Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Goal #2: Bike to work (What? Seriously?!)

Bicycling is one of the best ways to improve your health, explore a city you live in through a new perspective and perhaps meet other people who share the same goal.  The same endorphins making people happy and feed a "runner's high" are also created from something as simple as a long bike ride.

Riding the Music City Bikeway toward downtown Nashville, Tennessee.

Goal #2: Bike to work

If you haven't ridden a bicycle in a long time, you probably think riding a bike to work is a crazy idea.  Even some cyclists may agree with that statement.  Why am I doing this?
  • I wanted to try something new and have never bike commuted (even being an avid cyclist since 2004).
  • I wanted to save some wear and tear on my car, as well as gas.

  • I need base training for my 3rd goal to ride across Iowa this summer. 

I'm sharing some guidelines below if you are thinking about bike commuting or want to entertain the idea. Bike commuting takes a LOT of initial, comprehensive planning but I've witnessed many people pull this off successfully with great results. The following guidelines and remarks are subjective and are simply suggestions (not rules) by a cyclist, bike shop employee and fellow motorist. I know some guidelines here leave room for better suggestions from more experienced cyclists, so please share them below!

1. Look at the big picture and evaluate.

The longer your ride to and from work is, the more planning you'll need to execute.
Do you feel comfortable enough to ride on roadways shared with motor vehicle traffic?

Are you able to ride the distance equivalent from home to work at your current fitness level, including any hills you may face?

Do you have the right bike?  A commute of 20 miles will be uncomfortable on a hybrid bike versus a cyclocross bike or road bike, even with padded shorts.  A hybrid bike or city/beach cruiser is a great choice for shorter rides.  Mountain bikes aren't an efficient idea for any distance commuting due to their wider, knobby tires.  Department store bikes, albeit cheap, are very heavy and will make a ride even harder.  Visit your local bike shop to have them recommend what bike options work best with your goals and budget.

If you can't ride the distance, you can always "park & ride" from your vehicle or take the bus or train.  Riding the entire route isn't always necessary.

Expect challenges, as with any form of alternative transportation.  This includes friction some motorists have sharing the roads with cyclists.

How much gear are you going to be carrying?  A backpack, messenger bag or pannier(s) are a must for carrying your belongings.  Consider the added weight of your cargo when factoring in your fitness level of bike commuting.

Go for it if your benefits of improved health and happiness will outweigh the challenges that arise with bike commuting.

2. Thoroughly research your logistical needs that will arise at the workplace.

Is there a shower available?

Where can you change?  (e.g., locker room, bathroom, restroom, your office, etc.)

Where are you allowed to park your bike and will your bike be secure?

Where can you store your clothes, supplies, food, etc.?

Will you bring your change of clothes with you or will you keep your clothes at your workplace and change then?  If you peek at my bike commuting schedule below, you'll see I've chosen to refresh my wardrobe and supplies once a week on a rest day.

3. Plan your route.

At your current fitness level, are you able to ride a distance from home to work, including hills along the route?

Use trails, greenways, marked bike routes and existing bike lanes as close to your route as possible.  Doing so will take you away from heavier traveled roads and help ease frustration between cyclists and motorists sharing the same roads during peak times.

Use free online resources, like Map My Ride or Ride With GPS to draw a route that works best for you.  You'll ultimately need to transfer your route to a smartphone or print a cue sheet that you'll refer to until you know the route like the back of your hand.

Some municipalities even have a bicycle map with prescribed bike routes and trails.  Factor in these routes for your trip planning to ease your commute.  If you have an iOS device (iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch) a very useful app you can purchase is called Bike Maps, which downloads any published bicycle maps to your device and plots your location on these maps using the GPS chip in your device.

Is the route safe?  If part of your route may weave you through a questionable part of town, stick to more higher-traveled roads or during the daytime versus night.

Visit your local bike shop and talk to bike commuters or avid cyclists to get recommendations on routes.

