Sunday, February 22, 2015

Bland Ambition

No blog posts for two weeks? What can I say? Things have been quiet. Washington County has been solidly frozen since we hit 34 degrees back on February 8. Yesterday the temperature briefly climbed to 30 degrees and there was almost no wind, so I did an outdoor bike ride for only the second time this month. It was my 13th ride this year. I didn’t do my 13th ride of 2014 until March 31! From that point of view, I am a month ahead of schedule. But to be honest, I am not especially fit. I just have not had the motivation to train indoors. I may regret these missed opportunities later, but being unemployed has put all of my racing plans in jeopardy and without clear goals it seems silly to suffer in the home gym.

There were many places I couldn’t go yesterday. Snow covers most of the park paths that I like to include on my winter rides. It will be a while before any of that snow melts: tonight’s wind chill will be 20-30 degrees below zero. There might be a chance to ride outside on Tuesday, but that’s probably my only chance in this final week of February. After a record-setting January, I feel lucky just to have reached the modest mileage goal I set for this month.

I don’t feel good about very many things right now, but I remain enthusiastic about the possibility of a permanent cyclocross course and new mountain bike trails at Park Site O. Not much can happen until spring; the next likely step is to flag the prospective trails and then do a walk-through with representatives from Parks, Recreation & Forestry. But at this Friday’s meeting of the Ozaukee County Mountain Bikers, I will be prepared to discuss my ideas. OCMB wants to grow its influence beyond Ozaukee County by becoming an IMBA chapter. Currently, GEARS is the IMBA chapter for Washington County but most of its efforts are at Greenbush (Sheboygan County) and New Fane (Fond du Lac County). OCMB is a more organized and energetic group. As its trails at Pleasant Valley and Port Washington reach maturity, OCMB is looking for new projects. OCMB is very interested in building mountain bike trails near Loew Lake in the Town of Erin. Park Site O is a tiny project by comparison, but perhaps I can secure some assistance by promising a venue that would be ideal for short track cross country and fatbike racing. I will take all the help I can get.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

White Is The Color Of Surrender

The mixed blessings of nice weather: A big crowd and bad snow.

I still hate winter.

Early on Saturday afternoon, I had my first fatbike experience. It did not go well. Enthusiasts at the Ozaukee County Mountain Bikers’ fatbike demo day assured me that the poor quality of the snow was to blame. Demo day attracted a lot of people and the snow degraded from above-freezing temperatures and heavy traffic. The “go anywhere” fatbikes bogged down in snow that behaved more like deep, loose sand. Prior to last Monday there wasn’t enough snow for fatbikes. Yesterday there was enough snow but it was the wrong kind.

On Friday I spent 90 minutes snowshoeing at Pleasant Valley Park to help prepare the trails. On Saturday I overheard complaints that the trails were not groomed to a standard that one normally associates with cross country skiing. If fatbiking is best enjoyed on snow that has been compacted to a smooth, road-like consistency, then why not just ride on the road? Worrying about the properties of the snow and the esoteric calculus of fatbike tire pressure strikes me as rather precious. If you can tolerate temperatures low enough to ensure a stable riding surface, then fatbiking might create opportunities for you to ride when you wouldn't otherwise. But because I typically don’t ride when the temperature is below freezing, demo day left unanswered the question of why I ever would choose a fatbike.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Cold Enough Already

Cyclocross racers can go too far in their quest for Svenness.

The 2015-16 UCI cyclocross calendar came out last week. Two of the events will have an impact on the Wisconsin Cycling Association series in which I participate. The Trek CXC Cup in Waterloo is tentatively scheduled for late September as usual, but race organizers are trying to move the event to October 10-11. With so many Wisconsin racers in action at the Trek CXC Cup, the WCA will not schedule its own races on the same weekend. So, it matters which weekend Trek gets, but it doesn’t matter very much.

Moving the Jingle Cross races to December 4-6 will be much more significant. If you are wondering why a UCI race in Iowa should affect the WCA calendar, then look at the results from years past to see how many Wisconsin racers make that trip. The WCA has scheduled its own events during Jingle Cross before, but this year that doesn’t seem likely. The Wisconsin state championships probably would be held on Saturday, December 5, if not for Jingle Cross. There’s a decision to make. Should the WCA hold the state championships on November 28? That’s immediately after Thanksgiving, a weekend on which the organization historically has not held races. Should the WCA stick with December 5 at the risk of losing some of its best racers to Jingle Cross, where UCI points will be up for grabs? Or should the WCA go a week deeper into December at the considerable risk of sub-zero temperatures and heavy snow, which will have a negative effect on racer and spectator turnout?

