Ballooning: Lighter than Air

The inside of a balloon, flipped. It actually reads Woo Hoo as seen when flying outside above this balloon.

Ballooning is one of my fondest pursuits. We’ve had fun with so many people. We’ve shared wonderful experiences, as well as tragedies, with friends, family and strangers in balloons.

That English teacher who opened the world for me through literature was rumored to be writing a book. So, one day I asked her. She said “I think everyone has at least one book in them.” Mine would be centered around ballooning. Honestly, I have started the book. I’ve been writing it for years, but I need to get disciplined to finish it, to make it readable.

I haven’t actually had the chance to be in a balloon for years, but here are some highlights from when I was ballooning regularly. I took all of the photos that I’m not in. The others were probably taken by who ever was standing around with whatever camera I was using at the time.

Hot Air Ballooning (HAB)

The pretty colors and large events that many people think of are primarily in hot air balloons. That’s a Lighter Than Air (LTA) craft with and onboard heater (the burners). Pilots and Aircraft have to be certified by the FAA.

ABQ Fiesta 2001 when they had 1000 balloons. This Adams Pop Top, has a really unique deflation system.

There are all kinds of balloons and all kids of ballooning, from festivals and joy rides to serious international level competition and record breaking flights.

Continue reading

I Put On My Big Girl Pants and Got On the Ski Lift at Natural Bridge

Natural Bridge State Resort Park, Kentucky, near Lexington

Do you ever push your personal boundaries, try to blow past your hang-ups? Or, at least take baby steps? I, the person who would rarely turn down a hot air balloon ride, am afraid of heights. That sounds irrational. And partly, it is, but, not like the person who jumps out of an airplane to get over their fear of heights. I’ll jump out of an airplane right after the pilot hands me a ‘chute, and says they’re leaving because they can’t land the aircraft. Why am I okay in a balloon? There’s no “walking through the fire” element for me there. In the basket of a balloon, I can see the condition of all the working parts. I know which weather conditions are safe. I trust the physics (and most Lighter Than Air (LTA) pilots).

My fear is both rational and irrational. My mother is afraid of heights. She never told me that she was, until I was grown and said that I was. Her theory: I sensed her fear, picked up non-verbal cues, and got it from her. Brains do work that way, but still, that’s the irrational part.

The rational part is my fear of things built by the lowest bidder, or a skimping contractor, or that were inspected by someone with things other than safety on their minds. Physical objects fail, and they fail especially badly when they’re not built to code, or maintained to standards. That goes for buildings, bridges, and roller coasters and ski lifts. As an adult, I’ve stood in line for a roller coaster with friends or family and not known, until the very last minute, if I would get on, or wait for them below. Those rides that mimic a falling elevator? I don’t consider them. I don’t even look in the direction of the screams when they’re running.

Sometimes I Deal with My Fear Better than Others

Once, my then husband grabbed me at the edge of a scenic overlook, and pretended he was going to throw me over. I wasn’t dealing with the fear well back then. Go figure, right? Something in him needed to get a big reaction, or maybe it made him feel strong. I don’t really know. After 2+ decades, I stopped trying to understand, or wait it out, and I ended the relationship.

I’ve been better lately, even occasionally wondering if the fear evaporated. I found out the day after the eclipse.

When ever we drive a long way, I start looking for things to do so we can make the most of resources spent. While doing so, I found Kentucky’s Natural Bridge. It became part of our trip plan.

Then, immediately before the trip, I had a collision with a doe. (BTW, when a deer runs in front of your car, the thing to do is look for pals. I did that, but I thought the other one had decided to turn around. Instead, she leapt and hit the back end of my car).

So, I had 24 hours to report and deal with the incident, to remove the pre-packing we had done. Sort stuff that always stays in the car, reassess- If I don’t need it on a road trip, do I need to have it in the car at all? I had to get an estimate and switch to a rental car, then re-pack. Then, I spent the night before we left Georgia tossing cookies and thought I wasn’t even going to make the trip. Russ thought it was stress. So much of life goes to eleven. I decided he was right. The symptoms passed in less than 24 hours without fever. If I wasn’t contagious it was ok to go, but I started the trip wrung out, none the less.

We enjoyed the eclipse with family, played games, laughed a lot and it was good. It was overdue family communion. But, now, I had the edge of a migraine creeping in, and that week before the trip, the week we had earmarked for getting a lot done on the T-shirts, Russ got a diabetes diagnosis. We spent that week dealing with the news and figuring out a lifestyle change instead.

When the time came, we were iffy about the Natural Bridge side trip. It was only an extra 40 minutes drive, but the weather was damp and cool. That rarely puts us off, but did cause us to opt for a hotel instead of pitching the tent. The truth of it is that we were exhausted.

Natural Bridge day was also Russ’s birthday, so I told him to decide whether to go. All things considered, it was near a coin toss, but we don’t make many trips, and being in nature cures some ills, especially those related to stress. We went.

