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Making the Final Push for Cycle for Shelter

by Carla Stein, 100-mile cyclist

July 17,2016


Only a week to go before Cycle for Shelter! 

 carla and david small for web.jpg

Everyone is working to get their last workouts in and plan their last week of probably reduced riding and increased eating to get ready.  Last weekend, a favorite trip to Vermont was cancelled due to rain, and I tried to a simulated session on the trainer to make up for what would have been a 65-mile ride with 5,500 feet of climbing. It was strenuous and taxing completely lacking in downhill fun, but good training and rewarding to see the right watt numbers being produced.


Sometimes, this time of year, it is very hard to fit everything in—especially when overtime hours at work kick in.  Last Tuesday my plan called for a 2 hour road ride, as usual, but instead of commuting to work by the scenic route and then have a shorter ride home, because of an evening meeting, I had to cram the whole ride time  in before work.  I didn’t feel like getting up that early, but it was a nice morning and I set off on a simple out and back of 34 miles or so.


A few miles out the cadence counter and speedometer on my bike computer stopped working, leaving only heart rate on the screen, so not much to concentrate on, and I ended up daydreaming about a million things. I’m usually so focused on the numbers that I barely notice scenery, but there were no numbers to bother about and my mind wandered off to a favorite movie, “The Pursuit of Happiness,” that Dave and I had watched about a week ago.  You can see it on Netflix, and I would love it if all the Cycle for Shelter riders and sponsors would see it!  


As I watched this suddenly-single father taking care of his small child while struggling with homelessness and pursuing an ambitious career path that ultimately led to great financial success and security, I was grateful for the help that Emmaus provides to similar struggling families.  It was super inspirational to see how this father persisted and succeeded in the face of what appeared to be a hopeless situation.  (The story is based on the true story of Chris Gardner.) 


As I rode along that morning, I really enjoyed thinking about the people that Cycle for Shelter is helping, and recognizing that the general perception of homeless people as lazy, desperate drug addicts, or hopeless drunks is as misguided as any generalization about any group of people with something in common. Sure, some poor life choices may have had a hand in in a person becoming homeless, but everyone deserves a chance to stand on their own, some kindness and help along the way, and Emmaus “Where Everyone Matters” is offering just that.


As I neared the end of the ride, the speedo started working again, and I charged up my least favorite hill on Kingsbury Ave as hard as I could go, determined to stay above 9 mph.  The grade there is 9.2% and I promised myself a glorious ride down as I churned my way up it.  I got to the top, panting, and started down shifting for the flight down when a car wallowed out at me like a slow drunken bumblebee not knowing how far over in the lane to wander, so I had to brake. This situation was further compounded by another idiot who had stopped to pick someone's trash, but had left their hind end out blocking that side. They were taking an old air conditioner….what makes someone think an old air conditioner on the side of the road is going to be any good?  So my usual 34 mph reward turned into a 14 mph obstacle course as I was then forced to ride in the crack and pothole quagmire on the side, instead of taking the lane.


Final question of the day:  which is worse, riding on a trainer (so no downhill) or having a downhill ‘stolen’ by traffic? Answer: being hit by a car—so be smart out there on the road and err on the side of caution!


Hope to see many of you next Sunday at the 28th Annual Cycle for Shelter!


Cycling for Shelter, Hopefully Without Wardrobe Malfunctions!

by Carla Stein, 100-mile cyclist

March 21, 2016

Oh, so happy it is finally summer!  Now, I know it is not summer by the date, but it is summer by how I feel, and that is happy to be cycling again. The first week is always a somewhat rocky transition from rowing, bike saddle usually hurts a bit, legs try to complain about going in circles instead of back and forth, and there are silly things that happen.


Last week I forgot to wear sun lotion on a long ride in the sun and came back home as red as a lobster.  I also got lost on my first group ride of the season so I ended up riding 68 miles instead of 50, GPS program mutely refusing to give me turn by turn instructions because I didn’t know how to tell it to. (Thank goodness for Siri, who did a great job with ‘Navigate Home!’ once I decided to bail out of the group I was with and get home before I collapsed, previous longest ride having only been 24 miles.) And on my first ride to work on a chilly morning, I punched myself in the face trying to pull on the arm warmers!


