About John Alexander

I renewed my interest in bicycling in November, 2010. My interest was to develop the skills and confidence to ride my bike for fun and fitness. Since then I have logged close to 700 miles, met new friends, seen new places and enjoyed the experience of traveling at "Bike Speed" - read my post "Welcome to Bike Speed" to learn more about that phrase. I also took up riding as therapy to control some of the symptoms that began when I was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in January 2010. A great deal of research has proven the benefit of exercise - particularly cycling - on controlling this illness. I have become an advocate for Parkinson's research and recently had the privilege of participating in the "Ride With Larry" in South Dakota. When not riding, I enjoy travel, writing, reading, and time with family and friends. My wife, Laura, and I have been married for 36 years. We have two married children and are expecting the birth of our first grandchild very soon. I am employed by the National Restaurant Association and assist major restaurant companies with programs to develop their managers and staff. Another interest is Scottish Heritage. I am the current President of the Clan MacAlister Society. I can often be found attending Scottish Highland Games around the country sharing information about the history of Scotland, helping people to connect to their clans (families), and pointing out places to visit based on my travels to Scotland. I hope that you enjoy my articles. See you on the trail. At Bike Speed, John

John Alexander to attend Parkinson’s Policy Forum 2018 in Washington D.C.

John C. Alexander from Lake Mary, Florida to Attend Parkinson’s Policy Forum in Washington, D.C.

Lake Mary, Florida March 15, 2018 – John C. Alexander of Lake Mary, Florida will join more than 300 other advocates in Washington, D.C. on March 19 – 21 to meet with their Members of Congress to share their stories of the personal impact Parkinson’s disease (PD) has made on their lives and the lives of their loved ones. Delegates will educate lawmakers on the need for federal funding for research toward a cure for Parkinson’s, and policy support for those living with the disease.

 The Parkinson’s Policy Forum is co-hosted by the Parkinson’s Foundation and The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. The event is also supported by nine other Parkinson’s organizations across the country. The 2018 Parkinson’s Policy Forum will feature two days of training, followed by one day of advocacy, congressional outreach and education to Members of Congress on Capitol Hill.

John Alexander and other attendees will receive tools to develop and hone their skills for effective public policy advocacy as they prepare to meet with their senators and representatives. Attendees will hear from scientific and policy experts at the Parkinson’s Foundation and The Michael J. Fox Foundation on the latest developments in PD research. Panelists also will highlight recent legislative action to increase access to health care services, including the elimination of the Medicare therapy cap, which advocates worked for many years to remove.

John Alexander will meet with Senator Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio; and Representatives Stephanie Murphy, Bill Posey, Gus Bilirakis, and Charlie Crist and their staff to talk about the need to provide federal funding for Parkinson’s research programs at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health, and the Department of Defense.

“I am honored to attend the 2018 Parkinson’s Policy Forum to represent the Parkinson’s community on Capitol Hill on these important issues,” said John C. Alexander.  “I reach out to my Senators and Representative year-round at town halls and local meetings, as well as through email and phone calls,” He added, “but the chance to come together with hundreds of people like me, share our journey and show our nation’s leaders what it means to live with Parkinson’s disease is powerful.”

The Parkinson’s Policy Forum is an annual event for people with Parkinson’s and their families, care partners, and friends who are interested in public policy advocacy. Advocates from nearly all 50 states convene in Washington, D.C. for educational sessions, and meet face-to-face with their Members of Congress and their staff.

John Alexander’s Parkinson Disease is monitored by his medical team at the University of Florida’s Center for Movement Disorder and Neurorestoration. In 2016, John became the first person in the United States to be implanted with the Abbott Infinity Deep Brain Stimulation Device. The control that that procedure provided over several Parkinson’s Disease related symptoms, such as tremor, rigidity, and Dystonia, has greatly improved his quality of life,

John Alexander is a sought after inspirational speaker, focusing on resilience and overcoming challenges. John also serves as an Ambassador for the Davis Phinney Foundation for Parkinson’s, an organization whose mission is to help people with Parkinon’s to “Live Well Today.” John is the author of a book about his experience living with Parkinson’s Disease, entitled, “The Journey Begins With 1,000 Miles – Thriving With Parkinson’s Disease through Hope, Optimism, and Perseverance.” He resides in Lake Mary, Florida with his wife of 43 years, Laura.

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About the Parkinson’s Foundation 
The Parkinson’s Foundation makes life better for people with Parkinson’s disease by improving care and advancing research toward a cure. In everything we do, we build on the energy, experience and passion of our global Parkinson’s community. For more information, visit 
www.parkinson.org or call (800) 4PD-INFO (473-4636).

About The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research
As the world’s largest nonprofit funder of Parkinson’s research, The Michael J. Fox Foundation is dedicated to accelerating a cure for Parkinson’s disease and improved therapies for those living with the condition today. The Foundation pursues its goals through an aggressively funded, highly targeted research program coupled with active global engagement of scientists, Parkinson’s patients, business leaders, clinical trial participants, donors and volunteers. In addition to funding more than $800 million in research to date, the Foundation has fundamentally altered the trajectory of progress toward a cure. Operating at the hub of worldwide Parkinson’s research, the Foundation forges groundbreaking collaborations with industry leaders, academic scientists and government research funders; increases the flow of participants into Parkinson’s disease clinical trials with its online tool, Fox Trial Finder; promotes Parkinson’s awareness through high-profile advocacy, events and outreach; and coordinates the grassroots involvement of thousands of Team Fox members around the world.
For more information, visit us on the Web, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest.

 About Parkinson’s Disease 
Affecting an estimated 1 million Americans and 10 million worldwide, Parkinson’s disease is the second-most common neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s and is the 14th-leading cause of death in the United States. It is associated with a progressive loss of motor control (e.g., shaking or tremor at rest and lack of facial expression), as well as non-motor symptoms (e.g., depression and anxiety). There is no cure for Parkinson’s and 60,000 new cases are diagnosed each year in the United States alone.



Moving Beyond Fear

williams-ride-rosesReflecting on the recent death of Robin Williams, my thoughts have run the gamut from his incredible talent and abundant philanthropic generosity to the insidious depth of his depression – one so deep that it inevitably caused him to take his own life.

