I’m still here
Yes, the name of the post was on purpose. Remind those who follow me, and remind myself, that I’m still writing. It’s also being grateful that I’ve lived to this point.
Spent the evening sobbing on the couch with my daughter and my wife. We watched the movie version of our daughter’s current favorite book, “The Fault in Our Stars.” It’s all about teenagers dying of cancer, how they deal with it and how the people they love deal. I’ve only dealt with glancing blows, as far as cancer is concerned. I suppose I am very lucky in that respect. I still get to make new adventures, write new chapters.
It’s been more than 20 years since a casual friend and coworker died of cancer. He was exceptionally cheery in the short time that we worked together. The cancer originated in his lungs, but traveled pretty quickly. We all found out something was up when he didn’t come to work because he woke up partially blind and paralyzed. The tumor was in his brain. When he came back to work, he wore a Denver Broncos hat to cover the dent in his head from the operation. We asked why the doctors didn’t replace the bit of skull, to which Brian replied it had been infected. He told us he was waiting for a titanium replacement. Already a bike geek at that time, I explained to him that titanium parts counted as cool. I was still amazed, however, how he managed to be so cheery. He had a distinct walk after the brain operation and a divot. He explained that, at that point, he was just happy to wake up and hear birds in the morning. Wow. He died the fall of 1993.
My main job these days, is working with another sort of terminal disease. I work in an addiction rehab. A friend asked me recently, “Do you have a background in counseling?” No, I replied, I have an extensive background in addiction. I laughed, hoping he would not feel awkward about the exchange. I can laugh at that disease, now. The Big Book of AA says, “Why shouldn’t we laugh? We have recovered and been given the power to help others.” That is what I try to press upon guys. We survived and now have a chance to truly live.
For me, that’s where the bike comes in. I received my first bicycle when I was eight or nine. It was purple with the big banana seat. I jumped off of curbs. I jumped off of ramps. I jumped off of dirt mounds. I stood and climbed up the steeps and raced down the other side. It was my escape. My folks were divorcing and I was mad as hell. The bike gave me relief.
After spending several years chasing other, less productive escapes, I found the bike again. I had very little money, couldn’t afford a car or insurance. I bought a Schwinn High Sierra mountain bike for $800. At the time, it was middle of the road. Steel, rigid and gun-metal gray. Indexed bar shifters on flat bars. Nothing fancy, but the rebirth of freedom, for me. I rode it to work and eventually back to school.
Years later, American Express moved me to Denver from Omaha. I spent most of 18 months staring out my office window at the mountains, counting down the minutes until I could hop on that old Schwinn and hit the trails. It did not take AmEx long to realize that I was fantasizing a lot more than working. They gave me a big check and escorted me out of the building. I used the check to buy a couple more bikes and race a couple seasons. Oh, and I returned to pursuing a BA in Journalism, as well.
I bought a ‘cross bike in 1999. I didn’t plan to race it so much as commute. I lived about 10 miles from downtown Denver where I worked and went to school. I had spent some time driving to downtown Denver but parking was expensive and I became an angry, angry being when stuck in traffic. The bike gave me freedom from that anger. I liked myself a lot more without the vein popping out of my forehead.
I now live in Estes Park where I still have the ‘cross bike, but have long since sold the mountain bikes. I have a regular road bike and a tri/TT bike, as well. New passions. New freedoms.
All of this is possible because I survived. A lot of people, not the least of which were my parents, helped me along the way. I get to feel the cold air on my face. I get to spend 10 minutes rubbing the zinc oxide over my face, head, neck and arms. I get to spend money on bike repairs, occasional body repairs, odd food and clothing. I say I get to because many don’t. They never have the chance.
I don’t write this to guilt anyone into doing anything. I write to remind myself, and anyone who wishes to read this, that this precious life is pretty short and less predictable. No one knows how many days he or she will be allotted. We don’t know what’s next. I don’t know how I managed to get to this age, with his beautiful family in this beautiful town. I feel I’m living a life beyond regulation time. I want to make the most of it.
