By riding the same trails regularly, I can easily judge the progression of my skills. Now starting my third summer mountain biking, I’m realizing both what I’ve already learned along with an awareness of how much I don’t know. It brings a smile to my face when I look back at pictures like these from 2011 and remember struggling with a climb I can now top, being afraid to ride across rocks I barely notice, coming to a dead stop in front of a log, I now pop over without a thought.
It just hit me that I’m coming up on my 2 year anniversary of my first attempt at mountain biking. That visit to an Intro clinic and short, short ride on a beginner trail was really more of a putting my toe in the water, versus jumping right in. If someone was to ask me how long I’ve been mountain biking, I generally consider spring of 2011 to be the beginning, the point I actually started going out and riding trails…and dragging my family along for the ride so to speak. But it was at the Fall Colors Festival in September of 2010 when I first did a timid ride with dirt under my wheels. Even then I knew I was hooked.
Mountain biking is an all in kinda sport. Meaning your focus has to be all in, on the here and now. The rest of world gets tuned out. Not just by being in nature, away from the hustle and bustle of life. But by the very real need to keep a single minded focus on that single track ahead while at the same time giving into an almost mindless bike/body connection, constantly shifting weight and balance. That feeling of flowing with the bike, with the trail, coupled at times with an adrenaline rush due to speed or difficulty of the trail or drop offs or jumps is wonderful. Almost addicting, Brings me back time and again.
Now with two summers of riding under my belt, it’s great to realize how much progress we’ve made on our skills. As our skills grew, our interest in the sport also increased – as did our stable of bikes. Riding trails we know over again, allows us to benchmark our progress. It’s a great feeling to to clean a trail you couldn’t before. To make it all the way up a climb that you’ve had to get off and push in the past. To ride over a log as if it wasn’t there. Beaver tree, what beaver tree (a particular place on an otherwise easy trail that has vexed me in the past). These improvements all help our confidence grow. With confidence comes ability, a virtuous cycle that allows us to tackle new trails, try new things. Downhill riding in Colorado this past summer, Kiddo and my first “Super-D” race. And in a full circle, we plan on doing our first cross country races at this year’s Fall Colors Festival.
One of the reasons I love living in the Milwaukee area is its close proximity to Chicago. While there are many reasons which give Milwaukee the edge as to my choice of residence, I consider Chicago as a second, adopted hometown. (I guess growing up midway between Chicago and Milwaukee has left me with torn allegiances – we won’t even get into Bears vs. Packers or Cubs vs. Brewers). Anyway, I avail myself of any opportunity to take advantage of what both cities have to offer. Organized lakefront bike rides are no exception with each city offering up a ride on back to back weekends.
The first was Chicago’s Bike the Drive on May 29th, the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. Organized by the Active Transportation Alliance, a group encouraging biking as transportation within the Chicago area. The ride offers the once a year opportunity to ride a bike along Lake Shore Drive. The 30 mile loop begins at Jackson, with the option of 1st heading south to the turn around at the Museum of Science and Industry or north to the turnaround at Hollywood. I love the views of the skyline and Lake Michigan, the museum campuses and harbors from a car along Lake Shore Drive and was quite excited to see these from my bike. Alas, this year, the weather did not cooperate. The city was fogged in with a slight mist all morning. Not sure I ever caught an actual glimpse of the lake…or even a true view of the skyline.
This ride was very well organized and supported. The event website included a calendar of spots to pick up ride packets in the weeks leading up to the ride. We didn’t make it in town until too late to get to one of these pick up locations…but will next year. The line to pick up packets was long when we arrived around 6:30am, and getting longer by the minute. Look closely in the picture below – when we got there the line went to the porta potties in the far back, by the time we got our packets, it had doubled back upon itself. Packets included the mandatory, and frequently checked, race bracelets and numbers, along with t-shirts and route guides.
The next weekend was the Miller Lite/UPAF Ride for the Arts in Milwaukee. This fund raiser for Milwaukees Performing Arts scene offers a variety of routes from 5mile and 12 mile family friendly routes through downtown, to a bit more challenging 25mile route heading south along the lake, and for the true cyclist northerly 50 and 75 mile versions. We’d originally planned on doing the 50miler, but technical difficulities (a deja vu of hubby’s flat in last year’s ride – but with need of a new tire in addition of the tube) put us behind schedule and we called an audible and joined the 25miler.
