Charity Logo

Charity Logo

Charity of the Month


In December I am riding for Heifer International. Founded in 1944, Heifer International works with communities around the world to end hunger and poverty and to care for the Earth. Its approach is more than a handout. Heifer provides animals (e.g., heifers, goats, water buffalos, chickens, rabbits, fish, and bees) and training to impoverished people in over 30 countries. The animals can give milk, meat, or eggs; provide draft power; or form the basis of a small business. Communities make their own decisions about what crops, animals, and market strategies make sense for their everyday conditions and experiences.

Heifer International is based on 12 Cornerstones, such as Sustainability; Genuine Need and Justice; and Gender and Family Focus. Perhaps the best known Cornerstone is Passing on the Gift, in which Heifer recipient families pass on the offspring of their animals to others in need. In this way, whole communities can raise their standard of living.

A donation to Heifer International also can make a wonderful alternative holiday gift. Instead of yet another sweater for Grandma that she really doesn’t need, why not donate a Heifer animal or a share of an animal in her honor? Does your child really need so many new toys? Instead of five new toys, give him/her three new toys and a Heifer flock of chicks. Heifer has honor cards to let your loved ones know of your gift on their behalf.

I have set up a Team Heifer page to support Heifer International through A Year of Centuries. My goal is to raise $500. Please make your donation through If you would like more information about Heifer’s work, please visit Whether you give to honor a loved one or make a regular donation, thank you for taking steps to transform the world for the better.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Mind over Matter

A big part of the BRAG experience for the Dream Team is the discipline of working toward a goal.  It’s one thing simply to talk about riding a bicycle across the state; it’s quite another thing to train long hours and then actually complete the ride.  It’s tough enough to reach such a goal as an adult – how much more impressive for a young person to do so!  For that reason, I truly commend the Dream Team in their efforts.

I’ve put a lot of time and energy into cycling, but the payback has been many times greater.  The physical benefits are pretty obvious (cardiovascular fitness, weight management, stress relief, etc.), but many people probably don’t realize the mental advantages that come from the discipline required by serious riding.  I’ve found that both group riding and time trialing have enhanced my mental faculties.

Our group rides in Macon (a.k.a. Tuesday Worlds and Thursday Worlds) are intense because we use them to train for races and/or maintain a high level of fitness.  To ride at these faster speeds, you have to know how to ride in close proximity with other riders, usually in a pace line with less than 12 inches between riders’ wheels.  This requires constant vigilance to maintain proper wheel spacing and awareness of all the riders around you.  You can’t let your mind wander or do too much sightseeing.  We roadies understand how much we depend on each other to ride safely and predictably.  Maybe that’s why we sometimes have a reputation for being standoffish, perhaps even unfriendly, to newcomers.  It’s only because we haven’t yet learned the riding style of the newbie and whether he/she is someone the rest of us can trust to ride well with the rest of the group.  This also speaks to why I still feel comfortable doing group rides even though I’m not doing any more mass-start races; I know how my cycling friends ride and feel relatively safe with them, but who knows how many and what kind of riders I might be put with in a mass-start race.  Anyway, the focus required by group riding has translated well to my work and really to every part of my life needing prolonged, uninterrupted attention.

Then there’s time trialing.  Time trialing is probably even more mental than physical.  This may explain why many of the best time trialists are middle aged.  Not only does peak endurance riding occur after years of physical training, but also simply having more life experience tends to give older racers a mental edge over younger ones.  Time trialing is riding at your threshold level, which by definition is the highest intensity you can maintain for about an hour.  You can increase your threshold level with training, but whatever that level is, it’s strenuous to hold.  Most of the time trials (TTs) I have done have been about 12 to 18 miles long, taking less than an hour.  I’ve also done some 40K (nearly 25-mile) TTs, which is the Olympic distance.  40K TTs take me a little over an hour.  Whatever the TT distance, endurance is the name of the game.  You have to keep focusing on your effort, pushing through the pain.  Using a power meter or heart rate monitor really helps you maintain a constant level.  I use a heart rate monitor; knowing my threshold heart rate, I do everything I can to keep it at that level throughout the TT.  If I see my heart rate dipping a little, I pedal harder.  Going too hard usually isn’t a concern!  You have to keep your mind on the race and can’t start thinking about what you’ll be doing later in the day, etc.  (In reality, if you’re even able to have such thoughts, you probably aren’t going hard enough.)  Last month when I did a 40K TT, I got a vivid reminder that every second really does count – I won by less than one second!!

