Life is what happens…

…to you when you’re busy making other plans. John Lennon said that in the song ¨Beautiful Boy¨.

He wasn’t the first to say it. Cartoonist Allen Saunders (Steve  Roper and Mike Nomad, Mary Worth, Kerry Drake)  said it in 1957. I don’t know any other writer who had three comic strips in syndication at the same time. Saunders’ strips were soap operas before TV came along, though they continued into the TV era.

Comic strips are the thinking person’s Twitter. Squeezing something pithy into one or four panels is a pretty good trick. A weeklong (or longer) story arc is like a tweet storm. When I say ¨the thinking person’s Twitter¨, I’m thinking less of Saunders and more of Watterston (Calvin and Hobbes), Mallet (Frazz), Wiley – last name Miller, but he signs “Wiley” –  (Non Sequitur), and Trudeau (Doonesbury).

Back to Lennon; I can’t help thinking of our president whenever I hear Lennon’s “Happiness is a Warm Gun” – “Lying with his eyes while his hands are busy working overtime.”

Today’s plan was for the annual Fall Colors Bike Ride – the famous Blue Spoon to Little Village festival of fine foods.  Tim, the instigator, announced that he’d be out of the area after we set a date. I found out only the night before that “area” meant “continent”. Tenny was the next to bail – a bad cold. When we were down to two, Rosebud begged off, saying he could do this week or next, but not both.

Sugar Maple

I decided to do it as a solo ride. Since I’m used to following Tim, I thought it would be safer to scout the route ahead of time via map and make myself a cue sheet. That’s what I did but, when going to bed last night, the bathroom faucet wouldn’t turn off. When getting up this morning, the kitchen light wouldn’t turn on. I also realized that the point of this ride is mostly getting in one last ride with my friends and I would miss that doing it alone, even if we do it next week.

So it was off to the hardware store for parts to do some home repairs. On the walk back I ran into a couple standing at a bus stop and asking where to find the Capital City Trail – “the one that goes to Milwaukee”. I pointed out the trail, which they were standing next to (a bit confusing, as it is a sidewalk for the short stretch in their view).

I mentioned that Milwaukee is a long walk. She replied, “Seven hours. It’s a nature walk, plus we’re trying to get home.” She told me how their plans had been derailed and this was their contingency plan. I pointed out that the trail is not continuous to Milwaukee and how to get to the actual trail to Milwaukee after the Cap City trail ends. If they make it in seven hours, I’ll be mightily impressed.

By early afternoon the temperature had climbed to >40 degrees. Time for a ride! Instead of the Blue Spoon and Little Village, I settled for Farm and Fleet and the library. But the cafes wouldn’t have had the replacement water filter cartridge I needed, nor the library book that was on hold. So much for plans. Now life, on the other hand…

The Last RoundUp (take two)

Today was (probably) the last organized ride of the season. A year ago I might have looked at today’s forecast (50 degrees and rain) and decided to stay home to do the laundry. But I already paid the registration fee, and it’s warmer than it was from Thompson Falls to Missoula.

Sunday, October 7. I leave Madison in the dark. There’s not a whole lot of traffic at 6 AM on a Sunday. I’m listening to a Nigerian American artist and writer talk about his work on the radio. It starts to mist as I head out of town. I stop for coffee in the Only Waunakee in the World. As I start to dictate this in their parking lot, I realize that my phone is trying to type the nearest Spanish phonetic equivalent to what I am saying. When I say “Change to English”, it types “sangre”. When I say it again, it starts typing in English.

After riding with 2500 people in the Door County Century, on today’s ride I saw a total of five on the road. There were two people at the registration table when I arrived but I didn’t see them again. I saw a family of five about 20 miles in, but they were going the other way.

As a result, I had plenty of time to compose a letter to the editor.

Dear Editors:

The Wisconsin State Journal, like most of the mainstream media and the Senate, had the narrative wrong on the Brett Kavanaugh story. By casting it as a tale of “unsubstantiated allegations” you were able to reduce it to a he said/she said story. Since the “corroborating witnesses” had a vested interest in failing to recall the events of that night in 1982, and were self-professed blackout drunks, there is little surprise that no evidence was found to corroborate Dr. Ford’s testimony.

This way, Senate Republicans (and you, by printing their narrative) could cast this as the tale of “two lives utterly destroyed”. One of those lives can spend the rest of his life drying his crocodile tears with his new black robe.

