Thursday, March 10, 2016

Rediscovering the Bike

Cannondale CAAD8 - Claris
I’ve written elsewhere about the condition I found myself in during 2012. After years of using food as my source of escape and pleasure, my weight was topping out at 400 lbs., and I was beginning to have problems with light-headedness and tingly feet. I was being treated for high blood pressure and sleep apnea – the few times, when traveling abroad and I had to sleep without the CPAP machine, I would wake with fatigue, headache, and a swollen throat. I had made attempts to lose weight. Several times I joined Weight Watchers – either by attending meetings or using the online version – with some success. At least once or twice I managed to lose 50 lbs. But I always ended up putting the weight back on.

Bariatric Surgery and Weight Loss with the Treadmill and iFit

Me from 2011
I decided that I would try bariatric surgery. That began more than a year of preparation. As I recall, when I first thought about the surgery, it was not covered by my insurance. The next year I learned that it would be a possibility and I started the process. I worked with my doctor and a local dietitian. I chose St. Vincent’s Bariatric Center and Meridian Surgical with Dr. Margaret Inman. I had a positive experience attending seminars, talking with their dietitians, and finally going through the procedure. I have not had any complications. The next year or two are a bit of a blur, but I lost nearly 200 lbs. I am no longer needing to be treated for high blood pressure, I don’t need to use a CPAP machine (oxygen levels during sleep are normal), and I feel better than I have since my teen-age years.
Instrumental in my weight loss was the treadmill. I found that I could stick to a structured program (iFit) with daily workouts that progressed in difficulty and length. I started with just walking. Gradually I began walking faster and longer. I remember when I first dared to try to jog. A year later I was running five or six miles at a time and up to six or seven mph for short periods. I never imagined that I would be able to run again and to enjoy exercise.
Me in 2014
A year ago (spring 2015) I did reach something of a plateau. Perhaps it was my mid-life crisis. Perhaps I was having trouble dealing with my wife’s illness: Suann has Multiple Sclerosis and now spends her days with sleeping much of the morning, sitting in the living room doing word-search puzzles or knitting, and in the summer puttering around on the porch with her potted plants. I came to a crisis point in my own life with some stomach complications that apparently was a result of too much of an acidic diet (let’s just say too much focus on tomatoes and grapes) that was causing ulceration and pain. With that diagnosis and concerns about my choice of diet, both food and beverage, I gave up weekly pots of chili and daily bottles of wine.

Getting on a Bike Again

Because I had reached a plateau in my weight loss I tried to think about what I could do in addition to treadmill running. I have a faint memory of a moment when it occurred to me that maybe I could try riding a bike again. I had had a colleague that had gotten into bike riding. I knew I didn’t want to be like him, talking about cycling all the time, wearing skin-tight lycra, and participating in events like the annual 160-mile RAIN (Ride Across Indiana) Ride. I got excited, however, by the idea that maybe I could ride a bike again for a few miles on the local rail trail.

