On the road

2013 was the year I’ve spent more time than ever accumulating miles and exploring new roads. I put roughly 30,000 miles on my car Sydney (aka Carlos Danger). I biked roughly 2100 miles (not that impressive compared to 2012’s total of over 3700 miles). I slept in 20 different states over the course of the year (MI, OH, IN AL, KY, PA, NC, VA, NJ, CO, WY, MT, SD, WI, IL, AR, TX, MS, OR, UT). Not including the additional 8 states I set foot in on the way to some other destination (GA, IA, NE, MN, MO, TN, LA, NM). That’s a mighty good portion of the country, I’d say. And as Draplin says, go by car.

somewhere in ohio, on the road

I’m still getting used to the roads down here in the heart of Texas. When I think back to western Michigan, I’m a little astounded at how well I really got to know the area. Mostly thanks to cycling, I know almost every road that stretches 30 miles south of Holland, paved or not. After commuting to Spring Lake for so long, I know hideouts and hidden gems up everywhere between Holland and Muskegon. And too many trips to count to Grand Rapids or down the coast to Kalamazoo or South Bend or Chicago or Middlebury or who knows where, I always knew where I was and where I was going.

Waco is spread out. Before I found a job, I got acclimated to roads and neighborhoods as I took the scenic route to explore lunch spots. But I only know a few biking loops (I actually miss grids of farm roads?) and I-35 south to Temple where I work now. We live downtown, and can walk to a couple relevant places, but everything else is strictly accessed by car. Maybe we get bonus points for living in probably the only apartment building that has streets with bike lanes on both sides of it. I don’t know anything about Temple, though. There’s a Chipotle. What I mean is that after several weekends in Austin, I know it a lot better than Temple, where I go 5 days a week. I work on the creatively named “Industrial Boulevard” and eat lunch at my desk and try to figure out how, exactly, I’m supposed to develop new furniture in a place that relies on making the same thing it has since the 1960’s.

winter camping, texas

Texas is spread out. We went camping over the weekend to a state park about an hour away. We looked up how long it would take to drive to the Grand Canyon. We make half-promises about getting to Big Bend National Park and putting the annual national parks pass to use and seeing what could possibly lie in that little corner of the country. I don’t know anything about it. There are canyons I think? I hear it’s beautiful? If you can get past the fact that nothing will ever be green in Texas like the country gets green in Michigan in the summer, then Texas can be beautiful.

Lest We Forget: Louisville 2013

Lest we forget adventures from a year ago. A Friday off of work to drive on frozen interstates to tour distilleries in the hills of Kentucky.
barrel aging
taste test
Or staying out late at the hotel bar to hang with people we’ve only met on the internet. And waking up early the next morning to walk through fresh fallen snow to stand all day on an icy hillside that then turned into a zero-ice but all-mud hillside.
all the time in the world
Lest we forget beer by the stein and too long lines for a cheeseburger and fries and standing inches away from Helen and Marianne as they race by at speeds that were hard to really understand. But we tried to understand.
Lest we forget Amy Dombroski, may she rest in peace
Rest in peace
With the day not even half over, already wishing time would slow down to a crawl, and just trying to do everything to soak in and remember every scene, every scent, lest we forget mud splattered faces and clean cardboard faces.
Lest we forget speed speed speed
Lest we forget mud covered boots. Boots bought at a discount only because of internet friends who like bikes.
cross footwear
Lest we forget high fives on the finish straight.
tim johnson high five
Lest we forget finding an iphone in the grass by the sidewalk and walking around in circles and circles trying to give it back to its owner. Sharing a beer out of the back of her truck. Going to dinner and just wanting a Coke and french fries, but the restaurant was out. Watching college basketball until we can’t stay up any longer.

Polebridge, MT

Polebridge, MT

There is this unincorporated town in Montana, on the far side of Glacier National Park, called Polebridge, where you can get the best huckleberry bearclaws on earth. You have to drive on dirt roads for 20 miles to get there. But as many locals will tell you, arrive early before the pastries are gone and it’ll be worth it. I could’ve eaten my weight in bearclaws if I had the money.

