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Fit, Fantastic, Clean, Sober and, Above All, Happy (and Fully Caffeinated, Baby)

My wife and I went to see our daughter perform in halftime show with her university’s marching band over the weekend. It was an awesome, close game and the halftime performance was fantastic. And seeing my kid was special. They do a postgame performance and photo for posterity and my wife and I stayed till the very end, taking a couple of photos from our seats on the 45 yard-line, about six rows up… but I couldn’t tell what the formation was meant to be. My wife and I had the same thought at the same time; let’s improve the vantage point. We ran up the concrete steps to get a better perch. Three-quarters of the way up we were both turned to snap a photo.

Still not good enough.

My wife saw exactly where I was going and handed her phone to me and said, “you go right ahead”. I ran up the last quarter and snapped the photo about eight seconds before they broke formation.

Now, we’re not talking “walked the steps fast”, “sauntered”, “trotted”… I ran those suckers. So, I’m thinking, afterward, how many 50-year-old men can run up 100 stadium steps to get a photo without having to take an oxygen time out in the back of an ambulance? Surely, I jest… but I will say it isn’t many and I was quite stoked I didn’t fall over in a heap.

We had an odd weekend for cycling last weekend. The day of the game, well before we left, my wife and I went for a sweet 41-mile ride at a 19-mph pace with several of our friends. I felt I could have ridden another 60 at that pace, easily. We had a 40-mile dirt road ride planned for Sunday but rain had us, wisely, sitting that one out. My weekday riding buddy, Chuck and I went out for an easy 20-some-miler for his “New Bike Day”, having just brought home his 2021 Specialized Tarmac SL7 the night before.

That left us in a quandry for what to do yesterday evening… we opted to save the legs for tonight and ride easy. We just lolled around the neighborhood along our normal route, kicking the tires on a few things that needed discussing. I rolled into the driveway with a 16.5-mph average over 22 miles and had barely broken a sweat. I noticed, as I was preparing dinner, how loose and good I felt.

While I do have my struggles related to fitness (I’m hard pressed finding the “want to” to get to a gym, and I love to eat good food), and recovery isn’t always a walk in the park, in the overall scheme of things, I’m feeling pretty fantastic about being me.

And I think that’s as it should be, really. I’m not “all that and a bag of chips”, but I’m content with who I’ve become. I’ll take that.

A Perfect Day in Recovery

My wife and I started with an awesome ride with friends. It was really quite foggy at the start (we’ve had a lot of rain), but once the fog broke, it turned into a magnificently fun time. I was glad I didn’t decide to bail when the veil of fog descended… it had been clear as crystal before sunrise. We all had our best blinkie accessories and visibility wasn’t too horrible.

Then, a shower, lunch, and a nap.

Next, we were off to my kid’s college football game to see her perform in the halftime show. It was a wonderful time for us, and it was a tight game, though we prevailed when the clock hit zeros, by one point.

We finished the night up by taking our daughter out to dinner and driving home hand-in-hand.

We passed out fell asleep seconds after heads hit pillows with smiles on our faces and love in our hearts.

And we slept in (even me).

Today will be another busy, fun day. A ride, a cycling club board meeting, bowling this evening…

Once over the shock and initial boredom that comes in early recovery (if you’re bored, volunteer for service work – you won’t be bored anymore), if one works for it, life will become so full you’ll need a master planner just to keep up.

And the best part is, you’ll be having so much fun, you’ll wonder how you ever had time to get drunk.

That isn’t overselling recovery, either. The key is putting in the work to make it happen. No farmer ever sat on his ass waiting for God to plant his fields. Recovery works the same way. You harvest only what you plant.

It’s Not The Big Things That Will Wreck Recovery, It’s The Little Drip, Drip, Drip That’ll Bring On The Deluge

This is one of those funny times where recovery intersects with cycling. Generally speaking, I get through the big things in life pretty easy. For instance, our well went out over the weekend. The only thing that survived was the well pipe – and that’s a good thing, because that’s half the cost of a well. Unfortunately, most everything else was bad. New pump, new tank, new plumbing, new electrical… folks, it was a big check I had to write Monday afternoon.

