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Dear Joe

When first I called you some weeks ago, I was limping home from yet another run gone bad. My calf had again cramped at less than two miles in, and I found myself at wits end, theorizing over what could be causing such debilitation in my aged-yet-not-that-old-just-yet legs.

So I called for a bike fit.

Of course, Retül was the tool of choice, but our schedules would not allow, so you agreed to make a house call and see about better fitting me to my bike.

This wasn’t my first rodeo with a bike fitter but was when it came to biomechanics to the degree your degree and experience informed you. And I am so glad it did.

After some two hours of motion observation, wrestling with a stuck seat post, and fitting me to not just one but two road bikes, the everything seemed to be set in place for a more comfortable, more engaged & engaging fit on the bike, outdoors & in. there were even PT exercises prescribed to get me back into better shape on the bike, as well as off; that was, after all, the catalyst for calling you in the first place.

Since that last pain-riddled run, I’ve not run, though I have bought new running shoes, eschewing the suggested four millimeters of drop for the zero drop that has worked so well for me these past ten or more years. There is a bit more cushioning on the shoe to better match my own increased cushioning. But that’s a work in progress.

Today, I wrapped up a week-long effort on the indoor trainer, the annual Tour of Sufferlandria from The Sufferfest. The seven consecutive days of 60+ minutes on the bike trainer ramped up almost 200 miles, and I don’t think I’ve felt better since last February’s ToS. Consequently, I think I’m ready to go for a run.


So I went for a run, and what a run it was—even if it was only four miles and change.

I didn’t set any new speed records (PR or OQT or anything else), but I did make it over that two-mile barrier I’d been unable to cross since the calendar flipped over from 2020 to 2021. I’ll not lie and say it was entirely pain-free (legs screaming from Tour of Sufferlandria, lungs screaming from fresh, cold air), though I will say it was the best run I’ve had all year.

So thank you, Joe.

For the bike fit, for the recommendations & exercises, for taking the time to not exactly teach an old dog new tricks but to teach this one how to adapt in order to keep running—figuratively and literally.

Oh, and thanks for reading.

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Not Any Easier. Just…Faster.

Looking back, 2011 was a phenomenal year. Life was so much better, so much simpler.

There was no pandemic, kids (and all that’s involved with raising them properly entails) hadn’t yet entered the picture, and MS had not robbed Nicholle of the ability to walk; she, in fact was using her recently completed master’s degree to further her career, herself, and thereby us. We had also closed on our own house and were loving it. The most complicated it was had to do with finding time to train for the inaugural Ironman Texas. But, even then, that minor inconvenience all seemed to snap together.

Following the end of swim season, I & a co-worker rode our bikes up to Austin on a cold, rainy Saturday, and I ran the Austin Marathon cold (no focused marathon training), finishing a full minute faster than I had the day before. A few weeks later, the student teacher I had been assigned was ready for her solo stint in the classroom; if there were no classes for me to cover or “other duties as required” to tend to, I was able to hit the weight room or go for a run around the campus during the day and get in long bike rides or swims in the afternoon and evening. By the time IMTX rolled around, I was in some of the best shape of my life and had a heck of a strong finish: 11:16:09, almost a full hour faster than Ironman Coeur d’Alene two years prior.

The next day, Nicholle & I learned we were expecting our first kid, who would be born the following January. Another would be born in 2015, and then our entire world would be rocked in 2016 when a near-fatal infection began to exacerbate Nicholle’s MS diagnosis to take away her ability to run, to walk, to be independent in the sense that most “normal” people live their lives. More and more responsibilities transferred to me, including transitioning Nicholle in and out of bed at night and again in the morning. By the end of 2019, she would be in a wheelchair, unable to even hobble around with a rollator, manipulating physics to swing her hips side to side, forcing her legs into (relative) motion, as she had done the past two years.

Though I managed to finish another Ironman (Arizona) in 2016, my finishing time wasn’t to my liking, nor was how I felt pre- & post-race, to say nothing of actually during the race. After my return home in the wee hours of the morning the day after the race, I fell asleep on the sofa (Nicholle & I could no longer sleep in the same bed, as disease progression meant she needed more space and less heat in close proximity), crying myself to sleep. It was awful.

Things continued to decline the next few years.

But now it’s ten years later, 2021. The year after the year that we thought sucked more than any other year in the history of years.

