Thursday, October 20, 2016

How ground chipotle and a parking lot speed bump can change so many things ...

This post was supposed to be quite different. It was supposed to chronicle my trip to Croatia, with cool pics of Dubrovnik and quaint Adriatic fishing villages. Well, instead you get pics of a broken clavicle and a titanium rail that's now part of my left shoulder. Sometimes things happen so quickly and with such impact that we really can't make much sense of it all.
Emergency room x-ray of my comminuted left clavicle
Three weeks (minus one day) ago I went for my usual morning ride here in Lubbock, on what was a beautiful late-summer day. Shortly before leaving for my ride I had Skyped with Sabine, who had asked me whether I could maybe bring along some ground chipotle, a Mexican spice that she can't get in Freising. Since it was such a nice day I decided to make a little detour to the store where I had bought the spice before, the Lowe's down on 19th and Frankfort. Chipotle in my jersey pocket I was in the last three miles of the ride when I cut through a parking lot, to avoid fairly heavy lunch-time traffic, when suddenly I was down on the ground--I never saw the small speed bump in the freshly blackened parking lot. I went down hard, really hard, on my left elbow and the left side of my head. Thank goodness for helmets; had I hit the ground the way I did without one, I probably would not be writing this right now. The elbow took the brunt of my fall, and it is still quite sore. I'm not sure whether the lingering numbness and tingling (it has continually improved since the accident) has been caused by the impact of the elbow or some other (the doc says temporary) nerve damage in the clavicle area.

I picked myself up, initially hoping that the clavicle was intact but soon realizing that that was only wishful thinking helped along by the sudden super-dose of adrenaline that our bodies produce in such a situation. A Good Samaritan in a pickup who happened to see me going down stopped and transported me home. I somehow wiggled myself out of my cycling kit (believe it or not, neither shirt nor bibs are damaged--the helmet of course is toast), gathered my insurance card, ID, and VISA, and then was driven to the Emergency Room by my neighbor, Janet. Since she had some urgent business to attend to I told her to just drop me off. Luckily, there wasn't any pain, well, not really bad pain.
The elbow was my major point of contact with the asphalt
Make a long story short: I was x-rayed and sent home with an arm stabilizer and a sling. The ER doc opined that I'd be fine and that the clavicle would heal by itself. Luckily I took a photo of the x-ray, and once at home I started to think, and then think some more. Wes had picked me up after my four hours in the ER which were billed at way more than $1,000 by the insurance--a fee of more than $800 for the quack of a doc who spent less than 10 minutes putting me into the stabilizer and who told me that this fracture would heal just fine by itself. And so I kept thinking about that x-ray.

The next day, I posted my x-ray on Facebook, asking my friends for input. The response was overwhelming. Man, it seems that everybody has had experience with broken clavicles; the top two places are occupied by longtime friends who have had six (three bike related and three during karate) and eight (two of them surgically repaired; all bike-related) fractures, respectively. Wow! General consensus among amateurs and those in the healthcare field was that this break would never properly heal by itself and that I should consult an orthopedic surgeon as soon as possible. Easier said than done as the accident had happened on Friday at about 1 p.m., and over the weekend all orthos are playing. Thanks to my cardiologist buddy I was able to get an appointment right after the weekend.
The TSA will have to "wand" yet another area of my body ...
You know how scheduling works, so it wasn't until Thursday afternoon that I went under the knife. It's nice to know one's anesthesiologist and feel confident about the surgeon, one of Lubbock's best. Those are the moments when I truly feel at home and comfortable in Lubbock--the network of friends and acquaintances I have is amazing. Surgery went well, and a few hours later I was at home; two days later I quit taking pain meds.

