Sunday, March 29, 2015

Goats and Bikes and Farms Oh My

Oh sweet baby goat
you turn me into a child 
with your bleats and bounce

Other than the opening of "road riding" season, the two things I look forward to the most each March are the return of sandhill cranes (if I didn't own a calender, I could almost mark March 15th by their return call), and kidding season.  Getting the chance to ride out and visit baby goats on two farms in the driftless area almost negate the pain felt caused by stiff winds and frozen extremities. 

I wrote a post quite some time ago about being torn between the city and country--one foot always in each.  Every spring, when I visit a friend's farm and smell the burning prairies, the sour manure, see hills dotted with sheep and goats, and get to pet all the farm critters, I think "I could live here...forever."  I honestly believe I'd be quite happy on a farm if I could get my friends to come out to visit/ride, bringing good Indian food with them, as well as their instruments and beer.

It's easy for me to say I thrive in both environments, but there's no denying I'm healthier in the country.  My heart and breathing rate slow, my stress from being overwhelmed by light and movement (fast moving cars) dissipate and I would have to spend all day, each day outside--something which always does me good. Sure, I like getting dressed up for a night on the town, but I'm just as comfortable wearing the same Carhartt overalls for a week (oh, who am I kidding, I've pulled a month before) straight.  I'm a salt of the earth kind of girl--not uncomfortable with getting dirty and working so hard I pass out at the dinner table.  The only caveat would be I'd get lonely since I know my friends wouldn't come out to visit several times each week.

So this leaves me in quite a conundrum.  For now, I've chosen to stay urban and ride out into the country as much as possible (you can bet I'll do a goat ride each week from this point on), and try my best to cherish the things I love in the city (live music, museums, weekly gatherings with friends), but you may still find me perusing the real estate listings for the little driftless towns.

Thank you John for accompanying me on my first goat ride of the year!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Welcome to the Pain Cave

We must all suffer one of two things;
the pain of discipline
or the pain of regret or disappointment. 
-Jim Rohn

It is always by way of pain
one arrives at pleasure.
-Marquis de Sade

Why not?!
My legs are calling me several nasty names, my toes are half frozen and I'm questioning why I didn't wear chamois cream today, but damn if I don't half one hell of a smile on my face!  "Spring training/riding" continued this weekend, and now mother nature is about to laugh in our faces and dump 3-5 inches of white stuff on us--I am NOT laughing with her.

Yesterday, I along with one of my Sunday partners-in-crime, joined an entirely new group for a friendly little ride out to Blue Mound State Park.  For the first 20-25 miles the wind mocked us, as it usually does, and I, being the chicken shit that I am, sucked the life out of another riding friend's wheel--thank you Tim!  

One of the roads on the route went right by a farm belonging to a friend whose memorial service I'm attending later today.  I didn't plan the route so I found it somewhat serendipitous--especially since that friend was also a cyclist.  I did a gentle nod as we rode by his sheep and goats, not quite sure if the tears rolling down my face were 100% due to wind or a little bittersweet feeling mixed in.

When we turned out of Mazomanie, the hills began and felt like a welcomed reprieve--hills are a known, wind is not.  I like climbing, even though my spring legs may disagree.  Views from the top make the pain go away, not unlike some women who give birth, and complain about the pain, once it's over, they are ready to have another kid.  

The piece de la resistance was my earliest summit of Blue Mound.  I swear I could smell the wine I consumed the night prior oozing out of my pores, and maybe even taste a little of it coming up during the last kicker, but I was on my bike, it was sunny, and I was happy.  That pain, or should I say discomfort, that you feel when you think your legs/lungs and heart may just stop working, is something I actually crave once in awhile...yes, I have a problem.  This "discomfort" means I'm pushing my body to a new level.  Growing new tissue, and renewing cells.  I will add I don't like feeling this way often, but sometimes it's just what the doctor ordered.

Sunday crew gathering up for a chilly start

So how do you top one hell of a Saturday ride?  With a Sunday ride of course!  Back with the regular Sunday crew we busted out a cold 40-50 miles (depending on where folks rode in from).  Last weekend was our final "F*CK the Cold" winter ride with 60 degree temps.  This Sunday, for our first regular group ride, it was just above freezing with a stiff wind and snow flurries.  We didn't care, well...we cared a little, we just made the most of it and I think we all had pretty big smiles on our faces--or were they grimaces?

