Friday, July 31, 2009

A journey begins

On the eve of first pedaling from the Pacific I wondered why I pondered this scene. It is of Lake Mistassini, the largest in Quebec. I have had the good fortune of paddling its massive waters at the start of long trips into the Cree wilderness. It lies at about 50 degrees north. The typical paddler leaves the Cree post of Mistassini and travels north on a slender bay. Then the lake abruptly gapes open. An inland ocean, it shows up on the world globe. To the north, the view goes on forever. The lake’s tentacles bend to the horizon. Its waters arc poleward into a seeming vast unknown. Sure, maybe it’s familiar territory to the modern traveler that can peer down on the land from a jet, or check it out on the internet. But when you paddle a canoe or pedal a bike, life slows down. It brings you back to the ground, which isn’t a bad thing in the modern era. Everything boils down to the lake or road beneath your feet. The rest is a ‘great beyond,’ made up of many faraway hills and rivers to cross.

I think over again my small adventures,
My fears-those small ones that seemed so big.
For all the vital things I had to get and reach.
And yet there is only one great thing,
The only thing,
To live to see the great day that dawns,
And the light that fills the world.

Inuit proverb

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Reflections and anticipations

Soliciting donations through my cross continent bike ride to benefit the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter (OWLS, right) made me reflect on how I got here. Indeed, I wrote some people that I had not seen in decades but were nonetheless instrumental in shaping me when I was at a plastic age. I trust that the people that have devoted energy in guiding me feel a return on their investment. This is also a return on my three decade-long investment in myself: tens of thousands of solitary laps in the pool, endless push-ups in stairwells and airports, on boat decks and parking lots, and long runs on empty streets when most folks were sleeping or watching TV. This commitment to fitness has given me an opportunity to do something most people might only dream of. It has set the table for me at an age where I can harness my energy for the better good. I am sage enough to know that in life there are trips and journeys, and sometimes the two have a different meaning.

I have derived great satisfaction out of giving back to my community by volunteering at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter (OWLS). OWLS treats thousands of patients every year. Many of their wildlife patients are injured as a consequence of the increasingly greater human footprint on the Crystal Coast; patients arrive to OWLS because of cars, boats, fishing line, and habitat destruction. What makes the Crystal Coast a special place to live and visit is the very same wildlife that OWLS treats as a result of us humans being here.

The president and the North Carolina governor, among others, have recently called for citizens to give back to their communities. There are a couple of ways that you can give back to the Outer Banks and the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter. One way is to volunteer your time to them. Volunteer opportunities include working on their grounds, animal care, and education/outreach. Another way to give back to the community is to donate to OWLS through my charity ride (www.pedal4wildlife.og). Funds that you donate will be used to rehabilitate and release wild animals back to the beautiful southern Outer Banks.

Monday, July 13, 2009

A tribute to Lance

I marvel at Lance Armstrong’s ability at age 37 to not only compete in the Tour de France but to excel. Almost half way through the 2009 edition of the most difficult sporting event in the world, Armstrong sits a mere eight seconds back of the lead. Opponents and naysayers will hope that the next biking phenom, another litany of hecklers, or convalescing legs will cause him to fall out of contention. I, however, am hoping that he can turn back the clock of father time and add one more chapter to his unique legacy.

What do Lance Armstrong and I have in common? Likely a couple things. Besides a love for biking, we are both riding for a cause, I for the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter and him, of course, for cancer research and awareness. We are both aware that long bike journeys that test the mind and body are attention grabbers by which the public can become aware of issues far more important than ourselves alone.

Will the 2009 Tour de France end with Lance Armstrong as champion again? Today, nobody knows. But Armstrong’s legacy is already cemented. His lung busting climbs over steep mountains on France have conjured up the following image in my own mind...

At the base of the last long hill you peer over your shoulder. A few of the world’s best riders and there with you, ready to put their last bit of energy into destroying your chances for victory this afternoon at Sestriere. This is the race of truth. A first place finish here might cement your bid to win not just any tour, but the Tour de France.

You peer over your shoulder again. The next long minutes of your life will tell you whether the toil of winter training rides will bear fruit. How many bitter rides through unrelenting rains brought you to this race and a climb where the maillot jaune could finally be yours for good. You breathe hard. Your face shows the fatigue, but your competitors do not feel so well either. Their grimaces tell a tale of 213 punishing kilometers cycling through the heart of Europe’s high peaks.

Now you see who will crack. It might be you. You push the stakes higher. You leave the saddle and go. Beltran is the first to fall from the group. Then Escartin is dropped. Two rides dropped, two to go.

The grade steepens and you sense you’ve opened a gap. Another peer over your shoulder to gaze at your competition would just rot your own precious strength. So you focus straight away. You envision the world’s last two drops of energy trickling down into your two massively tired legs. Pain is your only companion. Your vision becomes narrow. The world becomes small, just your legs turning tiny wheels up the jagged road. At the crux of the climb Gotti falls off the pace. The climb boils down to your and Zuelle.

Round the last corner and the finish tape is waving. You sense victory and free your mind for a final glance down the hill. Zuelle is long gone from your wheel. The best riders have been systemically dropped. The sun is drowned by mountain haze but the color is yellow. As yellow as your jersey. Yellow, the color of triumph high atop the slopes of Sestriere.