Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Dogs and Bikes Collide (Well...metaphorically anyway!)

I know we promised this video over a month ago, and here it finally is! We introduce you to…dogs and bikes 101! When the weather is even mildly warm (you know, above 45 degrees!), this is one of Louie’s favorite ways to get his exercise in (and Rudy tries his best to make it around the block on occasion!).

Let me introduce you to the stars of the video…these two are like our children!
Louie is our 2-year-old Mutt. He is 62 pounds of sculpted muscle and pure power. This dog was truly built for speed – his rear end is slightly higher than his shoulders, so he can tuck his head, put his ears back, and cut through the air as he runs. He’s sleek, with super-short hair making him more aerodynamic. And did I mention the muscles? Since we took him in almost 2 years ago as a sickly 8-week-old puppy (as a FOSTER dog…yes, we failed!), he has had these hind legs that look like a steroid-popping body builder’s!  Ready for cuteness overload?  Here's baby Louie right after we brought him home - see, I told you he was a sickly, skinny little thing!:
Rudy, our 6-year-old Puggle (that’s a Pug mixed with a Beagle, though the Beagle really shows through in his mixture), has gotten slightly pudgy in his old age, but still tries to keep up with his brother when he’s feeling spry. No, I can’t take them both out on bike runs together, Rudy would never keep up! So I usually take Louie for about 1.25 miles, then come home and take Rudy about a quarter of a mile around the block, sometimes about a half mile if he’s feeling up for it, though I usually end up nearly dragging him home at the end. He starts out like a sprinter, and has no endurance!  And more cuteness's Rudy as a young man, the perfect Puggle :):
I actually started out exercising our family dog via bicycle when I was about 14. My dad took the dog out for runs this way, and then it became part of my job. It’s easy to get used to, and a great way to exercise dogs who need to expend quite a bit of energy when you don’t have the yard space to let them run like banshees. They also have dog park passes and love to run free and socialize, but that involves loading up and driving to the park, which sometimes involves quite a bit of time that we just don’t have – especially in the Fall and Winter when it gets dark so darn early. And heck, humans can even participate in this one when we’re tired – I don’t even pedal most of the time with Louie, he does all the work, just like a sled dog!

I have a computer on my bike, and have clocked Louie running at about 21.5 miles per hour. To put that in perspective, the average human runs about 5-7 miles per hour. And as I mentioned, I’m not helping him out any by pedaling, so he’s pulling 30 pounds of bike and an undisclosed amount of human pounds behind him! And Rudy has been clocked at a top speed of around…9 miles per hour. Not bad for a stocky guy with short legs :)

So there they are, our sons!  And...I managed to kind of relate this post to bikes!

Monday, November 12, 2012

"I Know What It Means To Be On My Own"

Both of our mothers have offered (and at times almost insisted!) to spend 3 months of their lives leap-frogging us as we ride across America from town-to-town, making sure we stay safe, have vehicular support if we need it, and tossing snacks and cold water at us as we pedal along. Think what you will about us wanting to take on America by bicycle on our own, but this is how we’re going to do it, and I think you’ll see below that we have some pretty compelling reasons for doing so. We love our moms all the more for offering their support, and appreciate and understand their concern for us 100%, but honestly, this trip wouldn’t be the same if we accepted their help. Here’s why:

1. No excuses. This trip is going to be difficult. There are going to be days when we want to quit. We will inevitably be so sore we can hardly walk, get scraped up when we tip over on our fully-loaded bikes, have such miserable headwinds that we could probably walk faster than we can pedal, or spend our days in misery with 100 degree heat and humidity and mosquitos. But alone, we have no choice but to suck it up, push past the pain, and get it done. No excuses. Some days we’ll fail, but that’s part of the journey. We don’t ever want to even have the option of calling it in and getting a ride to a hotel for a night. This adventure is meant to be difficult and test us, and test us it will.

2. Trail angels. This might be a foreign concept to most, but anyone who has taken on some long journey like this knows who these people are. They take many forms, and help in many differing but amazing ways. On the Appalachian Trail, these Trail Angels will do things like leave coolers full of ice cold water where the trail crosses a road, as a pick-me-up for weary hikers. On the TransAm, they may offer you a lift if you have a bike issue you can’t solve, wait for you at a rest stop to offer a cold drink, pay for your meal anonymously at a diner, or let you camp in their yard for the night. We don’t want to be insulated from these experiences and meeting these people simply because we have an easier solution waiting just around the bend for us.