We climbed up to balance rock first. It was beautiful and inviting, but both of us had lead legs and body pains. We usually want the exercise, but the steep grade wasn’t being kind to my knee, which was tired of being in a car. Russ asked if I wanted to take the tram up to the Natural Bridge. I did. We went to that parking lot. I said “Oh, it’s a ski lift.” Russ asked me if I’d be ok, and I said I would.

It was a beautiful ride with spring ephemerals blooming, turkey pecking at patches of feed in the grass, and squirrels scampering about. My nerves started really talking to me when the steepness of the last section became apparent. If I’m going to do this ever again, I need to learn what keeps the the lift seat from slipping on the cable through steep inclines. When the fear starts, I analyze things like how far the fall is. Is it survivable? How far and rocky is the roll after the fall? Is that survivable? If survivable, would I ever be the same afterward? Then, I ask for conversation before I can go further down that road. Russ like most anyone else who is with me, starts to say soothing things about the safety of components to the ride, then I re-direct. “No, talk to me about anything else. It’s distraction I need.”

On Top of Things

As we reached the top, I noted the proximity of the landing ramp to the edge of terra firma and knew that on the way back down, I’ll have to be prepared for it to feel like the ground just dropped away immediately after my seat scoops me up.

The walk from the lift to the top of the bridge was fairly short and flat with trees on either side. Then the top of the bridge was wide and flat, easy to cross and very open. The wind was gusting on this side of the slope with a drop of rain here and there, and I was in residual fear mode. I told Russ to amuse himself at his own pace. I’d be along. His own pace, of course, is with a ready hand at my side. He’s a keeper.

We explored the bridge from different angles, went through “Fat Man’s Squeeze”, (maybe it’s time to rename that?) met another person challenging her own fears, and took pictures for strangers who reciprocated. People on the stairs and through the squeeze were all very respectful of each other. We had a good time, but didn’t stay long. The rain was picking up, and fears aside, we wanted to take the tram down. Hiking down slippery rocks when you don’t feel good could be its own can of worms.

I asked Russ to take this in front of the rocks behind the steeper incline, even though this is my white knuckle look. My arm is behind his because I’m holding tight to both sides so I don’t move in the seat.

On the way down, I settled pretty quickly after the steep section, but never let go of the death grip I had on the bars on either side of the lift seat, even though that grip was shoving my spine into the back of the chair uncomfortably. Wind on the tram side was much lighter, and it didn’t gust at all until we were pretty near the grassy bottom.

I do think I’ll read (or listen to) some books, watch some videos and do some meditations geared toward getting rid of this fear once and for all. After all, danger is real, but fear is in the brain, and it can motivate all kinds of bad choices.

Have a Glorious Day, and we’ll see you on the trail.

Tuesday Trippin’ January 2024

For a little extra cheer, my MIL Tongue or Snake plant in bloom*

January had a lot of “more of the same” as December, but also some differences. We’ve had temperatures colder than my tolerance, some with rain in 3, 5 & 10 day runs causing the dread interruptions that really mess with my equilibrium. I’ve been better at staving off the exercise endorphin highs and lows with the stationary bike. Some time back, my grandson built me a computer deck that attaches to the stationary bike, so I can write while moving. I’ve really gotten good use out of that. I spend a lot of time multitasking.

These monthly updates for the project are going to change a little. They were originally designed to give a progress report in prep for our Kickstarter goal, as keeping supporters up to date on progress is a requirement. The best way to establish that you’re willing to do that is to start, and be consistent, especially when you’re unknown to the market, like us. I’m still going to be consistent and it may well still lead into a video.

But, in recognition of a few things, this segment will become more about what I do to stay healthy as I age. One reason is that the video project is feeling more distant to me now than it ever has, at least in its current form. I’m not so sure I need to put my body through two century (100 mile) rides a week anymore. It might even be more interesting to more people if the video project became more accessible. If people can see themselves doing a thing, it might be easier for them to get behind it. In addition to that, we all have bodies, and we are all aging, no matter the current number is, it’s getting bigger. Some of my posts may be specific to women, but half of us are female, so that’s fine.

I’ve been following Gurdeep Pandher. Sometimes he shows up in my feed just when I need the very stress reduction that he wishes to share. When he does, I take the time to click and watch him dance, and I receive that gift. Sometimes it’s just simple dance. I think I get the easiest attitude adjustment from those bits, and that is really nice. But then, sometimes there is a lot going on, like in this cultural fusion video, and that’s it’s own little trip. I’m going to count following Gurdeep as the first way I share to stay healthier as I age.

Following Gurdeep has helped me in another way too. He recently released a video about positivity. It’s a hoot! I recommend you watch it. It’s less than 4 minutes long, but he says it took him a year and a half to put it together. After scrambling to put our video together, starting from scratch and jumping around hurdles along the way, I believe that. What’s more it helps me cope with some of my feelings of failure and helps me to keep going.

So, there’s our change up, and we’ll see where our new slant on the old direction takes us.

Until next time, have a glorious day and we’ll see you on the trail!

