Friday, September 25, 2009

Free Museum Day! Saturday, September 26, 2009

Ok, ok, I promised bikes and bipolar, not art, but I have to be true to myself. Tomorrow, 9/26, is the Smithsonian's Free Museum Day! Over 800 museums nation wide are offering free admission tomorrow, just go to the site linked here, check out the participating museums near you and download a free admission card.

Hey, museums are expensive these days -- even if you only go to one once or twice a year, take advantage of this opportunity. And while I'm at it, remember that many museums have a free day or evening every month -- First Friday, Third Thursday, whatever. Check it out and go see some art, science, history or whatever. Have fun!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Last Chance, Part II: It's Kind of Like Your Parents' Walk to School

When last we met, I'd just hit the sack after a long and at times demoralizing day in the saddle riding from Louisville, CO to Atwood, KS. I apologize in advance that the remaining installments of the story will involve fewer photos: as with food and drink, apparently, fatigue makes me forget I have a camera.

Day 2: Atwood to Atwood via Kensington, KS
218.6 miles
14.8 mph average
18:35 elapsed time

Upon waking after 4 1/2 hours of sleep, the first thing I noticed was how good I felt. My legs were not especially stiff and, more importantly, my left knee had not locked up as I'd feared it might. Starting slowly with a cup of coffee and a quick bite, I packed my gear for the day slowly and deliberately, not wanting to forget to replenish or replace anything.

Fog clung to the road for the first sixty miles, giving the passing landscape a certain surrealness, especially while it was still dark. The ghostly shadows left me with a totally mistaken understanding of the topography, especially between Atwood and the first stores in Phillipsburg.

In a repeat of my misapprehension of the final climb into Atwood on Day 1 (you'll recall, I later learned it was mostly descent), I imagined that the ride out of Atwood was likewise mostly uphill, with just a short drop into the day's first town, Phillipsburg. This meant the promise of a relatively easy 30 miles upon my return that evening. As it turned out, the fog teamed with a stiff headwind to make a long downhill seem up (sensing a theme here yet?), a sure sign of the wind I would face all the way to the turnaround in Kensington. The fog also gave me insight into a peculiar Kansan habit. It seems that many Kansans have an aversion to using their headlights in the fog, meaning that cars tended to sneak up (devious, stealthy creatures that they are) and scare the hell out of me. This danger, which I did not perceive clearly at the time, led to at least one rider abandoning.

The first control in Norwood proved to be a major turning point in how I felt physically for the remainder of the ride. To that point, I had tried to get my calories primarily from liquid nutrition, but as the sun rose, my stomach felt worse and worse. The number one rule for nutrition on long distance riding is to let go of a diet that isn't working. Many riders carefully map out their calories (as I did) and stick with their plan until they are forced to drop out of the ride because of gastric problems or sheer fatigue. As I arrived in Norwood, I was contemplating this problem and wondering how best to proceed.

As I pulled up, I ran into Viktoriya Shundrovskaya and Alain Abbate, tandemneers from Florida who recommended the sub shop we'd all stopped at. I expressed doubt about eating more on top of what I'd been trying to consume along the way, but ultimately chose to follow Alain's simple advice -- "never pass up a chance to eat real food." As it turned out, my 8:00 am steak and cheese sub, the first of three steak sandwiches (among other things) I would eat that day, was the start of a whole new Last Chance for me, physically and emotionally.

This sandwich (and the others that followed) turned my entire ride around. I called Tanya from the sub shop and we chatted cheerily. When we finished, I headed back out into the wind -- not strong, but distinctly out of the east -- and rode on alone to Kensington, the ride's turn around point. It was on that leg, 47 basically flat miles, that I enjoyed one of the high points of my entire ride, passing other Last Chancers on their way back west. Seeing them succeeding, exchanging waves and words of encouragement, I felt some of the strongest bonds of camaraderie of the whole adventure.

 Guy Oldfield manning his pie-equipped Kensington outpost.

