On the road with the Road Runners Club of America

Harner's.jpgLast year in August or so, I was signed up for a Road Runners Club of America coaching certification program in southeast Michigan. On the Friday night I was scheduled to leave for the weekend, a massive rainstorm surged northeast along the same route I needed to take to get to the program. I drove for an hour and the rain beat down so hard that I could not see the road. I pulled over and stared at the phone. The sound inside the car was so loud from the rain that I could not even hear the radio. The map showed a furious red dragon of storm pattern right over the I-94 corridor I was expected to drive. And it would have lasted for hours.

So I turned home.

And it stung that there is a no-refund policy with the coaching certification program. But I get it. No one has time to chase down the dead fish in the wake of a fast motorboat. Time rolls on. There’s always another city like another island in the ocean for the RRCA to attend.

So I got proactive and studied the RRCA website thoroughly for opportunities to attend another coaching program. They fill up fast all over the country, so you either have to make a decision early and find a spot near enough home to drive or bite the bullet and fly to a certification program in another city.

Making choices

As we all know, there are pros and cons to either. If you drive, there are hours to spend in the car, hotels to reserve and meals to buy. Same goes if you fly, plus the hassle and expense of air travel is seldom fun.

So I decided to get smart and host a coaching certification program myself. Right in my own “back yard.”

Not literally, of course. But close enough that I could host the course and never have to leave home. As it turned out, there was tremendous demand for a session right here in Chicago. The class filled up with many registrants from the Chicago area, but also travelers from Colorado, Texas and other farflung locations.

Getting organized

The host’s main jobs are securing a venue to host 35 students and purchasing food for the Saturday-Sunday needs of those people. So I chose the Vaughn Center, a recreational facility just two miles from my house. The RRCA gives you a budget for the room and money for the food. Then it’s a matter of mapping out the breakfast and lunch plans for two days.

It doesn’t sound that hard, but today’s dietary needs are different than when I hosted so many events back in my days as a marketing manager for a media company. These days there seem to be far more people who don’t eat meat, or gluten. Dairy, or sugar. The list goes on and on.

So I roamed the aisles of Woodman’s, a massive supermarket near my home. I was carrying the grocery list I’d made, and normally I’m good at planning it out for our family groceries so that I don’t have to backtrack. Because if you forget something on one end of the store it is nearly a five minute walk to get back to the other side. But when you’re shopping with a mind open to goods you might not normally buy, such as gluten- free oranges or sugar-free bananas, the shopping circuit isn’t so easy. By the way, I just made those foods up, but I made you think I bet.

bowl of oranges.jpeg

Woodman’s claims to be ’employee-owned’ but secretly, I think they actually live somewhere in the back of the store. It’s that huge.

I’d already ordered bagels for breakfast and deli sandwiches for lunch on Saturday. So the real mission was finding snackables that would keep people happy during eight straight hours of coursework.

Healthy choices

So it was bananas, oranges and grapes. Then pretzels, granola bars and a new product that I had not seen before, granola bites. There were peanuts and trail mix with M&Ms mixed in. Then peanut butter and mini-carrots, which I’ve learned are deformed large carrots shaved down to bite-sized orange edibles. Which proves that God even loves deformed carrots. Or something like that.

I bought some chocolate chip cookies too, because they are a major food group. But I tossed in a couple bags of relatively harmless animal crackers in standard and chocolate form because they’re relatively low sugar and still give you that cookie satisfaction.

All that proved to be a decent plan. People seemed happy with the mix of healthy and indulgent choices. Or they were too nice to complain.

Drinks on me

The real problem in today’s health-conscious culture is what to buy to drink. Beyond the coffee jugs from Panera one day and Dunkin’ the next, there were four cases of bottled water. Guilt still surges through me at the sight of all those plastic water bottles. But the market for bottled water only seems to be growing despite 7 zillion tons of plastic floating around the Pacific. So onto the cart they went.

Then the soda option? I bought Coke, Diet Coke, Caffeine Free Pepsi, Sierra Mist (I HATE SPRITE) and a couple cases of LaCroix. And lots and lots of ice.

It all seemed to fit the bill. At least people did not complain.

Vegan

The only hiccup was the pizza on Sunday. A sweet gal from the class walked up and quietly asked if it was too late to order a vegan pizza. Just dump the cheese. Nothing to it. The local pizza place gladly accommodated the request at the last minute.

But later we had an interesting moment while covering the nutrition section of the coaching curriculum. The subject of vegan diet for runners came up. The instructor surveyed the crowd to find out how many vegan or vegetarian participants were in attendance. Now understand: I’d ordered a set of veggie sammies on Saturday and a veggie pizza on Sunday. But the complete ban on animal products favored by vegans includes even honey as a product to avoid. I was learning things.

Then one of our class vegans blurted out. “My dog’s a vegan.” Well, it so happened the instructor for the class is a veterinarian by trade. “Your dog…is not a vegan…” she responded, with a bit of astonished perspective in her voice. “Your dog is an opportunist. They’ll eat what they can. They even eat dog shit.”

It was not mean-spirited in the least. Just a statement of fact. The point behind the commentary is that human beings are equally opportunistic, and a lot of us do eat shit that’s not good for us. Yet we need to be realistic about the facts of our evolution and our biology. The world may not be as pure the ideas we impose upon it.

No shit. Well, maybe some. 

Rabbits even eat their own poop. It’s a way for them to get back the nutrients lost to digestion the first time around. Indeed, Entire ecosystems in Africa depend on the leftover nutrients in elephant poop. And get this;  the world’s most expensive coffee is made by feeding coffee beans to elephants and plucking them out of their poop. Perhaps it’s time to open a line of coffee shops called Starbutts.

Shit that counts

Don’t worry, I did not feed intentional shit of any type to anyone in the Road Runners Club of America Coaching Certification Program. Yet I did stare down at the second Coke I was drinking on Sunday afternoon. When the fizz goes out of that stuff it sits there like a cup of dark poison. The ice had melted too, so the liquid looked like one of those iron-soaked springs in the north country where bogs spew acidic contents into the water.

So I walked over to the sink and poured out the last of the flat Coke. The caffeine did not seem to be having the desired effect of keeping me alert and engaged. That effect took hold when it was our turn to stand up and talk about the training program we’d written for a mythical character called Robin. And unlike some others, we treated Robin’s lifestyle choice with respect, allowing him to keep his prized yoga session and his weekly Spin class. Then we mapped out a twelve-week program to prepare him for a Boston qualifier race.

