Friday, April 26, 2013

Dancing with the Trickster

One of the many beautiful farms I passed today
My friend, Michael, has a saying when it comes to 'challenging' bike rides..."What doesn't kill me makes me stranger."  Yep.  That about says it.  If you've been reading my blog for awhile, you know the one thing that will bring me to my knees is wind.  I have become a bit tougher in the mind over the past year when it comes to wind, however, I am the first to admit, I don't welcome it.

Yesterday, I made the mistake of taking an easy day.  I chose to catch up on housework, grocery shopping and the rest of domestic chores versus ride after work.  I knew the forecast was calling for wind today, but it was also supposed to get into the 60's--something I haven't experienced since last fall.  I also knew I didn't have to work today, which took the pressure off and would allow me to ride my own pace.  When I woke this morning, I cringed.  I could already hear the wind howling at 6am.  Damn.  I also knew I had to get some miles in if I were to be anywhere near the shape I needed to ride Almanzo in a couple weeks.

Downtown Malo
After lingering over breakfast a bit too long, I geared up and rolled out.  The goal was 65 miles with hills.  I was to head down to Riley, come back through Middleton, over to Mazomanie and then head a bit North to come back on the big hills.  Although I had a few sections into the wind on my way South, it wasn't actually too bad early in the ride--now, I can link this to being fresh and only having 15-20mph winds to start.  Honestly, even though I had to battle cross winds for my entire ride to Mazo, I felt good...until I turned around and started heading back on Carter road.  There was a split second I thought "No way in hell will I make it back before dinner."  And then I made up my mind to gear down...way down, hunker down and just focus on turning the pedals over.  There was a moment, as I began climbing up Scherbel--into 25mph winds--when I started to laugh.  Hills are supposed to block wind--at least until the end near the crest.  How was it possible for the wind to funnel down the hill?  Then I remembered the wind is a trickster.  It's invisible, it follows no rules, it can change on you in an instant and I'm pretty sure I heard it mocking me.  I tried my best to find it's beauty--not being a sailor, this was a difficult task.  Then, I looked up and saw a redtail hawk literally hanging in space.  For what seemed like eternity--remember I was just creeping along--it sat in the wind as if it were kept up by a thread.  When it grew tired of this game, it dove down at lightning speed.  Beautiful.  The wind also brought me the lingering scent of prairie burns--something I've learned to love.  Without the wind, our air quality would be shit.  We also wouldn't have the diversity of plant life we do since pollination would be left to only the bats and bees.  Yes, the wind can be a good thing.

There was no way I could pass my favorite goats without saying hello.  They
have gotten so big!  Almost six weeks old now.

A very cool house that was featured in my favorite magazine, Dwell

As I neared the top of my last big hill, swear words were taken far away with the wind.  No one should have to hear a cyclist say these things as they climb.  I turned onto what is usually one of my favorite stretches, Schneider road.  This road is a play land, a spot to paceline and sprint, a place to test how much I have left in me before hitting home.  Nope, not this time.  Instead, I was nearly pushed off the road three times with gusts.  Damn that tricky bastard.  I would have given the wind the finger but I was to afraid to take my hands off my bars.

Freshly burned prairie
After I pulled into my driveway, I relaxed once again.  I rode 67 miles, not a big feat if the wind was calm, but I felt good.  Now, let's just hope I've paid my dues and the winds are calm for Almanzo!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Crushing Gravel? You've gotta start somewhere...and now I'm sold!

Gathering up for the 2013 Dairy Roubaix--this is only about 1/3 of the riders
I am proud to say I am no longer a gravel virgin!  Not only did I complete my first gravel road event, even though I had myself in a bit of a tizzy beforehand, but I also fell in love riding these beautiful, rustic roads.

Views from one of the gravel roads

A few months ago, when I signed up for the Dairy Roubaix, I must admit I had no clue what I was getting myself into.  I had ridden hilly roads, that had recently been chip sealed, and just about puked my brains out with fear.  Last year my husband and I crossed paths with the Dairy Roubaix crew on a ride through Boscobel and Muscoda.  All I remember is 18-21% grade hills (the ones we rode were paved) that were covered in a nice thick coating of sand.  Several times I felt my rear wheel start jackknifing and there was nothing I could do about it since the road was to steep to stop on.  Needless to say, I wasn't a happy camper.  Although many of my friends had sung the glories of gravel road riding, I wasn't buying it.  Let me ride my carbon road frame on asphalt, like I was trained to do.  What the hell is this whole 25+mm tire width thing and why in the world would I let air out of my tires?

