Biking, take two

Last fall, I was planning to attempt a century (100-mile) bike ride. It was a way of distracting myself from all the unhappiness in my life: I’d been unable to run pain-free for a year, I’d had my heart broken, I’d failed at multiple things, and I was just generally feeling that life was a bummer. Two weeks before that planned century ride, I wrote here about a demoralizing “last long ride” and how much doubt I had. I got a lot of encouraging responses (many of them on Facebook, unfortunately, so they’re not preserved on that post).

Well, I never wrote a follow-up post, but I didn’t do the century ride. I couldn’t face the idea of failing yet another thing. I know that sounds so negative, and it is, but when the day of the ride came and I wasn’t out there, I felt fine with my decision. Yes, I probably would have finished the ride through sheer determination. But if I hadn’t been able to finish, nobody would have been there to pick me up off the ground and tell me it was OK. I’ve only ever dropped out of one running race, which was the right decision but I hated it so much and was so very upset at myself. Fortunately, I had my friend Katie there to pick me up off the ground. This time, I didn’t know anybody at the century ride, and it wasn’t near where any friends live.

So, yeah, I didn’t do the ride. But wait! This is not actually a negative blog post! Since I have a million photos, here are a few to hint at what’s to come (if you don’t already know, which you probably already do, since my readership is not exactly vast).

Let's make some tweaks.

Skinny road tires.

Many hills await...

You see, I did keep bicycling — certainly less than when I was trying to cram for a century ride on a hybrid bike, but I didn’t stop riding. Somewhere along the way, I’d discovered that I could eventually reach that mind-calming feeling I get when I run. Granted, it takes 30 miles on wheels instead of a few miles on foot, but it’s such a relief when I do reach that point.

Last fall, I’d also been road bike shopping but hadn’t found a bike in my price range that made me want to hand over my precious dollars. Meanwhile, do you have any idea how much there is to learn about bikes?! I knew more than the average bike newbie because I am surrounded by triathletes, and because I have ridden for fun since childhood, but I didn’t know how to shift gears on road handlebars. (I’m still not entirely sure that a “cassette” is anything more than the device by which I used to listen to Amy Grant. Oh wait, the device in this example would be the Sony Walkman, so the cassette would be, hmmm, yeah, I’ll stop there.) I remember being intimidated by running stores when I first took up running, but let me tell you, they are NOTHING compared to bike shops. Also, the shoes are funnier looking.

I won’t go into detail about all the shops I went to between September and December, or all the web articles I read more than once because they didn’t make sense until I started test riding bikes. Craig’s List and I became close pals, as I checked several times a week for bikes in my size. (If you’re bike shopping, factor in the cost of a tune-up and maybe having to replace tires, etc.) I reached a point where I was tired of shopping, and I concluded that I wouldn’t get everything I wanted in a bike. I wanted good components but I also wanted carbon, and the ideal combo was out of my price range.

Then the new year arrived. I did my taxes and saw that I’d be getting money back, and learned that I’d get a bonus, and I had gotten some money for Christmas and my birthday. I was thinking about the things I wanted out of the year, and bigger bicycle adventures were still on my wish list. So I went back to the bike stores and the internet research, looking a bit beyond my price range. If a few additional hundred dollars could make the difference, I knew it would be the smart choice. Like a car, once you buy a bike, you won’t be able to resell it for the same price, so it’s best to get something you’ll be happy with for a while. I went back to one bike shop and began thinking seriously about a bike in the higher price range, even though it wasn’t a women’s bike so the reach was kind of long. And then, while pondering, I went to another shop.

At that shop, I found The Bike.

The funny and possibly absurd thing is that I’m pretty sure I test rode that same bike last summer, in my second outing to a bike store. I vaguely remember them putting me on a couple bikes to test and then, “just to see the difference,” they put me on this full carbon bike with mostly Ultegra components. The ride was so smooth, and the shifting was so much better, and the angle of the hoods (the handlebar-things) fit my hands so much better. And it was out of my price range. So, if my memory is correct and it’s the same bike, those sneaky salespeople and this very bike are responsible for making me find fault with every other bike I tested for the next umpteen months.

Before the new helmet, new cages and new saddlebag. And when everything was still green.

