Thursday, May 18, 2017

YES and NO

Commitment and integrity have been on the forefront of my mind recently. This is mostly due to the fact I’m in the process of buying a home and the idea of a 30-year financial commitment has caused me quite a bit of anxiety. Not to mention, I’m now responsible for home maintenance and repair, taxes, and insurance! 

Two other things also occurred in quick succession that fine-tuned my focus on these subjects. The first thing happened while I was at church doing announcements with a fluffy green puppet that is my sidekick and comic relief. We had a “Verse of the Day” which was Matthew 5:37 which states, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil”. This verse’s implication, for me, is that we should strive to be people of integrity who do not need to swear on our lives, our mother’s grave, or ‘to god’ so that people believe our statements. Rather, we should consistently follow through with what we said we would do or would not do to the point where people take us at our word. A few days later it was April 28th; a mile-marker on my commitment to achieve 30 goals that I set for myself during the 30th year of my life. I saw that I’m 2 months in and I didn’t have a proportionate number of goals completed and that I had already failed at a few. I got pretty down on myself for a few days. I felt like I was a failure, that my “yes” and “no” carried no meaning, and convinced myself that it was foolish to make commitments in the first place.

Luckily, I was reminded of the text we had gone through that Sunday during the sermon. (2 Corinthians 1, specifically verses 12-23). In this passage Paul talks about his change of plans to visit Corinth. This is Paul, the Apostle, oppressor turned proponent. He was the guy who would do anything and endure everything to continue traveling and telling people about Jesus. He was beat up multiple times, shipwrecked, bitten by a snake, lied about, imprisoned, put in danger, and went without food or water for long periods of time. Despite all those hardships, he kept doing what he said he was going to do: spreading the good news that Jesus of Nazareth was anointed to be the Savior King.

So, seeing that even Paul had to change his plans every once in a while allowed me to give myself grace. I realized that saying “yes” to buying a home takes a lot of time and energy and delays my response to other commitments. I was also able to catch a glimpse of how saying “yes” to the house will enable and facilitate more of my goals (like 30 new recipes and 30 acts of self-reliance). I learned that integrity doesn’t vacillate as far or as fast as circumstances can, and just because I can’t say “Yes” right now, it doesn’t mean that I’m saying “No”.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Why I Ride: 2017 Scenic Shores 150 (and beyond)

I’m often asked why I choose to ride my bicycle long distances. The simple response is “Because it’s fun”, but I often add the caveat, “It’s a weird kind of fun.”, and make some joke about wearing spandex and getting sweaty. When I have the time and the intuition to explain further, I can’t help but mention my father’s fight against lymphoma…

In 2012 I bought a used aluminum-framed Raleigh 500 road bike from a now defunct bike shop. I bought it for transportation, but I chose that particular bike because I liked the look of its drop bars and candy red paint. Soon after, I began to use that bike for exercise as well and became enthralled with the speeds and distances I could accomplish on that machine. 

Then I built a fixed gear from a bike I got for free.
After that I bought a mountain bike.
Then I learned what a chamois was (for cycling).
Then I started researching and developing training schedules.
That Fall I competed in a local Alley Cat (a rolling party, basically an excuse to drink beer and ride bikes around your hometown).
I was hooked; I had become a full-blown cycling junkie in the span of a few short months.

Early in the spring 2013 I was encouraged by my friend and mentor Perry Polnaszek to look into signing up for a “century”, a 100-mile bicycle ride. It was a feat that seemed impossible to my novice mind and legs.  After doing some searching on the internet I chose the Door County Century, because of it’s relative proximity to where I lived, the time it would allow me to train, and the probability of having my parents come along to cheer me on and pay for the hotel room.

A few weeks later, while visiting my parents at their home, my dad pulled me aside and showed me a lump on his neck. He explained that it was lymphoma and (being he a physician) the probability of it being fatal. I was stunned to say the least, quite literally unable to fathom the severity of what he was telling me.   

