Saturday, May 23, 2015

Call Me What You Will

Stubborn, tenacious, determined, headstrong, steadfast, or single minded.  I've heard them all before, I'm sure I'll hear them many times again.  Essentially, once I get a little seed or worm in my mind, I can rarely shake it.  Oh sure, I have learned to bend and drop things in my old(er) age, and I try my best not to let this behavior affect others, but when it comes cycling or travel, and I get fixated on something, I usually have to follow it through.

Today was no different.  I had it in mind to hit the IL border via the H8TR trail and by god I was going to do it.  I didn't feel all that strong, and when the crew I was riding with thought about bagging the final eight miles, I'll be honest, I thought about it too but instead I chose to go it alone and meet up with them again in Monroe.  So as not to make them wait too long, I picked up my pace--hoping this wouldn't come back to bite me in the long run--and did my best not to hit the kamikaze chipmunks choosing to hang out in the line of my tires. 

On my way back I ran into one of my crew who decided to do the same thing.  He almost turned back with me, but when he found out the border was only 1.5 miles away, he kept going.  I laughed to myself thinking "glad I'm not the only one to act this way". 

So here's what went through my head on the way back to Monroe (besides all the beer I was going to drink at the brewery):  Would it have killed me to not complete the ride I had in mind?, Isn't it more important to hang out with friends vs. complete a stupid goal which really means nothing?,  What did accomplishing this give me? 

Okay, so these questions weren't really all that important for this ride seeing we all joined up in one hour, but it really makes me think about longer trips with others or possible expeditions I may choose to do in the future.  Am I best doing these things alone (most of my more challenging wilderness trips and long road trips were done solo)?  Do I make a terrible travel partner for others because I feel the need to see things through?  I have both some longer bike tours I really want to do in the next few years as well as some extensive trips abroad.  I really need to figure out how to either drop some of my expectations (these only apply to me mind you, not my friends I'm doing things with) if needed or just be okay going it alone. 

No amount of beer and vile green malt liquor gave me answers.  Hopefully time will.

John "flying" back from the border

This, I think, is more important than just reaching a goal

My angel of death with beer

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Crushing Gravel part 10: What does say about Almanzo conditions?

Starting line of Almanzo 100
photo courtesy of Spring ValleyTourism

The view from where I was--and my riding friend, Marc

I swear I haven't learned my lesson.  I still look at a week before events, then again 5 days, 3 days and 1 day prior.  Why do I do this to myself?  Who knows.  Maybe somewhere deep inside, I feel the need to freak myself out a bit.  Of course was calling for up to 80% chance of rain/thunderstorms and high wind.  Did I believe them?  You bet.  Although I'd like to consider myself an eternal optimist, I'll be honest, I'm not.  This is how events go down for me.  I plan and check everything within my power...then check again.  When it comes to things I can't control, I tend to think of the worst case scenario so when anything better happens, I'm always elated.  It's a disease...I know.  This is how became  One of my friends, Steve, who was with me at Almanzo had to make fun of me regarding what I was telling him *could* happen weather wise.

So...did it rain cats and dogs?  Did roofs get blown off farmhouses?  Did pigs fly?  Well, it did rain right before the race started and it did drizzle a bit during the event itself, but honestly, the conditions couldn't have been better and all that stupid worrying I did prior was worthless--but I was elated (heck, I joke a bit in my head that I could have shaved 15-30 mins. off my time if I had saved that energy for the ride).

Mike and Stu headed out on their third day of touring the Alexander course

Creek forging

Beautiful scenery, beautiful gravel conditions

Banjo Brothers Oasis

Steve welcoming me in with beer

Dan crushing his first Almanzo

This is my brief and somewhat discombobulated recall (in snippet form) of Almanzo Lives.

-Smartphones may be good for some things but they can't direct you out of Madison properly.  I think it took us three tries to get off the beltline.  "Shut up Siri!" was said more than once.

-Nick Cave makes perfect road trip music.

-Candy, pizza, beer (including shower beers and bed beers) make you stronger for gravel rides.

-Squeezing other rider's tires is widely accepted (even though I constantly joke and tell people "hands off").  I may not have completely bought into Jan's theory in Bicycle Quarterly, or Mike's strong suggestions to run my 33mm tires at 40lbs, but I did bring my tires down to 55lbs.  Baby steps guys...

-Who would have guessed gravel could be so pristine on a course which had 30-50 miles of freshies the past two years?  I swear this was some of the easiest gravel I've ever ridden--hence my faster finish time even though I spent WAY too much time at the Banjo Brothers oasis swilling Hamm's and eating oreos.

-Maybe I should have stopped to reapply chamois cream somewhere along the way since riding in damp shorts for over 100 miles isn't the nicest feeling.  To quote Dan "my nether regions are tender".

