Friday, October 28, 2011

Keeping Up Connections

It feels good to know you've made a difference in someone's day. Maintaining family connections is important -- not only for your own well-being, but for the impact on those you love.

Over the weekend, Dave & I visited with elderly relatives.

Sometimes we get so busy in our day-to-day activities, and in keeping up with the demands of work and home, that our days are a blur. Modern technology has impacted face-to-face interactions too. With voicemail, email, texting, and online calendars jammed with appointments and commitments, it's with us always, right in the palms of our hands. These devices may have been developed to make our lives easier, but we feel compelled to respond immediately, so we end up more stressed than ever!

Every now and then, we should stop to take a quiet moment, and consider elder family members and others we know whose lives are not so intertwined with modern technology. Imagine what it might be like to have failing senses -- eyesight and hearing diminish, and oftentimes there are other health conditions in the mix as well. The world closes in as driving privileges are lost, friends pass away, opportunities for social activities are fewer.

On Saturday, we visited my grandfather who is 94 years old. He lives alone in a apartment. He was suffering from a migraine headache when we arrived, but still so happy to see us. We brought him donuts. We also changed the batteries in his hearing aids, read him his mail, and took out his garbage. We sat and talked. We had my 7-year-old daughter, Katie,  with us and she gave him a big, big hug!

On Sunday Katie went to her Dad's house. We were free to get in some cycling, and although the weather was a little on the cold side, we had made that our day to get out on the tandem and get some exercise. But where to ride?

Our visit on Saturday was very gratifying. In fact, we enjoyed the time spent as much as I'm sure my grandfather did. So on Sunday, we decided to visit David's elderly aunt in Rhode Island. It was 30 miles to see her and 30 miles back. We got on the tandem and made it our mission -- not only to gain the benefits of pedaling -- but to brighten her day!

The smile on her face made all the pedaling all the more worthwhile!

Small acts of kindness can mean a lot.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Taking Off the Training Wheels!

Over the weekend, we picked up where we left off a couple of weeks back in our efforts to teach my 7-year-old daughter, Katie, to ride her bicycle without training wheels. This has evolved into a longer-than-summer-long process for us. In fact, we have had several periods of on-and-off training sessions with Katie over the past three years or so.

For Katie, this has not been an easy process. But she has not given up -- she has fallen, we've wiped away the tears, and she has gotten back on the bike. She is very close now, but still there's progress to be made before she'll be free to ride independently!

There was a unique kind of bicycle race happening on Saturday, and David wanted to attend -- It was the CCNS Donut Derby at Devil's Hopyard State Park in East Haddam, CT. (DO-NUT Just Have One! The CCNS DONUT DERBY is like no other cycling race you've done this year. You get rewarded for eating Donuts. The more you eat the faster you will be! For every Donut you eat, 1 minute and 30 seconds is taken off your total time. The person with the fastest total time wins!) And since this event was held at a park, there was plenty of open space around, so we figured it would be an inspirational environment where we could work with Katie on her riding skills!

It proved to be an excellent spot for her to gain new skills! Not only was this a fun cycling event where David had the opportunity to chat it up with his racing buddies, but we were approached by two different people there for the event who are experienced teachers.  They were both super-nice to offer a bit of coaching for Katie.

David and I worked with Katie together for a stretch of time. Then I worked with her alone while David met up with some friends who had just finished racing. Our drills were for Katie to practice balance. She was on a gradual downhill and not pedaling -- working on rolling and staying upright only.

Then we were approached by a racer named Lars. He had just completed the race and was heading back to his car when he spotted us. He introduced himself and explained that he teaches children and even some adults how to ride a bicycle. His first bit of practical advice: Remove her knee pads and take off her pedals!

Lars went to locate the proper wrench to take off Katie's pedals. Upon his return, he demonstrated to Katie how to effectively "row" with her feet. He lowered her bicycle seat, and looking like a crab in the sand, he "paddled" with his feet to push off on the bicycle.

This worked better because now those pesky pedals were not in the way. It wasn't too long before Katie's confidence level was up, and she wanted her pedals put back on. But as it turned out, with pedaling in the mix, the whole combination of new skills was too much.

A mom with her young son were nearby. She was on roller blades, and her child who was just 4-years-old, was riding a small bicycle without training wheels! Katie seeing this little boy going so fast on his bike gave her reason to believe it was possible for her to do it too!

