Friday, September 30, 2011

Day 21: Blue Skies/Blue Thighs

Day 21 miles to/from work: 23.5
Total miles for S4S: 540.9

Blue skies smiling at me,
Nothing but blue skies do I see.
                             -Irving Berlin 

This morning it was sun and blue skies! Yea! Let's not talk about temperatures in the 40s and wind. Actually, the temperatures weren't bad—I was dressed for it and quite comfortable. But the wind, coupled with tired, sore legs made it a long ride in. For 13.4 miles there wasn't a pedal stroke for which my quads weren't bitterly complaining and singin' the blues. As my legs were screaming, I was thinking of them as ill-mannered guests along for the ride. Then I realized the unfairness of that assessment since they were doing the work in getting me there. I've mentioned my propensity for telling myself jokes (usually bad ones) as I pedal; and these thoughts brought one of my favorites to mind:

The couple who, having booked an amazingly cheap Mediterranean cruise, were gathering their luggage at the pier when they were struck on the head, carried down to the hold of a Roman galley, and shackled at the ankles. They were forced to row to the insistent beat of a large drum and were lashed with a whip if their rhythm lagged. Returning to port ten days later, the couple were filthy, tattered, and in pain from the rowing and lashings. As they were walking down the gang plank, the woman turned to her husband and asked, "Do you think we should tip the drummer?"

Once again Scott and I had Friday after-work plans—a shredding party ("bring all your old records that need to be shredded") outside our financial advisor's office, complete with brats and burgers. Biking there to meet Scott was about 3 miles shorter than my usual ride home, but I should get extra points for the hair-raising adventure of going down the Belt Line's frontage road with cars blasting past at 60 mph.

After shredding and socializing, we went to Porta Bella Restaurant for a drink. Adjacent to the UW campus, and with this being The Night Before The Big Game and 20,000 Nebraska fans in town, the streets were hoppin'. Scott, who has been going to Porta Bella since 1967, likes to remind employees (in this case our very nice bartender, Anthony) that he was a customer there before they were born. No one has ever disagreed with him. While enjoying this interlude of romantic atmosphere and alcohol, the sun set; and the skies went from blue to indigo to black. The distressed "blue" thighs eased into relaxation and forgot to complain. Thus closed the week and the first month of Sweating for Shelter. Welcome to the weekend.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Day 20: In my day

Day 20 miles to/from work: 27.0
Total miles for S4S: 517.4

In my day we didn't have no rocks. We had to go down to the
creek and wash our clothes by beating them with our heads.
                    -Barry Blyveis, Washington Post Style Invitational 

Gray goose. (No, not the vodka—that's Grey Goose. Nice choice, by the way.) That's what the sky looked like this morning—the feathers of a gray goose. When Silver Beauty and I got on the road, there were a few little patches of blue; but the horizon had mostly that gray, feathery, textured quality. As we rode, the blue evaporated into total gray goose. Then it started to rain. It wasn't the torrential rains of Monday, but a gentle, steady drizzle that took us all the way to the office.

Those of you who have been following the S4S project have come to know (and love, I'm sure) my bike, Silver Beauty. That sounds like a horse's name, doesn't it? Although she is my "steed" of choice, that type of name and association would be way too predictable for my tastes. Silver ("Ag" to chemistry nerds and fans of the Periodic Tables of the Elements) Beauty was not capriciously named—or was named with huge caprice, depending on which end of the spectrum you wish to side. Her namesake was a paper clip, derived from the Washington Post Style Invitational [click the link:  just reading the History portion of the Wikipedia entry I was laughing so hard my ribs hurt] contest, "In My Day", in which contestants were to tell GenXrs how much harder they had it in the old days. I really liked most of them, but was particularly drawn to:  In my day, we didn't have dogs or cats. All I had was Silver Beauty, my beloved paper clip. So even though I love my Silver Beauty for all she means as dependable transportation, comrade, and faithful steed, every time I think of her name and the other "In My Day" entries, it makes me laugh.

Almost as soon as I got to work, I watched from my office as the sun came out. It was beautiful and flirted like a buxom barfly. Once the workday was over, the sun disappeared into some cosmic back room, and the sky turned angry—a hissing gray goose. I rode home in rain with high winds. Most of the time I was fortunate that it was a tailwind, but even with that I had to be careful. The pavement was wet and slick, and there was hazardous debris all over the streets and bike paths—dangerously slippery autumn leaves, branches from the storms, pine cones, and walnuts the size of tennis balls. Keeping the "rubber side down" was a greater challenge than normal, in addition to the crazed motorists who acted as though they were driving under the influence of a full moon. My rain jacket was my comfort. Warm. Dry. Cocoon.

Ah... cocooning. Scott got home from Denver, and we decided to ditch our eating-out plans in favor of pizza at home and a bottle of "imported" Colorado Shiraz. We watched the gray goose skies go dark, and were both happy to be home as the rain persisted and we went back to "in our day" with  The Lovin' Spoonful.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Day 19: Old age and treachery

Day 19 miles to/from work: 26.8
Total miles for S4S: 490.4

Old age and treachery will
always overcome youth and skill.

Last Friday was the first day of autumn, and some of the trees took it as a personal challenge. Overnight parts of the landscape on my ride went from lush green to blazing yellow and red. I must have received the "change to blazing" memo too, and I'm feeling feisty. For instance, as I was enjoying pedaling to work this morning, I thought about how a couple people have written about my "peddling". Please note: I have nothing to sell. "Peddling my ass all over town" has a far different connotation than "pedaling" said ass all over town. See what I mean? Feisty.

