100 miles to Nowhere.

Typically at this time of the year, the thought of riding  100 miles does not incite any type of concerns for me. Having had the summer months to ride, race and train, I normally would be coming off a fitness peak, hence in as good a biking shape as any avid cyclist. Alas, that was far from the case, the thought of riding 100 miles in a circle caused me a fair bit of anxiety and trepidation. 100 miles to raise money for the local cancer center, 100 miles to cause people to stop for a second and think of their friends are relatives who are fighting this disease, 100 miles to raise a few hundred dollars for a local cyclist who has been an inspiration and fighter to all those aware of his story, that was the plan, and this is how it went.

One of the 4 right hand turns on the route

Its hard to write any sort of ride report, or blog about the 7 hours it took to ride around a 3.2mile loop 33 times. Oh the drama – I turned right, then right, then right again and wait for it … I turned right again.

I would rather take you through the emotional paces of my ride and take some liberty to juxtapose it against what I assume could be the struggle of someone struggling with cancer.

You Never Know.

It always starts that way doesn’t it? I had an inclination I was not in the greatest shape to do this ride, however, I wasn’t sure, maybe I would have a great tailwind, maybe a bunch of people will come out, pace me all day and I would just sit on wheels, maybe I have residual fitness that magically surfaces, maybe from training for the gran fondo, and this ride would be a breeze. I assume that’s how it is till you are sitting across from a grim looking person in a lab jacket delivers the news to you that your life as you know it is about to change and in some cases, be over. We have ideas what our reactions, thoughts, next steps would be, but you never know, but all the same you go.

A Village at the Start.

When we set out at 9am, there were a good number of people, I was full of optimism, I knew it was going to be hard, but it was going to be fun. I was going to coast through the first 60 miles for sure and then slowly suffer. The energy was positive, we were out riding our bikes on a beautiful day what more could you ask for. It felt like something with a purpose behind it, everyone had a personal motivation for doing it. Slowly people hit their individual goals, some rode for an hour, some 2, and others 4, but slowly the field widdled.

Increasingly, the responsibility of completing this ride was becoming apparent “you told people, if you donate your money I will ride 100miles, not we”. The work was left to me to put one pedal in front of the other. Is this not how it is in most cases? We hear of this someone newly diagnosed and we are heart broken for them. In some cases we loose sleep, we immediately cook meals, send cards, say prayers, like fb post, but ultimately, and slowly something else wrestles away our attention, slowly another fire needs putout, another project take presidency and slowly the battle falls to the person and his close family/friends to carry on fighting. It is the reality of life for bystanders, the spirit is willing but the bandwidth is limited. Slowly, I saw less and less people as I kept making right turns.

 

Photo: Martin Heavner

True Suffering Begins

At about mile 45, I start seeing signs that this is going to be a longer day than I thought. For reference, I gif this same ride last year “75 miles to nowhere” which I completed in a little over 4.5hrs, average speed 16.4mph. On this ride, at mile 45, I start seeing cracks in my mind and body, I start hearing the voice of doubt yelling “dude, you are only at 45miles”! My out of shape triceps were starting to strain from holding my formerly furloughed gut. Every once in a while though a glimmer of hope and encouragement would appear, a friend and co worker parks at the side of the road and cheers me for a few laps, another friend shows up and rides in the wind letting me sit on his wheel for a while.

Wifey and daughter joining for a lap

Tom did 50miles with me. Believe it or not I caught a little draft from riding his wheel

I remember seeing chemo patients in a similar state, the same routine, treatment 4 days a week, 2 days off, go home, get sick lay in bed, loose weight, diarrhea, pain. Intermittently, they are buoyed by the visit of a grandchild, a pastor, a surprise card, a song on the radio or an encouraging scripture or video from coworkers. These things happen give you the will to keep going I imagine. I had to, I had 55miles to go.

The Dark Dark Days

Photo: Martin Heavner

For the last 30 miles of this ride, the appropriate word for my state is “pathetic”. I was barely pedaling. Thought like calling it quits, faking a crash, actually intentionally crashing, and believe it or not even giving my ride to someone to ride a few laps for me crossed my mind. The obvious answer is real cancer patients don’t get that choice, do they?

At mile 80, there were only 2 of us riding, me and Ryan. Ryan is also a cancer survivor and obviously tough as nails. I think he was suffering, but holding up better than I was. Somewhere around mile 60c my friend Ron shows up. I believe God usually gives us one or two champions who stick with us through the thick and thin. I see them walking down the hallways of the cancer centers: spouses on extended FMLA, children who quit their jobs, leave the city and move back home to be with dad, friends who never miss a single day of chemo and come sit in the room and watch terrible daytime television while treatment is given.

Ron & Brian making sure I finish

Things got pretty dark for me, if it were any other day it any other ride, I definitely would have been calling my wife to. One rescue me. But my friends Brian and Ron cajoled, guided and literarily pushes me around the loop.

The Last Mile

Ryan finished the 100miles 2 laps a head of me. I can not honestly say I was absolutely confident I would finish the ride, I fully expected the rapture somewhere between mile 86 and 100. I have heard of some people recently who have battled cancer and made it to the other side. They are an encouragement and a light to many. I can only imagine the anxiety that comes with the nearing of one’s final chemo or radiation, or the wait for the PET scab at 12months. There is so much to empathize with. When one is. It certain that the finish is the end.

Broken

Salt-Caked

Destroyed

The Bounty.

At the end of the day, we were able to raise $3160 after this ride. A solid $500 above the $2500 goal. This money will go the the Schwab Cancer center, for things the staff come up with to help patients, especially those without families and $500 goes to local cyclist and friend of all Sam.

Received $500 in cash donations

I would like to extend this platform to anyone who would like to fundraiser for a cause they believe in. Next year could be 50/75/100 miles to nowhere for the animal shelter, MS, human trafficking, domestic violence, you name it. I’m just tired to asking my friends for money and want to donate to what you care about. Let me know your plans.