4. Drive your route at the time you'll be bike commuting to and from work.

Look for physical hazards present along your route and mentally map them:
  • Broken glass and other sharp debris on the path you'll potentially be riding
  • Pavement cracks
  • Potholes
  • Storm sewer grates
  • Man hole covers
  • Railroad crossings (moisture makes train tracks slippery as ice, often from condensation that forms during the morning hours; always cross at a right angle or walk your bike, if necessary.)
  • Wildlife, including deer

Pay close attention to how heavy the traffic is on your route (again at the time you'll be bike commuting.)  Every cyclist has a comfort level established by their individual experience sharing roads with motorists.  There may be roads that just aren't suitable for riding or are prohibited to ride on.  Reconfigure and drive (again) the route, if needed.

Consider finding a weekly group ride from a local bike shop to improve your road riding and group riding skills while exploring new scenery.  For most riders, look for rides that are advertised as "no drop" rides meaning that if you do the ride and happen to fall behind with the rest of the group, you won't be left alone.  Group rides are a great way to learn good riding etiquette from experienced riders.

Have an idea of when the sun rises and sun sets which contribute to a low sun angle in the morning & evening which may limit your visibility among motorists you're sharing the road with.  Here is a great sunrise and sunset resource, including predawn and twilight, provided by the U.S. Navy.

Find where the bus transit and train stops are (if any) along your route.

Drive your route daily (and at the time you'll be bike commuting) for at least one week to memorize your route.

5. Have a backup plan for contingencies.

Know how to perform basic bike repairs and have basic tools with you if a mechanical problem arises.  Have a friend show you how to replace a punctured tube.

Ride with supplemental identification attached to your body, such as a wrist, ankle or shoe ID or dog tags containing blood type, allergies, health conditions/needs and emergency contact information in addition to your name.  I personally use a RoadID and wear it all the time while away from home.

If a stray dog runs out to you no matter how friendly it is or not, be on the defense.  Coming to a stop and using your bike as a shield and commanding the dog to go away does work.  While riding, many cyclists also resort to squirting the dog with a bottle or simply sprinting from it if they have the energy to do so.  Dogs only care about the territory they're protecting and not you.  Once they recognize you've left their territory, they'll back off.

Pack extra nutrition like an energy bar, gels or chews in case you need a quick boost.
If the weather will be wet, have appropriate rain gear.  Waterproof high-visibility jackets, rain pants and waterproof shoe covers and fenders are a big bonus on a wet commute.  Some bike bags even have a deployable rain cover.

Remember finding bus stops along the way I mentioned earlier if your commute turns into a rainstorm?  This would be a good time to stop your ride and pay fare for a bus ride if you're simply miserable and wet.  Have a friend who may be available and willing to pick you up if all else fails.

Ride with a sports camera, like a GoPro, to document any incident that occurs, including a collision with a vehicle.  Video is the best evidence in case of an accident or to document an aggressive motorist who might intimidate or intentionally harm you while riding.

Here is the result of planning tailored specifically to my goals and needs.  This may serve as a template on how to plan bike commuting.  Click to enlarge.

6. GO!

Know and obey all municipal codes, ordinances or laws that apply to your jurisdiction regulating operation of vehicles.  Bicycles are considered vehicles and cyclists have a legal duty to comply to the same laws that govern motor vehicles.  Here is an example of bike (and pedestrian) related laws of the Nashville, Tennessee, community I live in:

Helmets are a must.

Consider riding with a bright headlight and taillight in the day, in addition to the night.

Always signal your turns and when you're slowing down no matter if a motorist is behind you.  Communication is critical (and even legally required) when turning or slowing in addition to good riding etiquette.

When coming to a stop, slow down gradually as if you were driving.  Don't make a sudden stop as it will likely result in a collision and possibly a visit to the emergency room.

Don't tailgate.  Keep your distance from the vehicle you are following in traffic as if you're driving.  Tailgating is a quick way to irritate a motorist no matter in a vehicle or on a bicycle.

Take the lane when using a turn lane or at the stoplight if you are able and remember (again) to signal.

