Saturday, February 6, 2016

Earning Liquid Carbs

At least we all rode down for these beers!

I live in Wisconsin. The land of great beer and cheese. Mix these two with brutally long winters and what do you get? Winter "insulation", day after regrets, and sluggish legs. I'm not the only one slapped with this reality. Several of my cycling friends have been looking at the calendar, doing the math, and swearing quietly under their breath, knowing what hauling ten extra pounds does to you while climbing hills on two wheels.

Honestly, I've never really cared about becoming deconditioned in the winter. It's been my yearly ritual to add a nice layer of warmth around my body come late October/early November and keep it there until I start getting serious about riding in early March. Then, within a month or two, I'm finely tuned once again from frequent 2+ hour rides. I'm the type who feels there's no way in hell I can keep the intensity up I do in the summer—without either turning into a crazed, obsessed athlete or getting sick. Nope, give me Jan Ulrich's training plan any day over Lance Armstrong's. I'm not calculated in what I eat (except for getting enough fresh produce in), I allow myself one too many glasses of liquid bread and I sometimes opt for a nap or book vs. going for a run or ride. Essentially, I allow myself to rest.

The only problem I have with this wonderful training theory is the spring events keep getting earlier and earlier (road racing season begins April 10th this year and there are several gravel events also in April) and I haven't really talked myself into ending my "rest" period any earlier. So this is how I see it. I have two options. I can a) say screw "training" and just play and do the best I can with what I've got or b) give myself a good kick in the ass and get moving (mind you I am active all winter...just not nearly as much as summer).

A good friend of mine in Colorado, and former junior racer at the time I raced, gave me such a brilliant training plan that I just had to share it. 25 miles on two wheels=1 beer. Yep, it's as simple as that. To enjoy a glass of liquid bread, I have to earn it. I like this idea so much I might even apply it to my runs as well. 5 miles of running=1 beer. I doubt I'll stick to this plan 100% but it sure is an easy guide to follow and when it's 25 degrees out, and all I want to do is turn my steed around, I'll know there is more than one consequence. By following this I still have no interest in racing or riding seriously...but it just might make March and April a bit easier on the legs and lungs.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Ch Ch Ch Ch Changes

The only thing that it constant is change

For my entire life I have had one foot in the "hey, throw it at me...change and adventure are awesome" mode and one foot in the "oh dear god, I would love to have an even keeled, basic plan for the next year" mode.  Being raised primarily by a mom who struggled to keep us afloat financially because she was trying to better herself, not knowing if we'd make ends meet each month, I craved structure. It was my safety blanket in a way. I knew if I had structure and the same daily routine, everything would work out.

Sometime in my early teens, however, I got the adventure bug. I wanted to explore new places (always coming back to my "safety blanket" mind you) and I wanted to meet people with different backgrounds than me. Essentially, I wanted the world to be my text book. Screw learning about geography and sociology on page—I wanted to learn about it in a much more tactile way.

My first real experience of this, outside of riding into unknown territory sans map, was through a trip to France in high school and multiple BWCA and Montana backpacking trips with Outward Bound and the Kekekabic Trail Club. It was through these outings I learned my fears, my strengths, my weaknesses and my desires.

Everything after high school became an adventure. I did a several month solo road trip out west, I went to college—and quit college, I went to technical school, I worked at numerous outdoor stores, I became certified as a personal trainer, I headed to the mountains or BWCA as much as I possibly could, I planned and dreamed of bigger and better trips, I met my now husband on a whim and traveled to Mexico and Central America for a couple months for our first date, I moved around the country and traveled abroad with my husband and I grew roots in a place I never thought I would...Madison, Wisconsin. The roots took hold, I made close bike loving friends I never had while moving from state to state, we bought a house, fell in love with the neighborhood and our neighbors and got into one heck of a routine.

Years went by. My challenges and adventures became almost solely bike related—a tour here, a gravel race there.  Change became to mean something completely different to me. I saw change in the smallest things—like the time each flower opened in my yard from year to year and which birds came back to my yard and which may have moved on or perished. My world became a small radius. I still dreamed of travel, and sometimes I made it happen, but it was nothing like before. And yet, I wasn't dissatisfied.

