Rides to Remember

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As the cycling season draws to a close, I look back over the memorable rides that I have enjoyed. This year, my cycling season ended abruptly when a car turned in front of me in Taiwan, but my recovery has been helped by remembering many wonderful rides. It’s been a fun-filled year with everything from contemplative cyclotouring to ultra-fast brevets, with loaded touring and even a little cyclocross thrown into the mix.

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After a 6-week winter break from riding, it’s always amazing to see the mountains again and get out of Seattle for day-long rides. Last January’s gorgeous weather made these early-season rides even more special.

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Over the years, these early-season rides have incorporated more and more gravel, and now it’s a rare ride that doesn’t venture off the pavement for the fun and solitude that is found on these forest roads. As much fun as it is to cycle with all over the world, my hometown friends are absolutely the best.

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2015 was a “PBP year”, which meant making sure to ride the 200, 300, 400 and 600 km brevets. This was no hardship: The courses of the Seattle International Randonneurs get better every year, and there are plenty of great people to ride with. Thanks to excellent teamwork, several of us were able to qualify for the Cyclos Montagnards’ R60 honors. The brevets were fun, and they helped us to get in shape for the big ride in France.

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April saw me in Japan, where I had been invited to join a team for the 24-hour Flèche team ride. In addition to that memorable experience, I enjoyed lovely mountain rides with friends. The cherry trees were in full bloom, making Japan even more special than usual.

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Testing bikes to the limit is memorable, no matter what. A trip with Ryan to the San Juan Islands culminated with climbing Mount Constitution at midnight. A few weeks later, Mark and I went on a “fast camping trip” to the end of the road at Carbon Glacier on Mount Rainier. We encountered some pretty rough terrain, but the lasting memory was how much fun it was to get away for 24 hours of fast-paced touring.

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The big event of the year was Paris-Brest-Paris. While I was in France, I was able to enjoy other memorable rides. We rode a lap of the Poly de Chanteloup hillclimb course with 1965 PBP winner Robert Demilly (above on the left).

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Together with my friend Richard Léon (himself a veteran of many PBPs), we visited Jean Hoffmann, a randonneur who turned professional and rode in the Tour de France, before returning to the ranks of the randonneurs and riding PBP several times. (He is in the center of the photo above, holding the stem of Lyli Herse’s bike.) Now aged 81, Monsieur Hoffmann took us on a ride over a small mountain pass, displaying the form of an ancien professional. (The full story with photos from his career is in the Winter 2015 Bicycle Quarterly.)

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A highlight of returning to Seattle was the Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting (above) – a weekend of riding on paved and gravel roads in the company of riders who quickly became friends. What fun it was!

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There were more memorable cycling adventures, like exploring the old roads near Kobuchizawa in Japan (above), touring in the Cascades (photo at the top of this post), and other rides in Washington State, Japan and Taiwan. One theme that weaves itself through most of these rides is that they’ve been enjoyed in the company of friends. For me, that is the best part of any ride.

What were your most memorable rides of the past year?

Posted in Rides | 30 Comments

Our Books – So Much More Than Collectors’ References

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Books about bicycle history and classic bikes are easily misunderstood: Are they intended for bicycle collectors? Do you need to be an aficionado of René Herse to enjoy reading about him and his riders? Our books are written for readers who want to learn from and be inspired by cyclists passionate about our sport. It really is that simple, and it has little to do with the difference between first- and second-generation Huret Allvit derailleurs.

Of course, I am not opposed to collecting bicycles and bike parts. Without collectors, we’d have little information on how past bicycles were built and how they ride. Collectors have helped us make our books, because they saw a larger purpose in their collections. Old bikes can provide windows into a past that still has the power to inspire us. In other words, our books are less about the bikes than about the stories they tell:

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Our first book, The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles, features 50 of the most amazing bicycles ever built. Of course, amazing bikes come with amazing stories. Stories of rides so far out of the ordinary that they required extraordinary bikes. Stories of builders whose passion for the open road made them perfect their machines to a point that no longer was commercially reasonable. And stories of riders who loved riding so much that their exploits matched the exceptional bikes they rode.

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We take you alongside Vélocio on the mountain passes that early-1900s racers considered insurmountable. Vélocio rigged up dual drivetrains, so that he could use one for the up-, the other for the downhills. Peek into the world of André Reiss, the builder of the amazing Reyhand bikes, who almost single-handedly invented the modern constructeur bike in the 1930s. See Alex and Maria Singer, dressed oh-so-stylishly, during a spirited winter ride in post-war Paris. Witness Jean Dejeans and Paulette Porthault flying during the Poly de Chanteloup hillclimb race (above).

