Wednesday, August 16, 2017

God Blessed The Rains Down In Africa

Day 1: Sunday, August 6

You know that sinking feeling you get when you feel a nudge from God and you later realize you missed it - you didn’t move when he said to - and now that moment is gone? 

We woke up to our first day in Johannesburg, South Africa eager to church it up. On the edge of Zandspruit township’s “squatter camp” (government provided land where refugees live in shacks built of whatever scraps they can cobble together – no plumbing, electricity or running water) stands ZCC Community Church, a 3-sided lean-to constructed of a steel skeleton and aluminum siding. Before the service we met Pastor Siphlo - a humble, gracious man with the kind of Godliness you hope will rub off on you - who asked us for prayer, shared a little of his vision and then prayed it up for us before we all took seats in the church. Pastor Siphlo urged that we would get more out of it if we spread out, which is exactly what we did.

Wait. Didn’t he ask us to pray for him?


Church was just cranking up in this shot. That's Pastor Siphlo on the drums, while he let another pastor turn up the power with song and dance.


What a fierce power erupted out of that service! Unashamed praise, joyful music, and lots of dancing! My goodness, a congo line erupted in front of the stage! Ever been to church and seen a congo line form up? And for a brief moment I felt the urge to jump in and boogie with ‘em………but I didn’t. I told myself it might not have been appropriate. What a shame. Since when was I concerned about being appropriate?! I had missed the moment and not just that, it was God’s nudge that I had not acted on.

The afternoon was dedicated to training with the Impact Africa team. Tomorrow we would be in the squatter camps going door to door ministering for Christ. And they have a 3-step system that works: Approach (small talk, make friends), Assist (help with any chores), and Advance (share the Gospel). We were pumped and ready to lace up our boots for the coming week.

That night after dinner we reflected on the day and everyone on the team had felt the same nudge to dance in church. We all missed it. And we all had heard pastor asking us for prayer and we missed that to. We wanted a second chance…….(we’d get one too, so stay with me)

Day 2: Monday, August 7

Our first day ministering in the squatter camps! We broke into small groups and fanned out into the camp at Msawawa township. To describe how filthy the camp was with only words is not enough to do it justice. Shacks are built out of whatever scrap can be found – signage, trash, plastic sheeting - with bare ground for flooring and the occasional ragged, soiled rug to provide no more than the slightest suggestion of a barrier between skin and dirt. Children play barefooted among trash and flowing rivers of sewage down the maze of alleys within the camp. Rats move freely through the homes and alleyways, the only camp residents that seem to have all their needs met.

Kids sift through trash for anything of value in the center of Msawawa camp. Note the two story hut with the white garage door that stands out as relatively luxurious compared to others. The owner is sangoma, a witch doctor, and makes money off of the misfortune of other residents.

Raw sewage had eroded this alley so much that sheets of metal and siding had to be laid down to make it traversable.

A dilapidated camper makes for a usable addition to a shack while gray water runs freely down the alley.

I was teamed up with a pair of Bethany’s (one from Impact Africa and one from our Opendoor team) and Simon Peter, a dapper charismatic pastor from Malawi who is a rock star for Christ. He had a way of rolling off a “hallelujah” so smooth you couldn’t help but repeat it after him.

Our ministry team! Me, Bethany from Impact Africa, Bethany from Opendoor, and Pastor Simon Peter.

My first thought when we started walking the alleys among the residents was, “Why are all the men drunk?” It was only 10 am. And why is that kid playing with that sharp disk you’re left with when you open a can of food? 

Our first encounter was with a woman named Sandra who was washing clothes in a plastic bin. We all helped her wash as we learned about each other and talked about the Gospel, followed by a prayer for her and her family. We shared the Word with a shy Patricia and her friend, Blessing. I wondered how much second-hand smoke was I ingesting from all the guys smoking weed while somewhere else in the camp God was saving a drunk man through Jarod’s prayer and, just a few alleys away, a man was making an offer of one cow in exchange for Haley’s hand in marriage (clearly a rip-off intended to take advantage of us ignorant mulungus – she’s worth at least seven). 

