Horribly Hilly

Yes folks, it’s time to fulfill the promise I made to a guy in Texas I don’t even know. One year after leaving for the coast-to-coast trip, it is the infamous Horribly Hilly Hundreds (or “Death Ride of the Midwest” as I call it), not to be confused with that other HHH, the Hotter ‘n Hell Hundred in Texas.

But first things first. Last week was the Marquette Waterfront Festival, the gateway to summer around here. Four years ago, we were wowed by the appearance of the March Fourth Marching Band, as they marched, danced, and stilt-walked their way through the park to the stage for a show that was talked about for the rest of the summer. Everyone wondered when they would be back.

Two years ago, they were scheduled to close out the festival again; but they called from somewhere in the middle of Iowa. A broken-down bus on a Sunday in Iowa is not a good thing. When we heard they were coming back this year, we were ready for them and hoped they were ready for us. A new(er) bus rolled slowly down Yahara Place at 5; just in time for the 6:30 set.

MarchFourth (they shortened the name) is one of those bands that everyone says you have to hear live. Everyone is right. But I did find a video that gives you a flavor of their work. If I had to describe them in a word, it would be “steamfunk”.

We had seats near the front, right behind the dancing section. The seats were not used.

MarchFourth

A year ago today (Saturday) I was waking up in a motel at the SeaTac airport, then shuttling to the starting point of the coast-to-coast ride. Sunday we dipped our tires into the Pacific Ocean (and I sealed up a vial of Pacific water) and started east (more or less).

Yes, the Horribly Hilly Hundreds is horribly hilly (but also breathtakingly beautiful). When it was a mere 100 miles, it was just the “Horribly Hilly Hundred”. Now there are 100K, 100 mile, and 200K options. 200K includes an alleged 10,700 feet of climbing spread over “40 significant rises”. While the Death Ride includes 15,000 feet of climbing over the same distance, it is confined to five major climbs. Spreading the climbing out means you can’t just psych yourself up for the passes and it is tempting to see the top of the rise and power over it…until you realize somewhere along the way that doing that 40 times will reduce your legs to jelly.

And jelly is what my legs are now. I left home at 5:15 AM. Heading out Verona Road, many of the cars had bikes on the back. Turning off to head up to Blue Mound, the traffic became bumper-to-bumper, and everyone had a bike on the back.

Traffic coming into the park as I rode out.

Start line

We reached the park and got ready for the day. The first 1.6 miles didn’t count, as we rode into the town of Blue Mounds for the oficial start. The road out of the park was steep. In the back of my mind was the knowledge that we would have to ride back up that hill after 120+miles of riding.

Start line

The route was divided into 5 “stages”, roughly 20% of the miles each; except that the 4th stage was over 30 miles and contained some of the toughest hills of the day.

Enchanted Valley. Note tiny bikes on the road.

The day started cool and sunny. All week the forecast had been for scattered showers throughout the day. This morning it changed and called for later afternoon rain. Around noon it was bordering on hot, when clouds rolled in to cool things down. The clouds looked ominous at times but the rain held off – until about mile 110, when it let loose. I put my jacket back on and tried to scrub rainwater off my rims on a long downhill. The rain stopped in time for the final climb up the infamous Mounds Park Road and the even worse final climb to the park.

I overheard a guy in a “Triple Bypass” jersey telling someone that the HHH is harder. She asked, “even with the elevation?” He said yes, because the mountain roads are only 5-7% grades and the HHH has many stretches of >15% and “you have to go anaerobic to get over them.”

I was thinking that this was harder than the Death Ride for the same reason; though I can’t make a fair comparison since I rode the Death Ride more than 25 years ago. Maybe if I were to ride it again next summer I could compare. I will say this was the hardest single day experience I have ever had. Being 66 years old could have something to do with that;)

Finish line.
Food by Friends of Blue Mound State Park.

I stayed in the saddle for all climbs for the first 30 miles. In the last 30, I got over them any way I could. A friendly farmer’s offer of rhubarb water got me over one climb. (Rhubarb water: a lightly sweetened infusion of rhubarb, seasoned with cardamom.)

My calves started cramping at mile 25 – a bad omen with 100 miles to go. Bilateral quad cramps and a left sartorius cramp followed. Lots of pickle juice as well as electrolyte drinks and Clif Shot Bloks (the extra-salty margarita flavor) helped stave off the cramps. My triceps are not happy – but I am.

The free post-ride beer was a raspberry radler. I don’t know about you, but I like fruit and I like beer, but I like to keep them separate. When I was a teen (in the era of the 18 year old beer drinking age) there was a product called “Right Time Malt Liquor”. I referred to it as “training beer”. It was an attempt to market to teens, to get them drinking even if they didn’t like the taste of alcohol. (Sound familiar? Just like the tobacco industry making fruit and candy-flavored vaping products as training cigarette to hook kids on nicotine; though I don’t recall the beer industry was “shocked” to find kids drinking.)

