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.

Epic Ride

I missed a turn at Uranus and ended up in Deep Space. To get to Deep Space, I think I went down four levels of escalators. Worse yet, I also went Through the Looking Glass.

I don’t often ride 35 miles for lunch, but this was a special occasion; a tour of Epic Systems and lunch with my son. Deep Space is the 11,000 seat auditorium that they use for staff meetings and trainings. It looks like a small mound in a prairie from the surface. It is deep underground.

The campus is whimsically arranged in thematic areas. One building contains a tiny room with equally tiny furniture, but a large bottle that says “Drink Me”. Another building is protected by a moat, guarded by a three-headed serpent. There are upside-down staircases, and furniture on the ceilings. As far as I could tell, none of the staircases move when you’re on them, taking you somewhere else.

Despite there being about 10,000 people working there, you see no cars. Almost all of the parking is underground. Plantings cover the parking garages. Footpaths get you around. There is a fleet of bikes if you have a long way to go. A now-closed local restaurant had a carousel out front. That carousel has been reassembled at Epic.

We saw the film The War at Home on the 40th anniversary of its world premiere (which we also saw). Co-director Glenn Silber spoke at the showing, as he did 40 years ago. He hasn’t changed a bit (though he had a baseball cap on – maybe there’s no hair under that cap). The film chronicles the effects of the Vietnam War in one US city. It has been newly restored and released on DVD. See it if you can.

Speaking of homecomings, we also saw Tracy Nelson along with Corky Siegel (formerly of the Siegel-Schwall Band), a string quartet, and a tabla player. But here she is with another Nelson (no relation, though similar in that she left San Francisco for Nashville and he left Nashville for Austin – both risky career moves). After 50 years, her voice still gives us chills.

We cleaned our adopted highway Sunday.


Total Haul: 11 pounds
Category Winner: light beers
Brand Winner: Anheuser Busch
Product Winner: Busch Light
Nostalgia Winner: Lucky Strike cigarette pack
Road kill: One deer, one pheasant (we left those behind)
Category, brand, and product were all repeat winners. If this keeps up, we may have to retire those categories. On a ride in another county the next day, we noticed a lot of Busch Light cans. This may be the favorite of litterers throughout the area.


Half-fast Fall Classic

We had our end-of-season Blue Spoon to Little Village ride today. For those of you who insist on data: breakfast was pancakes with maple syrup, two eggs over easy, and coffee. One rider was late, so we added a morning bun with a second cup of coffee so he didn’t have to eat alone. Selfless, aren’t we? Lunch was a grilled chicken sandwich (with Swiss, bacon, and Dijon mayo) with chips and pico de gallo, accompanied by an Australian Shiraz. We were too full for the bourbon pumpkin cheesecake, so had an espresso. Post-ride was a nitrogen-infused smoked Scottish Ale with a flatbread pizza (pesto, heirloom tomatoes, pine nuts, fresh mozzarella, with a Balsamic vinegar drizzle). Blue Spoon is no longer open after 3 PM, so we had to move down the road to Vintage Brewing for post-ride refreshments.

Oh yeah, we also rode. We rode fast enough to not fall over and slow enough to obey speed limits. It stayed chilly (33-50 degrees F, or 0-10 C) but the sun shone all day. Traditionally, this is our last group ride of the season. After this, it’s mostly commuting and errands until the New Year ride.

“It was a fine fall morning; early and cold and sweet as cider. It was one of the prettiest times of year at one of the  prettiest times of the day…” (Ken Kesey, Little Tricker the Squirrel Meets Big Double the Bear)

One of our members is in Portugal and sent a few pictures:

I bet he’s sorry he missed the ride!

The trip that changed my life (by request)

The Dihedral just ran a post about their dream van. One of their friends and frequent commenters, Martha, added a comment about her 1972 VW bus breaking down and spewing oil. I added a bit about our bus breakdown and said the trip changed my life. The Dihedral wants the deets. So here goes…

It was late summer 1973. I had spent 4-5 days camping alone in my friend’s back 40, engrossed in activities such as drying herbs with binoculars. I returned to town to find my roommates gathered in the living room, packed for a trip of their own. They asked if they could use my tent. I handed it over. They asked about the stove, the cook kit, etc. One by one I pulled things out of my pack and handed them over. Then I stopped and asked where they were headed. They said, “John got a temporary layoff from work, so we’re headed to the American Legion State Forest to camp for a week.” I said, “Sounds like fun. Maybe I’ll join you.” They said, “Don’t you have to work tonight?” I said, “Yeah, but…”. They all got silly grins and started swapping knowing looks. They finally confessed that they were off to Colorado.

[By the way, I was planning a major trip to South America the following spring. The Rockies seemed like a good warmup for the Andes.]

