Ohio Trip- Day 2

After being awake 36+ hours, riding 68 miles and dealing with the heat, I slept like the dead in my hammock. It had gotten down into the 60’s which felt great compared to the day before. When I first woke up, I felt like I had slept with my mouth wide open all night. My throat was raw and sore. I figured it would get better as I got up and moving. I drank some water and started breaking camp.

We had decided to try for a much earlier start to combat the heat, so we were up and at ’em pretty early, rolling out of the campground just after 6:00AM. We had our eye on breakfast about 17 miles down the road in Pinckneyville.

The road was quiet, cool and beautiful in the early morning sun. Such a stark contrast to the furnace and hills from the day before. It felt great to be up and cycling. As I rode I realized that I wasn’t feeling up to par though. What I had assumed was sleeping on my back with my mouth open was actually a thick, heavy drainage that had left me with a sore throat and a stopped up head that was somehow still able to run out my nose. Every five minutes or so I was doing the farmer’s blow. I know it is gross, but when you are cycling, there is no other way to go about it. Had I been at home, I would have burned through Kleenexes and toilet paper blowing my nose. On tour, you just leave a dotted line of DNA along the side of the road as you ride. Your are welcome Illinois!

The 17 flat miles ticked off quickly and next thing we knew, we reached Pinckneyville. The diner we had chosen for breakfast was about a mile south of our route and we passed it the first time we rode by. At some point it had changed hands and/or names. We were looking for one thing and it was named something else. We finally found it, parked the bikes and went inside.

One thing you never get used to when on a bike trip that goes through small towns is walking into a diner with the typical local crowd and having every head turn to look at the guy decked out in lycra. Picture an old western movie when the stranger walks into the saloon. All activity stops, including the piano player. Crickets chirp. You get the picture. In this instance, the silence is broken and everybody goes back to their separate conversations when a wonderfully friendly waitress says, “Howdy fellas! Coffee?” Thank God for waitresses.

Doc and I sat down and listened to the “liar’s table” behind us going on about all sorts of topics. Nothing is off limits and most of it is untrue. Every town has the same table with the same stories populated by the same folks. Only the names are changed to protect the innocent.

We enjoyed a fantastic breakfast and as the waitress made trips by our table, she kept asking questions about where we were from, where we were going, how we were getting there and why would we want to do such a thing. We answered and were happy to be the source of her amazement. In reality a bike tour isn’t that hard. Pick a place to go, put your stuff on your bike, start riding and keep going. It is a great adventure and before you know it, you have covered enough ground that you find yourself amazed at what you can accomplish. It really isn’t that hard though.

After what seemed like a little too long waiting for our ticket, we asked for it and the waitress said that she had taken care of it. We had given her a story and she was grateful. She bought our breakfast, we tipped her well and walked out of the diner with smiles. What a wonderful lady!

We headed out of Pinckneyville with our bikes pointed east. The weather was great, the road was pretty flat and we were on an adventure. A great combination! Having made it 20 miles past our goal on Day 1, our hope was to add to our miles “in the bank”. If we were able to keep up those banked miles, we would have more time to hang out and chill with Doc’s family once we reached Ohio. All conditions looked favorable for us to add to the bank, so got to it.

The miles ticked off and soon we found ourselves in Sesser, just a few miles west of Rend Lake. We sat outside a gas station having a snack, drinks and perusing the map while we took a break. Our intended route was to head north out of Sesser, skirting around Rend Lake and then east to Mount Vernon, which had been our original planned stop for the day. We noticed that there was a road that went right across the middle of Rend Lake and zooming in on the map, we could tell that the road was mostly on a long causeway with a wide shoulder and only a couple small bridges. How cool to ride over the lake! We made the decision to go that way.

The ride over the lake was awesome! For about 4 miles we had water on both sides of us. The sun was shining and boats were out on the lake. Some were fishing, some were water skiing and some were just cruising. It was a beautiful scene and one of the highlights of the day.

Heading out on the Rend Lake causeway

Once across the lake, we turned north on Route 37 headed for Mount Vernon. It was now midday and and although not near what the previous day had been, it was pretty warm. There was also a nice little breeze coming out of the north that had felt nice all morning. Now we were facing that breeze and it was making the riding a bit more difficult. Clouds started rolling in and a storm was imminent, coming in from the northwest. We hustled along, reaching Mount Vernon about 12:30.

As soon as we rolled into town we found a truck stop. First thought was to grab a shower and clean our clothes, but we found out that the location we were at didn’t have showers. Their other location some 4 or 5 miles away did, but that would have been off the route. We decided to carry on into the heart of town and look for a place to eat.

Our first choice was an Irish pub called Lowery’s that Doc found on Yelp. They had great reviews and we were excited to try it. After a little bit of searching, we found the pub. We leaned the bikes up against the wall outside and was preparing to head inside. While we took off our helmets and stowed our things, a young man walked down the sidewalk and into the pub carrying things. He looked like he worked there. He quickly went inside and I heard the bolt latch. Odd. We tried the door and sure enough it was locked. We checked the hours and they were supposed to be open. We made the assumption they didn’t want our business and looked for something else. Just a block up the street was a Mexican place, which is always a good idea. We headed up the block wondering what the deal was with Lowery’s. I guess we will never know.

