Friday, November 28, 2014


This is what my ride last thanksgiving looked like
Last year at this very moment I was biking back from Minneapolis to Waconia.  I had hauled my trusty steed to the Twin Cities area for a long thanksgiving weekend and was bound to make use of it regardless of the low temperatures.  This year, I had planned to do the same, although a nagging shoulder issue mixed with ice and snow on the ground made me decide to bag the idea and opt for two feet as my mode of transportation.

No, I didn't plan on walking all the way into Minneapolis from Waconia (over 40 miles I'm guessing), but I did plan on getting out there--and ice, fresh snow and almost record low temps (it was 1 degree when I went out yesterday) would not keep me in. I'm sure I've mentioned how unruly and cagey I become if I'm not "let out to play" on a daily basis.  When you add in long hours in the car and heavy food, "unruly" becomes a nice term if I'm trapped inside.

Caught without a fatbike and forced to walk (gasp) this year instead of bike

So I woke this morning, already sick of being in the 'burbs, without the ability to explore more than a 1-2 mile radius, and decided I would go on a bit of a walkabout.  I often explain to folks who don't know the twin cities, and who think everything is bike/ped friendly here from the articles they read, that once you get out of the Minneapolis/St.Paul circle, the area becomes extremely unfriendly to pedestrians and cyclists--especially come winter.  The suburbs are little islands cut off from the rest of the area and one can rarely explore outside of them without using a car to connect the towns to the trails/safe roads.  For example, even though I biked into Minneapolis via trail last year, I had to subject myself to about five miles of terrifying roads to get to the trail.  But since I am so damn stubborn and since I was literally bouncing off the walls, I decided I was going to walk around Lake Waconia.

Lake Waconia at sunrise on black Friday--a much better view than from inside a store

Lake Waconia is roughly the same size as lake Monona in Madison.  I knew I could easily handle the 12 miles or so of walking, what I wasn't too sure of was how to avoid hwy.5--the only road leading into Waconia from one side of the lake.  No bother, in my mule like state I chose to hit that section last thinking I'd either be too tired to care about playing a life like game of frogger or I'd cut through farmland and prairies covered in snow until I hit a safe road.

I headed out without a map or music--opting instead for the sound of my footsteps in the fresh snow and navigating by a gut feeling.  Hell, it's just a big circle after all.  If I lost sight of the lake, I'd know I wasn't on the right road.  Besides, I had biked most of this route before so I was quite confident in my navigational skills and sense of distance.

One of the many farms surrounded by McMansions
Within a couple miles, the word "perspective" kept looping in my mind.  Things like this happen to me frequently while biking or walking for long periods.  I get caught up on words or ideas and can't let them drop.  I kept thinking about the different perspectives I had this year vs. last year even though I was on the same roads and trails.  The weather was different, I was moving at a slower pace (by about 15mph), cars most certainly treated me differently (I'm quite certain several drivers thought I was out of my mind for walking down Co.Rd 10--but I've heard it's used frequently by cyclists in the summer).  When I hit the North side of the lake, I was greeted by first an old barn, followed quickly by an 8,000 sq.ft. McMansion, then by an old lake cottage.  This happened repetitively around half the lake and I couldn't help but wonder what the owners of the farms and cottages thought.  As cars drove much too close to me for comfort, even on the small cottage lanes, I began to compare this area to the small towns in Southern Wisconsin.  Sure the occasional "buzzing" happens in my area, but it's never car after car after car.  A much needed perspective.

As I made my way back close to Waconia, I was faced with the daunting hwy.5, or several farm/prairie crossings.  Needless to say, I opted to trudge through the snow.  I laughed at the fact I was forced to do this, thinking about what the locals would think of me if they saw me.  In fact, I'm not sure anyone has ever attempted to walk around the lake in modern time.  A bit over three hours after I began, I got back to my mom's, pleased I had made it without getting squashed, and finally feeling a bit worn out (in a good way).  No, this wasn't nearly as much fun as my long cold ride last year, but it did feel great doing something I wasn't too sure of and making the most of my circumstances.  What felt even better was not having to start up the car, and for that I give thanks!

Coming off the prairie, this is what greeted me.  Welcome to the 'burbs!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Season for Waltzing

In my mind, each season has its own dance.  Spring brings the urge to swing or lindy since the new found warmth gives a bounce to my step.  Summer is for the slow drag or salsa.  Clothes are shed, sweat drips from every pore and just about everything seems sultry.  Fall, with the crisp air also brings crispness back to the dance floor with the fox trot or Charleston.  And winter, for some odd reason I connect winter, with a slow waltz.  Rigid, upright and yet still with a lilt.  I can imagine snow falling or scenes from Dr. Zhivago playing set to a waltz.

