Monday, September 29, 2014

Falling for Autumn

Autumn is the hardest season.  The leaves are all falling, and they're falling like
they're falling in love with the ground.
-Andrea Gibson

I ride face to sun
soaking in every last ray
golden light shrouds me

Soaking it in the warmth while I can--I may be half lizard

Psychedelic trees
fuel me for the next big climb
never let this end

A grass track splitting the flame red sumac

Autumn fill my nose
with earth, dry leaves and fungi
I'll smell white too soon

Sometimes you just have to treat yourself.  To a long ride with friends or solo, under the banner of changing leaves, to apple pie shots celebrating the new season, to a nap in sunbeams, and to pumpkin ice cream from the Chocolate Shop.  Cheers all and happy fall!

Apple Pie shots post Devil's Lake ride

Friday, September 26, 2014

To pave or not to pave...that is the question.

In the past week, two trail discussions have come to my attention--both about access to trails and whether or not to pave them or leave them "as is".  The first network of trails, collectively know as the River Bottoms to those who mountain bike in Minneapolis, may be changed so drastically the area will no longer have a "wilderness" feel.  Putting in a paved trail instantly means a ton of money spent and ongoing maintenance.  It's a big step and one not to be taken lightly.  I have friends who have been using this trail system for twenty years.  They live in the city and this is their source for getting a bit closer to nature.  A new trail will most certainly change the vibe.

The second trail discussion entails a place near and dear to my heart--the Badger State Trail, or as a few of us still call it by its old name, the H8TR Trail.  Currently this trail runs from Madison to the Illinois border and then connects into the Jane Adams Trail.  Most of the trail is crushed limestone, but the first few miles, to Purcell Road, are paved.  There is some discussion within the bike community hoping to continue the paved portion a few more miles to connect with the town of Paoli.  Although this wouldn't be a make or brake thing for us gravel lovers, currently Dane County has very few gravel roads due to the dairy industry, and to pave a few more miles means we would have to go that much further to find chunky, raw riding.

Okay, so this is where things get sticky.  I am all for accessibility--I was an intern with Wilderness Inquiry, assisting with wilderness trips for those with and without disabilities--but not if it means taking the wild out of wilderness.  In this country where everything seems to be so damn neat and tidy, sometimes its good to have things get a bit messy and not always have ease.  Wilderness Inquiry is actually a great example of this.  They have adapted wheelchairs, dogsleds and canoes to get people out into the wilderness vs. change the wilderness for those with mobility issues.  Yes, we do need to have Boundary Waters campsites which are rugged wheelchair friendly etc, but do we really need to cover our country in more asphalt?  What happened to learning how to adapt, pushing the boundaries, and becoming more comfortable with what's presented to us?  I worry if we allow these paving projects to go through, we will be opening up Pandora's box.  Already, I notice children no longer being allowed to play outside of their yard out of fear from the parents.  Kids, and adults, get bumps, scrapes and broken bones.  It's part of growing up, learning about oneself, finding the confidence needed in adult life and the strength to endure.  If we take all the risks out, what kind of culture will we be forming?

Although this isn't a bike trail, I remember when the lake loop around Devils Lake was paved.  My husband and I went out there a couple weeks after the job was completed, not knowing about any of it.  Devils Lake has been my escape for almost fifteen years.  It's a short drive or long ride from Madison, and in parts, you can feel a thousand miles away.  When we stepped out of the car, the first thing that hit us was the smell.  The smell of asphalt instantly made me sick.  As we began our hike, we both remarked on how lumpy and dangerous the trail was--we both felt it was more dangerous paved than not.  We also questioned the idea behind it regarding erosion.  From what we could see, this would cause more issues with chunks breaking off left and right and people cutting all around the trail on busy weekends.  I remember crying a bit over this destruction of nature and afterwards, on future hikes, avoiding the lake all together, and instead opting to hike on the Ice Age trail.

