Thursday, July 17, 2014

A very thought provoking blog post from a friend who works at the Global Health Institute

If you live in Madison, or like to bike here, you've gotta read this post by Jason Vargo!

I was lucky enough to attend the mobile bike workshop with Jason yesterday--he raises some good questions.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Great minds don't always think alike...and that's a good thing!

Getting ready to roll out
I have to say, I feel pretty damn lucky today.  This afternoon, I got to ride around Madison with about 24 other people and discuss how to make the city better for cyclists.  This was all an initiative made possible by the Madison city engineers, Tony Fernandez especially, Arthur Ross and Toole Design Group, who does nationwide infrastructure work that specialized in bike/ped friendly plans.

About 20 of us broke up into three groups, led by the caring folks mentioned above, and rode around the city discussing troublesome intersections, city plans in the works, and how to improve what we have without breaking the bank.  I found myself surrounded by so many important people in the cycling community I could barely contain myself.  People from the DOT, the Pedestrian, Bicycle, Motor Vehicle Commission, the sustainability program at Edgewood College, the Wisconsin Bicycle Federation, Downtown Madison Incorporated, the Global Health Institute, the owner of a bike company, and B Cycle as well.

At each intersection or planned project in the works, we were asked questions by both Toole and the city. The kicker is that we were listened to--100%.  Rarely were their opinions shared, instead they gave us some background knowledge (things like dealing with the railroad commission) the project parameters and then asked us our opinions.

West Washington/Bike Path crossing
I don't know how often this sort of thing goes on in other cities, I hope it happens all the time, but for me, it was a first.  I'm used to bouncing ideas off a group of bike fed staff and board members, I'm used to preaching to the choir, or being a choir member, with my riding friends, and I'm used to going to project meetings on a specific project.  What I'm not used to is having so many great minds evaluate so many issues at one time in a very calm, and kind way.

Talking about what works--intersection of Monroe/Regent/Crazy Legs/Breeze

Although this mobile workshop filled quite quickly, it was only a small part of a four day workshop where anyone could come in and share their ideas.  By allowing anyone and everyone to come in and chat, our great city of Madison got so much stronger in just four days.  Well done!

I am hoping we continue to have meetings like this yearly.  I am hoping that other cities follow suit if they haven't started yet.  I am hoping to get invited back if this flies.  Thank you Toole, Tony Fernandez and Arthur Ross for holding this.  Thanks even more to Robbie and Mary for inviting me!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Crushing Gravel part 7--Getting Down and Dirty

Somehow, someone--ahem Dan and Mike--talked me into doing a gravel event in July.  Mike first told me about Ten Thousand this spring.  Ten thousand feet of elevation gain in 125 driftless Northern Illinois miles (yes, Illinois does have hills).  Dan somehow saw it and twisted my arm into doing it.  The whole idea of riding that far, with that much climbing, unsupported, didn't sound like a whole lotta fun to me in hot humid weather.  I love hills, I love riding driftless, I love riding unsupported, I don't like having to worry about water--and when I have to worry about having enough water, I go into a bit of a tizzy.

Meeting up in Krape park in Freeport, IL for the Ten Thousand

A few weeks back, my husband and I did a bike tour west of Madison during the hottest few days yet this summer.  He picked the hilliest route he could find, and we ended up following both the Horribly Hilly course and the Dairyland Dare course.  I had two water bottles on my bike and one in a bag, and although we had convenience store stops, I rarely felt I had enough water to get me through.  It was at that moment I dropped my idea of completing the full ten thousand and instead opted for the abridged 73 mile version.  I knew my body could do the miles but I just didn't want to carry 160 ounces of water to get me to the only convenience store on the route at mile 86.  Dan, thankfully, was nice enough to fold to the shorter miles with me.

I have to say I was quite excited to see a new part of the driftless area, and ride with Dan on his second gravel event since he'll be doing Almanzo with me next year.  He rolled into my driveway at 4:30am to make the trek down to Freeport and questions started flying about how big I thought the hills would be.  You see Dan and I have tackled just about every 16-20% grade hill together within riding distance of Madison.  I honestly had no clue how big the hills would be down in Illinois, but I had heard rumors about a 25% grader.