And so I have been spending the past two weeks trying to mend. I am so glad that I had surgery. For a week now I have been able to fend for myself, being able to take showers and get dressed and undressed and cooking for myself. During the first week, Janet, who lives two doors down the street, was at home and she invited me over for nightly dinners and helped me with all of those "life tasks." She left for a vacation a week ago and will return tomorrow. I owe her big time.
Two days after surgery
I am using the left arm and am doing exercises, and the incision has healed up beautifully. Range of motion is still limited, but compared to my first clavicle break (the right one) in 2008, when I was chief referee at a mountain bike race in Canada, I am so much farther along. I didn't have surgery back then since it was a simple break, but I remember that it took much longer than a month until even basic moves were possible. As I mentioned, there is still some slight numbness as well as diminished grip power in my left hand, but I trust Dr. Scovell when he says that this is normal and will vanish, even if it takes a month or two. Every day sees some improvement,

Obviously, I had to cancel my trip to Europe, and my bicycle trip to the Argentinian wine country in November dissolved into thin air as well. Luckily for me, American Airlines and United as well as various hotels and a car rental company where we had prepaid our car in Croatia all issued full refunds, without change fees or other hurdles. Only our return flight from Dubrovnik on Transavia could not be refunded, and we lost about $200--it could have been so much more expensive! I would have preferred not to spend my cash on medical bills, but thanks to a supplementary accident insurance that impact will be softened a little. Overall, everything could have been so much worse! Still, did I really have to pick up that chipotle that day?
Two weeks after surgery--internal stitching! Cool!
It's been two weeks of reading, walking to the park, watching movies, admiring the neighbors' Halloween decorations, and just general relaxing for me. A break provides a break, and I have not quarrelled with what has happened but rather have tried to stay positive throughout. My friends have helped me along (thanks to Janet, Wes, Susan, Smitty, Bobby, Donna, and Lou!), and I know that in two weeks things will be much better than now. Actually, things will be so good that I have changed my October flight to Europe to early November, with the doc's blessing. So, maybe I can post some quaint pictures, after all.


Monday, October 3, 2016

Happy 18th birthday, young Jonathan P. Voß!

This blog post is not about me. Well, maybe in a way it is, but it's really not. It is about a child I met six years ago who is now not only an adolescent, but a young man. It's about a member of our human species whom I have seen, in spurts, grow up from being a rather timid, almost nerdy kid to being an equal partner in conversation, in views about the world, in questions of taste and style, an overall partner embedded in our society. A budding artist of life, if you so will.

I met Jonathan for the first time in early 2011. After Judy's death I had somehow reconnected with my (almost) lifelong friend Sabine. I hadn't known (or had only marginally registered in our sparse Christmas and birthday communications over the years) that she was a single mother, bringing up a dark-haired, scrawny kid with an infectious smile. His name had been inspired by the story of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a short book that had lasting impact on Sabine. A fitting name, as it should turn out.

As a 12-year-old growing up only with his mom, Jona was understandably shy toward this man who occasionally would drop in from some far-away country for a few weeks; for all of his already-remarkable skills having to do with electronics and computers, Jona had no inkling about geography. He was much more concerned about tinkering with his soldering iron and transistors and odd-looking hardware to build some electronic contraption or other. His favorite "book" was certainly not a world atlas (alas, had I loved my Diercke Weltatlass, as had Sabine!) but rather the Conrad Electronics mail-order catalog, chock full of everything a young Ben Franklin could desire.

I am sorry that I have missed those first twelve years of Jona's life completely, but Sabine told me many, many stories about how she, the hands-on, DIY landscape architect spent all that quality mother-on-son time instilling in Jona love for experimentation, courage to take risks, and appreciation for natural beauty as well as human-created masterworks. So when I met him at age 12, all the foundations had long been laid.

Jona gradually lost his shyness toward me, quite likely because I approached him not like a kid (or worse, my kid!) but as a young friend with whom I would speak frankly and seriously but with whom I would also gang up in some practical joke on his mom. (Jona back then saw his dad every four to six weeks, depending on the school schedule, and to this day they share vacation time going on skiing, scuba-diving, and sailing trips together.) For Jona, I was that cool guy who'd show up and make his mom feel more relaxed than when they were living their usual life. I think he still occasionally thinks of me as "cool" or whatever the current word is, even though I am old enough to be his grandfather. And his mom is just two years younger than I, so it's hard to admit for him that she actually is a damn cool mom. To acknowledge that is just not cool.

