Common sense can prevent a pedestrian ban on Oklahoma City trails

Runners and hikers can coexist with these guys. I promise.

Runners and hikers can coexist with these guys. I promise.

There’s some good news and some bad news coming out of Oklahoma City.

The good news: Much like many communities across the country (including my hometown of Tulsa), more people are spending time on trails to hike, run or ride bikes. This is a good trend for urban and suburban communities, which for decades have been zoned and sectioned to death, leaving residents stuck with seas of rooftops with the occasional park thrown in. Trail systems in our cities are getting more people back in touch with the natural world, as opposed to the more sanitized version of the outdoors that we normally see.

Now the bad news: Friction between different trail users has caused city officials in Oklahoma City to propose banning pedestrians from Bluff Creek Park, as popular place for local trail users. In doing so, they’re hoping to avoid accidents between people on foot and those on bikes.

According to this recent report, no one is happy with this. Runners and hikers feel like they’re being unfairly targeted, and cyclists feel like they’re being turned into a public safety scapegoat. All sides believe the proposal was rushed, without getting input on solutions from people who use the trails. The matter is being brought up at an Oklahoma City Parks Commission meeting on Wednesday.

When I look at this, I do it from the vantage point of someone who uses a busy urban trail system regularly. Here in Tulsa, we have a couple: Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area in south Tulsa, and the trails on the west side of Chandler Park, in west Tulsa. In the former, our users are runners, hikers, cyclists and equestrians. In the latter, a lot of hikers, runners and in one area, rock climbers.

I’m most often at Turkey Mountain, and it is by far the busier of the two trail systems. It’s also become more popular every year. And yet its users manage to get by just fine without one specific group being told to stay away. (One small counterpoint, however – Turkey Mountain is a much larger trail system than Bluff Creek Park.)

So, when I look at the proposal floating around Oklahoma City, it seems like the solution was long on overreach and short on common sense. When it comes to common sense, execution is in the hands of the trail users. So here are some suggestions:

First, people need to keep their ears and eyes open. Be listening and looking for the sounds of bikes or pedestrians and don’t get too lost in the moment in what you’re doing.

Second, it’s far easier for the person on foot to give way to a rider. Do that and avoid a lot of confusion, and take care to give way to the person going downhill.

Third, if you have dogs, keep them leashed. I know it’s more fun for the pups to be off-leash, and maybe they’re trained to obey voice commands very well. But you have more control with they’re leashed, especially when a cyclist is rounding a corner.

Fourth, if you’re on a bike, verbally announce yourself if you’re coming up behind people on foot and slow down.

Fifth, lose the earbuds. In tighter spaces with trees obstructing views, you need to be able to hear what’s going on around you. This applies whether you’re on foot or on the saddle. A compromise might be having an earbud in only one ear, keeping the other free to hear outside noises. But I’d say it’s better to go without.

It should be noted that the proposal to make the trail system for mountain bikers only came as a result of a user survey, one in which less than a third of respondents wanted to ban pedestrians, and less than 2 percent had reported an accident with another user. And yet, the pedestrian ban is what’s being floated as a result of the survey.

Oklahoma City parks planners would do well to avoid discouraging trail usage from its residents, which is exactly what this proposal would do. We need more people getting outside and moving, not less. It sounds like what is needed here is a strong effort from the city and trail user groups to educate people on how to be safe when they’re on the trails, and to learn a little trail etiquette. Banning entire groups of trail users is overkill.

Bob Doucette

2016 get you down? Not me, and here’s why

2016 wasn't all gloomy skies and bad times.

2016 wasn’t all gloomy skies and bad times.

I know a lot of people bemoaned 2016. Certainly, there was enough bad news going around to make you think that 2016 was about as dark as it gets, though you’d have to admit, unless you’re someone who just fled the ruins of Aleppo, that statement might be a bit hyperbolic.

But I understand. We’ve been given a steady diet of celebrity deaths and election dysfunction for 12 months, and a chunk of the country is apprehensive about the future. But I’d ask you, before you go into a deeper funk, to do an inventory on your 2016. I did that, and found that while plenty of things left me scratching my head, I have much to be grateful for.

I saw this in 2016, and it did not suck

I saw this in 2016, and it did not suck

I got to hike a lot. I hit my local trails hard, discovered a new place to go bouldering in town and found myself on a bunch of trails in the Rocky Mountains as well as Tennessee. I found four summits with my nephew Jordan, took my wife to Tennessee’s high point and had an unforgettable adventure in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of southern Colorado with a pretty cool dude. Never mind that weather and thieves robbed us of a couple of summits. The Colony Lakes region of Colorado is ridiculously beautiful.

