JustWind for JC: A Metric Century

Over the years, I have been deeply touched by the resilience and courage of a west Wichita family, the Delamores. I grew up attending church with Angie (Coffman) Delamore at St. Paul Apostle Catholic Church in Del City, Oklahoma. We lost touch over the years, but reconnected when our sons were babies over 12 years ago. Angie and I had both moved to the Wichita area, and before our mothers retired and moved to Kansas, they would drive up together from Oklahoma City to see their grandsons. Angie’s son JC was born July 1, 2004, exactly three months before my son Logan was born on October 1, 2004.

There are so many parallels in our lives.

I have been most deeply struck by the way our paths have diverged, however.

JC was diagnosed with leukemia when he was two years old.

All the years that we and Logan have been able to take for granted his ability to participate in sports, play freely with friends in the park or at the pool and enjoy Biking Across Kansas, JC has been valiantly coping with feeding tubes and central lines, bone marrow biopsies, surgeries, chemotherapy, spinal taps a bone marrow transplant, remissions and relapses.

Angie and her husband Scott have continually witnessed JC’s pain and suffering. As a mother, my heart aches to imagine what that must be like.

Throughout the decade since JC’s diagnosis, the family has lived with so much uncertainty, and their lives have been disrupted so many times by leukemia. The Delamores have faced each crisis with honesty, courage, unshakeable faith and resilience, living as absolute models of the JustWind philosophy, which acknowledges that life is full of challenges and can be lived with the highest quality when that fact is recognized and faced courageously. They do not seem to question why they have had to endure such suffering when others have been able to experience the milestones and adventures of a childhood without serious illness. Instead, they focus on treasuring each moment.

My urge to do something to help the family nagged me for years, especially each time I learned that JC had experienced a new relapse or crisis, but I didn’t act on it. Finally, when he relapsed this spring for the fifth time, after the family had enjoyed more than a year of remission following a bone marrow transplant from his dad, the nagging in my head and heart turned into the words of Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, a vegan outreach expert whom I admire, “Don’t do nothing just because you can’t do everything.” I kept hearing those words until I made the decision to reach out to Angie to ask her permission to organize a bike ride to raise money to help the family. Although she acknowledged that it is difficult to accept help, she gratefully gave me permission and said that this most recent relapse has left the family in a different position than they ever previously have been.

Virtually every medical option has been exhausted. They are currently staying in Maryland at the National Institute of Health, where JC is in the throes of an experimental treatment that does not promise a medical cure, but offers some hope. JC made the choice to participate in the study because he wants very much to experience as much as possible of all that life has to offer.

A fundraiser bike ride feels like the best way to use my strengths, experience, connections and passion to try to make some small difference in the life of this family.

I am organizing JustWind for JC: A Metric Century for 7 a.m., Saturday, August 12, 2017. It will start and finish in Andale High School parking lot at 700 W. Rush Andale, Kansas 67001. It will be a beautiful 62-mile ride on quiet, rural roads that I love to ride. Participants will experience three great small towns, two counties and two lakes and will have the opportunity to help the Delamore family with the limitless expenses associated with giving JC the best chance to live the life he loves.

Having been honored to be part of the Biking Across Kansas family since 1999, I know that cyclists are wonderful, generous people. Please join me for JustWind for JC if you are able and share this post and the event link with your cycling friends, as well as with others who may not be able to join us for the ride, but still have a desire to help. You may make a freewill donation and register for the ride here. Cash donations will also be accepted on the morning of the ride, and Team Delamore hoo rags (and, possibly, jerseys—stay tuned) will be available for purchase. Proceeds for the ride and hoo rag purchases will go directly to the Delamore family.

Once again, here is the link to register for the ride: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/justwind-for-jc-a-metric-century-tickets-35775030078

Intention

Meriam-Webster Dictionary defines “intention” as “a determination to act in a certain way” and “what one intends to do or bring about,” among other usages.

Bringing intention to just about anything can enhance both the experience in the moment and the effectiveness and level of satisfaction induced by the activity. Several synchronistic encounters have generated a resurgence of interest in practicing intention in my everyday life. Here are a few of the ways I am doing that.

Sleeping: Right before I go to sleep, as part of my nightly journaling practice, I set an intention to answer a question or solve a problem. I write it in my journal and ask my inner guidance to help me find the answer or solution. This sometimes leads to vivid dreams that steer me to a resolution. Other times, I awake with greater clarity or peace around the issue. Either way, I find that it is crucial to take a moment immediately upon awakening to record and process the guidance in my journal. Doing so contributes to deeper understanding and an increased chance of remembering and implementing what I learned in my sleep.

Eating: Adding intention around eating can be life changing. For me, intentional eating manifests in many ways. First and foremost, I eat plants, not sentient beings. My primary intention behind doing so is to add to the compassion, as opposed to the suffering, that exists in the world. A bonus is that the most compassionate way of eating is also most life-enhancing for my own body. By eating whole plant foods, I am intentionally doing what is best for raising the level of compassion in the world and for optimizing my own wellness. Beyond this most critical intention, I have committed to checking in with my emotions before I eat, to consciously and thoroughly chewing my food and to putting my fork down between bites. It is amazing how this can transform eating from a function to a practice. It can be challenging to accomplish this in the midst of a hectic day, with lunch squeezed tightly between appointments, but I make every effort to maintain my intentional practices around eating even then. I find that it helps my body to be in a calmer, more peaceful state to accept the nourishment that I give it.