Guero’s Mexican restaurant was happy to have us and we were happy to be there. We sat and ate while perusing the map and radar images. Somehow the rain had stopped just to the west of town and it looked like we would be spared getting wet. That was nice. We also had made it to Mt Vernon, our planned stop for Day 2, but being midday, we still had plenty of day left to ride and bank miles. Doc looked ahead on route and saw that there was not much for us as for campgrounds. A phone call to the city police in Fairfield netted an opportunity though. They said we could camp at the fairgrounds in town. There was supposed to be water and showers available, so we set our sites on making Fairfield, some 30 miles away.

After finishing lunch, we hit the road for Fairfield. First though, it was 17 miles to the little town of Wayne City, where Strava activity shows we stopped at a gas station for over an hour. I cannot for the life of me remember why. My guess is that we were just resting. I do know that I was feeling pretty crappy at this point. My sore throat and drainage were getting the better of me and with that, I felt like my water was nasty. I didn’t know if it was all in my head or if I had actually gotten some bad water. I remember dumping my water and refilling my bike bottles with some bottled water I knew was good.

After leaving Wayne City, I tried my water and it still tasted nasty to me. Doc and I stopped along the side of the road at one point and I was explaining to him that I thought my water or my bottles were nasty. I asked if he would try it. Maybe it was all in my head. He took a swig and spit it out. “That is nasty!! Why would you ask me to drink that?!?” I really had thought it might just be me with the head cold, but this confirmed my suspicions. We were about 5 miles outside Fairfield so I dumped all the water I had. I didn’t want to drink from those bottles again and I saw no need in carrying the weight of water in them. Once the water was dumped out, the bottles still smelled really bad. It was something chemical, like the plastic was breaking down. It reminded me of rubbing alcohol or some type of mineral spirits. Gross.

We rode on to Fairfield in search of the fairgrounds. Along the way we passed a Wal Mart. Another mile or so down the road we found the fairgrounds and started looking around for the amenities that the police had told us were there. We found no people, but there was a horse racing track, stables, many out buildings and pens for showing various animals. After checking everywhere we determined there was not a working bathroom or shower. We did find several water spigots. One in particular looked promising as an after dark shower spot due to its lack of proximity to the road, some tree cover on one side and building cover on the other. About 100 yards away was an open pole building that looked to be used for showing livestock. The support poles around the edge were just about perfect distance for the hammocks, so we set them up. Being under the edges of the building, we chose not to set up our tarps. That would save us some time in setup/tear down.

Hammocks hanging under the show arena

Adjacent to the fairgrounds was a strip mall with a Dollar General and a family style restaurant. I ran in the Dollar General in search of any bottle that might replace my defunct pair. No dice. I made the decision to head back to Wal Mart in the morning before we left town and see if I could find something. In the mean time, I bought some bottled water and we went next door to the restaurant for dinner. The food hit the spot.

After dinner, it was properly dark. We rode back over to where we had pitched camp. Once again we took turns taking a wild shower in the semi-private spigot. We also “washed” our bike clothes out and left them hanging to dry. Clothes were hung on our bikes and along the railing of a set of bleachers that was also under the structure we were hanging the hammocks under. Had someone seen our setup they would have thought we were straight-up hillbillies, clothing hung all about.

It had been a good long day in the saddle. We had 93 miles on the day and now found ourselves solidly 31 miles ahead of schedule in just 2 days. I was struggling a bit with my head cold, but otherwise all was fairly well for me. Doc had struggled with heat and hills the first day, but was much better on the second. We both were ready to sleep well and if things went like we hoped, we might just bank more miles with the planned stop for Day 3 being Saint Francisville, just 52 miles further up the road. Confident we could do more than that in a day, we crawled in our hammocks and I drifted to sleep fairly quick.

Ohio Trip- Day 1

On the morning of Friday June 1st, after having stayed up all night getting my things made, prepared and packed, I stepped off my porch with my bike about 9:50AM and headed across town to my friend Nathan’s house. The plan was to ride from his driveway in Farmington, MO to his parent’s house in Plain City, OH. The trip was slated for roughly 530 miles over 7 or 8 days, giving us the opportunity to chill and just tour, a much different approach as compared to our Century+-a-day trip in 2017. I was really excited to camp out, enjoy the trip and just get away from it all for a bit. After the required pre-ride pics in his driveway, we set off on our journey right at 10:00AM.

No sooner than we left town, the hills began. I am very familiar with the route to Chester, IL and knew what to expect. Nathan had driven the roads, but had never ridden them. We quickly felt the teeth of the climbs and the heat. Just 15 miles down the road, we passed Crown Brewing and decided to stop for a respite. They have air conditioning and cold beer. It had only been an hour, but we were on vacation and didn’t see any reason to pass up an opportunity to feel like it. We also ate while there and refilled our water bottles. Before we knew it, an hour had passed and we reluctantly went back out into the heat.

The overall theme of the day was H-O-T!!! To say that the heat was a factor would be to understate things. If there was a knob to control the way the heat felt, it would have been cranked nearly to maximum. High temp for the day was right at 90F, but the humidity was 60%, making it feel like 97F. Couple that with the hills on route and the afternoon just felt gross. Hot, sweaty and unrelenting, especially for Doc.