As recently as 2011, Wisconsin held its state championships in November. For the 2012 season, the WCA moved the championships to December 8. That move made sense because the midwest regionals were held on the following day at the same venue: Badger Prairie in Verona. USA Cycling then held its national championships at Badger Prairie one month later and Wisconsin racers enjoyed something of a home field advantage. But the midwest regionals and the national championships have moved on to other cities and they are not well-attended by Wisconsin racers now that they are far away. Meanwhile, Milwaukee’s Dretzka Park has become the new home of the state championships, hosting the event on the first Saturday in December for each of the last two seasons. As the 2013 state championships began, the wind chill was 12 degrees below zero. At the 2014 state championships, frozen ground contributed to several crashes and injuries. I hope those who advocate moving the 2015 state championships further into winter will read this article about the experiences of the top American pros at a race in Oregon in 2013. The “historically cold” conditions cited in the article would not be uncommon in Wisconsin in mid-December.

Our fellow cold-weather neighbors in Minnesota and Michigan hold their state championships at the end of November. Wisconsin doesn’t just continue to schedule its championships in December; it now contemplates delaying them by another week. For the handful of people who intend to compete at regionals and/or nationals, the Illinois state championships already present an opportunity for a December tune-up. For almost everyone else, pushing the Wisconsin championships into mid-December is a bad deal.

Wisconsin is not Belgium, where the average daytime high in December is 43 degrees. Yes, racing in sometimes adverse weather is part of what makes cyclocross a great sport, but conditions can become so extreme that racers are taking foolish risks. Our late-season races already are characterized by snow and freezing temperatures ... and dwindling participation. In several categories at last year’s Kringle Kross—held in snow-covered Hales Corners Park on November 16—turnout was so low that one could reach the podium simply by finishing the race. Racing in extreme conditions doesn’t just endanger the participants, it also reduces the quality of the competition. Delaying the state championships by yet another week would be the wrong move.

Monday, February 2, 2015

In Transition

Some of you know this already: today I am out of a job. My employer eliminated 13 positions as part of a corporate reorganization and now, after more than 19 years with the same company, I am scrambling to find new employment. I have known this day was coming for almost 3 weeks, so the job hunt is already in progress but so far it has yielded nothing.

It would be hard to overstate the seriousness of the situation. I have a wife, two kids, a mortgage and a car loan. I need an income, plus medical and dental insurance coverage. My existing insurance coverage will continue through the end of this month and there should be enough money to last through the summer, but after that I will be in desperate straits if I have not found a new job.

I have resigned myself to a big pay cut, little or no vacation, and a return to commuting after four years of working from home. By most measures, whatever comes next won’t be able to match what came before. I will seek comfort in the intangibles. I liked my income and benefits but I did not like the work itself. Maybe my new job will be more fun and interesting.

Obviously, it remains to be seen what all of the changes will mean for my cycling ambitions. If I have to abandon my racing plans to accommodate my new work schedule—or simply because I can’t afford the entry fees—then that’s my new reality. But no job will get all 24 hours of my day. There will be time in my life for cycling … maybe not the 337 hours, 16 minutes and 12 seconds that my Garmin recorded in 2014, the equivalent of more than 42 work days, but some time. This is one of those moments when cycling, no matter how much I love it, is proved to be just a hobby. Unless …

What if I could find a job that would capitalize on my love for cycling? It takes people to manage bike shops, to represent the manufacturers, to write for cycling publications, to organize racing associations and events, and so on. Why not me? I combine knowledge of and passion for cycling with a successful work history that includes journalism, sales, and no small amount of computer expertise. Some people would caution me that work is work and play is play and those things are fundamentally different. I get it. No doubt, there are people in the cycling industry who have plenty of knowledge and passion but whose business acumen is lacking. No doubt, there are others who get sick of the whole cycling thing by the end of the workday and then start to focus on other things during their spare hours. No doubt, there are still more for whom cycling is incidental—the sales process is what they love and cycling just happens to be the current product. But if there were an opportunity for me to get into “Cycling: The Business,” then I would have to take that chance.

