Two things made yesterday one of those really rare, perfect days.
Sixth Grade Graduation
First, a little boasting. Purely for context, mind you. My twelve-year-old son is in the gifted student program in his school, which is awesome on its own merits. The fact that he is also the top student in that gifted students program is icing on the cake.
And because he’s the top student in his class, he had to (didn’t want to — like Susan, he shuns the spotlight) give a speech at his sixth-grade graduation yesterday.
What he did with the speech, though, is what I really want to boast about. He surprised his mom by finishing with a tribute to her. It begins two minutes into the speech (He’s a soft-spoken boy, so you’ll have to turn up the volume on your computer):
A little more about this son. A week ago, when I found that he’s one of the top students in his school, I wanted to do something special for him. I mean, he had achieved this just because of who he is — I haven’t offered any kind of "Get an "A," get a prize" bribe to him. And yet, even with everything going on, he’s continued to be incredibly conscientious about school.
So I told him, "Back when I was a kid, my parents bribed me to get even reasonable grades. But you’ve gotten incredible grades just because it’s the right thing to do. I’d like to give you a reward. Think about something you want, and if it’s reasonable, I’m going to get it for you."
What I didn’t tell him was what "reasonable" meant. Although my "reasonable" went pretty darned high for this kind of accomplishment in the face of pretty lousy circumstances.
Every day for a week, I’ve been asking him, "Have you figured out what you want?" Every day, he’s said no.
Then, yesterday morning, he said, "Dad, stuff just isn’t all that important to me."
How could a dad not be proud of a son like this?
A Talk With the Doctor
OK, now the other good part of yesterday. Each Thursday, Susan meets with a radiation oncologist, where he asks her scary questions about her symptoms. Does she have crippling headaches? Does she have seizures? Is she losing her memory?
Susan’s answering "no" to each of these questions. Further, she isn’t experiencing the overwhelming fatigue most people get after brain radiation.
Susan’s doing, in short, exceptionally well.
So the Doctor said that after Susan’s last radiation treatment, there’s no reason for her to stop by for a checkup for six weeks or so.
Yeah, yesterday was a really good day.
Yesterday, in the spirit of full transparency, I announced my plan for how I would race that day. Nobody could say they were caught off-guard by underhanded tactics.
Sure, they could still say my tactics were underhanded, and I wouldn’t refute such a statement. But they couldn’t say they were caught off-guard by aforementioned underhanded tactics.
I shall now describe the race, and let you judge whether these tactics were successful.
Before I talk about the race, though, I think it’s important to point out that this race marked the rollout of the 2008 Fat Cyclist jersey. There were quite a few of us sporting the men’s pink jersey:
From this photo, it’s quite clear that:
- I have ridiculously short, stumpy legs.
- I am about to pass out from holding my stomach in.
And then after the race, I got a couple of photos of Dug and me, because it’s very important you see something unique about Dug’s jersey. Here’s us:
And here’s Dug’s back.
So, um, did anyone else get a jersey with an upside-down logo on the back? Because I am incredibly jealous. I offered to buy it back from Dug for $250.
He did not accept my offer.
[Note to Twin Six guys: I think we should seriously consider an upside-down horse in the next iteration of the jersey. It could stand for "Fat Cyclist in Distress! Please send help immediately, preferably in the form of pie!"]
OK, On To the Race
In spite of my stated plan to cruise the race, when I got there, I could feel the pre-race antsiness creep up on me. I sensed that once riding, there wasn’t a lot I’d be able to do to hold back.
What surprised me, though, was how many people there were at the race in general — at least a couple hundred — and how many there were in my category (Men’s Sport 40+). It looked like there were maybe twenty of us.
Dug and I lined up side by side when it was our wave’s turn to go. Kanyon Kris got in front of us, thumping his chest and snorting in derision. "See my butt? Kanyon (as he prefers to be called) asked. "Well, get used to it, cuz that’s all you’re going to see during this race."
Man. Kanyon Kris loves his trash talk almost as much as he loves the letter "K."
The race director yelled "Go," and Dug and I quickly got shot out the back. Flat ground is the natural enemy of singlespeeds.
