Sunday, August 31, 2014

WTF?! I'm not over the hill, I've just begun to climb it!

Me and Laura on the "chocolate bunny" off Minnehaha creek

What's all this nonsense about "40" being over the hill?  Sorry folks, you can tease me all you want, but I'm not buying it.  All in all, I feel physically, mentally, and emotionally stronger than I did when I was 30.  Okay, I might not have the umf I did on sprints 10-15 years ago, and I may need the occasional extra recovery day, but the positives are I know my body so much better than I ever did, and with that comes increased endurance--again mental and physical.

Bike friends, no matter their age, keep me young
I joke with my clients and friends that my "secret" to staying young is hanging out with a bunch of friends who are in their 20's and early 30's.  The flip side is I also stay young because I hang out with a bunch of kids in their 50's and 60's.  By subjecting myself to this full spectrum of youth--be it mental or physical--I will hopefully be kept in check and will keep the years rolling off me like water on a duck's back.

One of the ways I always choose to celebrate my birthday, and yes, I am celebrating turning 40, is by biking either alone or with a group of cool people.  This year is no exception.  Our little gang of bike hoodlums from Madison embarked on a journey to my home city of Minneapolis to play with others. You see not only was this weekend my b-day, but it was another friend's 40th recently which brought back one of my friends, who goes back to early college days, all the way from Seattle.  Damn if I didn't feel a bit overwhelmed with love to get the chance to hang out with so many wonderful people.

So as in my other posts about biking in Minneapolis--I seem to go back to do this yearly now--there was more than just biking.  There was also a plethora of ethnic food from Ukrainian to Vietnamese, much beer, and little jaunts down memory lane.  Each time I come back here to ride,  my past solidifies a bit more--thankfully with good memories and I experience wonderful new things which will become good memories in the years to come.

Pho at Quang

Uki food!!!

Regarding the biking part, it's always pretty grand (the urban riding scene here can't be beat and the mtb along with some gravel trails are so much better than Madison, but the road riding sucks the big one).  This time getting to show two friends, who have never biked in the city what serious infrastructure looks like, made it that much better.  Splitting the flood water seas from a deluge was "interesting" but fantastic since we got all the trails to ourselves, and finding hidden gems as well as running into my father's racing team was the icing on the cake.  Speaking of cake, copious amounts of sugar and fat were consumed at the Baker's Wife to restore our energy.

Joshua!  All the way from Seattle!

Joshua and Jon rolling on the Kenillworth trail 

waiting out the rain at lake Harriet


sunset on lake Calhoun

river bottoms near Crosby park

Hennepin Av bridge

North American Cycle Courier Championship

flooding between lake Calhoun and Isles

Yep, it was deep

Joshua on the Theo Wirth trails

Really, I doubt there is a better way to celebrate climbing, what I hope to be, a really long fucking hill.  Cheers all and here's to another year!  So many thanks go out to Laura, Jon and Joshua for coming out to play with me--I love you guys!

Are my friends trying to kill me or keep me young?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Summer is finally here

From plains that reel to southward, dim,
The road runs by me white and bare;
Up the steep hill it seems to swim
Beyond, and melt into the glare.
Upward half-way, or it may be
Nearer the summit, slowly steals
A hay-cart, moving dustily
With idly clacking wheels.
In the sloped shadow of my hat
I lean at rest, and drain the heat;
Nay more, I think some bless├Ęd power
Hath brought me wandering idly here:
In the full furnace of this hour
My thoughts grow keen and clear.
-Archibald Lampman

I'm one of those crazies who LOVE heat and humidity.  As long as it's under 95 degrees, and not too hazy, I actually feel stronger on the bike.  Don't hate me.  When you all are thriving in the 60 degree temps, you can revel in the fact I'm most likely shivering and stiff.  I really should just move down to New Orleans...but the road riding kinda sucks down there.

post ride bug cemetery
This weekend finally brought the summer weather I've been waiting for since last year (it's been freaking cold here this summer).  Sweat dripped off my arms, legs and nose as I climbed hill after hill on a little 105 mile ride we chose to do.  Bugs died a terrible death on my skin--poisoned by either my sweat or my spray on sunblock.  And I smiled, oh how I smiled.  It felt so damn good to open up my pores and then have my own air conditioner as I whipped down the big rollers.

