains one of my favorite teachers ever, in the company of Mr. Jim Thompson, my 11th grade English teacher.)

My first degree was the associate’s in arts with a focus in English, which allowed me to transfer to the University of Texas at San Antonio. The newly-opened Texas A&M campus in San Antonio was not just yet offering English degrees, so it was off to the north side of San Antonio with me.

And it was a great school with great people and experiences and all the other trappings of college life, save that of parties and dorm life and the like. And it was cheaper than TLU, where I had contemplated switching to after my first semester at UTSA.

My college experience was atypical in those and many other regards, but it was one I don’t think I would have traded for anything. It kept me busy, engaging my mind in myriad ways until I graduated with a BA in English in the spring of 2003. I began teaching English the following year, first at a middle school across town and then, a couple of years later, at the high school level in the district of the community where I had grown up and still lived.

In the summer of 2010, I found myself sitting in the office of one of the district’s instructional technologists who was away on holiday, tending to something involving removable media (what escapes memory but is inconsequential, I’m sure) and found myself gazing at his master’s degree in instructional technology hanging on the wall of his office. After completing my first Ironman in Coure de’Alene, Idaho, the previous summer, I had mulled over what my next challenge should be and had decided on graduate school, though not in school administration or leadership; I should play to my strengths. Scott’s diploma hanging on the wall solidified my decision to aim for instructional technology, as well. So I did.

Three years, a new house, one kid, and another Ironman later, I had my own master’s degree from Texas A&M Kingsville. Landing a position where I could put the degree to its fullest use (having a master’s degree, alone, earned a little pay increase from the school district) would prove significantly more challenging and time-consuming.

The first serious prospect (and offer) was from the Texas A&M School of Pharmacy, also housed on the campus in Kingsville. Unlike my degree plan, however, that was completely remote—my first time on campus was for commencement—the position with the School of Pharmacy would require a relocation to Kingsville, something we, as a family, could not commit to given the proximity of quality care for Nicholle’s MS progression, to say nothing of the challenges awaiting us as vegetarians living in a community thriving on barbecue.

Other interviews from local entities, including my own district, yielded no success other than experience with interviews. I kept just coming up short with successfully landing a position to make full use of my degrees, both of which hung in nice frames, complete with anti-glare glass.

When I moved into a classroom in the main building of my alma mater and teaching home, instructions were made that any decorations should be hung on the wall using Command hooks from 3M to avoid damaging paint or whatnot. So I hung my stuff, including my framed diplomas, on the wall using Command hooks on the wall at the back of the classroom. It was on the same wall as the door, which would prove to have disastrous results.

Between the weight of the frames and the minute vibrations of the wall each time the classroom door closed (or lockers on the other side of the wall slammed shut), the Command hooks simply failed, and my diplomas came smashing down as I set up my classroom for the year one August afternoon in 2020.

A smashing failure of varying degrees.

I found the results telling about where I was in my life, personally and professionally. Like many middle-aged men, my life was not turning out quite like I had anticipated—certainly not as I had planned, and, as a Type A person, I was quite the planner. The shattered glass just seemed to solidify the notion that I had set out to do would not come to pass.

Two years and change later, such is still the case—most recently failing even to gain even an interview for an instructional technologist position, despite meeting or exceeding every one of the minimum & preferred qualifications posted.

As a teacher, I endeavor to help my students find their way and find answers to questions they may not know to ask. I make every effort I can to help them avoid the mistakes I made in high school, but, as one who—in regards to age and other attributes—on par with many of my students’ parents, “getting through” provides its own challenges.

But still I try. Just as I continue to try to find a way to make continued use of my BA in English and (especially) my MS in instructional technology.

But perhaps it’s merely time to truly follow the advice of one older and wiser than I.

Thanks for reading.

NaNoWriMo 2021 Uncategorized

No. Thirty.

Before the incident in the pond, Cody had been feeling more invincible than the average cat.

He had journeyed the farthest from home he ever had and found shelter—with some help. He had made friends across species and learned to forage when food was scarce—with some help. He had defeated a powerful, fearsome foe—with some help. And he had escaped drowning in a muddy pool—with some help.

As fiercely independent as he liked to think he was, every element of his journey to confront and defeat the owl—and its epilogue—were all only possible because of assistance from others. Even the food he had learned to forage from the trash was there because of others. He and his raccoon friends were just doing their part to help keep more from going into landfills.

Cody had truly come to enjoy it in this wooded eden, but as a cat that couldn’t swim or do much else entirely on his own, and he could not distract himself from it. He came to recognize his utter dependence on others for even the simplest of things it seemed, and this notion bored into his brain as he slinked back from the site of his near-drowning, fur still soaked and muddied. As he stopped to again shake himself, recognition of the fact that he would never be completely cleansed from this baptism in the woods sank in. He knew that he needed to go back home. He knew he would have to leave soon. He didn’t know how many of his nine lives he had left.

Cody also did not know how long he had been gone. It was long enough to have been trapped by snow and have it melt, making the earth again warm and wet and viridescent. Dozens of sunrises and sunsets were entirely plausible, and he found himself nervous of if his person would even accept him back into the home. And then what? Back to waiting for food, he guessed. Sure, it could grow irksome if he had played particularly hard that morning or evening, but at least the presence of food was reliable.

