Cultivating Their Dream

  • PJ and Nikki, owners
  • Nicky's Garden Center, train
  • Nicky's Garden Center, atrium
  • Nicky's Garden Center
  • Nicky's Garden Center, door
  • Nicky's Garden Center, house
  • Nicky's Garden Center, coffee shop
  • Hillwood Farms Coffee
  • Hillwood Farms Coffee
  • Hillwood Farms Coffee
  • Hillwood Farms Coffee, David, manager
  • Hillwood Farms Coffee, homemade goodies

I trekked to Nicky’s Garden Center on my bike during a visit to Wheeling, WV, to check out the coffee shop based on an Instagram referral. The bright and exotic outdoor patio lured me in. I relaxed and took a seat, sipping on a full-bodied oatmeal latte made by David, their creative concoctions barista, and eating a deeeeelicious homemade lemon biscotti. Two gracious people came over to say hi! I quickly learned they were PJ and Nikki Lenz, the owners. We got to talking, and the next thing I knew, I had a blog story!

To avoid any possible confusion before you read on, Nicky’s Garden Center, a mom-and-pop business, was originally located in Martins Ferry, Ohio. The fact that one of the owner’s names is Nikki is a wild coincidence. That’s why you’ll notice different spellings of the name Nicky and Nikki from here on.

Q: Which came first, the coffee shop, or the garden center?
PJ:
The garden center. We have owned Nicky’s Garden Center for 25 years. Many people stopped by when we opened Nicky’s Garden Center in Wheeling and said, we used to drive by here all of the time! This place just drew me in! They couldn’t wait to come here after we purchased it because it had never been open to the public. People love the property; it’s a peaceful place.

Visitors of Oglebay also have our garden center on their list of things to do. People from Cleveland and Cincinnati come to Nicky’s during Thanksgiving, and on their drive back home, they’ll stop here to buy a Christmas tree. It’s a cool tradition! 

Q: What appealed to you most about the property?
PJ: The house. It sat vacant for about 20 years, but the previous owners took great care of it.

Nikki: A lot of people wanted to buy the property. We wrote a letter of intent to Mr. Lash, the owner. When he received our letter, he died the next day, as if he knew he could go in peace, and the property would be in good hands. Other buyers wanted to tear the house down and put up condos or other things. Mr. Lash didn’t want that. He searched us out based on the personal letter we sent him.

Q: The interior of the historic home is very charming. What are some of the unique interior features?
PJ: The exposed brick, the curved glass windows, the original hardwood floors. A fireplace in every room. All of the interior walls on the first and second floors are brick. 

Q: What made you both quit your traditional jobs to start a new business venture?
PJ: I was 30, and Nikki was 26. We both had good corporate jobs, but we had to drive over an hour each way in opposite directions. Growing up, I guess you could have called me a city farmer. My dad purchased vacant lots throughout the city. My dad and I put up fences, tilled ground, and planted vegetable gardens. My duties were to get up in the mornings, ride my bike to each of our gardens, weed, and water them before I was allowed to play. I started doing this when I was about 8 or 9 years old. My dad usually worked five days a week, 10-12 hours every day. He would visit the gardens on the weekends to harvest. I started working for the original Nicky’s in 8th grade selling Christmas trees, then in the spring, I sold flowers and sheared Christmas trees on their tree farm in Indiana, Pa.

When I was a kid, I always thought it would be neat to own a garden center. I almost bought the business when I was 18, but things just didn’t work out. Twelve years later, Nikki and I were landscaping at our new home when I went to Nicky’s to purchase plants. As I was leaving, the owner asked me if I was still interested in buying the garden center? I said, no. I told Nikki that night, and much to my surprise, she said I think we should look at it, and here we are 25 years later! 

As business owners, if we make a mistake, we own it, we have to. We learned it from our dads. My dad was a shipping dock foreman and Nikki’s dad was a coal miner. Working hard is in our DNA. The only time the work gets to us is if we have to miss something of our kids’.   

Q: What is your favorite part about owning a coffee shop and garden center?
PJ: My wife and I both love coffee and flowers, but most of all, we like to provide people with a beautiful place to come — the kind of place Nikki and I ourselves want to visit. 

Q: What is your biggest challenge as owners?
PJ: I would have to say competing with the big box stores. 

Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your business?
PJ: At first, we were very worried and short-staffed. Easter was a complete loss, but when April hit, wow, business busted loose! There are more than 19 million new gardeners this year, and it was one of our best springs ever! 

COVID helped us. We usually hire three or more people for the spring season, but we couldn’t bring them back this year. Nikki and I had to do a lot of things ourselves, so we have seen more than we did before. We were like ah, no wonder why this or that was happening! Why didn’t they tell us this takes so long? Or whatever else. It helped to open our eyes. We’ve had the best season ever with fewer hours. Other stores in the area were closing earlier too, so it didn’t hurt us to change our hours.

Nikki: We’re open Monday thru Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. because those are the hours we can handle ourselves. We used to be open until 7 p.m. This is a physical job. I wish I knew how many miles we log a day, back and forth, — loading, caring for plants, watering. We will have days off when the season gets slower, but since March, we have worked every day.  

Q: You have a son and a daughter; do you hope that one or both of them will take over your business one day? 
Nikki: This was our dream, not our kids’. Each of them has aspirations of their own for the future. They need jobs and enjoy working here as much as a 15 and an 18-year-old enjoy working. If we retire someday, we’ll need to find a nice young couple to take over the business.

Q: What plans do you have for your business?
PJ: We want to focus on hosting more events and, as always, bring more unique plants into our inventory. We do pre-orders for customers in January/February that they love. They come in, bring us their pots, and say do whatever I’ll be back to pick them up. We’ll work on their pots when we do ours, and when the customers return in May, their pots are full, beautiful, and ready!   

Nikki: I like having control over what we grow because I design a lot of the pots. I choose in June what we’re going to grow next spring. By having control, I know what inventory we have, and when I work on the designs I can easily go and pull things. Also, I know the quality of the inventory because we grew the greenery ourselves.

Q: Do you hold any special events?
PJ: Yes, we host school field trips in the fall that have grown in popularity. We do a whole program with apple pressing, hayrides, and a pumpkin patch. We have an old cider press and a corn shucker from the 1800s. We try to make it educational and fun for kids in preschool through third grade. But it doesn’t generate a lot of revenue. We do it more for the community than for profit. 

Nikki: We also do events like “Plant and Sips.” I’ll create a floral design, people sign up for the event, and we host it after hours. I’ll lead them in the design; they can bring wine. We provide appetizers, and they can buy anything they want from the coffee shop. We usually do one workshop a month. For example, the Monday before Thanksgiving, I’ll lead a fresh centerpiece arrangement class. We try to offer things that are useful, fun, and yield pretty results. We’ve found that people feel good about themselves when they leave our workshops, which is great!

PJ: Workshops are becoming more and more popular at garden centers. We try to educate our consumers, so when they come back, they know more about what they like, Etc. I communicate regularly with other independent garden centers about business. If retail sales are down, I’ll ask them questions like, “Hey guys, I’m thinking about wholesaling this year. What do you think?  We’ve got all of these greenhouses.” They respond, “you’re still doing the same amount of work, and you’re selling your plants for less money. Figure out how to get rid of those plants in a worthwhile way.” If we have a particular variety of plants that didn’t sell well or an abundance of pots, we’ll come up with a workshop to incorporate them. So we’re using up our existing resources. 

Q: Who makes up your customer base?
PJ: Most of my avid gardeners are dying off, and there’s a big disconnect in generations. I asked my nephew in his late 20s; how do we get people your age interested in what we do? He said, “you need to provide for the community, offer community service, and that will catch on. People will be more responsive.” We always try to stay current — that’s how the idea for the field trips came about.

This is our 5th/6th year hosting field trips. Last year, we were booked every single day from mid-September to mid-October. We only do one a day because each tour takes about three hours and we don’t have a big staff. We came up with a drink for the kids called the Cupcake; it’s non-caffeine, and we make it in any flavor they want with a swirl of whip cream and sprinkles on top. The kids love it and ask their parents to bring them back here to get the drink. 

Over the years, people have come here with their kids and said, “Hi, Jenny said we had to come here and buy her mom flowers for Mother’s Day” (based on her field trip experience). High schoolers who remember us from their field trip as kids also return to buy things for their parents. The garden center business is personal. We are here every day of our lives, and connecting with our customers is important to us. 

