Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Blasts from the past

Okay, I'm going to try my best not to get all "airy fairy" about this, but I must say this has been one strangely aligned week.  You see two old friends, and one not that old--one dating back from my high school days, one from my early twenties, the third from just over a year ago--just happened to roll back into my life this week.  I use the word "roll" since all were cycling connections.

As I get older--yep, I'm looking down the barrel at 40--there is this little piece of my mind that hovers a bit too long on what/who I was when I was in my teens and twenties.  Not that I want to relive my twenties or even go back to who I was, but once in a great while, I like to think of the places I lived, the rides I did, the mountains I climbed, the people I tried to keep up get the picture.  Along with that, comes thinking about old friends.  Some are still with me, others I've lost touch with.  This week, I got the wonderful treat of reconnecting with three I had lost touch with.

One of these old friends, a person I hadn't talked to or seen since my teens, came into my life through this very blog.  We had become friends through bike racing, and this common connection is what made our opening conversation flow like we never lost touch.  For that, I am so thankful I live in the age of the internet (you will rarely hear me say this by the way).  The second friend, someone back from my Bend, OR days in the mid-late nineties, will be in Madison for Trekworld.  Since he owns a bike shop out there, once a year he makes the pilgrimage to Wisconsin to be dazzled by their new product.  Until a few years ago, I had lost complete touch with this friend as well, but it was the bike which somehow brought us back together.  The third friend is a person I actually wrote a post about.  He came into my, and my cycling circle's life, made a huge impact, and then promptly left in one year's time.  This week, I inwardly celebrated that he will be moving back to Madison for a job--along with riding and beer drinking of course.

I have written several times about the bicycle being the greatest connector and how many amazing people have come into my life through this inanimate object, but it's true.  There are no words to express how lucky I feel to have so many kind, generous, loving people in my life--and most of these relationships have sprung from the biking community.

So here is where the real fun begins.  If I count up how many stellar relationships I've already made through this one object in forty years, I can't wait to see what my life will look like when I'm eighty.  For those who think turning forty is a nail in the coffin, maybe you just aren't surrounding yourself with the right connectors.  Thank you universe for creating the bicycle!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Riverwest24 That Almost Wasn't--for me at least

Team Garage 707 Crashers at the finish line

It's the morning of Friday, July 25th--essentially Christmas eve morning for us heathens.  I hop in the car to pick up some last minute provisions (ie beer, salt, fat, sugar) for this year's Riverwest24.  I get about a mile down the road and start to smell gasoline.  When I pull into the parking lot another block down, I realize the smell is coming from my car.  After inspection, I discover the resident chipmunks in my yard--which are cooking in a large pot as I write this--had eaten holes in the fuel hose and gas had been sputtering all over the engine.  Well shit.  In three hours I was supposed to have the car loaded with bikes, one of my five teammates, gear, and be on my way to Milwaukee.  The auto shops of course can't fit me in, and the auto rentals are booked on my side of town.  I start making emergency calls and thankfully, an angel loans me her Mountaineer.  I haul ass across town by bike and comically find myself in a hulking V8 SUV--mind you I drive once a week, and it's a Toyota Echo--but it's big enough to carry everything and the kitchen sink and it will get us to Milwaukee.

Once we make it through the cluster construction around the zoo interchange, and we find ourselves in Riverwest, I begin to relax, as well as get excited.  Those who have seen me at events, know I start doing this funny little "hop thing" when I'm excited.  I actually start bouncing like a bunny...and bounce I did.  I had no idea what to expect from the event this year, I never do, but I was excited to be hanging with two teams of friends for over twenty-four hours while riding, eating, drinking and NOT sleeping.