Dug is able to hit a higher cadence than I can, evidently, because he quickly got in front of me. Then the course turned to curvy, rolling singletrack. No need to push myself; we were stacked deep in the middle of a line of twenty or so riders on close singletrack. The effort you expend on a pass in this situation is simply not worth it; you make up no time whatsoever.
So I sat in, following Dug’s line. And that is when Part I of my plan to defeat Dug went into full effect. Specifically, a garden gnome in my employ, dressed in full camouflage, sat waiting at a strategic location on the trail: the lowest point in a sandy, off-camber dip-turn. As Dug hit that low spot, the gnome used magick most fowle to cause dug to wash out his front tire.
Dug went down heavily on his right side, with what I like to call a "harumph" of despair.
"You OK?" I asked as I went by, chortling and not waiting for an answer.
I would not see Dug again for the rest of the race.
A short section of singletrack climbing revealed something I had not noticed before. It can be really difficult to race behind a geared bike when you’re on a singlespeed. This is because the solution to a short, steep pitch is so much different on a geared bike than on a single. On a geared bike, you drop down into a lower gear, keep your cadence where it was, and spin up to the top. On a singlespeed, that’s not an option. You’ve got to build momentum at the base of the climb and then power up.
If — and this is a big "if" you’ve got enough power to reach the top of the climb, you’re going to get there faster than the guy on the geared bike.
Which is my way of saying that I nearly rear-ended geared bikes more than a dozen times on this race.
Anyway, as the singletrack gave way to jeep road, I caught sight of Kanyon Kris. I’m not certain why, but it seemed like a good idea to pinch his butt as I passed him.
So I did.
"You goosed me!" he said, matter-of-factly.
Let’s be clear. There is a big difference between a pinch and a goose. I would never goose somebody. And yet, I did not dispute his claim, even though I knew it to be false. I am above such petty squabbles.
Not every course in the world is ideally suited for singlespeed bikes, but yesterday’s course is. I did not reflexively reach for a lower gear the entire race.
And more importantly, my singlespeed drivetrain allowed me to feel smugly superior for big chunks of the ride.
I’m not sure how many times I saw people slow down drastically or even have to pull over in deference to their malfunctioning derailleurs (the course is sandy and has a deep water crossing at the beginning of each lap).
Simplicity doesn’t always equal elegance, but a good singlespeed sure feels elegant. Plus it makes people think you’re racing with a disadvantage when in fact at least most of the time a singlespeed can be every bit as fast as a geared bike.
Which is my long-winded way of saying that my WaltWorks Custom Stock is magically delicious.
Yesterday’s race was mostly on singletrack. When you’re climbing, there’s hardly any point in passing. When you’re descending, though, it becomes crucial. You’ve got to let the person in front of you know that you need to get by. But you don’t want to be mean about it. And you want to let them know at such a time that it’s possible for them to let you by. And then, if they don’t let you by, you’ve got to have a followup request that is more insistent, but not strident.
Singletrack bike racing: it’s more about the art of negotiation than anything else.
Passed at the Last
Before the first lap was over, I noticed that I had arrived at whatever place I was going to be in for my class in the race — the tags of all the riders around me were different colors than mine.
Weirdly, I had no idea what my place was. Was I tenth? Fifteenth? I hadn’t marked my approximate position in the initial scrum, and by the time I had finished the first two big climbs on jeep roads, I no longer had any idea how many people had passed me or how many people I had passed.
As I finished the second lap, though, I did finally encounter one guy in my class. We were on a gravelly, flat stretch right before the finish line. He passed me, and by the time I noticed he had the same color tag as me, it was too late to do anything about it.
I say "it was too late to do anything about it" as if I had anything left to do anything with. I was cooked, and he flew by, finishing eight seconds ahead of me.
To my credit, however, I refrained from yelling, "I’m on a singlespeed!" as he went by.
Mission Accomplished, for Brad, Tasha, and Me
Complete race results haven’t been posted, but I am happy to report that Brad won his Expert class — his first-ever Expert Class win, and he did it on a singlespeed. Check him out.
For those of you who are wondering, that duct-taped message Brad was wearing says "BEAT BOB" — Brad’s personal goal — and "WIN SUSAN."
