Thursday, December 25, 2014

Steeped in nature and nurture, not religion

I believe in God, 
only I spell it Nature.
-Frank Lloyd Wright

Almost at the end of my Christmas ride

I may not bow down to a god, but I will bow down to a tree.  I may not celebrate the birth of Jesus, but I do celebrate the birth of a baby goat.  I may not sit in a pew and surround myself with the four walls of a church, but I will surround myself with farms, forests and rivers on two wheels or two feet.

It's Christmas evening, and over the many years of  choosing not to attend church, I have come to the realization of what this day means for me.  First, it means having a day off from work to spend with friends and sometimes relatives.  Second, it means time, the most precious gift of all, to spend being outside no matter what the conditions are.  Lastly, it means stuffing myself silly with good food and drink, followed by more bouts of outdoor activity just to make room for another round.

My destination for so many rides
Yesterday, under the heavy blanket of clouds which were spitting rain, snow and sleet, I rode out to a friend's farm roughly 25 miles from Madison.  This farm is heaven to me.  A place I ride to throughout the spring and summer to visit the farm animals--especially the goats.  I had never ridden out in the winter, but since I had also never driven, it seemed like a terrible time to start.  Upon rolling into the farm, I was greeted by one of the owners, noticing my safety yellow jacket I'm assuming, "Kierstin!" A barn tour was well on its way, as well as feeding the animals, and there was no way I was going to miss it.  So in I went, still in my riding clothes/shoes, smiling ear to ear and happy to have the grandkids leading me around.  

With dogs, cats, and chickens at my feet, I meandered around the large timbers until coming to my favorite place on earth--the kid pen.  These "oops", now 12 weeks old and named William and Shakespeare, were all too excited to be fed and given attention.  If given the chance, I would have spent the night in that pen, bed down in a pile of hay--I'm guessing with the company of the grandchildren as well.

William and Shakespeare during feeding time

William the goat

Once the chickens, adult goats, horses and sheep were fed, it was time to head inside.  The bite of the damp cold made it that much warmer to be in with loving friends and a gourmet spread.  Last night will now be burned in my memory as one of the many things, not retail or church related, that Christmas is truly about.

Today, I took the day off the bike and my husband and I opted to use our legs in an upright fashion instead. We ventured out to our favorite hike, the Ice Age trail at Devil's Lake, and quickly found ourselves scouring the forest floor, noticing all the different moss, lichen and fungi.  It is at times like this I believe in something so much bigger than myself.  Something which connects us all, and creates art more beautiful than any museum could contain.  I am one or two steps away from being fungi and moss myself--and it's grand to see what I may become in 50 or hopefully 60 years.

Devil's Lake

We came home a bit sore, tired and hungry, but within a few short hours, all of that was swept away by the kindness of our neighbors who take us in like we're starving little strays each Christmas.  I remember growing up spending each Christmas with a Ukrainian family. They would always set the table with one or two extra place settings in case anyone stopped by.  I feel our neighbors have been doing just this for about eight years.  We now consider them family and we all share a similar fondness for the outdoors and its role in our lives.

I'm not sure what it would be like if we spent this day/eve in a church or in an airport each year.  All I know is I'm more than satisfied with our yearly ritual, and dare I say connected to some/a god/greater being by our yearly practice.  Happy baby Jesus/ Krampus/Santa/bike/hike/fungi/woodsy/friend/family/foodie day all!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Hello Darkness My Old...Friend

Beer and coffee ride--hell, if one won't get folks out of bed, the other will!

I sign onto my facebook account this morning and there are two posts greeting me--"welcoming" me into winter--which begins in a few short hours.  

Quote one came from my cycling friend, Max, out in Colorado who gave a nod to Robert Frost with what he wrote:  "The only way around winter is through it."

Quote two came from a new cycling friend, Michelle, as she woke from her slumber to join us on our damp, cold beer ride.  This quote sums it up perfectly...and yet still we ride:
"I can't help but think this is how babies exiting the womb feel (was under my warm blankets and am about to throw myself outside on a bike...undercaffinated)."

To those who chose to ride with me this weekend, and welcome in yet another winter, thank you!  I owe my sanity/insanity to each and every one of you!

I've decided to grow some facial hair for the winter rides (I'm on the right)

Rolling down the H8TR and posing for a QBP cover

Oh Wisconsin!

We are all just a bunch of misfit toys

Things like this keep us out of trouble

Since we haven't seen sun in 21 days, this tunnel felt like home

I loooove winter...can't you tell?

Friday, December 19, 2014

I dig this blog!

