Sunday, December 29, 2013

Looking Forward

“Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come,
whispering 'it will be happier'...” 
-Alfred Tennyson

It has been a good year.  A really good year.  I sit hear as the temps drop to -12, with only two days left of 2013 and take stock.  This year has been full of kind, loving friends--both old and new, almost 10,000 miles on my bikes, exploration of my surroundings and soul, and peace.

As I switch my schedule books over for the new year, I am giddy with what is to come.  The weekends are already filling up with amazing bike events and I have to slow myself down so they don't rush by to quickly.  So far these are the rides which have made their way into my book--mostly in pen, some in pencil (don't laugh, I'm old school).  

March kicks off the season with a rescheduled trip to Mallorca, Spain for some mountain riding.  Hauling my ass up 15-20 switchbacks seems nice as I sit here eating scones and drinking beer, however, in two months you may hear me cursing from a few thousand miles away.  At least the scenery will be nice while I pass out on the side of the road.

April brings a birthday ride with a good friend to Milwaukee.  We will essentially be doing two centuries back to back.  I had done this alone last year, but not this early.  At least one good friend and birthday celebrations will fuel me along the way.  I'm just so grateful I have cool women who are just as crazy as me!

April also brings the start of gravel road season.  Dairy Roubaix was my first gravel experience last year and I've been looking forward to it ever since.  The Schillings do such an amazing job with this event and I can't wait to see everyone again.

May is what I'll deem my crazy month.  I'm hoping to do the Bear 100 gravel ride, an event I was quite happy not to do last year since it was freezing rain and snow and everyone I knew suffered terribly from frozen hands and feet.  I can only hope for better conditions this year--otherwise, I'll have to believe misery loves company.  

May 1st is what everyone in Milwaukee knows as RW24 sign up day.  This is an event in itself and I plan to be there even earlier this year, hoping to get one of the coveted spots.

Finally, May is the start of the Triple Crown  with it's first ride being the hardest, the Arcadia Brute.  I, along with a few thousand others, will huff and puff my way up the coulees near the Wisconsin/Minnesota border.  I plan on starting this series with either the 100km or 150km.  There is not one ounce of desire in my body or mind to take on the 200km.

June is my month to work on speed.  Although I plan on hitting several rides with the Capital Brewery Cycling Club earlier in the season, my thought it to work on upping my pace with them, and by riding with the Mad City Velo crew, just so I don't fall apart on faster group rides.  Last year I realized I was really strong on long rides if I kept the pace around 17-18mph but turned into a pile of mush if the pace was held above 20mph.  Although I don't want to race again, it would feel great not to have someone feel the need to "bridge" me when I do ride paceline.  We'll see how this goes.  I haven't stepped into this territory for years.  

July and August bring my kind of weather.  Hot, sticky and fluid.  I love this stuff and thrive in it.  These months also bring some of the best events of the year, the second and third installments of the Triple Crown--Kickapoo Kicker and Dairyland Dare--as well as RW24 itself.  Add sitting on the back deck after long rides, drinking beer with friends, and there is a large part of me that wishes it could be July and August year round.  

When September finally rolls around, and oh I don't event want to think of this, I'll be off for at least one more gravel event, Skull-N-Bones 100.  I'm not going to jinx myself and say I'll be doing Heck of the North this year in hopes I'll actually make it.  We'll just have to see how that one plays out.

None of these rides would be possible to plan for without the help of the ride organizers and countless volunteers.  I must also thank my friends for planting so many great seeds and dragging me into their crazy world.  You all rock!  Here's to another year of play and self discovery!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Longest Night, Shortest Day

Land of Long Shadows

Lingering, lengthening, lavender shadows
softly sadden the snow.
Rowdy clouds and swirling flurries:
shadows slide ’cross slithering drifts.
The sun crawls around the low horizon,
drip-torching flames.
Inuit stalk Inukshuk statues,
their black and white parkas
eclipsing the horizon flares.
A tiny silhouetted sapling,
whipping in the winter wind,
makes a mile-long shadow,
across the creek, over the clearing,
and far into the woods.
In the shadow of faraway mountains,
slate blue flares pink, then fades.
Deep trails flood and fill
with violet blue.
Sunny valley bottoms
are squeezed up into the starry sky,
until all the shadows touch,
and the world is still.

-Ruth Hill

Solstice Ride
December 21st, Winter Solstice is upon us.  A mix of freezing drizzle falls, joined together with whispers of up to a foot of snow.  All the cold and mixed precipitation, which occurred until today, was just "practice" for the other three to four months that still looms ahead.  I try my best to keep my spirits up.  Try not to think of the hours I'll spend layering or the miles spent on my wide cross tires versus my road slicks.  No, I keep my sights on riding to pubs with friends, possible sledding parties, homemade chili and cornbread, bourbon and a stillness found no other time of year.  A stillness which beckons me to curl up under a heavy pile of blankets and read until my eyes can take no more.  

To celebrate the beginning of another winter, and a near closing of another year, I woke early, prepped by winter steed, and set off with friends on a glorious ride around Madison.  Feet like ice blocks, nose rosy, grit and salt from the road finding it's way to my tongue and a smile on my face.  It is times like this I convince myself winter isn't so bad after all.

After the ride, I found myself in the kitchen, putting finishing touches on my contribution to the solstice vegetarian potluck put on by a few friends.  With a brilliant hip hop mix a new friend made blaring in the background, I pumped out split pea/spinach/walnut/blue cheese wontons.  Wrapping these little morsels up to the beat of the music, mixing in a few dance steps along the way and still smiling.  Yes, winter isn't all that bad.


