Allergic Asthma

65_RedRoses: Discovering Warrior Sage Eva Markvoort

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We’ve all been there. It’s the end of a long day, everyone’s asleep, and it’s time to thumb through new movies streaming on Netflix or available on iTunes. There’s always that one compelling movie that begs to be clicked on. Still, you pass it by, night after night. Once in a while you may click through for more information, but you never end up watching it. You’re just not feeling the title, promo photo, or subject matter itself. It’s a little too heavy or hits too close to home. Then, one night, something deep inside tells you to go for it, or rather, makes you go for it. You click on the play symbol without even realizing it and the results are life changing. For me, that night was last night and that movie was called 65_RedRoses. 65_RedRoses is a very true story. A documentary. A work of art. A teaching. It’s a very real representation of perhaps the most challenging period in the lives of three special young women, all suffering from Cystic Fibrosis (CF). This is not Reality TV, this is reality. A raw view into the out-of-control chest congestion and lengthy hospital stays that often accompany CF. In 65_RedRoses, Eva Markvoort, part warrior, part sage, exposes her great pain and vulnerability but also her great zest for life. She opens up and extends her creative mind and adventurous heart for us all to experience. We are brought deep within her inner circle to ride a roller coaster of emotions.

Eva, along with her loving and supportive family and two fellow CF fighters Meg Moore (aka megmucus) and Kina Boyce (aka Spirit_of_Kina), helps us to better understand this disease and the organ donation process associated with a skillful but risky double lung transplant. A process full of on-call waiting, waiting and more waiting. Through online journal entries and footage shot during excruciating moments, we share in their struggles, join along in their friendships and cry with relief when they shine. Shine, a good word. Even in her worst condition, Eva couldn't help but shine on family, friends and everyone else who crossed her path.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with CF, in short simple terms, it’s a disease that causes heavy mucus to accumulate in the lungs and other organs, eventually impacting the digestive system. Among other things, this results in severe breathing issues, infections and fatigue. Treatments are improving and the miracle of organ donations and lung transplants may extend a Cystic Fibrosis patient’s life, however, as the American Lung Association puts it, “People with CF have a shorter-than-normal life expectancy.” That means, that as of today, there is no known cure for Cystic Fibrosis.

Through my Standing Cyclist projects and my own Allergic Asthma challenges, I was somewhat familiar with CF, but my understanding was very limited. I only knew that CF patients had trouble breathing. That’s all. But it’s far more than that. During one of my adventure cycling fundraising trips, I had the opportunity to meet a child with Cystic Fibrosis. I chatted, trailside, with his parents. I listened to their story, impressed by their positive attitude and strength. In that moment, I got to know them, but I never really got to know CF first hand. Not until now. Not until I clicked on that one movie I had been passing on for many months.

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In June 2014, Eva’s 65-year old father Bill Markvoort participated in a 9-day cycling event called GearUp4CF. He rode in honor of his daughter and to raise awareness and funds for the CF cause. This was Bill’s second time riding in this particular Cystic Fibrosis event. His first ride back in 2008 was a celebration of Eva’s successful double lung transplant. Eva later joined the team as chief cheerleader while still recovering from surgery. This year, Bill and 21 other team riders completed the 1,200km route from Vancouver to Banff, Canada on June 29th. This was the 9th annual GearUp4CF. This year’s event was a great success, thanks to Bill, his team members and the many generous people who donated. Over $370,000 was raised for CF research and care.

While here with us on this Earth, Eva wanted to make a difference. She wanted to raise awareness for CF and for the organ donation process. As it turned out, she accomplished this, but so much more as well. Beyond the 1 million plus dollars raised as a result of Eva’s story, she has made an even deeper impact on millions of people. Anyone who sees this movie, anyone with even the slightest hint of empathy and compassion within them, will see life differently going forward. Eva’s challenges will inspire young people to never take their ability to dance, work, study, laugh, love and breathe for granted. Parents will hug their children just a little tighter and a bit longer because of her willingness to share both her pain and her magical smile. For generations to come, Eva’s perseverance, potent triumphs and her brilliant shine will remind us all to live this magnificent life to its very fullest, each and every moment, with every single breath we take.

