Small Men with White Goatees

gnomebikeEarlier this season I took part in a century ride on the south shore of Lake Superior, in Wisconsin. The ride was quite enjoyable, and the weather fine, but I drove home with one nagging question:

Who were all the small men with white goatees?

Diminutive men with white whiskers smiled and waved at me all day. To see 2 or 3 of them is a curiosity. 5 to 7 is a wonder. 10 or more? Well, that’s a mystery of unparalleled SMALL proportion. They were everywhere. On racing bikes, on tandems, even on mountain bikes.

What’s the chance of seeing more than a dozen S.M.W.G. over the course of 100 miles? It is common knowledge that Wisconsin is over-run by trolls, gnomes and other mythical bearded creatures that don’t seem to dwell anywhere else. This seems to be the only plausible explanation, except maybe food poisoning. I have it on good authority from a friend, who was poisoned at a questionable [and only] Chinese restaurant in Rumford, ME, that bad pork fried rice can make a person hallucinate.

I assure you there was no pork fried rice for me on that day. And in case you wondered, no sampling of local wild mushrooms, either. I suppose it will remain a mystery wrapped in the folklore of the Land of Cheese.

P.S. I’ve returned to Wisconsin twice more since that day in June, but have not seen hide, nor hair of the S.M.W.G.

I was that Fat Guy on a Bike

bikebuttGlance into the rear view mirror of life, and you’ll see that the scenery has changed. Whether the scenery is familiar or foreign, change is part of the journey. This year the change has been for the better when it comes to girth and gravity. I’m not that fat guy on a bike anymore. Yes, the scenery has changed: I weigh what I did 25 years ago.

It’s all rather startling because the image I had of myself riding my bike didn’t used to match up to the photos – but now it does. Well, mostly. I could still lose another 5 pounds, but I’m pretty ecstatic that my knees don’t bump my stomach when I ride with my hands in the drops.

tdm00There is a down side to all this reduction of mass. To begin with, I have a closet full of clothes that are too big. I know it’s a good problem to have, but replacing work clothes diverts funds away from the bicycle. Having to choose between new spandex bibs and dress pants is both sick and wrong.

You may recall the adage that the gut is the first place where fat goes, and the last place to leave? It’s true. Once every other part of my body is lean there’s a 5 pound paunch more prominent than ever. Can you picture an island in the middle of a lake that’s drying up? As the levels drop, the island becomes magically larger.

I might also add that I think I’ve lost some speed while descending, but gained some speed going up the hills.

Still, there’s a lot to be grateful for. I don’t risk structural failure of wheels and bicycle frame when I roll out of the garage. Fatty and sugar-laden foods have mostly lost their appeal. I DO love an ice cream now and again, but a small cone satisfies me.

Strange as it may seem, I’m not that fat guy on the bike anymore.

 

The Grace in Not Giving Up

24 hours before the start of the Wright Stuff century ride I came down with a cold. Frustration and disappointment ran high, because this was  my training focus for the month of August, and was the reason I’d been riding in Wisconsin these past several days. It seemed beyond my grasp that it was now all about Kleenex, alka Seltzer cold remedy, and zinc lozenges. I took the day off from riding and submitted to the above mentioned treatment of my unwelcome common cold: not knowing that a faith lesson was was coming together behind the scenes.

As I lay on the couch feeling sorry for myself, I picked up my friend Marty Kaarre’s devotional book  Breathing Holes. What I read was curious: ships are safe in a harbor, but that’s not what ships are made for. Then I read the next devotion about doing things with all our heart. DIVINE CONSPIRACY? I’m certain of it – because, after reading from three books, it was all about adventure, strength and not giving up. To be more specific, God the strength giver who shows up in my weakness.

Does God care about bike rides? I don’t really know…maybe. Does God care about what I do on a bicycle [or any other endeavor] that might impact the growth of my faith or character? Yes, I believe he does. And so, I got up this morning and went for a 101 mile bike ride that climbed the better part of 7000 feet, betting everything on this. After all, faith is the assurance of things not seen.

My cold symptoms disappeared.

I felt strong.

My form was spot on.

I did the fastest hilly ride of my life, and my nose didn’t run. Some may chalk this up to endorphins and the power of positive thinking, but when I’m sick the only thing I’m positive about is lying in bed.  Others might point to having 4600 miles in my legs this season, but I know first hand how fickle my performance can be. It was about something vastly more satisfying.

