Sunday, December 29, 2013

Looking Forward

“Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come,
whispering 'it will be happier'...” 
-Alfred Tennyson

It has been a good year.  A really good year.  I sit hear as the temps drop to -12, with only two days left of 2013 and take stock.  This year has been full of kind, loving friends--both old and new, almost 10,000 miles on my bikes, exploration of my surroundings and soul, and peace.

As I switch my schedule books over for the new year, I am giddy with what is to come.  The weekends are already filling up with amazing bike events and I have to slow myself down so they don't rush by to quickly.  So far these are the rides which have made their way into my book--mostly in pen, some in pencil (don't laugh, I'm old school).  

March kicks off the season with a rescheduled trip to Mallorca, Spain for some mountain riding.  Hauling my ass up 15-20 switchbacks seems nice as I sit here eating scones and drinking beer, however, in two months you may hear me cursing from a few thousand miles away.  At least the scenery will be nice while I pass out on the side of the road.

April brings a birthday ride with a good friend to Milwaukee.  We will essentially be doing two centuries back to back.  I had done this alone last year, but not this early.  At least one good friend and birthday celebrations will fuel me along the way.  I'm just so grateful I have cool women who are just as crazy as me!

April also brings the start of gravel road season.  Dairy Roubaix was my first gravel experience last year and I've been looking forward to it ever since.  The Schillings do such an amazing job with this event and I can't wait to see everyone again.

May is what I'll deem my crazy month.  I'm hoping to do the Bear 100 gravel ride, an event I was quite happy not to do last year since it was freezing rain and snow and everyone I knew suffered terribly from frozen hands and feet.  I can only hope for better conditions this year--otherwise, I'll have to believe misery loves company.  

May 1st is what everyone in Milwaukee knows as RW24 sign up day.  This is an event in itself and I plan to be there even earlier this year, hoping to get one of the coveted spots.

Finally, May is the start of the Triple Crown  with it's first ride being the hardest, the Arcadia Brute.  I, along with a few thousand others, will huff and puff my way up the coulees near the Wisconsin/Minnesota border.  I plan on starting this series with either the 100km or 150km.  There is not one ounce of desire in my body or mind to take on the 200km.

June is my month to work on speed.  Although I plan on hitting several rides with the Capital Brewery Cycling Club earlier in the season, my thought it to work on upping my pace with them, and by riding with the Mad City Velo crew, just so I don't fall apart on faster group rides.  Last year I realized I was really strong on long rides if I kept the pace around 17-18mph but turned into a pile of mush if the pace was held above 20mph.  Although I don't want to race again, it would feel great not to have someone feel the need to "bridge" me when I do ride paceline.  We'll see how this goes.  I haven't stepped into this territory for years.  

July and August bring my kind of weather.  Hot, sticky and fluid.  I love this stuff and thrive in it.  These months also bring some of the best events of the year, the second and third installments of the Triple Crown--Kickapoo Kicker and Dairyland Dare--as well as RW24 itself.  Add sitting on the back deck after long rides, drinking beer with friends, and there is a large part of me that wishes it could be July and August year round.  

When September finally rolls around, and oh I don't event want to think of this, I'll be off for at least one more gravel event, Skull-N-Bones 100.  I'm not going to jinx myself and say I'll be doing Heck of the North this year in hopes I'll actually make it.  We'll just have to see how that one plays out.

None of these rides would be possible to plan for without the help of the ride organizers and countless volunteers.  I must also thank my friends for planting so many great seeds and dragging me into their crazy world.  You all rock!  Here's to another year of play and self discovery!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Longest Night, Shortest Day

Land of Long Shadows

Lingering, lengthening, lavender shadows
softly sadden the snow.
Rowdy clouds and swirling flurries:
shadows slide ’cross slithering drifts.
The sun crawls around the low horizon,
drip-torching flames.
Inuit stalk Inukshuk statues,
their black and white parkas
eclipsing the horizon flares.
A tiny silhouetted sapling,
whipping in the winter wind,
makes a mile-long shadow,
across the creek, over the clearing,
and far into the woods.
In the shadow of faraway mountains,
slate blue flares pink, then fades.
Deep trails flood and fill
with violet blue.
Sunny valley bottoms
are squeezed up into the starry sky,
until all the shadows touch,
and the world is still.

-Ruth Hill

Solstice Ride
December 21st, Winter Solstice is upon us.  A mix of freezing drizzle falls, joined together with whispers of up to a foot of snow.  All the cold and mixed precipitation, which occurred until today, was just "practice" for the other three to four months that still looms ahead.  I try my best to keep my spirits up.  Try not to think of the hours I'll spend layering or the miles spent on my wide cross tires versus my road slicks.  No, I keep my sights on riding to pubs with friends, possible sledding parties, homemade chili and cornbread, bourbon and a stillness found no other time of year.  A stillness which beckons me to curl up under a heavy pile of blankets and read until my eyes can take no more.  

