Bikes, Blackbirds, and Corn

photo (80)Last weekend, over 1,000 cyclists converged onto the small farming community of East Prairie, MO (population 3,176) for the annual Tour de Corn cycling event. This was my first time riding in this tour.  I’ve been told that if I wanted to complete a century ride (100 miles in one day), then this was the one to start with.  The landscape is flat and the ride is well supported.

The town of East Prairie is about 4 1/2 hours away from where I live.  My friend and I enjoyed coming up on a bus loaded down with bicycles and cyclists.photo (76)

This group of riders happens to be from where I live.  They travel together, camp out, and ride in the various cycling events.  As you can see from the picture, they appeared to be having a very good time on that bus!

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The night before the ride, it seems all of the townsfolk were celebrating on the main street with food, music, vendor booths, and carnival games for kids.

I don’t live in a small town, and not even sure I would enjoy it all of the time, but there’s something special about these tiny communities. photo (81)Everyone seemed to know each other.  They all were happy, laughing, and socializing.  I could tell how excited they were to have so many riders from various places in their tiny town.  The town water tower was quite a neat site against the backdrop of the setting sun.

One vendor I met takes bicycle chains and makes jewelry out of it.  Her idea came from the Tour de Corn.  She saw a sign stating, “Thank you for the $1,600”.  The sign was being held by a woman alongside the road cheering on the riders.  She stopped and asked the woman about the sign she was holding, and  learned that the $1600 was a portion of the funds raised from the ride, and it helped out children in the community.

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She went home  with the desire to earn money and donate part of her proceeds to promoting healthy living.  She was retired, kids were out of the house, and she had the time and ability to help.  While watching her friend take apart a bicycle chain, she thought, “I could make jewelry out of that!”  Soon after, she created Chainspirations.  The link to her website is www.chainspirations.com   Check it out!

The next morning we got up early, and headed out on the ride.  I started off with a quick pace,and felt really good.  At the first rest stop, there was even fresh corn to eat, and some live music. photo (88)

The terrain is quite different from my usual rides.  I’m used to hills, valleys, and lots of trees.  I enjoy the sights around my area of the state, but I gotta say, this part of Missouri was pretty as well.  I especially enjoyed the corn fields, sunflower fields, and a field with buffalo on it!  photo (82)

those are Buffalo - little hard to see though
those are Buffalo – little hard to see though

The first sixty miles felt great. My pace was faster than usual, and I was staying very well hydrated.  This all changed as I was entering the last forty miles or so of the ride.  The route turned us back towards East Prairie, and straight into a strong headwind.  With the high heat index (I later learned that another rider’s Garmin showed it as 102), and the strong wind, I felt as though I had hit a wall.

It was all I could do to keep pedaling.  It was during this time that I realized my battle to finish was not about the wind, the heat, loss of feeling in toes, and numb hand, but more about the sheer willpower it took for me to stay on the bike.  I’ve never faced that kind of wall before.  I’ve gotten frustrated on the bike, but not to the point of wanting to cry, quit, and get off the bike.

photo (84)During this time, the endless fields of green and yellow that I admired earlier became my annoyance.  All I could see were fields; fields upon fields.  There was no end in sight.  I kept telling myself, “You can do this.  You can do this.”  My legs felt good, but the rest of my body wanted so badly to stop.  Each mile seem to be longer than the one before.  Huge trucks would pass me which created wind gusts full of dust, which would in turn just make me mad.

I felt the emotion of anger while out there.  I had never felt anger to this level while on the bike, and it was hard work to pull myself out of it.  I had to force myself to keep downing the fluids as I knew that at this point in the ride, it was crucial for me to stay hydrated.  To say I was miserable is an understatement.

It was also during this time that I began to think about my kids.  I would not want them to give up something they have worked for; especially right at the finish line, and they would not want me to do the same.  I also thought about Jesus carrying the Cross, and how He did not put it down and walk away.  I thought about His strength and began reciting the following verse:

I can do all things in Christ who gives me strength. Philipians 4:13

Soon after reciting this, I started noticing that on every section of electrical wiring between poles above the road, a single Red-winged Blackbird would land and start calling out.  It felt as if these birds were cheering me on; as if the Lord sent them to meet me at each section of the road.  I thought about how He cares for birds of the air, His eye is on the sparrow, and surely, He cares for His children.

