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.

Green!

Suddenly the world has turned green! Not the delicate spring green of last week, but the vibrant, full-bodied array of greens!

After a week of rain (about 7 inches this month!), the maples, cottonwoods, gingkoes, and ashes have leafed out. There is so much moss and lichen that the trunks of the trees are green. (The photo does not do the tree trunk justice – sometimes the camera does not take in all that the eye does – seeing the green trunk against the green leaves and the third different green of the grass has something to do with it.)

Redbuds and crabapples have bloomed. Lilacs will pop any day. Irises are here. The grass needs its second mowing as soon as it dries out enough to do it.irisWith this much rain, it has dawned on me that there are only five weeks until we start riding. I put in some miles on the trainer Thursday night during a thunderstorm. The check to Cycle America has been deposited. The hotel reservation for Seattle is made. Now I just need to pack and ship the bike and myself.

Our Wednesday Night Ride this week consisted of four half-fast cyclists meeting for dinner at a local pub (which, in previous incarnations, has been a bike shop and a French restaurant).

No long ride today, it being Mother’s Day and my niece’s wedding shower. After baking a coffee cake this morning I went to my favorite Batch Bakehouse for croissants. That required a stop at Cafe Domestique for an espresso and a quick check of Giro d’Italia results on VeloNews.

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Mother’s Day Continental (pre)breakfast

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The cafe currently has a display of old Schwinn Paramounts hanging from the ceiling, including a Campagnolo-equipped bike with chrome-plated frame exactly like the one my friend SI had about 45 years ago. The map of Wisconsin on the wall is made up of cogs.

Next week The Blessing of the Bikes! The ride out there will be led by my half-fast friend Tenny. We’ll hope for sunshine.

Church

One of the people I rode with this morning said that, at his work, they block his late afternoon schedule on Wednesdays and label it “church”. Today is Sunday, the day when many of the Christian persuasion go to church.

Vermont ChurchThree loads of laundry started the day, followed by 60 miles of church. We rode up Vermont Church Road which leads, of course, to Vermont Lutheran Church, home of the annual Bike Breakfast and Blessing of the Bikes. This year it will be Sunday, May 20. The church is, fittingly, at the top of a hill.

Church was not confined to this building. Today is one of those days when people say, “You couldn’t have asked for a nicer day!” I thought about what I would ask for. I couldn’t come up with anything.

I saw more motorcycles than bikes on the road. For that matter, I didn’t see any bikes going my way for about 25 miles.

I ended up in the fast group through no fault of my own. As you well know, I’m only half-fast. The first climb separated us and the guy next to me said, “I think that’s the end of the pack.” The four of us rode together for the next 30-some miles. There was a route Wiilowjpgoption that we hadn’t discussed. We were on the “long route” and there was an “Alpe d’Huez Option” with two more big climbs. I was at the front of the group on a descent and took the easy way out. When next I looked back, no one had followed. I passed two other riders in the next mile and then saw no one until two of the original group caught me coming back into town. I was thankful for the company (and the lead-out through unfamiliar suburban territory).

The willows are in bloom. The countryside was filled with that glorious color we call “spring green” (to be confused with the town of the same name), the delicate yellow-green of blossoms that will give way to the fuller-bodied green of leaves.

Church wasn’t over yet. On the radio on the way home I heard Alison Krauss singing “Down in the River to Pray” on WVMO (You can listen on-line, as it is a low-power station that reaches the west side of town on a good day.)

Church was still in session with “Sunday Afternoon Live at the Chazen“, a live stream on the first Sunday of the month. If you keep reading, this won’t be the last you’ll hear of this program. I’ll be encouraging you to tune in August 5, 12:30 PM CDT. I’ll be in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Where will you be?

Today featured the Pro Arte Quartet. (A quartet founded in Belgium in 1911, they found themselves stranded in Madison, WI, USA when WWII broke out in Europe. They were offered an artist-in-residence position at the University of Wisconsin and they’re still here.) For the second half of the program they were joined by the Hunt Quartet (a graduate student quartet) for Mendelssohn’s Octet in E-flat minor. The standing ovation was well-deservedto my ears.

I suppose it would be stretching the metaphor to consider my post-ride beer with lunch at Monty’s Blue Plate Diner to be a sacrament. Monty’s is in a former gas station (run by a childhood neighbor’s dad and uncle as Havey Brothers Texaco) and is the first place my son entered upon moving to Madison. (I can’t say “set foot in”, as he was 3½ months old and didn’t walk in.) We had lunch there on the way home from the airport, so he hadn’t yet seen his new home. When he was two he asked for a job there, it being his favorite restaurant. The waiter promised him an application. He expressed his displeasure when we arrived home and he hadn’t received his application. He showed them by becoming a musician instead of a fast-food waiter. (One might argue they are not mutually exclusive.)

The ice cream at the walk-up ice cream stand tulipafter lunch likewise was probably not

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Image from The Capital Times

sacramental, but the tulip was. And the bike sculpture is a final image from the walk home. Now to fold and put away that laundry from this morning and iron my shirts.

 

bikesculpture

Spring arrives with a vengeance!

I wander occasionally from my plan of weekly pre-ride postings when I think I have something to say. Feel free to disagree.

In the midst of three weeks of postings on traffic and safety, we’ll take time out for some updates and shameless commercial plugs.

Between rounds one and two of a scheduled 6 rounds of me vs April showers on Sunday, I stepped out to pick up some pastries from Batch Bakehouse. Since I was out I stopped for a shot of espresso at Cafe Domestique, to allow my wife some more time to sleep in before I made some asparagus, pea, scallion, and Ameribella cheese omelets. (Since I am shamelessly plugging friends, I made another cup of coffee with breakfast; beans from Just Coffee.)

The “showers” clearly won the first round. By round three I was making a comeback.

Domestique, for those of you who don’t follow bike racing, is a term for

(Photo credit LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/GettyImages)

those on a racing team who do the heavy lifting to help the team star(s). They ride back to the team car and pick up a bunch of water bottles, then ferry them forward to the other racers. They set the pace, exhausting them selves and (if all goes well) the other teams, so their star can win a stage.

Image from “Classic Factory Lightweights”

Cafe Domestique is an homage to those unsung heroes. They also pull a pretty good espresso and have a changing display of cool bikes. Today they have some old Gary Fisher mountain bikes. Owner Dan Coppola tells me they have some pre-1970 Schwinn Paramounts coming in next. I plan to talk with my neighbor to see if he wants to display his 1970-era Holdsworth racing bikes.

After breakfast I went back for round three of sweeping, scraping, and shoveling those April showers from the steps and sidewalk. The crocus I photographed a couple of weeks ago is/are still the only thing(s) blooming, if you can call this blooming. By this time last year, the irises were in bloom.

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Crocus under April showers

I ramped up the training this week. Last Sunday I had a free spinning class with my co-workers at a “theatre” that shall remain nameless to protect the guilty.

On Wednesday I took the road bike out for the first time this season. While the computer swore that it would start raining between 7 and 8 PM, the stuff falling on me starting around 5 sure seemed like rain. It was mostly a light mist and arm warmers and tights were enough to keep me warm and dry-ish for ~25 miles. Post-ride pizza and Montepulciano completed the rewarming process.

I found this guy hanging around my front door