Monday, April 18, 2016

Back in Black: 2016 Dairy Roubaix

Back in black I hit the sack
I've been too long I'm glad to be back
Yes I am
Let loose from the noose
That's kept me hanging about
I keep looking at the sky cause it's gettin' me high
Forget the hearse cause I'll never die
I got nine lives cat's eyes
Using every one of them and runnin' wild

Moments before the start of the 2016 Dairy Roubaix
photo by Glenn Gernert

Being "back" came in two strong forms this past weekend. First, there was a brief thought in my cycling circle that my favorite bike event, Dairy Roubaix, would no longer be. Second, when it was officially in the books, I didn't think I'd have what it would take to get through it.

I often think of the quote from Toby Depaw, previous owner of North Central Cyclery and event organizer, "All good events should have a shelf life". I believe in this full heartedly, but any time I think about this for Dairy Roubaix, I begin to get a bit weepy. You see Stew and Michelle Schilling have been doing such an amazing job with this for so many years—making hundreds of cyclists smile from ear to ear while riding their bikes up endless gravel hills—that I couldn't handle the thought of it disappearing. Neither could they I guess since instead of chucking the event, they passed it off to another couple, Pete and Alycann Taylor who own Bluedog Cycles in Viroqua.

Now first you have to understand how detail oriented and what perfectionists the Schillings are. They make all of their events run so smoothly, you'd think very little work went into them. Wrong. They put so much into all of them you "think" this way even if it just about kills them. This is one of the reasons they needed a little breather. Knowing this, you can imagine it wouldn't be easy to find anyone up to par to carry their torch. Thankfully, they knew just where to look, and that was Vernon Trails/Bluedog Cycles. You see Pete and Alycann run a bike shop, build mountain bike trails, lead adult and kid mountain bike camps and run advocacy programs. When you're used to juggling that many things, adding a weekend gravel event isn't easy, but you sort of know what to expect. 

From a participant's viewpoint, the event was flawless. They even ordered up sun, light winds and temps nearing 80! Oh sure it was hard for me not to see Stew and Michelle there for the whole weekend (they were there the first night and through the morning of the ride), but almost instantly, Pete and Alycann felt like family and I was so unbelievably excited to hear they were already planning on doing it again next year.

Now, to get back to the actual event. For the first time since my inaugural gravel ride, I stood on the starting line cursing myself and fretting over if I could make it through. I knew I had done less training this spring than any other in almost ten years. More than half the rides I did complete, I found myself gimping it back home exhausted and in pain. I HATE going into events unprepared and that's exactly where I thought I was. Because of this mindset, I made a vow to ride any pace I wanted (alone or with friends) and take as many rests as I needed.

Come to find out, a little bit of sun and warmth can be ridiculously healing for both mind and body. Five miles into the ride and I thought "Huh, I'm not feeling that bad". Ten miles into the ride and I thought "Where the hell is this energy coming from?". Twenty miles into the ride and I thought "Oh shit, there's no way I can keep this pace...I'm going to crash and burn if I try." But I didn't crash and burn. I did, however, get a flat which a great friend helped me fix in a flash to get me back up moving in about five minutes. And although I kept looking down at my tires for fear of having another flat, I didn't get one. I rode the last ten or so miles essentially alone. Pushing when I could, letting up on the throttle when the energy bar and whiskey shot I had fifteen miles back started coming up. I put my head down for the long climb up Co.Rd. C (a climb I usually like) and pushed hard back through Wyalusing park. 

