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

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Crushing Gravel part 12: The event formally known as Ten Thousand. Hills and Gravel and Twinkies Oh My!

"When I came up to that last hill, I said fuck it...I'm going to sit down on the side of the road and eat my candy now!"
-Dan Hobson 
Getting ready to roll out

Last year, in a mix between fine mist and light rain, one of my gravel partners-in-crime and I drove down to Freeport, IL for the inaugural gravel event, Ten Thousand put on by Axletree.  We were promised hills, beauty, more hills, more beauty...you get the drift.  The thing is that like with any challenging (and somewhat painful) riding event, I tend to forget the pain all too quickly and even begin to wonder if the beauty I experienced was really just a hallucination caused by an oxygen deprived state.

Because the first Ten Thousand was held last July, a whopping 16 months ago, I had a lot of time to forget the scenery as well as the pain and found it necessary to experience both again--with more friends in tote this time.  My plan was simple.  More friends along meant more people to get me through bonks, possible wild crashes on steep gravel roads, mechanical issues, and down right delirium.

This year promised more hills--starting right from the get go vs. a pleasant 10 mile "warm up", bigger hills, colder temps and less daylight.  I didn't mind the "hill" part since climbing is about the only thing I'm decent at on gravel.  My concern came in when I noticed the starting temperature would be in the mid to upper 20's and it wouldn't get above freezing until a few hours into the ride.  Having a nerve condition called Raynaud's doesn't make me the happiest cold weather cyclist.  My hands and feet turn to painful blocks all too quickly even with the appropriate gear and chemical warmers.  Once they're gone, they're gone and it's usually a nauseating thirty minutes in a warm environment to get them back to a sub normal state again.  Temps below freezing made me almost pull out a couple days prior to the event.  Thankfully, my friends talked me into giving it a shot.

Four of us drove down to Stockton (a bit further west than last year's jumping off spot) in the dark.  I was only aware of two things:  a thick coating of silver frost on the ground and a brilliant ink black sky dotted with millions of stars.  The back seat of my car held my pack which had every layer of clothing I could possibly need, two packs of chemical toe warmers, about eight hundred calories, a camelback bladder full of water, lights if for some reason we were stuck out on course past dark, two tubes, bike tools, maps and cue sheets.  If this didn't get me through, nothing would.

We pulled into the parking lot with the heater blasting stronger than the stereo--hoping our bodies could reserve some of the heat.  Within minutes of prepping the bikes and changing clothes, the cold had already set in.  I overheard someone say it was 23 degrees.  I'm not sure it got that low, but I knew it was below freezing.  Looking around the parking lot, I was amazed to see folks in shorts or 3/4 tights.  I had my amphi tights on and although I knew I might roast mid day, I was still cool in them and wouldn't trade them for the world.  My motto when it comes to cold riding is "better off being overdressed vs. underdressed".

The first ten or so miles for all of us consisted of a constant wiggling of toes and fingers and joking about how many felt "alive" at that given point.  Statements like "well, I now have feeling in all of my fingers and two of my toes" were our only chatter mixed in with heavy breathing up the hills followed by oooos and ahhhhhs regarding the scenery.  One must not waste precious energy talking about anything other than what's needed at the time.

Around mile ten, we were treated to a coyote crossing the road right in front of us.  He or she was bathed in golden light and its fur was so soft and bushy, it bared more resemblance to a large fox.  I think we all saw it as a good omen.

Marc at the top of one of the many, many climbs

The infamous b road--this year almost completely ridable unlike last year
As the temps slowly began to rise, and our core body temps followed from all the hill climbing, we began to settle into a glorious rhythm.  Fits of giggles could be heard every time we crested a hill and saw the series of hills in front of us.  Or maybe they weren't giggles at all and I was just losing my mind once again from the shortage of oxygen.  Either way, some sick side of me found pleasure in the roller coaster roads that my friend Dan deemed as "cartoonish...like something you'd see in the road runner cartoons".

Then we hit Morseville road and all laughter ceased.  Riders dismounted and began to walk because of a shortage of gears, under training or rear wheel slippage on the loose gravel dust.  I got close to having to dismount a few times but luck was on my side that day.  How could one road have so many 18-20% climbs?  By the top of the final climb I was ready for a break.  Ready to have a few miles of mild rollers or flats.  The road along the Apple River gave us just that, along with stunning autumn leaves, green pastures, an old rusty bridge with wooden planks and a "pop up rest stop" thanks to one of the Axletree members.  There we feasted on junk food one step away from being the plastic it was wrapped in (Twinkies and Hohos), soda and Red Bull.  Can I tell you how happy we were to be out under the blue sky, surrounded by some of the most beautiful landscape in the country, feeling the blood course through our veins and just being with friends--finding our laughter once again...this time fueled by sugar and caffeine.