And maybe he would still get to venture outside every now and again. Perhaps take a day trip with Fenswick someplace?

The possibilities seemed very likely and very real, so he set it in his mind he would leave at the next sunrise. One last evening with the raccoons and Fenswick before departing home.

At last, he was at the park, and found the raccoons having their picnic from the remains of the birthday picnic that had been held there a few hours earlier. Ralph and Roderick were on the ground, gorging themselves on cantelope while Reginald, and Regina were both buried in the trashcan up to their haunches, legs hooked around the rim for support. While the other two munched, they continued to dig out more than half of a birthday cake and a seemingly endless quantity of torn hamburger and hotdog buns.

“Yes, my fellow veiled varmints—I have it!” Reginald exclaimed, emerging with a broken sphere covered in colorful crêpe. “I give you: The piñata!”

Regina brought herself up out of the trashcan, huffing excitedly, “Oh, you have it, do you? All by yourself, then?”

“Well, Regina,” Reginald began, pausing to choose his words carefully, “you see, it’s—oh, good heavens, what happened to you?”

He dropped the piñata back into the trash and hopped down, scampering across the ground to Cody.

“Dear Cody, what on earth happened?” Reginald was shocked and concerned to see that cat covered in drying mud, matted and sticky in various patches on its body.

“I’m fine, Reg,” Cody said, stopping to vainly lick the bits of fur he could reach. “I just lost my balance and fell into a pool between two boulders.”

“I told you going into that part of the woods was not a good idea,” Roderick said, shaking a small piece of cantelope at the cat.

“You did?” the other three raccoons inquired at the same moment.

“Well, not in those exact words,” replied Roderick, “but I did say he should stick with us.”

“That you did, Roderick,” said Cody. “That you did. And I’m afraid I have some more bad news,” he began.

“Wait, where’s Fenswick?” asked Reginald, again alert and looking about in worry. “He didn’t fall in with you, did he?”

“No, no,” Cody said, calming Reginald. “He’s still napping in the persimmon tree near the pond. I think he’s come to claim that as his own after we evicted that owl.”

“There was no ‘we,’ Cody,” said Ralph. “You did that all on your own.”

“No, no…” said Cody trailing off with his words.

“But you did,” Regina said, reassuringly. “We were all there.”

“No,” Cody said, more firmly this time. “That’s just it: You were all there. You, Fenswick, Whale—”

“Whale?” inquired all four raccoons in unison.

“There’s a whale living in our woods?” Roderick asked, peering around Cody, almost expecting to see a hundred ton whale hiding behind a tree.

Cody chuckled, “No, not a whale. Whale was the name I gave the turtle that saved me from drowning earlier today.”

“Ohhhh,” the raccoon quartet said, understanding Cody.

“It just made me realize that I’m unable to really do anything on my own, and I think it best that I head back to my person,” continued Cody. “And my person’s home. I just hope to still have a home there.” He sounded said.

“Well, dear Cody,” began Reginald, sniffling a bit, “you’ll always have a home here with us.

“Here, here!” piped up Roderick and Regina.

“Fine,” muttered Ralph. “Here, here.”

Roderick brought them all back to focus: “Then let’s get that piñata out from the confines of the trashcan and have ourselves one grand celebration!”

“Hurrah!” they all shouted.

“Hurrah!” said Fenswick. “What happened to you, Cody? And what are we celebrating?”

“Fenswick, my friend,” said Cody, “I had a bit of a spill and subsequent epiphany. Come, let me tell you all about it over whatever this is that Reginald and Regina have just pulled out of the trash.”

As the sun set, the animals continued to feast, including Fenswick, safe in the company of his friends, comfortable in the knowledge than an owl would not be swooping down to clutch him away from all that he loved.

The morning sun spread its brilliance across Cody’s face through the shudders. The warmth of the sunlight—muted through special film the humans had put on the windows somewhat recently—was still pleasing and reminded him of his months spent in the wilderness with a squirrel and four raccoons. And a whale of a turtle, too.

His roommates didn’t believe a word of his story—how he had not only learned to speak squirrel but had also made friends with one and journeyed far from their home to live among raccoons, surviving a snowstorm, and fight an owl only to later almost drown and be saved by a turtle—preferring to tease that Cody had been picked up by animal control. They further teased that the person of the house had been oblivious to his absence, but Cody knew that wasn’t true. He had seen the paper rectangles with his picture and words and numbers plastered all around the neighborhood when he and Fenswick had entered, as well as in the house. Dozens of extra copies were still in the room with all the books, ready to be sent to the far reaches of the suburbs, all in the hopes of finding a single cat.

All of this brought Cody happiness in the ensuing days when he thought of adventures to be had out of doors and sadness poked its head about. But the best happiness came the following evening, which was remarkable cool for so late in the spring. Cody was in a windowsill, watching shadows grow and cover the back yard just as the snow had covered the wooded area in the wake of the disappearance of his bunny, of the finding of the feather and half-a-doughnut, of the befriending of a squirrel, when a flash of contrasting brown against the khaki of the fenceposts caught his eye and riveted his attention: A bunny.

It wasn’t the same bunny as before—Cody knew that. But it was a bunny, and it was his to watch and love and enjoy. He knew that, too.