Nathan is a high school principal and has a doctorate in educational leadership, thus the nickname Doc. With his work schedule and having a young family, he can’t always get out as much as he would like to train, but considering the circumstances, he does a fantastic job getting ready for our trips. 60+ hour work weeks and 3 kids under the age of six aren’t his biggest hurdles though.

Nathan was born with a congenital heart defect called transposition of the great arteries or TGA. In laymen’s terms, this means that the two main arteries coming out of Doc’s heart are switched. This meant that oxygen from his lungs couldn’t properly go through his heart and to the rest of his body. Fortunately he was also born with another heart defect- a hole between the two sides of his heart, which gave his little body time to get strong enough to have open heart surgery. When he was 5 months old, surgery was done to install a baffle between the two sides of his heart. This gave Doc hope for life, but his heart and lungs don’t operate like your’s or mine.

In everyday situations, you can’t tell any difference between Doc and someone with typical heart anatomy. However, when he is doing cardio exercise, such as cycling, he has a harder time getting oxygen to his body. This makes steep hills really, really difficult for him. In addition, bodies are designed to dissipate heat through the blood stream. With Doc’s different plumbing, he has a harder time getting heat out of his body as well.

All that said, a hot, humid day in Missouri hills can give him a knock out punch if he isn’t careful and that was exactly the conditions we had to deal with. The temps were soaring and the hills kept coming. It is just 48 miles from Farmington to Chester, IL, but there is ~3200′ of elevation gain over that distance. The hills are punchy and Doc was feeling it. We would climb what he could, then walk a bit. We sought out every bit of shade we could find, taking some breaks along the sides of the road here and there. With my “normal” heart, I was cooking out there and I knew he was feeling it more.

We took our time and kept plugging away. Slowly but surely, we made  our way along. I brought out my encouraging phrases such as “not far now”, “we got this” and Doc’s favorite, “I think we only have one more hill”. He had given me quite the rash for that phrase in 2017 as we suffered through our biggest day. I felt it poignant to offer that one up again in this instance. I got a lot of cross looks, but that’s ok. That’s what friends are for.

We had covered the first 15 miles of the day in just an hour, but the next 22 took 3 hours. It was nasty hot and the hills in that stretch are super steep. It was grueling, but we made it to the little gas station in St Mary and it felt like an oasis in the desert. We parked the bikes and went inside for cold drinks and some snacks, thankful for the inside booths.

We soaked up the AC for almost an hour before we could cool down enough to summon the desire to get back out in the afternoon heat. It was 2:45PM and we had just under 13 miles left to get to Chester, our originally planned stop. We had discussed it repeatedly that it would be beneficial to make some hay on the first day and go further if possible. With the heat, I didn’t have a lot of confidence that we could, but I was open to the idea if Doc felt like going on. We walked back out into the furnace and prepared to wrap up the Missouri hills.

Once you leave St Mary, there is just one big hill left to climb before descending down into the Mississippi River flats. We got that big boy done and got to Nathan’s forte- flat cycling. Doc struggles with the hills, but he can ride forever on the flats. He was a bit spent from all the heat and hills, but he was sure happy to ride near the river! We made pretty quick work of it and approached the bridge over the river. From the Missouri side it is all up hill over the river and there is just two small lanes for traffic with no shoulder. Speaking of traffic, it is ever present on that stretch. As we climbed up the bridge, Doc was just behind me and I had my eye on him in my helmet mirror. It is a beautiful view of the Mississippi River and I always enjoy going over the bridge. Suddenly he stopped and I thought, “what is he doing?!? Surely he isn’t stopping to take a picture.”

I started to bust his chops for stopping in a bad spot when I saw him lose his fizz. That’s our friendly term for blowing chunks, being ill or vomiting. What ever you prefer. Losing your fizz seems to be a kind way to put it. It’s like shaking up a soda can. Too much and you lose your fizz. It was at this point that I got a perfectly clear picture of just how hard he had been working in the heat. The crazy thing was, he stopped barely long enough to barf over the side of the bridge, then clipped back in and kept riding! I am certain I would have had to walk it off a bit, but not Doc. I wish I had his intestinal fortitude.

After we got across the bridge, we stopped to get a picture of Popeye and take a rest. I knew he needed it. Both of us laid down in the grass in the shade and cooled down as much as we could. After about 20 minutes we got back at it. You can’t get far lying down.

We climbed the stupidly steep hill up to Chester proper, then headed for the Casey’s to get inside again. Every chance we could, we got inside somewhere to get in the AC and drink something cold. This stop was fairly short as we had made the decision to carry on another 20 miles or so to a campground outside the little town of Percy, IL.

Back on the road, the contours of the land were much easier to deal with in Southern Illinois. We were also on the downside of the heat of the day and thankful for it. The miles ticked off fairly quick and we found ourselves in Percy very hungry and looking for food. A quick search by Doc on Yelp found Mi Pueblo Mexican Restaurant. It was perfect. Good food, cold AC and close to where we would camp. It did happen to be the only Mexican restaurant I have ever been to that didn’t serve beer, but that’s ok. It hit the spot!