While I have not personally experienced even mild depression, I’ve witnessed it in others. This illness can prevent a person from appreciating everything that is good in their lives and wears them down with negative thoughts. In many cases, proper treatment at the right time can return a person suffering from depression to a productive, even joyful life. Sometimes the demons are simply too powerful and overwhelming. Perhaps that is what caused Robin Williams to make his fateful choice. On one level, I can understand what he did, yet certainly feel sorrow that he is no longer around to entertain us and lighten our load with his mirth and antics. It is particularly tragic that his children have been robbed of his time, attention, and love by a condition that was beyond his control.

If there is some good to come out of Robin Williams’ tragedy, it would be a heighted awareness about depression and encouragement for those impacted to seek treatment and support.

The revelation that Robin Williams had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease may have been considered by some as the “straw that broke the camel’s back.”  The public’s knowledge about Parkinson’s may be limited to images that they have seen of Muhammed Ali’s visible tremors or that old man down the street who moves so slowly. The fact of the matter is that over one million Americans live with PD, and approximately 60,000 news cases are diagnosed each year. According to the Michael J. Fox Foundation, “Parkinson’s disease is a chronic, degenerative neurological disorder that affects one in 100 people over age 60. While the average age at onset is 60, people have been diagnosed as young as 18.”

So what is Parkinson’s Disease? The Michael J. Fox Foundation provides the following explanation, “We understand Parkinson’s disease to be a disorder of the central nervous system that results from the loss of cells in various parts of the brain, including a region called the substantia nigra. The substantia nigra cells produce dopamine, a chemical messenger responsible for transmitting signals within the brain that allow for coordination of movement. Loss of dopamine causes neurons to fire without normal control, leaving patients less able to direct or control their movement. Parkinson’s disease is one of several diseases categorized by clinicians as movement disorders.”

There are a myriad of symptoms and it has been called a “boutique disease” because each patient’s experience is unique. Symptoms can range from the classic resting tremor or uncontrollable shaking of a hand or leg, to slowness in moving, balance issues, cognitive impairment, problems sleeping, and speech or swallowing problems. What many don’t realize is that up to 60% of Parkinson’s patients experience depression.

It is understandable that a person may become worried or concerned after receiving any type of significant life altering diagnosis. In Parkinson’s however, depression may actually be the result of biological changes in the brain. For some, depression may be the first “symptom” before any of the observable movement disorders become apparent. Dr. Michael Okun, Medical Director for the National Parkinson’s Foundation states in this interview that depression in Parkinson’s can often be treated successfully. He points out that there are PD10, PD20, PD30, PD40, and even PD50 patients, individuals who have lived quality lives with the illness for those number of years since their diagnosis.

“A Parkinson’s diagnosis, although life-altering, is not a death sentence. Symptoms will change over time, as will your attitude; no one should expect, nor should you expect from yourself, that this will be easy to deal with. But people with Parkinson’s and others alike should all value and make the most of every day. In a best-case scenario, a Parkinson’s diagnosis can become a real wake-up call: a chance to re-examine your priorities, and focus not on what you cannot do, but instead, on what you can.”

Victory Crew logoThe Davis Phinney Foundation, like many other Parkinson’s related organizations, funds research projects; however, they approach the condition from a more wholistic viewpoint. “While it’s critical to find a cure for Parkinson’s, we feel strongly that people living with this disease also need information and tools to live well today. To support this mission, our initiatives, including The Victory Summit® symposia series, the Every Victory Counts® manual for living well, the Living Well ChallengeTM educational webinar and the Parkinson’s Exercise Essentials DVD benefit Parkinson’s patients, their families and caregivers throughout the United States. Each year, we fund innovative research aimed at identifying factors, including exercise and other behaviors, that have a measurable, positive impact on quality of life.”

In a Facebook post following Robin Williams death, the Davis Phinney Foundation stated, “Depression is common in people with Parkinson’s. It can be a lifelong problem, a reaction to struggles with Parkinson’s or a symptom of Parkinson’s due to biochemical brain changes or medication. The important thing is to be aware that it is treatable and shouldn’t make you feel weak or beaten down. We have two webinars that are recommended viewing for anyone living with Parkinson’s or caring for someone who is: http://vimeo.com/61025938 and http://vimeo.com/85410742 You can also get more information about emotional health in the Every Victory Counts manual, free for the asking: http://www.davisphinneyfoundation.org/living-pd/victory-counts/ .”

In dealing with any challenge, knowledge is power. Those recently diagnosed need to arm themselves with information that will help them to direct their own care and remain in control of what may seem to be an out of control situation. Help is out there, fantastic organizations such as the National Parkinson’s Foundation, Michael J. Fox Foundation, and Davis Phinney Foundation are working tirelessly to support research, fast track breakthrough medications, provide solid information on the benefits of exercise and movement, and – above all – offer HOPE to those impacted by Parkinson’s Disease. Their collective work focuses on improving the quality of life for not only the patient, but the patient’s families and caregivers as well.

A blog that I read the other day prompted me to write this article. It was posted by Ken Tripp, a gentleman whom I’ve just recently gotten to know due to several factors which we share in common – similar age, both have Parkinson’s, both love cycling, and both ride Catrikes – a three wheeled recumbent bike. Ken’s post was entitled “Why Do People Fear Parkinson’s?” I took it as a “conversation starter,” a way to increase awareness to the general public of concerns faced by people who receive a diagnosis of Parkinson’s. Ken wrote,

The Fear of Parkinson’s
By Ken Tripp
Why do some people fear their Parkinson’s?
They may hide their tremors so they don’t appear nervous
They worry that their walk will make them look drunk.
They hide their PD from their employer for fear of losing their job or insurance.
They fear they won’t be able to do the things they love.
They fear their friends will avoid them.
They stop eating for fear of choking.
They stop going out in public for fear of falling.
They fear they will go broke paying for meds and surgeries.
They fear nobody can or will take care of them.
They fear they will no longer be useful to society.
Now you know.


