Collision cost

September 24, 2016 § 39 Comments

Cyclists get hit by cagers every day. They aren’t “accidents.” They are collisions, and they happen for specific reasons. In the case I’m going to tell you about, the collision happened because a drunk guy decided to drive. He smashed into a group of cyclists, changing at least one life forever.

It wasn’t an accident.

The point of this story is three-fold. First, it’s an explicit command for you to check your auto liability insurance and make sure that you have at least $500,000 in uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. If your carrier won’t let you insure to that amount, change carriers.

Second, it’s a commentary on the trajectory of injury. We see Facebook posts of friends in the hospital, or gory aftermath photos, or black-and-white images of pins and bolts drilled into bone, and then we move on to the next item. It’s difficult to comprehend that after we’ve glanced at the photo, the person is still living with the injury, suffering from it, and in some cases is going to be dealing with it the rest of their life.

But what these injuries often entail is impossible to understand or even empathize with because we don’t really know what the procedures involved are. The trajectory of injury is grisly, gruesome, painful, and life-altering.

Third, this is the story of how one person deals with having her entire life upended as a result of one drunk driver. It’s not an easy story or a saccharine one, and it doesn’t have a happy ending because there is no “ending.” There’s just a story about being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and moving forward with what you’ve got left.

When Deb Banks was hit on January 30, 2015, at about 3:10 PM, she didn’t feel anything. This is almost always the case in serious car-bike collisions. The victim might feel a bump or a light tap, sometimes nothing at all until she regains consciousness in a ditch, in an emergency room, or days later in a hospital room recovering from surgery.

On the day she was hit, Deb’s initial injuries included a gashed right arm requiring fifteen stitches, a cracked pelvis, and severe road rash that left permanent skid marks on her backside. The big one, though, was a pilon compound fracture of her right tibula and fibula.

The pilon fracture required an external fixator to stabilize the leg and calm the initial trauma before reconstructive surgery. A pilon fracture is one in which the lower ankle, just above the joint, is shattered. Think of a force pushing up through your ankle joint into the lower shin, so the explosive nature is up and out. That’s what a pilon fracture is, and hers was made worse by it also being compound, meaning bones sticking out from the skin.

The problem with these fractures, aside from the obvious pain and the fact that this is a key load-bearing point of the human body, is that they are really tough to heal due to low circulation, lots of broken bone, and the requirement of lots of time to heal. Most people that get these injuries are contractors who fall off a ladder, people in car crashes, or extreme snowboarders and skiers. They are said to be the worst fracture you can have and one of the hardest to heal.

The word “pilon” is derived from the French word pilon (pestle), an instrument used for crushing and pounding and usually used with a mortar. The pilon fracture is often described as an “explosive injuries” and subsequently, as noted in Orthopaedia Main, they have are also described as “explosion fractures.”

Pilon fractures have the worst outcome of all ankle fractures. They’re incredibly significant injuries, and if you look at surveys that try to measure overall function, pilons on average are more detrimental to the patient’s level of function than heart attacks.

On February 13, 2015, Deb had reconstructive surgery. Her doctor spent eight hours in surgery, taking out the external fixator and then adding two long plates and tacking them into place with twenty screws. One rod was twelve inches long, the other was five inches, and it took fifty stitches to hold it all together.

She then went into non-weight bearing mode for three months, after which she began physical therapy to begin working on walking.

Once Deb was able to get on a trainer, she did, and by May she was outside hobbling around in a black boot and riding around town on her mixte. By June she was on the back of a tandem and by August she rode 200km, the “easiest” length for a randonneur. She kept working on this, getting stronger and walking, although still limping, and her long-planned cycling trip to South America was a go.

Deb’s plan was to go to South America and ride from Santiago down the Carretera Austral to the southernmost part of Chile. She was to depart in early November; it was her comeback ride and a much deserved vacation.

Deb left for Chile and rode the Carretera Austral. During the first week, she was walking down a low sloping walkway and her left ankle twisted and instead of trying to use her right one, which was the injured ankle, to hold herself up, she dropped to the ground. The long plate had broken, also breaking more screws.