A highlight of this year’s ride was the trip over the Hoan Bridge. Before the start organizers warned that no photography or stopping on the bridge was permitted, s have no pictures of the incredible views. The 3 percent grade of the bridge made climbing it not too strenuous at an easy pace, nor did it cause problems on the group descent. Hopefully this made us one step closer for the DOT to allow biking across the bridge in the future.
Bikes of all types, road, mountain, hybrid, recumbent, were apparent on the ride. Huge props to the guy on the single speed old fashioned bike. We saw him start and finish – and at the turn around, so know he did the 25mile route. Passed a couple of families using tandems plus tag alongs for a three person ride.
Recommend both rides, and together they make a great way to kick off the summer riding season!
Was thrilled this morning to see this tweet from @WORBA_MMB, the account of Metro Mountain Bikers, Milwaukee’s off-road biking club. The Metro Mountain Bikers maintain several areas of mountain biking singletrack around Milwaukee County. The Hoyt Park and Oak Hill sections are in located in Wauwatosa – the city just west of Milwaukee proper.
The weather was perfect for our first trail ride of the year. Sunny, 80 degrees. We put the hitch on the car, checked out the bikes; giving them the ABC once over – air, brakes, cranks and chains. Once that was complete, made sure we had all the gear – helmets, water, gloves, before heading out on the 5mile trip to the trails. Yes, I know we could have ridden, should have – in fact I ride past the Hoyt trails on my bike commute. However, kiddo doesn’t quite have his biking legs and stamina to do both the rides to and from plus the trails. Working on that is a goal for the year.
The trails are flowing, curvy single track. No tough climbs, but fun little touches of dips and creek crossings. The Metro Mountain Bikers do a great job of maintaining these – in keeping brush in check, building boardwalk type crossings, and installing rock and other armor in low lying spots.
I also laughed at this tree. Apparently, a local beaver has the same opinion as I about having this tree at the base of a small hill with a slight curve in the trail. Tho’ I suppose it would prevent you from riding into the river.
Ok, I admit it. I’m pretty much a fair weather bike commuter. I started bike commuting last fall and rode until the Friday before “fall back”, the switch from daylight saving to standard time. In the fall, I enjoyed riding the 11 mile route in the cool temperatures, and found the early morning frost to be a beautiful addition to the ride. However, I just am not comfortable riding in the dark, nor on snow and ice. So once the time changed, the commuter was put away for the winter.
The Art in Bloom exhibit at the Milwaukee Art Museum provided a opportunity to spend real life time with a few of the garden bloggers whose 140 character insights I follow. Gayla Trail (@yougrowgirl), author of the books You Grow Girl: The Groundbreaking Guide to Gardening and Grow Great Grub: Organic Food from Small Spacesand founder of the website You Grow Girl was going to be speaking. Meeting up were bloggers @mrbrownthumb of Chicago Garden, @snappyjdog of The Dig-it-yourself garden, @myskinnygarden of My Skinny Garden and @cobrahead of Cobrahead Tools.
As the Milwaukee host of the meet-up, I suggested we start at the Milwaukee Public Market. This is a great choice when needing something for everyone, not to mention a pleasant walk from the museum. The next two hours passed quickly; sharing stories of our gardens and community gardens, plus hearing Gayla talk about the challenges of writing garden books (and photographing not to mention growing everything needed).
We headed back to the museum so Gayla could prep for her talk, and we could visit the exhibit.
I hate to admit that not only had I not been to the Art Museum before, I also did not know what the Art in Bloom exhibit was all about. As we walked into the galleries, I thought, “hmm, how odd, just floral arrangements set around the museum”. Then this one, done in such a literal fashion, hit me……oh my, the floral exhibits are inspired by the paintings.
Brunch included a small reminder that we aren’t quite to spring yet in Milwaukee. A hail downpour. Unlike anything I’ve seen, small bits of hail, the size of Dipping Dots, quickly covering the ground. Fascinating to watch, and to walk in.
Milwaukee did itself proud with Art in Bloom. With all my travel – for business and pleasure, it’s good to be reminded every now and again of how much this great city I call home offers!
Early spring…..the time when gardeners in the upper-Midwest start itching for some greenery. It’s the beginnings of seed starting season, but still several long weeks from outdoor planting time.