I trust in a God who’s so concerned about my Greg-ness that he sends me messages of hope and courage. More than that, he’s the Lord of head colds and the fixer of bad days. I started my day, and now end it with this conviction:

If God is for us, who can be against us?

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Mike the Bike Bard and yours truly

Three Days to Live [and die] For

foodMike and I are back in Wisconsin for more fun on the bike. The fact that we’ve knocked out 15,000 feet of climbing and 176 miles in two and a half days is a clue to how much fun we’re having. We’re working hard enough for food fantasies to crop up by mid ride:

I’m gonna make the mother of all salads tonight.

Turkey burgers with bacon and tomato.

The continuously rolling terrain peppered by numerous 15-20% climbs are a grimpeur’s delight. The climbs aren’t long by Colorado standards – gaining between 300 and 900 feet at a time. Its all about the grade. Whereas many western climbs unfold in the 5-7% range over several miles, Wisconsin climbs put all your suffering into a 1-3 mile package. The good news is, as we toil up these grades which are steeper than a cow’s face, you can see the top. Sometimes, as I’m grinding up a particularly steep section, I start giggling.

Our first day we followed our intuition – making up our route as we rolled along. Whatcha think about this? Sure, why not. Whether drawn by aforementioned intuition or by some darker force, we found ourselves at the turn off for Mounds Trail: the CAT 3, 900 foot climb up the north side of Blue Mounds State Park.

Sure why not.

As is the case when I suffer, I tell myself that I’m most likely not going to seek out any additional climbing in the near future. However, when I rolled up to the turnoff for the summit I found myself continuing to ascend. This was a noteworthy moment. It’s not just that I continued to climb, but that I did so knowing full well that ice cream was available in the opposite direction: down the hill.

Yesterday we did a 70 mile route north of Mt Horeb [alleged home of Trolls], and then south of town – no trolls, only corn and cows. In the northerly direction its all about sharp climbs and long descents through hardwood forests. The south is a study in red barns with white trim and constantly rolling corn fields. The smell of manure was in the air, and was in my jersey by the time we got back. It was a two turkey burger night, followed by me making a complete mess out of my front derailleur. More about that later.

sharetheroadToday we headed west for a brief sojourn into Iowa County: home of great cycling, and people who hate cyclists. As the story goes, an elected official of some sort tried to bully the county commissioner into forbidding cycling events in the county. From what we’ve heard, the events have continued, but not without considerable rancor on both sides. The photo to the left rather sums up the local attitude. My theory is that it has something to do with a collision between two worlds: one of carharts’s and rusty Ford F 150’s, the other of carbon and spandex.

Maybe I should investigate a flannel jersey with the arms ripped off?

Before we rolled out, Mike went to the pharmacy, said a prayer and happened to find a bike mechanic named Seth standing out on the sidewalk. So, says Mike, can you fix my friend’s bike? 

It happened just like that.

Seth the bike guy, who used to run a small shop, reset my derailleur and refused to take anything for his time. We were back in business.

We encountered a stiff challenge in three consecutive 16-22% walls that I immediately christened the ‘Perfect Pavement Pinnacles’.  The first one was so steep that both of us were climbing out of the saddle after the first 50  feet – and from a dead flat start that gave us no spare forward momentum . This was followed by a steep drop where we shifted into the big ring and pedaled furiously so that our speed would carry us a ways up the next pinnacle – thus saving us a bit of work. Repeat as needed.

As we got into the late afternoon, we began to feel the 88 degree heat and humidity. Stewart Lake appeared  to our left, and with it, a water spigot with really cold water. Mike and I spilled about 10 gallons of water paid for by Wisconsin tax payers, dousing our heads and neck. Maybe we had gotten a bit delirious in the heat. Whatever the case may be, we both found the icy water to be the height of hilarity. And why not? It was another gift of many received in a splendid three days – and we’re not done yet. On Sunday we’ll be riding the Wright Stuff Century, with close to 9K of climbing. The details may be found here.

I leave you with a final image…

stewartlake

 

 

 

Above Category with Stephen

Glacier Park is called the Crown of the Continent.  Some places are higher. Some have more soaring granite spires. But Glacier gathers majestic peaks, plunging valleys and abundant wildlife into a dense slice of wilderness spilling northward into Alberta. Crown indeed, and a fitting capstone to my adventure.

