Over the Hill

A few months ago we got our son a new bike. He is growing so fast that he has outgrown his kiddie bike. He’s undergoing a growth spurt like he’s being stretch, and probably grew a couple of inches this past year. He’ll outgrow a shoe size after only a few months.

And what size is his bike now? It’s a full size bike. Same as mine.

Gone are the days of kid trikes, or training wheels, or youth-size bikes. It seems like it was just yesterday that I was teaching him how to ride, and he won’t let me let go of his bike for fear that he would fall. It also took a lot of convincing before he allowed us to take off the training wheels. Now he’s fearless.

Last weekend, my son and I went out for a bike ride. It was the perfect weather for a ride, not hot, nor too cold, just cool enough to break a sweat under the sun. We rode for about an hour over several miles, through paved roads and dirt roads, and up and down some hills.

We have hybrid bikes – a cross between a road bike and a mountain bike. Light and fast enough on paved roads, but sturdy enough to handle dirt and trail roads.

Before when we would go for a bike ride, I would have to slow down or even stop especially when we ride uphill. Or I will hear him call, “Dad, wait up!” His small legs just cannot pedal fast enough to keep up.

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But this time, it was quite different. On two occasions, as we rode up a steep hill, it was him who had to slow down or even stop. Why? To wait for his old man. I am eating his dust!

What happened? Certainly the lots have changed.

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I would like to think that it was his bike, which is newer, perhaps lighter, and with more gears than mine, that made the difference, that’s why I cannot keep up with him. But I know it’s more than that.

Or I can use the excuse that I have to stop to take pictures. Or perhaps I just want a slower ride. And maybe stop once in a while to smell the roses. Or sniff his dust?

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My son is certainly ascending. While I may be over the hill, though I refuse to admit it. And I’m not even talking about biking.

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

Coming out from the Cornfields

I was standing at a clearing beside a cornfield. Then all of a sudden I saw people, dressed in their sports gear, coming out of the cornfield. Was I dreaming?

My name is not Kevin Costner, and the scene I was witnessing was not from the film “Fields of Dreams,” which by the way, was shot in Iowa.

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scene from the movie Field of Dreams

The people I saw emerging from the cornfields were not baseball players, but rather cyclists, with their biking shirts, shorts and helmets on.

Here’s my story.

Me and my friends took part in the recently concluded Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI), which was a 7-day long event. The total length of this year’s route was 405 miles. Though we only rode a 1-day leg, from Perry to Des Moines (3rd day route), which was still a formidable 50 mile course.

We could have not picked a better day to participate. Besides that it was the shortest course, and probably the flattest (1308 feet of climb), but the weather was also perfect. The temperature was in the high 60’s to 70’s F (it was in the 90’s to 100’s the day before), and was overcast, so it was cool the whole day through.

My friends and I were not real cyclists and this was our first RAGBRAI ride. We rode slow that I don’t think we passed any cyclists, yet everybody seems to be overtaking us. Including a grandma who was celebrating her 90th birthday, riding a recumbent tandem bike with her daughter, who was also older than we were.

I learned many biker’s lingo during the ride. They shout “biker off” to alarm other riders, when they are stopping and exiting on the shoulder of the road. “Biker on,” when they are getting back on the road and rejoining the pack. (I wish I could shout “flame on,” like the superhero Human Torch, and my bike will be ablaze and zoom.) “Car up” when there’s an approaching car up ahead, or “car back” when there’s a vehicle behind. Then there’s “on your right” or “on your left,” to warn you when they were about to overtake you.

I also heard a chilling warning calling out “Biker down!” Aside from calling assistance to the biker who fell, it is also to alert other bikers to get ready to stop or slow down to avoid domino-like collision.

Unfortunately, that call for “biker down” was for my friend, after he collided with another friend. I told you we were novice bikers. Good thing we were going slow, so he was not seriously injured, and only had a scraped knee. He just don’t have photos to remind him of the RAGBRAI, but a physical memento as well. He wore that wound like a badge of honor.

We stopped a number of times to rest. And to eat too. The course was lined with food stalls and other specialty booths offering a variety of things, especially in towns we passed through.

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photo courtesy of RAGBRAI.com

Then in one lonely stretch of the road flanked by vast cornfields, as we stopped for ice cream (did we eat more than we burned?), was when I saw people coming out of the cornfields.

Why were they coming out of the cornfields? Was it a mirage?

