Fog Lines and Parables: Guidance for Cyclists and Souls

ImageA 47-degree Friday morning and I’m on my bike. Turning north onto River Road I had to fight to stop second-guessing why I was doing this. Sunrise was at least 50 minutes away so I was riding solidly in the dark, cold and wind. My headlight is like a billion lumens and I had the LED tail light rippling its red brightness, sending the message, “Here I am, don’t kill me!”

All was good, except possibly my sanity.

Then I turned east on Quinaby and all was not so good. It’s an older country road with no shoulder and no fog line, which never seemed to matter during daylight rides. Coming down at me from the slope of the I-5 overpass was a set of car headlights in bright mode; these lumens must’ve been like a trillion because I couldn’t see. I was already fighting against watery eyes due to the chill wind and now I was riding blind; I literally couldn’t see the road. I knew I was somewhere near the edge, but with no fog line I couldn’t tell how close. If I rode off the edge I’d crash into a soggy gully which, considering I have a neck fusion, could cause me significant physical harm.

What do I do (aside from pray)? Only thing I could do was gravitate slightly to the middle of the road while hoping not to float into the direct path of Mr. Highbeams. Thankfully there was no one behind me, otherwise I probably would have just stopped and walked my bike to the edge; and nobody likes to stop in the middle of ride!

Mr. Highbeams passed and I breathed a thankful sigh of relief. Once my sight adjusted to the dark again I picked up my pace to get to the next road, it had a fog line. With a fog line I can ride faster and with more confidence. Several more roads ahead of me were even more countrified than Quinaby, no fog lines, narrower and riddled with cracks from seasons of baking and chilling through the years.

This got me thinking about guidance; because really, what is a fog line but guidance? It helps me see and stay on the right part of the road so I don’t fling myself into some gully or farmer’s field awaiting the blades of harvesters. What other guidance do I rely on? Well, my life is filled text books, health policies and the parables of Jesus. For instance, Jesus teaches us to help those in need regardless of how different or similar they are to us (Luke 10:30-37). He teaches us about forgiveness and mercy (Matthew 18:21-35). And He teaches us about being watchful (Mark 13:35-37).

Speaking of being watchful I hit yet another road without fog lines. But now the sun is shining in streaks of pink and orange through the patchy clouds gathering in the threat of a coming storm. It’s then I realize my body has been gripped in the tension that comes from knowing I have put myself in danger. Now as the light emerges, the danger passes and the tension drains.  Even though the ride was only 16 miles, I’m exhausted—but I’m alive!

Maybe I’ll get that indoor trainer after all.  

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Herons Flock? Early Morning Cycling and God’s Surprises

001I glanced off to my right on one of my early morning rides. The sun had been up for about five minutes so when I looked right, I looked right into the sun (I totally forgot that right was also east). This two-lane country road was vacant except for a lone cyclist in a bright red jersey (that’d be me; I wanted to make sure bleary-eyed, under caffeinated drivers saw me). On each side of the road are large cow pastures. In the field on the right was a gigantic sprinkler with big earth-mover wheels. I think it runs off a big water pump in the center of one those round fields you usually only see from the air.

Anyway, standing in the misty spray was a lone and large Blue Heron. Or so I thought. I had to look again, because I love viewing wild life (the natural kind, I had enough of the other wild life as an undergrad—and what little I actually remember is more about mysterious bruises and pounding headaches). I’m fascinated by the bird’s long, slender neck and needle-like beak. Then I saw another one, then another and then…a whole bunch of them! About 20 were gathering in rather loose proximity to each other, apparently all of them basking in the swirling mist of the sprinkler heads. I always thought they were solitary birds. I would have stopped to take a picture but I didn’t want to slow the awesome momentum I had in my blistering pace of 18 mph (all right, I heard that snicker…so I’m not Jens Voight, but I do ride a Trek).

Later on, I told two of my colleagues about this as we were waiting for one of those dreary, late afternoon meetings. Neither of them believed me so they whipped out their smart phones in a race to ascertain the truth. It was sorta like a phone-on-phone High Noon scenario, I can just see Gary Cooper jangling in spinning spurs, whipping out his Android and….oops, I digress. Anyway, Susan won the race and found out that Herons occasionally flock in an effort to round up prey in a Heron-induced circle of breakfast. Apparently they eat rodents from time to time as well. Who knew (except early morning cyclists, and, of course, Google)?

