Bags of Bran


Neighborhood Century
July 27, 2016, 11:43 am
Filed under: Bike, Biography

Until July 25, 2016, I had never ridden a century on my road bike before.

I know!

This has largely been a matter of oversight on my part: I seldom ever thought about it, and when did think about it, I thought to myself “Who has that kind of time?!” Then there was the elephant in the room: I enjoy enjoying bike rides. Six hours (or whatever) on my bike would make being on my bike (as well as many other activities) unpleasant or miserable. Who wants to be miserable? Furthermore, I don’t think that God gives us recreation to destroy ourselves but to re-create things.

In the past I’ve done a half dozen metric centuries on my mountain bike (those are harder, BTW), as well as some solo road rides in the 70-80 mile range. These days I tend to ride for two hours or less, sometimes vigorously. Anything more than that and I have to start making unwise tradeoffs with real responsibilities in life. Never a hundred.

I live on the margin of two worlds: one world, consisting of fellow cyclists, would be shocked that I made it to forty years old without ever having ridden a century. The other world could not conceive an otherwise stable human being would set out to do such a thing except as a cry for help. Five and a half hours on a bicycle, depending on who you ask, is either de rigeur behavior or something that could only be justified by the self-congratulatory wearing of a commemorative t-shirt.

On Friday, I mused with the Mrs. about perhaps riding a century on Monday. She grimaced. “Why?” she asked. “Because I’ve never done it before,” I said. She sagely agreed that that was sufficient reason, and at that point I was honor-bound to do it. I began planning. I figured out a route where I could do multiple laps near home rather than wander off to some savage land away where the natives bore ill will toward outsiders, such as St. Croix County. I settled on a loop of just over twenty miles on familiar roads, one of which, importantly, went right past our house, which, as is typical of houses, contains a refrigerator.

century

The advantage of this route is that I could stop at the house on every lap for snacks and cold water bottles, as well as hugs from my daughter. That turned out to be a wise move because not only was it hot and humid, it was also psychologically wearying to step into an air-conditioned house and open up a refrigerator, then step back out into the corn sauna and ride the shadeless roads. The hugs were like whatever it was that the angels fed Elijah that he was able to go for forty days.

Was five laps of the same roads monotonous? Not really. I like these roads, and I like having landmarks to navigate by. For example, the big hill on the route was about five miles from home. We call it Mount Despairagus because there is a little farmstead at the bottom where they sell despairagus and other joyless produce. Mount Despairagus hits you in three waves: the first wave is about fifty feet tall; round a corner to the second, a hundred and fifty at about 13% grade; and the third is another fifty, but into the searing ridge-top winds filled with the smells of whatever it is that the cows happened to be doing at the time.

But after that, it’s almost all downhill for four and a half miles.

Additionally, there were dogs. I was chased by four different dogs. Thankfully, their earnestness was inversely proportional to their size: the only one that got anywhere near me was comparable in layout to a ferocious loaf of bread. I had to admire his technique as he burst efficiently from the tall grass along the road, teeth bared and snapping, with a baleful snarl venting his considerable malice. The larger dogs seemed more interested in what I was doing and whether I might have food than in ripping out my throat. In fact, I think I came to a positive understanding with one black lab that engaged me every lap. By the final pass he was simply coming up to the edge of the grass to show his solidarity and bid me safe travels down the hill upon which he served as sentry.

I won’t lie: the last lap felt gratuitous. About five miles in, I started having cramps and feeling weak, with flickers of nausea. My hands hurt. I was starting to curl my toes when riding uphill and stiffen my arms on the flat sections. The long, merciless stretch of sun-blasted incline on County O still loomed ahead, not to mention the cruel slope of Mount Despairagus. “All downhill from there,” I told myself, trying to down another gulp of unsavory electrolyte potion.

I made it. I felt like it was a good compromise between milestone achievement and not abandoning my family on my day off.

I don’t think I need a commemorative t-shirt. If I forget what it was like, I’ll just do it again.



The Road Less Traveled
August 18, 2015, 12:02 pm
Filed under: Bike, Biography, Personal Adventures

Every year since I started realizing by experience that there was such a thing as old age, and after a period of general weakness and trembling, I began doing what I call “Birthday Beatings.” They are, essentially, long (relatively) and difficult (relatively, once again) bicycle rides, sometimes over several days. Year to year they vary in length and difficulty with my fitness and schedule.

