Friday, November 29, 2013

Going off the deep end--what a nice place to visit

If one makes a calculated decision to go into delirium, would it still be considered delirium?  

The past two weeks have been cold here in the Midwest.  Really cold.  We've been experiencing January weather in November...something I'm not that fond of.  When this cold snap hit, I had to make a decision, either give up the long rides and only bike for commuting, or say "fuck it", jump off the deep end, and keep riding.  

Freezaroo ride 2013
The annual Freezaroo ride, put on by Bombay Bicycle Club, is usually the last road ride of the year for me. It's always held around thanksgiving, and it's almost always hovering around the freezing mark with stiff winds.  Not this year.  Nope, 32 degrees would have been balmy compared to the 9 degrees with a 15mph Westerly we had.  And yet, five of us showed up and had a blast, feet feeling like frozen stumps and all.

That ride was the coldest actual road ride I've ever done.  It proved something to me.  I could keep on doing long rides and survive.  I've never had an issue keeping my core warm, but following in my dad's footsteps by having Raynaud's disease, made me think twice about taking on long distance winter cycling.  Thanks to chemical foot warmers, wool socks, booties and coffee stops, I got a new lease on cold weather riding and doors began to magically open.

Years ago, I considered those who chose to do long rides in the winter to be "nutters".  Winter was for dog sledding, skiing, and ice skating--there were three other seasons for cycling.  Then the fat bike movement went viral.  Everyone and their brother got one and everyone I seemed to ride with was either entering, or thinking about entering, a fat bike race.  My riding season began to lengthen since all my friends continued to ride, first by starting in March, then going through 'til December.  Now, it seems as if I only have a period of eight weeks when I don't go on actual road rides.  I had to start thinking of myself as a "nutter" as well.  

Following the Freezaroo ride, I headed up North to the Twin Cities area for thanksgiving.  My mom currently lives in Waconia, about 45 miles Southwest of Minneapolis.  I'm not shy when referring to how much I hate suburbs. Within moments of being in one, I start to feel like a caged animal.  The only thing I hate as much as suburbs is driving back and forth from suburbs into the city.  This left me in a pickle.  I had three days where I'd either have to hang out in the 'burbs or drive into Minneapolis.  I had to figure out how to blow off some of that cagey feeling.  After watching the weather, no snow in the forecast, I chose to bring my bike.  I had done research and discovered a way to bike from Waconia into Minneapolis and then from Waconia, West past New Germany.  It would mean piecing trails, both paved and gravel, together with paved and gravel roads.  I didn't have a detailed map but decided to wing it anyway.

Quick pit stop to check out a frozen over lake Waconia

No amount of cold could stop me from petting this farm kitty

I found a sculpture garden on one of my rides, making the entire thing worthwhile

Two days of riding later, and almost 100 miles in temperatures ranging between 17-25F, and I can honestly say I think I've gone off the deep end.  I'm not saying this because I did the rides, I'm saying this because I thoroughly enjoyed myself--even when riding into the 15-20mph winds.  I'm guessing what this all means is there is no longer hope for me.  I'm a convert.  I doubt I'll ever like riding in the winter as much as I love riding in the heat and humidity--too many damn layers--but for the first time, I can say "I don't hate winter riding".   Sadly, no winter races will ever be in my cards due to the fear of frostbite, but you will see me out riding more in the winter months with a smile literally frozen to my face.

Smiling to be on my bike and to be on gravel!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Winter Scents

In my mind, I think of winter being void of all smell.  The deep freeze should make the sense of smell bed down for the winter.  In truth, winter seems to heighten it.  As I ride around town, wood smoke punctures the clean, crisp air.  Bacon grease wafts through kitchens, driven out by exhaust fans, only to have it's heavy fat stick to the inside of my nostrils.  Cigarette smoke finds it's way out of the smallest break in a car's sealant.  I hold my breath as long as I can and wish I could only smell wood smoke again.

I find myself being overwhelmed by this sense, not unlike after the first spring rain.  And yet, everything seems so different.  In winter, smells seem harsh to me, not soft like in April.  Maybe it's just my imagination, or maybe it's because each smell is being carried by cutting air, directly into my already sensitive lungs, with only a thin layer of wool or synthetic to filter them out.  When the temps drop below 20, there is no moisture left in the air to collect the smells and bring them down to the ground, so they float around searching for warmth and water--something to cling to--my nose and lungs must make a nice host.

Each year I am taken aback by this.  It shocks me as if the world has somehow changed overnight.  In some ways it has.  Last night, I rode up to a bar to see some friends play music.  It was my first truly "winter" ride of the year.  I was cold, as anyone might be riding around in jeans in 20 degrees.  I felt alive, invigorated, in tune--until I walked into the bar.  Within seconds, I was hit by a wall of stale beer, cigarette smoke, body odor, cheap perfume and acrylic.  It took me back to my time spent up in Ely, Minnesota, with winters being so very harsh up there, and the locals essentially living in bars.  Although smoking is no longer allowed in the bars, folks take turns, often times in packs, heading out to smoke.  They come back in with a cloud following them.  Because it's cold, and because Midwesterner's love their cheese and meat, an aura of old grease seems to circle their bodies, mixing with the smoke.  They too can smell this, and so they cover it up with perfume or cologne.  Beer just adds to the toxic cocktail and I find myself getting a bit woozy.  I dream of the outdoors once again and think even the old sled dogs I used to work with smelled better.