She was in incredible pain. She had walking hiking sticks and used them as crutches for a week. She started slowly to ride again and the trip, while fantastic, turned out to be a trip that included some cycling, versus a cycling trip.

On December 27, eleven months after being hit, Deb had her third surgery. It took seven hours, out with the old hardware, and in with new versions of the same plan, only this time they added a graft from her right hip that brought new scars and numbness, which she still has, and some stem cells to stimulate growth.

She was upbeat. For sure this was going to do the trick. Most people (over 90%) whose non-union doesn’t mend, end up getting the bones to union with this procedure. It was however the same drill: non weight bearing for three months, then the boot, etc.

She was smarter about this now. She had read a ton of medical articles on this, and at first Deb felt great. She had minimal to no pain and at the three-month marker she waltzed into her doctor’s office with crutches and walked out without the crutches or the boot. The surgeon gave her the go ahead to do PT and to ride, which she carefully began.

“Carefully” meant no clipping into or out of pedals, no standing on pedals, and spinning only. She put flat pedals on her bike and used power straps to keep her clogs on the pedals. “Yes!” she said to herself, “I ride my bike in my clogs! They are comfy, they support my foot and if I need to put my foot down fast, they absorb quite a bit of the impact. In fact, I think I may go to this plan forever!”

Forever, of course, is a real long time when you’ve only just gotten started. In early May, now fifteen months after getting hit by the young drunk who, in the interim, has been sentenced to prison and will spend nine years in jail, Deb has a standard appointment with her surgeon and she’s not feeling as good as she was. She felt like her leg was out of kilter, and it wasn’t holding her anywhere near as well as the two months prior. She told the doc and he took x-rays.

Essentially, if a non-union hasn’t shown signs of union after three months, then the likelihood of it getting to mend go dramatically down, and more than likely the end result will be another non-union. By now Deb was really getting tired of her expertise in orthopedics, more particularly, in her necessity of applying it.

She pushed for a CT scan because the x-rays weren’t conclusively showing whether or not the bones were healing, whereas there’s no arguing with the CT scan. Her doctor agreed, and the bad news hit home, hard. Non-union. Again. He was frustrated and she was beyond bummed.

In June she took every test they could think of to try and find out why the bones weren’t growing back together. Blood tests, CT scans, bone scans revealing the happy news that physiologically she had the bones of 29-year-old, but emotionally the bones of a teenager in full rebellion – “You can’t tell me when to heal!”

She had thyroid tests, a liver panel (Did you know that your liver makes enzymes for bone growth? Right! Why would you want to know that?), etc. She took tests all month long in the run-up to her informal Ph.D. in boneology, and in the end the good news-bad news was that there’s nothing about her chemistry that was preventing the mend.

The next step was going to be terrible. The surgeon put an Iliazov fixator in her hands, a contraption that oozes horror and pain, and asked her to read up on the device and to think about it, because the fixator was in her very immediate future.

Deb took a trip to Colorado to see friends; it’s an annual trip as she lived in Boulder for thirty years, after which she came home and on July 8 she went in for Rebuild No. 3, Surgery No. 5. It was with a lot of trepidation, because after the last surgery she had gotten an infection that required a full surgery on top of that to open the wound and make sure that the infection hadn’t gone to the bone. Such infections can end things permanently.

By now the nurses in the surgery pre-op area knew her by name. They’ve seen her three times, and if there’s anyone you don’t want to know you on a first-name basis, it’s a surgical team. Again, they pulled out all of the old hardware, in with another graft which this time was from a pig, plus stem cells from the left side of her pelvis, plus biomorphenegenetic proteins (bone doping), two days in the hospital completely laid out. It had now been close to two years since she began paying for the driver’s few moments of drunken oblivion, and she knew that her sentence had already been worse than his.

As I write this, her surgery was ten weeks ago, and there’s still no sign of healing. The surgeon’s timeline? The fixator stays until the bone heals, period. When it comes off she has a year of physical therapy. Dr. Google says that you can see signs of recovery for up to two and a half years after the last surgery. Add up all the months and she’s looking at five years of hell with an uncertain outcome.