* I bought this plant from an estate sale. The pot was huge, not garden variety huge. I mean really HUGE. The man who sold it to me was afraid to let me carry it down the stairs from the back deck. I wasn’t completely sure I’d make it myself, but it had belonged to his wife and he wanted it to live. When I got home I wasn’t able to get it out of the car alone. I’ve since divided it into so many smaller pots and given them away to a lot of people. The plants divided from this pot are the only ones I’ve ever had that bloomed. I’ve figured out that at full bloom, they last less than 24 hours, so I snapped this picture last night when I saw it.

Tuesday Trippin’ December 2023

December is always the most challenging month for fitness. It has the shortest days, the coldest weather, and when when a warm front moves in, it usually brings rain with it. I get the initial flush of excitement as I scan the daily highs in the 10 day forecast, and then I check the precipitation, and the excitement falls away. There are no days in the current ten day forecast that meet my pre-project ride day parameters. And, to cheer the long cool nights, so many people are eating their favorite high calorie foods. Maintaining an even keel takes perseverance. I’ve failed a bit and so my weight suffered a bit, as well as the blood pressure. There appears to be a line, and I’ve crossed back to the wrong side of it. I’m working on getting on the right side. The calorie/macro counting is underway.

December also has the solstice. With that longest night/shortest day behind us, each day grows a little longer and the time when most weeks have plenty of ridable hours moves closer and closer.

The big hike is over for Russ, but we continued walks up Kennesaw Mountain on colder days for the cardio and cross training. The views are so nice from the mountain in the winter when the ozone counts are lower and visibility is amazing.

Russ had a hike buddy share some Dr. advice for knees, walking backwards uphill. Today I did it on a hill that was steep enough that I think it may help sub for some of the strength training that I’m missing since letting the Y membership go.

Russ will be getting healthcare coverage next year, yea! His is quite expensive, but mine is 4 times the cost of his, so I won’t. I do not understand why the cost difference is so big. He’s younger, but I have no pre-existing conditions that should effect my rate, and the quotes I got didn’t take health information. It’s a mystery. It should be based on straight actuarial numbers, and I don’t know any reason my risk of needing catastrophic or long-term care should be so different from his.

Regardless, we’re thankful for the improvement in his situation, and I’ll be looking into formal employment, and deciding more urgently whether or not I need to give up on the video project to gain healthcare coverage for myself. The rubs are that the riding helps me to get along without healthcare better. It will be a challenge to find employment that comes with healthcare coverage and still allows me to keep up family obligations, and it’s hard to choose to work a job that pays little more than the cost of healthcare coverage, especially when pursuing other options makes me less likely to need said coverage. Choices, choices. They make all the difference.

I’m listening to The Ikigai Journey. I started it New Years Eve. I thought I had chosen another book about Forest Bathing, but my mistake was serendipity. The authors are talking about making impossible Shinkansen (stretch) goals, and then meeting them.

I already have one of the good kind, and it’s time for me to go there. Having purpose has never been a challenge for me, but narrowing my energy to a manageable number of purposes has, and having it pay for my life? I’m not as good at following a purpose that does that. It’s not a conscious choice, more a result of what it is that I find rewarding.

This will be my year to solve my healthcare and financial problems while maintaining purpose. I’m stating my first shinkansen goal now. I want to sell 8 million of the primary T-shirt that we are working on. The reason isn’t just personal or financial. Those goals are important, but I also want the message on our shirt to have it’s moment in the sun and make a difference to people and planet.

Here’s hoping you find your purpose and have a year filled with glorious days! Until net time, see you on the trails.

Tuesday Tripping November 2023

Summit of Kennesaw Mountain, survey Marker in front and a canon behind the fence. Taken Dec 1, AM

We’ve had some good rides in November, but today was my first enjoyable ride all month. We’ve had more good walks. In some ways it has been a lot like last month, only more days that were cooler than my current ride parameters, and as we near the Winter Solstice, days continue to shorten. Combined with “falling back” out of Daylight Savings Time, this is the most challenging time of the year to get a ride in. Mad props to the hardy souls in northern climes who ride in any weather or light level.

Russ is in Linville Gorge hiking as I write. That’s in the Pisgah National Forest, and hopefully he has prepped well enough for the ups and downs. Last time he had severe back pain for months afterward. It was this great experience with euphoric level endorphins followed by pain so intense and stiff that he missed a week of work and was not able to sit for a ridiculous amount of time. That was when he first put his desk on cement blocks so he could work standing.

The T-shirts are coming along. We had some personal stuff this month, my Mom’s 90th birthday in south Alabama, and Russ’s Dad visited for Thanksgiving. I needed to straighten up the house anyway :). But, when weekends are what you have, giving up two of them costs. As usual, our goals were more ambitious than our amount of available time allowed, only more so.

I found a way to be ok with it though. As I look at the tidal wave of advertisements trying to get that holiday cash, it became more ok. Do you get as many “Sadly we’re closing our store, but you can get our products for half price” ads as I do? They come from companies I’ve never heard of and show products that are actually somewhat interesting. The “half price” always seems to be a price one would charge at full retail. For many of them, I can go straight to Amazon and order the same exact brand for the same money, or less. I’m actually glad to separate our shirts from the season of selling hype. Just give me a minute and I can find the silver lining in anything.

