Saturday, March 04, 2017

Gene's Urban Adventure

I recently watched the documentary Cars vs Bikes on Netflix. I used to compute sometimes to the church on my bike, and now I take the DART Rail Orange Line occasionally to the B. H. Carroll's offices in Las Colinas. So when my riding buddies said they were riding Gravelthon! on the levees of the Trinity River and the subtitle of the event was "adventure in the heart of the city," I thought I'd join them and add to the adventure by seeing if I could go from my home in Plano to the event in West Dallas and back riding only a bike and public transportation. 

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The gravel grinders on the Trinity River Levee
The adventure began when I rode my bike from my house to the first bus stop. My last post told about the gravel grinder that turned into a cycling tough mudder. The road crud clogged up my freehub, and the cassette would not engage with the axle. Basically, you spin your pedals forward like you would if you were peddling backwards. Since a little WD-40 had loosened the pins enough to ride after this happened last time, I decided to get on the bus anyway and find a bike technician at the event.

(Clearly, I'd rather risk having things resolve along the way than to get my bike repaired intentionally. It's a personal issue, I know.)

DART buses and trains are bike friendly, and the ride to Parker Station held no incidents. The train ride to West End Station was also uneventful, and I met a couple of other cyclists who were taking the train. One to work, the other to an electronics swap meet. He was taking his DIY electric bike to get new parts.

When I got to West End Station, the DART App told me to find Bus 59 to make it to the race start. I eventually found the stop at Rosa Parks Plaza with the help of a DART employee. When the bus arrived the driver told me there was no way to get to the Singleton start address because of all the detours. The event had blocked my way to the event! Another DART employee said I could ride my bike to the start and gave me a route to take. I took off on my bike to my destination.

Remember, I have no propulsion by peddling my bike at this time, but I had to get to the start to find a technician. So my bike became a push bike down Lamar Street in downtown Dallas and across the Ronald Kirk pedestrian bridge to the start of the ride. The good news is that there are some downhills to get to the bridge.
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Trinity River Levee
I rode immediately to the REI tent to find a bike technician while my friends rode the parade lap across the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge. Thanks to Ashley, the REI bike technician who cleaned the freehub as much as she could, the cassette engaged enough for me to make the 20-mile loop along the river levees. It was cold and windy, but the city planners have done a great job on the trails on the levee tops and along the river. Get down there and ride them some time.

We enjoyed the ride and our company, and were happily headed to the finish...

...when I got a flat!

I rode as long as I could on the flattening tire, stopped, changed into my running shoes to run my bike to the finish. (We were less than a mile from the start/finish, and I didn't want to take the time to put in a new tube and use up a C02 cartridge. I'm cheap, too.) Amy came to my rescue and let me use her pump. I got enough air in the tire to get me back to the REI tent and air pump without running it it. Ashley and team were tearing down the tent, but she stopped what she was doing to pump up my tire. (It was a Slime Self-sealing tube and held the air. They don't always do.) I told her 25 psi was enough since I only had to get to the train. (That was a tactical error I will discover later.)

I rode on a low tire through the streets of Dallas back to the West End Station, boarded the train, and enjoyed my ride back to Parker Road Station in Plano. My adventure was almost over...

...except the buses on my route only leave on the hour on Saturdays, and it was 2:15. 

I put my helmet and cycling shoes and gloves back on. I knew the Chisholm Trail in Plano crossed under West Park Blvd., so I started riding in that direction...on 25 psi in the rear tire!  

Kudos to Plano Parks and Recreation who expanded the hike-and-bike trail from the DART Parker Road Station to where it intersects the Chisholm Trail. I rode from that entrance to the trail to my home near Independence and Spring Creek. The extra almost-3 miles on a low tire was a great workout, but not enjoyable.

My Urban Adventure was more than I had planned, but I did enjoy it. I discovered you CAN travel from West Plano to the Trinity River Trails on a bike and public transportation...and it only cost $5.00 for a day pass on DART!

