Friday, August 26, 2011

LiveSTRONG Ride for Five: Part III

You are riding hard now, trying to make the cutoff. You can feel the lactic acid building up in your legs, particularly on the hills. You remember your friend Kurt saying the world is flat when you're in a car. Not so much when you're on a bike. You're breathing a little heavier now, too, but you still labor onward, and also upward. You're in some bigger hills now, and trying to remember where the cutoff is, how far you still have to go, and you're trying to do the math in your head. Your head which has begun to ache. Badly.

You felt it coming on at the last rest stop and asked at the first aid station if they had Tylenol or ibuprofen. All they had was aspirin, and you're pretty sure it's just in case someone has a heart attack. You are not going to have a heart attack. But you're starting to feel like this headache could kill you. How does one run an event like LiveSTRONG and not have ibuprofen or Tylenol? You remember from previous years there is a rest area just past the cutoff area, and if you make it, you might be able to find some relief. You pedal harder.

You find yourself looking at the clock. It is past 10.00 now. If they've moved the cutoff up, you won't be able to ride the 100 mile course for the second year in a row. You look at the sky and while there are clouds in the sky, there is certainly no sign of threatening weather. You take some solace in this fact and get out of the saddle for a bit to change your position on the saddle. It feels good to pedal from a standing position for a while. Then you see the cutoff area. You pedal up, hopeful.

You see hordes of riders being directed to the left. The 70 mile course. It occurs to you exactly what has happened. They have closed the 100 mile course. Again. It is 10.13. You're somewhat perplexed because the skies look fine. There have been some light sprinkles, but nothing worthy of rerouting. You are disappointed. Many of the people surrounding you are bitter. And angry. And vocal. A couple of riders go through the rerout, with the understanding they will be alone, unsupported, on the course. You think about it for ten seconds and then think better of it. You turn to the 70 mile course and pedal away from the complaining. Your head is still pounding.

A guy pedals up next to you and strikes up a conversation. He starts complaining about the 100 mile course being closed and you bite down on your tongue until you taste blood. After a couple minutes of this, the man reads your silence, then says cheerfully, "But it's not really why we're out here today, is it?" A glimmer of hope lights on your ride and you start to talk easily with this guy, whose name is Vinnie, from New Jersey. Two years ago, he had a rash and it was really bugging him and his girlfriend was nagging him and nagging him to go see a dermatologist. Finally, he relented, to get her to stop whining (the irony was not lost on me at this point) and he went to the doctor. The doctor took one look at the rash and said, "That doesn't concern me, but this mole, this mole, and that mole do. We're going to cut them out, today." So they cut out his moles and they tested positive for melanoma. A silly rash and his girlfriend's badgering had saved his life. Now he tells people that if things don't seem right, they should go see a doctor. It's the same thing that saved your life five years ago. It's the same you've been preaching ever since.

You pull into a rest area and say goodbye to Vinnie from New Jersey and you're glad you were able to share stories. Now, you need Tylenol. You locate the first aid station and mercifully they have some. The guy asks if you want three or four. Two will be loads, you assure him. He is surprised. You are surprised that people would take more than 2. You toss them in your mouth and knock them back dry. Relief is on its way.

Sean and Jennifer pull in and now the remaining Team Fish riders are all together. You leave together and talk lightly, focusing on the riding. Sean decides to stop and take pictures, so you and Jennifer ride on. Jennifer is a strong rider and your pace matches each other well. The miles flow beneath you as you talk of her three children, how different they are, how precious they are to her. You think about your own Li'l Fish and how much you love her, how the fight you had five years ago almost took so much from you. You realize again she won't be at the finish line for the first time this year, that she and Mrs. Fish are home getting ready for school and a Selena Gomez concert. You miss them immensely, but you know the love you have for them will bridge the miles.

Overall, you are feeling solid, and your headache is gone. Your commitment to eat when you can, even if you have to force it a bit, has served you well. The switch from Gatorade to a more complete drink, Heed, this year has kept the cramps at bay and you feel energetic. You are in good shape. You enter the last miles and the rolling hills. You realize you are almost finished, and as with last year, you are surprised at how quickly this has happened with the 30 fewer miles. You pull over to TXT Mrs. Fish and Li'l Fish, then head for the finish line, tell them how much you love them.