I don't have enough time to sift through all the really cool blogs out there on cycling and travel--and believe me, the list is endless--but this one stood out:

Everything Will Be Noble

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Into the Stillness

Finding "milk glass" on my Crystal Lake ride

An absolute
Trees stand
up to their knees in
fog. The fog
slowly flows
cobwebs, the grass
leaning where deer
have looked for apples.
The woods
from brook to where
the top of the hill looks
over the fog, send up
not one bird.
So absolute, it is
no other than
happiness itself, a breathing
too quiet to hear. 
-Denise Levertov

Watching the last of the snow depart from the farm fields

Mother nature graced us with Seattle weather this past week.  The clouds rolled in, many days ago, and seeing as they must like it here, they chose to stay.  I was told the sun came out for an hour, but alas my place of work is cave like so I never saw it.  

In this weather, day an night seem to blur together
When living in a northern clime, one often wonders if it would be better to have thirty to forty-five degrees with clouds and drizzle or negative twenty to thirty degrees with sun.  Not having a choice in the matter, I opted to buck up and get outside to explore how the slightest changes in weather, change the scenery around me.

Through the fog, witnessing the seasons and years roll by
There were three things I noticed right away.  The first and most obvious was how cool, damp air settles so deep in the body my bones began to hurt.  I laugh at myself for sounding like an arthritic old woman, but there is something in my constitution which detests cold mixed with moisture.  No matter how much I sweat, the moment I stop moving, the cold cannot be shaken until I take a long hot shower and drench my insides with hot tea.  Second is how scents linger in the air and cling to my nostrils and lungs in damp weather.  As I pulled off the road to get a picture of a farm, I could smell pine resin, manure, woodsmoke, bacon and smores.  These followed me for almost a mile.  Lastly, I sometimes feel almost as if I'm scuba diving.  Sounds are deadened--absorbed by either clouds themselves or the moisture they produce.  My breathing rates slows, and when I'm producing enough heat not to shiver uncontrollably, I feel almost hugged by the fog.

All of these wonderful feelings are brought to an abrupt halt when I notice the pavement has opened into a gaping maw from freeze/thaw cycles and I am able to hear "feed me Seymour" coming from its dark depths.  This noise only being silenced by the constant grinding coming from millions sand grains working their way into my cassette and chain.

One reason I ride with others is to drown out the sound of my dirty bike

After tomorrow, reality is supposed to hit again.  The mercury is expected to drop below normal and we might even see the sun in a few days.  We will soon find out if my mood lifts with the sky's clarity or if I continue to dream about Seattle weather.

If the weather doesn't lighten my mood, a cycling Krampus does the trick!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out

Yes, I am a child born to a hippy mother, and yes, I know most likely too much about Timothy Leary.  But damn if I don't love this phrase he was given by Marshall McLuhan.  This post was percolating in my mind for a few days, and then an old friend sent me an e-mail which brought it all together.  Once again, I have a friend to thank for inspiration!

We live in a hyper drive world.  One in which most cannot get enough information quickly enough.  One in which children no longer gaze at clouds or search the grass for bugs.  One in which we no longer practice common niceties or even acknowledge folks around us.  One in which we all have to be available at a moments notice and if we unplug for anything, it seems the world, for others, falls apart.

I don't care much for this world we now live in.  Call me a Luddite if you will, but frankly I'd like to go back in time.  Back to when phones had to be plugged into a wall, back to when people would feel great guilt or shame if they let a door close on another person, back to when we wrote handwritten letters.

I don't believe all this shit on commercials which makes it seem like doomsday will occur if you don't buy the new smart phone.  Commercials actually irritate me to no end.  I also don't want to be told I'm being unproductive if I don't fill every moment of my day.  I like having days when I can choose to do anything or nothing at all.  I am one of those people who protect my "me time" (this phrase is one that my friend who inspired me used).  You may say this phrase is "selfish" and I agree.  We need to be more selfish, but in the right way.

So here is where Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out comes in.  Many think it has only to do with tripping along the LSD road.  Not me.  This is how I break it down:

Turn On:  When I bike or hike alone, I often go pretty deep into different levels of consciousness.  Yes, I'm all still there so you don't need to worry about me crashing, but my mind tends to work in a different way.  Things come to me at different speeds and on different levels than I'm used to.  It is during these times I do all of my personal "work" if you will.

Tune In:  While riding, hiking, walking or camping I am tuning in.  My senses are all firing, I am acutely aware of my surroundings, and when I get a few hours to "tune in" I am elated.  Very few things in this world bring me more joy than feeling, I mean truly feeling my body work, smelling whatever may be in the air--be it resin from pine trees, woodsmoke, freshly laid manure--you get the idea, seeing the beauty in everything natural and some human made items as well, tasting sweat drip down my face or the beer I so rightfully earned and hearing either my friends voices (the ones who are riding with me) or just the song of birds vs. the phone ringing/buzzing/vibrating.

While tuning in, if I am around others, I also find I become more sensitive to their needs.  This could mean something simple like giving passing space to someone on the trail or asking someone if they need help if I see them with their bike on the side of the road.  I like tuning into others.  It makes me feel human.

