Musings on Two Wheels: My First Century

On September 19, 2015, the alarm on my Samsung went off at 5am, though I had been awake for a while. Just for today, I set Rush’s “Marathon” as my alarm tone. Since I took up cycling, the lyrics have served as an inspiration to me: “You can do a lot in a lifetime / If you don’t burn out too fast / You can make the most of the distance / First you need endurance / First you’ve got to last…”

Ever the obsessive, I had my clothing set out last night, so that all I had to do was get a shower and get dressed. Everything else I needed was already stowed in the van.

At 5:40am, I set out, heading for the small town of Hope, Indiana for Hope Ride 2015. The sky was inky black, the rising sun a victim of heavy cloud cover. As I made my way south, thunder claps and lightning shattered the fragile sense of optimism I had for good weather. It sprinkled off and on. I was fifteen minutes from my destination when the skies opened up with a windshield-pounding deluge. My mood quickly soured.

By the time I arrived at Hauser High School, the starting and ending point of the ride, the rain had completely stopped, and my optimism began to reassert itself. As I pulled into the parking lot, I could see that my friend and unofficial cycling mentor Rick had already arrived. I parked my van, and Rick and I headed into the school to register. Prior to this ride, I had only ridden in three other organized rides, each with perhaps thirty to forty riders. As we entered the school, I was astounded. There were hundreds of riders milling about.

We got registered and headed back to the parking lot to meet up with a guy named Eric, someone I had connected with on Facebook who was looking for someone with whom to ride. Eric, Rick, and I set out at 7:30am, the cloudy sky casting a pall over our departure. The roads were still wet, and the cold air bit at my arms. Fifteen minutes into the ride, the rain came and stayed with us for an hour, perhaps longer. My mood headed south again as I pondered the possibility of riding 100 miles in the rain.

Meeting new people doesn’t bother me, but spending a lot of time with someone I don’t know usually makes me a bit uncomfortable. When we set out, a tinge of regret tickled my stomach. What if Eric turned out to be a jerk?

Turns out Eric is a heck of a nice guy. He and I spent a good portion of the ride talking about books and authors, our careers, families, etc. He and Rick also talked about various bicycle components, reinforcing in my mind just how much I have to learn about bicycles.

When we pulled into the first SAG stop, it was still raining. I ate a banana and a couple of small cinnamon rolls, refilled my water bottles, and we set out again for the next leg of our journey. As the miles passed beneath our wheels, I was proud of myself. I felt as though I was keeping pace with Rick and Eric, two very experienced riders. Sure, I would fall behind a bit as we headed up some of the bigger hills, but once I hit the top, I would hit it hard until I caught up with them.

After a little more than fifty miles, we rode into the town square in Hope. It was around 11am. Lunch was being served and smelled pretty damn good, especially after having eaten nothing but bananas, cookies, and granola bars. Rick suggested that we ride the next 25-mile loop, which would bring us back to the Hope town square, before we ate lunch. That was appealing to me because it meant that after lunch, we would only have about 25 miles left.

We set out to ride another twenty-five miles. At the next SAG stop in St. Paul, Indiana, we realized that the route did not make its way back to Hope until the end of the ride, as had been the case in years past. Rick was apologetic about causing us to miss lunch, and even offered to go buy me lunch (“a big greasy cheeseburger”) after the ride was over. We pulled out of St. Paul, a group of about seven or eight, knowing that we would do an eighteen-mile loop and end up back at the St. Paul SAG again.

Following our second stop in St. Paul, we headed out for our final leg. Twenty miles, give or take, to go. It became evident to me at a mile or so into this final leg that I wasn’t going to be able to keep pace with the main group. It was windy, and I was starting to feel in my legs. At first, Eric hung back with me. He then rejoined the main group, and Rick dropped back to ride with me. For a few miles, we kept pace with the larger group, which was about a hundred yards in front of us. Then, as the miles piled up and the wind continued to hammer at us, the group began to pull farther and farther away from us.

My legs were holding up okay on the flat stretches, but screamed at me every time I made my way up a hill. Ten miles into our last leg, we hit another SAG stop. I couldn’t have been happier! I ate a banana, and refilled my bottles. Even though I had only been on the bike for about ten miles since the last SAG, I was grateful.