Exercise: Physical activity, in itself, is wonderful for our bodies, minds and spirits. Engaging in regular physical activity has been one of the most transformative habits of my life. I have been a consistent exerciser since I was 23. My focus has shifted from gym to running to cycling over the years. While each has played an important role in who I have become, cycling is an absolute passion. I find the mood-enhancing and spirit-boosting effects of physical activity are elevated when I add another layer of intentionality to my exercise. I am committed to exercise because I know that moving my body in challenging ways makes me far, far happier and healthier than not doing so. I can get even more out of the movement when I meditate on a resonant quote and/or repeat affirmations to myself. On a recent bike ride, the quote that formed the basis for my intentional mediation was this one by Lucius Annaeus Seneca
“It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.”

This is a poignant reminder for me as I work toward some challenging goals. I also include on my rides affirmations designed to reprogram long-held beliefs that are not serving me. I find the combination of powerful physical activity that I love (cycling for me, but it might be something else for you) with positive self-talk and deep pondering of a worthwhile idea to be a particularly potent strategy for improving my confidence and my sense of well-being.

I recently read the excellent book Healthy Brain, Happy Life, by neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki. She explained how a workout called IntenSATI changed her life. The creator of IntenSATI, Patricia Moreno, combined a fusion (dance, martial arts, yoga and interval training) workout with powerful affirmations. Suzuki found that the intention this brought to her exercise changed the way she thought about herself, her body and what is possible in her life. She noticed that her creativity was enhanced, and she was more willing to take reasonable risks in her work and social life. I related strongly to what she said. My experiences on the bike, particularly combined with positive messaging to myself, permeate every aspect of my life and bring me renewal on a regular basis.

I am not necessarily successful at bringing intention to everything I do, but the areas where I do are more rewarding and help me to grow. In our highly distracted world today, the more intention we can introduce into our daily lives, the better. I believe that I have a responsibility to live my life with as much focus and purpose as possible so that I don’t miss the moments that comprise the whole of my existence.

My Favorite Books in 2016

Once again, reading was a rewarding and enriching aspect of my year. I am excited to share my second annual list, roughly, by the order in which I read the books listed in each genre, of my favorite books from a year of reading.

Memoir is one of my favorite genres, and it was interesting to note how many of the books I most enjoyed in 2016 came from that category. A number of them were about epic journeys of one type of another. I love the idea of a quest for personal growth and soul searching. Many of my bike rides become those in miniature for me. Vicariously, I learn and grow from the memoirists’ quests, and they inspire me to explore the idea of setting out on adventures of my own, whether geographic or metaphorical in nature.

These are the books that I gave four or five stars in Goodreads during 2016.

Business

Health

History

Memoir/Biography

Nutrition/Cooking

 

Personal/Professional Development

  • Retire Inspired: It’s Not an Age, It’s a Financial Number, by Chris Hogan—I felt motivated to take action toward improving my financial future after reading this book. Unfortunately, I haven’t followed through on everything that I planned at that time, but I do intend to refer back to this competent guide.
  • What I Know For Sure, by Oprah Winfrey—I just love Oprah, and this collection of her popular column, “What I Know for Sure,” in O Magazine is light, easy reading that imparts a lot of quotable wisdom.

Social Justice

True Crime & Justice

Writing

A Strong Foundation for Cycling . . . and Life

Over several years, despite cycling consistently, my average speed had become lower than I wanted it to be—not particularly slow, but slower than it seemed like it should be. While a number of different factors probably contributed, one variable seemed to be a decreased ability to easily engage my hamstrings in the pedaling effort. This is not uncommon in cyclists, whose quadriceps often carry the load. The hamstrings are important, however, in knee flexion, the “pull-up” phase of the pedal stroke, and in hip extension, an aspect of the “push-down” phase of the pedal stroke. Those phases obviously take place every revolution, so I knew that I would benefit by regaining more hamstrings engagement in my cycling. What I had noticed over the years, though, was that consciously engaging and emphasizing my hamstrings on the upstroke was exhausting and not sustainable for long.

During the same time frame that my cycling speed diminished, I also experienced a troubling onset of hip and lower back symptoms. I have scoliosis, and an x-ray a few years ago showed spondylolisthesis (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spondylolisthesis), a condition where vertebrae are displaced and pushed forward. I also had quite a bit of pain consistent with piriformis syndrome (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piriformis_syndrome) and some sciatica (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sciatica). In short, my whole lower back and hip region, especially on my right side, had become a mess.

While I haven’t entirely eliminated these issues, I have found a resource that has given me significant relief and has also improved my cycling.

Over a year and a half ago, I incorporated Foundation Training (http://www.foundationtraining.com/) into my training program in the last few weeks of my cycling off-season. I had been having quite a bit of discomfort and was searching for exercises that would give me relief. I had tried yoga, self-myofascial release (http://www.mythrivemag.com/dont-be-a-tight-ass-self-myofascial-release/), with both a foam roller and massage balls, and stretching that targeted the piriformis and lower back. Short of cycling—the more I ride the better I feel—nothing really made a noticeable, sustainable difference. I ordered the Foundation Training book and did exercises from it for the first seven weeks. Within just about three weeks, I noticed a difference in both the way I felt and the way I rode. I ordered the DVD set and added to my Foundation repertoire. Since that time, Foundation Training has been a primary component of my fitness and training program. The latest book by Dr. Eric Goodman, True to Form, updated my understanding of Foundation Training and assisted me in further integrating it into my everyday life.

Foundation Training focuses on strengthening the posterior kinetic chain, the muscles on the back of our bodies that support our movements through daily life, including the lower back, glutes, hamstrings and calves. As the creator of Foundation Training explains in this video (http://www.foundationtraining.com/videos_and_blog/tedx-talk-remedy-for-back-pain/), back pain is frequently associated with improper movement patterns that increasingly weaken the posterior chain and prevent it from supporting our bodies the way it was intended to do. It is designed for everyone, from individuals with chronic back pain and conditions to elite athletes. All can benefit, and virtually anyone can do at least some of the exercises. People with chronic conditions may not be ready for all of them initially, but they can at least do the beginning exercises and build on those as their foundations grow stronger and more functional.

