Thursday, July 30, 2009

OAB's, Lollipops, and Loops

Cycling, while fun, requires discipline. When logging my miles on the League of Illinois Bicyclist site I am amazed by the number of cyclists whose annual mileage is not yet in triple digits. Surely they all didn't start riding last month. I always comment on this to my wife who tells me not to be so judgemental. (She thinks that most of the things I do are best described with a compound word which contains the word "mental" somewhere in it.) But honestly, why would you even bother to post your annual mileage in July if it was 42?

It's not that I'm addicted to cycling, but I realize that the benefits I hope to achieve will not be seen without a regular, disciplined approach. Like any other activity with value, hit and miss tends to be more miss than hit without a plan (a plan that you actually stick to).

There are varying ways to plan a training route, among them are OAB's (out and back's), Lollipops and Loops. The Loop is the most interesting one for the obvious reason. You start at point A, loop around as far as you'd like to go, wherever you'd like to go, and end up back at point A. You get the most bang for your buck if seeing new vistas is your bailiwick. Lollipops are similar, although not as "discovery rich". You start at point A, ride to point B, loop a small loop back to point B then ride back to point A. Finally, OAB's are what they sound like. You start at point A, ride to point B, then retrace your tracks back to point A. Boring.

Recently, I've been working on the discipline of OAB's. I have never liked them, mostly because once you get to point B, you've already seen all there is to see. Long distance cycling can be boring enough with nothing to listen to, and if you add nothing new to see for the second half of the ride, you can go out of your helmet encased mind. It's hard. For that reason, it's a discipline that I've been working on.

I determine at the start of the training ride either how far I want to ride, or how long (time) I want to ride. After completing half of the distance or time, I turn around and head home. On each ride I find myself strongly irritated by the anticipation of the second half throughout the entire first half. On each return trip I find myself strongly irritated when I see unfamiliar roads that invite me to try them out while I return back on a now familiar road. And on each ride, when I find myself strongly irritated, I tell myself that this is MY ride and I can do what I want. Then I remember that what I want do is to cycle the second half of my life, and to accomplish that I will need to be a disciplined cyclist. Then I continue on the OAB. Irritated, but determined.

Will I become famous, or rich, or ANYTHING for the effort I'm putting into this? Will I cease to be an anonymous piece of driftwood lying abandoned on this endless beach of this life? Will I finally achieve Nirvana, or some inner wholeness, or at least become what all my critics think I should be? Doubt it. But I will keep cycling in a disciplined way as I cycle the second half of my life and that discipline will include OAB's.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

I'm Taking Lessons - Be Patient...

I've been called a tyrant twice this week. No, not by my wife, she has other descriptions that are favorites with her. Those words came from cyclists. Imagine that. One cyclist, on a public website forum, called me both an "anarchist and a tyrant" in the same sentence. I didn't point out in my reply that those words describe people of opposite political objectives. He was clearly angry; he indicated that I am not in step with public opinion, not close to achieving popularity, and should listen more and keep my mouth shut. That last one might be hard for me.

Another cyclist, a few days later, said that I have no tact, and that he would sometimes like to "f***ing blow me up himself". He went on to compare me to Saddam Hussein. (I don't think that was a compliment. I'm not sure.) Good thing he was a Christian man, he might have really expressed his feelings.

What should be my response? Sorry? Sorry I am not perfect? Sorry I'm not who you would like me to be? I could do that. I won't. Let me say that there is never any excuse for bad behavior. (I'll repeat this later in case you feel that in the following I excuse bad behavior.)

I am who I am. Over the years, I've really tried to be perfect. (Believe it or not.) I've read all the self-help books, listened patiently to my critics and tried to change to suit them. I've worked on everything from my tone of voice, to my facial expressions, even my guitar playing style. (A really dear friend who has gone on to rest in Jesus once told me that my guitar playing style was "like an act of violence". He was angry with me at the time. I continued to play with him, although I really tried to change. Two days before his death, I visited him and brought my guitar along. After playing and singing a few gospel songs to him, we talked over old times. In a weak voice, he told me that I was talented, but just wouldn't listen to anyone. He meant him. I played at his funeral, and several months later, I played at his widow's next wedding. I really tried to play with a style he would have approved of. I don't know if I succeeded. But I tried.)

Even my wife often expresses a wish that I was different man. You know, a perfect one. I can't blame her. I am hard to live with. I have faults. (I'm not excusing bad behavior; remember that!). I only mention my wife (the one with no faults), to indicate that even when we love someone and are committed to them, it's easy to try to change them (or force them to change themselves) to fit our idea of what they should be like. Even if they need to change their guitar playing style.

The cyclist who said I was an unpopular, out-of-touch, deaf tyrant has faults. The cyclist who wanted to "f***ing blow me up himself" has faults. You have faults. I have faults. So what? Who decided that James Dobson, or Dr. Phil, or even the "O" has the formula for perfection? Who said I need to be perfect anyway? I'M NOT EXCUSING BAD BEHAVIOR; I am saying that imperfect people fill our planet, our churches, our homes, our cycling clubs, and even our mirror.

Here's something for you to work on while I try to change myself to fit your image of who I should be: work on being more tolerant of people with faults - people like me. Then if I am finally so flawed that I'm unable to change, you will be one step ahead of the game, and a little more perfect, if that's possible.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

To Thine Own Self Be True

This advice was given by Polonius to Richard III penned by Will Shakespeare. It is as true today as it was then. (He also advised "neither a borrower nor lender be - great advice too!)

Part of the fun of living is discovery. One of the best discoveries you can make is discovering who you are. I don't mean what your name is, or even who your ancestors were. (I, for my part, have become my own ancestor. Started my own clan. Sort of my own grandpa. But I digress...which is normal for me.)

