Author Archives: aaronwest

Scar Tissue

I’m long overdue for some good news. The last post was a bit of a bummer, primarily saying that I was giving up in order to end the pain. My doctor was out on vacation, things weren’t going so well, and I suspected that I’d had yet another major setback. There had been talk of scar tissue complications, but given the amount of pain I was experiencing after each popping instance, my PA thought it sounded a little worse.

Finally last Thursday I was able to visit with my doctor. He gave me some good news, but rather than blab about it, I wanted to let it situate a few days and make it sure it would prove correct.

He said that it was almost definitely scar tissue. His way of wording was convincing. He said that of the top 5 things that it could possibly be, 1-4 would be scar tissue. The chances of the injury not being fixed and requiring surgery later are almost zero. I still have a labrum. It’s just that my pelvic muscles are inflamed because the scar tissue rubs them the wrong way. Every time the hip moves in a new direction, there’s an actual cut with bleeding deep down, and pain is completely normal. As I’ve found with everything involving hips, the pain can be worse than other parts of the body and takes longer to heal, so what I was enduring was completelyreasonable.

So what now?

Scar tissue does not heal. It is going to be there, although it will likely become a lesser issue over time. Some people find that they can never get completely away from it, and have to find ways to tolerate the pain. Others find that with patience and not overdoing things, it’ll gradually get better and they can be themselves again. For some people it takes longer than others.

He started me out on a low dose of prednisone. I groaned. I’ve taken it before and loathe the medication. It makes me feel bloated, keeps me up at night, and just gives me an overall blah feeling. I reluctantly took it, wanting to try anything at this point.

The problem is I had to stop taking my anti-inflammatory altogether. That had been the only thing taking the edge off the constant pain, so for the first two days on the medicine, I had a tough time. Not only did I have the prednisone side effects, but the hip felt like it was about to burst. That was Friday and most of Saturday.

Late on Saturday, as some pain medication had worn off, I felt surprisingly good. I went to sleep, and woke up the next morning still feeling good, and found that throughout the day, I didn’t require a single pain reliever. On Monday morning I still felt good. What do you know? The doctor might have been right. The prednisone has definitely helped.

Of course I cannot and don’t want to take prednisone forever. It is possible this dose will get me over the hump temporarily and I can continue improving. There’s also a possibility of getting a shot into my iliopsoas that will reduce the inflammation for a time.

The other good news is that I’ve recovered enough that my doctor thinks I am finished with physical therapy. As long as I can get around the scar tissue pain, I should be able to bike and swim as long as I don’t go too hard.

This coming weekend, my wife and I will be leaving for New York City for a week-long celebration tour of her Jeopardy win. By then I should be back on all of my anti-inflammatories, and I should be able to walk around mostly like any other human being. The thing is, as a tourist in New York, I’ll be walking a lot. It could get painful, but it’ll also be a test, and might actually be good for me to finally strengthen the hip without excessive impact. We’ll be leisurely and careful, and will make sure to have enough downtime to recover.

So this is definitely good news. At least better than last time.

Bad News is Good News?


While all of the Jeopardy excitement was going on, I was slowly rehabilitating from what has now been nearly a two-year injury. The digression was good timing, because frankly, writing about a series of progressively lengthening training rides was not going to be fascinating. The idea was that once this was all over, I would write a recap of the rehab over the last couple of months.

Some bad news threw a wrench in my plans.

After that first ride in May, and a few more in June, I was well on my way. I managed 144 miles on the bike, mostly easy, tempo rides, with 10 total hours in the saddle. I had also done a lot of therapy work, spent some time on stationary bikes, and done a few other things to get my fitness level back up. The last ride was 27 miles, and while I struggled to keep up with my friends, I found that I had some fitness. I was on my way back.

Each ride would leave me sore, although it steadily got easier and easier. I would need some recovery time, but I started feeling better faster. It was clear, steady improvement, just like the doctor ordered.

After Jeopardy, we spent our weekends traveling to visit family, and I made a short sojourn to Boone to put on my reporter hat. Finding time to ride was difficult because I had PT during the week. That always results in a little bit of soreness even though we were being careful not to push too hard. I wisely decided against riding when sore. The way it turned out, I wasn’t able to ride for a couple weeks.