The mental discipline of riding and racing has helped me through several difficult periods in recent years.  Back in 2009 during the Great Recession, I had to lay myself off from my own company.  I was unemployed for almost six months before I found another job.  Anyone who has been unemployed will tell you that it can really do a number on your confidence and even your sense of self worth.  I am so thankful that I had cycling as a positive focus during that time.  My professional life may have been a disaster, but at least I could ride my bicycle and ride it well.

Then, of course, there was my crash last year.  Time trialing did a lot to get me through the first few months afterwards, when I was waiting, waiting, waiting for my dental surgery.  Although my mouth was a wreck and I couldn’t bite or even smile, thankfully I was fine from the neck down.  I decided pretty quickly that I didn’t want to do any more mass-start races (road races or crits), but TTs seemed the perfect way to get back in the saddle ASAP, figuratively and literally.

My crash was on a Sunday.  The next day (Monday), the oral surgeon shoved my jaw back into place – ouch!  Two days after that (Wednesday), I had plastic surgery on my chin, which involved general anesthesia.  On Friday I went back to work.  Some people asked why I didn’t just wait to go back to work the next Monday, but I wanted to get back to normal as soon as possible, and I felt well enough to sit at my desk by then.  In fact, I started thinking about the TT that coming Sunday, which I had signed up for way before the crash.  That Friday evening I had a conversation with my husband Robert:

Me: “I’m going to do the TT on Sunday.”
Robert: “I knew you would.”
Me (amazed): “How did you know?”
Robert: “Because I’ve been married to you for 17 years!”

That TT, along with the remaining two in the series in May and June, gave me such a boost when I really needed it.  By the way, when the TT series was over, I found a good, new focus to get myself through until my surgery in July.  I participated in the summer reading program at my local library, setting a reaching a goal of reading 20 books.  Of course, I kept on riding, too J

So that's a little about the mental side of cycling.  Granted, the BRAG Dream Team members aren’t into racing, but I hope that as they ride, the benefits of cycling will spill over into every aspect of their lives.

Sunday, May 26, 2013


The young people on the BRAG Dream Team set an ambitious goal: riding all the way across Georgia.  Striving for and reaching goals keeps me engaged with life, and so it thrills me to see the Dream Team have opportunities to grow and excel through goal setting.  Here’s an article I enjoyed writing for Georgia Magazine, published by Georgia EMC in June 2011:

Headed for the County Line

I consider myself a goal setter.  In fact, I even have a list of “100 things to do before I die.”  On October 10, 2009, I crossed a big item off of my list: visiting all 159 Georgia counties!

My adventures across the state began with the Bicycle Ride Across Georgia (BRAG) in 1994.  That year, BRAG went from Bainbridge to St. Simons Island.

Growing up in Atlanta, I had been through South Georgia on many family trips to Florida, but I had never gotten off of the interstate to really experience the region.  On BRAG, however, I was able to visit an old friend from Brooks County, taste blueberries in Bacon County, and ride through a downpour in Ware County.

The 159-county goal really materialized later when I worked for an engineering company in Macon.  My job took me to numerous rural areas.  Burke County?  Check!  Worth County?  Check!  I started keeping track of all of the counties I had visited, shading them with a red pencil on a map of Georgia.

Next, I began dreaming up expeditions that would take me to unvisited counties.  One year, my husband Robert and I celebrated our anniversary at Providence Canyon in Stewart County.  On the way home, we planned to go to the Andersonville National Historic site via Schley County.  Unfortunately, I fell asleep, and Robert didn’t drive us on the intended route.  No worries, though.  After visiting Andersonville, we drove approximately two miles west to the Schley County line, got out of the car, ran around the county line sign, and went back the way we came.

Robert used to play a lot of golf, and one time I accompanied him on an outing to a course near Thomaston because the drive would take us through Pike County.  I was excited to finally pick up Pike until we passed a sign for Camp Pine Valley, a Girl Scout Camp.  I went to Camp Pine Valley in 1978; I had already been to Pike County!

Finally, at the beginning of 2009, I was down to Screven County.  Thanks to an article about Georgia wineries in the March 2009 issue of Georgia Magazine, I devised a plan that would let me finalize my goal.  Robert and I and several friends had a wonderful fall weekend of bicycling and wine tasting in East Georgia.  We rode to Meinhardt Vineyards in Emanuel County, Butterducks Winery in Effingham County, and last – but certainly not least – Shannon Vineyards in Screven County.  I sprinted on my bicycle to the Screven County line and had Robert take my picture (along with my map) next to the county line sign.