Maybe because it’s not fully Ultegra components (brakes are Shimano 105, which is actually what I had decided to settle on for the whole bike), the bike dropped in price from last summer. It’s also a 2013 model, so by January 2015, the shop owners really needed to get that bike off the sales floor. The price drop plus my increased price range combined to make it within range. They dropped the price a bit more, I got them to put new handlebar tape on it, and we had a deal.

On February 20, my new bike came home. It was my most expensive purchase since I bought my car nearly 11 years ago, but I’m very glad I waited until I could increase my budget a little bit to get (almost) everything I wanted. I’ve since put almost 400 miles on the bike, I’ve gotten matching bottle cages, I bought a very-overdue new (yes, matching) helmet, and I finally bought new sunglasses that have lighter lenses (my $17 4-year-old ones were fine in bright sunlight, but they were downright risky in lower light because I couldn’t see — hooray for REI dividends and coupons).

I’ve also had my first-ever flat tire, despite putting 2,100 miles on my other bike’s original tires and tubes. I was by myself, at mile 48, five miles from home in a bad cell phone area where I couldn’t google “how to change a bike tube.” Remarkably, a failed tire-changing lesson from three years ago apparently sank into my subconsciousness, and I successfully changed my own tube without help. That was quite empowering, I must say.

Cruising around my old college campus on a visit. That building is where I spent most of my waking (and sleeping) hours. Ah, journalism life.

Sadly, I never biked when I was at school there.

This last weekend, six months after the ride I talked about at the beginning of this long-winded blog post, I rode 76.5 miles. Once again, I was gearing up for an attempt at a century ride. The ride got long, the weather got hot, and at one point I felt pretty low. But I was able to rally, and I finished the ride with a feeling of “I did that!” rather than “I don’t know if I can do it.”

The century ride is in 10 days and is harder than the one I’d planned to do last October. But I’ll have friends there. I’ll have a bike that weighs 17ish pounds instead of 28 pounds (though I have not lost the weight I was supposed to lose, so that kind of negates it). Since January 1, I’ve cycled 944 miles and I’ll cross the 1,000-mile point before the century ride. It’s not much compared to all the triathletes I know and I won’t be setting any speed records, but it’s more than I’ve ever done.

Plus, I want to go out and face scary things, which is a much different mental place than I was in last fall. That is probably the biggest difference, bike included.

The next time I mention my bike here, I hope it’s because we rode 100 miles in one day.

Posted in Goals, Other | 2 Comments

Tuesday Time-Waster: Boston dreams

Yesterday was the 119th Boston Marathon. I watched the marathon’s live stream worked while friends did amazing things in less-than-ideal weather.  It’s been two years since bombs went off at the finish line, destroying lives and permanently changing many others. Earlier this month, the surviving bomber was found guilty of all charges against him; today the penalty phase starts, when the jury will be tasked with determining whether he dies or spends life in prison.

There is no real “closure” in tragedy. When someone is brought to justice, it doesn’t bring back the victims and remove their loved ones’ pain. I tend to think the only thing to do is to keep living in honor of the ones who died too early. Two years ago, hours after the Boston bombing, I wrote, “Life should be lived, and dreams should come true.” I still believe that, and I just re-read that post of mine. Every bit of it resonates with me just as much, perhaps even more today.

Maybe it’s ego-centric, but that piece about Boston is today’s Tuesday time-waster. I wrote it when I had one of those magical urges to write — when they come, if I have the opportunity to sit down and write, magic happens. The words come from somewhere deep inside, from a place I only wish I could tap into at will.

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Tuesday Time-Waster: Virtual LA Marathon (and Boston links)

The Boston Marathon is next Monday, and I’ll be tracking diligently working all morning. A few friends and my uncle are running it, and I’m looking forward to all the coverage.

But I’ll have more about Boston in a couple paragraphs, because today’s Tuesday Time-Waster is about another large marathon. In the spirit of racing, the LA Times in March created a fun interactive LA Marathon graphic. You enter your marathon time (I had to enter a pace, too, to get it to work correctly), pick your opponents, and then click “Run!” to see how fast you are in comparison.

The good news: I beat chef Gordon Ramsey by 45 seconds (though we won’t talk about who would win in a cooking contest). The bad news: If I ever have to out-run a California grizzly bear, I’m doomed. It turns out, those lumbering beasts can run about 20 minutes faster than world record.