Jonathan is what is sometimes labeled a "super-taster." If I cooked and added a tiny bit of pepper he would not eat that part of the meal. Sneaking ingredients past him that were not to his liking was nearly impossible. Spicy foods? Forget it. For a few years he was on a semi-vegetarian trip; thank goodness, that somehow dissolved itself. But natural curiosity, a willingness to at least try something unfamiliar, and my steady importation of Mexican foodstuffs and spices--plus watching me in the kitchen and learnin how to chop garlic--slowly changed all of that. He has an impeccable palate, loves to try new wines, and cooks up a storm when his buddies come over, leaving the small kitchen ashambles. And he mixes unbelievable cocktails!

For a few years, Jona's preoccupation with computers and electronics, his loving math and information technology in school, his total disinterest in sports (apart from skiing in winter) made Sabine, and me, wonder whether he might grow up to become some nerdy loner who'd spend the rest of his life programming computer games. Well, were we ever wrong! The kid has grown into a social butterfly who is well-connected not only with peers his own age but who has created relationships with young university students thanks to his thespian involvement (who would have ever thought that he would rip off his shirt on stage while playing a gigolo, and making the audience exhale in an audible way?) as well as his wide-ranging "adult" contacts. One such example, a school project designed to help young refugees in his hometown of Freising, led him to meet numerous Bavarian politicians, from mayors to ministers, while leading this group project that involved direct contact with those young individuals displaced by war.

Trying to emulate his longtime idol, 007 aka Mr. Bond, James Bond, Jona strives to be suave and worldly. Admittedly, there have been times when this went a bit overboard, but what kid does not search for that identity, that who-am-I? Does a boy really have to spend 35 minutes coiffing his hair, every morning? Apparently. Sabine and I grew up during a different time back in the '70s when neither young women nor men paid much attention to their appearance. Back then, nobody had an inkling what a selfie might be, an outlet that Jona certainly has adeptly adopted, not only with his cell phone but also with his DSLR.

And that brings us to the last point of this unconventional Happy Birthday wish: Jonathan's undeniable ability, imagination, and understanding of photography. Sabine most certainly was the catalyst as she exposed him even as a toddler to art works, in print or in real life. She shared her love of nature with him, and his preoccupation with computers and photo-editing software played another important role. But his creativity appears boundless, as he showed in a 10-day internship with a design company where he was given free reign to design several book covers. I was floored. It'd be easy to continue gushing about his various skills and abilities, but I don't want him to get a big head. Instead, I will end these words with my very sincerest wishes not only for your 18th birthday but also for this rich life that lies ahead of you, dear Jonathan--you alone hold the keys to whichever doors you want to open! Don't squander the opportunity but continue to explore and enjoy and love life! And for the rest of us, here's a short sampling of Jonathan P. Voß' amazing portfolio of original drawings, photography, and collages. Enjoy!