By most accounts, this first month-and-a-half has been anything but stellar follow-up: Complications with MS management and the ongoing pandemic and the winter storm(s?) ravaging Texas, resulting in lots of snow & sub-freezing temperatures, bringing about intermittent power outages and other complications; yeah, it’s sucked.

But in a way, it’s actually been kind of OK, thanks again to The Sufferfest.

The annual Tour of Sufferlandria has been this week, and I was initially concerned, but, then, things just began to fall together.

I mean, there’s the 50-hour timeframe that is the Sufferlandrian day, but even that made some of the double-header stages seem more challenging or less likely to happen. Factor into that rolling blackouts brought about by Snowpocalypse 2021 (and ERCOT’s lack of foresight & planning for cold weather they knew was coming), and the 2021 ToS was proving to be nearly impossible. But then that same weather caused the cancellation of school (ergo work) one day, then another, then another, and then: The entire week.

In spite of the rolling blackouts, I was able to use my smartphone to run The Sufferfest and pause the workout if the power went out; once it came back up: Resume the workout and finish as usual. Double-headers were still a challenge, but that was only one day. By today (Thursday), everything was more or less back to normal with reliable electricity (keeping ours in moderation so as to not overwhelm the grid, natch), connectivity to the interwebs, and everything else to live a lifestyle accustomed to in these United States.

This is not to discount the enormous suffering so many have experienced in concert with my own semi-blissful state of life at home with the family (Probably our worst came with Nicholle getting stranded in her electric recliner for a few hours.); no doubt, others have been far less fortunate. With reliable power/connectivity, I’ve been able to check in on my students, ensuring they are OK, and offering assistance if needed. Fortunately, all who have checked in have been fairing about as well as I have with sufficient food, shelter, power, and running water to get by with minimal inconvenience. Some even worked on (non-mandated) assignments to stay busy.

Winning.

Of course, 2021 hasn’t been even close to on par with the phenomenal year as 2011, but it’s been manageable. Life with the unpredictability MS ushers in has enabled me to be more accustomed to uncertainty, and even thriving where others might struggle. But that’s kind of what cycling does, too. To borrow from legendary cyclist Greg LeMond:

Life has been throwing a lot of stuff at us these past 13 or so months, but I guess life is always throwing a lot of stuff at us. Much like in cyclinging and The Sufferfest and so much more, what we do with what gets thrown at us determines our future: Sure, we can whine, we can complain. Or we can HTFU and do the best with what’s been handed to us. It’s likely to be uncomfortable. It’s likely to suck a little or a lot. But it’s also likely to make things better for the time(s) to come.

And, just like 2021 has taught us: If you thought 2020 was tough, just wait.

Thanks for reading.

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Narrative Writing Practice

“I don’t know why they keep listing my name and number with these things.”

It wasn’t quite the warm welcome, hey-come-ride-with-us response I was expecting when I called to learn about the Thursday Night Ride from the Old Bracken fire station off 2252.

I had owned my GT Force for a few weeks and had been venturing out on increasingly longer rides ever since and had finally worked up the nerve, the courage, the endurance to go ride with a group of cyclists—a peloton, the French word for “platoon” used in pro cycling for the mass of riders who work in support of one another to make it through the miles. 

Only I didn’t have near the endurance I would need.

When I arrived at the old Bracken fire station (I say “old” because their new facility was far larger and nicer and located several miles away; the old part of Bracken was now the city of Garden Ridge, and the amount of bracken in the area was quickly diminishing to make way for houses and businesses and schools), the field where we would park was full of cars and ordinary people, fresh from their day jobs, transformed into something extraordinary thanks to the marvels of Lycra and Spandex, helmets and sunglasses. Each had a bike worth more than the car I was driving.

Hurriedly, I leaped out of my car, unstrapped my bike from its rack, checked air pressure, and threw on my own helmet and sunglasses; I was no longer a mild-mannered computer technician: I was now a cyclist. A real cyclist heading out on a real bike ride with other real cyclists—and many were already heading out, so I followed the lead, tucking away the notion that so many were still in the field as I tucked in with the group.

