Busman’s Holiday

Not really, but that sounds better than a “working vacation.” The British coined the term in 1893, referring to a bus driver taking a road trip for a holiday, so it was much like work.

My job includes paid vacation (not a big deal outside of the US). We used to be allotted our vacation at the beginning of the year, to use at any time. If we left the job before the end of the year, any pay that we had used before earning it would be withheld from our last check.

That system worked pretty well, which is why they had to fix it. Now we can’t use vacation until we earn it, so the year starts at zero. If we want to take a winter vacation, we have to save time from the prior year. And, we have a “use it or lose it” system now. If we accrue too much vacation, we stop gaining any new hours until we use up enough hours to get below the ceiling again – a definite incentive to go on vacation.

The pandemic has not been conducive to taking vacations, so last fall I realized I was going to have to use some hours this spring or lose them. I took a week in March for no specific reason. I often take a week in May to work on a home repair/maintenance project. This year the project is my own body.

It was a cold, dark, and wet April – not just by gut sense, but by the numbers. I spent much less time on a bike than planned. My dry erase board calendar for this week says “Ride” and “Ride more”. With six weeks until the coast-to-coast ride begins, there is work to be done. The “working vacation” means riding every day. As I haven’t ridden long distances yet this year, I clearly haven’t ridden long distances on back-to-back days.

At the age of 69, I’d be a fool to think I can “ride into shape” on the transcontinental tour. The 105 mile third day would ride me into the ground, not into shape. This week’s focus is on riding, not numbers. As such, I will start the week with no Garmin, no Strava, no bike computer. (Then again, since I don’t own a Garmin and I’m not on Strava, 2 out of 3 are no change from any ride.)

Sunday 55 degrees (13 C) and cloudy. It being Mother’s Day, I stayed home with family.


Monday 80 (27 C) degrees, bright sun, 25 mph wind gusting to 40. I was glad to have the weight of a steel bike under me so I didn’t blow away. My first day of the year over 50 miles, which grew to the first day over 5 hours of riding. Soles of my feet burning by the end, just like old times. Tailwind for the last 10 miles, which saved me.


Tuesday I met a friend for coffee to tell her about my retirement party and ran a few errands, so by the time I was on my bike it was 90 degrees (32 C). The wind was down to 15 mph. Late enough in the day to settle for an old classic – the Paoli Ride. The ride to Paoli was a classic when I first rode it 48 years ago. The A&W Two-Tyred Wheelmen rode there regularly. They were sponsored by A&W and met at a local root beer stand for their rides, enjoying a frosty mug at the end. While I never rode with them, I adopted the tradition and often rode to root beer stands – once I rode 60 miles for a root beer. When I told them they were the first root beer stand in 60 miles, they were unimpressed. Sometimes while riding to Paoli we would stop at the old Same place for pizza, served by Tim and Kathy Same in their gazebo after the ride.

Driveway to the old Same place

In the hardware store I saw a guy with a t-shirt that said “I like my puns intended”, so I told him about the standup comic I saw with a monologue of puns. He was desperate for one of his jokes to get a laugh, but no pun in ten did.

I rode through the arboretum, where we usually go on Mother’s Day to see the lilacs. Mother’s Day was early this year and the blooms are late. The magnolias are dropping but the crabapples (which bloom before the lilacs) are just beginning to bud. These sandhill cranes seemed to find plenty to eat. I also saw a few turkeys – the birds, I mean.

Wednesday The air conditioning is on. How many days ago were we needing heat? The “windows open” season was really short this year. I hope it returns. Over 90 degrees. Wind down to 15-20 mph. Rode the Wednesday Night ride with friends. Heat stroke for one, but he made it to the end.

Thursday It dropped below 90. Too cold for a ride 😉 Began gathering tools and parts for the trip, making a list and checking it twice. Actually, I was wrong. My indoor/outdoor thermometer stopped responding. It was hotter yet.

