Thursday, March 1, 2012

Pounds gained, back to suffering

A new year began many months ago. After my last post regarding Ride for Jim (in late August), my cycling friends and I again participated in Ride Between The Waters on Virginia's Eastern Shore (pictures soon). I managed a mere 60 some miles due to a very unfortunate bout with a mean little blood clot in the calf -- and here I thought bicycling would improve my health. Again, another story.
Time and miles have passed since. We've had a warmer-than-average Winter and I wish I had taken to the cold, dark mornings more. I admit it. I admit it here and now, in writing. Cold is uncomfortable. Cold in the dark is quite defeating. So yes, a few pounds gained has been felt on my occasional rides on weekends or the rare ride on the weekend.
On to the good news. It's true... just like they said. Miles in the legs aren't entirely forgotten. Even as I've failed to continue my riding up to five days a week, occasional trips these last few weeks have seen the odometer fall in its average reading, but not as much as I expected. When my cyclometer reads 20, I am happy. Not because I require speed at all costs, but it's good to realize that a not-so-young guy-with-thinning-hair can indeed improve.
So here's to more good memories with friends, and happy health to you and yours. Let's call it a late New Year's wish.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Ride for Jim Report

We made it, but it wasn't easy. But neither is fighting cancer.
Robert, who often wakes early with me and rides alongside, and I decided some time ago to participate in the Ride for Jim event following a route from Richmond to Yorktown, Virginia -- it was largely because of my convincing him how flat this event was, I must admit.
This cycling event honors Jim Popp, a physician who fell victim to cancer, and supports the work of medical students participating in oncology research at MCV -- an obvious worthwhile pursuit in which to participate.
Last year when Joel and I decided to take on the trip, we found it to be a mix of smooth, flat roads until the very end.
I should have remembered the end which we'll come back to soon.
What I did remember how uncomfortable it felt last year waiting for hours to change out of sweaty, salty bike gear. So this year my wife graciously offered to pick up Robert and I upon completion in Yorktown foregoing the necessity for us to wait for the limo bus and truck to haul us all back to Richmond hours later.
This year my wife was coming to rescue us from chamois irritation... and stuck-in-traffic-with-other-irritated-chamois-wearing-riders frustration... thank you Kris!
So the night before I didn't sleep well. Anxious about the miles ahead woke me throughout the night -- hourly it seemed... it started at 3:20 am. Departure time from our homes was 6 am. We had decided why not ride from our front doors to the starting point located in downtown Richmond. A mere 17 miles we thought, downhill for the most part, no problem we figured.
So I found myself at Robert's house, in the dark, listening to the early morning sounds of birds and wet leaves dropping off early morning moisture. I thought against ringing the doorbell at 6 am on a Sunday - I knew his wife wouldn't approve.
C'mon Robert I thought twitching, I don't want to be late to kick this thing off.
After finally appearing from his home and giving him grief about not being punctual like my German forefathers have taught me to be, we were off and pedaling toward Richmond. It was a largely downhill, uneventful trip and we arrived unscathed.
Here we are at the beginning within the MCV complex. I admit we were early and perhaps I'm in shock as we have so many more miles to go - hence the look. Robert looks like he needs more coffee don't you think?
About forty minutes later after some picture taking, conversation about cancer and the work at Massey Cancer Center at MCV... we were off to Yorktown. And moving way too fast.
Pause for life lesson: This is when I am reminded that pride is not only wrong but also painful.
Now while being an unwritten rule it is understood among those that find themselves biking in groups that if you sit on someone's wheel and draft, you're obligated to get to the front and pull everyone else for a bit -- it's only fair.
By this point our route had taken us to my childhood stomping grounds and so I knew the hill was coming. We were rolling along at 20 mph (much faster than my 18 or so) and as in the beginning of every group ride, the adrenaline was coursing. So naturally I felt it time to pull for some time.
Half an hour later I realized my mistake -- I was surrounded by twenty-somethings going twenty-something. They were way too young going way too fast or maybe I was way too old going way too slow. Either way I allowed pride to push me to the front of this pack and pull them up a long steady hill. This is also when Robert claimed I tried to drop him -- so untrue by the way.
The Charles City rest stop came just in time, actually didn't come soon enough, and I kept trying to convince myself that I just needed to eat a little, drink a little, and stretch a little -- hence my concerned look (and Robert looks like he woke up).
At this point Peter, he who rode a mountain bike and kept pace with us, had already joined us and motivated us to keep up the insane pace I swore I would not continue... but then did. Pride again.
Our trip continued toward Williamsburg under a canopy of trees that thankfully provided shade and cooler temperatures.
It was then that I pointed out to Robert the bridge we were about to cross. It looked like quite a hill to overcome about which I heard Robert complaining behind me.
Will (my colleague and friend) decided to seek us out just after crossing the Chickohominy River and there he was as we sped down the other side. It was great seeing he and his wife with a cooler in hand prepared to offer coolness -- how awesome is that! We left after a few minutes of chatting and I realized right away that each time I stopped the legs spinning, they fought my efforts of wanting to go a little further down the road.

