Bicycle antics and fitness

I cannot recall my first bicycle but do remember that I had one in Manasquan that I rode to high school and to my job at the soda store.  It weighed a ton.  It had a speedometer and lights that were energized by a rod pushed against the tire.  It had a large seat with a sheep skin cover.  My boss at the soda store was an Italian immigrant and when he lifted the bike he told me that I was stupid, that I should strip off all the junk and make it more like a road bike that he knew in Italy.

When I took off for my Latin American adventure with a bike I purchased a new 3-speed Raleigh with Sturmey-archer brakes.  I shipped the bike to the border and then put it on the top of a bus to Mexico City.  I did ride it all over Mexico City but again put it on the top of a bus to Oaxaca.  In Oaxaca I road to many of the villages and later road it across the border into Guatemala.  I ultimately sold it in Guatemala as the roads deteriorated to such an extent that it was unusable.

I really did not get on a bike again until I got a job teaching high school in Pacific Grove, California where I rode it daily from my house to the school.  When I was hired as Program Director in the U.S. Information Agency in Manizales, Colombia I took it with me but was advised by the Embassy staff that it would be inappropriate for me to use it as transportation for my job and was to use it only at the Country Club.  Since membership in the Country Club cost $1,000 US dollars I sold the bike.  The kid who bought it got hit by a bus the next day.

When I moved the family to Bellingham, Washington I purchased  a hybrid bicycle which I used to ride to WWU and back almost on a daily basis.  At that time, in 1968 and for years after I knew of no other faculty member who commuted to campus by bicycle.  It took me 12 minutes to get to my office and 18 minutes to get home since we lived at 500 ft. altitude in the Silver Beach neighborhood the climb back up the hill slowed me down.  I was able to beat most other faculty or staff who drove the same route in their cars to the campus as I could pass them while they were stopped at traffic lights.

I joined the local bicycle club and went on their Wednesday night rides.  On one of those rides a neighbor who was seriously into cycling convinced me to junk the hybrid and get a quality titanium bicycle at a cost of over $1,000.  Mary Ann went up the wall at the cost.  When I explained that it would keep me out of a nursing home for at least a year and was worth the investment her response was “Only if you ride it.  Now get your ass out the door and put on the miles!”  So I did and not only did the Wednesday evening rides but also the Saturday morning ‘donut ride’ up to Ferndale and back.  I also began taking part in local bike rides up to 100 miles in a day.

Then one evening at a meeting of parents of disabled children I met a newcomer to town who asked if I would help him find programs for his autistic child.  When I found out that he was formerly the coach and trainer of the Edmonton, Alberta bicycle racing team I agreed to help him if he agreed to help me learn how to ride the bicycle better.  He agreed and he became my coach-trainer.  I accused him of being a sadist as he was pushing me to total exhaustion each time we went out on a training ride but he would respond that I was still a cycling whimp and would have to learn how to suffer if I intended to learn how to ride well.

[insert here my essay on signing up for a Ski to Sea team.]

Gaining more courage in my cycling skills I registered in the Washington State Hill Climb Time Trial Race down near Mt. Rainier.  I was now in my 70s but was still surprised to hear a cyclist remark to another about “an old man” participating in the race.  It took me a while to realize he was talking about me.  As I was the only one in the age group I got a gold medal.

One day I was out riding with a cycling companion when he pointed out to me a large white dog lying by the side of the road watching us pass.  Just then another dog appeared to chase the white one off his property.  The white dog bolted across the street and hit my wheel turning it cross wise to the line of traffic.  I went head over the bars, landed on my head smashing the helmet and after rolling over slid on my face for a distance resulting in 29 stitches to the face.  I was knocked unconscious and tried to walk in a stupor but my companion got me to lie down until the ambulance came.

I sued the owner of the dog as it was loose while the county had a leash law.  I collected $33,000 which I shared with the lawyer and was able to get me a ‘top of the line’ titanium bike with quality accessories.

