Thursday, December 10, 2009

That might be the easy way, but it wouldn't be the cowboy way.

I went to the website for the League of Illinois Bicyclists today and deleted all my mileage posts. There were a couple of reasons for this. First of all, Mrs. Stoneman has repeatedly pointed out that the other riders may be lying. She is usually quick to believe that people lie, while I tend to accept the word of others at face value. (Except for government officials. I know they are lying to me.) But even if the other riders weren't lying, there is no way to tell if they are counting indoor miles. And as far as I'm concerned, indoor miles don't count.

The label "miles" cannot be correct because you don't travel forward (or backward). Therefore, you would have to use the label "mileage equivalent distances". But nobody wants to log two numbers, one labeled "mi" and one labeled "med". Or worse yet, nobody wants to place an asterisk after their numbers to indicate that the total is not accurate because it contains "mileage equivalent distances". All major sports records now seem to include some with asterisks beside them. That might be the easy way, but it wouldn't be the cowboy way.

There's another reason why I decided to delete my mileage log. I recently heard a clip from the George Clooney movie, "Up in the Air". In the clip, the character that Mr. Clooney plays collects frequent flyer miles and is aiming for one million miles. A female character, who is also a collector, engages him in a conversation about his frequent flyer miles annually and encourages him to "impress" her with his number for this year. As I listened, I thought about my annual cycling mileage and whether or not it was "impressive" to anyone. The previous post was about Tommy Godwin and his amazing mileage. I'll bet you've never heard of him. I hadn't until recently. Now that we've heard of him, and been properly impressed, we can quickly forget him and get on with holiday shopping.

Cycling logs and total mileage do count for something. If you don't measure something, you are not likely to manage it. Cycling growth, as any growth, requires 5 key elements: overload, recovery, specificity, individuality and progression. Without a logbook, you would not be able to meet those targets and your results will not be as satisfying. A logbook can also get you on the road when you just don't feel like it. Empty days on the log calendar look really bad, especially if there are many consecutive ones. Tracking, not collecting mileage is the goal.

Now you can see the reason for the blog title. It's not just about "cycling" as in riding my bicycle, it's also about "cycling" as in changes like the seasons or the tide. (Not like bipolar disorder, regardless what you are thinking.) As I grow through the second half of my life, I will have to pass through these cycles and phases in just the same way as the first half. Hopefully, I will have gained some maturity during the first 50 years so that the cycles of the next 50 will be less stressful and pass more quickly.

In the meantime, I still have a complete record of my mileages. If you want to be impressed, or perhaps just make fun of my small numbers, ask me some time what my annual mileage is so far. I'll be quick to tell you. That's the cowboy way.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

It's all relative.

2. 1. World endurance record for distance cycled in a single year

In 1911 the weekly magazine Cycling began a competition for the greatest distance cycled in a single year. The first holder was Marcel Planes of France, with 34,666 miles (55,790 km). The record has been established nine times. [2] A tenth claim, by the English rider Ken Webb, was later disallowed. [n 1]

YearRecord holderCountryDistance
1911Marcel PlanesFrance34,666 miles (55,790 km)
1932Arthur HumblesGreat Britain36,007 miles (57,948 km)
1933Ossie NicholsonAustralia43,966 miles (70,756 km)
1936Walter GreavesGreat Britain45,383 miles (73,037 km)
1937Bernard BennettEngland45,801 miles (73,710 km)
1937René MenziesFrance61,561 miles (99,073 km)
1937Ossie NicholsonAustralia62,657 miles (100,837 km)
1939Bernard BennettEngland65,127 miles (104,812 km)
1939Tommy GodwinEngland75,065 miles (120,805 km)

I've been tracking my mileage all year against other riders on the League of Illinois Bicyclists' website. As of today, here are the standings:

2009 Mileage Totals for All Users
RankUser nameHome town, stateMiles
1 Bill Alamo , TX12,936.0
2 Bentrider Wilmette, IL12,669.0
3 PBM Palatine, IL8,544.4
4 AttitudeOfGratitude Neptune, OH8,475.0
5 BigBlackDog Marion, IL8,430.0
6 safetydon Gardner, IL8,416.0
7 WECoyote Chillicothe, IL8,189.2
8 Pedaltoo Normal, IL7,538.9
9 MathiasBareback Milan, IL7,499.4
10 erp4599 Naperville, IL6,657.9

I'm the BigBlackDog. I've been as high as number 3 and as low as number 7 all year. But compared to Tommy Godwin, I've not been riding my bike at all. At the bottom of the list (I only copied the first ten riders) are riders who are only showing 10 - 30 miles for the year. I've often wondered why they bother to post at all. Then I saw the list for the world record holders. Now I question why I even bother at all. I suppose it's just because I like cycling.

