Monday, December 29, 2014

Journey of Victory Through Self-Surrender

I can’t take credit for the title, Victory Through Self Surrender, or the concept of Victory Through Self-Surrender. E. Stanley Jones, a 20th century United Methodist missionary and theologian wrote a seminal book by that title; Rick Warren, founder and senior pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA regularly addresses the core issue of surrender leading to victory in his sermons, devotions, and books. 

I am not a theologian, I am certainly not a missionary. I am, however, a woman of faith trying to live my life in some kind of a balance of acceptance of my gifts, foibles, and circumstances. To that end I find myself regularly challenged to surrender myself to a power greater than myself, whom I call God, while at the same time to take responsibility for myself. 

I, like all of us, have gotten banged around and banged up by life. Some of us have experienced more of that than others. Some of us have done some remarkable inner work transforming our woundedness into jewels which we use in service according to our given gifts. Others continue to live their lives in defended denial losing the gift of self-acceptance, the gift of intimacy with those who truly care about them, and the opportunity to serve fully.

My own personal survival strategy for getting banged around my first 20+/- years was to isolate and not let anyone be a part of my life, a part of my journey. It was a pretty lonely way to live. 

Fortunately, a couple of health issues, now long passed, turned out to be ones I couldn’t fix all by myself. Managing through those taught me the value of seeking out people, professional and non-professional, who could journey with me, a much less lonely way to live.

And that brings me to the present. 

As many of you know I was diagnosed with epilepsy the end of August, 2013 after a rather dramatic first-ever episode. An Epileptoligist immediately put me on an anti-convulsant medication; we tinkered with the dosage for 6 months before finding a therapeutic level; and I stopped driving, because in Arizona people can’t drive until they have been seizure-free for 3 months. Eighteen months later I am still trying to count to three. 

Having worked for 40 years with addicts and their families, I knew first-hand the value and power of Self-help groups like Alcoholics Anonymous. One of my first efforts in coming to terms with my new diagnosis was to attend a local Epilepsy Foundation Self-help group. I attended maybe 4 meetings and found them to be even more than down right depressing. Most everyone there seemed dulled by either their medications, their brain surgeries, their  disease or co-occurring diseases. Many were unable to work; all were unable to drive; many lived in group homes or had a full time care giver. Clearly the epilepsy self-help community would not become a primary means of support for me.

I “girded my loins” suiting up for the big game of not becoming my diagnosis, not living the life of a victim. I would demonstrate to myself and to anyone who cared to watch, that I could and would do everything I had been doing before my first seizures and just as well as.

And, to a degree I pulled it off. I have ridden another 12,000 miles on my bike this past year, as I have done 8 of the last 10 years; the other 2 years I “only” rode 10,000 miles. Some of those years were when I was still working full time. I continued on the Board of my local bike club, was active in our church, active in the community, did some serious international travel with Kirk, and visited friends and family across the US. 

But, as this year, 2014, winds down I am coming to terms with the reality that, like with most, if not all, chronic conditions acceptance of the condition requires a delicate balance of strength, courage, action, and embrace. By embrace I mean I need to learn how to make room in my spiritual house for  epilepsy.

I find I need to organize my life in such a way to make room for rest and recovery; there are days I just can’t do what is on my calendar. I need to shift my roles and commitments to community activities to allow me to do just that, rest and recover, when I need to, without letting down the organizations in a troubling way. 

I need to become a trigger sleuth. Can I understand what begets my seizures? Can I integrate traditional and complementary modalities that I can use to intervene before, during or immediately after the seizures begin to reduce the frequency and their impact on my daily life?

I need to lean into my holistic treatment team, listening to them, receiving from them, using their expertise.

I need to prioritize time in my daily life for a different balance of quiet time and active time.

I can offer no prediction as to how effective my efforts will be to balance strength, courage, action, and embrace of my disease. But, I am hopeful that, at a minimum, my 2015 strategy will reduce the power of the seizures to interfere with my daily life. I’ve already put a number of new “dailies” into practice even before 2015 begins. It will be fun to revisit this post a year from now to see what I’ve learned. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

Lessons From The Blue Hose

Camelbak Hose
Kirk and I spent a couple of days in Scottsdale celebrating his birthday in early December. 

While riding from Phoenix to Tucson by bike is not a challenging ride or inspired by scenic awe and wonder, there is a Randonneur 200k Permanent Route between the two cities. Riding it would qualify for my December Permanent, number 5 out of 12 toward my R-12, an award given to riders who ride a minimum of a 200k approved route in 12 consecutive months. 

I had had a spate of seizure activity for the week preceding my 200k PhxTuc Ride so was grateful my Rando friend, David Brake, would be riding with me, just in case...

The start was 7:15 a.m. at the intersection of Ray Rd and Priest/56th in Chandler. I loaded my bike on the rear rack and packed all my on-the-bike gear carefully in the car. We left in the dark headed for the Start. David would meet us there. 

Meet we did. David and I were both in a most unpleasant dither, I because I couldn't find my blue hose, my only source of fluids for 129 miles; David because he couldn't find his sunscreen. Both of us crescendoed in our own personal dithers, our spouses just wishing we would leave and reminding us that we both deserved each other given our momentary inability to be gracious and civil to them. 

I knew my blue hose HAD to be in the car. I knew I had put it there, but dang it was just not there! Dither grew into an almost panic as I contemplated the dehydration hole I would end up in not having an efficient and accessible source of fluids. And, having just moved through at least a week of seizure activity, who knew what kind of a trigger dehydration would be!? 

Then Kirk, bless his heart, found my blue hose. It was on the floor on the passenger's side in the front. It was still too dark to see it against the black rubber matting. Phew! I began to breathe. I don't know if David ever found his sunscreen, but that was replaceable at any convenient store. Not so a blue hose.

And so we began our 129 mile 207k ride to Tucson.

Nature called at mile 18. Off the bike I had a sinking feeling: all my classic pre-seizure auras and I still had about 110 miles to go. I guess many of us with seizures don't always know what triggers our seizures. Some triggers are predictable, but there are certainly a lot that don't have a 1:1 causal relationship. I was pretty convinced my blue hose dither didn't help maintain my intracranial equanimity. But I also had not been aware of the auras until I got off the bike at the Circle K. Grateful to have gotten the message at mile 18 instead of mile 36 or 69, the next two known rest stops. 

