Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Saying Goodbye

The woods decay, the woods decay and fall,
The vapours weep their burthen to the ground,
Man comes and tills the field and lies beneath,
And after many a summer dies the swan. 

These lines, taken from the poem "Tithonus" by Tennyson were the only things I could think of when I got the news.  Yesterday, at 4am, I opened my inbox and realized this world, this world we occupy while alive, had just lost one of the most remarkable people I have ever met.  My heart sank and yet at the same time rejoiced, knowing a person I care about greatly no longer had to be in pain. When I would ask him how he was feeling, and he stopped using the saying "With my fingers, but of course!" and started saying "fair to midland", and then just "midland", I knew things weren't good.  And like in the myth about Tithonus, Bob was ready to go.  He didn't want to be in a body that was failing--something I understand completely.

I know this is a cycling blog, and this may seem like an odd thing to write about, however, Bob was a big part of the cycling community.  Although his time on the bike was diminishing when I met him about seven years ago, he still drove around with a bike rack on his car, working the ham radio at any bike event that needed him (Horribly Hilly, Quadrupedal and Dairyland Dare were his favorites) and all around just being really kind to all cyclists (he lived right off a major training route).

I suppose I'm writing this more for myself than anyone else.  It helps me process my feelings and deal with a loss--something I'm just not good at.  I doubt Bob knew how important he was to me.  I doubt he knew what a positive impact he had on those around him--although I hope he had some idea.  There wasn't a time when I got to work with him that I didn't smile afterwards and think how lucky I am to know such a shining star.  His depth of knowledge, something I would call brilliance, held me in awe, and yet I'm not sure if I ever saw an ego.  Bob just wanted to share the gifts he collected, whether it be from his garden, books he read or stories about travel.  His, what I would call a photographic, memory just made everything he shared that much more vivid.  

I don't know how to honor someone who is no longer made of cells and water but I feel the need to try.  Here are some things I will never forget about him, things that are just so specially "Bob".

-He would bow to me each time he saw me, not one of those half bows, but the full kind left for royalty, and would say "Glorious Leader!"--to which I would in turn bow and say "Glorious Follower!"

-If I got him talking about Zinfandel wine, it was magical.  The only thing which seemed to make him happier was talking about his grandkids.

-Bob had such a refined palate.  We would have mini contests while I trained him by talking about one ingredient and seeing who could top each other on ways to prepare it.  He won...always.

-He would visit anyplace I told him I liked on my travels or from my hometown, Minneapolis.  Somehow I got him so hooked on Kramarczuk's and Surdyk's in Northeast Minneapolis that he filled his car with sausage and wine each time he visited his kids up there.

-He loved animals, so much so that I think he felt their pain.  Although killing is a part of farm life, he lived on a farm with his wife, it was never easy for him.  He and his wife sought out the most humane way or place to take a life and he honored each animal that was taken.

-His sense of humor needed an extra cup of coffee to keep up with. Bob thought at such a rapid pace that if I wasn't 100% on my game, I'd be lost.  His wit and ability to find humor in almost anything blew me away.  He and another client of mine would spew out limericks during class--always outdoing the last--and boo at each other when one would falter.  This would cause a fit of laughter amongst the rest of us who were too slow to even try to keep up.

-Bob was one of the most caring, thoughtful men I've ever met.  Almost every kind gesture was made in quiet--not wanting any recognition or thanks--he just did really nice things because he wanted to.  He cared so deeply for his wife, friends, family (he considered his friends family I think), and pets.  It was that type of caring that just "is" with no ulterior motives.  Something I can only strive to coming close to.  

-And finally, he was just okay being himself.  I loved this about him.  He'd show up in Duluth Trading Company Firehose pants, a blue button up shirt, dirt from the farm under his fingernails, hair sometimes askew, he'd joke that he smelled like the goats (but I never thought so) and yet he was still so composed.  I thought it was great someone could have one foot in a very civilized urban world (he loved Paris), and at the same time one foot happily stuck in the farm muck.  