One of the many amazing gravel roads we were on

It took my riding group, Church of the Spoken Wheel, to convince me otherwise.  I compare this adventure to the saying "If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?"  I guess the answer in this case is "yes", and I can't thank them enough for getting me into it.  You see, more than half of my riding group are gravel junkies.  Three of them are currently training for, or should I say tapering for, Trans Iowa next weekend.  This is the mother of all gravel races.  320 miles in under 35 hours, and although I've now fallen in love with gravel riding, I will never, and I mean never, enter into this race.  I am happy sitting back in Madison, cheering them on!

Wyalusing group camp
A waterfall in Wyalusing
Back to Dairy Roubaix.  This year the race/ride was held out of Wyalusing State Park.  For those who wanted, we were able to rent a bunk in the camp bunkhouse.  A few of us decided to make the event into an entire weekend and headed out Friday afternoon.  We were treated to 25mph winds the entire drive and were just a tad nervous about what the conditions would be like the following day.  Thankfully, there are other things to do there than bike--gasp--and we chose to forgo two wheels for a bit of hiking.  We were treated to beautiful views of a cave, waterfall and the flooded river.  It was an ideal way to stoke our appetite for dinner and a wonderful Rye Porter that Kevin from Red Eye brewery brought to share.  

The breakfast line

Before I go on, I have to thank the folks that put this event on--Stu and Michelle.  Without them, and the help of several volunteers, especially David and Chris, this event could never happen.  You see, most gravel events are 100% non profit.  Any money raised from donations for Dairy Roubaix goes towards a scholarship for Dream Bikes.  As someone that puts non profit bike events on, I completely understand how much time and energy goes into something like this.  They do it for the love of it--nothing else--which makes the event that much more special.  Their love for cycling also drives them to put on Dairyland Dare and the Triple Crown each year.

When my group gathered up a bit before 9am for the mass start, we had grown to quite a crowd.  Several more friends joined us by driving down just for the day from Madison.  It was glorious seeing so many kindred spirits and it put my mind at ease.  As we rolled out of the park and onto our first gravel road, I surprised myself.  This wasn't scary at all.  I wasn't out of control and my bike handled beautifully.  I knew, at that moment, I was hooked.  No, I probably won't do a ton of events each year, but I will purposely seek out gravel roads for riding versus avoiding them.  There were so many places I wanted to stop and take pictures--the ones I got can barely do the area justice.  Each bend and hill brought more spectacular scenery with hardly any traffic.  I found the hills and gravel to be an enjoyable challenge versus a struggle.  Please note I only did the 54 mile course, and not the 107 mile route.  I may also amend this thought after Almanzo in a few weeks!

A couple of my friends coming in from the 107 mile route
No bike event is complete without good food, good beer and chilling in the lawn with great people.  Because of the fantastic conditions--the only nice day of the week--we were able to lounge in the grass as the other riders pulled in.  Day rolled into night and as a chill settled into our bones, we warmed them next to a bonfire.  This, was a weekend to put into the books.  I can't wait to do it again!

Heading back home in 25mph winds and snow

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Coast In Bikes

Tristan and Carolyn in front of their store's sign

Carolyn Weber and Tristan Klein are about to make their dreams come true, which is amazing since I'm not sure either of them have slept in the past month.  Aside from working their full time gigs, they have been burning the wick at both ends to get their new bike shop open, Coast In Bikes, in the Walkers Point neighborhood of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

This dream of theirs began in May 2012 when they decided to buy property to refinance student loan debt and reduce taxes.  Being frustrated with the job market, they thought it would be great to kill two birds with one stone and open up a business in the property.  Although they didn't plan on settling in Milwaukee, they have both decided to continue their commitment to the community and invest in a future there as Coast In Bikes grows.

Tristan in yellow and Carolyn in purple along with a mutual
friend, Angie, in orange at Madtown Maidens 2
For them, a bike shop just made sense.  Between the two, they have over sixteen years experience in the bike industry ranging from bike rentals, bike repairs and service, to female focused classes/mechanic nights and event planning.  I first met the two at an all women's bike event I put on here in Madison.  Carolyn was racing and Tristan was volunteering.  I knew we would become friends right away.  Their enthusiasm for cycling oozed out of them and both were so laid back and easy to be around.  In the past year, I've gotten to know both of them a bit better, and am amazed by what they are about to undertake.  I'm not sure if most of you understand what's involved in opening up a shop from scratch while working full time jobs and moving your living quarters across town, but believe me when I say they are much tougher than I'll ever be!