And you’ll need those calories when you drive up another gravel road with so many blind corners you understand why there’s little traffic up here in this corner of the country. There’s just an empty parking lot and a picnic bench, and you make turkey sandwiches for lunch on the trail and hope that’ll be enough. You read the warning signs about mountain lions and grizzly bears again and don’t see anyone else around and wonder if this is really such a great idea.

On the trail, the brush is thicker that you’re used to and there are wild huckleberry bushes everywhere. They’re so thick you can’t see 2 yards off the trail. There must be bears mere yards away.


But you forge on, because there are 12 miles to cover today. And stopping to smell the berry bushes isn’t going to make things safer.

Halfway into the hike, there is a glacial lake. It is a beautiful thing but there a biting flies and you can hardly enjoy the moment. The brush along the trail starts to get as thick as a jungle.


There is another lake, and you stop to eat your sandwiches. The flies aren’t as bad, but you think a few followed you here. You see a couple of other humans for the first time in 4 hours. If you get eaten by bears at least someone will have known you were out here today. They are enjoying the water in the stream but don’t think they’ll hike the whole loop. The last 3 miles are steep and unforgiving and we get back to the parking lot, which is now overflowing with people who’ve come to float in inner tubes in the lake 100 yards away. They don’t have dusty shoes and sore legs that need to be washed and iced by wading into the water by the gravel boat ramp.

But they also probably didn’t make out to this remoteness in time for huckleberry bearclaws either.

It doesn’t have to be perfect

I’ve missed writing over the past 5 months. I’ve missed creating things, telling stories with words and pictures, doing something a little more constructive with nights at home. Lately I’ve been in that place where everything I want to write about doesn’t seem good enough, so ideas and stories and adventures get filed away which is dumb because it’s better to be imperfect.

But the good news is I have stayed quite busy over the past 5 months, and I have a backlog of stories to tell. And photos that I’m just now finally editing that I want to share!

Since we last left off, I quit my job, took a road trip out west for a couple weeks with Martha, moved to Texas, lived in a hotel for 6 weeks, finally moved into an apartment downtown Waco and got access to all my things again, and then found a job in the furniture industry once again.

That was the best surgery yet

This is what was inside me for the past two years:


Getting blood drawn before even checking into surgery, the lab tech missed the vein in my arm.  Of course.  I’ve lost count how many times that’s happened to me now.  And so after trying to wiggle things around while I started getting pale, he decided to take it out, get a pediatric needle and draw out of the vein in my hand instead.

Once changing into my hospital gown, my nurse started my IV in my other arm with no problem.  We only waited around a minute before being wheeled down to the small surgery room.  After having to rearrange the equipment in the small room when they realized my port was on my left side unlike most cases, they cranked up the sedatives, but a cover over me to seal off the work area, and the team of three got to work.

For all the other surgeries I’ve had, I was put completely under.  Partially due to the more complex natures of them, but being awake for the duration of a surgery sure was different.  Not that I was particularly lucid or felt any pain, but I definitely wasn’t asleep.  I felt a little tugging and pulling, and I could tell the moment went they actually pulled my port out, along with a couple times when a small trail of blood rolled down the side of my torso.

I was talking again before they even wheeled me out of the surgery room.  Back in my recovery room, I was unsure of whether to laugh or cry.  They had hold me for an hour before they could release me, but I was up and walking without problem, and didn’t have a hint of nausea either.  In total, I was in the hospital for less than 3 hours.  And just like that, I’m all done for real this time.  This feels a lot better than when I finished radiation treatments.

I’m still sore and waiting for the wound to heal, but it’s getting better by the day.  I can’t wait to comfortably do all the things I’ve had to avoid for the past two years:
-Wearing a seat belt on the left side of a car without constantly shifting position in my seat
-Wearing my messenger bags so they fall to my right side again
-Draping my camera strap across my chest so that it’s handy for right-handed operation
-Storing anything in the breast pocket of a button down shirt or my jackets/sweaters that have chest zip pockets
-Being able to go running without the unpleasant tight lump always making in awkward twist or turn or bounce too much
-And maybe most of all, since I’m a stomach sleeper, being able to lie flat in my bed again each night when I turn off the lights

It’s been a hell of a couple years.

