The long ride

rideI like cycling long distances. Right now I’m planning an 84-mile ride from Arlington, the suburb of Boston where I live, to Falmouth, Cape Cod on July 3. This ride, my bicycle, my body, my mind, and my health are all intimately connected. And when you get to the end of this post, you’ll see how they connect with you, too.

There is nothing like cycling to put you in touch with the world and yourself.

Most of my rides are around greater Boston. I live in a green, temperate place near a vibrant and diverse city. I go alone and never on highways, always on backroads and paths through parks and the surprising, secret network of bikeways that glow green on my Google Maps display. I ride past cemeteries, trainyards, churches (old New England, Unitarian, Pentecostal), self-consciously cute retail districts and apple orchards and downtowns with potholes and fire stations and bandstands. I see everything. There are an awful lot of dogs.

Cycling requires an intense awareness because there is always the danger of getting run down; motorists don’t concentrate nearly as much as cyclists do. That concentration is why you see things.  I’ve seen gritty urban basketball games and firefighters raising money by handing motorists a boot to fill with bills and change. I even saw a sign that said “Outlaw Pre-Shredded Cheese – Make America Grate Again.” Massachusetts wit.

josh rideWhen you ride a long way you see the land changing. You see pine trees near the shore and acorns inland. You see meadows and bogs and cardinals and wild turkeys — and the works of man as well. On one 50-mile ride heading west into rural Massachusetts, I watched the front-yard election signs slowly shift from blue Obama to red Romney.

A long ride takes training; you build up to it. The training rides become longer and longer. There’s plenty of pain and plenty of ibuprofen, and my 57-year old body doesn’t respond as it once did. But I like the idea of a big goal with work leading up to it. Riding also give me plenty of time to cogitate about other things. The thrill of cresting the hill, the exhilarating ride down the other side, the vista revealed at the destination, they’re all worth it.

Cycling is a central part of another transformation. I’m working on my health, another long goal with exhilarations and setbacks and revelations, one that goes on forever. I am still too fat, but I am trying to become a young 57-year old, not an old one.

Unlike my cycling, I have not undertaken my health journey alone. Along the way I met two incredible people: Wayne Altman, who is a doctor, and Kerri Hawkins, who is a dietitian (and a force of nature).

wayne kerri

There are no shortcuts in cycling, and the same goes in health and wellness. Wayne and Kerri taught me that the key is changing habits, changing the whole culture of who you are, and getting support.

Imagine an ideal program that would help people struggling with their weight. It would feature no diets, because diets aren’t permanent. It would take a long view of slow improvement, like my cycling regimens. It would educate people about stuff like food shopping, cooking, dealing with their spouses and children, and ways to track and promote physical activity and handle stress. And it would weld people together in small groups of 15 or 18 people who would learn these things together over 20 weeks or so, and support each other online. That’s Wayne and Kerri’s program in a nutshell.

I liked this program and they needed my help, so we formed a nonprofit called WellnessCampaign.org. I’m the CEO.

I’m not writing this because I want you to sign up — unless you live suburban Boston, you can’t. But I feel pretty good because we’re making progress. Of more than 160 people who have taken the program, 61% had significant weight loss (including me). More importantly, 2/3 of those people kept most of the weight off, one, two, and even three years later. That’s what different here: it’s about permanent change. And as a nonprofit, we’re not here to get people hooked on us — we’d like as many people as possible to go through this and get permanently better. We’re trying to change the world.

As sometimes happens in cycling, in business, and in life, we’ve hit an impasse. Wayne and Kerri continue to run groups. The’ve now trained another medical practice that’s running their own Wellness Campaign groups. We’d like to scale up to many more practices, eventually nationally or globally. The first step — and one of my jobs — is to build an online community in which the group members support each other. But the best platforms for this aren’t free, or if they are, they need sophisticated developers. Grants are hit-or-miss and take a long time. In the meantime, we need a few bucks to pay to develop the platform.

I don’t ask for much on this blog, but today I’m asking you to support my platform-building effort and help our nonprofit raise $3,500 to fund it. (If we get more, the platform will be better and we’ll blow it out more quickly and maybe even start some online-only groups, but that first few thousand is our seed money.) None of that money will go to Wayne or Kerri or me — it will go to the platform. And yes, we are a registered  501(c)3 charity for tax purposes.

I’m willing to ride 84 miles in one day to attract attention to this. Are you willing to help me out?

By the way, if you want to follow my ride on Twitter or Facebook, follow the hashtag #JoshRide4WC. I’ll also be posting updates to the GoFundMe.

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