Crossing the Apple River

Food of Gods???

Following Apple River Road

More hills and miles ticked by.  Our conversation drifted to what we thought the comment "Enjoy!" meant on our cue sheet around mile 60 (we would soon find out it meant a couple more beautiful climbs--we suspected this knowing Chad's humor) and then the final push brought us into a headwind that zapped all the remaining strength out of me.  I remember getting to the base of the final climb and realizing I was already in my lowest gear.  "I've got nothing left in the tank" was carried away by the wind.  But somehow I made it up the hill and back into Stockton where a beer was waiting for me (thank you Marc!).

All four of us kept remarking about what a great ride it had been as we got the car packed up (see...the pain is forgotten almost instantly).  The bluebird skies followed us home with the remaining corn flanking both sides of the road.  On the final few miles back into town--I was now the only one in my car--I sent out numerous mental thanks to Chad for creating this wonderful event and the rest of the Axletree crew for helping keep it alive during a challenging year.  Long live Axletree!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

There Will Be Hills: Finding myself in the driftless zone part 2

The hills were as long 
as my late summer shadows.
Do they ever end?

Looking down onto the Amish farms on Hickory Grove road

My face flushed red when I was startled from a near slumber...moments prior I swayed back and forth in a breeze, my body heavy like lead, forcing the branches supporting the hammock I was in to sag under my weight.  I had been brought back to a hazy awareness by the distant sound of horse hooves on pavement, yet continued to drift since I knew the closest paved road was a half mile up a long gravel driveway.  Not knowing the farm I was staying at did trade with the local Amish farmers, I continued to  "bliss out" with a beer in one hand and an unread book in another.  Before I knew it, the sound of a buggy and horse hooves came flying by me (I was positioned near the gravel driveway) and slowed almost to a stop.  Anyone who has spent much time in a hammock knows you can't just gracefully jump out.  So instead, I just waved and tried my best to conceal my beer.

It was Saturday afternoon.  I had just ridden a bit over 70 hilly miles, and yet I felt sheepish about choosing to be lazy when the Amish rolled by to collect eggs.  My Scandinavian/Lutheran work ethic, I realized at that point, had been far too deeply ingrained in me.  It is for this exact reason I choose to do mini cycling getaways in the driftless area a couple times a year.  Sure, the driftless starts a mere three miles from my house, and there are a plethora of jaw dropping rides I could fill my weekends with and never leave Dane County, but at home there is yard work and housework to be done.  If I were to stay at home, I would never find myself in a hammock--instead I would most likely mow the lawn and weed the moment I got back from a ride...in my kit no less. And so these 2-3 day getaways are a reprieve, not from hard work mind you since they usually spell miles and miles of climbing, but from reality.

Life O'Riley Farm seen from county road T

Old schoolhouse 

near Castle Rock

round barn near Blue River

saving turtles near the Wisconsin river

I have considered, many times, buying a few acres of land in the deep driftless and building a small cottage for trips like this.  The only issue is everyone I know who owns a cabin or cottage spends more time with its upkeep than they do enjoying it, so I've come to the realization that for now it's just best to rent or camp until I break down one day and buy a piece of land out there to live off of full time.  The driftless area, after all, is some of the best land to sustain yourself with ample spring water, fertile land and lots of folks who are willing to trade or barter with.  The only big thing holding me back is no matter how hard I try, I'm not monastic.  I really do need a strong social circle around me, and since the roads are tricky to navigate in the summer, let alone in the winter, my guess is I'd be spending a heck of a lot of time out there on my own--something which makes me cringe.

Like on most of my driftless bike adventures, my "ooooo's" and "awwwwes" make me sound like a broken record because each valley and ridge have that jaw dropping magic.  Even two valleys that are next to each other can have a completely different feel--brining their own surprises around each bend.  Pictures can never do this area justice and I often get a bit of vertigo because I find myself looking around so much.  But a sore neck and slightly dizzy head is worth what I experience each time I visit.

For this trip I stayed once again at Life O'Riley Farm in the granary.  It's location, four miles outside of Boscobel, perched high on a ridge, makes for a great cycling jump off spot.  Granted, every ride from there ends with an enormous climb, but that just makes the beer taste better once off the bike.

saving snakes on the road
My rides consisted of one low mileage road ride (a bit over 40 miles) down to Blue River, over to Excelsior and back through Boscobel, a moderate length road ride (70 miles) to Castle Rock, Highland and Clyde and finally a 50+ mile gravel road ride through Mt.Hope, Mt. Ida and Werley before heading back.  Each ride had hills ranging from a 16-20% grade (the gravel ride had a couple 20% grade hills), and each ride had descents that make me giggle and scream like a little girl (some of the fresh gravel descents just made me come close to crying).