Lining up for the start

Waiting at Locust with a friend on the first lap

As in years past, half our team were RW24 veterans, half were newbies.  Our cycling experiences ranged from triathlons to gravel to trials riding.  We were bonded together by our love of cycling and our love for acting like kids.  I got to lead out the first few laps since I was the only one present with RW24 experience (our other two veterans were on their way from Madison after work).  Nothing unexpected, which was such a nice surprise after last years downpour and multiple crashes due to the rain, just hurry up and wait and while waiting, chat with friends at stop signs.

Midnight manifest hand off.  The purple bike is the one that was stolen--if you see it, let me know.

Part of team Riverwestfalia doing their first Beers for Volunteers laps

The laps, bonus checkpoints and riding shifts clicked by.  Evening turned into night, the course became a wave blinking red lights, different music could be heard from every corner along with the stream of "thank yous" to the selfless volunteers for helping keep the major crossings safe and all was good until...

Somehow, in the middle of the night, around 1:30am, my husbands brand spanking new bike was stolen.  It had been leaning against the garage we were all stationed out of, lit up by garage lights and in plain sight, but just in the shadows enough to be snuck away by someone coming through the alley.  I was out on course when it happened.  I came back to hand off the manifest, did the quick switch, and noticed my husband sitting on the curb with a queasy look on his face.  He told me what happened, and I didn't believe him.  How the hell could this happen?  I knew each year at least one bike is stolen during RW24, but we were so safe.  Also, for some stupid reason, I thought my love for Milwaukee (I openly gush about it on a regular basis) and my love for RW24, would shield us from something like this happening.  Besides, I had already paid my dues with the car trouble earlier, we didn't need this--it's supposed to be a happy weekend!

As the thoughts about this incident began to fade, either due to lack of sleep, busting out more laps, being around really cool people who wanted to help or just needing to enjoy an event we look forward to all year, I began to have fun again.  Yes, we were still down a bike, and that sucked the big one, but we were in it with an extended family who fed us, kept us liquored up and got us to smile again.

Getting my first Riverwest24 tattoo

Me after hitting three foul balls while playing soft ball
As part of my bonus checkpoints I got to play softball, fish garbage out of the river, play poker, dance the hand jive and get tattooed.  Yep, for the first time in three years, I chose to get inked.  It wasn't that big of a deal since I've got plenty of body art, but for me, getting inked by an unknown artist is a bit sketchy.  I picked the artist because he co-owned a shop in New Orleans.  Stupid, I know.  But for me, during a crazy weekend, I saw this as a sign because of my infatuation with New Orleans.  So around 10am, my teammate Dan Hobson and I went down to Truly Spoken and I met Terry Brown, my tattoo artist.  I will jokingly say the universe aligned.  First, getting inked in a bike shop is fantastic, second, Terry knew who Dan was since he saw him play with Killdozer at concerts and loved his music, third, another friend who I didn't know if I would see, Tristan, came in and it turned out to be a little party while Terry stuck a needle into me for fifteen minutes, fourth, getting the tattoo pushed our team over to beat our last years lap count (not that I was counting, and not that this is a "race").

Jake showing his love 
As so many people I know who have done RW24 say, the hours between breakfast and four or five pm are odd.  Everyone is a bit tired, the heat usually starts to build, people get a bit edgy, it always feels like you have a headwind and traffic starts to build again.  Things "could" get ugly during these hours--but you know what, they don't.  Folks may choose to take some quiet time by rolling off course for an hour or two or they may choose to walk around the course to get a different angle, but somehow people stay sane.  From five to seven pm, people begin to "smell the barn" or "see the light at the end of the tunnel".  Times are calculated to see if folks can get another shift in or if it's worth hitting another bonus checkpoint.  Similar to how I feel during the last couple days on a bike tour, I get a little emotional.  Although I'm more than happy to end the event so I can shower and eat real food, I'm also a little weepy and I dread having to say goodbye for another year.  I build up this event in my head so much every year that when it's over or almost over, I don't really know what to do with myself.  This year, at the last minute, right after our two teams did our "victory lap", I chose to bust out one final lap with sandals and a skirt on.  I had less than twenty minutes to do it and I knew I had it in me as long as the traffic lights and marsupial bridge congestion cooperated.  Seventeen minutes later, still on my single speed, I showed up one hell of a hot mess.  I don't want to know what I looked or smelled like, I was just happy to do one final spin.