Nothing about this business is instant gratification like some other businesses. We plant seeds; they sprout, grow. It takes time to cultivate them. We do it with our plants and our customers. 

Nikki: We nurture relationships. People return season after season. When I see them, I’ll ask, hey; I remember you got lavender. How did that work out for you? 

Q: Did you come into the business with a patience mentality, or has the business taught you patience?
Nikki: The business taught us patience. There’s a magnet that says, “Grow, damn it!” Sometimes, when I’m watering my stuff like the Gerber Daisies, for instance, and I can see buds, I’ll say, “Grow, damn it! I want to get you up and out to retail. I want to get you a new home. 

Q: How has the gardening business changed over the years?
PJ: When I started working at the original Nicky’s over 40 years ago, you had Beckett’s, Iannettis, all of these small independent garden centers. There were a few large garden centers, but they were only open in the summer. Now, you have big box stores and grocery stores. Easter used to be dominant for us. We would have quality Lilies, Azaleas, Etc. Quality was essential; it still is to us. Nowadays, you have places like grocery stores throwing inventory that is so-so quality in the front. People go there to buy their Easter dinner, and instead of coming to us for flowers, they’re buying from where they already are. 

Also, it’s hard to find people in this area that have a background in plants. People see the finished product and say they’d love to work here, but they don’t realize all of the hard work that goes into it. Everywhere you look, there’s work to be done. Even inside the gift shop and coffee shop. It’s a small business, so you have to be a jack of all trades. 

When we first got into this business, Nikki didn’t know what an annual or a perennial was. Her background is in customer service — she’s the queen of customer service. Now, Nikki is a gardening expert. We’ve participated in training and classes throughout the years. We poured ourselves into the job. Nikki read a lot of garden center books by Dr. Michael Dirr, a professor of horticulture. His books are like bibles to gardeners. We’ve met him and gone to his classes. When we started, you couldn’t Google for information like you can today. Out of all of the local garden centers, we’re one of the last ones standing. We’re surviving season-to-season by the grace of God.

Q: What are some challenges you face?
PJ: Garden centers are perceived as more expensive when that’s not necessarily true. Some things we sell are higher priced because of the brand, size, etc. It’s like comparing a Mercedes to a Chevette. We’ll have people come here or call us and ask about a tree they bought from somewhere else because they couldn’t get help from that place, so they turn to real garden experts like us. 

Also, there’s a generational gap in gardening. Many of our customers from back in the day who are now in their 70s and older are passing away or no longer gardening, and they knew flowers well. Then you have people like us in our 40s and 50s who know some, and younger people who don’t know anything about gardening because they weren’t exposed to it. That became more apparent during COVID this year. 

Right now, things are great; we just went through one of our best seasons ever. I’m about loyalty, and I think that mentality is starting to come back now with “shop local,” but there’s a challenge with instant gratification. If we don’t have something people are looking for many times, people don’t want to wait. 

PJ & Nikki: The biggest challenge is balancing our kids’ activities with our work schedule. We take turns to try and not miss their games and other life events. When we started, we didn’t have kids, and we put every dollar we made into the business. We were working 7-days a week, 12 hours per day. That hasn’t changed much. We would stay at work all night, eat dinner, and keep working. Then we had kids, and that’s a whole other circumstance. We tried to cut back to a 40-hour workweek. I’m sure some things slipped through the cracks. 

Q: What’s the most popular item in your garden center, and why?
PJ: Tree-wise, it’s weeping cherries, dogwoods, redbuds; those are always good staples. Magnolias are also popular. People like ones that bloom in the spring and provide pops of color. Often, people don’t know what they want. They see a color, a texture, something from a magazine, or online. 

Nikki: My motto is to give them what they need, not what they ask for, because they want what they want, but it may not be what they need. If someone has a shady yard and they ask for a specific plant, I’ll say I have that plant, but it’s not the best choice for where you want to put it, and this is why. I offer suggestions for things that are better suited for their intended area. We want our customers to be successful. Gardening is fun if you’re successful at it. To be successful, you need to know what you’re planting and what works in different types of spaces. I ask customers questions like — What are you trying to accomplish? What area do you want to fill? Then, I’ll offer suggestions. Everyone is open-minded with the expert input we offer them. 