Drop Out:  This could be the most difficult one to explain.  For me, "dropping out" means not getting swept up into keeping up with the Jones', not feeling the need to be "in the know" all the time (whether it be news or gossip), and not caring about being popular.

About a year ago I chose to go on a news diet.  It was one of the most difficult things for me to do since I thrive on learning new things and keeping up on what's going on in the rest of the world.  In this modern day of 24-7 news and media hype (even on NPR), I found myself getting angrier and angrier.  Sure, I knew where all the wars were and what countries were struggling financially, but I began to wonder if it was hurting or helping me.  I would have to go on rides or runs just to calm myself down after hearing negative news.  So, I decided to pull the plug.  Now, I can proudly say I am able to read some newspapers (although I still greatly limit myself) and chat with clients about specific world events, but with the elimination of television and radio news, I am a much happier person.  It comes down to this:  I know the type of person I am and I control the actions I take--that's all that really matters.  No knowledge of climate change will change how I live--I will still choose to live simply with a light footprint.  No news of racism will change how I treat others since I choose to treat others with respect regardless of their race, financial status etc.  I will also not be bought by big corporations trying to sell me things or tell me I will be a better person if I work harder. Essentially, I am dropping out of the cycle of brainwashing.

For all of this self realization I have come to in my forty years of living, I can thank my mom, my husband and all of my friends.  Please know that this is my journey and way of living.  By no means do I suggest others follow in my footsteps unless they want to.  I do not judge others for wanting specific material items or wanting a certain way of life.  I just ask that others don't judge, but instead respect me, for my choices.

Friday, December 5, 2014


If you love your friends, you will serve your friends.
If you love your community, you will serve your community.
If you love money, you will serve your money.
And if you love only yourself, you will serve only yourself.
And you will have only yourself.
-Stephen Colbert

Madison Bike Winter's Holiday Lights Ride

A few days ago I was sent an article talking about the differences between individualistic vs. interwoven cultures, and where we, as Americans, tend to fit in.  The friend who sent it moved down to Louisiana, the heart of cajun country, not long ago.  I distinctly remember him telling me, within a few months of his move, that this is where he felt he "belonged".  We never really got into why he felt that way, we only touched on what makes Louisiana so different than any other state, until now.  Attached to the article he briefly stated that maybe this is why he feels so at home in Lafayette.

The winter loop commences
I get it.  I mean I really get it.  I have touched on my ongoing search to be a part of something bigger than the "I" in many blog posts.  I am, by nature, an "interdependent" person.  This does not mean I feel the need to be around others all the time, quite the contrary.  At times, sometimes for days on end, I am very happy just being in my own little world--silent except for the sounds of nature.  But there is no way I could survive off just my world alone (I would bore myself to death quite quickly).  People, especially my cycling community, recharge me.  They give me a sense of place, a warmth in all seasons, things to laugh about, cry about and think about.  They challenge me in both mind and body and I wouldn't want to know my life without them.  I am, in so many ways, dependent on them--and yet I do not see this as a weakness on my part.  Instead I celebrate being able to be a part of them, one small link in the chain.

As winter bears down on us, and the desire to curl up in a little ball and hibernate until spring blankets me more than any down comforter, I look towards this community of mine to get me through.  It doesn't take much, just a group ride here and there, with maybe a cup of coffee or pint of beer thrown in for good measure, and I'm a renewed woman.

Bombay's Freezaroo Ride   photo credit David Kohli

Belleville UFO Ride  photo credit Sara Hull

I want to take a moment to thank my friends--some I know well, many I hope to know better with time.  Another thanks goes out to James, a kindred spirit and someone who "gets me" 100%.  James, at some point I'll join you again in cajun country--at least for awhile.

Post ride shenanigans at One Barrel Brewing Company

Friday, November 28, 2014


This is what my ride last thanksgiving looked like
Last year at this very moment I was biking back from Minneapolis to Waconia.  I had hauled my trusty steed to the Twin Cities area for a long thanksgiving weekend and was bound to make use of it regardless of the low temperatures.  This year, I had planned to do the same, although a nagging shoulder issue mixed with ice and snow on the ground made me decide to bag the idea and opt for two feet as my mode of transportation.

No, I didn't plan on walking all the way into Minneapolis from Waconia (over 40 miles I'm guessing), but I did plan on getting out there--and ice, fresh snow and almost record low temps (it was 1 degree when I went out yesterday) would not keep me in. I'm sure I've mentioned how unruly and cagey I become if I'm not "let out to play" on a daily basis.  When you add in long hours in the car and heavy food, "unruly" becomes a nice term if I'm trapped inside.

