Friday, April 24, 2015

Of earth, stone, moss, wood and water.

How must it be
to be moss,
that slipcover of rocks?—

greening in the dark,
longing for north,
the silence
of birds gone south.

How does moss do it,
all day
in a dank place
and never a cough?—

a wet dust
where light fails,
where the chisel
cut the name.
-Bruce Guernsey

    I needed to escape.  To take a few, okay six and a half, hours away from it all.  I needed thoughts to rattle around in my head, needed to take deep breaths--breathing in the scent of burning prairies, moss, wet earth, minerals, pollen and manure.  These things soothe and repair me.  They are healers in their own right and I'm not quite sure what I'd do without them.

Limestone calving off like a glacier
    I never really liked riding crushed limestone trails.  There was something that seemed so mundane about miles upon miles of 1-3% gradient changes and riding under a constant canopy of trees and invasive species.  My butt and shoulders always hurt after doing long rides on these trails and my mind would go a bit stir crazy.  And then, somewhere in my mid 30's, I started to enjoy them.  No, I didn't want to ride them all the time--especially being a lover of hills--but there was something these trails could give me that regular road riding couldn't.

    It's hard to explain what happens to me on these trails--especially the H8TR (some know it as the Badger State Trail).  I start letting my mind relax, along with my breathing rate.  I find a rhythm and rarely change my pace or gears.  The whole experience is somewhat zen like to me.  I begin to notice small things, like the changing colors between moss and lichen.  I watch birds and their rituals (I was treated to a plethora of flickers and hawks today).  I watch the clouds.  And I usually realize how lucky I am to be alive.

    As my friends in the Twin Cities fight like mad to prevent the River Bottoms from being paved, and there is some discussion of paving more of the H8TR, I wonder what will happen to the moss, rocks,  trees and my state of mind if I can't get this little escape in once in awhile.

Another blog I really like!

Chad, along with about ten other of my friends, will be taking on TransIowa this weekend.  They have all put in so much time training both mind and body.  They will all be tested with rain, wind and cold temps.  These are the folks I consider my heroes.

Here's Chad's latest post:

Monday, April 20, 2015

Crushing Gravel part 9: Who needs Christmas when you've got Dairy Roubaix?

Looking forward all I saw were really great friends

And looking back was the same!

There are two weekends I look forward to every year more than any other...Riverwest24 and Dairy Roubaix.  The moment the weekends come to a close, I start dreaming about the following year.  Sad, I know, but these weekends are so truly awesome on all levels no words or pictures could possibly explain.

I'll do my best to give you a glimpse of what this year's Dairy Roubaix brought, but really, you just need to experience it yourself.

After a long, cold winter and a windy, cold spring, the sun gods somehow blessed us yet again Earth Day weekend.  A few friends of mine and I found ourselves out in Wyalusing park--near the meeting points of the Wisconsin and Mississippi river--prior to others showing up to help Stew and Michelle set up for the 250 riders who were about to stream into the park.  75 degrees with sun and light winds made it feel like heaven.  The beer Kevin from Red Eye brought for us was the icing on the cake.  As the groups started rolling in to check into the cabins, it began to feel like adult camp with reunions, stories of recent adventures, a bit of poking fun and smiles all around.

Honestly, I didn't want to go to bed.  Several friends noticed I was staring off into space around 10:30 but I was happy to be staring off into space in this environment.  In fact there's no other place I'd rather be a zombie.  Finally, however, around 11pm I called it quits knowing I wanted to be able to ride the next day and help with last minute registration.

At 5:30am I was so pleasantly awakened by the song of birds and a lightening to the sky.  Doesn't take much to get me out of bed to drink coffee and ride with friends in a beautiful location.  As I sat checking people in, the time flew by getting to catch up with those I only get to see a few times each year.  I'm always surprised how many of my groups of cycling friends overlap at events like this and it couldn't make me happier.