Amanda laying down servitude for God's chosen!

It may not last as long, but there is also salvation in ice cream, no?

Only once did I feel unsafe when a fight broke out just as we had begun chatting with two nice ladies. Five drunk guys had leapt upon one, the first blow coming from a plastic crate slammed into his head. I sifted through thoughts of protecting our team, making a quick exit, or getting involved (whose side would I take?). We opted for the quick exit.

Felicia is a sucker for kids!

Day 3: Tuesday, August 8

This was our second and final day in Msawawa camp. We shared the message of salvation through Jesus with Precious and Evidence, two women that had journeyed to Johannesburg from Zimbabwe in search of a better life for their families. I met a devout Christian who’s only prayer request was to one day be able to make a trip to Israel. A boy in a “My Cape is in the Wash” shirt played peek-a-boo with me – his smile showing not a worry in the world though he and his family had so little, reminding me that it doesn’t require much to have a happy heart and winning smile. It’s when we think it does that we realize we’ve missed it.

Smiles and styles! Well, one wasn't quite feeling it anyway! Ha!

I think this guy has it pretty much all together.

Kerri and Haley sharing a Gospel of John moment. She gave her life to Christ that day!

Assist! Jared taps into his housekeeping skills, which may have landed him further chores at home now that they are exposed.

Felicia helps make pap, a South African maize porridge that's a staple in their culture.

The Impact Africa intern residence. We enjoyed a break from daily PB and J sandwiches for some heavenly meat and cheese on our bread for lunch!

So how do you bring up being saved to a complete stranger? Once a little small talk has been made and some trust established, a simple question like, “So, do you go to a church?” is enough to get it started. If so, what church? What do they talk about at your church? Ancestral worship? God? Do they say anything about Jesus? Can I tell you about Him? Most are genuinely interested and the more conversations you have like that the more natural it becomes.

Sydney and Chandler sharing the love with South Africa's future!

A word about the names of the Zulu people of South Africa. They all have a Zulu name but are also given an English name at birth. Many of them take names from what their mother felt upon seeing their new born – Precious, Evidence, Blessing, Joy……a boy even introduced himself to us as Problem. I’m guessing his mom wasn’t exactly thrilled at his arrival. Having children is a very important part of their culture, and the one occasion where I couldn’t avoid the question of how many my wife and I had I reluctantly shared that we had none. It was clear that this was not normal to them.

That night we had a bonfire back at the compound. We invited a group of African folks that were there learning about starting their own youth camp, and God led them to the fire just as we were playing charades of all things. The cultural gap made itself apparent when one of us acted out cranking a lawn mower and the Africans all yelled out, “Generator!” We were all in agreement, though, that Bethany deserved the win for her creative impression of “bookworm” involving doing the worm in the dirt by the light of the fire.

But that night something amazing happened. Games morphed into worship, and the African team led us with song………….and dance! We had been given a second chance at praising Him with dance after missing the call at church on Sunday. I can’t quite explain how moving that evening was by the fire, but the Holy Spirit was in and all around us for sure. It was a God moment and He showed off His power in bringing us all together. 

God lit a fire under us that night! 

Team Opendoor and the group of Africans we worshiped with after the bonfire. I'm amazed by the power God put in this moment and that His love won't just spread from us Americans, but will also reach Namibia, Zaire, and the other countries this group represented.



Day 4: Wednesday, August 9

This was our first of two days of ministry in the squatter camp of Diepsloot, which is Afrikaans for “deep ditch” and frankly that’s a pretty good name for it. Smack dab in the center of Johannesburg it is home to over 140,000 mixed Africans. Alcohol abuse, AIDS, violence, drugs, rape – they all have deep roots in the deep ditch. Our team of the two Bethany’s and myself were joined by a translator named Dennis, who was a welcome addition as he just had this cool athletic demeanor about him. I bought a Kaiser Chiefs soccer jersey on the trip just because he looked so cool in his, and I don't know anything about them! From Diepsloot himself and still a resident there, the kids knew him from school and it was obvious he was well respected. He had himself been a drug and gun runner when he came across a team much like ours from Impact Africa and was saved. So, he knew the hardships of those we talked with and wasn’t afraid to call anyone out that tried to make the same excuses he had used before his life was turned around. 

