Saturday, March 27, 2010

It's DISC Golf! DISC! Not Ball Golf

So as I endlessly posted on Facebook, my awesome superfriend Indigo Brude was in town last weekend for the St. Patrick's Classic professional disc golf tournament at the Shady Oaks Disc Golf Course in Orangevale, just northeast of where I'm at in Sacto. Indigo turned pro this year, which means that she is qualified by the Professional Disc Golf Association to compete for puny-ass cash prizes. As a new pro, she hasn't won any of them yet, but she is continuing to improve and battle the nerves that come with the territory.

On Friday, we went out to the park and she introduced me to the sport while she scouted the course for the weekend's competition. Everything about this was fascinating to me. The concrete "tee pads," the layout of the holes (baskets on poles, actually), the rules, and the fact that golf discs come in all kinds of flavors, from long drivers to putters, and bear little resemblance to the Frisbee of yore. I used to huck a 140 in my recreational tossing, and a 160 in my occasional Ultimate games. (That's grams.) Golf discs are made by Innova or Discraft, they're smaller, and they're not really designed for catching.

I'm probably going to have to do several posts about how fun and odd it was to play golf with flying discs. More odd stuff: there are at least 3 different manufacturers of specialized bags to carry your discs and accoutrements. Indigo showed me how to drive the disc with a fancy combo of left-right-left footwork (for a lefty), level arm whip, and crisp wrist snap, and I promptly heaved the thing into the parking lot and under a car. Excellent start. But I got a bit better as we went along. About halfway through I got what Indi was saying about a tighter grip just before release imparting greater spin, and therefore greater stability, to the throw.

Indigo, as one might expect, was rippin' it. Her drives sailed straight and true and almost out of sight. Mostly. And she had a deadly "up" shot (akin to an approach shot in "ball golf"). She could almost always get near the hole in two shots; after that it all came down to putting. The Shady Oaks course was gorgeous - grasslands, the eponymous trees, a little creek that ran everywhere along the course, some shadier bits, some wide open bits, green grass everywhere, woodpeckers squabbling above. It was an unseasonably warm day, around 80 degrees, and it was awesome to have a day off and be outside. I was still feeling a bit draggy from a week of neurological (?) oddness, but I was basically well and enjoying learning something new.

Indigo was scouting the course and trying to figure out where each shot should go when she came back the next morning to play for real. It was interesting because I wrote about Indigo in Shape Up with the Slow Fat Triathlete as my prime example of a noncompetitive person, and her husband Mike is like, HAH! Because she has become a fiend for disc golf and has won all the amateur tournaments in her area. Well, nearly. So, you know, people change. And they are inconsistent, which I like.

Two more things, and then I'm going to take a break and go do some gardening :(
  1. You can hurt yourself throwing a disc. Of course, I can hurt myself doing almost anything. After just a few holes, I could feel my shoulder twang and my elbow tweak. I had to consciously relax my whole body and also take advil. Oops. But it didn't last. I heard horror stories of disc golf injuries the next day: torn rotator cuffs, sprained ankles, torn ACLs, even a broken leg. But mostly you'll hurt your arm, shoulder or back if you don't stretch, relax, and maintain good form.
  2. Coolest thing: I was on hole 18, which has a central path going by the basket. I had a pretty nice little drive, short but straight, and I was about 100 feet from the basket. I decided to just toss it in the general direction of said basket and try and get close enough to putt in. Took aim, fired... and the damn disc sank gently into the basket, barely even touching the guiding chains. A 100 foot putt! This is pretty incredible, even for disc golf. And the women's world champ, Val Jenkins, was walking right by at that very moment, along with about 10 other pros! They cheered and hollered, and I thrust my arms skyward in celebration. That was probably the best shot I'll ever make, even if I play for 20 more years. Still, it was a rush. So I bought a driver and a Skeeter utility disc at the pro shop (yes, the pro shop!), and as soon as I finish gardening, I'm gonna practice. The pic above is where I made that amazing putt.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

An Open Letter to Tony Kornheiser

Sent to the ESPN radio "personality" via Facebook messaging: 3/18/2010 at 4:17 pm PDT:

I'm extremely sorry that you are getting so much publicity for your ignorant, stupid statements about bicyclists. It would be better for you to wither into well-deserved obscurity, but at least thousands of people who ride bikes - people's husbands, wives, fathers, daughters, brothers, sisters - are rising up in outrage.

I say a lot of politically incorrect stuff, and I have even been accused of having an edgy sense of humor. But I have never publicly advocated or even pretended to advocate, killing or injuring or harassing people whose mode of transportation I happen to dislike. I dislike snowmobiles and powerboats, but I would not be such an ass as to go on national radio and say "Kill them." Even in jest. There are a lot of sick f--ks out there who will do just that. 52,000 cyclists were injured by motor vehicles in 2008. The autophile millions don't need your encouragement.