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.

Giving thanks

It is 15 degrees F (approx -10 C). The sun is bright. The sky is a brilliant blue. There are no clouds. There is no wind. We have fresh snow, so the sun glints off of countless facets. It is the sort of day that those who don’t live in snowy climes may not be able to appreciate, and those who do often forget to appreciate.

As I rode home from the library, I began to ruminate over things I am thankful for (most, in some way, related to this blog). I am thankful for:

  • construction workers who work outside all day all winter long.
  • constrgarbage trucks blocking the road so I can practice my cyclocross skills.
  • shanty
    ice fishing shanty, snowy day

    the lake near my house that becomes a massive and nearly private park in the winter. After skating on the street last Sunday, I skiied across the lake this Sunday.

  • Ally, Ed, and Steve – who turned a 105 mile slog through 40 degree (4 degrees C) rain inIMG_0363to something do-able. While they claim misery loves cold raincompany, company can also make it not misery, as evidenced by this smile at the end of that day. (Not to mention that we were even smiling for the picture.)
  • Steve (a different Steve) and Kevin, who stuck with me through thick and thin (and thinner) on a long and hard day in the heat and headwind.
  • Anders, who picked up a new helmet for me at the end of said long day, so I could Andersride again the next day.
  • the entire Cycle America staff, for handling the logistics so we could ride. A special shout out to Ed (a different Ed) for delightful surprises on the routes; and to Dan, who never met a hill he didn’t like.
  • the half-fast cycling club, including those I started riding with more than 40 years ago, and those I haven’t yet met.
  • the glaciers which all managed to miss the driftless area, making for great bike riding in the area of the Horribly Hilly Hundreds (and to HHH, as I just learned that I was selected in the lottery to ride this year).
  • icicles. Snow to sculpt.
  • the Parks Department, for plowing the bike paths.IMG_1494.jpg
  • public libraries.
  • getting old. I’ve seen a lot of folks the past couple of weeks with broken ribs from slipping and falling on the ice. Many tell me how horrible it is to get old.  I think it beats the alternative.

The Greatest War

In remembrance of Armistice Day, I went to a concert Sunday night called “The Greatest War: World War One, Wisconsin, and Why it Still Matters. A Live Rock and Roll History Show”. 

I didn’t expect to learn about the war from rock and roll, but I did. Straw polls in city after city across the state showed the populace overwhelmingly opposed to entry into the war. Senator Robert M (“Fighting Bob”) LaFollette declared, “The poor, sir, who are the ones called upon to rot in the trenches, have no organized power, [but] they will have their day and they will be heard.”
[Read more: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/fake-news-and-fervent-nationalism-got-senator-robert-la-follette-tarred-traitor-his-anti-war-views-180965317/] Nine of 11 members of the Wisconsin delegation to the US House of Representatives opposed entry into the war. Some were pacifists, opposed to the war on general principal. Some saw it as a war between British imperialism and German militarism. All were vilified as traitors. (Wisconsin also had/has a sizable German-American population and there were calls to treat each and every one “as a potential spy”.)

I learned in history class that the US entered the war due to the sinking of the Lusitania. What I didn’t learn is that the Lusitania was not an innocent ship of civilian tourists, but was carrying armaments to the British. There was a second explosion on the Lusitania after the initial explosion of the torpedo which struck it. Speculation includes that it was the boiler, coal dust, or additional secret armaments in addition to those on the cargo list. None of the theories has been proven.

While it was billed as the “War to End All Wars” the US has been at war constantly since then, except during the years of 1935-1940, according to multiple sources. We are currently embroiled in the longest-lasting war in US history. Ironically, we are also in the period referred to as “The Long Peace”, as there have been no direct wars between major world powers.

The program consisted of a Prologue (Armistice), Act I (Europe’s War, the World’s War), Act II (Over There) and Act III: (The War to End War). Each act was depicted visually via archival photos, musically via historical and original songs, and in the words of people at the time.

What does this have to do with bicycles, you might ask? Glad you asked. Troops used bicycles as transportation, as depicted in the photo below (or to the left, depending on how you’re viewing this), behind The Viper and His Famous Orchestra.

What does this have to do with music? Saxophonist Hanah Jon Taylor played before a backdrop of an African-American US Army Band. Soldiers from Harlem are credited with introducing jazz to Europe.

The penultimate number was performed by The Kissers before a scrolling backdrop listing the names (by city) of all Wisconsin war dead. As the names scrolled on, Sean Michael Dargan performed “Flowers of the Forest” on bagpipes.

All in all, it was a phenomenal night and one I will not soon forget.

PS: Thanks to A Dude Abikes for the inspiration. After reading his post about Das Hugel, I’ve decided to ride the Horribly Hilly Hundreds (“Biking like a Viking”) next spring. It has become so popular that there is a lottery for entry, so I’m not guaranteed a spot. Wish me luck.