Friday, January 20, 2017

Keeping Hope

When by my solitary hearth I sit,
And hateful thoughts enwrap my soul in gloom;
When no fair dreams before my "mind's eye" flit,
And the bare heath of life presents no bloom;
Sweet Hope, ethereal balm upon me shed,
And wave thy silver pinions o'er my head.

Whene'er I wander, at the fall of night,
Where woven boughs shut out the moon's bright ray,
Should sad Despondency my musings fright,
And frown, to drive fair Cheerfulness away,
Peep with the moon-beams through the leafy roof,
And keep that fiend Despondence far aloof.

Should Disappointment, parent of Despair,
Strive for her son to seize my careless heart;
When, like a cloud, he sits upon the air,
Preparing on his spell-bound prey to dart:
Chace him away, sweet Hope, with visage bright,
And fright him as the morning frightens night!

Whene'er the fate of those I hold most dear
Tells to my fearful breast a tale of sorrow,
O bright-eyed Hope, my morbid fancy cheer;
Let me awhile thy sweetest comforts borrow:
Thy heaven-born radiance around me shed,
And wave thy silver pinions o'er my head!

Should e'er unhappy love my bosom pain,
From cruel parents, or relentless fair;
O let me think it is not quite in vain
To sigh out sonnets to the midnight air!
Sweet Hope, ethereal balm upon me shed,
And wave thy silver pinions o'er my head!

In the long vista of the years to roll,
Let me not see our country's honour fade:
O let me see our land retain her soul,
Her pride, her freedom; and not freedom's shade.
From thy bright eyes unusual brightness shed—
Beneath thy pinions canopy my head!

Let me not see the patriot's high bequest,
Great Liberty! how great in plain attire!
With the base purple of a court oppress'd,
Bowing her head, and ready to expire:
But let me see thee stoop from heaven on wings
That fill the skies with silver glitterings!

And as, in sparkling majesty, a star
Gilds the bright summit of some gloomy cloud;
Brightening the half veil'd face of heaven afar:
So, when dark thoughts my boding spirit shroud,
Sweet Hope, celestial influence round me shed,
Waving thy silver pinions o'er my head.


Friday, December 23, 2016

Rolling a Fatty

Once you go fat, you will never go back
-most of my cycling friends

Pigs are flying at the moment. Really. I just purchased what I swore up and down for years, I would NEVER buy...a fat bike. Worse (or better) yet, this new acquisition is one of my most expensive bikes and it's not even all that utilitarian. I won't be using it on daily commutes to work (I'll still opt to ride my winter cross bike when the roads are dry since the tires are so freaking expensive to replace on my fat bike), and I won't use it in the summer other than mountain biking. So why did I do it? Friendly pressure from friends. Check. Guilt for not being able to play in all conditions with my friends. Check. Feeling isolated and left out when the proverbial white shit hits the fan. Check. Not being able to bike across the frozen lakes. Check. AND...not owning a mountain bike. Check. 

All of these "checks" got me searching this fall, or at least beginning the search quietly so most of my friends wouldn't know, for a new steed. One which would take up the space of two other normal steeds. After months of thinking about it, it ended up being almost too late when I decided to actually bite. You see, there's a very specific bike I had in mind due to my need of a narrower bottom bracket. My hips and knees don't like wide bottom brackets. So much so that I had to sell my beloved Salsa Fargo because fifty mile rides hurt like hell (not something you want on an off road touring bike). The Trek Farley was really the only fat bike that seemed to fit me and not hurt (although I still have to ride unclipped). For some reason or another, every other person buying a new fat bike must have wanted a Farley too since as of early December, they were almost all sold out--out of stores and out of the warehouse. This left me with a dilemma. I had to either wait until spring or summer to get a 9.6 or face the facts and just pony up the big bucks for a 9.8. Now let me explain I have no business purchasing a carbon fat bike. I mean really...this thing is totally lost on me except for the fact I'm a complete whiner when pushing through sand or snow and it's a bit lighter to haul over that stuff. Essentially, I don't deserve this bike. But it's mine, and I'll be damned if I let an amazing machine go to waste...especially since it's the first thing I've purchased for myself in ages. 

A few of you who know me, get the fact I name all of my bikes. This isn't a task taken lightly. The names just come to me: "Blue Velvet, UB40, White Moth etc". It bothers me when they don't name themselves through a whisper. When they do, I know they are mine. When this matte silver frame didn't talk to me, I got nervous. I thought "it's not the one for me", until a friend told me fat bikes don't disclose their name in warm environments (meaning in the bike shop). I laughed and decided to go with the flow on this one since I was too focused on not passing out while my friend, Jesse, at Machinery Row Bicycles, rang me up. 

