Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Hello Lightness My Old Friend

Summer has filled her veins with light
and her heart is washed with moon
-C.Day Lewis

Last week I rode up this road, this week I got to go down it!

There are two dates during the year in which I rejoice everything having to do with life.  One of these dates is the summer solstice.  I look forward to this "turning" so much each year that when it's over, I always seem to feel a bit sad--as if something very special has somehow slipped through my fingers like sand.  

Waking at 4am to the sound of birds as well as an ever brightening sky, and going to bed, my eyelids fatigued from watching the dance of lightning bugs, brings out the best in me.  It is always around this time of year, when my abundant energy fueled by the sun's rays and bountiful greens from my CSA, spurs me to stay on my bike as much as my legs and butt can bare.  I look ahead at the forecast and get as many chores done on the rainy or high wind days and then take off with abandon on the fair weather ones.

Devil's Lake

I always spot amazing things riding solo

This past weekend was essentially a perfect way to celebrate my favorite season, and the longest days other than a long bike tour.  A long and hilly solo ride to Devil's Lake (the place that convinced me I could live in the midwest and be okay with it), some lake/dock time with a friend I haven't visited with in ages, copious pizza consumption with another great friend, showing off my new "food baby" (from the pizza the night prior) on the Madison version of the World Naked Bike Ride, and a 107 mile ride plus 7 more miles of commuting with my husband and one bad ass lady made this weekend one to go down in the books.

Fuel of the gods/esses

A reprieve between hills
My legs and butt tell me I did something--a great feeling to have.  Now, as the days begin to shorten, I just have to keep this "high" going and think the view coming down the mountain isn't less beautiful than going up, it's just different.

*This weekend of riding is dedicated to my dad since father's day was Sunday.  If it weren't for him, I may not have ever found the love for two wheels.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

No woulda, no shoulda, just coulda

Sometime in January I signed up for the Westside Dirty Benjamin--a 107 mile gravel grinder outside of the Twin Cities.  My mom doesn't live far from the course, and I actually have an old cycling friend who lives on the course, so I thought I'd kill a few birds with one stone.  Ride my heart out, check.  See my mom, check.  See an old friend, check.  Well, sometimes things just aren't meant to be, and that's when it's important to switch gears and make the most out of what's in front of us.

As many of you know, I hate being in cars--especially for long periods.  Even though there was a pot of gold colored gravel at the end of a five hour drive, I just couldn't wrap my mind or body around being trapped in a metal cage for a total of ten hours just to ride 107 miles.  The older I get, the more absurd it seems to drive long distances just to ride.  I'd much rather ride from home, or very close to home, and make the most out of my precious time off.

Amacher Hollow Road--one of my all-time favorites!

The only thing which made me doubt my decision to ditch the Dirty Benjamin was the weather.  While it's been raining cats and dogs here, it's been quite sunny and summer like up near Minneapolis.  When I decided not to do the DB, I thought "hell, I can get 107 miles of pure bliss riding from home to Mineral Point and back--some of which would be on gravel".  Sadly, those dreams were dashed by a steady rain which flooded Mineral Point (I was told they got 5 inches in a day) and made the Military Ridge Trail mush (I won't ride on really wet trails because a) it damages the trail for future riders and b) it's like riding through a nasty mix of cement and oatmeal).

Towards the end of Co.Rd. T
This left one option, I had to ride roads if I was going to get out in what turned from a 10% chance of rain to a 40% chance of rain within minutes.  You all know I LOVE riding the driftless roads with the hills upon hills and beautiful pastures between the hills, but I needed something a bit epic--something that would make me feel okay about my decision to stay in Madison.  This gave me two choices (well, there are hundreds more but two came to mind right away), I could ride all roads to Mineral Point and back or do a friend's loop to Spring Green and back adding a few extra hills and miles to get over 100--hopefully hit around the 107 mile mark (yes, I may be a bit obsessive).

