For the first time in a while... something to say

So it's been almost three months since I have written a post. Summer was a busy one.  I did some more traveling, going to back to Iowa a week after RAGBRAI for two Slightly Stoopid concerts and to see them (and visit with family) in Florida a few weeks later. Work has been keeping me very busy (and a bit stressed out) as well.  Due to this and just not having much to write about…  well, it's been a long time between posts.

I started this blog in 2010 to promote my intent to ride RAGBRAI 2011 and raise money for Stand Up to Cancer. Once RAGBRAI ended I pretty much abandoned the site. Last September I started it back up to keep people updated on what was going on with Billy Jo's health. It was simply too stressful for me to give updates over and over and over again, by phone, by email, by text, etc. Having a blog to post the updates made the best sense to me.

Shortly after I began doing that, I opened up about my feelings on the blog, and everything changed. Suddenly there were tens of thousands of unique visits to the site every month. I was receiving emails from people around the world in similar situations, thanking me for helping them.  I never thought of myself as the "writer" type, I never thought of myself as being in the position to help people, and was quite surprised at the response I received. Writing the blog ended up being helpful for me as well as others. Putting an end to bottling up my feelings and emotions has really helped speed up my healing process… I truly believe this.

Having said that… well... I have never been one that is comfortable "in the spotlight", so to speak. I prefer to just do my thing and go about life, not attracting attention to myself. That obviously took a hugely different direction beginning last September. In September I went from a fairly private life to a fairly public one. I found myself receiving a lot of emails, blog comments, and was even accepting Facebook friend requests from people I didn’t know and haven’t met, as long as they were friends with Billy Jo.  Had I just kept the posts to strictly updates about Billy Jo, these things wouldn’t have happened and the blog would have been dormant again by Christmas. But by me posting my feelings, I put myself in the spotlight.  I am not regretting the decision to do so, as I have helped others, and have helped MYSELF by doing it.

These posts I wrote on the blog were raw and organic- from the heart and not the head. Lately I feel like I have writer's block. I feel like I should be posting things, yet struggle to think of things to write about. I never started this blog to make money or run ads or anything. I started it to keep people updated on her condition and then to also share my thoughts and feelings of the situation. As a result, I didn't feel like I should, for lack of a better word, HAVE to post anything, especially if I didn’t have much to say. Additionally, it seemed that if I did such a thing- post for the sake of posting, I would keep myself in the spotlight I am not exactly comfortable in. Maybe that is a self-centered way to think. Maybe I have given myself this air of self-importance, and it doesn't really affect anyone if I do or do not post. I don't know the answer to this but I do feel this blog needs some sort of closure. I don’t feel right having my last post be that of the “I Stand For” pics from the end of RAGBRAI. It’s a great post which means a lot to me - I *did* ride for all those people - but doesn’t feel like a proper final post. 

I just want to "blend back into the background”. That being said, there's been more happening over the past months that I want to briefly mention.

I have a girlfriend :).  I wasn't looking for one, but like a lot in life, things happened, and for the first time in quite a long time, a thing happened in life that makes me very happy.  We are getting along great, spending a lot of time together, etc. I am meeting/have met a lot of her family.  Things are going very very well.  I feel fortunate that my foray back into dating after almost twenty years has been a wonderful experience. She is a genuinely nice, honest, and sweet girl.  Like me, she is not a “spotlight person”, so I won’t go into details (so no... there will be no 4,000 word biography or VH1 documentary film about her ;)  )

She was also was worried about how she would be portrayed by people. I understand this - this can't be an easy position to be in. It's not like I'm divorced.  I wasn't really prepared to say anything either so we kept things quiet, but then I began telling those closest to me about us. This of course still left a lot of people who don't know. 

I didn't like the self-imposed "hiding", but we both felt it was necessary. However, it caused times where I felt like I was cheating, and that couldn't be farther from the truth. I talked about this at length with my bereavement therapist and she agreed that I shouldn't have felt that way. 