Feisty can be fun and playful. But heaven help the one that gets on the wrong side of it. This afternoon I got an email about Planet Propaganda recruiting for a Zoot Sports Madison photo shoot: "very fit, athletic and attractive people (2 male, 2 female) that fit in size medium Zoot gear". Cool! I love Zoot athletic apparel and wear (i.e., purchase) a lot of it. In size medium. I looked at the attached specs. That's where it detailed ages 21-35 only. In other words, if you are 36 or older, you have dropped off Planet Propaganda and Zoot's radar as a valued demographic; and you need not apply. The only comfort I could find
in that is that even Diana Nyad—marathon swimmer, gorgeous, and 62—would have to get a special dispensation before they would consider her.

Ultimately I probably wouldn't have applied for the "modeling" assignment even if age had not been a factor. But the implied statement that anyone over 36 has no value to them hit me wrong, wrong, wrong. They were definitely on the wrong side of feisty. I went to the Zoot website and sent my views, citing the Madison photo shoot recruiting specs, by which they are ignoring the Boomer demographic—an important part of their customer base—and I would buy no more Zoot products until they clearly change that. I did not mention that I will be putting some kind of "Age Hater" prints on my current Zoot wear.

I sent a return email to the listserv from which the offending email originated, trying to be pleasant rather than shrill, but stating the same sentiments I had made to Zoot. (From that I have been receiving "me too" emails from other like-minded and like-aged athletes. One 50-year-old male said he had worn all Zoot attire and shoes when he did the 140.6 miles of Ironman Wisconsin triathlon earlier this month, but "I certainly can and will spend my money elsewhere.")

I wasn't through. When ageism runs rampant, "who ya gonna call"? The obvious choice is that stalwart of seniors and activist for advanced age—the Ghostbusters, as it were, of ageism. AARP. This is where it started getting weird. It seems that there is not an employee of AARP who is even close to the age of 50, let alone over, despite the membership requirement of being 50+. After I talked to two 20somethings whose IQs were possibly lower than their cumulative number of years on earth, I started asking to speak to "anyone who works there who is over the age of 50". I talked to seven people. All of them younger than my oldest pair of running shorts. Number Eight was Tina, a manager who may have been pushing 40. She was so helpful, I finally gave up my search for the mythical AARP half-centenarian employee. Tina was able to give me the email address where I could send the Zoot/Planet Propaganda information, express my views, and send documenting attachments. What the hell, drink the Kool Aid—I joined AARP. Tina helped me with that too.

My ride home was feisty-fueled (somewhere on the scale between rocket juice and atomic energy), enhanced with slightly more blue sky than clouds and even the occasional cameo appearance by El Sol. Silver Beauty and I cranked, pounded, and got a major workout; and I still had feisty fuel left over to run Jazz 3 miles. So ends the day. I came, I saw, I biked, I ran the dawg. I am now a card-carrying AARP member. I have money, and I know where to spend it—and where not to. Let The Revolution begin.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Day 18: Beauty

Day 18 miles to/from work: 26.8
Total miles for S4S: 463.6

For the beauty of the earth,
For the glory of the skies;
For the love which from our birth,
Over and around us lies;
Lord of all, to Thee we raise
This, our hymn of grateful praise.
                         -Folliott S. Pierpoint

Yesterday it was kind of fun wrestling with the elements and taking them down to the mat. Today it was just as much fun being free of that obligation.  The weather this morning was a meteorological mongrel—unsure of its pedigree and nondescript in the extreme. Mid-50s temps, overcast with the occasional spitty rain, showing random signs of clearing, then reverting to sulky murk. It was an equally nondescript ride to work. Not uncomfortable, not fired with endorphins. Fine, just fine. Really. Fine. Or in Scott's Midwestern vernacular, "Not bad."

By the time I finished up my work for the day, I left a little later than I'd planned. With the shortening daylight compounded by overcast, dusk was setting in early. It had been raining, and Silver Beauty was completely wet except for the seat, which I've learned to cover with a plastic bag between rides. My knee hurt. I really was not in the mood to do this. Everything was wet. The asphalt was slick. The sky looked like leftovers that had been forgotten in Tupperware for three weeks. Yuk. Nothin' to do but get on and crank.

I don't remember exactly where the shift came—two or three miles into the ride, maybe. The rain had stopped, and even though it was still overcast, the air was so clear. A sweet, light breeze was carrying me along, and I felt like I was wrapped in sheets of freshly laundered air—transported in a moving oasis. Suddenly everything was so beautiful, and I was soaking in every changing leaf color, every molecule of oxygen, and every jolting walnut that created an obstacle course on the bike path. Watching a fishing boat on Lake Monona with the backdrop of Frank Lloyd Wright's Monona Terrace was the perfect coda as the distance wound down. That, and having the sense of you, my friends, along sharing the experience and intrinsic to the beauty.

Into the dark night of my yearning
Came Beauty with her burning grace.
She so humble, and I so blind,
I did not recognize God's face.

'Tis God I seek," I told her plainly,
"And I my friend, do bring God's love."
"But I am searching for God's glory."
"Alas, I only bring God's love."

Then Beauty knelt and dropped her veil,
And looked so deep into my eyes.
Her glance revealed God's mystery
Removing every false disguise.

Her tale was like a timeless flame
That set my heart within aglow.
With gratitude I bent my head
For there was nothing left to know.

When Beauty rose and turned to leave,
I called to her with soul-felt pain,
"Where shall I look if I should lose thee?"
And then, my friend, she said your name.

-Elizabeth Rechtschaffen

Monday, September 26, 2011

Day 17: It was a dark and stormy day

Day 17 miles to/from work: 29.5
Total miles for S4S: 436.8

It was early yesterday evening when Scott started taking on the persona of Malthus, Prophet of Weather Doom, suggesting immense amounts of rain and Every Reason Not to Bike to Work. I wore my "Uh-huh" Bland Look and continued packing my bike panniers and swim bag (knowing there was no way in hell I was going to get up early enough to go to swim, but it felt good to go through the motions). Did I mention that the panniers are waterproof?

