Friday, June 29, 2012

Taming the ego

Someone out there must have been giving away free servings of ego (not "Ego's) today.  As a former bike racer, I know the drill.  See someone up ahead of you on the like hell to catch up to them and pass 'em.  There are two--if not more--issues to this scenario.  One, you must be strong enough to stay ahead--better yet, pull far ahead--to make this work.  Two, unless you are a racer or need a little stroking of the ego, there is no reason to do this.  Today, on my ride, in the high heat and humidity, I was passed by two different guys that were trying to show off.  As a female cyclist, this isn't a new phenomena.  Some guys just hate seeing a woman ride up ahead (thank god I don't ride with any of them).  Anyway, both guys passed me and commented on how strong I was.  I chuckled and said "Well, it doesn't look like I'm as strong as you today."  Then, after they passed me, they slowed down and I was forced to pass them.  It's not that I was riding a hard pace--I rarely do--it's just that they worked so hard to pass me they had to slow down afterwards.  My only question is "WHY?"

For some, when people think of the word "ego", they see it as a negative.  When I referred to the ego earlier, I should have instead called it the "id".  It is here that we act upon instinct.  The id is the pleasure principle.  When not in check, it can take over and display some ugly actions.  We've all been there.  At least, I know I have.  In the past, when I would race, there was usually a moment when I felt invincible and all I could care about was winning.  That high or moment of ecstasy was often times followed by a severe low...and so I learned that it wasn't worth tapping into.  For others, the side effects aren't as strong and they only feel the high.  There is no way for me to tell what the guys were thinking when they passed me today, however, I can only assume that their id was driving them.

Setting the id aside and returning to the ego for a moment, several years ago, I had an interesting conversation with my brother-in-law.  He had just returned from his second trip to India, where he spent hours each day meditating.  We were discussing the ego and he shared his opinion that we should all try to lose the ego.  During this time, he wrote his name with lower case letters and only used a lower case "i" when talking about himself.  I found this intriguing.  Even though my mother studied Buddhism, Hinduism, and Sufism, and shared with me her teaching, I had really never thought much about the importance of letting go of one's ego.  My thoughts have always been that one must listen to and embrace the ego if one is to be healthy and happy.  If I were to completely let go of my ego, I would be essentially losing myself and could therefore not take care of myself properly.  I wouldn't move towards things that gave me instant satisfaction, like biking or hiking.  I wouldn't search out good food and beer.  I wouldn't reach out to spend time with friends.  I would essentially be alive to serve others.  I don't know about you, but I'm just not down with that.  I'm more than happy to be there for others when needed, but my first impulse--and I'm proud of this--is to take care of my essential needs.  I might add that this is probably one of the reasons my husband and I never chose to have children.

Since I've been in one of those "checking in" moods lately, this has been an interesting thing to reevaluate.  With things like work, house projects, gatherings etc. I can sometimes go too long without looking inside and seeing if I need to make any changes.  In regards to what happened this morning, I'm sure the only reason it really got under my skin is because I have that beast still lurking in me somewhere.   Next time I see a rider up ahead and feel the need to catch up and pass them, I'm going to try to figure out why I have that desire.  Whatever the answer is, it should be interesting.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

So, you want to organize outdoor events?

Sometimes I can't help but laugh at how people come into my life.  As I've stated in previous posts, I'm always amazed by how small the world is.  Around six years ago, while staying in Door County, Wisconsin, my husband and I met Brian Fitzgerald.  I remember walking into his pottery store, Ephraim Clayworks, and being in awe by his work--I've always been a sucker for pottery.  Within a few minutes of chatting, we figured out that we had several connections.  He grew up in the Twin Cities area (where I'm from), I work in the city where his wife grew up, we know several of the same outdoor enthusiasts and he went to college at Eau Claire, with my husband, at the same time and even majored in art--which my husband did as well--but they never met.  With that many connections, I just knew we'd become friends.

