No, really…

I decided to ride across the US many years ago. I actually made it real the day I got the approval for a leave from work. I decided to “rest”, so to speak, until January 1 and then start training. The plan was to have my employer give me a free membership to their health club to train. I chose not to ask that.

I thought I’d join a health club in my neighborhood, with the idea that I’d work on a leg press machine to build leg strength and spend hours on a spinning bike. The club at my community center didn’t have the equipment I wanted and I didn’t feel like giving my money to a for-profit health club.

So, about the same time as I started writing this blog I started to train. The first month was mostly core stretching and strengthening. I used a timer and plankgradually increased the amount of time I could spend in a plank, to the front and to each side. I did crunches. I did a lot of spine stretching. If I’m going to sit in one position for hours, my back and neck should be strong and loose. I added hamstring and quad stretches. I held those stretches for a minute each. Then I moved to the stairs and did toe raises (both as Achilles’ tendon stretches and as strengthening.)

About the time the Olympics came on TV I brought out my trainer. Years ago I bought a bike trainer while recuperating from an injury (work-related, not bike-related) that kept me off my bike (or at least off the road) for months. I rode in my living room because I could only use one arm. The trainer then sat in the basement for years, as I’d rather get somewhere when I ride. I’m riding the trainer on my Davidson, (or see here) as it was neglected all last year while I rode the new bike.

During the Olympics I would warm up spinning nice and easy, then start ramping up. I would do intervals during commercials. I’d rest, spinning easy during the next event, 20crosscountry-blog-blogSpanthen another hard interval during the next commercial. I’d mix it up, some days going hard for the duration of a downhill racer’s run, then resting. The cross-country ski marathons meant going hard and steady for a long time. Some days I would gradually ramp up – no hard intervals, just gradually harder gears and higher cadences. Then a long cool down.

When the Olympics ended, I used other long things – I watched an 8 part Grateful Dead movie on the bike. I’d watch or listen to an entire concert on the bike.

I tried a spinning class (because it was free). It was worth the price I paid, but I did work hard enough to be sore the next day.

When bike clubs started up in the spring I rode with them. My usual Wednesday Night Bike Rides and Sunday rides with the Bombay Bike Club. (I work on Saturdays.) My first WNBR was April 11 and first Bombay ride wasn’t until Sunday, April 29. April 29 and 30 I rode back-to-back days for the first time (~85 miles total). Then I remembered that the year I rode the Death Ride I had done my first century by the end of April.

On days I didn’t feel like riding (or it was raining or snowing) I went back to floor exercises to maintain core strength and flexibility. Will it be enough? (For my body? for my mind?) Stay tuned! If I go down in flames, you’ll all know!

It’s all fun and games until…

Some time back (March 24) I waxed rhapsodically about my first bike tour and fresh roadside asparagus. As we get closer to departure day, I remember my first planned long-distance solo tour to remind myself why I chose to make this a supported tour.

Aha! I found a photo of my Motobecane.

I outlined an epic journey. Several variations awaited me. The trip was to start by riding west from Madison to the Mississippi River. I would head upstream to the confluence with the St Croix River, following that up toward Lake Superior.

At that point my first option arose: I could turn east and head along the south shore, with a plan of circumnavigating the state of Wisconsin, or I could keep going north and follow the north shore of Lake Superior in Canada with the aim of  making my way down the west side of Michigan and ferrying back to Wisconsin. (Check out Google Maps to follow that route – easier than trying to link to a map of my route, and that way you can scout around.)

If I took the shorter route, I could also choose whether to merely circumnavigate Wisconsin (said to be about 1400 miles), or continue along the shore into the UP. Hah! So much for plans.

Less than 100 miles from home I spent my first night with friends on their farm. It was to be my last night sleeping in a bed for a while. Unfortunately, they were all sick.

Campsite selfie – airing out my stuff

I hit the road next morning. Now, southwestern Wisconsin (the driftless area) is pretty hilly. Still, it seemed hillier that morning than the day before. I struggled up climbs. I decided to cut my day short and settle into a semi-secret campsite along the Kickapoo River. (Don’t look for a map link here, I said it was semi-secret.)