His timeline? The fixator is on until it heals. Period. And then, when it’s off, finally, looking at a year of PT and getting stronger and riding and gaining strength. The research says that you can see signs of recovery for up to 2.5 years AFTER the LAST surgery. Add that she’s closing in on two years of surgical procedures, she’s expecting this to be close to a 5-year ordeal. Gabriel Ray’s 11 years won’t have this type of hardship attached to it. Too bad.

All of this, however, is nothing more than a physiological chronology, the prison equivalent of marking off days with tally marks on the wall. The real jail sentence has been the collateral life damage, and it’s something that every injured cyclist knows about intimately.

Superficially, Deb can tell you that her new fixator friend is made up of external rings and three 4-inch pins that are drilled into her shin. It requires constant daily care. It hurts all the time. It gets infected. She can’t swim, can’t bike, can barely walk, sleeps with her leg on a foam pad, and can’t sleep under the covers. In other words, her life has completely changed as she’s been thrust into the alt-Universe of the catastrophically injured, i.e. those who carry massive disruptions to their daily life and emotional well-being along with the catastrophic physical injuries.

Business, a/k/a making a living, dinner, meetings, everything collides with the injured leg, they’re no longer compatible. “Can I do this? Laundry used to be easy.” Simple things take on the aura of an uncleaned Augean stable and it’s been like this for two years with no reprieve. Throw in the massive uncertainty with regard to what the future holds and the destabilization is intense.

And of course there is the spiral of declining visions of the possible. “I’ll be back on my bike doing a 500k rando,” has become “I just want to be able to walk.” And when well-meaning people see her pedaling her mixte and say “Thank God you can ride a bike again,” she silently knows that waking trumps riding a bike any day. If she can walk, riding will come as a result. But if the ankle never mends, life today becomes a template for the rest of life, which means dealing with a leg that is permanently disabled.

With this experience comes the other horseman of the apocalypse, depression. Life contracts as you do less, and what used to be natural optimism and a positive outlook becomes a full time job trying to maintain. She watched a TEDx piece about the power of positive thinking and tries to focus on how that process releases dopamine, helping productivity and creativity. But looming behind the depression is the constant, intense pain, and no matter how tough you think you are, you will eventually take pain meds in the evening just to get some relief and to give yourself a breather from the chasm of not being able to keep fighting, without end, a terrible and terribly painful battle.

One unexpected benefit to constantly struggling is empathy. Deb now “gets it” in a profound way. However big her challenges are, she understands and empathizes with people who are in even bigger pain, in even more dire straits with no hope, ever, of recovery.

And of course there are the parallel lives of the people who were also hit that day. She was the first hit of five. The other four are back to their daily activities, cycling all over the world and getting back to their normal lives. She’s the only one still injured, and although she can’t help but occasionally wonder “Why me?” she doesn’t think much about the driver, Gabriel Ray. He’s not on her radar and she doesn’t replay the collision, and perhaps that’s because there’s so little to replay. She felt a tap and woke up in a ditch. Far from dealing with the past, she deals with what’s in front of her, taking care of her leg, running her business, running her life, and getting healed.

It’s not intellectually stimulating and it’s mundane, but it takes all her energy and attention. With regard to the question “Where are you now?” it’s indeterminate, like her injury. Deb will find out where she is once she gets there, but for the moment the new her is more compassionate, and that’s nothing but a positive. When she was hit she was at the top of her cycling game, doing the hardest randonneur rides there were, knocking out four 1,200 km rides in a single year, in the best shape of her life and all at the age of 58.

When you feel like you’re invincible, large and in charge, except that in a few seconds you’re not. She was hit and now she struggles with laundry. Easy, right? One day 1,200 km on a bike. The next day, fighting to wash your socks. But at the same time, she realizes that when you’re on the mountaintop it’s hard to see what’s going on down in the valley. For her, she has a whole new place to learn from, and she’s learning something that in the past has always eluded her, patience. She’s determined and wants to climb the mountain again, but maybe this time she’ll appreciate the trek more than the destination. Maybe.

