Adventures in life and photography out West

Walt Out West

These are my musings about photography, cycling and life and their intersection. I used to write about politics quite a bit, but I'm trying to get away from that, as it only frustrates me, and often anyone who reads my views. Real life is much more entertaining than politics, anyway.


Hello, EverBODY!

SO, A friend and colleague of mine, Olivia Damge, came into our office the other day all excited. She had a great idea for a podcast about bodies, body types, body image. It started with the common complaint among athletes that clothes don’t fit. Apparently, American clothing companies don’t deal with athletes.

Olivia is an athlete, a “girlie-girl,” a student and a coach. I know this because we talk. If the average American saw her on the street, they would really have no idea how to feel. The young lady is clearly muscled, something that is not often encouraged. Many insecure men would begin making judgements and assumptions right there, even here in active, athletic Colorado. Olivia is not shy about eating, as she knows what it takes to build and maintain muscle; also very off-putting if a guy is insecure. She is very secure in herself and doesn’t really care what these folks think. But this does not mean she doesn’t face challenges in life.

This all started one day when the two of us were comparing notes about buying clothes. Being athletes, regular pants don’t fit normally. The thighs and butt are generally too small if we base fit on waist size. If we compensate for our legs, the waist gaps; not a great look. With shirts, shoulders and arms are too snug, while waists and midsections are too loose. I get crap for wearing shirts that fit my midsection, then bulge at the shoulders and arms. I will wear Lululemon “dress” pants A) because they stretch in the seat and legs, and B) because my wife likes them (this shuts down any other argument, BTW). Then there are those who make assumptions about my insecurities and possible dietary “supplements.”

This all leads back to something we in the Recovery world say often: You don’t know the battles another has faced. I can’t judge another person’s insides based on their outsides.

People will see athletes and say things like “you don’t have to worry about what you eat.” This is a silly statement. Athletes are constantly mindful of the food we eat as we know that it effects our performance, mood, sleep and our general health.

I’ve heard people make ridiculous assumptions, most often about women, concerning looking fit and healthy: she must have good genes. While genetics plays a role, dedication is more often what makes an athlete and the athletic body.

Many athletes run into trouble with eating and eating disorders as a result of society’s old-school assumptions, again particularly female athletes. Skinny is better. But it’s not! Starving does not lead to better running, vaulting, riding or lifting. Most often, it just feeds into insecure men’s notions of how a female “should” look.

This gets us to the next portion of this eventual podcast: what is an athlete’s body? I race on a bicycle, but do not have the typical cyclist’s body. I look very much like the former bodybuilder/power lifter/CrossFitter that I am. This body works wonderfully as a hockey goalie. This body is not great on my bike headed up big climbs. That does not mean I’m not an athlete or even not a cyclist, it just means other bodies are better suited for climbing. I was not the size needed for an offensive lineman or a rugby “prop,” though I played both positions. I lift fairly heavy weights, but I don’t wish to put on the weight needed to be a competitive power lifter. Again this does not make me less of an athlete, just not a competitive power lifter.

I have friends who are Highland athletes and strongman/woman competitors. They do not look like marathoners, cyclists or clothing models, and they shouldn’t. None of those more slightly-built athletes could pick up and carry 300 pounds for 100 feet in 60 seconds any better than a power athlete can run a sub-four minute mile. This does not make one or the other any more or less athletic. The average person, however, will make judgements of athleticism based on the body types.

So this is how it starts. This is primarily Olivia’s project, though I hope to contribute, as I obviously have plenty of thoughts on the subject.

In the mean time, have fun, be safe. I’m going riding!

Fits and Starts

It has been a long time since my last post. No real reason. Have not felt motivated or that had anything of real value to say. I hope what I say now, right off the top of my head, isn’t too terrible

A friend of mine once pointed out that by working in the recovery and rehab field, I would be surrounded by the disease of addiction all the time. There is good and bad to that. The bad is obvious: I see the trauma, the destruction and the horror that is part of the disease. In fact, last week, someone I knew through this job relapsed, lost his job and house and took his own life. He was young enough to be my kid.

The up side is that I will run into people who look so much better than when I first met them that they are all but unrecognizable. We had an alumni picnic this last weekend and it was just exactly what I needed to help sooth the heartbreak of loosing the other soul.

Addiction is a horrible, horrifying disease. It’s so powerful that it effects not only the addict, but everyone around him or her who the addict loves. It’s a brain disease that changes how the addict processes pleasure, memories and reality. It uses the very processes that evolution gave the brain to find food, find shelter and find mates and turns it toward only finding the substance. It’s a nightmare, except most of the time, the addict can’t find a way to wake up.

