Category Archives: other stories

A scene I can’t get out of my head

This incident happened in August 2020. I wasn’t entirely sure that I want to post this since it deals with someone else’s tragedy. But I felt like I needed to write about it to help get past an overwhelming fear I’ve developed about cycling on pavement. I’m still working through all that happened, even though I was not directly affected. But I hope that this helps in my attempt to move forward and overcome this new fear.

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There was a wreck on the highway near my house recently. A small SUV was attempting to pass an oversized load and collided with an on-coming semi hauling crushed rock. Both passengers of the SUV died: one at the scene, one in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. The driver of the semi sustained severe injuries but survived.

There aren’t many wrecks on this stretch of the highway, mainly due to low traffic and high visibility. You can see for miles in any direction. I ride my bike on this road, usually in the early morning when it is deserted. Although the speed limit is 70 mph, I feel relatively safe because there are so few vehicles and the shoulder is at least 6 feet wide. Most cars move over because the line of sight is well over a half-mile at any part of the road. I’ve learned that people in RV’s rarely move over, even where there is plenty of space and no one is in the opposite lane. They seem to take delight in blowing me sideways. 

My sense of safety has changed since the wreck. I now ride dirt roads more often than pavement. Or I don’t ride at all.

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The crash site is about 50′ from the intersection to our subdivision. Various vehicle fluids now stain the roadway, the acrid odors still adrift in the air. After winter, most of the remaining fluids will wash from the road and infiltrate into the adjacent ground. The few stray wires and remnants of vehicle parts will make their way to the roadside — all more stuff to avoid to prevent puncturing the tires on my bike.

Perhaps the thing that struck closest to home was that we had been in our car at this intersection just minutes before the crash. We were on our way to town to run an errand and it takes eight minutes to travel that distance. We spotted the emergency vehicle as we reached the first cross-street, not realizing it was headed to our road. I later did the math in my head. We were at that intersection roughly two-to-three minutes before the crash. Had I run into the house to pee one last time, we would likely have become part of that accident scene. I shudder thinking about that.

We were almost to our turnoff on the way back home when we were stopped by the line of cars at the crash site. The sheriff said that the accident was at our subdivision intersection. I immediately thought that it was one of our neighbors who may have pulled-out into approaching traffic. People on our road do this all the time — as if their right as local residents supersedes those on the highway traveling at 70 mph.

After about 30 minutes, we were allowed to make our way to the turnoff into our subdivision. The crash was just the other side of the turnoff, and I made a quick assessment of the scene as my husband drove by. The remains of the SUV were off on the side of the road on the left and the semi was about 100 yds further up the road, in the ditch on the right side. There was no longer a front half to the SUV, which was now scattered across the roadway. No one could have survived that. Not for very long.

I almost threw up.

From our house up on the hill, I could see that traffic was stopped for a couple more hours. Locals know about a by-pass on a ranch road. It adds about another 20 miles, but the sheriff started sending people that way. The only other choice was to wait while the accident was investigated and the debris was cleared.

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I had to ride past the scene on my last bike excursion. On my way back, I crested the hill that the passing SUV traveled on and surveyed the scene that they saw before the driver attempted to overtake the oversized load. I could see well over a mile to the next hill crest. There is a small dip, but nothing that would hide something the size of a semi-hauler. There is still at least a half-mile of unobstructed view at the point of the crash. I don’t see how she couldn’t see the on-coming semi as she began to pass the oversized load. Then again, I don’t know what was happening in the SUV cab at that time. Was she just pulling out, checking the road beyond the load, when she struck the semi? Or did she not realize how long it takes to pass an over-long vehicle, accompanied by two support vehicles?

I cannot imagine what she must have felt when she realized her terrible mistake and was stuck between an over-size load and a semi-hauler.