Is this what will become of the River Bottoms and the Badger State Trail?  I certainly hope not. I am not writing this to be an us vs. them argument; instead, I hope this gets people to slow down and think "is this really necessary?" before changing our landscape completely.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Crushing Gravel Part 8: Shaken Not Stirred at the Inaugural Skull-N-Bones

Me and Steve on the gravel.  Photo courtesy of Chris Locke
I can look back throughout my cycling life and honestly can't recall if I've ever had the pleasure of going to an inaugural race or event.  Although at times I like being part of something unknown and new, I also tend to be the type who likes to know what I'm getting myself into.  I call this behavior "weighing out out the risks", some may call it "taking all the fun out".  In a bizzaro world, I probably would have made a great risk analyst for some insurance company.  I'm sure I was born with a few of these traits--others were formed when I led wilderness trips with youth-at-risk where you take out all the surprises/risks possible in the beginning because more are bound to occur as the trip goes on.

I think it was mid winter when Chris Locke put Skull-N-Bones Gravel Challenge on Facebook.  I was instantly intrigued for many reasons.  First, I have this stupid obsession with skulls--from t-shirts to Jim Dine artwork.  Second, this ride would be in a part of Wisconsin I've done very little riding aside from a  bike tour my husband and I did several years ago.  Third, the Cyclova crew endorsed it heavily.  And finally, right from the get go, Chris seemed to have a passion regarding this event I rarely see and I wanted to support him.  The only partial downside were my edgy nerves after reading what type of gravel to expect from the ride recon done by Chris and Ben earlier in the summer.  Big, chunky, loose stuff with plenty of washout was waiting for me...not my forte by a long shot, especially on 33mm tires.

Our welcome in Bruce, WI

Chris Locke and Todd who was doing his first century 

So here's my version of the ride in a nutshell.  Steve Wasmund, a cycling friend from Utah who is currently residing in Madison, joined me and my husband up to Eau Claire Friday after work.  We were lucky enough to have a place to crash with a long time friend who welcomed us and our bikes.  While my husband and our friend slumbered peacefully, Steve and I headed North a bit over an hour to Bruce, WI.  Most of our drive was in the dark, and sadly it also included scenes from the killing field since thousands of frogs decided to congregate on the roads from Bloomer to Bruce.  That Buddhist in me was cringing each time my headlights flashed on them.  Thankfully as we were getting our bikes ready in a parking lot in town, the kindness of a complete stranger and non-cyclist just about floored me.  He pulled up next to us in his truck and we instantly thought we were about to get a lecture.  Instead, he pulled out a frame pump and said he had found it on the highway a few weeks ago, hadn't found the owner, and would rather it go to another cyclist.  It was one of those moments I wish I could freeze in time and watch over and over again.  What a great start to the ride!

Steve and I wound our way through the tiny town and found the fire station where we were to start and finish.  The threat of rain all week had scared many away and only a few of us were lingering around after filling out waivers and our starting times.  Around 7:45 we chose to roll out.  The skies were still overcast but partial clearing was called for so all of us were in pretty good spirits.

Go right!
As we followed the cue sheet, something went amiss early on.  We had missed our first turn--onto our fist section of gravel none the less--and got to add 2 miles to the ride.  A little chant of "eyes open, be alert" started going through my head.  When we got to our first section of gravel, I knew it was going to be different than other gravel rides I've done, but one can't fully comprehend what "different" means until one goes through it.  I'll be honest, my heart sank a bit and I wondered if I had made the wrong choice by leaving my brand new Salsa Fargo (with 2.2's) at home and opting to take my trusty Lemond Poprad (with 33mm tires).  My tires instantly started to bounce around and I found it difficult to find that "sweet spot" on the road where my brain and hands were calm.  This is what my first few miles consisted of:  swerve to the right of the road--nope too sandy, swerve to the left of the road--nope too chunky, ride the middle--damn this feels like a washboard, go back to the right.

