“The Water is Turned Off…”

“,,, so you won’t be able to flush or wash your hands until I turn it back on,” the nurse said. I understood why, but honestly, the sound of some rushing water might have helped with the task at hand: filling a specimen bottle with at least 40 ml of urine.

I had forgotten until a few minutes earlier when she had mentioned it, that a urinalysis was required as part of the intake process. I’m generally against drug tests for most jobs as I think they’re irrelevant and don’t necessarily have a bearing on the candidates ability to do the job. It’s part of the reason I actually ended up in consulting right out of college. The software company I could have basically walked into a job with had been acquired and now required drug testing. Now, I was not at the time taking drugs and have actually never taken illegal drugs, not even any form of cannabis when it’s been offered. So it was never a fear of being caught. It was simply a resistance to what I feel is an unwarranted invasion of privacy for a tasking involving sitting in front of a computer and creating code.

But this job is different. This job involves both being directly involved in the health care of others and it involves being exposed to drugs. I feel it’s a reasonable compromise. So there I was being handed a sealed specimen bottle standing in a bathroom. Outside all my items, phone, keys, pen, etc. were locked in a cabinet, I’m assuming to ensure I couldn’t sneak in any clean samples. She walked out and I gave deep thoughts of places like Niagara Falls. Fortunately it worked. Less than a minute later I was handing this woman I had met only 20 minutes earlier a warm specimen bottle full of my pee.

Protocols

She had with her a kit that included another container of sorts. She opened it and the specimen bottle. I started to leave the bathroom and she told me I had to stay “since I have an open specimen bottle”. I realized in this case, unlike the lack of running water to keep me from cheating, this was most likely to make sure there was a witness to prevent her from tampering with the sample.

Once it was transferred and sealed in the new container we left together and she started filling out some forms on the computer screen while we waited for the urine to travel up the test strips and react with the reagents. Think about how the Covid test trips we’re all familiar with work, a Control line and before that a Test line (the Control being after to of course ensure the sample has travelled past the test). This container had 3 strips built in so I asked about them. The 3rd one actually had 4 tests on it, but she said she ignored one. I asked why. It turns out it was for THC, since it was no longer banned in New York. So, I suppose I could take up pot if I wanted to. But I have no interest. I also had fortunately not eaten any poppy seed bagels recently!

After all the strips all reacted she moved it to the edge of the counter and rang a bell. She explained she needed a second witness to sign off on the sample. In this case I assume it was to ensure I wasn’t bribing her to pass my sample. Not 2 seconds later we both hear a rather loud, “GOT IT!” from down the hall and up walked another nurse. She saw our somewhat surprised faces and admitted, “I love doing that.” I joked in return that I had apparently passed my audio test (which strangely enough is about the only thing they didn’t test yesterday!)

The Rest of the Afternoon

I’m not ready to call that the highlight of the day, but it was just one part of that day’s intake process. I also managed to get a flu shot, the first step of 2 TB skin tests, scheduled for a Tdap vaccination (in addition to hopefully at the community college getting my Covid Bivalent booster this week), the second of the 2 TB skin tests, get fingerprinted, get entered into the HR system, fitted for an N95 mask, and start the paperwork on parking.

I had arrived around 1:00 PM (a bit early for my 1:15 scheduled appointment with the health center) and was done with all of the above by about 3:15 PM. Not too bad. There was some waiting, but overall a rather expedient process.

N95 Mask Fiitting

This was one thing I wasn’t familiar with before yesterday. I knew the general principal: make sure the mask is tight and the nose bridge is well-formed to your face. However the fitting process is actually a bit more complex. I did find out after arriving that if I had wanted to keep my beard, they have a a PAPR and I could have been fitted for that. But honestly, I figured it was time to get rid of the Covid Beard for a bit so had shaved the day before.

The actual fitting is interesting because the mask they give you is hooked up to a machine with two tubes, I’m presuming to measure air inflow and out. You put on the mask, fit it to your face and then, as the machine instructs do a series of exercises, including bending over for 30 seconds and breathing, loudly reading some text, turning your head side to side and then up and down. Apparently my initial attempts at fitting weren’t quite right so the fitter came around to my side of the bench and moved the masked down and adjusted the nose piece a bit. She explained after why. So now when I’m wearing an N95 mask, I’ll have to remember to place it a bit lower than I thought was proper. I was also instructed to refuse an assignment if the type of mask I was fitted with was not available. So for those who are geeky enough to care, my mask type is a 3M 8210 Reg – White. I even have a sticker to put on the back of my ID badge once I receive it.

Beardless Again

Next Steps

So, Wednesday I go back to have the TB test checked and then next Monday go back again for the TDap booster, another TB Test, and I think the first of two shots for my Hep B regiment and then back next Wednesday for the final TB check. Then on the 17th I start actual orientation at 8:00 AM. (due to orientation it looks like I will be missing an A&P lab and two A&P lectures unfortunately). Finally, I think my actual start date on the ED floor will be October 25th. I can’t wait!