Monday, January 02, 2017

Iceman's Challenge 2016

My last scheduled event of 2016 was the Iceman's Challenge outside China Springs, TX. You could not have asked for a better course or worse conditions. On ride day, it was raining, 45 degrees, and a northerly wind at about 20 mph. Depending on your perspective, it was either ideal or the worst conditions ever for a gravel ginder. I ride to be with friends and for the adventure, so this definitely ranked high on both meters.

The Peloton: Jason, Me, Erik, Rebecca, Graham, Amy
We had all registered for longer distances, but when we woke up in Waco and it was pouring rain and we saw the conditions as we rode to the starting line, we all opted for the shortest 31-mile distance. That was plenty on a day like this. 

Mud, mud, and more mud
Riding was difficult, as you can imagine, but everyone took the conditions in stride and laughed our way through the hills, mud, wind, and rain. You really get to know people when you are on the road with them in these conditions and fun turns to survival as the day goes on. I rode with a quality group of people. This was Graham's first sanctioned cycling event. I hope he will want to try another.

Kudos to the Iceman's Challenge Race Director and crew. They were a great team and supporters, and the tracking app, RaceJoy, they used was excellent. The Bear Mountain was a good pre-race host and support if you needed it, and the post-ride meal was unquestionably the best I've experienced. Give Iceman's Challenge a try if you want a good grinder experience.

I'll go back for this one next year when it's dry--or, ride again in the mud, wind, and rain. 

Thursday, August 04, 2016


Robert Frost began a poem about devotion with these words:

The heart can think of no devotion
Greater than being shore to the ocean. 

I read these words while my father and I camped out together between my graduation from college and my wedding day. As we set on the shore of Red Hills Lake in East Texas, I thought maybe Robert Frost was right. Shores lay stuck to oceans,

Holding the curve of one position
Counting an endless repetition.

This endless repetition surely had to be the clearest picture of devotion. 

Then it hit me I was about to get married.

Padre Island National Seashore
Shores have no choice in their devotion. They are cemented to their ocean partner without the freedom to leave the relationship. Oceans, too, hopelessly pound their boundaries with no other options. A greater devotion, I thought, had to be having the choice not to be devoted to someone but dedicating yourself to that one person with all the other options still out there. Surely marriage was a better picture of devotion than "being shore to the ocean."

Some years later, Frost's poem came to mind as I meditated on Jesus' prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. The Son of God, with all that was at his disposal to escape death and suffering at the hands of those he had created, prayed:

If this is what you want for me,
may your will be done, not mine.

Jesus had a literal universe of options not to go through with the Father's plans for his death. He had the freedom not to devote himself to His Father's will. But with sweat drops of blood on his brow, he submitted his life to death on a cross as a "ransom for many."

Robert Frost nor I had thought of the ultimate image of devotion. Everything in human experience pales in comparison to Jesus' devotion to the Father's will. Maybe the poem should read:

The heart can think of no devotion
Greater than Christ to the Father's Notion.

I'm not a poet, so don't judge me on the verse. However, if you ever wonder what the ultimate expression of devotion looks like, look to Jesus' devotion to God's Plan for his life. 

Read Matthew 26:36-46 to recall Jesus' devotion to the Father.

What other examples might you have for the meaning of devotion?

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Four Lessons from My Tough Mudder Experience

A little over a year ago I completed my first and only Tough Mudder event. On May 2, 2015, I joined 14 other members of the Dirty Dozen team led by Paul Wilson, TM vet and Pastor. Paul's and my friend, Doug Miller, chided me to join the team and to get dirty. 

I like a challenge, and I had never attempted one of the muddy obstacle events like Tough Mudder or Spartan Race or Battlefrog. So, I signed up and began to train with the Plano contingent. You can watch videos of the events (ours was a 10.2-mile-18-military-style-obstacles course), so I won't bore you with my wordy descriptions. I want to tell you four lessons I learned from the event that stick with me a year later. (They also continue to apply to every obstacle-filled effort I seek to do.)

