Freedom Found on the Saddle of a Bike

Bike riding chihuahua

Gasping for breath after pedaling up and down rolling hills for six hours on a beautiful sunny afternoon, my friend Ann Guevara and I mustered enough energy to cheer as we made it to the end of a grueling metric century Cycle-to-Farm bike ride, sponsored by Velo Girls of Black Mountain, N.C.

The ride was billed as “flat and fast,” so we thought we could conquer the 62-mile distance, even though we had hardly been in the saddle since last fall and had minimal training.

But considering the tour was around places with the “h-word” like Chapel “Hill” and “Hills”borough, we had our doubts about “flat and fast.” Plus, the elevation chart showed an ascent approaching 2,700 feet, including a short steep hill with an 11 percent grade. In short, the whole thing looked mighty hilly on paper.

We sighed, and reckoned that since the ride organizers were based in the North Carolina mountains, these rolling hills were indeed “flat” by comparison.

And as the lily-livered, wimpy flatlanders we are, we knew we would just have to suck it up and ride it out.

Ann and I had set out the night before the ride to see just how hilly the route was. We scouted shortcuts, and we got lost along those country roads and gravel pathways.

We found compass apps and downloaded them into our phones, just in case.

Turns out, we didn’t need a shortcut or even a compass after all, but at the end of the day, I don’t know if I could have forced my pedals into one more rotation, and the only point to point map I cared about anymore was from the finish line to the finish line party.

I have often wondered how slow you can go up a hill without falling over. Struggling for balance on that ride, my abs were fully engaged, and it felt like I was pedaling through mud as I wobbled over the crest of the steepest grade at a stunning speed of 3.7 mph. Of course, what goes up must come down, and I was rewarded for that pitiful uphill effort with a glorious downhill screamfest like a roller coaster running at 30 miles an hour.

Spending six hours on a bike gives you plenty of time to think, and as we worked our way across the countryside, I thought about growing up, and I thought about bikes.

When you are a kid, you don’t cycle. You go bike-riding.

I grew up in neighborhoods full of kids.

My hometown is Winston-Salem, a hilly, medium-sized city in North Carolina’s Piedmont area. During the summertime, we kids lived on our bikes. They were our wheels, our transportation, and our freedom.

We rode without gears, without helmets and without shoes.

Back in those days, we didn’t select our bikes based on sleek styles or weight; expensive titanium or carbon frames; aero bars or seat structure. We didn’t worry about a drive train or components. We didn’t wear bike shorts or gaudy aerodynamic bike clothing. Or even special shoes with cleats for hooking into clipless pedals.

The most important thing we considered before we selected our favorite two-wheeled wonder was how the pedals would feel under our bare feet.

Beach bikes

As kids in the south, we couldn’t wait for summer and for shedding our shoes. My brother and I would have contests to see who could acquire the toughest feet, and we would go out and walk on rocks and hot gravel like fire-walking believers to toughen them up. When we could step on a bee and hardly feel it, we knew our feet were ready for summer.

In Raleigh, as in other cities, I imagine, there is a class of young urban cyclists. They drag out their street cycles and converge on downtown in swarms, wearing street clothes with not a helmet on a single head.

A couple of years ago I wrote about an alley cat bike race sponsored by North Carolina State University. Kids, young and old, turned out on bikes of all shapes and sizes, from beach cruisers, to retro 3-speeds, to mountain bikes, to banana seat bikes with high-rise handlebars.

They had dragged their bikes out of crawlspaces under their parents’ houses, found them covered in cobwebs after years of storage in barns and sheds and under porches. They bought them off Craig’s list or at yard sales.

Some were rusty. Some were shiny. Some had bells, and others still had colorful streamers hanging from the ends of their handlebars, a nod to the glory days of youth and what kids think is cool.

There was not a single racing bike in sight.

As a kid, my brother had a banana-seat bike and loved to compete in heated contests with the neighborhood boys to see who could pop a wheelie and hold it the longest. Some of those boys could ride a wheelie the entire length of our neighborhood street.

