Indian 300K, a Successful Failure

Well, I finished my 300k Brevet in record time! Two years ago I rode the same Indiana 300k in 18 hours, yesterday 17:26 minutes! It was a very successful day, but it wasn’t…

It was a early start to the day, I was up at 02:45 and out the door by 03:15 to get to Indianapolis by 05:30 to get the bike ready for the 06:00 start. All went well and after some short instructions from Bill, the RBA, the seven of us were off!

I tried to stay with the pack, but that only lasted about half a mile:) I pulled around some folks and was leading the way. Before I knew it I had company! A rider I had not met before, Joe. About a mile in we where talking and not paying attention and found ourselves off course… that didn’t take long! We should have been on the very rough bike path, not the smooth road, oops. So we were back with the pack.

About 5 miles in we were on the south side of downtown and there were three of us, Joe, Junichi, and myself. We rode together until I realized my belly needed food, so I slowed a touch to attend to it and they pulled ahead. I ran into them a few miles down at the next Control. They left about a minute ahead of me. I thought I might be able to catch them but I didn’t. Considering it was nearly a 200 mile bike ride, I didn’t try too hard. I did catch up with them at the next Control in Nashville. Here I rolled out right behind them and kept pace with them for a few miles until we hit the big hills and they were GONE!

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Mr Questions

I rolled into the Control in Freetown. I love this Control, it is called Denny’s Grocery Store. The first time I was expecting a small grocery store, but nope! It is a very old, very, very tiny gas station. Most gas stations you stop at have about 10 times the product offering this little place has, it is very cute. I got there as 11 am was rapidly approaching and a mom and dad had a table set up selling baked goods for some local charity or something. They had their son there who had a million questions! I love inquisitive minds like that so I happily answered them all.

 

At the Control I learned I was about 10 minutes behind Joe and Junichi. Being less than 15 miles from the turnaround control in Seymour, I figured we would cross paths as I was going in and they where going out, but… I got to the turnaround Control before they left. For the most part it was a really flat ride from Freetown to Seymour. After some quick pictures and a quick signing of my Brevet card, we all rolled out together.

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Left to right: Me, Junichi, Joe

While I have the power and fitness to keep up the pace on the flats, the extra 100 pounds of weight I carry slows me WAY down on the hills. Joe was riding strong so he pulled away from us as we returned to Freetown. I could tell that Junichi was also stronger than I was and pondered how much longer we would be riding together. It turns out not much past Freetown.

Most of the 25 miles from Freetown to Nashville is this beautiful road, IN135. The views are breathtaking! There is a minor problem; it is one of those roads that EVERYONE knows about. So on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, EVERY motorcycle and EVERY convertible is out doing the exact same thing I am doing, taking in the sights! It didn’t help that the winery at Story was having some big event. The result was as I was outbound the inbound traffic was crazy! It is a wonderful road, but busier than suits my fancy.

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The general view Saturday on IN135, beautiful landscape, beautiful skies, and beautiful bikes (both gas and leg powered!)

This is where I ran into my failure! Now I do spend too much time on Facebook and there are one or two cycling groups I like to read. A few weeks back someone posted a video of a cyclist and driver yelling at each other. I opined that the cyclist should have been a loving (Christlike) ambassador for all cyclists and not yelling at drivers, even when being yelled out. Well, it turns out knowing something and living something are two VERY different things!

I finally got to the end of IN135 and needed to make a left onto IN46. IN46 is one of those two lane roads with big shoulders, it is a MAJOR thoroughfare between Columbus and Nashville and very busy. On this Saturday it was more heavily traveled than I had seen it in the past. One had to wait to find a gap to make the left turn. There were times when you had to make your move without the spacing one would like to have, too. Oh, and there was a line of cars behind me.

I did something to piss off the little white pickup truck behind me, I think it had something to do with pulling past them and not turning with the car in front of them. They honked their horn at me. What did I do? Did I lovingly move aside and let them go before me? No, I turned around and yelled, “WHAT!” in a very irritated fashion. They then yelled something at me, and I flipped them off! So much for being loving and Christlike! To make it worse, when I did go, I went just slow enough that I was safe to get across but they would have to wait for the next car to pass.

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An old barn on IN135, south of Story

I find it sort of funny how God will always convict you when you are out of line, but only when you are ready to receive the conviction and change your ways. I clearly wasn’t ready yet! As I left this little exchange, I was clearly not ready to receive what God had for me, so he simply did what all good parents do, give me just enough leash to learn, but not too much to get into serious trouble…

About 3 miles later I rolled into the Nashville Control. Since I was hungry I opted to make the Subway the Control. I was at a T in the road. The route called for a right turn into Nashville. The Subway was on the other side of the road on the right. I could have simply gone straight into a parking lot shared by the Subway and a few other businesses. I thought I was going to make the light so I was going to go straight, but I didn’t, so I thought maybe a quick right and cut over.

Well, as I sat in that area between the lines of going straight and turning right another gentleman starts yelling at me, “WHERE IN THE HELL ARE YOU GOING?!” Considering I was tired, hungry, had been up since 02:45, had cycled 134 miles and was already annoyed with the encounter at the last intersection I did what was natural – I yelled back. I don’t recall the exchange, I just recall Jesus stepping in. At some point he yelled in that swearing way folks do: JESUS CHRIST! That got my attention. I didn’t turn into an all-loving Christian, but it brought my defensiveness to an end. He moved on and I, more than likely, broke a few traffic laws by making the right and than cutting over.

The nice thing about these long rides is that God has a long time to slowly work on ya. As I left Subway, I thought: Dang, there are simply a TON of folks out here! Nashville is this small historic artist’s colony in the mystical blue hills region and it was HOPPING with a million people. Two years ago when I road the 300k Brevet, there was a festival with roads blocked off. That wasn’t the case on this occasion, and it was still packed! It’s most definitely a place I want to take my wife, I think she will love it. But at this point, I just wanted to get out of town, back into nice quick country cycling even though the next thing on the agenda was to climb up Greasy Creek Hill.

This hill seems to be legendary; lots of folks have mentioned it on the ride and on FB. It defeated me twice two years ago on both the 200k and 300k. I finally climbed it successfully on the 200k last year. It is one of those hills with a LONG slow climb up starting at 1% and slowly getting to 6% over the course of about 2 miles just to make sure your heart rate is up a bit and legs are a touch fatigued. Then you start to really hit the climb, about 1000 starting at about 6% and in the last 100% it hits well over 25%!

This year was different; I knew without a question I was capable of climbing it. There are hills steeper and longer in Ohio that I climbed early in the year, the question was really: did I want to? I figured why not, it was quicker than walking, but I didn’t feel the need to kill myself doing it. I got to within 20 feet of the top, doing 2 mph, huffing and puffing. Than it happened, a truck came up behind me. I had my excuse: I didn’t want to fall off and end up on the under-side of some big pickup truck. I jumped off the bike and walked the last few feet. Truth be told, I simply didn’t want to kill myself knowing all the riding I have scheduled, with the 400k next weekend followed by Devil’s Week. The 60-second break was nice. When I looked at Strava, it seems I still climbed the hill only 9 seconds slower than last year when I did ride to the top so I am happy!

My favorite thing about cresting Greasy Creek Hill is not getting getting to the top, but knowing that I only have about 1.3 miles on the IN135, which is pretty busy on this stretch before I am finally back on Spearsville Road, a quiet country road!

Folks always say, “Go with God’s speed”. Let me tell you, that doesn’t mean FAST! God has all the time in the world and his speed seems to be way slower than many of us like…

I made the right turn onto Spearsville Road and almost immediately had three cars pass me. I was NOT happy – this road is supposed to be a nice, quick, peaceful road! I thought to myself, what is wrong with these people! Than I realized, oh… maybe they like a scenic drive just like I like a scenic ride! And then God started working on me about the second driver, how I was really completely out of line and how I was fully aware of that fact and simply did not want to admit it to him. I should have been humble and apologized rather than yelling back. I played the encounter back in my head a few times. Each time I imagined myself more apologetic and forgiving. I chuck that up to God letting me practice for next time. You know what they say, practice make perfect. Hopefully next time I will not be so quick to fly off the handle. More than likely I will need a lot more encounters of me doing dumb things before I learn to reply with a humble heart. I know God will be with me every step of the way, helping me become that humble servant I was created to be☺.

The rest of the ride in was, for the most part, uneventful. The sun was starting to stretch itself out making for a nice late afternoon ride. I finally rolled in to the finish at 19:26.

The course was not new to me. The first 2/3rd of the course is the Indiana 200k, so all told I have ridden most of the course three times. One thing was very different this time: I now have a Garmin Edge 820 GPS rather than using my phone. When the Garmin Edge is loaded with a course, it can show you elevation profiles of what is to come. I tend to look at it when going up hills and I am going slower than I like.

For example, when I turned off IN135 onto the Spearville Road I was not maintaining the cruising speed I expected. I flipped over to the elevation profile. Holy cow, I was climbing and doing a LOT of it! That explained why I was going so slowly! All in all, I really like this feature because when I have cycled 140 miles and have 47 to go, it is nice to see that it is gravity holding me back, not the fact I was beat into the ground. Later when it was flat I was able to keep cruising at my normal pace even into light headwind. The elevation profile feature is a very helpful little feature of the Garmin!

All in all, it was a wonderful ride. I made a stop at Chipotle for dinner and headed home.

Along with God reminding me that I am really a developing Christian and have a long, long way to go when dealing with high-stress situations, I also learned that I don’t have the strength I thought I had.

As I mentioned in my last blog, starting Memorial Day I am riding in Devil’s Week. That is a complete series (200k, 300k, 400k, and 600k) in the span of 7 days! The plan had been to bike camp the whole thing. The 200 & 300 are in the same basic place, then there is a gap of 90 miles to the 400 and another gap of 90 miles to the 600. I was going to cycle those gaps on the off days. I have realized that I really will need those days to be super light cycling, an hour or two to keep the legs loose, but otherwise I will be car camping, not bike camping.

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First Brevet of the year

Hey folks, it’s been a while since I have blogged. It’s been an interesting first 4 months of the year. I looked over my last blog and my goals I set for this year. Of the six, four are already a bust. The two that remain are completing the P-12 challenge and Super Randonneur (SR) series. I have also added a new one, complete the first ever International Devils Week.

The Huron Chapter of Ontario Randonneurs, Canada, along with the Detroit Randonneurs, USA, is hosting a week long series of rides: Monday a 200k, Tuesday 300k, Thursday 400k, and Saturday 600k! It is coming up fast: it starts on Memorial Day. The 200k and 300k are both in Windsor, Ontario. The 400k Brevet starts in Port Huron, Michigan, while the final 600k starts just west of Detroit in Canton.

Well, part of this new challenge is NOT counting it towards the initial goal of getting a SR, so I still need to get a complete series of rides in for the first goal. Saturday I completed my first ride of the year in the quest for the first SR, the 200k.

I was planning on riding the Indiana 200k Brevet the previous weekend. As part of my prep work the night before, I looked at the weather report again. Mind you, the ride goes on no matter what, the only thing that cancels a ride is ice. The weather called for 100% chance of rain. I was down with that, I love riding in the rain! Crazy, I know, but what can I say… But I also saw that there was a 100% chance of thunder. I concluded that when Jesus tells us to be the light of the world, he was NOT telling us to offer ourselves up to the Randonneuring gods as human lighting rod, so I opted to bail on the ride.

