Five keys

This is me earlier in the month on a fitness walk in Florida. I was going pretty slow, but it was the longest walk I’d done in several weeks.

There’s that old joke where a guy says he doesn’t drink anymore, doesn’t smoke anymore, and only eats foods that are good for him. “So, are you living longer?” asks his friend.

“Not sure, but it certainly seems longer!”

And you can’t take all the good advice with a grain of salt, either. Not if you’re watching your sodium. But the American Heart Association is plugging away at it anyway. Their list:

  • Not smoking
  • Eating healthy
  • Exercising regularly
  • Maintaining a normal weight
  • Drinking alcohol only in moderation

If you do those five, then your life expectancy is increased. But Dr. Frank Hu at the Harvard School of Public Health is quoted as saying that only about 8% of American adults stick to all five. Of course, four of the five items contain wiggle words: “healthy” eating– “regular” exercise– “normal” weight– “moderate” drinking. They all need definitions before we really see what is involved.

I do a pretty decent job with all five. However, I figure I smoked maybe a half pack a day up until the time I left home for college at 17, not on purpose, but family members smoked in the home. I eat pretty well, if you don’t count pizza, and I exercise a lot, including cardio, weight training, and trying to touch my toes. I’m getting close.

The weight thing fluctuates a bit, not because I’m a yo-yo dieter but just because of varying activity levels– right now I’m up a couple pounds and having just a bit of trouble buttoning the jeans. I’m all right though if you don’t expect me to talk. Or sit down.

The trouble is that I injured my foot in January. It’s now been three months, and I’m still in the healing process, with one of those orthotics in place helping take pressure off the arch. It helps my foot to keep the weight down, but with an injured foot it’s hard to walk distances and running is out of the question. It’s the vicious circle.

For cardio I’m sticking to indoor biking, or rowing on a machine. Rowing is really good for you, but it’s strenuous so even 15-20 minutes is quite a challenge. And I have to go to the club instead of walking or jogging from home.

On the other hand (actually both hands) the push-ups are going well. I’m shooting for 100,000 pushups by the end of the year– that’s about 275 each day. It’s a lot, but I do them in sets of 25 or 30 at a time & just try to fit them in sometime during the day. Right now it’s 10:45 in the morning and I’ve already done a total of: 0.

OK, typing that number motivated me to get down and get started. The first set is always the hardest of the whole day. It’s the last day of April and my total to date 32,600. That’s pretty good, but a little math tells me that I’ll only reach 99,000 unless I pick up the pace a bit. Good old math.




Getting your kicks with a nature fix 

I am deep into The Nature Fix. This 2017 book by Outside Magazine contributor Florence Williams provides a breezy way to kick yourself into higher gear: get outside. No, really, just get outside!

Her book is twelve chapters and an epilogue all about experiences in nature that make people better: calmer, happier, more resilient, and maybe more human.

Her writing style is clear and energetic, and she does a good job interspersing her own experiences into what she is reporting about. Things I’ve learned so far:

  • The affinity of people toward nature has a name, biophilia, or love of life. It’s why we like to walk among trees, and why children want to hold teddy bears.
  • There are on-going research efforts in several countries designed to study and quantify the specific impact of natural experiences on human physiology. Lower heart rate, lower blood pressure, less anxiety, and many more effects turn natural experiences in the woods or waters into legitimate treatment options for many people suffering in various ways even from deep depression and thoughts of self-harm.
  • Japan has the third highest rate of suicide of all nations. 65% of Japan is forested, yet the population, so highly urban, must make special effort to visit.
  • The single-most suicidal nation? South Korea, where one of the most extensive nature reserves may turn out to be the DMZ. It’s two-and-a-half miles wide and runs the entire width of their country, yet has been off-limits to exploration for half a century.
  • According to one researcher (Ian Alcock) the three steps to human happiness boil down to, “get married, get a job, and live near the coast.” He isn’t talking about being wealthy enough for a beachfront villa as his studies controlled for differences in income. Simple proximity to water seems to have a protective effect against the slings and arrows of modern life.

Worlds 2018

Last week in Netherlands we watched World Championships in Track Cycling. Team USA had some great results, and Eric and teammies performed in awesome fashion.

There were six guys and eight women for Team USA racing over dozens of events for five day in Apeldoorn.

In starting position

Eric’s first race was Team Pursuit– four guys blasting around the 250m track as fast as possible. Their team of four own the American record time, just over 4 min. to cover 16 laps or 4 Km. They start together, fall into line, and take turns on the front sharing the hardest position.

