first ride of the 2013 season

To find out just how out-of-shape I’d become over the winter, I set out on my bike to ride around Lake Monona this morning. After being shut inside, slouched in a chair for so many months, my body feels more like a non-Newtonian fluid than flesh and bone, a puddle of slop that rears up and pretends to be alive when the need arises.

So I wasn’t too optimistic that I would even be able to finish a ride all the way around the lake, a distance of about twelve miles, but I didn’t set out with the goal in mind of finishing, just seeing how far I could get. And no time limit. I wasn’t trying to set any speed records. I don’t think I ever once used anything higher than 3rd gear. I had the whole morning to waste, a gentle breeze, and the sun was shining. Off we go.

I set off down Bridge Street, heading for the bike path that makes a short run along the south shore of the lake and connects to Waunona Way, a road through an upscale neighborhood. I like to imagine that Waunona used to be a thickly-wooded hillside before all the Yups took over and built their oversized, ostentatious mansionettes along the lake shore, blocking the view more or less completely. I thought it would be best to start the ride here, though, because it’s the hilliest leg of the journey, so I could get that over with first and then, if I didn’t feel I had enough gas to keep going, I could turn around and head back. I could even walk it, if I was a lot more out of shape than I thought I was, which could have easily been the case.

I felt just fine, though, when I came out the other side of the Waunona neighborhood and crossed the railroad tracks, so I decided to press on at least as far as Olin-Turville Park, where the Great Taste of the Midwest is held every year (tickets go on sale next Sunday!). The route was flat as piss on a plate all the way there and I never pedaled hard enough to feel winded so I had a pretty good idea by the time I got to the park that I could keep going and I’d be okay, at least as far as Willy Street, where I could stop at a coffee house and sit for a while if I felt the need.

I should’ve worn a sweat shirt, though. Even though the sun was still out, it was not as warm as I thought it would be.

A long, long train came up from the south and crossed John Nolan Drive just about the time I rolled through the park. He was going pretty fast until he got to the crossing, where he throttled way back. There must be a speed limit of about ten miles per hour after that, because I easily kept up with it all the way across the causeway and even through town. The bike path and the train tracks diverge at Monona Terrace but meet up again at the top of Willy Street and run hip to hip all the way to Ingersoll St where the tracks gradually curve away to the north. I pressed on alone.

Willy Street becomes Winnebago Street after it crosses the Yahara River, the same spot where the bike path crosses the road and runs about a thousand yards along an old railroad right-of-way to the intersection of Eastwood Ave and Atwood Ave, where it crosses the street again and ducks behind the row of buildings along Atwood Ave. I’d been thinking about stopping for a cup of coffee and maybe a danish ever since starting north through town, and there’s a great little cafe with tables set up right on the bike path to temp passing cyclists. I even slowed down as I passed by, giving it serious thought, but kept going anyway. I suppose I wanted to see if I could make it all the way around without a rest.

The trail runs between the Goodman Community Center and the Madison-Kipp Corporation, where a sign posted at the entrance of the back lot of the Madison-Kipp Corporation reads, “Absolutely no Goodman Center parking at any time.” Every time I see this sign, my brain reads it as, “Absolutely no Goddamn parking at any time.” Every. Single. Time.

After passing the Goodman Center, the trail doglegs to the southeast and runs past the back lots of the Olbrich Botanical Garden, where the remains of the old sugar factory are waiting for somebody to shoot a really scary movie about ghosts or zombies. With the pile of headstones out front, that place looks scary in the daytime.

A drainage ditch running along the bike trail must have needed some dredging this spring. It’s normally hidden from view by thick bushes which were all cut down, and the trail itself had been crushed beneath the wheels of some very heavy machinery, making it look weirdly as if a small battle had taken place in this one teensy-tiny little part of the park. I had to gear all the way down and pick my way slowly through the rutted clay laid left behind where the asphalt used to be.

I was practically in the home stretch after that. I came out at the top of Monona Drive, slowly climbed the hill to the point where the never-ending road construction began, ducked into the neighborhood behind Rubin’s Furniture and slowly pedaled home along quiet residential streets. An hour and a half after I started, I pulled into the driveway of Our Humble O’Bode, tired, but in a good way.

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