Day 40-45: Finishing the third lap

Almost any track runner will tell you (and I’ve been told it is similar for rowing and other sports) that the third lap in a one mile race is the hardest.   The first lap feeds off the adrenaline of the start; in the second lap there is still plenty of energy to “stick to plan”.   The third lap is the grind.   Maybe self-doubt kicks in; maybe self-pity.   You start to assess the other runners — are they pulling away (stronger than me) or do they seem to be tiring?   Then the fourth (bell lap) starts.   You know the end is coming.   Pain, if anything, is higher than the third lap, but it becomes more tolerable.   You recommit to the original goal, or maybe set an objective based on another runner. You find a reserve of energy.  You kick.

When I started the trip, I thought the hardest segment by far was going to be the Rocky Mountains.   It turns out it was the easiest of the five segments we have done.   I underestimated the first segment, which involved a climb over the Sierra Nevada mountains to Salt Lake City.   I did not have the cardiovascular fitness for the Sierras (which were higher than I thought) and my bike was not geared for the five hour climbs.   The long desert days into headwinds were real tests of stamina.   The third segment, from Pueblo Colorado to St. Josephs Missouri, was moderately high heat and headwinds on several days.   From St. Josephs Missouri to Indianapolis we tackled high heat and the rolling hills of Missouri.   From Indianapolis to Buffalo NY (segment 5) we averaged close to 100 miles a day — sometimes on the bike 8-9 hours a day.   If I go back to a phrase made famous by Donald Rumsfeld, there were known knowns (52 day trip, 3850 miles), known unknowns (could I handle the mountains; would there be rain?) and unknown unknowns.   The obstacles were more varied then just distance, climbing and precipitation — the inverse of the “perfect ride” is all of the challenges that can crop up that physically and mentally you have to overcome — often without preparation.

Maybe this is a very obvious reflection, but as you set big goals — maybe achieving something important at work, getting to a single digit golf handicap, losing 20% of your body weight or even riding your bicycle across America, it is not just critical to break the achievement process into phases but to recognize the unique challenges of each phase.   In addition, we often put our greatest mental energy into the first phase, when in fact the greatest obstacles are probably in the third lap — when commitment wavers, stamina is under threat, the pain is greatest and re-basing the goal might appear to be a desirable option.

Although it is a risk, I do draw a number of parallels between what I have learned undertaking what is primarily a physical challenge to my more traditional world of work challenges.   There is no doubt I am fitter, but most of the time it does not feel that way — without significant rest periods, I feel my muscles are more “broken down” versus “built up.”   I start out each day needing almost 10 miles to warm up (and this is after my 35 minutes of stretching).   This is in sharp contrast to the training schedule my coach drew up, which alternated 1-2 days of intense workout with a day of measured exercise or rest.   I felt I grew stronger, faster with these training periods of alternating intensity versus grinding towards near exhaustion.   I have no doubt that even mentally demanding tasks require periods of rest and recovery to maintain concentration and an ability to be innovative.

Secondly, people like me who like to plan extensively are often very prepared for “known knowns” but get thrown off by “unknown unknowns.”   The preparation is important, but the building of mental and physical reserves to deal with unexpected challenges is equally important.

A third overlap is with the importance of routines.   I found the first few days were a bit more stressful because I was always afraid I would forget something — suntan lotion, energy bars, leaving something behind in the room.   While we have the luxury of staying in hotels, every morning still involves stretching, prepping the bike, getting nutrition (food and liquids) for the day sorted, packing up all of the gear and gadgets and maintenance supplies and pills and lotions and dirty laundry.   I learned that I had to wake up exactly 2 hours before the stated departure time; if I tried to cut it to 1:45 I felt rushed and might not have enough time to pump up my tires before leaving.    Routines help us to get all of the critical activities done without using a lot of brainpower; I think they also give us the discipline to do the things “we know we should do but we sometimes really don’t want to.”   For example, every person I know who exercises 5-6 days a week does so in the morning; it seems impossible to stick to routines if they involve exercising after work (unless you have a 9-5 job).

