What if…?

The world of speculative fiction starts with that question and imagines a world to answer it. Ursula K. LeGuin is variously seen as a writer of fantasy or science fiction, but most of her work falls into the realm of speculative fiction – imagining a change in what we call human or how we see the world and then watching it play out. Some of those changes may just be an accurate look into our near future; others may be fundamental changes in our world (or set on other worlds).

“The Left Hand of Darkness” imagines a world without gender, in which humans go into heat but are otherwise asexual, and a world whose tropical regions look like earth’s polar regions, with the polar regions colder yet. How would that world play out?

“The Dispossessed” imagines an earth we have destroyed, a revolution ending in stalemate, and an anarchist rebel group settling on the moon while the capitalist rulers remain on earth. The two groups initially have nothing to do with each other, but what happens if your interests and knowledge are shared primarily by those on the other world?

“Vaster Than Empires and More Slow” posits a world with no animal life – only plants. Humans arrive to explore the world and slowly discover it is not what it seems initially. The world begins to appear to be interconnected and plants communicate with each other. This idea may have been far-fetched when written, but we now know that Aspen groves are clones – a single organism with a single underground root structure and many stems. We also know there is a vast underground fungal network and that trees share nutrients via this network – amd they are not just single-organism stands like the Aspens.

“The Word for World is Forest” (which I mis-remembered as the story above, so I re-read it recently) posits a world colonized by humans, inhabited by creatures humans think of as subhuman, and how formerly peaceful people rebel against that subjugation. The book was written during the war in Viet Nam and could be seen as an allegory for that war.

In “The Matter of Seggri”, LeGuin builds a world in which men live inside of a walled city and women live outside the walls. Male children are sent to be with other men at age 11. Women vastly outnumber men and men are used primarily to sire children (and also for recreational sex, working in “fuckeries”) and to provide entertainment via sports. The tale is told from multiple viewpoints (from the logs of explorers who visit the planet) and the world appears vastly different depending on who is telling the story.

LeGuin’s parents were anthropologists and studied the interaction between the modern world and the indigenous peoples of California and South America, so it seems an extension of their work that she plays with the interaction between colonizing humans and other worlds. She wrote many books and stories based on the Hainish universe, an interstellar network of humans, with the center of their civilization being the planet Hain, and Earth being one of the worlds colonized by them in the distant past.

Not germane to the topic, but I couldn’t resist. I never thought of this device as a “food waste disposer” but that is where we dispose of our food waste after digestion.

Half-fast fall colors tour

Being (mostly) old retired people, we decided to do our annual half-fast fall colors ride twice. Episode One was this week. Four of us headed out after breakfast at the Jaybird Cafe (resurrected from the old Blue Spoon Cafe, an experiment by Culver’s that did not survive the apocalypse pandemic.)

Morning sun over the Wisconsin River

We realized en route that we retired in the opposite of age order, meaning the nearly 74 year old Rollie Fingers is still working, and the merely 65 year old Tim Buctoo has been retired for years.

We traveled some of the roads from the coast to coast tour. Here is one of the route arrows. Luckily this is our home territory, so we didn’t have to follow the arrows, as we were going the other way.

We headed across the Wisconsin River via a route that required crossing it a second time (via ferry) before lunch. There was a chill in the air as the fog lifted. Tights, jackets, and full fingered gloves were in order until lunch at the Little Village Cafe in Baraboo. This time we saved room to split a slice of pumpkin bourbon cheesecake before the ride back to Prairie du Sac. We traveled in a counter-clockwise direction, saving the hills for after lunch. A bottle of bubbly was chilling for the end of the ride. Life is tough when you’re retired.

Episode Two will be in a couple more weeks. You’ll hear about it here first.

Peninsula Century

Thirty six hours of steady rain; not hard, just non-stop until three inches had fallen. These are not ideal conditions to prepare for a century ride. Then again, after riding across the country and maybe half-a-dozen centuries in the process (so who’s counting?), I oughta be able to do it anyway.