There is no prize for high mileage (and as you can see, my mileage is not that high). There is no money involved (except for the money I spend to keep doing this). But there is satisfaction for me. And at the end of the day, that's all that keeps me moving forward. Satisfaction.

A high mileage year requires a fair amount of deal of deal-making. I have to fit all those miles (at about 15-16 miles per hour) into an already full schedule. Since my work schedule is not something that can be compromised, and I need 8 hours of sleep per night to stay healthy, then the time left, let's call it "home time" is the time which I take to ride. Hence the deal-making.

This year, I hope to hit 9000. I set a goal for myself of 8500, and I'll do that this week. But to hit 9000 would be nice. Next year, I want to ride more, but I may need to schedule off time during the holidays to keep from feeling pressured when "family time" encroaches on riding time during visits.

In any case, you can see by the first chart that no matter how many miles I ride, no one will care but me. And I do care.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Next control: 26.1 miles.

I've never been very competitive on the whole. That doesn't mean I wouldn't like to have been, it's just that I really hate losing, and have been convinced most of my life that any competition that I might enter would have that result. So I've avoided losing by not competing. I have not managed to avoid feeling like a loser, just managed to avoid losing.

As I grew up daydreaming about being a winner, I cast myself in the role of the hero of any adventure story that I read. I was Jim Bridger, mountain man. I was Admiral Byrd as he traversed the frozen north. I was anyone who, in the story, fought the elements and a natural desire to quit, but in the end came through. That's why long distance cycling fascinates me.

There are two main long distance cycling national organizations: UMCA the ultra marathon cycling association, and RUSA randonneurs USA. The former focuses on long distance cycling races, the latter on long distance cycling events. I use the word events because they are not races. The results are posted alphabetically not by finish time. There are time limits, both upper and lower limits. You cannot ride too fast, nor to slow in order to be successful. And yet, while the results are posted alphabetically, they also post the finish time. That's where the competition element comes in. Now you can compare yourself with all of the other finishers.

In the literature of RUSA they specifically state that it is not a competition against other riders, and yet in a recent quarterly newsletter they printed a ride report, essentially a rider's narrative of the event, in which the author made sure we knew he finished first. And the most famous event on the randonneuring calendar is the Paris-Brest-Paris ride. 1200 kilometers (744 miles) of cycling fun. Believe it or not, while the alphabetical rule applies here, there is a special award for the fastest finishers. Imagine that. Doesn't that make it a race?

What is my point? Just this: for reasons known only to God and certain enlightened anthropologists men need to compete against one another, not just the elements and themselves. And this drives me crazy. I still hate losing, and haven't found that one thing in which I can be a winner. There is always someone taller, richer, faster, stronger, happier, smarter (and in the words of the king of Siam) et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

I have a friend who is a missionary in Viet Nam; he is saving the world. I have friends who are successful pastors and they are saving their worlds. I have friends who own businesses, or work for the government, or have multiple college degrees. I have friends who hold racing licenses and race bicycles successfully and one who even races motorcycles at a semi-pro level. Daydreaming you're Admiral Byrd seems pretty lame against all that.

I don't really have a good closing to this post. I wish I did - some real pithy way to say that none of this matters and I'm not bothered by the disparity between the success of others, and my apparent underachieving. But I can't come up with anything at the moment.

Here's my big finish: The key to riding long distance is to break it up into small distances. Just focus on riding to the next control. By doing that repeatedly, at some point the distance will be covered, and you will have finished successfully. You may not win (of course they say it's not a race but we know better), but you can at least finish. Of course, make sure to finish within the time limit.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I don't wanna play house.

Playing house is fun. Especially if you're 18 or 19 and you and your lover move in together without the benefit of marriage. You can buy drapes, and get a dog, and do dishes together on a Saturday night. But it's different being married. I can't fully explain why, but it is different.

Playing church is fun. You can get a pulpit and some pews; you can pick out stained glass windows and flowers for the altar rail in the front. You can sing songs, and call each other brother and sister. But it's different being the church in a place where it might really cost you something, especially if that cost is your life.