David and I fell into quiet riding, no chatter, and I practiced some meditative breathing and Jin Shin Jyutsu finger holds hoping and praying that my own version of on-the-bike neuro-bio-feedback would interrupt the seizure process.

Our first required stop (Control) was at another Circle K, this one in Stanfield, where we need to purchase something as proof that we were on the pre-determined route and that we were there within the required time limits. Got off the bike and I was aura and seizure free and remained so for the remainder of the ride.

David's wife, Kristy, met us at the finish at Cortaro Rd/I-10; I appologised for being so unpleasant a few hours before. 

It was an awesome ride; thoroughly enjoyed David's company and learned much from the blue hose.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Mustang Corners 200k Perm Description

This icon is now closed, but the building still stands at the NE intersection of AZ 90 and AZ 82

Route name- Mustang Corners 206k

RUSA Route number- 2442
Distance (km)- 206k 127.7
Format- Loop--only clockwise
Climbing (ft)-5,114'
Location- starts/ends in-Tucson
Dates available-all year
Contact- Susan Reed
Date approved- 2014/9/16
Route in RWGPS

This route starts at the intersection of 22nd St. and Kolb Rd. at McDonald's on the SW corner.

The route "tacks" East and South until connecting with Mary Ann Cleveland Way to Vail; head South on Colossal Cave Rd to "Old" E. Benson Hwy which is also the I-10 Frontage road on the East side of I-10. E. Benson Hwy becomes Marsh Station Rd. Marsh Station Rd. dead ends at exit 291 on I-10. Merge onto Eastbound I-10 shoulder to Exit 302 for AZ 90 South toward Ft. Huachuca and Sierra Vista. Continue South on AZ Rt 90 to AZ Rt 82. Head West on AZ Rt 82 to Sonoita; head south on AZ Rt 83 to Old Sonoita Hwy. Follow Old Sonoita Hwy to Colossal Cave Rd and backtrack to the Finish at 22nd St./Kolb Rd.

You will ride through beautiful rollers through the Sonoran desert, a 10 mile stretch on I-10, lush grasslands, and more fun rollers and a couple of Border Patrol check points. Always a good idea to have your government issued ID with you.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

El Tour de Tucson Was Golden

Sunset on our Golden El Tour Day
The 32nd El Tour de Tucson has been planned as a Family event for 4-5 months. Our son, Daniel, lives here in Tucson with his family and our son, Bryan, lives in Eugene, OR home of the mighty Ducks, except they have been dunked two years in a row by our Cats. Our daughter, Katie, is not a cyclist but would cheer for all of us from her home in chilly Chicago. 

Both Bryan and Daniel are full-time bike commuters in the regional extremes their towns offer with not much time in their late-thirty-something lives to get more training beyond their commutes.

For Bryan his last century was 27 years ago at age 13. The 32nd El Tour, at 104 miles, would be a stretch. His longest training ride this Fall was 70 miles. He didn’t feel very good physically after that ride and his confidence was shaken.

Early August Kirk had his nasty bike crash breaking 8 ribs and his clavicle, the latter requiring major surgery and reconstruction with a titanium plate. No one knew at that time if he would be able to ride El Tour at all.

In the beginning the plan had been that Daniel and I would ride the 104 together for Gold; Kirk and Bryan would ride the 104 together to finish. 

Kirk, in his methodical, persevering, masterful way was back on his bike within 3 months  post injury and was committed to riding El Tour, but the 55 mile distance, not the 104.

The Reed Team reconstituted itself with the new plan of Bryan and me riding the 104 together to finish, Kirk riding the 55 mile alone, and Daniel riding the 104 alone for Gold. 

Bryan’s flight from Eugene to Tucson Thursday evening before El Tour on Saturday was the flight from hell; he was in transit 16 hours.  We had rented a bike for him from Cycle Tucson which arrived  Friday morning before he did. 

It was good fun riding with Bryan to the Tucson Convention Center to pick up our rider packets and enjoying a Starbucks bev of choice on the UA campus. Starbucks is a Bryan and mom ritual, but it most often happens on the Ducks campus in Eugene.

Not surprising, each year I am a year older, a little no brainer, but each year I find that my biggest cycling performance challenge is tweaking my nutrition: fluids, fuel, and electrolytes. At least for this year I think I have that one nailed for me. But Bryan’s 70 mile training ride that left him feeling bad was about just that: fuel, fluids, and electrolytes  and he was asking me to coach him through the 104 miles how much and what to eat, drink, and supplement with electrolytes. 

I felt honored that he would ask and trust me and I felt the pressure of his El Tour success riding on my shoulders. 

He had received some advice from a friend of his, I believe a runner, who had cautioned him about not going out too hard and fast at the beginning and then not having enough in the tank to finish. Sage advice, but in the case of 3,000+ 104 mile riders having a mass start and all the platinum and gold riders bunched up at the start, it’s pretty hard to go out too hard and fast. Plus, at about the 10-15 mile mark is the first wash crossing. So, probably 200 riders are bunched up to walk down the steep slope into the wash, walk or carry their bikes across 150 yards of wash and then walk back up the steep slope on the other side. 

There’s a SAG stop, replete with Mariachi band/music on the far side of the wash so people are bunched up there taking care of bio needs etc. So, the first time the space opened up to ride at a pace of one’s choosing was about mile 15.

We lined up at 6:30 for a 7:00 a.m. start (sunrise was 6:59). It was in the low 40’s at the time of waiting for the start. Our fingers didn’t warm till well after the first wash. Bryan was in cargo shorts with lycra bike shorts underneath. He felt the cold big time even though Eugene had already had a serious cold snap. 

I think it was a huge help to him, I know it would have been to me had I been riding a course for the first time, to know what to expect: when we’d be turning out of the wind, where a convenience store was that would offer a Red Bull or a bathroom that didn’t have an endless port-a-potty line; where the hills started, when we’d be done climbing for the day, etc. To that end, the lines for the port-a-potties at the start were 20+ deep and the first few SAG stops the lines were similarly deep. So, we stopped at a Shell station about maybe mile 25 (Wilmot/I-10 for those of you who know the area) and took care of many needs.

Here’s a link to the course, only 104 miles this year. At about mile 50 Bryan had an unexpected behind-the-knee, sharp tendon pain that really scared him. We lowered his seat about 1/8 of an inch and I suggested he stretch. The climbing would be over after another couple of miles and we’d have gentle rollers for about 10 miles before the final hills up Pusch View off of Oracle and then up La Canada to Tangerine. Then the climbing would be done for the day. That intervention "held" for the duration of the ride.

