Friday, December 30, 2011

2012: The Year of the Do-Over

I’m determined to start this year out right. That’s why, if all goes as planned, on Sunday I’ll be bundled up at the start of the Millennium Mile.

Although I’ve never run the race before, I’ve heard plenty about it. The New Hampshire Union Leader has been a sponsor of the race, which supports a scholarship in memory of John Mortimer’s parents, since before our sponsorships fell under my purview.

That was before I was even “a runner.” (I use the quotation marks because I’m not sure I’ll ever completely feel like a runner.) Back then, the idea of a New Year’s race just seemed plain crazy to me. I mean, it’s usually cold and sometimes snowy.

After I started running a few years ago, I found the idea of a New Year’s race intriguing. It was indeed a great way to start the year. However, by then I’d made my own personal rule not to run races in which it would take me longer to park and register than to run the race (see also: Cigna’s 5K in downtown Manchester) so I routinely skipped the Millennium Mile in favor of a New Year’s 10K in Massachusetts.

Not this year – although the way I made it to the starting line is really just an accident.

A few weeks ago, at Mortimer’s urging, I signed up for the MVP Millennium Running Series. I had let my running slip so much during the second half of 2011 that I needed something to keep me going. A series of seven races - some really fun races, I might add - of various distances, spread out throughout the year seemed like a perfect way to get my focus back.

I thought I had until the
Shamrock Shuffle in March to mentally prepare for my year-long commitment. That is, until a friend asked me about the Millennium Mile race. Most years, it falls in December. This year, it falls on New Year’s Day. Turns out, signing up for the 2012 series meant that I’d be starting on the very first day of 2012.

Oh well, no time like the present.

My friend’s 9-year-old son assures me the Millennium Mile will be the fastest mile I run all year. No offense to the little guy, but I hope he’s wrong. I hope that today’s mile-long race is the beginning of a year of improvement.

You see, as we launch this new year, I find myself in unfamiliar territory. At this time of year, I’m usually celebrating my accomplishments and thinking of how to be even better next year. But this year I find myself dealing with the self-inflicted failure of not meeting my goals. When it comes to running (and most other things), I tend to set the bar high for myself, so it was no surprise last year that I gave myself a pretty lofty to-do list. (See them over there on the right side of this page?)

I wanted to run the Boston Marathon and raise $5,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society –
and I did. What I didn’t do was pretty much everything else on the list, like, complete a century ride or log 3,000 miles of running and riding. (I’m closing out the year at 2,500-something.)

What’s most frustrating is that everything on the list was completely attainable, and I was on the fast-track to success by mid-year coming off the Boston Marathon and logging some serious miles. My cycling improved immensely and I was in better shape than I’d ever been. I had my highest mileage months ever in both running and cycling this year.

Don't believe that I totally slacked off? I'm including graphic evidence at the end of this post. What the heck happened to me in the second half of the year?

If I must be honest, I kind of gave up - mentally. I got burned out. I stopped checking my mileage stats every day. I didn’t care how far or fast I went. I put my iPod and Garmin watch in the drawer and let them gather dust. My weekly group runs with friends disappeared. Running became something that I didn't even think about. I began to question whether I even liked it anymore.

I got mad at myself. I made excuses. I tried to restart my motivation engine. And couldn’t.

I never even attmpted the Century Ride, even though during the height of the summer and early into the fall the miles would not have been a problem. Heck, I didn't even bother to sign up for a 10K to see what I could do.

So I’ve decided to give myself a do-over this year. I toyed with the idea of lowering the expectations on myself, perhaps reducing the mileage or cutting back on the things I want to accomplish. But I don’t want to go backward. I need to finish what I started.

Seems like a one-mile, downhill race on New Year's Day is a pretty good start.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

My Biggest Loser Beef

As much as I hate to admit it, one of my guilty pleasures is quasi-reality television - not the Bachelor or Jersey Shore or the Real World (is that sill on?) or other nails-on-a-chalkboard shows like that.

