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Saying Goodbye to a Friend

As this post publishes, we’ll be rolling out for a short morning ride along a favorite route. We’ll likely talk about the friend we lost last weekend. He was an organ donor and the nature of his crash meant all of the important organs were still viable. He saved several people’s lives. Lungs, kidneys, liver, heart… they were able to use it all. He received a hero’s walk at the hospital the other day.

One immense, sad tragedy made the lives of several people much, much brighter.

We went to the viewing service last night, my wife, daughters and I, to be there for our friend, McMike and his wife. It was undeniably sad, but it was impressive to see all of the cyclists who showed up and in the end, it was as it should be; a celebration of life.

We’ll ride this morning then head to the funeral home, then the cemetery to see our friend laid to rest. It’s going to suck, especially for his parents, but they’ll have a bunch of friends and family there to help them through this.

And tomorrow life will go on. Sometimes it really sucks, but the world will spin on.

With that, I’m trying to use this as a stepping stone for my daughters, an example of how fickle and short life can be. Sean was just 43. The lesson is to enjoy every minute you can on the right side of the grass.

In those last few seconds as my life flashes before my eyes, I don’t want there to be one “I wish I would have” in there… and I want for that flash to feel like it goes on for about 20 minutes.

Now I Remember Why I Ride a Bike Every Day! Building the Fitness to Be Able to Ride That Much HURTS!

I used to think riding every day was a less painful way of life than taking more than one day off a week (say, ride four, three off). After riding every day excepting rain days (maybe one a week), I took two weeks off for vacation, only two riding days the whole stretch. I was surprised to find I felt really good throughout the vacation.

Now, I wasn’t inactive those two weeks. I swam a minimum of an hour a day, usually a lot more, and we had 68 stairs down to the boathouse… I walked that at least three times a day, plus a day hiking at Tallulah Gorge and walking the neighborhood we stayed in with my wife.

The way I ride, though, cycling fit is a lot more “fit” than what I did on my break. I expected to experience a little pain from slowing down, but apparently I didn’t slow down that much.

Then I went directly back to my normal cycling routine the day we got back. 100 miles Sunday, 20 Monday, 40 Tuesday, 20 Wednesday, 20 Thursday…

I woke up this morning and immediately popped two Tylenol. I even found it difficult to make my coffee – which is why I reached for the Tylenol in the first place. I’ve got a couple of over-use saddle sores that I’m dealing with and I ache down to my baby toes even though three out of the last six days on the bike were relatively easy.

The point is, I know an inactive lifestyle is vastly more painful than that of an active lifestyle, but an exceptionally active lifestyle isn’t less painful than an active lifestyle – it’s simply painful going from active to exceptionally active.

And so I learned something this week. I still love riding every day and I will continue to do so… I just have to watch how I come back from an extended period off the bike. I may have to take a couple of weeks to work back to shape rather than trying to cram everything into a week.

Reason #1 That I Ride A Bike; I Can Work Out Anything In 20 Miles (More, Much, Or Less)

That’s right, my friends. Numero uno. Not 1,621 or some made-up number… The Big Kahuna.

I’ve alluded to a major problem over the last couple of days but wasn’t ready to write about it. A friend of our local cycling community, a friend of mine and many around here, and the top shop mechanic most responsible for keeping the high-end bikes quiet and on the road passed away Saturday night after crashing his car through a roundabout in the wee hours of the morning after a volleyball match/tournament a couple of nights earlier. The hard thing to cope with is his parents. I am much tighter with his dad than I was with him and I’ve got quite a few friends who read my blog so… it can be messy writing about something like this. His dad is an A Elite rider and we’ve turned quite a few weekend miles together and the thought of his loss is crushing.

Our friend was in his early 40s and about a mile from home at the time of his crash. Sometimes it’s gone, that fast, and it just sucks.