Warming and fueling up

As we rolled back into town, snow started falling from the sky.  Dare I say it was pretty?  The Mama's and Papa's song "California Dreaming" started to loop in my head..."all the leaves are brown, and the sky is gray."  At this point my feet were pleasant little ice blocks but for some reason I was still happy to be out there.  

The gain that I took back from this weekend's pain just reminded me why I got into cycling and how much I love to do it with others who appreciate it as much as me.  Thanks to Tim for putting together the first ride, all the cool folks I met on that ride and my Sunday crew for holding me accountable and putting the icing on the cake.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Spring Is Here!!!

Someone or something flipped the switch and made the seasons change and I couldn't be happier.  I left the cold, snowy void called Wisconsin for California two weeks ago--in hopes to find my inner child, my once relaxed state of mind and my non-frozen smile again.  The moment I stepped out of the airport, and realized I didn't need a jacket, I thought "everything is going to be alright".

What I came back to was quite a surprise, with temps nearing what I experienced in Napa.  What?!  How could this be?  It's March in Wisconsin and I'm wearing shorts and a t-shirt?  The sun is kissing my blinding white limbs?  I refused to question it for more than a second out of fear I had some terrible power to jinx it.

Spring riding at its finest
Something beautiful happens each spring in Wisconsin.  Like lemmings, every roadie seems to appear out of nowhere and hit the farm roads.  Most have begun to push their outdoor riding season longer--too mentally exhausted to face another day on the trainer.  Once free from four walls, most also seem to get a bit cagey and train as hard as they can, multiple days in a row, thinking that winter weather is once again around the corner.  And can you blame us?  We've had snow storms in May.  Last year the ice didn't fully leave the great lakes until late June.  We are's what has kept us alive while living here. I, for one, may not be as die hard as some of my friends who are already putting down centuries, but each day it's above 45, no matter how much my legs protest, my mind takes over and says RIDE you may snow tomorrow!

And so here I find myself in the same conundrum I have found myself each spring for the past 31 years.  Do I pull in the reigns and train/ride a bit more thoughtfully or do I allow myself to act like a bat out of hell and ride anytime I wish?  Do I ignore the lethargy in my legs the day after a long, hilly ride and keep going or do I act logically and take a rest day?  Like the consistency of the sun rising, these are the questions I wake to each day--and then I think of the Huxley quote:  "Consistency is contrary to nature, contrary to life.  The only completely constant people are the dead."  How I usually bend this quote in my head is by telling myself I'll do hills one day and ride the flats the next. Happy spring everyone!  Looking forward to seeing you all out there with bare limbs!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Going Back to Cali

I’d like to dream my troubles all away
On a bed of California stars
Jump up from my starbed and make another day
Underneath my California stars
They hang like grapes on vines that shine
And warm the lovers glass like friendly wine
So, I’d give this world just to dream a dream with you
On our bed of California stars
-Woody Guthrie

Almost one year ago to the date, I was on my way to Mallorca, Spain.  Such a lovely place Mallorca was with its bike friendly roads, wine, goat cheese, olives, almonds, seafood, warmth and salty air.  Well, I've now realized Mallorca has a doppleganger called California and it's a hell of a lot closer and cheaper to get to.  

I haven't spent much time in CA.  Not sure why.  Maybe the size spooked me a would I even begin to choose an area to explore (I prefer not doing huge sweeping tours of a place--cruise ships make me want to lose my cookies--and instead settling into a region and getting to really know a small portion instead).  Maybe it's the distance I'd have to travel (I get squirrelly during long flights or car rides).  Or maybe it was the fear I'd fall in love with it too much and want to move there and leave my friends.  The last time I had been in California was a very long layover in Los Angeles on my move to Hawaii.  My mind was on other things, but I still explored the city and outskirts the best I could.  As someone who despises being in or around car traffic, Los Angeles was not the place for me (but I did find sections I loved).  Prior to that, my only time there was with my father when I was nine years old.  We explored almost all of Orange County and San Diego--even staying with Reed Albergotti, well, his parents anyway, and Reed was, I think, in diapers at that point.