We left that final SAG and made our way toward Hauser High School, arriving about forty minutes later. There was no fanfare, no one standing there cheering for us as we rode the final fifty yards and turned into the parking lot. Over half the cars that had been in the parking lot earlier that morning were gone.

I quietly pedaled over to my van, put my bike into the rooftop rack, and walked over to tell Rick goodbye. There were free root beer floats inside the building for ride participants. I wasn’t interested in the root beer float or commiserating with other riders about the shitty weather. I just wanted to get in my van and head home for a hot shower and time with my family. Emotionally and physically, I was drained. I just needed some time to myself. On one hand, I was proud of my accomplishment, and I was glad to be done. On the other hand, I had an empty feeling, but I didn’t know why. Why in the hell had I decided to ride a hundred miles on my bicycle? What did I get out of it but sore legs and a sore ass?

When I got into the van to leave, I was plugging my phone in and getting ready to leave when I saw that I had missed a call from Riley, my youngest child. There was no message because, as I have come to realize, kids don’t leave voice messages (or check their own voice mail for that matter!). I called her back, but didn’t get her. A few minutes later, we finally connected. I asked her how she did at her cross country meet. She said she did fine, but seemed more interested in how I had done on my ride. There was the answer to my question! Beyond the exercise, beyond my own need to push myself to the very edge of my limits, I did it for my kids. I did it to show them that if you put your mind to something, even something that seems out of reach, it can be achieved through hard work, dedication, and never quitting.

Before heading home, I joked with a lady in the parking that this was my first century, and maybe my last. Bullshit! I’ll do it again next year. Heck, maybe I’ll do two! I know now that I can. And surely it won’t be rainy and windy next year….

Musings on Two Wheels: Getting Ready for My First Century

20150709_152819I got my bicycle back from the mechanic following my misguided attempt to adjust my front and rear derailleurs. The thing is, I’ve successfully adjusted my derailleurs before, but this time was different. They were both badly out of tune, and by the time I got done with them last Friday, they were both worse. Adjusting my derailleurs was first on a list of things I wanted to do to my bike prior to riding my first century, the Hope Ride in Hope, Indiana on Saturday, September 19, 2015. Turns out the second thing on my list was to take my bike to Buckskin Bikes for a complete tuneup.

Oh well, I can always depend on the guys at Buckskin to fix my screwups. Plus, it’s probably best that I had a professional look things over prior to riding a hundred miles in one day.

The past several days have been filled with nervous energy, trepidation, and more than a little self-doubt. I usually deal with these kinds of emotions by hopping my bike for a ride. So that’s what I did. I headed south and then east, out of town, toward the cornfield-lined roads of east-central Indiana. There’s only on three-mile stretch of road on this twenty-four mile route that I don’t like – a bumpy, poorly-maintained stretch of CR 300 East, heading south into Markleville, immediately following the only real hill on the ride, one that never fails to get me breathing hard. Let’s be honest – it usually kicks my ass!

Today as I rode, listening to a mix of progressive rock and metal, I didn’t think about much but the century ride in four days. I would occasionally glance at Endomondo on my Samsung, noting the number of miles I had ridden, taking an inventory of my legs and back, thinking to myself, “Well, Saturday, you’ll be [insert number here] percent done with your first century.”

I also thought about the weather, which doesn’t look good: windy and rainy. Blech. I haven’t yet looked at the hourly forecast because it isn’t yet posted, but all I can think is that I will be riding into a 20mph headwind in a downpour for one hundred miles. I’m a worst case scenario kind of guy. Sometimes it serves me well, sometimes it doesn’t.

Do I call my friend and riding partner and beg off, making some lame excuse about my knees? The thought crossed my mind. Several times. During today’s ride. Then I thought about my kids. Would I tell them that I decided to quit because it was going to tough? Not a chance. I always encourage my kids to do their best, and to give their all in everything they do. If I quit before I even start, how can I expect them to do their best?

I have resolved to give Saturday’s ride everything I have. If I manage to make it a hundred miles, I’ll have something to mark off of my bucket list. If not, it will be because either my body or my bike broke down. Either way, I will have given it everything I have. And there’s no shame in that.