Cyclists, as I would later learn, are a snobbish group of folk, due in no small part to the extremes of the sport, be it cost of bike or the miles ridden on said bike. This group was no exception, uttering not a word as a mile ticked by, then another, then another. Rocketing down the roadway (the bike speedometer read 21-point-something miles per hour—faster than I’d ever gone before), I knew where I was but was getting to experience the familiar in a whole new way, mentally making note of which was we were turning so I could later explore these same roads on my own or with hypothetical other friends I’d make through this new sport. But that didn’t last long, and, before I realized, we were in an unfamiliar area, where, to paraphrase U2, the roads had no names—or at least no name that was visible by street signs.

After another left, the pace intensified, and the roadway darkened as the foliage flanking the roadway itself intensified, reaching towards the sky like mitted hands hiding the sky save for a sliver. Balancing myself on a sliver of rubber some two centimeters wide at more than 20 miles per hour I knew this was what I had wanted when I reintroduced myself to cycling. It was thrilling to be zipping along the backroads between here and New Braunfels with so many strangers, and I glanced up as we swung right on the road and a railroad bridge came into view. Beyond that was a wall of gray as the road seemingly disappeared.

The part of Texas where I live and ride is known as the gateway or foothills to the Texas Hill Country, a topographical tangle of rises and falls in altitude. While not quite mountainous, the Hill Country and its outlying area are nothing to take lightly, especially if traveling by foot or by bike, as I was as I slammed into a twenty-four percent grade hill and the fast friends I naively imagined I had made demonstrated just how fast they were and I was not. Like a balloon tethered to the ground, my legs refused to turn as I became instantly aware of what it meant to be “overgeared” on a bike; I stayed put and the peloton floated away up the hill and away out of sight. I would not see them again.

Alone on the side of the road, gasping for breath like a fish out of water, I realized just how like a fish out of water I was. Though I wanted to think I was in my element, I certainly was not, so I began walking my bike up the hill in search of flatter earth to remount and pedal on in hopes of finding where it was I was supposed to go. In those days, there was no GPS, and there were no maps provided for the weeknight rides. But there was the sun, and it would be setting somewhat soon.

The ride was advertised as an “out and back” to New Braunfels and back again, and I knew how to get to New Braunfels and back—even on backroads, providing I could find one of the countless pathways that crisscrossed like so many arteries and veins making up this semi-remote part of south Texas, the lifeblood of farmers and ranchers allowing them to network their way in and out of neighboring towns and markets. I just needed to find one of these roads I recognized.

After a near eternity of twisting my way up a snake of a road, I happened upon FM 1863, a fork in the road that could take me back towards my car (albeit the long way) or on a shorter jaunt into New Braunfels. Because I needed to replenish my fluids, I opted for the latter in order to pop into the first gas station I came across and get what I needed to make my way back, like a dog: Head hung low, tail between its legs.

FM 1863 blasts down a hill into the outskirts of New Braunfels near Landa Park on a 5-lane stretch of some of the smoothest pavement this side of NASCAR. It was on this stretch I descended towards the Shell station that would serve as my salvation for not only fluids but also company: There were other cyclists congregated, ready to resume the ride back home. 

After a quick refill of both bottles, I managed to bolt out of the gas station in time to mount my bike and catch up with this slower-moving pack of cyclists for the ride back home. Here I would learn about the two groups to leave on weeknight rides (the “A” group left first and had an average speed in excess of 20 miles per hour, regardless of terrain, while the “B” group left a bit later and was a bit more lackadaisical; it would take me another almost a full year to work my way up being able to hang with the “A” group) and assorted other nuggets of knowledge needed for surviving group bike rides. I would also meet Laura and her husband JF for the first time. Their company and mentorship would guide me over thousands of miles and hundreds of hours on two wheels, on road and off.

Turns out there’s a lot to know about riding a bike, at least in the group environment. And while this first group ride I went on some twenty years ago remains fresh in my mind, as though it happened recently, there are other impressions left elsewhere on me, in me that are even fresher, even stronger. The disclaimer given on group rides (organized or not) is that it is incumbent on the cyclist to know his/her way; he/she needs to know what they are doing. And, sure, that makes sense: We all need to have some semblance of responsibility. But that’s not entirely how I choose to roll.