Barn Dancing

This past weekend was the annual NCC barn dance. This is an event my family and I, and often friends have been attending for the past 5 years or so. Or rather hoping to attend, since due to Covid it was not held the last 2 years. This event raises money for the Northeastern Cave Conservancy to help them acquire and maintain caves in this area. So if nothing else, it’s a good cause.

But it’s more than that, it’s a lot of fun. As a fund raiser, it is important to attract a good crowd of people. I also like to think longer term and realize that as many of us local cavers age, we need to draw in more younger folks to the community and this has been a great way to do so.

Getting ready for the next dance

I think it was 4 years ago that I first mentioned it at an RPI Outing Club meeting. I initially received the response I expected, “oh look at this old guy trying to get us to a square dance. Man he’s the one that’s square.” (ok, I realize no one uses the term “square” in that sense these days, but it works here, go with it.) But I figured even if just 2-3 students showed up that would be good. The night before the dance, I stopped by the ROC “Pit” (equipment room) and checked to see how many would be going. I was told the number was up to 14. I was very impressed, but honestly a bit skeptical they’d all show up.

Well the next night at the dance, sure enough 4 cars full of RPI students showed up. One was very excited too after she won a door prize (with your entry you get one raffle ticket. You can buy more if you want and your budget allows.)

A year rolled around and again in the fall I announced the barn dance at a meeting. Again I got a few eye rolls and the like. These stopped immediately as soon as one of the students who had danced the previous year said, “Oh, you have to go, it’s a lot of run, really!” I forget how many showed up that year, but it was was probably in the 20s.

RPI Outing Club students and many others dancing

Of course the last two years there was no square dance. But again I gamely announced it at a meeting this year and at the Orientation to Cave Rescue last weekend. Well this year exceeded all expectations. 35 students from RPI showed up. Plus, by my account at least 3-4 recent alumns, plus 4 alumns with families (including me and my family).

A sitting “dance”

Several of the students won raffle prizes and they all appeared to have fun, which of course made me and the organizers happy.

As I said above, the money the dance raises goes to a good cause, but the event is a good thing for another reason: it helps sustain a community.

Oh one last tidbit on “how things have changed.” After the dance was over, I caught a number of the students apparently exchanging links and the like using their phones.

Barn Dancing in the modern era

Transitions and Regrets?

I was originally going to write a bit on the death of Queen Elizabeth II and reflections of mortality in general but thought I’d talk about a bit more about a more personal change.

It’s not news to my readers that I’m working to get into PA School. If all goes well, this means eventually I’ll move completely out of being a DBA and purely into the medical world. But this is not a quantum leap (which I have to say, I was pleased with the premiere of the new series last night). Things are not happening over night. I still have course work and patient contact hours to get in. The process is somewhat gradual. But, due to a biological need to sleep, it does mean I need to balance my obligations and in some cases turn my back on certain things.

I was reminded of one of those yesterday: PASS Summit. I’ve written about my previous experiences here and here and more. I’ve really loved my time visiting Seattle to attend it. I also enjoyed presenting, albeit it virtually. Besides being a great opportunity to meet with vendors and to attend a LOT of great sessions, it’s a great place to make friends and to catch up with friends. And yet, I’m not going this year. Under the old scheme, I had the advantage of being a User Group leader and as such getting a free pass. This helped me cost-wise, which as an independent consultant was a bonus. That wasn’t available this time around, so that figured into the decision a bit. But perhaps far more decisive was that I really don’t feel like I can take the time off from school.

What makes this doubly tough on me is that there are a lot of friends I really was hoping to catch up with in person and the fact that for the first time, I’d be an actual Friend of Redgate, an honor I’m proud of and with Redgate being the folks in charge, something I wanted to be more a part of than in the past.

I also did not put in to speak this year, because I knew I’d have classes during this time. I had been excited to be picked in 2020 to speak. The impact of Covid forced the conference to go virtual which dampened my excitement some.

So at the end of the day I had decided not to go and pushed the decision to the back of my mind. I figured I had no real regrets.

Then yesterday, a client asked me some questions about Summit and asked me to suggest some sessions that his people might get value out of and to give him some other notes about Summit.

So I had to pull the scab off the wound and to look at all the sessions. I of course saw a lot that applied to my client, but also some I knew I’d be interested in. And of course I saw easily a dozen names of people that I knew. This reminded me how much I’ll miss the social aspect of Summit. So it hit home. I’m going to miss Summit. The regrets are there.

I’ve given a lot of thought over the last 9 months about how my decision to apply for PA School would impact my life. Slowly pulling away from the #SQLFamily is one of them.

This doesn’t mean it’s going to be a complete break just yet. I actually have hopes of applying to speak at Summit next year since by then I should have all my pre-reqs done and have the time to attend. But in the meantime, I have to sometimes pull back from #SQLFamily events to focus on school and I’d be lying if that didn’t hurt a bit. What smooths this some though is exactly how much I’m enjoying my work to move towards PA School. So, on the balance, it’s worth it so far.