This is a valid list of concerns. Just like symptoms, someone with Parkinson’s may face one or two of these, others more. In my estimation, where Ken stops short is not providing ways analyze and evaluate each of these fears to determine their validity and possible ways to mitigate the consequences.

“There’s nothing to fear but fear itself.” This famous quote from Franklin Delano Roosevelt referred to the fact that uninformed fears and irrational panic can turn a manageable situation into a dangerous crisis. It is very common to be fearful of the unknown. Arming yourself with knowledge and taking steps to contain any fearful situation can lead to the fear being reduced or eliminated.

Sorting through our fears to categorize them as valid or unfounded can be very difficult to do when we are in a state of panic. A person who has just received a diagnosis of Parkinson’s is not prepared in that highly emotional moment to make this type of logical assessment. They’ve just been knocked of balance by what feels like a huge wave crashing down on them and then being sucked out to sea by the undertow.

It takes time to address our fears, and often requires the help of our family, friends, and medical and spiritual support teams. One article entitled “Dealing With Fear” suggest that there are healthy fears and unhealthy fears. Healthy fear is moving past the stage of denial, becoming informed about the basis of our fears and considering potential options. It is “taking stock of our present situation so that we can resolve to do something about it.” Unhealthy fears, can often be dismissed upon further, constructive analysis. A combination approach is known as balanced fear. “A balanced fear of our delusions and the suffering to which they inevitably give rise is therefore healthy because it serves to motivate constructive action to avoid a real danger.”

With some poetic license, I would like to offer my “two cents” on each of the fears which Ken noted.

They may hide their tremors so they don’t appear nervous. (John – As a public speaker I was concerned that my tremor would distract my audience from hearing my message. A friend reminded me that they were there to hear what I had to say, so I should “own the room.” The same applies to one-on-one conversation – you haven’t changed and if you have something important to say, look a person directly in the eye to keep their attention focused on your ideas.)

They worry that their walk will make them look drunk. (John – I was with a good friend, Carl Ames, at the Copper Triangle Classic in 2012. Carl, who has dealt with PD for about five years, had just completed a 78 mile bike ride with an elevation gain of over 6,000 feet and climbed three mountain passes in excess of 11,000 feet each. With the exhilaration of this achievement and the fact that his meds were headed into the “off” cycle and he’d gone into a freezing condition (unable to do any more than shuffle his feet), Carl asked me to lend me his arm so we could walk 50 feet to talk with another person. Carl didn’t let it bother him, so why should it bother you? By the way, acting drunk without the hangover has it’s upside.)

They hide their PD from their employer for fear of losing their job or insurance. (John – this is a valid concern. Most people will need to work as long as possible, if for no other reason than to maintain their insurance. However, we do have rights. Speak with a employment law attorney. Here’s a recent article about Accommodation Ideas for Employees With Parkinson’s. Deciding when to inform your employer is a personal and sometimes complex issue – get solid advice on when and how to tell them – and document everything.)

They fear they won’t be able to do the things they love. (John – Who says!!!!! You might even find new things that you love doing even more. Anything to do with motion is good for you – cycling walking, swimming, dance, Tai Chi, Yoga. Sure, stages of the illness may require adjustments – if balance becomes a problem, move from a two wheeled bike to a Catrike – a stable three wheeled recumbent. Just keep moving! And sign up for a National Parkinson Foundation “Moving Day” fundraising event near you.)

They fear their friends will avoid them. (John – If that’s the case, they weren’t real friends in the first place. Seek out Parkinson Support Groups and attend their meetings. If you are younger, you might find a Young Onset Parkinson group to join. This is not only a source of new friends, but of information, resources, and a safe haven – everyone understands what you are going through. If you feel that you “aren’t like the others,” perhaps not as advanced; then offer to help someone out with a ride to a meeting or a repair around their house. After all, it’s “not all about you!” Staying socially connected is just as important as your meds.)

They stop eating for fear of choking. (John – Again, a valid concern for a percentage of people with PD. Ask your doctor for advice. Choking is a normal reflex when food goes down the wrong way – in a sense your body is protecting you. Like your Mom said, “Chew every bite 20 times” and “Don’t talk with you mouth full.”)

They stop going out in public for fear of falling. (John – Falls are not good and should be avoided at all cost. That being said, learn how to avoid falls. The National Parkinson Foundation recently hosted a great webinar about falls entitled, “Balancing Act: Fall Prevention in Parkinson’s” which you can watch to learn more. I couldn’t get the direct link to work, but I will report that to NPF to correct.)

They fear they will go broke paying for meds and surgeries. (John, the ability to pay for any health related expense is a valid concern for anyone these days. Learn about the details of your insurance plan and seek help from professionals. Most importantly, be your own advocate! If you need to go into the hospital for any reason, order the “Aware in Care” kit from the National Parkinson Foundation. It just might save your life – and prevent additional expenses due to unnecessary complications. By the way, this invaluable resource is free!)

They fear nobody can or will take care of them.  (John – At some point you are going to need help. So now might be a good time to get off your high horse and learn a little humility, bury the hatchet, or mend some fences. If you express genuine gratitude for the assistance provided to you; then you are much more likely to get all the help you need.)

They fear they will no longer be useful to society. (John – Some of your roles may shift as your condition evolves. You may no longer be an executive, an architect, or a professional musician, but you will always have value and be useful to society. Handwriting may become illegible, typing a chore, speaking may become soft, but find a way to make yourself heard, your ideas shared, and your love for your family and friends shared. As Larry Smith, featured in the award winning documentary “Ride With Larry” says, “If you love life, you’ll fight for it.”)


I wish to thank my friend, Ken Tripp, for providing me with the opportunity to provide my perspective on the fears which he wrote about. I know that Ken, like me, errs on the side of Optimism – not unlike Michael J. Fox and so many other Parkinson heroes who I’ve met since my diagnosis in 2010.