Collectors also enjoy The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles, since we made sure that each of the 50 bikes shown is as close as possible to its original specification (and we list parts that aren’t in an appendix). But to me, the passion of these bikes is not about their rarity or their individual components. It’s about the rides and friendships they inspired.

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For our second book, we turned our attention to Competition Bicycles, but again, it’s not a book intended only for fans of racing bikes. The bikes tell stories of human adventures, like the contrast between Gino Bartali’s bike for the 1949 Tour de France – still stuck in the 1930s with long-trail geometry and a derailleur that only touched the chain when he shifted (below) – and Fausto Coppi’s machine for the same race, a thoroughly modern Bianchi that used derailleurs as we know them today. The bikes reflected these racers’ world-views. Examining them in detail, I understood why Italy was split between the urbane, modern fans of Coppi and the traditionalists who were devoted to Bartali. Most of the bikes in the book tell equally fascinating stories, having been ridden by famous champions.

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The Competition Bicycle shows how modern performance bikes developed, from racing high-wheelers to Tony Rominger’s lugged steel Colnago hour record bike (which bridged the gap to the modern age with its carbon-fiber disc wheels). Competition is not limited to racing bikes, and some of the most captivating machines were built for the races of the Paris newspaper couriers, for mountain biking (Jacquie Phelan’s Cunningham), for the first Race Across America (with the then-fashionable aero components), and for Paris-Brest-Paris (which was a competition during the 1950s). Assembling and curating the incredibly rare machines for The Competition Bicycle was one of the biggest projects I’ve ever undertaken, but I think it was worth the effort.

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Our biggest tome so far has been been René Herse: The Bikes • The Builder • The Riders. Again, some Herse aficionados were a bit disappointed, because we don’t dwell on when Herse went from pressed-in stem caps to screwed-in ones. Instead, the photos and text convey the passion that Herse and his riders felt not so much for their bikes, as exquisite as they were, but for the rides that these machines made possible.

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Randonneuring, touring, or competitions like the Poly de Chanteloup (above) – for these riders, cycling was not just a pastime, it was a way of life.

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Even the studio photos of the most amazing Herse bikes are not just for collectors. Anybody who enjoys beautiful bicycles will marvel at the elegant design and flawless execution of the machines made by the “magician of Levallois”.

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It’s been especially gratifying that some of the most positive comments have come from readers who are anything but collectors. A friend’s wife enjoyed the book because of the stylish cycling clothes these riders wore. Others loved the tandeming couples shown in the historic photos.

Constance Winters summed it up in her blog, Lovely Bicycle:

“Although normally I am a fast reader, it took me weeks to get through René Herse. Not because it was hard-going (quite the opposite), but because it made me strangely excitable. In the process of reading it, I was given to sudden urges to jump up and pace the room at random. Other sections forced me to pause and mull over the information, even take notes. Far from a dry academic volume, it is a book that is thoroughly alive – bursting with stories, information and ideas.

“Nevertheless, if you are not the bookish type, be assured that it gives satisfaction also as a picture-book. The photos [are] as stunning in their variety as they are in their narrative qualities.”

You can read her full review here. “Bursting with stories, information and ideas” – I am happy that Constance was touched by the René Herse book in the same way as I was when I researched this amazing story.

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Some day, I want to write a René Herse book for collectors. There is a wonderful story there, too, as Herse refined his bicycles in every detail until they were (almost) unimprovable. From Herse’s archives, we can trace which employee was building the frames during each period. We have good estimates of how many bikes Herse built each year. The different catalogues, order forms and other correspondence have an aesthetic quality that matches that of the bikes. It’ll be a neat book, but until then, we hope that all readers enjoy the passionate story of René Herse, his bikes and their riders. This story has little to do with bicycle collecting – it’s all about the beauty and joy that cycling brings to our lives. I hope it will inspire future generations as much as it has inspired me!

Click here for more information about our books.

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Compass Knickers: Back In Stock, and in New Sizes

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The Compass knickers have been our most popular product ever. The gray color sold out within days, and the tan ones weren’t far behind!

Our local supplier worked overtime, and we now have the second batch of gray knickers in stock. (To save time, we limited ourselves to only one color for this rush order.)

