Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Is 2012 the Year You Rediscover Bicycling?

My first bike - Sears Spyder circa 1970.  Image courtesy of oldroad.com
Think back.

Way back.  Back to a time when the toughest decision you needed to make during any given day was which color popsicle you would eat first.  Life was as simple as hopping on your bike and pedaling from one adventure to the next.

As long as I was back in time for dinner, I could pretty much go wherever my bike would take me.  Down the block to a friend's house.  Over to the neighborhood White Hen Pantry.  Up to the public swimming pool.  Off to playgrounds near and far.

Sometimes the adventure didn't involve any destination in particular.  My bike was simply the vehicle that put my imagination into action.  Sometimes it was a motorcycle.  Other times it was a fighter jet, a horse, a police car, or any other conveyance needed to complete the fantasy.  I didn't require a game console and a big screen TV to simulate an experience - I just utilized my brain and my bike.

It's been over forty years since that first solo trip around the block, yet I remember it as if it were yesterday.

I was on my older brother's Stingray-like bike which was clearly too big for me to ride.  I hovered over the top tube, pedaling sporadically to keep from toppling over.  Each time I attempted to scoot up onto the seat I would lose momentum and the bike would start to wobble.   Rather than risk crashing - which I'm sure I had done dozens of times before I finally attained that right combination of forward motion and side-to-side balance - I continued to stand up on the pedals until I had circumnavigated the entire block.

The five year-old version of me hopped on that bike determined to master an elusive motor skill and returned not merely satisfied with an achievement, but addicted to a new sensation.  I still grin like a five year-old each time I throw a leg over my bike.

Every bike ride is an adventure.

Whether zipping over to the library or exploring a regional rail trail, tooling around the forest preserve or riding 150 miles to raise money for MS research, each outing has the potential to relax your mind while activating your imagination.  Every trip can stimulate your senses while simulating your childhood memories.
Bicycling will help you reclaim your health while you relive your youth.

There is no better time than right now to rediscover bicycling.  You never forget how to ride a bike - it's been scientifically proven, by the way.  Enjoying our unseasonably warm weather and getting back in shape is as easy as riding a bike.

Follow this blog for a series of posts on how you can rediscover bicycling.  From slowly riding yourself back into shape to evaluating that bike hanging in the garage, I'm here to offer advice and encouragement.  I'll provide you with insider's tips for buying accessories and offer reviews of fun and safe places to ride.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to get ready to take my bike out on some local sales calls today.  I love an early spring!

If you like this blog, fan it on Facebook and follow me on Twitter.

This post originally appeared on Chicago Now / Easy As Riding A Bike.  Reprinted by permission of author (me).  Copyright 2012, Brent Cohrs

Thursday, March 8, 2012

This Sunday, Donate Your Fitness to Saving Tiny Hearts

Although American Heart Month has come and gone, it’s never far from the hearts and minds of all the people affected by heart ailments.

While I tend to focus on heart disease and preventing your loved ones from suffering the effects of it, there exists an entire group of loved ones who would gladly suffer more, if only it were possible.  I am talking about the parents and loved ones of infants born with congenital heart defects.

Saving Tiny Hearts Society is a 100% volunteer run, non-profit organization whose goal is to raise “seed money for grossly under-funded, lifesaving grass roots research of congenital heart defects (CHD’s).”

This Sunday, March 11, 2012, they are hosting a fundraiser at Equinox in Highland Park called “Sweat For Tiny Hearts.”  The event “is a multi-activty cardio event including an indoor spin cycle team relay, Cardio-Aerobic Classes, Yoga & more to raise funds for CHD Research.”

This is an interesting concept for a fundraiser.  There’s no need to worry about the weather.  There’s no need to drag that old bike out of the garage and hope that it (and your butt) can make it through the day.  Just tell your friends, grab your gym clothes, and head to Equinox for a few hours of indoor fitness activities.

If you can’t make it, you can always sponsor an athlete or make a direct donation to Saving Tiny Hearts through their website.

Saving Tiny Hearts has a very compelling story – it’s worth a few minutes of your time to visit their site and read about it.  I think any parent will relate to “Haley’s Story” and the range of emotions that come with seeing a tiny one go through so much at such a tender age.

Keep riding – or walking, running, yoga-ing, or whatever-cardio-activity-you-prefer-ing – and be charitable!

This post originally appeared on Chicago Now / Easy As Riding A Bike.  Reposted by permission of author (me).  Copyright 2012

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Strawberry Mango Recovery Smoothie

I have become a huge fan of smoothies since kicking my addiction to added sugars and processed snack foods.  