You can find the film on iTunes, purchase it via the official movie website, or stream it via Netflix. To learn more about Eva, 65_RedRoses The Movie, her dad’s tribute ride and CF, visit:

65_RedRoses Movie - http://65redroses.com/

More About Cystic Fibrosis - http://www.cff.org/

Eva’s 65_RedRoses Online Journal - http://65redroses.livejournal.com/

Bill Markvoort’s GearUp4CF Ride - http://65for65roses.blogspot.ca/

Article - Bill Markvoort Rides for Daughter Eva - http://www.newwestnewsleader.com/news/252329451.html

Great Strides – CFF Walking Events - http://fightcf.cff.org/site/PageServer?pagename=gs_homepage

The Longest Wheelie

Many of us have fond memories of childhood bicycle antics, way back when life was far more simple. Most of mine include three of my closest childhood friends, Brian Salerno, Joe Russo and Bryan Stanton. There were mud bogs, obstacles, jumps, demolition derbies, bloody wounds and epic daylong rides, all on homemade BMX and road bikes, and gutsy choppers with fork extensions pressed loosely into place. I can still remember us modifying my Huffy LeGrande ten-speed, with its thin little tires and delicate white paint, then ripping through our local forest long before the term mountain biking was coined. We were all doing it, although we didn't really understand what "it" exactly was. A rolling freedom from grownups and chores I suppose. It just felt right. It was creative, challenging and fun, and we couldn't get enough of it. It was perfect. It was magical. All of it. Liquid Wrenching rusty bolts, muddy trail fixes, spray can paint jobs, trading stem and handlebar pads, but most of all, our friendships. Friendships based around carefree cycling, and the challenge and peace of the outdoors. Expressing ourselves on two wheels at a time when drivers’ licenses and cars were still far out of reach.

Sure there were others that came and went but we four were at the core of this bicycle daydream, and at the center of the center was the most talented dreamer of us all, Bryan Stanton. Bryan rode the fastest, jumped the steepest ramps, built the coolest bikes and pulled the longest wheelies. Bryan was also the ladies’ man (boy) of the group. The envy of us all. Most importantly, he was a great friend who would do anything for his buddies.

Now fast forward...well let me see...thirty-six years or so. I find myself traveling to the famed Allegrippis Trail System in West-Central Pennsylvania for a much needed solo cycling getaway and potential tribute ride. I had just completed a local fundraising cycling event that morning, riding my modified bicycle for ninety minutes standing up, without a saddle, for Safe Haven of Pike County. I train and tour this way for fun, for the added challenge, often as a tribute, and to raise awareness for special causes under the umbrella of Team Standing Cyclist. Five hours and three cups of coffee later, I needed to find a spot to camp and get geared up for the next several days of riding. I didn't have a definitive goal or time limit for my Standing Allegrippis Epic. Deep inside I felt this should be a tribute ride of some sort but I was exhausted and unfocused before even beginning, and decided to roll on loosely, remain open and just experience...the experience. Just ride in the present moment and see what happens, I thought. The next three days would prove both grueling and liberating. Some locals I met along the way called it crazy. Riding a single-speed, fixed-gear, seatless bicycle on the roller-coaster trails of Allegrippis. Huh? One brake, skinny tires and no coasting. No rest, much like trail running. In fact I measure my "rolling" (a cross between running and cycling, as I've come to call it) in running terms. At Allegrippis, I would end up rolling the equivalent of three one-half marathons off-road, over thirteen miles, each day for three consecutive days. I had never attempted something quite like this. By the morning of day two, I didn't know what would break first, my frame, my rims, my body or my brain. Would my Allergic Asthma take me out? Fear started to play into the mix. There were some long, gut wrenching sections where I seriously doubted my ability and stamina. I had considered bailing out and heading home more than once.