We were getting along great and things got to the point where our relationship should be known. I was a little nervous at first at how the people I told would take the news. I considered the possibility of a person or two having an issue with this news, but I also considered that I lived most of my adult life not putting myself first. I was completely okay doing so, yet I also knew I wasn't going to continue doing so the remainder of my life. I am living my life for me now.  As it turns out, everyone I have told so far is happy for me/us, and I have told quite a few people… my family, some friends, and some of Billy Jo's family. 

The first thing Billy Jo said to me when I told her she was likely going into hospice if things didn't improve in that next 24 hours (yes, I was the one who had to tell her - and without any doctor there) was that she didn't want me to live the rest of my life alone, and that I was even young enough to spend twice as long with someone as I did with her. I don't think I ever posted about that on here. I told her to stop talking about these things, that it wasn’t over yet, but she wanted it to be perfectly clear to me that she didn't want me to be alone for the rest of my life after her death. It seemed at times that she was more concerned about me (finances, happiness, this...) than her own rapidly approaching mortality.  She had told me many times over the years to leave her- “I will understand - you didn't sign up for this type of life,” she’d say.  I always replied with a roll of the eyes and a "shut up" and as you know, I didn't leave her. I love her and I miss her. I still talk to her…. maybe not every day, but I still do. However, our relationship has changed, obviously, to a spiritual one. I don't really mean religious either, just spiritual. I have a feeling she is looking down on me and happy at how I have been doing, living my life.

To those of you who have followed this blog, reached out to me, and kept us in your thoughts and prayers, I cannot thank you enough.  To those of you whom I have helped with my blog, to those who may find it at some point down the road (I am not removing the site), let this post be another that brings you some hope. A year ago, I really REALLY did not know if I would be okay after Billy Jo's death. My future was uncertain. Yet nearly 11 months after her death,  I have discovered that as every day passes, life does indeed go on if you allow it to, and believe it or not, it can be a happy experience if you allow it to, as well.

Billy Jo made it very clear she wanted life to go on after she passed away. Not just for me, but for everyone's lives she touched. You have one life on this earth, and no one is guaranteed tomorrow. Go live it.


I Stand For...

I had an idea riding during one of the final days of RAGBRAI to go a little farther than just putting the names you provided me on my bicycle. I am peeling those labels off and if they stick I will put them all on a piece of paper and keep them with the other memorabilia from the week.  

I wore my Stand Up to Cancer biking clothes for the last day. The back of the jersey says "I Stand For" and there's a blank white box. Once I finished, I asked Dan to take a picture of my back as I lifted my bicycle on the shore of the Mississippi River.  

I then opened Photoshop and entered every name that was on my bicycle into that blank white box. and saved it as it's own file. This was a bigger and more time-consuming project than I thought it would be, but it's all done, and two weeks after the ride isn't *too* bad :)

Every file in this directory is lastname_firstname. Click the name, and then when the picture comes up, click the three dots in the lower right corner and select download. The resolution is high enough for printing photos if you like, as well.

Thanks again to Dan for being my photographer the whole week!!

RAGBRAI XLI Day 7: Fairfield to Ft. Madison

Well, I did it :)

I got an even earlier start than usual - we were all tired of RAGBRAI by Friday. The only reason I decided to do it again was because Dan and Tanya said they were going to be there the whole week and we were going to be in hotel rooms the entire time. I wasn't going to risk camping in miserable heat like 2011. Like I said, I like camping and I like bicycling. I don't like doing both in Iowa in July. But even then, seven different hotels in seven nights is pretty grating as well. Poor Dan did so much loading and unloading of the truck I'm surprised his back didn't go out!

So Friday night I decided to get as much done and ready for Saturday as possible, and hoped to leave by 5:15 or so to be able to start at 5:45, a full half an hour earlier than my norm. Well, I started at 5:47. Not too bad!!  

Saturday was windy out of the NW and surprisingly chilly. My Garmin thermometer read 48 degrees when I started.  Monday when I was riding it read 96. Two years ago the heat index was in the 110s a few days. I heard last year was even hotter. I wonder if this was one of the coolest days in RAGBRAI history. 

Early on, in the first mile or two, I felt immediate pain in my right knee. It must have been the cold because it went away, thankfully. After that went away I started hauling ass. My goal was to stop at roadside stands only, and blow through the towns, speeding up the day. There was 63 miles to do today with twice the hills of Friday. I wanted to finish by 11 so we could be headed home by noon. 

