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


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.

Saturday Trail Ride @ Bike Speed

Tall Bikes also known as High Wheelers on Seminole Wekiva Trail

Saturday – July 9, 2011

The last thing I expected to see on the Seminole Wekiva Trail was two tall bikes, but there they were.  The passed us on our southbound ride and approaching us again on the return.  In the best spirit of “Bike Speed”, I stopped and snapped a photo with my Blackberry (sad, but true, I don’t own an iPhone).  The picture turned out fairly well in spite of the need to access the phone quickly and simply point and shoot.  No sooner had I posted this on Facebook, I received a comment from Keri Caffrey stating, “Diane Blake and her daughter, Michelle.  Diane builds bikes – http://www.victorybicycles​.com/ .”  So feel free to look them up, perhaps you could invest in one, or better yet – get two so you and a friend could ride together in style.  I’m still scratching my head trying to figure out how they get on and off those bikes.  The vintage bikes are mighty stylish. Congratulations Diane and Michelle for mastering these nostalgic rides.

I usually ride the Seminole Wekeiva Trail by myself.  My standard route is from the Peach Valley Cafe / Panera Bread off Lake Mary Blvd. to 434.  I’ve gotten that down to about an hour round trip ride.  I had extended an invitation to Doug and June Murray to join me on the trail months ago.  They have recently returned to cycling.  This particular Saturday, our calendars matched up.

Before we started, Doug mentioned that his bike was making a “funny noise.”  He spun the rear tire and it looked a bit wobbly.  He wasn’t too concerned, saying that it had been that way for a while.  As we rode, the wheel gave off quite a bit of noise. I suggested that we stop by a bike shop that is located along the trail for a consultation.  No Limit Cycles is located on E. E. Williamson Rd. and is only about 100 yards from the trail.  They were glad to look at the wheel and suggested that the bearings were shot.  Their recommendation was a new wheel for about $ 35 and $ 15 in labor. They said that it wouldn’t hurt to ride the bike, but to get the work done fairly soon.

Doug and June Murray on the Seminole Wekiva Trail

Doug and June have been riding in their neighborhood lately and doing about five miles at one time.  We rode down to SR 434 and through the tunnel under that road.  Altogether, the round trip worked out to 11 miles.  Other than breaking a bit of a sweat – more due to the heat and humidity than the riding, they both felt great about doubling their distance.  There’s a very good chance that they will begin stretching out their regular rides.  I have encouraged them to consider taking the Cycling Savvy course to improve their skills and confidence.  Once they do that, they can start taking part in the First Friday and Ice Cream Social Rides.

It’s great to see people rediscovering cycling.  Doug and June did very well on this ride.  While the route is fairly flat, there are a few hills – fun to coast down, but they do require some effort on the return.  Doug rides a 21 speed and felt quite comfortable.  June has a cute beach cruiser bike with just one speed and coaster brakes.  I led the ride and kept expecting to see her drift behind, but every time I took a glance back – and especially on the hills – June was staying right in line.  Congratulations to both of them – hope to see them out on the trail often.

Doug Murray and John Alexander

By the way, Doug got a second opinion on his wheel at the Spin City bike shop at the Apopka Outpost on the West Orange Trail .  It was, in fact, the bearings and that he didn’tneed to replace the entire wheel.  The new bearing will only only run about $ 3.50.  With labors, adjustments to both wheels, brakes, and an overall inspection, it came out to about $ 65.  Probably worked out the same for either bike shop.  Certainly more reasonable than car repairs. Glad that Doug will have his bike in tip top shape.  That is bound to make his rides safer and more enjoyable.

Welcome to Bike Speed

Cycling has had a huge impact on my life during the past year.  Most of all, I’ve discovered the benefits of traveling at “Bike Speed” – not too fast, not too slow, just right!  When you are taking in the world on your bike, you have the ability to pause to talk to a friend, take a photo, and observe your surroundings.   Everyone’s in such a rush these days – maybe we all need to view the world at a different pace.

