Saturday, April 12, 2014

Retraining my body and mind while searching for goats

Dreamfarm goats
Yesterday I squandered one of the best days yet this Spring.  In hindsight, I have no clue why I did it.  For some stupid reason, while the temps rose to a balmy 69 degrees, I chose to run errands and wrap up a pile of unfinished projects instead of hopping on the bike.  This put me in a pickle of a situation.  I wanted to put some miles in, and this morning was calling for showers, so I got up early--trying to out ride the raindrops--and went out searching for baby goats.

The first drops hit just a few miles out of town.  Wait a second!  It wasn't supposed to hit until 10am or so.  I, however, was on a mission.  It was my first ride on skinny tires and carbon since late fall and I'd be damned if I were going to turn around so early.  I didn't.  I kept going West, adding on miles as long as the rain didn't pick up too much.  I felt like I was playing Russian roulette, but it just felt so good to be on a sprite, responsive bike.  My body didn't know how to react.  It took several climbs to retrain myself on how to use my muscles on this new stallion.  But muscle memory kicked in, and I settled into the saddle like I had never left it.

In the end, I didn't find many goats--just two begging for attention and something to nibble on at Dreamfarm.  I did, however, find what's important--taking time for myself and setting obligations aside, just for a moment.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Reinventing the "girls weekend"



You've got to know when to hold 'em
know when to fold 'em
know when to walk away
know when to run.

-Kenny Rogers


All last week, I got into the terrible habit of checking the weather at least once a day.  My obsession was with Friday the 4th.  Was is going to rain?  Was it going to snow?  Sleet?  And, oh dear god, please let the relentless wind abate!  My stomach did little summer-salts seeing the wind go from a 17mph headwind to a 26mph headwind to the risk of freezing rain with a headwind.  You see, Friday at 9am, a good friend of mine, Laura, and I were to embark on a bike trip to Milwaukee--about 100 miles each way from our places on the far West side of Madison.  We both knew we could deal with cold and long miles, but I started second guessing myself when thinking about pushing into an exposed wind the entire way.  

In the end, with the temps hovering just above freezing, and a light drizzle forcing the cold to our bones, we chose to get a ride from my husband to Lake Mills--about 30 miles East of us--to begin our journey.  We knew we'd be going the entire distance on our way back, and also knew we'd be riding quite a bit when we hit Milwaukee, so we allowed ourselves to take the "easy" way out.  Somehow, to our surprise, and possibly a little magic worked by my cycling friends in Milwaukee, the winds shifted and we had a tail/cross wind the entire first day.  Yeah, it was cold, and no, we didn't appreciate the mini mircrodermabrasion we received from sleet once we came close to MKE, but it was still a great ride.


On the New Berlin trail, just outside of MKE, it started to sleet

We hit the fairgrounds much faster than we expected--fueled by hot soup and fresh bread made by a little cafe in Waukesha on Broadway--and proceeded to check out the Bike Expo, put on by Wheel and Sprocket.  The moment we stepped into the building, the reunion of bike friends began.  It was great seeing folks I don't get to see regularly, and in some ways, it felt like a WI Bike Fed board meeting since I saw so many current and old board members.  It was even better getting the chance to introduce Laura to some of this community.

After the sensory overload, we met up with a former cycling friend from Madison, who recently moved to MKE, to ride back into town.  Phil, a former bike courier and current record holder for the fastest lap at RW24, was all too kind not to push the pace to the Schuster Inn where we were staying.  With our bikes loaded down, and a few miles behind us, we must have seemed like sloths to him.  

I can pick out a few hazy details from that first night in Milwaukee.  First, there was greasy Chinese food.  The kind you probably wouldn't want to eat on a daily basis, but also the kind that sends shivers of pleasure to hungry, cold, tired cyclists.  There was a shared bottle of wine.  There was a phone call by MKE friends asking us to come out and play--in our blitzed out state, we said "yes".  There was a drive back through Waukesha--wait! didn't we just bike through here?--to go sing karaoke with other RW24 friends.  There was laughter...sooo much laughter.  


The Schuster Inn on 32nd and Wells--they were very kind to us cyclists!
In our sleep deprived state, we managed to wake, stuff our bellies with an amazing breakfast at the Schuster Inn, and bike over to the Riverwest neighborhood for a little urban spin and a practice lap on the RW24 course.  The sun was out, the breeze was much lighter than the previous day, the temps had risen and we were happy.


