Over the weekend I went to see my good friend and creative inspiration Deborah Henson Conant do her musical magic. She plays the harp, which may bring to mind a woman sitting peacefully and delicately strumming an instrument twice her size. Deborah, the world’s foremost electric harpist, thrusts this image out of the universe and back again. She not only plays the harp, she rocks it, dances with it and bounces all over stage with her guitar sized, carbon fiber harp.
Deborah not only redefines what harp playing is, but the passion and physicality of her performance fires up the stage and is mesmerizing. I watch her move and feel her love for what she does fly across the stage; I cannot help but make the parallels of playing an instrument and riding my bicycle. Although I have no audience and no music emerges from my two-wheeled friend, I experience the same rhythmic and pulsating connection with my bicycle as a musician does while in the zone of their music playing.
While the bicycle can be reduced as a recreational machine, a means by which an athlete can reach a high level of physical performance and fitness, for me the bicycle has always meant much more. I personally have always likened (and craved) my rides as my special time to make physical and mental music.
Although the bicycle makes lovely sounds…the spinning of the wheels, the clicking of the pedals, the changing of the gears–it is not the mechanical music of the actual bicycle that turns me on. Like the feeling of strumming a guitar or the beating of a drum, the varied rhythmic sensations I create by dancing and pushing on the pedals, rocking the handlebars from side to side, goes right to my head and like a drug, I am on fire. I quickly begin to see the world (and myself) differently. Motion becomes meditation and I am transformed into a trance-like state where everything is right and good in the world.
The landscape explodes like a dream. I suddenly see better and am creating paintings out of open fields, gnarly trees, sparkling lakes, stone walls and puffy clouds. With each stroke of the pedal I paint the landscape as it blurs before my eyes. My ears open up and I begin to let the noise in my brain peacefully flow in and out while other magical sounds and thoughts take over my body.
Climbing, I calm down and focus on getting the notes right. Descending, I strum hard, belt out the chorus and my singing soul soars. I stand on my pedals and gaze at the sky. Colors intensify. My entire body is awake. The air streams through me. I am electric. I am flying.
I have always fantasized about playing an instrument, to experience what I believe is one of the ultimate human experiences–the simultaneous transformation and connection of the musician and the audience, alas I will have to settle on soothing my own soul with my tool wheeled instrument.
Although I get no applause and no real music emerges, each time I do hear the applause of my own heart, that with every pedal stroke is uplifted, empowered, overjoyed and always transformed.
There is true, deep harmony, as the world and I become one.
A sleepless train ride marked the beginning of our Austrian bicycle adventure. We made it through the overnight train ride from Florence to Salzburg, well just barely. We had hoped for a sleeping car but ended up packing the three kids and myself into a 2nd class passenger car with two other women who were cruising through Europe in nine days. Luca was impressed that they had been to Rome, Pisa and Florence in the last 24 hours. Our very own talk show host, Luca continued to interview them about their adventures while simultaneously putting us all asleep. Since we did not have a reserved seat we had to move twice before landing in a passenger car with another traveler. Before long, feet, arms, legs and other body parts were stretching out all over the place. Dosing and rearranging ourselves continued through the night.
After switching in Innsbruck at 4:30 AM we arrived in Salzburg at 7:30 and took a cab to our first hotel of our trip. We were wiped out so Mauro, Lorenzo and Luca took naps while Valentina and I roamed the town by foot. A few hours later our bikes were dropped off and we all headed into town along the glorious river to the market place to gnaw on some local cuisine including several pretzels, Mozart Balls, fruit and strudel. We can do a lot of damage at the local markets. Then onto the Mirabella gardens to explore the flowered pathways and strange odd midget sculptures. We found a cool playground with an awesome slide while I wandered through a the setting up of an art show with the theme of Asylum. We spoke with the artists, one from Sardinia about the ideas behind their work when hunger called and we followed. After much searching we found an excellent restaurant: Zum Fidelen Affen. I had a delicious risotto with vegetables, Valentina a fig salad while Mauro, Luca and Lorenzo had a grilled meat dish. The beers were cold and refreshing and the service very friendly.
We were tired after a long day and cycled back to the hotel to be fresh for day two. Day two in Salzburg, our first stop was the market for sandwiches and pretzels then a tram up to one of the oldest fortresses in Europe, The Fortress Hohensalzburg. Gorgeous views and a museum with a collection of a typical fortress collection of Armor, gold, medals, wooden beds and the always popular, torture instruments. The highlight of the castle was actually the Marionette museum which was filled with beautiful puppets and scenes from the recent shows. We made our way through the museum and cycled down to the main squares bustling with street performers and oddities such as the guy seemingly balancing in air on a cane.
It took a local physicist to help us figure it out. Zig zagging through the streets on bikes is huge fun and everyone bikes in Salzburg so we feel like we fit right in with the locals From here we biked to the Hellbrum trick fountains, the ride there proved trickier than the fountains themselves. It was long and we managed to get off the main bike path. The kids were starved, it was too late for the tour and it started to rain. Complaining ensued and the old “Mom Did it Again” routine began until I started in on the old “Don’t worry you’ll have lots of Misadventures” like this in your life speech which usually sends them running. We biked through the gardens, saw the giant fish, got a peek at the fountains and then we inhaled some cookies in a gift shop. Back to Salzburg on the main road went much faster. We were back at the square ready for a quick Lebanese wrap before the Marionette Show of The Barber of Seville. The marionettes were gorgeous but the opera was a bit hard to follow. The gestures of the puppets and the captions that were flashed helped us follow along but much to my kids disappointment, I dose off a bit but a rousing Figaro Figaro Figaro wakes me up again!