Using whole fruits and other natural ingredients, smoothies serve as a healthy and tasty between-meal snack.  The fiber in the fruit counteracts the negative effects of fructose during metabolism.  Smoothies help keep energy levels up and triglyceride levels down.

As a cyclist, I try to adhere to Edmund Burke’s post-ride recovery recommendations of a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein.  The purpose of this is to quickly replenish glycogen stores after an endurance event or hard work-out.  I do this by adding whey protein and electrolyte mix to my usual smoothie.  I also add Kefir, which is basically liquid yogurt, as part of my daily pro-biotic ritual.

I buy most of my ingredients from Trader Joe’s.  I pick up the Hammer HEED electrolyte drink mix from my local bike shop.  I blend it all up in the Ninja Master Prep.

Here’s my recipe for a delicious Strawberry Mango Recovery Smoothie.  If you don’t need the recovery benefits, leave out the whey and electrolyte mix for a 400-calorie, healthy snack.  Enjoy!

4 ounces Trader Joe’s Kefir (strawberry or plain)
4 ounces Trader Joe’s Orange Strawberry Banana Juice (or regular OJ)
8 ounces Trader Joe’s Vanilla Soy Milk (or plain)
1 scoop Trader Joe’s Vanilla Whey protein powder
1 scoop Hammer HEED Mandarin Orange (or Strawberry) electrolyte drink mix
1 cup frozen, sliced strawberries
1 cup frozen, sliced mangos

Add ingredients in above order and blend until smooth.

This should yield a 24 ounce beverage with the 4:1 carb to protein recovery ratio recommended for endurance athletes.  All measurements and nutritional values are estimated.  Substituting other brands or flavors will change values, but should retain the ratio.

Nutrition Facts (estimated)                          Cal      Fat      Sod     Carb   Fiber   Sugar  Protein
Trader Joe’s Strawberry Kefir, 4 oz             85      1.00    62.5     12.5      1.5       10        7.00
TJ’s Orange Strawberry Banana, 4 oz            60      0.00     5.0     15.0      0.0       12          .50
TJ’s Vanilla Soy Milk, 8 oz                              90      3.50    70.0      8.0      1.0         7         7.00
TJ’s Vanilla Whey Protein, 1 scoop                 65      1.00    57.5      5.5      0.0         4         8.00
Hammer HEED mandarin orange, 1 sc            105      0.00     40.0     27.0    0.0         3         0.00
Strawberries, 1 cup                                      49      0.45       2.0     11.7    3.0         7         1.00
Mangos, 1 cup                                             107       0.45      3.0     28.0    3.0       24         0.84
Totals                                                        561      6.40  240.0  107.7   8.5      67     24.34

Food For Thought: The Mediterranean Diet (May 2011)

I just finished reading an excellent article by Georgianna Donadio entitled “The Mediterranean Diet: It’s Not Just About Food”.  It’s an easy read that provides a little food for thought.  I highly recommend it.

Spoiler alert!  The gist of the blog is that it’s not just the individual components in the diet – fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and fish – but the lifestyle that accompanies it.  Everything from daily physical activity to relaxation is mentioned.  I think that this is the part that gets lost while searching for the ultimate diet.

It’s not enough to refrain from eating bad foods.  It’s not simply disciplining yourself to choose healthier alternatives while you deny yourself the tastier fare you once loved.  It’s not just trying to figure out how to squeeze thirty minutes or an hour of exercise into your busy day.  It’s not about mimicking the successful habits of others.  It’s about changing your lifestyle.

When people ask me how I’ve managed to lose and keep off 35 pounds since my heart attack nearly two years ago, I get the feeling they’re looking for a couple of quick tricks that will suddenly make it simpler for them to achieve their health objectives.  Since most of them stop listening as soon as I say “the first thing I did was give up soda”, I realize that they’re probably not ready to make any significant lifestyle changes.  I can relate to that.

We may not be living the lives of our dreams, but we all seem to be pretty comfortable within our own routines.  Indulging in tasty food is a reward.  Swinging through the drive-thru or microwaving a prepared meal is both inexpensive and an efficient use of time.  An extra hour of work can translate into more money next week or down the road.  We live the American lifestyle and we eat the Western Diet.  Hard to see how a little olive oil and hummus can make much of a difference.