And then we encountered hills which I failed to remember accurately so when we arrived at our final stop... I didn't care about taking pictures but instead searched for something that was less sweet than Gatorade and Honey Stinger Waffles (and I do quite love them).
Remember the end part I eluded to? It is called Colonial Parkway and it is rough. Rough like pebble strewn onto concrete rough that made the last 13 miles seem like 20+ and people on the side of the road hunched over with leg cramps.
It was at one point that Robert commented that we certainly don't look as good as they do (a certain fit looking twenty-something cycler) but then we weren't cramping either. Perhaps there's something to this older but wiser adage. We were tired, but we weren't on the side of the road eating grass while grunting to God to please make the muscles stop seizing and shaking uncontrollable -- sounds bad huh?
We finally arrived and were happy to do so. 85.0 miles completed and glad to be done. The family (including JB my father-in-law) were there to greet us with cameras and smiles. A very nice welcome indeed.
Lessons learned? 1) Cancer is a lot scarier than 85 miles. 2) Friends once again stepped up and contributed to a great cause and I am motivated to see what the next Ride for ____ might be. 3) Seeing twenty-something blow by me on older bikes helps remind me of the turtoise and the hare -- I am so not the hare 4) pride can hurt physically and 5) don't let my wife take side-profile shots while I wear lycra -- I am now motivated to eat less Honey Waffles... darn it!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Humbled + Dropped = Motivated

I was dropped. I was humbled.

The hill ahead was steep. Steeper than I thought it would be. I knew this hill, but from the opposite direction. And after almost 60 miles I was ready for the ride to end. My cyclometer promised that the ride was almost over but I began to second guess this lying, annoying little electronic gadget.

After encouraging friends to participate, several of us took off last weekend for 62 miles (100 k) of hilly Powhatan Historic Ride fun. Most of it was indeed fun. I encountered friends upon arrival at the start, we had a few early morning falls (couldn't get out of those clips), and then moved on down the road. Weather was perfect, friends were laughing, sunshine warmed our shoulders, and rest stops were nicely stocked.

Notice from self: You should have put in some time on that trainer in the garage because as the miles wore on, your legs wore out.

And after 40 miles of beautiful rolling hills... the fun waned to be replaced by pain. The legs were complaining and in fact screaming for my brain to stop this barrage of climbing any ol' hill that happened to rise ahead.

So perhaps 62 miles was a bit much for this early time of the year. Well not perhaps, it definitely was. Here I had convinced friends to ride alongside. Now I saw them climb that last hill and bike out of view.

Lesson learned. Months ago I was that dude. Riding ahead up the hill. I probably scampered ahead to wait for my friends on the other side of the climb. It was time to experience what they've experienced and I can't say I enjoyed it. It's never nice to be dropped behind the pack. It conjures up memories of being the last guy picked to play on the team. Or the memory of repeatedly being dribbled around on the soccer field. But the experience was valuable.

I think it's good to be humbled. Good to be pushed to do a little better next time. Good to realize that true happiness comes by excelling within the boundaries you set for yourself. Others' goals are certainly impressive to watch from afar, but perhaps true joy comes from knowing that one has excelled from the last point of reference we set for ourselves.

So I've set some goals. 1) Additional weight = more effort necessary on my heart and body, 2) lose weight so as not to see stars when trying to keep up with others, 3) know that with effort comes reward and focus on that effort.

First step...lose the first 10 pounds. I'll report in to mark progress.

My buddy Will said it best in his blog. And I tried to respond as best I could. Take a look...

Last summer I had a friendly Powhatan Sheriff's Deputy pull over and ask if I was ok as I tried to catch my breath at the top of a hill. I expect it might actually happen again.