And while I don’t have a photo of it, Tasha — Brad’s wife — won her class too. She was also wearing a Fat Cyclist jersey, also with a duct-taped "WIN SUSAN" message across her chest.
Have I mentioned that Brad and Tasha have been bringing my family dinner each Sunday afternoon, too?
I have such great friends.
As for me, well, I took fifth in the Men’s 40+ Sport category. Not bad at all, especially when you consider there were at least a hundred or so of us in that category alone.
Or possibly 20.
I’m not going to be racing much at all this season, but it’s good to know that if I lose a few pounds, I could still be a reasonable contender in the Sport category.
PS: I know you’re going to ask, so: Dug took tenth. His story’s here. And worth reading, I might add, were I so inclined.
This afternoon, after work, I plan to pay $38.00 to race in the Third Annual Stan Crane Memorial XC Race. This race was supposed to be last Saturday, but was postponed due to a whole lot of rain on Friday night.
I admit that I was happy when the race was postponed, though I think I might have been even happier if it had been canceled outright.
Why would I have been happy for this race to be canceled? Well:
- The race is on a course that I ride — for free — between two and four times a week.
- I do not have a chance of winning the overall, nor of placing well in the overall.
- I do not have a chance of winning in whichever category I could race in (I’ll be racing on a singlespeed, but will probably enter the Sport category).
- I do not have a chance of placing well, no matter what category I race in.
- I’m very embarrassed to say that a size Large jersey fits me kind of tight around the middle. This is doubly embarrassing when you consider that a size Medium fit me nicely this time last year.
And yet, this afternoon I will race.
Should it ever become necessary, feel free to use the above as prima facie evidence in a trial designed to demonstrate that I am either insane or stupid. Or insanely stupid.
Level of Effort
Really, the question I have to answer for myself before I begin this race — and will probably ask and answer differently again multiple times during the race — is: “How seriously should I take the race?”
I see several possible answers, which I will put in another bullet list.
- I could cruise it. This is the sensible option. I’m not going to place well, so why knock myself out?
- I could give my all. Hey, if I’m going to pay to race, I may as well treat it like a race, right?
- I could tell people that I’m just going to cruise it, but then give my all with the secret and unrealistic hope that I will do well in the race. Then, when I don’t do well in the race, I can continue to maintain that I was just crusing it.
Of course, I would never consider that third option. It only occurs to me in a hypothetical sense, or perhaps it’s something I have observed in others, but would never do myself.
No, I think I’ll go with that first option: just cruise it. That’s my final say in the matter.
Though it would be kind of cool if I somehow managed to do really well in spite of the fact that I’m just cruising it. I mean, maybe I’ll have a really good day or something.
Even when you’re just cruising a race — as I am — smart tactics can make a big difference in how you finish. Here are the tactics I intend to employ in this afternoon’s race, in the form of yet another bullet list.
- Category is crucial. I’m tempted to race in what I assume will be the much smaller single speed category, thereby ensuring my category placement will be much higher (because last place would probably still allow me to say, “I came in fifth in my category”). However, racing in the Sport Men 40+ category lets me proclaim that while I did indeed finish last of everyone in the category, I was riding a single speed, which everyone knows is much harder. If I had ridden my geared bike, I’ll be able to say, I’d have podiumed. For sure.
- Category is crucial, part 2: The single speed category starts five minutes before the sport category. If I raced in the single speed category, this means I’d have to endure the humiliation of every age group of sport racers passing me. Since Sport Men 40+ starts after single speeds and younger Sport racers, I’ll only have to endure the humiliation of being picked off by the 50+ and 57+ men. And the Beginner men. And the Beginner Women.
- Victory is How You Define It. I hereby define victory for this race as “finishing before Dug.” Yes, Dug, that’s right. You’re the only person I care about beating this year.
- Accentuate Your Strength, Neutralize Your Weakness. The problem with me trying to beat Dug is that he’s about three times faster on the downhill than I am. My plan is to do whatever it takes — and I am not above nefarious means — to be ahead of Dug when the downhill section begins. You see, the downhill is entirely singletrack. And while I am a much worse downhiller than Dug, I am good enough to prevent him from getting by me. Getting on the downhill two seconds before Dug in this race could easily stop him from beating me by ten minutes in this race.
