Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. ~JFK

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Vote for Charlie Brown's Headbadge!

One of the neat things about my Globe Vienna 4 is that you can customize the headbadge.   As someone who changes my desktop photo at least weekly, the impermanence of this appeals to me.  Globe simply added a frame where the headbadge is normally affixed that allows you to slide your own picture into the slot.  I like knowing I can update that photo with the seasons, with pictures I've found or taken, with quotes or poems or even abstract color badges. 

You saw the super temporary first headbadge in the last post.  Now I would like you to vote and let me know which of the following pictures you think will look best on Charlie Brown.



Pick Charlie Brown's next headbadge!

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

At First Sight

It is so good to finally have my new bike in my possession.  Friday evening I went to the LBS to pick it up and was impressed with how kind and friendly the bike shop employees were.  One of them helped to put the bike onto my car rack for me.  One of the mechanics even took time on his way to his car to explain a detail about the bottom bracket that I was confused about.  I'm already looking forward to taking the bike back to the shop because I know they will treat me well.  Unfortunately by the time I got to the shop and then home it was dark out so there was no test ride that evening.  I couldn't keep myself from looking at my bike as it sat between the living and dining room.  This is his home until I can pop a kickstand on him.

I say him because on the way home my bike's name came to me. I had been researching Austrian names and things that have to do with Vienna all day because my bike is a Vienna 4 model.  Of course I was going to try and be witty with the name.  Well, then on my way home I was thinking about my brown bike and the color just stuck with me.  Then out of nowhere there it was.  My bike will hereafter be known as "Charlie Brown" aka "Chuck".  This has about a thousand different meanings for me, but the most relevant is that it makes me smile.  Charlie Brown is not super athletic, but he is steady.  That's how my new bike feels.

We took Chuck out on his first ride on Saturday morning.  We decided to do our favorite greenway trail because of the scenery and the length.  I took Chuck around the parking lot for a few minutes to get used to the gears.  Then I let Becca ride him for a few minutes.  Then we were off down the trail and I had the biggest smile on my face the whole way.

A few things I noticed about Charlie Brown right off.  He is taller then the distinguished gentleman, Kenta (who is insulted when I refer to him as "the old bike").  Chuck's handlebars are wider which immediately made me feel steadier and safer.  His tires are wider and offer a smoother ride and also add to the stability.  The internal gears are positively blissful they are so easy to change.  And Chuck has a bell which I love.  Love.  It is nice to give people on the greenway a warning when I am still a bit far back, so they know I'm coming and then when I get close I still give the proper "on your left call".  Now though I can do it a bit closer and at a much more pleasant volume.

The greenway we chose offers a few small hills, some road crossings and several intersections with other branches of the greenway system which were also all great opportunities for bell ringing.  Before too long I had to ask that we stop so Charlie Brown and I could have a photo op.  Charlie is not vain, but I insisted!  Then it was back on our way.

Going up the hills was so easy with the low gearing, and I felt so confident really letting loose going down the other side.  This was like a whole new world!  I felt safe and comfortable and steady.  And none of that means Charlie is a plodding old workhorse.  Quite the opposite! I felt comfortable swerving my way down the trail, using my weight to shift the direction.  I had never gotten quite that comfortable on Kenta.  I also felt comfortable riding with one hand again.  I could barely take a drink of water when riding Kenta because if I hit one little root bump or a freakin' acorn or something I was risking life and limb!

When we reached the end of the trail, I coerced Becca into stopping for a few more pictures.  While I was "in the zone" she took a break on the nearby bench.  I was startled to hear a man start talking from a few feet behind me!  I hadn't even heard him pull up!  We talked for several minutes about the planned extension of the greenway and bike riding in general.  Then we noticed a very tall bike rider coming down the trial with some children and a friend.  He looked really odd from  distance and as he came closer we saw he was on a unicycle!  He and his group stopped and talked with us for another 10 minutes or so and he told us all about riding the unicycle and how he had become interested as a way to work his core muscles. He said it took 10-15 hours of riding time before he became at all comfortable on the unicycle.  After a few more minutes we turned around and started back.

