My love of bicycling began in late May 1968. I was six years old. One of my buddies, Rex, a couple of years younger that me, who lived right next door, got my attention one day.
“Hey Mike, there’s a bike in your basement,” he quipped with a bit of a conspiratorial tone.
“What? Where?” I answered with some excitement. We were on the south side of my mom and dad’s house in an area between Rex’s house and mine.
“Look through the window there.” He pointed at the small window in the foundation nearby. I knew where that window led. It was a small room in our basement that my folks referred to as the “oil room.” The only thing normally in that room was a large oil drum which previously fed the oil furnace that my dad had recently replaced with a new, fancy gas furnace. I looked in, and sure enough, I could make out the form of a bike in the shadows below.
Of course, Rex and I, along with his little brother, Roy, hightailed it through my backdoor and down my basement stairs to investigate. As I approached the door to that little room, I was so freaking excited. I couldn’t believe it. I was getting a bike. That was the only reason a bike would be in there. Still, I’d have to wait. The door was secured. I couldn’t get it open. Apparently, no peeking allowed.
A few days later, after a period of intense anticipation, my graduation from 1st grade occurred and my reward was a shiny new 20” Schwinn Stingray. For the next six years, that bike was my ticket to adventure—especially after I finally learned to ride and the training wheels came off.
Soon, I had the run of the neighborhood. I rode up and down 21st Street in Muncie, between Hackley and Grant Streets. I cruised the alley behind my house. It wasn’t long before I was jumping homemade ramps and racing my friends. One of those races ended with my first serious sports-related injury—a broken collarbone.
My buddy Jerry wanted to race me down the alley from my street to his street. We took off on the gravel ruts with a grassy center section and gave it all we had as we tried to beat one another to the finish. As I recall it, I was slightly ahead and I looked over my right shoulder to see where he was. (Important Note: When racing, don’t ever look back.) As I turned my eyes back toward the goal, I realized I was veering off the path toward a large bush.
With no time to turn away, I slammed the pedal brake and went into a skid. I slid sideways into a short steel and concrete post that had been placed there, likely, to protect the shrub from the huge garbage trucks that rumbled weekly down that same alley. I hit the post hard and it flung me in the air. I remember sort of flipping before landing on my right shoulder.
About a week later, with my right arm in a sling, I started 3rd grade and had to learn to write lefthanded.
I kept that bike into middle school. When I completed 7th grade, my dad repeated his 1st grade reward and bought me an AMF 10-speed from Montgomery Ward. It was an ugly orange, but it widened my range. I rode it every day of every summer until I got my driver’s license in 1978. Even after that, it was my most consistent form of transportation, even into my college years. It never took me to school, but it took me to various friends’ houses, my youth leader’s house, my church, and to a myriad of other places for six or seven years. I would ride it all summer, then tuck it into my folk’s basement for winter storage.
Then, one spring, I went downstairs to get it out, clean it, lube it, and take it for a spin. It was gone. To this day, I don’t know what happened to that bike. It had disappeared.
I have three theories:
My next bike was acquired during my first year of marriage. My wife and I scraped up enough money to buy a couple of Sears & Roebuck Free Spirit Ten Speeds. Let me say, these were the two worst bikes I’ve ever had. I could never get them adjusted correctly, they were heavy, and they were hard to pedal. We kept them around for maybe three years before parting with them. We hardly put more than twenty miles on them the entire time we owned them.
Tip: Always buy your bikes from a professional bike shop. You’ll get better quality bikes and they’ll be assembled by someone who knows what the heck they’re doing.
After the Free Spirit debacle, I was bikeless for around eight years or so. Then, cycling reentered my life. I bought a new, cherry-red, Trek mountainbike. No suspension, just an aluminum-framed ticket to wind in my face. It was a breath of fresh air—literally and figuratively. Plus, bugs in the eyes. (I learned to wear sunglasses. As a kid, I always wore regular glasses, so I didn’t even consider bugs in the eyes.)