What we learned

Road RunnerAll the participants in the class were encouraged both to think inside the box and learn baseline coaching principles. But were were also encouraged to think outside the box on what kind of coach we’d like to be. There was even some discussion of ‘personal brand’ and a test to summarize our inherent personality. I tested so far into the AMIABLE category my measurement shot off the chart.

But others showed up Expressive or Domineering. None of us is wired the same. Nor are the athletes we coach. Which means that as a running coach what you actually know about running is always going to be balanced by what you can effectively sell to others. Athletes don’t just soak this stuff up automatically. They may hire you as a coach, but it might turn out what they really want (or need) is someone with whom they can argue, or complain, or find themselves apart from all the other relationships in their lives.

The core of the course is common sense running knowledge with a bit of  proprietary insight mixed in. The RRCA also provides coaches insight on the business of coaching and the ability to become insured if they get serious enough to make it a business. That’s critical, because there is no shit like the real shit that happens when the shit hits the fan and someone sues you for an injury or an accident. It can happen. Maybe not that often. But life is full of mistakes and miseries. You can’t be too careful in anything you do.

Here’s my advice to all prospective coaches: don’t ignore the importance of elephant poo. It will likely show up in the next Runner’s World as the Diet of the Future. You heard it here first.

We Run and Ride Logo

 

 

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Transcending the vicissitudes of life

Up until The White Album, the Beatles were a fairly unified bunch of music makers. They’d ascended to Fab Four status, toured to screaming fans, taken America by storm and were starting to feel fed up with it all.

67_beatles_maharishi-mahesh_yogi_002.jpg

They gathered up their stuff and headed to India to study with Maharishi Yogi, because the Beatles were simultaneously stressed out by all the fame and always up for new experiences. The Boys had all been doing a fair amount of drugs, but it didn’t help them find the meaning they were seeking. So they went looking in other places.

As quoted on The Beatles Bible website:

We’d seen Maharishi up north when we were kids. He was on the telly every few years on Granada’s People And Places programme, the local current affairs show. We’d all say, ‘Hey, did you see that crazy guy last night?’ So we knew all about him: he was the giggly little guy going round the globe seven times to heal the world.
Paul McCartney
Anthology
The Beatles first went to hear the Maharishi speak in London. Here’s how George Harrison described it:
I got the tickets. I was actually after a mantra. I had got to the point where I thought I would like to meditate; I’d read about it and I knew I needed a mantra – a password to get through to the other world. And, as we always seemed to do everything together, John and Paul came with me.
George Harrison
Anthology
And this is what Ringo said:
I think he realised that these boys could get his message across real fast. And so after we met him, he brought up the idea of us going on tour again and opening up a place in every city. But we didn’t do that, because things began to change.
Ringo Starr
Anthology
While studying in India, news came over that their longtime manager Brian Epstein had died back in Great Britain.
We loved him and he was one of us. Maharishi’s meditation gives you confidence enough to withstand something like this, even after the short amount we’ve had.We all feel it, but these talks on Transcendental Meditation have helped us to stand up to it so much better. You don’t get upset when a young kid becomes a teenager, or a teenager becomes an adult, or when an adult gets old. Well, Brian is just passing into the next phase.

John Lennon, 1967
Anthology
The Beatles were not the only rock group experimenting with Transcendental Meditation. The Beach Boys were similarly looking for meaning beyond the fame they had achieved as well. Certainly Brian Wilson was going through his own personal hell, a passage from cruel treatment by his dominating father into a state of mental illness that for years stifled his creative abilities.
I saw Brian Wilson’s first live performance after years away from music due to mental health issues and stage fright. It was moving to see him perform again knowing all that he’d been through. His genius had resurfaced through production of a new solo album at the time. He was coming up for air again, and has since created more music and gone on tour. Brian did not come out of his mental illness unscathed. But he did survive to thrive in an all-new way. In some respects, that it transcendent.
mike-love-tm-meditation-beach-boysBrian Wilson’s Beach Boys bandmate Mike Love preserved his sanity through rock’s manic impacts (including close encounters with Charles Manson) by engaging in transcendental meditation. As quoted on the website TMHome.com, “It gives me rest and relaxation in pursuing activities and combats fatigue,” the singer-songwriter said. “It gives you a sort of high without having to resort to alcohol and drugs. That’s been a big benefit to my life.”

Mike Love started meditating after he met Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Paris in 1967. He feels Transcendental Meditation has been central to surviving the life on the rock-‘n’-roll highway.

“You have the clarity and energy to entertain the types of activities we do with traveling and rehearsing and performing. When you meditate, all those feelings of grogginess and irritation and fatigue are eliminated. Your biochemistry changes. It’s very simple but amazing stuff.”

Those last words are interesting fare for those of us who run and ride. Running has long been associated with a change in brain chemistry that equates to a form of ‘therapy’ for the mind by releasing endorphins responsible for mood change. Likewise a long bike ride can bring on a transcendental flow feeling that leads to calm feelings both during and after the ride. The same goes for the flow of an open water swim. The motion and the real fact of floating over water is a perfect expression of mindfulness and freedom combined.

Even the most famous and talented people in the world feel the need for something greater within themselves. Transcendental Meditation leverages the mind to relax the body. Running, riding and swimming leverage the body to relax the mind. It works both ways. And you don’t have to travel to India or turn you life over to Sexy Sadie to do it.

Vicissitudes are defined as “a change of circumstances or fortune, typically one that is unwelcome or unpleasant. Alternation between opposite or contrasting things.”

We all need methods for dealing with that. Whether it is transcendental meditation of a simple three mile run to get a grasp on what’s going on in life, it’s all okay.

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Something’s missing

Fit Contraption.jpgI missed a day on the blog yesterday. No biggie. It’s just like missing a day in training though. When you live by a certain rhythm and things change for reasons of necessity, it’s time to adapt and move on. Don’t dwell on the missed opportunities of yesterday. Sure, you have to deal with the feeling that something’s missing in your life. But you can’t go back in time.

And while I missed writing a blog, I did not miss training. At 6:00 a.m. I hit the gym for needed strength work. If I don’t keep up with leg workouts all sorts of bad things start to happen, especially with the knees. So I lifted and came back home to get ready for work.

Fit Pix.jpgAnd I wasn’t thinking about getting in a ride because there was a busy day ahead. Part of the busy schedule was a bike fitting session however. So I showed up with my cycling gear and after an hour of measurements to test out flexibility and body structure, it was time to climb on the fitting contraption and ride while the bike fit guy taped me up with dots to study my riding form against the empiric lines of a background grid.

