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 UWAlumni.com). 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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

Green

The word pales in comparison to what the eye sees. Corn, soybeans, hay, maples, oaks – we call them all green but they are not the same. A nearly infinite variety of greens greets the eye on a long ride (or a single view).

If one tires of green (and how could one?), there are the roadside wildflowers (some are weeds or invasive species) to add variety.

ox eye daisy
Queen Anne’s lace
tiger lily
chicory
sunflower

The fields of flowers defy the camera. The eye and brain can focus on each different flower (those above plus clover – red and white – more kinds of lilies, fleabane, and several whose names I don’t know) and take in the whole array, shifting focus from the individual to the patch in a way that a still camera can’t and would be dizzying on video.

I rode my age Sunday. When I turn 100, that will be a big deal. At 75 it will be a medium-sized deal. The only significance now is how late in the year I did it for the first time. Pre-COVID, the plan was to ride the Death Ride Saturday, about double Sunday’s ride. Riding my age should have come in April to be in shape for the Death Ride.

Have you ever noticed that TV sound effects people use the sounds of loons and hawks when they want to evoke wilderness, whether those birds are endemic to that locale or not? I must say, a hawk sounds much more spine-tingling when it crosses the road 15 feet over your head and lands in a tree on the other side. I advise that you keep your wheels on the pavement while you are trying to watch that hawk. No harm, no foul, as they say in basketball.

Leaving Lodi (where I stopped at a convenience store to buy two bottles of water) I failed to fully zip my saddle bag. I discovered it about 25 miles later, and knew that my money clip was missing. I figured that it could have fallen out immediately in Lodi (meaning either it could be turned in or my identity could be stolen) or it could have fallen out on miles of back roads, where it may never be found. After I ordered a new driver’s license and went to bed, the County Sheriff called to say my money clip with cash and license had been turned in.

I drove up to Lodi Monday (home of Susie the Duck) and discovered that the finder had taken only a $2 reward before turning it in. Since I was out and about in a motor vehicle, I continued to Brigham Park to clean our adopted highway. Once again, Busch Light beer cans were the winner for volume. For number of items there was competition from cigarette butts and those plastic markers highway crews glue to the road to show the painters where to paint new lines. FYI they don’t remain stuck forever but end up scattered along the road.

The irony award goes to a whisk broom and dustpan set. Second place goes to three Mountain Dew bottles, two Three Musketeers wrappers, and an Acucheck bottle all in the same spot. Honorable Mention to a “Pandemic Survival Kit”. The only thing remaining in the kit was the mask. I guess the owner doesn’t really think the pandemic is a hoax (hence keeping most of the kit), but tossed the mask to protect his/her conservative credentials. Speaking of which, the cashier and I were the only people in the convenience store wearing masks Sunday. Today masks become mandatory in all indoor spaces that are not your own house (in this county), but Lodi is in the next county. There are no statewide regulations here, thanks to a Supreme Court that is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the ruling class, with major investors The Bradley Foundation and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, and a well-gerrymandered legislature. (If you ain’t from around here, the Court threw out the regulations from the Governor and Department of Health Services, and the Legislature shows no interest in regulations. Daily case counts are increasing rapidly.) (Speaking of the pandemic, the AP reported this weekend that the last words of a 30 year old man in San Antonio were “I think I made a mistake. I thought this was a hoax, but it’s not.” He died after attending a COVID party. And just so you know the US has no patent on crazy, a group of bus passengers in France pulled the driver off the bus and beat him to death rather than don masks.)

When I die, if there are any ashes remaining after they scavenge me for parts, scatter them here. If there aren’t any, burn some wood and scatter those ashes. I grew up in a church that didn’t believe in transubstantiation. We drank grape juice, symbolic of wine, symbolic of blood; and ate cubed Wonder bread, symbolic of the host, symbolic of body. Therefore, wood ashes could easily symbolize my remains.

