7.31.2016

Lil Swiss Weekend = Mini RAGBRAI

My bike pal Sherry and I had discussed doing a day or two of #RAGBRAI in Iowa this year, but then had a better idea that involved less car driving and far less aggravation. Don't get me wrong, #RAGBRAI is a fun ride and well worth the aggravation. But it is aggravating (crowded, hot, noisy, etc.).

So instead of figuring out the logistics of getting ourselves to and from Iowa, we instead opted to participate in the Wisconsin Bicycling Meetup's "Little Switzerland Weekend," a small social organized bike ride in New Glarus WI that corresponded roughly with the end of RAGBRAI.

It was actually a three day ride - Friday through Sunday - with different routes each day. All the rides started at the Swiss themed Chalet Landhaus Hotel in NG, where people had the option to stay overnight if they were coming from afar. New Glarus is only about 30-40 minutes southwest of Madison by car, so we didn't require lodging and drove to NG early in the morning on the days we were riding - only Friday and Saturday, corresponding with the last two days of #RAGBRAI.

On Friday morning, I drove to the Verona Park and Ride and met Sherry there at around 7:30 in the morning (she was a little tardy). We took my car down to NG, after throwing her bike on my rack and her gear in the back, and rolled into the large and mostly empty parking lot of the Chalet about 8:15. Friday's "Sugar River" leg of the ride was scheduled to push off at 8:30, but we didn't get going until about 8:40.

The cue sheet provided by the ride leader, Ron, had us mostly on country roads that crisscrossed the Sugar River Bike Trail at several points, so we had the option to take trail whenever we got sick of roads (and hills). We exercised said option a few miles outside of Albany WI and followed the trail into said town, our first rest stop. The General Store downtown wasn't open yet when we arrived, so we went into the divy bar next door and had a couple beers before noon, #RAGBRAI style, and bar food (a burger for me and grilled cheese for Sherry).

We thought we'd encounter Ron and the four or five other Friday participants in Albany, but they eluded us somehow. We found out the next day that they had stopped briefly at a different establishment in Albany before riding on.

After the refreshments, I proposed that we ride on to Brodhead WI (the destination of the day's longer route) from Albany by way of bike trail, which would be far fewer miles than the road route on Ron's cue sheet, and less hilly to boot. We did so and partook of coffee and ice cream (at separate establishments) in Brodhead. For the return trip, we took the bike trail all the way back to NG, avoiding roads, and logged just shy of 50 miles by the time we rolled up to the Sugar River Pizzeria, behind the Chalet Landhaus, at the conclusion of our ride. We split an awesome Alfredo chicken pizza and had a couple more beers there, then we wandered over to the New Glarus Bakery a couple blocks away so Sherry could indulge her sweet tooth (in full disclosure, I ate a sugar cookie).

I drove Sherry and her bike back to the park and ride and bid them adieu before meeting another friend, Wendy, for our weekly Mastermind accountability group session in Verona about 5 PM. I rounded out the evening by taking my girlfriend Deborah to see a friend's cover band, FIGHTING FOR, at the divy music venue, Badger Bowl.

On Saturday morning, I repeated the drive to the Verona Park and Ride and this time met both Sherry and her boyfriend Tyler for the carpool to NG. Saturday's "New Glarus" leg of the ride was on roads and had quite a few challenging hills that brought me to my maximum heart rate a few times. Sherry, Tyler, and I opted for the shortest route option, 24 miles, as did a couple of the other participants, and that was challenging enough. Ride leader Ron said he was probably going to attempt the 99 mile route option, an impressive feat. As fate would have it, our short route intersected at certain points with an actual bike race going on in the area. The roads were open to us, but we were careful not to interfere with racers when we encountered them on occasion. When we were on the home stretch of our ride, we happened to cross the finish line of thevrace and it was kind of fun to be cheered on by spectators who thought we were part of the race.

Back in NG, we once again indulged ourselves in Sugar River Pizza. Sherry, Tyler, and I were joined by two other of the ride participants, Kathy and another woman I think was named Nancy. My girlfriend Deborah drove herself down to NG and met us at the pizza place as well, after first getting a little bit lost. We strolled the NG downtown and Sherry once again visited the bakery. Deborah took off and then I drove Sherry and Tyler back to the park and ride before going home.

The two days of biking must have taken a lot out of me because I succumbed to a four hour power nap after I got home. Nonetheless, it was a fantastic biking weekend. The weather was good both days, especially Saturday and we had a great time. It was a good substitute for #RAGBRAI and avoided a lot of the hassles associated with the massive Iowa bike ride.

