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Nearby, Lewis & Clark were also greeted by the locals.

#1 Back Home: December 3, 2009 - March 4, 2010      


Arriving Home

We began bumping into the unexpected even before leaving the Portland International Airport when we encountered into 2 different "Pat's".  Bill's sister, Pat, briefly greeted us at the gate, then went on her way. 

A bit later, while sitting in the deliciously quiet, carpeted corridors of the departure level sending out a webpage update on the  free wi-fi there was Pat #2, a friend, just as surprised to see us as we were her. It was a nice happenstance, a nice grounding in reality, as our bodies struggled to be awake well past our biological clock's bedtime.  

Before running into the Pat's, we'd been pleasantly surprised that our reception by customs and security was much more cordial and welcoming than in the previous years. Understandably, 9/11 had made airports a tense place, but we guessed that unseen improved technology was allowing the airport staff to be more congenial again. "Welcome back; sounds like you had a nice trip" was a very different tone than the grilling we'd come to expect the last 9 years.

Ah, cooking in a real kitchen.

Blissfully, we were also greeted by dry weather when we arrived. Everyone complained about the sudden temperature drop into the 30's but the lack of rain and wind made it feel just fine to us. My underestimation of the temperature was highlighted a few days latter when I hung my freshly washed cycling jacket on our tiny, south facing balcony expecting  it to dry in less than an hour because of the uptick in the wind. When I checked on its progress, the poor thing was frozen stiff. Folds of the ultra-light fabric were effectively glued together with ice and it showed no signs of drying.

Once at home in our new-to-us apartment, we immediately began enjoying our most anticipated lifestyle changes: for Bill, it was having a kitchen; for me, it was access to the building's coin-op washing machines. At last, a break from the nightly ritual of hand washing my clothes.


New Orbits

Longer Commutes

Living life from our new apartment demanded new orbits. We had to establish new food shopping patterns and craft new ways to get to professional appointments while at home this winter. Previously, we walked to most destinations with occasionally getting a lift from the bus or riding our bikes for intermediate length jaunts. And car-share vehicles that were a few blocks away could be rented for as little as a half an hour to bring my mother over for dinner.

But all of that changed in 2009. The 10 mile one-way commute to most of our appointments meant a bus and a light rail line ride just to get in striking distance of offices. A minimum of a 1 hour commute was now the standard 1-way journey anytime we met with friends or family or had an appointment--if there were no 'service failures'.

Vancouver's newish Land Bridge simplified shopping by bike.

The allure of high quality and low prices on Trader Joe's frozen berries for our breakfasts and frozen vegetables for our dinners had us each loading our backpacks with 15-20 pounds of their products as we returned from weekly appointments in Portland by public transit. No longer could food shopping be an after-thought on the walk home: now shopping had to be carefully planned. Our panniers bulged during weekly bike trips to large supermarkets where we shopped for the always-heavy fresh produce and bulky products.  

No More Car-Share

We were sorry to stop our car-share usage this year and instead switched to traditional rental car companies. When a half a dozen car-share vehicles were within a few minutes walk of our home-base, they were handy to rent for an hour or 2. But just getting to a car-share vehicle from our new Vancouver location was time consuming, so short car rentals were suddenly things of the past.

The higher rental car taxes in Washington than Oregon were also a deterrent.  So this year we became connoisseurs of Portland car rental company week-end specials. A 3-day, weekend special on a econo rental cars could be the price of 24 hours with a car-share vehicle, making it easy to switch our allegiance.

Trip-planning for a day in Portland was often time consuming.

As in prior years, car rentals filled in our transportation gaps. But strategic planning was required to cluster visits to friends beyond the easy reach of public transit with taking my Mother out and swinging by retailers for extra big shopping trips--all of which needed to coincide with the weekend specials.

We barely managed to haul our new TV home on the bus so we jumped at a friend's offer to shuttle us for the purchase of a vacuum after our first attempt with a rented car failed (the model we wanted was sold out).

Move Over Map Man

This year it seemed that we were using maps even more heavily at home than when abroad. A day of errands and appointments in Portland sometimes consumed an hour of planning time the night before. Vancouver's free "Cycling the Cities" map of Portland and Vancouver was my usual starting point because of the easy-to-read format that highlighted issues for foot travelers. Using their scale and my ruler made short work of estimating the time required for the walking segments of a day's route. Two or 3 city maps; the light rail maps on and off line; and an assortment of time tables would repeatedly rustle and be refolded as a day's outing was crafted to fit together as many as 3 appointments and several errands.