Fall Semester

Just a quick update for those who have been following my career change. Two weeks ago I started the fall semester of classes. This time around I’m taking a slightly lighter workload than last spring, only two classes instead of the three I took this past spring. They’re also full semester classes, not the 6 week accelerated O-Chem class I took over the summer. This makes the work load a bit easier.

On the other hand, my A&P II Lab is at 8:00 AM on a Monday morning! That’s not the ideal way to start the week, but it could be worse. Fortunately the professor is fairly dynamic and it’s not a snooze fest. I mean where else can I spend a Monday morning digging around in a pig’s heart trying to pick out stuff like chordae tendineae (the literally “heart strings” of a heart) and the bicuspid valve and other valves. Yeah, that’s the way I roll on a Monday morning!

Sadly, the worst part of the schedule is actually Wednesday afternoon between the A&P II lecture that ends just before 4:00 PM and the Bio II lab that begins at 6:00 PM. It’s not worth it in my mind to hop in the car to pop home, grab food and drive back to campus so I’ve been exploring the food options near the campus. The first week found me getting two slices of pepperoni pizza and can of soda for about $6.50. I couldn’t complain in the price. Unfortunately I had forgotten my water bottle and the salt levels were high enough I was pretty thirsty during lab. The second week found me checking out the Chinese food place nearby. I hadn’t eaten there in years. Let’s just say their Sesame Chicken is no match for what I get at Lee Lin’s! We’ll see what this week brings.

You’ll notice I didn’t mention an actual Bio II lecture. Well that’s because there is none. It’s more of an online class. My General Psych class in the spring was hybrid, one in-person lecture and one recorded. This is more self-study, with review the PowerPoints and readings and other links. This does concern me. It’s not that the topic is all that hard, it’s more I have to remember to actually set aside time to go through it and actually take notes like I would in an actual lecture. I found myself realizing last night that the homework and quiz were due at midnight last night, not 6:00 PM Wednesday (like the prelab) is and was hurrying through them. I’ll have to do better for next week.

Meanwhile I still wait to hear about the tech position I’m supposedly in the running for.

So that’s where things are. This week. We’ll see in a few more weeks!

That said, I do think I’m fully prepped for the first A&P Lab practical quiz next week, though I should bone up on the coronary blood vessels! (side note, the arteries have cool names like the Anterior Interventricular Artery, while the veins, like the one parallel to the AIV is simply the Great Cardiac Vein. It’s almost like someone got bored naming the veins.

It was a Dark and Stormy Night…

Ok, wasn’t so much stormy as much as just raining, but I was headed towards Knox Cave again. People often ask me what my favorite cave is. Honestly, there is no answer. I have some caves I like less than others (cough, Parks Ranch Cave in New Mexico) and some I like more than others. Knox is in that latter category. It’s what I could call an “optionally vertical” cave. By that I mean it has a ladder at the bottom of the entrance sinkhole. Some adults prefer a belay (and under 16 it’s basically mandatory).

The brief amount of vertical is one of the reasons I like this particular cave. The other is that geologically, it’s fairly interesting. For one thing, it passes through three distinct layers of limestone, though I’ve only really seen two of them, the Coeymans and Manlius. Below the Manlius is the Cobleskill-Brayman. There’s a brief spot this can be seen from the main part of the cave, but otherwise, getting to it is quite difficult and I haven’t done it.

Besides seeing distinct types of limestone, the cave is basically a series of parallel fissures that give the cave a certain geometry that I like. As a result of these fissures, there’s a section I call the “Foundation of the Gods” since it’s almost like large foundation blocks were put in a 2-3 rows parallel to each other. Only I really call it that, but for those curious to the area I mean, I’m referring to the passage that leads back to the so called “Mudroom”.

This part of the cave I rarely get back to these days for a variety of reasons, but one in particular is interesting to note. Getting into the Mudroom is not necessarily easy. It requires a bit of contortion to navigate a tight crawl that ends in a passage where one has to rotate to a sitting position before standing. We’ve determined the limiting factor at getting in or out is femur length. It’s not easy, and I’ve found my cave suit often sticks to the cave mud in the crawl so I find myself crawling into the shoulders of my cave suit, but not really moving. It’s frustrating. One ends up breathing a bit heavily and feeling stressed.

Well over a decade ago a buddy of mine and my son and I decided to go into Knox and get at least as far as the Mudroom. My friend’s intent was to collect some gas level data for a project he’s been working on. One of the gasses measured is CO2 levels. His monitor immediately started to alarm as soon as he started to measure the level. This had never happened before. In other words, the CO2 levels here were higher than any other cave he had measured things in up to that point. Well, funny enough CO2 levels are correlated to hyperventilation and can induce feelings of stress. For once I could honestly say “it’s the cave, not me.” (ok, honestly, it’s partly me, I’m larger than I was as a freshman college student cave so that has made this a bit harder to get into.)