My Early Love of the Bike

The bike had been a big part of my youth. One of my earliest memories was of getting the bike I asked for at Christmas: a purple Sears Spyder bike with high-rise handlebars, banana seat, and a slick rear tire. I loved that bike and rode up and down the country road in front of our house and down the side roads that led to the oil pumps in the fields of southern Illinois. I particularly remember the summer day that I decided I would ride further than the end of our country block where our church (Glenwood Church, Noble, IL) was – my father was the pastor. It feels like I went on a Frodo-type quest, but most likely I just rode around a country block. I have faint – and not so faint – memories of the adventures of that day. I know I came across homes where kids lived with whom I went to school and rode the bus. I had some lunch somewhere. A dog chased me at some point. And I went swimming with friends in their pond and nearly drowned.
My parents and siblings (I'm the youngest) in Illinois in 60s
When we moved to a new town, St. Anne, IL, where my father would be pastor of another church, my memories are mainly about riding my bike around town. It wasn’t actually my bike but my brother’s hand-me-down bike. What a bike it was! It was a Schwinn with two-speeds, the gears being changed by kicking backward on the pedals. I tricked it out with the requisite high-rise handlebars and banana seat. Besides riding around town on my bike, practicing wheelies, and jumping over make-shift ramps in the alleyway, we would also go to the nearby clay pit. There was a brick factory in town that had left a big hole in the ground (maybe 15 ft. deep and a quarter of a mile in diameter) with various little hills. The main attraction was a steep descent followed by a little hill to jump from. My more athletic bike-riders were surprised and a bit jealous of the speed I could get going down the hill and that I was about the only one who could ride back up the hill thanks to being able to drop into the easier gear. Many hours of many days were spent in the sheer bliss of speeding around town and the excitement of soaring off hills for seconds of free flight.
We moved again. A new town. A new church. A new school. Sometime during high school I managed to buy a ten-speed bike. The Huffy Independence, as far as I can recollect. I was a bit athletic in those days. I loved playing basketball at the nearby elementary school outside court in the village of New Era, Michigan. I was on the basketball team at school; not really good, but I had a few moves and could make a basket once in a while. I was much better at one-on-one or pickup games. I went out for track, but I had no idea what I was doing or how to train. No idea about nutrition: We ate food based on how good it tasted and the pleasure it gave.
I loved that bike and I loved riding all over the country roads. Seven miles to the west was Lake Michigan. Here was the resort area of Stony Lake and further north the very popular Silver Lake with its famous sand dunes. I would take off on day-long adventures. At one time I had a girlfriend who lived some miles away and I could ride to visit her on a Saturday. One Saturday she said she was going with her mother to Muskegon to see an outside art and craft show at a park. I wanted to see her, so I figured out how to ride the back roads and make the 30-mile trip into Muskegon to spend some time with her. I think she appreciated my effort, though I think her mother didn’t like that I horned in the mother-daughter outing.
Wayfarer's Bike Trip from Quebec to Ludington, MI
I can remember being thrilled to ride my bike. I loved the freedom to go wherever I wanted. I loved the sounds of the bike on the road. I cared for my bike more than I did anything else. My father and brother enjoyed working on cars. At one point I took my bike apart, sanded it down and repainted it; I knew how to take the bike apart and regrease the bearings. I got a subscription to a bike magazine and would pore over the stories and pictures. One article was about riding along the Natchez Trace Parkway. It has only recently occurred to me that I now can do that.
I did take a few long trips. We had a youth pastor at the time, who was a cyclist. He had made trips to Florida from Michigan. He planned a long weekend trip for us that would take us north to his family’s cabin. On the long ride back along a busy highway, I remember he said he was trying to drop me and couldn’t believe that I could stick with him. There were also two summers of participating in bike trips organized by the Youth for Christ group in Ludington. Both were 1,000-mile trips over ten days; one from Val d’Or, Quebec to Ludington and the other from Interlaken, NY to Ludington: “We are the Wayfarers, we ride our bikes” our theme song went.

Lost Cycling to Getting an Education and Starting a Family

Brown University Commencement 1996
I don’t know what happened to my bike riding. I don’t remember what happened to my bike. After high school I began what would be my greatest adventure. I had a dream of becoming a pastor and a Bible scholar: I went from a Bible institute, to a Christian college, to a Christian college graduate school, a year of seminary, and then to ten years living and studying in Rhode Island until finally getting a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Brown University. Marriage to my high-school sweetheart also had its consequences (and rewards) of five beautiful, talented, gifted, delightful daughters--not quite one for each school I attended but in ways very connected to my educational pursuits and personal aspirations (Abigail was named during my Hebrew years; Heidi was named with my struggle to learn to read German; and Tabitha was my linguistic challenge to name her after Suann’s mother Dorcas – in the book of Acts the Greek name was Dorcas but the Hebrew was Tabitha). Along with this were years of coping with life by eating too much; my downfall was not sweets as much as it was volume of food and frequency. I did try riding a bike again during college; the bikes were a wedding present. I can remember the day I tried to ride around the countryside and found I could not do it. I just gave up.
My family, Christmas 2015