Then I rode and rode and rode. A tablet read back the effort with cadence and I kept it above 90 the whole time. Minutes turned to hours. Sweat rolled down my body. The bike fit guy moved back and forth between his computer and his bike tools, tweaking here and asking questions there.

Fit Butts.jpgThe results are not complete. We’re going to consider a narrower set of handlebars and some other consideration. My bike seat was rigged with a pressure pad to test how my butt bones interact with the seat. I sweated so much the bike fit guy had to put more dots on my body. And I pedaled. And he watched. And I pedaled some more.

But my hands still hurt on the hoods in the bike measurements he took from my Venge to the bike contraption. He assured me that we move from the pedals up, and that we’d get to the hands, shoulders and upper body position eventually. “You’re long in a lot of places,” he warned me.

And I thought: “Like I don’t know that.” I shared the fact that the most comfortable bike I’ve ridden was a Robaix out west during a training camp. And we both knew the elephant in the room at that moment. A Venge is not a Robaix. So there’s that.

I’m reticent to share that he also tossed me on a brand new Trek Madone, and that bike felt like silk in a mile-long test drive. So there’s that. No hand tension. Will there be a solution to all this in my future? We’ll see. Fit Dots.jpg

But in any case, I did not miss a day of training. All that riding added up to a solid hour+ of riding at a good pace. Proving that all of this is a day-by-day proposition.

 

 

 

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A trip around the bases of life

Local 285My long relationship with the sport of running actually began on a baseball field in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. That’s where the coach for Local 285, the union-sponsored baseball team for which I played from the ages of 10-12, assigned us to do pushups behind home plate, then run to a light pole in centerfield and back again. As fast as we could.

That’s where I found out I was good at running. I actually liked the feeling of stringing myself out for as long and hard as I could. And I also liked beating people in races.

But it would be a few more years until the sport of running replaced baseball as the centerpoint of my young athletic life. Playing for Local 285 was a family tradition, for my next-oldest brother had played for that wonderful coach Charlie Siegel as well. The team focused on fundamentals. They taught players the game in all its nuances. We learned to slide properly, hit and throw with greatest efficiency, and steal bases, to name a few.

Pulling a Jordan

I did not make the team the first time I tried out. That only made me more determined to make it the next year. We went on to win the Lancaster New Era Tournament, a competition sponsored by one of the major newspapers in town.

We played games out on Armstrong field, a set of baseball diamonds built on property owned by the Armstrong tile company. Those games were often dusty and hot the way baseball games should be. Our team that first year was at its peak with players that performed well beyond their years in skill and knowledge.

The first game of the tourney we beat a team 26-0. It was not a happy day the way you might think. Our coach took out the best players in the second or third inning. When I came up to the plate in the fourth inning, coach pulled me aside and said, “I’ll never ask you to do this again, but try to strike out.”

Instead, I accidentally ripped a double up the middle, then stood out on second base and shrugged my shoulders. I swung up at the ball trying to miss it on purpose, but the pitch was so slow I connected.

On the mound

The next game was more competitive, but by the third inning our coach decided it was wise to save our best pitcher for the final game. There was discussion around the bench and suddenly Charlie told me to grab my glove and meet him on the mound. I remember fellow players whispering, “Shouldn’t we be pitching Tommy?”

But Tommy was a wild-armed first baseman and I knew that coach Siegel wanted someone reliable on the mound. Someone that could get it over the plate. Because we had some of the best fielders in the league, and he was confident I could do the job.

So I came into the game and we won 8-6. I still recall the sensation of digging at the dirt in front of the pitching rubber to get that feeling that I could push off to my liking. And I threw hard. Struck some people out. Forced some grounders and fly balls. And we won.

That put us into the championships. We won the final game that week and it was off to the Dairy Joy on Lancaster Pike for free ice cream in celebration. We celebrated that way after every win.

Rewards and doubters

I was naturally excited about winning the championship, so I ordered both a milk shake and an ice cream cone. One of the other players muttered, “Look at that pig. He didn’t even do anything to help us win the game.”

But that would be forgetting the work that got us there, and the pitching I’d done against a far better team than we played in the finals. At the age of eleven I’d learned that if nothing else, I was a gamer and able to rise to the occasion.

That moment taught me a life lesson of sorts. The snarky comment from my teammate hurt. it showed me that people can be narrow-minded. And it drove me to be even more determined in all that I did in sports and life going forward.

Carry that weight

That next year the 285 team was depleted due to players moving up to the next age level. That left me and another pitcher named Mike Heller to handle the load. And I pitched well through the first half of the season winning most of our games. But then my arm went dead. Flat and weak, I got knocked out of the game by another union-sponsored team, Local 928. They were fearsome and determined as we were the year before. One of my close friends played for the team. He hit a hard line drive that glanced off my left shoulder at the pitcher’s mound. That reduced me to frustrated tears.

After that summer my father moved us out to Illinois where the baseball league was not so structured. At the age of thirteen, I pitched a perfect game against kids my age so they moved me up to the American Legion team that started at age 16. For the next few summers I played baseball with a rambling team that traveled all over the region playing games against town teams in Hampshire, Huntley and Lake-in-the-Hills. It was true Americana baseball.

Our coach that summer was a fiery little guy named Trent Richards. He was 5’7″ and high jumped 6’5″ in college at Illinois State University. Thus he wasn’t afraid to push kids to make themselves better. And we’ll get to his significance in a minute. Those of you that have read this blog for a while already know the answer to what comes next.

But first…

That summer at the age of fifteen the regional teams from out in the country got together to choose an All-Star team to compete against the suburban Chicago teams. Tryouts were held at a lonesome field way out at Central High School (an oxymoron if there ever was one) near the little town of Burlington. We hit and pitched and did all the baseball things you do at tryouts. When it was all said and done, the coaches gathered around to decide on who should make the team.

I distinctively remember Trent Richards telling the other coaches, “He’s a skinny kid, but real competitive and he really throws hard…” and there were a few more words about a good curve and such. They were going to leave me off the All-Star team, but Coach Richards pitched me back on.

Then we played a hotshot team over in Naperville and our big lefty pitcher got rocked for three runs in the first two innings, so the coach yanked the kid and put me in the game. There were no more runs scored against me for several innings, but then a batter got hold of a hanging curve and the ball launched toward left field and a sure home run. But my left fielder was a member of my regular team and a 22-foot long jumper in track. His vertical leap was probably 30″ and he jumped straight up and caught the ball before it went over the fence.

