Imago - Meditatio - Actio
Richland Center - Boscobel - Woodman - Fennimore - Muscoda - Spring Green - Richland Center
A year ago in October, the Driftless Randonneurs held it's inaugural brevet. One year later, all five of us came back for another go 'round. This time, though, our numbers doubled as more riders came out for the fun, including several who had never ridden a brevet.
Wisps of fog line the Fall colored ridges.
The start was quite foggy, especially in the valleys. Early in the ride, you could peer down from the top of a ridge and see a layer of fog in the distance. I found the combination of fog and bright fall colors rather enchanting.
By Boscobel, the last remnants of the fog had cleared, and it wasn't long after that before we were shedding layers. Soon after, the sizeable group of us that were still together were having lunch at Timothy's in Fennimore.
The group stretched out a bit after lunch. There was plenty of time and neither Bob nor I had no reason to hurry, so we just kept rolling on at a comfortable pace. Though we didn't dawdle at Spring Green, our stop was long enough for new rider, Paul, to catch up with us again after one of the longest climbs of the ride. After the stop, the three of us plugged into the wind for half of the last stretch before enjoying the colorful Autumn return into Richland Center.
New Richmond - Knapp - Downsville - Knapp - New Richmond
I didn't get off to the best of starts for the last brevet of the Minnesota Randonnuer's 2015 season. Although I arrived early and had plenty of time to prepare, even after a tasty biscuits and gravy breakfast at the Next Door Cafe, I still found myself fumbling with gear when it came time to start. By the time I got moving, the pack was gone. Although I did manage to catch up to the tail, but due to different paces, I was riding solo again after an early climb. Passing through Glenwood City not too much later, I confused my cues and headed the wrong direction on County G. I figured it out when I my next cue wasn't there when I expected it to be. I lost any time I made, and then some. I still had plenty of time to make my control, but these were both simple mistakes and I should have known better.
Things improved after the first stop at Knapp. For the most part, I rode alone at a steady, yet respectable, pace. The weather was fine. Any remant of the morning cold was long gone. In fact, I needed to shed a layer at Knapp to keep from overheating. I made good time, enjoying the changing colors of the trees as I went. I made good enough time that I caught up to Mark just in time to ride with him into Downsville.
The Dunn County Pottery control stop stood apart from the typical gas station stop, to be certain. After a sandwich, a head call, and brief walk around part of the grounds, I was back on my way, though no longer riding solo. Leaving Downsville, we were three and our group grew as the ride went on. We weren't out to break any speed record, but with the wind at our backs we made good enough time on the return that we arrived before just before official sundown.
A glimpse of the scenery as seen from my bike.
Paris-Brest-Paris. Wow. I was there.
Despite hearing countless stories from numerous anciens, fully appreciating PBP required taking on the challenge myself. I was well aware that riders would be everywhere. I had heard that villagers would clap and cheer as we passed through at all hours of the day. I had even been warned that I would cry before it was over. Nonetheless, neither the magnitude of the event nor the degree of the emotional impact it would produce could sink in until I was there to experience it first hand.
Queuing up for the start at the Velodrome National with Madison, WI randonneur Bob Booth.
And we're off!
Spectators give a warm send off.
All kinds of bikes accept the challenge. Here, a velomobile whizzes past.
Riding into the night, taillights shine ahead as far as the eye can see. From time to time, something out-of-the-ordinary sticks out from the crowd (notice the ElliptiGo on the right).
Still riding through the dawn. Lights glisten in the morning mist.
Bikes decorate the streets as villagers cheer on the passing riders.
At the control in Fougères I met up with Bob Booth. Though we both had planned on riding independently, we departed together to share in each other's company as long as our paces kept in tune. The conversation helped keep spirits up as we passed from village to village. Having someone to talk to also did wonders for staying alert without sleep.
Riding along with Bob Booth. Spectators clap as we pass by. The Château de Fougères stands in the background.
Despite a very refreshing sleep in Loudéac, the zombie hours still wear down on the spirits, but seeing a rider on the return leg to Paris shows us that we are at least getting closer to our turning point at Brest.
The light of the new day brought with it a refreshing boost. As we approach Brest, we more frequently encounter riders on the way back to Paris.
Standing on the Pont Albert Louppe with Pegasus on the way into Brest. The Pont de I'Iroise shows through the fog in the background.
We made it to the turning point! We're half way there!
Now Paris‑bound, we encounter riders still heading to Brest.
A rest stop in Sizun before the Roc Trevezel climb. Now on the return, we make a point of stopping to enjoy the finer things.
A long time ancien regularly completes PBP on an historically appropriate bike for this ride.
Monsieur Paul Rogue and his helpers provide riders with a coffee and a crèpe at La Tannière, asking only for a postcard from home in return. I hope he enjoys the red American barn and the Wisconsin Holsteins.
Kids and riders both love the high fives.
Somewhere in the last stretch approaching Villaines‑la‑Juhel, I had separated from Bob. It was a hilly section and we each needed to pedal as our own legs would allow. I don't think either of us had expected we'd have stuck together this long, but it had been a good run and made for a very enjoyable experience.
My legs were feeling extremely soft in this section, also, but as long as I kept turning the pedals, the dogs didn't bark too loudly. The legs certainly were tired, though. Nonetheless, I figured I'd be able to push through to at least Mortagne‑au‑Perche after a break at the control in Villaines‑la‑Juhel.
Arriving at the control, however, I had been completely been taken by surprise. Expecting the same crowd comprised predominantly of riders with a proportionately smaller number of control volunteers, I was astonished to see how the cheering spectators outnumbered riders and control workers combined. I could hear a PA system with an announcer, though I couldn't make out the announcements. Nonetheless, the energy was amazing. I felt quite teary-eyed as I rode into the control and searched for a place to park.
An unexpected welcome in Villaines la Juhel.
This far into the ride it took some coaxing to get the legs moving again after any stop. Based on how they had been feeling just prior to arriving at Villaines, I was expecting that I'd really have to ease back into pedaling mode when I left. On departing, however, I felt surprisingly fresh. The winds were favorable, which certainly helped, but it couldn't have possibly accounted for this sudden boost in power. The next section to Mortagne‑au‑Perch flew by. I credit the crowd and its cheering for tapping into a hidden adrenaline store.
How better to celebrate the return to Paris than with an Eiffel Tower helmet?
Feeling as I did going to Mortagne‑au‑Perch, it only made sense to push on for 77 kilometers more (nearly 48 miles) to Dreux. From there, the end was only 64 kilometers (roughly 40 miles) away. I figured after getting to Dreux, I'd have enough time for a nap, and then could arrive at the finish at daylight.
At Mortagne, I encountered Minnesota Randonneur Jonas Nygaard who had been riding with another of his Swedish countrymen, Stephan. The three of us pushed off as the last remaining twilight faded. Unlike the previous two nights, which were fairly chilly if not downright cold, it was warm and muggy. Combined with the signifiant climbing on this stretch, we didn't have to worry about being cold. In fact, at the top of one hill we had to stop for wardrobe adjustments to keep from overheating.
At one point, an off-course warning from the GPS saved us from bonus miles. Throughout the ride it had been so easy to follow taillights, but it still was necessary to validate the correct path. We shouted a warning to each other to recheck at the intersection, but in the dark seemed to lose track of who was who and we separated momentarily. Fortunately, we were able to regroup at a coffee stop set up by fans in the next village after the nearly missed turn. The coffee did wonders, too, as the length of time awake on limited sleep was beginning to take its toll. Though we simply couldn't count the bikes present in the larger wave, our immediate group got larger for the second leg after the stop. An Irishman (whose name I can't accurately recall) and a French woman, Bridgitte, joined in on the conversation. The “International House of Languages” feel added to the experience; Swedish, English, and French (the latter two in a variety of accents) carried us through the remaining kilometers to Dreux.
Somehow, instead of napping in Dreux, I agreed when Jonas suggested we push onto the end. The food at Dreux looked appetizing and went down easy. After eating as much as I could and drinking even more caffeine, I was ready for the final push.
The next stop is the finish, but we still have to ride through another night. Here, I'm again riding with Bob Booth. Billy from Jersey pumps away on the ElliptiGo. We band together for a while, keeping each other awake through conversation.
Ironically, I ended up leaving the control with Bob Booth, who was riding along with an ElliptiGo rider, Billy, from the Bailiwick of Jersey. I wasn't in any hurry, and the conversation, including an abbreviated Channel Islands lesson, was great for fighting off the Sandman during the dark of night after not having slept in 24 hours.
Riding a section of the victory lap with Bob was welcome, too, after having ridden the lion's share of the event together. Eventually, though, I found it too difficult to maintain the slower pace of the ElliptiGo, and continued on by myself.
Shortly thereafter, it started to rain. On the warm night, the rain felt rather pleasant, and helped remedy the stickiness of the humidity, not to mention the welcome assistance it provided in staying alert. The final kilometers flew by through the more urban streets of Montigny‑le‑Bretonneux and Saint Quentin‑en‑Yvelines. Crossing the finish before sunrise at dawn's twilight was a bit of an anticlimax after encountering such large crowds during the afternoon of the previous day, but that didn't diminish the emotion bursting out from the inside.
After encountering all the crowds earlier, arriving at the finish in the rain at morning twilight felt rather anticlimactic. Nonetheless, the powerful emotion I was feeling was nearly overwhelming as such an epic adventure came to a close.
After getting back to Stevens Point and resuming «real life», at first, it almost felt like the experience was all a dream. The whole idea of riding six thousand people riding bicycles half way across France and back in less than four days just doesn't sound possible. Fortunately, after a little more time the reality of the situation sank in. This experience was real, extremely real, and in fact, belongs as one of the most significant experiences in my life. I can only imaginge what it would take to top the Paris-Brest-Paris experience. Honestly, I'm not sure I want to know.
The events of this weekend were hosted by fellow randonneur, Dan Diehn, and his family with the sponsorship of the Minnesota Randonneurs. Once again, it was a weekend chocked full of good riding and also excellent camaraderie in the true spirit of randonneuring. As was the case last year, the start times between Saturday's 300K and the 200K were spaced so that more riders would finish within a closer window for the sake of socialization at the post-ride barbecue. Our host and his family were wonderful and all of their efforts were greatly appreciated! Also, thanks again to the Minnesota Randonneurs and TCBC for putting on this event!
The rising sun starts the ride off beautifully.
A hearty group of ten took off at 5 AM in reflective gear with lights on for the Old Abe's Parade 300K. There were many familiar faces from both Minnesota and Wisconsin.
The fast crowd tried hard to slow down and keep together with a larger group longer than normal, but by the time we approached Alma the group subdivided according to natural paces and riding styles.
A significant climb past the entrance to Buena Vista Park and then past the Danzinger Vineyards caused the rest of us to split up momentarily, also. By then the sun was high in the sky, and shady spots to regroup were in short supply. Fortunately, a cemetary on Blank Hill Road fit the bill quite nicely.
Entering Alma, a view of the bluffs warns of the climb to come.
