A Tale of Two Sundays

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. When I went to bed the last Saturday night in April, it was snowing. I awoke to fresh snow for my Sunday morning ride. We rode east (a rarity in these parts – folks generally ride any other direction – though there are some great places to ride to the east). The sun was bright, the air was crisp. I had just the right mix of clothing, though a few times I wished I hadn’t left the shoe covers behind.

Pre-ride snow removal April 28

Tulips and irises were peeking out through the snow. Trees were beginning to bloom; the greens stark against the new-fallen snow. By noon the snow had melted in all except the deepest shadows. We followed the ride with a concert by the Choral Arts Society Chorale. The concert was “Water: A Celebration in Song“, and included works from the 16th to the 21st century, from multiple continents, and featured a newly-commissioned work. The 2018-19 “Go Big Read” for the university this year is “The Death and Life of the Great Lakes” and copies were provided to concert-goers. Keep an eye on this group if you’re in or around Madison WI. Concerts are built around social justice themes (the last one was immigration). They are thematically linked and musically diverse.

The first Sunday in May dawned bright and clear, with the temperature rising through the 60s already by 8 AM. Morning came early, as I had heard and seen Mahler’s 8th Symphony (“The Symphony of a Thousand“) the night before. The work got its nickname from the number of musicians involved. This presentation featured a mere 500 including an enlarged symphony orchestra and three choral groups. Five hundred musicians (including a magnificent organ) make for a spectacular sound. The day was especially long, as I had worked from 6 AM – 1:30 PM and gone to a retirement party after that. The party was for the retirement of the long-time director of one of the great day care centers in the world, Red Caboose, featured in the 1998 book “The Goodbye Window” by Harriet Brown. (Disclosure: Both of my kids went to Red Caboose and are in the book. I was once the treasurer.)

But as for the ride: I arrived at the meet-up point with the sky darkening and the wind rising. It looked like a squall that would blow through quickly. After standing around waiting for that to happen, we headed out. The sky was getting lighter but the wind stronger. About ten minutes into the ride it began to sprinkle lightly. It rained just enough to make the sun’s warmth welcome when it reappeared, and to make us look like Saturday’s Kentucky Derby riders, splattered with mud – but I didn’t have spare goggles to toss aside when it got hard to see. By noon it was warm enough to remove my jacket.

The week between rides meant the alfalfa and grasses were now a brilliant green. The delicate spring green of blooming trees (including maples and willows) made a stunning contrast with the deeper greens of the grasses and the browns of the dormant cornfields. By the end of the ride the sky was a brilliant blue and, when I got home, the laundry I’d hung out before the ride was dry.

So I was lying about the worst of times. While one ride included snow and the other rain, both were great rides. And today I set up my espresso machine and brewed my first espresso, after an hour-long meditation in an MRI machine.

First espresso

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.

It’s Not Too Late!

It’s not too late to join me on this epic journey. We’ll be leaving Everett, Washington on Father’s Day, June 17. Splashdown on Cape Ann, Massachusetts is Saturday, August 18. In between the route is split into 9 segments. You can join me for one or allroute

For those of you from my neck of the woods, take a look at segment 6. WI itinerary

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At the very least, maybe you could join us from Baraboo to Beaver Dam on Thursday, July 26. That’s almost Wednesday Night. A couple hundred extra riders would make quite a splash (and maybe get me kicked out early, who knows?)

If you can’t join us on the ride, and you’re on the west coast, join my friend Keith Greeninger some time this summer. He’ll be at the Freight and Salvage in Berkeley on Father’s Day (the day we start to ride) and in Oregon and Washington in May. I’ve been looking for a way to work him into this, so I could link to a song he wrote several years ago but stays current.

For those who never worked in construction, most major cities have a spot somewhere (in this song it is K-Mart and Home Depot, in San Francisco it was Goodman Lumber in my day) where day workers (“casual labor” in a strange use of the language) gather in hopes that a contractor will come by in a truck and offer them work for a day.

This song is about a contractor looking for workers to build a wall, a border wall that gets higher in each retelling. He’s willing to hire undocumented workers.

Some of the half-fast cyclists are currently touring Catalunya (part of Spain to some, but not to the Catalunyans). One sent pictures of the climb of Rocacorba:

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Photos by Tim Morton

As you can see, it is 13.8 km of climbing, gradients of ~10% (7-15% by report, though it looks from the sign at the summit as though the overall average is 6.5%). If you saw the whole series of photos (starting at km 5) the smile becomes more of a grimace as they got higher, though the smile comes back at the summit. I’ll have to remember that trick when I cross the continental divide – stop for pictures rather than rest breaks;)

Acknowledgments

Any book has an acknowledgments or dedication page, where the writer thanks everybody who helped along the way. It is time for that now, before I hit the road.