We didn’t win the game. We caught up in runs but I mixed up signals with my catcher in the last inning and threw a screwball instead of a curve and they scored on a passed ball after a walk. It was an ignominious ending but the triumph of succeeding where the hotshot lefty had failed was enough for me. I’d proven Coach Richards right.

On the move again

The following spring my dad moved our family again and I didn’t know where to take my baseball skills. I finished up the track season at Kaneland High School after a couple truly valuable varsity seasons in cross country under a coach named Rich Born. And through those experiences, I realized that my life was likely headed toward being a runner, not a baseball player.

But some instincts die hard. So I traveled back that spring for a tryout back at Kaneland and did not hit a single ball in batting practice. It was a horrific ten minutes. Like a nightmare from which you can’t wake up. Not a single hit.

That sent me to a baseball tryout back in St. Charles. And I now realized that my heart had to move on. So I tried out for the Blue Goose baseball team in St. Charles and went 7-1 that summer while another pitcher on the team, a kid named Corky Nichols, had the same 7-1 record. He went on to pitch for the Varsity baseball team two more seasons while my career veered off toward running full time.

Growing pains

That summer of baseball was a strange struggle at any rate.  Going into my junior year in high school, I’d grown another couple inches and my speed disappeared for a month o so that summer. That meant a potential home run that I’d lined between the fences in centerfield saw me getting thrown out at home instead. It was an embarrassing moment in front of all-new teammates, and I heard one mutter, “I thought he was a runner.”

Cudworth unsophisticated.jpgThen came fall in St. Charles where I’d link up with my former baseball coach Trent Richards who coached cross country and track at the school. A part of me missed my former teammates, but the part of me that knew life would bring changes no matter what I did was cool with the new environs, new school and new opportunities.

That fall we won a District championship in cross country and went 9-1 in dual meets. Those guys are still some of my best friends in the world.

Then came college and even more running. I was no longer a baseball player at all. Beyond college came road racing and the heady atmosphere of early-80s running boom. That was when everyone in the sport was “all-in” and ready to kick each other’s ass whether it was the track, the road or the practice run.

Whispers of baseball

I’d still get that intense feeling whenever my feet crossed an infield or saw the telltale stripe of lime on a grassy patch where baseball was played. And somewhere during college my throwing arm came into play during a Superstars competition in which I threw a softball 310 feet to help win the competition. Everyone in the contest doubted the measurement. So I threw it again, this time even farther. Don’t fucking doubt me, you assholes. 

Finally, in my late 30s, I signed up to play league softball with a bunch of former college baseball players. After the inaugural season in which we worked to gel, our team won the league seven seasons straight. It felt good to get out there and run the bases and play outfield. There was no need to go to the mound, because pitching was not what the game of softball was all about. I even used my speed to get a home run.

Then one September day when the skies were metal gray because autumn was fast approaching, I caught the last white “pill” of the softball season as it fell from the sky toward my position in right field. I knew that was the last game of baseball or softball that I’d likely ever play. And as the ball thumped into the leather of my mitt, I closed my eyes for a minute and then jogged toward the dugout from right field. My still-skinny runner’s legs carried me over the green grass and again over the soft dirt of the infield. I felt the ground beneath me puff up in dust the way it had done so many times growing up. And while I was no longer a child, I knew that the trip around the bases of baseball and life, for that moment, was complete.

 

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Holidayman triathlon welcomes happy misfits

First: a funny story. This year’s winner of the Holidayman sprint triathlon was Eda Davidman. She returned to win the race this year after apparently riding off the course last year, thus taking an unintentional “holiday” in the nearby town of Sandwich before wheeling back onto the course after having lost five minutes on her bike time.

This year she kept on course for a 1:32 winning time in the women’s race. The male Sprint winner was the Mohawk-adorned Joe Russo in 1:19, nearly three minutes faster than the second place male.

What a Holiday

BraceletThe race is named after the Lake Holiday community where the race is staged. The lake is classically rimmed with vacation and permanent homes set in a relatively hilly section of Northern Illinois fifty miles southwest of Chicago. While rich with algae, the lake was cool and wetsuit legal. That’s what most triathletes seem to want.

So it’s a pleasant place to Tri, for sure.

Both the Sprint and the Olympic distance races offered a bit of fun with a chill vibe that did not compromise organization of the race. Kudos to Midwest Misfits and Braveheart Coaching for a race well run.

Wet and wiled

Tri TatsSue and I traipsed out there the day before to get in a practice swim and look at the course. In my case, for the race I was not sure was in my present wheelhouse, given the rumbly state of a left knee that is showing signs of some bio-mechanical disturbance. Going in for a renewed bike fit this week to eliminate the cause of that.

Before our test ride of the bike course, we joined a swim practice hosted by Braveheart Coaching. That gave the newbies in the group of 20 a chance to test their mettle in a rehearsal of group starts. Most of the swimmers gratefully wore wetsuits with one exception, a real newbie who laughed off her lack of expertise and happily proclaimed herself ready for anything. One had to admire her spirit. A willing misfit is almost always a pleasure to encounter. It puts things into perspective like that crazy Irishman in the movie Braveheart. One of my favorite scenes in all of moviedom.

As it was, our little band of misfits all practiced our watery wiles out on each other. When all was said and done, everyone seemed to feel ready for the next day’s race. “Thanks for bumping into me,” one gal observed. “Gladly,” I laughed.

All brave hearts get built in increments.

Race Time

Sue PodiumIt’s actually quite fun to enter the water with fifty or more people. Choose your slot and find your pace. Then it’s all about sighting the buoys and swimming within yourself. During the race I turned the fourth buoy for home and realized I was nowhere near tired, I picked up the pace and actually passed a few people. Finally this swimming thing is coming together in some ways.

But when I got back to transition, I was not surprised to find my wife there as well. She’d swum three minutes faster that me and was into her bike shoes before I got my wetsuit off. Then I discovered with disgust that I’d failed to unbuckle my cycling shoes. Wasted time in transition.

It felt good to finally climb on the bike after 2:55 fiddling around with gear. Race Dummy.

Black wristbands

BraceletAt twelve miles of the bike there’s a great hill on the Holidayman course. At the top they pop a little black wristband on your arm that serves as proof you’ve climbed the hill and did not cheat.

I rode 53:48 or just under 20 mph for the 18.8 miles, not bad for a guy in the drops on a road bike. Windy last six miles.

The run test

It’s bad enough coming into a brick without a ding-danged hill to climb in the first 400 meters. But Holidayman does not promise a respite from difficulty. None given. The hills came one after the other with a small break in the middle mile before traipsing home.

