Monday, April 23, 2012

Going Driftless on Earth Day

Riding between Muscoda and Boscobel

There are moments, I feel, that magic occurs.  For some reason, this Earth Day, my husband and I stumbled onto the quintessential spot to celebrate one of our favorite days of the year.  For the past few weeks, we had found ourselves a bit bogged down with daily life--work, meetings, yard work etc. and needed to get away.  We could never have guessed that a short hour and a half drive would bring us into a whole different mindset.

Although we love where we live (the oldest neighborhood association in the United States, the former home to the one and only Gaylord Nelson, and current home to Spencer Black), sometimes we get an itch to explore--to see beyond our 77 square miles of "reality".  Since we are both enamored with the driftless zone, and since it's right out our back door (the driftless zone starts about three miles West of our house), we decided to make our way to Boscobel.  We knew of this area from visiting friends in Muscoda on the Wisconsin river and exploring the Spring Green area by bike--what we didn't know was how much we'd fall in love with the landscape and cycling a bit further West.  What better way to celebrate Earth Day than by biking and hiking?

Life O'Riley Farm
Our destination was Life O'Riley Farm--a small bed and breakfast/farm located on a plateau overlooking two valleys.  The moment we stepped into the old granary (now revamped into a one bedroom cottage), my exact words were "Oh, I could live here."  The simplicity was breathtaking.  A long porch, salvaged whitewashed timber, windows everywhere, no television and an old ceramic kitchen sink that brought me to my knees.  Having chickens, cats, a dog and two cows running around didn't hurt since I'm such a sucker for critters.

The old granary, now a cottage.
As I said, "simple" is the key word for the farm.  This doesn't mean, however, that it isn't modern and luxurious at the same time.  The farm is powered by solar panels, has on demand water heaters, all the bulbs are CFL and each kitchen has a compost bucket.  Browsing the library, I found old friends and immediately felt at ease.  There are books of poetry from Mary Oliver and e.e. cummings as well as guides on making home made soap and gardening on small plots.  This felt like home...only better!  Did I mention that the breakfast provided is almost entirely from the farm? 

Once my husband pulled me away from petting the cat, we ventured off on our first ride South of Boscobel, through Fennimore, and past Castle Rock before heading East to Muscoda and back to Boscobel.  We travelled up and over sandstone bluffs with only hawks and vultures (this made us a bit concerned) following us.  We "slid" down one of the steepest hills I've ever been on--that of course was covered in sand. After our white knuckled decent, we climbed for miles to top off on rolling plateaus where we could see for what seemed like forever.

Those who know me have heard my praises for riding in the driftless zone.  Yes, you must learn to LOVE hills, but note that they almost always provide you with a beautiful view and an adrenaline raising decent down the other side.  I actually look forward to climbs for these reasons.  The other gift of riding in Southwest Wisconsin is the plethora of routes.  There are so many possibilities that I will never tire of riding these roads.  Each valley holds a new surprise--each season the route changes entirely.  I am not joking when I say that this is the best cycling I've come across in the entire country--and my husband and I spent years moving from state to state.

The Wisconsin river with it's "coulees"
The following day of riding brought us North of the Wisconsin river.  Climbing up the steep coulees banking the shore.  We coasted down into Stueben, following the Kickapoo river and wound our way up, up and further up to Mt.Zion (almost eight miles of climbing ).  You hear of mountaineers talking about "false summits", well cyclists have the same experience.  You think you've reached the top and then you turn a corner and realize you have a lot more climbing to do.  It can be retching but there is nothing like the feeling you have when you actually crest the hill.  From Mt.Zion, we flew down to the river and headed back to the farm (another rolling five mile climb). 