I'm a sound sleeper, but even I could hear the beating the roof was taking from heavy rains throughout the night. When I got up at 6:30, rain continuing, Scott mumbled, "I'm sure I heard thunder." (There was none.) I replied, "Uh-huh," as I stumbled into the shower. A bit later as I was in the kitchen fixing coffee, Malthus implored me not to bike today, pulling his trump card and citing the possibility of hypothermia. (We're talking mid-50s temps, not Arctic ice floes.) Finally, I turned The Look on him. Yes, That Look. The one that packs several g-forces and sent my sweet husband to his office saying, "Okay, I won't say any more."

I must admit, despite The Look, I appreciate his loving concern. Until I met Scott, I was used to pretty much looking after my own survival; and it's amazing I made it this long. (Further proof that only the good die young.) And it really was the kind of day that I want someone to say, "Don't do that," because they care. That doesn't mean I'll listen, of course. My father's conditioning of "You hired out to be tough, didn'tcha?" so far predates that and has integrated at a cellular level, it gives "Be careful" little or no chance.

I set out with my waterproof panniers, old nylon rain pants, and new Novara rain jacket (guaranteed to be waterproof and breathable, giving me limited hope that it would be better than my other so-called waterproof/breathable rain jacket, which offers the experience of being inside a wet oven set to Broil). Oh... and swim goggles. Sunglasses are worse than useless in rain. Goggles seemed liked the perfect solution. They weren't. By the time Silver Beauty and I got about a mile down the road, my visibility would have been rated as "legally blind"; and I decided that full-tilt boogie rain in the face was a better choice. However, the new rain jacket waterproofed and breathed splendidly as advertised.
At times the wind created a sideways, driving rain; and at others, it was a gentle patter that was almost pleasant. It was all an adventure, and there wasn't a single moment that I wished I were anywhere else than pedaling in this "weather event". I also got great pleasure in thinking about Dave and Monte paying double for their DCHS pledge today. Heh-heh-heh. Oh wait, it's all for the animals. No personal gratification here. Really! Okay, there is a ton of personal gratification in so many ways; but I am also thrilled that every pedal stroke, every raindrop in my face, and every mile that passes translates to help for animals, people, and people and their animals. Thank you again for being part of this wonderful venture that means so much to so many.

When I got to work, drenched from the waist down because the rain pants suck, but dry where the new jacket protected me, and generally pleased with the whole experience, I called Scott to let him know I had safely evaded the ravages of the weather and wild-eyed motorists. (Pay no attention to the woman who blew the red light on Monroe Street and almost mowed me down.)

Going home involved a small detour to see Coach Petra at Speed Cycling and pick up some bike wear I'd ordered. I had planned to join her final "Monday Night Ladies' Ride" of the year, but decided I didn't want to brave the bike paths from Speed (different than my usual route) after dark. The homeward bound weather was ominous, windy, spitty, and cold—but still oddly enjoyable. It nevertheless felt wonderful to get home to a hot bath, and to let My Protector know that all is well.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Day 16: Even a rented mule has its limits

Day 16 miles to/from work: 23.0
Total miles for S4S: 407.3

I missed swim this morning. Again. That's two out of three classes bagged for this week's new session. In yesterday's post I chortled about over-achiever Carrie telling me not to take on too much. Maybe my own system is giving me the same message and saying, "Enough!" I'm torn between viewing myself as a kick-ass dynamo who's breaking through the barriers of self-limitation, or a pathetic slacker lacking self-discipline and moral fortitude.

Sweating for Shelter is a project that fills me with a sense of purpose, and the personal benefits are immeasurable. It's also a big commitment physically, mentally, and time-wise. The cumulative time for biking to work and blogging is at least 3 hours/day. Some rational, kind part of myself says, "Congratulations! What a great thing to do, and a win-win all around. You're supporting DCHS and animal rescue, getting good exercise, minimizing fossil fuel use, consistently writing, pushing your boundaries and limitations, and enjoying the warm embrace and support of community. Wooohooo!"

There is another wickedly demanding part that beats me like a rented mule. "What? You missed swim again? You should have gotten to bed earlier. Your half-marathon training is half-hearted and slow; and you could at least run the dog more than you have been. You're burning 1500 calories every day you bike, but eating 2000 extra. Don't you have any self control? You haven't decluttered your office, closets, drawers yet? What is that you're doing—dawdling on email? Is that FreeCell you're playing? You could be doing something productive with the time you're wasting. Do you really need that glass of wine? Hello? Hello? Are you listening to me?" By the time that bitch gets through with me, the "need" for a glass of wine is no longer a relative term. (Note: none of this is commentary on my commitment to S4S. That is unflagging. Even with its demands, the payoffs of so much personal joy, supporting animal rescue, and the sense of community I've experienced—not to mention the glute workout!—far outweigh any cost.)

Scott just got the book on CD, Willpower, after hearing the authors interviewed on NPR. I've been listening to it, and they present some interesting findings, such as that just as you can exhaust a muscle, you can get willpower fatigue. I'm there. I have used the full bandwidth of my self-discipline, and it's going to take me some time to build more willpower muscle. Stay tuned. Until then, I think I'll listen to the kind, rational voice, and have a glass of wine, followed by a nap.

This morning the temps were back down to the low 40s. I layered up, buffered against the cold and wind chill. It's all relative. As autumn starts handing out temperatures in the 30s in Wisconsin, we start bundling up. In March or April when the temps start getting to the mid- to high-30s after a winter of sub-zero dips, it's a heat wave; and we'll be wearing shorts. Today was overcast and chilly, but I was dressed for it;  and the ride was pleasant. Near Lake Monona I had to share the bike path with some foreigners passing through, but they were congenial enough.