I don’t want to insert myself into this accident, but I became involved tangentially. It’s the road that I ride and can no longer do so because I can’t get the wreck scene out of my head. The cause of the accident was listed as driver inattention and excessive speed. So how many other drivers are speeding on that road and are inattentive at any given time? How many things distract us as we drive. Satellite radio. Phones. Eating. Arguing with passengers.

I wear bright colors and have a tiny, red, blinking light on the back of my bike. But does that really do enough to alert a distracted driver of my presence on the side of the road? If they can’t see a semi, will they see me?

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I still have been riding my bike these past few months, but now I ride mostly gravel roads. It may take many more months to get me back onto the pavement. I’m supposed to do a multi-day road tour this next summer, but I’m not entirely convinced that I will have it together by then.

Photo by author

Living with antelope

We took delivery of a new appliance last week. The delivery guys were from Florida and were a bit shocked over our Wyoming landscape. One wanted us to know that someone must have left a gate open and the animals were getting into our yard. The animals he saw were pronghorn antelope. I explained that no gate would keep them out of the yards — they roam where they want to and crawl under fences. There were hundreds of them here recently. It was -20 degrees, and I was worried about them weathering the cold. But there are five outside of my window right now, chowing down on the sagebrush. Still amazes me what survives these winters.

Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash

My COVID Isolation challenge, with credit to “75 hard”

Apparently, I’m may be the last person on the planet to hear about the 75 hard challenge. I’m now reading several bloggers who are doing this challenge and writing about the benefits they see. It sounded intriguing, particularly during the COVID -19 pandemic, when everything has been so upended. So, after further research and consideration, I’ve climbed onto this bandwagon. I think it will help me address some of the habits I’ve developed to cope with stress and calm feelings of vulnerability.  

I am, however, on a modified version of the challenge. Yes, purists will tell me that you cannot change the challenge and still be doing the challenge. Phooey. My modifications make the parameters more relevant for me under the current constraints of working, working out, and maintaining a household in times of COVID (without a gym!).

What is the 75 Hard challenge?

A Google search will tell you about all you need to know about the challenge. I don’t want to link it here because, frankly, the initial presentation is hard to listen to. I’m no prude to f-bombs, but it is extremely distracting to repeat any word that often. And it makes the speaker sound unprofessional. Listen at your own risk. I’d recommend reading about it instead.

But briefly, 75 hard is touted as a mental and physical challenge that involves 5 parts. They suggest that the point of this challenge is to develop all kinds of positive outcomes, such as improved confidence, self-esteem, perseverance, and resilience. Sounds miraculous, doesn’t it!?! I get it — pushing yourself to stay committed to high goals, even when it gets hard or uncomfortable, changes you, arguably for the better. This is the ultimate goal of the challenge. But there are lots of ways to get to the same end.

So the 5 parts.

1 — Drink a gallon of water a day. Only count plain, clear water.

2 — Do a diet of choice. No alcohol or cheat meals.

3 — Exercise two times a day for 45 minutes each time. One session must be outside.

4 — Read 10 pages of a book on non-fiction.

5 — Take a progress photo every day.

All parts, every day, for 75 days in a row. If you skip any one element on a given day, the challenge is restarted on day 1. Seems harsh, but this consequence is intended to keep one on track.

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My version of the challenge

So here are the parameters for my challenge, based on 75 hard. Sorry, purists. This is my deal, and I have good reasons for changing things up. I’d like to do some type of challenge that will test me, make me fitter, and help improve some habits, without throwing me into a tailspin trying to complete some seemingly arbitrary rules. Perhaps I cannot call it the 75 hard challenge though. Maybe COVID Isolation challenge is more appropriate?

Water

I already drink a lot of water. It’s summer. I get thirsty and drink, but I don’t monitor it. Some days I need more, some days less. Plus, there is nothing magical about drinking a gallon of water/day. However, I put a gallon of water in the refrigerator and use that throughout the day for this challenge. My aim is to empty the container.

A bigger challenge for me is to eliminate diet soda. My consumption has gone up during the pandemic—a lot. I’ve wanted to cut back, but haven’t been able to do so. This challenge leads me to cut it out completely.