Apparently all the roadside stands take Saturday off, because there was barely any to choose from. I was feeling really good and the wind had switched north and I was on a good stretch of a southerly route so the tailwind gave me speed AND the right attitude for the day. By the time I stopped to eat something it was mile 31. I was halfway done. Heck, I had 21.7 miles done by 7am. I was moving at a very good clip for being solo (not in a paceline). The first 20 miles were a continuance of the flatness of Friday, meaning most of the hills I had to climb would be concentrated in the final half of the route. This didn't phase me at all. Not even when I saw a road sign telling me I was on an Iowa Historic Hills Scenic Byway. Not sure of the history part, but it was scenic and hilly. Again, I didn't even look at the climb page on the Garmin- just attacked every hill I came to. I was very happy my attitude change was still sticking.

When I stopped for food I was so happy that there was FINALLY corn on the cob. I saw none at all Thursday or Friday and it was infuriating. I wanted corn on the cob, dammit! So after eating the corn and an awesome breakfast burrito, I set off for the last half. I stopped a few times to take pics and once for a gatorade refill and a free banana at a roadside, but other than that, 20 miles went by quickly. The grueling part was I was headed due east now, and the winds were still straight north, leaving us to deal with quite a nasty cross-wind. 

Miles 15-35 or so were without a doubt the shittiest road conditions of the week. Just lots of cracks, potholes, and separation joints, jarring my already tired and achy body.  Luckily things turned around after that.

I stopped in the last pass-through town of the day to look at Mt. RAGBRAI, a literal mountain of bicycles. I took a few pics, put my jacket into my jersey pocket, and took off for the final nine miles. 

With about two miles to go I could see glimpses of the Mississippi RIver. One last long downhill into the valley, a trip through the downtown area, and there I was, finished! I looked down at my Garmin and was shocked to see my average speed was 18.2 (Starva has decided it was 18.1) . That's right, on day seven in a row of 50+ mile days I rode my fastest of the week. I finished at 9:45 and we were on the road before 11, the time I had hoped to finish by.

408.28 miles in seven days. Unlike 2011, I didn't break down and cry the last ten miles of this journey. Even though I didn't want to admit it, I think I knew back then that things were not good for Billy Jo. Just six weeks after I finished Billy Jo was in chemotherapy again, and for the last time.  A year after that she was in hospice. So my tears in 2011 were because deep down I knew the end was near. I like to think that this time marks the end of the first chapter of a new beginning.

I said it would be ten years (if ever) before I did RAGBRAI again and I'd need a hotel every night. Thanks to Dan's logistical miracles and him and Tanya's willingness to take a week off and spend it with me, in seven different hotel rooms, and transporting me all over the place, I decided that I would do it this year as both a memorial to Billy Jo, as a memorial/tribute to those whose names are on my bicycle, and as a way to raise even more money for Stand Up to Cancer. As of this writing, $15,817.40 has been raised since 9/30/10. Over $3,000 of it since I said I'd ride again this year. I cannot thank you enough for your generosity.

I will not be doing another RAGBRAI. I think twice is enough. Some people do it every year,  to some it is the only vacation they get all year and that's how they decide to spend it.  More power to them. I can see the allure of it, but there's a lot of world out there. I finally got a passport at 42 years of age, and there's still no stamps in it. No matter what way you do RAGBRAI, it is not cheap to do so. In 2014 I could ride across Iowa yet again, or I could maybe get that first stamp in my passport. It is an easy decision for me.

I will always leave my team page open, and maybe I'll do another cross state ride at some point. Just not Iowa :) - the state is beautiful, and after two trips across it at this pace I have still not met one mean or rude person from there, but my days of crossing it by bicycle are over.

Dan, Tanya, CJ - again... thank you so much. I am serious when I say that this would not have been possible without you. I simply would not have done it. I had a great yet exhausting time, and I hope you did too. 

