Becoming a CASA

A Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) is an advocate for a child who has been removed from the home by Child Protective Services (CPS). The court assigns a guardian to the child – the CASA is the “guardian ad litem” (which means guardian for this time) for the time that the child is away from his parent.

Judge Cynthia Wheless presided over my swearing-in ceremony as a CASA volunteer in July 2018.

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Judge Cynthia Wheless and Mark Johnson at the CASA swearing-in ceremony – July 2018.

When a child is removed from their home due to abuse or neglect, the court assigns the child a CASA/guardian ad litem. The CASA works with the child to understand his background, his story, and his needs. The CASA works with many parties (attorneys, the court, parents, family members, foster parents, CPS caseworkers, doctors, teachers, psychologists, counselors, and other professionals) to protect the best interests of the child. In the state of Texas, parents have rights to their children. When a child is removed from their home due to abuse or neglect, the state sues for temporary parental rights of the child. This is a civil law proceeding that can last anywhere from 6 months to years (depending on the circumstances). There may also be a related, but separate, criminal proceeding associated with the abuse or neglect.

The state always attempts to reunite a child who has been removed from his home with his family. To do this, the state works to ensure that the danger or neglect in the home is removed, addressed, and corrected – this may include activities such as drug/alcohol cessation activities for the parent(s), parenting classes, home improvements, and the like. But if the child cannot be reunited with his family in a reasonable time, the state will sue to permanently terminate parental rights. Then the child becomes available for adoption.

In Collin County, Texas, the CASA is the child’s guardian ad litem until one of three things happen…

  1. The child is reunited with his family.
  2. The child is adopted.
  3. The child ages out of the system (he becomes an adult).

There is a great need for CASA’s. I felt God leading me to become a CASA. So I applied to be a CASA in Collin County, Texas. I went through the vetting process (applications, background checks, driving records checks, criminal history checks, reference checks. and personal interviews). Once vetted by the CASA of Collin County organization, I attended a set of training sessions that covered many areas – signs of child abuse or neglect, types of abuse or neglect, intro to the Texas Family Code (law), the CPS process, the court process, the case working process, family dynamics, cultural competency, medical advocacy, educational advocacy, legal advocacy, and investigative techniques.

After vetting and training completion, I was sworn in by the judge.

I received my first case as a CASA in August 2018. Due to privacy issues, CASA’s may not share information regarding the specific child, the specifics of the case, or the specifics of family dynamics associated with the case.

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Road Crash 2018

There are two types of road bike riders in the world. Those who have crashed and those who have not yet crashed. I am now in the “those who have crashed” group.

My crash happened in late April 2018. It was a beautiful day for a ride in the north Texas area. I rode with a group of 10 riders that morning. We were at the tail-end of a 53 mile ride, about 4 miles from the end of the ride, on a six lane, divided street (3 lanes in each direction). I was riding in the left-hand last position in the group of riders riding in two lines, traveling about 16-18 miles per hour. The group was getting ready to take a left turn and needed to move from the right-hand lane across to the far left-hand lane. The riders in front gave a hand signal to prepare to move lanes. Being the last rider, and so was responsible to “clear the lanes” (check for cars behind the group and signal whether the lanes were clear/safe into which the group of riders might move).

I turned around to check the lanes for cars, and that was the last thing I remember. I later learned that my front wheel made contact with the rear wheel of the rider in front of me, my front wheel quickly turned as a result of the contact, and I went down hard on the concrete. The rider who’s wheel I clipped hear heard me go down, yelled “Rider down!” and the group stopped.

I was laying on the concrete, unconscious for five minutes. It had happened so fast that I was still clipped in to my bike. A rider, who was a nurse, observed that I was breathing and that I had a pulse. Seeing my cracked helmet, he was concerned about a head/neck injury. He told the group to leave me laying there – to not move me. One of the group members call 911 and others in the group blocked traffic. Always wear a helmet – I would have had irreversible brain damage if I had not been wearing a helmet.

