Tag Archives: featured

All the tiny beauties, pt. I

I start with the gleaming red kettle, half-full of cold water, on the back-right eye of the range.

I turn a task light on, highlighting her smooth curves and sturdy handle, then I summon the spirit of fire under her chrome bottom.

Next, I open a waxed paper bag; feel the stiff texture under my fingers.

I pour the beans – small, dark, hard – into the bell of the grinder. Those beans have had a long journey, but most recently, came from some folks just down the road who do the roasting.

I grasp the grinder around its waist with my left hand, and start turning the crank with my right. I can feel my muscles flex a little as I work, and my body rocks slightly side-to-side in time with my efforts.

Work done, I put my nose into the grinder’s opening and inhale greedily. Fresh-ground coffee.

After I clear out yesterday’s grounds from the glass French press, I add today’s coffee. I pour it in slowly, letting it waterfall from grinder to press, enjoying the tumbling interplay of tiny, fragrant brown boulders.

Next is time.

Time for the kettle to do her thing. Time for me to write another half-page, ink spidering across paper; smudging on fingers.

Then, hot water – steaming, but not boiling, if I’ve done my job right. I carry the kettle to the press (never the other way ’round), and pour generously over those new grounds.

I rotate the press as I pour, thirds of a circle at a time, wetting all the coffee evenly. The grounds rise and make foam – iridescent at first, then muting into milk chocolate.

And the aroma. Oh, my nose! Heaven!

I put the lid of the press on, the better to keep its precious contents warm.

And more time.

One tradition dictates three minutes of steeping. Another says I’ll get lost in words for a while more, before eventually being tugged back to the press by my nose.

Next is the plunge.

I’ll slowly push the plunger of the press down, feeling the growing resistance of the grounds, watching my coffee clear from swirling morass to “shut up and take my money!”

I lift the press, feeling it’s heat and full weight, and pour into my mug, steam rising in a prayer of thanksgiving.

My mug.

My coffee mug was made by a potter I knew. He was the first person I ever worked for. Starting at the age of 12, I was his gopher: weighed clay, mixed glazes, mowed the lawn, helped him pack for shows, babysat his boys.

He made this mug for me 16 years ago as a wedding gift.

It’s volume is right. It’s a little bigger than average, but not grotesque¬† like a gas station’s plastic flagon. The handle fits two of my fingers perfectly, with no wiggle room; no sloppy questions for my early morning.

And the glaze… Deep red interior that highlights the ridges from the potter’s fingers; Blue and tan and hen-mottled white on the outside with more splashes of red.

Once this work of art is full of my morning’s elixer, it starts radiating warmth into my hand. And sometimes against my cheek, if I’m feeling particularly needy.

Coffee in the mug, it’s time for the penultimate step: Cream.

It’s organic half-n-half for me. Smooth, thick, white, curling and blooming into – as one friend called the color – “cardboard.” Enough cream to smooth out the coffee, to shave down its rough, acidic edge, but not so much as to hide the drink’s essential character.

If I’m feeling especially decadent, this is also the time I’ll add a large spoonful of maple syrup to my mug. You haven’t lived…

Finally, it’s time for that first slurping sip.

The coffee flows over my tongue, spreading its smooth, hot, bitterness throughout my mouth, evoking ten thousand other moments of similar early-morning pleasure.

I sigh, and am content, surrounded in the beauty of this moment.

Birthday Beauty for Carolyn

  • Blessings to this house and all who pass through.

Happy birthday, sweetheart!

This morning, you asked your friends to look for something beautiful and post it on your Facebook wall.

I love it when you ask me (and us!) to be intentional about seeing the world. Each time it opens my eyes anew to where I am right now.

I walked up the hill to my office with my head up, my eyes wide, drinking in every color, every texture: the tattoo-swirl of the snow in the street, the sun poking her warm head above a Lake Superior cloud bank, the way the chilly air nipped at my cheeks. I saw the school bus’s bright red led flashers way down at the end of the street and just dove into that color for a moment…

I took some photos. Okay, maybe more than “some.” And I’m going to keep looking, keep being blown away today. I’m going to stay open to the world. I’m going to edit this post with all these captured moments throughout the day¬†so I don’t overwhelm your wall with my stuff. I want to see what your friends find, too!

I love you, Carolyn.

You open me up to the world, you teach me things I don’t know, and remind me of things I do know, but have forgotten. You support me both in my windmill-tilting and my more productive efforts.

You make me a better person.

Thank you.

