Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Drifting between inversion layers

Just before sunrise--the silver is all frost

This morning brought me into the Van Morrison song "Into the Mystic".  It was my last early Wednesday morning ride of the season due to the lengthening darkness and settling cold.  I set out under a crisp, clear sky, surrounded by blackness with only a Turkish crescent moon and the big dipper to guide my way.  I knew forty-five minutes to an hour would be without any natural light--something I always find to be so serene since there are no distractions.  As I dropped into the first valley, the temps went quickly from 32 to around 25.  Although I thought I may be overdressed up high, I quickly realized my feet could have used chemical warmers (I wouldn't feel my feet again until my shower--oh the agony).

Down low, in a valley always plagued by thick fog on summer mornings, I became amused it was somewhat fog free, or at least not a wall.  Instead, where the fog doesn't normally shroud the rich, black earth, it hung so heavy, and froze mid air, and then finally collected all over me.  My eyelashes grew an inch, any hair sticking out of my hat turned white and hoar frost collected on my tights, gloves and arms.  I paused briefly to take a picture, inhaling the scent of burning wood--so sweet I could taste the remnants of sap as it collected and traveled through the ice crystals, finally landing in my nose.

I will admit, there were times I was quite nervous.  I don't like being on roads when I can only see 100 feet in front of me for fear of getting hit.  But there was something so surreal about this morning.  Other than a few short moments after sunrise, the only way I could tell if I was climbing or descending was by the gear I was in and how much effort I had to put out.  There was no way for me to tell where I was even though I've done this route hundreds of times.  I felt like I was drifting between the inversion layers.

Although I am terribly sad to say goodbye to my early Wednesday rides, this was a beautiful send off until next Spring.

Sunrise between inversion layers

This was the only stretch of road completely clear of fog post sunrise

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Once in awhile, it really sucks being a girl

I was raised by a bra burning, commune living, ex-hippie feminist.  My mom fought damn hard in the 60's, 70's and 80's to make the world a better place for her daughter.  She wasn't one of those crazy man haters, but she did believe women were treated differently purely because of our gender and she wasn't about to stand around and allow this treatment to continue for me as I grew up.  She taught me at a very young age I could do and be anything I wanted.  She never mentioned the obstacles I could or would have as a young woman, so I believed her.  I never, not for one moment, doubted I could be president if I really wanted the job (oh, I never wanted that job by the way).

I have written before how when I first began group riding and racing, I was one of the few junior girls in the midwest.  Although it had some challenges, it never really bothered me all that much.  I showed up, I rode, I got my ass kicked frequently by the junior boys or senior women, I learned, I got stronger, and once in awhile I got the pleasure of schooling some of the boys.  It was what it was and by no means was I scarred by it.  

When I started personal training, twenty-two years ago, I was one of the only female personal trainers (even though I got my start at the YWCA), and the only women who lifted free weights in the gym were cops, fire fighters and body builders.  It took at least five years, maybe closer to ten, for men to start asking me for a spot even though I could bench my own weight.  It's not that they didn't want our presence in the gym, I think they just didn't want us to get hurt and they didn't know how to act around us.  I wasn't angry with them for questioning me, I knew in time things would change.

As the years rolled by, and more and more women started lifting free weights, most of the guys I knew began to realize what we were capable of.  We weren't these frail things who only wanted to lift 3lb weights, and much to many of the guys surprise at the YWCA, many of the women who lifted heavy were straight (a stereotype I had to fight for about ten years).  I got asked to spot power lifters, got more guys requesting me as a personal trainer, and some of them even began asking me to give them cycling advice.  

Finally, I got the courage to start leading group rides myself, teaching cycling workshops and ultimately I got my coaching license.  I helped both men and women, young and old(er), improve their skills and discover how strong they could really be.  I say "help" because I'm just a catalyst--all the people I've worked with have always had the internal strength...I just taught them how to tap into it.

A few years ago, I began to contemplate a big adventure.  I had been following Team Rwanda and dreamt about how cool it would be to work with the group.  I applied for an internship, got down to the final two applicants, and then they broke it to me they were out of funding and they couldn't take me on.  

Fast forward to the present.  A few weeks ago I began the application process for a paid position as a coach with the team.  I have to say I wanted this pretty badly regardless of some of the concerns I had.  If I got the job, I would work in Rwanda, Ethiopia and Eritrea, coaching mostly men, but some women, for one year.  I would get to travel around Africa and possibly Europe while the team raced in large stage races.  I would learn more in one year there than what I could learn here in ten.  It would be unbelievably difficult, yet rewarding beyond words.  