Friday Today was supposed to be an early ride. Replace the chain, adjust the front derailleur cable, and head out on the bike that is going on the trip with me. I’ve been riding the other bike for weeks. I was derailed by unforeseen problems. It wasn’t a cable problem, it was a shifter problem. I disassembled the shifter (which required removing the bar tape I thought I had saved earlier this spring, so I could remove the lever). Putting everything back together, the cables (both front derailleur and brake) magically became too short. This was not the quick job it started out to be. It is now over 90 degrees again, I feel like an idiot, and my whole house is shaking due to the huge machine out front tamping the sand back into place after replacing the sewer main and laterals. This is the third time the street (I use the term loosely, as there has been no pavement for weeks) has been dug up. We are getting new gas, water, and sewer lines, then new pavement, curb, gutter, and sidewalk. They are not burying the power lines because that is somehow too expensive. Since power lines are smaller and more flexible than the other three, and the ground is already dug up, there is a logic here which escapes me.

Surprise! The bar tape that I like so much (but whose brand name I don’t know, having gotten it somewhere on sale) is so good that, after removing it to take the shift/brake lever off, I was able to rewrap it. Being late enough to decide not to go for a ride, I started packing.

Saturday A beautiful day. Still under 90 degrees when I got home from a long ride. After 4 days of record highs and record high lows ( a datum that I didn’t even know they kept), today was a day to wander in the countryside and sing along with James Brown:

Sunday A week of firsts for the season: first ride over 50 miles, first ride over 5 hours, first consecutive days of long rides, first week over 200 miles. First time I feel like I can make it across the country. When I no longer go to work 5 days/week, will I still have a Sunday Feeling?

A humbling experience. Forty miles into the ride I was feeling worn out. I briefly considered a shortcut home, then realized that, any other time, a shortcut would be reasonable. But with five weeks until I’m supposed to be strong enough to ride across the country, I opted to stop for lunch instead. I made it back but “fun” would not be the word for the last 20+ miles. That paragraph above about feeling I can make it across the country? That was written early this morning. At least I have five more weeks to be ready.

Wisconsin (as I’ve said here before) used to have the best system of secondary (county) and tertiary (township) roads in the country. With thousands of small dairy farms needing milk picked up every day, roads had to be maintained for the tankers. With the consolidation of the dairy industry and general decay of our infrastructure, the roads are no longer impressive…but today I must have encountered a township flush with cash. Instead of potholes filled with gravel (as I encountered later in the day) , or slapdash chipsealing, or ribbons of squishy tar-filled cracks, I rode on several miles of new asphalt. I was in bicycle nirvana this morning.

The Park is OPEN

The biggest area of local parkland is now open for the season. One catch – there is no land.

kite skating

It is a beautiful winter day…27 degrees (-3 C), a light breeze, and lots of sun. Since there is very little snow on the lake, no need for sunglasses. Sunday there was an iceboat regatta, dozens of skaters and ice fishers, a few people out walking, and one person riding a bike across the lake. A few skaters used hand-held sails (to which I was introduced by my uncle about 60 years ago) and several had kites or parasails.

ice boat about to set sail

The breeze was from the north, so I didn’t notice it walking to the lake, nor on the shore. Once out on the ice, it was a tailwind, so I didn’t notice it until I crossed the lake (about 1.5 miles plus a bit of meandering around snow patches) and turned around to skate home. On the other side, I stopped to take a picture of the boat above. Seconds later, the sailor appeared and set sail, as shown below.

Setting sail

According to the Four Lakes Ice Yacht Club, some boats can achieve speeds of 5 times the wind velocity and Skeeter class boats have been known to exceed 100 mph (160 km/h). Water offers little resistance when it is frozen. We spoke of covering skin when biking in the winter – at 100 mph there is always a wind chill.

The second video (drone video of Sunday’s regatta) is by Deb Whitehorse, widow of Ho-Chunk artist and iceboat designer/builder Harry Whitehorse. We have mentioned him in these pages before.

Image from HarryWhitehorse.com. Sculpture by Harry Whitehorse

Out on the ice, it’s pretty quiet. The only motorized conveyances are the 6-wheeled ATVs the fishers use to haul their equipment onto the ice. No permanent shanties are allowed on this lake, so folks carry pop-up shanties along with an ice auger and something to sit on (plus fishing gear and food/beverage). Some walk and drag a sledge, others drive.

Otherwise, it’s the wind, the sounds of blades carving paths along the ice, and the echoing booms of the ice shifting. That sound takes a bit of getting used to, especially if it happens close by.