And then came the drive across town, yes...I drove an actual car, the opening of the door, and a myriad of amazing smells along with other smiling faces.  THIS is what winter should be about.  Playing outdoors and sharing great food and drink with wonderful people.  

Coming in from the cold to eat and drink

It is now seven minutes 'til the second day of winter.  Notice I am thinking about the second day of winter versus how many day until it ends.  Happy winter solstice all!  Play hard and be merry!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Ethiopia Part 2

I think Ethiopia is mocking me.  This is the second time I've had a meeting on an Ethiopian bike project where I've had to bike down to the meeting place in close to zero degrees when it's over eighty degrees in Ethiopia itself.  It pains me to sit bundled up in layers here in Madison, talking about such an amazing country, when I can't even get their food here anymore (the closest Ethiopian restaurant is now in Milwaukee).

Today, at our fourth meeting, we shifted gears--literally and figuratively.  We went from a focus on making the rickshaws (bajaj in Ethiopia) human powered with electric assist, to a goal of getting a bike share program started for the universities in both Hawassa and Bahir Dar.  This is so exciting for me!  I love bike share programs and feel by hitting the younger population, we could possibly make a lasting change in the choice of transportation in Ethiopia.

A small group of five sat down at a table in Redamte.  Jonathan Patz, Maggie Grabow, Selam Abeshawit, Joe Sensenbrenner, and I talked about everything from becoming a sister city to both Hawassa and Bahir Dar to marketing strategies.  Ideas were flying left and right and I found myself wanting to be on a plane to Hawassa at that very moment.  I can't tell you how much I would love to explore these cities by bike.  Both seem so foreign to me, and I feel like a kid when I think of sharing my passion with those who call Ethiopia home.  What gets me even more excited is learning about their culture and the basic daily life of a student in one of the two cities.

Stay tuned.  In the next few months, Jason Vargo and Selam Abeshawit from the Global Health Institute, will both be taking another trip to Ethiopia to do research for this project.  I'll be sharing their findings and will hopefully be getting a plane ticket to go as well.  Until then, following the Ethiopian Cycling Federation will have to do.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Running from the cold

As the mercury dips close to zero, and a blanket of grey settles over the Midwest, I begin to loose my steam for cycling.  The effort of layering up begins to resemble more of an aerobic activity vs. the cycling itself.  It is during this time I begin to run.

Oh sure, I know I just wrote about my new found "like" for winter cycling, and I'll still get out there, but sometimes I don't have the energy nor the time to prep for winter bike outings.  Besides, as a trainer, I preach the importance of cross training.  So in my quest to cross train, I tend to run from mid November to March.

Gone are the days of half marathons and two hour trail runs since my body isn't keen on endurance running anymore.  Instead I opt for several three to six mile runs each week, a tidy little package of endorphins lasting no more than an hour.  A perfect amount of time to visit surrounding neighborhoods, force my lungs into a pleasant burn and stay in relatively okay shape during the winter.

People are often bewildered by why I only run in the winter and not the warmer months.  My answer is always a simple one; first, I don't have time or energy to run in the summer since I'm always on the bike, second, I choose to run in the winter because it's the only way I can stay warm.  I can honestly say there are few things which can top sweating profusely in -10 degrees--something I can easily achieve by running.  For winter, saunas would be the only other way to go in my eyes.  Sadly, saunas do not burn off beer and cheese.

So here I sit, three weeks into my "running season",  still alive albeit with a slightly stiff lower body, happy as a clam.  I now dream of running up hills vs. biking up them.  My gear drawer now contains a reflective running vest and headlamp instead of just bike stuff.  My running shoes are closer to the door than my cycling shoes and I think my body has started to straighten up from being bent over the handlebars for the past eight months.  For every season there is a change, and for now, the soles of my shoes will be the main rubber I put to the ground.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Going off the deep end--what a nice place to visit

If one makes a calculated decision to go into delirium, would it still be considered delirium?  

The past two weeks have been cold here in the Midwest.  Really cold.  We've been experiencing January weather in November...something I'm not that fond of.  When this cold snap hit, I had to make a decision, either give up the long rides and only bike for commuting, or say "fuck it", jump off the deep end, and keep riding.  

Freezaroo ride 2013
The annual Freezaroo ride, put on by Bombay Bicycle Club, is usually the last road ride of the year for me. It's always held around thanksgiving, and it's almost always hovering around the freezing mark with stiff winds.  Not this year.  Nope, 32 degrees would have been balmy compared to the 9 degrees with a 15mph Westerly we had.  And yet, five of us showed up and had a blast, feet feeling like frozen stumps and all.

That ride was the coldest actual road ride I've ever done.  It proved something to me.  I could keep on doing long rides and survive.  I've never had an issue keeping my core warm, but following in my dad's footsteps by having Raynaud's disease, made me think twice about taking on long distance winter cycling.  Thanks to chemical foot warmers, wool socks, booties and coffee stops, I got a new lease on cold weather riding and doors began to magically open.

Years ago, I considered those who chose to do long rides in the winter to be "nutters".  Winter was for dog sledding, skiing, and ice skating--there were three other seasons for cycling.  Then the fat bike movement went viral.  Everyone and their brother got one and everyone I seemed to ride with was either entering, or thinking about entering, a fat bike race.  My riding season began to lengthen since all my friends continued to ride, first by starting in March, then going through 'til December.  Now, it seems as if I only have a period of eight weeks when I don't go on actual road rides.  I had to start thinking of myself as a "nutter" as well.  