I was shocked to realize we had been out riding and chatting and taking pictures for over an hour and a half.  I couldn't stop grinning about my new bike and how wonderful it felt to ride.  I love the more upright position, the comfortable stance and the greater stability.  I can't get over the difference.  On the way home, I told Becca, "For my needs right now, I could not have ended up with a more perfect bike". 

Watch out Peppermint Patty--I'm in love with Charlie Brown!

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

My Globe Experience Story

So how did this all happen? How did I win a free bike from Globe and become one of their team of bloggers?
I first found out about Globe Bikes on the Bikes for the Rest of Us blog.  I went from there to the Globe bikes website and sat drooling over the different models of bikes.  I looked at every model, but became most interested in the Live and Haul models.  A few more minutes browsing took me to the Globe "culture" page which just had a short blurb about a blogging contest on the Globe Facebook page

I spent the entire rest of that day trying to think of something I could blog about--some reason that would justify winning a bike.  I was so excited about the contest I told coworkers, I called Becca at work and told her and I wrote a draft of what I wanted to say in my entry.  As soon as I got home from work I ran to the computer and pulled up the Facebook contest page.  I started looking at the other entries.  I read page after page of great writing, witty entries, stunning videos and funny stories.  And then I stepped away from the computer and the contest and went about my business.  I didn't think it was even worth trying.  First off, I never win anything (and is it just me or does everyone who wins something say that?).  It's true though. Secondly, those other entries were downright intimidating. 

Over the next couple of weeks I checked in a couple times on the contest, but mostly I pushed it from my mind.  I still found myself drafting an entry in my head.  Finally on the last day of the project I sat down and tapped out a stream of consciousness entry (which can still be found here).  I submitted it and then tried to put the whole thing out of my mind for awhile. I would check in every couple of days to see what was going on with the contest.  I was excited to see who they picked.  That is not a job I could have done--there were a lot of amazing entries from all over the globe (ok I meant to do that).

Then one day I decided to check on the contest again, as I waited for Becca to come home.  We were planning on taking a bike ride down by the golf course that night.  I saw a message posted that Globe was trying to contact people about their finalists and to make sure that if you entered the contest, your personal settings let people contact you on Facebook.  I changed my settings immediately.  Hope springs eternal I guess!  I then noticed I had a new message asking if I could add Jessica from Globe to my friends list.  Now I was getting excited!  Still, caution overrode my excitement.  I updated Becca and then we took off on our bike ride.  I remember we both laughed at the thought of me winning something (anything!) much less one of these bikes I had been lusting over!

Sure enough though, when we got home I had a message telling me I had been chosen as a blogger for the Globe Experience.  I can't tell you how many times I thought this whole thing was a joke, or that I was gonna find out it wasn't true.  I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Man, am I glad those doubts were baseless. Already the Globe Experience has proven to be an inspiration for me to keep reaching for my health goals.  I read the blogs of the other "Globers" and their stories lift my spirits and keep me motivated. 

After talking with Jessica about my riding needs, we decided that the Vienna model was a better fit for me.  She was great about helping me out with the technical details--I am still a newbie as they say and still trying to figure out and learn about the technical aspects of bikes.  I think I have spent hours looking at the picture of my soon to be bike.   I haven't had a new bike since I was maybe 16, so this is as good as Christmas morning for me. 

This is my bike today:

I love it for it's classic character, for it's timeless good looks, for the fact that it's my age.  I love it for where it has taken me, both physically and mentally/emotionally.  I love that it makes a "pair" with Becca's bike which is a white mixte.  I like that it's steel  and has 12 gears.  I like its "old school" odometer.  I love "Kenta" as I so lovingly named it -- if the internet can be trusted at all that means "well-built" which I thought fitting.  Every now and then I will probably take that bike on a ride, just for old times sake.

This is my new bike:

Tomorrow, I go to pick up my new Globe Vienna 4 at the local bike shop.  I am so excited to ride it, see it, and love it. 

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

C'mon Baby Light My Fire

After reading this post and the ensuing comment about the glories of nighttime riding, I've been able to think of nothing else--even though I am "working" and should be plugging away at my case load.  I know that when I do get my bike, I am going to need to do some night riding because 1. I won't be able to stay off my wonderful new bike and 2. my work schedule has a possibility or changing which would mean a commute in the darkness on the days I ride to work.  So it seems inevitable that lights for my bike are in my future.  The question is which ones to get.

