Thursday, August 27, 2015

Touring the lakes

The old gravel pit at Stoibermühle
When I left for Germany about two weeks ago I expected it to be warm and sunny, but I did not expect to get a  tour of the local lakes! Sabine had told me about the various ponds and puddles for weeks, waxing poetic about how one of them was like Walden Pond while others invited to a quick dip after work. So, just a few hours after my arrival I went to the former gravel pit at the Stoibermühle for my first swim.
What is more alluring, the pretzel or the buns?
Indeed, this lake was warm and lots of families and couples were enjoying a warm afternoon in and out of the water. It was here that I saw my first inflatable swim-pretzel—only in Bavaria. But it gets better: Numerous lakes also feature a biergarten, only adding to the allure to spend a lazy day in the sun. If beer isn't your thing, maybe you're more into skinny dipping: No problem as numerous smaller lakes attract the sans crowd. Nothing like getting nibbled on by the lil' fishies.
After the swim one is supposed to nourish the body.
We also went to the big lakes (more about that in a short while), on the weekend after we had been to Dortmund to see Sabine's mom and bro. That trip was a good reminder that even hot summers can bring with them 36 hours of straight rain and temperatures that barely rise above the mid-teens (Celsius, of course). But we used this ugly time for an excursion to the Deutsche Bergwerksmuseum in Bochum, a museum dedicated to everything you ever wanted to know about mining and life below the surface. Bochum and nearby Dortmund are located in the Ruhrgebiet, which for a hundred years was Germany's industrial center thanks to its coal deposits. It's been just over the past 15 years or so that essentially all the mines have been closed (only two are still in production) and the area has been freshened up and now experiences a renaissance as a tourist destination.
The German Mining Museum in Bochum
A trolley from a mine shuttered in 2000
Another tourist destination is the medieval town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, one of the most picturesque places one can imagine and surely an inspiration to Walt Disney. On the way back from Dortmund to Freising Sabine and I stopped over in Rothenburg, which I had never visited. The weather was still crummy, but that kept the hordes of tourists (at least half of whom hail from SE Asia) at bay. As an interesting aside: I had thought that Rothenburg had miraculously escaped the aerial bombardment of WWII, but more than half of the city was actually destroyed. However, the place had been a destination for travelers for a long time beforehand and the citizens knew about the value of tourism and thus rebuilt the place in the most authentic and exact fashion. Wow!
Market square in Rothenburg ob der Tauber
A roofer's paradise (or nightmare)
It was quite a whirlwind trip to Dortmund and back, but the autobahn was rather empty and we shared the driving. So, just a day after getting back to Freising we decided to get back into the car and see friends at the Ammersee and the Bodensee, both within a two-hour drive from Sabine's abode. The Ammersee is much smaller than the Bodensee (also known as Lake Constance), Germany's largest lake even if it borders Austria and Switzerland who can also lay claim to it. We spent one night each with Sabine's friends (Petra and Stefan in Unterhausen next to the Ammersee, and Bernd and Isolde and their kids in Wasserburg on the Bodensee). The weather was back to brilliant sunshine and pleasant temperatures, and we got to ride the bikes as well as sail. (Yep, that's the same lake and the same boat that I used to break my leg two years ago.)
112 kilos of apple in the Skoda
That's the dry part that's left over after pressing
And that's one of seven 10-liter bags of apple juice
In Unterhausen Sabine and I were enlisted by Petra to take 112 kilos of apples to the local apple press. The result: 70 liters of fresh apple juice! The small co-op press was quite interesting and—being German—extremely efficient. The Ammersee turned out to be pretty damn cold to swim in, probably because there had been a lot of rain in the week before we got there. And jumping out of Kleiner Blaupfeil in the middle of the Bodensee to swim once around the 26-footer was a bit nerve-wracking.
Ammersee at Herrsching
A Jamaican biergarten in the middle of Bavaria. Go figure!

Visiting both of these lakes, riding the bikes, and getting to see old friends was almost the perfect way to end this quick trip to Germany, but on the Monday before I left for the US it went one notch better: Sabine took me to a tiny Walden-like pond that her friend Frieder leases and where one is far, far away from everyday worries and sounds (if one discounts the occasional plane that starts and lands at the MUC airport). Let me tell you: It was magic to lie on the small, squeaky wooden deck with big carp swimming below and looking at the branches overhead and the deep blue sky. Nope, no pics, just great memories.
Isolde and Sabine ready Kleiner Blaupfeil for our outing ....
... while Bernd has taken over as Harbor Master for the day
It was a short 12-day trip, but Sabine and I had a fabulous time, not only because we got to swim in six different lakes. And now it's back to the races.


