Sunday, October 8, 2017

Revisiting the Detour

It's funny how stars align sometimes. 

Today I had planned a route to ride that was about 38 miles long and was part of the LeLoup de Loop right I did back in December of 2015.  I had begun preparing everything for the longer ride on the bike. I woke up this morning and my wife told me that our first house we owned was going to be torn down and the current owner was willing to meet us at the house to let us walk through it one more time today. I decided I couldn't do a ride that was likely to take 3 hours and go see the old house one more time. My ever supportive wife said I should still take the bike with me and after seeing the house I could still get some riding in as she was going to be playing Great Aunt Dee Dee for the afternoon. 

We got to see the old house and it was both sad and a reminder that you just can't go back. We revisited memories at the house and got to take some pictures. It was a closure of sorts.  We really did love that old house and a lot of blood, sweat and tears went into making it ours. While the house will soon be gone, we will still have all our old pictures and memories. 

Once we finished seeing the house we went our separate ways and I decided it was just too hot to do the original ride as most of that ride would be in full sun. I knew I was close by the Gary Haller Trail and had not ridden that in a long time so I headed to the trail head. 

From where I jumped on the trail it was a 20 mile "there and back" ride to go to the Kansas River and back. I set off planning to do that. I was just pedaling along enjoying the scenery and about 7 miles in I rounded a bend and got smacked in the face figuratively! As I rounded the bend I came across the area of the trail I wrote about almost 2 years ago - the very day I had been told I was being laid off from Sprint for the second and last time. You can read about that on the original post here

What I saw amazed me - the trail had been washed out from a storm about 2 years ago and now there was no evidence that the trail had ever looked like it did after the storm. Everything had been cleared away and a new trail had been made that bypassed the original trail.  In fact I'd say that the new trail is way better than the older trail. It's smoother, safer and really nice. It is probably only really something I can fully understand and appreciate and I'm finding it really hard to explain properly here but it reminded me that things change and happen for a reason. And that those changes, given enough time, are often for the better. 

I really mourned when I lost my job at Sprint - honestly I still deal with it.  I grew up there. I worked there 25 years and that really takes a hold on a person. And I truly loved what I did.  I loved the people I worked with and the awesome opportunities it provided (like traveling to China many times). But when I tried to go back things just weren't the same anymore. Leaving did offer new opportunities that I would have never explored had I not been laid off. I got to be a bike mechanic for 7 months and learned so much that benefits me greatly with my love of riding. Then I was able to get on with Progressive. 

I stand here now - a few days from completing my first full year at Progressive. As I look back I realize that the detour led me there and I'm really happy it did. I won't lie - my job I am currently doing is the hardest thing I've ever done yet. I'm helping people through tough times and hard decisions. Sometimes that means people are not super happy. Some people get really emotional about their cars or the accident that caused them to lose their cars or caused them physical pain. The pace is super fast and my days blow right by. I'm not the best at my job, but I know I am doing better every day. I have an amazing supervisor that is over the top supportive and very motivating. Progressive, in my experience really does care about it's employees. 

In looking back the detour really has been great for me and I know it will lead me to bigger and better things. I'm glad the detour was forced on me - sometimes we really need a prod in the right direction. 

I'm glad the stars aligned and I'm happy for the insights gained on my ride today. Just another time that I gained more than just exercise by pedaling a bike.  

If you want to watch the video from my ride today, click here!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

How to build or maintain self-esteem?

I haven’t written in some time now, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about writing.  I just needed more time to order the thoughts that have been running through my head. 

Lately life has been tough.  I don’t want this to be a whine fest so I’ll spare you most of the details but I will say that so many things happening all at once will test the resolve of the most optimistic person to the fullest.  I like to believe I am an optimist to a fault.  Every cloud has a silver lining, every bad thing happens for a reason and things will always get better eventually.  

I’m sure I am overly annoying to some people with this attitude towards life but it’s who I am and I’m not sure I’d change if I could. 

Being in the midst of a job search while my wife is also in the midst of a job search can be one of the hardest things on one’s self esteem.  

Silver lining guy says things like:
  • We are at least getting paid to look for jobs (both of us received decent severance packages)!
  • This is an opportunity!  We could do something really special with this gift!
  • When the time is right the right job will surface! 