Finishing a previous haircut from bonus checkpoint "snip snip"

Twizzler hand ups

Our "family" just kept growing

I do love surfing

So now, I sit here in my kitchen, and instead of licking my wounds from the shitty things that happened during and before the event, I get to baby my tattoo and graze over all the pictures people posted.  I am so happy to have once again been a part of this magical event.  Thank you Steve, Wendy, Jeremy and all the other organizers who gave up so much time and energy over the last year to make this happen.  Thank you to the 400 volunteers who made the event a possibility.  And thank you to my team, as well as the team who housed us yet again.  As Dan would say, through a construction cone of course, "You are winning!"

Most of team Riverwestfalia--their other member is in the formal finish line picture

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A very thought provoking blog post from a friend who works at the Global Health Institute

If you live in Madison, or like to bike here, you've gotta read this post by Jason Vargo!

I was lucky enough to attend the mobile bike workshop with Jason yesterday--he raises some good questions.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Great minds don't always think alike...and that's a good thing!

Getting ready to roll out
I have to say, I feel pretty damn lucky today.  This afternoon, I got to ride around Madison with about 24 other people and discuss how to make the city better for cyclists.  This was all an initiative made possible by the Madison city engineers, Tony Fernandez especially, Arthur Ross and Toole Design Group, who does nationwide infrastructure work that specialized in bike/ped friendly plans.

About 20 of us broke up into three groups, led by the caring folks mentioned above, and rode around the city discussing troublesome intersections, city plans in the works, and how to improve what we have without breaking the bank.  I found myself surrounded by so many important people in the cycling community I could barely contain myself.  People from the DOT, the Pedestrian, Bicycle, Motor Vehicle Commission, the sustainability program at Edgewood College, the Wisconsin Bicycle Federation, Downtown Madison Incorporated, the Global Health Institute, the owner of a bike company, and B Cycle as well.

At each intersection or planned project in the works, we were asked questions by both Toole and the city. The kicker is that we were listened to--100%.  Rarely were their opinions shared, instead they gave us some background knowledge (things like dealing with the railroad commission) the project parameters and then asked us our opinions.

West Washington/Bike Path crossing
I don't know how often this sort of thing goes on in other cities, I hope it happens all the time, but for me, it was a first.  I'm used to bouncing ideas off a group of bike fed staff and board members, I'm used to preaching to the choir, or being a choir member, with my riding friends, and I'm used to going to project meetings on a specific project.  What I'm not used to is having so many great minds evaluate so many issues at one time in a very calm, and kind way.

Talking about what works--intersection of Monroe/Regent/Crazy Legs/Breeze

Although this mobile workshop filled quite quickly, it was only a small part of a four day workshop where anyone could come in and share their ideas.  By allowing anyone and everyone to come in and chat, our great city of Madison got so much stronger in just four days.  Well done!

I am hoping we continue to have meetings like this yearly.  I am hoping that other cities follow suit if they haven't started yet.  I am hoping to get invited back if this flies.  Thank you Toole, Tony Fernandez and Arthur Ross for holding this.  Thanks even more to Robbie and Mary for inviting me!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Crushing Gravel part 7--Getting Down and Dirty

Somehow, someone--ahem Dan and Mike--talked me into doing a gravel event in July.  Mike first told me about Ten Thousand this spring.  Ten thousand feet of elevation gain in 125 driftless Northern Illinois miles (yes, Illinois does have hills).  Dan somehow saw it and twisted my arm into doing it.  The whole idea of riding that far, with that much climbing, unsupported, didn't sound like a whole lotta fun to me in hot humid weather.  I love hills, I love riding driftless, I love riding unsupported, I don't like having to worry about water--and when I have to worry about having enough water, I go into a bit of a tizzy.

