Not an Ironman

Wednesday night’s ride covered some of the ground of Sunday’s Ironman Wisconsin. We periodically saw orange route arrows taped onto the roads. We climbed 100 feet/mile, which doesn’t sound like a lot but is about the same rate of climbing as the Horribly Hilly Hundreds or the Death Ride. We rode 30 miles instead of over 100, but then, we did it after work. When Ironman participants ride these roads, they will do it after swimming 2.4 miles in open water. After riding 112 miles on these roads, they’ll run a marathon.

On the way to work the next morning, I saw green arrows marking the run route for Ironman. When I take a different route to work, I see swimmers (accompanied by kayaks) practicing on the swim route.

Will the Ironpeople have time to watch the sunset over these soybean fields?
I saw this sign on last Sunday’s ride. It captures the half-fast cycling ethos, even when we’re training for a century.

Sunday’s ride was a reminder of where the white people who settled this area came from. We met in Verona and rode through Frenchtown, Belleville, Monticello, and New Glarus. Of course, before them were the Ho-Chunk and their ancestors, the Mound Builders. The meet-up point was inaccessible due to road closures for Ironman, so I wandered a bit before finding a place to start. A few miles in, I joined the planned route. Twenty miles in, I saw the ride leader. Forty miles in, I stopped at a christian classic car show and saw a few more riders I recognized, but mostly I rode alone. You might wonder what christianity has to do with classic cars. I do. Old cars were parked at an angle around a one-block park. Very few people were looking at the cars. Most of them were in folding chairs listening to a preacher. I found the deep purple 1957 Chevy much more interesting.

I never tire of looking at contour farming.

ADude I follow wrote about riding alone and riding in groups, wondering which we prefer. My answer is “yes”. Riding in a group has the advantage that someone else can plan the route and you can follow a cue sheet. Riding alone has the advantage that you can go where your heart takes you and follow no plan; or have the fun of planning a route. A group lets you talk to people. Alone lets you be with your thoughts. A group give you the opportunity to draft behind someone and save energy. Alone means you can watch the scenery and not pay attention to the person in front of you. You can ride at your own pace. A quick pause here to run outside. The laundry is in the back yard but:

The laundry is hanging in the basement or in the dryer (and the rain has stopped), so back to riding. Somewhere in between those two is riding with a friend or two. I’ve been riding with this guy for about 45 years. This picture is from the 80s, when I was visiting back home from California and riding a borrowed bike. So ride alone, ride with a friend, ride with 100 friends. I don’t care. Just ride.

Half-fast in the mid 80s.
Can you spot them here, 25 years later?

Don’t tell anyone

That I live in the most beautiful place in the United States to ride a bike. They’ll all want to move here.

Sweeping downhills that are like carving linked Telemark turns in fresh powder; steep climbs through wooded hills that shade you from the hot sun; ridge top vistas that go on for miles; shaded creek side valleys; the golden light of late afternoon casting long shadows. The word “green” doesn’t do justice to the array of colors: corn, soybeans, alfalfa, mixed grasses, oaks, maples – a panorama of color, all of which we call “green”.

The names of the town roads tell us what we’ll see – “Enchanted Valley”, “Table Bluff” (a hill so steep it’s like falling off a table – unless you’re going up), “Far View”. Or they tell us the history – “Old Settlers Road”, “Indian Trail”. Or specifically white people’s history, with the names of the first Europeans who lived where this road leads, or the first settlement in the area. These are roads that no one drives on unless they live here.

The area west of here is known as the Driftless Area because during the several ice ages in which this part of the world was covered by glaciers, every glacier missed that area. Instead of gently rolling hills and broad valleys, there are steep hills and deep ravines, becoming more rugged as you approach the Mississippi River.

A phone camera photo doesn’t do it justice. A GoPro camera so you can see what I see might do it. But video doesn’t show you what I feel – the sheer joy, the shit-eating grin, the conversation with old friends that has to pause if a car comes by, or when we get separated on a hill, picked up minutes later like there was no pause.

When you wave to the driver of a pickup truck, he waves back. The trucks here belong to real farmers who use them for real work, not poseurs whose trucks are for show and never get dirty.

We pass a small herd of cattle – Jersey, Brown Swiss, Guernsey, not a Holstein among them – lounging in the sun as we climb a hill that we will descend at the end of the day, careful not to smile too broadly and get bugs in our teeth.