Until next time... I'll be the one red-faced and breathing irratically.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

100 Miles on the Eastern Shore - Part 2

Part 2 of my 100 mile ride entitled: Wind, Chicken Farms and Vomit

Our merry group continued toward our lunchtime destination after stopping at Modest Town Church (mile 33) where the dreaded Fig Newtons invited me for a test taste... my second since the first grade which I remember as tasking god-awful. I will share that they do not taste any better than when I was 6. Yuck.
We continued and it was now that the wind appeared. I knew it was forecast but I held hope that the wind gods would see us below, see us making good hard effort and save us the agony that they could very well inflict. They did no such saving... wind howled in the leaves above, across the fields and always directly on our faces. Knowing that over 50 miles lay ahead does not a happy biker make. Here's a shot of Joel (and Jocelyn) adjusting his seat once more in preparation for dropping us a little later. This is also when I began to become a bit delirious and thought the warm pavement looked soft and inviting... ahh to lay in the middle of the road and take just a short nap -- wasn't to be however.

Our speed plummeted as we began to grunt out loud seeing our speed fall from 18+ mph to barely over 12. Disheartening but looking over at the others riding behind me... I wasn't in this alone and that made all the difference. Joel took his turn at the front as well as Jocelyn and I tried to make myself as small as possible behind them in order to hide from the wind. But while it might certainly have been easier drafting, I know that their friendship made more of the difference.

After lamenting that perhaps we had missed our lunch stop somehow and thinking "wouldn't that just be completely horrific and I don't know if I can go on" we saw the lunch signs. As we pulled up to the Garden and Sea Inn (mile 54) we found a merry bunch sprawled on the grass eating, smiling, laughing and commiserating on what had already been accomplished that day.

Lunch, by the way, consisted of many things that Bicycling Magazine's editors caution against. There were sandwich fixins, soda, chips and even brownies. All these (again according to the experts) consumed would make demands on our bodies to spend energy on digestion versus towards the legs which of course were responsible for that very important forward motion.

Ha! I laughed at the experts -- actually I didn't but there was no other lunch option so... of course I consumed. Heck, I deserved it.. I had made it half way to 100.

I did however leave the brownies to others, ate the fixins because I saw others with more expensive clothes and bikes eating them so it must be ok, and decided a banana for dessert would keep the magazine editors happy. The Coca-Cola did taste exceptionally good.

Before leaving stretching was called for and abruptly stopped as a pain I had yet to ever experience reared its ugly head as I tried to pull the stiffness from my legs. So much for stretching -- more of that professional advice ignored.

As we rolled out over oyster shells and out toward our next rest stop 17 miles away we decided to think only of immediate goals... that next rest stop. The idea of finishing would be put on temporary hold -- we would think of it after our last rest stop. I thought this prudent and wise. Small steps as we rolled slowly forward.

So it was about 10 miles later that I thought maybe those editors knew what they were advising us amateurs about. I felt ill. Like I'm gonna throw up all over myself ill. Maybe it was that sandwich, that Coke, that banana. Or maybe it was because we were at mile 67. Or perhaps the smell of chicken farms we had inhaled all day (there are A LOT of chicken farms on the Eastern Shore) -- their smell is a very close second, in my opinion, to the smell of pig farms. Nothing like pulling over and scaring your biking buddies by vomiting all over yourself... thank god I did no such thing.

The route had taken us toward Saxis Island and we were surrounded on both sides of the road by marsh grasses and inlets off the Chesapeake Bay. And a crab shack too.
Yes, the wind was still with us and the legs were aching. At mile 72 the road ended at the Saxis Volunteer Firehouse where water and a friendly collection of we're-almost-done riders sat in the sunshine and were fed upon by marsh flies.

Here's Joel and I excited that we just might make it to the finish as we sat in front of the fire station.

Great guy that Joel. Same Joel who said I was nuts for thinking up the idea of doing a century together. Same Joel that I claim has had plastic calf implants because they are so intimidating as I try to keep up with him (I shared this out loud with Jocelyn who I think might have thought me serious for a fraction of a second). Same Joel that I screamed at from behind to slow down because my legs would not cooperate and keep up with his legs pumping out an impressive speed. Good man. Oh, here's the pic.

Brad pulled in shortly after we did. Having pulled off his windbreaker to reveal an Oregon Porter Beer Jersey led to conversation about Bend, Oregon which led to converations about my being in the state for graduate school which led to his sharing that he was a diabetic. I caught a glimpse of him testing his blood sugar as he shared that he needed to rest a while to allow his body to recover after consuming Hammer Gel.