Superior Sunrise #18

My commute to work takes me around the shore of Chequamegon Bay on Lake Superior. Every morning for half the year, I get to see the sun rising across the water or ice.

There’s a little turn-off about three-quarters of the way to work where I can jump out of the car, walk to the edge of a short clay cliff, and bask in the sunrise.

This is what it looked like this morning.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

People Food

You must understand, dear
that I made you a false promise:
that morsel of toast
so enticing you couldn’t pull away your brown eyes,
was never going in your mouth.

Give me your saddest, hungriest look
— a starving refugee from a strange land —
and still, the bite is mine,
and the languishing bark,
yours, alone.

The Drowning – A Love Poem

Wrap me in your
cold, gray arms
and let your
windswept shores
be a sandy haven
for my young heart.
Let me apart from
your sweet, clear kiss
for just one gasping,
desperate breath.

I’ve been by your
diamond bedside
all day, but now duty is
the lever moving my world.
Here is the sun;
Tuck it deep
into your pockets and
keep it safe
’til I return?

Call me back;
call me back!
Let your voice rise from the northeast
and foam and fury
and lash and spray
and call me back
to your icy, dark depths
which no mortal lover,
least of all me,
knows.

Delicious Mistakes

Weaving myself a cloak
of the darkest chocolate
so that I might prowl the
soft folds of the midnight forest
slip through wavering shadows
weakly cast by the weary moon
and slip unnoticed to your doorstep
and relieve you
of your heaviest burdens,
these poor, unwanted truffles,
is only the most recent of
my many delicious mistakes.

DON’T DIE!

It was just a tiny moment out of time; an instant, really. But for that instant, I was convinced I was in real trouble.¬†That probably explains why the people at the top of Mount Telemark ¬†heard me screaming¬†“DON’T DIE! DON’T DIE!” as I sped down the hill in front of them.

I was three hours into my fourth¬†off-road ride *ever* and things were pretty good. In fact, the only problem I was having was my left hand cramping from pulling the front brake lever so much. ¬†There’s a simple solution to that, though: Don’t use the front brake.

I was letting the bike roll down the top of Mt. Telemark at a pretty good clip when I swept around a curve in the trail and saw my doom: the trail was washed out in three spots in close succession like “whoops” on a motorcross course. I hit the first pothole, bounced into the air, and started to contemplate my rapidly changing place in the universe.

By which I mean to say I screamed. And not a manly scream of macho excitement, either. This was a high-pitched, balls-in-my-throat, how-am-I-going-to-afford-these-medical-bills kind of scream.

And then God, or Dog, or physics or karma or whom/whatever finished laughing at me and nudged me to the side of the trail just far enough that I didn’t, in fact, die.

So that’s good.

The Porn Star Bike Tour

Or, “How Saturday’s ride was long and hard with lots of sweating and moaning”

The wind, I could deal with.

Sure, it literally stopped my bike in its tracks a couple times. Sure, it threatened to blow me off the road once or twice. I’ve ridden in that before, though. It’s not fun, but I can put my head down and grind.

The heat was the killer.

It was a woozy, head-throbbing heat. An “I can’t decide if I’m going to puke, pass out, or just keep riding” heat. A few times I had clammy fingers of the cold sweats climbing up my back from the heat.

And there were more than 50 miles of it.

Thanks!

I want to give a big thanks to all the organizers and volunteers who put the Superior Vistas Bike Tour together each year! They do an awesome job, and are super-friendly folks.

The people at every aid station greeted us with smiles, occasional jokes, commiseration, and most importantly, lots of home-made baked goodies! You guys rock!

Also, thanks to the business sponsors who help make this event possible! I love it, and so do the hundreds of other folks who come up to ride it each year.

Best!

-aj

I signed up for the 2014 Superior Vistas Bike Tour with the idea that this local bike ride would be a great way to ride my first-ever century. It has a beautiful, rolling course. It’s fully supported. It’s in my back yard, and I’ve ridden all those roads plenty of times before.

What could go wrong?

In the beginning…

I didn’t sleep very well the night before the ride. My brain was on fire with excitement:¬†It’s my first century! I wonder what it’ll be like? I hope I remembered to pack everything. Should I add more Gu? Do I need different socks?

I was up and down more times that night than a six-year-old with a tiny bladder on Christmas eve.

Finally, at 04:30, I called it quits with the bed, did my pre-event routine (tea, oatmeal, run in tiny frantic circles hoping I have everything, and walking out the door to “leave” three or four times before I finally say “screw it” and go), loaded the bike and headed to Thompson’s West End Park¬†in Washburn.

