Archives For Rando Ramble

A few words of thanks

July 27, 2014 — 11 Comments

Piglet noticed that even though he had a very small heart, it could hold a rather large amount of gratitude.

A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

On July 22, 2013, I bought a new pair of running shoes and started this journey. Since then I’ve swum 545 miles, ran 693 and biked for 4,542 miles more. Along the way I’ve jogged through downtown Bucharest and along the shore of the Black Sea; biked with Lucy in Sofia; swum in the Atlantic Ocean, Chesapeake Bay and the Hudson, Chester and Potomac Rivers; had one serious bike crash and taught the bartender at the Times Square Applebees how to make a perfect Martini. The 2014 Lake Placid Iron Man has just started and I will soon be swimming in Mirror Lake with number 367 painted on my arms. If all goes well sometime before midnight tonight I will add another 140.6 miles to these totals and then stop keeping track.

I have approached today’s race with mixed emotions. On some days I would wake brimming with confidence. On others full of self-doubt wondering what I had gotten myself into when I signed up for this. But no matter how I felt when each day began by its end I always fell asleep reflecting on how fortunate I was to have the support of my family and friends as I worked to achieve this goal. And for that I offer these few words of thanks.

First and foremost I thank Kathy who has supported and encouraged me throughout this journey as I transformed from someone who didn’t really exercise much into a dedicated athlete spending most of his spare time either swimming, running or biking. She has been with me from the start when I bought a new bike so that I could start riding it to work and never complained when I followed that purchase with a road bike, a folding bike and most recently a high-end carbon fiber racing bike.

I appreciate very much the swim coaching I have received over the years, starting with Bruce Rinker, followed by Katie, Bethany, Natalie, Zach, Joe and Lindsey. More than the coaching though, I am deeply grateful for the lane mates who have put up with me over the last four years, especially Will, Andrew, Bob, Suzanna, Krista, Brittany, Sarah, Corrine and Lauren. You have made swimming fun for me and I will never forget the times we spent together on our road trips to Bivalve, New York and Point Lookout. Thanks also to Dean, Jim, Ryan, Michele, Kelly, Miguel, Laura and Phil, experienced Iron Man finishers who have offered encouragement and great suggestions along the way. Elysia and Molly are among the dozens of other Marylanders who are here to race and volunteer. I wish them a safe and successful journey across the lake, over the mountains, through the forests and beside the rivers today.

I would not be the bicyclist I am today were it not for Bob, Dave, PJ, Mike and Charlie. You have taught me the joy of long distance cycling with friends and for that I am truly grateful.

The hardest part of the training for me has been the running and I will not set any records on the marathon portion of today’s race. Of all the disciplines however, my running has improved the most and for this I remember fondly and thank Dave, Parnell and John; Valerie; Josh and Glenn; and Kyle, Eric, Jim, Dave, Beth and Monica.

I owe special debts of gratitude to Tim who taught me to believe in myself as a swimmer and to Claudia who encouraged me to start this blog, swam with me in the very cold and rough Atlantic and during an emotional Purple Swim and trained with me for my first triathlon. I will cherish our friendships always.

And finally I am most grateful to Abby who helped me fall back in love with swimming which, after all, is what started this in the first place.

When I was in Lake Placid over Memorial Day weekend, a triathlon club from New York was also in town training. From time to time I would be passed by a member of that club who would call out to me “You can do it!” I would give a slight nod or a wave but didn’t really understand what was going on until later when I saw two members from the club pass each other by. The first yelled out the familiar “You can do it!” to which the second responded “I love you baby!”

Thank you again for the friendship, love and support that have brought me to the point where I really believe I can do this today. And with that let me close simply by saying to each of you, very sincerely, “I love you baby.”

Friends indeed

May 5, 2014 — 7 Comments


They say with bike crashes that it is not a matter of if, but when. Yesterday was my turn.

I woke early to meet Dave, Bob and PJ for breakfast before the start of this year’s Monument to Monument Ride. I have not made many of Bob’s monthly century rides lately, being too consumed with training for this summer’s Lake Placid Iron Man, but was determined not to miss this ride.

The weather was perfect and we along with nearly 100 other riders leave Baltimore’s Mount Vernon at 8:15 AM. Dave and I bring up the rear to make sure that no rider is dropped and left to finish the ride alone. Along the way Dave fixes a broken chain for another rider and we help a first timer make it to Union Station where she has decided to call it a day.

Bob and PJ are interspersed with other riders, but the four of us meet up again at 6:00 PM on Hammonds Ferry Road and ride into Baltimore together, hoping to make it to Hampden in time for a quick dinner and some beer. We leave the Gwynns Falls Trail and turn right onto Warner Street. Bob and PJ are a bit ahead and out of sight when Dave and I make the turn. Warner Street is criss-crossed with abandoned rail tracks and although I have rolled across them dozens of times before without incident, today is different. I am a bit tired and inattentive and before I know it I am tumbling to the pavement and steel below my left elbow.