Matt, who makes the knickers right here in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle, reports that they are devilishly difficult to make, with their hidden, adjustable, elastic cuffs. He is the only one at his company who can sew them, and we are glad he did an awesome job for us once again.

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We are now offering the gray color in sizes 38 and 40 in response to many requests. People had specific concerns about how sizes larger than 36 should fit, so we prototyped those sizes and had 2 cyclists test the size 40. They both really liked them, and they fit well. The cut of the knicker is on the roomy side on the sides of the thigh, so the fabric doesn’t constrict you when cycling – it’s a bit hard to see it in the photos above, but it was one thing that our testers noticed while they stood in front of the mirror, before they took them out on the bike. Once on the bike, they really liked the fit, and the loose fit didn’t billow in the wind or slow them down otherwise.

The tan color also is available in the sizes from our introductory run, sizes 28 through 36, but not in the larger sizes 38 and 40 yet.

The top photo shows the knickers in summer, but as you can see in the bottom photo, they also work well when worn with tights underneath. The knickers don’t have a pad – wear them over your normal cycling shorts. When riding, they disappear (I did the last third of Paris-Brest-Paris with them, and they never slowed me down), but off the bike, you look stylish and presentable.

Click here for more information or to order your Compass knickers.

 

Posted in Clothing | 4 Comments

Price Reduction for International BQ Subscriptions

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Good news: We’ve found a less expensive way to send Bicycle Quarterly to our international subscribers! Our readership has grown so much that we are now able to access bulk mailing options. We are passing on that reduced mailing cost to our subscribers and have lowered our international subscription rates.

Click here for Bicycle Quarterly subscription rates.

 

If you subscribe now, your Winter issue of BQ will be included in our “mid-term” mailing between two issues, and you have a good chance to get your first BQ by the holidays.

For U.S. subscribers, we’ve made similar efforts to keep the subscription price low. Consider this: When Bicycle Quarterly first started 13 years ago as a slim 24-page black & white issue, the annual subscription price was $ 32. Today you get full-color, 90-to-100-page magazines for just $ 36.

Click here for information about Bicycle Quarterly subscriptions.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Bicycle Quarterly Flip Book

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To give you a better impression of Bicycle Quarterly, we have created an 33-page flip book online with a sampler of articles from recent issues.

Click here or on the images to get a virtual look at Bicycle Quarterly. In the flip book, you can read samples of a bike test, a technical article about tire performance, a historical article on women in randonneuring, a product test, and our “Skill” and “Icon” columns. The flip book provides an overview over the range of articles and the quality of presentation you can expect from Bicycle Quarterly.

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We often hear from new readers how surprised they are about the superb quality of photography, writing and printing in Bicycle Quarterly. We wish we could show the magazine to more potential readers…

One of the challenges for small magazines is that our newsstand presence is very limited. Newsstand sales typically make a loss, but they bump up circulation numbers, so magazines can charge their advertisers a higher ad rate. We are financed more than 90% by subscribers and less than 10% by advertisers, so we don’t benefit from artificially high circulation numbers. Of course, being financed by subscribers, rather than advertisers, is part of what makes Bicycle Quarterly unique…

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The flip book gives you an impression of Bicycle Quarterly, even if it cannot show the heavy archival paper and beautiful print quality. Enjoy the paging through the articles, and forward the link to your friends who may be interested in Bicycle Quarterly:

http://www.bikequarterly.com/about_BQ.html

And if you like what you see, please subscribe. The risk is small – we offer a “Money Back” guarantee for the unused portion of your subscription, if you decide to change your mind.

Posted in Bicycle Quarterly Back Issues | 10 Comments

Fuji Super Randonnée 600 km

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I like climbing, and I like mountain scenery, so I was excited when the Audax-Club Parisien introduced the Super Randonnée 600 (SR 600) brevets a few years ago. The idea behind the SR 600 is simple: Over 600 km (373 miles), the route climbs at least 10,000 m (33,000 ft). The best courses for me are not pure climb-fests, but beautiful routes with a good rhythm of climbing and descending.

The Super Randonnées have taken off in Japan – little wonder in a country with so many mountain roads. A year ago, Hahn and I attempted the Nihon Alps SR 600, but had to abandon at the half-way point due to a variety of factors, not least the navigation problems when we could not read the cue sheet and our phone’s GPS stopped working (BQ 51).

