Tuesday, October 30, 2007

29er Project: Nearing the Finish Line

Well, just got off the phone with RST. A new M29 is headed my way. Ordered the Thudbuster seatpost and Blackspire 32 CR last night. I buddy tossed a carbon Easton bar and alu stem my way for free, but I am not sure if they will work...the bar looks narrow and the stem short. We will see. Still need a chain, grips, cables, and a bash ring and jump stop. I think I can use an old XTR rear der. and Grip Shift set up I have.

Maybe I will have a big wheeled bike in a week or so.

Hee hee.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

In search of Fall colors

It has been feeling like autumn around So Cal, so it seemed prudent to try and find some changing colors. Some parts of the country you can't go outside without being enveloped in red and yellow leaves, but we have to look pretty hard to get that experience.

This one mountain has a unique mix of oak trees which turn color and drop their leaves. Not sure what they are. We always called them an Eastern Oak...have no idea if that is right, but they have these large, round acorns and fluted leaves. They are not at all like the typical oaks we have in the foothills and valleys. This ride gets up to around 5800' onto Liebre Mtn and rewards the 7-8 mile climb with great views and a singletrack return. Ahh, the good life.

However today, the winds of change were blowing in the form of Santa Ana winds from the north. That means gusty, windy conditions in the foothills and cold windy conditions up higher. The clouds were hovering on the crest of the mountain (it was in the high 30s with the wind chill) and it was misty all the way up. Every once and a while the clouds would part and allow for a great view.

Once on the top, we were surrounded by hunter's encampments. Great. None of us are hunters, so we were pretty clueless as to the time of year for all that Elmer Fudd-run around with a gun stuff. As we geared up for the singletrack descent, shots rang out on all sides of us, muted somewhat by the mist and clouds. Nice, and not one blaze orange windbreaker among us.

We were glad to get off the top of that mountain. The single track winds through the oaks and pines at the top, sometimes just a tunnel of trees that feels like the Star Wars forest scene on the speeders and then it will open to grassy slopes before it dives into chapparal. Very sweet. Definately a good day despite, or because of...not sure which, the weather. I rode pretty well, the knee did ok and I did not end up on some hunters truck hood.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Gonna' ride tonite

Nothing real special, just a putt up a local canyon with a bro that is healing from a nasty crash. So why am I all excited in a quiet kind of way? Funny how the prospect of getting out on a bike with a good friend is something so looked forward to.

Simple pleasures.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Knee Injury: Chapter 3

Back home after the lovely news, I could not do any real training in martial arts, so I turned to the bike for help. Help in moving through the healing process, help in moving through the fog of disappointment. Riding was easy and cautious at first, but I built up to decent rides after a while. I still limped and had poor extension and flexion though. The summer went by with slow progress.

The follow up to the doc came and went. I wanted to know what my limitations were, my recovery path, more info on why this felt this way or that. Basically, I wanted answers. It seemed to me that that was his job. I have questions he has answers. Apparently I was misinformed. I walked out with more questions than before. Basically it was put to me this way: You should be able to eventually do anything you want to, if you have any stability issues come back and we will operate and we can order you a custom brace ($1000.00) to go along with your life.

Man, that was just not good enough. I guess if I was a sedate, average, slightly overweight Joe who sports program involves Poker Tournaments and watching NASCAR, I would have been satisfied with that. But I had planned to be fitter at 50 than I was at 40 and I was on track to that. It is said that God laughs at our plans. If this was it then so be it, but I needed to KNOW that. I suppose the doc could only say so much, but I felt like I got the best 5 minutes of his day and the options given me were the default check list they teach in medical school: Medicate, operate.

How could I heal and strengthen the damage done? How could I take the years of athletic experience, knowing my body, working through injuries and pain, and let my body heal itself? No answer.

I had read about an alternative therapy called Prolotherapy. It had been around for a few years and is not new, but involves the injection of what is typically a Dextrose solution into the damaged joint, ligament, tendon, etc, where it inflames the area and promotes natural healing to occur. The more I read, the more it intrigued me. It seemed to be an option to consider for the type of injury I had. What can be better than triggering the bodies own healing system? The worst that could happen was that it would not be effective and I would have spent money for nothing. You see, insurance does not cover it. You can get all the Ibuprofen and surgeries ya want, but no simple injections of sugar water.

