Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Does Green Attract Green?

As I was biking home from the Clips Film Tour the other night, I couldn't help but pose the question "Does green attract green?"  No, I'm not talking about all the lushness we are experiencing here in Wisconsin after a surplus of 13 inches of rain.  I'm talking about how environmentally conscious circles overlap and sometimes collide.  Although there is a good possibility that cyclists and pedestrians make other healthy environmental choices, don't assume they do.

One of the two compost stations at Clips Film Tour

My volunteer position this year at Clips (a fundraiser for the Wisconsin Bicycle Federation) consisted of trash talking.  Essentially I, along with several amazing volunteers, tried to make the event a zero waste zone.  Paul Abramson, from Zero Waste Planning, taught us how to set up the compost stations and how to educate folks on what can be composted or recycled and what goes to the landfill.  This should all be easy, I thought.  Most of the people at the event were earth loving cyclists--they'll know the drill.  Not so quick.  I was actually quite surprised how many people didn't know what could be composted or recycled.  Instead of waiting for them to leave, so I could fish out their paper plate from the trash bin--something I really don't mind doing--I chose to chat with them about what Madison allows to be composted and why it's so important to compost first, then recycle and finally trash it.  It's kind of like the "three r's--reduce, reuse, recycle".  Not only is it important to know the three words, it's equally important to know which order they go in.  Luckily, everyone was game, and I only had to fish out one plate.

A quick look beyond the actual festival grounds and another green movement was occurring.  You would think that anyone who bikes also bike commutes, but alas, it's not always that way.  I actually know quite a few roadies who wouldn't ever consider using their speed machines as transportation.  Why waste training energy getting from point A to point B if it isn't on the training schedule?  I was delighted, however, for the fourth year in a row, to see a long line of commuters waiting to have a bike valet park their bike for free.  B-cycle (Madison's bike share program) volunteers for this each year.  I've seen the parking area go from half full the first year to overflowing now on the fourth year.  Always a wonderful sight!  No emissions were being spewed out while people waited patiently in line.  People took their waiting time as a chance to catch up with other cyclists vs. going into a ball of road rage.  Just as it should be.

This is just a small section of the bike valet line

So getting back to my initial question...does green attract green?  Thankfully, I am seeing more of a movement in that direction.  I also see we have a long way to go--this includes me.  I can't possibly feel righteous bike commuting everywhere when I still produce a fair amount of waste.  Each year I try to reevaluate what my personal impact is on the environment and try to make a couple small changes.  It's not perfect by any means...but I am trying.  This is just something to ponder as we not only look around us but also within--because change always starts with personal awareness and responsibility.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Going Au Naturel

Riding around the capitol
photo by Bryan Brabender

I was born in late August, 1974 to a hippy mom and a bike obsessed dad.  My mom tells me it was one of the hottest summers on record.  I came out naked, like we all enter this world.  Although I don't remember my first few years, I do remember loving running around the house and playing in the pool without a stitch of clothing on. I have pictures of myself riding my bigwheel in only diapers.  Hey, isn't that what summer is meant for?  For seven to eight months out of the year, my face is the only skin showing...I can't help but shed some layers when mother nature allows.

For the past four years, Madison has been one of the many sites for the World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR). I've always been out of town and had to miss it--but not this year.  I was determined to take part and see what it was like.  I would never consider myself an exhibitionist or a nudist.  At the same time, being raised in  YM and YWCA's, as well as at camps, I'm not shy or uncomfortable with nudity.  My body has served me well and I'm proud of it.  This, however, was not why I chose to ride the WNBR.  My draw was more than "skin deep".  I wanted to be a part of a protest against fossil fuels.  I wanted ride with others who supported human powered transportation, and with the enormous budget cuts to the bike/ped funding, I saw this as the perfect way to make a fun, playful statement.

Most of the WNBR's occurred a week before Madison's.  Portland pulled in almost 8,000 riders and Chicago almost 1,000.  We, on the other hand, were still small with 60-65 riders.  We were like a large, two-wheeled family of all ages and shapes, riding throughout the city.  Our ride started by meeting at a secret spot before being led by one of the event organizers to the staging area.  Once there, we could undress--to whatever we felt comfortable wearing--and decorate our bodies with paint and markers.  Some chose to write messages on their bodies, I wrote "Mend your fuelish ways" on my arm and leg, and others decorated themselves with flowers or wigs.  Some were there primarily for environmental reasons, while others were there to promote body acceptance.  All were there for positive reasons and at no point did I feel uncomfortable or threatened.  This ride had NOTHING to do with sex as some might assume.  Honestly, as I spoke to other riders, I forgot they were naked.

