Riding the Skies

Today was my first real bike ride of the year. After driving and taking the bus during most of the brutally icy winter, I’ve been bike commuting for a while again now, but two miles each way (even if they’re through the reawakening Arb) just doesn’t compare to a real ride.

Today, I had only thirty minutes to ride, so I headed out from our place, up and down a sizable hill that’s literally 90 seconds away, and then back over the hill and up a nice easy road to the edge of campus, where I took a few laps of the fun, technical trails in the Upper Arb. I cleaned the junk out of my legs from my last workout, and built up some new junk for tomorrow.

Besides the pure pleasure of riding – which is second only to skiing as a wellspring of joy – today’s ride was notable for the incredible skies. Northfield is frequently blessed by some spectacular skies, but today’s were especially amazing. While I rode, Northfield was under blue sky that was bounded on all sides by the ragged-veil clouds of distant rain. It was stunning to see: literally a ring of rain all around us, but not on us. The late-afternoon sun was doing some wonderful things to the rain, too: making it a deep purple off to the west, a paler indigo to the north and south, and a light blue to the east. For a few minutes of the ride, I was tracked by four circling turkey buzzards, as black as the jets heading in to MSP were silver.

Different Strokes

After dinner, I suggested to the girls that we go outside to enjoy a bike ride in the nice weather. As I knew she would, Julia balked at this idea. As I knew she would, Genevieve like this idea. I asked Julia if she’d like to walk with me while Vivi rode her bike. She said, “No, but I think I’d like to read magazines.” I asked if she’d like to sit outside and read magazines while I accompanied Vivi on a bike ride up and down the block, never getting out of sight of the house. Julia thought this sounded good, “but first I need to change into my jammies.”

Of course.

So ten minutes later, I was outside with Genevieve, who was wearing an appropriately safe helmet and an inappropriately thick jacket and sitting on her bike, rarin’ to go, while Julia, in her pinkest jammies (and sandals), got situated in her Disney Princess “camping chair” with roughly two years’ worth of Ranger Rick and other such magazines.

Internet, there has never been a more vivid display of similarities and differences between my daughters.

While Julia silently read, Vivi zoomed up and down the block for a while. She was just getting bored when Shannon came home, letting us head off to the hallowed bike path while Julia read through vol. 6, issues 9-12 of High Five or whatever. After a good half-hour ride, Vivi and I were back home, tired out, to collect Julia and her library and go inside for baths and bed.

Springing Forward, or Okay, Start the Off-Season

I guess winter is well and truly over. Yeah, we might get one last storm, but even a colossal one won’t save the skiing, which is now finished until December – November if I’m really lucky.

This isn’t all bad. The snow looks horrible right now – brown, filthy, icy junk – so it definitely needs to go. We could use a few solid rainfalls to wash the grit off the pavement, cleaning it up for rollerskiing. I think my skiing improved quite a bit this winter, which encourages me to try to use RS’ing and other “ski specific” workouts to maintain some of my form and strength. I don’t want to start from scratch next winter.

Though this week has been gray and damp, I hope we get a string of warm, sunny days to dry off the Arb trails and the gravel roads. I haven’t run since November, but I can’t wait to get back into the Arb for some nice muddy runs. And a few long bike rides on the endless gravel roads would be an even better way to welcome spring.

Snow Riding

Snowy Ride

Until this morning, I’d only biked in any kind of snow when I had to commute in the white stuff. But having a nice bike has changed my mind about biking in the snow, and since today was a brilliant winter day – about 20°F with a slight wind and sharp yellow sunlight – I hit the Arb trails. It was a lot of fun,* both because the Arb is especially pretty in the wintertime and because it was interesting to negotiate well-known trails when they’re snowy and icy. I did more fishtailing than a school of mackerel.

Snowy Ride

On top of that, I twice rode past the Arb crew and various Northfielders, cutting down some unneeded evergreens to serve as Christmas trees. There were lots of happy kids! I’ll be out riding in the Arb until or unless we get some serious snow soon.

* I did determine that I need to wear better gloves and socks, though. Because you don’t really move your fingers or toes while biking – or at least because I don’t, much – my fingers and toes were much more numb after these 45 minutes than they get after an hour’s skiing in colder temperatures.

Another November Ride

I took advantage of a moms-and-kids playdate today to take a long, fun, and tiring bike ride on gravel roads east and south of Northfield. I didn’t have enough time to make it all the way to Kenyon, but I did enjoy a steady ride through a countryside that’s looking increasingly, beautifully bleak. I detoured off my route to visit the well-known Vang Lutheran Church (slides two and three in this slideshow), a classic Norwegian-American church in that it’s roughly five miles past the middle of nowhere. Those old Norwegians liked their churches white and far, far away.

Elsewhere, I saw acres and acres of cornfields in various conditions (standing, harvested, plowed under), several flocks of sheep, plenty of horses and cows, dozens of farms, and of course miles and miles of wonderful rolling roads. The roads were all substantially less rutted but more gravelly than they had been the last time I took this ride, in September. I’d guess that the county dumped more gravel on the roads and graded them in preparation for the winter. If so, I’m sorry to have carried a few pounds of that gravel back to Northfield in my tires, tights, and pack.

One More Cyclocross Post

Over the past eight days, I have spent more hours hunting for pictures of the big St. Olaf cyclocross race than I actually spent “training” for it. What can I say – I’m a lazy narcissist living in a place where it gets dark early.

But lo and behold my efforts paid off last weekend when I found a small collection of photos of three guys who came down from Grand Forks for the race, shot by one of their family members. I think you’ll agree with me that each photo substantiates my towering athletic prowess. Click through to see bigger versions of the photos, which make it easier to read the annotations.

