Sunday, July 28, 2013

RW24--my little slice of heaven

Our team spoke card

I woke up this morning at 7:30--the latest I've slept in for years.  I went into the bathroom, rinsed off my face, rubbed my eyes and realized that RW24 2013 was over.  It all felt so surreal, was it a dream or did it really happen?  I didn't want it to be over.  I had been looking forward to this day since last year's ride ended.  And this morning, in my somewhat less sleep deprived universe, I knew it wasn't a dream since I still had a smile on my face and flashes of a images replayed themselves in my head.

Me and Dan at the starting line in the rain
I've written about RW24 before--see my posts Team 24 Must Be Lucky and It's Gush Time.  Although the premise was the same this year, it is an organic event.  Each year it changes, not for better or worse, it's just different.  That's part of it's beauty.  You never know what to expect.  As our team, Church of the Spoken Wheel, along with team Garage 707, lined up at the starting line, the heavens opened up to what I can only explain as a christening.  It was cold--I mean really cold--for July and there we were, more than 1,000 of us, lined up on Pierce Street, soaking wet, most of us laughing.  A far cry from last year's temps in the 80's and yeah, it may have sucked just a little (my clothes never did dry from those first two laps), but we were all in it together.  And that's what RW24 is about...coming together.

Our "home" for a day

As I did a little spin today, I couldn't help but shake one word from my mind:  Gratitude.  The major reason I'm drawn to this event isn't just because it's one of the funnest events in the world--although that certainly doesn't hurt--it's because I love what the Riverwest community can do.  Each year, they pull this thing off with very few incidents.  I don't know how they do it, although I suspect it could be the thousands of volunteer hours, the amazing ride organizers and the support from a very cool community,  but I'm not certain it's just those things.  I also believe there's a bit of magic going on here.  A beautiful balance of gratitude and love.  I know there are some pretty outstanding bike events out there that could probably boast the same, but RW24 is special.  Where else can you see a thousand sleep deprived, and maybe hung over, riders with smiles plastered on their faces for over 24 hours?  Where else do you hear a constant song of "thank yous" to all the volunteers donating their time--some of which I think worked almost the entire 24 hours?  And where do you see an event that is so coveted people are willing to camp out the night before, in a city park, to ensure a riding spot?  As I wrote in my blog post "It's Gush Time" last year, I am once again in awe of everyone involved with putting this event on, as well as our garage hosts, that "gratitude" is the only word I can think of.

Wendy, in purple, is one of the ride organizers

Until May Day next year, when I'll get to sign up for 2014, I will have to rely on my fond memories from this year's event to help me get through another year of waiting.  Scenes like the fact it stopped raining the moment the announcements were over at the starting line, singing "I Feel Good" at the top of my lungs to a room full of strangers, drinking shot after shot of free espresso courtesy of Alterra coffee interchanged with beer and junk food to make the perfect racing cocktail, sitting under a canopy of Christmas lights--without a thought in the world--at 1am in Garage 707, squatting by the river trying my damnedest to thaw out a frozen t-shirt so I could proudly wear it and cover myself in river muck, having my face painted by a good friend from team Phil is Hard, watching the amazing women and men who chose to ride solo, introducing two newbies to RW24, and celebrating life with a bunch of people I can honestly say I love.  Thank you all for one hell of a day/night!  See you again next year!

Dan and Nathan taking a little break between laps

Nathan, from our team, and part of team Phil is Hard (Perfecto, Phil, Jonathan and Ben)

Dan from Team Garage 707 sporting his favorite cycling wear

You too can be a part of this event, even if you don't want to ride!

Thanks to Ben from team Phil is Hard, I got just a little prettier

A fat bike sculpture at the finish line

Part of team Church of the Spoken Wheel (Martha, me, Dan and Michael).    Markham is MIA and Nathan is taking the picture.  Taken in front of our home base.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Mourning for the Unknown

Tom Van Hoof and Josiah Lent
For the past few days, I've had this icky feeling I can't shake.  It's been ebbing and flowing, but mostly flowing.  Yesterday morning, while riding into work at 5am, the dam broke and tears began to stream down my cheeks.  This all began in Spring when three cyclists were hit and killed by drivers in their cars, within a two week period, here in Wisconsin.  I tried to shake it off, and for the most part I succeeded.  I allowed myself to sweep the negative feelings into deep corners of my mind--just so I could continue to enjoy road riding.  And then, last week, I got a phone call.