Finding a Renewed Love of Cycling

A year ago in the spring of 2015 I went to our local bike shop, Cycling and Fitness Warehouse in Richmond, Indiana. I spent more money than I thought I would need to. I got a Cannondale Quick 6 (I can’t remember for sure). I didn’t want drop-down handlebars. I had no intention of wrapping my hefty frame in lycra. I just wanted to ride a few miles every few days on the trail. The first day I brought the bike to a trail head and took off on my maiden voyage. After about ten miles or so I turned around and went back. It was a great experience! I could do it! The next ride I took off south of the city. I began discovering great roads with beautiful scenery. With the three rings on the front I could (just barely) get up the short, steep hills that lead up out of the Whitewater River gorge. It wasn’t long before I began yearning for a road bike and traded up for a Cannondale CAAD8 Claris.
I have rediscovered my love of the bike and the adventure of riding country roads. I began collecting kits for my cycling wardrobe. A few falls but not much damage learning to clip out of my pedals. I had to get a stronger rear wheel because of my weight (240-250) and the bumpy roads were breaking spokes too frequently. I love tech, so I have a Garmin Edge 810 mounted on my handlebars next to my iPhone. This week I will be adding a GoPro Hero4 Session action camera. All of my rides get uploaded to Strava. I proudly bore the cyclists badge of honor: tanned arms and legs but strange tan lines with pale hands and a visible line sometimes when wearing short sleeve shirts. I found rides I enjoyed around Richmond, Indiana. There are regular 30-mile and 50-mile rides; an occasional 75-mile ride; and one completed century ride (one ended at about 90 miles with a persistent flat and no more CO2 cannisters).
During a late fall ride to Huston Woods in OH
During the late fall, winter, and early spring I’ve been using a Trainer Road structured workout program. It has been fantastic. I get up most weekdays at 5:30am to do my ride in my study, though the desk is now the platform for my flat-screen TV and laptop and the room has my bike on a Kurt Kinetic Road Machine trainer, the folded-up treadmill that I’ve stopped using, my home-gym, and an Ab-Coaster. A collection of hand-towels are draped around the treadmill to drip-dry after my bike workouts. On the weekend I might take a ride or two using Zwift, a multiplayer video-game for cycling that simulates riding around the island of Watopia or the virtual 2015 UCI Road World Championships in Richmond, Virginia (the other Richmond). Zwift and Strava enable me to track my progress and to work at beating personal records on specific segments, usually climbing hills.
For 2015 I ended up riding about 3,000 miles (about 1,000 were actual road miles). While using Trainer Road and Zwift inside, I’ve been keeping up with a 100 mile per week goal. I am in the fourth week of the third phase of training. For those who know about these things, my Functional Threshold Power is 260 watts. Because I am struggling to lose more weight during training, my power to weight ratio is too low for me to admit to. While riding in Zwift, I can ride next to someone and see that my watts are nearly 100 more than theirs.
Riding in California in 2015
As I started riding more last year, I also began learning about pro cycling (Cannondale Pro Cycling and Boels-Dolmans). As with other sports, I became just as interested in women’s cycling as with men’s: I’ve always found women’s sports to be more exciting; women just seem to try harder and are scrappier; maybe it’s because I have five daughters and I want them to have every advantage and opportunity in life that males have; maybe it’s because along the way I have become a Quaker and I deeply value principles of equality and integrity. Although I have at times liked to watch some sports (having a winning team like the Indianapolis Colts or a player like Peyton Manning have fueled that interest in recent years), I now have discovered a love of watching and following pro cycling. I’ve discovered cycling literature, cycling blogs and websites, and especially cycling podcasts (The Cycling Podcast, Velocast, FattyCast, Pro Women's Cycling, The Outspoken Cyclist, Ask a Cycling Coach, Paceline Cycling Podcast). I became a member of USA Cycling, mainly as a way of supporting young people getting into cycling. I contribute monthly to World Bicycle Relief and now the podcasting about women’s pro cycling by Sarah Connolly through Patreon.

