takeaways from the 120

You learn some stuff while riding your bike for 120 miles. Maybe the first lesson is: don’t ride your bike 120 miles! Just kidding.

The 120 for Orphans was sponsored by International Orphan Support. The money raised is going to at least 2 projects: a well for the orphanage at Dufailly, Haiti (the money has already been delivered there!) and food, new beds and security bars for the Casa Shalom Orphanage in Guatemala! For more info on these and more projects, click on the website for International Orphan Support.

Simply put: this is all about the kids. They need help and we did something about it.

I had more fun at the 120 for Orphans than I’ve had in a long time. We have amazing friends – I mean really good people. And I am absolutely blown away to see how much people are willing to do for a cause in which they really believe.

I felt like I took a 2-day vacation. The landscape around Lake Okeechobee is breathtaking. It was so nice to enjoy the beautiful weather (God really came through with some stellar weather for us!).  Lots of wildlife, clean air and serenity. And it didn’t hurt that I couldn’t answer my phone most of the time.

Here are some things I learned or relearned on this trip:


In Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck said, “The best laid schemes of mice and men go oft awry.” Before we even got started on October 20, things changed. We had planned to circumnavigate Lake Okeechobee, the 2nd largest lake in the United States. The day before the ride, we discovered that much of the eastern side of the trail had been closed, due to construction. We would either have to get off the trail for 30 miles or so or cancel the project. My brilliant wife came up with the idea of riding half way the first day and returning back the same way on day two. That became the plan. The lesson is to be flexible, change on the fly when necessary, innovate! Don’t get so stuck on your plan that you can’t go with the flow.

The next lesson we learned is: Pavement is easier than rocks which is easier than grass. Most of the unpaved part of the trail is on the western side of the lake. Guess which side we road? You got it. As it turns out, nearly two-thirds of our 120 miles were off road. Since we had only planned on a total one-sixth being off-road, we weren’t quite set up for the journey.  Think of this, our speed dropped nearly in half once we left the pavement. The gravel was huge and the holes were deep. We bounced around like popcorn in a frying pan. We thought that was bad until we reached the prairie grass, which we had to ride through. Imagine foot-long grass, wet and thick, flattened only slightly by the riders ahead of us. We literally dropped to speeds of 5-6 miles per hour at times. It was brutal!

You can’t determine the end by the beginning. Within the first hour or so of our ride, we had experienced two blowouts and one busted rear wheel. Needless to say, we were all a bit concerned about all the riders and bikes surviving two days of this beat-down. As it turns out, we got most of the trouble behind us early on. We did have one wreck (John Morgan is OK!) and some scratches and bruises, as well as a couple swollen knees.  But everyone arrived in one piece. No bikes were destroyed in the completion of this trip.

While I was riding through the rocks and grass, I kept swapping lanes. It seemed that whichever side I was on, the ground is always smoother on the other side. So I flip-flopped like a Washington politician. Some of the other riders laughed at me, but I was persistent. Surely the other side is easier. Guess what? I was wrong. Just like in life, don’t jump round from one thing to the next; it’s no better over there.

It’s not the cost of the gear. Travis Johnson is an excellent cyclist and an even better friend. He is in training for a ride across Cambodia and used the 120 for Orphans as a training run. He has a great bike which cost more than several of our bikes combined. On day one, there were some mechanical issues with his bike. Thankfully, we had brought along a spare 10 year old $116 mountain bike just in case. Travis wound up on the iron horse for most of day one – and he blew the rest of us away with his expertise and strength. He was able to get his nice ride fixed for day 2. So it’s not always how much you spend that really counts.

There is no such thing as over prepared. I was able to train for this ride for a few months leading up. I worked hard getting myself in shape and building strength. I watched my diet and increased my endurance. And I’m very glad I did. This was not the most difficult physical challenge I’ve undertaken. This is not as hard as a marathon race. Nor did it compare with hiking the Inca Trail in Peru at up to 14,000 feet of elevation.  It didn’t even compare to climbing the Pacaya volcano (9,000 feet) in Guatemala. I am glad I prepared. I am a chronic over-preparer, which sometimes is annoying. But this time, it paid off.  I really think I could have ridden another 20 miles both days. Maybe I’ll do a century ride (100 miles in one day) in the near future. Anyone like to join me?

Group-think can be invaluable. Most endurance athletes are independent thinkers. We don’t need a lot of input from others and when it is offered unsolicited, we are annoyed. This trait is sometimes affectionately referred to by others as stubbornness. This trip was different. We needed each other. There were times when the trail was not obvious. There were decisions to be made about which way to go. We shared food. There were mechanical issues which required an extra set of hands. I personally had a blowout and some buddies did the brain work on it. It is good to recognize a dependence on others. This ride provided that for me.

You need support. This is not a joke about sports equipment. There were three ladies who drove their cars round, taking pictures, providing food and drinks, and cheering us on. I can’t tell you how glad we were to, several times along the trail, see their vehicles waiting. This represented a milestone, a place to stop and be refreshed.  You get it? We need support as we journey through life.

The wind is almost always in your face. When it’s not, you can’t tell.  On day 1, we road a comparatively easy 60 miles. We were not aware that the next day, the wind would beat us like a rented mule. Lesson? When it’s not tough, enjoy it. But get prepared for when the wind turns – because it will.

My last takeaway for now: I want to ride this trail with my daughter.  Jessica and I have enjoyed some of the more challenging athletic pursuits of our lives together. She was wanting to ride the 120 for Orphans with us. Hopefully one day, if we do a part 2, she can join us!

I’d like to give a special shout out to the 120 for Orphans Team:

On-site support volunteers: Kelly Blanchard, Betsy Morgan and Letha Whitter.

Behind the scenes assistance: Megan Williams.

A really big thanks to J Simms who came through big again, as usual.

Graphics design: Stephan Burton

Thanks to the riders: Richard Whitter, Efrain Diaz, Britton Winter, Kelly Howell, Kathy Rogers, Travis Johnson, and John Morgan.

Thanks to the donors: to date, we have collected over $13,400! No, it is not too late to give. Just click on our giving web site and donate.

The big question: Will there be a 120 for Orphans next year? My answer: I certainly hope so, but let me heal up first before I commit!

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