Since getting dropped on that ride, I’ve managed to work my way up to being a somewhat decent cyclist (note: I still get dropped by the countless cyclists in the area who are so much faster than me) through hours on the bike, outdoors & in, as well as cross training with weights, running, and rowing. Since getting dropped on that ride, I’ve made it a mission to, when on a group ride, to ensure I know if someone who intentionally or inadvertently takes off with a group that’s faster than they’re used to riding that they know where they’re going, they know what they’re doing. Since getting dropped on that ride, I’ve become somewhat of a super domestique, a workhorse for others in the peloton to help bridge gaps between groups of riders, to help those who would otherwise be lost and suffer along the road alone. Doing so has garnered respect from fellow riders while expanding the circle of those I call friends and fellow riders. Indirectly, getting dropped on that ride put into motion a chain of events, a series of relations that would lead me to meeting the woman who would agree to marry me. 

There have been adventures. There has been heartache. And since she’s developed MS and can no longer ride or run or even keep pace with daily activities so many of us take for granted, getting dropped on that ride has fortified in me the fortitude to do what I must so that she doesn’t get dropped. 
I attempt to take the same tack with my students at school, serving as domestique to get them what they need, readying them for their turn to pull at the front, so we can all make it through the months that make up the school year and not get dropped in the race that is life.

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Through October

Swim season was always tough.

Getting started with each school year is always tough to do—readjusting to routines, creating/executing lesson plans—but coaching swim added a whole new level.

The lack of a swimming pool meant we had to borrow lane time from the district next door, which meant 4:45 AM practices, which meant 4:00 AM wakeup calls in order to pick up the bus, then the kids who needed a ride, then coach for 90 minutes, then work a full day before getting home to be husband and later dad, entailing a whole slew of other activities. To say it was exhausting was an understatement. Some nights, I was in bed as early as 7:30 or 8:00.

And then the meets would start.

The first meet was typically held at the end of September with biweekly meets for the next several weeks, meaning that October was an extremely hectic and hurried month. And every year, Nicholle and I would feel the turning of the screw, the tightening of the stress on us as the days and weeks would wear on. Our (own) kids would feel it too, either directly or indirectly by my not being home or, when I was home, being too exhausted to be anything more than a collapsed lump on the sofa or bed; take your pick.

And every year, Nicholle & I would repeat what became our mantra:

Make it through October.

Weighing in at a full 31 days, October is considered by many to be their favorite month. And why not? Cooler weather, sports seasons underway, pumpkin spice everything, and Halloween (or Reformation Day for some) tops it all off.

But it was the stress of swim meets, a new house, Nicholle’s new diagnosis with MS, and, eventually a new baby that just really compounded things, giving rise to the mantra, the drive to just makeit through October.

Not that November presented itself as a finish line of any sort. Quite the contrary, life was every bit as stressful, but it was just knowing we would make (or had made) it through such a challenging time that made it seem worthwhile to promote October to some sort of a benchmark.

Maybe it’s because, as the tenth month, it grants October that glimpse of the good that is to come, kind of like mile 20 in a marathon—regardless of if that marathon is tacked on at the tail end of an Ironman: Even though it’s way past the halfway point, it’s not until you get to that twentieth mile that you’ve overcome the wall that is mile 18 and realize you’ve only a 10k to go until the finish.

I recognize that on the other side of October is a whole lot of school year, but, right now, this is all about making it through 2020. Teacher or student or parent or anybody else, 2020 has been a godawful year if ever there has been one in recent memory.

Like many other things this year, making it through October 2020 will prove especially daunting. Heck, making it to October 2020 was a challenge in and of itself, and no time was wasted on showing just how grueling of a month it was gearing up to be. From the president contracting COVID19 to missing out on even a virtual Bike MS to my own sheer exhaustion (I left work early on Monday because I could not stand for more than five minutes; I began writing this post in an exam room of my GP, waiting for my own COVID screening; it eventually came back negative), I’m feeling pretty done with 2020. With a lot of things.

But those are just feelings, and feelings will pass, feelings will fade.

I just need to make it through October.

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A Mile

Native American Bison Hide Moccasin Photograph by Millard H. Sharp

A month or two ago, I babbled about heading Into the Unknown with reporting for the start of the school year and how, as a professional educator, it was something that I and my colleagues would just do because, again, we’re professional educators.

But we’re still human.

Now four-ish weeks and two confirmed cases of covid amongst school personnel on my campus (none of which are purported to have had direct contact with other faculty members and/or students—which isn’t all too reassuring, given how long the virus can survive on sundry surfaces, coupled with the all but careless handling of everything from masks to food to touching things I’ve observed in my comings & goings) in, I’m not ready to completely eschew what I wrote but am given pause to reflect on not only my station in life but also my own mortality. Many of my fellow teachers have, too, in addition to pondering just how on earth we’re going to get done all the things we have to get done.

