Saturday, February 28, 2009

midwest nice

We've just returned from about a week in the Midwest, visiting family and driving around the countryside. I know when most people think of Wisconsin, they think of flat land, cheese hats and the Green Bay Packers. The part of Wisconsin where I grew up is known as the driftless region, an area that was not covered by glaciers of the last ice age. It's filled with rolling hills, meandering streams and bluffs that rise over the farm fields and towns. (I don't know anyone with a cheese hat but all the sports fans do cheer for the Packers.)

There are still lots of small farms in the area, some practicing sustainable, organic farming. Some have been bought by large corporate farms who work the land and rent out the old farm houses to locals (according to my brother). Still others have been purchased by Amish families who removed the electrical lines and indoor plumbing. They have their own schools and travel the network of roads in their trademark black, canopied horse-drawn buggies.

Whenever we go to Wisconsin, we visit the Carr Valley Cheese factory in LaValle where we get our favorite cheeses. They're made with milk from cows, goats and sheep. The older the better. This time we added another cheese store to our itinerary: Cedar Grove, where all the cow milk is rBGH free (no hormones). They also use goat milk. We even found some cheeses that had smoked salmon chunks mixed in. We asked one of the cheese makers the source of the salmon, not sure if they would be as conscientious about their salmon as they are about the milk source. Well, the salmon was Alaskan-caught wild salmon; no farmed salmon for them either.

Needless to say, we flew down with a cooler filled with salmon and returned home with a cooler filled with cheese that will last us several months.

On a rail-trail bridge.

While there, we also took a little hike with my brother, Mike, on the outskirts of the town of Wonewoc. We started on the 400 Trail, a rail trail about a block from where Mike & his wife Pam live. (They are also our cheese guides.) We crossed the Baraboo River and hiked to the top of one of the bluffs. Not much snow; just a bit of crunchy snow on the grasses. A rare winter day without wind and with clear skies. It was good to be out stomping around by the river. That night, several inches of snow fell, covering our tracks and the rest of the landscape for miles.

Jon & Mike stop along the river. (Looks like April in Alaska.)

Hey, and while we were there, my mom celebrated (though maybe that's not the word she uses) her 85th birthday. What better present than for me to come visit and bring Jon who loves to cook and made dinner almost every night we were there - except the night Mike made pizza. I think Jon gets the best son-in-law prize for this trip... except, during Scrabble he made two seven-letter words in a row. I don't know if Mom deducts points for that.

It was good to see my parents (Dad is 87!) and some of my sibs (Dave, Mark, Joanne, Bob), but it's always good to be back in Alaska where my friends are.

Friday, February 6, 2009

bike girl rides again

hey, friend

Outdoors, even.

I took a short ride today, around the bog trail that's just a block from our house. Sunny skies. Saw a few people, some walking dogs. A neighbor I hadn't seen in awhile. I made two loops around, stopping on the first to check out a pond.

The snow there was too deep even for my Pugsley, so I returned to the trail. Warm, bright sun. I could have kept on for quite some time but intentionally didn't even bring water. Wore my Uggs instead of my biking shoes since I still have on the flat pedals from when our friend Alan borrowed the bike for a snow ride with Jon. Someone should ride it when I can't, you know?

It was good.

Just over a week from now, Jon & I are headed for the Midwest to visit my family. My mom's going to be 85. I wonder if I'll still be bicycling when I turn 85. I sure hope so. Even if it's a three-wheeler with a big ol' seat and a loud bell. I'd ride it to the bike shops and talk to the people just like the older guy who sometimes comes in our shop. Even at 10 degrees, he'll ride over to the hardware store next door or stop in and tell us he's having a great day because he's riding even though people think he shouldn't. He really cheers me up. When I grow up, I want to be like that guy.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

an alaska year in haiku

a year in haiku

Bundled forms shuffle
across icy streets, lots in
January cold

In February
brighter days arrive amid
still punishing cold

Welcome, the sun’s warmth
Felt on cheeks and shoulders, with
snow still under foot

Fast melting snow piles
Create bergs and rivulets
On streets in April

May is hope, promise
Color blooms next to houses
Snow still in the woods

Light and energy
Vibrant in June; we run and
play til exhausted

Rain clouds overcast
Skies in July are so fickle
Now sunny again

Waning days bring us
produce from the valley sweet
carrots, squash and beets

Crisp air after rains
September’s heavy dew and
clear chill nights and days

Rains glaze road and trail
Now icy rinks, October
pumpkins slide fearful

Deep cold, we shudder
Frosted trees heavy, branches
Bend under the weight

Short days, frozen air
December snow muffles sounds
Then, days get longer

Sunday, February 1, 2009


I'm finally back on the bike. Well, on the trainer. It's a long story with many possible starting places but the best part is Thursday night while on the trainer I felt no pain in my sacroiliac joint. How long has the pain been growing deep near the base of my spine? A few years. I dealt with it by downshifting on climbs, walking them or avoiding them altogether. Sometimes, I could pull it off, but not with a payback later. I lost strength. And confidence. I got pretty frustrated. I didn't tell people.

I would hike sometimes, then realize that the weight of my camping backpack, even when I offloaded gear to Jon, caused serious pain. Hiking the five miles to get to Rabbit Lake I had to stop many times to rest the injury that I called my "bad hip." Then this fall on vacation I got sick. I also crashed hard on my mountain bike. The flight home triggered more suffering so that when I saw Dr Mike I told him I needed to talk about this hip.

When I pointed out where it hurt, he told me it wasn't my hip but the sacroiliac (SI). Stretches, contrast therapy, anti-inflammatories and physical therapy were prescribed. We started in November as Luci - my wonderful PT with a contagious laugh - taught me about my back. And taught me how to walk and even taped my back. I rode a bit, but mostly tried to avoid things that led to pain later. Then I had my finger surgery in December and had to stay off the bike.

Between the exercises I did at least once a day and often twice, thinking when I walked and staying off all my two-wheeled friends I got stronger. Then, with permission from my hand Dr and a little finger splint I climbed back on the trainer. Pain returned to the SI later in the day. How would this ever work? Why did it have to keep returning?

One more session with Luci and I learned to find those muscles I've been training all month and tell them to do their job on the bike. I upshifted like Luci told me and kept pedaling. My legs drew slower circles and kept stable as everything worked together just like it does in normal people. I'd just planned a short ride for this experimental stage of finding my stability on the bike, but I felt like I could have just kept riding, and the thought of doing a century ride seemed entirely possible. I haven't thought that in a long time.

It's strange how an injury, one we may take lightly at the time, can creep into everything we do. I didn't take very good care of it to begin with, then it morphed until I didn't even want to ride all of Resurrection Trail last summer.

I'm hoping my recovery continues. I'm hoping this is part of My Better Year. I'm hoping I have the dedication it will take to keep with it, to not overstep my limits, but to also push myself to ride farther than I did on any rides last year. Yes, this has to be a better year.