Playing bicycle club is fun. You can have meetings and talk about matching riding shirts, and make fun stickers to put on your car. You can plan a really big ride that all the world will want to come to. And when they come, you can hand out bananas and Gatorade and say, "Good job! Not long to go now!" when they ride past you. But being a real cyclist is different.

I am aware that the term "real cyclist" is undefinable. So is the term "beauty", but we use it anyway; and we think we know it when we see it. In broad terms that you can feel free to disagree with, a real cyclist is someone who loves cycling. She loves it enough to ride her bike in the dark as well as in the daylight. He loves cycling enough to plan his days off, even his vacation, around cycling. A real cyclists rides, and rides, and rides.

Sure matching shirts are cool. And bumper stickers with the club logo is cool. But a cyclist knows that riding is really cool. There is nothing more cool than riding - alone, with others, on a great day, on a crummy day, when it's pleasant, when it's cold or hot or raining or whatever - riding a bike is really a cool thing to do.

To read about someone who inspires me see .
This guy is a real cyclist. I want to be a real cyclist someday, too.

"I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do; forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize..." Philippians 3:13-14

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Purpose Driven Cycling

Author's note: With apologies to Rick Warren, I've adapted the title of his banal and uninteresting book. At least the title is useful.

The bicycle is a vehicle. A dictionary definition of vehicle is: "any means in or by which someone is carried or conveyed; a means of conveyance or transport." While riding a bicycle can and does provide exercise for the rider resulting in increased fitness if done properly, the bicycle is a vehicle.

Indoor cycles, especially those with only one wheel, by definition are not bicycles. They are fitness machines. I'm not against fitness machines, but indoor cycles, like treadmills, are artificial. They adapt the techniques of the real thing they resemble, but are not the real thing. Why not just go for a ride or walk outside? (Unless you live outside the "green zone" in Baghdad.)

Author's note: The nearby Gold's Gym has over 150 parking places for automobiles, and no bicycle rack. What if members rode to the gym for fitness instead of using cars to get there?

Secondly, a vehicle should take you somewhere. While a bicycle can be used to train for a future bicycling event, such as a charity ride, a brevet, or a race, the purpose for which it is best suited is transportation. There is of course the daily transportation of commuting to and from work. The bicycle is excellent for this. As long as you live within 15 miles of your workplace this would be only an hour's ride or less. It is certainly possible to commute by bicycle on a year round basis, no matter where you live. I do. I even own a trailer I can hitch to my bike when I need to purchase our family's groceries. It has a 100 pound capacity which is plenty when I spend $150.00 or so.

Finally, and for me more importantly, a bicycle will take you to towns, near and far, and onto streets you've only seen from a car. Those who know me can attest that some of my favorite things are pocket knives, flashlights, books, and maps. Especially maps. Maps are to me what the Sears Catalog was to generations past - something to look at and dream with.

I could spend hours looking at maps and making up routes to places near and far. Even when I drive my truck, I'm always on the lookout for roads that look like interesting places to ride. Yesterday, I rode my bicycle down to Dongola. I'd been dreaming about it for a little while, and finally had the opportunity. It was everything I'd hoped for and more. The trip was a little over 85 miles with over 2000 feet of climbing along the way. What's more, I saw a road I wanted to take later. Woohoo! As soon as I got home, I looked on a map to verify that Cypress road runs from Dongola all the way back to State Route 37. I can't wait to go down there again and take that road. Then maybe go farther south to route 169 over to route 45 and down to Metropolis, or maybe...there I go again! I love dreaming about traveling on my bike.

The point is this: a bicycle is a vehicle. If you are riding an indoor cycle - try the real thing. If you are riding outdoors, but you are a cul-de-sac rider, covering only the 8 or 10 miles near your home, work on your endurance and start seeing more. You'll love the results. Cycle, but cycle with purpose!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

My New Training Partner

You've probably heard me complain from time to time about riding alone. While it's certainly a part of consistent cycling, it isn't as much fun as it sounds. I won't be complaining about that anymore. I now have a new training partner. We met a couple of weeks ago and have had a great relationship ever since. She weighs 17 pounds and is named Rinti. She's a wire fox terrier.

I have been strapping her carrier to my commuter bike every day for the trip to and from my truck, so she's accustomed to cycling, and likes it. But I didn't have a way to take her along with me on my training rides; my road bike has no rack and no way to mount one - it's carbon fiber. So instead, I purchased a luggage rack for my Burley Nomad trailer to pull behind my road bike. Now we can travel together even on my days off. I just strap her carrier to the top of the luggage rack and down the road we go.