No, it was not. And it has nothing to do with “build it, and they will come,” symbolic theme of the movie “Field of Dreams.” (Though you can say RAGBRAI draws both national and international participants to Iowa.) These people emerging out of the cornfields had a more plain and practical explanation.

There were more than 10,000 bike riders that took part on RAGBRAI. Even though there were several hundreds of portable toilets, mostly placed in the town stops, it may still not enough to provide “relief” for everybody in every place.

But who need toilets, when you have thousands of acres of cornfields spread all over the course, right?

So what did the riders do inside the cornfields? You don’t want to know.

Bike Lane

My tush hurts!

I rode my bike for 20 miles today. This is in preparation, for in 2 weeks, I will be joining the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) – an annual 7-day long bicycle ride across the state of Iowa. The total length of the course this year is 468 miles. I heard Lance Armstrong (disgraced or not) will be participating.

No, I’m not doing the whole 7 days, just a 1-day leg of the course. But that is still a 50 miles ride. And to ensure I finish the course without keeling over, I need to do some training.

I already ran a half-marathon (13 miles) race. Three times. Now I’m doing a 50-mile bike ride. I wonder what will be my next physical challenge. Perhaps the triathlon?

Triathlon includes: 1 mile swim, 25 miles bike ride, and 6 miles run. There’s one problem though, I really don’t know how to swim, or at least swim effectively. I don’t think dog-paddling for a mile, will be efficient.

However, my biggest concern with Triathlon is this: if you get tired running, you can stop and walk; if you get tired biking, you can stop pedaling and just cruise along; if you get tired swimming, you can stop, but you drown!

Back to my bike ride today, as I was pedaling my way through roads flanked by vast cornfields, while cars and trucks whizzed past me, images of my childhood and my old bike flashed in my mind. Am I riding down the bike lane or memory lane?

My father bought our “family” bicycle when I was 10 years old. It was a communal bike, but I used it the most. My father taught me how to ride it by holding on the back of the seat, while he ran along (he was a runner!) and I pedal. No training wheels.

Funny, that’s how I taught my son how to ride too. While my daughter learned how to ride on her own without any assistance from me.

I rode our bike through the narrow and busy streets of Manila. I rode it for fun. Though at times I was sent on an errand and rode it. Frequently I would go to my friends’ house in nearby Quezon City, and I would wield my way through bustling streets plied with jeepneys and tricycles, as well as crowded with people.

On rare occasions, while on the bike, I would hold on to the back of a slower moving jeepney to drift along. I realize now that, that was dangerous. What was I thinking? At least I never did stunt jumps with that bike. If it was a BMX bike, I probably would’ve.

When I was in high school, I got tired of its red color, and decided to change it. A friend of mine, whose father repair typewriters, had a compressor in their garage. So my two friends and I pick one hue and spray painted all our bikes with the same color.

What color? Purple! Don’t ask.

When I entered college, I rarely rode our bike again. Maybe because I find it kiddy-ish already. Or perhaps I wish it was more sporty like a racer or a mountain bike with gears. But it’s not. It was a “kid” bike.

But I had much fun with that bike. Lots of good memories too. And painful ones as well – skinned knee and elbow when I fell and crashed.

Now, I have my own grown-up “sporty” bike. It is a hybrid (a cross between a road and mountain bicycle) bike with plenty of gears. Yet I would have not be enjoying riding this bike – in the open road, with sun and wind on my face, if not for that red (or purple) “kid” bike.

As for the pain in my b*tt, I think I should get a fancy padded cycling shorts. For now, I’ll walk like a cowboy.

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my grown-up bike

Bike Ride

Iowa is a bicycle-friendly state. All over the state are paved routes that are interconnected which are especially dedicated for bike riders alone. So whether you are riding for leisure with your family, or seriously training for a bike race, like Tour de France, these routes will suit your need.

In fact Iowa is the site of the oldest, biggest, and longest bicycle touring event in the world, the RAGBRAI (acronym for Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa). The RAGBRAI is a 7-day ride through different communities in Iowa (the route changes every year), and averages 60-70 miles course per day. It is not a race though, but rather just a bicycle ride for all level of bike enthusiasts to enjoy. It draws more than 10,000 participants yearly, from all over the US and even from other countries. It is in its 40th year, and the event starts next Sunday, July 22.

It is hard not to take advantage of what our beautiful state offers, so me and my family, together with our friends, would once in a while go for a leisure bike ride.

High Trestle Trail. One bike route we visited last year.