This past weekend, I decided to ride to Milwaukee and of course, I had to go see their shop--even though it was in it's beginning stages.    I hadn't spent much time in the Walkers Point neighborhood, and had never biked there but within minutes, I was in love.  Walkers Point is a fantastic mix of cultures.  On one corner you can get great Mexican food, on another, you can buy groceries from an Asian market, and on another corner, you can eat at a high end restaurant.  Down the road is the Lao Buddhist Temple and all of this is just outside of downtown and not far at all from the lake.  Did I mention the Wisconsin Bike Fed office is only a couple miles away and there are bike paths quite close?  Fantastic on all ends!

The parking garage at Bucketworks

My husband and I were lucky enough to get a tour of the entire property, Bucketworks, a business incubator, which houses Coast In Bikes.  This group of buildings is truly amazing.  So many "out-of-the-box" thinkers call this their second home.  Businesses that build bee boxes to 3D illustrators are located right next to the bike shop and there is even open space for events.  Their opening party will be held this Friday night for gallery night and you'll get a chance to check out the structure for yourself before the doors open for business.

Somehow, between working both jobs, getting the shop ready and moving, Carolyn and Tristan found time to answer a few questions I sent them.  Enjoy getting to know them and stop by their shop when you're in the area--you'll love it!

1) You're such a big part of the Riverwest community...what made you choose Walker's Point as your shop location?

A) There were many factors we considered including Riverwest already having a local bicycle shop; Truly Spoken Cycles. However, Walkers Point neighborhood does not have a bicycle shop. By researching the area more, and from our own commuting, we knew the area has three large bicycle trails sections that intersect in Walkers Point: the Oak Leaf Trail, the Hank Aaron Trail and the developing Bay View Corridor.  Walkers Point is also a developing business district with many new restaurants, shops and clubs. Second Street recently become a complete street and is used by many commuters in Milwaukee. We also found out that 29% of the population in the area does not own a vehicle in their household; however, there isn't a local bicycle shop.

Riverwest has been our home throughout college and for three years afterwards.  I love the community involvement and will be back often to visit friends. However, Walkers Point and Walkers Square has an active community that we are excited to contribute to and learn from!

2) What type of clientele are you hoping to draw to Coast In Bikes?

All types. Hence our moto, "A bike for every occasion". However, we expect the majority of our customers to be commuters from Bay View to Wauwatosa to Walkers Point to Downtown. It’s why we chose a location in the middle of the city. We are planning on focusing on commuter bicycles; specifically cargo bikes. In addition, we will also have a variety of used bikes available for rent and will be working with outside groups for bicycle tours. 

3) I hear there is a possibility of you two opening a bike hostel--can you give me any details?

We started last May with the idea of opening a hostel and a bicycle shop in the same building. As our business plan evolved, and funding sources developed, Coast In bikes is the first to get started.  As we work to open and develop Coast In Bikes this spring, we are starting to get gather funding for the hostel, Third Coast Inn, with the intention of having Milwaukee’s only hostel and bicycle shop in the same building or near each other. We hope to put Milwaukee on the map with having both businesses in operation by next spring!

4) What changes would you like to see MKE make in the future for biking?

The Oak Leaf trails are disappearing in many sections and we also need more East-West connections.  These trails are important to keep developing and to develop to encourage more people to feel secure bicycling in the community.  Also, we would like to see businesses contribute to improve the trail system by sponsoring a trail and, having in return, a sign along the adopted trail.  This way bicycle-related businesses support our trails and are able to directly advertise their business.

Another change we would like to see is improved infrastructure; specifically with our off road bicycle trails.  We have an amazing system of trails; however, they need to be connected with safer connections.  We are constantly aware of how Milwaukee can be a great city for bicycling and would love to see our city gain silver status...even gold again in the future. 

5) Which bike projects in MKE are you really proud of?

We're proud of bicycle racks on buses.  They have made a tremendous impact on the bicycling community and connecting our city in the short time they've been on the buses.  I'm encouraged by the Bay View Bicycle Coordinator being built for Bayview to downtown commuters.  Last year, I was able to get the Federal Building downtown to put in two more bicycle racks for the commuters after a year of asking the building owners to expand from their two racks for over fifty commuters a day.  I was proud I could make that small change.  Personally, we're proud to take over the Winter Bike Forum the last two winters from Jason at the Milwaukee Bike Collective and expand our winter bicycling community here in Milwaukee.  Last year we had over 100 attendees!

Carolyn and Tristan (in the middle) for Riverwest 24 2012

6) Carolyn: How long have you been involved with RW24 and are you riding solo again?

I’ve been involved with RW24 for 3 years.  One year racing on a team and two years racing solo.  Every time I’ve raced I’ve also volunteered because I feel it’s important to give back to the community.  The best part about volunteering at RW24 is that I get to hang out with all of my friends.