A couple of years ago, I wanted to start a bicycling club in our area. I am passionate about cycling and specifically long-distance cycling. However, I am in the minority. So I began riding with some others who ride medium distance (40 - 60 miles), and built friendships (don't let that word fool you, though). After a year, I made a real stab at a cycling club. All my riding friends were on board. Yea! Or so I thought.

I had a very strong idea of the usefulness a cycling club would have to the cycling community and the non-cycling world as well. I applied minimum pressure on the areas of disagreement in order to maintain the cooperation of others. I had a strong preference for a style of riding which I wanted to promote as well. Again, I applied minimum pressure in this area in order to maintain the cooperation of others. Bad idea.

It wasn't as if I didn't have the courage of my convictions (although that did happen several years ago at a pastor's meeting where they were pushing for the Ten Commandments to be posted on every vertical surface - an idea I strongly oppose - and I still have lingering regrets that I didn't stand up and at least get thrown out of that meeting), anyway, it wasn't for lack of courage, or even for lack of direction, but I wanted to cooperate and play together. (I always got low marks in school on the category "Plays well with others". Go figure.)

I just thought that if everyone worked together, then some of my goals might be reached, and some of other people's goals might be reached, and somehow, something useful might be done. Boy was I wrong.

I am convinced now that there are two kinds of people in the world, those who do and those who criticize and complain. And those who do need to be true to their own selves, because those who criticize and complain are being true to their own selves.

Rodney King wanted us to all get along. We might be able to all get along, but we will never get anywhere, by just getting along. (You have to break a few eggs to make an omelet. You have to boil a few pigs to make lard. You have to... you get the idea.) Those who want to succeed, need to discover their passion, and be willing to pay the price to achieve their dreams, even or especially if the price is doing it solo. (Of course, it goes without saying that your dream needs to be small enough to accomplish solo, otherwise you're back to trying to get others on board. And we all know what a headache that can be!)

Here's the bottom line to this rambling diatribe. Discover where you want to be. Head there. If anyone follows - lead them. If no one follows - be true to yourself, since you may only have yourself for company on the way to your Nirvana.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Hebrews 12 uses a phrase "run with patience". (Hebrews is in the New Testament for all you Bible scholars.) Cycling is no different from running. Patience is key. For starters, you will have to use patience if you want to ride more than 30 minutes. I read an article today about a cyclist who loves hill climbing because long rides bore him. His idea was to get the workout in 30 minutes or less. But we can't just climb hills, we have to ride with patience. That means putting in the miles. And that takes patience.

If you manage to ride long distances with patience, you also need patience NOT to ride. That's right. It's not just about riding your bicycle, it's about recovery as well. If you don't allow your body to gain from the effort you put into your training, you will soon fall victim to over training, and risk injury and disease - exactly the opposite effect you were aiming for. So not riding is important, and that takes patience too.

Finally, continuing to train past the plateau requires patience. No matter how good your program is, you will experience a phase where there is no growth. You aren't getting faster, stronger, or better. It isn't any easier. You aren't improving. It might be some time before you move past this. Patience. Ride your bike with patience. Improvement will come. Waiting for improvement takes patience.

Cycling the second half of you life will require patience. 50 years can't be lived today or even in this decade. Patience. You will have to cycle the second half one mile at a time; and live one day at a time. This, too, takes patience.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Quitting isn't the end, but I hate quitting.

OK, so I quit. So what? Yea, I'm a little defensive right now. I hate quitting, especially when I do it. I could call it "redeployment of resources", or "simplification of attention allocation", or even "strategic withdrawal". You know, surrender to fight another day - that sort of thing. Although a rose might be a rose by any other name, the bard should have said "quitting by any other name is still quitting". And I hate quitting.

However, when you find yourself banging your head against the wall days without end (amen), you will have to choose a day to stop. As a freeborn adult, you can continue as long as you would like, but stopping will probably be best at some point.

You might have noticed that all of the older posts on this site have the same creation date. Lest you think that I was overcome by my muse on that day (or worse yet, that you'll have to sort through thousands of posts by mid-December), all of them were copied from my previous blog page on a cycling club website. I was the captain of that team, and so owned the coveted blog-spot. Now that I've quit, I have to move my stuff out.

If you're wondering why I quit here's the straight and simple. We didn't get along. We grew apart. We developed different interests. I was never understood. You know, the usual excuses. Mostly, I was tired of rowing the boat alone and, having only one of the paddles, I was tired of trying not to row in circles.

Rowing in circles, beating your head against the wall, tilting at windmills - all good reasons to quit. But I still hate quitting.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Bike Club - a poem

Last week I started a bicycle club ‘cause I was tired of riding alone.
A group of friends was just what I needed; a bicycle club of my own.
So I interviewed a thousand riders but finally I chose only three.
My club would be small but like-minded,
The Boy Scout, Fat Boy, The General and me.

The Boy Scout is The Boy Scout ‘cause he’s always prepared.
He carries extra water, he carries extra food,he carries extra money, he carries extra air.
His bike must weigh about a ton and a half, but The Boy Scout just doesn’t care.
‘Cause who knows what kinds of things might occur when riding from here to there?
He carries doo dads and tools and spare parts and things,most of which he never uses.
But he supposes that someday he might need them at last on those epic 1200K cruises.
He reasons, “Now, what if I broke down two hundred and twelve miles from home;
And the difference between walking and riding that day was an unbreakable black plastic comb?”
The Boy Scout is a rider I want in my club ‘cause when added to the other three,
we become like those French Musketeers,
The Boy Scout, Fat Boy, The General and me.

Fat Boy is Fat boy because he’s, well, fat.
And you’d think that riding a bicycle with us would help him a little with that.
But he can eat a whole pizza for supper with mushrooms and bacon on top
then wash it all down to that super-sized gut with a two liter sugarless pop.
And in the evening if he’s still hungry, and very often he is,
he’ll devour a whole box of Ritz crackers with three cans of Cheddar Cheese Whiz.
The jersey he wears is size “extra-large” and he doesn’t seem to be fit,
and Fat Boy always complains about “bonus miles”
but if he starts the ride, he won’t quit.
Fat Boy is a rider I want in my club ‘cause when added to the other three,
we become like those French Musketeers,
The Boy Scout, Fat Boy, The General, and me.