I probably could have ridden the Sunday leg of the Lil Swiss ride, but I was slated to host the Bos Meadery open mic on Sunday in the early afternoon and opted to spend Sunday morning working on music instead. That was probably the best use of my time. I'm back from open mic now and I have a couple hours to myself before I go to the open jam at Funk's Pub tonight at 8 PM. I'll probably whip up a little dinner and refresh some songs I might be called on to play at the jam.

Ciao!

7.29.2016

6 Word Novel

Alien invaders ended most political discourse.

7.28.2016

Headliners

Last night, my rock-n-roll power trio, GUPPY EFFECT, hosted a meet-n-greet at the University of Wisconsin's Union Terrace in Madison WI. That sounds very intellectual and academic and maybe even pre-planned, but it was a rather impromptu affair. In fact, we were actually there to throw our name in the ring to perform at the weekly Wednesday open mic night that's hosted there.

The Union Terrace is a large terraced (hence the name) patio full of tables and chairs that lies on the shore of Lake Mendota behind the student union of the university. They serve beer and food, and there is a lakefront stage with full sound and lights that offers frequent entertainment. So it's a popular hangout during the summertime, because it's scenic, entertaining, and there's beer. It is this popularity that makes it a compelling venue for amateur performers to come flaunt their talents in front of a fairly substantial audience (hundreds of people on a good night). Normally, it would be beneath us to perform an open mic, but most open mics are weak sauce by comparison to the Terrace open mic (I can say that because I am an occasional host of open mics and have some knowledge to back it up).

The Terrace open mic is so compelling, in fact, that many more performers show up than can possibly have their 15 minutes of fame in the time allotted (8 to 11 PM). So potential performers submit their names to be drawn quasi-randomly in a sort of lottery system. Stefan and I were not selected last week when we attended as a duo, so we tried again this week. Since there is a significant probability of not getting picked, we decided to make the open mic performance itself secondary to the meet-n-greet Q&A social on the terrace with our band. I made a Facebook event for it and invited a bunch of people I thought might want to get to know us better. Performing the open mic would be gravy if we got picked, and we might have a few people there to cheer for us as well. We'd still have a good time drinking beer and hanging out if we didn't make the cut.

It was touch and go during the selection process as name after name was drawn and none of them was us. Just before the final selection was drawn, I crossed my fingers and my drummer Verge and I shared a look of hope.

"Cactus Joe and Fiends," open mic host Frankie called. We had secured the final slot for the night and would go on last, about 10:45 PM, give or take 10 minutes, depending on the adherence of other performers to the time limits and the amount of time needed to transition between acts. Clearly, crossing your fingers for good luck really does work.

"Yes!" I exclaimed, firing a couple of goat hand signs into the dusky twilight. "We're the headliners! WE'RE THE HEADLINERS!"

Of course, our time slot was really no more or less impactful than any other, but it was fun to pretend that we were the headlining act since we were finishing out the night. Indeed, it being a school night, the crowd had thinned out fairly substantially by the time we went on, around 10:50. No one showed up for our meet and greet either, which is totally fine, since it means people already know most everything there is to know about GUPPY EFFECT (that we rock!). Notwithstanding the lackluster showing by friends, fans, and strangers alike, we rocked out three facemelting original songs semi-acoustically and with "thrice the rocking power of other name bands" (our minimum guarantee), inserting a couple of shameless promotions about upcoming shows in between.

After we got done, open mic host Frankie came up to us.

"You guys were tight!" he exclaimed. "I really dug it." His enthusiasm seemed genuine.

A pretty girl also approached us. "I really liked your guys' set," she said. "Do you have a CD or something?"

"We have tee shirts," I replied. That was true. Our new batch of shirts had come in the day before. That didn't interest her, so I said, "You can download MP3s for free off our web site," and gave her the web address. I am pretty sure that's true, though I should probably check.

Lastly, an older gent of the hard rock persuasion, named Adrian, who had performed earlier in the night and had good vocal pipes, came up to praise us and we chatted a bit about a few things, including how lame Christian rock usually is. He said he was an old school hard rocker of Zeppelin/ACDC/Sabbath school and he had the pipes for it.

"We should totally collaborate here some Wednesday," I said. "Maybe you can sing some hard rock covers with us." He seemed enthused about this and contact info was shared.

