Monday, July 30, 2012

It's Gush Time!

Riverwest24 2012
So much of life is spent in keeping other people out of it.  Private rooms and houses, private clubs and offices, private roads and beaches--with all of them the point is the same--"This isn't your property.  It's mine.  Keep out!"  Does this apply to you and your world?  A person is as big as the circle he draws around himself.

A few people are too small to draw a circle larger than themselves.  Most go a little further and include their families.  Still others draw the line at the edges of their own social group or political party, their own race or color, their own religion or nation.  

When a man draws a circle to shut out his brother, he does less damage to his brother than he does to himself.  He puts himself in solitary confinement and he locks the door from the inside.  He denies himself the niches of other men's experience.  He starves his own mind, hardens his own heart.

The smaller the circle, the smaller the man.  A strong man is not afraid of people different from himself, and a wise man welcomes them.
                                                                                         -Author unknown
                                                                                          Outward Bound
                                                                                          Readings book

If my love for Milwaukee wasn't concrete before Riverwest24 this past weekend, it certainly is now.  Back in May, I wrote about this amazing community event, that just happens to include biking, when my husband and I signed our team up (see Team 242 Must Be Lucky).

Garage 707 and our home base
Mid day last Friday, most of our team--minus our rock star, Dan, congregated on the East side of Madison to make our pilgrimage to the Riverwest neighborhood in Milwaukee.  On our drive, we were treated to torrential downpours that got me thinking we'd be hovering in the garage versus riding for the first few hours.  But as I mentioned before in my first post about our team, luck was on our side and the sky turned blue fifteen minutes before we hit our destination.

Upon arrival, we had less than 90 minutes to unload our essentials (bikes, beer, food and more beer) at our homebase, Garage 707, sign waivers, eat dinner and get down to the start/finish line for announcements and our first leg.  I can't begin to explain the efficiency and organization of everyone involved from the race organizers and volunteers to our team and amazing hosts.  Much to my amazement, about 270 teams got started just two minutes past the posted start time of 7pm.  No pushing or shoving, just smiles and elation!

breakfast Saturday morning
As someone that puts on cycling events, I was utterly baffled by how the organizers pulled this thing off without making a penny.  The dediction they show towards the community and its guests is so overwhelming that at times I felt all gushy inside.  To do something like this, without hardly any incidents, is one of the most mind blowing feats I've ever seen.  I can only hope other communities around the world use RW24 as a model to bring their residents together.

I'm not normally this sappy--although a few of the guys I ride with might disagree--but I can't write another paragraph without first thanking our team, Church of the Spoken Wheel, as well as Claudine and Dan for letting two teams crash in their garage.  For about 30 hours, I couldn't wipe the grin off my face.  That's saying a lot since most of us were running on zero sleep, whacky blood sugar levels, dehydration--unless you count beer and espresso shots, and physical fatigue.  Everyone was happy.  Everyone was having a great time and no one was complaining.  We even teamed up with the Garage 707 team to cap off both of our last manifests and we toasted to "next year" with a round of Hamm's.

Since full trains of thought are damn near impossible in these conditions, I thought I would end with some highlights for me from the race.

-Seeing friends from Madison, Milwaukee, and Minneapolis all in one place to celebrate what living is really about.
-Getting to know information on my teammates at 3am over beer that may incriminate them at a later time.
-Realizing that all of us, even though we're in our 30's, 40's and 50's, can still keep up with the twenty-somethings (at least we like to think so).
-Riding to the top of Brewer's Hill and watching the moon rise over downtown and the river.
-Watching the sun rise at the top of the same hill.
-Meandering over to other yards to kick back and hear how other teams were doing.
-Hearing my name yelled out on my laps and yelling out to cheer on others.
-Having a sense that although some teams were competing to win, in the end, we were all a part of the same team and most of us were there for the same reason.
-Preparing for my last leg and having a teammate pump me up with my favorite Metermaids song.
-Knowing that next year, it will be even better.

Church of the Spoken Wheel at the finish line

*I want to thank my team, the entire Garage 707 crew and every person that donated time and energy into pulling this party on wheels off.  Viva la RW24!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Two Extremes

Church of the Spoken Wheel     

There are times when it feels good to test the body, but even better to test the mind.  Happy, happy, joy, joy!  I got to test both twice this week!  Forgive my sarcasm.  I just find it a bit amusing that two of my rides worked me over in more ways than one within a three day span.

