Tuesday, 17 October, I woke up in a pleasant, modern room in the Wyndham TRYP Hotel in midtown Manhattan. With plenty of time to catch a 1415 train, I did my stretches, showered, shaved, and packed my panniers for the last time. Catching breakfast at the Starbucks on the corner of 9th Avenue and 34th Street, I witnessed the Modern American Ballet in full form. Six baristas crammed behind a tiny counter took care of a line out the door with incredible efficiency, never once running into one another.
I checked my bicycle at Penn Station as early as I could, which was only 20 minutes before scheduled departure. The ride south on the Crescent was mercifully uneventful. Still, my hips hurt from sitting so much, so I rode home when I arrived, rather than catch up with my son Daniel at the Oratorio Society rehearsal. It is full autumn in Virginia; people said that it is a dull fall, but the colours in our neighbourhood seemed brilliant to me.
Riding down West Main Street, I was immediately impressed by how much infill had been finished. Apartment buildings had wiped out all the green space between the University and downtown. Every vacant lot was either a tall building now, or under construction. Every major hotel brand was represented, tucked among the new flats intended for student rentals.
At home, little had changed. I saw that I would pick up where I was when I left, emptying and sorting storage boxes from the cleanup after the fire in 2015. Daniel had not been idle. There were pictures and prints on the walls, the beds were made, and the bathrooms clean. He came home while I was unpacking in my little flat in the basement.
There wasn’t much time for homecoming. A week after I returned, I bought a round-trip ticket on the Northeast Regional and went to Washington DC for the 58th Annual Conference of the American Translators Association. As usual, the ATA Conference was an exhilarating, boisterous reunion with a few thousand of my closest friends. Well, hundreds of old friends and a like number of new ones. The concurrent sessions offered more wonderful presentations than I could attend, so I expect to tune into the ones I missed using the eConference feature. I delighted in watching my friends turn over the gavel as Corinne relieved Dave as President, and Ted took over as President-Elect (and Conference organizer). My own presentation was well-attended. On the last day, I announced my retirement from commercial translation. I will still work on books, but it is time for me to devote myself to writing more of my own words and fewer of other people’s words. A translator is first of all a writer, and one cannot translate and write at the same time (or at least not on the same day).
On Sunday afternoon, I caught the Northeast Regional back to Charlottesville. Scheduled to arrive about 1952, the train left late, then spent over an hour on a siding in Manassas, Virginia, while the authorities cleared a wreck up ahead. Another Amtrak train had collided with a white car parked on the track. With the disruption to the schedules, we found ourselves sitting on sidings in two more places, waiting for northbound freight trains to pass. It is a quirk of American railroad history that the freight lines own almost all the track in the country, so, unlike other countries (where the government built and owns the infrastructure), freight trains have priority over passenger trains. If an Amtrak train misses its slot, it can never make up the time. Most of the lines are single-track, so the problem is doubled. Only Northeast of Washington DC are there significant stretches of two-way tracks. I arrived in Charlottesville about 2200. Daniel was there to meet me, a welcome sight indeed!
Over the next few weeks, I have eased into a routine that revolves around rest and recovery, unpacking boxes, fixing things around the house, and singing in the choir at Church.
I had not appreciated how my I missed the beautiful music of the Anglican tradition until I found myself choking up in my choir seat, with tears running down my cheeks. Sometimes, it feels like I never left; then I will notice that half the faces around me are new. The overuse injuries to my muscles recovered, and my weight has stayed down, thanks to having control of my diet and not eating out.
Not eating out is easy: Daniel is a gourmet cook.
I am still suffering culture shock: the cars are too big, the food is terrible, and the pedestrians are like squirrels on two legs. On the other hand, the WiFi is strong and ubiquitous, many things cost less, and most folks are friendly. Most of them speak English, too!
The Lawn at the University of Virginia is beautiful at Christmas time.
Now, six weeks later, the blog is caught up, and I have emerged from a string of appointments to confirm the source of my hip pain. I have advanced degenerative arthritis in both hips, including bone spurs in the sockets. The first orthopedist I saw wants to look at new x-rays in six months to see if I can hold the degeneration where it is. He believes that my condition is too advanced for the new non-invasive therapies (like Synvisc® and stem cell replacement). Six months seems a long time, considering that cannot walk well. Fortunately, I can still ride my bicycle, so I can get around without a car. Also, there are exercise regimens that I can pursue at the local gym, so I can put together a programme to maintain my strength and whatever flexibility my hips will allow me. I will also continue research and gather more opinions. Everyone seems to have a favourite way to approach arthritis, which downplays the other perspectives. The condition is neither fatal nor urgent. I have time to make careful decisions.
