Sunday, October 16, 2011

Changing Paths While Staying on Course

Plans. I consider myself a planner. Full on. I like to put everything in my Google calendar to the minute. When I launched my Year on Other Things, I bought butcher paper to make big visual lists of all the things I need to do; I have to give credit to my sister-in-law, Meredith Hicks, for inspiring me to bring butcher paper into my personal life. Before deciding to quit my job, I made a Google doc titled, "quitting my job," with a complete run-down of how I would get health insurance, what professional projects I could stay involved in and what personal projects I could expand to. The list is two pages long and during the last two months since quitting my job, I have referenced it maybe once.

But, that is just it. The plan is not the action. There is a reason that it is so impossible to follow a plan precisely. When you plan, you are setting out the intention of what you would like to do. If while you are doing, you are constantly looking at the plan, you are probably not following it and you are probably not achieving its goals. For example, when I would plan for a session with my students, if I followed it step by step, the goal of fully engaging student voice would be lost as I would not be looking around me and responding to the needs of the students in that moment.

I used to think the points of plans were to map out your exact course, now I am beginning to see that they are something else. They are the thing that give you the confidence to take the first step. The second and third steps may not be in line with the plan, but it is hard to start walking if you do not have confidence you can get where you intend to go.

The bike trip got me thinking about this because, as it turns out, we did not sleep where we intended to any night of the trip.

This was the final route we took: Madison to Madison
295 miles (less 10 miles that Rose drove us during our mechanical mishap)
Day 1-Madison to Barneveld
Day 2- Barneveld to Soldiers Grove
Day 3- Soldiers Grove to La Crosse
Day 4- La Crosse to Reedsburg
Day 5- Reedsburg to Madison

This was the route we planned to take: Madison to Madison
285 miles (less 0 miles as we did not plan to have any mechanical issues)
Day 1-Madison to Spring Green
Day 2- Spring Green to Ferryville
Day 3- Ferryville to Sparta
Day 4- Sparta to Baraboo
Day 5- Baraboo to Madison

The only thing consistent about our two plans are the start and end point, Madison to Madison. Despite changing paths as we went, our goals were certainly met. We visited Taliesin in Spring Green. We rode all day in beautiful weather as the leaves turned around us. I left the LSAT behind. My dad left work behind (for most of the day). We reflected on next steps and past accomplishments. We listened to Radiolab and This American Life episodes to occupy our minds when the hills got too tough.

Thus, we may have changed paths, but we never got off course. This realization that many paths can lead to the same destination is nothing new. People have discussed it for centuries. Still, it struck me as I pedaled through Wisconsin. I knew that my dad and I could not have set forth on this trip without knowing it was possible to bike from Madison back to Madison in 5 days. That is what the plan did for us. It told us it was possible. But the plan was not the trip. Our intentions, our goals, our worn out bodies, and the too-busy roads that forced us to reevaluate are what ultimately guided the way.

As I set forth on this nontraditional year, I have felt the discomfort people (including myself) have when I cannot exactly say how it will all fall in place. I do not have dates for my travels. I do not have much nailed down concretely. But I do know what I want and why I am where I am. I have a course with many paths and the confidence I can reach my destination. Biking around Wisconsin taught me that is all I need.

And...I always have my Google doc.

Bicycle Capital of the World

Day 4 is always an exhausting day (written on 10/6/11).

That is all I was able to write on the 6th prior to passing out. I hate to leave a post unpublished. Thus, I will revisit this day if for nothing else but to recount the one and only severe mechanical hiccup we had.

We had just stopped in West Salem, WI for breakfast. The "Immediate Seating" sign indicated we would get in and out, but the only thing immediate about the restaurant was the seating.

This could perhaps be due to the very important meeting happening right next to us. The only thing I could name it would be the Southwestern Wisconsin Retirement club. Sally was home sick that day with strept. Al came late and ordered an egg sandwich. Joan was clearly the ringmaster. We learned they had a healthy budget and they would be funding members to go to an exciting conference in Wausau, WI. The meeting started and finished with perfect adherence to Robert's Rules of Order before we got our two omelets and Belgian waffle to split. We were biking.

As we biked away on the LaCrosse River trail, I pondered Robert's Rules of Order. Robert was one powerful guy. How many small town retirement organizations and big corporate boards are successfully meeting in an orderly fashion due to his rules? We do not thank him nearly enough. Though, I was pleading with my dad that we ought to be able to incorporate icebreakers into his rules. They are a bit dry as is.

And on we biked... thump... thump

"Hey Jess, why don't you get off and see what is stuck in my wheel," said my dad more as a statement than a question.

I obediently followed his direction only to find the thing to be the wheel itself. It appeared that our front tire had grown a tumor between West Salem and the two miles we had managed to bike. My dad immediately got on the phone to our on-call bike mechanic in Cincinnati. As he was explaining the problem, a leaking, whistling surrounded us. Before we could really make sense of it...


The tire exploded, leaving a sad flap and a useless tire. Our Cincinnati adviser could not save us from this one. But Rose could.

Rose and her husband own Speedy's bike shop in Sparta, WI. My dad called them after our explosion and 30 minutes later Rose and her pickup truck met us at the picnic shelter in West Salem. Rose was tight-lipped, but plenty accomodating. My dad interviewed her about her childhood on a dairy farm, her three sons, the bike shop business and Sparta as we drove. Perhaps the most interesting nugget learned is that Sparta, WI is known to the locals as the Bicycle Capital of the World.

