Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Monday, July 28, 2008

Social Suicide and Race Across Oregon

It was a week ago, but I've finally got the Race Across Oregon pictures posted.

I was the crew chief for a four-man over-50 team called "Old Goats for Cycle One." I didn't get the memo, or I would have grown a goatee like everyone else (except Bev and Laura, of course), such as Mike Manning's here.

Race Across Oregon is a grueling endurance race. It starts in Portland, winds up to Government Camp via Sandy, and then loops through central Oregon all the way out to Prineville before ending up back at Timberline Lodge (yes, as in Kubrick's The Shining) for the finish line. It constitutes 535 miles and about forty thousand feet of climbing. And it's not a stage race. You snooze, you lose!

As a consequence, every participating team is required to have support vehicles. At night, a vehicle must trail the rider with the rider in their headlights and two pairs of flashing amber lights clearly visible from the rear. During the second day this is strongly advised though not strictly required.

Our team had a small RV and two outfitted pickup trucks for the support vehicles. JR and I ran the second pickup truck, which substituted for the main follow vehicle when necessary and held the bike for the next rider.

The course ran through some breathtaking scenery, and I use the word breathtaking for two reasons. First, it was flat out gorgeous. I kept thinking to myself, "I want to ride this--but not all 535 miles at once." Second, this is some of the most remote country I've been in, out side of say, a Cycle Oregon ride. We had 15 spare gallons of gasoline loaded in the pickup trucks, and we used ten of them to keep on the road.

The part of the race I remember most vividly was waiting at the top of Ochoco Summit around two in the morning waiting for our rider to scale the last rise before Mitchell. We had our motors off and were frankly just grabbing half an hour of sleep waiting for Kevin to show up. The Milky Way was resplendent above, and the site was completely silent except for the wind. Us city slickers don't get that kind of solitude very often.

JR and I took turns driving. JR was an excellent shotgun, especially at that dark hour of the morning where your diurnal clock is saying sleep sleep SLEEP!. JR is an interesting character, a therapist retired from the Veterans Administration and the Washington County area who moved to Prineville about two years ago.

JR, it turns out, runs about ten marathons a year and is preparing for an Ironman later this year. Did I mention he's 64 years old? I wanna be like him when I grow up!

I told JR, somewhat tentatively, that I felt like many older people who have grown physically inactive have just given up on their bodies. "Oh, that's probably about 85 to 100% of the people I saw at the VA". He continued: "The worst were the 'social suicides'."

"What are those?" after I pass the follow vehicle and start up the hill.

"Those are the people who are killing themselves with destructive behavior. Like the guy on an oxygen tank who turns off his oxygen, steps outside for a cigarette, and then spends 20 minutes coughing before he can turn on his oxygen again."

I was surprised to hear him quote such a large percentage. I certainly don't want to say it's 100%; I mean, there are certainly people out there like Christopher Reeve who have less control over their physical health than others.

However, coming from a health care professional, that's pretty damning. Do you want to run an Ironman in your mid-sixties, or do you want to curl up with your pill bottles and watch The Price is Right?

Many hours went by...and then I resumed the thread. "You know, JR, there's a connection between the automobile and social suicide that I don't think people have grasped."


"Well, I just read not too long ago that the average American walks 350 yards per day. I beginning to wonder if there is a connection between that dreadful number and metabolic syndrome. Further, metabolic syndrome generates a vicious spiral where the individual is less likely to exercise and make other positive life choices because of their weight."

Portland Parks and Recreation hates bicyclists. They chose to block a bike rack instead of putting the blue room in an automobile parking space. Or, as one person put it, "Bikes mean less than crap to PP&R".

It just amazes me how people aren't willing to connect the dots when it comes to little choices they make (like in this picture) and the overall issues involving public health and health care.

Speaking of which, my wife made it out of day surgery on Friday, but not unscathed. They shooed her out of the clinic, and by the time we got home she was in severe pain. The doctor's advice? Go to the emergency room. Fooey. That is the least efficient method to acquire medical care. But we did so. We were amazed at the long wait, at eleven in the morning on a Friday. The staff allows that the demand has doubled in the last six months. What in the world is going on? Anyway, my wife is fine. Once she was "caught up" on her pain management, the prescribed medication was completely sufficient for the rest of the weekend.