It turns out that the Detroit Randonneurs had a 200k Brevet the following week (this past weekend) so I signed up and started making plans. There is only one reason I didn’t ride in the Ohio 200k earlier in the year: it was the distance it was from home. I have this strange quirk, I HATE, simply HATE paying for a hotel room when it is just me. It seems like a huge waste of money for a bed for one night when there is a perfectly good piece of ground somewhere that simply needs a tent to make a good place to rest. Thus I decided I would camp.

Only owning a 9 person tent, I borrowed a friend’s 2 person tent. I was at the camp ground with everything laid out on the ground trying to figure out how to put the tent together, in the dark! Well, some texts, some pictures, and a phone call or two and before I knew it I had a place to sleep for the night! I fell asleep quickly and slept well! I woke 15 minutes before my alarm so was able to ease into the day. In short order everything was back in the Bug and I was off to brevet.

I love it each time I camp, this time has inspired me to do more of it! I think I will start looking farther from home for Randonneur rides!

Stopped for some breakfast and headed to the start. There where 10 of us riding the 200k and another 5 riding the 300k. The weather was GREAT. The two days leading up to this I was living in constant downpour of rain 5 hours south in Cincinnati. But it was dry and sunny up in Lansing. A bit cool, it started out in the low 40’s, but otherwise everything was perfect! For this out and back route we where blessed with a wonderful 16 mph tail wind… to start…

Last year in the spring I rode the Indiana 200k. I walked away very discouraged. I went in with high expectations and was sorely disappointed with my finishing time. A bit later I hired a coach. He trained me on how to properly train and get fit. I have continued that training on my own since that time and added a power meter which has enhanced the training even more. So this year, heading out on my first Brevet, I knew I would be on the faster side of the riders.

While I tried to pace myself, I failed… I started off a few moments after others because I had to stow away my camera after the group picture, but within the first mile there where only two folks in front of me and I had not turned on the steam yet! Within about 2 miles I was side by side with Greig. We chatted for a few minutes, about 30 minute in he stopped and said he would catch up with me.

2 Corinthians 10:5
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

There is great truth in the say ‘the Devil is in the details’, because he is! I say we chatted, but truth be told, I felt like I was doing all the asking of questions and he was answering to being polite. As I rolled on solo, my mind goes where it always goes unless I keep control of it. The mind is a funny thing, while it is part of us, it isn’t, all at the same time. There is a very good reason why St. Paul instructs us to take every thought captive.

What my mind told me was: “Sam, you are bugging this nice gentleman and he stopped simply to get away from you! You wanted to ride this ride at your own pace, so simply ride!” As he stopped, I increased my speed to my solo riding pace knowing more than likely I wouldn’t see him until a Control. Of course this was all a lie, which would slowly be revealed to me over the course of the whole ride.

Having spent the vast majority of my life in Ohio, I have this very negative view of Michigan. I think it all started when I was coming of age. I living in Columbus, home of OSU Buckeyes where I learned to love football. In that era I learned why all birds fly upside down over Ohio… to save it for Michigan. Well, this is my second ride up in Michigan and it is simply beautiful! The Brevet took us from Lansing down to Ann Arbor and the whole thing was just breath taking. I am glad that the I am finally starting to learn the truth about this state! It makes me look forward to Devil’s week all the more!

As I was riding along, I had one of those moments: The light was perfect, the road dipped a bit and turned into the sun, with the trees beautifully lite. I thought to myself, “That would make a GREAT picture!” Then it hit me: Sam, you ARE a photographer with a nice camera, stop and take the picture! So I did!

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The route took us into Ann Arbor on Huron River road. It is one of those simply perfect cycling roads. It is covered in trees and has very minor rolling hills next to the Huron River. The hills are mostly 30~50 foot range with very wide lanes, four lane worth, but it was only a two lane road. On the way into Ann Arbor I must have seen 12 other cyclists going the other way. When the route turned off it went up to climbed this little hill into this wonderful neighborhood. The lots were heavily wooded. What I really loved seeing was how they managed their yards. In Geneiss 2:15, one of my favorite passages, it say God took man and put him in the Garnden of Eden to work it and take care of it. I really got the sense that is what these homeowners were doing was learning what was natural to the land in which they lived. Thay worked it to the true natural beauty that God intended rather then ripping everything native out and laying down a big green lawn. This was a reoccurring theme through out Ann Arbor.

I hit the turn around control at Subway. Ordered a sub, and ate. As I am wrapping up Greig walks in. One of my dark sides that Randonneuring really brings out in me is my lack of confidence in social environments with strangers. Still under the impression I am more of a pest than anything, I am polite but distance, as not to be any more of a bother than I naturally am, or at least that is what I am telling myself. Besides… he was coming in, I was about to head out. I am simply continued to go about my business. As I was finishing up repacking for the return trip, he came out. Nothing really was said, so I simply continued doing my thing.

The info control was about 8 miles into the return trip at the top of a hill. I am of the nature to stop and fill out the info control question right on the spot since the odds are I will forget the info by the next Control! I had another da moment: Man, those tulips would make a pretty picture! So I wiped out the old Sony a6000 and click another shot. As I did so, Greig passed me, he said hi as he rolled passed.

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When I got to the bottom of the hill I ran into Greig checking his cue sheet. While the route was an out-n-back route, there was about 16~17 miles of it in Ann Arbor which was a little loop. We where at the end of that loop and ready to head back on Huron River road, but… We both have the Garmin Edge 820 and it doesn’t do so well on out-n-back routes. It was telling both of us to make another loop. I was not new to this area. This part of the ride was on the first segment of both the 400k and 200k loops of the 600k I rode back in 2014. As I came up on Greig he told me his Garmin wanted him to make another loop. I laughed as I passed and said mine did too, but I wasn’t game. I turned right and headed back.

Well, I was back on this wonderful cycling road, cruising along. It had been a while since I checked to see how far back Greig was, so I was just enjoying the ride when all of a sudden as I climbed this hill a gentleman on a mountain bike and his lady friend on a road bike pass me. I think to myself: That is a GREAT way to get a workout with someone slower, ride my mountain bike! Well, I am a big boy and big boys tend to go down hill very fast, so before I knew it I am passing them again. The yoyo with other cyclists on the road gets under my skin, especially when there are only two groups. I also know that I am not going full steam, so… I turn up the steam! Once I think they got within 15 feet of me, but with each downhill I increased my lead and charged up the next hill fast enough to continue to take more of a lead!

Remember that voice I heard back when Greig initially stopped, “ride your ride”. Well that is what I thought I was doing, lie! By the end of Huron River road I noticed my right thigh was bothering me just a little and I was also burning up! I stopped to adjust my clothing and as I expected Greig passed me. A number of miles later I saw Greig stopped at another turn and I passed him. I got the next control and got what I needed to go inside. As I started to head for the door Greig show up!

As we roll out of the control a few minutes later, my thigh continued to bother me, but not too bad. With only about 27 miles to go I keep riding hard into the 16 mph head wind. But about 17 miles out the thigh changed from a not too bad to bad enough! I opted to stop riding hard into the wind and save my legs for the coming weekends (one Brevet each weekend until Devils Week). With 6 miles to go, I stopped for the final picture of the day. The clouds had really rolled in, in a very dramatic way. As I was stopped Greig passed me again.

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I had been thinking for a while Greig was ahead of me, he had passed me a while back when I made a quick stop to get some food out of my bag. But it turned out he took a wrong turn.

Well, I finally got to the finish as Greig was packing up. As I started to packing my stuff up he came over and very warmly said his good byes and told me it was good riding with me. And I heard this very loving, kind voice say, “Sam, maybe all day long you were wrong about being a pain, rather you might just have actually been a pleasure. Next time have more faith that I (Christ) truly am in you and you are truly in me.”

I learned two very important lessons, one in which I will act on and one I will need to relearn and relearn:

A) I learned I cannot ride 200k and longer rides as hard as I ride a 100~150k ride, or at least not yet. This weekend I am doing a 300k and I am going to try to pace myself better as not to fry my thigh like I did. Today, two days later I am fully recovered and 100%, so we will see.

B) I need to have more faith that Christ IS in me and I AM in him. That I am not, by default, a pain, but am someone folks actually want to hang out with. Living in a culture and loving a sport that really encourages individualism make it all that much harder, which is why it is so important to have a good community around you.

It will be interesting to see what God has in store for me in the 300k this coming weekend and the 400k next weekend. It will be a learning experience that is for sure!

2016 Cycling Year in Review

Well, it’s mid December and I am about to head north to my company’s annual kick-off meeting and holiday party. This means my cycling year is wrapping up. This year has been an amazing year of learning, failing, succeeding, falling and achieving beyond my wildest imagination!

As a follow of this dude named Jesus, I am told that I only really have to do one thing: repent and believe. An amazing cliché… we hear it all the time, repent your sins and believe in Jesus. Ya, ok, whatever, I screw up all the time, if I really lived by that I would spend my whole life repenting and I would never get to the believing. I don’t even know what exactly to believe!

Well, it turns out there is a bit more to what Jesus said in Mark 1:15 (NIV) “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news.” The real question is this: What is this good news? Well, there are two very simple parts to it, which, let me tell you, are the two hardest things in the world to believe!

  1. You are loved infinity by The Creator! So much so he knows every hair on your head! While you are the child of your mother and father, the Creator wants to adopt you, IF you will let him! He wants YOU in his family!!!!
  2. You will screw up and The Creator will ALWAYS give you another chance, there is simply no end to the chance the Creator will give you because of how much he loves you!

This has been my journey my whole life and especially this year in cycling. As I blogged about in January, I set myself a very lofty goal: Ride a specific double century route every month of the year. I failed in that goal back in April and May simply because I lost my faith (The Faithless Cyclist). With the success of this one goal, I would have also achieved two secondary goals:

The Randonneuring  R-12 and the Ultracycling Year Rounder.

Despite losing my faith, I was still able to succeed in these two goals despite the failure of the bigger one. Well, faith/belief is a fickle thing; in May I failed at the Randonneuring R-12 as well. It was the last weekend of May and I was 30 miles short of completing my 200k for the month but my foot was hurting (that shoe issue). And with everything else going on, I decided that it was too much, all these goals and for what? I figured that if I DNFed I could really step into the failure that I am (which I know is a lie, but really, really hard to believe!) and this passion for these crazy goals would subside. In other words, I lost faith YAHWEH had given me this passion for a reason and figured that if I screwed up and failed, YAHWEH would give up on me, take away the grace, thus stop pressing on me to do these crazy rides!

This, of course, was not the case. June I was back out there riding the double century and restarting the R-12. I have been faithful since June so I’m now at R-8, in four more months I will have this elusive R-12! (I have started and stopped about 3 other times.) All in all, I can very much relate to Jesus’s words, “yet not my will, but yours be done.” It is SO simply, and so NOT easy!

In 2015 I rode 4000 Randonneuring kilometers and I thought it would be cool to get 5000km this year. Mind you, I shot for 5000k last year and came up short while at the same time failing the 3rd attempt at the R-12. Well, upon completing my December Populaire Saturday, I achieved 6000km this year! I am simply amazed! What is really scary is that reflecting back, it doesn’t look that hard. Isn’t it amazing how quickly the memories of the pain evaporate? I think that is more grace from God, personally!

What has brought me the great highs and the great lows this year is a goal that still eludes me, the Tour to Toronto. In the past I have mentioned my goal of cycling 595 miles from home in Cincinnati up to home office in Toronto. My company has an annual kickoff meeting followed by a holiday party the second full week of December every year. This three-day tour was due to start on Saturday, but what officially killed it was weather, up north they got a lot of snow and it was really cold.