Now here's a guy who knows that his body processes sugars differently than you and I, he knows that he will slowly tire and be unable to keep pace, and he is out here with us facing his challenges head on. And not his first century. Inspiring.

We had 21 miles to our next stop. Buoyed by Brad's story we knew we were now closing in on the end. When we hit 80 miles, we cheered. When we hit 90, the cheer was louder. We were going to make it. Here's a shot of Hills Farm that Will had taken earlier in the day when he was there with Lynn. A beautiful farm with a long tree covered driveway that made us wonder whether we were being led to some horrific-well-planned Halloween slaughter (delirious again obviously). Will's pic:

After some Gatorade we safely left and those last 7 miles back to Onancock were quick. We were pulled like my horse used to be pull me back to the barn whenever we left the paddock.
The wind had apparently decided to leave us alone and we all took turns at the front pulling as hard as we dared. At one point, after some good-natured prodding, Joel took off at a rate of 26 mph while I tried to keep up.
All three of us passed by the Onancock town limits sign with a joyous yell and arrived at the finish where we left eight and a quarter hours earlier (that so sounds painful). It was fantastic seeing Will and Lynn waiting for us with cameras clicking. All of us with wide smiles on our faces and hugs to go all around.
Success made sweeter by the fact that we were surrounded by friends. Here we are rolling in (that's me in the white helmet).
And to end... I have my favorite shot that follows. It doesn't include bikes or jerseys or kissing. In fact it's taken the next day after two good meals and a restful night. Before returning to Richmond we decided to take a quick drive back to Onancock from the hotel so I could see the areas that I had missed because I was out on some foolhardy trip around the Eastern Shore peninsula. Thanks Joel, Will and Lynn for making the weekend not just memorable... but special.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

100 Miles on the Eastern Shore - Part 1

I finished salt-encrusted, exhausted, sweaty, a little cold, and jubilant.

My first century completed. 100 miles... the whole experience remains surreal.

Saturday morning I stood waiting for my buddy Will and his wife Lynn in the hotel's parking lot and noticed that the hotel had an anemometer high on its roof. It spun in slow lazy circles. I liked that it spun slowly. All week I had repeatedly browsed the website hoping for no rain and no wind. It was 7 am and there would be no rain, I hoped that the wind would fail to make an appearance as well.

We arrived just a few miles away and rushed through the check in process which didn't begin until 7:30 with half an hour to spare.

I would now like to now admit to all... I like to be early. Early should I make a wrong turn on the way, early so I don't leave anything behind, early so I don't feel rushed. I felt rushed and here's me rushing to get on enough clothes to stay warm.

Will had enough time as his start time was an hour later. Doesn't he look relaxed and composed here? This was taken an hour or so later...

Ok... so Will had some time to watch me rifle through my bag for all the various pieces of lycra intended to keep me from being too cold while also being removable for when it warmed up later (and easily placed in a handy little pocket on my back). Here's Joel (he who I convinced to take on this day's foolish attempt) being much more relaxed than I and putting on his gear unhurried.

We were off at 8 am with little time to reflect on what we were about to attempt. Cold with warm rays of sunlight peeking through the leaves overhead.

Here's a shot of us at the start... note my very colorful windbreaker intended for warmth, added benefit - cars will notice that I look like a pumpkin (quite relevant for October don't you think?) and choose to pass by without hitting me.

It was cold yet we were happy to be on our way and knew that the roads were flat. The leaves in the those trees above remained quiet too -- no wind. We agreed that average speed was less important than completing the day's most important goal -- getting to the finish.

Our first rest stop at 23 miles delivered us to a table of half bananas and plenty of water. I remembered the words of Pat, my godfather's wife, who reminded me to not stay too long as the legs may complain as they tightened off the bike.

I chose to get off the bike.

It was in mid banana chew when Joel introduced me to Jocelyn who was also riding her first century. A speech therapist from Fairfax County Schools, we invited her to tag along with us as we all attempted to reach 100 miles.

For those of you who have committed yourselves to this type of lunacy you already know that one of the unwritten rules of bicycling is to welcome those who are riding alone as the unfamiliar road can be a lonely place -- especially when undertaking a personal best distance. Our merry band now numbered three and sometimes five with the addition of Brad and Henry (more on them later).

