Friday, July 11, 2014

The Go Forward Plan....and it wasn't the plan when we started...

....and so it begins, nothing like I expected
Today we leave after 5 days of cycling through the Tuscan countryside in Italy.  Any experience like this is both a privilege and an opportunity but when deciding to do it, both the privilege and opportunistic approaches are overlooked.  With both kids at summer camp Mrs. Moss and I just wanted to take two weeks and go away on vacation.  See parts of the world that we have not spent any (or enough) time in and get time together as I travel so much for work.  Little did we know that on April 18th our entire approach would change.  That was the night we met Andy Levine of DuVine Cycling+Adventures at a restaurant bar and thought "lets be a little more active on our trip and cycle through Tuscany for half of our trip".  I can't say that we thought it would be easy, but we sure didn't think it would be 'that' challenging.

As a person who travels a lot and loves to eat I tend to be larger than I need to be.  According to the Center for Disease Control, I should weigh between 120 and 151lbs and in their calculator for body mass index (BMI), I am defined as obese.  Stats like this are somewhat mind boggling and frustrating.  Looking in the mirror I feel overweight, but also don't think I am 50 lbs overweight.  So, I went to other resources like and they say I should weigh between 149 and 161lbs as they take into account body frame, and not just everyone...either way, the fact is that I have and have had work to do for the better part of my life, yet my goals are always to be 'aware' and do the best I can with the time I have.

Much of the weight loss and health approaches are driven by time, money and effort.
  • Time:  How many hours are in a day and what is the work that needs to be done to draw this out
  • Money:  Is there a cost to do things differently and what impact will that have
  • Effort:  Do you sit on your ass thinking about it or do you get up and do something about it
I tend to be the 'effort' guy.  I know that in order to lose weight, I must be active, and to be active I have to put forth the effort to do so.  When I run, getting winded tends to happen quickly and then the increased effort becomes more of an annoyance as that level of work isn't coming easy.  Once it doesn't come easy, I tend to question whether I am capable to do it and eventually go back to trying to eating less and working on, what I like to call 'the math problem':
The Math Problem:  When you assume that the average male burns 2000 calories just breathing and doing his normal activities and if you just eat less than 2000 calories you will lose weight.

The math problem has worked for me in losing weight and at times....many times, I will try and do some sort of active work to increase the daily or weekly burn rate of calories.  Trying to run a bit, doing a 5k or 10k (but sadly not doing my part to prepare properly) or some other activity.

The net net is that keeping off weight has always been a problem and if I don't get my shit together I could have a heart attack or worse.  

During our cycling adventure this past week I had the luxury to watch Mimi, my wife ride these hills...she would pedal with ease, go in the easiest gear on the most challenging terrain but her legs would never change speed.  For me, I could do the work, but effort was much much harder.  Since we both are 5'7" we had the same bike, which weighed the same amount.  If you look at my lower body, it is clear that I have the muscle mass and tone to pedal, but there was a major difference.  My heart rate was rising to 180bpm (beats per minute) on these hills and every rotation was harder and harder for me.  This has to do with the extensive difference in weight we were carrying amongst other things.  

Yesterday, Thursday, was our hardest day.  We had over 1000 feet of elevation incline over 22.5 miles and two of the hardest climbs of the week.  My heart rate got up to 185bpm, more than it had been all week and it was probably the hardest I had worked all week.  When we got to the top of the road in this small town within Chianti where our cycling time ended there was this sense of accomplishment that I haven't felt in my life.  I looked at my Garmin watch to see the calories burnt over the last 5 days and was amazed at what could be accomplished.  It was work, and I mean it was a shitload of work but the stats told a story that is now driving what I can do:

  • Calories Burnt - 7,410
  • Miles rode - 95.98 miles
  • Total elevation climbed - 8,688 feet
  • Max heart rate 185bpm

Mission Accomplished!
The funny thing was this....while in Barcelona 10+ days ago, I had realized that I weighed 207lbs.  That is out right FAT!  After 4 of our days cycling and eating the fantastic food of Italy, it was down to below 200lbs. 

The point is, I am not happy with my weight and the copout that I put on myself for why I don't do things....thinking back to my first blogpost when I came to Italy...writing about 'doing your best' and focusing on doing your best and not backing down....the last day really told the story for me.  We had one final hill it was the steepest point of the entire trip and our guide, Davide, told me that I could stop at the bottom and he would drive up...but he believed I could do it...for me, I never know what I can or can't do, but that last ride was the best moment of the trip.  There is no way to kid myself any longer, it may be work but it is work I can do and need to do to keep life going for my family, friends and myself.  

Today we leave for Paris, where I anticipate a long run with Mrs. Moss in the morning as I do what I can to better myself and continue down the road I ended with here in Tuscany.

Monday, July 7, 2014

When Your Best 'is' Good Enough and a little fear is ok too...