We had been successfully ahead of the merge of the 75 mile riders who joined the main course and enough behind the 52 milers that when we reached the intersection where they joined the main course they did not swell the ranks of the riders to a disabling degree. Not the case with the 40 mile riders. They and we reached their merger with the main course at the same time and what a swell it was, more like a swarm, I would say. These 40 mile riders are oft your least experienced riders, thrilled to be a part of a large event, many don’t have the best of bike handling skills, and there are often a bunch of children/pre-teen-types. Tangerine Rd, which we shared with truck traffic, and which has an adequate shoulder for a few bikes but not hundreds of bikes, was packed with all of us. 

Just before we reached the 6 mile descent on Tangerine we had to stop for a traffic light. Although there were cops patrolling all the intersections, at some major intersections the cars do need to have an opportunity to move through. It was our turn to stop and now we had another HUGE bolus of riders who began the 6 mile descent down Tangerine to I-10. Usually you can take that stretch at 30 mph, but not 5 abreast with that many or more in front and behind you. That was a bit of a disappointment. Lost some time there. 

But at the bottom of Tangerine, before hitting the frontage road all the way to the finish line, Bryan was feeling good and had surrendered his “lets go this at a conservative pace” mode. We busted it as fast as we could back to the finish.

He was absolutely ecstatic!!! We finished at 7:35. He really didn’t think he could make it the whole way. I'm confident his awesome success will open all kinds of possibilities for him: maybe a new, more performancy bike sometime, maybe more bike events (he’s eyeing the 2-day Seattle-to-Portland (STP) in 2015), etc. I was thrilled to have had the opportunity to be a part of his success and soooo grateful, my nutritional strategies worked for him.
Bryan chose to wear one of Kirk’s jerseys which turned out to be a UA jersey with a big wildcat on it. Coming from the home of the Ducks, Bryan has disallowed me from posting any pix of him in a UA jersey. He forgot to think about the impact of his friends seeing him in a UA jersey. Pretty funny.

Kirk did AWESOME, did 52 miles in 3:33, right in the middle of the pack.

Daniel smashed GOLD coming in at 5:06  (6:00 was the Gold cut-off). He was able to hook on to a train of riders for the last 40 miles and they pace lined it on in. He is totally pumped. Platinum is definitely in his future.

When parents are nearly 70 (that would be us) and your kids are nearly 40 (that would be Bryan, and Daniel is close behind him),  their day-to-day tangible needs are fewer and that’s how it should be. But it feels real good to be asked for help from time to time and it feels extra specially good when the help they asked for is actually helpful.

We had an awesome Mom and son bonding day; Kirk and Daniel each exceeded their expectations.

And besides all of those good things the UA Wildcats beat the Utah Utes, and the Oregon Ducks beat the the Colorado Buffalos. 

Oh, and if you hadn’t already heard, the high was in the low 70’s, sunny skies all day and winds no greater than 6 mph. The 2013, 31st El Tour was fully redeemed in 2014.

A Golden day all around. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Mustang Corners: The Ride

As many of you know I set a goal for myself of earning an R-12 award which means that  a rider must complete a route approved by RUSA (Randonneurs USA) that is a minimum of 200km (125mi). The rider must ride at least one RUSA approved ride each month for 12 consecutive months. 

My first ride for my R-12 was in August, following the Arivaca route with 3 other Randonneurs. 

My September 200k was the day after the Skull Valley Loop Challenge from Phoenix to Tucson. I arrived home from the September 200k seriously depleted. Won’t ever know definitively why, but likely a combination of having put so much of myself out on the road for a respectable finish at Skull Valley; some nutritional deficits having been away from home for about a week; the temperature hovered around 99 for the duration of my 125+ mile ride; and I was carrying panniers full of gear I had been using for the preceding 5+ days in Prescott for the Skull Valley ride. And then, of course, there is always epilepsy and the anti-seizure medications both of which have played havoc with my ability to predict what I’ll be able to do day-by-day.

Whatever the influencers were that contributed to a less than enjoyable September 200k, it raised doubts in my mind that my R-12 would be possible. Maybe between turning 69 in mid-October and trying to cope with epilepsy was heralding a diminishment of my cycling goals and abilities?

I had targeted October 18th, my 69th birthday as the day I’d ride my 200k following the route I had designed and had had approved by RUSA: Mustang Corners. October 18th came and the combo of seizures and medications left me depleted and unable to even fathom a 125 mile ride 10 miles of which would be shared with 18-wheelers on  I-10.

Kirk and I had planned a 4-5 day bike trip in South East Arizona leaving Tucson on October 26th returning on October 30. There would be no time left in October for me to ride my October 200k. I sadly surrendered my R-12 goal.

Thursday, October 23rd a miracle happened. I had some body/cranial work done. Friday I awoke feeling focused, energized, and raring to go. First time I had felt that good since before my first seizure the end of August, 2013. With such a reprieve I cleared my calendar and set out Saturday, October, 25th to ride my October 200k.

Mustang Corners was a glorious ride completed with energy to spare!

Kirk drove me to the start, 11 miles from home. I’ve ridden all the segments of Mustang Corners a couple of times to many times but today would be the first time that I put it all together. Routes have always been my friends. I ride my routes, short ones and long ones, to spend time with my route friend(s). Mustang Corners has it all:

  • A local segment from the start (22nd St/Kolb Rd) to Vail, including a few miles on the Julian Wash, part of the 55 mile multi-use path that circumferences Tucson
  • A 10 mile stretch on Marsh Station Road through exquisite desert, even though the road surface leaves much to be desired
  • A 10 mile stretch on I-10
  • About 70 miles on AZ Rts 90, 82, 83, and Old Sonoita Hwy which I’ve ridden so many times with PAC Tour and so many PAC friends
  • And finally, a return on the route from Vail to the start/finish

Loved the familiarity of knowing the roads and having such rich memories of previous rides on these same roads alone or with other riders.

Loved waving to the rest stops where PAC Tour had SAG stops waiting for us

Loved not having the nagging pre-occupation of dread waiting for the next seizure shoe to drop.

Always have loved the expanse of open ranch surrounded by mountains where I believe I can see Apaches mounted on their horses, war bonnets waving in the breeze.