Teaching Laura the RW24 loop

Dan, one of the two friends who house of for RW24

Following a peaceful rest, so as not to become zombies, we rode down to Alem--one of my favorite Ethiopian restaurants--where we met Tristan and Carolyn, the owners of Coast In Bikes, and Tom Lais, a winter and gravel riding kindred spirit.  Are you beginning to get the gist this trip was just as much about food as it was biking?  Good for you!  You've cracked the code.

After an impromptu bike repair at 9:30pm--thank you Tristan and Carolyn!--we rode silently through the city guided by street lights and our bike lights.  Of course we should have been good and gone to sleep right away knowing we'd have to wake early to ride, but hell, this was a girl's weekend, and just like old slumber parties, we stayed up far too late chatting and giggling.


Thanks to Tristan, Laura's rack didn't fall off!



You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes well you might find
You get what you need

-The Rolling Stones




Almost home!
I wish I could tell you we had a tailwind the entire ride back.  We didn't.  We rode with a headwind/crosswind the whole way--starting with our first mile.  We rode it though.  Laura joked that our asses would look like raw hamburgers after this--true, but the important thing was we were still joking around.  We were tired, sore and so very happy to get off our bikes and yet we both were smiling ear to ear.  


For me, this was the earliest century I had done, and in total, we rode 205 miles in three days carrying weight.  For Laura, this was also her earliest century, and was her first taste of bike touring.  I'm just hoping the bug has bitten and she's up for more adventures like this!


We made it back to Madison!
This trip wouldn't have been nearly as pleasurable without seeing/spending time with great friends.  Thank you Phil, Dan, Claudine, Michael, Kristen, Scott, Kelly, Joan, Tom, Tristan, Carolyn and Steve (for offering to do an emergency pick up if necessary).  Most of all, thank you Laura for turning me into a teenage girl again!  You made this weekend awesome and there's no one else I would want to endure a big headwind with more.






Sunday, March 30, 2014

Welcome to Spring?

Heading out for pancakes.  photo by Josiah Lent

It's almost April, however, by looking at the ground you'd think it was late February.  It's been a loooooong winter.  What we, as Midwesterners, are experiencing reminds me of an old tv show from the 90's, set in Alaska, called Northern Exposure.  There was one episode which stands out clearly in my mind that talked about "break up".  Ask anyone from Alaska about this and they will give you the all knowing nod.  You see, after a hard winter in the North, people get a bit squirrelly and maybe even a little crazy.  When spring does finally hit, and the ice begins to break up on the lakes, a release of energy seems to take over entire communities.  People do silly things like wear shorts in the 30's, they sit out on their decks grilling and drinking beer even if their breath can be seen, single folks couple up as if the world is about to end, and the cyclists hit the road in mass numbers.

On days like this, when the morning starts at a meager 24 degrees, but is estimated to hit 60 degrees, a few friends of mine like to get together and ride...ride for pancakes!  Honestly, I think we all need an excuse to load on the much needed miles.  Riding big miles for the sake of riding is tough when you still see snow and ice and the wind is strong.  Laughter, pancakes, eggs, good coffee and a cool place to gather all make it so much more fun.

Roxbury Tavern
My place of choice is the Roxbury Tavern, located a bit over 20 miles Northwest of Madison.  It's good...I mean really good.  Not only do they serve real maple syrup and local ingredients, but they are friendlier than all get out.  Over the years, I've introduced several groups to this spot and I know most have made it a favorite.  They are committed to the community and could really care less about being "PC"--take a look at their "gun fish tank" when you enter.

One of the best parts, or worst depending upon how you look at it, is leaving with a full belly and hitting the hills outside of Roxbury.  Today, we split into two groups--those training for upcoming gravel events/triathlons and those just happy to be out on two wheels.  ALL of us were just so damn happy to be out.

Because of my ever-so-near gravel rides, I took folks a bit further West where we cursed the wind in between making jokes.  It is for this reason, I love riding with others in non-ideal conditions.  It was such a glorious ride heading back--for both groups I later learned--except one "oops".  A close friend of mine had her first bike crash due to all the thick sand left in the bike lane heading back into town.  I heard it all happen behind me, but miraculously, by the time I ditched my bike and turned around, she was up and brushing herself off.  I swear she was so much tougher than I'd ever be, and with a couple shots of whiskey to kill the pain, she scrubbed the living daylights out of her wounds when we got back and happily hopped on her bike to get home.  She told me before this happened, she thought she'd rather be alone when she took her first spill.  After this, however, she said she was happy to be around so many cool people.  And THAT, my friends, is what cycling with others is all about.  If you go down, who else would run to your aid and make things better?  This just sealed the fact I ride with the most amazing people and am so lucky to have them in my life!

