Switching Gears

Even when you are retired life has a way of interrupting your plans.  Whether you have travel plans, projects on the to-do list, or just hanging out at home, sometimes other things take priority.  That is the situation my wife and I find ourselves in.  Our priority the last four months has been helping our son-in-law care for our daughter.  In my last blog post I was optimistic that she would soon be in remission and headed to Duke University hospital for a second stem cell transplant as she battles Adult T-Cell leukemia (aka acute lymphoblastic leukemia).  A month ago we were told that the chemotherapy medicines and the immunotherapy she received over the past four months did not have any affect on the leukemia and there was no other treatment options available.  So she made the difficult decision to go home and be comfortable during the time she has remaining.  It was devastating and heartbreaking news but she has handled the cards she was dealt with grace, courage, and dignity.  She is truly an inspiration to our entire family and her friends.

So while we offer her our love and support she encourages me to get out and ride my bicycle.  As I ride along the Blue Ridge Parkway this spring I have the pleasure of watching wild flowers bloom, young leaves emerge on tree limbs, and hearing birds sing their beautiful songs as I chug up these mountains.  Often I am treated with the loud call of a Pileated Woodpecker or see a Red-tail hawk catch an air thermal and glide gracefully over a nearby valley.  John Burroughs once said, “I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.”  Biking on the Blue Ridge Parkway gives me a chance to let my mind drift to a place of calmness and peace for a few hours.  As I climb higher and higher the views open to something so majestic it is hard to describe.  As I pass through 4000 feet I find that spring has not yet arrived at this elevation.  Trees are still bare and there is no leafy vegetation sprouting up through the leaf litter.

Craggy Gardens view

View near Craggy Gardens Visitor Center

Craggy Gardens tunnel

Craggy Gardens Tunnel

While I have taken several shorter bike rides my two biggest and most strenuous rides this spring were in opposite directions from the Blue Ridge Parkway parking area just off Rt. 74A east of Asheville.  Starting at an elevation of about 2,100 feet I rode south for 24 miles to Mt. Pisgah climbing to an elevation of 5,000 feet.  The next “big” ride was north of Rt. 74A.  From there I climbed 21 miles to the Craggy Gardens Visitors Center to an elevation of 5,200 feet.  My goal was to reach both destinations as a way to train for my future bike ride and to prove to myself that I can climb to those heights.

Road to Craggy Gardens

Views like this make the long climbs worthwhile

I once told my wife that there is something about the Blue Ridge Parkway that beckons me to ride from one end to the other.  I don’t know if it is a call to challenge myself to get out of my comfort zone and do something extreme, or some primal need to prove to myself that I can sustain myself outdoors without the creature comforts of home.  Whatever the reason, when I begin my trip to finish what I started two years ago I hope to find peace with myself and with God, and at the same time honor my daughter’s life and legacy.

It is for this reason that I will complete my remaining 350 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway later this summer as a fundraising endeavor.  I will be seeking pledges for each mile I ride to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society for research.  I will soon be notifying others via social media of a website established in Melissa’s name for those who just wish to make a tax deductible donation instead of pledging an amount per mile (amounts donated via pledges is also tax deductible).  My goal will be to raise $25,000 for research to find a cure for this type of cancer.

The thought of cancer striking my family like it has is devastating and unfathomable.  But it has hit us and I hope that someday the money raised in this campaign will help save someone in the not to distant future.

 

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The Bicycle I Ride and Why I Chose It

IMG_0832After riding my Specialized Hard Rock mountain bike for nearly 20 years I felt it was time to get a new ride.  While I have to admit I did not do a great deal of research I knew I wanted a bike that was comfortable, stable, and durable even though I can be considered a casual rider.  I ended up purchasing a Diamondback Edgewood Hybrid bike that I felt met my needs.  One thing that makes it comfortable is the adjustable stem that allows me to put the cruiser or riser style handlebars in a position that keeps me in a more upright position.  The main reason I did not consider a road bike was the drop bars put me in more of a forward leaning position that put undo stress on my lower back which sometimes gives me problems.  The Diamondback Edgewood Hybrid bike comes with shimano derailleur and 21 speed drivetrain that worked smoothly from the first time I took to the road.  I do get the shifting and brake cables adjusted annually as part of my maintenance routine.  Note that this bike does not come with a kick stand.  So be prepared to purchase one.

The one mistake I made when purchasing this bike, and it had nothing to do with the bike itself, was to chose a large frame instead of a medium frame which would have been more suited to my height.  At the time I thought I was 5′ 9 1/2″ tall and the large frame  was built for someone 5′ 10″ and taller.  However, after a recent hospial visit I was measured at 5′ 8 1/2″ which made this decision worse.  So I felt I was between sizes and the macho man in me said go big or go home.  So I chose the large frame.  Turns out when chosing a bicycle size does matter.  With my feet flat on the ground there is no clearance between me and the crossbar so I have learned to slide my feet out of the toe clips very quickly.  However, since purchasing the bike in May 2015, I have ridden over 2,500 miles with no problems.  It is a solid bike and I would highly recommend it to the casual rider.  I was so confident in this bike that I road it on my first bicycle touring adventure which I will begin to chronicle in my next blog.

I’m No Lance Armstong

new-river-gorge-bridge-900x440

New River Gorge Bridge

I never had a need for speed when cycling as if I were in the middle of a peleton on the final leg of the Tour de France while wearing the yellow jersey.  I ride for exercise, enjoyment of the surrounding scenery, and to have time to clear my head.  The only sounds I want to hear are the wind blowing past my ears and the sound of my tires meeting the pavement.

I became a serious rider when my job took me to the New River Gorge area near Lansing, West Virginia.  Riding in this mountainous area, at least in my mind, required that I have a mountain bike, although I did not do much off-road cyling.   I bought a 21-speed Specialized Hard Rock mountain bike and it served me well for many years and several thousand miles.

Later my work took me to Charleston, West Virginia, and along with a co-worker who was an avid rider, I began riding around Charleston after work and on weekends.  We would ride anywhere from 15 to 25 miles each time we went out.  By the way, Charleston is a great place to ride and is becoming more bike friendly.  After riding for several months my co-worker challenged me to ride my age, in miles, during the week of my birthday which was something he had been doing for years.  I had never done any long distance cycling but accepted the challenge and rode 55 miles in about 4 hours.  I kept this challenge the following year after moving to South Carolina and rode my age on that birthday.  While I still ride hundreds of miles a year I have not kept up that challenge.  But as I will describe in a later blog I came up with another way to challenge myself and move outside my cycling comfort zone.