Ok, ok so this isn’t a grand Cogal on the scale of those past and future but give us a break: it’s on a workday, in March, and in Wisconsin; all of us are finagling work schedules to get to do this. We could have conditions to rival Liege-Bastogne-Liege in 1980, or a delightful spring day. Only those who show up will know for sure.
What we do know is that it will be a sweet 80kms leaving from Lakeview Community Park in Middleton (just outside the People’s Republic of Madison) and will take the lucky participants through Wisconsin wine country. However, being March and the grapes on the vine being far from ready, participants will have to make do with beer after the ride as mandated by unwritten Cogal rules. Needless to say, just because this is a mini Cogal, it does not follow that half pints will be consumed afterwards.
The scenic route takes us northwest through the village of Dane, past the Wollersheim Winery and the shorelines of Crystal and Fish Lakes before heading back to Middleton. Vetted by experienced locals, the ride is described as “moderately hilly”, but that description was for a more general, non-V-channeling audience. Whatever. Those who do show, and we have four signed up already: Wiscot, Kyle, Steampunk, and Keeper Emeritus Josh will enjoy a hearty ride that will get the season off to a great start as well as bringing together some far-flung Velominati who might never meet under normal circumstances. Join us!
Post Cogal Report
On Friday, March 30, an intrepid band of strangers convened just outside of Madison, WI, for the first ever mini-Cogal: an abbreviated Cogal. The final damage was 70km and a good time had by all. While the Keepers were testing their legs on Belgian cobblestones, this ride was very much about perfecting the air of Casually Deliberate. I suspect there’s a general consensus among the group that the power of this V-community is pretty special for bringing good people together. I’ll remember this ride for a very long time.
The day began badly. Rumbles of thunder, flashes of lightning and heavy rain did not bode well for the Wisconsin mini Cogal. This was all the more frustrating given the remarkable run of unseasonably warm, almost hot weather we’d seen in the month of March that had seen the first signs of tan lines appear. Nevertheless, the forecast held true and by lunchtime the roads were drying up but the sky remained a solid ceiling of grey. Every car that pulled into the parking lot was carefully scrutinized, “Is this a velominatus?” and in the end six showed from an initial list of four: Steampunk, Josh, Dino, Kyle, Paul and myself. After warm introductions and the donning of equally warm gear we set off with me trying to navigate on very unfamiliar roads out of Middleton. Initial uncertainty was made worse when, after 20 minutes, Paul’s right hand-side SRAM shifter broke leaving him with no gears except his two chainrings. No-one would have blamed him for retiring from the ride but undeterred he soldiered on as we soon got on the right roads and enjoyed the very rolling terrain and good road surfaces.
The lack of rain was a blessing as we were in genuine farm country and the smells of dairy farming assailed us with regularity as we rolled along. Spring is truly underway here and the green grass on some fields stood out in sharp contrast their plowed neighbors. For an idea of what we rode through, Grant Wood’s Spring Plowing pretty much sums it up. Had the roads been wet we’d have been covered in some fine Wisconsin toothpaste!
Our small group accordioned a bit but hung together pretty well considering the terrain and varying levels of ability, experience and fitness. Dino and Steampunk could have left us behind in a flash, but that’s not what the ride was all about – we didn’t create space in our busy schedules to ride solo – we can all do that anytime; it was about getting together and getting to know each other a little. The hills weren’t ultra steep but enough to ensure you had to work hard to get up and over them. (Dino informed us that had Chicago won the Olympics in 2016 then these roads would have been part of the course). A missed turn (I swear I never saw it) meant we lost a bit of the planned route but given Paul’s mechanical situation and that Josh’s stomach was pretty queasy, it wasn’t a big deal to anyone and we made sure that we completed the 70 kms to the finish together.
Existing commitments meant Dino and Paul had to depart quickly but Steampunk and Josh finished their Wisconsin visit (they were in town for an academic conference) with a Friday fish fry and some Spotted Cow beer at a nearby watering hole. It might not be frites and Belgian beer but it was our equivalent.
Overall, it was great to put some faces to names and the camaraderie was genuine. For early in the year and the unfamiliar roads, it was a success. Ride of the day went to Paul (a lurker in the nicest sense of the word, who has never posted but decided to join us and for whom cycling has meant a new lease on life) who did the ride in two gears. Believe me, the rest of us used plenty!