The next thing I remember was being in an ambulance on the way to the hospital. I became conscious after 5 minutes, and the emergency personnel began asking me diagnostic questions. I did not know my name, the date, or who was president was.

The next thing I remember was being in the emergency room at the hospital. The medical staff were assessing me and addressing the issues. I got a head CT scan and a body CT scan, but do not remember any of that.

The diagnosis – no broken bones, a concussion with no long term damage, whiplash, vertigo, and road rash (a combination of scrapes and bruising). Road rash was on my chin, left shoulder, left hip, left knee, and left ankle. This was the first time I had received road rash and it was very painful. It hurt to take a shower, to dress, and to do normal daily activities.

Since I was unconscious, the group of riders used my Road ID to get contact information for my wife. A group member called her and let her know I was on my way to the hospital. I have worn a Road ID for four year, and it was used well on that day. Always wear a helmet and a Road ID. The nurse (who was on the ride with me) went to the hospital to be with me. He was concerned about head and neck injuries, but once the CT scan came back clear, he left me with emergency room staff.

I rested (full rest) for two days. The concussion caused a sort of dark cloud to form in my mind – slow thinking and a mild depression. The dark cloud went away after about 5 days. The whiplash (stiff neck) disappeared after 3 days. The vertigo (dizzy feeling) was caused by crystals in my inner ear that shook loose when my helmet hit the concrete. After a few days, I did a set of head maneuvers that got rid of my vertigo. The road rash took a few weeks to heal.

I am thankful for the miracle of healing – God made our bodies so that they can repair themselves after a trauma. I am thankful for the riders in the group who helped me after the crash, took my bike home, and called me to follow up on me. And I am thankful for the medical staff (paramedics, nurses, and doctors) who assessed my injuries and took care of them.

I threw away my crashed helmet and got a new one. I went to the gym after a few weeks, slowly returning to light exercise. It took me about two months before I began riding again – slowly at first, then building up my endurance and fitness to ride faster. I was back to my prior fitness about four months after the crash.

Be safe out there.

Last Ride of 2017 (what I learned)

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Took my last ride of 2017 today. It has been quite a year –  a year of new experiences and learning. I rode 7,020 miles on my bikes this year (road bike and mountain bike). Rode mostly road rides with groups, rode a few solo road rides, one road rally, and a few off-road trips on my mountain bike.

The year began with a goal of riding 5,000 miles. Then by late spring, I realized I could make 6,000 miles. So I stretched to a new 6,000 mile goal.

During the spring, I moved up to a more advanced riding group as I learned more about road biking and became more fit. I began the year riding Plano Bicycle Association’s DB2 group (Distance Builder 2). Around springtime I moved up to the PBA DB1 group (Distance Builder 1). DB1 rides a 18.5 – 19.5 mph average rolling speed and rides using a paceline formation. I learned how to ride in a paceline (a constantly rotating group of road riders who maximize their efficiency by taking measured turns leading the group and taking turns drafting off of each other). The group shares the load of the hard of leading up front. You can go much faster and much farther with a group or a team that works together. This is true outside the biking world as well.

My last daughter Lauren graduated from Baylor University in May. What a great feeling to get all your children through college – a significant life milestone.

Then summer hit – and it was a doozy!

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Riding and camping in Palo Duro Canyon.

I drove to Palo Duro Canyon near Amarillo Texas and rode in the canyon with a college friend David Connel and his wife Amy. David and I had lost contact after college, but reconnected on Facebook. We saw (via Facebook posts) that each other was riding off-road, and said, “Let’s ride.” I suggested a camping and biking trip to Palo Duro Canyon. It was a wonderful trip. See trip photos and details here.