I caught Sue and we finished within a minute of one another for the day. She was 27th overall, and I was 28th. She won hardware for tops in her age group. I was fourth in the 60+ category. Not a bad way to spend a morning in the sunshine and cool breeze in late July. It felt like an active vacation.

Must admit that getting up at 4:00 a.m. made me feel like that kid looks in the background of this photo. Sleepy boy.  Every nap is a holiday. And that’s true for everyone. Sue after Podium

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s all there in the laundry

Laundry 3.jpgWith two people in a marriage training and racing, a lot of laundry goes through the cycle on a weekly basis. My wife Sue is in training for Ironman Louisville. Summer calls for two workouts a day in combinations of running, riding and swimming. Both our sweaty stuff piles up in the bedroom hamper. We haul it down and start the rehabilitation process, because most of the time it is rather stinky.

Sweet returns

When the basket fills with clean, good-smelling gear, sometimes along with the stuff we wear in the rest of our life, it’s time to sort and separate it all. I’ve grown to like those quiet moments taking stuff out of the basket and putting it in piles. This morning there was a northerly breeze puffing through the bedroom window and the smells of nature came wafting in. I stood by the bed pulling out my stuff first, because there was less of it. I’m only training for sprints and Olympics. Less miles, less laundry.

Sue’s things are smaller than mine on her 5’9″ frame. She’s lean and fit from all her training. Her sports bras are similarly lean and fit. They curl in a pile of their own.

Her running shorts are colorful and equally brief. They show off her strong legs. I like that too. Those go into their own pile as well.

Then come all the little tops she throws over the sports bras in various configurations. Some are stringy at the shoulders, and there’s not much material to them overall. I think of her strong shoulders and arms. She looks good. Trains hard. Swims well. And the sun on her tanned shoulders with the Ironman tattoo peeking out behind the straps? Priceless.

Laundry 1.jpgNext come the panties pile, and I’ll admit that’s the fun part. She has her favorite sets of black bottoms, and I know she’s out for serious training when those go on. A woman needs some practical, functional panties for all sorts of reasons. There needs to be something you can trust down there. The outward facing parts have a touch and go relationship with whatever material sits closest to the vortex of the lap. One quickly develops a favorite if it works. Same goes for men.

And then I throw the pretty ones on top of that. They’re fun to buy for her. There’s an English gal at the local Victoria’s Secret who grabs you buy the arm and says, “C’mon love, let’s find something nice for her. And if you don’t, you can buy something nice for me.” She’s funny. And fun.

Swimmie things

Sue’s swimsuits are an entirely different subject. She’s a woman who loves the water. The suits she chooses seem to celebrate that. When I’m at the pool with her, I marvel at how much she seems to thrive in the water. The feel of it. When she emerges I will confess to taking in her glorious sheen, the shape of her body in the suit. Those are moments of both lust and pride in me. I offer no apologies for that.

Laundry days

This morning when the laundry I was about to sort and lay it out, she showed up from swim coaching and smiled. “So, you’re going to tackle all that? Thank you.”

Laundry 2But it’s not a burden. Not when I am the beneficiary of all these sweet thoughts and reminders of our miles together. We roll through the good days and the bad. That’s what the concept of marriage, and training partners, is really all about. Our laundry tells the story of this kinship. We are together and apart in all the right ways. Shoulder to shoulder. Sock to sock. Short to short.

It’s all there in the laundry.

 

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The Dragoon and The Blaggard

Whether we like to admit it or not, most of us like a good revenge story. Almost every Clint Eastwood movie from the 1970s was about revenge. You know the plot. Cowboy gets beat up. Cowboy goes into hiding. Cowboy emerges as mysterious character. Cowboy recruits townspeople in elaborate scheme to get back at villains. Cowboy rides out of town with asking any thanks. But most of all, cowboy got revenge.

a3bc4ebe13885bfe68ef49d609d66645.jpgLife is typically not that simple and satisfying for the rest of us. We still encounter villains in this world, but sweet revenge is not that easy to attain. Nor is it very biblical. Which is why one of Clint Eastwood’s revenge character in the movie Pale Rider was actually called Preacher. Movies thrive on flaunting the taboo. Mix a little faux religion with a bit of murder and people will flock to the theaters. Or the voting booths.

Real life is different

But real life is different. Without the benefits of scriptwriters to coiffe our fate or celluloid and digital control to craft the story, our notions of revenge must be claimed under other terms.

But first, let’s identify the villain. The thief. The bad guy. And the accomplice.

The Dragoon and The Blaggard

Bike Lion.jpg

Bike Lion sculpture by Joe Gagnepaign

The Thief in our plot is familiar to millions of people. His or Her name is Depression. But let’s give it a creative name. Winston Churchill, who for years fought through depression to accomplish great things, named it the Black Dog.

But for our purposes, we’ll call depression The Dragoon, a colorful term that by definition means “coerce (someone) into doing something,” or in the case of depression, sometimes convincing you to do nothing. At all. Just lie there. Miserable and angry and scared and all that horrible lack of will. The Dragoon. Dragging you down.

The Dragoon is a thief of normalcy. Of happiness. Of hope. 

The Blaggard

And The Dragoon has an accomplice. It is called anxiety. And just like many villains in literature, the accomplice can be worse than the main villain. The accomplice does the Dirty Work. In the case of anxiety, it works through Dread. That feeling that something bad is going to happen. Bound to happen.

Anxiety is also crafty and smart. It knows how to keep you from acting when you should, and how to make you react when you shouldn’t.

So we’ll call anxiety The Blaggard, defined as “A villain, a rogue, an evil or “black-hearted” person, hence abreviated low brow U.K. style to “blaggard”

An evil pair

Bike Lotto.jpg

Bike Lotto sculpture by Joe Gagnepaign

In most villain movies, the plot starts when the bad guys show up and begin to get the upper hand. So it is with The Dragoon and The Blaggard. If you know someone who suffers from depression and/or anxiety, it often isn’t evident they need help until the plot thickens. That doesn’t mean it’s too late. It might mean they’re gotten really good at hiding signs and manifestations of depression and anxiety. Many people are high-functioning despite the daily hit that the Dragoon and the Blaggard leverages on their mind and soul.

Plotting revenge

Combatting anxiety and depression takes calculated will and persistence. It might require medication to get in front of the condition. It might also take exercise and scheduling and cognitive therapy (talk about it, for God’s sake!) to stay ahead of the dirty work done by The Dragoon and The Blaggard.

