I like to test myself…and then you feel real good about what you’ve done. Biking is my thing, and most people on a bike have a smile on their face.

My wife passed away after 27 years together. So one of my philosophies is to Do It Today, because tomorrow you may not be able to. That’s carried over to my biking—when the weather is great, I ride with my friends.

Gary Gianni during his first Century (100 miles) ride—

Gary Gianni during his first Century (100 miles) ride—

Everyone rides a bike, when they’re a kid. I also messed around with bikes in my 20’s. But I played in a band part-time for 15-20 years after that, and I had no time to ride. I got tired of that. Then a friend offered me his mountain bike in 1988, when I was 35. (I’m 56 now.) So I quit playing and started riding, just five or 10 miles. There were trails near our house that I’d go on with my neighbor, who was 10 years younger. I met more people who rode, and it just became a passion.

Next it became a bit competitive. My two boys started riding with us. It makes me smile and feels good. It’s a great means of seeing things—more than hiking in the woods and trails. It’s so much fun.

Then a lady gave me a road bike, just left it at my house one night. I started riding on the road, which is safer and better for your cardiovascular system. You can go a lot faster and keep up your heart rate. Mountain biking is more up and down, while road biking is more steady. Once you get into a zone, you can really fly. It takes over your body physically.

Hill on the RAGBRAI out of St. Olaf, Iowa—

Hill on the RAGBRAI out of St. Olaf, Iowa—

Once I did the RAGBRAI [the Register’s (a local newspaper) Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa]. It’s a seven-day ride, 450-500 miles, a different route each year. There are 10,000 riders! Such an experience. You camp out each night after a set number of miles. So when I hit the 60-mile mark one day, there are 23 miles to go. I got into the zone, going 23 miles per hour, and I decide I’ll just go this fast as far as I feel good. I was in such a mental zone. I made it the whole way. That’s a pretty good clip.

The fastest rider I know does 21-22mph for 50 miles. You just feel good about it. You just have to do it. My girl friend Susan (see her story posted on 10/25/09) flew by me one time and went for five miles in the zone. The endorphins and adrenaline are flowing, everything seems to be right. You’re shifting nice, and you just go with it.

Susan and Gary at Pennwood, CT, New Year's Day, 2006

Susan and Gary at Pennwood, CT, New Year's Day, 2006

Then there are those times when you just bonk, and you can’t get out of your own way. Nutrition, eating well, and hydrating plays such a big part of it. You’re just tired, and your legs feel like lead, but it will pass. You’ll get your energy back. Younger riders are lighter, and they fly by you. Though there are a lot who can’t keep up with me. Physical conditioning is very important. There are even a lot of guys in their 20’s and 30’s I mountain bike with who can’t keep up with me.

In the summer, I go out 3-4 times a week. Two weekdays and Saturday and Sunday. Sometimes it’s 2-3 days in a row. It’s good to recover and back off a bit. You get a pain here and there, and you have to listen to your body and take it easy a little. Road riding takes up a good part of the day.

When we ride on roads, we usually won’t go less than 35 miles. We try for a 50-75 mile ride. If I’m going with friends who are fast riders, we travel at 17-18 mph. We live near a lot of hills, so when we go with older, slower riders, we go 13, 14, maybe 15 mph.

I once did 140 miles in a day. Four of us rode to Lake George, New York from Winsted, CT. It was 10 hours in the saddle. That’s a decent pace. Some fast guys can average 20 mph, but we were doing it for the enjoyment, just to have a good time.

A 66-year-old friend rode cross country, from Virginia to Oregon. Ten to 12 riders for 12 weeks. There were cars that hauled your supplies, sponsored riders and helped with breakdowns.

He and I also did the Border Raiders ride, named after Quantrill’s Raiders, back when there were border wars with slave states before the Civil War in the 1860’s. It’s 500 miles over eight days across four states (Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri). You go 160 miles in 100 degrees, from convenience store to convenience store. Grueling. You just keep filling up.

I’m talking with friends about doing a double century ride—200 miles—in one day. It’s kind of nice to push yourself a little bit.

Here’s my annual schedule: March to May—mountain biking; June to October—road riding; October until it’s too cold—mountain biking; winter we spin (stationary biking) 1-2 times a week in my cellar, which can fit two or three people, or in our friend’s cellar, which is big enough for 6-9 riders on trainers. We’re watching Spinervals DVD’s that tell you what gears to use, when to get out of the saddle, unclip one foot, go faster, slower. This keeps us going and connected.

One of the things that makes riding fun is the other people. We have pizza afterward, talk about the ride we just did or rides we’re going to do.

Here is more about mountain biking. There are 100 miles of mountain biking trails in East Burke, VT. Also farmland, marked snowmobile trails, great maps. It’s a mecca. Hundreds of mountain bikers swarm there from all over. We usually go once or twice a year, for all day or a weekend. Our group is 2-10 riders.

Gary (in orange) and son at Case Mountain, CT

Gary (in orange) and son at Case Mountain, CT

Another place is just an hour away. There are dozens of places within an hour or 1½ hours of where I live. There are books online that will list hundreds of spots: bikerag.comand dirtrag.com. You hear of trails by word of mouth. Some are so much fun, and you say that at many of the places.