As I pedaled off to work that morning, I got thinking about all the bike gear fiascos I’ve gone through over the years. I don’t know if the Michelin Man leg warmers count but I’ll leave that to your imagination. Suffice it to say, that complete bike tights, while not as practical (you are stuck with them on when it gets warm) are more flattering.  As I imagine a bolero will be, compared to arm warmers that create what I call ‘fleeps’ (what sticks out between your jersey sleeves and the arm warmers that are too tight and short.)


I think the biggest ‘wardrobe malfunction’ I ever experienced was on the day of my first ever real bike race a few years ago. It was a hill climb race up Appalachian Gap in Vermont. We had tent camped the night before in freezing weather and had gotten up shivering, choked down a bowl of oatmeal that went down like Gorilla Glue, and headed over to the start. I was so terrified I actually hoped we would get in an accident so I wouldn’t have to do it.


It was so cold that I had on tights, warm socks, booties over my shoes, duct tape over the vents on the shoes, long sleeved jersey, turtle fur vest, and windbreaker. And a hat under the helmet. I dithered back and forth about if I needed the vest or not, or the wind breaker, on and off with the booties 5 times, tried to tuck my shirt in without it making a big lump.   I lined up to register (after having suggested to the volunteers that they needed a line for those who really would rather just be shot instead) and got my race number. It was to be pinned on your right hip so that they could see who it was at the finish, I suppose. I was used to pinning those just on the center of your back.  Anyway I dutifully pinned it on, and then decided it was time for trip 4,656 to the rest room. Now this rest room was one of those dreadful affairs where you feel you ought to wrap yourself in Saran Wrap before touching anything, to start with. And it was being shared between men and women, as I think the women’s was flooded or something, There were 2 stalls, with very short walls, and a long line.


Outside you could hear the beep beep beep of the starter (it was a time trial so riders were set off every 30 seconds) which added to the general angst. When it was finally my turn in the tiny stall I discovered to my consternation that I had pinned my jacket and vest to my pants and tucked in shirt. You can’t imagine the panic. In an effort to see what I was doing behind my back, I knocked my helmet visor on the edge of the aforementioned very short stall wall and almost added a Swim segment to the event as the previous visitor had left the seat up.


Today, however, a gorgeous sunny balmy day, a fun fitness ride with the North Shore Cyclists (check out our Cycle For Shelter Team page!)  The joys of summer beckon—glorious days of carefree pedaling ahead.



Again Cycling for Shelter

by Carla Stein, 100-mile cyclist

Feb. 2, 2016

Yay!group small for web.jpg


The happy day has come when it’s possible to register for my favorite ride of the year—CYCLE FOR SHELTER! 


Just went online and signed up, and forwarded the email to fellow cyclist

Denice, who has riding a century on her bucket list.  This is the best ride for first-time century riders.  I’m biased because this was MY first century, so I want it to be everybody’s. But truly, it’s such a great crowd, such fun at all the rest stops with the volunteers from all the different churches and groups that support Emmaus, and the barbecue celebration afterwards is always so festive. This is truly a highlight of my summer each and every year.


Thank goodness we have not been suffering the alpine purgatory that defined Massachusetts last year!  The last several days have been positively balmy. I have many friends who are getting a lot of wonderful rides in!  It’s a bit frustrating for me, actually, because I’m on a pretty strict training schedule for my other sport, indoor rowing, and can’t afford to deviate much from it if I’m to perform as expected for both events and just plain training.  I read reports of rides my friends take—some locally and some on trips overseas—look at their photos—and then trudge back to my sunporch to grind out another rowing session.  My bike is hanging on the wall on hooks over the rowing machine. I sometimes imagine it looking down on me, wondering why I am performing what must seem like an exercise in futility, and feeling somewhat miffed at being spurned ignobly in favor of such a creature as the erg.


But it’s a very rewarding sport, if not actually enjoyable, I mean, if it’s not enjoyable while you are actually doing it.  (I like to say it is something I enjoy having DONE.) 