And so there I was last night. Chuck is in Utah testing a new truck, so I was on my own. It was unbelievably hot, sunny and with only a mild breeze from the west, it was going to be gnarly. Extra-gnarly after my hundred the day before. With Tuesday Night looming, I knew exactly what I needed; a nice, easy ride to get my legs stretched out for tomorrow. I chose the Trek, hoping I’d be able to work out a shifting issue from the other day.

I rolled out on my usual route and simply took it easy, enjoying the 90 degree (30 C) heat and sunshine (I really do like it – I’m weird that way). I’d developed a mysterious shifting issue on the Trek that I desperately wanted to figure out (it’s been driving me a little crazy – big ring is fine, shifts in all gears, everything is great – little ring, any more than 300 watts and I drop the chain… and that can hurt when you’re laying down some decent wattage on the way up a hill).

For the first eight miles, it was just me, my bike, the road and the sun… and my thoughts. Into the breeze and up a short little hill, I decided to shift into the small ring and get out of the saddle. Nothing – perfectly normal. Still in the breeze, I switched my thinking back to my friend. I tried to wrap my head around the crash and I just couldn’t. That’s when I started thinking about how grateful I am to be a part of our rabble of cyclists. That produced the proper line of thinking; “Just enjoy it while you’ve got it, Jim. This only ever ends in a casket. Slide into it in a cloud of dust, exclaiming, “Wow! What a ride!” That’s the goal.

And that’s precisely when I made peace with it.

After the headwind, I turned into a subdivision and shifted to the little ring to climb a dinky hill. Bam, dropped the chain immediately. I replaced the chain and continued on… and about a quarter-mile later I noticed the chain skip on the cassette. Just a faint click and a resetting of the chain. I shifted up and down the cassette – no noise, hit every gear, so I pedaled on. The one truth in mechanical sleuthing was ever thus; if you can’t figure it out or locate the issue, keep going. It will get worse.

I relaxed into my ride and switched to the big ring. Sure enough, every 30 seconds, if I shifted my weight just right, the chain would reset. I pulled over to the side of the road, in the grass, and flipped my bike upside down and pedaled… click, click, click. Upside down I could see the chain jump.

Two full turns on the barrel adjuster before the click faded into a beautiful whir… another turn and it was clicking again. I backed it off of that last turn, then fine-tuned it. On the road again and down into the small ring, a slight adjustment to the front cable tensioner, and butter. Out of the saddle, full power, it’s all good. How the barrel adjuster moved that much on the trip down south after I had it perfectly dialed in for months, I could rack my brain for hours trying to figure it out.

I could have done the Homer Simpson, “Doh” and slapped my forehead, but I was just glad to get it figured out easily and simply. I went for three years having to have the tension dialed in within a 16th of a turn for the derailleur to hit all of the gears 90% of the time… with a new derailleur, chain and cassette the shifting works so well I’ve got three turns of play on the rear derailleur and it’ll still shift right – I can only look as that as a win. The rest, I’ll work out in the wash.

And that brought me back, full circle to the driveway. I pulled in with a smile on my face and gratitude in my heart. 19.75 miles and I went from being torn up over my friend’s passing and the pain his parents are going through, to being grateful for the time and friends I’ve got. I love being on the right side of the grass – and that’s as it should be.

I can figure out anything on a bicycle, in 20 miles or less. More (much), or less. Number one on the long list of why I love my bikes.

Getting Back to Nice, Easy Cycling After A Hard Week

Taking a day off after a hard week in the saddle is always rough on me. Once I take a minute to rest, it seems everything creaks and clicks until I throw a leg over the top tube again. After four great days in the saddle, we had a rain day on Wednesday. Plus a cycling club board meeting, plus a meeting-meeting… and we had to fit my birthday dinner in there somewhere, too.

Now, this wasn’t a “maybe I’ll go out and play in the light rain on my gravel bike” kind of rain. This was torrential, with lightning and rumbling thunder. It decided to let loose on us at exactly the right time, on the best day possible.

It was supposed to rain again the following day, and there was plenty of rain south of us, but somehow we stayed dry. After planning on taking the day off, I had a chance to ride, so I obviously took it.

