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Posts Tagged ‘Cycling’

Just Another Species

In beauty, behavior, life, nature, sports on August 21, 2011 at 1:09 pm
Mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) in Modoc Count...

Image via Wikipedia

It’s too easy to think we’re it, we homo sapiens. The wise, rational ones.

Which is why I hunger to be in nature as often as possible. Only out there, walking, canoeing, kayaking, riding, on my bike, do I quickly and indelibly remember we’re just one of millions of species inhabiting our shared blue ball of Earth.

I was lucky enough, in my late 20s, to take two safaris in East Africa, one in Tanzania and one in Kenya. I had never before fully understood how poorly equipped the human body is for some habitats — without the necessary protection of camouflaging colors or fur or  feathers, scales, thorns or poisoned stingers.

The Equatorial sun was brilliant and harsh; I once lay directly beneath a large fallen tree trunk, desperate for the tiniest sliver of shade. Insects whirred and bit. The water was filled with all sorts of dangerous things that could burrow into our flesh or bloodstream.

The landscape was full of large, silent stalkers — how would we ever hear the lion before he arrived at our tent door? In the mornings, we opened it to discover a pile of elephant dung the size of an 18-wheeler tire. Right beside our tent.

It was a life-changing experience to be reminded how fragile and vulnerable we really are. That we are but one piece of a large ecosystem, and often its most disrespectful and destructive.

From an interesting and smart essay in today’s New York Times:

So, the conundrum: More than ever, an urban nation plagued by obesity, sloth and a surfeit of digital entertainment should encourage people to experience the wild — but does that mean nature has to be tame and lawyer-vetted?

My experience, purely anecdotal, is that the more rangers try to bring the nanny state to public lands, the more careless, and dependent, people become. There will always be steep cliffs, deep water, and ornery and unpredictable animals in that messy part of the national habitat not crossed by climate-controlled malls and processed-food emporiums. If people expect a grizzly bear to be benign, or think a glacier is just another variant of a theme park slide, it’s not the fault of the government when something goes fatally wrong.

This year, Yosemite is experiencing a surge of visitors — 730,000 in July, a record for a single month, they say…

“Many of these people aren’t used to nature,” said Kari Cobb, a Yosemite park ranger. “They don’t fully understand it. We’ve got more than 800 trails and 3,000-foot cliffs in this park. You can’t put guardrails around the whole thing.”

On this week’s bike ride, a cardinal flashed before my eyes. A deer and her fawn ambled across the trail in front of me. Hawks and eagles soared overhead.

As I walked the bike up a hill, I saw a skeleton flattened in the wet grass. A deer.

Our suburban town, from which I can see the glittering towers of Manhattan 25 miles south like Oz, is filled with wildlife: raccoons, deer, crows, wild turkeys, groundhogs, skunks, rabbits.

I love hanging out in their neighborhood, whizzing through their world.

I wonder what they think of us.

When and where do you most enjoy being outdoors?

Running All The Way To The O.R.

In behavior, Health, sports on August 17, 2010 at 6:32 pm
Players in a glass-backed squash court
Image via Wikipedia

For some of us, movement is life. Running, biking, playing competitive sports, winning medals or trophies or beating our personal bests. When my dearly beloved red convertible was stolen, pillaged for parts and ditched on a nearby road, I went to the police lot to retrieve what was left of value — all my sports gear in the trunk: a winch handle for sail racing, softball gear and my squash raquets.

In a country plagued by obesity, it’s hard to remember that for every 350-pound person unable to maneuver easily, or those for whom exercise and sports are anathema, there’s someone eagerly lacing up their sneakers or sliding into their canoe or kayak.

Writes Gina Kolata in The New York Times:

Our behavior, said the expert, Dr. Jon L. Schriner, an osteopath at the Michigan Center for Athletic Medicine, is “compulsive”: we let our egos get in the way, persisting beyond all reason.

But another expert recommended by the college, David B. Coppel, a clinical and sports psychologist at the University of Washington, has another perspective. There are several reasons some people find it hard to switch sports, he told me. Often, their friends do that sport, too; it is how these people identify themselves, part of their social life. And then there is another, more elusive factor.

“There is something about the experience — be it figure skating or running or cycling — that really produces a pleasurable experience,” Dr. Coppel said. “That connection is probably not only at a psychological level but probably also something physiological that potentially makes it harder for these people to transition to other sports.”

Jennifer Davis, a physical chemist who is my cycling, running and weight-lifting partner, adds another reason. Often we stubborn athletes — and Jen, an ultra runner who competes in races longer than marathons, includes herself in that group — have found that we do well, get trophies, win at least our age group in races. That makes it hard to stop.

I think about this a lot. I normally bike, walk, do a jazz dance class, swim, skate, ski, play softball (second base) and almost anything that doesn’t involve heights. I had to give up squash after blowing out both my knees and now, with severe osteoarthritis in one hip, am losing almost all my other sports. In so doing, I’m losing myself.

What people who hate to exercise don’t get are all the many pleasures it provides, from my pals on my softball team to my fistful of fencing medals. Being athletic and strong, flexible and quick, skilled and competent is a core piece of my identity and has been for my entire life.

I don’t have kids or pets or hobbies or any deep political or religious affiliations, some of the things to which many people tie their identity and self-worth. I do live for the pleasure of knowing my body remains strong and flexible.