After dinner, we cycled just 2.5 miles out of town to Lake Camp-A-Lot. The name was cheesy, but we were happy to have made it before dark. For only $10 total, the both of us had a lakeside camp spot to hang our hammocks. We quickly set camp in the twilight. Unfortunately the campground’s showers were out of order, but once it was dark, we both took a turn using the water spigot on our campsite to take a wild shower. Once I was rinsed off, dry and in my sleeping clothes, the hammock felt awesome. Camping less than 10′ from the lake, listening to the frogs and exhausted from our ride, the heat and being up for 36+ hours, I fell asleep quickly.

 

Is Procrastination an Art?

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about making things happen instead of just making ‘someday’ plans. In that post I mentioned that my friend Nathan and I were riding from his home here in Farmington to his parents house in Ohio. It occurred to me that I haven’t updated things here about that trip, so here you go!

In June of 2017, Nathan and I did a slightly botched trip from Chicago to Memphis. That trip was our first together and despite the impromptu change of plans along the way, we had a blast and had every intention of going on another adventure together. Last fall, Nathan mentioned to me that he had long dreamed of riding from his driveway in Farmington, MO to his parent’s in Plain City, OH and that he thought it would be a good trip to take in the summer of 2018. As usual, I was all in from the get go and excited to spend some time in the saddle, exploring areas I hadn’t been on a bike before.

Over the winter, Nathan made and refined the route. The plan was to go through mostly rural areas, camping along the way. The camping piece was the biggest new thing for Nathan. His previous excursions had been hotel and/or AirB&B. That also meant that we would have to carry more equipment than we did last year. None of these things were new for me, but I was so very excited to get out and hit the road on another adventure! Our plan had us set to leave town about 2PM on Friday June 1st.

Much to my own chagrin, as I tend to do, I was a bit underprepared for the trip, even as the date to leave was approaching. I have no explanation for why I wait to the last minute, but it has repeatedly happened. For months Nathan and I had discussed what we would need to do to get ready, but I always found other things to occupy my time. A few things that I had given myself as todos were to make Nathan two feed bags for his bike and I also needed to make a new tarp for my hammock setup. My tarp that I normally carry would be used by Nathan on the trip, so I would need another. Several times Nathan offered to buy a tarp so I could use my regular one, but I would have none of it. Not only do I really enjoy making the gear, but I also intend to start an online business making bikepacking and hammock gear. What better time to get a head start on things than when you are preparing for a trip? Yeah, I know. I could have found an easier way to do this, but that wouldn’t be “me”. This procrastination made Nathan nervous and several times he asked about progress. His prompting goaded me a little, but not much.

On Monday evening, May 28th, (Memorial Day for those that don’t know and only four days before we were scheduled to leave on our trip) I sat down to design and construct Nathan’s feed bags. I had made several different versions in the past for myself and had a few ideas for what I wanted to improve. I spent all evening working on them and was pretty pleased with the outcome. They turned out aesthetically pleasing, utilitarian and light weight. I presented them to Nathan and he was more than pleased. In fact, he went on and on about them. Not only was I pleased with the bags as well, but I felt good about getting them done earlier than I expected. That spark led me to envision myself wrapping up my tarp quickly and easily the following evening. That didn’t happen!

In the latter days of trip prep, Nathan had realized he would be able to get out of town a bit earlier than originally expected. We changed plans to leave Friday morning. That meant I would have to have my stuff together the night before. No problem. In the remaining evenings of the week leading up to our departure, I found myself doing all sorts of things, but none of those were gathering my gear, preparing the bike or sewing the needed tarp. I did chores around the house, got caught up on work, sat around watching TV, hung out with friends and generally procrastinated. Just like old times!

In the past, I would normally get pretty anxious about my procrastination as my deadline approached. This time I did not. Somehow I felt at ease and just knew I would get it done, even if I went without sleep.

Thursday evening about 10PM, after all my chores, work and family time were done, I got my materials out and started cutting the tarp pieces out. My wife was somewhat flummoxed that I had waited so late, but not terribly surprised. I told her good night and settled in, figuring that I could pull the tarp together in a couple hours. I could then gather my things and get a few hours sleep. No worries.

As you can imagine, things did not go as planned. Now, it wasn’t that I had problems or couldn’t do what I needed to do. It simply took much, much longer than I expected to cut out and sew the tarp. As the clock ticked, I sewed. Little by little it came together. I put the finishing touches and guy lines on somewhere early in the morning and started going through my bike. After my maintenance was done, I started gathering up all my gear for the trip. There was a trip to Wal Mart to grab a few items that I needed, then I packed it all on the bike.

I ended up staying up all night getting things done, but not once was I worried about it. The last time I stayed up all night was during Trans Am Bike Race in 2016 and it was invigorating to know that I would be hitting the road in just a couple hours. Once it was all done, I kissed my wife as she headed out for work. I then grabbed a shower and got dressed for my adventure. It was time!

 

It’s Just a Bike Ride

As a veteran of TABR, my interest is piqued this time of year to all matters of endurance bike racing. Trans Am Bike Race, Tour Divide, Trans Atlantic Way, Northcape-Tarifa and several other races all come across my Facebook feed daily and I spend entirely too much time perusing the musings of racers, dot watchers and fans as they wax eloquent (and sometimes not so) about the various things going on in whatever race they are following. Sometimes it is entertainment. Sometimes it is shocking. Happy. Sad. Horrific.

