Teaching An Old Dog New Tricks

So I’m ready to say it… “uncle”.  There, you win.  Winter is “the man”.  You Da MAN!!  I get it.  You’re not ready to leave just yet. When you are, you’ll do it on your terms.

I never imagined when I signed up for this zany adventure that I’d be teaching myself how to “accomodate” our good friend Winter.  After all I did have some experience riding in spring temperatures that weren’t exactly pleasant.  But this extended visit is shall we say, a bigger test than I envisioned when I jumped in with both feet in January.

Layering for this weather is no easy affair.  It reminds me of being a kid and putting on all your snow gear to head out into the snow before realizing that the bathroom beckons.  I used to think getting dressed for hockey was  too involved.  That routine is looking tame by comparison.  I did the math the other day.  In the past two weeks I’ve found twenty different items that need  pulling, zipping, snapping, ratcheted, velcroing, etc.  That’s close to twice the number I think I managed in my skating days.  And lets not talk about the shedding gyrations when nature calls.  I’m becoming a “twerker”.

IMG_2454Here’s a sample of the stuff that goes on “over” my regular cycling gear.  Place the wrong thing on in the wrong sequence or “forget” the sequence because you’re distracted…and it’s back to the drawing board.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve screwed up; I’ve lost count.  Time is not your friend either.  The longer you wrestle with tugging the last few items over your head or zipping them into place, the more you overheat.  Sweating profusely before heading outside in this weather is the kiss of death.

Recently I came across writings detailing the use of vapor barriers to better manage body temperature in cold, frigid weather.  The majority exercises outdoors in moderate climes or seasons where sweat just wicks away and does it’s job of cooling. Bundled up, you experience the same process with very different results.  Those who spend a lot of time exerting themselves in harsher climates obviously are a whole lot more familiar with this stuff than I.  In layman’s terms, vapor barriers are used to keep the moisture pouring off you contained so that the layers outside the barrier don’t become sweat soaked which can render them ineffective in keeping you warm.  Or a block of ice depending on what the thermometer says.  In a short out and back workout thats not an issue because you can strip them off before you get chilled.  But if you’re outside for extended periods of time, it becomes a big problem.  If you’re out for extended days or weeks, it can become a serious problem; no bathroom heater to dry things and release “eau de body” perfume into the air.

Yesterday I took a ride up the up the NH coast crossing into Maine.  It was sunny but well below freezing.  Instead of layering multiple foot covering devices over my cycling shoes,  I placed a plastic vapor barrier over my socks and inside my shoes.  Four hours of continuous riding later, I returned home without any foot discomfort from the biting wind.  The wool socks under the vapor barriers were damp of course..  But they were warm.  That was a first for me.  If you already know all about vapor barriers, this won’t surprise you.  If you want to understand the nuances of the ongoing vapor barrier debate, check out this website:  http://www.andrewskurka.com/2011/vapor-barrier-lines-theory-application/

IMG_2460 IMG_2468Riding up and down the NH coast line in the midst of a bitterly cold March, is a bit surreal.  The roads are wide open with only an occasional passing car.  Hampton beach is a ghost town; the only signs of life being the occasional brave dog walker. Bustling summer harbors like the picturesque  Wentworth By The Sea, were beautiful in the sunlight, but not a soul in sight.  Pedaling up the Rye coast and on into Portsmouth the lobster eateries were likewise silent.  If I hadn’t known better, I would’ve guessed it was mid January.  If a few zombies had lurched out of the buildings, my suspicions about the ‘Apocolypse’ would have been confirmed.  No Zombies.  Well….except the one riding that bike.IMG_2461

Every Wall Is A Door —– Ralph Waldo Emerson

I watched the recent Olympic Games in Sochi with more than just a passing interest.  images-9The hockey world is truly a small one.  Having spent a dozen years coaching gifted females in the sport, I looked forward to watching players I had both coached and competed against.  In particular I anxiously awaited the showdown between the Canadian and American teams who were clearly the class of the tournament.  Despite what pundits might suggest, this matchup was too close to call with plenty of talent, courage and determination on both benches.  It would be decided on the ice.

