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.