At Arcadia, we divided further as two of us preferred a shorter control stop hoping to get back to the end of the ride cookout earlier, while the other two opted for a longer, more leisurely stop. Such flexibility is the beauty of randonneuring.
My nose had been bothering me all day, too, and by that point, I didn't wan't to drag out the ride any longer than necessary. Bob and I maintained our usual comfortable yet steady pace, and made it back to the finish before sunset.
At the end, we enjoyed an excellent cookout that the Diehns had put together for us, as we waited to welcome the remaining riders. All ten that had taken on Old Abe's Parade finished within the time limits. Likewise, all 11 riders that opted for the Coulee Challenge completed the ride in time. It turned out to be a successful day.
Not feeling my best, I opted to ride the populaire on Sunday instead of taking on another full 200K. I'm glad I did. It was a good chance to enjoy our host's company, and to meet the out‑of‑state randos who travelled up from their homes along the Missouri River. In stark contrast to the climbing the previous day, this ride along the cranberry marshes was flat as a pancake. Thankfully, the flats allowed us to bank enough time for an extended lunch at "The Bog" in Warrens. It turned out we needed most of the extra time there, but the lunch hit the spot.
The winds worked with us on the final stretch, which was appreciated. By afternoon, though, the sun was strong and the temperatures had gotten quite high. A flat tire kept us out in the heat a moment longer, but these guys knew what they were doing so the delay was short. Before long we were back in Black River Falls.
Last July, I went west to Minnesota for the Golden Pancake, my first ride with the Minnesota Randonneurs. On that ride, I also met my Tavia. The two of us had ridden most of the ride together, far behind the rest of the group. This year, the two of us decided to ride it again, as an anniversary ride of sorts.
This year, we kept pace with the seven other riders. Route Owner Norman Ehrentreich, Minnesota RBA Rob Welsh, and Tavia came close from various parts of the Twin Cities. Tom Ehlman, Stan Shreve, and Randy Runtsch all had come of from Rochester. Additionally, Gary Bakke (New Richmond), Dave Overlien (Black River Falls), and myself (Stevens Point) represented Wisconsin.
From the start, the group opted for an easy paced ride audax style, and the nine of us rode through the night together. Our timing was ideal, arriving back at the start with the break of day.
The Mindoro Cut by bicycle
I went to ride Dan Diehn's Coulee Challenge to kick off the 4th of July weekend. We headed west from Black River falls to Taylor, Wisconsin before working our way south through LaCrosse County to Coon Valley before looping north back to Black River Falls.
The route provided ample opportunity to make use of the lower gears as we crossed each ridge from one valley to the next. While nothing about the course was flat, six climbs defined the character of the ride.
Two of these crossed Phillips Ridge. In the southbound direction we crossed through the scenic Mindoro Cut. The sight is impressive, especially considering that the gap had been cut through hard rock in 1907 and 1908 using only hand tools and horse-drawn equipment. The return climb over the same ridge via Tamarack Hill was impressive in its own right; it felt like the longest and steepest of the ride. Being the last of the big six, it fit well for the final climb.
Good weather, great company, and a challenging yet beautiful route made for an excellent 200K ride. I felt like we earned every kilometer.
It was a beautiful morning in Rochester for the start of the ride. It was good to see familiar Minnesota Randonneurs from the Twin Cities as well as riders from the Rochester contigent. At least three other Wisconsinites were present, including a new randonneuse who had travelled from southeastern Wisconsin for the chance to complete her first SR series.
Crossing ridges and valleys on the Wisconsin side
Saturday turned out to be a picture perfect day for riding through the ridges and valleys of western Wisconsin. Winds were light. The afternoon temperatures got a bit higher than had been forecast, but the sun and the warmth were a welcome change from the rain of the last rides, and it never got so hot as to be unpleasant.
I managed to keep up with the lead group at the start, which consisted of Jonas Nygard, Rob Welch, Glenn and Brent Seager, and Mark Olsen. In addition, Glenn Sturchio and friend Mike came out to help us set a pace they wouldn't have to maintain for 600K. I tried to be careful not to strain myself too early, and think I did okay, but when riding with a faster group I find it is easy to lose track of the ultimate goal.
Nearing St. Charles at dusk
At the Pepin control on the Wisconsin side of the river, Mark and I took a bit more time and let the lead group split off and ride its own pace. We'd arrive at the next few controls before the leaders left. We'd also see the next group arrive before we did. We didn't rush, but we did keep moving in order to accumulate time for sleep at the overnight.
At the Winona control, Bob Booth and Bruce Jones caught up with us. The four of us would ride together back to Rochester.
The evening offered a pleasant return into southeastern Minnesota. Largely favorable conditions on the first day let us get back in time for a respectable amount of sleep before day two.
Rainy start on the second day
At 4:30 in the morning, it was raining. The forecast indicated that it would continue to do so for most of the day.
Mark, Bruce, and I started the day with a Perkins breakfast and then left as the overnight control closed. Thankfully, the rain let up while we were stopped. It let us get in a relatively dry start on the second day, but the break would be short-lived. After about an hour of riding the rain came back.
It came on slowly at first, but quickly increased in intensity. By the time we reached Preston, it was coming down strong.
Wet conditions on the Root River Trail
The rain lasted throughout most of the morning, and through nearly our entire ride on the Root River State Trail. About this time I started to hear crunching in my drivetrain when I applied torque. The rain came down fairly hard, but wasn't any worse that I had experienced on previous rides recently so I was at first baffled why I was all of a sudden hearing noises.
At the time, I couldn't positively locate the source of the sound, but after the ride I did identify a worn bottom bracket as the culprit. On removing the old, I found water collected in the bottom bracket shell. Perhaps this rain was just the straw that broke the camel's back?
In any event, the experience served as a reminder to do a more thorough bike check after the ride, perform the necessary maintenance, and then recheck it again before the big event in August.
A break from the rain entering Iowa
The rain stopped just as we left the Root River Trail in Harmony. Taking advantage of the Harmony Vistor Center, we filled bottles and stowed rain gear for the ride into Iowa.
Iowa welcomed us with it's blue skies laced with non-threatening status clouds. This section of the route was familiar from previous rides this year; both the Rochester - Decorah 400K and the West Union 300K followed the same route along Minnesota/Iowa 139. The section offered a few gentle climbs as we crossed the Upper Iowa River and a few of its tributaries.
Thankfully, after a few dry miles the crunching sound in my drivetrain stopped. It made it easier to purge the fear of a major mechanical from my mind and let me continue to enjoy the rest of the day.
A bridge on Minnesota's Shooting Star Trail
After lunch in Cresco, we headed north and west passing through Lime Springs and then the Hayden Prairie on our way back to Minnesota.
We had a three mile stretch of gravel ahead before crossing the border, though, and some dark clouds drifted over the direction we were heading. Within a tenth of a mile after crossing onto the gravel, I felt a rain drop. After another tenth, I felt two more. Preferring to not ride wet gravel, I kicked it up into a higher gear hoping see how much I could cross before the skies let loose. Fortunately, the errant drops turned out to be strays and all three of us made it across the dry gravel.
From there, we crossed back into Minnesota at Le Roy. From Le Roy, we rode the Shooting Star Trail which follows the Upper Iowa River.
Wind turbines and rain on the final stretch
As we got closer to Dexter, the clouds became larger, darker, and more ominous. We arrived just in the nick of time, as within seconds of entering the travel center, thunder cracked and the rain let loose. The entrances quickly became crowded with people who came into the travel center but didn't want to go back to their cars during the downpour.
The large blotches on the radar indicated that we weren't going to be able to wait out the rain entirely. At least the worst of the storm passed during our typical control break. When we noticed that it had stettled back to only a light rain, we continued on before any subsequent wave hit.
The sun comes back out for the finish
After riding another hour we made it passed the last of the big clouds. Shortly thereafter, the sun even came back out. In fact, it even got hot enough that we elected to stop and remove the raincoats one last time.
Though there were only ten miles to go, the return of the sun made for a more pleasant finish to what had already been a very enjoyable ride. The only thing missing was a rainbow.
Passing Steamboat Rock just outside of Richland Center
Seven riders set out for a pleasant day's ride on the Driftless Randonneur's second brevet. Though we set out at a fairly relaxed pace, in effect sticking together in an undeclared pseudo audax style, we unfortunately still lost the seventh rider before we had crossed the first county line. The remaining six of us would keep together to the finish.
Although slightly chilly, we had clear skies and next to no wind at the start. The forecast called for temparatures in the 80s and a chance of thunderstorms later that afternoon. The forecast, however, turned out to be far from correct. Within two hours of starting, the skies had clouded over and we felt the first drops of rain. Within another hour, the precipitation was heavy enough to warrant breaking out the rain gear. Then, on the final stretch into Boaz, the light winds from the forecase gave way to an unexpected powerful headwind.
We must have been riding along the edge of a front, because the rain cleared up for us on the way out of Boaz. It was still pretty chilly, though, especially after a respectable soaking.
A view from a rainy descent down Patch Hill
After getting over the ridge, we followed the Wisconsin River past Boscobel toward Woodman. Stopping at Woodman for an information control, we noticed bike route signs for what was labeled the "Dinky Trail." The general store owner, seeing cyclists, handed out brochures to us showing a map of the route. The "trail" actually was a signed road route, which apparently parallels the route of the old narrow gauge steam railroad which bears its name. Though we didn't expect to, we ended up riding the Dinky Trail to Fennimore.
Fennimore, being the turning point, was a fine place to stop for a lunch. We weren't out to set any speed records, so we could handle a stop at Timothy's Cafe for an actual sit-down meal.
Clear skies again for the finish
The stop gave us a chance to dry off a little more, though on leaving I could still smell rain in the air. We did, in fact, encounter a bit more light rain on the way to Spring Green, but it didn't compare to what we had already experienced earlier. At Spring Green, we could see the sun beginning to peek out. After that, the last of the rain was behind us.
Although the unpleasant weather had passed, we were still in Wisconsin's Driftless Area, and we still had some climbing ahead of us as we worked our way back to Richland Center. The two and half mile climb out of Ithaca to Hustler's Ridge was significant, but thankfully, we didn't get hustled out of a fine descent.
Morris Valley road was sharp and steep, and I was thankful that we were not headed the other direction. I also appreciated that we didn't have to deal with it in the rain.
The Morris Valley Road descent virtually emptied into Richland Center. From there, we only had a short jaunt through downtown before we were back at the hotel. It had been another pleasant ride, and I look forward to my next ride with the Driftless Randonneurs.
Just as it had been two weeks before, the Saturday morning start from Delavan was rainy and wet. Fortunately, this time the rain wouldn't last all morning. In fact, the rain jacket came off long before the first control.
A wet start on day one.
The break from the rain didn't mean a clear forecast, however. The threat of thunderstorms still loomed ahead, and the overnight forecast included even more rain. Still, we would take any break from the rain that we could get.
I had found a ride partner with a similar pace and style with Greg Silver. We had met the week prior in Rochester, where we rode together for the outbound stretch to Decorah. We held together fairly close, even through hilly sections. We maintained a respectable pace on the rode, but to call us fast wouldn't be accurate after figuring in our stops at the local bakeries and diners. After climbing the bluff via Balfanz/Freedom Road, for example, we arrived at the Baraboo control ahead of the “bubble”, but the group had no problem getting a lead on us while we enjoyed our meal.