Day One, July 8: Our Austrian bike adventure officially begins! We head into Salzburg for one last Mozart ball and to visit the Salzburg Museum. We head out of town at 1:00 with me seeing “Bye Bye Salzburg”. We follow the river bike path out of town and after asking a few Salzburgians, we take a right on a small bike path following a river and heads through small neighborhoods. The climb is steady for miles as we make our way through hilly (and very pungent) farmland and towards the little village for lunch. Valentina and Luca start singing 100 bottle of beer on the wall which drives Lorenzo crazy. I agree that this is one of the more stupid songs in the world and could never understand why anyone found it so enjoyable but they do and that’s what makes the world go round. We follow the Tirolian tower to the center of town and find a grocery store. Not too many picnic spots so we plop ourselves in front of a bakery where we also enjoy a café latte.
After lunch the scenery gets more dramatic as we head towards Lake Mondsee. It’s cow manure pungency increases as well and at one point we almost get hit with fertilizer machine as it comes a bit too close to the bike path. Riding toward Mondsee we get into a nice groove. Behind me I hear the kids chatting beautifully and playing rounds of 20 questions. Valentina who usually squabble like old ladies get along great when they are biking. One of their favorite antics is to go no handed and to the Macarena. I only allow this on a bike path and where I know there are no cars of course. The bike path gets sketchy in this area. I believe we actually missed several miles of it and were taking the main road instead. By the town of Thalgau Luca has a small meltdown and is craving a chocolate bar so we stop at a supermarket and stock up on the sweets. They fill their bike pockets with Neapolitan wafer cookies and the stars are in alignment again! The bike path from here is well marked, flat and gorgeous. The bike path goes along the base of a spectacular Mountain Range towards St Lorenz and Unterach. We pass lots of cyclists as we approach Lake Mondsee. The bike path along the lake continues and troops become anxious to reach the hotel. Just when we needed something to break up the monotony we get to go through a long bike tunnel that cuts through the mountainside. Lorenzo’s back begins to ache and I am thinking it’s because his muscles are very tight. He has been suffering a painful Achilles tendon and is supposed to be stretching daily.
We reach our hotel right in Unterach on Lake Atterseee by 7:00 PM. We are starved and tired and showers feel wonderful. The owner of the hotel, George, is welcoming to cyclist. After showers, we are ready for dinner. While the cream of asparagus soup is not a huge hit, we gobble up our main course of pan friend lake trout, potatoes and vegetables. After a simple bowl of ice cream for desert, sleep comes easy.
A marvelous Day on Lake Attersee. 25 miles
Today the kids slept in and the AM, after our abundant Austrian breakfast on the hotel’s lovely porch, we wandered around the craft market and into Despar to get lunch pickings. At 12:45 we boarded a lovely excursion boat that took us up the Attires to Were. The views of the mountains, pristine landscape and the gorgeous blue water were incredible. We enjoyed our picnic lunch on deck and them moved inside out of the hot sun. The boat was quite elegant with most passengers enjoying the restaurant and service on board. By 2:00 we landed in Weyregg and begin pedaling North along the lake. The road was quite busy with cars all the way to Seelwachen. In Seelwachen we managed to get off the main road and discovered an excellent public beach complete with high diving platforms and water slides. SCORE! It was quite a scene filled with locals. I reminded the kids that taking back roads is always the best way to find the local treasures. We made a long stop here. The kids loved the water slide and the diving platforms where the local teenagers were showing off their jumps and stunts to all their friends. Lorenzo and Valentina made it to the highest platform while Mauro and Luca made it to the second. It was tough for him but not to be outdone by his siblings, he made the jump. I was fine on the lowest level. The water was so cold and clean, it was the perfect break from the hot sun.
After our swim stop we continued on our way along the lake. We found a small road paralleling the main road that meandered high above the lake through farmland and offering gorgeous views. In the town of Haining the road descended back to the busy lake road. This side of the lake was not quite as busy. The road was fast and allowed us to move along at a nice clip. There were lots of great and tempting swimming spots but we kept going so as to reach Unterach by 7:00. Valentina was pushing hard in the front and it was hard to keep up with her. Lorenzo’s back began to ache so we stopped to stretch and have a snack. We kept moving along, the kids beat me to the hotel!
After showers the kids were all anxious to have some facebook time. We relaxed in the hotel’s lovely sitting room. I enjoyed a large beer and I offered the kids the local ginger ale. At 8:00 we sat down for dinner on the lake, our view and the mood could not be lovelier
Unterach to Halstatt. 40 miles
Another late start to our next destination. The kids are just beat from all the biking and I do not have the heart to wake them. They get up just before the waitresses put the breakfast away. We pack up our rooms and walk through the craft market one last time before heading out along the lake. On the way out of town Lorenzo bike starts showing signs of fatigue. The fender is falling off so I go and find a piece of wire that I use to secure it to the bike. I think I impressed the kids with this little bike magic trick. The lake road is cool and the views are wonderful. I hate to leave this little Shangri-La. We start a long climb towards Bad Ischl. We watch the kilometer markings in the road go from one to eight while playing yet another game of 20 questions.
The descent begins at kilometer 9 and we luckily had the easier part of the climb, the descent was steeper and curvier for us. Lots of motorcycles on this road. At the base of the descent we hit another river valley, which we follow all the way to Bad Ischl. We pull into Bad Ischl, a very pretty and elegant town. We are all starved and I find a great little pizzeria. Too bad I can’t find my camera. I go a little crazy then begin retracing my tracks and ride about 5KM back on the river scanning the ground like crazy and asking cyclists if they had seen a small black camera. I decide to give it up and ride back. Back at the pizzeria the family has already eaten. I check the bags again and discover the camera in Mauro’s pannier.. Valentina gets the whole scene on film.
I have my pizza and salad and we take a picture with our lovely hostess who speaks Italian and we head on our way up the river 30 KM Halstatt. After watching a Rick Steves program about this charming destination, we are excited to get there. We follow the main road then get on a small bike path that follows a clear river for miles. We are tempted to hop in but feel the pressure to get to Halstatt to see the Salt Mines. It’s a glorious ride but Lorenzo finds it a bit boring. By 3:00 we make it to the bottom of the Lake and opt for the main road rather than the bike path on the west side. The road is busy with buses and cars but we just want to get there. We arrive to this lovely Austrian town by 3:30. It turns quickly magical with tiny streets and wooden houses perched on the side of the hill. Gelato calls and Luca discovers he can get his beloved ice cream cup person.