All told it was a great night. We'll probably try to do it two or three times a month so we can expose ourselves to a large audience and get our name out...maybe shamelessly plug some upcoming gigs so that those in the audience who do like us can come see a full show.

7.26.2016

I Suppose

I should write something.

Deborah's and my long weekend up at the cabin is drawing to a close today. We drove up on Saturday and had a pleasant and largely drama-free time with my extended family.

Some drama threatened when the Democratic Convention started and Deborah and my mom - political junkies to be sure - started tuning in to it here and there. They largely did this in private though, sparing my soul undue torment.

I caught a whopper smallmouth bass yesterday evening on my fly rod using a popper, while my nephew Ty looked on. I usually manage to catch one or two fish of this magnitude each summer. I let Ty hone his beginner fly fishing skills on my alternate fly rod and he managed to catch a small bass before it got dark and we came in from the lake. I cleaned the big fish I had caught and we grilled up the filets ythis morning and shared it for breakfast. Yum. Deborah did not partake, stating that the thought of fish for breakfast "turns my stomach." She likes fish, but apparently adheres to a philosophy of no fish before noon, similar to the roxtar ethos of no rocking before noon, which I follow. So that tells me that Deborah must really like fish a lot. See the logic? No? OK then.

Earlier in the day yesterday, we all paddled down a slow moving segment of the Namekagon River north of here. The weather was superb and the experience was quite peaceful, punctuated by the excited yelps of my niece and nephew as they encountered several turtles and one aquatic rodent that was probably an otter, though possibly a beaver (no tail slapping observed) or a muskrat (it swam too fast and often dove underwater for several long seconds).

Our first full day up here was Sunday and as I recall we mostly just chillaxed. We went on a bike ride around the lake and tubed on it's wavy waters (storms on Saturday left behind high winds out of the south).

It's late morning on Tuesday. In about an hour, Deborah will be comfortable eating fish again. I am not sure when we will hit the road to go back to Madison, but there's no urgency to do so.

7.25.2016

Triathlon

"How far away is it?" Deborah asked as we chillaxed on the porch of the cabin after breakfast.

"Not sure," I replied. "I think maybe 45 minutes. Or 30. It's near Hayward."

My sister called it the Leonard Family Triathlon, consisting of a bike ride around Shell Lake, a paddling excursion on the Namekagon River, and a swim in Shell Lake. Deborah and I had been discussing the paddling segment of the event.

Deborah declined the bike ride, opting to continue chillaxing on the porch while the rest of us tooled clockwise along the road around the lake. We stopped at the Potters Shed Cafe for lunch and Deborah drove there to meet us.

We returned to the cabin and prepared for paddling.

"Where is this place?" I asked my sister.

"It's Jack's Canoe Rentals," she replied.

I drove with Deborah in her car and she put the address in her GPS.

"It's only 20 minutes away," she observed.

"Oh, I must have been thinking about a different place," I said.

It was actually in Trego, not far from Spooner.

We rented a canoe for my folks and some kayaks for the rest of us. Deborah and I got a tandem kayak, which we soon determined was a mistake, as I am a more rambunctious kayaker than she is.

We paddled a calm section of river for about an hour and a half, then got picked up by a kindly member of Jack's staff at a landing just past a bridge and returned to the rental office for ice cream.

Highlights of the paddle trip included seeing an otter (or possibly a beaver or muskrat...hard to say) and some turtles.

When we got back to the cabin, we jumped in the lake. I went fishing with my nephew Ty and caught a whopper of a smallmouth bass.

The End

BIKE WITH JOE

What year is this?

2016?

OK, then that means this year's BIKE WITH JOE scenic social bike ride over Labor Day weekend in northern Wisconsin is the 17th annual.

Who's in?

In 1999, some #RAGBRAI friends and I got together over Labor Day weekend and rode our bikes from my folks' cabin on Shell Lake WI to Stone Lake WI, some 23 miles away, stopping at various locales for refreshment and socializing.

Then we just did it every year thereafter and it became a thing.

Attendance has varied year to year. Originally, the ride was called BIKE WITH MELINDA after my friend Melinda who was one of the early attendees. But after she stopped coming a few years into it, that moniker just confused future attendees. So...since I am the only consistent participant every year, a consensus was reached a couple years back to rename it BIKE WITH JOE, retroactively effective to the first year.

One year, I was the only attendee, and I decided to run/walk the 10 miles around Shell Lake rather than bike to Stone Lake. I was a better runner then.