This year however, will be the year of change for me. I am in the middle of a divorce (with my best friend who will continue to be such), I am about to close on a condo and put our house, in the best neighborhood in the world, up for sale, I am about to obtain a roommate—something I haven't had since I was 22 years old, and I'm about to figure out who the hell I am and who I want to be.

There are so many questions hanging out there at this moment. And I'll be honest, it's freaking me out a bit. Thankfully I can hold onto two friends and my bikes. These two things have gotten me through some pretty sketchy times in the past and I assume they will do so in the upcoming year.

I have made plans, although maybe not as concrete as I'd like, to do the Dairy Roubaix, Almanzo, Gravel Metric, Dairyland Dare and Door County Century. If Axletree puts on their other gravel events, I'm sure I'll partake. There may even be a mini bike tour out to Decorah, Iowa for a brief visit to Toppling Goliath Brewery. Who knows really. Things will fall into place, as they always do. Until then, I just have to keep the rubber side down and the wind (mostly) at my back.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Chase the Dark Away

We drift along down rivers
Past the times we were born
Past broken smokestack factories
Graveyards of lost loved ones
We cast our dreams on waters dark
We just watch them drift away
We turn our eyes heavenward
But feel no need to pray
-Jim White

It's December 13th. I look out the window into fog and a steady stream of rain. I've forgotten what day it is and had to look at my watch to remind myself. I have been living in a figurative and real fog for almost two weeks now. With El Nino in full force, what could be several feet of snow, has come in the more liquid form here in the North. When it's not raining, the moisture hangs steadily in the air. Sometimes I view it as a comforter, sometimes it feels smothering. 

This kind of weather makes time stand still. There is no way to tell if it's morning or night except by looking at a clock or listening to my stomach growl. Lights are always on my bike and reflective clothing always worn. The drops of water in the air tend to grasp most sound and muffle it so the only thing I hear is the occasional screech of a blue jay or crow. 

I think to myself, this is what it would feel like to live in places like Superior, WI or Pittsburgh, PA. I wonder how much coffee I would need to consume if I lived there and had any plans to get out and ride. 

These falling leaves
Might tell a tale
Of harder times to come
But let us not surrender to 
Our fears and turn to run
For our dreams will rise up above this earth
To mingle with the stars
To return as healing summer rain
A balm to these ancient scars

Over the past two weeks, I have gotten out for more "longish" country rides than ever before in December. I have watched the dead oak leaves hang on for dear life in the wind and have compared them to me facing some upcoming fears and holding on, not wanting to be blown away.

It is on these rides I have an ever expanding understanding of place and being. I feel, smell, taste and see everything whether I want to or not. I am trying, oh so very hard, not to wish these weeks and months away. Trying not to be the one who only dreams of the renewal of Spring  and Summer and instead allows myself to hold steady and be present.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

F*CK the Cold!

Like it or not, it's that time of year again.  The time when most cyclists, in the Midwest anyways, retreat inside to crank out miles upon endless mind numbing miles on their trainer.  I applaud their mental strength...really, I do.  This way of training, however, is not my cup of tea.  I joke frequently in fact that I'd rather shoot myself than spend the winter on a trainer.

Instead of being warm inside, with music blaring to motivate me, I choose to ride outside--with any sweat that does leave my pores, freezing instantly, and the sound of studded tires and a rusty chain making a "delightful" beat.  Once in awhile I'll head out on my own, but this usually takes determination I don't I instead round up my friends who are as demented as I am and hit the trails or roads.

Do I call this type of torture (sometimes riding as low as -20F) "fun"?  Hmmm...well that depends upon the day you ask me and if it's before the ride or afterwards.  Having to leave the comfort of home, dress in so many layers I can barely walk, pack and repack my safety bag--making sure I have two of everything, and have my tears freeze my eyelashes shut isn't always fun, but it's necessary.  You see, getting outside for any activity, but especially cycling, is my form of therapy.  I would indeed go crazy if I didn't have this outlet.

Last weekend got the ball rolling well with the Freezaroo ride and the Madison Bike Winter fashion show.  This weekend I headed up North to the Fox River Valley to do a night gravel ride with the Diablos/Group Ride crew, got out on a short road ride and ended the weekend with the first F*CK the Cold ride of the year.