Kickapoo campfire

A little aside: the Kickapoo River valley was to be dammed as a flood control project. (It would, incidentally, create new lakefront property for resorts and rich people’s summer homes.) The federal government took title to many acres of farmland (140 farms) that they intended to flood. The locals rose up and the plan was scuttled. The land went wild.

View from Wildcat Mountain

I didn’t leave that site for the next few days. I was lucky to make it out of my tent for a while each day. On about the third day I decided I was too sick to not be around other people. I packed up my camp and got back on the bike, riding to the top of nearby Wildcat Mountain, where there is a state park campground.

Fog at Wildcat Mountain

I sweated up the hill, got to the park, put down the bike, and lay supine under a hose bib, running cold water over myself. A park ranger came by and asked if I was OK. I said, “not exactly, but I’ll be okay in  few minutes.”  I went into the office and reserved a campsite, set up my tent and went back to bed. It rained for the next three days or so.

View from my tent

By the time I was well enough to get back on my bike, I had lost weight and had no energy left. Plus I’d lost about a week of riding time. Time for a new plan.

I was digitizing slides today when some of the images reminded me of the next phase of the journey.

Maiden Rock
Interior of “my” houseboat

Upstream I came to the town of
Maiden Rock. I’ll let the historical marker tell the legend of the rock (follow the link). I made it to Winona MN and met a community of folks living in houseboats in the backwaters of the Mississippi. One of them was away and they were kind enough to lend me his houseboat for the night.

Mississippi houseboat

I took some photos at dawn, and here it’s time for another aside: Years later I was working at a cooperative community and one of my neighbors (an evangelical Christian) showed me a “picture of Jesus”. Her church did full-immersion baptisms and when she developed the film of her friend’s baptism, there was  a foggy spot on the picture. She solemnly assured me that that was the image of Jesus. I told her I had a picture of the Buddha. She had to see it. It was one of my sunrise photos of the backwaters of the Mississippi. Here it is:

The reddish orb at the top looks to me like a head. Just below the head you can see shoulders (at the upper points of the star) to each side. The light emanates from the belly. Less obvious in this small reproduction is the appearance of two knees just below the belly (at the middle points of the star), as though of a figure sitting cross-legged. She studied the picture for a long time, then earnestly pronounced it to be a picture of Jesus. 

I rode up to St Paul, stayed with friends and ate until I felt semi-human again, then packed the bike into the cargo bay of a Greyhound bus and returned home. So much for circumnavigating Lake Superior, or Wisconsin, or much more than my campsite.

P.S. I forgot to mention last week that spring ended abruptly a week and a half ago with a temperature of 95 degrees and the hatching of millions of mosquitos that know nothing except the sucking of blood.

The good side of summer arrived today. Sitting on the Terrace,

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA from Madisonstories.com

my feet in the water, sipping a beer, listening to live jazz. A breeze off the lake, temperature down to a totally reasonable 78 degrees. This may detract from the universality of the image, but was the icing on the cake for me – FaceTime with my Officially Adult child – college graduate last weekend, first day in a new city, first day of a new job, first day in a new apartment. Life doesn’t get much better than this; and I haven’t even started riding…

Now it’s official!

When do you know it’s spring? The first robin? The snow finally gone? The first flowers?

It’s the first Wednesday night post-ride potluck and the first rhubarb pie!IMG_0099IMG_0100IMG_0101IMG_0102IMG_0103

From a disk of dough to a finished pie! I left out the empty pan; the last step. Missing from this year’s ride was Half-fast Dave’s famous asparagus. Dave owns a vineyard but also has one of the bigger asparagus patches around. He makes a mighty tasty asparagus with garlic, cayenne, and soy sauce. Alas, he has retired from Wednesday night rides.

The weekly rides start at the beginning of April, but the peak of the season starts now! Enough light for longer rides, warm enough to eat outside afterward.

The final climb to food!

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One rider’s idea of a recovery meal:

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Time for the early risers to head home and rest up for the Blessing of the Bikes. If the rain holds off, it seems a blessing before a 4300 mile ride can’t hurt.