Because the nasty Wisconsin winters have taken their toll on my mind, body and spirit, and because the windows for travel have shrunk do to bike events and work, March has been a good time to get away each year.  As much as I love downhill skiing, I refuse to go from one winter climate to another, so that leaves me with Southern hemisphere travel (takes too long for a short 10 day trip...I have a vacation day to travel time ratio I hold steadfast to), Mexico (not into beaches unless I could take surfing lessons), back to Mallorca (I thought about it but again I would need 14 days minimum), Florida (nope, no way...I have read all of Carl Hiassen's books) or California.  When I got the opportunity to do a trade for the use of a friend's house in Napa, the decision was made.  California here I come!

When my friends heard I was heading to Napa, most assumed it was for the wine...and my love for it.  I had spent a season living just outside of Bordeaux, France in 2003, helping a friend with their vendage (harvest) of three varietals and fell in love with the process of winemaking.  I had even considered going through the enology program in Davis, CA (known to be the best school outside of Bordeaux for aspiring vintners and enologists).  The thing was I had no desire to go into severe debt so I used my skills to just enjoy drinking wine vs. making it.  But my trip to the Napa area had much more to do with the outdoors than wine.  All I wanted was to be able to hike, bike, and play outside without a heavy jacket.  Then came the wine, beer (yes, beer almost trumps wine for me now), goat cheese etc.

The similarities to Mallorca don't stop at at food/drink and salty air.  The Napa area and surrounding counties are a mecca for cyclists and hikers.  The drivers here are kind and patient with both, even if there are very few shoulders and the roads seem super sketchy when you're used to having either bike lanes or low traffic roads (California recently passed the "three foot passing law").  Multiple times I thought to myself "no way in hell is this a safe road to ride on" and then I saw cars moving WAY over into the other lane to pass cyclists.  I also noticed cars coming to screeching halts the moment they saw a pedestrian get close to a crosswalk.  This practice is common in Minneapolis and Seattle-- but something I'm not quite used to in Madison even though it's toted as being super bike/ped friendly.

Like in my Mallorca trip recap, I'm not going to bore you with all the details stating "day one I did this, day two I did this", instead I'll give you an overview of stupid little things I noticed (I notice a lot of stupid little things and somehow seem to store them away) and highlights so that if you find yourself in the area, and I hope you do, you'll have a basic place to start planning.  

Such a beautiful ride into Soda Canyon

Quirky things I've noticed regarding my time in this part of CA:

-Don't rely on maps or road signs.  I consider myself really good at reading or figuring out both.  I got lost multiple times.  Road signs are either difficult to read, are hidden behind bushes/trees (I can't say how common this is) or are just non-existent.  Roads also change names like crazy.  This is one spot I'd suggest having a GPS!

-Produce is NOT less expensive here.  No matter what you think about CA as being the produce state, I found all groceries to be at least 30% more than in WI...sometimes twice as much.

-Roads rarely have shoulders and are often winding with low visibility.  They still consider these roads "bike safe" and have signs everywhere saying "Share the Road".  I was super nervous at first but found folks to be very good drivers and kind to cyclists even if they were going 10mph over the speed limit.

-People don't own shovels here.  What a novel idea.

-Cashiers are nice and chat with almost everyone.  Wait, I take that back, almost everyone is nice and talks to everyone.  Folks, this isn't the East coast or the Midwest.

-I'm really weird about scents.  They take me to the last place I encountered a similar smell.  For some reason I kept thinking I was in Montana (baked pine scent), then Spain (olive trees and Eucalyptus), then France (bakery and vineyards), and finally Mexico (Mexican laundry detergent).    

-I thought all of California had banned plastic shopping bags...until I hit the grocery store.  I was deeply appalled not only did they use plastic bags (I wasn't paying attention since I normally bag my own in reusable bags) but they double bagged items and only placed about 3-4 items in each bag.  Of course I rearranged everything and consolidated but I doubt they'll reuse the bags I emptied.  Some spots have passed the no plastic law and others should be jumping on the "green bandwagon" soon.