From the Cohutta Wilderness in Fannin County to the mysterious Georgia Guidestones in Elbert County, Georgia has an adventure waiting for everyone.  Now that I’ve been to all 159 counties, it’s time to visit all 50 U.S. states.  Forty down; 10 to go!


Sunday, May 19, 2013

Georgia Tandem Rally

A big reason that I was able to give up mass-start races is that there are so many other types of cycling that I enjoy so much.  One of those types is tandem riding.  The main time that Robert and I ride our tandem is at the Georgia Tandem Rally (GTR), which is a total blast!  Today we completed GTR 2013.

GTR is three days of riding with nothing but tandem teams plus fun social events.  This year there were 130 teams from 16 states.  There was even a team from British Columbia, who got the award for traveling the farthest!  The host town changes each year, and this time it was in Covington, only about 25 miles from home.  In three of the last four GTR’s, we’ve been close enough to stay at home.  It’s nice not to have to deal with dog care, but there’s also something to be said for staying at the hotel with everyone else.

Robert and I really do love the riding.  Each day offers several route lengths.  We always choose the longest one.  It’s not a race, but we do have fun riding hard, especially with whichever other teams join us.  We’ve ridden with teams in their 20s through their 60s (maybe 70s – it can be hard to tell).  By the way, the front person on a tandem is called the captain, and the back person is called the stoker.  Usually, the stronger rider is on the front (Robert in our case).  You don’t switch positions anyway because the tandem is set up to fit the geometry of each rider.  And in case you’re wondering, both riders always have to pedal or coast together.  I wish I had a dollar for every time an onlooker has joked to Robert that I wasn’t pedaling.

Getting to know the other tandem teams has been such a treat.  We look forward to seeing the Adamses, the Burketts, the Coughlins, and others each year, but we always enjoy meeting the new teams, too.  All of this is possible thanks to Eve and Roger, the wonderful GTR organizers!  Even though we never see some of the teams on the road, we get a chance to get to know some of them at one of several group activities: the Thursday evening get together, the Friday evening ice cream social, the catered lunch at the end of Saturday’s ride, and the gala banquet on Saturday evening.

A few highlights from GTR 2013:

  • At the end of Friday’s ride we had lunch at the Blue Willow Inn.  This is a regionally famous Southern buffet that became particularly well known after the late columnist and humorist Lewis Grizzard wrote about it.  It has enough fried green tomatoes, macaroni and cheese, and pecan pie for Sherman’s entire army, which marched nearby during the Civil War.  Robert and I rarely eat at buffets, but this is trough dining at its finest.
  • On Saturday’s ride Robert and I and three other teams found ourselves out front on the long route option.  It wasn’t really intentional, but of course it turned into somewhat of a hammer-fest.  After a while one of the teams called out, “Mechanical!”  Immediately, the rest of us slowed down to see what was wrong and whether they needed help.  It turns out that they actually cried, “Uncle!”
  •  At another point during Saturday’s ride, we four teams saw a single rider ahead of us.  When we caught up to him, I said to him, “Hey, you lost your stoker!”
  • The weather looked very iffy at the start of Saturday’s ride.  In fact, Robert and I drove through substantial rain from our house to the ride starting point.  However, it quit raining right before we got there, and we didn’t get rained on during our entire ride.  The teams who decided not to ride on Saturday sure did miss out.
  • We weren’t quite as fortunate weather-wise on Sunday, though.  It was absolutely storming.  Robert and I went to the ride starting point but realized it was too dangerous to ride there.  We turned around and went home.  It was only overcast there.  The tandem was ready, and we were ready, and so we went for a ride from our house.

With this being Robert’s and my sixth GTR, we were inducted into the GTR Hall of Fame!  That means that next year we’ll be able to register early and won’t have any worries about whether we’ll get in or not.  I’m already looking forward to GTR 2014!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Bats at Bracken Cave Need Our Help

I'm a longtime fan of bats and member of Bat Conservation International (BCI), which is my July charity in A Year of Centuries.  I just received this very important e-mail today about the bats at Bracken Cave, which I have visited.  The bats emerging from Bracken Cave is one of the most marvelous phenomena that I have ever witnessed; I'm very concerned about this potential threat to the world's largest colony of bats.  Please join me in letting the San Antonio mayor and city council know that the proposed subdivision is NOT a good idea.

What happens when you put 10,000 people
next to more than ten million bats?  
No one knows for sure but, unfortunately,
we may soon find out.  

Dear Bat Conservation International Supporter:
I’m the new director of Bat Conservation International and I am writing today about our Bracken Cave Reserve in the Texas Hill Country.
As you probably know, Bracken is home to the world’s largest population of bats. The nightly emergence of ten million Mexican free-tailed bats from Bracken Cave, 20 minutes north of San Antonio in central Texas, is one of the world’s great natural phenomena, and we need your immediate advice and help.
A San Antonio developer, Brad Galo of Galo Properties, has proposed a 1,500-acre, 3,800-home “Crescent Hills” subdivision to the immediate south of our reserve, in the twice-daily flight path of these millions of bats. The development also lies within the sensitive Edwards Aquifer-recharge zone and puts at risk the many millions of public dollars that have been invested in protecting the area. Quarter-acre zoning is out of keeping with the large ranches that characterize the area and the interspersed, one- to three-acre lots which currently constitute “intensive” development. The Galo property, like our land and nearby Nature Conservancy property, is also important nesting and foraging habitat for the federally endangered golden-cheeked warbler (the yellow circles on the map).
Texas law leaves little or no room for consideration of environmental issues. The San Antonio Water System (SAWS) has granted Mr. Galo the water and sewer hookups he needs for 3,800 homes, but SAWS is not permitted to determine if adequate water supplies exist or to comment on the wisdom of putting nearly 4,000 homes in the middle of a protected recharge area. This project will ultimately come before the San Antonio Planning Commission for approval, but even the Planning Commission lacks the authority to take environmental concerns into account. In fact, if the Commission does nothing, the development will be automatically approved after 30 days. 
We’ve been told by our attorneys that the San Antonio City Council and Mayor Castro are our only real recourse, and that our hopes for persuading them to take action rest in our ability to make this a significant public and media issue.  Aside from the ecological issues, we’re concerned about putting 10,000 people next to millions of building-loving adult bats and millions more juvenile bats learning to fly that will be attracted to the insects gathering around the porch and street lights of these homes. Should some poor child or parent come into contact with a sick bat or a pet that picked up a sick bat and contract rabies, it won’t matter that the bats have been there for 10,000 or more years.  There will be a growing call for the city health department to deal with "this threat to public safety."
This, in fact, is the greatest threat to Bracken’s bats.
We need your help to make this case to the city of San Antonio. We are presenting our concerns to the City Council at their public meeting, 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 22nd at City Hall, and we need to fill the room with Bracken supporters. If you live in the San Antonio area, I hope you will come to City Hall next Wednesday to stand and be recognized as a supporter of bats and Bracken.  We hope those who come will also engage the media, the Mayor, the Council and their staff members in side conversations.
Many of you do not live in the area, but you can help us make the case that Bracken and its bats are a global jewel that must be protected. We need you and other members to call, write and email the Mayor, City Council and Planning Commission before and after the council meeting.
If you feel unable to comment on the proposed development per se, it will still be a significant help to speak to the importance of Bracken and the ecological and economic importance of bats and the global threats they face. I hope we can count on you and your family to come to Bracken’s aid. Please come on the 22nd or contact Mayor Castro and other city decision makers.
Bracken Bat Cave is too important to allow such intensive development to occur along its border. Please help us convince San Antonio that Mr. Galo’s proposed subdivision is an incompatible use that is sure to put people and bats into potential conflict, to the harm of both. 
Please don’t hesitate to email us at or call my assistant, Shanna Weisfeld at 512 367-9721 x19, if you have any questions. 
Thanks very much and best wishes. 
Andrew Walker
Executive Director

P.S. Here is some more information (pdf) regarding this issue.
P.P.S. If you are coming to central Texas this summer or early fall, don’t hesitate to let us know if you’d like to visit Bracken. We’d love for you to see it.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Bike to Work Week

Happy Bike to Work Week!  (May 13 – 17).  Bike to Work Day is May 17, but since I can’t do it that day, I figured that another day this week would be fine.  That day was today.

My ride was about 38 miles each way.  Obviously, this isn’t something I can do every day or even with any regularity.  However, I sure did enjoy commuting by bike today.  I took a different route on my bicycle than the one I drive so that I would have less traffic.  Part of my bicycle route took me through the Piedmont Wildlife Refuge, which was absolutely delightful.  This morning I didn’t see a single car in the wildlife refuge, and this afternoon I saw only two cars there.

The weather was ideal for riding today.  It was slightly cool when I left just after sunrise this morning, but a long-sleeved base layer took care of that.  On the way home, it finally felt like a good, warm spring day after the cooler-than-average weather we’ve been having.

I particularly enjoyed my morning commute.  The deep, fresh green of all of the vegetation against the clear, blue sky was breathtaking.  This must be the most beautiful color combination in the world.  I felt so good and alive as I pedaled.  In fact, at one point I thought that that’s what an addiction must feel like!