Sandy Hollow Road

Although I didn't have much in me left when I finished the cross course, I also didn't feel terrible either. I felt relieved, and honestly a bit shocked by what I had just accomplished. Here's the funny thing. By no means is the 54 mile course "hard" compared to other rides I've done. Essentially, it would be something I'd go out and do almost every weekend if I lived near it. What had been hard was breaking the barriers in my mind. In essence, it was a full circle. The first time I completed Dairy Roubaix I was a nervous wreck beforehand since it was my first gravel ride. Only after being on the course for about ten miles did I allow myself to relax and have fun. After that first ride, I didn't care at all where I finished in the group—I was just so happy to have finished...with friends. And this is exactly how I felt Saturday. There is nothing, and I mean nothing, that can beat being on two wheels on beautiful terrain, and when the ride is over, sitting in the grass with great folks enjoying cold beer. For 36 hours, I allowed myself to forget all of my stress, worries and checklists, but more importantly, I allowed myself to heal and come back into the cycling community. 

Post ride refueling with friends
photo by John Driscoll

So many thanks go out to Stew and Michelle for starting this whole thing, Pete and Alycann for picking up the torch, all of the volunteers working hard behind the scenes and all of my friends who helped me through some really dark hours. 

Friday, April 8, 2016

Alright...who pissed off the wind gods?

If you've lived on either coast, you most likely know about sneaker waves. Those little troll waves you can almost hear mocking you as they blast your body the moment you avert your eyes from the ocean. It doesn't matter at all if it's low or high tide. They always have a way of finding you and blindsiding you.

We here, in the middle of "land lock" except for the great lakes, have only one thing similar to compare this phenomena to...sneaker wind gusts. Oh yes, I may have just coined that term and I'm sticking to it. Today, on my ride back from downtown (heading west), I was treated to a couple of these comical freaks of nature. One moment I'm pushing into 25 mph headwinds (sucky but I knew what I was in for), the next moment I see several students stop dead in the middle of the bike lane and I think "WTF?! Are they all pulling out their smart phones at the same time?" And then it hit. Bam! One second I was moving, the next moment, no matter how much I pushed on the pedals, I was at a complete standstill. I started laughing in that sick, demented way that makes others wonder "Is she right in the head?" It was so punishing and yet so damn funny at the same time. That sneaker wind held me in place for what seemed like minutes—even though is was more likely 30 seconds. Soon after, another one hit and almost blew me into traffic on my left. Then another almost blew me into a bus on my right. Those weren't as funny as I gave my handles the death grip and had to brake just to stay out of harms way.

Four miles later and the laughter wore off. I was tired, felt beat up and thought "that's it...I'm going to move someplace with dead, stale air". This entire spring has been full of wind and each year I'm amazed that WI could get any windier...until I remember what climate change does. The trouble is I like living here...but this wind is killing me slowly.

Until I find "utopia" with driftless like climbing and no wind, I guess I'll just have to tough it out. But folks, PLEASE stop saying wind is a good training tool because I think you're all just poking the monster!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Will ride for goats

When I feel like my list of chores will never end, and I have no business heading out on two wheels until I pack and move another box, there is one thing that will force me out no matter the weather or stress level. Yep, that's right, it's kidding season again. And thankfully, there is a beautiful 55 mile ride covering not one, but two friend's farms.

Over the years, these farms have served as a pilgrimage of sorts. Most of my cycling friends have a) either begged me to bring them out to see the goats or b) have been tricked into going out even if they aren't animal lovers. Most have held the squirmy little buggers, some have made the mistake in letting them suckle fingers after the goats had begun teething (that mistake is usually only made once...unless you're me when the mistake is made each year). Some of my friends are more interested in the cats,dogs,chickens,sheep and donkey--and I completely respect them for that.

Taty's first visit to Dreamfarm

I might look more comfortable on the farm than on my bike

Dan's first kid experience

Nathan loved it, even though he looked like he didn't

It's the alien eyes that get me every time

Laura fell in love with all the farm critters

I've never met anyone who loves goats as much as I do until Jonnymac

This year's bunch--48 hours old
Friday was my first trip out to the farms this year. The two groupings of kids were one week old and 48 hours old. Because they grow so fast, it's a pleasant reminder to live in the present and be a bit hedonistic. If I had waited another week for this ride--which my brain was telling me to do as I looked over my list of errands--I would have missed so much.