3. Isolation and solitude. There’s something to be said for being out in the middle of nowhere, with no one you know for hundreds of miles around. Yes, we’ll have each other, so it won’t be total solitude, but the feeling won’t be that different. There’s that small sense of fear that no one will be there to help if you need it. There’s a sense of missing family and friends, and wondering what’s going on in their lives while you aren’t physically present in them. You create your own sense of community when you enter a restaurant or store or hotel and people ask where you’re from, and where you’re headed. You feel independent, strong, and incredibly insignificant and lonely all at the same time. There’s nothing like it.

Almost 5 years ago now, I took a solo (if you don’t count the dog) road trip from Indianapolis to San Diego and back. I stood with strangers at the entrance to the Painted Desert National Park as we all experienced one of those achingly beautiful sunsets that only the Southwest can provide. I saw a lone wolf in California, who stopped to watch me pull up next to him, and then met my gaze for over 10 minutes before trotting off, unimpressed with my presence in his domain. I drove through Joshua Tree National Park late at night, my headlights the only light for miles around, low on gas, and frankly terrified of spending the darkest of nights in total isolation if I had run out of gas. That trip and those feelings and experiences left such an impression on me, and changed my life in so many unexplainable ways. We expect nothing less from our Looking Out Across America adventure.

4. Making connections. We want to get to know the people that support us, and can make it out to say “hi” on this trip. Not that we couldn’t do that with our mothers in tow, but (and I think this may be a little true of everyone), we’re both slightly different people when around our parents. Even though we both have arrived at that point in life where we consider our parents friends in addition to parents, there are just different dynamics in play when socializing with anyone when your parents are present. We want to make our connections with people on our own terms, exactly as we are.

5. The Fight the Fear Campaign. The people we’ll be helping with half of the funds we raise on this adventure will learn the skills and confidence they need to overcome fear and doubt in life. We’ll have to do the same, both before the trip, and along the way – probably (hopefully) not because we’ll encounter any truly malicious human beings, but we will have to confront chasing dogs, stand up for our equal right to the road while some rude and ignorant driver loudly protests that we have no such right, and remain aware of our surroundings to keep ourselves safe in a wide variety of scenarios. We want to rely on our skills and confidence to experience personally the invaluable lessons taught as part of Fight the Fear, and hopefully act as inspiration to those who step up to face their fears as part of the campaign.

6. This is a very personal test. Looking Out Across America will test us in many ways – physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. It’ll test our commitment to doing something for the greater good versus personal gain. It’ll test our bodies, and we’ll be all the stronger for it when we get to Seattle. It’ll test our patience. It’ll test our capacity for empathizing with humanity when it isn’t particularly empathetic towards us. These tests are intensely personal to us, both individually and as a couple, and we selfishly want to keep it that way. These experiences will be ours, and ours alone. We have tentative plans for a few different special “guest” riders to join us for a day or so here and there, but other than those few days, it’ll be all us. We have to plan ahead and make sure we carry enough water and food to get us to the next gas station or restaurant. We have to watch the weather and make sure we aren’t caught in any dangerous situations. When we arrive in Seattle in September of 2013, we want to look back and know that we made it across America, on bicycles, pedaling over 4,400 miles, and that we did that of our own power, will, and determination.

Hopefully that clarifies our desire to take on America by bicycle without any real safety net. It isn’t because we are reckless, or wouldn’t love to spend all that time with our mothers – it’s about the things we’d miss out on if we accepted this kind of assistance on our journey. We have to do it alone – it wouldn’t be the same any other way.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Banana Ride

We survived the first annual Banana Ride on Saturday! Truth be told, it wasn’t that bad – which is good news, because it was 20 or so miles less than the distance we’ll need to cover in any given day when we tackle the TransAm next summer! The Banana Ride was a benefit for Girls, Inc., a great national organization that helps to empower young women. Introduction to an organized ride, for those who haven’t been there before:

1. Registration - You usually have to check-in when you get there (you’ve pre-paid and registered online beforehand) and pick up your t-shirt if you ordered one. You’re given a bracelet to ID you as a registered rider for SAG stops, and post-ride festivities (FOOD!) and a cue sheet. The cue sheet is your map for the ride, but luckily they usually have the route marked in spray paint on the pavement (I’m not good at reading maps as I ride!)

2. The Start - Some rides have a shotgun start, similar to a 5k run where the whole group begins at once. This is possibly more annoying than a foot race start, because there are inevitably a bunch of people who tip over on their bikes almost immediately (no major injuries!), and everyone has to dodge around everyone else for the first mile or so. This ride started at your leisure, which was perfect. No stress, no worrying about 75% of the group passing you up at racing speed in the first hundred yards, no dodging slower riders.