After that my training rides took on a whole new purpose. They were no longer just preparation for an endurance event, but rather a meditative escape. I used the hours spent riding to reflect on the mortality of my father (and myself), my faith in God, the ugliness of cancer, the wonders of modern medicine, Top-40 music, and life in general. By the end of the summer I was well prepared for the century physically. But, as I was soon to find out, I wasn’t prepared emotionally and, really, there’s no way I could have been.

My parents were able to come along as support (dad took sick leave from work, which freed up his schedule greatly). The day I picked them up to continue on to Sturgeon Bay (the ride’s start point) was the first time in my life that I saw my father without a mustache. Chemo had culled the majority of his upper-lip fur and that morning he decided to shave off what little remained. Not only had cancer treatment accelerated the loss of hair on the top of his head (a hereditary Writz trait) but it had also taken what I thought was a permanent facial feature away from my dad. I was shaken to say the least.

I don’t remember the majority of the ride itself: pit stops and difficult hills are vague highlights and I have a general recollection of the beauty of the route I was on for around 8 hours. The memories that have retained their crystal-clarity all happened in the last 10 miles.  As a solo rider I ended up riding and talking with several different groups throughout the day because of my pace and the time I took to rest and eat at designated stops. The cyclists in the last group I approached on the road were all adorned with purple and white jerseys. As a rode close enough to converse and read their jerseys I came to find out that they were members of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. I spent the remainder of the ride with this group, holding back tears, absorbing the sense of accomplishment, and simply enjoying the scenery.

As I approached the finish line, I could hear my parents cheering for me, and navigated the last few hundred feet overwhelmed by emotions and tears. I put my bike on a nearby rack, hugged my parents, posed for pictures, and inhaled a pasta dinner while watching the Packers play the Chiefs, conversing with a couple from Milwaukee who had done the ride on a tandem.

  (Dad, mom, and me at the finish line)

Dad’s been in remission since that Fall (a detail I always forget to include when I’m telling this story, because I know he’s ok). This July he turns 60 and I can’t think of a better gift to give him than riding the Scenic Shores 150 in his honor and as a celebration of his life before and after cancer.

If you're interested in supporting me financially on this ride please visit my donation page: 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

On Fear & Roadkill: Why Big Bucks Don’t Die On The Highways

As a born and bred Wisconsinite, who was weaned with cheese curds and brandy old-fashioneds, the animal that is most likely the bane of my existence is the whitetail deer. For the entirety of the year, save 9 days in November, I fear that they are laying in wait in the ditches that line the highways, waiting for an opportunity to dart out in front of me hoping to inflict damage to the body of my vehicle. During my brief respite from that I dress up in blaze orange and carry a high-powered rifle into the woods, hoping to stock my freezer and, if I’m very lucky, put some antlers on the wall. During that time deer seem to become masters of concealment and evasion able to detect and avoid even the slightest change in their environment, and suddenly extremely desirous to make a pilgrimage to the most remote and inaccessible areas of our state.

Thankfully, these frustrating creatures have recently helped teach me a very important lesson: fear requires action, especially if I do not want to end up dead on the side of a highway.

It’s been just over a month since I went public with my list of 30 goals for my 30th year and fear keeps on popping up on my mental radar. It waits for me every time I open the journal that I use to track my endeavor: ready to dash my hopes, disable my efforts, dismiss my successes, and deride my failures, shortcomings, and lack of progress.

Fear, by definition, is “an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger”. While most of us probably couldn’t have recited that definition we could all describe how fear makes us feel. Fear is a universal experience that is highly unique and inherently private to each individual. For me, fear manifests itself in shaky hands as a pretty girl approaches, knots in my stomach as I feel the conversation beginning to require my vulnerability, and restless nights as my mind tries to work through all of the 1,000 + probable outcomes of any given situation that involves me, but is beyond my control.

Fear is the stimulus that produces the animalistic responses of fight or flight. Humanity isn’t too far removed from the animal kingdom in our response to fear: instead of using teeth to bite we use our words to hurt, raise our voices to intimidate, or slam cupboard doors to emphasize our point. Instead of using wings to fly away we cross our arms to protect, change the subject to be evasive, or make jokes hoping to disarm the thing that scares us.

