Monday, September 28, 2009

Staying focused on the eggs all in the same basket, which is me all over.

Today is my first day off, therefore it's a riding day. This morning my mind is scattered into little pieces over several ideas and thoughts. As with any other day, I start the day by asking, "Is there any point to this?" If it's a work day, then the answer is, "Yes, if you want to continue to live indoors and eat regularly, especially if you want to do those things in the company of your wife!" If it's a second day off which is a house chore day then the answer is, "Yes, if you want to continue to live in the company of your wife!"

But if it's a first day off, which is a riding day, the answer is much more complicated. I have very definite goals when it comes to bicycling. And those goals will not be reached by sitting on the couch with a laptop computer, or the TV remote. But the finish line of those goals is so far down the road that between here and there life might raise it's ugly head and prevent me from reaching them regardless of the training that I do. So Then the question really becomes, "Is it reasonable to put all your eggs in one basket?" I will let you in on a little secret. I don't know any other way to live.

As I have stated elsewhere, I do my best work with a large hammer, a broad brush, and a megaphone. I live most of the time outside the group. Those inside the group insist that if I would change, I would be a happy little group member. Believe me, being a happy little group member would be a welcome change to the way I've survived the last 50 years. But, they are not talking about me changing my behavior, they're talking about me changing me. Sadly, that isn't likely to happen.

It's not that I don't want group hugs and kisses, it's just that the real premise is this: If I have to be someone else to get group hugs and kisses, then it's not really me they are hugging and kissing, it's someone else. See? So I keep rolling forward; as me. Back to the question, "Is there any point to this?" Yes.

I have to live every day until I'm 100 (I hope). I have to live each one of those days as me. I have to live each one of those days WITH me. I might as well be doing something I enjoy. I enjoy bicycling long-distances. And you can't bicycle long-distances if you don't get out and ride every day with a long day once each week. So to give myself at least a sporting chance at achieving my goals, I have to do the leg-work now, today. I think there's a better question, which comes to my mind after this last year of "clubbing".

What if I work really hard to be who everyone thinks I should be and they still don't approve? Will I be happy then? Doubt it. Might as well just be me and cycle the second half - with my big hammer, broad brush and megaphone; focused and putting all my eggs in the same basket.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Bicycle Commuting is Not So Bad, Comparatively Speaking

This morning as I left for work at 2:30 a.m., it was raining. I have rain gear, but I rarely put it on. It's hot, and you can get just as wet from the perspiration as you would from the rain in most cases. I only use it when I'm coming home if it's a real deluge. But when going to work, now that's a different story. I have to decide whether or not I would be wetter with or without rain gear. I ride in my work clothes, and don't want to have wet jeans all day. As a year round commuter, I consider the weather one of my constant complications.

Then there is secure bike parking. Because I drive a truck, there isn't an office or even a closet to put my bike in. So I have to find a place to lock it up hoping it's still there when I return. While almost any immovable object will do, many businesses consider a vagrant bicycle an eyesore and don't want it around. While businesses and homes will dedicate almost 200 square feet of space to EACH CAR, whether or not anyone uses it, a place to park a bicycle is hard to find. (According to the League of American Bicyclists "Cost of free parking to the national economy: $300 billion. Cost of one surface parking space is $10,000; parking garage spaces between $20,000 and $40,000."

And if those weren't reason enough to give up bicycle commuting, there's the daily traffic. At 2:30 in the morning I have to ride in the dark and worry about drunks, then at 3:30 in the afternoon there is the regular Marion traffic jam. You wouldn't think that a town this small and insignificant would have this much traffic, but it seems that everyone drives two cars each, and all at the same time. I call it the gauntlet. You have to ride defensively, aggressively, and big. You have to establish your position in the lane early, and dare them to run you over (then hope they don't). I drive a 65 foot articulated vehicle full of thousands of gallons of gasoline all day long and I'm safer in that thing than on my 18 pound bicycle at the end of the day.

But the complications I have with year round commuting pale in comparison to the complications that diabetics have. I copied this from a website for diabetics...

"Statistics in Britain showed that almost 100 diabetes sufferers every week have a limb amputated due to complications with their disease. More than 2.3 million people in Britain have diabetes and an estimated 500,000 more could be suffering from the condition without realising it. If not managed correctly, the disease can damage the nerves and blood vessels that serve the limbs, eventually making amputation necessary."