I'm the turquoise dot, running neck and neck with Gordon Ramsay's red dot. We left Freddie Prinze Jr. behind, but a bear as well as a bus beat us...

Getting back to the Boston Marathon, here’s a list of the starting times. If you’re speedy and your name is Norman, then you start at 10 a.m. Eastern time, which means I won’t even be at work yet. If you’re my uncle Pete who recently dominated a 5k, you start at 10:50 a.m. To find a runner’s bib number and wave, go here. To track up to 10 athletes and get alerts on their progress, there are free iPhone and Android apps that you can get in the app store by searching for “Boston Marathon” or via this link. Live online coverage will be shown here — and that’s when I’ll be saying, “I need a third monitor!” (Yes, I have first-world problems.)

To those of you running Boston, have a wonderful race. To those of you, like me, who dream of qualifying, do not give up. After all, at least we don’t have to run from a California grizzly.

Posted in Running, Tuesday Time-Waster | 1 Comment

My attempt at swimming lessons

Many months ago, when I got the wild idea to do 36 things in one year, “take a swimming lesson” was one of the first things that popped into my brain. After all, I’m surrounded by triathletes to the point that I find myself giving them tips and regularly spouting triathlon trivia. I’ve also been to Hawaii a number of times over the years, I have a couple pools in my apartment complex, and I have gym access to several “real” pools. Oh, and I’ve proven to myself time and time again that the only way I can run is if I also cross train. Clearly, I should swim.

There is the small matter of how I almost drowned once as a completely sober adult… And how it took me years of childhood lessons before I allegedly passed the test… And how a boy once tried teaching me to dive but instead I belly flopped repeatedly until it hurt and then I lost an earring and he couldn’t find it at the bottom of the pool, though he kept valiantly trying…

I had a feeling I would put off the swimming lesson thing, but then an Amazon Local deal appeared in my inbox shortly after I launched my 36 Things project. I called to see if they had adult lesson times available (they did), and if they had evenings so I wouldn’t have to take time off work (they did), and I looked online to see if they had good reviews (they did). $36 later, I was signed up for four 30-minute lessons.

On a mid-March evening, I stayed late at work until it was time to change. I put on the one-piece Speedo swimsuit I’d purchased for $19 a year earlier at Costco (and had never worn). I had goggles ready (which I’d worn once), along with a swim cap (never worn). I drove a few miles to American Swim Academy, walked inside and surveyed what I describe as a cute pool.

I impressed myself by getting the untested swim cap onto my big head on the first try — good sign. I looked at the seating area and saw one woman in a swimsuit; I went over and said hi, and yes, she was there for the swim lesson and was very nice — good sign. It was just the two of us, instead of the maximum of four students I’d known about when signing up — good sign. The teacher was a cool guy who didn’t put on any airs or make me feel stupid — good sign.

You’d think all those good signs would lead to a good time. Well, I had forgotten about the swimming lessons when I’d given blood for the first time four days earlier. I’ve since learned that I am basically useless for about 10-14 days after giving blood; half an hour is my max for exercise before I really cannot see anything and am utterly exhausted. That first swim lesson had me breathless after two laps in the small pool.

The second lesson rolled around, and I was now 11 days post-blood-donation. This time we had a third student. The other woman was a beginner, but this new woman didn’t let go of the wall — in four feet of water. I was mainly there to learn how to breathe to the side during the crawl stroke, so I can actually get a workout. The other two woman were there to learn how to avoid drowning and conquer their fear of water. I felt like the showoff I never want to be — I was basically an intimidating asshole who didn’t need to learn how to stay alive in water. To be clear, our teacher never made me feel that way, but I felt so guilty. I was mostly on my own, though other teachers tried to give me pointers and were all very nice.

The third lesson rolled around, with the same three of us students. Did I mention how much goggles hurt? I mean, I prefer them to the burning eyes and risk of infection from lord knows how many kids peed in that pool all day before I showed up at 6:30 p.m. But they hurt, and the raccoon eye marks are definitely attractive when wandering around Trader Joe’s after 30 minutes in the pool. The other two women were still trying not to drown,  The teacher and I still hadn’t figured out which side I should be breathing on (when asked which felt easier, my answer was a quick “neither?”). I couldn’t count three strokes before I’d be gasping for air, but maybe I was actually supposed to be counting four, or possibly two?