All of this, yes, even scenes from Dr.Zhivago, play on a loop while I'm out riding.  My pedal stroke, a bit cattywampus with the cold, added layers and winter boots on flats, seems to follow more of a 3/4 measure vs. the nice, smooth 4/4 beat, and my breathing no longer flows as it should--instead acting more like a hiccup as I brace against the sharp air.

On days when the wind rattles the windows, and snow finds its way into every nook and cranny, my mind begs me to curl up with a steaming mug of coffee and epic books or films which ooze slow like molasses (Sweetland and The Straight Story have been watched numerous times during the season of the endless night).  My body, however, feels cagey on these days.  Restless from not going out enough on all day adventures.  No gym workout satiates--in fact, the thought of stepping inside a gym turns my stomach, so I begin the long process of adding layers, covering exposed skin and prepping my mind for what's to come.  I call this moment "the tipping point".  If I reach the stage of adding all the layers, I'll head out--but it's getting to that point which is so damn difficult.  Heck, sometimes I feel downright exhausted just from dressing.  But 90% of the time, I come back renewed, re-energized and feeling a whole lot less like a pacing animal in the zoo.

This brings us back to the waltz.  By no means is it my favorite dance, and I'd rather partake in just about any other dance, but when a waltz is played, and I'm on the dance floor, waltz I do.  I don't like winter or riding in the winter, but when I have no choice (other than spending hours on the trainer), winter ride I will.  Happy dancing all!  I look forward to seeing you all move to little ditties, throughout the snow covered streets, in my mind.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Thanks, that was "fun", but now you can leave!

Dear Old Man Winter,

Your whimsy and mischievous behavior is a amusing at times.  I will say, you do bring a jaw dropping beauty found in no other season.  A quiet hush made by falling snow, blue light with long shadows, hoar frost which covers me during runs and rides, sundogs, visible animal tracks, and the sweet smell of firewood burning to heat Midwestern homes.  I just have one bone to pick with you.  You are not supposed to make your grand entrance until December 21st (I'll give you a day or two plus or minus).  The stuff you pulled last year was not appreciated and now it seems like you've opened up the same bag of tricks--but earlier.  Yes, yes, we Wisconsinites know it's going to be effing cold for 4 or 5 months out of each year, but this Spring starting in June and Winter starting in November shit isn't funny.  When you start pissing off the cross-country skiers, you KNOW you've gone too far.  We'd appreciate a little cooperation on your part.  Fine, make it cold early, but could you hold off on the wind?  And throw us a bone once in awhile--you know, a sunny day at "average" temps can make all the difference.

Yours truly,
-two wheeled maiden

Sunday, November 9, 2014

A Place to Be


I am quite certain for most of my life I have been searching for a "place to be".  Although I have been able to succeed in finding places (physical and mental), and groups of people which feel like home, I find myself always slightly restless for what may be around the bend.  Sometimes I consider myself a rectangular peg trying to fit into a square hole.  Many places, again mental and physical, have been a really close fit and yet there's usually something that just doesn't feel right.  I am a virgo through and through.  It is in my blood to find a place to why do I get restless every time my ass makes a dent in the couch cushion?

Since settling in Madison ten years ago, I now move around mostly in groups of people, since I haven't had a physical move to a different location in quite some time.  Please understand, by no means am I searching for perfection--I know it doesn't exist, or should I say everything is perfect in its own right--and I'm not one of those "the grass is always greener" folks either.  I'm guessing it may be my desire to learn about everything and experience as much as I can in my short time here.  Often I view staying in one place (mentally and physically) as being stagnant.  I get depressed when I'm not learning something new.  I certainly don't feel the need to be busy all the time--I love sitting watching the clouds or squirrels--but I do need to be, as my friend Josiah frequently says, moving "always forward" in the big picture.

This past week, I was forced to deal with the fact we are all mortal multiple times.  I'll be honest, it sucked the big one. It was as if my brakes were locked down suddenly while I was flying 50mph down a hill.  Then, when I thought I had picked myself up off the ground, I was slammed down a few more times.  I do not fear death like Woody Allen (although I love him, I find his fear of death ridiculous), instead I take a view on death similar to Atul Gawande.  We are all mortal, we are all dying little by little at this very moment, and yet we must all face this fact and choose to savor being alive while we are here.

For a few days, I did no such savoring.  I self medicated, wallowed and shut the world out.  Food didn't taste good and yet I ate too much, being outside in the wind hurt my senses, I wanted to sleep for hours upon hours and my bikes sat unridden.  I couldn't console my friends, I couldn't console myself.  And then I forced myself to do two things.  First, I rode out in the cold wind with sprinkles falling, to see baby goats.  I heard their bleating before I ever saw them.  I crawled into their pen and inhaled their barnyardy sweet/sour scent deeply.  I picked them up and held them to me, feeling their warmth, feeling their heart beat against my chest and feeling them squirm with abandon all while they licked the sweat off my face, hands and arms.  I began to smile, laugh out loud, and quite possibly squeal without being aware I was doing so until I heard myself several minutes later.  I felt alive holding these furry little beings and knew I was going to be okay.