St. Olaf Cross race 012 1

St. Olaf Cross race 027 1

St. Olaf Cross race 033 1

St. Olaf Cyclocrash

Check out this clip from last weekend’s bike race. The rider isn’t me, thank god, but he won the $24 prize for best crash of the race. I doubt it paid for a quarter of the damage to his bike, or for a tenth of the hit to his ego after so spectacularly failing to bunny-hop the barrier – a point eloquently made by this critical frame from the video.

“Back to School” Cyclocross Race: Whee!

So the big cyclocross race at St. Olaf was about ninety-nine kinds of fun. I’ve never raced bikes before, so there was that fun for starters. There were also the various kinds of fun which all racing entails: passing, being passed, working hard, feeling just a little bit pukey, enjoying the acid-lung feeling after the race. (Personal note: I could have done without the bass-drum thud of my heart rate in my skull, which I caused by forgetting to take out my hearing aids before the race. Lesson learned.) The organizers did a great job with the race, too: the registration was painless, the concessions were ample, and above all the course was well designed and well marked.

And the race had lots of cycling-specific kinds of fun, of course. In (what I recall to have been) race-course order:

  • making the first few corners in traffic,
  • getting the timing right for every time I hit the first dismount and runup (at a barrier that was actually just a big scraggly log!),
  • climbing Thorson hill, the damnably steep “sledding hill” slope of the east side of the Olaf campus,
  • gulping air while riding the short flat at the top of the hill,
  • trying not to soil myself (or crash) on rocky descent to the football fields to the base of the hill,
  • focusing my exertion-fuzzed brain enough to negotiate the various features on the flats: several sharp turns, a combination barrier/water hazard, and the tricky involuted “pinwheel,”
  • managing (with one bloody exception (semi-gruesome photo)) to clip in and out of my pedals well enough that I probably gained four or five spots just by being able to pedal before the other guys were clipped in,
  • enjoying the shouts of “Go, Daddy!” from the girls and the clanging cowbells rung by other spectators around the start/finish area, and
  • looking down the course and seeing the hill just a couple minutes away. Again.

I climbed the hill four times, but only rode it three times after misunderstanding how many laps I had left. (I thought I was on my penultimate go-round, so I planned to run/walk the hill and conserve a bit of energy for the last lap, but it turned out I was on my last lap. The “2” on the board must have meant “two laps” for the front riders, who, I think, caught me early in that lap. Oops.)

I had no idea what to expect as far as results, and I wound up 28th out of 41 riders in my category. Not great, but passable for a first race. A bit more cycling-specific training – especially climbing hills that aren’t long, straight, gravel inclines – will go a long way. In other words, I have a few dates with that hill.

“Athletic” Experiment: Cyclocross

What with my new bike, my riding a fair bit since August, and my complete lack of fitness for running races this summer, I decided to try a bike race this fall – the “Back to School Cross” cyclocross race that’s been held at St. Olaf College for the past few years. This year’s race is going to be held on Sunday – quite a while after school started at Olaf, but at a good time for me.

Cyclocross is a kind of racing in which riders use bikes akin to typical road bikes(drop handlebars, relatively high gearing, skinnier tires, and such) to cover off-road terrain that usually includes various obstacles like mud pits, low hurdles, unrideably steep hills, and staircases – all of which can require a rider to jump off the bike, run through or jump over the barrier (sometimes carrying the bike on one shoulder), and then hop back the bike to resume the race. Dismount and carrying sections are the classic elements of cyclocross courses, which are typically pretty short, twisty loops (a mile or so) which the racers have to do over and over for, say, an hour. The Olaf course is classic in this sense, though the beginners’ race at Olaf tomorrow is shorter, just 31 minutes long plus one 1-mile lap.

I’ve been practicing my dismounting, carrying, and remounting “skills” (the sneer quotes are my own) for the past month of so, but I still expect to make a complete fool of myself on those parts of the course. And riding in a group (at least off the start line) will be interesting. My experience with “packs” pretty much begins and ends with the occasional walker in the Arb. On the other hand, I hope my experience as a runner will help on the (few) “run up” sections, and my riding this summer (both on gravel roads and in the Arb) will hopefully at least keep me from passing out during what promises to be a pretty intense half-hour or so. God only knows, though, what’ll happen when I hit the Olaf course’s notorious “Pinwheel of Death”:

Morning Ride

Okay, okay, I know I’m going overboard with the photos this week, but my brain’s too overworded at work to let me compose any coherent prose at home. And today’s bike ride to work was so fantastically pretty, I have to blog it.

Grass Track
My bike tires’ track through the frosty grass on the field behind Carleton’s Rec Center. The frosted grass crunched like peanut shells as I rode over it.

Lyman Crosshatching
The Lower Lyman Lake, beautifully cross-hatched by the November morning breeze. I could’t capture the reflection of the moon flickering in the ripples, but it was gorgeous – a silvery circle being pulled apart and reassembled as the water moved.

Boliou Moon
The waning gibbous moon hanging in the sky above Carleton’s Boliou Hall. Somehow the moon is smaller in this shot than it was in real life.

More Riding

Last weekend, Ben Witt, the owner of Milltown Cycles, the shop where I bought my bike this summer, sponsored a 50-mile ride on gravel roads around Northfield. I couldn’t take the time away from the kids to do the ride, but this amazing collection of photos by one of the tour riders show it to have been amazing. Many of the shots remind me of sights I’ve enjoyed on my own rides this summer and fall, but then there’s photo 23, which is just spectacular.

I gotta find a way to do this ride in 2010. I have twelve months to get ready!