Ken has chosen to set aside his fears and will be starting a 500 mile Charity Ride for Parkinson’s on September 1, 2014 with a bike ride from Louisville to Cleveland. He will be riding a Catrike Expedition. To follow Ken’s progress or donate to his ride, go to his website “Cycling for Parkinson’s“. This task might seem insurmountable for most people – whether living with PD or not, but Ken has been training and is dedicated to completing the ride in 12 days. Cheer on this PD Fighter. Ken has chosen to “Live Well Today” and to raise money for Parkinson’s Research and Awareness. Ken Tripp SAG Wagon

I have read about Robin Williams passion for cycling. In an interview in 2003, he said, “I’m lucky to have bikes in my life.” He even credited cycling with helping to “save his life” at one point. I wish that cycling could have done so this time. Instead, I hope that Robin Williams will be remembered as a person who lived a wonderful life, faced several difficult issues and be thought of as a champion for expanding awareness about both depression and cycling. Robin, It would have be a riot to ride with you.

I’ll close with one of my mottos, “Keep Calm, Hug Often, and Pedal On!”

IPhone cover 2

Bike Takes Flight – Not Good!

Driving home on I-4 after a fun, relaxing, and enjoyable Ice Cream Ride, my bike became detached from the bike rack, went airborne, and smacked onto the roadway.  This happened just after passing the sign informing me that I was only nine miles from home.  I had been moving at the posted speed limit in the inside lane and was able to pull over safely and park in the emergency lane.  I walked about 200 yards back to retrieve my bike and found it crumpled off to the side of the road.  I’m sure that I heard a whimper as I approached.

I picked it up lovingly, acutely aware of the many scrapes and bruises that it had incurred.  The most obvious was that the front wheel was bent and the derailleur twisted, so it was impossible to roll it under it’s own power.  I lifted it up in my arms and carried my Electra Townie back to my car.  With a great degree of hesitancy, I placed it back in the cradle arms of the bike rack, which was still firmly affixed to my motor vehicle.  Then I reattached the three rubber straps that were supposed to hold the bike securely in place, but had just failed – for the second time – resulting in the injuries which my beloved bike had just sustained.

Damage assessment – Cateye light missing / bracket ripped in half, 7-speed shift on right hand grip broken apart, both grips shredded, mirror on left side broken off (found near bike, pictured above), front fender bent and support arm snapped, rear fender broken in half, derailleur support arm bent, Topeak Explorer rack scraped down to bare metal, front wheel tweaked, and the front fork bent.  OutSpoken Bike Shop in Lake Mary is toting up the repairs.  It is all “fixable” but was unforunate that it requires this amount of service.

So, was this an isolated incident, or has it happened to others?  The rack is a Yakima King Joe 2, quite a sturdy device.  I thought that I’d thoroughly read the instructions and was always careful about rechecking the straps after loading the bike on the car.  In fact, the first time that the bike dropped off the rack (driving home on 417 following the Tour de Cure ride earlier this year), I convinced myself that it must have been due to “operator error.”  I recalled placing the bike on the arms of the rack and going around the side to put my helmet and other items in the back seat.  The “possibility” existed that I had not properly cinched down the straps properly.  This time I had witnesses who saw me attach and double check the tie downs.  A quick Google search of “strap failure” for this particular rack instantly presented at least ten instances of bikes separating from the King Joe while driving.

The next step was to contact Yakima, the manufacturer.  After answering a series of questions – including, “No, it’s not an electric bike, ‘Electra’ is a brand” – and convincing the customer service rep that I had properly attached the rack to the car and the bike to the rack, I was informed that I “should have been using a Tube Top.”  Apparently this is an “optional” accessory that compensates for the fact that the top bar on the Townie is slanted rather than horizontal.  I don’t remember being advised of this when I purchased the rack and will need to study the manual to see if there was any warning to use a Tube Top on my style of bike.  Yakima has offered to send a free Tube Top ($ 35 value) and three replacement straps (while not worn, this was another precautionary measure – a $ 15 value).  That doesn’t come close to making up for the cost of repairs.

While the Tube Top may be a solution; quite frankly, I’m more than a bit cautious about using the Yakima King Joe 2 again.  At least I can put it on e-Bay with the peace of mind that I would be including the accessory that the next user may need, along with new straps.

For now, I’ve begun a search of hitch-mount racks.  They are appealing for several reasons – easier to load the bike, more secure, the rack can be locked to the vehicle (always was a concern that someone could simply loosen the straps and steal both the bike and the rack at the same time.)  I’m looking at three different models – Kuat Sherpa, Thule 916XTR T2, and the Swagman XTC2.  The Swagman is about half the price of the other two.  Does anyone have any experience with these options and feel strongly one way or the other.  Does one have any advantages over the others when used with my style bike?

I’m looking forward to getting my Townie back, riding it for many more incident-free miles and keeping it from harm in the future.

Mountain Climbing in Scotland

Map of Ben A'an - The Trossachs, Scotland

While biking has been my favorite form of exercise for some time, I thought that I would add some variety to my routine.  Some might call that “cross training” but I decided to set a “stretch goal” and have a go at mountain climbing.

(Note: To view photos in more detail, simply double-click on the picture.)

Roger's kind of mountain - Aonach Eagach Ridge

A few years ago I met Roger Barr from Scotland.  He hikes for fun – just a bit farther than most people.  One of Roger’s hobbies is “Munro Bagging.”  A “Munro” is a mountain in Scotland with a height of over 3,000 ft.  There are 283 such mountains in Scotland.  Several years ago, Roger set out to climb all of them, an accomplishment shared by a rather small group of people.  He recorded his first Munro in 1994 by ascending Aonach Eagach Ridge, the most dangerous ridge walk in Scotland.  He achieved his goal in 2006 by reaching the peak of Ladhar Bheinn.  In addition, he takes “wee walks” which often consist of several hundred miles at one time.  This summer he will complete the “Coast to Coast Walk” covering 192 miles and spanning the width of England.  He will also finish the last section of a route from the most southern point in England to the most northern spot in Scotland.  To say the least, Roger knows a bit about hillwalking.

At one point I asked Roger to take me up a Munro.  He agreed, but the time and place were left open ended.  In February, 2012, I travelled to London on business. I saw this as the opportunity to take that hike.  After wrapping up the meetings, I took the train from London to Glasgow and spent the weekend with Roger and his wife, Margaret.  One of the items on our itinerary was a hike in the Trossachs and a climb up Ben A’an.  While this “mini-mountain” stands 1,491 ft. in height and doesn’t qualify for a Munro, this was my best chance at fulfilling my dream of doing some serious hillwalking with Roger.