I also ran a bunch. Not as much as the year I ran a marathon, but still quite a bit. I ran trails and streets, sometimes for a few minutes, and sometimes for several hours. I got better at running, too. Maybe even a little faster at the longer distances. As my age advances, I’m all too glad that I can lace ‘em up and bust out a few miles just about any time I want. Plenty of other Gen-Xers can’t.

Time on the bike increased a billion-fold in 2016. That did not suck.

Time on the bike increased a billion-fold in 2016. That did not suck.

I spent more time on a bike in 2016 than I have in decades. Daily bike commutes to work and longer rides just for fun. I almost forgot how freeing that time on the saddle can be.

My time in the weight room had been profitable. I’m not a terribly strong dude just yet, but I made progress, remained mostly injury free and learned a ton about what it takes to get strong. I’ll be putting that bit of knowledge to good use all through the coming year.

And then there’s this: I have my health. Only this past week have I felt the slightest bit ill, breaking a two-year streak sick-free days that kept me on my feet and out of the medicine cabinet. That’s pretty awesome. I also remained employed, well-fed and housed. Family and friends still bless my life, whether they’re here in town or in states many hours and hundreds of miles away. There are people I know who are looking for work, struggling with health and don’t have much family left.

A view seen in the Smokies -- in 2016! -- that did not suck.

A view seen in the Smokies — in 2016! — that did not suck.

When you total all that up, I’d say my 2016 was pretty good. I might not like the news of the world, but I can’t get too bummed when I consider the good things that happened to me. That’s not to say I didn’t have some disappointments, or that I’m entirely satisfied with where I’m at. There is definitely room for improvement for me personally, and I’d love to catch a few breaks in some other areas of my life. But I can’t dwell on the latter without considering the former.

Going forward, I’ve never been much of a resolutions guy. If you see something you want to change, change it. If other things are going well, keep doing the things that make you succeed. My plan is pretty simple. I’m going to hike some trails. Run ‘em, too. I’ll race some, but I’ll spend way more time running without a race bib, by myself, through urban streets and wooded trails because I can and I like it. I’m going to move some iron, and pick up heavy things. I’ll keep riding my bike. I’ll travel to wild places, hike secluded trails, spend time with rad friends or hike alone. God willing and weather cooperating, I’ll climb some more mountains. From the sound of it, 2017 is going to be a lot like 2016, though I’m sure there will be some tweaks and changes that will give it it’s own spice. And who knows? Maybe something awesome will happen along the way.

I got to run some in 2016. That did not suck.

I got to run some in 2016. That did not suck.

Take a look back at your 2016. It may have sucked, I don’t know. But maybe it was pretty good, even though Prince died, American democracy reached new lows, and the Kardashians are still on the air. If it was good, then consider that, be grateful for it and make the next 12 months worth celebrating. There’s a lot we can’t control, but you sure as hell can control you.

Own your 2017. Our days are limited, and each one is more precious than the last.

Bob Doucette

Moving beyond New Year’s resolutions

weights

It’s that time of year.

You’re going to see two types of people in the gym and on the trails: The New Year’s resolutioner and the people who have moved past resolutions. There is nothing right or wrong about being either. But there is merit to moving from the former to the latter.

You’ve got two kinds of resolutioners. The first type are the people who are getting in shape for the first time in their lives. This is a good place to be, because this person is a blank slate, ready to learn, and ready to improve his or her health. The second type includes those who have made more than one resolution to get fit, but come December find themselves where they were a year ago. The silver lining is you can look back on mistakes and learn from them, but it also means there is the possibility of learning and entrenching bad habits.

The folks who have moved past resolutions have a few common traits. They’re consistent. They’re patient. And they’re willing to learn new ways of doing things to achieve their goals. The new year presents new challenges instead of starting over. Most importantly, their health has become a priority in their lives. They make time to do the things needed to be healthy, fit and strong. Their achievements are built over years of putting in the work.