Q: Why did you choose a door for your business logo?
Nikki: The front door because it represents the historic home, which has drawn people’s attention for years. We get asked by people all the time, can we bring our kid(s) here, take a senior class photo, etc. at the front door? They offer to pay. I say come and enjoy it; you don’t have to pay. I decorate the door for different seasons. I also plant different flowers throughout the year in our signature black urn. When the hydrangeas in the front of the house bloom, it’s beautiful, and that’s when people usually start calling with photo requests. I’m honored, and it’s a blessing to offer this space to our community.  

Q: What made you include a coffee shop as part of your business?
PJ: The majority of our garden business is April through June, but we’re open all-year-round. We used to close in January/February, but since we brought the coffee shop on, we’ve stayed open all year. David, manager and barista, has done an excellent job promoting our coffee shop on social media. We’re not in a busy area, so I think staying open and promoting the business helps keep us on people’s minds. The big coffee chains nearby kill us because of their convenient locations, but I think people would rather come here. We offer quality, organic, locally roasted beans, and every option of milk available — coconut, oat, soy, almond, which is hard to do for a small coffee shop because we don’t go through large quantities of all these kinds of milk like the chains. We have nice seating areas. We try to provide people with quality coffee in a pleasant environment — a place that we would want to hang out at ourselves when we are off work. 

We hope the coffee shop will flourish even more. In the fall, we use fresh pumpkin puree instead of syrup in our lattes and chai, and people love it. They start asking for the drink in August! We do the same in winter using actual eggnog in our drinks. We also make fresh homemade baked goods daily. Kids love our chocolate chip cookies, and our lemon biscotti always sell out fast!

Q: What is your outlook on the future of your business?
PJ: As much as I am upset that we lost our big Easter business this year because of COVID, people were going through much worse, which puts it all in perspective. Our bills may be high — we’re weather dependent, economy dependent — but we’re outside, and Nikki and I love what we do. I enjoy the people and talking with them. I get asked, “what are you going to do after you retire? Are you going to sell your business?” It’s almost impossible to sell a garden center unless you have someone who is REALLY interested in gardening. You have to be passionate about gardening and willing to do a lot of hard work. Hopefully, by the time we have to retire, we don’t want to retire, we’ll be in our 90s. 

Nikki: We’ll be in a nursing home together. We’ll probably be on the maintenance team at the nursing home!

Teaming Up With Terry

I have been a loyal Terry Bicycles customer for a few years after an employee from REI recommended the company to me for a saddle (LIBERATOR X GEL) for my Cannondale Quick. I reached out to Terry to share the news about my upcoming participation in the Empire State Ride to end cancer, and their response blew me away!!!! They asked me to be a brand ambassador and sent me two pairs of riding shorts perfect for a 500-mile ride. As if that were not generous enough, they also offered me a 40% discount toward supplies I will need for the cancer ride.

Check out my Gal on the Go YouTube video opening my first ambassador package from Terry:

About the Shorts They Sent Me:
NOTE: I will add reviews about the shorts after I wear them on a few rides. If they are anything like my fav Soleil Cycling Short by Terry, then yay!

  • EURO SHORT for all-day riding comfort
    Item No.:610079
  • TOURING SHORT/REGULAR for multi-day bike touring
    Item No.:610054

About Terry:
This kick-butt company, based out of Burlington, VT, was started by a woman named Georgena Terry. For more than 30 years, they have designed innovative bikes, saddles, apparel, and accessories that fit women on the go like myself. They believe in the transformational power of cycling, not just about selling products. They strive to help women be the best cyclist they’re capable of being! I hope you will check them out. A company that makes and sells great products is one thing, BUT to invest in members of their community in support of their goals like my ride for cancer research funds is above and beyond honorable. Terry is a company I am truly proud to be affiliated!

Drafting With Style

Jeff Burden

drafting (verb) – A group of cyclists riding in a close line one behind the other, taking turns riding up front pulling the line before peeling off and linking onto the back.

