Cycle St. Paul. Hills and All.

I am seated on a steel bench just after lunch: June 25 at 12:30, hot sun, and worries about my sunburn getting worse. I cycle this university campus. Indeed, I was here 18 hours ago peddling my bike up the hill to the student center. I’ve cycled over 800 miles this season getting ready for RAGBRAI, most spent on the terrain of St. Paul. I hear a lot of groans from other cyclists when I tell them I choose to train here.

No really. I choose to ride these hills.

RAGBRAI is a 7-day ride from the western to eastern border of Iowa. About 20,000+ cyclists make the journey annually during the last full week of July. It averages about 468 miles in total length, which means 67+ miles per day. I can also expect over 12,000 feet of total climb. Iowa is not flat.

Have I mentioned the corn sweat?

I frequent a coffee shop downtown. It’s a good mid-way point and I have spent many hours there in the off-season writing (not in spandex). But it is summer, and the baristas are impressed by my mileage. I got a 50-mile ride in last Sunday and plan for 55 miles the next. I come into town by way of Shepard’s Road and out again by Big Rivers Regional Trail.

I often see eagles hunting along the river. Soaring grace until a fierce dive to the fish below. I feel that way on my bike. I feel like I am flying. There is no other world besides the connection between me and the steel bike frame… the bike tires and the road… the road leading forever to the horizon. Sometimes, the meditation is so deep I really believe I can go on for days. Then I stop for a snack and a dose of reality.

I came to cycling in 2014, about a year after my back surgery.

A friend asked me on a whim, “You wanna ride RAGBRAI with me?” I knew what it was having attended the University of Iowa as an English major years before. But I had never cycled before. I thought there was no way I could ever do such a thing.

Then I paused.

Two years earlier, just after my 40th birthday, a disk in my spine herniated and cut into my spinal cord. Intense waves of pain and weakness in my left leg caused it to randomly stop working. Some days, it was all I could do to walk the few blocks from the bus stop after work and lay on the floor all night. This went on for nine months: pain, mobility loss, and isolation all stealing my life and dignity away. Then I got back surgery. I got my life back. And I got asked to ride a large, insane cycling event.

My leg was working again… why couldn’t I ride RAGBRAI?

There is something about the slow pace of 14mph that allows you to see the world in a way that driving does not: deer darting through the high grass, tiny flowers of yellow and blue, and every butterfly that lights upon them. But that’s fast enough that if you are panting, and a June bug decides to commit suicide by flying into the back of your throat, you have little choice but to swallow it.

Hey, it’s fuel for the ride.

We are so spoiled in the Twin Cities by our extensive system of bike trails and lanes. I’ve tried cycling in other cities, in other states, but there is simply not the same quality and quantity. This place is dedicated to cycling access. I feel safe here. I don’t have to ride on the streets and when I do, there are safe places to do that. Without it, I don’t think I would have taken up what has become one of the best parts of my life.

Thank you for that St. Paul… ride on!

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, October 2018

The Great Wide Open

More than one person has said to me- take time. Be with your mom before the cancer makes her really sick. Plan a family vacation somewhere and make some quality memories together, one last time. We’ve been talking about what that might look like in practical terms of time, money, stamina, and risk of viral infection.

I love to travel. I am willing to travel just about anywhere in the world, for almost any length of time, for almost any reason. I am an adventurer at heart, an international explorer. One of the greatest gifts my father gave to me was his love for travel. It made me understand that there were other places, with a lot of other people who did not look or act like me.

Nothing held more interest for my dad then just getting out and seeing the USA. His career gave us the ability to take two big vacations a year. These trips were what I would describe as ‘The Bill Mounts Family Vacation’. They were characterized by an extreme urgency to see everything you could possibly see in the short time allotted. Two weeks was just not enough time to sit and relax. We had to go, go, go and went, went, went we did.

By the ripe old age of twelve, I had traveled to no less than forty states. I had been to innumerable national parks- Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains, Petrified Forest, Red Wood Forest, Rocky Mountains, etc. I had been in the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic, and Pacific. I had been to countless museums, forts, State Capitols, wayside historical markers, tourist traps, national monuments, scenic overlooks, zoos, amusements parks, etc.  Once dad died in 1985, our annual family vacations stopped for the most part.

Mom did take me to Hawaii…

So, where do I take mom for that one last ride? From my perspective, the most obvious choice is Florida. Dad was in love with Pensacola. He was stationed there during his time in the Navy and my parents planned to retire there. It feels like we visited every year while he was still alive. We camped on Santa Rosa Island, played on the beach, visited Fort Pickens, Trader Jon’s, the National Naval Aviation Museum, and wherever else dad wanted to feel nostalgic.

That was all before the island was built up with hotels. You could still collect sand dollars, starfish, and seashells. We even picked up a couple conch shells once. No one was combing the beach at the break of dawn collecting them all to sell. I have very clear memories of the smell of orange blossoms and the feel of the white sand beaches. I count them among the happiest memories of my life.