I think that is the beauty of following these events. It is real life played out in an adventure that we get to watch on social media. Connected, yet disconnected. Well, at least the dot watchers and fans have a disconnect. For racers and their families the Facebook groups are a way to keep track of their loved ones. It is that very idea that makes what I am about to say sound callous, but I believe I must say it. Facebook is tainting endurance bike pack racing.

Over the course of the past few years as Facebook groups following these races have exploded in popularity, I have seen little steps toward transgression that have frustrated me. I try to ignore them in the interest of growth of the sport and ride-your-own-ride, but it is getting worse. What started as an occasional person reaching out for/to help on social media has turned into an everyday occurrence. Dot watchers make comments about racers being off course, sometimes even tagging the racer in their post. Racers make posts ambiguously seeking advise or assistance. Even dot watchers posting about someone sitting too long in one spot is crossing the line.

The fact is all of these races have a set of rules that are very similar. Traverse a route under your own power without outside assistance. Racers are to follow the spirit of the race, self-policing. Esprit de corps. That means when a racer toes the line to start one of these adventures, they are accepting the rules set forth by those that came before and they are choosing to do this thing on their own.

Had the majority of instances where people obviously and publicly break the rules resulted in racers relegating themselves from the general classification, I would have nothing to say, but that is not the case. Racers ask for advise during a race on social media and masses of ignorant dot watchers and fans flock to “help” so that they feel a little closer to the action. When someone speaks up against this, they are lambasted with name calling and classified as uncaring, unsocial and just mean.

When fans take to the airwaves to “report” that someone is off course or taking a longer break than expected, it is a problem. A racer off course must correct the mistake themselves without outside assistance. If the small mistake of missing a turn means an 80 mile detour that potentially costs you the race, so be it. Ask Sarah Hammond about that one. A racer sleeping off two weeks of huge mileage who might get passed by someone if they stay down any longer has a situation that they would likely want to deal with, but a notification or phone call from a loved one to “make sure they are all right” is against the rules. Period.

I understand we have had fellow racers who have been struck by vehicles. This is tragic and sad. My heart breaks for them and their loved ones. As road users, we should be guaranteed more safety….but we aren’t.

It might not be PC and you might not like it, but toeing the line for a race means accepting that risk. The risk is there that a stationary dot is injured or worse. I don’t know what the answer is to that situation, but I do know if I was out there racing my guts out, I would not want someone breaking the rules to contact me. Some will think that is easy for me to say because I haven’t been in that situation. Fair enough. But, the rules are what they are and the agreement participants make to do these events supersedes what a fan thinks.

Before the start of Trans Am Bike Race, anyone at the start line will hear Nathan Jones say that “it’s just a bike ride”. It is, but I think some folks misunderstand. If a racer makes a wrong turn, it is just a bike ride. Let them figure it out. When a racer looks to be sleeping in a ditch for 12 hours, it is just a bike ride. Let them sleep. They made the choice to do this and I bet they are REALLY tired! Racers, when you have a problem and don’t know how to solve it, remember it is just a bike ride. If you ask for help, relegate your self honorably. It is just a bike ride.

 

Someday Will Never Come

This week and next, as cyclists from all around the world converge on places like Astoria, Banff, Alta and Dublin to embark on journeys that will be life-defining, many folks sit at home and get ready for what I believe may be the greatest and slowest show on earth– dot watching!

With so many great races starting in the coming weeks, people are excited about it. And they should be. It is a blast to follow the dots and it can be very addicting. I have spent many hours hitting the refresh button over the past 4 years and I always look forward to “the season” of endurance racing.

That said, I had a bit of a wakeup call yesterday. One of those moments of clarity that we all have from time to time. Something that brings perspective to things. A friend of mine who I went to high school with lost his wife and I went to the funeral visitation.

As I stood in line at the funeral home waiting for my chance to give my condolences to my friend, I saw the pictures of his bride and the faces of the families and friends gathered together, many of them very young. You see, she was just 47 years young when she passed suddenly last week in their home.

Being someone that worked out religiously and was healthy, you would never have guessed that she would be someone to die at a young age, but death draws no quarter. Life is fragile and can change in an instant.

I realize that we have all been touched by death in some way. Deep down we know that this ride can end at any moment, but we refuse to dwell, which is healthy. However, maybe we should think about our own demise more often.

If you are reading this, one day you will die. It may be many years from now or it may be today. That said, can you give yourself one good reason not to do the things you dream of?

Some people are content to watch and have no desire to do one of these races. That is awesome! Carry forth!

On the other hand, if you are dot watching this year and dream of doing one of these crazy races, I challenge you to start making steps to fulfill your dreams. Waiting until you retire or until you have all your ducks in a row is in my opinion BS. Too many times I have seen people have plans and dreams that never come to fruition because they just kept putting things off and death caught up before they were ready. I guarantee you Denise wasn’t ready.

With that, I am making my own steps and leave tomorrow morning with my buddy Nathan to ride to his parents house in Ohio. It isn’t an impromptu trip, as we have been planning for this tour since last fall, but it will be a blast and something I will always remember.

I hope you make some real plans and not just “someday” wishes. Ride on friends!