Yesterday we arrived in Tuscany for the third portion of our summer (kids at camp) adventure - Cycling Throughout Tuscany.  5 months ago when we were introduced to Andy Levine of DuVine Adventures while at a sushi bar in Boston we told him of our planned adventure in Italy and he told us of his cycling programs throughout the world.  It was very intriguing to us to try something different and we signed up for his 'Tuscany' program.  Within days we changed our entire approach to our vacation and we were off and running...that brings us to our arrival...

Let the adventure begin...
We were greeted by Davide our guide for the week, and since nobody else signed up for this portion, it was as if we had our own private adventure and could set our own pace and approach as need be.  After getting to the first of four stops over the next 5 days, we unpacked, put on our cycling wear (padded pants and a tee shirt that says DuVine) and got fitted for our bikes. 

Side note....When you drive into these Tuscan towns, the look a bit...hilly and high an FYI, THEY ARE!, but more on that later.

We got on our road bike, which is similar to what many of us rode in the 80's growing up...we used to call them 10 or 12 speeds.  A friend informed us that these are much lighter than the hybrid bikes we tend to ride around the city.  Sadly, with a 200lb frame of my own, I wasn't sure if it made a difference as my body wasn't ready to be hauled.  

Amazing Vino Nobile vineyard in
the bowels of Montepulciano
Getting on the bike was both scary and intimidating the first time. I ride Hubway bikes in Boston all the time, but Tuscany is nothing like Boston.  Boston = Flat Tuscany = Hills. Immediately my stomach got tight, I was terrified and also winded....since the bike was different than anything I had been on before.  Davide told us, lets just ride up 'the hill' to the road and we will get going for our first journey.  He gave us the option to walk up 'the hill', but me being 'the man (or so I thought) I hopped on and rode up like a machine.  

side note #2....When your heart rate goes from 90bpm to 180bpm in 45 seconds...something ain't right. 

It was clear that my pride vs. my abilities were coming into play. The day went on with a 14 mile ride that included many hills and a couple downhill spots.  The good news was it was challenging and exciting.  The bad news came at mile 7 when we were told that we were going to drive back the same way we came.  This means that all those downhill spots that were great for getting my sea-legs would quickly become my nemesis.  

We finished off our day with me questioning everything:
  • why did we do this?
  • how can I keep up?
  • should we have done a different tour?
  • am I so out of shape and weak that I can't ride a silly bike?
  • how will I be able to walk in the morning?  
Day two begins
After taking the 2-3 hour of downtime before dinner questioning myself, and then doing more of it walking to dinner and also sitting in the car on our way to a vineyard....I decided to sleep on it.

This morning I woke up feeling fine, outside of the extreme soreness in my bum from the seat. After a light breakfast we got back on that horse, we started at the top of the road and began our journey for a little over 26 miles.  Yesterday we had climbed 900 feet, but today we had to climb over 2400 feet.  It was hard, it was really hard, but every time that van stopped and asked me if I wanted a ride I thought about if I was trying my best and was 'that' best good enough.  At mile 19.5 we reached the Tuscan town of Pienza, the final climb to the city was frustrating and exhausting.  Every turn up hill seemed to be the end, but it was not.  I eventually got there where we walked around and had a great lunch over looking the vast area. Once done (with the wine and lunch), we were told that we only had '6 miles left' and the day would be complete.  A brief while later we returned to our home base in Montefollonico.  Both Mimi and I were happy to be done, but also full of great positive energy from such a spectacular accomplishment.
26+ miles, 2400+ feet climbed
and over 2000 calories burned

Tomorrow will be another day of fear, butterflies and new experiences and the blend of today and yesterday definitely taught me a great deal about myself.  It is so important not to be too proud, but it is also important to do the best you can and ensure that you are not cheating yourself.  Getting in the van....its ok, but its only ok after you try and try DAMN HARD! school...Onward!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Barcelona...."The Eat/Life Balance"

Amazing glass work from
the interior

Many people focus on the work life balance, but if there is one thing I have learned in Barcelona it is that the 'Eat/Life' balance is just as important as the work life balance.

The food we ate was insane, and man did we eat a lot of it.  Thank goodness my wife had a vision of how to better our lives while I was very focused on bettering my stomach.  In an effort to focus on history we hit a few spots, but most important were Sagrada Família and Park Güell.
Exterior of Sagrada Familia
Sagrada Família is what we would call the greatest pet project ever for Antoni Gaudí. It is a church that began construction over 100 years ago, and it was very clear that they are still going strong, as it doesn't look to be ready for completion for another 50 years. His work is amazing and it is seen all over Barcelona, but this was really cool. In November of 2010 the interior was concerted and proclaimed it a 'minor basilica' by Pope Benedict XVI. It is truly one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. November 2010 Pope Benedict XVI consecrated and proclaimed it a minor basilica.
Interior of Sagrada Familia
After the climb
Parc Guell

Park Guell was, once again a Gaudi work and is truly spectacular.  This was truly part of the 'life' segment of my 'Eat/Life balance' as you ahve two options in getting there.  Take a tram or escalator up, the stairs.  My wife, who is a Cross Fit maven said, we should take the stairs...and we did.  According to her fitbit we climbed over 60 flights of stairs that day, so our guess was that two-thirds of that was walking up hill to the top.  It definitely feels like the highest point of Barcelona (which it probably is not, but either way, it was a hard trek but a great adventure.  One of these pictures truly shows Gaudi's style, which I now feel was an inspiration for Alice in Wonderland.