I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been in the education game for some fifteen or sixteen years now, have a master’s degree, or somehow give give the impression I know what I’m doing and/or talking about—or maybe because some find me “approachable” (teachers, right?)—I find myself as audience to others on almost a daily basis now.

Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy listening to my colleagues. I literally am here/there for them anytime they need an open ear. Heaven knows I’ve agonized them excessively with all the struggles I and my family have experienced over the past few years as Nicholle’s MS symptoms have worsened, her health declined, and all joy not stocked up in our children sucked clean out of life, so to listen to their concerns over the present struggles over the present situation is naught but part of what I am here/there to do.

Only this year, it’s been a lot more than usual; as I mentioned, it’s almost daily. Sometimes multiple times a day. And—this is new—sometimes tears are involved.

It’s not just one or two teachers, either, nor is it the same teacher, nor is it the new teacher who’s trying to figure out if they made a bad choice in profession.

These are supremely educated colleagues who are literal experts in their fields, at what they do. But what they do has produced more challenges in these first few weeks than several years’ worth of teaching ever did. And, yes, “challenges” is a euphemism.

This isn’t a situation isolated to just my campus, just my district. I’ve friends across the country in the education game and follow others on social media, so I’ve heard of, read of, experienced folk in the education game either experiencing for themselves or knowing first-hand someone who is experiencing…

  • Stress eating
  • Stress drinking
  • Weight gain/loss not necessarily related to above
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Exacerbated symptoms associated with chronic illnesses, such as asthma, diabetes, and so on
  • Excessive doom scrolling
  • Inability to stick to a schedule or plan for one—even if planners themselves (these are teachers, ya know)
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Considering leaving the teaching profession

I get it: Everyone is struggling, everyone is hurting, but when seasoned professionals, veterans (often in both military and school service) are having a difficult time in soldiering on each day, keeping pace with the demands of in-person and remote learners, as well as providing support to parents and responding to their questions—to say nothing of juggling an attendance and grading interface that shuffles students daily—it gets to be a bit much. And it doesn’t look like it’s going to get much better anytime soon.

With an increasing false sense of security with restaurants and bars and sports again reopening (I type this from my office annex while streaming a replay from today’s stage of the Tour de France—a race typically held in July but delayed twice with strict restrictions in place—restrictions that still didn’t keep the race director himself from contracting covid19), to say nothing to the fact that so many Americans either won’t or don’t wear a mask in public and/or take other precautions to keep themselves and their countrymen/women safe, I’m not entirely optimistic of how the fall is shaping up. Labor Day weekend was just a week ago. Coast-to-coast natural disasters, including some in the middle, are causing some folk to move when they wouldn’t normally, causing fluctuations in population all over. Oh, and it’s almost flu season, too.

This is not an easy time for anyone. This an especially hard time for teachers because we’re supposed to be the ones with the unbreakable poker faces. Schools are one of those institutions to be counted on to always have their collective acts together to support the community at any point in the game.

For a good chunk of my adult life, I’ve been an endurance athlete. I’ve done countless triathlons of varying distances, run and paced many half and full marathons, ridden my bike (indoors and out) thousands of miles each year, and have persevered with my wife through the struggles and challenges of multiple sclerosis, so it might seem that I’m at a unique advantage to handling the endurance event that is covid19. But even I’m not as strong as I used to be. The miles don’t tick by quite like they used to.

Rather than muse or wax over why (age, decreased mileage due to increased demands on my time by others, environmental factors, etc.), I’m just going to reflect on this sign my great-uncle & great-aunt had on their kitchen wall that said to the effect of…

Do not judge a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins.

Same goes for women, natch. And children, too. And everyone, to be honest.

We’re all suffering, we’re all challenged. If you find or feel your suffering is impacting you more than you can handle, please, seek help. Find someone who will listen, preferably a professional. But my door in B227 is most always open, and so is DM on Twitter. Take care of yourself, because this is really hard. But I think you’re doing great.

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And Even the Heavens Did Weep

The sky finally opened tonight, albeit only somewhat, seeping through some of the rain that had been building, teasing this parched parcel of Earth for so many days.