Realist person says things like:
  • I didn’t know how good I had it (and now it’ll never be that good again)!
  • How could I have been so stupid to have volunteered for this!
  • I’ll never be able to earn what I used to earn at my last job!
  • I’m not qualified for anything anymore!

It is so difficult to put out dozens of job applications and not get any calls for interviews.  It’s equally frustrating getting several seemingly good interviews and then not get hired.  Both scenarios really kill self-esteem.  And one thing you really need is a great deal of self-esteem in order to sell yourself to prospective employers.

So I have a question for all of my readers (which may not be very many people but I’ll take any advice I can get)!  How do you boost and/or maintain your level of self-esteem when you are feeling a bit beat up? 

Things I’ve tried:
  • Praying
  • Exercising (to keep my mind sharp and the endorphins seem to help)
  • Listening to music
  • Staying busy (I’m working part time at a bike shop at the moment)
  • Trying to stick with my diet by logging meals and eating to a calorie goal

What else works for you guys?  

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Thoughts about working in a Local Bike Shop

Let’s face it – being laid off kinda totally stinks!  

For the past 2 months I’ve worked on my resume for hours on end.  I’ve searched LinkedIn high and low looking for jobs I’m interested in and qualified for and submitted applications for many of those jobs.  I’ve read books and articles and tried to do whatever I can to keep a positive attitude.  I mean, who wants to hire a negative sour puss?  

No one – that’s who!

I’ve reached a point where I realized that I needed to get out of the house and do some kind of part time work while waiting for my career to get moving again.  In that vein I decided to take a job at my Local Bike Shop (LBS).  Why?  There are several great reasons.

For starters I’m a very strong Extrovert (per my Myers-Briggs type profile – ENFP) and really need to be around people.  Sitting at home by myself 3-4 days a week was driving me a bit wacky.  I was talking to myself more than one should.  Working in the LBS gives me no end of people to talk to.  All the store employees and the owner/manager are great sources of information and friendship.  Additionally, the customers are great!  I last worked in retail about 15 years ago and forgot how much I enjoyed many aspects of this line of work.  From the minute I clock in to the minute I leave I am busily talking to employees and customers and the time flies!

Secondly, a dream of mine is to do some bikepacking or at the very least some very long rides (100 plus miles in one day).  I’ve always been fairly mechanical but there are some mysterious parts to a bicycle and I aim to master the ability to fix anything and everything while on the trail.  My LBS is helping me with that as they have me wrenching on bikes all day long.  I am learning at the feet of several master mechanics.  

Learning AND earning – it can’t get much better than that!

Speaking of earning - while I am extremely fortunate to be receiving severance pay from my previous employer, that pay is taxed at a super high rate.  So making enough money to at least cover the deficit is important. 

Lastly, the LBS has its finger on the pulse of the community and tries to support and inspire the community to take part in cycling.  I’ve shopped the big box stores for bicycles and cycling accessories and the lack of store employees knowledgeable in all things cycling is staggering.  In fact, most times that I’ve ventured out to these stores I’ve never even seen nor heard from a store employee, even after 20 minutes in the cycling department.  My LBS doesn’t hound the customers walking through the door, but every customer is acknowledged quickly.  The employees are always there to assist customers and have a great deal of knowledge and advise to offer.  Every employee in the LBS is likely a cyclist and is there because they have a true love of all things cycling related.   

Now that I have almost one week down in the LBS world, I want to share the thoughts that have been running through my head regarding customer service. 

I’d like to think I was a fairly conscientious customer in the past.  I popped in the my LBS almost weekly for an adjustment or to look at the latest gear or just to discuss riding strategies and riding war stories.  I made friends with the store staff, the mechanics and the manager.  I now realize that the “pop-ins” were not always at the best times.  I popped in at any given moment without considering how busy the LBS might have been.  While they always welcomed me with open arms and never turned me away, I also see I could have been more considerate of their time.  I hope in the future to be a better customer. 