The finish line is divided to the left for riders and to the right for survivors. When you finish down the chute, people are going nuts and screaming for you when they realize you are a survivor. It's all a little much and you feel the tears come again, for the five more years you have had to fight this awful disease. For the five more years you have had to live your life. For the five more years you had had to spend with your friends, and to see your brother become a father. And most of all for the five more years you have had to love your wife and hold your daughter. The Ride for FIVE is over, and you look to the skies and thank your God for FIVE more years.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

LiveSTRONG: Ride for FIVE Part II

You ride easily over the starting area. The first ten miles are lightly rolling hills, and you can feel your legs, the power in them that you've built over this season's training. You trained hard this year, and it is paying off already. You realize you've forgotten only one thing, but it could be major. You're a redhead and you've forgotten sunscreen. It's still early, so the sun is barely up, and you're relatively sure they'll have sunscreen at the first rest stop. You choose not to worry about it just yet. One of the things you have learned is that the people who do well in this event are adaptable and tend not to panic. Check and check.

At the first rest stop, you drop off to get sunscreen and they do indeed have some. And, of course, the booth is manned by a redhead, who immediately sets about scolding me for not having any on. "Don't forget you're ears," she says to you. She realizes your mother is not hear to make sure you get them. On the whole, Lance's sunscreen is awful. It never, ever soaks into the skin. It just lays on your arms, legs and face with a pale white covering. You quip to the volunteer that it's a good thing this is not a beauty contest. On the plus side, for the remainder of the day, you will not need to reapply a single time. It is both wonderful and terrible.

The first stop is also an opportunity to regroup. Your friend George is hurting, can't get the legs under him for the ride. He can't figure out what it is, and you're equally confounded, as you know he has done some decent riding in preparation for this event. He is hurting to the point where he decides to cutoff at 20 miles, the legs simply unable to do what his mind and spirit are trying to will them to do. You remain puzzled for the rest of the day about exactly what just happened.

You catch up to your brother, Pat, and ride with him for a while, talking about his one-year-old twins and the joys and terrors and general sleeplessness of parenthood at that age. It's a juggling act, and you remember back to when your own daughter was that age. It was so long ago, before cancer, actually,. Sometimes you divide your life into pieces like this, before and after cancer. Most of the time, though, you're just grateful there is an after cancer, so you can ride with your brother and talk about his kids.

At the 45 mile cutoff, your takes a left and heads for home, for his children, while you stand up and rise to the next hill. Jennifer and Sean are up ahead somewhere, and you're confident you'll see them soon. You pedal a bit harder now, the 10.00 cutoff looming in your head. You still find time to toss BUTNZ! to the people who have come out to support the ride, especially the kids, waving like maniacs and cheering us all on. And, the cowbell people, who support you every year with their encouragement.

You speak with survivors who are riding with you. Like Tracy, the four year survivor of Ewings Sarcoma, a cancer that attacks the tissue and bone of your body. You speak with Ron who tells you he is a testicular cancer survivor. You ask him, "Did you lose Lefty or Righty?" He is taken aback until you explain you lost Lefty and he says, "I lost Righty, so I guess between us we make a whole man." You say simply, "I suspect together we make a great deal more than that" and he nods in tacit agreement. There is Carl, a runner who got the biking bug and now rides in events like this because he is in love with cycling. He wears the Navy jersey in support of his brother, who is in San Diego on active duty, and he talks about how much he misses him because they were always so close.

You also see people you know from previous rides. Jon's Crew rides in memory of Jonathan a young man who passed away. You see Jim, who fought with you through the last stages of last year's ride, over the last hills through driving rain, each of you encouraging the other. He has added another year under his brain cancer survivorship belt.