And with that...Seasons Greetings all!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Spring Haiku

Killdeer scream at me
Redwing Blackbirds dive bomb me
Ah yes, Spring riding

Sunday, March 23, 2014

If it looks like Europe, smells like Europe and sounds like Europe...

Admiring the pack ice on the Atlantic ocean
At the beginning...you've gotta start somewhere:

After dropping off my beloved four legged furry child at two wonderful friend's house--oh dear god, let them be friends after this ordeal--driving to Chicago, freaking out once again that our trip could be cancelled (see my post from last year), then spending countless hours bunched up in painful positions, we landed in Dusseldorf, Germany.  I stepped off the plane, made two audible sniffing noises, and in a sleep deprived, all too loud voice said "Yep.  It smells like Europe."  My husband glanced at me thinking I had left half my brain somewhere over the Atlantic and said "Huh?"  I wasn't wrong though.  It did smell like Europe.  Go ahead, mock me, but for those of you who know about Nescafe and baked buttery sweet rolls, you'll understand. Throw in some perfume--the stuff I associate with older, wealthy European women--and it makes for a mix which is hard to find in the United States.

Dusseldorf, however, was not to be the final destination.  Don't get me wrong, I'd love to bike through the foothills outside of Munich and the Black Forest, just not in March and not now.  My brain can barely get itself wrapped around French and Spanish, throwing German in the mix would not be pretty.  After one quick flight on Air Berlin--can I just say how much I love airlines who serve funny little sandwiches with pickled vegetables?--we landed in Palma, Mallorca or Majorca, depending if you speak Spanish or Catalan.  Mallorca, home to almost every pro cycling team in the Spring and almost every German trying to flee their cold, damp winters.  Regarding the Germans, I'm not joking.  When I told my friend, Monika, who is from Germany, I was going to Mallorca, she said "Do you speak German, because it is the Cancun for Germans."

Before I go on, I have to say how glorious it is to leave a place which was -19F windchill one week ago, and step off a plane into temps around 20C (mid sixties F)!  Shedding the winter coat, gloves and hat made this entire trip worthwhile.  Seeing palm trees from the bus ride into downtown Palma made me sound like a broken record...."oooohhhhh, loooook, greeeeeen."  Wait, I was practicing my Spanish..."oooooo, miras, verde."

The trip to our apartment didn't come without any snafus.  Having no Euros at all, and needing to catch a bus, poses some problems.  We knew the airport would have ATMs, but after trying two, without any money coming out--and not knowing if we just got ripped off by the way--we began to freak out a bit.  We knew about the whole "chip and pin" issue with credit cards in Europe but we thought we'd be clear with debit cards.  After beads of sweat starting pouring down my face--not fair when I hadn't biked a mile yet--we finally found a different ATM brand and voila!

Coming up to our apartment in Palma

We met the girlfriend of the owner of the apartment we were renting at Plaça d'España (later we'd learn this was one of what seemed to be 100 plaças in Palma). As we walked to the apartment with Lucy and her cousin, we were told, "Don't bother asking anyone for directions, not even in Spanish, because they won't know."  With a town looking like a corn maze, this didn't put us at ease.  We were staying on a tiny, one block street, trapped in the middle of a huge tangle of other twisty streets--many without street signs--this was the true "old Palma".  Maps gave us a "suggestion", that is "if" we could figure out which direction we were heading.  No worries though, you get lost enough times and you're bound to get lucky once in awhile.  I will say one thing, albeit getting lost a few times, the neighborhood we picked in Palma was fabulous.  With the mercat municipal and bus station within minutes and cathedrals within 1-2 km, I wouldn't choose anywhere else to be.