The other thing I did was plan a long day on the bike.  I didn't really "want" to ride for hours upon hours in freezing temps but I knew it was the right thing to do.  It would bring me back to that simple place of survival.  I could choose to stop pedaling and sit down to become hypothermic on the side of the road, but I knew I wouldn't.  Consider it a slap in the face to an out of control loved one.  This ride was meant to snap me out of a deep funk by putting me into not so pleasant conditions.  As I closed in on my destination of Milwaukee, my heart filled with warmth being, in what I would consider, my second home--third if you count Minneapolis.  I love Milwaukee and I love my friends who reside there.  It was, at this time, the perfect place to be.

Thankfully my two choices of moving forward, the goat ride and the ride to Milwaukee, brought me back to a near normal state.  More importantly, I learned quite a bit about myself and how I should be dealing with living and dying in a healthy way.  L'chaim!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Testing the, er, frozen waters

"Brrrrr" and "it's cold" have now become the most common sayings at my house.  Neither I or my husband like what mother nature has dealt us this week.  With both of our circulatory systems still running on more like 15W40 vs. the sludge it will look like come spring, neither of us can stay warm unless bundled up beneath a pile of blankets with hot tea/coffee in hand.  And no, we don't keep our house below 60 degrees (60 at night, 62 during the day).

So what comes to mind as I'm shivering in hopes of providing an involuntary heat source?  Bourbon?, bacon?, a whiplash move back to Hawaii?  Yes, yes and yes.  Biking?  Um, yeah, well this is where it gets tricky.  I refuse to put my bike on the trainer--I mean dust collector--in the basement.  I hate it, I mean really hate it.  And besides, I have this new toy named Orange Crush (a Salsa Fargo) that I need to break my body into.  So yeah, biking came to mind.

The weekend kicked off on Thursday evening with a roll down the H8TR trail (Badger State Trail if you want to get technical) with friends to drink and eat candy in the tunnel.  I showed up on my 2.2 Conti Race Kings (they came with the steed) knowing full well it was overkill but feeling a bit to lazy to switch over to my Clement MSO's.  Besides, it was going to be cold and the extra weight of the bike (several pounds heavier than my Lemond Poprad), and the extra rolling resistance, would warm me up.  It would be my first over 20 mile ride on OC and a good time to test a few things out before I went making big changes.  Fifteen miles into the ride, seeing everyone roll with barely a push to the pedal (most were on road or under 40mm slicker tires), I began to doubt my choice.

Krampus met us under the bridge with beer and candy
photo by Mr.McNeill
Refueling in the tunnel

I made it down and back thanks to a) refueling supplied partly thanks to Krampus and b) the kindness of those who kept the pace pretty casual.  What I realized quickly, however, is I won't be using OC for trail rides like this.  Nope, my new steed will be kept for flowy mountain bike trails, fire roads and chunky gravel--like the kind found on Skull-N-Bones this fall.  None of this push for pushing sake shit, I'm all about taking the path of least resistance.

Militant start
Yesterday's flag ripping winds were around 30-40mph so I went for a run instead.  Yes, I run in the winter.  No sneers or heckling please.  But this morning the winds died down to a "calm" 10mph Northerly and with that the temps dropped to a "cool" 26 degrees.  I woke thinking it was a "perfect" morning to ride.  Although I had to be at work late morning to teach a couple workshops, I decided to join the Militant gravel crew for a bit to get some more miles in.  This was my second below 30 degree ride of the season and I usually don't get used to this stuff until January or February--when I know there's a light at the end of the tunnel.

Following the morning 35 miler, I headed down to what will hopefully be an annual event--the Day of the Dead Ride.  Regular bikes, cargo bikes carrying musicians, face painting, home made tamales, coffee, hot chocolate--now this is the sort of thing that takes my mind off the cold.  The sun was out, folks were smiling, tummies were full and all was good.  Needless to say, my roll home was a bit slower due to the extra baggage I was carrying in my tummy.  Note to self:  ride lighter bike when riding out to eat to keep strength to weight ratio in check.

Day of the Dead Ride

Tomorrow I will take my road bike out since it's been feeling a bit underutilized.  There are baby goats out there bleating my name and by god I'm going to answer even though the start will once again be below freezing.  At least no one will hear my whining over their cries to be fed, and if you see me dancing a little jig, it's not dancing at all--more like trying to bring blood back into my brick like feet.