This last week I experienced some old family conflict, frustration so old and tired it doesn’t break my heart anymore. I am so ready for success and change.

Hope you have a glorious day sometime soon, on the trail, or anywhere else.


Some reality set in at 3AM this morning, except that it’s fall back Sunday and we haven’t reset our clocks. I’ve been up for an hour now and the laptop is just rolling around to the 3AM that the clock was showing on the ceiling when I got out of bed. And BTW, if you don’t have a clock that shows time on the ceiling, I really like ours. Honestly, it is the easiest and lowest light way to display the time in a bedroom where two people can see it. We didn’t find one with good sound, but, we use our phones to play audio and alarms, and they’re no more expensive than other inexpensive bedside clocks.

What had me not sleeping this morning was doing the math on advertising. Increases in the bite that advertising and shipping took from my sales put me out of business in my Etsy store, so it should have hit me immediately. I built the Etsy business when those costs were a smaller percentage of sales price. My margins on an average sale no longer cover the cost of being seen. While I haven’t officially announced the death of the Etsy store, I’ve downloaded all my records from the beginning and there are only two products in the shop waiting to expire.

Things look Different When You Look at Them Separately

Like many, my investigation into T-shirts started at T-shirt cost, quality and availability. I want to use a quality product that is socially and environmentally sound. That is, the company that makes the shirts pays a living wage to workers, has good workplace conditions, uses lower impact processes, and cleans up after production.

My first impression was that I could have a modest mark up and still make a good profit. That is still what I want to do, but I’ve adjusted my reality on what a modest mark up is.

T-shirt printing companies that put their prices out there for all to search just quote the cost of the T-shirt. It’s all they can do. Shipping is complex, especially international shipping, and my advertising isn’t part of their picture. On top of that, if you sell more T-shirts, economies of scale comes into play and the production cost of each individual T-shirt becomes lower. For instance, if you sell 1 T-shirt, the set up cost is attributed to that 1 T-shirt. If you sell 10, the set up cost is divided by 10. At different numbers of shirts they even change printing processes because they become more economical. Some producers keep the price break. Some pass it on to us. My job is to take into account all of the costs.

You have to get the Product to the Customer. What’s That Gonna Cost?

It depends, and quickly searched answers on the web ranged from $4 to $49 domestic. There are ways to limit shipping costs, but they don’t go away, whether you show them to the customer of not. One way to reduce costs would be not shipping internationally. We want international availability, so we’ll have to deal with it another way. $4 Doesn’t include delivery confirmation, which is pretty important, so we won’t be assessing feasibility on that rate.

It will matter if Handling is part of the T-shirt cost, or part of the shipping cost, but it will be part of the business cost of the producer, so it will be part of my price to acquire the merchandise.

I have to pick something to allow for shipping cost, so for the purposes of my feasibility assessment, I’m going to allow $8. The current lowest Priority package rate is $9.35. Priority is the USPS level that gets you delivery confirmation and a 2-3 day delivery time. There will be commercial discounts, so I’m taking that down to $8, but I’m afraid to run numbers on a lower average cost at this time.

So, you Need the Advertising to be Seen. What’s that Gonna Cost?

In checking Google Ads, I came across their marketing stating that the average advertiser gets $4 return for every $1 spent on advertising, and it was presented as a bargain. Phrased another way, advertising with Google will cost 25% of an advertisers gross to get them seen. That’s an average, not a guarantee. Why do I say gross? Because Google has no idea what any advertisers net is, or if it’s even positive. It wouldn’t separate shipping cost either because so many sellers hide the cost of shipping in the sales price to prevent sticker shock. The cost and necessity of advertising is what kept me from going back to sleep this morning. The mark up on the T-shirt has to cover all of the costs, including advertising, shipping and unexpected expenses.

What that means is sobering. Here’s an example.

Let’s say I find a socially and environmentally responsible producer who will provide a printed shirt for $20. Now add $8 for shipping to the customer, we’re at $28. The cost of the shirt has to cover advertising, which is 25% (if you’re average). 25% of 28 is $7, so add $7. Now we’re at $35. At $35 cost to the buyer on a $20 shirt, there is no pay or profit for any of the work we put in making the shirt, no reimbursement for expenses like the tablet we got for Russ to create the designs. There could be additional unexpected expenses and response to advertising could be below average. Allowing less than $5 per shirt for us and the unexpected seems risky. So, at this sample price point, we have to double the cost of the shirt to be viable, but now that we’re up to a $40 gross, 25% of that number is $10. That $5 allowance for profit, expenses and the unexpected just became $2.

If a great shirt at lower price point were to be available, shipping would be a higher percentage of that cost, so we’d scale and run the numbers again. We’ll get plenty of detail and specifics when we narrow our options and talk to sales representatives. Hopefully we’ll find some shipping relief, but we still have to look at all the costs at different price points before setting our prices. I realize that a 100% mark up is a standard since the dawn of time, but for a low overhead internet based enterprise, I didn’t expect to need that.