Here's the flickr set for Day 7. Dan has a lot of pictures to sort through and I will make another blog post once I have them and they're on flickr. I will also be updating the RAGBRAI 2013 page with a "by the numbers" type of post, including updating the food/drink tally for each day. Yes, I wrote it all down, and it was A LOT. Despite that, I lost 4.7 lbs this time, a much better outcome than when I actually GAINED 3 lbs in 2011 after 490 miles on my bike. 

Also, I had a GoPro take a picture every 10 seconds I was on the bicycle, across the entire state. I plan on making time lapse videos of each day and once they're on youtube I will post them. That may take me a few weeks though.  

Okay that's it for today - the alarm goes off at 4:30 and instead of riding all day I have to be at work in the morning :-/. Thanks for reading! 

Here's the Strava data for day 7: 

Day 7 Glympse

Home stretch! It's COLD and windy. I sure hope this isn't a headwind for any long stretches. But even if it is, I'll finish it. I didn't come all this way to quit now!

We're already on the road headed back to Fairfield - I want to get an even earlier start than usual. I ate something already, too, and will be getting food/drinks roadside instead of in towns to speed things up. We all want to be home!!!


RAGBRAI XLI Day 6: Oskaloosa to Fairfield

Not too much to write about today. When I woke up it was raining but that appeared to be ending so I took my time getting ready. The hotel was only a mile from the start so Dan got a chance to sleep in, as I left directly from there. 

The rain had tapered off to light drizzle by the time I left but it was cloudy and cool. I was wearing my waterproof jacket, but that turned out to be a mistake. Clothing designed to keep water out has a major design flaw - it keeps sweat in. By the time I stopped for breakfast 15 miles in, the inside of the jacket was soaked and the outside was bone dry. I took it off and was even colder because I was soaked in sweat and it was in the upper 50s. 

The pass-through towns today were quite boring. Nothing at all special about them, so I didn't spend much time in them. The ride today was nothing special either. It was flat, thankfully, because there was quite a headwind going on. It was mostly gray and cloudy, too. There was an increase of roadkill, though - which broke up the monotony. There is a RAGBRAI team aptly named Team Roadkill, which adorns roadkill with Mardi Gras-style beads. It's quite a funny sight.

My heart rate has really whipped into shape again this week. Yesterday it seemed so low at times that I changed the battery in the strap after finishing. Day one avg HR was 154 with a max of 182. Today was an avg of 130, max of 160.

As a result of the blandness today offered, I only took one picture during the ride and a few in the end town of Fairfield. You can see them here. 

While walking around Fairfield, Tanya brought up something I hadn't realized until she said it - Iowa apparently cannot have a pizza restaurant without having it be a steak house as well. Every place was "_______'s Pizza and Steakhouse". Another thing I realized at dinner last night was that they like to give a package of soup crackers...with salad. Strange! 

All day today I had a taste for corn on the cob, so of course not one food vendor in the entire 50+ miles was selling it. If only Iowa was a corn-growing state. I did finally get a piece of pie, though. Pie is RAGBRAI. Those church ladies can cook some awesome pie, and I had not had any until this morning. 

So this is it. One more night in a hotel, one more 15 minute drive at sunrise back to the start town, and one very chilly (53!) start to a 63 mile, somewhat hilly day. NW winds will hopefully provide a bit of a tailwind tomorrow, as the route starts directly south before becoming mostly west until I reach the Mississippi River, where I will complete my journey by dipping my front tire in it's waters. I'm ready for this to be over - I'm not complaining or whining again - I just want to be home. Dan and Tanya do too. I can't thank them enough for all their help and support this week!

Here's the Strava data for today: 

So tomorrow I take limited breaks, just like 2011, to get done as quickly as possible, to get home, to get back into my bed, and to not even look at my bike for at least a week or ten days. My legs are now in a constant state of soreness, but it's a dull pain not even requiring Advil. Okay maybe I could use some, but I'm not going to go look for it. 

Okay, I just asked Dan and he had some, so I took it. :D


Day 6 Glympse

I'm leaving directly from the hotel today so Dan gets to sleep in!!

I updated last night's post with a link to pics since Flickr is back up. Here's the link.

Looks like today is going to start off a little rainy, but it is another short day, and relatively flat. I'll just wear my waterproof jacket this morning :)

Copy/paste for the Glympse for today: