Monthly Archives: December 2014


The month of December means many things to many people, but often a season of excesses – excesses of stress, holiday parties, food, drink, spending, and perhaps more significantly, scurrying to end one year well, personally and professionally, while preparing for the start of the next.

It is often a challenge to prioritize, to keep values in order and to maintain one’s sense of humor by not taking oneself too seriously.

A reminder of Christmas playfulness.  Photo taken at Shelburne Museum 2014.

A reminder of Christmas playfulness. Photo taken at Shelburne Museum 2014.

In that spirit, I share with you what has become an annual tradition – the writing of a holiday poem gifted to me from the wonderful athletes I train at BCBS of Vermont.  These folks are burdened with bucket-loads of work and stress yet diligently and with good humor take time several days per week to exercise during their lunch break.  (Kudos to BCBS for providing this opportunity for them!) I love this poem because it is funny, irreverent and yet captures the energy and enthusiasm of each. These people “get it”.  They “get” that cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength and just plain choosing to be active is what daily life should be. They, in turn, are reaping the personal benefits while their employer reaps the benefits of employee loyalty and performance.

Take a few minutes to sit back and enjoy this year’s offering.  Picture a group of men and women dressed in athletic attire sweating it out in a dedicated studio space in which a collection of free weights, stability balls, jump ropes, medicine balls, ladders, foam rollers and the like reside. Periodically I schlep in my large bags of “toys” – Bosu trainers, wobble board, rocker board, dyna bands, dyna discs, cones, tubing, agility dots, slides, and a collection of balls.  Woohoo! Sometimes we meet outdoors and sometimes we take to the halls for lunges, skips and jogs. But, throughout all there floats the sound of “c’mon, you can do it,” and “good job” as camaraderie is articulated.  And of course there’s my “Are we having fun yet?!”

A Visit from Elf Freeman

 Twas the week before Christmas and all through the gym Everyone was moaning and groaning, “Oh, let the fun begin”…

The mats and the weights were distributed with care; And we hoped that we weren’t in for a tortured affair.

 The victims were scattered all over the room; Thoughts of caterpillars and side planks still loomed

While visions of lunges and wall sits danced in their heads, Taylor said loudly, “I’d rather be sleeping in my bed”

 When inside the gym there arose such a clatter, We sprang from the mats to see                    what was the matter.

Away to the doorway we flew like a flash, Like when Linda gave orders to make a mad dash

 The weight of the weights in our newly gripped hands, Gave a luster of sweat to the tightly stretched bands

When what to our wondering eyes should appear, Is a red haired lady with all of her gear

 She’s a little slave driver so lively and quick, I knew in a moment I was going to be sick

More rapid than eagles the stretches she gave; And she whistled and shouted                           and called us by name

 Julie and Renee and Janet and Will, Get on one leg and only stand still!

Susan and Holly and Lisa and Tom, Touch your left knee to your right palm!

 Run then walk, now walk then run, She asked with a smile, “Are we having fun?”

To the top of the Bosu to the end of the hall, Now dash away, dash away, dash away all!

 Stop and go the other way she proclaimed,We could all feel our quads going up in flames!

Back to the mats with post and with haste For some more exercise at a fast pace!

 More pushups, more sit-ups and more rotation too, It was not time to bid Linda adieu!

Hoping and praying that the torture would soon end, Tom knew he couldn’t do one more bend!

One by one we glance at the clock, And each of us can only gawk!

For it is 1:30 and it’s not through; There was at least 10 more minutes and we all knew.

 Our droll little bodies drawn up like a bow, And the flab of our chins were as white as the snow

The stump of our legs held our bodies beneath, And the steam it encircled our heads like a wreath

 She was bubbly and happy a right jolly ole elf, And she laughed when she saw us                        in spite of herself!

But I heard her exclaim, ere she drove out of sight—

                                      “What a great workout today, you’ll feel it tonight!!!!”

Seasons Greetings and Peace to All.

Seasons Greetings and Peace to All.




Bespoke (Custom) Cycles

Every rider deserves a bike that fits, a bike that is made for him or her, a custom cycle.

I hurried out the door of the Seven Cycles factory in Watertown, MA, intent on beating Friday afternoon rush hour traffic. With visions of bicycles dancing in my head, I heard a voice with jovial Irish accent calling out to me. (It was near Boston, after all.) “Getting ready for the Tour de France,” he shouted, then laughed hilariously. Really.

Putting aside the obvious, (I have neither youth nor gender to compete in the Tour), what did he mean? I’m not good enough for a custom bike? And THAT is the misconception.

Just what is a custom bike? When you couple the words bespoke (made to order) and bike you have a custom bike. A stock bike (think Specialized, Trek, Canondale, LLBean; that long row of bikes hanging in your local sporting goods store) comes with frame already sized and materials already chosen for you. Your options include shop modifications to what is available and a range of prices based on materials and components.

A bespoke bike is built from top to bottom for a specific rider. Measurements and angles fit the individual, materials are selected from steel to carbon-fiber composite frames, titanium and even bamboo. Components, or the miscellaneous parts of the bike that transform it from a diamond-shape to a bike on wheels with gears and brakes, are pieced together in a way that completes the puzzle of the unique. Then there’s appearance where one can go wild with individualization.

Before I launch into the virtues of a custom bike, note my disclaimer. I am relatively new to cycling (5 years is new in a sport that lasts a lifetime) but passionate. I love the training as well as the freedom, the cycling buddies I have acquired as well as concerns. I am neither an accomplished athlete nor a couch potato and my 20s and 30s are far behind me. I have had surgery that makes cycling a better choice than running. My strength is endurance not power, my time is restricted by work and I am anxious about dangers. Yet I have goals and dreams that I hope to achieve.

Because of my love for cycling, I sincerely believe that ANY bike that provides enjoyment, that puts you on the road or the trail, is a good bike. Though a case can be made for the similar costs of a custom built bike and a high end stock bike, if one’s budget (or values) simply forbid a custom, well, so be it. Just get out there on whatever you’ve got and be happy.

After riding two stock bikes that simply weren’t right for me, I took the next step, a bike built to meet my specific needs.

I ride a Seven. (Note, Seven is just one of many reputable, excellent makers of custom bikes. I can speak from personal experience and so use Seven as subject.)   new fillyAn impeccable bike fit by Ian Buchanan at FitWerx in Waitsfield along with his perfect guidance in selecting the right components, resulted in a bike that is unpretentious but, from the first pedal stroke, confirmed the wisdom that a bespoke bike is the way to go for some, for those of us who can define what we need in a bike, can assess what is wrong with the stock bike that we are riding, and how much we are willing to invest in time, effort and budget. Until you know what you are looking for and are willing to prioritize, you’re not ready.

Seat Post

Seat Post

If I had to summarize in one word what my new Seven has given me, it is confidence. This confidence is the result of an ongoing process, but the bike sure helps.

Seven Cycles is know for the select, high-end frames built in their small New England factory. Are these bikes built only for the competitive cyclist or the super rich? More and more the answer is a resounding “NO.”

“Custom is not about the pro,” Rob Vandermark said. Vandermark, founder and president of Seven Cycles, is also inextricably involved with product development, always searching for the next bike, the next use.

“A custom bike is much more than just fit,” Vandermark said. “It is a path to being a stronger climber, riding that first century or 3-day tour, avoiding injury. It is a path to making the best possible [cycling] experience.”

Custom drives performance, comfort and safety. Performance defines custom.

Anyone who spends hours in the saddle, who can’t wait to get outdoors to ride, whose passion fuels the necessary effort and whose idea of heaven is balanced on two wheels, deserves a custom bike, one that is built specifically for him or her.