1. Teamwork is the only way to accomplish anything outside your own capabilities. I can run and cycle a long way for my age, but I am a weakling in my upper body. Without the help of multiple team members I would have stood helplessly below several obstacles.  When I came to the others outside my capacity I just dropped in the muddy water.

2. Humility comes from reaching your limits. Most of us want to be humble but we don't want to go through the things that make us humble. I have never met anyone who was naturally humble. It's a characteristic chiseled into us by experience and God's Spirit. Until you attempt something you cannot do you will never know how far you can go.  

3. Accountability gets you where you want to go. The Plano contingent began training twice a week in January for the May event. Knowing someone was waiting for me to complete the TM training regimen that day got me dressed and on my way to join them. I don't have a team now, and I train at my leisure. That's not good. 

4. Pain is bearable when it is a byproduct of reaching your goal. The last obstacle is a shocking 10,000-volts surging through wires as you run, crawl, or dive through a mud pit. You are tired, wet, and you are caked in mud, but you lock arms, duck your head and run anyway. The electricity straightens you up  when it hits you, but when you stumble out the other side, it's all okay. 

I most likely-99% sure-I won't do another one of these mud-obstacle events, but I will continue to apply what I learned through that event all the time.

Find a team of friends for whatever your challenge may be and enjoy the adventure!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Church Around the Table

Church Around The Table
One weekend our LifeGroup gathered at the lake house that belonged to one of the members. Not everyone in the group could make it, and it was winter, but water sports and 100% attendance were not our goals.

We just wanted to be together.

Sunday morning we gathered around the table for breakfast. We enjoyed the cooking of our hosts and the warmth of the fireplace on a cold January morning. All the surface talk had been used up in the time we already had together walking, playing table games and watching football. Our guards were down, and we were relaxed to be ourselves.

My wife jumped into some story about our grandchildren and told of a podcast she liked where the host always ended her episode by asking her guests, "What are three things that make you happy now." She thought that would be fun for us to do. (Being an introvert married to an extrovert I have come to expect these conversational invasions into free-flowing conversations I can sit back and enjoy without participating.) The group accepted her idea, and she began telling her three happy things

The rest of the breakfast club shared. Someone said, "This makes me happy!" opening her arms as if to embrace the entire group. We agreed. Someone else mentioned their grandchildren, and another mentioned the beauty of the day and setting of the retreat. We laughed and told stories for about an hour. It was a truly happy time.

We had talked about having a time of worship or devotion that morning. It was Sunday after all, and we were brought together through our shared experience of worship on Sunday mornings. I had been reading and meditating on biblical passages about anxiety. It was my turn to re-direct the flow of conversation. I asked, "What are three things that make you anxious now?" A sort of downer, but as Joy learned in the film Inside Out, Sadness, like anxiety, completes our full range of emotions and are necessary for a full life. Anxieties are also issues we can confess to one another, receive prayer and encouragement and trust to the Lord. Without anxiety what's the point of faith and happiness?

We spoke of our anxiety over our jobs, our finances, our children and their children, the frightening world in which we live, and our illnesses. We were not maudlin about it all, but we spoke in sober tones of things like these that challenge our trust in God and drain us emotionally. Another hour had passed. When everyone had shared, I read without comment Matthew 6:25-34, the Word of the Lord. 

We then prayed for each other, got up to clean off the table and returned to our leisure activities. We had just been the church! Church around the table. Like the biblical images of church as home and family we read about, we ate, confessed, encouraged one another, and heard the Word of the Lord for our lives. I thought of my brothers and sisters in Christ in Vietnam, for example, who gather to eat, share their joys and hurts and pray for one another in a member's home.

Church as family. Church is sometimes around the table. Church around the table will take some time, intentional effort, and planning, but give it a try. You may find church is more real than you ever dreamed.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Conversation with Robert Sterling

A Conversation with Hillsong United- Part 2

I recently had an online conversation with Robert Sterling, choral composer, producer, Dove Award Winner (six, if you are counting), and friend. 

We mused over the nature of worship music in the church these days. I came at the topic from that of a Pastor/Theologian. He approached it from a composer/practitioner. 