Then later in June I broke my ribs (a wave runner accident – not a biking accident). A friend and I lead a group of teenaged boys in Bible study in the youth group at our church. We took the group of 9th grade boys to my friend’s lake house for a “lake day” – a day of swimming, tubing, wave runners, eating and enjoying the summer time. I let a 14 year old boy drive me on a wave runner. We were going about 40 mph when he took a hard turn that dumped us both off the wave runner and into the water. The student skimmed across the water landing about 15 yards away. I must have hit the side of a wave, and rather than skimming across the water, I stopped immediately, crushing the left-hand side of my torso. It knocked the breath out of me. After checking to make sure the student was OK, I turned my attention to the pain in my ribs. This was not the first time I had broken my ribs –  I was familiar with the pain and knew immediately that they were broken. After recovering the wave runner, I slowly pulled myself aboard and called it a day. The student felt badly and apologized profusely. I told him I loved him and forgave him. Ministry is not always clean (and this is one example). But sharing with students about Jesus is worth so much more than any temporary pain.

I had planned on riding my first ever bike road rally the next morning. I had promised to ride the rally with a friend and really wanted to ride in it, so I dragged my broken body out of bed and rode the 60 mile rally in pain. In retrospect – not a great idea.  My wife Susan gave me the business for riding the morning after my injury. In addition, she wanted me to avoid getting hurt anymore before my daughter’s upcoming wedding. So I stopped riding in order to heal.

That rib injury put a crimp in my riding plans – broken ribs have an 8-10 week recovery – a real setback for me. I was concerned about making my annual mileage goal. So I rode a stationary bike indoors at the city of Plano recreation center – much less pain involved than riding with broken ribs on a road bike. I counted the miles logged on the stationary bike, adding it to my mileage total. It was a ten weeks before I got back on the road bike, having missed most of the summer’s biking season. I am thankful for the miracle of healing – it is a great wonder to me how God designs our bodies to heal and rejuvenate.

My youngest daughter Lauren married Ben Cork in late August. With three daughters, this was my first time to be father of the bride, and it was wonderful. Ben is everything one would want in a son-in-law – he is a believer in Christ, loves Lauren, works well with others, and is a friend to many. Ben and Lauren moved to San Jose, CA and are adjusting to their new life as newlyweds. Susan and I pray for Ben and Lauren as they make their way in the world.

Ben and Lauren wedding - August 2017

Ben and Lauren Cork (photo credit Ashlee Huff Photography)

My oldest daughter Julie moved from North Carolina back to Plano in the early fall and moved in with us for several months. She found a job as a people recruiter for a local recruiting company. It is good to have her back in the area.

I replaced my old, worn-out Bible with a new one in September. I had to admit that I was aging and, as such, ordered a large print Bible in a new translation (the ESV translation). I suffer from the 55 year old’s vision impairment that is corrected with reading glasses. So I was destined for a large print Bible. It took me several months to transfer my notes from my old Bible to the new one. Transferring my notes was a trip down memory lane, remembering many of my life’s spiritual markers, reminiscing about what God had taught me through the years and being reminded of God’s deeds and wonders. God’s word is filled with his promises and his wonders.

My mother is 86 years of age and I spend a significant part of my time during the year helping her (doing her shopping, helping her around her apartment, running her finances, taking her to doctors, ordering her medications, etc). She is becoming increasingly dependent as she ages, and so my calendar is becoming more filled with activities supporting her. If I had to do it by myself, I would do it poorly. But I have the help of sisters who keep me straight.

I discovered a bike riding group that meets on Tuesday and Thursday mornings in the Plano area. I ride with them – much safer than riding alone. I ended up riding three times a week – Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. This bumped up my weekly mileage to about 150 miles a week (for the weeks I was able to ride).

Riding 150 miles a week takes quite a bit of energy. So this summer I created a recipe for Mark Bars – a protein and fuel bar that helps me bike hard. It is good for athletic endeavors – easy to eat quickly (on a ride), digests well, tastes great, and provides the energy needed to ride. It took several batches to get the recipe just right – a combination of oats, nuts, coconut and other healthy ingredients. It was fun using my creativity and tweaking the recipe. I throw one in my pocket, eat it on the road and it gets me home.

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My new son Ben rides and has experience working in a bike shop. He gave me a bike tuneup for Christmas and has been super helpful, telling me about useful gear, answering my bike mechanic questions, and teaching me about bike maintenance (derailleur and gear tweaking, chain maintenance and changing, disk brake maintenance, replacing cables, etc) . This year I have learned about riding strategies, road bike gear and road bike maintenance. I am a lifelong learner and love to learn about bikes and biking.