Following the Freezaroo ride, I headed up North to the Twin Cities area for thanksgiving.  My mom currently lives in Waconia, about 45 miles Southwest of Minneapolis.  I'm not shy when referring to how much I hate suburbs. Within moments of being in one, I start to feel like a caged animal.  The only thing I hate as much as suburbs is driving back and forth from suburbs into the city.  This left me in a pickle.  I had three days where I'd either have to hang out in the 'burbs or drive into Minneapolis.  I had to figure out how to blow off some of that cagey feeling.  After watching the weather, no snow in the forecast, I chose to bring my bike.  I had done research and discovered a way to bike from Waconia into Minneapolis and then from Waconia, West past New Germany.  It would mean piecing trails, both paved and gravel, together with paved and gravel roads.  I didn't have a detailed map but decided to wing it anyway.

Quick pit stop to check out a frozen over lake Waconia

No amount of cold could stop me from petting this farm kitty

I found a sculpture garden on one of my rides, making the entire thing worthwhile

Two days of riding later, and almost 100 miles in temperatures ranging between 17-25F, and I can honestly say I think I've gone off the deep end.  I'm not saying this because I did the rides, I'm saying this because I thoroughly enjoyed myself--even when riding into the 15-20mph winds.  I'm guessing what this all means is there is no longer hope for me.  I'm a convert.  I doubt I'll ever like riding in the winter as much as I love riding in the heat and humidity--too many damn layers--but for the first time, I can say "I don't hate winter riding".   Sadly, no winter races will ever be in my cards due to the fear of frostbite, but you will see me out riding more in the winter months with a smile literally frozen to my face.

Smiling to be on my bike and to be on gravel!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Winter Scents

In my mind, I think of winter being void of all smell.  The deep freeze should make the sense of smell bed down for the winter.  In truth, winter seems to heighten it.  As I ride around town, wood smoke punctures the clean, crisp air.  Bacon grease wafts through kitchens, driven out by exhaust fans, only to have it's heavy fat stick to the inside of my nostrils.  Cigarette smoke finds it's way out of the smallest break in a car's sealant.  I hold my breath as long as I can and wish I could only smell wood smoke again.

I find myself being overwhelmed by this sense, not unlike after the first spring rain.  And yet, everything seems so different.  In winter, smells seem harsh to me, not soft like in April.  Maybe it's just my imagination, or maybe it's because each smell is being carried by cutting air, directly into my already sensitive lungs, with only a thin layer of wool or synthetic to filter them out.  When the temps drop below 20, there is no moisture left in the air to collect the smells and bring them down to the ground, so they float around searching for warmth and water--something to cling to--my nose and lungs must make a nice host.

Each year I am taken aback by this.  It shocks me as if the world has somehow changed overnight.  In some ways it has.  Last night, I rode up to a bar to see some friends play music.  It was my first truly "winter" ride of the year.  I was cold, as anyone might be riding around in jeans in 20 degrees.  I felt alive, invigorated, in tune--until I walked into the bar.  Within seconds, I was hit by a wall of stale beer, cigarette smoke, body odor, cheap perfume and acrylic.  It took me back to my time spent up in Ely, Minnesota, with winters being so very harsh up there, and the locals essentially living in bars.  Although smoking is no longer allowed in the bars, folks take turns, often times in packs, heading out to smoke.  They come back in with a cloud following them.  Because it's cold, and because Midwesterner's love their cheese and meat, an aura of old grease seems to circle their bodies, mixing with the smoke.  They too can smell this, and so they cover it up with perfume or cologne.  Beer just adds to the toxic cocktail and I find myself getting a bit woozy.  I dream of the outdoors once again and think even the old sled dogs I used to work with smelled better.

Back on my bike, after the show, I sense ice in the air.  It smells like a mixture of mineral and metal.  It smells cold and clean.  My lungs take it in, as if it's pure oxygen, even though it burns a bit.  I smile, happy to be under the star laden sky, away from pollution with only the music still surrounding me.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Crushing Gravel with Monika Sattler

Monika on Trans Iowa 9

Four weeks ago was Monika Sattler's final gravel road race in the Midwest--at least for awhile.  In two weeks, she'll be on a much faster mode of transportation, heading to an island half way around the world, Australia.  I can honestly say there will be many cyclists mourning her departure, and possibly just as many planning to visit her during our long, snowy winters, for some sunshine riding.

Monika moved to Minnesota about a year and a half ago.  Before her short lived Midwest stint, she called DC and Munich home.  She jokes Germany, her home country, didn't want her anymore because she doesn't drink beer.  I'm not sure if the Midwest, or even Australia, drink less of the stuff, but both welcomed her regardless.

By taking a quick glance at Monika's track record on gravel over the past year, you would think she had been doing this for years.  Twelve physically and mentally demanding races this year, with amazing finish times.  Brace yourself, because this will hurt all you seasoned cyclists just a bit...Monika has only been riding gravel for a year.  Yep, that's right.  When she moved to Minnesota in August 2012, and wanted to continue doing group rides in the fall, she was forced to trade her road bike in for a cross bike--it was all downhill from there.  Even though she had never even heard of gravel riding prior to her Minnesota move, she was instantly hooked.  So much so, that her only bike--you read that correctly--is a Foundry Auger with disc brakes with HED Belgium wheels.