This autumn, while staying in Japan, I wanted to make another attempt at completing a SR 600. Unfortunately, the Nihon Alps route is currently interrupted by a landslide on Iida Pass, so I opted for the Fuji SR 600 instead. This route includes more than 11,000 m of climbing, so you get an extra 2 hours beyond the standard 50 hour time limit. 600 km in 52 hours – that should be do-able!

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I brought the “Mule”, my Rinko bike, to Japan. Like the Japanese, I took the train to the starting point with my bike in its Rinko bag.

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An hour after leaving Tokyo, I assembled my bike at the Takao train station and started my ride. The first part went through relatively densely populated areas. This time, I had opted to bring a GPS system. Fellow randonneur Tak Kawano had helped me set up the Fuji SR 600 route.

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In addition to the route sheet (which was all in Kanji), the organizers’ web site had pictograms for each change of direction. Lacking a printer, I copied them onto several pieces of paper. A little over 100 turns seemed manageable for that long a ride.

I often think of music when describing cycling routes. Rolling courses can be light-hearted like a Schubert Waltz, mountainous ones often have the drama and pathos of a Beethoven symphony. The Nihon SR 600 course reminded me of the modern composer Stockhausen, with a disjointed rhythm that was hard to discern. Just like Stockhausen’s music probably puts exceptional demands on the skills of performers, I found the Fuji SR 600 to be an exceedingly challenging ride.

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The first 125 km included a very nice mountain pass (above), but otherwise were mostly flat. How could this be on a Super Randonnée 600? Simple math dictates that the course had to climb at an average of 3.7%, if one assumes that half of it is up, and half is down! I already had covered more than 20% of the distance, and yet hadn’t really started climbing yet.

The answer became apparent during the first night, which turned into a surreal, vertiginous ride that went from almost sea level to more than 1800 m (6000 ft) – multiple times.

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It started with a very nice, 25 km-long climb. SR 600 rides have control points where you take a photo of your bike, complete with the red-and-white SR 600 plate. Control Point 3 was this amazing viaduct. It’s incredible to me that a railroad used to go up this huge mountain pass!

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Night had fallen by the time I reached the top. I stopped at a convenience store to eat dinner. Japanese convenience stores offer a decent selection of deli foods, so this was no hardship.

Then the climbing started in earnest. I went up and up for hours, then down at incredible speeds, before launching straight into the next climb, over and over again. I passed through a town built around Onsen hot springs that smelled like sulphur, then climbed a few hours more. Sometimes the gradient was so steep that I had to rise out of the saddle. Most of the time, I worked hard to crank my smallest gear. This is where the course was making up for the flat portion during the first part of the ride!

Without much rest, my legs were getting tired.

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The night was clear, but there was no moon. As I gained elevation and left the trees behind, I saw an incredible panorama of stars. The Milky Way stretched almost from horizon to horizon.

There was hardly any traffic, but when a car passed me, I got to experience a “musical road”. Tiny grooves had been cut into the road, perpendicular to the direction of travel, at varying intervals. When a car went over these grooves, the tires made high-pitched sounds. If the car went at the recommended speed, it all coalesced into a recognizable piece of music. Only in Japan! It added to the surreal effect of the ride.

When I reached the highest point (above) in the early morning hours, I saw a sign indicating a temperature of -1°C (30°F). I had 1600 m (5200 ft) of vertical descending ahead. I didn’t waste much time at the top. I donned all the clothes that I had removed during the steep climb before launching into the abyss.

The cold air and lack of pedaling made me sleepy. Once I reached lower elevations, I stopped at the first convenience store, ate, and then napped for an hour.

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The next day saw another climb above the clouds. This was another beautiful road, frequented mostly by sports cars.  When a car passed me every ten minutes or so, there was a 50% chance that it was a Porsche, Lotus, older Nissan GT-R or other interesting machine, all driven respectfully.

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A few hours later, I was on top of the world again, with a view down onto clouds and mountain ranges (photo at the top of the post).

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The descent was amazing, with the autumn colors out in full force. What followed were a long set of rollers, for lack of better word, except that each roller was 3 miles long and climbed rather steeply. By now, my legs were most definitely getting tired.

When I pined for a cold drink, I followed signs to a small pass slightly off the course, surprised to find a full restaurant. Two old ladies were cooking, and in my broken Japanese, I asked them what would be quickest. Almost immediately, they brought a steaming bowl of soba. What a great second breakfast!