We managed to catch back up at the ferry crossing at Merrimac. From there, we'd ride as a larger group until arriving at the overnight control. In addition to Greg and myself, the group included GLR veterans Bob Booth, Eric Petersen, and Jeff Rogers and rookie randonneuse Dawn Piech.
Dawn had taken to the sport naturally. She may have been used to lighter, sportier bikes, but she had no problems adapting to, and breathing new life into, her newly acquired Rivendell Rambouillet. She had already completed her SR series two weeks ago, but came back to finish the last ride of the GLR season. It didn't sound like she was ready to quit for the season, either, already talking about events that other clubs were offering in the weeks to come.
With daylight remaining, we took a short stop to check out the jewel bank in Columbus.
This group worked together well. We kept from hanging long at the controls, and progressed at a steady, sustainable, yet respectable pace. In fact, we covered a lot of ground during daylight that most of us had only ever seen by night. We were only a few miles from the Lake Mills control when the last of the twilight dissipated.
I don't recall if anyone had noticed before the rider from Ohio walked through the door of the Lake Mills control with a wet rain jacket, but all of a sudden it was raining. Then, the rain got heavy. After that, the heavy rain got even more intense. Then, it got heavier. Then, it poured. Automobile traffic stopped. The gas station's rain gutters gushed at maximum capacity.
When the rain died down, we took off hoping to make Whitewater before the next system came through. Though a short break in the rain caused at least two of us to overheat in our rain jackets badly enough to take them off, within a few miles we had them on again to fend off more heavy rain.
Working to catch back up after stopping for wardrobe readjustments, I shifted into the next faster gear. Pedaling suddenly became extremely difficult. I shifted to a lower gear. Nothing. I tried again. Still nothing. I ran through the entire range, but I had lost my rear derailleur.
The strange weather produced odd colors.
The next town was only five miles away, and in the little ring I kept up with the group well enough. In fact, I even charged ahead a little eager to find a place to investigate. Stopping under the lit canopy of a Mobil station that had closed for the evening, I found my cable had severed.
Fortunately, I carried a spare cable, cut and soldered, as recommended in the RUSA handbook. Unfortunately, I had measured incorrectly and had cut the cable too short. As luck would have it, Bob also carried a spare and was kind enough to let me use it for the repair. The closed gas station was the perfect emergency venue, but I was still very glad that I had installed cables and done derailleur adjustments before. With the derailleur adjusted, Greg showed me how to coil the excess cable and we were back on the road. Though it would continue to rain, the rest of the evening was otherwise uneventful until arriving at the Delavan Super 8.
My plan was to get a healthy sleep at the overnight. Figuring I'd be asleep at three, I could set an alarm for seven and get a solid four hours. Leaving the hotel by eight at the latest, I'd still have an hour in the bank. Having been told of a nice place to have breakfast 16 miles in, I wasn't opposed to spending part of that hour investigating the lead.
After doing the math, Greg was onboard with my plan. Bob even considered it enough to stick around long enough to take off with us the next morning, but after the first half an hour, the difference in our paces and strategies was evident so we continued on separately. Though I had hoped we'd eventually make up enough time to cross paths again before the finish, that would not be the case. In fact, the difference in strategies confirmed the wisdom of the classic tale of the tortoise and the hare.
Randonneuring sometimes involves riding at night in the rain.
However, we were randonneuring, not racing, and the breakfast experience provided the tasiest, heartiest meal of the ride. Truthfully, to compare the food to the typical quick-e-mart fare would be an insult to the cafe. While the homestyle cooking with fresh, homemade biscuits and bread would give us energy, they went a step beyond and actually pleasured the palate. I had nearly devoured my biscuits and gravy by the time Greg even could size up his breakfast. My only regret with the stop was not ordering more.
The stop did suck a lot of time, though. While stopped, we saw every remaining rider on the course pass by. First Bob, then Doug, and finally Michelle and Lisa.
Lucky for us, the worst of the rain also passed us by. It was visibly raining when Michelle and Lisa passed wearing their rain jackets. Then, the rain got heavier, until the worst of it had passed. The rain still was coming down hard enough when Greg was finishing his breakfast that I donned my compliment of rain gear. Though before we had ridden five miles, it had already subsided and I found myself again overheating in my rain jacket. Thankfully, that would prove to be last wet weather of the ride.
As the day progressed, ride conditions became would could even be called idyllic. Eventually, the clouds passed and the sun shone through. The winds started light, and following the Oregon control, were nothing other than favorable. With short distances between controls, the remainder of the ride went by quickly. Before we knew it, we arrived back at the Super 8 having finished another brevet successfully.
Though a fine day at the start of the Rochester-Decorah 400K, the route did have us starting out against the wind on the outbound stretch. Rain and thunderstorms were predicted later in the day, however, and this convinced a portion of the crew to focus on making good time early.
Bound for the Minnesota-Iowa border.
Somehow in the excitement at the beginning, I found myself pushing harder than I normally let myself at the beginning of the ride. For some reason, I didn't stop myself from trying to stay close to the lead group, even though I could see I was expending too much energy doing so.
After a few miles, I came to my senses when another rider slid back a bit from the head of the pack. It felt much more comfortable going a bit slower, and we were still close enough so that any lead they had was lost at the next control. In fact, we were so close that we regrouped and left the control together. But after a few more miles, our groups again split as my momentary ride companion and I settled back into our own pace and again let the faster pack forge ahead.
It was getting warm, and I felt too wiped at such an early stage in the ride. Nonetheless, at Harmony we met up again with the lead group, who insisted we were traveling at the same pace. As such, on leaving the control we tried one more time to keep together. The third time was the charm, as this time we did manage to stick together until the turning point at Decorah, Iowa.
In Decorah, a longer break was in order for a real sit down meal. However, at the rest stop, feeling worn, overheated, dehydrated and barely capable of eating the dinner I had earned and so desparately needed, I knew I couldn't continue to hold the same effort. Trying to keep up with the lead crowd would only prove detrimental in the long run. I announced my intention of splitting off to continue with the next wave, and the pack once again divided.
Leaving Decorah, I found my condition turning round quickly. The longer rest period along with the combination of cooler temperatures, the reduced intensity pace, and the push from the tailwind made all the difference in the world.
Approaching the thunderstorm.
Before much longer, though, tailwind wouldn't be the only thing the weather head to offer. The rain and thunderstorms that had been predicted earlier soon would materialize.
By Chatfield, I did figure we would see the lead crowd again, but they had encountered storms severe enough for them to seek shelter off the road. While we had only caught a few drops in comparison, our luck was about to change. Just outside of Chatfield, the skies opened up and would remain that way for the rest of the ride. Even with full rain gear, we got soaked in moments.
At the second to last control, we met up with the lead cyclists one last time. We consolidated into one large group for the remaining twelve miles. While the storm continued and visibility was reduced, our combined lights contributed to our safety. Furthermore, sticking close to the area residents was easier and more reliable than trying to navigate a long section of cue sheet in rain in the dark. Besides, the element of company made the intense rain considerably more bearable, if not even fun in a twisted sense.
Eventually, we arrived at the final control. Being the only finishers, the seven of us would turn out to be both the leaders and the lanternes rouges.
Rainy descent after the hill of the day.
Raining and cool at the 6:00AM start of the GLR 400, the temperature would only decrease throughout the rest of the day. The weather offered a real opportunity to test one's mettle in adverse conditions.
Only a few miles from the start, before the group had even truly divided I felt the loss of pressure in my rear tire. I had changed plenty of tires, but this was the first my first flat on a brevet. In the rain, I couldn't identify the leak in the tube. Failing to locate it, I settled for a satisfactory inspection of the inside of the tire and the inside of the rim. Replacing the tube, I hoped for the best.
Pushing just a little harder to make up for lost time, I caught the tail end of the bubble at the next control. The rain, though still light, continued uninterruped. The wet weather would be a consistent theme throughout the morning.
On route to Verona, I encountered Bob and Michelle, just before the intensity of the rain increased. I tagged along with them for a while, but climbing at our own paces, we ended up dividing rather than soft pedaling in the rain to close gaps. Still, our overall average pace was close enough to greet each other at controls.
A layer of ominous clouds remains after the rain.
Though it was still raining heavily leaving Sauk City, by Baraboo the worst of the weather had passed. The next stretch to Lodi, with the jaunt through Devil's Lake State Park and the Merrimac ferry crossing, is typically pleaseant, but after the rain it stood out as a highlight of the day.
Bob and Michelle approached the Lodi control as I was finishing my cheesy breadsticks. I opted to wait for them as any lead I may have had was insignificant when measured in time, and the following section to Columbus through the flat open territory could get lonely. Having made it through the worst of the hills, we didn't have any trouble sticking together.
The sun had set by the time we arrived in Columbus. Cooler temperatures would follow as the night progressed. By the time we made it to Whitewater, it was even cold enough for toe covers.
The real issue on the final stretches, though, was keeping awake. It had been a long day and signs of sleepiness were setting in. A cup of coffee at a control provided temporary relief for a while, but it was only temporary. Another control later, another blast of caffeine provided another momentary boost. We didn't have far to go, but it was hard to say how long we could stay in front of the sandman.
Then, as luck would have it, we met another rider and sparked up a fresh conversation. Woody, it turned out, was about to finish the longest ride of his cycling career. Perhaps it was accompanying someone to set a new personal record, maybe it was just the adrenaline of getting near the end, but regardless, a second wind kicked in until we were back at the Delavan Super 8.
Last year when I first heard the anciens talking about a brevet week, I found the idea quite intriguing, if not also completely insane. From my perspective then as a rookie randonneur, completing a super randonneur series was a major undertaking requiring plenty of preparation and tenacity. The idea of taking on all four rides within the timeframe of a single week seemed, well, ambitious.
Nonetheless, a good, full first season of randonneuring in 2014 helped me redefine my definition of possible. When it became official that the Quad Cities Randonneurs would host a brevet week out of West Union, Iowa, I saw no harm in getting in on the mailing list. By the time it came to register, the idea no longer seemed so crazy, even if it didn't feel any less daunting. Admittedly, a lot of encouragement came from frequent riding companion and defacto rando mentor, Bob Booth, with whom I'd be sharing a hotel room during the week.
While the Midwest isn't known for mountains like other parts of the country, Mike Fox, the new Quad Cities Randonneurs RBA and our gracious route organizer, made it clear that he intended to correct any misconception that anyone might have of Iowa being flat. Though he simply described his routes as “scenic,” they are among the hilliest in the upper Midwest. In fact, according to at least one veteran, the West Union routes borrowed sections from old routes from the Cedar Valley and Rochester regions, created during a period when the respective RBAs regularly competed to have the route with the most elevation gain. By the end of the week, the only remarks riders made about the routes not being “scenic” enough carried a distinctly sarcastic tone.