Speaking of customers – I understand completely why the people at the LBS are so accommodating.  They understand that there is no greater commodity than the customers walking through the door.  Every customer interaction has the potential to be a sale not only for that person that walked in the door, but all the potential people that customer might talk too later.  If a customer is treated poorly – they will make sure the world knows about it.  And nowadays with the internet that can be very far reaching.  Additionally, positive interactions can lead to referral business.  Advertising can’t touch the value of word of mouth referrals.  Think about it – ads are impersonal.  On the other hand, if a friend or family member (someone you know and trust) tells you how great a shop or restaurant is, you generally believe it and will probably find yourself following their recommendations to try the shop or restaurant eventually.  If that same person tells you the place is terrible and how horribly they were treated, you will remember that and likely take your business elsewhere.

I think too many employees are too far detached from working with customers.  I think every company from the smallest mom and pop operation to the largest corporation should require all of their employees to spend a day or two every year working in a customer facing capacity.  Nothing would remind employees that customers are of the highest value and the people in the trenches every day serving those customers are to be valued and supported first and foremost.  Additionally, everyone might become a better customer after gaining a new appreciation for those that serve us.  


So please support your Local Bike Shop for all your cycling needs!  You will not find better customer service and will likely find friendships forming.  At an LBS you are way more than just dollars and commissions! 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Open your ears

When I ride (or do household chores, or yardwork, or really just about anything) I like to listen to audio books.  On occasion I’ll listen to music, but I’ve always been drawn to reading and audio books allow me to “read” while doing other things.  Call it multi-tasking. 

Obviously when I do something like riding while listening I only use one ear bud – just wanted to assure everyone I was being safe. 

In reading the rules to the Rocheport Roubaix (my first bike race) they clearly stated no earbuds or listening to anything AT ALL.  This was a 34 mile ride so I was a little worried about how I was going to manage to get through such a long time span without audio entertainment.  I decided to try a bit of riding sans earbuds to see if I could manage.   I learned a few things.

For starters – it was nice to really hear the things going on around me.  What I had been missing were the therapeutic sounds of the tires rolling down the road and the oddly satisfying clicking sound of my rear cassette.  It was also far easier to hear the others I was riding with and to converse with them. 

I’m kind of a loner when riding and now know that riding with others can be pretty nice!  Especially on long distances where things are more likely to go wrong.  Also being able to encourage other riders and to be encouraged has an enormous positive effect. 

It kind of reminded me of when I did my first 5K years ago.  My sister-in-law ran with me and she would encourage me to keep going with the phrase, “Push, push, push”!  To this day I still here her saying that to me on any ride that requires lots of stamina and endurance!

Another thing that happens when you stop adding in audio noise to your long rides is that your brain really starts working in amazing ways.  Heck – that’s the reason I started this blog.  I wanted to document the many things that came to my mind during my riding.  By not being distracted with an audio book while riding I’ve been able to notice parallels between obstacles found while riding and obstacles I’m encountering during my day to day life.  For instance, how symbolic a simple Detour becomes. 

Will I quit listening to audio books or music while riding?  Probably not all the time, but I think I’ll leave the audio entertainment at home at least once a week to see what other kinds of things my ears pick up.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

My First Bike Race Done

A few months ago I heard about a bike race happening in Rocheport, Missouri on January 31st called the Rocheport Roubaix.  I have ridden in and around Rocheport before.  Once before to be exact when a group of coworkers/riders invited me to join them on a Katy Trail ride.  We rode about 50 miles on that beautiful fall day and that was fairly early in my riding career so I figured I could easily handle a 33 mile bike race in the same general area.  Ah, great expectations - how they set you up for big surprises!

First off - none of the course was on the Katy Trail.  For a little background, the Katy Trail is a rail line converted to a bike trail.  It runs about 270ish miles across Missouri and as it is a rail line trail it is very flat.  Maybe a 5-6% grade at most.  I know now that due to the time of year the Katy Trail would have had it's own challenges.  It is almost 100% gravel and with the thaw we've had the past few days it would have been very messy and hard to pedal in.

Back to the race.  So the starting line was located in the center of Rocheport which is a very neat little community south of Columbia, Missouri.  I got there plenty early (as I tend to do) and it was fun walking around and seeing the anticipation of all the riders readying themselves and their bikes for the race.  The race had 15, 33, 50 and 67 mile options.  I wavered between the 33 and 50 mile options and in the end decided that due to the time of year 33 miles would be challenge enough for me.  I registered on December 25th and it was pretty cold outside and I think this helped me make the wiser decision.  It could have been pretty nasty yesterday - thankfully it wasn't!