The General is The General ‘cause he likes having his say.
He chooses the roads that we ride on so that it’s his way AND the highway.
He spends hours looking at road maps trying to plan out our ride.
He considers the road surface and traffic and whether the shoulders are wide.
He constantly monitors the temperature, the wind direction and speed,
the probability of rain, the humidity, and other numbers we need.
Then he puts this all in his computer. The one under his hat - his big brain,
and out pops out the perfect plan for the ride and the plan is the plan come shine or come rain.
The General is a rider I want in my club,‘cause when added to the other three,
we become like those French Musketeers,
The Boy Scout, Fat Boy, The General, and me.

Riding together is easy ‘cause the four of us seem to be one.
If anyone has an unspoken thought it’s no sooner not said than it’s done.
So if The General sees that the forecast was wrong and the wind is now blowing from the south,
we’ll change the direction that we plan to ride before the thought even comes from his mouth.
(The General likes to start facing the wind so that when we’re tired the wind will be
blowing behind us, helping us home.
The Boy Scout, Fat Boy, The General, and me.)

Or sometimes Fat Boy will start to poop out if the pace is too fast for too long.
So we ease up and go slow to stay as a group ‘cause if you belong to this club, you belong.
And when trouble comes, as it often does, with no warning or chance to prepare.
The Boy Scout rides up with all of his stuff and the whole club is glad that he’s there.
If it’s a flat needing fixed, or a seat bolt that’s loose, or a piece of bar tape that’s just flapping.
He has two kinds of air, wrenches to spare and duct tape that’s just right for wrapping.

Although we might start out with others, it usually ends up just us.
So when we’re climbing the hills or holding the curves or motor pacing a big GreyHound bus,
we know we can count on each other, Through the thickest and thinnest it will be
a club where all the riders have the same name,
The Boy Scout, Fat Boy, The General, and me.

Studded Tires and Dogs

This is a cautionary tale. With time to spare and the sun smiling onto a 35 degree day, I decided to ride today. Because I knew I'd be on back roads, and some may still be iced and snowy, I took Zeke my commuter bike. I figured his studded tires would be just the thing for a February ride. Before leaving, I switched out the platform pedals with toe clips I usually use with work boots, for the Speedplay Zero pedals I use with my road shoes. Leaving my rear panniers home, I headed out to enjoy the warm (after the January we've had it seemed relatively warm) day.
On Sulphur Springs road, near Creal Springs, I encountered several long patches which had not felt the warmth of the February sun. Cautiously I slowed and chose what seemed to be the best line, trusting that my studded tires would keep me safe. One long ice covered patch had a good line on the wrong side of the road. It would not have been a problem if a pickup truck had not come over the hill at that moment. With precious little distance between us, and the pavement too slick for quick stopping, the driver decided to let me move and held his line. Angling across the ice I focused on staying upright. Unfortunately, my rear tire hit a rut and began to move out from underneath me.
I tried to slip my right foot out of the toe clip in case I needed to use it to stabilize my position, and when I pulled back, it seemed stuck. The movement, however, did accelerate the pace at which my rear tire was moving out from underneath me. With the top tube moving down, I steered into the skid and moved my weight up over the main triangle just as the truck blew past me ten inches away. Fortunately, Zeke found some dry pavement, and the bike righted itself again. I was fully awake at the moment.
I looked down to see why I had not been able to pull my foot off of the pedal and realized that I was wearing my road shoes and I was clipped in to my Zeros. Well, that explained that. Good thing I filed that information away, because a mile or so down the road I passed a house with a sleeping Rottweiler mix dog. Remember that I told you that my studded tires sound like a brush fire in full blaze when they're rolling? Well that dog didn't stay sleeping for long. He came barrelling out intent on eating me. I nailed both brakes and twisted my foot to unclip and step down. I've trained myself to unclip in any position just in case. (When I remember that I have clipless pedals on the bike.) I shouted, "NO!" The beast stopped in mid attack and stood still, clearly confused.
His dinosaur brain was on prey catching mode. But his pet trained brain had heard a command. He moved toward me again. "NO!," I shouted. "GO HOME! HURRY UP!" He turned toward the house and walking a few steps stopped and turned back towards me. I repeated the commands. He repeated the start/stop movement. It took us a full three minutes of this before he decided to return to his previous place beside his house. I returned to my ride.
I imagine that about thirty minutes later, he sat up suddenly and thought, "Wait a minute! He's not the boss of me! I should have ate him! Damn."
The moral of the story is this:
1. Always know which pedals you are riding, so if you need to twist instead of pull, you will get it right.
2. Studded tires are great, but won't save your butt if you're an idiot and ignore the above.
3. Speak to dogs, children and your wife as if you expect to be obeyed. (Well, maybe not your wife. Speak to her as if you hope to have sex at least one more time in your life.)
4. When you can - ride your bike!

Bicycling - a poem.

Bicycling. Freedom. Oh yeah!
Incoming email..."Saturday morning ride, you in?"
Legs and Lungs frantically lobby Pride.
In closed door session with Log Book and Guilt, Pride decides.
Email reply... "Absolutely!"
Memory activates auto-search.
Query: Why do we ride?
Oh yeah. Freedom. Bicycling.

Comfort Food?

Most of you know that my "Clark Kent" is driving a gas tanker 400-500 miles a day. There is much about driving that is stressful: stop lights, big city traffic, road construction, two lane roads with long no passing zones and old people in front of you with nowhere to be and all day to get there, squeezing a 65 foot long vehicle on to and off of busy gas station parking lots; and other similar things. Nothing, however, is more stressful than having to cross IDOT weigh scales. Today, while crossing the scales coming out of St. Louis, I heard those words all truck drivers hate to hear: "Pull your truck around back, driver, for an inspection."

