Sunday, June 29, 2008

Alaska, Here I Come!

I just bought my plane tickets for my little vacation to Alaska. My friends, John and Becca, are getting married, so I'm going up for the wedding and to hang out with friends. I'll be there July 21-31. I'm pretty dang excited. Get me out of this Texas heat!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

FINALLY (Four Useful Words)

Finally, it has happened. The numerous phone calls, hours on hold, serenades by awful elevator music, transfers from answerless claims representative to answerless claims representative, stacks of mail, monthly payments, and endless frustrations have finally come to an end. The insurance company finally reimbursed us for the Ecuadorian medical expenses from nearly a year ago. I've been waiting for that money to pay off the remaining bills from in the U.S. You don't know how happy I was to be able to call up people I still owed money to and finally pay them off. I am so relieved. This whole time we were only missing four seemingly innocuous words said in just the right order: Texas Department of Insurance. As soon as they heard those four wonderful words, the insurance company suddenly knew exactly which claim we were talking about, knew what currency is used in Ecuador (US dollars), could translate the claim from Spanish to English, and even send a check that same week. Hmmm... very curious. Nothing like a little motivation to promote productivity! Don't get me wrong. I'm so thankful I had insurance at the time, but equally, if not more, thankful I won't have to talk to them again (well, hopefully not any time soon). So, if you're ever getting the run-around from an insurance company, remember these four feared and useful words: Texas Department of Insurance.

if you live in another state, you may need to call your own state's board of insurance.

Monday, June 9, 2008

I Found the Hills

I began by checking the weather. Threat of thunderstorms in the afternoon. Wind from the south. Next, Google maps. No, not that one. Not that way. Wait. It could be. Maybe. Diversion here, change there. Aaaand yes... it's perfect. I checked the time. Ten thirty. Oh no, that means... I quickly did the calculations, accounting for distance, wind, stops and potential threats. That's what I thought: 5:30. I pulled out the phone and begrudgingly pressed the correct keys finishing with "save". I did a double take. Yes, 5:30 a.m. as in "the morning".

I tried to get out a little energy by playing guitar for a bit. No luck. I got into bed fully awake, praying I would somehow fall instantly to sleep and become wide awake again at 5:30 a.m. I put on The Working Title's About Face and popped in the headphones. As the final song on the album ended, I was thinking there was no way. I resisted the urge to change my alarm right then and there.

I heard this annoying buzzing and organs softly beginning to play. It was "Marching Bands of Manhattan" playing on my phone alarm. How and why? I peaked through a crack in the blinds. The sky was just starting to show some color. Ya right! Not a chance! Changed the alarm to 7:30. I closed by eyes expecting to be hearing Death Cab playing once again my next conscious moment. Nope. Just lied there. It seems I had received the second part of my prayer. I was thrilled (read sarcastically).

The oatmeal with crunchy peanut butter and honey mixed in was tasty as usual. Can't go wrong. The water had that same old off flavor you come to expect in Abilene. I filled my CamelBak with the same water after breakfast and donned my cycling gear, yes, even the spandex shorts. They're a necessary evil. As I put on and tightened my recently acquired Keen cycling sandals, I pondered upon the tan line conglomeration that was beginning to come in from the combination of my Keens, Chacos, flipflops and ankle socks. "Cool." Yes, deep thoughts at 6:30 a.m. Checked the tires, made sure all necessary tools and spare parts were in their respective homes, tucked some snacks, money, a hand-drawn map and cell phone into my pack and headed out the door.

I was about to ride 80 miles.

Despite it being only 75, the humidity forced a sweat to break quickly. Oh, Texas. My first destination was Oplin, TX. I passed Shotwell, Nelson Park, The Abilene Zoo and the Abilene Regional Airport and headed south on highway 36.

Good Idea: Keeping nasal passages clear and free during aerobic outings for optimal intake of oxygen.
Bad Idea: Farmer's blow at 15 mph against a 25 mph head wind.

