November 27, 2012

Fanaticism vs. Lifestyle

One thing there is not enough of in this world, is cycling documentaries.

If you want to watch a documentary on almost any other sport, there are thousands.  Football, Baseball, Soccer, Golf, Hockey, even Running.  They all have a slew of documentaries produced about their competitors, contests, and scandals.  Cycling has very few.  Now, please understand, I am not delusional.  I do not, for even a second, believe that cycling has the broad appeal of the major sports I have mentioned previously.  What I do know is that cycling has a rapid base of fanatics, living the lifestyle, rather than idolizing media proclaimed champions.

To understand what I mean, you need to look at the situation like I do.  Millions of Americans love Baseball and Football.  For the sake of the argument here, I am going to limit my point to those two.  These millions of red-meat and potato eating fans worship their individual teams.  The Yankees, the Red Sox, the Bears, the Giants, and so many others, are the objects of almost dogmatic ritual.  People adjust their schedules to be able to watch the games on TV or to attend the games in person.

Where is turns ugly is when these fans begin to criticize their heroes.  Take a moment and realize how ridiculous the notion is of an overweight, middle-aged, American male screaming at his television in a display of derogatory ridicule of  a professional or collegiate athlete is.  These insidious insults are slewed by a person who has no ability to even remotely match the dexterity, speed, or natural talent of the person they are tearing apart.  On the flip side  when “their” team scores or wins, they will high-five and congratulate the surrounding people as if they took part in the success.

Don’t get me wrong.  I used to be just like this about the Yankees.  I used to be just like this about the Buffalo Bills.  I am STILL like this about the Syracuse Orange football and basketball teams.  I am trying to illustrate how outrageous the ritual is for this reason:  Cycling is completely different.  Cycling, as a sport, is not worshiped in the same manner.  Fans of cycling do not generally sit on a couch and watch, they stand on the side of the road.  They do not tailgate at the event, but rather ride their own bikes up the very same climb the competitors will in order to get the perfect vantage point.

This is not to say there are not similarities.  Cycling fans, like fans of more traditional sports, will don the jerseys of their favorite team.  They will cheer on their favorite competitor.  When a major event is held that one cannot attend, hardcore pro cycling fans will find a way to watch it, whether that is done online or on networks like NBC Sports.  

Where I believe the chasm of separation occurs is with the “non-fans” of professional competition.  There is no football or baseball lifestyle.  You cannot “hail-mary pass” your way to work, or bat around the neighborhood.  That is not to say that fans of other sports cannot participate in activities that emulate their sports’ stars.  People can play in softball leagues, flag football leagues, pick up or league basketball games, etc.  Yet, how often to hear of someone “living” the baseball lifestyle?  You don’t.

I LIVE cycling.  Ask my wife.  She will respond with a sarcastic laugh and a smile.  But I do.

There is, in fact, a vast sub-culture of people that live not only with, but FOR, cycling.  I am going to spend some time orating my point of view on the subject, but that is not for today.  I am going to leave you with two trailers for films that begin to explain what I am referring to.  These are exemplary cycling documentaries, which can be enjoyed by non-cyclists too.

The first one is Fixation, which is new this year.  The second is To Live & Ride in L.A.  Both focus on a small segment of cycling that uses a certain type of bike called a fixie.  These bikes have a fixed hub and NO brakes, meaning your pedaling controls all movement.  You pedal to accelerate, and you stop pedaling to stop.  It is both nuanced and dangerous, and understandably not widely experienced.

Let me know what you think.  I know it is a lot to ask someone who isn’t a cyclist to watch a documentary about it, but my mission is to increase awareness and participation.  So please give it a look.

Ride Hard, Ride Long.

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November 23, 2012

I Need YOUR Help!

see LOBBYING

Feel free to click the link above and read that wiki first, should it be that you are unaware of what lobbying is.