If you’re part of the resolutioner crowd, there are some simple things you can do to evolve past that. Here are a few:

Understand that becoming fit is a long-term process. You’re not going to magically sport a six-pack after a month of hitting the gym. Or two months. And there are no pills, devices or other shortcuts that actually work. Getting in shape, becoming strong, getting lean — all these outcomes take time and discipline. Be prepared to spend a good number of months putting in the work, and don’t get let down if you’re not seeing results after a few weeks. Keep at it. With that in mind…

Go into your fitness journey with a plan. Some exercise is better than none, but playing around with the weights and slogging away aimlessly on an elliptical won’t get you very far. Do you want to run a 5K? Find a training plan for it and stick to it. Are you seeking to get stronger? Talk to a trainer, do some internet research or consult with people in the know and learn how to do this. Create a training schedule, follow it and track your progress. Failing to plan is planning to fail. Figure out what you want, find a plan to achieve it, and then execute. It’s that simple.

Leave the phone in your locker. I cannot begin to tell you how many people I see wasting time farting around on their phones texting, updating social media or otherwise staring at their device and not training. You say you use it for music? Fine. If you’re disciplined enough to press play, slip on the earbuds and not do anything else with your phone until your workout is done, go for it. Otherwise, don’t bring it with you. It’s a distraction that prevents you from getting the work done.

Pay attention to what you put in your body. What you eat matters. What you drink matters. Eat real food, and not the fried, sugared or overly processed variety. Sugary drinks and alcohol pile on tons of mostly useless calories that get stored as fat and play havoc with your metabolism. Eat clean, get the right amount of protein and watch those liquid calories closely. An occasional beer or two on the weekends is not a problem, but much more than that and you’re probably going to undermine your efforts.

Set a tangible goal. Amazing things happen when you say, “I’m going to do this,” and then commit to it. When I ran a marathon, I told people beforehand I was going to do it. The result was transformative, and I learned a lot. My nephew Jordan chose a Spartan race as his goal, and now having done a couple of them, he’s in the best shape of his life. People I know have competed in bodybuilding, power lifting, mixed martial arts and more, while others have run ultramarathons, climbed big mountains or completed ambitious through-hikes. Their fitness was honed in on a goal, giving their efforts purpose. You don’t even have to be that dramatic. Maybe it’s competing in (or finishing) a shorter race, or perhaps being able to deadlift twice your body weight. Whatever it is, having a target helps measure progress during the process and success when it’s done.

When January 1 rolls around, where are you going to be? Are you ready to evolve? Get your mind right first, make a plan and make your health part of your daily lifestyle.

Bob Doucette

Running in the cold: Five things to consider

Too cold to run? Nonsense. You can still get out there.

Too cold to run? Nonsense. You can still get out there.

If last week reminds of us anything, it’s that cold weather season is here. One good cold snap plunged our nightly lows into single digits, and any thoughts of a mild winter have gone out the window. Gone are the days of those balmy runs where shorts and a T-shirt were all you needed.

But if you’re like me, the thought of relegating yourself to the treadmill or some hamster-wheel indoor track isn’t going to cut it. And neither will mailing it in on the couch. But, man, it’s really cold out there!

So what do you do?

You get out there. But you get out there prepared to deal with the elements. The truth is, you can get your training done and get your outside fix even when the temps drop to freezing or lower. In fact, you should get outside. So here are some ideas to help you get outside and get your training in…

First, prepare your mind. You can dread the cold, or you can look at it as a challenge. I prefer the latter. If you can force your mind to being OK with enduring cold temps, your training calendar opens up. Mental toughness is part of the process of becoming a better athlete, and part of that is being able to tackle a wider variety of conditions. If you’re constantly looking for the Goldilocks zone of training, you’ll only get outside for a few of weeks of the year. So get your mind right, saddle up and go.

Keep in mind, you’ll warm up as you go. If you’re standing around outside when it’s cold, you’ll feel cold. But when you’re moving, things change. I once heard marathon coach and Runners World contributing editor Bart Yasso tell athletes that you can expect to feel 20 degrees warmer than the actual outside temps during exercise. I can attest to this. At last month’s Route 66 Half Marathon, I stayed good and warm throughout the race despite temperatures that started in the lower 30s. There were two constants in that. The first, I was moving. The second leads me to the next point…

Dress for success. No, you won’t be able to train comfortably in sub-freezing temperatures dressed in shorts and a T-shirt. You’ve got to plan better than that. When it’s really cold, you need to keep warmth in your extremities, so that means a hat, decent socks and, if cold enough, gloves. But you also don’t want to get too warm. All that sweat could chill you further and counteract your desire to be warm (remember Bart Yasso’s 20-degree rule). So with that in mind, Runners World came up with a handy guide to clothing for the cold for runners. I’ll list it here rather than reinvent the wheel:

30 degrees: 2 tops, 1 bottom. Long-sleeve base layer and a vest keep your core warm. Tights (or shorts, for polar bears).