To be fair, the terrain the routes covered was not limited just to Iowa, but rather to the Driftless Area of northeastern Iowa, southeastern Minnesota, and southwestern Wisconsin. Untouched by the glaciers during the last Ice Age, rocky bluffs and deep river valleys characterize this part of the Midwest. Admittedly, the area does not have the epic mountain pass climbs familiar to other parts of the country, but the frequency and grade of the hills provided more than enough climbing to make these routes worthy qualifiers for a grand randonnée.
Beyond the routes, the entire Quad Cities brevet week package was put together well. Our schedule had been well coordinated in advance with the host hotel. The proprietors of the Best Rest Inn and suites, Donna and Jerry Blue, went out of their way to ensure we enjoyed our stay. They altered breakfast times to accomodate our odd hours and even provided additional secure bike storage. On route, Mike and retired QC RBA Joe Jamison provided encouragement, updates, and limited support. While the routes were challenging, it was clear that all involved wanted to see us succeed. In addition to the rides themselves, the itinerary included several pre/post ride meal gatherings which encouraged the camaraderie for which randonneuring is known. Additionally, on the rest day anciens shared their experiences and suggestions during a Paris-Brest-Paris seminar and gave us PBP hopefuls an opportunity to ask questions and voice our concerns.
As for the riding, the week started off with an emphasis on planning for weather. At the start, clouds filled the skies, rain dominated the forecast, and strong winds from the southeast were predicted to increase throughout the day. As expected, we encountered rain early, though it proved to be both short and relatively light. The southeastern wind pushed us as we headed north to Cresco and then across the Minnesota border on route to Harmony. The route then caught the Root River State Trail and followed it for nearly 100K, during which we would encounter more rain. Lucky for us, the sheltered nature of the trail provided both relatively flat terrain and much appreciated shelter from the wind as we worked our way east to Houston.
Passing through a cut in the rock formations on the Root River Trail
After Houston, though, the effort requirement increased dramatically. Our group of four began to split after we left the shelter of the trail and turned into the wind. While Bob dropped back to help along the struggling fourth rider, Craig and I were less willing to dawdle in the wind and forged ahead at what we hoped would be a sustainable pace. I felt very fortunate to still have a ride partner as we battled our way into the wind, rotating nearly constantly. Even so, forward progress was very slow.
After nearly two hours of fighting the wind and climbing our way up the steepest bluff of the day, we desparately needed to take in calories and water. Being only half way to the next control, we decided to get off of the bike for a short stand up break to eat, drink, and more importantly, regain our senses and formulate a plan.
The plan was simple. Work our way to the next control town, Decorah, take a decent sit-down break, and eat an actual meal. We wouldn't be setting any land speed records, but we still had plenty of time to finish.
As we refueled and conversed, a lone rider approached from the horizon. It turned out to be Bob. He had done his best to assist, but having done what he could needed to continue on. We were glad to see him, and he was on board with our strategy. Together, the three of us worked our way into the wind toward Decorah.
The meal stop at Subway paid out in dividends as we left Decorah control on our final stretch back to West Union. Now donning our reflective gear, we climbed out of the Upper Iowa River Valley and worked our way back south through northeastern Iowa's rollers, crossing the Turkey River Valley along the way. Eventually, we climbed the final hill back into West Union and arrived back at the hotel with pride. The first ride of the series was complete; only three left to go.
As forecasted, on Monday the winds shifted to the west with speeds from 10 to 17mph and gusts up to 30mph. For the day's route this would mean fighting an increasing headwind for nearly the entire second half of the ride. Not surprisingly, many riders opted out after the previous day's beating, already having completed their qualifying 200Ks. Perhaps opting out would have been the wise choice, but by now completing Brevet Week was my goal. There would be other opportunities to qualify for PBP if I failed, but I couldn't succeed if I didn't try. As such, I started with the other 9 riders who took on the challenge.
The tailwind on the way out of Volga warned of what was to come on the return.
Unlike the other routes, the 200K route stayed entirely within Iowa. Featuring plenty of rollers and river valley climbs, it did its part to support Mike's point that “Iowa is not flat.” In fact, according to the RideWithGPS routes, the course featured more climbing than the previous day's 300K. Even without the wind the course proved challenging.
A tailwind for the descent into the Mississippi River Valley from Monona to McGregor made for a short run between the two controls, and possibly even provided a false sense of security for a moment. After McGregor, though, that quickly changed.
First, leaving McGregor meant climbing out of the Mississippi River Valley past a state park called Pike's Peak. Subesquently, two more smaller valley crossings followed as the course turned to windward. The wind was strong enough that the descents still required effort. In contrast, the hills were tall enough to feel, but not so tall as to block the wind.
By Garnavillo, forward momentum was an excercise in perserverance. Though the miles turned over slowly, one pedal stroke at a time one road eventually turned to the next. Celebrating each small accomplishment, I advanced from town to town one hill at a time. Eventually, West Union got closer, but the miles still couldn't turn over fast enough. Finally, I found myself back at the hotel where I could get some much needed rest. Though exhausted, completing Brevet Week was still possible.
Fortunately, the weather proved considerbly more favorable for the start of the 400K. Though temperatures were lower than usual for mid May, the wind was at least tolerable.
Taking a stretch break at the top of a hill.
This route headed east and north, crossing the Mississippi River at Lansing, Iowa for a jaunt into southwestern Wisconsin and up to Viroqua before turn south toward the the Wisconsin River, which we'd follow to Prairie du Chien. This Wisconsin portion would account for nearly half of the ride. After crossing the Mississippi back into Iowa, the course would follow the river to McGregor and again climb past Pike's Peak State Park to leave the valley. From there, we'd basically work our way back the way we came.
Shortly after the first control at Monona, I caught up again with Bob who had gotten ahead of me due to my own recklessness. Before much longer, Dave Weber caught up with us. The three of us would stick together for the rest of the ride.
Dave had just come down from Rochester for the day, and with no intention of tackling the 600K on Thursday, could afford to be more frivolous with his energy. Prior to Monona, I had already chased him down one hill when I should have been watching my cue sheet. Thankfully, we got that out of the way early before having to backtrack on any really serious climbs.
Passing through town at night.
Having Dave along brought was a breath of fresh air. He brought along a high energy positive attitude which really contributed to making the overall experience of the ride much more enjoyable. Having a new perspective also added new life to conversations .
Glancing down at the odometer near the halfway point, I thought of how I felt after the same distance the day before battling into the wind alone. In comparison, I felt like I was on top of the world. At the apexes of some of the Richland County climbs, I was close as I needed to be to the top of anything. Fortunately, the good feelings continued through dusk and into the night as we worked our way back to West Union.
Halfway between the penultimate control and the finish, we were surprised to encounter a rider ahead of us. He had pushed hard early and had discovered that what had felt like a sustainable pace on the 300 turned out to me too much to hold on the 400. Thankfully, the finish was not far off and there was plenty of time. The experience would serve as a reminder for the 600k.
Early Thursday morning at breakfast prior to the start of the 600 several randos dressed in street clothes declared that they would not be starting the ride. In fact, only 12 would take on the challenge, not quite half of the 25 that had initially declared their intentions.
A view from the scenic overlook outside of Balltown, IA.
It had been a long week leading up to the 600, though, and this route would be no less challenging than any of the others. With two more “scenic” loops through northeast Iowa, southwestern Wisconsin, and southeastern Minnesota, the 600 certainly conformed with the week's style.
Tom Ehlman and Jerry Christiansen both arrived at breakfast dressed in their cycle gear. We had ridden together previously, even as recently as a month before. Having a similar approach and the same objective, we banded together for the big ride. With our only concern being a successful finish, we set out at an easy, sustainable pace, crossing each valley and climbing each hill one at a time.
Although we kept ahead of the clock in this manner, it didn't put enough time in the bank for a long sleep overnight. After a just a few short but valuable hours, we left the hotel at control close. Admittedly, at that point in the ride, I got antsy travelling so close to the limit. It took the next two controls to build up enough of a time cushion before I could again relax. By the time we left Spring Grove, Minnesota, though, it was clear enough that our pace was adequate. In fact, we with a net descent on the next section, we made excellent time into Lansing, Iowa.
Arriving at the finish with Tom and Jerry.
Though hard to believe, Brevet Week was actually coming to an end. Climbing out of Lansing, we left the Mississippi River Valley for the last time. Looking ahead, Decorah was the next control, leaving only the finish in West Union to follow.
After an ice cream stop in Waukon, we made Decorah before we knew it. From there, the final section was familiar territory, though not without its climbs. We were going back the way we came that the morning, and it also was the same route for end of the 300K. Without Sunday's headwind and with plenty of daylight, however, enjoying the section was easier this time around. The distance to our destination diminished quickly with each remaining cue until finally we were pulled into the Best Rest Inn and Suites parking lot with a successful finish to our 600K.
As has already been case with randonneuring for me, completing Brevet Week again expanded my perception of possible. Breaking apparently insurmountable obstacles into smaller, more manageable sections, I proved to myself that I could finish an SR series in the course of a week. Though difficult at times and not always pleasant, in the long run those portions only contributed to the value of the overall experience. It will be an experience that I hope to remember in the future when the going gets tough.
I rode the Apple Valley Classic 300K over the weekend, and at a fairly fast pace, finishing in less than 14 hours for the first time this year (Finished the GLR in exactly 14 hours, also). Rode most of the ride with Mark Olsen and another fellow Brian, who was riding his first 300K.
Descending along one of Minnesota's many bluffs
Unfortunately, within 15 miles of the end Mark noticed that Brian dropped off, right as we hooked up with two more riders, Dave and Randy, who we saw frequently throughout the day as they were riding at a similar pace. Mark, with his heart of gold, dropped back. Turns out Brian had a puncture right toward the end. Luckily, it must have been an easy fix and we saw them at the finish within 10 minutes. While I was glad to ride in with Dave and Randy, I felt a bit of regret not finishing with Brian and Mark after riding so much of the day with them.
Our esteemed RBA, Rob Welsh, was waiting for us at the finish. Following the ride with a social gathering at the Old Chicago Pizza, I again enjoyed the camaraderie so characteristic of randonneuring. Though it had been a long day, and I only stayed for about an hour, I was there to see several more randos make their way to the finish. It is an uplifting feeling to see others complete a ride like this and to share the sensation of accomplishment.
The converted old schoolhouse signals another steep climb
I went back to Delavan to ride the Great Lakes Randonneurs 300K. This was my ride with the GLR this year, and it was great to see another group of folks I had not seen since the previous year. On arriving, the first person I encountered was Joel Sandberg, a GLR randonneur that I met in Black River Falls after the Delavan series. Coincidentally, two weeks prior he had ridden Dave Loomans, the fellow who suggested randonneuring to me in the first place. In particular, I was glad to see Kent Beernink, who I had met last year on the first 200K of the season, which for both of us was also our randonneuring event.
At the start, the pack took off faster than I find comfortable for a long ride, so I resisted the tempation to follow. Eventually when the initial rush had settled out, I met up again with Joel and rode with him to the first control in Brodhead. We picked up two more riders near Brodhead, but after being out a few miles, the difference in our paces was evident, especially at the climbs. Entering the hilly section, it only made sense that we all rode at our own pace.
