Tuesday, June 25, 2019

#thelobsterroll, day 5

I read a line in a novel the other day that struck a cord. The cord is still resonating.

“People feel pain, and it shrinks their souls.”

Context: There are parents. Their baby dies. Unexpectedly. They just find him, cold and lying unnatural in his crib. Nearly two decades on and these parents still hurt. The author offers this observation, that pain is a given, and that we are the worse for it.

It is a melancholy truth. Life is full of melancholy truth.

I read something the other day—someone posted a link on FB—and unfortunately I don’t remember the title or the author so I can’t look it up and cite, but, in it, the author made a point about relative social closeness to someone suffering from some sort of illness, like cancer. It had to do with license to complain. The point, I think, was that the person who is ill gets to complain about whatever they want, to whomever they want. Then there are those who are super close to them—say a spouse, or children, or parents—they get to complain, but only to others, outward, but not to the person who is ill. Then you go out a bit more—close friends, say—and they can complain to folks that are still further removed, but not inward. They don’t get to complain to the person who is ill, or their spouse, etc.

Anyway, imagining these people grouped in concentric circles by relative social distance was a helpful mental image for me. Not so much in thinking about who gets to complain to whom (which I didn’t really find that interesting), but rather in who feels the thing. A diagram of the relative domains of sorrow, maybe. Or something like that.

I don’t know what it’s like to be suffering from a life-threatening illness, but I can imagine. And the thing that I imagine is the emotional toll such a thing would have on those close to me. I’m sure I would complain and whine, such is my nature. There would be good days and bad. I might curse my luck and genes and the stars—“Is it even so? then I defy you, stars!” But I think (I think) that I would worry most about how my being sick hurt those I have been lucky enough to have loved me.

It seems, to me, that the lion’s share of the emotional pain associated with serious illness lies with those who love those who are ill. And this, I think, falls into the category of what I would call a beautiful tragedy—tragic, for obvious reasons, but beautiful, because if we could not love we would not feel pain, but to love is to suffer. But love is also beautiful, maybe the most beautiful thing. Thus, a beautiful tragedy.

What a terrible irony, no? Born of a terrible paradox…

Well, here’s another paradox (sort of): Riding bicycles to promote a cancer-hating charity.

But it works for me. Doing hard physical things, pushing bodies to new limits…there is beauty in this. A celebration of life. Or, as Eric Liddell put it, “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His presence.” (God didn’t make me that fast, but I still feel my most human—like I am most fulfilling the measure of my creation, when I am at my most fit, and doing a thing at my very capacity.)

The effects of cancer, or any serious illness, are the opposite—it is our bodies betraying us.

So it makes sense to me to promote a cancer-hating charity by pushing personal physical boundaries and celebrating what it means to be alive. It makes all the sense in the world.

If you haven’t yet, please consider tossing a couple dimes to the Flatwater Foundation, which works with therapists to provide mental health services to folks impacted by a cancer diagnosis at a fraction of the market rate.

Mmm… Smell the salt in the air. We’re in Maine now, and tomorrow, our last day, we’ve 96 miles of coastal riding and then we’re done. It will be a celebration of life.


Maine! We made it! So we can stop now, right?
Another front-ended day...these small, fairly steep climbs took a toll.
Full ride details here.

This cool little store came at mile 33 today. It's apparently famous for being a regular campaigner's stop. The backroom is full of old political campaign posters. Some Thompson guy with the catchy slogan "No Drugs" (I failed in my picture taking). If only we had elected that guy, I'm sure all our drug problems would not be problems.

Below, a number of unfinished shots from our professional photog, Tyler Northrup. You can follow him on the 'gram: @tylernorthrup (no shots from this week yet, but hopefully we make the cut).

(CJ photo cred for the shot of this tall drink of water.)

Oh, and don't miss my second guest appearance on Pie Guys!

Monday, June 24, 2019

#thelobsterroll, day 4

Woke in the middle of the night with this distinct thought: God is numbers.