Getting ready to roll out
The ride was full of scenes like this one

As we, along with about 100 others, rolled out of Krape Park in Freeport, the skies began to piss.  A drizzle helping to cool us turned into a steady light rain within a few miles.  No worries.  We expected this.  Sometimes, I have found, riding gravel in light rain is better than dry conditions since it keeps the dust down.  The only issue was I didn't have fenders--my bike doesn't have clearance for them with 33mm tires.  What was a clean and dry ride for Dan turned into a complete shit show for me.  Within minutes I had gravel grime where one doesn't want it--covering my water bottles, covering my face, in between my saddle and shorts and I'll never know how some made its way down my shorts.

When I had moments to wipe my glasses clean, I was treated to some of the most beautiful scenery.  Hills, valleys and farms, all in technicolor green.  The gravel was in great condition which made it easy to take in my surroundings.  Why yes, I think I love riding in Northern Illinois!  And then, we hit the B road.  Now as many of you know, my mountain biking skills, or lack thereof, are very very sad.  The only thing I dread on gravel rides are B roads.  This one took us a ridiculous amount of time to find since we kept going down farm roads instead.  When we finally got back on course, I got to experience mud oozing through my shoes while my limbs were covered in mosquitoes.  You know what though, we could only laugh at the situation.  We felt so silly walking our bikes on this "road" and it was made even better when a farmer in a truck stopped us at the end and asked us "Whose GPS broke for you to ride down that?"

The section of B road we didn't ride

And this was about where we started riding once again

Both of us at this point were feeling great.  We knew we only had about 20 more miles and we both felt strong.  And that's when it happened.  For some unknown reason, my knee started hurting and my quad and IT band froze.  I had to stop and stretch, but I couldn't get the right angle and couldn't figure out why I felt fine standing, pulling my leg back, but couldn't put any pressure down on my pedal.  The last 13 miles consisted of me pedaling with my right leg while my left leg rode along unclipped.  Every time I tried to push with my left leg, my quad, hip flexor and IT band rejected me.  I wondered if I would make it since I brought our pace down to 10mph and the situation was worsening.  Happily, we did make it, and the moment I got off the bike I felt fine, a bit stiff in that thigh, but full of energy.

First place 125 mile finisher coming in strong

After a brief parking lot shower, we joined the others at the amphitheater to eat and watch the first 125 mile finishers roll in.  The guys who can pull a steady 20mph pace on gravel amaze me.  I will never be that fast, but damn if I won't have a blast trying.

Thanks to the entire Axletree crew from North Central Cyclery for putting this on, but an extra thanks goes out to Chad for designing the route.  Thanks also to my partner in crime, Dan.  We WILL do the entire Ten Thousand next year!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

5 Counties, Two Days

Zac Barnes, WI Bike Fed staff, riding with me to Spring Green
What happens when you hit five driftless counties in a matter of two days?  Some damn fine riding, that's what!  Although my rides went through these counties again and again over four days on the bike, I was lucky enough to hit them all the first time in just two days.  Dane, Sauk, Iowa, Columbia and Juneau--all beautiful, all spared by the glaciers (at least the portions I rode through) and all so different in their own way.

Zac, Peter Mulvey and Nathan Kilen talking bikes
The "warm up" was the gift of riding to the Shitty Barn concert with my friend Zac.  We had planned to ride out to see Josh Harty and Peter Mulvey play for some time, and when the weather radar started showing pop up red storm cells, my heart sank and we had to make a Russian roulette decision.  Do we risk it, roll over high hills and pray we don't get hail and lightning, or do we take the easy way out and drive?  A thirty second confused conversation went like this, Zac: "Have you heard they are calling for hail...should we postpone it?", Me: "Well, we have to be out there by 5:30 so we won't have much time to sit under shelter if a storm comes.", Zac is confused on the other end and meant "postpone" as to drive, not sit out the storm, Me: "How do you feel about riding through the rain?", Zac:  "Fine, I've got rain gear."--less than five minutes after this we were on our way to meet up and ride to Spring Green.  The bike gods smiled down on us, and after a brief sprinkle--we never did see a storm--we were blessed with sun and a light tailwind the entire ride.  The beer stop--we were searching for strawberries...honest--at the General Store and the jaw dropping performance by both Josh and Peter (along with his drummer and guitarist), made the evening one to go down in the books.  In about a month, you can read more about this in Silent Sports magazine since I was able to interview Peter Mulvey for the article.