I also believe that animals and humans share a third response to fear: freezing. It is the classic example of deer-in-the-headlights (luckily, I only have second-hand experience with this, knock on wood, I have yet to hit a deer while driving).  This option, if not a brief layover to one of the others, almost always leads to the cessation of life instead of its preservation. The point being that trying to hide from things that cause us fear by remaining motionless (inaction) brings death.

During a recent breakdown at my men’s Bible study I came to admit that inaction had become my default response to fear (in particular the fear of failure and it’s financial cost and shameful implications on my character). I’ve spent a lot of time waiting to act, hoping the situation will change, eliminating my need to respond or nullifying the consequences of any decision I would have made. But, like the deer that rely on the SUV traveling at 70mph to alter its course, I can only get away with inaction for so long before it has some very serious consequences.

There’s an assumption made by hunters that trophy bucks are smart: that they’ve been around the block enough times to know a thing or two about a thing or two. Whether it’s entirely true doesn’t seem to matter, the basic fact is that maturity often brings wisdom along with it through experience. These bucks with tall tines and broad spreads have seen mysterious pairs of halogen lights approach them in the night, foraged through harsh winters, and eluded men dressed in orange who carried sticks that spit fire and speak thunder and have lived to tell about it. Their experience yields a physical manifestation of their cunning, perseverance, and luck. That’s probably why we hunters seek after them as prizes to be put above our mantles instead of simply sustenance to be put in our freezers.

Most of the things that cause us to fear as humans are not mortal dangers. Attractive people, spiders, and large crowds won’t kill us (in most cases). Choosing a college major or buying a home won’t tear the flesh from our bones. Luckily, we receive many of the same benefits from responding to fear with action: maturity & wisdom, experiences that are feathers in our caps and deposits into the bank of our experience that we can draw on later when similar scary situations arise for us or in the lives of those we care about.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

30 FOR 30: a year of intentionally celebrating becoming a better man

On Tuesday my odometer rolled over to 30. Even though the majority of people I talk to tell me that I’m still you and that age is just another number, being 30 has still left me a little unsettled. Part of the reason I feel that way is that the life I find myself living certainly isn’t what I had envisioned for myself earlier in life.

Don’t get me wrong, my life is good, even great in certain respects but, like everyone else, I have room for improvement. There is a gap between the man I am today and the man I hope to be and that is what inspired this list of 30 goals for my 30th year. I want to acknowledge the good in my character and action and strive to improve it. I also have to admit that there are some things in my life that aren’t good at all and some of the goals I’ve set are to eradicate those things.

None of these goals are easy 5-minute fixes. Some of them will take the entirety of my 30th year to achieve; some will be singular moments that require hours of preparation and sacrifice. Some goals I’m confident I’ll be able to achieve; others I have a decent probability of failing at. Regardless of whether or not I’ll be able to put a check mark in the “complete” column next to all 30 of my goals a year from now the true victory will be committing to the process.

So, here they are:

Read 30 Books
Watch 30 New Movies
Try 30 New Recipes
30 Feats of Self-Reliance
30 Random Acts of Kindness
30 Calls to Grandparents
30 Calls to Family
30 Blog Posts
30 <$10 Acts of Self-Love
30 Premeditated Acts of Love
30 Attempts To Reconnect
30 Acts Above and Beyond at Work
30 Teachable Moments
Quit 30 Things
30 Things I Could Fail At
Go On 30 Dates
30-Hour Sabbath Per Week
30 Hours of Playing Music
300 Miles Running
3,300 Miles Biking
Yoga 6 Times a Week
Lift 1 Time a Week
Journal 6 Times a Week
Increase Savings by 30%
Pay off 4Runner
Dairy Roubaix 107
Fall Back Blast 12.5k
Buy a Home
15% Body Fat

Friday, July 22, 2016

Old Football Injuries and Heartbreaks: Finding Hope of Healing

I have never been and probably will never be a member of an organized sports team, although I sometimes lament not having joined track or cross country in high school.

But, I do have an old football injury.