Sadly, Brent, I am thankful I hadn’t bought a couple of fat bikes…

Because the good news is, I could write the check and be done with it. Not only that, I still have a reserve left. In a few months of frugality, we should be right as rain again. No financing, no credit card debt, no having to get a loan to cover the cost… we just have to live a little more wisely through the winter and things should be right back to normal, no big deal. It was a big deal, though.

On the other hand…

Last evening, I’m out riding with my buddy, Chuck. We don’t have many nice evenings left and it’s getting dark pretty quick, nowadays. We’re going to be on the gravel bikes with lights and reflective gear shortly, so we want to make the best of what we’ve got. I chose to wear a cycling cap under my helmet, a rarity now that I’ve got a Bontrager Specter helmet. I don’t have to worry about bees getting through the wavecell part of the helmet in one piece, so I normally don’t wear a cycling cap under that helmet. I do have to worry about the cold, though. And it wasn’t great out. A damp, gloomy, 67 degrees that felt like 55… I was in arm sun covers and my cycling cap in addition to my normal kit. Just fine for an easy cruise.

Well, we picked up the pace on the way home, though – mainly my fault – and I started sweating. With three miles to go, I was up front and hammering down the road into the wind at near 21-mph and all of a sudden, my cap hits full saturation. A drip hits my right eye. Then another. Then like a leaky faucet, drip, drip, drip, drip… at the speed we were going and my choice of glasses, the little drips I never have to worry about were hitting me dead in the eye.

In the space of a minute, I was about eight seconds away from hucking my $150 helmet into the ditch in a huff. I went from mild-mannered, just happy to be on a ride, to full-on, “motherf***er” in a half-mile. I squeezed the sweat out of my helmet pads and took the full mess right in the face… and it was done. I wiped my face off with my sleeve and calmed down.

Now, it’s likely a combination of having my well go bad, in conjunction with not knowing that I could have saved a grand or more if I’d have known our tank was bad, but that was a little beyond my pay grade… but it was that little drip of sweat from my helmet that completely raged me out.

There is a simple recovery explanation for this phenomenon: when those big things hit, the program kicks in. Am I working my steps? What do I need to look at? Where am I in my spiritual foundation right now? Do I have any amends to make? We do this reflexively and immediately as we grow in the recovery way of life. This protects us from the trauma of tough things happening in life.

But those little things can build up in a hurry because they’re “just little things” that don’t require a four-alarm “bring out the twelve steps” reaction. Pretty soon, all of that little crap adds up to rage and, if we’re not careful, we do something stupid… or worse, go straight to “I want a freaking drink”.

Fortunately for me, Wednesday is a meeting night and I got to bring all of this up – it even related to another fella who spoke before I did. In the end, I used my experience (strength and hope), in my normal self-depricating way, to show how it works for me… and how it doesn’t.

Today I thank God for the little things. They’re an excellent reminder of just how fragile sobriety can be. And that I’ve still got a lot of work to do.

And so I shall. Recover hard, my friends. You may not get another chance to come back.

My First 5K Medal Origins

I came up with the idea for the “My First 5K Medal” while running a local 5K.  I was running the “Run for all Ages” in Wakefield, Mass. and a friend …

My First 5K Medal Origins

Andy and I go way back, blogging wise. Please take a second to check out his new idea…

Cycling and When You’re Stronger Than You Think You Are…

I’ve felt a little chubby since I got back from vacation, mainly because, while I may not actually be “chubby”, I’m about 10 pounds over my normal “acceptable” weight. I got this way in spite of putting in 6,000 miles on my bikes so far this summer. It’s all eating weight.

I was prepared to struggle mightily due to the extra weight. I’ve even taken to eating salads, for God’s sake.

I was wrong, though. I haven’t struggled for the extra weight near as much as I thought I would. Especially on long rides. Even hills haven’t been too terrible – and downhill has been awesome.

I’ve changed my focus, especially on long rides with friends. When I’m starting to struggle, I do a few special things that have made a huge difference.