One last detail that makes this area interesting, is if you can get into a crawlway past the Mudroom, after about a dozen feet, with a bit of further contortion one can get into a decent sized room that has a unique feature in it: a well pipe from the surface that goes right through it. It’s been even longer since I’ve been into this room though.

Another area I haven’t been too in decades, but hope to get back to is an area called “The Alabaster Room”. To safely get back there a climb needs to be rigged and then a tight crawl followed. This room is the first place I gave very serious thought to what might be involved in a rescue. The crawl sort of comes into the top of the room and you have to lower yourself down into it. While doing that the one and only time I was there, my foot slipped and I slid about a body length down the wall onto the floor. I had to sit there for about 30 seconds while I tested moving my feet then legs then arms to make sure nothing was broken. Fortunately nothing was otherwise I realized that getting me out of there would have been a very serious issue. This is one part of the cave I do hope to get back to someday again soon.

In any event, it last night was a rather short, uneventful trip where I got wetter outside the cave than in due to the rain, but it was good to be back underground again.

Two last notes: Knox Cave is closed from October 1st through May 15th. Please do not enter the caving during this time.

In addition if you lack proper training or equipment, please do not go caving on your own. I’m always more than willing to take beginners and teach you how to safely cave. I can also provide equipment.

A third note: Knox requires a permit (which is fairly easy to obtain, but please make sure you do!)

Next Steps

Figured it was time to update folks on where I stand on my transition towards applying to Physicians Assistant school. I’ve mentioned that I have a number of prerequisites I have meet in order to be able to apply. For example, since I had never taken Organic Chemistry in college, I had to get that out of the way. I have a number of other classes too and in fact just started my next round for this semester, namely Anatomy & Physiology II and Bio II. Both are with professors I had previously (though my Bio II professor for lab and lecture I had only for lab previously). In any case, classes started yesterday and I’m looking forward to them.

But, the biggest prereq that had been weighing on my mind had been my patient contact hours. I need at least 1000 of them. I had put this off until recently because I had a lot of other things on my plate and wanted to give them my focus. Several people had told me “Oh, you’ll have no problems getting them. Albany Medical Center is hiring like crazy.” I was hopeful, but a bit cautious. I had actually applied for a job months ago and gotten rejected almost immediately. My suspicion was that my resume was purely IT tech and didn’t even make the first cut. This time around I moved stuff around and emphasized my work with the National Cave Rescue Commission as an instructor and my being a part of the Medical Interest Group. But again crickets. I was starting to get nervous. I finally decided to ask a friend for a favor as they had some inside contacts. Strangely, while I rarely mind doing this for friends of mine if I can, I feel uncomfortable asking others for such help. In any case, while chatting with them on line, my phone rang and it was Albany Medical Center (small aside, sadly the reason I have their number in my phone is because of when my father was dying there, I needed to mark it as a number that would get through my “do not disturb” hours.)

At first I thought my friend was being supremely efficient. But no, it was simply a coincidence. This was a call from someone in the Labor and Delivery department asking me to come in. Now, fortunately, being a consultant I have flexibility to set my hours, so I was able to schedule to come in the next day (last Thursday).

First, I have to say, part of the job definitely seemed fascinating. But, as the interviewer quickly realized and admitted, it probably did not fit my needs for the number of patient contact hours. Then, something happened that is one of those “never do in an interview” moments, but one of us pulled out our cell phones. Fortunately it was her. She was texting her counterpart in the Emergency Department seeing if they were available then and there to meet with me. Sadly they weren’t. But she promised to follow up.

Sure enough, on Friday I received a call asking me to come in. Unfortunately I was in a meeting with a client so it was very brief and came down to “Can you come in Monday at 10:30 and if so, go to the Peds ED Triage and ask for so and so. And would you be able to shadow that day?” Really no more details than that. But I’m good at following orders and sure enough yesterday I was there at 10:30 asking for the indicated person. I was escorted upstairs to meet with them who transferred me over to their boss. She and I talked for no more than 5 minutes when she asked me if I had time to shadow a patient tech or two. I of course said yes. How better to get a feel for what my work would be. I ended up spending about 3x longer than expected and followed 3 patient techs.

I can’t go into details other than to say it was both overwhelming and thrilling. Being in the ED there’s the opportunity to do a lot, even at the level of a patient tech. Sure, a lot of it is simply scut work: restocking supply cabinets, doing nasal swabs, handing charts to doctors. But I’m ok with that. Honestly, I think that sort of work is critical and often overlooked and despite my goal to be a PA, certainly not beneath me.

But there’s potential for a lot more. There’s simple stuff like taking EKGs. But there’s also the opportunity to being involved in assisting when trauma patients come in, doing CPR and observing a lot. For what I want to do, I think this is the perfect fit!

So, now the waiting for the paperwork!

Why Bicycling Can Be Hard

I’ll start off my apologizing for two things: First there are no pictures, and second this is basically a rant.