Thank you to all those tho gave, Cameroon out, and encouraged. Big shout out to those who have battled or are battling, more grace and strength.

 

2019 Garrett County Gran Fondo Ride Report (Part 3)

Find here Part 1 and Part 2

2019 GCGF part 3

With afrobeat tunes in my head, I felt reenergized, no more breathing sounds like a misfiring steam engine, voices of complaint and self pity, it was back to one pedal stroke after the other in the Appalachian paradise we call home, the road forever going skywards.

The top of Douglas road climb leads to the fast and flowing downhill into Lonaconing. With sharp switchbacks and blind corners, line selection, confidence and disc brakes make this a good place to recover. Taking the racing “outside-inside-outside” line, I safely navigated my way down the mountain. I know this road well, as I have done many a training rides here.

It crossed my mind that at the bottoms, I could hang a right instead of a left and in 40 minutes be at my houses reclining in my lazyboy, binge watching reruns of The office, instead of continuing with this sufferfest. Alas as was said by revolutionaries of colonial Africa – Aluta continua, Latin for the struggle continues.

Lonaconing and Savage river road all the way to rest stop 5 is flat, slightly climbing or downhill. I passed a guy on a purple Cannondale and decide to wait up and work with him. He seemed to not want to or be having trouble bridging up to me. It did not help that I could not make up my mind if to fully sit up and wait or get on with it. I would wait for a few seconds, look back, see him not make up any ground, keep pedaling, look back, still see him, wait, repeat. I finally decide to wait up and we worked together. He took a pretty long pull and for the first time that day I fully drank of the free wine of unmerited speed – zipping along with nary an effort, just a feathering of the brakes-if only the rest of the way were like this! I pull through and get in the wind only to see the rest stop a few yards away, I feel bad, like I had just taken advantage of the poor guy, he had to chase, work and get shanked.

After the rest stop, somehow I was feeling really good. Revitalized by the food and the best tasting coke I have ever had. I refilled my bottles, reapplies some lubrication to my southern territory and put the hammer down. I passed a few people, motioned for then to jump on and either got the dead look like your on your own buddy or no thank you. I finally catch up with Cannondale guy again, he must have left the rest stop before me – time to repay my debt. I get in the wind and the prolonged high pitch ratcheting of his free wheel tells me homeboy is getting a supreme draft. We work very nicely together, rolling at a click apparently too fast for anyone else to jump on. The train rolls all the way into the next stop.

At this point the buzz in the air is that we had made it at least 90 miles. People are rolling in looking wretched and wrecked, some people are talking about the shortcuts and their inability to find it, others lay prostate on the floor trying to stretch, others like me are imbibe on copious about of pickle juice, coke, and Heed. I take my shoes off the let my aching feet breath, feels similar to how they feel after prolonged stents backcountry skiing in my telemark boots that have refused to pack out. I notice a guy sitting by himself looking all melancholic. We start talking and he informs me he was one of the original members of the Western Maryland Wheelmen when he worked at the bike shop in frostburg. He says he did this ride last year and is worried about the next climb – Michael road. Having blazed the last section, I was riding on a fresh dose of energy and adrenaline, so I told him he would be fine, how bad could it be.

Micheal road/Big Savage

Holy crap! I have done some pretty tough climbs but I don’t know where this climb came from! I have been riding in this area for 10 years and have never ridden, driven or heard of Michael road.

It started out quite mellow, the first section was maybe a mile, so since we are not in the Rockies, I figured there couldn’t be much left. There was actually a very little descent, and then there it was, the Savage pyramid, a wall that rose up to a silo at the top, my heart literally skipped a bit. I first tried to spin, shooting for 75rpm, that did not last long, I stood up and mashed away at the pedals, only to sit back down after maybe 10 pedal strokes. I shifted one gear down, trying to build more momentum and had to return to my largest gear, all this and I had only moved 150 feet. I unzipped my jersey to maximize ventilation and then went into rule number 15 of The Principles of Clydesdale Climbing – when in unimaginable turmoil, do the paperboy. For those who do not know, the paperboy is when you zigzag across the road in an effort to lesson the direct vertical distance you need to climb – like delivering the newspapers to houses on both sides of a street. I look back and literally the 3 riders behind (felt like below, it was that steep) were all zig-zagging across the road. It looked like some wired version of the Macy’s Memorial Day parade procession.

After what seemed like a lifetime, I got to the silo, Holy Mary, that was hard, but I did it, I made it up this volcano face of a climb, that was bad, but not traumatizing. I zip up, fish out my glasses, and get in the drops, let’s rip this downhill and get some life back in these legs. What! That was it! The downhill is over?! That wasn’t the top?! I’m dead…

I unzip, and get back on the paper route, apparently the climb was not over, wouldn’t be for another 2 miles. I honestly have never zig-zagged that much on a climb before. While on the paper route, you should always be going uphill as you go across the road. There were times where I actually went down a little just to give me legs a break. When you think about it, that was stupid because you have to regain that elevation, but I did not want to walk. No walking, not just because of pride but for the practical reason that I would never be able to restart and clip back in if I did.

There was one more false summit where I repeated the zip up and glasses thing, only to be met with more climbing. At this point, your legs stop hurting. It’s like your brain is tired sending the pain signal that keeps going unanswered. They just feel heavy and dead. Everything is aching your neck from holding your head up, shoulders, arms, back, sit bones, quads, and feet. They are all pulsating and letting you know you are approaching the edge. I finally make it to the top and the final rest stop

Red Creek climb

After Michael rd, this climb was quite enjoyable. Mostly shaded on the lower slopes, and gentle in grade. Here I felt the first inclines of cramps in my left quad. At this point, finishing was a foregone conclusion, barring a catastrophe. My legs were now used to the constant demands for power, my triceps ached from holding up my bulk, my palms tingles from resting on the handlebars, my stomach distended from drinking what seemed like a gallon of fluid. I was suffering from intermittent reflux of pickle juice and PB&J. I was ready to be done.