The first episode of a birthday beating was in 2007. I rode my mountain bike over to Fumee Lake Recreation Area in Iron Mountain, Michigan and rode just over 40 miles of singletrack. My total for the day was 51 miles, my house at the time being 5.1 miles away, and my ability to ride in straight lines being rather impaired toward the end. You may be asking whether that was a wise thing to do or not, but I assure you, some questions do not have an answer.

Since then I have been more and less ambitious.

This year’s festivities included a truncated trip to Hickory Ridge, near Bloomer, WI, where I discovered that my mountain bike game has grown rusty from storage. I pinballed off of rocks, overshot corners, braked too early or too late, and had a wonderful time. It really is an excellent and underutilized trail system way up there in a festering swamp.

The next day I dithered between my road bike and my cyclocross bike. I was heading east to explore some gravel roads north of Colfax, WI. I wasn’t sure if I wanted the sure-footedness of the knobby tires for the gravel, or the fleet-footedness of narrow road tires for the long journey out to the gravel. “Footedness” was going to be an issue.

I went with the narrow tires, which turned out to be an interesting choice when I came to 1090th Ave. If you look at the map, it looks like a normal road, which normally means normal pavement, or normal gravel:

1090th

However, on arrival, here is what you encounter:

 

Too shadowy...

Is that mud?!

It is mud...

It is mud…

And steep...

And steep…

So then, never trust the internet.

Want to examine this route for yourself? See it here: https://www.strava.com/activities/366620653



Paying off the farmers who deliver our eggs
April 1, 2015, 12:35 pm
Filed under: Bike, Biography

Today marks the first time in several days I’ve been on my bike. Last week was, for some reason, abnormally busy with work-related workloads of work that needed to be worked upon. Furthermore, it was cold and yicky outside, so I felt extra diligent to get all of that workety work done. Then both of my special ladies got sick at the same time; then it was Sunday; then I got sick; and here I am.

Life doesn’t stop for illness. For example, there was a high school baseball game last night, and all us sickies went and sat in the cold and watched our local heroes fall in defeat to a somewhat lousy team. “YOU’RE NOT MAKING US ANY HEALTHIER WITH THOSE FIELDING ERRORS,” we shouted encouragingly at the young men on the field.

While we were away at the game, our egg delivery showed up from the farmers up the road. They have an assortment of egg-laying fowl prowling their premises (or, to soothe your conscience, “free range”), laying their eggs in nooks and crannies and snowmobiles and coffee cans and coils of rope and anywhere else they feel will surprise and amaze the farm children who collect them. I hope they don’t read this, but the eggs are so much better than store eggs that we’d pay just about whatever they asked for them. We’re not even sure what kind of birds they come out of, but they’re delicious and “free range,” so everybody wins.

The eggs showed up, as I mentioned above, while we were gone, so I volunteered to deliver the payment by bicycle in the morning, anticipating that it would be warm and nice out, and that it would be good for me. The farm is about 3 miles up the road, and so it seemed like a perfectly semi-ambitious adventure when I wasn’t feeling all that perky. I boarded my trusty steed (which is not to implicate its stablemates as “un-trusty,” but simply to indicate that I happen to trust this steed), swung by the church to drop off a backpack full of books, and then set course for the farm.

It’s uphill half the way to the farm, then downhill the other half, mercifully. I am confident that I lost about half a pound from the various cargo that my sinuses decided to jettison during the uphill portion of the ride, but that’s disgusting, so perhaps you should just forget that you read that sentence. After what seems now like not a terrific amount of effort, I finally arrived. The Mrs. Farmer was just descending the hill from the upper section of their farm upon a four-wheeler when I arrived. The transaction was characteristically Midwestern:

“You folks delivered some eggs to us last night,” I vouchsafed.

“Yup,” she said, confirming that her end of the transaction was situated comfortably among the verities of history.

“I need to pay you. Here you go. Fifteen, right?” I said, flaunting the excellent coaching I had received from my wife, who embodies the Department of Commerce around our household.

“Yup,” she said again, taking the now-sweaty bills that I had drawn forth from my pocket, clearly in admiration of the docility with which I had learned the subtle art of handshake transactions from my helpmeet.

“Great, thanks again,” I said conflictedly, simultaneously relieved at having completed my duties and apprehensive at having to climb back up that wretched half-a-hill on County O to get back to the office.