10 to 20 degrees: 2 tops, 2 bottoms. A jacket over your base layer, and wind pants over the tights.

0 to 10 degrees: 3 tops, 2 bottoms. Two tops (fleece for the cold-prone) and a jacket.

Minus 10 to 0 degrees: 3 tops, 2 bottoms, extra pair of mittens, 1 scarf wrapped around mouth or a balaclava.

Minus 20 degrees: 3 tops, 3 bottoms, 2 extra pairs of mittens, 1 balaclava, sunglasses. Or, in other words, “Stay inside.”

Sounds like good advice to me.

If you dress for it, cold weather runs can be awesome.

If you dress for it, cold weather runs can be awesome.

Think about precipitation. If it’s snowing or raining, be sure to have some sort of rain gear to keep your body dry. Wear moisture-wicking socks. And if possible, the most water-resistant shoe you have. You’ll probably still get a little wet, but do the things that will mitigate weather-related moisture on your body.

Fuel and hydrate properly. Just because it’s cold does not mean your hydration needs won’t be high. Colder months are often drier months, so proper hydration is still very important. Also, your body burns more calories when it’s cold than when it does when it’s warm. How so? Your body has to work harder just to keep its core temperature up. It’s a battle in which your body is resisting the outside temperatures’ pressure to bring your body temperature down. Stoking your inner furnace costs calories, and if you’re not properly fueled, you can bonk pretty hard in the cold. It happens. So fuel up and hydrate.

So there are five things you can do to get ready for cold weather training. What other tips to you have? Feel free to comment and give me your advice!

Bob Doucette

Scott Pruitt, the EPA and the looming legacy of Tom Joad

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who is the Trump administration's pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who is the Trump administration’s pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.

I’ve waited a bit for the fallout of the November elections to settle, to give myself a little time to take stock in what the results will mean when it comes to conservation. There are a lot of mixed messages coming out of Donald Trump’s transition team as to what we can expect from his administration concerning public lands and the environment.

If you’ve been a reader of this blog for any length of time, you know where I stand here. Federal public lands belong to all of us, and federal stewardship of these lands are key to preserving them for everyone. A lot is also at stake when it comes to issues of clean air, clean water, wildlife habitat, public health and those who work in tourism and the outdoor industry, itself a $646 billion contributor to the national economy. A healthy public lands system and a vigilant stance on clean air and water are vital.

I’m not going to say much (at least not yet) of Trump’s pick for interior secretary, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington. All I know for certain is she seems to agree lockstep with the Republican Party platform on public lands, that is to open them up for drilling, mining, logging and, if so desired, sale to the states or private interests for use of their choosing. She is also a climate science denier. Clearly these are stances in which I am in disagreement, and her leadership of the agency that manages federal public lands might be a good topic in the future.

But I do want to examine the broader picture of the nation’s air, water and land. And there is one particular nominee I do want to focus on, and that is Trump’s pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency. While my knowledge of Rep. McMorris is relatively thin, it’s different for the EPA pick, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt.

I’m from Oklahoma. I’ve lived here since I was a teenager. I’ve come to know Oklahoma’s stories well, some more than others. I’ll get to that in a minute. But first, if you’re not familiar with Mr. Pruitt, here’s a small primer…

Scott Pruitt is fairly typical in what you see in Republican political circles, advocating for smaller government and fewer federal regulations. Like Rep. McMorris, he’s a climate science denier, calling climate change “far from settled science.” When he was elected attorney general, he set up a unit in that office to monitor and take legal action on anything he deemed “federal overreach.” He sued the federal government over certain aspects of the Affordable Care Act, and joined Nebraska in suing the state of Colorado over its legalization of recreational marijuana use and sale.

But his biggest legal target has been the EPA, the very agency he is slated to lead. On at least eight occasions, the EPA has been sued by Pruitt’s office over regulations regarding emissions from oil and gas production and coal-fired power plants. He has close ties to the energy industry, taking in more than $316,000 in campaign contributions over the years from individuals and groups with ties to that sector; Pruitt’s PACs have received even more. In fact, those ties are so close that he once accepted and signed a letter to the EPA that was written for him (with a few minor edits) by officials at Devon Energy, a large Oklahoma City-based oil and gas company.

Politics being what they are, and with Oklahoma being a very conservative state, none of this should be much of a surprise, though in some instances, it does send up a few red flags.

