Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Falling Into Transition

It's Halloween.  Nine-five percent of the leaves have graced the ground, allowing the skeletons of trees to cast long, spider web like shadows along the roads.  The sun doesn't rise until after 7:30am--when I'm several hours into my work day.  It now sets in the late afternoon versus the evening.  In less than a week, I can kiss my afternoon rides goodbye if I want to see beyond a circle of light since daylight savings will carve yet another hour of visibility away.  What light there is from the sun beams looks so different now.  Bright, white light has given way to yellows and oranges with tinges of pink.

Being late fall, it's now time for a transition of mind and body--one I'm trying to embrace.  The clothes are slowly shifting around the house--shorts and sundresses tucked away in plastic bins to make room for the fleece and wool coming out of hibernation.

Right now I feel like I'm squeezing every last drop of road cycling out before snow flies.  Still making my way out on a couple 30-40 mile rides each week instead of the 60-80 mile rides just over a month ago.  Each day the temperature rises above 40, and there is little wind, is a blessing.  Although my legs are now bound in tights and my fingers are completely covered, it still feels good to be out there.  It feels good to witness the geese flying above in chevron formation.  It feels good to have sweat drip down my back, even though it's under thirty degrees on early morning rides.  It feels good to smell the sweet muskiness of fireplaces burning hardwood and have it linger in my nose for miles.  I let these experiences settle in deep and hold them as long as possible...hoping they are enough to take my mind off my freezing toes.

As I've gotten older--and hopefully wiser--I've tried to move through these times of transition with more grace.  No longer do I beat myself up when I see my cycling fitness slip away.  I realize that everything must ebb and flow to be healthy.  At this point, even a fifty mile ride seems a bit long.  Instead, I'm gravitating to more walking/hiking, yoga and strength training.  For all the abuse I've put my body through since March, it's time to recover and heal.  Prepare myself for next spring--the start of what should be another great road riding season--and move ever so slightly more inward to see what "house projects" need to be done.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

That's what friends are for

Okay, I'm just going to come out and say it...I think I have the best friends one could wish for.  I know, everyone says this sort of thing, but this past year I have been reminded time and time again that I am really lucky.  Cue the index finger down the throat motion.

Although I have been surrounded by wonderful people my entire life, I have also come across plenty of crappy ones.  As long as the good ones outnumber the bad, I'm happy.  This year, however, for reasons I'm not sure of, 99% of the folks inside my circles are really cool.  They come from all walks of life and have extremely different backgrounds.  The only thing I can think of is it must be the bike that ties us all together.

Last summer I was introduced to Madison Bike Winter through Aaron Crandall.  From there the ball started rolling and kept gaining momentum--think of a snowball rolling down a hill.  I have been a part of many cycling communities in the past, but from this introduction alone, I have now formed many of my closest friends.  Madison Bike Winter led into the road cycling group I'm a part of--and both now overlap considerably.

I have also formed amazing new friendships through my work with the Wisconsin Bicycle Federation.  They too have overlapped with Madison Bike Winter and my road group.  There is something to be said when friends are so comfortable with each other they allow others to see their weaknesses (mental and physical) and can also be as elated for each other, when something great happens, as they would be for themselves.  The poking and prodding we give one another is equally balanced with warm fuzzies (again cue the gagging sign).

I consider these friends my family.  I doubt there are very many things I wouldn't do for them.  The best thing about this situation is my husband feels the same way.  We have both found our "home" here in Madison and it will be difficult to ever pull us away.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Fall Haiku

Puddles everywhere
stained deep brown with leaf tannins
time to clean my bike

Saturday, October 13, 2012

A crack in the brick and mortar

Uphill Grind bike shop in Cross Plains

Last weekend, cyclists in Dane County had to say "goodbye" to a great little bike/coffee shop in Cross Plains.  On October 6th, Michael Osborne closed the doors to Uphill Grind and turned the open sign off. This was the second bike shop in the suburbs of Madison we have lost in the past two years--Exclusive Cycles in Verona also had to close shop.  As I sat on the side of KP with two flats and a faulty pump yesterday, I began to think "What would we, as cyclists, do if all the small shops closed?"

I am the first to admit I've purchased some product online, however, I try my best to buy most items from a bike shop I've formed a strong relationship with.  And that's just it.  I could never form a relationship with an online store.  Purchases made online are cheap in more ways than one.  First, they don't support local businesses and staff.  Second, you don't get the same level of customer service.  Finally, you don't get a sense of community with a computer.  When has your online store set up group rides or events?  When have they fixed an emergency breakdown while you're on a ride?  It comes down to this; if we don't support our local bike shops, they won't be able to support us. 

Over the past few years, with the economy swinging, I've asked shop owners and managers how business is going.  I'm floored by the differences from place to place.  Some are having the best years on record (this past mild winter didn't hurt).  Some are barely staying afloat.  What makes one shop so successful and one not?  I've been in the ones that have closed, and I can't say I saw any problems with customer service or product--in fact, in some cases, it was just the opposite.  Some bike shops I've been in, that are flourishing, have questionable customer service and hardly any product.  I'm sure part of the issue is location.  Inner city shops just tend to do better because they get more business come winter from the commuters.  In the case of Uphill Grind, which was on the Ironman course and had hundreds of cyclists ride by daily, this was the problem.  Michael told me that winter alone was the nail in the coffin.