Still here or back?  Good…

In the current social/political environment in the United States, Lobbying is a four letter word.  There is no doubt about that.  Lobbying by the Pharmaceutical Industry, the National Rifle Association, the Oil Industry, Unions, and Churches, holds our government hostage.  With the infusion of Political Action Committees, lobbying has reached dizzying heights, as their influence is measured.  If there was EVER a place in our society where we need oversight and regulation, this is squarely where I would put it.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I do not believe we should eliminate lobbying.  It serves a valuable purpose.  Elected officials answer to an electorate, but any effort to glean a coherent thought from the mob would prove futile.  It is therefor the individual lobbies that bring that message forward.  I simply believe it has gotten out of hand.

I do not raise this discussion on this forum in order to really try to change the national lobby scene.  I am not nearly that naive.  My purpose is much more personal.  I would ultimately like to start a lobby.  I would like this new organization to be much more, however.  Alas, I am putting the cart ahead of the horse here.

Over the past two years, I have commuted to work on my bicycle.  This last season alone, I commuted more than a thousand miles.  Closer to 1200, to be accurate.  For those unfamiliar with the area I live in, I ride from the western suburbs of Syracuse, New York, through the downtown city proper, then into the eastern suburbs.  The trip is 11.2 miles each way.  I consider it a good distance, for both workout purpose and time spent.  It is not excessive to the point that I tire of it, nor is it too difficult as to tire me too much to effectively work.  On the days that I need to drive, for one reason or another, I find I save very little time traveling in the car.

In just the last two years, I have seen construction, accidents, rudeness, physical hostility, inclement weather, and other hazards that add to the challenge of being a bike-commuter.  Many of them I have chronicled on this very blog.  One continuous hurdle to my daily commute is traffic.  As a cyclists, whether commuting or weekend road riding, cars are ubiquitous.  You never escape the dangers they pose.  Some motorists take appropriate precautions and display proper passing etiquette when going by a cyclist.  This is, by far, the exception to the rule.  I often get yelled at and honked at.  I commonly have motorists pass me so closely that my elbow nearly strikes their passenger side mirror.  As I observe them going by, then are almost always hugging the right side of the lane, very apparently sending a message to me that they own their lane and I have no business being where I am.  I have had things thrown at me.  On St. Patrick’s Day this year, I had a carload of drunken buffoons throw a full beer can at me as they rode by me.  I will never fully understand the hostility shown to cyclists, even if I do have theories as to the source of their behavior.  That is a discussion for another time.

My issues above point out some of the dangers motorists pose.  They are, however, not the only problem.  The municipal infrastructure also can pose major dilemmas.  I am quite aware of the fiscal restrictions our governments have.  Population growth and 15 years of tax cuts is like burning the candle at both ends for municipalities trying to keep pace with declining road conditions and increased traffic.

Even with improvements to mass transit, the vast majority of commuters are using personal vehicles.  The damage to roadways is catastrophic, and tightened purse strings for the  cities slow improvements.  With that said, the obstacles I encounter on a daily basis threatened to ruin my day all the time.  I puncture a tire about once a week from random debris.  The amount of glass and metal on the shoulders of the streets along my commute is astounding.  Additionally, as I live in Upstate New York, weather poses a major issue.  The freezing and thawing with the seasons creates potholes in the roadway.  The holes within the lanes are generally addressed quickly, while the shoulder is left to its devices.  This is another unsafe condition to be dealt with.  One thing the city of Syracuse IS doing well is increasing the number of bike lanes.  Unfortunately, these are almost exclusively in the Syracuse University area, which is on the periphery of my route.  Also, some of the bike lines I do enjoy are also a seasonal dumping place for local residents.  Branches in the spring, and leaves in the fall fill the bike lanes and make them impractical.

The last major issue I encounter is other people on bikes.  The people riding bikes improperly can aid in increasing the hostility of others, and generally damaging the public attitude toward true cyclists.  I am referring to bikes on the wrong side of the street, riding against traffic, or the bikes on sidewalks.  I am talking about the people on bikes that don’t obey traffic rules, or don’t pay attention to the dangers of their own surroundings.

So what can I do about all this?  How do I improve the situation?

Lobby

Here is my idea:

I want to reach out to all my influential friends.  I want to compile ideas on how to address these issues.  In the coming months, I want to put together  a non-profit organization with the purpose of education and what I call Bikelightenment. I want to share the benefits of cycling, but also warn of the dangers.  I would like to also assist in the proliferation of bikes, especially in the city.  I believe the more bikes you see on the road, the more motorists will learn to drive WITH them around.  Most importantly, I want to lobby city hall and the city council, in order to improve the conditions that commuters and cyclists, in general, face everyday.