I've mentioned a few times that I'm a "cheapskate" but that word just has such a negative connotation.  What I mean is that I don't really throw my money around and if there is a bargain to be had, it's got my name all over it.  This is tempered by the fact that I don't want to buy things 6 times because my cheap piece of crap whatever keeps breaking.  I'm not the type of girl who buys a lot of products in my search for "the one".  I try to do some research and come up with some good ideas and then ask someone knowledgeable either at the store or sometimes I email a complete stranger who seems to know what is going on.  I'm not at the point in my life where I think about things lasting forever or until I'm 80 or the rest of my life. I want it to last awhile--say a couple or maybe 5 years minimum.   I want something that works now, is of good quality and is not super expensive.  It's a bonus if the product is made in the USA.

I've done a little looking at lights and have thought of what I want my lights to do and here is what I've come up with: 

1. I want a headlamp and an additional light mounted on my bike.  (I'm thinking mounted low instead of on the handlebars so that it is focused on the road.)
2.  I want the light/s to have setting that include flashing/steady preferably with a range of brightnesses.
3. I want the headlamp to be something I can also wear without my helmet.  (You know, for all the  spelunking I do.) No, but seriously.   
4.  I want a taillight that also has various settings.  I haven't decided if I will mount this on my rack or on the back of the seat.  Since my commute route would be through some heavily trafficked areas this needs to make me VISIBLE
5. I'm thinking I will need to go battery powered at this point which is fine as I probably won't be using the bike everyday for commuting.  Though I like the thought of the dynamos, honestly at this point, it's not a huge factor to me.

I don't have $300 to spend on the top of the line lighting system for my bike, but I do want my setup to keep me safe and help me feel confident with riding at night.  Since I'm scared of getting squashed this is very important.  I'm also looking into illuminating my bike as well- but that is not my first priority. I read a good article in Bicycle Times Magazine about lights last month.  Check it out here and here is one on  blinkies.   Ecovelo also has some good articles here  and here as well as stellar content day in and day out. 

A few of the candidates I have looked at so far in my limited search are (in no particular order):

Velo Orange Cateye:

Planet Bike Blaze

Planet Bike  Sport Spot:

Planet Bike Dynamo:

Planet Bike 1200:


RivBike EOS:

I don't know what other companies have a reputation for quality, or the specifics of the performance for any of the above lights.  Any reader suggestions?  Anyone have a really good or bad experience with any of these or with a light I haven't listed?   Anyone have a great lighting setup to share as an example?

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Monday, November 16, 2009

A Perfect Day on the Hill of Death

Yesterday was a perfect day for riding.  The sun was shining, the air was warm and there was that crisp warm smell/feeling to the air that can only be described as “autumn.”  We decided to head down the road to ride near the golf course, despite the fact that it has been awhile since we have ridden on the road and there is a killer hill on the way home.  It was warm enough for shorts and a t-shirt and the sun felt wonderful on my arms and face.  We start out slowly up a small hill, cut behind the gas station and then were whizzing down the hill towards the gold course community—this hill is much more fun in this direction.  I had recently put a mirror on my helmet and spend as much time adjusting it and looking back as I did watching where I was going.

We turn into the neighborhood which has wide streets and even a bike lane for at least half its length.  The houses are stunning, the golf course beautiful and there are always plenty of people out walking and running.  Near the end of the road there is a relatively easy hill, but today it leaves us both puffing for air.  Funny (in a sad, pathetic way) how quickly the body reverts to sloth mode.  A couple weeks hanging out on the couch rewatching the entire “Sex and the City” series is all it takes to turn my lungs into wimps.  My legs feel fine, but my lungs are struggling. 

We reach the end of the road where we normally turn around and head home and take a few minutes to discuss doing that or heading a little further down the crossroad to see if we can make it to this wonderful French bakery.  We aren’t planning on eating anything, but want to see how far it is for the future—it’s in the plans to take a jaunt down here on a weekend for some brunch.  We decide to go for it because it doesn’t seem much further.  So we push off and sure enough it’s not even 2 minutes further down the road.  This is now a definite plan for the future.  I’m thrilled with the idea of riding my bike somewhere that I might normally drive. 

