Both sides now

Today I rode the Horribly Hilly Light. With only five weeks to go until the real thing, it was time to climb some hills. A mere 35 miles, but five nasty climbs. You know it will be a fun day when Pinnacle Road is not the hardest.

Sutcliffe Road has a steep side and a steeper side. The first time I remember climbing the steeper side I was side-by-side with Duke. My lungs were ready to burst. My legs had little left to give. I decided that, if Duke wasn’t giving up, neither was I. I looked over at him. Breathing was hard enough that there was no wind available to waste on words. We made it over the top. This was definitely Type II fun. It was only much later that we discussed that ride, and Duke told me he looked over at me with the same thought.

Some time after that, all of the organized rides that climbed Sutcliffe did it from the “easy” side. I hadn’t been up the harder side in a long time.

I needed some new shoes, and my favorite shoe store is out in Black Earth. That’s a long way to go just for shoes, so I rolled the bike into the van and drove to Black Earth to do the Wednesday Night Black Earth Ride. The first climb out of the valley is up the “easy” side of Sutcliffe. Piece of cake. The steep downhill is where I have hit 50 mph in the past. In my book, 40 mph is fun, 45 is exciting, 50 is scary. Today I kept it below 50 (I presume, not having a speedometer on this bike). It was fun and a bit exciting.

Zwettler Road gets steep at the very end. Doable, but not easy. Pinnacle is long and hard with a few false summits along the way. I had to ask myself a couple of times if I was okay. No dizziness, but heart and lungs at the red line. Over the top and a chance to catch my breath on the descent. Then a long rolling section along Blue Ridge before another descent into a valley – one I had ridden Sunday. The turn into Knight Hollow leads to the next climb.

An All-Star band including David Grisman, Bela Fleck, Jerry Douglas, Stuart Duncan, Jack Lawrence

Roelke Road sneaks up on you. You’re cruising along and turn right to go straight up. It is short enough that there are no switchbacks. What looks like the top isn’t, as there is a left-hand bend and then a little more; but I knew that, so it was okay. Now I was down to one big climb. Lacking an odometer, and with no cell service in the steep hills and deep hollows to check my position on a map, I managed to miss a turn. I found myself on the steeper side of Sutcliffe for the first time in years.

I could have turned around and looked for the turn I missed, but what’s the fun in that? It might have been nice to be on the lighter bike with lower gears, but that’s life. This was the bike I climbed it on before. So we’re both 20 years older. Who cares? I accepted that I might walk, or stop for a breather, without Duke by my side. I don’t know if I’ve ever walked up a hill except with a loaded touring bike, so I did what any sane person would do. I rode up and over the hill without stopping. I’ve looked at Sutcliffe Road from both sides now; and in the same day.

Written by Joni Mitchell, but first recorded by Judy Collins

Back into Black Earth and it was time for some shoes.

Hyde’s Mill

We shared the road with the Slimy Crud Run, featuring a few hundred (?) motorcycles. Their run has a beginning and end point with a “choose your own adventure” route. Most I met were going in the opposite direction and most were friendly. When I met a large group (40-50?), two decided they didn’t want to be followers and crossed the double yellow line to pass a bunch. They came down the middle of my lane. While there was still room for me, I did not appreciate the arrogance of taking the middle of the wrong lane.

I met a small group at Hyde’s Mill, which reminded me of the completely unrelated Sutter’s Mill.

As you can see, the grasses are greening up and the trees are blooming. The ride began and ended at Brigham Park so the the 50 mile ride was followed by a six mile hike to pick up trash on our adopted highway. As usual, Busch Light cans were plentiful, but this time, so were empty black trash bags.

We crossed Highway HHH in Ridgeway (so named because it is on a ridge), to remind us that there is only a month until the Horribly Hilly Hundreds. In the shape I was in yesterday, I would only have made one of those hundreds.

Roadside sign: “Trump 2024. The Revenge Tour.” Seems fitting. He has always been only about himself and revenge is about the highest goal to which he can aspire.

It was a beautiful day with full sun, low wind, the first need for sunscreen, and first serious sweat of the year as the temperature reached 82º (28º C). At the end of the ride I heard one rider proclaim that he was the only one on a steel bike. I let him know that, not only was I on a steel bike, but it was probably older than he. (The Monday morning old folks ride was canceled due to rain and a temperature of 50º (10º C).