[Also by the way, when I eventually made it back to where I had then been working, to pick up my last paycheck, they offered me my job back. I turned them down – more on that below.]

I jumped in the bus with them and off we went. After the trip, we all agreed that it was too short and began scraping money together for a longer trip. As fall came, we had enough to head for the Canadian Rockies. We got about 100 miles. I was in the back, over the engine. I suddenly heard an unpleasant sound and yelled to John, “Shut it down and pull over!” We pulled over and the engine died. We had it towed to LaCrosse, where we got the bad news.

VW buses of that era had an Achilles’ heel. The third cylinder exhaust valve was tucked into a spot where it tended to overheat. When the valve burned, it broke up and scattered bits of itself through the engine. A rebuild was in order. When we were ready to hit the road again, we didn’t have enough money to satisfy Canadian border agents that we could support ourselves in their country. (They had a per person minimum at the time.)

It was time for a new plan. We continued west, but in a more southerly direction – to Estes Park, Colorado. While there, we headed into Denver so I could get my shots for South America. After getting my Yellow Fever, Cholera, and Typhoid immunizations, the Public Health Nurse asked if I had any aspirin. She advised that I get some and take two immediately, two more before bed, and two more as soon as I woke up. I said, “I’m gonna be sick, eh?” She said “Sicker than you’ve ever been.” The next morning I was able to crawl out of the tent and sprawl on a picnic table in the sun. I stayed there all day, too sick to move. Twenty four hours after the shots, I was fine again. If that’s the prevention, I’d hate to have the disease(s).

We stayed in the area until a sudden squall. We dove for the tents, leaving our dinner dishes on the table. When we awoke, we had to break ice out of the dishes before we could put them away. We decided it was time to head south.

We drove to New Mexico and made camp in the Sandia Range, just outside of Albuquerque. There we were hit with a hailstorm that dropped six inches in a few minutes. It melted as quickly as it came. My friends decided they needed some city and I stayed behind. We agreed on a day and time they would return to rejoin me with fresh provisions.

When the time arrived, I headed down the trail and posted welcome signs for them. Jumping across the stream to post a sign, I landed badly and heard a loud crack. I stuck my foot in the stream and iced it down. I made my way back to camp to pack up, figuring they’d take me to the hospital rather than rejoining me to camp longer.

At the appointed time, only one of them arrived. He told me he brought food for three days and they would return to pick us up at the trailhead. He brought some steaks, which had spoiled on the hike back. We spent the next three days crawling off to the woods with diarrhea, digging holes as fast as we could. [The idea of packing out excrement was unknown to us back then, not to mention it would have been a difficult cargo to pack.] In my spare time, I fashioned a crutch.

At the newly-appointed time, we made our way back to the trailhead. We got in the bus and made it to the ER, where I was swaddled in what I now know as a “bulky Jones splint” and fitted with store-bought crutches. It was time to head back to Wisconsin.

bulky Jones splint; from a YouTube training video by the Washington University School of Medicine.
Mine was longer, ending just below the knee.

As winter settled in, I realized there was something more wrong with my ankle than a bad sprain. My peroneal tendon had an unfortunate tendency to dislocate when I walked. It did not seem like a good thing to have happen on narrow Andean trails. It wasn’t altogether pleasant on sidewalks.

Image from CMMG via Pinterest. The purple line (added by me) is roughly where my peroneus longus would end up, instead of its usual spot tucked behind the now-shredded retinaculum. Imagine a rubber band stretched from your knee to the bottom of your foot, then twanging it at the ankle. That’s what it felt like. It would now go slack, which made it hard to stand up.

I paid a visit to my local community clinic. The doctor there had no clue what was going on, but referred me to an orthopedic surgeon who diagnosed the problem when I walked across his office. He said he could fix it Monday. I called Fred to tell him I couldn’t make it to the Andes and scheduled surgery.

While recuperating, I began volunteering at the clinic. I also heard about a new co-op trying to get off the ground. Having nothing better to do that winter, I began to go to organizing meetings. I worked at that co-op for the next ten years, which led to a continuing career in co-ops in California and Nicaragua, which led to where I am today (two careers removed from co-ops, but that’s another story for another time). P.S. Happy 45th birthday, Willy St Co-op; which opened 10/09/1974.

Also that winter, I had a roommate who went ice skating every day. Feeling sorry for myself that I couldn’t go with him, I started plotting for spring. When spring arrived, I bought a new bike. (That story earned a paragraph in the January 20, 2018 entry.) That bike took me on my first tours, which led to the transcontinental tour of 2018.

So that, Dihedral, is my story. And I’m sticking to it. How an injury leads to a career path and a new bike, then a 4400 mile bike trip 45 years later. Way more than you bargained for, eh?