Saturday, September 24, 2016

Reconnecting with the tribe

Some hate Vegas--but I always have fun out here
If it's September, it's time to travel to Las Vegas and attend Interbike. One of the largest gatherings of industry insiders in the world, Interbike has been a fixture for the US retailer and international visitors for two decades or more. Some of my readers may not even know that I run a small bicycle retail establishment, Tandem Pro, from the confines of my house, and so I have been to Interbike more often than the number that the digits on my hands and feet combined would yield.
At the finish line of Crossvegas, the UCI world Cup opener for 2016
For the past ten years, Interbike has also become synonymous with "It's 'Cross Time!" Initially just a sideshow, Crossvegas has advanced to World Cup status, and this year it marked the opening round of the 2016 UCI Telenet Cyclo-Cross World Cup. So what could be more fortuitous than to be assigned to such a race and also attend Interbike?
Fancy bikes such as Markus Storck's special edition Aston Martin-inspired
road bike are pure bike porn
For four days I was out here in Vegas to work and to "work." The race stuff took place on the first two days, and then I spent my time at the tradeshow. I had been put up in the Monte Carlo, and Interbike takes place in the Events Center of Mandalay Bay. So I got a chance to use the better part of $50 in credit with Lyft, Uber's pendant that is trying hard to break into the market in Vegas. Show hours are from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m., with the last few hours usually spent with a beer in hand chatting with like-minded retailers and exhibitors.
Really? Is this going to sell?
If one attends an annual event over such an extended period one makes friends whom one sees the next year, and the next, and the next. The bike industry is so appealing to me since it exudes the same feeling of community that a good mountain bike race has. I talked to dozens of long-time industry insiders whom I have met over the years, some of them owners of big companies, others grunts who every year seem to hold a similar job with a different bike company. One exchanges ideas, asks how the kids are, bemoans that we're all getting older, and hands out fake compliments about how good we look. It doesn't matter--it's just really, really great to see these folks as it provides a sense of tribal belonging that humans still crave thanks to our ancestral roots.
Empty aisles and Korean eBike peddlers
Interbike itself has lost much of its luster. Gone are the heady days of the mountain bike boom in the mid-nineties when one booth after the next showed off something with a wow factor of 1,000+. Thanks to the Internet, new products now are old news before they ever make it to a tradeshow, and customers in general are better educated on what's hot than retailers. As a result, Interbike seems to me on the decline--fewer exhibitors (maybe not by number as long as the East Asian suppliers flood in with their products that nobody gives a damn about) and definitely much, much less foot traffic in the aisles. On Thursday at noon, with another day and a half of show to go, it felt as if it was five minutes before closing time on Friday. Anemic is a complimentary term. Large bike companies such as Trek, Specialized, and Giant now have their own private dealer events, and fewer and fewer retailers see the need to come out to Interbike. It'll be interesting what the next few years will bring.
The Aria is one of Vegas' newest creations
The Chandelier restaurant, inside the Aria
Beautiful use of space by another Aria restaurant
Outside of Interbike I used my time to reacquaint myself with Vegas. In the two years since my last visit here, the new Aria has sprung up, with its fabulous shops and restaurants; the High Roller has become the largest wheel in the world; and removing the ceiling from Vegas by establishing more outdoor spaces with shops and restaurant instead of slot machines has become de rigueur in new developments. Quite frankly, this make-over was long due as Vegas' old casinos (for example the Imperial Palace--now completely redone and reborn as The Linq--as well as the Monte Carlo, Excalibur, and Flamingo are all still steeped in the '60s and '70s). If you haven't been to Vegas in a decade, do yourself a favor and go out there again: It's a different place.
The High Roller is larger than the London Eye; rides at night are $50
Of course, they still try to part you from your money in every possible way. But what used to be just gambling has moved into all facets of the hospitality and retail industries, and the possibilities to dine and shop are endless. Just don't expect too many bargains. Yep, that was indeed $10 for an IPA in the Beerhaus in a 12 oz plastic cup. The breakfast buffet on a Saturday in the Monte Carlo is going to set you back $29 with tax. Ouch. But those who come here bring a wad-full of greenbacks and don't give a damn, and Vegas knows that and milks it.
Paris is still here
Thank goodness for us old guys, sex still sells. Be it lovely mock copettes, body-painted breasts, or simply the unending stream of imported gals on a bachelorette trip, there's eye candy everywhere. And right next to it are the eyesores that even Vegas cannot gloss over: homeless people who are lying in the streets, veterans "proudly" asking for help, and other who are simply hungry and silently hold up a small card-board sign. Yep, that's Las Vegas, too.
Sex continues to sell in Vegas
So I leave you with a pic of an older man reaffirming his vows to his beloved wife in front of the Bellagio, with one of the many Elvises holding watch and tourists cheering them on. Vegas is Vegas and will always remain Vegas.


Monday, September 12, 2016

Is it West Texas? Or is it Kansas? Oh no, it's Alberta!

