Someday is Now

There are fascinating people you can meet when you take that first step to say hello.  We were reminded of that during our recent vacation in Montana.  While passing through Bozeman, we stopped for lunch at one of the restaurants along Main Street.  I noticed a bicycle, loaded with gear on the front and back, leaning against the railing separating the dining area from the sidewalk.  I pointed to the bicycle and told my husband it probably belonged to someone who was riding across country.  We looked up to see a tall slender man, wearing bike shorts and carrying a bike helmet, walking past our table. My husband (whose preferred activity is bicycling) greeted him and they chatted.  Turns out, Ben, the bicyclist, was biking across the US.  It was a dream he had for years.  Someday he was going to do it.  When he retired, Ben started to plan his trip and someday started to get a lot closer.    Now here it was.

In one of those “It’s a Small World” moments, it turned out Ben lives about 50 miles from us.  Since we are practically neighbors back home, we asked Ben to join us for lunch.  He didn’t hesitate.  With beers and food ordered, we sat back to hear about Ben’s adventures as a TransAmerican bicyclist.

As we ate, we peppered Ben with questions.  When did you start your cross-country trek? Mid-April.  How many miles have you biked? About 3,400 with another 1,200 to go before finishing in Oregon.  How much does all your gear weigh? 75 pounds.  Where do you sleep at night? Outside, sometimes along the road, sometimes in a hotel.  What do you do if your bike breaks down?  Carry spare parts like extra tires and inner tubes.  How many flat tires have you had so far? Two (the first when he took his bike into a hotel room and a tack in the carpet pierced his tire).  Did you sell everything you own to do this? No, just his truck.  He will buy a new one to drive back home from Oregon when he finishes.  When do you think you will finish? October.

Ben was taking his time on his trip.  Typically, I hear about bicyclists crossing the country in 14-20 days, traveling from west to east.  Ben was taking a different approach.  He had started in the east (Delaware) and was heading west.  This wasn’t any mad dash for him.  Ben was visiting friends and family along the way.  Some places he would stop to go to a baseball game.  In others, he would rent a car and make a side trip for sightseeing before hopping back on his bike to continue his journey.  Ben takes a couple of days off too, only biking 5 days a week.  To plan his route, Ben worked with the Adventure Cycling Association.  Their headquarters is located in Missoula and Ben planned to stop by to say hello.

As Ben talked, I noticed that our waitress would linger each time she stopped at our table.  She was listening to Ben talk about his experiences.  I watched her eyes get bigger and more full of life as she listened.  Finally she explained she wants to go on a similar adventure and is trying to convince her husband.  She wants to start with a bike ride through Glacier National Park. She has some fear of what she might encounter.   “Could I really do it?”  Ben assured her she could.  All she needed to do was get a bike and start training.

It was a fun lunch.  I enjoyed listening to Ben’s stories and making a new friend in the process.  When we left the restaurant, I found I was as excited about Ben’s journey as he probably was.  While I don’t think riding across country on a bike is in my future, I admire Ben for doing it.  I look forward to getting together with him again to hear about the rest of his trip.  It certainly is an incredible adventure.

Interested in a cycling adventure of your own?  Check out the Adventure Cycling Association’s web site for ideas, tips, routes, maps, and more:






Staying Safe

Safety on the roads is one thing both runners and bicyclists have to keep as a top priority.  Hazards come in all forms.  It can be somebody attacking us on a lonely stretch of a trail or a menacing dog with a taste for athletes.  I know someone who was attacked by a raccoon during a run on a February morning.  She ended up being treated for rabies.  There is one hazard that scares me the most – a motor vehicle.  In a battle between a runner or bicyclist and a motor vehicle, the motor vehicle will always win.

At the end of March I was shocked and sadden to learn Mike Hall, a 35-year-old ultra cyclist from the UK, was killed while riding in the inaugural Indian Pacific Wheel Race in Australia.  I became familiar with Mike from the documentary “Inspired to Ride” about the inaugural Trans Am Bike Race, an unsupported race across the US that Mike won.  (I wrote about the documentary in my post “Looking for Inspiration“.)  I started following Mike’s races after watching the film.  I admired him because he wasn’t afraid of a challenge.  He loved adventure too.  More importantly, Mike was a good guy.  He was always willing to help other bicyclists.  It wasn’t all about him.  Although I don’t cycle, his death was difficult to believe.   Gone too young in a tragic way – hit from behind by a car in the early morning.

In June Tim Lalla, a 24-year-old from Chicago, was participating in the Biking for Baseball program to raise money for the B4B Little Scholarship Fund.  Tim was cycling to all 30 Major League ballparks as part of his fundraising – watching games and meeting people.  He had seen games in 10 different ballparks and was heading from Houston to Atlanta when he was struck by a Ford F-150 in Alabama.  The pictures of Tim and his bike after the accident are horrific.  Just a few days after hearing about Tim’s accident, I learned of another ultra cyclist, Eric Fishbein, who was killed while riding in the Trans Am Bike Race.  Like Mike, Eric was hit from behind by a car on a road in Kansas.

Motor vehicles are a danger to runners as well.  In January 2014 Meg Menzies was struck and killed by a drunk driver while running with her husband.  Meg who was training for the Boston Marathon was running on the shoulder of the road when she was hit.  Two months later, Jaime Rowley, a single parent, was fatally hit by a car during her morning run.  One of my favorite local races benefits a foundation established in Jaime’s memory.  Every time I run that race I stop by the foundation’s tent and make a donation.  Jaime could be me.