Little things along the way make life better, too. She has a trainer and is working with him to try and regain some fitness in this limited state. It takes Deb as long to get dressed as it does to do her fifteen-minute workout. One day a woman saw her in the gym and remarked how great it was that she hadn’t given up. It’s true, she realized, she hadn’t and she won’t, and in the process she’s gained compassion for others because now she’s fighting like hell for each bit of progress a minute at a time, unwilling to concede the field to the inertia of not being able to act, to the inertia of the passive tense.

In blots and jots it hits her this way: Just take the parts when you were feeling your worst and string it out for two straight years. That’s where she is and the intoxicating whisper is always at her shoulder: “Just give up,” it says. It’s there because you’re in pain and the pain meds don’t fix it. At the same time, she’s also planning her next 1,600 km ride, and she’s planning it for next June.

Whether it ever happens, the plan is there, and you never hit the target unless you aim for it. She wants to prove that she can come back, that she can do it again, and then maybe she’ll be done with it. It’s occurred to her that cycling for hundreds of miles may not be her thing anymore, but if she does bow out, she’s vowed to do it on her terms, not on the terms of Gabriel Ray. “He doesn’t get to decide how I choose to live my life. He doesn’t.”

[Deb is the owner of Rivet Cycle Works and has chronicled the first year of her recovery here, with photos and a much in-depth picture of her ongoing recovery.]

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10 ways to get worse on a bike

August 31, 2016 § 22 Comments

There is a whole industry devoted to making you a better cyclist. Whether it’s coaching, tips from Bicycling Magazine, or tech web sites that tell you which component has how many extra milligrams of weight, everyone knows how to make you better.

Yet, you aren’t.

This is mostly because although there a billion ways to improve, the marginal gains for any one item are minuscule and the mental effort to do any one of them consistently is harder than doing five push-ups every morning. Sure, everyone knows that five push-ups only take a few seconds. So? The day I start my morning off with a push-up is the day I start my morning with a bullet in the forehead. My day begins with coffee, period, so GTF out of my way.

Unlike improvement tips, deprovement tips number only ten, and each one of them has a catastrophic effect on riding, and chances are you do most of them. If you never did a single improvement tip and cut out a mere one or two deprovement items, you’d probably win the Tour.

Here they are:

  1. Diets. Please stop dieting now. It doesn’t work. If you’re really overweight, dropping a few pounds might make you go faster, but you’ll be so weak and cranky and angry and hair-trigger-ready-to-kill (otherwise known as “hungry”) that you won’t be on your bike. You’ll be roaming the sample aisles at Costco with lust in your heart and there’s no fitness to be found there.
  2. Equipment. With the exception of carbon, the more bike stuff you have, the worse you ride. Take Shirtless Keith. He owns one old, rusted-out hybrid bike with fat tires. He has one chain ring (a 55). He rides in work boots. HE STILL STOMPS THE SHIT OUT OF 84.2% OF THE PEOPLE ON THE DONUT RIDE.
  3. Race clothing. Race clothing is aero but it shows your multiple tummy rolls and pinches tender places, which makes you not want to ride. You are never going to get better not riding.
  4. Riding. If you have to choose between riding and not riding, always choose the latter. Riding a lot will initially make you a better cyclist, then it will make you broke, then it will give you a weird physique, and finally you will only know people who talk about bicycle topics = LIFE FAIL. One day you’ll wake up and go, “This is dumb,” and quit riding completely, which will in turn really make you a bad rider. So mostly don’t ride if you want to ride better. Knoll rides to the guitar shop to pick up new strings once every six weeks and he does just fine, thank you.
  5. Coaches.
  6. Cyclocross. Do you know why they wear face masks and stuff when sparring? It’s to prevent getting beaten to shit so badly in practice that you can’t do the actual fight. Cyclocross is like sparring with brass knuckles and no protective gear. It will first make you tough, then unconscious, then a tube-feeder.
  7. Group rides. These are fun. So is heroin. Neither is banned by USADA because neither one makes you any good.
  8. Anything that comes in a big plastic tub. Magical elixirs that replace crucial fill-in-the-blanks operate on the proven scientific principle that there’s one born every minute.
  9. Crossfit, running, weights, stairs, anything that requires a membership or is trademarked. If you want to improve, get out there and ride your bike a little, then treat yourself to a Twinkie. Ignore everything else.
  10. Bed. That place you lie in? It’s killing your performance gains.
  11. Internet cycling blogs. If any of those clowns knew anything worth knowing, they wouldn’t be giving it away for free.

