Madison Blues

A Republican governor once called Madison, WI “30 square miles surrounded by reality”. Thirty five years later the mayor proposed that as the city’s motto, updated to “77 square miles” because the city had grown. The city council rejected it by a single vote.

The council did, however, adopt the plastic pink flamingo as the official city bird in 2009. The pink flamingo became important to the city thanks to the Pail and Shovel Party, which ran for, and took over, the student government at the University of Wisconsin in 1978. The party got its name from a campaign promise. The student government controlled a large chunk of student fees. They promised to turn those fees into pennies and dump them into a campus fountain. Each student would be issued a pail and shovel and be welcome to whatever segment of those fees they could get into their pail. They failed to keep that promise, though they did keep their promise to bring the Statue of Liberty to Madison. Unfortunately, it sunk. (Image from They also placed 1008 plastic pink flamingos on Bascom Hill one night.

Morning of September 4, 1979 at Bascom Hall, 1979
Photo by Michael Kienitz

San Francisco has its 49 Mile Scenic Drive (which fits with their 49er theme). I decided it was time for a 77 Mile Square – 77 miles of that “reality” that surrounds Madison. The plan was to start at my front door (which is why I won’t share the route, in its entirety, with you), and then get quickly out of town and ride a (more or less) square route in the reality surrounding it.

The first iteration failed to get me completely out of town. The west side has grown tremendously and I found myself riding on the very unpleasant Pleasant View Road. The route needed some tweaking. Pleasant View was a nice road back in 1978 when the motto was “30 square miles surrounded by reality”; not anymore. The second attempt was a good ride, but too short. For the third version, I’m including an outline of the route as a loop – you can essentially start anywhere, and then I don’t show you my house. The length varies depending on how long it takes you to get to the loop. Don’t drive…that would miss the point. Here is a map approximation. Cue sheet on request. So far, mileages are not recorded. Maybe I’ll bring a pencil next time and write them in. Not quite a square; but then again, the city isn’t, either – being oriented northeast to southwest along an isthmus. The bulge in the northeast corner is to get around a shopping mall, an airport, and a marsh. Maybe it still needs work. Oh well, I’ll have to ride some more..;)

(Part of) Epic Systems from Northern Lights Road

Dancing at Lughnasa

We generally acknowledge 7 of the 8 major solar holidays. The current one gets short shrift. Since today’s ride is in celebration of the holiday, the midpoint of summer, it gets a little ink.
Autumnal Equinox – when day and night are of equal length
Samhain/Hallowe’en/Day of the Dead/All Saints Day – halfway to the winter solstice
Winter Solstice/Christmas – Shortest day of the year
Imbolc/Groundhog Day/Candlemas – halfway to vernal equinox
Vernal Equinox/St. Patrick’s Day/Ostara/Easter – day and night are of equal length
Beltane/Mayday – halfway to the summer solstice
Summer Solstice/Midsummer’s Night – longest day of the year
Lughnasa – halfway to autumnal equinox (Why this is not called midsummer’s night I don’t understand, as it comes in the middle of summer. “Midsummer’s Night” is at the beginning of summer.) I only learned the name of this holiday from the play “Dancing at Lughnasa”.

For the Lughnasa ride, the temperature was ~60 degrees (16 Celsius). The sun peeked out for a few minutes around 11:30 AM. Riding in a long-sleeved jersey and knee warmers did not seem like the middle of summer.

Ain’t that peculiar?

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_2072.jpg
I’ve ridden past this corner many times. Tonight I finally stopped for a picture.

I startled a pair of deer on a recent ride. Rather than run uphill away from me, they ran along the shoulder of the road for about 100 feet, then dashed across my path and headed down to the wooded creek bank. Trying to think like a deer, I imagined that they figured that if they were going to be pinned down somewhere, they wanted water and shelter. Either that or they’re just stupid, running across the highway in my path, instead of away from it.

I came around a bend quickly and encountered a pair of sandhill cranes. I braked and swerved to give them space. One paid me no mind. The other, with a few graceful wing beats, rose a few feet off the ground and soared 20 feet down the road, coming to rest in the road again. I was enthralled by how such a big bird could get airborne so quickly and gracefully, and come to rest so smoothly. Apparently it had realized I wasn’t a threat. Its partner was still strolling. Thinking anthropomorphically, I imagined the flyer was trying to be cool and pretend it hadn’t been startled. “I just decided to fly a few feet. It’s cool…”

Another red tailed hawk flew over head. I managed to keep both wheels on the road this time as I watched it soar by 15 feet off the ground. It helped that it crossed just ahead of me, rather than directly over head.