Google doesn't know the secret: paths on the I-5 bridge.

Google's "Map/Directions" feature was an critical planning resource too, especially when deciding whether I had time to walk between points or would need to hop a bus. Their suggested routes were often an improvement upon my first inclinations. Google's warning that the "Walking" option was still in development was underscored when a couple mile segment I inputted came back with an estimated walking time of 2 1/2 days. Amazingly, they would have had me walking part way to distant  Mt Hood and back rather than take the 'short cut' I had in mind. Clearly Google Maps was missing a little-known piece of information, which was that pedestrians and bikes were allowed on the I-5 bridge linking Vancouver and Portland.  


On the Screen

Each year as we merge with life in the Portland/Vancouver area, I watch for themes during our stay. Some years were like this one in which the medical issues of some of our friends tend to cluster, with meniscus surgery leading the way in 2009. By the time we left town, we'd learned of 4 friends who had knees that had recently undergone the knife. Broken and dislocated ankles and a fractured tibia were among the other orthopedic maladies that had friends on crutches while we were abroad. Shockingly, 4 other friends had near-death experiences with odd events like being attacked by a swarm of bees in his backyard; having an infection from hernia surgery smolder for over 6 months; and totaling a car on an icy road.

Old wooden forts in the US don't look like much.

In a quite different way, the military was also on our minds while at home this year. Our fitness walks and commuting bike rides often had us meandering through one of the largest developed greenways in Vancouver, the old Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, that seamlessly merged with the City of Vancouver's historic sites.

On our wanderings we learned that the British Captain Vancouver was the first European to chart the adjacent Pacific waters and sent long boats up the Columbia River. Soon afterwards, the Hudson's Bay Company established the first fort in the area in 1824. A few years later the fort was relocated down the hill, closer to the Columbia, where the reconstructed fort now stands.

The US Army staked its claim in the area in 1849 and Officer's Row was begun. Turned over to the city in the 1980's, the smartly restored buildings now house small businesses. Memorial plaques and signs educate strollers to the bits of history throughout the immediate area. 

A mural commemorating Chkalov's emergency landing in 'couv.

A small, formerly military, airfield is adjacent to the Fort and more plaques document exciting moments is its history. Just after the turn of the 20th century, the air field hosted a blimp and in 1937 a Russian pilot completing the first polar flight between Russia and the US was forced to land prematurely--in Vancouver.  Vancouver was quick to embrace the notoriety that came its way from this chance event and a street through a newer shopping center also bears his name: Chkalov.

A more modern face was put on the military for us with the nearby VA Medical Center and their long-suffering patients were noticeable in the nearby tiny downtown core and on the buses we rode. "Support Our Troops" car stickers were more evident in this part of town than elsewhere, as well as the occasion flag with the same slogan or one remembering the POW's & MIA's. Hardly a day went by that we didn't see something around Vancouver that reminded us of the US military, past or present. It was an odd shift because most of our exposure these days to the military is what is put forth in the media, not what we see from the sidewalk.


A transit stop hustler that hassled Bill.

Harsh Realities

Out & About

One of the disappointments of traveling in our new orbits was discovering how disagreeable many of our commuting companions were on the Vancouver buses and occasionally on Portland's light rail lines. We were accustomed to the sometimes loud and inappropriate behavior of the individuals living in group homes that frequented our previous buses, but now we were around a rougher crowd and for more hours in a week.

We began wearing earplugs on the buses to blunt the odd patter and sometimes disturbing conversation content from what seemed to be the day-release-from-the-jail crowd. Many of these young offenders had clearly gotten off to a bad start as children and still lacked the social skills to fit-in with the larger community.

We heard more than we cared to know from the guy just released from a long weekend in jail as he called a string of friends on his cell phone--including a call in which he was asking for $137 to pay for his cell phone bill.  There was the woman complaining because she couldn't get her pay check auto-deposited as her employer used US Bank and US Bank would never again allow her to be a customer because of a prior issue.  Over the course of several commutes we inadvertently learned which social service groups began serving meals at what hours; which mental illnesses would qualify one for a service dog; and that bus drivers generally would only disrupt obnoxious behavior if other rider's complained.

