Habitat 500…Last Day

In any endurance event you try to have the end in sight from the beginning. In between we have no control over the challenges from weather, terrain, or for that matter, what’s going on in our heads. Every day the end goal gets us out of bed and on the bike: get through today, and be one day closer to the end.

On this last day the miles quickly disappeared beneath me. Final days are often like this for me. The quiet hum of the drivetrain and the natural sounds of the forest were my soundtrack. Psalm 46 played in my thoughts: God is within her. My effort was steady – in the sweet-spot between hard and not too hard.

Endurance cycling is, for me, a rich metaphor for my relationship with Christ as savior and Lord:

Let us throw off everything that hinders, and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12.1-2).

Some days we fly along. Some days drag on forever. Some days we want to quit. But as we fix our eyes on Jesus we WILL cross the finish line.

Thanks for reading.

Grace and courage, friends.

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Habitat 500 Day 4…Iron and Rain

Riding 78 miles happens quickly on a sunny day…on a rainy day the same miles seem to take longer. Of course, I’m not speaking of real time. I’m speaking of bicycle time – which is governed by by pedal rotation rather than the rotation of the earth.

On any given day bike time is influenced by wind, weather, heat, hills, bumpy roads, tiredness, freshness and other such things. Today it was rain, stretches of broken pavement and a headwind. But…it’s still time on the bike, and that brings a smile.

We’re in the Iron Range where even the dirt is iron oxide red. Iron and taconite mining have been the foundation of the economy here for over 100 years. The mining is down right now, and times are hard. One bright spot while passing through Eveleth was two Habitat homes under construction with twenty-plus more completed homes bringing hope to a struggling community.

My friend Nathan Thompson is the executive director of North St. Louis county Habitat. He runs a ministry – there’s no mistaking it – Jesus is everywhere. He’s been accepted by the community because of how he and his staff have served with love and faithfulness.

A locomotive that hauled ore to Lake Superior shipping ports

Habitat 500 Day 3…Entering the Big Woods

Sometimes you simply must stop and look

The first day of a bike tour is typically energetic. It’s all about anticipation and dreams of effortlessly devouring the miles. On the second day it dawns that you’ve gotten yourself into some serious effort…a sobering thought. The third day is the day where aches and pains manifest themselves. It also signals the middle of the tour: might as well keep going since I made it this far.

Today’s 80 miles began with tight legs. Overnight I had dreams of bad things happening on the bike, but I still got up at 5:15 and got dressed hoping for better. At the first rest stop I found THE stretch that released all the tension in my legs, and then the fastest 80 miles I’ve done in quite sometime.

The route wound through pine and spruce forests past some recent logging operations. The smell of fresh cut timber gave the air an evergreen that reminded me of Christmas. We had the road to ourselves and were able to chat while riding side by side. I needed a good day after two days of crushing heat, and God delivered.

80 miles, 2018 feet climbed.

Total: 223 miles, 6558 feet climbed.

Yessir I’m done. Heading for a shower and shave

Habitat 500 Day 2…Tailwinds And Tamarack Swamps

We left Duluth and headed north to Hibbing and the Iron Range in the embrace of a dee-lightful tail wind. I mean, DELIGHTFUL.

E.g. enchanting, captivating, entrancing, engaging, fetching. FETCHING!

We were traveling at 20-24 mph without working overly hard. It was a special day of cycling as our group of ten rode nose-to-tail in a double line. The push of the wind allowed for playful conversation that made the miles pass quickly.

As you head north into the big woods, the open spaces contain tamarack swamps – a signature Minnesota wet land. They’re a mix of small evergreen, grasses and hardy high latitude creepers that can survive the long winters. The bright skies are reflected in dark pools of water…God’s signature on His creation.

76 miles, 1440′ climbed.

Total: 143 miles, 4540′ climbed ūüėä

One of 3 or 4 rest stops each day. Cold water and food in abundance!

Habitat 500 day 1…coming back from the dead

The big yellow truck hauls our luggage from one stop to the next

We rolled out at 6:50 this morning for a 67 mile loop along Lake Superior, and returning through the NUMEROUS hills inland. Seven years up in northern MN must’ve done something to me: I don’t tolerate heat very well anymore – and it was hot today. Mid 80’s and increasing humidity. I overheated twice, but came back from the dead…as we say in the cycling world.

What’s called for is cooling down the core using shade, a cool breeze, unzipped jersey, water doused on the head and neck…or a combination thereof. It’s a beautiful thing.

Habitat for Humanity helps families stuck in the cycle of poverty come back from the dead. Dreams and hope are restored, and a God conversation is begun, or continued. It’s is a beautiful thing.

67 miles, 2890′ climbed.

Habitat 500 2019 prologue

Training started before the ice went out

For the seventh time I’m packing my bike and bags to head out for a week of riding with my adopted cycling family at the Habitat 500.