The worst climb was the Frank Brenneman climb, I was not expecting it, I thought the suffering was over, there were people pulling over and walking, they must have been blindsided by this just like me. The paperboy approach got me through.

I was able to finish strong and cross the line in 9:54mins. I think it was at least 15mins faster than that as I forgot to turn I’m on my auto pause until after the 2nd rest stop.

This was an excellent event, unpretentious in its intent and privileged to be housed in some of the toughest, prettiest, least congested roads on the east coast. It is a true challenge and personal journey for every rider, made easier by experience, yes, but a ride where we discover the untapped potential of the human body and mind.

Many cyclists have made completing the GCGF an annual tradition, and many continue to set it at the top of their cycling year’s calendar like I did. As much as I love it to grow and attract more people for the county and region, I appreciate that it still feels blue-collar like most of us mountain folk.

Big shout out to my family, for enduring all the training and skipped dinner nights, to my trainer/coach Kevin Ellsworth, my friends and cycling mentors – many members of the Western Maryland Wheelmen, the organizers and wonderful volunteers of the GCGF and Mr. Fluorescent Green, for adding some color to the day.

Ride on and thanks for stopping by.

2019 Garrett County Gran Fondo – Ride Report (Part 2).

For part one of this report, check here.

While discussing the route and looming suffering, Rick informs me of some zigzagging of the final third of the course intended to make up the final mileage and elevation. Knowing Rick and his obsession with navigation, topography, et al, I decide to let the man go so I can suffer in my ignorance, the less I know, the better for me. It was therefore a delight when he hooked up with a duo of fellow vetrans who were discussing prop shafts, topedo diving depths or some such things that attracted him like a moth to a flame. I casually scooted along and that was the last time I saw him the entire day.

 Pigs Ear & Devils Half Acre

I met up and took off with my good friend and gracious host the night before Dave Descutner. We set out together from the first rest stop settling into a splinter group that kept leap frogging one another. No one seemed to want to commit to a particular effort, so for a big guy like me, I would stay in the pack, but once there was a little rise and I had to push out a little more power, I would let off and whomever wants to stay on the leading wheel would have to close up. The same applied for the flats and downhill, the group would be on my wheel until it flattens out or goes downhill. Downhills were a lost cause because few people are able to stay on my wheel going downhill (I say this as a matter of fact, not being boastful at all, big guy and all).

Four miles from Pigs ear & devils half acre climb, you can see the ribbon of blacktop climb up to the hoizon. I could see the red tail lights bespeckle the road as riders claw their way up to the second rest stop. The exposure was apparent with little tree cover and what seemed like a head wind. In the past, this was the point where I acknowledged the first signs of cramps and the suffering in my immediate future. Today, there were no cramps, just a small ache in my right knee and poor shifting of my bike – I think I can, I think I can.

I got on the climb alongside “florescent green” guy. He was riding a florescent green Lemond bike, with the same colored kit and socks. For some untold reason, I could not stand the guy, we had been leap-frogging one another the entire time since the first rest stop. I would either pass or drop him on the descents, and he would catch up to me on the climbs, everything in me just wanted to put in the effort and distance him once and for all, but I again showed incredible restraint and braved the potential of a seizure from his vibrant green countenance, it had begun, my mind was beginning to suffer. 

We climbed steadily all the way to the rest stop. Here you started to see the kinks in people’s armors. Choruses of excuses, justifications and plans to capitulatewe will see when I get to mile 60, I might just go for the 100, my lower back is having spasms etc. At this stop they had a prayer booth which I seriously considered visiting to get some extra supplication for God’s assistance. I decided to go with 4 shots of pickle juice instead – now that tastes nasty! I was willing to do whatever it takes to stave off cramps, so for good measure I did one more, and then one more – I was desperate… I got my bike and took off for the next climb.

 

Bowman Hill & Killer Miller

On the run up to Bowman, I got passed by a little guy in a Nigeria flag color green kit with Leadville embossed on it, seconds later, an identically built guy, in the same kit is sitting on my wheel. At the top I see they are riding together and working great, I look back and see Mr. Florescent green, I’m like screw this, I’m working with these guys to get away from him once and for all. I get in the drops, get sucked into their draft and glide right on past. I expect to see the group slowly fade away but 400 yards down, they are still right there, looking nice and neat, now that’s what I’m talking about, best of all we had finally gotten rid of florescent green. When it flattened out I chatted with the group – they are from the Shenandoah valley region and invited me to do the Alpine loop someday. As expected on this ride nothing good lasts long. Once on Bownan Hill, they gingerly float up the climb, opening the gap to me with every pedal stroke. My legs get heavier, the steep pitches inciting pain down my shoulder and spine as I yank on the handlebars for leverage. I crawled from shade to shade, irrespective of what side of the road it was on.m, every second out of the sun counts. At this point I convince myself that anyone who passes me is either doing a shorter ride than the double or most likely not pacing properly and would certainly blow up before the finish. 

Killer Miller was less daunting than I expected. The guy I caught up with at the base literally climbed 90% of the hill while standing. Looking at his cluster, his easiest gear was so little, I would guess he had a 26 as his largest gear, I don’t think it was possible for him to sit and spin even if he wanted to. He vacillated between standing and mashing for 30 seconds, then sitting for 5 seconds only to rediscover that he had not magically found an extra gear and had to stand back up to maintain momentum. Misery loves company, I was in loving it.

 

The Gremlins were beginning to creep in, I was increasingly being tempted to scroll over on my bike computer and look at how far I had done, how much suffering was left. The roads had became a little familiar, I had reconned this section with the wonderful Ellie Hamilton and friends a few weeks ago. Blue lick was next – graveled road, a nice downhill into a steep climb where traction was a premium. The last time I rode this road, I was unable to maintain traction at the top and fell over. With the way my legs were feeling, the chance of a repeat was very high. Amazingly, some one from the event must have filled out all the potholes and maybe even regraded the road. There was ample traction and I was able to stand and stretch my poor aching back. 