  1. I think about how my friends need me, that I can’t feel bad yet… I have to finish strong to help them. This has been the biggest game changer over the last year.
  2. Starbuck’s Triple Shot. French Vanilla. Coke and coffee are great, but when I’m in the pain cave, when I’m really hurting, drastic times, drastic measures. It’s good for the last 23-ish miles of a hard century. You have 26 left? Well, you’ll have to dig deep on that last couple of miles.
  3. Gels, food, moderation… I used to eat way too much at stops. Getting started again was sluggish. If I avoid the urge to eat everything in sight, I’m much better for it.

Finally, as the year has progressed, I’ve realized I’m a lot stronger than I thought I was. Still, I’m definitely sticking to a diet coming into the end of the season. I’m planning on dropping some decent weight over the winter so I can keep the leg strength and hit next spring lighter.

Cycling long distances, 50 to 100-ish miles, is as much mental as it is physical. If I maintain the former, the latter falls into line.

Ride hard, my friends. Because it’s fun.

TNIL: WHAT A RIDE! Edition

Friends, I wish I could put to words how good I feel at this very moment, just 30 minutes or so after crossing the City Limits line capping, with an exclamation point, a tremendously fast ride. I’m still smiling.…

We rolled out at 6:01 to less than stellar wind conditions out of the northeast. This means two roads on the ride have a fair tailwind. The rest of the course socks you right in the kisser.

We had a solid group, though. The Elite guys wanted to play nice… and we in the A Group weren’t enough to go it alone. The offer of help with the wind was too attractive to pass up.

The start was easy, smooth, and quickly ratcheted up to speeds that had me questioning the authenticity of the Elite Group’s offer… but I settled in and hammered on. We were flying into a steady headwind, 26+ mph.

I took my lumps up front and thankfully drew another A guy in the other lane of the double pace-line so our turns up front was mercifully short. I also managed to avoid riding behind a couple of the guys who are tough to hide behind. Once I’d settled into the pace, which, I $#!+ you not, was insane, I was able to get into it. I want to write, I “relaxed” into it, but that’s a wild mischaracterization… there was no relaxing happening in that group. We were staying between 25 & 28-mph (40 to 46 kph).

Then we hit Shipman Road and things really got fast. A few times a year we are gifted a northeasterly wind which makes everything except Shipman Road suck. The whole stretch we’re on that road, all five miles of it, are flat-out fast with a tailwind. It was a new PR for me last night. Five miles in 11m:18s. That’s almost 27-mph… we touched 30-mph a few times… on flat to slightly uphill road. In fact, the profile of that five miles is slightly uphill for all but a few hundred yards till the last half-mile.

There once was a time 28-mph would blow me up after a half-mile. We held that for five.

After crossing a busy intersection and with a crossing tailwind, we flew south to our rendezvous with the hills. I was certain I’d be off the back and blown up. But I was mistaken. Chucker and I had taken a pull just before the triple-lump and had just enough time to recover at the back that I actually had to coast for a second on the way up the hardest of the incline. We had crossing headwind coming up as we hung a left to the next series of hills, though, and I was certainly about to be detritus strewn about the road. At first, the group tried to echelon and it stretched out from the double yellow to the side of the road in five cyclists, momentarily leaving several, including myself, in the ditch (not the literal ditch, the side of the road in an echelon where there’s no protection from a crossing headwind). The guys at the front surged and straightened the line, though. I survived the next two hills, much to my disbelief.

The A guys made preparations to turn for the short route, positioning ourselves at the back to avoid cross-traffic crashes with the Elite group heading straight. We went up “Shiatown hill” at a ridiculous pace – a 5% hill at 21-1/2-mph and then cruised down the back of the hill to our left turn. We stopped to wait a minute for anyone dropped in the hills and caught our breath. We gave it almost a minute and nobody had come around the bend at the top of the hill so we rolled out – single-file. We had Dave & Val on their tandem, Doc Mike, Chucker, Clark, Dale, Dave and me. We took it easy(ish) up the next hill, then turned on the gas on the way down into town.

I ended up the leadout for the Vernon City Limits sign and gave it everything I had to keep it at 25+ mph over the line. Nobody came around to sprint – I think, with eight miles to go, we were all just content with hammering them out.

We had a nice downhill section after clearing a rough intersection and even with the little headwind left, we made great time of it and kept our speed up. Six to go, an uphill section still north of 22-mph, we were picking them up and putting them down. Five to go we turned for the homestretch, a crossing headwind of a breeze. We kept the speed up, between 22 & 25-mph, taking it a little easy on the hills (what little one’s we had left) and picked up the pace on the flat and downhill sections.

