Monday, April 26, 2010


(The following is a true story. None of the names were changed - after all, no one is truly innocent.)

"Welcome to our show today. It's time to play TEST? OR SIGN?"
"Who is our contestant today, Johnny?"

"Today's contestant is Miles Stoneman, Alex. Miles is a cyclist who had planned to ride his new 187 mile RUSA route today. And now he's ready to play TEST? OR SIGN?"

"Alright, Miles. Here's how the game is played. I will read you a scenario off of a card, and you will have to tell me whether it is a TEST, which means you will keep on riding or whether it's a SIGN and you will quit and call for a ride home."

"Ready to play?"

"I'm ready, Alex"

"Okay. Scenario number 1. You've just left the house at 4:30 in the morning to do your 187 miles ride. Before you reach the end of your block, you break a spoke on the front wheel. TEST? OR SIGN?"

"That's easy, Alex. Since I'm near the house, and replacing a spoke on the front wheel only takes a couple of minutes - TEST! I'll keep riding."

"Great! Scenario number 2. You are distracted by the morning's events and before you get out of town, you discover that you've left your long-fingered gloves at home and your hands are already cold. TEST? OR SIGN?"

"Easy again! There's a Huck's food store on the edge of town. I'll stop and buy a pair of jersey gloves to wear. TEST! I'll keep riding."

"Here's Scenario number 3, Miles. You get 7 miles from home and you break a spoke on your rear wheel this time. TEST? OR SIGN?"

"Oh. That's a little harder. I carry a Fiber-Fix emergency spoke with me, but since I'm only 7 miles from home, I'll ride back and replace the spoke thats broken. It's a little more difficult on the rear wheel, but I can do it quickly and still get in a big ride. TEST."

"Alright, then. Scenario number 4. After you get back on the road and out of town, it starts to rain and you've chosen to wear your nylon cycling jacket and leave the rain jacket at home, so you're getting wet. TEST? OR SIGN?"

"Wow. I don't like getting wet, and I wish I'd opted for the rain jacket. But after a few minutes, I'll be about as wet as I will be, and if I pedal hard, I'll work up enough body heat to stay warm. Besides, the same thing might happen in the middle of a Brevet and I wouldn't want to DNF, so I need to practice this anyway. I'll keep riding. TEST."

"Just a couple more, Miles. Scenario number 5. You make it to Bald Knob Cross and you choose to ride up Route 127 to Murphysboro. As you are riding you hear another spoke break on the rear wheel. Then when you check, you discover it was TWO spokes, not one. AND, you also discover that you've left your spoke wrench on the workbench at home after replacing the first one that broke. (In fact you call your wife who verifies that your spoke wrench is still on the bench, and she offers cheerfully, 'At least it isn't lost!' Now, Miles, TEST? OR SIGN?"

"Ooooh. Two spokes at once, huh? My Fiber-Fix emergency spoke won't do me any good without a spoke wrench, and besides, I only have one emergency spoke kit. BUT, I can open the butterfly on the rear brake to allow my wobbly wheel some room, and since the road to Carbondale is just ahead, I can ride to the bike store to get it fixed, then continue on the ride. TEST!"

"Wow. You are a tough nut to crack, Miles. Here's the last one. Scenario number 6. You ride the 8 miles or so to the bike store and on the way hear another spoke break due to the uneven tension on all the spokes now. The bike mechanic agrees to replace all three broken spokes, and while he's truing the wheel, ANOTHER spoke breaks in his hands. This is for the win, Miles. TEST? OR SIGN?"

"Up until now, Alex, I haven't always been completely clear which way to go. My inclination is to push through difficulties; I don't want to be a quitter. However, even RAY CHARLES could see the hand writing on the wall this time. I have a 400 kilometer brevet to ride in just two weeks. I don't want any wheel issues on the road during that ride. And the rule for wheels is: when you break three spokes on a wheel, it's time to rebuild the wheel. And I've broken FIVE spokes on the rear wheel today. Beside, the two that broke on the road happened to break only 40 feet from the turn to Carbondale. And the final spoke broke right in the bike store. Clearly, this is a SIGN Alex. I'm going to leave the bike with the mechanic so he can rebuild the wheel, in fact, I'm going to have him replace my tires at the same time. I'll stop riding and call my wife. It's a SIGN."

"Congratulations, Miles, you are today's winner! What has Miles won, Johnny?"

"Well, Alex, Miles has won the chance to come back tomorrow and play our game. The scenarios will be different but the opportunity to fail and the confusion he'll feel will be exactly the same!"

"Thank you, Johnny! So until tomorrow, as you go through your day, you must decide whether it's a TEST? OR SIGN?"

Cue the music.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Flipping Turtles

Today as I rode my bicycle near Mt. Vernon Illinois, I passed this turtle stuck on his (her? I don't know how to tell) back. At first I thought "Wow that sucks!" Then I stopped and turned around and rode back. I checked it over, it hadn't been hit, and I flipped it right side up and set it in the grass. Then I rode on.

Jesus told a story about a business man who stopped to help a wounded traveler. He cleaned and bandaged his wounds, took him to an inn, and spent money on his rehabilitation there. Jesus called that neighborly.

The business man didn't start a home for wounded travelers, or apply for a government grant, or start a not-for-profit to begin helping wounded travelers world wide. He helped the one he saw.

Today or tomorrow you might see a wounded traveler, or a kid with problems he solves with dope, or a woman whose husband mistreats her, or a turtle on its back. You aren't responsible for all the pain in the world. There is a God and you are not Him. But you can do something. Ask Him what that something is. He'll tell you.

If you see a turtle on its back today - flip it over and set it in the grass.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

I'm a cowboy.

