Cheering On Brad and Dan

IMG_1166So much of life rests outside of our control even if we chose not to acknowledge it.  The illusion we all harbor from time to time is the current stage will last forever or that tomorrow will go according to plan.  I guess it’s a built in defense mechanism. It’s just that life doesn’t work that way and we know it.

Two weeks ago I pedaled from Boston to Hyannis Port with 1500 riders  in the annual Best Buddies Challenge on a glorious Saturday morning.  The sun was warm, the temperature perfect for completing the century ride to the Cape.  We had a spectacular day.  After six months of training through foul and bitterly cold weather this day seemed a sweet reward.

However it also signaled a disappointing end to my shared dream of participating in this years 2014 Tour Divide.  I had just returned from Vancouver the week prior after spending a few days with my mom who is battling lung cancer in a Burnaby hospital.  The prognosis wasn’t good.  I know many of my friends and supporters have been through similar experiences with their own families.  I want to thank each and every one of you for your timely messages and prayers.  In tough times it’s this network of friends and family that all of us lean on.

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The decision whether to continue forward with the Tour Divide or not wasn’t really a decision at all.  My mom needed her family by her side and that was all I needed to know.  My race was over for this year.  I shared the news with my two riding partners, Brad Crossley and Dan Gravelle.  The three of us had just completed a two day 180 mile trail ride in northern Maine trying to fine tune our setups and flesh out the weak links in our TD preparation.  It was an eye opening couple of days but a huge success as we all got a taste of what we were in for.  Brad and Dan were naturally disappointed,  but there wasn’t much to say.  We all understood; they would push on with the TD challenge and I would tend to my mom.  It was that simple.IMG_3328

Yesterday morning Brad and Dan set forth from the Banff Springs hotel and began pedaling south with 130 other riders.  The 2014 TD was underway.  It was a cold, wet send off with mid 40’s temperatures and showers.  Still the pair managed to cover 90 miles on a what I can only imagine was a tough day one.  For those who want to follow Brad and Dan’s progress, you can go to: http://www.tourdivide.org/leaderboard.  I checked this morning and they’re back on course pedaling roughly 100 miles south of Banff.  My thoughts are with them and I’m very confident that they’ll both arrive in Antelope Wells New Mexico next month.IMG_3309

Thanks go out to all the good friends, classmates, teammates and family who have generously reached out to me and supported my efforts these past six months.  It’s been a journey in and of itself.  I have no regrets.  I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. I’ll be returning to Vancouver in the next few days to be with my mom and family.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Onward.

 

Risking Failure On The Tour Divide

IMG_8487The weather has finally turned here in New England. The snow and ice have disappeared as have those bitter gray days of March. The sun is warmer and higher, making those long days in the saddle so much more enjoyable.  The illusion that riding in glorious spring weather is helping me better prepare for what lies ahead, isn’t lost on me.  Jumping on the bike in weather like this doesn’t take a whole lot of willpower. Staying out on the trail for hours on end doesn’t require the same push that cold, wet days do.

With the calendar days peeling away like dried leaves blowing down the sidewalk, I have been experiencing an entirely different emotion lately: nervousness.  It’s that awkward notion that you’re about to undertake something that  will transport you way beyond your comfort zone.  Creeping in behind that wall of nervous anxiety is the ever present voice of doubt.  “Can you really handle this?”  I don’t know.

“Growth is a dance between pressing forward and falling short, at the same time.”

This morning this quote arrived unannounced in my inbox  via Dan Rockwell’s “leadership freak” blog.  Timing is everything.  Apparently I needed to see that today.  It resonated loud and clear.   Dan has one of the most entertaining and inspiring leadership blogs in the country.Dan-Rockwell-150x150

Having spent most of my life helping others push through their own fears to experience personal growth, this is familiar territory for me.  Still, it’s one thing to help someone else push through to the other side while risking failure; it’s entirely different when you’re doing it yourself.  It’s akin to a physician that spends his life prescribing various medicines to his patients and then wakes up one day to find himself in the same predicament.

The past six months have been an amazing personal journey.  The urge to pull back and assess where I’m at in my life has been countered by the daily urge of pushing forward in preparation for the Tour Divide.  It’s been a fascinating yin-yang experience.images-2

“Everyone reaches the point where pulling back feels great.  But, leaders who pull back have reached their potential.  Leaders who press through resistance, uncover new opportunities for meaningful service.”  

The one lesson that a lifetime of teaching and coaching has driven home is that it’s never easy getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.  Growth always feel awkward and most of us resist being in awkward places in our lives.  That’s natural.  It’s one of those begin human traits that runs counter to what serves us best.

