Vehicle to Something Greater

Why do I (or you) ride a bike? There are answers aplenty, from the environmental to the physical to the metaphysical. I could be serious or snarky and write a column a day to answer that question. Maybe I will.

But I found one answer in 1994 and have held onto it ever since. This was from Mike Ferrentino in the magazine California Bicyclist. I tried to reach him for permission to reprint this. (I don’t think the term “reblog” existed back then.) With no reply this week, I’ll go ahead and run it.

The Bicycle, Vehicle to Something Greater

It has been a long week. The daily commute has been a hard grind, headwind going both ways kind of thing. You’ve been choking back diesel fumes and dodging dogs the whole time, only to arrive at work tired, and return home more so. It rained on Wednesday – hard, driving, sleety rain – and left you with a head full of snot for the weekend.

And your boss has been riding you like a worn out nag. The ride home serving only to process murderous thoughts and dreams of escape.

And your legs feel like they are filled with lead. Maybe you’re thinking about that upcoming race, that all too soon century, and dreading that you’ll feel then like you do now. Thinking that you aren’t really training, just wearing down, one day to become so much useless pulp. Thinking that younger, faster, hungrier bodies are everywhere, waiting for you to drop and be replaced. Fresher cogs in the same relentless machine.

And maybe things are not so hot at home. Maybe you are spinning home to something you’d rather be flying away from, if only you could fly.

And the whole world seems to be falling to fucking pieces all around you. All your friends are riveted by the latest scandal du jour, while the government continues to bleed your hard earned pay into a joke, and the planet is nothing more than a bloodstained cesspool in the eyes of TV cameras. Life seems to comprise moments strung together, moments of ironic anonymous tragedy, moments of lunatic humor, no common thread but nonetheless connected.

And it’s more than just your legs that are tired.

And you think a lot about how nothing seems to really mean anything, or everything means nothing, or nothing is everything. And What Is The Point Of This?

And so you are riding home and your head is filled with all this white noise. Thinking about everything and nothing at the same time. It’s the end of another week. There’s a bus that’s been alternately trying to asphyxiate you, run you over, and inadvertantly (sic) offering a sheltering draft from the bitter wind. You note kind of absently that one of your gloves is beginning to unravel around the cuff.

Then the bus turns off. And maybe you notice it’s that time of day just after the sun has set and the sky is all shot through with gold and red streaks. There’s a bank of clouds above the western horizon that looks cast in bronze. The air tastes like dusk.

And it’s very quiet. One of those moments in the rhythm of time when everything seems to pause at once, and all you can hear is the hum of your tires on the road and the steady tide of your breathing. There’s something like honeysuckle growing along the roadside, and off behind that fence someone’s fired up the coals for a barbecue. A dog, invisible and distant, barks at your passage. Above you, a flight of swallows dip and swerve their way home. Breathe. The air is clean from recent rain, laden with the scents of life. Warmth rises from the tar as the day’s stored heat flees into the growing night. You feel almost, sort of,..good. In spite of everything.

And you are winding out alone up this slight rise before turning off to your home. And you are three gears higher than usual, and the headwind just isn’t there. All the barriers have disappeared.

And all the fear and fatigue just wash away like you’ve been in some cosmic shower. All the dirt of the world has gone somewhere else for a minute, leaving you alone in a perfect instant. You grab another gear, feeling right here and now that there is no end to the strength in your legs, no limit to the depth of your lungs or your heart’s ability to pump.

And it seems, right here, right now, that there are no limits to anything, anywhere. That if you wanted to, By God, you could fly.

And you do.


Take this moment. Tuck it away somewhere safe where you won’t lose it. Never forget this feeling. This fleeting moment when there are no limits to anything, and everything is therefore possible. Hold onto it with all you have.

Know that this is the glue that keeps some of us together. That without this there’d be a whole lot more folks stealing automatic weapons and heading down to McDonald’s. Remember that there will always be too much to do, too little time, and that you can only take solace in what you know.

Savor the accidental, perfect beauty of life in whatever small portions are dished out to you. And never question why you ride. Question only why you don’t ride more.

Mike Ferrentino
(photos by half-fast cycling club)

Remember to vote in Madison Magazine’s “Best of Madison“. Click on the “Vote Now” icon, go to “Arts and Entertainment” and vote for us as Best Local Blog. You don’t have to be local, half-fast does.BOM2019_728x90_1535470768232_12972537_ver1.0

Hot off the presses! The Half-fast Cycling Club coast-to-coast commemorative jersey!Identify the photo locations in the comments for fabulous prizes, or at least bragging rights in a blog nobody reads anymore now that the blogger is back to civilian life.

Is that all ya got?

Rode into the moonset on the way to work this morning. Watching it low in the west over the city skyline, I thought setting over the lake would make a better picture. By the time I got to the lake, the moon was nowhere in sight.

Left work in a hard rain. Within the first block, it turned into torrential rain, driven by a 30 mph wind in my face. I grinned and said aloud, “Is that all ya got?” I immediately regretted it and thought, “Be careful what you wish for.” I still had >5 miles to ride (though the wind would be a tailwind in a couple of blocks), my house is still sandbagged, the river is still out of its banks from the last round of storms, and the water has barely receded from its high point. A few roads have reopened. Bridges are out on both sides of Black Earth, where I rode yesterday.