The fourth overlap I am having trouble describing, but it is that high performing groups that are either individually or collectively seeking to achieve an important mission form “bubbles” — behavioral norms, shared routines, decision-making processes — that both promote achievement but to a certain extent help maintain concentration and commitment by removing alternative or competing demands on your attention.   In a led / supported ride like Bicycle Across America I don’t have to think about what city to get to every evening, where to stay, what I am going to eat during the ride (if the SAG wagons are frequent enough) or even whether a broken spoke is going to be a catastrophic event.   There is safety in the group.   On the other hand, it is easy to then insulate yourself from the broader world, with competing information, opportunities and threats.

The danger of course is that these bubbles insulate us from the broader world, and the vast range of new ideas, alternative points of view, etc.   As we know, one major impact of social media and highly focused news media is that they allow individuals and communities to never venture outside their preferred way of thinking.   As an aside, I have been one of the few riders to “leave the bubble” every few days — visiting with my sister, the Stringhams, the Stringers, my friend Mark Koulogeorge, my parents, my old cycling buddies in Indianapolis.   I think they all felt I was a bit distracted when I met with them — I could not completely leave the bubble.

One of the biggest divides in the US is over gun safety.    Some of you know that one reason I relocated to Singapore in 1993 was that in 1992 a very angry ex-serviceman came in and killed two human resources personnel in a client I was working with — they were administering the layoffs that the work I had led indicated were necessary   I had received two death threats while working in this unionized facility — I had taken them seriously enough  that I only went out on the plant floor under escort.   But not seriously enough that I thought somebody would be killed.

Countless rational Americans have laid out the case for reducing gun violence (e.g.  or   One major challenge is that the US constitution does protect a citizen’s right to own a gun.   Yet we have gone to countless convenience stores or delis or small restaurants where posters/placards/bumper stickers etc. all shrilly declare not just the right but the necessity to own guns “to protect your family.”

Will Trump be reelected?   I’ll say it here — he has a very strong chance.   I didn’t want to think that before I started the trip.   But it is clear that many Americans believe Trump is the first President in a long time to “fight for their interests.”   Like any populist, he can point to real problems or inequities.   EU tariffs on cars are 10%; US is 2.5%   Americans who have seen major losses in jobs in their steel and automotive industry are livid that past American presidents have accepted this outcome.   There are a lot of illegal immigrants into the US — Singapore and Japan would never accept this outcome; why should the US?   Europe has relied on heavy US defense spending to protect them from threats from Russia, and meanwhile increased their dependence on Russia by buying more and more of their natural gas from this low cost source.    Legitimate grievances, populist responses.

Don’t for a moment believe I would support Trump.   But I’m trying to get outside of my bubble and understand why he has so much support.   And I am starting to get it.

We have 7 riding days to go.   One week.   Hard to believe.  I’m in the fourth lap.

Day 40 ride summary (Richmond, IN to Marysville, OH).  106 miles, 2269 feet of climbing.   Long hard day.   Steady headwinds, not too strong.   Riding with a new group — Stacy, Dianne and John (Stacy and Diane joined us in Indianapolis; they had previously ridden from SF to Pueblo).   We just ran out of gas at the end — I had my first “gel” — a mixture of calories, amino acids, caffeine and electrolytes.   It gives you a lift for about 10 miles, and then you need another one.   Road quality was excellent — best of the trip.

Day 41 ride summary (Marysville, OH to Wooster, OH).   103 miles, 4583 feet of climbing.   Another tough day.   Winds were a bit lower, but some of the climbing grades were very steep — 10-12%.   We tried a new tactic of stopping for coffee after 24 miles and for some food / rest between the SAGs.   No need for gels; finished with some energy in the tank.   Very beautiful country.