The temperature is in the 70s, no wind, dew point around 50 so no humidity, the sun is shining – the world is perfect.

But maybe where you live and ride is the most beautiful place, too…

Thanks for the memories

Two years ago today (Sunday) was our first rest day, in Missoula, Montana. I needed another patch kit and more inner tubes. We had ridden 612 miles in 7 days. Today the hardest thing I did was pit two pounds of cherries and bake a cherry pie. I didn’t even have to pick the cherries – my son and daughter in law did that, from the tree in their backyard. (Thanks!)

Day 7 had been a 103 mile slog through nonstop rain, the last 50 miles into a headwind. My new bike was now broken in. Sunday was the day to clean the gunk of 103 rainy miles off the bike, relube, and get ready for another week (and another, and another…). We had crossed the continental divide for the first time by then. I wrote my two essential lessons about mountain riding:
1. Don’t worry about the top, it will be there when you get there;
2. Keep your feet moving in circles and all will be well.

I don’t have to look back at that blog entry to remember the day. It is one of those days that is burned deeply into my memory. It was cold and wet but it ended with a hot shower, a warm sweatshirt, pizza and red wine. We slept in a dorm for the second night in a week – the only time we would do that all summer. It was a day marked by camaraderie, as four of us stuck together to gain strength from each other, so we could take whatever nature dished out. Five miles from the end, we picked up a fifth. He was at the roadside fixing a flat in the pouring rain and told us to go on. We didn’t. We rode in together. It was exactly as Greg had said on the phone sometime in the spring: The days you remember won’t be the 70 degree and sunny days. Those will all run together. The days you remember will be the ones in which you faced adversity and overcame it.

We had already had our first night sleeping indoors on the solstice, in dorms at Gonzaga University. We covered the quad with drying tents and sleeping bags. Gonzaga is in Spokane, home of U. Utah Phillips, the Golden Voice of the Great Southwest. While he is best known for his recordings of the IWW Songbook, I have a warm spot for “The Goodnight-Loving Trail”, about life on a cattle trail in Texas in the 1800s. My friend Cripps introduced me to the song.

Cripps worked at the Whole Earth Co-op at the same time that I worked at the Willy Street Co-op. Whole Earth was one of the last of its kind. In lieu of a cash register, they had a cigar box and a spiral notebook. When you finished shopping, you toted up your goods, wrote the total in the notebook, and put your money in the box, making change yourself. We, on the other hand, had gotten our first cash register at St Vincent de Paul, and replaced it with a fancy one that ran on electricity (instead of a hand crank) when that one died. We were the first in town to have an electronic scale. The city weights and measures inspector told us he wouldn’t decertify our old scales, but he advised us to replace them. While they were inaccurate, they consistently cheated the store and not the customer. That wasn’t illegal but wasn’t a good way to stay in business. The new one had a calculator in it, so you could type the price per pound into the keypad and it would calculate the total price. (I know, all scales do that now; but back then it was a big deal. Scales had a chart with a range of prices and you found the price per pound and read along a red line to get the total. Since the ones we had were pretty old, the prices were low enough that you often had to multiply to get the real price.)

Cripps (remember Cripps? This is a story about Cripps) and I sometimes spent the night in the same house. One night I heard bass laughter coming up through the floor below me. I looked at my partner and she noted my surprise – “That’s Cripps”, she said. Cripps had a tenor voice but a bass laugh. Cripps’ partner was a woman from West Virginia. She taught me a line that I use to this day. You know how there are people you’ve seen around, maybe even know by name or have talked to, but you’ve never been introduced? Someone might ask, “Do you know Cripps?” And your reply might be, “I know who he is, but we’ve never been formally introduced.” Her reply was, “We’s howdied, but we ain’t shook.”

Another night Cripps and I were the last two awake in the house. He was sitting at the kitchen table with his autoharp and U. Utah Phillips songbook. I made myself a cup of tea and joined him. We sang our way through the book, but the first song we sang together was “The Goodnight-Loving Trail”.

One afternoon, too soon after that, Cripps got off the bus downtown, stepped out from behind the bus, and into the path of a bus coming the other way. He died that night. The song, and this post, are dedicated to his memory.

