Thursday, December 25, 2014

Steeped in nature and nurture, not religion

I believe in God, 
only I spell it Nature.
-Frank Lloyd Wright

Almost at the end of my Christmas ride

I may not bow down to a god, but I will bow down to a tree.  I may not celebrate the birth of Jesus, but I do celebrate the birth of a baby goat.  I may not sit in a pew and surround myself with the four walls of a church, but I will surround myself with farms, forests and rivers on two wheels or two feet.

It's Christmas evening, and over the many years of  choosing not to attend church, I have come to the realization of what this day means for me.  First, it means having a day off from work to spend with friends and sometimes relatives.  Second, it means time, the most precious gift of all, to spend being outside no matter what the conditions are.  Lastly, it means stuffing myself silly with good food and drink, followed by more bouts of outdoor activity just to make room for another round.

My destination for so many rides
Yesterday, under the heavy blanket of clouds which were spitting rain, snow and sleet, I rode out to a friend's farm roughly 25 miles from Madison.  This farm is heaven to me.  A place I ride to throughout the spring and summer to visit the farm animals--especially the goats.  I had never ridden out in the winter, but since I had also never driven, it seemed like a terrible time to start.  Upon rolling into the farm, I was greeted by one of the owners, noticing my safety yellow jacket I'm assuming, "Kierstin!" A barn tour was well on its way, as well as feeding the animals, and there was no way I was going to miss it.  So in I went, still in my riding clothes/shoes, smiling ear to ear and happy to have the grandkids leading me around.  

With dogs, cats, and chickens at my feet, I meandered around the large timbers until coming to my favorite place on earth--the kid pen.  These "oops", now 12 weeks old and named William and Shakespeare, were all too excited to be fed and given attention.  If given the chance, I would have spent the night in that pen, bed down in a pile of hay--I'm guessing with the company of the grandchildren as well.

William and Shakespeare during feeding time

William the goat

Once the chickens, adult goats, horses and sheep were fed, it was time to head inside.  The bite of the damp cold made it that much warmer to be in with loving friends and a gourmet spread.  Last night will now be burned in my memory as one of the many things, not retail or church related, that Christmas is truly about.

Today, I took the day off the bike and my husband and I opted to use our legs in an upright fashion instead. We ventured out to our favorite hike, the Ice Age trail at Devil's Lake, and quickly found ourselves scouring the forest floor, noticing all the different moss, lichen and fungi.  It is at times like this I believe in something so much bigger than myself.  Something which connects us all, and creates art more beautiful than any museum could contain.  I am one or two steps away from being fungi and moss myself--and it's grand to see what I may become in 50 or hopefully 60 years.

Devil's Lake

We came home a bit sore, tired and hungry, but within a few short hours, all of that was swept away by the kindness of our neighbors who take us in like we're starving little strays each Christmas.  I remember growing up spending each Christmas with a Ukrainian family. They would always set the table with one or two extra place settings in case anyone stopped by.  I feel our neighbors have been doing just this for about eight years.  We now consider them family and we all share a similar fondness for the outdoors and its role in our lives.

I'm not sure what it would be like if we spent this day/eve in a church or in an airport each year.  All I know is I'm more than satisfied with our yearly ritual, and dare I say connected to some/a god/greater being by our yearly practice.  Happy baby Jesus/ Krampus/Santa/bike/hike/fungi/woodsy/friend/family/foodie day all!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Hello Darkness My Old...Friend

Beer and coffee ride--hell, if one won't get folks out of bed, the other will!

I sign onto my facebook account this morning and there are two posts greeting me--"welcoming" me into winter--which begins in a few short hours.  

Quote one came from my cycling friend, Max, out in Colorado who gave a nod to Robert Frost with what he wrote:  "The only way around winter is through it."

Quote two came from a new cycling friend, Michelle, as she woke from her slumber to join us on our damp, cold beer ride.  This quote sums it up perfectly...and yet still we ride:
"I can't help but think this is how babies exiting the womb feel (was under my warm blankets and am about to throw myself outside on a bike...undercaffinated)."

To those who chose to ride with me this weekend, and welcome in yet another winter, thank you!  I owe my sanity/insanity to each and every one of you!

I've decided to grow some facial hair for the winter rides (I'm on the right)

Rolling down the H8TR and posing for a QBP cover

Oh Wisconsin!

We are all just a bunch of misfit toys

Things like this keep us out of trouble

Since we haven't seen sun in 21 days, this tunnel felt like home

I loooove winter...can't you tell?