So who is with me?  I am obviously just in the exploratory phase of this idea.  I am happy to be the torch bearer, or even share those duties with others.  I would love to get as much involvement as possible.

I can be reached via comments here, or you can email me at christopher.g.hess@gmail.com.  If you are friends with me on Facebook, or even if you are not, you can message me there as well….https://www.facebook.com/christopher.hess

I really need the help of the community to make this happen, but I do believe it is a very worthy cause.

As things develop, I will pass that information along here.

Ride Hard, Ride Long.

November 12, 2012

Hitting the Reset Button (Kinda)

I started this blog for a number of reasons, and ALL of them were fairly egotistical.  Primarily, it was personal affirmation of my own successes.  I had lost a bunch of weight, survived a few years of marriage, found some personal happiness, and had become a bike commuter.  The bike commuting was the foundation I built the idea around.  I just wanted a place to get my thoughts out.  A couple of things have happened along the way that derailed my original idea.  First, I realized I didn’t have that much to say about commuting, as it is just a small part of what I do.  Second, I didn’t have much time to write.  A lot of bloggers just put a few ideas down each day and move on.  Others are glorified reporters, assuming a mantle of “free-thinking” news outlet.  I didn’t fit either grouping.  I had used my blog as more of a weird journal of thoughts and experiences, which is fine, because it is MINE, after all.

My worst failure is simply not blogging enough.  At its best, I was getting dozens of readers a day, which is not ground-breaking but is still an accomplishment for me.  Like any other self-important blogger, I dream of being nationally known and read daily by thousands.  I have even formed friendships with a few of those types.  I am simply not there, and probably never will be.  Regardless, it is time for me to grab the bull by the horns and decide what I am going to use this blog for, exactly.  So the reboot begins today.  “Why today?” you may ask.  Because today is my first day of a new personal journey for me.

Today is my first day of being unemployed.  My joblessness is not an altogether bad thing.  There was simply not a role for me in it’s existing form at my job.  I was a pseudo office manager at a wellness center.  It was becoming more difficult to justify the added cost of my position over time.  Payroll costs can be a killer to a small business, and honestly, my duties could easily be handled by others in the office.  I suppose I could have let one of my receptionists go and taken their position, but I am a better person than that, and I have other plans.  I am going back to school.

I have gotten a lot of “congrats” and “good luck” from many of my friends and family.  I have been fairly quiet about what I am going to school for, but for no particular reason.  I am going to be a Licensed Massage Therapist. 

 

I am going to do the school full-time and it is a 6 moth intensive program.  My wife recently completed a similar program in Nursing over the course of 11 months, and during that time, she barely existed in the lives of the family.  It is a hard burden for the family to take on, but we survived the process, and now it is my turn.  She is gainfully employed now, and I have a position waiting for me as soon as I complete the training at the same wellness center I just left.

 

 

Everything is falling into place.

Yet I still have this feeling that I missing a purpose to my life.  I believe we all feel this some of the time.  There is a drive inside of me to do more than what I am doing.  Although I am not looking to end world hunger or find global peace, I may be able to find a calling within this website.  Perhaps I can use this as a voice for the future.  I certainly have an opinion on a lot of different things, and love political discourse. 

To be completely honest, I have no idea what I am doing.  We grow up looking at the adults in our life, believing they have all the answers.  As I get older, slowly creeping up on forty, I feel I know little more than when I was 16.  Sure, I know how to move through the system better, and understand how people behave and why…but at the root of all, the same question persists: What is the purpose of it all?

Well that is not a question I am going to try to answer.  I am simply going to live and strive for the ever-elusive happiness.

I hope you come along for the ride.

Christopher Hess

September 24, 2012

The Summer in Review

I would like to start with an apology for my lengthy blogging absence.  I wholeheartedly intended to stay on top of this, and post on a regular basis, but life certainly has a way of halting the best of plans.  This post is actually born from two of my fellow blogger friends doing the same thing.  They also have neglected posting and have returned, bookmarked by apologies and promises for the future.  I will end this in the same fashion.

