Friday, August 27, 2010


It was pouring down rain but we soldiered onward. A lot of people came out to wish us well, clapping, yelling, cheering and cowbelling. A bunch of families even set up tents in their front lawns to stay out of the rain but remain in shouting distance. Passing out BUTNZ! in the rain proved challenging, but I found if you gave them a Chinese-throwing-star action, they sailed farther. It was kind of cool to watch them flying through the air like something out of a Ridley Scott movie.

We arrived at the 70-100 mile route split and the race organizers said the 100 mile route was now closed. CLOSED! WHY? "There's lightning up on top of the mountain." Oh. That's a good reason. The bad news was we weren't going to get to ride 100 miles today. The good news is that instead of being 1/3 of the way done, we were now 1/2 way done.

There were a couple of guys that went up into 100 mile route, heading toward the hills. Kurt asked me if I would consider riding the 100 mile course unsupported. I said, "If something bad happens up there, you are alone. No help, probably no phone reception (it was spotty at best last year) and the hills all have switchbacks up and down them. I think 70 is plenty of riding today." He quickly agreed and off we went, with Sean, on the 70 mile course. The rain continued to pour down, but was getting lighter.

At one point Kurt, who is naturally gregarious, met a guy named Dana, who decided to ride with us. Dana was a good guy and we enjoyed riding with him the rest of the way. As we crested a hill, I looked and saw a long, slow, downhill ride ahead of me. I saw there was no shoulder to the right, and the right side of the road had been "repaired" by the local construction crews whose mandate was clearly, "Throw something in that hole; it's Miller Time."

All that to say I was riding about 2-3 feet into the road, which by Pennsylvania law is exactly where I should have been. I say that because suddenly there was a car behind me, honking. Urgently. There was no place for me to go, so I held me line, thinking this person would go around me, which they easily could have done as there was no traffic coming the other way. In short, I was being harassed because I had the temerity to ride a bike in a cancer event. Surely there must be something else going on. Finally, the Prius passed me and one of the fattest sausage-fingered hands came out of a rolled-down passenger-side window, and a single finger was extended. The Prius then rolled on ahead.

A woman cycled up next to me and said the car had been harassing people all the way down the mountain. I said, "I find they're often nicer when you catch up to them and let you know what you're doing" then dropped down a couple of gears and went up ahead. Sure enough, he was stuck behind another group of riders. I came up behind and said, "Sir, you know we're raising money for charity here, right?"
The guy rolled down the window, stuck his Duff Goldman-looking Fat-head out and launched into an expletive laced tirade about how we jam his roads up every year, how he pays taxes for these roads and we don't, how he's tired of people like me yada, yada, yada. Dude was pissed. I just looked at him and said, "Really? Really" Begin tirade two. We came to a crossroad and the car turned right. I'm glad it didn't escalate any farther, but I really don't understand how a Prius owner of all people could have a problem with cyclists. Really. I looked right behind me and Kurt was hanging next to me. He had seen the whole things and decided to get my back, riding up in support just in case. He looked at me and kind of laughed, but I know he was thinking, "Only the Irish guy can find trouble on a freaking charity ride." And, he's right. Note to Mrs. Fish - I never go looking for trouble, it just seems to find me. Honestly.

The rain had slowed a lot and we continued to ride. We came to yet another section of hills, with a sizable downhill. Volunteers at the top of the hill were telling people to slow down and take it VERY easy. I asked one of the volunteers, "What, no bombing the hill?"
"No," was all she said.
Of course, I was joking, having seen what happens when people overestimate their abilities and/or underestimate the treachery of the course. Neither of these scenarios appealed to me, so I pumped the brakes to make sure they were good and dry, then tilted myself down the hill.