On and on it goes, thousands of people on a single road, pedalling to fight cancer because of these stories. Eventually, you catch up with Sean and Jenny, and you start focusing on making the cutoff. It's going to be close. Sean pulls for you for a bit, then tells you just to GO FISH GO! You race ahead to try to make the cutoff so they will let you ride the 100 mile course.

LiveSTRONG: Ride for FIVE Part I

Your alarm goes off at 5:15 am. Every year you think you're prepared for just how early this is, but you never are. In situations like this, you have two go-to songs: the Triathlon Song...

...or the one by Mark Knopfler for which you can never find a video. You choose Knopfler. Your body has some creaks that you're certain weren't there last year, perhaps weren't even there yesterday, but still you rise. Quickly, you don the gear you have laid out the night before, everything designed to streamline the process and get you out the door more quickly. You have a mission, and you cannot be late. This is your focus, now.

Your jersey is the seafoam aqua of The Lounge, an inside joke for many of the cyclists you know, emblazoned with the code that is both an impetus for humor and an odd badge of welcoming. You double check your shoes and your helmet, because you realize without these, you won't be allowed to ride. Quickly, you pack up the sleeping bag, the air mattress, your belongings are tossed in a knapsack with the LiveSTRONG logo. It's a gift awarded for the fundraising you did last year, for the efforts of your friends and family and a host of people who care about you and hate cancer. Many of them you have never met, but you will spend all day thinking about them. But not now. You are packed up and ready to go. It is 5:30.

You walk out to your car, make sure your bicycle is secured on the back of the car and drive out of the garage, probably for the last time. You think of your mother-in-law and the kindness she has shown you in allowing you to crash at her place for the past 5 years. You say a prayer for her that God watches over her.

You stop at the Dunkin' Donuts on the way out, another tradition for the past five years. The coffee cannot come soon enough, and you also order a bagel with ham and egg. You know it's going to taste awful, but you also need the calories. The coffee is the first sign of hope you have had today, black and perfect. There is hardly any traffic at all and you get to the event venue ahead of schedule. Your friend George is already there and you get texts from the rest of the team they will be there quickly.

You speak easily with George, you've known him for almost ten years now. He's a good man, and a good father, and always trying to be better at both, so you recognize in him a kindred spirit, as you also did when you first met him. Your friend Jenny shows up, and it's good to see her again. You have seen her for nearly two years, you guess, when you ran in a race to celebrate her brother, Tony, who died of colon cancer. Your sure she's thinking of him now, and you say a silent prayer for her as well. Your brother Pat joins the Team Fish group, the illustrious Patfish Hunter who has ridden every LiveSTRONG with you. You're glad the tradition continues, and you're glad his coworker Sean has joined you yet again. Team Fish is now together and assembled.

You pedal down to the start line and you think about the Team Fish people who are not there this year. Family commitments have kept Kurt and Randy out this year, as well as a host of others who had "maybe" circled for this date. You're hoping they'll be with you again next year, then you turn to face the sea of bicycles and the task before you.

You secretly curse the idiots who set up the announcing booth, with all of the speakers facing away from the cyclists. You're sure it makes sense to someone, but to you it sounds like that etacher in the Charlie Brown series who just goes on in a monotone, "WAH WAH WAH WAH WAHHHHHHHHHN..." It might be amusing in the Sunday comics, less so for an event like this. You can't hear a thing until music begins to play and thousands of bikers go silent. last year they had a jazz singer and this year an opera singer. Both times you were moved nearly to tears. You think of your friends Eric and Kurt and the rest of the people you know serving this country to keep you and your family safe. You recognize a feeling most people would call gratitude, but you recognize that only scratches the surface of the thanks you feel.