Our bikes parked outside of Ephraim Clayworks
Each year, my husband and I would stop into Brian's shop and chat while we were on vacation and we finally started pulling him away for hikes or bike rides.  With Brian's schedule, that was no easy task.  You see, not only does he run his pottery store, he also started Peninsula Pacers and puts on several silent sports events throughout Door County including the Door County Half Marathon (which he started from scratch), the Ridges Ride for Nature, he directs the bike/run course for the Door County Triathlon, and runs the course operations for the MS Challenge Walk.  On top of all that, he and his wife play an enormous role in their kid's lives.

I've dabbled in putting on cycling events here in Madison, but what Brian does absolutely boggles my mind.  I half heartedly chuckle when he talks about having several different phone conversations and e-mails going all at once, but in my head, I'm thinking why would anyone want to do that on a regular basis?  It's simple really.  He loves his job. Sure there can be times when everything seems to be going wrong, and sleep is a distant memory, however, he's so meticulous in his planning that those times come few and far between.  I've participated in several of his events and couldn't think of one thing I would change.

My husband and Brian after our ride this June
On our bike ride with Brian this June, we talked about the Green Bay marathon and that it had to shut down early because of heat.  Quickly following that race, the Madison marathon was also cancelled.  I knew this was a difficult decision for the race directors but I also felt it was the right thing to do for people's safety.  It's a situation like this that can cause the most strife for race/event organizers.  Brian also agreed that it was the right thing to do and he expressed his empathy for the organizers.  No matter how well you've planned for an event, mother nature always has the final say.  Outdoor events are organic and it takes a very pliable and patient person to put them on.  I may be good at the details side of events but my nerves aren't nearly as steady as Brian's and that's why I think he has not only excelled in this area but can also find pleasure in it as well.

I was going to ask Brian several questions for this blog post during our ride.  Common sense came back to me, however, and I knew that I wouldn't remember a thing after being worked over by him on the backroads of Door County.  Instead, I sent him some questions and it's been a blast getting to know him even better while going over his answers.

1)      Your main profession has been making pottery—how did you get started with organizing events?

Five years ago I was asked to be part of starting a Half Marathon by some local business people who thought we had all the makings for a successfully event right here in Door County.  The 1st week in May was picked for the date, so as to hopefully make a positive economic impact at a slow time. Around 4 months into the planning we hit a few obstacles and a few things became clear, the most important being how do we structure "who" is going to risk putting the event on.  Out of this, the Peninsula Pacers LLC was formed and the 1st annual Door County Half Marathon took place with just under 500 runners and is now a capped event at 2,000 runners this past year.  Because of the success of this 1st venture our organization has become part of other events in the area,and is growing as well.  I've had my pottery business for 19 years and it is my labor of love, however this new venture has pushed me into something very different in terms of career, yet is also very rewarding.

2)      If you could work on any cycling event in the world, what would it be and why?

The Leadville 100 appeals to me, I have a cousin from Minnesota that has done it the past few years and is now hooked.  I like the fact that it's a competitive mountain bike race, however the ultimate challenge for most is finishing  under the time limit and getting that belt buckle. It also strikes me that this event still has a tremendous amount of community support adding to the excitement.

3)      Thinking back, is there a specific ride that is near and dear to your heart (solo, in a group or an event)?

My first long bike trip as a teenager, my dad and I stayed in Duluth and biked up the North Shore.....I'm sure that this one experience is partly responsible for my interest in biking and my love of Duluth!

4)      What is the biggest disaster you’ve had to fix as an event organizer?

The first year of the Half Marathon we offered shuttles from local sponsoring hotels to the start, we had 1 person take us up on it.  The following year I still wanted to offer it, convinced that in the future it would catch on, we planned for 100 people, (best case scenario) however by 10:00 pm when all the hotels reported in we had over 300.  So being caught off guard, we then spent the next 3 hours developing a pick up plan that allowed us to get them all there in plenty of time, it worked.

5)      How do you stay “sane” in a career that requires such intense hours (especially the week prior to an event)?

What I try to do with most of my planning, is first think through all the potential bad case scenarios, and have a plan.  Of equal importance, surround yourself with good people, successful events take teamwork.  As far as the week of, my approach now is, if I have done my job properly it should be easier then the previous two.  I now try to make sure that I'm personally not plugged into too many things during this time as well as event day, this allows me to be available for consult or trouble shooting.
7)      What would you like to see for Door County in the future as far as “silent sports” are concerned?