As we go to pull out of the parking lot I notice a coworker pulling in, so we turn around and spend a few minutes chatting.  This, by the way, is the best way to meet your coworker's family—covered in sweat and wearing a bike helmet.  I highly recommend it. 

We decide to use the sidewalk (gasp) to get back to the golf course street so we can avoid crossing a busy 4 lane road twice in half a mile.  Of course no sooner do we begin our breach of biking etiquette than two pedestrians (who actually belong on the sidewalk) step out in front of us with their dog. Becca starts muttering about “this is why bikes aren’t supposed to be on the sidewalk” or some such and we slow down to coast a good ways behind the couple instead of passing and annoying the crap out of them.  Fortunately they notice us on their own and were gracious enough to step off the sidewalk and let us go by.  We thank them and hurry on our way. 

The ride through the neighborhood is easygoing and fun and the day still feels perfect.  About halfway down the street my nerves start to kick in regarding the monstrous hill coming up.  I think Becca calls it the devil hill or hill of death or something, but she can usually plug her way up it without looking like she is gonna die.  We try to get some momentum going and Becca rides right on my wheel yelling encouragements and cheering me on.  How she does all this yelling and still is able to breathe I don’t know.  I crawl my way towards the railroad tracks which marks the end of the most difficult part of the hill.  As we cross them I take a brief second to coast about 5 feet which feels wonderful.  Then it’s a slow measured pace for another hundred yards or so to our habitual resting area so I can catch my breath. 

We pull off and I’m feeling pretty good except for puffing and wheezing.  My legs don’t hurt and I think I can just drink a little water and go on.  But the longer we stand there the more I start to feel distinctly not ok.  Within a minute my head is whirling and I am so dizzy I can’t stand.  I sit down trying to get my head to stop reeling. After a few minutes I stand back up which is a mistake. Now I feel nauseous.  I kneel back down thinking I am actually going to throw up, head still spinning.  Becca waits nearby asking every couple of minutes if I am ok.  She suggests we start walking.  So we walk a few hundred feet up the sidewalk in which time my head does not feel any better.  I figure I might as well ride if I am gonna feel so shitty.  So we hop on and I start out very very slowly.  I almost cannot remain upright on my bike.  My brain is trying to figure out why I feel like this but all I can think about is how my head is spinning.  I stare at the road in front of my wheel trying to just push on through the dizziness and nausea.  Finally I pull over and collapse on the ground again.  At this point I’m thinking I would feel better if I DID throw up.  Becca pulls off and asks what is going on.  I’m irritated that she is irritated so I tell her to just go home without me -- which of course I don’t mean, and am very glad when she ignores my suggestion.  After about 5-7 minutes of lying flat out I start to feel better.  I get back on the bike and head home and it takes maybe only 5 more minutes to get there.  I feel ok by this point, until I have to heave my bike up to the 2nd floor.  Then it all comes back and I just collapse on the bed under the fan for 5 minutes.  The only thing that spurs me to move is that the Steelers game is on in 40 minutes and I have to shower and meet a friend to watch it. 

It was basically one of the most wonderful and awful bike rides I have ever been on all at the same time.    Sometimes when I have a bad day like this, it's easy to think about chucking my bike off the nearest bridge, or accidentally leaving it on the train tracks.  It's easy to kick myself and think about how I should have been riding everyday and this might not happen, or let myself focus on how from from my goals I am.  I can't always ignore those negative thoughts.  Usually, though I try to think about the fact that a year ago I was always sitting on my fat ass and watching tv, that I wouldn't have even attempted the hill of death.  I try to remember that it wasn't so long ago that I could barely WALK up the hill of death.  I think about the fact that my legs actually didn't feel bad at all during the ride and that when I started my legs would cramp after a few short miles.  And then I try to think about what I am trying to do, the goals I have made for myself, and the distance I have come so far.  I would rather fail on this hill of death a  thousand times, than be in the place I was at this time last year.   At least I'm trying now.  And sometimes it takes a rough day to make the triumphs more valuable. 

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Sunday, November 8, 2009


When I was growing up, I had a Huffy (made in the USA) with a banana seat.  It probably was cheap and it lasted me for something like 8 years.  After that my little sister had to use it for a couple years.  My parents put streamers on it, put those fun little spoke things that made cool clinking noises on and finished it with a basket.  My sister was not impressed but that bike just wouldn’t die.

