Winter is back!

1st snowIt’s only November. The summer floodwaters finally receded. I got rid of the sandbags in front of the basement windows and the side door. What next but our first accumulating snowfall? Temperatures have been below average all month. Windchills in single digits in the morning twice already. Pulling out winter gear, I was reminded that my jacket zipper doesn’t actually work. It is a double zipper and I have to zip both to the top, then zip one down, in order to get the jacket to stay closed. The zippers on both winter shoe covers have now failed completely. I remembered that one of them wasn’t working most of last winter. Oh yeah, the other one died late in the season. Since I bought the jacket 15-20 years ago and the booties were given to me used about ten years ago, I guess it was time to replace things. Oh – and the under-helmet hat was stretched out enough that it no longer really covers my ears. Time for shopping!

Brand name alert! I was picking up a hat at the bike shop the other day and, on the way out the door, stopped at the sale table. A pair of boots convinced me to check back on my day off. Bontrager Old Man Winter boots were ⅓ off. They came out with a “new and improved” model this year, so the old ones had to go. I checked back and they were comfy and warm; more expensive than booties but, if you ride a lot in winter, or need bike shoes anyway, they’re cheaper than buying shoes and covers. They run small (my road shoes are size 43.5 and my mountain shoes [bought generously-sized to fit thick socks in them, since I wear sandals to commute when it’s warm] are 44…I bought the boots in a 45) so try them on. Don’t try to buy online unless you like to return things.

They felt light on my feet so I weighed them tonight. A shoe and shoe cover weigh 775 grams on my scale. The boot weighs 625 grams. Double those weights for a pair. (Both weights include SPD cleat.) On the way to work this morning (temperature 16º F, wind chill 5º) my feet were toasty warm. On the way home at 28º they were almost too warm. They are a two-layer boot, with a soft inner liner and a shell that fits over them. You put them on as separate pieces – it seems to take no longer than putting on a shoe and then a shoe cover. The liners could be worn around a cabin like down booties in the old days;  though the sole is not designed for that so I don’t know how durable they’d be. I don’t know about overall durability yet, since I’ve worn them once, but they seem to be a hit. We’ll see how they work when it gets below zero. (You can click on the pictures to see them bigger.)

I’d wondered about Windstopper™-type fabrics. I found a jacket also on sale (again, last year’s model). It was light and fleecy. Riding home last night after dark into a 15 mph headwind at 20º I stayed warm. Riding in today I stayed warm. I bought it big enough to fit a down vest and arm warmers under it when it gets really cold. I think I found two new items. If you live in Wisconsin and are a Bike Fed member, your member discount applies to the sale price!

For more on winter biking, see https://halffastcyclingclub.wordpress.com/2018/02/

The Greatest War

In remembrance of Armistice Day, I went to a concert Sunday night called “The Greatest War: World War One, Wisconsin, and Why it Still Matters. A Live Rock and Roll History Show”. 

I didn’t expect to learn about the war from rock and roll, but I did. Straw polls in city after city across the state showed the populace overwhelmingly opposed to entry into the war. Senator Robert M (“Fighting Bob”) LaFollette declared, “The poor, sir, who are the ones called upon to rot in the trenches, have no organized power, [but] they will have their day and they will be heard.”
[Read more: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/fake-news-and-fervent-nationalism-got-senator-robert-la-follette-tarred-traitor-his-anti-war-views-180965317/] Nine of 11 members of the Wisconsin delegation to the US House of Representatives opposed entry into the war. Some were pacifists, opposed to the war on general principal. Some saw it as a war between British imperialism and German militarism. All were vilified as traitors. (Wisconsin also had/has a sizable German-American population and there were calls to treat each and every one “as a potential spy”.)

I learned in history class that the US entered the war due to the sinking of the Lusitania. What I didn’t learn is that the Lusitania was not an innocent ship of civilian tourists, but was carrying armaments to the British. There was a second explosion on the Lusitania after the initial explosion of the torpedo which struck it. Speculation includes that it was the boiler, coal dust, or additional secret armaments in addition to those on the cargo list. None of the theories has been proven.

While it was billed as the “War to End All Wars” the US has been at war constantly since then, except during the years of 1935-1940, according to multiple sources. We are currently embroiled in the longest-lasting war in US history. Ironically, we are also in the period referred to as “The Long Peace”, as there have been no direct wars between major world powers.