The bike ride home wasn't to home. I met my friend Linda Linssen for drinks at Genna's just off Capitol Square (this is getting to be a Friday pattern), and later Scott joined us. Then as the evening wore on Linda's beau, Matt, came to participate in the revelry as well. We had a wonderful time.

Thank you for making it a great week of great rides. It's so nice to have you along. Have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Day 15: Someone to watch over me

Day 15 miles to/from work: 27.2
Total miles for S4S: 384.3

A comment on yesterday's Day 14 post had me laughing milk out my nose this morning. My dear daughter Carrie—the woman who works 50+ hours/week, goes to grad school, is studying for the CPA, has a home with her boyfriend Carl, is mom to my two sweet granddogs, socializes with her friends, stays in touch with her family, works out, and does volunteer work for the Austin Humane Society—expressed her concern that I might be taking on too much. Bless her heart. I laugh, but I'm also touched. It means a lot to be "Cared" for (in every sense of the term).

I so appreciate each of you who "watch over me" in your own unique way: pledging to DCHS; cheering me on with the biking and blogging; taking the time to read this; making your sweet and funny comments on the blog posts, in emails, and on FB. Every day is a testament to how blessed I am to have such caring friends and family.

Weather Dude promised that today would be cool and partly cloudy with the tiniest chance of rain in the northern part of the state.  Could anything more clearly say, "Be sure to pack your rain jacket and perhaps the blueprints for an ark while you're at it"? Despite my cynical anticipation, the dark, threatening skies spit showers for only a mile; just enough to validate my reality but not enough to truly curse and WERN, or to have to stop to dig out my rain gear. (Not enough to make Dave E or Monte B pay $2 for today as a rain ride either—too bad about that part.) My legs felt kinda tired, but overall it was such a pleasant ride in with hopeful bits of blue showing in the sky as the miles spun on.

Well, a pleasant ride except for that car that buzzed me and came within inches as I was preparing to turn right onto the street where my office is. The late-model, light blue car with WI license plate 151 NHS scared the crap out of me, turned right in front of me, and sped off. Don't you know the police now have all that information too. 

This is probably not good to share for those who most "watch over me"—Carrie and Scott. When I first suggested this project to each of them, the reaction was identical: "This makes me very scared for you." Probably posts like Death and other things to avoid haven't helped either. But you KNOW I'm being careful. Obeying the laws. Stopping at red lights and stop signs even when there's no traffic. I'm being careful. Really!

By the time I left work, the dark threatening skies had re-established themselves; but the wind was helpfully from behind, the mid-50s temps were pleasant, and I felt like I was sailing for the ride home. Scott got an early flight home from his trip to Louisville, and we got to share a lovely dinner together at home. Life is good.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Day 14: Saving the Gator

Day 14 miles to/from work: 26.8
Total miles for S4S: 357.1

When the alarm went off at 4:15 this morning, it was not laziness that made me turn it off and decide to bag swim class, so much as the certain knowledge that getting through the day on less than 4 hours sleep was not a good idea. As fully documented in yesterday's post, Scott and I had a lovely anniversary dinner. But after we got home, the wheels fell one by one off the proverbial cart.

First the air conditioner threw the breaker switch, so Scott turned it back on; which resulted in flickering lights and the switch flipping back off. Then our next-door-neighbor came to the door to report that he had just witnessed some Roman candle-equivalent issuing forth from our a/c unit. The good news is that it is not mid-July, and we have a good friend who is a genius HVAC guy.
I started work on yesterday's Day 13 blog post, and just as I had it almost finished, it evaporated into a blank blog screen. That, of course, was when Blogger chose to auto-save the nothingness. I tried every trick I could think of. Nothing would bring it back. I had no choice but to start over. Arrrrrgggghhhh! I consulted with the liquor cabinet before proceeding.

It was also Last-Chance Tuesday. Wednesday mornings are when Carrollton (Texas) Animal Services typically euthanize animals that were not privately adopted or pulled by a rescue over the previous week. Because of Joe, a shelter employee, and the network he has developed, the euthanasia rate has dropped to close to zero for adoptable pets. (This article about him from the Dallas Morning News will be the best thing you read all day. Read it now! Even if it means never finishing this post. You could be thanking Joe for that.)  
"So what does this heart-warming Joe and his shelter 1200 miles away have to do with you?" some might ask. I have roots, friends, and family in Texas; and all of those conspired to suck me into the Facebook page, Joe's Animal House (JAH) and its community.

All week we network the "urgents list" like crazy. My location limits my networking connections a bit, but I do pester those Texans I know and maintain the pledge-tracking sheet showing what financial support is available for vetting, spay/neuter, etc. to the rescues who pull these babies. Tuesday nights become completely frenzied in getting the last ones out the front door. Begging and pleading with rescues that are full to the gills, seeking transport if one is found far away, fielding last minute pledges. Last night we still had one big dog (Gator, the handsome boy pictured) and four cats. No takers. I was messaging back and forth with three of my Texas JAH buddies (while multi-tasking and reconstructing my blog post), and they asked why I didn't call Phyllis.

Ironically, it seems that I'm the only one besides Joe who has a direct line to Phyllis Allison of Sunflower Hill Rescue in Terrell, Texas. I got to know her by phone when I was doing a blog on Bonnie and Ranger, two homeless dogs in Texas. Phyllis had rescued Bonnie, a heartworm-positive, blue-eyed, Dumbo-eared darling,  and I would call to get updates. Now I call just to talk to Phyllis and get a big dose of her wit and wisdom. I love Phyllis. She's got the biggest heart, and she's funny as hell. I have called her on two other occasions about Last-Chance Tuesday down-to-the-wire cases. She has always taken them.