But you’d think a guy who has lived in this state for any length of time would learn some of its history, and particularly what has happened when lax environmental regulations and practices run amok. The answer is stark, and at times, quite terrible. Here are four that come to mind, in case Mr. Pruitt needs a reminder…

1930s dust storm in Cimarron County, Okla.

1930s dust storm in Cimarron County, Okla.

The Dust Bowl. Back in the 1930s, crop rotation and soil conservation wasn’t much of a thing. Huge swathes of Oklahoma acreage (as well as significant chunks of Texas, Kansas, New Mexico and Colorado) were vulnerable to losing topsoil (and thus creating a perfect storm for crop failure) if the conditions were right. Around the time the country was in the throes of the Great Depression, record heat and drought created those conditions, wiping out crops, bankrupting farmers and creating huge dust storms that blacked out the sun. Lessons from the Dust Bowl days taught us a lot about proper soil conservation, but not before thousands lost their farms, livelihoods and homes. Great migrations of Oklahomans headed west, and a famous book, complete with Okie stereotypes’s personified by John Steinbeck’s Tom Joad protagonist, followed.

The Sequoyah Fuels disaster. Nuclear power seemed to be the answer for American energy independence, but funny things happen when you start playing with radioactive materials. The Sequoyah Fuels Corporation had a nuclear fuel processing plant near the small town of Gore, Okla., and in 1986, an explosion there released 29,500 pounds of gaseous uranium hexafluoride, launching a 30-foot column of poisonous fumes into the air. One person died and 37 people were hospitalized. General Atomics bought the site a few years later, then suffered its own troubles — a 20,000-pound spill of uranium tetraflouride powder, and the discovery of some 21,000 pounds of uranium under the site’s main processing building. Uranium levels in the groundwater underneath the plant were 35,000 times higher than federal regulations allowed.

The facility was eventually shut down, but there are still buildings near the plant site — including the old Carlisle School — that remain abandoned for fear of radioactive contamination. Several million cubic feet of contaminated material are on the site to this day, and there is fear that toxins could leak into groundwater or taint the nearby Arkansas River. Maybe a little more red tape and a few more regulations would have helped (though that would be an Energy Department and not an EPA function). In lieu of that, Sequoyah Fuels’ buildings, vehicles, toxic sludge and contaminated soil have all been buried underneath large berms, which will be monitored by the Department of Energy (and Rick Perry!) once the cleanup operation is complete.

Chat piles of toxic mine tailings loom over a neighborhood in Picher, Okla.

Chat piles of toxic mine tailings loom over a neighborhood in Picher, Okla.

Tar Creek. In what is Oklahoma’s biggest environmental catastrophe, and what is dubbed by some to be the country’s worst environmental disaster, a small corner of northeastern Oklahoma that was rich in lead and zinc deposits is now a major EPA Superfund Site. Dating back to the late 1800s (and seeing its heyday through much of the 20th century), zinc and lead mining in Ottawa County, Okla., as well as adjacent parts of southeastern Kansas and southwestern Missouri, was big business. As with any large mining operation, there are waste products — called mine tailings — that end up being left behind once the ore of the desired material is refined. So in the towns of Picher and Cardin, massive chat piles of mine tailings rose around and within the community like small mountains. But the chat piles were contaminated, poisoning ground water, creeks and streams. Children in these communities began suffering the effects of lead poisoning, and with no realistic way to clean up the mess, the government was forced to buy out all the properties in Picher and Cardin. Both communities are now ghost towns, forcibly abandoned by contaminants left out in the open during a time when mine tailing regulations were spotty at best. Waters in the Tar Creek area are still poisoned, and unlike the towns’ residents and many of their homes and businesses (a tornado wiped out many structures there in 2008), those giant chat piles remain.

quakes

Oklahoma earthquakes. This may be a shock to you, but Oklahoma has a history of seismicity. In 1952, a 5.5 earthquake shook the state, and even cracked the floor of the state Capitol. But most Oklahoma earthquakes were small and rare. Until around 2009. At that time, and with increasing frequency and strength, Oklahoma went from being a mostly earthquake-free state to the country’s most seismically active. Temblors went from infrequent to several hundred a year in that time, and in some cases, damaging — a 2011 event near the central Oklahoma town of Prague buckled pavement, damaged homes and toppled portions of buildings as far as 30 miles from the epicenter. In 2016, a series of earthquakes near the towns of Pawnee and Cushing did even more damage, with one quake registering a 5.8 magnitude — a state record.

