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!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Let's put an end to revictimization

Today, in a packed listening session at the Wisconsin state capitol, the vulnerable user law was being discussed.  As I entered room 425 late due to work, I was immediately warmed by seeing so many familiar faces--most there to support a bill which would end the revictimization of those hit by vehicles while walking, biking or traveling by horse and buggy or farm equipment.

As I sat quietly on the floor, listening to story after story of people getting hit--some killed, some survived--emotions began to well up.  Aside from animal abuse and environmental issues, this is my biggest "hot button" issue.  Being a year round cyclist, almost my entire life, I have had my share of close calls with inattentive drivers both on foot and on bike.  I have also been hit a few times.  Thankfully, only one of those incidents led to severe injury in which I had to take time off work and seek medical attention.  Odd as it may seem, I am more passionate about Wisconsin passing the vulnerable user law because of the other's I've seen affected rather than my own experiences.  I don't think I have one cycling friend or pedestrian friend who hasn't been affected by drivers who shouldn't be behind the wheel.

I chose not to tell my personal stories because I didn't want to disrupt the room to fill out a sheet since I had come in late, and a part of me now regrets it.  Politicians need to be aware of how many people are affected, on a daily basis, by careless drivers.  When Dave Cieslewicz, the Wisconsin Bicycle Federation's new Executive Director, took the floor, he opened by telling the room about being hit just this morning while biking into work by an inattentive driver.  He was unharmed, and the driver admitted to not paying attention, however, if Dave had been injured, the driver would have likely only suffered a slap on the wrist.

The one time I was hit, and injured severely, the driver got off scott free since it was a "hit and run".  The police never found the driver and I was stuck with the medical bills and bike damage.  Even if the person had been caught, I know, from past experience, that it would have been a very difficult fight to have my medical bills covered as well as my lost work time reimbursed.  I actually turned down an ambulance ride to the ER, even though I and the medics were concerned that I had a bleeder into my elbow, because I knew I would have to cover the ambulance ride.  This is sad on so many levels.  Thankfully, I was an EMT years ago and knew what to look for.  I also had the common sense to get my ass into the ER if I suspected anything more than contusions and a concussion.  Most people who have been struck by a driver, however, are not so lucky.  Many will suffer mentally and physically for a long time, if they survive, and will never get a sense of "justice".

If you are one of the thousands, who have been affected by a reckless driver while walking or biking, I urge you to write into you state senator and representative and ask them to pass the vulnerable user law.  I also ask you to support the Wisconsin Bicycle Federation by becoming a member, volunteering and/or donating since they are the non-profit group who got this bill on the table.  One day, when this bill passes, we, as pedestrians and cyclists will be protected!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Music Makes the Wheels Go 'Round. Part 2

Peter Mulvey playing at the Brink Sunday evening
This year, Madison has been lucky to host a plethora of musicians who tour by bicycle.  In August, I had the pleasure of meeting and riding with Leo J who has been riding cross country since Spring and has now, hopefully settled in for the long winter in Vermont.  In October, we'll host Ben Sollee as he cruises through with his cello.  Sunday, however, had me giddy.  One of my all time favorite folk musicians, Peter Mulvey, came through on his annual bike tour, Madison being his final stop prior to heading back to Milwaukee for an all too brief stop at home.

For seven years, Peter has been doing a musical bike tour.  In his words, each year he thinks "WTF was I thinking?"  Playing night after night is hard enough.  Now, add 50-80 miles of riding while pulling all your gear in wind, rain, heat, and cold to the mix.  Could you do it?  Not me!  Heck, yesterday my husband and I were going to ride out and meet the crew--he tours with other musicians as well as friends--about 30-40 miles out of Madison and roll back into town with them.  Thirty miles into the ride, I realized I was too tired, after the gravel event the day prior, to go any further North since the headwinds were coming from the South.  Somewhere just South of Columbus, I had to text Peter telling him we were turning back.  Such a bummer.  I had looked forward to riding with him and Brianna Lane all week.  The only saving grace was Peter told me everything got quiet even in there group as they pushed into the headwinds from Columbus into Madison.

I had to "settle" for just going to the concert, which really wasn't settling at all.  As we entered the Brink, we first noticed Peter's steed parked in the entry way--a laid back recumbent bike in which he pulls a trailer with his guitar and gear.  I hadn't seen Peter play since the previous December when he did his yearly concert at Cafe Carpe with Redbird.  Since we had gotten there a bit early, I was able to a) apologize profusely for wimping out and b) chat with him about his schedule a bit.