Back on my bike, after the show, I sense ice in the air.  It smells like a mixture of mineral and metal.  It smells cold and clean.  My lungs take it in, as if it's pure oxygen, even though it burns a bit.  I smile, happy to be under the star laden sky, away from pollution with only the music still surrounding me.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Crushing Gravel with Monika Sattler

Monika on Trans Iowa 9

Four weeks ago was Monika Sattler's final gravel road race in the Midwest--at least for awhile.  In two weeks, she'll be on a much faster mode of transportation, heading to an island half way around the world, Australia.  I can honestly say there will be many cyclists mourning her departure, and possibly just as many planning to visit her during our long, snowy winters, for some sunshine riding.

Monika moved to Minnesota about a year and a half ago.  Before her short lived Midwest stint, she called DC and Munich home.  She jokes Germany, her home country, didn't want her anymore because she doesn't drink beer.  I'm not sure if the Midwest, or even Australia, drink less of the stuff, but both welcomed her regardless.

By taking a quick glance at Monika's track record on gravel over the past year, you would think she had been doing this for years.  Twelve physically and mentally demanding races this year, with amazing finish times.  Brace yourself, because this will hurt all you seasoned cyclists just a bit...Monika has only been riding gravel for a year.  Yep, that's right.  When she moved to Minnesota in August 2012, and wanted to continue doing group rides in the fall, she was forced to trade her road bike in for a cross bike--it was all downhill from there.  Even though she had never even heard of gravel riding prior to her Minnesota move, she was instantly hooked.  So much so, that her only bike--you read that correctly--is a Foundry Auger with disc brakes with HED Belgium wheels.

I first learned about Monika through gravel riding chatter.  Because she was tearing it up out there, giving both men and women a good run for their money, she was put on a cycling pedestal.  Guys were happy to be able to hang with her for a few miles, women didn't know what to think about her.  The thing is, she's just a normal athlete.  She puts in the training miles, eats, sleeps and has fun while riding. She, along with a mutual friend, Kristin Riching, I think are a bit misunderstood.  Both are top female racers on the gravel circuit and both are extremely humble and gracious.  When I interviewed Kristin last year, for a post on gravel, I think a lot of folks were surprised by what women were doing.  For both Kristin and Monika, it's not about the prestige or the competition with others, it just comes down to doing the best they can--and that's pretty damn great.

Some of the "bike fun" found on TransIowa
Surprisingly, it was Kristin who got Monika to sign up for TransIowa this year--the race she considers her favorite so far, partly due to the overwhelming happiness she experienced when she crossed the finish line.  Because Monika is moving, she'll have to look for races in Australia, however, she admits she wants to try any/all races she hasn't done yet--such as the Dirty Benjamin, the Ragnorok and the Minnesota Gravel State Championships.

Being a female rider, and having done a few gravel events myself, I was curious about Monika's thoughts on the gravel scene for women and if she had any tips.  First, she would like to see more women riding gravel.  She wants to encourage everyone to participate, and she points out the longer the race, the more balanced it gets between women and men physically.  She knows what she's talking about since her background is in exercise physiology!  I, of course, have to agree.  Whenever I train ultra endurance athletes, the women never cease to amaze me.  Somewhere after the 100 mile mark in cycling events, women tend to play catch up with the guys.

Because Monika only started cycling four years ago, while in the United States, she hasn't had too much time to experience what racing is like in Europe.  She did, however, get to race on a German team against some of the female pros like Marianne Vos, in 2012 and expressed how the racing in Europe is more aggressive and how big the fields were.

Since gravel events, and Minnesota riding in general, bring such a variety of riding conditions, I asked Monika if there were any conditions she just wouldn't ride in.  She, of course, didn't say she wouldn't ride in certain conditions, but did say she prefers heat over cold and that her racing season ends when it gets below 30 degrees.  We both share the same idea that if it takes longer to put on the layers than to do the actual ride, it's tough to get motivated.

Proving that Monika will ride in almost all conditions--and have fun while doing so!

A final question I had to ask her was about her music choice before a race.  To this, she joked that she didn't stray too far from the German cliche and her preference was trance and dance!

As Monika packs up, and heads all too far from the Midwest, we can wish her well and hope she comes back to ride a bit of gravel sometime!  You can read more about Monika and follow her rides by reading her blog.  This is also a great place to read about some of the local events and get some tips if you are thinking about trying a gravel ride/race yourself.

The grass made a nice pillow at Operacion Muerto in Manitoba
Monika at the end of TransIowa 9

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Urban Sprawl

Trying to escape the urban sprawl
In three directions, from where I currently call home, were farm fields as far as the eye could see.  A mere fifteen years ago, gravel roads still existed only a couple miles West of me.  When I first moved to Madison, ten years ago, the city was neatly confined within the "beltline"--the freeway looping around the city.  Now, the suburbs flow like rivers, merging into Madison, and the sea of identical rooftops reach out where corn fields use to stand.