The program consisted of a Prologue (Armistice), Act I (Europe’s War, the World’s War), Act II (Over There) and Act III: (The War to End War). Each act was depicted visually via archival photos, musically via historical and original songs, and in the words of people at the time.

What does this have to do with bicycles, you might ask? Glad you asked. Troops used bicycles as transportation, as depicted in the photo below (or to the left, depending on how you’re viewing this), behind The Viper and His Famous Orchestra.

What does this have to do with music? Saxophonist Hanah Jon Taylor played before a backdrop of an African-American US Army Band. Soldiers from Harlem are credited with introducing jazz to Europe.

The penultimate number was performed by The Kissers before a scrolling backdrop listing the names (by city) of all Wisconsin war dead. As the names scrolled on, Sean Michael Dargan performed “Flowers of the Forest” on bagpipes.

All in all, it was a phenomenal night and one I will not soon forget.

PS: Thanks to A Dude Abikes for the inspiration. After reading his post about Das Hugel, I’ve decided to ride the Horribly Hilly Hundreds (“Biking like a Viking”) next spring. It has become so popular that there is a lottery for entry, so I’m not guaranteed a spot. Wish me luck.

 

Free Solo

Casen posed a question on The Dihedral, a climbing blog I follow (see “Blogroll”). It is based on the film “Free Solo” so, if you haven’t seen it, you might want to look here or here first, and/or go see the film, now playing at a theatre near you.

I went to the movie thinking I was seeing a film about free soloing; rock climbing alone and without ropes. The film is about Alex Honnold, considered by many to be the greatest free climber alive. “Alive” is an´important distinction.

Alex speaks of free soloing as a “high reward/low risk” occupation. By this, he means he gets great rewards (he loves it) and he minimizes the risk by his care in preparation, as well as his ever-present awareness that a mistake means death (ed: or badly-broken survival and wishing he were dead).  It could equally be seen through another lens: low risk/high consequence. By that, I mean that, while the risk may be low (and that is debatable), the consequence of  failure is high (death).

What constitutes high risk? I think it is relative. When I worked in Nicaragua, I realized that most people in the US thought of Central America as a war zone. In Central America, Nicaragua was seen as a war zone. In Nicaragua, the Matagalpa Region was seen as a war zone. In Matagalpa, the area around Muy Muy and Matiguás was seen as a war zone. Where I worked (between Muy Muy and Matiguás), the war was always over the next ridge. We were not in the war zone, but close. We were safe, but it didn’t look that way to folks in the US. In a similar vein, what Alex does is not nearly as high a risk as it would be for you or me. Sure, he could die. You or I could die crossing the street tomorrow morning. 

While I thought it was a film about climbing, it is at least as much a film about relationship. Early on you meet his girlfriend Sanni. She approaches him at a book signing and gives him her phone number. He calls, they go out, they become involved. Mind you, this is a guy who lives in his van and makes a living traveling the world to climb rocks. His quest is to climb El Capitán in Yosemite National Park, considered the pinnacle of free climbing by those who think about such things. It had never been done.

As their relationship develops, she fears that he could die in the attempt, leaving her.  My initial reaction was “you get what you pay for”. She went into this relationship knowing that this is what he does. She is attracted to him as a free climber – that’s how/why they met. To try to get him to stop is a recipe for relationship disaster. Can you say “resentment”?

On the other hand, these are feelings she has a right to, and a right to express. They are likely feelings she didn’t know would develop as she became closer to him. Now here they are: what does one do? The film becomes at least as much about dealing with this as about climbing El Capitán. Does relationship change acceptable risk?

It also becomes a film about physics and metaphysics. Free soloing is, by definition, a solitary endeavor. Does the observation of a phenomenon change it? Will he climb differently when he is being watched, being filmed? Does a solitary endeavor become a performance? The filmmakers grapple with this and question whether they should even make the film. If he dies, will they be responsible? Did their presence and interference lead to his death? What do they do with the film footage if he does not survive the attempt? How do they make a great film without interfering? And how do they live with what they have witnessed, burned into their retinas and their brains, as well as their film stock?

The questions Casen asks include: What constitutes success? and What is the balance between performance and happiness? I realized I had more to say than I felt comfortable saying in the comment section of someone else’s blog. I read another blog in which someone does take over via the comments. My internal response is “get your own blog”. Since I have my own, I won’t usurp The Dihedral. I’ll invite them to come over here.