I do my weekly grocery shopping at the Ingle’s in my small town, and they carry about half a dozen flavors of Clif Bars.  Recently, however, I discovered that the Kroger near my office in Macon carries all kinds of other flavors and at a great price, too.  About an hour and a half into my two-hour ride this morning, I needed some energy, and so I ate one of the fancy Kroger Clif Bars I had packed.  It was chocolate mint.  What a great sensation to eat my bar as I pedaled down the road and listened to the train whistle in the distance.

When I got to work, I immediately changed clothes and headed out for a day of field work with one of my coworkers.  Today was actually a good day to work outside because I didn’t have to worry about being stinky after my morning ride.   Also, it didn’t matter that I had helmet head because I had to wear a hardhat at the jobsite.  I thoroughly enjoyed the change of pace of not being at my desk, but working outside on my feet for nearly six hours on my bicycle commute day turned out to be a little more tiring that I expected.

At the end of the workday, I headed home on my bicycle and immediately could tell that I was fatigued.  It did get better as I continued, but I definitely didn’t have the pep that I did in the morning.  When I got to Hillsboro, which is about eight miles from home, I decided not to focus on the remaining distance to my house.  Instead, being very familiar with this road, I kept setting very short, intermediate goals: the house in a particular bend of the road, a certain church, etc.  It really helped me make it to the end and finish strong.  When I got home, I realized that the nearly 80 miles I rode today plus a workday in the field was pretty much like doing an adventure race.  No wonder I was tired!

Even though I was tired, I truly enjoyed the day.  Exquisite weather, beautiful surroundings, and not a single car honked at me.  Ride on!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Fifth Ride in A Year of Centuries – A Benefit for the BRAG Dream Team

Another terrific century on Saturday!  I did Up the Creek Without a Pedal, an organized ride in Rome, Georgia, and my sweet husband Robert joined me.  This month I rode on behalf of the BRAG (Bicycle Ride Across Georgia) Dream Team, a group of young people from difficult circumstances who are given the opportunity to grow and experience good things through cycling.

I wonder what the dreams of the Dream Team are.  Probably most immediately, they dream about finishing a long ride or even getting to the top of that big hill.  Hopefully, this will inspire them to work toward even bigger dreams, like making good lives for themselves.  I thought about all my own dreams and aspirations during my ride on Saturday.  There are so many things I’m interested in that one lifetime isn’t enough to explore them all!  Sometimes I wish I were a cat with nine lives so that I could have all of the jobs that sound so fascinating to me, like meteorologist, entomologist, or geographer.  (If you notice a common thread, you won’t be surprised to learn that a few years ago I became a Master Naturalist through the Georgia Cooperative Extension Service.  I absolutely loved the program!)  So, as I took in all of the aspects of Saturday’s century, they started coming together within a framework of “ologies” for my ride report (plus one “onomy”).

You’ve probably heard of Indian summer, which is a warm spell during the fall.  Here in Georgia we’ve been having the springtime equivalent, which poetically is called blackberry winter.  (This term may have come from the belief that a spring cold snap helps the blackberry crop.)  Although it was a milder than usual winter, what winter we did have hasn’t quite wanted to leave.  On Saturday’s ride I wore a base layer and arm warmers, something I don’t remember doing in May before.  Oh, well, at least they made my ride comfortable.

Even more attention getting was the rain – a steady rain for the first 15 miles, to be exact.  I’m a big fan of the Weather Channel website, which tends to give very accurate data even on the hourly forecasts.  They sure missed it on Saturday, though.  There was only a 30% chance of rain for the first half of the day.  I guess we hit that 30%!  The good news is that I’m not sweet enough to have to worry about melting.

The second thing I ever wanted to be was a meteorologist.  (The first thing was a math teacher.)  My Brownie troop visited the WSB-TV station, and I was enthralled with all of the weather maps.  They gave me some old printouts, which I used to play meteorologist.  Also, when I was growing up, my favorite family activity was going to Fernbank Science Center on Friday evenings.  The best part was the meteorology station, especially the display where you could create a tornado with the push of a button.  In graduate school I studied hydraulics and hydrology (sub-discipline of civil engineering) and was excited that one of the required courses was meteorology.  One of my workgroup’s assignments was to build a computer model of a maritime stratiform cloud and to make it rain.  We never could get our cloud to rain.  Maybe that was an indication that I did the right thing by not becoming a meteorologist.  Or maybe it was just confirmation of our professor’s subsequent explanation that maritime stratiform clouds are rarely observed to rain.