Onto the Salt Mines. We arrive a few minutes too late for the last tour. Disappointment reigned as we were all looking forward to this highlight of the day that we worked so hard to get to. After everyone gets a chance to whine and blame each other (except Mauro who says that he did not want to see them anyway) we calm down and opt to wander around the town for another hour before our little boat to the other side of the lake. The side streets up the side of the village revealed a salt history street that was quite interesting. Reminded me of the town of A in Lofoten where one singular economy drove the lives of the people. Lofoten and Hallstatt were obviously connected in some historical way since Salt and Cod are intertwined
Tired and cranky it was time for food again. After the kids enjoyed a lamb sandwich at a roadside stand (these roadside Lebanese food stands are very popular in Austria) and I had a warm beer we got on our little boat to the other side of the lake to catch our train to Gmunden. When the train came we had to act fast to get our bikes in the rear of the train. This became another opportunity for the kids to goof around at inopportune moments. Once on the train, Mauro and relaxed and talked while our little Hooligans started singing invented Austrian songs out the window of the train. Never ever a dull moment.
We arrived in Altmunster at 7:00 and descended the hill a mile to our hotel where our cycling friends from Texas had arrived and were enjoying an intense soccer match for the women’s world cup: The USA versus Brazil. We got to learn all the players names as they went into a final kick. The USA wins. Shower and dinner which was an absolutely terrible Lasagne but we shared a lovely conversation about great places to travel. We convinced them about Italy, while they peaked our curiosity about Iceland!
Day 4 Halstatt to Linz. 10 miles
Upon waking and reviewing the route I make an executive decision that going back and seeing the Salt Mines (and taking a rest day) would take precedence over the ride to Linz which looks uneventful and boring. Sometimes sightseeing and culture rules and this is one time the decision was easy. The kids were psyched and got up easily (well sort of). We were back on the train and took the 10:30 train to Halstatt. We were at the Salt Mines by 12:00. A very steep funicular took us to the top of the mountain where we had lunch with one of the most spectacular “lunch” views I have ever seen. For some reason Luca was in his Dr Jeckle mood so that put a bit of a damper on our lovely lunch. It’s hard not to let these moods get into my head and he knows this. Was a good family picture moment but Luca would not cooperate so it was just Lorenzo and Valentina.
After lunch we took the tour of the Halstatt salt mines which was incredible and so worth a return visit. The tour took over two hours and descended deep into the salt mines for a detailed, multi media immersion into the history of salt and mining since prehistoric times. I had no idea that salt was like the petroleum of its day and was the driving force behind the Austrian economy of the day. Of course the children loved the tour. They got to go down a wooden slide though the mine, watch a movie underground about salt, see immense blocks of salt glowing with light and ride a mining car. Our tour guide gave an extensive tour in German and pretty good snippets in English. After the tour we descended back down the Trail of Salt and down the funicular to ride around the opposite side of the lake to catch the train to Gmunden before heading on to Linz. We had a nice little visit of this charming town on Lake Traunsee. I had forgotten about the big downhill to the Lake. We were starved and stopped at bakery for snack before heading over to the Tuscany Park then back up the hill to catch our train to Linz. We arrived in the Linz train station at 9:30 and raced through town and along the Danube at dusk. It was quite beautiful this time of day. We arrived at our modern hotel on the Danube at 10:00 just in time for a dinner on the Patio. The hotel was modern and business like but the rooms were big, clean and perfectly fine for a good night’s sleep, which we needed!
Day 6 Linz to Grein: 37 miles
The last ones to a large Austrian breakfast, we get another late start to Grein. The first 10 KM are flat and ugly as there are factories in the distance and the river is dirty. The head wind and our noon hunger does not help. We stop for lunch at a Despar. The kids fight over a fanta and there is already much dissent. Valentina is complaining of a bad headache. Luca just wants her to “shut up” and ride. Lorenzo stirs the pot on both sides.
The riding becomes more pleasant and in the shade as we near our lunch spot in the town of Ybbs where we stopped for pizza and to briefly check out the bicycle museum. As we approach Grein there are more and more cornfields. The ride is along the river and in the shade all the way to Grein. The flat riding is beginning to get to me. Although I can see why the Danube is a popular area to ride, it has not been one of my favorites. Simply not enough variety in the scenery to rank high on my list. While the maps are highly detailed, I need to see the big picture on a less detailed map. As we approach it’s already 7:30 so another late dinner awaits us. Our hotel in the main square is lovely and right next to the oldest theatre in Austria, The Stadttheater Grein. We eat dinner outside but we are all exhausted from cycling. Valentina barely makes it through dinner. Good night!