It wasn’t a deluge, nor was it a even much of a pattering of drops on shingles, a soft percussion to the harshness of the past near-two hundred of days. It wasn’t any of these, nor was it any of the other numbered types of rain Douglas Adams depicted in So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish. It certainly wasn’t Type17, that’s for sure.

No, tonight, when the clouds could take no more, they merely revealed their fault lines, traceable through the moisture slipping through those cracks and falling to earth, moistening the ground, as an eye tears when the wind is just so. But, despite the distant thunder, there was little wind, little much of anything, save a little bit of rain.

And yet it seemed sufficient, those sundry drops somehow satisfying the thirst of those below. It wasn’t the need to saturate the ground to make the crops grow or refill the aquifer so much as it was the need to simply relieve the pressure that had been building, literally and figuratively, knowing what was inevitable but just on some precipice unknown—what it is that keeps us up nights despite knowing the nourishment sleep can bring to mind and body but staying up anyway, worrying unnecessarily. An uncomfortable tension between two forces at odds with one another until both just succumb and let happen what we are powerless to keep from happening.

Sometimes, even the sky just needs a good cry.

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Into the Unknown

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

GORKON: I offer a toast. …The undiscovered country, …the future.

ALL: The undiscovered country.

SPOCK: Hamlet, act three, scene one.

GORKON: You have not experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon.

CHANG: (in Klingonese) ‘To be or not to be.’

http://www.chakoteya.net/movies/movie6.html

As the youngest of my folks’ kids, there wasn’t often I didn’t have a guide of some sort. To call my sister a role model would be an almost gross exaggeration of how I perceived her; “cautionary tale” would be much more accurate.

For example, when she, again, was busted one evening for breaking curfew, she screamed out how “Mr. Perfect” (her sarcastic nickname for how she felt my parents perceived me—though she wasn’t exactly wrong) also broke curfew; I just never got caught. After her grounding and being sent to her room, I entered in the guise of being the kind, concerned kid brother. Instead, I just let her know that her methodology was all wrong: When coming in late, one should never go through the primary entrances of the doorways, both of which led through the living room. After all, even if our light sleeper of a mother wasn’t waiting in her recliner, the shifts in air pressure by opening/closing the doors would alert her that someone was either coming or going. Instead, I offered, go through the windows.

Throughout most of my life, I’ve looked at what others have done in order to gauge how my own efforts should go. This has gone through both the example of my sister or other elders, reading academic and anecdotal literature (and I use the term loosely), or even pictures. It’s not that I have a fear of the unknown; I just like to know what I’m up against and how to achieve optimal results. So just imagine how I am with all of the unknowns associated with covid19.

From as early as January and February, when reports of a novel new virus had appeared in China and was starting to spread, N— and I began discussing plans; we’re like that. We made an ATM withdrawal to keep cash on hand and began limiting our outings. Observations of declining stock levels of some foods (frozen waffles, for example) and other items made it clear that something was happening. It just hadn’t happened here. Yet.

Frozen waffles were among the first covid19 casualties at the local super.

By March, we were no longer being social with anyone and decided to not visit the gym. Then the schools closed. First, for a week, then another, then for the year. By then, we’d secured devices for the kids’ remote learning and had a makeshift office set up in the main bedroom’s closet, affectionately dubbed the annex, complete with my own megadesk…err…workspace.

My own take on megadesk. And, no, I don’t have enough coffee. Further, you cannot use my stapler; it’s mine.

So now it’s July, and things are starting to take shape for the 2020-21 school year. By that, I mean everyone from my own superintendent all the way up the President (yeah, that guy) has said schools will be open this fall. Trouble is, guidelines just came out a couple of days ago and have led to more questions than they answer. Things are further muddied when realizing that the Texas Education Agency (the entity releasing those guidelines) are, themselves, quarantined at home and will not return to their offices until January 2021. They, like most other policy makers, are handling things remotely.

But students, custodians, teachers, counselors, administrators, and the rest of the countless cast of characters that make a school function, are expected to report for duty in a few weeks’ time.

And we will. Because that’s what we do: When students have a need, we as professional educators find it in ourselves to do what we need to do.

Are we anxious? Nervous? Scared, even? Probably a mix of those things. Myself, I am all of those things—not so much for myself but what it could mean for my immunocompromised wife and, by extension, the family unit as a whole. We have made tremendous sacrifice these past several months in order to keep our house’s microbiome as unaltered as possible, thereby keeping N— safe. Or safer, anyway.