Another dream job of mine is cartoonist, but all I can draw is stick figures.

Speaking of meaty urologists, perhaps you’ve wondered how one deals with the call of nature when on a bicycle ride.  If you’re doing an organized ride, there are port-o-potties at each rest stop.  However, if the call doesn’t coincide with the rest stops or if you’re on an unsupported ride, you just find the nearest secluded clump of bushes or trees.  Guys have it easy.  They barely pull off the side of the road and do their business.  On the other hand, we women have to be a little more discreet.  Regular cycling shorts are enough of a pain to pull down, but bib shorts are even worse.  Bib shorts have straps that go over your shoulders, kind of like overalls.  You have to take your jersey off to get to the straps before you can pull your shorts down.  That means you have to worry about exposing even more parts of your anatomy.  I’m guessing that it was a man who designed bib shorts.

I’ve been on many a group ride where I was the only woman among a bunch of men.  The guys will call for a nature break when we get to a wooded area.  I ride a little ways ahead of them and find my own private location.  I always laugh to myself and pretend that I can’t look back or else, just like Lot’s wife at Sodom and Gomorrah, I’ll turn into a pillar of salt.

Georgia has quite varied geology across the state.  I live in the Piedmont, characterized by rolling hills.  The underlying rock is mostly igneous or metamorphic.  Saturday’s century was in the Ridge & Valley section, which has long, parallel ridges and valleys formed from the erosion of sedimentary rocks.  I was surprised to discover that the ride on Saturday was less hilly than my Middle Georgia rides.  That was because Up the Creek Without a Pedal mostly followed roads within the valleys.  The century option did have one substantial climb over Little Sand Mountain, which lasted about a mile and a half.  No problem, though – I kind of like the climbs.

The rest stops on Saturday were very well stocked.  There were a number of sweet or salty food options, including both carbohydrates and proteins.  It’s good to have all of these on a long ride.  Here’s what I had at one of the rest stops:

Moon Pies are quite educational.  If you hold a Moon Pie in front of you with the light behind you, you have a total lunar eclipse.  If you hold a Moon Pie right in front of the light, you have a total solar eclipse.  Furthermore, once in a blue moon you may get to eat two Moon Pies in one month.  However, don’t worry when you run out of Moon Pies; then you have a new moon.

One portion of our ride followed a lovely stream through the Chattahoochee National Forest.

Because of the abundant rainfall in the last few months, the vegetation along this stretch of road was extremely lush, forming a verdant canopy.  As we emerged from the area, I commented to Robert, “There was a lot of biomass in that corridor.”  He misheard me, thinking I said, “Get your ass on down the road!”

About 20 miles from the end of the ride, Robert and I saw a strong looking rider up ahead.  We decided to catch him.  (FYI – In the cycling world, a person you’re trying to catch is called a carrot.)  It took some work on Robert’s and my part, but we finally did.  The rider was glad to see us because he had been riding solo and was ready to catch a draft.  We were happy for him to join us, and the three of us took turns pulling for the remainder of the ride, making it easier for everyone.

Our new friend’s name was Forrest.  He was wearing an attractive jersey:

He said that a friend had gotten it as part of some tsunami relief work.  The jersey didn’t fit the friend, and so he gave it to Forrest.  I joked with Forrest that I was glad that Robert and I could bring truth to the words on the back of his jersey by riding with him.  In all seriousness, though, these words were appropriate for so many reasons.

The people in Japan who have been devastated by tsunamis are not alone.  There is a thread linking them to Forrest’s friend who donated time and/or money, linking to Forrest, linking to Robert and me.

The young people on the Dream Team are not alone.  In spite of whatever life difficulties they face, whether it’s poverty, broken families, violence, or whatever, they have Coach Atiba and other mentors who care about them.  Even though I am not working with them in such a hands-on manner, I am connected to them through cycling and our common humanity.

Dudz and Ynigo Villanueva are not alone.  They are a father and son I learned of through a wonderful Facebook page called “Why I Ride.”  On this page cyclists share why they ride, and it’s always inspirational.  It might be for better health and well being.  Others are fighting back from injury or illness.  Still others, like Dudz, ride to support others.  He rides because he wants to see his son Ynigo cured from diabetes.  They both ride in the Tour de Cure, and Ynigo is even a Red Rider, a rider with diabetes who serves as an inspiration.  Dudz told of his plans to ride in the San Antonio Tour de Cure on May 11, the same day as my century on behalf of the BRAG Dream Team.  I told Dudz that I would be thinking of him and Ynigo during my ride.  I treasure this connection.