The eventual outcome, dramatic late rally by Team Canada and thrilling triumph in OT has been much discussed.  Depending which side of the 49th parallel you reside upon, it was either one of the greatest comebacks or defeats in the sports short history.  The media, which are drawn to drama like moths to your front porch light, seized upon the moment.  I saw countless articles depicting the agony and ecstasy that unfolded.  Some went so far as to suggest that the tears on the faces of the American players somehow called into question their character or fitness for the sport.  Absurd.  It lead me to wonder if these writers had ever competed passionately at anything in life?la-ol-the-us-womens-olympic-hockey-team-crying-001

I coached one of those teary eyed young American women for her entire collegiate career.  Kacey Bellamy embodied much of what I spent a career trying to teach hundreds of other athletes.  It would be impossible to summarize what she stood for in a few short paragraphs, but Kacey was the complete package.  You could take Wooden’s “Pyramid of Success” or Lombardi’s ‘What It Takes To Be Number One” and check off one characteristic after another.  Kacey had them, she believed in them and she lived them: Commitment, Leadership, Passion, Sacrifice, Teamwork, Discipline, Excellence.SB_3106572139

Two things stood out about Kacey when she arrived on campus in the fall of 2005.  She had big dreams and she believed in herself.  Hardly uncommon for an elite division one college athlete you might say.  What I discovered over the next four winters however was that Kacey had a enormous burning passion and will to be great.  She was tireless, relentless, focused and determined.  She knew where she wanted to go and had every intention of getting there.  Just as remarkable, Kacey possessed more genuine humility than anyone I’d ever worked with.  She had all the intangibles of a great leader and she worked at it every day.

By the time she graduated, Kacey was a star amongst stars in the college game.  Her remarkable development thrust her into national team consideration and when given the opportunity to represent her country at the National Under 22′s in 2007 and 2008, she excelled.  SB_3861969985Her career as one of the elite defenders on Team USA was well established by the time she helped Team USA secure gold at the World Championships in 2008-2009.  It was hard to fathom that the skinny kid that had arrived in Durham NH four years earlier was that women leading the USA to gold.

“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you’re doing the impossible.”  Francis of Assisi

Kacey’s dream was to win gold at Sochi.  Following the Vancouver Winter Olympics when Team USA watched Canada celebrate their gold medal victory on home turf, I’m sure that dream of rising to the top of the podium burned all the more brightly.  Half of Team USA were veteran’s of the Vancouver games.  You can bet each of them were fiercely determined to come out on top this time around.  Is it really surprising that after making the enormous commitment of staying the course for an additional four years of intense training, that these same women might be emotional watching the gold medal slip through their hands?!?crying

Kacey is like many of her teammates: a champion.  Coaches understand what separates these athletes from the pack.  Muhammed Ali once said, “champions are made from something they have deep inside– a desire, a dream, a vision.”

I have no idea what road Kacey and her teammates will take now that the 2014 games are behind us.  Some will likely retire from competitive play and enter into new ventures and pursuits.  Four years is a long time and there is more to life than the pursuit of medals.  It won’t matter what they decide, these women will make their mark on whatever organization or enterprise they choose.  Even in defeat, they have shown remarkable class and dignity.  Life is full of failure. The only difference is most of us don’t have those failures broadcast around the world.

What I witnessed on television following a heartbreaking loss, was simply pure emotion from some of the most talented women hockey players on the planet.  Had the tables been reversed in OT, you can bet there would have been plenty of tears on the Canadian side.  It’s sport, it’s passion and it’s why we are drawn to watch.  So thank goodness they shed a tear. They cared.  A lot.  Thanks for the memories ladies.  Thanks Kacey for sharing the ride.SB_1630875431

Dare Mighty Things

  Theodore Roosevelt
26th President of the U.S. and
winner of 1906 Nobel Peace Prize

It is not the critic who counts; nor the one who points out how the strong person stumbled, or where the doer of a deed could have done better.

The credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; who does actually strive to do deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotion, spends oneself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at worst, if he or she fails, at least fails while daring greatly.

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those timid spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.