As for the Summer, it has been a wonderful season on my bike.  I am miles beyond where I was last year at this same time.  I only competed in one race this year, which was also my second consecutive entry in The Great Race in Auburn, NY.  I was part of a short course relay team.  Last year, I finished 41st.  This year, I came in 27th.  Ironically, my time for the 10 mile sprint was nearly identical to the year before, but I account this to an annoying head wind that affected everyone during the ride.

The main difference between my cycling this year and last year is the solo nature of my rides.  Last year, I had a friend with me on the vast majority of my rides.  We conquered hills almost daily and would often soldier around with others joining us, laughing as we put a hurt on them.  The only times I rode alone last year where on my commutes and my occasionally extra-long weekend rides, which he was not interested in.  This year, in contrast, I rode almost exclusively alone.  Only recently have I joined up with some new cyclists, primarily in preparation for this year’s Ride for Missing Children, which I am participating in this Friday.

My growth this year has manifested itself apart from my leg strength or any technical skill.  Where I feel I have changed the most is my “comfort” in the saddle.  What I mean by saying that, is that I feel more at peace when I am riding.  I no longer feel exhaustion in the traditional sense.  I get tired, of course, but in a way that exhibits itself in a positive way.  I am tired and that is how I am supposed to feel, but I will power through it and complete this ride.  In the past, I would have bailed early or taken a shorter route home.  In addition to comfort, I have acquired a feeling of empowerment when around other cyclists.  I no longer feel like the new guy in groups.  This raised confidence has allowed me to pedal harder and longer when in a group.

Mainly, I love riding my bike.  I do it as much as I can, and have nearly 5000 miles in the last year to show for it.  I am looking forward to many more in the coming year.

This brings me to the Fall.  Autumn has arrived, and with it comes the colder weather.  I am from the school of thought that colder temps mean better rides.  There is nothing more breath-taking than a country road with multi-colored leaves covering the landscape.  I have already noticed a reduction of other cyclists on the roads and that makes me sad.  I wish more people took advantage of the natural beauty of this time of the year.

I have a trip to the Adirondacks in the works to ride in the Peak Foliage Period in a couple of weeks.  It is a ride featured in Bicycling Magazine.

The highlight of last year for me was definitely The Ride for Missing Children.  I am still looking for donations for my participation.  If you can give, please click this link and give in my name.  The money stays in Central NY in support of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

So, as I promised, I am going to end this with a promise to write more.  I have promised the same in the past, but with the colder weather comes less commuting and I should have more time to write.

Ride Hard, Ride Long.

June 26, 2012

Diet & Riding Progress

They say it takes the brain 21 days to form new pathways based on repeated patterns. With that in mind, I am now at the magical 21 day mark in my new diet & exercise routine. If you read my blog regularly (even if I don’t write it regularly), you know that I have decided to take the Paleolithic Diet and alter it slightly to meet my own training and taste needs. It has been working perfectly.

After 21 days, I am down 18 pounds and my energy levels are through the roof. My morning commute into work has increased in pace from an average of 17.8 miles per hour to the peak this morning of 19.38 miles per hour. I couldn’t be any happier.  I almost never feel that need to nap after work either.
The wonderful thing about this new lifestyle choice is that the kids are on board too. No more boxed or bagged snacks in the house.  We have bananas, apples, hard-boiled eggs, and carrots on hand at all times. They can eat as much as their little hearts desire.  At first, they missed the bread and milk, but they haven’t mentioned either in more than a week. My son, who lives with aspergers, is noticeably calmer. My youngest, who has been diagnosed anemic, now has boundless energy (this is not wholly a good thing).

I am happy.

Sadly, I was also happy a year ago when I was at my peak. Then, life got in the way. I need to ensure that I sustain this. The calorie restriction is the hard part, but thankfully, I do not need to lose weight indefinitely. Eventually, I can raise the calories by another thousand to maintain weight. I also need to make sure that this year, as the weather turns, that I return to my winter running. I didn’t do it last year, and that hurt me. In fact, I believe that is a primary reason I put on all the weight.