Waiting for times

You race against the clock in the qualifying round, then in the championship round the four fastest teams face off for Gold, Silver, or Bronze. One team loses out.

Team USA Eric on left with beard, arms crossed

How did they do? Their time of 4:04 was third best when they finished but many of the fastest European squads hadn’t gone yet. They finished out of the qualifying teams– so no medal chance– but it was a kind of victory just to qualify for Worlds in the first place. The USA track cycling program is improving and ready for the world stage.

And the women’s team did better than the men’s. A lot better.

Brugge: say it “BREW-ka”

We are in Bruges, Belgium. In their own spelling, Brugge, (meaning bridges)  is pronounced pretty close to “Brew-ka.” It’s about as scenic a European city as you can find, all cobblestone roads and gabled architecture. Everything to eat is delicious, so it’s a challenge to avoid stopping into every single brasserie, bistro, cafe, bar and restaurant we pass.

For lunch I had Croque Monsiuer, usually translated from French as “Mr. Crispy.” Basically it’s French for a grilled cheese sandwich with ham. His spouse Mrs. Crispy has an egg added. Both are delicious, but Mr. C costs 10 E, and Mrs. C 12.50 E. Who pays 2.50E for an egg?

Yes. Mr. Crispy was delicious, and came with a small salad.

Belgium is more famous for four other edibles: the fries served with mayonnaise (delicious), the waffles with whipped cream on top (doubly delicious), the fine chocolates (to die for), and the Belgian beers (OMG).

Last trip — yes, we’ve dined here before & should have known better than to tempt fate — we met an American couple after they’d done a chocolate tasting in Belgium. A mom and adult daughter, they were contemplating moving. But doubted they would find work in the chocolate industry, because it would have been impossible to visualize selling slices of paradise. Something like that, anyway. On their tour they visited five Belgian chocolatiers, in increasing order of taste & expense. Their first stop was Godiva. So that represented the bottom rung apparently. From there the ladder ascended straight to heaven.

We have not done the chocolate tour, preferring instead to tour Belgium through a liquid route. That liquid is golden and has a foamy head.

70,000 . . . pushups?

Last year I did 70,161 pushups.

WHAT?! (That’s a common reaction)


WHY? (That one comes up sometimes too)

The pushup thing started simply enough in 2013 when son Eric (he’s a pro cyclist) mentioned that a former coach was advocating a fitness goal he called the Pushup Challenge: you start with one pushup on Jan. 1, two on Jan. 2, three on Jan. 3, and so forth all year long. You gradually improve your strength and endurance until you end the year with 365 pushups on Dec. 31. Simple, right?

That simplicity appealed to me, and I started right away, however “right away” was on May 1, because I didn’t hear about it until April. I kept at it all the way, but with the late start I knew I wasn’t going to hit any stratospheric totals. I got to 200 in a day which was a lot for me, but nothing amazing. There are guys who can do 200 in a set.

The rules are simple: you can do the pushups at any time in any combination of sets that works for you, but by the end of the day you have to have logged your total. The next day you start over with one more pushup than the day before. The problem is, what happens if you miss a day? Or fall short? Then you have to play catch-up. It’s easy enough to do during the first couple months when the daily requirement is less than 60 to begin with, but in later months when you get above 200 missing a day propels your next day above 400. It’s tiring. It’s time consuming as well, and that became one of the biggest hurdles.

“Drop and give me 25!” OK, 25 pushups can be done in 30 seconds if you’re in shape.

“Drop and give me 400!” Not so much. So I became strategic about breaking everything into manageable sets.

That created the next hurdle. Above 200 or so it becomes a challenge just to keep track of how many sets you’ve done. You have to actually create some kind of simple record-keeping system. I logged my daily totals on my phone (just using the notepad), but even during each day it became necessary to keep track! The simple idea was becoming complex.

In 2014 I started over on January 1. One pushup. That year I got above 250 & sometime in September I knocked off for the year. My shoulders were starting to give me trouble and at my age (I was 59) I don’t want joint problems. I called it a year somewhere around 40,000 or so, and did a few every other day just to keep in shape, biding my time for January.

In 2015 I got further into the calendar, but I still had to quit (shoulder pain again). I think I made it to my birthday (November 1), so I had crossed the threshold of 300 per day before dialing it back once again.

But I was psyched for 2016, a leap year– 366 days, the maximum load! In January I did all my required plus I built a small savings bank of extra pushups so that later in the year (we’re talking November or December where weekly totals surpass 2,500) I could fall back on them if necessary. (I never used any from the “savings bank” but it was huge to have them as a psychological boost to not giving up.)