Monday I woke to a low of 74 degrees with high humidity.  Yep, still felt good--and then the skies opened up to one hell of a thunderstorm, and this is the song that was left in my head throughout the rest of the day.  You just can't appreciate the blues thoroughly when it's 70, dry and clear skied.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Killing them with prevent getting killed

Something happened on my ride this morning which may have given me a new outlook on drivers.  I was riding West of Madison, on a fairly busy, two lane road, with a designated bike lane.  The fog was lifting and I had both head and tail light on so visibility wasn't an issue.  I was on high alert due to the fact I was almost hit head on by a truck turning into my lane earlier in the week, but hopeful this ride would prove to be smoother--especially since it was my favorite weather (warm and humid) and one of my favorite routes.

I remember smiling since cranes were flying overhead and about to land next to me in a nearby field.  And that's when it happened.  A black sedan came within a foot of me, and took a right turn not far in front of me, into a condo parking lot.  I was snapped out of my awe of the cranes in a second and instantly felt anger flood me.  This was it.  I had mere moments to make a decision.  I knew I was going to follow him into the parking lot and have a "chat"--what I didn't know yet was how I was going to approach him.  In over thirty years of road riding, I've had things like this happen to me hundreds of times.  I've handled the situation in about as many ways.  I've yelled, I've preached, I've called the cops with the license plate...yadayadayada.  Today, I chose to do what I don't always choose to do.  I stayed completely calm, waited for driver to exit his car, and asked him a question.  "Excuse me sir, do you happen to know about the three foot passing law by any chance?"  Weather he did or didn't, I gave him the benefit of the doubt.  In that same calm voice, and with non threatening body language, I explained to him what the law is and why it's so important to follow it.  I told him he came within a foot from me and explained how mirrors stick out--something most drivers don't think about.  I explained what could happen if I hit a rock or a squirrel ran in front of me and he was that close.  And you know what...he apologized.  That's right, he said he was "really sorry" AND THEN HE THANKED ME.  I was stunned.  I've never had that happen to me.  All I remember is smiling, thanking him for listening, and then letting him know where he could find bike/ped laws if he was interested.

Now I wasn't born yesterday.  And I know this won't be the case all the time, even if I approach drivers in the same kind way, but if this works for half the drivers I encounter, it's worth it.  I'm not the only one who is talking about "distance passing laws" and if they work, as well as how to enforce them.  Lately it's been making a buzz in multiple states.  Regardless of the location, bicycle advocacy groups, police and the DOT all agree that education by EVERYONE is the most needed path.  Read here how Pittsburgh is approaching the issue.  Here in Wisconsin, we are proud to be the first state to pass such laws--ours was passed in 1973.  Look at this chart to see what other states are following suit.

If you find yourself in the position I did today, you have every right to be angry.  The trouble is, drivers rarely respond well to a cyclist screaming their head off--trust me, I know from experience.  Instead, read up on your rights and try killing them with kindness.  If this doesn't work, get their license plate information.  An officer most likely won't be able to do anything unless it is seen by others or caught on camera, but it's worth a shot.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Bikabout...Minneapolis Style

Ben McCoy--the man behind Mpls. Bike Love and Bicycle Theory--was kind enough to show the bikabout crew around my home city.  Read all about it here and see why I often get "homesick".

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Nurturing the explorer within

"We rejoice in our sufferings,
knowing that suffering produces
endurance, endurance produces
character, and character produces
hope.  And hope does not
disappoint us."

                             -Romans 5:3-5

Oh oh.  It's getting to be that time of year again, when my mind starts wandering--yes, yes, for those who know me it is always wandering--and the adventure bug begins to bite.  For some odd reason, each fall--but this year it seems to be coming on a bit early--I start to dream.

"All men dream, but not equally.  Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity.  But the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible."
-T.E. Lawrence
(one of my all-time favorite movies is Lawrence of Arabia)

For the formable years of my life, age 17-25, I wrapped myself in a circle of adventure addicts.  In addition to personal training, I worked at Midwest Mountaineering and REI in Minneapolis.  I found comfort in knowing there were others who spent their free time pouring over maps and wondering "what if?"  And although I never became an adventurer like those around me--some of the best known mountaineers, paddlers, skiers and Arctic explorers all came out of Midwest Mountaineering--they nurtured the gift of curiosity my parents had given me.

Now, I tend to read fewer non-fiction adventure books--I keep it down to about four a year--partly because it's a painful thought to have to quit my job just to head out on long trips, partly because a little bit of me has grown soft and I like the creature comforts growing roots has given me.  Sure, if I didn't "have" to work for a living, I'd be planning adventure after adventure with stints of cocooning and licking my wounds in between, but this is the real world and so I'm stuck trying to find balance between the two.

The book I have just finished brought out the adventure side in me full tilt.  The title "The Explorers" says everything.  I have no interest in walking across Africa like Burton and Speke, or sailing in the cold, icy waters like Shakleton, but it isn't the specific trip which captures's the feeling.  Reading about these amazing people's journeys makes me want to get off my ass, or at least transfer it to a bike saddle, point my handlebars anywhere and go.