The end of our ride marked the end of our stay on the farm.  As we drove down into Boscobel, we were already making plans for our next visit...maybe an entire week next time.  I feel so blessed that we were able to experience such an amazing place on such an amazing weekend!

the kitchen in the granary

solar panels on the farm
our breakfast providers

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Haiku for the day

Smell the charred prairies
mingle with apple blossoms
Spring in Dane County!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Girls With Get Up and Go-Go

There is a point in many girl's lives when they dream of being a dancer.  I was too caught up in cycling at a young age, so this bug didn't bite me until high school.  Since I couldn't join anything that would interfere with cycling, I chose cheer leading.  For those of you that know me, this is somewhat hysterical.  You see, I grew up as a tom boy.  I would only wear overalls and often times brought live critters (snakes, frogs, salamanders etc.) home in my pockets.  Cheer leading allowed me to be "girly" and athletic all in one.  

Greasy Gears performing at Ride the Drive in Madison
When I left high school, I tried every type of dance I could.  Weekends consisted of Cajun two-step, salsa, swing, ballroom and African classes.  It was so freeing!  Being able to move in a non linear way balanced my life. Now, being so active in my job as a personal trainer and fitness instructor as well as cycling, I don't have a ton of extra energy for dance, however, a certain group is calling my name.  Meet the Greasy Gears--a female go-go dance group with a love for cycling.  This amazing group of women (ages 11-59) came to be one evening a few years back after the Portland group, The Sprockettes, came through Madison.  They meet for practice once a week and pop up at events around the city showing off their moves.
There is no other word to use for this group than "FUN".  It's not about getting the moves down perfectly or having a perfect body.  Instead, it's about empowering women to feel good about moving and being creative.  I am by no means saying that these women don't work hard.  Their practices are 2.5 hours of sweating.  They often times perform in blazing heat for hours...having to crawl and sometimes lay down on hot pavement during performances.  Trust me, fish net stockings do not protect skin that much.

Greasy Gears with former "Mayor Dave"
Some of their pop-up performances have been at Ride the Drive in Madison, Art Fair Off the Square, Atwood Summerfest, Bike the Barns and Madtown Maidens Alleycat.  Part of the delight is  no one really knows where they will be and what dance they will do.  All you know is that if you see them, you'll be captivated.  They even got former Madison Mayor, Dave Cieslewicz, to get in on the fun.
You too can join the Greasy Gears.  No experience is necessary, however, you must show up with a good attitude and a willingness to work hard.  Just get onto their website to find out more information and then head on down to the Goodman Community Center on Wednesdays from 6:30pm-9pm.  Still not sure if  this is really "you"?  Once you see this'll change your mind!

Greasy Gears competing in my all women's alleycat "Madtown Maidens" in 2011

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Taking Stock

Dear reader, I apologize for this tangent even I would barely deem as a "post".  You see, lately there have been circumstances that have caused me to take stock of my life.  Call it what you early midlife crisis, insanity...whatever.  Spending hours in the saddle on open country roads leaves me with a lot of time to think.  Trust me, I've tried to turn my brain off so as to enjoy my surroundings--but sometimes, where the brain decides to drift is completely pertinent to the surroundings.

I find this situation much more comical since it peaked on Easter Sunday.  You see, my husband and I rode out to the farm we visited a couple weeks back to see how the baby goats have grown.  Instead of being these helpless newborns with hyperactive tails, crying out for their mothers, we found them bounding, climbing and curious about anything in their pen--including the cat that wandered in.  Still, some of the cutest things I've ever seen, and now named by one of the grandchildren, I couldn't help but think of their fate.  Farms are full of cycles of birth and death.  Most of us eat meat and dairy products without thinking of their origin.  These "kids" will grow throughout the summer and then become dinner.  Even though I was a vegetarian growing up, I don't have an issue with this as long as the animal has a good life up until the point of death.

Apollo, Ogden, Rapunzel, and Girly Girl playing "king of the mountain"

This, along with the fact that I just finished a book called "Postmortal" (a futuristic novel about finding the cure for aging), got me thinking--isn't having a good life up until the point of death really what we all strive for?  Shouldn't we all live the best life possible until death occurs?  By "best" I do not mean fanciest.  After all, we are all just animals and I don't know any animal that needs a fancy life to be happy.  The goats at the farm wouldn't be "happier" if their pen was made of gold or if their grass was cultivated in France.  Nope, all they need is shelter, food, attention and a place to run and play.  It seems so simple.

