26: A Celebration of Life

•May 23, 2010 • 3 Comments

I turned 26 today. It was a  mostly uneventful day but still pleasant: lunch with friends, dinner with my parents, nothing unusually adventurous. Besides being another year older, 26 is not all that remarkable of a number. That is how it would appear anyway, unless you were to know the details of my story. In the fall of 2000, when I was just a junior in high school, my brother Christopher was diagnosed with cancer. He was 26; he died two years later.

I know what you’re thinking. No, I’m not expecting to contract cancer just because that’s how old Chris was when the disease found him. Still, it’s a very blatant reminder that good health and longevity are not guaranteed to any of us. Though he was a man of great faith, my brother was no clairvoyant. Before his diagnosis, he would never have guessed that his time spent in this life would be limited to 28 years. One maxim properly extracted from Chris’ story is that our days are numbered, and whether you live deep into your 90’s or don’t escape your 20’s, the only thing that matters is what we do with the time we have.  I believe this to be an irrefutable truth. However, that hasn’t stopped me from taking my life–my minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years–for granted. I think we are all prone to getting caught up in the passage of time. We find ourselves in the middle of a rapidly-flowingly stream, and rarely do we pull ourselves onto the shore and pause and reflect as we consider every blessing we have received, every new breath, every new day.

Now you know a bit more about my story. Now you know why 26 isn’t just another number for me. This year, I won’t be in seclusion, hoping to sneak past this year unscathed. No, my 26th year will be a celebration of life. An outpouring of thanks for the good health I’ve experienced and a commitment to getting even healthier. I want to be a good steward of every day that I’m given. Listen, we all have a habit of settling for mediocrity, of reaching far short of God’s best for us. I don’t want to settle anymore. I want to strive. To fight. To labor for something worthy of my limited time here. Thank you, God, for every provision, every blessing, every day. Thank you for Christopher, for what his death meant for my life. Thank you for the years to come, even if I can’t know their number or what they may bring. I pray that I make them count.

I will end with one of my favorite quotes:

“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”

Theodore Roosevelt


Monday, August 4, 2008: On the Road Again

•August 5, 2008 • 10 Comments

“On the road again
Goin’ places that I’ve never been
Seein’ things that I may never see again,
And I can’t wait to get on the road again.” –Willie Nelson

No, I’m not dead. Did I fall off that proverbial wagon? Perhaps for a brief period (translation: two weeks). Rather than get tossed off the wagon completely, though, I did manage to hang on by a very thin rope so that all was not lost and I could pull myself back up whenever I found the intestinal fortitude to do it. Have I abused that analogy sufficiently? One lesson learned: setbacks happen and should not be considered as failures. I could have found myself in far worse circumstances than a two-week struggle where I surrendered to a busy schedule and a floundering spirit; I could have given up altogether, tossed my bike into the lake, and accepted a lifetime of physical mediocrity. Rest assured, there shall be no white flags from my camp. I will undoubtedly succumb again to periods of weakness where all progress comes to a standstill, but I vow to not remain there for long. Now that I have that cleared up, I will proceed.

My return to the two-wheeled life of cycling occurred yesterday at White Rock Lake in Dallas. On one of the hottest days of the year, my friend Markus and I pushed ourselves to the limit. Wait. Scratch that. I pushed myself to my limit, which was especially low after two weeks off the bike. Markus, on the other hand, road effortlessly and endured my snail-like cycling abilities while we covered thirty miles. If thirty miles sounds like a victory to you, consider this: I was shooting for fifty.

Let me put it this way: Some days I ride well, not like a guy who is still pushing 260 lbs. Yesterday, I rode like a fat guy. Huff. Puff. Break. Huff. Puff. Break. That was my pattern, all the while Markus stayed leagues below his maximum heart-rate. To put it lightly, I was wretched and I suffered. But it was nice to be back in the saddle in a beautiful locale with a good friend, who didn’t seem to mind how much I sucked. That’s what friends are for, to put up with our deficiencies.

I followed yesterday’s ride with a terse 35-minute ride this evening. Things are about to get even busier with work (our RA’s return on Friday and training will begin in earnest), so my free time will be limited. My goals for the coming period are to find some time, even if it is only twenty minutes, to ride my bike and to be cautious with my diet, carefully avoiding the lure of fine cafeteria dining. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Before I close, I just wanted to thank those of you who expressed your concern about my progress in kind words and reminded me to write. You guys are the best support system I could ask for!