Even if your truck and trailer are in perfect mechanical shape, and even if all your documents are in good order, you can still expect to spend an hour parked behind the scales. And when you already have a 12 hour day on your schedule, that extra hour is maddening. And if anything is wrong with truck/trailer or documents, your whole day will be shot. Fortunately, today was just an extra hour. Everything was according to Federal and State regulations. But that extra hour put me an hour behind, and the stress made me hungry. Real hungry.

I had already finished my lunch and the apples I had brought as a snack, so I began to fantasize about candy bars, chocolate donuts, and Little Debbie snack cakes. You know, comfort food. Anytime I'm stressed, or lonely, or angry, or bored I think of comfort food. Today was no different. And all the way to Murphysboro, every gas station and every grocery store I passed called out to me. Doggedly, I pushed that truck all the way to my destination without stopping. Of course, my destination WAS a gas station, I had to use all my willpower to keep from buying comfort food once I got there. I managed it - today. (For those of you for whom it matters, I haven't bought a candy bar, donuts, or snack cakes for almost two years. When people find out that I'm a vegetarian, they ask me if I miss meat. No. But as a health conscious cyclist, I do miss candy bars, donuts, and snack cakes.)

Although not the main reason I kept myself from comfort food today, one of the reasons was the Anna Biathlon in October. This year Dale Moore and I are in the same age group WITHOUT Kevin Turner. That means it's him against me. Mano y Mano. Club President vs Club Vice President. Bragging rights. And the thought of carrying a couple of extra pounds up the hills north of Anna kept me honest.

The main reason I abstained today was concern for my health and the impact it will have on my wife's future. Did you know that consuming just 10 calories extra each day will result in a weight gain of 1 pound each year? And only one candy bar a week, say 250 calories, will result in a weight gain of 4 pounds each year. A man who is 165 pounds when he is 18 years old would be 273 pounds when he is 45 if he eats just 250 calories extra each week. Frightening, isn't it? And those extra pounds have the potential to shorten my life and prevent me from providing for my wife in our old age. Or even worse, they could cause me to be a financial burden on our family due to the added cost of treating disease. Let me quote from the John's Hopkins Guide to Health After 50:

"Approximately 280,000 adult deaths in the United States each year are related to obesity. Several serious medical conditions have been linked to obesity, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke. Obese men are more likely than non-obese men to die from cancer of the colon, rectum, or prostate. Obese women are more likely than non-obese women to die from cancer of the gallbladder, breast, uterus, cervix, or ovaries."

All that in exchange for some comfort food. Not much of an exchange I'd say.

Are you at a healthy weight, overweight, or obese? Check your BMI. For most of us, it's a good indicator. A BMI of 24 or lower is healthy. Mine is 24, but only 2 pounds more and I'll be 25. That's overweight. A BMI of 25-29.9 is overweight, and a BMI of 30 or more is obese. Do the math. Take your weight times 704 and divide the result by your height in inches squared. ( It's a number worth knowing.

The Apostle Paul once said, "you are not your own, you were bought at a price, therefore glorify God in your body". While admittedly he was speaking of sexual mores, and while not everyone who reads this is a believer in the Bible, the idea has some merit. You are not your own. Your spouse, and children have a right to expect you to take care of yourself so that you can continue to contribute to their lives as you age, and especially so that you don't become a burden to them by developing diseases that you might have been able to avoid with better choices.

Some of you will say, "Miles, we all have to die of something!" When I come to your memorial service, I'll keep that in mind. As for me, I will try to continue taking care of my health by not exchanging it for comfort food when I'm stressed, lonely, angry or bored.

And I want to beat Dale in October.

Close - no cigar.

The button was labeled, "Click Here For Lifespan Calculator". I had just spent several minutes answering a series of questions about my lifestyle, health and ancestry. Now the results were about to appear on my laptop screen - "Expected Lifespan 98 years". 98 years? 98? I was so disappointed. I had planned to live to be 100 years old, and the lifespan calculator said I may live to be only 98. Immediately I began thinking - what could I do to get those other two years back. (I thought about retaking the survey, and lying on it.) It would be so dissatisfying to die two years before my goal. There had to be a way to get those two years back! Close - no cigar is unacceptable.

By now you're beginning to see a part of my personality which exasperates my wife and my friends. I always set the bar too high. Then I'm disappointed with the subsequent but predictable failure. Finally, I tack the adverb "only" onto the achievement as if it now no longer represents anything but a less than an acceptable effort.

For example, every time I leave the house for a training ride, I have an idea of where I plan to ride and although I haven't mapped out the route using a computer mapping tool, I have an expectation of how many miles it is likely to be. After all, I've ridden these roads many times, and can predict with some success (or so I often think) how far it is from here to there. During the ride, I never look at the odometer. I always wait until I roll into my drive - then I check. And each time, I'm disappointed. It seems to always be slightly fewer miles than I had hoped for. If I plan a 60 mile ride, I may wind up with only 57 miles. When I plan for 80, it's usually 71.

You might think that a 57 mile training ride would satisfy me. It would, if I'd planned on riding 55 miles. But when I plan to ride 60, 57 feels like failure. It feels like a big waste of time. All I can do to wait until tomorrow and try again. Even if the ride has met or surpassed every other training expectation and has filled my little brain with endorphins, when I roll fewer miles than I had planned I fall into a mild depression upon discovering it. I hate falling short, especially falling only a little short of my goals.