As we biked into Madison the next day through their extensive trail network, it was hard not to chuckle. Sparta did not have a single bike lane. They had one bike shop. Most people in town were not avid cyclists or commuters. They were deemed such a title due to their central location between the 100 miles of four connected bike trails going from Reedsburg, WI to Trumpelo, WI. These trails include the famous tunnels of the Sparta-Elroy trail pictured below.

I do not discount the beauty of those trails nor do I discount Sparta's central location. I just might scale back their claim to perhaps the Bicycle Capital of Southwest Wisconsin.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Guest Post: A Word From Dad

Her crumpled dollars emerged from a Junior Mints box. Jessica's friend was a tiny grey haired lady who sadly explained that the downtown stores in Viroqua had almost all closed. She savored the little dollop of whipped cream on her pancake as she talked. Another character to add to our list. The day started in Soldier's Grove and we climbed steep hills on a beautiful county road on our way to Viroqua. We reached the Mississippi in late morning and made our way along the river to meet my cousin Mike Holler for lunch at his favorite restaurant in LaCrosse. He seems like a great model of energized retirement. The sun performed for us from our box seats in a park on the riverbank near yet another war memorial. Wisconsin has done a great job of building monuments to commemorate those who have died in wars (one monument even listed a soldier who died in the War of 1812). On to the Sparta -Elroy Trail tomorrow. More diners. More characters. More adventure with my daughter!

Click here to see our progress so far (points D-G were today).

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Truth Against the World

The family motto of the Lloyd Jones family (Frank Lloyd Wright's mother's family) was "truth against the world." Our tour guide cited the reason for this motto to be that their family was progressive for their time and thus needed to fortify their principles with the concept that their ideas were truthful and worthwhile despite the lack of agreement among their contemporaries. While, this may be true, the motto seems a bit arrogant. Though, it was clearly fuel for the Frank Lloyd Wright fire and a foundation from which he was able to create over one thousand buildings.

For hours after visiting Taliesin, my dad and I debated the merits of having a family motto, what exactly a motto serves to do and then what the Gingold-Gerhardstein motto might be. We arrived upon themes of service, commitment, boldness, impatience, but have yet to coalesce them into a tidy motto. Motto creation is a healthy exercise I would recommend to families far and wide. Though, you may arrive at the decision to hire a consultant to figure it all out.

Other things learned today include:
  • When Frank Lloyd Wright was 17 he changed his name from Frank Lincoln Wright to Frank Lloyd Wright to honor his mother, whom he sided with in his parents' divorce at the time.
  • Frank Lloyd Wright had three wives. The third of which, Olga, was a devout follower of the Greek mystic, George Gurdjieff. Her devotion led her to believe many ideas, one of which was that 99% of people are sleepwalking. I plan to research him more for guidance during my year on other things.
  • Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright's home for 47 years, was built just below the top of a hillside, hence the meaning of the word taliesin which means "brow." He did this on purpose as he felt if you build on top of the hill, you lose the hill. All of his buildings attempted to respond to the nature around him. He was using the word organic far before the hipster-hippie movement of today.
  • In any tour group, there is always one finnicky person who grates at your happiness. Such an event proved true today when one lady mocked the Taliesin literature demarcating their 100 year celebration after we completed our tour. We are all happy and inspired, settling into the shuttle that will take us back to our bike when the lady assumes a high-pitched tone harkening back to the teasing of junior high and says, "100 years for Taliesin, isn't that nice, oo la la..." I guess she did not like the tour.
In addition to time with Frank, we enjoyed the enchanting countryside of southwestern, WI. We changed up our route several times throughout the day, each time finding ourselves pleasantly surprised with the sheer beauty of it all. I was slightly convinced that Wisconsin planned it all out for us in preparation for our arrival. The blue sky, the rolling hillsides of autumn hues, the windy roads with barely a car in sight. This was a perfect day. All 73 miles of it from Barneveld to Soldier's Grove.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Day 1: Madison to Barneveld

"How was the ride?" asked the guy at the bar who had clearly been there for more hours than we had been riding and had not seen us on our bike.

"How did you know?" I asked.

"You have the look. That refreshed look." He responded.

Maybe he is right, though I have to admit that after only 35 miles today, I embarrassingly feel far from refreshed. Granted, I began the day with sore muscles. It could have been the return to ice skating I embarked on Wednesday night or the pickup kickball game I threw together to celebrate the completion of the LSAT or the insane number of hours I have spent sitting and studying. Regardless, I was sore. And 35 miles later I am still sore.

But, the soreness is not the overarching feeling inside of me. Neither is the pool of fat from the meal at the only restaurant to be found in Barneveld, WI (Half a fried chicken, iceberg lettuce with cheddar cheese, steak fries, and a cheese curd appetizer). No, the feeling that is triumphant is gratitude.

This is my fourth multi-day ride. The third one on the back of my dad's tandem bicycle. I know that most people consider this type of adventure to be insane and hardly a vacation. While I (more specifically, my body) can understand that perspective, this is my bliss. On every trip, I understand my dad more, I gain clearer perspective on my life and my goals, I eat a whole lot of crap, I drink good beer, I experience parts of this country that most urban dwellers never set eyes on, I meet an old person who enjoys life to the fullest, and I am inspired.

The plan for tomorrow is to ride 80 miles and go see Taliesin on our way to the Mississippi River. Hopefully, I will retain that refreshed look as we explore what Wisconsin has to offer.

Click here to see the progress so far.