For better or worse, I get a kick out of watching other people's dysfunction. I'm talking about shows like Hoarders, the new Monster In-Laws, Intervention and the jaw-dropping, brow-furrowing one I recently stumbled upon, I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant. (There are still so many questions I have about that last one.)

Although it's one step up from A&E's new dysfunctional program line-up, I kind of throw The Biggest Loser into that mix, too - even though it's different.

It's not like I'm watching an out-of-control train wreck (is there any other kind?) like those other shows. Instead, I watch them work hard, succeed, get fit and get healthy. I'm happy for them. I'm inspired.

But every year there's something cringe-inducing about the The Biggest Loser: the marathon.

I don't mean "marathon" in the usual TV-jargon sense, meaning a series of back-to-back-to-back-to-back episodes. (That use of the word marathon, by the way, must have been coined by a non-runner. Anyone who's ever run a marathon would not allow hours of watching television to share the same name as the distance running event.)

Yes, the contestants on the The Biggest Loser actually complete a marathon. Twenty-six-point-two-miles. I love it. And I hate it.

Before you go jumping to conclusions about why I hate it, let me say with the utmost sincerity that I truly, honestly and whole-heartedly believe that anyone can run a marathon. Of course, I say that with a one huge qualification. It would be better to say that anyone with proper training can run a marathon.

That's where The Biggest Loser gets under my skin.

The contestants undoubtedly work hard at getting fit and losing weight, spending hours in the gym - face-to-face with a trainer, no less. But, as far as I can tell from the show that airs, they do not train for a marathon. Sure, you see them from time-to-time on the treadmill, but they certainly don't have a marathon training program.

In fact, some of them even admit that they haven't run more than 10 or 12 (or fewer!) miles before toeing the line for the show's 26.2 event.

What's wrong with that? A lot.

Most of them do finish. And it's great. They smile, they cry, they can't believe they've done it. It's the same feeling that anyone who's crossed the finish line of their first marathon has felt - only magnified because of where they've come. It truly is inspiring.

It's also unsettling. At most, they've had 60 days of "training" - which by most standards is not nearly suffificent to prepare the body for a marathon. In fact, only a few short months before their marathon, these contestants were on a downward spiral of health-issues and most were admitted food addicts and couch potatoes. They're on The Biggest Loser, after all.

Thanks to the disclaimer at the end of the show, I know the contestants are monitored. And kudos for this year's show-doctor for pulling a couple of the contestants off the course this year and for not letting one, who was scheduled for knee surgery the following week, even attempt it.

What bothers me about The Biggest Loser marathon is that is isn't really accurate. Anyone who's ever been to a marathon (or even a half marathon) has surely seen fuel belts, water stations, aid stations - heck, even porta-potties. These contestants run in the desert, for Pete's sake.

And while I'm sure that the contestants hydrate and fuel along the way, why isn't any of this shown to the viewing audience? We never see one drop of water given to a contestant. Not one energy gel. Hyrdation and proper fueling are critical parts of marathon running - the healthy way - and if this show inspires others to try (which I assume - and hope that it does), it should send the right message.

We never hear about a training plan, long runs or anything else that goes into proper marathon training. If anything, we hear the opposite. Some contestants seem proud that they finished with essentially no running training.

Sounds like a recipe for injury, if you ask me. And there's nothing like an injury to give someone a reason to stop exercising and fall back into old habits.

Aside from the training and the nutrition shortfalls, another twist to this year's The Biggest Loser marathon was a the addition of a competitve element. They brought back all of the contestants that had left the show during the season and they competed for one spot in the final contest. All they had to do is win the marathon.

It certainly made for interesting television, at the very least. But for most runners, unless you're one of the elite, front-of-the-pack runners, you don't run a marathon to beat other people. You race against yourself. You run your own race. At some point, it doesn't matter who's ahead or behind you. It's about you and your goals. It's about celebrating the finish line - whenever you get there.