- Declare My Intentions to All and Sundry. During the race, any time I am passed, I will say, “I’m just taking it easy today.” I have not yet decided whether I will say the same thing on the off chance that I pass somebody. Though I kind of like the sound of it.
- Drink CarboRocket. It will help me hydrate, endure, and win. Plus it tastes great! (You owe me five dollars for that plug, Brad.)
I’ll provide pictures and a race report tomorrow.
Although, I want to make perfectly clear, I’m just cruising this race.
Last week, a literary agent contacted me, encouraging me to develop a proposal for a book. And I admit, I’m really interested in the idea. I’ve been turning the following question over in my head ever since: “What would my book be about?”
Now, believe it or not, I’ve written books before (all out of print — for some reason, books on WordPerfect 6 aren’t selling so hot anymore), so I’m not especially intimidated by the idea of writing a book’s-worth of text.
But this is different. This is personal. It’s not easy to answer the question, “What do I know that is big enough to fill a book?”
I’ve considered whether there could be a Fat Cyclist book before, but had mostly thought in terms of a Best of Fatty compilation, including my favorite posts and comments. Which means I’d probably have to share my (seven figure, I’m sure) commission with some of the commenters here.
Lately, though, as I’ve been writing to help me wrap my brain around Susan’s cancer and how it’s affecting us, I sometimes think that telling our story in book form might be worthwhile. The summary of events, after all, is pretty remarkable:
Fatty and Susan are the parents of four kids, including identical twin two-year-olds. About the time Fatty takes a 40% paycut at his job, Susan finds a lump in a breast. Cancer. As Fatty jobhunts, Susan gets ready for a mastectomy. Fatty tells Susan — as she wakes from surgery — that he’s accepted a job in Washington, and has put up their house for sale. Susan goes through treatment in Washington, after which Fatty starts a blog to keep in touch with his old friends and apply pressure to himself to lose weight. When Susan is better, the family moves back to Utah, where they have one easy year before the cancer returns, this time metastasized to stage 4, and aggressive as hell. Thousands of people — most of whom Fatty and Susan have never met — rally around to support them in their battle.
Or here’s a question: is it possible to have a book that tells our story honestly, but still with some humor? If so, that’s the book I think I’d like to write.
But then I think about my life right now and it occurs to me: I’m somewhat busy. Is now really the right time for me to even contemplate a book?
So, I’m asking: should I write a book? And if so, what should it be about, and how should it be about it?
PS: Tomorrow I’m going to try to be funny again. I’ll be interested to see how that goes.
Ever since Susan’s cancer came back a little over a year ago (was it really that recently? Seems like we’ve been living with it much, much longer.), the simplest question in the world has threatened to trip me up: "How’re you doing?"
I remember, in particular, one event. It was right after we had got the bad news: the cancer was back and it was in her bones, her lungs, her spine. Everywhere. I couldn’t even process it. But I was coping in the way I cope: running errands, getting things done, making lists and checking them off. So I was at the grocery store, picking up prescriptions and groceries. The woman at the checkout counter asked, as she always does, "How’re you doing?"
And I very nearly told her.
I sometimes think about where the conversation would have gone from there.
Of course, it’s not always so obvious that "How’re you doing?" simply means "Hi." There are people who know about what’s going on, and I figure that sometimes — but certainly not always — they really want to know how I’m doing when they ask.
So, since the honest answer to how I’m doing is no longer ever "fine," I’ve instituted an "OK to lie" rule. No matter how things are actually going, my first response to this question is now always, "Good. And yourself?" Because people who are really just saying "Hi" don’t need to hear the jumble of exhaustion and terror I’d have to give them if I answered honestly. And frankly, I don’t have the energy to answer that question honestly more than once or twice per day anyway.
If people really want to know how I’m doing, I leave it up to them to ask, "No, seriously. How are you doing?"
And How’s Your Wife?
When people ask how I’m doing, there’s at least a decent chance they’re just greeting me, or are expressing interest in seeing me run a self-diagnostic. When they ask how Susan’s doing, though, I honestly don’t know how to answer.
