Monday, July 29, 2013

Of TEXAS and New Mexico

Last week the urge to travel just became too much, and with the help of a Groupon special plans started to crystallize: A trip to the production of TEXAS in Palo Duro Canyon (just south of  Amarillo) was to be followed up with a four-day road trip through New Mexico, where the temperatures promised to be lower than in sweltering Lubbock.

So, on Tuesday my friend and former colleague from the English Department, Angela, packed up the Miata and headed north. I have lived here for almost 36 years, and I have never seen TEXAS, a theatrical production that is in its 48th season. The setting for this musical drama, which runs from mid-May through mid-August and puts more than 50 actors on stage every night, is simply spectacular. Palo Duro Canyon is the place where all those Marlboro ads were shot, when there was still advertising for cigarettes. Remember the Marlboro cowboy looking over that fabulous landscape? That's Palo Duro.
Chris, our guide for the backstage tour, answers dumb tourist questions
Our two-for-one tickets included the backstage tour, which mercifully was run via a small trailer pulled by a tiny tractor. We learned about the special effects guys (every night, somebody gets "set on fire"), saw the train that used to be a school bus, and met Jack, the donkey. Pretty much all of the actors are theater students who congregate on Canyon, TX, home of West Texas A&M, for the summer to participate in this production. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take any photos during the performance, which starts right at sunset with a rider carrying the Texas flag appearing at the canyon rim, but let me tell you: It was spectacular! Even at full price I would recommend this play to anybody who happens to be in the area.
That's Jack
We spent the night in Amarillo, with Angela working until the wee hours on an urgent editing job that had fallen into her lap at the very, very last minute —professors never sleep. The next morning we headed west on I-40, heading for Tucumcari from where we took NM 104 toward Las Vegas, not of the Nevada kind, though. It was beautiful driving with the Miata's roof down. I had been on that road only once before, and the vistas are stunning. New Mexico must have seen some pretty good rains recently because there were large swaths of green—but of course, there were also those deadish-brown tracts that were missed by the precipitation.

That afternoon we ended up in Santa Fe, where the Hilton once again came through with the much-coveted casita upgrade. We soaked in the hot tub and enjoyed dinner across the street at Il Vicino's. That's about all we did since my leg is still in the same state it was weeks ago: stiff and swollen and not in any mood to go for walks. This was going to be mainly a driving vacation—active adventures are somewhere in the future, I hope.
Two of Ojo Caliente's seven pools
The next morning we did walk the few blocks to the square and even had a good-bye beer at the Marble taproom that overlooks all the action below. And then we were off to one of Angela's favorite places, the spa at Ojo Caliente. Isn't it strange that I know most of the wild hot springs in the area but hadn't even heard of that place? For the better part of the next 24 hours we soaked in warm and hot pools and simply enjoyed the serenity of this wonderful place. I can't tell you how happy my leg was!
Angela getting ready to take a dip in the 104-degree soda spring
Our last night we spent in Taos, but we didn't really do much more than go out to dinner since we had spent almost the entire Friday at the spa. Still, we found our way to the relatively new Taos Ale House where we were treated to nice live music, in addition to good beer, gourmet tacos, and a bunch of artwork on the walls.
Albert Simpson played for gas money, and the mandolin player just sat in
On Saturday morning it was time to head back to Lubbock. The initial miles through the mountains surrounding Taos were a last reminder of what cool means. In Mora, which celebrated its own Fiesta de Mora with a superb traffic jam thanks to horses, motorbikes, and street vendors, it already got hot. Once we hit Santa Rosa, Angela was wrapped up in long sleeves and long pants and a cap to keep the sun at bay. And once we crossed into Texas (yes, at Texico), well, it was murderously hot again.
La Fiesta de Mora
And so it continues. Today the thermometer once again got close to 100 degrees, but at least the nights cool off. Yesterday I cleaned off my back porch from the Sahara-like sands that have accumulated over the past months and had my dinner outside. Maybe, just maybe, my leg is going to come around sometime soon—but let's not hold our breath. Patience, patience. Still, if I go for a little field trip like the one last week, things definitely are a little more bearable.


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Rain in Lubbock

Who would have thunk? There's the gentle pitter-patter sound of rain outside my window. The heat wave has temporarily broken. That doesn't make it much easier to have bum leg, but every little bit helps. I've been doing PT, walking in Rod's pool, putting stuff on eBay,  playing bike shop, and dreaming—oh, lots of times!—that I can walk without crutches. We'll see what Doc Scovell has to say when I go see him on Thursday. Otherwise: Life's been better. But it could be worse. I'm hanging in there.


Sunday, July 7, 2013

From Lake Garda back to the USA

Hard to fathom: A week ago I flew back to the USA, and it is just now that I get a chance to update the blog. Lots of things have happened since my last entry in this online journal, and I will try to keep things short.