Also the realization that CJ (our support driver) won’t be able to drive if there’s pulled pork involved. (Involved with what? I'm not sure.)

And somehow this shed light on the problem of getting the small girl and her cute pink bicycle--complete with handlebar streamers--over the curb and onto the sidewalk. This, apparently, was a problem too difficult to deal with without knowing that, indeed, God is numbers.

Is it weird that I slept very well after day one, but rather poorly the last two nights? Perhaps having worked out what God is I'll be more settled this evening.


Today was new kit day. Which is always a joy.

New kit day means photo ops. Lots, and lots of photos.

We stopped at this lovely outlook for photos...and drone filming fun (no picture of drone included, unfortunately.)

A lot of the photography (and videography) was done from this white van, either with side door open or back hatch. We were, I'm sure, very handsome.

And there were a few segments of gravel travel, which is also joyful. (As it watching Brian descend the gravel roads with reckless abandon.)

But then Tim destroyed a rim. This was not joyful.

Pictured above is the offending hole, which really seemed a nothing. All of us were left scratching our heads over that one. (We had a spare set of wheels in the van, so it wasn't long before we were rolling again.)

You'll all be quite happy to know that I have now finished my grading, summer class grades have been submitted (at 10:30 pm), but the threat of rain tomorrow has prompted plans for a 6:00 am departure, which means bed. Now.

For tomorrow, we ride.


A reminder of what we're doing this for--please support The Flatwater Foundation, which provides mental health services to folks impacted by a cancer diagnosis, by supporting us. Click here to donate now.

Thank you.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

#thelobsterroll, day 3

I’ve had tremendous difficulty composing a blog post for today. I’ve written a couple thousand words, but haven’t been able to sort them in the appropriate order.

And now I’m very tired. And I’ve eaten too much. And I need to grade papers (because I do actually work for a living).

So, instead of lots of writing, I’m going to send you to my guest appearance on Pie Guys (just go with it).

Follow THIS LINK, click play. Enjoy.


Our long day. 114 miles, 8,200' of climbing. The route today was 100 percent.
Early on. Spirits high. Actually, I think they stayed pretty high all day (we started slower and it made a huge difference).

These New England towns are just adorable.

Crossing the Hudson. (Ok, so the last picture wasn't technically New England, but I think close enough.)

A delightful surprise. Brian's family waiting for us at our lunch stop.

More New England delights.

No more Clif bars for me; I've taken to just eating pie at our rest stops.

Generally how I feel after six hot hours in the saddle.

This place was everything I could have hoped for. A+.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

#thelobsterroll, day 2

When cyclists meet, and start to get to know each other, they often ask for the cycling version of an origin story.

When did you start riding bikes?

Mostly north today. North, and into a headwind. Tomorrow, mostly east. More ride details here.

In the answer, you learn a lot about a person. At least, I like to think you do. A bit of history. Maybe something of their values.

The question we don't ask, but maybe should, is this:

Why do you keep riding bikes?

I think the answer to this question is a bit harder to answer.

Early in the ride. Spirits are high, and so are the watts. We started slower, but at 70 miles in had averaged just under 21 mph. At the finish, still over 20 mph. (Did I mention we were battling a headwind?) We're all committed to riding a more reasonable pace tomorrow.

In the cyclocross documentary "Transitions" (watch the trailer here), you hear a disembodied voice answer the question this way, "It's just that I like it. I'm good at it."

Fair enough.

What the disembodied voice does not provide is the answer a sociologist might give, which, perhaps, would be to discuss the cultural tapestry of privilege that even allows him to do such a thing. I think about this a lot. I mean... A. LOT. I often dislike where the train of thought takes me.

All the same, as with the person behind the voice-over, I like it too, this riding bikes thing. Whether I'm good at it or not depends on who you ask, I suppose. That is, if you're looking for an objective response. Subjectively, though... Sure, I think I'm good at it. I like how I feel when I do it. I like what it does to my body. I very much like the sense of personal empowerment cycling affords. To me, it is of unquantifiable psychic value (see Nietzsche quote in right sidebar). And I like the machines. They're beautiful. Some of them, I could stare at all day.