Foundation Training has noticeably improved my ability to engage my hamstrings, as well as to utilize my glutes more effectively, while cycling. I gained speed and had the perception of increased power (I do not have a power meter, so I don’t have objective evidence.) on my bike. I was able to ride faster and to sustain my speed for longer distances. These gains have persisted over time and across seasons. My sciatica is virtually gone, and my piriformis pain is dramatically reduced. I still have some hip pain, particularly some mornings or when I am sitting for long periods of time, but the pain is less, both in frequency and intensity.

I have given Foundation Training as gifts, and I have recommended it to others. I will continue to do so, and I will continue to practice it. I believe in its efficacy because I feel and experience the results daily. I have aspirations to get certified as a Foundation Trainer someday, so that I can share with more people the benefits of this unique form of fitness training.

Success, Redefined

“The secret of success is constancy to purpose.” Benjamin Disraeli

I have decided that constancy to purpose is also the secret to happiness and inner peace. After my wake-up call from stress-induced B6 toxicity and small fiber neuropathy, I realized that I needed to focus on the things that really matter to me and let go of other expectations whenever possible. There are so many obligations, options, opportunities, causes, people and ideas competing for our time and attention. Trying to keep up with all of them and stay healthy is just not feasible.

We each have to find our own best way to make a difference—to make the contributions we want to make to the world, while remaining as healthy and centered as possible. This requires focusing on our unique opportunities to be a positive force in the universe and spending our time and energy doing those activities that feel most right. These are some touchstones that I find helpful in striving for this focus:

Clear values. Compassion. Excellence. Integrity. Fitness. These are the ethical aims that drive me and the most basic characteristics for which I want to be known. When I am clear about what ideals are most important to me, they guide my decisions in the directions that reinforce and enhance those principles in my life.

A philosophy for living. It is my responsibility to use my strengths and maximize my gifts to ensure that my net contribution to the world is positive. I express my gratitude for the strengths and gifts I have been given by putting them to effective, positive use.

Awareness of my strengths.  Honesty. Love of Learning. Perseverance. Gratitude. Judgment. According to the VIA Survey, these are my top five strengths. I frequently check in with myself to determine how well I am utilizing these strengths. Focusing my energy, whenever possible, on activities that allow me to employ these strengths optimizes both my effectiveness and my ability to find personal fulfillment in what I do.

Acknowledgement of my gifts. This list could go on and on. I am aware that I have been given so many resources and gifts, ranging from a loving upbringing to robust health to a quality education to a love of cycling and a drive to be fit. As an undergraduate student doing both paid and volunteer work in the nonprofit sector, I felt guilty for having been given so much, when I regularly witnessed so much suffering around me. In the years since, I have transformed the guilt into a healthier ownership of responsibility. I strive to maximize, not squander, my gifts. To provide just one example, I celebrate and express gratitude for my good health by nurturing it through cycling; eating a whole-food, plant-based diet; parking at the far reaches of parking lots; taking the stairs—even to the tenth floor when visiting people in the hospital—and making responsible decisions to take care of myself. To do otherwise, in my opinion, would be to scoff at the universe that has given me so many wonderful resources and to neglect my responsibility to give back.

A mission. To contribute to the advancement of human evolution in the direction of compassion. Compassion is my cornerstone value. I strive to live a life of compassion and to structure my decisions and actions around this value.  I can’t magically change the world into the one I wish it were, but I can keep pushing the needle in the direction of compassion. I am encouraged by Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” By living and modeling compassion, I hope that I am planting seeds that will grow and flourish in this and future generations, gradually improving the conditions of both humans and nonhumans.

Recognition of the intersection of my passions, my strengths and the needs in the world. Aristotle said, “Where your talents and the needs of the world cross; there lies your vocation,” and theologian Frederick Buechner wrote, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” I picture these ideas together as a Venn diagram that guides me to my own best way to make a difference in the world. (I created a cool Venn diagram in a Word document, but I absolutely cannot get it to paste here, so I am presenting it as an equation below.)

Passions/Gladness+Talents/Strengths/Gifts+Need=Vocation


And that leads me to where it all comes together . . .

A motto. Fitness is advocacy. This is where all of the above ideas come together in a concise, encapsulated statement that directs my actions and focuses my efforts. There are so many needs in the world, and there are so many ways to address them. We each have to find our own best ways to serve the needs that speak to us most urgently. Represented in the above Venn diagram/equation and summed up in the motto, “Fitness is advocacy,” my unique way of adding compassion to the world becomes clear. When I am fit and healthy and ride hard, while fueling my body with plants, I demonstrate that no one has to suffer or die for us to be well nourished. Being a vegan cyclist has allowed me to educate people in small towns across Kansas about eating well on plants, and it has allowed me to inspire others to try plant-based eating. I give my mind, body and spirit the freedom and movement of the open road while advocating in an upbeat, positive way for compassionate living. There are many other important ways to make a difference. I sometimes participate in other strategies, but I have become clearer and clearer that my signature style of advocacy is through the example I set in my own life. In this way, I feel balanced and at peace.

I started this post with a quote about success, and I will finish it with one of my favorite definitions of success. Mike Ditka said, “Success is measured by your discipline and inner peace.” I have come to a point where I really believe that. I am successful when I adhere to the habits, routines and strategies—the disciplines—that help me to remain consistently focused on my purpose. Deviating from that self-discipline for very long throws me off balance and disturbs my inner peace. When I keep my purpose in focus, I feel peaceful. That is my bottom-line determinant of success: Does this (way of life, relationship, job, commitment, activity, food, etc.) bring me more stress or more peace? Choosing the direction that is consistent with my purpose and nurtures inner peace is success.