Going driftless

Day two meant waking on just over three hours of sleep, working 'til lunch and then pointing the bike in a Northerly direction, over the Baraboo hills, to Lyndon Station for a Wisconsin Bike Federation staff/board member retreat.  I think I made it to the Merrimac ferry with ease, although I can't really remember anything about it except stopping for mulberries every chance I could get.  Post ferry I remember.  Climbing, lots of climbing, as well as magnificent views, new bike territory for me, seeing the GRABAAWR crew roll by, riding through the Aldo Leopold nature preserve, having my face slapped when I went from farm roads into the Wisconsin Dells (think Gatlinburg or Las Vegas) and couldn't understand WHY anyone would want to spend time there, having someone ask me in the dells if I wore a helmet for aerodynamics,  riding further North into more new territory and bypassing my turnoff not once or twice but three times--sleep deprivation was not to blame--the road wasn't marked, and then seeing friends...better yet, with beer and food.

Bike Federation staff and board meeting

Retreat compound for the bike fed gathering in Northern Lyndon Station

Day two was capped off by wading in the river along the sandstone bluffs, more eating, drinking and socializing with a bunch of folks who feel the same way about bikes as I do.  I don't remember falling to sleep--although I remember going to bed before most--all I remember is how good it felt.

Aldo Leopold nature center

Lichen, sandstone and riverwater
Day three meant riding back to Madison, after our bike fed meetings, into a 15-20mph headwind for 65 miles.  What the hell was I thinking?  What I was thinking is sometimes a good bike flogging is fun--at least parts of it anyway.  Although my mind was on keeping one pedal moving over the other, and getting back at a reasonable time, I couldn't help but think about how much I love the smell of pine needles baking in the sun, the scent of minerals where rock and water collide, how big bumble bees can get when they are feasting on clover near the side of the road (I noticed this one while climbing big hills...slowly), how many shades of green there are and how lucky I am to be alive.  Tired legs and chaffing aside, it was a fine day!

Tomorrow will see another attempt at my favorite Devil's Lake loop with friends.  Bluff road, here I come...again, but this time, for the first time in ten days, on my plastic bike vs. my heavy steel touring bike.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Having my keister handed to me on summer solstice

Happy Summer Solstice!
If memory serves me correctly, it was Christopher Robin, from the Winnie the Pooh books, who said, "I think that we ought to eat all of our provisions now, so we shan't have so much to carry."  Well, Christopher Robin, in my book, was a goddamn genius!  This was one of the few thoughts my oxygen starved brain could handle while climbing hill after hill after hill on my summer solstice bike tour.  The other thought was, "this is the last time I'll let my husband plan a route without checking it first."

A couple months ago, my husband surprised me with a two day bike tour in the driftless area.  We'd done many tours, some long, some short, in what I consider to be one of the best places on earth to ride, so I was more than willing to set aside my dreams of riding in the Madison naked ride again this year.  We saw this as a quick chance to get away, explore some roads we hadn't been on and for me, do a bit more training for the Ten Thousand, which is quickly approaching.

Oh oh.  We're following all the Horribly Hilly markers.  This can't be good.

Pinnacle Road got it's name for a reason.  I briefly thought this gun could take my pain away.
Almost every road in the driftless area is this pretty.

Of course, the problem with my thinking was not about being able to handle the hills--I've done many of 'em and have survived, the distance--it was a measly 65 miles each day, or carrying weight on my touring bike--we'd done 8-10 day tours in the hills before.  The "problem" came in with climbing the biggest hills we could find for over 50 miles each day while carrying extra weight, being attacked by gnats and horse flies, not carrying enough water (we each carried 3 20 ouncers), and getting soaked the first day.  When we hit Blue Mound Trail early in the first day, after climbing Moen and JJ, I knew something was up.  After checking his cue sheet, I quickly realized he had put us on the Horribly Hilly route!  18% grade hills aren't big enough for you?  Let's throw one or two 20% graders in there too.

A luna moth in Governor Dodge park.
After making our way into Governor Dodge state park, to fill our water bottles and eat lunch, we were rewarded with one of my favorite roads, Norwegian Hollow.  Flying down through a mixed forest, I couldn't help but sing a very off key version of Norwegian Wood.  This abruptly came to a stop when we hit the incline on the other side.  One more thrilling descent down M and then a five mile climb up Q dropped us into Dodgville looking like wet rats from the rain.  What was on my mind?  Checking into the hotel for a shower?  Nope.  Beer stop!  Yes, I have fallen into the dark depths of needing a cold beer, while I shower, after a long ride--don't laugh, it's a "thing".  Better yet, we got to see our cycling friend, Chris, drive by in the fire truck!