Tonight was supposed to be my fourth and last lesson. As I sat there at work at 5:15 p.m., thinking about how I’d be hanging out for another hour and then going to a place I was dreading, I just couldn’t handle it anymore. I locked up and went home. As soon as I got on the freeway in the wrong direction from the swimming pool, I felt so relieved. The relief was worth the $9 I had pre-paid and wouldn’t get back.

And thus ends my swimming lesson experiment. I’d still like to be able to swim without getting exhausted immediately — even when I’ve been in fast marathon shape, I can’t swim more than two laps without needing a break, and by four laps I can’t see (for perspective, when I’m in shape, I manage not to reach that point until the end of a marathon when I’ve just raced the last three miles). The other day I got a brochure about all the programs my city offers, and they did have adult swimming lessons in it for a good price. But I don’t want to pay any amount of money to hang out in a pool feeling guilty because I know the basics of swimming and am thus taking time away from those who do not know how. I also don’t want to be the idiot taking up space in a gym pool where real swimmers are trying to train for an Ironman.

I guess I’ll just keep doing other cross-training activities and envying those people who mysteriously enjoy swimming. At least I got a couple sunset drives out of the swimming lessons.

Posted in 36 Things | 11 Comments

Tuesday Time-Waster: incorrect phrases

A minor pet peeve of mine is when people say they “could care less” about something when they actually mean they couldn’t care less. If you could care less, it means you do actually care. For instance, I really could NOT care any less about ultimate fighters. I don’t watch them, I can’t stand their cauliflower ears (I’m shuddering as I type this), and I would rather turn the TV off than watch it.

Hm, I’m not really sure how I ventured into the topic of ultimate fighters. Anyway, today’s Tuesday Time-Waster read is about that phrase, along with 19 others that people commonly confuse. “20 Embarrassing Phrases Even Smart People Misuse” is really worth the read, and maybe the bookmark. And the title is correct: I think most of us weren’t sure about at least a couple of these phrases, and the explanations are useful.

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Tuesday Time-Waster: PacMan

Google has done something fun again: You can play PacMan on Google maps!

It’s pretty simple. Go to Google maps, preferably to your own neighborhood for extra fun. Look at the lower left corner; see the PacMan game square? Click that.

You may have to move the map around if Google tells you it won’t work in that area. It needs enough connecting roads in order to play the game.

But then you should get the start screen. (This is not my neighborhood, in case you’re a nutcase that wants to hunt me down — like the Canada geese have been doing to me lately.)

Use the keyboard arrows to move PacMan around. If you’re like me and are too busy taking screenshots, you might not last too long:

So, there you go. I have a feeling Google timed this for tomorrow’s April Fools Day, so I don’t know if it will work for very long.

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Tuesday Time-Waster: 50-state road trip

I like road trips, and I’ve long wanted to do one that hits every one of the continental U.S. states. I never actually sat down and mapped it out (though I did do most of the mapping on this road trip from San Francisco to Chicago). Well, now I don’t have to, because a Michigan State nerd/awesome person/student did it for me!

Yes, that’s right: This map has a stop in every one of the lower 48 states, for a total of 13,699 miles. Bonus: Every stop is a landmark. (However, Carhenge in Nebraska is worth a stop, if you ask me.) Here’s the link to just the map, and you can click on each location.

And, last but not least, here’s the original blog post, with all of the nerdy details. He even released the Python code if you a) know how to use it, and b) aren’t satisfied with Google maps.

Hat tip to Lorelei for the link.

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Tuesday Time-Waster: St. Patrick’s Day

Since St. Patrick’s Day happens to fall on a Tuesday, I’m subjecting you to some greenaplooza. (That’s a word, I’m sure.)

First, there was this fantastic text this morning from Michaela:

Then there was Google, which was cute and linked to this street view collection of Ireland:

And then there is my own Instagram post, showing off my earrings, sweater, toenails and emoji usage skills:

You can go here for all of my Instagram posts. Maybe that’s my official Tuesday Time-Waster 11:11 a.m. link for the day?

And here is one more bonus photo, as proof that I’m always ridiculous on March 17 (and every day, for that matter). When one is in Portland with a friend’s kid, one does this:

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Blood donation

On March 15, 2006, a British guy named Andy slipped away from the world, just three months and one week after he’d been diagnosed with cancer. He was 36 years old.