Diet

I don’t do traditional diets anymore because that ultimately leads to disordered eating for me. But I did want to make some changes to my eating habits. Clean things up a bit, if you will. First, I am cutting out noshing between meals. I found that I was mindlessly reaching for between-meal snacks every time I passed the pantry, typically out of boredom or frustration with my work. I’m eating for reasons other than hunger, and I’d like to curb that habit.

Secondly, I’m eliminating sugary or overly processed food for 75 days. My spouse is on a Hostess cupcake kick — mainly because he’s running 6-10 miles a day. I really shouldn’t be joining him on this kick. I’m hoping that between this and cutting out noshing, I will develop some better, sustainable habits, long term.

I already don’t drink alcohol very often. So check that one off the list.

Exercise 

My modification is to work out once daily for 75 days without a day off. This is where I depart from the original challenge most significantly. I simply cannot work out twice daily every day. My main exercises during this pandemic are cycling and swimming. Cycling takes at least 2 hours for me to prep and ride — and that’s a light ride. Tack on even more time if I have to drive someplace. Swimming takes nearly as long since I have to drive to and from the pool and shower afterward. I get the lane for an hour under the current COVID restrictions, and I have to maximize that time. Adding another 45-minute workout on top of either of those and I’m looking at a bare minimum of 3 hours between all of the logistics. So, doing this twice a day? I’d be setting myself up for failure from the start. Also, I’m older and (active) recovery days are critical to helping prevent injury. The dogs won’t mind an extra walk on those days. 

Reading 10 pages of non-fiction

I already read primarily non-fiction material, but I skip around between books. So I will only read 1 book at a time to improve my focus and retention.

Picture — one photo daily

This one is harder than it sounds. I never get in pictures. Fat people rarely do. While you really can’t see progress daily, this part of the challenge might make me less sensitive to seeing myself in pictures. It’s forcing me to look at myself every day and learn to appreciate what I have.

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My plan is to report back periodically and describe any significant observations. I’m thinking of posting pictures at the halfway point in early September.

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I see this challenge as a kind of a game that may help me undo habits that have emerged recently (noshing on sweets, drinking diet soda, skipping workouts). These are unhealthy crutches I’ve used, mainly to deal with working at home during the pandemic. But they slow my fitness progress and keep me stuck in place. While the challenge may be hard, it really is a way for me to re-focus my efforts to get fitter and develop a better mindset. In more a typical year, I’d be training for specific events. This year, I’m training for life.  

So no, it’s not 75 hard in the “pure” form, but rather it’s a meaningful challenge that won’t overly stress me. There’s enough to deal with at this point, and I can’t afford to fall back into dysfunctional behaviors.

Photo by Rollalyn Ruis on Unsplash

Drunk guy on a plane

This post is different. I wrote it a year or so ago — long before the recent marches and protests over gross societal inequities. I made a few changes to it, in light of the recent happenings in multiple cities in the US. This flight did happen and I wonder if my reaction to the series of events would be the same today.

I’m not certain that this fits on a blog about career/life transition, other than some references to my own career shortcomings. I thought I’d put it out, nonetheless.

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We are waiting to deplane after landing in Seattle. There’s a gray, disheveled man standing in the row behind me. He is insufferable. I’ve listened to his loud, croaky voice the entire trip from Denver. He has been drinking the entire time. It is 11 am.

Many of us on this plane are traveling to the same conference. He is one of the attendees. Although he looks a mess, I’ve learned that, like me, he is a professional researcher. His matted appearance isn’t all that uncommon in our field. I once took classes from a guy who owned only two outfits: black sweater and pants in fall and winter, brown in spring and summer. He slept on a cot in his office and showered at the gym. He was an ABD — All But Dissertation. Meaning he’s completed all the requirements for a Ph.D., just not the capstone dissertation. In other words, he was largely unemployable in the academic world. He survived by teaching introductory classes to undergraduates. I’m pretty sure that he was still there after I graduated.