I say officially because the truth be told, I threw in the towel twice before the weather sealed the deal. Both times for the same reason I failed the double century goal: I simply lost my faith, my faith that The Creator gave me this crazy passion for a reason. I am a firm believer that one of the core ways in which our Creator works is by pressing passions into our hearts which we simply cannot escape.

Let me clarify here, when I say ‘our’ I am not referring to ‘Christians’, but ALL of humanity, regardless of their belief system. I have this crazy far-fetched idea that God actually loves all things he created. There is one of the many passages from the Bible that push my thoughts that direction:

Romans 2:14-15

Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.

One of the ways I read this passage is ‘the law’ is the passion the Creator presses into our hearts, the only question is do we follow that passion or not? Back in June when I was inspired to reignite my dream of riding the Tour to Toronto, I sought out a cycling coach and found Coach OB, who I hired in July.

Here is what is interesting, when you put some skin in the game; when you back thoughts with actions (aka shell out big bucks each month for a personal trainer) it becomes much easier to stick to it! The best thing I did all year for both my faith and my cycling was hire Coach OB. While my commitment to Tour to Toronto faltered, never did my commitment to the training. It has been an amazing learning and growth experience!

When I first hired Coach OB, I recall him making a comment about how it wasn’t possible to ride the double centuries without training. I don’t recall what he said exactly, all I recall was that it really pushed me back on my heels for a second. God immediately brought to the forefront of my mind a conversation that changed me in the most fundamental way. And with that memory, I understood what Coach was communicating to me.

This conversation was with a dear friend who was my pastor at the time. There was a little tension in my life, well, actually a lot. He made the statement that “you cannot live that way”. Oh, man was I offended! What flashed into my head was, “I WAS living that way and doing just fine, thank you very much!” I proceeded to tell him that! He then corrected me and said: “Sam, yes, you are living that way, BUT that is not how God intends for you (or anyone) to live. You are living in a storm and Jesus is and continues to invite you into the Garden of Eden, you simply have to follow him”. In that moment my whole perspective on the world was forever changed.

This was EXACTLY what my coach was saying. Yea, I was doing the double centuries every month, but in such a wrong way that I was living in a storm for days afterwards. It would take me about four days to fully recover. I didn’t ‘get’ what Coach was saying at the time, but thanks to the change in perspective God gave me through my friend, I understood what Coach was saying.

Today, I do ‘get’ it and I got to witness both sides of it this weekend. This past Saturday I road my final long ride of the year (I think, have not done the double century this month and still might…) with my friend Scott. Through the summer Scott’s focus was on more important things than cycling. The end result was he didn’t do much cycling, ok, I am lying, he didn’t do ANY! With full knowledge of this fact, in October I invited him to join me on restarting the Randonneur P-12 challenge, which is the easiest of all the challenges since the rides are normally between 100km and 120km (64-80 miles). The first two months things went as we both expected: he was out of shape and paying for it in the last 20 miles of the 70 ride.

Saturday, due to extreme cold (20~34 F/ -6.6 ~ 1.1 C) he was paying for it after the first 30 miles of the 72 mile route! My take on the way Scott was feeling at the end of those 72 miles was much the way I was feeling at the end of the double centuries before Coach OB, and proper training. I, on the other hand, departed for my last 12 miles home and felt GREAT.

It wasn’t until I was home, showered, and kicking back on the sofa that I realized the effect the extreme cold had on me, too. My legs felt fine, like they could ride another 300 mile, but I had zero energy. I was totally spent in a way I have not felt in a very long time!

In reflection it has made me ponder: Did the Creator KNOW the weather would not be favorable, knew that while I would have the legs, I would not have the stamina to pull off the Tour to Toronto? Thus allowing my faith to falter enough that I would be at peace with it today? That does seem like a very graceful thing to do, who knows, could be…

Since July Coach OB has been my cycling Jesus, showing me the way to the cycling Garden of Eden, that of actually being fit! Man is it a nice place to be and I am finding all sorts of new ways of making sure I stay there. For example, I am developing a passion for something I thought I used to hate: running!

It HAS taken work, but here is what is so wonderful, it isn’t work anymore, it is FUN! I remember early on I thought I would HATE being on the trainer inside. At first I wasn’t a big fan of it, but now I get the HUGE benefit of it and actually look forward to it. The benefit is I don’t have to worry about going up or down hills, stoplights or stop signs, I am able to dial in the heart rate and cadence I want and GO for the period of time I want to go for! It seems like work has turned out to be very enjoyable.

God takes people (a coach, a pastor, a boss, a spouse, a friend) that have walked a way of truth and then puts them in charge of others to show them the way. God does this to each and every one of us. The only question is this: Are we going to be willing to submit to these folks or not?

What I am finding is that when I do submit, the most amazing things happen. As far as cycling I have mentioned some of them, but there is one more that I am simply amazed at: In the world of the Ultracycling the rides for the Year-Rounder (YR) Challenge only count if they are at least 90 miles. I was pretty sure I would be able to earn the 3000 miles Gold Award, but the 5000 mile Platinum Award seems like a pipe dream. Upon completing my 100 mile ride Saturday I earned Platinum. There is also a Who’s Who award that is the top five Platinum riders in each of the four YR divisions. I am currently ranked 5th in the personal long division (rides of 150+ miles).

Last Saturday was my final 150+ mile ride and I finished it feeling as strong as I started it. Back in January I would have been feeling it for days, Sunday I only felt it a little, and by Monday I was felt totally recovered (well my legs felt fine, but from what I understand cardo takes a bit more time to recover and it isn’t as obvious when it is fatigued). My amazing improvement is all due to be submitting to the Jesus God sent me and I submitted to: Coach OB!

As 2016 comes to a close, I don’t know what 2017 holds for me. I am setting what feels like smaller goals, I have a feeling it might be because God it going to have me take the new experience of good solid discipline and have me start applying it to other areas of my life then just cycling.

The only cycling goals I have right now are these:

  1. Finish the R-12!
  2. Continue on the P-12 with Scott
  3. Race in my first Ultracycling race, the Bike Sebring 24 hour time trial
  4. Run the Flying Pig Half Marathon
  5. Complete a Super Randonneur series
  6. Ride a double century every month

Considering all I have done this year, it seem pretty easy compared to this year, but maybe that is exactly what is called for in 2017. Mind you, I still have my CRAZY bucket list:

Time will tell:)

Septembers Ride to Russells Point

Yesterday I rode my Mason-Indian Lake Randonneur route, more commonly known on this blog as my monthly double century. I am thinking of renaming the route…

When I shared with my coach months ago that I would stop at Burger King for lunch before returning, he advised me to find a Subway (or similar) place. I found one on Google only two doors down, but… In July I went to the next building over, saw a little drop that was no fun to deal with in cycling shoes and then a building that had no sign on it and didn’t really look like much of anything. Mind you it faced north, I was looking at the west side of it. It was too much trouble to explore any further, I had already cycled 107 miles and I wanted food! Yeah, I was lazy! It wasn’t until after the August ride someone that knew the area reconfirmed what Google said: That building really WAS a Subway. Sure enough, it was! I would have never guessed and the way the streets are laid out I would have never gone exploring for it if someone had not told me it was there.

$100 hamburger is aviation slang for the excuse a private pilot might use to go for a flight. The concept involves flying a short distance (less than two hours), eating at the restaurant in the airport, then flying home. Back in the day the $100 referred to the cost of renting a light general aircraft like a Cessna 172.

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Entering Amish Country

While the control point in Russells Point is any store, this Subway is so close but so unobvious, I am thinking of changing the route to make that the primary control point and with that giving the route a new name. My first thought is the Double Century Subway. I am open to suggestions!

About the ride itself, it was one of pure and total faith. The official start time has always been 5:30 (when riding solo), so the alarm was set for 4am. Come midnight and Mother Nature comes knocking. I’m back in bed, but for the world I cannot sleep. I do believe I saw the 1am hour hit before I finally fell asleep. Thank goodness for oversleeping, because I did get about 3 hours and 45 minutes of sleep.

It was from the night before, lying in bed, wishing to be asleep that the faith kicked in. Unlike the past there was no doubt that I would ride Saturday, regardless of the amount of sleep I had, it would be done! Yeah, I overslept the alarm, but there was no free will in that, I remember turning off the alarm at 4am, then getting up at 4:45 realizing I was a bit behind schedule. The downside was the oatmeal with Whey protein power wasn’t in the cards. Well, I got dressed and hit the road after eating two quick breakfast bars. I left the start at 5:37. And those 7 extra minutes will play a factor…

If you are asking: But Sam, it’s only you riding, why not just delay the start a bit? That is a GREAT question. The way Randonneur Permanent works is you declare when you are going to start the ride. You have an hour from that time to begin the ride. In my case I declared 5:30, I have until 6:30 to get underway. But here is the catch: The clock starts ticking, regardless, at 5:30! (Yeah, I’m the route owner and I could print a new Brevet card that started at say 6 or 6:30, but that really isn’t in the spirit of this sport, so I try not to do that.)

There is a second reason I won’t change the time. It makes it harder. I live in a world of great luxury. I write this blog sitting on a big soft chair with my legs up in a nice house with the AC going, football on the TV. I think of the struggles the vast majority of men, women, and children have faced since our beginning and I have an amazingly soft life!

Let us compare that to Jesus’ story. Short version: God becomes man to save all of humanity. You would think that this god would be born to a great family with all the means to lead folks, but no. God choose to be born to a peasant family and live 30 years among the poorest of the poor. Why? Because he came to sacrifice for us… There is something about suffering that is good for the soul. We have two choices: we can either choose how we will suffer, or God will choose it for us, but we ARE going to suffer <grin>

I have chosen the suffering of always having an official start time on this ride of 5:30am. My delayed departure of 7 minutes will result in a touch of unintended suffering <grin>

I did pay for the lack of sleep, the first two hours I felt like a complete slug! An hour into the ride it is still dark and I am clueless to the stats. Then my phone gives me the verbal hourly report when I am climbing the first big hill. Normally I am already over the top and on the Little Miami Scenic Trail within an hour. I learned that I am moving at just over 14 mph, so I was right… I simply was not able to get my legs spinning! Once on the trail I try to turn on the steam and it starts to kick in, finally!

That first hour and a half was just torture, but it was purely mental, physically I was fine. I just knew I was riding very, very slow and I had hoped to have a Personal Record (PR) ride. The goal was to get in before 10pm, normally in my solo rides it was 11pm or later. What was so rewarding was that my faith never wavered. At no point did I ever give serious consideration to quitting. As I talked about in my February ride I had so much doubt that I would have bailed had the first control not been 60 miles into the ride. Not this time, I knew I would ride it to completion.

Upon analyzing my ride results, it turns out that I had some serious speed going into that first control. Out of the first control is the first real hill of the ride and I had a PR climbing that!

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An odd couple

Ah, but the Devil never rests! Now I am in the Ohio Plain of cornfield, mostly riding north. I notice that it felt windy, aka strong headwind, but when I look at all the grass and trees around me to get validation, I don’t seem to see indication of a strong headwind. So I assume it is just me being sluggish again. About 2 miles from lunch there is this one little windmill that spins like a crazy man when it is windy. It wasn’t going as bonkers as I had seen it, but it was most definitely on the move! Now I don’t know if you believe in the Devil or not, I do. I think these are the tricks he plays with us. We see and feel the truth right there, but somehow he whispers doubt into us, getting us to think lies. Needless to say, there was quite a headwind going up, which meant a GREAT tailwind coming home.