The day before striking out for Ben A’an, Roger and I visited the ruins of Bothwell Castle which is located on the River Clyde in South Lanarkshire.  While it was enjoyable to tour the castle, I’m convinced Roger used the short walk around the castle as a way to test my hiking ability.  It appears that I passed the test, since we loaded up our gear and headed out to Ben A’an on Sunday morning.  In less than an hour we arrived at the car park.  Roger had expected only a handful of vehicles, but a break in the weather brought quite a few other hikers out to enjoy the day.  We laced up our hiking boots, donned a few layers of jumpers (sweaters outside of Scotland), stowed away some snacks, and were on our way.  Roger’s wife, Margaret, joined us.

Immediately after passing the entry sign, the trail became steep.  The first section consists of packed dirt with exposed tree roots criss-crossing the path.  Margaret charged ahead at her own pace, but Roger followed me and provided a steady stream of encouragement.  Several times he told me, “This is not a race, go at your own pace,” or “If you get tired, feel free to stop,” or “Watch your feet, choose the best route for you.”  Between the excitement of actually being on this hike and getting used to the activity, I quickly began to perspire and question whether I was actually capable of this adventure.  But I pressed on.  As I’ve mentioned in relation to cycling, I dropped down into my “Little Engine That Could gear” and fully committed to making it to the summit – even on my hands and knees if that’s what it took.

The first two-thirds of the hike is through the woods.  The entire area was absolutely gorgeous, with various shades of green seen in every direction since a blanket of moss covering many of the rocks and trees.  There were numerous waterfalls along the way, fed by springs near the top of the mountain.  It was interesting to see snow on the ground throughout the woods, but very little at the higher elevations.

John, Margaret, and Roger

Stopping every once in a while to take pictures was a pleasant relief from the attention required to execute the climb safely.  I was very glad that I had borrowed a pair of hiking sticks from Roger.  They helped me maintain my balance and provided the necessary support in some tricky sections.

A bridge crossed the stream and was a point of reference that we’d made it one third of the way.  Naturally it provided a photo opportunity, as well as a way to catch my breath and pause to appreciate the beauty all around.  It also was an indication that the trail was about to get steeper.  Just past the bridge we were treated to a view of Loch Achray.

Every once in a while, the mountain offered some forgiveness and flattened out for a bit.  In one section we waited for some hikers who were descending.  A woman in the group had slipped while crossing a bog, a particularly muddy section, and was covered in “gunk.”  We chuckled a bit after they were out of earshot about her plight.

Soon after we were afforded our first view of the Ben A’an Summit through the trees, a view that would be impossible during the summer when full foliage was in place. We paused at the base of the summit to take photos and enjoy a nibble of trail mix and other snacks.

First View of Ben A'an Summit

At this point, Roger informed me that we were already two-thirds of the way to the summit.  I was feeling strong and knew that I’d already accomplished a great deal in reaching this point.  Some of my friends, perhaps even Roger, had doubts about my ability to navigate this climb but I was determined to see it through.  After all, the best view is from the top, so we pressed forward.

The summit still looked like a long way off, but we were all ready for the remaining challenge.  The biggest difference was the fact that the boulders were larger and the height of each stepping stone was noticeably higher than the lower sections back in the woods.  Some people call Ben A’an the “giant staircase.”  I was about to find out just what they meant.

Making my way to the Ben A'an Summit

Ice on the Ben A'an Summit rocks

My focus was on placing my feet carefully to avoid toppling over backwards.  For the most part, we were above the snow, but began to find ice along the way.  In spite of the being cautious and watching for ice, I felt my pace quicken the closer that we got to the top.  I was actually going to do this!  I was literally being pushed along by an adrenaline rush.  We were now with 10 feet of the summit and the last stretch was solid ice.  Roger planted his foot sideways for me to use as an anchor, but the slippery slope kept me from making any progress.  We looked around and chose to scramble across a patch of heather in order to reach to summit.  As I’d predicted earlier, I was bound and determined to complete this hike – even on my hands and knees – which proved to be necessary.

Roger and John - Ben A'an Summit

To say that the view was spectacular would be an understatement.  Even though there were at least a dozen people at the top, everyone treated this area like a shrine – not a word was spoken, everyone was taking in the splendor before them.  It was utterly peaceful.  The brief looks that were exchanged with others told volumes in the shared experience.  We had each done something very special that day.  While this hike wasn’t the most arduous considering the many other mountains in Scotland and peaks much higher in the Rockies and Sierra Nevadas, I had accomplished a major goal with this mountain, on this day, with my best friend.  That made me very happy. (continued below photos)

Heading back down

It began to get very cold at the top.  While I would have enjoyed more time on the summit, Roger urged us to begin making our way back down.  Of course, there was only one way to go down, the same way that we climbed up.

I quickly discovered that walking down on a mountain was much more strenuous than walking up.  It simply puts a lot more pressure on your quads.  Roger told me that my bike riding probably helped me a great deal on this hike, but the return was a challenge.  We were quickly passed by others.

As we returned to the forest, we approached that bog that had caused the one lady to slip.  I was commenting on the fact that while it was a muddy area, there were sturdy stones all along the way.  Except for that next step – the one where my right leg sunk in to the muck above my knee.  No problem, right?  Simply lift my leg out and go on.  Except that I couldn’t move my leg and any attempt seemed to be pulling me in deeper like quicksand.  Roger came to my rescue and was able to extract me from the bog without dislocating my shoulder.  This scene caused Margaret to howl with laughter.  Kind of funny, unless you’re the one stuck in the mud!  We did all share quite a chuckle about that for the rest of the hike. (story continued after these photos)

Badge of Honor

This day was a great adventure.  While I hope to climb Ben A’an again one day, or tackle some other mountains, my first scramble to the top will be a vivid memory for the rest of my life.