Caught without a fatbike and forced to walk (gasp) this year instead of bike

So I woke this morning, already sick of being in the 'burbs, without the ability to explore more than a 1-2 mile radius, and decided I would go on a bit of a walkabout.  I often explain to folks who don't know the twin cities, and who think everything is bike/ped friendly here from the articles they read, that once you get out of the Minneapolis/St.Paul circle, the area becomes extremely unfriendly to pedestrians and cyclists--especially come winter.  The suburbs are little islands cut off from the rest of the area and one can rarely explore outside of them without using a car to connect the towns to the trails/safe roads.  For example, even though I biked into Minneapolis via trail last year, I had to subject myself to about five miles of terrifying roads to get to the trail.  But since I am so damn stubborn and since I was literally bouncing off the walls, I decided I was going to walk around Lake Waconia.

Lake Waconia at sunrise on black Friday--a much better view than from inside a store

Lake Waconia is roughly the same size as lake Monona in Madison.  I knew I could easily handle the 12 miles or so of walking, what I wasn't too sure of was how to avoid hwy.5--the only road leading into Waconia from one side of the lake.  No bother, in my mule like state I chose to hit that section last thinking I'd either be too tired to care about playing a life like game of frogger or I'd cut through farmland and prairies covered in snow until I hit a safe road.

I headed out without a map or music--opting instead for the sound of my footsteps in the fresh snow and navigating by a gut feeling.  Hell, it's just a big circle after all.  If I lost sight of the lake, I'd know I wasn't on the right road.  Besides, I had biked most of this route before so I was quite confident in my navigational skills and sense of distance.

One of the many farms surrounded by McMansions
Within a couple miles, the word "perspective" kept looping in my mind.  Things like this happen to me frequently while biking or walking for long periods.  I get caught up on words or ideas and can't let them drop.  I kept thinking about the different perspectives I had this year vs. last year even though I was on the same roads and trails.  The weather was different, I was moving at a slower pace (by about 15mph), cars most certainly treated me differently (I'm quite certain several drivers thought I was out of my mind for walking down Co.Rd 10--but I've heard it's used frequently by cyclists in the summer).  When I hit the North side of the lake, I was greeted by first an old barn, followed quickly by an 8,000 sq.ft. McMansion, then by an old lake cottage.  This happened repetitively around half the lake and I couldn't help but wonder what the owners of the farms and cottages thought.  As cars drove much too close to me for comfort, even on the small cottage lanes, I began to compare this area to the small towns in Southern Wisconsin.  Sure the occasional "buzzing" happens in my area, but it's never car after car after car.  A much needed perspective.

As I made my way back close to Waconia, I was faced with the daunting hwy.5, or several farm/prairie crossings.  Needless to say, I opted to trudge through the snow.  I laughed at the fact I was forced to do this, thinking about what the locals would think of me if they saw me.  In fact, I'm not sure anyone has ever attempted to walk around the lake in modern time.  A bit over three hours after I began, I got back to my mom's, pleased I had made it without getting squashed, and finally feeling a bit worn out (in a good way).  No, this wasn't nearly as much fun as my long cold ride last year, but it did feel great doing something I wasn't too sure of and making the most of my circumstances.  What felt even better was not having to start up the car, and for that I give thanks!

Coming off the prairie, this is what greeted me.  Welcome to the 'burbs!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Season for Waltzing

In my mind, each season has its own dance.  Spring brings the urge to swing or lindy since the new found warmth gives a bounce to my step.  Summer is for the slow drag or salsa.  Clothes are shed, sweat drips from every pore and just about everything seems sultry.  Fall, with the crisp air also brings crispness back to the dance floor with the fox trot or Charleston.  And winter, for some odd reason I connect winter, with a slow waltz.  Rigid, upright and yet still with a lilt.  I can imagine snow falling or scenes from Dr. Zhivago playing set to a waltz.

All of this, yes, even scenes from Dr.Zhivago, play on a loop while I'm out riding.  My pedal stroke, a bit cattywampus with the cold, added layers and winter boots on flats, seems to follow more of a 3/4 measure vs. the nice, smooth 4/4 beat, and my breathing no longer flows as it should--instead acting more like a hiccup as I brace against the sharp air.

On days when the wind rattles the windows, and snow finds its way into every nook and cranny, my mind begs me to curl up with a steaming mug of coffee and epic books or films which ooze slow like molasses (Sweetland and The Straight Story have been watched numerous times during the season of the endless night).  My body, however, feels cagey on these days.  Restless from not going out enough on all day adventures.  No gym workout satiates--in fact, the thought of stepping inside a gym turns my stomach, so I begin the long process of adding layers, covering exposed skin and prepping my mind for what's to come.  I call this moment "the tipping point".  If I reach the stage of adding all the layers, I'll head out--but it's getting to that point which is so damn difficult.  Heck, sometimes I feel downright exhausted just from dressing.  But 90% of the time, I come back renewed, re-energized and feeling a whole lot less like a pacing animal in the zoo.