This is only my second season on a road bike. With most of my rides solo efforts on flats and small hills, the thought of riding with experienced riders was a bit intimidating. Still the ride was to be casually deliberate, and I’m a casual rider. I’ve done about 300k this year and felt good after last Sunday’s 75k ride, so I should be OK.
Just as all rides have leaders, the strongest up the climbs, those that show the V, they also have riders that cannot match those efforts. Those that lag behind, are the last ones up the hills, and finish DFL. I was that rider.
The first hint of trouble came as I watched Dino (3% body fat) strap on his heart rate monitor. What part of casually deliberate includes a heart rate monitor? My next clue came when he and Wiscot discussed their 175k rides the previous weekend. When they started comparing notes on Crits, I knew I was in trouble.
While I was able to keep up on the early hills, and didn’t do badly in the flats in the middle, the wind and hills took their toll on the ride back. By the finish, my fingers were numb, my legs ached, my ribs were sore from the heaving and gasping of my lungs, even my nipples hurt. The day had been damp and cold. The hills were longer and steeper than any I had ever ridden. To sum it all up, it was an awesome day.
The skill and quality of the other riders amazed. They were gracious to and tolerant of a novice. I had been treated with respect by hard-men of the Velomaniti, ridden harder than I had in the past, on new roads, and had been given invaluable lessons in riding and looking Pro.
Would I have liked to have put forth a better showing? Absolutely, but I had ridden to the best of my ability and had participated. Regrets are not for those that show up and put forth an honest effort. Regrets are for those that don’t.
Thanks to the five of you and I look forward to seeing you at the next Cogal.
On occasion, we must admit, a situation limits the extent to which one can look pro. Typically–at least for me–this is our own fault. A 6am flight to Wisconsin for an academic conference, for example, and soon you find that in a feverish delirium you have packed mountain shoes and no helmet, and you show up for a mini-cogal on a rented bike in dress socks and a purloined construction company beanie and hope nobody notices. This, perhaps, fits my larger modus operandi a bit too well these days…which is to say, well, it happens a bit more than it should.
But there has always been a clear strategy to dealing with this kind of a situation: if you can’t look pro, ride pro. Simple. It is an awfully tenuous position any Velominatus puts him or herself in when he or she calls out rule violations over rasping wasp heaves as the violator disappears up around the next switchback, the faintest, head-cocked glance back–a condescending move perfected by Le Texan, his one pure contribution to the sport–daring his cohorts to mention his socks, his bar height, his unused third front ring. And this, I have to admit, has in my best form allowed me to squeak by in quite a few circumstances, especially during those in which Le Frank, until recently always peaking in two months and usually “recovering,” looked at me askew.
Not so, however, in Wisconsin. Indeed, quite the contrary. 72 hours into the worst stomach bug of my young life, I waddled gingerly out of the van into the cold, damp, fecal country air (bovine feces, mind you, not my own), and greeted a friendly crew–and a forgiving one, I might add, with Steampunk at the helm–with a weak wave and no handshakes. They knew where I’d been. It was written all over my ashen, grimacing face. And I told them in an email earlier that day.
Just shy of 80 cold, fully puckered, colon-bending, wheel-sucking kilometers later, there was fried fish, a bathroom, and more waving. No beer in the bidon, no bacon in the jersey, no condescending glances, no gun checks, no glory. Just one singular focus–continence–and a new appreciation for what it really means to be pro, to ride through forms of sickness and discomfort so much worse than simple pain. A heartfelt–and stomach felt–chapeau to the pro peloton.
And chapeau to the group as well, for your patience, good humor, and forbearance. I did not shit myself. And that is all I have to say about that.
Do you want me to tell it like boy meets girl and the rest is history? Or do you want it like a murder mystery? I’m gonna tell it like a comeback story. ‘Cause we when we left we were defeated and depressed. And when we arrived we were ripping high.
Josh and I were the last to arrive. Even without the Rules, I’m a stickler for punctuality, but between conference, rental van, rental bike, etc., there was nothing we could do. Pulling into the parking lot—seeing riders kitting up and one or two already rolling—all worries vanished. It would be a good day.