In the Washington State Senior Games I had some serious competition but always got Gold or Silver.  In my last race at the Washington State Senior Games I waited as the organizer called for all registrants in the 70 to 74 age group to raise their hands, then everyone in the 75 to 80 age group.  No one raised their hand so he said “OK let’s get the show on the road.”  I called out “Keep counting!”  When he said “80 to 84” I raised my hand.  The cyclists gathered applauded or cheered!  I was the only one in the age group so got the gold even though I came in last in the age group.  But I also came in first.  At that point I sold my bike as I now had become more of a full time care giver for Mary Ann and did not have the time to spend on the road.

Here are some additional notes on my cycling career:

As a safety factor I decided to wear yellow cycling clothing and selected to use the Saunier Duval team uniform as it was a bright yellow. When Chris Horner left the Saunier Duval team his kit was put on eBay for sale and I was able to get most of it. That way I was able to wear gear that was used in the Tour de France.

Several times I raced in the local ‘Ski to Sea’ race. Here I am in the 2000 race. I was the oldest cyclist of more than 300 cyclists in the race. I came in pretty much at the middle of the pack.

Here I am with my old Lightspeed before I crashed it. Shoji Onozawa wanted to do a story for a Japanese magazine on outdoor activities in the Pacific Northwest so he had me written up in a Japanese magazine. When I asked “Why me?” he responded “Japanese have respect for elders and you will be much admired for riding at your age (about 72 as I recall.) That’s Bellingham Bay in the background with a barely visible Mt. Baker way in the distance.

This is what I looked like when a dog took me down. 28 stitches on the face, skin off the hands and elbow and mashed shoulder muscles. I was not a very happy camper. It took six months before I was fully back in shape again.

On January 28, 2010 I had my blood pressure taken at the YMCA and it was 118 over 58. My HDL cholesterol usually runs in the 90s. I think that is due to my exercise on the bike.

i was always an advocate for better cycling safety.  Here is a letter to the Bellingham City Council on the “Road Designed for Murder”.

Regarding NW Road
McGrath to Bakerview
11 July 2004 – GF Drake

The Public Works Dept. has responded to my letter to the City Council essentially saying that the city will do nothing until local property owners decide to develop their property at which time the City would require full improvements. And if local property owners do not plan any such change in use of their property the Public Works Dept. infers this stretch of road will remain the way it is. In other words, the health and safety of citizens of Bellingham is thereby a function of “market conditions”. This is absurd. The safety of the community is the responsibility of the City Council and not of an individual property owner. The City Council should tell the Mayor and his minions in the Public Works Department that this stretch of road needs to be improved NOW and not when adjacent property owners deem it economically in their interest to do so.

I ask that the City Council [and the Public Works Dept. engineers] to get out of your cars and either walk or bicycle the distance from McGrath Road to Bakerview Road. Do it in both directions and include crossing Bakerview to the northern side of that thoroughfare. You will find that the road is clearly pedestrian and bicycle unfriendly, to say the least. With increasing traffic and the pressures of population growth in this part of Bellingham the situation will become a death or serious accident waiting to happen. I characterize the current state of the road as “A Road Designed for Murder.” “Murder” because you could have forseen this and done something about it.

The construction on Bakerview of hundreds of new apartments abuts a road that has a bicycle lane but residents will not be able to travel the short distance to the center of Bellingham unless they go by car because they will have to use this stretch of Northwest Avenue between Bakerview and McGrath to the south of I-5. Parents will be reluctant to let their teen-age children go to downtown Bellingham or to the waterfront by bicycle as it is too dangerous! The design of Northwest Road is requiring all movement from that part of town to the south to be by automobile. It is time to get rid of this philosophy and make the city safe for pedestrians and bicyclists.

My personal feeling is that this short distance of roadway needs to be improved for pedestrian and bicyclist safety whether or not local property owners plan site improvements. One does not need curbs, gutters and sidewalks before widening the pavement and providing a bicycling and pedestrian lane. Northwest Road in the county just to the north of Bakerview Road, has a good shoulder for riding and there are no sidewalks, curbs, gutters, etc. the whole distance all the way to its end at Wiser Lake Road. I call on the City Council to tell the Mayor to have this section of roadway improved for bicycle and pedestrian safety even without the installation of curbs, sidewalks, storm drains and gutters.