I knew him better as “Beasty,” a nickname he’d given when he wandered into an Internet chat room in 2000. He was a nerdy computer guy who liked corny jokes and was very proud of all the blood he’d donated over the years. His cancer diagnosis put an end to his blood donations, and I told myself I would finally get around to donating blood in his honor. Excuse followed excuse — how I had a weird reaction to a shot (couldn’t breathe, my hands froze up like claws, happy birthday to me); how my blood pressure is borderline low so they might not accept me anyway; how I couldn’t do it X amount of days before a long run or race. Years passed as I continued to avoid it.

Then, this year when I was coming up with my list of 36 things to do, something made me think, “donate blood.” I looked up Beasty’s online journal, which is still there in “memorial” status, and I looked up the newspaper column I wrote upon his death. It suddenly hit me: He was 36 years old when he died. 36. I went to my drafted list, scrolled to the bottom spots that were still empty, and typed “Donate blood” in number 36.

In February, when I started my “36 things in a year” attempt, I went to the American Red Cross site, found a local donation center, and learned that they were closed on the anniversary of Beasty’s death, March 15, a Sunday. But they were open March 14, which also happened to be Pi Day (a cool one at that: 3/14/15 at 9:26:53 made up the first digits of pi). Beasty would have gotten such a kick out of that! I looked at my calendar, knowing it might be a bit of a risk due to training for my first century bike ride, but I signed up anyway.

Yesterday found me in the Red Cross center closest to my house, where they apparently don’t get a lot of first-time donors. I went into a room with an employee and answered a bunch of questions to screen my blood — nope, I’m not a needle user and haven’t lived overseas, etc. They pricked my finger and tested to make sure my hemoglobin levels were ok — nope, I’m not anemic and my iron levels are fine. So then I went out into the main room where the lady put me in a reclining chair and pondered my veins. And then she called over the most senior employee for help.

I’m often the “problem patient” and this was no exception, as they tried to find a vein. They did find one, and I looked away as they poked the needle in my arm. It hurt but really wasn’t bad at all. It took awhile for them to get the blood, and they readjusted the needle several times (ouch) in an attempt to get it to flow faster. I’d read that it takes 8-10 minutes, but at eight minutes I was only halfway done. The head lady said they have a limit of 20 minutes, due to clotting worries. Fortunately, I was done in about 15 minutes.

They put a cold wet cloth on my head, which was "preventative" because I'd mentioned that I often get dizzy if I stand up too fast.

They bandaged me up (that was pretty minimal, thankfully), brought me juice and made me sit there for about 10 minutes before going over to the food/drink area. I was supposed to eat something there and sit for another 15 minutes. I forced down a cookie thing and finally left, realizing it was 80 degrees outside, much warmer in my car, but I didn’t run the air-conditioning. I also realized I had no energy to stop at the grocery store as I’d planned. Walking up my stairs was exhausting. That was the beginning.

As my poor friends on Twitter and Facebook and texting know, I spent the afternoon and evening on my couch, griping about feeling woozy and about the blood pounding and swirling in my head and ears. I knew I needed to eat, but I could not find the energy to cook the dinner I’d planned — and it didn’t help that I was so NOT hungry to the point of almost feeling sick. I kept drinking water as instructed, and I actually was not dehydrated for once. But I guess losing about 10 percent of my blood sent my body into a bit of shock. (The human body contains 10-12 pints of blood and one pint is taken during donation, so it’s 8.5 to 10 percent total.) When I remembered that I needed to put clean sheets back on my bed, I actually started crying because it seemed like an insurmountable task. I finally forced myself to open and heat a can of soup, since it was 82 degrees in my apartment but I was still cold and at least soup would be warm. That helped quite a bit. I went to bed at 9, slept soundly until 3:10, then managed to get back to sleep until 6:30. That also helped. As I type this at 10 a.m., I’m doing a lot better. I took myself to Panera and bought food, so I would actually eat it despite not feeling hungry. I don’t feel as lethargic, so I think I have enough strength to go run an errand soon.