For these contestants, in particular, the show should have highlighted the huge sense of accomplishment it would be just to finish. Because it is a huge accomplishment - no matter who "beat" you in the race. Instead, they ranked the contestants and awarded prize money depending on where they placed.

Because of the competitive element (I get it - it's a show about competition), we saw contestants sprinting from the starting line, trying to get ahead of the pack. No "go out slow and steady" training plan here. No pacing. No plans.

My previous rant aside, I really do love the idea of having The Biggest Loser contestants run a marathon. It shows that anyone can do it - and anyone can. If they do it the right way.

I'm not afraid to admit that I got a little teary-eyed watching the contestants cross the finish line. It's a great feeling after all - something that can't really be described. Heck, last night's show even gave me a little kick in the butt. It started my mind going. What's the next big thing I'm going to do?

As the on-air marathon started, I half-jokingly declared that if any of the contestants beat my PR, I'd be signing up for a marathon today. Luckily, the first runner crossed in 5:04, so I'm not obligated to do so.

But who knows, maybe the show's convinced me to give it another try - with a solid training plan and plenty of water stops, of course.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Piece O' Pie 5K

If you’re like me, you’re probably still thinking about all the things you’ve eaten this weekend that you “shouldn’t” have.

Although my new-found vegetarian lifestyle probably helped me shave off a few hundred calories during Thanksgiving Dinner, I still got my fill of appetizers, potatoes, wine and bread. Oh, and pie.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the “numbers” of running – for a change, not miles or pace or time. I’ve been thinking a lot about running’s calorie-burning powers.

Truth is I’ve probably been thinking about it because, well, I have been running a lot fewer miles lately. Fewer miles means fewer calories burned, which means tighter-than-usual clothes. And, sigh, a forced focus on the calories I take in.

I’ve never really thought of running as a way to control my weight. It was, rather, just a nice side-effect of a sport that I loved doing. As a result, I got completely lazy with my eating habits. I didn’t really have to think about what I was eating because I knew, at some point, my running would burn it off.

A second helping a dinner? Sure, without a second thought.

During my consistent training weeks of running and cycling, I figure I was burning around 4,000-5,000 calories a week. Lately, those numbers have taken a nosedive – almost to zero.

Despite what the fad-diet industry tries to convince us to believe, most weight loss or weight maintenance comes down to simple mathematics. We have to burn more (or at least the same) number of calories as we consume to avoid the extra pounds.

Let me put this into some real-world perspective. Depending on which expert source you believe, the average American consumes about 2,000-4,000 calories as part of the Thanksgiving festivities.

We burn roughly 100 calories per mile of running.

Do we want to do the math for that Thanksgiving meal? Yep, we’re talking 20-40 miles of running just to break even on Thanksgiving. Of course, we burn calories doing everyday activities – and maybe a touch football game with the family – so none of us would really have to run that far.

My point is, it’s sometimes sobering to think about how much we actually have to run to work off all of the extra treats, despite the fact that running is a very efficient calorie-burning activity.
I say all of this as someone who just finished a piece of (apparently award-winning) apple pie. It was good – but was it worth an extra 5K?

A slice of apple pie is around 300 calories. Or 3 miles.

May conversion of food-to-miles will become more top-of-mind as we go into the holiday season, where candy bowls and homemade cookie platters seem to be at every turn.

Kudos to all of you who got out there and ran or walked before indulging in the Thanksgiving feast. According to, 7,500 runners and walkers took part in New Hampshire road races on Thanksgiving Day. That makes it the single biggest day for road races in New Hampshire.

Congratulations to all of you. You earned that piece of pie.

Teresa Robinson is Community Relations Manager for the New Hampshire Union Leader. Her column appears every other week in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Her email address is

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

One Week Down, One Month To Go

I've toyed with the idea of vegetarianism for years.