Cyclist: Jeff
Insta: @jeffreyness
Studio: New Trail Cycling

When Jeff Burden leads a cycling class, he brings it!!!! From his signature blond Mohawk to his hearty laugh, passion for music, and shy, yet lively personality. There’s never a dull moment when you take Jeff’s class! We sat down together at a local coffee shop, and he candidly shared when his passion for riding sparked and about his recent health scare.

Q: When did you first take up the sport of cycling?
A: So it’s funny when I was a kid, my grandmother gave us our first 10-speeds. Mine had training wheels on it. I have a twin sister. Both of us had training wheels. She was riding out having fun, and I was still spinning on my training wheels. That should have been a sign that I was going to be an indoor cycling coach. 😉 I was pedaling and going nowhere, but I kept at it, and eventually, I was riding all around town!

Q: Who or what influenced you to become a cycling instructor?
A: I was a sports science guy in college. Teaching fitness classes, personal training, and what have you. When I realized that I couldn’t grapevine, I needed a cardiovascular modality that I could teach because I wanted to teach group fitness. This was back in ’99 in college. I took a spin certification and started teaching spinning classes for UNC (the University of North Carolina). That’s how I got started teaching!

Q: How do you prepare for teaching a cycling class at New Trail?
A: I figure out what kind of profile, what kind of challenge I want for the class. Do I want it to be hills, fast, a mix? Once I figure that out, I find music to put with it to make it fun, to capture the highs and lows of motivation. It’s kind of hard because I like so much music. I’ll usually go to different places and listen to music to find inspiration, and then I slowly piece it together. Before class, I get into performance mode. I was almost a music major. I sang opera and jazz in college. I still have some songs I recorded up on Spotify. I sing in bands and write music. (Unknown factoids about Jeff! They should be used for future New Trail Cycling trivia questions.😉 )

Q: What is your greatest reward in teaching cycling?
A: When you’re in front of a group of people, and you’re challenging them, and you’re encouraging them, and they’re appreciative at the end, all the glows and smiles on faces, that’s reward enough. Especially if you have a magical class where everything falls into place, and everybody’s happy at the end, and they keep coming back. That’s great! Also, when they improve after stringing a few classes together — they see their progress and become more confident, especially if they’re a beginner rider. When they feel empowered, that’s always awesome.

Q: What is your favorite style of cycling class to teach, and why?
A: It depends. I ebb and flow. I teach a lot of different formats. Not just cycling. I’m a kettlebell guy; I do TRX work, yoga, and more! But at New Trail, Sunday morning is a prime time — I get to entertain and motivate. It’s a great group! Afterward, I do a core stretch; it’s a nice restorative wind down that everybody appreciates. I get gratification from every format. Different parts of my personality come out; I like it all!

Q: What is your favorite time of day to teach, and why?
A: That’s a good question. I’m a night owl, but I think Sunday morning is a great time to teach — the excitement and anticipation. It’s not too late; it’s not too early. You’re awake and ready! I guess if I was playing in a pro sport like the NFL, you know everybody’s ready for game time. It’s exciting. That’s how I feel about the House Ride class on Sunday at 9:45 a.m. Sunday football — the jets are flying overhead, the anthem being sung, the crowd roaring. That’s the mindset I get into on Sunday mornings.

Q: What is your favorite style of music for teaching, and why?
A: I’m pretty eclectic with my music. Lately, I’ve been gravitating more toward hip-hop and R&B. Thinking, okay, it’s going to be a party, you know, and I want songs that I can get into, and that everybody else can get into, and then mold the class from there. That’s my phase now. I’ve played everything from rock to Mongolian rock band chanting.

Q: What is your favorite song on your current playlist?
A: I’m into old school Eminem right now for whatever reason. He’s such a smart Alec and so edgy. I’m vibing on the edgy side now. I think edgy goes well with my personality. It’s fun to push the envelope.

Q: How do you engage people of all fitness levels in your class?
A: If they’re brand new, I tell them it’s your ride; don’t make a judgment from your first ride because there’s a learning curve. Give yourself at least five rides before you determine that you like it or not. Also, we have a Motley crew of instructors with different personalities and styles. I might not be your cup of tea, but I’m sure there’s somebody in our group who will resonate with you. I encourage newbies to find their niche where they’re having the most fun and then build a base from there. For those with a few rides under their belts, I try to keep it entertaining. For experienced, seasoned riders, I try to press buttons to drive them further. I hope to challenge everyone overall, but one person’s definition of challenge is different from another. I try to figure out what motivates people. Some people like singing in the back of the class, and having a good time. Others are about metrics, focused on the numbers. I try to acknowledge and encourage people in class; let them know that I truly see them and recognize them for doing the work. Everybody’s personality is different, so things are always changing depending on the group that’s in front of you.