On December 19 my friend, Anne Bourlioux from Canada, who holds more than 10 world records in various rowing distances, talked me into teaming up with her for a tandem event, a total of 100K meters, to be done as a sort of relay using one rowing machine. That’s the rule—it has to be on one machine, and you trade off after short stints in order to get the fastest time you can as a team.  I was, of course, honored to be asked, and at the same time afraid I would not be able to hold up my end of the stick!  In our case, as she is quite a lot stronger than I am, she did 1100m stints and I did 900m, each of us repeating this 50 times. (Yes, 50.)  You can’t let the flywheel on the machine stop, so you have to work out a way to slip out of the seat as the other person jumps on, straps in and sets off.


My husband, Dave was our support team, holding the seat, helping with foot straps, and keeping a log for evidence.  We had one computer flashing a light at 25 beats a minute (that was for Anne’s stroke rate) and I had my audio metronome beeping at 24 beats a minute. At the same time we had music blaring on the radio and also some nature videos, sound off with subtitles on, as another source of distraction.  Mostly I was staring at the performance monitor to make sure I was holding the pace where I needed to, but once in a while I’d look up and catch an alluring view of a polar bear trying to eat a walrus or some dreadful larvae popping out of somewhere it shouldn’t have been in the first place. In your 3-4 minutes ‘rest’ you could choke down a bit of banana or take a sip of Gatorade, run to the bathroom, stretch, but be ready to hop back on! It was a sort of athletic mad Tea Party. 


We set a world record for the 50-59 F HWT category, and actually beat the times that had been previously posted for 40-49 and 30-39 year olds.  We did it in 6:48:25.8 which is currently the overall record for women of any age. So, I guess it was worth missing some good bike days to prepare for that.


Then I switched gears for a local 2K race—small event, not much competition, but the point was to draw a line in the sand for where I was on that distance so coach could work out a plan to improve on that later in the season. 


On January 16 my coach suggested I take advantage of the endurance training from that and nab the American record for 50-59 F HWT in the marathon row.  Dave was off skiing and somewhat daunted by facing this alone I asked Denice to come over for moral support.  I do one of these a year, and it always hurts badly at the end, but to do it at this pace was going to be really challenging and I knew without someone there I would cave. Denice was awesome. We set her up on my Wattbike next to me so she had something to do (well, we watched a few movies, too) but always ready to help me get a drink (no coasting while rowing, so drinking can be a challenge.) 


At the end things were so close, pace was right on to break the record but at 4K to go all sorts of muscles were trying to cramp. I held off the cramping by slowing down, but had to be careful not to slow so much that I’d blow the record. I asked Denice to say some things to me that I find helpful to hear and she faithfully repeated the phrases over-and-over for that last 4K, and I went over the line beating the previous record by some 45 seconds.


And now during this virtual heat wave, while cyclists around me are stealing some magic time on mountain bikes and fat bikes and maybe even their road bikes, I’m locked in training for the big international race in Boston on February 28.  Again, the dreaded 2K distance, which is too long to be a sprint and too short to be long… a LOT of dedicated work ahead to sharpen up on intensity.  Mandated rest days will invariably fall on days with weather like June.  For a brief intro into what 2K rowing races are like, check out this video  ) put out by the race organizers.  There are a few clips from last year’s race in Boston meant to illustrate the pain factor involved in this particular event and 14 seconds into the video there I am on the screen at the very end of last year’s race, my final grimace cast in stone. 


With this looming ahead, getting the email today announcing that Cycle for Shelter registration was open was a very welcome distraction!  Riding 100 miles with friends on a gorgeous summer day will be so much fun!  CAN’T WAIT!


I Cycled for Shelter

by Carla Stein, 100-mile cyclistCarla Stein

July 26, 2015

The great day has come…and gone! Just like that. The same way Christmas dinner disappears in 20 minutes after you spend 2 days preparing it (or, more accurately, my mom spends 2 days preparing it)….So many training rides, so much thought put into it. All the planning and organizing that so many wonderful volunteers do—the great day came and now it’s over.


But such a full, full, wonderful day. A day full of giving, sharing, working together. A day of tremendous energy expended by the riders and tremendous commitment by Emmaus to provide safety and support for the riders, food for the riders, massages for the riders…all in all a top notch event that deserves to have more and more participants each year.  And a very successful fund raiser! More to come on that score, but to date an impressive $102,000 raised by this event.