Loved finishing the 200k with energy in my tank, my hope rekindled that an R-12 just might be possible in this my 70th year. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Skull Valley: Double Entendre

Thirteen months ago, mid-August, 2013, I drove from Tucson to Prescott, about 250 miles, to ride the Skull Valley Loop with my cycling friend, Dan Fallon. Ours was not an organized invitational, just a Dan and me ride.

It’s an amazing 54 miles through the Prescott National Forest at an elevation ranging from a mile high to 6,100’; the roads are pristine, almost glimmer glass; traffic is minimal, a sweet descent on Ironwood Springs into Kirkland Junction, a 10 mile climb replete with switch backs, and rolling hills up the White Spars, AZ 84, and back down into Prescott. 

I never anticipated that The Valley Of The Skull would return with with me to Tucson and  take up residence in my skull for the rest of my life. But that’s exactly what happened. 

Two weeks after riding the Skull with Dan, I had my first-ever seizure; I have had, on average, at least one seizure a month since then, and I have not driven a car since driving to Prescott 13 months ago.

This summer, 2014, with temperatures consistently in the triple digits in Tucson and Phoenix, the call of cooler climes for Prescott’s Skull Valley Loop Challenge in mid September, sounded delicious. But Prescott is 250 miles from Tucson and I can’t drive.

One of the many things I have learned this past year living with epilepsy is that some of the spontaneity of my previous life must be moderated because to say “yes” to something often means asking someone else to say “yes” too.

And so, Kirk and I would spend a couple of days in Sedona (not a hard thing for either of us to say “yes” to) and he would drop me off in Prescott which was sort of, but really, on his way home to Tucson. Another recumbent friend, David Brake, who lives in Phoenix, would also be riding the Skull Valley Loop Challenge (SVLC). David would drive me from Prescott to Phoenix after the ride and I would ride my bike from Phoenix to Tucson (128 miles) following the Randonneur’s Permanent Route which would give me credit for my September 200k (125 miles). (One of my riding goals is to ride at least one 200k route approved by the Randonneur USA organization each month for 12 consecutive months.) 

There are racers and riders at the Skull Valley Loop Challenge (SVLC) who tow the start line with a range of hopes and expectations. Being less than a month away from turning 69, I had a strong desire to punch out a great time. But, another thing I have learned living with epilepsy is that I never really know who will show up each day, who I will be each day. I can plan, but I can’t plan the outcome.

Anti-seizure medications are central nervous system depressants replete with many side effects including depression and absence of energy. If I’ve had a break through seizure, even though I’m medicated, I can expect at least 12-36 hours of post-seizure energy depletion and struggle to function with any kind of normalcy. 

I really, really hoped I would tow the start line with a full tank of energy, no medication side effects, and be seizure-free when the Court House Clock gonged 7:30 for the start of the SVLC on Sunday, September 21st. But, if someone else showed up to ride my bike, well, that’s who would ride it that day. Weather or mechanicals can reek havoc with personal goals for all racers and riders; those are equal opportunity adversaries. Epilepsy, however, is my personal travel companion whose narcissistic needs will always pre-empt my own. 

As it turned out, a healthy me showed up Sunday morning ready to race. Rode from Dan’s house to Starbucks for a pre-race grande, medium-dry soy cappuccino. Life is good.

There were 204 racer/riders; I finished 99th with a time of 3:22 for 53.9 miles and about 4,000’ of climbing, depending upon whose GPS tracking device you use. 

But, life would have been good, too, if those numbers had been different, or even if I hadn’t been able to put my wheel on the line. If there is not joy, and gratitude, and community in the process of getting to the start line, well, the numbers are pretty meaningless. Life is, indeed, good.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

New Targets: R-12

Mark Pondering Ben's attempted crossing

Storm cloud over Baboquivari Peak
My 50-State goal is in the books which begs the question: What's next?

I love long rides, but I can't string so many of them back-to-back any more being nearly the ripe age of 69 in October. 200k Brevets are perfect for me, distance-wise. Longer than that I can't fuel since my food allergies/intolerance preclude eating out of fast food and convenience stores. 

My freedom to, at will, do Brevets with the AZ Randonneur Club is a bit challenging since I currently am not able to drive to remote starts, my recurring seizures put my driving privileges on ice.

Next best thing? RUSA Permanents originating in Tucson! There are currently four I can choose from and I plan to develop a couple more which will hopefully be approved by the national RUSA Permanent Coordinator. 

The R-12 is great, too, since I can start the 12-month cycle at anytime and I chose August, 2014 having returned from the 50-State quest in July. 

Mark Doumas, Ben Andrews, Margaret O'Kelley and I had a gloriously hot (mid-upper 90's), humid (it's monsoon season) 205k ride following the clockwise Arivaca route.

Ben the bandit

After lunch in Arivaca
The monsoon rains have been generous south of Tucson; none of us can ever remember seeing the desert being so lush and green. Truly, we could easily have been in Arkansas. The only giveaway that we weren't were the mountains and the type of vegetation. But green, green, green it was.

A very long, hot 44 miles with no services between Arivaca and Three Points
The 44 mile stretch with no services between Arivaca and the grocery store at Three points was a bit too long for the water supplies we had with us. We shared what we had with each other until some construction workers topped off our bottles. Hindsight, we should have topped off at the Border Patrol station at about the halfway mark. 

I was beyond grateful to Mark, Margaret, and Ben for adjusting their preferred start time of 1700 to 0500 for me! They prefer to ride through the night when we're in these dog days. But I didn't want to risk messing up my stretch of no seizure days by going into sleep dep and/or totally confusing my sleep cycles. 

I opted out of dinner with the crowd at Don's Bayou since Kirk was only 5 days post-op from his clavicle reconstruction after his bike crash on the preceding Sunday.

Next 200k should be mid-September from Phoenix to Tucson following the Skull Valley Loop Challenge out of Prescott the day before.

I should add that Roger Peskett, our AZ Rando Perm Coordinator, is my inspiration having completed 32 consecutive RUSA rides of at least 200k. Can't catch him, but I'll try to stay on his wheel.

All 50 States

I don't rightly know when I decided upon the goal of riding in all 50 states. I'm sure it was a focused goal after my first transcontinental with PAC Tour in 2006, the southern tier from San Diego to Tybee Island, GA. I knew that when I achieved that goal I would get another tattoo of our country, featuring some key routes, and, of course, my faithful recumbent.

Turns out I rode exactly 25 states on a tour, either a transcon with PAC or a solo tour I designed, and the other 25 by just grabbing a state here and there as it came to me or as I went to it.