I guess 105 miles in cold rain this summer changed me.

I just received our official totals from the summer. 4324.2 miles (not counting trips into town, doing errands, etc – just the official daily totals), 152,606 feet of elevation gain. Of course, the net elevation change was pretty close to zero – from sea level at the Pacific to sea level at the Atlantic; but don’t tell your legs that the net change was zero. They still have to lift you up those 150,000 feet. Going straight up, that is near the outer limit of the stratosphere. “Space” is typically defined as starting 62 miles up.

And here is the coast-to-coast official portrait. coast-to-coast


Gone Fishin’

Some days are just too nice to do whatever it was you were going to do. Some days, the bike just calls out to you and says, “Ride me!” Today is one of those days.

I know the story of the grasshopper and the ant. Some days you just have to be the grasshopper. Yesterday I was the ant. Today I need a new pair of shoes. I pretty well wore out my sandals over the summer. The best shoe store in town happens to be out of town, and happens to be in a great area for a bike ride.

VermontChurchTrue confession: I took the photo last spring, but I like it and I haven’t used it yet, and this is the area I rode today.

Warm and sunny, but fall is in the air. The low angle of the sun casts a golden light over everything. Corn harvest is in progress. The early plantings have been harvested, the late plantings are still green; in between, some look ready to these layperson’s eyes.

I rode some of my favorite roads today. There was a headwind for a while. I didn’t care. I was riding into the wind because I wanted to go that way, not because I had to get somewhere. It seems to make a difference.

No map. No cue sheet. I had a route planned out roughly in my head, but when I came to Ryan Road (along Ryan Creek), that looked like a good way to go. My plan fell by the wayside. That led to Moyer, the climb through Pleasure Valley to County F, and Brigham County Park, one of my favorite places in the world. 65B5FBD4-63F6-47C0-A4F1-8B44B88B37BBBy the time I got back to Black Earth I was hungry. The shoe store owner also owns a sports bar a few miles out of town. I thought I’d stop there for lunch and visit my dad. (The bar has pictures of sports figures and his picture hangs by one of the booths.) Alas, they were not yet open so food had to wait. Back home, it is suddenly cloudy. This grasshopper made it just in time.

Remember to vote for us in Madison Magazine’s “Best of Madison”. You’ll find us under “Arts and Entertainment” – “Best Local Blog”.BOM2019_728x90_1535470768232_12972537_ver1.0

Door County Century/ Best of Madison?

BOM2019_728x90_1535470768232_12972537_ver1.0.jpgThree weeks with no long-distance riding was enough. The Half-fast Cycling Club escaped to Door County, WI for a century ride on Sunday, September 9. (9/9/18, like an addition problem).

We left a narrow isthmus between two flooding lakes connected by a flooding river and headed to a narrow peninsula (looks like an island to me, since you have to cross a bridge to get to it) with Lake Michigan on one side and Green Bay on the other. At least this lake is still within its banks.


  1. There used to be a beach between the lifeguard tower and the lake. 
  2. Find the bike path in this picture.

I arrived in camp in darkness after the 200 mile post-work drive. Rather than pitch a tent, I slept in the back of the van. Dinner was PB&J with popcorn. Left camp in the dark in the morning and had breakfast in a diner in Sturgeon Bay, not wanting to make breakfast in the dark.

They were nice enough to give me my birth year as a bib number in case I forgot how old I am.B0325C29-B1BB-49B4-B0B2-48C068783903

In case we haven’t shown this yet, this is the back of the coast-to-coast jersey, with the flags of the countries and states of origin of the riders. You may note from all the Union Jacks that the former British Empire was well-represented. The marked cities are the weekend rest days.

We started out by riding a gauntlet of yard signs for a rogue’s gallery of Trump toadies, lest we think that Door County has gone soft.

I wasn’t used to riding in such crowds. I saw someone with rider number 2700-something. I frequently found myself speeding up or slowing down to escape a crowd. It was a bit chilly for the first 20 miles and anytime we hit a patch of sun I wanted to bask for a while.

Twenty five miles in I found a coffee shop for an espresso. For Tim, here’s a picture of that espresso; and the view,  through the coffee shop window, of riders in more of a hurry than we were.


There were water and snack stops every 15 miles or so. Every one had PB&J.

Door County is beautiful, with plenty of quiet back roads despite being a narrow peninsula. The wind came up in the afternoon to make sure the day wasn’t too easy.


FAQ (there was only one):
Q: After what you did this summer, this was easy, right?

A: Wrong. 100 miles is tough no matter what. Maybe if you’re an elite cyclist, 100 miles is easy. If you’re half-fast, it’s hard.

Oh, yeah. I had a another flat tire. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s, I don’t know, I stopped keeping score.

Best of Madison!


The Half-fast Cycling Club has been nominated in the Best Local Blog category in Madison Magazine’s Best of Madison competition.

If you like what you’ve been reading here, vote for us. The final voting period is from September 17 – October 31. Unlike round one, in which you can vote every day for what you think is best, in round two of final voting, you will only be able to vote once per category, so consider your pick and make your vote count! The ballot will be available on our website at