It has been very exciting to watch the interest in kayaking, biking, running, and cross-country skiing grow so much here.  I really feel this has helped bring folks as visitors, seasonal property owners and year round I hope we can keep moving in this direction.*

With people like Brian organizing these silent sport events, the atmosphere of rural areas can only get better.  My hope is that other small towns in Wisconsin see the economic, environmental and community benefit of holding such events and take it upon themselves to hold ones as well.  Everywhere I go, people are begging to have an excuse to get outside with friends and family or have something to train for.   If you are interested in starting an event, contact a seasoned race organizer for some tips or stop into Ephraim Clayworks next time you're up in Door County and have a chat with Brian!

Did I mention that Brian plays broomball, hockey, and is a first wave Birkie skier?

*Brian also showed interest in starting winter bike races in Door County for the upcoming year!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Trying to dance the hokey pokey

Bike Fed board ride in Milwaukee--before our meeting
"Are we obligated to know the important event of our time?  Or is the whole project of knowing, of being a part of society, neither moral nor immoral, but just a way to pass the time?  Is it enough to do no harm to the world, or do you have to contribute too?  I wanted to go toward the man-made heat and light, the cultural center, the heart of civilization.  At the same time, I didn't want to get off the boat."
                                                                                        -Elisabeth Eaves, Wanderlust

A warning to the reader, you are about to delve into the messy confines of what I call my brain.  Maybe you'll consider it a train wreck and can't look away, maybe you'll find cheap amusement in my struggle, or maybe you'll find some solace in knowing that you're not the only one that sees the world in this light.

Currently I am root bound.  I'm not used to being in one place for so long or being so deeply immersed into several parts of my community.  I don't see this as a bad thing, on the contrary, it's beautiful.  It's just that I'm not used to this way of living since my husband and I considered ourselves "nomads" for so many years, and I'm a bit afraid I'll never be able to find my way back to the type of freedom we once had. 

Our furry child
For the past ten years, we have called Madison our home--six have been in the house we live in today.  I have been working at the same health club for eight of those years and my husband has been at his place of employment for six.  We have a cat, we know and love our neighbors, my husband is on the neighborhood board and I am on the Wisconsin Bicycle Federation board.  We volunteer for community events and love the cycling community that we've become a part of.  I am heavily steeped in the local political scene--some say too much.  I can also say that my cup runs over with some of the kindest friends I've ever had.  Something, however, is missing.  Right now both of my feet are inside the circle, along with my arms.  In fact, I don't think I've stepped out of the circle, nor has my husband, for some time now.  We need a change.  We need adventure.

Although my husband and I just had a conversation about this whole topic, and we share similar views, there is no way I can be inside his brain so from this point on in the post, I will just speak for myself.

The freedom of carrying everything on my back
What brought all of this to the forefront of my mind?  Partly, it's because I just finished a book called "Wanderlust"--not the best book but it tapped into some primal feelings. The other part has to do with not knowing my "purpose" in life.  I know what makes me happy.  That's the easy part.  What I don't know is if how I'm contributing to society really helps.  Part of what makes me happy is being a part of something bigger than myself.  That's one of the reasons (there are many) I decided to run for the position of board member for the Wisconsin Bicycle Federation.  It's also why I canvass for politicians I admire.  I would like to think the time I put in makes the world a better place...but does it really?  Would simply living my life in a way that I would do the smallest amount of harm be, in a way, better?  I think back to my wilderness guiding days and the first rule was "leave no trace".  On several occasions, I came across a pile of firewood left by boy scouts in the BWCA with a note attached saying that it was left for people to use by troop ###.  They thought they were helping others out, when what they were really doing is causing harm to the environment.  I don't blame them.  I know on many occasions I have done something with similar results.  I just don't want to feel the need to fill my time,for the sake of filling my time, with something that doesn't really make a difference.

