Horribly Hilly

Yes folks, it’s time to fulfill the promise I made to a guy in Texas I don’t even know. One year after leaving for the coast-to-coast trip, it is the infamous Horribly Hilly Hundreds (or “Death Ride of the Midwest” as I call it), not to be confused with that other HHH, the Hotter ‘n Hell Hundred in Texas.

But first things first. Last week was the Marquette Waterfront Festival, the gateway to summer around here. Four years ago, we were wowed by the appearance of the March Fourth Marching Band, as they marched, danced, and stilt-walked their way through the park to the stage for a show that was talked about for the rest of the summer. Everyone wondered when they would be back.

Two years ago, they were scheduled to close out the festival again; but they called from somewhere in the middle of Iowa. A broken-down bus on a Sunday in Iowa is not a good thing. When we heard they were coming back this year, we were ready for them and hoped they were ready for us. A new(er) bus rolled slowly down Yahara Place at 5; just in time for the 6:30 set.

MarchFourth (they shortened the name) is one of those bands that everyone says you have to hear live. Everyone is right. But I did find a video that gives you a flavor of their work. If I had to describe them in a word, it would be “steamfunk”.

We had seats near the front, right behind the dancing section. The seats were not used.

MarchFourth

A year ago today (Saturday) I was waking up in a motel at the SeaTac airport, then shuttling to the starting point of the coast-to-coast ride. Sunday we dipped our tires into the Pacific Ocean (and I sealed up a vial of Pacific water) and started east (more or less).

Yes, the Horribly Hilly Hundreds is horribly hilly (but also breathtakingly beautiful). When it was a mere 100 miles, it was just the “Horribly Hilly Hundred”. Now there are 100K, 100 mile, and 200K options. 200K includes an alleged 10,700 feet of climbing spread over “40 significant rises”. While the Death Ride includes 15,000 feet of climbing over the same distance, it is confined to five major climbs. Spreading the climbing out means you can’t just psych yourself up for the passes and it is tempting to see the top of the rise and power over it…until you realize somewhere along the way that doing that 40 times will reduce your legs to jelly.

And jelly is what my legs are now. I left home at 5:15 AM. Heading out Verona Road, many of the cars had bikes on the back. Turning off to head up to Blue Mound, the traffic became bumper-to-bumper, and everyone had a bike on the back.

Traffic coming into the park as I rode out.

Start line

We reached the park and got ready for the day. The first 1.6 miles didn’t count, as we rode into the town of Blue Mounds for the oficial start. The road out of the park was steep. In the back of my mind was the knowledge that we would have to ride back up that hill after 120+miles of riding.

Start line

The route was divided into 5 “stages”, roughly 20% of the miles each; except that the 4th stage was over 30 miles and contained some of the toughest hills of the day.

Enchanted Valley. Note tiny bikes on the road.

The day started cool and sunny. All week the forecast had been for scattered showers throughout the day. This morning it changed and called for later afternoon rain. Around noon it was bordering on hot, when clouds rolled in to cool things down. The clouds looked ominous at times but the rain held off – until about mile 110, when it let loose. I put my jacket back on and tried to scrub rainwater off my rims on a long downhill. The rain stopped in time for the final climb up the infamous Mounds Park Road and the even worse final climb to the park.

I overheard a guy in a “Triple Bypass” jersey telling someone that the HHH is harder. She asked, “even with the elevation?” He said yes, because the mountain roads are only 5-7% grades and the HHH has many stretches of >15% and “you have to go anaerobic to get over them.”

I was thinking that this was harder than the Death Ride for the same reason; though I can’t make a fair comparison since I rode the Death Ride more than 25 years ago. Maybe if I were to ride it again next summer I could compare. I will say this was the hardest single day experience I have ever had. Being 66 years old could have something to do with that;)

Finish line.
Food by Friends of Blue Mound State Park.

I stayed in the saddle for all climbs for the first 30 miles. In the last 30, I got over them any way I could. A friendly farmer’s offer of rhubarb water got me over one climb. (Rhubarb water: a lightly sweetened infusion of rhubarb, seasoned with cardamom.)

My calves started cramping at mile 25 – a bad omen with 100 miles to go. Bilateral quad cramps and a left sartorius cramp followed. Lots of pickle juice as well as electrolyte drinks and Clif Shot Bloks (the extra-salty margarita flavor) helped stave off the cramps. My triceps are not happy – but I am.