-Taking pee breaks while doing these events is 100% acceptable.  Peeing while still on the road and connected to the bike is not.  C'mon folks, stepping off the road isn't that difficult.

-Disposing of one's used gu packets on the road is worse than peeing while still on the road.  Although Steve's theory is that it must be the roadies with high psi in their tires--so much damn rattling they can't stick 'em in their pockets afterwards.

-It's always a blast chatting with folks for a few miles--finding out where they're from, realizing you have common connections (the bike world is way too small), and then parting ways on the hills only to meet up with them later down the road.  Leap frogging is part of the fun at these rides.

-Seeing folks you only ever see at other gravel events during the year is one of the cool things that makes you realize this is one giant family.

-I finally made it up the dreaded Oriele climb (I'd like to think my legs were stronger this year but I'm guessing it's just because the gravel didn't look like a riverbed).

-When you're really tired, and have had maybe one too many beers, the funniest things are said--or maybe they aren't that funny and it's all just situational.  Either way, I rarely laugh as hard as I do during gravel weekends.  Having really cool folks around you the whole time of course helps.

-I rarely want these weekends to end--this was just another example.  In fact even though I said this would be my last Almanzo, I may have been talked into doing another one with Dan.

Thanks to Steve and Dan for making this weekend what it was.  Thanks to Stu and Mike for knocking on our door and telling us about their adventures. Thanks to Marc for keeping me company on and off up to Forestville.  Thanks to all the cool guys from IL who hung out with us in the hotel hallway drinking beer with us while it poured rain outside. And thanks to Chris Skogen who started Almanzo and Spring Valley for taking it over.

My parting shot of the hotel room

Sunday, May 3, 2015

No Sleep 'Til Brooklyn

I'm beginning to wonder if I really need sleep.  Bikes=need.  Friends=need.  Beer=need. Adventures=need.  Sleep?  Meh.

RW24 sign up

I used to be "that kid" who couldn't function the next day after a slumber party.  I'd be a walking zombie.  Throw in any type of imbalances in my eating (eating late, eating junk food etc) and what you'd have is a very grouchy kid who resembled the one in the exorcist.  You think I'm kidding?  Ask my mom.

Somewhere in my teens, I realized I had to stay up past 9pm to go to good concerts.  Hey, I had been bred to wake, eat, go to school or work, ride and repeat.  No room for any of this nightlife nonsense.  What happened when I discovered an entirely new world out there?  Fun, that's what.  Almost instantly my training went out the window.  There were bigger and better things to do.

But wait!  Thankfully I came to the realization that bikes, friends, and late night shenanigans can all exist peacefully together.  Enter in RW24 and urban riding in general.  Each year, RW24 puts me into a blissful sleep deprived state.  I get to the point when I actually think "I don't need sleep--just another beer and shot of espresso...oh, and maybe some candy".  Normally this mix doesn't occur on RW24 sign up day (May Day), but someone who shall remain nameless decided to get the line going earlier and earlier so that now, to get a coveted spot, one must spend the evening and night as well as the entire next day in line to make the cut.  I took the bait this year, although I said it'll be my last, and spent the night in a park with more than 100 others, none of which I'm guessing slept with the booming techno 'til three and the constant banging of empties.  But hey, it's for the best bike event in the world and this is just another part of it.

So any rational person would go home and sleep on and off for a couple days after something like that. I'm not that person.  Nope, instead I slept six hours, got up early to do a road ride, then b-lined it to La Crosse to hang out with friends, watch bike races, ride around the city and down the trail, drink and essentially suck every single drop out of the weekend.  Hey, after what seemed like a year long winter, it's not that irrational.

Now, after a shower--god I needed that shower--and consuming copious amounts of vegetable matter to offset the brick in my stomach, I can sleep.  Thanks go out to my partners in crime over the past few days!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Of earth, stone, moss, wood and water.

How must it be
to be moss,
that slipcover of rocks?—

greening in the dark,
longing for north,
the silence
of birds gone south.

How does moss do it,
all day
in a dank place
and never a cough?—

a wet dust
where light fails,
where the chisel
cut the name.
-Bruce Guernsey

    I needed to escape.  To take a few, okay six and a half, hours away from it all.  I needed thoughts to rattle around in my head, needed to take deep breaths--breathing in the scent of burning prairies, moss, wet earth, minerals, pollen and manure.  These things soothe and repair me.  They are healers in their own right and I'm not quite sure what I'd do without them.