Day 42 ride summary ( Wooster, OH to Youngstown, OH).   88.7 miles, 2968 feet of climbing.   Road quality and affluence seems to decline as we go from the agricultural west to the beginnings of the “rust belt.”

Day 43 ride summary (Youngstown, OH to Erie, PA).   92.7 miles, 1912 feet of climbing.   Starting to get a bit easier, although 92+ miles is never “easy.”   Wind is neutral to slightly favorable; hot at 89-90 degrees, but not 100 degrees.   Less climbing — we had one 40 mile stretch that was on a nice road, almost perfectly flat, and no towns.

Day 44 ride summary (Erie, PA to Buffalo NY).    94.7 miles, 1994 feet of climbing.   Beautiful ride along Lake Erie and all of the grape vineyards that contribute to the Welch’s grape juice franchise.   Wind was definitely “at our back” — probably the third day of serious tailwind the whole trip.   Buffalo itself is a great example of a rust belt city — several massive grain elevators built to store grain brought by ship across the Great lakes which are now rusting, falling down, never to be used again.   A huge integrated steel mill that had no smoke.   Mile after mile of failed industrial sites.   A downtown with excellent planning and attempts at rejuvenation that seems to have no people in it after 5 pm.

Day 45 rest day!

Day 36-39: Back Home Again in Indiana

The place I spent most of my childhood is the state of Indiana, specifically Carmel, a suburb of Indianapolis.   My parents retired to a small town near Bloomington, home of Indiana University.   We have a family farm from 1871 located in northwest Indiana, about 20 miles from the Purdue  University campus.   So to arrive in the “Crossroads of America” by bicycle had a certain nostalgia.

Three friends — John Garman, Jim Plant and Steve Reynolds — drove out to Crawfordsville Indiana to ride with me on Day 37 from Crawfordsville to Indianapolis.   Of course they picked our easiest ride of the 37 days – 62 miles, flat, low temperature, with a tailwind — but they entertained themselves by sprinting at every town sign.   I had accumulated 37 days of tiredness and watched them with a mix of humor and awe — these guys are pretty fit.   I think their assumption was that I would be “very fit by now” — but the truth is most of the group are a funny mix of fitter and a bit broken down.   No one sprints anymore — we just put our head down and get each day’s job done.

Indianapolis has done a great deal to make the city more exciting, fun and livable than most cities we have been through — they have dozens of miles of bike trails on old canal paths, former railroad lines, sides of roads, etc. for example.   They’ve attracted a couple of big sports teams (the Colts and the Pacers).   There are key areas that have been spruced up and gentrified, with new apartments and eating areas.   And yet.   There are so many parts of the city that still feel abandoned, failing, unsafe, dirty.   The roads in much of the city are perilous to bikers due to potholes and patches and a lack of sweeping.   This sense of an America in decline, decaying, giving up, is pervasive in half of the city.   And half is growing, bustling, innovating and thriving.   Two Americas.

I had a fantastic mechanic take a hard look at my bike for the final two weeks.   He tightened some cables, made some adjustments, re-lubed the chain and key parts and said I was good to go.   So barring the unexpected the Firefly will soon touch the Atlantic.

It feels we are over the hump after Indianapolis.   12 days of biking to go; 13 total.   Our longest days and biggest climbing days are all behind us.   Now we just have to see it through.   The injured bicyclist came right back the next day, but you can still see this 2-3″ bump on the side of his hip where he landed.   The broken bicycle was repaired.   So all 11 of us are going strong, with two cyclists who stopped in Pueblo deciding to rejoin us for the final two weeks   Even the headwinds, which have returned, seem to only slightly dampen the mood.   We’ll cross into Ohio tomorrow, and then head Northeast towards the Niagara Falls.   Next days are both over 100 miles, but my butt can handle it 🙂

Day 36 Ride Summary (Champaign, IL to Crawfordsville, IN).   82 miles, 1770 feet of climbing.   Steady headwind of 10-12 mph, but we only faced into it about 2/3rds of the time.  The mood was good because both climbers had rejoined us.

