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.)

Devil’s Delight!

When I was in high school, I had a riding partner. We’ll call him Al, which is a good thing, since that’s what his parents called him. We rode motorcycles together. We also washed dishes together for the infamous Grace. If I haven’t written about her before, she’s another story all together. Let me know in the comments if you want to hear about her some other time.

Al and I graduated from motorcycles to bicycles when we turned 21. We were perfectly matched. We would ride side-by-side, mile after mile, in the same gear at the same cadence. When we came to hills, I would ride up the hill, turn around and ride down, then ride back up a second time with Al. It seems arrogant now but, at the time, it was just a lot of fun – I loved climbing hills. Gels and energy bars and Shot Bloks didn’t exist in those days. I carried dates (and sometime figs) in my handlebar bag and, when a big hill loomed, I’d eat a date for energy for the climb.

One day Al and I were riding in the Baraboo Hills. We were flying down a steep descent. Suddenly, the road turned 90 degrees and simultaneously turned to gravel. There was no way we would make the turn. There was no way for either of us to warn the other. We both aimed for a gap in the trees and hit the brakes. We came to a stop in the woods. We’d missed all the trees, we hadn’t flatted, we hadn’t crashed. We dropped our bikes, hugged each other, took a deep breath, and got back on. When we reached the bottom, we saw the road sign – “Devil’s Delight Road”. No doubt how it got its name.

I came to discover that Devil’s Delight was more fun to go up than down. It is one of the few roads around here steep enough to require switchbacks – most climbs are short enough that they just carve the road right up the hill, no matter how steep.

I began to fantasize a route – the Devil’s Delight Double Century, or El Diablo Doble – I wasn’t sure which I’d call it. Maybe after I retire I’ll finally set up the route. Don’t hold your breath. But it’ll have to include the 18% pitch on Terrytown Road.

But that’s not why I asked you here today. Today was the Lodi ride; from Lodi to the Merrimac Ferry, across Lake Wisconsin on the ferry, up Devil’s Delight, to the top of Devil’s Lake State Park, flying down through the switchbacks to the lake, then back to the ferry and back to Lodi. We also crossed the Ice Age Trail multiple times.

Devil’s Lake
Switchbacks ahead!

If you want statistics, you’ve come to the wrong place. How many watts did I put out? Attach a lightbulb to me and see if it stays lit. I can tell you my heart rate remained in the optimal range throughout – that’s non-zero. How many miles did I ride? Enough to get me back to where I started. I might tell you how many fawns darted across the road in front of me, and whether mama was on the other side scouting out the territory or darted out into my path after the baby as I was flying down the bluffs in the park. (Mom went first; I was safe, as was the baby.) I might tell you how many sandhill cranes I saw in the marsh along Marsh Road. (Zero, because there were trees between us – but it was either a really noisy crane or a lot of ’em.) I might tell you what flavor of ice cream I ate as I waited for the ferry. (None – I didn’t want ice cream in my belly before climbing the bluffs, and on the way back I didn’t have to wait for the ferry – I arrived just as it was unloading and walked straight on.) Anyway, that’s the life of a half-fast cyclist – I’d rather tell you what ice cream I ate than how far or fast or hard I rode.

First rosebud, front yard.
Peony, back yard – ants love ’em for the nectar.

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…

Blessing of the Bikes

I just had a bizarre epiphany about a traumatic childhood experience. I was waking up from a dream. The dream had ended with a scene of some adult men unloading gear from a car full of boys. One of the men found a backpack and asked mockingly who it belonged to. (I don’t remember the graphics, but it was something deemed unmanly.) I was an adult me standing nearby. He made an off-handed comment wondering if I as a child had been bullied for such things. As I began to answer, one of the boys asked about my current experience and I replied, “Adults are much nicer”, meaning that I no longer feel bullied by peers. In retrospect, that seems ironic, as it was an adult mocking and bullying one of the boys for his perceived femininity.

The dream took me back to one of my childhood experiences of bullying. I ran into three or four of my friends down by the lake, on my way to make collection rounds for my paper route. The guys saw me coming and thought it would be funny to throw me in the lake. They picked me up, carried me to the water’s edge, counted “one…two…three” as they swung me back and forth. On “three”, as they threw, I grabbed one of them tightly. I got one foot wet.