As my friend and I turned the last corner and rode the last few miles into town, my exhaustion and anger dissipated.  We even stopped to take a “corny” picture (no pun intended).  It was the end of a long day in the saddle.  It was the completion of my very first century ride.  It was the finale of what ended up being more about mental endurance than physical endurance.  It was also the recognition of how amazing it is to have spiritual endurance.photo (87)

One hundred miles on a bike in one day is hard, but I did it.  It was a day spent in recognition of how blessed I am to be physically able to complete this task.  It was more than about the corn fields, small towns, miles, bikes, and flat roads.  It was one more day of life that I could lean on my God through prayer, recitation of verses, and His sending of some little Red-winged Blackbirds to cheer me on.

Giving Running A Try

Color Me Rad I’m giving running a try.  So far, I’ve accomplished a 5K called “Color Me Rad”.  With each step I take, my breath is a little more labored, the pain is a little greater, and my body is trying to convince my mind to stop.  My body is trying to say “it’s not worth it”, but I know it is quite worth it.  Anything I can do to stay healthy is always worth it.

I’ve posted a picture of myself following the run….I know….the picture is quite silly.  For those of you who do not live in Missouri, you should know that our weather is a little unpredictable.  For example, it was around 80 degrees today, and is supposed to be in the 40’s and quite cold by Thursday.  The morning of the run it was in the 40’s and rainy, so even though we were freezing, and being doused with powdered paint, we still had a blast!

I think I’ll stick with running.  Now that I am nine years away from the age of 50 and raising three children (ages 6, 4, and 9 months), my awareness and commitment to staying as healthy as I can has grown even stronger.  I also know that running will help build up my endurance for this cycling season, and in turn, cycling will help with my running.  After all, I need the strength and endurance to keep up with the three little ones I’m blessed with taking care of!

Strength Training

I love cycling!  I just started a few years ago and thoroughly enjoy it. I have been able to meet an eclectic group of fellow cyclists, make some new friends, see parts of my state I would otherwise over-look, and witness in small ways about my faith in Christ.  A lot of issues have been worked on and prayed for while out riding in the country.  I really enjoy riding in local charity events and end my “season” with completing a 150 mile ride to bring awareness and raise funds for Multiple Sclerosis.

There are numerous hills dispersed throughout my corner of the state in Missouri.  Oh, I love going down them, but climbing back up is a whole other issue.  Often, I just want to unclip my shoes, get off the bike, and walk up.  But, I don’t (okay…well maybe a few times).  Instead, I huff and puff my way up these “Ozarkian” hills.

The bike is not to blame.  It doesn’t change.  The suffering of the ride really has nothing to do with the bike, but instead, my lack of focus, determination, and training….oh yeah….and those darn hills.  I am now realizing that perhaps my cycling journeys represent my walk with Christ.

I’ve found that when being challenged by a major hill that feels more like a mountain, I’ve struggled with the instinct to just keep my focus on the Lord.  It can be hard to stay determined to make it up that mountain.  I have wanted to do it all on my own and not allow the Lord to help me up it.  Then there are those times when life is good and I’m just flying along.  I fail to notice or acknowledge sometimes the One who gives me those moments where I am carefree, content, and not having to work very hard.

Like cycling, I think that walking with the Lord takes practice.  Let me explain a little further. Before I fully committed myself to the Lord, I did not realize how important it was to stay active in faith.  I just assumed that I could be “immobile” and the Lord would take care of it all.  I did not pray that often, barely cracked open my bible, and never went to church.

Through the past 12 years since I have surrendered it all to Him, I have learned that being active in my faith requires daily “training”.  Prayer, acknowledging His good works in my day-to-day life, trusting Him daily, reading the Word, tithing, being active in church, serving others….the training regiment goes on and on.  I do not want to be a lukewarm, out-of-shape Christian.

When I am out on my bike and really feeling every muscle in my legs burn, I start to recite to myself “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).  

If I look up the road and see what seems like a monster of a hill coming, I recite “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).  

If nearing the end of a long ride and I am just worn out, I tell myself “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).

Just like training rides build up my strength and endurance, my daily walk, or run for that matter, with the Lord builds up my strength to face the mountains in life.  Christ strengthens, Christ builds up, Christ refines, and Christ declares the victory.