At the turn, when we parted ways with the Elite group, we were sitting on a 24.3-mph average. With the hills and headwind we’d dropped to 23.5 but it was holding steady there. With a mile to go, it was all downhill and we made the most of it, jockeying for position for the sprint finish. I was content to just hold wheels and let the others go for the glory of finishing the ride first. I hammered across the line in the middle of the pack at 28-mph, a solid 23.5 (38 km/h) average showing on the computer.

The ride back to the parking lot was all hi-fives and fist bumps all around. And that brings us back to the beginning of the post. There is something I can’t put my finger on about a fast ride like the one we had last night that just puts a smile on my face. I’m going to have to do some thinking on this because I felt fantastic straight through till my head hit the pillow. What a ride!

28.16 miles in 1:12:03. 430′ of up. 259 watt estimated average power.

Fatness, Fitness, Nicotine, Alcohol, Drugs and Recovery

It never ceases to amaze me how much I love food after quitting nicotine – and by “nicotine”, I mean all forms. I smoked, cigarettes and cigars, chewing tobacco, I was even hooked on the stop smoking lozenges for a couple of years. I never had a problem with eating until I gave up the nicotine. I certainly do now, though. Even a properly made peanut butter & jelly sandwich tastes like heaven. Don’t even get me going on some good barbecue, a steak, burger, grilled chicken or salmon, a decent salad with spinach, carrots and cucumbers… I love it all.

I’ve been struggling mightily with being over my ideal weight this year. I like to be about 165 pounds but I’m currently dangling in the high 170’s and I flirted with 190 earlier in the season.

It doesn’t matter how many miles I ride, I can eat enough that, at best, I will maintain my weight. Losing weight, even at 230 miles a week at better than a 19-mph average, has proved most difficult.

I’ve made great strides in recent weeks, though. Adding grilled chicken and salmon to my normal menu has helped immensely.

There have been a few times earlier this year that I entertained the notion of just letting myself go, the way it seems much of our nation has. Then, almost invariably, I see a person who’s been on the wrong side of way too many Double Whopper Combo Meals with an extra side of Chicken Fries struggle just to get from the handicapped parking spot to the electric riding shopping cart and it helps me pop my head out of my ass.

Another thing that has helped keep me on the straight and narrow path is my desire to ride my bikes fast. I’d be plenty happy creeping along at 15-mph, but I love to go fast:

The light blue dotted line is 19.7-mph and that dip well below was climbing hills… the rest was slightly downhill to flat. It is one of my favorite sections of road on our normal routes. As I crested the first hill, I left everyone as I put the hammer down. I was up to 32-1/2-mph and giving it everything I had as I rounded the chicane, leaning my bike so much the pedal would have scraped if my right foot wasn’t up all the way, at 28-mph.

As I exited the final corner, I was smiling ear-to-ear as I waited for the others to catch up. It’s as good as when I was a kid hitting jumps we built in the field across the street from our parents house. It feels like being a kid, only with a lot of money. With twenty or thirty extra pounds, those days are done. I’d never be able to keep that pace up, let alone being able to enjoy keeping that pace, with all of that extra weight.

The recovery is something else altogether, though. Oh, I get to enjoy fitness a little more because I don’t have anything messing that up, but recovery and my relationship with God are a lot deeper than “having fun”. Still, a good bike ride makes recovery more enjoyable, and that makes keeping my spirituality in order all the more important.

If I don’t do what it takes to have a good life, I won’t have one. And that’s the whole point to getting control of how much I’m eating, when it all boils down.

After getting to this point, I’m grateful for being able to understand myself so fully. Sure, I still struggle, but sooner or later, I manage to see the light. I’ll keep coming back, because it keeps getting better.

TNIL: Some Storms Just Can’t Be Outrun Edition

We’ve had a “threat” of storms every day for the last several because of high temps and humidity. Nothing materialized from any of those threats because we’ve had a high pressure system parked above the Great Lakes for the better part of eleven days. It’s been glorious. And so that led me to think the same would happen again last night, so I prepped the Venge for duty.