The free post-ride beer was a raspberry radler. I don’t know about you, but I like fruit and I like beer, but I like to keep them separate. When I was a teen (in the era of the 18 year old beer drinking age) there was a product called “Right Time Malt Liquor”. I referred to it as “training beer”. It was an attempt to market to teens, to get them drinking even if they didn’t like the taste of alcohol. (Sound familiar? Just like the tobacco industry making fruit and candy-flavored vaping products as training cigarette to hook kids on nicotine; though I don’t recall the beer industry was “shocked” to find kids drinking.)

No Hope/Ride Your Age

I spent a recent Sunday morning exploring the area around the towns of Hope and Cottage Grove. The ride started with a minimal plan. Head out of town. On the way out, I decided Buckeye Road was the way to go. On the way out Buckeye, I decided to ride south to Stoughton. On the way to Stoughton, Sigglekow Road looked too pretty to pass up. And so it went. I rode on Hope, South Hope, Vilas-Hope, and No Hope Roads. It was the first day to give a hint of summer, with the temperature in the 8os and a brisk southerly wind. With that wind I figured I’d have a tailwind to push me home, but my loop ended up going more northerly than I thought it would, so I started and ended with a headwind. As I rode past a pond, I saw hawks circling. That put me in mind of Kate Wolf.

Too late…you missed the hawks.

Cresting a hill, I came upon this glasswork in a front yard. I wondered if it’s the work of Dale Chihuly, who studied glassblowing here under Prof Harvey Littleton, who was known as the “Father of the Studio Glass Movement.” It may be a student of his or a copy of his style (or someone with a lower budget than the other works of his I’ve seen). We also have a scientific glassblower in town, Tracy Drier. Having once plumbed a wall that I wanted to encase in plexiglass so others could see it, I understand the aesthetic appeal of work not meant as art.

It was only a hint of summer. More chilly and rainy weather followed.

The following Sunday saw me on the Bombay Bicycle Club‘s “Martinsville Meander”, and meander we did. The route included an “Alpe d’Huez option” with three steep climbs over a ridge arranged back-to-back-to-back. The climbs didn’t seem too bad this time. They were downright fun. I thought I might even be ready for the Horribly Hilly Hundreds. Then I realized I still had 35 miles to get back to town. I ended up riding my age. I still have a long way to go to match my State Senator, who rides his age every year for his birthday. Fred Risser is now 92.

It seems that all roads lead to Vermont Church, even though Vermont Church Road is the only one that goes by there. The church sits at the top of a hill. That was one of the many hills we climbed Sunday. It seems that Christians think God is in heaven and heaven is “up there”, so building your church on the top of the hill brings you closer to God. I don’t know what the speed of prayer is, but it seems the difference between a hill and a valley wouldn’t affect transit times all that much.

Speaking of religion, I’ve been watching MASH reruns lately. Anybody else notice that Father Mulcahy is pretty hot in a tight t-shirt? Must be some heavy lifting saving souls in a war zone. He’s got some nice arms there.

My daughter stage-managed a production of Sister Act (the musical based on the movie – how’s that for backward?). When Deloris decides to go straight and Sister Mary Robert considers entering civilian life, Deloris bequeaths her “FM boots” to the young novice. Sister Mary Roberts asks what FM means. Deloris replies “Fu..ather Mulcahy!) Being a college production, no one knew who Father Mulcahy was. They did know what FM means.

We also passed a church at a remote crossroads. It got me to wondering…we build our bars right in the center of town, but our churches at a remote crossroads. Does that mean we’re more embarrassed to be seen coming out of church than out of a bar? Is that just a Wisconsin thing? Just thinking out loud here…

Giving thanks

It is 15 degrees F (approx -10 C). The sun is bright. The sky is a brilliant blue. There are no clouds. There is no wind. We have fresh snow, so the sun glints off of countless facets. It is the sort of day that those who don’t live in snowy climes may not be able to appreciate, and those who do often forget to appreciate.

As I rode home from the library, I began to ruminate over things I am thankful for (most, in some way, related to this blog). I am thankful for:

  • construction workers who work outside all day all winter long.
  • constrgarbage trucks blocking the road so I can practice my cyclocross skills.
  • shanty
    ice fishing shanty, snowy day

    the lake near my house that becomes a massive and nearly private park in the winter. After skating on the street last Sunday, I skiied across the lake this Sunday.