All the Little Things

Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán from Pexels

This morning as my wife and I got ready for the day, we chatted about our fitness pursuits. I was pumped that I just finished a 4 mile tempo run, fully spending myself in the process. She was talking about her own excursion where she walked 2 miles with a friend. In that, she mentioned how she always watches for pennies while she walks and picks them up. I have done that myself and find it fun to add the extra change to my coffee can in the closet. Her reasoning was different though and surprised me, as she often does.

“Picking up a penny is a reminder to me to find value in everything and everyone, no matter what their external value may appear to be. The homeless person, the drunk walking down the street, the poorly dressed, the outcasts, even the arrogant, all have value and I need to remember that I am in no position to discount their worth”

My wife is so compassionate to people. Many times I miss opportunities to express compassion to folks. Her words made me stop and think about my actions.

Those words also made me think of all the little things we pass by everyday. Not just discarded items on the sidewalk, but what about the flowers, the trees, the birds. We walk right past things everyday that have great worth, unintentionally refusing to take notice.

Today, I hope you will take notice. Look someone in the eye and smile. Do something kind for someone, especially if you think they don’t deserve it. Take just a moment to stop and “smell the roses”. Admire simple things in creation. A bug or a bird. Take in the day.

Everyone and everything has value. I hope that thought brings a smile to your face. Enjoy your day!

The Most Important Thing Not Talked About

It is May and very soon riders will begin their travels toward the start of races all around the world. The North Cape-Tarifa starts June 20th, the Trans Atlantic Way starts June 7thand Trans Am Bike Race fires off on June 2nd, just to name a few. Riders from all over the world have trained their bodies, refined gear choices and prepared their bikes for what will be amazing adventures and times they will never forget!

My personal experience has been limited to TABR15 and 16, but I know the elation and stress that one feels as they prepare for these races. You obsess about every detail and every gram of weight. You want it all to be perfect, which it won’t be, but that doesn’t dissuade you from making your race prep the most important thing in your life right now.

I have been there and if I am honest with myself, I have to admit I loved that process more than just about anything I have ever done! It was such a thrill to submerse my entire being into preparing for the massive challenge that is TABR. All that preparation then turned to determination at the start of the race with my entire mind, body and soul funneled into one goal- to reach the finish.

At 2:58AM on June 29, 2016 I finished TABR. That was it. I was done.

At that moment, I began my recovery from TABR, which I believe has been more difficult than the preparation. I don’t mean physical recovery. That took a couple months and was expected. The larger, more difficult problem was the mental and emotional recovery from the race that I had NOT planned for at all and had no prior knowledge of the potential pitfalls of post event depression.

If you do some research on long distance hiking, you will find people talking about post hike depression or post trail depression. Why are people not talking about this for long bike rides? I do not know, but I am aware of some riders who have had similar issues.

What is post event depression?

From what I have been able to find, there is no clinical diagnosis for this condition, but it is certainly real and can affect anyone after a big event. In my obviously layman opinion, I think it could be classified as something similar to post-partum depression or PTSD. Frankly I have not experienced either of those, so maybe my analogy is off. I do know that it is certainly a multi-faceted puzzle, and the largest pieces revolve around hormone levels and a missing sense of identity.

When you pour yourself into an event of this sort, your identity changes. As you go through the race, the race is all you can think about. Once it is finished, you are a changed person. Spending the sort of time and energy that it takes to do an event like this changes the very fiber of your being and creates a new you. Your old identity is gone and you have to learn to deal with the new one.

Additionally, your body chemistry is completely jacked after these events. When the race is over, you have spent the last 3-4 weeks sleeping minimal hours per day, in every way exhausting your body, allowing yourself zero recovery, eating as much junk food as you can stuff in your mouth, building up huge amounts of adrenaline and dopamine…and then you just stop. Your metabolism is bonkers. Your body needs sleep, but you can’t seem to stay asleep for more than a few hours before waking up at a start, thinking you need to get on your bike and go at a dead run somewhere. Then a few weeks later, you can’t stay awake. You sleep 12 hours and it isn’t close to enough. Like a heroine addict your body craves the insane amounts of dopamine you had during the race, but it isn’t there (and shouldn’t be). Along with that, your cortisol and melatonin levels are out of whack and your brain doesn’t know how to deal with it all.

There are several things you can do to help guard against this. Some say to just sign up for another huge event. The fire you felt for your last event will be lit for a new one and your body will ride the massive swings in hormones along the way. That works for some and for a time, but it wasn’t a possibility for me. With limited funds and a family at home, I had to navigate things differently.

For me, I spent two full years dreaming, preparing, obsessing, failing (in 2015), re-preparing, re-obsessing and all but selling my soul to finish TABR. Over that time, preparing for the Trans Am became not just something that I was doing, but actually who I was.I lived life, went to work, spent time with family and friends, but TABR was always there. Once the race was over and I was back home, I had to learn to deal with life without the Trans Am. That was a challenge I didn’t know how to handle.

I found myself in a pretty deep funk, having difficulty being motivated to do my work, little to no desire to do things around the home and this created massive tension between my wife and I. About 6 months post-race, I sought counseling for marital issues, but soon realized with the help of my counselor that I was experiencing depression and my marital issues were just a symptom, not the cause. Fortunately, my wife was patient with me, and so was my employer. Things started coming around and I got well again. In an ironic twist of fate, one of the things I read about to deal with post event depression is to just wait. You will feel well not one second before you are ready to feel well.