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The Atheist Training Bible for Old Bicycle Racers, Chapter 19: The dreaded off season

August 7, 2016 § 13 Comments

It’s August. The sun is still beating down. There are still races on the calendar. February is so far away it might as well be in Micronesia. Yet for all that, people are already starting to ponder The Question and its bastard variants, i.e. “What should I be doing for the off season?”

Glad you asked.

First you should take out a calendar for 2016 and see how many races you did. By “races” I don’t mean NPR or Telo or coffee cruises with a sprunt or Strava contests or any ride that features a “sag,” “rest stop,” or a floppy bag filled with goodies.

By “races” I mean events where you pay money, pin on a number, get shouted at by an official in an ill-fitting golf shirt, get pushed around in a pack of doped-up insane people, run the risk of crashing and getting a brain injury, and ultimately either get dropped, get chopped in the sprint, or finish cursing the day you were born and swearing to never do a another one as long as you live or until next week, whichever comes first.

So after toting up all those races you can effectively plan your off season as follows:

  1. 1-5 races: There is no off season.
  2. 6-10 races: There is no off season.
  3. 11-15 races: There is no off season.
  4. 16+ races: You should have taken a break back in April, because there’s still no off season.

“B-b-b-b-b-but!” you complain. “I’m tired! I’m worn out! I’m mentally fateeeeeeged! I gotta rest!”

All of that is true, but it’s unrelated to the three races you did back in March. In other words:

  1. You are tired because you are old.
  2. You are worn out because you are old.
  3. You are fatigued because you are old.
  4. You gotta rest because you are old.

And guess what? Next year you will be what is known as “older.” This will require even more rest. It will not require an off season. Off seasons are for ski resorts, not chubby hobby bike profamateurs.

The single biggest obstacle to rest is what we colloquially refer to as the “weekend,” but is more commonly known as “the opportunity to do 200 miles of riding in 48 hours.” This may sound like a mere warmer-upper if you do events like RAAM or have a nickname like “Metal” or “Mr. 10,000.”

For old people, though, it will not work cramming all your weekly miles into a couple of days, somehow hoping that it will compensate for doing little or nothing the rest of the week, and somehow hoping that ((beer+shitty food) x (Mon + Tue + Wed + Thu + Fri) – Big Century Ride = Fitness.

The only thing that will remove your non-season’s season-ending fatigue is an old trick used by hunter-gatherers who had to scrap for every meal every fuggin’ day. It’s the old “get up early trick.”

Yes, your August doldrums are not the result of too much riding but of sloth, and your off season training plan shouldn’t feature anything special at all except this: Get the fuck up early enough to get in your weekday rides, and go the fuck to sleep (there’s a book on this) early enough so that you can get the fuck up early enough to ride again the next day.

Please email the reasons that you can’t go to bed early or you’re a night person or whatever else to: sloth@slothful.com; don’t email them to me because I know why you can’t go to bed early and get up early: You’re lazy and you’d rather pound the extra carafe of tequila or watch the BIG GAME, you know, the game that’s so big they will never have another one like it ever again until next week.

Go ahead, set your alarm for 5:00 or 4:00 or 3:30 or whatever the magic number is, and go the fuck to sleep so that you get the necessary 6 or 7 hours of beddy-bye time. You’ll run into people like Craig Hummer, Doug Murtha, Jim Bowles, and the MB Morning Crew, and never need another off season again.

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Wankmeister cycling clinic #30: Descending clinic

July 28, 2016 § 6 Comments

Dear Wankmeister:

My biggest goal starting Jan. 1, 2016 was to be a better decenter. But I still decent like crap. Some people on my club, Rawr-Rawr Roadies, tell me to lift my butt higher off the seat to decent better but that seems to wobble. Other people tell me to put my butt lower on the top bar but that hurts my balls and is more wobbly. Then I watched some videos with Sagan and Froome doing the top bar + peddle action. Is that my decent solution?