As I creep closer and closer to turning forty in a mere two weeks, I'm beginning to do the thing I said I never would.  Thoughts about who I would be now if I had continued on my climbing or dogsledding journey cross my mind when I'm feeling stuck.  Then, reality hits, the veil is lifted and I realize I would most likely be a divorcee (not because my husband doesn't love adventure but because most adventurers I know blow through spouses), working at an outdoor shop or as a guide (neither of which are as glamorous as they seem), living part time out of the back of a pickup, and teetering on the verge of alcoholism when not on trail.  This is sad but true, and it is the image I have of most adventurers I know who are my age.

As I said before, finding balance is key.  There is no way I could keep living without dreams or possibilities, and it is one hell of a job trying to fit these things into a tightly run schedule, but I'm going to have to keep trying.  One or two day adventures are completely attainable--the gravel grinders and winter rides do a really nice job giving me my fix for short periods of time--but this is the time of the year when I start thinking bigger.  One trip which keeps grazing my mind is biking the Dempster Highway up in the Northwest Territories.  It's been done, probably thousands of times, what hasn't really?, but it hasn't been done by me and it would be one hell of a test mentally and physically--partly due to the nagging mosquitoes and black flies.  There aren't many places that would feel so remote by bike--plus still be me--and that is part of the reason I'm drawn to it.

There is this great quote by Mallory, who was the first explorer of Everest.  It sums up all my feelings  perfectly.  When I was with Outward Bound, this quote was buried deep since the goal of each trip was not to find "joy" but instead to go through turmoil to find oneself.  I think I like this way of approaching adventures a bit more.

"The first question which you will ask and which I must try to answer is this, 'What is the use of climbing Mount Everest?' and my answer must at once be, 'It is of no use.'  There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever.  Oh, we may learn a little about the behavior of the human body at high altitudes, and possibly medical men may turn our observation to some account for the purposes of aviation.  But otherwise nothing will come of it.  We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem, nor any coal or iron.  We shall not find a single foot of earth that can be planted with crops to raise food.  It's no use.  So, if you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won't see why we go.  What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy.  And joy is, after all, the end of life.  We do not live to eat and make money.  We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life.  That is what life means and what life is for."

As I sit in my comfortable Midwestern home, knowing I won't have a large planned adventure for quite some time, I must make do with finding small adventures on my regular bikabouts.  I have to go back to thinking the way I did when I was eight--heading out into a snow storm, building a snow cave, and pretending I was a polar explorer even though I was in the heart of Minneapolis.  I have to make a point to take roads not normally on my planned routes.  I have to pay extra attention to the flora and fauna around me.  But most importantly, I have to find and nurture joy.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Dairyland Dare Elixir No.9

Getting ready to roll out
A mere six weeks ago, around 10pm, tornadoes ripped through the driftless area of Wisconsin.  Roofs were torn off buildings, some buildings were moved off their foundation, and trees were turned into kindling in a matter of moments.  This same storm hit Madison a short time afterwards.  I remember the sirens going off, I remember being an idiot and choosing not to go in the basement and I remember watching the news the next morning only to hear tornadoes had touched down in two spots about a mile from my house.

It's rare for tornadoes to touch down in Madison, but the driftless area, sadly, has seen its share of destruction.  Almost thirty years ago to the day from the Dodgeville tornado, Barneveld experienced the most destructive tornado to date in the United States.  The entire town was demolished and many lives were lost.  Just like the Barneveld tornado, it took almost the entire city of Dodgeville to come together and clean up after the tornadoes this summer.

There were so many trees without their tops from the tornadoes
Soon after the storms, there was a note published on the Dairyland Dare Facebook page letting cyclists know what they would see on this year's ride.  Riders would be going through the hardest hit areas, including the property owned by the ride organizers, Stewart and Michelle Schilling.  They would ride along CR ZZ, and stop in Bethel Horizons Camp.  They would see stumps where trees once stood…many, many stumps.

Just one brief week prior to the storms, I rode through this entire area.  I wrote about how the hills kicked my ass, and I wrote about the never ending beauty.  Little did I know that when I rode through the area again, it would be a different landscape.

I'm not trying to make this a "Debbie Downer" post, I just want to give some background on what led up to this year's Dairyland Dare and I can't help but make comparisons on how the community of Dodgeville comes together, with strength, to rebuild in so many different ways.  Without this amazing group of people, the ride wouldn't exist and many residents may still be suffering from the loss of their property from the storms.  On to the ride!

