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Bill  On The Road

 by: Bill Oetinger  9/1/2015

The not-column

This is a not-column: a brief apology for not having a column ready this month. I've been writing these essays at the rate of one per month ever since July of 1999—way back in the last millennium—and I haven't missed a deadline for a single one of those 182 columns…until now.

Out SickMy excuse, for the most part, is sickness. At a wonderful family reunion up on the Oregon coast in the first week of August, I caught a cold. (Why do we say we "caught" a cold? Wouldn't it be more accurate to say the cold caught us?) It seemed like a minor inconvenience at the time, over and done with and out of my system after a few days. I thought I was over it and 99% recovered when it came roaring back. It very quickly degenerated into what the doc calls a secondary bacterial infection. Within the space of a couple of days, I fell into the deep end of the germ pool and was laid out flat. The infection—and the fluid—in my lungs started flirting with full-blown pneumonia.

I got all the right meds from Kaiser and hunkered down in the trenches, just barely surviving. I don't mean I was actually in danger of dying, but in the dark hours of the night, it sometimes felt that way. It was brutal for almost two weeks, and I can readily imagine that if one had a weak heart or other health issues, this level of stress might just carry one off. I've never been so hammered. Aside from the exhausting, non-stop coughing, what it boils down to is simple: if you can't breathe, not much else matters.

So I've been sleeping, or dozing in bed, for close to 20 hours a day for the last little while. Only in the past few days have I started doing normal things again. Short walks and a few errands. Sitting up in a chair and reading. I feel like a patient in one of those 19th-century TB sanitariums (even including the coughing up blood part). But I think…I hope!…that I have turned the corner and that good health and fitness are not too far away. Yesterday, I got back on the bike for the first time since being ambushed by this plague. I rode to and from my bike club's annual end-of-summer picnic. 23 miles, round trip. I felt pretty good. A fair bit of huffing and wheezing, even at 12 mph on the flats, but at least I didn't pass out and fall over in the ditch.

That brings me back to this not-column. You'd think I could manage to whip out some puff piece, now that I'm up and about again. Well, I did try. I had this idea for a column about all the great climbs the Tour of California could do, either as mountaintop finishes or uphill time trials. (You've heard me grousing about this pretty much every year in my AToC reviews: that the organizers are not taking advantage of all the good climbs we have.) But when I sat down to bang out that copy, I realized I needed to do a lot more research to do the topic justice, and I simply didn't have the time nor the energy. (My creative energy has been as sapped by this malaise as has my physical energy.)

After typing an opening paragraph this morning, I sat and stared at the monitor for most of two hours, with time off to consult books about California's climbs. In the end, I just wasn't getting anywhere. Call it writer's block or call it being sick as a dog under the porch. Either way, the results are the same: zilch.

So this will have to be my puff piece: many words saying I have nothing to say. I promise to be back next month with some fresh energy and a more manageable topic.

Bill can be reached at srccride@sonic.net



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