Holding Kent's draft out of Barneveld.
The route was at least as hilly as I remember. Several good climbs in the second quarter between Broadhead and New Glarus and then New Glarus and Barneveld really help tout the benefits of low gearing, and then several more climbs between Barneveld and Oregon reaffirmed those benefits.
In Barneveld, I caught up with Kent. If it weren't for the hills on the previous segment, I don't think I would have. We left together working our way back east. The sun was at its hottest now and keeping sufficiently hydrated was proving a challenge for me. I hadn't dealt with as warm a day yet this year. At Oregon, I found salty food and an extra drink very appealing.
For the final segment, we joined three more riders leaving Carl's Shell, among which included a father/daughter pair. Rebecca described belonging to a very active cycling family, and was now just beginning along the path of randonneuring. It was pleasant to witness the sport being passed down from one generation to the next, especially when taking it on with such enthusiasm.
It wasn't long between Carl's Shell and Delavan. The setting sun and dropping temperatures provided a welcome boost of energy. Without the terrible headwind from the east, the miles rolled over quickly on this open, flat section. Where there had been a construction detour the year before, we now had smooth, fresh pavement. Though dusk had passed, it wasn't long after dark that we arrived back at the Delavan Super 8 having finished another successful brevet
Crossing the bridge over I-494 south of St. Paul
On a fine April Saturday morning in Minneapolis, randonneurs congregated at the Dunn Bros coffee on E Lake Street to begin The City Slickers 200K. It was the first ACP brevet of the Minnesota Randonneurs season, and many familiar faces from the previous year were in attendance ready to start a new season. Though I saw many people I had met the previous year, I ended up riding the majority of the distance and finishing with only three of them: Tom Ehlman, Jerry Christiansen, and Mark Olsen. I had had ridden with each of the three the prior year, but all on different brevets so it was neat to see them all in one group.
The route was mostly urban, winding through the Twin Cities and its suburbs, but did take us far enough east to include a river crossing and a short section in Wisconsin.
Traffic control crossing the St. Croix at Stillwater
On the approach to Stillwater, traffic was backed up even further than the intersection where we turned in. It was a nice day to be on a bike on a road with paved shoulders; we were able to get fairly close before we had to stop and wait like everybody else. When it came our turn to pass through, we could see one lane of the bridge had been closed, but it wasn't obvious why. The prevailing thought was for traffic control, but in the end we made it through and that was what mattered.
Back in the Minnesota side, we had to deal with another road closing at Arden Hills. The bridge we needed to cross over Snelling Ave was closed for construction and quite obviously impassible, so we had to find another route. Luckily for us, a local Minneapolis rider had been riding with us at this point and was familiar enough to help us across Snelling and back onto our course. The detour prompted an unplanned stop as we came up on a Dairy Queen. It was delicious.
After working our way through the northern suburbs and working our way back south through the west metro, we caught the Mid-town Greenway, which turned out to be an express way for non-motorized traffic. With Mark at the lead, we kept a tight formation as we worked our way back east. At our pace we frequently needed to pass slower cycle traffic. With a ring of the bell, our rando pace line would pull through. After the first few passings, I noticed in my rear view that several of the passed riders held onto our line. By the time we left the Greenway, our train had nearly doubled in size. Within moments we were back at the Dunn Bros celebrating another successful finish.
Worlds Largest Pig, south of Hoyleton, IL
Went back down again with Bob for the 300K. Couldn't have asked for better weather. The chilly start in the mid to high 40s was already above the day's high during the 200K two weeks prior. Once again, we lucked out with regard the the wind; on the day of the rides winds were 5-10 mph whereas both before and after it was much stronger. It even blew so that is was at our backs on the return trip. I hope I'm not getting spoiled.
The 300K route was really an extention of the 200K, so I had seen the first and last sections two weeks prior. After the control at Okawville, we continued east to Hoyleton, where we turned south. Then, we looped back west toward Oakdale, where the local restaurant served as our control. After filling our bottles and a quick meal of french fries and chili, we continued southwest and then south until connecting to the 200K route.
Central Illinois Oil well in the distance near dusk
After the first 100 miles, the benefits of "base miles" became evident. Bob and I had both ridden through the winter, independently earning R12s. We had encountered another rider on the first eastbound stretch, who had been riding with us quite comfortably until Okawville. Nearing Oakdale, however, signs of struggling were evident even though our average pace decreased.
After Oakdale, we had just over 100K left to go with the next control being our final stop. We opted to break the remainder up into separate segments, and scheduled a stop of our own at New Baden. We all welcomed the break; appreciating the chance to get off the bike came easy, and we would need more "fuel" for the final strech. Sunset would be approaching soon, also, so it made sense to don our reflective gear and prepping our lights while we were stopped.
Although we made good time (by our standards), the 300K was enough to keep us out after dark. Nearing the end, the pace slowed in order to keep our threesome together. We had stuck together this far, so we would see each other to the end. A mile or two an hour difference wouldn't significantly change the finishing time anyway with only a short distance left to go. When we arrived at our final stop, the Edwardsville Police Station, our final time calculated to 13 hours 40 minutes. We had just barely exceeded the time limit for a 200K, so we did okay for 300, especially at this point in the season.
Oil fields of Central Illinois
I joined Bob Booth for our first brevet of the season with the Saint Louis Randonneurs' 200K. Although we didn't get the warmer weather down south that we were expecting, but at least we were accustomed to the cold after riding through the winter here in Wisconsin. It wasn't so cold as to keep the local riders inside, though, either. The RBA, John Jost, made a point of letting us know we were all crazy.
About a dozen and a half riders convened in the Edwardsville Police Station parking lot. As is typical, the bikes represented a variety of tastes. As could be expected, bikes outfitted for randonneuring with luggage, lights and fenders were well represented. One particular cream colored bike caught Bob's eye. Quite a few light weight minimalist carbon fiber go fast types were there as well. Most were uprights, but the RBA brought along a recumbent.
Passing houses on stilts with a constructeur.
Among the early starters, we encountered fellow Great Lakes Randonneur Joe Dietz who had taken the train in from Chicago. It was a welcome surprise to know that we would be starting with at least one familiar face. Andrew, a good natured friend of Bob's from previous rides, was there as well and would ride with us for a while. Before arriving at the first control we met up with another rider named Taylor, an experienced cyclist but first time randonneur, who rode the beautiful cream colored "Tailored" bicycle that had caught Bob's eye at the start. We soon learned that Taylor had built the frame himself during framebuilding school. Though it was his first randonnée, between his equipment and dress I never would have guessed.
After getting through the coldest parts of the morning, the weather turned out to be quite a pleasant ride. Once our group had formed and we settled in at a decent yet comfortable pace the miles ticked away without any major difficulty. In the typical randonneur fashion, we rode along one control at a time enjoying the scenery and sharing each other's company along the way. Before long, we were back at the Edwardsville Police Station, the final control, with the first brevet of the season under our belts.
Although some snow remains, dry roads, clear skies, and another rider signal the end of winter isolation.
Taking full advantage of a predicted shift in the weather, Madison randonneur Bob Booth and I coordinated to ride back-to-back 200Ks over the weekend. Bob's dedication is amazing. He rode up overnight Friday, caught a REM cycle or two, and then we set off together for Madison on Saturday morning. Then on Sunday, I made my return trip.
Saturday was a real treat. Since meeting Bob I've enjoyed his company on randonnées, and after a winter of solo riding, it was an especially nice change from riding solo. The miles seem to fly so quickly with conversation added to the mix.
Compared to winter, the weather was beautiful. Though Friday never hit the predicted high, come Saturday afternoon we briefly felt like we were overheating in the sun. On Sunday, I even had to shed a layer for a section. The direction of the wind even seemed to shift in our favor. Cross winds were a factor, but at most points we benefitted from at least a touch of tailwind. To experience this on three consecutive point-to-point rides on three days back-to-back is lucky indeed!
Still, not all of the winds were tailwinds. By Sunday afternoon the west wind had picked up significantly. Fortunately, the westbound sections were relatively short. Even so, fighting them even for a few short miles felt like a chore with worn winter legs. Nontheless, by that point in the ride the remaining miles paled in comparison to what had already been ridden. Township by township, cross street by cross street, the end got nearer and nearer until at last I was just riding through town.
The weekend had come to a successful end, but the new season is just beginning.
New low lap averages indicate winter inactivity.
This month I learned first hand how much fitness a guy can lose in just one month of relative inactivity. With a finish time of 12 hours and 29 minutes, I even «beat» January's record. I simply didn't hit the same highs and am darned certain I held lower lows. Admittedly, on the outbound section opposing winds were a factor, but they weren't anything I hadn't handled before. I can't blame snow or ice, either. There were still tricky spots on the town roads between Iola and Wittenberg, but compared both previous rides the roads were relatively dry. The hills seemed longer and steeper, despite a cassette with a lower low end. I can only chalk it up to my own winter inactvity. Hopefully, I'll have the sense to take the lesson to heart and do better through Feburary.
Even though it took me longer than normal, I still feel like I'm leaps and bounds ahead of the last two years. Until discovering randonneuring and meeting fellow northerners who had completed winter 200Ks, I figured taking on a century mid winter would be a good way to set onself up for failure. I recall feeling wiped last year in March after my first ride of more than 40 miles and asking myself how I had ever done a century previously. Compared to that, I feel like I'm sitting on top of the world, slow finish time or not.
How did I bring in the new year? With a permanent, of course! Woke to a thin layer of snow, but it wan't much and there wasn't any more in the forecast. Although cold, it wasn't any worse than when I rode in December. I kept warm by keeping moving.
Being close to the solstice, darkness set in earlier than the month before. It seems I timed sundown perfectly with arriving at the most technically challenging part of the ride - the town roads between County M and County J. Comet Rd, Fisher Rd, and Wolf River Road all had there fare share of ice. Though moving slowly and with caution, I still went down on Fisher. Though no serious harm or damage, if I said it didn't scare me at least a little, I'd be less than truthful. I even walked the bike a little to get past the worst patches. For a little while I even feared I wouldn't make the Iola checkpoint in time. Fortunately, that was not the case. My finish time, 12 hours and 1 minute, was well within the limit, alhtough it was my longest ride time to date.
Somehow, I managed to pull off riding a 200K permenent in December. I'm sure that having met others who have successfully finished brevet distances in the winter gave me the inspiration I needed. The carrot of the R12 dangling in front of me gave me the motivation.
In previous winters, the cold always prevented me from riding long distances. This year, I'm outfitted properly.
With an average temperature of 15.9°F (-8.9°C), it really wasn't too cold, though. In fact, just enough below freezing was perfect. I had gone on a training ride on Saturday, and the warm temperatures (32+°F/0+°C) melted the layer of snow on the roads just enough to make them very slippery and treacherous! After riding my populaire on Sunday, I could tell that the right amount of colder was actually better.
In Iola, I had to stop & check out Vidar. The big viking looks quite at home with a blanket of snow.