 

Reflections on BAK 2016

Two weeks have already passed since Biking Across Kansas (BAK) 2016 concluded at the Missouri border, in Elwood, Kansas. I have learned so much on and through this annual ride. My experiences with BAK epitomize my major goal for this blog: celebrating my passion for cycling and the lessons and insight I glean through it. No doubt, more formidable crucibles exist, but I have found BAK to be a reliable forge for my evolving self. From my first BAK in 1999, when I was a runner-turned-novice-cyclist, accompanying my then-boyfriend (now husband), to my 18th BAK, as a seasoned veteran and BAK Board Member, I have moved through many phases of life; gained and lost animal and human companions, jobs and life directions; encountered physical and environmental challenges and felt my way through parenthood. Every BAK is different and special in its own way. These are my reflections on BAK 2016.

  • We are almost always tougher than we think—if we give ourselves the chance to find out. I think my first real inkling of this occurred when I trained for, and completed, my first marathon, the 1996 New York City Marathon. After my introductory BAK three years later, my mom asked, “How did you know you could do it?” I realized that my experience in the NYC Marathon, as well as the encouragement and example that my husband and his friends provided, allowed me to have the sense of self-efficacy necessary to attempt to ride across the state. This year, I was privileged to help my son Logan discover that he, too, is tougher than he realized. Logan has grown up around cycling and has participated in BAK every year since I hauled him into the wind and up the Blue Hills in my belly. He has accumulated some road miles for each of the last four years, but this year, on a new road bike, he smashed his previous record and greatly surpassed his goals. At one point, while he and I were riding late in the week after leaving a SAG (support stop) where he had been complimented, I said, “People are really impressed with you, and they are amazed by how well you are riding.” He giggled and said, “Yeah, me too.” The 309 miles he rode boosted his confidence and helped him to realize that he is capable of taking on challenges that some may find unreasonable or impossible. I hope that this awareness carries over into other arenas in his life as he prepares to enter middle school this fall and beyond. The confidence that I have built by accomplishing challenging cycling goals continues to be invaluable for me.
  • I felt stronger than ever. Last year, my as-yet-undiagnosed B6 toxicity and small fiber neuropathy were at their peak on BAK. While I enjoyed the ride, I knew something was not right, and I had thermoregulation issues that caused me a lot of discomfort and concern. I did not really tell anyone how much I was suffering at times. Once I was diagnosed and eliminated the supplements that led to the B6 toxicity, I began in earnest to make a conscious effort to minimize the negative stress in my life, manage unavoidable stress more effectively and optimize my nutrition. I was delighted to find this year that I felt strong and healthy on BAK. At one SAG in Highland, KS, a man told me, “It is just fun to watch you go up the hills. It is like your legs are just carrying you up like a little water bug.” While I appreciated the compliment, he might have retracted it if he had seen me in the hot, hilly headwind stretch that followed that SAG. However, I truly did feel strong and in control over the course of the week, perhaps stronger than on any previous BAK. It was a nice testament to the efficacy of the changes I have made in my life.
  • The wind is just wind, and the hills are just hills. As I mentioned in my introductory post about my blog’s namesake quote, there was a time when I allowed myself to become stressed and frazzled by wind. There was also a time when seeing upcoming hills could psych me out. Since my son rode with me for 309 miles on a very hilly route, I had a lot of opportunity to observe his reactions to hills and wind. When we had a cornering tailwind, he enjoyed the hills and did not worry over them. Later in the week, though, when we faced some challenging hills in strong headwind, his enthusiasm for the hills waned. I tried to share my hard-earned wisdom with him. I have learned that I will get up the hill, albeit a slow, effortful slog at times. I will also reach my destination in the headwind. That, too, can be slow and painful, but I have learned to stay calm in both those conditions, as well as to remain unruffled in crosswind. Those can be unnerving, especially in hills, because the wind currents can become unpredictable and scary. I have learned how to talk to myself to stay calm and collected and peaceful. I tried to help Logan do this, too. I think my words helped occasionally, but I realized that experience is often the most convincing coach. He will probably have to learn these lessons on his own, in order to truly internalize them. Watching him allowed me to reflect on my gratitude for these cycling lessons and to recognize how much I have used them over the past year, as I have worked to manage my stress in healthier ways and to be happier in my daily life.
  • Life is more fun if I am flexible and adaptable. There will be wind, and there will be hills, and I just need to flow with them. Biking Across Kansas provides abundant surprises and unpredictability. Will showers be warm, ice cold, a weak trickle or a needle-like spray? Where will we sleep tonight? What vegan dinner options will be available? On BAK and, I have found, in life, approaching the unknown with a sense of adventure, rather than dread, makes the ride and life much more enjoyable. If I remember the underlying truth—that there is nowhere I would rather be than BAK—I can weather minor inconveniences and irritations without allowing them to spoil the fun. The same is true when navigating the mundane realities of life.
  • Perfect is the enemy of the good. I have been called “rigid” more than once. I prefer the terms “disciplined” and “driven.” I do acknowledge that I can sometimes benefit from relaxing. My nutritional plan on BAK is a perfect example. I never waver in my veganism, but it is not always easy or even possible to meet every one of my daily nutritional objectives while cycling through rural Kansas. This year, I did not always get as many servings of beans or greens as I would have preferred. It is tough to eat exclusively whole-grain pasta or bread, like I do at home. I promised myself this year that I would relax, do the best I could and not allow myself to become stressed if my nutrition was not perfect. I controlled what I could and let go of the rest, and I was very happy and got plenty to eat.
  • Friendships formed and strengthened amidst shared challenge are unique and special. BAK provides an extraordinary medium for growing friendships. Longtime BAKers have shared memories of battling the elements together for many miles over many years. I enjoyed riding quite a few miles this year with my friend David, whose long-ago, matter-of-fact statement about the wind inspired the name of my blog. We share a special bond because of the road battles we have fought together and because of our common love of cycling. We have suffered and survived an 80-mile day with cold, torrential rain, small hail and 45-mph wind. He has stuck by me (twice) when I was slower than slow because of terrible heat cramps. He has worked on my bike roadside when I had mechanical problems. A few years ago, my friend Denise and I rode for a day with two young cross-country runners from Wamego, teaching them how to draft. Even my marriage is a result of cycling. My husband was literally on his bike when we met, and almost all of our dating and early-marriage entertainment was cycling. There is just something special about persevering together when it would be easier to quit.
  • Sometimes easier is better. Before Kenny and I got together, he was a confirmed tenter on BAK. There was no sleeping inside the schools for him. I love sleeping in a tent, so I joined him in his conviction that the tent was the place to be. Once Logan came along, managing the tent and getting on the road in the mornings became more complicated. Over the past few years, and especially now that Logan is riding, rather than sleeping in, we have both realized that sometimes it is just easier and more fun to have one less thing to handle in the mornings (or even in the evenings). There used to be a sort of pride around sleeping in the tent, no matter what. Not anymore. This matches the question that I try to use to make decisions in the rest of life these days: “Will it bring more stress or more peace to my life?” Sometimes easier is better. Kenny and I both owned that truth more fully this year than in the past. We slept inside six of the eight nights. It was easier, and that allowed us both to enjoy BAK more.