Sharing the Love of the Bike

I have to admit that I'm somewhat of a loner when it comes to cycling. I don't mean to be antisocial. Our city has an active group that organizes rides through Richmond Cycling FaceBook group several times a week based in our LBS (local bike shop), Cycling & Fitness Warehouse. I made contact with them early on and pay attention to their plans and enjoy the post-ride photos and comments.
Meeting with Dan Lee of SRAM/Zipp
I talk with several people locally who share the love of the bike. I got to know my best cycling friend rather serendipitously. I came to know Dan Lee, SRAM Road and Zipp PR Content Manager, through our mutual interest in the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). Dan and I email every other week or so and talk about our shared interests in cycling, family, and religion (yes, in that order). He lets me share my joys and frustrations, and I get to live vicariously through him as he travels the world to great cycling events. We did get a chance to meet. For him it was more like a pilgrimage back to the Earlham campus, where he had visited as a young man along with his father and met the famous Quaker scholar D. Elton Trueblood. We made sure to get a picture to commemorate our meeting on a sunny day in Richmond, Indiana. Dan was on his way to the other Richmond in Virginia for the 2015 UCI Road World Championships. We shared the other passion of cyclists and had coffee at the local 5th Street Coffee & Bagel shop.
First ride of 2016

Where Do I Go From Here?

Maybe this is a response to a mid-life crisis of sorts. To me it has been the beginning of the rest of my life: The anticipation and even suffering to prepare for the next ride, the next adventure. I’m struggling to keep my weight down and would like to lose another 25-30 lbs. People might be surprised to know that my additional struggle is with mild anxiety or agoraphobia about riding my bike outside. I can honestly, but deeply frustratingly, say that the hardest thing about going out to ride a 50-mile or 100-mile ride is just getting out the front door. I have to plan for it. I have to leave at first-light. I have to have long debates with myself. Sometimes I even first go for a walk outside before getting ready to ride in order to ease myself into being out. I feel great once I’m out. People here are generally friendly and wave from their yards and farms. There’s no better feeling than arriving back home after an adventure. I look forward to checking out my ride on Strava. My wife waits for me to come home and tell her about my ride. I peel off the wet lycra, take a soothing shower, down a freezing cold protein shake, and enjoy the painful reminders of cramps here and there, sometimes a little hoarseness, maybe a few scrapes and bruises because I didn’t get clipped out fast enough either the time when my chain dropped (first fall and was happy to know it didn’t really hurt) or I took too slow of a u-turn when I saw the high climb looming ahead with a couple of large dogs running through the woods (I picked myself up and headed up the climb with a canine entourage).
I’ve been out a few times this spring. It looks like this Saturday will be warm enough (and maybe wet enough) for a great adventure on the bike. I have my new on-board camera ready. I’ll be rested up from this week’s training rides. I plan to begin sharing information about these rides. Where will I go? What will I see? Will I get new personal records on Strava Segments? Will I have the guts enough to do the Ride Across Indiana ride this year? Will I get myself to start riding with the local cycling group? Will we buy the bike trailer for special-needs adults and I begin taking Suann with me on some Sunday afternoon jaunts on the local trail here or trails in Ohio and Michigan? Will my power to weight ratio improve enough that I feel like I could compete in some Gran Fondos or even official races? Will anyone read my blogs and look at the images or videos? It will be my therapy. It will be what gives my life focus. It will be what renews me, strengthens me, gives me pleasure, and may even give me a new way of defining myself as … an athlete.


  1. So proud of you, Dad. So much of your early cycling history I had no clue about! Looking forward to reading about your future adventures! :)

  2. I am glad that you shared your journey back to bicycling. It looks like you have made it a part of your lifestyle now. Way to go.

    1. Thanks, Ed! I thought about mentioning the Africa trip we were on together. Having to have a guide pull me up (and down) the mountain to visit the gorillas was probably the final indignity that made me want to lose weight. I hope you're well.

  3. Tim:
    Enjoyed reading about your journey and how the bicycle has played an important role in your transformation. Especially enjoyed reading about your connection with Dan Lee, my much loved son-in-law, and seeing your photo together. Indeed, life is all about the journey, and the bike has played a critically important role in that journey for both you and Dan.

    All the best,
    david gallahue