Who doesn’t recall all those awkward moments during our childhood when we faced new challenges full of nervous energy?  With experience we discovered that the our greatest fears were more often than not, an illusion.  We pushed through and came out the other side a better, more confident and accomplished individual.

thSo this morning I found myself walking that tightrope between embracing the challenge of the Tour Divide and fearing failure.  But failure is an integral part of the process whenever we risk growth.  I’m fairly certain I’ll continue this balancing act as the Grand Depart date of June 13th approaches. It sounded like it was in the next century when I first decided to throw my lot in with my riding partner and go for it.  This morning it seems like it’s this coming weekend.  The butterflies are hatching.  I’m suddenly not feeling terribly ‘comfortable’.

I guess I’m in the right place.  Onward.

 

 

Best Buddies: Come Along For The Ride!

I’m writing to ask YOU to join my team.IMG_3199

In 25 short days I’ll be riding with thousands from the JFK Memorial Library in Boston to Hyannis Port in the 15th annual Best Buddies Century Challenge..  Riding the 100 mile century on behalf of Best Buddies is just the beginning of a far greater charity challenge.  On June 10th I’m heading to Banff Alberta to participate in the 2800 mile,  2014 Tour Divide.  I am committed to riding both events in support of this amazing organization.

UnknownI need your help.  Best Buddies is a global volunteer movement that creates friendships, employment and leadership opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  This amazing organization impacts over 700.000 young people in all 50 states providing jobs, independence and lifelong friendships.

If you’re reading this blog then you’re now familiar with the Tour Divide.  Hailed as the world’s longest mountain bike race, riders trace the continental divide from the Canadian Rockies to the Mexican border.  Completion is neither predictable nor statistically favorable.  Obstacles include grizzly bears, mountain lions, wolves, snow, sleet, rain, mud, lightning, hypothermia, desert heat, dehydration, mechanical failure, physical injury…just to name a few.route_map

My goal is to complete the entire route in 25 days.  The cause is worthy, the rider is game and the clock is ticking.  I hope to share this journey with friends and family via nightly blog updates and call ins.  In return for any and all donations I can promise to keep you entertained for the month of June!

Here are the links.  Any and all contributions to this fabulous charity are welcome.  As I prepare to tackle this challenge in support of Best Buddies, I am grateful for the family and friendships that blessed my life.  My hope is that you will join my team in support of Best Buddies in whatever fashion suits you and follow this journey every pedal of the way!

 

My Best Buddies Donation Page: http://myhp2014.bestbuddieschallenge.org/brianm4td

My 2014 Tour Divide Blog:   http://twowackycanadiansonthetourdivide.com

 

For those wanting to learn more please check out these additional sites that detail the Best Buddies Organization and  cover the Tour Divide, it’s history and background.

http://www.bestbuddies.org

http://www.tourdivide.org

 

Thanks to everyone for their enthusiastic support.  Onward!

 

 

 

Switching Gears – Road to Rail

IMG_3159After months of riding virtually every back road here along the north shore of Boston, I finally got the opportunity yesterday to get some actual trail riding under my belt…  The Rockingham Rail Trail extends from the retired train station in Newfields to Manchester NH and the shores of Massabesic Lake.  It’s a relatively flat but scenic trail frequented by snowmobilers during the snowy season and bikers/hikers during the warmer months.  It was in  surprisingly good condition given the cold spring and long winter we’ve experienced.  One big plus is that a rail trail bed is already well served as far as drainage goes.  There were a couple of tricky sections that required blasting through mud, but the overall condition of the trail was excellent.IMG_3157

Riding trail versus road offered a much more realistic glimpse into what lays ahead come June.  You don’t have nearly as much ‘down’ time on a mountain bike and trail.  After four hours wending my way along sandy, rocky and muddy trails I could see that I needed a lot more focus than simply spinning the paved backroads here on the seacoast.  The fatigue is different too.  There’s a lot more upper body involved on the trail, not to mention your rear end which can take a beating on the rougher sections.  Here’s a small section of yesterday’s ride:

I was surprised to discover how similar the two frames on my training bikes match up.  The cross bike (white) has a more aerodynamic road configuration.  The mountain bike that will accompany me on the Tour Divide is currently setup for a more upright riding position, but that all changes this week with the different handlebar/headset I’ve acquired. After a lot of back and forth, I also decided to switch out the entire crankset.  The current bike has a longer crank than I need and I’ve wanted to drop down from a triple to a double ring setup even with the added challenge of weight and elevation out west.  It’s a choice between simplicity and durability versus added range and versatility that I hope I don’t regret on the steeper sections of the Tour Divide.IMG_1206IMG_1192

Speaking of steeper sections, I took a few minutes this past weekend to investigate the snowpack depths out west, particularly in the northern sections of the route we’ll be following.  SWSI_201404_imageThe map below shows Montana’s surface water in April.  Blue and Teal are moderately wet to extremely wet.  The only “slightly dry” section is the small section in the bottom toe gold colored section.  With only six weeks remaining until we head west to Banff, I’m not overly optimistic that we’ll be dealing with dry surface conditions in the northern sections of the route.  Both Montana and Wyoming list their snowpack as currently above average for this time of year.