As many of my readers know, I love to bicycle. Last week I wrote about buying my new bike. The first few days I took it out for short rides, call them test rides. I have been slowing expanding the envelope of how comfortable I feel with the bike. For example its braking characteristics are a bit different so I’m learning how fast I can safely stop.

So that said, Sunday was the 2nd annual CASSUG BBQ. The location is about 10 miles from my house. I did this ride last year and figured a good 20 mile round trip was a good expansion of my test rides (more on that distance in a little bit). One nice thing about this particular ride is that a fair portion of it is on a bike trail. Despite a headwind from the north, I made it to the bike trail without much problem. Then about 1-2 miles in I approached one of the underpasses and started to note debris all over the trail. For the next 1/2 mile or so the trail varied from covered with sticks, sawdust and other debris to totally rutted. From what I could tell, some maintenance crew had been through clearing trees and replacing probably a water line or other underground line. It was quite clear there was little regard for keeping the trail passible while this was done. I preserved on, but was annoyed.

I was even more annoyed when I noticed at the north end of this area of work, there was an actual detour sign. There had been no such warning coming from the south. This got me thinking, you’d never see this on a road for cars. In such a case, even if the road were left open, there would at least be signs in BOTH directions warning drivers.

After the BBQ, because I was feeling good and because I have certain goals each month, and one of them is a long ride of a particular distance, decided to try for that goal on Sunday, in this case 40 miles. So I rode further along the trail before turning around. This was a nice pleasant ride and I got to see more than I had in the past. For those who are local, this included biking UNDER the Twin Bridges, which was sort of cool.

Once I turned around, I figured when I hit the detour, I’d follow the signs and end back up on the trail past the bad section. Sure enough I followed the first detour sign and then… nothing. There were no more signs showing how to get back on to the bike trail past the broken up section. Again, I can’t imagine road maintenance would be quite so blithe about such a thing (and in fact, right near my house there’s been a bridge under repair for 3-4 months now and all the detour signs are clearly posted).

Fortunately I had a good sense of where I was and a good sense of direction so I followed the city streets in the right general direction. Suddenly I came across another, different bike trail headed in the right direction. I figured this was great, I’d avoid traffic and enjoy the ride.

Sadly I was again mistaken. This bike trail varied from paved for about 100 yards to gravel for another 100 yards back to paved and then back to gravel. There seemed to be no rhyme no reason for these changes, it was almost like someone randomly decided to pave only sections of it. This trail eventually dumped me out on one of the most potholed roads I’ve ever been on.

Fortunately that was only about 3 blocks from the end of the original bike trail and from there I was back on track. I finally got back on course and headed south. Of course by now the headwind had done a 180 and was now coming from the south. (This seems to be a truism on bike rides!)

In any event, I decided to take a different route home in order to hit my 40 mile mark. It was bit slower than I would have liked, but I made it. So that goal for the month was complete.

But, I’ll admit, I’m still annoyed. Bike trails are often afterthoughts and even when they are built are often poorly maintained or when work is done, treated as the bicyclists aren’t important.

I love to bicycle and have for decades. I will bicycle for pleasure. I will bicycle to run errands. I will bicycle to save gas and cut down carbon emissions. I will bicycle on back roads, bike trails, or even busy streets. I’ll bike wherever it’s legal.

I’d love it for more folks to bicycle. But honestly, it’s hard to encourage others to bicycle when the routes dedicated to them are often poorly maintained or don’t go where folks need or want to go. I’m glad to see there’s a growing network of bike trails near me. I’m just hoping that they’re correctly maintained and when there are necessary closures and the like that we get proper signage and detours.

Anyway, this post is rambling, a bit like my ride, but I hope you get my point. Let’s not treat bike trails as an afterthought.

A New Relationship

I’ll admit, it’s taken me awhile to get this far. But over the weekend I started a new relationship. My last one had lasted about 32 years. In fact it started right after college. And boy was she a beaut. She’s been with me to Lake George multiple times and we’ve seen a lot of local back roads and other locations. She’s been mostly faithful. A few times there have been breakdowns and I can say we’ve had a few flat times along the way. But, it was fun. But it was time to move on. Things had changed. And she was developing rust spots and the years were showing. And honestly as, much as I enjoyed her, there were quirks along the way.

I’ll still keep her in the garage and go out with her from time to time, probably in the winter months, but my new one is so much better.

This weekend I went down to New Jersey to pick up my new friend. It was the closet place I could find the perfect match. And trust me I had looked closer. I look forward to years of adventures and trips with my new friend.

Randi drove down with me to keep me company. She was definitely behind me in this endeavor. She knows how much I enjoyed spending time with my last one and how much I’ll spend time with my new one.

Oh wait, you do realize I’m talking about my bicycle right? Seriously, the comment about rust spots should have been the giveaway!

Ok, enough of being coy and all that. Now the details.