In conversation with my friends (especially Cheryl by Skype, and my friend David in the Choir), I took a look at how I got into this position. The urologist who confirmed my prostate cancer in 2008 told me that I should look into a hip replacement for my arthritis (it was the only therapy available then). My classmate and friend Frank in Rome (a General Practitioner) commented on my advanced arthritis last spring, just noting my gait. In seventy years, they were the only two doctors to recognize the arthritis immediately and express concern. In the former case, the visit was for prostate cancer, which rather overshadowed the comment about arthritis, so I forgot it. Frank made his comment as I was starting on River Run 2017, so I promised to look into it when I returned to Charlottesville. And so I have. The doctors in between did not act like it was important, and I was not in pain, so I did not worry about it either. Only Cheryl noticed how my walking was getting worse, but I could not tell whether it was the arthritis, muscle overuse, foot problems, or all of them.
Here is the sober lesson for you, my dear reader. If and when you are over 40 years old (and of either sex) and someone makes a comment about arthritis, don’t be fooled by a casual attitude in the comment. Look into it, find out how advanced it is, and plan to do something about it, even if all you do is to note on a calendar which year you need to check again. Get a baseline x-ray of the affected joint(s). Today, there are injections to lubricate the lining, stem cell therapies (an injection of your own stem cells), relining techniques, and new research always coming along. Hip replacement has become almost too routine, and the ceramic replacements last a long time, but that is last-resort surgery. The non-invasive surgeries need something to work with: one cannot regenerate one’s socket lining if there is no material left, or if the joint has become deformed by wear.
Do I regret not noticing the urologist’s comment nine years ago? No. It was a sequence of events that had to unfold as it did. Had I done something about my arthritis, I would never have done the Climate Ride in 2012, nor gone off to live on my bicycle for four years, literally living out of my panniers on two continents. And I would not have met Cheryl. Regardless of what the future holds, I will never regret building those memories. Knowing that my hips were like this as I climbed the Col de Tourmalet in the Pyrenees tells me that I may not have had my last crazy adventure. Stay tuned.
I had promised Daniel to stay in Charlottesville at least through the Christmas season, but it will be longer than that now. I may buy a light city bike for local travel, or maybe a folding bike for inter-modal travel (train, bus, air) …
What does this mean for the blog?
Well, travelogues don’t make much sense, so I will have to tell you stories. When I don’t have a sea story, I will craft a vignette, an essay, or a short-short story. I will try to keep up the theme of bicycle or waterborne travel, but I may surprise you with anything from genre fiction to sci-fi, to history and biography. We’ll see where my muse takes me; I only ask her to make it an interesting journey. As I take physical trips, I will let you know about them in trip updates, as I did when the blog started in 2013.
Consider this your first trip update. I have some writing to do, but I will be back. Until then,
Smooth roads and tailwinds,
Thanks for the reminder to get my arthritis checked. Like you, I have had “other issues” at times I otherwise would have done that.
Also, I have not owned an automobile in over four years. I highly recommend folding bikes to combine with transit and to use for short rides. (My favorite brand I have owned is Dahon.) They ride very differently than road bikes, but they serve that transit purpose better than anything else. The bonus is saving space in small living quarters and allowing easy automotive transportation.
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Thank you for your comment. I have seen the Dahon, and it is a very nice bicycle indeed. The best-known bicycle, the Brompton, is also attractive, and rides almost like a road bike. On the climate ride 2013 there were two people riding folding bikes for the entire 500 km! I don’t know what brand they were but the riders insisted that they really felt like road bikes.
In recent years, bicycle builders have been offering regular road bikes equipped with S-joints. They do not fold up as small as the Bromptons or the Dahons, but they can pass muster for getting onto certain buses, trains and airlines, and sometimes just for being able to store them or carry them more easily. From what I have read, the joints are just as strong as not having a joint, so frame failure is not an issue.
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I ignored my aching arthritic hip for years. Stem cell injections didn’t work and in time the ball of the hip was really deformed. My only option was hip replacement and I am glad I had it done. After 3 months doing physical therapy and deep water aerobics, I was good to go. Walking normally and without pain. Since I am 70, I think the replacement will probably outlast me. The recovery is fast if you do the pt. If you don’t do pt., the operation is pointless. Good luck 🍀 don’t discount hip replacement out of hand it may be just what is needed.
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Thanks, Dave. I have never discounted the procedure, and I always knew that it was in my future. The future is now…
I wondered if you would do something about your hip problem when you got back to the states. It’s something you can’t ignore or let go for too long. Do your homework, decide which course to take, and go for it! I’ve enjoyed all your blogs and look forward to your new views. Take care of yourself and have a wonderful Christmas!
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Another example that growing old is not for the weak or faint of heart. I think you are proceeding in the correct directions on all fronts. Writing will be a powerful palliative for you. You are in my thoughts and in my prayers.
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Thank you, Janet. You have a wonderful Christmas yourself.
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