 

For the longest time I have claimed to dislike Subway. While eating lunch I realized why I made that claim, it was all Dad’s fault, he spoiled me too much! I remember many a day trip with Dad where he would make the most amazing cold cut sandwiches, far better than you can get anywhere else in the world! Out on a wonderful day trip we would stop for lunch and have this wonderful meal! Come many years later, folks expect me to go into Subway, or any sub place and drop $5~$8 on a sub that is a million times lower quality than the amazing sandwich I could have if I made it like Dad? I think not!!!! As I sat there eating my very yummy Subway sub I realized that I was not about to carry a cooler on my bike and with that I realized, Subway isn’t all that bad 🙂

My way home was GREAT, maybe the best ride home yet from Russells Point. It was great weather and most importantly I had a wonderful tail wind. I don’t watch my speed, I simply knew I was flying! As I neared Xenia, my normal dinner stop, I decided to mix it up a bit and not do a formal dinner. It was a time issue, I wanted to finish by 10pm and that was within sight!

As I got close to Xenia I remembered that UDF (a local chain of gas station/convenient store in the area) had these little sandwich wraps. They were yummy and quick to consume, so I stopped there and was able to keep the stop down to about 20 minutes, which I have learned is about the minimum stop time at a control.

Then I headed the final leg home. It is always a fast leg because half of it is on the trail that is all a bit of a downhill. I blow through there, climb the hill fast enough to get my second best time on Strava (the hill I was way too slow on in the morning). Then I hustled through Lebanon. Once I was back in Mason, I had a very good idea of the time it would take me to finish. It was 9:48, but the end was about 20~25 minutes away!

I knew there was absolutely no way I could pull off a finish by 10pm, I simply am not that fast! I gave up, but what was funny is that my legs didn’t! Despite them being a bit tired, I noticed they were kicking into gear again. I rolled into the finish at 10:05:)

Remember how I departed 7 minutes late? If I had left on time, I would have been back by with two minutes to spare! Actually, there are a LOT of if’s that could have shaved off the 7 minutes, a whole lot of ifs! All things considered, such as early on when I was moving like a slug I figured I might end up with another 1am finish, this was a GREAT ride. I didn’t meet the crazy-hard goal I set for myself, but I did get a Personal Record for the ride of 16:35!

Here is the best part of the whole ride: I am at the finish, get off my bike and look up… What do I see? The most beautiful woman in the world, my wife Irma! Turns out that she had been keeping an eye on my via the iPhone Find My Friends, when walking the dogs heard some cars doing crazy, teenage like things, and thought she would come meet me at the end. That was simply too cool! A perfect ending to a simply delightful day!

For those of you that like numbers: My coach and I use Training Peaks to track and monitor my progress. Back in the spring when I was riding these my fitness score was around 38.5, today it is around 92, a 2.4x increase in fitness, man do I feel the difference too!

A Mid Summer Ride to Russells Point

I took Friday, August 5, off to ride the August monthly double century up to Russells Point and back. Irma was out of town and I figured I should get the ride out of the way when she was out of town so I can maximize the amount of time I get with my most amazing wife, she returns the following Sunday and I wanted a day to rest in between.

I was really looking forward toward the ride. In my last blog I mentioned that I was hiring a cycling coach, we have been working together since the beginning of July. With 5 weeks of coaching under my belt, I was looking forward to seeing how things change.

It all really started at the beginning of July. Coach looked at my cadence and saw how amazingly low it was and made that the first project. My average on July 1 was only 51 rpm. After about two weeks of working on it I realized that I no longer had to really focus on keeping up the cadence, it was just naturally staying in the high 70’s, low 80’s. There have been two things I have done: focus on spinning faster and stop coasting down hills. Within three weeks my average was up to 70-75 rpm. A week after that it became really easy to end a 1-2 hour workout with an average of 80+ rpm.

It is climbing hills where the increased cadence really shows itself. In the past I would simply grid up hills at 60~65 rpm. Now on the same hill, in the same gear, I find myself spinning at 85~100! I would have though it would be harder, but it feels SO much easier!

So for Friday’s ride I set some goals for myself: average heart rate of 130+ with a cadence of 80+ for the whole ride. I started off at my normal 5:30 am and hit the road. Within 15 minutes the averages where hit, so now I just need to maintain…

I must say, the ride up to Russells Point was great. One of the things I am doing differently now is that I don’t look at my speed, only heart rate (HR), cadence, interval HR average, interval cadence average, and distance or interval time. I was feeling so good early on I kept my eyes open for some pretty pictures.

As I have said in the past, there is a chunk of the ride that is on a beautiful bike path. I have a love/hate relationship with the path. When it is just me, I LOVE it. When it is filled with parents, kids, dogs, and cats all going 3 mph every 8 feet taking up the whole trail, my peace is interrupted. Mind you, they have very right to be there and I am very glad they are, it is my issue not theirs that my peace gets disturbed:)

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Most of the trail I am on is remote enough and/or it is early or late enough that it is pretty quiet, but on this beautiful morning some folks in the Corwin area decided to hit the trail too.

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Since it is rails to trails route along a river, a lot of it has trees on either side. This makes for the most picturesque scenes when the sun is low in the early morning or late in the day. There are times I do NOT want to stop and take a picture because the moments are so brief, so magical, I want to just go as fast as possible to soak up as much of the scenery as possible! I have also learned as a photographer, capturing the moment simply doesn’t do it justice, either.

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Well, I rolled into the first control 30 minutes faster than ever. Then I rolled in an hour sooner at the 92 mile control. What really blow my mind was my hourly report on distance and time. I use Cyclemeter iPhone app to record my rides. One feature of it is that it will announce stats. I have it configured to tell me average speed and total distance after every hour of rolling (not total time). After 6 hours I had ridden 99.9 miles! Later I would learn it was a 7-hour century, including stops. One of my goals is a 12-hour double century, so the fact that I am already only an hour away from a 6-hour century is killer cool!

I rolled into Russells Point around 60 minutes ahead of my best time! Lunch time! In the past I have noticed how sluggish I have been on the way back until it got past 5pm. This could be due to a whole host of reasons: the heat of the day, what I am eating for lunch, my body just hits a low point. This time around I thought I would mix things up a bit. Coach asked me to go to Subway or similar place, but I went looking for Subway last month and could not find it. So I stuck with Burger King. This time, though I opted to forgo the fries and only get a grilled chicken sandwich.

After a short break I headed out. A couple things hit me right off: It wass hot out, within seconds I was acclimated because the first step outside is always a shock to the system. The next thing was the wind… As I have said before, I can be really clueless at times… I had a tail wind all the way up and didn’t realize it. It was not very strong, but just enough that when heading into it, I felt the decrease in speed.

I know a lot of non-believers that take the stance: I only believe what I can see for myself. What I have learned is that while we all see many things very clearly, we are ALL blind to some things. Thus we all must depend on others to help us see those things. One of the things I am realizing that I am really blind to temperature. I walked into the wall of heat and though, “Oh, it is warm out here, cool, let’s go!” I knew the high was only 91 degrees, I have ridden when it was 100 and that was hot, so I simply thought that 91 would not be too bad. Needless to say, I was wrong!

One of my big take aways from the ride is to stop relying on what I feel and respect the truths of others: Riding when it is 91 degrees with 100% humidity, clouds or no clouds, it is VERY HOT and I will need to drink a HUGE amount of water.

I never ran out of water and I did make stops between controls to get more water when I needed. But I conserve water far more then I should have and I think I paid a heavy price for it! The first extra water stop was at this bar right on the route. When I walked in at 3pm there was nobody really there, no AC. I asked for water and got tap water. 2 minutes after I stopped I was off again. Once on my bike I tasted the water and it wasn’t much to my liking. Since I had another full bottle from Burger King, I favored that and didn’t touch the new bottle (which I should have!).

Mind you, this whole time I was still not a believer; I didn’t believe it was all that hot. The only reason I stopped for water is because of my personal policy: Under no circumstance do I ride more than one hour with only one full water bottle. The next stop was somewhere between sixty and ninety minutes away. I was down to one bottle, so I stopped, what I failed to do was actually drink the water!

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Turned the corner as I approached Kiser Lake and there stood two horses.  The owner was coming up behind me to bring them home.

 

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Once they knew capture was inevitable, they headed home on their own.

I continued to stay ahead of my best times as I pulled into St Paris control (135 mile) and continued to be oblivious to how hot it really was… I downed a Powerade, topped off my water, and headed out. Ten or twelve miles later as I started to get close to Springfield, about half way to the Xenia control, again I was running very low on water. The route goes through Springfield but doesn’t go through the best areas. The idea of leaving my bike outside unlocked wasn’t very appealing considering my goal was to ride ALL the way home, not walk the last 60 miles:)

 

2016-08-05 17.22.48-2I was still about 3 miles outside of Springfield when I come up on a light. Something (God?) actually motivates me to actually SEE this business I had passed a dozen times. It is one of those soft serve ice cream places and they are open! Considering they are still really country it is an ideally safe place to stop!

I walked in with one thing on my mind: Get water and keep going. But the AC and the site of ice cream was so very seductive! Needless to say, after ordering my ice cream I headed back out to my bike to get money. In the summer, when they are open, this might become a regular stop from now on out!

After a dinner stop at Subway I was back on the bike trail. The route would be either downhill or flat until getting off the trail to climbing a hill to get home. Then it happened, I was most definitely a bit fatigued, but the old heart which had been beating at 128 bpm with a cadence of around 80 rpm my heart rate starts to drop. First it drops to 110 bpm, then to 100, and finally down to 90! What???? With the same effort (cadence) my heart rate bottomed out at 88 bpm!

Heart Rate Drop Aug 5, 2016

My heart rate monitor is Bluetooth so I checked the battery level, 68%. I felt fine, my chest was fine, it made no sense. While riding on the trail, I use Siri to txt both Irma and the Coach. Irma contacts my son-in-law who is a nurse. I quickly had a list of questions about possible symptoms. I didn’t have any of them. By the time everyone started to come up with ideas my heart rate was back to 128. Coach recommends next time it happens I take my pulse independent of the monitor. Once he learns that I have about 35 miles to go, he recommends I take a 10-minute break and monitor my heart rate during the rest to see if it is matching with the monitor. I stop and download an iPhone app that uses the camera to measure pulse. It is spot on the monitor I am wearing. After 5~10 minutes I head out, but…

The official route is the shorted distance but involves climbing two hills, 350 foot and 100 foot. I had been looking forward to the climbs, but not anymore. There is an alternative route which involves a staying on the bike path and riding a few extra miles.

Both Irma and Coach agreed with my idea of adding some extra distance to avoid the climbs. Finally, I got off the bike trail and I had one hill to face, not much of a hill, about 75 feet with a grade of 8%-9%. I started up very slow and steady. About half way up I started to feel the faintest pain right where the heart is located. I am sure I have had that a million times before, but I was so focused on any issues that this amazingly faint pain jumped out at me. I am sure I could have continued to climb, but I only had another 25 feet to climb over about 200 feet. I figured it was better to be safe than sorry, so I walked it. The rest of the ride home was slow and easy!

I reached the end of the official route at 11pm. While it was thirty minutes slower than the month before, all things considered, it was wonderful to get there! It happens that the official end is at United Dairy Farmer’s. It is a gas station/convenient store local to the Cincinnati area. One of the things that makes them really unique is their own ice cream. I had a large mint chocolate shake, which just HIT the spot! One and four tenths miles later and I was home!