The young mom was great with Katie. She asked Katie if she would like if she acted as a guide from behind and she would roll along with her while Katie attempted to pedal. This went on for a while and Katie made more improvement, but she fell twice. On the second fall, she cried. I gave her a hug, wiped the tears, and we gave her a break. That was a lot of concentration and effort, and she was clearly tired.

On our way back home, we passed a bicycle shop, so we decided to stop. The lady on the roller blades suggested to us that Katie's bicycle might be just a little too small for her. Since we had purchased her bike at a yard sale last year for just a few dollars, we thought that browsing new bikes might also help to give Katie a sense of added excitement for this learning process. After all, Christmas is coming up soon!

The following morning, Katie and I went out to the driveway together. She asked for the pedals to be removed again. Dave removed them and we worked on perfecting balance once again. We told Katie if she can ride on her own by Christmastime, a brand new bicycle could be hers!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Exercise & Finding Motivation... When biking isn't always an option

Whenever I have an opportunity to get on the tandem, I jump at it! I am excited and happy about getting out and getting the exercise. The whole experience, with the easy flow of conversation between us, the sunshine and the wind, and the changing scenery from turn-to-turn makes for an enjoyable adventure -- time after time!

When I have an opportunity to ride my single bicycle, but David isn't available, I enjoy that too. But it requires somewhat more motivation. I know I will have to prepare my own route, and I anticipate the hills with a hint of anxiety. I'm not so used to shifting on my own. And, I must keep my eyes more glued to the road, without soaking in the changing scenery quite as much.

It's late October and the riding season is closing in on us. The days are shorter and colder.

On days when the weather isn't cooperating or it's suddenly dark out when I finally have some time available, I need to resort to Plan B. Why is it that I have such great difficulty with my Plan B options?

I have a gym membership. But the gym is 45 minutes away. It was great when I was previously employed nearby.  I would get out of work and go. But now, there is a drive to consider -- 45 minutes there, an hour class plus changing time, and 45 minutes back home. Well that's a 3-hour commitment.

There are a few options that are closer, mostly evening fitness classes held at local school gymnasiums. But then I think, "Why should I spend the money for those classes when I have a great gym membership?"

I do have an elliptical machine in the basement. I feel super relaxed afterward, and I wonder why I sometimes dread getting on it beforehand. Maybe it's because I have so much to get done -- either with the house or my computer work upstairs. I find myself weighing the value of time spent this way... or that.

Then, even if it is getting a bit dark outside, I can always take a walk. It's not a bad option, and it's good for me because my doctor told me that even with all the cycling I do, the reason behind the stall in my weight loss is because my body is "used to the movement of cycling." Apparently, I need to mix it up.

I am also considering Yoga classes for the winter season. There is a great studio about a 15-minute drive from our home. They have evening classes David and I could both take. However, they charge a $15 per-person drop-in fee. Hmmmm... that's $30 for both of to attend a single class.

There is another option available -- a drop-in yoga class at a different studio, about 20 minutes away from our home. Their charge is just $5 per class. That's affordable. But those classes are held on two weekday mornings. That's time out of work. And David would not be able to go at those times. So, I would need to motivate myself to get there.

Our bicycle club does offer some wintertime group activities that we are interested in trying this year -- cross country skiing and snowshoeing. However, if they do these on a Saturday, I have my 7-year-old daughter with us, and I'd need to find childcare. That creates another dilemma -- if I have my daughter on Saturdays and she is with her father on Sundays, then I really should find some kind of activity that we can do together to get her involved in as well for Saturdays. After all, we have Sundays to ourselves.

We tried indoor roller skating with her. It was a decent workout that was a change of pace. Katie likes it. But Dave & I did were not comfortable in the skate rentals, and we were not loving the loud, rap-style hip-hop music either. We put in a special request for some of our old favorites, but the young lady we asked was unable to find alternate tunes. After circling the rink so many times, we were mildly bored within about 45 minutes time.

Downhill skiing. Now THAT is something we have all enjoyed in the past! Problem there is the cost. It's way too steep for our budget.

Still considering the options. I know for sure that if I don't find some kind of exercise to do on a regular basis, I will gain weight over the winter.

Monday, October 17, 2011

We're Getting Faster!