This brings us back to the waltz.  By no means is it my favorite dance, and I'd rather partake in just about any other dance, but when a waltz is played, and I'm on the dance floor, waltz I do.  I don't like winter or riding in the winter, but when I have no choice (other than spending hours on the trainer), winter ride I will.  Happy dancing all!  I look forward to seeing you all move to little ditties, throughout the snow covered streets, in my mind.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Thanks, that was "fun", but now you can leave!

Dear Old Man Winter,

Your whimsy and mischievous behavior is a amusing at times.  I will say, you do bring a jaw dropping beauty found in no other season.  A quiet hush made by falling snow, blue light with long shadows, hoar frost which covers me during runs and rides, sundogs, visible animal tracks, and the sweet smell of firewood burning to heat Midwestern homes.  I just have one bone to pick with you.  You are not supposed to make your grand entrance until December 21st (I'll give you a day or two plus or minus).  The stuff you pulled last year was not appreciated and now it seems like you've opened up the same bag of tricks--but earlier.  Yes, yes, we Wisconsinites know it's going to be effing cold for 4 or 5 months out of each year, but this Spring starting in June and Winter starting in November shit isn't funny.  When you start pissing off the cross-country skiers, you KNOW you've gone too far.  We'd appreciate a little cooperation on your part.  Fine, make it cold early, but could you hold off on the wind?  And throw us a bone once in awhile--you know, a sunny day at "average" temps can make all the difference.

Yours truly,
-two wheeled maiden

Sunday, November 9, 2014

A Place to Be


I am quite certain for most of my life I have been searching for a "place to be".  Although I have been able to succeed in finding places (physical and mental), and groups of people which feel like home, I find myself always slightly restless for what may be around the bend.  Sometimes I consider myself a rectangular peg trying to fit into a square hole.  Many places, again mental and physical, have been a really close fit and yet there's usually something that just doesn't feel right.  I am a virgo through and through.  It is in my blood to find a place to why do I get restless every time my ass makes a dent in the couch cushion?

Since settling in Madison ten years ago, I now move around mostly in groups of people, since I haven't had a physical move to a different location in quite some time.  Please understand, by no means am I searching for perfection--I know it doesn't exist, or should I say everything is perfect in its own right--and I'm not one of those "the grass is always greener" folks either.  I'm guessing it may be my desire to learn about everything and experience as much as I can in my short time here.  Often I view staying in one place (mentally and physically) as being stagnant.  I get depressed when I'm not learning something new.  I certainly don't feel the need to be busy all the time--I love sitting watching the clouds or squirrels--but I do need to be, as my friend Josiah frequently says, moving "always forward" in the big picture.

This past week, I was forced to deal with the fact we are all mortal multiple times.  I'll be honest, it sucked the big one. It was as if my brakes were locked down suddenly while I was flying 50mph down a hill.  Then, when I thought I had picked myself up off the ground, I was slammed down a few more times.  I do not fear death like Woody Allen (although I love him, I find his fear of death ridiculous), instead I take a view on death similar to Atul Gawande.  We are all mortal, we are all dying little by little at this very moment, and yet we must all face this fact and choose to savor being alive while we are here.

For a few days, I did no such savoring.  I self medicated, wallowed and shut the world out.  Food didn't taste good and yet I ate too much, being outside in the wind hurt my senses, I wanted to sleep for hours upon hours and my bikes sat unridden.  I couldn't console my friends, I couldn't console myself.  And then I forced myself to do two things.  First, I rode out in the cold wind with sprinkles falling, to see baby goats.  I heard their bleating before I ever saw them.  I crawled into their pen and inhaled their barnyardy sweet/sour scent deeply.  I picked them up and held them to me, feeling their warmth, feeling their heart beat against my chest and feeling them squirm with abandon all while they licked the sweat off my face, hands and arms.  I began to smile, laugh out loud, and quite possibly squeal without being aware I was doing so until I heard myself several minutes later.  I felt alive holding these furry little beings and knew I was going to be okay.

The other thing I did was plan a long day on the bike.  I didn't really "want" to ride for hours upon hours in freezing temps but I knew it was the right thing to do.  It would bring me back to that simple place of survival.  I could choose to stop pedaling and sit down to become hypothermic on the side of the road, but I knew I wouldn't.  Consider it a slap in the face to an out of control loved one.  This ride was meant to snap me out of a deep funk by putting me into not so pleasant conditions.  As I closed in on my destination of Milwaukee, my heart filled with warmth being, in what I would consider, my second home--third if you count Minneapolis.  I love Milwaukee and I love my friends who reside there.  It was, at this time, the perfect place to be.