One of two bike shares in Palma!
We had planned on renting bikes in Palma, as well as our other destination, Soller, but after realizing we would be getting lost at a much faster pace, on cobble stones, we opted to walk for a few days.  Although I wouldn't travel to Mallorca just for Palma, I will say it's a beautiful city.  Plazas or Plaças everywhere, narrow streets full of tapas bars, cathedrals and palm trees.  As we walked, what seemed to be every street possible, I tried practicing my Spanish and some Catalan with shop owners and locals.  They must have thought I was German--I'm guessing the "smart looking shoes" and techy wear gave them a hint along with my shitty Spanish--because they kept asking if I spoke German or would just start talking to me in German.  After several attempts at saying "No hablo aleman, hablo ingles" they then must have thought I was a funny speaking Brit since North Americans rarely travel here and when they do, it's usually Canadians.

The Good, Great, Bad/Ugly and Quirky:

I won't go into day by day details of the entire trip for fear of forcing you into a coma.  I will, however, give you a taste of Mallorca split into the sections above.  If after reading this post, you decide you want to go...and you should, I have posted links to the apartments we stayed at, the bike shop we rented from, an amazing restaurant totally not suitable for vegetarians and one of the coolest wine bars I've ever been to.

The Good:

Mallorca is known for it's beautiful courtyards

Miró, one of Mallorca's many artists

The main cathedral in Palma

-I've already mentioned Palma.  Even if you're heading to Mallorca for a cycling or hiking adventure, do yourself a favor and stay a couple nights in this amazing city.  Get yourself lost purposely--although, honestly, you don't have a choice--and discover all the surprises the narrow streets hold.  Do not, and I'll repeat this, do not stay in the all inclusive resorts outside of the old city if you want to get a real feel for Palma.

One of the trails from Soller to Sa Calobra

-After spending just one day in Mallorca, we quickly learned Mallorquins are amazing linguists.  They all grow up learning Catalan or Mallorquin in the home but also learn Spanish and English.  Most also speak German and French and some also speak Italian and Portuguese.

This one was the easiest climb, but we did it six times (often twice in a day)
Trying to find my inner goat on the Puig Major--our longest climb at 15km
-I have no idea if I should put the mountain roads into the good, great or ugly section.  Being early Spring, and me being out of riding shape, I'll have to say 90% good and great and 10% ugly.  Although the island does have it's share of flat roads, we were in the heart of the mountains and couldn't start any ride without a 500m (1,500 foot) climb right from the apartment.  I think our shortest riding day, with the least amount of climbing, still equalled around 4,000ft in just under 35 miles.  The passes, or cols, that I would urge any climber to do are the Coll de Soller, Coll de Honor and of course, Puig Major which is around 1,100m.  Although you can't reach the peak of the mountain, because it's a military base, by the time you reach the tunnel, you are ready for the descent!

-I know this will sound silly, talking about bread for an entire section, but I was happily impressed by the barras and baguettes here.  I was fearful the bread would be too much like the Italian loaves, which we found to have a Play Dough type quality, but no way, they were crusty on the outside and airy with a bit of chew on the inside.  When you buy a fresh loaf daily for bocadillos (sandwiches), good bread tends to become a priority.

-Everything shuts down on Sundays and most stores, except the super mercats, close starting Saturday afternoon and won't reopen until Monday around 10am.  A pain if you haven't planned ahead, but in my eyes, a great way to live.  Spain, like most of Europe, still respects family time and down time.  People work to live vs. live to work.

The Great:

Mallorca is very kind to cyclists
-I know I mentioned a bit of the biking above, but I really have to go into detail about both the biking and hiking.  No, it's not the Alps or Pyrenees, but Mallorca is absolutely beautiful!  When in the Serra Tramuntana (the mountains), each twist in the road or path brings you onto another killer scene.  In a short ride or hike, you can see the Mediterranean sea, orange groves, caves, valleys, sheer limestone cliffs, reservoirs, flora/fauna and hamlets perched precariously on the side of a mountain.  Very few places on earth provide such diversity.  It takes me back to my days living on the Big Island of Hawaii.  The one HUGE difference is how friendly the locals are to cyclists and hikers.  The island is crawling with both, and I was floored by the patience shown.  Another bonus is being able to stop in small towns to refuel.  Even the smallest town has cafes or tapas bars.

-Goats and sheep and chickens oh my!  Being a lover of animals, I tend to seek out critters everywhere I go.  One of the many reasons I fell in love with Mallorca, aside from activities, landscape and locals, was the plethora of wild mountain goats, sheep, chickens, cats, and dogs.  Two sounds I will forever associate with the island are the bells worn by sheep in the pasture and the bleating of goats climbing the mountains.  Throw in the cooing of doves and the call of roosters and there was no need for me to listen to music.  As I climbed the cols, I channeled my inner mountain goat (cabra) to help me get up to the top without wavering.