The coldest parts were early in the morning, since it was quite cold the day before. At some parts of the morning, parts of the feet got a little cold, but not so bad that I had to resort to chemical toe warmers. Mostly just stretching toes to promote circulation kept the little piggies warm enough. Other than that, I was actually quite warm. By noon, the only time I got cold is when I stopped. A few layers of wool did the trick. Having the right gear makes all the difference.
With about 35 miles left, it started to snow. It was still before it got dark, but it started coming down pretty good. I almost got worried that it wouldn't be safe to keep going, but I figured I'd just go slow and feel out the conditions. It would have been a pity to give up with near 100 miles under the belt.
As luck would have it, it stopped snowing after an hour. By dark, visibility was so much better (when does that happen?). It was a fairly light snow, but it was enough to slow me down. I was starting to get pretty wiped, anyway. I think such a large portion of calories go into keeping the body warm in these conditions, and it is hard to eat on the bike with heavy mittens on. After making the penultimate control and knowing I would have ample time to reach the arrivée, it was actually kind of pleasant to just throw it into an easy gear and spin away through the snow.
Whether you prefer to call it All Souls Day, the Day of the Dead, or just another Sunday, this year the weather was perfect for putting on a few miles, and there was no better way to honor the day than to connect a handful of the area's final resting places.
Peering into the old Dancy Cemetery in the town of Bergen
It turned out to be early mid afternoon by the time I left. After a brief introduction to off-road riding, I decided to shift back to something more comfortable to me. The temperature was ideal at this time of day, especially considering it was now November. The wind was fairly strong out of the south, but since I was heading north that wouldn't bother me until it was time to turn around.
I had prepared the route earlier in the week. The roughly 67 mile loop passed by, or at least near, 10 cemeteries, of which I had only visited a few. First, I worked my way north through Knowlton passing the Knowlton & St. Francis Cemeteries before crossing the Wisconsin River at Lake Dubay. I continued through Dancy, stopping at the old Dancy Cemetery in Bergen for the first time. From Dancy, I left my prepared route for about 5 miles heading further north into Moon where the small chapel and its accompanying cemetery are tucked away off on a gravel road just off the county trunk.
I could feel the wind heading south from Moon, especially in the open areas like when crossing the Big Eau Pleine reservoir. After rejoining my original route, I continued to work my way south, stopping briefly at both Runkel Cemetery and St. Michael's before passing through Junction City and into Rudolph.
A view of All Souls Cemetery in Rudolph, WI at early twilight
I was catching the last of the sunlight at the All Souls Cemetery in Rudolph before working my way back home. I wound my way back through Mill Creek, stopping at St Bartholomew's. Now it was completely dark, so I didn't go any further than the old Polish church. I came back into town on some of my favorite roads in Linwood, including Mill Creek Drive which passed by the Linwood Union Cemetery.
After crossing the highway and turning into West River Drive, the road passed an old, small civil war cemetery. The truth surrounding this particular burial ground has been distorted in local legend which tells of a bleeding tree at the site of an alleged hanging.
Not seeing any sign prohibiting entry, I stopped briefly to see what I might be able to glimpse from Cemetery Road. I had stopped just long enough to read what appeared to be a new historical marker which differentiated fact from myth in addition to warning of penalties for trespassing into the cemetery. A resident Sheriff's Deputy stopped me on my way out and verified that I had indeed not crossed the fence into the cemetery before sending me on my way. Unfortunately, there have been assaults on nearby families as well as vandalization, so understandably, the site is under surveillance.
From there, I continued following West River Drive before crossing the bridge and following the river north past St Peter's Cemetery. Returning to the route's start/finish point, I passed one final private cemetery at the Sister's of Saint Francis Convent before making the turn onto Maria Drive.
Though not overly challenging, it had been a pleasant late autumn ride and a suitable way to pass the Day of the Dead.
On a chilly mid-October morning, five determined randonneurs set off from Richland Center on the Via Viroqua 200K, the Driftless Randos' Inaugural Brevet. Greg, the new RBA who organized and hosted the brevet, rode on a bike he had just assembled days before. Two riders represented the state of Iowa, Bill from Iowa City and John from the Davenport area. Jeff represented Illinois and the Windy City. I made sure Greg didn't have to represent Wisconsin alone. Greg's wife Marcia handled administrative functions and provided support.
Frosty morning fields contrast with the autumn hills.
We shared each other's company during the ride, stuck together a loose audax fashion from the start. I had met Jeff previously on the Rochester‑Harmony 300K in August. I was meeting the other riders for the first time, but riding together in the manner that we did provided plenty of opportunity for us to get acquainted with one another.
Although the sun had not yet begun to share any warmth at the 7:00AM start, it provided enough light for us to enjoy an astonishing view of the landscape as we headed west. The frosty white ground complimented the spectacular reds, oranges, and yellows of the trees lining the hilly horizon.
Though only barely mid-October, the morning start warranted winter riding gear. The cold even bit through the winter cycling shoes and numbed my toes, and the lobster claw gloves couldn't keep the smallest fingers on either hand from freezing. As we started off to the west, I welcomed any climb for getting the blood flowing and generating heat internally. Fortunately, the chilling cold proved short-lived; by Soldier's Grove, the fingers and toes had thawed and at Viroqua even needed to shed a layer.
With the initial cold snap past, the weather couldn't have been better. The sun shone brightly from clear sky. The calm winds lacked the strength to turn windmills and could hardly even jostle decent sized flags. There was no threat of precipitation of any sort.
We stopped for lunch the Viroqua Food Co-op, the turning point of the ride. The Co-op made for a healthy change of pace from the normal fare found at a typical convenience store control. The hot and hearty harvest vegetable soup made from organic ingredients and freshly baked bread along with a latte made for the perfect break on the autumn day.
After the noon meal we began our return through even more scenic country. As was the case from the start, the autumn trees painted the hilly landscape with their warm colors. We climbed and descended following Seas Branch, the West Fork Kickapoo River, and Weister Creek into the Kickapoo Valley.
During one of the steeper climbs I heard someone ask us if we were enjoying the hills. Suddenly, I noticed another cyclist that I didn't recognize riding alongside of Bill. The mystery rider explained he had a getaway cabin nearby and that he was just taking off for an afternoon ride. We soon learned that he was a racer who rode the area frequently. As we rode along, he pointed out some of the features of the area, including a climb that he must have found noteworthy through personal experience. He accompanied us until we reached our control in La Farge.
As we rode through the Kickapoo Valley, the racer gave us an abbreviated history lesson of the Kickapoo Valley Reserve. Years ago much of the land we were riding through had been privately owned. The Federal Government, he explained, had purchased the land with the intention of flooding it and turning it into a reservoir. For various reasons, the plan never saw completion. Years later, the government turned the land back to the State and the Ho-Chunk Nation and now it has become the Kickapoo Valley Reserve. Always interested in learning about where I'm riding, I very much appreciated the lesson.
Passing by a rock formation from which chimney material had been cut on the way into Rockbridge.
From La Farge, we continued following a myriad of creeks and rivers into to Rockbridge witnessing the prominent rocky bluffs along the way that the glaciers left untouched in this corner of the state. We worked our way across the Pleasant Ridge and then followed the Little Willow Creek, which ran along it, into Sextonville before the final stretch back into Richland Center along the Pine River.
We arrived in the parking lot of the Richland Center Ramada Inn where Marcia greeted us again upon our arrival. We made sure our brevet cards were in order before turning them in to Marcia, who again assisted with the administrative devoirs. Then, we bid our farewells and departed taking advantage of the remaining daylight for the drive home. Even though the Via Viroqua had been a challenging route with nearly 6000 feet of climbing in 200K, the five of us started and finished together just as if we were a well-seasoned flèche team. The Driftless Randos inaugural brevet had been, quite literally, a 100% success.
Autumn trees contrast with an open field
We assembled on a cold and windy morning for the last brevet of the Minnesota Randonneurs' season. Although there were many riders who I had not met before, there were familiar faces as well. Norman was ready and dressed for the conditions. I had seen him on every brevet I had ridden in Minnesota since I started riding with the club in July. Though I didn't recognize Tom at first with his face mask, he recognized me. After he introduced himself, I recalled exactly where we met on the second day of the Tour d'Twin Cities a few weeks prior. Joe, who I had ridden with on several GLR brevets, had taken the train up from Chicago to remind himself what cold autumn Minnesota mornings could be like. I hadn't yet ridden with Brian, but we crossed paths at the arrivée following the Rochester‑Harmony ride. It turns out we had ridden some of the GLR brevets in Delavan, as well, even though we had not met. I hadn't yet met Richard, but he would finish with our group. Our RBA, Rob, introduced Brittany and Garrett, who had came up from Saint Louis, MO. They might have underestimated the Minnesota cold, wouldn't let that stop them from embarking on their first brevet.
Though windy and cold, it turned out to be a clear day. Having driven up through snow and rain during the wee hours of the morning, I was grateful for the lack of precipitation. Fortunately, the wind would at least be partially behind us for our inital stretch; not having to fight the headwind at the start would make warming up that much easier.
Although there were exceptions, the group mostly stuck together as far as the first control in Faribault. From there, though, we fragmented further. Though the remaining six of us left the Hyvee together, the Missouri couple dropped off the back before too long. From there Joe, Brian, Tom and I stayed relatively close until the Cleveland control.
Witnessing the power of the unobstructed wind across Cannon Lake when passing by on the Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail.
The Sakatah Bike Trail took us from Faribault to Waterville, nearly halfway to our next stop. The trail was well paved, but the autumn leaves and falled branches covered a good portion of the trail. We tried to avoid the obstacles as best as possible, but couldn't possibly evade all of the sticks and black walnuts. Luckily, we made it through without suffering any damage.
Despite the trail's obstacles, it offered benefits the nearby roads couldn't provide. With the winds gusting to speeds greater than 20 mph, the shelter the trees provided topped the list this particular morning. Nearly 15 miles with no automobile traffic made for another plus for the trail. The route itself was another advantage; riding the trail provided an up-close view of the the trees and their changing colors. The trail offered splendid waterfront views as well, taking us by Cannon Lake and Upper Sakatah Lake before ending near Waterville.
After Waterville, the real battle with the wind began. Now, without the shelter of the trees, the four of us had reason to be glad we stuck together. Slowly, we worked our way west against the predominantly west wind. We rode by Lake Tetonka, German Lake, Lake Jefferson, and Scotch Lake. The lakes may have broken up the view, but they did little to provide shelter from the wind. Nonetheless, passing each lake meant that we had made it that much closer to Cleveland.
The Cleveland control marked the halfway point in the brevet and made for a decent place to take a break. The control gas station convenience store didn't have a ton to offer in the way of lunch, but it had enough. The Picadilly Circus Pizza satisfied my craving for something hot and provided me enough calories to reach the next checkpoint and a table in a semi-secluded corner behind the cash register gave us a place to sit as we ate.
The stop for lunch showed that our groups hadn't stretched out too far. We weren't there long before we met up again with Norman and Richard. Just as the six of us were heading out again, the first timers from Missouri came rolling in glad to have made it through the hardest part of the ride.
Holding formation in a paceline heading into the wind.