I went a year and a half without a touch of red meat - in high school, after a gruesome story-telling session with the father in a family I was babysitting for, who insisted on telling me about his time working at a slaughterhouse in Texas.

I cut out red meat entirely and without much problem. I became accustomed to looking for the chicken entree on the menu, even in the finest of steakhouses.

Slowly, and I'm not even sure how, I forgot about the horror stories and red meat came back into my diet. But I'm not sure I ever fully re-incorporated it. At most, I'd eat red meat a couple times a month. In fact, if I was on my own or ordering in a restaurant, I'd naturally gravitate toward the vegetarian option.

So when Jeff brought up the idea last month of experimenting with pescitarianism I was totally on-board. Truth me told, it wouldn't be too far from the way I eat normally anyway. We discussed the experiment while out on a 50-mile bike ride, talking mostly about health benefits and weight control during our off-riding months that are rapidly approaching. (total sad face)

Pescitarians are basically vegetarians who eat fish and seafood. (I love sushi too much to think about giving that up!)

We chose to try this way of eating not for animal rights (although, I do love those big, brown cow eyes and sometimes wonder how I could eat such a seemingly friendly, gentle creature). We're not trying to be trendy or make a statement of some kind.

I figure we could all stand to cut out some extra calories and other bad stuff that comes along with that juicy slab of steak on the plate. We're in it for health reasons. We're lucky that we're already pretty healthy - and we're just trying to stay that way for a long time.

Somewhere along that bike ride, Jeff and I agreed that we'd try pescitarianism for a week. If that went well, we'd do it for a month. After that, we'd see where it went.

We're about 10 days in now. (Guess that means we're in it for the rest of the month.) The first week went down without so much as a hiccup. In fact, I don't think I really changed much of my eating habits - except, perhaps, to make my eating choices a little more conscious.

I've noticed that I look at restaurant menus differently now, picking out things that are suitable to this new lifestyle. It's actually pretty easy. There are plenty of good choices, and our go-to favorite eateries have lots to offer. (It helps when you like Thai, Indian and other exotic cuisine.)

Our at-home menu for the week consisted of a roasted puntanesca sauce over gnocchi, a whole wheat harvest lasagna that lasted for days, veggie pizza options and chickpea salads. I'm mindful of the fact I don't want to replace the meat with loads of startchy carbs, and am looking forward to exploring the line-up of veggie meals planned. Ideas welcome.

One week (and then some) into our new way of eating and I feel great. I've lost three pounds (which was shocking because I felt like I've eaten more than I ever have and did absolutely zero exercise last week).

I really haven't missed meat at all. It's been an interesting change so far - one that I'm looking forward to carrying out for a while.

One week down. One month to go.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Mini Mojo?

I’m supposed to be running the Maine Half Marathon today. I’m not.

Five months ago, still coming off the Boston Marathon high, my friend and I planned that we would run that race together. We planned that we would train hard all summer and we’d each run our own personal best times.

It sounded like a marvelous plan.

Then we finished Boston. We were tired of training. Summer happened. A bit of laziness happened? I watched the hard work of my marathon training slip away. I stopped filling out any sort of training calendar. I was half panicked that I wouldn’t be able to get the training back and half relieved that I’d stepped away from running consistent miles.

I kinda liked not having to fit running into my day. I liked not waking up early before work to beat the heat. I liked not caring about the weather report. I got to a point that I didn’t even think about running any more. I wondered if I should even continue writing a column called NH Runner, and I didn’t have much to tweet about at my
@nh_runner handle. Even my dailymile feed had pretty much dried up.

Then, we flipped the calendar to fall. The humidity broke, and perhaps most importantly, I got a first-hand dose of motivation when I participated inBoston's
Hub on Wheels cycling event last weekend.

More than 5,000 cyclists packed into a quarter-mile of city blocks in the early-morning hours. The anticipation and excitement was palpable. It wasn’t a race – the professionals would show us how it’s really done later in the day – but the ride brought together people for a common purpose.

