The Ride

Geoph lived in a comfortable home in San Francisco with his family of nine, some biological and some otherwise chosen. He left that home and family and hit the road in his tan Mazda pickup truck, with carpentry tools in the back, to visit intentional communities around the US.

He spent time at EastWind in Missouri (purveyors of fine nut butters), Twin Oaks in Virginia (makers of rope hammocks) and The Farm in Tennessee (foremost trainer of lay midwives), among others. He became known as “The Peripatetic Communitarian” and wrote extensively for Communities Magazine and produced films about the world of intentional communities. (Image from ic.org)

One of his communities was Co-op Camp Sierra, where our paths crossed every summer. In the summer of 2007 he stopped in San Francisco to visit his daughter on the way to camp. He wasn’t feeling great and she thought he looked worse. She convinced him to go to the doctor while he was in town. He never made it to camp that year, or ever again. He died that fall of pancreatic cancer.

Jerry was a carpenter. He built the steps in front of my house. He built his house. I was doing a bathroom remodel and called him to help hang some drywall. At nearly 80 pounds per sheet, lifting them overhead and holding them in place while screwing them into the studs required two people in my book. He came over, picked up the first sheet by its top edge, lifted it into place, held it with one hand, and screwed it into place with the other. I was just in the way. He had more strength in his fingers than I had in my whole body. When I tried to pay him, he said, “You just owe me an hour of labor next time I need an extra pair of hands.” He never got to collect. A misstep walking into the garage shattered a hip weakened by leukemia and he never recovered.

Lloyd was one of those people who made this town my home. I never knew him well but we had many friends in common. He walked into the hospital for a bone marrow transplant and was carried out when his weakened immune system could carry him no longer.

Karl was a weightlifter, a writer (at least one novel and one true crime book), a cook (which is how I met him) a runner, and a purveyor of fine running shoes. He autographed his novel for me during the first of many hospital stays, when he famously said to his surgeon, “I didn’t know you were going to make me look like Mr Potato Head.” [Ed. note: now known simply as “Potato Head“.] Head and neck cancer eventually claimed him but didn’t seem to slow him down before that. (photo by Rob Kelly)

On the other side of that coin, in my work I see women (and the occasional man) the morning after mastectomy pretty much every week. They have a cancer which is curable and often cured. I am no longer surprised by the ones who look great and are ready to move on after a few weeks to recuperate.

Cancer is one of those words we have learned to dread. Once it was seen as monolithic. Eventually we came to understand that there are many types of cancer. Some we can cure, some we can control, others are pretty universally killers. So why am I talking about cancer in what is, ostensibly, a bike blog?

During this pandemic, life has been confined to going to work five days a week and staying home the other two. I used to go on a weekly ride with friends and acquaintances. I used to ride on Sundays with a local club. I rode centuries, I rode across the country. Now I ride alone.

I have now registered for The Ride, a fundraiser for the Carbone Cancer Center. I hope to be able to ride 100 miles with others by late September. Even if the ride is canceled, cancer continues. Please consider visiting my fundraising page and making a donation in hopes that your friends don’t have to join mine in this list of stories. And if you have a story to tell, or a friend’s story to tell because they are not here to tell it themselves, please add it in the comments below.

Triplets of Belleville

After last week’s ride out of New Glarus, this week we rode into New Glarus, out of Belleville. As a teen, I rode here to dive in this lake. Where the building and pier appear in the photo, there once was a diving board.

The best place for feet after a ride

As a young diver, I was always on the lookout for another board. Our town pool had the worst board in the region, which gave us a home pool advantage when the country club teams came to us. One day on the way to visit my sister in Monroe, we took a wrong turn and drove through Belleville. I spotted the diving board at the lake and made plans to ride my bike down to try it out. As diving boards go, it was nothing to write home about, but the beauty of the lake beat a municipal pool and the smell of chlorine. 25 miles down, a couple of hours in the lake, and 25 miles home left me tired and happy.

Over the years, Lake Belle View silted up and became nothing more than a mudpit. It has been restored, though the diving board was replaced by a fishing pier. This Belleville has nothing to do with the French film The Triplets of Belleville.

But the film does have something to do with bicycling:

As this month features the ridiculously late edition of the Tour de France, Eddie Merckx climbing Mont Ventoux is timely.

It is century season in these parts. Last Saturday was a century for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (led locally by the Lymphomaniacs), Sunday was the Wright Stuff – through Frank Lloyd Wright country (in a pandemic “you’re on your own” edition with very limited support), this Saturday would have been the Door County Century (canceled) and the following week the Peninsula Century (same area, also canceled). We’ll have a report on solo riding on the Door Peninsula soon.

Chip off the old block

My daughter, a newly-minted grad student, put 50 miles on their bike last week getting to and from school and an internship. At 50 degrees and raining, with a north wind, they borrowed a spare pair of my rain pants for the 18 mile round trip rather than take the bus. That’s earl, brother.

An open letter

to my Cycle America community. To jog your memories, there will be one photo from each week, none of which have appeared here before:

Dear Friends,

trailer loaded, ready to head to ride start-WA

We have now been back in our respective real worlds for longer than we were away in our circus world. We used that metaphor during the trip because it seemed apt – we rolled into a new town every night, set up our tents, and were gone in the morning before most people were up and about. We didn’t put on much of a show, but…

Einstein in Jackson, WY

It’s also timely because I spent three days of the last week in Baraboo, home of the Ringling Brothers and the Circus World Museum. It was also where, for me, the two worlds intersected. My friends, my son and his wife, and my boss all came to Baraboo when the Cycle America Circus rolled through. It was my reminder that our circus world was fleeting, that the other world beckoned. It was the best of times…

Devil’s Tower, WY

And now we’re scattered across the globe doing whatever it is we normally
do; though even that is new for some – Ally went from being a student to being a nurse during those nine weeks. Mike stayed away longer than the rest of us to ride down the west coast of the US. How’d that go, Mike?