I won't lie.  I'm really going to miss Bob.  Thankfully, when I ride out to see the baby goats, which will be born in March, a piece of him will be there waiting.  I have to thank Judy and Bev for introducing me to him and his wife, Donna, who supported his love for going to Harbor.

I chose this photo because I think it embodied Bob to the max.
Photo by Dipesh Navsaria

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Straw That Broke The Camel's Back--part 2

Pretty nice turnout for such cold/windy conditions--8 total

It was one year ago, almost to the day, that winter broke me.  I had given it a good fight, rode throughout one of the coldest winters on record--alone and in groups--even enjoying some of it, until the end of February when I had a sub zero ride and got frost nip (my first taste of this since dogsledding in the BWCA many years ago).

I remember the day so clearly, as if it were today, oh wait, today was almost exactly like that day last year.  This morning, as we rode down to the lake to meet up with our Sunday winter crew, I had a bad feeling.  I looked up at the flags and what I saw was them whipping in a 15-20 mph wind.  Sure the actual temperature was warmer than last week by a good 5-10 degrees, but there was no wind last week.  Since I hadn't had any "mishaps" with frostnip/bite this year, I thought I'd be okay.  Yeah, I won't be trusting those instincts again.

ice shanty hooked up to a bike on lake Monona
This all started with my cockiness from yesterday.  In our one "warm" day during a two week period--it hit 31 degrees--I fled the house with enough pent up energy to fuel ten people, and hit the farm roads.  Between my commute to a friend's house and the road ride, I covered a bit over 40 miles.  This would be a short ride in the summer, but in February, on 45mm knobby tires, it felt more like a 60-70 mile ride.  Feeling pleased with myself I didn't think too much about the following day.

As our group made its way around the lake, about half way through my feet started to lose feeling.  I lightened up on my pedal mashing (hard to do with flats and winter boots),  and started to wiggle my toes as much as possible but it was no use.  I silently fell off the back after telling my husband to go on without me and chose to walk a couple blocks--this normally does the trick.  After walking into the wind for several minutes, with no relief, I mounted my steed once again and pushed on around the lake.  When I hit the hospital, fitting, I know, I chose to warm up in the lobby.  I thought I was okay but the worst was yet to come.  A long stretch heading back into the cold wind sucked the life out of my feet again.  My heart rate and blood pressure began to redline and I actually got a bit concerned.  How could this simple little spin--one I do in a sundress and sandals in the summer for gods sake--zap me this much?

Hiding out in an apartment lobby--waiting for my toes an camera to thaw
Fast forward a couple miles and I got so bad I hid inside an apartment lobby for at least twenty minutes.  Here, I even took my boots off and massaged my feet.  Did I care if the security cameras were focused on my sorry ass?  Nope!  Again I mounted the bike and somehow got home.  When I took my socks off to hop in the shower I saw the damage.  My right pinkie toe was waxy and completely white.  Oh oh.  After a very long lukewarm shower (I was afraid to go hot knowing it could cause more damage), I saw some color come back into my toe--this after the searing pain of defrosting.  But then I noticed the color wasn't quite right.  It was dark purple bordering on black.  Shit.

So here I sit, hating winter royally and waiting/hoping for some feeling to come back into my toe.  Stick a fork in me 'cause I'm done.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Madison Bike Winter Bike-To-Work-Week

It's a bit too fitting for me.  As our governor, Scott Walker, makes sweeping cuts to anything bike and pedestrian related, we kick off our annual Madison Bike Winter bike-to-work-week.  I'm not sure if I should laugh at this scenario since it proves, no matter what, cyclists will take to the streets.  Or if I should cry, knowing we won't be getting a penny from governor scrooge to better situations for those who want to bike or walk as transportation.