The temp on my car’s thermometer read 91 degrees (33 C) and the sun was blazing down as I finished a phone call and pulled my bike from the trunk and got ready for the warm-up. I say “warm-up” in the classic sense of the word… standing outside in that heat for five minutes would have worked, too… we went for a spin. When we got back, Matt was pulling into the parking lot. I was pretty stoked to see him on a Tuesday night. He hadn’t been there much this year.

We started out As & Bs together and it got fast in a hurry, though once everyone caught up, it seemed to settle… at least for a half-mile. We turned north with a slight tailwind and it got fast immediately. Chuck and I had made the decision to hang with Matt in the event he got dropped. I have DALMAC coming up, so I need my legs rested (without actually, you know, resting them), and we’ve been on a fairly hectic streak of late with some really fast rides under our belts. I noticed Matt had fallen off about five miles in as we rounded a corner so I said something to Chuck and he, I and Dave quietly slipped off the back to wait for Matt. He caught us and we rolled out, keeping the pace around 21 to 22-mph. Three miles later we realized he’d quietly slipped off the back and was making a turn for a shortcut.

Matt is a fair-minded, hard-headed fellow. He won’t let anyone know the pace is too hot, he’ll just slip off the back and go his own way – as he likes to say, he knows his way home. So we let him go.

The three of us pressed on at the aforementioned pace, into the mild, but noticeable breeze. Looking at the sky, I already knew we were in trouble and thought about doing the 24, or even the 21-mile route. I was shot down. Chucker said, correctly, that the percentages of storm activity were low – and they had been just before we rolled for the warm-up. My eyes were telling me something different, though. We went for the normal 29-mile and change route.

We rolled through Vernon – a rainstorm had passed through the area just before we got there… the roads were wet. The spray was refreshing after the heat, though. I wasn’t complaining a bit. Three miles later I knew for sure we were in trouble. I could see the storm moving in. As we approached the homestretch, the crosswind was immense – we actually had to slow down to stay upright. We made the turn, though, and the fun began. 200 watts would get you 28-mph, so that’s where I kept it, hoping we’d be able to outrun the incoming storm. We just couldn’t escape the creeping black, though. With the storm on us, I made a choice – fight some cross-headwind for a mile so I didn’t have to follow the normal route, which meant avoiding overshooting our finish point, only to have to fight a headwind for another half-mile. I would literally save a full mile and they’d be stuck with a crosswind while I would have some tail to my final two miles (the wind was northwest – they were heading north east while I would be due east). North, the way I would turn for a mile, was looking awfully sketchy, though.

Dave and Chuck headed straight and I turned north. The cross-headwind was brutal and it was as dark as I’d ever ridden without a light. I could feel the occasional rain drop mixed in with the path-altering wind. I didn’t know if I’d have to pull off and seek shelter as I headed up a 5% hill with a ripping cross-headwind – trees were starting to bend under the weight of the wind. I made my turn and I could barely see with my sunglasses on, but I couldn’t take them off for fear of flying debris getting in my eyes.

As I made the turn on the homestretch, I was out of the saddle and on the gas, hitting 30-mph and keeping it as close as I could. I had the faintest glimmer of hope that I’d outrun the rain as I hit a half-mile to go at 28-mph… and then it hit. Light, at first, but the drops grew bigger and came faster the longer I was out. They stung as they hit me but I kept my head down and the power on. I was running out of gas, but more fearful of what was coming, so I gave it even more power as the skies started to open up… and then I was almost on the parking lot. I had to grab a handful of brakes to slow the bike down for the turn as the rims were wet. I made the turn and made a bee-line for my car. The rain had slowed to a drizzle for the moment, so I took advantage. I pulled my key from my pocket, opened the passenger door, took off my glasses and helmet, opened the trunk and put my bike in and slid into the driver’s seat, dripping from sweat and rain. Chucker and Dave rolled in just as the lightning show started. Chuck was wetter than I was. They’d had it worse than I did by what looked like a long shot. I can only imagine trying to charge into that cross-headwind, into the rain. I was thankful for my choice.

And that was it, folks. We cleared the parking lot and headed for home as the skies opened up and the real rain began. It poured cats and dogs and we’re going to be talking about that one for years to come.