My friend, Josiah, called me last Friday.  He told me about Tom Van Hoof and how he was struck by a car while crossing a road from the Interurban trail North of Milwaukee.  At the time, I didn't think I knew him, and yet my emotions welled up for the loss of not just another cyclist, but a father figure to a good friend. When Tom's pictures were posted I realized I had met him twice.  No, we weren't close, but the punch hit just a bit harder.  I began to realize that Tom was family.  A part of a big Wisconsin family all connected by the love of two wheels.  My stomach began to churn and I started thinking about him, as well as the other six cyclists killed this year in Wisconsin (the latest being a twenty year old in Madison this week), and I couldn't shake them from my thoughts each time I rode.

Yesterday, I needed to release some of the tension if I were going to enjoy the upcoming RW24 event in Milwaukee.  I hit the road headed West on a not too hilly ride I've done hundreds of times.  While coming back, on a wide road with a bike lane, I was clipped by a truck with extended towing mirrors.  In a split second, I felt the slap on my shoulder and luckily veered my bike into the ditch.  I hit the gravel and sustained some bruising and road rash but was able to remount and ride back home.  The driver of the truck never stopped or slowed down--probably didn't even know he/she hit me.  Matters were made worse by the fact I was thinking about the deaths when this happened.  I wasn't unaware of my surroundings, just allowing myself to grieve.  To say the least, I am a little rattled.  I'm questioning riding in RW24 since the course isn't closed and traffic is quite bad at some intersections.  My husband is pushing me to "get back on the horse".  I will of course.  I will also dedicate my first lap to those beautiful people that hopefully are in a better place without cars.

This post is for the families/friends of those cyclists that are no longer with us.  Please know the entire cycling community stands behind you.  May you find solace soon.

Monday, July 15, 2013

This Must Be the Place

Climbing to the unknown.  by Nathan Vergin
About ten years ago, I grew my first true root as an adult.  After searching for the non-existent Utopia for many years, and never truly finding it, I settled in Madison.  Since then, that one root has turned into a multitude of deep tap roots based primarily on friends and riding routes.  Madison is not a bad place to settle at all, but I still can't help but think "What else am I missing out there?"

Last weekend, this question expanded to more than just a physical place.  It grew tendrils and reached into almost every crevasse of my brain.  I'm sure it was all intensified by three things:  a) I spent the weekend biking through Minneapolis, my home city, b)  I was able to reconnect with some really great people from my past--and one from my present, and c)  I have only been at my true place of residence for a couple days this month, and very little, really since Spring.  As I rode city streets and paths paved with 38 years of memories, two songs were dueling in my head.  The Moody Blues "You Can Never Go Home" and The Talking Heads "This Must Be the Place" were on a constant loop any time there was silence.

I don't know what I'm searching for

I never have opened the door,
Tomorrow might find me at last,
Turning my back on the past,
But, time will tell, of stars that fell,
A million years ago.
Memories can never take you back, home, sweet home.
You can never go home anymore.
-The Moody Blues

Home is where i want to be
Pick me up and turn me round
I feel numb - burn with a weak heart
(so i) guess i must be having fun
The less we say about it the better
Make it up as we go along
Feet on the ground
Head in the sky
It's ok i know nothing's wrong . . nothing
-The Talking Heads

The weekend was one of the best I've had in years.  Two wheels mixed with great friends, amazing Ethnic food, beer--maybe too much of it, a beautiful place to rest for the weary (we stayed at an airbnb location I will forever rave about) and many memories.  As I drove out of Minneapolis, and over the St.Croix river, this nagging bittersweet tinge welled up.  Honestly, I have no desire to move back to Minneapolis, and at the same time, I'm not sure where I belong.  Madison is where I call "home", however, I've gotten into this funny habit of calling any place I sleep for the night "home".  Since I pet/house sit so frequently, my "home" changes several times each month.  Couple that with road trips, and I sometimes feel like I'm living out of a backpack.  This isn't something I frown on, nor is it something I want to do forever, it just brings up questions. Where do I want to make a home for me and my ever growing fleet of bikes?