Monday, July 21, 2008

•July 22, 2008 • 2 Comments

Weight: 261 lbs.

My dog is going to claw my arm off if I take too much time on this post. His Nylabone only keeps him occupied for so long before he desires my attention and tries to drag me away from the computer. I often wonder if he recognizes that I’m actually engaged in something when I’m on the computer, if he can actually see the screen and can watch it change so that he knows I’m up to something, or if he just thinks that I’m sitting in my chair staring at one fixed point for no reason while my fingers move in random directions. The world from a dog’s perspective…must be fascinating.

That was a weird intro, I know. My mind’s in so many different places, it never remains in one specific location for long. I don’t feel quite myself, and I think if someone asked me how I was doing, and if I were to answer honestly, I would respond that I’m struggling. Not for any one reason, or at least not one that I can entirely pinpoint. I’m not hear to cry and sing you one sad emo song after another about how my life’s a heaping mess or anything like that. It’s not that at all. Sincerely, I feel quite blessed most days, and my perspective remains relatively positive in knowing that, even if things feel a bit tangled, I can rely on a sovereign God who has told me quite frankly, “With man this impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). There’s confidence to be had in that to be sure, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t struggle and arrive at that moment of lapse where I falter and doubt. I may be created in His image and share in some of his attributes, but I’m still human, and it’s in those instances of severe humanity when I worry about the state of my life and its direction and what it may look like next week, next month, next year, or when I’m old enough to choose from the senior’s menu at Ihop.

If that figurative person who just heard me tell them that I’m struggling followed up by saying, “With what?,” I would probably pare the whole thing down to contentment. This is going to sound more emo than anything I’ve ever said: It’s hard to be content when my former fiancee is at church getting married, and I’m sitting in my darkened living room in an apartment in the sixth residence hall I’ve resided at in as many years, watching a bike race on my television. (The violins begin playing here.) I don’t mean that previous statement to make it sound like I’m not happy for her and her new husband; I’m pleased that God dealt as kindly with me and her as he did to bring us to where we are respectively, and I feel assured that He has much in store for them. But you can’t blaim a guy, in light of everything, for wondering what’s in store for himself, can you? It appears on the surface to be selfish, and it absolutely is. It’s not good to think this way, and that’s exactly why Christ called out people like me and said, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself” (Matthew 6:34). I have no idea where I’m going with all this, so don’t consider this a playing out of reason or logic, an argument building on itself. These are the frustrated musings of someone wrestling, that’s all. This does all relate back to my desire to lose weight, however. In all this, in every moment of consternation, there persists a hope in the possibility of change. That’s why I want to lose weight: I want that time where things do change to be so markedly different that you have to wonder whether or not it even involves the same Jon Bartlett. There’s hope to be had, and I can trust in that.

“Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” Romans 5:3-5

Until tomorrow…or whenever… 

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

•July 17, 2008 • 2 Comments

G’day to all of you. Now that I’m on a training plan, I’m not feeling as obligated to update everyday, since the original purpose of my daily updates was accountability. I promise I’m riding, so don’t you worry if you don’t hear from me for a couple of days. If I fall off this fast moving wagon, I’ll be sure to let you know.