I first learned about Monika through gravel riding chatter.  Because she was tearing it up out there, giving both men and women a good run for their money, she was put on a cycling pedestal.  Guys were happy to be able to hang with her for a few miles, women didn't know what to think about her.  The thing is, she's just a normal athlete.  She puts in the training miles, eats, sleeps and has fun while riding. She, along with a mutual friend, Kristin Riching, I think are a bit misunderstood.  Both are top female racers on the gravel circuit and both are extremely humble and gracious.  When I interviewed Kristin last year, for a post on gravel, I think a lot of folks were surprised by what women were doing.  For both Kristin and Monika, it's not about the prestige or the competition with others, it just comes down to doing the best they can--and that's pretty damn great.

Some of the "bike fun" found on TransIowa
Surprisingly, it was Kristin who got Monika to sign up for TransIowa this year--the race she considers her favorite so far, partly due to the overwhelming happiness she experienced when she crossed the finish line.  Because Monika is moving, she'll have to look for races in Australia, however, she admits she wants to try any/all races she hasn't done yet--such as the Dirty Benjamin, the Ragnorok and the Minnesota Gravel State Championships.

Being a female rider, and having done a few gravel events myself, I was curious about Monika's thoughts on the gravel scene for women and if she had any tips.  First, she would like to see more women riding gravel.  She wants to encourage everyone to participate, and she points out the longer the race, the more balanced it gets between women and men physically.  She knows what she's talking about since her background is in exercise physiology!  I, of course, have to agree.  Whenever I train ultra endurance athletes, the women never cease to amaze me.  Somewhere after the 100 mile mark in cycling events, women tend to play catch up with the guys.

Because Monika only started cycling four years ago, while in the United States, she hasn't had too much time to experience what racing is like in Europe.  She did, however, get to race on a German team against some of the female pros like Marianne Vos, in 2012 and expressed how the racing in Europe is more aggressive and how big the fields were.

Since gravel events, and Minnesota riding in general, bring such a variety of riding conditions, I asked Monika if there were any conditions she just wouldn't ride in.  She, of course, didn't say she wouldn't ride in certain conditions, but did say she prefers heat over cold and that her racing season ends when it gets below 30 degrees.  We both share the same idea that if it takes longer to put on the layers than to do the actual ride, it's tough to get motivated.

Proving that Monika will ride in almost all conditions--and have fun while doing so!

A final question I had to ask her was about her music choice before a race.  To this, she joked that she didn't stray too far from the German cliche and her preference was trance and dance!

As Monika packs up, and heads all too far from the Midwest, we can wish her well and hope she comes back to ride a bit of gravel sometime!  You can read more about Monika and follow her rides by reading her blog.  This is also a great place to read about some of the local events and get some tips if you are thinking about trying a gravel ride/race yourself.

The grass made a nice pillow at Operacion Muerto in Manitoba
Monika at the end of TransIowa 9

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Urban Sprawl

Trying to escape the urban sprawl
In three directions, from where I currently call home, were farm fields as far as the eye could see.  A mere fifteen years ago, gravel roads still existed only a couple miles West of me.  When I first moved to Madison, ten years ago, the city was neatly confined within the "beltline"--the freeway looping around the city.  Now, the suburbs flow like rivers, merging into Madison, and the sea of identical rooftops reach out where corn fields use to stand.

Granted, in the big scheme of things, I'm lucky.  I don't have to ride 20 miles to hit calm country roads.  I used to live that way when I was stationed near downtown Minneapolis.  At least half my ride seemed to be waiting at stoplights, and unless I drove to the outskirts, I would have to plan on a solid 3-4 hours just to get some miles in.  Driving to ride is something I detest, so when I began looking for a place to move, Madison seemed like a good fit.

On my road rides throughout Dane County, I roll past old red barns, small deserted towns, farm equipment sales lots, a multitude of critters and more and more, developed neighborhoods with 6,000-8,000 square foot mcmansions.  These "neighborhoods" are often walled in like fortresses, and bare names which try to conjure up a sense peace, tranquility and oneness with nature.  In reality, they are almost always toxic since they are on a constant spray of herbicides, energy hogs--especially since many have laws not allowing solar panels, and an eye sore.  Most of the developers of these sites chose one of two routes.  They either purchased farm fields from retiring farmers and divided the acreage up into tidy lots or they bulldozed stands of trees, opting to plant a few decorative ones in their place, to allow the new home owners to have a manicured yard.

Phesant Point...I've never seen a phesant near this neighborhood
Each ride from my house, I pass by a multitude of these "neighborhoods".  To this day, I can't help but cringe when I see names like "Pheasant Point" and "Rocky Dell Estates".  I always ask myself "who would want to live so far out, in such a big house, without being able to commune with nature?"  I think of how my small 915 square foot house is such a perfect size and how it could easily fit inside one of the mcmansion's garages.  Don't get me wrong, I understand why people want to live in the country, what I don't understand is why one would want to destroy the reasons one moved out there in the first place--I highly doubt there are any pheasant left in or near pheasant point.

In my own selfish world, I curse these developers.  They are ruining why I road ride--to get away from the city on quiet roads without polluting the air.  My views from ridge lines are now dotted with 30ft. vaulted glass windows and pools.  I wonder if in another ten years, I'll be in the same situation I was in when I lived in Minneapolis.  Am I going to have to move yet again just to get away from the sprawl?  It is because of these thoughts, and many others, I am so pro inner city development.  I approve of packing as many folks as possible inside the city limits--forcing folks to live with less space.  I'm guessing there won't be an option in fifty years when folks have to admit we're in a energy until then, I will continue to keep my head down and gaze forward while riding through the urban sprawl.

Timber Ridge--where the only trees are decorative

Monday, November 11, 2013

Gimping along

"Ahhhh!  Get away!  Don't touch me!"