It took nearly dying for me to completely reevaluate my lifestyle.  I focused on what I had done wrong, diet-wise, and vowed to never eat that way again.  In the process of learning about food, I learned to prepare food.  I also learned to share the food that I had prepared.  Most nights when I’m not on the road, we sit down and eat together as a family.  Almost unknowingly, I’ve adopted the core principles of the Mediterranean Diet.

Now, if I could just get the rest of my family to enjoy olives and hummus the way I do…

My Plate is In, Food Pyramid is Out (June 2011)

This past week the USDA replaced the decades old Food Pyramid with the stylish, new MyPlate interactive icon.

Much has already been written by supporters and critics alike, so I’ll refrain from repeating much of it.  Instead, I’ll link you over to a very nice post by Dr. Andrew Weil which pretty much sums it all up.

I have been following these suggestions for over a year and a half now.  I formulated my own nutrition plan after reading Michael Pollan’s In Defense Of Food.  I have lost thirty five pounds (and kept them off) by changing my eating habits and remaining disciplined about my food choices.

Here are a few tips:

1.  Stop drinking soda.  Avoid vitamin and flavored waters, too.  Their dangers, as highlighted in this blog post from Dr. Mercola, can be even worse than soda!  Don’t substitute fruit juice, either.    Just drink plain waterIf you change nothing else, you will lose weight and improve your heart health just by giving up empty, nutrient-deficient, fattening liquid calories. 

2.  Don’t buy any product containing high fructose corn syrup.  See my prior post on its dangers.  You can always find another product that does not contain HFCS if you take the time to read the ingredients line on labels.  It won’t taste as sweet, so you need to remember that as your taste buds get used to a life without HFCS.

3.  Eat whole fruit instead of sweetened snacks. After you have weaned yourself off the overly sweetened HFCS snacks, you’ll begin to appreciate the natural sweetness of fresh fruit.  When eaten whole, the fruit’s natural fiber will slow the fructose absorption into your blood stream.  You will receive the benefit of the energy boost without the sugar rush and accompanying crash.  The added benefits of eating fruit are far too numerous to list here.

4.  Eat more vegetables. Whenever you can find fresh vegetables, buy them.  Clean them and heat them with a pat of olive oil butter in a Glad steamer bag.  Stir fry them.  Bake them.  Add them to whole grain pastas.  Mix up salads.  The more colors, the better.  Veggies elevate good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol and triglycerides.  The benefits of their nutrients are also too numerous to list here.

5.  Cook your own meals.  If you shop right and plan your meals, it takes no longer to make a meal from scratch than heat up an over-salted, over-fattened, over-sweetened factory-prepared meal.  In the time it takes me to bake a chicken breast, I can peel, boil, and mash a pot of sweet potatoes and cut and steam a head of broccoli.  I control what is added and the portion size.  As an added bonus, it’s cheaper when feeding more than one person.

It’s a big step forward for our government to acknowledge the flaws of the old food pyramid and offer a better informed, easier to visualize graphic for healthy eating.  It could have gone further in distinguishing between whole fruit and fruit juices, and whole grains and processed grains.  Overall, it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

Now if we can only get the government to stop subsidizing corn, remove the tariff on cane sugar, and force food processors to pay the true cost to society for poisoning us with HFCS, it might become easier to always make the right food choice…

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

High Fructose Corn Syrup: Yes, Your Body Can Tell The Difference (May 2011)

High Fructose Corn Syrup in its natural state...
Since suffering a heart attack at the age of 43 nearly two years ago, I have been on a crusade to warn people of the dangers of consuming High Fructose Corn Syrup.  I have read many articles, but none summarizes the danger better than “The Not So Sweet Truth About High Fructose Corn Syrup” by Doctor Mark Hyman.  Feel free to leave my blog and read the whole article!

While I am not known for short posts, I’ll try to summarize the Doctor’s points as succinctly as I can for those of you that want to keep reading here:

1.  “Sugar in any form causes obesity and disease when consumed in pharmacologic doses.” Since HFCS was added to our food supply in 1975, rates of obesity and chronic disease – heart disease, diabetes, and stroke – have risen dramatically.  The average American consumes 60 pounds of sugar per year and 600 more calories per day than we did in 1980 (Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food).

Why? Because HFCS is cheap to produce thanks to corn subsidies.  It is also cheaper than cane sugar thanks to import tariffs.  Processed foods taste sweeter with HFCS and it costs food producers virtually nothing to add it.  Its pervasiveness is the problem – you may not even realize you’re consuming so much of it!  You’ll see why this matters in the next paragraph.