Once home, knowing I was a bit thirsty, I had a glass of water. Than a second! Before I knew it I had about four in my system! It was about that time I realized exactly how hot it had been that day. I am never this thirsty at 11pm after this ride. Maybe one or two glasses, but not four! To top it off, overnight I woke up with cramps twice which was relieved each time with another big glasses of water and some electrolytes.

When morning came, I did some searching and found the following article “My Heart Rate Drops During Workouts”. There is a lot of interesting info in it, but my main take away was that my heart rate very well could be caused by lack of hydration. Monday morning I scheduled an annual physical with my GP which came back all clear. He told me that what I experienced is one of the mildest conditions of heat exhaustion and dehydration. He is scheduling a basic stress test to make sure it isn’t anything else.

All in all, it was a GREAT ride. The record-breaking ride up was amazing! I used to think riding really fast was overrated. Now that I am starting to actually get faster, I am realizing it is so NOT overrated at all. After finishing this ride as late as 1:10am, the prospect of finishing it by 10pm or earlier is really cool! But the best part of the whole ride was the next day. In the past, when I was only riding every few weeks, I was simply beat into the ground the next day. The following day, Saturday, I felt good. I attribute that 100% to the training Coach has me doing.

My goal for next month: a 6-hour century! Given my normal start time of 5:30, I want to hit the 100 mile mark by 11:30am.

The Faithless Cyclist

It has been a while since I blogged about my Double Century. There could be loads of excuses, but the truth is I lost my faith in God. Now before you flip out, I have not stopped believing there is only one God, heck, even the demons believe there is only one God! One of the big things I am learning through this Double Century challenge is faith is not about knowledge but rather it is about doing despite a lack of knowledge.

The faith that God is asking of us is not perfect knowledge, which is for him and him alone. He is asking us to have faith in him, faith in the mystery we call the divine wisdom, the unknown. My struggle is that now that I know his voice, faith is simply a matter of following that voice even when I don’t see the point.

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First ride with DeBrim

Back in April I headed out on my Double Century. From early on everything was off. I got a late start. I took my new DeBrim. It is a wonderful product designed to keep your head in the shade. While I think it is a wonderful product on the flats, it doesn’t do so well on the downhill for me, I go too fast and it tends to come off. Early on I learned that the hard way and had to turn around to get it. There was the windy day factor, too. The DeBrim is a kite in the wind. Oh, and I have now learned that the new tires I just put on the bike were slowing me down.

At the 45 mile marker I looked at my watch and saw that I was running really late, over 45 minutes behind schedule for the first control. Considering I was up at 4:30am, the idea of rolling in at 1am just did not appeal to me. I called my wonderful wife and discussed it with her. The end result was neither of us could figure out a reason for me to keep going. I promptly did an about-face and headed home in great peace! I got home as Irma pulled in from work and we spent a wonderful afternoon and evening together! Since it was my first ride with the DeBrim, I had her take this picture of me with the DeBrim:

I realize it now: what happened was I lost my faith. Long ago I realized something about myself: I simply cannot do something for no reason. I have to see a purpose in what I am doing. Where my faith struggles is with the fact that God doesn’t always show us the purpose. When I don’t see the purpose, I want to throw in the towel.

Having DNFed one month, the next month was that much easier! I don’t know what happened exactly, other than I was in a very sour mood and at 11pm the night before I could not get the printer to print the brevet card (that is the card I get filled out at each control stop as proof of my passage). I said heck with it, it is suppose to rain tomorrow, I ain’t doing it! And I didn’t 😉 Again, a DNS due to a lack of faith. I simply was not seeing the purpose in these crazy rides.

I love this quote from Richard Rohr: God is humble and never comes if not first invited, but God will find some clever way to get invited.

I do not recall how it all played out, but God did his thing. One big part of it was the start of the Trans Am Bike race. It is a 4200 mile race between Astoria, Oregon and Yorktown, Virginia. There is zero support, just you, your bike and what you carry on it. How fast can you get from one side of the country to the other? It started the following Saturday.

Since this crazy ride has been and continues to be at the top of my bucket list, I have been following it. There is no media coverage per se, so the only real way to do this is via social media, as those in the race post stuff on a regular basis.

One rider, Lee Fancourt, was doing little 3-minute video blogs from his bike. I have to be honest, at first I thought he was really arrogant, but entertaining all the same. But then things started to go wrong for him, very wrong! I cannot even count the number of things that have happened to him that would make me throw in the towel and go home, but he keeps on racing. This man is truly a man of faith. He seems to have absolute faith that there is a purpose in him finishing this race. As it turns out there are a LOT of us pulling for him. Thus his faith is founded in great truth!

One thing I have learned from Lee is how crazy difficult completing this ride will be for anyone. Early on Lee made big claims about how he would knock off the riders in front of him, one by one with 250~300 mile days. While a whole host of things have prevented him from riding every day, when he is riding at the top of his game, he really is riding those kinds of miles. Considering the shape Lee is in and all the issues he is struggling with, what will a mere mortal like me face?

The other rider I have been following is Ed Bernasky. Early on he seemed to be riding the pace I want to ride, about 200 miles a day completing the ride in 28 days. Watching him fight the heat, wind, rain, saddle sores and continue to press on. Another example of what it looks like to have faith.

Both these men, along with all the others in the race, simply have no idea how much of an impact they are making on everyone else. I would like to thank all the Trans Am riders for that! In my book they are all men and women of great faith!

One of my big takeaways was if I am going to actually do something as epic as race across America, I am going to need to do two things: lose weight and increase my speed. Since I am not disciplined enough to do the work on my own, I need a coach!

I found a local coach and started to talk to about hiring. I was all on board until week before last, when he said: If you want to Trans Am next year, you need to be cycling 5-6 times a week, starting NOW! For a guy that cycles two or three times a month, that is a HUGE shift! How badly did I want to ride across country, really? (…as my faith begins to evade me yet again!) I had June’s double century planned for that Saturday, it seemed like the perfect time to reflect on what I really wanted.

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Got up and out on time for the first time.  Finally starting on time at 5:30am!

The ride started out GREAT! I actually got up early, did my morning prayers and got on the road at the official time of 5:30!!!! I was so proud of the fact that I opted to take a selfie and post it on Facebook. I was doing so well on time that 40 miles in I opted to stop for 15 minutes and get breakfast. What a wonderful energy boost!

Late in the morning a thought popped into my head: I really don’t want to go from never working out to working out every day, that’s just too much of a change. It is like going from 0 to 200 mph in 3 seconds! Maybe my first goal should be another unsupported ride next October that is only half the distance: The Route 66 race. Based on how that goes, I could target the Trans Am in 2018. Seemed like a good plan. First go from zero to sixty, then maybe to two hundred!

I continued on. What was interesting is that I got to the turn around point about the time I normally got there. I contributed that to my breakfast stop, but that was only about 15 minutes. In the past my departures where about 30 minutes later, but who can really tell… I had lunch and turned around and headed home.

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Lunch in Russells Point.  After 11 months the AAA batteries in the SPOT Gen3 finally gave out and had to be replaced.

On my return trip, as I cycling through the heart of Springfield they had some major event going on in a park right downtown. Ton of folks where pouring in from all directions! In among the crowd was this ultimate cyclist. He was on a traditional upright tricycle, one wheel in the front and two in the back. Between the back wheels was a cooler! Now that is the way to ride!

Normally I am pulling into dinner between 8 and 8:30. For reasons I had yet to figure out, I was still an hour away! This was when I revisited my whole set of goals, do I really want to be doing this? Do I really want to ride across America? I realized that I did, but not alone. I wanted to ride across America with my wife on the back seat, and 1200cc under us!

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Finally rolled back into the finish at 1:10am.

I rolled in to finish 1:10am, simply fried. Since I posted a selfie at the start, I figured I should also post one at the finish. I was totally mystified at why it took me so much longer then my January ride, which ended with 24-degree temps. It only got up to the upper 80s with low humidity. Lo and behold, it turned out to be my tires! I switched to tires that are more flat resistant, but slower. Asking around this past week I found some numbers, my old tires, Continental GP 4000 S II, only have 13 watts of rolling resistance and the new ones have around 30 watts! And considering I only put out around 170~200 watts, that is around 10%. Over 19 hours 40 minutes, 10% is about an hour. Needless to say, I ordered a new set of the GP 4000 S II this week!

Before deciding what to do, I opted to simply abide in the Lord the rest of the weekend, as he does seem to have a very quiet voice at times. There is great truth in the fact that God will find some clever way to get invited. Come end of Sunday I had 16 likes and a few comments on the finishing picture I posted. I heard God saying to me:

“Sam, you are a Lee Fancourt and Ed Bernasky to others. In the same way they will never really know how they are impacting you, you will never really know how you are impacting those watching you. But have faith that folks are watching you. Continue to keep the faith that you and your actions are part of my much bigger plan.”

Monday I emailed the coach and told him I was in and asked what the next step was. In the silence waiting for a reply faith evaded me again! It’s amazing how fickle we can be at times. Coach had a wonderful reply with the final terms, but myself lacking the faith yet again, I simply sat on the email and waited, but I didn’t know for what.

Then came the Friday company picnic. I work at our company’s largest remote office, this year we had our site’s summer picnic Friday afternoon. Families were invited and a couple of folks came down from the home office in Toronto. Our VP introduced me to one of them. He mentioned that along with being a photographer, I am a crazy cyclist and asked, “How many miles did you do Saturday, 200miles?”

I mentioned another bucket list item I have: The beginning of December each year the company brings everyone up to Toronto for the annual company meeting and Christmas party. Since it is only about 580 miles, I want to cycle up to it. When I shared this with the VIP from home office, she thought it was great. She said if I did the ride, the company needed to get it up on the big screen at the meeting. She went so far as to say that if the company wouldn’t find a way to get footage of the ride, she would come down on her own accord to get footage of it!

Of course I am just thrilled, I always wanted the company to know because, well, I think it is cool so I think everyone else should think it is cool. But the truth be told, I don’t see how or why this would be of any value to the company. Then I hear God, “Sam, you don’t have to ‘get it’, you simply have to have faith in me that there is a purpose”.

And with that I have now reached out to the coach and asked if we can get started July 1.

I don’t know what the future will hold. I don’t know if the ride to Toronto will happen. What I do have is faith that God has given me these crazy cycling dreams for a reason. I must hold fast to faith that that God is working it into his big plan. While I will never see all of it, or, heck, for that matter much of it, the one thing I must do is hold the faith that he is in control and I simply need to lovingly follow his gentle whisper.

March Double Century

Saturday March 20, I rode my March Double Century to Russells Point, Ohio, and back. I think I mentioned this, but my one challenge to myself this year is to ride this one specific double century every month. I am finding this whole challenge thing very interesting because it’s pushing me into action where I normally would be idle. There were a million things holding me back from going: foul mood prepping for the ride Friday, waking up and snoozing for too long for a really late start, simply no desire very early in the ride where it was way too easy to turn around, and finally 75 miles in finding out a customer was having some serious issues with the software I write in my spare time. The true blessing was I ended stronger than I have on any of my three previous attempts!

I contribute both the foul mood of the start and the strong finish to the same thing: Making a commitment and sticking to it! The key word in foul mood start is ‘start’, if it wasn’t for this commitment I made, the start would have never happened, thus the finish would have never happened either.