So it’s late for the holiday market. Can this project be a go?

Do I really believe that if anything can go right it will go right and at the best possible time? Of course I do. Can this go right?

We’ll see.Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a reply

Tuesday Trippin’ October 2023

October has been a little rougher than some months in each category of our challenges. It’s been hard for both of us to meet our goals, but the glorious fall weather and colors have been the silver lining that blunts the stress a little.

My Covid Recovery

I’m pretty close to being in full swing again, as far as cycling goes. But, strength training with my arms is something I mostly do at Linear Park, and I haven’t done much of my cycling out there. I really need to get after the free weights at home. My shoulder pain is having a little flare and my fat to muscle ratio seems to have suffered a bit, but it looks like a full recovery from the Covid is in the near future.

The Training

Russ and I have both been hiking more at the cost of some rides. We have long intended for our recovery exercise to be walking, but actually shifting there is a recent thing. Russ lost someone who was a friend, hiking buddy and more recently a business associate. There will be a demanding multi-day memorial hike in early December. It will be mostly (or all) male and there will be a deep stream crossing, not something well advised for someone with Raynaud’s Syndrome to do in the winter. I’m hiking the build up with him for the cross-training benefit, but not attending the memorial hike. Long-term, the switch will be great for over all health and conditioning and make ramping up the cycling easier, both physically and mentally.

The 22nd we walked Kennesaw Mountain. The 23rd I had one of those rides that I had to force myself to take, and then force myself to finish. The 24th we walked the mountain again. The 25th I had my first really good strong ride since initially testing positive.

It was a comparatively mild case. I never sought help for anything but my eyes, and I don’t think I have long lingering effects, but it has been a month of sub par Karen and the cold and flu season is upon us. I’m trying to talk myself into the flu vaccine, but would like to have a few more good days before hitting the system with something else.

We’re moving into the weather when it’s harder to get a ride in. Not only are the days shorter, but, the warm part is after the middle. Until we are riding for the project, I’ll try not to ride much below 60 degrees outdoor temps due to the Raunaud’s. Waiting till it’s a warm enough, but still having enough time to get in a ride worth taking, and make it home in time to meet the school bus at 2:45 doesn’t always happen. The hiking side step is helping though. I can meet cardio needs because there is no wind chill and walking at lower temps is still comfortable.

The Project

We’ve been putting a lot of hours into the t-shirt project. We really want to make a smart choice for suppliers, by smart, that means garments made by a socially responsible (decent working conditions for workers) and environmentally conscious (reduce, reuse, recycle, clean up after production) company. The t-shirt project, like the video project, is all about having a positive impact on as many people as possible. And, everything’s connected. Everything. We want the t-shirts to provide an experience as well as clothing,

Until next time, Have a glorious day, and we’ll see you on the trail!

Acknowledging the Great Big Giant Elephant

Did you know that motivation follows action? It stinks. It should be the other way around, right? High action individuals never need to notice because there’s always action producing endorphins and feeding inspiration. Like the desire to ride a bike. It springs naturally from the endorphins you got last time you rode (unless you didn’t). Endorphins from any action make you want to repeat and receive the love again, a circular pattern that feeds itself until something breaks.

You have to start the cycle though. I think of it like the pull cord on gas powered lawn mower. For strong people, starting is thoughtlessly easy. But, I can’t reliably pull fast and hard enough to make the motor turn over and get things going. Russ mows and now we’ve gone electric. But, before we got the electric mower, I was never going to be a reliable second, unless someone was home to help me start the mower. There are so many ways we are each other’s safety net.

Why it Matters

Difficult starts and interruptions kill momentum, break the inspiration/action feedback loop and lead to rough stretches. Missing targets leads one to avoid the pain of failure. And there are so many things that also need doing. Unlike my example, sometimes someone to help you start isn’t enough.

I’ve literally been trying not to write this post for years now, (Russ read and approved more than one version). It seems important to address the elephant in the room, though.

We’ve been planning the video cycling project since before the pandemic, writing about it here, postponing our deadlines, moving slowly toward promoting it and kicking ourselves over delays for stated and unstated reasons. Still, we haven’t submitted to the funding process. There are a few reasons that go beyond insecurity and fear of the test. There’s stress we’ve been up front about. Then there’s that stress we talk less about, absent some details for privacy (not just our own). Often it feels like the real problem is too many responsibilities.

A meme in my feed recently said “I hope you win the battle that you never tell anyone about.” I liked it for the kind wishes, but I liked it so much more for the acknowledgement that most people have more to deal with than what they let others see.

Russ, the Giant Teddy Bear

Russ is the glue that holds our family together. The problem is that Russ hasn’t been ok. He wants to be. He’s called it a “funk”, but if it was just a funk, we’d be funded and done with the project, and on to something else.

Russ has been down hard and fighting for air. It’s difficult for people who have never suffered depression to understand. I’m down pretty hard right now myself, and I don’t even understand, not as deeply as he feels it. It’s a very lonely place to be.