All of that said, I hope that you folks who are racing events this year will take some time to think about how to deal with life after your race. It is a vital piece of your planning and as I am sure you have heard, failure to plan is planning to fail.

Below I have a few links about post trail depression that I hope will help. I am not a doctor of any sort, just a regular guy who likes to ride his bike, so read up on this for yourself and take my words with a grain of salt.

I wish each of you well and the very best of luck. Keep the rubber side down and remember…it is just a bike ride. 🙂

 

LIFE AFTER THE PCT: POST-HIKE DEPRESSION

https://www.rei.com/blog/hike/life-after-the-pct-post-hike-depression

 

5 Ways To Manage Post-Trail Depression

https://thetrek.co/5-ways-to-manage-post-trail-depression/

 

POST TRAIL DEPRESSION

Post Trail Depression

Book Review- The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor

 

In my last post I told you guys how I had set my goals for the year and have big plans to make great strides in many facets of my life. I put as much trackable and numeric emphasis on my goals so I can keep an eye on things and watch my progress. This has already paid dividends as I meet my small goals each week, check them off and get to experience the gratification of making headway. It is great to see I am making progress!

I also asked you guys what inspires you and what you aspire to do this year. Scott Williams commented that he plans to be even more purposeful with his goals and actions in 2018, focusing his efforts in ways to help other people. I think that is fantastic! Making strides to be better in whatever area of life that you choose to advance is great. If you can tie that to your desire to work with or help someone, it gives you additional motivation to meet your goals and achieve your dreams. Good job Scott!

One of my goals this year is to be better read and I have made good on that by spending 30 minutes every day reading. I have chosen to make the subject matter of the books I read something that enriches me in some way. Thus far the books I have read have been non-fiction and would fall in the self-help category, but I am not opposed to fiction. As one of my very good friends put it eloquently, many times fiction is more real than non-fiction, offering timeless lessons. I couldn’t agree more. We will have to see what books end up on my nightstand over the course of the year. I will certainly keep you informed.

As of late, I am reading a book by Shawn Achor titled The Happiness Advantage. Shawn grew up in Waco, TX. As a young man and high school student, Shawn expected to stay in Texas and applied to Harvard on a dare. Much to his surprise he was accepted. Upon going to Harvard to study psychology, he fell in love with the campus and atmosphere. He did his undergraduate, then decided to stay for his graduate studies, taking on teaching duties to pay his way through. He also proctored young students and had the opportunity to help some 1600 young men and women as they navigated the waters of an institution that would give them an education few get to experience.

There are few places where the very best and brightest from around the world gather. Add in the ancient buildings and a deep history as an educational institution, Achor explains Harvard as being a very special place that reminded him of Hogwarts. One would think that this magical atmosphere would be an academic heaven of sorts, where young bright minds would not just go to learn, but flourish. The reality he found was that despite the one of a kind education experience and promise of high success that such a prestigious degree as one can earn at Harvard offers, many students find themselves struggling with depression.

Why would these kids be depressed? Imagine the competitive nature of an institution where everyone is from the top of his or her high school class. Imagine being THAT kid in high school- top of your class, excellent academic marks, great expectations of yourself and exceeding the expectations of faculty and family. Then transport that kid to the beginning of their freshman year at Harvard. Immediately 50% of all those 1%’ers are below average. After a lifetime of being at the top, these kids now have to learn to deal with emotions that they don’t know how to process.

Watching these great young minds deal with the rigors of a highly competitive environment in which everyone is the best, Achor wanted to make a difference. Why shouldn’t these kids be happy? That question fueled his research and subsequent work, propelling him to make the conclusion that the old adage of “work hard to succeed” is bunk. Maybe some of you are rolling your eyes at that. Before you throw the baby out with the bathwater, let me explain.

I was taught from a very young age that the key to success was hard work. Work hard and one day you will find that you succeed. This comes with the overlying idea that as that hard work pays off, you will be happy. What Achor’s research found was the opposite- happy people become successful people. Chase happiness and you will likely find success.

The book goes on to give some basic principles and ideas to put into action and work toward finding happiness in your life. I must say, I don’t feel like I am short on happiness in any way, but it is always a good idea to make strides at improvement. Currently I am only about half way through the book, but I am confident in my recommendation.  If you are looking for a good read, pick it up! You can get it on Amazon by clicking HERE.

This year I will be going through books and am always looking for suggestions. I read The Magic of Thinking Big earlier this year. Do you have any suggested reads? Comment below!!!

 

Plans and Goals for 2018

2017 was a great year. Good and bad happened, but I have to label it great. I didn’t reach all my fitness goals in the last year. In fact, I didn’t reach many of my goals, but I still choose to say it was a great year. I rode part of Tunnel Hill Trail with my wife in May, toured from Chicago to the Missouri boot heel on our way to Memphis with my friend Nathan in June and rode the length of Tunnel Hill both directions with Nathan in October. I had a DNF at the Ozark Trail 100 mile MTB race and stopped 6 hours into the Wolf Creek 12HR MTB race. I ended the year with 1661 miles of cycling, well short of the totals of any of the last 6 years since I started riding a bike.