Back to RAO: our intrepid crew made it fifth across the finish line, and we set a course record for our division. It was actually a bit disappointing, because the other group in our classification gave us a great run for our money for about the first 130 miles. I was kind of looking forward to a tense tight race, but after about 9 PM on the first day we didn't see them again.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Most Advanced Engine in the World

My wife had a "day surgery" yesterday and she fell off of the back of the conveyor belt before her pain was under control. I ended up with a very stressed wife and a very long and expensive trip to the emergency room for "pain management." If they'd kept her at day surgery for another half an hour I think we could have avoided all of that annoyance.

On to lighter subects: yes, it's an advertisement. It's still great.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

T plus Eight Weeks

Copyright (c) Andy Singer; noncommercial use only

I see that a number of people have found my blog because they were googling on terms like "low testosterone." If you aren't interested in my health issues, you might want to skip this post. If you're reading my blog for the first time, I write a lot about bicycling and living west of Portland, Oregon. However, I found in the spring that I was suffering a hormonal deficiency, and both the ailment and its treatment have been life changing. When I mentioned this to my primary care physician, she said she believes it's one of the most under-diagnosed ailments in older men.

Since I started getting the shots about two months ago, my quality of life has altered drastically, mostly because of the treatment. Testosterone therapy is a risky and scary thing. The potential side effects can be life threatening, which actually caused me to delay seeking treatment for about half a year. I want to discuss the flip side today, which is that if you need it, you should seriously consider trying it.

You know, when you think about it, if women's ovaries can wear out, why not men's testicles? However, I think the similarity stops there. Women have these whip-saw once-a-month hormonal swings, whereas men have fairly constant androgen levels that slowly decrease with age. My point is that while menopause has positive as well as negative health benefits, male andropause seems, according to my research, to have mostly negative results.

The remainder of this entry is a presentation of the perceived effects to date. They're mostly positive, and-of course--YMMV (your mileage may vary). The list is so huge that I've had to make a list before seeing my specialist next month. That in itself should give you a pretty good sense of how significant this treatment is. I want this message to get out because testosterone deficiency is such a gradual thing that it's easy to dismiss the effects until you wake up one day with an acute symptom.

The web sites that say "do you have low testosterone? take the test" didn't really help me very much. All of the questions were "gimme's", things like you're not happy with your weight or your athletic performance, or you're more tired, or wondering about your sexual performance. Excuse me? How am I supposed to distinguish between the normal effects of aging and all the things you're talking about?

Instead, I'd like to share my personal experience with this treatment, to give you an idea of how dramatic the changes can be. Again, this treatment isn't for everyone. I'll be on blood tests for the rest of my life, and the shots are a pain in the butt, both figuratively and literally. It might even kill me. However, the quality of life difference has been immense, and I hope if your doctor has diagnosed you with low testosterone (below 300 ng/dL) and you think you're having some quality of life issues, that you'll seriously consider at least trying the treatment.

One section deals with urogenital effects. If you're uncomfortable hearing those things, you might want to skip to another one of my posts.