For those who have not donated, I still think you should do it if you are able. If you’re an endurance athlete, be prepared to lose some training time. Don’t plan to exercise the first 24 hours after donating, and also know that it takes two to six weeks for the body’s blood to be fully replenished. I read that a lot of athletes only donate in the late fall/early winter after their racing season has ended, and I think that’s a good plan. I didn’t want to wait that long to cross it off my list, and I also thought it would be neat to do it on the anniversary of my friend’s death.

The "I donated" badge.

After my experience, I won’t donate again until after I’m done with endurance events for the season. I will also be better prepared, with a food plan ready and knowing I’ll be useless and upset for the rest of the day. Honestly, I’m not in a hurry to donate again, because of terribly how I felt. HOWEVER, I still firmly believe that more of us should donate. Blood saves lives, and we all know people who’ve been saved with blood. It’s not even a political matter such as deciding whether to donate money to a cause: Even the richest, most successful people cannot buy their way out of a car wreck or a health emergency that requires blood to save their lives. A friend of mine, whom I’ve know for three decades, is alive today because of two organ transplants, which he could not have prevented. Google tells me that he went through at least 20 to 40 units of blood for just the liver transplant — and my donation was just one unit. One car wreck victim can require dozens of units of blood, such as this guy who went on to become an Ironman finisher. Imagine your child, parent, significant other or friend, lying in an emergency room bed, hooked up to a machine that is pumping blood into them to keep them alive until surgeons can stop the cause of the bleeding. That’s made possible because of donors.

And that’s why my friend Beasty donated. Just as he actually liked helping clueless people figure out how to operate a computer program, he liked donating blood. It was something he could do for others. In February 2006, just a few weeks before he died, he wrote about being informed that his cancer treatments meant he wouldn’t be able to blood again: “I think I did my bit, though, by giving 34 units while I still could. Being a rare blood group too, I’ll be missed. I was hoping to get to at least a hundred in my useful lifetime, but, alas, it is not to be. Annoying, but life goes on. I, for one, intend to make sure it does.”

Beasty, yesterday was for you. Between the two of us, you’ve now donated 35 units.

Beasty, in memoriam.

That newspaper column I wrote is linked here, though the date is wrong — that’s the date I contacted them and asked them to put it back online because the old link had stopped working. In case that link dies again, I’m putting the full text here.

An e-mail brings jarring news about ’Net friend

The e-mail arrived last week. It was from my closest friend, and the subject line contained one name. A sense of dread filled me.

As quickly as the thought came, I dismissed it. It must simply be an update on our mutual friend who was diagnosed with cancer a few months ago.

It was an update of the worst kind. At age 36, Andy had died of cancer.

As another mutual friend put it best, he wasn’t supposed to die. He was supposed to beat the disease. After all, I know three people who recently conquered cancer, and two of them were older than he.

Andy was a typical “British bloke.” He’d spent his life in England, unless he was off doing things like scuba diving off the coast of Florida or grilling burgers in San Diego.

He’d had a few career switches, for a time working in customs and occasionally seeing people busted for trying to smuggle drugs. But one of his passions was computers, so that was a big part of his life.

When I met him six years ago, I knew him as “Beasty.” He had wandered into an Internet community I called home, and before long he was making daily appearances. Like most of us, he used a different name online.

His name, though, belied his personality. For some reason I don’t quite understand, Beasty didn’t mind giving computer help to the most ungrateful, clueless people — and on his own time, too.

If complete strangers complained about a computer problem, he’d instantly offer to help.

But that was Beasty, the carefree guy who once got a kick out of recording words on his computer and sending them to me, simply because I liked his British accent.

Many people are scared of the online world. When they hear I’ve met “Internet friends” in person, they’re shocked.

Even one computer-savvy friend of mine recently remarked that the crazed, scary people online outnumber the decent people.

I challenge that assumption. We only hear about the psychotic situations; people like Beasty don’t make headline news.

As in all walks of life, there are crazed, scary people. We’ve all heard of horrible abductions and rapes and murders.

The Internet world is just like the physical world. Sure, you can’t see the people you meet, but that’s sometimes an advantage. When I meet people online, I’m not distracted by the surface appearance. I look deeper, and I keep looking until I find the real person.

When Beasty first wandered into that Internet community, I had no idea he was a blond-haired, blue-eyed guy with an intriguing accent. I didn’t know his age or marital status.

But I did learn those things later. Like many other people I’ve met online, I gradually got to know Beasty, eventually coming to know him by both his online and real names.