"Scientific American has a special report on managing diabetes. We all know what a feat is the day-to-day activities of someone who cares for a diabetic or for a diabetic to live a life with diabetes. However, if done properly and religiously, diabetes can be managed as most can attest to it. Diabetes rates have reached epidemic levels, making information on how to manage the disease truly important. An unfortunate catch-22 of diabetes is that although the right dietandexercise can help with its prevention and management, diabetes itself can complicate both eating and physical activity. Patients may need to pay extra attention to taking meals on a regular schedule and to monitoring how exercise dehydrates them or lowers their bloodglucose. Some may fail to comply consistently with prescribed regimens that seem inconvenient or unpleasant, thereby raising their risk of complications."

If I didn't ride my bicycle every day, I would be facing those complications and more. So in perspective, I think I'll just ride my bike in the rain, snow and even ice, finding a place to leave it, and fighting traffic all the way. It's not so bad, comparatively speaking.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Yeah, but...

Recently Joe, our cycling club president and I were talking about mentors and the tendency some of us have to "yeah, but" them when they give us their advice. While this doesn't make sense to us now as we are discussing it, there have been times when we've done it, and it made sense to us at the time.

Personally, I love instructions. I discovered my love for instructions when I was a teen-ager in East Peoria. The church I was part of was collecting pledges towards a new building. We brought in a "professional" fund-raiser who held a training meeting for us. I listened intently to every word he said, figuring that he knew how this was to be done. One of the instructions he gave us was how to handle a situation where the TV was on while we were making our "pitch" to the household, and how to get them to turn it off. On one of my calls, I encountered just that problem. So I applied the solution he recommended, and voila! they turned the TV off. I became convinced that following instructions was the path to success.

Throughout my life, I've rarely owned, built or fixed anything without reading the instructions. And I've always been glad I have. Now that doesn't mean that I've always listened to the advice of others. Often, I've felt that I was as smart as they were. But printed instructions get my attention every time. Even in cycling.

I rode my first century in 1995. I used the Bicycling Magazine 8 week plan to a better century, faithfully following each training day. Then on event day I rode the 100 miles on a steel yard sale bike, a real 10 speed, with strength to spare. I didn't have cycling clothes or shoes, and couldn't even afford special cycling nutrition (I used fig newtons), but the plan worked and I was successful.

The last few years, however, I haven't been able to use a plan written by someone else, I've had to make it up as I go. All the plans I've seen are based on a 7 day week, and since 2004 my week only has 6 days in it. Added to that has been the unpredictability of my riding buddies. I have often received a telephone call or email asking if I want to go riding - today or tomorrow morning. Rather than say no (I get plenty of "alone time"), I have frequently scrapped my "plans" and adopted an ad hoc plan to get some "buddy time". This has often left me either over trained or under trained.

This year I completed the two rides which I promised myself that I would do: the 172 mile Metropolis Outing, and the 223 mile Mt. Vernon Adventure. However, after the Mt. Vernon Adventure, I was worried. The day had been perfect. I had the advantage of great riding companions for the century part of the ride. The weather had been mild. Even the wind had cooperated and was blowing from the North, helping me on the ride home. Yes, I was real worried. What if next year I have no companions? What if it's hot? What if the wind is from the South and I have to fight it all the way home? I was worn out when I got back this year. With less favorable conditions, I'm not sure I could repeat the success.

So I've decided to get back to basics; follow a written plan. I chose the Bicycling Magazine 16 week plan for riding a double century and modified it to work on a 6 day week. I'll follow it as closely as my schedule allows and see how it turns out (I'm planning on riding a 400 Kilometer/248 miles ride in May next year). Already I have had to be flexible to ride with my riding buddies. The "plan" called for 71 miles at my "double century pace", and after I had already left the house I got the call, "Hey! You wanna ride today at lunch?". So I agreed and changed my route so that I would be back in Marion by 11 and then rode with two of my buddies. This made a 71 mile day into an 82 mile day (and that's the "long day" on the plan about 3 weeks from now). So I'll have to deviate from the plan from time to time, but I'll try to keep that to a minimum.