My mind always goes first before my body follows, it starts with anger, anger at the organizers for putting on such an unsafe event, how is it safe to make a course with this much climbing? why in the world would anyone want to climb this much? Anger at myself for paying money to do this – what am I trying to prove? At 228lbs, I’m never going to be a great climber, all this to end up 400th on a strava segment. I could hear my breathing and mind begin to drive me crazy, then I heard it the cowbells..

Jamie my wife had tracked me down and was at the side of the road with my kids cheering me on. It was great to get kisses and give sweaty hugs as they looked at daddy trying to decipher how he was feeling. My older daughter Adaeze was exceptionally loving after experiencing me get dropped at the last criterium I did. She said, “Daddy get on your bike, ride, ride, ride”, before I obliged her, I knew what I needed. Most of you readers will not like this, and I am sure to get some scolding from this, I might even be redisqualified for this (apparently I was disqualified), but I needed my mind to shut up, so I burrowed Jamie’s headphones and headed out for the final, brutal, painful, inhumane part of the ride.

 

Come back again, final part.

2019 Garrett County gran fondo – Ride Report (Part 1)

As most people in my state of life, we are navigating finding purpose, setting good examples for our kids and finding fulfillment. The struggle between being passionate, following your heart, and the stereotypical millennial or being practical and endorsing logical thinking is real. Luckily, the bike has been an astute vehicle for navigating this dichotomy, one I am lucky to have found.

In the past few years, my time in the saddle has greatly decreased, my ride time reduced to solo bouts of aimless punting, and extended periods of inactivity, this coupled with swim practice, soccer coaching and assigned nights to give the kids showers and tuck them in, activities epic and club rides have been saved for middle age. In the middle of all this, one thing has always still haunted me, one goal still evaded me, the primal desire of every red-blooded, spandex-clad, cyclist on the east coast – complete the Garret County gran fondo – the diabolical doubtless.

With 125miles and about 15,000 feet of climbing, this is a bucket list ride for me. Unlike popular rides in Europe like the maraton etape, with huge coles and extended winding descents, the gcgf offers jagged winches of climbs, screening descents which are over much too quick and in the grand sceme, forgettable. You spent the entire ride feeling the only time you weren’t climbing was while at the rest stop or walking up a climb. Having completed the “grande” option, 100miles, 12,000 feet of climbing, I am familiar with in folklore and experience of the gcgf. I have also failed to complete the double multiple times, always capitulating to the pain and suffering, the first time due to my nemesis – cramps and the second time, a welcomed mechanical.

Last Saturday, I accomplished this goal, inducted into the hall of finishers, this is my account of it (what’d you mean all that was the intro? – heck yeah, a long ride deserves a long intro):

As usual, I’m always intrigued by the visuals at the start of an event. I always use this to gushed how big of a mistake I am making, how out of my depths am I attempting this? What struck me was the general absence of baby-smooth legs, deep wheels and kits so tight , you get hypoxic just looking at it. Save for the occasional triathlete (you can usually tell them by their poor choice in socks or lack of one), the field was filled with mountain men, box rimmed wheels, and hairy legs. There where many middle aged individuals, with visible bellies (nothing wrong with that) and a presence that conveyed a person as comfortable on their bikes as they are handling a riffle.

I missed the start, thanks to my inherent proclivity to African time and saw the group heading out as I was heading to the start line. I was glad to hear salutations from my coach Kevin Ellsworth, former local strongman, Tony Yurko, and the rangy unmistakable figure of Rick Bartlette comfortably sitting on a wheel like the best of them. I swung around and joined the peloton inadvertently missing the activation of my timing chip – not to worry, I was going for finisher not winner, besides where it really counts is strava. My strategy for this ride was simple, keep the power really low and constant, 270W or lower, don’t get out of the saddle unless you absolutely have to, stay hydrated, really rest at the rest stops, do whatever it takes to not get cramps.

CLIMB 1

The first climb comes about 2 miles into the ride – ASCI, this climb, this formally was the climb to the finish of the event, at 0.6 miles long, and an average grade of 10%, it is no way to start a ride. I still get unfortunate flashbacks of the out-of-body experience I had at the finish of the 2014 gran fondo, where both quads seized up, and a whole scene was made, save for calling the fire dept, a lot of $ was spent on therapy to be able to talk about it today without breaking into cold sweats. I tried to get into a rhythm, muscles stunned by the abrupt demand for more power, I noticed Rick who I had been riding with drop back a bit, Causing me to wonder if I was already going out too hard, but my heart rate was not terribly high and I felt I could give a lot more if I wanted to. I was passing all kinds of people, some with triple chain swing setup, cassettes as big as dinner plates, and those who apparently did not read the details of the event and showed up with what looked to me like 11-26 gearing. Believe it or not, one guy went by me on a single speed bike with flat pedals! I honestly chucked it up to a publicity stunt, I can’t imagine anyone in their right mind really looking to complete the ride on that setup. The resulting physical, not to mention emotional damage would be too great. We made it to the top uneventfully and started on the descent – to the next climb. This too was uneventful, save for the flying lady from Ohio, who was really leaning it over, picking some great lines and visibly having fun. Like the silent assasin that he is, Rick appears from no where on my wheel, subliminally willing me to pedal a bit harder.

CLIMB 2

White Rock

We hit white rock, the next significant climb, another grueling slug! All warmed up by now, I was able to get in my trusty 30-32 and attempt to spin. With legs the size of baby whales, it takes a lot of effort to maintain a cadence of anything above 77rpm. Switching to shorter 172.5mm cranks has helped, but when the going gets going, I resort to my trusted approach of Jeremy Clakson’s POWER and pay the price later. I was able to pass a few people on this one and showed a lot of restraint not to push and pass more, it was obvious though that everyone was still quite fresh. On this climb I noticed a few “brothers” too. The past few years I have done this, I have not been seen a lot of minority riders (of which there are many) partake in this suffering, so I made a mental not to chat with him when gravity was of a friendlier disposition. For the entire ride, my bike computer was set to display, Power, Cadence, Heart rate and Normalized Power. I had no interest in knowing how far I had gone, what grade I was currently on, how much time I had ridden or how much I had left. I only wanted to keep pedaling and for Mary sake avoid cramps! On the decent the ghost Rick assumed the familiar position on my wheel, and during a lull in the action told me something that changed my ride and possibly helped me finish.