Experienced riders lean their bicycles to steer. Inexperienced riders use their handlebars to steer. On a downhill, the difference is even more pronounced, because when you use the handlebars, the bike pitches to the side you are steering toward. Amateurs sense this pitching, this shift in weight of the bike, and it feels like they are going down. The natural response in this situation is to steer the opposite direction and brake. This is one case where the natural response is also the wrong response. The slowing down takes the energy out of your bike, the energy that is required to make the turn. And keep the bike upright. Which is why the guy directly in front of me went through this exact series of disastrous-ballet moves and went down in a heap right in front of me. In a way it was my fault, having not left enough room in the likely event this happened.

There is a promise that God gives that he will send his angels to protect us when we need them, and I believe this was (yet another) one for me. Everything slowed down to the proverbial slow motion. I saw him try to make the right turn, panic, overcorrect and fall to the left. I steered to the right so I didn't run him over and knew immediately I was going to clip the back end of his bike and go down. I unclipped my shoes from my pedals as the bike started too go down.
I yelled as loud as I could "CRASH CRASH CRASH!!!1!" so people behind us would know and avoid us. I flew over the handlebars, stepped down with my left foot right into his chainring teeth. My body pitched forward into a semi-pushup and my left hand got a rock stuck in it where it hit. I was so glad I went back to retrieve my gloves before the ride began.The whole thing took less than 2 seconds.

I did a self-inventory and realized nothing was broken. There was a terrible stinging in my left foot where his chainring had bitten into my leg, and now rain and sweat were mingling in the shark bite there. My second thought was immediately to see if the other guy was okay. He had, in effect, just laid the bike down, and was fine. He kept apologizing over and over and asking if I was okay, and except for the hand and leg, I was okay. Then I remembered: My BABY!!! I reluctantly looked at my ride and there she was, lying on her side in the rain. I picked her up, gingerly, checking the frame. Fine. The wheels? Fine. The brakes and shifters? Also good. My water bottle had tumbled 50 feet down the hill, my odometer had gone about 10 feet int he same direction. I gingerly hobbled down to get both, but mercifully, everything was fine.

Sean, Kurt and Dana kept asking if I was fine, but I realized the real test was going to be getting back on the bike. I did. It hurt. A lot, actually. I pedalled and took a quick physical inventory. The leg hurt, the hand too, my collarbones/shoulders were both sore and my lower back was tightening up a bit, but I had maintained my record of 43 years without a broken bone. In the pain I was feeling, I actually gave more than a passing thought to one of my own cycling heroes, Jens Voigt, a man among men in the professional peloton. He crashed spectacularly in this year's Tour de France but refused to quit (Amazing story and funny interview about that: CLICK HERE). If Jens could do that, I could surely finish this. I also thought about how hard cancer survivors have to fight every day, and I knew I could finish for them. My guys asked me one more time if I was okay.
"Yeah. I got this."

We rode the last 20 miles or so in good humor. The riding was getting things moving, and except for my lower back, everything else felt a little better. It was more of a blur this year, and the time went more quickly, I think in part due to the shortening of the course. I took the lead for Team Fish and rode in, Kurt, Sean and Dana riding in behind me. It's my favorite part of the ride for many reasons, but mostly for the remembrance of all the people who make up Team Fish, of those who are with us and those who are not. Some years it's just a little too much and this year was one of them; I finished with tears in my eyes this year thinking about all of the people who made up Team Fish, and for those who are no longer with us.

Thank you, Team Fish, for all of your thoughtful support over the past four years. Words cannot express the depth or breadth of my gratitude, and just how much it means to have you with me.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


Papa Behr and Patfish decided to do the 45 miles. Team Fish usually rides the first 20 miles or so as a Team and we decided to do exactly that, riding out of the 100 mile chute in a light drizzle. All things considered, and in light of just how hot it has been in past years, I was actually welcoming the change. The first year we did it, the temperature rose to triple digits and the humidity was above 90%; the suffering was epic.In fact, this marked the first year where the temperature did not rise into the 90s.