Sadly for us, many of the bus drivers were worn-down by the anti-social behavior of their riders and those drivers would sometimes treat us as part of the problem, which added to our distress.  It was a good reminder as to how important it is in supporting one's sense of well being to be selective about the people one surrounds themselves with, even when you aren't directly interacting with them.

When comparing notes with friends about the unpleasantries of our commuting companions, I was assured that it was even worse being on the bus route that served the methadone clinic.

The Economy

We weren't surprised but were saddened to see the ongoing effects of the global economic crisis once home. Oregon is one of the US states lagging behind in the recovery and it constantly showed when we were in Portland. Favorite businesses had contracted or were gone; retailers we'd grown up with were shutting their doors; and professional services providers spoke of their business being down by 30-40%. A friend in the real estate business was bracing for an additional slump in his business in 2011.

A local reminder of different economic times.

Watching new merchandise coming into the stores with substantially higher sticker prices, I began scooping up 2 instead of 1 of each. The often 25% savings would be a good return on my investment for holding the extra item for a year. And we learned from clerks that some favorite merchandise was unavailable because of production cuts.

And it was at home when the year-end statements appeared for our investment accounts that we learned that we too were experiencing the "one-two" punch. In 2008 the value of our assets dropped 30-40% with the market; in 2009 our cash distributions dried up. Fortunately our stash of US Savings Bonds we'd held for almost 20 years allowed us to generate the needed income without selling stocks at a loss. We felt lucky in these difficult times to have such a good back-up as we knew others without a ready cushion.

It broke my heart to get a "Dear Subscriber" letter from the publishers of Dr. Andrew Weil's Self Healing newsletter--another casualty of the economic downturn. For years I'd heavily relied upon his critical analysis of both western and alternative medicine to guide our wellness decisions. Eating salmon, walnuts, and dark berries more frequently were just some of the dietary changes we'd made because of his recommendations.

We also began replacing our plastic water bottles on our bikes with stainless steel ones and began using less plastic in our kitchen at home because of his cautions about contaminants, especially BPA. Because of him, we dramatically increased our intake of Vitamin D two years ago and once again had to say "Thank you, Andy" when Bill's circulating vitamin D came back a little low this December. If we hadn't been pushing the D hard for the last 2 years, his level would have significantly lower.  We immediately knew we'd miss this source of wellness information long after the economy recovered.



The Mail

Little did I know at the time, the letter announcing the discontinuance of my favorite newsletter was one of the last things I'd get in the mail for almost 2 months. One of the little things we had been looking forward to this winter was the daily receipt of our mail at our residence, instead of making weekly treks to our PO box as had been the case for the last 9 years. Before leaving the country last winter I'd obtained and completed the forms necessary to receive our mail at our apartment for the duration of our 3 month stay. But the seemingly simple matter of having our mail forwarded from our PO box to our apartment a mile and a half away was a disaster.

The post office from which we could not extract our mail.

At the one month point after initiating the forwarding service, our trickle of mail had all but evaporated. Once I was able to pick-up what was perhaps a week's worth of mail at the post office--mail that was mysteriously on hold. On one day a handful of holiday greeting cards was delivered to our apartment and the next day 3 oversized envelopes were delivered but from then on it was almost exclusively junk mail and then it stopped. Ten days later Bill extracted a package from the post office as he had tracking info from Amazon.com. The clerk offered no explanation as to why the box was left sitting in their back room for 10 days instead of being delivered to either our street address or our PO box a few feet away.

Each of multiple inquires at several post offices prompted new explanations for the growing fiasco. Early on we were reassured by several people that the initial transition would take 7-10 days but after that our mail would only be delayed a couple of days. Then we were informed that we'd only receive first class mail. It was when our new passports, which also had tracking numbers, disappeared into the abyss that the most credible story was offered: all of our mail was being routed to Seattle and every stitch of it would be delayed by 2 weeks for the duration of the forwarding period. Unbelievable!

How to receive the dozen or more online purchases we hoped to order was especially challenging. There was no workable procedure for receiving packages at our apartment building except for those delivered by the post office. Knowing that, we'd carefully arranged for our first batch of packages to all come via USPS. Unwittingly, we'd put all of those shipments at risk of never being delivered with our forwarding request. Worse yet, some packages had an order to return to the shipper after 15 days if they weren't delivered and the post office wasn't delivering our mail anywhere, regardless of the address on the label.

