Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Finding the child within

Sadly, I hate to say, I've somehow lost--or at least temporarily misplaced--my inner child.  Since February, it's been playing this nasty little game of hind and seek, being hidden sometimes more than found.  I've gone through these "funks" before.  They are usually spurred on by seasonal changes, large unexpected life changes, too many obligations or lack of sleep.  In the past few months, I've repeatedly hit three out of four.  As a Virgo, with a "type A" personality, I don't fare well with my boat being rocked.  No doubt, with age I've gotten better at coping, but when too many things are piled on me and I don't get a breather, I turn into a zombie.

I don't like talking about this stuff with my friends--or anyone else for that matter-- because I feel like I'm doing a "Dear Diary" session.  I've learned, however, that turning inwards isn't just unhealthy but it can also alienate those I care deeply for.  Although biking isn't necessarily the holy grail or silver bullet for fixing these matters, it can help, if even for a brief moment.  Mix in some cool people who are also on two wheels and healing can sometimes naturally begin.

Last Sunday's group ride

I had to introduce a new friend to the goats

One thing that was brought to my attention, although I was already very much aware of it, was that I was falling into a slippery slope of living life as if  it were a checklist.  When I'm overly tired, this is a natural tendency for me.  Maybe it's the inner wilderness guide going into survival mode or maybe it's just that pesky "type A" personality, but it's a bad habit I lean towards.  Get through the winter riding season--check, start training for gravel season--check, finish Dairy Roubaix without killing myself--check, sign up for RW24--check, finish Almanzo--check...and so it went.  Yes, I was/am reliable and yes, my friends could always count on me, but was I having fun?

Nate showing off his new cycling attire
I laugh at this entire scenario since I just saw the Dalai Lama talk about being present.  Sure, I digested it, but somehow I forgot to apply it.  I was taught the importance of the "here and now" as a child by my "type B" mom.  She was always one to stop and smell the roses--something I admire greatly about her.  She studied  Eastern philosophy, as well as meditation, and tried her darnedest to instill some of these traits in me.  She did succeed since I do, often times, feel 100% present when I'm in the wilderness or just out in nature.  Being caught up in the city rat race is another story, and it's something I need to work on.  This is especially true since life is so short and one never knows what's coming in the near future.

As I promised a friend this weekend, I will force myself to pause and appreciate the amazing things around me more often.  I will take the scent of lilacs in bloom into my lungs as I ride past them.  I will slow my pace to watch the fawns in the near by prairies.  I will listen to the frogs in the numerous ponds I ride by and I will laugh at the hilarious sock clothing choices my friends choose to wear for our weekly rides.  Essentially, I will reintroduce myself to child within.

Watching the full moon rise over the lake with a good friend

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Crushing Gravel? Part 2

At the start--just under 1,000 racers
photo by Jesse LaLonde

We had to sign the Almanzo tent!    
Once again in my life, I have fallen into a "monkey see, monkey do"       adventure with my friends.  As a teen I took up skateboarding because  some friends did it, in my late teens and early twenties, I took up canoeing and rock climbing because of friends.  There was also a stint of dog sledding and winter camping thrown in there; and now, it's gravel road racing.

Biking itself is mine--I own this passion.  Gravel cycling, on the other hand, was this crazy thing some friends did--not me--until this this Spring.  My first adventure was Dairy Roubaix in April.  It either captured me or ruined me...I haven't decided yet.  It was such a fabulous experience, and dare I say somewhat easy.  Too easy.  It made me think, in my stupid little brain, that this was "normal" for gravel road riding conditions (even though I really knew better).  Call it euphoria or call it denial, but my gravel road honeymoon was about to end around mile 45 of Almanzo.

Half of our crew lining up
photo by Nathan Vergin

Saturday morning at nine, I, along with six good  friends--and 950 other brave souls--rolled out of downtown Spring Valley, MN, under clear skies after a very moving send off by Chris Skogen, the race founder/organizer.  Within minutes I knew several of our group members weren't going to sight see and lolly gag like we did at  Dairy Roubaix.  I kept my eyes fixed on Michael's bright orange shirt and reflective patch on his bag as we wove through the masses.  When we hit our first gravel road, we could see the front runners already a good 1/2 to full mile ahead snaking their way through the farmland, leaving only a cloud of gravel dust in their wake.  It wasn't a surprise that Steve Wasmund from our group was far up ahead on his fixie--with road tires and 90 psi.

