Relative Something

*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

Posts Tagged ‘cycling

Great Indoors

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You know the saying. It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity. I don’t know what phenomena might be pushing the local dew point temperatures to extremely tropical levels, but it is driving our heat index into the triple digits again. I’m not a fan.

At the same time, I really don’t have much to gripe about. The workplace indoor temperatures are air-conditioned down to a level that keeps my arms cold all day in a short-sleeved shirt. From there, I step out to my car and turn on the AC for the long drive home. Our house is perfectly comfortable with the geothermal system making great use of that constant underground temperature in the upper 50s(F).

Of course, this works because I’m done with the time sensitive chores outside, enabling me to pick and choose whether I’ll go out and deal with the immediate elements, or avoid them.

It makes it difficult to pay true attention to the present moment. I’m off in some other world, down a maze of insignificant Reddit posts like hatted cats pawing attention-getting bells to trigger repeated delivery of a treat, or highlight videos of soccer players tangling for a header where one uprights the other and then guides his flip to a full rotation that lands the opponent upright again before ever crashing to the ground.

Cute, but basically mindless, compared with what is available in and around the space where I’m breathing.

Yesterday evening, I was describing my June week of biking and camping to a visitor and reminded myself of how in-the-moment that activity can be. We are out in the elements all day, sleeping on the ground in tents all night. Breathing the air, inhaling the scents, hearing the birds and freight trains.

We notice everything about the wind.

When I’m not biking, I pay no attention to what direction the wind is blowing. Why do I neglect to notice?

My habit of not truly being fully present in a moment allows for obliviousness to that kind of detail. My mind can wander to expectations of watching the World Cup final on Sunday, or mulling over imagined reasons why our 4 acres of hay-field have yet to be cut by the neighbor who, back in the beginning of June, volunteered so to do.

In my comfortable car during the long commute, lately I’ve been listening to deep cuts from my library of music, allowing it to carry me off to distant rekindled memories or fantasies of mastering my own version of various enticing songs.

I’m thankful I don’t have to be out in the heat, but at the same time, I regret how my avoidance accommodates a distancing from the realities of the present moment.

I take some solace in having just sweated through every layer of several sets of grubby clothes over the recent three days of heaving hundreds of hay bales. We were reasonably enmeshed in the moment for those hours of each day.

There is some balance there… and, always an opportunity to strive for better attention to the immediate pleasures of the artificial environment of a comfortably conditioned “great indoors.”

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Trip Photos

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The 2018 Tour of Minnesota is in the books. It is not unreasonable to say that everyone who participated had as many unique experiences as we did shared ones. We all come to this ride from different perspectives. There is a wide mix of experience. Some have never ridden a multi-day tip before, and some haven’t ever ridden with a large group.

Many riders on the Tour of Minnesota have done this ride together for decades. My perspective about this ride comes from having done it around twenty times, but is limited to having no other multi-day group ride to which I can compare.

I figured out this year that we could use negatives to describe it thusly: The Tour of MN is not TRAM, not BAM, not RAGBRAI, etc. It also occurred to me that we could flaunt the ride as an eco-friendly vacation, in that, we (most of us) park our cars for a week and human-power our way around the state.

At the end of the ride, participants are invited to submit up to three photos from the week for a contest. I picked three from my collection, but quickly realized there were many other shots deserving attention, so I am tossing them out for you to judge.

I hope they help you imagine what my week was like…

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I am always amazed by the visual of our onslaught of bicycles showing up in unexpected locations where riders seek out any-and-every vertical surface to support our machines while we pause to eat.

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This image of Steve is one of my submissions to the contest. I doubt it’s chances in the judging, since it reveals one of the sloppy, wet realities of needing to reach destinations, regardless the weather.

The reflection on the new wet pavement was too irresistible to pass up. I pulled out my camera, despite the odds it would get splattered by the rooster tail spray shooting up off his tires.