Canada, oh Canada
A week after returning from Rio it was time again to pack the bags. Destination: Alberta, Canada. I was scheduled for a CADF gig at Canada's only international stage race, the five-day Tour of Alberta. With promising weather, I decided to take the Ritchey along, even if it meant that I certainly wasn't traveling light. So, it was a good thing that the race organizer had Lexus of Edmonton on board and I was given the keys to a brand-spankin' new RX-350 crossover, with a mere 61 miles on the odometer. Sweet!
61 miles on the odo, and all mine for a week
I spent the first night close to the airport and then the next morning drove the 300 miles south to Lethbridge, where the Team Managers' Meeting was scheduled on the eve of the first stage. The drive south, mostly on an interstate-like highway, was definitely not the most scenic I have ever taken. Yes, Alberta has mountains (on its west side  are Banff and Jasper, and BC beckons beyond), but dead center it is flat to slightly undulating, for mile after endless mile. Seriously, it was like driving through the area between Tulia and Amarillo and then north, with pasture land stretching as far as the eye can see. Oh, and there were the wheat fields of Kansas, too. The Great White North? In the winter, for sure; but in early September it was hot and windy.
I-27 north of Lubbock? Guess again.
There were the familiar pick-up trucks, and John Deere dealerships and western wear stores completed the picture. The Tim Horton's and speed limit signs in kilometers remind one occasionally that this is Canada, but don't expect a dramatic change from your normal surroundings if you are a West Texan who is looking for an exotic vacation. This ain't it.
Typical town between Calgary and Lethbridge
Once in Lethbridge I got installed in my hotel for the night (yes, we stayed here only one night; we had to transfer about 160 miles after the conclusion of the first stage to the starting point of the second stage--and that even though the opening stage didn't conclude until about seven o'clock in the evening [and my work even later]!) and ventured out for a short ride on the race course, which was a 6-mile loop in and around Lethbridge with a dive into the river valley and climb back out of it. Once again I had to think about Lubbock--we also have holes in the ground, plus we even have some overpasses. I didn't see any of those in Lethbridge.

My second ride of this trip--and as it turned out last, thanks to crappy weather and long car transfers--came the next day when I battled a ferocious headwind for about 16 miles going south of town and then flying back to the hotel. Total mileage for this trip: 46 miles ridden, and about 950 miles driven. Expressed in kilometers, the driving part sounds even more impressive. Oh well, this is after all work and not a vacation.
The first stage was the only one that was sunny and hot
What would a sign-in be without a Mountie? 
The work was easy and pleasant, after the Rio debacle. Medalist Sport, who organized this event, is a classy outfit, and they are supportive and easy-going. I really love working with these folks. Having my car and being my own boss is certainly a big plus, and the fact that the weather unexpectedly turned sour once we hit the hillier parts in the west is just a bad coincidence. The racers had a much tougher time than I who just looked out of the hotel window and said, "OK, it's 38 degrees and drizzling, so I won't ride today." I tell you, being a professional bike racer most of the time is not a glamourous job for the vast majority of these guys.
Locals queuing up at the Beavertails trailer ...
... a lonesome C&W crooner on stage in front of a few picnic tables ...
... and Drayton Valley (really!) celebrates the finish of a ToA stage.
Official mascot of the Tour of Alberta--never caught his name
As always, I can't tell you details about my job, although I wish I could. I would tell you about young men with dreams and an iron will to make their chosen career the best it can be, because they simply love to ride their bikes, and I would tell you about the veteran team directors who in occasional private moments confide their struggles. It's a privilege to be working within this inner circle of professional cycling, a sport that must be tougher than pretty much any other that I have ever witnessed. And to be accepted and respected by these people means a heck of a lot.
My one and only view of the mountains--got here at 1:30 a.m., and left at 9:00 a.m.
We ended up in Edmonton for the last two stages. First came a short 15-minute time trial in the main city park that we shared with an ITU international triathlon event. The last stage was an exciting circuit race right outside of the Westin in downtown, where we stayed for two nights. And then the race was done, and we all celebrated at a fine taproom half a block down the street, and when they closed shop, we moved over to the Irish pub across the street until they closed, too.
Post-race party time
As I told those who wanted to hear it, the Tour of Alberta was a vacation compared to Rio. Things were more relaxed, the support was fantastic, and we all felt appreciated, whatever our role was. The only thing lacking was the exotic aura that Rio did indeed possess--but that's what you gotta expect in West Texas, or Kansas, or Alberta, eh?