Too many questions for me and my tired brain at the moment, so I will allow them to linger and steep along with scenes from my latest bike adventure.

My friend, Nathan, navigating one of the cross courses in Theo Wirth park--with ease

Me and James rolling through Crosby Park near the river.  Photo by Nathan Vergin

One of my favorite iconic Minneapolis shots--the Hennepin Av. bridge.  

Lunch from Kramarczuks

James and Nathan in the Mill District

Me on the Sabo bridge.  Photo by Nathan Vergin

Sculpture Gardens

Me, James and Nate on the Stone Arch bridge

John and Nate--we were foiled again by flooding

Thursday, July 4, 2013

A Second Form of Two Wheel Love

I have this secret.  This dark and dirty secret I rarely expose to my fellow cyclists.  Brace yourself.  I love motorcycles.  Yes, this environmentally conscious, human powered obsessed woman has this passion for gasoline powered bikes.  I don't own one, and probably won't ever own one as long as I live in the Midwest, but there are dreams...and those dreams were just sparked again earlier this week.

A friend of mine decided to ride from his current residence in North Carolina, to his hometown just North of Minneapolis.  In his path was Madison.  He was kind enough to make a two day layover to catch up after spending 12 hours riding from West Virginia.  Although deep down I was hoping he'd bring me out on his Suzuki touring bike, I wasn't about to ask him since I thought he needed a one day reprieve.  Luckily, he offered and we took a few hours to tour around some of my favorite spots in Madison.  All I can say is this little kid inside of me could not be contained.  My cheeks still hurt from smiling so much and the moment we got done with the ride, I instantly felt like jumping up and down and saying "One more time!, just as I would have after a roller coaster ride when I was ten.

I will say that bombing down a steep hill on a bicycle is just about the best feeling in the world, but being on a motorcycle is a bit different.  I can't explain it and a lot of you may not understand.  I could probably blame part of this on my dad.  Not only did he get me hooked on bicycles, but it was with him that I also fell in love with motorcycles.  I have so many childhood memories of riding on his Honda either in the back or in the sidecar.  I remember being so small the first few rides that I'd ride in front of him.  It all felt completely natural and I looked forward to it every summer.

My dad didn't own a motorcycle for long, and I didn't get many chances to ride through my teens and twenties.  A few joy rides here and there with friends and a ride with my dad about ten years ago on his new BMW touring bike, but even with the infrequent rides, my head would always turn when I would see a beautiful bike and the joys of riding would come rushing back.

Now, aesthetics are just as important to me on gas powered bikes as they are with human powered bikes.  I'll be honest, I'm not a fan of Harleys.  I don't like the way they look and I despise the way they sound.  Sad to say, I live in Harley country, and it's just about the only brand I see.  This is part of the reason I have been able to squelch my dreams of owning my own bike.  I would so much rather be surrounded by Norton's, Indians, BMW's and Triumph's.  They are pieces of art, not just transportation.  I actually enjoy just standing and looking at them while I dream of riding the same back country roads I currently bike on.

Because it's been so long since I've been on a motorcycle, I was hoping some of the joy had died, not unlike going to a water or amusement park as an adult.  I thought maybe, just maybe, I'd get out there and after ten minutes think "Okay, that was fun, but I'm done now."   No such luck.  It just sparked my desire to ride again.  Damn.  Since I won't be getting a motorcycle of my own, I'll have to hit my friends up with bikes for spins now and then.  I guess I'll just have to quit my job now since this is  one more thing I want to fit into my jam packed summers.  So if you see a woman riding on the back of a motorcycle with hideous cyclist tan lines, there's a fairly strong chance that it's me.

