Sunday, April 27, 2014

150 Miles of Solitude

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
-Max Ehrman

I've spoken before about how I get silly ideas, and then can't let them drop until I see them through.  This past week, I had two of them.  First, realizing I haven't ridden nearly enough to complete Almanzo without causing serious pain, I chose to ride down to the Illinois border, and a bit into Illinois on the Badger State trail and the Jane Adams trail.  For me, getting almost seven hours of saddle time was what I needed to feel "somewhat" ready.  No, there weren't the ever constant farm rollers that Almanzo has, but I find riding flats for a long amount of time, especially into a headwind, to be oftentimes harder.  I felt I had to pay my dues.  Second, because I had to cancel a group ride on Sunday due to rain, I chose to follow the 100 miles with 40 miles of hills and 10 miles of urban riding--all with 15-25mph winds.  I won't lie, coming home into the headwind I questioned if I'd make it.  But because I was riding alone, I had no one to bitch to and I just had to keep turning one foot over the other.

Usually, when I plan these longer rides, I choose to do them with friends.  Conversation makes the miles tick by, and I find some comfort knowing someone else is sharing both my joy and misery.  Doing 100 miles solo tends to mess with me a bit.  It tests my mental strength far more than my physical strength and I tend to pass the time questioning my place in life, singing songs to myself, and trying to guess birds songs.  It is the "questioning my place in life" stuff which sends me on the roller coaster ride--hills or no hills.  

The question I constantly ask myself on these rides is "What makes me happy and what do I really need?"  Usually, it comes down to me wanting to sell most of my possessions--except my bikes, cast iron pan and chef's knife--get down to a couple backpacks, and travel the world.  This isn't a new phenomenon.  Thoughts like this crossed my mind frequently on Outward Bound trips when I was in high school as well.  In fact, I think the only other thing I thought about on those trips was all the yummy food I'd eat when I got off trail.

It is in these hours of silence, with a repetitive forward motion, that I get an awful lot of mental work done.  When I'm out in the middle of nowhere--be it farmland or wilderness--I can't hide from my thoughts.  I must embrace them or turn them into skeletons, only to haunt me at a later time.  I kind of compare it to sweating.  The beginning stage is never comfortable, but once I relax and go with it, a deep cleansing occurs.

I'm guessing I'll have plenty of time to revisit these thoughts on Almanzo in a couple weeks.  Sure I'll be riding with at least 1,600 other people, but if it's anything like last year, there will be hours of welcomed silence as well.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Crushing Gravel part 4: Rolling with two guys while they lose their virginity

My husband and a good friend, about to ride their first gravel grinder.

Riding gravel alone is fun sometimes, but for me, it's so much better with a group of kindred spirits.  Gravel riding, which wasn't all that big just five years ago, has grown into a "movement".  It didn't happen by accident.  A few folks started doing it regularly, they pulled their friends in, everyone had a blast so those friends pulled in more friends...and so it goes.  I can now proudly say I am no longer the "newbie" or "virgin" and I have done my part in introducing the joys of gravel to a few other friends.

Until this Spring, my husband was in the same boat I was a year and a half ago.  He had no interest in riding gravel--mountain biking YES!, road riding YES!, gravel riding WHY?  Living in Madison, we are surrounded by some of the best paved roads for cycling in the country--his thought was "why would I want to ride on bumpy, dirty roads for the same scenery when I can ride clean, smooth roads and not have to clean my bike after each ride?"  He had a point--a point I so adamantly pointed out to the friends who got me into gravel riding.  But I begged, pleaded and coerced, and somehow, I talked him into trying my favorite gravel event...the Dairy Roubaix.

Dugway Hollow road.  One of the many reasons I love riding gravel.
Would this be considered carb loading?  Our pit stop had an Easter theme!

Along with my husband, I somehow talked another cycling friend into experiencing what I have come to love.  He too didn't understand the draw, and since he's not too fond of getting dirty and camping, I was so pleased when he signed on as well.  He had intended on riding the Dairy Roubaix last year, but a minor physical road block stood in his way and it had to be set aside.  I think I jumped up and down while clapping when he told me he was signing up again.