It’s the daily run or ride or swim that puts you just a bit out of front. That makes it harder for the Dragoon to keep up. Depression may be a heavy partner, but it is also fortunately slow afoot. It can take major effort to drag yourself out of the grip of The Dragoon, but once you get ahead you can look back a bit and say to yourself, “I’m not letting you catch me. Not today.” 

Of course you still sometimes have to deal with the real-time, sneaky tactics of The Blaggard as well. After all, this wouldn’t be an interesting movie plot if there weren’t a few twists and turns to deal with. The Blaggard is a bit more adept and nimble than The Dragoon, which prefers to sink you into it’s lair and suck you down into nothingness. The Blaggard can go wherever you go. The sneaky bastard.

Outrunning The Blaggard

 

Rake Fish.png

Rake Fish sculpture by Joe Gagnepaign

The Blaggard loves to run alongside you, chirping little negative thoughts and threats as you move along. “You don’t deserve this,” The Blaggard will tell you. “You always give up. You know you do. You know it’s true. You’ve always failed before. That’s who you are.”

 

Yes, The Blaggard is a wicked accomplice to The Dragoon. So you must learn to be quick on your feet. It helps to arm yourself with quick retorts to the ever-present taunts of The Blaggard. “I don’t need to deserve anything,” you can reply. “But I choose to be rid of you.”

Even if there are failures in your life that were caused by The Blaggard, that is not who you ultimately are as a person. It is also not who you are destined to become. Even The Blaggard knows that. Yet like the serpent in the Garden of Eden, the goal of The Blaggard is to control you. Without that control of your conscience and soul, The Blaggard begins to fade like the Chesire Cat.

Sure, you may never be completely free of the wicked smile of The Blaggard as it seeks to pierce you with dull arrows of self-doubt and fear. But it is sweet revenge to beat back the insults and the trepidations until The Blaggard fades and fades. Sometimes it is possible to vanish it entirely.

When you do this work, you can literally feel The Dragoon fall behind and see The Blaggard fade before your eyes when you get out there and run, ride or swim. That is some sweet revenge, right there.

More than everything

Dragoon and BlaggardBut let’s be clear. The Dragoon and The Blaggard are real. This is not Pretendland. The conditions we know as depression and anxiety are actual mental and physical conditions. You can’t just wish them away.

People who live with The penetrating reality of The Dragoon and The Blaggard know all too well how forcefully they can slam you suddenly, and without warning.

Sometimes this must be done daily. Cast off the Black Socks of The Dragoon and The Blaggard as needed. One must be vigilant as a superhero and forthright as a cowboy on the open range in order to live with anxiety and depression. The Dragoon and the Blaggard. 

It can be exhausting at times. But it can also be exhilarating to triumph on a daily and long term basis. Find the resources that help you accomplish those aims. See your doctor. Trust your friends. Take your meds and get out there and exercise.

And may you leave The Dragoon and The Blaggard far behind.

Note: The artwork in this blog is produced by an art associate of mine, Joe Gagnepaign,  who suffers from bipolar disorder. His daily wrestling match with the condition is extremely difficult. We are raising funds to help him with his medical and practical needs. If you are interested in helping by contributing a few dollars, there is a GoFundMe page open at the link above. If you want more information, please message me at cudworthfix@gmail.com. Will send details. 

 

 

 

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I’m sixty years old today. And I was born this way.

My mother once told me that I was born at 7:00 in the morning. That fits. It is my time of day. So many mornings I have risen for workouts that started at 7:00 a.m, or earlier. It’s like being reborn every day.

If math serves, I’ve experienced 21,900 such mornings. And along the way, so many birthdays. Because every day is a birthday if you stop to think about it.

I had a coach once who believed strongly in celebrating your own birthday. “It’s MY day!” he’d chortle, shaking his fists next to his shoulders. He also loved the phrase WOW FUN WOW! It was applied to those moments in training and racing that were hard, yet challenging and fun.

Taking stock

Cottonwoods.jpgSo this morning I’m sitting out on the back patio of our house. The sun is showing through a row of cottonwood trees. It is 66 degrees outside. The height of summer.

I recall so well those birthdays when I was a child. My mother would bake a rich chocolate cake and give me the icing bowl to clean up with a spoon. There would be presents wrapped, things like airplane models or a new baseball.

During those summers in Pennsylvania when I was nine or ten years old, the world seemed at once far off and yet so close. Friends were a phone call away, yet you had to use the rotary dial with your fingertip, turning the numbers quick as you could, then wait for the friend to answer. All their numbers were memorized because there wasn’t that much to jam inside my brain at that age. Not in the summer, anyway.

I woke up to the sounds of The Beatles playing in our house for nearly ten years. A specific memory comes from a birthday morning in fact. I was assembling a P-36 or some other Army plane and trying not to get the glue all over the windshield. The song “Nowhere Man” came on. I sat there listening for a moment. John Lennon sang:

He’s a real nowhere man
Sitting in his nowhere land
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody

We’re all nominally aware as children that someday we’ll grow up to be adults. Perhaps we assume we’ll figure quite a few things out by then. But I was always a sensitive kid, prone to getting caught in deep thought, often at inappropriate moments. That was the product of what my brothers and I call “Creative ADD.” Our minds were always wandering in class, thinking about things much more fun and interesting than the topic at hand.

So I sat there thinking about Nowhere Man for a moment, and it dawned on me: “I’m always going to remember doing this.” I don’t know why that particular moment and song sunk in like that. But it still sticks out every time that song comes on. I should have perhaps listened even more closely, because the song was enormously prescient to the experiences I would have later in life. The native anxiety wired into my brain. The constant urge to be doing something, or concern that I was missing out. Then the pressures and obligations of life itself. The work. The money. Then the cancer, and the 15 years of caregiving and people dying, and all the while, birthdays passing away. One by one.

Nowhere man don’t worry
Take your time, don’t hurry
Leave it all till somebody else
Lends you a hand

Now I’m sixty years old. It was both hard and easy to get here. I’ve learned a few lessons along the way. And from the depth of my soul, I remain a devout liberal.

Devout: having or showing deep religious feeling or commitment, totally committed to a cause or belief.

The reason for this devotion to liberalism is twofold. Much stems from my long relationship with the true Christian faith, which is deeply liberal in nature by definition of character, conscience and organic foundations.

Yet I recall the day I led a memorial service for my mother after she died. We held it at the Unitarian Universalist Society. I heard through the grapevine that some people were concerned about coming to the service. Didn’t know what to expect at such a “liberal” institution. But after the service, a woman walked up to me with a look of surprise in her eyes, and said, “That was the most devout funeral service I have ever attended.”

