Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Theme Song

A few years ago a friend gave me a CD entitled "The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan." Most of the songs on the CD were composed in the early 1980's. Many of them are great. On this CD, they're all performed by African American singers and Gospel Choirs. Mary and I were both drawn to one particular song, Pressing On, sung by Chicago Mass Choir.

The song describes life's journey as a Christian when encountering resistant skeptics of the Gospel's good news and the temptation to quit being a Christian witness. The chorus proclaims the singer's response to these burdens: "Well I'm pressing on. Yes I'm pressing. Well I'm pressing on to the higher calling of my Lord." Bob Dylan's imagery suggests this is a journey filled with challenges. In the face of these challenges, rather than being diverted or quiting, the singer believes and experiences a higher calling. Even in adversity, there is hope and the ultimate achievement of a goal.

Although a transcontinental bike ride is a different challenge, Pressing On has become the theme song for the tour. Biking can be a physical resistance to which the options are to quit or to press on. Like every bicyclist, all too often I've known the triple resistance of heat, hills and head winds that can build to a temptation to quit. I've stood at the bottom of a hill, with cramps in my legs, wondering how I will proceed. I've bonked more times than I care to admit.

Bicycling can also be the crucible in which other emotional and spiritual struggles are resolved. At least this has been true for me. One year, I experienced a tragedy that knocked me down for months. I was flat, even depressed. Life was grey for many months. Eventually, it became familiar and I no longer noticed it. I went completed the entire spring training season numb, empty and going through the motions. I wanted to quit. Unfortunately, I had to press on because I was committed to riding on the Register's Annual Great Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI). I was going to ride on tandems with my 14 year old daughter, my best friend and one of his sons. RAGBRAI is a seven day ride across Iowa with over 10,000 other bicyclists. I had ridden it before. It had been great fun. Knowing this didn't help. Considering the ride felt overwhelming. I decided the only option was to press on. And then it all changed. Halfway into the first day's ride, I became aware of a surprising emotion, joy. I remember and love that day. My daughter and my friends son were laughing and singing on the back of the tandems. We were coasting down a small hill with the sun behind us and beautiful corn fields on both sides. You could smell the corn. Somehow enduring the internal resistance, discouragement and temptation to quite was rewarded with a tangible blessing. This doesn't always happen for me, but it did this time. I knew and I know I was blessed.

Will I be physically challenged on this tour? Absolutely. Will I be emotionally and spiritually challenged? Probably. I think I'm finally becoming a wiser and more mature bicyclist and person and this should help. My goals are to be physically fit but also emotionally and spiritually prepared. The training seems to be going well. My prayer is that when I encounter adversities I will be able to be "Pressing on to the higher calling of my Lord."

"...One thing I do: forgetting what is behind me and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the gaol to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward..." Philippians 3:13,14

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Route

How do you determine a bicycle route across the United States? The options are virtually endless. I'm taking a northern route. Some people are drawn to the lower states. I've always enjoyed the seasons and the geography in the north. After selecting a northern route, the only other consideration was to travel through Des Moines and Pella stopping at the Pine Rest Iowa Clinics, (After all raising funds for the Pine Rest Iowa Clinics is one of the main goals for the tour.) and then to swing through western Michigan, stopping at the Pine Rest main campus in Grand Rapids. This has lead to one of the main joke questions I hear; "So are you planning to bike across Lake Michigan?" No, but I am planning to take the high speed ferry from Milwaukee to Muskegon and I'm not peddling on the ferry. I decided it's better to travel through Milwaukee than the dense population on the south side of Chicago.

Having chosen a route the next step is to select the specific roads. The most important consideration in choosing a road is safety. The safest road often means the road less traveled. (Sorry Robert Frost) Some roads are designated for bicyclists with signs. Even better, some have a bike lane. I've never biked in the mountainous northwest. Therefore I needed a trusted, established route. I'm using maps I purchased from Adventure Cycling out of Missoula, Montana. The route was first charted for the 1976 bicentennial. Their maps determined my starting point in Florence, Oregon. I'll follow them through the Cascade mountains, from Oregon, to Missoula, Montana and on to Rawlings, Wyoming. The route passes through Yellowstone Nation Park, which should be stunning.

So far, I've also gotten bicycle maps for Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ontario and New York. I still need Michigan and Massachusetts. The New York route follows the Erie canal, which means 373 flat miles, but beautiful towns and rich history.

After I chose the general route and the maps dictated our starting point, how did I decide where to end? I told Mary it would be somewhere in Massachusetts. She then informed me we would end in Salem because "We've never been there and I want to see it."

I hope to have time this week to pick up the last of the needed maps. Just writing about the route makes me excited. I'll provide more details later. Stay in touch. I promise to post pictures.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

How's the Training Going?

Often people ask "So how do you train to ride a bicycle across the United States?" Well, you ride a bike for many miles before you embark on a transcontinental bike ride that's also many miles. Actually, this isn't entirely true. Some people don't train at all while others are very rigorous about the activity. I've known or read about several people embarking on this adventure with little to no training. Of course the problem with this approach is the difficulty in getting fit while in the process of completing the tour. I've participated in century rides (100 miles) with insufficient training, thinking I could succeed with a positive attitude and experience. The outcome has typically been exhaustion, muscle cramps, a rueful attitude and significantly increased experience. Learning from painful experience, I am training now, am already in decent physical condition and by June should be ready to ride 80 miles a day.

Others are very disciplined in their training. They wear a heart monitor. They follow a carefully developed plan. Some use computer programs to plan their training and plot their progress. This approach is excellent, depending on your temperament. I don't think this approach fits my temperament. It's too detailed and, I must confess, too disciplined. I lose the joy when I try to train like this. Even so, I've purchased a heart monitor. Heart monitors are very helpful in training as it's possible to over train. They're also good to wear at least during the first few days of the ride, as it's important to consistently stay below 85% of you maximum heart rate. So, I'm giving the heart monitor a try. Last night I tried to determine my maximum heart rate. The easiest way is to subtract your age from 220. In my case this means my maximum heart rate is 167 beats per minute. I decided to measure it by biking on my resistance trainer as hard as I could. The highest number I achieved was 151. Now I have to decide whether that's my maximum heart rate or that under the circumstances I wasn't able to achieve more than 90%. Tonight I'm going out on the bike path and I'll see whether I get a different result. I've not decided what I think about this yet.

Ultimately, my training style is somewhere in the middle of these other options. All winter I've completed a series of strength training exercises, ridden my resistance trainer and used a Nordic track. Now I'm regularly riding outside. I've completed a couple nice 26 mile rides on the trail beside Red Rock Lake. I'll gradually increase one long ride per week until I'm at least at 70 miles. I hope to figure out the heart monitor so that it can be helpful. If that's not enough, I'll rely on a good attitude and experience!