The wall is where we sit, out of the wind, to eat our potluck dinner after rides. The bench is where we cheer on the latecomers making their way up the hill. The spot, the view, and the climb (right to left) are among my favorites, and why we adopted this stretch of road. If you need a place to remember me, this is it. Lest you think I’m morbid, I plan to outlive most of you.

Career Change

I’ve had some time to think while home recuperating. I was going to title this post “Back in the Saddle Again” to commemorate being able to ride a bike again after a month. I already used that title over a year ago, including a link to Gene Autry singing the song.

No, this calls for much more. I’ve had a great deal of difficulty working with Worker’s Compensation insurance and with my employer’s Human Resources department. They may be trying to make life difficult for me in hopes I will leave, or they may be incompetent. I’m not sure which is worse. Or, maybe:

Okay, benefit of the doubt is over. It is not merely a failure to communicate. The Worker’s Comp insurance company’s doctor has determined that my work injury has nothing to do with my work; that it is a congenital condition that took 66 years to show up and the fact that the symptoms appeared right after an encounter with 425# is totally irrelevant – not just not causal, but not even an exacerbation of my “pre-existing condition”. Then there’s the fact that HR canceled my family health insurance plan and gave me an individual plan. After I (and my boss and her boss) raised a stink, they reinstated the family plan and canceled my dental insurance.

At any rate, I was excited to read about our President’s new Space Force, and I signed up! If I can’t count on having Worker’s Compensation insurance and I can’t count on having health insurance, it’s time to change careers! I know I’ll get good healthcare in the military! Here is my new uniform patch:

SPACE CADET

I report for basic training April 1. I will be proud to represent my country in space.

Not Gene Autry.

Have you noticed how much the current Republican Party resembles the Death Eaters from the Harry Potter series? The very people Lord Voldemort Donald Trump insults (e.g. Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz) fall all over themselves and each other to praise him, even if they previously called him “a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot” [Graham], or said “Donald Trump’s consistently disgraceful behavior is beneath the office” [Cruz]. Everyone lives in such fear of him that no one is willing to say the emperor has no clothes. I tried rearranging the letters to “Donald John Trump”. I didn’t come up with “I am Lord Voldemort”, but that doesn’t prove anything. Let me know in the comments if you come up with anything interesting. If you see weird tattoos on their forearms, let me know.

Does anyone else out there wake up some mornings and wonder if this is really the world we are living in? Where “if a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be a kind of quid pro quo which results in impeachment”? Where the argument can go from “it didn’t happen”, to “it might have happened”, to “it happened and that’s OK”, to “it happened and that’s a good thing.” In another bit of surrealism, Sen Lisa Murkowski announced, “I have come to the conclusion that there will be no fair trial in the Senate” as she announced that she was voting against allowing any witnesses or written evidence, thereby assuring that there will be no fair trial. As the Red Queen said, “sentence first, then verdict”. In this case it’s “acquittal first, then evidence.”

Tailwinds Across America

Thanks to richardtirith4919 for alerting me to the book “Tailwinds Across America” by RJ Kinderman. Kinderman and his then SO of 10 months embarked on a cross country bike trip in 1981. They followed a northern tier route similar to that of Cycle America, leaving Vancouver with $475 ($1400 in today’s dollars, per USDL BLS* calculator) and arriving in Maine broke. The book came out in honor of their 30th wedding anniversary, so clearly the trip strengthened their relationship. That much togetherness under those conditions could make or break a new relationship, so I honor their trip and their commitment. The book brought tears to my eyes more than once. You could think of it as this coast-to-coast blog after 30 years of reflection. Since Bob and Diane were self-contained, they had some very different experiences than ours in a supported tour, but it was a way for me to travel vicariously when I couldn’t even get on a trainer. I highly recommend it as a fun and quick read!