I seem fine at first, although my sunglasses are missing and my face is hot and wet. Dave stops and runs back to me. The look on his face tells me I am in trouble. I look down and my jersey and shorts are showing the spots that are forming as the blood slowly drips down my face and off my chin.

Dave retrieves the first aid kit from my bag and opens it. It is very windy and I have stuffed the kit with extra bandages which the wind catch and send skipping down the road. Dave opens a roll of gauze, wads it and hands it to me. Bob and PJ have now turned back to find us and when they arrive the gauze is already soaked through. I start shivering and Dave covers my legs with the sweater, pictured above, that I was wearing earlier in the day.

I am sitting with my back against a jersey wall being kept company by the best friends in the world when Medic 4 pulls up. The ambulance is massive and stops within inches from where I am sitting. Two paramedics climb down, get swiftly to work and before long I am headed to the University of Maryland Medical Center. I am over-anxious and can’t stop talking. They read my blood pressure and I am shocked by how high it is. “That’s not my normal blood pressure,” I almost shout. They reassure me that everything is okay and that my blood pressure spike is a normal reaction to the pain that I am experiencing. I still can’t stop talking. I ask them what it’s like to treat a gunshot wound and they tell me. I ask them about car crashes, stabbings, gun battles and asthma. They take my questions in stride as they drive me matter of factly to the hospital. When we arrive they wheel me to the emergency room and stay with me for a while. Our talk turns to bikes, bike trails and bike shops. I am calmer now and say goodbye without ever learning their names.

A wonderful nurse practitioner takes care of me. An hour later she counts aloud the sixteen stitches that she has used to sew my left eyebrow and lid back together.  Her name is Jodi and she asks me about what happened and how I got help. And I tell her what you are reading now.

When I get home I notice that the face of my Garmin watch is scratched and cracked. I have used this watch to help with training and although it is pretty beat up I don’t plan on replacing it. Instead, if all goes well, I will be wearing it when I cross the finish line on July 27th. And when I turn it off after the race I will remember and give thanks to my friends Dave, Bob and PJ who were with me when I needed them yesterday.


And the next time you see Medic 4 on the streets of Baltimore be sure to give them a wave and a smile for me.

My favorite bike when I was a kid was a three-speed, banana seated, Schwinn Stingray that looked something like this:

I used it and several bikes that followed to get around the small village where I grew up and the college campuses where I studied.

I bought my first road bike a little over three years ago and shortly thereafter started attending the monthly Rando Ramble rides organized by Bob Wagner. I never truly loved cycling until I started riding the Rambles. The Ramble riders have taught me how to be a self-sufficient, courteous and safe cyclist. The treks laid out by Bob have shown me Maryland at its best, from its quiet back roads to its busy bike trails. Together our group has biked to the heart of the District of Columbia, to the northern and southern shores of the Chesapeake Bay and miles beyond the Pennsylvania border. We often start these rides over coffee and bagels and, whenever possible, end them over beer and stories.

This month’s ride was a 42 mile ride into and around Baltimore ending with a picnic at Charlie’s Catonsville home. The first leg takes us to Jimmy’s Restaurant in Fells Point for a late breakfast. We get there using the bike lane along Frederick Road and the Gwynns Falls and Middle Branch Trails. From Harbor Hospital we turn north and cross the Hanover Street bridge on our way to Fort Avenue. We circle the Inner Harbor and bounce our way over cobblestones into Fells Point.

From Fells Point we cycle east and then north to an ice cream shop in Mt. Washington. After a quick tour of Canton and Patterson Park we climb north using the Jones Falls Trail and the Roland Avenue bike lane.
On the final leg of our journey we bike to the hilltops of Pimlico, then through Leakin Park and finally back to Catonsville.
When we reach Charlie’s house, Mary already has chicken cooking on the grill. We swim in the pool and enjoy some beer while dinneris being finished. It’s a beautiful evening inCatonsville and as I sip Charlie’s home-brewed Arrogant Bastard Ale at the pool’s edge I am grateful that my life’s biking journey has brought me to this fine group of friends.My only regret is that I didn’t keep that Stingray.

Dear David,

Although we have yet to meet, our relationship spans decades.

I started college shortly after More Songs About Buildings and Food was released, but the song that everyone was playing when I moved into the dorm was, of course, Psycho Killer, from your first album, Talking Heads : 77. I’ve been a lifelong fan since then and was pleasently surprised a few years ago when my daughter presented me with a copy of Bicycle Diaries, a wonderful book of essays about your biking adventures as you travelled around the world.