So when Sissy, Judy Ann, and Leticia were asking why I hadn't called Phyllis, I said, "I don't want her to think I'm using her. Am I being a wienie?" The consensus was an emphatic "Yes!" At 10:00 pm I called Phyllis, apologized for the lateness of the hour ("but I'm desperate"), and begged her to take Gator. She said yes. Yea! On a roll here. "How about a couple of cats? Kitty and Shyla got held over from last week, and there's no chance they'll get a second reprieve." "Oh, I shouldn't, but I will." Major save from the Great State of Wisconsin! And, of course... all credit goes to the beloved St. Phyllis deep in the heart of Texas.

I finally finished my blog post (again), updated the pledge sheet, said good-night to Judy Ann, Sissy, and Leticia and hit the pillow at 12:30. So... that's why I didn't swim this morning. (Aren't you glad I didn't choose a topic that would make for a long story?) BUT I did ride the full 26.8 miles round-trip to and from work. So all was not lost.

The morning was beautiful. The return trip was dark and windy, but with interesting sidelights. I got to visit with the mounted police who were taking a break right off the bike path with their four steeds. (Bubba and Luna were my favorites.)
As I passed Lake Monona the crew rowing teams were going for all they were worth. It's been another great day, made better knowing that Gator, Shyla, and Kitty are safe with Phyllis. Ahhhhhh. Exhaling now.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Day 13: The sweet side of Groundhog Day

Day 13 miles to/from work: 13.6
Total miles for S4S: 330.3

Hearing the song I Got You, Babe floods me with memories of two lifetime favorites:  the movie Groundhog Day and Scott's and my wedding. Today's date, September 20—the date on which we met, got engaged, and got married in three Groundhog Day-like successive years—perfectly combines the two. It would have been unthinkable for our pre-ceremony music line-up not to include Sony and Cher belting out their love and ours in that 60s classic.

Many aspects of the S4S project have that "It's Groundhog Day!" feel about them. First thing every morning I check the weather forecast. (Might as well check out Tarot cards and crystal ball, but can't help myself.) Pick out and pack work clothes. Put on bike gear based on flawed weather report. 
Pack panniers. Grab panniers and 
power breakfast of coffee and banana. Load panniers on Silver Beauty, check tires, inhale the morning, feel grateful. Take a couple pictures. Hop on Silver Beauty and start that first pedal stroke. Anticipate/avoid known potholes, dips, cracks, and manhole covers. Admire the same landmarks, even though they take on a different personality every morning. Say hello to many of the same people. Even the sense of my body moving through space on the bicycle and the rhythm of the wheels take on the repetition of moving meditation. This morning, my own personal Groundhog Day, was (not surprisingly) no different—but as always, unique.

It was the quintessential  almost-fall morning with shimmering sun, sparkling skies, and an embracing temperature without a breath of wind. All I lacked were a scarecrow and hayride to complete the picture. Silver Beauty had to do, and as always, she was fantastic. Because Scott was picking me up after work for our anniversary dinner out, I knew this ride was a one-way trip, so no reason to preserve energy. I did some nice, long sprints that had my legs screaming by the time I got to the office. It felt great. Every breath was a gift, every pedal stroke a miracle. One of those mornings.

At the end of the work day, Scott picked me up at 5:00, we ran a couple errands, then went to our favorite restaurant, Liliana's. As we celebrated our personal Groundhog Day (and anniversary), I basked in the glory of what it is to find true love and be an AARP member all at the same time. I come from a family of late bloomers, and it's true that good things are worth waiting for. To Scott, my prince and my True Love, I can only say:  I got you, Babe. (And I'm so glad!)

If the woman in the last picture looks slightly more ragged than the one at the top, consider that besides the fact that three years have elapsed, the woman in the wedding dress didn't 1) do her own hair and make-up, 2) ride her bike to work, or 3) work 8 hours.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Day 12: There is sunshine in my soul today

Day 12 miles to/from work: 14.9
Total miles for S4S: 316.7

It was a dog-centric weekend. Saturday Scott and I went to Christy's Landing, a quarter-mile from our house, to have lunch and support the German Shepherd Rescue Alliance of Wisconsin. There were some gorgeous dogs there, along with their generous-hearted foster families. Christy's walleye sandwiches, 'rings, and beer were mighty fine as well.

Yesterday Jazz and I (as Fairy Dog and Fairy Dogmother) participated in the 28th annual Dog Jog, a 2-mile fun run and fundraiser supporting area shelters and sponsored by the UW School of Veterinary Medicine. Cold, rainy weather did not bode well for a good turn-out, but Wisconsin breeds an intrepid spirit. There must have been 100 dogs and even more people there. Besides being signed up for the run, Jazz and I were there as DCHS volunteers. I handed out flyers while she posed for pictures, exchanged butt sniffs, and generated goodwill. I am happy to report that the dog in the purple veil leading the old broad wearing the satin purple dress, wig, tiara, purple satin gloves, and orange running shoes actually passed some of the other participants.

Perhaps the most gratifying part of the weekend took place yesterday afternoon. As part of our DCHS volunteerism, every other Sunday Jazz and I visit a nursing home in Stoughton, a small town about 20 miles from Madison. Our visits warm my heart and crack it wide open all at the same time. The residents are people with broken parts. Dementia, missing limbs, morbid obesity, and bodies that are simply wearing out are all part of the scenery—and so are beautiful spirits. Jazz is not an affectionate dog, but she is gentle; and in that setting she is an angel. It leaves me humbled and in awe to watch someone who cannot articulate a sentence pet Jazz while smiling like a kid on Christmas morning. We talk about animal rescue, but really—who is rescuing whom?