Normally, they run a pretty tight ship with regard to start times. This time it is handled poorly, and you actually start 20 minutes late. As you roll out, you catch people discussing the possibility of storms coming in. The normal cutoff time to ride the 100 mile course is to reach a certain checkpoint at 10.30. The organizers reserve the right, it is said, to redirect 100 mile riders onto the 70 mile course if they don't make the cutoff by 10.00. There is not a cloud in the sky, so you don't worry about this. You're happy to be riding, finally, with Team Fish. And off you go onto the course.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

LiveSTRONG: Ride for FIVE Prologue

On Saturday, I arrived at the LiveSTRONG Expo center. It's an easy stop, and I walked through the various booths, checking out the scene en route to picking up the packets for Team Fish's riding cadre. This year was the most organized it has ever been, and the volunteers were, as they always are, anxious to help and incredibly friendly. I have been in a lot of events like this, and the volunteers are what make it, from the people staffing the tables to those guiding people as they arrive and those handling the parking lot. LiveSTRONG is very well organized in this respect, I have to say.

I passed out the first BUTNZ! to the two women who helped me gather the bags for Team Fish. Five bags is a lot of swag, so it was quite a bit to pull together, and they were so appreciative of the BUTNZ! It also led to conversations about team Fish and why I ride; which I thought was pretty cool. They were quick to congratulate me on 5 years as a survivor.

I also was able to visit at the Caring Bridge booth. Caring Bridge is an online website that enables people fighting cancer to keep in touch with friends and family about the ongoing treatments they are going through. It's a fantastic site that Collin, the 2 year-old boy who passed away from Lymphoma, used, and it was also the site my buddy Doug used to keep us apprised of his situation. I was able to plant a couple of flowers in the garden in their name.

This is the Trek Tent.

I visited the Trek Tent and was able to ask a question that has plagued this generation of cyclists like no other. While philosophers ponder whether existence or essence comes first and scientists wonder what the ideal number of wolves is to ensure survival of the species, our question is simpler, more esoteric, yet no less important. "Does Trek make good bikes?" I asked and was told, unequivocally by the representative from Trek, that they do indeed make good bikes. Very good bikes, in fact. I feel like I can sleep now, knowing that.

I always make it a point to visit the Wall where you can post the names of survivors and those who have passed. I made a point to include this year's Team Fish. In past years, this has always choked me up, and it still did, but it was different. This year feels more like a celebration for both those who have survived and for the memory of those who have passed. Based on the conversations I had with Team Fish, I know we carry them with us, and no matter how much we miss them, they are, in so many ways, still with us every day.

So, I packed up the Team Fish swag and schlepped it over to my friend George "The BUTNZ Czar" sister's house. She was kind enough to host us for dinner and I had a great time hanging out with George and his family. George and I also took a brief 15 miler just to keep the legs active. I was also grateful for the steak dinner, which was delicious! We swam for most of the night, and discussed economic philosophy, then I headed for my "home".

I stopped for some takeout Chinese food on the way back, as a friend had suggested not only carbo-loading but also aiming to increase my calorie count the night before. It was good advice because I always find it difficult to eat the morning of an event. I always stay with Mrs. Fish's mom (Gram Fish?) and this year was no exception. She has had some health issues and is in the process of moving into assisted living, but her apartment was still open, so I was free to crash there. I realized this would be the last year I would be able to stay here, and it brought on a melancholy I wasn't prepared for. I brought it back to the room, ate it, set my alarm for EARLY and hit the proverbial sack (in this case, an air mattress). I fell asleep immediately.

Friday, August 19, 2011


We are ready and I reached my personal goal of $2,500! Thank you to everyone who has chosen to be part of Team Fish!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Today is the Day!

It was FIVE years ago today. I went to see my doctor and mentioned to him that I had some pain and discomfort. So, we did a quick check and he let me know it was probably due to a lump and that lump was probably cancer. He was right on both counts. Today, five years later, I am blessed. I am a survivor.

My friend Bill, a survivor himself, talked to me early on about the responsibility we have when given the cancer diagnosis. There are two parts. The first is to fight every single moment of every single day until you're cured. Reminders come in strange places at unexpected times. I remember one time when, late in my radiation treatment, when I was feeling particularly tired and sick and more than a little weary, I had to go for yet another treatment. I was not looking forward to it. When I went in, I got to talking to a kid in the office waiting room and he was heading in for his chemo treatment. At 11, his burden seemed so much greater than mine, yet he was there and ready to go. Fight every moment of every day.