 I then graduated to my first bike with speeds.  It was this sparkly, glittery thing with shiny fabric encasing the handlebars.  I wouldn’t be caught dead on it today.  By that time Walmart had invaded our area so that’s where the bike was from because you could get a “good” bike for around $100.  It was of course in the mountain bike vein and I loved that bike.  I could finally keep up with my brother on his 12 speed.  At some point in high school, he upgraded to an extravagant $500 Schwinn mountain bike. My whole family thought he had lost his damn mind.  We were sure of it when his handlebars bent after a 4 day weekend camping trip where we found the best jump ever and spent nearly the whole weekend riding up the hill and flying back down over that jump.  One just didn’t spend that kind of money on a bike.  It was frivolous. A bike was a bike was a bike. 

I rode my bike on long looping routes around my parents’ house.  My route included tar and chip pavement, dirt roads, old logging roads and the busy blacktopped road that ran past our house.   I would take these long rides and spend the time thinking and sorting through my crazy adolescent brain.  It was an escape, a therapy, a relaxation, and an adventure. 

When I went to college I left my bike at home.  It never crossed my mind to use it as “transportation”.  Where I was from a bike could take you to the fishing hole, but town was 10 miles in one direction or 12 in the other.  People didn’t ride bikes for transportation.  I would occasionally ride my bike on summer breaks, mostly when my family went on camping trips.  Then a bike was a great way to get to the swimming area or down to the camp store for ice cream. 

After I graduated college I moved to North Carolina.  At that point a bike was the stationary kind in the fitness center.  I liked using that better than the treadmill because I could read while pedaling.  My ass always hurt after 45 minutes of chafing against the seat, but I could really plow through a book that way. 

My entire perspective on bikes changed beginning this year in January.  I found the old 3 speed and started venturing out on paved trails.  Anytime I become interested in something new I read every book I can get my hands on about the subject.  I spend hours on the internet reading blogs, magazine sites, forums, newspaper articles, etc.  I search through secondhand bookstores for old books on the subject for a sort of historical perspective.  I absorb every bit of information I can.   I like to know the culture surrounding my topic, the way it has developed over the years. So that’s what I did with bikes.  I got maintenance manuals that are new, and some from the 80’s some from the 90’s.  I found old articles written when bicycling was in its infancy.    I probably spent as much time reading as riding. 

I learned a lot.  I learned that seat adjustment matters and adjusted my seat.  That persistent pain in my thighs disappeared.  I read all about assembling a little bike first aid kit and starting plotting my own.  I read about training and time trials and intervals and decided I liked the joy of riding too much to ever go down that path.  It wasn’t and isn’t for me.  I learned how to pop a chain back on after Becca threw hers in the middle of our ride.  I learned tips for cleaning up my little antique bike and soon had it shining.  I read about bike touring and bike camping and spent hours dreaming of when one day I could do those things.  I am still a beginner, still in my own biking infancy, but I now understand the vast amount that there is to learn. 

I bought old bikes for myself and for Becca because I like old shit.  It fascinates and intrigues me.  I didn’t think about the availability of parts or whether the bikes were compatible or anything that really matters.  I thought about price and whether it was a mixte and how old it was.  Those were my criteria.  Not weight, or material, or personalization.  Mostly, it was just about money. So now we have two great looking, beautifully classic bikes.  They don’t really suit us in a lot of ways, but as seemed to be true in my childhood, a bike is a bike is a bike.  They are still useful because they are functional.  Maybe my ignorance has been bliss.  Either way they have helped to get us through the last several months.  They have provided entertainment, and escape, and release and adventure and have been wonderful to ride.  I guess the difference now is that I see the limits that they inherently have.  When I want to ride on the unpaved trails in the park, I stop and think about whether our old warriors are up to that challenge. (They aren’t, methinks). 

Now I can see why one might want to own 10 bikes (or 30!).  I understand that a bike is not really like a car.  One doesn’t really fulfill all the basic requirements for different activities.  With a car, I can run to the grocery store, the library, downtown for a night out, to work, or even tackle the 12 hour drive to my parents all with the same vehicle.  Not so with bikes.  I don’t know why that wasn’t obvious before, but it wasn’t. 