The day started with threats of rain and thunder and lightning….I have to say I felt rather grim this morning at 4AM when I got up to force feed myself oatmeal. My stomach is not awake at 4 AM…however, I have found that if I eat any later, on the first hill I heartily regret it. So I have developed this habit of eating at 4 AM so it’s digested by 7…but going back to sleep until 5:30…it’s sort of gruesome. It’s like swallowing glue. But worth it.


Managed that, and drove to the school, feeling a bit trepidatious. On the way Dave and I agreed that riding in the rain was not as bad as being homeless in the rain and we should just get on with it and stop worrying about a little water. We got to the school at 6:15 or so where everyone was milling around trying to decide whether to wear rain jackets or not, and pinning numbers on with nervous hands. I have an expensive whiz bang bike rain jacket that I have only worn twice in 2 years, because while it is supposed to breath, it really doesn’t. It does have huge zipper vents, but if you unzip them of course you get wet from the rain. In the end I opted to wear arm warmers and it was sufficient.  They came off around mile 60.


The group I was riding with was a great bunch and we worked well together.  We took turns (for the most part) leading so everyone had a chance to rest and had a chance to ‘pull’.  At mile 25, the first rest stop, we averaged over 20 mph.  The cool temps and the rain were actually refreshing. Having the police help us through some tricky intersections at the beginning was very nice, and it was fun to go by the cheering squads that appeared where we least expected them!


We flew by the rest stop in Kensington, no one felt the need for it, and everyone managed evil Stumpfield Hill shortly after that. We pulled into the lunch stop at the Amesbury Sports Park and had a great selection of ride friendly offerings—peanut butter and jelly, bananas, trail mix, Gatorade, pickles….Everyone was so helpful and supportive. I was not brave enough to try a pickle, but some riders swear by them as the perfect thing to eat to replace electrolytes.


Next rest stop was the fire station but we blew by that as well and went on to the gazebo. More bananas, cookies, and the like and a wonderful friendly crew handing them out. We did not linger long at this stop either and powered on to mile 90, the rest stop in Boxford.  Everyone was feeling strong and great. Someone took a group photo of the 10 of us and I can’t wait to see it.


The last 10 miles is usually a challenge but this time around everyone just seemed so comfortable and legs willingly churned through a series of small hills. In previous years I have really wanted to stop at my house (which is very near about mile 92 or so) but this year it was not a temptation at all.  We stuck together well as a group and a mile or so from the end agreed to come in together in 2 rows of 5 in a wonderful spirit of sportsmanship. Ride time was 5 hours 6 minutes for an average of 19.6 mph.   We were greeted by enthusiastic volunteers who had water and towels for us and proceeded to enjoy a wonderful picnic—so many wonderful things to eat, and eat we did!


Having fueled the ride on the 4 AM glue ration, 4 bananas, 2 fig newtons, some Gatorade, a half peanut butter sandwich, and some watermelon, I had been dreaming of a burger for some miles. And there they were—burgers, pizza, hummus, pita, tabbouleh, watermelon, rice pudding, some kind of awesome chocolate mousse cake thing, all kinds of soda, macaroni salad, green salad, fried chicken…ah yes the fried chicken!!!  After a refreshing shower the free massages were terrific, and plenty of time to relax and share ride stories with friends.  There was a wonderful euphoric mood in the air, a collective ‘we did it’ that buoyed up the whole atmosphere.


Already looking forward to Cycle for Shelter 2016. Are you in?

Cycling for Shelter


by James Sullivan, 62-mile cyclist

June 30, 2015

James Sullivan

My name is James Sullivan. I am 15 years old and started riding in Emmaus's Cycle for Shelter when I was in the fifth grade; I've done the 50-mile route twice, and this year I'll be riding the 62-mile route for the third time. I always train and ride with my dad, Shawn Sullivan, who is really good at coming up with different training routes for us.


This weekend he had a great idea, to follow the region's portion of the Underground Railroad. We rode from my hometown of Haverhill down into Danvers, and from there we followed the Railroad back up through Haverhill. It was about 20 miles to get to the Danvers starting point and twenty to follow the routes the escaping slaves took, and the stops were all about five miles apart. (The route wound up actually being around 48 miles because of various navigational errors; even if human society would probably collapse without them, phone directions can be annoying.)