Wednesday Night’s Greatest Hits

Since we don’t have group rides this year, every Wednesday night I pick a ride and go. This week held scattered showers. I checked the radar and there seemed to be a hole in the storms. It corresponded with a favorite ride that isn’t on this year’s calendar. I checked the archives and found a cue sheet and headed out. It looked dark in the distance but that didn’t seem like a reason not to ride. I remembered this week two years ago and hit the road. If I can go 100 miles in the rain, what’s 20 or 30? The darkness seemed to stay in the distance and the roads were dry. About ten miles in it started to sprinkle. The sun was shining so I kept riding. The sun disappeared and the rain came harder. It was cooling off. A dense cedar tree appeared at the roadside and I took cover until the rain let up. There was thunder in the distance (in the direction I was pointed) so I took a shortcut back to my starting point. In the car on the way home it rained hard enough that I considered pulling over to wait for it to let up. The wipers on high were barely keeping up.

The front is rolling through. Time to cut this ride short.

Higher and higher

Holy Schnikes! That was hard!

(The links above are not showing up for me like they should – I’m having trouble connecting to WordPress – I hope you can see them.)

We had a great July 4 dinner at a Chinese restaurant outside of Worland, WY.

That night was only the second time I’ve been awakened in the middle of the night by a smell. The first was an ammonia leak at the ice cream factory down the street by our house. Wednesday night was the smell of the irrigation system coming on at the community center where we stayed. They water with reclaimed water, or maybe liquid manure.

At any rate, my tent still smells the next night and 93 miles away.

Breakfast was at a Mexican restaurant in town, with breakfast burritos, French toast, and lots of fresh fruit.

We worked our way through a series of roller coaster hills, each a little higher than the one before; each descent a little less than the prior climb.

We entered the town of Ten Sleep, so called because it was ten sleeps (or ten days’ travel) to Fort Laramie, Yosemite, and the Indian Agency on the Stillwater River in Montana.

There was a brewery at the edge of town, nestled in a red cliff. (In the first picture, that’s the brewery at the far left.)

In town we had a mandatory stop at Dirty Sally’s, a cafe and gift shop. An espresso, dark chocolate almond butter cup (think fancy Reese’s), and a birthday present later, it was time to start The Climb.

We climbed though various rock formations, each with a sign attesting to its geological age. Much to my dismay, I found the signs totally at odds with the known age of the earth, according to Creation Science.

We continued climbing through Ten Sleep Canyon, with awe-inspiring views. Lunch was a roadside picnic before the summit.

At the summit (9666 feet) I met a family from Omro, WI, on their way to Yellowstone. We had climbed 5000 vertical feet at a nearly constant slope.

After a fast descent (warm enough that I didn’t need to add layers this time), we encountered a steep two mile climb that made the 25 mile climb of the morning seem easy.

From there came what our route planner described as a “stair step descent”, with short 8% drops and “rolling terrain”. They were the oddest steps I have ever encountered.

I went from 45 mph to 7 mph in seconds, as each 8% downgrade was followed by an equally steep (though shorter) upgrade.

We entered town going slightly downhill, challenging the 30 mph speed limit. We slowed for the downtown area and, of course, had another steep climb to the school where we are staying. 93 miles, nearly 9000 feet of climbing, and our highest pass of the trip at 9666 feet.

Now you can say I’m over the hill.

This calls for an update:

It is now 8:30 PM Thursday. Due to construction on our planned route, tomorrow’s 72 mile ride has become a 102 mile ride.

During our meeting tonight, a thunderstorm of epic proportions struck. I got outside just in time to put the rain fly on my tent. I’d been airing it out to get rid of the mature smell.

60 mph wind, hail, rain in sheets quickly followed. One tent was flipped upside down, still staked on one side.

Another tent was flattened. A third was nearly airborne.

The sky was beautiful. The sun was setting in the west, with bright light on the west side of trees. The other side was completely dark and trees were swaying violently. There was a rainbow.

During a lull, I got out to my tent. The floor is wet on one side (in my haste I didn’t fully close a zipper), my sleeping bag and pad are damp. But the tent remained standing.

The tent itself is netting. Some rain has penetrated the fly and a bit has sprinkled down on me.

My phone was in the tent the whole time, so no pictures.

I think I’ll try to go to bed now.