Somehow, I found a rhythm in it.  I began to follow solid lines and I stopped getting nervous going down the constant rollers even if my rear tire fishtailed a bit.  Essentially, I relaxed and let my bike do what it was made to do. 

Grant refueling in Preston
We rolled into Preston around mile forty.  This would be our only refueling station--or so we thought.  Jugs of water were purchased and quick snacks were inhaled--no time to chew.  This was after all, an unsupported ride.  We were all responsible for ourselves and that's part of the draw.  Events like this make us wiser and stronger mentally, not just physically.  You have to be prepared or at least be ready to wait a long time for a ride back to the start.  I don't remember tasting any of my food in Preston.  Honestly, I wasn't hungry.  My mind was focused on the upcoming creek crossing we would have to do two miles away.  When we did reach the creek, we were greeted by a line of barefoot cyclists--mud squishing through their toes--all waiting to shoulder their bikes and rush through the water.  My only issue was cleaning the caked in goop from my cleats after mistakenly putting my shoes on too soon to climb the hill on the other side.

The creek crossing after Preston

For a long time after Preston, I was on my own.  Sure, people would pass me, or I would pass them, but I burrowed deeply into silence.  Freshly laid gravel--or as Michael likes to call it "freshies"--hit me hard.  I had very little experience riding through this stuff and my heart sank.  Before the race, I knew this would be my biggest challenge and, at the time, I didn't know if the next fifty miles would be like this.  I felt somewhat defeated.  Once again, I learned that relaxing made all the difference.  Although this didn't make it physically easier, it sure made it mentally easier.

Me on the gravel
photo by Nathan Vergin

After playing leap frog with Michael and Nate for a good chunk of the day, I dug deep and found enough energy to keep on their wheels.  One of the highlights was tearing down a long, winding hill around 40 mph.  All the memories of downhill skiing rushed back to me.  I remember being an okay Midwestern skier growing up.  It wasn't until I skied with friends in Bend, OR that I really grasped what skis could do.  My friends were much better skiers than I was and told me to follow their lines.  Within a few runs down the mountain, I was transformed.  And as I followed Michael's line down this glorious hill--or should I say I followed his hoots and hollers--I became a better gravel cyclist.  Of course the next turn dumped us onto Oriel hill and for the first and only time, we had to dismount and walk.  This was our payment, I suppose, for having too much fun--in a strange sadistic way.  Seeing fifty or more cyclists walk up a ridiculously steep hill--some did ride it (Stephen and Nate...you are gods) made me giggle a bit.  Hey, at least I wasn't the only one suffering.  Michael eased the pain for us all by serenading us with songs.

Nate handing me a beer at the Twin Six oasis

The only thing that beat the descents and beautiful scenery was the Twin Six oasis with about twenty miles to go.  Since Twin Six was a sponsor, they were allowed to give hand ups.  Beer...good.  Oreos...good.  Whiskey...I didn't go there.  This little reprieve gave me just enough fuel to hang with the boys until five miles out when the head winds really kicked in and I began to have crazy nerve pain in my feet.  At that point, I was brought down to rolling pace.  I wondered if I could finish.  Was this how it was going to end--me in a ditch five miles to the finish line?  This is where an idea came to me from a presentation I had just seen with the Dalai Lama.  He kept talking about training your brain to be stronger.  Of course I have always known this, but it was that idea that got me through.

Me and Michael at the finish line

I finished a few minutes behind Nathan and Michael--a full hour behind Stephen--but I finished, with a sub eight hour time.  Martha and Grant rolled in soon behind.  Although I was exhausted, I was elated.

Martha at the finish line--this was how I felt when I made it there!