Thankfully, I found my groove or at least became numb enough to not notice the jostling as much.  During this time, in my head I compared this type of riding to getting a tattoo.  In the beginning, the pain, discomfort and annoyance is high but after awhile, you stop noticing or caring and all goes numb. It was at that point I started to become acutely aware we were riding through an acid trip type landscape.  Technicolor trees were all around us and all I could manage were ooooos and ahhhhs in between climbing hills and fishtailing.  We had essentially gotten damn lucky and hit the jackpot since the trees were turning about a week or two early due to the recent cold snap.  This, we would later remark on, only got better throughout the ride.  It was as if the trees were changing color right before our eyes.


one of the many beautiful bodies of water we passed

After the hundredth time or so of telling Steve he could go ahead if he wanted (okay, I didn't say it a hundred times but he'll most likely tell you I did), I settled into a long day in the saddle.  Gravel road led into gravel road with the paved roads interjecting from time to time.  I didn't think of anything really, just enjoyed where I was...until the Tuscobia trail.  Prior to the ride I knew this was going to be the biggest challenge for me but my hopes were raised when Steve told me it wasn't going to be that bad since he had ridden a section further East the weekend before--this of course wasn't the section we would be on.  We turned left onto the trail and all I could see was deep sand churned up by the ATVs.  Yeah.  This was going to be "interesting".  It was of course since it kept me on high alert for the entire 13 mile stretch we had into Birchwood.  Now remember, I'm not a mountain biker and most of my cycling has been on smooth road, so when you throw washout, deep sand and millions of embedded rocks in front of me I'm not the happiest camper.  I didn't have time to bitch about it though since Steve was already some distance ahead and I just decided I'd have to keep up.  What this led to is exactly what happened in my first experience at Almanzo.  I became a more confident rider.  Sure I was rattled so hard my glasses and parts of my bike came loose and I got blisters on my hands since they were moving around on the bars so much, but I did it and at the end, pavement never felt so good.  We joked that I probably wouldn't have felt a thing if I'd been on my Fargo but then again, I wouldn't have improved my skills either.

No words needed for those who rode with us that day
After our refueling stop in Birchwood with other riders (one of which made this ride his first century ever), we rolled on for several miles of "butter like" paved roads.  When we reentered reality (aka gravel), the hills became bigger and bigger and we were joined by a fellow rider and friend of Chris.  The miles kept ticking by, with little peeks of creeks, lakes and flowages--all surrounded by more beautiful maples and ashes.  The wind was now at our backs and although we were tired, we picked up our pace.  The last few miles of gravel rides are always bitter sweet for me.  I always have a few aches and pains and want to get off the bike but at the same time, I don't want to stop--especially when it means getting back in the car.

After our hose bath at the Bruce firehouse, we hung out in the parking lot for a bit talking with other riders.  Our drive back to Eau Claire was uneventful and really only consisted of finding a food source.

I will end this with a huge thanks to Chris Locke and all the volunteers who made this happen.  It was a perfect day and a perfect ride!  Also an enormous thanks to Steve Wasmund, my partner in crime as well as cheerleader for this event, and our host Steve Spina who kindly not only housed us the first night but didn't lock us out when we came back dirty and quite possibly smelly.  Next year's ride will be even better!

Always a sign of a great ride--that's no tan line!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Tipping Point

View from the top of Blue Mound

End of Summer

For that a great weariness has come upon me
Here in the remaining day of summer—
And the over-grown yard a stagnant mood,
Under the boughs the apples rotting,
And the fading grasses forgotten of cutting—

Suffer me to wag the tongue a little.
Even as leans on the fainting evening
the foliage withering,
I am touched with a song of brown and of shadows,
And of colors lingering.

And I passed before a house of vines
To hear a myriad of birds therein
Crying, crying.

-Mark Turbyfill

Hurry Back

Hurry back fair summer, from where you came,
my soul tends to wilt in this cold pissing rain.
Friends are posting on their dreams of snow
while I am dreading the temps dropping low.
Each year I feel your stay is too short,
please settle in next year and never deport.


We are at the door of the tipping point.  Three morning rides have now been in the upper 30's and I would have welcomed my shoe covers on two of them--my feet turning to numb blocks.  It's too early this year--it's always too early for me, but this is exceptional.  2014 will go down as the year I turned off the heat the latest in the year (late May) and turned it on the earliest (mid September).  My fat bike friends are giddy as children in a candy store, drooling with anticipation.  I, however, feel I'm looking down the barrel of a loaded gun.  You think I'm joking, I know you do, since I help out with Madison Bike Winter but sadly I am not.  