Our family and friends biking in the High Trestle Trail last summer

For much of our bike trips before, I don’t think we rode more than 10 miles at a time. Well, if you are biking with kids, you often get the question, “Are we there yet?” or “How much longer do we have to go?”

Last weekend, the dads decided to make a long (or longer) bicycle ride, without the family and kids in tow. This time it was a men’s outing. We would like to ride farther and faster, without worrying that our children could not keep up with the pace.

We started out from my friend’s house, which was in the outskirt of the city. But before we kicked off we were offered ice cream by his wife, and stated we needed calories to burn. Perhaps knowing that we would be biking for a few miles, gave us a reason to indulge on the frozen treat.

And off we go.

riding through Jordan Creek trail

That’s my helmet. Don’t ask me how I took this photo.

With the excitement of little boys, just like the bunch of pre-teen friends from the 1980’s movie “The Goonies“, we rode our bikes into the adventure that awaited us. It does not matter that all of us were in our 40’s (1 is even beyond 40’s), we were just a bunch of guys trying to recapture our lost youth.

through wooded area

through some clearing

over a bridge

After an hour and half of pedaling, we reached the city of Des Moines.

Des Moines skyline in the distance

approaching Des Moines

old wooden bridge

Once we were in the city we looked for a place to eat dinner, but the eateries that we checked on, were packed with people. We even rode by the hospital where I work and I jokingly told them that we can eat at the hospital cafeteria instead. But my friends knew what hospital food taste like, so they passed on my offer.

through the streets of Des Moines

crossing a traffic light in downtown Des Moines

After checking a few more restaurants, we finally found one that was not so busy, where we parked our bikes outside and ate in the restaurant’s outside patio. We had a big appetite for we were hungry. I went for the thick burger, which was really good (I mean good for the taste buds, not necessarily good for health).

After gulping our dinner, we headed back home. Since it was growing dark we pick up the pace a bit. As we grind through an uphill stretch, we even thought of stopping at the bus stop and taking the bus home. But we fought off that urge and kept on pedaling.

firework in the distance

When we were nearing home, we saw fireworks in the distance. Was the fireworks celebrating our accomplishment and welcoming us home? As we got nearer, we learned that the fireworks was from the local high school stadium, where they were playing the final game of the season, thus the fireworks show.

It was already dark when we finally got home. Tired but happy we went inside our friend’s house to cool off, where we were offered ice cream once again! Boy, between the thick burger and the scoops of ice cream that I devoured before and after the ride, I think I only burned 1/4 of those calories by pedaling. But who’s counting?

Overall I think we rode about 30 miles that day. (That is a comparable distance from Manila to Silang, Cavite.) That was good only for half-day ride on a RAGBRAI. But who knows, if we can train enough, maybe next time, we would be riding with the RAGBRAI.

The next morning, I woke up feeling a little stiff, with my behind sore and my thighs a little tight from the bike ride. So to loosen up my muscles, I ran four miles!*

looking through my biker’s eyes

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(* I’m on my second week of preparation and training for my half marathon this coming fall.)

Snow Biking

It was a glorious day. After days of frigid temperatures, we finally had a respite from cold.

Few days ago, it even dropped to actual reading of 10 below zero (degrees Fahrenheit), with wind chill factor of 30 below zero. At these temperatures, some motor oil, like 10w30, will freeze. Starting a car’s engine may be difficult (antifreeze will actually freeze at 40 below zero). With human’s blood freezing point at 31.1 above zero(just a tad lower than water’s), it is understandable that exposure to this level of cold can be dangerous. Our body by the way, maintains a normal temperature of 98 to 100 F to function properly. No wonder my brain freezes on frigid days.

Today was different. We started the day with temperature just above freezing. I know that was still cold, considering that the optimal refrigerator temperature is 35 to 38 F. We reached 40’s yesterday, and today we rose up to low 50’s. It was warm enough that my children went out to ride their bikes. Yes, they rode their bikes through melting snow. Finally, a ‘global warming’ that I can appreciate.

snow biking

But wait. It is only mid February, and with official spring time not until 5 more weeks away. That means we can definitely dip down to below zero again sometime in the near ensuing days. But for now, I certainly enjoyed this arctic break.

There’s one downside of this above freezing temperature: it melted my children’s igloo in our yard. But then again, they can build a much bigger one next time. Do I sound like I’m asking for more snow? No, I’m not. I’m just being a realist.