Although she isn't much help on the rides, she is good company - if you don't mind the constant complaining. For instance, when we are climbing uphill (which now causes me to use lower gears than I previously needed) I hear this little voice behind me, "Hey! Won't this thing go any faster? It's gonna be dark by the time we get up this little hill." I usually ignore her and just keep pedaling. Or if we get to rolling too quickly going down the other side she yells, "Hey Andretti! This ain't Daytona! And there aren't any seat belts back here, either. How about using those brakes and peeling off a little speed, already."

Terriers are independent creatures. They have their own mind, and resent your interference. If they want something, they expect to get it. For instance, when I am unwrapping a Power Bar, I hear, "Hey! You bring enough to share? Cause you shouldn't eat in front of me if you don't have enough for both of us!" Or if we've been too long between stops she yells, "Hey! I gotta pee! You planning to stop soon, or you just gonna wait until my eyes turn yellow?"

She doesn't have to do any of the work during our training rides; she only has to sit there and look at the scenery. My trailer doesn't trail directly behind my bike, it sits off to the left just a little. Rinti is able to see where we're going. In fact, when I stand to pedal she hollers, "Hey! Down in front! You make a better door than a window, mister. You're blocking the view. Time to lose a few pounds off that butt, Miles!" And being able to see ahead, she is on the lookout for bumps or even other dogs. Sometimes it's, "Hey! You trying to hit every bump on purpose or what? Cause if it's by accident, you are way ahead of the law of probability!" And when three big dogs came out of a yard after us, it was, "I hope you got a plan! Can't you put a little more into it? They're catching up."

Despite the constant kvetching, her company brings me peace. If I look in my bar end mirror I can see her in her carrier, and I'm glad she's along. Except for that one time that I looked back and she was licking herself and said, "Hey! Can't a girl get a little privacy around here?" Other than that, I enjoy having her behind me on a ride, and seeing her little face peering out of the grate of her carrier.

So as long as she is willing to climb into the carrier when it's strapped to the trailer and head down the road behind my bike, Rinti and I will be cycling the second half together.
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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Mick Jagger May Have Been Right...

Mick Jagger told us that "you can't always get what you want..." and he may have been right. I seem to always be settling for less than I'd dreamed. This used to be a problem to me but lately I've developed a new concept "Comparative Contentment".

Comparative Contentment is simple. Regardless of the issue or circumstance you are facing, you always compare it to a worse issue or circumstance, and voila! you are content. Here's how it works. Hate your job? No problem. Just start thinking of how many people lost their jobs this year. There. Your job doesn't seem so bad now, does it? You could also try thinking of jobs worse than yours; say driving that truck that sucks the poop out of porta-potties for instance.

Here's another example. Think your wife is getting a little chubby? No problem. Just go to Wal*Mart any day of the week and start looking around at the women there. Badda Bing, Badda Boom your wife is looking better already. (Unless she's one of those women at Wal*Mart, then I don't have an answer for you.)

House too small? Car too old? Kids don't mind? No problem. Someone, somewhere, probably right near you, has it worse than you. Just look around. Start seeing how crappy the lives of other people are, and yours will, by comparison, seem tolerable. You will be Comparatively Content.

This applies to cycling as well. I routinely post my mileage on the League of Illinois Bicyclist website. More than a hundred cyclists publish their riding logs there. I float between number 5 and number 7 on the list. There are three riders whom I will never catch, they must be retired. They probably have nothing else to do but ride. There's three that I chase or who chase me. But anytime I have too many responsibilities at home, and lack riding time, and therefore fall back on the list for a week, I just think: I could be one of those riders who are at the bottom of the list (there are some who have posted less than 100 miles, and this is October). Then I'm Comparatively Content. Or sometimes when I get tired of riding alone and feel discouraged, I ride past a house with a wheelchair ramp out front, and voila! I realize that riding alone is at least riding. Comparative Contentment.

But seriously, folks...Mick Jagger was right. You can't always get what you want, but you can change your wants. You can want what you have. That's true contentment.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The sky is not the limit but you have to overcome gravity first or fake the pictures on a sound stage in Arizona.

When President John Kennedy set before us the task of landing a man on the moon, our nation's scientists had already been busy figuring out how it could be done. Using the best data and the best methods available, they would soon make it possible to put Neil Armstrong on a lunar stage to speak to history. But if the Apollo rocket could not escape the Earth's gravity, the lunar landing would have to be faked on a sound stage in Arizona.