The bike needed more prep than I did. New chain, front derailleur, water bottle cages (I’m trying the cageless bottles that came with the bike); as well as a thorough cleaning.

Don’t do this to your derailleur

In lieu of training, I went kayaking once the rain stopped. It was a beautiful late summer day, temperature in the 70s (25 C), no wind. Gliding by a pier I noticed a Great Blue Heron standing on someone’s boat hoist. It stood so still, for a moment I thought it was a superbly realistic sculpture. Then it turned its head ever so slightly to show me it was alive. I met another half-fast rider at a lakefront biergarten to taste the local Oktoberfest. He mentioned that he is doing the ride also and asked if he could share my campsite. The century forecast is for a day much like today, with a storm rolling in the next day. Packing up wet is no big deal. I did it about 50 times this summer.

The shakedown cruise went well. Everything worked for a little 15 mile spin around the lake. The car is packed and ready.

On the way to Door County, one must pass through the belly of the beast. I passed a sign reading “Trump. Do you miss him yet?” This of course brought to mind this Dan Hicks song.

As we ate dinner the night before the ride, Alfred, Lord Tennyson remarked about the aggressiveness and cunning of the lcoal raccoons. I said, “You mean like the one who is trying to get into your tent right now?” A ‘coon was just crawling under the fly into the vestibule. We convinced it to depart and soon heard yelling from a nearby site.

It was a nearly perfect day for a bike ride. Coffee and breakfast in the dark, but warm enough to do that in bike clothes. Departure at 0700, The temperature was 70 degrees (21 C). It was windy, from the south, which meant headwind early and tailwind later.

At about mile 80 there were 2 signs at the same intersection – one pointing left and one straight ahead. I pulled out a map to check. The main route headed north (straight) and was a figure 8 loop, returning south into the headwind. If I turned left, it shortened the route, meaning cutting out about half of the remaining time into the headwind. With nothing to prove, I turned left, cutting the 100 mile ride to 89 miles. Since I was parked in front of a coffee shop, I could stop in for a cortado while I cooled down, then change clothes and head to the post-ride party for food and beer. I did that, then waded in the bay to cool my feet.

Al Johnson’s restaurant in Sister Bay, with sod roofs.

We went back to the campground for a shower and a brief rain shower. Dinner was popcorn and a Spanish red wine.

The real excitement came the next morning. After packing up I noticed a flat tire on the van. I dug out the compact spare (requiring some unpacking and removing a secret panel). I removed the flat tire and installed the spare. Once there was weight on it, it became clear that there was little pressure in that tire. I called AAA for help. Meanwhile, Alfred, Lord Tennyson tried to start his car. The battery was dead. The mechanic arrived and inflated my tires and checked for leaks. He found that the valve stem was leaking on the real tire. The compact spare worked (though recommendations are to drive not more than 50 miles at not more than 50 mph). With 200+ miles to home, that didn’t make for a good plan. It being Sunday, not much was open for repair options. He started Lord Tennyson’s car and took my tire to his shop to repair.

Meanwhile, I re-pitched my tent, since it was clear I’d be staying another night. While pitching the tent I charged my power bank with the solar charger. I set them up on the picnic table at an adjacent empty campsite, since it had sun and we didn’t. Within minutes they were stolen.

Late afternoon the call came that my tire was fixed. I went to pick it up and the guy was nice enough to remount my regular tire so I wouldn’t have to do that back at camp. The price was $20 and listening to stories for a couple of hours and looking at all of his cars.

We drove to a sports bar to watch the Packer-Bear game for the evening. When we got back to camp, ALT gave a loud yell. He had forgotten that he left a couple of wrapped chocolates in his tent. A raccoon had unzipped the tent door, crawled inside, and unwrapped and ate the chocolates. There was also a bit of cocoa powder in the tent so the bandit left chocolate footprints on Tennyson’s bed on his way out the opposite door. Yeah, that raccoon was ambitious enough to open two zippers.

Monday morning I was up and out early, stopping for breakfast on the road. While away the 2022 coast-to-coast jersey arrived at home. Here it is:

Update: since I scheduled this for the wrong day, I can add that ALT found a soft tire on the day he was leaving, limped into town for air, and found a screw in his tire. He then had to stop for tire repair before the driver home. I guess we should stick to bikes.