The Hub made me miss the cheering crowds, the volunteers and the spectators at running events. It made me miss the feeling of crossing a finish line. As the sound of cowbells filled the air near the starting line, I got the surge of excitement inside of me and the feeling that I might inexplicably tear up at any moment.

It was then that I knew I needed to get back to a running event.

Don’t me wrong. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my love affair with my bicycle this summer and taking my first real break from running since I started has been good for me. But I regret missing some local new running events this year – mainly the line-up put together by John Mortimer and his new Millennium Running venture.

I’m talking about the
Shamrock Shuffle in March, the Manchester Mile in July and the 10-miler around Lake Massabesic in September. All three of them were in my backyard and well within my ability. I should have been there.

John Mortimer knows how to put on races and he knows how to motivate people. Even in my own personal circles, these new races have created new challenges for non-runners in my life.

People I never thought would run – and certainly wouldn’t run in races – have trained and signed up. And they have kept running and signing up for more. Now I find myself looking to them for motivation.

It was a conversation with my neighbor – a non-runner – as she finished her two-mile run that helped something click. She had recently signed on with a personal trainer and was working toward Millennium Running’s new Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium.

Know what? I will, too. And then I’ll probably shoot for the Santa Shuffle in downtown Manchester before the city’s Christmas parade.

Maybe, just maybe, I can get in enough miles to be ready for the
Manchester Marathon on Nov. 6, at the very least, I can probably round up a relay team. Then maybe I’ll even work toward the 16-miler in Derry in January. Heck, if I can run 16 by January, I should consider another spring marathon. Right?

Baby steps, baby steps. But it certainly feels like my running mojo is stirring. Thank you, cowbells.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Gone Before We Know It

Being in the newspaper business most of my life, I’ve learned to be relatively un-rattled by news events. Even things like murders and other crimes become a more of a source of curiosity and intrigue than outrage or disappointment.

But this week I found myself oddly affected by two pieces of news I read.

First – and probably not surprising – were the effects of Tropical Storm Irene in the northern parts of the state. I felt a sadness when I saw sections of roads ripped up and normally quiet rivers rushing through towns in a path of destruction.

I found myself feeling not only sad, but also lucky.

Just one day before the storm I had been enjoying a quiet camping get-away in Hart’s Location. Our campsite was a stone’s throw, literally, from the Saco River. I marvel now at how the water running over the rocks brought a sense of peace to the campsite.

We cut our trip short because of Irene, not wanting to risk another night in a tent on the riverfront. A good decision, obviously. We were the last of the riverside campers to leave, but there were still a handful of inland campers on site when we left.

Our go-to camping spot, the Crawford Notch Campground, is situated between the Saco River and Route 302. That can’t mean good things. The road on either side of the campground, according to reports and photos, has crumbled. I only hope the campers we left behind decided to pack up and head out before the full wrath of Irene hit.

The campground was shut down for most of the week. Finally, the cabins, a few sites and the general store opened at the end of the week. Many sites still remain unusable. There is no doubt the owners will have some significant clean-up to do. I’m hoping our favorite spots are ready to go next spring so we can continue our camping tradition.

Another one of our summer traditions might be affected with the closing of Dodge’s Country Store in New Boston, the big, red general store right out of a postcard. It’s a favorite stop to take a break on our long bike rides and refuel.

My sweetie and I would often sit on the store’s front porch, snacking on peanut butter sandwiches we had packed in our jerseys and refilling our bottles with a mix of energy drink and water we would buy in the store.

From our perch on the porch, we could see the town library and, I think, a church across the street. It was quintessential New England if I ever saw it.

On the other side of the porch, undoubtedly, would be an older gentleman, usually wearing a plaid shirt and dusty old ball cap. It was always a different man, but it was always the same scene. He’d say hello to all of the locals who went in and out of the store, asking about family members or chatting about the weather.