On Dec. 31, 2016 I completed 366 pushups. The monthly total came to 10,881 just for December, and for the year it added up to 67,161 daily pushups. I added in my savings bank of an extra 3,000 mostly from January and February when the livin’ is easy and that brought my GRAND TOTAL FOR 2016 to 70,161 pushups!

I didn’t do anything special to celebrate, except we went out for New Year’s Eve to a fav restaurant, but we do that anyway. It did make it feel extra sweet, though. Now, it’s 2017, and today I did 225.

Hey, it’s just a thing I do.

2016 Pushup Totals by month

Jan  (31 days)      496 pushups     Total = 496

Feb (29 days)   1,334  pushups  Total = 1,830

Mar (31 days)   2,356 pushups  Total = 4,186

Apr (30 days)    3,195 pushups  Total = 7,381

May (31 days)   4,247 pushups  Total = 11,628

June (30 days)  5,025 pushups  Total = 16,653

July (31 days)    6,138 pushups  Total = 22,791

Aug (31 days)   7,099 pushups  Total = 29,890

Sept (30 days)   7,785 pushups  Total = 37,675

Oct  (31 days)   8,990 pushups  Total = 46,665

Nov (30 days)   9,615 pushups  Total = 56,280

Dec (31 days)  10,881 pushups  Total = 67,161


You might run into Bob out there

Here is a link to a 30-sec. video:

OK, maybe you didn’t watch it (but you should– it only lasts 30 seconds). The sound track is only the silence of a road bike being pedaled in Minnesota by 92-year-old Bob Powers. He is inspiring.

Love this video from Rally Cycling– but I hope when not being filmed he has some lights and rides to the right and pretends he is invisible. Because no one sees cyclists anymore.