No, these weren't the cries from a horror flick or a  recent Halloween prank, but if you came by my house late Saturday night, you would have heard this screaming all the way down the block along with several other words I'll keep to myself.

Somehow, a little reach and twist on my part, sent me into a frozen position where the pain was so intense I could barely breathe and I got sick to my stomach.  Never have I felt pain like this before--not when I was hit by a car, or a cyclist coming down a hill 20mph, or when I suffered frostbite.  This pain was the "oh dear god, end my life now" type of pain.  Within a matter of seconds, the shooting pain in the thoracic area of my back, traveled upwards and forced my entire neck to spasm so strongly there was a visible cord of muscle.

I'm quite sure I scared the shit out of my husband when I pulled a look straight out of the exorcist (minus the head spinning of course) when he tried to get near me.  He stood there completely helpless as I somehow lowered myself down into a position where I could breathe again.

I joke about this all right now (sort of) because I have to.  36 hours stuck in bed, while the sun was shining, and I was supposed to be riding, sent me into a world of self pity and self loathing.  I woke this morning early--yes, even earlier than I normally wake--to see if I could get myself to work.  Showering was key since you could probably smell my self loathing from a mile away.  I stood with the hot water pulsing on my neck, hoping to gain some mobility.  I convinced myself to walk into work since my chiropractor says "motion is the lotion for the body" and the fact I couldn't turn my head to look behind me in the car.

After making it through most of my day, I had the joy of seeing my chiropractor.  Now don't take this the wrong way, but my chiropractor is my best friend and worst enemy all rolled into one.  I hate having to see him since it means I'm injured, but I love seeing him since he's my only hope at feeling better.  Comments, however, from him like "Huh?" and "How did this happen?" are not what I wanted to hear.  Turns out I was pretty close with my self diagnoses.  C2, C5, T4 and T7 were all badly out, to the point of C5 not being able to be adjusted because I was still in a state of spasm.  At least no actual nerves were being touched anymore and although I was still in a world of hurt, I could in some ways function.  What I couldn't do was bike.

So now, with the first measurable blanket of snow on the ground, I am stuck inside, not being able to ride into winter.  Tomorrow, and for the next indeterminable days ahead, I will be foot bound instead of wheel bound.  I am hoping to mend enough for the upcoming weekend's bikefest.  Until then, wish me luck and send some good bike vibes my way.

Yours truly,
Gimpy Gimperson

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Tell me a good story, and I'll be a friend for life. Leo J Part 2

In this fast paced world where everyone is plugged in to electronic devices, rushing around in cars and  thinking about everything but the here and now, I love to be told a good story.  No matter the length or topic--although I do prefer it to be non fiction--and you'll capture my attention.  Set the story to music and you'll witness me go into a state not unlike a child being sung a lullaby.

There isn't a time I can remember when I didn't like to be told stories.  I feel I can thank my mother for this wonderful gift.  As a child, she read to me every night,  and during the day, she would tame the savage beast all children can be, by playing me folk music.  To this day, I can probably recite 90% of Bob Dylan's, Joni Mitchell's, Leonard Cohen's and Cat Stevens' stories for you.

As I got older--much too old to be read bedtime stories--and moved out on my own, I had to find other's stories to fill the void.  Part of my desire to travel the world, as a woman in her teens and twenties, was really just to meet different people and hopefully catch a glimpse through their eyes.  Funny thing was as I travelled, and moved around the country, I began to realize I had a connection with everyone.  Through the stories they would tell me, I often felt a sense of "home".  When I slowed down and began traveling and commuting primarily by bike vs. car or airplane,  these connections began flowing towards me at a much more rapid pace.  Most of the time, I would encounter just a really cool person who would get me to view the world in a different way.  Sometimes, I would come across a kindred spirit.  Someone I felt I knew forever and felt instantly at ease with.  It is those people, and the stories they told me, I keep in an invisible dark purple velvet pouch in my mind.  A mobile treasure chest if you will.  Many of these people I will never see again, and yet, I can always open up this pouch and pull their insight out any time I feel lost or disconnected from the world.

One of these people I met a couple months ago, not long after I finished a challenging bike tour.  Joel Shupack, also known as Leo J, and I only had a few brief hours to get to know each other.  He stopped in Madison while on a musical bike tour--you can read about his music, tour and our meeting here.  Since he left Madison, I have followed his blog to see how things were going for him.  Okay, to be honest, I followed his posts to be told stories.  I believe everyone can be a storyteller, however, some are brilliantly gifted at it.  Joel, is a brilliant storyteller.

I left my last piece about Leo J open ended.  I had sent him questions to answer, but the life of a traveling folk singer is tough.  Add the fact he travels unsupported on two wheels makes it even tougher.  I knew he'd answer when he could and when I opened my e-mail today, Halloween, I received his answers--most certainly a treat.  Enjoy his answers and please check out his blog to be told some amazing stories!

1)  What is one of your fondest bicycle memories?

What comes to mind was something that happened pretty recently. When I reached the city of Detroit, my hosts told me of a weekly bicycle ride that I should check out called the Slow Roll. What a lot of people don't know about Detroit is that, while full of abandoned buildings and economic devastation, it's also attracting a lot of creative thinkers and young artists from other areas. I imagined I'd see a group of young white hipsters on single-speeds.

The first rider I met was Larry, a middle-aged black man who sells bottled water on the street and is a recovered heroin addict. He pulled up to me on a rattly old Huffy a few blocks from where the ride began. "You know where the Slow Roll meets?" he asked. I was shocked. This guy is going to the Slow Roll?