I’m going to miss those times on the store porch, not to mention that, logistically, I’m going to need to find another spot to refuel. Somehow I sense that I’ll end up at a gas station “mart” and it won’t ever be the same as sitting on the New Boston store porch.

I’ve always said I run because I can. I’ve often added that I run for those who cannot.

I run for people like my mom, whose rheumatoid arthritis has ravaged her body so badly over time that even the simplest of tasks – putting her shoes on, getting a glass out of the cupboard, getting up from a chair – are increasingly difficult.

I think of my Aunt Kathy, who was suddenly paralyzed from the neck down a few years ago after a routine surgery. She now celebrates the smallest victories, like learning to hold a pen and write again.

It’s at the times when I least want to go running that I need to think of them and how much they would give to be able to get out and run. I think of how much they would like just have the choice of whether to run or not.

I need to remind myself of these things sometimes, especially now when I’m stuck in this running slump. After all, sometimes the things we appreciate – the things we think will always be there – are gone before we know it.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Wanted: Running Mojo

Recently, I've been lamenting the fact that I’d really slacked on my running this summer.

I’d love to report to you that I’ve turned the tide and that I am back to my usual miles on the pavement. But I’m not. I’ve just plain lost my running mojo.

I’m not the only one. In recent weeks, I’ve had several friends declare that they’ve lost the passion for running - that they’ve forgotten how to run just for the pure enjoyment of running. It’s become a job, another thing to put on the to-do list, another thing to track.

The way we are all connected through online training tools doesn’t help. There’s pressure, albeit unspoken, to run more often, to run farther or faster. Everything is calculated and totaled. You can’t help but compare yourself to others.

Some of those friends are quitting cold turkey. Not quitting running, mind you. They’re just disappearing from the online radar in an attempt to find their running mojo.

Me? I’m not taking that step yet, but I am trying to find my motivation.

I embarked on what I called my Remember Running Mission last week, setting the alarm early to get in a few before-work miles. Normally, early morning runs are peaceful and relaxing. The world is quieter and I can take the time to listen to the birds and enjoy the morning sun. I can get so wrapped up in the moment that I can almost forget I’m running.

Not last week. There was not a chance that I would have forgotten that I was running.

I knew my recent lack of running was going to be painfully obvious, so I purposefully set the bar pretty low. I planned to do only two miles, run a mile in one direction then turn around and head for home. It’s only two miles, I told myself.

To be honest, I can’t remember the last time I ran “only two miles.” For the past several years, my shortest runs have been 4-5 miles with a double-digit jaunt tossed in on the weekends.

I started out relatively quickly, as recorded on my GPS watch I wore to help me track the turn-around spot. I was pleased that my time off hadn’t killed my pace. What it had affected, dramatically, was my stamina.

I huffed and puffed more than usual. I resisted the urge to walk. Even though I know a big chunk of running is getting into the right mental state, I couldn’t help but concentrate on just how plain difficult running was,

For the first time in years, I realized why people try it and stop. More than once, a seemingly obvious statement went through my head: “Running is hard, really hard.”

My body seemed to pound against the pavement harder than I can ever remember. The wind got sucked out of me faster than it should have. I asked myself why I liked running, and for the first time ever, questioned whether I actually like it at all.

Of course, I know I like running. At least I think I do. At least I like everything it’s done for me, like help me gain confidence, make new friends, achieve goals.

Are those things solely tied to running? Can I achieve them in other ways? Do I want to? I’m not sure.

I made it through those two miles that morning. I got up to do it again the next day, then a couple days after that, with an extra mile added onto the route. I was on a mission to remember why I like running.

I’m still working on it, but it’s getting easier with every run.

In a strange twist of fate – or slap in the face – I also received a package from the Boston Marathon last week, complete with my official finisher’s certificate. I stared at it in disbelief. How could I possibly have run a marathon so recently that I am just now getting the certificate?

Did I really just struggle through what should have been some easy running miles just because I’d lost the consistency in my running schedule? The answer, I knew, was a resounding yes.

