Saturday, June 28, 2014

5 Counties, Two Days

Zac Barnes, WI Bike Fed staff, riding with me to Spring Green
What happens when you hit five driftless counties in a matter of two days?  Some damn fine riding, that's what!  Although my rides went through these counties again and again over four days on the bike, I was lucky enough to hit them all the first time in just two days.  Dane, Sauk, Iowa, Columbia and Juneau--all beautiful, all spared by the glaciers (at least the portions I rode through) and all so different in their own way.

Zac, Peter Mulvey and Nathan Kilen talking bikes
The "warm up" was the gift of riding to the Shitty Barn concert with my friend Zac.  We had planned to ride out to see Josh Harty and Peter Mulvey play for some time, and when the weather radar started showing pop up red storm cells, my heart sank and we had to make a Russian roulette decision.  Do we risk it, roll over high hills and pray we don't get hail and lightning, or do we take the easy way out and drive?  A thirty second confused conversation went like this, Zac: "Have you heard they are calling for hail...should we postpone it?", Me: "Well, we have to be out there by 5:30 so we won't have much time to sit under shelter if a storm comes.", Zac is confused on the other end and meant "postpone" as to drive, not sit out the storm, Me: "How do you feel about riding through the rain?", Zac:  "Fine, I've got rain gear."--less than five minutes after this we were on our way to meet up and ride to Spring Green.  The bike gods smiled down on us, and after a brief sprinkle--we never did see a storm--we were blessed with sun and a light tailwind the entire ride.  The beer stop--we were searching for strawberries...honest--at the General Store and the jaw dropping performance by both Josh and Peter (along with his drummer and guitarist), made the evening one to go down in the books.  In about a month, you can read more about this in Silent Sports magazine since I was able to interview Peter Mulvey for the article.

Going driftless

Day two meant waking on just over three hours of sleep, working 'til lunch and then pointing the bike in a Northerly direction, over the Baraboo hills, to Lyndon Station for a Wisconsin Bike Federation staff/board member retreat.  I think I made it to the Merrimac ferry with ease, although I can't really remember anything about it except stopping for mulberries every chance I could get.  Post ferry I remember.  Climbing, lots of climbing, as well as magnificent views, new bike territory for me, seeing the GRABAAWR crew roll by, riding through the Aldo Leopold nature preserve, having my face slapped when I went from farm roads into the Wisconsin Dells (think Gatlinburg or Las Vegas) and couldn't understand WHY anyone would want to spend time there, having someone ask me in the dells if I wore a helmet for aerodynamics,  riding further North into more new territory and bypassing my turnoff not once or twice but three times--sleep deprivation was not to blame--the road wasn't marked, and then seeing friends...better yet, with beer and food.

Bike Federation staff and board meeting

Retreat compound for the bike fed gathering in Northern Lyndon Station

Day two was capped off by wading in the river along the sandstone bluffs, more eating, drinking and socializing with a bunch of folks who feel the same way about bikes as I do.  I don't remember falling to sleep--although I remember going to bed before most--all I remember is how good it felt.

Aldo Leopold nature center

Lichen, sandstone and riverwater
Day three meant riding back to Madison, after our bike fed meetings, into a 15-20mph headwind for 65 miles.  What the hell was I thinking?  What I was thinking is sometimes a good bike flogging is fun--at least parts of it anyway.  Although my mind was on keeping one pedal moving over the other, and getting back at a reasonable time, I couldn't help but think about how much I love the smell of pine needles baking in the sun, the scent of minerals where rock and water collide, how big bumble bees can get when they are feasting on clover near the side of the road (I noticed this one while climbing big hills...slowly), how many shades of green there are and how lucky I am to be alive.  Tired legs and chaffing aside, it was a fine day!