A concentrated week spent focused on the bike really illuminates the lessons I learn from cycling. I made a conscious effort this year to enjoy every moment and to avoid dreading my return to real life. Although I would head back out to the Colorado border right now to ride BAK again, I have been fairly successful at cherishing the experiences I had on BAK 2016 and allowing them to enrich my daily life, rather than to look back only with sad nostalgia, wishing my real life were different, as has sometimes been the case in the past.

My goal now is to carry what I have learned from BAK 2016 with me on my training rides at home and in my daily activities as a mom, a wife, an academic advisor, a vegan advocate, a blogger and my assorted other roles. Doing so is evidence that I have truly internalized and incorporated into my being the gifts of the ride.

LoganFirstFullDayBAK2016

Pushing the Pedals with Plant-Based Fuel

One of my great joys in life is Biking Across Kansas each year. I am honored to serve on the Board of Directors and to contribute my skills in a variety of ways to a cause that is dear to my heart. Another cause that is dear to my heart is living and eating compassionately. One of the ways that these two passions intersect is through an annual article that I write for the BAK newsletter to guide others who are vegan, vegetarian or may want to explore living, training and riding fueled by plants, instead of animals. Here is this year’s article, which will appear in the upcoming April BAK newsletter. I decided to publish it to my blog because it may provide useful guidance and inspiration for other athletes who are curious about eliminating the consumption of animals from their diets, but fear that it would be too difficult.

More and more people are choosing to nourish their bodies with plants instead of animal-based products. I have been vegan since 2008 and vegetarian since 1982. My 11-year-old son, who has been on BAK since I was pregnant with him, is vegan. We survive and thrive on BAK, and I am writing to share some of my tips for having a great, plant-powered trip across the state.

Self-sufficiency, resourcefulness and a positive attitude are key to nourishing our bodies with plants on BAK. I have found that the availability of vegan food has increased over the years, but it does vary from location to location and year to year. BAK staff communicate proactively with the lunch and overnight towns, encouraging them to include vegan options when they serve us. I happily provide some specific suggestions whenever those are welcomed by our host towns. Still, we ultimately have control over only our own actions. That is why I believe in taking responsibility for my own nutrition, and I encourage you to do the same.

Despite the proactive efforts of BAK staff, there may be times when we have to be a little more creative in order to get the vegan nutrition we need. This is possible without transporting our kitchen pantries across the state. These are some of my go-to BAK resources:

Local offerings: My first suggestion is that you explore the options presented by the local schools, youth groups, teams and churches. Because of the proactive communication by BAK staff, many of them have prepared a vegan selection, and some groups may offer entirely vegan meals. Highlights of recent years include an Asian meal in Elkhart, vegan kabobs in Oswego and terrific potato and salad bars in Anthony, Coldwater and Goessel. Pasta with marinara sauce is common, and vegan wraps or burritos have also made appearances in the last few years. Breakfasts have included tortillas with peanut butter and dried fruit, as well as oatmeal made with water or nondairy milk. Please make the local offerings your first choice when possible and thank the providers sincerely and profusely. BAK should be a win-win, with riders getting a terrific experience, while local communities reap economic and interpersonal benefits.

Local grocery stores: These can be valuable resources especially at lunch. Almost any fresh fruit is a good, refreshing option. Cut watermelon may be available in produce sections, and it is both hydrating and nourishing. Grape or cherry tomatoes and baby carrots can be dipped in hummus or guacamole, which can often be found in produce sections of grocery stores. Some stores have delis that may serve three-bean or other vegan salad options. Friends and I have shared whole-wheat tortillas, peanut butter and vegan refried beans on benches, pallets or curbs outside grocery stores. Ask the deli staff to open cans you purchase in the store. Grab a can of beans to supplement dinner at night, if the offerings are on the sparse side. Keep a small camping can opener in your luggage.