  • Ally, Ed, and Steve – who turned a 105 mile slog through 40 degree (4 degrees C) rain inIMG_0363to something do-able. While they claim misery loves cold raincompany, company can also make it not misery, as evidenced by this smile at the end of that day. (Not to mention that we were even smiling for the picture.)
  • Steve (a different Steve) and Kevin, who stuck with me through thick and thin (and thinner) on a long and hard day in the heat and headwind.
  • Anders, who picked up a new helmet for me at the end of said long day, so I could Andersride again the next day.
  • the entire Cycle America staff, for handling the logistics so we could ride. A special shout out to Ed (a different Ed) for delightful surprises on the routes; and to Dan, who never met a hill he didn’t like.
  • the half-fast cycling club, including those I started riding with more than 40 years ago, and those I haven’t yet met.
  • the glaciers which all managed to miss the driftless area, making for great bike riding in the area of the Horribly Hilly Hundreds (and to HHH, as I just learned that I was selected in the lottery to ride this year).
  • icicles. Snow to sculpt.
  • the Parks Department, for plowing the bike paths.IMG_1494.jpg
  • public libraries.
  • getting old. I’ve seen a lot of folks the past couple of weeks with broken ribs from slipping and falling on the ice. Many tell me how horrible it is to get old.  I think it beats the alternative.

In memory of Robert Ruck

robert-ruck
From Classical Guitar magazine

I met Bob Ruck some time in the 1970s. He had moved from Sturgeon Bay to Middleton WI to be closer to civilization. He made guitars, which he could do anywhere but he said he stayed in the middle of the country for shipping purposes. He later figured out that UPS would ship from anywhere so he moved to Kauai, then Bainbridge Island, WA, and finally to Eugene, OR.

Bob and I studied and taught Tai Chi together (along with another founder of the half-fast cycling club). One day he came to the rest of the teachers in our school and told us he’d met this great new teacher at a workshop in Arkansas, and could we bring him to our school for a workshop? That began my study with Peter Ralston, whose blog appears in my blogroll.

I moved to San Francisco in 1984 and studied with Peter in Oakland. Bob would occasionally fly in for a workshop. We’d go to dinner together and he would joke that, as long as one of us said the word “guitar” during the meal, he could buy my dinner and put it on his expense account.

robert-ruck-classical-2009-cons-soundports
From 12fret.com

I visited Bob at his home on Bainbridge Island and he showed me his workshop and the tonewoods he was ageing. He showed me the new design he was now building, with sound ports in the upper bout for better volume.

It was only many years later that I realized that Ruck guitars are among the most sought-after in the world. His waiting list was closed for years, as he had more orders than he could fill. The wait was ten years. His guitars sold in shops routinely for more than he charged for them.

I haven’t seen him since I found out how famous he was. He was just Bob, the guy who hosted the massive dinner our Tai Chi school had when our teacher came up from Chicago, the guy I taught classes with. It was at Bob’s house that I ate a duck embryo. Our teacher, the late Domingo Tiu, was born in China and raised in the Phillippines. Duck embryo (balut) is a common street food in the Phillippines. Domingo told us it was meant to be consumed with beer. He talked of hot nights sitting out on the front porch, sipping a beer, and buying balut from a street vendor. We didn’t sit on the porch, but we had our embryos with beer.

Manuel Barrueco, a Cuban guitarist and teacher at the Peabody Institute, plays a Ruck detail2_no.58coversmallguitar, number 58. It is the subject of a coffee table book, featuring interviews with Barrueco and Ruck, and detailed photos of the guitar, which Robert made in 1972. It was an experiment, but Barrueco fell in love with it and wanted to buy it. While he is said to be using a newer guitar in concert, he continues to record on the Ruck.

Bob died on August 13 of 2018; the day we rode from Lake Placid to Plattsburg, NY. It was a beautiful morning as we soared down the sweeping turns descending from the Adirondacks.

There was no soaring today; but I did get to find out that my new winter boots work in the cold. It was -14 degrees this morning as I rode home after dropping the car for repairs. By the afternoon it had warmed to +14, but the wind had kicked up to 14 mph. It was a symmetrical sort of day. I was only slightly overdressed. My feet stayed warm.