In Act III, Scene 1 of Hamlet, the title character muses over the matter of death—the ultimate known—making reference to it as “the undiscovered country”:

But that the dread of something after death,

The undiscover’d country from whose bourn

No traveller returns […]

http://shakespeare.mit.edu/hamlet/hamlet.3.1.html

While I am not fearful that I’m going to die (my affairs are more or less in order) when returning to school next month, I acknowledge there is a lot that is unknown or, at best, unclear. Exploration is aided by having the appropriate tools, including a willingness to explore. Hamlet further espouses this when, a few lines down says:

And thus the native hue of resolution

Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,

And enterprises of great pith and moment

With this regard their currents turn awry,

And lose the name of action

http://shakespeare.mit.edu/hamlet/hamlet.3.1.html

So, come Monday, I’ll be helping the curriculum team with writing lessons for in-person and remote learning to help myself and my colleagues be ready to adapt to the ever-changing situation in which we—and our students and our families and our communities—find ourselves.

It’s what we do: We teach. We mold the present to prepare for a future, even if so much of it is unknown.

Ready? Off we go.

Thanks for reading.

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Da Bears

To say that 2020 has been a stressful year is as extreme of an understatement as can be made. Between the nation’s myriad crises and no adults appearing to be in charge—all mixed with the regular MS-related mishaps—it was spot on that even my watch recognized that I was, am living my stressed life ever.

Social media notwithstanding, the internet offers a wonderful source of solace, thanks to YouTube.

Of the countless accounts or channels or whatever they’ve been branded as of late, is a series from Explore, an entity existing to offer a glimpse into animals from eagles to dogs to kitties to whales to bears.

Before quarantine was a consideration, I spent much of my youth in social isolation given the small size of my town and the even more restrictive location of the “subdivision” (before subdivisions were a thing in this particular suburb). The lack of a driver’s license, coupled with a lack of income—and to say nothing of my own social awkwardness—it was all but guaranteed that every night, including Saturdays, would be spent at home, comforted by the soft glow of the television screen and whatever happened to be broadcast on the paltry few dozen local & cable TV channels. Fortunately, one of those things was Saturday Night Live.

Though I was familiar with earlier sketches and cast members, my own indoctrination in following SNL would come in the heyday of the likes of Dana Carvey, Jan Hooks, Mike Myers, and Dennis Miller; later, Adam Sandler, Chris Farley, David Spade. It was this latter group that brought up the “Bill Swerski’s Superfans” skit. Consequently, like so many other people my age, I cannot make any reference to bears without saying in a heavy, Chicago-ish accent, “da bears.”

A ledge appearing to be a little more than one meter in height creates Brooks Falls on the Brooks River on the peninsula in southern Alaska. The river serves as a connector between Lake Brooks and Nanek Lake, making up a gloriously scenic portion of Katmai National Park & Preserve. Fortunately for those unable to travel to Alaska (such as myself, despite childhood dreams of one day living in the largest state), Explore and the National Parks Service teamed up to offer what I’d consider (in my own inexpert opinion) as the best nature webcam on the internet.

N—stumbled onto this webcam at some point in mid-to-late July of 2019, and the family was instantly hooked.

An often endless array of brown bears fish, frolics, and occasionally fight in the river and falls, accented with a gull here or there, given the park’s location to the coasts of the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea. With all that is going on in the world, watching the bears go about their business as they likely have for millennia, oblivious to the concerns of covid19, racial injustice, or the other plagues of modern society is, for lack of a better word—for there really is no better word—relaxing. Pair that up with the endless euphony of the river flowing and cascading over rock, and it is sensory bliss. I have been lulled to sleep by the sounds of nature pumped through 7.1 channels of glorious surround sound on more than one occasion. Catching glimpses of bears being bears in 55″ hi-def through sleepy eyes makes for some remarkably calming dreams, too.

About the only down…er…fall of the cam is that—for reasons obvious to anyone with a remote understanding of geography or stories by Jack London—it doesn’t operate year round. It appears to go live sometime in mid-to-late-June each year and stays up until the river’s copious salmon run out and/or the bears get bored and leave. I think that was around early-Septemberish. Of course, neither bears nor salmon read calendars, so results may vary.