There is a song titled "A Folk Singer Earns Every Dime".  I would second that!  Peter, like most folk musicians, spends a good deal of his time on the road.  Although he "lives" in Milwaukee with his wife, this year he was on the road for 160 days.  When I asked him "Isn't that tough?  Don't you miss your wife?"  He gave the perfect answer "But that's 200 days I get to be home."  And that's Peter's personality.  He's a glass half full kind of guy and he said that as he ages--he's 44 now--the transition from being on the road to going home gets easier.  He looks forward to doing house chores like turning the compost.

Brianna Lane

As we gathered in a packed room, I saw several familiar faces from the Madison folk scene.  One of my other favorite musicians, Rick Krause, who is not only an amazing musician but also a cyclist, joined us.  It was a pleasure to sit next to my husband and Rick for the show.  Brianna took the stage wearing a Twin Six Cyclofemme t-shirt--perfect choice I must say.  Although I'm sure she was exhausted, her voice rang out, and such a beautiful voice she has.  Brianna often tours around and plays at bike shops around the country, partially put on by one of my favorite bike bag makers, Banjo Brothers.  I think about this for a moment.  It pleases me so much to see that others see the connection between cycling and music.  It pleases me even more grassroots concerts are popping up all the time in bike shops.

Small chatter filled the room during the break between artists.  When Peter took the stage, the entire room's focus closed in on him.  Not only is Peter an amazing folk singer and writer, but also a fantastic story teller.  The beauty of seeing him perform solo--or mainly solo--is getting to hear his stories.  He speaks about his travels around Europe and the entire United States.  He speaks about his love for poetry.  He speaks about the interesting people he meets along the way.  I would say most of his songs are poetry or life stories set to music.  Prior to starting a specific song about a dream, he told us how he's been committed to writing a song every Tuesday and has to send it to some other song writing friends.  A conversation, if you will, through music.  Not unlike the conversations many painters would have with each other on canvas.

Peter fittingly sang some of his songs which included cycling as well, not bike songs per se, but beautifully capturing the essence of biking.  Weaving the bike into life.  When his set was done, I could only wish him well on his final leg.  From here, he'll head West for a mad dash tour down the coast.  Hopefully, I think, he'll find his way back home sometime soon, to settle into house chores and turn the compost.

Peter's wheels

If you live in Wisconsin, and would like to hear Peter play--of course you do--he will be doing his yearly series at Cafe Carpe in December.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Crushing Gravel? Part 3. Mammoth!

This year's sign for Mammoth

The day before:

As I drive Northeast the miles seem to slip away, and so do the years.  I turn off Highway 53 onto 8—heading towards St.Croix Falls.  Memories of a time, half my life ago, come rushing towards the forefront of my brain.  Towns like Cumberland, Amery and Turtle Lake make me remember a time when I’d go off on my own looking for adventure.  Funny.  My car knows where to go, even though I’ve never driven this route from Madison before.  I scroll through the radio stations.  Songs by Tom Petty, Def Leppard and Prince flow through my speakers.  Just another thing that takes me back to my late teens and early twenties. 

I’m heading to St.Croix Falls alone.  Tomorrow will find me riding the Mammoth Gravel Grinder.  I had planned on coming up here with a couple friends, however, an 80% chance of rain, temps in the low 50’s and strong winds made them opt out last minute.  I don’t blame them, since I did the same the weekend prior with the gravel event Heck of the North.  I see this as my redemption in a way.  Not to redeem myself to others, but to myself.

An old cruiser outside of the brick house
So here I sit, in this enormous brick rental house, in Centuria, WI, waiting for the morning and my next adventure to come—hopefully without too much rain.  As I said earlier, I used to do this sort of thing solo quite a bit twenty years ago.  I would have two or three days off work and I’d wake up, and decide to drive up to Ely to do some paddling, hiking or just camp.  I wouldn’t think of the possible dangers, I wouldn’t feel lonely to be alone, in fact at times I'd prefer this to traveling with others.  I got excited about the possibilities.  What wildlife would I see?  How far could I push my body?  Would I meet new interesting people?  Now, as I age, I’ve gotten somewhat attached to my creature comforts.  I have also no interest in driving five hours out and back for a one or even two day getaway.  This, however, was different.  After choosing not to do Heck of the North, and realizing winter is only a month away (it’s snowing two feet in North and South Dakota as I write this), I felt the need to push myself one last time this year. 

For me, gravel riding isn’t something that comes easy.  I wasn’t born on a mountain bike—I was raised on skinny road tires.  My bike handling skills in gravel, over mud and in sand, leave a lot to be desired.  I sweat in cold weather out of nervousness-- thanks to riding a few of these events I now use the word "nervous" vs. "fear".  And yet, there is some odd draw gravel events have on me.  Not knowing what’s around the bend, having to rely on maps, and troubleshooting when something goes wrong makes me feel like I did when I was doing more wilderness activities.  I remember days of hiking through pouring rain and sometimes knee deep snow.  I remember realizing complaining would get me nowhere and I better just find a way to enjoy my time.  Riding this gravel event, will I’m sure, bring me into that state of mind once again.  I will get wet.  I will be cold.  The riding won’t be easy.  And yet I’m looking forward to it.  Huh.  What a concept.  I must say, for me, I have to be in the correct frame of mind to even take this stuff on.  Last week I didn’t have the mental strength, so I opted for sunny warm rides instead.  Let’s hope the mental strength I have now, will pull me through the ride tomorrow.

