Sunday, January 25, 2015

springtime in january: rocky butte

I needed a bigger ride today. I am still sleeping badly, waking up at 2 or 3 each morning and taking a couple of hours to go back to sleep. Last night I nticed my mood plunging after my bike ride. Today I wanted to see if a longer ride would be any different. So I rode up to Rocky Butte. If had been foggy all morning, and the fog was breaking just as I left the house at 12:30. The sun got warmer as I pedaled east, and I stripped off my top layer within a few miles of leaving the house. By the time I got up to the base of Rocky Butte, I was almost warm.

At 615 feet it's hardly a real mountain. But the climb is steep enough and long enough to be challenging for me now that I'm out of shape. I got off and pushed a few stretches of the climb, and took the "back door" route through Portland Bible College's campus to shorten my climb a little. It was sunny and unusually warm for January, with a high of 61F. I was glad to ride up there, but didn't stay very long as I had scheduled a coffee meeting with my sister down in the Beaumont neighborhood.

The sun stayed bright while I enjoyed coffee, but lost its warmth quickly as it sank lower in the sky. I had to end our meeting before it got dark and too cold. Even so, the brisk ride home wasn't quite brisk enough to really warm me up, and I was glad to get home when I did. By 5 pm, when I pulled into the driveway, the fog had returned along my street. A good ride, and a much-needed one.

Friday, January 23, 2015

bicycling and depression: an update

Some time back I talked about menopause. Specifically, about bicycling and how it can help manage some symptoms of peri-menopause.

Since then, it has become clear to me that my mood swings are more than simply peri-menopause. In fact, the peri-menopause is connected to an onset of chemically-based clinical depression, diagnosed by my doctor and now being treated with counseling, medication and acupuncture.

It has been a very hard road.

As near as I and my doctor can tell it came on around the same time as my career change; peri-menopausal symptoms showed up about six months later. So in a way, they're all connected. Still, we often struggle without knowing that we're actually struggling, and it has been a very difficult time for me. During the last two and a half years I've walked away from one job, lost another, and since then have struggled to build a career for myself in a field where I don't have the deepest roots. Throughout this time, I've stubbornly remained in bike-friendly Portland, Oregon. My Sweetie and I continue to live in our little fixer-upper house, and when i have work in town I try to get there by bicycle. Even when I don't have work in town -- which is more often these days -- I try to go out for a bike ride each day if I can. Even though depression has left me feeling sometimes unbelievably exhausted, even though my psyche and body want to crawl back into bed and stay there, I try to go for a ride. Even if I end up tossing my bike on the bus part of the way -- and this happens more often than not these days -- I still try to ride at least a little.

Riding my bicycle is the one physical activity I can still do without fail. And even though it won't help me lose weight or bear weight or whatever it is the experts tell me I ought to be doing with my body, riding my bicycle is the one thing that still helps me to clear my head and stay closer to sane.

Every doctor out there will tell you that physical activity elevates endorphins, and that regular physical activity can be a helpful component of treating depression. I can tell you it's true. The endorphins may not last more than twenty minutes after I stop riding, and my mood can still plummet by the time I've hung up my bike, but I am still better off for having ridden my bicycle on any given day.

And so, while my moods continue to flail wildly (at least, hopefully, until the meds start to really kick in) and my weepiness returns again and again, while I'm in the throes of a depression I may have to live with the rest of my life, I will ride my bicycle and hope that tomorrow might be a little bit better.
All I can do is keep pedaling, at any speed and any distance.

Friday, January 9, 2015

local issues, global concerns: whose streets?

This guest article over at really lays out the reasons we need a better solution to streets maintenance than our lame-o City Council can offer to date:

Read and discuss. And share with your friends. Because disincentivizing the automobile is no longer as radical an idea as it usesd to be. And because those gas prices won't remain low forever.
Happy riding.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

scenes from a bike ride: eastside portland

Rode my bike today in bright winter sunshine.

Tallbike love:

While I was riding around, I spotted this sad remnant:

This is what happens when you lock up a bicycle in Portland and leave it outside overnight. The lock may outlast the thief, but your parts will not.
Sometimes a U-lock is not enough.
Sometimes a U-lock and cable is not enough.
Sometimes you need three U-locks.

This is capitalism. There are people who have, and people who lack, and at the bottom there are people desperate enough to steal and not care about it.

I enjoyed the ride. Lately, with being underemployed, I have to just ride my bike for the sake of riding my bike. Some days it's hard to do that, because I feel bad for not having enough work. Some days, when it's a little warmer and a lot sunnier, it's easier. Like today.