The keyword in strong finish is strong. I wanted to improve my finishing time and knew the number one way to do that is minimize my stopping time. To do that, I need to fuel as I ride. Hammer Nutrition puts out a lot of good info on how to fuel for endurance events. A couple of pieces of info which seem to ring true to me is that the human body can only consume about 200 calories an hour and on long endurance events, you should be fueling (eating) every hour.

They have a number of products to aid in you this fueling, I have taken to their Perpetuem Solids.  A serving of three tablets is 100 calories, so one tube of 6 is an hour’s worth of fuel.

DSC03085.jpgFor all my long rides, I have carried some type of goodie with the idea of fueling every hour as to keep the engine running. On my January and February rides up to Russell’s Point, I did a good job on the riding up. Once I turns around and started to head home I won’t fuel regularly. A little bit past the half way home mark, around 160~170 miles I would mentally bonk.

In February I actually called Irma to come get me, then called her off and finished when I remembered January ride. In January I mentally bonked at the same place. About 15 miles later I ate in Xenia and was able to finish. February turned out the same way, after some food in Xenia, I was able to finish.

This time rather then stopping at Burger King in Russells Point for a meal, I simply had one of the three Cliff Protein bar I was carrying. Then I hit the road south bound and stayed on the Hammer Perpetuem Solid schedule every hour.

Going into the stretch where I bonked the last two times, I gave myself an injection of fuel via a gel, which is sort of like a shot of adrenaline. A few minutes later the gel was followed by another 200 calories of Perpetuem Solid.

I rode into Xenia, got a bite to eat, and was off again. I fueled a final time only about 12 miles from home, but I figured, fueling when the body asked for it worked so far, why stop now? The end result was a strong and happy finish, my first happy finish of the ride! Oh, my times: I left 10 minutes later this time then February but had a finishing time that was noticeably shorter. The riding time was 13 minutes shorter. The overall time was way shorter because I stopped a LOT less.

Other then the start and finish, there was a lot of interesting things to see. With the spring coming, there is tons of new life around. I think I saw at least a dozen rabbits on the trail, something I had not seen in the colder months. Tons of frogs! The first time I was cycling along and came up on one of those big country front yards, it had one of those very small, shallow spring pond. You know the ones I mean, thanks to all the rain, the ground cannot absorb any more water. The result is a pond forms in the lowest spot for a few weeks. This first one was maybe 50 feet long and 20 feet wide at the widest. As I approached it sounds like there where a million frogs in the pond! As I got next to it, it was dead quiet! Then as I left it behind me, it came alive again! I experienced this many a times on my ride, lots and lots of low lands where flooded with frogs.

On the trail at night I saw more deer than before. I also saw crops starting to grow in the fields. What was the most interesting was riding down the Little Miami Scenic Trail and seeing random Daffodil popping up right next to the trail. You are riding along and then all of a sudden there is one starting to pop up about 6 inches. A mile or two later you see another one. I wonder how they got there…

The highlight for me on the whole trip is riding through Amish country. In the parts I ride through they are mixed in with the English, as they refer to us. On my way up I identified one of their houses, and a little bit farther up there was a house and buggy filled with little girls. I think the driver might have been 12, but I am thinking 10. Her horse didn’t seem to like bikes a lot, so she pulled the buggy over while I passed.

Then I saw another house and my first thought was: man, they are poor, they really need a new coat of paint to protect their house. While I am not a big painter, I did want to paint their place. As I got closer I saw an Amish mom with some of her kids in the yard. Knowing how I know zero about the Amish, I quickly realized how judgmental I was being about both their economic situation and about my desire to paint the place. Maybe the house is fully, 100% protected from the elements in ways that are foreign to me.

What I love the most about Amish country is how radically different they are from us, English. They are truly aliens to me. Not only in their way of life, but more importantly: what are their values, what is their purpose? I firmly believe that God is moving in their community just like he is in mine to mature them in Christ. For some reason I have this desire to learn more about how God is moving in their community. I just feel God has something for me there…

Amish country is about 100 miles into the 215 mile ride. Once I got into Amish country my foul mood started to finally lift. It is a very beautiful place that provokes a lot of very loving and compassionate thoughts. It was well worth the effort to get up to Amish country!

All in all, it turned out to be a very nice way to spend a Saturday. I even got to ride in the rain, the sky opened up for me when I was about 3 mile from the finish. As I have said before, I love riding in the rain, it like singing in the rain, so it was a great way to end a good day!

I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!

The last weekend of January was a truly amazing weekend of cycling. First was the weather: in this part of the world, January is normally overcast, wet, and COLD! Saturday it was sunny and up in the 60’s, Sunday overcast and in the 50’s. Irma was gracious enough to let me ride both days to get the rides I needed. On Saturday I rode a 200k with Larry and Scott and Sunday a 100k with Paul.

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Scott, in Ohio, chases Larry into Indiana.  The state boarder is the fence between the two.

Looking back on the Saturday ride, it was just funny, all the way around. From the word go with one of my companions showing up at the wrong starting location and another running late due in part to missing an exit on the highway, all the way to the dead car batteries at the end, it was the day of the unexpected challenge. The best part is the three of us banded together and got her done! Scott summed it up perfectly:

“I think, bottom line, we all had fun on the ride. That is what counts the most. Each of us took shots at each other and each of us took the hits that each other gave out. All in all, a very good day.”

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Larry takes a selfie with both Scott and me in his background.

This sport of Randonneuring is a perfect reflection of the rest of life. As is so often the case, what is good is also bad. One thing I love the about the sport is also what I passionately hate about it: the fierce independence. I see the same fierce independence as the best of and the worse of the American culture.

It is built into the rules that once you are out on the ride, you cannot get prearranged help except at the controls. This really adds to the challenge of the sport, learning to be resourceful with what you have. What I hate about this rule is the ‘go it alone attitude’. I have blogged about it in the past, but all in all, the ’ride your ride‘ attitude really discourages the concept of self-sacrifice for the communal good.

I really don’t know how this happened, but of the three of us, two of us forgot our wallets. The first one of us realized it about 10 miles into the ride, the other one had a bit of cash so it didn’t register until 30 miles. While the one that had money (he, too, almost walked out the door with only a $20 bill, but opted to bring his credit card, thank God!) could have been a jerk, he was gracious enough to cover the other two. The best part of the whole thing was that it was no big deal to anyone. Well, that wasn’t 100% true, the second gentleman though he lost his wallet at the first control, he wasn’t at peace until it was confirmed that the wallet was in his car. Among the three of us the money issue was a non-issue!

What I truly, deeply appreciated the most about Saturday’s ride was that in one way or another each of us came up short. When we did, we had friends to come along side to offer a helping hand. It seems very much the way God intended for us to live: in community, leaning on others in our weakness and holding each other up in our strength so that we can have ‘a very good day’. Independence is good; community is far, far better!

Those who know me know that I am very persnickety. One of the ugly side effects is that I get really judgmental of folks. Then I start thinking it is simply too much effort to try to be in community, it is so much easier to just ‘do my own thing’. Yes, I am the most fiercely independence of them all!

Confession time: I cannot tell you at the number of rides I have walked away from a ride with Larry and/or Scott never wanting to ride with them again. It is not them, it is me. I simply like doing things my way, at my own pace. There is always something about them (anyone really) that gets under my skin. I am an introvert, which means I am charged when I am by myself and while being with others drains me. I truly, deeply love my solo rides, they are GOOD for my soul.

My belief is that being in relationship is more important then going it along. My unbelief is that it is so much simpler and thus better to go-it-alone. Through 2015 God has grown a deep love in me for riding with others. In a radically different way then a solo ride they, too, are equally GOOD for my soul.

When I started Randonneuring last January (2015) I knew I needed community. In the past I have experienced real community, now being without it, I knew that it was what I needed to find to once again. The problem is that knowing and believing are two radically different things. In the beginning my belief was just one spider silk that tethered me to Jesus’ truth of my need for community. Month by month as I rode with Larry, Jesus added yet another strand to that tether.

March of last year Larry and I had a hard time coordinating our schedules. I said, “To hell with it, I am getting my ride in with or without him. Larry can fend for himself.” I went out on a solo ride and locked in my March ride. But Jesus was already weaving his web on me. Come March 29, Larry was free to ride. This quiet voice told me, “Sam you made a commitment to this man, go ride with him.” So I hit the road with him and we locked in his P-3 ride, I walked away really having a lot of fun that day.

Nine months later it is December and we are looking to schedule our final ride of the P-12 challenge. It totally rocked that Larry and I had been able to work things out to be able to ride together at least once over the last 11 months. On Friday December 4, Larry and I where working out the details for riding Saturday. It turns out his wife took a minor spill. She might need his help the following day at a big event she had on Saturday. Like any good husband, he knew that helping his wife might prevent him from riding the following day. He told me, “Don’t skip the ride because of me! Finish your P-12 and then laugh at me struggling to get it in…” then concluded with “Think positively”.

I replied, “I am thinking very positively: I am positive we agreed to do this together, I am positive we started together and I am positive the right thing to do is finish together. God willing it will be tomorrow! Keep me posted!”

Late Saturday he told me that things were worked out at his end, his son would help his wife so he was released to ride with me. So that was the first obstacle, but Saturday morning comes around and there is a fog thicker than pea soup. While driving in fog is terrifying, cycling in it is double so! I seriously considered bailing Saturday morning. Then I stopped and pondered all Larry and his family had sacrificed to allow him to ride and that quiet little voice made himself known to me again. I knew I had to go, despite my reservations.

The temp dropped to 22, my bike computer stopped working due to the cold and the fog didn’t lift until noon. But it turned out to be the most amazing ride I have ever been on to date. I would have never gone out in weather like that, but thanks to Larry I got to experience a landscape that was simply breathtaking!

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On the December ride the combination of fog and 22 degrees resulted in the fog condensing on my arms and beard.  It was simply spectacular out there!

Reflecting back on the last year, I have come to realize what I have been doing for a long, long time: faking it until I make it. This is a good faking it, going through those motions because you know they are right even though you heart isn’t there yet. What I keep finding is that when I live it, even if I don’t feel it in the beginning, in the end I do feel it.

At the beginning of 2015 I knew God had me on a journey, I just didn’t know what journey. I began — and continue to begin — by being present with the Spirit, followed by action that is aligned with Jesus’ will. With every hiccup I stop and am present with the Lord. Each time I receive a small piece of wisdom to move forward. The wisdom seems to always call for me to giving up a bit of power, control, and desire. Day by day, my faith grows in the truth that God is truly in control. He has been completely faithful to that!

If you, like me, are seeking help in your unbelief, bridging the gap between believing the truth and actually feeling it, join me: Ask for wisdom and then be present and simply listen for those steps of self-sacrifice. Even if you don’t feel it yet, live it out anyway and watch how the Lord will, oh, so slowly, build your faith!

The Joy of a Double Century

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Sunset over Kiser Lake

It’s January in the Midwest, I am a cyclist and I have set what now seems a crazy goal for 2016, riding a double century every month.  When I was developing the route from the gas station a mile from my house to another gas station 107 miles north in Russells Point, Ohio, it seemed very doable.  Then my first attempt at the route in December ended prematurely.  Three flats, lots of rain, and the extra dark day of winter wore me down, despite only being 30 miles from the end.  I Did Not Finish (DNF).  As I wrote in my previous blog post, I didn’t think I would ride in January or February due to the extra cold and dark days.  My perspective totally changed about how easy this 12-month challenge was going to be to pull off.  I went so far as to accept to the idea January and February might not happen this year.  Well, the Holy Spirit wasn’t going to let that attitude stand for very long…

The weather was simply beautiful on the first three days of January and I was not riding, I was helping my wonderful wife put away all the Christmas lights and decorations.  Something just moved me to put all my usual activities aside and focus on helping her return the house back to normal.  Well, come Sunday morning I had zero regrets, it was so very rewarding to help my wife and have a break from the bike, despite the amazing weather.  It was just what the doctor ordered!