It really makes me realize the power of the human body, not only how you can push yourself beyond what you think you’re capable of, but also how quickly you can lose all of your hard work.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Making Granddad Proud

In just a few days, I start the first day of my vacation. It’s a vacation, mind you, that’s required me to train.

Last year’s adventure brought me to Napa and Lake Tahoe, where my sweetie and I fell in love with the idea of bringing our bikes on vacation. We saw so many out-of-the-way places that tourists don’t usually see. At one point, we even said we’d never vacation without them.

We’re making good on that. This year, we’re kicking it up a notch with a seven-day cycling tour through the Finger Lakes, New York. A cycling tour doesn’t just mean a few bike rides mixed into a trip of wining, dining and sight-seeing. It means, rather, that we’ll park our car at the meeting spot on the first day and use only our pedal power for the rest of the vacation.

We’re not alone in this adventure. We’ll be joining 650 strangers. By the end of a full week of cycling and camping together, I doubt I’ll refer to them as strangers.

It may seem a bit ambitious - biking 350 miles in seven days, camping in between stops. But with organized camp sites, prepared meals, nightly entertainment, showers and even traveling vans to carry our gear from place to place, it really is one of the more luxurious cycling tours.

My grandfather, I’m sure, would agree. Although I suspect he’d be excited and intrigued about my upcoming trip, I think there’s a part of him who would scoff at the plush conditions.

Nearly 28 years ago, Granddad set out on his own cycling adventure, a sort of race to check off another thing on the bucket list. He was 65 and had just been diagnosed with cancer when he decided to make the trek from Toronto to Cape Cod. Yes, by bicycle.

I was too young, just 8 years old, to fully comprehend what was happening. I knew Granddad was going on a long bike trip. That alone didn’t seem completely out of the ordinary.

Granddad was a bit spontaneous and eccentric, always running, cycling or kayaking. For a while, he worked as a bike messenger through the crowded downtown streets of Toronto, dodging traffic and asserting himself as - that kind of cyclist - that gives cyclists a bad name. My mom recalls that the first time she was going to meet her future father-in-law. When she and my dad saw him riding his bike in traffic, they honked and waved. My grandfather, assuming they were just more pushy drivers, saluted them with the middle finger.

Several years later, he was standing in our driveway on a heavy, aluminum 10-speed, packed up with a tent and other necessities.

Most of what I know about his trip I learned through a journal he kept along the way. Each day in a short entry, he noted how many miles (or being Canadian, kilometers) he’d covered, the people he met along the way and what he ate.

Just a day into the trip, he’d discovered that his tent had a hole. Of course, he discovered this during a rainy night. He also discovered that he severely under-budgeted for his trip and, before the days of ATMs, feared he’d run out of money. He started a diet of cheap canned foods, like baked beans.

Soon, he had another plan. Granddad spent the remainder of the trip meeting strangers and somehow convincing them to make him dinners and sleep in guest rooms or on sofas. Granddad was a friendly guy.

He kept a list of the people he met, along with snap shots to documents his travels.

He died just a few months after he returned from his 700-mile trip. My grandmother called all of the names scribbled in the back of his journal to let them know he’d passed.

I feel a special connection to my grandfather when I think of his personal journey. I think I understand him in a way that others don't. I wish I’d been old enough to know him better and that he’d been around long enough for me to talk about his escapades. Who knows, maybe we would have even gone on a cycling adventure together. He’d be in his 90s now, and somehow I think he’d still be riding.

Sometimes the idea of retracing his journey slips into my head. I’m not quite as daring as Granddad, though, and I’d be more likely to make hotel reservations and eat at restaurants along the way.

For now, I’ll take baby steps into the cycling tour world. I’ll enjoy the nightly cookouts, the clean towels, the maps and marked route, all of the luxuries.

But I also plan to completely unplug. No phone, no email, no computers, radios or televisions. Just my bike and, yes, a journal.