I spent the first half of the ride fighting a little breeze and wondering if I was going to get soaked – and I almost turned it into a ten-mile time trial just to make sure I got a ride in. Once I got rolling, though, I just wasn’t feeling another hard ride. I tried to will it to happen, but there simply wasn’t enough want to. I couldn’t get there.

I settled on going out till it sprinkled, if it sprinkled, then I’d head straight back if it did.

Not a drop.

I just rode, trying not to bother with looking at the head unit. I didn’t want to bother with speed or average. And it was wonderful. I pulled into the driveway with some miles and an average, but I don’t even remember what the final numbers were, and I’m not going to look them up. It was just a bike ride. I love it when that happens.

And so it was.

Sometimes those are the best. When you can just get lost in the pedaling and the whisper-quiet feedback of the tires on the asphalt… then you notice the breeze and the birds chirping in the background… and everything slows down… and you get lost for long enough that it builds on your love of cycling.

And So It Begins, Training for DALMAC Over Freedom Weekend

DALMAC, at the end of the season, is a grind. Three 100+ mile days followed by a 72 as we take it to the barn. Most days are above 19-mph for an average.

The first day is fairly easy – or, as easy as 100 miles can be at 5:10-ish hours in ride time. The second day is where you’re tested. The second day hurts. Uphill almost the whole hundred and maintaining that pace, a day after we rode a hundred, can be more than a little brutal. The third day, you’re feeling a little better as your body gets over the shock… right up till about mile 90 and The Wall. A quarter-mile at 18% after you’ve climbed 1 to 3% for two miles to get there. I walked my Venge the last eighth the first year but rode every year since (I changed my drivetrain specifically for that hill) because I climbed the first two miles way too fast.

The Fourth of July weekend is tailor made for DALMAC training. We’re staring at a three-day weekend and day one is in the books.

We rolled out to unseasonably cool and cloudy conditions but with barely a breeze as wind goes. I regretted not wearing arm-warmers for the first hour but it warmed up after.

We started out into what little wind there was but it felt like forever before we had the help of the breeze.

The pace was steady and enjoyable throughout and I was feeling quite spectacular.

It was heading home in the last ten miles of our 56-mile ride that I started contemplating, “Why is it we ride our bikes so far?” By this question I mean, we’re out there three hours yesterday… but I never had a dull moment and as we took it to the barn all I could think is “I wish we had another hour to go…”

I’ve got no good answer, my friends. I’ll pass 4,000 miles (6,437 km) for the year today, I’ll be more than 1,000 miles over my pace to hit my yearly goal of 6,000 miles (just wait till August and September, I should be over my goal by the end of September, easy). We ride more than most folks drive their cars… but look at that smile on the face of the old fella up front.

That says all you need to know about “why” right there. Thank you, Sir. May I have another?

PS. When I refer to the Fourth of July as “Freedom Day”, do not mistake that I was referring to our freedom from British Colonial rule. While the Declaration of Independence has much to do with that, I’m thinking bigger. The beginning of the United States of America is based on the Freedom of the People from government. Unlike most other countries the world over. Some have famously complained that this is out of date, that our Constitution is too hard on the government’s efforts to progress. I’d argue that our Constitution is doing exactly what it was designed to do in that regard.

Quality Riding for June (and Some Decent Quantity)…

When I started the year out, I was looking at quite a shakeup at work and I really didn’t know how that would affect my cycling for the foreseeable future. I was anticipating being down on mileage by a considerable amount, say 20 to 30%. It wasn’t near that bad, though. I am down, but not as bad as I expected and there are two factors I didn’t count on: First, my eldest daughter’s graduation chewed up cycling time – I didn’t miss many rides, but several were shorter this month (well worth it). Second, the weather was exceptionally wet this month which meant five days off for the month. Normal is one day off, maybe two, for the whole month. I’ve been trying to take a bit more time off but not five days.