Missing in this narrative is what we learned in the past week. Mr. Kavanaugh perjured himself more than once. He told us that his high school drunkenness was totally legal. Unfortunately, the record shows that the drinking age was 21 when he was engaging in his teenage hijinks. He told us he got into Yale with “no connections”. Unfortunately, the record shows that he was a legacy student, as his grandfather had gone to Yale. Why were these lies not the story? We didn’t have to go back 35 years to find out what kind of man he is, he showed us in his testimony. If he will lie about small things in order to gain power, why should we believe him about big things when he comes to power?

He showed utter contempt for the Senate and for the democratic process when he refused to answer direct questions and instead turned those questions around and asked them of the Senator questioning him. I’m no lawyer, but even I know that when you are testifying under oath your role is to answer questions, not to ask them.

So now we have a Supreme Court justice who shows himself to be a liar under oath and contemptuous of our constitutional form of government. And he is there for the rest of his young life.

As for the ride. It was misty/drizzling for most of today’s ride. When it got a bit chilly, I received the warming gift of a 20% grade to climb. After about 25 miles it became chilly enough to put my shoe covers on. That way, the next time we had a 10 or 15% grade, I was not in need of that grade to get warm. Leaves are turning, though with 100% cloud cover, we had to rely on the leaves themselves for their brilliance. There was no sunlight to add dazzle.

At one point I realized that it was not raining. I really don’t know when it stopped. I do know that the hardest rain came in the last 5 miles. We were provided with a cue sheet that recorded mileage to the nearest 1 1/1000 of a mile. Unfortunately, it was off by as much as 4 miles some of the time. Many road signs were missing. Being on a route with virtually no other riders and almost no route markings, this made for an interesting adventure finding my way back.

Most of the roads had names with “hollow” or “ridge” in them. It was clear we’d be going up and down a lot. One of the roads was “Dog Hollow”, which had me singing this:

Remember, there’s only a week left to vote in Madison Magazine’s “Best of Madison” awards.

Next week: The Famous Blue Spoon to Little Village Ride.

The Last Round-up (Take One)

Tonight was the last Wednesday Night Bike Ride. It being October, sunsets are coming pretty early. There isn’t much time for after work rides.

Tonight’s ride was on a toll road – the Capital City Trail. The county website says the trail is closed for repaving ( though the same site says it will reopen mid-September, so there are no recent updates). Multiple other sources assured me that the paving is complete and the trail is open.

They were wrong, as evidenced by the “trail closed” signs at each road crossing/ trail entrance. The crossings are being redone and have six inch deep cuts, with gaps of 1-3 feet in the pavement. Trying to jump them would result in damage to more than a tire if one missed.

Due to the 25 mph wind, the trail was covered by debris including leaves, twigs, branches, and (concealed in the leaves) black walnuts. For those unfamiliar with black walnuts, they are a little bigger than golf balls, green, and slippery.

Due to the 85 degree temperature, the new asphalt attracted dozens of snakes 6-24 inches long (15-60cm for the Canadian readers) basking in the heat.

I forgot my phone. That it was momentarily distressing stuck me as odd, as I’ve had a cell phone for only six months. Still, it was with me every day for 4400 miles this summer, and its absence meant no pictures of this ride. Early on there were a couple of detours due to underpasses that were underwater. Later there were multiple stream crossings on a trail that isn’t supposed to cross any streams. It does run through marshland and the wet weather this summer meant a couple of dozen areas where we crossed running water. The wind was from the south and the last few miles we returned north. The tailwind was pretty nice.

In Praise of Quality Stuff

Long time readers of this blog know that I have a couple of bikes nearly 29 years old. I 78F06685-4188-4375-ACE7-5958C9105B0Dbelieve in buying good things and using them for a long time. When I returned from a 2 month trip this summer I discovered that the gauge on my tire pump had failed. I bought this pump in 1974. Ten or so years ago I replaced the hose, as it had begun to leak. I’ve had to replace the rubber chuck a few times. The leather washer in the barrel needs occasional re-lubing. I am happy to say that, after nearly 45 years a replacement gauge is still available. The pump and new gauge worked fine tonight. I think it will outlive me. Maybe I’ll will it to one of my kids. I don’t often plug specific products, but this pump is still available, in an updated version. It costs more than most, but is serviceable, repairable, and durable. Why buy anything else?

This may be the last Wednesday Night Ride, but it’s not the last ride. Stay tuned for theBOM2019_160x150_1535470767904_12972535_ver1.0 Ocooch Fall Ride and the annual Blue Spoon to Little Village ride. And you still have until October 15 to vote in Madison Magazine’s “Best of Madison” awards for your favorite local blog (in the “Arts and Entertainment” category).