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The covered bridge on the Lake Wobegon trail at Holdingford, MN was a real treat.

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I love the expression spontaneously captured by my reach-around snap of the riders behind me on this stretch of road.

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The Penn Cycle “ambulance” was manned by staff new to our ride this year, and they said they had a good enough time to want to return again next year.

I’m pretty sure we appreciated them even more than they did us.

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Written by johnwhays

June 24, 2018 at 10:31 am

Gettin’ There

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Well, in case you haven’t noticed, today is June 14th. It just so happens, the Tour of Minnesota biking and camping week starts on June 15th. Holy COW, that’s tomorrow! I suppose I better start getting ready to go.

Today is my last day at the day-job before starting this annual biking adventure. After that, it’s a quick stop for some supplies, a rush home to get some grass cut, and then it will be time to start packing.

Tent, check. Sleeping bag, check. Bike, check. Helmet, check. Bike shoes, check. As long as I pack those essentials, I will be functional. The rest is just superfluous accoutrements.

Okay, maybe I’ll bring a camera, and some clothes, a sleeping pad, sunscreen lotion, and ibuprofen. But that’s it. That’s all I need.

Oh, and a toothbrush. Spare shoes. A raincoat. A hat.

I found our old original Foxtail toy. I’m bringing the Foxtail

After dinner yesterday, in order to check off a couple of chores from my pre-departure list, I pulled out the diesel tractor and attached the loader. Cyndie and I transferred three large piles of composted manure to a remote location, to provide plenty of open space in the compost area before I go.

Whenever I was off dumping a full bucket, the chickens would show up to check out what Cyndie was doing. I could see them scamper away each time I returned. Eventually, I paid them a visit on foot to offer my regards.

They are just starting to show hints of what they will look like when they mature and start producing eggs.

As of last night, we still have all twelve birds. This kind of success is what breeds our willingness to keep trying the unencumbered free-range life for them.

After they start getting hunted again, our thoughts will change, I’m sure.

Speaking of them getting hunted… while the world was all caught up in the escapades of the downtown St. Paul raccoon that scaled a 23-story building in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, we had our very own varmint contemplating a climb up the side of our 1-story coop.

I admit, it wasn’t nearly as exciting, but it made for a cool capture on the trail cam.

You can almost read his mind, as he computes the potential reward of maybe gettin’ up there.

I wonder if I should be electrifying the hardware cloth that covers the windows. I’m hoping there is no reward whatsoever should he or she actually decide to make that climb.

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Written by johnwhays

June 14, 2018 at 6:00 am

Adding Minutes

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Amid all the various birthday events over the weekend, I was able to sneak in three consecutive days of increasing duration bike rides, which will hopefully reduce the discomfort of suddenly riding all day long for a week starting this coming Saturday on the Tour of Minnesota.

Although I rode for more minutes each day, all were woefully short of what would truly help my preparation. I have been exercising my body for multiple short rides, leaving my endurance muscles shortchanged. It was rather noticeable in yesterday’s longest ride for me this spring.

I’m currently a better sprinter than I am a long distance rider.

Last week, I forgot to give a shout out to my sister, Mary, with an anecdote she will appreciate. One year when we were both on the bike trip, we were sailing along at a pretty good clip, side by side on a trail in a relatively small group. After grabbing my water bottle for a swig, I reached down without looking to slide it back into its cage.

However, it wasn’t actually in the cage when I simply let go of it. The bottle hit the pavement immediately in front of Mary’s front wheel and with a thump-thump she rode right over it without missing a beat. There wasn’t time to do anything else, which is probably how she heroically avoided crashing horrendously.

Of course, to all around me, it looked as though I was trying to kill my sister. I understand how my reaching down with the bottle and then just letting go of it must have seemed curiously suspicious.

Well, Mary, I thought of you when I was riding along at good speed on a country road last week and lowered my water bottle to replace it, and then just let go when it wasn’t inside the cage. I blame mental fatigue. Luckily, this time there was no one with me to put at similar risk.