No harm, no foul.

An Excellent After-Ride Healthy Dinner That Takes Ten Minutes to Prep and Cook and Is Even Faster To Clean Up After…

On arriving home from the office, my wife was heading out the door to take my daughter to swim practice and my elder daughter was off galivanting about. I asked if there was a plan for dinner, to which she responded that I should have some leftover pizza after my ride. My buddy, Chuck and I were out for a little more than an hour-and-a-quarter and we put in 22 miles and some change and I was feeling pretty fantastic. I was hungry, though. Now, pizza and I are longtime friends. Best friends, really… but I’m tired of eating junkfood. So I was stuck with a dilema… what to eat?

I knew I had a package of individually wrapped salmon filets in the freezer – frozen solid. I thought, well what would happen if I just slapped a filet on the grill? I thought about how I’d make this work as I cut up some veggies for a salad. See, there’s a new fad out there wherein you place your steaks on the grill directly, do not pass go, from the freezer onto a hot grill. This sears the meat and seals in the juicy goodness before it can escape… or so they say.

I spread some butter over one side, then garlic salt (from a grinder) and pepper, and some Italian Herb seasoning… and slapped one for me and one for my younger daughter on the grill. A hot grill, 600 degrees F (315 C) and kept an eye on them. Three or four minutes, then flip (not quite thawed at first flip). Then a few minutes on the butter side, then flip once more for a minute or till flaky. As soon as the filets were firm but pliable, I pulled them. I dressed them with a salt and pepper again, then squeezed a quarter-lemon over them.

Friends, it was heavenly.

Ultra-simple, low calorie, high on flavor, simple goodness and about 600 calories for the meal… and the cleanup was two plates and a bowl (for the salad). I’ll have to get used to eating light like that again (I was hungry as a bear the next morning) but it’s a great arrow to have in the quiver when I’m pressed for a decent, healthy dinner.

Some Hot, Easy Miles On A Really Hard Day

I had it together Friday night as my daughters, wife and I packed my eldest daughter’s things into a friend’s borrowed van, her SUV and my SUV. I had it together Saturday morning as I sat and drank my coffee, writing a post for this blog. I had it together when we headed down and moved her things into her dorm room… I even kept it calm when I found out I had to wear a mask in the dorm. I kept it together when we helped her unpack and while I fixed her bed that was put together hastily and improperly prior to our arrival.

More importantly, mama bear kept it together marvelously. Miraculously.

We kept it together when we headed out to lunch at a phenomenal burger joint, Blazin Burgerz (their Blazin’ Cheesesteak is so good Congress would contemplate raising your taxes for the simple act of enjoying one). We even kept it together as we all played a game of video Euchre at the table.

And then it was time to leave. I kept it together through that. I’m excited for my daughter. She doesn’t know it but she’s got the world by the nuts. She can do whatever she wants – she’s vastly more capable than I was at her age and I turned out well. I’m excited to see what she chooses to do, so I had no reason to be sad…

My wife and I were returning the borrowed van, she in the van, me in my car, when an old favorite song popped up on Napster and I realized I wouldn’t be able to be right there for her to help her through times when things get a little sideways. That I would have to rely on faith to get me through. It all caught up to me, and it was good. I was also ready for a nap after that.

I didn’t take a nap, though. Chuck had been out buying a RV trailer that morning so he missed the morning group and hit me, knowing we were moving my daughter in, that he was available to ride. It was hot out, 91 degrees (33 C), with no wind and sunny. There are two ways to handle difficult times, and one of them isn’t taking a nap. I can work some program at it, and I can go for a ride. I chose both. I readied my bike and got dressed and met Chuck in his neighborhood.

We mostly took it easy and talked about things – Bella, Josie, my wife, and how everything went, and his new trailer, and current events.

We mainly just turned the cranks in the heat. There were a few sections we got after it, though.

My youngest had gone over to a friend’s and was staying the night so my wife and I headed out to dinner. I was in no mood to cook, anyway. We talked things over and came together, passing out compliments to one another about how the day was handled. It was a good way to end the day.

We fell asleep, my wife in my arms, on the couch. It was a good day – another in a long list of good that happens when an alcoholic chooses recovery.