Rest assured, though, if you’re in need of a break from the insanity of the world—or just want some nice, occasionally entertaining or amusing background A/V—then it’s tough to do any better than the Brooks Falls webcam.

Thanks for reading.

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Rest for the Weary

I overslept this weekend—on both Saturday and (even more-so) Sunday. This isn’t entirely out of the ordinary for me since the start of the whole quarantine thing in early-March, but it was rather unusual for the past month or so.

When I finally roused myself out of bed, all I could think was that I needed to rest. A quick pull-up of my TrainingPeaks log for this month confirmed that I’d not taken a rest day since June 5th—nearly a full month. No wonder I’d been so tired.

I’d gone long blocks without rest days in the past, but not since my role at home had shifted to primary caregiver for N— and both kids. Being the sole, “fully functional” adult in the house carries a heavy load, physically, mentally, and emotionally, and all of these can take an equally heavy toll on training. For what it was I was training, though, I really don’t know. Racing is nowhere on my horizon, race cancellations due to covid19 notwithstanding.

A similar question regarding training had been posed to a former riding buddy before kids & autoimmune diseases drove a wedge that between us that living on opposite ends of town and different career spheres could have ever fathomed. Tristan had been posting some smoking fast run & bike splits on Strava, so I asked him what he was training for. His response?

Life.

Yeah, life will do that to you. To me. To us. As Ferris so wisely spouted so many years ago, life moves pretty fast. We do need to stop every now & then to take a look around to see where we are and enjoy what’s going on.

So, I managed to rouse myself early enough this morning to go for a run before breakfast and the rest of the household was up demanding such. It was a short-ish run on relatively flat terrain with no eyes kept on current pace of mile splits—only the occasional glance at heart rate targets to ensure I wasn’t about to drop due to cardiac arrest. I think I did OK.

The rest day or two this weekend turned out to be just what I needed: To take some pressure off of myself to keep on performing at peak-triathlon levels, f0r there are no foreseeable triathlons for the remainder of 2020, nor will there be any individual events of any of those sports, including the Mac Summer Speed Series and Chupacabra; Race Revolutions had cancelled their remaining Xterra races once Xterra Global (wisely) cancelled their world championships.

With no upcoming races, no continued run group due to covid19—but with continued demands on all of my faculties to keep the home life humming along with something resembling normal—I’m just going to keep on keeping on. Something resembling a good rhythm is getting worked out between my & N—’s respective schedules, which, fortunately, includes more writing here. Granted, it’s nothing earth shattering or wildly profound, but it is a good outlet for me to cope with the copious demands on myself, so, in closing, I thank you so much for reading.

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From “Meh” to Marvy

There’s this Nine Inch Nails song that kind of sums up my life fairly well. It’s from the With Teeth album and is adequately titled “Every Day Is Exactly the Same.”

The song itself isn’t terribly great—even less-so by NIN standards and even less-less-so as the follow-up to “Love Is Not Enough” (which is even better live)—but the opening lines are just so spot-on with how things have been for me, even pre-quarantine:

I believe I can see the future

‘Cause I repeat the same routine

It’s given laugh to me and others who find themselves in somewhat similar quandaries, especially where small children are involved,but these past few weeks have been even mire predictable.

Today started out like every other, though without my oversleeping but without going for a run. I simply decided not to. Things went downhill fast following breakfast, with N—’s leg spasms intensifying, leading to my missing my target window of rolling out of the house by 9 AM to ride for a couple of hours. To say I was irked when I finally rolled at 10 would be an understatement.

The first ten or so miles were severely lackluster but got better once I cleared the last major roadway and the house with the dog that chased me for a hundred or so yards. My legs opened up, and so did my thinking; I was in the moment and living and enjoying it immensely, even if I was having to fight a stiff headwind.

After returning home and cleaning up, it was back to “responsible adult” duties, followed by a nap, followed by more caretaker “chores” (for lack of a better word), followed by making dinner, followed by chill time with N—.

Predictable of a day as it is, there’s really not much to complain over. I got to wake up in my own house with my own family. I got to cook (and clean) for them—thrice. I got to ride my bike. I got to nap. I got to spend time with my best friend who also happens to be my wife. Oh, and I got beer, too.

Tomorrow will be somewhat similar, though I’ll mix it up and ride trails instead of roads ahead of picking up groceries via curbside. And then? A nap. Totally gonna need a nap.

Thanks for reading.