Being a lover of bike shops, and wanting one in every town, I've racked my brain trying to think of ways to keep them going.  Would fat bikes help since many of these towns have snow mobile trails and gravel paths nearby?  Do all of the suburban stores need to be more family orientated and stay away from the high end lines?  Would going bare bones during the winter keep the doors open?  It's so tough to say.  I see bike shops as living, breathing, organisms.  What works in one spot, won't necessarily work in another.  What works one year, might put them in the hole the next.  Being the owner of a bike store must be one of the most difficult jobs out there.  The owners all love bikes and biking but have to often times pull twelve to fourteen hour days in the summer while they twiddle their thumbs come winter.  What they have a passion for is sometimes what burns them out.

As a new year approaches, maybe one of our resolutions should be "buy local".  We think about this for food and the health of our body, why not also think about it for the health of our cycling community.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Scenes from biketoberfest

For once, I have very little to say...except I love biking!

Rolling through the arboretum

Markham, my husband, in the arboretum

our Sunday "church" group 

a wonderful gathering after a long ride

grouping up in Paoli

sunbathing cyclists
my friend, Nathan, on a jetty in Milwaukee

Milwaukee skyline at night

Schlitz nature center just north of Milwaukee

Troy getting ready for the Milwaukee tweed ride

a beautiful park in Whitefish Bay
Gallery night at Machinery Row

Monday, October 1, 2012

One last hurrah--not for the feint of heart

Goodbye sweet summer.  You have been so good to me this year, albeit too harsh on the farmers.  As the frost gathers on the roofs and grass, I will think of all the fond memories you gave me.  Although you officially left me last week, autumn graciously brought "Indian summer" this past weekend and my husband and I got one last road riding hurrah before we brace ourselves for a long, dark winter.

Outside of Westby

Each year in fall, I tend to get a bit greedy with my time.  When not at work, I try to spend every free moment outside.  Knowing what's around the corner, my husband and I will often times get away for a few days to do some final rides--with bare legs and arms--and with any luck, tag on some hiking.

Since moving to Wisconsin, we have both fallen deeply in love with the driftless zone.  On a trip this spring, we explored the Boscobel/Muscoda area.  Creeping a bit further West this time, we planted ourselves in two spots.  Our first could only be described as a technicolor roller coaster ride.  Westby, a small town tucked between LaCrosse and Viroqua, appeared to be on fire with the changing leaves.  Our rides brought us up hills that made the ones near our home seem like molehills.  Over and over again, we would find ourselves climbing up to two miles in our lowest gears, only to have the grade ramp up a bit more at the top.  At the crest, we would have a brief glimpse of some of the most amazing scenery we've ever experienced.  Amish farms with corn stalks bunched into pyramids, sheep and cows grazing in the pasture, trees ranging from green to yellow to red and wind turbines churning in the distance.  More than once, I felt so overwhelmed by the beauty, I thought I could cry.  That moment quickly dissolved because after we crested the hills, we found ourselves looking down descents that made me whimper--and swear a bit too.  Look, I love descending.  I have been trying to hit the 55mph mark down Cleveland hill for three years.  I don't, however, like 18-20% grade drops that still have chip seal or sand from the previous winter on them.  All we could do is scootch our butts back behind the saddle and pray our brake cables wouldn't snap.  In hindsight, though, it was fun.

still smiling after one of the hardest climbs I've ever done

Second stop--Trempealeau.  A cute little river town just North of LaCrosse.  I had been here once while riding up to Minneapolis in 2003 and have visited a couple times since.  Neither my husband or I had gotten a chance to ride the coulees or what the locals refer to as "hip breakers".  Surprisingly, the riding, although still very hilly, wasn't nearly as intense as the Kickapoo region around Westby.  Here, the valleys were wider, so after a long climb, we were treated to a long descent and then a few miles of flats prior to the next ascent.  Once again, the scenery was breathtaking and we both fell in love with a town called Gallesville, which is known for it's apples.

Outside of Perrot State Park

Riding along the Mississippi into Trempealeau

The one consistent thing about both places is that it's easy--very easy--to get turned around or lost.  We had three maps with us, the WI bike fed map, the WI Gazzetteer, and the local bike map.  None of them helped us at several intersections and we ended up riding on instinct.  Please note that we are both trained to read maps in wilderness areas.  This, thankfully, got us through but know it's common for roads to change names, for there to be no signposts at an intersection or for whacky bends to occur that aren't listed.  No harm done except for multiple huddles around the maps and a few added miles.

Both Westby and Trempealeau are now on our "must return to" list.  In fact, I'm already thinking about all the other routes we could try. much biking, so little time--if only summer could last a few more months!

Amish farm outside of Westby

climbing to Galesville