Riding With Old Man Winter

Living in New England makes winter riding a pain.  Over my years of biking I’ve cut some corners pushing the shoulder seasons, but this is my first attempt at “riding through” the deepest part of winter.  It takes some getting used to. I’m not complaining, we live here by choice.  Anything is doable if you put your mind to it.  It’s just a bit more complicated.images-6

For openers, you have to educate yourself on the nuances of layering.  This I’m discovering is more art than science. IMG_2423

There is no one size fits all when it comes to layering. That’s me looking like a cross between a squirrel and the Michelin Man. It only takes a few degree shift in temperature or wind to really alter what works versus what doesn’t.  It’s a bit like making up a recipe as you go, except there’s a hefty price to be paid when you err badly…not just a batch of burned cookies.. more often it’s a case of frozen buns.

You’ve either overdone and find yourself sweating like some sumo wrestler, or worse you’ve badly underestimated the wind chill and overestimated your ability to warm up into the ride.  The latter, for stubborn males, results in an exceptionally painful experience.  I’ve had my share this winter.  The light bulb usually goes off around the 3-5 mile mark when you’re just far enough ‘out’ to resist turning back.  I’ve had plenty of these pep talks: “it’ll get better, just pedal a bit harder.”  By the time you reach the 8 -10 mile mark you’re brain is siphoning heat back to your core which means away from your feet and hands.  At this point those two areas are beginning to scream at you.  You’re now acutely aware that this particular ride isn’t going to go down in the ‘fun’ category.  images-7This is pain. The next step is trying to figure out how long you can endure that pain and quickly recalculating your route.  Several times this past month I’ve resorted to a Dunkin Donuts warmup in order to settle the argument going on between my head and my extremities.  The extremities somehow always come out on top.

UnknownThen there’s the roads.  By this point of the winter the backroads that I’ve been frequenting are in large measure a fractured mess.  There are endless yawning potholes looking to separate you from your bike without warning.  Maybe it’s just my imagination but it seems as if those bad sections of road keep growing by the day.  In a matter of a few weeks,  every six inch pothole has become a gaping series of holes and shrapnel.  I’m sure a winter like were having this year exacerbates the problem.  We’re well over three feet above our yearly average here this year in terms of snowfall and the thaws have been few and far between.

Which brings me to the road side snowbanks.  They’re huge!  images-8It’s not just that they make the country roads feel narrower, ( they do), it’s the fact that they make for lousy drainage.  Lately I’ve been sticking to more heavily traveled routes simply to avoid having to blast through endless pools of water. IMG_2437 I haven’t yet succumbed to adding full on fenders on my training bike, but it’s crossed my mind.  Cool February air plus sheeting water all over your backside and legs is never a good combination if you want to survive for hours at a time.  Naturally,  these wading pools only frequent the three foot shoulder section of the shoulder where cyclists live.  Veering out towards the middle of the road is only practical if there’s no vehicle traffic or you’re particularly fond of hospital visits.

Then there’s the drivers.  Insulated inside today’s luxury chariots, they seem basically oblivious to the perils of winter riding.  I find three broad classifications of winter drivers: the timid, the competent and the combative.  The timid drivers can’t seem to find their way around you even with no oncoming traffic.  They seem confused by the act of changing lanes and passing you and your bike as if it were a thirty five foot semi.  Instead they transform into tailgaters that infuriate other drivers as the line of traffic off your rear grows exponentially.  Fortunately the middle category of competent far outnumbers the timid. The vast majority of people quickly maneuver around and beyond you without incident.  The last category are fortunately a minority as well, but they’re out there apparently seeking you. images I’ve never quite understood the thrill of gunning a two ton super charged pick up within inches of a rider’s left elbow, but it apparently holds an attraction for some. I use a small bar end mirror so I have an inkling when the game is about to begin.  I’m sure there’s an explanation somewhere deep in their upbringing, I just don’t happen to know what it is.

Lastly, there IS a fourth category that applies to most everyone: the multi taskers. They’re the biggest threat we all face whether venturing out on two wheels or four.. I just say my prayers a few extra times each day knowing there’s nothing you can do alter some peoples habits behind the wheel.  Onward.


Wacky Or Not — Here We Come!