Ashokan Reservoir provides New York City with 40 percent of its drinking water. It provides me with a stunning backdrop for one of my favorite machines to stare at.

I teach my students that people do their best work under conditions in which they are given autonomy, the opportunity to master skills that they value, and where there is a clear, meaningful purpose to the work they're doing. In fairly obvious ways, cycling ticks the first two boxes. How I find meaning in the sport is a question I've stewed over since I began doing it.

There's a kind of life cycle arch to the cycling career of most serious cyclists. A flirtation stage, as they're getting to know themselves and the paradoxically delicious and repulsive cultural nuance of the sport. A stage of deep infatuation, as they immerse themselves into the culture and spend nearly all their time and more than all their money creating a cycling self. A stage of escalated commitment, as cyclists reach the initial boundary of their natural talent, realize the commitment it will take to be excellent and begin to make that commitment. Then, sooner for some and later for others, resignation... Better understanding their physical, mental, emotional, and lifestyle constraints (i.e. the cost of the sport), cyclists decide how much they can give to the sport and then proceed to give it less...every year, a little less.

There are some of us, quite few really, who resist resignation. Terminally. We can feel it. It's there. It's the hungry lion that, were we to stumble, would close its angry jaws around our fleshy shaved thighs in a heartbeat.

We're Team I Hate Cancer. Please consider a donation to the Flatwater Foundation on our behalf. The Flatwater Foundation provides mental health services to those impacted by a cancer diagnosis. Which is most of us. Help the helpers help those that need the help. Click here to help out.

Why do you keep riding bikes?

Tomorrow (as I expect day 3 to be the most difficult of the 6), the answer may have as much to do with stubbornness than anything else. Will. Determination. Grit. Proving a thing to myself (because no one else really cares). Because I can. Because I choose to.

Every December, as I begin to ramp up the miles and plot out the next year's training goals, I reflect on the places cycling might take me. Every year. And cycling has taken me to some amazing places. Here's to the new places that tomorrow will bring.
And here's to many more cheery cycling-related ice cream stops.

Why do I keep riding bikes?

What else would I do?

Friday, June 21, 2019

#thelobsterroll, day 1

What is this Lobster Roll thing, you're asking. Well, some may be asking...those that haven't been bombarded by my social media blitz over the past several months.
Well, this is what it is:

Five guys, six days, riding bikes from Philly to Maine, 625 miles...to raise money for The Flatwater Foundation, which provides mental health services for folks impacted by a cancer diagnosis.

The five of us, we are Team I Hate Cancer. Well, we're part of that team. You can be on that team too. It's easy. Buy a shirt or something. Take a picture. Post it. Hashtag teamihatecancer. You're on the team.

Five riders require five bicycles. Notably, though not purposefully, all have mechanical rim brakes and mechanical shifting. Even with expensive carbon hoops this, in 2019, constitutes old school riding.

Raising money... Our goal is $50,000. We're over halfway there. Me, personally...I'm not doing so well compared to my buddies. You can see how well here. You can help me (but you're not really helping me...I'm not getting paid) here

Look at these poor, befuddled middle-aged men. I mean, they need help.

Anyway, the Lobster Roll... Today, Friday, June 21, was day one. One hundred five miles from Philadelphia to Newton, NJ.

I pretty much get overly excited about any long point-to-point ride, but this route had some true gems. The 5-10 miles of road (including some priceless gravel travel) prior to crossing the Delaware, for instance. And the last 20 miles into Newton. Roads that leave you doing a little double-take every once in a while you're so excited to be doing what you're doing. The scenery. The camaraderie. The feeling of being overwhelmingly blessed to be physically capable of such a thing.

I'm not super into charity rides. I'm not super into fundraisers. Several reasons for this. I'll save that discussion for another day. But I am into this. Over the next few days, I'll try to explain why.