2.  “HFCS and cane sugar are NOT biochemically identical or processed the same way by the body.” Despite the corn industry commercials insisting that your body doesn’t know the difference between cane sugar and corn sugar, (“sugar is sugar”), Dr. Hyman demonstrates otherwise.

Cane sugar – sucrose – is a 50/50 blend of glucose and fructose bound together tightly as a disaccharide.  It must be broken apart in your digestive tract.  HFCS is a 45/55 blend of glucose and fructose NOT bound together.  Each is a separate monosaccharide.

Why is it bad that they are not bound together?  Because both are absorbed into your bloodstream more rapidly than when they need to be unbound in your digestive track.  The fructose goes right to your liver where it is converted into triglycerides.  Triglycerides are carried through your blood to fat cells for storage.  Triglycerides contribute to inflammation and plaque build-up.  Cut down on HFCS and you’ll also cut down on belly fat.

The glucose, meanwhile, spikes blood sugar and creates a rapid insulin response.  Constant insulin spikes can lead to insulin resistance which is the basis of Type II Diabetes.  During the insulin response the hormone Grehlin is suppressed.  This is the hormone that signals the brain that you are full.  No satiety signal, no need to stop eating!  Hence the extra 600 calories of consumption per day.  How ironic that you literally “can’t stop eating them”?

But wait, it gets worse, much worse.  Free fructose from HFCS (and not fructose found in fruit, btw) steals ATP from your intestinal lining causing body-wide inflammation.  For those of you unfamiliar with inflammation, it causes damage to artery walls.  Cholesterol, produced in your own liver, is forced to repair this damage.  The build-up of cholesterol in arteries is known as plaque.  When plaque ruptures, it causes a blood clot.  A blood clot in a coronary artery causes a heart attack.  A blood clot in the brain causes a stroke.

To summarize, HFCS spikes your blood sugar (diabetes), elevates your triglycerides (heart disease, body fat), causes inflammation (heart attack and stroke), and causes you to eat more (obesity). Regular sugar does all of this except cause body-wide inflammation, it just doesn’t do it quite as rapidly.

3. “HFCS contains contaminants including mercury that are not regulated or measured by the FDA.” This doesn’t require any further explanation.  Read the article and find out how the FDA had to procure HFCS to perform a test – amazing… 
4.” Many independent medical and nutrition experts DO NOT support the use of HFCS in our diet, despite the assertions of the corn industry.” This also speaks for itself.  Taking an expert’s comments out of context is not the same thing as securing his endorsement…

5. “HCFS is almost always a marker of poor-quality, nutrient-poor disease creating industrial food products or ‘food-like substances.’” Since you can’t squeeze an ear of corn and drip HFCS on your cereal, it goes without saying that it’s not a natural food.  It is made by a super-secret process that actually converts glucose into fructose.  Needless to say, you won’t find HFCS in vegetables (including corn) or fruit.

You will find it in soda, fruit juices (especially juice boxes), cookies, desserts, snack foods, and both “low fat” and “low sodium” prepared foods.  If HFCS, or any of its derivatives like corn sugar, are listed in the first five ingredients, the food you are purchasing is likely devoid of all nutritional value.

I truly believe that the HFCS in my Standard American Diet (aka the Western Diet) was the primary cause of my inflammation, plaque build-up, and subsequent heart attack.  Heredity played a part as well, that’s why I’m always careful to give credit where credit is due – my Mom and Little Debbie…

Since eliminating all products containing HFCS from my diet I have lost weight quickly (200 down to 165), kept it off, and lowered my triglycerides (279 to 55).   My LDL is down to 42 and my HDL is up to 44.  I am on the lowest dose of statin my cardiologist will allow.

How do you eliminate HFCS from your diet?  I’m afraid that will have to come in another post!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Ridin' The Storm Out (May 2011)

Sometimes even the most mundane rides can turn into an adventure.

The Weather Channel promised us fog, temperatures in the upper 60′s, and a reprieve from thunderstorms until 11am on the Sunday of the Memorial Day weekend.  Starting at 8am, we would be back in our cars with at least thirty miles on the odometer before the first raindrop fell.

We had contemplated driving downtown for the annual Bike The Drive ride on Lake Shore Drive.  With the Drive closed to vehicle traffic, it’s the very best way to see Chicago’s iconic skyline up close and personal – if your idea of personal includes 19,999 other riders, that is.  This May’s volatile and unpredictable weather made it a safe bet to opt out.  I felt somewhat better about my decision when I awoke to fog.  It’s hard to appreciate the Second City’s storied architecture when you can’t see ten feet in front of you.