It takes all kinds

There are all sorts of riders on this trip. There are those who look like they can barely walk when they get up in the morning, yet they mount their bikes and ride 60+ miles. Some are riding EFI (“every fucking inch”). Others ride part of each day and take the sag wagon for the other part. Still others pick and choose their days to ride. There are those riding on one or two artificial knees, and one riding on his second heart. There are the “big kids” who ride at breakneck speed and are the first ones in every day, and the one who looks like the little brother yelling, “Hey, wait up!”

There are those who leave at the crack of dawn (skipping breakfast) and those who get in at sunset (barely in time for dinner, much less changing and showering).

There are those who ride as though oblivious to the traffic around them, roaming across the lanes while shooting video, and those who ride in rigid pacelines. There are those who stop to take pictures of everything. There are those who ride with the same person every day, never leaving each other’s side, those who ride alone, and those who wander among groups.

Some sleep in their tents no matter what. Others stay in a hotel every chance they get. Some sleep on elaborate beds (one inflatable bed is about 2 feet thick) while others sleep on the thinnest of pads.

A group joined late and ride together every day in matching clothes. Multiple pairs and small groups have formed and become inseparable.

There are couples, a father and son, mother and daughter, mother and son, pairs or groups of friends, people who met on prior cross-country rides and wanted to meet up again, people who knew no one when we started. Some are probably already plotting when they will see each other again, seeming to be lifelong friends by the end of the ride despite never having met before.

There are those who ride all over the world, spending more time on their bikes than at home; those who have done this multiple times; those who completed their crossing in smaller chunks over a series of years; those who returned to repeat a favorite week; those who came just for the last week to say goodbye to the Trail Boss upon his retirement.

We ranged in age from early 20s to late 70s. There were a couple of bike racers, a couple who lead tours of their own, some using up all of their vacation time, some enjoying one last fling before embarking on a new career.

Who rides a bike across the continent? Years ago, it was mostly young people who were “between jobs” or taking a break between school and work, before entering the “real world”. Now it is often retirees and school teachers. The ones who worked in high tech jobs tend to be younger. They could afford to retire years before those of us in service jobs.

Cycle America has a weekly awards night, in which riders give each other awards. They used to be light-hearted and mostly inside jokes. This year they were almost entirely heartfelt thank yous for services provided, like helping to fix a flat tire.

As a result, most of my awards were not given out, but will be today.

  • The Dread Pirate Roberts Award: given to a rider who could do it all – ride fast up hills, on flats, through headwinds, and shoot video while riding. He was also an all-around good guy, helping others under tough conditions. [The award was a black mask.]
  • The Beast Mode Award: given to a rider who, after an electronic shifter failure, rode through the Black Hills on a single speed bike. Folks rode high-end racing bikes, touring bikes, e-bikes, gravel bikes, cross bikes, mountain bikes, commuter bikes – but she was the only one to ride a single speed through mountains for a day. [The award was a hat in the form of a bison head.]
  • The Hammerhead Award: given to a rider who rode hard. At the beginning she followed a stronger rider. By the end she was among the strongest in the group. At first she just rode as fast as possible. Later she was stopping to see the sights. Rumor has it she was the fastest up Whiteface Mountain, leaving her former mentor in the dust. On a windy day, she rode back several miles in order to help several other riders cut through a nasty headwind. [The award was to be a child’s toy hammer.]
  • The Eeyore Award: given to a rider who has crossed North America multiple times but still finds something to complain about almost daily – the course was too hilly, too boring, too long; there was too much lasagne. He took shortcuts, often deleting the most scenic part of a ride in order to reduce the mileage. Yet he was lovable in his own way and frequently stopped to help others. [The award was to be a stuffed donkey.]
  • The Nancy Sinatra Award: given to a rider who made it up every hill, but often by walking. I was worried about the state of her cleats so wanted to give her some boots that are made for walking. [The award was to be a pair of white go-go boots.]
  • The “Yes I Do Own the Whole Damn Road” award: given to a rider who tended to be oblivious to his surroundings. He often wandered into the other lane, or stayed out in the traffic lane when cars approached from behind. [The award was to be a title deed to “The Whole Damn Road”.]
  • The Stop and Smell the Roses Award: given to a pair of riders who were among the first out in the morning, always the first in at the end of the day (which was often before noon for them). I wanted to remind them that the east coast would still be there even if they didn’t get there first, and that there was scenery worth looking at, rather than just looking at each other’s back for 4000+ miles. [The award was to be a plastic flower for each – I carried them for a couple thousand miles but never actually presented them.]
Cranes waiting for clinic to open
My new riding partner
If it came any closer, I could have touched it