If you encounter an aggressive driver, ALWAYS keep your cool.  Depending on the circumstances, pull safely aside and call police immediately to report the driver, their vehicle and action(s) toward you.  If a police report is filed, it establishes official documentation that an incident occurred.  If an aggressive driver is listed in multiple police reports intimidating or harming cyclists, the driver could later be legally proven guilty of harassment.  If you choose to retaliate, know that all of your actions can be documented in a police report that driver could file against you.  Again, ALWAYS keep your cool.

Most importantly, HAVE FUN!  :-)

As a friend of mine says, "keep the rubber side down!"  In other words, ride safe!

I'm hoping some of these ideas may inspire you to be a more careful rider and perhaps a future bike commuter.  Again, feel free to post any comments you have below if you have better suggestions or simply have questions!

Wish me luck and pray for my safety as I'll give bike commuting a serious try beginning in April during 30 Days of Biking!  There's still time to sign up, so join me and ride a few minutes a day!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Goal #1: Jumpstart my fitness beginning with a Lenten diet

When I returned to blogging yesterday, I set 3 big, interconnected goals this year in hopes to keep myself honest toward achieving them as well as connecting with those who want to improve their health.  Perhaps you might be able to relate to the story about food I'm about to share.

Goal #1: Jumpstart my fitness this year beginning with a new diet during Lent.

My 2013 Lenten Diet: No fast food, no fatty food and no alcohol. 

How I established my eating habits

I'll elaborate on my goal shortly, but it's important I share with you how my health evolved over the years.

My friends know I eat fast and yes, I CAN eat.  This fella can inhale a FatMo's (local Nashville burger chain) Super Deluxe (triple patty cheeseburger with all of the toppings and over 27 oz. of beef) plues fries in 11 minutes.  I also won an eating bet finishing 20 White Castle hamburgers + 2 fries in one sitting without any side effects.  If you need proof of my eating ability, here it is:

Me and my competitor, Nick, at a White Castle in Minneapolis in 2009 about to challenge each other.

21 minutes later... I finished 20 White Castle burgers and 2 fries.  NO side effects!

And no, I've never been bulimic nor anorexic...seriously.  I wanted to keep everything in!  Since I was able to eat fast and beat the 20 minute timer your stomach sets until your brain tells you that you are full, I could pack it in and keep it.

I developed the habit of eating fast beginning in grade school when I had about 15 minutes to eat lunch, including the time to stand in line to let the cafeteria lunch ladies plop ladles of what appeared to be food, such as pizza boats, crater burgers and "pigs in a blanket" onto my multi-colored speckled tray.  In high school, we had an open campus for lunch and also had food trucks parked across the street from the main building.  I chose to visit the trucks frequently each week for lunch to eat 2 or 3 slices at a time.

By the time I started high school in 1992, I had a "normal" diet that included fast food almost daily and about 4-5 cans of pop (growing up in Kansas City, this is what we call it...but call it soda, soda pop, Coke, carbonated beverage or whatever floats your root beer float).  I remember standing on my scale at home one day seeing 178 lbs.  I hovered somewhere around 160-180 pounds for what I can recall from my junior and senior high school years.  Did I mention I'm 5'6"?  Yeah, that's a lot of weight to carry.

When I started college in 1995 to work on my childhood dream of earning a meteorology degree, I kept the same eating habits when I started coursework.  On a whim, I decided to start working out (regularly) for the first time.  I also chose to hire a personal trainer to give me help using equipment properly as well as giving me attainable goals at the gym and keeping me honest while doing sets and reps.  The first time I worked out, I won't forget starting on the elliptical trainer seeing my heart rate jump to almost 210 bpm and quickly became light-headed!  I know I gave my trainer, John, a little scare but he was there with me the whole time to make sure I was OK and I continued with my workout.  I did stick with the gym for about a year but gave it up since my college coursework and job were increasingly hogging up my schedule.

