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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Cycling can be addictive, but can have a positive effect on your life

Cycling can be addictive, but can have a positive effect on your life
By:  Michael Lander

After returning to cycling in 2007, I found that it can be tough and challenging, but it
can also can be fun and exhilarating, and even addictive.  It can also take me to places
that I have never been before and it helps me to achieve things that I never thought
were possible, and it always leaves me with the desire to do even more of it.
(Photo Credit:  Steve Dodd)

My heart is pounding.  I'm breathing hard and fast and I feel like I'm sweating bullets.  I'm tired and sore and I thought, long before this, that I wouldn't be able to keep going.

Even with all this, I could not feel any better because I am a cyclist and this is what I live for.

While the experience may sound a lot like torture, or some sort of medical emergency, rather than anything that might be even remotely fun, cycling for me is something that I truly enjoy and have found to be extremely addictive. 

It is a lot like most things that any of us might crave, but it's better and safer for you than many things we might overindulge in, especially any drug. 

People often talk of a "runner's high," but I am convinced that there is also a "cyclist's high."

This sensation doesn't come very easily, however.  You'll probably never experience this, for instance, on a slow, leisurely bike ride, but if you push yourself to your limit, and to a high enough intensity level, and sustain that for a long enough period of time, a cycling "high" is something that, I happen to believe, can be achieved.    

In a Scientific American article by Bethany Brookshire (Scicurious), she says that this "high" or feeling of euphoria may come from the endorphins and endogenous opiods that are naturally released by the body during stress and an intense work-out.  This can set up a series of reactions in the brain that can diminish the sense of pain and help make strenuous physical exercise a lot more pleasurable.

In addition to this, according to a study by Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of California, Irvine, among others, the body may also produce something known as an anandamide.  This cannabinoid, or lipid molecule, is known to create sensations that are similar to those of THC, the psychoactive element in marijuana.

As the body seems to have a way of minimizing the effects of what you may be putting it through, it is never enough to alleviate every ache and pain that you might feel.  Some pain is to be expected.  It would not be normal for your body not to react or to respond in some way as a defense mechanism. 

For those who ride long and hard, they know that this is something that will happen and eventually it is something that you just become accustomed to and can overcome.

Even though pain can be a consequence of riding a bike, it helps to remember that it is almost always only temporary and that there is a lot of truth in the adage of "no pain, no gain."

It might be easy for some non-cyclists to assume that this has anything to do with someone wanting to intentionally inflict discomfort on themselves, but there really is nothing sadomasochistic about any of this. 

For me, it actually has more to do with not letting the pain or discomfort control or deny me of the enjoyment and freedom that I routinely experience on a bike ride.  It is this, and how reinvigorated that I feel after I finish a ride that keeps me, and others like me, going back for more. 

Aside from the physiological and psychological gratification that comes with cycling, what makes it so great is that it seems to offer something for just about everyone.  

Whether you ride just for fun, for a purpose, (commuting to and from places around Memphis), for your health, or to fill a need for speed, or to compete, there are few other sports or activities that can provide so much to so many and to be so good for you.


There are some who might look at those who are really into cycling and see them as being obsessed.  Others might say it's more like an addiction or a compulsion, but whatever label that you want to put on it, I, for one, simply can't imagine a life without it. 

There are certainly worse things that someone could be hooked on and it just so happens that cycling is my drug of choice.  It is an addiction that comes without all the bad side effects that accompany most any drug that you might take.

I have often joked with friends and family that I hate when life gets in the way of my cycling, but in truth, I realize that there is so much more to life than just riding a bike.  For me, though, life can always be enhanced, and made so much better by riding, even if it can leave you tired and sore, and drenched in sweat.

I can tolerate just about anything that happens to me on a ride because, like anyone else who works out, any pain or discomfort that I encounter, in a strange way, is a lot like the title of the John Mellencamp song, (it) "Hurts so good."

The only downside to this is that it doesn't seem to last long and after a couple of days of not riding, I seem to experience withdrawals and need to get my fix and get in a good, long bike ride.  Only this seems to restore any imbalance or lack of equilibrium that I might have in my life.