An ambler in Yellowstone too close to our new car for comfort
Turns out Kirk and I went to four states I needed this July: Montana, North and South Dakota, and Nebraska. 

Little did we know when we planned this 6,000 mile driving car trip from Tucson to Eugene, OR, by way of Nevada, California, up through Washington, Montana, the Dakotas, Nebraska, Utah, Wyoming, and northern AZ before coming back home, that Kirk would get to do ALL the driving. 

Yep, I'm still not driving because I can't seem to string together 90 seizure-free days to earn back my driving privileges. 

It was a special trip in so many ways:
  • completion of a bucket list goal--riding in all the states (see caveat below)
  • having a new car with a bike rack on the back so Kirk could bring his bike, too, and we could ride some miles together
  • visiting Pompey's Pillar in Billings, Yellowstone NP, Zion NP, Grand Canyon North Rim NP, Mt. Rushmore, Great Basin NP
  • spending a day with our good friend from Mt. Prospect, IL, Jack Verhasselt, who was visiting family in Billings the same time we were there
  • a surprise visit in our son's father-in-law's office in Billings where he is the school superintendent
  • a visit with a new friend in Cheney, WA who also lives with epilepsy daily
  • soaking in with awe the expanse of our amazing country
I wondered how I would feel having completed this bucket list goal: would it be exhilaration, kind of a "yep, got it done", sort of a let down that the target was not ahead of me and what would the next target be?

I was pleased that what I felt, mostly, was gratitude to Kirk, for Kirk, who participated in my attaining my goal with as much energy as I have invested in it. Behind that gratitude was more gratitude that at nearly age 69 I have been able to pursue and achieve my 50-State goal. And, behind that gratitude was just a most pleasant exhale of a job well done.

An unexpected joy along the way was discovering that my good friend, Barbara Cleveland from NH, had basically grown up in all the states we were traveling through. She's exactly my age; her Dad had been an executive with the Union Pacific Railroad which meant that she rode the rails with him most summers as a wee child, sleeping in UP bunk cars, getting separated from her Dad and ending up in some distant town and having to be shuttled back by train to wherever Dad was.

Didn't know any of this about Barbara until I happened to send her some pix by email early in our trip and her remarkable childhood stories just poured out of her. Day-by-day, I sent her more pix; day-by-day she shared more stories, and we both learned a lot about how we had become the adults that we have become. A treasured gift for both of us.
Leaving Yellowstone, heading east

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Badlands in the distance

Yep, you're right, Mt. Rushmore

Barbara Cleveland's bunk car, Ely, NV

Bristlecone tree in Great Basin NP in NV. Some of these trees are nearly 5,000 years old and still thriving

More UP cars for repairing tracks

Zion NP, UT

A little secret here: I am actually still 2 states short: Delaware and South Carolina. We could have gotten SC in 2011 when we were on our 12,400 mile, 99 Day Trek from Chicago to Tucson, but alas I broke my foot and was off the bike when we were traveling through SC. We thought I'd get Delaware this July when we took our son, Bryan, and his 11 y.o. daughter, Ayva, to Williamsburg and D.C. But alas, the tail of the state we thought was Delaware turned out to be Maryland. So, SC will have to be "gotten" in July 2015 and Delaware in the summer of 2016. But as long as we are both still alive, they will be "gotten" in the next two years.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

E Within Me: 12 Months Post Diagnosis Of Epilepsy

I’ve been planning to write this post about E, my E, for a few weeks, and what better day to do so than on the occasion of Kirk’s and my 45th anniversary, August 2nd.

It’s been almost a year since E became a part of me and a part of Kirk’s and my life together. E’s coming was totally unexpected. Unexpecteds bring with them a very real sense of vulnerability, loss of control, fear, and, often, changes in one’s life course or life style. We are naive, indeed, if we expect that we will never experience unexpecteds.

Acceptance and gratitude can be gifts from the unexpecteds, but most of the time those gifts come only after some grieving, gnashing of teeth, 2 steps forward and 1 step back; maybe even sometimes only 1 step forward and 2 steps back.

And so it was August 27th, 2013 I ended up in the ER for more than 20 hours with the good folks there trying to figure out what had unexpectedly gone wrong with me.

Over the course of the next week or so the unexpected had a name: Epilepsy.

Even though I have a Masters in Nursing, my knowledge of epilepsy was really only quite topside. The next 12 months I was on a steep learning curve regarding triggers, medications, traditional and holistic methods of treatment and their respective practitioners, how to recognize auras, what it feels like to be totally wasted for up to 36 hours after a seizure, (post-ictal states) and all the myriad sensory, motor, and cognitive experiences of central nervous system misfirings happening within. YIKES.

You can do your own reading, if you choose, on E; plenty out there including some quite useful “coping with epilepsy” forums on the internet.

What I want to share with you is what it has been like to have E within me.

Without question the most significant and externally noticeable impact has been my inability to drive. Each state has its own laws about when a person can drive again after having had a seizure, regardless of what type of seizure, and there are many types. Arizona’s law says one must be seizure-free for 90 days. I had no idea that would be a hard number to achieve.

I was naive. I thought all I had to do was be given a diagnosis, be given a prescription, comply with the medication regime, and go on with life.

Not that easy.

Seizures happened with enough regularity that it took eight months to achieve those 90 days. I had driving rights for about 6 weeks and then lost them again because of more seizures. My vision is enough impaired now, (cause the effect or effect the cause? I don’t know.) that even if I were seizure free I would not feel safe driving further than Trader Joes which is only a mile away.

Early in my new life with E I was on a solo 90 mile ride, had a seizure, and had to call Kirk to come pick me up. We agreed that until I was 90 days seizure free that, in addition to not driving, I would also not ride a route alone that was more than 50 miles. At its apex I would then only be 25 miles out if I needed a pick-up.

Not driving didn’t hurt. That’s one of the beauties, joys, gratitudes of living in Tucson. I can ride 52/365 and I can ride everywhere to do everything. But not being able to ride long distance, now that one hurt. There are 100-200 mile routes around Tucson I would love to do; but I can’t right now without a riding buddy. Such buddies are hard to find. There are some around but they are either too slow for me or I am too slow for them. Neither is a good mix.

