BicyclingIn 1979 I bought a used book for a dime, Aerobics, by Dr. Kenneth Cooper. It changed my life. I started riding my boyhood green Schwinn single speed bike and where I live a ride around the block is four miles - a long way. I was proud of myself for doing those rides and getting fit.
My brother had a Schwinn Collegiate that he wasn't using. It sat on top of a chicken coop in the sun and rain, and so I rescued it. Since I now had a five speed, I started riding farther. I worked up to riding to the next town, Stockbride, Leslie, Mason, or Williamston.
After I'd been doing this for a while, a friend told me about the Tri-County Bicycle Association, so I joined. One of the first rides I did with them was the 100,000 meter T-shirt ride and back then it started in Grand Ledge. I'd trained all spring and thought I was pretty good, but on the ride some young ladies passed me. I commented to one that she must have been riding a lot. She said, "No, this is my first ride of the year." Wow! So much for being good.
I kept riding, and even went on a 50 mile jaunt down to Jackson, and was totally exhausted. I mean, I was totally exhausted when I got there, I still had to come home. I made it back by only riding the up hills and coasting the rest of the way. I may have even walked a hill or two.
I got my kids bikes so they could ride, too; Schwinn Varsities, used, but in good shape. We went out together, and I had trouble keeping up with my oldest daughter, Sarah, a teenager who I knew hadn't ridden much. (The other kids were younger so were no problem.)
Everyone told me I should get a new bike, but I thought, 'It's really not the bike. It's the motor, right?' But after being passed on the T-shirt ride and also trying to keep up with Sarah, I decided I'd at least try a new bike. So I got myself a used Fuji with skinny aluminum wheels. Then I went on a 100 mile ride to Turkeyville and was drafting some other riders. It was all I could do to keep up, but the Fuji made a difference. I finally got dropped about five miles from the end, but it was the most thrilling ride I'd ever done.
I improved a lot, and eventually I decided to ride to Grand Rapids, a 200 mile round trip, I got back well after midnight but I had generator powered lights, so I was good. On Monday I was telling my friend at work, Gunther, about my ride, and said that I thought I probably could do 300 miles in 24 hours. I mean, on the 200 mile ride I'd taken a lot of stops and visited with some friends. I figured the actual riding time was less than 16 hours, so if I stopped less and rode more, in 24 hours it seemed logical I could do 300, a triple century. He told me I couldn't do it.
Whoa, baby! You don't tell me I can't do something, especially after I just said I thought I could. So I set out to prove him wrong. He told me about a 24 hour challenge so I registed for the ride, fully expecting to show him he was wrong.
I remember going out that day in my yellow cotton short sleeve work shirt (cotton is cool, right) and my long dark work pants while everyone else on that ride was in lycra shorts with bright colored jerseys. Somehow I developed a pain in my knee and only did 161 miles that first attempt and had to quit. Life is full of disappointments.
But I kept trying and one thing led to another. It took me three more yeas of trying and lycra shorts before I finally did a 24 hour triple century. Gunther told me about the Race Across American (RAAM), and Ultra Marathon Cycling Association, so I joined them and tried a qualifying race in 1989, a 600 mile ride in Capron, Illinois run by Lon Haldeman. Getting my offical finishers plaque was one of the happiest moments of my life. At this time I never intended to do RAAM, and quit marathoning.
Without a goal to give my life purpose and direction, I was depressed in 1990. The depression left when I decided to do RAAM and started training again. Every ride became a training ride, a personal race. I even did my own time trials during week, and literally pushed myself to my limits. I did RAAM qualifying races for a few years and discovered an amazing thing; training for the races was actually more fun than actually doing the race. The journey was more fun than the destination. Don't get me wrong, I really did enjoy the races, and am very grateful to those who helped me do them. But after the race was over, I felt let down. Then sort of by accident, in 1994, I actually qualified for RAAM and I fully intended to do it. I kept training, but in 1995 after some thought provoking experiences, I decided not to do it.
In 1996, I was totally burned out. I didn't want to quit biking, but I didn't ride at all in the spring. I decided to keep biking fun by doing something different - self-supported touring. I planned a 1200 mile round trip from my house up to Ironwood, Michigan, in two weeks. So on my first bike ride of the year, at the end of July, I was riding a touring bike all loaded down, something I'd never done before. By the time I got to Mackinac City, my butt was sore and I was way behind schedule. It would've made a big difference if I'd done a few rides before I'd left. So I changed my plan and rode north to Paradise, and then down to DeTour and Drummond Island. It shortened my tour quite a bit, but by the time I got back to Mackinac City, I felt great. In fact, I found myself goofing off and taking long naps in the middle of the afternoon so I wouldn't get home before my two weeks were up. I used this trip as a background for my first novel, The Silver Stiletto.
Another way I kept biking interesting and fun was tandeming. I really wanted my wife to ride with me, but it didn't work out. However my other daughter, Dolly, makes a great tandem partner. We've ridden DALMAC twice on the tandem, including making it up the infamous 'wall' out of East Jordan.
Another way I kept my biking interesting is by doing tours. I've done RAGBRAI, DALMAC, the Erie Canal, Ride the Rockies and others.
It used to be every ride was a training ride to be completed as fast as possible. Now I can slow down. It used to be I'd go off several hundred miles on the weekend, alone. Now I ride socially. It used to be I had to do every century ride that came along. Now I'm happy to do shorter rides. I don't have to knock myself out to be aerobically fit, and most important, I'm still biking.