Skateable ice is a rarity. If the lake freezes on a cold, clear, still night, the ice is great. If it’s particularly cloudy/foggy, the ice won’t be as smooth. If it’s windy, the ice won’t be as smooth. If it snows the night it freezes, the ice mixes with snow to create a lousy surface. There may be great ice, but it’s cold enough for only the hardiest to want to go out. There may be great ice for a day or two, which is then buried under a snowfall. Freeze/thaw cycles will cause the snow to mix with the surface of the ice, ruining it for the rest of the season.

A day like this means get out while the getting is good. The last year with skateable ice that lasted, it was so clear and so cold that the ice was totally transparent. I could see the bottom. I could see fish. I had to hope to skate over a crack so I could see how thick the ice was. It was eerie, and I turned back before I got across the lake. This year, while the ice is dark, there are enough air bubbles to tell I’m on thick ice and not a thin film over water. It has more of the frosty appearance of ice cubes made in your home freezer and not the total transparency of store-bought ice.

Joni Mitchell, skating on our other lake, from the photo session for the album “Hejira”. Photo by Joel Bernstein

Joni Mitchell famously skated on Lake Mendota for a photoshoot for her album “Hejira”. The woods in the background are Picnic Point. This is the “other lake” from the one I skated today (1/17). If it’s still nice Sunday (1/23), I’ll skate there to watch the next regatta. Meanwhile I may make a trial skate to work (maybe a hundred yards out of the frame to the left above) to see how long it takes and maybe add another form of transportation to my commute.

On a prior album, she sang about skating:

On the album “Hejira” she sang “Furry Sings the Blues”. Rather than that song, I’ll leave you with Furry himself – Furry Lewis – nothing but Furry and his guitar. He has recorded this a few times, but this is the version that introduced me to his work.

Addendum: The regatta was postponed for a week due to drifting snow that hardened, making sailing dangerous. As of bedtime Saturday, it is snowing, and I just shoveled the first couple of inches. And with new snow falling, skating on the lake is probably over for the year. The regatta will likely be postponed again, if not canceled. We’re in a drought and about 15 inches behind on snow for the season, so that’s a good thing…but I was hoping to skate to work. I’ve commuted to this job by walking, skiing, biking, bussing, carpooling, and driving. Skating would have been a nice addition.

Trash into…trash

The winner for today’s highway cleanup (for weight and volume) was soggy cardboard. For the sheer number of items (thus the number of times we had to bend over to pick them up) it was smoking materials – butts, packs, lighters. The brand winner was Marlboro, with Pall Mall a surprising second. I guess even smokers have gone retro. Pall Mall has been around since 1899, Marlboro since 1908. According to The Guardian, five people who played The Marlboro Man in advertisements died of smoking-related diseases.

In second place overall for sheer number of items picked up were the flexible plastic reflectors that were glued down last year to mark the road for pavement striping. We picked up a bunch last fall. Today I think we picked up the rest of them. Over time the glue fails and they wash into the ditch. The road never got re-striped, so the only purpose those reflectors served was to provide a few hours of work for whomever glued them down and some more work for us to pick them up.

We were about to retire the brand championship with repeated wins by Busch Light beer cans, but today they just edged out (due to a six pack tossed in the last 100 yards before the park entrance) Icehouse Edge, a high-alcohol beer sold in 24 ounce cans. Since each Edge can contains roughly the alcohol equivalent of 4 Busch Light cans, we might call this a tossup.

Every time we clean this stretch of highway, we think about the potlucks held at this park after Wednesday night rides – it’s just about rhubarb pie time and we will miss Dave’s famous asparagus. No potluck again this year.

The view of our adopted highway during the post-ride meal as we watch the stragglers coming up this hill.

All this talk of winners who are actually losers made me play this on the way home.

We got home just in time to beat the much-needed rain. Maybe it will wash to pollen off of the car. The local weather folks recently changed from saying it was a dry year to calling it a drought.

Today in history: It was 51 years ago today that the National Guard massacred student on the campus of Kent State University; the day that another generation of white people learned that we are not immune.

I just read The Progressive interview with John Cusack. He ends by saying “Capitalism will sell you the rope to hang yourself with and then make you pay for the coffin and pass the debt on to your kids.” I don’t know if it’s original to him – it seems to be his own variant on an old line.