So this past Saturday, I stood next to my bike in Wyalusing state park, surrounded by so many wonderful cyclists I would consider family, ready to watch two adult men lose their virginity.  To make the ambiance better, mother nature granted us sun and warmth--enough so we had to strip down just a few miles into the ride--a blessing after a long, grueling winter.

Getting ready to roll out under sunny skies

Our quick pit stop half way through

The miles ticked by, we turned onto so many beautiful "hollow" roads they all began to blend into each other, and we smiled.  Oh did we smile!  I was not about to be the only witness to their loss of virginity.  Several other friends rode most or part way with us.  There were brief moments when we all rode alone, and sometimes we'd ride next to a complete stranger which ended in becoming friends by the time we broke off.  It was essentially like a traveling house party on wheels, and by the end, I think I had gotten two more souls hooked.

Dan coming in strong!

Markham, my husband, was right behind him

Thankfully, exact times weren't kept, and there was no seriousness to who won.  I do, however, find it very amusing I was told I got third place women's for the second year in a row.  Mind you this isn't saying much since gravel is still primarily a "guy's thing".  I already have two female friends I'm trying to get to try this ride for next year...maybe they will bump me down to fifth place.

I won't go into the details about what happened at the Hugh Harper group camp--it's kinda like Vegas that way.  I will say doing these types of events is like being a kid at summer camp all over again.  The type of bonding which occurs could rarely happen at a road race.  It is for this reason, I will always be drawn to riding gravel.

Stew and Michelle
There is no "thanks" big enough to give to Stewart and Michelle Schilling for putting on this flawless event.  Sweat, tears and possibly some of their blood was graciously given by them both to make this happen for the third year.  Like most gravel events, no money is earned by putting it on.  They do it because they are passionate about getting people on bikes in beautiful places.  A big "thank you" to David Kohli as well for providing us with music, Tyler for getting my ass and bike out there, and to my husband, Markham, and good friend, Dan, for allowing me to talk you into this!

If you'd like to read about my experience last year at Dairy Roubaix, here is a link.

Getting ready to roll out

BJ and Kristin getting doing one last training ride before Trans Iowa

Back at the campground post ride

One of the coolest guys I know

Happy to be alive and to be on gravel

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Retraining my body and mind while searching for goats

Dreamfarm goats
Yesterday I squandered one of the best days yet this Spring.  In hindsight, I have no clue why I did it.  For some stupid reason, while the temps rose to a balmy 69 degrees, I chose to run errands and wrap up a pile of unfinished projects instead of hopping on the bike.  This put me in a pickle of a situation.  I wanted to put some miles in, and this morning was calling for showers, so I got up early--trying to out ride the raindrops--and went out searching for baby goats.

The first drops hit just a few miles out of town.  Wait a second!  It wasn't supposed to hit until 10am or so.  I, however, was on a mission.  It was my first ride on skinny tires and carbon since late fall and I'd be damned if I were going to turn around so early.  I didn't.  I kept going West, adding on miles as long as the rain didn't pick up too much.  I felt like I was playing Russian roulette, but it just felt so good to be on a sprite, responsive bike.  My body didn't know how to react.  It took several climbs to retrain myself on how to use my muscles on this new stallion.  But muscle memory kicked in, and I settled into the saddle like I had never left it.

In the end, I didn't find many goats--just two begging for attention and something to nibble on at Dreamfarm.  I did, however, find what's important--taking time for myself and setting obligations aside, just for a moment.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Reinventing the "girls weekend"

You've got to know when to hold 'em
know when to fold 'em
know when to walk away
know when to run.

-Kenny Rogers

All last week, I got into the terrible habit of checking the weather at least once a day.  My obsession was with Friday the 4th.  Was is going to rain?  Was it going to snow?  Sleet?  And, oh dear god, please let the relentless wind abate!  My stomach did little summer-salts seeing the wind go from a 17mph headwind to a 26mph headwind to the risk of freezing rain with a headwind.  You see, Friday at 9am, a good friend of mine, Laura, and I were to embark on a bike trip to Milwaukee--about 100 miles each way from our places on the far West side of Madison.  We both knew we could deal with cold and long miles, but I started second guessing myself when thinking about pushing into an exposed wind the entire way.  