Civil twilight on a gravel trail in the Fox River Valley

The ice and mud left over from that ride

Okay, so the conditions weren't really that bad--all days hovering around freezing or just below--and I had really cool folks to keep me motivated two of the days (along with beer, whiskey and coffee).  But tonight they are calling for the most dreaded condition of all--freezing rain.  This is where things begin to get ugly and I start becoming a bit difficult to be around because I can't bike or run safely.  If I want to work out, I am forced to do so at the gym (please refrain from laughter because I work at a gym).

First F*CK the Cold ride
photo by Johnnymac

With hopes of the roads becoming ice free soon, I begin loading my schedule with outdoor group rides for the rest of the winter so I don't become a sloth like creature.  I beg of you...if you see me slouched on my couch with a piece of pizza in one hand, a recess peanut butter cup in another and a bottle of bourbon sitting next to me on the table, slap me silly and drag me outside.

If you see me with a beer, pizza, chocolate or bourbon in hand
after a ride...DO NOT take it away from me!  This one is a Christmas
Ale from Bare Bones Brewery (a bike benefits location!)

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Let the Zombie Apocalypse Begin!

I woke up Friday morning and started my day like most Friday mornings.  Since I usually have Fridays off from work, I tend to hit the grocery stores and Menards at an ungodly early time to avoid the crowds and mayhem (parents with children who are a) having meltdowns in the carts because they can't have the latest sugar cereal or b) choose to push the carts into the back of my legs when I'm not paying attention--I'm looking at you).

As I pulled into the parking lot at 8am I knew something was amiss.  It was nearly full.  What the hell?! Thanksgiving was still a week away.  Didn't folks realize that?  And then it hit me.  The first winter storm of the year was on its way into the Midwest and would hit Wisconsin at 5pm dumping, oh my god, 6-8 inches of snow *gasp* (this all written in a sarcastic tone).

You see each year, Wisconsinites act like the sky is falling (I guess it sort of is) during the first snow.  What will they do if they don't have their pantries and coolers completely stocked since everything could possibly shut down for *again gasp* 12 hours?

As I waited in the checkout line, which snaked down the grocery isles, I felt the queasiness begin to swell.  If I got all my chores done in a couple hours, I could manage a quick 30 miler in the hills on my road bike--most likely my last time on it until late March.  The tightening in my chest increased and I began to panic. No, no, no. Winter couldn't be here already.  I'm not ready.  I don't have my new winter steed completely built yet and I don't want to deal with icy street conditions not to mention the 20 minutes it takes to get ready for my 3.5 mile commute into work.  I started to go through the ridiculous 5 stages (with mother nature in mind) that will get you nowhere.  Denial (as mentioned above), anger (oh let me tell you about the anger--at the weather and myself for living in Wisconsin), bargaining (I had plenty of time to bargain while in line), depression, and finally acceptance.  I could hear her laughing almost instantly.

I went home, unpacked the groceries, left the house cleaning to be done for after the ride, and pushed out on two wheels into the cold wind.  I tried to savor every mile, but all I kept thinking was "from this point out, I'll be on heavy, wide tires and on platform pedals with winter boots on".  Although I'm a part of the winter cycling scene here in Madison, I'll be honest...I'm such a baby about it and if given the chance to move someplace warm for three months out of the year, I'd be all over it.

Around 5pm the snow began to fall.  I refused to look outside and when forced to drive to a friend's place, I pretended it was all just a dream.  I woke sometime in the middle of the night to that brightness only fresh snow can bring.  No, the lights weren't on, it was only the reflection of street lamps on the new white blanket covering my world.  I hid until I had to face it in the morning.


Still in denial but now armed with my new winter steed (thank you Johnnymac!!!).  I still refused to go out other than to drive home.  Instead of doing what all of my other winter cycling friends were doing (riding and enjoying the new snow), I chose to nap and eat and nap some more.  We will all just pretend that day didn't exist.


Forced to go out in the now bitterly cold temps (we'll call this a heat wave come January), I met up with my friends for the annual Freezaroo ride.  26 miles, 17 degrees, 13 mph South wind, hills, and a new bike.  I'm happy to say not only did I survive, but I had fun....shhhhh, don't tell mother nature.  It really was pretty, and layered up in my balaclava, winter boots and expedition mitts I was fairly comfortable.

Each year I have to switch my mindset from "fun" being an urban spin in a sundress or a century with sweat dripping off my limbs to it being "hot damn, I survived another ride with all of my fingers and toes!"  I think I've made that switch but only time will tell.  I'm sure I'll be pissy and moany many more times in the next three months.