Stay tuned.

Daring

I remember how I got into biking; I was astonished by the weight (pun intended) of the number staring back at me when I stepped on the scaled, in pom’s nomenclature I weighed more than about 10 stone. I reluctantly forked out $400 for my new bike, astonished that the bike guy was not overly impressed with my extravagance, I was half expecting the machine to levitate since I paid so much for it. Reality set in when I went to the back of the shop and saw bikes with multi thousand dollar sticker prices, I remember blacking out for a couple seconds. Thinking back to that time, I was completely open to learning something new, a champion of change, desire was strong and motivation virile, food tasted better and I took my tea spicy. For someone who had never been on anything more complicated that a vintage racing bike I stole from a friend in college, my 21 speed looked to me like a fighter jet.

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I doubt anyone has ever crashed as many times as I did on my first mountain bike ride. In my anticipations, I looked up mountain biking videos on YouTube and as you would expect I binged on hours on downhill mountain biking, planning to reenact these moves at my local trail on my $400 100mm travel pogo stick – I cannot be faulted for not trying, as you would expect, the results however was nothing like the videos. Ignorance about riding styles, equipment and abilities, was less than blissful let’s just say. I remember plummeting down gullies, and grabbing hand full of the front brake only to go over the bars, giving trees hugs, changing tubes, I remember how incomprehensible changing gears were and how unforgiving little humps were to submit. I can’t remember doing anything that hard before, even for someone who swims like a stone, this was immeasurable harder than my 10 week training block for a triathlon. Despite the toil, I still dreamt about being on that $400 bike every day, I still saw myself as Hans Ray. At this point in my life, I embraced change, I was not scared by something new, I did not care about success or failure, I just wanted to do something and Hot dog , I went out an did it.

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Black Eyed Susans (Maryland State flower)

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Attempt at a landscape shot… Not doing much for me

I just picked up a much smaller machine recently, this hast highlights have changed over the past few years. I picked up a nifty Olympus Pen E17 mirrorless DSLR camera, great entry level mirrorless camera. Photography has always moved me, in my heart, right next to the chamber which only great music occupies, is a space for awe inspiring images, just below the gourmet tacos chamber. I have however noticed a strange trepidation when it comes to fully immersing myself into this new experience. As a millennial accustoms to ever changing screens and buttons, I am completely overwhelmed by this device. Some much to learn; ISO, shutter speed, aperture, light displacement, image composition, hundreds of hours to be invested to even be mediocre at it. I constantly see myself wanting to just give up and go to the status quo of taking overly processed images on my iPhone using Instagram filters. I believe the greatest strength of a leader is anticipating and accepting change, its uncomfortable, it’s difficult and it can be avoided for only so long.

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My best shot so far… I think the model makes it, not the shooter

 

Through this, I have learnt to extend grace to the hidebound, to appreciate that every person experienced a time when they were vibrant and open, receptive and zealous, but slowly life and its minions make security the priority and society demonizes risk. I plan on mastering this photography thing, I plan on being good at it, I plan on having It add color, texture and context to my ballet of and in life and then I plan on moving on to sometime new before I settle into my immovable way of eating shrimp with old bay or none at all.

I leave you with this quote by Theodore Roosevelt

Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight what knows neither victory nor defeat.

Thanks for stopping by.

Get off the front. 



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The first time I did the Seagull Century was my first time riding with thousands of other riders in the same event. The riders came in all shapes, sizes and configurations and the whole mass was most organic, riders jived and bounced in response to one another and the staccato of gear shifts rattling through the peloton was most surreal. Riders came in a myriad of categories : the “pro-isk” guys with matching kits, shaved legs, riding $6000 bikes and shooing any peasant mortal who dared to sit on their wheel, there’s the strongman type with leg hair the lenght of James Hardins beard and leg muscles the size of a babies head, the tri guys in their singlets and bikinis seemingly poured over their aero bars sucking some unnaturally colored fluid from their strawed sippy cup . It was a concuction of various styles, sizes and abilities. The group I want to talk about though is the tandem group; two riders (captain and stoker)on the same bike. On a flat route, there are few things better to sit behind than a tandem: ample windshielding and the speed of a freight train. 

On said ride, I was at the tail of a 10 man paceline being dragged along pretty speedily by a tandem. For 10 miles these guys did not get off the front, they just drilled it, they never flicked the elbow (universal symbol for someone else to take a pull) or drop the pace to give others a hint “time for someone else to come kiss the wind”, no… they just punched a big gap in the atmosphere for the rest of us wheelsuckers to slip through. By mile 12 though, their legs were obviously done, train after train started passing us and a few riders abandoned ship and jumped on faster wagons. Tandem guys still would not get off the front, all they needed to do was let someone else pull but it seemed like they wanted the glory or maybe they did not know how to get off the front…

I finally pulled the ripcord and joined another train. Just as I passed the former engine, I saw them put in a dig to grap onto the tail of the new ship but their legs were too far gone. They were left to face the coastal wind by their lonesome (thanks, see you later)  the glory of 10 miles but a faint memory now. 

Rightly or not, all I could think was ” there lies the fruits of pride“.  

Last Saturday, I found myself in a sipping of the same chalice. My delivery of the neighbors dog poop to their door step resulted in a serious but not unexpected confrontation. Many unkind words were said and absurd threats exchanged. After the show was over, and hormonal level rebalanced, a feeling of guilt and exhaustion replaced those of bravado and machismo. I told myself my behavior was justified, it had to be done, I had to stand up for myself, I could not look weak, I had to pull my weight. The thought of walking over to the same door I dropped a shovel load of dog crap at to apologized seemed too far a step to take. I would look weak, they would feel their threats got to me. 