This is also why it is so joyful and miraculous when someone manages long-term recovery. We have beaten death. We have taken our brains and our lives back. We have found a way to live without the substance that our brains thought we could not live without, but we were not going to live with.

I suppose the things that were necessary for my day-to-day existence became tools of joy: my bike.

When I started this recovery journey, I could not afford car insurance, much less an actual working car. I used the mass transit around my home town, but it didn’t always run when I needed it. That’s when I bought my first bike, a Schwinn High Sierra mountain bike. It would was rigid. It was heavy. It was all mine.

I rode to work in cold, rain, heat and humidity. I rode to work, to rugby practices, to school and even to the grocery store, once in a while. Eventually, I rode for fun. I even found friends who rode.

Years later, I discovered this was actually helping re-wire my brain. Exercise, in general, helps repair the damage caused by substance abuse. It helps mind, body and spirit. It creates communities, it sets positive examples. It saves lives.

Just a thought.

Have fun, be safe. I’m going riding.

A Reason to Hope

Nothing to do with the post. Just grateful for everyone who helped me this season.

I have not made a secret of being in recovery. It’s been a long time since I was in the desperate, dark place that is rock-bottom addiction. It is so hopeless, so difficult. I would do anything, and I did. I did what it took to get a better life. If you have read Lance Armstrong’s War then you may know that many cyclists came from a similar hard, dark place. The author makes the comparison between the socioeconomic circumstances of European cyclists and American prize fighters. I would say it was more comparable to American football players: desperate and willing to do anything to make life better.

Lots of people, people who look as I do, feel such athletes should shut up and perform. After all, they are making extraordinary money. Do you know the desperation? Do you know their background? Do you know what it’s like to be that willing? And isn’t that the point of America? Isn’t that the dream we were taught as children? Work hard, do whatever it takes? I can’t condemn others for doing what they felt they had to.

And now, when these same folks are in a position to influence, a position to possibly help others in need, others who are in the same circumstance that they were once in, we condemn them. We criticize and insult. We hate them for achieving what we could not, what we would not do, what we felt we didn’t have to. They sacrifice what we are unwilling to and we hate them for it. We are the hypocrites.

Pro Football Hall of Famer, Howie Long, once stated that there was never a day when he did not wake up in pain. Many bright and amazing humans sacrificed everything to have a better life; to give those they loved a better life. They sacrifice their bodies. They sacrifice their brains. They sacrifice their future health and comfort for our amusement. How many of these people do we hear about who get huge paydays, then buy a house for their mothers, for their siblings, for their families. How dare they.

Ndamukong Suh is judged for his bad behavior on the field of play. He stomps, he spits, he does what is expected of him. Did you know that in 2011, Suh bought replacement equipment, all of their pads and equipment, for Frederick Douglass College Prep Academy  in Detroit. Did you know Suh has his own philanthropic foundation, or that many athletes do? What bastards.

Now I could expand this analogy, but you get the idea. We can’t, or at least should not, judge people for reaction to circumstances of which we know little or nothing. I have some other ideas about from where this vitriol comes, but that’s another column.

Have fun, don’t judge. I’m going riding.

Three Weeks

Once a year, for three weeks, there is no news. There is no Trevor Noah. No movie premiers. No baseball. There is only the Tour.
I have tortured my family with the bike races of Europe for a while. The one with which they are most familiar is the Tour de France. Three weeks, 21 stages across France and , occasionally, neighboring countries. I try to explain that,with Paul and Phil, it’s more than a race. It’s an experience, even if we never leave our own home.

History, hysteria, geography, linguistics and athleticism; what more could you want from a show. On stage 12 we see the 21 switchbacks, the Dutch Corner, the names of the hero who have ridden Alp du’Huez in the past.

While a few Americans ride the Tour, Tejay Van Gardener, Tayler Phinney, Lawson Craddick, they will not likely be huge factors. That doesn’t matter. There are young athletes with courage and heart and legs from all over the world; Froome, Quintana, Nibali. It’s a spectacle of pain, suffering and ultimately, glory!

My poor family have to put up with the broadcasts, the voices of Phil and Paul, the background noise of the crowds, me getting excited about the action and the landscapes. But they are pretty tolerant. I hope yours is, too.

Have fun, be safe. I’m going riding . . . right after the stage.

Are we having fun yet?

I seem to do my best writing on the road. Literally.

As we roll down I-80 toward our mountain home, I remember why I first wanted and rode a bike. It was all about the fun. Rolling through open lots, off of curds and down steep hills, it was all fun and that was all that mattered.