They dispersed and I made my way home, feeling humiliated, and feeling the squish of my waterlogged tennis shoe with each step. Collections would wait for another day. I thought these were my friends, and they had ganged up on me. On the way home, the gravity of the situation built in me. I then began to fear that my parents wouldn’t take my experience seriously. I took off my glasses and broke a temple piece, where it had previously (not that day) cracked. Now they’d take me seriously! These kids broke my glasses!

I got home and told my story. Because of the glasses I was taken seriously – mostly because of the expense (minimal, in retrospect) of fixing them. My father demanded to know who these bullies were. I wouldn’t tell. He didn’t push very hard. I think he admired my unwillingness to rat the kids out.

Until this morning I experienced this as bullying. I rejected the “boys will be boys” argument. I woke up this morning with a different experience. Was I bullied for being me? Or was it a spur of the moment thing? Had one of those four been the one walking along, would they have done the same to him? (One might ask, “would that make it better?”) Under other circumstances, would I have found it funny? 

At any rate, this morning I realized that “bullying” may not be an objective thing; that it may be in the eye of the beholder. It was clearly my experience that afternoon. I felt betrayed. People I thought were my friends no longer felt like my friends.

I felt powerless, but was that “their fault”? What was so terrifying? I was not afraid of the water. I lived on and in the water. They weren’t trying to hurt me (nor did they); they were goofing around. (Does the concept of “goofing around” include the experience of the victim? Did they consider whether it would be “fun” for him?) What made that moment an experience of terror? Was it because I felt powerless in my family and, at that moment, the one place that felt safe felt safe no longer? How were they to know?

The today me (I hesitate to say “grownup me”, as it just changed today, at age 66) feels very differently than the 12 year old me (or even the yesterday me). It feels much more complex today. When I felt betrayed by friends, I turned to family for support – the very family in which I felt powerless and unseen; and which was the source of much bullying.

Now that is bullying.

It seems to come back to the obvious(?) If we are going to label, we label the behavior, not the person. Were those boys “bullies”? I don’t think so. Was their behavior “bullying”? Yes, though it did not start that way. It was a “boys will be boys” moment until I reacted in terror and they did not stop. Was my terror about them, or about me? What might have happened had I named names and those boys been called out? Would they have been branded as bullies? Would my dramatization of the incident been brought out? Would I be victim or liar? Could I be both? Is our world big enough to accept both of those truths and deal with them?

Today’s ride

I woke up this morning and checked the weather – thunderstorms blowing in around 10 and sticking around through mid-afternoon. The ride to Vermont Church for the Blessing of the Bikes looked unlikely. I wrote the post above, did a few loads of laundry, and prepared to settle in for a day at home. I checked the weather again and there was a big red blotch on the forecast map, blooming from the little green area moving up from Illinois. I did some other stuff but couldn’t resist checking the map one more time before it was too late – the big red blotch was now a bunch of scattered spots – scattered showers and thundershowers…what the hell, let’s go!

Vermont Church (in better weather)

I headed to the starting point, thinking I was nearly ½ hour early – plenty of time to chat with the other riders and think about what we’d do about the weather. Surprise! surprise! The start time was ½ hour earlier than the website said. They were just heading out of town. I told them I’d catch up. The next surprise was that the road out of town was closed. They took a shortcut so I didn’t catch them until about 8 miles out.

We ran into scattered showers – chilly enough that I was glad I had shoe covers and a rain jacket on, warm enough that I was glad the rainpants were in the jacket pocket. We shortened the route to get to the pancakes faster. The folks of Vermont Valley Lutheran Church were waiting with a spread that included pancakes with choices: maple syrup, blueberry, strawberry, or rhubarb sauce – I guess someone out there has a sunnier rhubarb patch than mine. They had sausages for those of the meat persuasion, as well as OJ and church basement coffee. After we ate, the minister blessed our bikes. It was no hurried blessing – he blessed our gears for crisp shifting, our tires for smooth rolling with no flats, and our brakes for quick stopping, too. He asked for some sunshine, which arrived after about 15 miles.

After the blessing we retreated to the basement, as the worst of the weather was just arriving. We waited out the thunderstorm and I was glad to have rainpants for the trip home. At the edge of town, the sun appeared as a tailwind blew us home.