Essentially, gravity is a result of mass. More mass - more gravity. Believe it or not your couch has the greatest mass in the universe. Your refrigerator has the second greatest mass. Don't believe me? See how often one of those two objects pull you into it's orbit. Now do I have your attention?

Improving your health with a bicycle starts by overcoming gravity. And it's not a one time thing, either. Every day you have to overcome the gravity of your couch and get your cycling clothes on, then get your bike outside, then start pedaling away from your house. And you may have to pedal several miles away from your house to get free of the gravitational pull of the couch. I do.

A few days ago, I had decided to ride to Alto Pass and then on to Murphysboro before returning home. It would be a total of about 80 miles with something above 2500 feet of climbing. The road to Alto Pass is Skyline Drive and it is aptly named. When I was ready to start, it had just begun raining. The thought of a 5 hour ride in the rain, with lots of climbing started looking less appealing to me by the minute. I could feel my couch pulling me into it's orbit. So I got on the bike and started riding.

It was cold, about 48 degrees, and windy, about a 15 mph headwind, and raining. With every pedal stroke I wanted to turn around and go home and read about bicycling. But I kept moving away from my house and the couch's gravitational pull. Finally after nearly 10 miles of pedaling, I was free and felt excited about the day's ride. But the next day would bring the same battle.

Today, for instance, I got dressed in my cycling clothes after I returned home from work and grabbed my road bike for a ride. Less than a block from the house my rear gear cable broke. I wouldn't be able to shift gears, and the default gear is the hardest one. I rode back home. My commuter bike was sitting in the rack, but I could feel the pull of the couch. My wife said, "You ARE going to take the other bike and go back out, AREN'T you?" Of course I was.

So I took the heaviest, most cumbersome, totally utilitarian bike I own out for a ride. As I rode, I began to think, my wife was going to work in a few minutes, I could ride a couple of miles then return home and she'd never suspect that I didn't get a "real" ride in. That couch was pulling on me something fierce. So I pedaled harder.

Finally, about 8 miles from the house, I was free. I managed to get in a nice 30 mile after work ride on the "beast" and my health and fitness was maintained if not marginally improved. But tomorrow, I'll face the same struggle. And the day after that, and the day after that, and the day after that.

You see, if you want to be healthy, you have to overcome the gravitational pull of the couch. Or you'll have to fake the pictures for the family Christmas card on a sound stage in Arizona. It's your call.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Me First!

Recently, I was nearing the end of a shorter workday, and looking forward to a training ride after getting home. My wife called and upon finding out that I would be coming home earlier than expected requested that I take the car to the Quick Lube to have the oil changed. This, she said, would save her having to do it tomorrow. Of course I agreed. Then she added other smaller tasks which I now certainly would have time to do. I felt the "push back" coming on.

By the time I arrived home, I was in a poor mood, but had managed to figure out how to accomplish all the requested tasks and still get a training ride in. But my mood hadn't improved.

I recognize that riding a bicycle could be seen by some as childish or at least as just a hobby. It might be seen as one of those pursuits that adults with extra time could enjoy, but one that just as easily could be shelved if other more worthy tasks need to be done. But to me it is much more than a hobby or even the revival of a childhood pastime. And besides, I earn that bicycling time.

I get up out of bed at 2:00 every work day. I don't have to, most of our drivers don't begin their work day until 6:00. However, we usually work 10 - 12 hours a day, and a 6:00 start would eliminate any riding time, especially in the winter when it's dark by 4:30. So instead of remaining in bed, I usually only get 7 hours of sleep so that I create bicycling time. Furthermore, I rarely stop for anything while I'm working. I eat in the truck, I hurry at each pick-up or delivery, and I often wait for the bathroom until long past the time when I really should take the time to go. I'm not done until I finish my deliveries. So getting done as quickly as possible is the goal. Every minute I save is bicycling time.

So you can see why, when anyone happens to notice that I have "extra" time and begins to imagine how they could use that time to accomplish their agenda, it can hamper my mood.

The real problem is that I was raised to believe that JOY comes when we order our priorities like the letters in the word - Jesus then others then yourself. (If you were raised in a different religious culture, you might have a different word. But the idea is the same.) Only spiritual tasks have any real value. Lesser value can be attached to serving others, for that is in some ways a spiritual task. But serving myself is vain, and unworthy of anyone who hopes for a "mansion on a hilltop" in "gloryland".

The result is a society full of fat, unhealthy hypocrites!