Mental Effects

I'm listing these first because the mental symptoms had the earliest onset.
  • greater visual erotic stimulation, [+1 day] Yeah, I like looking at women again. I mean, for a while there, it was the weirdest thing: "yes, she's pretty, but I just don't care." Is this a positive or a negative? Well, let me put it in a way that women understand: do you like looking at cute animals? You like looking at children? Yeah, it's kinda like that; it's one of those small daily pleasures in life.
  • more assertive [+4 days] No, I don't mean aggressive; I mean standing up and getting my point across.
  • more sexual thoughts [+2 weeks] One point last winter I realized that I could go for a day or more without thinking about sex. Women might wonder what the big deal is, but I'm sure men out there know that that just ain't right.
  • clearer thinking [+2 weeks] Me hunter. You mammoth. Me chase mammoth. Seriously, though, my ability to follow complex reasoning seems to have improved.
  • less grumpy [+3 weeks] I don't normally use the word "grumpy" to characterize my bad moods. Anxiety is term I would more commonly use. But over the winter my problems went beyond any sort of anxiety or seasonal afflictive disorder syndrome.
  • more competitive [+4 weeks] Just the sort of thing women roll their eyes about. Guy pulled up to me on another bike at a stop light and blew by me as it just turned green. I wasn't about to seem slower than him. Oh, yes, I last saw him half a block behind me.
Athletic Performance:
  • Faster cycling [+1 day] There is an immediate effect on my cycling performance, both overall and the day after a shot. (Sorry, Floyd Landis.)
  • Reduced recovery time [+4 weeks] After the Birkenfeld Brevet I was sore the second day after the ride. I'd never had that before, and I don't now.
  • Stronger (25% more power in 6 weeks just bike commuting). Let me explain this. When I commute around town, I don't make it an athletic event. I ride at a comfortable pace. I start coasting when I see I'll have to stop because of a light or a stop sign. All of these things mean that my average speed, as measured by miles traveled divided by total on-saddle time, is not going to be very impressive. Every two weeks or so I copy those two numbers off of the cycle computer on my thirty pound monster and enter them into my training log. Imagine my surprise when I saw this dramatic increase in average speed.
  • Faster running [+6 weeks] I suck at running. But it's good for you. All winter long I just could not get my mileage up, and my perceived exertion was pretty high. I still suck, but I suck less bad at it now.
Not for the squeamish, but since one of the major indicators of low testosterone is low sex drive, it's not fair for me to omit this.
  • stronger orgasms [+4 weeks] I just wasn't enjoying sex as much. This changed surprisingly quckly.
  • more frequent orgasms [+4 weeks] Kinda goes with having a greater sex drive.
  • spontaneous erections (with sexual thoughts) [+6 weeks] Man, I haven't had this symptom since, well, my twenties.
  • frequent morning erections [+6 weeks] It's actually an annoyance since usually you need to urinate.
  • more semen [+6 weeks] This needs some discussion. I had discounted the decrease in semen as a side effect of another drug I'm on. As soon as I noticed this change from the the therapy, another light bulb went off: PSA == Prostate Specific Antigen, a rapid increase of which may indicate prostate cancer, which in turn means runaway metabolic activity (cancer cells). And, my specialist is avidly looking to find a new baseline measure for my PSA level because of the treatment. Aha! It all makes sense!
  • possibly more hesitation when urinating, esp. at night -- I can't even say for sure this is happening, but all the medical geeks say that increased urinary problems are possible.
  • no more hot flashes [immediate] Waking up at four in the morning covered in a cold sweat for no apparent reason was not enjoyable.
  • higher heart rate (both resting and max [+1 day] This is not reported in the literature, but my resting heart rate had dropped about 15 beats per minute over the last year or two before the treatment started. My maximum heart rate has also risen close to its previous levels.
  • More energy (perceived tiredness, amount of sleep) [+2 weeks] I'm still lazy and I still procrastinate, but I'm not so flippin' tired all the time.
  • oily face [+3 weeks] It seems like whenever I wash my hands in the bathroom, I also wash my face now.
  • scalp fungus [+4 weeks] Way back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I went to my doctor and complained about acne on my scalp. He said it wasn't acne, it was fungus brought on by my body chemistry. He prescribed a shampoo back then, which I use on an as-needed basis, typically in the spring and fall. However, I realized when this symptom recurred that I hadn't had it in about five years. I'm betting this is closely related to the oily skin.
  • sleeping much better [+4 weeks] I wasn't expecting this one. I fall asleep faster and I awaken less frequently. My middle-aged male visit to the bathroom in the middle of the night is much less annoying now. It goes without saying that I am also much more rested upon arising in the morning.
  • improved sense of smell [+6 weeks] Hunh? Hey, I'm just reporting it. I can smell again. Probably not good for any weight loss attempts, since I enjoy eating again.
  • increased beard growth [+8 weeks] I know, this is frequently reported in the literature, but have I very little beard to begin with (my Cherokee ancestry, I'd like to think), so I wasn't really expecting anything dramatic here. However, I simply can't skip a day of shaving any more.
What have I not seen? Well, no "roid rage", but I think my emotional demeanor was pretty decent to begin with, and the medical geeks believe this is actually an exacerbation of existing emotional problems. Also, I haven't lost any significant weight yet (drat!), but I would expect that to be very gradual. Finally, I have so little hair on my head that any hair loss would be imperceptible. I'm not a "chrome dome", but it's already very thin, so I doubt this will ever be an issue for me.

Copyright (c) Andy Singer; noncommercial use only

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Portland in the News

The tide is shifting. Are you part of the problem or part of the solution?

Monday, July 7, 2008

More on the Columbia River Crossing

I just read this morning that the Columbia River Crossing will only be effective for twenty years.

Umm. This is a four billion dollar bridge. For those of you who don't live in the D.C. beltway, that's a lot of money.

