My new friend John (aka, Cap'n Rando) is the type of guy who walks into a room, takes a look around, then nods and smiles as if to say “this is the place”. He welcome friends like he welcomes life, with a physical presence that is warm and calming. His nerdy laugh is quite contagious, expertly punctuated by the bravado of his distinctly fabulous glasses.
Those spectacles are so blue that they seem to mumble their own subliminal conversation when people meet John for the first time. “Is someone going to say something? Who does this guy think he is? Does he know that I see them and he sees me seeing them?” And so on.
He tells a story of a clerk at the grocery store going “out of his way” at the grocery store to tell him “hey, those are cool glasses”. John’s wife, who initially only liked the glasses because they were free, was luckily right there beside him so from that moment forward, she could crack a secret smile of pride knowing that she had not married just an average man locked into the color scheme of grey, black and brown.
Actually, there was not one conversation I had with John that he did not mention his wife Amy whom he met as a resident after Medical School. John gives Amy all the credit for raising their three kids, two in college and one with a few years left to go. But they both possess the true gift of guidance by treating their kids like they are real people, which is the best way to teach self-reliance. I seem to think nurturing also plays a roll in their success as it appears to come naturally to both of them. At parties, Amy is like a ninja who redirects any conversations that stray off topic back towards her guest, and John never lets your glass sit empty, even when he’s having dinner at your house.
Although I did not know him before “the glasses”, it didn’t take long for me to notice John’s stable confidence which I believe to come from the luck of being able to lock in on the perfect trilogy of family, career, and a solid hobby early on in his life. As I got to know him, I started to realize that when John likes something, it sticks.
John’s family had moved to North Carolina when he was 12. As a kid, he rode his bike to school every day. How cycling would eventually become a lifetime hobby was secured when he met a local bike shop owner who introduced him to Randonneuring, a cycling sport which requires a unique sort of passion and persistence. Cycling, it turns out, is an essential part of John’s mental well-being, especially with lofty goals and nearly insane mileage counts of Randonneuring. Pushing the human body to it’s ultimate capacity plays with the edge of life, and that ultimately balances out what he does as his day job as a Radiologist.
Sitting in a dark room illuminated only by scans, John is looking with an ironically hopeful gaze to find something which could explain a certain symptom or uncover a certain disease, dark spot or abnormality that lies within. If you believe that the habits in your life tell the story of who you are, then the habits of a radiologist persistently searching for the dark spot on the scan could point to depression. But it is not all disease and death on the job. Quite often, a radiologist might find something just in time and save a life.
I came to Asheville with an abnormal mammogram that needed a better look, the continuation of a four month journey to try to diagnose a lump I felt on my breast, which is next to impossible while on the road, not to mention when you can’t afford $400-600/month for insurance which won’t even cover you on the road anyway. For some reason, John had a way of putting me at ease. It might have been his confidence that nine times out of ten “it’s nothing”, or it may have just been that he somehow communicated to me that even if it was cancer, it would be OK. But when the Ultrasound results showed that it was just a cyst, I realized that John may have been more relieved than I was, and I knew instantly what sucked about being a Radiologist.
Because sometimes the results are not good. I asked John how it feels to tell someone they have a terminal disease, and his answer every time was “that’s why I ride bikes.” Thankfully, John lives in Asheville, NC on the lower edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains and he can metaphorically uplift his spirits by riding to the top of a mountain at a moment’s notice. Actually, there are no routes in Asheville that do not involve riding the top of some incline. And the euphoria of the ride downhill ain’t half bad either.
A cyclist must build one persistent momentous habit, to pedal onward. Aside from enjoying the journey, the cyclist must make sure their body is properly fueled and hydrated and double check that their bike is in working order with the proper supplies for emergencies. By nature, there are certainly low points and struggles along the way, but the only way to build the habit is to go forward, and self reliance is the only way to pull that off.
The Randonneur’s magnum opus is a ride in France known as Paris-Brest-Paris, meaning, start in Paris, ride to Brest and then ride back to Paris, for a total distance of 1200 km. While the ride is not competitive, it must be completed within 90 hours. Participating in the ride just once would be an amazing feat, but John has ridden four such rides, which, like the Olympics, are only hosted every four years. He is only 52.
Aside from building up a base level of fitness, the Paris-Brest-Paris requires at least one year of preparation, including completing several required rides with French names like “Flèche” and “Brevet”, lots of paperwork and high level jargon words like “control” and “cue sheet”. The Randonneur organizations in the US and France provides the framework and administration, but the ride itself is entirely self-supported. Because most of the riders are amateurs, there is an intense amount of community support along the French countryside, much more it is said than with the Tour de France. The way John talks about it, I imagine chubby French ladies running out of their homes with warm croissants and house made jams. With so much love in the air, I was not surprised when John commented that when he was close to the finish, he just didn’t want it to be over, ultimately calling the finish “the lowest part of the ride”.
But the 6 month high that occurs around the Paris-Brest-Paris ride maintains a distinct level of camaraderie among participants, and after having dinner with a pack of them, I could feel the glue oozing out from the bonding experiences they have had in their cycling careers, as well as their committment to never crossing the finish line. Even when one member of their crew dies.
One such Rando buddy named Adrian Hands first started showing signs of weakness in his arms and then was diagnosed with a neurological disorder called ALS. They celebrated by presenting him with the “Adrian Hands Award” celebrating his unique achievement of finishing the Paris-Brest-Paris ride just 5 minutes under the deadline. And just as Adrian stepped down off of his bike, his son Ian began his cycling career, leaving no empty space for pain, suffering or loss.
Patent Pending "Hamburger Handout"
I know that stability is an illusion, especially if you only look at the surface. And I also know that it is not always easy to find happiness and balance, but somehow, John manages to make it seem so. Which only makes his nickname as Cap’n fitting and even more fabulous.
An account of John’s 2007 Paris-Brest-Paris ride can be found here https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B2jEt05c5PgVOXlMOXJ4UTN6cnM/view