My Cycle-Logical Difficulties Explained

  • Despite not actually learning how to ride until 12 years old
  • I was an early adopter of what is now known as a “road bike,”
  • Because I bought my first one, a Peugeot PX-10, in 1973.
  • Like a fine wine,
  • It was imported from France.
  • It cost almost $300.
  • No one I knew shared my enthusiasm.
  • I was 18, and didn’t have a car
  • Or a driver’s license.
  • The Peugot had a high-end, lightweight lugged-steel frame of Reynold’s 531 double-butted tubing and all French components, i.e., no Campagnola parts, because
  • It was from France.
  • In America? It became “a ten-speed.”
  • I didn’t know that Americans could race bikes.
  • I rode it around the Chicago suburbs, on streets
  • And Forest Preserve trails,
  • Carefully crafted of unpaved dirt and mud.
  • I wasn’t real sure how wide those Mavic rims were
  • Because they were measured in “centimeters,”
  • Which was French for “skinny,”
  • And took “sew-ups” which are tires glued to the rim and have the lightweight tube sewn inside the tire.
  • When I got my first flat I had to buy a book about bicycle maintenance.
  • I do remember that my original chainwheels (the front gears attached to your pedal cranks)
  • Were 48 & 52 teeth, i.e. two gear choices translated as “High” and “Higher,”
  • So, a week after picking up my bike I had it back to the shop and a smaller 40-tooth chainwheel swapped in for the 48.
  • I looked up how to translate the possible gear combinations into Ratios, so I could
  • Attempt pedaling uphill.
  • All this in the Chicago area where anything more than a 1% grade gets called “pretty hilly,”
  • And where the general public does not differentiate between, “Go up this street to the first corner . . . ” & “Go down this street to the first corner . . .”
  • In fact, a lot of Chicagoans simply use the word up when they mean north.
  • My bike-handling skills were “adequate,”
  • In the sense that I rarely crashed
  • Unless there was a good reason.
  • At 13 I had once collided with a tree that suddenly veered into my path
  • Consequently I never learned to ride No Hands.
  • Still, I loved riding.
  • At the end of that summer I hung my bike somewhere at home and returned to university for my sophomore year,
  • Where I switched back to my old bike, a fire-engine red coaster-brake one-speed with plastic grips on the handlebar ends.
  • Because I figured it wouldn’t get stolen on campus, and I didn’t mind if it developed one more layer of rust.
  • By junior year I was ready to take my Peugot to England for my semester away at a small college near Bristol,
  • An area known to Brits as “The West Country,” a land of scenic roadways, hard cider, and
  • “Real Ale,” the original craft-beer movement that in 1975 had already started in the UK.
  • Real ale literally meant that the handle of a pub’s draught (British for “draft”) actually had to be pulled with enough force to draw beer up from the cellar, because it wasn’t artificially pressurized with extra carbonation,
  • To fill a pint glass (a 20-oz. Imperial-pint glass, not the 16-oz. American version).
  • This glass contained approximately 135 times the alcohol content of a Michelob, then considered a high-quality American beer. (Your other choice for quality was Lowenbrau.)
  • IMG_9020
  • My Peugot in May, 1975: Looking pleased with my high-tech rack system. That pump- the French supplied one when the bike was new, but not this one. I still have the soft handlebar bag & the saddle, an Ideale.
  • Cycling in the UK involved narrow roads, numerous hills, small cars, busy intersections, tons of pedestrians, and
  • Everybody going the wrong way.
  • Fortunately my little college was out in the countryside, so I had time to get used to pedaling under the influence of the roads, the traffic, and the Imperial-size pint.
  • Back then the cheapest meal was always the “Ploughman’s Lunch” consisting of bread, butter, English cheddar, good mustard,
  • And a pint. You could get the lunch and the pint for under 30p. This was about 50 cents.
  • I rode most weekends if the weather was OK,
  • So, about twice a month.
  • And explored the area, visiting such landmarks as Salisbury, Stonehenge, Castle Combe, Norton St. Phillip, and Bath which was only four miles away.
  • Spring break was three weeks long and allowed me my first opportunity to ride back to London, about 80 miles that I split into three days so I could see some sights,
  • Including Winchester where the youth hostel was a historic mill several centuries old, and the men’s shower consisted of a bucket system allowing guys (OK, blokes) to access the mill race through a trapdoor
  • To dump the startlingly cold water into a small reservoir that fed the sinks and shower.
  • I do not recall showering.
  • In London I stayed with my best friend until subtle hints allowed me to grasp the fact that his parents had desired a guest for only one weekend.
  • And I spent the remaining couple weeks hiking and seeing sights further afield in the English Lake District and all the way to Scotland by hitchhiking, perfectly legal as long as you are not on the M-roads (Brit interstates).
  • By May my college experience ended, but I took advantage of my plane ticket home (London – Amsterdam – Chicago) to see a bit of Holland and Germany all along the Rhine.
  • I got as far as Koln (Cologne), where I made friends with a college-age English couple who turned out to be brother & sister not BF & GF which explained how friendly she’d been,
  • And I had one of the most unusual travel experiences of my life, still never duplicated, of trying to help a guy at the German hostel who turned out to be both French and totally deaf and only wanted some simple questions answered.
  • I also remember paying for breakfast at a Dutch youth hostel in the countryside, getting up the next morning and finding an all-you-can-eat sandwich buffet laid out for 70 school children who all preferred the Nutella.
  • A guy on a cycling vacation can eat a lot of sandwiches.
  • When it was time to fly home I made my way with bike and luggage to Sciphol Airport from Amsterdam by bus with “plenty of time to spare.” All Dutch buses will transport bicycles for free.
  • Except the one to the airport. The driver refused to allow me to board with a bike.
  • I considered riding the ten miles but was doubtful with the luggage, but I was lucky because the next driver was no problem.
  • I had developed my technique of getting my Peugot ready for airplane travel (unscrew pedals & reverse them toward the frame—loosen handlebars & turn 90 degrees so they don’t stick out—release front wheel & use leather toeclip straps to attach it alongside rear wheel thus padding the derailleur —remove saddle) into a routine I could execute in six minutes.
  • This worked. I arrived home an international cycling veteran. I was 20 years old.

A burrito, a beer, and a brain bucket

Racing done, the sky getting dark, we were in Louisville, Kentucky, on a street corner waiting. Team Rally had finished  their post-race snack and sit, and were getting ready to head back to their motel. A van and a car, both covered with bikes and wheels atop racks, plus a large mechanics’ trailer were being loaded. The mood was somber– they’d taken second in the big race. Men’s mechanic Erik Maresjo, the guy who makes sure victory is possible, handed me a foil-wrapped burrito and an All-Day IPA, the post-race snack my son had missed. The race helmet- his brain bucket- got snapped around the handle of his gearbag. Everything was done loading.

We were just waiting for Eric who was delayed by the necessity to pee into a cup for the mandatory routine drug-control testing, the policing of the sport. Compared to the European race scene there is less pressure to perform in American racing, but the enforcement process is the same. Everybody pees when required, always if you win, sometimes if you don’t.

Second place makes a Dad proud and teammates sullen. If you get the win you also get the jersey, the interviews, the backslaps and high-fives and phone calls. If you take second you get the WTFHAPPENED?! and the Tweet about making the podium.