Tomorrow will see another attempt at my favorite Devil's Lake loop with friends.  Bluff road, here I come...again, but this time, for the first time in ten days, on my plastic bike vs. my heavy steel touring bike.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Having my keister handed to me on summer solstice

Happy Summer Solstice!
If memory serves me correctly, it was Christopher Robin, from the Winnie the Pooh books, who said, "I think that we ought to eat all of our provisions now, so we shan't have so much to carry."  Well, Christopher Robin, in my book, was a goddamn genius!  This was one of the few thoughts my oxygen starved brain could handle while climbing hill after hill after hill on my summer solstice bike tour.  The other thought was, "this is the last time I'll let my husband plan a route without checking it first."

A couple months ago, my husband surprised me with a two day bike tour in the driftless area.  We'd done many tours, some long, some short, in what I consider to be one of the best places on earth to ride, so I was more than willing to set aside my dreams of riding in the Madison naked ride again this year.  We saw this as a quick chance to get away, explore some roads we hadn't been on and for me, do a bit more training for the Ten Thousand, which is quickly approaching.

Oh oh.  We're following all the Horribly Hilly markers.  This can't be good.

Pinnacle Road got it's name for a reason.  I briefly thought this gun could take my pain away.
Almost every road in the driftless area is this pretty.

Of course, the problem with my thinking was not about being able to handle the hills--I've done many of 'em and have survived, the distance--it was a measly 65 miles each day, or carrying weight on my touring bike--we'd done 8-10 day tours in the hills before.  The "problem" came in with climbing the biggest hills we could find for over 50 miles each day while carrying extra weight, being attacked by gnats and horse flies, not carrying enough water (we each carried 3 20 ouncers), and getting soaked the first day.  When we hit Blue Mound Trail early in the first day, after climbing Moen and JJ, I knew something was up.  After checking his cue sheet, I quickly realized he had put us on the Horribly Hilly route!  18% grade hills aren't big enough for you?  Let's throw one or two 20% graders in there too.

A luna moth in Governor Dodge park.
After making our way into Governor Dodge state park, to fill our water bottles and eat lunch, we were rewarded with one of my favorite roads, Norwegian Hollow.  Flying down through a mixed forest, I couldn't help but sing a very off key version of Norwegian Wood.  This abruptly came to a stop when we hit the incline on the other side.  One more thrilling descent down M and then a five mile climb up Q dropped us into Dodgville looking like wet rats from the rain.  What was on my mind?  Checking into the hotel for a shower?  Nope.  Beer stop!  Yes, I have fallen into the dark depths of needing a cold beer, while I shower, after a long ride--don't laugh, it's a "thing".  Better yet, we got to see our cycling friend, Chris, drive by in the fire truck!

This motel fridge must look familiar to any Wisconsin cyclist
*Warning, any woman who has delivered a child, will hate me for my next comparison.  Post shower, beer, food and nap, I felt like a new woman.  I consider these types of rides, ones I'm on the brink of falling to pieces on, kind of like childbirth.  Once it's over, and I've taken care of a few necessities, I completely forget the pain and suffering I just experienced and am ready to ride again.  And that we did...down to Bob's Bitchin' BBQ for a feast that could bring any meat eating cyclist to their knees.  The only issue arose when we had to climb another big hill, on a full stomach, to get back to the hotel.

My look of confusion as I crested another farm roller
Day two, we were told by our friend Chris, wouldn't have quite the hill punishment we had on day one since we were riding South of 18.  A few miles into it, and I thought "Huh?  Really?"  Big ass farm roller after big ass farm roller greeted us.  From the top of each climb, we could see what waited for us at the bottom of each descent.  At 8am, I found myself covered in a slurry of sunblock, sweat and gnats.  By 9am, the sweat started dripping off my arms, legs and nose.  By 10am, I was thinking that taking the limestone trail back wouldn't have been such a bad idea.  And by 11am, it was all business.  Head down, into the headwind, up another huge farm roller, no talking--just saving any energy I could to take swigs of water.  Yes, the views were amazing and I have now added three or four more "favorite" roads to my list, but I'm just not sure I was ready for the fatigue and pain--I never use chamois butter, but oh god what I would have done to get my hands on some!