Years and years later, I’ve raced downhill, cross country, dual slalom, time trial, triathlon, cyclocross and track sprinting. But while I get competitive, it’s still about the fun.

I brought my old ‘cross bike, set up for gravel, with me on our trip back to my old home town. I had finished my TT season the week before, so I had no real reason to bring a more competitive bike. Swooping around the streets and through the parks of my old home town was just a ball. I trued to encourage others to ride with me, but things just didn’t come together. No matter. Not everyone finds riding as much fun as I do.

The trick for most of us is finding or making the time for fun, then finding the activity that suits us. My friend, Mindi, likes knitting. That would make me crazy but that does not matter. It’s therapeutic for her. My dad can spend all day sitting in a boat, drowning worms. Again, for Dad, it’s meditative.

Cooking, fishing, walking or riding, it’s really up to you. Find your bliss. Find what brings you joy. Share it if you can. Find ways to bring people you love together with your passion. If you are doing it for the love of it, you really can’t go wrong.

Have fun, be safe. I’m going riding.

Movement and Recovery

Me with guys from The Phoenix last January. Offering recovery through fitness.

I came into recovery, like so many, with extremely low self-esteem. The joke in recovery is that I didn’t think much of myself, but I was all I thought of. While I entered my 12-step fellowship immediately, it took me years to realize that one good habit I brought with me would serve me and my recovery for years to come.
The founder of The Phoenix, Scott Strode, states that something happens when we partake in athletic endeavors early in recovery. As we begin achieving goals, our self-esteem improves. As this happens, our identities shifts. We are no longer defined by the substance or disease that nearly killed us. We are no longer addicts. We become people in recovery; Survivors.
This is not an automatic event, not a switch that is thrown. This attitude takes time. It also takes more than movement. Exercise is not a replacement for the 12 Steps or therapy. Exercise is an adjunct, another tool in our recover toolbox. This, as it turns out, is something with which most addicts, in recovery or not, can identify; if one is good, more is better.
Exercise can by meditative. When one is hanging off of a rock face, forearms pumped, grip wavering, all one thinks of is the next handhold. The same is true with swimming or cycling or running. Just get through the next movement. This keeps us in the here and now in ways that we had not been capable of in the past. We don’t worry about the mistakes of the past or the mysteries of the future.
Similarly, movement can be a form of prayer. Perhaps there is an issue, a problem or challenge that I will take onto the bike during a long ride or even a walk with my family. The movement seems to lubricate those parts of my mind that help me solve the issue. I could explain the science, but then you would click on to something, anything, else. Just trust me on this.

Movement, exercise, athletics, can also promote fellowship. Many addicts, myself included, isolated in the latter stages of the disease. Shame and resentment drove me away from family and friends. Like the 12-Step programs, finding groups of like-minded people to share this experience helps us to break out of that isolation. We build friendships instead of walls. We relearn how to be a part of a community, instead of a part from. This promotes that sense of belonging that we craved but seemed incapable of before. It also begins to promote accountability. Like exercise, if one feels obligated to show up, one is more likely to follow through.
Exercise improves the bodies and brains of people recovering from addiction. It is also so much more. Our minds clear and our spirits are lifted as we lift more, run faster and climb higher. We feel better about ourselves as we encourage others to reach their goals. It’s another recovery tool. We can never have too much of that.

Let’s Get Started

IMG_3171The year has begun anew. Lots of folk have made resolutions, earnest declarations that, this time, it will be different. This year, I will lose weight, I will eat better, I will stop drinking, write letters, join the gym . . . etc. Some may have already fallen by the wayside. The problem is not the feeling or desire. It’s the execution.

“Stop the yo-yo resolutions,” says my wife/partner/fellow wellness enthusiast, Kendra. “People make many different resolutions and set themselves up for failure. Make one promise to yourself and commit.”

Don’t think of your resolutions as a litany of “should.” Think of things you really want to do. Make a promise to yourself. Say to yourself “I want to . . . ” Then make goals rather than resolutions.

This year, I want to race more. I only participated in one real, sanctioned race this past year, so that should not be too hard. I have a list: a couple of individual time trials, a few velodrome TTs and a few sprint tournaments. This year, the mere rides will be “if funding allows.” I love Ride the Rockies and the Triple Bypass, but they will be down this list of priorities.

Making change is challenging. Our brains are wired to stay the course. We find something that feels good, chocolate, sex, new cars, heroin, and the reward center and emotional center conspire to make memories fooling us into believing, “I need this or I will DIE!” It sounds absurd, but that is what goes on. That is why smoking is hard to give up. This is why it’s hard to get off the couch and into the gym. This is why we are in the midst of an opioid crisis.