The other day I rode my bike past the home of one of my cycling friends, Kevin. Kevin's wife trains horses and was outside with a recently acquired male named Thunder. He is a big grey horse with large brown eyes and strong intelligent features.

Karen was working with him as I rode by. She called out for me to stop. It seems that Thunder is nervous around bicycles. I could help with his training. She brought him out to the street and asked me to ride back and forth past him, slowly to acclimate him to bicycles and riders. I was afraid that the horse might bolt, but I did as I was asked, and the horse seemed to accept it without panic.

"Now," Karen said, "stand still so he can come up to you."

I stopped and Thunder walked up to me and began bumping my brake hood with his nose. Then he began "lipping" it. "Oh that's good," she said, "he's nosing it." Just then, Thunder snorted. "Oh look, he's nervous and scared." she observed. I thought, Oh good, that makes two of us.

Here was an animal that weighed over 800 pounds, had teeth that could bite the piss out of you and hooves that could stomp you to death in less than a minute. The only thing controlling that beast was a half-inch nylon rope attached on one end to a bridle and on the other to a woman who couldn't weigh 125 pounds if she had sand in her pockets. I stood very still and acted unafraid; perhaps horses, like dogs could sense fear.

Wanting to move away, I changed the subject. "I'm a cowboy." I announced to Karen. She looked at my quizzically. "I've just never owned a horse." I volunteered. I could tell by the way she was looking at me that she was doubting my self-disclosure.

But you see, I really am a cowboy. Cowboy is a state of mind. Cowboy is a way of being, and may have nothing to do with horses or pointy boots. Here's what Teddy Roosevelt Jr. once wrote about cowboys after spending some time out west...

"...their courage, their phenomenal physical endurance, their humor, the unwritten code that ruled the cow camp: Meanness, cowardice, and dishonesty are not tolerated, there is a high regard for truthfulness and keeping one's word, and intense dislike for a man who shirks his work".

The cowboy was bold, cared about his work, was self-reliant and self confident. Most important of all, the cowboy seemed to know how to deal with death, since death in a dozen different forms was an everyday part of his life."

From "Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail" by Theodore Roosevelt Jr.

You see, I'm a cowboy. Too bad cowboys are in short supply these days. We could use more. I heard on the radio today that the U.S. Postal Service was issuing 4 stamps to honor some movie cowboys. Stamps are good. Movie cowboys are OK. But we need more real cowboys. What about you? Are you a cowboy? Wanna be?

I'm a cowboy.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Where ever you go, there you are.

Knowing when you are there is the most difficult part of practicing gratefulness. If you're always "on the way to there", you might find it hard to appreciate where you are; after all, you are not there yet.

If, however, you are always there, then it's possible to be grateful for having arrived.

Last year, I imagined, planned for and completed two epic rides - the 172 miles for the Superman ride, and the 223 miles for the Mt. Vernon Century ride. I felt very satisfied at the completion of each. I had arrived. Each was there for me.

This year, however, as I try to complete a Brevet Series (a 200 kilometer, 300 kilometer, 400 kilometer, and 600 kilometer ride) I find that every ride is hard and yields no satisfaction. At the end of each ride (I've completed the 200 and 300 kilometer rides so far) I find myself exhausted, and wondering will it be possible to ride that same distance PLUS 62 more miles (or in the case of the 600 kilometer ride, 124 more miles). And I have to immediately begin training for the next event. So no satisfaction.

It has occurred to me that when the whole is broken into parts, it's difficult to be thankful for a part. By definition, it is not complete, therefore there's no satisfaction. If I could by some means change my outlook, and begin to view each of the parts as whole in themselves, then I could be grateful for each part and satisfaction would likely visit my house.

Mike McKee's mild rebuke recently about my lack of gratefulness at simply being able to ride my bike has stuck with me. Perhaps in bicycling, as well as the rest of my life, I need to start seeing myself as there, where ever I go. Then where ever I go, there I'll be, and I'll be satisfied and possibly grateful as well.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Choosing a Chosen Destiny

As I rode into Harrisburg yesterday morning I cycled past the Youth Prison located there. This isn't a summer camp; it isn't a boarding school; it's a holding place for some really mean kids. These kids will hurt you if they have the opportunity and need to be kept away from the rest of us. But as I saw the sun coming up over the prison and thought about the kids there, I felt a little conflicted.

I believe that your choices determine the trajectory of your life. Every day, each of us are presented with opportunities to do good or evil. We can save life or take it. Wisdom is available for those who will pursue her - Foolishness is not far behind as well. We are today, what we have chosen to be. We are today, where we have chosen to be.

I also believe that your birth circumstances determine the trajectory of your life. As is said, "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree". While it's possible through the help of a mentor to rise above the people who populate your family tree, it's unlikely in the long run. Your values and perspective are genetic qualities that you will have difficulty shaking.

But there is an unseen hand at work in your destiny as well. Ultimately, God is sovereign. His will determines the trajectory of your life. We must acknowledge that His decisions are the final ones. You have freedom to choose within the limits of choices that He has predetermined for you.

Somehow, in some way not clear to me, those three lines intersect at some point and THAT is your destiny.

You cannot choose your birth circumstances. (Although those of you who are unmarried or without children at this point CAN choose half of the genetic destiny for your children if you choose a mate wisely.) You cannot choose the will of God for your life. The only choices that are available for you are the choices you make every day. When my children were at home, I always chose to trust them and sent them off with these words, "Do what you know is right". Sometimes they did. Many times they didn't. Their choices, as well as my own will determine where that third trajectory intersects the other two and determines their destiny.

Much of your life has already been written for you. You have the ability to fill in those things left blank. Choose today whom you will serve. Choose a chosen destiny.