I know that when I talk with people at work or with friends or family about bikes they seem to think that way as well.  Why would I need more than one bike?  Can’t I just use the bike I have to commute?  Not to mention how strange the variances of handlebars and gear ratios and tire widths seem to them (and me in some cases).  I think once you become interested in some aspect of biking it can turn into a whole bright and shiny new world with thousands of possibilities.  But to an average person a bike is a bike is a bike.  And all the talk comparing bikes to cars just makes it more confusing.  Most people have 1 car or maybe 2 per family.  Those people go to Walmart and by the prettiest bike they can for $125, ride it a couple dozen times and then put it up in the garage until it is unearthed 3 years later and posted on Craigslist. 

I think the frame of the conversation it was needs to change.  Maybe we could compare bikes to clothes, or shoes, or cooking pans, or even other sports equipment.   You can’t use a baseball to play volleyball and you can’t use a cruiser on a mountain bike trail.  You can’t use heels for hiking or sprinting unless you are the heroine on an ABC show.  You don’t wear your Brooks Brothers suit to the gym or the swimming pool.  Maybe that frame of reference would make more sense to people.  Maybe then it would matter more that you buy the right bike, not just a bike.  People will spend $300-$500 dollars on the newest Xbox or Playstation console and a few games.  But ordinary people do not go out and spend that much money on a bike even though it was many more uses than the Xbox and arguably can provide a lot better entertainment as well.

Additionally people who live in the suburbs will find it is simply not convenient to replace a car with a bike no matter how many other people have done so and written a book about it telling everyone else it is possible.  It may be possible for me to hop on my bike and run to the library, but getting groceries is out of the question.  There is no road that leads from my house to the grocery store except highways and interstates. The traffic renders the road in front of our apartment complex extremely dangerous for several hours each weeknight.  No bike ride is worth risking my life for, no matter who is preaching that gospel. 

I guess what I’m saying is that the conversation around bikes could be more friendly to “everyday” “average” people.  Sometimes it’s not simply about “making it happen”.  And if the conversation revolves around competitions and environmental causes and exercise, average everyday people are not going to be jumping on the bandwagon by the thousands.  There are thousands of approaches to talking about bikes, sharing the love of bikes with others and trying to get new people involved in bike culture.  My personal favorite is simply that it’s a hell of a lot of fun. 

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Friday, November 6, 2009

A cold March day

A story from my teenage riding days:

I remember my first big kid bike.  It was a cheapo "mountain bike" from Wally World.  I did actually use it for trails.  I lived out in the boondocks so there were no greenways, no maintained mountain bike trails.  I discovered some old logging roads on the hill behind my house. I had to take a circuitous route to get back to them but then I would ride their grassy lanes for hours.  I know I couldn’t do the same loop today if I tried. 

I remember one day getting too cold about halfway through the route.  Halfway put me nearly directly behind my house albeit probably nearly a mile away.  I never ever cut across the loop because the river ran on a parallel line between the two long sides of the loop.  The trail was on one side, my house inaccessible across the river on the other side. Well this particular day in March I was done riding at that halfway point.  It was too cold to keep going.  I decided to bisect my loop.

The logging road at this point was directly above the river and that drop was pretty damn steep.  No way could I ride down it.  So I picked up my bike and clambered down the hill.  On a tiny strip of land at the bottom I stood looking across the river, plotting my attack.  I had of course come down where a stream joined the river and where it was pretty wide.  It was not super deep, but it was swift. 

 I touched the water to gauge the temperature.  Um, it was freezing.  I decided I could ride across on my bike so I wouldn't have to get wet.  I would need to take my shoes off incase I tipped and needed to put a foot down.  For some reason this seemed perfectly logical at the time.  I strung my shoes together and looped them over my shoulder, placed the bike in the water and pushed off.  I got about 1/3 of the way across before I reached the place where the current became strong.  My bike slipped on the gravelly bottom of the river, and I starting tipping.  I stuck out my sock clad foot and caught myself, but there was no way I would be able to get back on and start across again.  The water was higher in the middle than I had thought and the current so strong I could barely hold my bike while standing. 