I filled out my questionnaire carefully, e-mailed my resume and waited.  Prior to this I had several conversations with the logistics manager, Kimberly Coats, who has been with the team for five years and is now married to the head coach, Jock Boyer (first American to race in the Tour de France).  Today, I heard back from Kimberly stating they couldn't and wouldn't hire a woman to coach the men for cultural reasons.  At first I thought it was due to some being Muslim.  Then, upon doing research, I discovered most are Roman Catholic or Protestant--so that couldn't be it.  I racked my brain over this and then just decided to let it go.  Yes, I was/am frustrated that a door was shut in my face because of my gender.  Yes, I'm still a bit confused and dumbfounded.  And yes, for one brief moment I thought what it would be like if I were a guy.  But hell, I could chase my tail for hours about this and still not change a thing.  The fact is that Team Rwanda just isn't ready yet--I will give it time and it will change.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Lucky 13

This is the real secret of life--to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now.  And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.
-Alan Watts

Each road leads to a new playground--this was the top of a roller coaster

Not all who wander are lost.  Well, uh, that wasn't my case yesterday.  Okay, so I wasn't "lost" per se, but I did take a wrong turn on what was supposed to be about an 85 miler, and because I was a bit blitzed out by the beautiful landscape, I didn't realize it for about four miles.  When I finally got back on track, I chose to take the hard way home--just because it was there.  I'm not sure if I was fueled by sheer determination to complete my thirteenth century of the year or because I just had a wonderful lunch with a cycling friend, either way, it felt great being out in the crisp autumn air all day long.

So now that I have reached my stupid little goal, with the added miles of riding down to the Saris gala (Mark Maffitt--thanks for giving me my goal for next year!), it's time to play.  No more of this numbers game, training, or subjecting myself to wind riding when I don't need to.  Nope, it's time for pancake rides, halloween rides and all around shenanigans.  Not that most of the other rides I did during the year didn't have serious elements of play, but there was always the word "training" looming over my head.  Well, I am happy to say, I can set that mindset aside for a few months and just goof off (when I say this by no means do I mean I'll be stationary).  Oh, it's also coming up on running season.  The time of year when I can go out for an hour, without "gearing up" much, and get the same intensity as a three hour ride.  You'll see me hobbling around like a broken woman for about two weeks, but then it will be "fun"...really it will be!

More pancake rides please!

What I really look forward to is more social rides.  Rides to pubs/breweries, rides to breakfast, rides with others when it's -20 windchill and I need friends to drag my ass out of the house and hold me accountable.  Yes, it's a shifting of seasons and a shifting of the mind.  As they'd say in Cajun country, laissez les bon temps roulez!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Blood Moon Riding

We ran as if to meet the moon
-Robert Frost

Blood moon just past full eclipse

I woke this morning at 4:30am, even though I could have slept in a bit.  You see Wednesdays are my "late start days" for work since I work doubles on Tuesdays.  Throughout the spring and summer I tend to literally leap out of bed on these days, like a child on Christmas morning, because it means I get to do a pre-dawn ride--my favorite time of day to be on the bike.  As the fall wears on, and the darkness and cold settle in, it becomes more and more difficult to pry myself out from under the heavy covers, and shove the cat off my legs, especially when it means I have to don multiple layers to head out on a ride.

This morning was an exception.  I stumbled into the kitchen, cranked the hot water for my press pot, wiped at least enough sleep from my eyes so I could see, and stepped outside to witness the blood moon.  The sky was so unbelievably clear I didn't know what to look at, the normally white blob turning red or the constellations twinkling everywhere.  I was in awe, to say the least, and I couldn't wait to inhale my breakfast and get out on a ride heading West so as to keep my eyes on the changing sky.

Now a winking eye
As I climbed my first hill, the moon put me in somewhat of a trance.  It just kept getting redder and larger and I found myself picking up the pace hoping to catch it before it slipped into the horizon.  As I crested my largest climb, there was that rare moment when I wished I could stop the clocks.  To my West was the remnants of the eclipse--now a shade of pink and looking very much like a winking eye--and to the East was a giant peach casting a shade of orange on everything it touched.  I am quite certain I was oooing and aweing outloud--my eyes big as saucers.

I wanted to stay on that hill all morning, but since work was calling, a bit too loudly for my taste, I let my wheels carry me back down into the valley.  The temperature dropped a good ten degrees, and as I looked at the grass on either side of the road, I noticed it shining a magnificent silver, recently kissed by frost.  Where the grass had grown long, it lay flat as if a deer had bed down in it recently causing the silver to swirl in the now golden light.