Though I didn’t post yesterday, I thought I would share one humorous story regarding my ride. After taking Monday off from the bike, I was supposed to go for a relatively short ride at a harder pace on Tuesday, with a point to push myself and make the small distance I did cover stretch me. I didn’t have a route in mind really, so I jumped on N. Bonnie Brae and turned onto Windsor with plans of being on my bike for an hour or less. I road down Windsor until it hit a dead-end, then I turned back around and spent some time riding down Old North, then came back to Windsor to head home. Like I spent so much time describing the other day, one thing I love about cycling is the adventure of it all, the discovery of new places. So there I was riding on a familiar street, and I made a spontaneous decision to turn off on a side street just to see where it went. Well, it didn’t really go anywhere, so I turned onto another street that I thought would intersect Windsor so I get back on. It didn’t fulfill my hope. I, for the lack of a better phrase, got turned around. I ended up on Sherman, heading in an unkown direction to an unkown destination. That’s right. I managed to get lost in a town I’ve been living in for going on my seventh year. Also, I have always known that Denton had a water park (College Life had one of their Jumpstart week events there a couple of years ago, right?), but I’ve never really been all that concerned with where it is located. I found it yesterday, unintentionally of course, and then passed it until I got a sinking suspicion that I was pointed in the wrong direction. So, being the wise navigator that I am, I turned around. Sure enough, after climbing up a short hill, I saw the TWU towers again and knew I had righted my course. I approached Windsor again, elated to be back where I started. I turned onto Windsor with the intention to ride back in the direction of Bonnie Brae. After riding for a couple of minutes with strong feelings of deja vu, wondering the whole time if I had made the turn onto Windsor in the right direction, I reached the street’s dead end a second time. Yes, indeed, after already getting lost once, I had been riding my bike in the wrong direction. Though I’m more than slightly embarassed, some positives did result from this experience. First, what I had intended to be a 13-15 mile ride became a 21.5 mile ride! That’s quite the detour. Second, since I had wanted the day to be harder than usual, I kept a pretty strong pace and pushed it on all the hilly parts of the ride, resulting in a faster average speed than my typical. I felt great throughout and found no reason to stop and rest, which is encouraging. The moral of the story: Jon Bartlett may becoming a skinner man and a better cyclist, but his navigational skills still leave something to be desired.

Weight: 263 lbs.

Ride: 13 miles

An easier ride today, considering how yesterday turned out! Though rain has been a threat the past couple of days, it hasn’t materialized but I’ve definitely benefited from the cooler temperatures. Endurance sports share a proportionally direct relationship with the temperature outside. The hotter is, the harder it is. Though this does reach its end; it’s not all that easy to ride your bike 20 mph into a fierce headwind when it’s 30 degrees outside. I know, I’ve tried. It hurts the face.

Until tomorrow…They might be suffering through their differences, but I still love my Green Bay Packers and my Brett Favre.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

•July 14, 2008 • 3 Comments

Weight: 263 lbs.

Ride: 10 miles. Today was a recovery day. Rather than skip the ride altogether, it was important for me to get out there and follow yesterday’s hard effort with enough movement to keep my legs loose. It’s funny, but I’m in training mode now. Two weeks ago I was happy to ride three times a week, covering relatively small distances. Now, I’ve made a new resolution and solidified my training plan: I’m going to ride six days a week. I feel great right now in a particular way that I’ve experienced before, but not in a long time. I can feel myself getting stronger and more comfortable on the bike as if, and I know this sounds lame, it’s becoming an added appendage rather than some separate apparatus I sit on to get from A to B and back to A again. Not to say that my butt has ceased to hurt; believe me, it still hurts. There’s no great way to describe how I’m feeling right now, except to say that, when I’m off the bike, I’m excited to get back on it and ride.

Oh, I went back to that hill I described the other day and…rode right up it! Take that you mighty berg! I took my camera along so I could capture just how monstrous this particular rise in the road is, but it doesn’t translate in pictures as much as I would like. I’ll post some of them tomorrow when I have a chance. Until then…tomorrow’s Tour stage is a must see, so tune in!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

•July 13, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Weight: 263.5 lbs.

Ride: I wanted to ride 30 miles today. I did 27 instead. I felt all of those 27 miles and was lucky to even make it that far. It was hot, and even though I took in fluids often, I still felt the effects of dehydration. It wore me out in a way I haven’t experienced in a long time. That may sound terrible, but it’s actually quite refreshing. It’s easy in edurance sports to reach a point where you desire comfort more than you wish to persevere. My disposition makes it hard when that voice chimes in; I would normally be the one to give up. I have to get used to the pain. I’m getting there…

Friday, July 11, 2008

•July 13, 2008 • 2 Comments

Weight: 264

Ride: 21 miles

In 2005, I brought a bike to the University of North Texas for the first time. The summer beforehand I had taken up cycling in response to my ankles’ inability to withstand the torment of running. My girlfriend’s dad, who is a Rolfer (wikipedia it; it’s a form of massage), suggested that cycling would be a much more manageable replacement for running since it’s lower-impact, thus less hard on the body. He let me borrow an old-school road bike that he had bought for his wife back in the 80’s that she had never really used. I know what you’re thinking, and let me deny the rumor now.  No, I was not riding a woman’s bike. It was a stock-geometry frame (sutiable for both men and women), but the only problem was that it was a bit undersized for me. I rode every now and again that summer, nothing of great report however.