A week ago on Thursday, I had a particularly tough day at therapy that included the exercise bike. I was sore that evening and the next day, and then felt better on Saturday. That was pretty much the norm. Aside from a couple hiccups, after a short recovery period I would be fine. Occasionally the hip would randomly pop and give me some added soreness for a couple of days, but it would pass.

This past Saturday, when my wife and I were sitting on a couch talking about her Jeopardy experience with my family, I moved my leg slightly to adjust. I moved it at most three inches outward.


Did you hear that? My wife said that she had. It wasn’t sore right away, but I had a feeling it would be. The next day we returned home and it was only tender, so I was encouraged it would pass. This wasn’t the first time it had popped. The other times I had written it off as scar tissue redeveloping, and I didn’t worry much. It had never popped this loudly.

It started to hurt the next day, and by Monday, it was nearly excruciating. It is hard to describe hip pain when it is bad. It feels like someone is clawing at you from your insides, and you cannot get comfortable no matter how you sit or lie down. It radiates to other parts of the leg, making each muscle feel like they had just run a marathon. Of all the different types of pain I’ve experienced, this is my least favorite.

I had to dip back into my pain medication to get through Monday. Tuesday was no better. I took half a day off work just to rest the hip, again in bed with medication.

I was concerned. This couldn’t be scar tissue, could it? I called the doctor’s office and they were also concerned. No, it didn’t sound like scar tissue to them either. Usually that doesn’t hurt as bad or last as long. They told me to stop everything except for stretching until the doctor can see me. Since he left for vacation on Wednesday, that’ll be two weeks from now.

At first I was disappointed, a little depressed even. As you blog readers know all too well, every time I begin to make some progress, something happens to set me back a ways. After the pain had barely subsided by Wednesday, and stayed about the same Thursday, I knew this was a major setback. Since I am now nearly six months from surgery, the implications are dire. Unless I am the slowest healer on the planet, it is clear that the surgery was not successful. If only the surgeon had repaired the hip instead of cutting off the torn portion, then I probably wouldn’t be in this situation.

The bad news is that I am off the bike and everything indefinitely. I have a feeling the doctor will say it is okay to pool walk or do easy swimming, but even that will probably bring back pain. It is time for a long period of rest, maybe a couple of months, maybe the rest of the year. This is no longer about me returning to the sport I love. This is about me living my life and being able to perform daily activities.

The above 800 words sound depressing, and like I said, that’s how I first interpreted them. Since then, I have actually come to a place of relief and acceptance. That’s why I think this setback was partially good news.

Knowing that I need to let myself heal has taken a weight off my shoulders. In a few weeks, I should be able to walk normally again and pain free. Rather than continue to push myself into a perpetual state of agony, I’ll enjoy being recovered and having as much mobility and comfort as possible.

The random popping should end because it only happens after workouts. That’s my hip telling me it isn’t ready. I need more time.

The potential downside is that there’s an outside chance that I’ll need another surgery. The hip may need to be completely repaired. I’ve been through this surgery once and am not excited about going through it again, but I will take that step if it’s a matter of me never being active again.

When my friends and family have heard this news, they have apologized to me, and given me plenty of prayers, support and encouragement. I cannot express enough how much it is appreciated. But this isn’t a funeral. This is part of a lengthy rebirth. Everyone goes through hurdles in life, and everyone finds a way to deal with them. While I’ve had to endure a lot more than the average person, I’ve still found a way to love life. That’s not going to change. There are plenty of adventures waiting for me. The question is whether they’ll be in a few months, next year, or yes, maybe even the year after.

In the meantime, I have this blog. My past adventures are well documented, and just recently I found a way to enjoy my passion from another perspective. That will continue. With some of this free time, there will be other avenues to get involved. I’ve already been participating with a number of local bike planning and advocacy groups. The 50 State Project may be on hold, but there are plenty of other projects waiting around the corner. Stay tuned.