Mom trying on the most recent delivery: 5 Fingers.

Our stop-gap measure was to impose upon my mother by having all subsequent packages delivered to her address at a senior community. Indeed the staff raised their eyebrows as she suddenly received a stream of small packages after the Christmas rush. Apparently the staff decided that she was buying us lots of gifts while we were at home.

As we held our breath hoping our passports and other mail would eventually be in our hands, we crafted a new plan for next winter. Suddenly the $45 fee to rent a private mail box for 3 months for the sole purpose of receiving our packages, regardless of the shipping service, looked like a bargain. Procuring such a box will be at the top of the "To Do" list when we return home next December.

By the time we left the States, it appeared that all newly sent first-class mail was coming through. A few magazines and catalogs were just beginning to be delivered as well. We know some pieces of mail (like instructions for a medical procedure) that were sent to us were never received but of course we'll never know how much of our other first class mail was lost in the turmoil.

The Phones

Layered on to the stress of not receiving our mail was having the service on our 2 cell phones be down for 2-3 weeks each during our stay. T-Mobile's service was unacceptably bad this year so after much research, Bill embarked on a switch to another provider. The weeks rolled by with no cell service and no voice mail on our primary line as the transition lumbered on. Bill's multiple calls to what was surely an overseas call center taught him to budget at least 45 minutes for every aggravating, seemingly unproductive, call. We were tied up in knots as we were at risk of loosing the phone number we'd had for 30 years if the transfer wasn't completed before we returned to Europe. Receiving the second long-awaited SIM chip in the just-reviving stream of mail was one of the last things we received before we left for Europe.


Feathering Our New Nest

The new chaos with our mail and telephone service was layered on left-over chaos from last winter's unexpected move--a move that we'd only just begun to recover from when we left for Europe last March. Once home this year, we were greeted by neat rows of head-high stacks of boxes and a long to-do list. But at least we'd created enough order before our 2009 departure that there was a fun side to getting acquainted with our new living arrangement and we still held out hope of finding things like the lid that wasn't packed with the soup pot. 

Cool! Our own Euro-styled folding laundry rack.

As we recovered from jet lag and became acquainted with our new space, it only took a couple of days until we could no longer ignore how bad the tap water tasted. The budget prices at Costco made the Brita water filter purchase an easy decision. And we were delighted while there that for under $20 each we could also upgrade our abode by replacing a very tired bathroom scale and broken salad spinner as well as add a European-styled, folding laundry rack to our inventory.

And the great prices at Ikea made it easy to replace a much-needed big pot for cooking pasta and to top it off with a metal pot strainer. A little more metal and glass worked their way into our kitchen as we slowly replaced plastic containers and vessels with less-toxic materials.

A $3 plastic tarp purchase and some hooks and bungee from our inventory made quick-work of finding a way to protect our old touring bikes from the weather while they were lodged on our balcony during our stay. A huge cable left-over from car-top bike carrying now provided extra security to the balcony-bikes. Tending to these and other little details early in our stay made us feel more contented while co-existing with dozens of boxes still in need of unpacking.


My exercise ball became Bill's office chair.

New Uses for Familiar Things

One of the mantras that spontaneously erupted while we began settling into our new apartment was "Don't just store it, use it in a new way". It was unpacking a pair of leather satchels that had faithfully accompanied each of us to work for years that triggered the new approach. They were in the "too good to throw away" category but we both dearly hoped to not have jobs that required such things again. And much larger capacity backpacks were now our daily companions when out and about. But the buttery-soft, slim leather cases found new jobs this year as living room organizers: one held our frequently used city maps and bus schedules; the other contained my papers for appointments and short term projects. 

Bill's renewed effort to improve his posture during the many hours he spent in front of the laptop meant that the giant exercise ball that he had found too harsh for back bending was now perfect as a desk chair. The ready playfulness of the springy ball invited him to interrupt the fixed sitting position he was inclined to hold when at work. So the ball quickly earned its place at our dining room/work table instead of tittering on top of stacked boxes.