Anyone else out there trying, or looking to try, the same thing?

Ride Hard, Ride Long,

Chris

June 13, 2012

Night Riding

I have done it before.  So last night was not my first time.

There was something about last night that just felt different.  In the past, every time I have taken my bike out in the evening it was for one of the follow reasons:

It was early/late in the season, and the sun goes down so early…

I was commuting home late or in early…

I was crooked-riding home from the bar (stop judging me, I can feel it)…

Last night was something all-together different.  I went out because I wanted to ride my bike.  I wanted to do a night ride.  A guy I went to high school with is a competitive Mountain Bike and Cyclo-cross rider, and he swears by night rides.  He has not, however, explained why he loves it so much.  The allure of it has been working on me for a while.  My wife, who is still in nursing school, was out doing research for her term paper, so I waited for her to return home and it was just after Eleven P.M. when I set out.

I have Sigma tail and head lights for the bike, but I do not wear a reflector vest…I used to wear reflectors and lights when running at night, but I think cyclists with vests look silly.  We are such a fashion conscious lot.  You cannot believe the ridicule I have gotten for the picture from my running days on the right.

Once I opened the door with my bike I realized it was going to be a tough ride,  instantly.  The winds were fierce and upwards of 20 mph, with gusting.  I did as I always do and rode directly into the wind,to start out.  The other thing I do when riding in high winds is plan a route with hills, to lessen the effect of the resistance.  The first couple of miles of the ride was in the densely populated residential area near my home and that was notably boring.  Once I exited that and made it to the country-side, I became aware of the treat I was in for.  I turned onto an especially sparsely populated road with no homes save one farm…and was immediately in my glory.  Everywhere around me was the brilliant sparkling of fireflies.  The road I was on was shielded from the wind by a fairly steep hill, so the fireflies were free to fly about.  This, coupled with the utter silence was breathtaking.  I felt an exhilaration that  focused itself directly into my legs.  My mind wanted to slow down and take in the experience, but my spirit and legs felt differently.  I flew down that road at a pace well beyond what I normally maintain there.

Next was Scenic Drive.  This is a hill of about 3 miles in length at 4% plus grade.  Even in ideal conditions, it is a benchmark climb, but this was something completely different last night.  The added factors of the wind, which was oppressively barreling down on me, and the darkness, which masked the remaining distance, made the climb one of the more challenging I have down in a while.  The irony was that the very factors that increased the difficulty also motivated me to push through despite the added hurdles.  It was a very sweet accomplishment, indeed, when I reached the summit of the climb.

The last, and perhaps most fulfilling aspect on the ride, was the return elevation descent into the village of Camillus.  The Main Street hill down into the town center is 7% at its steepest and can be scary in ideal conditions.  The added (at this point) tail wind and the eerie blackness (this area is shrouded by trees on both sides of the road) raised the heart rate in the most satisfying of ways.  I crested 38 mph during the descent.  In the mid-day light, nothing impressive…but with visibility of about 30 feet, this is pretty amazing.

Needless to say, I believe night riding is something I will be doing again very soon!

Ride Hard, Ride Long

June 12, 2012

A Week In…

So I am a week in…

Allow me a moment to recap.  A week ago, yesterday, I made the public decision via this forum to change my diet.  As I am not a proponent of fad diets, I wasn’t going to subscribe to any rigid formula designed for the sole purpose of selling books.  What I did instead was scour the interwebs for nuggets of information to build a plan structured more to my needs.  One thing that benefits me greatly is that two years ago (read previous posts in this blog), I went through a major weight loss and learned a lot about what foods by body processes well and what foods it doesn’t.

The plan I decided upon is a rethink of the new paleo idea, which focuses on all-natural uncooked foods, with a focus on a large amount of meat, and gluten-free.  I altered that by flipping the meat/vegetable ratio and I do actually cook my meat, but nearly all my vegetables (with the exception of corn) are raw.  In addition, I have nearly eliminated dairy from my diet.  So in the last week I put this to the test.  I am not going to bore you with the details of each meal, but to put this simply, I believe I have done pretty well.  Along with the food choices, I have also decided to restrict myself to 1500 calories per day for the time being to kickstart the weight-loss aspect of this choice.  This is 1500 calories, PERIOD…not net 1500, which is what I have done in the past, with almost no success.

