Weekly Book Review: Across America by Bicycle

Across America by Bicycle:  Alice and Bobbi’s Summer on Wheels, was published by Terrace Books in 2010.  Two friends decided after they retired to ride together across America, from the West to the East coast.  The women were experienced cyclist who had bicycled rather longish trips before, but this was, by far, their longest effort.  They had a web site but it is now down, and the domain is up for sale.  But, the book is still available.  Why should you read it?

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First of all this is an inspiring story  of two women who took on an awesome challenge and completed it.  It is an inspiring and hopeful book.  The book talks about how their already close friendship became more solid, and the many helpful people they met along the way.  As a matter of fact, the people they met along the way  who helped them or just had some kind of impact no matter how fleeting, are a major theme in this book.  Also, this is my third book in this genre (books about people who bike across the United States), and that is  a surprisingly common theme in all of them so far.  In the upcoming weeks you will hear more about the other two books.

If you are contemplating a long ride, solo or with somebody else, this is a book for you to read.  The antidotes, and stories they tell provide wise insight.  They were smart, well prepared, but also flexible.  They camped some, stayed sometimes with people they met along the way, but also used hotels or other lodging.  The book has a lot of explicit, and implicit, advice to give anyone thinking of undertaking such a ride including a whole appendix about what each of them carried on their trek.  There is even an appendix that provides a detailed packing list, down to what went where, which provides an example of two good templates for anyone to start with.  One packed more weight than the other, but they were both rather frugal about the ounces they carried.

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Running Ugly: The Upcoming Book

This is the preface of my  upcoming book Running Ugly: A Fitness Memoir.  I would love to get feedback from you.  

Preface

Deep roots are not reached by the frost.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

To be a consistent winner means preparing not just one day, one month or even one year – but for a lifetime. Bill Rodgers (American marathon runner. b. 1947).

This is the story of a very ordinary runner, and a very ordinary person. No matter what they mean to me, my accomplishments are modest to the world, and if there are any strengths in this book it lies in that fact. This is a book for persons of modest means. What I have managed to accomplish was by the way of humble tools, and a meager athletic ability, fortified by persistence. I am still astonished at what happened, and can scarcely recognize my own hand in it.

I started this book when I was 56, and will be over 59 years old before it is done. In the meantime I have explored the jagged edges of my emotional, physical, and spiritual capabilities. In the meantime I have twice become a grandparent. I have become more at peace, and more comfortable, with myself. Fitness, the weight loss, all those original goals have become secondary. It turns out running was a tool, maybe even a metaphor, for something else, and there is no denying the existential aspect of what running represents. But, we cannot run forever. We must take time for other things, and eventually even the best runner can run no more. Aging is something that we cannot conquer but, that we can perhaps come to a gentleman’s agreement with.

What is this book about? This book is about a journey to regain my health so I could live better, and perhaps longer, and where that journey ultimately led me. I wrote it because I think there are a lot of people like me, and that I may have learned something from my experience that may be useful to them. I also wrote it for deeply personal reasons, perhaps even selfish reasons, as part of my struggle to understand what happened as well as what it might all mean in the end. This book is also about hope. This book is also about our ability to assume at least some control of our destiny rather than to be passive recipients of what popular culture wants to spoon feed us figuratively, and literally. This book is about running ugly. So what is running ugly?

Running ugly means running for the joy and the benefit of it rather than for the laurels of victory or the false accomplishment of trying to look good. If the laurels, and looking good, come to us it is a by-product of almost no consequence. A light desert to an already satisfying feast. Running itself is always a process, never a product. When you are in your fifties you are no longer the belle at the ball, and in our youth oriented society you are considered a has been anyway. So why doll yourself up for nothing? Don’t worry about how you look, how fast you are going, if you look weird, if you run strange, or lumber about on the track without grace. If so, you are probably doing something right. At the very least you are at least doing it. You have been freed from the the prison of the couch. Just run.

Run ugly. Run often. And if you can’t run too far, or often, do what you can. If you cannot run walk. If you cannot walk, live a mindful life. Exist with gratitude for the experience of being a part of it all.

I said earlier that running ugly is a metaphor. Perhaps a metaphor for something very much beyond running. Perhaps it means for us to have patience, curiosity, and grace as we explore the contours of our lives in order to make meaning of it. Perhaps it means that we cultivate an inner beauty by letting outer appearances take care of themselves as we strive to become beautiful on the inside. To become kinder to ourselves and others. I went outside to run, but instead entered a classroom.

“You can’t out train a bad diet.”

I am working on the post about weight training at home I promised a couple of days ago.  But, I read about this video in the Runner’s World article by Amby Burfoot, and it made a tremendous impression on me.

Intuitively we know this to be true.  But to actually see it in this video really drives it home.  For all the emphasis we put on exercise, and it is important, it is the diet that is making the biggest difference.  Another hard truth is that the standard diet in America is fundamentally unhealthy.  This video, and the movie/book  Forks Over Knives along with the movie/book Fast Food Nation has convinced me, that for me, a vegan diet is the way to go.  I don’t advocate vegan for everyone, but for me it works.