My Day at BSG

starting line

It has been two years since the last time I participated in Blood, Sweat & Gears, and I’ve been looking for the opportunity to go back ever since. This year it was not in the cards for me to ride, but I got the chance to get involved in a different way. This time it was part of an article I was riding for Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine, more of which I can talk about later.

Instead of riding, I spent most of my time spectating. I was able to capture this video of the beginning, as nearly 1,000 riders rolled by to begin their 100 mile trek through the hills of the High Country. It’s amazing that it takes a full three minutes for everyone to get through.

Afterwards I spoke with Ride Director Scott Nelson about Blood Sweat & Gears, the recent Beech Mountain Metric, and the upcoming Blowing Rock Fall Classic.

From there I headed over to Snake Mountain to capture pictures of the riders as they complete one of the toughest climbs in the area. There were plenty of others nearby. They made a lot of noise, which the riders seemed to appreciate. A lot of people had been writing interesting and humorous things with chalk on the road, and they would cheer as riders made their way to the top of the climb. You can see the first to reach the top making it look easy in the video below.

I stayed up there and took pictures of riders as they finished the climb. Jeff from Weekly Rides has done that a few times, and one time he took one of my favorite pictures on the bike. That said, I didn’t see how it would be exciting to stand on a mountain and take pictures for a couple hours. To my surprise, it was a blast. My primary camera is not the greatest at taking action shots, but a good many of them came out well. After it ran out of batteries, I relied on my iPhone to take the remaining shots. There are far too many pictures to post here, so I put together a large album on Facebook that you can see here.

You can also see the photos with nice thumbnails on Feel free to contact me with the image name if you’d like a hi res version.

After a couple dozen riders had passed, all of a sudden a guy starts offering corn dogs as people reached the very top. Just the thought of offering corn dogs is hilarious, but the guy’s enthusiastic spirit kept me rolling the entire time. I have no idea what his job his, but the guy should seriously consider working in sales. A few of the riders made jokes that they would puke the corn dogs right back up after the climb. Most just smiled or laughed as they rolled past, politically declining. To my surprise, a few took the bait. He started with around eight or so corn dogs, and slowly but surely, his stock dwindled. By the time he was down to one, there were fewer takers. Maybe they didn’t believe it was a real corn dog. Eventually history was made as a rider took the last one. A cheer erupted as the last rider claimed his prize.

Mr. Corn Dog

After around noon, I decided to call it a day. If my legs had been in better shape, I could have stayed for the last rider, but I didn’t want to overwork myself. Next year I plan to return. The “Hat Trick” that Scott is putting together seems like a worthy goal for the year.

snake mountain climber

another snake mountain climber

The Winner Speaks

It is rare that I publish a guest post, yet people ask to write them all the time. I can say no to friends and acquaintances, but not to someone who wears the pants in the family. I was surprised when Andrea suggested a guest post, but I’m thrilled that she put the time into doing it, and cannot think of a better way to end the coverage of the experience. Thanks for sharing your story, honey!

Andrea and her Dom!

My brain is full of useless information. I blame my childhood love of the World Almanac Book of Facts, and all the time I spent sitting in front of the television. For years, my family members (including my husband, Mr. SteepClimbs) have asked me to try out for Jeopardy. You would think that I would jump at the chance! Trivia and television? However, I was reluctant, a fear that stems from a lifelong trying to overcome crippling shyness, and also doubt. Those Jeopardy contestants are so smart and poised. What would my short, plump, frizzy-haired self look like on television? I didn’t want to think about it.

Finally, in early 2013, I threw caution to the wind and took the online test. I fully expected nothing would come out of it, and I would go back to enjoying Jeopardy in the comfort of my own home, yelling out the answers to my television screen. You can imagine my surprise when a few months later I got an email asking me to come to Nashville for another tryout. The timing was perfect, right in between my spring and summer semesters teaching, so I booked a flight to Music City.

The second phase of the process, after the online test, involved a written test, an interview, and a mock game with other candidates. I was doing well in the mock game, nearly running the Movies category, until I confused The Green Lantern with The Green Hornet. As a huge fan of German actor Christoph Waltz, who was the villain in the latter, I felt especially mortified by my wrong answer. So what did I do? I blurted out the right one after I had been ruled incorrect.