Building a bike customized to an individual is a team effort. “Fit is a small slice,” Vandermark said, “10% of the value. For the majority, rarely is fit the primary driver. It’s more about use.” Also important to customers is paint and appearance that makes the bike unique.

While I understand what Vandermark is saying, and certainly he knows his customers, I find that here on Vermont roads and in our cycling community, fit is very important. Perhaps, however, we are saying the same thing.

Fit is more than measurements. Fit is a rider profile of body type, age, fitness, athleticism, flexibility, strength, goals, type of riding, where, how often and even attitude. (Is the rider competitive or recreational, audacious or timid, brazen or anxious?) Perhaps this is, after all, what Vandermark calls “use.”

A committed rider “deserves” a bike designed and built to address his needs, wants, apprehensions and strengths. Such a bike helps that rider to achieve success, maximize time and enjoyment, and ride in such a way that his body functions harmoniously throughout hundreds of thousands of repetitive pedal strokes.

To write in detail about building a bike, I would need to write a book. It’s been done. I recommend Robert Penn’s “It’s All About the Bike.” Penn writes in eloquent detail about the frame, the soul of the bike, as well as the components, materials and design of his dream bike. He dismisses bragging rights about weight, but speaks convincingly of the geometry of the frame that “sets the parameters…Get the geometry of the frame wrong and you could end up with a bike that is at best uncomfortable, and at worst, dangerous to ride. Get it right, and the bike will have the handling characteristics you desire.”

At Seven Cycles, for example, Five Elements of Customization are clearly spelled out. Fit, includes comfort and injury management; handling and performance means that the bike is tuned for the way you are going to ride; tubing and materials are tailored to meet the riders’ needs; there is an infinite array of features and options from which to choose; and finally, the future. How well have you planned for years down the road?

Where a bike is built from the beginning, there is no stock, no inventory. At Seven Cycles, employees (clearly cyclists; note the “commuter parking lot,” an eclectic collection of bikes parked in the backroom) work with one bike at a time from start to finish, conception to shipping room.

Because I was already in love with my bike, my visit to the Seven factory (tours are available to anyone who wants to schedule) was not needed to convince, but to inform and confirm. It did. There’s nothing slick about this place. Thankfully. It is a place in which men and women are artists and take seriously their role in making dreams possible. A bike begins with a box of unrecognizable things and a manila folder with specs and notes pertaining to that one and only bike-to-be. From step one the contents of the box/folder become an identity. The resulting frame is meticulously crafted, painstakingly checking alignment and welding perfection until, in the final analysis, the frame is inspected and tested by “The Enforcer.” If any part is found wanting, there is no patch. The build begins again.



Vandermark, engaging, enthusiastic and immediately comfortable, brings to Seven Cycles a mix of savvy yet ardent practices and technical skills. His own background as a sculptor and mountain bike racer drive the confluence of art and science in both his bike and business design.

It is foolish to think that a bespoke roadbike frame is the total story. In fact, Vandermark has cycled his way along routes from city traffic to the open roads, from deep woods and challenging trails to racing and casual sojourns. Based on personal experience, and always open to new horizons, Vandermark has designed bikes to accommodate a variety of purposes and riding styles. From road and mountain bikes, to cyclocross, gravel, and future travel bikes, Vandermark keeps his proverbial finger on the pulse of cycling trends. And each is built for the individual.

A candidate for a custom bike must be willing to make informed choices. A bespoke bike has a price tag. For some it might be equivalent of a monthly mortgage payment, or possibly even the cost of the entire house that one’s grandparent purchased way back when.

Extravagantly selected options could lead to an unaffordable purchase. On the other hand, the custom process allows a rider to weed out the extras that are inappropriate or irrelevant. For example, on my own bike I reduced the cost by eliminating a paint job, and choosing components that are sufficient to meet my needs and no more.

Furthermore, an avid cyclist often lusts for new and different bikes. Once one is built for him or her, there is no need to keep shopping. Perhaps, in the long run, a bespoke bike is the economical approach after all.

