Why I Ride

Apparently, I am dying.

Or so said the interventional cardiologist who performed my latest heart catheterization procedure as he described a preciptious decline in my cardiovascular function and proffered options of last resort such as heart pumps and transplants.

Do I look like I’m dying?

No.

Do I feel like I’m dying?

No.

Do I act like I’m dying?

No.

I posed this conundrum to the physician I saw during the follow-up appoitnment at my regular cardiologist’s office.

Heart catheterization test results are the gold standard in this discipline of medicine and the treatment regimens he mentioned are the only possibilities remaining to someone with your level of heart function, she began as I looked increasingly incredulous.

BUT, she continued, numbers do not tell the whole story.  They do not take into account a patient’s spirit, will to persevere, and perhaps in your case the athleticism you have cultivated for the past two decades.  You are in great shape for a man your age, you take your medicine religiously, and you eat a sensible diet.  Very little research has been done on people like you.  You’re an anomaly we don’t understand, and while I wish I could prognosticate your trajectory, your heart function might continue to decline with you being able to happily cycle through the Alps or you could pass out watching TV and never wake-up.   I don’t have a better answer.  I’m sorry.

Her words hung in the air as she exited the examination room and I grew contemplative.  Am I really nearing the end of this journey we call life?  Will Atropos step forward to cut my mortal thread as I settle into watching another episode of “Get Smart” on DVD?

Could I deceive this fearsome Moira  by saying “Would you believe, at this very moment, you are being surrounded by an army of Myrmidons, Argonaunts, and Gorgons?”

Probably not.

Then the words of Horace Mann rang through my mind.  “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity,” said the great educator.

I’d better get busy living then because right now, the trophy case is looking bare.

But what battles to fight?  What objectives to secure?  What victories to win?

One epiphany came during a January visit with my cardiologist.  After I told her about completing my first 200K bike ride, I jokingly inquired about when she was going to publish her paper on me.  She didn’t laugh.  Instead, she turned her head and said (more or less):

When are YOU going to start speaking out?  I see you once a year, and you like to regale me with some anecdote about your latest physical accomplishment, but I never see you out in the community.  I never see you in media.  I never see you sharing your story with anyone else.  And you teach rhetoric and public speaking?!  Shame on you!

Do you have any idea what impact you might have?  I see patients every day who think their diagnosis a death sentence and just give up or live in fear waiting on the other shoe to drop.

Pick-up a microphone and tell a roomful of other heart patients and cardiologists that you cycle thousands of miles each year and do grueling work-out routines at your gym.  Maybe you’ll remind them what a precious gift life is and what’s possible with current treatment methods.  Even older patients or ones with more severe conditions might be inspired again seek out the beauty of a warm spring day or contact someone they have not spoken with in a long time.

Don’t speak to me of papers and journal articles when YOU’RE the one who has far more potential to touch people day-to-day.

Message received doc.   Maybe, by pedaling and inspiring others, I’ll score that victory for humanity so when the time comes as it must for us all, I can stand before the Creator and look back on my life without having to say, “Sorry about that, Chief.”

That’s not the only reason I ride, but it is a BIG motivator to keep pushing the envelope.

In Search of Local Amish

I call it the “Groundhog Day” conversation, a reference to the movie starring Bill Murray, because I get drawn into the same exchange most times I travel to participate in a group ride.

First the polite question:

“Where are you from?”

Followed by the polite answer:

“Greensboro.”

Then a look of surprise and the abrupt, unfiltered query, “Aren’t there rides in Greensboro?!”

Resisting the temptation of a snarky retort, I explain I enjoy meeting cyclists throughout North Carolina and experiencing more of what our state has to offer while atop the saddle of my bike.

This same narrative unfolded after a recent excursion I undertook with the Clip In & Ride cycling group based in Forsyth and Davie Counties.  Carolyn Reavis Mundt founded Clip In & Ride in January 2012, and after five years of steady growth, membership now exceeds 660 people with the group averaging close to 300 rides per year.

