I renewed my half-fast credentials…

on a recent ride with the Bombay Bicycle Club. It started innocently enough.

We met at a park near the edge of town. There were two options – short (30 miles) and long (70 miles). The ride leader urged those going long to head out first. There were maybe 8-10 of us. There were maybe 25 more doing the short ride.

As we headed out, we coalesced into one big group. A few folks worked their way up on the left. As we headed into more open road, the group started to spread out. A few faster riders began to disappear ahead. That was as it should be. I settled in near the back of the next group, at my usual leisurely pace for the first five miles. As we began to climb, I found myself moving to the front of that group. Another hill or two and I was in between the two groups. That was fine. I could enjoy the scenery and not look at a wheel or a back.

The fast guys must have gotten stuck in traffic at a crossroads, as I somehow found myself with them. The pace picked up to about 20 mph. Fine, as long as I was in a group. There were two guys who would ride along in the middle of the group, then one of them would accelerate up the left side and set a 25 mph pace. The next person would grab his wheel and we’d be flying along for a mile or two. Then he’d drop back and we’d settle into our usual pace. Then the other guy would do the same.

One year ago, crossing into Canada

It was exhilarating riding at a pace faster than usual. I had divided the route in my head into 7 mile segments – each 1/10 of the ride. At mile 21, my brain said “3/7 of the way. I can do this”. A bit later I said, “wait, that’s 3/10 of the way – this is not sustainable”. I drifted off the back. No way a half-fast rider can ping pong between 20 and 25 mph for another 50 miles.

One year ago – 100 is only a number. No century today.

I caught up with them when we all stopped for cold drinks at a gas station/convenience store. I had the sense to wait until they were out of sight before heading back out on my own, at a reasonable pace. I reached the MacKenzie Environmental Center, near the midpoint of the ride. The cue sheet said continue straight. The sign said “Road Closed”. The pavement said “I haven’t been maintained for 20 years.” I checked my phone for another route, but had no service.

I rode back out to the main road and picked up a signal. I began to plot a new route, when the map disappeared and all I had was a blue beacon telling me “you are here”; but there was no here there. The signal came and went. Three more riders appeared. They acted like they knew where they were going. I decided to follow them.

We rode back to the “Road Closed” sign and rode through the barricade. Garmin said to continue, according to one of them. The mix of pavement and green was about 50/50; except for the places where it was obscured by all of the fallen twigs and small branches. We picked our way through and, just as I made a cyclocross joke, the pavement came to an end. There was an expanse of grass ahead of us; nothing even remotely resembling a path – but we could see an actual road just ahead so we continued on. In retrospect, there oughta be some pictures here. I didn’t realize this was going to be a story.

Back on the road, we had about 35 miles of headwind to home. I managed to hang on.

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.