It’s not about the rituals. It’s not about the confessionals, or the nature of scripture, or the promise of the hereafter. It is about the devout recognition of soul in all of us.

Justice

Writing.jpgThe other abiding belief in my life is in justice; social, cultural, environmental and political. I believe in fairness, and not taking undue advantage of others. Be not squanderous, nor wasteful, abusive or covetous. And have no fear in resisting those who do those things. That is righteousness.

I get that some people equate righteousness with paying less taxes, having the right to carry a gun or flying the Confederate flag. But those are material obsessions, all of them. And despite the seeming clarity of that Second Amendment language that selectively ignores the first part of the amendment (a well-regulated militia, being necessary for the security of a free state…) in favor of the more selfish aims of the second (the right to bear arms shall not be infringed…) the logic behind the conservative interpretation of that passage is seriously and fatally flawed. It’s as if we were to ignore the first part of John 3:16 that reads “16For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…” in favor of emphasizing the selfish part in which we benefit: “that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

That’s how selfishness is manifested in this world. Ignore the responsibility and take the benefits.

Because it’s a plain fact that people die every day because the interpretation of the Second Amendment is , get this, far too liberal. Stop and think about that for a moment. Conservatives love liberalism when it allows them to have it their way. And fuck the rest of society. America is in a symptomatic phase of all that selfishness, writ large. It’s a disease, like alcoholism. An addiction like sex or chocolate or food. Some people can’t give it up and will fight to the death to protect their addiction to the notion that the right to kill other people in an instant is an American virtue.

I’m sixty years old, and I know better.

Competition

Being liberal does not mean that I do not believe in competition. That’s why I’m unafraid to state my views here, in my own blog, and live with the consequences of putting it out there.

That core belief in the value of competitive was only magnified through years of participation in athletics. I learned what it means to play fair, to compete your best, win or lose, and earn your victories. No cheating. No wouldcouldashoulda. Deal with it. 

Running strong

The pure sport of running was both a true and severe test of those principles. It is an enterprise in which you could pour all your soul, get honest returns, and for better or worse, accept the consequences. That is life. And part of the purpose for which I was born. To live it as fully as possible. That is all any of us have.

And at the age of sixty, having now added cycling and swimming the repertoire, I see no contradictions in these life experiences and core principles. Fair and open competition is good. Being a cheating, lying bastard who abuses others or manipulates them through righteous-sounding language that is false. Well, that’s bad.

I know I lose a few readers by touting my liberal beliefs. But I was born this way. I’ve lived this way. Stood up for other people when the standing up was right, and fought for honest actions and reactions even when it cost me personally.

I’m sixty years old. And I was born this way.

 

 

 

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The pleasures and perils of positive thinking

SunrisePositive thinking has a great reputation for changing lives, empowering individuals against adversity and helping people cognitively cope with otherwise debilitating conditions of anxiety, depression and low self-esteem brought on by issues of abuse or other negative life experiences.

That was a long sentence describing the pleasures of positive thinking. There are a few perils that come with it.

MOTIVATION FOR SALE

For example, some people use a brand of positive language as a recruiting tool. Plenty of hucksters leverage the language of positive thinking to manipulate people into situations where they are not encouraged to think for themselves. That brand of supposed positivity is marketed in those big stadium conventions where motivational speakers spout inspiring stories or brag about their own success. Usually, they have a book to market or a bankload of recordings to sell that don’t really say much more than they just blabbered onstage. This is the “motivation for sale” brand of positive thinking, and it’s bogus at best. People buy it to fill in the blanks in their own lives in hopes the inspiration will stick.

Motivational

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The perils of motivation for sale are not exactly profound. It probably doesn’t actually hurt anyone to hear some highly-paid motivational speaker spout their canned speech about how they overcame adversity to become a general or pro athlete or business leader. But let’s be frank: that kind of banal encouragement does not necessarily drive your personal mission in life. You still have to find your own specific motivations for your personal goals. That’s far more important than trying to absorb some sort of inspiration from afar.

For athletes, this means understanding your physical capacities and mental strengths. Only then can vicarious inspiration drive you to new levels of performance. That can require the assistance of a real coach or someone who gets to know you well enough to provide genuine, positive guidance. Only then can vicarious inspiration from an outside source or motivational speaker drive you to new levels of performance.

NETWORK POSITIVITY

SuccessinNetworkMarketing

Is this an oxymoron?

Faux positivity is also a tool used by network marketing programs designed to recruit people into pyramid organizations. The power of so-called ‘positive thinking’ is especially effective in situations where some form of “investment” in the products (to be sold) is required. The goal of such companies is to convince people they are part of a ‘higher ideal.’ Thus associates are encouraged to completely adopt the “company line” in order to succeed.

The peril of this brand of positivity is that it is typically partnered with a demand (or command) to ignore all voices that say you can’t succeed. The risk in this mentality is that it can drive away the people you most need to trust. That would be people who can advise you if things do get carried away. That’s what’s really insidious about manipulative forms of ‘positive thinking.’

That’s what’s really insidious about the network marketing brand of ‘positive thinking.’ The mindset is specifically formulated to isolate you and pull you into a culture from which there is neither recourse or escape.

That differs greatly from people who network with others to achieve success around commonly understood rather than those projected upon them by an outside force. Among athletes, this brand of bonding often takes place through shared experiences, especially those collective moments in training where difficulties are overcome.

The positivity that emerges from sharing such common effort is genuine. Yet it is also far different than the manufactured commonality offered by organizations that essentially hide the source of true suffering (such as sales rejection) in order to create a sense of dependency or owed loyalty to the organization. That is cult-like.

RELIGIOUS CONFESSION

Christian imperfect

It appears perfection is not the goal of positive thinking here.

Some sects of faith encourage people to place all their trust in God. Typically that level of trust is viewed as a clearcut case of ‘positive thinking.’

Yet there are practical risks to that brand of thinking. If things don’t work out for the better, is that the fault of God? That can force people to resort to some coarse rationalizations, such as: “Well, it wasn’t God’s Will.” And from there, one can fill in the blanks…

“Well, it wasn’t God’s Will for (me/her/him) to beat that cancer. 

“Well, it wasn’t God’s Will for me to win that race…”

Really? We’re going to first force the hand of God and then place blame if things don’t turn out the way we planned? That’s not positive thinking.

We’re all accustomed to watching athletes in victory point to the sky and go on the

Free-Christian-Wallpaper-Matthew-5-48 (1)

Which is it? Be perfect or not? The Bible is often contradictory.

microphone giving God the Glory for their victory. But what about all the other athletes who prayed to God and did not win? That’s not a positive message. At all.