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Clip In & Ride’s current president, Vanessa Mebel, posted an out and back ride from the Huntsville Baptist Church in Yadkin County near Farmington to the Shiloh General Store in Hamptonville (Iredell County), a distance of about 47 miles.  The general store is an Amish owned business that opened in 2004 and sells meats, cheeses, herbs, spices, children’s toys, bulk foods, nuts, dried fruits, homemade baskets, jams, jellies, wooden furniture, and honey during the summer.  A deli in the back offers a daily lunch, and all edible items utilize fresh ingredients with no processed foods being served or found on the shelves.

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Shiloh General Store is sometimes truncated to Shiloh’s OR referred to as the Amish bakery due to the breads, fried pies, and other baked goods prepared each day.  Scratch made glazed doughnuts are available on Saturdays and are an especially popular item.

Another enticing aspect of this ride was the Union Grove district, which includes Hamptonville, is the only Amish settlement currently operating in North Carolina.  The Amish settled here in 1985 from southern Ohio where they adhere to a more liberal interpretation of their faith including allowing private homes to connect to the public power grid.  In fact, during the ride, I saw an Amish man operating a tractor near St. Paul Church Road..

No matter how often you cycle in Greensboro, you will not encounter any Amish or any business like the general store as the Union Grove area remains the sole place in our state where you can go “In Search of Local Amish.”

I had volunteered to be the C group leader for Vanessa’s ride so I arrived about 30 minutes early at the church to prep my bike and meet the cyclists I would be escorting.  C riders average 13 – 15mph and congregate at the back of the pack on most group outings.

However, a problem developed as the posted start time drew near.  Many C riders canceled their plans last minute due to lingering weather conditions like damp roads and cool temperatures, and the two C riders who did come said they wanted to try and keep up with the B cyclists whose target speed for this ride was 15.5 – 16.5 mph.

I was out of a job and jokingly told Vanessa I was promoting myself to sweep.  Being sweep is actually an important function and means you are the last rider on the route who takes on the responsibility of ensuing everyone is accounted for and receives any assistance they may require.   She agreed that this role revision was an acceptable alternative especially as I had driven an hour to be of help.

Cyclists preparing to depart Huntsville Baptist Church:

The ride began with a small number of A riders sprinting ahead at about 20 mph followed by Vanessa’s main body of B riders who would push each other into the 17+ mph range.  This pace ended up being a little fast for one of the C riders who dropped back and kept me company the rest of the way to the general store.

Highlights of this portion of the route included being chased by a mid-sized dog on US-21 South/Harmony Highway who insisted on running ahead of my C rider friend’s front wheel to her general dismay and seeing an Amish woman riding her bicycle down Windsor Road while wearing a full length black dress and matching bonnet.

Entering Amish Country on Hunting Creek Church Road:

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We arrived at Shiloh’s and discovered the business awash with customers after having undergone a major expansion and renovation.  Check-out lines a dozen people deep convinced me to limit my time inside the building, which proved fortuitous as Vanessa’s B group was preparing to leave as I stepped back outside (The A group had departed before my C rider friend and I reached the store).

Cyclists assembling to begin the return trip back to Huntsville Baptist Church:

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The second C rider joined my friend and I for the return trip as he wished to focus on enjoying the scenery rather than maintaining a faster average speed.   Nevertheless, everyone hammered down the flat and downhill stretches heading away from the general store, and I was well to the rear by the time I reached Barnard Mill Road.

Barnard Mill has a bridge over the South Yadkin River that marks the start of a ¾ mile climb that begins with a steep 7% grade (according to RideWithGPS) followed by two longer inclines with less severe ascents.  Perhaps out of kindness to let me to catch-up or perhaps because they needed a blow, I found the main body waiting to turn onto US-21 N/Harmony Highway.

I may be slow, but I can ride a long way without stopping.  As I slipped past Vanessa’s B riders to seize the lead, however transitory, I did an enthusiastic fist pump while shouting (at least inside the confines of my own mind), “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more unto the breach;”  Who says cyclists can’t have moments of literary erudition?

Uneventful is how I would describe the rest of the way as the two C riders and I more or less stayed together for the remainder of the route.  I averaged a little more than 14 mph on this 47.36 mile route with a total gain of 1,502’/1,690’ (MapMyRide and RideWithGPS figures respectively).