Goldie encouraged me to do it and I did. I walked to that door, knocked, apologized and struck my arm out to seal the deal of reconciliation and forgiveness. The whole experience was so uplifting it was akin to that you get when leaving the slopes after 8hrs of powder skiing. 

Like Tandem guys, prides keeps you in front making you value more what people think about you than really addressing the true you. I believe my 2 biggest nemesis are Pride and Fear, fruits of the same vibe that must be overcome by love. 

Sweeping with a Shovel.

I contend that there are few things more satisfying than using the right tool for the right job. The perfect fit of the torque bit as it mates with the perfect bolt head, no wiggle, no loss of energy. The “Quiver-killer” is the accolade most trail bikes aim for, a jack-of-all-trades and master of most. A bike that eliminates the need for another, many a cyclist have attempted to shoehorn the cyclocross bike into this role.

We welcomed 2015 with the traditional mountain bike ride around the Gap. All the regulars were there, including Brian on his Cyclocross bike which sees dirt only on this ride and a couple cross races in the fall.

Cross bikes are lighter than most mountain bikes, capable of accommodating significantly larger tires and made all the more attractive by their availability in disc brake option, improving power and modulation. As great as the hype is around the versatility of a cross bike, there is some inflation of reality going on. If you ride on embed or loose rock single track like most on the East coast, I dare say the lack of compliance and potential flats would make your jaunt less than pleasurable. Riding behind Bryan, he did not look like he was having the time of his life. Grip was at a premium even with the 34” tires he was running. He muscled the bike around turns and obstacles, leverage of a flat bar and forgiveness of suspension could have made obscure. He risked sitting too long and have his sit bones knocked out of alignment.

Using a shovel to sweep the floor generates a similar sensation. The job will get done, albeit slowly, painstakingly and inefficiently. God created us for a purpose, but very often, we compromise our gifts and callings to be a cyclocross bike. We attempt to be amphibious in our philosophy of life, appease society’s expectation of us, and follow our dreams…at some point. Cruising behind Brian, he was going to get around the 5-mile loop that was for sure, he just was not having fun doing it.

The Unknown

Sitting on the steps of my driveway, the  Fall chill sipping past my soft shell jacket, my skin and nose bask in the crisp aroma of tired leaves, the atmosphere saturated with the smell of fall, and the sun – missing in action. It was decision time: do I go on this ride or not? You see, every once in a while, especially post riding hiatus comprising of full on absence from the saddle, I decide on some big exploratory ride the theme (slow and long) where I attempt to go off lots of unbeaten paths and explore roads I have never been on before. It so happens that somehow on those rides I end up riding some variation of the rides I already know, I never really get lost, I stay constrained in my curiosity and always stay within the buffer of the familiar.

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What do we fear in the unknown? Is it trepidation of mental and physical anguish we might experience in discovering it, or the effort required in embracing and mastering it, maybe its just the awareness of our nakedness and ignorance made glaringly apparent in a state of not knowing. I think in my case, my fear is that I might not be able to afford the cost of the venture. Due to the significant topographical fluctuations in elevation (climbing) around Cumberland, I would have to climb and/or decend a couple thousand feet before I even reach uncharted territory, when finally on virgin territory the further I go the more worried I become: I worry about how climbing lies ahead, am I going to get lost and have to backtrack, what about getting back home? I am going to have to do all that climbing to get back home (this conversation set to the Banjo ridden soundtrack of Deliverance as I go deep into Appalachia). The fear of running out of energy is so immense I inevitably end up doing a variation of the ride I already know.

On Saturday though, I mounted and headed towards the limits of my familiarity, I got to the cross road of decision where I could turn left and head towards Centerville and back home or I could head towards Everitt, towards more struggles with gravity, towards adventure. I chose the latter. I rode all the way to Bedford PA, through a cathedral of changing colors and Fall foliage, the scrubs signaled their welcome to old man winter with bright shades or green, yellow and amber, the maple trees displayed every shade of orange occasionally liberating a confetti of spent leaves as the wind demanded, I coasted on the downhills ignoring my Garmin, I drank of the beauty and searched for a deeper meaning of all this. I dug deep looking for a palpable connection between this awe and my inadequate comprehension of God’s magnificence, constantly failing, my attention wrestled away by a vibrant shrub or a cammo-clad youngster stretching his bow.

Thanks to inadequate planning, I ran out of food was cold, worried and my butt and legs hurt. There comes a point in ever Century ride when it is no longer as much fun, you just turn the cranks in order to get to that 100mile marker. In many aspects of my life I feel that’s where I am: like I just rode past the 75mile marker and the views are beginning to look the same, the company the same since mile 1 and conversation is running thin, in my ride of life, change is imperative but I remain clueless as to its initiation. I was tired but I somehow knew I was going to make it, the hardest part had been done, I had gotten on and started riding, I had made that turn and had been rewarded for it.

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I recently heard “Fear is the fruit of forgetfulness” when we forget all the other times we have taken the leap of faith and God has brought us through it builds our faith and debunks fear. Another I heard is “Faith is not the opposite of Fear…Love is” when we finally comprehend the love God has for us, and how much he has done and is willing to do for us, we gain perspective and faith and loose fear. You know, I think even those we think are brave like the Nomad and Vagabond need to ask themselves if deep down they are actually afraid of stability, assurance and calling a place home. In the Bible my favorite passage about fear is 1John 4:18 “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love”.

After 70 miles and 6k ft of climbing, I arrive home, toes numb, shoulders locked, ears and face numb but a smile frozen in place. It was difficult, it was lonely, it was hard ….. But it was New!

In the Eyes of the Beholder…

In the Eyes of the Beholder.

