Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Day in the Life...

I guess that a little over halfway through my journey I should pause for some sort of reflection. In the past month or so I have come so far and learned so much, about myself, about life, and about the lives of those so often pushed to the margins of society by the social stigma attached to a mental or physical disability. It seems like nearly a year ago, even though it was just a month, that I stood on the front steps of the California State Capitol building in Sacramento and listened to the director of People First of California talk about how bullying was becoming an increasing problem for children with disabilities and that budget cuts from a legislature that has become increasingly hostile towards disabilities awareness, are the biggest threat to giving people with disabilities a chance to demonstrate their plentiful abilities. It breaks my heart every moment I spend with these wonderful people knowing that the cards are stacked against them everywhere they go, and yet they offer so much to society.

Thats only half of it though. I have also learned so much about myself. Tomorrow we will be riding one of our last century rides of the year. So far I have finished all but one of them, and that was only because of equipment failure that I had to rack at mile 91. When you ride in excess of 90 miles, the battle becomes way more than just a physical challenge. A lot of this difficulty comes from the shear amount of time you have to spend on the bike to complete a ride this long. Occasionally the wind is in your favor and you can pull excess of 20 miles per hour, but an inevitable fact about a true century day means that you will be on the bike at least 6 hour and sometimes up to 8 or 9 hrs depending on wind and mechanical issues. To put things in perspective, the average day is about 75 miles on this trip, and on a day that long the last 20 miles are always tough, so imagine on a century day when at 75 miles you haven't even entered the last 20 miles of your ride and then the numbers hit home.

Thus as I mentioned earlier, mental preparation is essential beyond what it takes to complete some of the shorter days. At about 3 hours of saddle time and no matter how well you stretched, or how well you ate the night before, your physical strength begins to fade, your muscles get tight, and every muscle feels like it is on fire. The sweat buildup on your eyebrow stings your eyes, and your fingers start going numb from pressure on the handlebars. However, for all the pain and physical challenge of a century ride, I always seem to dig deep and find the will to finish the ride.

So as a point of reflection I will take you through the typical day of a Journey of Hope cyclist. Every morning, wakeup comes way too early and i stumble out of bed with bleary eyes and residual soreness from the previous day. My mind races for excuses to rack for the day, but somehow I quiet those voices down and put on my cycling uniform. From there I somehow get all of my belongings for the summer outside and into the vans in 30 minutes, and then somehow manage to stomach a tortilla liberal slathered with peanut butter and wash it down with a tall glass of orange sugar water called Tampico which passes for orange juice. All of that is topped off by a bowl of 2 orders removed off brand cereal and suddenly the voices lucky for excuses to rack almost get there way as this breakfast attempts to make a bid for freedom. I keep it down though and begin my daily pre ride ritual which involves putting on sunscreen, cycling cap, and sunglasses. At this point we have finished circle up where Nick briefs us on the ride and road conditions. Now groups are assembling to start the ride. A quick check of tire pressure and on go the cycling shoes and helmet as I roll my bike to the starting line. As the vans leave to mark turns and set up crew stops, the groups start leaving. One last check of my email on the iPhone and off I go. The next two miles are spent getting my legs warm and working out the soreness from the previous day. All in a blur the voices from earlier fade and my thoughts wander to life, the deeper questions about existence, and my prospects for a job post JOH. All the while the crew stops float by and barring the occasional flat tire the miles roll by one upon the other and fade away into the aether. Pretty soon my paceline is rolling into stage up, sometimes we are first sometimes we are dead last but we finish. I sit at stage up and laugh at myself for my thoughts earlier in the morning as I realize that I was actually considering racking. The days of this trip are hard, and try me to my breaking point time and time again, and yet I finish strong.

In the past 2000 miles I have learned a lot of lessons, like the fact that lodging is always on the other side of town, and always on top of a hill. On a day when time is of the essence and you nee to make rack point you will inevitably encounter every mechanical problem imaginable and on the day when you want nothing more than catastrophic failure as an excuse to be off the bike, you ride without a hitch. Programing rarely happens when planned and if you don't roll with the punches you will end up falling behind or becoming discouraged. The biggest lesson I have learned is that even on my worst day on the Journey of Hope, I wouldn't want to be anywhere else and I wouldn't trade the experience for anything else.

Speaking of century days, sleep is one of the best ways to be mentally prepared for the ride so Im gonna knock off for now.


The Stars at Night are Big and Bright

My journey is really flying by at this point. I have tried to keep a semi weekly update of the blog and somehow I have blown through two and a half states and time seems to have cleverly slipped through my fingers. I think I left off in Roswell, New Mexico, so I will attempt to pick up where I left off. I realize I have left off a few cities in New Mexico but to be completely honest we spent a lot of time on the racks due to some scheduling confusion and the relative danger of riding on the interstate which at times were the only option.