In the absence of healthcare coverage, we tend to research the most legitimate information available. After Russ discovered that “freeze” had been added to the “fight or flight” scenario he recognized it as his stress response. “Fight, Flight, Freeze or Fawn” is the current full list of threat responses.

It makes so much sense for these more recent threat responses to be recognized. “Freeze” isn’t always such a bad coping device. It’s is the opposite of rash. It prevents every mistake except inaction. Inaction creates its own problems though, and “freeze” may be the hardest stress response for outsiders to recognize as any kind of a response at all.

And then…

Depression and anxiety are more challenging with added stress and the world reached new levels of being turned upside. In middle school, I remember wondering what it was like to have brothers and cousins on opposite sides of a war (like the US Civil War, or when families were divided by the Berlin Wall). People everywhere are reflecting on that again. No one really knows how deep the current rifts and chasms, both near and far will get. Many people are too distracted, busy or stressed to let themselves think about it.

Thinking about these things makes a positive outlook harder, but ignoring them has different risks, and depression happens regardless of how one handles stresses. The kind of widespread pain experienced during the pandemic overloaded the collective psyche while Covid crushed hospitals worldwide.

Our private and inner worlds were challenged and stressed before the world became so “stranger than fiction”. It’s no wonder that we’d come up with a project to help others increase health and deal with stress when there’s little or no money to throw at the broken healthcare system in the US.

Our personal challenges haven’t been at bay during the 20+ years we’ve been together. For a while our outlook was promising. But, the recession hurt, other things happened, and we made some choices that were what we needed to be doing for family, but they involved one of us being under-employed for the last 10 years. That wasn’t helpful for our financial recovery, or financial security moving forward. No regrets. None. But, it did add to the stress load.

Deeply Personal and Different for Everyone

Some people didn’t think the pandemic was even real, and others were confused about what to think. Repeating a history so reminiscent of a pandemic 100 years ago made it even harder to grasp in a modern world. Russ was convinced he was likely to die. Between preexisting conditions, his lack of health care coverage, his essential worker status, his now longer hours, and his exposure through work and living conditions, his known risks were high.

There were so many unknowns, a lot of bad information, a lot of bad acts. Denial and irrational fears were amplified by ugly politics. Extraordinary stress is hell on the immune system. Boom, another risk factor! Russ didn’t die, but his fear was not irrational. It was a recognition that this thing few people knew how to deal with was a bigger risk to him, and that many people who were unconcerned had an uncomfortable level of impact on his risk factors.

It didn’t grip me like it did Russ, but I wouldn’t have said with confidence that I expected to live through it. Our household included exposed “essential employees” and school children, as well as people who were reluctant to follow recommended procedures. I was in a higher risk age group and also without health care coverage.

Some of it was Surreal

Most people had surreal experiences. The most important bit of security anyone gave us during that dark time was when my Aunt met me in Birmingham with a refurbished oxygen accumulator. Meeting her was an eerie trip. The streets were empty. I went to the interstate on an 8 mile, divided 4 lane. It’s normally slow and go, with heavy commuter traffic. But, I wondered for a while if I would see a single car along the stretch. I went through every traffic light,16, I think, and none of them turned red. Under different circumstanced you’d wish for something like that.

There were still very few people on the interstate. I wondered if gas would be available and how strange things might get, especially when I saw a military convoy headed who knows where. We met. My aunt gave me the machine, a package of disinfectant wipes, some laundry sanitizer, and a snack. She was taking care of me while she was taking care of me. Times like these are when people show you who they are.

There was gas. I got home. We were able to order hoses for the oxygen accumulator. Thankfully, no one needed it. But, the peace of mind it provided, knowing that if Russ, or any of the 8 family members who lived in our house before it was all over, went into respiratory distress, they could at least get oxygen as long as there was electricity. That was more priceless than any Visa commercial. Caring stands out when tragedy has become so ordinary for so many. Others not caring left it’s mark at times too.

Russ eventually caught Covid and later caught it again. Thankfully, it was after vaccines were obtained and treatments were developed. He made it through with care that cost hundreds of dollars that we had, instead of hundreds of thousands of dollars we didn’t have.

Mom had her dark experience just this summer while in rehab after a fall. There was an outbreak. Mom had been vaccinated and had good meds. Getting Covid after things were better made all of the difference for her. The quarantine was scary and some people didn’t make it, but Mom did. We recently celebrated her 90th birthday.

Four weeks back, I had my round with Covid. I was the last person in our house to catch it. I wondered if all the cycling gave me micro exposures that boosted my immunity, but never made me really sick. Or, if how often I wash my hands with housework was the reason. But really, who knows?

The pandemic was like life in that everyone is going through it, yet every person’s struggle was/is unique. So, I don’t know what to do, or write, or how to explain it when things aren’t on schedule with the project. Some people adapted, put things out quickly and leveraged all the change (for better or worse).