Today I'll make another ride out there. My list can wait a few hours. So if you're trying to reach me this morning, know I'll be blissed out holding the kids, breathing in the farm air heavy with scents of wet hay, manure, corn and wood (something I will always be in love with) and having a few hills kick my now untrained ass.

Happy spring everyone and happy kidding season!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

What have I become?

A song flooded my mind the other day on a long, painful ride...

I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that's real
-Hurt, by Johnny Cash

I chose to head out solo on this slog (beautiful slog I should say) for several reasons. First, the only place I ever truly called home was put on the market that morning. Second, I found myself in the situation where every time I looked in the mirror, I had no connection with the person looking back. It was if I were looking at a complete stranger, and I had even gotten to the point of avoiding mirrors because it was so startling. 

I know we all go through gradual changes over time, and this non-acknowledgement had nothing really to do with the normal aging process, instead I honestly didn't know who I was and what I had become. Two of the things that defined me still made sense—being a personal trainer and a cyclist. Being a wife, a community organizer, an activist, a good friend to those I care about no longer fit. In what felt like a very short time span (but one really lasting a year for some of the changes and several years for others) I had become something completely different and most of me was terribly numb to it.

I cannot make you understand. I cannot make anyone understand what is happening inside of me. I cannot even explain it to myself. 
                                              -The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
And so with this ride, I chose to go out and try to find myself again. Feel pain, joy, the elements. Hear the first spring peepers, a plethora of songbirds, the wind in the pines and remaining oak leaves left from last fall. Go on my own terms, at my own speed, with no push and no demands.

It wasn't pretty. I wasn't fast. I'm not really sure I "found" myself. I did feel pain. I did cherish the nature around me. It was a start. A start of a new a different life as well as a new season. Summer is coming and things are bound to improve just as I'm bound to reinvent myself.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

A light (a giant glowing, yellow light) at the end of the tunnel...

40 degrees at the start of a February ride? I'll take it!
Why is it that the so called "easiest" winters are sometimes the most difficult to get through? Is it because we northerners get soft when the temps rarely dip below zero and we're not having to burrow through drifts of snow to get out of our houses? This winter (I'm completely jinxing us all since it's not over yet) has been hands-down one of the easiest I ever remember having--weather wise that is. As the Arctic warmed at alarming rates, and tornadoes ripped through the South in January and February, I sat drinking copious amounts of coffee—trying to get myself motivated to head out for blustery winter rides under heavy clouds. This whole coffee thing helped me succeed about 75% of the time. The other 25% my laziness won over—as did beer and pizza.

When the sun would poke out to say a quick "hello", it felt like angels were singing and I could accomplish anything. Sadly, warm temps in the winter usually also mean oppressive clouds. And so what should have been an easy winter, turned into one where I was just trying to keep the effects of SAD to a minimum. But yesterday and last Saturday gave me hope. The sun was shining from early morning on, the winds were brutal, but out of the SW which meant the temps were in the 40's-50's, and I got to ride with a great group of friends.

Shedding layers on the four mile climb up Blue Mound

The snow at the top of Blue Mound is a gentle reminder that winter isn't over yet

As I write this, I should be out once again with a different group, but I chickened out and opted to ride early and solo in hopes of not being blown off the roads in 25 mph winds and allowing my legs to go at their own pace after the earliest accent I've ever done up Blue Mound. Sure...there's a pang of guilt, but not enough to make me feel that bad as I watch every tree top sway in the gusts.

This week is supposed to bring a dose of reality. A little slap in the face telling us "you idiots, you didn't think you were getting off that easy--you live in Wisconsin after all". But March is just around the corner, and the spring gravel events are knocking at my door. I may have to set my gravel bike aside for a bit and haul out my winter steed for a few more weeks, but the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter...I can feel it.

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.