“Yup,” she said, as was her idiom, breaking her standing tradition only by adding “Thank you!” as a nod to the broader conventions of society. Off she went on her four-wheeler.

Off I pedaled in the springy sunshine, pockets lighter by $15, conscience lighter at having paid off our debt to our favorite farmers, and head lighter from the germs in my upper respiratory system slashing and burning after the fashion of the barbarian hordes pillaging a medieval fishing village.

Spring is here!



East Wind
March 16, 2015, 8:13 pm
Filed under: Bike, Biography

The wind normally blows out of the west here in upper-left Wisconsin, so it’s a real treat to have an east wind. The reason for this is that we cyclist types normally ride out into the wind and ride home with a tailwind (unless the wind changes direction, in which case we get really grumpy). An east wind means I get to explore less familiar roads and to the east without having to eat headwind all the way home. This is especially nice during the precarious pre-fitness months when it’s really easy to get bored rackin’ up the miles.

Today I got to explore some roads that take a guy off the beaten path a bit. The back roads around here are generally not very high on the county’s list of budgetary concerns, so they end up becoming what I like to call “Dunn County Cobblestones.” Pavement gets sick of battling the unrelenting seasonal abuse from frost-heaving and sun-baking and snow-plowing. Eventually the pavement loses its will to cohere, and starts to break up into little pieces that flip up on edge when you ride a bicycle over them.

DSC02223[1]

*PTUNG* They smack the side of your wheel and challenge Sir Isaac Newton to keep you upright. I’ve never crashed on them, but I’m learning to have all my steering done before I ride over them.

On a brighter note, the Hay River is all cleared of ice. Many of the lakes and farm ponds are still iced over, but the small rivers cleared up last week. I haven’t looked to see if anyone is still ice fishing. There aren’t any ice fishermen in this picture, but that doesn’t mean they’re not out there somewhere. They’re a tenacious tribe.

DSC02220[1]

 

It’s great that the ice is off the roads, but perhaps you can see how much sand they use around here. Normally I can come ripping through this roller-coaster stretch of road with abandon, but now it’s fairly treacherous. Some spots have an inch of dirt all the way across the road, which can get interesting when the sand is deeper than your tire!

 

1210

 

 

 



Out to Pasture
December 31, 2014, 4:18 pm
Filed under: Bike, Biography

I’m surprised I was able to ride as much as I did over the last twelve months. In June, my goals switched radically from “5,000 miles this year” to “ride enough to keep yourself sane.” That’s noteworthy, and will probably appear in my memoirs along with my aspirations to be a writer of memoirs worth reading. If you wait a few months, you will probably be able to find them in the 60% off bin at your favorite off-brand bookstore.

I’m that one guy over there who needs some external motivation to push himself, so Strava has been a real boon. I don’t really race anymore, so I don’t really train anymore. But sometimes I need to just go out and destroy myself to find out where I am, both physically and metaphysically. Strava makes me push myself harder on these self-destruction rides by giving me pictures of the wreckage. It sounds less Pavlovian than it is.

Well, anyways, Strava put out a sort of “year in review” video which crunched my meager numbers for me and gave me my grand total for the year. See the first sentence up there at the top of the page for my response, which at the time was accompanied by a “Hmph” of mild contentment.

Since it’s resolution season, I’ll vouchsafe that maybe I’ll go for 3,000 next year! How’s that for commitment? See you out there!



Hibernation, Motivation
February 20, 2014, 10:54 am
Filed under: Bike, Biography

Yesterday I went for a ride. To know me is to know that I do that on occasion, but if one looks over from his screen at his calendar, one will notice that it is February, and one will probably say something like “It’s February! Does he not realize that it’s February? Because it is!” I would have to concede that it is most certainly February, and has been for several days now. But when you get an invitation to go for a four-hour ride in February, you just go, especially when the schedule is open. You also tend to forget that you don’t do a lot of four-hour rides in the summer, let alone during hibernation season. You (by which, the reader has probably deduced, I mean “I”) don’t remember that four hours is a long time until about two hours have elapsed and the legs have presented you with a signed petition to go back to bed and sleep for another hour or so.

I deployed the Jens Voigt stratagem of hissing “shut up, legs!” at my lower limbs as my guide, who had ridden 50 miles the previous day, led me up and down the low bluffs of the Minnesota River valley. The legs were still putting up a clamorous fuss regarding the ill-advised fat bike race I did on Saturday; Adam seemed to be doing just fine. The legs just needed to just do their job without making a big stink about it. Sullenly, they complied.