This post is for Chris Skogen--the man with the dream.  In 1997, Almanzo consisted of twelve riders, this year, 1,300 signed up for the 100, 65 signed up for the 160 miler and 35 signed up for the 380 miler.  He has so generously given his time and energy to share this passion with others and thankfully has found enough help to keep it going.  Almanzo, like most gravel events, is run by volunteers and donations.  Without those key items, these races couldn't exist.  Thank you Chris, and all the volunteers, for making this weekend truly memorable for so many cyclists!

Some of the many volunteers

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Does misery really love company?

We've all heard the saying "Misery loves company", but does it really?  Could it be that misery just makes the company you keep more miserable?  This was the question bouncing around in my head on today's ride--or should I say it was blowing around in my head with the 20-25mph head and cross-winds.

Looking back at my childhood, I had a fondness for going out in miserable conditions--alone.  I would bundle up in -20 degree temps. and would burrow my way into snow piles pretending to be an Arctic explorer.  I loved the feeling of solitude and self reliance.  I always felt stronger mentally and physically after overcoming something big and somewhat uncomfortable on my own.  On the other hand, if I were in the midst of a suffer fest with others, I tended to weaken and whine.  I doubted myself in challenging situations when others were around.  I didn't trust my strengths.  Now, as an adult, I find these feelings to still be true at times.

Today, while starting on a long ride, into a strong headwind with my husband, I had fleeting thoughts this ride would be better alone.  I felt a bit cranky.  I was tired of battling the winds since yesterday's ride was even windier.  I felt like a child on the verge of a temper tantrum.  Then, out of nowhere, the saying "If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" came to mind.  So I got all Zen like and asked myself a question:  "If I was riding alone, would I feel like complaining--or would I instead, see this as an adventure?"  The answer became clear and I started to laugh.  With this simple question, I no longer saw the situation as being miserable.  No, I didn't "like" it, but I did find it quite comical.  Here we were, choosing to ride into the wind for miles upon miles, just to reach a destination.

The half way point

I found the train tracks across water to be ridiculously
symbolic for today's ride

As I began to let this whole idea take root, I thought of other instances with similar outcomes.  I remember hiking down scree fields on numerous occasions with either my husband or friends when I'd be in a complete tizzy.  I would make the situation so much worse than it needed to be by hyping myself up.  I wouldn't have done this if I were alone.  In fact, I've stayed quite calm on solo hiking or biking trips when the shit has hit the fan.

This all comes at a time when I'll have to dig deep alone, or with friends, on an upcoming gravel road race called Almanzo.  Next weekend will be a test for me.  Can I keep my cool around others while I'm taxed physically and mentally?  Can I simply ask for help if I need it instead of shutting down or shutting others out?  Will I need to break off on my own to find my inner strength?  Only time will tell, but today, I have to say, was a good trial run.

I'll end this with an excerpt from a book I just finished called "Ghost Trails" by Jill Homer, a female Iditabike racer.  In this excerpt, she is hiking with her boyfriend in Idaho.
Geoff quickly climbed a good distance ahead and I let him go.  We had learned over the course of our two month trip that we were happiest when we moved at our own pace, reconvening when it made sense.  During any hard effort, Geoff and I thrived best in solitude.  Geoff thrived at pushing his strengths when there was no one to hold him back.  I thrived at overcoming my weaknesses when there was no one to criticize my efforts. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

Mother Nature MUST Be a Cyclist

Getting ready to start Madtown Maidens 3 from Machinery Row Bicycles
photo by Nathan Vergin
For the third year in a row, the forecast called for rain on the day of Madtown Maidens.  For the third year, we all lucked out--this year bringing the nicest weather yet--after a steady rain in the morning that is.  Saturday, May 4th, under bluebird skies, temps in the upper 60's and light Easterlies, almost 100 women set off from Machinery Row Bicycles on their own Madtown Maidens adventure.  Some came to race it--on both geared and fixed bikes--and some came to just ride and have a good time with friends on two wheels.  As in years past, the ages and abilities varied greatly.  This is one of the many reasons I put the event on.  When I started doing it, I wanted to designate a day when ALL women could come together and share their passion for the bicycle and being active.  No snobbery, no egos, just fun.