We pretty much offend everyone, so don't be upset if we talk about your preferred style of musical worship. We were just being honest about what we believe.

Thanks for reading.

Join in the conversation. 

Here's the Conversation. Enjoy.

Robert and me at my Inauguration. Photo bomb by Chris Machen

Friday, April 18, 2014

Eagle Rock Loop, AR

Our first water crossing
On April 4-6 of this year, three friends and I hiked the 28.6-mile  Eagle Rock Loop Trail in Arkansas. I had heard of the trail from my trail running community, NTTR, and we needed some training and outdoor fun as part of our preparation for our big summer adventure. (More about that at another time.) 

This was my second AR adventure in the past four months, (See the Ouachita Switchbacks report.) and I am liking the closeness and variety the AR trails offer.

None of us had hiked tails with water crossings before, and what we had read about the rising levels of the Little Missouri River and its tributaries made us a little nervous about the hike. (The Albert Pike Rec. Area deaths were due to quickly rising waters.) The weather cooperated mostly, and none of the crossings were unmanageable or dangerous.

Jon, Jim and Amy
We parked at the Winding Stairs parking lot and headed counterclockwise on the Loop. We started about 5:30 p.m. and hiked a couple of hours before we set up camp along the trail next to the river. Although it was April, the temperature dropped into the high 30s that evening. This made conditions perfect for an open fire and sleeping bags.

Our imagination had us deep in the forest away from any forms of civilization. However, about 9:00 p.m. a truck drove down a road on the other side of the river with its high beams on. Oh well, at least we were not far from help if we needed it. (About 2:00 a.m. ATVs buzzed through to wake some of us. Danged motorized outdoor vehicles.)

Camp site #1
The next morning, Saturday, we cooked breakfast and coffee, packed up and were on the trail by 8:00. This would be the flatter side of the Loop, and we made great time, covering about 18 miles total for the day.

A smaller water crossing
The trails were well marked with white blazes on what seemed like on every other tree. 

The trails were packed, and one can trek them in hiking boots or trail running shoes. 

The skies stayed cloudy, and we were not affected by the wind down in the trees and riverbeds. A highlight of the day was the Little Missouri Falls. We saw more people here than anywhere else on the trail. We took a lunch break here and decided it would be a great place to cool down in the summer.

Little Missouri Falls
We encountered more water crossings as the day went on but those gave us breaks and time to enjoy the outdoors. The cold water provided built-in ice water treatment for sore muscles. I was surprised at the winter-like conditions. Things were much greener in Plano than here this time of year.

A balancing act to cross some creeks

Camp #2

We finished up our day setting up in a well-worn campsite that was on the other side of a shoes-off water crossing. We filled our bottles with filtered river water (of which there is plenty during the hike), ate our freeze-dried delicacies, and turned in early.

Sunday morning rain gear
We rose early Sunday morning and packed up before it started a steady rain that would not let up all day long. We recited the Lord's Prayer and said a prayer of thanksgiving for our experience and beauty of nature. My favorite place to worship is Creation, and I will always be grateful for the opportunities I get to be in it and share it with friends.

This was the side of the Loop with the most climbs and steepest portions of the trail. It also had the longer water crossings. We met a couple of groups of climbers going the opposite direction who warned us of each ascent ahead of us.

Little Missouri River crossing

As with most hikes or runs, the closer you get to the end, the longer the distance seems to become. We thought we were done when we got to the actual Winding Stairs Trail, but ended up hiking what seemed another day or two. We were wet, sore, and tired, and it continued to rain. The climbs were tough, but the views were worth it. 

One of the deeper crossings

Eagle Rock Vista
We reached our car about 1:30 that afternoon, changed into dry, warm clothes, and stuffed our wet packs and shoes in the car. It rained on us the four and a half hour drive home, but the memories and Tex-Mex dinner in Mt. Pleasant made it all bearable.

I highly recommend this trail. You can do the whole loop in a day if you are in shape, two like we did, or take longer or do portions of the trail. You will find every kind of terrain, and the water crossings make for variety and challenge. Give it a try!