Boston Marathon Thoughts

On Monday, I was already thinking about Patriots’ Day in Boston, and following the marathon via live feeds/commentary, and of course Twitter.  I saw the elite men’s race from my desk at work, and reminisced about the time I witnessed it first hand 3 years ago.


Three years ago, Ian and I ran the BAA 5k the day before the marathon on these same streets.  I don’t remember my time, but I remember it was fun, if painful at the end.  I couldn’t quite hang on at the end, I don’t think.  But we stopped at a Starbucks on the way home after the race to warm up from the cold spring day, and everything was better.

The next day, we watched the marathon from Boylston St, over a span of exactly the two blocks where bombs were detonated on Monday.  We drank sangria on a patio before the first racers showed up.  We stood in the brisk air and tried to stay warm by shaking our cowbells for hours.  We waited and waited for the one person we knew to reach the finish line, all the time confined to a couple blocks on the north side of the street.

I went for a run yesterday, because I needed to, and all I thought about were the 4 marathons I’ve ran.  And the couple that I’ve spectated.  There was the Grand Rapids marathon, where I ran without training, because I wanted to see how far I could go.  There was Chicago in 2011 when I wanted to prove that I could do it, despite having chemotherapy 3 weeks prior.  And the Marine Corp Marathon, 3 weeks after that, to run with family, and, I don’t know, brag a little?  Two marathons in a month, after cancer treatments?  How hard is a marathon, really?  And Chicago again last October, where I for once actually properly trained for it and ran faster than I thought I possibly could, side by side with Ian, and just about everything went according to plan.  And I was still 15 minutes too slow to qualify for Boston.

barred off

Boston is still The One, and all I can think of was, I was right there, exactly 3 years ago, and maybe that could’ve been me too, next to a bomb on a public street.  And I don’t know how to process it.  So I’ll go for another run.  Maybe I’ll figure it out there.


A Year Ago

a year ago


A year ago today, we sit on the bank of a river and drink beer from the trunk of our rental car as shadows start to fill the valley.  And water runs vertically and horizontally, and I’m not sure which is better.

Two years ago today, I learned about Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and what it means to have a tumor in your chest, compressing vital organs.

This year, I’m riding my bike downtown to enjoy a beer with friends, and trying to figure out what I want to be doing in the next year that is more meaningful.

Better than the Super Bowl

maple bacon donut

Here’s me eating a free maple bacon doughnut before the Juniors Cyclocross World Championship race.  I wish the weekend didn’t end so fast.  I took over 1100 pictures and I’m traveling for work and away from home, so it’ll take me awhile to sort through them all.  Here’s Sven:

sven nys


It snowed every day last week.  I went skiing three times.  There is no snow anymore.

It rained in buckets today.  There was a thunderstorm last night.  I went for a bike ride in shorts and didn’t freeze.  But I did get wet.  Very wet.  There was a man walking on 66th St. who asked, “Is it safe to ride bike in the rain?”

This weekend I’ll be in Louisville for Cyclocross Worlds.  Bikes, bourbon, and beer.  This can only be good.

Lake effect

Lake effect snow

So it’s finally cold enough for an extended period of time, and the winds have blessed us in West Michigan with the gift of lake effect snow.  It has been slowly snowing constantly since Sunday evening, and by tomorrow we should have a good base to make it feel wintery for a good long while.

Along with making every outdoor scene prettier, it has also meant that I can finally break in my skis that I got last month.  There are some groomed trails only slightly out of the way of my commute home, and they have lights on 3 miles of trails.  I got a good hour long workout tonight, just skiing in the semi-darkness, getting lost in the woods.  So much better than riding my bike on the trainer in my basement every night.

Finally enough snow for skiing


Keep it coming.