3. Routes - Most organized rides have several routes with varying mileages – from 1 mile family routes, to century (100 mile) routes. The Banana Ride offered several of these options, and we opted for the “Gone Bananas” route, which was the longest at 53K (should have been about 32 miles, was actually just over 34 miles). This is another running theme – distances are definitely approximate, and can vary, we’ve found they’re typically longer than advertised, which does very mean things to you mentally when you know you should be nearing the end of a ride!

4. SAG (Support and Gear) stops – these are little oases, especially on longer rides. They offer several re-fueling options, from Gatorade and water, to bananas and home baked goodies! There are usually a couple of these on the longer routes – and the Banana Ride had 3 of these on the 53k route!

5. Roads – the rides we’ve been on in rural settings take place usually on county roads. They are still open to auto traffic, so you have to be aware and still follow all the rules of the road. There is a really fun ride we do called the Nite Ride in downtown Indianapolis every year, where they close off 20 miles of city streets for a couple of hours in the middle of the night and bikes completely take over the roads. While this is a much safer option, it isn’t cost effective for these smaller rides raising money for a specific cause (there are many permits and the paying of off-duty police officers involved), or really feasible to trap people in their homes on rural roads for 3-4 hours on a Saturday morning. There was a rider struck by a vehicle on the Banana Ride this year, luckily only suffering some minor injuries – but it just goes to show how careful you have to be, whether you’re out alone on a training ride or on an organized ride.

6. The End – Ahh, the glorious finish. There are always a variety of wonderful options to assist you in consuming twice the calories you just burned off on the ride. This time, it was pizza and barbecue, but being the good vegetarians that we are, we stuck with cheese pizza. The post-ride food doesn’t even have to be good – at this point, you’re just hungry, and will eat nearly anything. We took our seats at the elementary school cafeteria tables, and devoured some pizza, then headed back home for a much needed nap.

Well, that was long-winded, but maybe intriguing to those of you who were interested to know how an organized ride works. We’ll work as many of these organized rides into our training schedule as we can – they tend to keep us accountable, help out some great causes, and are really just fun.

Hopefully you enjoyed (and didn’t get motion-sick from) our lovely on-bike filming via iPhone. Next time, we’ll remember to bring our flip camera with a bendable tripod and see if that works a little better. And for the record, I’m making Mel do all of the video editing, because I can’t stand the sound of my own voice on video! I’d probably delete the whole damn thing and call it a day, but where’s the fun in that?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Raise The Roof 2012 Recap

Raise the Roof 2012 was an incredible experience for Erica and I. It was our first time attending the event, and a trip that we had been looking forward to for months. We spent quite a bit of time preparing our speeches and even recruited Erica’s parents to help us make our preview video.

We were really excited to reveal our bike trip to everyone after keeping the project a secret for so long! When we spoke with Brandi and Catherine back in July about making this fundraising effort a reality, it was so difficult to not tell all of our friends and family about how excited they were, and share all of the great things we were going to do to raise money and awareness for the Looking Out Foundation. A few short weeks before the event, we went into project overdrive, getting t-shirts printed, building a website, Facebook page, getting informational postcards printed, and even getting a large banner printed with our logo (thanks JK and Cindy for the logo – we love it!)

A big highlight for us at Raise the Roof was getting to be a part of the event – as intimidating as it might have been! Bert took us backstage, where we got to say hello to Brandi, Tim, Phil, and catch the adorable Baby Jo eating some dinner. We also got to speak with Hillary Zuckerberg from the Why Hunger organization, and Kim Bogucki from the If Project; both of these organizations are doing amazing things that really make a positive impact on the world. Go check them out, and get involved where you can! Why Hunger and The IF Project

After our presentation, we got to hang out in the back of the room and talk to people about our trip, answer questions, and just meet a whole bunch of amazing people that love Brandi’s music and support her foundation. We were able to connect with so many people who are willing to help us out to make this journey a success, and that means the world to us.

So, for all of you who were able to hang out with us at Raise the Roof, thanks for listening to our presentation and laughing along to our video, for coming back to say hello, taking a postcard, and for donating. We left the Triple Door smiling that night and more determined than ever to make Looking Out Across America a success for the Looking Out Foundation.