Day 7 Grein to Krems: 50 miles
In the AM before leaving we finalize our Paris plans, have breakfast and get on our way. Well it is never that simple, movement forward quietly and efficiently is always a challenge. Before leaving we enjoy a short visit to the tiny theatre next to our hotel that included a toilet right next to the audience so there’s no need to take an potty break from the show. There is also a hole in the wall where prisoners were allowed to view from. From Grein we continue our tour down the river, more shaded routes. As we ride a cargo ship is making its way down the river so we begin race with it. The non-trafficked cycling is peaceful and gives us all a chance to take it easy and talk about whatever crosses our minds. Several games of 20 questions evolve as we steadily make our way towards Melk. Lorenzo’s gears give out and I switch bikes with him and make a 10K sprint towards Melk to see if I can find a bike shop open. I arrive in Melk with address in hand and I get sent on a wild goose chase in search of a bike shop to no avail. I return to the center of Melk, sit down at a café and guzzle down two lemonades while waiting for the crew. When I see them, I jump out into the square and wave them on. It’s hot, late and Mauro is done. He asks about a bus to Krems. I encourage Lorenzo to bike with me all the way. He opts for the Krems challenge and so the others want to ride too. We insist that they take the bus so Lorenzo and I can hit the road towards Krems. We take off and I tell Lorenzo that as long as we keep the pace of 13 mph we will be in Krems in two hours. The ride from Melk to Krems is the most beautiful of the entire Danube trip. Pity the others don’t get to experience it up close. A stay in Melk would have been better then ride another stay closer to Vienna. Oh well. The ride dips up and down and along the Danube. We get on the right side thanks to a dad and his pack of young Ausrtian cyclists off for a swim. We push hard but not too hard. The light is beautiful and the landscape evolves from flat to gently rolling apricot orchards and vineyard. This was the landscape that I had expected for the whole trip. Lorenzo is loving it too. At one point, a bus goes by and toots its horn. It’s Mauro, Luca and Valentina in the public bus. We are ten KM into the ride and know that we are making good time and having a better time on the bike. Lorenzo cannot resist stopping and picking apricots so we do. We enjoy the spray of the sprinklers watering the fields. We keep pushing along. I am so thrilled and thankful to be riding this 20KM with Lorenzo. He is wonderful company and it remains one of my most special memories of our entire tour. As we reach Krems, I ask a completely tattooed cyclist how close we are to Krems. He tells us 2KM! It’s 8:00 so we are 15 minutes within our time goals of reaching our hotel before dinner. We cross the bridge at Krems and I follow the last direction to the hotel, The Arte Hotel. We make it to our hotel by 8:20. Luca is mad at me for not letting him come. Of course it worked out perfectly so I choose not to argue, enjoy a hot shower and we bike to our lovely restaurant “Crems” 2 KM away in the historic center of town. By dinner I am forgiven and we enjoy fish and other Austrian fare then a large gelato for all next door. While a passeggiata around the town would be nice, we head back through the dark streets.
Day 8 Krems to Vienna
The last ride of our European adventure begins with repairs at a bike shop. A couple of the bikes are showing signs of wear and tear so we take them for a little tune up that costs $18. On our way towards Vienna, we ride through more apricot orchards and corn fields towards wine country. Castles in the distance. I choose to ride away from the Danube in hopes of finding villages and a bit more rolling roads to add some variety to the flat river riding. The kids are in a rambunctious mood. What else is new but we have three close calls on the bikes. First Luca rides right into a corn field. While admittedly it was funny, the distracion concerns me. Next Lorenzo, riding too close and not paying attention slams into a young cyclist who stops suddenly. Last Luca and Valentina slam into each other. Luca goes down and seconds later a large truck come barreling down the road. Enough is enough. We stop in our track and reinforce safe riding. For the most part, they have learned well but when boredom sets in, their riding gets sloppy.
We descend from the rolling hills towards Traismeyer where we seek out lunch. We find a little café with a Charlie Chaplin theme (go figure) serving Middle Eastern sandwiches. We order, sit down but the three musketeers will not sit still and the horsing around begins. The apricot tree in the courtyard becomes a war zone as Luca and Lorenzo start hurling tiny fruits at each other. We bring it all to a halt to each our lunch and get on our way. Next stop is a Dinosaur Park that gets Luca mildly excited. We pass by it but it is closed. We move on and head towards the Danube for our last 20 miles of River riding. The kids get the idea of riding through a corn field which I quickly nix but opt for photo ops on top of Hay Bales which once again turns into a circus of jumping from Bale to Bale and of course someone gets hurt. We move on from that activity towards our final destination: Tullin. It’s a lovely village with a magnificent fountain.
I propose the Vienna Challenge: 40 KM ride into Vienna. Mauro insists we all take the train. Luca and Valentina are tempted and opt to join me. We take off at 5:30 and I set the pace. We have a strong tail wind so we’ll make it easily but we plug on. After one hour we do a mileage check and we discover only 10 more K to Vienna! We pass by some very cool murals and then see a snack shop. We all could use some sugar so we stop for ice cream, drink and coffee. A mom and her kids is sitting there too and when we tell them how far we have ridden that day (70KM) she is very impressed (which pumps up Luca and Valentina). We keep following signs to Vienna but as we pass under overpasses and other large roads I am concerned that we missed a turn somewhere. Graffiti is everywhere and the scene turns from Bucolic to urban very fast. Bike lanes are great but it’s easy to follow any lane you see which of course can bring you off track quickly. Luca and Valentina are unshaken and having a blast talking. On perhaps one of the busiest path we have been on, Valentina sees a raspberry bush. They stop and start picking while I try to figure how to get us the hell out of here. I ask a few people. No one knows but eventually I ask a local cyclist, Ziggy, who offers to escort us the whole way through the maze of roads to our hotel. As close as we were it ends up taking us an hour to wind our way through the city. We arrive at our hotel. Lorenzo pokes his head out the window. We take our final group portrait with Ziggy and head up to our rooms for showers. 80KM! Bravi. While not my favorite from a cycling point of view, the memories that we shared bring us together and keep us coming back for more. It’s been a wonderful journey. On to Paris!
What better place to contemplate the layers of one’s life than the Grand Canyon where billions of layers of earth lay raw and exposed
Layers that start with the violet cactus flowers bursting like a tiny baby through crumbling white limestone
Layers that include the trees, the pine, the birch and the groves of aspen with their pure white bark, sparkling leaves. All their layers of roots hold the rocks and earth firmly together. Their branches allow the layers of wind to gust, curl and float between their leaves. Even when their life is gone the trees maintain their sculptural elegance against a bright blue sky.
As the trees fall in layers amidst the rocks and grass, their trunks dissolve with sprawling limbs as the last to go, twisting a reaching into a now smaller space lose to the ground. The logs now give their life back to the earth in layers of crumbling planks of gray, red and dark brown. This layer life process repeats itself throughout the forest, a miniature world of birth, life and death at all times.