Thankfully my two choices of moving forward, the goat ride and the ride to Milwaukee, brought me back to a near normal state.  More importantly, I learned quite a bit about myself and how I should be dealing with living and dying in a healthy way.  L'chaim!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Testing the, er, frozen waters

"Brrrrr" and "it's cold" have now become the most common sayings at my house.  Neither I or my husband like what mother nature has dealt us this week.  With both of our circulatory systems still running on more like 15W40 vs. the sludge it will look like come spring, neither of us can stay warm unless bundled up beneath a pile of blankets with hot tea/coffee in hand.  And no, we don't keep our house below 60 degrees (60 at night, 62 during the day).

So what comes to mind as I'm shivering in hopes of providing an involuntary heat source?  Bourbon?, bacon?, a whiplash move back to Hawaii?  Yes, yes and yes.  Biking?  Um, yeah, well this is where it gets tricky.  I refuse to put my bike on the trainer--I mean dust collector--in the basement.  I hate it, I mean really hate it.  And besides, I have this new toy named Orange Crush (a Salsa Fargo) that I need to break my body into.  So yeah, biking came to mind.

The weekend kicked off on Thursday evening with a roll down the H8TR trail (Badger State Trail if you want to get technical) with friends to drink and eat candy in the tunnel.  I showed up on my 2.2 Conti Race Kings (they came with the steed) knowing full well it was overkill but feeling a bit to lazy to switch over to my Clement MSO's.  Besides, it was going to be cold and the extra weight of the bike (several pounds heavier than my Lemond Poprad), and the extra rolling resistance, would warm me up.  It would be my first over 20 mile ride on OC and a good time to test a few things out before I went making big changes.  Fifteen miles into the ride, seeing everyone roll with barely a push to the pedal (most were on road or under 40mm slicker tires), I began to doubt my choice.

Krampus met us under the bridge with beer and candy
photo by Mr.McNeill
Refueling in the tunnel

I made it down and back thanks to a) refueling supplied partly thanks to Krampus and b) the kindness of those who kept the pace pretty casual.  What I realized quickly, however, is I won't be using OC for trail rides like this.  Nope, my new steed will be kept for flowy mountain bike trails, fire roads and chunky gravel--like the kind found on Skull-N-Bones this fall.  None of this push for pushing sake shit, I'm all about taking the path of least resistance.

Militant start
Yesterday's flag ripping winds were around 30-40mph so I went for a run instead.  Yes, I run in the winter.  No sneers or heckling please.  But this morning the winds died down to a "calm" 10mph Northerly and with that the temps dropped to a "cool" 26 degrees.  I woke thinking it was a "perfect" morning to ride.  Although I had to be at work late morning to teach a couple workshops, I decided to join the Militant gravel crew for a bit to get some more miles in.  This was my second below 30 degree ride of the season and I usually don't get used to this stuff until January or February--when I know there's a light at the end of the tunnel.

Following the morning 35 miler, I headed down to what will hopefully be an annual event--the Day of the Dead Ride.  Regular bikes, cargo bikes carrying musicians, face painting, home made tamales, coffee, hot chocolate--now this is the sort of thing that takes my mind off the cold.  The sun was out, folks were smiling, tummies were full and all was good.  Needless to say, my roll home was a bit slower due to the extra baggage I was carrying in my tummy.  Note to self:  ride lighter bike when riding out to eat to keep strength to weight ratio in check.

Day of the Dead Ride

Tomorrow I will take my road bike out since it's been feeling a bit underutilized.  There are baby goats out there bleating my name and by god I'm going to answer even though the start will once again be below freezing.  At least no one will hear my whining over their cries to be fed, and if you see me dancing a little jig, it's not dancing at all--more like trying to bring blood back into my brick like feet.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Riding to soothe

Everyone says "goodbye" in different ways.  Some choose to be alone with their thoughts, some need the comfort of others.  Goodbyes have never been easy for me.  Throughout my life I have repetitively chosen to handle it in two ways.  The first way is to grasp, the second way is to put my blinders on and act like nothing is going on even though something is always lurking in the back of my mind--not unlike stuffing an over sized sleeping bag into a too small stuff sack, something will always end up oozing out.

Since I don't like showing my emotions around others, I will rarely choose to grasp.  This behavior was shown much more in my youth, and only when I'm caught off guard will it creep up as an adult.  Now, when loved ones move away or die, I often put my head down and force myself to act logically.  The thing is, the emotions are still there, no matter how much I try to think them away or try to ride away from them on my bike (riding away from them is usually my chosen preference).

Today, after loosing yet another friend to lung cancer--the fourth in two years--I have already planned on riding away my sadness.  Funny how this has now become a very conscious decision, or maybe its not so funny after all.  I will ride both alone and with friends.  I will ride out to see new baby goats--something which helped me get through another death last year (a part of me wonders if the goats were born now to help me since they were a total "oops" and are rarely born in the fall).  I will ride at night because it's soothing, and I will drink beer and eat candy to celebrate living with friends.