The 520 and earlier

After college my mom had bought me a Trek 520 as a graduation gift. I’ve always loved bike riding and this was an upgrade and a replacement from an earlier, used bicycle I had gotten in high school. That one was lovely, but by the time I had acquired it was well over a decade old and was showing its age. It failed me in a dramatic fashion as somehow the front fork collapsed into the wheel somersaulting me over the handlebars. I suspect somehow the front axle had come loose, I had hit a bump, the frame and forks went up, the tired didn’t, and when the fork came back down went in between the forks. The details don’t really matter other than the fact I woke up to seeing a CDTA bus coming towards me. My first thoughts were “why is there a CDTA bus coming at me? Why am I laying on the road? Wasn’t I napping and about to bike to the rockclimbing cliffs?” Needless to say I didn’t make the cliffs that day. I did make it ou to lunch with my aunt a few days later who did let me know my swollen lower lip did make me look like a duck. Thanks Aunt Miki.

I will add a serious note here. I had not ridden that bike for a few weeks because my helmet had been locked on campus at RPI and I had just gotten it back the day before. I shudder to think what would have happened had I NOT had a helmet on that day. I very clearly had hit the pavement with the front of my head. I had been a huge proponent of helmets before than and am an even bigger one now. I firmly believe it saved me from serious head trauma.

Anyway, later that summer I received my new bike. A Trek 520. It was almost ideal. I saw almost. It was great for road-biking and I could take it on dirt roads without too much concern. It rode well. It was fitted with a rear-rack which I’ve used for various panniers over the years. I’ve been 1000s of miles on that bike. During the pandemic I managed to do 100 days in a row with at least 5 miles a day (except one when a damaged tire ended my ride at about 2 miles) and most days more and even did a Century Ride that summer. My first in about 35 years.

Milk (and a brownie) does the body good!

I don’t know how many tubes I’ve replaced or how many times I’ve replaced the tires, or how many water bottles I’ve gone through, but the bike as served me well. I even put enough miles on it I had to replace the middle ring up front as well as the rear cassette.

Worn from the miles

I would probably have kept riding the 520 into the sunset, but it is starting to develop some rust issues and the back axle really needs replacing and probably the tires and well at some point I decided it was time for a new bike.

Now that said, one thing that I enjoy about biking is when things all click and one simply becomes “one with the machine.” Any bicyclist will know this feeling. You and the bike are one. It responds to your every move and it’s smooth and the wheels spinning are simply an extension of your legs and your muscles. It’s honestly a beautiful moment. It doesn’t happen every ride or even the entire length of the ride, but when it does, you feel like you can ride forever.

But it was time. Time to shop around. I had actually started in 2021 but due to the pandemic finding anything was hard. Combine that with my absolute hate of shopping for stuff like this slowed me down. I did stop at the same bike shop I had bought my 520 at years ago. They didn’t have the model I was looking for and honestly, the owner’s attitude sort of turned me off. He seemed disinterested in my search and really seemed like I was bothering him. I’ve since talked to another avid biker who lives right near the shop and he says he’s felt the same way, to the point where he won’t shop there.

The Search

Anyway, I finally had narrowed it down to a Domane 2 AL last year. But every place said “oh we’re not taking delivery until 2022 at the earliest” and without the ability to actually try one I wasn’t going to put a deposit down. About 2 months ago though I started looking in earnest. I made one mistake in my search: I started at Google for a place to shop. The closest was a place in Maryland, High Mountain Sports. They didn’t have the disc brake version in stock, but after exchanging a few emails I decided I’d stop by on my way back from the NCRC weeklong in southern Virginia. It was about 2 hours out of my way, but I figured I had to at last try the fit. It was pretty good. It convinced me the Domane was probably the bike for me. I did end up buying a helmet there. I had wanted to get a new one for awhile and figured if I couldn’t buy a bike that day, I should at least give them some business. I would recommend them if you’re in the area however (and the Deep Creek Lake area is beautiful). And the drive through the mountains was worth it.

It wasn’t until a week later when I was home I realized that the Trek website itself had a search feature for its dealers! This is where I should have started instead of Google (hence my mistake above.) I also spoke further with some biking friends and decided perhaps it was worth going all the way up to the 5 model. It has better components and 11 gears on the rear cassette giving a wide range of speeds.

Well thanks to the Trek site, I found a dealer nearby that claimed to have one in stock in the color and size I wanted. I emailed them and heard back: “Sorry, we literally just sold that the other day, we just haven’t cleared it from the system yet.” I expanded my search but nothing close by had it in stock. Finally I found Bicycle Tech in New Jersey had it. A series of emails back and forth and I planned my trip for Sunday. My concern of course was either they’d sell it in the meantime or that I’d end up hating it. Well let me cut to the chase and say it was worth the 2.5 hour drive in each direction. Turns out they sell ONLY Trek bikes, have a huge inventory in stock (in fact their showroom was packed with unpacked bicycles!) And their service and attitude was exceptional. Very friendly and helpful. It was worth it. Close to 2 hours later (after they did a final tuning before handing it off to me and jumping my car battery, which is another story) I was on my way home.

The Domane 5 AL and Thoughts

The new bike: Trek Domane 5 AL

I took it out for a ride that afternoon when I got home.