In order to have physical and mental health, we need a routine of active living, including daily exercise. We must get our heart rates up to at least 50% above our resting heart rates (70% is better) and keep it there for at least 30 - 45 minutes EVERY DAY. (I know that the commonly held belief is 3 to 4 times a week, but like most other health related things, we have "dumbed down" the figures in order to get an unhealthy society to cooperate. Notice how the height/weight tables allow you to weigh more as you get older. Do you really think that it's healthier for a person to weigh more at 50 than at 20 when they are the same person with the same body? That's why BMI is such a good measurement to use instead.)

We don't realize that we're slowly extinguishing our lives as we sink deeper and deeper into our couches or the seats of our automobiles. All of the tasks of modern life crowd out the one really important task - taking care of our bodies so that we can live.

A daily exercise regimen is the most important thing I do.

Getting the oil changed in the car is important. We cannot afford to buy a new one simply because we have neglected to take care of the old one. However, I cannot purchase a new body, no matter how much money I possess. I must take care of this one.

Finally, we will all have to begin to see the wisdom of a "me first" view of our lives. I cannot serve others or even Jesus if I am in poor physical health or poor mental health, ( or even poor financial health). My ability to help others will be severely impaired if I have chronic disease whether physical or mental. And disease will finally use up all of my resources, allowing nothing for others - not even Jesus.

A daily training ride is not optional. Because I understand that, I create the time for it through self-discipline. Now I need to stand firm and say "NO, me first!"

Friday, October 2, 2009

Challenges define my life.

"Just as you can keep putting cash into your 401K and likely be fine when you retire, you can keep doing the same rides on the same bike every week. You'll have some amount of fun and maintain good health, but what are the chances that something amazing is going to happen? In both cases, huge returns may come from breaking your routine and taking risks.

...if you doubt your ability to do something, then you have a fantastic challenge, on that, if you rise to meet it, will change the way you think about yourself as a rider. The risk of failure and the effort of reaching for something you think may be beyond your grasp add
an emotional element that cannot be matched by the weekly ride. And it's because of all the apprehension, fear, determination, commitment - the whole mix - that these rides transcend fun and deliver satisfaction, fulfillment, pride.

(you need a) challenge (that) is bigger than you have ever faced, big enough that you're not sure you can meet it. If you succeed, the reward is yours. If you fail, well, no one ever said risk is without risk. But absent progression, whether in riding or in life, you're just marking days until you die." Jasen Thorpe "UP FRONT" Mountain Bike Magazine November 2009 issue

"The best rides are the ones where you bite off much more than you can chew - and live through it." Doug Bradbury from Twitter

These two quotes form part of the framework of my thinking. I've always been called to challenge myself and risk biting off more than I can chew. My first challenge was a cross country run in high school. It was a little over 3 miles and was open only to students who were not already school athletes. It would be held the last day of homecoming week. I excitedly told my father about my desire to try this as I handed him the permission slip he needed to sign. He handed it back unsigned and stated flatly, "You'll never make it. You don't know how far 3 miles is."

I persuaded him to sign anyway and the next day at school a classmate, Rick Pople encouraged me with the promise of getting some of the freshman football team, of which he was the quarterback, to be at the finish line to cheer for me if I made it. I made it, without any training - foolishly - and he kept his promise. It would become a trademark of mine from now on.

Later, I joined the Marines with the same warning from my father and the same foolish optimism. I nearly didn't make it through boot camp, but when offered a chance to quit by the Command Sergeant Major I declined and finished the 12 week training with honors. I was awarded a meritorious promotion at graduation.

At Southern Illinois University I was working as a janitor in 1985 when the head of building services approached me with a proposition. Morris Library, he said, was not being cleaned. The janitors were slack and they couldn't get a supervisor to enforce good discipline and work habits. If they promoted me, he asked, would I be able to change this? Within a few months and after a death threat, nearly everyone requesting a change to a new building, and a union meeting where they tried to throw me out of the union I was in charge of a clean, organized building.

Even as recently as 2001 when everyone, including my precious wife, felt that my marriage to her shouldn't happen or would at least end in disaster, I took on all comers and won her hand in marriage. I now have the blessing promised by the Scriptures on those who have found a good wife.

And so it goes. I find myself drawn more to challenges and subsequent risks of failure than dying slowly on my couch looking much like a man, but hollow on the inside. I don't take foolish or dangerous risks merely for the adrenaline rush, but I am most happy when I work toward and achieve a challenge whose outcome is doubtful.