We became quick friends, I treated him to a pastry (he loves a good cheese Danish) and we made our way to the Slow Roll. The street soon filled with hundreds of people, then well over a thousand. Yes, there were hipsters, but they were just a piece of the overall scene. A lot of the riders were members of black bike clubs, riding cruisers pimped-out with sounds systems and lights. Some had club names sewed onto jackets, one I remember was GMOB - "Grown Men on Bikes". Older folks, kids, rich, poor, fat, fit, you name it. Basically every demographic you can imagine was represented and everyone was getting along.
Maybe this type of thing exists in other cities, but I've never seen anything like it. People use bikes for a lot of different reasons but usually these groups stick to themselves and snub the others - rude roadies, macho mountain bikers, crazy messengers, odd touring cyclists, recumbent weirdos, tall-bike freaks, poor delivery riders. It's rare to see these groups working together for a common goal - they all love Detroit and love to bike.
Slow Roll provides an opportunity for the diverse citizens of a supposedly hopeless city to see and be seen by each other. People that are supposed to be afraid of each other are riding side by side. People like Larry and me. It's a force for transformation and a model for other bicycle communities. I could go on and on, but I encourage you to check out them out:

2)  What is one of the strangest things that has happened to you on this tour?

Probably that I was treated with kindness, curiosity and generosity by almost every single person I came across. That's not the America I keep hearing about in fear-mongering publications. I was always half-expecting a crazed yahoo to come running after me with a shotgun when I attempted to camp on his land. Out West, I camped most night and mainly on the property of strangers after knocking on the front door and asking permission. I was never really turned down and sometimes treated to dinner.

It was also strange that a bee flew in my left ear and caused me to lose control and crash in Northern Idaho. I almost cancelled the tour after being so rattled by a tiny insect. It's just a reminder that we really don't have very much control over anything. This works both ways, of course. My most memorable experiences are usually when I was unprepared and without a plan. I was taken in by a Christian missionary camp on an Indian Reservation. They fed me steak, we played volleyball, I even performed one of my songs in their Sunday worship service. I'm not a Christian and don't agree with missionary works, especially on an Indian Reservation, but none of that mattered. We all shared something and grew from it.
Abandon control and the real magic begins...

3)  Which musical artists inspire you?

I'm a folkie at heart, which I get from my mother. I'm a sucker for tight harmonies and great lyrics. I love old bluegrass duos, like the Louvin Brothers or modern incarnations like Pharis and Jason Romero (a married couple who also build and sell banjos). I love music that has a social purpose. Not protest songs, but music for folk dances, music that's inclusive, music everyone can sing along to.
I'm a songwriter, so I also look to other writers for inspiration. I'm a pretty tough critic, but Paul Simon, Tom Waits, Joni Mitchell, Ana├»s Mitchell, John Prine come to mind. Masters of the craft that can create music that is original and meaningful.

Again, I'm very interested in music as an inclusive force, a force for peace and community. Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Alan Lomax are great figures in this camp. Lomax was a great documenter of folk traditions, which is what I'm trying to do, just in a different context.
My newest love is a guy named George Heritier. He's an old folksinger from the Detroit area. He has a great song called "Locavoria". I just found him last night in fact. I'm always trying to find musical kindred spirits.

4)  You talked to me about having the dream of opening a bike hotel/motel/campground and of having a family, where does music fit into this dream and where would you like to take your music?

I'd love to incorporate a music venue/community center into whatever venture I got myself involved in. Traveling cyclists need entertainment!
I don't exactly know where I want my music to take me. I'm giving myself this year to explore a touring lifestyle and to give most of my energy and time to my music, but I'm ultimately looking for a more settled life. I'd like to be a part of a community of folk musicians. Singing and playing with others is just about my favorite thing to do. Especially other songwriters. I'd also like to explore playing with a full band. There's an energy that a group of players creates that is irreplaceable and very appealing.

I mean, let's just be honest - I'm really looking for a musical partner that wouldn't mind falling in love with me. I'd like something along the lines of Pharus and Justin Romero or Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. My female friends know that I can't sing harmonies with someone and not fall clear in love. May as well not fight against that instinct, right? Maybe she'll play the fiddle, too.

5)  I know you love your Trek 520, but is there any bike you would love to get your hands on if money wasn't an issue?

I do love Will, my touring bike. He's the only bike I've had for the last 8 years. A total workhorse and a good sport. But, I'd sure love a bamboo frame mountain bike. Seems there's more and more companies doing bamboo frames. They're absolutely beautiful and supposedly a very smooth ride.
I was never interested in mountain biking until this year when I was invited to compete in a cyclocross race in Kalamazoo. I borrowed some knobby tires and did a practice ride on a single-track trail and really loved it.

I fared terribly in the race, 31 out of 34 finishers.

Slow and steady might get you across the United States, but it won't win you a cyclocross race.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Come Together

Phil Liggitt addressing the crowd at the 2013 Wisconsin Bike Summit

Each year Wisconsin comes together to celebrate the joy two wheels brings to us all.  People drive or bike in from all corners of the state for a reunion of sorts--I personally like to call it an early Thanksgiving without all the family drama.  The event I am speaking of is the Saris Gala, the largest fundraiser for the Wisconsin Bicycle Federation and the best damn bike party in the country.