I was living on the southeast side of Indianapolis at the time and I began to ride five-mile loops for exercise. Soon, I convinced my buddy Steve to get a bike, too. We began riding together. Not long after, I hatched a scheme. I got to where I could ride ten miles with no issues. I realized my mom & dad’s house was only about 70 miles away. If I could repeat the ten miles seven times, I could ride all the way to my folk’s place. That didn't sound too tough to do. “Hey Steve…” Yep, he jumped on board and we started training. A couple of months later, we made the journey, just the two of us, with no sag support. We did map out a route and we did carry supplies, but we were all on our own with no real experience in bike maintenance. Fortunately, we had no mechanical issues and hours after we started out, we struggled into my folk’s front yard, dehydrated, exhausted, and quite hungry.
We did the journey again the next year as a fundraiser for a charity our church sponsored. Somewhere around fifteen people joined us for that one. It was such a success, we kept it going for the next several years. It kept getting bigger until we had close to 100 riders, plus a kid’s version, too. After the second year, we changed it to a loop starting and ending on the southeast side of Indy and named it the Mission Challenge Ride, or MCR for short, but kept the distance at approximately 70 miles. I think we kept it going annually until 2002 or or maybe 2003. Then, it just ended as our church dynamic changed, and I couldn’t continue to promote it.
By the way, after the first year, I added a Trek roadbike to my two-wheeled collection. In the last year of the MCR, I sold that one to a buddy and bought a brand, spanking new Lemond roadbike. That’s the bike I still ride on longer rides to this day. It has a steel frame rather than aluminum, so it’s more forgiving to my larger, stiffer body than the aluminum versions, and it fits me very well. I still love that bike, even though it’s nearly twenty years old now.
After the annual MCR events came to an end, my enthusiasm to get out on the pavement tailed off. Most of my riding buddies had gone other directions. I rode some through 2006. I rode the Hilly Hundred in Indiana in 2006. However, I went inactive for the next two seasons, hanging my Lemond on my garage wall.
In 2009, I got my groove back. I pulled the bike from the wall and started cranking off the miles. I had a personal goal. I wanted to complete a Century Ride—100 miles in a single day, something I’d never done. I trained. I watched my food. I trained some more. Miles and miles and miles. I continued training until mid-September 2009, the day I met my goal on the Cardinal Greenway.
My wife drove sag for me all day. She said it was the most boring day of her life. I would leave from a point on the trail and she would drive to the next planned stop to refill my water bottles, give me something to eat, and add in some encouragement. It was an all-day affair, but I did it. 108 miles in total. Century ride comleted.
One week later, I tore my right Achillies tendon and I’ve never quite returned to the cycling form I’d reached during that last significant accomplishment. The bike returned to the wall.
Last year, I pulled the bikes out again. I still have the Lemond, which I use for rides longer than twelve or fifteen miles, but I also have a Trek “flat-bar roadbike,” which I think is a fancy term for a hybid—a bike that is sort of a cross between a roadbike and a mountainbike. I put a lot of miles on the Trek last year and even some longer rides on the Lemond. It was a good year, but I’m nowhere near where I was in 2009. Still, there’s always this year.
We’ll see. I still love the freedom on the country roads, the sun on my legs, the wind through my helmet slots, and the bugs bouncing off my sunglasses. Maybe I’ll see you out there on the road.
At some point in 2004, I came up with the brilliant idea to take my oldest daughter on a father/daughter adventure for her 16th birthday the following year. Sounds like a great idea, right? Well, my suggestion is to hold that off until the 21st birthday. Dads and daughters sometimes have communications issues during the mid-teen years. Despite all that, the trip we took turned out to be incredible.
We spent a week rafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.
Floating the river in the sun with the huge cliffs soaring overhead. Taking hikes into side canyons and into mysterious alcoves of crisp air and cool water. Sleeping under the stars with no light noise to drown out the Milky Way. It was seven days of pure adventure.
The picture you see in this blog is one I took from the very ledge where I spent the first night with the river rushing by mere inches away. Basically, I’m urban bred. I grew up in the city and did very little camping that didn’t involve a tent in my back yard. As a result, as I bedded down on that slanted rock surface with another section of rock acting as my roof, I was a tad nervous. Would I accidentally roll over and end up in the river at 4 A.M.? Would a scorpion crawl across my face at 2 A.M.? I remember asking myself, “What have I gotten myself into?”