Some people have bounced back with double energy. Me? I still don’t know if continuing to pursue the project is what I should be doing. Can my dream really make a difference, or should I do something else. I know the project could help us, and others. I know he/we can do the job, but can he/we get the job? (flip on Joe Versus the Volcano intended).

One Step Forward

The risks were real, and some remain. The depression was and is real. We do a lot of DIY. It’s great that we can. Russ fixed a frozen pipe in the house before it became an insurance claim, but we’re not working on the project while he fixes our pop up problems, or someone else’s. It has all been big, real and debilitating, and I’ve had my own stuff to deal with too. Russ has been there for me in so many ways, but in others, I felt alone. He wasn’t present in the moment, or ready to move on. He spent a lot of time ruminating on fears he had no control over. He’s not mental health care averse, but there’s nothing in the budget to cover it.

It was so incredibly important to have income during the pandemic. It was important after too, but Russ lost his employment in January. Just as it seemed like things might settle a bit, boom, again! He went from “essential employee seeing a light at the end of the tunnel” to lost. Russ has made the most of his 6 jobless months in some ways, but in productivity, he froze. If he could retire to stay at home and cook and play with the grandchildren, he’d be in bliss, and he might be faring better if that were possible. Ironies abound. Not needing to pursue anything could loosen the stress and free up the mind space to… pursue anything.

And Then, Again

With all of this, we’ve come to and temporarily past the point of cancelling the project so many times. As much as we want to help anyone who’s interested in our project to get stress relief, escape, fitness and/or entertainment value from the project, there’s also a self-interested aspect. The project will have significant demands and stresses, but it will also do the things that we want to do for others for ourselves as well. It would lessen the impact of not having healthcare coverage (unless one of us has an accident riding).

We could benefit from a year of the heavy duty riding that is part of the project, letting all those demons work themselves out as we peddle. I hiked a lot when I was going through my divorce. I’d head for the woods, and after a day on the trail, whatever was weighing on me when I left had mostly lifted. It would be nice if Russ’s six months of unemployment had given him a head start on that, or progress in any form it might take, but that isn’t how it happened. Russ really does have a freeze response to threats. (And I have attention deficit, but, that’s another story).

I’m enough of an introvert that not being ok through the isolation was a real surprise to me. It piqued my interest in forming relationships and I desperately want to accomplishing things. The project is a two person job, and doing it without him wasn’t a step I was willing to take. I would ride and write to keep the project alive, but I still spend a lot of time feeling like I was alone or in hover mode. Recently, I started just doing things. It took a lot for me to just say I was going to do something and invite him along rather than asking what he wanted to do and make a joint decision. I didn’t expect him to, but Russ came with me. Most of the times I’ve really need him to, Russ has met me at least half way.

Things are getting better. Russ is working. It’s a financial band aid for our personal life and a mixed blessing for the project. I say band-aid because at this point, if both of us were working, that would just be a bigger band-aid. Americans spend twice as much on healthcare as other rich nations and still have a decreasing lifespan with poorer care. My quote for next year was over 22K per year, even though I’m physically active, and some covered years I never went to a doctor… Seriously, in the last 10 of the years that I was covered, I don’t recall ever meeting a deductible. That’s rate is hard to accept.

Seeking employment that would move me toward having disposable income, or eventual retirement, rather than just paying for insurance for part of a catastrophic health failure requires that I get not just full time work, but demanding employment. Age and sex discrimination is real and my hodgepodge background doesn’t help. If I were lucky enough to get employment that would benefit the family rather than just cover personal health insurance, it would also require abandoning some other responsibilities I have been taking on, but how confident am I that I can get through another year without catastrophic coverage? If I had the coverage, would the cap be below the cost of whatever health failure I had? Riding a bike, even if it were a new high end bike, may well be the biggest healthcare bargain there is.

The T-Shirts

With all these questions and challenges, we’re taking a side step into t-shirts. We have a theme and hope the T-shirts will have at least as much positive impact as we want the video project to create, as well as some needed financial relief. After that we’ll re-visit the trail video project. Hopefully the t-shirt project will produce enough income to make up some of our losses and then, perhaps, to allow me more time to pursue the video project.

We’ll see.

Tuesday Trippin’ September 2023

September has cooled off, but not like we expect. It’s been cool enough for really nice riding, but not so cool that I have a dry pony tail after the ride.

As many times as Covid has been through the house, It didn’t catch me until last week. And, I isolated well enough that I was the only one who caught it. I mostly had the mild case that is expected of those who have been vaccinated. I had 3-4 days of aches, sniffles and fever with an extreme flare up of my dry eye. I used every wash cloth in the house for moist heated compresses more than once and we have dozens of wash cloths. I’m still using them more frequently than I was before getting sick.

Once I finally Googled “Covid” and “Dry Eye” I saw that Dry Eye is a less common symptom of Covid, so the flare up of a condition I already had was quite understandable. Monday morning I was at peak misery and called my ophthalmologist. I really didn’t know how I was going to get through it. I was promised a call back that never happened. While I waited, just as I was literally ready to scream, the symptoms broke. That was really fortunate because the call back never happened. :(.