This process compared to the layers of the canyon that opens up before me as I fly through onto wheels. I ride along the ledge and the layers are so vast and immense that I can see no real detail, only shapes of color and form. Layers of life that I cannot even begin to comprehend. Billions. What is that? I know only a mere 50, that at times seems so “old” yet feels younger than the lines that layer around my eyes.
Layers of flat plateaus once beneath a rumbling and salty sea. The visible and invisible layers. The wind is the invisible layer that wakes us each morning while we are deep in the cocoon of our sleeping bags. On that same invisible layer an eagle soars and knows how to play each directional drift to move from place to place.
I sit here on this crumbling rock where no electronics beckon. Life has slowed down and opened up and there is space between the layers in my brain to reflect on the layers of my life. Layers that are squeezed and transformed by the weight of each passing day. Layers of friends, experiences, countless views of places that each find their way into my heart. Layers of family going back to the layers of mountains in my grandmother’s tiny village nestled in Le Marche. How I feel connected to that place, to so many places.
Layers of thought, where do those layers go? I am blessed with the layers of my life as the forest is blessed and in need of trees that hold together the earth with their roots. A tree canopy reaches high as do my dreams and it’s roots hold tight to their world as I cling to parts of my past that I may need to shed to make way for new life.
John Muir wrote, ” The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness,” It’s been a long time since the forest and I have had so much alone time together and it has been good for me to experience a clear path again. I go back to my busy life but take these forest meditations with me and will return again soon
At the Bill Koch Festival in Ripton, Vermont, the grand finale of an incredible season of snow and fun, the spirits were high and the sense of community were strong
Under snow-frosted trees skiers, parents, and volunteers of all ages in woodland creature-themed attire, athletes aged 5 to 13 descended upon Rikert Ski Touring Center in Ripton, Vermont for the annual Bill Koch Cross-Country Ski Festival. The annual event brings youth skiers in New England a weekend of championship races as well as non-competitive open activities for families and festival-goers. With the close of the opening day’s events, 515 registered racers had competed in a mixed-age relay race and an adventurous tour around Rikert’s beautiful trail network, making for the most attended BKYL Festival to date.
The festival is rooted in the philosophy that cross-country ski racing with friends is both competitive and fun, explained Bill Koch, the 1978 Olympic silver medalist from Peru, Vermont-namesake and inspiration for the youth league. “Racing comes and goes, but skiing stays forever.” This year’s BKL Festival brings a unique theme and the tradition of over 100 volunteers and organizers coming together to encourage courteous competition – faster racers that call “track” are given the right of way – and an event that celebrates the participation of all – from Olympic hopefuls to first-year participants.
To embody this year’s theme, “Skiing by the Woods on a Snowy Day,” racers and festival goers alike will be greeted all weekend with activities ranging from an opening parade to event videos at the local high-school awards banquet, a ski terrain park, a ‘mini-marathon’ by poet Robert Frost’s former summer residence, an animal-costume themed ski loop, and over 30 attending ski clubs from Madawasaka, Maine, to Rochester, New York, to Bedford, Massachusetts. There were the Berkshire Trails ‘Beavers’ from western Massachusetts, a family of skunks, bears, moose, birds, canines and critters of all kinds.
The weekend began with a heavy snowfall on Friday that left many families, including ours, slogging along route 89 and 93 for hours to reach the charming town of Middlebury, Vermont. While our dedicated waxing team set up shop next to the dining room of the Middlebury Inn, our team wandered through powdery sidewalks to a wonderfully charming local restaurant called Fire and Ice.
While young XC racers got to bed early, parents got into prep mode–waxing skiis, laying out layers, filling water bottles, packing extra layers and reviewing the daily schedule. One of the lessons both parents and children learn from cross country skiing is that readiness is everything. Unlike most sports where showing up for the game a bit early for warm up time is sufficient, in cross country skiing, in addition to regular skill and fitness training, there is a huge level of dedication by parents and skiers to “behind the scenes” training and preparation or as coach Jim Stock calls them “process goals”. In XC skiing at the younger level (5-12), this requires children and parents ensuring that kids eat, drink, sleep, dress and prepare their skiis and equipment properly in advance. When faced with cold, snow, getting families dressed and out the door in time for a race start, parents and children must have their ducks in a row hours before a race in order to ensure that kid’s simply have a good race and enjoy themselves.
Luckily great snow and the fantastic and spirited organization of this year’s festival made parent’s job easier. After a 7:00 AM breakfast we were off to the races. Upon arrival we were greeted with friendly smiles, gorgeous fresh track, upbeat music, detailed signage, colorful team tents, with waxers in full swing and sunshine peeking out through sparkling snow flakes. Little by little families descended upon the venue with their bags of skis, clothes and food. Luca and I skied the course but his toes were so frozen and he was suffering so that we had to stop, take his socks off and apply a foot warmer. Note to self: Tomorrow have him wear two pairs of socks then have him sit by the fire in the AM to ensure warm toes.
By 10:00 it was time for the parade of teams with many of the kids and adults dressed as woodland animals. While this is certainly a serious bunch of athletes, they also know how to lighten up and be playful. After the parade, the races were in full swing starting with Luca’s 1st/2nd day 1K skate relay.
It was cold and he was frozen and it was hard to watch his face grimace in pain but I knew that once he hit the track that all his thoughts would be on moving forward fast. We took our place in the sidelines and watched all these cute skiers go by. The biggest challenge for this age group is to not collide or, in their almost instinctual desire to plow forward, ski over other kid’s skiis. Within minutes, Luca made it to the finish tagged his partner Jackson and beamed a huge smile of personal victory.
The races ran back to back and on time. By noon it was time for Valentina’s skate race. Up to the start line, this age group takes a on a very different look than the small kids. Fancier and tighter outfits, nerves running higher and looks of determination. All at once the gazelles were off. Within 30 minutes the race was over and Valentina and her partner Ginelle did beautifully winning second place.