Last night and this morning I had that first-day-of-school feeling—with the new session of my Gold's Gym masters swim class, MWF 5:45-7:00 am, beginning today.* Checking the 12-hour weather forecast; getting swim gear, bike gear, and work clothes ready; and using Google bike maps to figure out my route to work from the gym were all part of the process. That sense of the unknown was exciting and a little nerve-wracking, accompanied by the knowledge that my swim muscles are flabby from disuse. (Thank you, Beth McConnell, for this photo from last spring when I was more "in the swim". It's one of my favorites.)

The weather gurus had promised the rain would stop by 6 am this morning The weather gurus lied. Like some damp sherpa in the rainy dark, I lugged swim bags and bike panniers to my car Rexx. With Silver Beauty racked on Rexx's back, I pulled out of the driveway at 5:15 and made my way to Gold's. Since most of the class was a little out of shape (only a couple over-achievers had been swimming much recently), Coach Cindi was kind to us; and I managed a sluggish 2150 yards in the pool. It's a start. A slow, painful, pitiful start, but a start nonetheless

After showering and plastering on a bit of make-up, I donned my bike attire and went outside to an utterly dank day. After checking Silver Beauty's tires and my map, I headed out. In the rain. Ironically, I was so happy to be back on the bike,  I could understand why Jazz gets whiny when she's in the car and can't get her head out the window to feel the wind in her ears. Since it was an unfamiliar route, I had to make a lot of stops to consult the map; but I didn't get lost. With slow-going in new territory, the coolness of the day, and under 7-1/2 miles, I didn't even break a sweat. There's one for the record books!

A few hours after the rain was supposed to stop, it actually did. When I left work, it was as clear and crisp as it had been murky and damp on the way in. It was a bright, quick, and beautiful return ride to Gold's. Back in the day when I first started running (when I still thought that only superhumans could run a mile, but beginning to smash my own limitations), I would always end each run with a silent prayer. "Thank You for a day to run, a place to run, and that I can run." The exact wording may change from day to day and year to year, but the sentiment remains the same, "Thank You for this day, for the blessings therein, and for the sunshine in my soul no matter what the weather might be."
*In my first letter/post—at the bottom in the fine print—I mentioned that on swim class days I would drive to the gym and bike to work from there. I said it was a 16-mile round-trip; but using a proper map and not being lost like the one other time I tried it, it's an efficient 14.9. I feel certain (hopeful) that no one is supporting this effort to see how much physical abuse I can withstand. However, I apologize if this creates any type of disappointment.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Day 11: Death and other things to avoid

Day 11 miles to/from work: 22.8
Total miles for S4S: 301.8

Another heatwave hit the Midwest as the temperature soared to the mid-40s this morning. I departed on Silver Beauty with a layer or two less than yesterday, but still bundled up to the gills. With leaden skies but minimal wind, the morning ride was cast to be altogether pleasant.

It's almost weekend! Yea! My screaming yellow windbreaker, after five sweat-invested days since last being plucked from the laundry basket, is broadcasting its need for a refresher; and my tired body is giving orders for R&R. Well in advance of this morning's first pedal stroke, I had determined today's ride would be the cycling equivalent of a slow saunter. The entire ride-in experience was lovely and went surprisingly fast.

Even on the most casual bike ride, focusing on safety is imperative. I take the attitude that almost every motorist on the road is a Mr. Magoo, blindly oblivious to my presence, and a threat to my existence. Those whom I do not place into that passive threat category, I assume are actively trying to kill me. Here are some of the basics for staying safe on a bicycle.

Wear a helmet

It doesn't matter how short or long the ride, how careful you might be, or anything else. Crashes happen. If you need evidence, I still have the severely cracked helmet from the time a runner with anger management issues shoved me off the bike path. I got a slight concussion, but nothing as serious as  it would have been without the protective headgear. I was careful. It wasn't my fault. (My father used to remind us, "You can be legally in the right and legally dead all at the same time.") In yesterday's post, I used less-than-charitable terms to reference those who don't wear helmets; and Scott refers to them as Future Organ Donors on Parade. If you don't get the picture by now and persist in biking helmet-less, I resign myself (and you) to Darwinian theory.

See and be seen
With the assumption that the majority of motorists are in the "passive threat" category, you want to make sure they see you. Most motorists are not bike-centric. They're not even all that other-car-centric as they blast down the road in two tons of machinery talking on the phone, texting, and turning around to yell at their kids. I may sound harshly facetious, but I am making a serious point. From a report in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, here is synopsis describing one driver who killed a cyclist in Pleasant Prairie, WI: Over-fatigued from lack of sleep, legally blind in one eye, not wearing prescription lenses required for driving, suffering from cerebral palsy, doing a "long blink" (what many of us typically refer to as "napping"), and driving in fog.

Be aware of traffic and surrounding conditions
Bike defensively in a way that assumes no one sees you. Do not wear headphones. (I have not been wearing mine, but it's challenging not to. The hardest part of giving up my auto commute is not listening to books on CD. But... it's worth being more attuned to what's going on around me.)

Wear bright clothing
Wear the brightest outerwear you can, and a reflective vest is always a good idea.

Have bright, fully charged lights on your bike On the front handlebars, have the brightest solid white light you can find/afford to illuminate your way in low-light conditions. Next to this, have one of the brilliant, blinking white halogen lights so anyone coming toward you will see you from a distance. On the back, have a blinking red taillight.

Don't get "right-hooked"
If you are at an intersection and plan to go straight, beware the car that is turning right.

Don't get "doored"
You're tooling down the street past a parked car, and suddenly
oof! someone opens the door of that car right into you. Stay outside the reach of car doors if there is room. If not, stay alert to opening car doors.

Sorry, this seems so grim; but it's like learning to look both ways before crossing the street—you need to be aware of the hazard so you have purpose in exercising caution. Once you prepare yourself, stay focused but relaxed, and enjoy the ride.