Come Kensington, we were expected to mail a postcard confirming our passage before turning back towards Atwood. I didn't expect to find much beyond a post office and so was very pleasantly surprised to meet Guy Oldfield, a former Seattle International Randonneur and now a member of clubs local to DC, manning a table across the street from the post office. On arriving, I signed in and collected myself while he dropped my postcard in the mailbox. In addition to water, Guy had laid out a terrific spread of homemade pies from a bakery in next town over. Returning from the deli across the street with a roast beef sandwich, I passed half to Guy and we enjoyed a short meal and good conversation, a welcome break in the midst of a long day with myself. No matter how good the riding, no matter how happy you are to be alone with your thoughts, like real food, one shouldn't pass up the opportunity for some company once and a while.
Rolling out of Kensington, I saw with relief that the flags were still blowing west, offering the promise of a tail wind on the way home. Though it wasn't strong, that promise was fulfilled: despite trending generally uphill, the return trip took 1h15 less than the way out. For the most part, the ride back was uneventful - true, it was the only stretch of the entire 750 miles that I (and, it turns out, others) ran into trouble with passing trucks, but that didn't last long. Another steak sandwich in Norton, another Mountain Dew in Phillipsburg, and in the last light of day I began the final climb back up to Atwood.

Rising out of Phillipsburg towards Atwood and the setting sun.

Riding through the dark, you have the sense that you are going much faster than you actually are. The fields seem to fly by. On the night of Day 2, this progress was countered by one of the clearest skies I've ever seen, immobile above me as the road passed quickly away. Aside from a few farmhouse windows in the distance, there was no light to dim the shining of the stars, which stood out with crystalline brilliance against the chill night. With the Milky Way overhead, I rode quietly over the last rises of my day and down into Atwood, to dinner and to bed.

On a break in Kensington, KS.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Last Chance, or, A Very Long Bike Ride Uphill Both Ways

Last week was, as you probably know, was the culmination of a long season of training for me, the Rocky Mountain Cycling Club's Colorado Last Chance 1200K.

At 750 miles within a time limit of 90 hours, 1200K "randonnées" (as distinct from the shorter 200-600K "brevets") are the most challenging of rides in randonneuring, a type of self-supported long distance cycling that originated in France. There are several such events held in the United States each year (this year including the Gold Rush 1200 in California, the Shenandoah 1200, which I hope to ride next year, and Pennsylvania's Endless Mountains 1240), but I chose the Last Chance for two reasons: first, it was local to me, put on by my club and promised to be well populated by riders that I knew, and second, I believed it to be the easiest of the American 1200Ks. I can now say with some confidence that while the first is true, the second is irrelevant -- there is no "easy" randonnée, either mentally or physically. Uphill both ways, indeed.

Day 1: Louisville, CO to Atwood, KS
251 miles
16.4 mph average
17:54 elapsed time

Our day began, as each one would, well before dawn. Thirty-six starters assembled in the surprisingly warm darkness, all anxious, nervous, excited or some combination of the three. Following an introduction from club's founder Charlie Henderson, the flag dropped and the group was off.

Riders assembling at the start before 0300.

Normally, brevets seem to start out at a reasonable pace, the group staying together at least for the first 15-20 minutes. Not so this time, as the front runners, those riders who aspired to very quick times and perhaps qualification for the Race Across America (RAAM), were off like shots down the road. Concerned that I not start out too fast, I settled in with some familiar faces, Nate Dick and Robert Pogorelz, with whom I rode for about 30 miles. We were briefly waylaid at a train crossing that conveniently allowed everyone (and I mean everyone) to avail themselves of the bushes before continuing on. During the next few miles, I enjoyed what would prove to be a prophetic conversation with Robert. A veteran of many long distance races and rides, including the Furnace Creek 508 and ten successive Leadville 100s, Robert and I had discussed the psychology of ultracycling before. We agreed that rides such as the Last Chance require a willingness, even a desire, to see a side of yourself that many would prefer either to avoid or seek out in other, perhaps less abusive ways. On this note, he promised me that on the fourth day, "you will see your soul." Gulp.

