Monday, January 26, 2015

A winter poem for my Sunday riding crew

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know. 
His house is in the village, though; 
He will not see me stopping here 
To watch his woods fill up with snow. 

My little horse must think it queer 
To stop without a farmhouse near 
Between the woods and frozen lake 
The darkest evening of the year. 

He gives his harness bells a shake 
To ask if there is some mistake. 
The only other sound's the sweep 
Of easy wind and downy flake. 

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, 
But I have promises to keep, 
And miles to go before I sleep, 
And miles to go before I sleep.
-Robert Frost 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Do I want to practice Aikido or boxing?

When I was little, and through my teen years, I was considered a crusader.  My hands rarely unfurled from their fist like state and although I was never looking for a fight, if backed into any kind of corner, fight I would.  No, I wouldn't use my fists (or rarely), but I would throw my energy around and try to bury, whomever I considered to be my attacker, with words.  Some good and bad came from this way of living.  I honed my debating skills, I became confident, and I had passion.  I also burned myself out, alienated some friends and forgot how to be "soft" and pliable.

Over the past twenty years, I've been taking a slow yet steady path of change--partly unconscious but mostly conscious.  I learned that yes, I'm going to get hurt and yes, my body/mind/spirit is pliable and if trained correctly, can bounce back--after all, there is strength in flexibility.  This process of finding my inner softness has taught me so much about myself and others I wouldn't have it any other way.  I also consider myself a life long student and by no means see this as a linear journey.

My title of the post, comparing Aikido to boxing, comes in by how I want (notice I didn't say choose) to handle confrontation.  Although I have never practiced the physical form of Aikido, I love its philosophy:
One must first learn to control oneself before attempting to harmonize and control others. Without a good balance and control of oneself, one can neither avoid an attack nor apply an effective technique on others. It is through self-control that one can learn to enjoy a harmonious way of life.
Boxing, on the other hand, is once again stepping into someone with fists up.  When I first learned about Aikido, I though long and hard about the practice of stepping next to someone vs. into them and letting the attacker's energy/momentum work essentially against them.  First, it allows you to see their viewpoint, second it takes much less energy on my part to stop them (I'm referring to both of these things in the physical and mental way).

This entire post was inspired by a difficult test I received yesterday.  For the fifth time since I've been at my place of employment, I was questioned by one of my employers about my cycling habits.  I'll say "questioned" now but what it really felt like was an attack on the thing I cherish most in life.  Essentially I was told I shouldn't be out winter biking because it's too dangerous...wait for it...for the drivers.  Other comments that have been made to me by my superiors have been "well, let's hope you don't get hit" and "I hope you have good insurance".  I take these comments as being quite aggressive and my knee jerk reaction would be to verbally attack but I knew this was both a teaching moment for myself and for her.  I left the room and after thinking about the situation for a couple hours, decided to write a well thought out e-mail to her--trying my best to find a balance between clarity and non-aggressiveness while staying true to myself and my passion.

Did it work?  Who knows.  Other than writing this post and trying to problem solve a bit to prevent this from occurring so much--not just for myself, but for others, I keep this little zen story on loop in my mind:
Two monks were travelling from one monastery to another.. They were celibate monks, even not allowed a direct gaze at women. After long walk, they came to a river, which they had to cross. The river was flooded and there was no way that they would
get across without getting wet. One lady was also at the banks of river, wanting to cross.. Monks decided to cross the river by walking thorough the shallow part of the river, Since the lady also needed to get on the other bank, one of the monk without much ado, carried her on his shoulders, and soon they reached the other bank, where he set her down.. The lady went her way and the two monks continued their walk in silence. The other monk was really upset, finding the other monks act disturbing. As per their injunctions, they were not allowed to look at the woman, forget touching and the other monk carried her across the river!!
After some time the confused monk couldn't stand the thought and asked other monk? "We are not allowed to look at other women, not touch them.. but you carried a woman across the river?!" The other monk had a smile on his lips when he replied "I put her down when I crossed the river, are you still carrying her?!"

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Why having a cat makes cycling better and why I choose to ride with those who have pets

Be tough, yet gentle
Humble, yet bold
Swayed always
by beauty
and truth
-Bob Pieh

Yep, I've written so many posts where readers may say to themselves "what the f*ck does this have to do with cycling?"  This, for some, will most likely be another one of those posts.  For others, hopefully a smile comes across their face with recognition.