This post is for James, who reignited my other two wheeled passion.  Thanks...I think.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Celebrating Summer

Riding the rollers through the driftless zone near Mineral Point

There are times, I think, I forget how much I love summer.  I always know I love it, and wait eagerly each winter for it to bloom, but it's not until it embraces me that I feel it's warmth settle into my bones at which point I relax fully for a few brief months.  Nothing in this world--not even a good Bordeaux--can erase the creases on my forehead and send me into a total state of bliss faster than the arrival of heat and humidity.  I'm sure part of this is because I was born late in one of the hottest Augusts on record.  I'm a summer baby through and through and even though I enjoy winter sports like skiing and dog sledding, I would trade them all in for a longer summer.

You may ask why then, do I not live in Florida or Arizona.  One simple answer--I love the biking in Wisconsin.  My husband and I did live on the Big Island of Hawaii for a year, but the two safe bike routes wore thin after a month.  I enjoyed so many aspects of island life, the biking however, was not one of them.  This is a dilemma I've been struggling with most of my life.  The areas of the United States that "should" have the best cycling and pedestrian paths actually have some of the worst conditions.  So what am I to do but make the most out of winter and cherish every second of summer.

Coming off one of the longest winters I can remember, and one of the wettest springs, I was ready, once the solstice hit, to allow my white limbs to be kissed by the sun and ride like a madwoman.  To celebrate, my husband and I chose a four day mini vacation to Mineral Point--only an hour drive Southwest of Madison, yet deep into the driftless zone.  Our days consisted of three primary goals--biking, nature watching and eating--all to be done at a pace that matched the flow of molasses.

Our home away from home for three nights

Bluebird Hill Cottage

The view from the yard--overlooking a pond and Mineral Point

Our former Capitol is behind me 
Our bike routes looked like flower petals shooting off from our home base of Bluebird Hill Cottage, just South of Mineral Point.  We picked a different direction each day that led us through multiple small towns and parks--Belmont (the state's first Capitol and now home to Montchevre goat creamery), Yellowstone state park, Governor Dodge state park...and so on.  Each day brought new views of Amish farm hamlets surrounded by Burr Oak, beef cattle ranches, fields of wheat and corn that seemed to pulse in the strong winds, creeks with one lane bridges and of course, endless hills.  In fact, the hills were so relentless we began to laugh at their absurdity.  No, they weren't as steep as those found around Westby or Viroqua, but they NEVER ended.  On fifty to sixty mile loops, we may only have had two to three miles of flat road.  With hills, though, come views.  And the views were worth every aching muscle.

Looking down into Governor Dodge state park from County Road Z

Looking down onto Yellowstone Lake

On these rides, we would usually ride silently.  Sometimes we would draft each other to ease the pain of the headwind, but usually we'd be a 30-40 feet apart.  We gave each other space not only for the thrilling descents, but also to fully take in the magnitude of our surroundings.  At times, I would glance down at my increasingly bronzed arms and notice the toxic shimmer of sweat and sunscreen often coated with gnats.  These gnats were the only downside to our getaway.  Because of the recent deluge, millions of them decided to hatch and if we biked slower than 15mph--very common while climbing hills--they would engulf us.  Worse yet was what happened when we had to stop and check the map.  At that point, I must have looked like a crazed animal--swatting, twitching and shaking my head all at once.  It was because of these gnats we actually welcomed the strong headwinds, for that was our only time of reprieve.  As we rode on a long stretch of hilly road called Fort Defiance, into a 25mph wind, I thought of this poem by Bill Holm:

Above me, wind does it's best
to blow leaves off
the aspen tree a month too soon.
No use wind.  All you succeed
in doing is making music, the noise
of failure growing beautiful

We watched these baby ground squirrels for hours
And so this is how each day repeated itself.  Eat, ride, eat, walk/watch animals, eat, read, sleep.  Perfection at it's best.  I could live on this schedule for the rest of my life.  I hope to continue being able to savour every second of summer--now, if I could just figure out how to lengthen it in Wisconsin, even by a month, I would be the happiest woman around.

Here is a small collection of pictures I took while exploring one of my favorite parts of Wisconsin on two wheels and by foot.

Fields of corn and wheat "pulsing" in the wind

An icon in Mineral Point--home of the Cornish pasty

One of the many limestone cottages in Mineral Point

Mulberry Pottery, one of my favorite potters in the world

Hops farm outside of Governor Dodge state park

Me and my husband cruising down Norwegian Hollow Road