I rode the century ride in Mt. Vernon last August. I had decided to ride solo - no drafting - and planned to average 18 miles per hour for the entire 110 miles. (The century in Mt. Vernon has bonus miles on it.) I figured that a good strategy would be to start strong and put some mph in the bank that I could draw off of if I hit a head wind or some other energy sapping, ride slowing phenomena. I ignored the first rest stop as the other riders stopped to refill and chat. Checking my mph avg, I saw that it was 21. I felt strong, so I figured that I must have a tailwind, and kept going. A group came alongside and invited me to join. I waved them on. I had a goal that didn't include drafting with a group. I ignored the next stop; I still had enough supplies on the bike and on my back. I checked the speedometer. 19.5 mph avg. "OK. A little off, but manageable. I was 40 miles into the ride and still felt good, so this might be doable after all," I reasoned.

Somewhere around mile 60 I started to feel nauseous. The day was hot, and there wasn't a patch of shade in sight. I had been consuming Perpetuem as a paste for several hours now, and I didn't feel as if I could force down another swallow. I concentrated on drinking water until the next rest stop. Mph? 18.4. Still OK. I did stop at this rest stop. I refilled my bottles and ate a small bag of pretzels. I was hoping the salt and carbohydrates would help. I poured cold water over my head until I began to feel less like Johnny Flame and more like my old happy self. Rolling back onto the road which was shimmering in the noon heat, I kept a close eye on my average mph. Soon it was down to 18.1. Damn. In the heat, and with a building nausea, I knew it might be impossible to keep it above 18. All I could do now was ride hard and hope harder. But as the miles added up on the odometer, the mph avg declined.

By the time I finished that afternoon, I had ridden over 100 miles without drafting but had managed an average speed of only 17.3 miles per hour. I was completely depressed. You'd think that I might be happy. That's not bad for an ordinary cyclist who was approaching 50 years old. But I had aimed at 18 mph avg. and hit only 17.3 mph avg. Close - no cigar was not acceptable.

Now you can understand why I will die unhappily at only 98. I want to be 100. When I sat down last night at the computer and logged onto the lifespan calculator, I expected that I would be a centenarian upon my demise. But some smart people (and an even smarter electronic machine) were now telling me that I'll finish just short of the goal. Never mind that lots of people would be happy to turn 98. I would be only 98. I would not have made it to 100.

Even now, I'm making plans to lose a little more weight, floss more regularly, use sunscreen when I ride and change my ancestry to a family who has never had heart disease, cancer or diabetes. You might not mind being only 98 when you die, but I want to be 100. Close - no cigar is unacceptable.

Riding the distance.

We are cyclists. We ride. One of the pleasures of riding is "riding the distance". Often, when we have spoken to a co-worker about a Saturday ride, they respond with, "You rode _____ miles on a BIKE!" Sometimes it is said with admiration, sometimes with incredulity. Either way, you know you are part of an elite group of people who ride the distance. How far is too far (or far enough)? That depends on you.

Your bicycle is probably capable of taking you as far as you want to go. The best long distance ride most of us will ever hope to achieve is the 1200K (744 miles). None of us may ever qualify for RAAM (Race Across America), but we could all qualify for any of the several 1200K rides in North America as well as the international ones with the premier ride being PBP (Paris-Brest-Paris)

That ride began in 1891. It was a bicycle race with professional riders entering until 1951 when Maurice Diot set a record which still stands of 38:55. Since that time it has been an amateur event, a Randonnee. It is still being completed in under 50 hours by many.

The organization RUSA (Randonneurs USA) promotes the sport of randonneuring. It is a sport in which self-sufficiency is paramount. There are no support teams or vehicles allowed. There are checkpoints along the way at which you have your brevet (pronounced bre-vay) card stamped, thereby proving you were there within the time limit (yes, there are time limits, although they are fairly generous). Upon finishing, you may purchase a medal (if that appeals to you), or you may simply bask in the knowledge that you've ridden the distance. How far?

In order to qualify for PBP or any other 1200K event, you need to finish a complete brevet series which is 200K 300K 400K and 600K. Most of you have ridden centuries so a 200K is only 24 more miles. Very doable. And the 300K (186 miles) is less than a double century which many riders accomplish each year. Again, very doable.

Imagine the fun you'll have and the stories you'll tell. On a website for the San Diego Randonneurs Matthew O'Neill writes:

"Speaking of forgetting gear...

I almost DNF'd (did not finish) once because I seemed to forget everything possible. About the only things that I did bring were bike, shoes, helmet, sleeping-bag, shampoo (why, I dunno), some food, and bike shorts/shirt. A few of the things I forgot to bring: jacket, gloves, warmers (arm, leg, knee, anything really), sunblock, prescription glasses, readily exchangeable currency of any kind (I had $2 Canadian in my bike bag for some reason), and apparently my brain. Somehow I finished the ride, despite the fact that it was wicked cold for most of it and that I couldn't really see where I was riding because I left my glasses at home. By the end of the ride, I looked like I was homeless as I had cobbled together cold weather gear from a dirty t-shirt that another rider lent me, newspaper, tyvex shipping material, and the one spare sock that I apparently saw fit to pack for the ride which was used as an impromptu glove. Ahhh, the stuff of memories. The ride was completed successfully by the way, albeit not exactly in style."

Makes you wish you were there, huh? Well you can be. We will be entering into this sport as a part of our club riding schedule next year. Check out the website and start getting a feel for the joy of long distance riding you'll be able to experience in the coming years. We'll start with only a 200K and 300K (as allowed by RUSA rules) and we will build on that in the following years. PBP is scheduled for 2011, and if you want to travel and are able to complete the entire brevet series during that year (usually March-June with each brevet held during one month only and in order), then you will be qualified and can fly to Paris to ride that historic ride. There are indications that with PBP growing, they may begin to limit the participants by lottery for each country of origin. There will still be 4 Randonnees (1200K rides) in North America which will be open to you even if you don't win the lottery. (And I would have to win the Power Ball lottery to go, I can't afford to travel to another state, not to mention another country just to ride a bike!)