A favorite little sherry glass that had lost its purpose as our alcohol consumption dwindled to almost nothing came into daily use for measuring a mouth wash and sipping an herbal tincture. A wooden tool box Bill made in woodshop as a kid became our storage container for glass on its way to the parking lot recycling bin. Reinventing the jobs of these and other old favorite possessions that we weren't quite ready to part with was a comforting way to reconnect with long-stored belongings without feeling burdened by them.


Electronics Extravaganza

In addition to the collision with our pile of too much stuff, a major confrontation with electronics always defines Bill's stay in the States and this year was no exception. He began researching cameras, TV's, and ways to deliver music into our living space months before we flew home. And during the first weeks of our stay he was preoccupied with more online research and face-to-face contact with the technology.

One of the lessons of these pre-shopping exercises was that despite the availability of information online, his actual purchases were all heavily influenced by the retail salesmen on the floor. The 2 men at Costco and Best Buy added significantly to his understanding of the technical issues in the flood of new televisions and cut to the chase for our "buy decision." The bottom line in small screen TV's became clear after too much talk and research: all new TV's were better than anything we ever had before, so don't sweat the details.

Bill's online research of cameras guided him to a particular model and then he discovered that the camera specialty shops in town weren't carrying it. Finally a salesman revealed that the manufacturer was outsourcing so many of the components that they had lost control of the quality and Bill's chosen model had high failure rates...oops!

Dueling camera's at breakfast time.

And Bill finally took the plunge and bought his first iPod. He bypassed the overhead expenses involved with co-habitating with an iPhone and went for the simpler model as the heart of his new audio system. CD's would soon be occupying less space in our world as he continued recording his collection on our laptop and loaded them onto the iPod Touch. An iPod docking station with a speaker pair a bit larger than a shoe box boldly sent music into our little living room. Oh yes, and Bill loves his iPod. Most of our traveling gear develop names and personalities and "Slim" was the starter-name for the ultra sleek iPod Touch.  

Even though the process of purchasing and molding the new electronics to suit our needs took dozens of hours, the stress around the electronics this year was much lower than in previous years. There were no huge, consuming problems to solve. Getting the new TV out of its box and onto its little pedestal took more time than getting it plugged-in and operating with its external antenna. The main issue with the new camera was taking test shots with our 2 old cameras to make sure it was an improvement. From there, the camera and the iPod would be ongoing projects of learning how to exploit the features of value to us. And fortunately, all the laptop required this year was a new battery and some straightforward software upgrades.

And though we didn't budget time for watching all of the wonderful things to be found on TV, we were thrilled to have real time news in the background when the Nigerian bomber's efforts suddenly changed our flying reality and an unpredicted snow storm hit town a few days later. As the weeks rolled by the tragedy in Haiti, the up's and down's of the Winter Olympics, and Chile's earthquake filled the little screen.


In Pursuit of Wellness

Budgeting More & More Time

Every year the amount of time we devote to clinging to our wellness increases.  Our year-round, baseline activities are the usual of procuring and eating healthy food and budgeting time for daily cardio-vascular exercise. This year daily flexibility exercises demanded more time as Bill followed through on his commitment to free himself of back pain and I tended to rehabilitating my dislocated shoulder.

Once at home, more hours per week were added to our pursuit of wellness as we once again had access to familiar and new practitioners. Weekly massages from our favorite sports massage man is a part of the routine each year as are less frequent visits to a practitioner of more subtle arts to restore us as much as possible.

This year I also added the weekly services of an acupuncturist in my ongoing search for relief from medication-induced GI problems and she taught me some do-it-yourself techniques to extend the benefits of her modality to my life on the road. The retirement of my long-time primary care doctor necessitated a few extra visits to my new physician. And trying to get our 'rejuvenation' medications just right meant even more appointments.

Receiving care and support from various medical, dental, and allied arts professionals is always one of the goals of our visits back home, but seeing whole days sucked out of our weekly calendars in pursuit of these services was alarming. Our "To Do" lists seemed endless and we had to constantly remind ourselves that our health was our top priority as the weeks flitted by with less accomplished than was anticipated.

When Time Stands Still

With those many appointments came the 'scares.' One of the inevitabilities of aging is an increase in the frequency of waiting days or a couple of weeks to get the news if that thing that caught your doctor's eye is indeed just a curiosity or if it is going to kill you. It was Bill's turn this year to be the center of attention as a routine dermatology appointment resulted in furrowed brows and a biopsy. The pin-head-sized black dot could be a marker for an already fatal lesion or just an oddity.