So what’s a gardener to do? Visit a garden show or two. Which is exactly what I did. First up the Chicago Flower and Garden Show, held March 10-18th at Navy Pier. This one had an added bonus for me of a tweet-up with other Chicago area garden bloggers. A couple of weeks later closer to home, Hubby, Kiddo and I attended the Milwaukee Realtors Home and Garden Show, held March 25 – April 3rd at the Wisconsin State Fairgrounds.
The theme for the Chicago Flower and Garden Show was “Sport of Gardening”. The display gardens all had some kind of sport theme, from the obvious such as giant croquet mallet and balls (made out of beautiful white orchids), backyard putting greens, and sailboats. Or the less obvious “sport” of backyard entertaining and chicken keeping. Even the decorated tablescapes/floral arrangements had a sports theme.
The display garden where I spent the most time was the garden featuring stone sculpture’s and plants (mainly woodies, both deciduous and evergreen) from Rich’s Foxwillow Pines Nursery in Woodstock, IL. While we were visiting, the artist was actively working on a new piece. Watching him hand carve the stone was fascinating – as were the mainly examples of his craft woven throughout the garden.
But, of course, it was the plants that drew me in. Can’t wait to get down to Woodstock and check out this nursery located 65 miles southwest of me, 35 miles due west of my Mom, I have no excuse not to go. Based on the specimens in the garden (which were very nicely marked), this is a must see place for me.
Seriously, they expect me to ride up that ramp the very first thing…don’t they realize topping little steep hills is one of my weaknesses…I am going to embarrass myself right from the start…I have to get to the top…..
Ok, I know what to do, pedal hard, shift weight forward when losing momentum towards the top, keep pedalling…..
And so began the day at the Women’s Weekend Ride and Clinic at Rays Indoor Mountain Bike Park in Milwaukee. I’d read about the women’s weekends (they also do one each year at their Cleveland location) on the forums of Team Estrogen and MTBR.
I was both nervous and excited about this day. Kiddo and I have been talking about checking out Ray’s since it opened, but I’ve been a bit too intimidated by my lack of experience and fear of riding ladders to go on my own. However, when I saw they’d be having the park closed down to women only with a free clinic, I jumped at the chance.
Then it hit me, the other half of the equation. That the MTB mantra of “Momentum is your friend” meant…
Oh shit, they expect us to ride down the ramp to hit the ladders….now I’m seriously freaking. I don’t know how to do this. The one time I tried to ride the wooden skill obstacles at Muir had been a bit of a disaster.
I must not have been the only one with a bit of fear showing on her face. When Tania and Jeni, our coaches, arrived, they sized up the group, moved us off the ramp, and over to a flat area to work on beginner skills. Tania and Jeni are both graduates of the International Mountainbike Instructor Certification (IMIC) program and followed that program for beginners. We learned bike-body positioning from neutral to attack position, how to brake, steer, shift weight forward and back, stop fast bracing our heels down, and began to work on front wheel lifting. Tania or Jeni would talk us through the skills, demonstrate and then have us practice on the flats, offering comments and suggestions to each rider individually.
Quickly our confidence grew and the group headed back over to the ramps, to the beginner sport area. It was time to use our new skills on the trails. The coaches stayed down on the runs. This position allowed them to coach the riders as they passed; often giving extra pointers as the rider headed back up to the ramps. They encouraged us to try increasingly difficult obstacles. The teeter tooter, going over a small log, a larger log, riding over a boulder, pedaling our way through a rock garden.
Even “picking me up” when this small patch of rocks, taught me a slightly painful lesson about momentum… specifically what happens when the bike stops and you don’t, my first “endo”. Not going fast enough, looking down, my front tire stopped by a rock, me flipping over the bars, hitting my head. Being both embarrassed and just slightly disorientated. A quick check over by one of the Ray’s staff. Then being encouraged by Tania to try a slightly easer run to get my confidence back. And finally moving back to this line to make it through, prove to myself that I could do it.
I feel like I learned so much on this day. I’m getting more confident in trusting that I can look ahead, becoming more aware of my position on the bike. Understanding a bit more of the difference between controlled momentum and out of control speed. That much of this sport I am enjoying learning is a mental game, pushing both physical limits and those set by our minds…..which makes it all that much more appealing to me.
Ray’s has done a great job in building this facility. There’s something for all skills levels. A great option during the cold and snow. And this women’s weekend a perfect way to get acquainted. I can’t wait to take these skills out on the dirt. And am even more excited for the Midwest Women’s Clinic in June; an event hosted by Sub-9 productions, a company owned by Tania and her husband. Can’t wait!