This whole experience was wonderful but also an eye opener.  I consider myself a pretty strong climber, but have now realized why we didn't see any other tourers on this route.  The biggest eye opener is how much fluid I needed.  Never on my other driftless tours did I go through this much.  It makes me very nervous about the upcoming Ten Thousand which will have very similar conditions.  No, I won't be carrying the same amount of weight, but the climbing will match what we did, will be on gravel and will be very exposed to the sun.  Time to start asking myself a bunch of questions!

Want to know some of my favorite roads from the ride--even the painful ones?  Here they are!

Day 1:  Of course I love Zwettler, Blue Mounds Trail, Pinnacle, and Knutsen, but I had never experienced the joy of Erdman or Dyerson.  Norwegian Hollow near Gov. Dodge will also be one of my favorite roads--one not to miss.

Day 2:  Jacobson off of Y South of Dogeville was beautiful!  After that, I don't think any of the farm rollers disappointed in beauty or pain.  McGraw, Sunny Ridge, Twin Bridge, Birch Lake (this was amazing), Sylvan, Star Valley, Sandy Rock and Perry Center are all worth a visit.

Markhm rolling up and over hills covered in oak trees

Birch Lake Road

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A friend's post from Tour of the Mississippi River Valley

This was written by a cycling friend, past WI bike fed board member and just a wonderful guy, Brian Anderson.  Enjoy his story!

Packing was complete three days before TOMRV.  It involved a comprehensive checklist of 65 items, from gloves to knee warmers to arm warmers to first aid kit and even ear plugs (necessary to thwart the sonorous snoring of my teammates).  Yes, the list included a bike and 2 wheels--wheels safely and sensibly stowed in a lovely HED wheelbag.

My buddy, Mike Kosobucki, arrives to pick me up in Madison on Friday before TOMRV.  He throws my things in the car.  I snug my precious Madone a/k/a “Pearl” onto his bike rack.  

My checklist shows 65 checkmarks.   Basking in my D-Day-like strategic planning and execution, I smugly ask Mike whether he has remembered earplugs, shower flip-flops and an extra towel.  He hasn’t, so I get some from the house.

Five hours later, we arrive at the sprawling Scott College campus.  It’s 8:30pm.  The campus is bathed in sunset pink and orange.  We ride at 6am the next morning. 

For a few preciously brief moments, I take in the sunset, greet friends on our “Spoketacular” green polka dot squad.  And for those precious few moments, I do not suffer from an aching pit in the stomach, a panicked realization that I am a great fool, and an awareness that all of the city’s bike shops are closed.

Then, with a jolt, I realize I am a great fool, feel a god-awful stone in my stomach and have the panicked realization that all of the city’s bike shops are closed.  My lovely wheelbag was simply left at the curb in front of my house.  I have 63/65 items.  I curse the blood stained heavens over the blighted Scott campus. 

My friend Ray looks on calmly, recognizing the palpable sadness, shame and humiliation rising in my face.  But he doesn’t say “You idiot; you’re going to camp all weekend at Scott College; you’re going to spend the next 48 hours alternately sleeping in Mike’s Honda and trying to avoid being picked up by campus security for public urination.” 

Instead, Ray says, “Ok, let’s get you some wheels.  You call bike shops and I’ll ask around.”  He turns around.  The closest person, standing some five feet away working on a TOMRV banner, is Mr. Joe Jamison.  A faint circular glow surrounds his face in the near darkness.

“My buddy forgot his wheels.  We’d appreciate any suggestions or ideas,” says Ray.  Mr. Jamison pauses, seems to think a second or two.  And he doesn’t say, “You’re kidding me; that grown man and father of two forgot the two round things that make his bicycle roll?!”  Instead, he says, “Well sure. . .  I have some wheels.  It’ll take me a couple hours, but I’ll drop them at your tent.”  I hug Mr. Jamison. 