When I “dusted off” my bike at the beginning of 2010, the first thing that I did was to crash!  Not quite as dramatic as it sounds, but I underestimated my speed while approaching a narrow bridge and smacked into the guardrail.  Didn’t help that the shoulder which made contact with the steel upright had been undergoing five months of rehab for a torn rotator cuff – Ouch!  My bike didn’t fall over, but my garage door opener flew out of my basket and landed at the bottom of the creek.  Then and there I decided that I needed to improve my bike handling skills.

I was very fortunate to locate the Cycling Savvy program, based close by in Orlando, FL.  The program focuses on “traffic cycling,” helping riders to become comfortable, capable, and confident riding in any situation.  The full course consists of three parts: “The Truth and Techniques of Traffic Cycling” – a three hour classroom session on traffic laws, crash prevention, bicycle driving principles, and unique traffic management strategies developed for this course; “Train Your Bike” – a three hour on-bike skill-building session held in a parking lot; and “Tour of Orlando” – a 3½ hour experiential, on-road learning experience.  Cycling Savvy Founders, Keri Caffrey and Mighk Wilson, analyzed current bike training and found it lacking.  Their program improves the skills of every one of its participants.  This “in the saddle” training is designed with adult learners in mind and incorporates the best in social and experiential features through face-to-face and real-world instruction.  It is quickly becoming the most respected form of bike training in the country.

So I picked up some skills – where did that lead me?  I began having fun riding my bike.  I took part in First Friday rides organized by Bike / Walk Central Florida and Commute Orlando.  I participated in Holiday Light Rides, where the cyclists enjoy riding through neighborhoods to admire the houses, while the homeowners are appreciating the decorated and lighted bikes.

Next I started a “tradition” of renting bikes during business trips.  Rather than wasting time sitting in my hotel room, I do some advance work to find bike friendly areas to ride, find a good bike shop and set out at “Bike Speed” to explore.  So far I’ve ridden around Coronado (near San Diego), San Antonio, Atlanta, and Chicago.  I’ve already written some articles about these “adventures”, but will be posting more on this blog soon.

I’ve met many new friends through cycling.  It’s a social activity.  During the First Friday Rides or Sweet Rides (which end at an ice cream or yogurt shop), the pace is leisurely enough to carry on a conversation.  Those friends have encouraged me to ride even more and advised me on many aspects of cycling to improve my experience.

In one of my posts entitled “Sharing the Joy of Cycling“, I described getting together with friends from as far away as Scotland and California to enjoy riding together and discovering new places.   I plan to add all of my previous articles to this new blog in order to consolidate them in one location.

I have recognized the importance that cycling can play in my overall health and fitness as well.  Since taking the Cycling Savvy class in November, 2010, I have logged about 628 miles.  Not necessarily huge by some standards, but fairly sizeable for a 59 year old, “pleasingly plump” gentleman.  Who, by the way, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease a year and a half ago.  One of the most important things that I’ve learned about this illness is the direct correlation that research has proven concerning the benefits of exercise – particularly cycling – on helping PD patients to minimize their symptoms and live life fully.

Ride With Larry - front row view

In June of 2011, I rode just under 200 miles.  Most of that was training to prepare for a ride in South Dakota to create awareness about Parkinson’s disease.  My longest training ride leading up to it was 45 miles on the West Orange Trail.  On June 25, 2011 I participated in the “Ride With Larry”, led by Larry Smith – a 20-year Parkinson’s patient riding a Catrike.  Over five days, Larry, his wife Betty, and a core group of followers covered about 300 miles across South Dakota.  Others were invited to take part on the final 65-mile leg.  I was honored to have my son, Brian, riding along with me.

I plan to keep riding.  I plan to keep writing.  I plan to keep having fun and living life to the fullest.  This blog is one outlet to share some of my adventures and journeys.  I hope that you visit from time to time.  If our paths cross – let’s go for a ride together at “Bike Speed”.