In my continuing Wednesday Night‘s Greatest Hits tour, last week I rode from Lodi to the Baraboo Bluffs, crossing on the Merrimac Ferry and climbing Devil’s Delight Road – short but steep enough to require switchbacks anyway. If any of you remember biorhythms (a popular schema in the ’70s), the theory posits that we have three rhythms that follow sine waves at different periods. If all three line up at the top of the wave, you have a great day. If they all line up at the bottom of the wave, it will be a bad day. Last Wednesday was one of those days. I had no energy. Every climb was a chore. Even going down was hard. There seemed to be headwinds in all directions. After climbing Devil’s Delight, I turned around and headed back down, short of the ridge and cutting at least ten miles off the loop I had planned. At least I got two ferry crossings in.

Luckily I saved the ride that is usually that week and did it tonight. The ride starts at Black Earth; if you see the ground being turned in the spring the reason for the name becomes obvious. The Black Earth Creek watershed contains incredibly rich, black soil – even after 150 years of farming. The route crosses the ridges multiple times, with five steep climbs. The person who wrote the cue sheet for this ride illustrated the climbs with evil grinning jack o’lantern demon faces. I felt much better tonight and the five climbs were great fun, as was the 5 miles along Blue Ridge Road, staying on the ridge until the 40 mph downhill. One of the ridges is occupied by the Camp That Must Not Be Named, where my daughter spent many summers and some winter weeks – and I was a counselor-in-training there 51 years ago. The route includes the “easy” side of Sutcliffe Road, meaning that the downhill side is the one where I have hit 50 mph on my steel bike. Tonight as I approached 50 mph I felt a little oscillation in the frame. Rather than just squeeze the top tube with my knees, I feathered the brakes. Either this bike feels less stable at that speed, or I’m just getting old.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_2073.jpg

One couldn’t ask for a better late July day for a ride…85 degrees (30 Celsius), dew point 59 (15 degrees Celsius), winds less than 5 mph, just enough clouds to give the place atmosphere, and the smell of corn ripening in the fields.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_2074.jpg

My post-ride beer was a timely one. I’d seen it in stores but hadn’t tried it. Since I forgot my church key tonight I needed something in cans, and voila!

While my guitar gently weeps

The song could have been written (but wasn’t) while listening to Peter Green. One more round from his guitar gently weeping. First is this BB King song, with an opening that sounds like Mose Allison could have written it – “I’ve got a mind to give up living/And go shopping instead”:

There is also a great 1968 live recording of BB himself available on YouTube; BB being the other great guitarist who knows it’s not the number of notes you play, but the soul you put into those notes. That recording also contains a great organ part and a horn funeral dirge. I’ve been listening to Peter Green all week. Slow blues may not be your cup of tea, but he and his guitar continue to weep with his own song:

It almost hurts to listen to Peter Green. He doesn’t play notes, he draws beauty and suffering from the instrument. His voice aches. But when the song is over, I feel at peace.

RIP Peter Green

The world lost one of its greatest and least-appreciated guitarists today. Peter Green (born Peter Greenbaum) has died at the age of 73.

Green replaced Eric Clapton in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers in 1966. When a producer expressed dismay that Clapton had left the band, Mayall replied, “Don’t worry. We got someone better.” Lucille Bogan’s “Sweet Black Angel”, made famous by BB King as “Sweet Little Angel”, was recorded by Mayall’s Bluesbreakers with Green on guitar.

Mayall introduced some of the best British blues guitarists to the world. Green, like the others, soon left to form his own band – Fleetwood Mac, with the rhythm section of Mick Fleetwood and John McVie (the only constants in that band’s long tenure). There he recorded his song “Black Magic Woman”. While most of the world associates this song with Santana’s cover version, here is Fleetwood Mac:

While Green was a phenomenal blues guitarist, he and Fleetwood Mac soon branched out, especially as they added additional guitarists. Here is Green’s instrumental “Albatross”:

With the album “Then Play On”, they went in another direction. Here is “Oh Well” from that album:

Green left Fleetwood Mac in 1970. Within a few years they had morphed into a phenomenally successful pop band; unrecognizable to fans of the original Fleetwood Mac. Green disappeared from the public eye after an unpleasant LSD experience in Germany. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia and underwent electroconvulsive therapy. He resurfaced a few times over the years, including in the 90s with “Peter Green’s Splinter Group”.