I remember running one Sunday with Leanne, my running coach at the time.  As we approached an intersection on the trail, she made me stop to look both ways before we continued running.  She told me to never assume that a motorist would stop for me at a crossing.  In retrospect, Leanne was teaching me a very important lesson.  A motorist may be distracted by something in the car or blinded by glare.  If they didn’t see me, I could be hit.  I always stop at intersections now and look before I go.

While there are no statistics about runners killed in collisions with motor vehicles (runners get lumped into statistics with pedestrians), there are statistics on bicyclists deaths.  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 818 bicyclists were killed in crashes with motor vehicles in 2015.  That means 818 families have one less person around the table at holiday get-togethers.  Pretty sobering.

I take several safety precautions to improve my odds when running on the trails and the roads.  First, I never wear headphones when I run.  Sound provides very important information about what is around me.  Second, I wear bright clothing when I run – think neon green like construction workers.  Might not be very stylish but I am more concerned with my safety.  Third, when I do run on roads, I run facing traffic and get well off the road when a car approaches.  I never assume that someone will give me a wide berth.  In the past I would run outside at night but I don’t anymore.  I discovered no matter what reflective gear I wore, it seemed as if the cars headed for me.  When the sun goes down, I head for the dreaded treadmill. I continue to follow Leanne’s rule of stopping and looking both ways at an intersection before I cross a road.  And finally, I always wear my Road ID because if something happens to me, I want my family to be notified as quickly as possible.

I think my list of precautions is appropriate for bicyclists too (except they have to bike with the flow of traffic and not against it).  Visibility is important for them too.  Like runners, bicyclists should never assume a car is looking out for you.  With an increased interest in bicycling, safely sharing the road with 4,000+ pound car is a matter of life or death.





Looking For Inspiration

I came back from Austin with an unwanted souvenir – a nasty cold that has kept me from training.  While sidelined, I took time to watch the documentary “Inspired to Ride” about the inaugural TransAm Bike Race held in 2014.  The race was organized by the same people who organized Tour Divide.

The TransAm Bike Race covered 4,233 miles over 10 states following the TransAmerica Trail from Astoria, Oregon to Yorktown, Virginia.  It was a self-supported ultra-endurance cycling event (i.e., no support teams driving along with extra gear) with no prize money, no stages, no checkpoints, no teams.  The 45 cyclists who started were on their own.  The film followed them as they raced across the Rocky Mountains, the plains in the Mid-West, over the Appalachian Mountains through Virginia to Yorktown.

I was fascinated by the people who entered the TransAm Race.  There was Jason Lane, a Canadian cyclist who holds the Canadian record for the Race Across America (RAAM, a supported bike race) in 9 days.  Instead of eating real food, Jason was living on a liquid diet called Spiz, used by endurance athletes as well as cancer and AIDS patients.  He refilled his supplies via shipments he had sent to various Post Offices along the way.   Mike Hall, a cyclist from the UK, had completed the Tour Divide in 2013 as well as the 18,000 mile World Cycle Race in 2012.  During the TransAm, Mike was like a machine that never stopped.

The cyclist that I was most fascinated by was Juliana Buhring from Italy.  Ultra-endurance sports in general have an extremely low percentage of woman participants.  But Juliana is an extraordinary woman.   She started cycling in 2011 at age 30.  In December 2012 she became the fastest female to circumnavigate the world by bike.  She completed her journey in 144 days of cycling (152 if you include the flights between segments).

Throughout the TransAm race, I saw her face challenges that would have easily sent me home.  Nothing seemed to upset Juliana.  No tears.  No “why me?”  No pouting.  Time after time Juliana just dealt with whatever life threw at her.  She suffered a bad crash and ended up with a bruised sternum and a badly skinned knee.  Although it hurt to breathe, she kept going.  She had trouble with her seat, which was slowly sinking and causing her knee pain.  She stopped to get it fixed and then kept pushing on.  In Kentucky, her chain broke and she spent hours with a “hillbilly” who locals said could fix anything.  And he did.

There was one scene that I can’t get out of my head.  Juliana was sitting outside a grocery store eating a sandwich when a woman stopped to talk to her.  When she heard Juliana was racing across America, the woman told Juliana she was crazy.  Juliana replied “crazy is sitting behind a desk from 9 to 5.”  When I worked, I sat behind a desk frequently for over 10 hours a day.  I have to agree with Juliana – that was crazy.

I won’t tell you who won the race.  You need to watch the film for yourself so that you can hear each of the cyclists’ stories and see the incredible scenery.   You might think they are crazy too but I am starting to think that ultra-endurance athletes are more sane than we think.

I like the way that Mike defined adventure.  He said “adventure is being willing to take on something that could be bigger than you thought.”  Every day presented new unpredictable challenges to the cyclists including cold and snow in the mountains (in June!); grueling cross winds in Kansas; snapped bike chains and cracked bike frames; bloody saddle sores; dangerous encounters with motorists.  But the thrill of racing and adventure kept them going.

In two years I hope to be finished with my 50 state endurance challenge and all 6 Major Marathons.  I am starting to look for my next challenge, my next adventure.  As Mike said, I just have to be willing to take on something that could be bigger than I think it could be.  I don’t think I am tough enough for the TransAm but there might be another ultra event that I could do.   I will keep looking.

I hope you take the time out to watch “Inspired to Ride”.  It was a good one.

The Adventure Cycling Association is a non-profit organization that promotes travel by bicycle.  Their web site has routes and maps for the over 44,600 miles of cycling routes across the United States.    

I wrote about the documentary “Ride the Divide” back in September 2014.   If you haven’t seen the documentary about Tour Divide (called “Ride the Divide”), rent it.  That one is not to be missed.