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The relentless up-and-downs took me to the Yatsugatake Mountains. This volcanic range is one of my favorite landscapes in Japan. Its dry, loose soil makes for a more open landscape and more even gradients. It’s an area of grand vistas and great roads.

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Night was falling again when I reached the second-highest pass of the ride. The exhilarating descent went through switchback after switchback. Then the course joined a major highway that wound its way through the mountains. Without warning, the road plunged downhill for another 25 miles (40 km). In the dark, I jockeyed for position with cars while coasting downhill at probably more than 60 km/h (40 mph) for more than 30 minutes. It was intense!

I was glad to reach Kofu and start a long tour of this major town, fortunately on backroads. Now in the second night of my ride, a beautiful climb up a deserted river valley was greatly enjoyable. A surreal element was an abrupt mile-long, brightly lit tunnel that was totally deserted, which brought me to the high-elevation lakes on the flanks of Mount Fuji.

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The Fuji SR 600 derives its name from the fact that it circles Mount Fuji. At Lake Yamanaka, I was supposed to take a photo of my bike in front of the majestic volcano. In the pitch-dark night, all I could do is position my bike in front of the characteristic fence, and hope the ride organizers would accept this as proof of passage.

I traversed yet another small mountain pass, and then entered the final descent. Hahn and I had ridden this road during our first visit to Japan (BQ 48). It was even more fun at night, since there was hardly any traffic. I freewheeled for most of the next 45 km (28 miles) as the road lost almost 1000 m (3300 feet) of elevation, punctuated once in a while by a short burst of effort to crest a roller.

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It was starting to rain as I approached my goal, but it didn’t matter any longer. I had intended to catch the last train from Takao to Tokyo at midnight, but instead, I was on the first train in the morning, at 4:30. I had just enough time to Rinko my bike and eat a little before I boarded the train back to Tokyo and fell asleep, just like many of the early commuters.

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It took me 42:40 hours to complete the course – more than the Volcano-High Pass SR 600 that includes 110 km of gravel roads; more than the Raid Pyrénéen that climbs as high, but is more than 100 km longer. Why is the Fuji SR 600 so challenging?

I think it’s the rhythm – the climbing is concentrated in the middle portion, and it’s very steep. This means that you face the last third of the ride with tired legs. Add to that the cold nights in October, and it’s a true challenge. Each Super Randonnée 600 is different. They all are challenging, and you get a great sense of achievement when you complete one.

And for those not keen on riding almost non-stop, there is the Touriste version, which requires just riding 80 km (50 miles) a day, until you have completed the ride.

Further reading:

If you have ridden a Super Randonnées, we’d love to hear about your experience in the comments!

Posted in Rides | 22 Comments

Thankful for Family and Friends

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On this Thanksgiving, I am grateful for my family and friends who have helped me so much over the past two weeks, since my accident in Taiwan. I am spending the holidays with my parents, who came to Seattle from Germany to take care of me. (The photo shows me with my mother during our Thanksgiving Day walk.)

I have much to be grateful for. I suffered only relatively minor injuries, considering that I flew head-first at 30 km/h (18 mph) into the side of a car that turned suddenly in front of me. Just as importantly, the healing process has been going well. I no longer need to wear my neck brace, since my broken vertebra will heal on its own. 28 stitches were removed from my ear – the Taiwanese doctors (plastic surgeons?) did an awesome job stitching my ear back together. My hearing is not affected, and scarring should be minimal. My concussion is clearing up nicely, without memory loss or other issues associated with head trauma, but I will still need to be very careful in coming months to not have a second impact while this one is still healing.

The bandages on the incision where my clavicle was bolted together came off the day before Thanksgiving. It’s healing well. I have to keep my left arm in a sling (broken scapula), and limit the movement of my right arm (also broken), but otherwise, I am fine. My broken ribs are healing well. Soon, I’ll be able to cough without much pain. (Fortunately, a relapse of a cold I had before the accident was narrowly averted.) I even can type with 10 fingers…

I am thankful that the road to recovery has been smooth so far. Through all this, I was supported by wonderful family and friends: Stefan who accompanied me through various hospitals in Taiwan; Natsuko who came from Tokyo to take me back to Seattle and support me through my hospital stay; Hahn who organized my surgery here in Seattle and helped in many ways; my parents who came from Germany to take over my care.

Seeing their concerns and smiles kept my morale up even when things were difficult. I owe them much, and I am grateful for everything they did and do for me. Thank you!

Photo credit: Klaus Heine

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 37 Comments