Look ahead. As you continue to ride for pleasure, what are your distance goals? Have you completed metric centuries until they are old hat? Have you done every local century a few times, and are not challenged anymore? If you are looking for a challenging one day ride (actually 2 days in the case of the 600K), then look no farther than a brevet series. There are plenty of reasons to keep your fitness up during the winter, and plenty of reasons to build it during the riding season, but the best one is to knowing you'll be "riding the distance".

Ride your bike. Log your miles.

Here we are in July. This year is now half over and the riding season is in full swing. It's hard to extrapolate data without a complicated formula like the Treasury Secretary is using to calculate jobs saved, but a quick glance at your log book will give you an idea how many miles you are likely to have in by the end of the year. What's that? I thought I heard someone say they didn't keep a log book. Really? Why not?

Keeping a log book is easy, and it's as much a part of cycling as keeping your chain lubricated. Oh. You don't lube your chain either. I see.

I don't suppose any of you use checkbooks and debit cards without recording every transaction. Do you? No. Very soon you will be paying overdraft fees at the bank. Sure, it's a hassle, but it's much less of a hassle than dealing with those fees. And when the statement comes into your inbox, do you take the time to reconcile it with your transaction records? Of course you do. A log book is not much different.

Logging your miles (or kilometers) doesn't have to be difficult or complicated. Just logging the date and distance in a small spiral notebook would be a good start. Even if you only have one bike, and you use your bike computer to keep track of the total distance, you still have to reset it every year, or record each year's mileage if you want to know your annual mileage.

Record keeping is an integral part of our lives. You record every debit transaction and reconcile your electronic bank statement on some regular basis. You invest money and keep track of those symbols on the NYSE or at least look at the quarterly statements you receive. You attempt to lose weight by paying attention to the amount/type of food you eat and then you weigh yourself occasionally. For some of us, record keeping is a detailed inventory of our lives, but for everyone who want to be successful, record keeping in some form is essential.

I am aware that there is a spectrum of cyclists. Someone who owns a bicycle and rides it around the cul-de-sac with their kids on Friday night, is a cyclist. And someone who rides in a couple of charity rides each year, for which they train a little, is a cyclist. And, of course, the winner of the most recent RAAM is a cyclist. You will be somewhere on that spectrum. Moving up the spectrum will involve, among other things, keeping a log book.

(Miles' note: I can hear one of you saying right now, "Miles, I can out ride you any day, and I don't keep a log." Yes you can, no you don't.)

Another way to move up the spectrum is by riding your bike. Eddy Merckx was once asked the secret to successful racing. He said, "There are three things. Ride your bike. Ride your bike. Ride your bike." He's absolutely right. While I'm not suggesting that you turn into a mileage junkie, and there are ways to be successful without simply piling on the miles, there finally is no substitute for just riding your bike.

There are two main records you will want to keep and look at: distance and consistency. You will want to keep track of the distance you ride. Keep track of each ride's distance, each week's distance, each year's distance. And by keeping track of those numbers, you will also be able to see how consistently you ride. Are you a weekend only rider? Try to get some evening or morning miles in. Try commuting a little. Are you a seasonal rider? Try to get some miles in after Thanksgiving and before April. Shoot for increasing your distance and consistency throughout your life.

Cycling has many benefits. Ride your bike - log your ride. Rinse and repeat.

Remember - They're YOUR Goals!

I am not a wise man, but I used to play one. Let me give you a couple of insights into goal setting and achieving (after all, goal setting is only dreaming if there is no achieving to follow the setting).

Here are two bits of wisdom (you might say this is my "two bits"): First of all, only the Ten Commandments needed to have been written in stone. For your goal setting, especially your cycling goals, use a pencil. You'll save money on the White-Out, and your training log won't look so bad by the end of the year.

Before this year began, I had my training log filled out through December. I had filled in which rides I wanted to do, and what training I would follow in order to be ready for those rides. It was all there; all I had to do was ride it out. Except that life has a funny way of sticking it's head up at those moments and saying, "Oh yeah? Watch this...". So I erased it all and started over. Then it was done. Or so I thought. Since January, I've worn out a couple of erasers changing my goals in my training log.

In fact, just yesterday, I had a mechanical failure with my rear wheel which was an occasion to bring out the eraser again. A big tour I had planned for August would now be scrubbed, and plan B would replace it. Oh, I could keep throwing money at my bike and force my way into that tour, but I've already spent nearly $500 this year to get ready for it, and even I know when it's time to say, "Whoa!". But it's OK, the plans were made in pencil.

There's a reason why pencils are made of wood - they float. When the flood of life washes out the trail you were following, you, too, need to float. You'll use less energy as you get your bearings and scan the horizon for Plan B.

That brings me to my second wind, I mean, bit of wisdom. What do Cubs fans and Jewish Passover Celebrants have in common? They both believe in next year. For about a century now, Chicago Cubs fans have ended their season with a warning to all Baseball fans everywhere - Next Year! And for centuries, every Jewish Passover ended with a toast and the words, "Next year in Jerusalem!" In 1948, next year came for them. In fact in 1967, Jerusalem became their capitol again.

If you erase a goal from the training log you haven't necessarily abandoned it, just postponed it til next year, or whenever it becomes reasonable again. Last year, I wanted to ride home from Metropolis after doing the 60 miles of the Superman ride. When the day came, I rode to Metropolis in Michael Ahrens's pickup truck, cycled only the 38 mile loop with him, and decided to ride back with him in his truck. I was a little disappointed in myself at the time. I had thought I would get about 110 miles and really impress people. Instead I only had 38, and impressed no one. (Captain's note: if impressing people is your big goal in cycling, you need a new goal.)