Vehicle to Something Greater

Why do I (or you) ride a bike? There are answers aplenty, from the environmental to the physical to the metaphysical. I could be serious or snarky and write a column a day to answer that question. Maybe I will.

But I found one answer in 1994 and have held onto it ever since. This was from Mike Ferrentino in the magazine California Bicyclist. I tried to reach him for permission to reprint this. (I don’t think the term “reblog existed back then.) With no reply this week, I’ll go ahead and run it.

The Bicycle, Vehicle to Something Greater

It has been a long week. The daily commute has been a hard grind, headwind going both ways kind of thing. You’ve been choking back diesel fumes and dodging dogs the whole time, only to arrive at work tired, and return home more so. It rained on Wednesday – hard, driving, sleety rain – and left you with a head full of snot for the weekend.

And your boss has been riding you like a worn out nag. The ride home serving only to process murderous thoughts and dreams of escape.

And your legs feel like they are filled with lead. Maybe you’re thinking about that upcoming race, that all too soon century, and dreading that you’ll feel then like you do now. Thinking that you aren’t really training, just wearing down, one day to become so much useless pulp. Thinking that younger, faster, hungrier bodies are everywhere, waiting for you to drop and be replaced. Fresher cogs in the same relentless machine.

And maybe things are not so hot at home. Maybe you are spinning home to something you’d rather be flying away from, if only you could fly.

And the whole world seems to be falling to fucking pieces all around you. All your friends are riveted by the latest scandal du jour, while the government continues to bleed your hard earned pay into a joke, and the planet is nothing more than a bloodstained cesspool in the eyes of TV cameras. Life seems to comprise moments strung together, moments of ironic anonymous tragedy, moments of lunatic humor, no common thread but nonetheless connected.

And it’s more than just your legs that are tired.

And you think a lot about how nothing seems to really mean anything, or everything means nothing, or nothing is everything. And What Is The Point Of This?

And so you are riding home and your head is filled with all this white noise. Thinking about everything and nothing at the same time. It’s the end of another week. There’s a bus that’s been alternately trying to asphyxiate you, run you over, and inadvertantly (sic) offering a sheltering draft from the bitter wind. You note kind of absently that one of your gloves is beginning to unravel around the cuff.

Then the bus turns off. And maybe you notice it’s that time of day just after the sun has set and the sky is all shot through with gold and red streaks. There’s a bank of clouds above the western horizon that looks cast in bronze. The air tastes like dusk.

And it’s very quiet. One of those moments in the rhythm of time when everything seems to pause at once, and all you can hear is the hum of your tires on the road and the steady tide of your breathing. There’s something like honeysuckle growing along the roadside, and off behind that fence someone’s fired up the coals for a barbecue. A dog, invisible and distant, barks at your passage. Above you, a flight of swallows dip and swerve their way home. Breathe. The air is clean from recent rain, laden with the scents of life. Warmth rises from the tar as the day’s stored heat flees into the growing night. You feel almost, sort of,..good. In spite of everything.

And you are winding out alone up this slight rise before turning off to your home. And you are three gears higher than usual, and the headwind just isn’t there. All the barriers have disappeared.

And all the fear and fatigue just wash away like you’ve been in some cosmic shower. All the dirt of the world has gone somewhere else for a minute, leaving you alone in a perfect instant. You grab another gear, feeling right here and now that there is no end to the strength in your legs, no limit to the depth of your lungs or your heart’s ability to pump.

And it seems, right here, right now, that there are no limits to anything, anywhere. That if you wanted to, By God, you could fly.

And you do.


Take this moment. Tuck it away somewhere safe where you won’t lose it. Never forget this feeling. This fleeting moment when there are no limits to anything, and everything is therefore possible. Hold onto it with all you have.

Know that this is the glue that keeps some of us together. That without this there’d be a whole lot more folks stealing automatic weapons and heading down to McDonald’s. Remember that there will always be too much to do, too little time, and that you can only take solace in what you know.

Savor the accidental, perfect beauty of life in whatever small portions are dished out to you. And never question why you ride. Question only why you don’t ride more.

Mike Ferrentino
(photos by half-fast cycling club)

Remember to vote in Madison Magazine’s “Best of Madison“. Click on the “Vote Now” icon, go to “Arts and Entertainment” and vote for us as Best Local Blog. You don’t have to be local, half-fast does.BOM2019_728x90_1535470768232_12972537_ver1.0

Hot off the presses! The Half-fast Cycling Club coast-to-coast commemorative jersey!Identify the photo locations in the comments for fabulous prizes, or at least bragging rights in a blog nobody reads anymore now that the blogger is back to civilian life.