My friends and I used to play two-hand touch on our high school’s tennis courts during our lunch period. Most of the games were uneventful and not very noteworthy; they were just a good way to pass the time with friends before classes resumed for the afternoon. But on one fateful afternoon glory came within my grasp and I seized it with all my might.

The buzzer indicating we had 3 minutes to get to our next class had rung, the score was tied, and we had just enough time for one more play. It started to rain, there was a thunderclap, and somewhere in the distance, someone was blaring the “Chariots of Fire” theme song loud enough for us to hear. After the snap, I made a quick juke at the line and put some distance between my friend Tony and myself. Carl, the quarterback, launched a high flyer into the end zone. Things went into slow motion as I leapt for the game-winning touchdown. I caught the ball and as I landed I heard a loud pop from my left ankle and immediately found myself on the ground in pain, but having maintained possession. That day I held my head high as I left our netted gridiron: limping and dirty, but victorious.

My next class was gym and by the time our swimming session was done that day my ankle had swollen to the size of a grapefruit. One of the advantages of having a father who is a medical doctor is that I never went to the Emergency Room or even Urgent Care as a child. Growing up I received diagnoses, prescriptions, flu shots, and even stitches from my dad. So, when he got home from work that day and I showed him my ankle his response was, “Yep, that’s sprained, lets get you a boot”. Due to a show choir trip to Branson, MO the next week and the youthful stupidity that’s inherent with being a freshman in high school, I didn’t wear the boot as long as I should have and my ankle didn’t heal properly. To this day, my left foot has a tendency to splay out when I run and bike, which causes me back, hip, and shoulder issues. Also when it’s humid out my ankle has a dull ache that I would rate at about a 2 or 3 on the pain scale. Luckily, I’ve learned how to minimize the discomfort and negative effects this injury through yoga and stretching and it doesn’t deter me from pursuing greatness in the endurance sports that I love.

I recently experienced the emotional equivalent of my old football injury. Facebook brought pictures of my friends at the wedding of a woman I had wanted to date (and hopefully marry) during my college years. Her and I had the same friend group and my heart revolved around the idea of a relationship with her. She wasn’t interested, at all. Instead of giving up the hope of a romantic relationship and moving on I settled for an unhealthy friendship. There were a lot of phone calls and hang out sessions, we shared a lot of coffee, beer, music, and meals, we went to weddings together, and there was a lot of emotional intimacy. When she moved to Minnesota we would call each other and try to start episodes of Grey’s Anatomy at the same time so we could talk about what was happening with each other as the episode unfolded. I was convinced that I was in love with her and that WE were meant to be but, as I’ve said she felt nothing for me romantically. Things finally came to a head about 4 years ago when I decided that her and I either needed to start dating or stop being friends. So, I skipped out on a watching a Packers game at my friend’s house (a sacrilegious act here in Wisconsin), put on a 3-piece suit, bought flowers, and headed to North Minneapolis where she lived at the time. There was a tear-filled meal at a nearby hipster-friendly restaurant (organic, farm fresh, and fair trade with vegan options). Although she didn’t touch her food she paid for everything and I’ve since referred to that meal as the “pre-execution dinner”.  Now, to be fair, my account of what happened over the years may be as embellished as my memory of injuring my ankle, but these are the tapes I’ve replayed in my mind.

In the four years since that last supper I have maybe seen her twice and as an act of emotional health for myself I unfriended her on Facebook. I really didn’t give her much thought until this last Saturday when my friends started posting pictures from her wedding. A not-so-dull heartache overtook me, maybe a 4 or 5 of emotional pain. I was caught of guard by the pain, but not surprised. After all, I had spent years envisioning myself dancing with her in a long, flowing white dress (I am a hopeless romantic). Like humidity exposes my unhealed ankle, those pictures brought my attention to unresolved heartache within me and cause me to ask if there were more parallels between my physical and emotional ailments.

What could I have done to let this wound heal properly?
How is it affecting me to this day?
Are there things I can do now to diminish or eliminate the negative effects of this wound on my life today?
Is there hope of complete healing?
Is there an underlying issue, a wound even deeper than this one?

