Sunday, May 25, 2014

Crushing Gravel Part 6: One More! Then We Go.

Other than my All-City "Fast is Forever" glass, this is my favorite!
I have this pint glass from Lakefront Brewery which says "One More!  Then We Go".  I feel like this could be applied to far too many pieces of my life.  Just one more page read before dozing off into a slumber, just one more cup of coffee at my favorite breakfast spot, just one more song on the dance floor, just one more weed pulled before I call it quits in the yard, just one more beer before I depart from my wonderful friends, and just one more gravel ride/race before the "road season" really truly begins.

This winter I hadn't planned on doing the Gravel Metric.  After Almanzo, the idea was to log on long road rides and also work on obtaining speed faster than a sloth.  The problem was I had so much fun at both Dairy Roubaix and Almanzo this year that it pained me to say "goodbye" to gravel until fall.  Have I become a glutton for punishment?  Have I become one of those gravel junkies?  Maybe yes on both accounts.  Although there is a bit of discomfort in these events, and god knows I'm not fast, there is also a much larger reward for riding them than many of the paved road events.  First, I love the idea of being unsupported, second, I really love the fact no matter how slow or fast you are, you are welcomed with smiles at the end, third I think it's really cool I never know what to expect on course, and I find myself constantly improving on my weaknesses.

About a third of the riders lining up to start

Today marked my first "real ride" in Illinois.  Yeah, sure, I've ridden on the Jane Adams path south of the WI border, but I've never done a real ride there.  I have to admit I probably wouldn't have even done this ride if it weren't for meeting some really nice guys from the area at both the Dairy Roubaix and Almanzo this year.  Both guys, Mike and Stu, along with one of our cycling reps, Brendan made me feel completely at home.

At the line up for the start, I was so happy to see so many people--including some of my friends from Madison and Milwaukee.  I later learned there were 360 riders, and with their donations to Axeltree--the folks who put the event on--bicycle advocacy for the area is now that much stronger.

Lemonade stand
I wasn't feeling 100% confident about my strength right from the start.  This wasn't my type of event.  Flat, fast, and windy with grass trails and B roads mixed in.  Give me endless hills, but don't give me 68 miles of flats or any technical stuff.  After being passed by what felt like the entire pack, I got a bit discouraged.  How could I finish Almanzo feeling strong, but feel like I was bonking at mile 30 on this stuff?  I decided to calm myself down, slow down even more (I went from 18 mph to 13), and just enjoy this new experience.  Come to find out, just that simple shift made all the difference.  I began to see the more technical stuff in a different light, and basked in the shadows of surrounding wind turbines (this was one of the things that made my ride).  I even stopped for lemonade at a farm stand run by kids--oh the joys of summer!  With those simple pleasures, I was actually able to crank my pace back up to 16-18mph to finish with an average of around 15mph.  Not great, but who cares, I had fun.

Spinning with the wind turbines

As with any event I do, I realized what I need to work on.  I will be back next year, hopefully with better handling skills and better endurance for the flats.  Thank you North Central Cyclery and Axeltree for a fabulous summer day!

This whole gravel dust cleansing is becoming routine

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Crushing Gravel Part 5: Turning Gravel into Dust at Almanzo

Almanzo numbers--mine is on the right

Scar tissue is stronger than regular tissue.
Realize the strength, move on.
-Henry Rollins

Notice the Sukup label at the top of the bin
Somewhere between the miles of 50-65, on this year's Almanzo 100, I gazed out into the farm fields and began to laugh.  To my knowledge, no one was around to hear me.  It began as laughing at the universe for sending me a sign, and turned into laughing at myself for how pitiful I felt for a few miles.  What started this hysterical laughter--it may or may not have been only in my head--I wouldn't know since no one was around to stare and ask if I was alright?  At my lowest point of the ride, when I was doubting if I would--notice I didn't say "could"--make it to the end, I glanced at the farm field to my right, and noticed large grain elevators with the name "Sukup" on them.  In my hysterical state, I converted this to "Suck it up".  I saw it as a sign from the gravel gods.  They sent the message to me loud and clear:  "Stop your moping, you are in a beautiful place, doing what you love most, with almost a couple thousand kindrid spirits."  Almost instantly, I changed my mindset.  Yeah, the wind sucked, yeah, it was dusty with some fresh gravel, yeah, my elbow ached from a fall early in the ride and yeah, my hopes of beating last year's time was slipping away--but I was still able to ride, and wasn't that enough?