Pastor Simon Peter joins Chandler, Haley, Stephen, and Justin's group as they begin ministry in the camp of Diepsloot. 

Dennis and I! I very much look forward to seeing him again, regardless of how the Chiefs do in soccer.

Bethany reads a Bible verse to a resident of Diepsloot. Later we would witness this lady pouring over the Gospel of John she was given while huddled in a corner. A seed planted......and watered.

Chandler (middle), a sophomore at DH Conley HS, ministers with IA's intern Steven. The young man on the right heard the Word of God through them and chose Jesus as his Savior on the spot.

Any mulungu woman that can clean a chicken is worth far more than one cow. C'mon!!!

Just a bit about Zulu language and culture. I had studied a few phrases prior to the trip but when put on the spot it’s not so easy to spout them out. I didn’t venture too far from the simplest of greetings: 

Sawubona                       Hello
Sanibonani Hello (to several people)
Ngubani igama lakho? What’s your name?
Igama lami ngu Bruce. My name’s Bruce.
Unjani How are you?
Unkulunkulu uya kutanda. God loves you. But I preferred using Ujesu (Jesus) cuz it seemed a little weird to use a word for God that sounds like “oompaloompa.”

But nothing was more fun than sticking your thumb out and saying to a child, “Sharp, sharp (pronounced ‘shop shop’)!” They say it right back and press their thumb against yours with a little flicking motion. It’s kinda like saying, “Wassuppppp?!”

Impact Africa has an anonymous baby drop off station. Women are raped, pregnant, with no way to provide for a baby, and sometimes they opt for the unthinkable. This service is a far better alternative than the demise of God's children.

After lunch, we went back into the camp of Diepsloot and went door to door collecting the children for Jabulani Kids – a gathering for song and dance and some skits that the Impact Africa team had prepared. Think about it though. Going door to door asking if we can take their children somewhere to play with them. For an “advanced” culture such as ours we’ve unfortunately developed trust issues the African people haven’t yet been tainted by.


I was recruited to play Jesus for a skit during Jabulani Kids. Those are not easy sandals to fill.....

The cottage we stayed in at the Youth for Christ campus north of Johannesburg. Girls on the left, guys on the right. There may have been a prank one night involving scratching the girl's window with a branch and scraping at the front door, but that's off the record.

Day 5: Thursday, August 10

In the morning, the Impact Africa team took us to Diepsloot Combined School, a public middle/high school that allows them to insert the Gospel with their students (another unfortunate no-can-do here in the States). We sat in on a class where Genesis (one of the IA interns) and Gerald (aka Mastermind, an IA translator with his own story of being saved in the Diepsloot squatter camp) taught high schoolers about how they could improve their lives by making good choices regardless of their present circumstances. 

After class, we mixed in with the students on the school grounds. The kids were friendly and gracious, sharing their aspirations of becoming tomorrow’s forensic scientists, biomechanical engineers and surgeons. One boy with a vivid imagination claimed to be the grandson of Shaka Zulu. We had so much fun with the kids – the poverty that choked them daily at home lost its grip here on the school grounds where a hope for a better tomorrow seemed attainable. These kids were genuinely joyous and determined to succeed. We all wanted to spend more time with them but we had more ministry to do back in the camp.

Genesis laying down love and discipleship for the students of Diepsloot Combined School.

These kids are not held back by their poverty but are driven by their dreams! The intense one giving you the stare down is the one that claims Shaka Zulu blood. Be afraid.


That afternoon, back in the squatter camp, we sat under a makeshift shelter with a man named Godfrey and his friend. They were both drunk from something that looked like watered-down milk in a plastic container sitting on the ground between them. Godfrey had a sincerity about him though, and knew that the alcohol had a hold of him he needed to break free of. He reminisced about being a body builder in better times and seemed to have a good understanding about his creator but was just lost, and the drink wasn’t helping. I asked what he was drinking and he pointed to a white plastic sealed bucket sitting right next to me. The label said, “The South African People’s Beer” and “Do Not Walk After Drinking Or You Can Get Killed.” Godfrey had been robbed at knife point for one of these buckets before. 

