Category Archives: greg

Speed Wobbles

A few quick tidbits from the road at the end of our second rest day since the ride started on September 14th. We are now in Taos, New Mexico, a small, beautiful and artsy town in the northern mountains. We all had a good day of rest and we begin riding again tomorrow starting with a 15 mile climb to the Cimmaron Canyon State Park and then a great descent out of the Rockies. Our total distance tomorrow will be around 94 miles with about 7100 feet of climbing but 7400 feet of descending! The last 30 miles tomorrow will be along the Santa Fe Trail into Raton, NM.

Now, for those of you who don’t know about “speed wobbles” I hope that you never experience them. On a relatively short day from Durango to Pagosa Springs, we crossed two mountain passes. When we got to the top of the first pass, I made the decision to leave the shoulder and take to the road for a fast descent. There was very little traffic and the shoulder wasn’t very smooth. As I was in a tuck position to gain speed and cut the wind, my speed was approaching 50 MPH. I’ve NEVER been on a bicycle going that fast. I had to keep reminding myself to breathe.

As I was tearing down the side of this mountain, my bike began to WOBBLE so much that I could barely hang on. I thought that I had a flat tire or broken spoke sending my wheel out of line. I did everything that I could to try and slow down enough so that when I crashed, it would only result in a serious injury as opposed to a consult for the Palliative Care team! Somehow I managed to slow down and stop without crashing. When my riding companion, Nadia, finally caught up to me, she could see that I was visibly shaken…and physically shaking. The tires and spokes were OK. I didn’t know what had happened. Was I shaking so much from fear that I caused the bike to shake or did the bike actually shake?

It was only later that my roommate, Mike “Smash Mouth” Hobin told me that he has heard of this happening to other riders who descend at high speeds. Then at breakfast, Chris Sacca said “Speed Wobble” as if it was as common as a flat tire. One of our guides, Eric Berkas, agreed that the bike was OK and said that to overcome the speed wobble, you either have to go faster or slower. He suggested I go slower or grip the bike frame tight between my legs as I descend. Are you nuts? Grip the bike frame between my legs so that I can go faster! I’ve wondered for days now why I would trust my life to some carbon fiber and rubber!

I’d trust my life to Wishard’s Palliative Care team and any of the fantastic doctors, nurses and staff who work there. But not to a bike!

Wikipedia reference at:

Bob: Monument Valley and a Purple Heart

After a long 117 mile day, we made it to Mexican Hat, Utah. The highlight of the ride was cycling through Monument Valley. I know that our patients and their families would share the awe-inspiring nature of these vistas. The first mile today was for Mr. Robert Donovan who was my patient for more than 10 years! My wife introduced me to Bob who was a good athelete, swimmer, bike rider and weight lifter. He was not only my patient but a good friend. I was humbled to be able to help care for him at home where he died on his terms–a rare gift. Bob reinforced for me the lessons of humility, humor and story-telling. I still miss him and I send his family, especially Pat and Mary, continued good wishes.

Despite knowing Bob for so long, he never told me about his Purple Heart. I only found out about that after he died. The same bravery that earned him the Purple Heart helped him down the home stretch. Here is a photo for Bob and all of the other persons remembered today.

Thank God for rest!

What a wonderful day of rest at a magnificent place, the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Some time to catch up on things, including talking with family. We are on the road again tomorrow with the low temperature tonight around 30 degrees. We’ll have a cool start to our ride but will soon be warm as we pedal, mostly downhill, to Tuba City, Arizona.

The Poor Will Remain Invisible

Except for a sunburned lower lip and some back pain, my body is holding up OK. The difficulty is that we’re still in western Arizona with the entire state yet to climb and cross. However, riding a bike across the desert can focus one’s attention or cause you to feel disheartened.

On Friday evening, I was very disheartened to learn that our hospital compliance office recommended that we ONLY post our patients first names with last initial on the blog UNLESS we have specific permission to use their full name. Since death certificates are a matter of public record, I do not think that we disclose “protected” health information simply by listing someone’s name who has died. I DO believe that we honor the patient more fully and indicate to their family and friends that we haven’t forgotten by including a person’s first and last name–one name on each line. The decision to include first and last names was mine alone.

Due to the recommendation from my hospital, we will only list a patient’s first name and last initial UNLESS we have specific permission to list the full name. However, for family members and friends who we are remembering, I will list the persons’ full name. Examples would be the miles that I’ve ridden to remember Charlie Kirk and Myles Brand.