To celebrate the beginning of another winter, and a near closing of another year, I woke early, prepped by winter steed, and set off with friends on a glorious ride around Madison.  Feet like ice blocks, nose rosy, grit and salt from the road finding it's way to my tongue and a smile on my face.  It is times like this I convince myself winter isn't so bad after all.

After the ride, I found myself in the kitchen, putting finishing touches on my contribution to the solstice vegetarian potluck put on by a few friends.  With a brilliant hip hop mix a new friend made blaring in the background, I pumped out split pea/spinach/walnut/blue cheese wontons.  Wrapping these little morsels up to the beat of the music, mixing in a few dance steps along the way and still smiling.  Yes, winter isn't all that bad.


And then came the drive across town, yes...I drove an actual car, the opening of the door, and a myriad of amazing smells along with other smiling faces.  THIS is what winter should be about.  Playing outdoors and sharing great food and drink with wonderful people.  

Coming in from the cold to eat and drink

It is now seven minutes 'til the second day of winter.  Notice I am thinking about the second day of winter versus how many day until it ends.  Happy winter solstice all!  Play hard and be merry!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Ethiopia Part 2

I think Ethiopia is mocking me.  This is the second time I've had a meeting on an Ethiopian bike project where I've had to bike down to the meeting place in close to zero degrees when it's over eighty degrees in Ethiopia itself.  It pains me to sit bundled up in layers here in Madison, talking about such an amazing country, when I can't even get their food here anymore (the closest Ethiopian restaurant is now in Milwaukee).

Today, at our fourth meeting, we shifted gears--literally and figuratively.  We went from a focus on making the rickshaws (bajaj in Ethiopia) human powered with electric assist, to a goal of getting a bike share program started for the universities in both Hawassa and Bahir Dar.  This is so exciting for me!  I love bike share programs and feel by hitting the younger population, we could possibly make a lasting change in the choice of transportation in Ethiopia.

A small group of five sat down at a table in Redamte.  Jonathan Patz, Maggie Grabow, Selam Abeshawit, Joe Sensenbrenner, and I talked about everything from becoming a sister city to both Hawassa and Bahir Dar to marketing strategies.  Ideas were flying left and right and I found myself wanting to be on a plane to Hawassa at that very moment.  I can't tell you how much I would love to explore these cities by bike.  Both seem so foreign to me, and I feel like a kid when I think of sharing my passion with those who call Ethiopia home.  What gets me even more excited is learning about their culture and the basic daily life of a student in one of the two cities.

Stay tuned.  In the next few months, Jason Vargo and Selam Abeshawit from the Global Health Institute, will both be taking another trip to Ethiopia to do research for this project.  I'll be sharing their findings and will hopefully be getting a plane ticket to go as well.  Until then, following the Ethiopian Cycling Federation will have to do.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Running from the cold

As the mercury dips close to zero, and a blanket of grey settles over the Midwest, I begin to loose my steam for cycling.  The effort of layering up begins to resemble more of an aerobic activity vs. the cycling itself.  It is during this time I begin to run.

Oh sure, I know I just wrote about my new found "like" for winter cycling, and I'll still get out there, but sometimes I don't have the energy nor the time to prep for winter bike outings.  Besides, as a trainer, I preach the importance of cross training.  So in my quest to cross train, I tend to run from mid November to March.

Gone are the days of half marathons and two hour trail runs since my body isn't keen on endurance running anymore.  Instead I opt for several three to six mile runs each week, a tidy little package of endorphins lasting no more than an hour.  A perfect amount of time to visit surrounding neighborhoods, force my lungs into a pleasant burn and stay in relatively okay shape during the winter.

People are often bewildered by why I only run in the winter and not the warmer months.  My answer is always a simple one; first, I don't have time or energy to run in the summer since I'm always on the bike, second, I choose to run in the winter because it's the only way I can stay warm.  I can honestly say there are few things which can top sweating profusely in -10 degrees--something I can easily achieve by running.  For winter, saunas would be the only other way to go in my eyes.  Sadly, saunas do not burn off beer and cheese.

So here I sit, three weeks into my "running season",  still alive albeit with a slightly stiff lower body, happy as a clam.  I now dream of running up hills vs. biking up them.  My gear drawer now contains a reflective running vest and headlamp instead of just bike stuff.  My running shoes are closer to the door than my cycling shoes and I think my body has started to straighten up from being bent over the handlebars for the past eight months.  For every season there is a change, and for now, the soles of my shoes will be the main rubber I put to the ground.