That first day, I still hadn't decided quite how to view this trip. I considered possible tributes and came up with nothing that stuck. Later about halfway into day two, however, I began to just let go. I decided to stop searching for a tribute, and simply let the tribute find me, if it was even meant to. As it turned out, it did. It wasn't a sudden epiphany. It was more of a gradual unfolding. A feeling of fun and friendship slowly surrounded me. I was deeply inspired, as I was when I was ten. I found myself thinking back on Bryan Stanton and what he had indirectly taught me about cycling, adventure, perseverance, camaraderie, courage, strength and freedom. I wasn't trying to think about anything at all, except maybe not flying off the trail into a tree. The right thoughts and feelings were finding me as I suspected they eventually would after finally letting go. What I didn't expect was that I would be sharing this particular epic with the bold essence of my old friend. I couldn't resist my wishful thinking. I imagined us flying between those trees and over those roots and rocks, shoulder to shoulder, wheel to wheel, just having a blast. He would have loved that forest, the winding trail, the amazing view of Raystown Lake, the sheer speed, and I suspect my ridiculous lime green seatless fixed-gear bike. Whatever fear and doubt I had experienced earlier, was now long gone.

For the remainder of that trip, both under the stars back at camp and riding more trails come sunrise, I was honored with the memory and energy of a childhood inspiration. Bryan inspired me at a young age to ride and live fearlessly, by riding and living fearlessly himself. As a tribute to him, I will try to do the same each day and along every mile of my own journey. Both as a child and a man, he inspired many others in the way he carried himself, remained positive through adversity, and served others. Even through the hardest of hard times, through chronic illness, pain and exhaustion, he wouldn't complain. It simply wasn't his way. Bryan has since moved on to a bigger place.  I believe it’s a place where the trails are fast, smiles are plentiful, and wheelies go on forever.

Practicing Patience: Touring Iceland Standing Cyclist Style

Back in 2006 while bouncing back from severe allergic asthma attacks and a 2-year back injury, my worn spirit began to once again crave adventure. I was always interested in polar regions and thought how challenging it would be to journey on a seatless cycling expedition in chilling, remote locations such as Antarctica or up north above the Yukon. After researching the possibilities for several months, Greenland became the obvious choice. The old military base and permafrost trails would be a perfect combination of isolation and social experience. I put a plan together and began my training. The universe had other plans for me, though. When it came time for me to purchase my airline tickets, I was informed that due to a lack of interest, flights from the US to Northwest Greenland (my target destination) were no longer available. I would have to fly to Greenland via Europe at four times the cost. This was not an option. I went back to the drawing board and revisited my second choice, Iceland. It was an easy decision and one I would not regret. I've always felt that my choice of bicycle touring destinations held great meaning in my life, at that particular point in time. This trip would be no exception. Iceland proved to be a brutal test of my ability to travel alone, in severe weather, in my typical seatless, standing cycling position. Everything was difficult. Even simple things like cooking (in 50 mph winds) resulted in great frustration. My patience was stretched thinner than ever before. In fact, patience soon became the theme or lesson of this trip. For me, this was the ultimate practice. My lack of patience has always been my greatest personality challenge. This trip isolated me, slowed me down, and gave me no choice but to look inside, remain calm, and be very patient. In terms of difficulty, one day stands out the most. I had to cover 40 miles seatless over a mountain pass in strong winds, with gear. For hours, gusts would toss me off my bike and into a ditch along the roadside. Each time I had to regroup, reorganize my panniers, remount and get rolling once again into the high winds and driving horizontal rain. The scrapes and blood stains would remind me of each battle lost to gravity. Talk about patience. After a while I was humbled by mother nature's attempt to demolish me physically and mentally. In fact, eventually I truly enjoyed the challenge I was presented with. Patience was no longer an issue. I had passed my test, for that day anyway. So remember, when picking a destination and building a game plan for your next bikepacking adventure, consider the bigger lessons looming in the background. You never know what you may learn along the way. Happy trails! 

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