With all the fun and excitement of being touristic, our other objective was to attack the rumors that Barcelona is one of the key food capitals of the world.  Though not planned, most of our time was focused on the food and creations of Ferran Adrià.  Click on the link to see the wonders he creates, but with 5 nights of dinner, I will highlight 4.

  • Sauc - With only 26 seats (that we could see) the tasting menu was exceptional.  I had goat for the first time, but overall the creativity was out of this world.  Not to mention it allowed me to check the box for another Michelin Star conquered.
  • Pakta - Now Pakta (the first of three dinners by Ferran Adria) was something extraordinary.  In the July issue of Food and Wine, there was a feature about it.  Who would go to dinner at a place that is Peruvian/Japanese fusion with a flair of Spanish influence?  Well let me tell you, it was in my top 5 dinners ever.  We sat at the counter as we both hoped to see as much activity as possible.  In front of us was the dessert maestro.  She was a machine, using tweezers for every possible step as this was about both beauty to the eye and the stomach.
  • Botega 1900 - The second of Adria's establishments, we stumbled on it by mistake.  A person during our travels told me that we would 'never get a table at Tickets' (more to come on that later) and if you know me at all, when it comes to food, I will take on any challenge.  Mrs. Moss (against her better judgment) agreed to try the 'walk in'.  The walk in is when I show up at a restaurant and find a way to charm, grovel, or beg my way to trying something, that I surely should have made a reservation for.  Sadly, only one thing will always shut down the walk in,.....the private party!.  Yep, I was screwed since there was no way to take that down.  The lovely person at the door (who was much like a security guard) recommended trying Bodega 1900 as it was directly across the street, a traditional tapas and wine bar.  We were there quite early so they gave us a seat outside. While sitting we are introduced to Paco.  Paco, we believe, was sent from heaven to support us on our gastronomic adventure.  Paco started by asking what we wanted and we deferred to him, but let him know that we were at 1900 for a thing we knew, new items like fresh snails and sea anemone were our delicacy.  It was pretty amazing, but our mission remained Tickets.  Paco, who will be taking over Adria's new Mexican restaurant around the corner in a few weeks, came back offering 6 different dining options....all accompanying a name of someone he knows that we should ask for and lastly mentioned that he would try to make Tickets a reality.  We ended up eating enough for dinner and ended our evening earlier than any night thus far.
  • Tickets Bar - Remember our friend Paco, well while taking advantage of the 'life' part of our Eat/Life balance again on our final day in Barcelona I noticed an email from a name that wasn't familiar...Paco.  Oh YES!  Paco, and the email said this:
"HI, How are you? I´m Paco from Bodega 1900... YOU'LL HAVE TABLE AT TICKETS TONIGHT AT 19.00, ??? Tell me something before 15.00....Paco"
I immediately responded with extreme gratitude, and we were off and running. Tickets, another single Michelin star resturaunt is like nothing I have ever seen. Like Pakta the kitchen and prep is art and such art is where the naked eye can see, but there was something else.  Tickets was truly a 50/50 measurement of show (not just the food) and food (all food).  The front door has a woman in a top hat and circus leaders outfit standing behind a velvet rope.  Once sat, we were once again asked...'you chose or we chose' for our meal.  We obviously asked them to pick the best that they could, but stay within our budget as we had read on places like TripAdvisor and Yelp that people had made mistakes in the past and ended up with bills far exceeding 400 Euro.  About half way through our meal, a nice man in glasses showed up to see how our meal was PACO!  Our new friend from 1900.  He continued to be welcoming and ask us about our meal.  In the end he wanted us to come by 1900 after.  Not for a drink, but he wanted to hear about the experience and if he could do anything to make the trip more enjoyable.  
Menu at Tickets
Awning for Tickets looking
like the  show that it is

It's funny, over the years I have always put myself out there and at times it was too much.  I have had friends and family that have asked me to pull back, don't be so loud, why are you talking to these people, they don't care about you and more.  As a confident person who has always loved to hear and learn from others, I push those comments aside and the outcome of caring about others and asking questions about their lives will lead to a number of "pay it forward" moments.  We left Barcelona loving the food, nightlife, culture and most of all, the people (both local and new friends on holiday).  The trip reminded me of an old quote I used to hear while working on a morning show in high school.  They would always close out the show with this one quote:

"Its nice to be important, but its more important to be nice"
Our New Friend Paco!

Not a bad adventure,  eh?....more to come tomorrow...thanks for listening.