We loved riding our bikes hands free.

On the 4th of July we’d go speeding down the street, arms out and holding sparklers in each hand. We used clothespins to attach playing cards to our wheel spokes, making a silly flapping noise, which we thought was cool. We rang the bells on our handlebars at random, and stayed outside until the lightning bugs came out and signaled it was time to go home for supper.

Back in those days, you could ride forever, and never get tired.

Feeling the wind in our hair and the asphalt under our wheels, we were free and wild, and we believed we could go anywhere we wanted – at least as far as our two wheels could take us.

It’s different now.

We worry more about cars and distracted drivers.

We have too much stuff to carry.

We have to observe traffic laws and ride in bike lanes.

We have to protect ourselves against road rage, as it is now legal for drivers to carry guns and even conceal them in their cars or in their pick-up trucks.

On the Farm to Cycle ride, we passed by a lovely farm with horses grazing in a pasture. On the pasture fence hung a sign that read “Warning: Due to price increase on ammo, do not expect a warning shot.”

When I ride on my own, I stick to the parks and greenways on my mountain bike, only venturing out onto the roadways in a group setting.

But despite the dangers, we still manage to have fun.

Today, I can look out my window and watch the neighborhood kids ride their bikes on the street in front of my house, jumping over speed bumps like they are in the motocross. And on the Farm-to-Cycle tour, I watched the adults ride their bikes, and I realized the kids and adults are really not that far apart in our attitudes and thirst for freedom.

Ann and Teri at the end of the metric century sm<

As adults, we may have fancier equipment. We wear aerodynamic clothes with padded britches. We clip our feet into pedals and don’t even think about riding barefoot. We are old enough to know when we are tired, and our only feeling of wild childlike abandon is when we blaze downhill as fast as our wheels will turn. It’s the up hills that get to us now.

And I think deep down inside, even the most sophisticated cyclist is always going to be a little barefoot kid at heart.

Outside bike-riding.

Meg’s Miracle

Amy's Pink Vibrams_Boston_Meg_3 with dogs paws small for web

 By Teri Saylor

When Scott Menzies laced up his running shoes on a beautiful winter morning last January, he had no way of knowing he was about to set out on his last run with Meg. Meg Menzies, a beloved runner in Richmond, Va., was struck and killed by an accused drunk driver on January 13, 2014. Then, out of an ocean of sorrow and grief, something amazing happened.

Meg’s Miracle

It is the middle of March, and I am sitting in a line of cars and trucks waiting on a long CSX train to cross Patrick Henry Road in Hanover County, Va., a suburban district that snuggles up next to Richmond. It looks and feels like a rural hamlet, its scenic landscape decorated with sprawling horse farms and sites commemorating the area’s rich Revolutionary War history.

In reality, Hanover County is home to over 100,000 residents, and Patrick Henry Road is a bustling thoroughfare connecting these folks to their jobs, shopping centers, and businesses. The road links Highway 301 to Interstate-95 so tightly you can almost hear the sounds of traffic speeding north and south.

On this day, the sky is perfectly blue, and the temperature is so warm I am tempted to put the top down on my car. It is nearly 5:00 p.m. and the late afternoon sun casts long shadows across the fields that line the roadway.

Even though the posted speed limit is 45 mph, and I am driving at least five miles-an-hour over that, vehicles hover close to my back bumper and zoom around me whenever they get a break in oncoming traffic.

The death of a local runner that has become an international phenomenon has brought me here.

Tragic Encounter

Meg and Scott Menzies likely were not thinking about traffic or trains on a crisp winter morning, January 13, as they set out to run along this beautiful section of Patrick Henry Road.  Meg was training for the Boston Marathon.  Scott, wearing a safety vest, was running just ahead of her. It was about 8:15 a.m.

The sun was up and filtering through the trees that line the rural two-lane road. It must have been a perfect morning for a mid-winter run.