Unfortunately, he wasn’t coherent enough to be born again but we left hoping a seed was planted. Many of the encounters go that way but some embrace the message so willingly you see the transformation right before your eyes. If that happens just once the trip is well worth it.

Felicia, Amanda, Haley and Vanessa from IA, Jeff the translator, and Jared feeling the love in Diepsloot! This photo sponsored by Coca-Cola. :)

That evening we got a second chance to pray for Pastor Siphlo at his church back in Zandspruit township. Haley and Felicia delivered an awesome prayer over him. It was a great way to close our week of ministry.

I want to say a big thanks to the others on Opendoor‘s #TeamAfrica17. This mission was a huge leap for me, and every one of you has made a big impact in my life by sharing this journey. I have no doubt that we all were hand-picked by God and meant to be joined by this experience for life. Thank you, Kerri and Bill, Jared, Felicia, Haley, Amanda, Bethany, Ashlyn, Chandler, and Sydney. And also Pastor Deana for watching over us from home soil.

I also want to thank all of you that contributed to making this mission possible for me to take part in, whether it was in prayer and encouragement or in a donation. When I was first asked if I wanted to join the mission I said there’s no way I could raise the funds. The problem with that thinking is that I thought I was on my own when in fact I was already being led. Thank you to all that heard that same voice telling you to step forward. 

And of course, a big thank you to the team at Impact Africa for their hospitality and sharing their experience with us so we could participate with them in this awesome service they are doing for God and His people. If you’d like to learn more about or donate to Impact Africa you can use this link: www.impactafrica.org

Here are the stats from God’s work for the week:

In front of:
Adults: 200
Children: 158

Salvations:
Adults: 27

Children: 61

Healings: 7

Ministry Moments:
Prayer: 153
Scripture: 103
Discipleship: 98
Gospel of John Handouts: 37

We had a little time in the market on Friday. I got schooled by the salesman but that's okay. Those guys are intense!

We also had time for a safari to see another side of God's wonders, and man He sure delivered!

That night we had a fire side dinner in the wilderness of South Africa. We had come so far, given just a little, but shared so much.

Bill was the glue that held our team together. I don't have any pics of him showering ministry because while he was he had all his heart involved in carrying out God's work, and the camera took a backseat. This pic is from the safari bonfire dinner with one of the guards that was on lion duty. I asked him if that thing could really bring down a lion and he said he didn't know - he'd never shot one. But he was pretty confident that he was a good shot!

At the Lion Park. I want a cheetah. What could be a better running coach than that?



Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A Free Dog Story, and Why It's All Angie's Fault

2:30 am, Monday morning, December 5, 2017

I abruptly awoke from a peaceful sleep to an immediate keen awareness of my surroundings with the distinctive sound of a dog wretching.  I was lying on my side on the port side of the bed facing outboard.  The source of the alarm was somewhere between 3-1/4” and 3-3/8” in front of my forehead.

“What the hell was that?!” Angie hollered.  Evidently her fight or flight mechanism had been triggered too.

“I DON’T KNOW JUST TURN ON THE LIGHT TURN ON THE LIGHT TURN ON THE (EXPLETIVE) LIGHT!!!!”

And there staring before me on my pillow, so close that I could stick out my tongue and lick it, was a pure white slimy pile of dog puke.  If you took a serving ladle and glopped out a full scoop of Thanksgiving mashed potatoes, and then added one more full scoop, that would be about the size and shape of the goopy glob that shared my pillow with me when the light was flicked on.
This photo shows the perpetrator of the incident, aka Reese the Dog. Contents of stomach not visible.