Q: You served as a Marine. Does your military background influence your teaching style in any way?
A: Oh, definitely! I can crack the whip. When I sing call and response, it’s Marine Corps influenced. It may seem like I’m a DJ, but the call and response element of my teaching is to get people involved and engaged, which is a Marine Corps thing. When you’re running, and the drill instructor is singing, and everybody has to sit back, it’s not only a morale booster, but keeps everyone focused, and coaching them to exhale. When you exhale, it keeps you in balance and keeps you from overworking and exhausting yourself. So there’s a spiritual motivation part of it and a scientific method to it. I can see how hard they’re working. I can gauge if they’re exhausted. If I want them to be exhausted, I’ll throw out a call and response. If nobody calls and responds, then I know they’re putting in the effort. Some sneaky tricks that I use to observe the crowd. You can’t make it obvious.

Q: Last year, you suffered from Congestive Heart Failure (CHF), and you had to be on leave for a while. Did that health scare cause you to make changes and/or influence your teaching style?
A: It was a pretty surreal ordeal. As far as taking care of my high blood pressure, it’s always been in the background. I knew it was a ticking time bomb, but it was kind of a pride thing because my mentality was I’m in the wellness fitness realm, I should be able to get these things under control myself. But different variables go along with that. Long story short, it has changed my style. I’ve been teaching riding for over 20 years. In the beginning, I was young and cutting my teeth, then I started getting in my physical prime moved by the music exclusively. A good thing about New Trail with the monitors and the variables is that you can focus on coaching, and play around with the metrics more than just being a dancy, raw, raw guy. That’s in the rearview mirror now. I can still be enthusiastic and charismatic and smart with coaching and give people a great ride, whether I’m a frothy mess or not. Because of my CHF, because of the medications I’m on, I can’t really go for it. Plus, I’m mindful of being aware and being present, and of where I am physically, so I have to play it by ear as far as that goes. Some days I’m an open book, and some days, I don’t want the attention for my CHF. It’s funny because when I came back from the hospital, people around me — landlords, whoever would be like, oh, I’m on blood pressure meds too, but I don’t like to take them: even my sister, my family members. But you don’t want to learn the hard way. If you’re aware that you have high blood pressure being proactive is what you need to do. If not, it’s going to eventually put you in a situation; hopefully, one that you survive. You know, there was no guarantee that I would survive. I could’ve had a stroke or kidney failure. It’s surreal because you don’t know. You could be just hanging out, having a good time, and have a heart attack or something like that. In retrospect, I see the signs, but when I was going through it, I didn’t know the signs. I did a happy hour on a Friday, and then myself and a couple of the other instructors walked over to Kalypso’s (Sports Tavern). We stayed out late, and when I got home, I thought I felt wiped out because I stayed out later than usual. I woke up the next morning, and I was supposed to go to karaoke, but I was like, I had difficulty breathing the whole day. That should have been a sign. I should have got it checked out, but I went the entire day. I even did a little kettlebell workout for the Gram (Instagram). I had my double 20, I had my double 62 pounds, and I was cleaning rack squats. I had just started a recording for Gram, but at the top of my squat, I couldn’t catch my breath, and I was like, this is unusual. And so I was like, well, whatever, I’ll suck it up for the Gram. So I did a few sets, and then when I was looking at the recording, I saw that I was, you know, I’m not a slim guy, but my stomach was puffy through my white shirt. I thought I was retaining water, but at 2:00 a.m., when I was gonna go to bed, I still couldn’t breathe. I was like, this is not good! So I drove myself to the emergency room, and they kept me there and said we are going to transfer you to the heart vascular unit. They did it, and they kept me there for a week to try and get my blood pressure under control. Now I have to weigh myself every morning, and if my weight is two or three pounds more, then I have to get checked out. I have to check my blood pressure to make sure it’s down. It was funny, not really, but when I got back from the hospital, I went to the emergency room two or three more separate times because I was freaked out about not being able to breathe well. A lot of it was asthma and different things like that, but not knowing, any little subtle symptom I experienced, I went back to the hospital cause I didn’t want anything to go wrong. Being aware and mindful and being wise about my nutrition and all that good stuff. Yeah, it’s been life-changing. I was chomping at the bit to get back on the bike. My first couple of weeks, though, I didn’t know if I could get back on the bike cause I didn’t have any energy. I jumped right back into teaching, but I was so exhausted I was like, I can’t do this anymore. But once I got adjusted to my meds and everything — got my feet under me, I said okay, I’m ready to get back! But it was hard. I was like, wow, I was staring mortality in the face!

