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.