Granted, in the big scheme of things, I'm lucky.  I don't have to ride 20 miles to hit calm country roads.  I used to live that way when I was stationed near downtown Minneapolis.  At least half my ride seemed to be waiting at stoplights, and unless I drove to the outskirts, I would have to plan on a solid 3-4 hours just to get some miles in.  Driving to ride is something I detest, so when I began looking for a place to move, Madison seemed like a good fit.

On my road rides throughout Dane County, I roll past old red barns, small deserted towns, farm equipment sales lots, a multitude of critters and more and more, developed neighborhoods with 6,000-8,000 square foot mcmansions.  These "neighborhoods" are often walled in like fortresses, and bare names which try to conjure up a sense peace, tranquility and oneness with nature.  In reality, they are almost always toxic since they are on a constant spray of herbicides, energy hogs--especially since many have laws not allowing solar panels, and an eye sore.  Most of the developers of these sites chose one of two routes.  They either purchased farm fields from retiring farmers and divided the acreage up into tidy lots or they bulldozed stands of trees, opting to plant a few decorative ones in their place, to allow the new home owners to have a manicured yard.

Phesant Point...I've never seen a phesant near this neighborhood
Each ride from my house, I pass by a multitude of these "neighborhoods".  To this day, I can't help but cringe when I see names like "Pheasant Point" and "Rocky Dell Estates".  I always ask myself "who would want to live so far out, in such a big house, without being able to commune with nature?"  I think of how my small 915 square foot house is such a perfect size and how it could easily fit inside one of the mcmansion's garages.  Don't get me wrong, I understand why people want to live in the country, what I don't understand is why one would want to destroy the reasons one moved out there in the first place--I highly doubt there are any pheasant left in or near pheasant point.

In my own selfish world, I curse these developers.  They are ruining why I road ride--to get away from the city on quiet roads without polluting the air.  My views from ridge lines are now dotted with 30ft. vaulted glass windows and pools.  I wonder if in another ten years, I'll be in the same situation I was in when I lived in Minneapolis.  Am I going to have to move yet again just to get away from the sprawl?  It is because of these thoughts, and many others, I am so pro inner city development.  I approve of packing as many folks as possible inside the city limits--forcing folks to live with less space.  I'm guessing there won't be an option in fifty years when folks have to admit we're in a energy until then, I will continue to keep my head down and gaze forward while riding through the urban sprawl.

Timber Ridge--where the only trees are decorative

Monday, November 11, 2013

Gimping along

"Ahhhh!  Get away!  Don't touch me!"

No, these weren't the cries from a horror flick or a  recent Halloween prank, but if you came by my house late Saturday night, you would have heard this screaming all the way down the block along with several other words I'll keep to myself.

Somehow, a little reach and twist on my part, sent me into a frozen position where the pain was so intense I could barely breathe and I got sick to my stomach.  Never have I felt pain like this before--not when I was hit by a car, or a cyclist coming down a hill 20mph, or when I suffered frostbite.  This pain was the "oh dear god, end my life now" type of pain.  Within a matter of seconds, the shooting pain in the thoracic area of my back, traveled upwards and forced my entire neck to spasm so strongly there was a visible cord of muscle.

I'm quite sure I scared the shit out of my husband when I pulled a look straight out of the exorcist (minus the head spinning of course) when he tried to get near me.  He stood there completely helpless as I somehow lowered myself down into a position where I could breathe again.

I joke about this all right now (sort of) because I have to.  36 hours stuck in bed, while the sun was shining, and I was supposed to be riding, sent me into a world of self pity and self loathing.  I woke this morning early--yes, even earlier than I normally wake--to see if I could get myself to work.  Showering was key since you could probably smell my self loathing from a mile away.  I stood with the hot water pulsing on my neck, hoping to gain some mobility.  I convinced myself to walk into work since my chiropractor says "motion is the lotion for the body" and the fact I couldn't turn my head to look behind me in the car.

After making it through most of my day, I had the joy of seeing my chiropractor.  Now don't take this the wrong way, but my chiropractor is my best friend and worst enemy all rolled into one.  I hate having to see him since it means I'm injured, but I love seeing him since he's my only hope at feeling better.  Comments, however, from him like "Huh?" and "How did this happen?" are not what I wanted to hear.  Turns out I was pretty close with my self diagnoses.  C2, C5, T4 and T7 were all badly out, to the point of C5 not being able to be adjusted because I was still in a state of spasm.  At least no actual nerves were being touched anymore and although I was still in a world of hurt, I could in some ways function.  What I couldn't do was bike.

So now, with the first measurable blanket of snow on the ground, I am stuck inside, not being able to ride into winter.  Tomorrow, and for the next indeterminable days ahead, I will be foot bound instead of wheel bound.  I am hoping to mend enough for the upcoming weekend's bikefest.  Until then, wish me luck and send some good bike vibes my way.

Yours truly,
Gimpy Gimperson

Saturday, November 2, 2013