Pre-summit/gala gathering at the Rigby

Ben Sollee and Jordan Ellis on their Ditch the Van tour
This year, those of us who came in early or live nearby, got two full days of celebrating instead of one. We kicked Thursday evening off with a meet and greet at the Rigby for bike fed staff, board members, political leaders and members.  A lucky few even got to pedal their way around downtown on the Capitol Pedaler with Phill Liggitt and our new ED,  Dave Cieslewicz.  The evening was capped off by one of the best concerts I've been to in years, put on by Ben Sollee, who ended his bike/music tour here in Madison and donated money from each ticket to the bike fed.

Friday morning came all too soon.  A cold start to the day meant a frigid ride downtown to the Inn on the Park for the Wisconsin Bike Summit.  Although I was still clearing the sleep from my eyes and hoping the coffee would start doing it's job, I felt lucky to be a part of an amazing group of presenters talking on a topic none of us can get enough of--cycling.  As I pulled onto the capitol square, I passed several cyclists I know from Madison.  Each one in a different riding circle, each one adding to the strength of the cycling community.  It was the perfect way to recharge and balance my mind prior to my panel presentation.

Jillian Imilkowski talking about the Bella Donnas
The entire day was packed full with presentations ranging from bike tourism to the environmental impacts cyclists make, to the fine work the bike fed is doing to make riding safer for us all.  I got to put together a panel of five women to speak on the topic of women in cycling today.  One by one they took the floor and I felt immediately full of warmth and love knowing I was a part of this group.  They each spoke on ways to make women feel more comfortable while cycling--mentally and physically, but more importantly, they spoke about having fun.  As I opened the discussion, I mentioned how difficult it was for me, not to find five dynamic speakers, but to narrow it down to six (including myself--but chuck the word "dynamic" for me).  I could have easily put twenty women up on the panel if we had four hours to present.  I must, however, take a moment and apologize to my wonderful panel for being such a poor moderator.  It was my first time in this role, and like everything, it takes practice.  I can only promise I'll do better next time!

As we gathered for lunch, Phill Liggitt spoke about his experiences with cycling and the importance of organizations like the bike fed.  It's quite exhilarating seeing 250 people packed into a room with one purpose--to improve our state for riding.  Each table had a mix of politicians, state and national transportation employees, cycling advocates and those from bicycle manufacturing companies.  I can honestly say it was the largest bike "think tank" I've ever been a part of.

Bike parking at the Saris Gala
As the summit came to a close, people shifted gears and made their way--many by bike despite the 20mph winds and temps in the 40's--to Saris about 7 miles from the capitol.  As I stated earlier, the Saris Gala is the largest fundraiser for the bike fed.  Half of the funds stay here, in Dane County, the other half making it's way around the state--something critical for Wisconsin since we have lost most of our state funding.  The event began as a tiny affair many years ago and is now busting at it's seams.  Tickets were sold out a couple days prior to the event--a first--and 750 people packed the Saris warehouse to bid on silent/live auction items, catch up with friends, network as well as eat and drink.

The crowd for the live auction
In a matter of three hours, $92,000 was raised.  There aren't many non-profits who can make that statement.  Since I'm a board member, I feel I'm allowed to brag just a bit.  First, I have to thank everyone involved in putting this two day party on. The bike fed staff shined like I've never seen them, Saris was unbelievably generous once again, each segment was held together by the strength of all the volunteers and presenters and each attendee made it possible to improve Wisconsin as a great cycling destination as well as a home.  I feel confident that next year will be even better and the positive movement will only continue.

Here's where I need to ask a favor from you.  Just like food pantries, when around the holidays they are overloaded with food and volunteers and yet are begging throughout the rest of the year, the Wisconsin Bicycle Federation needs your support year round.  To keep this forward momentum, the bike fed needs you to become an active member and volunteer for other events.  Your time, enthusiasm, insight and yes, money, go a long way no matter how much or how little.  As a board member, I look forward to seeing you throughout the entire year.  Ride on!

Tom Klein, Dane Co. Director and Dave Cieslewicz, Executive Director

I had to get my picture taken with "the voice" I've known all my life

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Five Days of Fighting the Fall Funk

I cried over beautiful things knowing no beautiful thing lasts.

The field of cornflower yellow is a scarf at the neck of the copper sunburned woman, the mother of the year, the taker of seeds.

The northwest wind comes and the yellow is torn full of holes, new beautiful things come in the first spit of snow on the northwest wind, and the old things go, not one lasts.

-Carl Sandburg

Each late fall there is some odd switch that is flicked off inside of me.  Part of me blames it on my heritage--being Scandinavian--part of thinks each year will be different, part of me doesn't give a shit and just wants to pull the covers over my head until Spring.  I'm speaking of my worst demon--the fall funk.

This year, I had gotten my hopes up.  I packed my Spring and Summer with so much yummy bike goodness, and tried to spend most waking hours, in which I wasn't at work, outside either playing or doing yard work.  In my simple way of thinking, I thought if I make the absolute most of my summer, I would be happy to see fall come so I could rest.  Ha!  What a joke.  As late September rolled in, I felt that nasty sensation start to build.  Not something in my head, but in my body.  You see, this depression I battle each year isn't something that can be easily fixed by changing my state of mind--it's biochemical.  Massive amounts of coffee (notice I've learned a lot from my Scandinavian ancestors), and keeping up with exercise helps, but I always feel as if I'm walking in sand--two steps forward, one step back.

At a time when I hear all my friends rejoicing in cooler temperatures, being able to wear wool sweaters, cook chili, drink hot chocolate, gather in front of a bonfire, I cringe and think about fleeing back to Hawaii.  I am a summer baby through and through.  I relish heat and humidity.  I love waking at 5am to light and the sound of birds.  Essentially, most of my friends think I'm crazy.