The eponymous Last Chance, CO.
Shortly thereafter, we worked our way up to a large group of perhaps 10 riders riding in a pack. I pushed myself to catch and stay with them, figuring that I'd benefit if not from the company, than at least from the protection a group provides. Unfortunately, I couldn't stay with them, but this was the first object lesson in learning something about brevet riding that may be particular to such long, multi-day events: unless you are going for a very quick time and are therefore going to almost entirely forgo food stops and sleep, the need to get off the bike for meals and overnight is a great leveler. Everyone comes together at these points, and unlike on shorter rides, most people are not in and out in a matter of minutes. If you're able to speed yourself up a little at stops, therefore, you can catch on to a group in front of you. Further, there's no point in worrying about your relative position in the pack (if you're inclined to worry about it at all) until the third or fourth day, as there are far too many variables to predict what the quick guy on day 1 will feel like on day 4. Sometimes, it may be better to ride your own pace or work or wait for protection and company, rather than obsess about time.

That said, the rest of my first day underlined the importance of speeding yourself up or slowing yourself down that little bit so that you do get to ride with other people. I took my time at the first control in Byers, wanting to make sure that I was dressed correctly, that I had eaten and my bottles were full and that my bike was still working.                

Breakfast Burritos at the Byers Control
As a result, I left Byers by myself and remained so for roughly the next 85 miles. Riding alone and into the wind, my energy and spirits were mixed. Dark gray clouds massed in the distance, making me wonder if I would have to cope with rain, too. A stop at Cope for a burrito and a Diet Mountain Dew (I know, gross, but somehow it works for me) picked up my energy, but my mood stuck and I inexplicably left ahead of a group that was minutes from departure.

Thankfully, the clouds parted and the group, including Leslie Sutton, Brent and Beth Myers and John Jost, caught me somewhere short of the Kansas line. We rode mostly together under beautiful, wide skies, stopping for photos at the border and to talk with some incredulous ranchers at the fuel co-op in Idalia. I was growing tired, feeling the results of nearly 10 days off my bike, but enjoying the company and the scenery.
Enjoying a respite at the Kansas line.
At our last control of the day in St. Francis, we stopped for a bite and to resupply for the final 42 miles into Atwood. There, we met a man who had recently celebrated his 80th birthday by riding 10,000 miles in the 1000 days leading up to it. He seemed to take great pleasure in our efforts and I know that we took great pleasure in his.

Bird City (all of it) as the sun set behind us.
The sun soon started to drop and we stopped in Bird City to turn on lights and don reflective gear. It felt good to be riding with friends and to be so near the finish for the day. I knew that 25 miles would still take some time -- likely at least an hour and a half -- but with 225 behind us, I felt confident I would see my bed. With these thoughts, we set off into the quickly falling dark.

With Leslie Sutton & John Jost, Bird City.

It was in these last miles, which turned out to be the hardest of the day, that I realized another important rule that would help see me through to the end of the ride: eat until the end. I've worked hard this summer on figuring out nutrition for long rides (which I'll discuss more in a later post), but one weakness clearly remains, which is that as I get tired, I forget to eat and drink.

So as we rolled through these last miles, which seemed to close with an endless eight mile climb (it turns out that it was about 4 miles, with 4 miles of gradual descent into a strong wind), the fatigue and pain of the day caught up to me and real doubts entered my mind for the first time. The back of my left knee had hurt terribly all day, the result of a too tight hamstring. My left ankle and right knee had begun to hurt as I compensated for that tightness. My energy sapped, I began to question not just whether I could finish, but whether I wanted to continue at all.

Even Stella the Stegosaurus felt pretty down.
At long last, we pulled into Atwood and the It'll Do Motel at 8:54 pm MDT, 17h54 after we'd left. Even though this was a personal best for 400K, I was demoralized. After signing in, my first stop was to call Tanya, to let her know I was ok and give her an update for the blog. I tried not to cry. My next stop was pizza and watermelon, which brought home the problem of food. To my surprise, I was really hungry -- somehow, I hadn't felt that way on the road, which underlines the difference between feeling hungry and having low blood sugar. I immediately felt better, took a shower, organized myself for the morning and decided that day two was possible. And then I slept, easily and soundly, for a few hours.

Trying not to drop the camera, east of Bird City, KS.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Back from Kansas

Having now returned from the Last Chance, I am more than a little overwhelmed by Tanya's wonderful, thoughtful post (not to plug my own wife's writing, or anything) and the many kind, supportive comments our posts have received. In coming days, I will post a report on the ride and some photos, but in the meantime, I am very happy to report that I finished in something over 82 hours. I feel great considering, though as one riding partner said, the ride will probably leave a mark or two.