I decided that "next year" I would accomplish it. Fast forward to June 13, 2009 - I cycled down to Superman's ride, rode the 60 mile loop (dropping some of you on the last big climb) and had the strength left to ride my bicycle back to Marion for 172 miles on the day. (So - are you impressed?)The point of my pointless never-ending bragging is this: last year was last year. This year was "next year".

If you need to erase a goal because it seems reasonable to do so, then erase it - it IS reasonable, but it is NOT abandoning a goal - there is always "Next Year!".

Seeing is optional

I've been doing some research on "inattentive blindness". This phenomena has only recently been more heavily researched by psychologists, but it has important implications for cyclists.

The long and short of it is this: people may not see what is directly in their field of vision. That means you! Pretty scary stuff, huh?

It has long been my belief that riding on a shoulder is more dangerous than riding in traffic. I have held that with many distractions to the driver already present, they simply do not pay attention to anything on the shoulder of the road. It's as if their mind decides that only what is in "my lane" is important, and that only relates to the space between the white line on the right and the yellow line on the left. Anything on the other side of those lines only becomes important when it crosses that perceptual barrier.

At intersections, which are perhaps the most dangerous place to cycle, I always take the full lane. In fact, I take the lane about a block away from the intersection and I ride in line with the drivers' heads, that is, near the center line. I believe that drivers wanting to turn right on red, or who are anxiously waiting for their light to turn green will be looking at that exact spot, so that they can see the eyes of the driver of another vehicle. I want them to see my eyes, and therefore, me. In fact, I usually don't wear dark glasses if I'm only riding in town so that they really can see my eyes.

We have been successful in having legislation passed which requires drivers to give us 3 feet of space when they pass us. (Now if we could only be successful in having it enforced.) However, if I ride on the shoulder, then in many cases, I encourage drivers to ignore the rule. If the shoulder is only 3 feet wide or less, I am mathematically unable to get that 3 feet of space between my left shoulder and their right fender IF they continue on a straight path without moving over. And THEY WON'T MOVE OVER BECAUSE THEY DON'T HAVE TO; YOU ARE NOT ON THE ROAD! The law becomes moot. And when they hit you they will say they didn't see you, and that will be that.

Similarly, if you hug the white line, allowing them to squeeze by without moving, you create the same situation. It seems counter intuitive, but the safest place would be directly in front of them, in line with other drivers. Since that would not be legal in most cases, and would stir up a hornet's nest of ire from drivers everywhere, we have to take the next best place.

Use the rule of thirds. Mentally divide the lane into three sections. On most occasions, ride within the third that is on the right side of the lane, without hugging the white line. Try to stay far enough to your left to force drivers wanting to pass you to move over a little. Obviously, on a very wide road, you will not be able to do that, nor would you want to. You will have to trust your guardian angel on those roads.

Look ahead. If there is debris, a poor road surface likely to cause you to crash, or a narrow roadway with no room to share, move over to the middle third. Ride as quickly as you are able, then move back as soon as possible. Use hand signals to indicate your movements. Ignore honking.

Finally, at intersections, or when making a left turn, use the left third of the road. Remember, if you are stopped for a left turn, cars behind you may not perceive you as well. Track standing may not be your best option. Keep your left arm out and add some movement to help their ability to notice you. Most of you will not have a blinking signal on the rear of your bike, especially in the daylight, so stay alert and turn as quickly as it is safe to do so.

Being seen is your responsibility. That's important enough to repeat it. Being seen is your responsiblility. One of our members refers to my bike as a "freakin' Pee Wee Herman bike" because of all the lights, reflective tape, etc. So what? In town, I wear a reflective vest and reflective ankle bands and on the open road I wear a hi-viz/reflective Sam Browne sash, with a hi-viz/reflective triangle along with reflective ankle bands. (For added protection, I've added a blinky to the triangle.) I have a light mounted on my helmet and two on my bike for night riding. Yeah, I look like a dork. I hope that's what every driver who sees me thinks. And I hope every driver sees me. And you, too.

(For more on inattentive blindness see

Leave With The One What Brung You

Mental preparation is the most difficult and the most necessary preparation for long distance bicycle riding. For starters, riding long distance can be boring. Hours spent sitting still and pedaling circles can be mind numbing. Some riders use headphones and ipods to fill the monotony.

Personally, I believe headphones, or even ipods with external speakers are dangerous for bicycling. Problems with traffic, road surfaces or even with dogs and squirrels can come up quickly even when you are paying attention. The last thing you'll need is to be distracted by music or pod-casts. However, those cyclists who listen to the wind when they ride, while certainly safer, will be bored stiff after a while. And allowing your mind to drift will result in a slower pace, and therefore more time on the bike than you wish. Train your mind to pay attention during the long hours of riding it will take to be successful in long distance cycling.

Learning to ride alone is also an essential part of training. During the recent Superman Ride in Metropolis Illinois, I rode briefly with a rider who complained of having to ride alone for a portion of the ride. He had cycled nearly half of the ride with others, but then gradually was out-ridden and had been riding alone for several miles when I caught up to him. He said that the time spent riding alone was much harder than the group riding had been. I agreed but warned him that unless he was prepared to ride alone, he would never ride enough miles in training to be successful. The cyclist who is unwilling to get dressed and take the bike out for training without support from others will always ride at less than her potential. The cyclist who is unwilling to train alone will finally wind up riding alone when the group he is riding with drops him half-way through the event.

Fair-weather riders will not reach their potential either. Train yourself to ride when it's too hot for reasonable people to be out, or too cold for all but penguins, or when the rain is coming down by the bucket. Train yourself to ride in the dark, or against the wind. If you only can ride when the temperature is between 65 and 80 degrees during the daylight in dry weather with a light wind at your back, you'll have difficulty finding events to participate in.