This is the most important part I like to pass on to the seemingly ship-wrecked souls I meet at the rehab – We have found solid ground. We have a second chance. What do you want to do with it?
I don’t really believe in either heaven nor hell. I have seen hell in many forms and don’t believe in a loving God who would send the tortured to such a place, only to be tortured more. You could try to send me examples of those you feel need to be tortured forever, but I won’t be convinced that there is a place for that.
I believe that when we are done, we are done. Nothing more. I believe that both heaven and hell are places right here. It is up to us to both see this and to make it. My bit of heaven, my salvation, began when I rediscovered the bike. Now I try to use this simple, efficient, elegant machine to bring a bit of paradise to the fellow sufferers who come to this salvation after me.
I hope all who read this are finding their Paradise, their salvation. In this time of Thanksgiving, I hope your hearts, as well as bellies and bike stands, are full.
Have fun, be safe. I’m going riding.
I shared recently that I once bought a ‘cross bike specifically to commute from the Denver suburbs into downtown for school and work. I lived in Golden and commuted, making for a 30-mile round trip, then to Littleton for a 20-miler. I did it back in Omaha, as well, equally as long. But I didn’t think of it as the grind to work, It was my chance to get my head, my attitude, right before stepping into a cubical or classroom. It was my time to meditate.
I found that I was pretty crabby when dealing with traffic; my follow commuters running bumper-to-bumper on the gray pavement. Everyone uptight, everyone trying to get to where they needed sooner than everyone else. On my bike, commuting, I would arrive at work happy, relaxed and ready to work. Now, it’s a movement
Wednesday, June 26, is Bike to Work Day in Estes Park. The event runs from 6:30-9:30 a.m. and is sponsored by the Town of Estes Park, the Estes Valley Recreation and Park District, the Estes Park Medical Center and supported by local businesses and organizations, such as Kind Coffee.
If the endorphins flooding your bloodstream isn’t enough, how about coffee? The organizations will offer breakfast that morning at the Estes Park Visitor Center at 500 Big Thompson Avenue. Plumbers and contractors might have a difficult time pulling this off, but if you don’t have 100 pounds of gear and have a functioning bike, this would be worth the effort.
I had the chance to speak to several cycling visionaries and luminaries while out on Ride the Rockies. One of them was cycle coaching guru Chris Carmichael. The video is not yet up as I write, but should be by the time you read. Look for it either here or look for me on YouTube. Look up Where’s Walt.
At any rate, Carmichael has authored two books for those of us who have jobs and families and obligations. The Time-Crunched Cyclist and Time-Crunched Triathlete give suggestions to make a training schedule out of the time you have and make the workouts count. Carmichael told me that athletes can and do train adequately with only 6-10 hours a week. He also pointed pout that nearly as important as quality workouts as quality recovery. I know as well as anyone that sleep is sometimes not a priority. This can lead to chronic fatigue and symptoms of overtraining. We should get, just like every doctor tells us, seven and a half to nine hours of sleep to fully regenerate. Some folks feel they can get by just fine on four to six hours, but studies have shown that except in a tiny percentage, like ultra marathon legend Dean Karnazes, this is simply not true. We will always work better after better rest.
I apologize for not getting a great example of great recovery out on RTR. I spoil myself in two ways, once each, during the ride. After the toughest day, I will get a massage. I recommend this for anyone, rider, runner, swimmer, parent, whomever. It is worth every cent you spend. This ride, I got mine after the 91-mile day that included the ascent of Wolf Creek Pass and the fast, flat ride into Alamosa. It works wonders.
The other thing I like to do on big events is get my own room on the last night on the road. I like a particular hotel chain because they serve free breakfast and usually have a pool. It allows me to get a bit better rest when I’m not worried about the guy with sleep apnea buzzing like a chainsaw two sleeping bags away. The result was much fresher legs the next day.
If you are training for an event and at home, make sleep as much a priority as the workout. We need both. Don’t skip the last hillclimb and don’t skip the last hour of sleep.