Letting a little more of my life elapse here, I ended up moving to Omaha, Nebraska, in 2003 to start my first job after college at KMTV-TV (CBS) as a morning meteorologist (even though I served on-air for about 6 years at KMIZ-TV (ABC) in Columbia, Missouri, while attending college.)  I was thinking about my family history of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and hypertension, after landing that Omaha job and decided to visit my doctor in 2004 to get a physical, including a lipid panel.   Whoa were my cholesterol numbers high; my total cholesterol was somewhere around 240 mg/dL.  (I wish I could tell you my HDL, LDL and triglycerides but I can't recall them here but trust me, they each were far from where they needed to be.)  THAT was the motivation to start riding a bicycle (since childhood) and I'll tell you my story in a future blog post.

Back to the Lenten Diet

Sandwich on whole multigrain, high fiber bread with (vegetable based) cheese substitute and an apple represent the core of my daily Lenten lunch.
I've been in a mental and physical slump this winter.  A new meteorologist, Natalie, who came on board in my office in December told me about her strict diet she sticks to every Lent.  She cuts out as many carbs and fat out of her diet during Lent and has been successful.  I'm not that strict about my diet but used her motivation to influence Goal #1 since I wanted to bike more and participate in big rides this year.

Again, Goal #1 for me (during Lent) consists of:
  1. No fast foods.
  2. No fatty (essentially fried) foods.
  3. No alcohol.
In order to achieve this goal, I started making my own lunch so I can control exactly what I was eating.  I also realized how much money I was throwing away eating out so much since I live alone.  For the bike commuting that I'm planning, having your food with you is a nice convenience, too, especially riding by a city park on a sunny 70 degree day.

This seems like a radical change to the generally poor diet I carried over from the holidays but here are some ways I've been able to stick to my goal, thanks to recent suggestions I've learned from others:
  • Fiber.  Lots of it and (if available) each time you eat whether at a meal or for a snack.
    • Apples, multigrain breads, multigrain breakfast cereals with 4g or more of fiber per serving have contributed to my success.
  • Snacking more often between meals.
    • Not chips, but apples, celery sticks, tree nuts, etc.
  • Drinking plenty of water, but also iced tea (unsweetened) or nonfat milk; no artificially sweetened soft drinks.
  • Using the Fooducate app to quickly scan and research all items you're thinking of buying at the grocery store.
    • If you use the app, most food items have an "A through F" rating to give you a quick idea about how healthy and tasty the item you're considering is.
    • If you don't have a smartphone, simply check your food labels.
  • Limit how much you eat later in the evening (mainly after 6 pm) since your metabolism is winding down for the day.

As of today, March 26, I'm still sticking to my diet and haven't had any urge to crash it.  As I said before, I'm not that strict about my Lenten diet but needed to make some necessary changes in order to make my start to fitness goals that much easier.  Shaving pounds off my body will only make bicycling easier, especially on hills.

Rest assured... I won't stay away from bad foods and my favorite microbrews but I won't be consuming them as often as before since I haven't kept them in my eating pattern and using my excuse of riding to negate some of the damage these foods can do.  I do need some room to reward myself once a week to do a little splurging, which is okay.

I'll blog about bike commuting tomorrow and share with you how I'm confident enough to pull this off in April through lots of planning.

Have a great Tuesday!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Pedaling Toward Personal Goals in 2013

It's Monday, March 25, 2013.

It has been nearly 2 years since my last (and only) Weather on Wheels blog post and I'm well overdue for another post.  So many events (big and small) have occurred for me and I'm safely guessing for you, too, within that 2-year timeframe.  Some of those events are ultimately giving me motivation to return to blogging.  I'm planning on some big riding goals this year and it all has to do with what you'll be reading next.
Reflecting in solitude during a summer sunset at Lake Zorinsky (Omaha, Nebraska).

One of the big events was deciding to leave my home for 9 years at KMTV-TV (CBS-Omaha, NE) as Morning Meteorologist and accepting a new position of Chief Meteorologist for RFD-TV's new startup national network, RURAL TV, that ended up moving me to their broadcast operations based in Nashville, TN.  RFD-TV is the parent national network of smaller, newer networks RURAL TV and FamilyNet, supplying television programming through DISH Network, DirecTV and various cable providers directed at farmers, ranchers and people in rural America as well as airing classic television shows many people remember.