Michael cooling off around mile 60
First, I had the pleasure of riding with my Sunday group "Church of the Spoken Wheel".  About a month ago, during idle chatter, we set a date for a century.  Michael, being the kind leader that he is, set the route.  Of course at that time we had no way of knowing it would be 95 degrees with a 65-70 dew point.  Being the bull-headed crew that we are, we decided to ride anyway.  Actually, it wasn't all that bad.  In fact, I would even say it was fun.  Although we all slowed down a bit during the last forty miles, we all made it home safely and checked off our first century of the season.

My second little adventure occurred this morning.  I had become complacent over the past few months.  Checking the radar for rain hadn't been an issue since we were without rain for two months.  While getting ready for an early ride before work, I heard the unmistakable sound of light rain.  A quick glance at the sky showed blue pockets opening up so of course I thought I was safe.  Note to self:  NEVER trust the voice that says "No worries, it will clear up in the first few miles."  One mile into my ride and the heavens opened up.  Within seconds, I was actually making a wake with my wheels.  Although it felt good--I had been as parched as the ground--knowing that I'd have a 40 mile ride in wet shoes and shorts didn't exactly appeal to me.  Can you say chaffing?  Cell number one passed quickly and I thought I was in the clear.  Hah!  Cell number two came crashing down with bolts of lightning.  Any smart person would have headed for shelter, but no, that bull-headedness came rushing back.  About forty minutes into my ride, the skies finally cleared and I was treated to mist and fog hovering above the corn fields.  I could almost hear them sigh with relief. 

Riding in harsh conditions must be like giving birth.  The moment it's over, I think "That wasn't so bad."  I will most likely be beaten down by several mothers for even dare comparing the two.  What I'm really trying to say, is that I'll likely ride in both conditions again...soon.

See...we all have smiles on our faces towards the end of the century

Friday, July 13, 2012

Of rollers and rustic roads

Our first rustic road of the day

The heat broke.  I was about to break.  Three weeks of 90+ degree temps with several days of 100+ left me cagey.  It's not that I didn't get outside, oh no, I still got out on rides early on the days I didn't have to work and continued to commute by bike.  I just didn't feel like spending any added time lingering outside lest I dry up like my garden which hasn't seen rain in almost two months.

Bison farm
So, when Sunday morning came, my husband and I got to go on a 55 mile joy ride through Southern Wisconsin.  We based ourselves out of Monroe since we'd be touring Minhas brewery post ride.  Neither of us had explored much South of New Glarus so it was a treat to pour over the maps to pick our route.  This part of Wisconsin is criss-crossed with rural routes--roads that cannot be "improved".  Most are short--under ten miles--and are usually narrow with frequent bends.  They offer views of old farmsteads, lazy creeks and to our luck, a bison farm.

It felt good to take a break from 18% grade climbs, like the ones West of Madison.  I'm not saying it isn't hilly down there, however, the rollers and long, shallower accents allowed us to stay seated, breathe and take in the scenery a bit easier.  Riding past the white farm homes, whose walkways were lined with hollyhocks, my mind wandered to my childhood when my grandmother taught me how to make dolls out of the hollyhock flowers.  The farms are somewhat iconic.  Row upon row of corn, wheat and soy laid out a grid work that lulled my mind into a meditative state.  Rarely seen were the white plastic tubes of hay.  Instead, round and square bails dotted the fields.  Dogs ran free and one found amusement in chasing us--a cyclist's worst nightmare.  The barns were made of wood, not steel, and the cows grazed outside in the pasture--where they are supposed to be.  Although a pang of sadness washed over me for the farmers having to survive this drought, I also felt calm and content.  Being raised close to downtown Minneapolis, I somehow inherited a few country genes along with my city ones.

Ride cemetery
From Monroe, we rolled West, then North, snaking our way along county and rustic roads up to New Glarus.  Although stopping by the New Glarus brewery for a beer sounded appetizing, we knew our ride was only half over and another brewery was calling our name.  Just North of Monroe, on our way back, we came upon a cemetery of sorts for old carnival rides.  All were set up to be ridden but stood unoccupied, covered in rust.  Memories of old state fair midways overtook me and I had to stop and take some pictures.  I couldn't image what the owners did with the rides or the small train that circumnavigated their property.  The site made my inner child giggle.