Heading down State Street
photo by Bryan Brabender
As we rolled slowly around the East side, down State Street, and around the capitol a few times, we were greeted by cheers, clapping, and smiles.  I would say 99% of the feedback was positive and I thought it was wonderful parents were not shielding their kids from looking.  Most kids didn't seem to even care.  I'm sure they were thinking "Hey, cool, I just did that at home this morning."  All in all I would say it was a beautiful day, a beautiful ride and a very uplifting experience.  I'll definitely do it again!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

I'm sorry USA Cycling, but it's time for a divorce

A few months back, I had to make a big decision.  My USA Cycling coaching licence was up and it was time to renew.  I had only held the coaching license for a few years, and yet my frustrations with the organization were mounting.  The straw that broke the camel's back, and made me finally choose not to renew, was their enforcement of the UCI's rules to not allow ANY licenced rider to compete in non-sanctioned races.

If you haven't read about this yet, get ready to be pissed off.  In a nutshell, the UCI President, Pat McQuaid, passed the rule 1.2.019 stating there will now be "forbidden races" for anyone holding a USA Cycling licence.  This doesn't just affect pro racers--or racers at all--this affects everyone from just plain old riders to event organizers and coaches.  I, myself, haven't raced in ages.  I do, however, take part in centuries and gravel events.  Because of this rule, and because I was a licence holder, I was essentially breaking the rules and my licence could be taken away.

So why did this all come about?  Many people guess it's because there has been a huge success in non-sanctioned events in the past few years.  Gravel races like Almanzo, the Dirty Kanza and Trans Iowa and mountain bike races like the NUE series, have proven that people want something different.  The organizers for these events make it about the pure love of cycling, not all the red tape surrounding it.  I think it speaks volumes when the non-sanctioned events are filling up and a lottery needs to take place for the few open spots.  Cyclists are having fun again and I support it 100%.

As I looked over my coaching registration, and contemplated why I got into coaching and training, it all became clear.  I didn't get into it because I wanted fame or recognition.  I didn't get into it because I only wanted to train top athletes.  I got into coaching because I wanted to help people have fun while training and become the cyclist they want to be.  If they want to do a non-sanctioned event, I'm all for it, and for that reason, I decided to "file" my renewal forms somewhere productive...in the recycling bin.

Riding Almanzo and happy not to be part of the UCI!
photo by Nathan Vergin

Friday, June 7, 2013

Slip Sliding Away

Bit by bit, I am losing faith in Wisconsin.  Although I wasn't born or raised here, Madison has been my home for ten years.  The roots I have put down here are deeper than any other place I have lived, except maybe Minneapolis.  I do not intend to make this a political piece.  I'm guessing everyone knows where I stand on that issue.  Instead, this post will be on the health of our state--which includes the health of our cycling community and pedestrian community.

When I first moved to Wisconsin I was so pleased by what I saw.  I witnessed organic farms popping up everywhere, people enjoying the outdoors by hiking, biking, swimming and boating, money being put into trail systems, funds being allocated for bike lanes and paths, solar and wind energy gaining popularity and people caring about the general health of Wisconsin as a place and as a community.  Politicians were making wise decisions, and as a whole, we were moving in the right direction to improve every one's living standards.

To be a healthy state, we need to put an emphasis on education, provide help for those with diseases--including obesity and addictions, work hard at cleaning up the lakes and improving air quality, and provide safe roads/paths for people to bike or walk on.  If we neglect these projects, and settle for status quo, we will become sick, depressed and, in the long run, cost the state more to treat illnesses.

In the past few years, I have been pushed to the point of tears.  I have come so close to "jumping ship" and one of the main reasons I've chosen to stay was the amazing biking.  I tell my friends around the country I have never experienced better cycling than what I have just a few miles from my back door.  I'm guessing they don't believe me since I've lived in Oregon, Hawaii, Vermont, Wyoming and several other beautiful states, however, nothing I have experienced in the past can touch what I have here.  Biking here is my form of meditation.  It keeps me healthy in body and in mind.  When I express my concerns for the health of the state, I have had people tell me "If you don't like it, leave!"  But wait.  I pay taxes too.  Shouldn't my tax dollars have an equal voice?  I hardly drive so shouldn't some the money I pay in go towards making it safer for me to bike?  Since Walker, Ryan and Fitzgerald often get their way, the answer is "no".  In their eyes,  cars are king and in some ways, I think they would like to tax me more for not buying gas.

In the past week, all of us involved in bicycle and pedestrian advocacy have been on the edge of our seats.  The question looming was not "Will they cut?" but "How much will they cut?"  I am sad to say almost all of the funding that was slated to go towards these projects was cut.  Walker cut all of the federal and state money he had control over and then, at the last minute, threw us a bone by handing back two million dollars--that will be doled out over two years.  Two million is chump change when you look at how much is spent on building highways.  I'm not sure we would have even received that measly sum if it weren't for the Wisconsin Bike Fed as well as positive politicians and lobbyists. 