Not being able to drive also has meant I can’t, at will, get myself to rides with a remote start, like Northern Arizona, New Mexico, Southern California, Southern Utah. Kirk has been remarkable in his open giving, giving of his patience and tolerance of the new me, including my inability to drive. He’s oh so willing to drive me to a 5:00 a.m. start to a local ride; and he drove all 6,000 car miles this July as we traveled through MT, ND, SD,  and NE so I could come closer to my goal of riding in all 50 states. (Only 2 to go, SC and DE). But to ask him to give up a weekend so I can ride 130 or 185 miles in an adjoining state---well that’s too much to ask of anyone who is not riding the event.

Rides with remote starts need to be well worth the needed logistical planning. Here’s an example of such: mid-September I want to test my mettle (and metal) on the Skull Valley Loop Challenge (SVLC) out of Prescott, AZ which is about 200 miles northwest of Tucson. Kirk and I will spend a couple of days hiking and riding in Sedona; he’ll drive me to Prescott; I’ll stay with a friend for a day or so; ride the SVLC; a Phoenix friend, who will also be doing the SVLC, will drive me to Phoenix after the event; and I will ride home from Phoenix the day after the event by bike. Doable, all of it, but full of logistics that previously didn’t need to be considered.

One of my better qualities, I think, although it can have its thorns as well, is my steady, predictable persistence. That quality has served me well getting to all kinds of “finish lines” in life, most of which have not had the word “race” in them. Epilepsy is giving me a new set of rules to live by. Seems I can do all the right things and have a seizure or all the wrong things and have a seizure and with every seizure comes a post-ictal period when life seems to be sucked out of me. I have come to call it my Life Switch: no physical energy, no emotional energy, no relational energy for 6-36 hours depending upon the severity of the seizure. That makes planning difficult; that makes being responsible and accountable difficult. I’m having trouble accepting that part of this disease, that part of who I am in relationship to my world.

I have always experienced myself as being one with lots of energy, a lot of rah-rah, go-get-’em, anything’s possible with a plan and the needed preparation. It’s hard for me to rightfully use those words to describe myself now, since E. Subdued is a word that fits much better today. That’s not a word I like to use to describe myself. Not only have I lost some freedoms, but I have also lost my ability to predict what my energy resources will be from day to day.

I’m embarrassed to own those realities about myself when it’s just epilepsy, for goodness sake. Many people my age (69 this October) are dealing with life and life-style show stoppers: joint replacements, organ replacements, cancer, end-stage diabetes, mental illness, crippling PTSD, addictions, loss of spouses or partners, and so much more.

For now my joys and gratitudes include: Kirk, some dear friends and family who are unwavering in their support of both Kirk and me, some health care professionals who are committed to hanging in there with me, and my continued ability to ride.

I truly believe that more joys and gratitudes will be revealed from living with epilepsy, but I’m still in the early stages of grieving the losses, accepting the newness of my life, and finding new ways of offering experience, strength and hope to others who have found themselves being smacked with an unexpected.

Guess I’ve just committed myself to a new post a year from now to see what new gifts and gratitudes have been revealed in my 2nd year of living with E.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Arid Desolation

Kingman, AZ is not much, although it still stands tall and proud in its Route 66 heritage. Today, it is however, a crossroads for car trekkers heading to the Grand Canyon, to Death Valley, or Las Vegas. We would be one of those trekkers heading through Las Vegas en route to Hawthorne, NV.

Lunch would be in Tonopah, NV, a town with a rich history in silver mining but now currently used for nuclear weapons stockpile reliability testing, research and development of fusing and firing systems, and testing nuclear weapon delivery systems. Chatting with our server at lunch, who has lived in Tonopah for 4 years, she travels 3 hours to Las Vegas once a month to shop at Wal-Mart. No local options for her. So, she takes her young daughter, overnights in Vegas, takes her swimming at a hotel, and stocks up for the month.

Kirk off-loaded me and my bike in Tonopah after lunch; he read at the local Burger King and visited the Tonopah Museum while I busted it 47 miles West on US 95. It was a glorious ride descending about 1,500' from the Tonopah summit of about 6,000'. Road was good, often not much shoulder, and what traffic there was flew at or above the posted 75 mph speed limit. 

I laughed out loud riding through this arid desolation (8% humidity, 95 degree heat) with not the first hint of any living fauna for my 47 miles. After I reloaded in the car we passed through two ghost towns, Mina and Luning. I don't know, maybe they weren't true ghost towns since they are reported to have 50 and 150 people respectively depending upon your source. I laughed because a friend who came to ride with me in southern AZ was quite concerned about the desolation between Sonoita and Mustang Corners. Had to wonder what she would have thought about this stretch of aridity.

Overnighting in Hawthorne tonight, home to 2,700 Naval Ammunitions Depot Bunkers. Erie landscape, all these underground bunkers with only a little roof mound.

Pix will have to follow.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

On The Road Again!

June 26, 2011 Kirk and I left Chicago, home for 42 years, to begin our 99 Day Trek To Tucson (which actually ended up being 108 days) and 12,400 miles. Clearly we did not take the most direct route. We mused, wondered, and fantasized what Tucson and retirement would really look like.

I can tell you, in real life it is even better than any of our musings, wonderings, and fantasies. 

June 27, 2014, immediately after Kirk was installed as President of his Rotary Club, we left Tucson for a 27 day, 5,500 mile trek, this time see some National Parks and give me a chance to ride my bike in 5 of my remaining 6 states fulfilling a goal of mine to ride in all 50 states.

I have no lofty goal of riding all the way across these states; I'll be happy to ride 40 or so miles in each. Kirk has brought his bike along for the ride, too. So some days he'll ride ahead, park the car, and ride back to meet me and we'll ride to our waiting car, which BTW, is a new Subaru Outback. 

I rode today about 6:00 a.m. in Tucson, celebrated with Kirk at his installation as President of his Rotary Club, and then off we drove, 320 miles to Kingman, AZ. We continue to marvel at the awesome wonder of Arizona. Tourists don't flock to Illinois to see black dirt and fields of corn and soy beans. 

My friend, Barb's comment was right on the dime: that Kirk and I have this motel trekking down to a science. It takes us but minutes to unload just the right number of food bags from the car, along with just the needed overnight clothes, books, and computers. Of course the bikes come in, too,  for safe-keeping. We learned 3 years ago that not all motels have adequate wattage in their reading lamps; so we carry our own light bulbs, just in case. I travel with my AeroPress and "frother" to make my own tasty cappuccinos, Kirk brings his travel Keurig replete with a variety pack of K-cups.

Heading to Hawthorne, NV tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Australia: Factoids and Impressions

Square mileage-wise, the US and Australia are comparable, but population-wise quite disparate: US about 312 million; Australia 23 million.