Today’s doctor, the fifth specialist I’ve seen since March, told me, reassuringly, that after my (eventual) hip replacement, I can play tennis. I appreciated his sentiment — that I’ll regain some of my sports — but we choose our activities for all sorts of reasons.

I hate tennis!

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From 501 To 170 Pounds: A Man, A Bike, The Builder Who Believed In Him

In Health, men, sports on February 12, 2010 at 5:18 pm
eve

Image by Ralph Hockens via Flickr

Here is an amazing story — of grit, courage and determination. The man, Scott Cutshall, is not an Olympic athlete, but a regular guy, a Dad, who used to weigh 501 pounds and now, thanks to a newfound passion for bicycling and a custom-built bike that allowed him to get started even while he was gargantuan — weighs 170.

This piece is by Frank Bures who has written for Mother Jones, Outside, Esquire and Harper’s, among others. I found this today in a doctor’s waiting room in Bicycling magazine and it’s a great read:

The news was not good. The doctor gave him six months to live without bariatric surgery. With it, the doctor said, Cutshall had a 50 percent chance of making it out of the operating room.

“I’m a dead man,” said Cutshall, sobbing softly.

Over the next few years, even as he defied that dire prediction, every doctor, every authority he consulted would give him equally urgent warnings. Everyone told him the same thing: Lose weight or die. At the doctor’s office that day in 2002, Cutshall had voiced the foremost question in his mind.

“Do you think I can lose the weight on my own?”

“No,” the doctor had said. “At your weight, I’ve never heard of anyone doing it.”

One day, he sees a cyclist whizzing past his window, since all he could do at that point is stay home, and finds a bike-builder in whom he confides his unlikely dream, to start riding again:

Bob Brown, a part-time bike builder from Minnesota, happened to be at a low point in his queue. “Honestly, I didn’t take it real seriously,” Brown says. “I’ve had plenty of people claim to want to get back in shape and change their lives, but they didn’t follow through on it. So I responded and said I’d be willing to talk to him about it, but I really never thought I’d hear back from him.”

Five days later, the two settled on a frame and a price. Brown, who would be traveling to New York for his other job as a design engineer, agreed to stop by and take some measurements.

“Scott made dinner for me the first night,” Brown recalls. “He couldn’t stand up for more than a minute before his legs were exhausted. He cooked dinner, but he sat at the stove and asked me to get ingredients for him. I remember thinking: Wow, I can’t imagine living this guy’s life.”

Three months after Brown’s visit, in early 2005, he flew back into town with Cutshall’s new ride, a mono-grammed blue-and-white, steel-framed cycle with tandem-strength wheels and a fork that took Brown as long to build as the entire rest of the bike. It was, he says, at least five times stronger than it needed to be.

Read this story, put down that cupcake/beer/pizza — and get to the gym! It certainly inspired me.

Class Rage? Was He Drunk? Will He Get A Fair Trial? Toronto A-Buzz Over Cyclist's Death

In culture on September 4, 2009 at 10:31 am
Photograph of a damaged bicycle, to illustrate...

Image via Wikipedia

Class warfare between a wealthy attorney and his wife, cruising town in their luxury convertible and a feisty-but-lovable bike courier? Road rage gone rampant? Should the cops have stopped the cyclist who’d been drinking? What really happened on the most elegant shopping block in Toronto — its equivalent of Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue or Madison, or Chicago’s Miracle Mile?

I grew up in Toronto and there’s never been a story quite like it, striking especially hard in a larger culture that still prides itself, even in a sprawling, multicultural city of more than two million, on tolerance and public civility. A place where in-your-face confrontation — pretty standard stuff in some American cities — is rare and deemed repugnant, and rarely escalates into a killing. People, there, don’t shoot one another over a parking spot or other perceived minor injustice.

The standard narrative isn’t working, writes Globe and Mail columnist Judith Timson, but this case, she writes, is one that Toronto can’t stop talking about.

Ontario's Ex-Prosecutor Kills Toronto Cyclist in Road Rage

In politics on September 2, 2009 at 1:54 pm

In one of the most bizarre and terrifying stories out of my hometown, Toronto, here’s one about a rising political star who killed a cyclist. The New York Times today reports how Michael Bryant, in an apparent fit of road rage, crushed and killed a young bike courier.

It’s every urban cyclist’s nightmare to hit a car. It’s beyond imaginable that the driver then tries to kill you.

Look Out Lance, Here Comes Evelyn!

In sports, women on August 9, 2009 at 9:05 am
Evelyn Stevens wins @Battenkill

Image by jdanvers via Flickr

As a jock since childhood and a formerly nationally ranked saber fencer, I love stories about female athletes.

Evelyn Stevens, who’s been working on Wall Street for an investment fund, is a young woman now considered one in a million with her newfound aptitude and talent for competitive cycling. She’s in a race today, the Route de France, she might even win, a six-day race facing the world’s top females. The photo here is of her recently winning the Tour of the Battenkill, the country’s largest one-day sanctioned race.

A former collegiate tennis player at Dartmouth, she’s been cycling competitively less than a year.

Here’s Reed Albergotti’s Wall Street Journal profile of 26-year-old cycling phenom Evelyn Stevens.

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