On each trip I do into the driftless, there is one thing that usually stands out.  This time I realized my generation will be one of the last to truly experience the power of old barns.  As I passed barn after barn that was on its way out, I felt a bit more overwhelmed.  I knew in two years time, many of these structures would no longer be standing.  They were beautiful in their own right, weathered boards, a faintness of red lingering, but my desire to keep them standing outweighed my love for their current beauty.  I completely understand why farmers don't put money in them to restore them--instead opting to erect large red metal outbuildings--but it's painful for me to watch the essence of my Midwest farm dreams sag and buckle.

there are so many beautiful farms in the driftless

about to enter the "gravel zone"

low traffic gravel roads are found everywhere here

running with the horses

making friends with the farm kitties

If you find yourself in this area to ride, and you're nervous about the hills, just remember all the pain from climbing will be taken away by the sheer beauty of the views.  If it's not, there are usually three bars in even the smallest towns where beer runs like springs and the farmers sitting on the bar stools will understand your plight when you tell them the hills you just climbed.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

When Two Worlds Collide

What would you do
If it all came back to you?
Each crest of each wave
Bright as lightning


Flashes of my past came rushing back to me this weekend.  Memories of the cyclist I used to be.  Of the little girl I used to be.  Of the daughter I used to be.

My father came to visit me in Madison for some riding.  We hadn't spent more than a couple hours with each other for years.  I didn't know how to act, who to be, how to feel.  So much of my current life now is what it is because of the springboard he gave me with cycling as a child.  I have stated before I was born on a bicycle, and I'm not joking when I say that.  My entire life has revolved around two wheels.  The problem is my former cycling self is nothing like my current cycling self.  What my father raised me as, what he knew me as, is a very different person than what I am today.  From the outside, everything may appear to be the same, but at some point in my teens and early twenties, my old self burned to ashes and I emerged, like a phoenix, a completely different beast.  

If put to the test
Would you step back from the line of fire?
Hold everything back
All emotion set aside it

Because of this, my father and I don't know how to "be" around each other.  We know how to talk about cycling, and yet even that is strained since we both see the bicycle as something completely different in our lives--I see it as a full lifestyle, merging with every cell of my body and he still sees it as mostly a form of fitness and a hobby.  

You would think we would have so much to talk about, so much to share, and yet everything seems so distant and contrived when we talk.  We are blood relatives, sharing the same passion, and yet strangers all in one.  

This weekend was a test of sorts for me.  Could we be together for more than a few hours and give each other the respect each person deserves.  Could we see each others differences and honor them?  Could I be the strong woman I know I am and stand my ground--show him who I truly am and not the nine year old I was and am often times still seen as?  Or would I revert back to who I felt I needed to be to placate him and smooth over the situation--essentially, choose not to rock the boat.

Convince yourself
Someone else
Hide from the world
Your lack of confidence
What you choose to believe in
Takes you as you fall
Takes you as you fall

This entire life I live is essentially a school.  With each new day, and each new situation, I will continue to learn from my achievements and mistakes and hopefully feel more and more comfortable in my skin.  Thankfully, whether I move forward, back or sideways--both physically and mentally, my bicycle will always be not only my chosen mode of transportation, but also my friend.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Spinning in "neutral" and loving it

For some odd reason, the word "neutral" has gotten somewhat of a bad rap.  Folks tend to see it as being stuck in one place, being dull and emotionless, not caring etc.  After this past weekend, and after a friend used the term "keep it in neutral" with the meaning of not thinking, or wanting to think, about the future or past--instead just being and enjoying the here and now, I fell in love with the word neutral.

You see, I tend to have a bad habit of always thinking about what's to come--I thankfully don't think too much of the past since I can't do anything about it, except maybe learn from it.  This bad habit sometimes makes me not fully enjoy what's happening all around me at that very moment.  Well, I'm learning.  Yes, this old dog might actually be able to change her ways.

Over the past few months I've started to realize how important the little moments are.  Whether it be enjoying a good beer with friends, going on a long ride solo or with friends, smelling the change of seasons in the air or waking up to the sound of rain falling on the roof.  These "moments" can never truly be had again.  Once they slip by, I might be able to experience something similar in the future, but nothing quite the same.  Now I'm not saying I can, or want to be, present all the time.  No way.  That would actually be exhausting.  But I can, and will, purposely put my mind into neutral once in awhile and just idle a bit while my senses take over.

Thanks go out to all my friends who have shown me the way.