All of my children were home for Christmas – what a blessing that they would take time from their active lives to spend it with Susan and I. We visited, ate lots of food, put together a Christmas puzzle, went to an escape room, watched some movies and shared life. Good times.

I feel blessed with a wonderful year of safe riding – no bike riding accidents. God has blessed me. What a blessing to have the health to ride. My wife Susan has always supported my biking efforts – and for that I am thankful.

What I learned this year…

  • You can go much faster and much farther with a group or a team that works together.
  • Letting teenaged boys drive you on a jet ski or wave runner is risky business. Don’t let them drive you – instead, drive them and stay in control.  🙂
  • Ministry is not always clean – it can get dirty. But the mess is worth it.
  • When working towards a goal, be flexible.  When things don’t work as anticipated, flexibility allows you to make goals despite setbacks.
  • God’s word is filled with his promises and his wonders.
  • Pray for your children – they can always use it.
  • Be a life-long learner.
  • Being thankful allows you to see God at work.

 

Best wishes for a wonderful New Year!!!

 

Palo Duro Canyon 2017


I took a trip to Palo Duro Canyon to ride off-road in June 2017. Wanted to take a week-long trip to a the Pacific Northwest, but with two daughters getting married this summer, the investment (of time and money) in a mountain biking trip was curtailed.

So I planned a short trip where I could take a car-ride, and spend less time and money. I had been to Palo Duro Canyon many years ago (short half-day, non-biking trip) with my family. So I checked out the Palo Duro Canyon State Park off-road trails on the park’s website and planned the trip.

Through the magic of Facebook, I recently re-connected with a college friend who rode mountain bikes. I met David Connel at the University of Texas at Austin. We had lost touch after college, but 33 years later re-connected on Facebook. He and his wife Amy are very active in outdoor activities (hiking, biking, skiing, camping, etc), and so I invited them to go with me to Palo Duro Canyon. David and I had not seen each other for 33 years, and I had never met Amy.

We loaded up our bikes and camping gear and drove out to Palo Duro Canyon. David and Amy drove their 4-wheel drive, extended-cab pickup truck with a bike rack on the back. We visited on the six hour drive from Plano, Texas to Palo Duro Canyon, beginning to catch up on the last 33 years of life. It was wonderful to share all the stories, joys, and sorrows of our lives.

Arriving in the mid-afternoon, at Cactus Camp, we unloaded our bikes and gear. I brought a Specialized Carve hardtail mountain bike with 29 inch wheels and disc brakes. We rode out to explore the canyon’s off-road biking trails for the first time. We rode the Lighthouse Trail, a moderate trail, hiked from the trail’s end to the park’s iconic Lighthouse rock formation, and back down the trail to our campsite. The ride was a good short ride to check out the park (about 9 miles).


After the exploratory ride, we made dinner and visited. I slept in my hammock, while David and Amy slept in the bed of their pickup truck. Went to sleep listening to the night sounds of a light breeze in the mesquite trees, crickets chirping their rhythmic song , a few raccoons rummaging through camp, and coyotes yip-yip-howling into the night. It was good to be camping in God’s creation.

The next morning we woke up to the sound morning sounds of many species of birds – doves cooing, woodpeckers tapping, wild turkeys gobbling, sparrows chirping, roadrunners, swifts, and swallows. A few wild turkeys would roam through our campsite several times over the next few days. We ate breakfast, geared up our hydration packs with water and supplies, and mounted up.

It was a warm, sunny day. We rode the Capitol Peak Trail, the Juniper Cliffside Trail, and the Juniper Riverside Trail back to our campsite. Ate lunch at our campsite. Amy stayed at camp while David and I and headed out to ride the Sunflower Trail, the Rojo Grande Trail, the Paseo del Rio Trail, the Givens Spicer Lowry Trail, and the Lighthouse Trail. We returned to camp on the Rojo Grande Trail and recovered, getting rehydrated and eating recovery food. I rode about 20 miles that day (see trail maps for details).