The corn fields have been chopped down, the trees are shedding their leaves, and the days are shorter with the sun setting down on the horizon a whole lot sooner than it did just a few short weeks ago. It's mid-October and the humidity is gone, but the winds are up. The temperature is comfortable for cycling, and we are faster than ever!

I'm not sure if it's the comfortable climate or the threat of darkness closing in on us... or maybe it's just that we have six or more months of regular cycling invested to this point in 2011, but Dave & I were averaging over 17 mph on tonight's 23 mile ride -- that is until we reached the elevation point of our very own road home! That measly 4% climb brought our over avrage speed for the ride to 16.99. Rats!!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Our Cycling Honeymoon Adventure - Part 1

While we were way too busy experiencing our honeymoon for me to blog about it then, I wanted to post about our experience. As we had the time of our lives, we also learned a great deal, and we met incredible and inspirational people!

The idea of  having a honeymoon centered around our favorite activity of cycling came to us almost a year prior. But the reality of the whole trip came together just a few days before we left!

Dave & I are optimists and dreamers. We are on numerous mailing lists for bicycle adventure tours. We page through  pages of glossy images within the catalogs we receive in the mail. Those vacations offer structured days away in lovely and far-away places. They sometimes included meals, group tours, SAG support and lodging. They costs thousands -- per person.

We saw one such get-away to Napa Valley in California. It looked amazing and sounded wonderful. We were exited about the idea. But we knew we could not afford such a trip.

As we thought about our honeymoon options ~ even discussing whether we could afford to get away at all ~ I wondered, if we could physically get ourselves to a destination and ride our bicycle on our own, maybe we could do it without a Bicycle Tour Company, and save a lot of money.

I researched sites like Trip Advisor to find out what it would cost for lodging in the San Francisco area. And then, I recalled a website I learned about through other cyclists, Warm I joined and made contact with several host cyclists living near our destination. Some were not able to host within our time period or had work obligations, minimal accommodations, or cats (I'm allergic).... but many of those who responded were very helpful.

We learned that (Yes!) there was a way we could travel and actually find lodging for free! What's even better about that is that we would have an opportunity to get acquainted with locals -- locals who are into cycling (as we are)-- and with knowing locals there is a distinct advantage over traveling as a tourist. We learned how to best spend our time, the most suitable cycling routes, where the great little bicycle shops are located, and where the stars hang out! (Although we weren't on the lookout for sightings of the rich and famous, we actually spent our first two night in a home owned by George Lucas, and we chit-chatted with waitresses who had served him, Ron Howard, and Robin Williams!)

Once our lodging was set -- the first two nights in San Anselmo with a lovely retired couple who are living an active life of adventure together that most of us can only dream about -- and the remaining time with a couple around our age (mid 40's) living in Pinole, who had actually taken two years off from their careers for a cycling adventure of their own on a tandem from Alaska all the way down to Chile!! Absolutely amazing people!!

Our next hurdle was our tandem. After all, the whole purpose of this honeymoon adventure for us is to be able to experience our destination together on our tandem! We've heard horror stories of others who have traveled with their bikes. And ours, is a very long bicycle. A 10-year-old Burley Duet. Oversized. Heavier than most.

I researched the possibility of renting a tandem upon our arrival. I did find a touring company that was willing to accommodate our special request of simply renting us a bicycle for two. David Blue from GoTandems! was great to talk with us in depth and cater to our needs. However, when we added up the daily cost of renting ($89) with their delivery fee ($300 to drop the bike off to us and pick it up later), we seriously considered traveling with our own bike. We weren't sure if it would save us money, but at least that way, we knew we would be on a familiar and comfortable ride.

The Eastern Tandem Rally was held in August at UConn, and we took part. It was a blast for us to be involved and amazing to see over 100 tandems taking off for a mass start that weekend too! As part of the activities, the ETR held a swap meet. There we met a couple who was selling a large tandem case for travel. That was a wonderful thing for us, and at just the right time! For $20 the case was practically given to us. All we had to do was travel to New Hampshire to pick it up. Don and Carolyn from Salem, NH, were just two of the many generous people we have met along the way who have helped to make our dream vacation a reality!!

More to come...

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Sharing in the pain -- and pleasure!!

Dave & I enjoy riding along with other cyclists. We like meeting up with others, sharing in good conversation, and oftentimes -- sharing in the pain!