Sunday's winter riding festivities ended with the fifth annual Madison Bike Winter Fashion Show.  It was the first year I wasn't a model and so I got the pleasure of socializing and heckling the other models.  A couple beers made my ride home seem easy--it's amazing what liquid courage does for the first few winter rides.

And so here I sit now, three days of winter riding under my belt with only one jackknife maneuver in my neighborhood that has now become a giant ice rink.  Life is good...or at least not as bad as I thought it was on Friday!

Heading out on the Freezaroo ride (notice my new winter steed)

Taken from the Freezaroo ride

5th Madison Bike Winter Fashion Show at Machinery Row

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Unbearable Lightness of Being

Always, around this time of year, I begin to feel this sense of being so unbelievable small.  With winter fast approaching, and my commutes by bike being in utter darkness, I find myself star gazing most early mornings.  At 5:30am, the world seems very quiet.  The big dipper, along with Cassiopeia, Orion and Pleiades guide my way.  They give me comfort knowing I will see them each clear morning.  They are, in some ways, my security blanket and they tether me to the ground.  So often, if I can't spot them right away, and I allow myself to scan the blackness, I begin to feel terribly insignificant.  The vastness of the sky overwhelms me in a similar way the great lakes or giant redwoods do.  This feeling of not knowing where the end is excites me and terrifies me all at once.

It is during this time of year I also get far too heady.  Nietzsche and Parmenides come to mind.  I start thinking about my role in this world, what I define myself as, what lessons I need to learn and what  my chosen boundaries are.  Am I limitless?  Does my physical state of being really matter?  Can I find that "thing" which connects me to all other living things?  Will I continue on the same road forever?  Yes, these things actually run through my head almost each dark morning I commute into work.  I don't expect to really find any answers.  I don't believe the stars will guide my way for this journey.  The one thing I know, I mean really truly know is that my bicycle is one of the best moderators out there.  It allows me to filter so much of this nonsense--with a simple push up a hill I can let these heavy thoughts drop behind me.

All too soon heavy snow will fall and all of my attention will be on staying upright.  There will be no room or time for nonsense.  It is this shoulder season that allows me to think of the "what ifs", "hows", and "whys"...and of course, it is the season for Monty Python.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Goodbye Summer: Friends can be the worst influence in the best possible way...

What happens when two friends, with a similar tendency towards shenanigans, come up with a crazy ass idea for an end of the summer bike gathering?  70's dance music, disco balls, flashing lights, bike crazed friends, an old train tunnel plus beer and junk food is just the start.  Add a visit from the DNR Popo and you've got yourself one hell of a night!  

This gathering of friends (note this wasn't a "group" by any means--something officer Bates asked us), for a ride down an undisclosed rail trail that wasn't a planned "event" at all (another thing the kind officer asked), for an impromptu civilized "social hour" in the tunnel (call it a late happy hour if you will) was just about perfect in every way.  The fact that most of us were in our 40's or 50's (with the exception of a few young'uns) proved that mid life could be the best place to be.

Meet the "mastermind"--the human, not the dog (but the dog made the party!)

There are no words...

I will say that one of my close friends was truly the mastermind behind most of this, and that another close friend acted as the mule with his Surly Big Dummy and side car.  Me?  I just came up with the stupid idea (at about the same time the mastermind came up with it--great minds think alike), invited folks, and came along for the ride.  Okay, I did do the "walk of shame" with the mastermind when the two ridiculously bright headlights came rolling down the tunnel (for a moment we just thought they were hub generated lights--and then we saw the blue and red flashing lights).  Me?  I fell into the "yes sir, no sir" role while the mastermind teased and poked a bit knowing he was only with the DNR.  Of course once he backed up and did his own walk of shame, we all laughed our asses off (while packing up of course).

Honestly, there couldn't have been a more perfect way to welcome in the new season and celebrate living with friends.  We caused no harm, we left no trace, we watched out for each other, we danced to music some of the participants would like to burn, we had a few beverages, and we played like I did when I was in my late teens.  For this I will scream at the top of my lungs "I LOVE MY FRIENDS!!!"
Happy late fall everyone!

Pre ride prep

Quick pit stop to pee and buy trail passes

Again, there are no words...

To more than half of the group's dismay, I think "Groove Is In The Heart" was playing at this moment