Little did I know God’s Will.  At church Sunday morning I felt God tugging at my heart through the message, saying  ‘Sam, there is a reason I put the desire to ride a double century on your heart, have faith in me and go ride them!’ I felt that “can-do attitude” come back in full swing!

Now the only question was when!  Thursday’s weather was forecasted to be sunny all day and top out in the 40’s. I worked it out so that I could have that day off work and cleared my schedule, I had my when: Thursday!

God, Jesus, faith and all that stuff is just the funniest thing.  There are a number of places in the Bible where it talks about this whole indwelling of Christ.  The concept that we need to die to ourselves, so that Christ can live in us and we can live in Christ.  I can totally relate to that! My belief is that this can-do attitude is that Christ-in-Sam, Sam-in-Christ, or as some call it your true self.  The cannot-do attitude is that of the Sam-without-Christ, or your false self.

When I read about Jesus saying that we have to die to live but if we try to live, we die, I hear him calling me back into the can-do attitude.

I had learned from my first attempt at this ride, that a 342km ride is a touch longer then a 300k.  So I moved back the start time to 5:30am, which meant getting up at 4:15.  When the alarm went off, I rolled over and turned it off and thought to myself – Really????  I checked the temp.  As expected… 24 degress.  Really, really??????  I rolled back over tried to remember why on god’s green earth had I been giddy in anticipation the day before?  I had to be completely nuts!  I just lay there, pondering… who would really care if I just sleep in, hoping for better weather later in January.  Wait a second, better weather in late January? Ok, now I know I AM crazy!  It was going to be sunny and in the upper 40’s today, I could push though 24 degree weather for a few hours. I stepped back into faith and the can-do spirit was back!  I jumped out of bed and got dressed.

In the kitchen I loaded the head light up with batteries from the overnight charged.  Then I went to test it.  Now this light is most definitely a thorn in my side!  The power button barely moved and you have to hold it for a good 3 seconds to get it to go from off to on and on to off.  (A quick press flips the hi/low mode). For some reason I could not turn it on and no matter how I press, nor how long I press it won’t come on!  It felt like I tried for an hour, but I think it was only about two minutes.  It wasn’t working, and poof, that spirit of can-do was gone and I was back in the cannot-do!  I went back up stairs and threw the light into the very big soft chair next to the bed and quietly told Irma that I am not riding. I sit on the bed just annoyed!

I shake my head in disgust and before finally giving up (I was only about 10 minutes behind schedule now) I opted to give it one more try.  The head light worked.  The faith, the can-do spirit was back… I was off!  Another 5 minute quiet scramble and I was out the door!

Once on the bike, the 24-degree crystal clear morning was simply beautiful!  The four layers I was wearing were keeping me the perfect temperature!  A mile later, with no sweat build up yet, I walk into the starting control.  Thirty second later I am desperately unzipping everything to prevent falling over from heat stroke!  I wasn’t in there long!  With the delay dealing with the headlight, I started only 15 minute behind schedule.

Once I settled in, I looked up and my breath was taken away!  I am amazed each time I look see how amazingly clear the nigh sky can be when it is cool out.  To top it off, the moon was a crescent moon, only a day or two from a new moon.  It was so amazingly clear you could see the outline of the rest of the moon.  Then there was a planet, or so I am guessing because of how bright it was just south of the moon.  It was simply beautiful!  There is something very special about riding at night.  If you have never ridden at night, I highly recommend it (just make sure you have the right gear to see and been seen!)

Then one of the highlights of starting so early is the sun rises.  Each time I get to experience the sunrise I am amazed, it never gets old!  The official sunrise was just before 8 but I saw signs of the coming sun as early at 6:50 when I saw the eastern horizon go from black to deep blue.  Through out the 7 o’clock hour it was always thrilling to see how the increased light changed the crystal clear day.  This day was no exception.

Well, nothing good lasts forever in this broken world in which we live.  The route starts out with 20 miles of up and down some moderate hills to a bike path for about 18 miles, then through the town of Xenia  (an opportunity to resupply) and then another 16 miles of trails into Springfield. The rest of the route is on public roads.

It is in this first 18 mile stretch that the cannot-do spirit returned.  It is cold out despite the sun. I am contemplating the fact that I am only 30ish miles into a 212 mile bike ride.  Then the negative creeps in: “Don’t I have better things I could be doing?”  I start to list them in my head, “If I turn around I could be home in no time and be working on them enjoying my day off work rather then being out here in the below freezing weather!  Why exactly am I doing this again?”  I reflect on that giddy feeling I had the day before and start to ponder the whole scenario I developed about “God put it on my heart”.  If I am not already totally crazy (which I very well could be), this flip-flopping is going to drive me to the crazy farm!

It’s now the middle of the 8 o’clock hour.  The sun is pretty and all, the amazement of the 7 o’clock hour was gone.  I have been on the bike path with the constant pops and cracks of the messy winter debris.  Even though I had sealant filled inner tubes, the thought passed through my mind, “Am I going to get another flat?”  I could see it now, another DNF on the backside, again…  It is going to be late and cold, I am going to be tired and want to be done and I am going to get a flat I cannot or simply don’t want to fix and I am going to DNF again like last month.   Again, I ponder, “Why am I out here again?  What is the point?  I don’t know, I should simply turn around and actually enjoy this day off!”

As I pedal, I contemplate…  It’s what I do when riding as I won’t use headphones for safety reason.  So I think my way through the hours…  Ok, so I don’t know why I am here, but that giddy feeling the day before was not natural, it was simply silly, a down right foolish joy that seems supernatural.  Then an old familiar, comforting thought creeps into my head…  Jesus talked about how what he and his followers do will appear foolish to those that cannot see.  At this point I couldn’t see diddly, why WAS I doing this?  But I let the thought continue… Christianity spread like wild fire in the first 300 years because of the foolish joy Christians possessed.  It was this foolish joy they had as they where killed in the arena or when Nero hung them on crosses and set them on fire to be “the light of the world” between two Roman cities that others witnessed.  It was witnessing this foolish joy even in death that modivated others to wanted some of the foolishness, too!

I also remembered that I had the same cannot-do spirit back in December at this point in the ride but once I got to the first control, 60 miles into the ride it all changed.  Mind you the ride is 107 miles one way, so the first control is more than half way out.  I wondered, did God inspire me to make the first control so far out because he know I would and will always struggle at this point?  Does he know me well enough to know that once I had gone over 50% of the way, I would not turn back? Personally I like the idea that the creator of the world cares enough about me, so OK, I am going to say yes.  I stepped into that faith that God was in control and pressed on.  Once on the second bike path, north of Xenia, things turned around!

At the first control I saw a friendly face, the young gentleman that checked me out in December.  It was a Speedway with three cash registers and he actually opened up the third when he saw I was next in line. It was 10ish and starting to warm up nicely so I started to strip layers and was fully in my can-do spirit, it was going to be a good day! As I road north there was little wind and I was making great time, or so I thought.

The tail wind fools me every time, despite a ton of signs it is there.  It seems one place where I simply won’t believe is in the help of a tail wind, until I turn around and am face to face with the reality of the head wind!  Or is it that I like to think way too highly of myself, which is more than likely the real case.  Either way, nice tail wind up, and I got to fight the head wind on the way back.

Since this is the first half of another one of my routes, I have ridden it three other times, so I am starting to get to know the route pretty well.  One thing I have written about before are dogs.  I contend that dogs are the scariest thing for a cyclist to encounter due to their unpredictable nature.  On this route I encounter a few.  Most of them stay on their property and know the property line.  They will run with you to that point and stop.  These are welcome company for a few seconds on a long ride.  At one point I get three chasing me in the street.  I don’t think they are really trying to bite so I don’t sprint, but to be safe I do keep my speed up so they have to work at staying with me.  That way if they are inclined to bite, they don’t have time.

There is this one dog that is my buddy, named Ace.  He is a 9~10 month old black lab that loves to run and play.  The problem is that he has NOT learned his property line yet.  My first time cycled by his place he ran with me for 2 miles before his owner came along and got him.  I now look for him.  From 700 meters out I saw one of his owners, then I set eyes on Ace just about the same time he set his on me.  He came running at me and I pulled up in the driveway.  The owner was a very nice lady in her late 60’s.  She said, “You must know Ace” and with a smile I said I did.  I shared with her that a few months back I had cycled by, he was out and I left him in the garage.  She said that happened all the time.  I made a mental note that is that status quo with ace.  I helped her get Ace in the house and I was off again in short order.  During the dinner hour I came up on his place on my return trip.  There was Ace, sitting right at the edge of the driveway.  The second he saw me he was up and running.  Again, I pull into the drive way and this time her son, maybe son-in-law, opened the door and said he was sitting at the diner table when he saw Ace take off.  Again, moments later Ace was in the house and I was off again, this time on my way home.

About 20 minutes later it was finally dark enough I was forced to turn on my headlight.  It has two modes, high (80 lux) and low (20 lux).  It wasn’t quite dark enough to require the high mode so I left it in low.  Right before a big downhill I turned it on high, but due to a pickup truck lighting the way behind me I didn’t notice that the light dropped into low mode.  The light is designed to do that when it gets down to 20% power.  I put in my second set of AA’s and moments later they want from high to low, also. I fully charged all my batteries the night before, and these where an older pair, so it was time to retire them.

Well, now I was in a real pickle.  I had one more set of batteries and over 60 miles to go!  Normally I would pick up a set of AA’s batteries at the next control as backup and be done with it.  But it was below freezing and the temp was still dropping.  Alkaline don’t work below freezing!  I needed some lithium batteries, which cannot be found in the average convenient store.

I called in the Calvary (Irma) in hopes of saving the ride. Irma agreed to stop at Walmart to pick up a set of lithium batteries and bring them to me at the final control in Xenia.

My wife is simply amazing, I don’t know, but based on the way other guys talk, I take it my wife’s willingness to come to my aid most anywhere I am goes far and above the norm! I know when I look into her eyes, I am looking into the eye of Christ-in-Irma & Irma-in-Christ, fore there is no other explanation for the overflow of love that comes from her.  I am blessed beyond my wildest imagination!

I thought I was set, little did I know.  The night set in, I was back on the bike trail now, the northern most 16 mile strip.  Somewhere along that strip the cannot-do attitude returned.  I started thinking about the fact that Irma was not too far away, I was tired of the cold, I was tired of cycling, I really like the idea of just going home and being done!  The idea of getting home at 11:45, showering, and getting into bed by 1am and being at work the next day just seemed like a big drag, and for want? Again, why was I doing this?

I started to realize I am DNFing a little too much lately.  They are becoming way too easy to accept.  As I rode, I contemplated.  What came to mind was a number of rides where I was dragging in a similar way towards the end of a ride.  Then at I stopped and actually ate some real food that gave me a huge pick-me up.

I concluded that when I hooked up with Irma in Xenia I would stop and eat a meal.  The whole thought of seeing Irma was a huge pick me up, in and of itself.  Then I rolled in and was blessed with seeing her beautiful face!  It was simply wonderful, besides, she had our youngest, Derek, who was still home from college! I had some food and great conversation and then was off again!