 The shock of that icy water was unreal. It was painful.  And I still had to get more than halfway across.  I took a brief moment to reassess.  If I turned back I would have to climb back up to the logging road and still ride a couple of miles to get home.  But ahead of me the river looked fierce and the distance to the other side was intimidating.  My jeans were getting heavy as they got more and more wet while I stood there debating.

I plunged ahead, almost losing my bike from my grasp a few times.  As I neared the opposite bank, I realized there was no good place to climb out.  The bank was high and the water very deep right next to it.  I turned downstream and cut an angle towards the lowest point I could see.  I was freezing and all I could think was pain.  And then I slipped and fell.  I managed to keep ahold of my bike but now I was soaked.  At that point there was no reason to try to maintain any dignity.  I thrashed and stumbled my way to the bank.  I threw my bike up ahead of me and dragged myself up by a tree root.  I lay there panting and thinking that it was still a ways to get home.  My feet were so cold all I could feel was pain.  My jeans were starting to stiffen with the cold.  My shoes had gotten soaked in the fall—so much for the idea of keeping them dry!

After a few minutes, I got up and walked my bike for a few hundred yards until I got to the grassy lane that ran along the edge of the large field between me and the house.  I got on and slowly started down the trail.  My range of motion was limited due to my wet jeans. I didn’t make it very fair before I had to get off.  I couldn’t stay upright.  I slowly pushed my bike along the lane thinking only that every step was so painful I could barely make myself keep going. 

I finally turned the corner and there across the field was my house.  I could see the lights and the smoke from our chimney.  As I started across the field, I was hit by a blast of wind.  With no trees to blunt it the wind was strong and of course cold.  It was after all March and there was snow on the ground.  It’s probably only a few hundred yards across the field, but that day it felt like miles.  I remember staring at the ground in front of me instead of my house which seemed to never get any closer.  I finally reach our yard.  I was shivering and my skin hurt.  I put my bike away and stumbled into the house.  My mom took one look and came running.  She helped me peel off my frozen clothes and wrapped a blanket around me and then took me to sit next to the woodstove.  I drank some hot tea while telling her about my little trip across the river.  She just listened shaking her head the whole time.  After a warm shower I looked out our back window at the hill I had been on only an hour before.  It was starting to get dark and I remember thinking, “Next time…” 

That doesn't happen after a day of watching TV or playing Playstation. 

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Tuesday, November 3, 2009


I remember the day clearly. I remember the sound of her voice over the sound of the tinny Christmas music playing on the mall speakers. I remember my heart thudding and my palms sweating. I remember so many details and the exact words she used: "The doctor says to tell you you have diabetes." That's it. I asked her what I was supposed to do. She said the doctor says diet and exercise for three months. Then come in. Have a good day.

It was a bombshell. I was in shock. I remember thinking "I am 26 years old. This can't be true." I remember feeling impatient for my friends to finish in the store so I could go have a cigarette. I remember the shame of telling my girlfriend and my parents. I remember the fear mixed with an odd sense of relief that it had finally happened. It was no longer something just around the corner, no longer something to fear. Now it was something to be faced and dealt with.

Since graduating college I had been waiting for that call. I was overweight in college, but put on over 50 pounds in 4 years. I had noticed the reduced range of motion. The shortness of breath I attributed to my 1.5-2.5 packs of cigarettes a day. I knew my diet wasn't the healthiest...ok it was awful. I was a couch potato punctuated by periodic bouts of guilt that drove my to the gym for 2 weeks before I grew bored or overwhelmed and ended up back on the couch. I knew I had issues but I never could quite work up the motivation to face them.

The next few days passed in a blur and finally I was home from the holidays and faced an irony as soon as I stepped in the door. Between the actual Dr. appointment and going home I had gone to the library and gotten several books on eating real food. They were waiting for me like the 4 horsemen of the apocalypse when I walked through the door. I read 3 of them that week. I started talking with my girlfriend, Becca. She's a bit more of a planner than I am so I needed her help. We revised out eating plan, starting shopping at different stores, cut out most of the fast food. I thought back to previous attempts to get well--the various tests, prescriptions, diets given by nutritionists. None of that worked for me. I knew I didn't want to be on medication my whole life, but knew my doctor would put me on some at my next appointment. I thought of the myriad of diets that had been prescribed and the rigorous task of fitting the actual act of eating into guidelines of x amount of fiber and x calories per day and so on and so forth. I couldn't make myself do all that again.