Day 37 Ride Summary (Crawfordsville, IN to Indianapolis, IN).   63 miles, 1160 feet of climbing.   Easiest day of the trip.

Day 38:  Rest Day

Day 29 Ride Summary (Indianapolis, IN to Richmond, IN).   74 miles, 1720 feet of climbing.   Steady headwind of 8-10  mph, but temperature and climbing quite moderate.  We rode with a bit more pace for the second half — 17 mph versus 15 mph.   Watched England lose to Croatia.

Day 35: Accident in the Group

The warning signs were in my blog yesterday — people are getting tired, thinking less clearly, losing concentration, occasionally disoriented.   Today our little peloton was again fairly closely bunched up as we faced headwinds most of the day.   At some point one wheel touched another, somebody reacted, and in the end two cyclists in our group went tumbling.   Fortunately it was on a country road with almost no traffic; unfortunately one cyclist was hurt and one bicycle was damaged.   I was able to swerve around the accident; just lucky.

I’m hopeful the rider who was hurt will be on his feet again soon; the bike has already been repaired.   It shows one of the advantages of being on a “supported ride” — the support van was with us within 10 minutes.

I worry a lot about safety; there are no guarantees.   I will say every day in Singapore I have more close calls than a week on this ride, but that doesn’t make this ride “safe.”   The headwinds are the major problem — we have to ride together just to finish the days (most of us couldn’t ride 100 miles a day into a headwind solo), but riding in a pace line means keeping 6-18 inches off of someone’s wheel; a chain reaction is possible at any moment.   Is the risk acceptable?   It seemed more acceptable before today.

I feel terrible for the riders involved — they’re hurt, they want badly to finish the trip, it feels like something that shouldn’t have happened.   But as with the wind conditions, the heat, the road conditions, etc., it is part of the experience.

So what will I do differently?   I pushed the group to take more breaks today, to improve concentration, but in the end it didn’t make a difference.   Possibly we need to break into two smaller groups.   We need to communicate more when we are going slower.   Being 18-36 inches off the wheel will give less benefit, but probably lower the risk commensurately.

Day 35 Ride Summary (Springfield to Champaign, IL).   97 miles, 1590  feet of climbing.   Steady headwind of 10-12 mph is my guess.   About 1/4 of the ride was north (just a crosswind), but most of the ride was directly in.   A lot of corn and soybean fields.   Roads in Illinois are hands down the worst of the trip (so far).

Day 33-34: Across the Mississippi and too tired to blog

The last four days have been really difficult; our average mileage is now closer to 100 miles a day (today was 107); for three days the heat was close to unbearable; today it was cooler but we were slammed by headwinds.   I’m not supposed to winge; after all, I decided to do this.   But as someone said today — I’m enjoying the trip, but today stopped being fun.

How often do we sign up for something really important and tough, and enjoy every minute of the journey?   I suspect not too often.   If this were a 7 day bike trip I might get lucky and have perfect weather, but on a 52 day trip it is inevitable there are going to be tough days.   It is part of the experience, part of the challenge.   Pro golfers sometimes don’t make the cut; pro soccer/football players sometimes miss a crucial penalty kick.

I travelled today with the “big group” — by the last 20 miles half of us (including me) were starting to get disoriented by exhaustion.   About 8 miles before the end we stopped at a Subway, had sandwiches and cold drinks, regrouped, and finished the day.

Ride Summary Day 33 (Kirksville MO to Quincy IL).   90.4 miles, 3219 feet of climbing.   Started with rain, then hot, then a very sudden and heavy thunderstorm.   We sought shelter in a coffee shop just as I discovered a flat.   Tube was defective, so had to change it twice.

Ride summary Day 34 (Quincy IL to Springfield IL).   106 miles, 2380 feet of climbing.   Nice temperatures, ubt a steady and increasing headwind meant we only did 12-13 mph moving (normal now is 16-18).  9.5 hours in the saddle.