Thank you for your support of the blog, the Sutherland Center and my ride!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Ride update from Stephen - Day 1

I finally heard from the man himself with a brief and not so detailed message. He arrived at his first day's destination last night around 9:00 pm (MST) feeling tired but otherwise great! There was a hint of surprise in his voice at how good he was feeling (though it was no surprise to me - the man's been training his tail off!). After some pizza (food of champions!) and a shower, he hit the hay to prepare for his 3:30 am (MST) departure the next day.

Here are the stats he gave: in the end, he ended up riding the 253.1 miles of the day at an average of about 16.4 miles per hour (pretty great!). He did his own personal best on the 400K at 17.53 mph. I don't know about y'all, but it sounds like this is turning out to be a very successful ride so far. I hit you with more details as they come (and hopefully pictures will follow once Stephen returns to DC).

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A pre-update post

Hi all, Tanya here. Though I haven't yet received an official update from the man himself, I thought I'd at least take this opportunity to offer my own insight into Stephen's journey(s). As a writer, my talent is definitely meager compared to that of my dear husband. However, I will do my best to inform and entertain as best as I can.

Stephen's cycling and I have had a somewhat tumultuous relationship. I've always been a runner and was somewhat disappointed that Stephen could never join me. Instead, cycling became an incredible physical outlet for him. When he became (and this has not changed) overwhelmed, he could get on a bike and return renewed and refreshed. I was happy to see the effect that this exercise had on him, both physically and mentally.

Then he started doing much longer rides. He'd be gone for hours and even entire days. Sometimes he would come home frustrated or so exhausted that he didn't want to talk. I began to rethink my admiration of the power of cycling. I felt as though it was becoming counterproductive in some ways and was definitely impacting our relationship.

Over the past month or two, that has slowly changed. As we began to make our transition away from Colorado in preparation for our move to DC, I appreciated the time that he had to spend with his friends and with Colorado itself. It also seemed to help to calm him in a way that was necessary in light of the tremendous stress we were both feeling.

Now, I'm back to understanding the love between man and bike. There is something inherent in the activity as whole that ignites a certain passion in this man that I love so much. It is not just turning the pedals or racking up miles for him, he love the mechanics of it, the freedom it offers and the adventures that unfold while in the saddle. This ride is a culmination of months not only of riding but of memories and friends, scenery and satisfaction. It is a manifestation of commitment and comfort for Stephen and I am proud of what he's doing and where he's going.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Following the Last Chance

The bags are packed, the chain is lubed, the chamois cream has been applied. All that's left is to ride!

If you're interested, you can follow my progress and that of the other 38 foolish souls riding this year's Last Chance in a number of different places:

First off, my ever-supportive wife Tanya will be updating One Wheel... a couple of times a day, so check back here!

The Rocky Mountain Cycling Club will have two pages being updated by the ever-faithful Foon Feldman, a spreadsheet charting arrival and departure times at major checkpoints and the Last Chance blog.

Finally, the apparently ever-looking-for-more-to-do Paul Rozelle will be tweeting the Last Chance -- no word on whether he'll be texting while riding or not. You can follow his tweets here.

Feel free to post questions here if you like -- Tanya will do her best to answer them, though I can't promise I'll be cogent enough to provide her good information.

Preparing for the Last Chance

The Last Chance starts tomorrow and I am filled with conflicting emotions -- excitement, anxiety, relief, all products of months and months of anticipation. I haven't been riding as much as I had planned, partly because of the move from Boulder to Washington, DC, but also because late July and early August included a lot of hard rides, leaving me feeling pretty burned out by the middle of the month.

The last long ride I did was the Stonewall Century, a beautiful but rather nasty hundred mile ride south of Pueblo, CO. An out-an-back course over Cucharas Pass, it was either up or down the whole way, and the return, especially, drained me -- strong headwinds at first, followed by the much steeper side of Cucharas. More significantly for me, however, was how quickly I got dropped in the early going. My friend Eric and I spoke confidently in the parking lot of riding hard all day. We both did, I think, it's just that his hard turned out to be a lot faster than mine. I came away from the day kind of upset and anxious -- where was my fitness? Was this a bad omen for the Last Chance? How much more could I do to train? What else might go wrong between then and the start of the big ride?