A Victory Crew Salute

We certainly didn’t set any speed records that day.  I later learned that the actual distance from the car park to the summit is 1.25 miles, so we hiked approximately 2.5 miles.  However, when you add in nearly 1,400 feet of vertical gain and that much again in the descent, it was a rather respectable trek.  I may have been the last one off the mountain that day, but I left it with a sense of pride and satisfaction.  I am honored to have completed something that few get a chance to even attempt.  Not bad for a 60 year old who has lived with Parkinson’s Disease for the past two years.  Every Victory Counts! and this one meant a great deal to me.  To learn more about living well with Parkinson’s and the wonderful work being done by the Davis Phinney Foundation, click on this link to the Victory Crew.

Video Bonus – If you want to see a really crazy way that one cyclist conquered this mountain, follow this link – “Joe Barnes rides Ben A’an.”

The finish line

1,000 Miles – The Victory Lap

Mackinac Island, Michigan

Like most adults, I hadn’t ridden a bike in years.  During a vacation to Mackinac Island  in 2006, I rented a beach cruiser and took an eight mile ride around the perimeter of this “car free” getaway.  After returning home, I researched bikes and selected an Electra Townie 7D.  Not an electric bike, the “Electra Bicycle Company” is the manufacturer of this hybrid / comfort bicycle.  I took it out for a spin now and then around the neighborhood; but unfortunately the bike stayed in the garage most of the time.

In January, 2010 I received some news that was rather unsettling.  I was informed that a tremor that in my left hand had been diagnosed as a symptom of Parkinson’s disease. It only seemed logical to make an effort to improve my level of fitness, so I began spending a bit more time on my bike.  That was fun until I smacked my shoulder into a steel guard rail while attempting to make a sharp turn onto a narrow bridge.  I told my neurologist about the accident and also shared the fact that narrow sidewalks made me uncomfortable.  He recommended limiting my cycling to a stationary bike in a gym.  I immediately dismissed that advice and simply used more caution during my rides.

In November, 2010 I enrolled in a Cycling Savvy class. The twelve hour program consisted of four hours of classroom training which emphasized the best ways to avoid hazards, followed the next morning with bike handling skills training, and finished with a four hour riding tour of Orlando. We rode a total of 25 miles that day, much further than I had ever traveled on a bike.  That class equipped me with the skills and confidence to ride whenever and wherever I chose.  I applied those skills by taking part in group rides, personal trail rides, and began to rent bikes in cities around the country while on business trips.

I began hearing about others riding significant distances.  A college friend and her husband had done 500 miles in ten days during a trip to the Northeast.  I met a person who regularly rode in “ultra-distance events” of 200 miles or more at one time.  The number “500” began to sound possible and I set it as an “objective,” but one without a specific time limit.  I would be pleased to simply ride that far “eventually.”

Larry and John - Front Row

Around February, 2011 I viewed a movie trailer for a documentary film called “Ride with Larry.”  The video focused on Larry Smith, a person who has lived with Parkinson’s for twenty years, and was planning a 300 mile ride across South Dakota.  He would be riding a Catrike recumbent bike and accompanied by a core group of supporters.  Other riders were invited join Larry on the final day’s 65 mile push to the finish line.  I decided to take part and began working out the logistics and training to build up my endurance.  By the time I traveled to Sioux Falls, SD in June, I had amassed over 500 miles. With my son, Brian, riding by my side, I experienced “The Most Exhilarating Ride of My Life.”

John and Brian - Victory Crew

A major sponsor of the “Ride with Larry” was the Davis Phinney Foundation, founded by Olympic Medalist and Tour de France stage winner, Davis Phinney.  He was diagnosed with Early Onset Parkinson’s when he was just 40 years old.  His Foundation supports research to find a cure, but also provides information for people living with Parkinson’s on “how to live well today.” I became part of their “Victory Crew” and have raised close to        $ 5,000 this year to support the cause.  If you would like to make a contribution to support Parkinson’s research, please follow this link – http://tinyurl.com/cjyr48p

I slacked off a bit in July and August, but then made the decision to set a personal goal of riding 1,000 miles before the anniversary of the Cycling Savvy class.  With two weeks remaining, I was up to 875 miles and just had 125 miles to go.  It was doable, but would require dedication.  I mentioned my plan to Charles Badger, a Cycling Savvy Instructor.  He offered to help me reach my goal by joining me on two rides during the final week. By the way, Charles was the ultra-distance rider I mentioned earlier.

Boys and Girls Club Ride

We met at the AAA headquarters on Sunday (11/6/11).  We would be accompanying riders from a company Charles knew.  He went over the route and asked me to take the lead.  He would follow behind and “shepherd our flock”.  Being asked to “Lead the Dance” was a big honor and even a larger responsibility.  The phrase was coined by Keri Caffrey, Founder of Cycling Savvy, and is best understood through this video as a way to ride with confidence.

Our group of 25 riders consisted of representatives from a finance company, their clients, family and friends.  I noticed that two of the ladies were riding bikes similar to mine..  When I asked them about their bikes; they acknowledged that they “hadn’t taken them out of the garage in more than a year.”  This was going to be a long day for them, but they did well throughout the ride.

We started along International Parkway.  I quickly discovered that a disadvantage of “riding point” was contending with headwinds and carving a path through the wind for the rest of the riders. We seemed to be riding directly into the wind much of the day.  However, we had a pleasant tailwind as we rode along the south side of Lake Monroe.  We made our way through the town of Sanford. It was a beautiful day.

Much of our 30 mile ride was through back country roads and everyone appreciated the scenery and the opportunity to converse with one another.  I started a mini stampede when I rang my bell as we passed a pasture full of horses.  All in all, it was a good way to spend time together and support a good cause.

During the midpoint rest stop, I saw Michael Cottle.  He and his wife, Arden, are the owners of OutSpoken Bikes in Lake Mary – the shop where I had purchased my bike.  He was surprised to see me leading the group on my Townie.  Many cycling friends have recommended that I “move up” to a road bike, but for now the current transportation has been a great ride and served me well for many miles.  I love my bike!

At the last stop, Charles asked me to explain the chalk drawings that he had made on the pavement describing how to handle the remaining interchanges.  It was gratifying to share my cycling knowledge with the group.  I also thanked them for helping me move closer to my goal and shared the fact that I had Parkinson’s disease, explaining the benefits of cycling as therapy for Parkinson’s patients.