Limestone calving off like a glacier
    I never really liked riding crushed limestone trails.  There was something that seemed so mundane about miles upon miles of 1-3% gradient changes and riding under a constant canopy of trees and invasive species.  My butt and shoulders always hurt after doing long rides on these trails and my mind would go a bit stir crazy.  And then, somewhere in my mid 30's, I started to enjoy them.  No, I didn't want to ride them all the time--especially being a lover of hills--but there was something these trails could give me that regular road riding couldn't.

    It's hard to explain what happens to me on these trails--especially the H8TR (some know it as the Badger State Trail).  I start letting my mind relax, along with my breathing rate.  I find a rhythm and rarely change my pace or gears.  The whole experience is somewhat zen like to me.  I begin to notice small things, like the changing colors between moss and lichen.  I watch birds and their rituals (I was treated to a plethora of flickers and hawks today).  I watch the clouds.  And I usually realize how lucky I am to be alive.

    As my friends in the Twin Cities fight like mad to prevent the River Bottoms from being paved, and there is some discussion of paving more of the H8TR, I wonder what will happen to the moss, rocks,  trees and my state of mind if I can't get this little escape in once in awhile.

Another blog I really like!

Chad, along with about ten other of my friends, will be taking on TransIowa this weekend.  They have all put in so much time training both mind and body.  They will all be tested with rain, wind and cold temps.  These are the folks I consider my heroes.

Here's Chad's latest post:

Monday, April 20, 2015

Crushing Gravel part 9: Who needs Christmas when you've got Dairy Roubaix?

Looking forward all I saw were really great friends

And looking back was the same!

There are two weekends I look forward to every year more than any other...Riverwest24 and Dairy Roubaix.  The moment the weekends come to a close, I start dreaming about the following year.  Sad, I know, but these weekends are so truly awesome on all levels no words or pictures could possibly explain.

I'll do my best to give you a glimpse of what this year's Dairy Roubaix brought, but really, you just need to experience it yourself.

After a long, cold winter and a windy, cold spring, the sun gods somehow blessed us yet again Earth Day weekend.  A few friends of mine and I found ourselves out in Wyalusing park--near the meeting points of the Wisconsin and Mississippi river--prior to others showing up to help Stew and Michelle set up for the 250 riders who were about to stream into the park.  75 degrees with sun and light winds made it feel like heaven.  The beer Kevin from Red Eye brought for us was the icing on the cake.  As the groups started rolling in to check into the cabins, it began to feel like adult camp with reunions, stories of recent adventures, a bit of poking fun and smiles all around.

Honestly, I didn't want to go to bed.  Several friends noticed I was staring off into space around 10:30 but I was happy to be staring off into space in this environment.  In fact there's no other place I'd rather be a zombie.  Finally, however, around 11pm I called it quits knowing I wanted to be able to ride the next day and help with last minute registration.

At 5:30am I was so pleasantly awakened by the song of birds and a lightening to the sky.  Doesn't take much to get me out of bed to drink coffee and ride with friends in a beautiful location.  As I sat checking people in, the time flew by getting to catch up with those I only get to see a few times each year.  I'm always surprised how many of my groups of cycling friends overlap at events like this and it couldn't make me happier.

Miles and miles of views like this

Rolling.  Like every year the rollout is a bit discombobulated.  Some folks vie to be out front, some want to stick with their groups, others are just out wandering.  I'm kind of a mix between all three.  Believe it or not, the nerves are still a bit wonky for me prior to any gravel ride until a couple miles down the road--then, everything falls into place and I'm just satisfied being out there.  The night prior, I was told by a couple friends that fresh gravel had recently been laid on several roads (I don't like fresh gravel).  They knew this from doing a pre-ride shakedown.  I look back and laugh now since I asked Stew, one of the ride organizers, quickly following that what he thought of the conditions since I heard it was a bit harder this year.  His response was "I don't know, I think it's softer".  I took that as meaning "easier" and he meant it that way, but when we did hit the dust piles and loose stuff, I began to laugh thinking he had teased me by using the term "softer".  Amazing what goes through your head on gravel rides.

The miles ticked by, I hated my tire choice (skinnier and a different model than what I'm used to), the hollows kept coming one after another.  I actually forced myself to stop twice just to appreciate the beauty surrounding me--something I won't do if I'm riding with a group.  A few more miles down the road and several friends caught up to me.  We rode to the half way point together, in awe of Dugway Hollow (also known as Doug Way) and laughing about the dusty conditions.  At the half way point I took in half a banana and a shot of brandy (one of my friends and I twisted each other's arm into doing it).  Another friend, who must have seen me having mild issues navigating the fresh gravel on the descents came up and squeezed my tires checking their pressure.  I knew he was going to do it, I even teased him about it, but I was too nervous to get a pinch flat so I left them as is and told him not to judge me.  He was right of course, they should have come down 5-10 lbs (I thought about this as I lost traction on the climbs in the dust).