It is truly an inspiring book. Except for one notable omission.

You write brilliantly about your bike journeys in Berlin, Istanbul, Buenos Aires, Manilla, Sydney and London. And in the U.S. you have biked in San Fransico, New York, Niagara Falls, Valencia, Detroit, Sweetwater, Columbus, New Orleans and even Pittsburg. But as far as I can tell, you have never ridden a bike in your hometown since you left it for the suburbs in 1970.

Instead, you have proclaimed this about Baltimore to the bicycling world:

“I am on a train passing through Baltimore, where I grew up. I can see vacant lots, charred remains of burned buildings surrounded by rubbish, billboards advertising churches, and other billboards for DNA testing of children’s paternity. Johns Hopkins Hospital looms out of the squalor. The hospital is on an isolated island situated slightly east of downtown. The downtown area is separated from the hospital complex by a sea of run-down homes, a freeway, and a massive prison complex. Eastern Europe and the Soviet bloc come to mind.”

Excerpt From: Byrne, David. “Bicycle Diaries.” Penguin Books, 2010-09-28. iBooks. (This material may be protected by copyright).

Ouch! Now while I don’t dispute much of your description (we have, however, advanced to using mobile vans for DNA testing), I think you missed a great biking opportunity when you failed to get off that train.

And for this reason I write in the hope that you will join me the next time you are in town and correct this oversight. I know just the trip to take because my friend Bob Wagner has been planning and leading amazing rides in and around Baltimore starting probably around the time you released Grown Backwards. He also writes some pretty good bicycle diaries at The Rando Ramble and is a really good drummer, if you ever need a fill-in.

He has designed a beautiful ride that starts in Canton and winds its way to Harve de Grace roughly tracing the route of the train ride you write about. It’s about a hundred miles round trip, with a stop for lunch and Guinness drafts along the way. It may not measure up to London or Berlin, but you will be glad you came and it will forever change your feelings about biking in Baltimore.

Hope to see you soon.


Dave Hoskins, a proud Rando Rambler and Talking Heads fan from Baltimore,

Some of my best friends write blogs about bicycling. Seriously.

First, there is Bob Wagner, a cycling enthusiast well known for organizing monthly 100 mile bike rides that start and end in Baltimore. He writes brilliant posts about these adventures in The Rando Ramble – Long Distance Biking in and out of Baltimore and freely shares his routes, cue sheets and GPS files. Many bike clubs treat this kind of data like State secrets, but Bob believes in freely sharing his work product and is to be commended for it. One of his most popular rides is the Monument to Monument ride, an annual ride from Baltimore’s Washington Monument to the better known monument by the same name in the center of the District of Columbia. While there may be better known century rides in the area (like the Seagull Century or the Civil War Century sponsored by the Baltimore Bicycling Club), Bob’s rides are elegant testaments to the simple joy of picking a place to visit and then figuring out how to get there by bike. Bob puts a lot of thought into the trips he plans and each ride has a purpose.

Another great biking blog that I follow is BikesNCoffee Bicycles Coffee and Miscellany written by Dave Hopkins. Since we tend to ride at the same speed, many of his posts recount our various misadventures from the perspective of the riders at the back of the pack. Dave writes thoughtfully and from the heart and one of his most inspiring posts is the goodbye he penned to his late father, “here’s to you dad. . .” Dave also designed our group’s cycling sweater and is the author of our unofficial motto: “more about the route less about the numbers.”

I love reading what Bob and Dave have to say and, if I’m honest, their writing inspires me to be a better cyclist, person and friend.

So why this blog? I guess it all starts with the fact that my daughter, a classics major at the University of Chicago, decided to travel to the coast of the Black Sea this summer to excavate and decipher pottery from Ancient Greece. This rather straight-forward study abroad opportunity led to an invitation to join her on a train trip across Europe on her way to the archeological site.

A close friend recently asked what I planned to do during the long train rides. Would I bring lots of books to read? Take time to visit the cities along the way? Well, inspired by Bob and Dave, writing this blog is what I have decided to do.

At the outset, I must recognize, thank and give credit to Mark Smith from the U.K., better known as The Man in Seat 61. . . for his wonderfully insightful and helpful blog post on How to Travel from London to Sofia and Bulgaria. . . He has literally shown me the way, step by step. Check back starting August 28th and you can follow how I do.

And to Mark, as a token of my appreciation, I extend an open offer of a place to stay should you and your family ever visit Baltimore. You will not find the train travel particularly inspiring in Baltimore but, with Dave and Bob’s help, I can show you a very unique way to travel to Washington, D.C. on two wheels.