This was the first WNBR (Wednesday Night Bike Ride) potluck of the season. It was cold after a string of 80 degree (27 C) days. Bundling up against the cold wind, it seemed that this first potluck is always cold. Or is that a myth because it’s the cold days we remember? Legend has it that we “always” get a blizzard the weekend of the boys state high school basketball tournament in March. A look at weather records debunks that quickly. We remember those years with big snowstorms.

It is chip-seal season. We rode past multiple freshly chip-sealed roads, glad that we weren’t on them. [Chip-sealing is the process of spreading oil or tar on a road, then spreading pea gravel over it. The weight of traffic is supposed to press the gravel into the sticky substrate to renew the surface. With tar and a steamroller it works pretty well but is not a pleasant place to ride for a few days. I once rode a freshly sealed road and had to throw away my tires after the ride; they were so thickly coated with tar. With just gravel and no tar or oil and no roller, it’s a lot cheaper and results in a horrible surface to ride on for weeks until the gravel washes into the grass at the edge of the road.] Today’s roads featured oil and gravel, with the sound of pebbles being tossed against the downtube. One advantage to a steel bike is that the “ping” of gravel on steel tubing is more pleasant than the sound of gravel hitting carbon fiber. Either way, it’s a test of the quality of the paint job.

We made the next-to-last turn and found ourselves on fresh chip-seal. It was mostly a climb. Standing on the pedals doesn’t work very well on chip-seal, as the unweighted rear wheel tends to slip. That meant sitting in, putting my head down, and making steady work of it. The last 50 feet or so get really steep, but that’s okay when you know it is coming. The only thing worse than climbing on fresh chip-seal is descending on it, so we had that in our favor. Those of you who ride on gravel for fun probably have no sympathy.

Dinner was at Brigham Park. The May potluck means I’m baking a rhubarb pie (strawberry-rhubarb this year) and is supposed to mean Hottie is bringing his famous asparagus braised in a cayenne-spiced garlic soy sauce. Alas, Hottie has retired from riding, so we we had to make do with Lou Grant’s jalapeño cornbread. That and a fire helped to keep us warm. Hottie grows a lot of asparagus so I don’t know who eats it all for him now.

Final climb to the park, on a day when it was warm enough to sit on the bench and watch.

Nica songs

I made my way to the public library’s archiving lab the morning after the ride. If you read the last couple of weeks’ posts reprinting my letters home from Nicaragua, you may recall that I found Keith’s demo tape. Keith Greeninger is a singer/songwriter from Santa Cruz, CA. We worked together in 1987. During the brigade, Keith had a run-in with a chainsaw. The chainsaw won. As a result, he could not go out to the woods for a few weeks and used the time to write songs. Some of those songs were subsequently released by the trio City Folk or by Keith on his solo albums. Most are still in print and available here.

The cut which follows was never released. The first building we built on each site was a dining hall, which became our HQ while we completed the rest of the work. It was timber-framed with a concrete floor and tin roof, but was open to the air. A generator provided power for a couple of hours each evening, during which we could receive news of the world via short-wave radio or read by electric light. When the lights went out, the silence was deafening and gradually we began to hear the night sounds. Keith and Jed would play songs from the US and try out the new material Keith was writing. Then the Nicas would take over and we would hear Nicaraguan folk music.

This song captures, for me, the feeling of those nights out under the stars, listening to the insects between songs. I guess it lacked commercial appeal.

“Another Nicaraguan Night” copyright 1987 by Keith Greeninger

If I remember correctly, Keith is accompanied by guitarist, brigadista, and carpenter John Bartolero (we knew him as Jed). In 1987, the Nicaraguan people lived by the slogan “Aquí No Se Rinde Nadie” (No one here surrenders). Keith used that slogan to write another song with, as was said about Frank Zappa, “no commercial potential”.

:Aquí No Se Rinde Nadie” copyright 1987 by Keith Greeninger

Bless your own damn bike.

This Sunday should be The Blessing of the Bikes at Vermont Lutheran Church. The minister is supposed to bless our bikes and we’re supposed to eat a pancake breakfast that can’t be beat, with the first taste of this year’s maple syrup, and mediocre church basement coffee.

Vermont Church

But there are no group rides, and there are no church basement breakfasts, and there are no crowds of bicyclists having their bikes blessed whether they believe in such things or not, because it’s a beautiful day for a bike ride and the road up to the church is great and the minister is a funny guy and the church members lay out a great spread.

And tonight should have been the first Wednesday Night Potluck of the season, which means Dave should have made his famous asparagus and I should have baked the first rhubarb pie of the season and we should have sat by the stone wall, sipping a beer and watching the sun set over my favorite stretch of road as we watch the last riders struggle up the hill on County F, our adopted highway.

But instead it was a solo ride, and I climbed that hill into a 20 mph wind with no leaves yet to block the wind or mar the view of the barren fields. And I got home just ahead of the rain and I drank wine with takeout Laotian food instead of beer at a picnic.

And it’s all because of this damn virus. And our State Supreme Court, in its Infinite Wisdom (and infinite is no different from nothing), has decided that the Safer at Home order is null and void, that the Director of Health and Human Services has no authority, and the state and all of its businesses are henceforth allowed to return to their pre-COVID state effective immediately, and we can gather in crowds as big as we want, and share that virus freely, because we are Americans and we are Free, and they trust business owners to Do the Right Thing because we know that business has our Best Interests at heart because what’s good for General Motors is what’s good for America and the god of quarterly profits must be appeased by human sacrifice and Give Me Liberty or Give Me a Virus that doesn’t really cause any symptoms and we only have 15 cases and that’ll be down to zero in a few days and when spring comes it will miraculously disappear and what’s a hundred thousand or so deaths among friends and we don’t need no stinkin’ rules.

The court ruled that the order wasn’t an order, it was a rule, and an unconstitutional rule at that; because this is Wisconsin and out constitution says we are “endowed with certain inalienable rights, and among those rights are the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of drunkenness in a crowded bar.” So folks bellied up to the bar in large numbers within hours and you can’t drink beer with a mask on so of course no one wore masks. I shouldn’t complain because crossing county lines to get drunk in bars is what makes my livelihood. I should be in those bars, making sure everybody has their keys and that they understand that the faster they drive the less their chances of getting caught by the cops for drunk driving. The trauma unit has been quiet the past two months.

But the county I live in decided to pass its own rule within hours, so we still have safeguards here. They just end at the county line, so like in the old movies where the bad guy just has to cross the county line to escape the cops, this virus just has to escape this county and is then free to wreak havoc but that’s okay because it’s all China’s fault so it doesn’t matter if we’re irresponsible because it’s all China’s fault.

Now it’s official!

When do you know it’s spring? The first robin? The snow finally gone? The first flowers?

It’s the first Wednesday night post-ride potluck and the first rhubarb pie!IMG_0099IMG_0100IMG_0101IMG_0102IMG_0103

From a disk of dough to a finished pie! I left out the empty pan; the last step. Missing from this year’s ride was Half-fast Dave’s famous asparagus. Dave owns a vineyard but also has one of the bigger asparagus patches around. He makes a mighty tasty asparagus with garlic, cayenne, and soy sauce. Alas, he has retired from Wednesday night rides.

The weekly rides start at the beginning of April, but the peak of the season starts now! Enough light for longer rides, warm enough to eat outside afterward.

The final climb to food!









One rider’s idea of a recovery meal:



Time for the early risers to head home and rest up for the Blessing of the Bikes. If the rain holds off, it seems a blessing before a 4300 mile ride can’t hurt.