After navigating the Country Club Road, Lake Mary Blvd. and Reinhardt Road sections, we finally approached the bicycle / pedestrian bridge over I-4. Charles rode up next to me and I admitted, “I got nothing left for the bridge”.  My new mentor immediately shot back some words of encouragement which was just what I needed.  I executed the first turn onto the ramp by going down to my second gear, but the 180 degree turn was too much, so I dismounted and let the group pass.  I admit to “walking” my bike up to the apex of the bridge, but sailed off the downside ramp at about 20 mph and rejoined the group at the point where they had gathered and was met with a round of applause from “my peeps”.  I resumed my spot up front and brought the herd back to the starting point.

We were each given a medal upon our return.  Later I realized that it read “Century Ride,” recognition for completing the 100 mile route. I’m all for being honest, but rationalizing that I would soon be reaching my goal of the equivalent of “Ten Centuries” so I proudly placed the medal around my neck.

Veteran’s Day Ride – Final Push

Charles showed up Friday morning at the meeting spot behind the Peach Valley Cafe.  He was accompanied by a co-worker, Ryan Warner, who was wearing a U.S. Marines Corp logo on his jersey.  It was very fitting to be doing this ride on Veteran’s Day (11/11/11) with a veteran.  Ryan, thank you for your service to our country!

I only needed 18.42 miles to reach the goal. Charles had mapped out a 35 mile route.  We again passed the AAA building as we rode up International Parkway.  However, we quickly encountered 16 mph winds which slowed our progress.

When we reached 17-92, we crossed the Old St. John’s River Bridge.  Halfway up the ascent I elected to walk my bike to avoid pulling a muscle.  Charles and Ryan waited patiently at the top.  We took a moment to catch our breath and pose for a few photos with the I-4 Bridge in the background.

We turned onto the Spring to Spring Trail.  It wound through a tree-lined path providing protection from the wind. Ryan saw a wild pig and Charles pointed out several deer in one meadow.  Along the way we took in views of Lake Monroe with the mid-morning sunlight dancing off the waves.

We left the trail at Dirksen Drive. After a mile on that busy road, we turned onto Main St. through the town of Enterprise, a perfect example of old Florida with restored buildings dating back to the late 1800’s.  Next we turned left onto Enterprise Osteen Road.  It offered several miles of live oak trees, dripping with Spanish moss, which provided a lush canopy of greenery.  We were rapidly approaching “the goal.”

Victory is Sweet

I began calling out the countdown as we completed each remaining mile.  My companions allowed me to ride alone up front to savor the moment.  Five, four, three, two …..  With one mile to go, we passed a house with an American flag flying proudly in the wind.  My countdown became “tenths:” and then we were there.  Goal accomplished – 1,000 miles in one year! 

Davis Phinney would celebrate every cycling victory by sitting up in the saddle and raising his arms into a “V” for victory.  One of his Foundation’s mottos is “Every Victory Counts”.  Achieving my goal was indeed a victory for which I am very proud.  It was a pleasure to raise my arms up in celebration and to be photographed with my “Ride with Larry” shirt, which Davis Phinney had personally autographed for me at the Grand Rapids Victory Summit.

Reaching this personal goal didn’t earn me a medal or have any significant meaning in the grand scheme of things.  It did, however, prove to me that I can take on challenges and work steadily towards achieving them.  I don’t know how Parkinson’s will affect me over time, but I am doing my best to fight back.  The goal was personal, but achieving it was a “team victory” due in large part to a tremendous amount of support, encouragement, and love that I’ve received from family, friends, and complete strangers.

We resumed our ride and savored the beautiful fall day, smooth pavement, and the satisfaction that comes from “crossing the finish line”.  After winding around the east side of Lake Monroe, we headed west along Lake Mary Blvd. back towards our starting point.  The final “feature” of the day was crossing the I-4 interchange on Lake Mary Blvd.  It was a fitting way to complete our “Victory Lap.”  That major interchange once was a major obstacle for me. Two weeks after completing the Cycling Savvy class last year, I navigated it for the first time.  Keri Caffrey coached me through it and video-taped the original ride.

These 1,000 miles were made up of many small victories along the way.  I plan to continue to cycle as long as I can.  Some of the future miles may be difficult, but they will all be a source of joy.

Daily Mile Log

Chasing “1,000”

I “graduated’ from the Cycling Savvy bike handling course in Orlando on November 13, 2010.  Little did I know that the skills that I learned that day would empower me to begin a year’s journey of unlimited riding and exploration.  Since completing the class, I’ve taken part in many group rides and explored a variety of cities (San Diego, San Antonio, Atlanta, Chicago, and New York).  I’ve ridden with friends from Scotland and California.  I traveled to South Dakota and rode the final leg of the “Ride With Larry” event to raise awareness for Parkinson’s Disease.

All that time, I was adding miles to my running total.  By the end of October, 2011 – I was up to 875 miles and decided then and there to go for “1,000” by the anniversary of my Cycling Savvy class.  I am closing in on that goal.  To recognize this milestone, I am asking for support for the Davis Phinney Foundation.  Donations can be made by clicking here  I was able to raise about $ 3,700 for the Ride With Larry.  My goal is to add to that and push it past $ 5,000.  I would sincerely appreciate your support.

Central Park in Fall

Central Park - New York City

Business travel offers the opportunity to visit many wonderful cities.  Often, however, that simply means flying in, taking a taxi to a hotel, and “touring” the inside of yet again another all too familiar lobby and set of meeting rooms.  Then it’s a quick dash back to the airport in another cab and jetting off to the next destination.

The “spirit” and philosophy of “Bike Speed” is to make a conscious effort to carve out time for yourself to actually participate in the environment where your travel takes you.  Your company paid for you to attend the event and expects you to devote your efforts to meeting with clients and learning from presentations.  The conference agenda may be jam packed, but with a bit of advance planning or flexibility, it is possible to make the trip much more meaningful.  You can get your work done and still find time to enjoy the hidden gems in the surrounding area.