So what now you ask?  Honestly I have no answers since I'm still in mourning.  What I will ask of you is to get involved.  #1:  Keep biking!  Show them you care about your health, the environment and safety for cyclists as well as pedestrians.  #2:  Spread the word and get others out biking with you.  #3:  Volunteer.  Contact your local bike fed office and ask how you can help or go to your local bike shop and ask how you can get involved in community projects.  #4:  Donate money to the Wisconsin Bike Fed, if you can.  Your dollars go towards education and advocacy.  The Bike Fed could not and would not exist without your support. 

Together, we can keep Wisconsin moving forward.  We MUST stay positive and work together.  The health of our state depends upon it.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Bicycles...the great connectors

This is how Stephen has fun on rides--yes, that is a squirt gun.  Photo by Nathan Vergin

Life is essentially a bunch of "hellos" and "goodbyes".  People come and go into my life, touching my soul and mind in so many wonderful ways.  At least 75% of these connections have been made through the bicycle in one form or another, and have occurred from Hawaii to France.  For me, the bicycle is truly the great connector.

I think of these people often as meteors.  Sometimes they are more like shooting stars, other times they make an impact on me not unlike the permanent craters made on the surface of the moon.  When I close my eyes, thousands of images rush to my mind's forefront and I am often times overwhelmed by the amazing people and adventures I've had surrounding two wheels.  All have been a great gift in one way or another, but sometimes, a person makes an exceptionally large impact.

Just under a year ago, I was lucky enough to meet Stephen.  He came to a bike fed party I was throwing and we talked briefly.  I still can't quite figure out how things fell into place, but he was invited onto our group ride for the following morning.  I remember questioning his choice of bikes he had to ride and wondered if he'd be able to keep up with us on the hills.  He told me the choices were a Surly Big Dummy, a Bianchi single speed cross, a fat bike or a custom fixie.  I couldn't quite wrap my mind around any of these working for a hilly 60 mile loop.

This is what was consumed on our first ride as a group with Stephen
The next morning, as all of us gathered at my place for our pancake ride, he rode up--kitted out--on his fixie.  Huh.  Was he really going to ride that?  Oh well, I had a map I could give him if he had to limp back.  I won't go into details about the ass kicking he gave us all.  I won't mention the fact that it took days for us to pick our jaws up off the ground.  I will, however, mention that as he was schooling us on the hills, he was completely humble (or at least he pretended to be).   I have never, and I mean this, seen any rider do what he did.  It's one thing to ride single speed--it's another thing to ride fixed.  I have many friends that can handle the shorter, steep hills riding fixed but none that could do the distance Stephen does.

I'll refrain from talking up his riding skills too much since I fear it will either embarrass the hell out of him or start the seed of an ego, but you should know he did TWO gravel events riding this beast.  One of them being the famed Almanzo in which he finished in just over 6.5 hours.  You can read about his adventure here.

Taking a step back, I feel that first ride we did together as a group changed us all.  I think we all knew he'd fit in marvelously, and in same ways better our group.  One ride led into the next.  Fall quickly approached, as did the snow.  Stephen and Michael (one of the founders of our group) competed in the Triple D winter race, and we all took turns meeting up for beer to pass the long winter nights in a more gentle fashion.  As Spring approached, Stephen took it upon himself to train with three of the group members for Trans Iowa out of solidarity--even though he wasn't racing it himself.  The snow would fly, the wind would blow, and they would ride.

Stephen and Chris getting ready for Triple D.  Photo by BykMor

Trans Iowa training.  Photo by Nathan Vergin

Brewery tour of Lakefront


As Spring begins to wrap up, another "goodbye" is coming all too quickly.  You see Stephen doesn't really belong in Wisconsin.  His home is Utah--where he had to say "goodbye" to his amazing wife a year ago.  He came to us by way of a medical grant--thank you UW--and as that wraps up, he'll pack his few belongings (most of them bike related) and will head back West.

I know I can't speak for everyone in the Church of the Spoken Wheel, but I'm sure we will all miss him in so many ways.  He has left all of us with so many great memories and I'm hoping our paths cross again soon.  Thank you Stephen for all you've given us.  Ride on Mr. BykMor!

Riding "Triksie"--but not all the way back to Utah.  Photo by Nathan Vergin

Monday, June 3, 2013

Ride the Drive

Although Sunday brought cool and cloudy conditions, many came out to celebrate two wheels Madison style  at Ride the Drive.  After a nice, hilly road ride with a good friend in the morning, my husband and I couldn't help but head down for the festivities.  Here are some scenes:

I was so happy to see so many families out enjoying the car free streets!

This little girl was working so hard

Zac celebrated his birthday on two wheels

Nathan spent the day wrenching for Dream Bikes

Our neighbor was working at keeping the traffic in check