Nearly 40% of Australia’s population is fairly evenly distributed in Melbourne and Sydney 

About 5% of the US population is identified as Asian compared to 12% of the AU population

Indigenous people (Aborigines and Native Americans) currently represent about 2-3%  of each country’s total population.

Both countries developed their white growth through emigration/immigration as a result of disenfranchisement in their country of origin at about the same time in history, roughly the late 1700's to mid-late1800’s.

The dominant culture in both countries have willfully practiced racism almost to the point of extinction in terms of each country’s indigenous peoples. Those who call Australia and the US home have painfully experienced the devaluing of their culture and heritage. Thankfully the voices of the African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans peoples are gaining strength and their cultural contributions are being recognized and more oft valued than in our early years as a nation. 


We stayed in a time-sharey kind of place in Melbourne in the Central Business District (CBD) which would have been like, location-wise, staying at the Palmer House in Chicago.  We had unbelievably easy access to EVERYTHING our hearts desired. Free trolleys squealing around the equivalent of Chicago's Loop, in addition to trolleys that had a farther reach for a fee. There were busses, subways, suburban commuter trains, cabs, and infinite number of bike commuters EVERYWHERE wearing business suits, urban commuter clothes, and spandex, all outfitted with water-proof panniers or backpacks. 

American obesity has not taken the country by storm, although I heard somewhere that our bad habits are gaining a belly-hold. 

Back to accommodations.

Time shares typically don't have room service but once, mid-week. That's usually more than fine. If you need more toiletries or towels, no problem, just ask, and voila, they're happy to accommodate. Not so at our Melbourne place. We needed more towels which they would be happy to give us, but for an added charge of $10.00. Wasn't going to happen, no way.

Prices down under are absolutely out of reach. Convenient store pricing is more like ball park or stadium or movie theater pricing. A small bottle of filtered still water will be $3-4. They LOVE their coffee and Starbucks is, without a doubt, the lowest on the totem pole of choices, hardly even considered coffee. Whole new language for how to order your bev of choice, flat soy, flat black, long. Not sure what all of that means yet. A young man from Perth said a regular cup of coffee in his home town is typically $7 or $8 dollars. Lots of rich miners there. 

Sydney is a different story altogether. Staying in a Hilton here, also pretty much in the CBD, and a spit away from the train system, which is European, modern, sleek, clean, with digital signage everywhere. Puts Chicago to shame. Rotary will pick up the tab for our Sydney room and all of our transportation for the duration of the conference, along with the $29.00/day internet charge to access their wifi from our room. There is free wifi in the lobby, but that's not where I want to cozy up to do my internet when our room is on the 22nd floor and the glitz of the first 5 floors is that of the Palmer House or other more modern equivalents. 

Our Sydney room is less than half the sq footage of our Melbourne place, no microwave, no burners. These rooms are equipped with the "modern" minibar technology whereby if you lift any of the mini bars items from where they sit your bill will be automatically charged. No matter that you drank their Red Bull and replaced it with one that you bought at the convenient store. Red Bull from the in-room minibar costs $9.50. 

Most grateful for my AeroPress coffee maker. Otherwise would have gone broke.

Sorry to go on and on about food stuffs, but with prices being what they are and allergies being what they are, Maslow's hierarchy of needs, the first of which is Food, takes on a preoccupation. 

Oh, and at the Sydney Hilton the only way to get ice you have to call the front desk and they bring you a big bucket the likes of which you can chill a couple of bottles of wine in. All I want is enough cubes to chill a Red Bull and put in my NutriBullet, now called a George Foreman.

Here's how that story goes. I finally understand and appreciate the difference between an adapter and a converter. I had brought my bag of international adapters that I got when I went to Vietnam and used to charge my iPhone and iPad. Used my adapter to turn on my Nutribullet in Melbourne and there was lots of arcing, smoke, and god-awful noise. The Nutribullet is dead. Now how am I going to make smoothies which was to be the mainstay of my second meal each day? Kirk bought me a George Foreman that is similar to the Nutribullet, but an inferior, distant cousin. Certainly grateful for it though in these down under circumstances. 

Australia has been all about 1 to 6 degrees of separation, a trend that started our first full day in Melbourne. 

Kirk had spent a few days in Columbus, GA less than a week before we came down under. The primary reason for his visit to Columbus was for his 50th HS reunion. Of course, while there he visited his mom and went to her Rotary Club where he met Mike who would also be attending the Rotary International Convention. Mike and his wife would be spending a few days in Melbourne before making their way to Sydney. So, we made arrangements to have dinner with them our first night in Melbourne at an Indian restaurant, their first ever taste of Indian food. So much for the cosmopolitan influence in Columbus. Of course the first things you say in those situations is where did you grow up, etc.

Well, Mike's wife, Susan, grew up in Columbus, GA and graduated from Kirk's HS one year behind him. Mike grew up in Indianapolis, graduated from North Central HS one year behind me and we lived only a couple of miles apart from one another! Now what are the chances of that??

The next day Kirk rented a bike in Melbourne and our plan was to circumnavigate the city of Melbourne via their multi-use path. We stopped at a Children's Farm on the Path to use the restroom and Kirk fell into a long chat with a couple of women who had similarly paused. He told them we were in AU for the Rotary International Convention and they said, "Oh, a good friend of ours will be attending also." Kirk gave them his card. The end.

First day of the Convention, 18,000 attendees. We're standing in line at the coffee kiosk and a woman looks at Kirk's name badge and remarks with glee that she has his Business card, a friend had given it to her. Yep, it was the friend we met at the Children's Farm. The Rotarian called her friend in Melbourne and Kirk was able to tell her that the circle of connection had been completed! Now what are the chances of that??

Leaving the Olympic Park, the same day as coffee kiosk encounter, we're standing on the platform for the commuter train to take us back into Sydney proper and who do we end up standing next to: the Columbus, GA couple! Now what are the chances of that out of 18,000 people all leaving the venue at the same time??

A couple of days later I'm going down to Olympic Park several hours after Kirk went down, so riding the train alone. A couple sits down next to me and we fall to talking. They're from Olympia, WA where Bryan and Daniel both graduated from The Evergreen State College. So, chat, chat about that which trends into what kind of work everyone is in. Turns out both of them are in education, she a former principal, he continues as a school  superintendent. By any chance did he know Terry Bouck? They both did; they knew him well! Now Terry is Bryan's wife's Dad who was a school superintendent in the Tacoma area. Now what are the chances of that??