From October 8-10, 2011, I was in New York City to attend a customer’s annual convention.  Their theme was “Taking the Stage” and the backdrop for the general sessions resembled a look down Times Square and marquees from all the famous plays.  Broadway performers provided a break between speakers and they had marvelous voices.  One entertainer had performed the role of Mustafa in the Lion KIng over 3,000 times – he sang the Impossible Dream and everyone had goose bumps.

Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band

Entertainment after dinner one evening was provided by Gary Sinise and the Lieutenant Dan Band (yup, the same person who played Lt. Dan in Forrest Gump and is now starring in CSI – New York.)  The band performs about 50 – 75 shows per year for the troops around the world and here at home.  They covered a wide range of songs and were a lot of fun to see in person.

Central Park Bicycle Shop / 315 W. 57th St.

When I checked into the hotel, I saw a sign for bike rentals.  I was staying at the New York Hilton which was only a few blocks south of Central Park.  I gathered some information and made plans to return the following day.  Unfortunately, when I went back about 4:00 pm on Sunday, the counter was closed for the day.  I grabbed my iPad and quickly Googled up bike rentals in the area and found the Central Park Bicycle Shop, which was just five blocks away.  I quickly made a reservation and earned a discount for booking online – paying just $ 8.00 for a one hour rental.  The shop was two blocks south of Central Park.  I should have taken more time selecting the bike, since it wasn’t the greatest ride.  I’ve experienced that problem in the past, so I should create a “checklist” to guarantee a better experience.  Sure wish I could use my own bike when I travel – may have to invest in a folding travel bike one day!

I started off by heading east on 57th Street, then turning north on 8th Avenue.  That took me to Columbus Circle (built in 1905), a major New York City landmark.  I used the techiniques learned in my Cycling Savvy class and easily navigated this four lane round-about.  Traffic was reasonably light since it was a Sunday afternoon.  But nonetheless, it was still “Columbus Circle” – that was “crazy exciting!”  Here’s a view that I snagged from Wikipedia of a photo taken of the Circle from within the Time Warner Building.  For those who watch “Anderson” (Anderson Cooper’s new show), his set looks out on this same view.

Central Park West Entrance

I then proceeded north up Central Park West in the bike lane with taxis whizzing by on my left.  I entered Central Park at 67th Street.  If I’d done a bit more advance research, I would have gone on to the 72nd Street entrance instead, which leads directly to “Strawberry Fields,” the garden containing the Imagine mosaic honoring John Lennon – after all, the day of my ride was October 9th, John Lennon’s birthday.

I joined the parade of horse drawn carriages, cyclists, roller bladers, and pedestrians on the one way loop around the park.  While it was slightly “organized chaos,” everyone was in a great mood due to the perfect Indian Summer day – not a cloud in the sky, temperature in the high ’70’s to low ’80’s.  With my interest in stopping here and there to take pictures, I was probably criss-crossing traffic more than most.  Every level of rider was represented from true novices, to families crusing along together, to “serious” cyclists in full kit.  It was a fantastic, and eclectic, gathering.  The picnic areas and public lawns were full of people sitting on a blanket and simply enjoying each other’s company.  The mood and merriment evident throughout the park’s 843 acres that day must have been exactly what the designers had in mind when they first opened it back in 1857.

Carousel in Central Park

Rolling along Center Drive, I passed the Carousel.  The original carousel burned in a fire, but was replaced by the current one in 1950 – a year before I was even born – now that’s old!  I manuevered my way to the side of the road and took a photo.  After reading more about the carousel and the park, in general upon my return, I wish that I had taken more time to investigate this classic piece of artwork more closely.  On a previous trip to New York, I had purchased a book entitled “Central Park, An American Masterpiece” by Sara Cedar Miller.  It would have been well worth my time to study up a bit more prior to my visit to Central Park.  Yet, I only had an hour, so I pressed on.

Loeb Boathouse / San Remo Building

I made a stop at the Loeb Boathouse, a popular spot for lunch and renting boats.  While I was reviewing the menu, I looked up the lane and an entire wedding party was making their way around the boathouse to pose for photos.  In spite of all the people in the park that day, I’m sure that their photographer was able to capture some beatiful images since the park looked fantastic and the lighting was perfect. Off in the distance were the twin towers of the San Remo Buidling, a 27-story luxury apartment building.  The names of some of its past and present residents would be rather familiar – Stephen Sondheim, Donna Karan, Stephen Spielberg, Steve Jobs, Demi Moore, Glenn Close, Dustin Hoffman, Bono, Steve Martin, Eddie Cantor, Hedy Lamarr, and Rita Hayworth.  Nice neighborhood.

While I didn’t have time to stay for dinner, the menu at the Loeb Boathouse was rather enticing with dishes such as Heirloom Tomato Salad, Boathouse Steak Tartare, Oxtail and Leek Terrine, Kabocha Pumpkin Raviolis, Roasted Scottish Salmon, Muscovy Duck Breast, and Pepper Seared Loin of Venison to name a few of the delicious offerings.  Instead, I pressed on and continued my loop around the park.

I passed the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir and turned west above the North Meadow, rejoining the West Drive headed south.Even though it was approaching dusk, plenty of people were still enjoying their ride on rented boats or strolling along the water’s edge.  Over the course of a single hour, the light had changed the atmosphere from midday to the promise of a romantic evening setting.

Controlling my lane on 7th Avenue approaching 57th Street

It was getting close to the time to return my rented bike, so I exited the magic of Central Park onto 7th Avenue.  I rode two blocks and turned right back onto 57th Street, crossed Broadway and cruised up to the Central Park Bike Shop.  I was right on time.  Even though I’d only been out for an hour, I’d taken in so much in that short period of time.

New York City’s motto is “I Love New York”. I was fortunate to snap this photo from my hotel room on the 27th floor looking down onto the Avenue of the Americas and catch this statue framed in a sunbeam. It perfectly captured my feeling about this trip and the wonderful city that I had the privilege of visiting.

Next trip I might spend a bit more time planning the area where I will be riding to make sure that I don’t miss anything.  I will also be more selective about the bike that I choose for my journey – and welcome any suggestions from my readers on how to do just that.  But most of all, I am so very glad that I took one hour out of an active business trip to see Central Park – at Bike Speed.  I hope that you get to do the same one day.