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Back at the church, several of us decided to have lunch at a place called the FeedBag.  This eatery, which purports to be the best restaurant in Farmington, is also the only restaurant in Farmington.  Despite this dubious distinction, I enjoyed my burger and fries and would return even if I did not ring their bell to indicate I had been served more food than mortal man could consume.  Then again, I do not expect plow horse portions on an $8 ticket.

The famous FeedBag Restaurant with the mural of Farmington Crossing on the roof.

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Not pictured: Lex.

Good food.  Good  ride.   And we were successful in our search to find local Amish.  Good day overall. Until the next cycling adventure…..

Interested in learning more about the Clip In & Ride Cycling Group?

https://www.meetup.com/Clip-In-and-Ride-Cycling-Group/

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Interested in visiting the Shiloh General Store?

https://www.visitnc.com/listing/shiloh-general-store

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Interested in eating at the FeedBag?

https://www.facebook.com/Feed-Bag-Provisions-291837154191958/

 

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Runners, Walkers, and Cyclists Aid Robeson County Flood Recovery Efforts

Appearances can be deceiving.  When I visited Lumberton in February, the town and surrounding area looked as if it had recovered well from the horrific flooding associated with Hurricane Matthew.  Animal carcasses in advanced stages of decomposition strewn along the shoulders of roads and death’s fetid stench emanating from creeks and rivers seemed the only reminders of a natural disaster.

Talking to Lumberton residents prior to the start of the2017 Rumba on the Lumber Festival’s cycling events disabused me of this notion.  The volunteer working the registration table said flood waters destroyed or made many homes uninhabitable, putting a severe strain on temporary housing and other resources.

Jef Lambdin, one of the organizers of this year’s Rumba on the Lumber weekend, added

“All the houses that were damaged now have to be rehabilitated, rebuilt or bulldozed.  Many of the grants available will pay for a home to be bulldozed and/or built up with a higher foundation.  None of the funds available from state or federal agencies will pay for the appliances and fixtures necessary for living in a home after it has been rebuilt – stoves, refrigerators, etc.  So funds the Road Runners will be donating to the Robeson County Hurricane Matthew Recovery Committee and the Lumberton Hurricane Matthew Disaster Relief Committee will go to families to purchase said items as well as purchasing building materials for families that choose to rebuild themselves.  There are still around 80 families in hotels.  Estimates vary between 150 and 200 homes still being repaired/rehabilitated/rebuilt.”

Also, Lambdin indicated 317 runners and walkers participated in Saturday’s 10K, 5K, and Fun Mile while 56 cyclists participated in Sunday’s 100K Metric Century, 20 Mile Bicycle Adventure, and Bicycle Rodeo.  Respectively, Yamaha of Lumberton, Cruzbike, and The Bicycle Shop sponsored the cycling events while Southeastern Health sponsored all the running and walking events.

2017 Rumba on the Lumber Festival:

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After talking with Lambdin and completing a simple onsite registration process, I began prepping my bike for the 12 noon start of the 100K Metric Century ride.   Part of this preparation included raising the seat post by about 1/3’ after experiencing leg cramps the previous day that may have been caused by excessive lowering of the post.

I located a group of cyclists from the coast with whom to ride after ascertaining that they planned to maintain an average speed of 13 – 15mph, a good pace for me after yesterday’s hilly ascent up Caraway Mountain, shortly before Owen Thomas, President of the Robeson Road Runners, welcomed everyone and gave the opening instructions.

Thomas indicated the route was essentially the same as last year except for the River and Burney Road loop being reversed for safety reasons and pointed out the official SAG vehicle and ambulance that would be patrolling the course.  One alert cyclist observed that the SAG support number had been omitted from the cue sheets, prompting Thomas to call out the number and encouraging everyone to write it down.

Official SAG vehicle and ambulance:

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As the ride began from Northeast Park in Lumberton, I pedaled hard to keep up with the group from the coast whose average speed fluctuated between 14 – 16+ mph.  I feigned a problem with my Garmin near the 5 mile mark and let them slip away around the next curve as I planned to ride the entire route without stopping and found the added pressure to keep up undesirable.