I didn't pick the bike up until the following day since I had ridden down to pay for it...too nervous it would be sold out from under me if I waited another day. After work, I ran down (yes, how else is one supposed to pick up a bike?) 6.5 miles to alleviate it from its stuffy environment. While I placed my hands on its bars, it began to speak to me and reveal its name. Piglet came to the forefront of my brain. Don't ask how...that's the beauty of a bike naming itself. Other names that were given to me were Wampa and Skunk Ape. I liked them both but it had to be the bike's decision. A poorly named bike will never connect with its rider. Yes, I am "that" kind of cyclist and damn proud of it. Anyway, Piglet and I had a marvelous ride home through puddles and winter slush. I may have been smiling the entire way...I wouldn't know because I was either oxygen deprived from the run still or delirious with the idea I was actually a fat bike owner. Either way, I seemed really damn happy.

So Piglet and I decided to go out exploring early this morning. I had a gift delivery to do down the H8TR (known as the Badger State Trail to most) and since it's paved part way, and is snowmobile trail the rest of the way, I thought it would be a perfect true inaugural ride...until I hit the mashed potato like snow. Then, all I could do was think "This is really hard fucking work" and "Wait, I thought these 4.5" tires were supposed to roll over this shit". I was sweating so heavily, even dressed in just a thick long underwear shirt and a puffball vest, that for a moment I allowed the dreaded thought "WTF! I'm not into this, I'm going to sell it!" graze my mind. I showed up at my friends house,  and he most certainly saw the frustration on my face because he gave me coffee that resembled espresso and we rode back to Madison together. Funny. It's wasn't all that bad on the way back. Yes, it was hard work but the 10mph tailwind certainly helped. No, the snow hadn't firmed up but I laughed at my struggles vs. cursing them. Was is the caffeine buzz? Was it riding with a friend? Was it knowing exactly what to expect when I went out again? Who knows. All I knew was I wasn't going to sell it. I was going to dispel any former thoughts of going fast through snow and just suck it up for what it was, and I was going to enjoy being able to ride a snowy trail...on a bike...for the first time in my life. 

I got home. Ate copious amounts of food following 3.5 hours of moving time if you count the mountain bike trails I hit on the way back (a whole other story) and thoroughly enjoyed my well earned post ride beer. Tomorrow is a new day. A new day on the fatty. With several inches of fresh white stuff I'm sure the ride will pose new challenges. Let's hope they are as fun as today's!

*To all of my fat bike friends, THANK YOU! I am one of you now 😊

My friend, Johnnymac, hanging ornaments on the new "holiday tree"

Hitting the Seminole mountain bike trails

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

In between a rock and a hard place

So here I am, a single female cyclist, and I'm caught between a rock and a hard place. For you guys who think it's easy being a single female cyclist, I beg to differ. It sucks. I mean it really sucks. For the women who don't ride who think we (single female cyclists) are any threat to your partners who do ride, think again...we are very little, if any threat at all. Let me explain all of this, to the guys and the non-riding girls...and let me say I am speaking only for myself, but I have heard similar thoughts from many of my female cycling friends.

First, most of us are seen as guys. Yep, that's right. In fact, one friend of mine told me "you are more dude than dude". What am I supposed to say to that? I've grown up training and racing with guys. I hang out with guys after races, and I'd much rather talk about upcoming rides/adventures than shopping. Does that make me a "dude"? No. That makes me a woman who loves her bikes, loves adventure and loves swilling beers post ride while still on that ride high. Sure, I am seen in my cycling wardrobe (lycra and cycling t-shirts) more than my sundresses, but underneath those clothes, I'm still a woman. And yes, I may sport hideous tan lines when I do choose to wear a dress, but that just shows I'm passionate about being outside on summer days!

Secondly, most guys like to test us female cyclists...some may like it, I do not. Does a throwdown somehow make you feel good about yourself? Do you feel like you need to either prove yourself to me or see if I can keep up (aka am I worthy)? Guys, this is bullshit. I ride because I like to ride. I work hard, sometimes I like to push, but if I'm feeling "off" one night, don't pound me into the ground. You won't win any brownie points and I'll just think you're a Strava thumping douche.

Third, and this is for the females who don't ride, if you think we are hitting on your significant others when we ride with them, think again. We are just happy to ride with others who are passionate about riding. Sure, there may be a woman who is looking to "hook up" with a guy, but this is pretty damn rare. What are we thinking about on these rides? Hanging on, not looking like idiots, making sure we take pulls, and the beer at the end. Yep, this is what goes through my mind on group rides.