This change in our blog reminds me that most of our patients lived (and died) in obscurity, often with little support, compassion or encouragement. This change in the way we list the names will NOT change my commitment to ride one mile each day with a full memory of that one precious life.

Day 4 Musings

A beautiful desert morning greeted us in 29 Palms for the start of Day 4, a 111 mile ride to Parker, Arizona. Riding with Mike Ryan (Texas) and listening to fast-paced music, we made it 51 miles to our “lunch” stop by 9:30 AM. By the time we finished lunch, it was VERY warm, with a peak temperature of 104 degrees.

Luckily, we joined another 8 riders and continued to ride fast despite the harsh conditions, arriving at our hotel around 1:30 PM. This was certainly our most difficult day. It occurred to me more than once that people are NOT SUPPOSE TO RIDE bicycles across the desert! But we’ve now pedaled 370 miles across California and we only have 32 more days of riding and 2910 miles before we swim in the Atlantic Ocean. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Day 2 Valencia to Victorville, CA

Cool and shady 20 mile climb this morning up the Bouquet Canyon Road thru the Angeles National Forest (extremely dry). Enjoyed roommate Mike Hobin’s company for the entire day. The Texans went out early and fast, never to be seen again by me. You know what they say about Texas…”don’t mess with them.” That would also apply to our four fast Texas riders, Larry and Kelli, John and Joe.

Only one minor accident that planted Chris Sacca in a pile of sand on the side of the road but he was able to finish the day. Too sleepy now but let’s see what 4 am might bring.

Day One Musings

Butterflies at work trying to get packed and organized for the start in Santa Barbara. Being the last one out to the van and bikes didn’t help. In an attempt to calm myself, I asked fellow rider, Katherine, if she had butterflies. She smiled and pointed to her bike seat and said “Do you mean like this?” On her bike seat, she had a small butterfly embedded in saddle.

The start through Santa Barbara and along the coast to Ventura was very nice except for the stretch on 101. We made it the 48 miles to lunch outside Santa Paula without problems, except for a few folks with flat tires. As Larry and Kelli predicted (they did this trip in 2007 and are back for another round), the paced picked up after lunch. The smooth road and the gentle up and down had something to do with it. Plus, we were all anticipating 3000 more feet of climbing.

The climbing never really materialized and we eased down California 126 into Valencia for high fives and fist pumps.

Day One is in the bag. Thirty-five riding days to go…

No Greater Love (Al Sondej, Part 3)

In the gospel of John (the Wisdom gospel), Jesus says that “the Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep” and somewhere else (that I can’t recall), it says that a person can have no greater love than to lay down one’s life for his friends. I’m not sure how much Al Sondej read the Bible but he did understand this commandment: to love your neighbor as yourself.

During college and graduate school, Al supported himself by work as a volunteer fireman. The paid room and board provided a stable living arrangement so that he could attend school. The job was usually safe and boring. However, some days were filled with excitement and risk.

I lost track of Al after he left for graduate school in Maryland. It was only several years later that I learned that he had died in an apartment fire. Apparently, he re-entered a burning building thinking that a child was still trapped inside. Al couldn’t find the child but his heroic act resulted in a severe injury. Al Sondej died several weeks later.

If Al could have chosen a way to die, it would be in this way, trying to save the life of a child.

Posthumously, the University of Notre Dame presented his family with the Dr. Tom Dooley Award for selfless service to humankind.

Outside the dining hall (Al Sondej, Part 2)

So one day, I stopped to say hello to Al Sondej. I awkwardly introduced myself to this intimidating man and more than 5 hours later, we were still talking….about very idealistic things. Al wanted to change the world. He wanted, more than anything, to feed the world. He understood, but couldn’t accept, the fact that thousands of people were dying every hour due to hunger and malnutrition. (This is still true 35 years later). Al’s bottom line: we are all children of God and if we would simply conserve and share , there would be plenty of food, energy, water and other precious resources to go around.

We argued a lot. Everything Al owned could fit in a small backpack. He didn’t own a belt because he didn’t need it to hold up his pants (they were too small for him). He had one coat, one worn-out sweater and one pair of sneakers. Generally, this large man ate one meal a day consisting of 12-24 “pizza muffins.” He never lost an argument to me because he would wear me out. He wouldn’t STOP arguing until I capitulated.

He was a strong, beautiful man who died too young.