Unsteady,
Eddie

Dear Eddie:

I see lots of idiots like you going downhill, a/k/a “descending,” with their asses up off the saddle, stuck high in the air like they’re trying to pick up a TV transmission or air out their peg-hole. Don’t do that. The way gravity works, when you stick a bunch of mass up high over a tiny bike, the two get separated really easily. So put your ass on the saddle where it belongs.

I see lots of other idiots doing the Sagz and Froome tuck. That is marginally okay when you weigh 48 pounds, you race for a living, and you can wheelie across the line after a stage in the Tour after throwing down an 1,800-watt sprint. But when you are a 245-pound Heffalump who couldn’t ride in a straight line when hitched to a rope, wedging your massive ass in between the saddle and the stem in order to get into a top tube crouch will:

  1. Shatter your carbon frame.
  2. Crash out anyone behind you.
  3. Get 12 billion YouTube hits.

So it’s a tough decision. Choose wisely.

Traditionally,
Wankmeister

Dear Wankmeister:

I often get beat on long climbs even though I’m a really good climber. I’ll be going good and then *pop* I’m done and everyone rides away. What’s the deal? Is it my gearing?

Frustratedly,
Fred

Dear Freddie:

No, it’s not your gearing. Or your cadence or even your power. There is a point in every climb where it is simply no longer efficient to pedal, and you can go faster on foot.

froome_running

Next time you start to feel like you’re going to blow and come off the wheel, jump off your bike, hand it to your team mechanic or girlfriend and jog along behind the leaders. Pretty soon your heart rate will come down, the lactic acid will drain out of your epithelial scaphoids, and after a couple of minutes you’ll be able to get back on your bike and pedal away.

Working smarter not harder,
Wanky

Dear Wankmeister:

I saw this picture and I’m in love. How do I get to look like this?

Droolingly,
Danny Diet

Dear Danny:

Truth be told, it’s not that hard. I think if you put your mind to it you can get there in a couple of weeks; 20 pounds sounds like a lot but in reality it’s not. With some self discipline and the help of a nutritionist to make sure you’re getting all the right stuff, you can look like this quickly and not notice any big changes other than the fact that your clothes won’t fit like they used to — but that’s why we have department stores. If you turn it into a fun family or workplace challenge you’ll be there before you know it and you will feel 100% better about yourself. Watch your body image skyrocket; trust me, I’ve been there. Living in an unhealthy, ugly, and socially abnormal body isn’t good for your life in general, to heck with bike racing.

You’re talking about the photo on the right, correct?

Checkingly,
Wanky

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Apple foot motif

July 1, 2016 § 22 Comments

I don’t know why this would make me smile, but it did. Maybe because apple, banana, almonds, and foot on table are the best biking food ever. Yeah, that’s it.

apple_foot9apple_foot8apple_foot7apple_foot6apple_foot5apple_foot4apple_foot3apple_foot2apple_foot1

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The Atheist Training Bible for Old Bicycle Racers, Chapter 18: Let’s all learn Chinese!

June 27, 2016 § 20 Comments

Old bicycle racers focus a lot on their physical fitness but don’t pay as much attention to their mental faculties, which decline even faster with consequences even more dire than losing the 55-50 KOM for 225-lb-and-over on the Garbage Can Alley .01 Mile Segment.

Here is a quick test to see if your mind is rotting due to senility:

  1. You often forget things you’ve just read. T/F
  2. You often forget things you’ve just read. T/F

If you answered true, you have memory loss.

Rather than going out and doing a bunch of hill repeats, the best thing to beef up your soggy neurons are brain intervals. What is a brain interval? It is something devilishly, fiendishly difficult that will leave you gasping for air after a mere 2-4 minutes of effort.

The important thing is that you select something you used to be good at rather than something that you always wanted to try but never did. For example, when you are an old dude and you take up math, even though you were always horrible at math, you will quickly give up. So even though the fierce brain interval caused by trying to, say, add up five numbers in a column, will cause a great increase in brain sharpness, you’ll quickly give up by day three and be back to the same old, same old.