The second thing Bill talked about was the responsibility of the survivors. When you come out on the other side, you carry the light for those who are being diagnosed with this disease, to pass along the help, the inspiration, the courage, the knowledge of what it was that helped you become a survivor. I caught mine early. I had friends and family who supported me in amazing ways. I received incredible prayer support. I had amazing doctors and I live in the country with the most advanced healthcare system in the world. Beyond that, I had support from other people who had survived, who helped me understand what I was dealing with. They helped me understand doctors, become an advocate for myself, find information about the disease (I am one of those people who wants to know MORE, not less), access resources. Now, I find myself doing that for others, in the hopes that I can live out that part of Bill's vision.

It's also why I ride. In the past five years, with the formation of Team Fish or Cut Bait, we have now raised nearly $20,000 to fight cancer. This year, the Ride for FIVE was formed to commemorate my fifth anniversary as a survivor. My friend Alwyn, a two-time cancer survivor, calls it Carpe Diem Day, the day when he chose to seize control of his life and live it.

To Bill's two commands, I would add a third. Remember. Remember both those who have survived and touched our lives because they understand what it is to be a survivor, like Bill and Alwyn and Bev (who mentored me through so many ups and downs). And, remember those who have passed. As long as we remember their stories, their fight, their lives, and how they touched us, they didn't fight in vain. I choose to remember the good things they taught me, what they showed me of courage and humanity. I remember Bob's unyielding faith, how he felt not that he was passing this world so much as he was simply going home. And Terri's light, her humor and her smile, the way the whole world seemed better just because she was in it. I remember Collin's bravery and the joy of how much he loved his family, and was loved by them, and how that love continues to spread. I remember Lucy and how brightly she shone, if only for a moment, like the world could not contain that much for any longer than it did; but like the brightest shooting star, I can still see that light when I blink my eyes and think of her. And Beth, who brought so much love to every thing she did, and when she left, she made sure it stayed with the people she touched.

I promise to carry the light. I promise to fight. And, I promise to remember.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Team Fish: Ride for FIVE Update

Just a quick update. Team Fish is now INTERNATIONAL with contributions from England and Bulgaria! We have reached our rider total of FIVE riders with my friend Jennifer signing on! And, we are more than half way to our goal of $5,000. Absolutely awesome!

That being said, we still need your help! Won't you please consider supporting usa by clicking THIS LINK?

Thank you so much, everyone, for all of your support. Onward and upward!

Training Ride

I put in a training ride across the area today, packing in about 78 miles. All in all, I felt pretty good throughout the ride, though I got a little sore at the end. I saw a boatload of animals, including dairy cows out in force, an unusual preponderance of goldfinches (not sure what that's about; I've seen a LOT of them this year on my rides) and a heap of sheep. I also managed to pick up a hitchhiking praying mantis.

I've said before if you can ride in Pennsylvania, you can ride anywhere. I hit a lot of chipseal. In this area, they lay down a layer of oil, then spread chipped gravel on top of it. The chips stick to the oil and the passing of cars presses it into the existing asphalt. No. I am not making this up. The problem is that when they first lay it down, it is, as you might imagine, a complete mess. Not to mention the vibrations from the chips before they get pressed into a (semi) flat state.

Riding into Boiling Springs, a small town near me, I saw a bunch of cones and some people standing near them. I asked what was going on and it turned out there was a triathlon in town. So, I pedalled forward and ended up doing the course in reverse, cheering the competitors on as they went by. It was very cool to see their faces light up as I cheered for them.

Taking stock, I have two minor concerns. I am getting a a vibrating in my right elbow and I have a shooting pain, albeit manageable, down my left leg. I am thinking some ice and yoga should make a difference.

One last shot of my buddy - I see COWS!

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Check them out: BUTNZ!

Check out this year's BUTNZ! They are AWESOMENESS!

Team Fish supporters get one for supporting Team Fish and the Ride for FIVE. And, wait until you see the rim stickers! Huge thanks to Kurt at for this again!

As always, you can support Team Fish in The Ride for FIVE by CLICKING HERE.