Miles and miles of views like this

Rolling.  Like every year the rollout is a bit discombobulated.  Some folks vie to be out front, some want to stick with their groups, others are just out wandering.  I'm kind of a mix between all three.  Believe it or not, the nerves are still a bit wonky for me prior to any gravel ride until a couple miles down the road--then, everything falls into place and I'm just satisfied being out there.  The night prior, I was told by a couple friends that fresh gravel had recently been laid on several roads (I don't like fresh gravel).  They knew this from doing a pre-ride shakedown.  I look back and laugh now since I asked Stew, one of the ride organizers, quickly following that what he thought of the conditions since I heard it was a bit harder this year.  His response was "I don't know, I think it's softer".  I took that as meaning "easier" and he meant it that way, but when we did hit the dust piles and loose stuff, I began to laugh thinking he had teased me by using the term "softer".  Amazing what goes through your head on gravel rides.

The miles ticked by, I hated my tire choice (skinnier and a different model than what I'm used to), the hollows kept coming one after another.  I actually forced myself to stop twice just to appreciate the beauty surrounding me--something I won't do if I'm riding with a group.  A few more miles down the road and several friends caught up to me.  We rode to the half way point together, in awe of Dugway Hollow (also known as Doug Way) and laughing about the dusty conditions.  At the half way point I took in half a banana and a shot of brandy (one of my friends and I twisted each other's arm into doing it).  Another friend, who must have seen me having mild issues navigating the fresh gravel on the descents came up and squeezed my tires checking their pressure.  I knew he was going to do it, I even teased him about it, but I was too nervous to get a pinch flat so I left them as is and told him not to judge me.  He was right of course, they should have come down 5-10 lbs (I thought about this as I lost traction on the climbs in the dust).

The last half of the short route is my kind of ride.  More climbing with a beauty of an ascent capping it off up to the park.  There's something about multi-mile climbs with a doable grade I can't get enough of.  I fall into a rhythm with my breathing and pedal stroke and just "check out".  The best part about climbing C is there's a borer goat farm up at the top.  The other best part is that only a few short miles away, there are coolers with beer--on the other side of a cross course that is.

Those last few miles were ridden with one friend--we split up from the rest of the group somewhere back on the gravel.  Although I made the park entrance ahead of him, I was the rabbit and he caught me going into the cross course.  If I'm going to be caught and passed by someone, it's nice to have it be a riding buddy!  We both plopped down on the grass and waited for the rest of our crew to roll in...with beers in hand.

The rest is a blur.  Food was eaten, more stories were told, more beer was consumed, a hike down to the river happened sometime in between the rest of the 54 milers rolling in and the 107 milers making it back.  I think I showered...god I hope I showered.  The cross course was taken down, a bonfire was made after sunset, I used a friend as a pillow--I wasn't the only one to do so, hot dogs were lost in the fire and I finally found myself on my bunkbed.  As I slept, silly comments from the day danced in my head.  Things like "that's the smell of death","just another day at the beach", "I can smell myself on morning rides", "do you ever smell your septum ring?" and some ridiculous conversation about roundabouts made me laugh in my sleep.

What?!  I wasn't really drinking them both at the same time!
photo by Marc Sharer

Hiking post ride

Two of the coolest guys I know coming in from the 107

Sadness is always a bit of a cloud when packing up early Sunday morning.  It's hard leaving not only a place like this but saying goodbye to friends.  A huge thanks go out to Stew and Michelle for putting on another kickass event! Hope to see many/all of you next year on earth day weekend!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Finding Strength From Friends

Endurance is not just the ability to bear a hard thing,
but to turn it into glory.
-William Barclay

The willow is my favorite tree.  I grew up near one.  It's the most flexible tree in nature and nothing can break it--no wind, no elements, it can bend and withstand anything.

I'm always amazed by how friends know when to push, when to ease up and when to step away.  I've found many of my friends have taught me to be more "willow like" in my way of thinking and living. This weekend of riding was just that--a test of how pliable yet strong I could be.  Although I've done bigger miles, more hills and harder rides than the two I did this weekend, I was pushed into a different level of knowing my strengths and who I am because of these great friends--some old, some new.