Sheep were everywhere!  This one was near the top of the Puig Major


-Wherever my husband and I travel, we make a point of eating local.  Here, in Mallorca, we feasted on Balearic and Spanish cheese (goat, sheep and cow), jamon Iberico and other cured meats, local eggs, local vegetables grown on the East side of the island, oranges from groves surrounding us, olives, seafood, ensaïmadas and wine (all either Spanish or Mallorquin).  Our favorite meal, however, came from C'an Atuna in Fornalutx (named this for being the furnace of light).  We hiked up there from Soller, started with a mix of olives and then dug into roasted suckling pig--a Mallorquin speciality.  Although I felt greased from the inside out afterwards, it was well worth it and the hike back made room for dinner.

Sausages hanging at the mercat municipal in Palma

Ensaïmadas--essentially dough fried in pork fat and filled with cream

-For the most part, every local person was kind, helpful, generous and patient.  It can't be easy living someplace that gets eight million tourists each year--yes, you read that right--Mallorca boasts one of the busiest European airports in the summer.  Although my Spanish is terrible, and I only picked up a few words/phrases in Catalan, I was never shamed or treated poorly.  I felt we were treated just as well on the road biking.  Please note, however, if you come here to bike, you really need to follow the road signs when asked to ride single file.  They are put in places to keep you safe.  I would cringe seeing large training groups out riding three and four abreast in traffic or around hairpin turns, as well as stopping in the middle of a roundabout, and would wonder how long before the locals start hating cyclists.  Sad to say, the main culprits of this behavior, were the Germans who often call Mallorca a second home.

The Bad and the Ugly:

-There are really only two major complaints I had about Mallorca, one, which can easily be changed, one, which cannot.  The easy-to-change one is how few tourists try to speak Spanish at restaurants, information booths, ticket counters or grocery stores.  Folks, I know learning another language is difficult, but please don't be "that" person.  Try a few words, learn a few niceties.  They go a long way.  Not everyone in the world should be expected to speak English or German.

The issue which can never be changed is the size of the sidewalks.  I use the term "sidewalks" loosely.  Think 2-3 feet max of smooth cobblestone which gets slippery as all get out when wet.  These sidewalks are also often times used for parking when the roads are barely wide enough to fit a smart car.  Most of the old towns and cities in Europe were built WAY before cars ruled.  The only advice I can give, is go with it.  Look and listen vs. plugging in the earphones, check around corners and when all else fails, walk in the street against traffic and jump when a car comes.

-After speaking with Esteban, the owner of the apartment and wine bar we visited in Palma, we learned the unemployment rate in Spain is currently about 27%--6 million Spaniards are currently without jobs.  Only Greece, in Europe, comes close.  France and Italy are less than half this number.  Esteban told us each month, the economy in Spain gets worse.  His concerns with Spain in the EU are great.  I can only hope things improve for the locals.

The Quirky:

-Spanish sheep don't make "baaaa" sounds.  I learned this the hard way when I couldn't remember the word for sheep at the cheese monger and I tried sounding it out.  I'm told it's "beeaaaa".

-Just like in France, peanut butter is almost non-existant as are energy bars.  If you need either of these for riding, bring 'em with you.

-Beer and soda are sold by the can, not the case.

-Electricity is really sketchy.  If you are renting an older apartment, I wouldn't suggest running the clothes washer and the stove top at the same time.

-Graffiti is everywhere.  Some of it, however, is absolutely beautiful.  Check out Soma's artwork which is found all around Palma.

-You'll know you've ridden past a Spanish cyclist on the mountain if you see them wearing a buff around their face.  Seriously.  They were the only ones I saw doing this and they all greeted me with "bon dia" even when they were tearing down the mountain at 50kph.

-The "c" sound in words like "gracias" threw me for a complete loop.  When I took some Spanish in school, we must have learned Mexican/Central American Spanish because the "c" was pronounced "s".  Here, in Mallorca and the rest of Spain, is sound more like a "sth".  The problem really comes in when most of the "d's" also have a "th" sound.  I'm trying, that's all I have to say.  To my Spanish friends, don't expect miracles!