I spent the time riding back and forth between Team Fish members, chatting with them and just generally enjoying the time we had together. It was good to reconnect with my brother, and we talked about his beautiful twins, and how fast they're growing up, how different they are, and how funny. The power stops were well organized and well-spaced again this year, about every twelve miles, so the first one was a perfect place to regroup. Having passed the place where Patfish got three flats in an eight mile span the first year, I felt like we could breathe a little, even though the rain seemed to be picking up.

About 15 miles into the ride, two police motorcycles came cruising over a hill going the opposite direction. I looked to see if it was officers John and Poncharello, but it was too hard to tell. Nonetheless, I knew they were harbingers of a different sort of arrival and said to those around me, "Here comes LANCE!" Sure enojavascript:void(0)ugh, riding right behind them was a small cadre of riders with Lance right in the middle. He passed within 10 feet of me, and while I should have turned around and dusted him over the next hill (I spared him THAT embarrassment, this being his special day and all), or at least said, "On yer left" what I managed was, "Thank you, Lance!"

Sadly, there was one lady right next to me who said, "That wasn't really Lance, was it?"
"I told you he was coming, didn't I."
"Yeah, but I didn't believe you." She was seriously bummed out.
A guy pulled up next to us and said, "Thanks for the heads-up that he was coming. That was SO COOL!"
"See," I said to the lady. "He believed me."
We talked for a while longer, then I gave her something even better than a moment with Lance. I gave her a BUTNZ!

I pedalled up with Kurt, Sean, Patfish and Papa Behr with Randy up ahead slightly. I noticed a guy in some distress on the right side of the road, and as is customary of riders, I asked, "You good?"
"Do you have any air?" he asked.
I told Team Fish to go on, I was going to get this guy some air for his flat tire.Sure enough, he had a flat, had replaced his inner tube and then jettisoned his air capsule all over the outside of his tire. I retrieved my air capsule (cyclists can carry an inner tube and enough air to inflate it under the seats of their bikes) gave it to him and showed him how to use it. He didn't look so sure, so I asked him if he wanted me to do it. "Please!" he said. I pushed the button and the air went into the tire. And right back out again. His inner tube had a flat in it. Either it was faulty or he didn't check the inside of the tire before putting a new one on. Either way, he was stuck and had to wait for one of the support vehicles, telling me he would be fine. Then, I gave him something that made the rain and the flat tire and the frustration all disappear: a BUTNZ!

I pedalled on faster, now, trying to catch up to Team Fish, and came upon a guy who went down badly. The medics were arriving, and there were a couple of cyclists with him, one sitting next to him and just speaking quietly. I later learned that he lost control in the turn and slammed into the guardrail on the opposite side of the road. It happened right in front of Randy, who stopped immediately to help. He stayed with him until the medics had things under control. Randy said he was sure bones were broken and that internal bleeding was even a possibility, but the response of the medics was very swift. I didn't see Randy there as I passed, but he remained behind us for the rest of the day. He is a strong cyclist, so I assumed he was ahead of us, rather than behind, and spent the rest of the day looking the wrong direction to find him.

And then the Heavens opened up. The light drizzle that had been present all day, sprinkled with intermittent rain, turned into a full onslaught of barbaric proportions. It was one of those sudden downpours and I couldn't see more than 10 feet ahead. We were riding over hills, and the uphills slowed me down and the hard pedalling served to help me stay warm. The downhills caused an increase in speed, and the rain stung like being shot with rock-salt. They bill this ride every year as a Challenge and every year the Challenge is a little different. Heat. Humidity. Hills. And now, rain. Surely, no amount of BUTNZ! would make this better. It sucked.

But then, something amazing happened. I prayed for help to get through this, and I started thinking about all of the people I knew who had cancer, including those who have passed. I thought specifically of the tears that have been shed BY them, and especially FOR them by their friends, their families, by the people who love them. And, I thought about how the heavens were crying now, reminding me of that. Like cancer itself, there was no use in complaining about it sucking, no sense in wishing it would stop. There was only the realization that we were all in this together, going forward, wrapped in a veil of love and tears.

