Bicycling into Yellowstone, summer, 2010 (picture by Chuck Boehme).
I have pedaled across the United States before to raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund. So, what body parts matters most? First, obviously, you have the two legs; but legs aren't the keys. In 1976, a young man named Bruce Jennings bicycled coast-to-coast with ONE leg; and I used his story with 5,000 students in the next 33 years, to try to prove an important point.
It isn't the legs that matter most. (And for students it was never the "brains.")
Another good guess might be the buns. Yes, sitting on a bicycle seat for eight hours a day, can be...um...less than fun.
Others think the key is the heart. (My wife and children have been nagging me about getting a health check and renewing my precription for cholesterol medicine before I go.) And the heart is the key--just not in the sense of blood pressure and clogged arteries and resting pulse rate. The heart is the key: for all the good people who donate to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund, to all those working hard to find a cure, to all those kids who stick themselves with needles every day and don't complain.
I am so impressed with the diabetic kids I know, and the older diabetics, too. They don't ever seem to complain. It's hard to pedal up a mountain. I admit that. It's harder still to be a type-1 diabetic and deal with that.
When I was still teaching, we used to talk about "heart" and "determination" and "perseverance" in my class a lot. I was never impressed by the smartest students. I was impressed by the hardest working students. And so, I know riding across the USA on two wheels, without gas, that, too, is simply a matter of heart. I am not being falsely modest when I say almost anyone could do it. Some would certainly be slower than others, many would be faster than me. You just have to have the heart to say to yourself, "I can do this."
This summer, for a good cause, I will.
Last summer I rode briefly in California with my older brother and three of his friends. Let's just say, I was the young guy and start with at that. "Age" is kind of in your head (and, alas, written on your face) and you have to think you can bicycle across the United States before you can; and the "thinking you can" is the hard part for most people.
The plan last summer was that my brother, Tim, and I would ride from San Francisco to Yellowstone with the other three men. Chuck Boehme, a third member of our quintet would also be stopping in Montana. Joe Ossmann and Rich Fowler would go all the way to Maine. As it turned out, however, Tim crashed on the second day and could barely ride the third, although he gave it a great try. So he and I dropped out; and I figured I'd ride this summer, instead. So what did Chuck and Joe, and Rich end up doing? Trust me: they had to have "heart." Tim, Chuck and I felt gassed the very first day just grinding up a giant hill near San Francisco. But Chuck went over the Sierra Nevadas a few days later, at an elevation of 8,000 feet plus, and down the "loneliest highway" in America in Nevada.
He knew he could do it. And that meant he could do it.
I hope that makes sense.
Rich and Joe kept spinning those pedals. Joe had one tough stretch when I was still riding with him, when his brakes got loose and rubbed his wheels for miles before he noticed, and he couldn't understand why he felt so tired. But Joe believed he could do it, and kept going, celbrating his 64th birthday during the ride, ending up dipping his front tire in the Atlantic several weeks later. And that leaves Rich. Rich once pedaled across country on a tandem bicycle, with his wife in the back seat. They came close to quitting around Chicago, but summoned up some reserve of determination and kept going. The years passed--and Rich put on a little weight.
Some people would say at this point, "I'm too old to do it again," or "I'm too much out of shape." Rich knew "heart" was still the key. He lost 85 pounds, I think he told me, to get ready to ride again. Then, at 67, when some people are just happy to be cashing their Social Security check, he took off on his bicycle, logging just over 4,000 miles. There were times when the legs got tired some days and I'm sure there were days when the buns ached.
In the end, that doesn't matter. "Heart" is always the key.
"Heart," when it comes to donating to the Juvenile Diabetes Fund is what really matters. As I used to tell my students, the key to what we do in life comes down to determination, to an attitude where excuses can't get a grip, so that we say to ourselves, "No, I can't."
I hit age 62 today. Tomorrow, I plan to get a practice ride in of at least 62 miles. Like Chuck and Joe and Rich, and my brother Tim when he isn't crashing, I know it's a question of heart. I love my daughter, Emily, the type-1 diabetic.
Riding across the country to raise money for a great cause seems like the very least I can do.
Here we see Rich in 2007 (picture at left) and Rich on his bicycle in 2010.
See any difference?
Joe rides hard (at left). Chuck, Rich and Joe at the top of Carson Pass
(picture by Tim Viall, by that time incapacitated with cracked ribs).
I almost forgot to include a picture with my good brother, Tim, at far right.
He would have made the trip, too, if he hadn't cracked his ribs.
(That's me impersonating Little Red Riding Hood, second from left.)