-I have this thing about listening to radio stations while traveling.  I'm always curious to see if radio is still alive, like in some U.S. cities, or if it has faded away into a country pop/religious preaching hell.  The four stations which came in clearly consisted of 2 80's music stations....YAY!!! and two conjunto stations which brought me back to my chicken bus riding days.  

-Motorcycle drivers here are on some kind of death wish.  I first noticed this on HWY 101, but then it kept happening in all heavy traffic.  For some reason they think it's a good idea to ride between 4 lanes of moving cars--where these cars tend to shift lanes suddenly.  Not only do most of them have their bars cut down to stupid hipster fixie width to fit between lanes of traffic, but they also all tend to ride off road touring bikes like BMW or Kawasaki to absorb the lane divider plastic knobs.  I don't know if I should bow down to these skilled riders or force them into a mental institution.

-If you're biking through Yountville, I was told by two people to use a three point stop (meaning two feet plus bike).  I actually heard cops will pull cyclists over and ticket them if they don't do this.  A bit excessive I think.

-A big concern of mine while biking here was getting hit by a drunk tourist, however, I found out that there is no record of any cyclist ever getting hit by a drunk tourist--locals after work  yes, tourists, no.

-When you live in Wisconsin, you forget what it's like to be on a fault line.  Last fall, the Napa area had one hell of an earthquake.  Ground zero was in Carneros--just south of Napa and the location for several of our rides.  Looking at the cracks in the road, which more closely resembled crevasses on a glacier, reminded me quickly how powerful this earth is.  Homes on one side of Napa were almost untouched (they stand on bedrock).  The homes and businesses on the other side of town, the ones on sand, didn't get away so lucky.

-This isn't the "old world" like European vineyards.   UC Davis is not far at all, and you can tell!  All the vintners here use a scientific approach vs. a "let's see what mother nature gives us" approach.  I saw a ton of high tech fans in the low lying parts of vineyards which keep air moving in case of an early frost, can spray water in case of an early frost to coat the grapes and protect them, and some actually produce an ash fog to cause an inversion layer to keep temps up if freezing is a risk.  Oh, and vintners also rent infrared "selectors" for about $1,000 an hour to make sure stems and unripe grapes don't go through the crusher.  All of this stuff is so beyond my realm and grasp!

Okay, enough observations.  Now comes the fun stuff, what to do if you are anything like me and find yourself out here.

Go biking.  Yep, I know, the roads aren't quiet and completely traffic free like the ones you find outside of Madison, Wisconsin, but if you avoid rush hour and the busy weekends, you will fall in love with riding through vineyards, over mountain passes, checking out all the chateaus, replacing all of your lost fluids with wine and beer and then replacing your lost calories with amazing food.  Don't know where to start, don't want to ride alone or didn't bring your bike?  I was in all three of these groups and here are some tips.

Part of the Wednesday Eagle Cycling Group!
First, check out Eagle Cycling Club.  This group has great rides all week long for all levels.  We hopped on one of their rides with leader Bob Hillhouse, owner of Bicycle Works in Napa (a great shop but they don't rent).  The group was so unbelievably welcoming and kind--I got the feeling we were a bit of an oddity to them since we came from a cold climate.  They brought us on low traffic roads, talked to us about everything from environmental issues to wineries and travel and then brought us to a great little bakery/cafe, Model, right in downtown.  

Getting our bikes--Jay was great!

If you need to rent a bike, there are spots in Napa, Sonoma and Yountville.  We chose to rent from Napa Valley Bike Tours and Rentals in Yountville (they also have a location in Sonoma).  Jay and Mackenzie were super helpful and when I had bottom bracket issues, Mackenzie actually swapped out the bikes (with a house call might I add) within moments.  Since they also do guided tours, this would be a great place to go if you wanted an experienced guide.

If you're wanting a "come to jesus" ride, and who doesn't, I'd suggest doing a loop over to Sonoma and then take Cavedale road up to the top--taking a right onto Trinity and then Dry Creek.  Why not?  You only live once!  Please note Cavedale is bumpy--really bumpy and it's 7.5-16% grade almost the entire 7 miles. If you want a smoother climb, stick to Trinity on both sides.  Have fun!