I pedalled on with new resolve. And better perspective.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


I woke up and rolled my bicycle out of the hotel, the swish of the doors closing behind me, hermetically sealing in my still-sleeping family. It was 6.00 am and the riders of Team Fish were arriving to the site, with me only minutes behind. The parking lot was glazed over with a light sheen from an evening rain, and the way the skies were lightening gave me the feeling that there was more on the way. I ran back inside, grabbed a couple of donuts from the continental breakfast, and then piled into my car. I changed my routine this year: I always lay out my complete ensemble the night before, meticulously accounting for everything I need and making sure it is exactly where I want it to be. In hindsight, I wish I had done it again Saturday night. The traffic was about the same as always, which meant that I was going to be right on time. But, upon pulling in, I really would have liked to have had more time to get things ship-top-shape and squared away.

This was my fourth tour of duty with LiveSTRONG and I was joined this year by my brother, Patfish Hunter (4th Tour): Kurt Fishmagic (3rd Tour); Papa Behr, the Patron Saint of BUTNZ! (1st Tour); Sean (2nd Tour, 1st with Team Fish) and Randy (1st Tour). I set a goal of six riders (the most we have ever had was four) and I was so glad these guys came out to ride with Team Fish this year. I contacted (a different) Kurt, the BUTNZ guru, and he designed and created pint glasses for the Team Fish riders, which I presented to them as a thanks for riding with me. It was like passing out really cool groomsmen's gifts, and they were very well received. Now all we had to do was pedal 100 miles to fill them.

Last year, Lance was at the World Cancer Summit, the beginning of an attempt to bring the nations of the world together to make collaboratively curing cancer a global concern. This year, he chose to spend the Sunday with us. The LiveSTRONG Philadelphia event offically kicked off with a great rendition of the Star Spangled Banner by a local soul/jazz singer. Note to humans: when the Anthem is sung, one is to remove one's hat/helmet, stand still and at attention facing the flag (or the music, if you can't see the flag), and SHUT UP! KTHXBAI. Lance gave a speech about how much he appreciated 3,200 riders coming out and raising more than $3 million to fight cancer. He also stated that Philadelphia had significantly raised the bar in fund-raising, and that his home town of Austin now had some catching up to do. He finished up by saying that he really likes the Philadelphia course because it's a particularly challenging course. I think a lot of people kind of perked up at that. I heard more than one person say, "Wait. Did he say Challenging? Lance thinks this is challenging? What did I get myself into?" There was the obligatory safety speech, which I actually listened to, given the conditions. I think a lot of people gave it the same attention they do airline attendants and company webinars, and I wondered how many of them would later regret not listening.

And then it was time. We started rolling out over the names of riders, chalked into the road Tour de France-style, a reminder of just how many people were involved in this event. The crowd was huge and everyone was cheering for us. I was reminded of those scenes in war movies where the soldiers march out (there's a great one in Glory) and people are trying to pass on their strength and courage to the guys going into battle. It felt like that, I imagined, and then I realized that we are at war. And we're going to WIN! It actually gave me goosebumps (yes, again) to hear the cheers of all those people and to think of Team Fish and the support you gave this year, to look around at the riders of Team Fish, a bunch of guys who decided to give up a lot of time to train to do this, to fundraise, and then spend a Sunday riding in the rain with some fool who thought it would be a good idea three years ago and hasn't had the good sense to quit. I love TEAM FISH!

And out onto the course we rode....

Monday, August 23, 2010

LiveSTRONG IV: Prelude

First, I need to say a huge thanks to Team Fish, who reached EVERY GOAL we set this year! LiveSTRONG, and indeed surviving cancer, is all about the incredible people who surround me. I could not do ANY of this without you, and the words to express just how much I cherish you fail me.