Sun coming up over the frost left from the night before

Regardless of my feet and hands feeling a bit like blocks, I smiled my entire way into work, amazed by the magic this earth still holds.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Hitting a dozen--the easy way

You've got to know when to hold 'em
Know when to fold 'em
Know when to walk away
Know when to run
-Kenny Rogers

Blue Mound beckons
Yesterday marked my twelfth century of the year--the most I've ever done in one season by far.  Tomorrow should have marked my thirteenth making it a nice baker's dozen.  Instead, I took the "easy" way out and high tailed it home, running from the wind.

Laura...fierce like a lion
This all started with a fun idea my friend, Laura, had a couple months ago.  She had been my partner in crime on several long outings which  got us into somewhat precarious situations--biking to Milwaukee in near freezing temps with sleet was one of them.  When she brought up her plan of biking to her father's home in Potosi, WI, there was no question...I wanted in.

A few days prior to rollout, I checked the forecast.  Wind and cold.  Yep, that figures.  At that time, however, the wind, albeit a headwind, was only slated to be about 15mph.  Not fun for nearly 100 miles, but doable.  Then, the next day, they upped it to 20mph sustained with chances of rain and temps dropping into the 40's.  Ooookkkaaayyy.  I won't lie.  My mind started doing that thing not unlike a dog chasing its tail.  Could I do this with the remnants of a head cold and a hip issue that flares whenever I push for long periods into wind?  I decided to try and go against what my brain was telling me.  

Day of brought the forecasted winds even higher.  20-25 sustained with gusts to 30mph.  The rain chances died down, but on our way back we'd be doing the same route with temps around 32 degrees (thankfully without the headwind this time).  I was still determined to try it, knowing I could turn around any time I needed to, but at the same time I didn't want to let Laura down since she was hellbent on going the entire way.  

Although we had a headwind the moment we rolled out, at 15-20 it didn't seem too bad.  As the hours flew by, we were treated to magnificent colors, views of Blue Mound and sleepy driftless area towns.  We were also treated to blasts of wind which humbled me greatly each time we hit anything remotely exposed.  When we turned Southwest, south of Dodgeville, I was hoping we'd get a short reprieve for a 15 mile stretch we shouldn't have had much of an issue with.  By this time, however, the winds had increased to strong gusts and the crosswind was making even my heavily loaded steel frame sway like a drunken sailor.  When we did turn due West, on the top of a high ridge, I knew it was over for me.  It felt like a brick wall and I was most likely climbing around 6 mph.  At this rate I knew we wouldn't hit our destination until darkness fell, not something I was looking forward to at all.

Swear words flew from my mouth, something Laura couldn't hear since she was ahead of me, but I'm sure my friends in Madison got an earful.  My hip and lower back started to seize from the constant push and it was all too easy to put one foot down and call it quits knowing we'd have to battle another 45 miles of this shit.   Although I felt bad leaving Laura out there with my cue sheet, knowing I could continue if I had to, I also felt pretty damn good I'd be getting a tailwind soon--after I forced my way back through the crosswinds.

pretty drifltess farm 
almost to the top

Worth the climb!

When I started heading due East, I thought YAY! this will be cake and I will barely have to pedal the entire way.  Not so.  As I have written about the wind in previous posts, it can be quite the trickster.  For some odd reason, it swirled on the Military Ridge Trail, and for about 15 miles I felt I was still pushing into the wind.  Finally, near Blue Mound, I got my reprieve.  I dismounted the bike, stretched my back and hip, shoved food in my mouth and considered my options:  do I a) keep heading home or b) climb Blue Mound in hopes of seeing some beautiful colors and vistas?  Hills and vistas usually win the coin toss for me and this was no exception.  Alright, I might have needed to redeem myself a bit too.  So up, up, up I went--still hauling my panniers--hoping it would pay off.  And oh, did it pay off.  My time on the fire tower was brief due to the cold winds, but it was worth it.

I flew down the hill feeling refreshed and ready for more.  The elusive tailwind finally decided to come to the party, and I picked up the pace.  As I neared Mt.Horeb, I got greedy.  The ego took over and I decided to lengthen the route home to make a century (I never would have thought about lengthening the ride if I had still been heading West and my mind quietly went to Laura, hoping she was doing alright out there).  I'm not superstitious or religious, and I don't really believe in being "struck down", but I did wonder about this for a moment, since when I passed the turn around point for going directly home, it began to rain.  A cold horizontal rain which quickly made me reconsider my grand idea.  On top of that, I had somehow set aside the thought I'd have to go due West into the wind again to get home.  So there I was, fueled by ego and not much else, wet and heading into a 25-30mph wind, creeping along I'm guessing around less than 10mph--most likely around 6mph.  *This is when I should use the metric system so I don't look like such a wimp.