Now, that said, how do I like it?

Well I still need to get a rear rack for it (one of the few items Bicycle Tech didn’t have in stock) and move over my bike computer or get a new one.

And the geometry is definitely different. It’s a slightly shorter wheelbase from what I can tell and as a result it’s what I’ve been describing as twitchy. By that I mean it feels like any slight twitch of my arms will cause it to turn. I’m a bit afraid if I take one arm off the handlebars and am turning may find myself having the front wheel snap to far in the direction of the turn. But I’m very confident as my muscle memory for this bike develops that will stop being a concern. And I think once a get a new front back (or for now move the old one over, it’s only about 40 years old!) this will add a bit of inertia which will help resist the twitch.

I had been concerned that going from a 3-7 setup for gear to a 2-11 I’d lose the advantage of the “granny” gear” but in my two rides so far, I’m finding I really prefer the 2-11 setup. There’s definitely enough range that hill-climbing is if anything easier and there’s less hunting for the right combination of gears. Already I find myself shifting a bit more often (which in this case is a good thing) to stay at the cadence and effort I prefer.

I also find given the slightly different geometry, I’m riding with my hands on the brifters and forward part of the handlebars a bit more than I did on the 520. On the 520 I was generally riding on the cross-bar section of the handlebars. So in theory I’m in a better position and a slightly more aerodynamic one. And I find it comfortable except for one important detail I’m going to have to work on. I’m finding that even after about 5 miles, the palms of my hands are very sore, almost like I’m pinching a nerve. I’m working on hand position to solve this but it will take some work. It’s really the only concern I have in terms of fit. If I can’t solve this, I may have issues. But I’m confident I can. My 2nd ride was more comfortable than the first, despite it being about a mile longer.

And the brifters. Yes, that’s apparently the right word. They are a combination brake and shifter mechanism. I’ll admit, I’m worried about servicing these in the future, but for now they’re pretty good. Basically, in the standard riding position, I can brake and shift all without moving my hand. It’s taking some getting used to, especially remembering which way to shift to increase or decrease the gear ratio but it’s quickly becoming a very natural motion. I think I’ll come to love these.

The disc brakes. These are taking some getting used to and I’m still breaking in the brakes. But I can get an idea of exactly their stopping power. This is generally a good thing. But I will have to keep an eye, especially on a wet ride, that I don’t suddenly lock up the front brake and find myself doing a somersault over the handlebars.

Overall, I think I’ve found a great new partner for my longer rides. But I’l be keeping the 520 around for a few more years for those messy days or for nostalgia’s sake. You don’t just forget a partner like that.

T-SQL Tuesday – The Conference That Changed Everything For Me

My faithful readers get a double dose today, only because when I wrote my earlier post I had not yet seen the invite for this month’s T-SQL Tuesday. Otherwise I would have started with this post (and perhaps written a better version of it. This will be a bit hurried).

Like many I’m picking PASS Summit. No, not very creative, but true and accurate. I should note my first conference was SQL Connections back in I believe 2006 or 2007 in Orlando and that had a fairly important impact on me too. But my first PASS Summit in 2015 had a bigger one. I managed to go in the place of our SQL Server User Group organizer provided I attended the User Group update the day before and also represent us officially in that capacity. I of course did both.

But I also had an ulterior motive for going. Two of my best friends from college lived in Seattle and I had not seen them in years, in fact in well over a decade. So it was a good chance to catch up with them. (Let me just say, flying from the east coast to the west coast and trying to go to bed at 1:00 AM West coast time, but waking up at 7:00 AM doesn’t work well!)

That said, the real reason this conference was so important was because I met Kathi Kellenberger @AuntKathi. She gave a presentation on how to get published. For years I had given thought to writing a book and with the recent death of my father, who had always wanted to write the Great American Novel this seemed like an interesting session to attend. She of course gave a great presentation. I spoke briefly with her afterwards and then went on to the next session. But her session stayed in my mind. Later that day I tracked her down and asked further questions and before I knew it I was introduced to her rep at Apress.com. Very quickly I was discussing my idea with him and before I knew it, he expressed and interest and suggested I submit a more formal idea via email. Within a few weeks of the conference I did so and my idea was accepted. That was the easy part. Translating my thoughts to paper was a bit harder. But a year later by the 2016 Pass Summit I was a published author. My dad wasn’t around to see it, but the book was dedicated to him. It wasn’t the Great American Novel and honestly, sales never lived up to even my more pessimistic expectations, but that doesn’t matter. Someone paid me for my writings! And you can still buy a copy of IT Disaster Response: Lessons Learned in the Field, my take on combining IT Disaster response with thoughts on plane crashes and cave rescues. It’s not the most technical book, nor was it intended to be, but it was meant to be sort of a different and more holistic way of looking at responding to disasters. Instead of talking about “do backups like this” it talks about using ICS (Incident Command System) and CRM (Crew Resource Management) techniques to help respond to your disaster.