We changed into fresh clothes and took the truck to the outdoor amphitheater in the canyon floor. We bought tickets to the barbecue dinner and the Texas Outdoor Musical. The barbecue dinner hit the spot after a day’s ride – beef brisket, pulled pork, sausage, beans, potato salad, cole slaw, bread, peach cobbler, cherry cobbler, and other fixings. The musical was held in the outdoor amphitheater that held about 1,000 people – it comprised colorful costumes, lively dancing, singing, splendid fireworks, and drama about Texas and the local canyon. We returned to camp, showered and slept the night.

The next morning we awoke, ate breakfast, and saddled up for a hard day’s work – a ride from the canyon floor to the canyon rim. We rode the steep climb up the Rock Garden Trail to the Palo Duro Canyon Rim. The climb was filled with rock, boulders, and gravel – a rise in elevation of about 900 feet. Several places I got off and pushed the bike up the steep inclines, trail switchbacks, step ups, and rock structures. Had one fall near the top of the climb to the canyon’s rim. There was a large boulder encroaching onto the side of the thin singletrack trail along the canyon wall’s edge. My handlebars hit the boulder and I fell downhill into some bushes. I was thankful for the bushes – I landed on them (rather than on hard rock) and I was able to grab hold of them to keep me from tumbling down the steep slope of the cliffside. I extricated myself from the bushes, checked for injuries (minor abrasions on my lower legs), collected my bike and rode upward. I was glad for the cloud cover during the ride, keeping the temperature relatively cool (mid-80’s F) for most of the morning. We reached the rim about 10:30 am and rode the relatively flat Rylander Fortress Trail along the rim’s edge.


Then we headed back down the Rock Garden Trail from the canyon’s rim to the canyon floor. The ride down was technical and fun, riding both brakes to slow the descent speed, negotiating the trail’s switchbacks, step downs and rock structures. I got off the bike a few times to walk a few of the tougher obstacles.

We returned to camp, ate lunch and recovered from the morning ride. David and I rode Rojo Grande Trail, Paseo del Rio Trail, Givens Spicer Lowry Trail, Lighthouse Trail and returned to camp via the Rojo Grande Trail. I rode about 23 off-road miles that day.

We ate dinner, visited, showered and went to bed. I went to sleep thankful for good friends, grateful for the health God has given me, and amazed at all that God created at Palo Duro Canyon!

The next morning we awoke, packed up and left Palo Duro Canyon for the drive back to Plano, Texas. If you get a chance to ride Palo Duro Canyon near Amarillo, Texas, it is worth the trip.

 

Last Ride of 2016

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I rode my last ride of the year today. It was a hard road ride – got a flat at mile 12 and had a hard time keeping up with the group for the 55 mile ride.

My mileage app says I biked 4,505 miles in 2016. Most of that mileage was on mountain bike in the Dallas area. I rode my mountain bike on paved surfaces when it was too wet to ride. I bought my first road bike ever in September 2016, adding some road-biking miles to the mix.

This year my rides included…

  • climbing rides up to 5,800 feet altitude in the Bend, Oregon area
  • rides to waterfalls and and rivers
  • wild off-road rides down steep, winding descents
  • rides exploring areas of exquisite forested beauty
  • gravity ride down Haleakala volcano with my family in Maui, Hawaii
  • romps on local trails in the Dallas area,
  • rides in the sun, wind, and rain
  • group road bike rides in pace lines
  • many training rides – to get miles in and to stay fit.

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Looking back on the rides this year, I recognize the blessings that God has provided…

Who knows where adventure will take me in 2017 !!!

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My Great Big Bend, Oregon Mountain Biking Adventure

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Last week (July 2016) I finished a mountain biking trip in Bend, Oregon. The trip included seven days of riding, camping in a hammock, and exploring the town of Bend.

It was a spectacular trip!

I biked 277 miles, rode 18 of the trails in the Bend area (just a small fraction of the mountain biking trails in the Bend area).

The trip was filled with spectacular mountain trails, high desert landscape, challenging climbs, and thrilling descents. The entire week was a refreshing break.

