Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Attack of the Red Winged Black Bird

The thing about cycling is that for every perfect ride like the one previously described, there are countless others that suck. They suck because you hurt. They suck because you are bored. They suck because you lose the feeling in your fingers or other necessary parts. They suck because the wind is blowing so hard in your face that each turn of the pedals feels like some special kind of torture. I have had a few of these rides since that perfect ride day, and while I will spare you the agony of describing each painful mile, I would be remiss to not at least acknowledge their existence.

Last weekend I accomplished a childhood dream; I rode my bike to my Grandparents' house. I remember countless rides each Sunday to their house as kids; toying with the idea with my siblings, as we sweat our tails off and beat one another, strapped into the back of my parents black Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme.

In retrospect, it's not that far and a ride I should I have done a long time ago, as the roads are lovely, in remarkable shape, and there is little traffic. The sun was out and it looked to be a perfect ride; except for the 40 mph headwind I battled for more than 40 miles.

And then there was the attack of the red winged black bird. While I have an affinity for birds, they can stay where they are in the sky, thank you. And here is another disclaimer: I have some deep seeded fears when it comes to bird feet and beaks. And while that may be a story for another day, I admittedly have also spent a fair amount of time of late ripping on the poor red winged black bird. There are few other birds frequenting the rural Iowa skies at this point in the year as the crops are not yet up and food sources are slim. I'm bored of seeing them and have been vocal about it more than once. So they attacked me.

My bird source tells me that red winged black birds are territorial and nesting in nearby ditches, however this only partially explains the bird that dive bombed my helmet multiple times for more than 30 miles. And when he wasn't dive bombing my helmet, he flew about a foot over my head squawking and squealing...taunting me. The sun was in just the right spot so I could see my own silouhette flailing wildy at the thing, and then the bird's; coming closer, diving into the cracks of my helmet, and then flying back up to about 12 inches above and putting it back in cruise control. Again, and again. The wind howled in my face, I had a difficult time keeping it above 15 mph, and I was plucking feathers from my helmet.

This is, for all practical purposes, a healthy dose of karma at work.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Perfect Ride

I showed up at Scooter’s house the other night seething with poison because of something completely unrelated to him. I pulled my bike from my rack and said little more than this:

“I had a bad day. I need to ride and say nothing. Could we ride to beer?”

He gave me a quick sideways glance, hopped on his bike, said, “Woodward?”

And that was that. We rode.

After a few miles I discovered my legs and he allowed me to bitch a few minutes. We rode some more, talked about birds, laughed at each other, discussed the stench from the flood and the fancy new road outside Madrid, his day, mine. Mostly though, we just pedaled.

Eventually we wound up in Woodward at Mr. C’s, swapped stories with the locals, shared a grinder and pedaled home. I appreciate a million little things about Scooter every day; but that night all these little things coalesced for me in the most amazing, beautiful, grand epiphany. His sideways glance, listening, laughter, our shared silence, the ride there and back, food, the climbs, drink, the deer in the road and an omniscient understanding of the other that only comes from fifteen plus years of compounding adventures—that’s a perfect ride. With perfect company.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Bit of Road Etiquette

A couple days ago I was out riding by myself. It was one of those days where my original intention was to knock off 20 or so and fast, but despite some hefty winds I felt strong and wound up going 50. Somewhere between Madrid and Slater on the way back to Ames I passed a gentleman on a bike, gave the proverbial wave and went on my merry way north.

Or so I thought.

Turns out the guy jumped on my wheel at some point, and because the wind was blowing in my face, and because there was a ton of traffic, I never heard him behind me. Thus, when I made a quick decision to turn west to divert off the road opting for a road with less traffic I slowed considerably and fast. I looked behind me before I slowed but the guy was so tight on my wheel I didn't see him.

The guy had no clue I was slowing, I had no chance to tell him as I had no idea he was there, and I about had a heart attack as he flew by my right handlebar. Pissed that he almost wrecked, he gave me a dirty stare and rode off shaking his fist at me as I waited for traffic to cross over the bike lane to get onto another road. Lucky for him, I was too tired at that point to chase him down and I was also in my happy peaceful biking space so went on my merry way.

There will be plenty of these idiots to contend with during Ragbrai--always are, and part of enjoying the ride is a blissful ignorance of them. To a point. Nonetheless, here's a slice of road etiquette for you. Riding someone's wheel is not something that you do without:

1. Announcing yourself
2. Asking permission

And then, after you've been given a ride/pulled...especially in a headwind, you say thank you. And here's another nugget of wisdom for you: you can be grateful and maintain a safe slowing speed and distance when the person pulling you knows you're there because they will announce that they are slowing/turning and you will not ride up their ass.

You cannot and should not get pissed at THEM for slowing and turning when you've never announced your presense, never asked to ride their wheel, and never said thanks for pulling you through a headwind.

Monday, June 16, 2008

It is Difficult to Write About Riding While Riding

Weeks have passed. 88 of 99 counties in Iowa have been declared disaster areas because of flooding and my phone is been ringing off the hook with concerned friends telling me that Iowa is on CNN and it is flooding. No shit?!!

It appears that more than a few of my peeps have finally realized that Iowa does indeed exist and we are not Idaho or Ohio. "By golly, there are even CITIES there," one of them lamented the other golly, there are.