Cyclists listening to the opening instructions and getting ready to start:

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Being last on these smaller rides is not uncommon for me, and I settled into this comfortable routine by waving the ambulance on past.   I passed the single overlapping rest stop at Tar Heel, NC about 20 miles into the course as my erstwhile companions restocked their provisions.  They would pull ahead again as we prepared to turn left onto Burney Road, and we would trade the lead one final time as I moved ahead after they paused a second time at the rest stop only to fall behind for good as we neared the Smith Mill Road turn from Tar Heel Ferry Road.

Biggest challenges of the ride?  Battling an annoying headwind for the first 35 miles and the mind numbing lassitude you sometimes encounter riding solo on a mostly flat course.  Singletary Church Road was a perfect example with its nearly 8 miles of long, straight stretches broken up only by the occasional curve, church, or in home hair salon.  Finishing this monotonous grind provided an emotional lift and awareness that I would soon be back at Northeast Park.

Entrance to Northeast Park in Lumberton:

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I completed the 100K route in less than 4.5 hours with no stops achieving my goal.  I posted a 14 mph average speed with an average cadence of 80 rpms.  I discovered I was not the last person back as 3 other cyclists remained on the course, including a husband and wife from Canada (Quebec City), who had gotten lost during the ride.

Happy to be back after riding over 62 miles in Robeson and Bladen Counties:

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Lunch awaited us upon our return with the famous Butt Sliders from Candy Sue’s, a local restaurant, proving a popular item.  Spinach dip with pita chips, fresh fruit, soft drinks, and water comprised the other nutrition and refreshment options.

I congratulated Lambdin and Thomas on a solid effort and was pleased to hear Thomas contemplating how next year’s Rumba on the Lumber committee might grow the Sunday cycling events to generate turnout more equivalent to the Saturday portion of the weekend when the running and walking events take place.  By then I hope Lumberton, Robeson County, and surrounding areas will have fully recovered from the devastating flooding unleashed by Hurricane Matthew.

Interested in attending the 2018 Rumba on the Lumber?  Tentative dates are March 3rd and 4th.  Keep up with all the announcements and details at http://www.robesonroadrunners.com.

Robeson Road Runners website.  Rumba on the Lumber is the last tab top right corner.

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Caraway and Back

I should have been worried about this ride.  Earlier in the week, what I think may have been a painful acid reflux episode sent me scurrying to my cardiologist in fear that I’d had a heart attack while leaving behind a coating of bronchial sludge in each lung.  Also, my Fuji had undergone minor, yet important, modifications including the installation of a new seat and a 3/4” lowering of the seat post.  Because of my bronchitis I had not been on the bike since these adjustments had been completed.

That’s me at Jamestown Presbyterian Church before I started as well as my new seat and lowered seat post.  I had no idea of the difficulties I would soon encounter:

Excitement displaced the restraint a more temperate person might have felt.  Excitement about being back on the bike.  Excitement about testing the modifications to see if they made a difference.  Excitement about completing my 14th “No Stops” endurance training ride.  One that would mirror last year’s Hamil-Kerr Challenge by starting at Jamestown Presbyterian Church on Guilford College Road and ascending Caraway Mountain on the outskirts of Asheboro before looping back to the church.

The thought never occurred to me that taking on a 1.62 mile climb with a 2.8% average grade before charging ahead without respite into the rolling terrain surrounding Lake Lucas might prove Custerian in its mindless audacity given my weakened condition and untested modified mechanical steed.

2,428′ of gain on a 58 mile route with a Level 5 climb up Caraway Mountain is no joke:

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At least not until the first hill where my chest tightened and my respiration quickened.

“Oh crap!” I thought.  “How am I going to get up Caraway if I’m feeling like this less than 2 miles into this 55 mile route?”

Caraway.  A rite of passage for local cyclists.  A sometimes boogeyman used to weaken the will and hobble the spirit.  The angst associated with these memories came flooding back into my mind.  Maybe I would pedal to my half-brother Gary’s house nearby and surprise him with a visit.  Maybe I would see my friends Felicia and David out in their yard giving me an excuse to stop and chat as I passed their residence.  Maybe I would truncate the route to 25 miles by turning around at the Guil-Rand Fire Station on Harlow Road.  The last thing I wanted was to falter halfway up Caraway.