As they ran along the narrow shoulder of the road facing traffic, a 2008 Toyota Sequoia came out of nowhere. Scott jumped out of the way and shouted for Meg. She tried to get out of the way too, but the vehicle ran off the road right into her path.

She didn’t stand a chance.

In a flash, Meg Cross Menzies was gone, leaving a husband and three small children.

She was 34 years old.

Patrick Henry Road snakes and curves across Hanover County.  The shoulders on each side of the road extend a foot or two before they drop into twin ditches about 24 inches deep.

Little country lanes sprout off the main road, resembling small branches. They have quaint country names like Autumn Sun Lane and Walnut Shade Lane.

After keeping the line-up waiting for nearly 10 minutes, the last box car finally disappears around a curve; the safety gates go back up, and we start moving again.

A couple of miles past the railroad track and around a bend, I can see a signpost for Hickory Hill Road, rising up in the distance, like a beacon.

It doesn’t look like a normal streetsign though.

MEG'S MILES MEMORIAL (25) small for web

As I get closer, I see dozens of colorful running shoes hanging on it like Christmas tree ornaments. Here and there people have inserted heartfelt notes and whimsical trinkets.  About 50 yards away, someone has constructed a slender white cross with a pair of running shoes tied to it.  A few small hyacinths are starting to poke their purple heads out of the earth, the first flowers to emerge in a small memorial garden planted at the foot of the cross.

Sabrina Civils was on her way to her job as a financial administrator at a Richmond High School when she heard the news that a “Hanover jogger” had been struck and killed that morning.

“I remember thinking how terrible that was,” she said over dinner in a popular Richmond restaurant.

Sabrina had known Meg since the 8th grade and credits her friend for introducing her to the track team in high school.  But it never entered her mind that Meg was the jogger who had died that day.

“My sister called me and said she had bad news,” Sabrina recalls. “I just lost it.”

Over 1,200 people packed Meg’s funeral service.

Beloved in the Community

“Meg was always a runner. She was beautiful inside and out, and in every way that matters,” Sabrina said. “She was a Christian and did not have a mean bone in her body. She was small and petite, and a fun person, a true person. You could trust that girl with anything.”

Meg Photo from Facebook

Michael J. Carlson, a local doctor has been charged with driving while impaired and involuntary manslaughter. According to news reports, his blood alcohol level was recorded at .11. Prescription drugs and an unopened bottle of beer were found in his car. He reported he was on his way to work.  Police are also investigating to find out if he was texting behind the wheel of his car too.

Other stories of tragic deaths involving drunk drivers end here, but Meg’s death has given birth to a miraculous phenomenon.

Meg’s Miles

After Meg was killed, friends set up a Meg’s Miles Supporters tribute page on Facebook and planned a memorial run for January 18, asking runners everywhere to log miles in Meg’s memory.

The movement went viral, with runners from all over the world posting their miles. Nearly 100,000 people ran for Meg that weekend.

Today, just three months after Meg’s death, nearly 16,000 people from virtually every state in the nation and all around the world are still running miles for Meg.

Amy Garza lives in Tempe, Arizona.  She had never met Meg Menzies, but she is planning to run the Boston Marathon for her on April 21.  Amy has been running for Meg ever since she learned of the runner’s death on Facebook.

As of April 2, she had passed the 310-mile mark.

“People join the page every day,” Brooke Roney, the site administrator said in a phone interview. “It has become a sort of running support group.”

Indeed, people who have never even run to their mailboxes have started training for races, and logging miles for Meg. They post messages about their hopes and dreams. They post about their own sorrows and heartbreaks, and they post about running to honor Meg.

MEG'S MILES MEMORIAL (8)

“Meg has inspired a lot of people to get moving, to exercise and get healthy,” Brooke said. “She turned many people on to running in her community.”

Now her influence is worldwide.

Kindred Spirit

 “The fact that Meg is a mother of three and that she died on an early morning run really hit me hard,” Amy Garza wrote in an email to me. “It could have been me in her place, or any one of the wonderful running mothers I know who get up early in the morning while their children are still sleeping to get their workout in order to still be home in time to get them up and ready and off to school.”