Over the course of the first week, I have altered some of the plan.  For example, I put some shredded cheese in a salad (Effin YUM).  I also have had some products with gluten in them, but very few.  I have eaten absolutely no bread or products derived from bread.  For the most part everything is all-natural.  I have NOT gone organic, mind you.  That is far too expensive for my current financial situation, but perhaps I will soon.

OK, so how do I gauge my success after the first week+1?  First, let me note that this diet decision was derived from  a horrible scale reading the evening of Sunday, June 3rd.  Following a day of garbage food and limited activity, I weighed in at 219.8.  I understand that was not a realistic measurement as it was not at my normal weigh-in time (I weigh-in immediately in the morning), however the glaring realization that I could cross into the 220’s was palpable.  This morning, following eight days of continued exercise and eating right and successfully maintaining my diet, I weighed-in at 210.  That is a legitimate eight pounds lost in eight days, a pace that MANY dietitians and doctors would declare unhealthy.

There is no doubt that a pound a day is a dangerous pace of weight-loss.  I realize that.  I do not intend to continue that pace, but it is, historically, a successful way to kick start the process of transformation.  I will gauge my pace by a few different factors, but primarily by state-of-mind.  I am waking each day feeling rejuvenated.  After just one week, I no longer feel the need to nap mid-day.  Five days into the diet, I successfully completed a 62 mile bike ride, and did not feel  the regular crash the next day.  My legs hurt, but that was due to muscle fatigue, not nutritional lacking.  Best yest, I feel lighter, because I am.

The secret to success when it comes to weight-loss is the follow through.  You cannot be discouraged by the slow nature of shedding pounds, however, you ALSO cannot be overly elated by rapid loss, as you could very easily plateau quickly.

I shall not pretend to know what tomorrow will bring, but I am enjoying this process and will make every effort to follow through with it.

Ride Hard, Ride Long

June 5, 2012

DAY 1 of New “Diet” (The Success & Failure)

So I very quickly mentioned yesterday that I was going to start a new relationship with food.

I think it is safe to assume that the decision within itself is easy to make.  This is not completely true.  I have struggled with this for a while now.  After my success at diet two years ago in which I used some superior willpower to lose 65 pounds, I have assumed I could simply make the right decisions every day.  Instead, I have allowed soda and fast food to once again become a part of my weekly food intake.   As a matter of fact, within the last month, I would say I have consumed junk in excess of 5 out of 7 days each week.  I am a failure.  For all my previous success, I have gained over half the weight back.  Why?

The “WHY” of it all is surprisingly easy to declare.  It was life.  I let convenience and finances dictate what I ate.  Rather than plan and cook, I cut corners in the beginning, substituting fresh vegetables for frozen french fries.  After a little while longer, I talked myself into drinking “Zero Calorie” sodas.  Come to find out, they are just a gateway drink to FULL calorie sodas.  My biggest judgement failure came once the season turned and I started biking heavily again…I decided in my head, and convinced myself of the “fact” that I was burning enough calories, so I could eat some fast food with the kids.

Sunday I reached what I hope is my new bottom.

I started the new diet last night.  It isn’t a named program.  I am doing something fairly simple.  I am reducing Gluten based carbs, dairy, and taking a raw approach to fruits and vegetables.  I am not going to change anything with my workout routine, as that is already pretty substantial.

I will keep track of the progress here.  I have to admit though, that I felt a difference in my vigor this morning already.

Ride Hard, Ride Long

June 4, 2012

Starting Today

I have decided to completely change my relationship with food. I believe this is the only way to turn things around at this point. More information soon.

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April 16, 2012

A Quick Sponsoring Reminder

I have really been slacking on this…and I remember distinctly from least year how fast the time flies.

If you have anything to spare for an amazing cause, please give here.  I am riding a Century in September to support The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.  All the money raised stays locally in Central NY.

Please click the pic to go to my donation page.  Give whatever you can, as every dollar counts.

Ride Hard, Ride Long

Zero Octane