I went down to the ride early on Saturday because I had to get my car serviced while I was in the area. I dropped my car off at the shop and took off for a ride, one of the advantages of having my bike with me. My tire had gone flat from the reinflation I did with the air canister (for some reason, when you use a canister to inflate the tube, it deflates drastically in about a day or so). Then I went 21st Century, cranked up my Blackberry and checked for bike shops near me. There was one 3 minutes from where I was, so I rode over there, borrowed a pump and rode on. I tooled around the Main Line, took a wrong turn and ended up in Philadelphia, then eventually found my way back, putting in about 20 miles. It was (mostly) a nice, easy meandering spin and it was cool to see the area from a bike.

One of my favorite things to do is go to the Expo the day before. Patty, a very personable volunteer, took the Team Fish information and promised to pull together our packets, then encouraged me to go enjoy the Expo. I always write down the names of the people who supported me, and the people they have asked me to remember, adding them to the wall. I had a really hard time adding Collin Marsh to a Memory Card instead of an Honor Card, this year. I miss Terri and Bob and Christine, and my friend Will's wife, Beth. But, I still was able to add a lot of Honor cards, and survivor cards for some friends, including my friends Bev, Bill and Doug. There were so many more cards, and it has always been bittersweet to hang them on the wall; this year was no different.

I returned back to see Patty and she had put all of the Team Fish packages together. I also was able to meet Dylan Trakas, who has helped put together the Philadelphia event every year. I always look forward to seeing him, and he seems to bring a positive attitude and a lot of energy to what he does. The volunteers are really what makes this event run, and they are incredible people for doing what they do. I picked up the packages and also went to the Long's Cycle tent, picking up 2 pairs of sunglasses (one normal and one high-tint yellow) and an Irish cycling cap for less than $20: Score!

My family has a tradition of eating dinner with Mrs. Fish's mom and we did it again for the fourth straight year. She has had health concerns, so I was ecstatic when I saw how good she looked and that she was able to join us yet again. We went to a local restaurant, got terrible service, but still managed to have a great time. Wrapping up, Mrs. Fish, Li'l Fish and I checked into a local hotel, had some Ben & Jerry's Imagine World Peace, and retired for the evening.


We survived another LiveSTRONG event. There was weather, crashes, road-rage and a few tears. Full ride report is coming up, and BUTNZ! will be coming out shortly. A HUGE THANK YOU to Team Fish for everything you did this year.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

When I set p my goals for this year's LiveSTRONG Challenge, I was trying to be optimistic. I set a goal of 6 riders, and lo and behold, six riders agreed to be part of Team Fish. I set a goal of $5,000, significantly more than I raised last year in an economy that is still down. Still, there it was. To date, we are already above $4,000. My personal goal was to raise $2,500 and I am currently just this side of $2,000.

What that means is this: we're close. REALLY CLOSE. Would you please consider joining Team Fish. This year's Philadelphia Challenge is complete covered by corporate sponsorships, which means that all of the fundraising money goes directly to the cause, to help kill cancer.

I already have 40 people who have joined me on Team Fish. If you'd like to make a contribution, no matter how small, CLICK HERE. It's quick, it's easy, and it helps me kill cancer. Thanks so much!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Cancer: Four Years Later

Today is the fourth anniversary of my cancer diagnosis. I celebrated by riding 68 miles with my buddy Kurt and a bunch of his buddies. I was pretty good until about mile 55, at which point I began to realize I hadn't eaten enough. I started to bonk, but managed to get through the last 10 miles by gritting my teeth and thinking about how much it hurts to have cancer. I thought about people I have known and people I have never met and people who have passed and how much they would love to be riding with me on this day.

Upon arriving home, I found that Teh BUTNZ! have arrived! I think it's my other buddy Kurt's best work ever. The second BUTNZ has a place to put names on it - how incredibly cool is that? Cheggit:

I then cooked shrimp and pasta for the beautiful Mrs. Fish and for Li'l Fish and we're going to enjoy (I think) Julie and Julia.