My total for the month of June was 924 miles or an average of 36 miles a day. Take away just three of those days off and I’m exactly where I should be if circumstances were normal (I consider an average of between 35 & 38 miles a day as “normal” – I am fully aware my normal is not normal). The average speed was decent, the climbing was decent, and my bikes are operating flawlessly (which is, obviously, fantastic).

Where this gets good is the quality – and not so much the speed, which has been good. I’ve absolutely been ecstatic about how much I’ve enjoyed cycling this year. I’ve had to ride in some pretty gnarly rain this year – a lot more than usual – but I’ve had an utter blast. And that’s what this is all about for me. Sure, it’s neat (for about three minutes) that I can put in 1,000 miles in a month. Sure, I absolutely dig my toys. Those are the incidentals, though. I’m into cycling for the friendships and the social aspect of the sport. That’s the quality part of this wildly successful cycling season.

July is starting off to be a bumper month as well. The weather pattern that had us wondering if we should build an arc has moved out a week early and we’re into fantastic weather over the weekend. It’s going to be a Venge kind of weekend (though I can’t help but think I should take the Trek at least one of the days – decisions, decisions).

Anyway, cycling is the best. And it’s Friday!

The Unlikeliest of Enjoyable Bike Rides

It’s well-known to anyone who’s read this page that I hate riding in the rain. I’ll do it, but only if I’m caught out in it. I won’t start in the rain. That all changed this week with the strangest weather pattern I’ve ever seen. The outlook on Friday (and yesterday morning) was for a 40% or better chance of rain every day for the next ten to fourteen days.

For someone who hates riding in the rain, this presents a bit of a problem.

Mike called my wife yesterday morning and it was raining – it had been all night. Everything was soaked. There was a fair chance it was going to continue raining for the rest of the day, but it was at least light at the moment. Barely more than a drizzle – and it was one of those warm rains that are quite enjoyable, not the chill you to the bone cold rains. I asked my wife to let Mike know I’d ride with him. Mike was taking the gravel bike and I liked the choice. At least I wouldn’t have to spend the day cleaning the Trek after the ride…

We rolled out into the light rain at 7am sharp with a mild temp in the mid-70s (23 C) and barely any wind. I was in bibs, a short-sleeved jersey and a vest. The vest was too much. The pace was a little slow for my liking but Mike and I just rode side-by-side and talked – when traffic, which was mercifully light, wasn’t present, of course. The craziest thing happened as we rolled down the road… I was enjoying myself. In the rain.

About a third into the ride the rain stopped but with 94% humidity, the roads never dried out. It was sloppy the whole way but it wasn’t a cold, nasty sloppy. It was a mild, comfortable sloppy.

I dropped Mike at his road and turned to go the long way home. I had 25 in already but I wanted to stretch my legs out after the mild pace till that point. I took it to the barn, averaging around 20-mph for the last six miles. Pretty decent for the gravel bike.

I cleaned up and ate some lunch… and I wore a decent smile the rest of the day. Who would have thunk it? I enjoyed a ride in the rain! I just might lighten up about that in the future.

While I’m on that feel-good gibberish kick… I Proclaim We Shall No Longer Call Them “Bike Rides”!

Look, I get dressed in my road cyclist “stuff”, slap on a helmet, cycling shoes, slide on my sunglasses and some cycling gloves, and head out to roam the land in speed and comfort on my exorbitantly expensive, and exceptionally rewarding carbon fiber and aluminum alloy bicycle. Technically, you could say I go for a bike ride every evening.

You could, but you would be missing out on a bunch of corporate/millennial feel-good gibberish that takes going for a simple bike ride and turns it into some epic necessity of grandeur and awesomeness. I therefore humbly declare we no longer call them “bike rides”.

Forever more, because America’s corporate/millennial woke culture is so utterly phenomenal, a simple bike ride shall instead be referred to as “Quality me time seized and employed advantageously for the peaceful, sustainable surveyance of the vast beauty that is the United States of America [or insert your country of origin, because this shit is so fantastic we want to export it] via a carbon fiber, epoxy & aluminum alloy and titanium human-powered bipedal, bi-wheeled fun-machine.”