We go to dinner.  My shame and humiliation and sadness have been rolled back.  I’m now feeling a sense of overwhelming gratitude and awe.   But I can’t help wonder about the wheels.  Will they be wooden?  Will they be round?  Will they be so expensive that I’ll be terrified to ride them?   And who do you know who would loan their road wheels to a stranger?!  Will he demand my first-born?

We come back from dinner.  It’s dark, but I can make out the characteristic silver sheen of wheels set outside of our tent.  We all run over.  I break out my iPhone light.  The tiny light illuminates not an Amish buggy wheel but a gorgeous Mavic Kysirium wheelset.  A simple note is attached: “Joe Jamison” with a phone number.   

We put the wheels on the Pearl.  Pearl likes the wheels.  The shifting is flawless.  The bearings are smooth; I’ll spend the next two days outrolling my teammates and winning our sprint competition.

On arrival after our ride, I dismount the bike, pull my phone from my pocket and immediately call Mr. Jamison.  I thank him profusely and ask what kind of scotch, craft beer or precious metals he desires.  He balks.  “Just pass it forward,” he says.  “I’m so glad you had a good ride.” 

I tell Joe that I’m astonished at and grateful for his kindness and generosity.  As far as I’m concerned, he’s worked miracles.  And now, as I write this a couple weeks post-TOMRV, I think I know how we ended up with a miraculous tailwind both days.   It was Joe.  Thanks so much, Joe Jamison.  I love you, man.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Call Me Bambi--you know, like the stupid Disney character

I can hear it now, "Kinda wobbly isn't she?" Isn't there some sort of saying that if you don't do, ahem, "something" for several years you are considered to be a virgin again?  If this is the case, I had earned my mountain bike virginity multiple times over, and on my ride tonight, with the crew from Revolution Cycles, it showed.  Almost twenty years of not being on a mountain bike for anything other than winter commuting, and even the few times I had actually mountain biked in the past being on the wider trails at Lebanon Hills in Minnesota, showed all too well.

Years ago I had given up on the idea of mountain biking again...ever.  Hell, I lived in Bend, Oregon and only hit a couple trails--instead opting for road rides and skiing.  No way, I thought, I'm sticking to smooth as a babies bottom asphalt.  Then came gravel.  As I mentioned in previous posts, I got talked into the whole gravel scene.  I swore up and down that I would just try it once and then move on.  Um, yeah.  Now, I'm staring down the barrel of a similar gun.  Several friends have talked up mountain biking to me so much and have gently nudged me in it's direction.  My only saving grace was that I didn't have a bike and I wasn't about to buy one.  The trouble, oh, I'm sorry, Trouble with a capital "T" came when a loaner 29er Trek fell into my hands.  No more excuses, thank you very much Steve!

So today, I felt it was as good as any other time to try my hand at this puzzle my friends had handed me.  Revolution does weekly all level rides out to Quarry Ridge not far from my house.  I'd meet the crew on the trail, ride out with them, bang out a couple laps, drink a beer or two and head back.  My friend, Jon, agreed to be my guide or training wheels.  Such a nice guy Jon is.  I thought "no biggie" and really, it wasn't since I was moving at a snails pace around corners, though trees, down drops and on the banks.  The only place I picked up my pace was on the double track heading off the loop.  Did I mention I stuck to the wussy green loop?  Yep, three times.

Thank you Jon!

I thought to myself, "I'm not sure if I'm really going to like this" as I stared down at my white knuckles.  But here's the I rode home, I actually plotted going there alone to practice with no one around me--you know, to take the pressure off.  Damn all of my friends for planting yet another bike seed, but thanks Rev for getting me out there and Steve for trusting me with your baby.

Thanks Steve for the pretty loaner!

Rolling out

Almost there

The only section I could "handle"

Sunday, June 8, 2014

I may still have a little cheerleader left in me

Hmmm…not sure if I should share this or not, but waaaaay back in the day, I was a cheerleader in high school.  Yup, I had the stupid skirt, shoes, sweater and pom-poms.  Because my main sport was cycling, I used cheer leading as a way to socialize with the non-bike crowd and I honestly enjoyed rooting the teams on.