Gary in the Kaibab Forest near the Grand Canyon

Gary in the Kaibab Forest near the Grand Canyon

There was a time when I’d try just about anything. I’ve had some pretty bad crashes. We can be pretty extreme. But now that I’m getting older, I get off and walk. For me, no more airlifting, broken limbs, spitting teeth out. In mountain biking, I’m usually the oldest guy in the group. You don’t see too many people my age or older.

I used to play a lot of basketball. I had a knee problem and many sprained tendons. Cycling seems to have helped that. If things aren’t set up right on your bike, you can feel pain on the road and when spinning. I’ve had some back aches and sciatica as I’ve gotten older, but I can ride without any problem. I hurt my neck, but cycling isn’t going to make it any worse. Always a little bit of pain, but it doesn’t bother me. Riding makes it better, along with a nice hot shower. I’ll just live through the pain.

I used to get a lot of satisfaction from guitar playing, gardening and running. But it was bad for the joints. Nothing makes me feel as good as finishing a ride. It’s great for my body. I’m so lucky that lady dropped off the bike one night that she couldn’t sell at her tag sale. Riding filled a void I had after my wife passed away. I’d just go out riding and forget about all my problems. I feel like a kid again. You just don’t worry about anything.

Clothing is very important. You have to pay attention to your weather. One time we went to Mt. Greylock, MA, and there was freezing rain. It’s the highest point in Massachusetts. We were frozen to the bone, so we had to cut the ride short that day. Dress warmly. You can get caught in the upper 30’s. We take the bikes out even when the trails are wet and slippery. We let some air out of the tires. We just go. We just have to get out there.

With friends at Pennwood—1/1/06

With friends at Pennwood—1/1/06

A few years back we went mountain biking on January 1st in Pennwood CT. Beautiful views. We don’t hesitate to get on the bike when it’s a bit warm. I’ve ridden in every month of the year. I’ve also had some close calls with hypothermia. Even with three layers of clothing. It gets a little frightening. My core temperature dropped, and the sweat gets cold. The clothes can’t wick it away fast enough. Even in the 30’s. The weather didn’t warm up like the weather report said it would.

If it’s 35 degrees, and you’re pedaling on the road at 15 mph, that’s like a 15 mph wind chill. Maybe more. It’s like sitting in a 20 degree room. Mountain biking is not as bad—you stop and go. But get a flat tire in the woods, and you’re fingers are too cold to change a tire…

Once I went to the Tunxis State Forest in CT. There are lots of babyheads (rocks the size of softballs to soccer balls). You’re going down a mile-long trail that’s pretty steep, trying to brake. You’re wrists get so sore. It can be frightening at times. Especially if you don’t know what’s ahead or around the corner. Exhilarating! You go over berms and catch a foot or two of air. You think you’re 10 feet up in the air.

Watching competitors do half pipes…I can’t imagine what they’re doing. I’ve seen guys walk their bikes up picnic tables and over cars. They let almost all the air out of their tires and have such balance and upper body control. You should watch videos of Hans Rey and others doing trick mountain biking and doing things people never thought of doing. (Editor’s note: I will post some of these soon)

But I like challenges. I did the climb at Nassahegan, CT—it took me three tries to make it. This summer I will do the Maah Daah Hey Trail in North Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt State Park. That’s a great one. 100 miles of single track through tablelands and mesas. It’s 4-5 days. You go 4-5 mph, some hard-core riders go 6 mph, racers even faster. People haul our stuff, make the food and set up our tent.

In 2008 we did parts of the Rainbow Rim Trail and the Arizona Trail at the Grand Canyon. There’s some woods, but other times you’re riding 2-6 feet from the edge. It’s a sheer drop of 5000 feet.

Last year I did Bunker Hill Road near Cornwall CT. You go 52 mph. What a rush. You get to the bottom and have scary afterthoughts…what if I had hit a rock or an animal had run out in front of me? Quite a high. But you’re with friends, and you don’t think about it.

I met my girl friend, Susan, through bike riding and a mutual friend. She was doing mountain biking, and I got her on the road. She prefers mountain biking, while I am 50-50.

They are really two different sports. You’re on two wheels, and that’s where the similarities end. You can’t do on one what you can do on the other. In mountain biking, you go over rocks and logs. On the road you are afraid of everything. You have to be so much more aware of your surrounding—cars, traffic, metal bridges. I walk it sometimes.

We have 15 people in our immediate group. I think five just mountain bike, five just road bike, and five do both. Sometimes 7-10 of us go out together for a ride.

Some other differences in the sports are the shoes (smooth for the road; cleats for MB), clothes (bib tights and Spandex for the road; baggy shorts for MB), gloves (tougher to deal with mud for MB), jerseys (tight for the road; looser for MB), and the costs of the bikes. A road bike is lighter than a MB and can cost from $1800 (for a 21-pound bike) to $5000 (for one that weighs just 17 pounds). A mountain bike costs from $1000 to $1600.

Europe is crazy for cycling and has been for years. Lance Armstrong’s success really brought cycling to the forefront in the USA. Since then mountain biking has picked up too, and the industry is growing and growing. As I said earlier, most people on a bike have a smile on their face.