In my e-mail to several state politicians, I carefully laid out that although some cyclists see winter biking as just a social activity, most see it as a clean form of transportation as well as a form of exercise.  In this modern world of obesity, type 2 diabetes, stress/anxiety disorders, and climate change, shouldn't we all be doing our part to turn things around?  WHY should we be making cuts to programs which support a healthier state?  WHY should we be taking funds away from bike/ped initiatives and instead placing them into highway projects?  I've said it before, and I'll say it again, Mr. Walker is a very sick man.

Thankfully, most of the cyclists in Madison, and across Wisconsin, have decided to show what's truly important to them and just keeping rolling.  During this week, every year, no matter the conditions, hundreds of supporters in Madison alone come out to celebrate year round cycling.  We bike to work (if it's feasible), we bike to gather with friends and we bike to show solidarity.

This year's winter bike-to-work-week, organized by our fearless leader Aaron Crandall, along with the help of tons of volunteers and sponsors, focussed primarily on winter commuting but also the social side of winter riding.  No one said spending fifteen minutes to get dressed for a quick ride was fun, but if one ditches the negatives, and instead thinks about some of the simple pleasures--seeing the stars on an icy cold night or morning, watching the shadows change with the blue tinged light, spotting animal tracks in the snow, taking swigs off of a flask and then passing it on to your friends who are laughing just as hard as you, taking off layers once you get inside only to find hoar frost has made your entire body its home and eating an entire pizza by yourself with no guilt whatsoever--finding pleasure in winter riding isn't so hard to come by and all that time spent layering and unlayering begins to become worth it.

Stray Cat Bicycles and Just Coffee join forces at one of the commuter stations

MBW began the week with a Sunday morning ride through the city--cut short a bit by the threat of freezing rain and sleet.  Across town, the inaugural Inukshuk fat bike race was being ridden/walked (the conditions were a bit mushy but fun I heard).  The rest of the week was jam packed with frozen goodness from a free breakfast put on by Whole Foods and commuter stations set up with free coffee, doughnuts and bacon (thank you Machinery Row, Stray Cat Bicycles, B-Cycle and Planet Bike!),  to a free maintenance class, Pilates and yoga, an evening chilly ride around the lake, and a end of the week party.  I took in as much as my work would allow, and I have to say it was a joy playing the "guess who's riding next to you since you can't recognize them under all the layers game"--something I'm not the best at.

Evening ride around the lake 
What was the best part of the week, other than talking my friends into lengthening a night ride (one wanted to force me to ride around in the dog park and burn off my energy so we could go drink beer earlier) and seeing so many of my partners in crime?  Yesterday morning, on my way down to the commuter station, a school bus pulled up next to me and I heard banging on the windows.  I could barely see since my glasses were fogged up while waiting for the light to change.  I pulled them down onto my nose and noticed a bunch of what looked to be 8-10 year olds waving feverishly and trying to get my attention.  I smiled and waved back, and then two of the kids gave me huge thumbs up.  Yes, that made my day/week/month.  Something so silly made the rest of my zero degree ride toasty warm.

Although last night's party was the official end to the week, today brings the U.S. Fat Bike Criterium on the capitol square.  It's supposed to be -10 with a strong windchill when the race starts.  No matter how much I want to cheer on my fellow winter riders and friends, I will be sitting in a sauna...waiting for spring!  Happy winter biking all!  Thanks Madison, volunteers and sponsors for making this yet another great winter biking year!  Finally, there was a nice little article in Madison Magazine written about riding here in the winter.  I was lucky enough to be a part of it with several good friends.

End of the week gathering at Brocah 

Laying down the snow tracks for fat bike criterium at the capitol

Coffee, Bacon and Doughnuts on the bike path put on by B-Cycle and Planet Bike

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Don't You Feel A Change Is Coming?

Can you feel it?  It's February.  Spring and change are right around the corner.  We've rounded the bend, I can "smell the barn".  It "should" be all downhill from here. 