Confession being good for the soul, I cheated on my ride home. I biked to Genna's near the Capitol Square to meet my friend Karen Darcy for drinks, and Scott joined us a little later. After Scott and I bid our adieu to Karen, we put Silver Beauty in Scott's car and went to Paisan's for dinner. It was wonderful. Even with "cheating", I passed the S4S 300-mile mark! Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Day 10: I feel pretty, oh so pretty...

Day 10 miles to/from work: 27.4
Total miles for S4S: 278.6 

No one who rides a bike worries about looking good while riding—at least no one who seriously rides a bike and has a commitment to self preservation. Not even Lance looks good in a bike helmet; and if you bike without one, you might as well  wear a big, flashing neon sign that says, "I am a moron, and my greatest dream is to go on a Medevac flight." Bike shorts, while providing padding that is deeply appreciated, nevertheless offer a preview of what it is to wear Depends, with the added bonus of tan lines just above the knees. Likewise, bike jerseys look generally dorky and make it possible to have a coordinated "farmer's tan" for your arms.
This morning when Silver Beauty and I took off, the temperature had fallen to the 30s; and the additional layers of clothing further guaranteed that I would not have to admonish anyone, "Don't hate me because I'm beautiful." Over my bike shorts I wore insulated cycling tights, guaranteed to protect from wind and cold. On top I wore three layers of varying weights, topped by my favorite screaming yellow Pearl Izumi windbreaker. My head and ears were warmed by a neon orange stocking cap, topped with the ever-fashionable helmet. Fingers and toes are the hardest to keep warm on the bike. I had stretchy gloves under my bike gloves, with my "lobster gloves" tucked into a pannier as a back-up.

My best-ever find for cold-weather biking:  Gator neoprene socks. They are the closest thing to putting little electric blankets around your feet. Despite a north wind compounding the chill of the temperature, I was armed and ready for another morning of Bicycle Battle!

Sorry for the same refrain, but geez my legs felt tired. It doesn't mean anything good or bad (at least when I'm not cranky), just that I go slower. I still enjoyed the ride, particularly the added dimensions afforded by the weather. For example, with the lake water warmer than the atmosphere, Lake Monona put on a little show with steam sashaying upward in the sunlight. And with colder air on my face, my nose ran like a Kenyan.

By halfway through the inbound commute, the wind died down, the sun came out, and the sky was so clear I felt like I was under a bright blue bowl.

Conventional wisdom would suggest that after the morning bike ride, followed by 8 hours of work, the tired effect would be more pronounced for the trip home. Not so. There is some odd recharging effect that takes place during work hours in the battery pack fueling my legs. The homeward-bound trek always feels so much easier than the morning ride in. Maybe it's just because there is markedly more downhill grade. Whatever it is, I'm grateful; and I'll take it. Although I'm physically fatigued from biking more cumulative miles in the past two weeks than I had in the previous year, today was no exception for those final uplifting miles of the day. I also had fun dropping by REI, just a couple blocks off my route, to pick up some rain jackets I ordered to see if one will work better than my current leaky, roasting, tortuous excuse for a breathable rain barrier. This continues to be a wonderful adventure that enriches me daily. But it's also good to be home, and I'm glad tomorrow is Friday. Thanks for being on the ride.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Day 9: Saving our sisters

Day 9 miles to/from work: 26.8
Total miles for S4S: 251.2 

I had a lovely send-off by the Travel Committee this morning. As I started my commute, six Canadian geese were poring over maps of Florida and looked up briefly to wish me godspeed and safe biking. The temperature had dropped into the low 50s, the skies were overcast with clumps of darkly irritable clouds,  and the wind was not quite brutal, but definitely wicked. I could have used a bit of Florida myself. Instead I focused on the meaning of each pedal stroke and what we're accomplishing here.

First let me thank you yet again for supporting me and, through this oddball project, Dane County Humane Society (DCHS). Almost everyone knows that DCHS saves homeless and injured animals, which is of critical importance. But did you know that they also save people? One of these programs, Sheltering Animals of Abuse Victims (SAAV), provides temporary and safe shelter for the pets of domestic violence victims. "Hey," you say, "that's a really nice thing to do and all; but how does that save people?" 

Up to 40% of abuse victims who own pets delay leaving the situation or do not leave at all because of their very justified fear that the abuser will harm or kill the animal. The connection between domestic abuse and animal cruelty is undisputed.

What alternatives are left to victims of domestic violence when they are ready to seek refuge but have no safe haven for their pets? If they stay, they continue to expose themselves, their children, and their pets to ongoing violence. If they leave without the pets, those animals are at high risk of injury or death from the abuser. Knowing this, the victim often stays in the relationship. With SAAV, made possible by the collaboration of DCHS and Domestic Abuse Intervention Services (DAIS), a woman can know that her animals are in a safe place and does not have to choose between their safety and seeking safety for herself. That is how it saves people.

Thank you for your pledge/donation to DCHS, which will help perpetuate SAAV and other important programs. If you would like to do more to support SAAV, they are always looking for volunteers. When I emailed Julie Lussier, Development & Outreach Manager for DCHS, asking if she had any special information about SAAV, she replied, "We have a high need for people that are interested in fostering for our SAAV program.

Oftentimes we need folks that do not already have pets at home, so that is a very unique foster opportunity. Anything you can say about that need would be great." I'm saying it. Email Julie if you can help. Again, thank you for your support in every form that might take.

The ride home was all blue skies and tailwind. May it ever be so.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Day 8: Crankin'

Day 8 miles to/from work: 27.2
Total miles for S4S: 224.4 

Mounting Silver Beauty this morning, I felt cranky. Whiny. Whaaaa. It was another perfect, mid-60s morning complete with blue sky and a light breeze. My attitude was, "So what?"