As I felt the downward spiral start to quicken a week or two ago, I decided to try a little experiment.  I made a commitment to myself to bike every day for five days straight--something I don't usually do come fall because I'm often a bit burnt out with big miles.  Biking to work daily is routine.  It was adding lots of road rides and running most errands by bike which I thought would be a little trickier.  And so it went.  Five days and about 230 miles.  Yes, it did help.  Now I just have to talk my friends into dragging me out even if I'm kicking and screaming all winter long--or start my running and skiing season pronto!

Soaking in the colors (day 3)

Heading down to the capitol for the Vulnerable User Bill listening session (day 1)

Nothing beats the fall sounds of geese and cranes--this field was deafening (day 4)

Riding with Dave Cieslewicz and Ron Anderson for a WI Bike Fed meeting (day 3)

Chasing down my shadow (day 2)
Sunrise for the Militant Badger gravel ride (day 4)

A little 5am spin in the dark (day 4)

A canopy of yellow on the Badger State Trail (day 4)
Getting ready for Taco Ride 2 (day 5)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Ben Sollee is turning me into a music writer

My absolute favorite picture of Ben!  If I had legs of steel, this is how I would tour.

I started this blog, a couple years ago, as a bike writer.  Actually, I started it as my personal journal and then thought, what the hell, I'll see if anyone wants to read my ramblings.  Somehow, amidst all this writing about bicycles, I also became somewhat of a music blogger as well.  Okay, maybe I'm getting carried away.  I've really only written a few pieces on the mix between music and cycling, as well as two musician interviews, but this post on Ben will make three, and I'm looking forward to doing more in the near future.

Back to the man of the hour, Ben Sollee, part cellist, part singer/songwriter and part cyclist.  This guy has got it going on.  At the young age of twenty-nine, he's already put out four albums--Half Made Man being his latest.  His music is a brilliant mix of bluegrass, jazz, folk and r&b.  Oh, and he tours around the country by bike, cello strapped to it's side.  NPR named him one of the "top 10 great unknown artists" following his 2008 release, Learning to Bend.  And how could one disagree with them?  Ben Sollee is an amazing artist and I'm dumbfounded more people don't know about him.

On Ben's "Ditch the Van Tour", Madison was lucky enough to book him at a Wisconsin Bicycle Federation event at the Majestic Theater.  Once again, Tom Klein, our Dane County director, put his past skills as a music promoter to the test and came out golden.  On October 24th, the eve before the Wisconsin bike summit and the Saris Gala, Ben will take the stage and wow the entire audience.  How fitting.  If you bike, and love music, come to this show!  As you know, I always ask folks I'm interviewing odd and random questions as well as a few that pertain to cycling.  May I introduce Ben Sollee.

Q:  Tell me about your bike and why you chose the rig you did for touring.

A: I ride a Surly Big Dummy. It’s kind of a tank, which may be its best attribute. For the long rides with heavy weight you want a robust frame with high grade components. It is that and more. I’ve made a few adaptions for my touring: swapped disc brakes for v-brakes, raised the handle bars for a more upright position, and installed a Brookes sadle (which is happily broken in).

Q:  Do you write songs while riding and does cycling affect your songs? If you have written songs while riding, which ones?

A:  I get a lot of thinking in when I’m riding. Many of my thoughts are musical but they don’t often turn out as songs. However, the song “Pursuit of Happiness” from Half-Made Man was written out on my bike. I had a frustrating call with my manager at the time and got out for a ride to blow of steam. Once the first line came to me, “Riding out past all the places that I have a reason to go,” all the rest followed.

Q:  What is one of the funniest or strangest things that has happened to you while touring by bike?

A:  Back in 2010 we rode our bikes through Wilmington, DE. The east side of town was ruff and run down, but you can’t roll up your windows on a bike. So, we road through posing as wayward locals. A kid, maybe 9 years old, ran up next to me and poked with the question “What are you doing?” I replied that we were on a music tour, just by bike. “Can I go?” he asked. Jokingly, I responded, “Sure.” He hopped on the cargo area of my bike and planted himself there for the ride. “How far you want to go?” I asked. He thought for a second, “far.” And so we rode along for a few blocks as his parents and friends began shouting for him. “Man, I got to go. My Momma’s callin’.” And he slipped off my bike. Very unique and grounding experience.   

Q:  What is your personal reason for biking?

A:  I want to slow down the pace of my travels. Each year I spend way too much time in between places. The bicycles allow for the limitation of slowing down and being much more present on the road.

Q:  If money was no object, where would you like to spend time biking?

A:  Europe. Probably through Denmark and Holland. But, most of a bike tours these days are based on where we can ride to put on shows every 40 or 50 miles.

Q:  Some musicians who tour by bike ride solo, while others ride with back-up musicians and crew. I'm sure you've done both, although it seems you are usually with others. Which do you prefer and why?

A:  I always ride with a team: my percussionist Jordon Ellis and tour manager Katie Benson. However, we have never toured with a support vehicle. We carry all of our gear to help maintain the honest limitations of touring on bikes.

Q:  While riding throughout the country, have you come across any towns or cities that you've noticed as being extremely bike friendly?

A:  Well, there are the well known “hot spots” for biking: Portland, Seattle, DC, NYC, etc... We found Colorado to be incredibly bike friendly. Unfortunately, there’s only so many shows you can play in a reasonable range.

Want to hear more from Ben and his adventures?  He will be speaking this Friday at the Wisconsin Bike Summit!  What a great way to get to know him more!