I don’t have satisfactory answers to any of these questions at the moment. But, in the days since I realized that I’ve been carrying this wound around I’ve determined that if I can still bike 100+ miles in a day and run a half-marathons with a jacked-up ankle this heart wound certainly isn’t fatal and it doesn’t need to have any effect on my pursuit of a great romance now.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Lessons From Dirtbags And An Iron Addict: Failure

It was a beautiful Midwestern afternoon in June: the skies were blue, the trees were green, and the sun was shining. I found myself alone, wearing spandex in a public park with “El Chucho” (the mutt), my bright green cyclocross bike.  We were surrounded by empty tents and unused port-a-potties. My legs were screaming in pain, my stomach was turning itself inside out, and my mind had betrayed me hours ago.

Our day started in Duluth, 116 miles north of this park, with thousands of other riders. For them, today was the first half of a two-day, 150-mile ride that brings awareness to Multiple Sclerosis and raises funds to research its cure. I, having ridden the course in two days the previous year, had ventured to complete the entire thing in one day.

That meant that at mile 75 complete solitude started.

At mile 76 I started second-guessing myself.

At mile 80 my legs started cramping.

At mile 104 every pedal stroke added to the longest distance I had traveled on my bicycle in a single day.

At mile 109 I started dry heaving while riding down the two-lane, country highway.

At mile 116.2, in that ghost town of an aide station, I decided that I was done.

I simply didn’t want to spend the next two or three hours continuing to pedal in agony, alone and unsure of my route. So, I locked Chucho to a tree, walked to a nearby gas station, and bought a protein shake, a liter of water, Reese’s peanut butter cups, and a bag sour patch kids. After walking back to the park, I sat down on a bench, and pulled my cell phone out of my jersey pocket. With a mouthful of food I starting calling friends who lived nearby: a car would be delivering me the final 34 miles of this route.

The question that haunts me now, 6 months after the fact, is this: did I fail on that day?

I had said I was riding the entire 150 miles in one day.

I rode 116.

So, in simplest terms, I failed.

The problem with being a recreational endurance athlete is that my “events” come once every month or two at best. I don’t have a weekly opportunity to put a mark in either the W or the L column like the athletes in organized team sports have. So, when those marks do fall into a column, they fall heavily.

Luckily the third thing I’ve learned from C.T. and the dirtbags is that there are multiple definitions of failure.

I think C.T. would say that I failed. One of his frequent adages is: ISYMFS, an acronym for “It’s Still Your Mother F---ing Set.” No excuses. Do what you set out to do. Don’t show up unless you’re going to perform. 

This definition’s beauty is it’s binary simplicity. You either performed in the way you said you would or you didn’t.  If I had been in this mindset during my bike ride, it wouldn’t have mattered how bad my body hurt, how long it took to finish, or even how sick I got; I would have needed to finish, no matter what, at all costs.

Luckily, the dirtbags offer a very different perspective on failure.  It is, on some level, inherently and intrinsically part of the sport of rock climbing. Everyone falls. Everyone experiences injuries and setbacks. For the dirtbags, and all climbers, failure is part of the process of progression. Failures line the road that, if followed to its finish, leads to success and accomplishment.

What I like most about this definition is that coming up short isn’t the end of the matter; it’s an opportunity to learn and move on. The true failure under this definition is giving up, not continuing to progress, and not learning from the times we do come up short.

I learned a lot about myself on that day in June. I learned how damaging and defeating negative self-talk is. Always. I learned what to eat and drink when trying to ride over 100 miles in a single day and what not to. I learned that I mentally impose limits on myself that otherwise wouldn’t be there. I learned that sleeping in a tent the night before a ride makes EVERYTHING harder the next day. I learned that solitude transitions from being my sanctuary and sanatorium to a state of torment, often rapidly and without much warning.

I learned that the only way I failed that day was in mileage and that the only way I can fail after the fact is by not taking the lessons from that day to heart and applying them to future endeavors.