None of the Railroad stops were very conspicuous. Well, that’s kind of relative. They were probably pretty inconspicuous back then, when the slaves were on the run, but these days historical preservation societies had markers at a lot of them, and one of them is actually a museum about the Underground Railroad, so they were easy enough to find if you knew what you were looking for. But if you were just driving by in a car, there was nothing about the sites that would make you point and go, “OOH! OHH! UNDERGROUND RAILROAD STOP!”  And come to think of it, that was pretty much the point. My dad has lived here all his life and never knew about most of these places.


Aside from the historical content, there were other really nice parts of the ride. We stopped for a snack in Danvers at the Kaffmandu Coffee house and cafe – excellent food and service – give it a shot if you’re in town. Also, we spent a good chunk of the ride on the Danvers rail trail, which was very pleasant and easy and would probably make a great family bike ride. 


But after our ride I kept thinking about the Railroad. In all, I think that the very fact that so many people were willing to make this journey, often on foot, often at night, without the navigational tools at their disposal that we have, serves as a massive testament to their bravery. Kind of amazing.



I'm Cycling for Shelter

by Carla Stein, 100-mile cyclist                                carla stein pic

June 23, 2015

I love riding for only about a million reasons, but one is that it’s a great way to be outdoors enjoying nature without the dull plod of hiking. Hiking always feels like punishment to me, and no matter how majestic the vista at the top, it’s never feels like  enough reward for the hours of toiling in the broiling sun in heavy clumsy boots being bitten by fierce carnivorous insects while the sweat trickles grimily under your pack.  On a bike, if you can force your eyes off your speedo and think about something besides your cadence and gearing,  you can enjoy grand views while flying along, your feet whirling effortlessly as your wheels spin on an endless ribbon of smooth pavement.


And, it’s a wonderful way to interact with wildlife!


I don’t think dogs count, but there have been quite a few that found me interesting as I flew by their yards, and just to be safe, I always bellow as loud and authoritatively as I can, “GO HOME!!” which usually stops them right in their tracks. Especially if they are chained.


On one ride in Rhode Island, alone on a long country road, wondering if I was lost or not, a deer bolted out of the woods on my side of the road and galloped along right beside me for about a mile. OK, half a mile…well, maybe a few hundred yards. My heart was in my throat…should I stop? What if it should suddenly swerve in front of me? I couldn’t think what I ought to do when just as suddenly as it appeared, it swerved back off into the woods, where it then stopped and turned back to stare at me.


Another time, on an early morning ride, I unexpectedly came upon a flock of about 15 wild turkeys who were napping  on the warm pavement in the sun, each on their own separate spot as if they were playing pieces on an imaginary checkerboard. None of them rose as I pedaled slowly between them, but they each gave me a baneful glare that was positively nerve-wracking.  I probably am imagining the menacing cackling I remember as I passed each malevolent bird, but it was with great relief that I made it through the labyrinth to the clear open road beyond.


I’ve had several chipmunks actually run right through my wheels, in a great show of either tremendous skill, daring, and agility or just plain dumb luck. This I’ve never actually seen myself, but friends behind me did. It’s one of those things that has to happen very fast, like running your finger through candle flame—favorite daring trick of adolescent boys. Since it happened more than once, I like to think it was the same one, which had worked for weeks to perfect his timing and improve his sprint.


I think my most astonishing livestock meeting was on an oppressively hot day in Maine. It had been a hard day with lots of sudden abrupt climbs on narrow curvy roads through the woods. I was out of water, exhausted, and crusted with salt,  ut my assigned ride was 4 hours and I had come up 1/2 hour short. So just to fill out the time I continued along in an aimless fashion, planning on turning around wherever 15 minutes ran out and go home. There had been no cars for quite a while and I was trying to figure out where I’d be doing my U turn, based on how fast I was going, when suddenly I heard a strange Dingle Dingle Dingle sound in my rear spokes. Uh oh, Stick! I thought, but before I could think of much else, there was an odd scratching sensation on my elbow, and suddenly, I was face to face with a squirrel, who was actually perched on my right hand. Reflexively I flicked my wrist but as I did so I felt his little scratchy claws push away as he jettisoned himself off into the woods. I would almost have thought I dreamed that up, but a car that had come along behind me slowed down, and the woman in the passenger seat leaned out and hollered, “Are you OK?   Did that thing bite you?” It must have tried to dash out to cross the street in front of me, but either not as skilled as my friend the chipmunk or too large, got kicked up by the spokes and thrown onto my arm.