But that was Pensacola of the 1970’s & 80’s. It begs the question: could a trip to Florida today ever live up to those memories? And does mom want to go where dad would have chosen? Or does she have one last great adventure in her, one last uncharted destination, one unfulfilled wish?

It remains to be seen. And it may come to more than one trip this year with the various members of my family. We may not all be able to get the same time off. Quality time with more intimate groups of people might be a better way to go. And if we end up hanging around the mid-west… well, at least we won’t get lost.

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, January 2019

Auto

Not owning a car
Upsets others
Like not watching TV

Two of the three pieces,
Common ground falls away
Not old reliable: weather

People squirm
Are lost for something
To talk about

I am not poor
It saves a ton of money
From VW, Ford, or Nissan

Still, nights are sketchy
Winter bus travel avoided
Kitty litter economical in 40# bags

Pity for not owning a car
Bizarre reaction
It is the life I choose

Wait- my brother has a deal?
Mileage count and how much?
Where do I sign


-Copyright C.M. Mounts, May 2017

RAGBRAI 2015

On July 22, 2018, 20,000+ cyclists will once again make the 450+ mile, week-long journey across Iowa known as RAGBRAI. The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI), is an annual seven-day bicycle ride sponsored by the Des Moines Register newspaper. Starting in 1973, RAGBRAI is the oldest, largest, and longest recreational bicycle touring event in the world. It is held in the last week of July and has an average length of 468 total miles, with the average daily distance between host communities of 67 miles.

In July 2014, my friend Barb asked me if I would be interested in riding RAGBRAI 2015 with her cycling team. At first, I thought she was nuts. I had never been considered an athlete and had undergone back surgery in July 2013. My first reaction was that I could never physically do it. But then, I stopped myself… I had to ask, “But why can’t I?”

I didn’t own a bike, so I began riding 47-pound Nice Ride bike share cruisers around town to see if I could physically handle the training that would be required the following summer. When I was finally able to ride 20 miles on one of those tanks in October 2014, I decided that yes, I was going to do it.

Winter was coming, and I didn’t want to buy a bike until I really knew what I wanted. Another friend pulled a shitty hot pink hybrid bike that you might buy at a box store out of a trash pile and gave it to me. So naturally, I named her Trixy and placed her on an expensive cycle trainer for the winter months. And all that winter, I rode that heap and watched movies, terrified of RAGBRAI.

In February 2015, Barb told me with deep regret and apologies that her team had dissolved and that she was not going to be able to ride RAGBRAI after all. I was faced with a decision: don’t go after all the training I had already done or go alone. I refused to give up. I decided to go alone. In April 2015, I bought my bike Alexis, a steel Jamis Aurora touring bike and the rest is history.

In the end, I rode 490 miles in 7 days through summer heat and humidity, between the Iowa corn fields, small towns, and beer tents. I normally write a daily journal but writing during RAGBRAI proved impossible due to the level of exhaustion that I experienced. However, I did keep notes during my training. What follows is an excerpt of those journals by date and a count of the mileage I put on my bike Alexis. Enjoy! Continue reading “RAGBRAI 2015”

Travel Log: Thunder Bay, Ontario

June 8-11, 2018 ~ 840 miles

Minneapolis, MN; Duluth, MN; Two Harbors, MN; Grand Marais, MN; Thunder Bay, ON

It’s still under debate whether or not I had visited Thunder Bay, Ontario before last weekend’s trip. The confusion is about whether or not I was included in what family lore now refers to as the ‘vacation from hell’. I would have been less than one year in age, if I was alive at all, and somehow being present as an infant or a toddler with no memory of anything or anyone still counts as me having visited. For further explanation of that logic, I will refer you to my mother…

Mom has cancer, again. On May 23, 2018 she was given the diagnosis of Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) which is a group of blood cancers sometimes referred to as ‘pre-leukemia’ and requires chemotherapy. Since the effects of the chemo on her life are yet unknown, she made the decision that she wanted one more vacation before she might become unable to travel. It had been about 45 years since her last trip to Thunder Bay and since I live in Minnesota, off we went. Continue reading “Travel Log: Thunder Bay, Ontario”

Single, White, Professional, Female- in Kansas City, April 2018

Wednesday April 18, 2018

I have an airline trip confirmation sitting on my kitchen table- MSP-MCI at 1pm. I have traveled a lot to Kansas City in the past five years, always on business. I sometimes get it in my mind to extend the trip and take a couple vacation days, but it never works out like that. I tried to mix a business/pleasure trip once in Chicago. It was just weird. I keep a very clear break between my professional life and personal life as it should be. This is how I know I could never work from home.

I woke up at 3am for no reason and foolishly waited until 4:30am to get up and write. My mind is full and I have learned that the only way to get back to sleep is to get up and write it out. My head will stop racing once I can express and record my thoughts- just in case I need to come back to my great ideas later. I rarely come back to them. I am going to take a nap, otherwise I will be the zombie arriving at gate 58. The cats don’t know I am leaving yet. My carry-on luggage that I bought on the street in Istanbul, Turkey is not packed and the dishes aren’t done. They won’t be happy at this time tomorrow. Continue reading “Single, White, Professional, Female- in Kansas City, April 2018”