If you want climbing without the passing out or puking part, might I suggest Redwood Road (one of the prettiest climbs I've ever done), Mt. Veeder (from either direction), or Soda Canyon (although this one is pretty nasty for the last 1.5 miles)

Biking on Redwood Road--named that for a reason
One of the many beautiful views from Cavedale road
Go hiking.  In a matter of two days, I beat my legs and feet to a pulp covering miles upon miles in multiple parks.  Since we rented a car, we explored a bit further out of Napa--choosing to hit hikes north of Sonoma and on the Marin coast.  First came Hood Mountain regional park (if you want a state park, Sugarloaf is right next door and I've heard about great hiking there too).  It's steep so be prepared.  We followed it up with hiking in Tamalpais and Muir Woods (the cathedral is amazing but check out the canopy trail if you have time) and finally Point Reyes.

Hiking in Mt. Hood Regional Park

Hiking in Point Reyes

Hiking in Muir Woods--if you can, follow the canopy trail into Tampalpais

Eat, drink, be merry!  I'm not going to tell you which wineries to go to, okay, I'll tell you one, Hope and Grace.  For the love of good wine, have their Pinot Noir!  Just trust me on this.  All the other winery/vineyard choices I'll leave up to you, but if you find yourself craving some really amazing art--check out the Hess Collection (free for self guided tours of Donald Hess's private collection sprawling over four floors).  

This area isn't just about wine--Lagunitas Brewery in Petaluma

Hope and Grace of the best Pinot Noirs I've had
Mmmm...taco trucks!

If you're into beer like me, Lagunitas in Petaluma is a must!  Here you can sample beer, get a tour and most nights take in some free music in their courtyard.  A great thing to do after a long day of riding or hiking!

Okay, so I live in the cheese state.  Why would I want to tour creameries or buy cheese here?  For one thing, this area has some mighty fine goat and sheep's cheese.  If the names Cowgirl Creamery, Laura Chenel, or Point Reyes Blue don't ring a bell--I'd suggest your tummy and taste buds get to know them intimately.  

Aside from all the biking, hiking, eating and drinking we did, I did use my time to learn about a couple of really cool things regarding wine making in the area and bicycle advocacy.  I know all of this may bore you to sleep, but maybe you'll find it as interesting as I did.

Wine stuff:  All of this information is about Napa Valley.  Sonoma, Russian River and Alexander also have strict standards but they may be different in a few small ways.  First, all vineyards MUST produce all of their own irrigation water through either reservoirs or springs.  They cannot use any water from the aquifers--good thing too since CA is in it's 5th or 6th year of severe drought.  Many of the vineyards are going biodynamic or organic--yay!!!  80% of the Napa Valley land cannot be used for agriculture.  I noticed a ton of signs marking spaces as land trust or reserve.  Might be why I also saw a ton of egrets, herons and hawks.  Finally, I used to complain heavily about the jacked up abv (alcohol by volume) on CA wines--the reds often hit 15.5% and the whites 14.  I wasn't always that way, they used to pick the grapes a bit before they were completely ripe to have more of an Old World style wine.  After a decade or two, they decided to let the grapes mature completely to bring out more fruit flavor.  Some vineyards choose to add a bit of water to their high abv wine to take the burn off (some would consider this sacrilege where I compare it to opening up a fine whiskey with a bit of water).

Bike stuff:  Napa's Bicycle Coalition (their advocacy group) was essentially formed many years ago by five guys who like to ride and would get together afterwards to drink wine and talk about what needed to change in the valley for cyclists.  After realizing they were just preaching to the choir, they decided to form an actual group with board members and an executive director.  One thing led into the next and now they are on their third executive director and have 7-8 board members as well as advisory members.  They work on projects like helping get commuter trails and lanes in, holding bike rodeos for kids, putting on cycling events for adults and educating both cyclists and drivers alike.  Recently, the "three foot passing law" just passed in California because of work done by groups like this.  One of the advisory members told me the Napa/Sonoma area isn't that big of a biking as folks would think (nowhere near Davis, Point Reyes, San Fransisco etc).  His thought is that it's because of the lack of colleges or universities near by.