The energy was back!  Well, it was for a while, about an hour later deep on the trail the mood matches the environment:  dark, cold, and harsh.  At this point I was too close to home to even consider a DNF, but I simply didn’t have the spirit anymore, it was gone and would remain gone until the ride was over.

Despite the lack of the spirit, wonderfully funny thoughts pass through the old brain.  Once I got off the bike trail I was faced with the biggest climb of the ride.  When Scott and I rode out on my Mason-Bowling Green 300k route on one day and planned to make the returning 300k trip the next, I proposed that when we reached  this hill we should race up it! Scott, far wiser then me, said:  lets see how we are feeling once we got there.  We both DNFed so neither of us made it there.

As I came to the end of the bike trial it was time to face the hill.  I laughed to myself, did I really think I would want to race up a hill after two days of riding nearly 600k?  At just over 300k I simply wanted to make it up the hill!  I could just picture the two of us, if we had made it that far.  Neither of us would be willing to back down, we would agree to race, but neither of us would have the steam to really race.  We would both just ride up it until the last like 3 feet when one of us would surge ahead, resulting in a pretty pathetic race.  It was a funny to contemplate as I climbed the darn hill!

At the top of the hill, I was basically home only about 15 miles to go.  As I pushed along the top of the hill as I coast down the other side, I look up and notice the sky.  I reflect on all that has changed through the day.  The day starting off when it was dark and watching the sunrise in the east.  Then it casts those long, long shadows!  Later the noon sun comes high in the sky; well it is January so it wasn’t too high. Then watching it start to go down in the west into the high clouds, denying me the wonderful long shadows as it departs.  It is truly amazing just watching the sun when you spend a whole day wandering through the great outdoors like I do on a bike.

When I was climbing this hill at 6:30 in the morning I was soaking in the crescent moon.  Now at 10:45pm the sky had those high clouds that would, in a few short hours, turn into rain clouds.

Despite my dark mode, there was this wonderful spirit constantly trying to break in. Being the stubborn mule that I am, I would not let it in, well not too far in.  In this last hour I simply wanted to be done.  In the last mile I had a nice light down grade.  When I want to push it, I can do well over 27 mph down it. This evening I simply coast, glad the pedaling was over!  At this point in the ride I didn’t have a dark spirit; I was simply empty of anything!

The grand question is: why am I doing this? My feeling coming upon the final control was not exuberant or overjoyed, nor was it dark, was simply mellow.  I was in this place of great, great peace.  It is that amazing peace that transcends all understanding.  In this full day of cycling I was physically and mentally were one of my favorite prayers asks to be taken:

Take, O Lord, and receive my entire liberty,
my memory, my understanding and my whole will.
All that I am and all that I possess You have given me.
I surrender it all to You to be disposed of according to Your will.
Give me only Your love and Your grace;
with these I will be rich enough,
and will desire nothing more.
— St. Ignatius Loyola

At 11:30pm I coasted into the ending control, which is also the start.  The clerk asked where I was coming from.  I love that question, with a smile I replied, “Here, at 5:30 this morning”.  This lead to the inevitable questions, how far did you go, where did you go, etc.  This young 20 something clerk ended with a little word of acclaim that had the exact same peaceful feeling that I possessed.  I don’t know exactly what it was, but I walked out knowing that God had just used that quick little encounter to change that young man.

And in the end, I learned the reason why I do this: Just because God put it on my heart.  It is in these most subtle of things that God shares with me that yes, he is using me in his own way.  Most of the time, like in this clerk, I will never know the exactly how, but I am called simply to have faith God will complete the work he has started in me and those around me.

It was a good, good ride.  One of twelve!  As I wrap up this blog, the giddy joy of the February double century begins to build!

Lessons learned from 346km DNF

Yesterday, the day after Christmas it looked like a perfect weather to attempt my 346km (215 miles) route I created. It started out 48 degrees and overcast with a weather front pushing up for the south east so that about 1pm ~ 3pm the temperature would rise into the 60’s bring with it rain, lots of rain. I happen to really enjoy cycling in rain so I was looking forward to the ride.

Around noon I got my first flat. I tried to change it, but I could not get the tire bead to sit right at the inner tube nozzle. I have changed a tire before, but both tubes gave me this problem! I through in the towel and called the Calvary (Irma) to come get me. While I sat there waiting the owner of the house came out and started talking with me. We both looked at the problem, he was stumped, too. Then of all things, another cyclist, one of only two cyclist I saw ALL day, rolls by. He stops and fixes the problem. I ask him how he did it. He simply pressed the nozzle up as far as possible so the bead could get under it. I called Irma before she had left the house and told her I was rolling again, and I proceeded north on the ride. Lesson learned!

Knowing there would be rain and lots of it, I figured this was my chance to try out my ShowerPass waterproof socks I got a few months back. I was going to have dry feet all day, or so I hoped. For those of you that don’t know, I had a blood clot last year and ride (my story). One of the side effects is that I will not get on a bike without knee high compression sock on both legs. I put my regular socks on over them. The waterproof socks where not as high as the compression socks. One concern I had (which is way I carried spare wool soaks) was that the water might just run down the compression sock into the waterproof soak. Guess what: It did! It seems that everything has an achilles heels: with waterproof soaks if waters gets in, it doesn’t get out!!!! About 2 hours of riding in the rain I get to the next control and there is a  nice little puddles in my socks. I swapped them out for wool socks.   While my feet were wet, they where very comfortable the rest of the day. Leason learned!

On my way back home, at about 5:45, right as twilight was coming to an end, that moment where you can still see without lights, just barely, I got my second flat. I thought, I can do this! Took the back wheel off and then realized: everything is VERY wet and I have no light. There is NO way I can find the source of the flat, so I thru in the towel again, mentally. Now the project was finding a dry place to pull out my phone and call Irma. I was Kiser Lake and there was a few building not far away. Once I got there, a pickup truck pulls into the parking lot! I waved him down and asked if he had a flashlight. He did. In short order I was up and rolling again! So, I learned that on night rides, carry a waterproof light in a pocket that can be accessed even when it is poring down rain on you. Lesson learned!

Now that it was night, I got to learn the most enjoyable lessons: Cycling at night in December is a ton of fun! I cannot tell you how many wonderful Christmas light displays I saw, folks put them up even in homes way out in the country. It was simply BEAUTIFUL!!!!! Some of them in country are the most elaborate, too! I think I will make is a point to have a nice long night ride every December now; I simply LOVED it!

One thing I found interesting was that I wasn’t either too cold or too warm during the ride. With it starting out at 48 degrees and with it rising into the mid 60’s, I was concerned about how best to dress. I opted to start out dressed for a cold ride: Thermal base layer, regular jersey, thermal jacket, and my reflective vest. Once I got the first flat I put on a raincoat to stay warmer while I waited. Since rain was coming very soon I left it on the rest of the day. Now I have worn this outfit in a 22 degree ride and was fine, cool but fine. I have also worn a none thermal base layer, jersey and rain coat in a 60 degree ride and was fine, too. So I was expecting that having both a thermal base layer and thermal jacket under the raincoat would make me burn up. Well, they didn’t! I was never cold, but I was never toasting. About an hour before my 3rd flat at 11:15pm I took off my water soaked gloves to let my hands dry out and I was fine without gloves, so I know it was warm, real warm. It was maybe as warm as 68 degrees for me not to need wind protection on my hands. When I did finally stop and DNFed due to the 3rd flat (I did have a patch kit, but just wasn’t up for putting it to use in the dark!), I evaluated the clothing: every layer was soaked. I have heard that synthetic thermal’s didn’t keep you warm when wet. Considering I had two layers of it on and a raincoat and was just as comfortable as I would have been in just a non-thermal base layer, I have to say they are correct.

I recieved a merino wool base layer for Christmas. I opted not to ware it yesterday because I generate a LOT of heat and was afraid it would be too warm. I dare say with all I experienced yesterday, that would have been the case. But what I did learn is that if I am going to ride in the rain when it is going to be in the 40’s or 50’s, leave the thermal layers at home and just wear the Merino wool! Lesson learned!

I also realized I cannot do long night rights in the bitter cold yet. I run battery-powered lights, as compared to a lot of my cycling friends that use a generator hub. My first set of batteries last a good long while, but about 6 miles out from the Zenia control the light dropped to the low mode, which means I only have 20% batter power left. I had many miles to go and two more sets of batteries. I swapped them out at the control and was fine the rest of the ride.

I compared this ride to the Populaire I rode early in the month where it started out 22 and only got to 38 by the end of it. It was so cold that the little CR2032 batteries would not power my little handlebar computer units. I realized that I am not going to be getting 4~5 hours out of my headlight batteries when a ride starts at 22 degrees and only get up to 34. I might get an hour out of them. The solution is going to be to get a generator hub. Hopefully if all works out I will be able to get a good one in 2016!

The final lesson I learned due to my post on Facebook, it seems that flats are very common when it is wet, cold, or both!  One solution is to ride with slim filled tubs, something I will be looking into for the rest of this winter season!

I learned lots and lots, and had a wonderful time. The best part was I was never really alone. It seems that each and every time I needed human interaction… On the note of human interaction, I am a full blown introvert, which is why I am happy spending all day (6am to 11:15pm) riding solo… so regardless of if I realized it or not, God knew what I needed and provided it for me, he is sort of funny that way.

The first time was at the first control, I ended up helping out a gentleman there, he jumped up and gave me a sorely needed hug, too cool! I didn’t realize how badly I needed the hug, but it was a HUGE pick me up. Then there was the mysterious cyclist that stopped and helped me with my first flat. At the turn around control, Russells Point, there was a gentleman in his late 50 or early 60’s. We talked and he shook my hand as I departed. I felt like I was looking into the eyes of Jesus when he shook my hand, don’t know why, but the depth of his sincerity was just moving!

Then there was the gentleman at the next control. He was a very typical looking country gentleman in his upper 60’s. I shared with him that I did actually like cycling in the rain, which at this point I had been doing for about 7 hours so I better like it! He pondered my comment and said, well I guess it is like hunting in the rain, which he loves to do. The love I felt in being understood rather then judged, was great! The judging is of no matter to me, but in the understanding came a lot of love from an unexpected source!

And finally the young lady that was working the front counter at McD’s in Zenia. Watching her move around doing her job, she looked to be simply there, not much life. Having, myself worked at McD’s, an establishment which I have the greatest respect for, but is still a fast food joint, I empathize with existing though your job.

I parked my bike in the mulch so that I could lean it up against the window to see it from inside. I dragged this wet mulch into the nice clean dinning room. It was late and they had already closed down most of the dinning room. Mats were rolled up, trash cans nice and neat, and closed down, then I show up making a big old mess! First I had put my soaking wet handlebar bag on her clean dry counter. When I pointed that out to her, she simply lite up with a big smile and with great kindness in her voices saying she would take care of it. Then a moment later and she is back to work. I got the food and the fries were cold, so I asked for some fresh fries; same thing, she just light up with joy and peace to serve me. And then finally when I was done, with all the trash cans closed for the night, she was again filled with a joy and peace when she told me she would clean it up. Each time was so amazingly sincere I truly felt like, again, I like it was Jesus of Nazareth serving me.

I find it so amazing how faithful he is to all of us, always there when we need him, even when we don’t realize it. All in all, while I didn’t finish the ride, I did fail it very, very well! I had a GREAT time and look forward to more such experiences in the coming future.