Local restaurants: I have been pleasantly surprised, at times, to find vegan dishes in local restaurants. This won’t always be the case, but there are usually some items that can be combined to make a decent meal—plain baked potatoes, salad and fruit, for example. Pizza is another option. Pizza crust is usually vegan, but ask to be sure. A loaded veggie pizza without cheese makes a tasty meal.

SAGs: BAK SAGs are the best! They work so hard to feed us well when we are out there on the road. Fruit, pretzels, pickles and peanut butter (great on bananas or apples, if the bread is not vegan) are frequently available. Please thank our generous SAG volunteers, who are spending their vacations in the wind, heat or rain to keep us energized.

Items to pack: In addition to making creative use of local resources, it is important to be prepared for situations when existing options are sparse. These are items that I take with me each year on BAK:

  • Shelf-stable vegan milk (almond, soy coconut, etc.)—I usually take an 8-pack of this. Sure, it adds some weight, but the load lightens a little each day, and it has a lot of valuable uses. Even if there are not full breakfasts that meet our needs, there may be suitable cereal and fruit. Pour some vegan milk on the cereal, add fruit, and you have a meal. I also use this to create tasty, energizing shakes. I don’t even care that the milk is not cold.
  • Vegan protein or smoothie mixes: Take a shaker cup and vegan protein separated into single servings and packed in individual, resealable bags, sealed in a larger zippered bag. This can make a good breakfast with some fruit. My favorite way to use vegan protein shakes is as a quick post-ride recovery drink. As soon as I find my bag, I grab my shaker cup, vegan protein and vegan milk and mix up a glycogen-replenishing drink. It is important (not just for vegans) to refuel within 45 minutes after prolonged and/or strenuous exercise, and this is a convenient way to do it.
  • Dried fruit, nuts & seeds: I usually pack a large, zippered bag of dates and another one of nuts and seeds. Figs, raisins, goji berries or dried cranberries are other options. I place a snack-sized bag of these items in my saddle bag to supplement lunch or SAG food when needed. They pack and store well and provide concentrated energy in small packages.
  • Nutritional yeast: A small bag or repurposed plastic spice bottle makes this a convenient source of both vitamin B12 and flavor. It works as a topping for baked potatoes, when vegan margarine or nourishing toppings like vegan chili, beans or broccoli are not available. It can also add interest to greens and other salad veggies if there is no vegan dressing and give a boost to pasta with marinara sauce.
  • Single-serving packs of almond or peanut butter: This is great on fresh fruit, dates or vegan toast, and the packs can even be taken along on the bike to supplement lunch fare.
  • Gels or bars: Personally, I like energy gels on the bike. Some people prefer to carry bars, blocks or whole-food options, like dates, in their jersey pockets. Energy bars can be useful breakfast or recovery alternatives. Bicycle Pedaler generally offers vegan versions of gels and bars if you need to replenish your stash during the week.

By approaching BAK with a sense of adventure and by taking responsibility for your own nutrition, it is entirely possible to pedal (strongly and happily) across the state while remaining true to your ethical and health principles.

Of New Beginnings & Possibilities

This past Saturday kicked off my official training season on the bike. This winter, unlike in most recent years, I have maintained some level of cycling throughout the off-season—15-20 miles on weekend days, when weather and circumstances allowed. Now it is time to start building endurance and speed intentionally and strategically.

The first bike ride of the season is always exciting to me (A lot of the rest of them are, too!) because of the promise and mystery the beginning of the season holds. Each ride is a bit of a microcosm of that first ride, because, on a smaller scale, every ride holds promise and mystery, too.

This is my chance to make the season what I will. I am not in total control, but my efforts and discipline will determine much of my experience for the season, and that is empowering. To a large extent, my choices will determine how well I ride, how much my fitness increases and how much fun I have.

As my mileage increases, each ride into territory yet untraversed this season will be a process of discovery. Many of the roads are so familiar because I have ridden them for years that it feels like a bit of a homecoming each time I ride them for the first time in a season. I will reconnect with some characters who are part of the scene of my cycling seasons—like the owner of a gas station in a small town about 12 miles from my home. Years ago, when I first moved to this area and started riding through his town, he seemed unhappy. I made it my mission to win him over—and I did. He greets me with a big smile, and we catch up when I see him for the first time in a season. In a couple weeks, I will ride through his town and ask how his wife, who has been waiting several years for a heart transplant, is doing.

When I venture farther and in a different direction, I may see my octogenarian friend in Sedgwick. He greets me with hugs and shows me his knee replacement scar, as his wife good-naturedly rolls her eyes. He still calls me “the lady with the baby,” even though my baby is 11 years old because he remembers when I was riding pregnant. He met my son the next year, when my husband drove to Sedgwick to meet me at the gas station—where Lyle hangs out—so that Logan could nurse before I continued my ride. Lyle tells me that he looks to see if it is me every time he sees a cyclist.

I have a tendency to make friends with old men all over the state. One in Mt. Hope hopped off his motorized scooter several years ago and flagged me down to tell me jokes and give me his “business card.” Another, surely well into his eighties, tried to help in Buhler many years ago when my shifter cable broke. He tried to apply his mechanical skills to my bike, but finally said, “Well, I guess I had better stop monkeying around with this before I make things worse.”

Another in Goodland—whom we met while Biking Across Kansas—appears in our wedding photo montage because he invited himself to sit down at our table in the local café and strike up a conversation. He was clearly the self-appointed town ambassador.

So, the people I will meet and the reunions I will have are part of the excitement of a new season. I’ll also notice new things, often things that I would miss in a car. What has changed since my last ride through an area? Sometimes it is a new house being built or a pothole that developed over the winter. Other times, it is a new, chasing dog that has moved in where I never had to worry in the past.

