Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Father and Son (Day 2: Why I Hate Switchbacks)

The perfect name for this blog would have been 'Stairway to Heaven.' But since I'm not a Led Zepplin fan, I had to call it something else. Switchbacks are zig-zaged trails with hairpin corners that wind up and/or down the steep side of a hill. On a bike they can be particularly tricky because the sharp corner is usually to go around an obstacle like a huge rock or a tree. You can't very well lean into a turn if it means smacking your face on a huge rock or tree. That's why I hate switchbacks. Here's the other reason:
Day two saw little improvement on the weather front, so biking wasn't really an option. We looked at a few other things to do. The first was an artisan cheese maker nearby. That made for a great snack, but only accounted for an hour of the day. Pouring over some of the travel guides we had along, we found that pretty much anywhere there are mountain bike trails, there are hiking trails. So we decided that we'd try some two-legged adventuring. I suggested Devil's Lake State Park. When we got there it was cool, cloudy, and windy but it was still warmer walking than biking. We picked a 2-mile trail that wound up and around a bluff to view a huge rock precariously balanced on the edge of a cliff, and then back down the other side. Naturally the flat, two-dimensional map was stupidly deceiving. The route up was literally a series of granite 'steps' that made up a 500-foot vertical climb strait up a cliff. It was slow going, but the views were as life-affirming as they were spectacular. Once to the top, the views down on the lake and valley were amazing. You could see forever. Making our way to the trail that was to lead us down, we ran into a couple of rock climbers who had just scaled one of the many routes straight up the rock face. They said climbing that way takes 15-20 minutes to reach the top. It had taken us the better part of an hour. The route down was easier in some parts and harder in others. The other favorable part of walking, is that afforded us the opportunity to take a bunch of pictures that would notify our next of kin what we had been attempting. Eventually we made it all the way down without incident and followed the trails through the oaks back to where we started. Upon emerging from the woods we saw a bald eagle circling the lake. In all that wind, he didn't appear to be working too hard to keep himself aloft. Dad and I had a late lunch at Culver's on the way back and toasted our summitting success with a round of ice cream.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Father and Son (Day 1: Rain or Shine)

Fifteen years ago I took my dad on a bike trip. There are two past-times he is passionate about: cycling and trains. Rails-to-Trails gives him a chance to enjoy both bicycling and railroad history. Wisconsin has some of the best R-to-T rides in America. The crown jewel being the Elroy-Sparta Trail. It's a 32-mile (one way) trail that includes three huge tunnels, the longest of which is so deep and dark you can't see one end from the other. My dad was obviously fascinated by this adventure and I knew he'd never do it alone, so for his 55th birthday, I took him. We took a long weekend, packed my Jeep, and headed west. We had a great time and created memories and stories I talk about to this day ("Eat the last chicken strip, dad!" could be a blog of its own). On the drive home I suggested we do this every year. Six months later, however, I moved to Oregon. So much for my great intentions. This year my dad turned 70 and the family turned it into a national holiday. The fact that everyone was around was gift enough for him. But being the only one of his kids who lives in town, I felt I needed to do something a little more than just show up. After all, he sees me all the time. When I got my Nat Geo Adventure magazine that month, there was an article about Wisconsin's 400 Trail. Another R-to-T ride that actually begins where the Elroy-Sparta Trail ends. So this past Sunday morning we packed up my Jeep again (albeit a newer version) and headed west.
About an hour into the drive my dad pulls out a big map of the state and puts on his glasses. He just spent a couple hundred dollars on a GPS system, but since we are men there would obviously be no need for such a device. After a a couple minutes of studying the map in silence, I became curious, "What's up?" I asked. "I can't find Tomah, " he replied.
"What's in Tomah?"
"Aren't we staying in Tomah?"
"I don't think so. Mom made the reservations. I just wrote down the phone and confirmation numbers."
"Really? Where are we staying then?"
"Sparta, I think. Where did we stay last time?"
"I don't remember."
(Long pause)
"I think we have to call mom."
I swear that man, as a species, probably had to ask directions just to get out of the stone age! We actually deducted that we were staying in Elroy by retracing out last adventure's actual ride. We knew we weren't staying in Sparta because that's where we stayed last time, and because last time we took a shuttle one way and ended at our hotel (in Sparta).
We got to Elroy about 10:30a.m. Our room wasn't ready, but we were essentially ready to ride. It was mostly sunny and 74 degrees. My dad suggested we just go ahead and start. Okay, I was thinking to myself, a little warm-up before we start the actual trail. Ten minutes or so into the ride, I asked "how far is this trail (we had considered doing another smaller ride or two while we were in the area)?" "22 miles," was the answer I got. "Round trip?" "No. One-way." Clearly my mother had not heeded my plea to tell dad to go easy on me. There were four towns along the way (the fourth being the end town that we'd turn abound in), where we'd stop to drink or stretch or have a snack. The ride was beautiful. The tree were turning color and the sound of crunching leaves and twigs under my tires were a sign that fall is right around the corner. We arrived at the Reedsburg Station (our end of the line) around 2p.m. Since we hadn't had lunch yet, (I was riding on a cup of coffee and a maple nut Clif Bar) we decided we'd lunch here and head back. While we were scouting the neighborhood for a restaurant, we realized that the sky to the north (the direction that would take us back to our hotel) had become somewhat ominous looking. We had to make a decision: stay in Reedsburg to eat and hope it blows through while we're eating or race back and hope we're safe before it gets too bad. We opted for the latter on the grounds that we didn't want to be 22 miles from our hotel in the pouring rain and have it start to get dark. So without as much as a commemorative snapshot of our accomplishments so far, we headed back up the trail. Before the station disappeared behind us, it started raining. It never poured, but it came down steady enough that we were soaked to the skin. We stopped at one of the towns along the way to rest. It had stopped raining and there was a kayak outfitter/bike rental shop I wanted to stop at to see if they had some spray lube. After 20-plus miles of rain, mud, and sand; and a night outside, the bikes were bound to need a little TLC before being ridden again tomarrow or the next day. We talked to the owner for a little while before heading out. No sooner were we back in a rhythm, and the rain started up again. At the next town it happened again. We stop -- nothing. We ride -- rain. I was starting to worry about the temperature. It had dropped 14 degrees from when we started and we were both in shorts and a short sleeve jersey. So, dad and I ducked into a little trail-side diner for a cup of soup and hot chocolate. We laughed at how covered in wet sand we were and watched the Packer game for a little while. A half-hour later, we stepped outside to finish the ride. Want to guess what happened next? You are absolutely right: it started raining. Not that it mattered much at that point. There's really no such thing as getting more soaked to the skin. It was during this last section that I thought of something that made me smile. I was looking down at the beads of water clinging to the hair on my arms, when I remembered seeing a bumper sticker that said, 'a bad day fishing beats a good day at work.' Now I know first hand what that means. We got back to the hotel and tried to brush off wet sand with wet sandy hands. I gave up on that exercise in futility and headed to the shower in an attempt to disprove the theory that a hotel can't run out of hot water. If that wasn't the best shower of my life, it was certainly the most deserved. Fourty-four miles (22 of them in the rain) and three-and-a-half hours after arriving in Elroy Wisconsin, we sat down to a well-deserved dinner of steak and shrimp....and a second helping of chocolate pudding for dad for dessert. Back in our room, we watched the National Geographic Channel and made our good-night calls home. When I heard him on the phone with my mom, I wanted to tell him to thank her for not telling dad to go easy on me.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Tale of Two Tires