 

Lately, I have been pondering the limits of morality as it applies to different people in different circumstances. What sets the boundaries beyond which we call a morality timeout? Who draws the lines where it is too far to cross? Are we governed by some universal meter, religious, social, or political ideologies and are these standards universally applicable? Are our personal morals universal or do we reserve the right to adjust them depending on out physical location and social circumstance? Really, think about that… Do We?

I just came back from Nigeria where the economy is doing great with $510 billion in GDP, ranked 26th in the world (the fastest growing economy in Africa) but also a country where the great troughs of poverty can still be see. It is still a place where uncertainty in the areas of food, shelter and security is commonplace alas tell me a place where those concerns do not exist. Someone supposedly credible explained to me: Nigeria has two economic streams, the legal/transparent stream, and the Shady stream. He claims the legal stream puts Nigeria not so much better than any other African country in terms of economic viability and growth but the illegal really boosts the economy and provides people with the resources required to drive economic growth (the reliability of this statement is a topic for another day). Now when I say Illegal, I do not mean stealing and tax frauds and extremes like that though those things do exist and are commonplace. In this case I mean markups on prices which both parties know is going on, gratuities given and received that reach up and above the 20percent expected in western cultures (actually American culture), bribes, kickbacks, unprofessional gifts etc. These things done because it’s the way it has always been done, because it is the grease that lubricates business and gives you a better chance of getting the next contract. It is a means of spreading the wealth in a country where the socioeconomic stratification is so wide and distribution of wealth and resources so uneven and restricted to the one percenters’.

Now if one looks at the world through a “Black and White” lens where there are no grey-zones, if we judge the world through the standards set by the bible without discernment, if we are rigid in journeying through the rigors and messiness called life, we might relegate such practices as illegal with no possible excuses to justify them. However we fail to take into consideration that only God judges the Heart and rewards according to what our actions deserve (Jer 17:10). Now I know some might see this as me justifying such behaviors but like many other quandaries, I find myself the amphibian; born of the land and of the sea, able to live both lives and torn by the dichotomy that exists thereof. Pondering this situation whilst trying to reconcile the prevalence of “off the book side businesses” almost everybody I know in Nigeria does,(a banker gets a N15,000 appreciation for fast-tracking someone’s application, an Oil company man gets $50,000 for choosing this contractor over another) there is the unspoken rule that one good turn deserves another. I asked a friend where he draws the moral line, I said I want to be financially comfortable, I want to contribute to society, to my country, I want to give and I want to receive but I don’t want to steal, so help me see how what people are doing is not stealing.

A quote from John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath summarizes his response: How can you frighten a man whose hunger is not only in his own cramped stomach but in the wretched bellies of his children? You can’t scare him – he has known a fear beyond every other.

People do what they must to survive. A system in which surviving requires, some rules be bent, truths warped, actions taken with the normalizing clause “as long as you are not hurting anybody.” Well at the end of the day, we are hurting someone by marking up the price, by selling a good for twice its actual cost, someone is paying for the greed that has been trickled down the system, the price being paid is not always in money but in opportunity, in dreams, and the most costly of all in hope and faith. Usually people are okay if the only people they are hurting is the government because the general feeling is they do not care for us, they plunder and loot us, but in the end hurting the government gets richer and the people poorer.

I will not pretend I know the answer to this conundrum because its a system where you need to stay alive in order to change, and to stay alive you might need to reevaluate your moral boundaries and any adjustment of your moral boundaries puts you in same group as the rest (no small or big thief… a thief is a thief). Here we need strength and wisdom … Strength, Wisdom and Gratitude that God does not just judge the works of out hands but sees the inner things of our hearts.

 

Nigeria Ride Report Day 3

This is my third day of riding on my trip to Nigeria. catch up on Day 1 & Day 2.

Today the jetlag has full on caught up to me and is reeking havos on my mind and body. In order to again experience the safety of a chase car, the assurance of a third eye looking out for your back, I did the right thing and set my alarm clock for 5:05 and another for 5:15 so I could be at the meetup point when the Italian confab came through. The first alarm being the warning alarm got the mandatory snooze response and the second one to actually rouse my disgruntal self got the shut up response. As a result of both alarms getting the snooze salute and when I finally came to it was a mad dash to get to the meeting place.
Arriving about 10mins late, I was thinking/hoping for whatever reason (ran over and empty rickshaw (keke napap), had to take care of number 1 or 2 on the side of the interstate (trust me it happens… regularly))  Luca and Fedrico and the chase car would be late, but alas it was not to be. So solo I struck out my destiny in my land, my life and bike on a platter, flesh and metal for the taking. There was trepidation but adventure. I crawled up Ivan Ikoku road and right onto Ibrahim Babangida (IBB) road (by the way for more interesting commentary on Nigeria I would highly recommend googling the people these roads are named after, Its amazing how some people destroy the country and still get monuments put up in their names, I leave it at that). About 150yards to the end of the road there the British style (blues circle with white arrow) sign denoting Expressway (Interstate for the Yanks), here we go I think to myself.
I pull a wide right hander into the road taking care to stake my claim to some portion or tarmac but being careful not to go so wide as to encourage oncoming traffic to overtake this “craze man wai think say hin be oyibo” (crazyperson who thinks he is a foreigner) on the right side of the road. Let me try to explain my observations about the transportation system in Abuja:

 

KeKe Napep (Rickshaw)

KeKe Napep (Rickshaw)

cattle on the side of the road again

cattle on the side of the road again

Yellow Fever texting while controlling traffic

Yellow Fever texting while controlling traffic

On the left is a herd of cattle and their Fulani shepard

On the left is a herd of cattle and their Fulani shepard

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Speed limit of the road I was riding a bicycle on