Day 31-32: Oppressive Heat Dome Engulfs East Coast   I don’t make this stuff up.    Not sure why they said “East Coast” other than it is the Washington Post.   We are in the middle of the “red area” over Missouri, Iowa, Arkansas, Kansas, etc.

While I couldn’t train for the hills or the altitude, I have reasonable training for the “hot stuff.”   Today I rode for only 5.5 hours, and drank 7 water bottles (each is probably 16 ounces).   The first six had electrolytes; the last one was pure cold water.   My goal was to get in by 12:30 in order to avoid the hottest part of the day.  I made it with at least 5 minutes to spare.

At dinner last night the main TV feed was highlights from the US “Special Olympics.”   It was incredibly  motivating to see these kids and adults give everything they had to compete in these games.   I also thought about how many thousands of volunteers it must have taken to put on these games, and the joy it must have given them to provide such special moments for the athletes.   I had trouble feeling sorry for myself and my knee problems when I looked at the handicaps these athletes were overcoming.

My dad (seconded by my sister) has asked if I could run through a “typical day.”   Every day is actually very similar — getting ready, riding, post-ride recovery, socializing.   Since I am writing on Tuesday afternoon, I’ll run through yesterday afternoon / today:

Yesterday’s post ride.   Didn’t get to Chillicothe until 2:30.

2:30-4:00.   Ate lunch at Applebee’s and watched England squeeze by Columbia in penalty kicks.   Split some quesadillas and an oriental salad with Father John.   I had two strawberry lemonades; he had two beers.

4:00 – 5:00.    Took a shower; cleaned up; did my Compex “post training” routine for 25 minutes (This is something Tony May put me onto — using electro-stimulation to vigorously massage the muscles, reducing lactic acid and beginning the recovery process).   It’s a bit science fiction but I’ll grasp at any straw.

5:00-5:30.   Route rap.   Attended a mandatory meeting with the full group to go through the next day’s ride.   We run through all of the potential navigation and safety issues for the next day (e.g. narrow bridges, bad shoulders, where there is heavy traffic, where we have to do left turns across traffic).

5:30 – 6:00   Read a little bit — Financial Times, Apple newsfeed.   Did my words with friends

6:00-8:00.   Went to dinner with John.  There was a group dinner at the “Golden Corral” which has a reputation for food that is below mediocre.   What we found was probably no better —  I had a Reuben sandwich.   We split some potato skins.  I had this shockingly overcooked peas and carrot mix that I forced down.   They had no other vegetables.

8:00-8:30.   I did not have the energy to blog.   I replied to a few messages, made sure all of my items needing recharging were charging, did a final clean up and went to bed.

Pre-bike preparation:

5:00  alarm

5:00-5:15.   Basic cleanup, get the butt ready and suntan lotion — antibiotic cream, Band-Aid, chamois butter, apply suntan lotion (everywhere but above eyes — it is agonizingly painful to have suntan lotion mixed with sweat drip into the eyes)

5:15 – 5:45.   Stretch.   I’ve had to adjust my routine to slowly build to the really tough ones — my legs are so sore when I wake up that I can barely walk.   So jumping right into tough stretches would be beyond my capability.   I turn on Spotify, set the timer at 35 minutes, and then do the same stretching every morning.