Wounds heal, arm warmers don't
So how did I find myself in this state of mind and what happened when I kicked myself out of it?  First, as always, I doubt myself before larger events.  I tend to go into them a bit jittery and run far too many scenarios over in my head.  This all, of course, drops away within five miles or so, but nonetheless, it's probably not the best way to start a long day in the saddle.  Second, due to my lack of mountain biking skills, I took a spill around mile 10 while turning hard left on a decent and hitting a thick pile of gravel dust.  I could blame the person in front of me and say because they too had difficulty, it threw me off, but no, it was my doing and it just proved I needed to work on my skills.  Third, with my adrenaline wearing off 30-40 miles after the crash, I began to get a bit shaky.  That kind of feeling of queasiness mixed with exhaustion.  

Although I hadn't trained as hard as I would have liked to for Almanzo this year due to crappy weather, I had knocked down two centuries and one gravel event prior to it so I knew I "could" finish the ride.  The question instead became "Do I want to finish?"  This whole thought process, mixed in with my fits of laughter, a cloud of gravel dust swirling around me making me look like pigpen from the Peanuts, took about three minutes.  I knew I'd feel like shit if I didn't complete it.  I knew there were friends and cold beer waiting for me at the finish line.  I knew there could be a whole lot worse conditions I could be stuck in.  So yes, I decided to keep turning the pedals over.  

Monica, Stu and Dan kept my spirits high when I hit Preston

Thank you Banjo Brothers for giving me fuel 75 miles in!
Regardless of the mishaps, the wind, the road conditions or the leg strength, there are very few experiences in my life which could top events like these.  From start to finish, to witness and feel the love and energy that goes into them makes me want to keep showing up year after year.  A thanks bigger than all thanks goes out to Christopher Skogen and all the volunteers, for once again putting on a stellar ride.  More thanks go out to Stu and Michelle Garwick for being so supportive throughout the day--your peanut butter and pickle sandwich almost topped your cheers and smiles, Mike for helping me clean my wounds (for some reason he didn't like seeing me spit water from my camelback on them), and Tyler and Dan for making me laugh multiple times.  

If you wish, you can read about my experience last year at Almanzo here.

Old riding friends, Michael and Andy, at the finish--the guy on the left got me into gravel riding.

Stu welcoming in Mike

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The end, or beginning, of a journey…

Leo J, Joel Shupack, just finished his bike/music tour from coast to coast, and coast to Texas.  A big congrats goes out to him!  Read my interviews with him here:

Leo J, an old fashioned troubadour in a a modern world

Tell me a good story and I'll be a friend for life

I send you off with his website and my favorite song--click Deliver Me.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Continuing my spring renewal

Every day
I see or hear
that more or less
kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle
in the haystack
of light.
It was what I was born for-
to look, to listen,
to lose myself
inside this soft world-
over and over 
in joy,
and acclamation.
Nor am I talking 
about the exceptional,
the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant-
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,
the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help
but grow wise
with such teachings
as these-
the untrimmable light
of the world,
the ocean's shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?

-Mary Oliver

I may not be religious, but I do feel there is something greater than me when I'm surrounded by animals

A friend of mine was talking about a snake that found it's way into his house one year.  The snake itself, was rarely seen, however, the shed skin was often left as a reminder that it was still in the house.

I think about this scenario and compare it to myself.  On the first truly warm week this spring, I ride through the farmland, shedding my clothes as if they were layers of skin.  I also continue "spring cleaning" of my mind--deciding who I want to be, what I want to, emotionally and mentally, carry with me and what I want to shed.  I allow the things I no longer wish to drag around to peel off me and float away in the wind.  This thought is a bit funny since as I write this, my nose and forehead are peeling from forgetting to apply sunblock last week.

We must be willing to get rid of
the life we've planned,
so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
The old skin has to be shed
before the new one can come.
-Joseph Campbell

Spring is a powerful season.  Although my body and mind are constantly regenerating themselves--at a rate which sometimes dumbfounds me--I make an extra conscious effort to encourage new growth, not unlike forcing bulbs.  It just makes sense for me to do this each spring since I am constantly surrounded by renewal.  On my rides I witness farmers planting their crops, new animals being born, and woodland plants pushing through last year's decaying leaves.  The grass seems to magically change color before my eyes--one day being brown, the next day becoming such a vibrant green my eyes go into shock, and at every water source, frogs, who were just tadpoles, sing so loudly they drown out the bird songs. 