Although we had regrouped before leaving the control, it wasn't long after Cleveland that we started stretching out again. Now that we were heading north, the wind came more from the side than from directly in front, and failing to maintain a functional echelon, the benefits of a paceline quickly desolved. At this point in the ride, it seemed more important for us to hold the pace that we could maintain individually, at least until turning east and catching the tailwind.
On turning east, the force the previously adverse force became a potent ally for the next 20 miles. We flew down Country Road 26 past Clear Lake and Harkridge Lake, weaved through Montgomery and then flew east some more until turning north into Lonsdale.
Brian, Joe & I arrived at the Lonsdale control together, though Brian limped in with a flat tire. While getting a flat is never a blessing, he couldn't have timed the misfortune any better. Rob, our RBA, who was at the control monitoring progress, assisted with the repair. A double puncture in the tube identified the cause as a pinch-flat, relieving Brian of the need to find any culprit foreign body in the tire. During this time, Norman and Tom arrived, nullifying any gap resulting from the crosswinds at the start of the previous section.
A glimpse of color on the return to Apple Valley.
By the time we were six miles out of Lonsdale, the loop portion of the ride had been completed and we rode back into Apple Valley on the same roads that we began our ride. The miles mostly passed by uneventfully as we worked our way back. I chatted with Norman in between reverting to single file for passing cars, which got more frequent the closer we got to our destination. A paved bike path provided an alternative for a few miles near the end. Not long after we arrived at the final control.
Being the last ride of the season, a few of us stopped at nearby Rascals in the spirit of randonneuring camaraderie and to celebrate the accomplishments of the season before going our separate ways. In completing this ride, Brian acheived his R12, the award for finishing a brevet or brevet-length permanent each month for 12 consecutive months. For Tom, this brevet meant completing his second super-randonneur series of the year. October being a new month, it brought us all one step closer to the coveted R12 (for me, it made month #7).
The nine of us set out promptly at 5:00AM on Friday morning in darkness. The starting contrôle, Vinny's place, was situated on a fairly steep grade near the water, and we got our first taste of climbing right from the get-go. There would be plenty more before the ride was over.
Though we started out together as a group, it wasn't long before we started to split, unfortunately, due to bike-related issues. We weren't much further than 5 miles out when a semi loud "thud" of something dropping and the call of "my GPS" prompted the first break. I stopped, turned around, and made a pass to help look, but didn't prove to be of much assistance. It was still dark, the road was still busy, and neither he nor I knew just where along the road the unit fell, so I continued on. It wasn't long before I encountered two more riders on the side of the road, this time with a flat. Though they were already fixing the issue, I didn't expect to catch the lead group, so stopped and shone my light to provide what assistance I could. A tubeless tire had lost its air, but the rider wasn't able to identify a puncture, but after throwing in a tube and reinstalling the tire, we were on our way.
The two riders proved to be pleasant companions throughout the day. Both named John, I would have to distinguish between John Pearch, a seasoned veteran, and John Kydd, who like myself was undertaking his first 1000K brevet. Both of them had followed portions of this route before, and their experience with available services at controls was appreciated. Coming from afar, I admit that I was ignorant of our route, and I benefited from the shared knowledge of the route and probable timing of reaching available services. We planned on "eatin' in Eatonville" and since we didn't want to take it for granted that we would reach the Eagle Point store before it closed at 8, we decided on "packing in Packwood."
Descending into Packwood with both of the Johns
Upon leaving Auburn, the concentrated population of the Puget Sound area would be behind us. From there on, the ride would have a different character as scenery shifted from views of city lights to that of natural splendor. We weren't far outside of the urban area when I spotted an elk crossing the road. In the adjacent field, I saw another with antlers. Wildlife and natural features would set the stage for the rest of the ride.
Our route followed numerous rivers and creeks through the mountains. The Green River gorge offered a spectacular view of the morning sunrise. We continued to follow the Green River until the road forced us to bypass via Black Diamond but would come back to cross it on one lane stone bridge, our first scheduled stop for an info control. We continued on following Boise Creek, crossed the White River, followed South Prairie Creek to the Carbon River, followed the Pullayup River to Lake Kapowskin, and then followed Ohop Creek to Ohop Lake and into Eatonville. Between the mountains, the green of the trees, the running water of the rivers and creeks, and the calm flat water of the lakes, western Washington seemed to have it all.
At the Cottage Bakery control in Eatonville, we stopped for a much needed meal. As planned, we made a point of "eatin' in Eatonville". I had been looking forward to a real cup of coffee since before leaving the hotel that morning, and the double latte more than filled the bill. Combined with a delicious bowl of minestrone and a cinnamon apple muffin, I would be ready for the next stretch to through Ashford and onto Packwood.
After refueling and "packing" some reserves at the Tatoosh Food Market in Packwood, it was just a short jaunt into Randall, where we stopped again to fill our bottles and take another snack before heading through the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and crossing Elk Pass, the first major climb of the ride. At Randall, we also crossed paths again with two other riders, Hugh and Ian, who we had not seen since before Auburn.
The Elk Pass climb was my first experience with a real long distance mountain climb. Though I had previously ridden a fairly short stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville, NC, this experience was entirely different. Never before had I experienced a continuous climb of this magnitude. I handled the climb well enough, though. I knew that I would be in it for the long haul, so shifted to the low gear and started picking away at it one pedal stroke at a time. Very, very slowly I progressed up the mountain. I tried not to watch my mileage, as it seemed minutes went by before even a tenth of a mile increase would register on the counter. Instead I tried to take in the most impresive scenery that was all around me; nonetheless, I couldn't help but notice myself glancing down at the GPS if I didn't conciously make a point of focusing on other things. Eventually, though, I made it to the summit where I took a short break. Though it seemed like a long time since I had seen John Kydd, and an even longer time since seeing John Pearch, only a few minutes separated us from each other. We stopped briefly to take in the view before beginning the descent into Northwoods. At this point, it seemed we would make the Eagle Point Store after all.
Descending from Elk Pass with John Kydd
Though it was daylight when we started the descent, by the time we reached the bottom dusk was upon us. We made the Eagle Point Store with roughly 45 minutes to spare, which turned out to be quite a relief. While I could have made it on Cliff Bars if I would have needed to, the feel and flavor of a real sandwich provided a certain psyhcological replenishment that energy bars lack, no matter how hard they might try. I also stuffed a can of a premade coffee drink into the rando pack thinking ahead and knowing how hard the next day would be without my precious caffiene.
The initial section of the final stretch for the day involved another climb. The distance to the summit of Old Man Pass was much shorter than the climb to the summit of Elk Pass, but the grade was steeper. Not being able to see much more than the road and the reflective signs illuminated by my light, it was difficult to distract myself from the distance and the slow progress I was making against it. As with the Elk Pass climb, I shifted to the low gear right from the start and just worked away one pedal stroke at a time. I made progress, albeit slowly. As time went on I found myself getting sleepy. I started to drift around on the road, nodding off, and struggling to stay awake. I would have thought that the effort involved in climbing would have kept me awake, but that wasn't turning out to be the case. Perhaps the slow, steady rythm of the spin lulled me toward sleep. Or maybe it was just nature taking its course; after all, we had been riding since 5 am, and it was now well past 8 in the evening as I was pedaling along on a dark road with no lighting other than my own.
In any event, after struggling long enough and not wanting to risk an accident, I stopped and sucked down the can of chocolate coffee that I had stashed away for the next day. I could deal with tomorrow then, but I would need to deal with the "now" first. Fortunately, the coffee-like mixture kicked in soon. Also, during the time that I was stopped I could see the light of another bike approaching. Though we had stretched out on the way out of the stop, John Kydd had caught up to me while I had been fading. The company of another rider also made it much easier to keep alert, and we continued up the pass together.
Evenutally, we reached the summit and began our descent down the other side of the mountain. I was glad to have caught my second wind before the night time descent. Though exhilerating, the descent demanded extreme attention and near immediate response times. While I didn't want to speed down the hill, I didn't want to overheat my brakes and melt the blocks, either. All of the "straightening the curves" drills I had practiced on the Heartland Monday training rides paid dividends here. On getting to a flatter section, I would slow and wait for John, and then repeat this exercise several times until reaching the bottom.
From there, it was just a matter of slugging out the rest of the distance to the overnight contol in Stevenson. With the major obstacles for the day complete, having a partner for the remainder of the stretch benefited greatly as the distance was taking its toll on both the mind and the body.
Once we made it to the motel, we checked in with Theo, route host extraordiare. He made sure our brevet cards were in order, let us into our room, and graciously tended to our nourishment needs, supplying us each with a cup 'o noodles, a boiled egg, and a beer. It was just what we needed to fill us up and put us down for the few hours we had until starting again in the morning. After a quick shower and the consumables it was just about midnight, giving us about three hours of sleep if we were to leave an hour prior to the control closing.
The next morning, I heaved to at 3:00AM hearing the cell phone alarm. The rest of the crew in the room was up and at 'em as well. Upon waking, I discovered we shared the room with John Pearch and Hugh, who had made it in shortly after we had. I must have been out solid, because I had been unaware of their arrival. Regardless, whether by force of habit or chemical dependency, I immediately prepped and started the coffee maker. Most of what needed doing prior to take-off got done the night before in order to make for a clean getaway this morning, but some semblance of a morning routing was necessary. After the basic brushing of the teeth, a half cup of weak hotel coffee, and the requisite toilet visit, it was time to be out the door and moving on. Getting moving near quarter to 4, there were just about 45 minutes in "the bank" at the start of the second morning.
Riding along the Columbia River at dawn
Needless to say, it was quite dark upon our departure. Breakfast was certainly on the mind, but before four in the morning, we weren't going to find it in Stevenson. I would have to satisfy myself with granola bars that I had packed. The next control would be nearly 58 miles away, and that would be an info control so supplies would be even further away. And so we began, heading east.
We passed through a series of tunnels on our way east. Though difficult to see in the dark, signs with the image of a bicycle labeled buttons which, upon pressing, would activate a sign above the tunnel alerting drivers to the presence of a bicycle. In the dark, I made sure to take advantage of this feature.
Though early in the morning, the roadway was not without traffic. On one stretch between tunnels, the side of the road was parked up with large trucks pulling even larger boat trailers. Apparently, this was the best time for fishing. Fortunately, there was an open gas station/convenience store near Carson that catered to the fishermen where I could get at least a large muffin and something closer to a real cup of coffee, though it was still too early for any hope of finding a place serving a more substantial breakfast.
As we continued on, the sky eventually began to lighten. As the terrain through which we were riding began to come into view, I was nearly dumbfounded by the grandeur of it all. I had heard that the Columbia River Gorge was impressive, but it took seeing it for myself to understand.
Along the left side, hardened lava flows harkened back to prehistoric ice age floods. On the right, the mighty river itself flowed through the vast expanses. To the south, the snow capped peak of Mount Hood stood towering in the distance. In stark contrast to the day prior, the landscape was mostly dry and barren. The absence of the forests that dominated western Washington resulted in a spectacular view, unobstructed for miles.