For those who are like me, cycling is not really the only thing that we have in our lives, but it is something that we are happy to have as a part of it.  It enriches us and keeps us healthy and in touch with the world around us.  There are no drugs, that I know of, that can do all that.  I have no need for them since I have a bicycle. 

With my bike, everything is right in the world.


If you would like to read more about runner's high, which other athletes and cyclists can experience, you may want to read an article entitled, "Yes, Running Can Make You High by Gina Kolata."  For additional information, you can also visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Runner%27s_high.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Transportation plans in Memphis will continue to expand to include cyclists and others

Transportation plans in Memphis will continue to expand to include cyclists and others 
By:  Michael Lander

Cyclists, like these in the Cooper-Young neighborhood, are a common sight in this
and in other areas throughout the city of Memphis and the number of cyclists
is expected to only increase in the years ahead as more is done to accommodate
them and pedestrians in and around the Memphis metropolitan area.


Cars and trucks have ruled the roads for decades.  They have, in many ways, played a big part in helping America become what it is today. 

From being one of the primary means of transportation, and an integral part of our business and commerce, automobiles have long been at the center stage and focus for local, state, and federal government.   Each have concentrated a lot of their time, attention and budgets to addressing and resolving issues that might impact or impede traffic and commuting. 

Fast forward to today, and you will find cities like
Memphis that are now, more than ever before, making plans and focusing a lot more time and attention on cyclists and pedestrians.   Even though this will be a huge benefit to those who ride a bike or who chose to walk, ultimately, it should also provide a big payoff to everyone else in the community as well.

Memphis has been called "America's Distribution Center" and a commercial and transportation hub because it is ideally located in the middle of the country, along the Mississippi River, and in a place where many railways and highways converge. 

This month, the
Memphis Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), (which is a regional, multi-jurisdictional agency responsible for planning and programming of long-range transportation facilities in the Memphis metropolitan area),  completed a draft of its Regional Bicycle & Pedestrian Plan.

Cycling is not only a healthy activity, but it is also a great alternative when
there are few other options that exist, aside from motorized vehicles.  It is
also a much more environmentally-friendly option to consider over vehicles
with a combustible engine. 


What is significant about this plan is that it has the potential to forever change in a positive and dynamic way how we move and get around our city.  We will no longer be constrained by what currently exists today, but we will have alternatives and choices and ways to switch to various modes of transportation, which will open opportunities that have not yet been fully realized. 

 

As with previous incarnations of the regional bicycle & pedestrian plan, MPO's latest version of this plan remains consistent in its stated goals, which are ambitious and far-reaching. 

With this plan, MPO acknowledges the need to balance all available modes of transportation and to create an integrated, multi-modal strategy that will allow residents in Memphis and surrounding communities an array of means to get around other than the limited options that we have today.

With the ever-increasing rise and use of motor vehicles, walking and cycling have literally taken a back seat and have been overlooked as a viable and an alternative means of transportation. 

That has slowly begun to change and Memphis is now looking to encourage and enhance bicycle and pedestrian travel, which it recognizes as a way to improve public health and reduce the negative environmental impact of vehicles with a combustible engine.

In order to achieve any goals of integrating cycling and walking into a workable and practical transportation plan, however, the city knows that it must resolve some of the obstacles and road blocks that might hinder this from actually coming together. 

The Memphis Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) is doing what it can
to promote both cycling and walking in the city and it is striving to transform
Memphis from a place that has focused exclusively on motor vehicles to one
that is now receptive and conducive to alternative modes of transportation.


The two main areas that it knows it must look at and address are the issues of connectivity and accessibility.  Any plan must provide a network that allows cyclists and pedestrians to efficiently travel from one place to another throughout the city, and there must be modes of travel that are adequately integrated with other modes of transportation.   

 

For cyclists, it would also help to have more dedicated and protected bike lanes, more bike stands or racks outside businesses, more investments in bike-related facilities, a bike share program, and businesses supporting and encouraging their employees to commute by cycling.  It would also not hurt for there to be public service announcements (PSA's) to promote and inform the public of how and why they should ride a bike.