Bad Brain! Bad!

Well, it's a mix of triumph and trying. The BFFC stalled out this week when the body/nervous system quit cooperating. Monday I battled inertia and did the bike-train commute in spite of the dastardly daylight savings darkness in the morning. Felt a little underslept, as always on the first day of DST, but otherwise not too shabby.

A little before noon, I looked up from my keyboard and my head kind of did a swimmy thing. A shifty little lightheaded dizzy thing. "Huh." I said. I felt it a few more times. At about noon I got the funny flashing light in the left eye , and realized I was in for my fourth migraine. The previous three had all been different from each other, so I wasn't sure what to expect, but my office mate Sara tossed me a handful of Advil, which I wolfed down to prevent headache. The eye acted weird for a while, so I went and sat in the dark conference room. Came back to the desk, worked through the afternoon. Head still felt odd and I was tired. On the train home felt nauseated, sweaty, and more tired, so I slept. Felt better when I woke up so I decided to bike home rather than call Tim for a rescue ride. Didn't want to be wimpy or anything.

So ever since then, I've felt dizzy. Not like the room is spinning or I can't stand up, but kind of floaty, a little off. I can walk a straight line, I can stand on one leg, I can drive even, but
things seem shifty and funny and buzzy, and when I move my head in a certain way, it's more so. It's kind of like having three beers on an empty stomach. I called my doc yesterday, and she had as hard a time understanding this as I was having describing it. She suggested I take some Dramamine, which knocked me out for a three-hour nap and made me feel dizzier.

I took yesterday off work, and most of today, and I was already scheduled for a day off tomorrow. When I saw the doc today, she checked with a neurologist to see if this sort of thing could be expected after an ocular migraine. Apparently it happens. Neurologically, I seem ok. I don't seem to have an inner ear infection or inflammation. My blood pressure is normal.

I'm supposed to take it easy for a few days, call back if things aren't back to normal on Monday. Meanwhile, I mostly feel like napping, or engaging in nap-like behaviors, or nearly-naps, on the Big Poofy Chair.

Watch this space for updates.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

So That Worked

After the battering I inflicted on my bod up at Tahoe Donner last weekend, I took several days off from exerting myself, and hadn't really done much with the upper body all week. So when I got an early start to the day today, after miraculously waking up at 7:09 all by myself, I knew I was going to try and do a longish swim this afternoon.

I had tweaked my left shoulder a bit falling down the steps (snow steps, not actual steps) to the lodge at the end of the day. A bruise on the knee and one on the elbow, and the shoulder that ached all the way home. But then it calmed down and I thought no more about it. Until I got in the pool. Huh! I couldn't place it at the time, but after a little googling, I think it was the teres minor that was tight. See pic for details. Not a bad tightness, but noticeable. I relaxed my shoulders, arms, neck, upper back, and everything else I could think of to relax, and tried not to push the pace at all. And after a while I wasn't really aware of it anymore. Just kind of kept swimming and swimming and before ya know it, I was at 1600 yards. And then I did a couple hundred more, just for kicks, trying to see how few times I could breathe with each length of the pool. (Four, in case you were wondering.) So, cool! 1800 yards, longest swim of the Big Fat Fitness Comeback.

I think I'm about six months into the BFFC now, and here's a few things I notice:
  • My arms are stronger and more toned, especially the triceps
  • My calves have some definition
  • My quads are kind of gettin' there
  • I recover a lot quicker from workouts, especially swimming. When I first started up again, I couldn't raise my arms after a swim session.
  • Estimate that my resting heart rate is down about 5 bpm (need some kind of accurate timepiece to confirm this)

So that's working.

The Destruction Zone

The good people at Union Pacific (or is it Southern Pacific? I can never remember) are working on the railroad tracks and on Tuesday it took like half an hour to cover the 6 miles of track between Richmond and Berkeley. The conductor terms it "the destruction zone." So yesterday I rode the bike, even though I was a little tardy getting up and it was bite-ass cold. I wanted to be able to get to the office five minutes after getting off the train, somewhat minimizing the lateness.

The train was late even getting to Richmond, and then the conductor announced that it would take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to get from there to Jack London square - a journey that should take about 15 minutes. Argggh. I decided to bail and jumped off the train with my bike. I had been a little intimidated by riding from the urban setting of the Richmond train station in the past - partly the traffic, partly the gritty neighborhood, and partly the profusion of broken glass and random sharp objects that tends to festoon the streets of gritty neighborhoods. But using my Droid, I figured out a route that promised to be pretty quiet and led fairly directly to the Ohlone Greenway bike path, pictured above. I just found out that the route used to the be old Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroad track. Now it runs mostly along the BART tracks.