I have a cat.  I've always had a cat.  Even while I was traipsing around the the world I had a cat (my mom was nice enough to take care of it).  Each cat of mine has had its own distinct personality.  Each one has improved my life in more ways than I could ever count.  Okay, okay, I'm going to get to the cycling part.  So, these cats, believe it or not, have made cycling better for me.  Why you ask?  Or maybe you're just rolling your eyes.  Either way, here's the list:

1) They have taught me to see the world through new eyes and be in the moment.  Eyes which focus on anything that moves, be it a hawk or a vole.  My favorite thing about riding is watching for wildlife.

2)  They have taught me to follow sunbeams and store the warmth for cloudy days.

3)  They have taught me to really appreciate, if not obsess over food and always be an opportunist when food is around--let's just say there is a 10 or 20 second rule if food hits the ground after a long ride.

4)  They have taught me to be patient--with myself and with others.

5)  They have taught me to be curious which leads into finding damn fine riding spots as well as picnic spots.

6)  They have taught me to move gracefully and always land on my feet--or at least try to.

7)  And finally they have taught me to love and bask in love.  Love life, and love my friends and family.

Today, our Sunday riding group rode in honor of Lulu/Cinder and in honor of John, Lulu's partner in crime.  Although I have many friends without pets, and I think just as highly of them, there is something so special about those who let four legged furry creatures into their lives.  Here's to you Lulu, may your foodbowl be always full, may there be an endless supply of mice to chase, may the temperature always be above 50 degrees and may you always be with John.

Monday, January 12, 2015

A post that may make you huddle in a corner and whimper a bit

I considered--very briefly--doing this ride my friend put together.  Mind you this is the same friend who coined the term "bike fun".  I rode that day, just choosing to do a 50 miler on roads vs. 150 miler on mush.  I can easily say I made the correct choice...for myself anyway.  There is no shame in being hedonistic or an armchair follower.  Enjoy!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Keep the Velodrome Alive!

***A week after I wrote this post, an article came out in the Star and Tribune stating the velodrome would not be saved.  This is a sad day.

I remember the year the velodrome in Blaine, MN was built.  My dad brought me up there to watch the weekly races.  I was in awe to say the least.  While admiring the shear beauty of the wooden track, he told me stories of racing the old cement velodrome which was left to crumble, weeds growing through the cracks.

Although I don't live in Minnesota anymore, and the closest velodrome to me is now in Kenosha, I still keep up with what's happening in the MN scene.  When I read Anna Schwinn's updates on the condition of the Blaine track, and that it may be shut down if funds couldn't be raised, I was deeply saddened.  You see velodromes are a completely different cycling beast.  Track racing isn't something which can be done anywhere like road, urban or mountain biking.  The different principals train cyclists for on-road experience, but the thrill of being in a race or watching a race can be found no other place.

If you live in or near the Twin Cities, I urge you to give this sport a try.  There are so many riders who are more than happy to teach newbies, and there are loaner bikes so you don't have to invest in a track bike right from the get go.  For the women out there, Anna has done such an amazing job with forming an all female team called Koochella.  She, along with other riders, have taken the fear out of trying this great sport and have made a very welcoming community to new women in the track scene.  Along with riding, Anna has also spearheaded fundraising parties and work parties to keep the velodrome alive.

Today, I was delighted to see this post regarding the what seemed to be imminent closure of the track:

Dear trackies, enthusiasts, and supporters:
Happy New Year! Thank you all for what you've done in support of our fundraising drive. Since Thanksgiving, y'all have donated, partied, liked, retweeted, shared, and connected us with people. All of this has reminded us how special the track cycling community is.
In this time, we here at FOVR-MN have been hard at work raising money, bringing in corporate sponsorships, and figuring out a plan to repair and open the NSC Velodrome in the spring.
We have great news:
1. We have raised enough funds for a capital repair to the NSC Velodrome.
2. We are working with NSC Staff and Board to secure full approval for the repair from the NSCF Board of Directors. It's not certain - but we're optimistic.
3. In addition to a regular 2015 season, we are planning some exciting high-calibre events: including a new format for the Fixed Gear Classic, and a team pursuit clinic run by a member of the US National Team. Stay tuned and get excited for these events!
4. It's not all peaches and cream. There will be an ongoing need to continue raising money to fund operations and programming. So please continue to connect us with sponsorship opportunities and please continue partying at fundraiser parties - like the series of Roller Races that are coming up.
We'll keep working on it and will update you as things progress. Thanks for all your support!

-All of us here at FOVR-MN

Let the celebration resume, but to keep this cheer going, consider donating either money or labor to keep this thing alive!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Bike Fun

The edge, there is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over.
-Hunter S. Thompson

One of the guys I ride with uses the term "bike fun" for anything that wouldn't be considered fun by normal cyclists.  I'm happy to say I ride with a bunch of really cool folks who are far from "normal" and make me seem less crazy when I propose rides in non-ideal conditions.  Not sure what I'd do without them!

