It’s What You do On the Bike that Matters
On September 19th I’ll be attempting to set a record on a bike – a record that has never been done…at least not for an old guy. The Ultra Marathon Cycling Association (UMCA) is the keeper of all sorts of records for long-distance cycling – teams of all sizes, bike of all types, cross-state and capitol-to-capitol, and of course the records are gender and age specific. I’m attempting to set a record for west-to-east, cross Colorado, 60-69 year old men, on a standard bike.
I grew up in Buena Vista, a small mountain town in Colorado, where a bicycle was an essential part of every kid’s life. It was a magic carpet on wheels that took me anyplace in town I wanted to go, to baseball practice, and to fishing holes along Cottonwood Creek. In college the bike was my transportation from class to class, and later it got me to and from my job as a milkman – pedaling to work at 2:00 a.m. – rain or snow.
I had every occasion and reason to fall in love with the bike, to take it seriously, make it a bigger part of my life…but I never did. I wish I had. I wish I’d come to the bike at a younger age. I envy those who did.
I became a runner instead. I loved running. Simplicity, sweat, pounding heart – fun. But work and jobs and excuses pushed me away from it and one day I realized that I was no longer a runner. I was fat, out of shape, late 40s and unmotivated.
The summer of my 50th year, 1998, my younger son, Ryan, said, “Dad, we’re going to start working out.” Instead of walking through the fitness center to get to my office, I started lifting, running, and losing weight – at least I did when I stopped dieting and changed my lifestyle. I ran lots of 10ks, 5ks, and a marathon. Running was fun again. Then the knees gave out and after two surgeries I bought a bike.
I took the advice of a friend and went to a spinning class…Ann Lantz’s spinning class at the Buck Recreation Center in Littleton. Pure dumb luck on my part. I’m not sure I can list all of the things about cycling and fitness and me, that I’ve learned from Ann in 60-minute segments over the past 8 years. Amidst the chatter about, “Increase the resistance,” and “The harder you work the more you relax,” were countless tidbits about how to ride a bike – a real bike.
In the first six months of Ann’s class I lost an additional 20 pounds (total weight loss was then 70 pounds). Something else happened in that class – I met Jerry Bakke. I was a bike path rider – frightened of the traffic and unsure how to navigate through it all. Jerry invited me to ride with him and some friends and that’s how I started riding on streets and highways. Jerry taught me and, more importantly, he opened up an entire world of cycling that I knew nothing about.
Through Ann Lantz I learned about the Race Across the West when she and Julie Lyons were teammates in 2010. Once I knew about RAW, it was a short trip to learn about the Race Across America (RAAM) – a 3000 mile race from Oceanside, CA to Annapolis, MD. When Ann and Julie did RAAM in 2012 and 2013 as Team Love, Sweat and Gears (LS&G), I was part of their 14-person support crew. Ann and Julie are two incredible athletes whose training regimens were mind-boggling and their performances on the road were inspiring.
I remember talking with Michelle Wagner, an LS&G crewmate both years, about soloing RAAM. We both agreed it was “stupid.” Who would do such a thing? Everything I’d seen and experienced in two RAAMs said it was foolish to consider soloing it. But the seed had been planted in my mind and fertilized. The words, “I wonder if I could…” kept spinning around inside my head.
Two months after we got back from RAAM 2013, I asked Ann, “Do you think I could solo RAAM in 2015?” I think her hesitation came from her surprise that I would even ask such a question. Her answer was, “Yes, but it’ll be a lot of work.”
To solo RAAM, a racer has to qualify by completing one of the RAAM qualifier events that are held all over the world. Qualifying means riding at least 400 miles at an average pace of 10.5 miles per hour. RAAM will also accept a cross-state record that has been certified by the UMCA.
On September 19th, I’ll start my cross-state record attempt at the point where US Hwy 50 crosses the Utah/Colorado state line. It’s not the end of the world, but you can see it from there. I’ll pedal 468 miles to the point where Hwy 50 exits Colorado and continues into Kansas. If I qualify, I’ll be on my way to Oceanside, CA for a June 16th start.
I’m unsure who to blame for this turn of events. My parents seem innocent, although my Mother was a bit of an adventurer. My wife, Linda, cannot be accused of complicity. My sons have encouraged me but I don’t think it would be fair to put this on them. Various people along the way have enabled me to even consider this by what they’ve told me, demonstrated, and helped me with. Perhaps it’s the courage of the racers I’ve seen – the all-out commitment to a goal that seems to be so far out of reach.
I officiated RAAM in 2014, observing and talking to many of the solo and team racers as they made their way across Colorado. Some were on record-setting pace, some were the media stars, some were RAAM veterans. But some would eventually be tagged as DNF – Did Not Finish. As a race official, I’d get a call from race HQ when someone informed them that they were DNFing and I would pick up their race transponder.
I was the first person outside of their crews who saw their face, their eyes, their complete exhaustion, defeat, and disappointment, all framed by a feint expression of relief. They gave 100% of what they had each mile for over 1000 miles…but their goal was 2000 miles away. What I saw were people who I admired for what they had tried to do. If you think you might want to do something, why not try?
When I was wrestling with the decision to do the Colorado crossing and solo RAAM, I imagined myself 10 years from now talking to my granddaughter, Quinn. In that Grandfather/Granddaughter scenario I tell Quinn that back in 2015 I had a chance to race across America, but I decided not to. “What, Grandpa?!” she exclaims. “You had a chance to do that…and you didn’t even try?” I don’t want to have that conversation. I don’t want to wear the label – Did Not Try.
One final note about the bike. I’ll be racing for Team LS&G and raising money to support the Bikes for Kids Program that donates bikes to third-graders in low-income neighborhoods. For some child, that bike will be their “magic carpet on wheels,” just as it was for me growing up in Buena Vista.
Donate to Paul’s ride and Bikes for Kids!