Friday, December 19, 2014

I dig this blog!

I don't have enough time to sift through all the really cool blogs out there on cycling and travel--and believe me, the list is endless--but this one stood out:

Everything Will Be Noble

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Into the Stillness

Finding "milk glass" on my Crystal Lake ride

An absolute
Trees stand
up to their knees in
fog. The fog
slowly flows
cobwebs, the grass
leaning where deer
have looked for apples.
The woods
from brook to where
the top of the hill looks
over the fog, send up
not one bird.
So absolute, it is
no other than
happiness itself, a breathing
too quiet to hear. 
-Denise Levertov

Watching the last of the snow depart from the farm fields

Mother nature graced us with Seattle weather this past week.  The clouds rolled in, many days ago, and seeing as they must like it here, they chose to stay.  I was told the sun came out for an hour, but alas my place of work is cave like so I never saw it.  

In this weather, day an night seem to blur together
When living in a northern clime, one often wonders if it would be better to have thirty to forty-five degrees with clouds and drizzle or negative twenty to thirty degrees with sun.  Not having a choice in the matter, I opted to buck up and get outside to explore how the slightest changes in weather, change the scenery around me.

Through the fog, witnessing the seasons and years roll by
There were three things I noticed right away.  The first and most obvious was how cool, damp air settles so deep in the body my bones began to hurt.  I laugh at myself for sounding like an arthritic old woman, but there is something in my constitution which detests cold mixed with moisture.  No matter how much I sweat, the moment I stop moving, the cold cannot be shaken until I take a long hot shower and drench my insides with hot tea.  Second is how scents linger in the air and cling to my nostrils and lungs in damp weather.  As I pulled off the road to get a picture of a farm, I could smell pine resin, manure, woodsmoke, bacon and smores.  These followed me for almost a mile.  Lastly, I sometimes feel almost as if I'm scuba diving.  Sounds are deadened--absorbed by either clouds themselves or the moisture they produce.  My breathing rates slows, and when I'm producing enough heat not to shiver uncontrollably, I feel almost hugged by the fog.

All of these wonderful feelings are brought to an abrupt halt when I notice the pavement has opened into a gaping maw from freeze/thaw cycles and I am able to hear "feed me Seymour" coming from its dark depths.  This noise only being silenced by the constant grinding coming from millions sand grains working their way into my cassette and chain.

One reason I ride with others is to drown out the sound of my dirty bike

After tomorrow, reality is supposed to hit again.  The mercury is expected to drop below normal and we might even see the sun in a few days.  We will soon find out if my mood lifts with the sky's clarity or if I continue to dream about Seattle weather.

If the weather doesn't lighten my mood, a cycling Krampus does the trick!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out

Yes, I am a child born to a hippy mother, and yes, I know most likely too much about Timothy Leary.  But damn if I don't love this phrase he was given by Marshall McLuhan.  This post was percolating in my mind for a few days, and then an old friend sent me an e-mail which brought it all together.  Once again, I have a friend to thank for inspiration!

We live in a hyper drive world.  One in which most cannot get enough information quickly enough.  One in which children no longer gaze at clouds or search the grass for bugs.  One in which we no longer practice common niceties or even acknowledge folks around us.  One in which we all have to be available at a moments notice and if we unplug for anything, it seems the world, for others, falls apart.

I don't care much for this world we now live in.  Call me a Luddite if you will, but frankly I'd like to go back in time.  Back to when phones had to be plugged into a wall, back to when people would feel great guilt or shame if they let a door close on another person, back to when we wrote handwritten letters.

I don't believe all this shit on commercials which makes it seem like doomsday will occur if you don't buy the new smart phone.  Commercials actually irritate me to no end.  I also don't want to be told I'm being unproductive if I don't fill every moment of my day.  I like having days when I can choose to do anything or nothing at all.  I am one of those people who protect my "me time" (this phrase is one that my friend who inspired me used).  You may say this phrase is "selfish" and I agree.  We need to be more selfish, but in the right way.

So here is where Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out comes in.  Many think it has only to do with tripping along the LSD road.  Not me.  This is how I break it down:

Turn On:  When I bike or hike alone, I often go pretty deep into different levels of consciousness.  Yes, I'm all still there so you don't need to worry about me crashing, but my mind tends to work in a different way.  Things come to me at different speeds and on different levels than I'm used to.  It is during these times I do all of my personal "work" if you will.

