Sunday, November 29, 2015

F*CK the Cold!

Like it or not, it's that time of year again.  The time when most cyclists, in the Midwest anyways, retreat inside to crank out miles upon endless mind numbing miles on their trainer.  I applaud their mental strength...really, I do.  This way of training, however, is not my cup of tea.  I joke frequently in fact that I'd rather shoot myself than spend the winter on a trainer.

Instead of being warm inside, with music blaring to motivate me, I choose to ride outside--with any sweat that does leave my pores, freezing instantly, and the sound of studded tires and a rusty chain making a "delightful" beat.  Once in awhile I'll head out on my own, but this usually takes determination I don't I instead round up my friends who are as demented as I am and hit the trails or roads.

Do I call this type of torture (sometimes riding as low as -20F) "fun"?  Hmmm...well that depends upon the day you ask me and if it's before the ride or afterwards.  Having to leave the comfort of home, dress in so many layers I can barely walk, pack and repack my safety bag--making sure I have two of everything, and have my tears freeze my eyelashes shut isn't always fun, but it's necessary.  You see, getting outside for any activity, but especially cycling, is my form of therapy.  I would indeed go crazy if I didn't have this outlet.

Last weekend got the ball rolling well with the Freezaroo ride and the Madison Bike Winter fashion show.  This weekend I headed up North to the Fox River Valley to do a night gravel ride with the Diablos/Group Ride crew, got out on a short road ride and ended the weekend with the first F*CK the Cold ride of the year.

Civil twilight on a gravel trail in the Fox River Valley

The ice and mud left over from that ride

Okay, so the conditions weren't really that bad--all days hovering around freezing or just below--and I had really cool folks to keep me motivated two of the days (along with beer, whiskey and coffee).  But tonight they are calling for the most dreaded condition of all--freezing rain.  This is where things begin to get ugly and I start becoming a bit difficult to be around because I can't bike or run safely.  If I want to work out, I am forced to do so at the gym (please refrain from laughter because I work at a gym).

First F*CK the Cold ride
photo by Johnnymac

With hopes of the roads becoming ice free soon, I begin loading my schedule with outdoor group rides for the rest of the winter so I don't become a sloth like creature.  I beg of you...if you see me slouched on my couch with a piece of pizza in one hand, a recess peanut butter cup in another and a bottle of bourbon sitting next to me on the table, slap me silly and drag me outside.

If you see me with a beer, pizza, chocolate or bourbon in hand
after a ride...DO NOT take it away from me!  This one is a Christmas
Ale from Bare Bones Brewery (a bike benefits location!)

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Let the Zombie Apocalypse Begin!

I woke up Friday morning and started my day like most Friday mornings.  Since I usually have Fridays off from work, I tend to hit the grocery stores and Menards at an ungodly early time to avoid the crowds and mayhem (parents with children who are a) having meltdowns in the carts because they can't have the latest sugar cereal or b) choose to push the carts into the back of my legs when I'm not paying attention--I'm looking at you).

As I pulled into the parking lot at 8am I knew something was amiss.  It was nearly full.  What the hell?! Thanksgiving was still a week away.  Didn't folks realize that?  And then it hit me.  The first winter storm of the year was on its way into the Midwest and would hit Wisconsin at 5pm dumping, oh my god, 6-8 inches of snow *gasp* (this all written in a sarcastic tone).

You see each year, Wisconsinites act like the sky is falling (I guess it sort of is) during the first snow.  What will they do if they don't have their pantries and coolers completely stocked since everything could possibly shut down for *again gasp* 12 hours?

As I waited in the checkout line, which snaked down the grocery isles, I felt the queasiness begin to swell.  If I got all my chores done in a couple hours, I could manage a quick 30 miler in the hills on my road bike--most likely my last time on it until late March.  The tightening in my chest increased and I began to panic. No, no, no. Winter couldn't be here already.  I'm not ready.  I don't have my new winter steed completely built yet and I don't want to deal with icy street conditions not to mention the 20 minutes it takes to get ready for my 3.5 mile commute into work.  I started to go through the ridiculous 5 stages (with mother nature in mind) that will get you nowhere.  Denial (as mentioned above), anger (oh let me tell you about the anger--at the weather and myself for living in Wisconsin), bargaining (I had plenty of time to bargain while in line), depression, and finally acceptance.  I could hear her laughing almost instantly.