This Sunday would mark the first official ride of the season for our informal group of recreational riders.  We don’t really have a name, but I’m leaning toward the Fox River Social Club as we usually default to riding the two trails that run along the Fox River (Fox River Trail, Prairie Trail).  We seem to spend as much time eating and taking restroom breaks as we do bicycling.  Our inaugural ride of 2011 was no exception.

Our group could have affectionately been called four and a half men.  Our half man was neither pudgy nor annoying and neither of his accompanying adults had sipped tiger blood for breakfast.  Our Jake is a very affable and athletic seven year-old capable of powering his dad up rolling hills from the back of his tag-along bike – when he’s not snacking or watering the grass.

The four men consisted of me, Jake’s dad Javier, Eric, and Josh.  Javier suffered a spectacular crash navigating the twisting turns and steep hills of Veteran Acres Park the last time the four of us rode together.  The initial stretch of this ride featured an eerily similar set of curvy rollers with a thick cover of trees to keep the trail unpredictably moist.  Take the first ride of the season, add a seven year-old on a tag-along, start them off on some slippery hills and if nothing tragic happens within the first five minutes, you still have some great foreshadowing.

By the time we all got rolling at 8:30, the fog had already lifted.  That should have been our first clue that TWC had just gotten lazy with the copy and paste buttons for their hourly forecasts.

Rerouting on local roads to avoid two closed sections of the path, we still managed to make pretty good time until we approached the long, gradual hill that leads up to Tekakwitha Woods just south of the bridge in Valley View.  None of us expected Javier and Jake to pedal up it effortlessly.  We were all winded by the time we reached the top.  Waiting for the two of them to dismount and walk was no inconvenience, it was a needed break.

The number one rule of the Social Club is to leave no man behind.  Despite Javier’s insistence that the rest of us ride ahead, one of us always stayed with the two of them.  Pay attention to this foreshadowing…

We suffered a host of delays as we arrived in St. Charles.  Eric had to change a flat tire.  We were forced to dismount and walk our bikes through a tent city housing local artists.  We stopped to realign the tag-along after it developed the unibody drift synonymous with the 1970′s Chevy Nova.  Add in Jake’s ecological commitment to spur vegetation growth along the trail and we were about 45 minutes behind when we reached our turnaround destination.  We had traveled thirteen and a half miles in one and a half hours.

After the four and a half of us used the makeshift facilities in Batavia, I stated the obvious; the temperature had yet to rise to the 67 degrees forecast by TWC.  With two out of three predictions already blown, we should have anticipated the rain arriving ahead of schedule.

We made it nearly four miles before the sky suddenly darkened.  We all picked up the pace for the next half mile, negotiating the twisting turns of the trail despite limited visibility.  Just north of Geneva the trail is forced to cross Route 25 for a stretch that is barely a block long.  As soon as we crossed, Jake apparently became concerned that the rain might miss a specific section of bushes on the east side of the trail.  I took advantage of his sprinkling session to grab a jacket from my trunk bag.  Back on the trail for less than thirty seconds, the rain began.

At first it seemed like a gentle summer rain.  That feeling lasted all of another thirty seconds.  There was a loud thunderclap and the skies let loose.  As Javier and Jake sped downhill toward the crossing at Route 25, I could see that they would have trouble braking on the wet pavement.  Lightning lit up the sky and Javier’s deft maneuvering appeared in front of me like a dancer in a strobe light.  It was a series of still shots projected from a slide carousel.  Each fishtail of the tag-along was caught in a separate frame.  The whole scene played out in slow motion.

Javier managed to bring his runaway train to a stop in the grass just off the trail, well shy of the street crossing.  After a few tense moments waiting to cross Route 25, we continued north to the Prairie Street bridge.  We crossed the bridge in search of shelter.  We spied a gazebo in Mount Saint Mary Park, just south of our sidewalk.  With no direct route connecting the sidewalk to the walking path below, Javier took to the grass.  Sliding to safety on the walking path, Jake had had enough of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.  He leaped from the tag-along and made a bee-line directly for the shelter, easily beating the four cyclists who were forced to follow the walking path.

Huddled amidst the rows of picnic tables beneath the roof of the open gazebo, we took stock of our situation.  Javier grabbed Jake’s jacket from his handlebar bag and Jake immediately pulled it over his soaked t-shirt.  Josh stood shivering in a jersey and shorts, wondering why he left the house that morning without his bike trunk and a jacket.  Eric, clad in tights and two top layers, was wet but not saturated.  My cycling jacket had zero rain repellant features.  My mountain bike shorts and jacket combined must have retained five pounds of rainwater.