So let me talk about this whole dating thing. Since cycling communities are way too small, almost everyone is connected in one form or another. This doesn't bode well when you're searching for someone new. Essentially, the cycling community tends to be ridiculously small and incestuous and that's just gross. I really don't need anyone knowing my personal business and I certainly don't appreciate rumors which can spread like wildfire in tight groups like this, but it happens, and cyclists tend to act like little kids about it. In fact, I've heard cyclists bragging about who they "hooked up with" in a very similar fashion to their Strava bragging. Nope. Sorry. I want nothing to do with that. And yet, at the same time, I'm not keen on dating someone who doesn't like cycling. Trying to explain to someone why I'd rather go on an 8 hour gravel ride vs. go to a Packer game doesn't bode well with non-cyclists. I've seen marriages break up over stuff like this (even when it's been discussed early in the relationship). I will almost always choose my bike/health/passion over a relationship, but that's not to say a person isn't important to me. It's just that cycling is my therapy. If I don't have it in my life, I'm not a nice person, and non-cyclists just don't seem to understand that. So ideally, that leaves me with trying to find a guy who loves riding, is someone I find attractive, is age appropriate and likes/respects me enough not to be a douche while we ride together. Much tougher than you think. I laugh and say this is more rare than planetary alignment. I don't think I'm the only woman out there that feels this way. In fact, I think we, female cyclists, should form our own dating website! Until this happens, you'll find me riding solo or with packs of male friends.

Monday, November 14, 2016

So this happened...

Cyclists like to talk about cycling (a lot). When two great friends asked to interview me for their podcast, I went into fits of laughter. But because I love biking, and I'm not going to lie, I like talking about it too, I said "yes". I wouldn't have done this for just anyone though. Listen to Mark and Sean and you'll know why I agreed to do it! Listen here.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Conquerors of the Useless

A Dirt Road

Somewhere there is a dirt road
Long and narrow and traveled much, 
Where trees form a blanket, 
And branches lightly touch.

Shadows from the sun
Float down through the trees
Like patterns of light
Caught in a breeze.

Many footprints line this road
Left by travelers on their way
The road ahead promised more
The road behind begged them to stay.

Along this road in wild profusion
Berry vines twist along the fences, 
And growing in colored masses
Wild flowers swell the senses.

In the trees along this road
Songbirds spend their days
And in the roadside meadows
Horses quietly graze.

This road has all the feel
Of an old and trusted friend, 
And I could travel along this road
Time and time again.

Richard Netherland Cook 

Adventure cyclists, mountaineers, rock climbers, trail runners and backpackers. We are, in essence, conquerors of the useless. We go out searching for adventure. Searching for that place very few people know of or want to go. In search of the high that comes from summiting a mountain, descending a river or hiking as far as possible from civilization. Are we searching for a place per se, or are we searching for solace? And in that solace, are we quietly hoping to find a few answers? 

At this current period in my life, climbing, mountaineering and wilderness canoeing have fallen by the wayside. Sometimes I think I should feel bad about this, but the lifestyle I had to lead to get me on these trips was one I needed a break from. My roots were tired of being pulled up every year to move around the country, and I couldn't face the thought of working outdoor retail my entire life. So the camping gear got placed in my closet, and I ended up stumbling onto a form of travel I never thought I'd love (or even like for that matter). Yes, this skinny tire/high psi raised, baby bottom smooth road searching girl is completely hooked on gravel. I kid you not. I actually search these roads out now vs. sitting on the side of the road shaking and crying (as I did 6 years ago) after descending one.

No, these rural roads aren't really wilderness, and the chance of getting hip deep in shit is pretty low, but I do know people who have had to hike their bike out for more than twenty miles before they got help after having bike parts essentially explode on them. Try that in cycling shoes, through peanut butter like roads, while being swarmed by mosquitoes, and you may just consider this as challenging as summiting peaks. In fact, as I age, I no longer look for the "biggest", "best" and "least traveled". A backpacking trip on the Appalachian trail in Maine and New Hampshire, just after a backpacking trip in Montana, proved to me that a well trodden path can often be much more difficult than a wilderness path. That brief hiking trip out East wrecked me mentally and physically and made me see the world in a very different way. It isn't about the fame and glory about doing something which will cause others to "ooooo" and "ahhhhh". It's about doing something you love and doing it in a place you love being. I love the driftless area of the midwest. I love it so much I usually plan most of my vacation time around it now.

Please don't think I'm comparing what I do to what true adventures do. In fact, I'm barely dipping my toes in the water when I think of what adventure cyclists like Kelsey Regan, Steve Fuller, Greg Gleason and Joe and Tina Stiller do. But I'm out there exploring new roads, often having no clue what the next hill or corner will bring, and that satiates me (for the time being) and usually fuels my fire for life.