Each ride—and season—offers the promise of adventure. Just this past Sunday morning, I thought I was going to ride in some light sprinkles. I ended up thoroughly soaked, with water pooling in my shoes, gloves and shorts. That is not the type of adventure I would choose, but I am still glad I rode. Last year turned out to be the “Year of the Bathroom at Cheney Lake.” I waited out rain—including a severe thunderstorm that I thought might kill me before I got there—three times in that bathroom.

The possibilities are endless. They are exciting, yet it takes courage to expose myself to them. I ride safely and do my best to remain aware of my surroundings and make good choices on the bike. Still, I can’t control everything—weather, other people, motorists, road conditions. There are potential risks with any adventure and with any new beginning.

Steve Jobs talked about how being fired from Apple, the company he founded, freed him to be more creative with “the lightness of being a beginner again.” While starting a new cycling season is different than being fired from a job and forced/given the opportunity to start fresh, Jobs’ description of “the lightness of being a beginner” resonates with me because it implies possibility, hope and freedom to create.

That is what I now have at the beginning of my 2016 cycling training season. I rode 144 days, for a total of 3,889 miles, between the first weekend of daylight savings time 2015 and the last weekend of standard time 2016. In my ideal world, there would be more days on the bike, but many new possibilities exist in 144 bike rides, and that feels like burgeoning hope. Nourishing fuel for my body, self-discipline, effort and good judgment will all help me maximize the season. I am often at my most grateful on my bike—for freedom to ride, good health, drive and determination, safe roads and, sometimes, good weather. On the cusp of many new possibilities, I welcome the adventure.

A Bigger Yes

Lately, one of my favorite Stephen Covey quotes has been on my mind. In his terrific book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he said, “You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage—pleasantly, smilingly, nonapologetically, to say ‘no’ to other things. And the way you do that is by having a bigger ‘yes’ burning inside.”

The concept of a bigger yes translates for me to freedom earned through introspection to discover what really matters, awareness to recognize when something may jeopardize our priorities, focus to keep our yes in the front of our minds and self-discipline to say “no” to things that threaten what matters most.

I am at my most empowered when I honor my bigger yes.

Recently, the arena where a bigger yes has been most prominent is nutrition. For most of my life, I have lived a bigger yes when it comes to food. Because of my desire to live compassionately and my commitment to justice for all living beings, I have been vegetarian since 1982 and vegan since 2008. This was easy for me. The bigger yes was compassion. Ceasing my consumption of meat as a 12 year old required some creative maneuvering within my family, but it did not require willpower or sacrifice. I was clear that I cared more for animals than I did for eating their flesh.

For so many years, I wanted to believe that being vegetarian was enough to satisfy my ethics. I allowed myself to linger in blissful ignorance for too long after better information was readily available. It was easier not to know. Until it wasn’t. For a long time, I had told myself that chickens didn’t suffer for us to eat eggs and that milking relieved the cows of their burdens. Deep down, I feared that I was lying to myself in my ignorance. Finally, compassion and commitment to my ethics became a bigger yes than convenience. As soon as I allowed myself to learn the truth, I became vegan. Sure, it requires asking more questions and being a bit more resourceful, but the inner peace of prioritizing my bigger yes makes any inconvenience well worth it.

More recently, the nutritional bigger yes (coupled with my commitment to my ethics) is my long-term health. Toward that end, I have incorporated Dr. Michael Greger’s Daily Dozen app (See this post.) into my everyday life. That part was easy. It just meant some small modifications to my daily habits—adding beans to my morning smoothie to get a head start on my three servings; ensuring that I eat at least two servings of greens, plus a serving of cruciferous vegetables and including an eighth of a teaspoon of turmeric into my smoothies. These changes just meant eating even more of nature’s goodness. They weren’t difficult.

More challenging was recognizing that I needed to give up some of my (healthful!) extras in order truly to optimize my health and fitness and avoid gaining weight. After reading How Not to Die, by Dr. Greger, I became serious about making my long-term health and well-being my bigger yes, even more clearly and more boldly than it previously had been.

I have recognized in the past that I have had an addiction of sorts to dark chocolate and energy bars. During times of stress and anxiety, I have used these and other foods for comfort or security. Reading and internalizing Dr. Greger’s evidence-based, whole-food message, I recognized that my relationship to my comfort foods didn’t fit all that well with my nutritional objectives because of the added sugar and the processed nature of those products. Although the energy bars I ate were vegan and relatively healthful, my bigger yes is to maximize whole foods in my diet. So, I stopped a nearly daily habit of both the bars and the chocolate on January 1, when I started using the Daily Dozen app. (The date was coincidental—the day I learned about it—not by design.) In addition to added oil, which I had already largely eliminated, I also decided to avoid added sugar, even agave nectar and maple syrup, and to pay closer attention to the amount of sodium I consumed. Then, I increased my intake of some of the most healthful foods on the planet—dark, leafy greens; flax; beans and whole grains—but I kept a lot of my other little comforts.

They were nutritious additions—bonus foods—to the Daily Dozen. My son had broken our scale, so I focused on how great I felt and enjoyed the knowledge that I was putting good food into by body, without worrying about my weight. Several weeks into this cycle, I went to the doctor for an annual check-up. Stepping on the scale, I realized that even this good stuff was causing me to gain weight that would not maximize my cycling performance or optimize my long-term health.