By late afternoon the races were over and families could relax with their racers on the Mini Marathon course, a delightful 6KM loop through the woods that included hand drawn signage indicating woodland trivia such as bear claws on a tree, a hawk’s nest and birch tree identification. The highlight of the route was a group stop at Robert Frost’s cabin. Skiers that were able to recite his “Stopping By the Woods on a Snow evening” poem earned a fresh brownie and hot chocolate.
The sun was out, the powder reached our knees and the smiles on rosy cheeks was simply infectious. One of the aspects of the Bill Koch cross country league that I love is that it is not a sideline sport where kids compete (and have all the fun) and parents sit or stand for hours on the sideline enduring small talk and IPHONE distractions. It’s a community of ski loving enthusiasts who want to share outdoor experiences with their family and friends. What other sports tournament concludes with a all inclusive family outdoor activity that combines learning, exercise, socializing, eating and a glorious immersion in a state park?
The highs continued on Sunday when we returned to Rikerts for Day two of the festival. More perfect snow, delicious food, dedicated coaches, waxers and other parents running around and going above beyond what most parents would do for a sport. The payoff was simply watching hundreds of kids confronting a physical challenge with determination, passion and confidence. Just seeing them double pole and stride with all their mental and physical power across the finish line was not only incredibly inspiring but it is exciting to know that the lessons that children learn here on the snow will be with them for life.
We can feed our children information but what will really make the difference for them in today’s world is if they have the inner compass and confidence in themselves to believe that, if they stay focused and on track towards a goal, then their dreams are possible. Cross country skiing has created a foundation, to make this dream a reality. One of my daughter Valentina’s goals this year was to come in top three at the BKL Festival. All the ingredients were there to nurture that dream–She loves to ski and she enjoys the challenge and process of improving her skills and endurance and she feels the support and love from the community of skiers, both friends and family, that surround her.
This goal, that she set after last year’s 2010 festival, inspired her to stay fit all summer, to go to XC ski camp in Vermont, to join the cross country running team in the fall and then of course to begin training early for skiing. This goal and the fitness milestones needed to get there, also helped her focus on keeping strong and healthy by eating well and getting enough sleep. In other words it helped her develop habits that she has already applied to other parts of her life.
Finally on Sunday her moment arrived to ski hard in the 3.1K classic race. She was nervous but the snow was right, her coaches, family and friends were by her side, the wax miesters had prepped her skiis perfectly and her endurance would serve her well. Now all we had to do was to stand on the sidelines and watch all the gazelles sprint into the woods and wait for them to come home!
One by one they dashed toward the finish, each girl looking so colorful, beautiful, strong and determined. Valentina finished well, despite the flop she took at the finish line. After she finished rather than wait around for the results I took a final long ski through the glorious soft snow and open woods to the Robert Frost Cabin. By the time I returned, the results were in and to my complete elation, I discovered that Valentina had won the Classic XC race, a gold medal and her moment of glory on top of the podium to look out and beam out at her community of friends and family. While this confident glow will keep her steady for many weeks to come, it’s of course less about the victory than the process that gets all these wonderful kids and their families outside, supporting each other, doing their best and discovering the simple joy that skiing brings. Thank you Bill Koch.
What are your bicycling resolutions for 2011? We have collected resolutions from our Facebook Fans from Far and Wide. What they all have in common is that they are as unique and varied as the cyclist’s themselves. The resolutions vary from cyclists that simply want to commute more to those that plan to compete in the world’s most challenging events like RAAM and Paris-Brest-Paris. Our Ciclismo Classico team picked their favorites and there a tie between Lisa Weissman and Lynda Beaulieu both of whom have some very hefty goals. I ride weekly with Lisa and one of my goals for 2011 is to keep up with her.
My bike resolutions: Bike 5K this year: Do lots of weight training, yoga and skiing so as to be a stronger cyclists this spring. Return to Ireland and Sardinia on family bike trips (who wants to come?), Do RAGRBRAI with my family (need to find an operator). Raise 10K for my 21st Pan Mass Challenge cancer fundraiser ride. Details about their resolutions appear at the end of the list. It’s not too late to add yours; let’s grow this list and see all of the possibilities. Add yours to the comment box. Grazie and good luck!
John Dobermiller: 3500 miles, with 100 of my rides as commutes to work. A tour of the Vineyard and the 2011 Jingle Ride.
John Ouillette: I would like to do 2 Century rides this year including the GRR.
Lisa Lowe: Mine is to buy a bike and actually go on a Ciclismo Classico tour. I do a lot of spinning and am ready for a new challenge. Any suggestions on rode bikes?
Miguel Medina: To ride my Orbea without training-wheels in 2011… I’m tired of being laughed at when riding!
Kirsy Acosta: Increase my cadence, so I can do a century at least in 530 hrs!!
Ciclismo Back Office Wiz Marc Mastrolia: To ride regardless of weather. Stay warm, Pedal faster!
Estelle Klein: To increase my own self motivation to continue to ride and inspire others who have not yet taken the challenge– especially the special needs kids who I work with
Ciclismo Super Sales Director Christy Mraz: My biking resolution is to put more mileage in and work on relaxing on my descents. Apply all the great tips Sandro gave me on tour.
Dynamo European Operations Magician Davide Marchegiano: My 2011 resolution is to put in more miles (not difficult considering the scarce mileage of 2010) and to ride up some of the Alpine passes in my area, that I sinfully skipped in 2010, like the Col de Joux and the Colle del Nivolet: I miss them!!
Meshaun Cundiff: Get back on my bike after I’m done with Physical Therapy and teach my baby girl how to ride her new Fuji!
Melanie Schrock Perry: I will be attempting to drop 20 pounds and do the Ride Across Indiana (160 miles) for the first time in 2011. Not that difficult for many, but for a 43-year-old who just rode her first century last summer, I’m feeling pretty excited about it!
Whitney Claire McKim: Ride my first metric century at the Wild Goose Chase. Make a better effort to commute to work on the bike!
Jeff Feinsod: Increase my mileage and overall stamina on the bike. Better my time over last year in the American Zofingen Duathlon in May.