What does all of this have to do with biking you ask (since this is a bike blog)? Well, I'm trying to strip things down to the basics.  Get rid of the extraneous things in my mind and in my day to day living.  My husband once had a dream of carrying everything he owned on his back for a year--including the trash he produced.  I love him for this.  It's one of the reasons I was drawn to him so many years ago and am still.  What I'm trying to say is I want to live a simpler life so I have the mental and physical ability to wander.  I want to be able to roam on two wheels, around my neighborhood, throughout the state and across the world.  I want to be able to stay connected with my community (both biking and living) and yet have time to dream and get lost.

I will bike many miles to visit baby goats!
For those of you who know me, I'm sure I sound like a walking contradiction right now.  I have spoken so many times of wanting a goat farm (pigs and chickens have also been added to that list) and I would love to grow most of our food.  This is where it gets tricky.  If we live out in the country, we have to drive everywhere.  No more quick jaunts down to the grocery store for food by bike.  No more spinning down to the local brewery to meet friends.  By living what seems to be a very simple life, really isn't at all.  We also wouldn't be able to travel because caring for animals is a year round job.  I would actually guess my bike would gather dust, and that is NOT the way I would want to live.

So how do I continue to contribute in ways I know make a difference and still strip down?  That is the question of the year...maybe even the next several years.  This is all a bit too "heady" for me.  In fact, I'm sure I just wasted ample wandering time by writing and pondering all of  this.  So, this is where I'll sign off.  Lost, a bit confused and still inside the circle. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

I've never enjoyed church...until now

Church of the Spoken Wheel coffee break

I believe most things happen for a reason.  This past winter, while modeling in a winter bike fashion show for Madison Bike Winter, I met Michael Lemberger.  He was the closer and overall show stealer coming in with his 907 fat bike and decked out as he would be for the Triple D winter race.  We chatted a bit but didn't really get to talk until the final party for winter bike-to-work-week.  It was then that we planned an early spring pancake ride with Aaron Crandall, founder of Madison Bike Winter.

A week later, on a cold and windy Sunday morning, we took a little urban spin and gorged ourselves to the point of barely being able to ride home.  On the ride, I told Michael how much I love biking on Sunday mornings--that I considered it my form of church.   Next phrase out of his mouth was "Church of the Spoken Wheel".  I laughed and said that was the coolest title I've ever heard and had to share it with my husband, who was riding up ahead.

A week or so later, I opened up my facebook account and found that I had been added to the actual riding group called "Church of the Spoken Wheel".  I have to say that I was excited but a bit hesitant.  I hadn't ridden regularly in a group for some time.  Although I lead group rides for the health club I work at, it's work and I have to be "on".  In past years I had tried riding with Bombay Bike Club but found the size to be a bit overwhelming (often times over 100 folks show up on rides).  The last time I rode regularly in a group was for racing--ions ago.  After that I floundered.  I didn't want to be a competitive racer anymore but couldn't shake the habit of always pushing in a group.  It wasn't fun.  I actually got pre-ride jitters, almost as if I were about to race.  I wanted more of a weekly social group but didn't know how to find one that "fit".  As I said before, most things happen for a reason.  Whether I was just "ready" for this group or I just got lucky, I have no clue, but I now consider this band of misfits a second family. 

Pit stop in Paoli

 So, to play off the whole "church" thing, our group "leaders" are pastor Michael and pastor Steve.  The rest of us are deacons and some of the other wives will sometimes join us as the renegade nuns.  Our rides are normally on Sundays, however, there have been exceptions.  We mix it up between the East and West and usually cap off the ride with a coffee break.  We're all over the map with different backgrounds, different points in our life about why and when we got into cycling and a crazy diversity in what we do to make money during the week.  It all works.  Michael posted the rules for the group--which are:
We have two bylaws so far, borrowed from the Tarik Saleh Bike Club:
1. Ride bikes.
2. Try not to be an ass.
Simple as that.  We push each other when we're feeling strong and go easy on each other when we're nursing injuries or just simply feel like crap (there is some razzing, however, that goes with this).  Our group size ebbs and flows depending upon who's free.  There are some folks in the group that have never shown up for our rides...I'm guessing they just find humor in our stupid banter on facebook.   We show interest in each other's lives, beyond the world of cycling, and talk about everything from music to trips.