So why gravel riding vs. climbing/mountaineering or wilderness canoeing? Lack of time and lack of desire for copious amounts of gear is what comes to mind first. No longer are the days I can take off for a month or two at a time without losing my job, and no longer are the days when I want to spend weeks prepping my gear, knowing if I forget one thing, the trip could end in a disaster. No, I'm quite happy riding the endless hills of the driftless zone, admiring lone oaks in farm fields, trying to stay upright in sand barrens, finding pine stands in Northern Wisconsin which smell like Montana and sometimes rolling through bottom bracket deep water when the marshes have flooded. Call me weak, call me a quitter, but at the same time, call me happy. Kelsey Regan actually made a blog post explaining why gravel riders do what they do. I'll be honest, before I fell in love with this type of riding, I would have laughed my ass off reading this (while secretly I would have been queasy with fear), but those days are thankfully gone.

This year, with so many changes under my belt, I didn't get to many of the gravel events I would have liked to. I allowed myself, essentially, to be a bit lazy and complacent. I needed it. I needed to go back to a bit of adventure on my own terms, and so I opted to spend most of the spring and summer riding smooth asphalt. This, of course, got a bit boring, and by fall I was searching for my daily dose of vitamin G. Sadly, since I live in dairy country, almost all the roads are paved for the milk trucks, so I had to either ride the gravel rail trails (which honestly almost ride better than a lot of roads) or travel a couple hours to find some much needed dirt, sand and rock. I'm pretty lucky to have friends who are also passionate about this type of riding, so we'd pack up for day trips, or sometimes multi-days to go play. And now, since winter is knocking at my door, I feel a great pull to get one or two more adventures in with them.

A few weeks ago, on one of the day long jaunts into Southern Minnesota (Houston Co. to be exact), I remember looking over at my riding friend, after climbing a three mile long gravel hill to the top of a coulee, and feeling my heart swell. Honest. I actually felt so overwhelmed by the beauty surrounding us, and feeling so blessed to be where I was, I almost started crying. These are the moments I keep tucked inside pull out later when I'm cursing mother nature for dumping massive amounts of snow along with biting cold wind. Even now, just thinking about that ride and how many more roads there are to explore in the area, makes me giddy for spring.

Country roads, take me home to the place I belong...
-John Denver

Exploring Northern Wisconsin near Lac du Flambeau

Riding to the IL border at midnight

Riding the Dairy Roubaix route in fall for the second time this year

Friendly farm dogs are sprinting

Dairy Roubaix

The famous B road on Ten Thousand

Ten Thousand

Badger State Trail

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Turning Something Bad into a Possible Good

Folks rolling in for the start of the ride
photo by Tim Reinhardt

The route I have to take at least twice a day

Once in awhile, an experience is presented to us when something really bad can be turned into something possibly good. It's usually a split second decision that will tip it in one direction or another. This past week, I was given a chance to prove, not to anyone else but myself, that this can sometimes happen.

I was biking home from work on a sunny Monday afternoon around 2pm. Traffic on the road I take at least twice a day was a bit heavier than usual, but nowhere near rush hour intensity. This road I am forced to take, because there is no other good alternatives, is a narrow four lane which runs through a mostly residential area. There are no bike lanes or paths, even though many of the bike commuters and parents in the area have been begging the city for ages to build one or the other. The speed limit is 35mph (too fast in my mind for a residential area with parks, a plethora of children and poorly maintained sidewalks). People, however, never travel 35mph. Most travel 45-50 and the police won't ticket anyone unless they are at the 45+mph mark. This road is a corridor leading to more suburbs or an alternative route to the East side of the city. Drivers always seem either in a hurry or extremely distracted since weekly I have "close calls" even though I am a very courteous, predictable and skilled cyclist. That Monday, I was the victim of a road bully. A driver who chooses to use their vehicle as a weapon vs. transportation. I was forced off the road, went over my bars and landed on my shoulder and neck. I was hurt, thankfully not badly, and yet not one person stopped, including of course the person who ran me off the road. I got up, did the head to toe check, checked my bike and proceeded to walk the rest of the way since I was so shaken up and my bike needed some TLC.  I went into urgent care to get checked out fearing a fracture and impinged nerve, called the cops to make a report and began to think. I thought about what this incident meant to me. I knew the next day, and the day after that it could happen again, if not to me, to anyone else in the neighborhood. I knew the next time it could mean death.