Tune In:  While riding, hiking, walking or camping I am tuning in.  My senses are all firing, I am acutely aware of my surroundings, and when I get a few hours to "tune in" I am elated.  Very few things in this world bring me more joy than feeling, I mean truly feeling my body work, smelling whatever may be in the air--be it resin from pine trees, woodsmoke, freshly laid manure--you get the idea, seeing the beauty in everything natural and some human made items as well, tasting sweat drip down my face or the beer I so rightfully earned and hearing either my friends voices (the ones who are riding with me) or just the song of birds vs. the phone ringing/buzzing/vibrating.

While tuning in, if I am around others, I also find I become more sensitive to their needs.  This could mean something simple like giving passing space to someone on the trail or asking someone if they need help if I see them with their bike on the side of the road.  I like tuning into others.  It makes me feel human.

Drop Out:  This could be the most difficult one to explain.  For me, "dropping out" means not getting swept up into keeping up with the Jones', not feeling the need to be "in the know" all the time (whether it be news or gossip), and not caring about being popular.

About a year ago I chose to go on a news diet.  It was one of the most difficult things for me to do since I thrive on learning new things and keeping up on what's going on in the rest of the world.  In this modern day of 24-7 news and media hype (even on NPR), I found myself getting angrier and angrier.  Sure, I knew where all the wars were and what countries were struggling financially, but I began to wonder if it was hurting or helping me.  I would have to go on rides or runs just to calm myself down after hearing negative news.  So, I decided to pull the plug.  Now, I can proudly say I am able to read some newspapers (although I still greatly limit myself) and chat with clients about specific world events, but with the elimination of television and radio news, I am a much happier person.  It comes down to this:  I know the type of person I am and I control the actions I take--that's all that really matters.  No knowledge of climate change will change how I live--I will still choose to live simply with a light footprint.  No news of racism will change how I treat others since I choose to treat others with respect regardless of their race, financial status etc.  I will also not be bought by big corporations trying to sell me things or tell me I will be a better person if I work harder. Essentially, I am dropping out of the cycle of brainwashing.

For all of this self realization I have come to in my forty years of living, I can thank my mom, my husband and all of my friends.  Please know that this is my journey and way of living.  By no means do I suggest others follow in my footsteps unless they want to.  I do not judge others for wanting specific material items or wanting a certain way of life.  I just ask that others don't judge, but instead respect me, for my choices.

Friday, December 5, 2014


If you love your friends, you will serve your friends.
If you love your community, you will serve your community.
If you love money, you will serve your money.
And if you love only yourself, you will serve only yourself.
And you will have only yourself.
-Stephen Colbert

Madison Bike Winter's Holiday Lights Ride

A few days ago I was sent an article talking about the differences between individualistic vs. interwoven cultures, and where we, as Americans, tend to fit in.  The friend who sent it moved down to Louisiana, the heart of cajun country, not long ago.  I distinctly remember him telling me, within a few months of his move, that this is where he felt he "belonged".  We never really got into why he felt that way, we only touched on what makes Louisiana so different than any other state, until now.  Attached to the article he briefly stated that maybe this is why he feels so at home in Lafayette.

The winter loop commences
I get it.  I mean I really get it.  I have touched on my ongoing search to be a part of something bigger than the "I" in many blog posts.  I am, by nature, an "interdependent" person.  This does not mean I feel the need to be around others all the time, quite the contrary.  At times, sometimes for days on end, I am very happy just being in my own little world--silent except for the sounds of nature.  But there is no way I could survive off just my world alone (I would bore myself to death quite quickly).  People, especially my cycling community, recharge me.  They give me a sense of place, a warmth in all seasons, things to laugh about, cry about and think about.  They challenge me in both mind and body and I wouldn't want to know my life without them.  I am, in so many ways, dependent on them--and yet I do not see this as a weakness on my part.  Instead I celebrate being able to be a part of them, one small link in the chain.

As winter bears down on us, and the desire to curl up in a little ball and hibernate until spring blankets me more than any down comforter, I look towards this community of mine to get me through.  It doesn't take much, just a group ride here and there, with maybe a cup of coffee or pint of beer thrown in for good measure, and I'm a renewed woman.

Bombay's Freezaroo Ride   photo credit David Kohli

Belleville UFO Ride  photo credit Sara Hull

I want to take a moment to thank my friends--some I know well, many I hope to know better with time.  Another thanks goes out to James, a kindred spirit and someone who "gets me" 100%.  James, at some point I'll join you again in cajun country--at least for awhile.

Post ride shenanigans at One Barrel Brewing Company