Nashville, TN

Nashville, TN

I thought for sure, with this faux-pas, that this would be the end of the road. The member of the production crew was telling those of us who gathered all about what would happen if we got “The Call” to be on the show. Frankly, I was only halfway paying attention at this point, thinking that I had no chance and that I’d wait out the 18 months and take the online test again.

Months passed. Aaron and I still watched the show, and occasionally I’d think about the Nashville experience, but I had given up all hope. (Aaron: I had too, and frankly forgot about it.)

Then, in early 2014, I got “The Call.” I played the message on my work phone over and over because I couldn’t believe it. When I called back, I was given specific days to be in Culver City. Something a lot of people have asked me is, “Does Jeopardy pay for your travel?” No. Because I won, it all worked out for us in recouping our travel costs. I won’t go into the complications with Aaron’s surgery. I think he’s covered that enough on previous entries in this blog. However, I gave him plenty of opportunities to back out. While this was the chance of a lifetime, I didn’t want anything to hamper his full recovery. But Aaron was insistent. He was coming with me. (Aaron: They could have removed my legs and I still wouldn’t miss this!)

I taped in the middle of Arthur Chu’s well-documented run. When those of us who were brought to Sony Pictures Studios were led into the green room, we half expected to see him there. No Arthur. It turned out that between Arthur’s run and our taping, there was someone with an even longer streak, 20-game-winner Julia Collins.

Jeopardy tapes two days a week, Tuesday and Wednesday. On Tuesday, the first thing the contestants worked on was the “Hometown Howdies.” These are the promos used by the affiliates, so we are asked to come up with a quick quip with a local flavor. After really struggling with this part of the process (an early suggestion to include “gamecock,” my alma mater’s mascot and a symbol of our fine city, was shot down), I came up with “Grab some shrimp and grits and watch me on Jeopardy.”

The first-round anecdotes were prepared, and the production crew gave us a helpful talk on game strategies and legal stuff. We were warned what would happen if we revealed any outcome or any question before our episode aired. Let’s just say I was scared into that poker face that Joey Holleman noted in his State article.

We were brought out to rehearse. I thought we were going to go to some mock set, but no, they brought us out on the real Jeopardy stage. I can’t speak for my other contestants, but I was awestruck. Wow, there’s the board. Wow, there’s Alex’s podium. We rehearsed, and then we waited in the contestants’ allotted section of the audience. The first episode taped; and then the second, the third, break for lunch, fourth episode and finally the fifth. After the contestants for the fifth episode were announced, I knew I was coming back for Wednesday’s taping. I had mixed feelings, mostly because I was concerned for Aaron and his injury, but I knew I’d be less nervous.

After repeating the Tuesday process, sans the shrimp-and-grits “Hometown Howdy,” I was called to the stage for the first game, which would be broadcast on Monday, June 16th. Phew! This was it … and I had to face Katie. Katie and I had a lot of similar strengths from what I could tell. And as Aaron has written, I like Katie. But I still wanted to beat her. Thanks to a big wager, I did. Some of my family members have noted that I don’t gamble and I’m a rather frugal person, but that $10K bet didn’t feel like “real” money if that makes sense. Plus, my degree is in linguistics, so “Word Origins” was a category right in my wheelhouse. Yes, luck played a role, as it often does in life. “Conspiracy” — I now love that word.

Andrea beat a formidable opponent in Katie.

Andrea beat a formidable opponent in Katie.

The less said about Tuesday’s game, the better. And please don’t say anything about the Big 10. Or Big 14? I rue the decision to ring in on that clue! But I did get right to earn second place for a grand total of $23,800. Not bad for about an hour’s work. I was done.

The sequestering of the contestants reminded me of a jury, and I got to know some great people. Katie, the two-time champ I beat on Monday; Paige, who beat me; Brian, the champion on Thursday, Peter, my co-contestant in the Paige game, all awesome. Thank goodness for Facebook.