I was not alone after my crash, even from the first moment.  One of the other racers, a dear person named Nancy, stayed with me until the ambulance picked me up.  The EMT who took care of me in the ambulance was named Donna.  The emergency room nurse who looked after me all that day was named Linda.  When I finally got to go home that evening, I had to get a few prescriptions from the hospital pharmacy, which was named Graves Pharmacy.  I particularly remember all of these names because my mother is Nancy, my sister is Donna, my mother-in-law is Linda, and my mother and stepfather’s last name is Graves.  Coincidence?  No, this was God’s way of letting me know that I was not alone and would be OK.

One Last “Ology”
There are a lot of cool “ologies” out there, but this is my very favorite one of all: Robertology

Amazingly, I felt stronger Saturday during the last 25 miles than the first 25 miles.  I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised because that’s what training will do for you.  Still, I’m grateful that I felt better at the end of this century than any I’ve ever done.  In fact, I was (almost) fresh as a daisy.

Friday, May 10, 2013

National MATHCOUNTS Competition on ESPN Today!

The Countdown Round of the national MATHCOUNTS competition will be broadcast live on ESPN today at 3:30 P.M.!  Here's a link to the webcast:  You'll be amazed and encouraged to see what these young people can do.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

How the BRAG Dream Team Started and Grew

Anyone who knows much about the Bicycle Ride Across Georgia (BRAG) knows Jerry Colley.  For many years Jerry was the BRAG Ride Director; currently he is the CEO of BRAG.  Jerry envisioned a BRAG program for underserved youth, giving young people a cycling experience that their circumstances normally would not allow.  In my last post I explained how Atiba Mbiwan got involved with mentoring and coaching the Dream Team. Today Coach Atiba tells how Jerry's vision became reality:

The BRAG Dream Team started in 1994 as an Atlanta Public Schools cycling team.  Originally, it was restricted to middle school students who trained for the annual Bicycle Ride Across Georgia in June, but this model has evolved into a year-round cycling program for middle and high school age youth across the state of Georgia.

In 2011 the Dublin Dream Team came into being when six OCMA (Oconee Community Mentoring Association) youth participated in the St. Patrick’s Day Century Ride in Dublin.  Their Coach, Chris Johnson, has helped the OCMA youth get around the state for cycling rides, ranging from the Brownwood Bike Rally in Atlanta (where the Dublin youth won several cycling awards) to BRAG (where a Dublin youth leader named Larry completed a century at the age of 12!).

In 2012 the Milledgeville Dream Team was formed by BRAG veterans – Doug Keith and Joe Windish – who have partnered with staff from the area universities, cyclists from the local bike club, and owners of the local bike shop.  After completing the April Fools Ride and the BRAG Spring Tune Up, the Milledgeville Dream Team is preparing to participate in the 2013 BRAG adventure.

The Madison Dream Team expressed interest in the spring of 2012.  They had one training ride at Hard Labor Creek State Park, led by veteran Dream Team Coaches and alumni.  They are just getting established in 2013 in a partnership with the Madison Boys & Girls Club, thanks to the Bryans Foundation.

The growth of the Dream Team has been terrific, but they can use more support.  With tougher economic times, the BRAG organization is not able to provide as much funding for the Dream Team as it once did.  Please consider a donation to the Dream Team (send a check to BRAG at PO Box 871111, Stone Mountain, GA 30087-0028; note on your check that it is for the Dream Team). Thank you for helping provide a positive focus and source of encouragement to young people who can really use it.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Coach Atiba

Last month I had the pleasure of meeting Atiba Mbiwan, the Dream Team Coach.  He has been dedicated for many years to the young people on the Dream Team.  I enjoyed learning his story about how he came to be involved with the Dream Team, and so I wanted to share it here.  It was originally published on the Dream Team page of the BRAG website ( in March of 2009.  Thank you for all you do, Coach Atiba!


A seed was planted in 1992 when my friend and flight attendant, Adrienne, shared a Delta magazine article that described BRAG.  After reading it and thinking about my cross state bike rides in Rhode Island and New England in the 1980s, I bragged – “I can do this...if I can find the time off!

In 1995 I was in North Carolina trying to desperately complete a high ropes course organized by Outward Bound when the instructor told me, "You have reached the end of this course and now you must make a Big Goal, then jump off this platform and swing your way back down to the ground."

The moment of reckoning had arrived – “This is the year I will do BRAG!"