We've especially loved two recent rides we've participated on with the newly formed Connecticut Tandem Club. Those rides were fantastic -- not only because they were well planned routes -- but we had an opportunity to ride with other couples who are also experiencing some of the unique features of tandem riding. One of the most obvious issues happens when we are with fellow cyclists who are on single bikes: They pass by us going uphill and we pass by them going downhill!

Our other favorite group of people we like to ride with are the Thread City Cyclists out of Windham, CT. Joining them does require that Dave & I drive 45 minutes or so to the starting point, but it gives us exposure to other roads and the social connections we cherish.

Because we have my 7-year-old daughter with us on Saturday mornings, we missed a lot of TCC group rides this past summer. My daughter has Sundays with her father, so Dave & I will usually plan a nice long route for ourselves then. This weekend, Doug, a fellow TCC member posted through their email list that he was looking for some company if anyone was free on Sunday and wanted to ride.

Dave & I had just mapped out a 60-ish mile ride for ourselves from our home in Sterling, CT to Mystic. Mystic is a lovely area with many scenic roads by the sea. We invited Doug to join us!

Doug had not been riding for a 3-week period of time due to a back injury. However, we agreed to keep a reasonable pace and take it easy. I hadn't ridden in a week myself, between a few days of straight rain and a lack of free time with my daughter being in my care , so I was happy to agree to the relaxed pace too! The plans were set.

Doug posted our ride to the TCC email list and we had another rider, Dave S. join us too!

The guys met up with us at our home and we departed. The weather was sunny and spectacular. I believe it hit 85 degrees or so (unusual warmth!) and the foliage of October in New England is absolutely gorgeous! We throughly enjoyed this ride from start to finish, and I believe our fellow riders did too -- in spite of their brief instances of self-doubt on the mostly uphill return ride. : )

Dave S. can celebrate having successfully completed his longest ride yet, which made it a century weekend for him -- since he had ridden over 40 miles with TCC riders on that Saturday.  And Doug discovered that even after 3 weeks off from cycling, he was able to tackle 64 miles!! All-in-all, a spectacular and memorable day of  riding!

Dave S. -- still smiling near the end of Sunday's 64 mile ride!

Monday, October 3, 2011

A Very Happy Birthday!!

Connecticut Tandem Club Ride from Storrs, 10/2/11

Yesterday was David's 48th birthday! And it was fantastic!!

It started off looking like questionable weather, very cloudy and even a little rainy. But we put our vote of confidence with the television weatherman, as he predicted that the clouds would part and sunshine would peek through within an hour or two!

A little after 8 a.m. we had our minivan all packed with our tandem, helmets, gloves, cycling shoes, food -- and my 7-year-old daughter, Katelyn. She was going to her father's house, so we dropped her off on our way to Storrs. The sweetest thing was her wish to David to "Have a Happy Birthday!" as she hopped out of the van. She had given him a beautiful painting she made for his birthday the night before, but it was so very special that she remembered and acknowledged the significance of this Sunday without a single reminder on his actual birthday date!

On our way from there, the sky was looking considerably brighter over the hills ahead of us! David was so joyful about that, as it was looking to be a lovely Autumn day.

We arrived and met up with several other riders. We went 36 miles in all, with a surprise stop at the Coventry Farmers Market, and a final gathering afterward at the UConn Dairy Bar for ice cream.

The Farmers' Market was impressive! It was larger than most I've visited in Connecticut. (In California, we stopped at one that was huge in comparison!) We were there for about a half hour, which was quite enjoyable. We ran into a few familiar faces and also chatted with other attendees who were happy to recommend some of the creative food offerings which included gourmet pizza with toppings such as kale and butternut squash!

The ride itself was pretty easy-going aside from two flat tires which both happened just after the first five miles or so and were fixed quickly. Although the roads had spots of wetness and a few muddy puddles, as the day progressed, it became sunny and dry, with an Autumn crispness in the air -- perfect conditions for cycling! For the most part, we stayed together as a group and shared in our excitement for the rolling hills.

We took a group shot at the end of the ride and then regrouped at the dairy bar. The ice cream there is homemade, and that clearly came through in tasting! I had a scoop of Coffee Expresso Crunch (coffee ice cream with chocolate coated espresso candy) and it was very creamy and intense in flavor.

Our group gathered outside at a picnic table and everyone burst into song to wish David a "Happy Birthday!" He was pleasantly surprised. We sat for a while in the sunshine. We couldn't have hoped for a better day!