Before a live weather report on RURAL TV during Farm Progress Show 2012 in Boone, Iowa.

Moving was mentally tough since nearly everyone who has been a part of my life live in the Midwest and here I am moving to a new city in a new state for a new job.  This is the first time I've lived in the South and have yet to regularly implement the pronoun "y'all" in my vernacular and acquire the taste of sweet tea.  It's still hard for me today not interacting with many people I still consider friends (and even family) back in the Midwest and I have yet to establish many friendships in a new place called Nashville.  There are some people I just had to let go who gave me opportunities to grow my faith and myself through life's circumstances.  Leaving a place I've called home and truly loved for many years was bittersweet.

March 30, 2012 - Leaving Omaha, Nebraska, a place I've called home for 9 years.

Another big event was losing my mom on the evening of Monday, October 29, 2012.  She passed suddenly from major heart attack at exactly 66 1/2 years in the presence of my dad at home in Kansas City, MO.  You can visit her obituary here published in the Kansas City Star.

Despite my dad's attempt at CPR and all of the efforts of the KCFD rescue squad, she could not have been saved and it was that day God had planned before her birth to call her home.  Her health had been slowly failing from a number of ailments,  beginning with her diagnosis of type 2 diabetes in 1996.  She also had to fight anemia and rheumatoid arthritis.  Her body grew increasingly weak from her immobility and her immobility led to weight gain, which ultimately proved fatal.  I'll write more about her in a future post but if you had a chance to meet her, she would've been the sweetest 4'11" woman you would've ever met on this earth.  I'm so lucky to have her as my mom and my dad was lucky to be married to her for 41 years.  She also served as a registered nurse for 40 years in the emergency room but spent her career serving others.  She will be sorely missed but I'm comforted to know she is resting eternally in peace and will forever be free from any health concerns.

My mom welcoming me with a warm hug as I was walking off the plane in Kansas City on Father's Day Weekend 2012.   That weekend ended up being the last time I saw my mom living.

Some of the events in my life (and the time to reflect on them) have kept me desiring isolation from seemingly everything in life, including people, over the past several months.  This is the 3rd consecutive year I've experienced a dark winter (figuratively speaking) after reflecting on events and changes on this end.  I've reached a point knowing it's not healthy to stay in that mental and physical state serving as a good excuse to return to something I have loved doing... cycling.

One thing I did for myself early this year was set 3 fitness/lifestyle goals:
  1. Engage in a kickstart Lenten diet of staying away from fast food, fatty foods (generally speaking, fried foods) and alcohol.
  2. Pledge to participate in the 3rd Annual 30 Days of Biking by bicycle commuting to work beginning April 1, instead of driving, and hoping to permanently consider bike commuting to work.
  3. Riding across the State of Iowa during RAGBRAI XLI.  (This will be my 3rd time riding across Iowa, previously in 2010 and 2011.)
I'll be going into more detail about these 3 goals over the next 3 days.  The goals are interconnected and are ways for me to also improve my physical and mental health.  They also build up to my 3rd goal of riding across a U.S. state.  I'm hoping to do more state touring rides as my schedule and finances permit in the distant future.

Before I'll be posting further about my goals, something I wish to share and perhaps encourage you is to grab that old, dusty bike and join me in some riding in April for the 3rd Annual 30 Days of Biking!  You don't have to ride far or fast, but just ride.  Even if you only ride a mile a day or spin indoors, that's all you need to do participate and discover how therapeutic riding a bicycle can be.  Visit to see what the bike buzz is all about!

Visit for the scoop and to join me, along with people worldwide!

Setting and engaging in attainable goals is my way of "pedaling forward" in life and getting closer to opportunities that God has set forth for me to discover, including new places and people.

More posts coming soon, so stay tuned and get on your bike!  ;-)