Not Our Father’s Sons: A Meditation On Activity in Adulthood

Growing up, I had an excellent time playing in the forests of Brown Deer Park, and after softball games playing volleyball and horseshoes at Rollie & Carolines. This was Wisconsin, after all, the land of “Sure, let’s play athletics – but first figure out the beer.” My dad’s softball team was a part of a bar league and afterward we adjourned to the bar and the adults did more weeknight drinking and us kids played and played. We even had a set of Jarts I recall enjoying as a kid. 

Making new friends while bike camping with Phil in Northern Wisconsin

I never questioned that my dad played softball with his friends – it just was. He had the gang of guys who’d gone to high school together that comprised the team. They’d settled ino their various suburban homes and gathered throughout summer to play at baseball with a beer mug in-hand, manual pump keg between the bleachers. It was the arbitrarily selected home team’s turn to bring the barrel. 

In my 41st year I think about this now, my father and his friends’ understanding of leisure activities and my own exploits. Yesterday morning, I got up at 5am to go mountain biking before work. When I was a kid, mountain biking was some lofty activity held sacred by those Western mountain states. For me it offers a daily sense of adventure. I’m not opposed to softball, but it’s a whole lot of waiting around (and I loved baseball passionately up until the second season of the 94-95 strike). I can ride a bike pretty much anytime, whereas baseball requires a team. 

Kettle Moraine trails yesterday morning before work

I reference father’s sons because I happen to be a son. My mother never seemed to have a particularly athletic drive. She often references her clumsiness, though she’s always been tough. In elementary school a kid was once picking on her older brother. She got in the kid’s face, who announced he’d, “Never hit a girl with glasses.” My astigmatism-eyed mother removed her spectacles, replied, “What about now?” and knocked the wind out of the kid with a gut shot. At 67 today, mixed martial arts came along too late for my mother. 

Part of what makes my friends different from our fathers, I think, is that we regularly, throughout every season, with intention, spend time being active. Whether it’s road bikes or canoe camping in summertime, cross country skiing in winter, hiking or indoor climbing when the weather is uglier than for either of the former – we move around on a regular basis. 

About to leave on a trip, circa…2013?

An important detail is that we check in on one another’s activities. If anyone isn’t able to join for what seems like a protracted amount of time – we reach out to check if they’re ok. Often, we’re all just busy with work and family life. But even then, we still reach out and ask how things are going and if there’s anything we can do to help. Often, that little tap is enough of a reminder that we all need to keep an eye on our physical and mental health. 

Crash country skiing in Lapham Peak

This bears underscoring: We don’t do this because we are exceptional athletes. We do these activities because we like them and they make us feel good. We’re not racers nor have some delusion of athletic mastery. There are no rankings or track times or statistics to live up to. We’re doing stuff because it’s there to be done and it’s fun and we’re not dead yet. So we do.

My dad’s friends gradually filtered away from the softball team. A common thing was they’d pull a hamstring running to first and while limping back to the dugout swat at the air, saying, “I’m too old for this shit.” And that would be it for them, they’d amble off into the shrugging sunset. At 41, I might now be several years past when my dad played softball. And when I think of them “getting old” and quitting, my first thoughts are: 

  • You didn’t even stretch – of course you pulled a muscle!
  • You’re been standing there with a beer in your hand until your time to bat!
  • You haven’t been active all winter and now you expect this jersey to fit over your belly and your body to suddenly sprint? Come on, man! Go for a run from time to time! 

Inactivity leads to a self fulfilling prophecy of “being old.” 

My father was from a different time and without fail every generation thinks: 

  1. They invented sex.
  2. They are wiser than the generation before them. 
It’s really handy if one of your friends spent college working in a bike store

It may sound like I’m swinging heavily into that second option and that really isn’t my intention. My father’s generation concluded they would work hard and then retire to a life of leisure and that would lead to happy healthiness. This might have been a fine idea at the time, but it won’t likely ever fit my restless nature. I can’t speak to their lifestyles because my dad is long gone and I haven’t seen most of his friends since the funeral. But my mother keeps me abreast of the surgeries and heart attacks and diabetes the gout and obits. It sounds like their bodies have been collapsing slowly for a long time. Maybe it’s age. Maybe it’s lifestyle. I’d wager a combination of the two and leisure proves harder on a body than steady activity. 

In talking about this with one of my friends, he suggested that they were probably tired from doing more manual labor types of work, and that may be true. In our current working culture we talk about work/life balance and all sorts of theoretical health benefits, but this much is definitely true: We sit in front of computers while our parents generation moved around a lot more at work. Work life, for many of us in this time in history, has become a lifelong extension of sitting in a desk in a classroom, we’ve just traded a computer for a textbook. And so for leisure we desperately raise our heart rates.

I’m not an ideal paragon of health. I’m from Wisconsin and I act like it. Cheese, sausage, beer, an extra half barrel of weight more or less evenly distributed throughout my body – those jabbing jokes exist for a reason.  But I plan on maintaining my general activity level long before and long after retirement (whatever that abstract means for an artist/writer/poet). And I’m fortunate to have friends who seem committed to a similar pursuit. And we move around often, usually stretching first, and most often waiting until afterward to revel in the beer.

And, who knows, maybe I just mountain bike because it’s a little dangerous I can’t find a decent set of lawn darts to throw around.