The last half of the short route is my kind of ride.  More climbing with a beauty of an ascent capping it off up to the park.  There's something about multi-mile climbs with a doable grade I can't get enough of.  I fall into a rhythm with my breathing and pedal stroke and just "check out".  The best part about climbing C is there's a borer goat farm up at the top.  The other best part is that only a few short miles away, there are coolers with beer--on the other side of a cross course that is.

Those last few miles were ridden with one friend--we split up from the rest of the group somewhere back on the gravel.  Although I made the park entrance ahead of him, I was the rabbit and he caught me going into the cross course.  If I'm going to be caught and passed by someone, it's nice to have it be a riding buddy!  We both plopped down on the grass and waited for the rest of our crew to roll in...with beers in hand.

The rest is a blur.  Food was eaten, more stories were told, more beer was consumed, a hike down to the river happened sometime in between the rest of the 54 milers rolling in and the 107 milers making it back.  I think I showered...god I hope I showered.  The cross course was taken down, a bonfire was made after sunset, I used a friend as a pillow--I wasn't the only one to do so, hot dogs were lost in the fire and I finally found myself on my bunkbed.  As I slept, silly comments from the day danced in my head.  Things like "that's the smell of death","just another day at the beach", "I can smell myself on morning rides", "do you ever smell your septum ring?" and some ridiculous conversation about roundabouts made me laugh in my sleep.

What?!  I wasn't really drinking them both at the same time!
photo by Marc Sharer

Hiking post ride

Two of the coolest guys I know coming in from the 107

Sadness is always a bit of a cloud when packing up early Sunday morning.  It's hard leaving not only a place like this but saying goodbye to friends.  A huge thanks go out to Stew and Michelle for putting on another kickass event! Hope to see many/all of you next year on earth day weekend!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Finding Strength From Friends

Endurance is not just the ability to bear a hard thing,
but to turn it into glory.
-William Barclay

The willow is my favorite tree.  I grew up near one.  It's the most flexible tree in nature and nothing can break it--no wind, no elements, it can bend and withstand anything.

I'm always amazed by how friends know when to push, when to ease up and when to step away.  I've found many of my friends have taught me to be more "willow like" in my way of thinking and living. This weekend of riding was just that--a test of how pliable yet strong I could be.  Although I've done bigger miles, more hills and harder rides than the two I did this weekend, I was pushed into a different level of knowing my strengths and who I am because of these great friends--some old, some new.

I sit here, legs so fatigued I can barely walk down stairs, eyes so tired I could fall asleep sitting up and with one hell of a grin on my face.  One ride, which totaled 96 or so miles, with two stronger riders and one fairly matched rider made me question what the hell was I thinking when I signed up for this.  I was pretty good 'til after lunch and the turn around point and then zap--all the umph from my legs was gone.  Being a person who hates having friends wait up for me, I instantly went into my "guys, go ahead...I'm fine, I'm just going to take my time rolling back" mode.  The answer from one of my friends was "Nope.  We'll slow down.  We've got all day...finish this together."  I'm not sure if my sigh was audible, but at that moment I just had to suck it up, dig deep and roll on.  I thought to myself, "well, if I fall off my bike somewhere and end up in the fetal position on the side of the road, maybe one of 'em will come back pick me up".  Thankfully, this didn't happen.  I finished the ride--in a painfully slow manner--but with a smile on my face (especially once that first sip of beer touched my lips).  I felt good.  Almost like I had accomplished something, even though that something was just a long, hilly ride.

When I finally rolled home, showered, and ate more, I realized "shit, I have to wake up and do this again tomorrow."  I woke at 6:30am to the sound of the wind already rattling the windows.  20+ mph winds to start, ramping up to 25 as the day wore on.  This was not going to be pretty.  But, I had my friends with me, I was on my bike, the views from the top of the climbs would be beautiful, and yes, although I wasn't sure of it at the time, I would survive.

The miles ticked by along with the hills.  The wind shifted to make it seem like we were always going into the wind and I remember laughing hysterically at times because I found the wall like wind to be funny (I'm not sure if I get this joke now).  Towards the top of a few of the climbs I thought I may puke a bit, but then I didn't so I rode on.  It was warm, the sun kissed my face, once again I was on my bike with friends, and although my legs felt like lead, I was so blissed out just "to be".

At the end of the second ride, I knew I hadn't ridden fast or strong but I finished both with only small complaints about the wind.  I finished next to friends, with a beer in hand, and wanting to repeat this entire scenario every weekend.  I can't thank these guys enough for knowing when to push me--in a nice way--and getting me out there to play all damn weekend.  Cheers!

End of ride #1
photo by Marc Sharer

End of ride #2--yep, same place