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