Spring Green won over since I'll want to do the Mineral Point loop later with partial path riding.  I woke at 4:30am, hoping to get on the road by 5:30 since rain was moving in.  Of course I dawdled on my day off and didn't get rolling until 6.  All was good until the third hill--Zwettler road--when the skies started to spit and then piss on me.  Slowly but surely, it turned into an actual rain and I had to climb two more hills in it and do one long descent before hitting Spring Green.  Because I was soaked, I chose not to go into the General Store for lunch and instead opted to eat my lunch at Tower Hill state park.  The problem was the mosquitoes there decided I was their lunch and in a fury of swatting, itching and swearing, I chose to ride on without nourishment.  My nice little bonk climbing out of Spring Green told me I was an idiot for not consuming at least something and I was forced to huddle in a convenience store in Arena, eating their processed food, and hoping it wouldn't come up again on the next climb (some of us jokingly call this TransIowa training).

All was good though, nothing came up, the hills raised my core temp again, the sheep and goats were plentiful, the landscape looked like a Dutch painting and I was just so damn happy to be out on my bike with thoughts rattling around in my head.  Happy to be in my head, that is, until a buck naked man strolled up the driveway while I was climbing Reeve hill, and proceeded to get his mail.  Needless to say, it startled me a bit.  I could care less that someone is walking around naked, it just isn't what I thought I'd see on this ride.  I giggled to myself knowing I'd be doing the naked ride next week in Madison and thought about people's reactions when they don't expect to see our group go by.  I couldn't really speed up since the climb is steep, so I just gave him the good 'ol cyclist's wave and said "morning".  If that's what it takes to get me out of my head and be a bit more aware of the details around me, then so be it.

I won't lie, those last few hills and miles hurt a bit (more out of not remembering to bring extra chamois cream vs. my legs giving way), but I got a cool 105 in when all was said and done.  A little bit of me thought about tacking a couple more on to match what I would have done on the gravel ride, but honestly, I decided to leave it "as is" purposely since I'm trying to teach myself to just be okay with not hitting specific goals.  And you know what?  There is not one ounce of me that feels guilty or that "itch" to finish off the final two miles.  Right now, the thought of food and a beer have completely taken over any part of my brain that thinks of cycling...and that's a great sensation!

Always nice to know views like this are within riding distance of home!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Run What You Brung. What happens when two worlds collide?

Meeting up outside of Revolution Cycles

I wish it were as easy as saying all cyclists are just a part of one big happy family.  I wish there was a common respect and admiration among all cyclists no matter what they ride, how they dress, how many miles they put in or how fast they put those miles down.  Sadly, there is bike snobbery, and I even find myself laughing at some of the remarks found on Bikesnobnyc at times.  I don't, however, judge anyone for the type of bike they are on or what they wear--getting my ass handed to me time and time again by guys riding old steel steeds (some fixed) while they are in regular street clothes, has made me realize no matter how much fancy new gear you have, someone will always come up next to you and make your jaw drop while schooling you riding old school...and I love it!

Last night, two very different cycling worlds collided on a Bombay Social Ride starting from Revolution Cycles in Madison.  Bombay is historically a roadie crew--skinny tires, carbon/titanium or aluminum, lycra, full kits and mostly middle aged.  Revolution, however, tends to lean quite a bit more towards steel is real, wool jerseys or street clothes, fatbikes, beer or flasks and under 45.  When I was invited on the social ride, I thought to myself "hmmmm...I wonder how this is going to play out?" but I knew I was all in since I tend to have one foot in each group and can flip flop at a moments notice.
Going Dutch

So what did I choose to ride/wear?  Amusingly enough I passed over my steel gravel steed and my single speed and went for my plastic bike as well as wearing a kit.  Why not?  I rolled up to Rev and found a parking lot full of misfit toys--I say this in a very loving way.  Everything from plastic racing frames with 23mm tires to fatbikes, dutch commuters, and steel fixies.  Things were about to get fun.

Rollout was mellow as we meandered through the city and into Maple Bluff.  The problem was, I had an itch that needed scratching and some pent up energy which needed to be burned off.  I wasn't the only one it seemed because the pace quickened in a hurry and the group split in two--the social crew were the smart ones.

Our group's bike collection consisted of a few plastic frames, a high end cross bike, two steel fixies, and a couple steel cross bike/touring/gravel frankenstein bikes.  As the pace went over 20mph, I was giggling inside out of pure joy since we were all sticking together.  I can't say how much this sort of thing excites me since as a child, it was always drilled into my head that roadies can't mix with anyone else.  Here we were, all having a blast, acting like kids and dreaming of the beer that awaited us at the end.  To make things even better, the two fixie riders threw it down on the two climbs and worked the rest of us over.