Q: Is there anything you would like to share?
A: I encourage people who have never tried indoor cycling to give New Trail a shot because it’s a pleasant atmosphere. It has something for everybody, and it’s not overwhelming or pretentious. I’ve known Liz, the owner, for about 12 years. She’s good people, and it’s a great place to be!

Gearing Up for ESR20

Sooo I signed up for an event, the Empire State Ride (#ESR20), without doing much research, after becoming increasingly frustrated by many people close to me battling or losing the battle to forms of cancer. The final push to register for the ESR came from a rousing speech made by Katie Couric about cancer research during an event I attended at the Smithsonian.

Mind you; this is not just any event, ESR is a 500-mile cycling expedition across the state of New York, starting in NYC and ending in my hometown area of Niagara Falls (Buffalo). Only 250 people dare to participate. Each come with different levels of riding experience and a shared goal to conquer cancer!!!! It will take seven days to complete the route, logging an average of up to 100 miles per day. To say I feel overwhelmed by it is an understatement, BUT ambition is a driving force behind tackling my goals. I have trained for and competed in Spartan Trifectas, Ragnar Relays, Seawheeze half marathons, and more! However, this will be the toughest physical challenge I have ever undertaken. I will share my journey with you along the way through my blog, Gal on the Go, my Instagram account @gal0tgo, and video clips.

What is the starting point for any goal? A plan of action to train properly! That said, I finally finished taking Coach Charlie’s awesome 22-week training program and entering all of the details on my Google Calendar. I have been training indoors unofficially at New Trail Cycling Studio in Reston, Va., since Thanksgiving. However, as of Monday, February 24, things are about to ramp up. Any big commitment takes sacrifice(s), so to my friends and family, I say please note the training schedule above, and I’ll see you again in August. THANK YOU FOR YOUR UNDERSTANDING.

All ESR20 participants have access to an experienced coach named Charlie Livermore and a physical therapist named Easton Osborn. Both of who will be doing the ride with us. I share some of their key advice on training, bike gear, apparel, and more along the road to ESR20!

Training Tips From Coach Charlie:

I asked Coach Charlie advice about prepping my bike and he replied with words that really impacted me… “More important than the vehicle (bike) is the engine, and that’s you. The better prepared you are physically, the more you’ll enjoy the ride.” 

  • Consistency is the most important component of preparing to ride more than 500 miles.
  • Training begins with three rides per week and progresses to five rides per week.
  • Consistency and frequency are more important than any of the specific workouts in the program.
  • It is a progressive program beginning with steady-pace rides, followed by a block of tempo work, intervals, and then focus on climbing with repeats.
  • If you have to shorten workouts or intervals, it’s alright; it’s better than skipping them altogether.
  • If you have to miss a workout here or there, proceed forward and get back on track!

Every dollar counts! To make a DONATION, please go to… http://give.roswellpark.org/site/TR/SpecialEvents/General?px=1413083&pg=personal&fr_id=1550

Funds raised through the Empire State Ride are managed by the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation, the 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization that manages all donations made to Roswell Park. The Foundation earned the highest possible rating on Charity Navigator for the fourth consecutive year.

Check out the fun Empire State Ride feature story on newbie rider, Gal on the Go!
THANK YOU! YOU ROCK!

Gal on the Go Gets a Makeover

Gal on the Go

I launched my Gal on the Go blog 14 years ago as part of a grad school project. I cannot believe how fast time has passed!!!! My writer’s voice has evolved and it was time for my look to progress too with some fresh branding. I hope that you enjoy the blog and continue to follow along. Like a fine wine, my goal is for it to keep getting better.