I remember discussing this with a friend who was injured from a bike crash. He was running through the same HMO merry go round and we were comparing notes. I said that I was dreaming of a medical environment that when you walked in the door, they took a look at the whole of you. They really took the time to ask questions and considered all the options. I asked the Orthopedic at the last follow up about the Prolotherapy. His reply was "They will stick you with needles, make you sore, and charge you a lot of money". No discussion past that. Next patient?

Summer waned and I was ready for another plan. I made an appointment at a local LA sports rehab clinic that was nationally known for not just Prolotherapy, but a holistic approach to injury recovery. Also, I had the MRI re-read by another independant ladb. This time the results were quite different. Instead of a full section tear, the ACL was diagnosed as a "probable, partial tear". Really?

I am past my fourth Prolotherapy injection now and the entire approach has been remarkable. The time spent with the doctors was very different. I never felt rushed and the exams were insightful and intuitive. They looked at my whole posture, leg strengths and weaknesses, any nerve issues, recommended strengthening exercises and some corrective inserts for my shoes on the damaged leg. Supplements were suggested to aid in the natural healing process, but not required.

My knee feels much more solid now and the pain in the joint is still present, but should fade away as the injections wear off and healing continues. I do not know if the Prolotherapy will be the magic bullet or not but I do think it is helping a great deal.

The most amazing part of the experience at the rehab clinic was the whole approach to the examination and healing process. The moral of this yet to be finished process is be careful of what you accept as fact regarding your body. I learned that MRIs are very often misread and one techs read will differ from another. Shop around for your care and consider your options carefully.

If I had listened to the doc the first time, I would be healing from an ACL surgery right now that I may not have needed. Time will tell. I will report back in a few months.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Knee injury: Chapter 2

Mid Spring, 2007: So, off to the doc I go. I went to a local sports/Ortho clinic and saw the same doc that tended to my shoulder issues a year or so back. He poked and prodded, asked some questions and then did a test to see if the knee showed any sings of looseness due to an ACL tear. Nope, not really. "Your knee feels pretty tight", he said. Still, to see what happened he took xrays and scheduled an MRI. The xray showed no fractures, but some bone bruising. So far so good.

The MRI happened and the follow up was scheduled.

Back at the docs, imagine my surprise when the words out of his mouth were "You have a full section ACL tear". Whaaaaat!!? "See here", he said, pointing to the MRI (which just looked like some photography experiment gone wrong), "We really don't see any attachment here and here".

I was stunned and depressed. No way had I thought this was headed there. I got back up on the table for another push me/pull you exam. This time he said, "Well your knee is looser than the other one". Now this was the one that 4 days ago was tight. What is up with that? SO what are my options, doc? Hard to say. I would have limitations, certainly, but how much was unclear. When will I be able to play hard again? Martial arts? Cycling? Heck, I was wondering about a simple hike, if I would live wondering when my knee was going to give way or begin to be unstable, etc. So basically, take no risks. Great. We discussed the surgical options as well.

I ended up with a knee brace, some suggestions on what NOT to do (extreme sports, etc), and a prescription for vitamin I and physical therapy. I walked out with more questions than answers and the answers I had were not the ones I wanted. Bummer.

The PT person gave me a slightly more thorough exam, range of motion, etc. She reiterated that my knee felt very tight and was surprised at the MRI results. She did not feel the knee showed any sings of classic ACL damage. No signs of meniscal damage either. A few exercises later and I was on my way.

I hit the Google again and did a lot of reading on ACL surgeries. Autograph, allograph, patellar tendon graft, etc. Also, the success rates, dangers, typical results, etc. What an education. Did you know that the one of the highest percentages of ACL injuries happen to early teen age girls? Especially soccer players? Me neither. I also spent time on knee injury forums, I read about alternative medicine approaches, etc.

See, the deal was this. if I had blown my knee out so badly that it swelled up and laid me out, or it was giving out as I went down stairs or lived life, or it was obviously REALLY screwed up, I would have scheduled the surgery cause it would never get better beyond what the operation would provide. I would always have serious compromises with a missing ACL. One thing for sure, no matter what, I would never be the same again. One bright light was that cycling is not ACL dependant, but life is way more than bikes. I was too young and fit to be this limited....too much was uncertain.