Alex Soth--Sleeping by the Mississippi

To ward off the dread and doom, I rode this past weekend.  Lots.  I rode down the Badger State Trail/H8TR trail with a friend to "geocache" holiday ornaments on a tree branch for a friend.  I rode around lake Monona and then found some sun beams to sit in--not unlike my cat.  My husband and I rode downtown for the Alex Soth art show at MMOCA and his winter shots along the Mississippi made me shudder.  A group of us rode out to Blue Mound and to the the top of the world, or at least top of SW Wisconsin.  And finally, after cleaning up and eating, we rode once again downtown for the Willy Street Festival to welcome in two of my favorite folk singers as they wrapped up their Wisconsin music tour by bike.

I am hoping I can keep this momentum thing going--all the way until Spring!

Top of the World ride

Placing holiday ornaments
Brianna Lane and Peter Mulvey wrapping up their Wisconsin bike tour

Thursday, September 11, 2014


Reader, if you are in the midwest bike community, you may be very angry with me for writing this post.  You may not understand my intentions and you may choose to stop reading this blog.  I understand.  This, however, is something I just felt the need to do.  Please know I do not take this situation lightly.  I ask you not to judge me for my decision to write this.

I rode today.  I rode though the cold gray winter-like clouds, through the wind and through my confusion and sadness.  I rode for an old friend of mine who is struggling deeply, one who has a mental illness.  I rode for his family and for his victim.  I rode for myself in hopes of making sense of a very bad situation.  Today I learned that one of the most influential people in my life regarding cycling did something that will place him in jail for a very long time.  First I was in disbelief, then I was angry, finally I was sad.  I am not going to go into details regarding the crime.  I don't need to.  I'm sure many of you already know about it.

When I was fourteen, and a part of  the Gopher Wheelmen junior team, I was the only girl in the group.  Although I had two female coaches, I had to train and race with the boys.  During the weekly training rides, I got pushed and shoved verbally and a little physically.  It wasn't all that bad in hindsight but being one of the youngest on the team, and being the only girl, made me a bit sensitive (later it would make me tougher).  I remember the first time I met Ezra, he was a bit younger than me and yet he could outride most of the guys much older than us both.  He wasn't showy, he saw cycling as "fun" vs. work and he was unbelievably nice.  For some reason he felt the need to protect me, and that he did.  On group rides, even though he could school the rest of the team if he wanted to on sprints, he would hang next to me and we'd chat.  He'd also shut the other guys up if they got a little too brash with me.

A season passed and we started "dating"--or whatever teens do at that age.  Nothing physical happened between us other than holding hands, but we hung out all the time.  We'd walk around the lakes, go on long rides or get our parents to drive us to movies or concerts.  Honestly, looking back on it, we were just really good friends.  We even spent a week together with my mom in a cabin near Ely, MN.  I think we "got" each other.

It was around that time I started questioning cycling in my world.  To be honest, I was sick of it.  I had been training for years already and I was burnt out.  It just wasn't fun anymore and I wanted out.  I remember Ezra telling me I didn't have to race.  He didn't even judge me for not wanting to ride.  He may have been the only person I told this to at the time.  You see Ez had this different outlook on riding and training.  He floored our coaches, and everyone knew he had what it took to go all the way if he wanted to.  He could have gone pro.  Instead, he'd show up to training rides when he wanted to, he'd do a race here and there, and then he'd set the bike aside for awhile to skateboard instead.  Training just wasn't what he did.  He played.  And if cycling wasn't fun at the moment, he wouldn't do it.

On my ride today, as I sifted through all the muck, and then finally put what he did recently aside, I realized that Ezra was a very important part of my life--even though we only really knew each other throughout high school.  When I chose to give up road riding, he went to Kenwood Cyclery with me to get a mountain bike.  I had never ridden one before, but as we rode home at dusk, down the railroad tracks, I thought I might just be able to like biking again.  He helped me see cycling as something fun, not just work.  If it weren't for him being in my life, I may not have had the emotional strength to stand up to the junior boys on my team and I may have given up on cycling all together--thinking that if I wasn't racing, what's the reason to bike?