The cause was not some new mountain range trying to break through the state’s famous red clay. No, it was caused by the disposal of wastewater from oil and gas drilling activities. By drilling deep disposal wells and injecting wastewater underground, fault lines long dormant were exposed and activated. The severity won’t rival anything along the San Andreas fault of California, but the damage is enough to spawn a number of lawsuits. The state was slow to respond, and received a lot of pressure from the energy industry and its political allies to downplay any link between oil and gas activity and the quakes. Eventually, science won, and soon after we discovered that if you decrease or shut down disposal well activities in quake zones, the number of quakes diminishes. But scientists warn us that even with tighter regulations on disposal wells, the damage is done — Oklahoma will likely see more quakes, and the chance of something 5.0-magnitude or greater still exists. This will likely persist for another 5-10 years, according to one study.

Obviously, Pruitt is not to blame for these events, and the EPA’s scope wouldn’t cover them all. But as an elected official representing this state, they are things of which he should be aware, and the lessons therein point toward the need to keep a close eye on how human activity affects the environment. No one wants an overly intrusive federal government that squashes business. But the EPA’s role in protecting the nation’s air and water is vital. It’s one that shouldn’t be relegated to a “hands-off” approach until something bad happens. It needs to be a proactive watchdog.

It’s been said that those who don’t learn from history are doomed by it. Mr. Pruitt should look at Oklahoma’s environmental history and understand that when he heads to Washington, his job isn’t to serve the donors that have fueled his political ambitions. His job is to protect the land, the air and the water. It’s to protect us, so we don’t suffer calamities like the ones I described above.

Don’t let the legacy of Tom Joad come back haunt the entire country.

Bob Doucette

Freedom on two wheels

Hello, darlin'.

Hello, darlin’.

It was shortly after another holiday eat-fest that I felt too flubbery to stand it any longer. As much as I savored the food on the table and the brews from the fridge, all that consumption and sitting around had finally worn me down.

I needed to get out.

I guess I could go run. Or take a walk. But I looked in the corner of the sun room by the front door of my house and saw it there, like an expectant puppy, just waiting to be taken out: My old 1998 Trek, a mountain bike built in the days before mountain biking got fancy.

Let’s go, it beckoned. Let’s take a ride, feel the wind in your face, and breeze by some scenery before the sun goes down…

It didn’t take much convincing.

***

I come from a family of cyclists. All the kids learned to ride at an early age, usually on some sort of entry-level machine with a banana seat and a place to fly a flag. We’d clip playing cards on the frame so they’d make that cool sound on the spokes, helping us imagine we were on a motorcycle, getting ready to jump over a row of buses like Evel Knieval.

My dad was a little more serious about it. He had this big, steel-frame Schwinn 10-speed that weighed a ton but could fly with the right sort of rider in its saddle. My dad was that sort of rider. He could make that lime-green chunk of metal go, and whenever he wished to take a break somewhere along his route, he’d dig into a little leather pouch attached below the seat, light up a Kool menthol and soak in the day.

My oldest brother Mike also made cycling a lifelong habit. As an adult, he’d do epic rides from his house in suburban Denver all the way into town and back, cruising up and down sizable hills that most of us weren’t ready to handle.

As for me, the bike was a tool to get me from my house to a friend’s place — fast transportation that would expedite whatever childhood hijinks was on tap that day.

Beyond that, it was also an escape pod of sorts. Imagine some sci-fi movie where people need to get off the ship and onto the surface of some strange, alien world. They step in, buckle up and jettison themselves straight outta there and into whatever adventure awaited. The bike’s not much different: Wheel it out on your driveway, hop on the saddle and go.

Where you go doesn’t really matter. The fact that you can zip your way down the street toward whatever destination awaited is the real trick, cruising as fast as your legs and its gears will take you.

In that way, a bike is liberating: A simple, go-anywhere tool to take you somewhere else on the spur of the moment. When you think about it, it’s pretty liberating.

A bike is freedom.

***

My road bike is in a bad way right now, so if I want to ride anywhere, it’s on my seriously outdated mountain bike, knobby tires and all. I definitely don’t look like one of the cool kids in their $5,000 road bikes, decked out in skin-tight cycling uniforms bedecked with company logos and whatnot. Not that I care. My bike’s got 21 speeds, is mechanically sound and does the job. And unlike the cool kids and their pricey get-ups, I can take mine across grass, rocks, pavement, mud and anything else and not fear a thing.