  • 2 minutes “cat / cow”
  • 3 minutes “downward dog” — 1 minute both legs, 1 minute each leg alone
  • 4 minutes lunge (with back knee on the ground) — 2 min each side
  • 2 minutes reclining butterfly
  • 4 minutes spine twist (lie down, bring knees to 90 degrees, and then bring them down on one side, with arms extended straight out).   2 minutes each side.   Usually get a mild “crack” as the vertebrae loosen up
  • 4 minutes “wind removing pose” — 2 minutes each side.   Basically lie down with legs straight out.   Bring one leg in towards the armpit on the same side, place your hands on the upper shin, and pull in.   Stretches the quads.   This is the second toughest one for me given my right knee is sore
  • 4 minutes hamstring stretch (2 each leg).     Sit with legs out in a v.  Bring in one leg to touch the hamstring of the other leg.   Stretch over the extended leg with both hands on the foot (or further up).   Should feel the stretch in both legs
  • 2-3 minutes back stretch.   I don’t know how to describe this.   You start by lying down, then bring your legs straight up into the air in a shoulder stand.   Then you carefully drop both legs back until you touch the ground with your toes (I do this very slowly — it might take me almost the whole two minutes to touch the ground some days).
  • 2 minutes Virasana.   This is basically kneeling.   I put a pillow or a folded towel behind my knees to soften the stretch.   It’s too painful to sit up straight, so I often put my elbows and head on the ground and gingerly apply pressure to my  knees.   This is the most important stretch for me, but I count the seconds.   It takes me 15-20 seconds to straighten out my right leg after
  • 4 minutes pigeon (2 minutes L/R).   Hard to describe this one.
  • 3 minutes neck stretching.   1 minute each up/down, L/R and then having my ears go down to the shoulders, alternating left right.   I do this very slowly, breathing methodically, and listening to my arthritis crackle
  • 1 minute — 20 pushups.   OK, not technically stretching, but it wakes me up

5:45 – 6:00.   Lay out the clothes I will wear for the day and then start packing.   Check that bike tires are fully inflated (we have all experienced a “hotel flat” where the tire goes flat overnight and needs to be replaced)

6:00 – 6:20.   Breakfast.   Every hotel now has a free breakfast.   Despite staying at independent hotels, Holiday Inns, Comfort Inns, Drury Inns and Best Westerns, they all of 3-4 kinds of cereal, ready to heat sausage, scrambled eggs or omelets, biscuits and sausage gravy, yogurt, oatmeal packets, basic breads for toasting and waffle irons.   It’s predictable, it’s not bad.   But it ain’t home.

  • Today I had raisin bran, peach yogurt, some scrambled eggs with salsa, one sausage patty and coffee

6:20 – 6:45.   Finish packing and dressing.

  • I have one bag for all of my clothes and one bag that has several “organizing bags” — my backpack (for computers, chargers and office stuff), medical bag (Band-Aids, supplements, prescription drugs, aspirin and ibuprofen, skin creams), food bag (I generally carry some fruit and nuts), protein supplements (when I don’t have time for lunch I make a “shake”), bike tools and spares bag, cleaning bag (dish soap, laundry soap), Compex
  • I apply a second coat of suntan lotion over my knees and on my face, the two places that get the most sun

6:45-6:50.   Normally I arrive 5 minutes before loading to pump up my tires, but I was slow this morning.   We turn in our two bags, sign the document that we are loaded, and head off, all in 5-10 minutes.   Generally the fast group leaves first, then the main group.

6:50-12:30.   Ride.   I had two 15 minute “SAG” breaks today

  • SAG 1 I refilled both bottles, had half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, 3 fig newtons, some blueberries, a banana and a cold Starbucks mocha I bought at the gas station to “pay for the porcelain” (it is considered good manners to buy something if you use their toilet facilities).
  • SAG 2 I refilled both bottles, had some fig newtons, another half PBJ
  • Midway between SAG 2 / finish I refilled both bottles with plain cold water (at this stage I’m finishing a bottle every 10 miles)

12:30- 12:45.   Check in (lucky today — room was ready).

12:45-1:30.   Get cleaned up, unpack, sit in a chair and stare at the ceiling to catch my breath

1:30- 2:45.    Eat lunch.   I didn’t see anyone around (today people were quite spread out — winds tend to bring people into groups; hills tend to fragment the groups) so I walked to Diner 54, only about a 10 minute walk away

  • Today I had 2 strawberry pancakes, 2 eggs over easy, a massive fruit salad with cottage cheese and raisin toast, chocolate milk, cold water.

2:45 – 3:45.   Write blog.   I can do this if I don’t do anything social.