I always think I had a good handle on how blessed my life was, even before cancer, so I haven't really have any life-altering revelations in the four years since I was diagnosed. Maybe I appreciate, a little more, how fragile life can be, and how sweet, and like all things fragile and sweet, it's meant to be savored a little more.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Every year around this time I go through a period of doubt. I think wrestling with the mental part of the LiveSTRONG Challenge is almost as big a part of the Challenge as the physical part. I have less than two weeks to go and those niggling details hit the back of my mind.
Have I ridden enough miles?
Have I covered enough hills? I still haven't made it up Lamb's Gap, my test of preparedness in past years.
Have I prepared enough? Am I going to cramp up like I have in past years in the heat?
Has my diet been what it should have been?
Have I done enough fundraising, because that's really what this is all about?
Have I neglected other things to do the Challenge?

The doubts come and go and for the most part I can keep them at bay. I realize also that being mentally tough is a HUGE part of survivorship, and that's probably why the Challenge is set up the way it is.

Thanks to all of you for your thoughts, prayers, and support. It means so very much.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Second Milestone!

I went away for a week, camping with Li'l Fish, and came back to see that Team Fish or Cut Bait has cleared $2,000 in the fight to beat cancer! A huge thank you to Team Fish for your continued thoughtful support.

Want to be a part of Team Fish or Cut Bait? CLICK HERE and follow the simple directions to make a pledge. No amount is too small - we just want you with us!

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

FBS: Where Have You Been All of my Life?

My buddy Brad, in between bouts of complaining about the government, comes up with some excellent ideas and shares some great information (actually, he still manages to do that while complaining about the government, too). He was part of the brain-trust that came up with the Men's Moving Mission, a group of guys from church that help people in difficult places move, including a lot of women who are in domestic violence situations. It was Brad who first invited me to go to Belarus (which, incidentally, was the catalyst for starting this blog).

So, when we were talking about favorite foods one day, and he mentioned a Fried Bologna Sammich (FBS) I knew I was in for something special. I'd never had one, having grown up in my mother's house, a land of baking from scratch and whole-food ingredients long before it was the fashionable thing to do. I remember we used to go down to the local farm early in the morning so Mom could get the freshest eggs, which were brown as eggs should be. It wasn't until I started eating at the homes of friends that I learned there were white eggs. Mom's house was most definitely NOT a home that included the standard white-trash comfort foods of Middle America, though I suspect this was as much out of ignorance (Mom was born in Dublin) as choice. Hot dogs, rarely served, anyway, came with ketchup and without baked beans, mac-n-cheese was never served in my house, and even soup was just as often made from scratch as from the ubiquitous red, white and gold can of Warhol's suburbia.

I determined that I had to try a fried bologna sandwich and committed to doing it properly. I made slits through the center of three slices of bologna in an "X" pattern. I dropped them into a non-stick pan a cooked them until crispy, then plopped them on wheat bread (I know, if it was a real FBS it would have been white, but I can still, at 43, hear Mom's disapproval and I don't doubt for a second she would have called me the second I took a bite and asked just "what do you think you're DOING?"). I put on a slice of American cheese (I now prefer Colby-Jack), lettuce and tomato, and settled in to eat my creation with a mixture of fear and anxious anticipation.

"Oh. My. Gawd! FBS, where have you been all of my life?" It was fantastic. Amazing. The slight crunch of the crispy bologna was reminiscent of the current culture vogue item, bacon. The contrast of cold lettuce and hot bologna, sweet tomato and salty bologna were like the magic of Siegfried and Roy: good on their own merits, but infinitesimally better together.

Now I am off and running into the exploration phase of FBS. With so many options out there, there's simply so much to explore, and I have 40+ years of catching up to do. Want to make a FBS and don't know a Brad or similar Bologna-Zen-Master who can guide you? I also found this simple video helpful:

Bon apetit...fer real!