Saturday, March 29, 2014

78-year-old on a Bike

I'm in Nashville, Tennessee, about to cycle for four days on the Natchez Trace Parkway with my wife and kids.  My sister's family will join us for the first two days.  We'll carry all our food, sleep in a tent and enjoy some seriously beautiful night skies devoid of light pollution.  The parkway follows a route that was used by Native Americans (particularly the Choctaw and Chickasaw Tribes) for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years.  The original paths were probably formed by bison and deer foraging through the dense forests.  The parkway stretches 444 miles between Nashville and Natchez, Mississippi, and is an ideal place to ride a bike.  For much of the route, a cyclist will see more wildlife than cars and ride through rolling green countryside that is just coming to life this time of year.

We'll make a point of paying respects at Meriwether Lewis's grave, which lies along our route.  Lewis was traveling on the Natchez Trace when he died in October 1809 near Hohenwald, Tennessee.  After cycling 1700 miles of the Lewis & Clark Trail last summer and reading his journals, my kids and I have a particular interest in and appreciation for Meriwether Lewis, especially the care he took to document the many plants and animals he encountered while traveling to the Pacific Ocean and back in the early 1800's.

My mother, who is 78 years old, wasn't comfortable joining us on this long ride, but she used our trip as an opportunity to re-discover her bicycle.  She hasn't cycled outside in 30 years, but she still has the bike I remember her riding when I was a kid in the 1970's.  A blue, steel frame Peugeot "designed for ladies" with the top tube (the bar that usually connects from the seat to the handlebars) connecting lower down (see photo below).  The idea was to make it easier to ride the bike while wearing a dress.  

One of my mom's concerns was whether she would be able to actually get onto the bike.  Could she lift her leg over the top tube and sit on the saddle without falling over?  We leaned the bike to the side, and thanks to the ladies frame design, she had no problem getting her leg over the top tube.  My mom was nervous.  Was it prudent for a 78-year-old woman to ride a bike?  What if she fell?  What if her arthritic knees buckled when she tried to dismount?  But she had confidence in herself, and before long, my mom and I were pedaling beside one another.  She had a big smile on her face and every so often whooped it up with an enthusiastic cheer.  

A rush of memories came back to me.  When I was little, she used to put me in a basket on that bike and ride me around our neighborhood, pointing out bright red Cardinals, chattering Blue Jays, flowering Dogwood trees and, with her lilting Memphis twang, telling dogs who got too aggressive, "Shoo, go away now!"  I realized that the bicycle adventures I've taken with my kids around the world all started there - in a basket on my mom's bike, laughing together and pointing out all the beautiful things we could find.  

Thanks Mom.  I'm proud of you.

Here are a few pics:

First time attempting to straddle the bike.  Notice the tube goes down at an angle, instead of straight across to the base of the seat.

You can do it...


After riding around her neighborhood

Mom with her proud son

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Jeff Hodges - Hero for Autism

I love to celebrate people who combine a personal fitness challenge with a charitable cause.  My friend Jeff Hodges did this in stellar fashion, running four 1/2 marathons (13.1 miles) over four consecutive weekends while raising money for the Kelly Autism Program at Western Kentucky University.  He created a campaign called Making a Difference for Kelly Autism Program (MADKAP) in an attempt to raise awareness and funds for students in need of financial aid.  He set a goal of raising $25,000, which the university agreed to match.  The result?  He doubled his goal and, with the university match, raised over $100,000 and established a new scholarship fund.

On his blog, Jeff shared profiles of students in the Kelly Autism Program, starting with his own son, Ryan, who has Asperger Syndrome.  In a Q&A, Ryan said, "This program should be expanded into more schools because of how it helps people like me get our work done...  Graduation rates would increase if this program was in every college in America."

Jeff also recounted his race experiences.  My favorite entry was his final 1/2 marathon on trails in the Raccoon Mountain in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  Jeff described the race course: "Mud, rocks, puddles, downed trees, stobs (devastating when concealed by leaves), exposed roots, more rocks, moving water, thorny vines and small tree branches growing over the path, race requirement for runners to carry their own sources of hydration, even more rocks, no mile markers or clocks, no bands, no fans, no frills."

Maybe you had no frills, Jeff, but you have a lot of fans.  I'm proud of you.

Jeff Hodges during the rainy 1/2 marathon in Nashville