Rest stations, like this one, are run so smoothly by volunteers

DD, known to some as the best supported ride in the Midwest, and to others as a pukefest.  I would have to say both are correct.  On this magnificent day, cyclists can choose how much of an ass kicking they want to endure.  50km-300km--none of which is easy, but all of which is beautiful.  Although I had the idea of riding the 200km, other commitments which forced me to head back home early sealed my fate at 150km.  Was I upset, um, not really.  Climbing hill after hill, some long steep accents, some blackout farm rollers, is "fun" for about 100 miles in my book, then it just becomes work…at least for me.

Cut it short, or just keep rolling?

Like in years past, the DD starts at the Lands' End corporate office just outside of Dodgeville.  Riders are greeted as the sun comes up with welcome packets, cue sheets, Kickapoo coffee and smiles.  As the sun begins to climb, the cyclists are staggered in their starts, with the 300km riders rolling out first. Personally I think this is a brilliant approach since it not only prevents the roads from clogging up but also keeps the aid stations running smoothly.  Just another reason I see Stew and Michelle as being some of the best ride organizers in the country.

I rolled out with two gravel riding friends a bit after 6:30 to the sound of a fellow bike fed board member making announcements through a microphone.  "This is an open course, follow the rules of the road, signal your turns, thank the volunteers and only make 'five fingered waves'.  You will be seeing the organizer's neighbors on the nice."

All of the distances brought riders into one of my favorite state parks, Governor Dodge, for our first thrilling descent, followed quickly by our first accent.  Within moments I began to wonder if folks had low enough gears.  It's not a good sign when almost everyone around you is climbing out of the saddle with a hundred more miles of hills to go.  One gentleman, insisted on calling out our gradient changes throughout the entire first two climbs.  I wondered quietly to myself if this made him feel stronger.

Meeting one of the group members from my father's cycling club in Minnesota

The hills ticked by, I got to ride a new one which will also now go onto my "favorite list", and it was shaping up to be a perfect day to be out on the road...for hours.  Around mile 25, a guy rode up behind me and said "Hey, I know that kit!"  I had wondered if anyone from the Twin Cities would be down here, and the kit I had on was from my father's riding club in Rosemount.  It only took me stating I was Gary Johnson's daughter and then a slew of chatter soon followed for about 15 miles.  This is what events like this are, a rolling reunion/social event if you will.  I often get to catch up with folks I only see a couple times a year, and I always end up meeting people I know through other riding connections.

Cresting another hill with just another beautiful farm
Around mile 40, a knee/hip issue I've been struggling with this summer started to creep in.  There was no way in hell I would pull out, so I opted to stop at almost every rest stop (Stew and Michelle place them every 15-20 miles apart), and stretch.  Sure, it ate up time, but it also gave me a chance to slow down, take in the scenery even more, and chat with the volunteers and other riders.  There is something to be said about going all out, but there is more to be said about enjoying the experience you are in to its fullest.

farm rollers
South of Dodgeville brought the endless farm rollers I experienced on my tour earlier in the season.  I silently thanked the bike gods for prepping my mind--knowing what to expect is almost always good when it comes to hills.  I was even more thankful to be on my "plastic" bike vs. my steel touring frame
with loaded panniers.  Sure, the hills were still hard, but not once did I come close to puking or blacking out--a sensation I played with multiple times on the tour.  A quick spin through one of my favorite spots in Wisconsin, Mineral Point, and then it was on to my nemesis road--Survey.  Yep, those rollers were still the hardest ones on the entire ride for me, but low and behold I ran into a riding friend from Madison, and we got to do them together.  Misery loves company...enough said.

Paul made Survey road "fun"!

As I made my final turn, and pulled back into the Lands' End compound, I was greeted by cheerleaders.  Yes, you read that right, cheerleaders stood out there all day with pompoms actually chanting cheers for each cyclist who passed under the finish banner.  Awesome.  A quick stop to say "thanks" to Michelle for putting on such a stellar event and I was off to gorge myself as well as partake in the "elixir" brought by Capital Brewery, who so often sponsors bike events.

finish line


Me and Chris at the finish line

As I go over my day in the saddle, about 6 hours 50 mins with over 9,000 feet of elevation gain (the DD site says about 7,500 ft. but everyone's Garmin was reading higher), the riding itself is not what comes to the forefront of my mind, although it was a grand day cranking the pedals for sure.  What really stands out is all the volunteers.  Everyone seemed so happy to be helping and everyone seemed to be having just as much fun, if not more, than the riders.  This event really is about the community. You can read more about the community fund that Stew and Michelle started here.  If you want to be a part of a ride that is flawlessly executed, beautiful beyond words and raises money for so many great causes, I highly encourage you to sign up next year.  Until then a HUGE THANKS goes out to everyone who made this event possible!