The sky looked darker and darker. Louisville was all finished hosting an entire weekend of championship races sponsored by USA Cycling, including Sunday dedicated to criterium championships. There is a race and a stars-and-stripes jersey for each age and gender classification: Junior men and women (under 18), U23 men and women (ages 18-23 years) Masters men and women (over 40) and then the skill classifications of Categories 3,4, and 5 (beginning racers) and Categories 1 and 2 (experienced racers with victories at lower levels), again both Men’s and Women’s.

The two culminating races that end the weekend are the Pro Women and the Pro Men, raced as teams but won by individuals. Eric has been fortunate to race in multiple championship competitions and has come out on top, but today was Travis McCabe’s.


From left, Eric in second, Travis on the top step, and Ty Magner in third: the Men’s Pro Criterium podium in Louisville

Here is the link:  First, scroll forward to 6:16 for the final pro sprint. (Eric is not correctly ID’d until 6:20 when he’s finally announced for second place, with Brad Huff in at fourth). Medals presented at 6:37

And if you want to watch the race all the way through you’ll see that the true winner might be 19-year-old Brandon McNulty, a first-year pro who announced his presence by holding off everyone until one lap to go. He didn’t make the podium for the crit, but he’d won the Individual Time Trial two days before, and he almost turned the pro crit into another time trial win.

Eric’s girlfriend, in town from Colorado, waited with us. Then he rode up, still sweaty an hour after the race, threw his bike atop the rack, participated in his team manager’s talk inside their van. She waited for him, and they walked together, back to our hotel, heading for a late supper.

Can a Mercedes be Amish?

Most people who live where I do (a Chicago suburb) have their own motorized vehicle. At the house next door the neighbors operate six passenger vehicles including four compact cars and two enormous SUVs.

However, in a vain effort to reduce our carbon footprint to the size of a baby shoe my spouse and I share one vehicle. Oh sure, back before retirement she used to have a car of her own, a small blue Honda that we later gave to our youngest when he graduated college. This had become a family tradition, so he was expecting it and even helped pick it out a couple years before it became his. It has since been sold and replaced with a Toyota pickup more suitable to his Colorado lifestyle.

That has left us, since 2011, with my car, a black Mercedes C280 with 4Matic drive system and “limited” cargo space. We have been making-do with this car ever since. Because I also eschew gas-powered lawn equipment in favor of a rechargeable electric mower I have become something of a freak-of-nature in my environment: a suburban guy with only one engine.


Not as clean as it should be

Back before 2011 we used to visit a particular area of Wisconsin that was becoming heavily Amish, and we learned that a typical Amish farm was allowed one engine, but no electricity. It wasn’t difficult to spot an Amish farmhouse as you drove country roads—there were no lights on at night and they had wash hung out in the daytime. No pickup in the driveway. But the one engine came in handy—it was usually a tractor engine mounted on blocks with a drive belt that could operate any number of pieces of machinery, all allowed as long as they weren’t electric. The engine was always installed in a barn or metal shed away from the house.

One engine to run your life keeps things simple. My spouse and I go most places together anyway, or we can walk or ride a bike. Or I drop her off and pick her up if it is somewhere close.

The car is now 10 years old and has more than 200,000 miles on it—not particularly unusual these days, and it has always been something of a badge of honor for a Mercedes to run a lot of miles. They used to give out little medallions that an owner could mount on the radiator grill. I don’t do that. But I do use the car a lot. I like road trips & prefer driving to flying to get somewhere distant. In April we drove it to New Mexico and back. And it pretty much knows the way to Florida all by itself.


Road tripping: Route 66 to Santa Monica California

The backseat now stays covered with a blue & white patterned mat that represents a futile attempt to keep the leather seats from being scratched by dog claws. And there are quite a few little minor dings around the interior. The white primer on my elbow rest came off with Windex and a little scrubbing.

But the car still does a great job on a road trip, averaging about 29 MPG on the highway, and performing admirably in any variety of road conditions. That’s the 4Matic, the Mercedes version of 4-wheel-drive. My previous car had been an earlier model Mercedes with rear-wheel-drive. This meant two sandbags in the trunk that stayed there all winter and into the spring (it’s a well-known jinx to remove your sandbags too early), and one year they stayed there until the next winter rolled around. Those were a hassle, especially since the battery was in the trunk. Below the sandbags. I like 4Matic much better, as the handling is superb in both rain and snow, and you never have to worry you’ll be stranded.

Because my spouse can’t come and pick me up.

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