Today’s image.   Dan Swanson took this picture as I crested one of the roller coaster hills in Missouri.   If it looks straight down it kinda felt like it too.   Some of these hills had 11-12+ grades.   Thanks Dan.

Song of the Day.   God bless America, by the Boston Police (2018).   Happy 4th of July.

Ride Summary Day 31 (Saint Joseph MO to Chillicothe MO):   Rode through Amish territory.   Hard day: 90.4 miles, 3461 feet of climbing, very hot, wind against us for more than half of the day.   I struggled a bit to keep up with the main group — I blame my blood pressure medicine.   Got a flat at the 65.5 mile SAG stop (#2) — the big group was leaving so Jean repaired my tire while I cooled off in the shade, and then I rode the last 26 miles on my own.

Ride Summary Day 32 (Chillicothe MO to Kirksville MO):   I decided not to take my beta blocker until after the ride.   My cardiologist had mentioned it was better not to take them when I am dehydrated, and it is inevitable to get dehydrated in this heat.   Felt a ton better — started with the main group, and then realized they were falling behind, so I decided to ride on my own.   Ended up catching the “fast group” and then riding mainly on my own after that.   I guess I upset the fast group because a couple of them ended up riding past me (they are DEFINITELY better riders), but the group did not stay intact.

Coach Chuck Koeppen

Challenge and Failure.   John Garman sent a long blog from a runner who completed what seems like a completely crazy 60 hour race at the end  of winter (The Barkley Marathon).   At the end the runner, Gary Robbins, writes the following:

You can’t put yourself out there without expecting to fall flat on your face from time to time, sometimes literally. Life is not easy and pursuing the limitations of who you are will certainly be wrought with unforeseen challenges, but as long as you keep your head up and keep pushing onward towards your truth, towards your belief in who you can be, you will learn to enjoy and cherish the journey, to find positives where others only see negatives…even if you end up reaching your ultimate goal a little later than you may have expected to. Even if you find yourself at that destination a few years further along than your planned arrival time. 

From <>

I’m increasingly conscious that so much of success in life has to do with experiencing failure, standing up again, dusting yourself off, and trying again.   Of course, sometimes it is equally difficult to handle success, but most of us are more afraid of failure.   I also like the point about finding positives when others see negatives — this resonates with my post on the “perfect ride.”

Chuck Koeppen.   I had a wonderful surprise today –my old cross country (running) coach has been following my cross-country blog.   He took issue with my claim that I never made varsity; he distinctly remembered having a wooden plaque made for the “varsity ladder.”   It is true that I think at one point I slipped through to the ladder (must have been a Spanish flu rolling through Carmel High School); one of my friends grabbed the plaque at a dinner commemorating Coach Koeppen’s accomplishments on his retirement and it has somehow found its way to my office at work — one of my prized possessions.   That he could remember this is beyond my ability to comprehend.   It has been 38 years.

Coach Koeppen was one of the most amazing coaches and teachers that I ever came across.   I don’t know where to start — probably at the simplest level — he was a fierce competitor.   He wanted to win, badly.   He had a deep sense of how to build young runners physically and mentally so that they reached their personal potential and peaked for the all-important State Championship.   In the seven years before I left the team the team won the Men’s State Championship every year.   Just to be clear, I never was a runner in the State Championship.   But I cheered wildly from the sidelines.

He expected total commitment to the team and to the goal of winning.   We had one week off after track season and two weeks off after cross-country.   Much of the summer was “two a day practices” — longer runs in the morning to build endurance, endless circuits on a 1-1.2 km woods run, track or football practice field to build speed.

Coach Koeppen ran in every practice we had.   Not a jog; he ran with the front-runners.   I don’t ever remember him standing on the sidelines.  He knew who was giving versus slacking; who was keeping up versus falling behind.   He knew whether people were straining or holding back.   He wasn’t screaming “go faster”; he was simply in the action, leading from the front.