Here is what I learned…

  • Bend, Oregon is one of the best places to ride in the USA. Hundreds of miles of well-marked trails and a large number of rainless days allow for a wonderful mountain biking ecosystem. In my seven days of riding, I only rode a small fraction of the vast number of trails available in the Bend area.
  • People in Oregon are kind and helpful to visitors. I always received a kind greeting and a helping hand wherever I went.
  • God gave me good health and allowed me to the encounter another small slice of the vast universe he created. I am thankful to God and acknowledge his wonder, power, and creativity. It is his world, and he allows me to live in it.

Below are my daily experiences, filled with photos, maps, and descriptions of my rides. I hope that you use my experiences to gain a perspective about Bend and that you benefit from my experience …

Day Before the Bend Mountain Biking Trip

Day One – Eugene to Bend

Day Two – Into The Wild

Day Three – Mountain Biking is Art

Day Four – Moving Day

Day Five – Dirt Paths of Life

Day Six – Marianne and Houdini

Day Seven – Easy Day

Day Eight – Last Day (Perfect Day)

Day Eight – Last Day (Perfect Day)

Woke at 7:00 am and packed up to check out of Motel 6. I am moving to a hotel that is close to the bus stop where I pick up a bus that goes from Bend to Portland. Checked out of Motel 6 at 8 am and biked through the town of Bend. It was cool (about 55 degrees) and sunny. Stopped at a local restaurant to fuel up with a bean, egg, and cheese breakfast burrito.

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Climbing fuel – breakfast burrito.

I am completely excited about my last day in Bend. I planned to ride TiddlyWinks trail (the 7.2 mile trail on which I fell two days ago), and Storm King trail (4 miles). They are both super fun trails and I begin the day with unbridled anticipation. Rode out of Bend up the Cascade Lakes Highway, 13.5 miles, to Wanoga Snow Park. The trailhead for Tiddlywinks is there. Arrived at the Tiddlywinks trailhead (about 5,500 feet in elevation) at 10:40 am.

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Rode to the most challenging section of the trail and stopped to rest and get a drink. The challenging section had danger warning signs, but riding this section of the trail is mountain biking at its best.

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Danger ahead – thumbs up!

Loved descending the challenging section of Tiddlywinks trail. The big-time downhill curves and switchbacks were super fun, leaning into the banked berms while riding the disc brakes to keep a safe speed. Zig-zagging through pine trees, flying through the jumps, and nailing the landings was super fun. I rode with a heightened sense of awareness – using all my skills, balancing efforts, quickness, and agility to negotiate the downhill course.

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Downhill section of Tiddlywinks trail near Bend, Oregon. Bumps, jumps, banked berms, and fun!

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Rock section of Tiddlywinks trail – near Bend, Oregon.

Stopped at the bottom of Tiddlywinks trail for lunch (granola, trail mix, and water). While eating lunch, I noticed a bike about 20 feet up in a tree and took a photo. I wandered, “Did the rider get some big air on a jump and met the tree mid-air? Or was this a rider who met a tree when the snow was so deep that 20 feet up was ground level (snow melted in the spring)?”

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Lunch spot at bottom of Tiddlywinks trail.

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Bike in tree at bottom of Tiddlywinks trail – near Bend, Oregon.

Saddled back up after lunch and rode the flowy and fast Storm King trail. The ride was mostly downhill and was invigorating.

After riding Storm King trail, I connected up with the Deschutes River trail and rode it downriver towards its end near Bend.

Rode into Bend and checked into my new hotel. Then I returned my bike to the bike shop – loved the sign outside the bike shop. It was late afternoon and was sunny and 80 degrees F.

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Walked to dinner and then walked about 2.5 miles to the hotel. Cleaned up and packed up to leave Bend via bus early the following morning.

It was a superb day – a perfect day – the best way to end my mountain biking adventure in Bend.

I rode 38 miles today and topped out at 5,500 feet in elevation.

Back to My Great Big Bend Oregon Mountain Biking Adventure.