We had just washed the sheets that evening, and as my wife will tell you the absolute WORST household chore you can ask me to do is put the fitted sheet on the bed.  No matter which way you start you always put it on 90 degrees off of the correct orientation, and as soon as you’ve fit one corner you can be sure it will come flying off towards you when you try to stretch the next corner on.  I absolutely hate it and will throw a temper tantrum every time the task is before me.  So having gone through that nasty awful process I was a little more vested in the state of our freshly cleaned sheets when I saw my painstakingly hard work from a few hours ago threatened by a festering white gelatinous pile of doggie upchuck.

And that’s why my instinct was to immediately plunge my hands into the puke and stop as much of the liquid within from seeping into the pillow case, the precious soft lusciousness of the pillow within, and the sheet and mattress directly below.  I saw it like that scene in Aliens, where they discover that the alien green blood is so acidic it eats through the metal grated floor, down to the next level and through its metal floor, and on and on burning a hole through the building’s never ending layers of structure.  If my hands melted away in fiery acidic doggie stomach contents, damnit, I would save my sheet and pillow case that I fitted all by myself and not without maybe a little complaining.

Bear in mind that one second before this my hands were comfortably shoved under my pillow, resting and dreaming of the amazing work they had recently performed from the arguably impossible task of fitting the sheets, so I think it’s important to describe the sensation from their perspective due to this instinctual yet poorly thought out move that was forced upon them.  Warm.  Extremely warm.  A lot of wet. Certified and definite kind of wet you’d expect from most any orifice of most any animal.  Really really soft but not in a good way like when you touch fleece or a baby’s foot.  Soft, like……….well, like whale blubber if you put it on pulse mode in a blender for about 30 seconds.  And the reason it was so soft, my eyes discovered as they looked upon the dripping horror that I had cupped in my hands, was that most of it was synthetic pillow stuffing.

I think I carried it to the toilet.  I’m not sure because now I was wretching.  I was making those disgusting dry heaving sounds, about to puke myself from the texture and the smell of the contents in my hand.  Apparently this was very amusing to Angie, who by now had yanked off all the sheets and was getting ready to throw them in the washer. (it's amazing how fast we can act in a dangerous situation heightened by the desire to go back to bed)

Now, I didn’t intend for this to really be a story about doggie puke.  I meant it to be a life lesson about the differences between a husband and wife, a man or woman, because I’m not saying this situation was the fault of anyone in particular but now that the event was more or less over it’s typical of me to rewind and analyze the root cause of the situation.  Here’s my logic:

Had there been no pillow to tempt the dog to partake in joyously ripping it to shreds and enjoying its succulent fluffy innards to begin with, this incident would surely have been avoided.  Upon further investigation of the scene of the crime, it was noted that the pillowy victim was found in the spare bedroom.  In particular, the type of victim is very interesting.  It was not a nice big feather filled pillow designed with a clear purpose of supporting a human head during its slumber, but was actually the kind of pillow that serves no purpose whatsoever other than decoration (if that’s a purpose). 

Now, the standard length of a king size bed is 80”, and depending on how much you fluff it, a standard head-supporting functional pillow measured longitudinally or parallel and in-line with the human body is about 16”.  If you use two pillows, one sort of nested over the other, that would probably take about an additional 10”, so that adds up to 26” and should leave 54” of bed exposed when it is properly assembled prior to getting in it.  This is what a man pictures when he thinks of a bed that is made.  Notice there is no decorative pillow stuffed with synthetic fluff, aka a large doggie treat, in this assembly.

Typical cross section of a “made” bed using “The Logic Technique.”