For starters, the party after the triathlon in Erding brought with it a chance encounter that may have saved my leg. The partner of one of Sabine's co-workers at the City of Munich is a PT, and when she happened to see my leg—which I believed was healing well and which had not raised the eyebrows of my regular physical therapists—she only said: "Your leg looks like that of an 80-year-old diabetic—there is no circulation in some parts." At the party she started to use a technique called FDM to loosen the fascia and thus started to break up all the muck that was keeping fluids from leaving the area. Brigitte Schmailzl is a PT in Munich who works with Olympic athletes, and it was immediately clear that she knew what she was doing. Those first 25 minutes of massage at the party hurt like hell, but the color of the skin started to improve; on Monday and then Wednesday I went to her clinic in Munich and received two more almost two-hour-long treatments. What a difference they made! I still have fluid in my knee joint, but the skin over the shin bone and the incisions have a healthy color, and things are so much better.
Our first view of Lake Garda, Italy
For our last weekend together Sabine thought of something to give us a little bit of a vacation, after all: She suggested that we'd flee the once-again crappy weather in Freising and drive to Lake Garda, on the southern edge of the Alps in Italy. We booked a room for two nights, and on Friday (with all my luggage for my return trip on the following Monday already packed) we left for sunnier shores. It's about a 4 1/2-hour drive from Freising to Limone, on the west shore of Lake Garda. We drove via Innsbruck and the Brenner toward Bolzano and onward to Trento. The weather became better and better once we crossed over the Brenner, and even though we used the motorway the drive was incredibly scenic with lots of vineyards and mountains to look at. Our first glimpse of the lake came mid-afternoon, in beautiful weather.
The view from our balcony
Sabine had found us a very nice bed and breakfast, and our first-floor room had a small balcony that overlooked the lake and gave us the most spectacular 180-degree panoramic view of this amazing region. The roads down here are amazing as they are clinging to sheer cliffs and often are tunneling through the rock. We took a sightseeing drive on Saturday that was simply breathtaking. Sabine had been here once before and thus had an idea of what she wanted to show me, but she too was surprised by some of the roads that we drove. Wow!
Narrow, scary roads are the norm around Lake Garda
The small town where we were staying, Limone, is named after the former industry of the area: lemons. The weather at Lake Garda is mild enough to allow growing lemon trees, with a little help. So-called limonaia—essentially a type of greenhouse—are still in evidence years after faster train connections from Sicily and other parts of the south meant that lemons could be brought to northern Europe for less money than buying the expensive fruit from Lake Garda. We visited one restored limonaie where the fragrant smell of lemons was as overpowering as that of night jasmine on a summer night.
A limonaie—in the winter, a removable roof and shutters protected the lemon trees
Lemon trees carry fruit in this limonaie
Our two days in Limone and our drive back were a beautiful way to finally enjoy what was supposed to have been a totally different type of European sojourn. I have to thank Sabine for thinking of this wonderful weekend get-away. It was a lot of driving for her, but we both spent restful quality time with one another. I hope that we will be able to visit Italy again before long as our trip to Tuscany had to be cancelled, but the landlord of the house that we had rented ahead of time has told us that we can come down as long as the house is empty. We'll see what we can do.
Sabine's Skoda barely fit through some of these narrow streets
Sunday afternoon we were back in Freising, and on Monday morning Sabine and I said our good-byes. Seven weeks is a long time under the circumstances that we had to face, and we managed not to kill one another or even fight a single time—despite some very dark moments. We certainly had not expected this type of turn of events, and I think we made the best out of the situation. Sabine's son, Jonathan, was a real sport despite our rather confined living quarters in Freising, and he paid me the biggest compliment ever when he told me upon parting that he really enjoyed working with me on his English vocabulary because it was "fun" as I would always throw a few little zingers in there (such as the explanation of the "French Kiss").

My flight from Munich to London to Dallas to Lubbock worked out like clockwork. The transatlantic segment had been upgraded to Business Class, so I was able to elevate my leg much better than in the back of the bus, and from DFW to Lubbock American flew a full-sized S80, which has a First Class section—we were two passengers up front, with 92 more in the back. I hope AA will keep this service! Airport transfers as well as clearing customs with my luggage (the Ritchey, the rolling Patagonia duffel with my regular stuff and my now-checked former carry-on) were no problem as I had requested special assistance from the airlines. Lounge access in Heathrow and Dallas made the long layovers not only bearable but pleasant. Just security took a little longer since the new hardware in the leg set off the red flags!

These pics are so pretty I just had to include them; I think it is 19 screws
On Tuesday morning I saw Dr. Field Scovell in Lubbock for my follow-up. Not only was he extremely impressed with Dr. Maurer's craftsmanship but he also was positive that I would come out of this whole ordeal with a full recovery—eventually, that is. Thanks to the July 4 holiday I haven't started my official rehab yet, but I have used my friend Rod's pool to walk without crutches but with reduced body weight. There's still a lot of swelling in the knee joint, but Dr. Scovell attributed that to all the trauma and was in no way alarmed. My personal goal is to be back on a (real) bike by the end of August.

So, there I am. The first few days were filled with trying to catch up with 7 weeks of mail, being driven around to the grocery store and the pool, trying to find back to my life. Just yesterday I finally couldn't stand it any longer and wedged myself into the Miata—lo and behold, I can drive myself! It feels good to be back at my house, and it is wonderful to have friends on this side of the pond as well.

It will be a while before I am back to where I was just two months ago, but I will get there. Maybe there will be fewer blog updates, and most likely the next few will be punctuated by fewer pics of exotic locales. But I intend to get all this behind me as quickly as I can, with as much patience as is necessary, and then a little extra for those unexpected dark moments. Thanks for reading and all the encouragement over these past two months, and don't write me off just yet. :)