On second thought, maybe we should just stick with “bike ride”.

Oh, hey! While I’m thinking about it, Happy Impregnating Person’s Day. You think I’m kidding.

That’s the establishment donning their full-faced helmet, elbow, arm, shoulder, shin, knee, quad, chest pads and protective gloves, as they clench down on their bite guard and grip the throttle of their eBike , making a horrible, yet hilarious vroom! sound as they lock in their glare at the two-foot high ramp that sits before the kiddie pool containing two week-old small-spotted cat sharks and declare… “I got this!”

A Different Kind of Father’s Day Prayer, From the Perspective of a Man in Recovery

I had a thought this morning and I decided to skip my regularly scheduled post, which will come out at noon our time, instead. This is better. And worth it.

Thank you, God for letting me be a father. Thank you for allowing me to see what it’s like to love someone as I imagine You love us. It was an eye opener, and I understand better what love is for being a dad. Thank You for showing me what “Sometimes you wanna throw ’em like a lawn dart, but you just gotta love ’em” means. Thank You for my sponsor who passed on that on to me. I am thankful beyond words.

Thank You for the hugs and kisses. Thank You for the near misses. Best of all, thank You for giving me the help I needed, when I asked for it, to beat my addiction – because that made everything else possible.

For all of the things I’ve royally screwed up over the years, thank You for the lessons that got me to where I’m at today. Thank You for the peace, contentment and happiness that is my life after addiction and through recovery. We should all be so fortunate.

Thank You for my wife and kids. Thank You for the opportunities.

Most of all, thank You for not turning Your back on me when I deserved it. I’ll do my part as I promised all those years ago; without being a cheerleader, I’ll keep giving recovery everything I’ve got and passing on what has been so freely given to me; that life after addiction is sweet.

Thank you for the opportunity to know joy. One day at a time.

One last thing before I roll out, God; thanks for opening my eyes to the good in the world. There’s so much to be grateful for and I’ll enjoy all of it till my time is up. I’ll continue to do my best to skid sideways into my casket with a leg out, in a cloud of dust, shouting “WOW! What a ride!”

I Take You With Me on the Best Seven-and-a-Half Miles of My Week; Alternately, “Why I Ride A Road Bike Part 5,748”

It’s rare that an old man in Lycra can feel like he’s riding in a breakaway in a Classic, but every once in a while…

We roll out to a fairly easy first half-mile into a mild headwind and bank onto one of the nastier surfaces we ride on. It would resemble the cobbles in Paris-Roubaix were it not for all the potholes. The best line up the hill is over to the right as far as you can go without getting into the tire-killing detritus on the side of the road. Then down a nice little descent, again, where you have to pick exactly the right line at 32-mph or risk pinch-flatting on a chuckhole. A left turn and another long slog of a climb that we’re pounding out at 17-1/2-mph into the headwind before a long flat respite on a road that’s way too busy with traffic, but has a decent shoulder. Our average pace starts rising with all of that climbing behind us. Even into that breeze we’re pushing a decent pace – but it’s enough you have to ride low to fit into the slipstream or the heart rate will start to spike. We’re being passed by vehicles every ten to twenty seconds.

And then a left turn off the busy road and we’re instantly in the middle of nowhere pushing up a punchy little climb at better than 17-mph. The 7-1/2 miles begins.

I’m at the front, worrying everyone behind me is wishing I’d climb a little faster but I’m just shy of max-power as we crest the hill and my quads are burning and feel almost a little alien.