Let me start with this. I was asked to write a "This is Why" post for the Team I Hate Cancer blog. You can read it (punctuated by cute pictures) on teamihatecancer.com right here. But you can also read (the text version) below. It was hard to write. I hope it's easier to read.



This is Why

In April of 2008 I went for a bike ride. I’d had a rough day. An emotional day. I needed a release.

My six year-old daughter was a patient at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. We were prepping her for a bone marrow transplant. Trying to save her life. Or that was the narrative.

When seen from a distance, it’s an easy narrative. Kid is sick. Kid goes to the hospital. Kid has a procedure. Kid recovers. Kid comes home.

But the easy narrative arch that distance affords is far from the lived experience. The lived experience is excruciating.

Imagine this, for instance: As parents, you’re weighing the decision to treat your daughter’s unnamed illness by bone marrow transplant. You’re told, by the appropriately credentialed authorities, that if you opt for the transplant, there’s about a 33 percent chance your child’s health will improve substantially, there’s about a 33 percent chance that she will experience no real improvement, and there’s about a 33 percent chance your child will die from complications. How does a parent make such a decision? How does anyone make such a decision on behalf of another human being?

Or this: Having chosen transplant as the treatment option, you watch as the “medicine” slowly weakens her, takes her energy, her hair, her pep. Because the reality of the thing is that to prep her tiny body—a body which has been its own worst enemy thus far—for this potentially life-saving treatment, we’ve got to weaken it to something that looks very near death. It’s part of the protocol. It’s called treatment, but it feels like something very different. And then there are surgeries for PICC lines. And delays for fevers because of worrisome infections. And really a hundred small tortures en route to this thing call “treatment.”

It was in the midst of all this, on a lovely spring day in 2008, that I went for a bike ride.

I’m not from Philadelphia. At the time, I didn’t know the roads well. I was told there was a trail that followed the river northwest out of the city. I found the trail, but as it dissolved into the city streets of Manayunk I lost my way. Wandering around I saw another rider, who I followed, and we began to talk. First, of directions. He was going where I wanted to go, I could just ride along with him. Next, of other things. Noting that I was unfamiliar with the area, he wondered if I was new to town. I explained why we were there. I explained that it was a rather hard day. I explained that I needed a moment to myself, to get out, to sweat, to ride my bike. I found it was easy to talk. I felt like maybe I shouldn’t, but I also needed to. I couldn’t help it. I needed to unload.

The next day, a care package arrived at my daughter’s room. Cookies.

It turned out this random bicycle commuter I’d met the day before was a physician. He worked at the children’s hospital. I’d given him just enough details for him to figure out who my daughter’s oncologist must be. He got in touch. He shared the story. He didn’t know my name (and didn’t ask; you know, HIPAA). But he left the package with our doctor and our doctor did the rest.
Treating cancer is an expensive enterprise. It seems impossibly expensive. And I’m so thankful for the avenues of funding that developed the procedures, medications, treatments, facilities, and expertise that allows for its treatment. Cancer is a betrayal. A cellular uprising. We may treat the betrayal by quelling the uprising, but the effect of the cellular treachery transcends the corporal and wounds the soul, as betrayals do. Wounded souls also require treatment.

During the months and years of watching our daughter descend into illness and then, slowly, miraculously, climb out, our souls were wounded by a thousand small daggers. But these weren’t left unattended. By countless acts of kindness and compassion of family, friends, and strangers—like a bicycle-commuting physician to whom I just happened to ask directions—our souls were healed. Well… A little. Some. Eleven years on and I’m not sure one ever really heals from such a thing, but we do get better.

A dollar spent on treating or researching the physical treatment of cancer, while still sacred, seems hardly a drop in the bucket given the enormity of it all. However, a dollar spent to care for wounded souls of those impacted by cancer… Well, that can go a long way.

The Flatwater Foundation provides mental health services to people impacted by a cancer diagnosis. It’s a cause I believe in. It’s such an important, beautifully compassionate service. I believe it’s a cause worth a buck or two.