Amy has donated her favorite pair of Vibrams to “Soles of Love,” a special Boston Marathon memorial sculpture constructed out of donated running shoes as a tribute to Meg. It will greet runners at the marathon’s 1-mile mark.

Amy wrote a note to the Soles of Love organizer, and tucked it into the package with her Vibrams:

 “Last night, I took a Sharpie to my favorite pink Vibrams Fivefingers, the pair that I (wore in) my first marathon in January 2012. This morning, I put these shoes on for the last time before shipping them off to you. I am starting to taper for Boston, so my 7-mile run could’ve been a little slower today, but it wasn’t. I felt like I had wings. It was all Meg.”

Amy's Vibrams on the memorial

 

Well-known runner and journalist Bart Yasso has signed on as a Meg’s Miles supporter.  So has Olympian Deena Kastor.  Natalie Morales, an anchor with NBC’s Today Show has tweeted about Meg’s Miles and donated a pair of autographed shoes to Meg’s Boston Marathon memorial.

I called Bart and asked him why this movement has grown so big.

He attributes it partly to the power of social media.  He also said giving people a forum to respond to a tragedy is part of the healing process, and he predicted something good will come from the tragedy.

“The Richmond running community is really strong,” he said. “I run several times a year in Richmond, and I can see the power of the Richmond Running Club.”

Sabrina, and Brooke, along with Tiffany Eisentrout, Amanda Parrish, Whitney McIntosh, Erin Schools, Terri LeGars, and Dr. Jessica Lynn Pereplyotchik, plan to set up a foundation to advocate for healthy lifestyles and safety, with a focus on Meg’s Christian values. They also plan to use the foundation to help kids who have lost parents in accidents involving drunk driving and texting.

The Meg’s Miles organizers already have raised over $33,000 through tee shirt sales and donations.

In Meg, Amy Garza has found a kindred spirit.

“We have quite a few parallels in our lives, even though we live across the United States from each other. I am drawn to the page and love reading the posts by people who have also been touched by Meg’s story,” she wrote. “I love that there are so many people in the world who seem to turn tragedy into something positive. I’m not sure I would have the strength to do it, but I hope I would. It makes the world seem a little smaller somehow and brings us all together for a common purpose.”

Sabrina is not surprised that Meg’s spirit is so powerful.  She was a strong force for running and healthy living in the Richmond area. Now she’s impacting thousands of people around the globe.

“This has become a chain reaction all over the world,” she said. “Meg is smiling down on us. She has made such an impact on so many lives.”

She is working her magic from Heaven now.

Teri Saylor lives, runs and writes in Raleigh, N.C. Contact her at terisaylor@hotmail.com

Join the Meg’s Miles Supporters group on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/megsmiles/

Note:  Photos by Teri Saylor, Amy Garza and Kel Kelly, creator of the Boston Marathon Meg’s Miles Soles of Love Structure. The  photo of Meg comes from the Meg’s Miles Supporters Facebook page.

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You can help bring holiday cheer to the hungry this season

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The National Restaurant Association reports restaurants will play a big role in Thanksgiving this year, with more than 33 million Americans dining out or ordering pre-cooked meals for their holiday celebrations. Here is the breakdown:

  • 4 million people will order their entire Thanksgiving meal from a restaurant to eat at home
  • 8 million people will dine out while shopping on Thanksgiving Day or evening
  • 14 million people will order part of their Thanksgiving meal from a restaurant to eat at home
  • 15 million people will eat their Thanksgiving meal at a restaurant.

And a whopping 38 million shoppers will dine at restaurants on Black Friday.

But for just as many people in our nation, getting a Thanksgiving meal takes a lot more work than merely picking up the phone and calling a restaurant.

Feeding America reports that one out of every six Americans, including children and senior citizens, don’t have access to enough food. And in 2012, 6.2 million American households accessed emergency food from a food pantry or soup kitchen one or more times

Hunger is a serious problem in North Carolina too. In the 34 counties served by the Food Bank of Eastern and Central North Carolina, 560,000 people struggle each day to provide enough food for their families.