Every  year or so I like to "take stock" of my life.  I ask myself questions like "Am I happy?" and "Do I need to make any changes?".  Honestly, in the past 15 or 20 years, the happiest days of my life have looked like this:  Wake early without an alarm, eat a hearty breakfast with good coffee, go on a long ride with my husband or friends, read or garden, eat lunch, go on a walk with my husband, read some more, eat dinner, get together with friends for beer or music, go to bed.  Aside from work and travel, this is all I would ever need or desire.  Like everyone else, I get pulled into thinking I need more at times.  That's when rides like the one I had on Sunday come in handy.

Hopefully I will never stop questioning myself and my needs.  To stop questioning myself allows me to become lazy (which is also okay once in awhile).  There may come a time when my simple way of being can no longer be supported, but with the short amount of time I have left in this world, I certainly hope not.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Battling the Wind Gods

There is an old Irish saying that cyclists often use "May the road rise to meet you, May the wind be always at your back."  My father even used this for my wedding blessing-- which was fitting since my father, my husband and I are all cyclists.  In some ways, I think this is one of the kindest things one cyclist can say to another since very few of them I know actually enjoy wind...unless it's at their back.

Living in Madison, Wisconsin--being surrounded by open farm fields and valleys--I am somewhat used to wind.  Each spring I know it will greet me...when my legs and lungs are weak.  For the past two weeks I have almost felt as though the Nordic wind God, Njord, has been mocking me.  No matter what direction I seem to ride, the wind is at my face.  The weathermen call it "variable", I just call it crappy.  During a time when I should be embracing the longer days and radiant warmth with a smile, I instead must hunker down, brace my handle bars and push.

I must admit that part of this is my fault.  You see I usually choose to ride West in search of hills.  In the summer and fall this poses no issue since the winds often come from the West and I can cruise back home with ease.  In the spring, however, the winds blow from the East or Northeast and I "get" to ride home, often for 20-30 miles, into the wind.  The kicker is that in the spring, the trees haven't leafed out yet and the corn hasn't pushed through the soil so there is no natural wind block.  The best I can do is ride with someone that's stronger or bigger than me and put them out front to be my personal wind block.  Since I usually ride alone during the week, I have no choice but to face it.  My mantra becomes "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger."  But there is nothing that can take away the agony of having to pedal down a steep hill.  It just isn't right.

I really shouldn't complain.  I have cycling friends that live in Texas (they are originally from Madison) and they say that a 25 mph wind is nothing.  They would "love" to have a 25mph wind.  I also remember living in Kona, Hawaii where the wind would consistently blow people off their bikes into lava fields.  Needless to say, I didn't enjoy biking there.

Since I was a kid, I have preferred hot, humid, still air to wind.  Call me crazy but there is nothing better than biking when all the joints are lubricated with warmth and sweat just drips down your neck.  To this day, I have trouble sleeping with a fan on me and I HATE air conditioning.  Maybe this Scandinavian girl should have been raised in the jungle instead.

The most amusing thing about this scenario is that I married a sailor.  Although my husband is also a cyclist, sailing is his passion.  No, he doesn't like biking in the wind either but in his mind, a windy day is a day for sailing.  Do I sail with him?  Of course not.  When it comes to water sports, I choose a canoe...and paddlers hate wind almost as much as cyclists.

There are times I think I am just being a complainer and I should embrace a "zen" way of being.  Be one with the wind, don't fight it.  Then I hear other cyclists bitching about it as much as I do.  There is even a cycling video that touches on this very issue.  The first time I saw it, I couldn't stop laughing since it was made by a cyclist that fully understood our nature.

Maybe some day I'll appreciate what the wind does for us (blows mosquitoes away, clears the particulate matter in the air, moves fog out of valleys etc.).  Until then, if you see me on my bike, riding into the wind, you will understand why I have a grimace on my face even though I'm on my beloved bike.