It was quiet. Eerily quiet. All the gangbangers were still tucked up in their cribs, I guess. I cruised over to the bike path. The greenway was more populated than the streets of the Iron Triangle. And to my intense annoyance, pedestrians littered the bike path even though there were clear signs saying bikes on the left, pedestrians on the OTHER path on the right. Grrrr. At one point a group of about 30 young people (college students?) strolled along the bike path, blocking the way completely. I yelled, "BIKE PATH! PEDESTRIANS OVER THERE!" but it didn't have any effect except to crystallize my irritation. That made me ride faster though. Channeling my aggression. After a while I forced myself to chill. The weather was warmer, it was a lovely way to get to work, and I was getting an extra eight miles of cycling in under the guise of getting to work. Not so bad.

The train was late on the homeward journey too, so I rode home in the serious dark, having left my headlight on the kitchen table after changing the batteries. Slightly tense, but successful. I applied some Anti-Monkey Butt Powder to my chafed behind (no time to find bike shorts this morning, big mistake!), and for dinner ate a big plate of pasta with porcini/tomato sauce.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Cow on Ice, Redux

I had a comp day after a busy couple of weeks at the office, and I had planned to test my Anti-Monkey Butt Powder on a long bike ride, make a trip to Trader Joe's, and do other amusing things. And then I said to myself, "Self,we're going skiing." Since moving to Sacramento, I had not availed myself even once of the great winter sports just a couple of hours away. I had been completely obsessed by the Vancouver Olympics and was inspired to get out there. I'm afraid of downhill these days, plus it's expensive, and I suck at it. I did some quick googling for cross-country and found that Tahoe Donner has a great XC ski center, with lots of nice flat-looking meadows for beginners, because I've been on XC skis maybe four times, total? The forecast was perfect; 38 degrees, no precip expected. I put on my cold-weather bike tights, gathered some tech garments, a fanny pack, and victuals, and jumped in the car.

Two hours later I was opting for striding skis over skate skis in the rental shop, largely because I thought that it would be easy to putter along on the former when I got tired, whereas skate skis seem to require a lot of effort all the time. I bounded up the snowbank and onto the bright white snow behind the lodge, and I clicked in. "Whoa!" I said. I had forgotten how incredibly light, skinny, and edgeless striding skis are. And long. They just wanted to go all over the damn place. I made my way cautiously toward the nearest set of tracks and tried to establish a rhythm of kick, glide, kick, glide.

Fifty yards later, I stopped, panting. This shit is hard, man! Plus I was dealing with 6600 feet of altitude. I caught my breath and set off again, a little more slowly. It felt great. I imagined myself with an Olympic bib, breaking away from a pack of people with names like Boergsen and Hakkipukkennen and Krystkowa. And then I stopped again to catch my breath. There was hardly anyone about - most of the people who wanted to ski on a Friday afternoon were out on the advanced trails with their own skis and boots. The snowpack looked to be about five feet deep, with some new fluffy stuff around the groomed trails. It was gorgeous. I started off again to where two trails intersected. The tracks vanished and a little undulation snuck in right at that spot. I promptly fell over.

The only time I had been on XC skis in a real cross-country situation was on a weekend retreat at Salmon Lakes with a bunch of outdoorsy types from Project RAFT, in about 1992. I did OK on the trail to the lodge, but during the orienteering challenge the next day, I was hosed. We were going up and down ridges, across deep snowfields, every damn where. I fell down early, often, and hard. I was surrounded by expert mountainy people who could do anything on skis, on water, with climbing gear, whatever, and my competitive ego was still a problem for me back then. I got very grumpy and whiny, and to this day I remember
my behavior with some embarrassment. Our Siberian buddy Sergei kindly likened the sight of me on skis to "cow on ice," which made me laugh in the midst of it all.

But in 2010, the Cow on Ice picked herself up and strode forward with a pretty sincere smile. I fell down again at the next tiny downhill, scattering loose change, lip balm, and my Droid in an impressive pattern on the snow. I didn't even find the Droid again until the next loop. Exercising extreme caution, I made it upright through the biggest downhill turning bit on the second-easiest loop in the whole resort, and sailed down the home stretch back toward the lodge. I stopped at the end of the tracks and promptly fell over. Exhausted, I lay quietly in the snow for a while, collecting the energy to get my skis off and get to my feet.

It's not the falling I mind, or even the landing (by and large), but the getting up. It's so awkward and so strenuous. I would happily fall down ten or 15 times on packed snow (though not ice), if a giant hand would only reach down from the heavens and pluck me out of the snow, brush me off, and set me down on my skis again.