But this is not the configuration we have in our spare bedroom, because as the man of the house the layout of the bed is not my jurisdiction nor do I have any authority over the bed arrangement or any of its assembly components. This assembly by tradition must fall solely on the hands of the woman of the house.  So, without the helpful guiding hand of logic, it seems the new $150 comforter on the bed must be vigorously and entirely covered with $750 worth of pillows so as to conceal its pattern and decorations, however worthless they apparently are as they must concede to the amazing floral pattern and unmatchable joyous art of the multitude of pillows above.  Going back to the longitudinal dimension of the previously described inferior yet logical arrangement (which you’ll recall left 54” of useable space on the bed) this arrangement allows for a mere 8” of exposed, useable space on the bed.  It also requires that you set your alarm clock for one hour prior to your perceived bed time to allow sufficient time to clear the bed of decorative pillows and allow oneself ample space to sleep comfortably.  Therefore, it is clear that the root cause of the problem of being awakened by dog barf on my pillow in the middle of the night is in fact the decision to have a surplus of decorative edible fluff-filled pillows, which in turn caused temptation by the dog to disembowel the said decorative pillow, allow the stuffing to fester in its belly until proper digestion of the contents within could be regurgitated in a glorious manner at 2:30 am precisely in the location 3-1/4” to 3-3/8” from the forehead of the man of the house.  In short, it’s all Angie’s fault.

Typical cross section of a “made” bed using the “I Want My Dog to Eat a Decorative Pillow and Puke on My Husband's Head” Method.

Although no paw prints were found to suggest Kona the Dog had any involvement in the incident, it is strongly believed that he played a role as accomplice or perhaps even selected which pillow was to be "hit" and therefore masterminded the whole thing.

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Esteemed Tricredible BAGUBA Award

Happy 10 Year Anniversary to the Tricredibles! To celebrate this awesome accomplishment I thought I’d write a piece involving a great tradition that our team has. 

Nobody ever wants to get hurt, but if there ever was an incentive to fake an injury the Tricredibles Triathlon Team have it in the esteemed BAGUBA award. Credit for the invention goes to Carl Bonner, who came up with the concept loosely based off of a similar award he remembered from his high school’s wrestling coach. How he knows that I’m not sure, since word is he lettered on the cheerleading team. But anyway, the coveted annual BAGUBA award started in 2009 and stands for Beautifully Athletic Guy (or Gal) Uninhibited by Adversity. The criteria to qualify are simple: 

1. You need to get injured or really sick. The worse off you are the better your chances. If it doesn’t set you back riding the pine during the triathlon season for at least a little while you need to get more injured or more sick. Try harder. 

2. Overcoming the injury or sickness is okay, but you score more points if you go on and participate in races even though you aren’t fully healed yet. 

So it requires poor genetics, a little bad judgement perhaps, and not just a small amount of stupidity basically. 

Carl hand crafts the awards himself. Various (mostly) bike parts are cobbled together to resemble the winner’s exact likeness and then mounted on a plaque. No two awards are the same, making them rare collector’s items the moment they pass hands from the presenter to the recipient. Traditionally, the award is presented during the annual Tricredible Christmas Party to celebrate the closing of another triathlon season. Here’s a list of the distinguished BAGUBA award winners over the years: 

2009 Bob Morrison 

Bob trained for Ironman World Championship Hawaii while undergoing chemotherapy! Bob probably qualifies every year for a BAGUBA more than anybody because he’s just that much tougher than us but we gotta spread the love around at least a little bit. 

2010 Phillip Rowan 

Phillip’s favorite thing to do on a bike is come up with new ways to come off of them. That year he suffered a wreck during the Thursday Night World Championships. With stitches everywhere and nerve damage he still was up racing triathlons within a few short weeks. Phillip could have been a BAGUBA award winner for his various crashes in 2011, 2013, and 2014 as well. All of which resulted in various broken bones with shiny new metal hardware to put himself back together again, but we got tired of him falling off his bike on purpose just to start a collection of BAGUBA plaques. 

2011 No Winner 

I think we didn’t have a Christmas party that year and the award was neglected as well. Shame on us. 

2012 Bert Kelly 

With a stress fracture in his foot, Bert wore a boot for 6 weeks leading up to Ironman Florida and ran it anyway unbeknownst to his doctor. 

 2013 Mike Colombo, Bruce Richter (1st ever tie) 

Mike broke his collarbone in a crash during a training ride. Still not completely healed, he went on to race Ironman Louisville anyway. Thinking it was just a torn meniscus, Bruce did Ironman World Championship Hawaii on a bum knee. After painfully limping for 16 miles of the marathon he came home to find out it would take a series of surgeries and other people’s parts to fix all the damage that was within. 