After crossing over the Badger State Trail a few times (it runs from Madison all the way down to the Illinois border), we found ourselves back at the car, coated in dust and very thirsty.  Onward to Minhas brewery!  Most cyclists I know have a love for beer.  I wouldn't be surprised if they ranked what's important to them in the following order: 1st Bikes, 2nd Beer, 3rd Spouse or partner.  Don't ask me why...I'll just tell you the stuff tastes great after hours in the saddle.  Of course, I put my husband before beer.

Post ride at Minhas brewery
Minhas --formally known as Huber--is a       smorgasbord of beer.  They brew their own and  also contract out to thirty-five other companies for brewing, including Berghoff.  The brewery was purchased in 2006 by a young brother and sister from Canada and has since exploded to be the 10th largest beer producer in the country.  You wouldn't guess it by it's size.  It still seems small and cozy.  It's their high speed machines that put them into the top ten spot.

This next weekend, we will be skirting just North of Monroe once again when we undertake a century that our riding group threw together (thanks Michael).  This, however, won't be our last time visiting the area.  Cheese days is calling out to us and Minhas will be opening a distillery in August.  This is all making me think that biking in Southern Wisconsin isn't all that healthy.  Guess we'll just have to put on a a few more miles!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Bucket List

Don't seek the water; get thirst.

Over the past year, several of my friends have questioned me on my age.  They are, I suspect, trying to figure out if I have indeed entered into my "midlife crisis".  I can always tell when the question is on the horizon.  Being a woman, and having mostly male friends, they try to be so delicate about the matter.  It's as if they think, by asking my age, I will turn into a fire breathing dragon.  I actually have no issue with my age and will happily tell anyone what it is if they ask.  After all, it's just a number.  When I suspect someone is fishing for it, my blanket response is "Yes, I'm going through midlife crisis and I plan on staying there for at least twenty years...or more."

I suspect my friends are sensing the travel/adventure bug has not only bit me, but has burrowed deeply in.  I hate the term "bucket list", however, I must admit that I have several.  My husband and I keep adding to our hiking, cultural and cycling lists.  Faster, sad to say, then we can check trips off.  We are in a conundrum.  Do we keep adding to the lists or keep them "as is" until we start traveling more?  A question perhaps for another day.  Since this blog is about cycling, I won't bore you with our hiking or cultural lists...just the cycling one.

I began dreaming about bike touring about fifteen years ago--more if you count pretending to be an explorer on my big wheel.  My first tour was done solo.  I biked up to Minneapolis from Madison and was hooked instantly.  I fell in love with the freedom this type of travel brought.  I had hours to let my mind wander as the beauty of the driftless zone brought me into a meditative state.  It was from that point on that I started planning where I wanted to go next by two wheels.  There is a saying by Anatole Broyard that sums it up:
Travel is like adultery:  one is always tempted to be unfaithful to one's own country.  To have imagination is inevitably to be dissatisfied with where you our wanderlust, we are lovers looking for consummation.

With the big 40 looming in the near future, my husband has been kind enough to promise one of the trips on my list.  It may seem mundane to some, but I got hooked on the idea of biking around lake Superior.  I'm drawn to the fact it has a distinct beginning and end, and that we would be exploring more of the land that I grew up on.  We are guessing the whole shebang will take about three weeks--if we don't get run over by logging trucks up near Thunder Bay.  I look forward to falling into a daily routine of eating, biking, eating, sleeping with my husband.  Simplicity is something I've been yearning for awhile.

Other bike trips that have made the "short list" are:

Circumnavigating the Pyrenees in France and Spain, the Dolomites, circling the South island of New Zealand (something we were on the brink of but we bought our house instead), hitting the gravel on the Dempster Highway, riding the length of the Blue Ridge Parkway, exploring the Massif Central in France (full of old volcanoes and the least populated region of France), riding up to the Winnipeg Folk Festival from Madison (if it was great driving up there, it could only be better by bike) and finally riding down the coast from Seattle to San Fransisco.  There are more of course, but this should keep us busy for awhile.

When I think about my age and where I am mentally, I am just so satisfied to know I am still a child a heart wanting to explore and learn.  As long as that zeal for life doesn't dissipate, I could care less what number of candles is on my birthday cake.  I honestly believe that riding has a big part in keeping me young.  As my husband and I work through this list, I guarantee more places will be added.  And if we don't make them all, part of the fun is just dreaming.

Friday, July 6, 2012