Scott is out of town and last night called after 11:00, saying, "I didn't want to wake you; but when I saw you hadn't blogged yet, I knew you'd still be up." (How I love that man! He knows me, and he pays attention.) It was a couple hours later when I finally got to bed, and my time in the Land of Morpheus wasn't long enough. This morning I was paying the price with a tired body and pissy mind.

When I got just past the Alliant Energy Center, I knew I'd passed the S4S cumulative 200-mile mark and felt slightly gratified. Slightly. Then at the stop light on John Nolen Drive, waiting with other cyclists, I was chatting with a woman wearing a watermelon-motif helmet.

Something about that watermelon, enhanced by the pleasantness of the wearer, made the shift. Philosophical question: In the presence of a watermelon of any stripe, is it possible to be grumpy? Discuss amongst yourselves.

The rest of the ride went pleasantly and smoothly. I was still tired but simply didn't push—mentally clapped with Rosalie, experimented with doing abdominal crunches while pedaling (it works!), and said good morning to the "community" as I cranked. Good times.

Upon leaving work and loading my panniers, I noticed a bolt missing from my rack. No wonder it vibrated and made teeth-rattling noises with every bump. My first destination took me to the Walgreen's around the corner from my office to pick up a prescription. (A bike works just fine at the drive-thru.) I stopped at Williamson Bicycle Works (Willy Bikes to its friends) a few miles up the road and just off the bike path. The bike mechanic who greeted me examined the rack and missing bolt, fixed it, and had me out of there in under 5 minutesrefusing payment. (The video at the conclusion of this post is a tribute to this hero.) It made me want to buy a new bike from WB.

The last part of my ride home was as much a divine finale as this morning's start was profane (or at least laced with mild profanity). I felt energized, I felt like I'd

borrowed Lance Armstrong's legs (he wants them back), and I did crank. I flew. But not quite as high as the balloon that I watched for the last 4 miles of my bicycling-home journey. When I got off Silver Beauty, the "wouldn't you like to fly in my beautiful balloon" (anyone remember the 5th Dimension?) had landed about 100 yards away. Fantastic. Awesome. All in a day's ride.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Day 7: Hissy Fit

Day 7 miles to/from work: 26.8
Total miles for S4S: 197.2 

Perhaps it's boring from the reading side to hear about yet another late-summer morning with sunny skies and pleasant temps, but from the riding side I am glorying in it. Every sun ray is a gift.

Yesterday Madison was the site of Ironman Wisconsin, affectionately known as IM-Moo in these here parts. This triathlon event entails 140.6 consecutive, self-propelled miles undertaken by 2600 athletes as they swim 2.4 miles, bike 112, and run a full marathon (26.2 miles). Several of my friends crossed that finish line last night, some of them not for the first time. Although several of you kind supporters have expressed admiration that I'm putting in the Sweatin' 4 Shelter bike miles, I'm kind of "Base Metal Girl" or "Aluminum Chick" compared to these IronFolk. BUT... (and that's a big butt... er... but), who's comparing? We all are where we are right this minute, and it really doesn't much matter how it compares to anyone else. What does matter is what you and I are doing right now to be healthy and fit and meet our personal goals.

I'm proposing hissy fit. That usually connotes a flash-fire burst of temper, but in my book it describes being fit with the "It's MY fitness and health, by God, not some 19-year-old super model's or anyone else's" attitude.

If you've already got an exercise plan workin' for you, you're golden. U go! However, if punching the buttons on the remote control  has begun to feel like overwhelming exertion, it's time to make some changes. I was a couch potato until I was 30, so it's been awhile since I started putting in the miles; but I still remember clearly what worked and what didn't. Based on that first-hand experience, I offer the following suggestions:

What floats your boat?
Figure out what you like to do to move your body, or can at least tolerate. Walking? Hoisting some light dumbbells? (I am not referring to your children, but that could be an option as well.) Handball? Belly dancing? Go wild. Be Madonna and dance in your underwear. (You may want to avoid public places for this particular workout.) The library (free! free! free!) offers a wealth of books and videos so you can audition any number of possibilities.

Plan to start small and slow. This is not the time for extreme-miracle-overnight-transformation that at best could demoralize you and at worst land you in the ER. I love the story of Rosalie Bradford; and when I'm thinking maybe I'll just skip exercise today, or I'm plodding along some course at a glacial pace feeling like an under-achiever, I think of Rosalie. In 1987 she weighed almost 1200 pounds and had been bed-ridden for 8 years. A concerned friend called Richard Simmons; he called Rosalie and talked to her at length. He sent her some videos and a food plan. Rosalie jumped right out of that bed and started sweatin' to the oldies with Simmons. Oh wait... not exactly. The woman could barely move. At first the only thing she could do was clap her hands along with the videos. She did what she could at that moment, and she persisted until she could do more. Rosalie still holds the world record for having lost the most weight by a woman. Start where you are.

Plan some more
Plan your workouts. (Or as Jillian Michaels says, "Fail to plan/plan to fail." That's so negative, but unfortunately true.) Even if it's 5-10 minutes, put it on your calendar. Then do it.

Keep doing it
Do more as you can. More intensity, more exertion, over longer time periods. Build up gradually. Sensibly. Make it a balanced part of your life.

Do I practice what I preach? Yeah, usually. Always? Oh, hell no. Sometimes I skip workouts. (Note: Sweatin' 4 Shelter is not just a workout—it's a mission. I do not skip.) As for being sensible or balanced (or not), I've done five marathons; and I dream of doing Ironman someday. That's when what I  started doing for my health becomes its own disease.

As for our regularly scheduled programming: It was a gorgeous ride home. I basked in the knowledge that in the world of heavy metals, I'm building Ironthighs and Buns of Steel. Not bad for an old broad who is proud to be Hissy Fit!