I got myself re-situated, skiied over the trackless, slick snow toward the big trail map and -- you see where this is going, don't you? -- promptly fell over. A kind soul came over to pull me up, but I felt that my knees would not take the strain and I politely declined. I set out on my second loop, still in good humor. The weather was great, I was getting an intense full-body workout, and I was in the mountains. I made it around the second loop without a single fall, starting to feel a better sense of balance. I asked a nice man who skiied by me, coaching his flailing girlfriend, for a few tips, and those helped as well. People in the cross-country world are invariably nice, sincere, and helpful, as far as I can tell. It's a No-Snark environment. Weird, but not unpleasant. I went back to the lodge for a little break and refueling, chatting with the nice man and the girlfriend and a nice woman from Wisconsin who was freaked out by how big the hills were on the more advanced trails. I saw a woman whose skis seemed wider and more stable than mine, and I commented on that. "Yeah," she said. "It looked like they rented you some Death Sticks." Death Sticks. That had a nice ring to it.

I managed another uneventful loop, but the fourth time around I let myself get a little too much "speed" going into the "big" downhill turn. I sailed through the air and did a spectacular face plant into a fluffy snowbank by the trail. Ahh! Refreshing! I got out of the skis, struggled to my feet, wrote my initials in the snow with my pole so that those who came after would see the marks of my glory, clipped in, and strode on. My triceps, shoulders, quads, butt, and calves were all getting pretty tired after this effort, so I did one more mini-loop and called it a day. Unfortunately I took my hardest fall of the day as I was carrying my skis back down the snow steps to the rental shop, doinking myself pretty hard and tweaking my left shoulder, which ached all the way home.

This morning, though, after a massive dose of ibuprofen, a great night's sleep, and a very hot shower, I feel pretty decent. A bruise or two, a lingering stiffness around the shoulders and knees, and a strong urge to spend the rest of the day in a hot tub, but otherwise, pretty good. I want to get up there again before the season ends, maybe try some skate skis next time. At least they have edges.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Zzzzzz.... huh? .... Continued

So... I was writing about sleeping. And, ironically, after trying to go to bed early that night, I was still awake at 2 am, watching reruns of Law & Order: SVU. Sometimes, I get a bit of insomnia just to spice things up. Thankfully SVU or the original L & O is always on when you need it.

But usually, it's sleep that knits up the raveled sleeve of care. Sleep, sleep, sleep, sleepy sleep sleep. Mmm... Yeah, sometimes I used to sleep an extra hour in the morning as an escape from stress and strain, a way of procrastinating, a sheer indulgence. But a lot of times I was just knocked out.

When BBKS struck me, the compulsion to sleep became overwhelming much of the time. I would have to pull over sometimes in the middle of my drive to work and nap in Fremont or Hayward. A couple times I had to lie down under my desk at work,not to be a slacker (cause that's why God invented the internet), but because sitting upright was just impossibly difficult.

As an overweight, extremely fatigued person, I suspected sleep apnea pretty early on, but my caring HMO decided not to test me until I insisted. Sure enough, I was either not breathing or struggling to breathe some 23 times an hour. This is only moderate sleep apnea; some people have it much worse than that. Mostly it was struggling to breathe, or hypopnea, not the more serious apnea, where the airway completely closes. But it explained why I've been a loud snorer and long sleeper, and someone who woke up with headaches thinking that was just a normal way to wake up.

I don't know how long I had the apnea, but people have been begging not to room with me since I was at least 15. And I don't think I suddenly developed sleep apnea and that it then suddenly caused BBKS. My hypothesis is that the ongoing apnea worsened as I gained weight back, and then I had a ton of stress that I couldn't recover from, because I wasn't getting any actual restorative sleep. It all culminated in a kind of multi-systemic overload.

So anyhow. By the time I got diagnosed the BBKS was starting to recede. I was working full-time, able to socialize, able to run errands and do housework, even go through the exhausting process of buying a house and moving. I was still pretty wiped out some days, but I knew I was getting better. I had hopes that fixing the sleep apnea would catapult me into actual wellness.

A few more wrangles with the HMO and I ended up with an extra-fancy Auto-Positive-Airway-Pressure machine with a warmed humidifier and a tube connected to a "sleep mask" with "nasal pillows." I call the whole setup the "nose hose," and believe me, it's incredibly attractive. Oh, and I had to pay for it myself because of my crap health insurance.

It took me several months to get used to sleeping with this thing on my head and having air blowing up my nose all night. But lo and behold, it started to work. I started to wake up some mornings feeling strange. After a while I identified that feeling as "alertness." The morning headaches became less frequent. Sometimes I'd find myself bouncing on my toes a bit as I waited for my tea water to boil. After about six months I noticed that a night without the nose hose left me feeling hoarse and a little groggy. Two nights without it and I'd really be dragging. It was definitely working, and the little efficacy data menu on the APAP machine showed my apnea-hypopnea index going down from 23 to 6 or 7.

So if you're an overweight (or even underweight) snoring person who wakes up with headaches and feels tired all the damn time, do yourself a favor and get tested.

Next up: It ain't no silver bullet.