We ride to raise money and awareness for decent and affordable housing. It’s a gathering of people brought together by vision and a generous heart…not to mention a quirky love for everything concerning cycling.

Early this morning I drove across the Wisconsin Dells beneath stunning blue skies and then north up to Lake Superior. A single mosquito (no doubt from the swamp 100 feet north of the house) accompanied me. Though initially quite active and skillful at avoiding my attempts at swatting, I’m thinking the AC must’ve done the creature in before the bridge crossing into Minnesota.

My congregation and a few friends generously contributed $1425 to the ride. The Grand Rapids affiliate is hoping to generate enough interest to bring my total fundraising up to $35,000 over seven rides.

Woo-hoo!

The 157 riders convene in Duluth tomorrow.

The happy clutter of everything for a week of bike

2017 Habitat 500

 

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A rainy day rest stop in 2016

The signature fundraising for Minnesota Habitat for Humanity is the Habitat 500 bike tour. Each July we ride – you guessed it – 500 miles over seven days in support of decent and affordable housing.

This is my 5th ride, and I’m thrilled to say that we’ve just passed $5000 in early fundraising. Our goal is $7500, and I think we’ll blow past this in a few more weeks! Each year we ride in a different part of the state. We stay in school gymnasiums, and eat meals prepared by local churches. Along the way, we are fed every 20 miles or so at rest stops that serve up the kind of high energy foods cyclists need. The cold pressed coffee at rest stop 2 is heavenly. This year’s ride is July 9-15.

mebikecoldTraining in early spring is a bit…uh…adventurous in Northern Minnesota. You need to wear a LOT of clothing: insulated tights, insulated jersey, neoprene booties like scuba divers wear, and a windproof insulated shell. On cold days I add a layer of under armor. You don’t want to forget to put duct tape over the vents in your bike shoes.

I’d like to think this makes us mentally tougher, since¬†the best part of a cold ride is when it’s over. It’s a yearly rite of passage on the frozen tundra.¬†But take heart! In the words of our Viking forbearers, that which doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. Once the days grow longer, the sun higher in the sky, and the winds calmer; we are ready to ride in earnest…maybe with a hint of Viking aggression.

The online donation site is up, and can be found here.

A final thought. As the pastor of First Lutheran in Grand Rapids, MN I’m super pleased to say that we’ve been supporting Itasca Habitat for Humanity for several years. Behind me are more than 200 volunteers and donors who bang nails, serve meals to 150 hungry cyclists, and give generously.

 

Getting a New Bike

img_0583Purchasing a bike is one of the great rights of passage in life. 50 years ago I had butterflies in my stomach on the way to Bill & Andy’s Bike Shop, in downtown Concord, MA. I remember feeling a bit weird about getting out of the car facing¬†a graveyard filled with revolutionary war heroes. I think I was still a little freaked out after learning about Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman who¬†loped through dark graveyards in New England lopping off heads of the poor residents of Sleepy Hollow.

My mom and dad were in the front seat of the car, while I sat in the back waiting for the 30 minute drive to  come to a merciful end. I was about to get my first bike. It was a 1968 Schwinn with a red sparkly banana seat and monkey bars. A few days later my dad surprised me by replacing the rear tire with an honest to gosh racing slick. I bombed around two neighborhoods with friends in two different states constantly competing for the two best things in the world of seven year old riders: RIDING NO HANDS and LAYING RUBBER. How long a black skid-mark can you leave by jumping on the coaster brake while going fast?

It’s a holy moment when you get on your first bike, and every other first ride ever after. I will admit that its a torturous thing to buy a bike during winter in Northern, MN – where it immediately goes on your indoor trainer. You can’t know the truth of your first ride for two more months. [Historically, this has triggered spending far too much time staring ¬†Weather Underground long-term forecasts, and cursing the temperature for not being average.] But the day does come. Likely it will be a sunny day in the hi 30’s when the shoulders are free of black ice…that’s my criteria.

I’ll tip-toe across our snowpacked driveway with my bike on my shoulder, and set it down on dry pavement, kick my leg over the saddle, and clip-in to my pedals. And then the beautifully mysterious equation of centrifugal force +¬†forward motion comes into play. That first ride¬†will be all about¬†discovering and appreciating the nuances of personality wrapped up in a this new frame. Yep, first rides are DA¬†BOMB. In my mind they’re best celebrated with a craft IPA and fresh guacamole and blue corn chips…

c5_9070_1_0001_1-c5_9070_7It’s a Cervelo C5: gravel and long distance road rolled into one. After a tough season cut short by over-training syndrome [OTS], I needed to reinvent myself as a cyclist. My riding had grown grim and exhausting…the fun drained out of it. So, I’m ramping up the fun with¬†a helping of northern gravel roads to explore this year. With the blessing I will ride the southern MN classic gravel race called Almanzo on May 20.