During this particular waiting interval, we kept reminding ourselves of the value in becoming more skilled at living with parallel realities: continuing on with business as usual and simultaneously knowing that our world could drastically change in an instant if the news was bad. Once again, the news at the end of the long wait was good.

And his shoulder wasn't the injured one.

Completing the Healing Journey

Having my dislocated shoulder evaluated was at the top of my list for our time at home and I was thrilled when my massage therapist gave me a "100% recovery" for my range of motion. He commented that the current condition of my dislocated shoulder was equal to or better than the level of recovery that most of his clients ever achieved. As we'd hoped, our family project of rehab'ing my shoulder in a non-traditional way was a success. Not unexpectedly however, he only rated my total healing as about 80% complete. The strength was back, the flexibility was back, but it wasn't fully healed. The persistent though low level of discomfort made that pronouncement no surprise even though exactly what was "unhealed" wasn't as clear to me as it was to him.

Fortunately no painful ripping-and-tearing of scar tissue was necessary to advance my healing, but the weekly deep work had both shoulders talking to me for 2 months. My left shoulder was the injured one but my own rehab work had revealed limitations in my 'good' shoulder that I wanted to remove. So Bob went to work on both of them, giving me ease and alignment in them that I'd never known. Unexpectedly, Bill was also the recipient of Bob's new vigor in tackling shoulders and some days we had 4 sores shoulders under one roof as his decades-old rotator cuff injury and good shoulder both got special attention.

New Priorities

Fiddling with our salt intake became an unexpected at-home health project. My upwards-creeping blood pressure and Bill's relatively weak sense of taste had put us in conflict over the salt shaker for years. I wanted to keep my intake salt low 'just in case it helps' and Bill always wanted a little more (OK, a lot more) salt added to our cooking in pursuit of flavor. But new medications took his normally low blood pressure and put it in the high normal range, which was alarming.

Suddenly our menus were being crafted around milligrams of salt instead of calories or grams of fat. The big surprise was that the most significant source of sodium in our vegetarian-leaning, Mediterranean-type diet was from our protein sources. It was the low fat cheese and canned beans that were the big hits of sodium as the usual culprits had been banished from our diet long ago. We carefully studied labels and quickly recalibrated our tastes as the sodium content would drop-off of many food labels once we were overseas again.


Spa Time

While back home each year we create our humble version of time at a spa. Our pampering isn't exotic, but it still registers as a welcome indulgence. Even though I class us as "comfort cyclotourists," we still go without some common pleasures most of the year and we make reversals where we can for the few months while at home.

Little things loom large in making us feel more cared for and my spa time began in the bathroom each morning. Something as inconsequential as using a pre-brushing mouth wash counted as a novel treat. Instead of using a common bottle of dish detergent for shampoo, shower gel, hand soap, dish washing, and laundry soap as we do on the road, for 2-3 months we used specialized products. In addition, I enjoyed using a dedicated face cream instead of using body lotion on my face. A little splash of scent was a fun finish on "in" days when I wouldn't risk agitating sensitive systems of others.

After my shower, I enjoyed the 'spa' venue options for my morning exercise routine while a home. Instead of making-do with awkward corners in a new room each morning, I expanded our small living space into a customized work-out place. First I'd take to the carpeted indoor hall of our apartment building for a tai-chi-like, slow-walking exercise for about 5 minutes (hoping not to be discovered by the neighbors who preferred to be anonymous). Next it was onto our tiny covered balcony for my 20 squats and a brief kicking and circling routine with my legs. The final exercise station was in the middle of our small living room where my 6 minute headstand with leg variations filled the available air space. A couple of more stretches in the same spot and I was done with my most of my non-CV exercises for another day but in a more pleasing venue than when traveling. If I had time, I'd kick-up at a wall for a shoulder strengthening hand stand or do a few sets of upper body work at the wall.

Other objects that made being at home a spa-special interlude for our bodies were the bright yellow tennis ball, a basketball, and the large blue exercise ball that lurked in the corners of our small apartment, each ever-ready to help stretch out a kink in an upper back muscle or put a little pizzazz in a hip stretch. A flimsy green therapy band innocently draped over a door knob was equally ready to challenge healing shoulder muscles.  And cans of beans hiding in the kitchen cupboard came out every other day to assist Bill in working with his sensitive upper ribs. Having such wellness-aids close at hand were a delight to us.