Friendship from the vantage point of the bicycle seat is quickly made.

[NOTE: I am unable to continue as my bed calls and eyes refuse to remain open. Please return to my blog for Part 2 entitled: the ride continued, I felt like I was going to vomit all over myself, and wind makes an appearance... riveting don't you think?]

Saturday, October 9, 2010

An idea I'm mulling over

So here's an idea.

But first please check out and go to the Pablove Across America site.

In short, Jeff Castelaz lost his son Pablo to cancer a year ago and has since created the Pablove Foundation to support pediatric cancer research, support families whose child is battling the disease, and help provide children resources during their stay in hospitals. Here's more about the foundation.

He rides, I try to ride... he's lost his son, I live in fear of losing one of my children and realized this vulnerability the moment my son was born.

Currently Jeff (I use his first name like I know him - I do not) and others are in the midst of bicycing from Seattle to L.A. raising funds for his foundation. Watch his first dedication (they do this daily) and you may be using his first name too as he talks about losing his son and his promise to Pablo.

Idea time.

I'm inspired to do my part. While my children are healthy I (like so many others) have lost relatives to cancer. My close friend Will's wife is a cancer survivor. My wife's boss lost his wife a few years ago. My son has a cancer survivor as a classmate. This year another child in his school was recently diagnosed. So here's what happens late at night being inspired by a man I don't know doing his part to help children I don't know. Remember the part about trying to ride my bike?

Summer 2011.

Organize a ride across Virginia from the mountains that border Kentucky to the ocean waters off of Yorktown. The American Bicycling Association has already done the math (and mapping the route) - 748.5 miles along the TransAmerican Trail.

Is it challenging? Oh yes I think it would be. Should it be challenging? Oh yes I think it should be. But it is of course no where near as challenging as what children with cancer are facing. I'm no professional fundraiser but I sure can get behind helping children who need help.

If a group (I sure hope I'm not doing this alone but that could happen) of us can raise funds to help Jeff and his organization while we pedal across the Commonwealth... perhaps it will also be an opportunity to make others aware that cancer doesn't just impact adults - it also affects children.

A child's love is unlike any other. Hearing them share "I love you" or "Good Morning" just because is heart warming. Knowing that children suffer... is heart breaking.

This is just an idea in its infancy. Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Religion on a Bike

Two friends followed me out of the neighborhood recently as raindrops began to fall on our helmets. We had decided that it being Sunday and church service beginning at 9:45 later that morning, an early ride was required.

We knew rain was in the forecast as we started off at 7 am... while Robert mentioned that indeed drops were falling on our heads. It was then that I thought to myself whether fun included being wet and cold and whether hypothermia might be an unfortunate realization... and how soon this ride might end. But then the drops ceased.

A few miles on our regular route we usually pass the local reservoirs. This time the cool air and warmer water resulted in their being covered in mist.

Riding by so many homes quietly perched on the waterfront but without any activity instantly made me feel like I'd somehow been given the privilige of an experience others had chosen to sleep through. As it was Sunday, there were only a few cars that passed us which gave us plenty of room - perhaps they were already in a gracious Sunday morning-going-to-church-early mood, leaving us happier as well.

As we briefly stopped waiting, like all good cyclists should, for a light to change we were passed by a group of Canadian geese flying in formation and headed to fields unseen... just barely passing over the tops of trees.

It was at this moment we all noted how special the morning had become.

A few climbs later with cool air hinting at the coming Fall we sped into the rolling countryside. Cows stood fence-side eyeing us for breakfast and awaiting the warming sun to peek over the horizon. It was then that we looked to our right over a meadow where we witnessed a pink sunrise.

A few miles later and to our left a rainbow appeared over rolling forests. Dark gray skies framed its colors better than had the sky been less menacing. I think it's fair to say we were all enthralled.

What an amazing morning I wish everyone I've shared bicycling stories with could experience.

We finished about 2 hours after we had begun. Our bikes did gather some road grime as it must have rained just a mere miles ahead of where we rode... but regardless of the wet roads, impending rain smell in the air, or dark clouds above... drops never fell on our heads.

An hour later I sat in our local church's pew thinking that I had in fact already been to church... just on a bike saddle instead of in the sanctuary.

I've been thinking back to that morning a lot lately as the stresses of my teaching profession have taken hold I think it just might have been a favorite all time ride. Beautiful views, quiet roads, God's blessings, and good friends.