But we all hold this one thing in common — we can get places quickly, kind of like a car, but we can also stop and have a look around on a moment’s notice, just like you could on foot. It’s rather frowned upon to stop your car in the middle of the street to gawk at something you find interesting.

Anyway, I found myself in such a spot barely a mile into my ride. I was crossing a bridge over the Arkansas River, the sun sinking lower and giving the sky that soft, low-light glow of approaching dusk, right when the shadows are getting long. The river was fairly full, surrounding a small, tree-covered island. High-rise apartments and commercial buildings towered over the river in the distance. Reflections off the water were a rippled, tinted orange. Most of the trees still held on to their fall colors, matching the sun’s mellowing glow.

I lingered for a bit, taking it in. I wish I had a camera, but in my rush to ride, I left the electronics behind. No matter. I hopped back on the seat and pedaled on, crossing the river and ripping by a group of apartments overlooking the Arkansas’ west bank.

What it looked like on another ride.

What it looked like on another ride.

***

Some of my fondest memories growing up surrounding fishing. When I lived in Colorado, it was for trout. For the one year I lived in rural Illinois, it was bass.

And what a sweet year that was.

An 11-year-old kid in a small Illinois farm town has no excuse to be bored. None. I know this because I found plenty to do. Sometimes that involved getting into trouble, but most of the time, when the weather was good, it started with me grabbing a pole, a tackle box and a red 10-speed and jetting out of my wooded neighborhood down dusty farm roads to a friend’s house where there were a few well-stocked farm ponds.

I cut my angler’s teeth on those ponds, reeling in small bass and bluegills by the dozens during the summer months. Sometimes I’d meet up with friends, other times I’d go by myself. That suited me just fine.

I reeled in my first “big” bass on one such trip, happily riding home to show off the trophy I hauled out of that one-acre pond. A few weeks later, I bested the feat, coaxing a fat largemouth out of the weeds with a carefully retrieved plastic worm. I felt like an expert that day, that maybe there was a long-term future in this fishing thing for me. That’s what 11-year-olds think, anyway. I know better now, but no matter. The memory is a sweet one.

But getting to that prized fishing hole would have been a whole lot harder had I not had that steel-frame 10-speed. Without it, I might have been tempted to sulk around the house during those long summer days, waiting for the next thing to happen. Who knows? Maybe life in that small town would have been pretty boring after all, if not for the escape I found on two wheels.

***

I must admit, I fell out of love with the bike for many years. As soon as I got old enough to drive, I didn’t see the point.

I can remember a couple failed attempts at mountain biking. It seemed cool, and the people who were doing it seemed cool. I guess I wasn’t. Being out of shape and riding a borrowed (and rather crappy) bike didn’t help.

But moving from my apartment to a new place farther away from work got me thinking. I used to be able to walk to work, which I loved. I spent more than 20 years driving anywhere from 70 to 100 miles a day on my daily commute, so spending a few minutes walking to work was an eye-opener. Leaving that luxury behind left me a little blue.

But what if I could live close enough where I could bike to work? Surely, I could find a cheap ride that would do the job. I found a place close enough to my job to do just that, and within a month, I purchased two used bikes for dirt cheap, fixed them up, and became a bike commuter.

Bike commuting is sort of a pain. Walking to work is far simpler, and driving to work is more convenient. But a year later, it’s become normal.

But something else happened. I rediscovered what I’d lost when I got my driver’s license, that simple pleasure of feeling the wind in your face and the smell of fresh air on a casual ride around town. Or the satisfaction of being able to hop on my ride and go pretty much anywhere, and do it without spending a dime in gas money. People ride around town, on trails, across the country and even over frozen wildernesses and high mountain passes on bikes, you know.

It was nice to ponder that as I rounded out my loop, riding a few miles in the cool autumn air, then climbing the big hill toward home, out of breath but feeling good. No, not just feeling good. Feeling right. I’d gotten reacquainted with a long-lost love, and discovered that even after such a long time, things could be good again.

It feels good to be free. To go on a whim. To ride for miles, wondering what I might see, how much ground I might cover. To escape lethargy and feel the burning in your lungs and legs, payment for seeing how fast I could rip the straightaways in a high gear.

We often wonder what it would be like to go back in time, to be a kid again, with a chance to start anew.

Well, get on a saddle, point your ride down the road and find out.

Bob Doucette

Recapping the 2016 Route 66 half marathon

Pre-race running stoke. Me and my nasty beard.

Pre-race running stoke. Me and my nasty beard.