But, I was not that bad. I had no instability, some pain but not a great deal, no swelling, clicking, popping, catching, etc. I knew I was a bit screwed up, but I dreaded the thought of rushing into surgery to "fix" a knee that was not as bad as the results of the operation might make it. Would I heal enough to live a more careful but reasonable sports life if I just left it alone? A loose knee can lead to arthritus and joint damage later in life. And, if I did the surgery, should it be Autograph (using my own body tissue as the 'fix agent' of Allograph where cadaver tissue is used? The allograph is becoming more popular since it does not involve cutting parts of a 'good' section of your body, typically a section of patellar tendon or hamstring tendon, to make the repair. The recovery is shorter that way, but there are no guarantees of the quality of the cadaver donor. Even if the tissue is not diseased or compromised, it may be not be as strong and fit as your own body would provide.

Well, 2 weeks and I see the doc again, with more questions that I know what to do with. Either way, life feels a bit darker right now. God is good, but he doesn't always tell me everything I would like to know.

29er Project: more parts

Well, it rained last night and this morning so I looks like we get a break from the parched conditions this last year brought to the So Cal area.

So, after the wheels were obtained, I sat and looked at the other parts I have eBay'ed for the Surly. I had originally wanted to stay to $1000.00 for the build. I could have hit that mark, but it would mean stripping some other bikes of parts and compromising on the front fork. If this was going to be an SS only, I could likely get away with a rigid fork, but running a 1x9 and hoping to do some falirly difficult training/fun rides meant I needed a squishy fork. Too many miles on the body and too many bumps in the trail to do otherwise.

Also, I hate cheap parts. I am not a parts snob, but a set of $125.00 29er wheels would probably not meet my expectations of quality or weight.

Enter the marketplace of the world, eBay.

So far, I have a used King headset, a new WTB Ti railed saddle (in white/grey/black color...ooohhh!), a Deore XT Hollowtech II 180mm crank and BB, and SPD pedals from the Bay.

REI supplied a twice marked down XT 11-34 cassette ($45.00!), and Jenson USA was blowing out Deore LX hydro brakes for dirt cheap.

The wheels/tires came out of the MTBR classifieds.

I figure I am around $1K now and it will take another $500.00 to get it done, maybe a bit more. Looking back on it, I could have paid cash for a used and built bike for that amount of money, but I have to admit I enjoy the planning and chase of the build process. Many's the hour I have sat on ebay, refreshing the screen and waiting to slip in that winning bid. The heart races, the pulse quickens.

Meanwhile, the sun is breaking through and it may be time to go ride and leave all the parts in the box for a while longer. After all, my heart rate is already up from the last auction!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Plan 29: rolling stock

Just got these in the mail. Picked them up on the MTBR Classifieds. Thanks Ken G NM! DT Swiss Onyx hubs with TK 7.1 rims. Looked nearly new and came with fresh looking Maxxis Ignitors for $275.00 shipped. Not too bad. Plan 29 continues.

The 29er Experiment: Part one

After the SS conversion, I was poking around on MTBR.com, from whence the SS inspiration came, and I started reading about this 29er stuff. Big wheels for bigger riders made a lot of sense to me. I had been aware of 29ers for a while but they were so fringe. At the time no one in my circle of friends rode one. No shop sold them. No one extolled the virtues of big wheels. So it just passed into memory.

But later, the more I read, the more I was intrigued by the concept. So, now that I had a taste of SS riding, I borrowed the one 29er a bike shop owner had, his personal ride, a Jamis Exile 29er. When I first saw it, it looked so odd what with the big hoops and all. It was a 19", kinda small for me by one size, but close enough. I took it home and just sat and looked at it for a while. Man those wheels looked big.

OK...go riding, quit looking.

Man those wheels feel big.

It rolled fine down the road, felt a little slow to spin up, etc, but when it hit the loose, gravelly, sandy road up a local canyon, the big wheels began to come into their own. It was like it rolled through the chaff with no ill effects at all. Cool. The first rise in the road felt kinda sluggish to stand and pedal but the twisty singletrack and the fireroad out was eye opening. It felt really stable and calm. Hmmm. May be something here, but I needed gears to see if it worked well on more of a typical ride for me.