With this renewal and spark of energy, also comes an awareness of things I could improve upon.  The list is always long, but I pick and choose what I know I have the energy and time to work on without letting myself or anyone else down, I also follow my gut on what takes precedence.  It is on my solo rides I find the clarity of what I want to work on next.  Oh, believe me, there are times when all I think about is what I'm going to make for dinner or something mundane like a funny interaction I had, but nine times out of ten, a lot of work gets done on the bike.

I do have to make note that it is not the bike alone which sparks these changes.  More often than not, a person in my life will say something that begins to turn over in my head once the pedals begin to move.  It is the combination of wisdom from my friends or from an author, being outside close to nature and forward movement which does the trick.  I think these three act like a stool--lose one leg and the function ceases.

Recently, I chose to reconnect with a friend I felt I had wronged a couple years back.  I had known, for quite some time, I had acted poorly, however, until a long spring ride, I didn't know how to approach the subject or what to say.  Somewhere in the middle of farm country, it came to me.  It wasn't about "fixing" the issue, I just knew I didn't want carry the "old me" around any more.  I also wanted this person to know I was sorry for my actions.  Yes, cycling, or just being active in the spring, can be very powerful.  It is something look forward to each year and now that it's here, I couldn't be happier.

When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.
-old Buddhist proverb
*I read this most recently in the book Falling Uphill by Scott Stoll

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Happy May Day!

A clump of daffodils
cups of bright canary
atop their swaying stems
rising from the gray-brown mulch
green and yellow,
renewal of this spring morning
beside the parking lot, the road beyond
living spring, next to the blacktop
color and life, affirmation
rebirth in their rising
love in their presence
year after year

-Raymond Foss

April has come and gone.  In a blink of an eye, spring has somehow slipped through my fingers and summer is now knocking at the door.  Where did it go and what the heck was I so busy with that I didn't get to truly enjoy the beginning of warmth?  Oh yeah, that's right, it hasn't really gotten warm yet.

Each year, I start to grasp onto spring and summer a bit more than the year prior.  Although I make the most out of winter, there are no words which can describe my love for the warm, green months.  Days are filled with bicycle adventures, evenings are filled with dinners on the patio or gatherings with friends.  These few months offer the closest thing to heaven in my book.

In previous posts, I've mentioned my affinity towards May Day (May 1st).  And even though the weather brought cold rain this year, and my mind kept moving back towards last year's 80 degrees with sun, I couldn't help buy fully enjoy myself.  What could be better than standing in line outside all day, with several hundred other kindred spirits, waiting to sign up for the best bike event of the year?  No, the rain, wind, mud and fatigue couldn't wipe that stupid smile off my face.  We, my team and I, were going to get the chance to be a part of something so much bigger than us once again.

This year, like the first year we did RW24, we almost didn't make it.  Each year the line starts earlier, and each year we fret over getting in.  This year the line began to form around 3pm the prior day.  Since there was no way for any of us to get there the day before, we had to take our chances and head over in the early hours of sign up day.  Although none of us are religious, some sort of god--call it the bike god--was looking over us and we barely squeaked in.

Lining up and saying a little prayer

Our team, and our friend's team numbers

Even though I felt nothing could top getting to be a part of RW24 again, I thought I'd try by doing two "goat rides" this weekend.  You see, around this time each year, I get the pleasure of riding out to see one of my favorite species of all time.  It's kidding and lambing season, and thankfully, I know of two places to get my fix.  Not only do I get to pick up, cuddle and talk like an absolute moron to a bunch of kids, but I also get to bring friends.  We ride West of Madison, into the hills.  I pretend that it's "training" for upcoming gravel events.  It's not.  I just use this as an excuse to talk others into joining me.  Some take to these furry little minions right away--for some, it takes a few minutes.  Everyone, however, is won over by the time we leave.  And I'm guessing everyone is sick of hearing me giggle and squeal like a three year old by the time we roll out.

It is weekends like this, no matter the prolonged cold, rain and wind, that make me happy to be alive and even happier to have such an amazing group of people in my life!