Ride a bike for a few thousand miles and you learn that the road gives us what we need. We may beg to differ, but what lies before us is what we’re getting. Accept it, or argue with it: the road delivers the goods. And it did so once again today.

As I was riding along Going to the Sun road – and just before the climb to Logan Pass started in earnest – Stephen from North London rolled up beside me. In the characteristicly friendly tone of our neighbors across the pond, he inquired whether he might join me. He proceeded to chat me up.

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My new friend Stephen

As the road steepened we talked about the recent declining fortunes of British cycling in the Tour de France,  punctuated by exclamations of delight as new vistas opened before us. It’s worth noting that having someone to distract you from your suffering during a long climb is absolutely priceless, and so we took turns following each other’s wheel.

The climb to Logan Pass is rated as HC, or above category – descriptive of a special group of ascents that are too large to fit into the normal rating system. Leave it to the French to invent a rating system and realize after the fact that some climbs don’t fit. I can imagine someone shrugging their shoulders in Mediterranean indifference and sighing,  hors categorie. At any rate, when the clouds are drifting by below you, it’s a pretty good bet that you are indeed above category.

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Stephen and I hit the final straightaway before the pass in good form, and I rolled into the parking lot declaring victory in words understood only by cyclists:

Nice go
Got that sorted out
Had good legs today
Chapeau

After getting yelled at by the Rangers for rolling up the handicap ramp (to log 10 more feet of elevation), we grabbed water and descended 900 feet to the east of the pass. Turning around, we climbed back to the summit – the glaciers and snow fields shining like all the diamonds in the world.

The road gave me what I needed today,  and has consistently done so these last nine days. Whether flying along at 30 mph in the lap of a fast tailwind,  or suffering alone through yet another set of steep switchbacks, I got what I was supposed to have. How much time is spent looking past the right now, thinking that there’s something better we’d rather have?

The road is not random. Neither is it an impersonal convergence of capricious circumstances dealt to us by the so-called universe. I can find no courage or hope in this. Rather, the road is built on the kind intention of a God who became human for a season and dwelt among us…full of grace and truth. He brings what we need in the journey, and travels with us to give us someone we can look to when the road rises above category.

And so, this stage comes to an end: 450 miles ridden and 23,265 feet climbed. The road now leads home to the embrace of my girls.Thanks to all of you who took time to read these thoughts.

See you on the road.

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Tour de Montana: Day 5

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So I had this idea. Why not climb back to the top,  and re-descend our first pass of the day? That way I can chip away at my 20K goal. I left 10 minutes late and was still going up as the last group to depart was going down. After I finished my climb it dawned on me that the entire group was ahead of me. What I failed to take into account was that I’d have to chase back onto the group for 60 Km.

And chase I did…averaging 21-22 mph with no one – DARN THEM – to draft behind . My oops turned into an impromptu time trial, with me pedaling furiously across the Montana farmscape. The isolation of a rural highway is profound, and worry began to rise. But as I applied myself to my work, the miles disappeared beneath me, and the support van and Owen’s bearded face appeared.

Upon arrival at camp, my committment  to suffering with extra climbing was acknowledged with a ceremonial dousing with a fire hose. Pictures,  sadly,  are not yet available.

Right at 18K of climbing with high hopes that I can scratch out 2000 more tomorrow. 86 miles and 3900 feet climbed.

Tour de Montana Day 4: Resurrection Day

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The aftermath of a big day of climbing is what we call…RECOVERY. Upon arrival yesterday we limped to an icy cold creek and proceeded to soak our legs for 10 minutes. You do your best to cut your losses and live to ride another day.

It was a clearly sluggish start. Another cup  of coffee? Heck yeah!  And so rolled around 9 with stiff legs and a sense of humor.  You could tell everyone was recovering: sitting up and chatting between hills…photo opps…extra water breaks.

Took me all of 40 miles to spin out my legs. After that we hit the second pass of the day and crushed it. With only 59 miles for the day, we pulled in at about 130. Extended recovery: cold beer, cold water swim, and a session on the foam roller worked their magic.

The picture above is the so – dubbed espresso group of Peter, Tom, myself, Pat, and our guide Ian. Craig was behind the camera. I can’t think of a better group to ride with. Craig does this thing where he quietly slips beside you, and slips his hand in your jersey pocket while having a chat with you. You  then feel a tug backwards as he uses your clothing as a rubber band to launch himself past you. To watch it happening to someone else reduced me to hysterics every time.

59 miles and 3105 climbed.

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