Once again, it was time to acknowledge and honor a bigger yes. I decided to treat the Daily Dozen goals not as minimums, but as loose limits. By and large, I am consuming only the Daily Dozen now. This is not restrictive! There are so many wonderful, nourishing whole-food options. I am not automatically putting cacao nibs in with my nuts, eating nuts or nut butter several times a day or mixing vegan yogurt into my berries every single day. I still eat these things—nuts are part of the Daily Dozen—but I am eating just enough servings to meet the Daily Dozen goals, and cacao and vegan yogurt (one of the only processed foods in which I sometimes indulge) are truly occasional now. This allows me to honor my bigger yes.

I don’t feel deprived at all. Instead, I feel satisfied and peaceful because I am clear about what my priorities are, and I am living them. These are my comforts now.

Cycling is a bigger yes for me, too. It would be so easy to sleep in on a summer Saturday morning, but if I did, I might not get my long ride. The ride is a bigger yes than the leisurely start to the day. I know that I will feel better and happier with myself if I get up early to ride than if I don’t. Last Friday, I got up at 3 a.m. to take my mom for a medical procedure. Happily, it went well, and I was able to get her home by 1 p.m., avoiding the overnight hospital stay we had expected. When I got her settled at home, she suggested that I take a nap and then go for a bike ride (beautiful day in February!) before my son got out of school. I said, “I am going to go for a bike ride and then maybe take a nap because cycling is a higher priority.” It is not that sleep is not important; it just means that I had to make a choice, and that choice was to honor my bigger yes.

The bottom line is that there is only so much that fits into any one life. We have to make choices. When we say “yes” to one choice, it means that we are saying “no” to another. Conversely, saying “no” makes room for a “yes.” The key is being devoted to a bigger yes, so that the noisy distractions can’t overshadow it. I view this as freedom.

My biggest tormentors are my own feelings—anxiety, stress, disappointment, shame, disgust and guilt. I have found that one way of reducing the power these tormentors have over me is to honor my bigger yes in every situation. When I do that, I am free from disappointment in myself, as well as its previously mentioned conspirators. The key is to be self-aware enough to recognize the bigger yes. These questions may help us discover and honor our priorities:

  • What matters most to me in life?
  • What are my core, defining values for which I want to be known?
  • What do I most want in this situation?
  • What actions will help me to achieve my most important goals?
  • Which choice will bring me the most peace?
  • Where do I need to say “no” in order to make room for my bigger yes?

Reflection and journaling can assist in clarifying the answers to these questions. Then we must commit to the bigger yes. We must decide that we are worth the courage, effort, sacrifice or social backlash that may come with the actions necessary to honor our bigger yes.

As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said in one of my all-time favorite quotes, “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” The bigger yes helps us hold on to what is most important and to resist the pull of distractions. I have often said that discipline is the reward for making a tougher choice, one that honors a bigger yes. With discipline comes freedom, which brings us closer to inner peace. The more I nurture my bigger yes, the freer and more peaceful I feel inside. That freedom is worth more to me than any taste, convenience, nap or social approval ever could be. The bigger yes often requires making the unconventional choice. That is okay. I choose integrity over convention any day. People don’t always understand or appreciate the choices we make to honor our bigger yes, but I have to live with myself one hundred percent of the time, so I choose to direct my behavior internally. As Covey said, it takes courage to do that, but the rewards are great.

Expressing Character Through Movement

“It’s so powerful to get a sense of our character as our bodies express it, as all of our senses perceive it.” Journalist and surfer Eve Fairbanks said this in reference to her experience learning to surf. Her words resonated with me because they articulate the way I often feel on my bike. I think this is the aspect of cycling—and other movement—that is most magical. Like Fairbanks, I learn more about who I really am and about the depth and quality of my character when I ride.

I think athletic endeavors, in general, can teach us so much about who we are. I have told students and clients in the past, “You are capable of more than you realize.” I know this because I have seen it borne out time and again on the bike and in other athletic events.

Biking Across Kansas offers a wide assortment of cycling conditions. Over the 17 tours I have ridden, I have enjoyed gorgeous, sunny days with tailwind; I have also slogged my way through hours of brutal headwind, miles of torrential rain and hypothermia-inducing wind, among other conditions. What I have learned through training and touring is that I am tougher and more resilient than I once would have dared to imagine.

Exercise, in general, and cycling, specifically, has allowed me to get a sense of my character in the way that Eve Fairbanks describes. In her article, “How Surfing Taught Me to Make Choices,” Fairbanks explains that she had to “decide to stay on the board.” I believe that is true for so many things in life, and she agrees. That decision to stay upright on her surfboard taught her to be more resilient and persistent in her life on land. The bike has done that for me. The more I ride, the more confident and powerful I feel—and, therefore, become. It is one of the great beauties of cycling for me. I am able to translate something I accomplished on the bike—like finishing a brutal 80+-mile day—to the self-efficacy I need to persist at other challenging tasks, whether on two wheels or two feet. I have many times said to myself, “This isn’t as hard as Satanta to Ashland or Spearville to Ellinwood.” Those are epic BAK days from years past, and they have carried me through many a tough headwind or a difficult work project.

I know that I possess the character necessary to accomplish difficult things, to stand in my power and refuse to give up, back down or shrink away. The off-season is hard for me, for a lot of reasons. One is that I have fewer opportunities to reinforce the expression of my character on the bike. Even an easy day gives me a little booster shot because of the exhilaration of the ride.

My wish is that we all find a way to allow our bodies to express our character, that we realize that we are tougher, stronger and more powerful than we know.

Board or bike, court or field, road or trail, mountain or canyon, class or machine—there are so many ways to test our bodies, which really translates to testing our minds, our inner toughness, our mental discipline. I encourage you to experiment, if you don’t already know what physical challenge allows you to express your character. There is nothing like the feeling that comes with that full expression of our deepest selves.