So, I rented a Ventana El Rey from The Path Bike Shop. 21", orange, gears. Ok, then. Much the same feelings as the Exile, except the gears and 4" of travel more closely matched my typical trail bike. On the first half of the ride I was thinking, "I wonder if they would sell me this bike". By the end I had decided I did not want it. I just did not click with the bike as a whole, but I still was amazed how the big wheels did some amazing things like turn flowing singletrack into bobsled runs with no feeling of slipping and skittering. The bumps really did get smaller. Very cool.

So now what? I did not want to spend $5K on a continuation of this experiment and yet I was pretty sure that the right set up combined with more time on the bike is what I needed. A plan came into form. If I built up a budget bike that represented a good version of 29ers and spent some winter time on it as I re-hab'd the knee, that would be acceptable. if I was not sold, I could : A) sell it B) SS it and keep it around If I liked it, I could: A) keep it in some form or another...SS, geared, etc B) Part it out and put that money into a full suspension bike with confidence

Either way it seemed like a reasonable plan.

Then, as I was returning the El Rey at The Path Bike Shop, I got into a conversation on what I liked and did not like. I mentioned my thoughts about an inexpensive 'toe-in-the-water' bike and we started walking around. I came home with this.

I got a Surly Karate Monkey on mark down for $275.00 with no fork. It was last year's model without the clearance for a Reba, but that was ok. Not the first choice in forks for me anyway. Black, steely, kinda heavy, but cool and very versatile. SS, Geared, Disc-no disc, etc. Steel is real. I like steel. I knew it was not the latest and sexiest, but it was proven and predictable.

Plan 29 had begun.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Knee Injury: I thought the ACL was a group of liberal lawyers?

No, that is the ACLU.

I don't know much about them, but thanks to an unfortunate moment in the Spring of '07, I have learned a lot about the ACL, as in, Anterior Cruciate Ligament, a part of the interior of the knee that helps stabilize movement during sports, running, walking, etc. This is a journey into the realm of self education, treatment, and self awareness of the limitations of the medical industry in evaluating this type of injury for a practiced athlete. It is my journey, and it is not over yet.

Time log...early Spring, 2007: I am sure that anyone with an awareness of sports has heard of an ACL injury. Very common in football, soccer, skiing, etc, it usually happens when the knee joint is stressed beyond the limits of the ligament's tensile strength and a full or partial tearing of the ACL results. Once torn, the ACL has a very poor record of healing on its own. It seems that the synovial fluid that encapsulates the knee joint has very little blood flow and consequently, very slow healing abilities. Also, the fibrous nature of the ligament tends to shred and breakdown till little connection from bone to bone is left.

That leads to a loss of stability that can limit the sporting activity of the injured person and, unless repaired can lead to increased stress on the cartilage (meniscus)and other parts of the knee. Can you say, arthritis?

The repair is a pretty involved process requiring surgery and a long healing process to follow. Figure 6 months of sports related downtime and one year to full strength with no guarantee against surgery related issues such as lingering knee pain, reduced flexibility, etc. Not a rosy picture.

I knew none of this while I was laying on the practice mat a few minutes after the injury happened. I just knew anytime your knee pops and it hurts, that is not good. The injury happened during some practice of Judo techniques. I was caught up in a poorly executed hip throw that levered off my knee instead of higher up on the thigh/hip. My foot stuck on the mat and I was forced over to the floor. I had no tremendous pain or swelling immediately afterwards. Remember this point. My knee felt a bit loose and did not like being pivoted on or really any quick movement, so I was walking around with a limp, but I was walking.

Off to the local sports orthopedic center, but not before I spent a bunch of time on Google reading about knee injuries. I was not textbook for an ACL injury, I learned. I had no serious pain or swelling post injury, I had no real instability (knee giving out or buckling), or any clicking or 'catching' during knee movement that would point to ACL and/or Meniscus (the cartilage 'socket' that the knee uses as a cushion). I figured a ligament strain, but what did I know.

Turns out maybe I knew a lot, but I did not know that yet and I would not know that for a while.

Next chapter...to the doc.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Singlemindedness: Sampling the pure life

Once I began riding again (see previous post), I began poking around to see what was new. Sure, I bought some mags, etc, but these days the internet is the place to check the pulse of the cycling community.

I found something that caught my interest. Seems like a few crazies had decided that one gear is really all you need so they had tossed all that shifting stuff for the simple and pure vibes of riding single speed. Huh! Ya don't say? I really cannot remember anyone even thinking of doing this back when I was paying attention to trends and riding a lot. I really never stop riding when I get pulled into other interests, but I just ride like I live under a rock as far as being on the latest wave of cycling stuff. So, somehow I had missed the revolution. Must have been on the late news.