I was tired enough to not want to cook dinner so we went out after I got home and showered. Now you know I’m out of shape. (Farinata fries [a variation on French fries made with garbanzo bean flour, and delicious] followed by gnocchi, with a lime sorbetto for dessert.)

Officially Old

I once had the job of maintaining refrigeration equipment. Part of my job entailed noticing when something quit working in order to save the food before it got warm. Then I’d call Walt to fix it. I wanted to know when I was throwing good money after bad; when it was time to buy a new compressor rather than keep fixing the old ones. I would ask Walt for an opinion and his response was invariably, “How high is up?” And he would patch it together again.

This leads to the question of “How old is old?” Those compressors were old. I’d gotten them free from other stores that had gone out of business. (Some of them had been sitting out in a field at a dairy for years.)

My mom delivered Meals on Wheels. She referred to this as “delivering meals to the seniors”. She was in her late 70s at the time. She did not think of herself as old.

My daughter once asked if I were old. (I was 43 at the time of their birth.) I said, “You can call me old when you can beat me one-on-one in soccer.” By that standard I’m not yet old.

In the United States, one can begin to draw Social Security at age 62 (for most people). The amount you collect on a monthly basis continues to increase the longer you wait to begin collecting. At age 70, it’s about 40% more than if you start at 65. When you start to collect involves gambling against the house. How long are you going to live? When do you stop working? When do you need the money? Those are all questions to answer and I’m not here to answer them for you. Nothing in this post should be construed as financial advice.

In my case I decided I hoped to live for a long time and work past the “standard” retirement age. By waiting until monthly payments were at their maximum I hoped to win the bet. I calculated how long I’d have to live for the bet to pay off in terms of total dollars collected. (On a monthly income basis, it is paying off immediately, of course.)

I reached the age at which waiting served no purpose. I was at the maximum. That, I decided, made me “officially old” by one standard (though not the soccer standard). Social Security told me to apply in advance to get approved. It took them four months from the time I applied until they told me that I was eligible. Then they let me know that I would actually get my first payment two weeks after the month ended. One is not eligible to collect benefits for the month in which one dies so, to avoid taking chances, they don’t actually pay until the next month. That’s like telling your landlord you won’t pay your January rent until February 15 because you want to be sure your apartment isn’t destroyed by fire sometime during January, and you want two extra weeks just to be sure.

So the first Social Security payment has arrived. According to the US Government, I am old. I thought I would work right up until that date (at one point I thought I would work several years past that date) but a little bike trip changed that plan.

Social Security is known as an entitlement program. We’ve been trained to think that feeling entitled is a bad thing. The relevant definition of entitlement is “the right to guaranteed benefits”. Why am I entitled to this benefit? Because it is my money. I have been saving it for over 50 years – actually, the government has been saving it for me (since 1969) so I wouldn’t blow it on things like rent and food. So the next time you read the word “entitlement” in regard to Social Security, remember it is not referring to a “sense of entitlement”, meaning “the world owes me something because I’m special”, it means “I have a right to this money because it is mine”. If you put money in a bank savings account, would it be okay for the bank to decide not to give it back? Neither is it okay for the government to decide not to give back your own money that they’ve held onto for 50 years with the promise that it would be yours in retirement.

Had I kept working, I would now get my first raise in years. I was once represented by a union. (Wisconsin Act 10 changed that.) Each time we came into contract negotiations, management would tell us that their “market research” revealed that we were overpaid. They considered that research proprietary so they wouldn’t share it, or any evidence that it actually existed. One year they offered a 0% raise to occupational therapists (since we were overpaid but they decided it would be impolitic to cut our pay) and a fractional raise to physical therapists. Though our schooling and training were almost identical, they always made more than we did; and they were never overpaid. Through bargaining we all got a modest raise that year.

Our pay was based on a grid. PTs were a couple of steps higher on the grid than we were. Each grade had a range. Once you reached the top of the range for your pay grade, you never got a raise unless they changed the ranges. I worked my last several years at a flat (falling in real dollars) wage.