It’s been a funky year in running for me. The beginning of the year saw me get pretty lazy on that front as I spent most of the first seven or so months working on strength. I did work on some speed, ran for six hours on trails in March and did a few 5Ks in search of a PR (to no avail). Even during the fall race season, I didn’t enter much.

So going into the Route 66 half marathon, I didn’t have very high expectations. I spent the bulk of my time building up a base, working my long runs into double-digit miles and trying to get my body used to running on pavement for a couple of hours. Considering where I was starting from, I felt good about being as strong at the end of my long runs, in terms of pace, as I did in the beginning. I also made sure to run plenty of hills, remembering hilliness that the Route 66 course presents every year.

The problem, however, came from this fall’s weather. When the fall training cycle starts up, I’m mentally ready for lots of hot-weather runs. It’s part of the deal in the Southern Plains. But I expect that by October, things should be cooling down enough to really work on pushing the pace throughout the week. Unfortunately, Oklahoma went through its warmest October on record, with only a couple of days where highs didn’t reach the 80s. Often, those highs were near 90.

To race faster, you must be able to train faster. Throughout the fall, that didn’t happen for me. Throw in a couple of interruptions in my training schedule, and I went into my fifth half marathon with low expectations. I was heavier than I needed to be and slow. While my workouts were ahead of where they were a year ago, I had a feeling that this race might be my slowest half to date.

THE COURSE

If you’ve done this race before, you know that it fools a lot of people. Oklahoma is a relatively flat state, and newcomers arrive thinking this will be a fast, flat course.

And a good chunk of it is. Just not the majority of it.

You run downhill for most of the first mile, then spend the next four battling a series of rolling hills through a residential area. It’s scenic — the old neighborhoods of midtown are filled with big trees and stately homes, and the fall foliage was in its full glory. It was gorgeous to view with a bright sun and blue skies on what started out as a crisp, cool day.

After five miles, runners spill out into Brookside to begin about three miles of flat ground. The course ducks back into a neighborhood for a couple of miles and a long, deceptive uphill that can zap the unwary. It then goes back out onto the flats of Riverside Drive before taking the long uphill slog back into downtown.

HOW IT WENT DOWN

I made sure to start out at a measured pace, and for those first four miles, I was fairly slow. It looked like I might match or exceed the previous year’s 2:20 finish.

One thing that worked in my favor (besides the cooler temps): All that hill training. Every Monday, I’d run three miles on one of the hilliest streets in Tulsa. That, combined with plenty of strength training in my glutes and hamstrings, really helped me feel fresh by the time I hit the flat part of the course at Mile 6.

It was here where I noticed that my mile times were getting faster. After nine miles, I was only a couple of minutes off my 15K personal record. By Mile 10, I passed the pacer who was holding a 2:15 pace.

Let me say, first off, that I am not fast. At all. But around this time, I knew I was starting to close in on my half marathon PR, a 2:11 split I hit in 2013 when doing Route 66’s full marathon. Back then, I was running 20 more miles per week and weighed about 13 pounds less. I didn’t foresee breaking that mark, but of one thing I was sure: I wouldn’t bomb like I had the previous year.

And then came the race’s great equalizer. Once you’re 11 miles in, you must go back into downtown, which is atop a hill. Southwest Boulevard is what takes you there, and it’s the biggest hill on the course. My cardio to that point had been taxed but was solid. That is, until that hill.

That’s where I cratered. The hill got me again, just like it had in here previous races. The 2:15 gal breezed by. No shot at a PR.

But getting past that, I recovered. And the last mile flew by. I sprinted the last hundred yards, and crossed the finish at 2:15:04, my second-fastest half.

Race bling.

Race bling.

WHAT TO MAKE OF IT

I see a lot of what-ifs. What if I’d been a little more disciplined on the diet? What if I had pushed my training a little harder? And so on.

That’s my nature. I tend to look at what I could have done better, and achieved better results. A lot of the reasons I do this (and I know it’s true for many of you) is to test myself, to see if I can improve my fitness and performance, to see what this ole body can do.

And that’s all fine. But some of the things I did worked, and I do believe that training in warm to hot weather for most of the season paid off in November.

But most of all, it’s always nice to exceed your expectations. Putting up a 2:15 in a half marathon isn’t the pinnacle of long-distance running, but I didn’t believe it would happen this year. And then it did. It’s a sweet reward, almost as sweet as the post-run feast, which is really the best part of race day.

How did you do in your last race? Gimme a shout in the comments.

Bob Doucette