Ride day!:

Frank Lundeen getting the swag ready

I wake too early.  My body's clock is set to wake before 5am regardless of my work schedule.  I eat breakfast in silence, except for the sound of light rain.  It's dark and I feel winter knocking at the door.  Being my usual excessively early self, I arrive at Cyclova a bit after 7am to sign up. The ride doesn't start until 9am.  What was I thinking?  Oh well, it gave me some time to chat with Frank Lundeen, co-owner of the shop and the guy who puts this event on.  After the 100 mile crew rolls out, I make my way back to the car to prep my bike.  I've chosen to ride my All-City Spacehorse since my Lemond Poprad won't allow me to mount 40mm tires.  Speaking of which, this was the first time I've ever ridden 40mm for a gravel event.  Thanks to one of my riding friends, Michael Lemberger, I was set to tackle deep sand, gravel and whatever else the course would bring.

The overlook from our starting area

Ben and Adam Turman

Scott on his first gravel ride and on his All-City Nature Boy

Fifteen minutes before the ride and I met up with Adam Turman and his friend Ben from Minneapolis.  I knew Adam through his artwork.  I've always been in love with his murals and prints and he's been kind enough to donate one of his pieces for me to use each year for Madtown Maidens Alleycat.  As we rolled out, heading North on 87 along the river, I still thought I'd be doing the ride alone.  No pressure.  A few minutes after turning onto the River Road, however, Scott rolled up next to me on his All-City Nature Boy.  I've said it before, and I'll say it again, bikes are great connectors.  What started as chit chat about bikes, turned into an actual conversation.  We caught up to Adam and Ben and hung with them for a bit.  When we hit the sand barrens, I stuck with Adam and Ben as Scott rode up ahead.  

Mechanical issues on the gravel

Speaking of sand, the rain we all hoped wouldn't hit us was actually a welcome reprieve on this seven mile stretch.  It packed the sand down to a rideable consistency, and as far as I know, no one had to walk.  We joked about the rain and how it seemed to hit around the same time it did the prior weekend at Heck.  We all secretly hoped it would stop once we hit the gravel and road.  Sand turned to gravel and in this stretch, we ran into Frank and crew handing up beer.  Adam grabbed a Hamms and we split it while maneuvering on the gravel.  That, my friends, was a first for me.  Actually riding gravel and drinking beer at the same time.  Priceless.

The miles clicked by.  We climbed our 1,200 feet of elevation gain in a matter of 15 miles on farm rollers.  We hit Luck, WI--a place I've known about by staying at a friend's cabin--and turned South onto Gandy Dancer trail.  All "downhill" from here.  Ten miles later, we turned off the trail and down a dead end road.  At the end--and I'm going to sound like a leprechaun here--was a pile of gold.  Five to six miles of cross country ski and mountain bike trails on private land in Big Rock Creek Farm.  Within minutes I knew this would be a challenge for my newbie mountain bike legs.  Only ever mountain biking a handful of times, I wasn't prepared for wet grass and tree roots as well as mud, rocks and descents.  A mile or two in, the guys disappeared.  At times I would open up and allow the bike to do what it's meant to, but when a guy crashed in front of me on a descent, I got a bit skittish.  I slowed my pace and decided to take my time to absorb the beauty--something that brought a couple tears to my eyes.  I was so lucky to be there.  To witness the leaves changing.  To ride by ponds with egrets, herons and swans.  To smell the earth awakened by the rain.  

Still smiling with ten miles to go

Me, Adam and Ben at the finish

I was happy to finish the last few miles alone.  It gave me time to absorb the morning and prepare myself for the long drive back home.  At the shop, we all met to congratulate each other and say our good-byes.  As I drove back to Madison, the skies opened up with a downpour.  The sound of rain mixed perfectly with my choice of music--The Talking Heads, Joy Division and The Velvet Underground.  Just another perfect day!

Thanks go out to Michael for letting me use his Clement MSOs, Adam, Ben and Scott for being my riding buddies, but most importantly to Frank who put this on.  I doubt people realize how much time and energy goes into planning these free gravel events.  If you ride any of these events, please offer to volunteer for one of them, and by all means, thank the organizers for supplying us with all this gravel goodness.

"Blue Velvet" got me through another adventure!