A lot can change in six weeks.  I’m hoping that Brad and I won’t be faced with extensive sections where we’ll be pushing our loaded bikes up over the tops of snow covered passes.  Mud isn’t a whole lot better.  We’ll see what the next six weeks brings, but I’m hoping that the northern rocky mountain states experience some ‘dry’ time to firm up the trail and fire road surfaces.  I know from past participants that Montana has knocked a lot of riders out of action with tendon and achilles issues from repeatedly pushing their gear laden bikes.  Time to get out and add some pushing to my training routine.

Onward.

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Gas Station Nostalgia on The Tour Divide

The most frequently asked question it seems when people first learn the rigors of  the upcoming Tour Divide centers around food; as in how do riders stay fueled?  It’s a good question.  Pedaling remote fire roads and single track for thousands of miles and weeks on end makes eating an interesting challenge.  With no sag wagon or support vehicles, the option of carrying more than a day or two’s worth of  supplies isn’t viable; too much weight.  The answer ironically lays in the marriage of the words ‘convenience’ and ‘gasoline’.oil_sands_gas_station_old-300x250

Of course this is a running joke in our household: gas stations and Canadians.  My wife happens to believe that there is a love affair between those living north of the 49th parallel and gas stations.  Perhaps she’s right.  I suppose it could be genetic.  Canadians are certainly more accustomed to traversing big wide open spaces where an empty tank could spell disaster.  Traveling across the barren expanse of prairie states and provinces on the recruiting trail for the past 40 years was a constant reminder just how critical paying attention to your gas gauge can be. There’s not exactly a lot of AAA services on the road to Flin Flon or Fort McMurray.IMG_1038

Of course for anyone in their 40’s or older, gas stations used to be just that.  I’m old enough to recall when we more commonly referenced them as ‘service stations’ complete with the attendant who asked you if you wanted to ‘fill ‘er up’?  Checking the oil and getting your windshield washed was just part of their routine.  What wasn’t common was to have access to every snack under the sun.  At best in those days you might be able to tug a soda or a bad cup of instant coffee from a vending machine.  That’s if you had the right change.2008516225944_Image194

Once the 70’s and 80’s arrived that all magically changed.  It may have been gradual, but seemingly overnight the old ‘grease monkey’ service stations disappeared and in their place were an array of shiny convenience stores with gas pumps. modern_architecture_gas_station_repsol_spain_4 I’m not so sure about ‘convenience’ but clearly gas was the magnet luring hungry patrons  into aisles of endless junk food.  It worked.  In short order a $5 gas stop became a $20 coffee, soda, snack, cigarette and beer stop.   images-7It wasn’t long before Subways, Dunkin Donuts and McDonalds started appearing next door to add to the “convenience”.  Eventually they came up with hybrid stations housing all of the above under one roof.  Convenience.

So when I discovered that the majority of Tour Divide riders used the small towns dotting the fringe areas of the official route as their oasis, I was unfazed.  Made perfect sense to me and my Canadian riding partner, Brad.  The quality of this ‘convenient fuel’ might not register at the top of anyones menu, at least not if their personal healthy was a priority.  But riders on the Tour Divide quickly come to realize that the challenge is more about quantity than quality.  You need calories and you need them fast.  After reading the blogs of many participants, it’s obvious that riders adjust quickly to stocking up on gas station junk food.  That shouldn’t be a problem for us Canadians.  According to my wife, we’d prefer to dine at the local 7 Eleven anyway.

Onward.0801A033

 

W’s on the Tour Divide

With less than two months to go before setting out from the shadows of the Banff Springs Hotel, I can feel the nervous energy building.  It’s subtle and it’s real.th

Lately I have to admit the most prominent “W” on my mind has been “Worry”.  th-1After spending decades convincing myself that this is one of life’s least productive activities,  I’m finding it’s  a bit tougher parking the “what if” scenario’s that keep cropping up readying for the Tour Divide.  My physical training continues but I can see why veteran TD race participants spend so much time focusing on the mental challenges.  The preparation lists, the anticipated needs to handle so many various setbacks, the endless “what if”s” …..all seem to gang up on you.