But by far, the most alarming wildlife meeting I’ve ever had was probably the least threatening.


A few weeks ago, while on the rail trails on Cape Cod riding behind Dave, I was amusing myself watching a long tendril of spider web, stuck to his helmet, streaming behind him as if he were a knight sporting his lady’s favor.  It sparkled in the sun and I was somewhat mesmerized by it, dreamily wondering how long it would hang on there.  I was snapped out of my reverie with a jolt when the dear creature who had created it suddenly inserted itself rudely between my glasses and my eyelid. It was some sort of wriggling damp thing, and my gorge rose as I panicked, winking, blinking, flailing, the gossamer thread tangling in my eyelashes while the little dark blob of who knows what twirled maddeningly in my field of vision. I don’t know what Dave heard, serenely pedaling in front of me, but I know back where I was, I heard a high pitched, incoherent explosive garbling. It is a good thing there was no one behind me because I am sure my trajectory was unpredictable and my stop abrupt and not properly signaled.


So, if you have been thinking, it’s time to get outside more and enjoy nature…get out on your bike and enjoy it faster and more intensely than you do on foot!


June 1, 2015

June 1st, and it’s a cold and rainy Monday. Feels like November. The heat came on last night, and outside the window the trees are tossing their nasty wet leaves about restlessly— the idea of riding outdoors today is repugnant. Anyone that is homeless out there right now is probably not very comfortable, and that’s not a comfortable thought… a jarring thought when juxtaposed with the comforts of my life.


Fortunately for me,  I’m on a scheduled day off from training and just got back from a wonderful, warm, sunny 3 day weekend bike trip along the seashores in Rhode Island with a group of 30 wonderful friends that have been re uniting annually for the ‘Zippy Women’s Bike trip’ now for 29 years! Some of the riders are in their 80’s and still just loving it on the bike.  It’s a casual event, with 3 days of riding, lovely  picnic lunches, plenty of time to socialize, everyone riding at whatever pace they please, with the sole  aim being to make it to the next meal, laugh as much as possible, and not get lost!


I well remember my first Zippy trip in the hills of New Hampshire. My sister-in-law invited me, and I was as nervous about this fun social event as if I was being asked suddenly to join in on the Tour de France. Thus far my only riding experience  was solo, or with just one friend or my husband and kids, so I had no idea what it would be like to go on a Real Cycling Event where people used cleats, padded shorts, special zippered bike jerseys and had bikes you could pick up with one hand.  I suffered from Lycra-phobia, and always made sure that my cotton tee shirts were a shroud-like men’s size XXXL so they flowed out behind me to hide my derriere. (The fact that they monumentally increased the air resistance and made the ride harder hadn’t dawned on me yet.) 


The thought of being clipped onto my bike pedals like these Real Rider Zippy Women was beyond imagining. My bike was a steel Raleigh Grand Prix that I bought when I was 14 for $150. I had toe clips but was afraid to tighten them at all, and wore soft-soled rubber sneakers. Turned out all my anxiety about not being able to keep up was completely unfounded—there are stories to be told about that some other day.  I had the time of my life and never want to miss a Zippy weekend. But it was true that I had a penchant for getting lost, which is only now starting to improve.


A few years later—I think 2006? I started thinking about resurrecting an old dream of riding 100 miles in one day. It had been lurking in the back of my mind for some years, tantalizing and teasing me…could I do it?  It seemed a very daunting goal, but curiously within reach.  I don’t know how I first heard of Cycle for Shelter, but it seemed a perfect fit: an official Century that someone else mapped out, a cause I already supported with donations, and there was even a little group of first time century riders that was meeting weekly to train for it.


I joined the group and learned more about how to ride with others, to try to use lower gears and higher cadence, and week by week the miles increased. I was petrified I would get lost—on one training ride I had even contrived, somehow, to get lost doing a U-turn! So even though the route was marked with arrows, my long suffering husband drove me around the whole course about a week before so I would feel more comfortable about it. We ran into one of the event organizers that day who had encouraged me to sign up. He was refreshing the arrows on the road, and declared that ‘anyone who would drive you around 100 miles looking for arrows on the road was a “keeper” ‘.