Laura laughing her way around the bike course

Today, the cheerleader outfit has been thrown out--I mean burned--but there is still a bit of cheerleader left in me.  I love going to see my friends race, following their adventures on blogs or Facebook or just getting to see friends push themselves past a point they thought they could.  It has nothing to do with them winning a race or placing high in an event, I just think it's really cool they showed up even if they were a bit unsure about the situation.

I remember when I did road races, tris and running races.  A bit of me never wanted friends or family on the course.  I didn't want to make a fool of myself and I certainly didn't want them to see me if I was having an "off" day.  When they did show up, however, and I saw their smiles and heard their cheers, it always gave me more energy.  Although I don't race anymore, I do ride gravel events.  Some riders do it to win, I do it to see if I can finish feeling strong or learn something about myself.  When I'm exhausted and sore, there is nothing that picks me up more than to see a friend, volunteer or spectator smiling and saying I look strong (even if I know I look like death warmed over).

Ashley hauling ass on her first tri after a bike accident the day prior
This weekend was kind of a cheerleader's wet dream.  It started with an early, hilly ride Saturday on which a strong cycling friend, Mike, told me I looked strong on the hills--which I didn't but it still felt nice regardless.  The weekend ended with seeing another cycling friend, Laura, compete in her first triathlon of the season.  A few of us rode out onto the bike course, and got to see her, with another friend, go out and come back at the same intersection.  One of us--no, not me--even flashed her as she began to climb the final big hill.  I guess it not only made her smile for ten miles, but got a guy riding next to her to laugh as well.  And isn't this what cheer leading is all about, to make people smile when they are going through something difficult?

Mike, who could out ride me in just about any event, gave me a little ego boost with a compliment.
I may have outgrown my blue and orange outfit, and I may not be cheering for just one group of people anymore, but damn, I like this role and I think I'll keep it.

Sunday, June 1, 2014


Will the group "Cycling Addicts Anonymous" now come to order.  Hi, I'm Jane Doe and I have a problem.  Now that the warm, sunny weather is upon us, all I want to do is spend every free hour either on my bike, poring over maps, or refueling for the next ride.

The ride where I somehow fell into riding the 10,000
Yes, I'll admit it, I am a cycling addict.  I, however, am not anonymous.  I'm sure every person in my circle, who is not a cyclist themselves, is getting to the point of plugging their ears with their fingers and running away from me every time I say the word "bike".  I wouldn't doubt that drinking games have been made by how many bike references I make in a conversation and I know I'm seen as this annoying one dimensional person.  If it weren't for throwing in the occasional talk about music or food, I'm quite certain I'd lose several friends.  Folks, I'm sorry, but I can't help it, it's a disease.  A disease which my other cycling friends seem to feed--am I allowed to blame them?  Yes, let's.

So here we are, three weeks from summer solstice.  Most of my weekends are already packed with bike yumminess and the few which aren't "set in stone" are now in transition of tipping over the net into more bike adventures.  Today, in the blink of an eye, while on a steamy morning ride, I have now been convinced that doing a 125 mile gravel ride with 10,000 feet of elevation gain, unsupported, in July is a "grand idea".  I have several people to blame for this--you know who you are.  I will just take this moment to remind these "friends" of mine that this is a gentleman's race and they have to finish with me in tow--even if that means carrying me.  You'll get my thanks when we all finish alive and unscathed.

What tops a beautiful morning ride?  Another ride!  Ride the drive year 6 with friends

The trouble with having so many cycling friends and so many cycling events is that there just isn't enough time to do it all.  Although I love my job, I'm thinking I'll just have to quit it each spring to support my out of control habit.  If you see me setting up camp next summer in your backyard, you'll know I sold the house and my belongings to see this through!  Thank you in advance for not calling the cops on me.