Did anybody do a Johnny Paycheck when going back to work?

Needles Highway, SD

I miss that world. I missed the daily routine of riding already by the first Monday I was home. I had my day of rest and was ready to ride again. I’m still looking for anyone who wants to pay me to ride my bike. From the headwaters of the Mississippi to the delta seems like a good route. Who’ll drive sag?

The jersey that got us in trouble in Belgium-Northfield, MN

But I also miss all of you. Don’t worry, I’m not gonna get all hold-hands-and-sing-Kumbaya on you. If we all lived in the same town it’s not like we’d all be hanging out every night after work (those of us who do still work) or be drinking coffee together every morning at the corner cafe (for the retired among us).

Wind farm – Pepin, WI

But we had a community for those nine weeks; a loose-knit one, perhaps, but we shared something I will never forget. We shared fun, we shared miseries, we shared deeply transforming moments.  We found out what we were made of. Some of you, who had done this before, may have had no doubts about it. But I bet most of us had moments when we weren’t really sure what we had gotten into, weren’t really sure we could do this. But we did. And we probably knew that all along but it seemed too arrogant to say out loud, just as voicing the fears seemed too insecure to say out loud.

100 miles is just a number – almost a century in Ontario

We ate some great food and some food that we may not have eaten had we not just ridden 80 miles. We saw the USA in a way that most people never will. We didn’t fly over flyover country. We didn’t cross the plains at 80 mph (~130 km/h for those of the metric persuasion), staring at the ribbon of pavement and ignoring all else. We did wake up sober in Nebraska (or close to it – Nebraska, I mean). Climbing mountain passes didn’t mean just stepping harder on the accelerator.

Cycle America International Bobsled Team – Lake Placid, NY

We did all that, and we did it together. I, for one, already think about a reunion. It’s entirely possible we will never see each other again. I know some of you are friends in real life and do hang out. The rest of us? Maybe we’d feel awkward, not knowing what to say. Maybe we’d need a long ride together with margaritas to follow. Maybe a short ride, but actually together as a group, like the brief stretches when we were together for ferry crossings or through construction zones.

End of the road, Gloucester, MA-only one way to go

And maybe doing it again in 2020 doesn’t sound crazy after all. (Don’t tell anyone here I said that!) If those of you with the wherewithal to do it again do it, I’ll meet you in Baraboo with a case of beer. Or we can find an Irish pub and Mike can show the bartenders the proper way to pull a pint of Guinness.

See you on the road!

Love,

Steve

Maybe a motor next time?

Maybe Hogwart’s next time?

maple
Home again

 

Moose Turd Pie

Riding into Spokane, I’m thinking of one of Spokane’s best (well, two, actually). U. Utah Phillips, “The Golden Voice of the Great Southwest” (1935-2008) spent time here and used to tell stories of Spokane, including the free speech movement of 1909-10 here.

Phillips also had a special relationship with trains, lamenting their disappearance from the landscape with the song, “Daddy, What’s a Train?” He also sang cowboy songs. My friend Cripps had a U. Utah Phillips songbook and I recall sitting around the kitchen table late one night, Cripps playing his autoharp as we sang together “The Goodnight-Loving Trail“. I’m not sure why writing this blog keeps bringing me back to friends who have died, but Cripps has been gone since about 1980.

I really brought up The Golden Voice for his story of working as a Gandy Dancer on the railroad, and how they decided who had to cook each night:

RubyThe other Spokane friend has 4 legs. Cathy, who raises and trains horses (and trains kids and dogs) in Wisconsin, keeps talking about going back to Spokane. Here is her horse, Scarlet Spokana, AKA Ruby.

Century!

But enough about Spokane to come, what about the ride that I just finished?

I haven’t ridden a century in 25 years (BC, for the parents among you). Today came with an early climb of >7 miles. The accompanying picture is about ⅔ of the way up. Sorry, Tim, no smile again. Luckily it was about 7:30 AM for that picture, or I’d have looked much worse. The thermometer on my bike read 90 at mile 90. I can’t vouch for the accuracy.7a19d431-8eeb-45de-adeb-646f6088bbc7.jpeg

Like my 12 year old self (see the post “My Origin Story” – I’m too lazy to add the link today), I had some great ideas on the road, none of which I remember. I wrote a hilarious post that no one will read.

This ride had a couple of big climbs and descents, and mile after mile of high plains desolation, beautiful in its own way. Sometimes the road seemed to go on forever. We ended with a long descent to Grand Coulee Dam. To get to Spokane we have to climb back out.

FA8F4E33-6F01-4917-843B-49E406D28D38I won’t show you odometer shots every day; that would be boring – but today calls for it.

Somehow, I see yesterday’s red caboose photo didn’t make the final edit. I’m sitting outside today, away from all other devices, and it seems to be working better. Even the PS apologizing for the technical problems failed to make it to the version (I assume) you see. It was in my last editor’s view but gone when I looked at the post this morning.

So I’ll try to attach that photo again, with another plug for the world’s greatest day care center. You can read all about it in “The Goodbye Window” by Harriet Brown.

Tomorrow, into Idaho for the solstice.