2014 No Winner 

Everybody was too healthy that year to get one! I’m sure some people tried to fake an injury or two, but the judges were not fooled. 

2015 John Caracoglia 

John rode 100 miles on a training ride and the next day passed out. When he came to a doctor was suggesting he needed a pacemaker. After completing a required rest period John jumped right into the Medoc Marathon. That’s swinging for the fence! 

As of yet, we have not had a female BAGUBA winner. Speculation is that (1) women are far too smart to race on damaged limbs and (2) the prospect of Carl sculpting female anatomy with bike parts is a little disturbing and probably won’t be very accurate. But the tradition lives on as we eagerly anticipate the crowning of a new BAGUBA champion for 2016! So, be safe, train hard, and if that doesn’t work for you maybe there’ll be a shiny new trophy for you at the end of this year!

Here's mine from 2013. The Hello Kitty bandaid on the right knee I thought was a nice touch.

Here's Phillip and his BAGUBA.  Carl captured the details of his head perfectly in this sculpture.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

One Last Ride

The last moments I got to spend with my friend Dave Mirra were on a bike ride we shared the Saturday before it happened.  It was kind of chilly, and I had delayed my morning ride until the afternoon to take advantage of higher temperatures.  Dave and I are the same when you do that – it totally gets you out of sync and it’s easy to end up skipping the workout completely.  We hadn’t ridden together in quite a while so I texted him to see if he’d join me.  Honestly I thought if he had said no I probably would have skipped it altogether.  The window was closing fast on my motivation that day, and I felt like I wouldn’t have the gumption to do it at all if he wasn’t up for it.  He texted back that he could go but not for a couple more hours.   “I could do 3 but that might be too late.”  For a half a second I thought it was and considered asking for a rain check and just going on my own straight away.  I’m so glad I didn’t. 

“OK 3 will work.”


When I rolled up on his driveway he was ready to go, aero’d out like always with that supercool custom black P5, disk wheel, and his old fallback Kask aero helmet.  And a great big smile on his face.  “Bruuuuuuuuuuuce! I don’t know, man, I’ve gained a lot of weight.  Do I still look like a triathlete?!”  I told him he could maybe pull it off.  Heh.  I knew he hadn’t ridden in a while.  We rode side by side catching up, talking about the races we wanted to do this year, just having a chill ride and enjoying being on our bikes together again.  We used to play a game called Heart Rate Wars where we’d ask each other what their HR was periodically during the ride.  The lowest number wins.  Dave made it up, of course.  Typical Dave.  Usually, we’d be within a couple beats of each other.  I had told him when we left his house that I wouldn’t call him out on it this time, but he still wanted to play anyway.  For once, I put the smack down on him!  He just laughed it off talking about how out of shape he was but swearing he’d get it back.  


He was so calm on that ride now that I think back on it.  It was just a relaxed conversation with a relaxed pace.  Dave normally is a notorious “half-wheeler,” always sticking his bike out just a hair further than yours letting you know he was open to going faster.  You didn’t dare do it back to him or it was immediately game on!  But on this day it was different.  Just two old buddies riding together enjoying each other’s conversation and enjoying a nice sunny day on their bikes. 

Whenever we would have a good ride (or swim or run), I could always count on an encouraging text from Dave shortly afterwards confirming how happy he was to have shared the workout.  I wondered if he’d do so this time.  “Thanks for the push,” I read from his text later while on my couch.  “Wudntadunnitwiddoutya!” I texted back.  I got my last “lol” from my great friend Dave Mirra after that.

I’m so glad we shared that ride together, and all the ones before that.  These are the memories I hold on to and will always remember with a happy and warm heart as I press on.  Dave wanted me, and all of us, to strive to be the best we could at whatever we put our heart into.  “Don’t live off of old accolades, Bruce, make new ones.”  How will I live my life from here on?  Making new ones.  