Parts of this post were written while on the road but never published. Other parts were written after getting home from the trip. Last week I went to get a post-ride massage. Waiting at the clinic entrance were a pair of sandhill cranes. I rode a few laps around the parking lot to give them time to move, time for me to cool down, and to wait for the clinic to open. After parking my bike, the cranes wandered back to check it out. While I was sitting on a bench reading email, I heard a sound close by and looked up to see one of the cranes (last picture) about three feet away from me.

Back from the trip, I am often sleeping in until sunrise. Hanging laundry this morning, there is a distinct feel of fall in the air.

Crane/My Sunday Feeling

After my short jaunt on the bike Wednesday, a half-fast friend called about a ride on Thursday. I had afternoon plans so we had to go in the morning. We took variation 17A to Paoli. I just made that up. I’ve written about riding to Paoli before; a popular destination before I began riding there nearly 50 years ago. We rode a different route than I’ve ever taken.

One can no longer fill one’s water bottle at the town pump. They removed the handle early in the pandemic and have not put it back. Or else the pump don’t work cuz the vandals took the handles.

We came home through the arboretum. Just past Longenecker Garden we came upon a woman standing in the road photographing a sandhill crane standing in the road. We slowed down and passed between them the only line available. The human seemed to take more notice of us than the crane did.

As we rode away, I marveled at how inured to humans cranes have become in the past few years. Just then a shadow passed over me, close enough that I ducked. The shadow had a huge wingspan, appearing bigger by the fact that it was no more than five feet above me. I looked up to see a crane (the same one?) soaring just out of reach and then landing in the grass twenty feet off the road.

Photos: a selection of local cranes; none the crane from this ride, to the best of my knowledge.

My Sunday Feeling

Sunday is still laundry day, retirement or not. It was gratifying to see that there were no socks when I hung my laundry. No socks means no work. The newspaper today reprinted an editorial from 1922 asking “Is the barefoot boy a vanishing institution in our cities?” Bill Camplin, in his great 1993 kids’ album “Flying Home”, said “I Will Never Wear Shoes”.

“I Will Never Wear Shoes”. Bill Camplin, from the album “Flying Home”

Saturday is the day that retirement really sunk in. I went to the big local farmer’s market – I haven’t been able to go to that market on a non-holiday weekend for 22 years. I saw my old friend Bob and he showed me a poster they placed near his stand to commemorate the market’s 50th anniversary. It was a picture of him at his market stand in 1973. When I became produce manager at the co-op in 1975 I began buying apples from Bob and his cousin Edwin. Edwin doesn’t go to the market but Bob’s wife Jane does. She wanted to talk about bike touring, as she has toured England and France and the coast-to-coast trip intrigued her.

Wednesday Night Bike Rides no longer have to be on Wednesday nights, nor at night, for that matter. Monday afternoon the half-fast cycling club returned to one of our favorite Wednesday night rides out of Mt Horeb, touring the hills of western Dane and eastern Iowa Counties – the edge of the Driftless Area. Dinner followed at a Mt Horeb brewpub. Having just watched the Tour de France over the past few days made me wonder how/if these hills would be categorized on their system.

By the time you read this, my bike and gear should have arrived via van and trailer from the east coast. The bike will need some TLC before it returns to the road for the Peninsula Century Challenge next month.