After all those years, it was clear he still had it. He reappeared one last time with “Peter Green and Friends”. While he could no longer tolerate the ravages of touring and his voice was shot, his fingers still worked, as did their connection to his heart. Here, from 2010, is his cover of “Oh Pretty Woman” (not the Roy Orbison song but the A.C. Williams blues song made famous by Albert King).

Peter Green 29 October 1946-25 July 2020.

This post may have nothing to do with bicycles, but it seems like everyone has the blues these days and could use a dose of the blues as treatment.


Adude I follow recently wrote “Without goals, we’re just meandering through life.” I looked up meander and found: “(of a river or road) follow a winding course”. I decided I was willing to cop to that.

If I’m in my canoe or kayak, would I rather be on a straight shot down the Mississippi, or following a meandering stream? I’ll take #2. On my bike, would I rather be on a road that cuts straight through on a grid pattern, or one that follows the contours of the land, a meandering stream, switchbacks through the mountains, or just the contours of hills and valleys? Gee, I guess I pick #2 again.

Is life a journey or a destination? As a destination, I guarantee you the destination is death. If you want to get there, I know a shortcut. I’m in no hurry. I’d just as soon meander my way there, stop and smell the roses, check out the view from lookouts along the way.

From my meandering, I’ve learned a thing or two about the necessities of life. Growing up I heard “food, clothing, and shelter”. What got me to look at that was my meandering. (Stop me if you’ve heard this one.) I started with food – first in restaurants and then in a retail grocery co-op. I left there for a low-income housing co-op. From there I went to a third world farming co-op, then a plumbing company, and then to a hospital. And that’s just talking about work, not life.

Along the way I learned about gravity. Water under pressure goes wherever you want it to go. Otherwise it falls down. Natural gas, if not under pressure, goes up. A building, if not constructed so that each part “falls onto” the part below (with the bottom “falling into” the earth), falls over. In martial arts, “the force” is gravity, not something mysterious from Star Wars.

Welcome back. If you read the post at the link, you don’t need the three paragraphs I wrote and cut. So the necessities of life, in my view, are: food, housing, (clean) water and sewage (disposal), health care, education, and community. Not bad for a life of meandering. And life is like a campsite – you want to leave it cleaner and in better shape than you found it.

But what about goals? It would be nice to say that I set a goal to explore the necessities of life and build a career by providing for those needs, but that would be a lie. I meandered into these.

As part of my job, I write goals with patients every day. They have to be functional, attainable, measurable, and time-bound. Do my life and leisure pursuits have to be that way, too?

On the other hand, I rode my bike across the country a couple of years ago. That was a goal. It required training. Training required a series of intermediate goals and actions taken in order to meet them. So I’m not poo-poohing goals completely. But goals are like wishes – they may have unintended consequences. When I hear that someone is “goal-driven” I want to barf. Hell, even my car isn’t driven very often. I’d rather not be driven. I’d rather have goals that are in service to me than to be in service to my goals.

I once went through a 14 day workshop. It was an ordeal. At the end, I couldn’t say much except that I’d gotten through it. I was miserable much of the time. I had trouble keeping my eyes open. I later figured out that the combination of ceiling fans and overhead lights made my eyes burn, and closing my eyes was more to defend them than because I was bored and sleepy. A baseball cap made a big difference. I took the 14 day workshop another time, and this time it was to do more than survive 14 days closed up in a room with a group of people. Surviving 14 days in a closed room doesn’t mean much.

And what do goals mean? Climbing Mt Everest might be a lofty goal. Reaching that goal entails a lot of money and a lot of sacrifice by a lot of people serving you who are not going to reach the summit. It entails a lot of garbage being left behind on the mountain. It often entails people dying. “Everesting” is a big deal now – climbing the elevation equivalent of Mt Everest, but doing it where you are. (So you could climb a 1000 foot hill 29 times – plus a little more if you’re a stickler.) Does that mean anything? Only if it does. In other words, any goal has the meaning you bring to it. Sometimes we as a society give meaning to something (so we keep track of who can run 100 meters the fastest). But is the setting of goals just an indirect means of attempting to bring meaning to life? (My life is meaningless, but if I can just accomplish X, that will mean something.) So do we give meaning to a goal, give meaning to life, experience that life (and our goals) have no inherent meaning (unless you experience that they do), and go on from there? Or do we recall when Flakey Foont asked Mr Natural, “What does it all mean?” Mr Natural’s response was, “Don’t mean sheeit.”

from Copyright R. Crumb