Speed limit of the road I was riding a bicycle on

Pedestrian on Expressway

Pedestrian on Expressway

• Everyone is entitled to the road: I saw regular cars, trucks, cranes, pedestrians, garbage pushers, Fulani cattle men (with herd of cattle grazing on the median while cars zoom by at 100kmph), motorcycles and rickshaws (awesome for motor pacing… I actually outsprinted one)… any form of transportation capable of generating forward…or backward motion is on the express way.
• The only time speed does not win is when there are Sirens and a convoy of some political bigshot coming by, in which case speed actually wins because those convoys do not hit the brakes for anyone. I saw 1996 VW Golfs (seemingly nations preffered car for taxi) bully and jostle for position with brand new Toyota Camrys, If I am going faster than you, you either get out of the way while I am still 100 feet away or I’m getting around you via any means possible (your left, right, over you…don’t care). So many times I heard cars screech to a full stop when the come upon a car 50kmph faster only to find there was no way to get aroung and had to impale the brakes… some other muscle besides those in my legs got a serious workout from “puckering intervals”.
• Cutting people off…. Whats that? I was not sure if drivers due to the fact that cyclist are not common place, underestimate the speed we are capable of generating or can’t quite judge the speed a bicycle is travelling at. I am coming up to an exit (because I am riding on the interstate you know), my head is constantly on the swivel as I want to clear the off ramp before one of the cars attempts to get off, I am moving at a respectable clip 25/27mph, I will clear it in 3 seconds if the car behind needs only back off 2-3mph, I can cross safely and he can be on his way but without fail he guns it and tries to go around me and unto the off ramp, being that I am aware that this is the most common car/bike accident (“The Right Hander”) I inevitably  grab a hand full of breaks coming to an almost stop in the middle of an off ramp and the car comes around as well as the other cars behind him all the while giving me the stink eye…craze man they must think. Guess what happens a few yards ahead with the other cars getting on that direction of the express way come in, Yup… The saving grace in riding the highways of Abuja is that there are not that many exits so I had to deal with 5 or 6 of these on most rides.
The Best Part
So I take the off ramp heading towards the Central District; a fast growing section of the city, a mismatch of office building, monuments, hotels, corner shops and such, my intended route was towards the Transcorp Hilton (Favorite for the Oyibos looking to pick up local girls and a classier pad to lodge while in the capital city). To get there I had to traverse a stretch of road closedto one lane, this was part of the route te rode on Day 2, this section was slightly uphill and I could see the dome of the building sticking out in the horizon, a picturesque view which I thought was the National Mosque (Probably the most beautiful building in the whole city, the dome covered with real gold). Riding no handed I reach in my jersey and pull out my camera to capture the scene unfolding beyond the hill ahead.. a wonderful composition I thought. Stop! Stop There I say! Came the shouts from across the street, I look to see a smallish guy in navy blue camoflague, automatic riffle pointed at me, to his right 2 other guys pointing MP4s cumbersome in their arms with extra magazines ducked taped together earn my full attention. While I hurriedly guide the bike to a halt I can see in the eyes of his colleague, a trigger happiness, tension in his body, the surge of adrenaline evident in his carriage. I’m thinking to myself; be it a misunderstanding or not Dead is Dead… there is no coming back from Dead to right a misunderstanding… I stop the bike thankful the canterlever brakes have not chosen this moment to betray me and welcome a high caliber slug through one of the vents of my helmet. I shoot both hands high in the air, camera dangling from my right hang, my Jersey front rises no gut allowed to escape (at least I would die looking good without a beer gut sticking out I reckon).
A quick exchange occurs between my captors in Hausa (a language familiar to me since I went to high school in a state that primarily spoke Hausa) its been a while but I was already beginning to remember some of what I knew. He told them I was taking a picture and I think I saw them relax a bit, immediately I start racking my brain; what building is this? Why is taking a picture a problem, I knew this was not the presidential Villa AKA Aso Rock, there were no embassies close by either so where could this place be? I definitely did not miss any signs discouraging taking pictures. The soldier was asking me to identify myself as he confisticates my Camera, I look at his ID but the stream of sweat lubricating my eyes made it impossible to read anything , I look to the uniform and see the acronym DSS… means nothing to me.
The Irony of this whole crazyness is that when I hit the button to take the picture, my camera grumbled that there was no memory card so I actually did not take a picture. Mr Commando one took my camera and had a hard time even turning it on, my attempts to guide him towards the general direction of the power button were met with contradicting scolds and stern looks (Step back, don’t move, who are you, shut up, how do you turn this on, don’t move)  like I was about to detnate this explosive device I had. I guess Boko Haram now wears spandex and carries explosives in their camera. Lets just say I was detained for about 20mins meaninglessly, my information was collected on a piece of paper which I am sure will be condemned to the abiss of meaningless nick nacks left on the window seal when pockets are emptied pre laudry. I was warned that this was a restricted area and any Nigerian would know that pictures are not allowed here (My inquiry into why there was not a sign posted saying that was ignored) I guess its actually in our genetic code rendering that unnecessary. The only reason I was let go was I figured at this point I had no rights to these people and my best chance of being sent on my way was cooperating and playing a fool.

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Abuja National Assembly… Same road I was on when stopped

 

National Mosque

National Mosque

I later on found out that the building I was trying to take a picture of was the Abuja National Assembly building, and the building right next to it where I got stopped is the Department of Secret Services (DSS), they used to be know as the Secret Security Services but just recently changed their name, that was why I did not recognize them.
I chucked this all to “Part of the Nigerian experience” and kept on rolling, I pushed hard on the Transcorp Hilton road section knowing there is a Strava segment there (I know…every ride has to be part-race). On the Lifecamp to Gwarinpa express way I saw a man on the side of the expressway taking a shower as in full on naked taking a shower with a bucket, turned off at the zone 4 exit where the yellow fever (police officer who control traffic… Their standard uniform in a yellow shirt and black plants and more times than not they are chilling under a tree while traffic backs up) waved me on, I coast done zone 5 to zone to and back to my parents home all the while ushered and buoyed by eyes experiencing a night not too often or more likely not before seen.*

All things considered, it was actually a pleasant ride, pictures were limited due to technical issues but I was also not face deep in my handlebars trying to keep up with speedy skinny Italians trying to ride the rubber of their wheels.

Final Installation coming up…