Anyway, we usually congregate at the cabin on Saturday of Labor Day weekend and chillax. Then on Sunday, we leave the cabin at a leisurely pace and bike to a breakfast stop by way of a beverage stop. Much merriment ensues as we bike the rolling hills on to Stone Lake. Anyone not wanting to bike the return trip from Stone Lake (56 miles round trip) can get picked up in the "sag wagon," which is basically my car with a bike rack on it, driven by my folks or another volunteer. On the holiday Monday, we help my folks tidy up the cabin before it gets closed up for the winter (this is the "entrance fee" for the ride). Winter in northern Wisconsin starts in mid-September and ends in mid-May, just before Memorial Day weekend.

7.24.2016

Friday's Epic Journey

I had an interesting day Ubering on Friday. After a couple short runs in the morning, I ended up at the Madison airport and parked my Prius in the cell phone lot to write a little bit before the next call came in. Soon enough the Uber Partner app on my phone chimed and I drove to the rideshare island across from baggage claim to pick up my passenger (let's call her Claudette).

Claudette wanted to go to a campground in the Wisconsin Dells.

"You know, that's quite a ways from here, right?" I asked her.

"How long will it take?" she asked me right back.

I looked at my GPS, which had synched with the destination she had supplied via her Uber Rider app.

"About an hour," I replied. "56 miles." She was going to a resorty place on the far north side of the Dells. It would not be a cheap Uber ride for her. To be honest, I had never had a fare that long so I had no idea what would happen. The Dells has Uber coverage but it's a completely different area from Madison and the coverage isn't continuous between the two zones. I looked at it as a learning experience.

"How much do you think that will be?" she asked. "My friend called the Uber for me and I would like to pay her back."

"I usually guesstimate a dollar a mile," I replied. "So it could be upwards of 60 bucks."

That didn't seem to bother her and we set off. It was mostly highway miles and in the course of the journey I found out she was retired and that she and her husband had had a consulting business in DC that they'd sold some years ago, presumably for a decent profit if she was willing to throw that much money at an Uber ride.

A friend of hers met us at the Dells resort and threw me a decent tip on top of the considerable Uber fare. But I was now in the Dells, a solid hour from my usual Ubering territory. What to do? I didn't know if I could get Uber calls outside of the greater Madison Metro area, so this was a perfect opportunity for experimentation.

I left my Uber Partner app on and plugged my home address into my GPS. I pretty much had to drive back through all of the heinous, touristy, trafficky Dells to get back to Madison, so I figured there would be ample opportunity to receive Uber calls in the Dells if there were any.

I was moderately surprised when just a couple minutes after dropping off Claudette my phone chimed to alert me that someone in the Dells needed a ride, proof positive that I could get Uber calls anywhere there was Uber coverage. My mind erupted with glorious ideas of road trips to exotic locales, underwritten with Uber fares.

"I guess I'll spend today Ubering in the Dells," I said to myself as my GPS redirected me to the location of my new passenger, a woman from Mexico City who wanted a ride from one Dells resort to another. I was, after all, already there. Might as well make a day of it.

After I dropped off the Mexican woman, the next call I got was from an elderly couple at the Dells Amtrak station. It took me a few minutes to locate them because Uber was telling me they were at a brewpub a couple blocks away from the depot, but I found them in due course.

"Would you like some iced water?" I asked them as I loaded their bags into the back of the Prius. It was a hot day and I had put a cooler with small bottles of cold water in the back of the car that morning to offer to overheated passengers.

"No, we're fine," the woman said for both of them.

I assumed the elderly couple were going to a Dells hotel or resort, but was pleasantly surprised to see they were headed to the Madison airport.

What luck!

I had mentally prepared to spend the rest of the afternoon suffering Dells traffic shuttling tourists around to restaurants and water parks. But now I was getting my trip back to Madison several hours earlier than anticipated and paid for!

The elderly couple didn't talk much on the trip and didn't take the bait on most of my attempts at small talk, though I did glean they had been traveling in Glacier National Park and were flying back to their home in Atlanta GA that evening from Madison.

After depositing them at the airport (they apparently tipped me via the Uber app, something I did not know could be done), I had a few more fares around Madison before calling it a day. The round trip to the Dells had made it one of the most lucrative days Ubering that I have had in a while, which was good because most of the week had been slower than usual and I wasn't going to be able to Uber over the weekend due to going up north to the cabin with Deborah on Saturday for a long weekend.