PS: Even if the only thing you ever climb are the stairs to your room, I recommend this film. A co-worker (and climber, who hasn’t seen the film) asked if I thought the film would encourage others to try this and die in the attempt. I doubted it. The cinematography is so amazing that it is clear that this is not something for mere mortals to try. You see Alex squeezing a handhold the size of a pencil. You see him doing pullups with his fingertips. You see him standing on footholds that you wouldn’t have seen if the narrator hadn’t pointed them out. It seems pretty clear that this is an elite athlete and this is not something to try at home.

PPS: Don’t try this at home (or on El Capitán).

PPPS: No mention of bikes here.

An open letter

to my Cycle America community. To jog your memories, there will be one photo from each week, none of which have appeared here before:

Dear Friends,

trailer loaded, ready to head to ride start-WA

We have now been back in our respective real worlds for longer than we were away in our circus world. We used that metaphor during the trip because it seemed apt – we rolled into a new town every night, set up our tents, and were gone in the morning before most people were up and about. We didn’t put on much of a show, but…

Einstein in Jackson, WY

It’s also timely because I spent three days of the last week in Baraboo, home of the Ringling Brothers and the Circus World Museum. It was also where, for me, the two worlds intersected. My friends, my son and his wife, and my boss all came to Baraboo when the Cycle America Circus rolled through. It was my reminder that our circus world was fleeting, that the other world beckoned. It was the best of times…

Devil’s Tower, WY

And now we’re scattered across the globe doing whatever it is we normally
do; though even that is new for some – Ally went from being a student to being a nurse during those nine weeks. Mike stayed away longer than the rest of us to ride down the west coast of the US. How’d that go, Mike?

Did anybody do a Johnny Paycheck when going back to work?

Needles Highway, SD

I miss that world. I missed the daily routine of riding already by the first Monday I was home. I had my day of rest and was ready to ride again. I’m still looking for anyone who wants to pay me to ride my bike. From the headwaters of the Mississippi to the delta seems like a good route. Who’ll drive sag?

The jersey that got us in trouble in Belgium-Northfield, MN

But I also miss all of you. Don’t worry, I’m not gonna get all hold-hands-and-sing-Kumbaya on you. If we all lived in the same town it’s not like we’d all be hanging out every night after work (those of us who do still work) or be drinking coffee together every morning at the corner cafe (for the retired among us).

Wind farm – Pepin, WI

But we had a community for those nine weeks; a loose-knit one, perhaps, but we shared something I will never forget. We shared fun, we shared miseries, we shared deeply transforming moments.  We found out what we were made of. Some of you, who had done this before, may have had no doubts about it. But I bet most of us had moments when we weren’t really sure what we had gotten into, weren’t really sure we could do this. But we did. And we probably knew that all along but it seemed too arrogant to say out loud, just as voicing the fears seemed too insecure to say out loud.

100 miles is just a number – almost a century in Ontario

We ate some great food and some food that we may not have eaten had we not just ridden 80 miles. We saw the USA in a way that most people never will. We didn’t fly over flyover country. We didn’t cross the plains at 80 mph (~130 km/h for those of the metric persuasion), staring at the ribbon of pavement and ignoring all else. We did wake up sober in Nebraska (or close to it – Nebraska, I mean). Climbing mountain passes didn’t mean just stepping harder on the accelerator.

Cycle America International Bobsled Team – Lake Placid, NY

We did all that, and we did it together. I, for one, already think about a reunion. It’s entirely possible we will never see each other again. I know some of you are friends in real life and do hang out. The rest of us? Maybe we’d feel awkward, not knowing what to say. Maybe we’d need a long ride together with margaritas to follow. Maybe a short ride, but actually together as a group, like the brief stretches when we were together for ferry crossings or through construction zones.

End of the road, Gloucester, MA-only one way to go

And maybe doing it again in 2020 doesn’t sound crazy after all. (Don’t tell anyone here I said that!) If those of you with the wherewithal to do it again do it, I’ll meet you in Baraboo with a case of beer. Or we can find an Irish pub and Mike can show the bartenders the proper way to pull a pint of Guinness.

See you on the road!

Love,

Steve

Maybe a motor next time?
Maybe Hogwart’s next time?
maple
Home again