The conversation between the drunk guy and the two young women seated next to him started nicely enough. Both women were graduate students, and this was their first time traveling to a conference to present their findings. It was both exciting and nerve-wracking! But never once did he ask them about the work that they were doing. I suspect that it didn’t matter to him.

Their conversation turned awkward by the time we reached cruising altitude and he started with personal questions. Did they have boyfriends? Where were they were staying and for how long? Did they want to meet him later for drinks? Questions that he might not have asked without the power of early morning alcohol behind them. I wanted him to ask about their work and to recognize them as beginning researchers. That didn’t happen. The conversation ended when the two plugged into their phones to escape him the best way they could in that tight space. I ached for them, having been in similar spaces over the years.

He ordered a drink and turned to his colleague seated across the aisle. They talked about the research that they were presenting and the upcoming field season. They gossiped about a graduate student and how he was struggling to finish his thesis. He would finish, but there were significant holes that he first needed to address. I wondered if they would have the same confidence in the student if he were female. Maybe — more likely not. They concluded that while his work was less than stellar, the student was a nice guy and had made some decent connections. Even as a marginal candidate, he would do well in his future job search. 

Once the plane landed, the bell rung, and people stood to deplane. Dozens of poster tubes were retrieved from overhead storage for those who were assigned a poster space rather than oral presentations. Most national conferences have grown too large to accommodate all the scientists wanting to present their work. Poster presentations became the workaround to the problem of too many researchers and not enough time on the agenda for all of them.

Personally, being assigned a poster presentation at this stage of my career is kind of a letdown. That may just be me, but I’ve pulled more than one offered paper rather than be relegated to a poster spot. I’m too old for that shit.

As we stood and waited for the procession off the plane, the drunk guy spied a Black family seated in the row catty-corner to mine. Mom, Dad, and toddler. He could not hold back. He had to say something to them — perhaps to show that he was truly woke.

He complimented them on how well they dressed and how the little boy had been so good during the flight. The Dad nodded and said, “Thanks,” trying his best to brush off the drunk and protect his family from what was to follow. The drunk could not be brushed off. He started slurring and repeating himself. Yes, yes, they looked so nice. The boy was so good. And then he said it. “You know, you are some of the good ones.” They weren’t like those other Black people — the ones who were loud and wore their pants to their butts. This family was good, and he wanted them to know it.

The group around us went motionless and silent as the drunk grew louder and more insistent on making his point. He was paying them a compliment, dammit, and people needed to hear this!

I looked at the Dad whose mouth was now agape. I looked at the Mom, who had a protective hand on her son. I looked at the young female researchers who were trapped in the seat beside the drunk, leaning to avoid his touch as his arm flailed and his body swayed. My eyes met the colleague’s eyes, visually pleading with him to stop whatever might come out of the drunk’s mouth next.

The colleague put his hand on the drunk’s shoulder and suggested that he find his luggage and poster since the line of departing passengers was beginning to reach us. The drunk quieted and turned his attention to the overhead bins. It was as if he suddenly forgot about making his point. 

I started to speak but stopped. I could feel my rage building. I wanted to confront him and tell him that he wasn’t one of the “good ones.” He was a complete ass and his behavior that day was sexist and racist. He looked like he slept in a swamp and dared to comment on someone else’s appearance. He hit on his young seatmates, leaving them feeling devalued and sullying their entry to their first professional conference. His comments to the family, that he felt were approving, were derogatory on multiple fronts. His drunken antics had cut all of us. By virtue of his professional stature — being entrusted with the education of future researchers — he should have done better.

Yet, I said nothing. I knew that the few words I could speak to this souse could very well have made the situation worse. He had no clue of his effect on that group of passengers that morning. Would it have mattered if someone had called him on his behaviors?