Yesterday I headed out from Edina toward roads in Eden Prairie that I had ridden frequently for years and years. We’ve only been away for five and a half years, but apparently, my memories are not so sharp. I made decisions on the fly as I reached intersections that required a choice, changing my idea of where I was heading multiple times.

At one point, I got turned around and thought I was riding west, when I was actually closing a loop that brought me back toward a point from which I had just come twenty minutes earlier. Oh, well. That gave me a chance to ride directly to our old neighborhood.

I rolled down the street a ways and found someone working in their yard. I paused to chat and learned he had just moved in recently. I asked about some of the neighbors, but he only knew a few, and only by their first names. I was able to genuinely assure him it was a great place to live, based on our twenty-five year experience raising children there.

From there I rode past the EP high school and eventually completed an intentional loop to bring me back to a confident return route to Cyndie’s parents’ house, admittedly far short of enough miles to serve me as well as I’d have liked.

Regardless, my recent riding has me prepared enough that I expect to do just fine next week, no matter what.

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Written by johnwhays

June 11, 2018 at 6:00 am

Riding Lessons

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It’s supposed to be like riding a bike. Once you know how, simply climbing aboard and spinning the pedals is all it takes to get going again, right? Not always.

First off, there is a wide disparity between physical reality and imagined accomplishment. I envision myself gliding along almost effortlessly along the road for hours on end. Having not been on my bike for almost a year, my experience now is far short of where my abilities have been in the past.

I’m not built with the sleek body type of competitive cyclists. I ride a heavy old bike that is decades old. The unconscious reactions of shifting aren’t there, causing inadvertent pushing on a lever that should have been pulled. Being uncomfortable on the saddle influences the deviation from my ideal pedal cadence. I’m forgetting to hydrate enough while riding.

My brain is visualizing ideal performance, my body is struggling to cope against gravity.

After five consecutive days of riding, I have progressed to a level where glimpses of my old self are showing up, which is encouraging. I’m already sitting more comfortably and this helps to bring my cadence up to improve performance.

It’s just like riding a bike.

In my desire to dodge the exhausting climb of the many hills around here in my quest for time on the bike, I selected a flat route a couple of days ago that offered a life lesson. It was easier, but it was a lot more boring.

Empty farm fields and dreary ditches. Instead of wild flowers, there were empty beer cans, likely jettisoned by kids seeking to get rid of evidence.

On one side of the road there were rows of sprouting shoots of corn plants.

On the other side, a whole lot of nothing.

Seeking a return of adventure, the next day I girded myself for some climbing and got back into the more interesting terrain that offered views of trillium and livestock.

As I ever so slowly climbed one hill, I looked up to find three horses, side by side, staring directly at me. It felt like they were enjoying the spectacle of my slog up. It was a fabulous picture, but before I could pull the camera out of my jersey pocket, two of the horses lost interest and went back to grazing.

This brought me to the field where I had seen bison a few days earlier. Ian had challenged me to present a photo.

This is what I found:

Nobody home! Where’d they go? I’m not sure. Maybe there is more grazing pasture beyond the horizon that I can’t see from the road. It’s off the beaten path enough, with the road turning to gravel, that it’s not a farm I regularly pass, so I am unfamiliar with their routine.

Bolstered with a renewed sense of adventure, I overcame my aversion for rolling my skinny tires over the hazardous surface and forged ahead on the rough road.

In a lesson that translates easily to life, I was richly rewarded with an amazing exposure to a rich variety of landscape, life, and activity that exists, mostly unknown to us, in surprising proximity to our home.

The road less traveled, you know?

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Written by johnwhays

May 20, 2018 at 10:33 am

Two Masters

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There are currently two different masters vying for my time, excluding the myriad other commitments, like the day-job, commuting to the day-job, a decent night’s sleep, doing my plank exercises, and some longed-for idle down time to give my weary head a break.