When he attended one of our annual gatherings in San Diego and we met in person, Beasty was how I’d thought he would be. What none of us had expected was for him to voluntarily take over the barbecue duties and continue cooking until there was food for more than two dozen hungry people. He loved doing it, too, and got a kick out of the fact that he’d traveled all that way to grill burgers

Over the years, people come and go from our lives. But Beasty made an effort not to lose track of people. Every year, he’d send me a birthday greeting, one time with the news that I now share a birthday with one of his closest friend’s babies.

When he was diagnosed last year with Deep Vein Thrombosis, we wished him well and didn’t worry too much. After all, he was so upbeat that it didn’t matter.

(According to the National Institutes of Health, DVT is a condition when a blood clot forms in a leg. It occasionally happens to people who take very long airline flights that require sitting for hours on end. Beasty didn’t know why he got it, but figured it was hereditary.)

For Beasty, one of the biggest concerns about having DVT was that he had to go on medication that would halt his blood donations. He’d donated 34 units by last year, and had wanted to reach some kind of record.

Then in the fall he went to the doctor to find out why he had a lump in his neck. In December, tests revealed it was cancerous.

His upbeat British humor dominated every new medical event, and Beasty resigned himself to radiation and chemotherapy — even apologizing in advance that he might miss my recent birthday because he’d be in the hospital then.

He kept us updated, and in late January came this line: “Well, I get to be a bigger enigma to the medical profession every day it seems.” In the lighthearted update, he also mentioned that he had diabetic symptoms and had developed a brain tumor.

After finishing radiation in mid-February, Beasty knew his blood donor days were over. “Annoying, but life goes on. I, for one, intend to make sure it does,” he told us in an update.

Then, on March 10, he awoke to find that his leg was’t working. None of his Internet friends, myself included, knew that would be his last message to us.

Five days later, he died.

His updates had come by Internet, and news of his death also came that way. It may sound impersonal, but in a way it’s not. The Internet has given all of his grieving friends a place to gather and remember him.

The tributes have been steady since we got word of Beasty’s death. Many, like myself, have been going through computer archives, recalling conversations and digging up photos to pass on to his grateful family members.

In each photo, there is Andy’s grinning face, a tribute to the person who was as genuine in person as he was online.

Layla Bohm is the assistant city editor and police/courts reporter at the Lodi News-Sentinel.
Posted in 36 Things | 2 Comments

PostSecret revisited

More than four years ago, I saw a PostSecret event, which is kind of like a cross between a book tour and a speech. If you haven’t heard of PostSecret, go look at it and then come back here for a related link, as well as an explanation for why I’m posting about it (again).

Did you look at the site? Okay, welcome back. Now you can go read my old explanation of what it is and the time I saw the author speak at a PostSecret event in October 2010. That was an event at University of the Pacific in Stockton (thanks to Patrick for the ticket, and to David for giving me one of the books), and the auditorium was full. I guess there’s something intriguing about the hundreds of thousands of anonymous postcards people send to a random guy in Maryland. It’s a strange, unique, fascinating mix of humor, sadness, reality and make-believe.

And now we come to the point of this blog post, and what I want you to think about for a few minutes on this Tuesday. The PostSecret project has raised more than $1 million for suicide prevention, and the author’s ongoing hope is that people can feel relief by letting go of their secrets — enough relief that they want to keep living. PostSecret is affiliated with this extensive suicide prevention hotline directory, also with the hope that it will be a place for someone to get relief, rather than taking their own life.

I’m posting this because last Sunday marked one year since a young woman ended her life. And in a few days I will be remembering how it was exactly one year since I drove to the memorial service that was so very beautiful, and which caused a friend to say, “This should have been her wedding.” Her parents have changed forever, that much is painfully and obviously clear. I cannot begin to imagine the torture and agony they still face. I don’t know if PostSecret or a suicide hotline would have helped her at all. But I do know that if somewhere, someday, one person reads this or any other tribute to her and decides to seek help, it will be a ray of hope that she did not die in vain. Her parents may never know, I may never know, but the person who seeks help WILL know. If that person is you, make the anonymous call for help. And know that you can always talk to, text or email me. (I don’t have my number online due to spammers, but I’m happy to give it to you. layla@ thesmudge.com without the space.)

Posted in Tuesday Time-Waster | 1 Comment