This winter I’ve rediscovered many things, like the value of taking nothing for granted and appreciating what you have one day at a time.  Watching your daily routine suddenly vanish overnight can do that.  It also lets you refocus your attentions on pursuits that get pushed to the bottom of our “to do” drawers.  Plus  with age comes a natural rethinking of ‘bucket’ lists. Throw in a big pinch of idle time and you have a recipe for something crazy, unorthodox, perhaps downright wacky.Image

Before drifting too far off point here let me be blunt: I am seeking to separate you from some of that hard earned cash you have in your pocket.  Not a lot mind you. In return I’m promising to provide those who opt to come along, plenty of real life entertainment and of course laughter.  So read on at your own risk.  I take no ownership if suddenly you find yourself doing something irrational in your own life.Image

This past December I learned that the father of one of my UNH skaters was beginning preparations for something called the “Tour Divide”.  I’d never heard of it.   Unless you have a few loose screws, I’m guessing you haven’t either.

Following many hours of online research the magnitude of his latest undertaking took hold.  The Tour Divide is an annual ‘race’ that starts on the morning of June 14th in front of the Banff Springs Hotel in Banff Alberta and ends in Antelope Wells, a dusty border town lying along the New Mexico and Mexican border.Image

Participants, if you choose to call them that, must navigate their way in a self supported ultra cycling challenge covering 2,745 miles, along the longest off road mountain bike route in the world.  Surfaces range from pavement, good gravel fire roads, four wheeler roads, single-track paths and old railroad beds. No support is provided.  There are no race organizers or official checkpoints until you finish in Antelope Wells.  That is, if you finish.   Here’s the on site description of this event:

Divide racers must not only be conditioned to endure weeks of consecutive 16+ hour days in the saddle, they need to bring other skills to the trail.

The route is unmarked and circuitous, requiring navigational acumen. It travels through remote backcountry with Grizzly and Mountain Lion density. Intervals between services are frequently 100+ miles and demand calculated food/water resupply–or else. Riders must also find shelter each night or bivouac trailside. In minutes the Rockies’ dynamic mountain weather can wreak havoc on route surfaces, skewing even the most near-term travel projections.Image

After several weeks of back and forth contemplation, I realized that this was something I wanted to do.  Why?  I can’t put it into words. If you’ve read this far, you likely know me.  You’ll just have to take me at my word.  Adventure, risk, unpredictable outcome, challenge, perspective, escape, foolishness, testing ones limits, fear of getting old, or insanity.  Pick one and you’re likely to be half right.Image

After deciding to participate, I took a page out of my riding partner’s book.  This would only be worthwhile if I turned it into a “win – win” affair.  I thought long and hard about making this about giving back to something valuable and worthwhile.  I picked a charitable cause that I wanted to ride in support of, something that would elevate this challenge beyond a typical adventure pursuit.  In keeping with my life’s passion, I wanted it to be about kids.  I’m riding in support of Best Buddies, a non- profit organization dedicated to creating opportunities for one on one friendships and leadership development for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  Image

Every summer my close friend and Dartmouth classmate Mark Berthiaume organizes a large team to participate in the Boston to Hyannis Port Century, raising funds for this wonderful organization.  If you’re a New England native you likely know Best Buddies from the many ads featuring Tom Brady, the official spokesperson for the event.

Karen and I will be riding from Boston to Hyannis in the annual Best Buddies Century on May 31st.  I’m asking for your support via the link below.  I’ve chosen as my Best Buddies identifying name: Brian4TD.  My goal is to raise $27,450 or $10 for every mile in the Tour Divide.  The May 31st Century will be a warm up for what is to follow two weeks later on June 14th.   Here is the link to Karen’s and my donation page:


In return, I am pledging to entertain you!  I’m set up to file a nightly Blog report from the spine of the Rocky Mountains as we pedal our way south towards Mexico.  The Blog address: TwoWackyCanadianOnThe TourDivide.  You can click on this link to subscribe and get notifications every time I post:


We have set our magic number of 25 days to complete this epic ride.  That’s almost a full month of non-stop saddle sores, bear escapes, flat tires and hail storm reports to entertain you nightly while sipping margaritas from the porch of your summer cabana.  Hell that’s better than the nightly Sochi updates since there’ll be no cheating to see if we made it past Grizzly Adams via the web!  My beautiful 10-year-old daughter is beginning to think I’m clairvoyant for picking the gold medal winners each night with staggering accuracy!   Image

I hope you will join me in supporting this great cause and sharing what portends to be an epic of comic and humbling proportions.  There won’t be any media filters in play here shaping our message.  Just the facts as we learn the real meaning of the phrase “roughing it”.   Onward.