Always wondering if one can really have too many bikes, this SS thingy kind of coincided with my desire to cut my commute over to the martial arts studio in town. I was teaching rather than training, but my 10mpg truck never even warmed up before I got there and back. Still, I hated to ride my 5" travel bike over there SPDs and all.

So, I reached up into the rafters of the garage and resurrected an old flame, my mid 90s era Curtlo Mountaineer/Action Tec. $150.00 later and a few conversion items mixed with stuff out of the box-o-parts I had laying around, I had this:

Tell ya what, I have seldom had so much fun for so little money. Frustrating at times, difficult in others, but strangely appealing, SS'ing is very cool. I have it geared to work well around town (34x18) but I can really get moving on a moderate dirt grade. In fact, I hammered a buddy into the ground on a recent hillclimb and he was a comparable rider on a $3K+ fully sus bike. As long as I can pedal it, it is really fast. I had forgotten how fast a good steel hardtail can be. Also, how bumpy, so an old suspension seatpost was installed and the Action Tec fork gives 2" of de-bumpness up front. 24.25 lbs of WHEEEEeee. Cool stuff, but I am not kidding myself into thinking that I can ride this everywhere. I really gotta admire the guys/gals that can pilot a rigid SS as there main squeeze, especially if they live west of the Rockies. 24 hours solo on an SS? Wow.

Cycling Cycles

I bet if you look back on most cyclists lives, you will find times where they ride a lot and times when they taper a bit. Other things come along and catch your interest: kids, marriages, health challenges, etc. I used to ride 4-5 times a week 'back in the day'. Now it was once or twice a month...maybe. Not burn out or lack of interest, just stuff that comes along in that 24 hour day we have. Time and time again, I would come back to the bike and wonder why I left it for so long.

It happened again a few years ago. One of those detours came along in the form of a new challenge...martial arts. My son was taking some classes and I always watched with interest. I found myself thinking, " I am in good shape (Mtn Biker!!) and I may still be young enough to do this...maybe".

Four years or so later I achieved a black belt and was instructing part time. Great journey, but it really had cut into my riding time and passion. At 45+ years old, I only had so much energy, and training 4 days a week at the studio was about all I had to give. Then, while training in another form of martial arts to continue my education, I turned the corner (figuratively speaking) and ran smack into a torn knee injury. I still remember that feeling after the *pop* and the pain as I laid there knowing I had just really screwed up.

I always protected my knees. I never snow skiied, jogged, etc. Bad on the knees you know....cycling be good on the knees...must have good knees. Then there was that *pop* to remind me that I may have missed a lot of skiing for nothing.

MRIs followed, Drs visits (man, what an education that all was), some therapy and then time to heal as best I could and that meant little or no martial arts. Time to ride. See how the knee feels...not too bad. ACL injuries and the like are very forgiving to cycling so off I went. I had put on 10 lbs of weight, a combo of muscle and fat that really helped when you are fighting on the mats. Before the month was over, I had dropped 10 lbs.

My knee was still screwed up (more thoughts on that journey later) but I had fallen in love with riding again. Just as in the past, the cycle of life had come back to gears, wheels, sweat, and the giddy thrill of wind, speed, and the sweet satisfaction of a good ride.

And again I found myself asking, "why did I stop doing this?" Who knows, but I know one thing for certain, as long as God gives me the ability to climb up onto the saddle and pedal, I will keep a bike or two around, cuz sure as shootin' I will be distracted again and it is good to know my bike will wait for me with a understanding between us that I will be back.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Birth of a blog

Where to begin? Well, at the beginning I guess. Somewhere around 1985 I saw a Schwinn Mtn Bike catalogue that a co-worker had brought in to work. That was the beginning of a long love affair with a wonderful sport/hobby/passion/whatever that has, at times, burned brightly and at times dimmed, but has remained there as a defining point in my life.

I am a man, a Christian, a husband, a father, a worker bee, a tall white guy, etc. I am all these things and have been more or less as time went by. But since that day I saw that catalogue and handed over the cash for that first knobby tired wunderbike, I have been something else.

I am a mountain biker.

And that is just fine with me.