I saddled up a few minutes before the start and decided to hang back in the pack so as not to get plowed over by more zealous riders.  The race started with a nice long uphill climb.  I was quickly reminded how hilly Missouri is.  There was some nice pavement sections so at least I didn't have to struggle with the gravel and the uphill climb right off.  I might have turned around had that been the case!

The route was all small country roads and highways.  Probably 40-50% were paved.  The rest was hard packed gravel and it varied between very bumpy and dry to very smooshy and gooey.  And the hills!  I had to dismount several times and push up some of the hills.  This usually happened when I cross chained and the chain popped off the rear cassette.  Once this happens there is no fixing it and riding again till you get to a nice level point to restart.  One hill will forever be etched in my memory. It was paved and allowed me to hit a top speed of 37.7 mph.  I was flying!  But then at the bottom it veered right and suddenly the pavement ended in a swamp of gooey muddy gravel.  I was sure I was going to fly right off the bike.  But I managed to stay on and the next thing I know - I have to dismount and push again as I lost all my momentum in the mud.

I managed to finish the race in about 3 hours and 42 minutes.  The total miles ridden was actually 34 and I burned almost 4000 calories.  And I saw a new animal on the ride - a great big black and white pig.  I thought it was a big dog till I got closer.

I learned a few new things.  I think I need to work on fueling for such long distance riding.  I know it isn't uncommon for long distance cyclists to continue to snack on fast acting carbohydrates.  The diabetic in my is leary of doing that, but if I am burning that much I should be okay to consume more carbs than on a normal day.  Also the Boy Scout in me (I was never an actual scout but I act like one in that I try to be prepared for everything) needs to lighten up.  And by lighten up I mean I need to carry less stuff with me.  This race was well supported.  There were cars patrolling the route and delivering mechanical support if needed.  I was packing 2 spare tubes, a variety of tools and spare batteries for everything.  I could have easily dropped the bike weight by 10 pounds or so and it would have made the climbs a tiny bit easier.

Would I do it again - HECK YEAH!

Just in case anyone wants to live vicariously through me - feel free to watch my video of the race!


And here are a few pics from Race Day.




 My Post Race celebration meal!


Thursday, December 24, 2015

My First Metric Century (over 100K) Ride

I had it in my mind that I really wanted to do a metric century ride before the end of 2015 and in light of having some time on my hands decided to go for it.  Tuesday was supposed to be a nice day and about 55 degrees.  But I should know better - in Kansas that could mean that the nice weather doesn't show up until today for instance.  Regardless I had been doing so much to get ready that I just wanted to get this thing done.  It felt like the universe was conspiring against me, but the reality is that I am often my own worst enemy.

The night before the ride I decided I needed to prep my bike.  Word to the wise, don't wait till the night before to prep.  This needs to be done several days in advance.  I had gotten a flat over the weekend ride and needed to have that addressed so I ran up to my LBS and they got me squared away.  When I got home I decided to switch out my handlebars to something better suited for the long ride.  I've done this a ton of times with no issues but Monday night was the exception.  I was almost done when I noticed a gap in the head tube that needed to be addressed.  As I tore everything back apart I accidentally forgot to hold something in place and POW!  I had pieces everywhere.  I tried for about 10 minutes to fix it but had no idea what order everything went in.  I grabbed a zip-lock and put all the loose parts in it, threw the bike on the carrier and raced to my bike shop. Thankfully the guys put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

Somewhere in the craziness of trips to the bike shop and working on my bike I put my wallet in one of my tool box drawers.  Well the morning of the ride I couldn't find my wallet!  Panic city!  I retraced steps, drove to stores I went the night before and just flat out panicked.  Well about 45 minutes later I found the wallet (after looking in the freezer and all kinds of other unlikely places). At this point I was dangerously close to the start time for my ride.  The ride I planned to do was an RUSA ride and is therefore timed.  You have to declare a start time in advance and whether you start on time or not, the clock starts right at your declared start time.  I decided to go for it and try to make it up in the ride.  I started about 20 minutes late, but in the end it wouldn't have mattered if I had started on time as it took me an hour longer than the allotted time to complete the ride.  You get 7 hours and 20 minutes to complete the 68 mile ride and it took me right at 8 hours.  I'm not mad for not finishing in time.  I'm proud of myself for finishing!  It was both a great ride and a grueling ride. I won't bore anyone with to many details.  I'll just give a few highlights and some musings I had along the way.