I listened to audio books those first days for distraction because actually reading them was out of the question, not just the eyes, but I wasn’t feeling like putting effort into paying attention to anything.

I’ve moved back into exercise gradually. One day I walked at a slow pace while Russ rode. Next, I walked up Kennesaw Mountain. I thought about that one a few times, and almost decided not to go to the top. Walking up the mountain can really get my heart pumping and be a bigger work out than a ride, but I did go to the top parking lot with 4 rest stops. Usually, I don’t take any. I’ll probably do a short ride tomorrow, but we’ll see. If it feel like I’m pushing it in a bad way, I’ll wait.

Rolling Cool

I went for a ride on the Silver Comet recently. I was enjoying the day, and the ride, when I came up behind a group of three cyclists in my lane. I slowed. They were two men followed by a woman. She was maybe 2 or 3 wheel lengths behind the two men who were riding abreast. There was also a dog-walker. He was coming toward me on the grass. He and his pet were completely clear of what I could have used as the passing lane. The dog walker was giving me the right of way, but that front cyclist near the center line was riding like someone who was not paying attention, not just because he had his primary attention on talking to the man beside him, but he also had the small wavering movements of someone who didn’t have much of his secondary attention on his riding either.

After the dog walker passed the group, I picked my pace back up and called “Coming up on your left”. The woman thanked me loudly and I called passing again, to make sure the guy I was giving all the space heard me too. As he saw me pass, he began to yell the sarcastic, profane, name calling accusation that I had not called the pass. He was still yelling when I lost the ability to hear him.

I never respond in kind to the abuse of a stranger. It’s not just that I don’t want to be that person. It’s also that you never really want to know how far a person who’s acting out in anger will go. At that moment though, I was really in touch with those feelings that make people yell back and escalate things. I really wanted to give the guy the finger as I left him behind.

I make mistakes, more and bigger mistakes than I’d like, on and off the trail, but I had given this guy the kid gloves treatment, and anger over his abuse was roiling through me. I tried to calm it down, leave him behind in my thoughts as quickly as I had left him behind on the trail. I wanted to change my thoughts, so he didn’t stay camped out in my brain.

At first, all I managed was to blunt my feelings. I reminded myself that my anger hurt only myself. Then remembered the empathy meditation. When doing this in a more formal way, you are supposed to choose a few people, starting with an easy person, and then after a few specific people, expand it to all beings everywhere. Picking only the difficult person on this occasion (clueless raging guy of course), I repeated in my mind “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be safe from harm. May you live with ease.” Instantly it took about 80% of my remaining negative feelings out of my body. It’s amazing how that works, but I still had negative thought every now and then for some time. It’s equally amazing how a stranger can get to you, and it doesn’t matter how wrong or factually incorrect they are. Words have impact, especially when delivered with rage.

Stuff like this isn’t the norm on the trail. People mostly come here to get away from stress and find their center, but it happens. A week or two earlier a walker mocked me for calling my pass. She did it in that ugly grating voice that comes from some kind of pain unrelated to the current interaction. I was sorely tempted to stop and tell her that calling a pass was for safety, not bragging. But, again, you never know how a person on the edge will react and the chances of positive outcome were low.

The Silver Comet Trail is not a loop. It’s a linear 60+ miles and growing. After I turned to go back to the car, I wondered if I would see angry man again. Then, I met another group of cyclists, this time facing me, traveling in the opposite lane. As they passed by, they greeted me with such smiles and enthusiasm it made me wonder, at first, if they thought they knew me. It took me a minute to fully take in the antithesis of my earlier experience and appreciate it, especially since I had been anticipating seeing the angry rude guy on the flip side, and wondering how that would go.

After fully adjusting my mood to the happier tone, there he was. The woman in the group was taking a picture in the direction of a trailside mass of kudzu. She was probably trying to photograph some bird or other pollinator (oh look, a butterfly!) because she was standing back with body language that said she was afraid of spooking her subject. The angry guy was standing behind her, in the middle of the path, on the center line, legs straddling the top tube with one wheel in one lane and one wheel in the other.

Of course he was!

I called “Passing on your left.” It wasn’t true. I was passing behind his back, but saying so could have been perceived as provocative, rather than merely accurate. He jerked, looked like he was going to say something, then didn’t, at least not anything audible to me. He didn’t move out of the way either, at least not while it made my passing safer.

I said the Empathy Meditation again.

Here’s the thing. What you say and do matters to everyone who sees and hears it. I have bad days too, and who knows what this guy was trying to get over. If you ever see me out there having a bad day, I sincerely hope it’s not on this level, and deepest apologies in advance. It’s okay to remind me, just like you were my granddaughter tugging at my clothing and helping to remember that the empathy meditation, is pretty effective. I hadn’t added some of the more detailed components in that last link until after I listened to 10% Happier by Dan Harris. It’s not actually a particularly instructional book, but I enjoyed it and managed to pick up a few tips regardless.

Take care.

See you on the trail, and have a glorious day.