Not surprisingly, I was the first rider to the park, so I spent some quality time hanging out with a friend who was helping organize the event. I think I did a pretty good job of putting on a calm face and chatting about bikes while quietly bouncing off the walls and generally freaking out inside my head.

I officially registered (Why do it in March when I can do it day of, right?), my ride buddy, Tim, showed up, we said good luck to a few mutual friends and set off on our epic suffer-fest ride.

Easy money

The first 20 miles of the day were awesome.

They were downwind, on perfect new pavement, on cool, damp (but not generally wet) roads, with fresh legs, and a rising sun warming our backs.

Just. Wow.

We made the first checkpoint in Cornucopia in¬†an hour and eight minutes at¬†an average speed of 17.8 mph. That’s a tie for my fastest 20 miles ever!

And I was feeling great at that point, too: happy to be riding, ready to go get the next section of the course. The weather was perfect: cool, clear, a little breezy.

Tim and I refilled our drink bottles, grabbed a couple bites from the checkpoint table, and pushed off for the next aid station.

Payback, that windy bitch

The road from Corny back to 236 is mostly uphill. It’s a long, mostly low-grade grind that is a constant reminder of how big the world is, and how much gravity doesn’t care.

And then there was the wind.

“Light and variable,” Tim said. “That means we’ll have a headwind from every direction.”

Truer words were never spoke.

Every corner we rounded, we bulled our way into the wind. Every foot we climbed, we battled our blustery foe.

At one point, I had dragon flies, one after the other, slip up and keep pace with me for a moment, checking me out with their ten-thousand-faceted eyes, then get bored and zoom off ahead looking for something faster and more interesting.

There’s a pretty good, steep climb (for northern Wisconsin!) in the middle of Cty C. Most of us grind up it in our smallest gear; some walk it. I made it to the top after a grueling contest of wills with the wind.

Pedal-pedal-coast. Do not stop. Pedal-pedal-coast. Do not stop. Pedal-pedal-coast.

Finally, gasping, with sweat stinging my eyes, I came over the crest of the hill, ready to savor the long downhill run to the next aid station. The wind, however, had a different idea.

The strongest gust so far of the morning hit me, and stopped me in my tracks. I went from 10 mph to nothing.

The calm before the storm

After regrouping, refueling, and taking care of a hot spot on my left foot, Tim and I set off down FR 236.

This glorious 20-mile ribbon of rolling asphalt winds its way through some of the most beautiful woodland scenery in the upper Midwest. There’s deep pine forest, jack pine scrub, and the Moquah Barrens, a sandy expanse of wild-blueberry-covered hills ¬†topped with the occasional Jack Pine.

The pavement is smooth, the road curvaceous, and the wind was, with a couple exceptions, almost entirely buffered by the forest.

Tim and I had a nice conversation while keeping up a comfortable brisk pace in the growing warmth of the day. We were back to bicycling nirvana.

For a bit.

Blast furnace

Where are we?

Ino!

Twenty mile-per-hour headwinds gusting to 30. Temps climbing through the 80s. Expansion joints. Yup; this section of the ride had it all.

After saying goodbye to the forest, we entered farm country, and for the next 15 miles, we rode old roads that have seen better days. The first six miles were pretty much straight into the teeth of the gusting wind, and completely exposed to the sun.

I was not prepared.

Oh sure, I had sunscreen on, and I had been drinking pretty well all along the way, but DEAR GOD WHAT IS THIS HELL I’M RIDING THROUGH?

This part of the ride was pretty much all put-my-head-down-try-to-stay-out-of-my-lowest-gear-and-just-turn-the-pedals riding.

The wind made conversation all but impossible. The heat fried our brains a little. The blast-furnace combination sucked water from our bodies almost faster than we could replace it.

Once we got into the woods by Delta, life got a little less intense for a few miles. Also: hallelujah for the Delta Diner!

That was our turn-around point for this course, even though it was a little over half-way distance-wise. We stopped to fill our bottles (thanks, Diner folks!), and so I could say “hi” to my friend¬†Krista. She even let give her a hug, which showed a remarkable lapse in judgement on her part. Man, did my jersey¬†stink by that point. ūüôā

After a quick turn-around, it was back to where? Ino! At least this time, we went mostly downwind.

Oh, gee

County G rolls through farmland around Moquah, Wisconsin. The route is beautiful, the road generally quiet, and the views are occasionally spectacular.

Especially when those views are of the sky clouding up and turning grey.

Tim and I were getting a little giddy with the idea of riding through a rain shower. We were both hot and hurting by that time. We had 70-ish miles under our wheels already, many of them hard-fought.