The production crew, as Aaron noted, was fantastic, an amazingly well-oiled machine. Someone said to me that we all looked so calm on television. I credit the crew for calming our nerves. They were fun, professional. The lady who did my makeup even said I had great skin! And Alex? Everyone wants to know what Alex Trebek is like. From my observations and interactions, he was affable and funny. I liked the way he used the commercial breaks to talk to audience members. (Aaron: Alex was charming with the contestants and the audience. He’s a pro).

After the California trip, we waited for my television debut. As my husband has noted, the lead up to the appearance was nerve-wracking. First of all, we had to keep everything secret. Even something as simple as what to call the event where our friends gathered to watch me on television was fraught with semantics: a party implies a celebration, while a viewing, as one of Aaron’s Facebook friends noted, sounds like something associated with a funeral. That poker face came in handy. Ha! I am a good actress! I always knew it! I did it!

However, despite all the fun I had, I am a little Jeopardy-fatigued. I’ll still watch the show, and I’ll always be a fan, but this past week has been extremely stressful. Even a simple matter like where I’m from became complicated. (My dad’s hometown is Batavia, NY and he promoted me to them. I grew up in Rochester, but they didn’t claim me. It’s all good—my paternal grandparents emigrated to Batavia, and I spent time there, so Batavia can claim me if they’d like.) I’ve lived in Columbia for over two decades now, so it’s my home.

Thanks to Aaron for all the coverage. (Aaron: You’re welcome. Congrats to both of us!)


Thanks to a friend for making this reaction shot video.

Proud of the Champ


All good things must end. As Alex said as he talked to Andrea during Final Jeopardy, it was not her day. These were not the ideal categories for her, but they were not terrible either. They just weren’t as good as yesterday, where she had an advantage yesterday. State Capitals and Dialects were categories so fitting for her that she was able to respond quickly.

Another facet of the game that I haven’t touched on much was buzzer speed. From my vantage point, I could see all three contestants pressing their buzzers on nearly every question. That meant that on most of these, they all knew the answers. Paige was incredible quick on the buzzer, and built an insurmountable lead. By the way, she was very sweet. We talked to her at length later. Just an extremely friendly person. We didn’t stick around to see whether her run continues, but we’ll be rooting for her.

Andrea seemed out of it by the end, but her getting Final Jeopardy ensured a 2nd place finish. We’ll take that. Total winnings: $23,800. Frankly, we didn’t even expect that much. With my injury, the surgery, recovery time, and the nerves of the entire experience, we would have been happy with second place in the first game. We even discussed that. If she could have gotten better with the buzzer, then she could have kept going. She’s that smart. She got both of her Final Jeopardys, and she knew a lot of them from the week prior when we watched shows. That’s where it matters most.

As you saw, we had a nice romantic story about our Honeymoon. I’ve mentioned before that we are serious film buffs. We met at a film festival 10 year ago. One of our favorite movies was Before Sunset, and while in Paris, decided to go from location to location. We didn’t make it to all the locations because the filmmakers are lying liars. You cannot get there in an hour and a half. Toward the end of the day, having seen enough, we decided we saw enough.

Cafe from Before Sunset. We enjoyed a nice coffee here midway through our trek.

Cafe from Before Sunset. We enjoyed a nice coffee here midway through our trek.

Did I mention that we met 10 years ago? After the taping, Andrea was digging around our old stuff for mementos and found a ticket stub from that film festival. As it turned out, it was from our first date. That date was 6/16/2004. Yes, exactly 10 years to the day from Andrea’s Jeopardy win. To us, it was all about yesterday. That was the day to shine, and now the date will be cemented in our history. We have an anniversary (August 5th, 2006), but this date may seriously rival that one. We’ll just keep two anniversaries and call it a day.

Thanks for following along this crazy journey. There will be another post or two remaining, one of which will be about our experiences with the media. We’ll just say that ever since the big win, today has been absolutely nuts. We are utterly, completely exhausted. In that sense, it kind of feels good to lose. There’s something to be said for having your 15 minutes (or 60 minutes in Andrea’s case), and getting back to normalcy.

This was a different type of steep climb, but when all was said and done, it felt good to drive home and rest in our own bed, comforted by having accomplished our goal.

Back home from the most memorable trip of our lives.

Back home from the most memorable trip of our lives.

Glad to be back to reality.


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