If you asked me last year if I preferred riding solo or in a group, I would have promptly said "solo, or with my husband".  Now, it has flipped--although I still love long rides just with my hubby.  Thankfully, my husband likes riding with this group as much as I do.  For those of you that don't have the luxury of riding with a group or are a bit skittish about joining one, I urge you to keep searching or better yet, start your own.  The Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin lists tons of group rides in it's Ride Guide and most bike shops also lead weekly rides from the store. 

A beautiful Sunday ride to Lodi

*I want to thank Michael and Steve for welcoming me and my husband into their group.  Blessed be the Church of the Spoken Wheel!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Door County--The Other Silent Sports Mecca

Outside of Ellison Bay

When most Wisconsinites hear the term "silent sports", they think of Cable, Wisconsin--home to the American Birkebeiner and the Chequamegon fat tire races.  Cable should pride itself in making their area home to human powered activities, however, in it's shadow, a few places get overlooked.  My husband and I have made our silent sports second home in Door County.  This spring marks our seventh year of coming up to DC, five of which have been to our friends' cabin in Ephraim called "Relative Harmony". 

biking through Peninsula state park
For fifteen years, we were known for our "nomadic" lifestyle and "grand" trips to places like Alaska, Honduras, France, Hawaii and other mountainous regions.  We worked to live and had much more abundant time off for multi-month excursions.  When we purchased our house in Madison--and got a cat--those trips abruptly ended.  Oh sure, we tried to do the quick two-week United States mountain trips but the driving damn near killed us.  Neither of us found any pleasure in spending our vacations cooped up in a car.  This is what brought us first to Door County.  A short four hour drive led us to a place with great cycling (road and mountain), a plethora of hiking options as well as sailing, kayaking and cross country skiing. 

When people find out that we use so much of our vacation time up here, they often give a quizzical look since they know we're not into shopping (DC is also known for their shops).  Although we will go into a few favorite art galleries, most of our days consist of a morning 30-60 mile ride followed by a little rest and relaxation and lunch, then a hike in the afternoon.

 We have become so predictable and set in our ways that the only questions we ask each other in the morning are "Which bike route should we do today (we have six or seven planned routes)?" and "Which state park should we hike in after lunch (there are four that we frequent)?"  A quick check of the wind direction and strength--yes, wind can be a factor up here--and we are off on beautiful, low-traffic roads that wind through wheat fields and dense stands of cedar, go by rows of lake cottages and hug two distinctly different shorelines (three if you count the interior lakes).  Most roads are extremely well kept and during the shoulder seasons, cars are not an issue.

Aside from our solo rides, we've been lucky enough to participate in the Ridges Ride for Nature--the annual century (shorter options are available) put on to benefit the Ridges Nature Sanctuary.  We've also gotten to ride and become friends with the ride organizer, Brian Fitzgerald.  While chatting with Brian in his pottery studio, Ephraim Clayworks, and while hiking and biking with him, we are getting to realize how much energy Door County is putting into promoting silent sports.  Each year, the list of events grow and each year, more and more cyclists, runners, kayakers and campers come up here to enjoy the diversity and beauty of it's natural areas.   

Just North of Baielys Harbor

Lady slipper


On our first ride this week, for miles we were treated to roadsides filled with lady slippers, indian paintbrush, columbine, maidenhair fern, may apple, wild geranium and horsetail.  Coyote and deer crossed our path several times and at a creek, we came up on a white heron.  This type of ride is common here.  Just insert a different flower or bird for each season.  A special thing that allows for this multitude of natural diversity, in a somewhat "touristy" area, is the Door County Land Trust.  Since 1986, this organization has protected more than 5,000 acres and over three miles of shoreline, keeping alive what the area is known for. 

For those of you who love cycling but have families that aren't into the long road or mountain bike rides, Peninsula State Park offers a mellow trail that winds through the woods and down near the shore--completely separate from motorized traffic.  And remember, entrance into the state parks is completely free if done by bike!

Each year my husband and I think of other places to travel and each year we end up in Door County.  It's not that we don't want to explore new areas, it's just that DC feels like "home" now and we can't imagine a year without it.

Heading North of Fish Creek on "cottage row"