Stay tuned, I'll let you know next year if the plan works or if I should have said, "Yeah, but" to Bicycling Magazine's 16 week double century training plan.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

New Year's Eve Letter

Happy New Year to all of you.
I decided to get a big jump on my annual year end letter. I assume that soon I will be receiving a letter or email from some of you highlighting your achievements and those of your family and as always, I wanted to start the ball rolling.

What a great year this has been! My oldest son received a grant from the Methodist Church for inner-city ministry with which he purchased and funded a homeless shelter in downtown Pittsburgh. In keeping with his humility, he and his family live, incognito, in the shelter so as to better minister to those who come there for a time. My second son liquidated his entire portfolio and moved to Borneo to live in a hut and serve the population there by digging fresh water wells by hand. His wife works as a mid-wife in training.

My oldest daughter has been promoted once more at the corporation where she works. She's now the vice-president in charge of all the North American operations. This keeps her very busy and we don't get to see her as often, but gratefully she finished her flight school and obtained her pilot's license so she is able to fly her twin engine plane back to Marion a few times a year and visit.

Her sister, my youngest, still works at a local restaurant, despite winning the Power Ball lottery last year. She believes that the money she won is a gift from God for the benefit of others, so she set up a foundation to help single mothers in Illinois with their education and housing. Her willingness to continue to do menial work is a sure indication of the humility which has always been her hallmark.

My wife's oldest son's family has been very active this last year. Besides the usual activities of a growing family, they were able to start a school for Native American children in their home where they teach English as a second language. Her youngest son is still in Japan where he works as a translator for a cinematic company which produces Anime.

Finally, my wife's daughter and husband have adopted their 23rd child from war-torn countries. I don't know how they manage such a large family while both holding down full-time jobs, but somehow they do. The World Special Children Adoption Committee will be giving their life-time achievement award in New York this year, and we think they may get it. Here's hoping.

As for my wife, herself, she has remained busy running the Old Tyme Rock and Roll DJ Ministry. She spends her days traveling to nursing homes playing rock and roll from the 50's and 60's and encouraging the seniors to dance as both exercise and therapy.

I try to spend at least one day a week with her in her ministry, but I have been very busy finishing my latest book: "One is a Primary Number and Blue is a Primary Color". It is a memoir which details my slide into a debilitating depression and subsequent recovery over the last 12 years. Immediately after it's publication, it soared to number 11 on the New York Times Top 10 books list. I will start a nationwide book tour later this year (sometime after December, I think).

Well, that's all the news we have to tell you for this year. We are hoping for a better year next year, as I'm sure all of you are as well. Bye for now...

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Let me explain...

My mom once told me, "Never explain. Your friends don't need it and your enemies won't accept it". But this one time, let me explain...

Mediocre: adjective
1.of only ordinary or moderate quality; neither good nor bad; barely adequate.
I've been aware that some readers have taken offense to my use of the adjective mediocre in referring to cyclists in my regular club. Let me explain...

When I use that word it is not to disparage any accomplishment or achievement. I was asked this weekend while on a ride about the total annual mileage I expect for 2009. The follow-up question had to do with whether or not a rider's annual mileage of 1000 miles counted for anything. My response was that if the rider in question had planned to achieve 1000 miles, and subsequently did achieve it - great! In fact if they were able to achieve 1050 or more - super! Back pats all around!! But if at the end of the year, a rider adds up all the miles in his log book and they total 1000, and that was entirely accidental. Boo! Let me explain...

An ordinary cyclist watches the news on Friday evening and sees that Saturday, the next day, will be fair weather. Having no pressing plans for the day, they decide to go for a ride. Since riding with others is better than riding alone, they call or email a few people, "Hey, wanna ride tomorrow?"

An ordinary cyclist hears of a charity ride in a nearby town three months before it occurs. About a month out, they begin deciding whether or not they want to register and ride it.

An ordinary cyclist uses a bicycle for recreation when there is no other recreation which might be more fun on the immediate horizon.

There's nothing wrong with ordinary cyclists, or according to the definition - a mediocre cyclist. In fact, the bicycle manufacturers and shops would soon go out of business if it weren't for the ordinary cyclists. There would be no charity rides, no bicycle clubs, no bike lanes or trails if if weren't for ordinary cyclists. They are the great majority! I just don't want to be one.