There have been times that I have found myself feeling dissatisfied with 2017, but I am choosing to look at it as a year of rest, recovery and reflection. Miles and fitness were low, weight was high,  but I really enjoyed the times I spent on the bike. That is worth a ton. I also spent a lot of time focusing on family and relationships with friends, which made me happy. I went back to school. I got intentional about finding peace within myself and working to avoid some of the pitfalls that have traditionally led me to depressive episodes. Goals met or no, some great things happened in 2017.

On the down side, my biggest problem as I look back at 2017 was a lack of focus. My goals in the past have been somewhat ambiguous and general. Things like “lose weight”, “make better choices eating” and “increase savings” are nice statements, but without actionable items and specific, quantifiable marks, the objectives had no teeth. I didn’t have something to break down to the month or week, so I didn’t keep track of what I was doing. When I got to the end of the year, I looked back at my goals in my journal and realized that if those things were actually important to me, I needed to make some changes.

When goal setting for this year, I got numeric and, in some instances, a bit crazy with what I want to accomplish. For 2018 I am going for trackable items and the end targets are BIG!

I set specific goals for the amount of weight I want to lose and in what timeframe I want that to happen. I outlined exactly how many miles I would like to ride at a minimum and what events I plan to do. I set a goal to start a morning routine of exercise, meditation, reading and studying Spanish. I could go on, but I think you get the point. In 2018 I will be tracking my progress and making adjustments so that I reach my goals or adjust expectations as need be. Instead of stopping at the end of the year, looking back and wishing I had done different, I am going to make those small adjustments needed to stay on course (or adjustments to the course itself) all along the way.

So what has happened so far? I’ve been doing Couch to 5K three days a week and yoga twice a week. I am down 7.9 lbs and making healthier choices with my eating habits. I’ve meditated for 10 minutes 13 of the 18 days so far this month, read for 30 minutes 12 days and practiced Spanish for about 20 minutes the last 15 days in a row.

I have many other pieces of the puzzle of my life that I am working on this year as well. I will graduate with my associates degree in May and I have set some aggressive goals for my work and income. I have specific items planned for volunteering, teaching, improving our finances, family trips, home maintenance and plans for our future. With all that, I believe that 2018 will be a fantastic year!

Have you set any goals for the coming year? I know it is mid-January and most people have stopped talking about their resolutions, but it isn’t too late to dream about what you want for 2018, make plans and make it happen. In fact, now may be the perfect time to take specific steps to make your 2018 amazing. What inspires you? What do you aspire to do or be? Leave a comment and let’s chat about it!

Finishing 2017 Strong

As mentioned before, my days of late have been busy with work, school and renovations around the house. I haven’t made much, if any, time for cycling. That said, little points of interest have been poking me, prodding my sedentary self and giving me grand ideas for the coming months and year ahead.

After a conversation with a good friend the other day about goals achieved this year and other goals not so achieved, I have come to the determination that I want to get back on one wheel. Last Christmas my wife gave me a unicycle. I had wanted one for a long time and was excited to get out and give it a try, but I really didn’t know where to start. A quick google search led me to Mike Boyd’s Youtube channel. On his channel, called Learn Quick, he posts videos of his progress learning new skills. One of those was his unicycle video, which is truly brilliant and inspirational! I decided to not only use his tips to try to learn to ride the uni, but also video my progress.

Unfortunately, with only a couple sessions in the first two months of the year, I shelved the uni and haven’t touched it since. It sits in the corner, taunting me each time I notice it. The time has come to make good on my goal for the year. My plan is to recover my progress from earlier this year and learn to ride the uni before the end of 2017. That will require practice, but I’m confident I can make it happen.

Another fantastic bit of inspiration has come from my friend Janie Hayes and her blog of her Trans Am Bike Race 2017 adventure. Janie is truly an artist with words and will captivate you with her story. Despite knowing that I won’t be racing in 2018, by reading her posts, the question that has come up in my brain is, “could I give the Trans Am another go?” The answer is a resounding YES! I love the route and in many ways feel like I have unfinished business with the race. I am certainly proud of my 24 D 16H time in 2016, but my goals for that race were more ambitious. The thought of going back for another shot makes me excited and I found myself staring at spreadsheets last night until the wee hours, plotting what I would do if I toed the line again.

As I said, there won’t be any racing of the TABR/TD magnitude for me in 2018. That is, unless I would come across some sort of windfall that would make it feasible. I wouldn’t want to make a go at it without a completely funded budget for racing and with home projects and 2 kids in college, I don’t see it happening. There is, however, something that I could do.

Ever since my Trans Am tour in 2011, I have dreamed of writing a book. I have never considered myself a writer, but while blogging that trip, I had several people say they thought I should. I brushed it off, thinking that they must have poor taste. The fact is, I wasn’t confident in my writing and invalidated their responses because of my insecurities. Since then, I have taken some classes and the writing comes so easy to me. Add in that my class grades reflect the same positivity as my 2011 blog post praisers and I find myself more than intrigued.

I have spent some time brainstorming and writing around a couple of ideas. One in particular has me excited. I’m not certain how it will flesh out, but I anticipate maybe a road trip/cycling vacation with Jeneen in 2018 to do more research, capture photos and add in some stoke for the project. I’ll leave it at that for now, but I am SUPER excited about it!!!

As always, stay tuned. I will report my progress here and cannot wait to do so. First, I’m going to go show that unicycle who’s the boss!