For some, commuting may simply begin by just riding for fun and recreation and later developing into something more from there.  Having an ever-increasing number of bike lanes and interconnecting trails, and projects like the creation of a bike and pedestrian pathway on the
Harahan Bridge, over the Mississippi River, may be what spurs some people to eventually begin riding for more practical reasons such as traveling to and from work and making trips to the grocery store and so on.

 

The need for "cleaner" and "environmentally friendly" options, like cycling and walking, in any comprehensive transportation plan could not be any more obvious than they are now.  As stated in MPO's bicycle and pedestrian plan, U.S. motor vehicle emissions account for about 31 percent of carbon dioxide, 81 percent of carbon monoxide, and 49 percent of nitrogen oxides.  These emissions are known to contribute to lung cancer, heart and lung disease, asthma, and various other lung and respiratory illnesses. 

 

Cycling is expected only to grow in the years ahead in Memphis and the city
is looking to do what it can to promote this for the health of its residents and
to help reduce air pollution from motor vehicle exhaust.


Memphis has earned the unenviable position of being ranked among the top 20 places in the U.S. that have the greatest amount of pollution from cars and trucks that regularly contribute to a ground level ozone.  Because of this, in 2010, the American Lung Association gave the Memphis area a "F" grade for air quality.

MPO sees bicycling and walking as a possible solution for helping to improve our air quality.  Short distance trips on a bike or on foot could help to reduce some of the vehicular traffic congestion that Memphis area drivers frequently experience.  This, inarguably, wastes both time and energy resources for everyone involved.

According to MPO, roughly 40 percent of all trips are less than two miles in length and they contend that this distance could easily be traveled by most during a ten minute bike ride or a 30 minute walk.

Other than the health benefits of it, MPO believes that one of the distinct advantages of bicycling and walking is that both are the most affordable means of transportation for most people.  The average family, they contend, must work for more than six weeks to cover the cost of operating a car for one year while the cost of operating a bicycle for a year can be earned in less than one day and walking, of course, does not cost a thing.


Many areas like this, in and around the city of Memphis, have seen a substantial
increase in the number of bike lanes, along with other cycling-related amenities and
more is expected as the area tries to further accommodate both pedestrians and cyclists.

 

The idea of being able to shed all or part of the expense for gas, along with car maintenance and repair, is certainly something that most people would find appealing.  If that were not enough, the aggravation of bad driving, backed up traffic, the occasional lack of parking spaces and the added expense of having to pay for parking should be an incentive to try something else.  But for most, the car is not something that they could live without.

For most of us, our lives revolve around an automobile.  Sometimes it seems that we spend most of our lives inside of one.  We commute to work, go to the grocery store, and run errands and so much more and it almost always involves jumping in a car to get there. 

Even though it may not be practical or feasible for everyone to ride a bike or to walk instead, with better facilities and improvements to accommodate cyclists and pedestrians, it may be something that more area residents will be able to consider in the future.


For now, other than cars, which are currently the preferred mode of transportation for commuting around Memphis, there are very limited options beyond that.  With the exception of the Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) buses and a very small trolley system in downtown Memphis, the city does not really have a substantial mass transit system in place on which most commuters can rely.  That leaves most people to fend for themselves on the roadways. 

The University of Memphis has gotten involved in promoting cycling on its
campus by establishing a Tiger Bike Share Program and a Tiger Cycling Club
for U of M students, faculty, and employees.

For anyone who is willing and interested in parking their car and commuting by bicycle instead, here are a few simple suggestions for you to consider: 
(1)  Ride a bike that is simple, sturdy, and strong and doesn't have more on it than you need. 
(2)  Create a checklist of what you might need on your commute and after you reach your destination, (i.e., a cell phone, small plastic bags for items in case it rains, etc). 
(3)  Only carry what you need for the ride and whatever else you will want to have or wear after you reach your destination. 
(4)  Make sure that you have a way to clean up afterward. 
(5)  Always prepare in advance.  Know the route that you will take and be sure to check the weather forecast beforehand. 
(6)  Frequently check your brakes, tires and chain and carry any tools and other items that will enable you to fix a flat tire and make minor repairs. 
(7)  Have a way to secure and lock up your bike. 