The lightning that spooked Jake and forced us to take shelter subsided quickly enough.  The storm appeared to be moving off to the west of us.  Only nine miles separated the four and a half men from their two minivans.  The rain showed no sign of stopping.  The vans weren’t going to drive themselves down to pick us up.  I transferred my phone and wallet from my soaking shorts pocket to my trunk bag and slid on the reflective rain cover.  I clipped my flashing red light back on and switched on my headlight.  I knew what I had to do.

Both Eric and Josh offered to ride back with me.  There was no point in all three of us getting wet, so we left Josh to accompany Javier and Jake.  Remember, we couldn’t leave a man behind.

Eric and I had but one mutual goal as we headed north; ride safely.

It took awhile to cross Main Street in St. Charles.  As we followed the on-street route to the bike path, I remained behind with my flashing red taillight.  My sport hybrid was no match for Eric’s road bike as we sprinted toward the trail.  Once on the trail, however, my wider tires and straight handlebar offered greater maneuverability each time we encountered a washed out stretch of crushed limestone.

Our skills were complementary as we forged on through the steady rain.  Eric pulled and set the pace on the street sections.  I cleaned the lines through the washouts.  Aside from Eric dropping his chain in one sketchy section, we made seven miles without incident, weathering some pretty heavy downpours along the way.

As we prepared for our final two mile stretch, another cloudburst sent us scrambling for cover.  We took shelter beneath a canopy outside a liquor store in South Elgin.  Each lightning flash featured a simultaneous thunderclap.  The storm had moved back east as we had headed north.  It was now directly upon us.

The storm was extremely violent for about ten minutes.  Sirens from the fire department just west of us wailed on several separate occasions.  Unfazed, we waited patiently, talking about his family’s farm near the Elroy-Sparta Trail in Wisconsin.  A tornado had touched down the previous week and his folks were finding pieces of the neighbor’s barn in their fields.  We were silently grateful that all we had to deal with was a little rain and some lightning.

When my astute powers of observation deemed that the lighting storm had passed, we took to the street en route to the last section of trail.  We could make it to our vehicles in less than eight minutes.

We hit the trail fast and hard.  The trail paralleled the railroad tracks as it snaked up and down rolling hills, twisting toward the river and back to the tracks.  With a mile left to go we encountered a tree branch blocking the trail.  This branch wasn’t on the trail when we passed through a few hours earlier.  It had recently snapped from its tree, breaking in a 70/30 manner with about six inches of clearance between the two pieces.  I pointed out the hazard and weaved through the break without incident.  Eric was about twenty feet behind when he made his attempt.

Zap!  A lightning bolt shot to the ground no more than 100 feet in front of me!  There was no thunderclap, only the amplified sizzle of a fly being electrocuted by a giant bug zapper.  The ringing in my left ear momentarily deafened me.  I didn’t see my life flash before my eyes – I heard it!

Stunned, I turned back to check on Eric.  He had barely cleared the branch when the bolt had assailed his eardrums, but he was still upright.  We were sitting ducks on the bike path.  Surrounded by trees halfway between our last shelter and our vehicles, we had no choice but to keep moving forward.  Another blinding flash about one hundred yards ahead made me second guess the wisdom of that decision.

The next four minutes were extremely tense as we pedaled onward to the parking area.  There were no further lightning strikes by the time we finally reached the two minivans.  I yanked open the sliding door, rolled my bike inside, and climbed in after it.  I stripped off my soaking jacket and jersey and toweled myself off with a rag from my tool kit.  Once dry and back in the driver’s seat, I pulled on a track jacket, started the van, and led Eric to St. Charles to retrieve our remaining two and a half men.

Freeing my phone from the trunk bag, I discovered a text message from Javier.  We would find the three of them taking shelter in the men’s room.  Not only did this provide four enclosed walls for the three of them and their bikes, it gave Jake a great sense of relief.  At least twice, I’m told…

Despite having to sit in soaking wet shorts, we kept our tradition of a post ride breakfast at Ray’s Family Restaurant in Elgin.  It’s the very rare occasion when I allow myself to deviate from my nutrition regimen and indulge in a plate of gyros and eggs.  It also gave us all the chance to rehash the day’s adventure with the usual embellishments that turn an unfortunate incident into an epic adventure.

At least in our minds…