Competitiveness wasn't the issue. Like many riders, I like the pressure of "racing" friends on short club rides, sprinting to the top of a hill or along a certain stretch of road. Living in Boulder, however, I've ridden with riders of widely varying levels of fitness and speed and learned that while I'm almost never the slowest, I'm also never the fastest. While there are things I could do to get faster (or not do to get slower), there are some things I just can't change. I am too big to climb fast and this is basically beyond my control. Losing 20 pounds would help my cause in this regard, but I'm not sure I'm ready to choose the level of single minded dedication that would be required to lose that weight. Surprisingly (at least to me), I'm comfortable with these limitations. Indeed, they feel like part of the beauty of cycling -- the same weight that slows me down on the hills helps me pull hard on the flats, while my "lack" of dedication gives me more time for family, friends and work (however much I might still neglect all three).

*  *  *

But how to apply this philosophy of acceptance and comfort to other parts of my life? In therapy one day, I expressed great frustration about the times I am unable to work consistently, about how my mind scatters rather than focusing the way I want it to or feel it ought to. My therapist told me that this was something I needed to accept, that this was part of my life, part of how my brain works (or doesn't work) and part of who I am. I felt, and often still feel, that this concept, the idea that I am limited because of bipolar, was totally unacceptable, completely contrary to who I imagined myself to be and how I hoped to live my life.

It is hard to see this limitation in the same way I see climbing, as part of the beauty of life, the beauty of who I am. In my darker moments, it makes me feel cheated. My life wasn't supposed to be like this. I was supposed to be able to be anything I wanted, to do anything I wanted. Accepting this version of a bipolar reality means accepting a life narrative that seems somehow disappointing. It means that my life will come and go with a weakness that I did not choose and that I do not like. Accepting bipolar means accepting my own mortality, because having something for the rest of your life, whether it's bipolar, marriage or a trick knee, means that there is a rest of your life and that one day, that rest will be gone.

If I have to have a rest-of-my-life, though, I don't want to spend it being angry about having bipolar. I think my therapist was both right and wrong when she spoke about acceptance. On the one hand, acceptance cannot mean giving in, coming to believe that limitations are immutable and cannot be pushed. On the other, I believe that acceptance, true acknowledgment and ownership of my bipolar, is the only route to letting go of my anger and my disappointment. Ultimately, I need to get to a place where living with bipolar is like climbing.
*  *  *

On the way back from the Stonewall Century, Eric encouraged me to let go of my concerns about that day's ride and the Last Chance because they are beyond my control. At this point, I think I've done a pretty good job of that -- I'm looking forward to the ride, to four days on my bike without a phone or email, meeting new people and challenging myself. I'm sure there will be moments when it feels like a death march (how could 750 miles in Kansas not have those moments?), but I know that I'm really lucky to have the freedom to do this, that I've prepared myself as well as I mentally and physically could, that I'm going to make new friends, see new places and learn new things about myself. This feels like a good step towards accepting limitations and embracing life as it comes.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Additional Donation Information

I've been told that to use the Sutherland Foundation's online donation page, you need not only my name for the "in honor of" section (again, this is about keeping track of donations, not a desire to be mentioned in the annual report), you also need my address for notification. So, at the risk of publishing info on the web for all to see...

Stephen Whiteman
Dumbarton Oaks
1703 32nd St., NW
Washington, DC  20007

Many thanks for all your support -- stay tuned for more information before the ride and updates during it!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Return of the Blogger

Apologies for a long absence -- the last several weeks have been consumed by moving across the country, relocating from Boulder to Washington, DC, leaving too little time for either writing or riding. The transition is now nearly complete, however,  and a family wedding this weekend provides some opportunity to catch up on blog business. Coming up... an overdue review of recent mental health news on the web, some information about logistics for the Last Chance 1200K, including following riders' progress, and some thoughts on preparing for my biggest ride ever, 750 miles to the middle of Kansas and back.