In the meantime, the now-daily routine of scouring Help Wanted ads continues.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Extending My January Record

A few solo miles wrapped around an hour with El Reyezuelo …

Following the 26-mile route you see above, today I finished off January with a total of 241 outdoor miles. That’s a personal record. Not too long ago, I would not even consider riding outside in January. I have thought of myself as a serious cyclist since 2004 but I didn’t do my first January ride until 2012. I racked up 117 miles that month, and another 83 in January 2013. Last winter was uncommonly cold and I didn’t ride outside at all in January. My total this month wasn’t just better than any previous January, it also was better than my best February (137 miles in 2012) and my best December (175 miles in 2012). This month we had 21 days at or above our historical average daytime highs, and I proved to myself that I can ride pretty comfortably at or even a little below the freezing mark.

February is going to start with snow and a big temperature drop. We are on the northern edge of a storm that is going to hammer Illinois and is expected to bring at least a few inches of snow to Washington County between tonight and Monday morning. That’s no good for me, but the snow might have only a short impact. The long-range forecast predicts the return of above-freezing temperatures for next weekend, followed by a week in the high 30s or even low 40s. My February mileage PR will be in serious trouble if that forecast proves true.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

More Input For West Bend Parks And Trails

My time at City Hall was short today—30 minutes, tops—but it proved to be another good opportunity to talk about bike-friendly ideas for West Bend. Last week I spent 2 hours with the Parks, Recreation & Forestry staff. This evening I spent most of my time with members of the Park and Recreation Commission. Most initiatives need support from the department, the commission, and the Common Council to become a reality. So far, so good: I have not hit any significant resistance to the idea of trail development at Park Site O. I can expect some from the Common Council if I go looking for tax money, but hopefully I won’t need it.

After conducting open-house sessions for the public and gathering opinions from an online survey, the city has a lot of ideas to consider. Many people voiced support for bike lanes and/or trail expansion, but I don’t know whether they considered the costs or that their requests, in some cases, were for things beyond the city’s jurisdiction.

The photo above shows a big map on which meeting attendees were encouraged to make notes and to draw new trails. Perhaps the most ambitious of the recommendations was for a connection between West Bend and the Wild Goose State Trail. That’s hard to imagine. A bike trail parallel to State Highway 33 would run for more than 25 miles before reaching the Wild Goose. On the Eisenbahn State Trail the closest point to the Wild Goose is at Eden, and that’s still a 9.5-mile gap. Perhaps someday the Wild Goose and an extended Eisenbahn will meet in Fond du Lac. More realistic were the recommendations for a connection between West Bend and the Ozaukee Interurban Trail and for an extension of the Eisenbahn south to Jackson, with which West Bend shares a school district. Other suggestions included a parking lot for the Eisenbahn at the Rusco Drive trailhead, mountain bike trails at the landfill west of Villa Park, and bike lanes for busy Paradise Drive and 18th Avenue.

The online survey will be active through February 8 and I encourage you to speak up for cycling in West Bend even if you are not a city resident. Don’t be afraid to be ambitious—it’s fun to dream big—but remember that the city has limits both physical and fiscal.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Is It Time For The Milwaukee River Trail?

I was at City Hall for 2 hours today, talking to the staff of Parks, Recreation & Forestry about things I would like to see in the future of West Bend’s parks and trails. You wouldn’t call it a meeting; today’s gathering was more of an “open house.” The department will do it again on Thursday, Jan. 29, 4-7 p.m. Hopefully, that session will get better attendance. I was one of just a few visitors today. Despite the low turnout, I felt like my time was well-spent. If you can go next week, then do it. If you can’t attend, then take this survey to let the city know what you would like to see.

I’m all about Park Site O right now and the folks from Parks, Recreation & Forestry have expressed support for trail development there. But I also was interested to hear about the prospect of development along the Milwaukee River near the airport. The new trail would link to existing trails in Quaas Creek Park and would look something like this:

We might see some development this year. And as the city pushes its corporate limits farther to the east, we could see additional development in the future. With cooperation from other municipalities, someday we might even see the realization of this old idea from the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission:

Wouldn’t it be great to have a Milwaukee River Trail connecting West Bend to Newburg, Fredonia, Saukville and Grafton? Once you get that far, you can connect to the Ozaukee Interurban Trail, which connects to Milwaukee County’s trail system, and so on. Washington County needs an east-west trail corridor to offset the strong north-south bias created by the Eisenbahn State Trail and the Ice Age Trail. A revitalized Milwaukee River Trail concept might be just the thing.