I can't quite explain what a wonderful surprise this trip has been.  I didn't know what to expect coming into it--but I sure didn't expect to fall so madly in love with this area and the its residents.  You can bet this won't be my last voyage out here!  

One of the things I love about CA...old cars and Airstreams
One of the many cool pieces in the Hess museum
Hiking in Tamalpais Park, looking over the bay
The new Bay Bridge--looks a lot like the Sabo Bike Bridge in Minneapolis
The trillium were blooming in Muir Woods and Tamalpais

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Another reason I love Axletree

Since I'm working on a lengthy piece right now, I thought I'd fill a gap by sharing what Axletree, an advocacy group in Dekalb, IL that I love, is up to.  We could all learn a lot from these folks!

Spending Money is Hard To Do.

Ok, so the title should be Spending Money Responsibly is hard to do, but that doesn’t grab the lead quite as well.
We talk about how we do things a little differently here at Axletree, and one of the things that we pride ourselves on is transparency.  In a couple weeks, we’re going to do a glitzy, nicely put together press release type blog post about one of our newest projects.  I’ll give away the story today: we’re partnering with the local library on a helmet project.  Through the amazing generosity of Lazer Helmets, we have acquired a number of helmets that will be donated to the library, and that area students will be able to check out and use, just like they’d check out a library book.  Thanks to the creativity of Mr. Nevdal, the project is known as Project Humpty Dumpty.  Again, more details on that to come later.  Today is about the road to Project Humpty Dumpty.
We take our advocacy goal seriously.  The funds we raise go back to the cycling community, and the community at large, and while we’re a small group, we have a goal of making a genuine impact.  It would be incredibly easy for us to take a portion of the funds that we raise and donate them to any number of good causes that distribute bikes around the world.  That would have been easy.  Raise some funds, write a check.
But honestly, we see problems a lot closer to home.  There are community needs that aren’t being met, right where we ride.  We’re working on things like bike pumps and trails, but honestly, there are a lot more basic needs that aren’t being met, either.  We go out for rides, and see kid after kid riding bikes (yayyyyy!!!) without helmets (noooooo!!!!), or with ill-fitting helmets.  We watch the news and talk to our local police and fire departments and hear about preventable injuries that could have been avoided with helmets.  We ride our carbon and titanium bikes in an environment where the basic needs of some of the most at-risk cyclists aren’t being met.  That’s a harsh statement, but it is one that we are coming to grips with more and more on a daily basis.  The more we look to identify what the community need is, the more we find an overwhelming need.
As I said, we want tangible results.  We want to chip away at some part of the problem–and we recognize the limits of our abilities and reach.  So we identify tangible problems, and we banter around ideas until we have a range of potential interventions.  We then research each of those interventions and try to find what works and what doesn’t.
Early on, we identified one tangible problem to work on: kids without access to helmets.  The easy solution to that problem would appear to be buying helmets and giving them away.  That’s a ‘write a check’ solution.  We could get the helmets, take a nice picture with our Axletree people in front of a pile of helmets as we hand one to a needy child, and move on with our lives.  But the more we looked into it, the more we found that programs of that nature have a limited reach. Obviously, you’re only reaching the people who actually get a helmet from the program…but there are not good track records for the programs being successful and the helmets actually being used.  There is no accountability, either for the donor or recipient.  Accordingly, we started to look for an alternate approach to this problem.
After much research and discussion, we found that we needed to have the helmets available to the community, in some format that they could be checked out–but in a context where there would be accountability to use and then return the helmet (even if only to renew the checkout).  The more we looked, the more we realized that we needed to partner with another community organization.
Fortunately, in DeKalb we are blessed with a very progressive public library.  I’ll spare the details (for now), but we’ve designed a program where (again, though the generosity of Lazer Helmets), we will be partnering with the library to make helmets available for checkout to community residents.
Project Humpty Dumpty has legs.  We’re moving forward in the final stages before implementation.  But what seems like a simple outcome took a lot of behind the scenes work.  It took behind the scenes work because we want our efforts to be successful and productive–and because we feel that we are accountable to all those who fly the Axletree flag and participate in our events.  That responsibility goes beyond writing a check–it drives us to develop and implement well-conceived, carefully planned projects.  At the end of the day, we hope those projects make a difference.
That sounds like a conclusion to this post, but it isn’t quite…because Project Humpty Dumpty isn’t all that we’re doing.  Our biggest project, Project Enable, is currently in the planning stages as well.  It requires an investment of effort far beyond anything we’ve done before, and requires partnerships that we are working to forge.  It requires designing a wholly new template for an advocacy program, unlike anything we’ve seen before.  And did I mention that we’re doing this while still planning our 2015 event season?
These are exciting days, and challenging days.  So much good can be done, but it requires so much effort.  From time to time, I realize that we haven’t shared what we’re doing in a while.  We haven’t done a blog post, or a Facebook post, or otherwise pulled the curtain back.  So today’s post is doing just that.
One final note: I used the “pull the curtain back” cliche above.  I want to continue to be clear on this one–there is no curtain.  If you want to get involved, contact us.  There are opportunities to be involved to whatever extent you wish.  I genuinely believe we’re on the right track, and we’re going to do great things–but they can be better with your help.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Saying Goodbye