That first century, I really didn’t understand the whole concept of a supported ride, and didn’t know about all the wonderful volunteers who would be there, cheering us on and feeding us, so I put this huge heavy pack on my back rack and filled it with 2 extra bottles of water, a heavy bike pump, several bananas and cookies, a jacket, tools that I didn’t know how to use but felt I should have on hand, and goodness knows what else. You would have thought I was embarking on a journey into the desert with what all I packed in there.  I don’t know how much weight that added to the stout frame of the Raleigh, but it was easily a 40-50 pound rig by the time I was done. I had wrangled a $200 donation from my daughter’s karate school by promising to wear a dojo T shirt, so my parachute du jour was emblazoned KHOURY’S KARATE, and I had found some crew socks with stripes that matched to complete the glorious ensemble.


Not surprisingly it was not far into the ride before I found myself toiling along alone, anxiously watching for the special arrows on the pavement, and really wondering if I would make it. About 5 miles before the lunch stop, there was a loud snapping sound, and suddenly my 10 speeds became 2. The cable to the back gears had broken, and there I was with a choice between 10th gear and 5th—but in 5th the chain was rubbing and grating in an awful fashion. This was not so bad, since I had ridden this bike in college for several years stuck in 10th only, but that was a few years ago, and it was hard going this hot July day with  45 miles in my legs already. 


I called the help number and they told me they could either come fetch me or I could pedal my way in and they could fix it when I got there. Jealous of every mile and not wanting to ‘cheat’ by taking a ride, I mashed my way to the lunch stop, and as soon as I clattered up, the wonderful mechanical support crew, volunteering from a local bike shop, took over.  It turned out the bike was so old that they didn’t have any replacement cables that fit it! I think it was at this point that I realized I really was riding on outmoded equipment. It took them a bit of time, but eventually they succeeded in somehow whittling the fittings on a modern cable down enough to fit my antique and I hit the road again—determined to get myself a new, modern, lightweight bike, as a reward for finishing the event.


I don’t remember much from the rest of the ride—did manage to find a few groups here and there to ride with, but it was mostly a solo and arduous effort. There were some lonely long miles in the woods of Boxford.  By mile 85 my rear end had had it with my saddle, and by mile 95 I recall finally identifying what it felt like I was sitting on:  the business side of a cookie cutter. And also that my right foot was completely numb. One of the hardest things I ever did was NOT simply stop when the route went agonizing close to my own comfy home, where a shower and a freezer full of ice-cream beckoned. 


But the cheering of the volunteers at the last rest stop, my pride in flying the Khoury’s Karate shirt and not wanting to let any of my sponsors down, kept me moving, while below those motivations the subterranean goal purred and growled….make the distance, make the distance, make the distance. Never was there a  more welcome sight than the arch of balloons at the finish line, where music was playing and a huge tent  set with a wonderful picnic came into view, all donated for the event. The sense of accomplishment was palpable.  It drenched my whole being, and the whole world seemed a part of the celebration. From that moment I was hooked—hooked on riding, hooked on centuries, but most of all, hooked on Cycle for Shelter.



May 18, 2015

A few days ago I took the long way in to work on my bike—well, the medium long way—and since my training schedule said I was not supposed to be working very hard at it I let my mind wander, in an effort to keep things lackadaisical. Usually the main view is the bike computer and constant scanning for road hazards; thoughts are usually focused on cadence, gearing, traffic, pot holes. I find it hard to relax and ride easy when alone with the gimlet-eyed bike computer tracking every pedal stroke.  In fact, I remember on one ride a few summers ago, on a gorgeous summer day, completely focused on 96 rpm and the speed I was trying to maintain, becoming conscious of an odd smell. I couldn’t identify it. For several miles I noted it, wonderingly, as I plowed along through a headwind, and then slowly reality broke through and I realized it was the aroma of low tide… because I was cycling right along the sea shore, and was so oblivious to it that I might as well have been on a treadmill in some underground dungeon.


The first time I ever used a bike computer—this was I think in the late 90’s—I vastly amused by reading the instructions.  In all capital letters was the warning KEEP EYES ON THE ROAD AT ALL TIMES.  Of course, I thought, and who does not? Then Dave mounted the beast on my handlebars, and within about a mile I almost drove into a ditch and up a tree because I was watching how fast I was going. There is something inside me that is completely driven by the numbers on that screen.  That first one only had miles per hour, and I think time of day.  The one I have now has miles per hour, heart rate, and cadence, and I am starting to yearn for watts.