I’m not here to sell you on my book but talk about how that one conference and that one chance encounter with the right person changed my life. But I won’t stop you from buying it. It’s a quick and I thikn fun read! And you might even learn something.

I’ve enjoyed all my PASS Summits, including 2020 when I finally had a chance to present (albeit remotely) and SQL Saturdays (where I’ve learned a LOT and owe too many people to name a great deal of thanks for all they’ve taught) but that first Summit was the one that probably had the most impact.

Thanks for reading.

A Hole in the Ground

A close friend of mine had asked me earlier this summer if I could take him, his daughter, and a work colleague caving. I immediately said yes. I also tried to schedule to take a couple of other folks caving, but alas, life got in the way. I had to postpone once, but was able to finally get underground this past Sunday.

For anyone who has been living in the area or watching the weather, you’ll realize exactly how hot and humid it’s been lately. Fortunately it’s cooler and in this case less humid underground. Because of the heat and humidity I was glad to have a chance to get underground. The only danger of course is overheating in your cave clothes before getting into the cave.

Often when I take beginners, I will take them to Clarksville Cave also known as Wards-Gregory. I’ll state up front it’s not my favorite cave in New York but it’s a decent beginner cave because it has a bit of everything and given the fact it has 3 entrances, one can plan several different types of trips from a pure walking with only a few spots of crawling to a trip with a good deal of tight crawling. You can stay almost completely bone dry to getting wet up to your neck. So it has variety. It is also not to far away and the hike to the entrance is an easy one.

The main entrance is a bit of a climb, but honestly, almost anyone can do it. This opens up into a large sized room with where I can start to orient folks to the cave and caving. One question that often comes up is “is this cave going to collapse on us?” The reality is no. The fact is, especially in caves as well travelled and large as this one, if it were to collapse completely, it would have collapsed long ago. That said, things do change at times. In this case, one thing I’ve noticed, is that after Superstorm Irene, the hydraulics of this cave did change a bit. The stream that travels the length of it and that used to commonly flow through this room has diverted a bit to one side and this room is often bone dry. I point this out to newer caves. I also tell of the time, decades ago that on a particular Friday night trip after a major rain storm, the water was so high in this room there was a rooster tail of water where the water was entering and then backing up. We cancelled that trip.

But that was not the case this Sunday. The water level was among the lowest I had seen it. On a typical beginner trip we headed up stream to what is known as the Lake Room. Often this requires some wading through toe deep water, but not this time. It was dry enough one could keep their feet wet the entire time. There’s some crawling required to do this, but not much. Often beginner trips will simply be a trip to the Lake Room and then back out. This is known as the Wards section (originally Wards Cave) But I had told this group we would head back past the entrance we came in (the main aka Ward Entrance) and go through the Gregory section (no relation to my name). This has what’s known as the Duck-Under. This isn’t really a bad section of the cave. I mean the ceiling is about 5′ above the floor. However the water is often 4.5′ deep here! Very rarely it will reach each the ceiling and sump this part of the cave. I was in the cave once (but not here) once when this happened. Folks went in the Gregory entrance sump dove the Duck-Under and apparently got disorientated and needed a quick rescue.

As I had mentioned, the water level this time was particularly low so there was closer to 1′ or more of headroom here. This still means getting pretty wet and trust me, going from being wet up to your knees to just past your waist is… not necessarily fun and often causes more than a few yelps from the cold water hitting sensitive spots.

But I was with troopers and we managed this without too much gasping at the cold water.

Now I’m going to share a little secret. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve done the Wards side of the cave. As I mentioned, it’s an easy beginner trip and one I’ve done often. But the Gregory side I’ve explored far less and I suspect there’s parts I haven’t seen in decades if at all. Partly because by the time one gets in there, one’s got a goal of “get through the Duck-Under and now that we’re wet, get out.” (and to be fair, the more interesting stuff is before the Duck-Under, so once through it, there’s not much left to explore.).

In any event, we got through the Duck-Under and headed towards the Gregory exit. We hit the hot, humid air and I swear I was MORE soaked by that than the Duck-Under. With the Duck-Under I had managed to keep my upper chest and head dry. Not so much outside in the humidity.

But it was still a great end to a good trip and their were smiles all-around.

It was only later that I reflected, I think this is the first time in 3 years I’ve been in a cave purely for pleasure. I have been in caves (including Clarksville multiple times) over the past 3 years, but every time it was for cave rescue training. Those trips aren’t really caving per se. Yes, I’m in a cave, but not really showing it off or exploring it. I realized exactly how much fun I had had on this trip, especially with an enthusiastic bunch of new caves.

I’m hoping to plan at least one more trip with some beginners in the next few weeks as well as an Orientation to Cave Rescue class (which will use Clarksville on its second and final day). I don’t know if I’ll take this group to Clarksville or another local cave. We’ll see. Perhaps that time I’ll remember to take pictures!

And as always to my faithful readers, I extend the invitation if you ever want to try out caving, let me know. I can tailor trips to your level of interest and physical ability.