-The water, from the tap, in Mallorca is extremely high in lime from the limestone.  You won't find anyone drinking the tap water here.  Not because it isn't clean, but because people who drink it over a long period of time get gallbladder stones.  We drank it.  I'll get back to you on the gallstone thing.

Okay, so there you have a rundown on my first trip to Mallorca.  This will not be my last!  I plan on coming back for a lot more cycling, hiking and eating.  I want to thank all the wonderful people I met along the way, especially Esteban and Luciana in Palma.  Every shop and restaurant owner made me feel at home.  Gracias de todo corazon!

The innards (details):

-If you are coming here to bike, there are many places to rent.  We used Tramuntana Tours who rent Trek--everything from mountain bikes (oh yes, this is a great place to do that) to Madones.  They have two locations, one in Soller and one in Puerto de Soller.  The owner, Andy, is British so there is no need to work things out in Spanish if you don't know it.  They also lead both road and mountain bike tours and sell bike maps for the Serra Tramuntana area.

This is why I rent apartments when I travel!  A bit of down time after a long ride in Soller
-Renting apartments is quite easy and it's great having more space and a kitchen to prepare food from the mercat municipal.  The places we rented were in Palma and Soller.  We used airbnb for our place in Palma.  I can't begin to explain how kind Esteban, the owner, was.  His apartment is in one of the best locations and has everything you may need.  Our apartment in Soller was rented through homeandaway.com.  Again, the owner, Marnix, was wonderful and the apartment looked like it came out of an Ikea magazine--but overlooking the mountains.

-The two top places we ate were C'an Atuna in Fornalutx.  This place specializes in Mallorquin food and has, not only suckling pig, but also leg of lamb and rabbit.  The other place you must head to is La Vinya de Santa Clara, a wine bar in Palma which also serves some of the best local cheese and jamon in the area.  Esteban, the person we rented our apartment from, also owns this wine bar.  He is a sommelier who KNOWS his Spanish wine and also offers Mallorquin digestifs and aperitifs.

Esteban, the owner of our apartment and La Vinya de Santa Clara

C'an Atuna in Fornalutx

-If you want to rent a city bike in Palma, there is a bike share program which has ports all around the city.  There are some bike lanes, but not many.  You can also rent different city bikes at the bus station in Plaça d'Espana.

Alife Cycles in Palma
-Do yourself a favor and visit one of the coolest bike shops I've ever been to when in Palma.  Alife Cycles sells only steel and mostly fixies and single speeds.  The owner also has a nice collection of old Italian road frames.  While there, check out his handmade leather bags (he makes them himself) and the artwork on his walls (changes frequently, but is always by a local artist).


*Addendum:  No trip can conclude without one big issue.  Ours, luckily or unluckily, happened on our way back home.  While waiting for our second flight, out of three, in Madrid, the entire Iberia airline computer system went down at the airport.  We had just under a three hour layover in London before flying out to Chicago--we thought we had given ourselves plenty of time.  To make a long story short, we made our flight by two minutes.  I kid you not.  Imagine me running down the terminal--a very long terminal--after passing through security screaming to hold the gate open.  There were 8 other passangers from the Madrid flight behind me still stuck in security...including my husband.  They essentially told me the gate was closing and there was nothing they could do, even though the flight wasn't set to take off for another 25 minutes.  I had a choice, leave without Markham or be stuck in the airport for what could be days.  Just as I was choosing to stay, Markham comes running up.  He had been detained in security because they were suspicious of his cycling shoes.  We didn't know if the others got on until we landed.  Thankfully everyone made it, but I heard one of the guys, who has platinum status, had to pound on the door to get them to let him in.  What a way to end a peaceful trip!

One of my favorite views!  Taken in Fornalutx--the furnace of sun.




Sunday, March 2, 2014

The straw that broke the camel's back

Today's ride was -1F with a -19 windchill to start
We all have our limits.  Today I found one of mine.  This entire winter, one built on repetitive record lows, fierce winds and icy conditions, I've kept a fairly positive outlook.  I embraced the cold, thinking it was good for the environment, I saw the icy conditions as a way to work on my bike handling skills and I tried my best to laugh at the wind--in between swearing--so that I wouldn't start crying. Throughout it all, I kept biking, alone and with friends.