It's time to do a bit of arithmetic. Let's assume that the bridge carries the expected amount of 2030 traffic for its entire twenty years, with no reduction in frequency due to tolls.

That ends up being

$4.0e9 / (20 years) / (365 days/year) / (225000 trips / day) = 2.50 $/crossing

That's two and a half clams for every single crossing. Five dollars for a round trip.

However, the CRC people themselves acknowledge that if that charge a toll, fewer people will use the bridge. The new math:

$4.0e9 / (20 years) / (365 days/year) / (178000 trips / day) = $3.08

Surely they can't be smoking the whacky weed on both sides of the river. Why are people even considering this? The goal should be to efficiently move people, goods, and services across the river.

Why do people choose to haul 3500 pounds of polluting metal over the existing Interstate bridge twice a day? It's because they need it in order to conduct their business once they make it onto this side of the river.

Let's put this in terms we can all understand. Tri-Met's operating budget for the current fiscal year is about $300M. If we were to invest the CRC money directly into Tri-Met, it would increase our capitalization in mass transit by over fifty percent. over that same 20 year period.

I visualize cross-town links from Milwaukie to Tualatin, connecting Vancouver into the grid, and out lier support for areas such as Oregon City and Sherwood.

Even if we earmarked some of that money for improvements to the existing bridges (light rail crossing and needed repairs), the resulting infrastructure would be on an order to rival that of Manhattan, Tokyo, or any other major city in the world.

The CRC proposal is criminal (treasonous) thinking on the part of the terrorist-loving automobile pushers. I'll stop now.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


(Yet Another Traffic Gripe)

Sorry for the annoyance, but hey, if you are a motorist but haven't yet started using your body (walk, run, bicycle, skateboard) to get around, the message needs to be made.

This morning a motorist passed me on a narrow stretch with no shoulder and an oncoming car. No, "Brenna" (as her vanity plate read) didn't get over into the other lane; I could have reached out and touched her car as she passed.

As I explained to a friend later, "I had a moment of inattention." Really, that's how I'm beginning to see it. There seems to be a natural human inclination tendency to decide that if it's possible to pass a cyclist without crossing the yellow line, then it is safest to do so.

Yeah, right. For everyone except the cyclist.

The frustrating irony of it is that when a motorist chooses to cross over the center line, they will almost always give me plenty of room. There's a psychological threshold that gets crossed when a motorist goes over the center line. I don't even think it's an issue of a motorist being in a hurry. When I force a motorist to wait, I never get a sense that they're frustrated or impatient. (I know, never is a strong word. It could happen one day, but it hasn't yet.)

So, it's my responsibility to control the situation. Whenever it is unsafe to pass, I will move far enough to the left. (Thanks, Hal Ballard. Your advice to "control the lane" is becoming more and more central to my defensive cycling practice now.)

So why am I writing about this? I've discussed this before, and I'm probably preaching to the choir anyway. The point is, the Uniform Vehicle Code and the Oregon Revised Statutes both state that cyclists are to ride "as far to the right as practicable."

My concern is that I am taking a very liberal interpretation of this phrase. I found myself wishing (as "Brenna" turned onto Huntington, clearly another non-local using my side street as a through street short cut) that the legislature would grant me some specific allowances for these kinds of situations: passing over a solid yellow line, passing on a bridge, passing when oncoming traffic precludes achieving a safe distance).

According to John Forester, only three percent of all bicycle-motor vehicle accidents involve the cyclist being overtaken by the motor vehicle from the rear. I find myself arguing vehemently with people who think it's safer on the sidewalk that they are deluding themselves. (They're actually less safe, but that's another topic.)

And yet...

There is no other time that any vehicle travels as close to any other vehicle as when a motorist commits one of these unsafe passes of a cyclist. Think of it: even when you're traveling in adjacent lanes on a freeway you don't pass another automobile with such little clearance. Even when a cyclist is in an adjoining bike lane, you don't pass so closely.

Although I disagree with the cyclists who ride on the sidewalk, I sympathize with their concern. These unsafe passes, in my not-so-humble-opinion, are the most dangerous situations that I face with any type of frequency.

I understand the scorn of the Dutch blogger who said that American cyclists need helmets because they fall so much (evidently Dutch cyclists are thirty times less likely to get in an accident than American cyclists, and if you google on this you'll see there's quite a bit of controversy about whether helmets are worthwhile). However, I don't think it's the American cyclist that's the problem; it's the American motorist.