“I never dreamed that any mere physical experience could be so stimulating!”

Okay, now it’s cold. Those of you who recall my Winter Biking post know I delivered newspapers as a kid, and that my parents had a rule that if it were colder than -20 degrees F, I could get a ride on my paper route. I decided to keep that rule as an adult, and ride my bike to work as long as the temperature remained above -20.

I broke that rule this week. Bus service isn’t great on Saturdays, so I rode to work. This is what -21 degrees F (-30 C) looks like. The fog on the lenses is from bending over to lock my bike. I was able to see better than that while riding. I am happy to say that my new Bontrager Old Man Winter boots kept my feet warm(ish) with just dress socks. Now that I’ve tested them, I’ll wear warmer socks next time.

This was the first time it has been cold enough to wear that fleece balaclava. Silk glove liners inside my mittens also helped.The title, by the way, is from Rose Sayer (Katherine Hepburn) in “The African Queen”.

Temperatures that cold are fun for other things besides riding. If you throw boiling water into the air it will evaporate before coming to img_1458earth. (The actual demonstration starts at about the one minute mark of the video.) If you blow soap bubbles, they freeze. When the break, they shatter like light bulbs. The sensor on my phone had trouble dealing with all that white, but a frozen bubble sits in the middle of the photo.

(If spacing or formatting look weird, WordPress has changed its editing software again and it is pretty buggy.)

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Six inches of new snow followed the cold, and -30 comes next. (Update: it never got that cold, but close, and by Friday afternoon should be above zero.) Now I know people are getting soft. No newspaper or mail delivery today (Monday). Also, when it gets cold enough, the snow squeaks when you walk on it.

 

This morning (Wednesday) we added wind to the cold. -26 plus a 20 mph wind (with a brief shot of 30 mph headwind) yielded a wind chill of ~ -50. (F and C are pretty close together at that point.) About a half mile from work, I thought my rear tire was going flat. There was no way I was going to stop. I was willing to sacrifice the tire and tube. A bit later (when I entered the infamous Pharmacy Building wind tunnel – the cause of that brief but monstrous headwind) I realized I was going flat, not the tire. At that point, my lenses fogged and froze and did look like the picture above. The final climb up the hospital driveway was done by memory as much as vision.

I learned that the wind proof membrane in my jacket gets stiff at that temperature. When I moved, it sounded like I was wrapped in cellophane. I feared the membrane had become brittle enough to shatter, like the bubbles I blew. It still seemed to work the next day. The sound of the tire studs biting into the ice was deafening. I wanted to record all those sounds, but didn’t want to uncover my fingers to work the phone. (Besides, the battery went from 100% to 20% charge just sitting in my pocket during the trip.)

The last time I remember a cold snap like was back in my radio days. I read Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” and an except from Ursula K. LeGuin’s “The Left Hand of Darkness” (which takes place on a planet referred to, in English, as “Winter”) on the air that day. I recommend both if you want to curl up with a warm beverage and read on a cold day.

You’ve probably read that this cold is due to the “Polar Vortex”, and you may have read claims that this somehow disproves global warming. Au contraire! A high altitude warm air mass made its way to the pole, causing the vortex, which normally circles the pole, to split and send a lobe southward over central North America. It is currently colder in Madison, WI than in Fairbanks and Point Barrow, Alaska, as well as Lapland (Saariselkä). Parts of Siberia are still colder.

For the climate change deniers, or those who don’t fathom the difference between weather and climate, the National Weather Service reports that, between 1869 and 1999, the temperature in Madison, WI dropped to -20 degrees Fahrenheit an average of 12 times per decade. Since 2000, it has happened twice – in 2000 and this week. The average number of days per decade when the daytime high remains below zero has fallen from 15 in the 1900s to 2 this century. The Winter Biking link above also contains a link to lake freeze data from the University of WI Limnology Lab, which also supports the conclusion that winters are shorter and milder than they were in the 1900s.

We’ll see what the groundhogs think tomorrow.

So when some old codger says that, when he was a kid delivering papers, he often rode his bike in below zero weather and seldom does now, he is telling the truth. If he tells you he walked five miles to school (uphill both ways) and he and his brother took turns carrying each other because they had one pair of boots between them, he may be pulling your leg.

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.

Narnia

For those who haven’t read “The Chronicles of Narnia”, or at least the first book, “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe”, this post may not mean much.

I ride to work via a wooded path. The woods along the lakeshore are magical early in the morning. One day, it dawned on me that my journey to work was like the journey to Narnia. In the first book, the kids are staying in the home of a professor after being evacuated from London during the blitzkrieg. They are exploring the house, and trying to stay out of the way, when they

Wander down a long hallway. (1)

Spare Room
Hearing voices, they duck into a spare room. (2)

As the voices come closer, they hide in a wardrobe. They climb farther and farther back into the wardrobe, picking their way through old furs, and

come out the back of the wardrobe into Narnia. (3)

Lamppost
They come upon a lamppost, which will be their landmark to find their way back to the real world. (4)

 

In Narnia, they discover magical creatures in a new world.

dragon1
dragon

Swans
Tundra swans

 

 

needles
fairy land

castle
castle

 

And that’s my daily commute. And part of the reason I like to go to work every day.