In May or June of 2009, the Bike Federation of Wisconsin did a lunch-n-learn event at my workplace on bike commuting. In addition to a great lecture, question and answer session, they provided each attendee with a packet of info – rules of the road, biking tips and a copy of the Milwaukee by Bike map. At the time, I was only flirting with the idea of taking up cycling. It wasn’t for another month or two that I started riding regularly. However, this was a map of Milwaukee County and I live in Waukesha county. Not relevant to me. Or so I thought. And so, this great bike map was filed away with the other maps in my collection. (I’m a bit of a map geek, like reading them believe it or not, part of my travel and trip planning obsession).
But, the seed was planted to bike commute.
That lunch-n-learn, plus the free helmets my employer gave to the attendees spurred me to finally start riding. First a quick spin around the neighborhood on a men’s mountain bike – which both wore me out and gave me one sore bottom, causing me to learn about women specific design both in saddles and bikes. Soon I was taking my trusty 25 year old Schwinn on longer and longer rides. Since then I’ve added a couple of bikes to my stable. First a road bike, now a hybrid, all-trail bike.
In a testament to how big a part of my life this new hobby/sport/pastime of biking has become, I’ve written several blog posts about biking. In fact I’d say biking may be the most frequent theme or at least mention of any topic (Remember, this blog *started* as a gardening blog. It was biking that took it down the current random path). Discovering the Glacial Drumlin trail, exploring new places around my neighborhood, suddenly realizing I did not live in a flat area, riding the Chicago lakefront trail, riding Milwaukee’s lakefront trail, my first organized ride, rented bikes and rode around California’s wine country, and my recent 1st try at mountain biking.
But still I did not bike commute.
Logistics, carrying clothes, laptop, etc. played a part in my hesitancy But mainly, I wasn’t commuting because I was afraid. Of traffic. That I wouldn’t be able to make it there and back. I should have looked at that bike map. After all, half of my commute is in Milwaukee county. And nearly 100% of the parts I was worried about traffic are in Milwaukee county. For those familiar with the area; I’m talking about from 124th to Hawley…basically crossing through ‘Tosa. North and Watertown Plank are heavily trafficked during commute times, and lane changes and position jockeying at stop lights along State St. scare me in my car – let alone riding.
However, luck would have it that in my search to find best trails to try out mountain biking for the first time, I discovered Hoyt Park in Wauwatosa had an easy MTB trail. This is only 3 or 4 miles from my office. So I threw my all trail bike into my car and decided to give the Hoyt trails a try over lunch.
And tested out riding from the office to Hoyt Park……which led me to discover the Oak Leaf Trail. After a couple of days doing that, and wanting to go a bit further over lunch, I threw the road bike into the car, and continued on the Oak Leaf. Riding past the halfway point to my house. Yes, following the trail versus taking the roads adds a bit over a mile to my ride, but almost completely covers the scary traffic part. And riding more than halfway home and back over lunch convinced me that I could make the 11.3 mile trip each way.
Finally, 15 months after thinking I should bike commute to work, I finally am doing it. And loving it – esp. this one section of the route. It’s beautiful with or without the frost. Love the asters, the solidago, can’t wait to see this small bit of wildflowers in other seasons.
Tho’ my FaceBook and Daily Mile friends are probably tired of hearing me complain about the ride home being harder, more uphill. Which it is. And god knows, I’m much more of the slow, steady and consistent effort ilk than the power up hills type. However, if I want to also take up mountain biking, that needs to change. Using the commute to work on standing to pedal up hills, mashing if necessary, using the downhill by Hansen Golf Course (and bumpy pavement) to practice a MTB descent, up off the saddle, slightly behind the seat, feathering the brakes. Maybe some day I’ll be doing hill intervals on Hillside Dr. on my way home, instead of bitching about it, all the while wishing I could find a flatter route through Elm Grove.
Unfortunately, the long shadows and low sun are reminding me that my bike commuting days will come to an end soon for this season. Not sure I’m up for riding in the dark. Definitely know this route is too hilly to chance in the snow and ice. But know that next year, making the bike commute a regular part of my week will improve my biking fitness, ability to handle hills while relieving stress, and bringing a bit of green into my lifestyle.