Dear Curtis:

Spring may have arrived today [Monday, May 13]. Two weeks ago I cleaned snow off the windshield. Today it was pollen. [Is that what I get for not driving for two weeks?] Nothing says “new life” more irrefutably than pollen. The sun is shining. It is 65 degrees (18 Celsius).

Our annual Mother’s Day walk through the lilac gardens at the arboretum was a bit anti-climactic. While the lilacs are behind schedule, the redbuds are in bloom, as are irises, tulips, and grape hyacinths. Apples are beginning to bloom.

It is Stevie Wonder’s 69th birthday. My sister introduced me to him when I was ten (Stevie had just turned 13 when the single, recorded when he was 12, was released), with this song:

In honor of Stevie’s birthday I saw the Aretha Franklin movie “Amazing Grace” today. Almost enough to give a non-theist religion. It is also the birthday of Professor Craig Werner. Who’da thought a guy who wrote his dissertation on James Joyce would end up as a professor of Afro-American studies and write numerous books on African American music, including the seminal “A Change is Gonna Come“?

While Stevie started as a prodigy, he really came of age with “Songs in the Key of Life”, an album which showed his breadth and depth as a songwriter and a musician. No single song can encompass that, but one of my favorites is “Sir Duke”:

Time flies and it is now Thursday. Last night’s ride began the warmup for the Horribly Hilly Hundreds, the midwest’s answer to The Death Ride – but on a midwestern scale – instead of five passes, you climb “40 significant rises” in the words of the organizers.

Our warmup included the (in)famous Mounds Park Road. The third of four climbs for the evening, it starts with a 5½ mile lead-in through a slowly rising valley. It’s mostly flat, but you don’t stop pedaling the whole time. With a tailwind, it might be a way to warm up your legs. With a headwind, you might wonder if you’ll have jellylegs before you even start climbing. For those of you in Alpine County, CA, it’s sort of like climbing up through Woodford’s before you even get to the climbs to Carson or Luther Pass.

You finally turn off the county highway and get teased by a brief downhill, then a few gently rolling hills and you wonder what all the fuss is about. Someone was nice enough to spray grade markers on the road. You approach the first and see “6%”. Not bad, just your average mountain road and a whole lot shorter. Then you see the ramp ahead and the “13%” painted on the road. You ride through various 12 and 13% markings and see a spot where it “levels out”. A rest, you think. A mere “9%” is painted on the road. Now you know why people talk about this road. The respites are the single-digit sections, and “single digit” means “9%”.

Still, it’s fun…and then you remember that the Horribly Hilly climbs it once at 6.5 miles, and again at 120 miles. No sweat; today is only a 30 mile ride, and there is only the final and beautiful climb to Brigham County Park after this. You never actually reach the top on this ride – when you get near the top, you turn left onto Ryan Road. If you were thinking about sitting up, catching your breath, and taking a drink of water – think again (or do it fast). Before you know it, you are screaming down a 40 mph curving and shaded road. You better pay attention.

It was also the first post-ride potluck of the season. Like everything else, the rhubarb is behind schedule. Luckily I froze some last year so I was still able to make a rhubarb pie – 4 cups of frozen fruit from last year, and a cup of fresh was all I could muster from this year.

By the way, the rest of you can read this. Curtis was a friend in LA; the last person with whom I kept up a snail mail correspondence. Were he still alive, I’d have written something like this as a letter to him. Since he’s not around to read my letters, that falls to the rest of you.

I can’t get away without acknowledging that this is posting on Syttende Mai (17th of May), Norwegian Constitution Day.

Gone Fishin’

Some days are just too nice to do whatever it was you were going to do. Some days, the bike just calls out to you and says, “Ride me!” Today is one of those days.

I know the story of the grasshopper and the ant. Some days you just have to be the grasshopper. Yesterday I was the ant. Today I need a new pair of shoes. I pretty well wore out my sandals over the summer. The best shoe store in town happens to be out of town, and happens to be in a great area for a bike ride.

VermontChurchTrue confession: I took the photo last spring, but I like it and I haven’t used it yet, and this is the area I rode today.

Warm and sunny, but fall is in the air. The low angle of the sun casts a golden light over everything. Corn harvest is in progress. The early plantings have been harvested, the late plantings are still green; in between, some look ready to these layperson’s eyes.

I rode some of my favorite roads today. There was a headwind for a while. I didn’t care. I was riding into the wind because I wanted to go that way, not because I had to get somewhere. It seems to make a difference.

No map. No cue sheet. I had a route planned out roughly in my head, but when I came to Ryan Road (along Ryan Creek), that looked like a good way to go. My plan fell by the wayside. That led to Moyer, the climb through Pleasure Valley to County F, and Brigham County Park, one of my favorite places in the world. 65B5FBD4-63F6-47C0-A4F1-8B44B88B37BBBy the time I got back to Black Earth I was hungry. The shoe store owner also owns a sports bar a few miles out of town. I thought I’d stop there for lunch and visit my dad. (The bar has pictures of sports figures and his picture hangs by one of the booths.) Alas, they were not yet open so food had to wait. Back home, it is suddenly cloudy. This grasshopper made it just in time.

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