I know everybody is asking because they really care about her. But I don’t know for sure whether:
- They want to know how she’s doing today
- They want to know whether she’s improving since she started radiation
- They want to be reassured
- They want to know the long-term prognosis
- They don’t know anything about what we’ve found in the past three weeks and are just calling to chat. You’d be surprised at how many "real-life" friends and neighbors don’t have any idea that I have this blog (or, having heard that I have a blog, have never checked it out).
So, if I don’t know the depth of answer someone’s looking for, I’ve got a lie prepared for them, too: "She’s hanging in there." Again, it’s up to them to ask for details.
OK, Seriously. How’s Your Wife?
But you, of course, know what’s going on. And you’ve somehow managed to plod through what I originally intended to be a short two-paragraph introduction into the actual substance of today’s entry. Which is: how Susan is really doing right now.
First off, the radiation and steroid combination is helping. A lot. To understand how much, I need to give you a little more detail into how bad Susan had gotten before she started the radiation.
- She had completely lost the ability to sleep. She would toss and turn and shake and sit up and rock in bed. The whole night. Several nights in a row.
- She couldn’t sit still. Whatever wouldn’t let Susan sleep also wouldn’t let her even rest. And remember, she’s still recovering from a hip replacement last November, so being compelled to keep moving around was painful.
- She had lost most of her dexterity. She couldn’t tie a knot. She couldn’t fasten her seatbelt.
- She had lost her sense of space. I had to help her into bed, into the car, onto the toilet, and onto chairs, because turning around to sit down on something had stopped making sense to her.
- She had lost her ability to hold the thread of a conversation. She was still herself, but she couldn’t track long conversations, and if multiple people were in a room talking — it didn’t even need to be talking to her — she couldn’t track it at all.
- She was lost. A moment I will never forget is when I was sitting at the kitchen table and Susan caught my eye. She looked scared. I went up to her and she said to me, embarrassed, "Can you help me find the bathroom?"
We’re three weeks into five weeks of radiation therapy now, and none of the above problems exist anymore. Susan’s sleeping right now, she sat and enjoyed a movie with the family earlier tonight, and she’s able to handle normal tasks again — she doesn’t have her gifted-level of dexterity back (yet), but she’s able to do everything I can.
I have no illusions about this being anything more than a reprieve, but my family and I (and many friends, family members, and readers) pray for a miracle. Remission’s unlikely, but it’s not unheard of, after all.
Like every cancer-fighting treatment that I know of, the radiation comes with serious side effects.
The one that bothers Susan most right now is a scalded feel on the inside of her mouth and throat. You know how your tongue and the roof of your mouth feel when you drink something too hot? That’s how Susan’s whole mouth and throat feel, all the time.
The only kind of food she really enjoys is cold stuff. Milkshakes, smoothies (but not acidic ones), ice cream. Crunchy stuff (like Cap’n Crunch or Fritos) are horrible. I think the moment Susan looks forward to most each day is that on the way home from Radiation, she always gets whoever is driving her to stop and get an orange creamsicle smoothie at the Sonic Drivethrough. Nothing in the world tastes better right now.
Also, exactly as predicted, Susan’s hair started falling out as we began the third week of radiation. By now, though, we’re old hands at this. As soon as she noticed strands of hair on her shoulders, Susan told me it was time to shave her head.
I shaved it expertly and unsentimentally. Expertly, because I use the same electric razor to shave my own head three times per week now. Unsentimentally, because this is the third time I’ve shaved Susan’s head: twice because of starting chemo, this time for radiation.
I thought back to the first time I shaved Susan’s head and how traumatic we all thought it was. This time I just thought, "If this is the tradeoff for Susan getting so much of herself back, this is a bargain." Besides, she looks good this way.
The doctors say Susan’s likely to become more tired and weak as the radiation goes on. I haven’t noticed this happening yet, but we’ve got lots of help lined up for when (if?) it does. One sister just stayed a week with us, taking care of the family. Another sister’s coming at the end of this week. Then my mom’s taking a turn. Then yet another sister. And then yet still another sister.
I have never been so grateful to have so many hyper-competent and caring women in my family.
A couple of days ago, Susan mentioned she wishes the radiation was over and done with. I think I surprised her by disagreeing. "I wish it could go on indefinitely," I said. "Because it’s helping."
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