Each day it was below zero I found myself berated by coworkers and non cycling friends, telling me I was crazy for riding in those conditions.  I didn't feel crazy.  I felt as though if I didn't ride I would go crazy...until today.  Today, March 2nd, the switch flipped.  Somewhere, on the last five miles of our weekly Sunday ride, I decided I had enough.  I couldn't feel my toes, even with Sorels and two pairs of socks, I couldn't feel my cheeks, the headwind was forcing me to move at a sloth's pace and the ice ruts on the side roads made me think I was riding on a pump track.  My mood quickly went from "Hell yes, let's ride and prove we can have fun in any conditions." to "Get me the f out of Wisconsin!"

The proverbial phrase of the day for me quickly became "the straw that broke the camel's back".  As I look at the upcoming five day forecast, all I can do is sigh.  I'm tired of being cold, I'm tired of taking 10-15 minutes to get dressed just to step outside, I'm tired of my shoulders being permanently glued to my ears, I'm tired of all this white (ground and my skin), and I'm tired of losing folks on the group rides because they too are sick of this.  Two weeks ago I gave mother nature the benefit of the doubt and said "You have two weeks to get your shit together."  I think I made a grave mistake and now must deal with her mocking me.

I will end my whining and moaning and I will not write another post until I'm in a better mood.  Let's just hope we begin to witness the beginning stages of Spring in the Midwest soon--for all of our sakes.

Early in the week, I decided to hit some hills

If it weren't for my friends, I doubt I'd get out--they make winter riding bearable!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Renewing my body while tearing it down--playing the "phoenix" game and trying to win

A very long time ago, when I led youth-at-risk wilderness trips, we were often told as instructors, that we had to tear the kids down so they could renew themselves.  I hated the process.  I felt the whole phoenix obsession was bullshit and didn't think, by forcing the kids to hit rock bottom, they would naturally come out a stronger or better person.  I saw it in a similar light to how I saw/see the thought "what doesn't kill me makes me stronger".  It was Russian roulette and the cost, was at times, the kid's psyche.

As a trainer, I've spoken about this many times.  "No pain, no gain" has no room in my training regime.  Pain IS NOT GOOD!  It is, first and foremost, a red flag from the body or mind.  If you don't listen to that red flag, consequences will most certainly occur--maybe not right away, but sometime.  So here I find myself, at the end of a long winter, unbalanced in my body and weak in non-linear movements.  What to do?  First and foremost, as an active individual, I want to prevent pain.  I'm okay with feeling discomfort or "muscle awareness", I just don't want to become injured as I begin to ramp up my training.

On this quest to balance my body and prevent injury, I decided to take a "creative calisthenics" workshop taught by Ben Musholt.  I went into the workshop with a pretty good idea of what we'd be doing.  Friends of mine have been involved in capoeira and parkour for years, and although I teach yoga, I've never--forgive me for this pun--taken the leap.

I don't consider myself "body stupid", the movements I do in and out of the gym are usually calculated and smooth.  I tell people movement is like tying a rock climbing or sailing knot--if it's pretty, it's effective.  Yet "body stupid" is exactly how I felt during this workshop.  I didn't trust this collection of flesh, bones and muscle I've been carrying around for almost forty years.  It was almost as if I was being introduced to a stranger.  To get to the point, I was humbled.  And that's good!  It proves to me I need to get cracking and work on non-linear movements...a lot.  As a cyclist and runner, most of my movement is stuck on a continuous loop of forward propulsion.  Outside of teaching yoga, I rarely ask my body to twist with momentum, spin or invert.  Now, I realize what a disservice I've been giving my body and mind and things are about to change.

The morning after my workshop, I woke with some mild muscle awareness, meaning I felt muscles I hadn't worked properly in quite some time.  And yet, I headed to the gym to practice again, performing a thirty to forty minute workout, mostly on my hands.  This, I thought, could be addictive.  It's almost as if I were a child with a new toy on Christmas morning.  "Play, in all forms, will keep me young" was my mantra as the sweat began to drip from the tip of my nose.

I'm going to try and keep this stuff up during cycling season.  It's stuff I don't have to be inside four walls to perform--which is very appealing once the ground is snow free.  I'm hoping it will not only free my body, but also my mind, as I undertake hours upon hours in the saddle.  Although this type of training is not new, I still need to thank Ben for being at the right place, at the right time--here's to teaching an old dog new tricks!

You can find Ben's book, Mad Skills, here.  If possible, take one of his workshops as well.  You'll thank me for it!