The Unconquered Hill

There are places that are hard to conquer because of their natural physical barrier. Like the Masada in Israel, a fortress on top of a rock plateau 1400-feet high. This was the last foothold of the Jews against the Romans. Or the Maeda escarpment, which is a 350-foot high ridge in the island of Okinawa, Japan. The Americans lost hundreds of lives trying to capture this place, a story featured in the movie Hacksaw Ridge.

But I am not really going to talk about battles or wars today. The unconquered hill that I was alluding to was a hill in a bike route. Yes, no shedding of blood here, only sweat for it’s just a bike ride.

I participated in the RAGBRAI*, which is a popular annual week-long bicycle ride across the state of Iowa. This was my second time to join this event.

Before you really get amazed on my undertaking, I want to let you know that I only rode for one day, and not for the whole week. And I chose the day with the shortest route too, which was only 40 miles. I say only 40 miles, because on the other days, the course ranges from 60 to 88 miles.

see my shadow taking photo?

I did not train much for this bike ride. Since I run at least 2-3 times a week and can run 3 miles comfortably, plus knowing that I have finished several half-marathons in the past, I was confident that biking 40 miles should not be a problem at all. After all, I am reasonably fit, right?

When I run for the half-marathon, I usually train for at least 2 months. But the only preparation I did for this bike ride was I performed a 5-mile exercise in a stationary bike at a gym a week before, and I rode a 10-mile road test 2 days before the real event.

That was a mistake.

My cardiopulmonary function may be alright, and my determination is like titanium, but I overlook one thing. Riding a bike uses a different set of muscles than running.

So on one of the steep uphill climb, I felt my quadriceps muscles cramping and almost giving out. They were not trained to pound on the pedal for that long. As you probably know, running uses more of the hamstrings and calf muscles, not so much in cycling.

We stopped for a while after that grueling hill, and sat at the side of the road to give my cramping quad muscles a break. This bike-ride is not a race anyway. You can do it at your own pace, and can stop several times if you want. In fact, stopping to sample the foods being sold along the way and hanging out in the small towns we passed through was encouraged.

bikers and bikes taking a break

I made it through the 40 miles ride in one piece, and without keeling over. No bruises, no fractures. Only fractured confidence.

On the bike course of that day, the last leg was a couple of hills. I don’t know why they chose a steep hill for a finish after already pedaling 40 miles and passing so many hills. But since we were already within the vicinity of what was considered the end of the route, we skipped the last hill climb and called it a day.

the last hill of the course

We then phoned for our ride to fetch us at the street before the last hill – the last unconquered hill.

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(*RAGBRAI- Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa; 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.

Running the First Mile

Not too long ago, I saw a patient that was referred to me for pulmonary evaluation. The complaint was “shortness of breath.”

Me: What’s going on?

Patient: Doctor, I cannot run a mile. I ran out of air. And I use to run before.

He is in his 40’s and is on the heavy side. OK, overweight. I already reviewed his chest x-ray and pulmonary function test (it’s a stress test of sort for the lungs), and both were normal. My nurse has tested and recorded in the chart his pulse oxymetry (measure of oxygen saturation in the blood) at rest and on walking, and it too was normal. You see, I have all the information I needed even before I lay eyes on the patient.

Me: Do you have chest pains, wheezing, or cough?

Patient: No, no, and no.

Me: When was the last time you were able to ran a mile?

Patient: 25 years ago.

I almost fell off my chair!

You may snicker at him, but I took him seriously. I told him that I do not believe he has anything wrong with his lungs. Although I cannot rule out conclusively any other diseases, like heart conditions, but I am almost certain of the diagnosis.

I told him that his shortness of breath is from being overweight and deconditioning. In more simple terms, he is way out of shape.

I coaxed him that it’s not easy to run that first mile. But I reassured him that with more training and persistence, he should be able to run a mile, and more.

I will be riding a 50-mile bike course tomorrow, as part of the RAGBRAI (Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa). In three months it would be the annual Des Moines Marathon, which I hope I can participate again.

Even though I consider myself fit and have been exercising somewhat regularly, there are days that I struggle to run the first mile. What I am trying to say is, it is not always easy to run a mile. No, let me rephrase that. It is hard to run a mile.

Running a mile and beyond, is not like a faucet that you can turn off for a long time, and then when you turn it on, you expect it to be flowing freely again. No, it is more like a pump, that you need to prime first, before it flows again. Running or any other endeavor for that matter, takes time, training, and dedication.

Long_Distance_Running

For all of you out there, who are struggling to run a mile, don’t lose heart. Many times the hardest part of a long run is the first mile. But the good thing is, it can be done. And it must be done. For your health sake.

As a popular Chinese proverb says, ” A journey of a thousand miles, begins with a single step.” If I may add, that single step will eventually lead to the first mile.

(*photo from here)

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.)