For those who would like to know more, here is a list of websites that will be helpful to anyone wanting to commute by bicycle:  http://www.commutebybike.com/cats/commuting-101/ http://beginners.bicycling.com/beginners/commuting, http://www.wikihow.com/Commute-By-Bicycle, and http://www.biketoworkmemphis.com/.

Even though Americans have had a love affair with the automobile for decades, times are beginning to change.  Memphis is on the precipice and is ready to take the leap into the future. 

We may be behind some other cities in recognizing and promoting cycling and walking, but with plans like MPO's Regional Bicycle & Pedestrian Plan, we will be quickly joining the ranks of other progressive-minded cities in the nation who have already realized the value and many benefits of non-motorized ways of getting around town.

Even though we may not be the first city to take the lead in this, for those of us who want to see what is best for the city and its residents, we can at least take some solace in knowing that it is always better late than never.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Fall is a great time of the year for riding bikes in Memphis

Fall is a great time of the year for riding bikes in Memphis
By:  Michael Lander


Main Street in downtown Memphis is just one of many places in the city
where you can see some beautiful leaves in the fall.  As you can see from
this picture of a Memphis City Police Officer, however, it can be a very
chilly time to ride your bike too.

It's almost always a good time to ride a bike, but it is especially nice to take a bike ride around Memphis in the fall. 

In our part of the world, and for the rest of the Northern Hemisphere for that matter, fall officially begins with the Autumnal equinox on September 22 or 23 and it ends on the Winter solstice on December 21 or 22, but the weather here does not always necessarily coincide with what the calendar might show.

Those who have been around Memphis for very long know that the weather here, especially in the fall, can be as unpredictable and as uncertain as the stock market or a slot machine in a nearby Tunica casino.

As volatile as the weather might seem to be, however, the one thing that makes the fall season a lot more enticing for cyclists are the much cooler temperatures that we have this time of year.  

From average high temperatures ranging from 88 to 91 degrees, and heat indexes that can exceed 100 degrees throughout summer months, the Memphis area sees a lot more tolerable weather for cyclists with a lot less heat and humidity by the time that the fall season finally rolls around.

The bike trails in and around the city of Memphis are some ideal locations, not only to
ride, but to take in some of the fall colors.  Mid-to-late October is the time when
the area usually sees its peak period for fall foliage.

As in the spring, the cooler temperatures in the fall can make bike-riding a whole lot more pleasurable than ever and anyone who is inclined to ride really should not miss the chance to seize the opportunity to take their bikes out and resist the temptation of putting them away too early for winter. 

The average high temperature in September is 84 degrees, October is even cooler with an average high of 74, and November is often the harbinger of things to come with frost and chilly temperatures and average highs of 62 degrees and lows hovering around 42.

For those who endure the heat of summer, the cool, crisp autumn air can be a welcoming change as can be the change of scenery. 

Beginning in late September and early October, the landscape seems to come alive with leaves changing colors to beautiful shades of orange, red, and yellow with pumpkins, corn stalks, and a wide array of decor celebrating everything that is scary at Halloween to all those things that we have come to associate with, and appreciate about, Thanksgiving. 

There are very few better ways to enjoy fall than on a bicycle.  Not only can you see
some of the beautiful colors, but you can breathe in some crisp, autumn air and
get some really great exercise, all at the same time.

From the smell of wood-burning fireplaces to the distinctive scent of musty, wet leaves and spent vegetation to the sound of rustling leaves and the crackling sound of the old-dried up leaves as you run over them, there is something very special about riding a bike this time of year.  It can be as much of a treat, (and better for you), than anything that may be offered to you on Halloween. 

Even though there is so much to experience and to love about the fall, there is little else that can compare to the beauty of the leaves in all their magnificent glory.  With bright and bold colors like you might find on an artist's painted canvas, there is hardly anything that is any prettier, at least for the moment, in all of nature. 

Riding a bike and seeing and experiencing this as it unfolds before you can truly envelop you and make you feel more a part of your surroundings than ever.  If you take the time to enjoy this, and there is no better way to do that than on a bike, you can truly appreciate the momentary beauty before everything fades, withers, and gives way to winter.

There is only a small window in time to be able to see and enjoy the fall colors
and it's often the last chance for cyclists to get out and ride before the really
cold temperatures of winter set in.