Saturday marked the 10th anniversary of the Maywood Earth Ride. I've been lucky enough to ride in eight of them. The first year, I didn't live close enough to get here for the ride, and two years ago I couldn't get out of work. I've rode with every combination of family members: with dad, with Sydney, with Koval, with Lori, Indigo, and Kovi......... You get the idea. The ride itself offers something for every rider, from the 100 mile trip to the 12 mile 'family loop'. This year it was to be Lori, Kovi, and I. Lori, who has been on a bike once in the last 6 years, was excited to ride since she's been running and getting healthy lately. I, as always, was looking forward to the ride, but wasn't looking forward to pulling a 60lb Koval and his 40lb Burley. This is definitely his last year in a trailer!

Our scheduled time to leave was 10:30am. We planned to leave early to get some breakfast at the park before we took off. Fortunately for us, we live only a couple of miles from Maywood, so we didn't have to deal with the parking congestion at the park. About half way there, I blew a tire. So Lori rode home, put her bike and my other hardtail on the Jeep and came back to the parking lot where Kov and I were waiting. As slick as things were working was not meant to be. My other bikes disc brakes wouldn't allow the Burley to connect. So plan B sent me home in the Jeep with both of my bikes, while Lori and Kovi headed to Maywood to wait for me. I rushed home, parked the X-Cal, put a new tube and tire on the HKEK and headed to the park. I took a short-cut through the bike trails of Evergreen Park and arrived at Maywood in time to meet up with the fam (including my mom who was meeting my dad whom was out on one of the longer rides) in time to grab a couple of donut holes and still leave with the 10:30 wave. On the ride, Lori decided single-speed is the way to go, as she never got the knack of shifting. The weather was great, which made for a really nice ride through the all-too-rolling Sheboygan County country-side. The rest stop was even at a petting zoo to show that there is something for everyone. Once we peeled Koval away from the jungle gym, we headed down the final stretch of the 12 mile ride. We were maybe 1000 yards from the end when my tire blew again! So now we sat and waited for the support car to come and change my tire, as I had already used my spare earlier this morning. A half hour later we were back at Maywood munching on a sub sandwich and hot soup and laughing about our tire-popping adventure. We still had to ride home to our regular lives, where Lori spent the afternoon painting Kovi's room and I headed to work. Another day, another tire, another 16 mile love affair with cycling.