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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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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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The True Spirit of Standing Cyclist

Cyclists come in all shapes and sizes, and from all walks of life. Some of us shred, some meander, others camp. For true self-propelled fanatics, it doesn’t much matter which flavor is favored. In the end, we are all simply cyclists. Through the years, I’ve enjoyed labeling myself a downhill mountain biker, bikepacker, racer, adventure cyclist, roadie, bicycle tourist, and most recently…a Standing Cyclist. A riding style I sometimes catch heat for practicing. For those of you who do not know me personally, and do not follow my Standing Cyclist web site, this may sound a bit confusing. To set the record straight, let’s start with the basics. I had been riding since I was 9 and loved every form of the sport. I rode hard and frequently and I was bulletproof. I rode for the personal rush and reward of it. For me, it was a self-oriented activity. It was a rush, a freedom, and all about…me. Then, in my late thirties, I began to lag. My heart and lungs were working overtime, with not much to show for it. Then came my first attack and the brick wall behind it. I was soon diagnosed with Allergic Asthma and my wheels slowed to a halt. Many months, pounds and meds later, I was totally wrecked. A pathetic echo of my former self. After about two years of doctor appointments, “poor me” syndrome, and damaging side effects from powerful asthma meds, I hit bottom. On the bounce back up, I knew I had to do something special both mentally and physically. I turned to natural mind/body remedies and focused back on my true passion of cycling. It was always my best medicine. First, I tried to ride as I always had. In a seated, hunched over position. Between my weight gain and lung issues, I literally couldn’t breathe well enough to propel myself forward and still avoid an attack. As a seasoned product developer, I tapped my experience and intuition and began modifying my bike. Nothing helped until…I removed my seat and seatpost, and raised my handlebars. This opened up my diaphragm and allowed me to use gravity more to my advantage. A few miles led to ten miles which later led to overnights and eventually international bicycle tours. I just kept standing. Many pounds less, with a rock solid positive attitude, I became The Standing Cyclist. Somewhere along the way though I realized I was no longer the same cyclist, or person, I was before my diagnosis. I wasn’t enjoying the rush and attention I was receiving while out on the road, saddleless. I was changing. I found I was now riding more for the pure experience rather than for the achievement and bragging rights over beers and pizza. I no longer tracked my miles as carefully as I tracked my attitude, road relationships, lessons learned and the sharing of my asthma experiences with children and adults with similar challenges. I became more self-aware, grateful and like many other “bouncebacks” I decided to redirect my energy, from my own ego, to the needs of others. I began riding to raise awareness and funds for special causes such as Stand Up To Cancer and the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation. I founded www.teamstandingcyclist.com to encourage other cyclists to train for, participate in, and even organize bicycle fundraising events. Now I could redirect the attention I was receiving, while training and touring in my standing position, to more important pursuits. I had found my new niche and I felt, and feel, better than ever. Through it all, I still admit, it’s all fueled primarily by my raw, child-like love of a bicycle. Any type of bicycle. The icing on the cake is doing what I love for causes that can benefit from how I do it, and that is the true spirit of Standing Cyclist. For me, it just doesn’t get any better than that. Peace.

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Seatless Cycling – Revolution or Oddity

2010 brought us several new developments in cycling. Advances in electric bike tech and suspension systems have led to more options for two-wheel enthusiasts. A lesser known movement is the seatless or standing design. As a seasoned “seatless” bicycle tourist (www.teamstandingcyclist.com) and product developer, the are two designs in particular that interest me. The Elliptigo features an elliptical style propulsion system, much like the exercise equipment used at your local gym, which is appealing to many runners as well as cyclists. The other style is called the Dreamslide. This cycle looks and functions more like a traditional bicycle, but offers an innovative drivetrain with independent cranks and a coupling system with variable lever arms. From an engineering viewpoint, both styles appear progressive but have been met with mixed reviews. The pros include zippy handling, less fatigue and reduced back and knee stress during extended use. The cons circle mostly around the missing seat, a “silly” riding profile, limited off-road capabilities, reduced reliability and high relative cost. I would recommend forming an opinion based upon your particular riding style. If you are a long haul bicycle tourist, hopelessly attached to your perfectly worn twenty-year old Brooks leather saddle, these machines may not be for you. However, if you appreciate technological advancements in cycling mated up with new and exciting ways to work your legs on two wheels, you may have found your future rig. As for me, the Standing Cyclist, I see value in both tradition and progress. Is seatless a revolution or simply an oddity? I think you know where I STAND on the subject.

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