Some of the best places to see the beautiful fall foliage in Memphis are on Riverside Drive and on Main Street, but there are plenty of other like Shelby Forest, Overton Park, Shelby Farms, and the various greenlines and greenways, not to mention many neighborhoods from midtown and beyond.  If you venture further out from the city, you will also find other great locations to see the fall leaves, like in middle to east Tennessee, north toward Kentucky, south around northern Mississippi, and in the Ozarks in western Arkansas.

Even though other cities may have more trees than Memphis does, the city does have a significant number and variety of trees and an extensive canopy of trees that can be seen from the air. 

This year, the city of Memphis received the "Tree City USA," designation from the Arbor Day Foundation and this should mean that Memphis area residents, visitors, and cyclists should have even more beautiful fall leaves to look at and appreciate in the years ahead.

For information on the peak season for fall foliage in the Southeast, here is a link to an article by Sheridan Alexander at http://gosoutheast.about.com.  For information on how to get started in a fall cycling program, you might want to visit the Rodale website.  

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A 24-hour bike ride in Memphis helps raise money and hope for children in need

A 24-hour bike ride in Memphis helps raise money and hope for children in need
By:  Michael Lander

The St. Jude Bike Ride begins with what is known as a "Victory Lap," in
which all of the cyclists ride together on the 3-mile course on Riverside Drive.
After that, and for the next 24-hours, only one member on each team can be
on the course at any given time.

Cycling is a fun and healthy activity for children and adults alike and it would also seem to play a part, at least in one way, in helping children who are in need.

Most of us have a compassionate and caring side for those in need, and children, especially, hold a very special place in our hearts.  They can be the biggest and most important part of our lives and they can give us our greatest joy.  We often do everything that we can to protect them and to do what we can to keep them happy, healthy, and safe.  Sometimes, however, we are not always able to do this alone. 

Every day, there are children who are diagnosed with life-threatening diseases and cancer.  For them and their families there is a place where they can go to get help in the fight for their lives.  That place is
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

St. Jude is known around the world for what it does and it is unlike any other pediatric treatment and research facility anywhere else.  Discoveries made at this life-saving place in downtown Memphis have completely changed how the world of medicine treats children with cancer and other deadly diseases.  Researchers there continue to find new, better, and more innovative ways to treat these children every day. 

Riverside Drive is one of the most scenic spots in Memphis and it's
an ideal location for an event like the St. Jude Bike Ride.

In order for St. Jude to carry out its pioneering research and life-saving care, it relies on donations and on fundraising efforts, which enable it to provide the services and treatment that it is known for.  All of this is offered at no cost to any of the families who have children who go there.  One of the ways it does this is to host an annual bike ride in downtown
Memphis, on Riverside Drive.  This year, that bike ride took place on 19 - 20 Sept. 2014.

This bike riding event is a 24-hour team relay bike ride that began at around 6 p.m. on Friday night and lasted until 6 p.m. on Saturday evening.  This annual ride raises awareness and money for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, and this year over 300 cyclists participated and raised approximately $136,000. 

September is not only a good month to do a ride like this in Memphis, because of the cooler temperatures, but it is also recognized nationally as Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

This was my first time to participate in this event and I joined a team, known as the "Gray Falcons," which was led by a man whom I have known and long admired, Lt Col (Ret) Billy Privette.  Besides me and our team captain, the other member of our team was a man of many talents and abilities, Lt Col (Ret) Gary Jewel.  The three of us are all retired members of the Tennessee Air National Guard and, even though we were few in number, collectively, our three-man team raised a total of $4,845. 

For some participants in the 2014 St. Jude Bike Ride, it's all about
the speed, but for others is is more about taking a slow and steady
pace with a focus on endurance.

I signed up for this ride just weeks before it took place and I dedicated my ride to a sweet, little girl, Alexandria Page Whittington.  Alexandria was a flower girl in my wedding in 1991 and she was a patient at St. Jude for most of her life.  Even though this beautiful child did not survive the cancer that eventually ended her life far too soon, she will live forever in the hearts of those who knew and loved her, and she will always remain an inspiration to me and others for the courage and strength that she had as she so bravely fought during her life.