Anyhoo, our area here in the middle of utopia appears to have been spared for the most part and will not be hit as hard as the eastern half of the state. Some baseball games canceled, roads closed, my aunt and uncle's farm leveled by a tornado, six foot deep lakes formed in my 82 year old grandpa's fields, favorite restaurants and bars closed (forever), and plenty of friends and family with LOTS of water in their basements. My little brother has been situated in a boat for days now in Coralville/Iowa City/Cedar Rapids rescuing people in 12 to 14 hour a day shifts. He's tired but we're all still here and the weather is so astoundingly beautiful it's hard to believe that people nearby are literally floating away.

In the meantime, some of my dearest friends were married this each other. The festivities took place on Lake Okoboji, arguably the one of the most fun places within driving distance and also one place in Iowa spared from the floods. It is a bit of a scary thought when you are sitting at the wedding of two folks you introduced and the mother of the bride says, "Well, you're the reason we're all here!"

At that point, I get on my bike and ride very far and very fast in another direction. So that's pretty much exactly how the weekend went: Party, sun, socialize, ride. Repeat. And luckily, the weather was picturesque all weekend.

My biking tribe came with me to enjoy the festivities, and in between my wedding duties as bridesmaidzilla, we rode. There some nice rollers around the lakes and also a nice trail called the Iowa Great Lakes Trail that runs around a good portion of West/East Okoboji and Spirit Lakes. My friends were kind enough to not brag too much about their rides and libations when I was off getting my hair done, or when I was sweating bullets in a dress, and in the end the wedding went off without a hitch, we danced like fools, the Nash-Vegas contingent had their Iowa perceptions largely shifted, and a great, great time was had by all.

All my entertainment and stimulation was perfectly timed as I was coming off a week of riding solo. Scooter was in his cave after being Mr. Entertainment/host the weekend before, I'ola seemed too far to drive to ride given the flooded out bypass/Ben and Keri's basement situation, and I don't know what the rest of my peeps were doing, but they were not riding bikes. It was good to have them back as the red winged black birds were boring me to tears and it is way more fun to ride and laugh with my people than it is to torture myself mile after mile all up in my head.

Next weekend is the HyVee Triathalon for which Keri has been training for months. Except wait, downtown Des Moines flooded and the fecal levels in all bodies of water around these parts are so high that swimming is no longer safe. So now it's a duathalon. Keri's trying hard not to be pissed, and of course will participate nonetheless. We shall ride there and cheer. Be merry. Okay, that might be pushing it. We'll show up, make fun and have a couple roadies.

Monday, June 2, 2008

We Interrupt This Biking Schedule to Bring You a Half Marathon...and a Flood!

Just when we were getting in some good mileage and were making progress on our quest to find every shuffle board table within biking distance in Iowa; the rains came. And we are not talking some mist in the sky, fogged over Pacific Northwest rain, we are talking about sideways rain complete with electrical currents zipping through the air, taking out trees, tornadoes ripping out entire towns, and then...the floods. That "big weather" people talk about in the Midwest? It's here.

So while one of our crew was volunteering to help clean up the mess that was once Parkersburg, Iowa after an F-5 ripped the place apart, others of us were stuck outside Ames trying to figure out how to get back in as flood waters rose. In the meantime the Little League diamonds became a lake navigable by boat alone, all roads into town were closed but one, and sandbaggers furiously hurled bags at the water rising on the one remaining road in. Not to worry, our Indianola contingent was keeping it real; zipping up hills and to the vineyards on swanky new rides. And then the ragbrai bus engine blew up.

It was an interesting week.

The good news is, I told someone, who told someone that I would do this silly half marathon Saturday, so I figured I'd best own up and run the sucker. So I rested in preparation for the thing for the better part of the week anyway. And because my people aren't ones to leave another behind, they graciously rested with me. And Saturday the skies parted, the sun came out and I laced up my Asics and ran the damn thing.

Insert honking sounds here, I finished! I was not pretty and I was not fast but given my five paltry weeks of training and two to three runs per week maximum, all ended well. I finished in under two hours. I did not walk. And I made it to the beer stand at the end for a cold one before heading home and nursing my chafe. Mission accomplished.

There has never been a sight so sweet as Keri standing atop that planter at mile 10, wide eyed and smiling and ready to shepherd me in those last couple miles. I was feeling fine until about 500 meters before this very moment when I felt the sudden urge to hurl my shoes into the Des Moines river and immerse myself in water. My feet hurt like a bitch and I will spare you all the other details. My music had also become mundane by this time and I swore if another Nada's tune (who I typically quite like) came on the shuffle mode I'd crush my i-pod into oblivion.

Like I would have had the energy.

But there Keri was, like some goddess standing there on that planter. And while she about had to jump into my arms to alert me to her presence, and might as well have strapped me to her back to pull me through to the end...her presence made the last couple miles totally bearable and sweet, and when I threatened a delerious sit in at 12.2, she talked me through my final steps before jumping off course while she and the others cheered me to the finish. Then there was beer and popsicles and friends and life was grand!

So that's done.

And now we will resume this regularly scheduled riding season. But only after we cheer Keri on at the HyVee Tri here in a few weeks will we be at 100% capacity. Until then, we're working on scoping out those shuffleboard tables and riding to as many live music events as we can dream up.