My slow creeping allowed me to notice the frogs

I got home, barely.  I ate.  Oh god how I ate.  And I texted Laura asking her to call me when she arrived.  Around 5:40 I got the text saying she got there but had to get a ride part way from her sister--something she didn't want to have to do.  She could have made it, I know she could have, but it would have been in the dark and she would have missed dinner with her family.  

I guess we all have our breaking points.  Mine happened to come a bit earlier than I would have liked yesterday.  Now I just have to plan what and when my lucky 13 will be before snow accumulates!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Falling for Autumn

Autumn is the hardest season.  The leaves are all falling, and they're falling like
they're falling in love with the ground.
-Andrea Gibson

I ride face to sun
soaking in every last ray
golden light shrouds me

Soaking it in the warmth while I can--I may be half lizard

Psychedelic trees
fuel me for the next big climb
never let this end

A grass track splitting the flame red sumac

Autumn fill my nose
with earth, dry leaves and fungi
I'll smell white too soon

Sometimes you just have to treat yourself.  To a long ride with friends or solo, under the banner of changing leaves, to apple pie shots celebrating the new season, to a nap in sunbeams, and to pumpkin ice cream from the Chocolate Shop.  Cheers all and happy fall!

Apple Pie shots post Devil's Lake ride

Friday, September 26, 2014

To pave or not to pave...that is the question.

In the past week, two trail discussions have come to my attention--both about access to trails and whether or not to pave them or leave them "as is".  The first network of trails, collectively know as the River Bottoms to those who mountain bike in Minneapolis, may be changed so drastically the area will no longer have a "wilderness" feel.  Putting in a paved trail instantly means a ton of money spent and ongoing maintenance.  It's a big step and one not to be taken lightly.  I have friends who have been using this trail system for twenty years.  They live in the city and this is their source for getting a bit closer to nature.  A new trail will most certainly change the vibe.

The second trail discussion entails a place near and dear to my heart--the Badger State Trail, or as a few of us still call it by its old name, the H8TR Trail.  Currently this trail runs from Madison to the Illinois border and then connects into the Jane Adams Trail.  Most of the trail is crushed limestone, but the first few miles, to Purcell Road, are paved.  There is some discussion within the bike community hoping to continue the paved portion a few more miles to connect with the town of Paoli.  Although this wouldn't be a make or brake thing for us gravel lovers, currently Dane County has very few gravel roads due to the dairy industry, and to pave a few more miles means we would have to go that much further to find chunky, raw riding.

Okay, so this is where things get sticky.  I am all for accessibility--I was an intern with Wilderness Inquiry, assisting with wilderness trips for those with and without disabilities--but not if it means taking the wild out of wilderness.  In this country where everything seems to be so damn neat and tidy, sometimes its good to have things get a bit messy and not always have ease.  Wilderness Inquiry is actually a great example of this.  They have adapted wheelchairs, dogsleds and canoes to get people out into the wilderness vs. change the wilderness for those with mobility issues.  Yes, we do need to have Boundary Waters campsites which are rugged wheelchair friendly etc, but do we really need to cover our country in more asphalt?  What happened to learning how to adapt, pushing the boundaries, and becoming more comfortable with what's presented to us?  I worry if we allow these paving projects to go through, we will be opening up Pandora's box.  Already, I notice children no longer being allowed to play outside of their yard out of fear from the parents.  Kids, and adults, get bumps, scrapes and broken bones.  It's part of growing up, learning about oneself, finding the confidence needed in adult life and the strength to endure.  If we take all the risks out, what kind of culture will we be forming?

Although this isn't a bike trail, I remember when the lake loop around Devils Lake was paved.  My husband and I went out there a couple weeks after the job was completed, not knowing about any of it.  Devils Lake has been my escape for almost fifteen years.  It's a short drive or long ride from Madison, and in parts, you can feel a thousand miles away.  When we stepped out of the car, the first thing that hit us was the smell.  The smell of asphalt instantly made me sick.  As we began our hike, we both remarked on how lumpy and dangerous the trail was--we both felt it was more dangerous paved than not.  We also questioned the idea behind it regarding erosion.  From what we could see, this would cause more issues with chunks breaking off left and right and people cutting all around the trail on busy weekends.  I remember crying a bit over this destruction of nature and afterwards, on future hikes, avoiding the lake all together, and instead opting to hike on the Ice Age trail.

Is this what will become of the River Bottoms and the Badger State Trail?  I certainly hope not. I am not writing this to be an us vs. them argument; instead, I hope this gets people to slow down and think "is this really necessary?" before changing our landscape completely.