It’s still warm today. A Major and A Minor are out of the house for a few hours, and a snow storm is coming. I could go and ride again, but I looked over at the calendar just now, and noticed that it’s February.



Yay! School’s out!
May 17, 2013, 11:30 pm
Filed under: Bike, Biography, Personal Adventures

The other day I posted a little something about a recent bicycle ride. Today, I supply pictures to furnish your imagination.

Rock Garden at Murphy

Rock Garden at Murphy

This is a picture of a rock garden at Murphy Hanrehan Park Reserve. The picture does not particularly capture how harrowing it really looks: it’s not so much that it is difficult to ride up, but that big tree hogging the left margin of the picture has claimed a few people over the years. I was one of its victims once, and it has a way of reminding me of my past failures when I’m halfway up.

This guy was out for the Strava KOM on the Murphy expert loop.

Wildlife action shot! While I was riding Murphy I saw a turtle shuffling down the trail. I am pretty sure he wanted to race me, but I told him I had a long day ahead of me and would need all my energy for the trip home. Plus, look at him: his shell’s all dirty. Dirty old turtle…

Headwind!

Headwind!

About 20 miles into the ride, and for some reason (such as I’M DONE WITH SCHOOL FOR THE SEMESTER, AT LEAST MOSTLY SO), I’m still smiling. This is on McAndrews Road, a serpentine four-lane roller coaster that more or less connects the two parks. It happens to go past the Minnesota Zoo, and when the wind is just right, you don’t even need the sign to confirm its presence.

Destination!

Destination

This is the entrance into the Lebanon Hills expert loop. It is accessible by means of a three-mile chunk of trail, the last half-mile or so being a royal hoot. This trail intersection functions rather like a coffee shop without the Apple products or the funny smells: you usually stop here for a layover of variable duration, whether to eat and drink or just to chit-chat with your fellow cyclists. It was getting mighty hot out by this point in my ride. This was also the inevitable time during a long ride when I had dumb songs stuck in my head.

Survival!

Survival!

I’m so grateful that they put this beautiful facility up in the Lebanon Hills parking lot! I used to have to carry four bottles when I wanted to do this ride, and now there is water at both ends. Nuun is a lifesaver on hot days: It’s easy to carry, contains just enough electrolytes to stave off the cramps without tasting like the Dead Sea, and it fizzes. It gives you something to listen to, I guess.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Here’s a shameless plug for the best convenience store chain in the Midwest. I stopped and bought a big bar made out of Fruity Pebbles, and as the old saying goes, it added life to my years. By this point, I was nothing you would have wanted to smell: my aroma was one part slaughterhouse, two parts catcher’s mitt, and let’s just say that the Speed Stick had long since called it a day.

Oh, and I remember when gas was… never mind.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

For whatever reason, my olfactory sense goes hog-wild on long bike rides. For example (and why I snapped the picture), this intersection smelled exactly like tomato soup. I pretty much hallucinated about grilled cheese and tomato soup for the rest of my ride.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Yup, I’m tired. One more lap of Murphy to go!

Evil Choice

Evil Choice

This is the entrance to the Murphy expert loop. I deliberated: cross the jagged threshold, or turn back… From this point, I could have chickened out, taken the Intermediate trail back to the parking lot for about 3 miles, and despised myself for the rest of the day. Nothing doing. The rest of the lap made me consider fishing as an alternative hobby, but I had just recently read Horton Hatches the Egg, and to fail to see the thing through at this point would have just been wrong.

Yikes!

Yikes!

How windy was it? This tree wasn’t on the trail the first time I came through. Glad I wasn’t here to experience it first hand.

I could have easily named this post “Biting Off More Than I Could Chew,” or something of the sort. That last lap at Murphy was probably the slowest I can remember. I had lots of time to think, which is a rare commodity these days. I don’t do headphones so I can talk to people, hear the birds singing, and avoid traffic. My mind flits around a bit in these times without structure, but it is also a good time to think a problem through.

I also use these times away from busy life to commune in the quietness with the Creator of everything. I think about Psalms and the texts of great old hymns such as the Te Deum, which I’ve been trying to memorize haphazardly for a few weeks. I am thankful for cycling as a means to various ends, but it is especially in these occasions that I remember that, as a Christian, I am forbidden to let it become an end in itself.




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