Thanks for the push, Dave.  Thanks for the push……

Dave Mirra
1974-2016

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Just Cuz I Drive an Xterra Doesn't Mean I Can Do One

Wow, Xterra Richmond was tough!  I knew I wasn’t in it to place or anything but if I needed to find something I suck at I would have just entered a dance contest.  Turns out I mountain bike worse than I dance.  Here are my take homes from Sunday’s massacre:

1.       Why is this race so small?  There were only 145 of us blooming idiots.  I really thought this would be a much bigger event.  But I will say that the vibe is super chill rather than how you can almost slice the nervous energy with a knife at Ironman events.  

2.       That swim is by far the hardest, gnarliest, craziest swim I’ve ever done.  You have to shift your swim strategy around every buoy to adjust for the current, which was quite strong in the middle of the James River.  Boulders just under the surface force you to pull yourself over and slide off of them like a seal.  At the first turn buoy I got socked in the face, my goggles fell off, and I was in such a pickle I actually panicked so hard I started panicking because I was panicking.  Had it not been for the sand bar in front of us that we all ran on I feared I might actually drown.  We looked like a bunch of Jesus’s on the sand bar, just a’walkin’ on water!

This is the swim course.  You can just make out the sand bar between buoy 1 and 2, just above the direct line between the two.  On the swim back from the run on Belle Isle, the red line shows a typical age grouper's line as they fight the current, the orange shows a typical pro and the blue shows the recommended line. Photo from www.xterraplanet.com.

Swim start. Photo courtesy of Julia Bonner.

The sand bar run.  Photo from www.xterraplanet.com.

3.       I never thought Carl Bonner and I would be in T1 together, sitting down giggling and chit chatting about the fine mess we got ourselves into while we put on socks, mtb shoes, gloves, etc.  We had no idea what we were doing.  Everyone else had pretty much left.

Carl always takes forever to set up his transition area.  No designated bike placement. Just put your crap wherever you want. Xterras are super chill about rules! Photo courtesy of Me.

4.       I know I have an old Studebaker for a mountain bike, but between its crappy oldness and my crappy oldness we made for one slow-ass, all up in everyone’s way, festering turd in the middle of the trail.  I got dropped by every man, woman, child, elderly, obese and if there were crippled folks out there I’m sure they passed me too.  My heart rate was pegged and my quads were ripping.  All I could think was how great it would be if my derailleur snapped so I could quit and blame my bike.

Finishing the bike leg. I was exhausted! Photo courtesy of Julia Bonner.

5.       What the crowd support lacked in quantity it made up for in quality.  If you could hear the crowd ahead that meant you were approaching some gnarly death trap on the trail - and those folks were there to cheer you on whether you eat it or beat it.  They didn’t hike all that way up the trail to see you wuss out and gingerly walk your bike through a creek.  So, I didn’t disappoint.  At the first creek crossing I endo’d and landed on my ass.  The crowd went wild....

6.       Evidently what I think is technically challenging on a trail and what others think is challenging are completely different.  Basically, if there’s a rock the size of a cell phone on the trail I think you should turn around because it’s obviously closed from this point on.  At one particularly rocky, skull-shattering descent I stopped and got off rather than land on my melon and live the rest of my life as a vegetable.  Just as I did some chick came rolling by yelling and flung herself down the rock pile and vanished up the trail.  She just left me there holding her purse with my jaw on the ground.

Just about done with the bike leg.....

7.       By the time I started the run it looked like pretty much everybody’s race was already over.  The bike racks looked as full as they did before the gun went off!  It was a miserable 95 degree hot and humid death march.  I ran until the Mayan Ruins, which is a ridiculous climb up a wall of railroad ties.  After that I alternated running and walking as my heart rate kept spiking in the heat.  The legs were there but I just couldn’t take the heat.  I walked the Dry Way (the boulder crossing to Belle Island in the middle of the James River) since the knee is not near strong enough to take bounding from boulder to boulder.

Finishing the run with the hot sun beating down on me.  Photo courtesy of Julia Bonner.

All in all, I just wasn’t prepared for this race.  It was way harder than a half iron road tri, and I’m just not in that kind of shape yet.  And I’ve got to get better at mountain biking if I’m gonna attempt another one.