With the aliens in our rearview mirror we departed bright an early for the bustling metropolis of Portales. Roswell got one last snag on us as we departed with one member getting a flat only one mile into the trip. We quickly dropped from first paceline to dead last. Undaunted by our new position we hit it hard and ended up making incredible time, no doubt in part to us skipping every other crew stop and averaging above 20MPH through the relatively flat terrain. Pretty soon we had reclaimed our spot at the front of the pack and rolled into our arrival in a brisk 4.5 hours for the 95 mile stretch, a good 15minutes ahead of the next group.

After Portales we made our way to Texas, hence the title of my post. Naturally I was a little bit excited and sang Texas folk songs the whole way to the stateline. Along the way we stopped at Joe's Boot shop in Clovis, New Mexico, to purchase some western wear. I of course bought the biggest most obnoxious belt buckle to distinguish myself from the rest of the group. It was back to the bikes for the last 25 miles into Muleshoe, Texas, where we stayed the night. Muleshoe was an amazing stop and I feel the whole team really came together and grew as a unit.

We left Muleshoe in high spirits for a medium ride to Lubbock. In order to make a tight arrival that sprung up in Lubbock we had to rack the team up to a staging area where we rode in to the State School where we would be staying the night. Pizza for lunch and burgers for dinner was the start of our amazing lodging and dining experiences in Texas and we were even treated to beds for the night.

The next morning was a brutal awakening as we all clung to the last precious moments of sleep in beds before beginning day one of the Texas Triple Crown, named so because it is a three day stretch where we cover just over 305 miles (95, 100, and 110 respectively). Our one reward was the fact that for all but one of those nights we got to stay in lodging with beds. You really enjoy the small things on this trip. The first two days of the Triple Crown went relatively smoothly, some rough headwinds slowed our progress but due to not having much in the way of programming we didnt really have rack points set so everyone could complete the rides. Day three however, was the toughest of them all. 110 miles is more of a mental test than anything else, after about 50miles each individual mile doesnt really tax your body physically but rather as each hour in the saddle wears on, the desire to quit becomes stronger and stronger. A delicious lunch of bratwurst, sour krout, and pasta salad provided by the TCU Pikapps didnt help much over the last 50 miles of our 105 mile day. The food was great but getting moving after such a great meal was hard. At about mile 80 my body was in pretty bad shape but I dug deep and finished out the day... barely. I took several hours to fully recover once the ride was over. That day was hard for me as well because my roomate of 2 years, Stephen Ramey, was getting married that day and I was unable to attend the wedding, held in Greenville, South Carolina, and it was very had for me to sit 2000 miles away and read text updates on the wedding from all my friends who were there. I wouldnt call it homesick but at this point in the trip I was feeling a little down. It was hard to remain down though as our BBQ and pool party in Stephenville was amazing and soon I was feeling better.

The next three days had us riding into Ft. Worth and then Dallas for a much needed day off. It had been 9 days since out last true rest so the 8:30am wakeup on tuesday was well accepted by all. Not to mention having my parents in town was great as well. Its hard to believe that it has been a month and a half since I last saw them. They came by and brought me some much needed items from home and helped me out with a pretty stressful situation getting my bike fixed in Dallas.

Back on the road, the team is now in Terrell, Texas, knocking on the doors of Louisiana. In some ways a new State will be nice, but its strange because after spending 9 days in Nevada, 7 in Arizona, 8 in New Mexico, and 12 in Texas, we will now sprint through the southeast never spending more than 3-4 days in any one state. Texas has certainly been a high point for me, and I would like to believe for the rest of the team as well. The food has been amazing, the people are always friendly, and we have only had to sleep on the floor 4 out of the 12 days we have been here. The Super 8 motel, where I am currently staying, is the third hotel we have had the whole trip and the second we have had in Texas. It will be hard to leave the luxury behind, but I am more than excited to begin riding through a part of the country through which I have driven countless times during my 4 years of college.

Now, Im off to the pool for a little relaxing time before dinner tonight, till next time.


Saturday, July 11, 2009

Concerning UFO sightings... and other mindless ramblings

So this post will be brief but I figured this particular story to merit it's own space lest it be lost among the randomness and typos of my usual updates.

I'm currently in Roswell, New Mexico, enjoying our past couple of days before we ride through Texas. Roswell, as many of you undoubtably know, is the site of the infamous "alien landings" of the 1940's. The news reports (and most of the more reasonable locals) explan these "sitings" as a weather balloon gone astray that some overzealous farmer, who i like to imagine was most assuredly blasted out of his mind on some mixture of jet fuel, pcp, and moonshine, found and claimed was a spacecraft. Not only that, he also claims to have seen two creatures lingering next to this unidentified craft (hence my previous assumption). Like all good conspiracy theorists this humble farmer calls the police to show them his findings only to have two unmarked black vans show up with a bunch of government types arrive to take the ...errr spaceship for further testing. Naturaly when joe farmer comes off his chemical high, he runs to the local watering hole to tell his bizarre story by the details have become less clear and inthe absence f whtnesses he is taken as a kook and returns to his solitary life, and writes a book about the whole ordeal.