Meeting up in Krape park in Freeport, IL for the Ten Thousand

A few weeks back, my husband and I did a bike tour west of Madison during the hottest few days yet this summer.  He picked the hilliest route he could find, and we ended up following both the Horribly Hilly course and the Dairyland Dare course.  I had two water bottles on my bike and one in a bag, and although we had convenience store stops, I rarely felt I had enough water to get me through.  It was at that moment I dropped my idea of completing the full ten thousand and instead opted for the abridged 73 mile version.  I knew my body could do the miles but I just didn't want to carry 160 ounces of water to get me to the only convenience store on the route at mile 86.  Dan, thankfully, was nice enough to fold to the shorter miles with me.

I have to say I was quite excited to see a new part of the driftless area, and ride with Dan on his second gravel event since he'll be doing Almanzo with me next year.  He rolled into my driveway at 4:30am to make the trek down to Freeport and questions started flying about how big I thought the hills would be.  You see Dan and I have tackled just about every 16-20% grade hill together within riding distance of Madison.  I honestly had no clue how big the hills would be down in Illinois, but I had heard rumors about a 25% grader.

Getting ready to roll out
The ride was full of scenes like this one

As we, along with about 100 others, rolled out of Krape Park in Freeport, the skies began to piss.  A drizzle helping to cool us turned into a steady light rain within a few miles.  No worries.  We expected this.  Sometimes, I have found, riding gravel in light rain is better than dry conditions since it keeps the dust down.  The only issue was I didn't have fenders--my bike doesn't have clearance for them with 33mm tires.  What was a clean and dry ride for Dan turned into a complete shit show for me.  Within minutes I had gravel grime where one doesn't want it--covering my water bottles, covering my face, in between my saddle and shorts and I'll never know how some made its way down my shorts.

When I had moments to wipe my glasses clean, I was treated to some of the most beautiful scenery.  Hills, valleys and farms, all in technicolor green.  The gravel was in great condition which made it easy to take in my surroundings.  Why yes, I think I love riding in Northern Illinois!  And then, we hit the B road.  Now as many of you know, my mountain biking skills, or lack thereof, are very very sad.  The only thing I dread on gravel rides are B roads.  This one took us a ridiculous amount of time to find since we kept going down farm roads instead.  When we finally got back on course, I got to experience mud oozing through my shoes while my limbs were covered in mosquitoes.  You know what though, we could only laugh at the situation.  We felt so silly walking our bikes on this "road" and it was made even better when a farmer in a truck stopped us at the end and asked us "Whose GPS broke for you to ride down that?"

The section of B road we didn't ride

And this was about where we started riding once again

Both of us at this point were feeling great.  We knew we only had about 20 more miles and we both felt strong.  And that's when it happened.  For some unknown reason, my knee started hurting and my quad and IT band froze.  I had to stop and stretch, but I couldn't get the right angle and couldn't figure out why I felt fine standing, pulling my leg back, but couldn't put any pressure down on my pedal.  The last 13 miles consisted of me pedaling with my right leg while my left leg rode along unclipped.  Every time I tried to push with my left leg, my quad, hip flexor and IT band rejected me.  I wondered if I would make it since I brought our pace down to 10mph and the situation was worsening.  Happily, we did make it, and the moment I got off the bike I felt fine, a bit stiff in that thigh, but full of energy.

First place 125 mile finisher coming in strong

After a brief parking lot shower, we joined the others at the amphitheater to eat and watch the first 125 mile finishers roll in.  The guys who can pull a steady 20mph pace on gravel amaze me.  I will never be that fast, but damn if I won't have a blast trying.

Thanks to the entire Axletree crew from North Central Cyclery for putting this on, but an extra thanks goes out to Chad for designing the route.  Thanks also to my partner in crime, Dan.  We WILL do the entire Ten Thousand next year!