To Holly, Bert, and the rest of the team that put on this fantastic event each year…thank you seems to hardly cover how much we all appreciate what you do. You all are a special group of people that have inspired us to make a difference where we can, so thank you for everything! Mel

Friday, September 14, 2012

Launch Video

For anyone who hasn't seen it already on Facebook, here's the Looking Out Across America launch video that we premiered at Raise the Roof in Seattle last weekend!  Enjoy :)

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Looking Out Across America - The Beginning

I’m not even sure how I stumbled upon the website, but I do owe my obsession with the TransAmerica Trail to it. It was probably mid 2009 when I found that site, and I spent weeks on end reading the journals of past TransAm riders. I was hooked. There were all kinds of people setting out on this trek – those fresh out of college, retired grandparents, people in the midst of a mid-life crisis taking a leave of absence from corporate America, people traveling in large groups, young women tackling it alone, families with young children – EVERYONE. At first, it was just entertainment, but eventually the pull of this trip had its claws in me, and I became obsessed with actually doing this myself one day.

The more I talked about this with my then-fiancee now wife, Mel, the more excited she got about it too. The TransAm had become something I felt compelled to do now, either alone or with my partner in crime - so Mel jumped on board and said she would go with me (though I think she was quite a bit more reluctant about it, since she hadn’t spent much time on a bike since she was a kid, and hadn’t ever had a bike with gears). Not that I had that much biking experience as an adult, other than spending some time riding around my neighborhood on a hand-me-down mountain bike during an unfortunate month that I spent unemployed years ago after being laid-off, but I did have experience on a 10-speed.

But, then reality started to set in…and the doubts started to appear in my periphery. How could we ever take 3 months off work? Could we actually pedal over 4,000 miles from the Atlantic all the way to the Pacific? Is this trip really as dangerous as some people would like us to think it is? Even if we could take 3 months off work, how will we pay for the normal life expenses (mortgage, student loans, etc.) AND afford the expenses we’ll have on the road? Oh, and this 3 month break from work would have to be UNPAID. Ouch. It seemed impossible.

So…we began speaking of this trip as though it would happen someday, but never gave it a definite date. This happens with a lot of goals in my life, I dream big, but have problems implementing the plans - I'm working on changing this as I get older though. I knew this one would be different somehow, so we did what any two rational people would do – started buying gear! Oh, gear…is there anything more exciting than buying the stuff that goes along with adopting a new hobby? The first purchases were, obviously, the bikes. We opted for the cheapest road bikes we could find, had them shipped to our house, and assembled them ourselves. Good to go, right? Well, not exactly. You see, Mel is short - really short. They don’t really make many adult bikes that fit her well. Bottom line is that her bike was too big, and she felt very insecure riding it, and I started doubting that she’d still want to make the trip with me.

Many people who ride the TransAm do so on a bike called the Surly Long Haul Trucker. Naturally, I started coveting this bike, so in the Spring of 2011, I decided to just go ahead and buy one. They’re fairly expensive, so this was a big commitment towards someday actually doing some bike touring. Mel got a smaller road bike around the time I got my Surly, and then decided she wanted a Surly too earlier this year, so now we’re both equipped for some heavy-duty bike touring. And of course, in between buying bikes, we bought bike shorts, jerseys, bike sandals, bike racks, panniers (bike bags), bike computers, gloves, and so on. R.E.I. loved us - so much so that they finally put a store in Indiana! (That was just a coincidence I’m sure, but we’ll take some of the credit!)

But alas, gear does not a trip make. It was still not much more than a dream somewhere out there on the horizon. Sometime in 2010, it clicked with me that many people ride for a cause – they raise money for diabetes, or cancer, or any number of other causes. We could do that, right? That’s when I had an epiphany – we’re big fans of Brandi Carlile’s music, she and the twins have a foundation - ding! We decided the Looking Out Foundation would be our cause of choice for fundraising efforts, but we still had no idea what that would actually look like in practice.

I started putting together a fundraising proposal in late 2010 with the intent of getting it to Brandi at a concert. I honestly cannot tell you how many times that we printed that thing out, brought it to a show with us, but for whatever reason the stars never aligned and it just never happened. It was really for the best though, because I think the timing was finally perfect when I nervously pushed “send” and sent the proposal we’d agonized over for about a year and a half off to the powers that be at the Looking Out Foundation. A few months later, here we are kicking off Looking Out Across America, and partnering with the Looking Out Foundation to make a difference with this ride.

We are extremely honored and humbled that Brandi, Catherine, Phil and Tim are as excited about this project as we are, and have agreed to partner with us on this to make it a resounding success for the Looking Out Foundation. We lead relatively low-key, average lives, so having the chance to actively do something to help the various organizations supported through the Looking Out Foundation is thrilling and a challenge that we couldn’t be more pleased to take on. Hopefully we can do this honor justice.