Tristan: You've been working at Rays in MKE, do you feel having an urban mt. bike park has introduced a lot of newbies to the sport? How do you think Rays has helped the bike community grow in MKE?

Absolutely.  I think it has introduced a lot of new Mt. Bikers to the sport, but I also think it has introduced a lot of existing Mt. Bikers to new forms of Mt. Biking such as Dirt Jump and Free Ride.  It definitely puts Milwaukee on the map for bike tourists as well.  The average drive for a Ray's MTB customer is five hours.

7) What's in your stable right now?

Carolyn:  Surly LHT*, Xtra-Cycle, Trek FX winter bike, Kona Unit 29er (in pieces).

Tristan:  80's Raleigh single speed convert, Haro single speed 29er converted to Nuvinci Hub and Roller Brakes for winter, Gary Fisher Ferrous 26 inch, Giant TCR aluminum, Ridley Crosswind*, Surly Travelers Check (work in progress).

(*) indicates favorite.

We believe in a bike for every occasion after all!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Go East Young (well, not that young) Woman

Nine rides out of ten, I ride due West, Northwest or Southwest from my home--except when there is food or beer involved.  I have spoken of the driftless zone in previous blogs and it has one hell of a magnetic pull on me.  Flatland and populated areas lie East, neither of which I've felt compelled to ride to...until this weekend.

Most of you know the kind of weather the Midwest has been experiencing.  Cold.  Rainy or snowy.  And windy.  I tend to need incentives to ride in these conditions.  A weekend getaway in Milwaukee is a really good incentive.  Not wanting to be stuck in a car for the drive over, being in great need of training miles, having good food/beer waiting for me at the end, getting to see two friend's new bike shop and having a tailwind/crosswind vs. headwind made the decision easy.  I'd bike to Milwaukee and hopefully get my first century of the season in.

I rolled out around 8:30am on Saturday.  I made a brief stop on the East side to say "hi" to my riding group, who were heading guessed it, for a Northwesterly loop.  At least, I thought, the sun is making momentary appearances and the temperature is out of the 20's.  The first thirty miles rolled by with ease.  Other than the annoying traffic and crumbling roads, I had not a worry on my mind.  Just before hitting Lake Mills, the sleet started.  My heart jumped and I got a bit nervous since I only donned a wind jacket vs. a rain jacket.  If I got wet in these temperatures, it would spell trouble.  A quick coffee stop in Lake Mills allowed the precipitation to pass and I was left with only clouds.

Johnson Creek passed by in a blur, and until I hit Concord, I didn't really stop to look around.  I was treated by a beautiful wind block and I sat to eat my sandwich next to an old hand hewn home--not unlike the type you'd find in the Smokies.

I won't go into what I thought of Waukesha--a place I try very hard to avoid.  Let's just say it took me at least thirty minutes to find my wait out.  It reminded me of a Las Vegas casino...or hell.  It took three residents and one mail carrier to get me onto Arcadia/Greenfield/59, which is the major road heading East out of town.  I'm guessing people who live in Waukesha never leave.

As I pulled into the place I'd be staying for the night, I decided I wasn't ready to end for the day.  Over 85 miles and I still had a little kick left in me.  After a bit of fuel and a warm beverage, I was off to Coast In Bicycles (you'll read more about this shop in my next post).  Riding down Greenfield and National, two roads I'd never ridden before, I couldn't help think of Nicollet, Lake and Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis.  Block after block brought great Mexican and Asian restaurants as well as grocery stores.  Oh how I miss living near this!  On my way back to quickly shower before dinner, I couldn't resist doing a speed lap through the State Fair Grounds.  It was so odd being there without the hoards of people and animals--almost eerie.  Fond memories of hot summer days, coated with fryer grease and animal hair came to mind.  I know, that sounds disgusting.

Dinner at Alem
I must have gotten through the last few miles--clicking off 105 total by shear willpower.  I knew a beautiful Ethiopian feast awaited me at Alem.  Funny thing is I even have a bike connection with Alem. The owner of the restaurant is cousins with a woman I'm doing a bike Ethiopia project with.  Even if I didn't know the owner, I would gladly drive to Milwaukee just to eat at this amazing restaurant.  My legs and stomach thanked me profusely.

Could it really be April 14th?