The woods decay, the woods decay and fall,
The vapours weep their burthen to the ground,
Man comes and tills the field and lies beneath,
And after many a summer dies the swan. 

These lines, taken from the poem "Tithonus" by Tennyson were the only things I could think of when I got the news.  Yesterday, at 4am, I opened my inbox and realized this world, this world we occupy while alive, had just lost one of the most remarkable people I have ever met.  My heart sank and yet at the same time rejoiced, knowing a person I care about greatly no longer had to be in pain. When I would ask him how he was feeling, and he stopped using the saying "With my fingers, but of course!" and started saying "fair to midland", and then just "midland", I knew things weren't good.  And like in the myth about Tithonus, Bob was ready to go.  He didn't want to be in a body that was failing--something I understand completely.

I know this is a cycling blog, and this may seem like an odd thing to write about, however, Bob was a big part of the cycling community.  Although his time on the bike was diminishing when I met him about seven years ago, he still drove around with a bike rack on his car, working the ham radio at any bike event that needed him (Horribly Hilly, Quadrupedal and Dairyland Dare were his favorites) and all around just being really kind to all cyclists (he lived right off a major training route).

I suppose I'm writing this more for myself than anyone else.  It helps me process my feelings and deal with a loss--something I'm just not good at.  I doubt Bob knew how important he was to me.  I doubt he knew what a positive impact he had on those around him--although I hope he had some idea.  There wasn't a time when I got to work with him that I didn't smile afterwards and think how lucky I am to know such a shining star.  His depth of knowledge, something I would call brilliance, held me in awe, and yet I'm not sure if I ever saw an ego.  Bob just wanted to share the gifts he collected, whether it be from his garden, books he read or stories about travel.  His, what I would call a photographic, memory just made everything he shared that much more vivid.  

I don't know how to honor someone who is no longer made of cells and water but I feel the need to try.  Here are some things I will never forget about him, things that are just so specially "Bob".

-He would bow to me each time he saw me, not one of those half bows, but the full kind left for royalty, and would say "Glorious Leader!"--to which I would in turn bow and say "Glorious Follower!"

-If I got him talking about Zinfandel wine, it was magical.  The only thing which seemed to make him happier was talking about his grandkids.

-Bob had such a refined palate.  We would have mini contests while I trained him by talking about one ingredient and seeing who could top each other on ways to prepare it.  He won...always.

-He would visit anyplace I told him I liked on my travels or from my hometown, Minneapolis.  Somehow I got him so hooked on Kramarczuk's and Surdyk's in Northeast Minneapolis that he filled his car with sausage and wine each time he visited his kids up there.

-He loved animals, so much so that I think he felt their pain.  Although killing is a part of farm life, he lived on a farm with his wife, it was never easy for him.  He and his wife sought out the most humane way or place to take a life and he honored each animal that was taken.

-His sense of humor needed an extra cup of coffee to keep up with. Bob thought at such a rapid pace that if I wasn't 100% on my game, I'd be lost.  His wit and ability to find humor in almost anything blew me away.  He and another client of mine would spew out limericks during class--always outdoing the last--and boo at each other when one would falter.  This would cause a fit of laughter amongst the rest of us who were too slow to even try to keep up.