Well, the story certainly sounds sad but I kid you not, many of the upstanding citizens of Roswell still believe this crazy old farmer. I met one such person today at friendship visit with the boys and girls club in Roswell. An older man probably in his late 70's wearing jorts suspenders and a plain white tee topped off by a red white and blue trcker hat with the slogan "no Obama nation!" emblazoned defiantly across the brim swear he has not only seen the evidence of such a cover up but that the liberal media has been suppressing the truth about aliens, per the orders of the federal government (which he adds is run by goddless liberals trying to undermine the values of our nation) and that there have been several similar alien sightings in Roswell since the original one, in spite of the fact that the majority of the more inteligent residents telling us otherwise.

Now I don't mean to pick sides as I am undecided. We get to go visit to Roswell UFO museum tomorrow and perhaps I can make a more informed decision then. On one hand I favor the farmer, oppressed by societal stigma, but on the other hand at what point tldo you cease to believe the powers to be?

I doubt you will find any meal value to my recent post, but hopefully you have been entertained andnperhaps have even started to ponder the significance of life and the possibiltiy that we perhaps are not alone...

ie. Ifnyountook this post seriously put down the can of jetfuel and get help

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

115 degrees and a new state

There's not a whole to really say for Arizona, to be completely honest it's so hot that even the locals admit that going outside after about 9am is unpleasant. Thats why we wake up at 5am to beat the heat. Although at 5 in the morning it is still a lovely 85 degrees. I've gotten relatively used to the heat though and the recent days have taken the team to higher elevations and somewhat cooler temperatures.

When I last wrote the team was enjoying a wonderful day off in Lake Havasu, however things were about to get down to business really quick as we had a lot of miles to cover in Arizona. Luckily we eased back in with a brisk 40 mile ride to Parker. We were warned that the ride would seem more like 60 given the geography around Havasu, but my paceline absolutely killed the ride and finished in a little over 2hrs, nearly 8 miles ahead of the next group.

4:30am came way too soon as we all groggily shuffled out of lodging for our second and longest century ride of the trip. Wickenburg was a little over 110 miles away and was going to be a scorcher. Luckily the first 50 miles were pleasantly cloud covered. I was riding sweep today and a few guys were back on the bike for the first time since vegas so our pace was relatively slow. The slowest guy racked at 40 miles; however, and from then on it was a race for my fellow sweep and I along with the remainder of the paceline we were with to get to rack point. After several hours of merciless flats and scorching temperatures my rear tire succumbed to the heat and exploded literaly right out from under me, and ended my ride at 91miles.

The weather in Wickenburg was a little cooler and for once the wind was with us. My paceline set a stout pace and we were in Phoenix in no time. After a very entertaining ride on the Tempe light rail where many locals expressed their displeasure at having to share a train with 30 cyclists, we arrived at ASU for another amazing day off with the ASU pikapps.

Unlike after most days off where we have an easy day to get our legs back under us, we were thrown right into the fire with a 75mipe day to globe if which the last 25 miles were spent crawling up a 6% grade to Globe. I was near the back pushing some guys who again had been off the bike almost a week but they refused to quit and were rewarded with a complete ride and a well earned hot shower at the local highschool. The nigt was capped off be an awesome fireworks show in the local walmart parking lot.

The grind continued with what could be the hardest day of JOH south route. The ride to lakeside is 95 miles through some very hot and very steep terrain including the beautiful Salt River Canyon, which is fun to ride into but tough to get out of. My group pushed hard but as the miles wore on my resolve began to fade as no one was mentally prepared for how tough this ride was. At 70 miles my body almost won the fight but I refused to quit and left the last crew stop only minutes before rack time.

I was nervous at the beginning of the next day of 105 miles as I felt I had barely recovered from our previous day. My fears were misplaced though as my paceline destroyed the ride in just over 5 hours averaging 19mph even with some relatively steel climbs. I felt great as we rolled into lodging on the heels of the first group. Today was also great as we crossed into New Mexico

The recent days have taken me through some of the most beautiful landscapes since Napa as well as some of the lowest temperatures. This morning was downright cold and I struggled to keep my legs loose for the first 20 miles. However, after a few hours though our team had climbed nearly 1500 ft to the western continental divide and from there it was downhill. We took full advantage of a nice tailwind and rode out the last 30 miles of the 75 mile day in a little over an hour. After a nice swim and a hot shower we settled into lodging for our relatively late 6am wakeup and brisk ride into Albuquerqe for another day off.

As I approach the halfway point to this amazing journey I can't believe it is almost over. I have learned so much about myself and about all the wonderful people with disabilities who constantly live within our midst unnaffected by the stigma society attaches to their condition. In fact, they flourish. Through wheelchair basketball I have now recieved the thrashing of my lifetime twice and was even thrown to the ground in the heat if battle as the competitors effortlessly wheeled by and scored a basket. Perhaps we will be ready for the dallas team. In short I can't believe how much I have learned and my life will be forever changed by my interractions so far.

That's about all for now, as alwas till next time.