How does cycling help me deal with the news that my best friend from law school has Glioblastoma multiforme? How does cycling help me keep a balance between the various aspects of my life as I navigate through a change of partners in my business? I ended a recent blog post by stating that a few years ago I attended a training camp in Tucson, Arizona and that at the camp a 14 mile climb up Mount Lemmon set in motion events that would forever change the way I deal with adversity and the many challenges that life throws at me every day. Of particular value, it taught me how not to inflict the stress that results from dealing with adversity onto the people that surround me. Just like I try not to inflict my bad moods on others, I try not to inflict my stress on them neither.
I remember exactly when it was. The date was November 19th, 2009. I was attending the El Tour de Tucson CTS Endurance camp. On that Thursday morning the whole group of riders headed out to the east side of town to ride up Mount Lemmon. I had climbed Mount Lemmon a year earlier and I was amazed that some riders had climbed 16 or 18 miles in the time it took me to climb 14 miles. I was looking forward to a better performance in 2009 than in 2008. What transpired that morning is definitely one of my Top Ten Favourite Biking Moments and having my wife present is probably what made it truly special.
Mount Lemmon is in the Santa Catalina Mountains located in the Coronado National Forest north of Tucson, Arizona, United States. It is 9,157 feet (2,791 m) above sea-level, and receives approximately 180 inches of snow annually.
The Catalina Highway is the popular name for a Forest Highway and scenic route that goes up Mount Lemmon. Also known as the Sky Island Scenic Byway, the Mount Lemmon Highway and Arizona Forest Highway 39, the Catalina Highway is the only paved roadway providing access to the resort village of Summerhaven as well as various recreational and scientific facilities located near the summit of Mount Lemmon. Ascending from the desert floor in Tucson to near the summit of Mount Lemmon, the short highway gains over 6,000 ft (1.8 km), showcasing a variety of climates ranging from lowland desert to alpine forests.
Cycling up the Mt Lemmon Hwy in Tucson, Arizona is an epic ride and will rival some of the best rides across the country. You start off at about 2,557 ft surrounded by saguaro cactus and mesquite trees and climb as high as 8,198 ft to pine tree vegetation and cool air. The road is in great shape with a bike lane for most of the ride. On the way down there is no need for a bike lane because you will be keeping up with traffic. Great pictures here.
At each Tucson CTS camp the group will usually climb up to Windy Point which is a 14 mile climb. The stronger riders are sometimes allowed to go past Windy Point as long as they are back there by a certain time. On that November morning we had been told to keep the group together until about mile 3 but that past that point we were free to battle each other. When CTS coach Jake told us to do our own thing I immediately launched an attack to which no one had a meaningful response. Mechanic Richard was driving the van that day and he was going back and forth between me and the rest of the athletes, getting me food, water and information. At mile 12 he told me I had three minutes on the rest of the group. As mile 13 and 14 are the steepest sections of the climb I decided to step it up a bit and see if I could put more time between me and the other athletes. I ended up getting to mile 14 in 1:13 hours–a whole five minutes before the next guy.
The next day, CTS coaches told me I should consider racing at the Tour of the Gila, an annual race in Silver City, New Mexico which offers lots of big climbing challenges. Always a sucker for a new adventure I immediately said yes and started preparing for it.
Let’s now fast forward to May 2010. I landed in Tucson ready to drive to Silver City the next day with CTS coach Jason Tullous, CTS athlete Dave Burke (and wife Tricia) and some other CTS athlete from Boston named Jamie Riehle. I knew Dave and Tricia as we had done a couple of CTS camps together but I had never met Jamie before.
Once we got to Silver City we went straight to our “hotel”.
Now the inside:
We then headed out for a recon of one of the climbs. Unfortunately for Dave his bike missed the connection in Dallas and he couldn’t ride with Jamie and I on the day before the race.
After the recon ride I was keen to find the restaurant in town which had the best wine list. Jamie stayed in his room cooking his own special athlete`s meals. Although intensely focused and disciplined, Jamie was pretty cool, quite educated and showed he had a soft side when he became emotional after realizing he was top 20 after Stage 2. Following one of our pasta/red wine dinners (without Jamie who was at home cooking his own meal) Jason, Dave, Tricia and I returned to our rooms to find Jamie watching the Habs play the Bruins in the NHL playoffs. Coach Jason and I decided to watch the game with Jamie. We all had a great time.
After stage three I decided to fly to Vancouver and surprise my wife Mary Lou who was there with our daughter Rebecca to run their first ever half-marathon. As it turns out, Jamie, being the gentleman that he is, came out with us that night to say au revoir. I discovered that Jamie was a Champagne aficionado. Not only did he share my passion for climbing hills, but he also shares my wife’s passion for fine Champagne.
Since New Mexico, Jamie and I have been on quite a few rides/races together:
Mount Washington Auto Road Race:
Burke Mountain Hill Climb:
Relaxing in Tucson:
Before last year’s Mount Washington race Jamie had dinner with me, my wife Mary Lou, daughter Amanda and granddaughter Brooklyn.
Don’t ask me how (LOL) but the topic of conversation at dinner got into a comparison between the Canadian and US health care systems. That is when Jamie told us that he had had tongue cancer.
Those who know me well (or have been reading my blog for a while) know that Jamie’s cancer came back this year and that he had to get a major mouth, tongue, jaw operation and some very serious chemo and radiation treatments following the operation. As I prepared for the Tour of California I thought about Jamie a lot. He would have kicked our collective butts had he been able to join us in California. He is a talented and very disciplined rider and the way he has fought through the last few months confirmed what we already knew: he is one strong guy. The way he is continuing to fight against adversity is very inspirational.
In honour of Jamie and his fight against cancer, myself and the CTS coaches rode a special T-shirt up to the top of Mount Baldy on stage 7 of Tour of California.
Hoping to ride Mount Baldy with Jamie one day.
The last news we got from Jamie was that he still has pain following the operation; he is still taking pain killers and has been unable to resume training. Everytime I don’t feel like training I ask myself: “Would I rather not be able to train?” Everytime I feel overly stressed at work I ask myself: “Would I rather be at home recovering from surgery?” All of this helps me keep everything in perspective. And through his latest fight with cancer Jamie maintained a combative attitude while keeping his usual grace and good disposition. I think I have a moral obligation to also keep a good disposition and positive attitude no matter what my little troubles are.
I also have another friend fighting cancer up here in Montreal and in his case the prognosis really is not good. As a result of what I have learned from Jamie I can now make a difference with others who face great adversity. That way, I am better equipped to support and be there for my friend Gilles and hopefully be as good a friend as can be through his own great adversity. As Dennis Prager says “life is relentless” and learning from those around us how do deal with adversity without inflicting the pain that comes with it onto others is hopefully something that can be taught to the people around us.