If you were one of those people who liked to study foreign languages when you were young back in the 1920’s, my advice is that you study Chinese. Now, a couple of qualifiers: If you’re already Chinese, this won’t help. Also, if you’re not already Chinese and you try to learn Chinese, you’ll sound like a complete fool no matter how many years you study it.

This is because Chinese has tones that completely change a word’s meaning. Problem is, you can’t hear the tones. Only Chinese people can. And while you’re sitting there smiling into your video cam while you do your online lesson with a cute teacher in Shanghai, and you think you’re saying, “I ate a hamburger last night,” because you got the tones all garfed up you’re actually saying, “I licked the dog’s butt last night.”

You’ll never know that, of course, because your teacher is very polite and she doesn’t give two hoots whether you ever learn Chinese or not as long as you keep paying the monthly lesson fee.

Still, even though you will never learn Chinese, it is so terribly hard that you will spend the rest of your life struggling with it and making practically zero progress, so it’s a lot like bike racing. Plus, each time you memorize a kanji (even though you forget it the next day), it will build approximate 200 new synapses. Example: Memorizing the characters 互聯網圖片is the neurological equivalent of growing three new brains.

Perhaps you don’t want to learn Chinese and figure that instead of three new brains you’d be happy learning Spanish, or Russian, or Igbo, and only getting the equivalent of one new brain’s worth of synapses. Regardless, you should visit www.italki.com, a language learning web site that offers instruction for pretty much any language in the world by native speakers at incredibly cheap rates. Its tag line is “Become fluent in any language!” which is of course a complete lie. You can also use the web site to do a free language exchange (these never work, by the way), where you swap a half-hour of conversation with an English learner who already speaks English better than you do, for a half-hour of murdering your target language with the fluency of a cat.

Check it out. You’ll soon be chattering away, and even though no one will understand you, you’ll be synapse-rich and doing crossword puzzles backwards while your bike racing compadres are drooling in the Alzheimer’s ward. If they aren’t already.

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Pillow talk

June 25, 2016 § 10 Comments

If you want to be a successful profamateur leaky prostate bike racing dope taker, it is crucial that you get a good night’s sleep. For me, that means sleeping on Mrs. WM’s pillow. “You get offa my pillow,” she always says with a forceful kick. “You stinky head.”

Mrs. WM has the best pillow in the world. It is firm but soft, and covered with a crisp cotton pillowcase. Then, to top it off, it is wrapped in a snow-soft gentle towel that is so clean and always smells so fresh that the minute your head touches Mrs. WM’s pillow you drop off into sleepyland.

Wanky’s pillow is a different bike racing pillow altogether. First, no matter how many times you wash it, disinfect it, or plunge it into a bucket of Lime-Plus Flea, Tick & Mange Dip, it smells like an old bike racing pillow. Second, it is kind of sour smelling, like a dirty head, and it’s lumpy, too. Third, some places are soft like a rotten tomato, and others are hard like a piece of brick. No matter where you put your head on it, it’s the wrong place. You wake up in the morning from a hard night of Wanky pillow feeling like your head has been beaten with one of those giant twirling bristle things on the bottom of a street cleaner.

Mrs. WM won’t tell me where she buys her pillow and she certainly won’t buy me one. “You onna ruin it with stinky head,” she says when I beg for one. “Your head touch onna anything, stinky head. Bikin’helmet, stinky head. Bikin’ beanie head thing, stinky head. Baseball cap even though you ain’t playin’ any baseball, stinky head. So why I’m gonna buy you a nice Japanese pillow, smells all good and then stinky head?”

Since Mrs. WM has pretty sharp bedroom elbows and a solid set of 40-grit sandpaper calluses on the soles of her feet to keep away unwanted pillow snatchers, I have to get my pillow on the sly, which means during nap time. On the weekend I will wait until she’s out shopping, then sneak into bed and take a quick catnap of 2-3 hours snuggled up against her pillow. I wrap my head in a towel first to prevent anything from rubbing off and luxuriate in the deepest and best sleep known to man.

So the next time I’m standing on the podium and you wonder what my secret is … now you know.

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