This motel fridge must look familiar to any Wisconsin cyclist
*Warning, any woman who has delivered a child, will hate me for my next comparison.  Post shower, beer, food and nap, I felt like a new woman.  I consider these types of rides, ones I'm on the brink of falling to pieces on, kind of like childbirth.  Once it's over, and I've taken care of a few necessities, I completely forget the pain and suffering I just experienced and am ready to ride again.  And that we did...down to Bob's Bitchin' BBQ for a feast that could bring any meat eating cyclist to their knees.  The only issue arose when we had to climb another big hill, on a full stomach, to get back to the hotel.

My look of confusion as I crested another farm roller
Day two, we were told by our friend Chris, wouldn't have quite the hill punishment we had on day one since we were riding South of 18.  A few miles into it, and I thought "Huh?  Really?"  Big ass farm roller after big ass farm roller greeted us.  From the top of each climb, we could see what waited for us at the bottom of each descent.  At 8am, I found myself covered in a slurry of sunblock, sweat and gnats.  By 9am, the sweat started dripping off my arms, legs and nose.  By 10am, I was thinking that taking the limestone trail back wouldn't have been such a bad idea.  And by 11am, it was all business.  Head down, into the headwind, up another huge farm roller, no talking--just saving any energy I could to take swigs of water.  Yes, the views were amazing and I have now added three or four more "favorite" roads to my list, but I'm just not sure I was ready for the fatigue and pain--I never use chamois butter, but oh god what I would have done to get my hands on some!

This whole experience was wonderful but also an eye opener.  I consider myself a pretty strong climber, but have now realized why we didn't see any other tourers on this route.  The biggest eye opener is how much fluid I needed.  Never on my other driftless tours did I go through this much.  It makes me very nervous about the upcoming Ten Thousand which will have very similar conditions.  No, I won't be carrying the same amount of weight, but the climbing will match what we did, will be on gravel and will be very exposed to the sun.  Time to start asking myself a bunch of questions!

Want to know some of my favorite roads from the ride--even the painful ones?  Here they are!

Day 1:  Of course I love Zwettler, Blue Mounds Trail, Pinnacle, and Knutsen, but I had never experienced the joy of Erdman or Dyerson.  Norwegian Hollow near Gov. Dodge will also be one of my favorite roads--one not to miss.

Day 2:  Jacobson off of Y South of Dogeville was beautiful!  After that, I don't think any of the farm rollers disappointed in beauty or pain.  McGraw, Sunny Ridge, Twin Bridge, Birch Lake (this was amazing), Sylvan, Star Valley, Sandy Rock and Perry Center are all worth a visit.

Markhm rolling up and over hills covered in oak trees

Birch Lake Road

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A friend's post from Tour of the Mississippi River Valley

This was written by a cycling friend, past WI bike fed board member and just a wonderful guy, Brian Anderson.  Enjoy his story!

Packing was complete three days before TOMRV.  It involved a comprehensive checklist of 65 items, from gloves to knee warmers to arm warmers to first aid kit and even ear plugs (necessary to thwart the sonorous snoring of my teammates).  Yes, the list included a bike and 2 wheels--wheels safely and sensibly stowed in a lovely HED wheelbag.

My buddy, Mike Kosobucki, arrives to pick me up in Madison on Friday before TOMRV.  He throws my things in the car.  I snug my precious Madone a/k/a “Pearl” onto his bike rack.  

My checklist shows 65 checkmarks.   Basking in my D-Day-like strategic planning and execution, I smugly ask Mike whether he has remembered earplugs, shower flip-flops and an extra towel.  He hasn’t, so I get some from the house.

Five hours later, we arrive at the sprawling Scott College campus.  It’s 8:30pm.  The campus is bathed in sunset pink and orange.  We ride at 6am the next morning. 

For a few preciously brief moments, I take in the sunset, greet friends on our “Spoketacular” green polka dot squad.  And for those precious few moments, I do not suffer from an aching pit in the stomach, a panicked realization that I am a great fool, and an awareness that all of the city’s bike shops are closed.

Then, with a jolt, I realize I am a great fool, feel a god-awful stone in my stomach and have the panicked realization that all of the city’s bike shops are closed.  My lovely wheelbag was simply left at the curb in front of my house.  I have 63/65 items.  I curse the blood stained heavens over the blighted Scott campus. 

My friend Ray looks on calmly, recognizing the palpable sadness, shame and humiliation rising in my face.  But he doesn’t say “You idiot; you’re going to camp all weekend at Scott College; you’re going to spend the next 48 hours alternately sleeping in Mike’s Honda and trying to avoid being picked up by campus security for public urination.” 