In the end, with the temps hovering just above freezing, and a light drizzle forcing the cold to our bones, we chose to get a ride from my husband to Lake Mills--about 30 miles East of us--to begin our journey.  We knew we'd be going the entire distance on our way back, and also knew we'd be riding quite a bit when we hit Milwaukee, so we allowed ourselves to take the "easy" way out.  Somehow, to our surprise, and possibly a little magic worked by my cycling friends in Milwaukee, the winds shifted and we had a tail/cross wind the entire first day.  Yeah, it was cold, and no, we didn't appreciate the mini mircrodermabrasion we received from sleet once we came close to MKE, but it was still a great ride.

On the New Berlin trail, just outside of MKE, it started to sleet

We hit the fairgrounds much faster than we expected--fueled by hot soup and fresh bread made by a little cafe in Waukesha on Broadway--and proceeded to check out the Bike Expo, put on by Wheel and Sprocket.  The moment we stepped into the building, the reunion of bike friends began.  It was great seeing folks I don't get to see regularly, and in some ways, it felt like a WI Bike Fed board meeting since I saw so many current and old board members.  It was even better getting the chance to introduce Laura to some of this community.

After the sensory overload, we met up with a former cycling friend from Madison, who recently moved to MKE, to ride back into town.  Phil, a former bike courier and current record holder for the fastest lap at RW24, was all too kind not to push the pace to the Schuster Inn where we were staying.  With our bikes loaded down, and a few miles behind us, we must have seemed like sloths to him.  

I can pick out a few hazy details from that first night in Milwaukee.  First, there was greasy Chinese food.  The kind you probably wouldn't want to eat on a daily basis, but also the kind that sends shivers of pleasure to hungry, cold, tired cyclists.  There was a shared bottle of wine.  There was a phone call by MKE friends asking us to come out and play--in our blitzed out state, we said "yes".  There was a drive back through Waukesha--wait! didn't we just bike through here?--to go sing karaoke with other RW24 friends.  There was laughter...sooo much laughter.  

The Schuster Inn on 32nd and Wells--they were very kind to us cyclists!
In our sleep deprived state, we managed to wake, stuff our bellies with an amazing breakfast at the Schuster Inn, and bike over to the Riverwest neighborhood for a little urban spin and a practice lap on the RW24 course.  The sun was out, the breeze was much lighter than the previous day, the temps had risen and we were happy.

Teaching Laura the RW24 loop

Dan, one of the two friends who house of for RW24

Following a peaceful rest, so as not to become zombies, we rode down to Alem--one of my favorite Ethiopian restaurants--where we met Tristan and Carolyn, the owners of Coast In Bikes, and Tom Lais, a winter and gravel riding kindred spirit.  Are you beginning to get the gist this trip was just as much about food as it was biking?  Good for you!  You've cracked the code.

After an impromptu bike repair at 9:30pm--thank you Tristan and Carolyn!--we rode silently through the city guided by street lights and our bike lights.  Of course we should have been good and gone to sleep right away knowing we'd have to wake early to ride, but hell, this was a girl's weekend, and just like old slumber parties, we stayed up far too late chatting and giggling.

Thanks to Tristan, Laura's rack didn't fall off!

You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes well you might find
You get what you need

-The Rolling Stones

Almost home!
I wish I could tell you we had a tailwind the entire ride back.  We didn't.  We rode with a headwind/crosswind the whole way--starting with our first mile.  We rode it though.  Laura joked that our asses would look like raw hamburgers after this--true, but the important thing was we were still joking around.  We were tired, sore and so very happy to get off our bikes and yet we both were smiling ear to ear.  

For me, this was the earliest century I had done, and in total, we rode 205 miles in three days carrying weight.  For Laura, this was also her earliest century, and was her first taste of bike touring.  I'm just hoping the bug has bitten and she's up for more adventures like this!

We made it back to Madison!
This trip wouldn't have been nearly as pleasurable without seeing/spending time with great friends.  Thank you Phil, Dan, Claudine, Michael, Kristen, Scott, Kelly, Joan, Tom, Tristan, Carolyn and Steve (for offering to do an emergency pick up if necessary).  Most of all, thank you Laura for turning me into a teenage girl again!  You made this weekend awesome and there's no one else I would want to endure a big headwind with more.