Perhaps de-escalation of the drunk was the best solution in those tight quarters, however unsatisfying the outcome. But in a world where public behaviors are constantly analyzed, this fool faced no consequence of his actions. Even in his inebriated state, he still basked in privilege. He had the privilege of not being cut off from more drinks. The privilege of not being escorted off the plane with the help of a security officer. The privilege of not being confronted by offended passengers. I can’t imagine that similar behavior from any person who was not white and male would have been so ignored. 

I still think about this drunk guy on the plane and wonder how the situation could have been different. How wrongs could have been righted. I’m still displeased with myself for not facing him. Was I an enabler by not calling him out?

Photo by Annie Theby on Unsplash

I quit the gym today

My gym re-opened about a month ago. The owners had listed online all of their guidelines about wearing masks, cleaning equipment, and maintaining adequate distances between users. I was suspect about how well people would stick to these guidelines. It’s a pretty low-end gym and I’ve always been a bit concerned about the cleanliness of the place. I clean the equipment both before and after using it because I’m pretty certain that the previous user wasn’t all that conscientious.

But it was cheap. As am I. We were a match.

Now with the coronavirus amongst us, I hadn’t gone back to the gym until today because I’m still a bit leery about interacting with others in closed spaces for extended periods. Especially when those places involve heavy breathing and sweat. We live in a part of the country with low (but increasing!) numbers of COVID-19 cases, and the risks of contracting the disease are relatively small. Nonetheless, I’m still not willing to face the masses bare-faced. We know the short-term effects of COVID-19 can be horrid, but there are also severe long-term impairments that we are only beginning to understand. I do not want to live my retirement days with scarred lungs, heart damage, and neurologic complications. There are just some things I’m not willing to risk.

I’m not a total recluse though. I swim at our recreaction center because I figure a chlorinated pool is pretty safe from the virus — but I won’t use the shower and locker room. And I bike ride with a friend for a few hours at least once a week. So I’m not exactly pure in my self-isolation.

I was missing my gym. It was time to give the place a go and see if it felt okay.

It did not.

The gym doors were propped open as I first walked in, likely to reduce user contact with the surfaces and increase ventilation. There was an unmasked young woman using dumbbells near the entrance. This was a less than welcoming sight, but probably okay. The place felt hot and sticky as I walked in further. I then saw that there were at least 20 people on various cardio machines, none with masks.

I get it. Masks are a pain in the ass when you are trying to work out. That’s why I’m in the pool or outside for my exercise. Inside is a different story because the risk of transmission of anything is so much greater. The lack of masks just did not feel right to me.

I walked toward the check-in desk. There were 4 people behind the counter, which seemed crowded. I noticed that there were no plexiglass partitions that might have helped protect the workers from the public. Everything was open. Only one person wore a mask, and that one was draped from her ear, not around her nose and mouth. They were all busy with piles of envelopes, which were likely membership cancellations. I spoke to the young man nearest the check-in. I asked about mask use and he said that it was voluntary. I was welcome to use a mask during my workout. 

Gosh, thanks.

I check-in and turned to look across the room. The sight of everything and everyone made me ill. I felt like I had walked onto a petri dish ready for some gross experiment. I turned back to the guy behind the counter and said, “I can’t. I just can’t do this. I have to cancel my membership.” As he started the cancellation process, he asked why I wanted to cancel. I said, “It’s the whole COVID-19 thing. I just don’t feel safe working out here.” One of the other guys behind the counter made a face and a snicker. Screw him.

We finished the cancellation paperwork and I signed with the common-use pen on the pad. There were no “dirty” and “clean” pen jars — just one pen for everyone. I thanked him and took a palm-full of hand sanitizer on the way out.

So now I’m back on my own as far as lifting type workouts. I’m simply going to have to get more creative and make better use of the limited equipment that I have on hand. I think I will go back to some gym in the future, but probably not until at least this fall. And it certainly won’t be at my cheap gym.

Photo by Danielle Cerullo on Unsplash