I had lunch with a former co-worker after retirement and learned that management had done some new market research and found that we were underpaid by two pay grades. (And apparently PTs were not underpaid as badly as OTs…surprise, surprise.) How much that means in dollars I don’t know and I think I don’t want to find out. If I were still working I would be getting my first raise in years about now. If I wanted to be working, I’d be bitter. Instead I’ll just go ride my bike. Retirement wins.

Phil Ochs – “When I’m Gone”

Not to be overly morbid but, when you write about aging, death is looking over your shoulder to make sure you get it right. On a recent indoor bike ride, I watched the movie “Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune” (available via the Kanopy streaming service at your local library). Have I mentioned that the public library may be the pinnacle of civilization? No offense to the folks who put up Little Free Libraries, but these big libraries are also free.

Ochs was one of the greatest singer/songwriters who ever lived. Imagine if Bob Dylan had continued to write topical songs and had the voice of an angel. Dylan famously denigrated Ochs by telling him he wasn’t a folksinger, but a journalist; but his satire was too powerful to call it journalism. (Ochs also didn’t consider “journalist” an insult.) “Love Me, I’m a Liberal” and “War is Over” are way beyond journalism. In introducing “Love Me”, he said a liberal is someone who is 10 degrees left of center, but when it’s personal, he’s 10 degrees right of center. “War is Over” imagines simply declaring war to be over. He held a march in NYC declaring the end of the war in Viet Nam as a piece of political/street theatre, to see how people would react. In “Small Circle of Friends” he looked at the phenomenon of people “not wanting to get involved”. The impetus was the murder of Kitty Genovese in New York, with the news reporting that people heard her screams but didn’t call the police because they “didn’t want to get involved”. Ochs puts that story and others to music with banjo, honky tonk piano, and snare drum – a vicious satire juxtaposing good-time music with a chilling message.

I saw him near the end of his life. (Concerts Wiki tells me it was February 1, 1974 in a benefit for The Wounded Knee Defense Fund. He died in April of 1976.) He had broken his hand – he said he had punched a wall the night before – so playing the guitar was a challenge (at least it was his right hand). Nonetheless, he played through his pain and it was an evening to remember.

Ochs was already contemplating his own mortality with this song. It is not about dying as much as it is an exhortation to not waste our lives but to live them fully while we’re here.

In that spirit I will ride the Horribly Hilly Hundreds this spring. I have to admit, 70 sounds old – much older than 65 sounded.

I just collected another 2 liters of sap. That may be it for a while. The temperature is dropping as the day progresses (colder at noon than it was at 6 AM) and a snowstorm (possible blizzard with 35 mph winds and up to 10 inches of snow) is on the way.


Four years ago I finally got around to riding the Horribly Hilly Hundreds – or as I call it, the Death Ride of the Midwest. With 200 km of riding and over 11,000 feet of climbing, it was possibly the hardest single day I have spent in the saddle. (There are shorter options but I’m not one for doing things halfway.)

So why am I doing it again, you ask? Damned if I know. I did it the first time because my friends had done it and recommended it. I had ridden coast-to-coast the year before so I figured I could do almost anything if I put my mind to it.

I rode coast-to-coast again last summer, so maybe it was symmetry. If I ride coast-to-coast, I have to do the Horribly Hilly the next year. Or maybe it’s because I’m 70 years old now and that seems somehow significant.

Maybe it’s just because I can and that’s not something to take for granted. At any rate, I need to train, as it’s only 4 months away.

Horribly Hilly 2019 finish (wet)
Death Ride 1992 (also wet). Still about 75 miles to go. Yes, the jersey says ’91, but it was from the year before.

It also happens to be through beautiful countryside out near our adopted highway. While most of the hills are climbs I’ve done multiple times, the sadists who put the route together found a way to include them all in the same day.

The announcement arrived in my email a month ago. I didn’t throw it out. In fact, I just checked my in box and see that I flagged it to think it over. I was thinking “no”. A few weeks later a reminder arrived. I was still thinking, “been there – done that”. I’m not like Alfred, Lord Tennyson, who has done it ten times. We’ve had a few warm sunny days. I’ve been reading out on the porch. I guess the heat got to my brain. The deadline for advance registration for previous riders (with a discounted price and no lottery to get in) was only hours away so I thought, “what the hell?” and did it. Wish me luck.

The adopted highway. It’s easier from this position.