This promise did not mention anything about caring for kids, but soon after registering for BRAG my friend and colleague, Jose, asked me, “Do you want to be a mentor for this Dream Team group that we take on BRAG?”  Since I had already registered, I said I’m committed to going so if you need an extra hand just call me.  At first, he told me that they had enough mentors, but two weeks before BRAG I received a distress call: “We need you because one of the teachers can’t ride.”  On that BRAG ride from Rome to Augusta, I met Harold Head, Don Doran, and Jeff Cramer, the co-founders of the Dream Team who helped Jerry Colley implement his dream of a BRAG program for underserved youth.

In the past fourteen years, I have traveled from a last minute sub to dedicated mentor to Dream Team Coordinator to Dream Team Coach…and led over 125 teenagers on BRAG, Bike South 2000, and RAGBRAI with the help of some dedicated adults, like Kevin, Bruce, Phyllis, and Charles, and the list goes on.

Without the luxury of dedicated staff to track Dream Team alumni, we have been blessed to cross paths with our former team members, and they are proof that it works.

The perseverance, self-discovery, and sense of accomplishment on BRAG have helped many young people survive middle school, thrive in high school, and go off to college.

Let's keep the Dream Team alive so that dreams can come true again and again and again!

-Coach Atiba-

Atiba Mbiwan is a professional in the philanthropy field (Associate Director of The Zeist Foundation) when he is not volunteering for BRAG.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Something to BRAG About

This month I’m so happy and honored to ride on behalf of the BRAG Dream Team.  The Dream Team is a group of young people who are learning about setting a goal (riding a bicycle all the way across Georgia!), working hard to get there, and having fun all at the same time.  When I first rode BRAG in 1994, I had no idea that cycling would become the important part of my life that it is today.  I hope that the experiences that the Dream Team members have on their bicycles are just as meaningful to them.  So, today I’ll share the role that BRAG has played in my journey.

As a teenager, the longest bicycle ride I ever did was from my house to Stone Mountain.  I made this trip a few times with my older sister, once with a high school friend, and once by myself.  It was about 10 miles each way and was mostly along the bicycle trail leading to the west side of the park.  (The bicycle trail was in rather rough shape back then; I’m very pleased that since then, the PATH Foundation has greatly improved it as part of its network of bicycle trails in the metro Atlanta area.)  Given my limited knowledge and worldview on cycling at the time, riding to Stone Mountain was a big deal.

Then I started hearing about a bicycle ride that went from Atlanta to Savannah each year.  This sounded like an incredible feat.  When I discovered that one of my neighbors had done the ride, I thought she must be superhuman.  I couldn’t imagine the fitness, not to mention the logistics, that it would take to do such a thing.  Still, the seed of possibility was planted in my mind...

Eventually I learned that the ride is called the Bicycle Ride Across Georgia (BRAG), and it doesn’t always go from Atlanta to Savannah.  The week-long ride takes a different route each year, usually west to east.  Although I don’t remember the exact sequence of events that transpired, I know that I rode BRAG thanks to my husband (then boyfriend/fiancé) Robert.  When Robert and I met toward the end of my college years, he was into triathlon.  That rekindled my desire to get another bicycle (my last one had been stolen a few years earlier), and we started riding together.  My point of reference had not changed much; I thought our initial 20-mile rides were pretty long!  It’s all relative, though.  My perspective began to change as my distances started creeping higher and higher.  Then, somehow we decided to do BRAG together in 1994.  One thing that particularly appealed to me was that year’s route, which went from Bainbridge to St. Simon’s Island.  I had never seen South Georgia except from the interstate while driving to Florida, and that’s not really seeing South Georgia.

Robert and I biked a lot that spring, including riding in the BRAG Spring Tune-Up (STU).  The STU gives riders a flavor of BRAG, offering a long ride each day over a weekend.  By the way, 1994 was the first year that the STU was held – lucky for Robert and me!  And maybe it’s not a coincidence, but 1994 was also the year that the BRAG Dream Team started :)

We had a marvelous BRAG that year!  From visiting Robert’s good friend Clint in Quitman to eating fresh blueberries in Alma, from seeing all the free-roaming chickens in downtown Fitzgerald to meeting the nice people of Jesup, it was such a memorable and fun trip.  Even getting drenched in a thunderstorm as we rode into Waycross was an adventure!  We enjoyed ourselves so much that we did BRAG two more times, in 1995 and 1996.  We started taking cycling trips in other states and even other countries after that.  Although we haven’t done the full, week-long BRAG since then, I’ll always be grateful to BRAG for getting us going down such a wonderful road.

Camping in Thomasville

Rather warmish in Valdosta

Robert with highwheeler in Fitzgerald
Blueberries and Little Miss Blueberry in Alma