Because the issue of poor bike/pedestrian infrastructure was not a new one for my area of Middleton, I had such little hope that changes would be made if I just reported it to the city, as I normally do. I knew I had to raise my voice a bit and get others to do the same in a constructive way. That night, I planned an infrastructure ride for the following Monday. I invited people through Facebook, Nextdoor, and word of mouth. I wanted to get other's view on the problems in the area and I wanted them to report the things they felt needed to be changed. I essentially didn't want to stand alone anymore on these issues and decided the only way I could do it was to get folks out on bikes to experience riding this and other unsafe roads in the area.

The route I chose was a measly 3.5 miles, but from past experiences, I knew overwhelming folks with too many problems wouldn't solve anything. Instead, my hope was to point out key projects and issues and if it worked, plan another ride for a different area come spring. Eighteen people showed (including several parents and three children). Almost everyone had the same reaction to the lack of safe infrastructure and lack of city support. I no longer felt alone or without a voice. Although eighteen isn't many people, it was a start, and since I also got an overwhelming amount of feedback via social media from those who couldn't make the ride, I began to think, "yeah, maybe things can and will change".

Working in a grassroots way isn't by any means a new thing. Madison Bikes was just formed this year due to an overwhelming need to have a stronger local advocacy group vs. just a state wide one. In a matter of months, their membership has grown to over 500 and cycling, as well as walking, has become safer in the city almost overnight. I always believed change starts with one drop of water, and groups like this are proof that big changes can be made by small starts. My hope, by planning this ride, and educating myself and others in Middleton about how we can make it safer for children to bike to school and adults to work or for errands, that slowly changes will occur. I'm also hoping a group similar to Madison Bikes, will form in Middleton and work with not only Madison, but other suburbs in the county. It takes a village...

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Going Back to What's Important

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order
-John Burroughs

The past few months, to be honest the past year, I have been running around like a chicken with its head cut off. My divorce, selling the house, buying my condo, getting a roommate, pet sitting gigs and bike event trips have left me a bit depleted. I routinely wake up in the middle of the night, not knowing where I am or what day it is. I've been in a constant state of packing and unpacking (lately I've had two piles going in my room at all times depending on where I'm headed). I don't cook much anymore, instead opting to eat quick and easy meals yet still trying to get a balance of produce, protein and non-processed carbs (some days are better than others). There has been very little time to reflect, sit in silence or "just be" other than on long solo road rides. These rides have essentially been my saving grace. Bringing me, at least somewhat, back to the earth...back to what's most important to me. On long rides through the driftless, there is not much else to think about besides the cranes in cornfields, what flowers may be blooming at the time, the next big hill coming up and where the next water source is. Because these long rides are few and far between, and they weren't tiding me over, I felt it necessary to take several days following my 42nd birthday to get away from everything "city" and rediscover myself...and the world around me.

This takes me to where I sit currently. Looking out over the deck of a cabin unbelievably kind friends let me use. Looking out onto a small, no motor lake just outside of Lac du Flambeau, WI. Watching the remaining drops of rain fall out of the clouds which have been soaking the area the past couple days. In between the raindrops hitting the lake, I see ripples created by water bugs, fish and turtles. I have just dried off, am well fed, and am warming to the bone following an all morning exploration ride down long winding paved roads and over squishy gravel roads leading to lookout towers, marshlands, creeks and ponds. The scent of hemlocks, duff, rock, wintergreen and bog still hang in my nose. If I could bottle this smell, I would carry it with me wherever I went. I'm not sure how to put this, but I feel, for the first time in ages, so completely calm, present and content that not even two days of solid rain bother me. In fact, on my ride back to the cabin today, I was soaked so completely it looked as if my elbows were rain chains, and yet I noticed my cheeks hurting terribly. I paused a moment and wondered why my cheeks hurt so badly and then I realized I most likely hadn't stopped smiling for hours. I didn't even know I was smiling. It's in those moments, so genuine and true, I KNOW, without a doubt, how happy to be alive I am. And it's those moments, when I realize what a simple thing, like a wilderness ride in the rain, can do for me.

Each time I come up to the north woods, I wonder "could I live here permanently?" Although I love visiting, the answer always comes back "no". I wouldn't be happy without my circle of friends around me. I wouldn't be happy without good ethnic food, art or live music. And I would certainly not be happy with the onslaught of black flies and mosquitoes each spring. No, I belong, for the most part, in a small city. I've tried to do the northern girl thing in the past. It worked for awhile but , atvs, snowmachines and fishing just don't do it for me. So for now, I just need to carve out some time each year to come up here. To sit under tall pines and listen to the wind make music through the needles as I breathe in their heady aroma.