For once I wasn’t the one having problems on a ride. But its best to start this story at the beginning.
Needing to get in miles for the upcoming MS City to Shore, I decided to take on a half-century on the Delaware and Raritan Canal Towpath. The Scudder Falls trailhead, a few miles north of Trenton along the feeder canal and Delaware River, is 25 miles from Frenchtown. My friends Chris and Anthony said they would join me as they too needed to get in miles for the MS ride.
We left the trailhead and headed north at 10 AM. However, we didn’t get far before Anthony called attention to Chris’ rear tire. It was cracked and bulging. Chris seemed unconcerned, but Anthony is a very experienced rider, and on his recommendation we pulled into the only bike shop on the trail, ten miles up in Lambertville, for a new tire.
Once Chris’ bike was serviced and road-ready, we continued north. I’d last ridden the towpath in 2007, and I’d forgotten how good the pea gravel surface was. Yes, there were stones in places, and some tight gates to ride through, but aside from my continuing problem with numbing hands I made good progress. And the scenery was gorgeous. Floodgates and spillways flowed, and the Delaware River often came into view. Even though we’d lost a lot of time at the bike shop, the three of us felt confident and strong.
And then Chris had his seat give way.
My friend Chris weighs 420 pounds, and his bike is a Day Six pedal-forward model. The bulk of his bulk is on a wide seat with a back. Early on, Chris broke his seat and he fixed it himself with plywood. While that resolved the problem of his bike ever being stolen, it added to the weight on the seatpost. And it turns out the adjustable seat is secured by a single bolt.
One guess what failed. Four miles from the bike shop, just past the town of Stockton.
The three of us came up with a plan. Chris was going to start walking back to the bike shop. Meanwhile Anthony and I rode back to the shop, hoping they’d have a bolt that would fit. After the staff got over their surprise to see us again, they did find a bolt that would work. And we headed back, meeting Chris halfway between Lambertville and Stockton.
I’m not mechanically inclined, so Anthony and Chris started working on repairing the seat. They had just gotten the bolt installed when they discovered the threads on the clamp that holds the bolt had been stripped.
Chris’ ride was over. But not for Anthony and me. Chris drives a stick, and neither Anthony nor I could drive his car. This meant I had to get back to retrieve my big friend and his bike. Since Chris had spent all his cash on a tire three hours before, I gave him ten bucks in case he could find a New Jersey Transit bus in Lambertville that could take him back to near the trailhead. Anthony joined me, but I suggested he darken the door of the bike shop yet again in case they had a clamp, or could fashion a healer coil for the stripped clamp. The two remaining riders headed out as Chris resumed dragging his bike to Lambertville.
I reached the car after a few stops to let blood back into my hands, and after a sweaty and exhausted Anthony caught up to me at Washington’s Crossing State Park. Anthony babysat my bike while I drove the fifteen miles back to Lambertville. A tired and forlorn Chris was sitting on the steps of the closed bike shop with his wounded bike.
Of the planned 50 mile ride, I finished with 34. Anthony’s total was a bit more, probably 38 by my calculating. Chris completed 15 miles of riding and four of walking the bike. Not a good day for him with five weeks until he attempts a century. On Tuesday he’s going to get the bike repaired so he can get in the miles he needs to be ready for September 28. And as his Team Captain, I’ll do my best to get him across that finish line.
Following my hike with Chris in Bristol on the Saturday morning before Easter, I drove to Red Bank, New Jersey to meet the man who saved my life.
In December 2005 I was over 400 pounds, unable to walk a city block without stopping to rest, and had just spent the night in the hospital under observation because of chest pains. While there was nothing wrong with my heart, I was so weak the hospital had to inject me with a drug to simulate the effects of exercise instead of giving me the standard cardiac stress test. I went home with the knowledge something had to change, but not knowing how to change it. Weight loss seemed as much a death sentence as obesity.
After making the usual gestures toward weight loss every super-obese person does when they want to delude themselves, in January 2006 I was searching the Internet for something, anything, that would tip the scale for me. And on a newsgroup I found the postings of a man, posting under the name “Matty”, who was nearly 500 pounds and was losing most of his excess. When most of the weight loss information I found was restrictive, and emphasized denying yourself – you can’t have this, you can’t have that – Matty’s posts were about giving himself things. Small things such as pleasure, joy, happiness – things I found missing in my life. I searched through all his postings going back to his appointment to see a surgeon through his rejection of a cutting solution and his taking charge. When he wrote how happy and satisfied he was being able to mow his lawn I was hooked and a changed man. I lost nearly 40 pounds the first month……and 160 sixteen months later.
Matty and I became friends thanks to the Internet. He lives half a country away, so we never met in person. We kept in touch through each other’s success and setbacks. He lost 200 pounds and took up running; I became a hiker and cyclist. We both maintained our weight loss, more or less – some times better than others.
For a super-obese person who loses weight, its not just a matter of calories in and calories out. The bad thinking that leads a person to grow to that size has to be changed as well. And that’s a struggle harder than resisting a doughnut. In my case I never fully resolved my stress-release relationship with food, and that combined with my deteriorating knees led to some regain. I can’t say what led to Matty’s small regains, but he was struggling too.
And then the car accident came. In October of last year my friend was nearly killed while driving. And he nearly had his left leg amputated before his surgeon decided that if you put enough metal into the limb it’s repairable. Matty was bedridden for months, and spent more time in a wheelchair after his surgery than I did after mine. None of this helped his weight loss.
By March he was cleared to drive and so Matty planned a weekend trip with his son to a comic book convention near Red Bank, NJ. We set aside Saturday afternoon for a walking tour of the town.
As I drove out across New Jersey I wondered what our meeting would be like. I owed this man so much. Being a writer, I’m a creature of emotion. But when I stepped out of the car at the Marina in Red Bank there was no emotion other than friendship – Hi and a handshake. We had met before, just not in person.
Red Bank is a pretty little town. In 2007 my first ever bike tour was an overnight to Red Bank, and I had those thoughts in my head as well when I walked with Matty. We strolled at the waterfront before venturing downtown for dinner and a walk.