Finally, train yourself not to quit. During training, try to identify those things which will cause you to quit during an event, and decide ahead of time to press on through them. While test riding my route to Metropolis, and later riding down for the event, I identified an intersection where I might quit. My route down took me on the New Columbia Road and I saw the intersection where the event route turned onto that road and led towards Metropolis. I knew that if I wasn't mentally prepared to make that turn to the right towards Metropolis, it would be easy to turn to the left toward Vienna and home and cheat myself out of 50 miles. I decided ahead of time to turn right.

There were, however, two other opportunities to quit I hadn't anticipated. When I arrived back to the start/stop location at the park, I took the time to refill before I headed out. A River To River Cycling Club rider rolled in and began putting his bike on his vehicle for the trip home to Marion. He called out to offer me the opportunity to quit and ride home with him. I replied, "Dance with any boy you like, but leave with the one what brung you." He smiled, recognizing the "no thanks" I was implying. I had already decided to ride the entire distance, I wouldn't quit here. The second opportunity to quit was on the way home at Tunnel Hill when I flatted. I stopped to replace the tube and I was unable to find a drop of shade so I just began fixing the flat there on the side of the road. As I was refilling the tire, I made some mistake or other and blew the tube off of the rim, ruining it. I had another tube I could use, but just at that moment, a pickup truck stopped. The driver said that he was going to Marion, and if I wanted I could throw the bike in the back and ride in with him. I replied, "Dance with any boy you like, but leave with the one what brung you". He didn't get it, so I said, "no thanks" and he drove away. I replaced the blown tube and finished the ride home.

If you only prepare physically for an event or ride and neglect your mental preparation, you will not achieve your goals. Be prepared for boredom, loneliness, and a desire to quit to attack you throughout the event at various times, and probably more than once. You can use my mantra if you like: "Dance with any boy you like, but leave with the one what brung you". Or make up one of your own. Ed Pavelka, author of Long Distance Cycling says, "just finish the damn ride". Either way, prepare mentally. As they say, "it's 10% physical and 90% mental". Be prepared and you'll always "leave with the one what brung you".

Lessons From Randonneuring

On Tyler Hamilton's website he refers to the "healing power of the bike". I agree with him completely. Time spent riding a bicycle is time well spent.

Leaving your ipod at home, turning off the blackberry and listening to the wind will heal your mind and soul. Watching the sun rise as you ride, or riding while the moon is high in the sky providing her gentle light to the fields lining your roadway will recenter your spirit and remind you of your place on the planet.

Randonneuring, self-supported long-distance cycling will provide all of this and will teach you how to live. As I rode today, I considered the following:

Randonneuring teaches goal setting, prioritization, and logical thinking to develop methods to accomplish the task decided upon. Wanting to ride 200Km or more is only a wish or idea until a date is chosen, a plan is laid out, and the resources needed to reach that goal are set aside. No one can ride every event, own every piece of gear, or participate in every sport or hobby that seems interesting at the time. Decisions have to be made, and choosing some things will automatically delete others from the list.

Randonneuring teaches self-discipline. While some are able to ride 200Km or more through genetically given athletic ability alone, most of us will have to train for long-distance cycling. This will mean setting aside time for riding and following a plan developed either by others or ourselves. Reruns of Gilligan's Island or Lost (the modern version, I suppose) will have to be watched by others, since we will need to get out on our bikes for training.

Randonneuring teaches self-support. There are all kinds of cycling events a rider could attend. Most have some level of rider support, from SAG stops to team cars. Many times, all a rider needs to bring to a ride is a bike, since water bottles will be provided full of some syrupy drink passing itself off as a sport drink. And the rider will pass tables of goodies every 15 miles or a team car will pull alongside periodically to refuel or rehydrate the rider. Then there is always the team mechanic or the SAG vehicle ready to change flats, repair broken cables, or reattach parts which are falling off a poorly maintained bicycle. Randonnuering is different. If you need it, you better bring it, or be able to buy it along the way, or you will do without it, and possibly not finish the event because of it. Successful randonneurs are watchful of extra weight on the bike, but counting grams is for others, counting on ourselves is for us.

Randonneuring teaches selflessness as a way of cycling and living.Cycling which has winning as a goal is foreign to randonneurs. Winning involves defeating others. Randonneuring is about working together to reach a mutually held desire - finishing within the time limit. Often, all that is needed for a cyclist to continue or finish, is a little help from a passing cyclist. Perhaps a spare tube, or an extra battery, or maybe even riding alongside for a while to encourage one another. Since all finishers are listed in alphabetical order, it makes no difference what the finishing time is, and riding with a slower rider to help him to finish may be just the way to increase your cycling karma, or pay back a debt to cyclists who've helped you along the way somewhere. In a competitive event, only one rider can win. Therefore, the logical conclusion is that all the others are losers. In Randonneuring, the only loser is the rider who helps only himself and ignores the riders around him. Otherwise, there are no winners or losers, there are only finishers.

Randonneuring teaches finishing as a way of life. The rider handbook given by RUSA to new members uses a phrase "Club Abandonnee Randonnee" to label riders who have been unable to finish a ride for some reason. The handbook further states that at some time, all of us will be in that club. It's inevitable. But avoiding it as much as possible is the touchstone of randonneuring. To the extent that it is possible to "gut it out" and somehow finish the ride, you are expected to, and should expect no less of yourself. Being prepared mentally and physically and having your equipment ready and tested will go a long way toward finishing. But at the end of all of that preparation there still remains the willingness of the rider to find a way to make it to the finish line within the time limit if it's possible.

As you can see, these, and other lessons taught by randonneuring, are applicable in all of our lives. Too many people today have given in to their weaknesses and are willing for the government, their parents, their spouses, their children, or SOMEONE to take care of them while they indulge in pleasure and fantasy. Choosing to become long-distance cyclists - randonneurs - would be a good place for all adults to begin. And while a return to the draft may be a good idea for some young people today to help them mature, a better idea would be a return to bicycling that many have left behind for a driver's license and a Ford Mustang.

And not just any bicycling, Randonneuring.