After high school we went our own ways.  I moved away from the cycling scene, opting to commute instead of race, and yet I kept hearing snippets about him from my friends.  I'd hear that he was off everyone's radar and then he'd just show up to a cross race or mountain bike race and kill it, and then he'd disappear again for awhile.  Later I'd read about him in the bikejerks blog and see his gold plated Peacock Groove 29er single speed.  Never did I hear about him bragging or talking trash.  He appeared to be the same person I knew back in the day.  He also continued to work in the bike industry, getting into QBP and working with several of my friends.  When I'd ask how he was doing, they only had the best of words.  Everyone seemed to love him.  I can only say it made me so happy to hear him continue his passion--a passion that first brought us together in the first place.

What Ezra did, many will never forgive him for.  It's difficult, but after my ride today, I can say I hate what he did, but I don't hate him.  My hope is that he gets the help he needs, pays his dues however the courts seem just, and finds solace.  On that note, I also hope his family finds the peace they need and most importantly, I hope his victim heals to the point she can live a wonderful life.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

A rolling celebration marking the end of a stupid bike trail law

Meeting up at the capitol for the pre ride briefing from Richard
Laws are often times made to help and protect us.  Laws are also meant to be revisited and often times changed. Years ago, NR45 was placed in the books for many reasons--to help protect natural areas, to prevent motorized vehicles from going onto trails designated for hikers, cyclists or skiers, to limit human made noise in natural areas etc.  The problem, however, is that NR45 also stated that no one could use the state trails between the hours of 11pm-6am.  This meant if you lived in a town--let's say Monroe, WI--and worked the second shift at the hospital, you would be breaking the law if you chose to bike or walk home via the trail, even if it was the only safe way to do so.  If caught, you could also be fined...heavily.

Being a year round bike commuter, a person who wakes at 4am to go to work (I start work before 6am most days), a Wisconsin Bicycle Federation board member and a tax payer, I had serious issues with this law.  My feelings were and are, fine or arrest someone for disrupting the peace or doing an illegal activity that would harm others but DO NOT waste tax payer dollars and DNR or police resources by fining people who choose to use the trail at night in a peaceful manner.

Four years ago, a ride was started by a local guy, Richard.  Pick Me Up At The Border was not only a way for cyclists to have a safe, fun night ride, but also a bit of a protest against an archaic law.  This weekend marked the fourth ride and a bit of a celebration since it is the first time it is legal.  That's right folks, you can now ride on state trails legally between 11pm-6am thanks to Friends of the Badger State Trail and the Wisconsin Bike Fed.  Like other years, a group of us met down at the state capitol just before midnight, rolled out at a mellow pace on the Badger State Trail as a group until it turned to gravel and then we strung out--some choosing to pick up the pace a bit--all the way to Illinois or until the leaders swung back around and passed you, at which point folks hopped on the night train.

Tunnel break near Bellville on the way back

Monroe pit stop at the new bike trail facility

From capitol to state line to capitol it's 90 miles.  For most of us, however, who choose to ride to the starting point, it's about 100.  This, mind you,  is almost ridden entirely in the dark.  I've spoken about my love for night riding in other posts.  Magic is the only word I can use to describe it.  I love having to focus on what's in front of me in a small lit up circle.  I love seeing the moon and stars.  And I love the surreal feeling, not knowing what time it is, how fast I'm going and where exactly I am.  Add a bunch of friends plus gravel and it's just that much more special.

Wash out--bigger than it looks!
This year saw it's share of hiccups.  The heavy rain the week prior made large sections of the trail feel like b roads.  Some of the wash out was so bad I was actually happy not to see it very well as I slowly rolled my way through.  Flats, yep, there were lots of 'em.  I had my first on my trusty Clement LASs. But all in all it was a great night.  I'm always amazed by how awake I am when I roll back into town. Other than food, there is really very little on my mind at the end.

Thank you Richard for the dreamlike ride and introducing me to some really cool new folks, thanks to Steve for the rapid fire tube change--otherwise I would have been stuck out there for 20 mins. alone, and thanks for letting me follow your fool proof line during our pace line heading back , thanks to the Danimal for keeping the pace and finally thanks to Bill Hauda for getting the law changed!

Quick flat fix for Travis from Stray Cat Cycles

Helping the "winner" lighten the Burley load on the way back

Our little Indiana Jones moment in the tunnel