{It appears that, in the phone version of this post, the pictures get rearranged slightly. I’ve added numbers to the captions to put them in order.The sound file is the sound of waves lapping against the shore, with ice crystals forming along the water’s edge. The sound file doesn’t seem to play on my phone, but does on the computer.}

Set the controls for the heart of the sun

sunI try to go on a January 1 ride every year. Sometimes it is just to a nearby coffee shop. This has been a warm December (after a cold November) so I thought about a longer ride. Just before Christmas it seemed like a great idea to tour the solar system for the New Year.

In 2009 the University of Wisconsin Space Place created a scale model of the solar system that one can tour by bicycle. They commissioned graphic artist Tsela Barr to design a sign for each planet and placed them to scale. Thus, Mercury is only a few feet from the sun and Pluto is 23 miles away via the Military Ridge State Trail. What better way to welcome the new year than to ride to Pluto and back?

The trail starts at the Monona Terrace Convention Center, which was conceived in 1938 Monona Terraceby Frank Lloyd Wright as a civic center on the lake. The idea was fought over for years, dying and being resurrected through the decades. In the 1970s, Madison was served by Mayor Paul Soglin, who decided to put an end to the fighting with a new proposal. He suggested taking the existing Capitol Theatre (a 1928 movie palace) and combining it with a former department store (Yost-Kessenich) and a few other storefronts to create a civic center away from the lake and closer to the state capitol. It worked and, in 1980 the Madison Civic Center was born.

Soglin took a hiatus in civilian life and returned to the mayor’s office in 1989. He decided the time was ripe and spearheaded the effort to build the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed civic center on the lake. It was repurposed as a convention center (since the city already had a civic center) and opened in 1997.

Meanwhile, the civic center was showing its age; the result of compromises and the fact that the Capitol Theatre was designed as a silent movie house. Along came a couple of wealthy philanthropists. Jerry Frautschi had made a fortune in the printing business (Democrat Printing Company, which became Webcrafters) and bankrolled his wife’s plan for a company that would make historically accurate dolls with a complex backstory supplied by a series of books. The Pleasant Company was born. When Pleasant Rowland sold the company to Mattel, the family had a few million dollars to spare and bequeathed the Overture Center to the city, a massive renovation of the civic center with a new, larger, and acoustically superior theatre where the department store had been. In 1997 the Frautschis pledged $50 million. Eventually that grew to over $200 million. Overture Hall opened in 2004 during Soglin’s second hiatus away from the mayor’s office.

In 2000, local singer/songwriters Lou and Peter Berryman wrote the song “Madison, Wisconsin”, with a chorus including:

“So how’s old Madison Wisconsin
Is that Paul Soglin still the mayor,
And is Rennebohm’s expanding,
The Club deWash still there?”

While the Club deWash burned down (under suspicious circumstances, but that would be another post) and Rennebohm’s was swallowed by Walgreen’s, Paul Soglin returned to the mayor’s office in 2011 and is still there today. While their songbook says the song is from 2000, I could have sworn they sang it when I heard them in San Francisco back around 1990.

Enough back story! Let’s ride!

New Year Ride

We rang out the old year in the usual fashion, with a potluck at the home of old friends Vic and Shel, followed by the (last) annual New Year’s Eve concert by Lou and Peter pieBerryman. Potlucks call for pies, so we made Chocolate Ancho Pecan Pies, from an Eldorado Grill recipe.

We had a surprising white Christmas when it snowed overnight on Christmas Eve. (Living on a narrow strip of land between two lakes, we often sing that old Irving Berlin favorite “I’m dreaming of a wide isthmus”.)

 

 

Back to rain and sleet and the snow was gone. New Year’s Eve started with rain, changed to sleet, and then to snow. This made for great riding today. I put the studded tires on my winter bike and abandoned the thought of riding the Bruce Gordon. Side roads and bike paths were solid ice. Without the studded tires I’d have spent much of the day picking myself up off the ground. With studs, it was like riding on clear pavement, except much prettier.

To get to the sun I first had to ride over the river and through the woods.River

As Lou and Peter told us:

“Up in Wisconsin, up in Wisconsinice fishing 2
The weather isn’t very nice.
Up in Wisconsin, up in Wisconsin
They gotta fish right through the ice.”

 

 

 

 

I rode to the sun and then started on my way out through the solar system in a winter wonderland. The heavy, wet snow on top of ice stuck to the trees. I had to photograph the planet signs from the leeward sides, as the windward sides were invisible under the snow.

 

 

A sticky disc brake piston made it harder and harder to reach escape velocity as I passed the larger planets. Finally, at Saturn, I used the gravitational force for the slingshot effect to launch me back toward Earth, after a brief vist to Titan.

                          

baklava

 

 

Cafe Domestique called to me, and an espresso and baklava were in order before returning home. Happy birthday to my baby sister, who has entered the decade in which Officially Old begins – she’s not That yet. Since she was born on January 1, too late for a 1958 tax deduction, our father called her “Pokey” as a child.