Friday, August 7, 2015

Matters of the heart

Still life with magazine and my meds
It was one week ago that I got back on my bike for the first time since my heart ablation exactly 15 days ago. Yes, that was immediately after my trip to Mammoth, a red-eye flight back home to Texas, and a long drive to Temple and Austin. The Afib that I had been battling for a while had necessitated intervention, and my cardiologist had managed to open the door for the procedure at St. David's hospital in Austin, and that's where they stuck tubes and catheters through my groin all the way inside of my heart.

The procedure was a bit like something out of a sci-fi movie. Remember the 1966 flick "The Fantastic Voyage," in which a few docs and scientists get shrunk to molecular levels (together with their submarine) and get injected into some VIP patient's bloodstream to fix somewhere something? Well, that's more or less what Dr. Rodney Horton did when he guided a laser toward portions inside of my heart to zap away bad electrical contacts. Amazing what modern medicine can do. Good thing I haven't seen the hospital bill yet.... (No worries, my insurance will pay and I'll be on the hook for only the deductible.)

What a coincidence it was that cycling magazine Velo ran a special story on (older) endurance athletes and heart issues! Quite frankly, it's frightening. If you'd like to read the extremely interesting story, please link to for the entire read. It appears that medical research is trying to catch up with us geezers and our arrhythmia problems. There are numerous medical articles that research this topic. What I gather at this point: Maybe our obsession with riding longer and faster has not been such a boon to our health, after all.

Upon Sabine's suggestion I'll spare you the pic of my bruised right groin, which really was the part of the body that felt the worst. Man, those colors were reminiscent of a top-10 West Texas evening thunderstorm sky! After six hours of total bed rest flat on my back I was allowed to get up and walk around my hospital room, and a day later I was discharged. I spent one night in Austin with Vance and Brandi, and then I spent another two nights in Temple with Martha and Alan to recuperate a little more. Then I drove back to Lubbock to continue my recovery in sight of my foxes.
The little guy is starting to really grow up
Playing in the playground
For a few days I did nothing except watch TV, read, and answer e-mails. Then, last Friday, my week of "no exercise" (necessitated by those holes in the groinal arteries that needed to heal) was over and I slowly started to get back on the bike. Six miles the first day; 12 the next. And then it was 23 and then 26, my longest so far. Meanwhile, my friend Barry from NYC had shown up for a visit to his parents here in Lubbock, and I subjected him to an agonizingly slow ride east of town. Yep, those rides are very slow: Not only do I continue to be on beta blockers, but I have also been prescribed yet another heart med that really takes its toll. Go a bit faster than 13 miles an hour and it feels as if I were dragging a 150-pound anchor up a steep gravel road.
The Ritchey is enjoying the Catskills, and so am I
Two days ago it was time to get on another airplane and jet out to Albany, NY, from where I drove the final hour or so to Windham, in the Catskills. This is the fifth time that this small hamlet hosts a round of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup, and I am wearing one of my many different hats out here. It's always nice to see old friends, and Windham must have one of the greatest communities as far as pulling together and putting on a world-class event is concerned. Nick, Lori, Rick, Amy, and all the other locals have become friends over the years, and I am grateful for the opportunity to work here again.
This ain't Lubbock
There are definitely some interesting looking places out here
I have brought the Ritchey along, and since my first two days out here actually gave me a little down time I have made good use of it and ridden a total of 40 miles (or four hours!) through the beautiful valleys here. I really can't climb, and even in the flat areas I am not much faster than 11 to 12 miles an hour—but I still enjoy the scenery!
Just in case you've been wondering where our Canada geese spend the summer:
Just a little while ago I rode the chair lift up to the top of the mountain. Just think, three weeks ago I was in Mammoth. The change in scenery couldn't be more pronounced. How lucky I am to see all these cool places and even get paid for it!
The Sierra Nevada in California sure looked different
My real work will start tomorrow, and on Monday I'll fly back home. Tuesday I'll unpack and re-pack, and on Wednesday I'm off to see Sabine for a a good week and a half before returning for the Hotter'n Hell. And then I have my follow-up visit with my cardiologist and hope to get off those meds! Please wish me luck.