*    *    *    *

I walked out to the car from Billy & Andy’s bike shop, watched my dad put my new steed in the back of our Ford station wagon, and brought it home. Through a series of dares and double-dog dares I was inducted into the neighborhood pack and learned to lay down some respectable rubber. So began my astonishing 50 year two wheel journey.

I’m still working on riding no hands.

The Pactimo Ambassador Experience

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Don’t worry, I get jokes about drafting a lot

Howdy, I’m Greg. The fine folks at Pactimo asked me to write about my Brand Ambassador experience. I just finished my second year in the program.

As a rider, I’m picky [my friends say tweaky] about my kit. If we dress sharp, we feel good…If we feel good, we go well. The proper cycling shoe color is white, because it’s Euro, and because the European continent is the Mothership of all¬†cycling. Life is way too short to bother with bargain kit. Did that sound tweaky?

I should also say that I manage to ride around 6000 miles each year on Wisconsin and Minnesota pavement, in the Rockies, and increasingly on Lake Superior Gravel.

I came across Pactimo when riding the Colorado Rocky Mountain Bike Tour about 6 years ago. Their tour kit was really special, so I ordered a custom Ascent jersey. I really liked the fit and quality, and had a look at the Pactimo website. I eventually ordered two pair of the Raptor bibs, and was hooked. I still believe they are some of the best long distance cycling bibs manufactured anywhere.

When I applied for the¬†Brand Ambassador program I wasn’t overly optimistic I’d be chosen. The only explanation is that there must be¬†a late middle aged male Lutheran from northern MN demographic: for chosen I was. My first impression was how warmly we were welcomed. Josh Cook, who leads the BA program at Pactimo, has been cordial and fun to work with. One of the great perks has been being a part of a cycling community and sharing pictures on our Facebook page. It’s an instantly fun and supportive community. There was¬†a stretch of months where a few of us were seriously injured on the bike, one hit by a car. We got to follow their stories in pictures and words. Add to that¬†the accumulated experience of several cycling disciplines and bike knowledge, and it’s a pretty powerful social space.

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After a top 100 finish at the Copper Triangle

In my opinion, Pactimo is always evolving and improving their products. Each year’s iteration of¬†the aforementioned Raptor bibs has gotten better. I can’t wait to get my hands on a pair of the Summit Stratos Bibs, since the Raptor 2.0’s were so exceptional. It’s worth saying that those bibs were the first ever not to be trashed by the end of my season. I will score bonus points with my dear, supportive wife when she spots me wearing them for a second season.

When I was training in CO last June, Josh Cook invited me over to the office to meet the Pactimo team. And that’s my final reflection. Josh and I had already chatted by phone a few times, and continued our conversation over espresso. Afterward, we went back to the office and I got introduced to the whole team: It turned out that they all rode their bikes to work that morning. I got a super friendly welcome, and a first-hand peek at the creative and socially responsible Pactimo culture. It was a great experience to put names and faces together. And since I had come directly from a two pass ride earlier in the day, and had some serious stink going on, I was ALL the more impressed they came out from behind their desks to chat!

The Pactimo Brand Ambassador program is one of the best out there. If you encounter any customer care issues, you can count on the team to respond promptly…usually within a few hours. Good luck!

 

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Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park at 12, 200 feet

CRMBT Days 3 and 4

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Cooked but not overdone

Though I try to avoid cliches, I am compelled to say, What a difference a day makes. After forgetting my GPS and going back to the hotel to find it, I was an hour late getting started on a day in the Gore Range with four significant climbs. It was one of those little mistakes you feel all day long.

I¬†chased¬†back onto the group and got¬†to our first rest stop 10 minutes before closing time to grab some much needed water. By then the temps had warmed into the high 70’s with bright sun, and I lost the early morning advantage of shade. The south facing slopes became the oven; I became the main course. Nothing to do but soldier on and hope that your wonderful wife will pass by with an ice-cold coconut water. Thankfully she did.

I persisted to Gore Pass – doing all the climbing for the day, but passed on the rest of the miles. Instead I enjoyed the best breakfast burrito of my life in Kremmling, CO. 53 miles, 6000 feet climbed. Kremmling also has horse parking.

The next day was oh so different…

After sleeping on a solid recovery meal and breakfasting on my secret weapon [Naked Juice Blue Machine and oatmeal], we made the 7 am deadline to the park entrance.

tr2Last year my experience on Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park included sleet, wind and a touch of hypothermia. Today was one of those days where you almost need to pinch yourself because it’s so good. You want to take each moment and freeze it in time. As we climbed through the many ramps and switchbacks to treeline¬†we were swallowed¬†by an immense deep blue sky. We rode across that sky to Iceberg Pass, and there began our descent 17 miles down to Estes Park. Nothing stood in our way except a large heard of elk, and we were only too happy to let them pass.

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