Of the approximate 300 cyclists who rode in this year's event, most were on teams and only one member of each team could be on the nearly three mile route on Riverside Drive at any given time.  The route looped around Riverside with a place to turn around near West Georgia Ave. to the south and Jefferson Ave. to the north.  Cyclists were tracked by a timing chip that showed the time and the number of laps that each person had ridden on the course, which was monitored by
Start 2 Finish Event Management.

At one time or another, you could find cyclists riding everything from unicycles, to mountain bikes, cruisers, Townie bikes, BMX bikes, Cyclo-cross, road bikes, and more.  Some of the cyclists were riding a nice slow, leisurely pace while others looked like they were in the Tour de France and were traveling at speeds that were easily in excess of 25 mph.

After hours of riding, the hill on Riverside Drive, (near West Georgia
Ave.), may begin to feel a lot like trying to climb a mountain, but coming
down the other side of it is always more fun and requires a lot less effort.

Participants and teams earned awards for the most laps completed in the solo, (male and female), two-person, (male and female), co-ed, and all male, female and co-ed team divisions.  These and the top fundraisers were all recognized during the closing ceremonies on Saturday night. 

Throughout this 24-hour event, there was live music from groups like
CCDE, Dead Soldiers, The Band Droids, Yearwood and Ford, and Freeworld.  Food was provided by Lucchesi's, Lost Pizza Co., Dominos, Chick-fil-A, Wade & Company Catering, Moe's Southwestern Grill, and McAlisters.

Participants could come and go as they wanted to or they had the choice to camp out in Tom Lee Park for the night.

I had a lot of fun on this ride, myself, and I met some wonderful people from St. Jude as well as some of the other cyclists and those who were there working as volunteers for this event.  I also achieved some personal bests, riding a total of 140.38 miles and riding continuously (non-stop) from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. on my aluminum-framed Trek hybrid bike during this 24-hour team relay bike ride.  I did not get much sleep, (only about two hours, if that), but we kept someone on our three-man team on the road for most of the 24 hours. 

Three hundred cyclists participated in this year's St. Jude Bike Ride
raising awareness and thousands of dollars for the kids at St. Jude
Children's Research Hospital.

I was happy that I was able to do this ride, and was able to do my part for my team and for St. Jude, getting and surpassing the century mark, with a body that is over half a century old.  Even though I had personal success that I am proud of, I was especially pleased that I was even able do this, or any other ride, at all. 

It was almost exactly a year ago that I experienced a terrible
injury and break to my left arm and it was only earlier this year that a MRI revealed that I had three bulging discs in my neck.  Two years ago, (on Labor day weekend), I also had to be treated for severe disc problems in my middle and lower back that required a trip to the emergency room where I received shots of morphine just to alleviate the excruciating and debilitating pain.
 

In spite of any of the physical issues that I have faced over the years, I was elated that I was able to overcome them and was still able to ride as long and as hard as I did during this event, but the most moving and touching moments of all for me on this bike ride weren't the ones involving me.  Instead, it was moments like the one when I listened to a sweet little girl, (who is a cancer survivor, and a former patient at St. Jude), who sang the National Anthem Friday evening and seeing another beautiful, little girl who St. Jude helped save, who was smiling and cheering for us as we rode by her.

Cyclists participating in the 24-hour St. Jude Bike Ride could take in the
beautiful scenery along Riverside Drive at all the different times of the day
and night.  The late night rides could be very peaceful and much cooler
than the ones done in the middle of the day.

Even though it does feel great to have people rooting and clapping for you on a ride, I really felt like it was I who should have been cheering for this precious child, and others like her at St. Jude.  It is for children like her, after all, that we do rides like this and it's what makes this ride especially meaningful for those who do it.

For those who might be interested in seeing what this ride looked like from the perspective of a cyclist, here is a video that I shot during this event: 
2014 St Jude Bike Ride.  For those who would like to know more about St. Jude and the ride itself, here is a link to their website:  http://fundraising.stjude.org/site/TR?fr_id=8916&pg=entry.  For further information, you can contact the Regional Event Specialist, Lee Bobo, at 901-373-5051.