It Was a Tough Couple of Days for Inner Tubes

20150710_142444It doesn’t matter if it’s a two hour trip or a trip across the country, I love being on the road. Sure, air travel is quick and convenient, but the view you get of the world is far away and sometimes obscured by clouds. Traveling by car allows you a better view of the landscape, though it still restricts you to what you can glimpse at speeds often topping seventy miles per hour. My preferred mode of travel is by bicycle.

Last week, I hopped on my bicycle for what was to be a ride of about twenty-two miles stretching from the shores of beautiful Black Lake to Cheboygan in northern Michigan. I was meeting my family at The Big Dipper, an ice cream parlor straight out of the 1950s, where I would eat an ice cream sundae that would likely nullify the calories I had just burned on the ride.

Just a tick over seven miles into the ride, I crossed a small bridge and felt my rear tire go flat. I pulled off the road onto the gravel shoulder reached for my phone to call my wife to come and pick me up, then thought better of it. I decided to do a roadside tube change, if for no other reason than to prove to myself that I could make the repair in less than optimal conditions, which for me is putting my bike up on the rack and raising 20150709_152819it to eye level.

Twelve minutes later, with a little chain grease on my hands, I had installed my spare tube, and was back on the road. Eleven minutes after that, my tire went flat again. I pulled onto the shoulder and grabbed my pump, though I knew in my gut that I was not going to be riding anymore that day. I put a few pumps of air into the tire, waited, and confirmed that I was again dealing with a flat tire. Again, I reached for my phone and was dialing my wife when I spotted our minivan coming toward me. They pulled over, picked me up, and we went for ice cream. As much as I enjoyed the sundae, made with salty caramel vanilla ice cream topped with hot fudge, I felt out of sorts, and was a little pouty. My youngest daughter Riley, fourteen, noticed my poutiness and asked what was wrong. “Bummed that I couldn’t finish my ride,” I replied. In a gesture that belied her young age, she put a hand on my arm and said, “It’s okay Dad. You’ll get ‘em tomorrow.”

20150710_083709I woke up early this morning, eager to “get ‘em,” to get that one last ride in before we ended our vacation and returned home to Indiana. I wheeled my bicycle out by the lake. I figured if I had to wrench, I should enjoy the view while I was doing it. I started by patching the least-damaged of the two failed tubes from the previous day’s ride. I put some air in it to make sure that it held, and satisfied that it did, I put it and the tire back on the rim. I checked it ten minutes later and found that it was flat. Go figure.

20150710_151007I decided to use my last new tube. Perhaps in a rush to get to the breakfast table (biscuits and gravy are one of my food vices), I tore a hole in the tube with the tire lever while getting the tire back on the rim. After breakfast I found the tire flat again, and decided to take the rim and tire into Cheboygan to the relatively new City Bike Shop. As it turned out, I got his last road  bike tube. He told me that he had gone through a lot of tubes in the past week or so.

Forty-five minutes later I was doing what I had set out to do since I had gotten out of bed that morning: taking one last ride around Black Lake before our vacation came to an end.

All of the difficulties with inner tubes had me feeling pretty deflated and frustrated. Why go through all that trouble just to take a bike ride? The answer is quite simple: for me, riding is the key to having a happy and healthy life. While riding keeps me (somewhat) physically fit, it also keeps me emotionally fit.

20150710_142202Plus, cycling is a great way to explore new areas. Much of the riding I do is on the same roads where I live, so a chance to ride roads I have only ridden a few times, or never at all, is always an exciting prospect for me. Riding a bicycle allows for an intimacy with the road, the landscape, and the people you encounter that you just can’t get any other way. You become part your ever-changing surroundings in a way that riding in a steel box doesn’t allow. Bicycling allows you to interact with people that you encounter – the guy watering his flowers, the woman teaching her daughter to ride a bicycle in their driveway, the elderly woman walking her dog – in a manner 20150710_150727that may brighten their day just a bit – something as simple as a nod, a wave, or a friendly smile. And they may return your gesture – a payment made with the currency of human interaction.

It was a bad couple of days for inner tubes. But all the trouble I had to go through for this one last vacation ride was a small price to pay for the calories I burned, the emotional high I got, the beautiful Michigan scenery I saw, and, best of all, the fact that I got to intimately interact with my surroundings.

 

Feeling Down? Get Off Your Butt and Go Exercise!

We’ve know for a long time that physical exercise is beneficial, you know, physically.  But does exercise positively affect mental health?  While researching this topic, I ran across a study from the mid-1970s.   More recent studies confirm what researchers have known for some time: exercise is good for your mental health.