I don't really know what to do or say to show others who were close to this person that I care.  I feel bad I don't have the strength to properly mourn the loss with them--I'm just not good at it.  The only things I could possibly do well are to think of our friend as I ride past prairies full of oaks and sandhill cranes, make lentil soup and share it with others and greet and pet every standard poodle I see along the way.  My love goes out to you sweet woman, you will always be an inspiration.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Drifting between inversion layers

Just before sunrise--the silver is all frost

This morning brought me into the Van Morrison song "Into the Mystic".  It was my last early Wednesday morning ride of the season due to the lengthening darkness and settling cold.  I set out under a crisp, clear sky, surrounded by blackness with only a Turkish crescent moon and the big dipper to guide my way.  I knew forty-five minutes to an hour would be without any natural light--something I always find to be so serene since there are no distractions.  As I dropped into the first valley, the temps went quickly from 32 to around 25.  Although I thought I may be overdressed up high, I quickly realized my feet could have used chemical warmers (I wouldn't feel my feet again until my shower--oh the agony).

Down low, in a valley always plagued by thick fog on summer mornings, I became amused it was somewhat fog free, or at least not a wall.  Instead, where the fog doesn't normally shroud the rich, black earth, it hung so heavy, and froze mid air, and then finally collected all over me.  My eyelashes grew an inch, any hair sticking out of my hat turned white and hoar frost collected on my tights, gloves and arms.  I paused briefly to take a picture, inhaling the scent of burning wood--so sweet I could taste the remnants of sap as it collected and traveled through the ice crystals, finally landing in my nose.

I will admit, there were times I was quite nervous.  I don't like being on roads when I can only see 100 feet in front of me for fear of getting hit.  But there was something so surreal about this morning.  Other than a few short moments after sunrise, the only way I could tell if I was climbing or descending was by the gear I was in and how much effort I had to put out.  There was no way for me to tell where I was even though I've done this route hundreds of times.  I felt like I was drifting between the inversion layers.

Although I am terribly sad to say goodbye to my early Wednesday rides, this was a beautiful send off until next Spring.

Sunrise between inversion layers

This was the only stretch of road completely clear of fog post sunrise

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Once in awhile, it really sucks being a girl

I was raised by a bra burning, commune living, ex-hippie feminist.  My mom fought damn hard in the 60's, 70's and 80's to make the world a better place for her daughter.  She wasn't one of those crazy man haters, but she did believe women were treated differently purely because of our gender and she wasn't about to stand around and allow this treatment to continue for me as I grew up.  She taught me at a very young age I could do and be anything I wanted.  She never mentioned the obstacles I could or would have as a young woman, so I believed her.  I never, not for one moment, doubted I could be president if I really wanted the job (oh, I never wanted that job by the way).

I have written before how when I first began group riding and racing, I was one of the few junior girls in the midwest.  Although it had some challenges, it never really bothered me all that much.  I showed up, I rode, I got my ass kicked frequently by the junior boys or senior women, I learned, I got stronger, and once in awhile I got the pleasure of schooling some of the boys.  It was what it was and by no means was I scarred by it.  

When I started personal training, twenty-two years ago, I was one of the only female personal trainers (even though I got my start at the YWCA), and the only women who lifted free weights in the gym were cops, fire fighters and body builders.  It took at least five years, maybe closer to ten, for men to start asking me for a spot even though I could bench my own weight.  It's not that they didn't want our presence in the gym, I think they just didn't want us to get hurt and they didn't know how to act around us.  I wasn't angry with them for questioning me, I knew in time things would change.

As the years rolled by, and more and more women started lifting free weights, most of the guys I knew began to realize what we were capable of.  We weren't these frail things who only wanted to lift 3lb weights, and much to many of the guys surprise at the YWCA, many of the women who lifted heavy were straight (a stereotype I had to fight for about ten years).  I got asked to spot power lifters, got more guys requesting me as a personal trainer, and some of them even began asking me to give them cycling advice.  

Finally, I got the courage to start leading group rides myself, teaching cycling workshops and ultimately I got my coaching license.  I helped both men and women, young and old(er), improve their skills and discover how strong they could really be.  I say "help" because I'm just a catalyst--all the people I've worked with have always had the internal strength...I just taught them how to tap into it.

A few years ago, I began to contemplate a big adventure.  I had been following Team Rwanda and dreamt about how cool it would be to work with the group.  I applied for an internship, got down to the final two applicants, and then they broke it to me they were out of funding and they couldn't take me on.  

Fast forward to the present.  A few weeks ago I began the application process for a paid position as a coach with the team.  I have to say I wanted this pretty badly regardless of some of the concerns I had.  If I got the job, I would work in Rwanda, Ethiopia and Eritrea, coaching mostly men, but some women, for one year.  I would get to travel around Africa and possibly Europe while the team raced in large stage races.  I would learn more in one year there than what I could learn here in ten.  It would be unbelievably difficult, yet rewarding beyond words.  