First I need to thank the folks at work who made this possible, particularly Sarah, Noreen, and Jane. Without their understanding and willingness to see this dream/plan come true, I’d be working all summer, not riding. Yes, I promise to come back. Retirement is nowhere in sight. When I asked for this time off, I didn’t realize the excrement was about to strike the air-circulating appliance. Jane has since retired and I hope she is sitting back, enjoying life, and reading my blog. Thanks, Jane, for all you’ve done over the years. Once, years ago, my son called me at work. He had been hit by a car. Jane immediately offered a ride home, knowing I was on my bike and she could get me there faster and be available to transport my son, if need be.

Since the time I wrote this post, a number of other changes have happened at work. It turns out I won’t be the only one gone this summer, so I need to thank everyone who will be there working while we are short-handed.

Next is my first riding partner, Al. In high school we rode motorcycles together. After that we switched to bikes. We often rode side by side, in the same gear and at the same cadence. We were a matched pair. My first loaded tours were with Al. It was with Al that I sprinted to a highway wayside in a gathering thunderstorm, pitched a tent in record

Motobecane Grand Jubile

time, and settled in. It was with Al that I got kicked out of said wayside by a county sheriff when the rain stopped. We were told he had better find us in a campground or out of his county by nightfall or we would be spending the night in his jail. He would be checking that wayside, and all waysides in the county, again. We found a campground after briefly considering an attempt at riding home in the dark. (This isn’t entirely true. Actually, we were in the campground and it was late at night when we considered packing up and riding home. We realized we needed fresh batteries for our lights and no stores were open.) There was a really good tailwind and only about 60 miles to go. I was also with Al on the backpacking trip in New Mexico which resulted in the ankle injury that brought me to my first new bike, the Motobecane I wrote about a few weeks ago.

Andy at Yellow Jersey built my first set of custom wheels back around 1980 (Campagnolo Record hubs, Weinmann concave rims). His partner Tim built the wheels that will make this trip (DT Swiss carbon ceramic hubs, Velocity rims [asymmetrical rear] – I thought aluminum rims would be better suited to the long journey than the carbon fiber rims that came with the bike).

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2017 Wilier

Chris is the guy who sold me this bike after he had used it just long enough to break it in – he is the west coast sales rep for Wilier. The custom paint job was chosen by him.

Rosebud (right) & I in pre-helmet days

The half-fast cycling club has ridden with me through the years – some of them I’ve ridden with off and on for 40 years, some less than that. It is a changing group of friends as some have given up on longer distance riding. Rosebud deserves a special shout out – I tried to get him to come along on this trip. He is one of the originals, from many years before the club name came along. We used to ride to Salmo Pond (right) to swim and have a picnic lunch before riding back home.

By the way, even those in the picture don’t know that I named us. They may disavow any knowledge or responsibility once they read this.

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Victor, Rosebud, your blogger, and Dave – at the birth of the Half-fast Cycling Club, whether they know it or not.

Various anonymous people on the west coast deserve thanks. When I was a stranger there I discovered the joys of club riding when I didn’t have an informal group of friends to ride with. They introduced me to century rides and the Death Ride. I never joined a club (like Groucho I wouldn’t join any club that would have me as a member) but rode with several. A particular guy from up in the mountains near Lake Tahoe was a riding partner for parts of several centuries. He rode with the Alta Alpina Cycling Club.

Ken, who tried to get me to leave my job and join him on a cross-country tour when he finished law school, made me realize I would do this trip someday, somehow. I didn’t join him then. His mom (my boss) would never have forgiven either of us.

Peter Ralston

Peter is my teacher/facilitator and taught me how to train. It is thanks to him that I know what I need to do to get ready for this trip and that I will do it. http://chenghsin.com/chenghsin-main.html

Greg at Cycle America, who has fielded phone calls from me and met with me in his office in a small town in Minnesota (Cannon Falls, on the way to Northfield from Wisconsin) to answer my questions, deserves mention. This probably won’t be the last one. I found a Cycle America brochure in my files from 1991 (one of the other times I was considering this trip). Greg didn’t agree to match those prices.

Jake, the well-tempered ear, who gave me some blogging guidance along the way. Jake said “more pictures”, so I’ve been adding pictures.

Finally, I need to thank my family. My mom, whose legacy helped to finance the trip; my brother, who insists that mom’s instructions were to spend our inheritances frivolously (I’m not sure I believe him, but I wasn’t there); my kids, whose dreams I supported as they grew up and who now support mine in turn; and my wife, who is willing to be a completely empty-nester for two months and knows how important this trip is to me.

P.S. I found out that a couple of unfinished posts scheduled for June leaked out somehow. Ignore those if you received them via email. Updated versions will come out on the intended dates. Some of the posts composed on my phone instead of desktop may come out looking weird. Let me know in the comments if that happens. (Or contact me directly if you know how to do that, as I’ve heard from one person that she isn’t able to comment online – we’re working on that.) On the computer I can see previews in desktop, tablet, and phone formats. On the phone, obviously, I can see only the phone format. If pictures are too small or too big, let me know.