Back in 1996, my exercise regimen consisted of walking between the couch and the refrigerator for beer and food.  Oh, and mowing the lawn.  I was horribly depressed, and was using food and alcohol to self-medicate.  You see, our brains release a chemical called dopamine when we do something that feels good.  Eating, sex, drugs, and alcohol are just a few examples of things that release dopamine (Breene).

Unfortunately, booze had become my master.  In October 1996, I checked myself into an inpatient treatment facility.  A week and a half later, I emerged sober, scared, and, no longer using booze as a crutch, I realized that I was depressed.  I went to my primary care physician, and was prescribed an antidepressant.  I have been taking an antidepressant ever since.

Over the years, I went through periods where I would exercise, but I could never maintain the commitment needed to see any real, long-lasting results.  My weight crept up and up, and my self-esteem plummeted.  In 2012, I purchased a cheap mountain bike and began riding on a regular basis.  The results, though not instantaneous, did come.  My weight leveled off, and then went down a bit.  It still isn’t where I want it to be, but I’m in control now, and I feel better about myself knowing that I am at least active and exercising on a regular basis.  This is consistent with the self-image hypothesis, which suggests that “physical activity has positive effects on body weight and body structure, leading to positive feedback from peers and improved self-image, and ultimately improving mental health” (Association for Psychological Science).

In 2012, I managed to ride 368 miles, which was not bad considering I suffered a knee injury that required surgery in November.  I set a goal of 405 miles for 2013, which was an increase of 10% over my mileage total in 2012.  I shattered that, logging 811 miles – still not a lot by serious bicycling standards, but I felt pretty good about it.  Realizing that bicycling was something I really enjoyed, I purchased a new, albeit bottom-of-the-line Trek road bike.

Using the previous year’s strategy, I tacked 10% onto last year’s total mileage, and set a goal of 892 miles for 2014.  As of this writing (the first week of June), I have thus far ridden 501 miles, putting me on pace to hit nearly 1,200 miles by year’s end.

Why am I telling you about my bicycle riding?  Rest assured, it’s not done out of a need to boast.  Exercise in the form of bicycle riding has become an integral part of my life.  When I can ride on a consistent basis, I feel better, both physically and mentally.  When I can’t ride for an extended period, my health – particularly my mental health – suffers.  I had my first ride of 2014 on January 1st, a ride of less than six miles, but it was a start.  The harsh winter kept me off of my bicycle for two months, a very difficult period of time for me.  My depression was as bad, if not worse, than it had ever been.  There were days, overcome by waves of sadness and anger, that I didn’t want to get out of bed.  But I trudged on, watching the weather, looking for a chance to ride.  Finally, on March 1, I got back onto my bicycle.  I managed over 140 miles in March.  There were some cold rides, but I began to pull out of the funk I was in. Now I’m back to my normal, chipper self.

Very recently, I had a bad day – a very bad day.  I won’t go into details, but I was in a bad place mentally when I arrived home from work.  I had planned a ride for that particular evening, fifteen miles on the Cardinal Greenway, while my youngest daughter was at basketball practice.  As it turned out, I wouldn’t need to stay near the school because my daughter was going to go home with a friend after practice for an overnight stay.  I was in a bad mood, and had no desire to ride.  This was the perfect excuse for me not to ride!  Then, the rational part of my brain kicked me in the seat of the pants and said, “Riding is exactly what you need to do, dumbass!”  I gave in, and after dropping my daughter off at the school, I went for a fifteen-mile ride.  During the ride, I enjoyed the sights and sounds and smells of being outdoors, watched the wildlife on and around the trail, and peddled away much of the anger and frustration I had been feeling.

Maybe bicycling isn’t your thing.  The type of exercise doesn’t matter.  What matters is getting and staying active.  As someone who has been diagnosed with depression, I can honestly say that exercise has made all the difference in the world.  Now, if I can just stay away from pizza and chicken wings…

 

Work Cited

Breene, Sophia. “13 Mental Health Benefits Of Exercise.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 27 Mar. 2013. Web. 05 June 2014.

“Exercise Does a Body – and a Mind – Good.” Association for Psychological Science. N.p., 25 Sept. 2012. Web. 05 June 2014.