An Interview with Melissa 'Puddle' Hall

Louisville Bicycle Club "Mad Dogs" accept no limits to the "mindless mileage" they accumulate. If there isn't an official century ride on the schedule, they will just make one up and go--even though they receive no club mileage credit and the weather may be far from perfect. Nine of us showed up for more mindless (but joyful) miles at "Mad Dog" Melissa "Puddle" Hall's house on December 12, 2004 for a 100 miles of pure unadulterated insanity and fun.

"Puddle" got her name because she prefers to ride in the rain. Early in 2004, she showed up for a club century ride that was cancelled because of steady rain. None of the boys wanted to take it on. Never mind, Melissa did the whole century solo and in the rain, thus earning her moniker "Puddle" and firmly establishing herself as one of the maddest of the Mad Dogs of the Louisville area.

Melissa, can you give me some background information, your early years?

I was born June 24, 1956 in Northern Kentucky. That is the traditional Midsummer's Night Eve. My father was a neuro-psychiatrist. My mother was a homemaker and later, an EEG technician. Her final job was with wardrobe at Kings Island. There were five of us: three boys and two girls. I was the baby by six years. My sister was 13 when I was born. I was raised in Ft. Thomas, Kentucky except for a one year hiatus when I was 9 when my father moved the youngest of my brothers and me to Wimbledon, England so he could study EEG. My brother was sent off to boarding school, so it was just yours truly. Both of my parents studied that year. I spent a lot of time alone with the stick pony I made out of a broom handle, yarn, and an old sock holding solitary, imaginary horse shows in my back yard. I also had real riding lessons, the best part of the trip. Upon returning to the States, I showed American Saddlebreds.. We traveled to Paris, Norway, and Scotland. When in the States, I lived on a street where there were only boys, so Brian was my best friend while growing up. We played football together, roamed the woods together, swam in the river together, and were best buddies until middle school years. Sports kind of stopped at that point, though I did play softball and swam for the YMCA, Country Club, and High School. There were really no girls sports available. Title IX had not passed yet.

I attended high school at both Summit Country Day and Highlands. Then I received a B.A. with majors in English and Political Science from William Woods, Fulton Missouri, an all women's college at that time. I was accepted and almost went to law school, but with my parents divorce, my dad decided he was tired of paying for children's education. I ended up as a T.A. at U of L as they would pay me to go to school. Ended one engagement. There I taught two semesters of English Comp per semester while I attended graduate school . During the summer, I started working at Churchill Downs "walking hots." Ended another engagement. Landed a farm job, met my husband, and decided to quit school and have babies.

I stayed home until my youngest started kindergarten. Got asked to apply for a job in social services by the father of one of my Girl Scouts. I've worked in child welfare ever since. Currently I investigate neglect and abuse complaints, but I tend to switch back and forth between investigations and ongoing to keep going. Can't leave due to the need for health insurance.

How did you get into cycling?

I started cycling after the YMCA put in a pool as I wanted to try a triathlon. I ran before I cycled. Lost a lot of weight that way and through the Y, lifting weights and stair stepping. Quit smoking. Did my first year of tris on a touring bike, the longest tri being Olympic length. This was probably four years ago. The next year, my husband bought me a Trek 1000. I competed on it for a year. For our anniversary, he got me my Trek 2300. I have competed on it since. I am waiting for my Cannondale to come in: my birthday present.

I started doing distance cycling because of Eddie Doerr. He had open training for the then 102 mile time trial. I read about it on the list and showed up. Somehow that year, 2003, I ended up skipping the district tri championships and doing the OKHT time trial. That was rather a strange decision as I had not been out of the top three in any tri competition that year. To this day, I don't quite understand the magic Eddie worked on me. The time trial was my first successful century. I had tried the route backwards beforehand, alone, but bonked at Pottershop having been out of water since about 60 miles in the 90 degree heat. I got bit on the butt by a horse fly when I gave up and got off my bike;-) I had not really intended to do the time trial, but I had heard that to learn to ride better, I needed to ride with cyclists. I met Don Feeney and Angie Hopperton there as well. I rode the time trial again this year. It was important to me to better my time to honor Eddie for this gift he shared with me, and I did though I don't suppose he knows it. I hope to take more time off next year.