Instead, the real positive thinking when it comes to religion centers around gratitude. That is, being thankful for the opportunity to compete, and for friends and even competitors who help make us better.

So you see, positive thinking is not some lockstep solution to all the problems in life. The wrong kind of supposedly ‘positive thinking’ can lead us down all sorts of paths to personal deception and misery. The Bible itself is often patently contradictory. Those are the perils of religiously-driven positive thinking.

The true pleasures of positive thinking are found more often in the adoption of a practical mindset and belief that hard work and consistent discipline can produce positive results. Athletes know this as well as anyone else. We have more opportunities to learn these lessons than the average person, because when we step out the door each day to begin a workout, we face a world of obstacles and challenges to overcome.

Thinking positively about the fact that we can overcome those obstacles is just the beginning. The rest is what happens to us while we’re busy making other plans.

POSITIVE AFFIRMATION

But let’s be clear about something. One of the most motivational experience I’ve had in my entire life occurred during the late stages of a cross country season in which our team placed second in the nation. Our coach overhead several of us talking about whether we were burned out from a season of training and racing. He knew that we had the capacity to race well in the qualifying and national series. But he grew concerne that our mindset had shifted from positive to negative.

In fact he grew so exasperated on evening that he issued an order to us about the nature of our communication. “Tonight I want seven miles at 6:30 pace, and no talking. Not a word the entire run.”

We embarked on an entirely silent route. Nothing but the noise of our footfalls on the gravel roads in Decorah, Iowa. The power of that experience of running together without talking proved more positively motivating than a single word or a thousand words.

And two weeks later we rose to the occasion. We were positively motivated by the force of our individuality and the collective resolve to make the most of a moment in life. And that’s the power of positive thinking.

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Riding up to Chuck’s

Chuck's Ride RouteIt is a sixty-three mile ride up to Chuck’s Lakeshore Inn from St. Charles, Illinois to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. It’s a tradition we cherish each summer. The route we take is all backroads and has been handed down from generations of cyclists who first chose the roads over four decades ago.

It is likely that process involved some experimentation. The route was established long before the age of GPS, Garmin, cellphones or Strava. It is likely someone sat down with a series of county maps and plotted the route out by hand. Or better yet, there might have been cyclists who winged it for all they’re worth, and the route evolved over time.

That does not mean the roads are all perfect. Far from it. On several sections of the route the roads are broken up or fractured. Likely this is the product of a township or two that do not consider such backroads a priority. So the cyclist has the navigate across the worst of these with a dose of concern for the hindquarters.

Chuck's Ride Route GreenOn the other hand, there are places where the roads are both rolling and smooth. Shade graces the way for miles at a time. This was true even though we left at the relatively late hour of 7:00 a.m. to embark on the journey north. Some of this is the product of our aging constitutions. Both the hour of departure and the relative rate of progress have eased back a bit.

Not that some of us aren’t fit. But in any given year there is usually someone whose schedule has eclipsed their training. We used to cruise those sixty miles at 19-20 mph, wind or no. Some years the northwest or north wind would smack us in the face, so it was pace lines for miles. But yesterday was warm with a nice breeze but no wind. We rode fifty at a good clip but one of our party (and it has been any one of us over the years) had reached the extent of his training thus far and we needed to slow things down over the last 10 miles.

These are summer rituals and worth every moment of riding. Then we change at the beach in Fontana and pile into the cool water to ease out the crimps from riding and shoot the bull while waves from the many boaters out on the lake push us around.

Chuck's barThe final goal of the journey is lunch at Chuck’s, a lakeside bar and restaurant where the locals mix with the tourists and everyone seems to live and let live. One of the bartenders has been working there 19 years and does not seem to have aged a day in all the time we’ve traveled up there by bike. He smiled when the clouds gathered and the rain came down in sheets. “This is good for business,” he chirped at us over the bar. “It’s gonna get really busy now.”

Some people seem to thrive on service to others. This bartender has that knack. He was lining up tall glasses and mixing Bloody Mary’s four to six at a time. Nothing to it.

StellaI tipped him $20 on a $60 bill that included a simple CHUCK’S tee shirt. Normally I’m not the acquisitive or touristy type to buy tee shirts or any of that ilk. But I feel a genuine fondness for the adventure of such journeys and have done this trip with a number of friends over time. Our little bike gang has expanded and contracted, but the two buds with whom we rode this weekend I’ve known since 1973. They’ve been cyclists far longer than I, and even got into triathlons back in the 80s before I dared think about it.

History is a funny thing that way. One of them insisted that I’d been along on the ride back when a rainstorm struck them at 40 miles and drove them into a barn. But I recall him telling me that story the first time I rode up with them probably ten years ago. “You were there,” he told me yesterday. “We have pictures,” he offered.

“Take a look at them,” I suggested. “I’m not in them.”

That’s how our brains work sometimes. Melding things together is a habit of convenience. There is too much time that has passed, and we can’t remember everything the way we should.

Sue's HairI honestly could not remember if my wife had ridden up there with us before. It seemed like she had a couple years back. But no, she told me. This was her first journey. “I like the route,” she said. “It’s pretty.”

It is indeed. Through the early morning fog we rode north. Up over the big rise at Central High school in Burlington then north through Hampshire up past Hebron, where the water tower is painted like a basketball because that little town won the state championship way back in 1952.

The ride up the Chuck’s is wonderful. It creates and recalls memories all at once. We all need time markers like this to make the year feel full and real. And a cheeseburger and a beer to make it seem like it won’t ever end.

Sue tongueAs we left the restaurant the skies opened yet again. The storm had spread like a demented beach blanket across the Weather Channel map of southern Wisconsin and we got soaked on the way back to the car. Sue wrapped herself in towels in the car to keep warm. The storm chased us south, getting so dark to the north that one wondered if the end of the world would was coming about.

We barely beat the rain home, and then the skies opened up yet again as we went to remove our bikes from the back of the car. That rain washed off all the scuzz and drippings from our water bottles. It had been a hot ride north and no matter how carefully you try to take a sip, somehow the lines of sticky Gatorade or Scratch or whatever you drink sticks to the bike frame.

Storm Pano.jpgSo the day was principally washed away. Our clothes were soaked, and shoes as well. We tossed all that into the laundry and settled into watching the last stage of the Tour de France in our dry clothes with happy legs and relaxed brains.

The ride up to Chuck’s is no Tour stage, but without quick access to France, we’ll take the backroads of Illinois up to Wisconsin. You make your Tour where you can find it.

 

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