As you look at the picture, notice there is a very narrow ledge that runs along the rock face on the left. That is actually a trail. We traversed that trail before dinner (which was grilled salmon, by the way). Basically, it’s just wide enough for your feet. One misstep and you’re in the river, which, as you can see, was angrily roiling by at quite a rate of speed. After you follow the tiny, miniscule trail to where it goes out of sight on the left, you come to a hole in the stone, where you have to carefully drop through (then crawl back up through on the return) before continuing into one of the side canyons.
Each day, we had another similar adventure and by the end of the week, I was tired, but I was also acclimated. I’d do it again.
At the end of the week, we were only halfway through the canyon. They let my daughter and I out at the Bright Angel Trail so that we could loft our packs on our backs and hike the seven miles up to the South Rim—another all-day adventure in itself.
Like I said, I’d do it again. Next time, I want to take my wife. This would be right up her alley.
If you are interested, check out Arizona Raft Adventures – They are a magnificent group of people who put on a stellar touring program. They have a variety of boat styles and trip lengths to choose from. We chose a classic adventure which features one paddle boat and four or five oar-driven boats. They also have motor trips (too fast, in my opinion) where you can cover the full canyon in one week. The Arizona Raft Adventures tour guides cook a hot breakfast and a hot dinner each morning and evening. Good stuff, too. We had salmon, we had steak. We had eggs and bacon. Right there on the riverbank. They even brought along a birthday cake to celebrate my teenager’s 16th birthday in the middle of the trip. I can’t recommend them enough. They know what they’re doing.
So, the next time someone tells you to “Take a hike!” – I’ve got a great destination for you to consider.
I created Henry while a student at Williamstown Bible College in Williamstown, West Virginia. This would have been sometime between the fall of 1980 and the spring of 1982. No one was particularly the inspiration for Henry. I was studying to be in the ministry, and I was surrounded by preachers or men who wanted to be preachers, so I suppose it was natural that when he hit my brain, I made him a preacher.
I’ve always enjoyed drawing, although, unlike my daughter Angela, I don’t think I’m particularly gifted. I simply enjoy creating and one way to do that is the art of drawing. In one brief moment of inspiration, I realized that most of my favorite comics were made up of a few specific strokes of the pen that are easily repeated. (Take a close look at Charlie Brown, Blondie or even Mickey Mouse, etc.) A short while later, Henry was created—his face anyway. I’ve never been particularly good a drawing the human form, and hands completely escape me, but I created the face.
Soon, Henry the Preacher began to show up on the various chalk or white boards around the Bible College, and its little sister school, the Williamstown Christian School. Invariably, I included some little cute remark to make folks chuckle. I’ve been drawing him ever since—most times he’s a preacher, but he has occasionally taken a job as a bearing salesman. He still randomly shows up on whiteboards or chalkboards. If the inspiration hits me, I draw the dude.
I also created a little family to go along with Henry. He has a brother named Cosmos, who sports sunglasses (regardless the time of day or the weather), a leather jacket, and a goatee. Henry’s wife is Henrietta. His dad is Hank. There’s a couple others. I’ve never done much with the crew. Cosmos does show up once in a while, when I’m looking to rock a boat.
Over the years, Henry hasn’t changed much. He nearly always wears a tie, but rarely sports a jacket anymore. I had some notepads made up one time with his face at the top. I wish I still had one of those around.
Once, while attending Indiana Business College, I had a guy who thought he could get an investor to back me so I could try to syndicate Henry into a weekly strip. He needed a “portfolio.” That was a big problem. I couldn’t get his face right when I was trying to draw him for a serious purpose. For another thing, I could never draw him in any direction except looking straight ahead. Forget trying to add some form of movement. Years later, I did finally succeed in turning his head to one side. Hmm. Maybe there’s still some hope.
I still draw him sometimes, just for fun. The picture you see attached at the top of this blog was done a few years ago when I decided to create some more detailed, single-frame comics. I recently gave the original away as a prize in the Facebook New Year’s Party contest sponsored by my publisher. I asked a question and stated that I’d randomly draw a winner of the original drawing from among those who answered the question. I fully expected that question to go unanswered, but to my amazement, there were many entries. Seems Henry is a likeable guy.