Instead, Ray says, “Ok, let’s get you some wheels.  You call bike shops and I’ll ask around.”  He turns around.  The closest person, standing some five feet away working on a TOMRV banner, is Mr. Joe Jamison.  A faint circular glow surrounds his face in the near darkness.

“My buddy forgot his wheels.  We’d appreciate any suggestions or ideas,” says Ray.  Mr. Jamison pauses, seems to think a second or two.  And he doesn’t say, “You’re kidding me; that grown man and father of two forgot the two round things that make his bicycle roll?!”  Instead, he says, “Well sure. . .  I have some wheels.  It’ll take me a couple hours, but I’ll drop them at your tent.”  I hug Mr. Jamison. 

We go to dinner.  My shame and humiliation and sadness have been rolled back.  I’m now feeling a sense of overwhelming gratitude and awe.   But I can’t help wonder about the wheels.  Will they be wooden?  Will they be round?  Will they be so expensive that I’ll be terrified to ride them?   And who do you know who would loan their road wheels to a stranger?!  Will he demand my first-born?

We come back from dinner.  It’s dark, but I can make out the characteristic silver sheen of wheels set outside of our tent.  We all run over.  I break out my iPhone light.  The tiny light illuminates not an Amish buggy wheel but a gorgeous Mavic Kysirium wheelset.  A simple note is attached: “Joe Jamison” with a phone number.   

We put the wheels on the Pearl.  Pearl likes the wheels.  The shifting is flawless.  The bearings are smooth; I’ll spend the next two days outrolling my teammates and winning our sprint competition.

On arrival after our ride, I dismount the bike, pull my phone from my pocket and immediately call Mr. Jamison.  I thank him profusely and ask what kind of scotch, craft beer or precious metals he desires.  He balks.  “Just pass it forward,” he says.  “I’m so glad you had a good ride.” 

I tell Joe that I’m astonished at and grateful for his kindness and generosity.  As far as I’m concerned, he’s worked miracles.  And now, as I write this a couple weeks post-TOMRV, I think I know how we ended up with a miraculous tailwind both days.   It was Joe.  Thanks so much, Joe Jamison.  I love you, man.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Call Me Bambi--you know, like the stupid Disney character

I can hear it now, "Kinda wobbly isn't she?" Isn't there some sort of saying that if you don't do, ahem, "something" for several years you are considered to be a virgin again?  If this is the case, I had earned my mountain bike virginity multiple times over, and on my ride tonight, with the crew from Revolution Cycles, it showed.  Almost twenty years of not being on a mountain bike for anything other than winter commuting, and even the few times I had actually mountain biked in the past being on the wider trails at Lebanon Hills in Minnesota, showed all too well.

Years ago I had given up on the idea of mountain biking again...ever.  Hell, I lived in Bend, Oregon and only hit a couple trails--instead opting for road rides and skiing.  No way, I thought, I'm sticking to smooth as a babies bottom asphalt.  Then came gravel.  As I mentioned in previous posts, I got talked into the whole gravel scene.  I swore up and down that I would just try it once and then move on.  Um, yeah.  Now, I'm staring down the barrel of a similar gun.  Several friends have talked up mountain biking to me so much and have gently nudged me in it's direction.  My only saving grace was that I didn't have a bike and I wasn't about to buy one.  The trouble, oh, I'm sorry, Trouble with a capital "T" came when a loaner 29er Trek fell into my hands.  No more excuses, thank you very much Steve!

So today, I felt it was as good as any other time to try my hand at this puzzle my friends had handed me.  Revolution does weekly all level rides out to Quarry Ridge not far from my house.  I'd meet the crew on the trail, ride out with them, bang out a couple laps, drink a beer or two and head back.  My friend, Jon, agreed to be my guide or training wheels.  Such a nice guy Jon is.  I thought "no biggie" and really, it wasn't since I was moving at a snails pace around corners, though trees, down drops and on the banks.  The only place I picked up my pace was on the double track heading off the loop.  Did I mention I stuck to the wussy green loop?  Yep, three times.

Thank you Jon!

I thought to myself, "I'm not sure if I'm really going to like this" as I stared down at my white knuckles.  But here's the I rode home, I actually plotted going there alone to practice with no one around me--you know, to take the pressure off.  Damn all of my friends for planting yet another bike seed, but thanks Rev for getting me out there and Steve for trusting me with your baby.

Thanks Steve for the pretty loaner!

Rolling out

Almost there

The only section I could "handle"