Post Christmas ride
New Year's Ride!  photo by Darryl Jordon

The "bike fun" master himself

photo by John Mcneill

Saturday, January 3, 2015

New Year, New Adventures

All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.
-Blaise Pascal

For the past week, when not at work or on my bike, I've had my nose buried deep in a book of interviews with travel writers.  This is dangerous stuff for me.  Not only am I reading about travel and adventure, but no one, I mean no one, can spark the little curious child in me like a good travel writer/writer who travels (really, most preferred to be called journalists--one going so far as saying "he'd rather slit his wrists than be a travel writer who plans trips for others.").  In a way, going to sleep at night, with a travel book, is like having a "blankie" of sorts.  It soothes the mind and soul and helps me dream.

Over dinner last night, my husband and I reminisced about previous trips/adventures--something I swore I'd never do, but I guess this happens when you a) turn 40 or b) don't have enough vacation time to create new adventures.  I suppose I shouldn't really be shocked by this behavior since our first date was essentially a two month trip to Southern Mexico and Central America.

Stepping back a few years, after my first trip to France while in high school, the thought of European travel nauseated me.  It wasn't that I didn't love France--I did--it's just that it was too easy or too Western for my liking.  I wanted to go to Peru, Central America and the Arctic.  I wanted to be thrown into a completely different world in which I was used to.  Needless to say, none of these grand ideas included the bicycle.  They were all based on foot travel and were much more about culture. Now, after talking about my "wish list" for travel with my husband, I realize most of my ideas not only include a bike, but are also quite far from "third world nations".  

While riding solo or in a group for winter rides, there is a lot of quiet time to ponder warmer weather riding.  Sure, in groups there is chit chat but it's short and choppy due to ears and mouths being covered in a layer of synthetic material and also the ever present sound of studded tires.  Essentially, we are all deaf.  We may nod and smile pretending we hear things but the most common word is "huh?"  After awhile we just give up and find pleasure being in the presence of others while we ponder upcoming adventures.

For me, the list is ever growing--one trip marked off means two or three more added to the docket.  Some may see this as a good thing, I, on the other hand am getting a bit antsy to start checking some more of these trips off.  Yes, I'm a dreamer...but first and foremost I'm a doer.  I pour over maps because I want to go places, not just because I love maps.  So instead of declaring my resolutions for the new year, each year I declare the trips I want to take.  Sometimes they happen, sometimes they morph, and sometimes they die an ugly death (I used to have a dream about riding around lake Superior--that one bit it completely and is now thankfully filed in the recycling bin).  

What I really find amusing, and a huge self realization, is how few trips in third world nations are now on my list.  Sure, I still want to go to Ethiopia and travel throughout the Middle East, but those are more for volunteer/job experiences which I don't consider "trips".  Nope, a quick glance over my list and it's something my 25 year old self would have balked at.  This is where my opening quote comes in.  Of course I can't go day after day sitting quietly in a room (although I do find it pleasurable from time to time).  Instead, I take this quote figuratively.  I see the United States as my "living room".  Unlike my 25 year old self, I am now planning more tips in my backyard vs. abroad.  I have also thrown in some long distance solo trips making a nod to the silence (aside from those silly little voices in my head that is).  In fact, I currently have a bike tour planned for early 2016 which I will most likely do solo and it will be in a part of the country I would have rolled my eyes at just ten years ago.  Essentially, I have grown up.  Grown up, not grown old.  I see this shift in me as becoming more settled and comfortable in my mind/body/space.  Although I'll still throw in some thrill seeking adventures from time to time to shake the cobwebs off, I foresee most of my upcoming travel as mimicking more of a trek vs. mountain climbing.  Moving slowly, taking the sights, sounds and smells in, and studying others with their daily rituals--at the same time of them watching me.

Travel is transition, and at its best it is a journey from home, a setting fourth.  I hated parachuting into a place.  I needed to be able to link one place to another.  One of the problems I had with travel in general was the ease and speed with which a person could be transported from the familiar to the strange, the moon shot whereby the New York office worker, say, is insinuated overnight into the middle of Africa to gape at gorillas.  That was just a way of feeling foreign.  The other way, going slowly, crossing national frontiers, scuttling past razor wire with my bag and my passport, was the best way of being reminded that there was a relationship between Here and There, and that a travel narrative was the story of Here and Back.
-Paul Theroux (one of my favorite travel writers)

So with the new year, I wish you all many adventures.  Whether it be taking a different bike route to work, going to a new restaurant, or planning a trip of a lifetime.  If you think about it, each day can be an adventure, it's just how you choose to perceive it.  Cheers!