Back in the saddle; really

On January 31, I put on the bike shoes, set the resistance to its lowest level, shifted into my lowest gear, and got on my trainer. I planned a 10 minute easy spin. I checked the clock to see how close I was to being done – 3 minutes had passed. This wasn’t going to be easy. It did get better. When I set a stopwatch so I could count my cadence, the minutes went by more quickly and I did manage 10 minutes in my lowest gear at 90 RPM. On day 2 I managed to shift up, though still with low resistance, and ride twice, for a total of 25 minutes.

Karl Harter

This post was waiting for the official announcement of the 2020 Death Ride. I’m not waiting any longer. Registration was to open in December, then January. Now it’s February. Maybe this will cause them to spring into action so I can make my summer plans. [Ed note: The groundhog was declared officially to have seen his shadow this morning. I suspect he was basking in the sun, wearing shades due to the reflected brightness from the snow, and didn’t really notice the shadow. The temperature is headed for 50 degrees F (10 C). I’m heating my house with passive solar today – the door to the front porch is open. Shorts and t-shirt weather!]

Instead, the post is going up due to the death of Karl Harter. I met Karl about 45 years ago. He was cooking at the Main Course, a down-home restaurant with home-cooked meals at reasonable prices; the sort of food I would normally cook myself but I was either feeling lazy that day or I was on campus and hungry. I sold raw food (working at a grocery co-op) and Karl sold cooked food. That was our initial connection.

Karl was also a runner, weightlifter, yoga practitioner, and writer. He started and ran Movin’ Shoes, a shoe store and gathering place for runners. I went to the release party for his first novel, In the Skin, about a young weightlifter in Trenton, NJ. It was released as a mass market paperback, with a rather lurid cover illustration. Karl had just learned that he was expected to market the book himself if he wanted a contract for his next book. He was pretty clear that he was a writer and not a promotor. While the book never made the best sellers list, he continued to write and publish.

Years later he autographed that book for me when he was in the hospital for the first of many surgeries. A tumor had been removed from his head and a free tissue transfer performed to cover the defect. That means that muscle and skin from somewhere else is used to fill the space. Since the muscle will later atrophy, it is initially oversized. This gives a rather lumpy appearance for a while. When the surgeon came in and asked Karl how he was doing, Karl said, “Fine – but you didn’t tell me I was going to look like Mr. Potato Head!” (As you can see below, he no longer looked like Mr. Potato Head.)

Karl also wrote the true crime novel Winter of Frozen Dreams (subtitle: “The shocking true story of seduction, suspicion and murder in Madison”). A film adaptation followed. More on Karl can be found at The Ride website. This is the group for which I was going to ride last fall. The ride was canceled due to thunderstorms with a flash flood watch.

Karl Harter; Image from Theridewi.org

One of Karl’s obituaries said, “He used words like macadam and ephemeral.” Maybe that’s another reason I liked him. In a 1999 essay about my life in community radio, I wrote, “part of the reason I enjoyed live radio was its ephemeral quality. What I did went out over the airwaves and was gone”. [Now, if you want real weirdness, the next excerpt is from an essay written by my brother for the same anthology. He had worked for a previous radio station in the same studio. We each read the other’s words only when the book was published. “It was the ultimate in ephemerae, leaving a trace only in the minds of those who did it or those who heard it .”] **

Feel free to join me in making a gift in Karl’s memory at: https://www.supportuw.org/how-to-give/school-college/medicine-and-public-health/karl-harter-scholarship/. Normally I’m not a fan of the phrase “courageous battle with cancer” (to which my daughter will attest), but Karl lived with cancer for over 20 years, losing parts of his body over that span. In the past few years I occasionally ran into him at a favorite breakfast spot and he never lost the zest that I loved in him 45 years ago. For most of us, life is ephemeral and we die “leaving a trace only in the minds of those” we touched. Karl will also live on in the books and the store he left behind.

* USDL BLS = United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics

**WORT-Madison; 25 years of Community Radio Copyright January 2000 by Back Porch Radio Broadcasting, Inc.