Once at the peak, the real fun starts. We’ve got a wide, 2′ shoulder to play on and we start a screaming descent – the person up front, me in this instance, has to pedal for all he’s worth while the guys behind coast in the draft beyond 36-mph. I’m down in the drops and leaning into the bends in the winding road. The road pitches up and we prepare for a sharp righthand turn with a little down to it – braking into the corner is a must as you’ll cook the corner if you’re going too fast. If there’s oncoming traffic, you’re toast. Then, a beast of a hill looms before us. When I’m up front on this hill, I always get passed up. This isn’t so bad as we’ve got a regroup about 100 yards from the peak, but today I’m not having it. I’d deftly upshifted thrice in the back and downshifted to the baby ring up front, just as we’d hit the “up” so I was in an excellent climbing gear for a 9%er about mid-way up the cassette. As Chucker started around me, I caught him out of the corner of my eye and stood up, powering my way up the hill as I accelerated. I was certain I’d PR’ed the hill at the crest. We pulled under a shade tree and waited for Joel and Charlie to catch up before we rolled out for one of the best sections of road I’ll ride in a season.

Having taken more than a mile up front, I drifted to the back… only to watch Charlie, with Joel and I behind him, let a gap form. I didn’t have long to react so I did immediately. I got out of the saddle and sprinted for Chuck’s wheel, passing Joel, then Charlie and covering the distance quickly – just before the road pitched downward. We were at 32+ before I knew it and we held 26 once the road flattened out. The speed limit is 25 through the subdivision and cars have trouble keeping up with us around the bends in the road. We also have to watch for oncoming traffic as we’re navigating the tight corners – there is zero room for cutting apexes into the oncoming lane – we’ve had a few guys almost bite it trying to cut corners. The twisty nature of the road is what makes the section so great. With every corner you’re leaning the bike with your knee out to help you through the turn.

Charlie and Joel were far off the back by this point and Mike, Chucker and I treated the rest of the section like we were late for something, crankin’ and bankin’, we rotated our pace-line like the pros do. Smooth and precise movements, an elbow flick here, a tap-ass and point there, we banked and climbed, and climbed and banked our way through the neighborhood.

I’d kept one eye on our average pace which had ticked up to 19.5 from 18-mph at the start of the section. At the speeds we were maintaining, there wasn’t much time for gawking, though I did manage to sneak a perfect peak of the sun over the lake to our left as we hurtled by, between breaks in tree lines. It was a breathtakingly beautiful snapshot that reminded me of our road trips up north on the big lake (Lake Michigan). It was over in a blink, as I was back on the gas to round a corner, then out of the saddle to climb a little punchy mole-hill. It was just the three of us, now. Joel and Charlie were well off the back and we were, all three of us, dancing on the pedals as we rounded a corner into the second-to-last big climb of the day. I always get spit off the back on this hill… but not today. Mike was up front and I was second. We drove into the 6%er and I simply concentrated on holding Mike’s wheel. As my lungs started to burn with my quads, I took as deep a breath as I could and powered through the burn – and I held Mike’s wheel. And I did PR that one. Once we crested the hill, it was a couple of rollers north of 23-mph and we hit the intersection marking the end of our most enjoyable 7-1/2 miles.

We dropped Charlie and Joel again (Joel took a considerable amount of time off to nurse a running injury back to health and he’d lost a lot of fitness) and didn’t stop and the other regroup point. We hammered for home with the tailwind and our rising average showed the effort. We had one last hill and I’d taken the pull to get to it. This time, when Chuck and Mike passed me, I let them go. I’d hit the end of my want to for hills and I figured I’d catch up to them on the downhill.

And that was that. I gave the descent max power and kept it on till I rounded the last corner at the Fenton City Limits sign. I hit the lap button with a 20.4-mph average (Mike had 20.7).

Mike split to go meet his wife for dinner while Chuck and I did a cooldown couple of miles. 20-1/2 on this route is a decent accomplishment for a group of three riders. We’ve got about a 1,000′ of up in 23 miles – considerably more than our Tuesday night. I’m feeling it this morning… it’ll be a parade lap Jimmer Loop tonight as we prep the legs for the big miles Saturday morning (and possibly some golf Saturday afternoon [!]).