The ride is called LeLoup de Loop and starts in Olathe and takes you through Gardener, Edgerton, Wellsville, Baldwin City and Vinland before looping back through Gardener and then back to the start in Olathe.  My trip log showed it at 69 miles and I burned over 8,000 calories along the journey. The scenery was spectacular and I wish I could have taken a little more time to stop and take pictures along the way but for so long there was a chance I was going to make it in time so I pushed ahead. The weather never really warmed up to the point I had expected, but it was still decent weather.  The tough part was the WIND!!!  Every time I was going south I was fighting a headwind.  All this wind really got me thinking.

Wind is such a powerful force.  In my case it was trying to work against me to keep me from achieving my goal.  We often have forces that try to keep us from achieving something great.  It could be other people who just don't think a task is worth doing, or maybe they just don't think YOU can do it.  If I had turned around to have the wind at my back it would have been way easier than going on but I would have ended up back where I had started and would not have completed my task. Each uncompleted task makes it easier to give up in the future.  Before you know it, you aren't even trying anymore!

I'd like to drive the route sometime, or leave much earlier and cycle it again at a much slower pace.  I saw some great scenery and really wished I had taken time for pictures.  Maybe the take away is that life doesn't always have to be a race.  Stop and smell the roses.  Take the pictures.  Enjoy the surroundings.  While I plan to do more rides like this I also plan to make more time for all the above.

With all other rides I've done this year, I'm now about 54 miles away from having ridden 1,000 miles in 2015.  I will achieve this goal!  Merry Christmas to all and get out there and do whatever you are being inspired to do!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Inspiration

Inspiration is so important in everyday life.  It takes something to get you up each morning to make the slog to work.  Something that makes the efforts of doing things you kinda don’t really want to do (if we are being perfectly honest) so you can do what you want to do with your own time.  I’ve had jobs I truly loved.  I hope to have another one of those in the near future.  But in the meantime I want to do something special with some of the time I have been given by way of this lay off.  The first thing that comes to mind is to bike as much as possible.  I had already committed to riding my bike every single day for the next year.  Come rain or shine, sleet or snow I plan to ride.  Then I started watching some cycling movies.  I’ve recently watched Inspired to Ride, Ride the Divide and Reveal the Path.  All are cycling movies that emphasize long distance cycling and for the budding cyclist in me they are dangerously infectious. 

A friend that also rides has convinced me to explore Randonneuring.  Randonneuring is long-distance unsupported endurance cycling.  I looked into it and am totally on board with it.  I plan to ride my first randonneuring route early in the new year.  The one I selected is a 110k loop in North East Kansas.

Another ride I’ve been inspired to do is the Rocheport Roubaix which is a bike trail race on January 31st.  You heard that right, January 31st, otherwise known as the dead of winter.  I am still trying to decide between the 30, 50 or 67 mile options, but regardless this is something I really want to do and am currently training as if I am already registered. 

I've got at least one more very lofty goal but want to keep that one a secret for now. But I promise it is a big one!

I ride to get physically fit, but I also need to stay physically fit to ride.  These things go hand in hand. It kind of reminds me of when I got my first job and my first car.  I would drive to work, and I had to work to drive.  

So I will continue to look for inspiration to ride and I will continue to ride to inspire.  

I’ve got some work to do, both on and off my bike.  But I’ve found my inspiration through the movies I’ve been watching, the love I’ve gained for cycling, my classic love of adventure and the outdoors and just my sheer optimism that I can do what many would deem impossible.  The inspiration to do these rides is also helping me to stay motivated in areas related to my physical health (diabetic health and weight loss).  Wish me luck and watch for me as I get to work to achieve these goals.