Those things are all secondary to the two essential priorities at present: time on the bike, and mowing the lawn.

I’m pretty sure Pequenita would add, lavishing her with non-stop attention, but she doesn’t get to vote.

The afternoon weather was warm yesterday, but otherwise perfect for both mowing and cycling. Despite my idea of riding every day for the month leading up to my week-long trip, I chose to start with mowing. The grass was just growing too fast to wait another day.

Now that I have the new lawn tractor all figured out, the task of mowing has gotten downright pleasant. However, to be fair, the credit for pleasantness isn’t solely due to the tractor. The weather since snow stopped falling has provided growing conditions drier than any other spring since we moved here.

We’ve had some rain recently, but no gully washing downpours (yet). Precipitation has fallen gently and slowly, giving everything a good drink, but not too much, which has allowed the soil to dry up nicely afterward.

That has pretty much made mowing a hassle-free endeavor.

After finishing all the areas that needed cutting the most, I cleaned up the mower, parked it, and looked at my bike. I had no intention of putting on all my gear and heading out for a real ride, but it struck me that I could, at the very least, see how my butt felt against the seat.

I hopped on without the right shoes and pedaled up to the house. My backside didn’t feel as bad as I thought it might, especially given the un-padded regular shorts I was wearing.

I rolled down the driveway and pedaled my way back up. Then I did it a second time, to log about a mile, just for the record.

That was good enough for me. I’ve now ridden three days in a row.

I also served both masters within a precious short few hours at the end of a work day.

I wonder how long I will be able to keep this up.

Time will tell. Stay tuned…

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Written by johnwhays

May 18, 2018 at 6:00 am

Rode Again

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The momentum is going in the right direction for me. I got on the bike for the second day in a row yesterday. As expected, my butt was not entirely happy with the pressure of the seat, carrying a little tenderness from the day before. But, after a few miles, that faded in with the rest of the aches and pains of resuming a different exercise after a long hiatus.

My legs were noticeably stiff about pushing the pedals so soon after the previous workout.

To keep things interesting, I planned a route in the opposite direction of my Tuesday ride. It did turn out to be very interesting, but my ultimate plan was foiled by an unexpected gravel road —a constant threat to random exploration around these parts.

I was headed north when the pavement ended, so I turned around and backtracked my way south, visible as the single line up to nowhere on the map.

Actually, it was probably a good thing, because my legs would likely have objected had my original plan worked out. The shortened ride turned out to be plenty enough exercise for day two.

Other highlights included a close encounter with a yapping lap dog who completely ignored the fervent screams for obedience which emanated simultaneously from everyone in the family who happened to be out on the lawn at the time.

I was thrilled to find a variety of locations where wild trillium is growing among ferns in the ditches of nearby roads. It bodes well for our plan to establish a carpet of our own in the woods by our house.

There was nary a home that didn’t have someone out mowing grass or planting fields. It is the season of growing and the farmers are all in a hurry to get their crops to join in the explosion of growth that is visible in how high the grass is advancing by the hour.

I also finally located the bison herd that George had told us about on one of the nearby properties. The first clue was the height and robustness of the fence around the pasture. I had to search for the animals, because they were congregated at the far end from the road, right before the elevation dropped and I zoomed away down another hill.

I’m proud to report that I successfully silenced the squeak in my shoes, so it was an all around splendid ride, with nothing but the sounds of nature and tractors to serenade me.

I also got the bike computer back up and running. Based on the data from the app on my phone, I got the settings right on the computer, because results matched very close for speed and mileage.

It’s always nice on a bike when the feedback about speed is accurate. It’s bad enough when the number reveals I’m going so slow the tip-over alarm might go off, but finding out the speed is artificially high or incorrectly low can be very unsettling to otherwise mild-mannered cyclists.

May the road roll past our tires…

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Written by johnwhays

May 17, 2018 at 6:00 am