Rolling out from Machinery Row
From year to year, not too much changes aside from the start and finish location and the checkpoints.  This year, everyone started and ended at Machinery Row.  In between, came roughly 21 miles of urban riding (if you took the most direct route) and seven checkpoints ranging from goofy to the utterly insane.  Coffee bean spitting, lassoing a pig or cow, burpees, face painting, navigating a kiddy cross course, naming a beer, completing the city's bike test and high fiving bike mechanics was all expected of the women.  The only problem I have with running these events is I can't see all the shenanigans that take place at each checkpoint.  Luckily I have an amazing photographer biking the course and others sending me pictures.

Sadly, this will be the final year of Madtown Maidens...for now at least.  I love putting this thing together but I've neglected some of my own bike goals to do so.  After a year or two of sowing my wild bike oats, I'm sure I'll be ready to put on another event--maybe even bigger and better.  Until then, I just want to thank everyone who has volunteered for me in the past three years, each and every sponsor for donating amazing prizes/food and drinks as well as event space and finally every woman who has come out to ride.

I will leave you with some fun pictures (all taken by Nathan Vergin) from this year's ride.  Also, you can read about last year's event here.

Decisions, decisions...should one lasso a pig or horse?

Ben from Budget Bikes offering up high fives

At Tenney Locks the women got to choose between four activities

Some women had to do burpess

At Redamte they got to take the city bike quiz

Coffee bean spitting contest at Barriques

At Ale Asylum they had to name a beer

They also had to tie bows or put barrettes into Michael's
beard who was working the Ale Asylum checkpoint
Finishing up with the kiddy cross course

Proving that everyone makes a good cross racer when beer is at the finish line

Gathering up for the after party
The prize table
photo by me

All-City, Banjo Brothers and Saris all gave AMAZING prize donations!
photo by me

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Falling in love with May Day all over again

Riverwest 24 sign up

I have vivid childhood memories of heading down to Powderhorn park in Minneapolis each May 1st to see, and be a part of, the May Day parade, put on by Hear of the Beast.  To me, May Day was one of my favorite holidays.  It was about celebrating life, being playful and welcoming Spring.  I'm not sure how many May Day baskets I made--full to the brim with dandelions--but I'm quite positive each of my relatives received one.

When I moved out of Minneapolis, ions ago, I stopped celebrating May Day.  The places I moved to didn't have large gatherings--heck, I'm not sure many of my friends even knew what a May pole was.  It wasn't until last year when I began to celebrate this wonderful day once again--but this time in a different way.

Teams Garage 707 and Church of the Spoken Wheel
May 1st now translates to Riverwest 24 sign-up day.  A glorious day to cancel all plans and head to Milwaukee with friends to wait in line for one of the best bike events in the world.  You can see my last year's post here.  As some of you know, RW24 has gotten quite a bit of attention and is now so big one must arrive early in the morning to secure a spot.  This year, four of our six team mates rolled into the little park next to the Public House shortly after 9am.  On our drive there, a friend who was already at the park, called and informed us that over 100 people were already in line.  My heart started to race as I did the math in my head, knowing it could essentially be more than half full before we even got there.  Now, I know we were stuck in rush hour traffic for a reason.  As I found the end of the line, I was greeted by part of the team Garage 707.  I can't quite describe how shocked I was.  You see, last year, we were just behind these guys in line AND they are the team that allows us to use their home as a base.  On top of all this, we never planned any of it.  It was just meant to be.

Me resting at the Schlitz Audubon center in Bayside

Patiently waiting

Since we had four people in line this year, it allowed us to take of in twos and do a bit of riding around Milwaukee--always something I look forward to.  This time around, we wound our way North, along the river and into the burbs of Shorewood, Whitefish Bay, Fox Point and Bayside with an end point of the Schlitz Audubon center.  It was such a treat seeing all the different architecture since Madison is definitely lacking in that category.  It was also just so nice to spend a day with friends, doing what we all love best.  Here's to another year of adventure--vive le RW24!

Markham, with the heavens shining down upon him, after signing us up