But let me back up and start from the beginning. Last spring, Josh and I met in Phoenix at the same conference (an annual meeting that bounces around the country). After suffering on his wheel (and off it) for a couple of hours in the desert heat, the idea of making the ride an annual part of the conference (away from the din of academics and the confines of conference centers and hotels) was born. As plans for a Wisconsin mini-Cogal coalesced, Wiscot and Kyle put the finishing touches on the Cogal invite for the site and polled friends for a good route. Back in Hamilton, Ontario, I decided I really should bring my grad students to the conference. Driving a van would be cheaper than flying them down. Driving a van would mean I could bring my bike down. (I’ll leave you to decide which of these two arguments for the van manifested itself first…). All good, but ten hours in a van before the conference and then two days of conferencing: I was chomping at the bit to fire off the guns. Also, too: before leaving town for Madison, I happened to drop by my office to find a small package from Wisconsin. It was from Kyle, who very kindly sent me a lovely little collection of essays from Wisconsin writers about place. Very nice gesture and a good sign that the Friday ride would be in excellent company.
And it was. Arriving late, I hadn’t eaten any lunch (and had no food with me). I imagined it might be possible to stop along the way—and I know now that the Lion of Flanders would frown at my wanting to take on board solid stuff—but the locals all generously shared. Kyle provided me with a couple of oat bars (lunch) and Dino had some animal crackers, which I nibbled at along the way. Riding without food for 70km at a casually deliberate pace wouldn’t have been the end of the world, but doing so without any lunch beforehand would not have been nice.
I’d been looking forward to the ride for several weeks. And as we rolled out (looking decidedly casually deliberate), I worked my way up and down the line. Terrific to put faces to names and humbled to discover that Wiscot, Kyle, and Dino had all come quite some distance for the Cogal. In effect, coming from downtown Madison, Josh and I were the relative locals. It’s the sign of a terrific community, when the kind of commitment that these guys made to drive across the state to meet up for a three-hour ride with strangers is made so willingly and easily.
Just as I was settling in and getting used to the idea that I had no clue where we were (and that it wasn’t my responsibility to know), I turned to see Paul’s right-hand shifter skewed and stuck in a horizontal position. And then it came off in his hand. We hadn’t done more than 15-20 minutes. Not knowing the terrain, I didn’t know what lay ahead. Paul thought for about a nanosecond about going back, but said something like “Rule 5, right?” Promptly stowed the broken piece in his back pocket, and we were off again. Which is when the rollers started. Rule #5, indeed: 60km in two gears (somewhere in the middle of the cassette). Pas mal!
And then there was Josh. I’d forgotten lunch; Josh forgot helmet and head gear. You’ll see below his new style choice. And while I was appalled when I took the picture, I’m coming around and beginning to think that Velominati-issue toques might be the way to go. Too: Josh had spent the last four days wrestling with a stomach bug (and nary a complaint or excuse on the road, mind). As a result, the freak of nature was merely superhuman in his efforts.
Wiscot and Dino led much of the proceedings—Wiscot our indomitable navigator and gracious host. Through beautiful countryside: green and brown with a grey sky. Cool, but spring rather than winter cool. And the roads always raised, it seemed, to take in the landscape on either side. Conversation flowed easily throughout. About the crazy adventures of Wiscot’s brother, and Dino as a member of one of THE great North American hockey families. Great stuff and friendly environment.
Post-ride refreshments called for retiring to a local pub for pints and fried fish–something of a big deal on Fridays in Wisconsin if all the roadside signs were anything to go by. A nice conclusion to a great day. I found myself in the wrong gear more than I’d like to admit at various points, but the hills were perfect as an early season measuring stick. The form is coming, and I can only hope to find such good company on the road again soon.
It wasn’t raining, but it certainly wasn’t dry. It wasn’t cold, based on a normal March day in Wisconsin, but it certainly wasn’t warm. The sun never peaked through the clouds but thankfully the wind cooperated. And as we rolled out on parts of one the top ten bike routes in the country, which also covered parts of the proposed road course for the un-awarded Chicago Olympic games, the Peloton consisted of only 6 riders and only 2 Velominati Kits.
Overall, it was a successful ride at a Casually Deliberate Pace. It was certainly better than working all afternoon! The Rule V award will have to be decided between Keeper Joshua for riding through a stomach bug or Paul, who managed to snap the SRAM shifter off his bike about 8 Kms into the ride but never turned back. I will leave the final decision up to the judges. It was good to put some faces with names (or avatars) and I am looking forward to a full blown Wisconsin Cogal hopefully sometime later this summer.