I went home, unpacked the groceries, left the house cleaning to be done for after the ride, and pushed out on two wheels into the cold wind.  I tried to savor every mile, but all I kept thinking was "from this point out, I'll be on heavy, wide tires and on platform pedals with winter boots on".  Although I'm a part of the winter cycling scene here in Madison, I'll be honest...I'm such a baby about it and if given the chance to move someplace warm for three months out of the year, I'd be all over it.

Around 5pm the snow began to fall.  I refused to look outside and when forced to drive to a friend's place, I pretended it was all just a dream.  I woke sometime in the middle of the night to that brightness only fresh snow can bring.  No, the lights weren't on, it was only the reflection of street lamps on the new white blanket covering my world.  I hid until I had to face it in the morning.


Still in denial but now armed with my new winter steed (thank you Johnnymac!!!).  I still refused to go out other than to drive home.  Instead of doing what all of my other winter cycling friends were doing (riding and enjoying the new snow), I chose to nap and eat and nap some more.  We will all just pretend that day didn't exist.


Forced to go out in the now bitterly cold temps (we'll call this a heat wave come January), I met up with my friends for the annual Freezaroo ride.  26 miles, 17 degrees, 13 mph South wind, hills, and a new bike.  I'm happy to say not only did I survive, but I had fun....shhhhh, don't tell mother nature.  It really was pretty, and layered up in my balaclava, winter boots and expedition mitts I was fairly comfortable.

Each year I have to switch my mindset from "fun" being an urban spin in a sundress or a century with sweat dripping off my limbs to it being "hot damn, I survived another ride with all of my fingers and toes!"  I think I've made that switch but only time will tell.  I'm sure I'll be pissy and moany many more times in the next three months.

Sunday's winter riding festivities ended with the fifth annual Madison Bike Winter Fashion Show.  It was the first year I wasn't a model and so I got the pleasure of socializing and heckling the other models.  A couple beers made my ride home seem easy--it's amazing what liquid courage does for the first few winter rides.

And so here I sit now, three days of winter riding under my belt with only one jackknife maneuver in my neighborhood that has now become a giant ice rink.  Life is good...or at least not as bad as I thought it was on Friday!

Heading out on the Freezaroo ride (notice my new winter steed)

Taken from the Freezaroo ride

5th Madison Bike Winter Fashion Show at Machinery Row

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Unbearable Lightness of Being

Always, around this time of year, I begin to feel this sense of being so unbelievable small.  With winter fast approaching, and my commutes by bike being in utter darkness, I find myself star gazing most early mornings.  At 5:30am, the world seems very quiet.  The big dipper, along with Cassiopeia, Orion and Pleiades guide my way.  They give me comfort knowing I will see them each clear morning.  They are, in some ways, my security blanket and they tether me to the ground.  So often, if I can't spot them right away, and I allow myself to scan the blackness, I begin to feel terribly insignificant.  The vastness of the sky overwhelms me in a similar way the great lakes or giant redwoods do.  This feeling of not knowing where the end is excites me and terrifies me all at once.

It is during this time of year I also get far too heady.  Nietzsche and Parmenides come to mind.  I start thinking about my role in this world, what I define myself as, what lessons I need to learn and what  my chosen boundaries are.  Am I limitless?  Does my physical state of being really matter?  Can I find that "thing" which connects me to all other living things?  Will I continue on the same road forever?  Yes, these things actually run through my head almost each dark morning I commute into work.  I don't expect to really find any answers.  I don't believe the stars will guide my way for this journey.  The one thing I know, I mean really truly know is that my bicycle is one of the best moderators out there.  It allows me to filter so much of this nonsense--with a simple push up a hill I can let these heavy thoughts drop behind me.

All too soon heavy snow will fall and all of my attention will be on staying upright.  There will be no room or time for nonsense.  It is this shoulder season that allows me to think of the "what ifs", "hows", and "whys"...and of course, it is the season for Monty Python.