This year I created a sub brand of Gal on the Go called Rock N Flow Yoga, combining my past experience as a DJ with my passion for yoga, by offering private yoga instruction to musicians and bands and leading fun power flows at public festivals and events.

It takes a village of amazing friends and strangers with heart to help make your dreams a reality. You can try to do it alone, but it is much more achievable (especially on rough days) when you have people who are behind you rooting for you!

That said, I would like to give a shout-out to the following people for their unwavering support with this venture…

  • Angela Tarantula, my friend who is a talented graphics designer created the new Gal on the Go logo down to the detail of the arrows giving a sense of action and looking like a pair of legs running. (She also created my Rock N Flow Yoga logo.) Insta: @angtarantula
  • Lauren, my friend who is a skilled photographer and owner of Elle Three Photography took the photo used as the base of the new Gal on the Go logo.
  • Danielle Daily, my friend, and business mentor who is a TED Talk savvy businesswoman and host of the Suddenly Single Show podcast who came up with the concept of rebranding Gal on the Go.
  • Yorke B., a new friend and my Custom Ink rep who has been beyond helpful with all my merch needs for Rock N Flow Yoga.
  • Christina, my friend who placed the first order for some Rock N Flow Yoga merch and gifted it to me as a gesture of her belief in me and my dream.
  • Amanda, my original omie who attended my first studio yoga class ever and every one of my public yoga events.
  • YOU (my blog readers) and the people who grant me interviews — all of whom are a constant inspiration.

Sit back and enjoy this wild ride as we keep it moving onward and upward together!!!!

Right to Vote From an Alternate Perspective

electionofficertraining

Given the circus that has been this year’s election process, I thought it would be interesting to learn the flip side of the voting process, so I signed up for Election Officer training. Note, I am not typically into politics and this post is not about the candidates.

I initially signed up to be an Election Officer for two reasons – curiosity, and because the payment fee will help cover my Personal Property Tax, which is $$$ in Fairfax County. The training lasted three hours and included one 10-minute break. I wasn’t sure what to expect at first; I assumed it was going to be tedious. Much to my surprise, it was a very interesting experience!

Highlights of what I learned during my training:

  • Upon arriving for work on Election Day (SUPER EARLY before the polls officially open), I must take an election oath.
  • Election Officer shifts are approximately 16 hours. (One of the trainers told us to think of it as “a one-day camping trip with no amenities.” Once we enter the voting precinct and take the oath, we cannot leave until our shift is over. He strongly suggested that we bring enough food and drink with us to last.)
  • Election Officers will not necessarily have time to vote on Election Day; they recommended that we exercise our voting right in advance via absentee ballot.
  • Election Officers have important roles as the “face of the election; the first ones voters see when they enter the precinct.”
  • The County expects large voter turnouts in Fairfax; 85% at each precinct.
  • There were 714,113 registered voters in Fairfax County as of the day of my Election Officer training, and there are 1,313 polling locations in Fairfax County to serve the voters.
  • Poll Pads aka iPads (see pic) are being used for the first time to check in voters. They sync within 30 feet of each other throughout the day. (The modernization of incorporating technology in the process excites me.)
  • A typical ballot box used for voting is the DS200. No equipment ever gets plugged directly into a wall; everything must be plugged into a power strip. There are also voting machines available for people with accessibility needs. (We learned the ins and outs of how all the ballot machines work and dealing with various ballot submission scenarios, like someone marking more than one candidate in a category on their ballot and the machine rejecting it.)
  • Election Officers cannot look at voter’s ballots or provide advice (please be mindful and keep your ballot choices to yourself). If someone shows us their ballot, we must offer to be their Assistant and if they say yes, we must sign an Assistance Form.
  • Voters can submit blank ballots; this is usually NOT done by mistake, but rather purposely as a form of silent protest.
  • Every single discarded item is accounted for; we are not allowed to throw anything in the garbage, from a voided or spoiled ballot to a used zip tie.

The presidential election, scheduled for Tuesday, November 8, 2016, will be the 58th US presidential election. The election will determine the 45th President and 48th Vice President of the United States. I am hopeful that my country will survive whatever the outcome!