My confidence returned as my chest loosened and my respiration slowed after cresting this initial hill, and I pushed on towards Cedar Square and Sophia.  On Edgar Road a German Shepherd mix gave pursuit, which distracted me at least from an upcoming short climb.  Closing in on Flint Hill community, I could see Caraway Mountain in the distance and felt the uncertainty return as I labored up the last two significant hills before reaching Caraway Creek.

The big hump in the middle of the frame is Caraway Mountain as seen from a distance:

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Caraway Creek marks the beginning of the mountain and the Caraway Velo Club Adopt-A-Highway sign just past the bridge seems to morph occasionally into an “Abandon Ye All Hope” admonition.

Ignoring this intermittent phantasmagoric warning, I found a comfortable gear and began to climb.  The chest strain and fast breaths reemerged after about half a mile as I closed in on Camp Caraway.   I slipped the chain into the small ring after reaching the steepest and longest part of the ascent a short distance past the camp.  Still, my chest constriction intensified as the congestion in my lungs seemed to thicken with each pedal stroke.

Random motivational thoughts raced across my mind as I kept going.  I could see Camp Mundo Vista ahead as I rounded another curve.  If I could just get to the entrance of Mundo Vista, I would have finished the hardest section of the climb, and the easing of the gradient would make me feel like a cork bobbing to the top of a wave as I sailed up the rest of the hill.  But could I get there?

Somehow I did even though my bronchial passages felt increasingly clogged after a tough first 25 miles.  And I still had 30 miles to go.  But Caraway had been beaten.

Watch the video as I take you on a guided tour up Caraway Mountain:

The route flattened out at the top of the mountain before beginning a long descent to the Lake Lucas dam on Old Lexington Road, giving me much needed recovery time.  Of course, what goes down must come up, and all too soon I began another extended climb from the dam to Lake Lucas Road.

Partial view of Lake Lucas.  Picture taken from the bridge on Lake Lucas Road:

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From that point to Highway 311, rolling hills and lengthy inclines vexed me for the next four to five miles.  The pasta I’d eaten prior to the ride seemed a fleeting memory as I felt my strength begin to wane, which prompted me to drop back down to the small ring and begin prodigious consumption of protein bars and Gator Ade while remaining on the bike.

My energy level had returned to normal by mile 35, which was good because my notoriously bad sense of direction tricked me into turning the wrong way onto Branson Davis Road.  Almost two miles later, I rolled back into Sophia before realizing what I’d done.  I kicked myself for adding what would amount to nearly four extra miles to the route, and as I turned 180 degrees to continue this prolonged journey, I felt a sharp twinge in my right quadriceps.   I was starting to cramp.

“A CRAMP?!  You gotta be kidding me!  It’s 50 degrees, and I’ve been drinking Gator Ade!”  I fumed.

Then I remembered.  The seat post.  I’d lowered it by ¾” after two friends told me my hips were moving up and down with each rotation and hindering the efficiency of my pedal stroke.

¾’ proved too large a drop as both legs were cramping by the time I reached Davis Country Road.  Still, I was determined to finish and pushed through the pain even though the hills on Groometown Road and Kivett Drive made me wince and yelp.

That seat post is too low and caused me to experience leg cramps during this ride:

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The discomfort eased off near the intersection of Guilford College Road and Gate City Boulevard, and I arrived back at Jamestown Presbyterian Church a few minutes later.  I achieved my goal having ridden about 58.4 miles with no stops.  My average speed was only 13 mph, but given I was cycling a difficult route alone in a weakened physical state, I’ll take it and officially declare the Hamil-Kerr Challenge to be the 14th NO STOP ride I’ve completed.

Here’s my route including my wrong turn and backtracking on Branson Davis Road:

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Want to ride this route yourself and get to the top of Caraway?

The 2017 Hamil-Kerr Challenge is being held Saturday, April 22nd at Jamestown Presbyterian Church.  The event is a non-profit fundraiser providing research and support for patients and their families who suffer from Parkinson’s Disease (PD), Progressive Supra-Nuclear Palsy (PSP), and Multiple System Atrophy (MSA) research.    Lunch is included with your registration.

Check out all the details at http://www.hamilkerrchallenge.com:

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