Come August, I packed the bike in the back of my truck with the rest of my belongings and headed back up to Denton for my third year of college. It was a marvelous time, and I began to see this town in an unprecendented light. One of the merits of cycling that I suggest in response to those who question why I love cycling so much is the freedom of exploration it provides, a reminiscent feeling of childhood. Think back to that time. Maybe your parents only let you ride to the mailbox of the fifth house over; then once you grew bored with that, they let you ride to the end of the street. As you grew older and your parents’ confidence grew, they gave you free reign to ride wherever you liked, within reason. You now had the means to discover every nook and cranny that your neighborhood had to offer. Every turn led to somewhere new and exciting; it didn’t matter then if there were hills or if it was hot, you rode on in anticipation of whatever novel thing lay around the next bend. That feeling didn’t leave you when you entered junior high or high school. It certainly did not escape me. I welcomed back those same feelings as I rode around Denton that fall, removing a veil from over parts of town I had never seen. This included the south side of Bonnie Brae, across the highway. I likely landed there after riding through the old golf course, and after running out of real estate, ventured on to the nearest road. I was curious to see where this road went. I crossed the train-tracks, went up a little hill, past a few residential streets, and stopped where the road took an impressive downward-sloping right hand turn where Bonnie Bray meets Roselawn. Desiring, like so many kids-at-heart do, to go fast, I took the turn and plummeted down the road, passing farm houses and a small creek. The speed from the descent wore off, and I kept plugging away. That is, until I hit a section of bad road surface that eventually became completely unpaved. At the time, this was my cue to turn around. And for three more years, I would take that hillside turn often, only to turn right back around and ride back up it, never really caring what existed beyond that unpaved part of the road.

All that changed today. Without my bike computer, I had to plot my course using Google maps. I wanted to get 20 miles in, so I selected a fairly diverse route that I wouldn’t get bored with, including a section of road I had never traveled on. Yes, I had decided to finally determine where S. Bonnie Brae would take me, three years removed from being turned away by an unwelcome road surface. I looked on the sattelite picture and observed that the road appeared to remain unpaved for only a brief stretch. I decided that I would take Bonnie Brae until it interesected 377, and then I would turn around and come home, reaching a distance of 21 miles.

All of this description and backstory culminates in one moment. The road did, in fact, turn back into friendly concrete after about a half-mile or so, and the remaining leg of my trip was not all that noteworthy. I found it to be quiet and without much traffic. I passed more farm houses and empty pieces of land; I was taking it all in, turning my head this way and that in effort to observe all that I could. That was until I looked straight ahead and saw a veritable wall of a road in the distance. People often use that expression to describe an impending hill, and it always sounds to me so trite and ridiculous. But I left that impression on the side of the road when I peered into the distance and saw a wall. A wall that I had to climb. Now, it’s obvious to say that I don’t like climbing hills on my bicycle, and I’ll tell you why. It’s because I’m fat. Not to say that it would be anywhere close to easy if I were skinny, but my extra weight retards the process for certain. Take this picture for example: My friend Jonathan weighs around 140 lbs. In order for him to experience what I experience when I go up an incline on the bike, I would have to strap an extra 124 lbs. on his frame. One hundred and twenty-four pounds! It’s no wonder I despise it when the road pitches upward, dreaming about a a route made entirely of descents. Now, this hill I speak of isn’t all that long, but it is incredibly steep. With a great amount of reservation, I stood up out of the saddle and did what I could to mash the pedals down and move forward. In my smallest gear, I still felt that I might fall over, both from the severe angle and the hard effort. Halfway up this torturous Col, I…clipped out of my pedals and came to a stop. I walked the rest of the way up that hill, and while I might find shame with such an admission, I don’t feel anything of the sort right now. There might come a day, perhaps soon, when I will be able to tackle that beastly climb on the south side of Bonnie Brae before 377, but it was not to be on Friday, July 11, 2008. Let’s talk about it again in another 20 lbs.