 Me Riding El Chucho Toward Success

Monday, November 23, 2015

Lessons From Dirtbags And An Iron Addict: Paying The Price


In March of 2011 I found myself with 4 of my friends in a brightly colored room, sitting in hammocks after a very long day of travel. The windows, which only had bars on them, allowed the night sounds of the jungle to waft in on a cool breeze. This moment was the culmination of months of dreaming, planning, doubt, failure, recruiting, fundraising, success, positive affirmation, and stress. My friends and I had just arrived at the Dyer Rural Hospital in the mountain village of Rio Viejo, Honduras for a weeklong mission trip that I was leading. I had spent the previous night unable to sleep, smoking cigarette after cigarette in between episodes of SCRUBS worried that one more obstacle would arise and end the trip before it even started.

But now, we had made it. Our bags were unpacked in the dormitory below and we were talking with the hospital’s staff about the work we would be doing over the next few days. That night I heard a phrase that has stayed with me for almost 5 years now. While explaining on why a mission hospital has fees for its services, Dr. Martin Williams, the hospital’s founder and main physician, said, “Everything that is valuable has a price. Everything that has a price is valuable”. The price/value equilibrium is why the word obsession often carries a negative connotation. In most people’s personal lexicons obsession simply implies a price that is too high to pay.

C.T. and the dirtbags certainly would certainly agree with Dr. Martin. They put a high value on their obsessions and pay a very high price in pursuing them. After dying on the operating table 3 times during emergency open-heart surgery, C.T. Fletcher was advised to never lift weights again, literally at the pain of death. But, he was obsessed with being a great power lifter. So, he returned to the gym, stating he’d rather die doing what he loved to do than live without being able to do what he loved. Dirtbags frequently sacrifice their comfort and physical health in the pursuit of their obsession. They face inclement weather and inherent physical peril for days on end to reach previously unreached summits.

There also is a hard-and-fast monetary cost to pursuing passions. Jay Cutler, a former Mr. Olympia and contemporary of C.T. claims that he spends over $100,000 a year on food and supplements in order to be a professional bodybuilder. Part of the reason dirtbags choose to live out of their cars, other than the freedom of mobility, is that having a mortgage simply isn't an option. The quality and quantity climbing gear needed to become an elite level climber costs THOUSANDS of dollars and is in constant need to be repaired and replaced, the money just isn't there to have gear and a home.

When identifying our own magnificent obsessions we run the risk of pursuing things that either have too little value or too high of price. The first seems to be the more obvious one to me. Obsessions are by definition costly, so if I state that my ‘magnificent obsession’ is getting out of bed before 10am and brushing my teeth twice during each 24-hour period I’m alive, it’s achievement will have very little value to me, like a dime store trophy given out to participants who simply showed up. That ‘obsession’ would require too little from me: only a small amount of devotion and sacrifice. Small price can only carry with it a small amount of value, plain and simple.

With the help of hindsight I am able to admit I have much more experience with the second pitfall: finding that continuing in the pursuit of my obsession comes at a price that is higher than I am willing to pay. I spent three years of my life attempting to be accepted into medical school. In monetary terms I spent thousands of dollars on post-baccalaureate classes at the tech school and the university in my city, took the MCAT twice (at $300 a time plus additional money for study materials), and spent hundreds of dollars on submitting the applications themselves. I spent hours of my time attending and studying for classes, writing essays for applications, and pursuing extracurricular activities that would improve my application. I did all of that work, spent all of that money, devoted all of that time, and even got a medically themed tattoo on my arm only to be rejected by all the schools I applied to, twice. After the second round of rejection letters arrived I took a few months to look at what I would need to do to improve myself as an applicant. It honestly was overwhelming. I had run out of motivation and the cost of pursuing entry into medical school or any other job in the medical field was too high. That experience reminds me of a parable of Jesus that is recounted in the Gospel of Luke. Jesus was addressing people who wished to be His disciples and He advised them to understand the cost that pursuit carries.

Which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’  
--Luke 14:28-30 ESV—

This truth also applies to the pursuit of magnificent obsessions that are truly worth our time:

What will the cost be? What will it require of us?

Are we able and willing to pay that cost?

In the end, will they be worth it?