Mountain Biking

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.

Exercise as Medicine: Asthma Management, Cycling and Adventure Touring

With modern medicine promoting itself during almost every commercial break, many of us tend to forget that simple has its place within our circle of wellness. I'm not saying that pills do not save lives but it is becoming more clear everyday that pills are often incorrectly prescribed and misused. I, for one, remember a time when the words "rare" and "minor" were used to describe side-effects. More often these days we see "common" and "serious" popping up in fast talking summaries and small print. Again, not to knock modern, traditional medicine. I believe there is a place for many different methods of healing...as long as they address root causes rather than mask symptoms. Providing they add more healing power than side-effects. Case in point. I am asthmatic. Specifically, I suffer from Allergic Asthma which means environmental triggers such as chemical vapors, pet dander, and pollen can significantly impair my ability to breathe. This is usually accompanied by severe sinus pain and pressure (sinusitis). The most common treatment for this sort of discomfort includes pills and inhalers that open up the lungs. I myself have used many of these to control my allergic asthma. For me, however, the best medicine was a bit more...organic. My body and often my mind did not react well to manufactured medication. As a life long cyclist,  I reenlisted exercise, in the form of cycling and later adventure cycling/touring, to rediscover my own personal wellness. Exercise became my primary source of healing, along with dietary changes, meditation and the more spiritual side of cycling, Adventure Touring. I found this combination of effort most effective for me. I not only began healing my body, but my mind and spirit as well. As my energy increased, my passion for cycling returned. This passion eventually transformed into www.TeamStandingCyclist.com and fueled my seatless "cycling for a cause" activities. Often when out on a charity bike tour, I meet individuals, parents, and children who become confused when they learn of my asthma. I hear comments like "You shouldn't be able to..." and "My doctor told me I would never..."  I take the opportunity to tell my story and provide a bit of hope. I am concerned that too many children are hearing the message that asthma is the end. I am proof that it can in fact be the beginning. Some simple requests to parents and doctors. Don't write us off...before we even get started. Don't drug us up...when drugs may not be the best solution. As for us, please take the initiative to learn about your own body and mind. Are you leading a healthy lifestyle? What environmental triggers are you sensitive to? How will you avoid them? Is your fitness level where it should be? Are you eating healthy foods? Do you have food allergies? Are you managing your stress level? Are you following your passions? First address what is right in front of you and within your control, before looking off into the distance for complex solutions. Use your intuition. Often the simplest solutions are our best solutions. I suspect that will remain true, always, no matter where technology takes us. Peace.

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The Inspiration Behind Cycling for a Cause

This past week I had the opportunity to go back and review an interview I did during my Pittsburgh to DC Standing Cyclist Mesothelioma Challenge Event in September of 2010. One section in particular stood out to me. At one point I stated that "we don't need to be afflicted with something to get involved and make a difference". I've since played that section over in my mind many times, to better understand exactly what I meant (I had just completed a 320 mi "seatless" bicycle tour on a single-speed, fixed-gear bike, for the cause and was a bit fried to say the least). I've revisited this subject with several supporters since and have decided to blog about this topic to add clarity and depth to my point. When it comes to supporting non-profit organizations, we tend to get involved because we ourselves or someone close to us has suffered from a related challenge. I believe this to be an important reason behind our actions and it should be encouraged whenever possible. But there are other, more subtle, reasons to get involved. I would like to encourage everyone, cyclists and non-cyclists alike, to consider the strangers you encounter on your life's journey and their challenges. Open your mind and hearts and consider how they inspire you. Imagine how you can get involved and make a difference in their lives, in your own unique way. Like the young person with a prosthetic leg you pass on the street. Perhaps you can get involved with CAF (the Challenged Athletes Foundation), a wonderful organization that helps physically challenged athletes pursue their passions. Consider the article you read about the visually impaired mountain bikers who stay on-track by reading the sounds reflecting off passing objects. You may be inspired to Google - blind mountain bikers - where you will discover the World Access for the Blind, an organization that hosts a special event called Mountain Biking with the Blind, that you can contribute to. You don't need to personally know a challenged individual or physically connect with a cause to "feel" something or to "do" something. Often, these random connections and amazing people I meet in passing are my greatest inspiration and fuel my adventures. Let's strive to open our eyes and see past our own lives. Then...get on your bike and ride! Make a positive difference in the world around you.

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