Every now and then I run into one of these fascinating nuggets of discovery. This was something I would have never known had I not been cycling early in the morning. And as a person of faith I could only smile at God’s creativity with all the varieties and oddities of life right here in my own proverbial backyard.

Cycling, Worship and Jesus

Trek Bike“I went to the ocean, took my shoes off, started to run [or cycle], and invited Jesus to come along. … All I had to do was invite Him.”
─John Ortberg, The Me I Want to Be, Kindle location 2783

“Cycling is like sailing on land, the wind, the oneness, the freedom!”
─Journal entry

It’s been over 18 months since my last neck surgery. Eighteen months of recovery, of trying to see what my body can and can’t do, and saving money for a new bicycle. Yes, a new bike; a Trek 1.5 to be exact.

My old bike (a 1987 Trek Elance) no longer fit my new triple-fusion neck. But I love to bike. I miss biking. Running just isn’t the same; plus, with a solid rod of bone now banging around in my cervical area running mercilessly batters the few remaining disks I have left. When the run is over my neck explodes in spasms to such a degree I wind up throwing down 600-800mg of ibuprofen, which sorta defeats the purpose of clean living. Then there’s the hamstring issue. And walking, while a great activity is…well…walking. You can’t just go out do 42 miles in the morning like you can on a bike (like the great ride I had yesterday).

But how does Jesus fit into to this? Is my desire to bike detracting from my faith in Jesus? Does Jesus even care if I bike or not?

I used to always live with the mindset that if I wasn’t suffering I wasn’t serving the Lord. Oh brother, how appealing is that. Nowhere in that thinking is there room for God to rain any sort of blessing upon me or those around me. Talk about living with a cloud over my head, it’s like that character Shleprock from the old Flintstones cartoon (yes, I’m showing my age), everywhere he shuffled he was followed by this little dark cloud hovering just above his head.

Yes, I give and serve and go through trials. But holding these things up as some sort of merit badge is not something Jesus condones. What He does condone is entering into His rest (Matthew 11:28-30). Part of the way I rest is on my bike. I recognize it is a physically demanding sport, but at the same time it is a highly rejuvenating sport as well. I get to be outdoors in the fresh air (except when the fields are being harvested or big diesel trucks are chugging by). I get to feel my body working and revel in the fact that I’m physically restored enough to cycle again. All of this points my heart and mind toward Jesus. Why, you ask?

Who created the outdoors? Sure, there are nay-sayers and God-rejecters, but no one can properly explain where the origin of everything came from. A strictly utilitarian universe wouldn’t have as much beauty as the Willamette Valley has; only a God of creativity and love would make such a beautiful place. For instance, the other morning I was on my bike a little before sunrise. As I looked east I saw Mt. Hood in all its majesty way off in the distance. This time, however, the mountain was shimmering with a bright pink aura. It was simply stunning; the sun was directly behind the mountain emblazing it in a pink backlight making it look like Mt. Hood itself was eclipsing the sun.

On other rides I have seen rainbows of flowers in carefully cultivated fields, talked with friendly locals in nearby towns while buying water and thought through a number of difficult work-related problems.

And the fact I’m physically able to do this again is such a blessing I can’t help but pray thankful prayers out loud for anyone in earshot. Being unable to ride for so long has given me a much deeper appreciation for the opportunity to ride again. Sure, I enjoyed riding before, but I could basically ride whenever I could fit one in. When my spine started deteriorating and I could no longer ride, I missed it like an old friend. Riding is a time of solace for me, it’s my time to get away and feel free with the wind and the exertion. I was thankful for being able to walk, but it just wasn’t the same.

However, another important lesson through the season of deprivation is training my mind to be more thankful for what I can do. Stop focusing on what I can’t do and strive to lean more deeply into what I can do. This thinking enables me to be more thankful to God and more cheerful and empathetic with others that are suffering. Through all this time, I recovered enough to realize that with the proper fitting bike, I could get on the road again. Now with new bike, cleated shoes, and my Road ID wrist band I’m on the road a lot these days. This time last year it was only a dream as I watched cyclists streaking by while on one of my walks.

While cycling is a positive hobby because of its fitness benefits it is also a solid spiritual discipline because I celebrate life and praise God while I’m on the bike, even in strong headwinds and malfunctioning cyclometers. Even with quads screaming and chest heaving, I praise God I’m alive…the pain only confirms how alive I am! And I’m thankful…thankful for fitness, for the bike, for a wonderful Bride that understands…and for a God that carried me through the darker spots of deprivation.

It is good to be alive!