We had routines and traditions that gave us a sense of belonging to something bigger than just a sports team.   Every summer we spent a week at a state park undertaking some of the most difficult training of the year.   It was the first key race to determine who was varsity and who was reserve for the starting inter-school race.   We travelled in the back of open pickups and slept in canvas tents.   It was hard work and fun.

He also got to know each team member as an individual, and would grab them for a pep talk if their morale was flagging, or cut them to pieces if they violated a key rule or were sandbagging.   We had strict curfews and it was definitely a “no drinking / no smoking or you are out” environment (except for one exception which I think he eternally regretted — RZ).

I think coach Koeppen would be staggered by how many lessons I took from his coaching style.   But most of all I learned what it takes to win.   And as I wrote earlier, that even when you do everything you think you can, sometimes it is not enough.

Day 29 Ride Summary  (Topeka KS to Saint Joseph’s Missouri).   Well, we have crossed into another state — Missouri.   89.2 miles, 3714 feet of climbing.   The terrain is different here — more of a roller coaster than a long ascent (some days we climbed for 5 straight hours).   Everyone was flagging by the end of the day — we needed a rest day.



Day 27-28 Eisenhower country

Yesterday’s highlight was visiting the Dwight Eisenhower Library and Museum in Abilene Kansas.   One could not ask for a greater contrast between our current leader and Eisenhower — a true war hero, a person who consulted widely before making key decisions, a person who understood the art of compromise and detested war.   He was not perfect, and I felt a little short-changed by the museum, which presented a fairly simplistic overview of his role in a number of key events in the decades before I was born — Operation Torch (the successful campaign in North Africa), Supreme Commander of the European Theater, setting up NATO, setting the parameters for the Cold War, ending the Korean war, the beginning of the civil rights movement, etc.   He was a man for the times.

Probably the most interesting part of the visit was a “tour” of his boyhood home.   6 brothers (a 7th died when young) in a small house.   Oldest had his own room; the rest shared one room (Dwight was #3).   The kids had to work hard.   They had chores for cleaning, cooking and taking care of the garden; sets of 2 boys rotated through.   On Sundays two boys left church early to prepare Sunday dinner.   The boys were not allowed in the “parlor”.   They had to enter the house by the back door.   Etc.   While it is easy to focus on policy and tactics with a President, my gut sense is that character is equally important.   You see where I’m headed.

People in Kansas have been so friendly; the drivers observe a “10-foot rule” meaning they usually move over a lane even though we are riding on the shoulder (or the edge of the road if there is no shoulder).

I am trying to keep in a very positive frame of mind, but the data would suggest my fitness is not getting better — with new batteries in my Infocrank, I can confirm my L/R balance was 64/36 today.   We had probably the toughest day today for the remainder of the trip — 108 miles, 4,700 feet of climbing, very high heat — so I know I can finish.   But it’s definitely a bit tough to get that knee functioning every day.

We had one person collapse from heat stroke today — he will I am sure try to be back on the bike tomorrow or Tuesday (Monday is a rest day).   He’s a tough nut, but the heat and sun and climbing today was going to claim at least one victim.

My cousin, her son and his wife took me to dinner tonight — a really nice break from our meat and potatoes diet.   Actually, some of the biggest highlights of the trip have been the visits I’ve had with my sister, the Stringhams and now my cousin.   Friends and Family still trump.

Image.   Unusual post box in rural Kansas.

Day 27 ride summary (McPherson to Abilene, Kansas).   64.2 miles, 795 feet of climbing.   Heavy tailwind while we went north — as high as 25 miles per hour.   Easiest day yet.   I rode with the large group.

Day 28 ride summary (Abilene to Topeka, Kansas).   107.5 miles, 4700 feet of climbing.   Tough day — distance, climbing and heat.   We stayed in a group, but the winds were mainly crosswinds, so not much benefit in drafting.   Roads were a bit rough.   Climbing is different than in the mountains — rolling hills; sometimes a bit steep.