Fortunately, G wasn’t a demanding ride. We were riding across the wind which, well not always comfortable, isn’t sapping. The road is gently rolling with really only one climb that’s worth shifting off the big ring.

Terwilliger, a little mile-long connector road at the end of G, is another story. Oh, it’s flat as a pancake and downwind. It’s¬†pavement, however, looks like the leftovers from a 1950s atomic test. There were yawning potholes, gaping chasms, spidering cracks, and loose gravel all jumbled together. ¬†It was more like a cyclocross course than part of a 100-mile bike event.

That was just a warm-up for the main event of suckitude, though.

Slag heap

At the aid station at the 80-mile mark, a well-meaning guy pulled up in his car, rolled down his window, and said, “Hey guys, my car says it’s 95 out here!”

He may have said more; I don’t know. I wasn’t really paying attention. I was hot and tired and sore. I was a little woozy from the heat. I was contemplating crushing the guy’s car so he couldn’t give us any more “good news.”

The last chunk of the ride before the home stretch on the 100-mile version of the Superior Vista is a long, slow grind up Cherryville Road.

The climb¬†isn’t steep, but it doesn’t. ever. let. up. It’s just enough to keep a rider from building momentum, so it’s a low-level battle all the way up.

And there are trees all the way along it, too.

These aren’t glorious shade-giving trees. Oh no. These are tightly-packed wind-blocking trees. Remember that hell-fire wind I was complaining about earlier? I would have gladly given either testicle to have a breath of that wind on me while climbing Cherryville.

Instead, we had a two-plus mile uphill grind in 95+ heat (my bike computer registered at 98 in the middle of the climb) with no shade and no wind.

Both Tim and I were done.

Cooked.

No mas.

And we kept riding.

And drinking.

And riding.

We finally came around the corner and got a little relief in the forms of both a downhill coast and a tailwind.

Thank you, baby Jesus!

Sweet finish

The last few miles of the official Superior Vista course climbs up another long, shallow grade before stiffening up to go over a ridge and back down to Washburn. The bulk of the riding is on an old road that’s worse for the wear with no shoulders and fairly high-speed country traffic.

Screw that.

Tim and I decided to detour around the crummy road and long climb. We opted for a smooth, flat deserted road instead. Man, what a good choice!

For those of you thinking about riding the course, look hard at taking Nolander Road over to 13 instead of Nevers Road. ¬†Yeah, you miss Tetzner’s Dairy, but you get such a better ride. Plus, after about a mile on 13, you can take Lakeshore Drive to Washburn which is a tiny, beautiful, shady access road between the highway and Lake Superior.

We rolled back into Thompson’s West End Park six hours and 38 minutes of riding time after starting. Add another hour or so for stopping, and we’re talking about a little less than 8 hours for my first century ride. That’s not bad, especially considering the conditions.

Post script

After the ride, I did the normal stuff: drove home, took a long shower, kept eating and drinking like crazy.

Several hours later, while I was sitting on the couch reading, I made a serious tactical error: I tried to rest my right leg on the coffee table.

Ohholycrampingchristshootmenow!

I had the Most Amazing Leg Cramp Ever.

I know memories of pain get dulled over time and it’s hard to compare, say that time in high school when a dog tore the side of my knee open. Or say, that time in elementary school when I fell on my new ten-speed and the sharp platform pedals cut open my thigh (lots of stitches there, plus an awesome scar).

Suffice it to say that during this cramp, I could not move my leg. Not a little bit. Not in any direction. Not for all the tea in China.

I could barely breath.

Even now, four days later, the memory of that cramp still brings anus-puckering phantom pain into my leg.

Finally, I managed to gasp out a request to my concerned wife: pickle juice!

I remembered reading someone else’s blog about pickle juice being the magic cure-all for cramps. I took a couple great, choking gulps¬†straight from the bottle.

Miracle of miracles, within a minute, I had my leg back, though somewhat worse for wear.

I don’t know if it was just coincidence that the cramp ended about the same time as the pickle juice started, or if there’s something more to it. I¬†do know that I’m going to try to keep a couple slugs of pickle juice around for my next long ride.

Also, I’ll try to do a better job with salt and mineral replacement. ūüôā

¬†Survey says…

That was a long, hot, hard ride. And I would absolutely do it again.

Right now.

Let’s go!

There are a few things I learned about riding long distances in hot weather. I would change a couple things I did. ¬†Mostly, though, I’d like to try it again.

My next long ride is on July 19: The 38th annual Split Rock Tour. Who’s in? ūüôā