But here’s the thing; this same part of the brain can be used for good. Strenuous exercise floods the brain and, specifically, the pleasure center, with dopamine and endorphins, attaching to the same receptors as those less healthy activities and chemicals. This is the source of “runners high.” But it does not stop there. After a while, you form a new habit, you may even knock out some goals, which reenforces this new, better behavior. After that, you may begin seeing results, and that really hits the reward center.

But there’s a catch. You have to decide, or realize, that you are worth it. You deserve to feel better. You deserve to take time for yourself. Our daughter told us of a YouTuber who says, “I lost 25 pounds once I stopped fat-shaming myself.”

Make a goal that you are excited about. Eat one new vegetable, find a yoga class, find a workout partner, just one thing. Then, set a time period, say, by next weekend. Make it matter. After you knock out one, then make another goal. Make it measurable, I want to lose one pound by next Friday. Make it challenging without being outlandish. Recruit supporters. If you have good friends, they will want you to succeed and may even jump in with their own goals. Soon, the successes will pile up, creating a virtuous cycle that you will want to continue.

I recommend two books, “Spark! How Exercise Will Improve the Performance of Your Brain” by John Ratey and The Brave Athlete: Calm the F*** Down and Rise to the Occasion” by Lesley Paterson and Simon Marshall. Both are good for understanding our brains, how they help in our athletic pursuits and even help build better, stronger, more resilient brains.

Next time, I hope to interview the ride director for the epic Colorado ride, The Triple Bypass. In February, I will speak to the new director of Ride the Rockies and Peddle the Plains. I also hope to finally speak to “Mr. Shimano North America.”

Until then, have fun, be safe. I’m going riding.



What’s next

My beautiful wife and creative wellness partner, Kendra, will be contributing to this blog! I’m a lucky guy!

My wife and I were out walking one Sunday, as we often do. We were discussing what comes next. Our little girl is not so little anymore, at 16. My wife has been in health care for more than 21 years and I have been into healthy living since I was a kid. Between the two of us, we have lots of knowledge and experience. And we both love helping.

My wife is an RN and I have a Certification of Addiction Counseling as well as a CrossFit Level II certification. I’ve been in recovery from addiction since 1989, have been a personal trainer, spinning instructor and lifting coach. We both spend a lot of time reading and researching, trying to learn more to help our community. We also want to keep setting a good example for our girl.

This represents something new, for us. I will still write a lot about cycling, but there will likely be more about exercise, in general, and how that plays into better mental health and wellness. My wife will likely contribute about other medical benefits, also with the idea of feeling good, from the inside out.

In the mean time, check out the new Giro d’Italia route. Mount Aetna and Monte Zoncolan are among the climbs of this year’s Giro. The real history, however, will be made right out of the gate, as the first stage will be an individual time trial in Jerusalem, and the next two stages around Israel. This will be the first time the Giro starts outside of Europe. Just something else to look forward to.

So have fun, be safe. I’m going riding!


Just real quick

Not a lot of time, today. Let me just say, I have some reviews based on taking stuff out on multi-day rides in the last six weeks. I write about the beautiful Ride the Rockies, but did not hit upon the equipment.
I also hope to talk with Wayne Stetina about the newest Dura-Ace wheels used to win both the TdF and Le Course. Hopefully, we may get some insight on the latest in Shimano equipment, beyond the gorgeous top-of-the-line stuff.
In the mean time, have fun, be safe. I'm going riding.

The Rest Day

Me showing off a bit on Monarch Pass

It’s now been a couple weeks and I have had a bit of time to reflect on the 2017 Ride the Rockies. I stick by my assessment I made to one of my fellow riders; I think our brains work similarly to those of mothers. If we remembered all the pain as well as we remember the pleasure, the food and scenery, we wouldn’t do it again.

I wrote after our third night, a short spin around the Ute reservation west of Durango. The next day was the hardest. We pushed for 84 miles over Coal Bank Pass, Molas Pass and Red Mountain Pass, about 7,792 feet of climbing. After an easy roll-out from Durango and the thrill of the narrow gauge rail road, the road tipped up. The next 20 miles was almost all up hill. We laughed as we came upon the Purgatory Ski Resort. “This is Purgatory, I’ll take it.” Then the road tipped up again.

The pleasant scenery along the easy warm up ahead of Day Four’s climbing.

The first pass, Coal Bank, was the steepest of the day at an average of 5% with pitches of 8%. After a very short descent, riders head up Molas Pass, relatively short at eight miles, and again an average of 5%. These were enough to sap the legs. Plenty of vistas to enjoy both on the climbs and the descents. Riders dropped down into the old mining town of Silverton, which is also the finish of the Iron Horse Classic race.

