One of my friends from our Tuesday night club ride puts on a couple of rides every year, invite only based on speed (the ability to maintain a 20 mph pace over any distance in a very small group). The trick is actually finding people who fit the bill. All of the racers are too fast and don’t want to be bothered with a 20 mph ride and most everyone else is too slow. Even so, there are at least six or eight guys who can hang. Unfortunately most of them were busy today so it was just me, Chuck and Mike. We made the best of it with the three of us though.
The weather was just shy of perfect. 65 and partly sunny, a little breezy for my liking, but it was good enough. We started at 8 am in Fenton and headed out toward Howell. As an omen, we hit our first decent climb within a mile – and unlike our Tuesday night club ride, there were real hills on this ride.
We wound our way through Howell and when we got into Brighton we found ourselves in the midst of a downtown block party so we stopped for a muffin and coffee – and apparently every other cyclist in a 40 mile radius knew that the coffee shop that we stopped at was the place to be, the place had more high-priced carbon parked out front than Assenmacher’s Bicycle Shop. It was awesome. On finishing up we saddled up and hit the road. The rollers were relentless and to make matters difficult, much of the roads left a lot to be desired (that route on smooth roads would have been utterly badass).
About 45 miles in I asked Chuck if we’d be doing Denton Hill – the one legitimate climb in our county and I’d never done it. Chuck, as cool as he is, altered the route so we could do it both ways. So at the 60 mile mark, Mike left us to get to his granddaughter’s soccer game (if you ask me, he’s not a big fan of the climbs anyway – he did have a good excuse though). Chuck and I headed for the mythical Denton Hill – the one climb in a 100 mile radius that’s got a reputation. The easy way is a 7% grade for a mile, then we hit a high-priced neighborhood with a 10%’er over two tenths of a mile before turning around and doing Denton Hill the hard way – it starts out at an easy 6% before cranking up to about 12% near the top. In a part of the state where there really isn’t much climbing to be done, that sated my hunger (though you can bet I’ll be making that a normal Saturday morning route).
A side note: My Venge, while it is a racer not a climber, handles the hills exceptionally well. I didn’t hit the lowest gear until that last 12% section and I was able to spin that out in the saddle. I’m very pleased with it.
The three of us held a 19.5 mph average for 56 miles – the climbing over the last ten miles (coupled with the fact that Chuck and I just took it easy getting to the hills) knocked that down to a finishing average of 18.7.
Lastly, I love being a climbing nut. Really, what kind of dope goes on a 60 mile ride, then goes another few miles out of his way on purpose just to climb a few hills? I’m that guy, and proud of it. Today’s ride was perfect. Oh, and humorously enough, we didn’t see a drop of rain. Ten miles north of where we finished, it was pouring.
My dad was a recruited catcher in high school. He was good enough to be cocky and that cockiness led to an irrecoverable mistake: He chose to smoke cigarettes which led to his getting booted from the team when his coach found out, effectively ending his shot at pro baseball.
My father then went into the Air Force where he was a weather man. While in service he had the opportunity to wave at the President of the United States from an overpass. Much to his surprise, the president saw him on that overpass in Dallas, in uniform, and waved back. A few short hours later the nation was stunned. The president lay motionless, his wife and the country grieving his death.
My father, on completing his service just months before the Vietnam war ramped up and finishing his work on his degree, he took a data entry position at a budding computer company – and let me tell you, if you think data entry is boring today, try the early 70’s… My father met my mother while he was her patient in the hospital. Yes, it was cliched. Then I was born, nine months and 1 day after the honeymoon. We lived in a decent duplex in Roxborough, Pennsylvania and my fondest memory from that time was eating cheese steaks and watching boxing on a tiny black and white TV that my dad would set on the dining room table. From there my dad got a call from my grandfather (mom’s side) who asked my dad to move to Michigan to help him run the family business. In ’75 pops packed us up and we moved. My grandfather died of a massive heart attack while my father was still training. It took a while but he learned the business and grew that company into a very lucrative business.
My pops taught me to play baseball when I was just a pup, knee-high to a grasshopper. He took us sledding, trick-or-treating, taught us to hit a golf ball and did all of the things dads do with their little boys – including teaching my brothers and I to be good men.
My dad has a dark side though. He is a raging alcoholic, and this has much to do with why I’m writing this post on a Friday night as all of the good things my dad did for us. He also taught us how not to be a responsible fathers and good husbands. Rather than drag him through the mud with details though, I’ll simply say that his faults are a good part of why I am a great father, dad, pops and husband. Even his failings eventually provided happiness to my family and wife, and to my brother’s families and their wives.
Sadly, it was his love for the libation that turned on his Alzheimer’s disease much earlier than anyone should have to live through it. Alcohol was the death of him; he gave up a lot for a drink.
I saw my dad this afternoon. I can’t imagine it will be long before before Alzheimer’s takes him. He sleeps most of the time, he’s barely able to eat, he’s lost a lot of weight and he’s starting to get that skeletal look to him. He can no longer speak more than one or two intelligible words. My pops is done, pooped out. And I am most definitely not ready for what’s coming.
I’ve missed my dad for a long time but all of the troubles caring for him now seem like the selfish whining of a punk kid who simply didn’t get it. I’ll pay for that some day, probably in the not too distant future.
On the bright side of that though, I have my wife who consistently shows me how it’s supposed to be done. The way she handles my dad’s slipping amazes me on a weekly basis. She loves my old man likes he’s her own simply because she loves me. While I will lose my greatest example of how to be a good man and a great father, I have plenty of other opportunities, if I pay attention.
Now, this relates to fitness in one simple way: Alzheimer’s is one of the few diseases one can outrun (or out-cycle in my case). I’m doing my darnedest to make sure I do, whether it skips a generation or not, whether it is hereditary or not. I realize that what I do can be considered extreme by some – an hour almost every day of the week and 2-3 hours on Saturday and Sunday. I’m okay with the label, I have an abundance of angst to get rid of lately.