Shell Lake WI - Top 10 Best Places on Earth


I am in Shell Lake WI, one of the top 10 best places on Earth according to the people in charge of determining such things (aka ME).

I can't tell you why it is, because that would cause thousands of people to flood the small northern Wisconsin town, paradoxically destroying that which makes it one of the top 10 best places on Earth.

Other places that make my top 10 are Dunedin, New Zealand, and Melbourne, Australia. The latter is also one of the top 10 best places TO LIVE on Earth according to a different committee that decides such things (thus validating my own metrics).

Melbourne is my preferred relocation destination when I am forced to expatriate after Donald Trump becomes President, not just because it is one of the best places on Earth to live, but also because it is about as far from the USA as you can get and still live comfortably among English speaking people (Note: so is New Zealand).

For those envious of or curious about my ability to so easily relocate, the truth is I have dual citizenship with Australia.

I recommend reading the novel "On the Beach" if you want to glimpse the post-Trump Earth.

7.22.2016

Pathfinder

Everyone has a best path in life they should follow for optimal success. But how do you know what your path is?

There is no shortage of self help guides advising people on how to find their path to success and fortune, however people may define that. This suggests to me that there is a large demographic of directionless and unsuccessful people looking for guidance. Otherwise, why would you need such guidance if you were already successfully achieving your goals?

I cannot fault self help gurus for achieving their own success by exploiting the dissatisfied and directionless demographic. However, their success is based on their goal of being a self help guru, without which they would be directionless losers too. So their advice is really only useful if your goal is to be a successful self help guru like them, and that's not really a goal for most people.

I think the issue can be simplified. To wit, the difference between people who find their path and stay on it vs those who don't is VISION (or lack thereof).

When I was much younger - still in college I think - I took a workshop in creativity. The main takeaway from the workshop for me was that the creative process involves visualizing an artistic (or any) goal and then iteratively working toward the goal by constantly assessing where you are and where you want to be, to see if you are inching toward or away from the goal. Make changes in your life that redirect you toward, not away, from the goal. Keep doing this until you reach the goal.

The opposite of visualizing is taking the path of least resistance, basically going with the flow and letting circumstance set your direction. It's not impossible to attain your goals this scattershot way if circumstances are in your favor, but there's a very high probability of going in the wrong direction.

7.21.2016

A Good Storm

I love a good thunderstorm.

The one pummeling Middleton and Madison WI right now is not very good. There's too much wind and rain and far too little thunder and lightning.

I'd only give it 2 stars out of 5.

7.14.2016

Fun Things Afoot

On Sunday, I'll debut with a new hardrock cover band at the Funks Pub jam, called SKOOLNITE BENDER. It's a power trio, the brainchild of Derek Reynolds, a local shredder, and a drummer, Cody Smalley, who was the drummer in Derek's former project, Alias Jones. I believe it's going to be ridiculously rocking because of the dangerously high talent quotient of the group and the fantastic repertoire of other bands' songs. That being said, the debut is kind of an experiment inasmuch as we are not having any rehearsal before taking to the stage to blow sphincters out with five rocking songs. We are learning and honing the tunes on our own based on specific versions obtained from the Intarwebz that we are all learning from. It should be interesting and amazing and I am geeked for it...

7.09.2016

Art

"I am going to counterintuitively look for seats right in front," I said, leading Deborah toward the most densely populated area of the Union Terrace, on the water, on the logic that it would be the least likely place anyone would look for seats and therefore the most likely to have seats, and I was right.

After we secured a table, I texted Sherry to see when she might be joining us.

"We are just locking up our bikes in front. Be right there." She texted back.

"We are right in front of the stage," I responded. She and Tyler mosied up a couple minutes later.

As we enjoyed the sunshine and some beer, I noticed some familiar looking people sitting nearby.

"Are my eyes deceiving me?" I rhetorically asked. They were not. It was my friend Alex and her boyfriend [Roy], whom we had not seen in a while. We fraternized with them a spell.

After decamping the Terrace, Deborah and I rode our bikes up State Street to the Capitol Square and perused the art fair that encircled it. There were many good artists.

We gorged ourselves on monster salads at Ian's Pizza near the square before riding our bikes back to Middleton to pop in at Deborah's folks' house and see them before they departed on a road trip to Yellowstone.

By the time we left there it was full on twilight and I put my bike headlight on as we rode the couple of miles home. The overdose of vitamin D from the Terrace and art fair wiped me out pretty good.