For more information on Stewart and Michelle Schilling, and the work they do with bike events, as well as advocacy, here's an article I wrote about them for Silent Sports magazine.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014


Some of the future bikabout ambassadors for Madison, WI

You've most likely heard the term "walkabout"--when a young Aboriginal male goes on a wilderness journey lasting up to six months--but have you heard the term "bikabout"?  If not, do yourself a favor and get acquainted with not only this term, but this new business.

Megan Ramey, the owner of bikabout, is on a mission.  A mission to make cities more bike friendly, show people they can travel to cities they may not know, use a bicycle as their form of transportation, and give visitors to these cities incentives, like discounts to other businesses, for biking.

Megan with her daughter 
This all started when Megan, her husband and their child took a trip to Europe.  She was amazed how easy it was to get around the cities by bike and all of the websites, which supported cycling in the cities, were easy to access.  Here in the United States, not so much.  Megan found she had to have hundreds of different links just to piece a bike friendly vacation together.  And this is what got her thinking "Why does it need to be this difficult, and maybe I should design a website where people can go and have most of their questions answered."  And this is how bikabout began to roll.

This week, Megan and her family visited Madison, Wisconsin.  Madison wasn't new to them since she has several ties here.  It only made sense to add this to her first year's tour.  Athens came before Madison, and Minneapolis will follow next week.  Essentially, she puts a call out to folks in the bike community in each city, asks them to spread the word, and then comes into town to have a welcoming social.  Megan's job is meeting with bike friendly businesses to see if they want to be a part of bikabout and then meeting with potential ambassadors asking them to design fun routes in and outside of the city.  All of this information will then go onto the website and facebook page, hopefully helping others visiting these cities.

You can even travel with pets by bike!
Personally, I love this idea.  I've always said exploring a city by foot or bike is the best way to really get to know it.  You see more, you get connected with the locals (often times because you have to ask directions), you stumble upon the coolest restaurants and bars and you learn to slow down.  Honestly I wouldn't visit a city any other way, so you know I'll be using this website, which is free to travelers by the way.  The icing on the cake is bikabout is dedicated to donating 25% of their earnings to local bike advocacy groups.  Our social today asked everyone to donate $5 to the Wisconsin Bicycle Federation.

Sadly, Megan and her family have to return home to Cambridge at the end of the summer.  But before they do, they will be visiting and holding bikabout ambassador socials in Minneapolis, Seattle, Portland, Vancouver and Chicago, followed by Fort Collins in late fall.  If you live in any of these cities, or have bike connections in them, please shoot a message out to Megan.  After all, her site is about getting input from locals and "those in the know".

Part of our group meeting for the bikabout social

Megan does a great job making the gatherings fun

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Take a ride with me

What is life but a form of motion and a journey through a foreign world?
Moreover locomotion--the privilege of animals--is perhaps the key to intelligence.
The roots of vegetables (which Aristotle says are their mouths)
attach them fatally to the ground, and the are condemned like leeches
to suck up whatever sustenance may flow to them 
at a particular spot where they happen to be stuck...
In animals the power of locomotion changes all this pale experience into a life of passion,
although we anaemic philosophers are apt to forget it, that intelligence is grafted.

-George Santayana

Sometimes I enjoy going on a bikeabout.  I may have a loose destination in mind, but at least one of the stretches is left completely open for me to wander wherever my senses choose to take me.  This usually works best when alone.  It is then that I don't feel pressure to be back at a specific time, listen to others legs or worry about staying on course.  On these rides, I am usually in search of beauty--not too difficult to find in the driftless area.  I pay more attention to both the big and little picture--sometimes stopping to look more closely at flowers or butterflies and I almost always pause for a moment at the top of a large climb to admire the vista.  Today, my bikeabout journey brought me west through Spring Green and back while winding north prior to hitting Madison again.  I was so acutely aware that it is now August.  The light, the flora and the fauna all told me summer is coming quickly to a close.  I told myself not to get down about this, and instead take it all in.  Here is my ride through my eyes.

The geese are coming back--here to a recently harvested wheat field

Chicory--and to think we made "coffee" out of this.

The short window when bergamot and sunflowers overlap

It's rare to see beef cattle vs. dairy cattle in these parts

I always stop for farm cats

So many old farms still grow old timey flowers--here it is zinnias

A tell tale sign summer is losing its grip--this is the first ride I've seen goldenrod in full bloom
This farmer has a nice sense of humor