There was little in sight besides a handful of cemeteries, cows and hills. So many hills. I rolled slowly into Oplin looking for my first rest stop: the Jot-Um Down store. I can only imagine it was named this many years ago when people were on the honor system and would just jot-um down and pay later. Who knows? After passing by the school gym turned "The Grand Ole Oplin", I spotted it on the right. I knew I was about to have a cultural experience. I was most definitely a house at one point. It looked dark inside, but the sign said 'open', and it didn't seem a place like this would overlook such a detail. I pulled the screen door finding no resistance. It took a minute for my eyes and ears to adjust to the darkness and blaring TV. I realized there was someone sitting behind a desk. The dim light from the window revealed an elderly woman in her 80's dressed in a night gown. I was relieved to see she was also wearing shorts. I gave her the cheeriest 'hello' I could muster and she responded with, "The sodie-pops are over there", as she pointed to the fridge in the corner. I took her cue and walked that direction. I found a Gatorade and went in search of a snack. The aged owner was not content to let me look on my own. She started telling me where the apple pies, peanuts, chips, etc. were and pointed as if I could actually see and understand what she was telling me. I politely nodded and made agreeable noises as I dodged and weaved through boxes and shelves occupying the 10x10 food area. As I perused the selection, I caught a sound byte from the TV saying, "I know he goes to church, but does he gooo to church?". Not sure what that was all about. It was something from the 60's I think.

I made my decision and gave her the $3.40 she asked for. She then began asking me about where I was riding from/to, if I was in school, where I worked and why I was riding so far, etc. She raised her eyebrows, shook her head and tilted back in her chair all flabbergasted when I answered her final question. I never get tired of that response from people. She then advised me that I should go back up 604 to 36 and take that east to 283 instead of going down 2926 so that I could go around all them big hills. I assured her I needed the practice, thinking she was exaggerating as I assume all near senile people do, and she agreed it would be hilly in the Northwest. After finishing my drink and snack, I asked to use her bathroom. She gave me weird instructions that went something like, "Go out back. Go ta yer left. Pull the hook out and close the curt'un. Make sure you stay until the toilet stops runnin." Confused, I nodded as if I understood exactly what she meant and went through the back screen door hoping I could make sense of it later. Did I mention there was no AC?

I spotted a metal flat-roofed storage building. It indeed had a hook running through 2 holes keeping it shut. I pulled it out, peaking in to make sure it was the bathroom. I ducked in through the door and tried to close the door behind me. Wasn't gonna happen. Guess that's what the curtain's for. I did what I had come there to do, made sure the toilet stopped and then exited, finding out when the store's normally open on my way out. Mon.-Sat. 6 am-5 pm. Back to riding.

Ya, about those hills... She was right. Wow, she was right.

They were the kind of hills where you brake on the way down and hit 35 mph against the wind and then struggle to keep a 5 mph pace on the way up. As I undulated between hanging on to my handlebars for dear life and chugging and puffing, I thought that maybe the elderly woman was more with it than I had given her credit. As I just barely made it up the 4th or 5th hill (I had lost count), I conceded that she was in fact more sensible than I was. I was only 35 miles into the ride and already my muscles were burning. This wasn't looking good.

Thankfully, that was the last of the monstrous hills for awhile, and I reaped the benefit of my labor as I coasted for most of the next 7 or 8 miles. I made it to Baird, now 60 miles into my ride, without a hitch. I decided to go ahead 6 more miles to Clyde before I stopped, because there's a gas station with a Subway in it that I like to stop at. I saw I was approaching another big uphill, but it didn't seem near as steep or tall as I had remembered. Wonder why?

I was elated as I pulled into the gas station in Clyde. I needed some food, Powerade and at least 30 minutes rest before I made the final push back to Abilene. As usual, the gas station attendant was curious about my riding, and when she realized how far I was riding, exclaimed, "Are you training for that Ter da Fraaance?" Man, I love small town folk.

As I rode the final 14 miles, I got sprinkled on a bit, but there was nothing of the thunderstorms they were predicting. I made my way into Abilene and down EN 10th, then heard a repetitive "ch" sound coming from one of my wheels. I thought it was something caught in my spokes rubbing against the frame as it made each rotation. No, it was a flat. A half mile from my house, I got a flat. Not letting a little thing like that get me down, I made the tired and triumphant walk back to my house as I my bike rolled along beside me. I was just thankful it hadn't happened 50 miles ago. Done and done.

...and then I went and played (and won) 3 games of racquetball.


Saturday, June 7, 2008


Just as I was beginning to feel a little at home in Abilene, everything got all turned around again. Many of the people I've grown closest to here have recently departed (or are about to depart) for other cities, jobs and lives. This includes college friends, coworkers, my church and new friends. It's just starting to hit me. I can now count on one hand the people I have more than a skin-deep relationship with here in Abilene. Though I'm here until the end of August (as far as I know), I already feel like I'm between here and the next place. That disconnected feeling makes it hard to find reason to invest and construct. The things I have to do over the next few months seem to be already pulling me away. It's going to be a trying summer.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Back to Grayskull

"The prodigal son returns!" I exclaimed, as I once again entered the doors of the mighty Grayskull as one of its inhabitants. Josh just sat there looking all confused and said, "What?" I said, "Nevermind."

And that's how it all began again...