I have a few more original Henry drawings lying around. Maybe he will make some future appearances. For now, though, he waits back there in my psyche. I still have my drawing pad of comic boards. Eventually, he’ll grab my creative brain by the ears and force his way out again.
See you soon, Henry.
I’ve been trying to get my mind wrapped around creating a new blog. I used to blog all the time. I was creating new postings every week. I loved it. I was excited about it. Then, well, it just ended. I came to a full stop. I’m not sure why, but apparently, I ran out of steam.
After I published my first novel (Abandon Hope), I found myself putting all my energy into trying to market it. I’m still working on that. From there, I moved right into writing my devotional book (Loving Out Loud), consuming more time. Finally, I had to get going with the upcoming sequel (Nozomi’s Battle), which will be released very, very soon. All of this was going on while I was changing roles in my 8 to 5 job.
Along the way, my agent and others said, “You need to create an email list.” Then, “You need to be writing a monthly newsletter.” On top of all that, I heard: “Hey, writers need to be blogging.”
All of the above is about creating a “platform.” In other words, a readymade set of followers who would want my books. Are you part of that group?
Now, I’m trying to buckle down and get those things done. Thus, my new blog…which you are reading. Thank you for indulging me.
Now, what to talk about?
That was one of my issues. It was a major question. I don’t want to focus on politics. There’s enough of that out there already. I could share my thoughts on spiritual matters, which would fit with my Loving Out Loud book, but that didn’t light my fuse either. What would be interesting? To me and to you? I finally settled on an idea. Something I’d try.
I will focus my blog posts on a picture. I will pick an old photo or interesting shot, and I’ll tell you a story about it, the people, or how the picture makes me feel. I hope you enjoy the concept because that’s what I’m running with—at least for now.
This first picture is of me and my sister and it makes me smile—just like I did when it was taken. Kay was seventeen years old when I was born. As this shot was snapped, she wasn’t yet eighteen. As a little dude, I pretty much adored her, and I can say without much hesitation that she adored me right back. I was Sissy’s Little Darlin’ (she still calls me that) and she was the most beautiful girl in the world.
This picture was taken on my folks’ front porch in Muncie, Indiana. (It just occurred to me to try to recreate the picture. Wouldn’t that be a hoot? But there is a problem. Someone else owns the house now. I’ll think about that.) We used to do a lot on that little stoop, but it mostly involved sitting, talking, and watching the traffic go by, sometimes late into the evening, past my bedtime.
It looks like she’s holding a stuffed animal. I don’t remember that one. I don’t think it’s the little mechanical beast she brought home one time and scared the living daylights out of me. I scampered up to the top of my mom’s sofa to get away from it. That little trauma is locked into my memory bank. Someday, when I can’t remember who I am anymore, I’m sure that event will come back in my nightmares.
We had a lot of fun when I was little. She would rock me. She sang to me. She took me downtown on the city bus. When I got a year or two older, she pushed me into a professional singing career. She had me sing The Birds and the Bees, a recent single by Jewel Akens, in a downtown diner. People gave me dimes, nickels, and quarters. It paid for our little lunch. My singing career ended the same day it started, though. I was a one-hit wonder.
On another trip, she took me to the downtown Sears & Roebuck store. I was on the go and she lost track of me. When she found me, I was “making a deposit” into a toilet on display in the plumbing department. Let’s just say we made a beeline to the exit.
I only had one real fault with her in those days: she smoked. She smoked a lot.
I used to beg her to quit, but she didn’t listen. Then again, almost every grown up I knew smoked in those days. I could probably count on one hand the number of people I remember who didn’t, so she was right in line with society. I hated it.
But I loved my sister. Still do. I have many good memories with her. I have some bad ones, too. That’s life, right? She made me laugh, a lot. She always made me give her a kiss. I guess she still does. She used to pick me up and smear lipstick on my face. Now, I have to stoop down so she can plant one on my cheek.
Siblings are the real deal. Hug ‘em while you got ‘em.
Michael DeCamp is a husband, father, uncle, son, and brother. He built a career in industrial sales while maintaining an spiritual life in pursuit of a love for God. He has published one fantasy thriller and one devotional book. (There are more on the way.) He also produces a podcast (The Cutters Notch Podcast) that provides new episode approximately twice per month.