Yvonne Beecher: Spin Odyssey, Bloomin’ Metric, RAGBRAI, PMC and Hotter ‘N Hell 100 are at the top of my list of goals for the year. Oh, and maybe driving the sag truck for my friends who are doing Paris-Brest-Paris 2011!
Kelly Lynn: Work on increasing my cadence and getting faster on a hill
Lynda Beaulieu: Work on power-to-weight-ratio, and to complete Paris-Brest-Paris 1200k, Grande Randonnee this August
Susan Vance Resolution: To just keep riding, stretching, exercising, eating healthily, and…keep riding! This resolution will help you get through your trials for 2011.
Stephen M. Pratt: To top 5,000 miles and raise more than $5,000 for cancer support program
Charlotte Pierce: Get in the habit of taking the bike on errands around town.
Mark Newsome: Qualify for RAAM
Lisa Weissmann: 5,000 miles, B2B for first time – and enjoying many, many rides with my cycling friends
Lynette Chiang: To continue to ride exactly as I have always done – when I want, where I want, how I want!
Christos Laganos To work hard on my bike and be happy with my efforts and satisfied with my results.
Frank Brooks: Piemonte IV… Take Rob, Parker, and Lexie on my favorite ride (and I hope this is more a resolution than a wish!)
New team member and CC guide Patria Lanfranchi To get back into the commuter groove! To ride longer and slower for more quality miles with friends.
Here is how Lynda B is going to do it! A 14 year resident of Cambridge, 40 year old Lynda Beaulieu plans to ride Paris-Brest-Paris 1200k Grande Randonnee in Paris, France this August. The event, which takes place every four years, is 1200 kilometers in length, runs from St. Quentin en Yvelines in Southwestern corner of Paris, to Brest, which lies at the Atlantic Ocean. The return trip back to Paris is on the same route. The event has three time categories: 80, 85, and 90 hour windows. To finish PBP is to become a member of an elite few who complete this grueling test of human endurance.
January to Mid-March: weight training for endurance, and riding indoors, some outdoor riding when weather and road conditions permit. Concentration on harnessing more power and dropping a few pounds to tackle climbing more efficiently.
March through April: Much more riding for longer periods outdoors only. Concentration will be on pace, with as much hill-climbing as I can stand, for continued efficiency for climbing on brevets.
April through July: Brevet season! Ultra-distance, self-reliant, timed events, that serve as qualifiers for 1000k+ events, this year, qualifiers for Paris-Brest-Paris! The brevets are lengths of 200k, 300k, 400k and 600k, and will take me to New Boston, NH; Voluntown, CT; Meredith, NH; and Bennington, VT. The events start and end at Hanscom Airfield, Lexington, MA.
This August , the name of the game is rest. Rest for the third week of the month, for PBP. As a result, I will be volunteering for this year’s Pan Mass Challenge. I might ride the 87 miles back to Wellesley to keep my legs fresh. Just nice, easy riding until the event.
August 21st to the 25th: the 17th Paris-Brest-Paris Grande Randonnee!
Jumping for Joy in 2010
It’s beeen another eventful and wonderful year! As we head to Hawaii to stay and play with my dear college pal Linda and her girls, we celebrate a year blessed with excellent health, jumping around the globe, special events galore, Ciclismo Classico goals exceeded, numerous athletic achievements and plenty of fun and games for all. With the wind at our back, our three musketeers, Mauro and I are ready and excited to dive into 2011
Mauro and I kept as active as schedule juggling allows. This year in addition to getting around Boston by bike, I discovered a fun group that rides at 5:45 AM which keeps me in shape and gets me back in time to make pancakes. Mauro, our family chef, runs, skiis and swims whenever possible and we both spend the rest of our time running kids around town. Lorenzo loves to downhill ski, scores regularly on his soccer team and has developed a new love for basketball. He’s anxious to try boxing. Mmmmm? Valentina packs in two sports a season pairing soccer with softball and cross country running and swimming with her favorite: cross country skiing! Her efforts paid off with a 1st place victory at the Craftsbury Marathon and 2nd on the Bill Koche Festival relay team. Luca’s our in-house Boston Sports Fan. Covering his walls are pictures of his favorite Bruins, Red Sox and Patriots players; he fits nicely into the A-town stick and ball scene with a natural affinity for soccer, baseball and hockey. For his b-day he was ecstatic to go to a Bruins game with Natascia and Dustin. We’re proud of his cycling accomplishments too–2nd place in the Mayors’ Cup Kid Bike Race at the annual Hub on Wheels Event in Boston.
Growing Up (too fast!)
It’s official (and hard to believe); we’ve got a teenager in da house! ON March 31st, Lorenzo turned 13 as his height rose (slightly above mom), his feet burst (to a size 11), his mouth filled with silver, his “six pack” developed (considerably), his voice deepened (still crackly) and his humor became drenched in sarcasm. His coming of age experiences consisted of his going to many of his friend’s Bat and Bar Mitzvahs! For Valentina’s 11th B-day and Luca’s 8th, they both chose Co Co Keys, an indoor water park where mayhem with music (and silly arcades) is the draw.
Arts & Entertainment:
For the first time, Lorenzo Valentina and Luca shared the stage in a Watertown Theatre’s production of Tom Sawyer. Valentina was an elegant but spunky Anne Lawrence, Lorenzo had center stage as the Preacher and Luca got to sing, dance and look cute. Thanks to excellent teachers, we are making musical progress on Marathon St. Lorenzo is really diving into the drums and Valentina, inspired by her favorite show GLEE, is singing and playing a new song on the piano weekly. I do my best, with excellent Passim teacher Janet Feld, to carve out time to strum easy Paul Simon songs on the guitar.