A couple of days later I'm attending a breakout group and a woman I've never seen before comes up to me and introduces herself to me because I have on my El Tour jersey, since I was working the El Tour booth that day. Turns out she is the incoming President of a Rotary Club in Tucson and lives 1/2 mile from us on the Rillito Path. She will be the President of the Club where Randy Brooks is a member. I hired Randy as a counselor when I worked for Parkside Medical Services in Park Ridge, IL back in the early-mid 80's. He only worked for me for about 9 months before returning to Tucson. Randy's and my path had already crossed through Rotary since I've been in Tucson, but now here is this woman....Now what are the chances of that??

Today this guy from Northbrook where we lived for 12 years tracked down Kirk at the recommendation of a member from our Wilmette church. He and his wife and we attended a delightful musical event together. While waiting for the concert to begin she and I are chatting and she mentions she attended undergraduate at a very little school in Central IL, Blackburn College. That's where my parents met back in the mid-30's. This woman is on the Blackburn Board of Trustees and so plans to do a bit of archival work to see what she can learn about Dwain Walcher and Emily Jones, my parents. Now what are the chances of that??

I don't know what to make of all these 1-6 degrees of separation. Is it a Rotary thing? Is the world really just that small? Or?

Sidney felt like NYC in terms of HEAVY ped traffic, amazing car traffic, no bike lanes at all, at least where we were, and then, of course, they ride on the wrong side of the road, at least to us they do. 

I did venture forth on the roads in Sydney for about 2k in a protected bike lane to Circular Quay where I caught a ferry over to Manly Island, about 30 min by ferry. Reminded my of Washington Island, a ferry ride north of Door County in WI. Did ride around there for about 15k and then ferried back to Sydney. By then it was rush hour, couldn't find the protected bike lane street so walked back to the hotel. Not a problem to walk, just an absence of riding.

Kirk and I were going to spend a day on Manly, he renting a bike. But, winter hit Sydney which means that it rained all day. So, no biking, lots of walking, and touring. Sidney is a wonderful city, but we were much more fond of Melbourne in terms of being bike friendly and just plain accessible in all regards.

I don't know what one does if he/she is physically disabled in either Melbourne or Sydney. So NOT handycapped accessible. Lots of steep steps to get from one street to another or one layer of train station to the next. Few lifts anywhere in sight. I had to carry NWT'n up and down more and more steps on my Manly excursion. Sounds like it should be easy, but he's just not light and nimble.

Nice coffee cruise this a.m. Visited with a 30 something who had come with 3 of her colleagues from Brisbane to Sidney for the day having won some kind of an award at work. Saw several suburbs along the harbor front where the houses ranged from $8-55million including Nicole Kidman's house that sold for $15mil and Russel Crowe's.

Arrival of produce at the restaurant next to our Barely Adequate Southern Hotel


Of joy, pleasure, humor, words, playfulness, or maybe just plain sanctity, you decide.

Upon our Sydney arrival a week ago we boarded one of their suburban trains to the train station in their CBD (Central Business District) and then walked the final block-ish to the Hilton dragging over a hundred pounds of suitcases and backpacks. Of course, one of those 50 pound suitcases carried NWT'n. 

Needless to say, we didn't "blend" as other guests arrived by taxi with porters ferrying their bags from taxi to check-in and ferrying further to their room some 25+ stories upward. Our view from our Hilton window was that of a construction crane, actually the control cabin of the crane some 22 stories up. The crane reminded us of our obstructed view through the port hole of many cruise ship cabins. 

The Hilton scored a 10 on glitz and about a 3 on functionality when it came to in-room cooking accommodations.

After the Rotary Conference crescendoed to a breathtaking finale with Australia's own Ten Tenors singing Turandot's Nessun Dorma, we checked out of the Hilton, at its nearly $300/night on the Rotary tab, pulling our 3 suitcases, wearing our backpacks and I my helmet on my head. I was pushing NWT'n and pulling Kirk's small overnight bag while he pulled my LARGE PAC duffle bag and NWT'n's personal suitcase now filled with rank, well-worn laundry. 

It was steady raining as we negotiated erect umbrellas through the glitz of noon-hour rush in the surround of the Hilton and moved to our new hotel at half the nightly rate, The Great Southern Hotel. We re-dubbed it the Barely Adequate Southern Hotel, or BA for short. 
Great Southern Hotel

Sydney Bridge

About a kilometer down the road the Hilton glitz was replaced, the closer we got to BA, with pawn shops, Adult X shops, The Pleasure Chest, LentMoney, and too-many-to-count Thai Massage Spas. I'm assuming they were sex spas since they were all upstairs via a staircase off the Main Street advertised by a well-worn, young, thin, Asian barely-a-woman holding a cardboard sign with the words Thai Massage $39 or whatever the price. Starbucks was a couple of blocks away with 30 min of free wifi per purchased drink. That beat the $20/20 minutes or $22 for 24 hrs at the BA.

The upside to the BA was its amazing closeness to the train station that would get us ANYWHERE we wanted to go and a Vietnamese restaurant next to The Pleasure Chest that served Pho, Vietnamese noodle rice noodle soup, (pronounced phuh). The proper spelling of Pho has a squiggly accent atop the O that makes the pronunciation phuh. Without the squiggle it would be pronounced as you would think, with a long O. But, I'm squiggle-less on my English keyboard. 

Onward with more sanctity of life's fabric.

Yea for the Aussie's absence of pennies. They simply round up or down to the nearest 5 cents. 

Yea for the Aussies who print Look Left or Look Right at the curbs especially since there is not even a 3 inch gap between the curb and passing big-wheeled traffic. 

Yea for the Aussies who have a flush option on all their toilets for liquid or solid. Far too many of American public toilets are equipped with auto flush that either don't function and you have to search for a nigh invisible button the size of a number two pencil eraser to override the non-functioning auto flush, or it they over function acting more like a bidet. 

Yea for the Aussies who oft have such a gracious way of communicating their expectations for public behavior like mind the gap; dispose of your rubbish thoughtfully; or allow us to seat you. 

But the billboard that read: "Trouble Falling Pregnant?" took a bit of work. I thought it might be quite scary for a young child who might interpret that if she fell, she might get pregnant. But in actuality I think it really was trying to communicate to those who wanted to get pregnant but were having trouble doing so. Falling would certainly never be the word Americans would use for such an event.