Tell me about your family.  Do any of them like to join you on rides?

I have one daughter, one son, both at Purdue. My son will be graduating this spring as a computer engineer and is hoping to go to graduate school at Berkeley. My daughter will graduate the end of summer in Eastern Studies and hopes to teach English in Japan. Neither of them are into cycling. My son says he likes to tell his friends his mother is a triathlete though. My husband would like to cycle, but due to his RA and lung disease, this isn't an option. He is very supportive of what I do, attending almost every triathlon with me. My first ½ Iron Man this summer was the first triathlon he didn't attend, mainly because I discouraged him due to his health and race logistics. I don't know that I would have been brave enough to do the first one if he had not been there.

What is it about cycling that brings you the most pleasure?

Well, that depends upon the day and the mood I am in. Sometimes it is the utility of it. Not having to use a car to go into town to get a movie or something. Wish I could ride to work, but I need a car. Not to easy to remove (abused) children on a bicycle. Other days it is the company. I enjoy the people I ride with . They make me laugh until my sides hurt. They also have propped me up when I was brought to my knees by a particularly gruesome abuse case. Other times it is being out alone and seeing the scenery and animals and all the gifts that God has given us. It is the way the ground moves beneath me, the feel of my muscles working, my lungs breathing. I really think we were meant to use our bodies physically. I believe exercise is both physically and mentally a tonic. It helps cleanse away some of the horrors that I see on a regular basis, some of the frustrations of knowing we have a legal system that does not honor the rights of its youngest and most vulnerable citizens.

What excites you about the 100-milers, the 'Century Rides?'

What I like about century rides is that each has something that makes it unique. I log my rides on the Big Dog site, and try to capture what will make me remember that particular moment in time. An example would be when we were out unprepared and it began to rain. Susan Howell bought trash bags. The road was filled with cyclists wearing trash bags. Incidentally, Susan is well worthy of being written about. Much more so than yours truly. She is a very talented cyclist.

You're right about Susan, of course. You'll be pleased to know that she has promised me a profile session in the near future! Melissa, tell me about your cycling goals?

My main cycling goal is to have fun and laugh. I want to try brevets and longer rides. I am looking forward to Mike's new TOKOYO ride. I also would like to keep my speed up because I am normally the fastest cyclist in my age group in the tris and it makes up for being a mediocre runner and swimmer. One day, if I am left alone, I intend to pack up my bike and take off for a long, solitary bike trip. I haven't decided where to go yet. I have much exploring left to do. There are so many places I haven't seen. I also need to learn more about bicycle maintenance. I have thought about going to Washington to the bicycle school there as they have a class just for women as there doesn't seem to be any place close. That way perhaps I won't feel so inept not knowing what tool is what.

What prompted you to start Ride Captaining?

I decided to ride captain because I was quite distraught at finding only one century on the December ride schedule. Actually, I had volunteered before that, but Tim had not taken me up on it, so I just did it myself. The route I used was one I had used when I was doing solo centuries before the Big Dogs. I look for roads that are low traffic. I found these routes by taking sidewalk chalk and stopping at intersections and marking which way I turned. I didn't have a map and didn't know the roads, but this worked and turned it into an adventure. Sometimes I would have to turn around, mark out the chalk mark, and go another way. I'll never forget having a flat one day and the look on the face of the turkey farmer who stopped to help me when I asked him where I was;-) Now I do have a map, but I still have side walk chalk days.

I guess I feel about ride captaining as I do about most things: you can't expect everyone else to always do all the work. You need to take your turn.

How did you discover LBC?

I discovered LBC through Eddie and the list. I don't think the Dogs really wanted me to ride with them at first, but they were nice when I worked up my courage to go to a ride. Then somebody said that if I didn't ride with them again, they would think it was something they said or did, so I had to come back. After that, it seems I was hooked.

Thanks Puddle!