(Trying) To Be the Change:
This year for my 20th PMC (third virtual in Italy), my generous sponsors donated over 7K for a 20-year grand total of 100K to this wonderful cause. For the 2nd year I spent two days in Washington at the National Bike Summit where I spoke on a panel that presented the case to better support bike tourism to increase overall participation in bicycling. I was invited to join the board of East Arlington Livable Streets and Mass Bike where hopefully I can play a bigger role in improving our communities through safe and responsible cycling programs and infrastructure. Mauro tries to keep our debating skills alive by raising the political intelligence bar but it’s a tough job in a houseful of comedians! Finally, a small but significant victory for East Arlington: The Hardy School that once opposed cycling to school now has a bike rack!
The Ciclismo World:
Lots of great news to share to wrap up our 20th year of running legendary bicycle tours. First: we exceeded our sales goal thanks to a strong team effort and the addition of Sales Director Christy Mraz and Travel Consultant Lauren Lasky. The League of American Bicyclists awarded us Bronze in their Bicycle Friendly American program. Next year we’re going for gold! At our retreat we envisioned and mapped out bold new directions for CC. We were invited to join the Trusted Adventures Alliance, a partnership of eight distinguished, award-winning travel companies. I was thrilled to hang out, learn and grow from them all at the annual and always exciting Adventure Travel Summit in Aviemore Scotland. Our annual brochure warmed hearts with its bright and lively cover illustrated by Lannie Hart. Fun CC events fill our annual calendar: We launched our first annual Ciclismo Classico Film Festival followed by the 145 mile B2B Harpoon ride from the Harpoon Brewery in Boston to their brewery in Vermont, the PMC in August, the Hub on Wheels in September, Cycle Kids auction in Novemnber and for the 14th year we ended on a high with over 60 costumed, caroling riders in The Jingle Ride.
Family and Friends:
Active reunions with friends and family filled the year. For the 11th year our MLK ski weekend in Craftsbury is a reunion of Vermont and Mass ski buddies. In February, we headed to Bretton woods where dozens of Eastern Mass cross-country skiers landed to enjoy its gorgeous trail system at the base of Mount Washington. In May we were reunited for the 13th year with our friends at the Tyler Place. With its delicious food, charming accommodations, plethora of activities for all and its idyllic location, it’s the way life should be. The year’s highlight was the June wedding of Ciclismo guide, Marcello Bonini’s and his lovely bride Cleide (with their two adorable babes at the their side) in the little village of Casole Val D’Elsa. It was a non-stop festa with a dozen CC guides and their young families singing, playing and of course non-stop intake of Italian delicacies and gallons of home-made Lambrusco. Our Italian grand finale was spent with Mauro’s large wonderful extended family on the beach and at the table in Cittadella Del Capo. Each weekend in August we packed in visits to friends and family: bonfires and boogey boarding at Salisbury Beach with Carol Shumans and her 8 year old son Sam, boating, camping and barbecues with our cousins in CT, pond floating in Peacedale, RI with Windsor Mountain friends and a summer grand finale beach party with Tyler Place Pals, the Foggles & Mcelhoes
The (Incurable) Travel Bug:
Some people get a high on the holidays or cuddling by the fire, I get my Christmas wish and feel incredibly blessed every time we embark on a family adventure. This year our air miles and passports got plenty of use as we literally jumped all over Europe and the USA (and I could not have been happier). We wrapped up 2009 with a jam-packed trip to San Francisco where we were hosted by with ex-Ciclismo tour guide, Angiolino Sandri, wife April and daughter Beatrice. The world’s greatest urban (on and off bike) tour guides was 20 year pal, CC alumn and resident San Fran Native: “Pazzo” Dale Butler who is best balanced and considerably bettered by his talented wife, Tina. Dale’s passion, love and knowledge for this great city is addictive. Dale’s infectious insanity perfectly suited and entertained our wild and crazy children and Dale offered to adopt them all (“never all three at once”). With Dale in the lead, we biked and walked everywhere and everyday was an incredible urban adventure (not counting when Valentina “accidentally“ deleted all 400 pictures of our trip off my camera). In April we returned to Disney World this time to show Luca, who missed out on Mickey, Minnie and Goofy in 2004, our favorite parks and rides. We topped off our Florida tour with a visit to Universal Studios and the Kennedy Space Center.
In July my family made me so happy (and proud) by embracing bicycle touring and covering over 300 miles, three countries and causing havoc all along the way. We pedaled our Lovely Lofoten Family trip with the Pohl family from San Francisco--it was even better the second time around! From Norway it was onto Ireland, where we rode our 8 day, 200 mile Ciclismo Western Ireland route that zig zags through the Burren, the Aran Island and along the incredibly scenic Connemara coastline. I had scouted and led this tour 14 years ago while pregnant with Lorenzo. The treat on this trip was a reunion with my high energy; super co-guide June Boulger who hosted our family for lunch. Our Irish routine was simple: big breakfast followed by hours of gorgeous riding (and photo ops) topped with hours in the pub eating and listening to music. We can’t wait to go back. Who wants to come? Seriously we are seeking other cycling loving families to join us in Donegal in July 2011. Whose in?
After Ireland it was onto Italy to the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the town of Lucca where we rented bikes and explored this lovely medieveal city fo churches. We timed Luca as he road his bike fast around Lucca’s famous wall that encircles the town for a Luca vs. Lucca time trial to mimic the famous Francesco Moser time trial race there in 1984. The result: 4KM in 10 minutes. Luca won!
The Grand Finale of our cycling & travel adventures was a 10-day stay with the wonderful Harnish Family in Barcelona, Spain. This is one crazy city and they are one exceptionally crazy family. Surprise: We get along beautifully! As part of our long-term family goal to cycle all the major European cities, we rented bikes, took a 3-hour tour and then kept the heavy-duty clunkers for the week to get around this bustling city. We loved the squares, the street life (crazy La Rambla and beyond) the Picasso museum, the markets and the incredible array of architectural styles.
It’s been a wonderful year! We wish you peace and happiness in 2011 and hope you’ll drop by our Marathon home or office soon
Lauren, Mauro, Lorenzo, Valentina, Luca and Jim (Gimpa)