bikepacking

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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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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StandingCyclist now on Twitter!

Well it's about time, right? I had been getting a lot of flack about not Tweeting during my seat-less, fundraising adventures. You can follow me at @standingcyclist beginning this holiday season. Mostly training and researching new trips right now, but you never know what interesting tidbit will pop up. Happy Holidays everyone! Peace.