When the clouds have all gone
There will be no more rain
And the beauty of all things
Is uncovered again
I couldn't resist snagging some of Cat Steven's lyrics for this post.  As a kid, he got me through so much change, to this day I don't know what I would have done without him.  I doubt many kids used vinyl as their "security blanket", but nothing could soothe me more than his voice.

And like any change--be it good or bad--I tend to fall back into my old ways, turning to music or bikes to get me through. During the past few days, when the air smelled of spring, and I felt a stir in my body pleading with me to go explore, I obliged. One day of hills on my own, one day of hills with friends and one day of slowly rolling over patches of ice with my Sunday riding crew.  Three days in a row of not feeling my ears forced to my shoulders made me hope change was about to occur. 

With this anticipated change of season, however, comes some bittersweet feelings.  I only have a few more weeks of "social" Sunday spins, the riding group will shift when the roads allow us to take out our fancy steeds, and I may not see some of these folks until late next fall.  I will also have to start taking training a bit more seriously if I hope to finish my spring gravel centuries without too much pain (honestly I'd rather just goof off and play on my bike, but that doesn't get me to the events I've grown to love). 

And so with this imminent shift, I begin to clean house, clean my mind and get ready for the adventures which are about to come. When I feel myself resisting slightly, I just remind myself of this poem:
Nothing that is can pause or stay
The moon will wax, the moon will wane,
The mist and cloud will turn to rain,
The rain to mist and cloud again,
Tomorrow be today

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Two Of My Favorite Frame Builders

Today I came across a blogger who interviewed two of my favorite frame builders--both in Minneapolis!

I've written about Chris Kvale and the love I have for his builds several times.  Some of you may not realize that I've essentially known this guy since I was in diapers--my father bought several frames from him.  I don't know one person who doesn't lust after his bikes (anyone who knows his work anyway) but to top it all off, he's unbelievably nice. 

Read more about Chris here.

The second interview is about Eric Noren--of Peacock Groove fame.  This guy breaks all the rules and boundaries.  Some love him for it, some hate him for it.  I'm the former.  His stuff is edgy yet beautiful, and each time I ride through Minneapolis, I find my bike steering towards his shop. 

Enjoy the guest blog posts!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Covered in White

I should be out with this crew right now!
We feel cold, but we don’t mind it, because we will not come to harm. And if we wrapped up against the cold, we wouldn’t feel other things, like the bright tingle of the stars, or the music of the Aurora, or best of all the silky feeling of moonlight on our skin. It’s worth being cold for that. 
~Philip Pullman, Northern Lights

I sit hear, on this first of February morning, nursing a slight hangover, and gazing out the window into a world of white.  I should be going through the process of layering synthetics and wool.  I should be riding towards downtown for more bike shenanigans with friends.  I should have gotten a fatbike last year so I could safely navigate multiple fresh inches of snow.  Instead, I find myself wallowing in good coffee and books.  Not all that bad, but not exactly what I wanted either.

Yesterday, at a bike gathering, a cycling friend told me he had been shocked to find out I didn't really like winter (he had read this in one of my older posts)--especially since I plan weekly winter rides.  Yesterday, while the temps were hovering around freezing, and we were able to ride with abandon, it was a bit easier to say "I didn't mind winter".  My reasons prior to today for not liking the burrowing months were the hassle of getting ready, the nagging soreness in the neck from shrugging against the cold and the lack of green.  Today, I could care less about all of that and I just really miss seeing my friends while riding.  In fact, as I sit here I realize that "off" feeling in my stomach really has nothing to do with what I drank last night, instead it is there because I'll have to go an entire week without seeing these fantastic folks.

It's funny how something so simple as good company can change your outlook entirely on weather.  You could say "misery loves company" but I'll be a bit more optimistic and use the Japanese proverb "one kind word can warm three winter months".  Thank you Sunday riding crew for not only getting me to enjoy the winter but making me pine for our weekly spins.

All dressed up and nowhere to go
photo by John D