Sunday, June 9, 2013

Biking in Moosconsin

When my daughter was young, she called the state of my origins “Moosconsin.” One need not travel far in America’s Dairyland to encounter bucolic pastures populated by Holstein cows and, to this day, I continue to hear her little voice saying “Moosconsin” when I go for a visit, as I did over Memorial Day weekend.

I was worried the trip was off to an inauspicious start when I discovered that Paul Ryan was sharing my flight from D.C. to Milwaukee. This photo shows him insisting that they move him OUT of 1st class and into a coach class seat. I'm sure someone on the packed flight was happy to switch. I was just relieved that we weren't seatmates, as it might have gotten me thrown off the plane (in mid air).

I was too close for comfort

I arrived in Milwaukee for my sister-in-law’s art show and book signing at the Grand Avenue Club – a community that provides support for people with mental illness. Located downtown, I booked a room at the Metro – a beautifully renovated art deco hotel that I chose online because it offers its guests FREE BICYCLES to use during their stay! As I was arriving just before the show and leaving early the following morning, I didn’t actually get to use a bike – but I let them know that the availability of bikes was the determining factor in my choice of their hotel (and it also was walking distance from everywhere I needed to go). I wouldn’t say Milwaukee’s streets were clogged with cyclists, but I did see plenty of folks riding the city streets, despite the absence of much in the way of biking infrastructure (at least that I noticed).

See the Milwaukee cyclist obeying the red light signal, despite nearly no traffic

The next morning I walked to the transit station to catch a bus to Baraboo (home of Circus World Museum and proximate to Devil’s Lake StatePark) where my mom and stepdad live. My 86-year-old mother planned in advance, and had borrowed a bike from one of her younger (~ 65-year-old) friends. It looked like it had NEVER been ridden, so I felt I was doing the bike a favor to take it out for a spin each morning. It came complete with detachable basket, rearview mirror, lock, and helmet.

The "granny bike" by the Baraboo River path

The weather was cool and drizzly, but I was able to make a pleasant 5-mile round-trip ride each morning, taking Baraboo’s very own multi-use path that runs along the Baraboo River. I heard more birds than I saw, but did manage to catch sight of a lovely pair of goldfinches and a majestic great blue heron. I had aspirations of biking to the state park, but the weather was iffy and the hills a bit daunting (especially on the “granny bike” I was using). So a bike trip to Devil’s Lake will have to wait for another visit.

Look at the edge of the river between the 2 trees to see the heron

No matter how old I get, there’s a certain regression that overtakes me whenever I visit my mom. Upon entering the house, I check the contents of the refrigerator and the kitchen cabinets. She always has favorite snacks, homemade cookies, and Wisconsin’s signature product: cheese curds. I take afternoon naps and pretty much just laze around. We went to the Saturday morning farmer’s market, where they had rhubarb that my mom used to make strawberry-rhubarb pie and blueberry-rhubarb sauce (which I sampled over both plain yogurt and vanilla ice cream…delicious with both).

I love rhubarb!!
After four days in Baraboo, my folks drove me to Madison, where I caught a flight to Las Vegas for a short business trip. The Madison airport featured an ample cooler filled with cheese products and the bathrooms offered free tampons and sanitary pads. Go Madison! Even though I’m well beyond the age of needing these products (the tampons, not the cheese), I still appreciate places that give them away free of charge.

Cheese choices galore

And free tampons

Las Vegas is not exactly a bike-friendly city and thankfully I was there for just one day of work. I was put up in the fancy Aria casino/resort and, because of the time difference, was up early to enjoy a lovely 2 hours in the fitness center/spa before my meeting. The workout with a full array of weight machines convinced me to join a gym on my return to D.C. as a way to get my final bit of shoulder rehab accomplished. The Aria also had a “meditation” room on which you could lie on heated granite slabs while serenaded by soft music and another room with walls built of salt blocks. In the salt room, large leather divans vibrated to the rhythm of the gentle music. I don’t know whether there’s any science behind breathing salt air or lying on heated granite, but I felt quite blissed out by the time I left. My favorite treat, however, was using the large eucalyptus-scented steam room, which I could alternate with a plunge in a cold soaking tub. Heaven!

Dancing fountain at Bellagio in its final orgasmic splendor

 After my workday was over, I decided – well – Vegas – might as well take a brief foray into the casino. In four rounds of roulette I came away $150 richer, winning money by placing chips on my daughter’s and my birth months. Fortunately I know how to walk away while I’m ahead, figuring I’d done well for my 10 minutes of gambling. After a long, cramped plane ride home the next day (thanks United – NOT) I went for my first post-surgical swim – delighted that I can still do a mile and the shoulder felt great!

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