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.
The 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.
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!
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.
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 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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is saying something. Wednesday morning, the mobile RTR community will tackle More than 83 miles and 10,000 feet of climbing from Durango to Ridgeway, Colorado. The first day was 93 miles, all into a headwind, including the climb of 10,856-foot Wolf Creek Pass.
While the riding is challenging, many of us do it for the memories and friendships we acquire along the route. I met Greg and Donald on the 2015 ride. Last year, I got to ride with Donald, again, and we were able to introduce one another to our spouses. This year, Greg returned to the Ride from the much flatter Dallas area. We are eating and joking and have the time of our lives on bikes.
We’re also meeting both new and old RTR friends. I’ve found all three of the ladies who helped run the ride last year, one of whom is riding this year, rather than organizing. We’ve been helping Clark, the smoothie vender make a little money. Clark is always quick to help out, extend a little credit, when we’re tired and a little spacie coming off the route. We’re making new friends like the young lady with the space/polka dot kit. And then, there is the scenery.
While the climbing is tough, the long hours on the bike gives one lots of time to reflect on Colorado’s natural beauty. Tree lined highways and grand vistas are around every curve. Historic architecture decorates each stop along the route. The towns hosting the ride go all out to entertain and feed the worn and occasionally dilirious riders. What more could a rider ask?
The current situation, as I’m writing, is that I’m on a sleeping pad in Durango, preparing for the long climbs of Wednesday. So . . .
Have fun, be safe. I’m going riding.
Grand Tours have begun, one-week tours and the Spring Classics have come and gone. For mere mortals, like me, the cycling season has just begun. Without a doubt, the biggest of the multi-day rides in Colorado is Ride the Rockies. I had the pleasure of speaking with the tour’s new director last week.
Renee Wheelock was the Ride the Rockies tour intern when I first met her in Gunnison, the start of the 2012 RTR. In the intervening years, Renee has climbed to the position of Tour Director.
“It’s pretty exciting,” she said about her promotion. “It’s a unique perspective that allows me to provide some leadership.”
Wheelock started in March of 2012 with RTR as an intern, helping out where ever she was needed. It was just a single season before she moved into the role of Community Relations Manager, and three more before landing on the big saddle. But change is nothing new for Wheelock.
“I’m from all over,” she says.”I was born in California, lived in Tucson, moved to Australia for a while and went to college in North Carolina.”
After earning a degree in Elementary Education, Wheelock took a bike trip across the country when she first discovered Colorado. After finding energy bars in the convenient stores, she decided Coloradans enjoyed the lifestyle she wanted. But spearheading Colorado’s premier tour is not all sunscreen and wind through your helmet.
“We are already gathering ideas (for the 2018 RTR). Usually, we start up again between August and October, talking with the communities, taking trips to meet with them. In December we start working out the details of the route, organize the Route Announcement Party (which happens in early February). As a team, we all have different projects, but it’s all a small team.”
She adds, “I think it surprises people when I tell them there are only three people working full-time. This is a full-time job and it takes all year to put an event like this together.”
Wheelock pointed out that her degree has been helpful in running RTR.
“When you look at teaching, it’s planning and adjusting on the fly. Teachers also tend to be pretty detail oriented,” she says. “When I was teaching abroad, I also discovered my passion for the outdoors and fitness.”
Adjusting on the fly has been a hallmark of Wheelock’s time with RTR. In 2012, the route was detoured on the last day to avoid smoke from wildfires around Horsetooth Reservoir, west of Fort Collins. In 2013, the route detoured again, creating the longest RTR route in its history. This time, the Royal Gorge park was in flames. Then, in 2014, the first day saw snow on Berthoud Pass, a closure by the State Patrol, and a huge sag with help from the Winter Park ski busses.
“We always have contingency plans,” Wheelock points out. “The beauty of the event, with such long-term partners, makes it special and rewarding when we see all hands on deck to make it work.”
Wheelock plans no major changes with RTR this season, though, one new thing will be a mobile app, which should promote even more of a community spirit within the tour. Wheelock acknowledges that at 32 years in, it’s getting hard to create new routes. In fact, riders have seen much of this year’s route before, but not all at once.
The 2017 route visits many of the towns and cities that Wheelock saw in her first year. Alamos, Pagosa Springs, Durango, Gunnison and Salida were all on the route in 2012 and 2017, though not in the same order or direction. Riders will travel over the east ascent of Wolf Creek Pass, this time. Riders can enjoy a short ride through the Southern Ute Reservation on the third day, then head north from Durango on Day Four over the picturesque Million Dollar Highway through Silverton and Ouray toward Ridgeway. The next day, riders head a short way into Montrose, with an optional “Challenge Loop.”
“Each day gets better and better,” says Wheelock. “Some riders might take the day in Durango off, but (the route through the Ute reservation) is beautiful.”
Wheelock continues, “The day into Montrose is quick and downhill, and the challenge loop, there’s not much traffic. The towns have all really come together.”
The last day between Gunnison and Salida includes the ascent of Monarch Pass.
“You never know how you will feel from one day to the next,” says the director. “Monarch is a slow, steady climb. Climbers might feel dog-tired, or they might feel really strong after six days of riding.”
One way or another, riders will likely enjoy the first Ride the Rockies under Wheelock. Her passion and that of her staff and army of volunteers, should create yet another beautiful tour, and years-worth of memories and stories. Hopefully, we will have Renee to thank for years to come.
Have fun, be safe. I’m going trainer . . . for Ride the Rockies.