My riding partner, Brad Crossley, texted me this week to share that he’d finally gotten out on his first simulated ride with his Salsa Fargo fully loaded with  gear for the TD.  His takeaway?  Get ready for a totally different riding experience from ordinary road training.  Not surprising considering most road or cross bikes average in the 20 pound range while a fully loaded TD bike comes in at least twice that at 40 pounds and up With my bike build still at least a week away from being completed that feedback naturally added to my own anxiety to get more training time on a fully loaded chariot.  dsc_0001_thumb

I don’t think that it’s just coincidence as Brad pointed out: we’re in an all out war with the W’s:  Weight, Wind and Water Squared.

1. Weight:  Great when you’re cruising downhill.  Considering that completion of the Tour Divide requires climbing roughly 200,000 vertical feet, the inverse is very likely also true.  Uphill with a loaded bike isn’t so great…or easy.   Which explains why Tour Divide riders are insatiably hungry over the course of their three plus week long venture.  It takes a lot of fuel to keep your engine functioning.  Pedaling a bike twice the ordinary weight up and over continental divide repeatedly is one way of losing weight….but hardly without pain.  IMG_0481

2. Wind:  It’s the bane of cyclists even on a calm day.  Wind resistance factors into the effort to produce speed even without a headwind.  And a fully loaded mountain bike isn’t what I’d call aerodynamic to begin with.  In addition to being cold here this spring, it’s been incredibly windy the past month.  Pedaling into a stiff headwind has a way of zapping your legs and your willpower.

3. Water: Squared:  Water compounds everything both internally and externally.  Internally you have to continuously monitor intake to avoid dehydration.  Externally it can transform cool weather into hypothermia, easy flat terrain into washboard or even worse, a mud slogging mess.  Water can be both vital or disastrous depending on the situation.  You can’t live without it but it can likewise bring you to your knees and a grinding halt in one untimely torrential downpour.images-1

And I used to like the letter “W”…..

 

 

Weighing the Wait

images-34April Fools came and went yesterday without incident.  In fact it turned out to be the nicest day we’ve had here in some five months.  It felt strange getting out on the road for three plus hours without any real discomfort.  I kept waiting for the usual pains to kick in, but other than the occasional shoulder cramp…nothing. Where was that biting wind chill, face burn and foot numbness? Which got me thinking about “waiting” and “weight”.

I’ve touched on “weight” before.  It’s not surprising that this is a recurring topic;  in the world of cycling it appears to be the ‘Holy Grail’.  Even if your primary objective is simply upgrading your gear for the purpose of function or durability…weight always sneaks into the process.  It’s more often the primary driver of whatever you’re contemplating changing or switching out.images-35

I spent a portion of two mornings this past weekend riding, planning and discussing options with my Tour Divide partner, Brad Crossley.  Coffee, maps and gear conversation occupied our full attention for hours upon hour..  Unlike the warm sunshine we experienced on April Fools, the weekend was a total washout.  The monsoon did provide my first chance to trial my wet weather gear.  The end result: more questions than answers. Which brings back to the point of this entire exercise.  I need to move past the endless gear debates and tweaking of equipment and zero in on the nuts and bolts of my setup for the Tour Divide.

1-5-Horse-before-cartTo put it another way, it’s time to put stop putting the cart ahead of the horse.  I’ve read enough from previous Tour Divide riders and their experiences to realize that zeroing in on your setup takes time, persistence and focus.  The first two are easy,  I’ve got plenty of both.  The latter is where I see myself falling short.  It’s easy to say you’re going to prioritize this way or that, but nearly impossible to do as things keep getting thrown on your “to do” list that are out of sequence. images-38 It makes perfect sense when you’re in the middle of the process.  You experience a delay in acquiring a few primary items and the next thing you know you’ve moved on down the list.  The distractions and debates of that ‘next’ item on the list leads you further down the list and before you know it you’ve lost sight of that critical piece you were focused on yesterday.  Repeat.  All of a sudden another week has slipped away.  My time spent with Brad this weekend was a good reminder why I need to go back to the top of my list and get the cart behind the horse.

You know the age old joke told to every freshman college athlete.  Their college menu of  options consists of three things: academics, athletics and social life.  Pick Two.  Well in the world of adventure/distance cycling, the same adage applies except it’s: function, durability and weight.  Trying to find equipment that gets top marks in all three is a fools mission.  Plus, anything that comes remotely close costs as much as your house.  But I realize there are a lot of fools in this world!  images-37

In the end I shouldn’t be surprised that it all comes down to common sense and keeping practicality at the forefront of every decision.  KISS.  It’s amazing how even the most experienced of us gets lured into “paralysis analysis”.  I was chuckling reading several Tour Divide blogs this week that commented on chatting with participants that were STILL debating their gear setup within 24 hours of beginning the race!  That chuckle of course was all mine.  Despite being some 10 plus weeks out from the start, I realized that was going to be me if I didn’t get busy.  Time to stop weighing everything….literally.  images-39

Onward.