What I notice most when out riding is smells.  You can experience smells without being distracted from your focus, and in the spring it’s such a nasal kaleidoscope. Skunk cabbage, fields freshly spread with manure, overpowering wafts of lilac, someone mowing the grass, and in the evenings, meat grilling on a never ending hidden parade of barbecues.  Scenery is asphalt, broken glass (watch out!) white edge lines, litter. If I were a better citizen I’d pick this litter up, but instead I whirl by and subconsciously identify it by the snatches of color: pink and orange—Dunkin’s; brown and blue—Snickers; blue and green-AOL disc. For a while, those little tooth flossing handle things seemed to be the thing most commonly pitched out of car windows, and AOL discs were ubiquitous.  I could recognize an AOL disc peeking out from under a pile of leaves at 20 mph. At least, so I thought.


On my ride to work there’s a little slight annoying hill and to mitigate the discomfort of it I used to look for this particular AOL disc that was slowly migrating down the hill in the gutter. Every day it seemed to creep a little further down and it became a bit of a friend of mine. It was there for a whole summer, and then the next spring on my first ride to work I looked for it anxiously—and it wasn’t there!  The next day I looked closer, but still to no avail, and finally on the 3rd day I saw it. Someone, I imagined, had picked it up and placed it on top of the curb, or perhaps a snow plow had done it, but there it was, perched on the curb and looking none the worse for wear, keeping me from flagging with its cheerful presence.


About a month later, going up the same little slope, my chain dropped and I ended up getting off the bike to fix it.  It was hot and I was cross and decided just to walk up rather than try to start pedaling on that hill.  As I approached my friend I saw that it wasn’t my AOL disc buddy at all. It was some sort of medallion the city had installed there with information on it about not polluting the sewers. To say I was devastated is only a partial exaggeration. For a brief moment I felt like Tom Hanks watching Wilson disappear into the fast forever of the sea. A small piece of reality was yanked away leaving a small hole in the web of my sanity. I still give a nod to the sewer medallion as I go by. But it’s just not the same.


May 3, 2015

Ah… IS spring, at last.


Most folks are starting to attend to the yards and flower beds that grace their homes, now that the huge snow banks have finally disappeared. At our house, we’ve thrown the snow shovels in the garage, picked up some sticks and left over oak leaves,  and will dutifully mow the weeds we call a lawn once a week. We may even put out some fresh bark mulch (my favorite crop) and call it a garden.   But that’s about it.’s time to ride bikes!


Yes!  We love to ride our bikes!  And our favorite event of the year is the annual Cycle for Shelter. 100 miles to benefit Emmaus, and help those who have no homes to beautify with blooms, no yards to rake, no garages to clean.  I wish I could say I am making a great sacrifice, trading in bike training for yard work. The fact is--I live to ride, but if you can do what you love, and help people at the same time--it can’t be wrong!  


Today was my first day out on the road—competing in the sport of indoor rowing (season ended 4/30 with a marathon row) prevented an earlier start on the bike—and having played as well in the Merrimack Valley Philharmonic Orchestra concert this afternoon, there  wasn’t a lot  of time. But it was such a joy, in the sweet warmth of late afternoon, the air mildly humid and everything happily green, to take a short 10 mile loop around the neighborhood.  The first of many training rides that will prepare us to once again conquer 100.


Carla lives in Bradford with her husband of 30 years, fellow Emmaus cyclist Dave Stein, their impertinent cat Philip, 4 bicycles, a Wattbike trainer, a rowing machine, a violin, and a bossy talking metronome named Dr. Beat.  While Dave loves the winter and is an avid skier, Carla survives October to May by training for the bizarre sport of indoor rowing, and is internationally ranked in the top 2% in almost all distances in her age group. Dr. Beat keeps her on track for both rowing workouts, and hours practicing violin for the privilege of performing in the 2d violin section of the Merrimack Valley Philharmonic Orchestra. She works for North Solar Screen, where she  helps people figure out what sort of energy saving shades to buy.  Being able to cycle to work one of her special joys.