I started looking for a homeopathic doctor while tackling the diet on my own. I had discovered the world of “real food” and it made sense. I connected with the idea on a very deep level and devoted myself to it. I was determined to beat this without medication for life. I was so scared. I finally found a naturopath and set up an appointment. Then 3 days before the appointment I told Becca that I was going to quit smoking. I just couldn't justify spending money to see a doctor not covered by insurance and then continue to kill myself for hours a day. I was smoking 30-45 cigarettes a day. That is 3.5 hours a day devoted just to smoking. I was so scared to quit. I was also ready to quit. I remember I made a big deal of it. I went to the park by the lake and I remember being very aware of everything around me. I remember the rocking dock and the gray sky and a small white feather floating nearby. I remember walking off that dock thinking over and over again “I will never smoke again.”

I went to the doctor appointment and was pleasantly surprised to find she supported the way of eating I had discovered. We came up with a plan and she went over the blood work with me. She said that I was technically 2 points away from being diabetic. That did not relieve me. I remember her asking questions and as I answered realizing how my body was already being vastly affected by my lifestyle. I had been oblivious. She did a sensitivity test on my feet. I was not allowed to look as she asked can you feel this can you feel that. I didn't feel anything, but I glanced over at Becca and saw her wincing. She later told me that the doctor was piercing my foot with a needle. I didn't even feel it. That's called neuropathy—nerve damage from the high levels of blood sugar. That scared me. A lot.

Anyway, that first few weeks was a pretty crazy time for me. I get home from work an hour before Becca. I usually spent that time reading and smoking and drinking coffee. Well, I cut out the smoking and the coffee. Becca would come home and find me in the kitchen with all the cupboards contents strewn about or in the bedroom with everything that had once been neatly placed in the closet all over the room. “What are you doing,” she would ask. “Feeling manic” I would reply. It was a very productive time for me! I got through the worse of it and starting trying to work on the other parts of the plan. That included exercise (yes, I am finally getting to the point of the whole story!). The plan called for 4-8 hours a week. Right.

I love being outside so we started taking long walks. Becca was running at that time and suggested I come with her. HA! I think it was her brother that suggested I could bike while she ran. I am by nature a cheapskate so I immediately started looking on Craigslist for a new ride. I found a gorgeous, and more importantly, old bike that fit the bill. I was so excited for that bike. It needed some work, which I had planned on doing myself. So I bought another cheap bike—it wasn't old but it was functional and I had devised a plan to get Becca to bike with me instead of running. Before long the old Sears 3 speed was up and running, no thanks to me. We started with greenways. God bless greenways. Smooth, mostly flat. We picked the longest ones we could and I struggled with even 6 miles. Especially on the trails with even slight hills. Soon it dawned on me that perhaps a single speed cruiser and 3 speed might not be cutting the mustard for us. Hey, cut me some slack, I was (am) new at this. The last bike I had was in high school and to me a bike was a bike was a bike.

So I sold them both and bought two more beautiful Craigslist finds. This time 10 and 12 speeds. They were old which was actually a criteria on my list. An old Puegeot and Fuji. And guess what? Gears make a difference. We started riding some on the roads around our house. We were doing a lot of hiking at this point, spending sometimes an hour after working cruising the local parks. These were gentle hikes, but we tried to get out on weekends and do some more intense stuff. And we liked to mix it up with biking. Before summer's end we we pretty confident on 2 different routes around our house and when we finally went back to our favorite greenway it was not even challenging! We reached the end and decided to hop on the road and ride a little while. It was such a victory and such a confidence boost to have some tangible progress.

With biking as a big part of my exercise, my health has really improved. I have lost 25 pounds. Oh and I am still smoke free nearly 8 months later. And breathing is a good thing when you like biking. I would even call it important. At the 6 month mark my blood work showed that I was no longer even prediabetic! My blood sugar was low middle range, my fatty liver had been reversed and my cholesterol levels had dropped dramatically. Now I think a lot of that is the diet I have chosen, but I know that the weeks I stopped exercising I stopped feeling good. Biking has played a huge part in regaining my health. And as the commercials say, that is priceless.

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