The North Carolina Justice Center’s Budget and Tax Center reports North Carolina has the fifth highest level of food insecurity in the nation. This means many people in our state will face the holidays with little or no food on their tables. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) helps people purchase food that meets their basic nutrition needs, but at the beginning of November, every North Carolinian receiving SNAP funds saw a cut to their benefits, and Congress is poised to make more deep cuts that will likely put more low-income families at risk of hunger.

The Food Bank is kicking off its holiday food drive Thanksgiving weekend with an ambitious goal to raise $350,000 by December 31.  That is a challenging sum, but with hard work comes rewards, and the reward this holiday season is providing for 1.7 million meals for needy North Carolinians.

Here’s how you can help:

  • A gift of $35 will provide enough food to sustain a family for over two weeks…
  • A gift of $75 will provide groceries to an elderly couple for over two months…
  • A gift of $150 will provide 750 piping hot holiday meals to folks in our communities!

Small gifts add up. Even if you don’t have much money to spare, remember even the few dollars you can contribute added to a few dollars from your friends or co-workers will grow into enough money to make a big difference to a family in need.

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Where we were when we heard the news

The nation paused last week to reflect on the death of President John F. Kennedy, gunned down in a parade along Dallas, Texas roadways.  On November 22, 1963, the world was horrified over his assassination by Lee Harvey Oswald, and those of us old enough to remember have never been able to get the images out of our minds.

Two days later, Oswald was gunned down, live, in full view of stunned parents and even small children watching the assassin’s arrest on national television.

When you consider how scandalized we are over bad words and clothing malfunctions that sneak past FCC controls today, the idea of young kids watching actual murders, in real time on national TV, is crazy.

We remember where we were on that terrible day.

The  Newseum in Washington, DC is displaying a special exhibit on Kennedy’s life, his family, his presidency, and his death.  As part of the programming, visitors are invited to record on Post-It notes where they were when they heard about the assassination.

People posted memories of JFK's assassination

People posted memories of JFK’s assassination on Post-It notes at the Newseum in Washington, DC

The memories are vivid:

I was in high school practicing in the school orchestra.

I wasn’t alive when he was, but I have heard great things about him.

I was home with small children watching TV. We were glued to the TV for days.

I was in elementary school. All the nuns were crying and going from class to class and they were praying for him. We were all sad and left for home early. At home, we bought a new TV to watch the services.

I was 24 years old and at work. I was so scared to go outside because I feared chaos in the streets. I watched for days the carnage on TV and was fired from my job for not calling to say I would…. (unfinished) 

I was in class 6th grade Holy Trinity Catholic School. We all went to church and prayed, then watched TV all weekend.

I was on my lunch break in Syracuse, N.Y. I then wandered aimlessly home after the announcement. 

I was a senior in high school in Hartford, Conn. when Sister Berlignan came into our class and told us the president had been shot. Our immediate concern, in our naiveté was how long it would take him to recover. We did not believe he would die.

I was 8 years old and living in Sao Paolo, Brazil. We had just arrived at our Equestrian Club when one of the stable boys came running out to my family saying that “El Presidente’ Kennedy” was dead. He cried and I cried. The Brazillians loved Kennedy.

I was in 9th grade at Howard Junior High in Wilmette, Ill. In the hallway some kids said our English teacher was crying. It was between periods when we were told what happened by our teachers. School was dismissed early. We all walked home. We watched the television coverage all day, and for many days after.

I was in high school chemistry class. One of the first bulletins said that a secret service agent had also been shot. The daughter of the limousine driver was in my class. I remember she immediately got up and left the school. We didn’t see or hear from her for many days.  I went to the capitol with my mother and best friend. I remember the large, quiet crowds at the Rotunda….

Are you old enough to remember?  Even if you aren’t, those powerful newscasts from 50 years ago vividly bring the events into our living rooms and make them real for you.

Has it really been an entire half century? It seems like yesterday.