Biking along the Menomonee river
After a deep slumber, I looked out the window and my heart sank just a bit.  Snow.  A bit of me wanted to stay indoors, but noooooo, I had to go and ride the Menomonee rain and 20 mph winds.  Thankfully the river was flooded and the ride was cut short.  By abstaining from a long ride, I was treated to seeing a garage full of baby pheasant, and more yummy food (no, not the baby pheasant).  My trip ended with a stroll in the Third Ward.  Overall, the trip was a great choice and a much needed adventure.

baby pheasant

Friday, April 12, 2013

Breaking up is hard to do

Break up on lake Monona

Up in Alaska, the day the ice breaks up is such a monumental time.  For the month leading up to it, people go a bit crazy.  Here in Wisconsin, it's normally not quite the big to do--except this year.  The ice, finally, is starting to push it's way onto the lake shores.  Open water can be seen from the bike paths.  Water fowl are moving back in--we should see our first loons soon on lake Monona.  And spring, I think, is right around the corner--even though it officially arrived several weeks ago.  We, as cyclists, or at least I, have been feeling a bit pent up.  Just the idea of being on an indoor trainer in April is so wrong.  We've all got our personal goals and yet mother nature keeps giving us the finger.  Such is life.  There's nothing we can do about it but wait...and keep riding in all conditions.

Tomorrow I will set out on a ride to Milwaukee.  It should be about 27 degrees when I roll out with a high of 41 and 10-15mph winds.  Honestly, any other year I wouldn't even consider this, but there are two things giving me a swift kick in the rear end.  First, I have two gravel events coming up--my first being a week away.  Secondly, two good friends are opening up a bike shop in the upcoming weeks in Milwaukee and I can't wait to see it.  I'll be doing a post on them next week--that is if I make it.  Wish me luck!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Patching Potholes

This picture was taken for my grandmother, who loved birds
There's an old saying "Life is so hard because it gives us the test first, then the lesson."  This week has been full of tests and lessons.  Forgive me for this analogy, but at times, I see life like spring road construction.  Hard winters force potholes to appear overnight.  The potholes force us to take a different path than the one we had originally planned on--otherwise suffer the consequences.  Once the pothole is patched, the street--or line of movement--will never be quite the same.  Not necessarily worse...just different.

Getting my creature comfort fix
My week started off with my back going out.  I was stupid.  I did what I tell all of my clients not to do.  I lifted a large container hastily by bending at my back and not my hips.  A minor hiccup that thankfully my chiropractors helped me overcome.  Following this incident, I found out that a good friend was diagnosed with lung cancer (the second person in my life diagnosed this past year).  My heart sank.  No one deserves to get cancer, but she was never a smoker so this diagnoses baffled me all the more.  This week also brought the news of my grandmother's death.  She was my last surviving grandparent and had been suffering for some time.  I felt "at peace" with her dying yet felt empty knowing I am now grandparentless.  To top the week off, two close friends had to say goodbye to their pets and I found out four friend's marriages had or would be dissolving soon.

There are very few words that could describe how I felt after all of this, other than "yucky".  I am the type of person who is deeply affected by my friend's downfalls.  I tend to feel what they are feeling on a deep level--something I am thankful for.  Sometimes, however, I need some patchwork done to keep me going.  For that, I turn to three things--my bike, nature and family (blood and non blood).

Gathering with bike friends for coffee

Thursday, as my back was on the mend, I decided I needed some creature comforts.  I headed West into the driftless zone to visit two of my favorite farms.  Dreamfarm, a goat creamery outside of Cross Plains, and a client/friend's farm between Black Earth and Mazomanie.  Since it's spring, baby critters are abound.  Kidding is in full swing--there must have been twenty kids at Dreamfarm, piglets are learning the joy of mud, chickens are hatching and lambing is about to begin.

Dreamfarm on Table Bluff
As I road to the top of Table Bluff road--one of my favorite overlooks anywhere in the world--I paused, looking out over the pastoral landscape that was brimming with new life.  The kids ran up to greet me and I began to take my first deep breaths of the week.  At that moment, a shift of thinking began.  I no longer felt sad.  Instead, I was filled with hope.  Several miles down the road, I got more healing from kids that I had first visited two weeks ago.  They were bigger and stronger now and still just as curious.  There enthusiasm recharged me and I flew home with a smile on my face.

These wonderful farm visits weren't the only things that patched some holes.  A couple wonderful rides with close friends, a bike art show and getting to test ride new steeds from Fyxation, put me in very high spirits.  Add the fact my friend came out of her cancer surgery strongly, and I got to see pictures of another friend's new baby, made me extremely happy to be alive.

Fyxaton test ride
Art in Bike out
I know my path in life will be forever changing, hopefully all of ours will, I just need to keep reminding myself that potholes aren't always "bad" and sometimes they can even bring beauty.