-Bob was one of the most caring, thoughtful men I've ever met.  Almost every kind gesture was made in quiet--not wanting any recognition or thanks--he just did really nice things because he wanted to.  He cared so deeply for his wife, friends, family (he considered his friends family I think), and pets.  It was that type of caring that just "is" with no ulterior motives.  Something I can only strive to coming close to.  

-And finally, he was just okay being himself.  I loved this about him.  He'd show up in Duluth Trading Company Firehose pants, a blue button up shirt, dirt from the farm under his fingernails, hair sometimes askew, he'd joke that he smelled like the goats (but I never thought so) and yet he was still so composed.  I thought it was great someone could have one foot in a very civilized urban world (he loved Paris), and at the same time one foot happily stuck in the farm muck.  

I won't lie.  I'm really going to miss Bob.  Thankfully, when I ride out to see the baby goats, which will be born in March, a piece of him will be there waiting.  I have to thank Judy and Bev for introducing me to him and his wife, Donna, who supported his love for going to Harbor.

I chose this photo because I think it embodied Bob to the max.
Photo by Dipesh Navsaria

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Straw That Broke The Camel's Back--part 2

Pretty nice turnout for such cold/windy conditions--8 total

It was one year ago, almost to the day, that winter broke me.  I had given it a good fight, rode throughout one of the coldest winters on record--alone and in groups--even enjoying some of it, until the end of February when I had a sub zero ride and got frost nip (my first taste of this since dogsledding in the BWCA many years ago).

I remember the day so clearly, as if it were today, oh wait, today was almost exactly like that day last year.  This morning, as we rode down to the lake to meet up with our Sunday winter crew, I had a bad feeling.  I looked up at the flags and what I saw was them whipping in a 15-20 mph wind.  Sure the actual temperature was warmer than last week by a good 5-10 degrees, but there was no wind last week.  Since I hadn't had any "mishaps" with frostnip/bite this year, I thought I'd be okay.  Yeah, I won't be trusting those instincts again.

ice shanty hooked up to a bike on lake Monona
This all started with my cockiness from yesterday.  In our one "warm" day during a two week period--it hit 31 degrees--I fled the house with enough pent up energy to fuel ten people, and hit the farm roads.  Between my commute to a friend's house and the road ride, I covered a bit over 40 miles.  This would be a short ride in the summer, but in February, on 45mm knobby tires, it felt more like a 60-70 mile ride.  Feeling pleased with myself I didn't think too much about the following day.

As our group made its way around the lake, about half way through my feet started to lose feeling.  I lightened up on my pedal mashing (hard to do with flats and winter boots),  and started to wiggle my toes as much as possible but it was no use.  I silently fell off the back after telling my husband to go on without me and chose to walk a couple blocks--this normally does the trick.  After walking into the wind for several minutes, with no relief, I mounted my steed once again and pushed on around the lake.  When I hit the hospital, fitting, I know, I chose to warm up in the lobby.  I thought I was okay but the worst was yet to come.  A long stretch heading back into the cold wind sucked the life out of my feet again.  My heart rate and blood pressure began to redline and I actually got a bit concerned.  How could this simple little spin--one I do in a sundress and sandals in the summer for gods sake--zap me this much?

Hiding out in an apartment lobby--waiting for my toes an camera to thaw
Fast forward a couple miles and I got so bad I hid inside an apartment lobby for at least twenty minutes.  Here, I even took my boots off and massaged my feet.  Did I care if the security cameras were focused on my sorry ass?  Nope!  Again I mounted the bike and somehow got home.  When I took my socks off to hop in the shower I saw the damage.  My right pinkie toe was waxy and completely white.  Oh oh.  After a very long lukewarm shower (I was afraid to go hot knowing it could cause more damage), I saw some color come back into my toe--this after the searing pain of defrosting.  But then I noticed the color wasn't quite right.  It was dark purple bordering on black.  Shit.

So here I sit, hating winter royally and waiting/hoping for some feeling to come back into my toe.  Stick a fork in me 'cause I'm done.