Some exciting news to report from our Team Standing Cyclist camp! Early in 2013, encouraged by a handful of interested supporters, I had begun compiling my various Standing Cyclist trip notes and soon after organized them into a simple manuscript. The content developed as part adventure-log, part memoir with regards to my own personal struggle with Allergic Asthma.
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.
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
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.
It’s early morning, 5am. It’s still dark and the air is cold. A few bites of an energy bar and I’m off to battle the rolling hills, rain and the skunks and other little critters creeping around the narrow roadside shoulders. Sound familiar? Not to me. I don’t do mornings. Never had and probably never will. But many cyclists do. What makes us different? What fuels some of us to rise early and others to sleep in and ride later? Why do some of us choose to race toward a finish line, while others tour along perfectly content with passing scenery. How bad do you want that personal best? How bad do you want to win? More importantly, why? I used to think I rode for fun, adventure, the physical challenge, the sense of accomplishment, the camaraderie, and for my overall health and well-being. To help control my stress level, weight, and my allergic asthma. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. Well, not my entire story. There’s one more reason I have spent my life training, riding, building bikes, and touring. My Ego. Yes, my BFF and I have traveled the world together, through thick and thin, wind and snow, from the Rockies to Iceland. So much time and so many miles, that I began to take him for granted. Until, one day recently, on a long 90 mile “seatless” tribute ride, when I saw him for what he really is and left him behind. Well, tried at least. He was a tough one to shake off my wheel. At times, when he was out of sight, I felt terribly alone and exhausted. I never realized just how much he fueled my efforts, until he was gone. It was actually frightening at times. After a long while, I became more comfortable with being truly alone and pushing myself forward by sheer will, belief in my purpose, and memories of why I started to ride in the first place, way back when. Suddenly, things got much simpler both on the road and in my head. Is this Soul Work, I wondered. My years of meditation, both on and off the bike, were telling me this was my true nature. Wow, enlightenment. Wink, wink. Very cool. I rolled back to my car in the dark at the end of that long, chilly 12 hour day. I, the Standing Cyclist, had cycled standing up without a seat/seatpost for 90 miles. I was flying high, feeling free and loving life without my old friend. As I was gearing down and locking my bike up to my roof racks, a New York State Trooper pulled up to check on me. I explained what I had done and it blew his mind. He asked more questions and I provided the answers, with speed and excitement. As he drove off, I realized I wasn’t alone on the dark roadside shoulder. Yep, you guessed it. My ugly BFF was back. Ah life, a work in progress…
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!
- How green is Greenland? (gadling.com)
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.
- Cycling Up 70 Percent on London's Bike Superhighways (streetsblog.net)
- Livable, Bikeable Pittsburgh: The Streetfilms Tour (streetfilms.org)
- The bike snob's guide to cycling tribes (guardian.co.uk)
- The True Spirit of Standing Cyclist (standingcyclist.wordpress.com)
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.
- ElliptiGO for City Commuting or Exercise Outdoors (treehugger.com)
- The most popular cycling stories in 2010 (eta.co.uk)
- Going all terrain with the Hanebrink electric bike (gizmag.com)