I want to rise above ordinary. I sit down in January and plan my entire cycling year (in pencil - life being what it is). I know every ride I want to do, and plan the training which will enable me to accomplish it; then start the training weeks or even months out. I plan to achieve something more than last year. More distance, or more events, or faster finishing times, or something - just MORE!

A dear friend, who died a few years ago, once angrily accused me of being a mediocre singer. He was right. I have an ordinary voice with an ordinary style. I agreed with him. What made it preposterous was that he was more ordinary than me, he just didn't know it. In the previous 2 or 3 decades of playing music, he hadn't learned anything new, he hadn't taken any risks, he hadn't discovered anything, he hadn't grown or achieved as a musician. Still he thought of himself as that younger man who had played in a regional band long ago. He was not that man - he was an ordinary middle-aged musician. Like me.

I make no pretense at being in the league of some of the riders who motivate and inspire me. I'm in contact with riders who routinely ride 300 to 600 mile events. One of my contacts is leaving in a couple of days to ride a 1200Km (744 miles) event in Colorado. There's no way I'm in his league. But I aspire to be. I dream of it. I train for it. I want it.

So when I use the phrase "mediocre cyclist", I don't mean you; I just don't want to mean me. If you are offended, then you'll need to get glad in the same jersey you got mad in. And while you wait for your feelings to subside, ask yourself "Am I an ordinary cyclist? Is that enough for me?" If you are and it is enough - great! It's just not enough for me.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Try, Try Again...

This morning while out on a ride, I made the final decision to start starting my next new cycling group. No, that's not a typo. I meant to say "start starting". I suppose that semantically that's the same as "start", but it implies the beginning of a beginning.

Some weeks ago, I opened a new website for long-distance cycling. I called it Little Egypt Randonneurs. The web address is When I told my wife about the new idea and new group she groaned. "How much will this idea cost us?" she asked.

I was a little hurt that she was quantifying my ideas and even my happiness using dollars and cents. However, as the treasurer of our little family, I guess she does have that responsibility. "Nothing extra," I assured her.

You see, I had learned a lot from my last failed idea, a regional cycling club. The first thing I had learned was not to invest any money for the benefit of others. Only spend what is necessary to keep yourself happy. You earn it, spend it on your own happiness. Let others "buy in" as they want, but with their money not yours. People will be happy to have cool websites, and legal charters, and all kinds of things if you are paying for it. Lesson number one.

I also learned to be specific. If you try to be broad enough to please most people, you wind up pleasing no one, not even yourself. And all the money and time you invest is wasted. In fact, I learned to please myself - first. With the last club, I wanted a long distance cycling club from the start. I even had an idea about various levels of ridership through which each rider could pass, trying to gain the ultimate title "BIKE MONSTER" (or something like that). That idea was shouted down as soon as I raised it, (mostly by mediocre cyclists) and some even threatened not to join if I persisted. So I gave in to majority demand and started a mediocre club for those less interested in "monster-ship". At the end of the experiment, they weren't happy (or involved), and I wasn't happy. Lesson number two.

Finally I learned that the "full monty" of club-ship - club officers, constitutions, bylaws, not-for-profit charters, etc. were unnecessary. All the time and money I spent obtaining or creating those things was also a big waste. Loose organizations with only one guy at the helm work best. People will come and go (according to how they "feel" today), so it's best not to count on them. Keep the organization and dreams small enough that one person can accomplish them alone if necessary, and you keep the heartburn to a minimum. Lesson number three.

I have some really cool ideas about how the next group will operate and what we can achieve in long-distance cycling. At least they seem cool to me. And this group may only be a one-member organization. That's okay. I'm happiest when I'm dreaming and creating, and I don't necessarily have to be achieving anything to stay happy. I don't need to please anyone else or even have their approval or praise. For instance, when I read my posts, or my poems I think, "Wow! That's pretty good!" And I am pleased. (If that sounds too self-congratulatory for you, then I think you have a problem with self-esteem. I don't.)

As soon as the idea has fermented a little more, it will be ready for publication. In fact, I already have someone working on a logo for me, and I think I'll get it tattooed on my calf. Why not? It is my group.