I am looking forward to more warmer days.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

bicycling and menopause: a conversation

Yesterday I had the pleasure of being interviewed by independent publisher, blogger and author Elly Blue. She writes on the intersection between bicycling and feminism a great deal, and had wanted to write about bicycling and menopause for a blog of hers that Bicycling Magazine hosts at their web site -- but could find no women to talk with about it.
She is in her thirties and one would assume that most of her circle are near her age; so this didn't totally surprise me. I offered to talk with her if she wanted, since I am currently in the throes of peri-menopause. She enthusiastically accepted my offer.

Over coffee, I shared with her some key points about menopause:

1. Menopause is the proper term for when you've gone without menstrual periods for a year. Everything leading up to that -- the symptomatic part -- is more properly called peri-menopause.

2. Peri-menopause can include any combination of these symptoms:
    -- Hot flashes: uncomfortable periods of extreme sweatiness that leave the body drenched with sweat.
    -- Migraines, often preceded by sparking lights around one's peripheral vision. (Sometimes the "lights" are not followed by a migraine.)
    -- A lessening of libido.
    -- loss of elasticity/moisture in the skin (related to reduction of estrogen production).
    -- Loss of lubrication in the vaginal area (see reduction of estrogen production, above).
    -- Increased fatigue, a need for more sleep at night.
    -- Irregular periods.
    -- Mood swings.
    -- Insomnia; wakeful periods in the middle of the night, or difficulty in falling asleep, or both.
    -- Loss of bone density; while this happens in both men and women, it usually happens sooner in women and studies point to a link with peri-menopause as part of the reason.

These symptoms can appear all at once, or they can show up one or two at a time with overlap (which is more common). Not all women have all the symptoms to the same degree. I'm still regular, but my mood swings wildly and is exacerbated by stress. I have had exactly one hot flash to date. I've been getting "sparkling lights" and blinding glare around my peripheral vision several times a year, on the average of about once a month, for the last year and a half or so.

3. Fatigue also comes with getting older, anyway; so it's important to get enough sleep regardless. Most older adults (over 50) do well with 9 to 10 hours of sleep a night. It's also a good idea to take these steps as part of a good sleep regimen:
    -- Discontinue use of all electronics one hour before retiring. Electronics -- TV's, computers, smartphones -- give off light waves that promote wakefulness and make it hard to fall asleep.
    -- Stop eating and drinking at least one hour before retiring. It's easier to fall asleep if your body isn't working on digesting.
    -- If you engage in a mindfulness practice -- meditation, prayer, or similar -- find a short mindfulness step that you can use right before you lie down to go the sleep. Studies show that people who engage in a mindfulness practice of some kind enjoy better physical and emotional health. Mindfulness can also help to alleviate some of the extremes of mood swings related to peri-menopause.

4. Physical activity can help to alleviate certain symptoms, especially mood swings. Physical activity is shown to slow some aspects of aging and helps to lift one's emotional outlook due to the release of endorphins. Daily moderate physical activity can also make it easer to get a good night's sleep (though physical activity should be done several hours before going to bed, since endorphins help promote a wakeful state).

5. Acupuncture, massage and Chinese medicine can also alleviate some symptoms of peri-menopause. Talk to your doctor if any peri-menopausal symptoms are making your life especially difficult! Some (though not all) women are good candidates for estrogen replacement therapy during this time. Your doctor can help you determine if this is an appropriate treatment for you.

As far as the intersection between bicycling and peri-menopause, well, there isn't actually anything specific to riding a bicycle. In fact, some kinds of bicycling grow less appropriate as we age. For example, there's a reason you don't see many downhill racers in their fifties and sixties; if you remember that loss of bone density is a byproduct of aging, then you realize that maybe gravity sports aren't a good idea anymore. While such concerns were not my primary reason for giving up competitive racing,    I recognize that continuing to race, especially off-road where I'm more likely to crash, isn't really necessary for me anymore. Still, I try to ride my bicycle every day. Since joining the ranks of what has come to be called the Slow Bicycling Movement (similar to the Slow Food Movement in philosophy), I've come to a point in my life where distance matters far less than frequency. It matters far more that I ride every day, rather than how far I ride.
Note that bicycling is not a weight-bearing exercise (though, as I cheerfully pointed out to Elly during our chat, lifting one's bike into the rack on the front of the bus certainly IS). Weight-bearing exercise helps to slow the effects of bone density loss. Walking, jogging and mowing the lawn with a push-mower all qualify as weight-bearing activities.

This talk came about partly because a thirty-something woman wanted to ask an older woman what to expect when she approaches peri-menopause. I'm part of what I hope will be the last generation whose mothers and grandmothers didn't openly discuss "the change" with their daughters. I would like to think that my generation will be the one that decides it's high time to share our stories and share information with each other and with our daughters. Sharing information is how we help each other get through the various stages of life with grace, humor and goodwill. Riding a bike won't change that.

Riding a bicycle just makes it more fun.