I filled out my questionnaire carefully, e-mailed my resume and waited.  Prior to this I had several conversations with the logistics manager, Kimberly Coats, who has been with the team for five years and is now married to the head coach, Jock Boyer (first American to race in the Tour de France).  Today, I heard back from Kimberly stating they couldn't and wouldn't hire a woman to coach the men for cultural reasons.  At first I thought it was due to some being Muslim.  Then, upon doing research, I discovered most are Roman Catholic or Protestant--so that couldn't be it.  I racked my brain over this and then just decided to let it go.  Yes, I was/am frustrated that a door was shut in my face because of my gender.  Yes, I'm still a bit confused and dumbfounded.  And yes, for one brief moment I thought what it would be like if I were a guy.  But hell, I could chase my tail for hours about this and still not change a thing.  The fact is that Team Rwanda just isn't ready yet--I will give it time and it will change.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Lucky 13

This is the real secret of life--to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now.  And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.
-Alan Watts

Each road leads to a new playground--this was the top of a roller coaster

Not all who wander are lost.  Well, uh, that wasn't my case yesterday.  Okay, so I wasn't "lost" per se, but I did take a wrong turn on what was supposed to be about an 85 miler, and because I was a bit blitzed out by the beautiful landscape, I didn't realize it for about four miles.  When I finally got back on track, I chose to take the hard way home--just because it was there.  I'm not sure if I was fueled by sheer determination to complete my thirteenth century of the year or because I just had a wonderful lunch with a cycling friend, either way, it felt great being out in the crisp autumn air all day long.

So now that I have reached my stupid little goal, with the added miles of riding down to the Saris gala (Mark Maffitt--thanks for giving me my goal for next year!), it's time to play.  No more of this numbers game, training, or subjecting myself to wind riding when I don't need to.  Nope, it's time for pancake rides, halloween rides and all around shenanigans.  Not that most of the other rides I did during the year didn't have serious elements of play, but there was always the word "training" looming over my head.  Well, I am happy to say, I can set that mindset aside for a few months and just goof off (when I say this by no means do I mean I'll be stationary).  Oh, it's also coming up on running season.  The time of year when I can go out for an hour, without "gearing up" much, and get the same intensity as a three hour ride.  You'll see me hobbling around like a broken woman for about two weeks, but then it will be "fun"...really it will be!

More pancake rides please!

What I really look forward to is more social rides.  Rides to pubs/breweries, rides to breakfast, rides with others when it's -20 windchill and I need friends to drag my ass out of the house and hold me accountable.  Yes, it's a shifting of seasons and a shifting of the mind.  As they'd say in Cajun country, laissez les bon temps roulez!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Blood Moon Riding

We ran as if to meet the moon
-Robert Frost

Blood moon just past full eclipse

I woke this morning at 4:30am, even though I could have slept in a bit.  You see Wednesdays are my "late start days" for work since I work doubles on Tuesdays.  Throughout the spring and summer I tend to literally leap out of bed on these days, like a child on Christmas morning, because it means I get to do a pre-dawn ride--my favorite time of day to be on the bike.  As the fall wears on, and the darkness and cold settle in, it becomes more and more difficult to pry myself out from under the heavy covers, and shove the cat off my legs, especially when it means I have to don multiple layers to head out on a ride.

This morning was an exception.  I stumbled into the kitchen, cranked the hot water for my press pot, wiped at least enough sleep from my eyes so I could see, and stepped outside to witness the blood moon.  The sky was so unbelievably clear I didn't know what to look at, the normally white blob turning red or the constellations twinkling everywhere.  I was in awe, to say the least, and I couldn't wait to inhale my breakfast and get out on a ride heading West so as to keep my eyes on the changing sky.

Now a winking eye
As I climbed my first hill, the moon put me in somewhat of a trance.  It just kept getting redder and larger and I found myself picking up the pace hoping to catch it before it slipped into the horizon.  As I crested my largest climb, there was that rare moment when I wished I could stop the clocks.  To my West was the remnants of the eclipse--now a shade of pink and looking very much like a winking eye--and to the East was a giant peach casting a shade of orange on everything it touched.  I am quite certain I was oooing and aweing outloud--my eyes big as saucers.

I wanted to stay on that hill all morning, but since work was calling, a bit too loudly for my taste, I let my wheels carry me back down into the valley.  The temperature dropped a good ten degrees, and as I looked at the grass on either side of the road, I noticed it shining a magnificent silver, recently kissed by frost.  Where the grass had grown long, it lay flat as if a deer had bed down in it recently causing the silver to swirl in the now golden light.

Sun coming up over the frost left from the night before

Regardless of my feet and hands feeling a bit like blocks, I smiled my entire way into work, amazed by the magic this earth still holds.