Nighttime Snapshot of the Riverwest 24 Bike Race

This picture I took during the Riverwest 24 Bike Race caught the eye of CBS 58 in Milwaukee so they shared it. Such a fun annual community experience.

* technicality – it’s the Riverwest 24 not a 34-hour bike race (not my typo)

Delighting in the Fleet of Prairie Grasshoppers

Why I went Fat Bike instead of a Mountain Bike

Welp, I picked up a fat bike. Here are the reasons why I went fat, even though I might one day look back. This piece isn’t so much a fat bike review or comparison, but more of an observation of why I settled on a fat bike instead of a more conventional sized tire trail bike.

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In my head I’m smiling, instead displaying RBF: Resting Beard Face.

This summer I remembered I had an old 26” wheel triple chainring mountain bike hanging in my basement. I did a few things to it, got it riding ok, and started thrashing the heck out of it. Quite frankly, I was a little caught off-guard by how much I enjoyed riding on trails. I spent a few months riding two or three times a week and then started to feel that my skill had probably eclipsed the bike’s capabilities. I decided to begin looking around for a 29” wheel bike with modern geometry, gearing, and amenities like a dropper post and/or a lockout fork.

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Disc brakes are new-to-me. As is the accompanying banshee wail when using them.

Then it snowed.

I considered that I’d end up realistically waiting until April or May before being able to get out onto the trails again. Having felt such enjoyment riding on the trails, I didn’t want to wait for the trails to dry out before being able to ride again. Enter the fat bike.

I shopped around for awhile and found this used first generation Trek Farley. It’s got an aluminum frame and fork and the tires are 3.8” Bontrager Hodags. This is the largest width tire that the first gen Farley will realistically fit. Having such a wide tire allows for what riders refer to as “float,” this is when having such a large contact patch allows the tire to move above a surface with greater ease, such as snow or mud. This tire isn’t as wide as more contemporary fat bike frames will allow, but I’m happy with having paid one third the price of new to get to know this style of riding.

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Jackelopes and Hodags.

So how does it ride? So far I’ve only been out a couple times (I picked it up two days ago) but it’s definitely a different feel than a 2.1” mountain bike. You definitely feel like you’re driving a monster truck, whereas the 2.1” tire might have been a Subaru. It’s not as responsive or quick handling as a smaller tire, but you have the sense of being able to roll over everything.

Speaking of rolling over everything, I’ve definitely noticed that sense of floating. It’s been rainy and the trails are muddy but not overall waterlogged. Definitely conditions in which I wouldn’t have had a clear conscience about creating trail ruts with a 2.1” tire. With the 3.8” tires, however, I’ve been able to ride above without ruining the trail. Days in which a little bit of rain before would make me not ride, now I feel like I can go out on the trails without damaging them.

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I’ve enjoyed the grip offered by Bontrager 3.8″ Hodag tires and have been impressed by how little mud they retain.

When riding a fat bike, one definitely has a sense of requiring greater effort to turn the larger front tire, which isn’t surprising. Again, turning a monster truck compared with maneuvering a Subaru. I’m 5’10” and relatively stout so the greater effort required isn’t an overall issue for me, but it’s noticeable and something to consider if one happens to be more slight of build.

If you’re on the fence about riding trails or getting back on them after a long layoff, fat bikes can be a good option. I’m finding this one to be forgiving, confidence inspiring, and generally offers exceptional balance because the size of tire making contact with the ground is roughly about the same size as a human foot. You sacrifice razor-crisp handling to be able to ride year-round, and at the moment that’s a tradeoff I’m willing to accept.

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With the green accents of this bike, I think I’ll name it Slimer, after the ghost in Ghostbusters.

Thoughts on Getting Rad in Adulthood

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I imagine my recent “Get rad, blah blah blah…” might seem odd or immature or self-indulgent. Going out riding mountain bikes (for example) feels active and provides some sense of adventure while surrounded by nature. Each time I do it I inevitably accomplish some maneuver I didn’t entirely think I was capable of and it makes me feel more confident to consider pursuing acts I’m on the fence about. And sometimes I crash, or nearly crash, and that feels exciting too. So when I say “get rad” it’s my own little activity mantra that I’m having a fun little adventure. A few months ago I graduated college at 5’10” and about 230 pounds. I think weight can overall be like age and how you feel is more important than numbers, but for context I’ve been this height since I was 15 and throughout my 20s when healthy weighed ~165 or so. I haven’t felt very good for years; the numbers are for context. (This isn’t intended to make people compare their individual weight or body shape. All of our vessels are different, this is just a rumination of the body I’ve lived in for these 39 years) Sometimes it feels like the entire world of adulthood endeavors to muck us into a quagmire of inactivity. Sitting in class. Siting at work. Standing in lines. Computer, computer, computer. Sitting at soccer practice, at ballet class, at rowing. Parenting can turn us into professional lounging spectators if we don’t make a point to also be active too. And on top of it – being a writer – probably wins out somewhere in the “least calories burned” category of professions. Then add that oracle of data acquisition in our pockets, the goal of which is to make us slow down and input information so that we can be more effectively be sold more products related to the idea of what we say we’d like to be doing instead of actually doing it. We adults and parents must make a point to do things that make us feel good, otherwise those things won’t happen and our brains and bodies and souls suffer for it. We need to make time for, oh yes, to GET RAD! #ridebikes #getrad #adulting @salsacycles #writerlife #parenting

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Recalling bicycling through Upstate New York last summer