I sit here, legs so fatigued I can barely walk down stairs, eyes so tired I could fall asleep sitting up and with one hell of a grin on my face.  One ride, which totaled 96 or so miles, with two stronger riders and one fairly matched rider made me question what the hell was I thinking when I signed up for this.  I was pretty good 'til after lunch and the turn around point and then zap--all the umph from my legs was gone.  Being a person who hates having friends wait up for me, I instantly went into my "guys, go ahead...I'm fine, I'm just going to take my time rolling back" mode.  The answer from one of my friends was "Nope.  We'll slow down.  We've got all day...finish this together."  I'm not sure if my sigh was audible, but at that moment I just had to suck it up, dig deep and roll on.  I thought to myself, "well, if I fall off my bike somewhere and end up in the fetal position on the side of the road, maybe one of 'em will come back pick me up".  Thankfully, this didn't happen.  I finished the ride--in a painfully slow manner--but with a smile on my face (especially once that first sip of beer touched my lips).  I felt good.  Almost like I had accomplished something, even though that something was just a long, hilly ride.

When I finally rolled home, showered, and ate more, I realized "shit, I have to wake up and do this again tomorrow."  I woke at 6:30am to the sound of the wind already rattling the windows.  20+ mph winds to start, ramping up to 25 as the day wore on.  This was not going to be pretty.  But, I had my friends with me, I was on my bike, the views from the top of the climbs would be beautiful, and yes, although I wasn't sure of it at the time, I would survive.

The miles ticked by along with the hills.  The wind shifted to make it seem like we were always going into the wind and I remember laughing hysterically at times because I found the wall like wind to be funny (I'm not sure if I get this joke now).  Towards the top of a few of the climbs I thought I may puke a bit, but then I didn't so I rode on.  It was warm, the sun kissed my face, once again I was on my bike with friends, and although my legs felt like lead, I was so blissed out just "to be".

At the end of the second ride, I knew I hadn't ridden fast or strong but I finished both with only small complaints about the wind.  I finished next to friends, with a beer in hand, and wanting to repeat this entire scenario every weekend.  I can't thank these guys enough for knowing when to push me--in a nice way--and getting me out there to play all damn weekend.  Cheers!

End of ride #1
photo by Marc Sharer

End of ride #2--yep, same place

Wednesday, April 1, 2015


Any of you who have read my blog for awhile know I'm a bit too introspective at times while riding.  I tend to come up with the oddest connections between the cycling world and the world off two wheels time and time again on solo rides, and today was no exception.

This morning marked my first pre-dawn Wednesday ride of the year.  Over the past few years, I have come to cherish Wednesday mornings almost as much as weekends.  You see I tend to pull 12-13 hour days on Tuesdays and push my clients later in the morning on Wednesdays so I'm able to get out for at least a 25 miler, preferably a 40 miler prior to work.  These rides are almost always solo, and I've made some of the biggest decisions of my life in this two hour window.  There's something so special to purposely set time aside just for me, my bike and all those thoughts rattling around in my head ( can almost hear them since not much else is in there).

Because of some construction, I headed southwest vs. my usual straight west today.  The first three miles were so riddled with red stoplights--I hit every one of them just as they turned red--that I actually began to feel a bit pissy.  When I hit the fifth one, in a matter of a mile, I let the f bomb slip from my lips.  Within a split second I forced myself to reevaluate.  I was on my bike, with not a whole lot of wind, getting a beautiful 30 miler in prior to work, and I was mad.  There was something very wrong with this picture and I knew it.  A brief shake of my "what should be empty" head and I let a song slip into its forefront.

There's so many things going on inside my head
so many people in there.
This sunny day I took 'em all onto the road
drove to the mountains and the mountain air.

And I don't mind gettin' stuck behind this schoolbus today
this summer I've been so lazy.
This moving slowly only gives me time to think
to clear my mind 'cause it's so hazy.
-Chris and Johnny
Schoolbus from Miles and Means

Once I could get past that pissy attitude, I let myself see the possible meaning of being stopped at every red light on my entire ride (yes, there were several at the end as well).  It was like the world kept pushing a pause button for me.

Over the past few weeks, I could have used these stoplights or pause buttons multiple times while off the bike.  In spring I get a bit stir crazy and tend to act somewhat impulsively off the bike.  I say and do things that should have been left in my head to ponder a bit more before acting upon and once in awhile find myself in a bind.  Hopefully I learned a bit from these stoplights today and I'll be okay with unclipping in real life, even for just a few moments,