But, the bottom line is choice. If riding is what you choose to do and what inspires and gladdens your heart, giving yourself the best possible experience with a custom bike might just be the sugarplum that dances in your head during this and every cycling season to come.

Active and Passive Waiting

Passive waiting indicates defeat; active waiting signals hope, expectancy. The runner waiting for the gun to go off waits with positive tension anticipating a winning effort. The cyclist who commits to hours of endurance training does so with the expectation that race pace will be longer and climbs stronger

In the Christian calendar, Sunday, November 30th was the first Sunday of Advent. A prominent theme of the Advent season, the weeks and days leading up to December 25th, is WAITING.

In fact, to oh so many of us, the entire month of December seems to be a time of waiting. Waiting to give and receive gifts on Christmas morning, each day of Hanukkah, or for whatever gift-giving celebration one observes, is only a part of the waiting.

There’s the waiting for cookies to finish baking, waiting for snow to fall and when it does, the waiting for cross country ski and VAST snowmobile trails to accumulate enough to use without the aid of snow guns. There’s waiting in line, waiting for the car to warm up, waiting for the coffee to brew and waiting to get in gear the morning after a late night.

There’s waiting for Winter Solstice to finally turn the tide on daylight hours and, for some, waiting to get back outdoors for spring and summer sports.

Sometimes waiting seems like a monumental waste of time: waiting for someone who is late, waiting for your child to finally get dressed so you can take him to school, waiting for your daughter to finish her hockey practice and waiting for your elderly parent to painstakingly choose the perfect greeting card on a shopping trip.

However, I have recently been reading advice to make good use of time spent waiting. Athletes are known to resist the inclusion of recovery in their ambitious training programs. Perhaps waiting is a built-in recovery period. Yoga instructors ask participants to “be in the moment.” Waiting does that too, doesn’t it? “Slow down before you get hurt.” Have you heard that one? Rushing about frantically is a health hazard. When stuck on hold, breathe, reorganize and proceed mindfully.

When forced to spend minutes or longer in waiting mode, if we can practice settling, breathing, thinking and letting life flow through us, perhaps we can make waiting something positive instead of negative, something beneficial instead of harmful, a gift and not a punishment.

Like everything else we do, waiting is a skill to be practiced and the more we practice, the more we will learn about ourselves, the more we will seek and find, the more we will notice and actually see, and the more proficient we will become at doing so.

The holiday season is a time of mixed emotions. It is a time of intensities and extremes from very good to very bad, from the deepest happiness to the most painful sadness. Traditions magnify joy and intensify grief. From a baby’s first holiday or the happy couple’s anticipation of their June wedding to the terminally ill patient or failing senior waiting for the end to come, the range of emotions, memories and expectations of a holiday season are infinite and indefinable.

But no matter how we cut it, the month of December is here and it will return again in another calendar year. On the 31st we will ring in the New Year and start all over again.You may even say “I just can’t wait until …!”

Perhaps a gift we can give ourselves this year is to learn to wait – not patiently with the lid firmly locked down on our enthusiasm, but in time spent alone with ourselves, our innermost thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams, fears and expectations. In so doing, may we find peace. May we feel the strong bonds of community with family, neighbors, like-minded others and, in the long run, with humanity itself. May we learn the true value of waiting. After all, in waiting, we must have faith that there is something to wait for, something better ahead, something worth living another day, putting one foot in front of another, striving for. There are people with whom to connect. There are goals to be achieved. There is performance to be maximized. There is health and well-being to realize. If the waiting is active, not passive, it will support and sustain growth. Perhaps the real question is, “What are we waiting for?” And, “how are we waiting?”

Seasonal reminder of Maine moments and memories by Pam's Wreaths, Harpswell, Maine

Seasonal reminder of Maine moments and memories by Pam’s Wreaths, Harpswell, Maine