The famous Iron Horse, the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

The last climb was not the longest nor the steepest, but as the last climb and the highest, it took riders all their will and energy to finish the 11,018-foot ascent. The view and the venders made the ride do-able. My legs burned, my body was protesting most of the way. After stretching and taking a few photos, it was back on the bike for a thrilling 14-mile descent into Ouray.

The view of the mountain meadow at the top of Red Mountain Pass.

Fast, worn, serpentine roads with lots of traffic and no guard rails was quite the experience. Luckily for me, still sporting the scars of a high-speed crash from last year, a lumber truck paced many of us out of the mountains. Riders had multiple opportunities to pull off and photograph the beauty that we wished to remember. That is the point; the joy of seeing Colorado by bike.

A small aid station full of happy, friendly residents awaited us in Ouray. Many riders decided that this was far enough for the day, and took rooms here. My riding buddies and I hammered the last 13 miles into Ridgeway. This was the point where I really understood the challenges of putting together this annual tour.

Imagine 2,000 tired, hungry cyclists cruising into town, sporting the thousand-mile stare, finding that much of the amenities were spread out over a square half-mile, or at least that’s how it felt. I was so short of energy that when our luggage handlers put my bag a mere one isle over from where I had expected it, I was nearly reduced to tears.

The beauty of having been a journalist is that I was able to find at least a little poise. I young man from the Good Samaritan Shelter tent, whom I had met earlier in the week, spotted me and gave me some food and helped look for my bag. Once I got some calories,found my bag and got my massage, I was able to enjoy Ridgeway. The view was the first thing we noticed.

The view of the Sneffles Range from the outdoor camping area in Ridgeway.

The little mountain town set up entertainment in the middle of their town park. The town, itself has made the transition from mining to art. Lots of public art, galleries and little eateries bordered the park, allowing riders to stroll easily to alternative dinner options. This would be a short night for many of us, after a punishing, though picturesque day.

Day five was a relatively easy, though pretty warm day. Former cycling pro, Olympic medalist and big-hearted fund-raiser, Nelson Vails, led a few riders to a special breakfast in Ridgeway before all embarked on the 33-mile ride to Montrose. While there was an option for riders who had not suffered as much the day before, an additional 19 miles and a small climb, many simply took the opportunity of a recovery day. All of my riding buddies stayed together on the mostly-downhill ride. This also gave us plenty of time to sample what Montrose had to offer.

Former elite track sprinter,Nelson Vails.

Montrose is not usually what tourists seek out, but with it’s charming downtown and enthusiastic festival, I would consider returning some time. It’s out on the Western Slope, north of the Sneffles Range, just southwest of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

The sixth day had a few climbs, but it was the descent and long false flat into Gunnison that I remember. We followed the river and Blue Mesa Reservoir into Gunnison, making for a relatively easy day. There were plenty of rider trains along the route. Cruising between the last two aid stations, we averaged about 28 mph. It was a beautiful thing. I had the chance to test some wildly-deep aero wheels. The whole day was great.

The sixth day finishing town of Gunnison welcomed the ride for the third time in six tours.

Gunnison has some great restaurants. All were full of hunger riders that Friday evening. El Paraiso was our choice. This was also the third time I had eaten here. It was for good reason. Everything was tasty as could be, including our sopapillas for dessert. As always, the host town had activities set up, but we had one more hard climb ahead, and a long drive back to the real world.

Breakfast at the first aid station on day seven.

The high-point of the RTR was waiting for us on the final day. Half the day was just the warmup. We rolled for 33 miles to the base of RTR’s final climb, 11,312-foot Monarch Pass. The pass averages about 5.2% with a maximum grade of 7% for 10 miles and 2,750 feet of ascending. It was unmatched in beauty. We had lots of time to enjoy it after seven days of riding.

Donald on the Monarch Pass climb.

After the top of the pass, it was literally all downhill into Salida. Once again, the tour rolled into Salida amid sunshine and the FIBArk whitewater festival. Again, Salida was all-in, hosting the finale for Ride the Rockies. Their park was jammed full of venders, great causes and riders looking for food and shade. The only thing that could have been better would be if my buddies and I had more time in town. Salad has always been a great host.

Renee Wheelock put on and admirable tour for her first RTR effort. I don’t envy her position, having to deal with cranky, hungry, tired riders, though I have a feeling she took it in stride. I look forward to seeing her and the rest of the RTR crew next year.

Next week, yes I am giving myself a schedule. I will review some of the equipment I got to use this year. Until then . . .

Have fun, be safe. I’m going riding.