With my morning, gut-agitating movements out of the way, it was time to sit down in front of our new table top light-therapy lamp to armor our moods against the too-gray winter days. We soaked-up the mood-lifting rays as we munched our cereal fortified with ground flaxseed, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and those yummy frozen berries we packed home on our backs. I'd purr with a cup of licorice spice or cinnamon spice tea while Bill dipped into his tin of sipping chocolate--hot chocolate to the rest of us. Seemingly ordinary options but none of which were readily available to us on the road.

For me, our spa-time at home also included omitting something, which was canned tuna. Canned tuna isn't on my list of favorite foods but I give-in to its practicalities and eat it for lunch almost every day when we are overseas. I scrupulously avoid it at home, both to give my palate some relief and to decrease our mercury intake.

Our breakfast (and lunch and dinner) were accompanied by one of Bill's big "spa time" treats: music.  Downloaded music and music from his stash of CD's filled the airwaves of our apartment. New tunes, old tunes, and borrowed tunes all got a chance to emerge from his new iPod and its docking station/speaker set.  Our treats would hardly be on the list for a day spa, but they made our time at home feel like a nurturing change.


Lab Rats

A twisted variant of the indulgence of spa time had us feeling more like lab rats than pampered clients. It was the tweaking of supplements and medications that had us dabbling in the realm of the less-known. With aging has come a more common refrain from our doctor's: "You'll just have to experiment with it." Given we were both trained in the biologic sciences, we both felt at ease with designing our own experiments on ourselves, however poorly controlled.

New strategies emerged, like intentionally taking some meds on a varied schedule. We each heard the recommendation "Try a full dose every other day and a half-dose on the alternate days....see what happens." Apparently binding-globulins and other of the body's 'clean-up' chemicals are on the alert to maintain the old balance and can neutralize new compounds introduced, effectively sabotaging those sometimes very expense drugs.

This year magnesium supplementation got the prize for the most successful, most unexpected lab-rat result. I'd read an "Oh, by the way" comment in a book that magnesium might help my troubled gut. I still can't tell if it is of any benefit for my belly, but it only took a few days to suspect it was why my seemingly drug-triggered tremor of 20 years suddenly improved. I experimented with doses and formulations for the months we were at home and watched my tremor come and go with the changes. It will take more time to know for sure, but this simple, safe, supplement appears to be softening my sleep fragmentation that has haunted me for decades as well.

None of our other medication experiments were as simple, cheap, or effective as the magnesium test, but we pursued them anyway. The pressure is always on while at home as whether our experiments have come to a decisive conclusion or not, we must. We must decide what and how much of each supplement or medication to haul with us for the next 9+ months, whether it is a set dose or what we need to continue the experiment as many products either aren't available to us in Europe or cost up to 10 times as much as we pay back home.


WWII posters reproduced on a Vancouver mini-park wall.

Marching with the Band

Our pursuit of wellness followed us outdoors as well and perhaps it was the many military motifs in Vancouver that prompted me to think of "marching" as a cue for my new walking style rather than choosing another image. Regardless of the trigger, "marching" stuck as I struggled to abandon my heel-striking gait.

Dabbling with mountain trail running while in the Alps last summer, as well as our mountain finale of barefoot hiking, had me constantly scrutinizing my feet and stance. I'd whittled my model down from heel striking all of the time to only heel striking when walking on fairly tame surfaces. Once at home, my massage therapist blasted that theory to bits as he clearly considered heel striking as a successful strategy reserved for those who can't do anything else.

I was shocked at his dismissive tone about heel striking--a gait I'd carefully cultivated as I hung on every word of advice in the runner's magazines I read in the 1980's. Heel striking was the only proper gait for runners and I distinctly remember being amazed when we saw clueless runners doing otherwise. But at least in some circles, heel striking is out now, being viewed by some as a terrible myth propagated by the running shoe industry beginning in the 1970's.

This summer I'd convinced myself that heel striking was a hindrance any time but when walking in town, so it wasn't hard for me to abandon it all together--at least in my mind. Getting my body to give it up was tougher however. That's where "marching" came in. Landing on the mid to forefoot instead of the heel was easiest for me to achieve if I imagined I was high-stepping as in a marching band.