Two fixies, one cross bike, one frankenstein bike=a happy family

Both groups came back together at Rev at the end for refreshments and relaxation.  There was no teasing, no judgement and I'm pretty sure we all proved the common bond is two wheels--be it skinny or fat, carbon or steel.

Even the beer was mixed.  Craft local and PBR

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Making lemonade out of lemons

I'm not looking too happy about the weather.
photo by Tim Reinhardt
Forgive me, for I know some of you may remind me of rule #5 when I whine a bit about it being in the 50's and rainy over a weekend in late May, but I just can't help myself.  This heat and humidity seeking creature wants temps in the 80's with very little wind--not a pissing rain all day with winds in the 20mph range and temps which make me consider wearing my lobster mitts again.  We northerners get enough of this 6 months out of the year and each weekend we don't see a reprieve, just means we're one weekend closer to starting another winter.  Honestly, I'm not sure why I even bother putting my winter riding clothes away some years.

So, a friend of mine and I had big plans to ride around lake Winnebago on Saturday.  Thought was to drive up in the morning (surely the rain would stop by noon if the forecasters were calling for it to stop by 10 or 11am), eat lunch and visit, and then head out on the bikes for nearly 100 (or 110 if my friend chose to take advantage of me being a) in a place I've never ridden or b) knowing how naive I was/am).  A message he sent me said "5 hours riding time"...I, of course, laughed my head off thinking I was in no mental or physical shape to push a 20mph pace in wind.  But hell, I had a map with me and the car keys so my thought was he could drop me and wait for me in a bar somewhere or drag my slow ass to the end.

As we drove into Neenah, which would be our starting point for the ride, the rain showed no mercy.  Every hour we checked weatherpessimist.com and every hour they pushed the end of rain out.  11am somehow turned to 2:30pm (it was still raining in Menasha just a few miles away at this point) and we questioned even getting a short ride in.  This was all going down while one of our mutual friends was finishing up his first century of the season in Madison mind you...in the rain and wind (Jsams...stop making us look so bad!), and other friends were doing the Dirt Kanza 200 or the Sturgeon 100 gravel grinder.  We were being wusses and I honestly don't feel bad about it.

We did finally make it out, and let me tell you how great it felt.  No, we didn't do the Race the Lake course as planned, but we did put down just under 40 miles with another great guy and I got my first ride in the Fox River Valley as well as climbing a fire tower in High Cliff state park.  Not too shabby since a couple hours prior we had considered just watching movies while sitting around getting fat.
Cap the ride off with a couple beers at Club Tavern in Menasha, as well as hanging out with the owner of CT in his garage, and the rain was a memory (although we were still freezing our asses off in our kits).

Tim and Steve in High Cliff State Park

I was the only one stupid enough to climb the tower (wet wood+cleats isn't a good combo)
Since I had no idea about what to expect from riding in the area (my only view of it had been from HWY 41 which doesn't make a good impression), I was honestly so pleasantly surprised.  The roads chosen for both Saturday and Sunday's ride were low traffic, much smoother than the ones around Madison, dotted with old restored barns made into homes (a couple are now on my wish list), and although flat, were roads I'd like to ride again soon.  Downtown Neenah and Menasha are not only full of beautifully restored brick storefronts but are quite happening--unlike so many small downtowns which have fallen into a Walmart/suburban sprawl demise.  The homes in downtown Neenah reminded me of Summit Av. in St.Paul and although they were far too large for my liking, I thoroughly appreciated their craftsmanship.

Sunday's ride brought us into the small town of Dale for breakfast at Still Wallys Still.  I'm sure I've mentioned how much I love going out for breakfast, and somehow I wish I could transport this place to the Madison area--especially since the Roxbury Tavern isn't serving breakfast for a spell.  I didn't, however, enjoy the feeling of eggs, potatoes, sausage and coffee sloshing around in my tummy while pushing into a headwind the entire way back (okay, scratch that...I sucked some serious wheel--I cannot tell a lie).

Was I happy I ditched other rides to attempt a ride around Winnebago?  You bet.  No, it didn't work in our favor, and I'm beginning to think I'm seriously bad luck to my riding friend who brought me up there, but hey, we had fun and one of these days I'll make it around the entire lake!

Pelican infestation in Neenah

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 www.weatherpessimist.com 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 weather.com 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 weather.com 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 weather.com became weatherpessimist.com.  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