Even though my compliance was low, I immediately noticed that  the frequency with which I was catching my toes on sidewalk irregularities went from an almost daily occurrence to almost never happening. Foregoing the drama of saving myself from face-plants on the concrete was enough to make me think the gait change was worth the struggle. My heel striking also set me up for slipping backwards on slimy or muddy walkways, as happened almost a year ago when I dislocated my shoulder in Montenegro. Anything that would reduce my risk of a recurrence of that challenging injury was also an attention-getter for me.


Maybe next year we'll get that Christmas tree....

Didn't & Almost Didn't Quite Happen

Compliance with non-heeling striking came and went, but other events were more clear cut this year. That little Christmas tree that had been dancing in our heads for months never appeared in our new apartment. We were just too harried feeling our first weeks back home to carve out the proper interlude to welcome a tree to our new home. A door wreath that Bill bought became a table top decoration and our substitute for a tree. 

Those Park & Rec snowshoe outings in which both equipment and transportation were a part of the package never materialized either. We had enough snow for an excursion in our neighborhood but we lacked the gear. And there just wasn't time to visit the nearby Park & Rec center for swimming or to sample kick-boxing and aerobic dancing classes. Like the Christmas tree, I at least received pleasure from the anticipation of these activities even though they remained only fantasies.

Bundled for rain during our all-day moto classes.

Getting our motorcycle license endorsement was bouncing in and out of the Did/Didn't Happen columns for 6 weeks. Back in October we'd scheduled 2 classes in December, both of which were cancelled: one due to snow, the other due to low enrollment. We made it to the pair rescheduled classes in January, but were so discouraged part way through that neither of us expected to pass. But come skills-test-time, Bill squeaked through and I failed the test by 1 point. I didn't want to risk doing the Retest just days before our departure, so I opted to rent a car for another weekend and took the class a second time and passed.


Moving On

Getting acquainted with our new apartment; dealing with missing mail and missing phone service; attending 20-30 hours of motorcycle classes; and indulging in health services competed for our time as we visited with friends and family while preparing for Year #10 of our cyclotouring lifestyle. Our 2009 photo album was completed, but 2008's, which was a casualty of the move last year, was only half completed while at home this year. But flight reservations kept us on task and we pressed for closure on finished and unfinished projects. As we were wrapping on our last night in the States, we vowed to resist the temptation of a new big project during our return in the winter of 2010/11 and instead will aim to make finishing the 2008 photo album, finishing the unpacking from the move, and hanging pictures the special activities for the year.

The only direct flights from Portland to Europe are to Amsterdam.

Our 2010 season began with a direct flight from Portland to Amsterdam; train travel on to Dusseldorf, Germany; and then a budget flight to Seville. After depositing bike parts and other cycling specific gear in Seville, we hopped on a bus and then a boat to arrive at the Spanish possession of Ceuta on the coast of North Africa for a month-long visit to Morocco.

We'd spend almost 3 weeks touring the Imperial Cities of Morocco and then park ourselves in a tourist apartment in Rabat to sit-out Semana Santa--the 10 day Easter holiday celebration in Spain. Once the hassles of the holiday passed in early April, we'd pick-up our bikes stashed in a Seville storage locker and head to Portugal for a 1-2 month bike tour of that country. The clearing of snow in the Alps would be our cue to head into the mountains for another summer of hiking with our new Vibram 5 Fingers. Map Man is uncertain about much more than that.


Where We Are Now on March 29, 2010:  Rabat, Morocco

After an interesting and slightly stressful non-biking tour of many of the top sights in Morocco, we are in a Rabat tourist apartment sitting out the Easter holiday that pushes lodging prices up on both sides of the Mediterranean. We've had unseasonably warm weather, which has been just warm enough to be pleasant most of the time. We are a bit weary of the cultural stresses of being in North Africa and are anxious to be reunited with our bikes and resume a more tranquil life. But this self-imposed extraction from the Easter holiday scene is giving us time to cull our photos, work on the webpage, and wash all of our clothing, hats, and sandals that are now imbedded with North African dust and grim. With a little luck, the details of our Moroccan adventure will be available to you soon on our webpage.


Our best to all of you,

Barb & Bill

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