Eventually, John and I made it to our info control, the Stonehenge Veterans Memorial. While stopped to answer the question on the brevet card, I was adjusting my cue sheet for the next stretch. The note that indicated the location of a McDonald's in about two miles provided the next major objective. We had now been riding for several hours and were ready for a complete meal, even if it had to be fast food.
Lava flow along the Columbia River Gorge
John must have been hungry, because he darted off down the hill while I was still getting my cue sheet ready. I figured I'd see him soon enough at the McDonalds, so I continued making sure my equipment was in order before heading off.
I reached the service stop upon crossing the Columbia River into Biggs, Oregon. When I got to the McDonalds/Pilot Station, though, I couldn't find any sign of John. I thought that perhaps he had missed the turn at the bottom of the hill from Stonehenge, and would roll in shortly. After finishing my breakfast, resupplying at the Pilot, and using the necessary services, I still could see no sign of him so I continued on alone.
Though I had already ridden for hours, my day was really just beginning. I was just reaching a 100K out of the 359 to completed for the day. Though I had set a personal climbing record the day before, I knew that I would have to exceed that again before the day was done. In fact, the real climbing started with ascent out of the gorge. It was roughly another 20 miles to Moro, and as I had done up to this point, worked my way closer one pedal stroke at a time.
In Moro, I stopped for another breakfast at the Moro Cafe. This time, the food was more than just sustanence. The homemade hashbrowns and rye toast reminded me of the the pleasure that eating should be. I kept my eyes open for other randonneurs While stopped for the first real restaurant sit-down meal since the day before, half expecting to someone pass as I rested in luxury. I finished my meal without any such glimpse, though, so paid my bill, thanked the waitress, and continued on.
The first 10 miles out of Moro were no place for a cyclist to be taking in the scenery. For lack of any other option, we had to follow Highway 97, the Dalles ‑ California Highway, alongside of heavy commercial traffic. Fortunately, the turn onto Oregon 216 wasn't too far distant.
On 216, in contrast, I felt like I had the road to myself. In fact, out on the lonely road in the eastern Oregon desert, I almost felt like the lone survivor of some disaster of apocolyptic proportion. Riding through the treeless mountains, I was simply amazed at how far the eye could see. In the distance, I could clearly see the snowy peak of Mount Hood. I noticed two other snowy peaks, though being mostly unfamiliar, could not identify them. The road zigged, then zagged, and zigged again until suddenly I found myself on an amazing descent into the valley of the Deschutes River.
Open mountain descent into the valley of the Deschutes River with the snowy peak of Mount Hood in the distance
This descent was like nothing I had previously experienced. Unrestricted by trees, the wide field of view tempted me to take in the vastness, while the speed of the descent and the curve of the roads demanded my full attention. Even in full daylight, the turns were too tight for me to straighten the corners without needing to keep my fingers on the brake levers. I never would have figured descending could be fatiguing, but that's only because I'm not used to descents that long. After holding an aero position continuously for such an interval, I could feel it in my hands, neck and back in a way I never had before.
Following the descent, the route crossed the Deschutes River, followed it briefly, and then winded around to the next control in Tygh Valley. By now the heat and the rays of the sun was in full force, so I enjoyed the shelter provided inside at the Tygh Valley General Store while taking in crackers for nourishment and ice cream to lower my core temperature. From there, it was only a short jaunt to the next control in Maupin, but in the heat of the desert sun, every chance to replenish fluids was appreciated.
Just as the descent into Tygh Valley snuck up on me, the Bakeoven Road climb took me by surprise. After a hairpin turn onto a fairly steep road, I climbed until the road turned. I followed the turn, saw the next section of the road, and then climbed some more. Then, I repeated the process again. After a few turns, I got enough of a glimpse of what was ahead to realize that this would be another of those climbs. I simply shifted into the low gear and started working away at the distance slowly.
Although it was full daylight, I found my eyelids getting very heavy. As I found myself drifting, I stopped to take in a bottle of prepared coffee that I fortunately been wise enough to pack in Maupin. While the caffeine helped keep me awake, the steady, slow spin of the climbing cadence had the opposite effect. I started singing to expell some of the built up CO₂ from my lungs and to keep myself company. While this strategy helped me keep my focus on the road, morale began to suffer when I found myself gaining only 4 miles after 99 bottles of beer on the wall.
Continuing on I heard a sound that made me take notice. I strange hissing like sound caused me to wonder if perhaps the road was hot enough to be damaging my tires. Then I looked around and saw that I was pedaling directly under an electric power substation. I pedaled on until I was well clear and the sound subsided. I wasn't feeling so sleepy after that. I continued on up Bakeoven Rd toward Shaniko. After reaching the midpoint, the second half went by easier than the first until eventually reaching 97 into Shaniko for the info control.
Not recognizing him as an SIR volunteer, I was actually a bit startled when Michael asked me how I was doing. I was in desparate need of a restroom, and didn't want to be distracted by unnecessary conversation. After a moment, I realized he was there to help, and directed my question to him. The gas station/expresso bar had been closed and boarded up with no trespassing signs. The same was true of Goldie's Ice Cream and any every other business in view. It turned out that Shaniko was a ghost town and that it had nothing to offer. Unfortunately, the next town with any services of that nature would still be 40 miles away. Michael had plenty of water and some other sundries to offer, however. While chatting with Michael, we even spotted what appeared to be people dressed as zombies lurking the streets further into town. One lady even stopped, looked at us strangely, and asked if something were wrong. I took that as a cue to keep moving forward.
After answering the info control question and getting my brevet card squared away, I accepted a can of Coca-Cola for the rando pack and left the spent coffee jar with Michael, and then I continued on. The highest point of the day was roughly four miles away and sundown wasn't far off either, so I set off to reach the summit before sunset. My timing was perfect, as I reached the summit just as the sun started to dip down below the horizon. Then, I started the hour long descent into Antelope and beyond toward the Dalles ‑ California Highway.
Westbound descent out of Antelope at Sunset
It was dark by the time I reached highway 97. I still had a full 17 miles to go before reaching Madras and the services it had to offer. Being exhausted from the previous 170 miles, that was still a significant stretch. At this point in the day, the miles didn't pass quickly, and though I had made it past the major climbs, I still couldn't complete another mile without having to make it up another hill. The heavy traffic, much of it commercial, didn't make this stretch any easier. Nonethess, there were no alternatives so it was just a matter of plugging away. Eventually, I made it into Madras where I finally could take the break I badly needed.
Unfortunately, the ride from Madras into Redmond and the overnight control continued along the same high traffic highway for another 27 miles. Plugging along and slowly working away at the remaining distance was the only viable option. And so I plugged on. When my eyelids again got heavy and I started to swerve, I stopped briefly to consume the short can of Coca-Cola from Michael. Then, I plugged on some more. Slowly, the distance left to go got shorter and shorter. After a while, a small bit of my energy came back and my speed even picked up slightly.
I finally reached the overnight control around half past midnight. After getting my brevet card signed and getting shown to the room (where one rider ahead of me was already sleeping) I readily took a quick shower, quickly organized my things as best as possible for the morning, and fell directly asleep.
It was cold the next morning when I set off, even by Wisconsin standards. I was glad I set off with leg warmers and long fingered gloves. Even so, before reaching Tumalo, I found myself stopping to put on toe covers and the garden gloves I picked up as an extra layer during the Tour d'Twin Cities. These extra layers proved enough to keep my extremeties comfortable during the wee hours.
Yours truly climbing up to the Dee Wright Observatory at the summit of McKenzie Pass
In Tumalo, I stopped for my morning coffee and doughtnut before answering the info control question on my brevet card. Then, I was on my way into Sisters, OR, where I stopped again for more breakfast before heading into the Willamette National Forest and toward McKenzie Pass.
The climb up McKenzie Pass from the east proved relatively short compared to the previous day's climbs, albeit steeper. At 5,335 feet, the summit of McKenzie Pass would be the highest point of the brevet.
The road through the Mount Washington Wilderness passed through a woodland ecosystem as it wound up the mountain, offering many glimpses of wildlife during the climb. A lush green underlayer thrived under the forest canopy in stark contrast to the open, dry landscape of the previous days ride.
There was more traffic on this road as well. Whereas we had the roads nearly to ourselves on the previous day's climbs, tourists, campers, and vacationers of all sorts took advantage of the scenic views the McKenzie Highway offered. Motorcycles ascended in groups, family passenger cars passed, and even a few SUVs with recreational trailers zipped up the mountain.
Near the top of the pass, the trees thinned a scenic overlook provided an outstanding view. An informational placard at the overlook identified Mount Washington, Black Butte, and the Three Fingered Jack. After a brief stop, I continued further up to the summit and to the Dee Wright Observatory.
The observatory, a several tiered castle-like structure built of rock, directed observers' gazes in several directions through the window openings in the walls. Although I had to make the climb and gaze out at the view, I was too anxious to really stop and identify the sights that I was seeing. Before long, I was mounted back on Pegasus and off on the descent to McKenzie Bridge.
A glimpse of the Sisters during the descent from McKenzie Pass
At first, I glided down the mountain effortlessly. After awhile, though, I realized what an effort descending could be. Straightening the corners and leaning into the curves, though exhilerating, worked on the body in its own special way. I found myself performing new stretches and making new movements on the descent to keep my hands, neck, and shoulders nimble. Even with these minor complaints, the descent was the reward for having successfully reached the summit. For 22 miles I followed the winding mountain road. Seeing the elevation signs clued me in to the magnitude of the descent: starting from more than 5,000 feet at the summit, I flew past signs indicating first 4,000, then 3,000 and finally 2,000 feet.
Though I had shed the outer layer on the climb up the pass, I thankfully replaced it for the descent. Whereas the effort of climbing generated heat, gliding down the mountain did not; in fact, cruising down the mountain at speed produced a wind with a significant cooling effect. By the end of the descent, even with my extra layers, I even felt chilled.
Only a few miles separated the end of the descent from the next stop for services at the McKenzie Bridge General Store. Now that the descent was done, the pleasant daytime temperatures warranted shedding any unneeded extra layers. I bought a sandwich and few other sundries from the store to consume right away, and resupplied myself with my newfound emergency cure, canned coffee, and a few other non-energy bar munchables that I figured I might need later.
The outdoor picnic tables made the general store a great place to stop for lunch. Here at the stop I first met another randonneur, Kuan from Vancouver, who I had only crossed paths with briefly on the McKenzie Highway. The storekeeper was friendly and showed interest in our bicycles, and how we had them outfitted. A mailbox at the store provided the incentive I needed to take that moment to send out a post card, too. It was a pleasant rest stop, but after lunch and a reasonable time to stretch, it was time to head again and to continue the journey.
The next stretch took us through the another section of the Willamette National Forest, past the Cougar Resevoir and up and down Aufderheide Drive. The stretch included the last major climb of the day, but it teased with short steep stretches followed by unexpected descents. Though the descents helped to break up the climbing, they didn't help any when it came to gaining elevation; each step forward was met with another half step back, until all of a sudden all of the vertical would have to be made up in only a few short miles.
I didn't feel so bad about my predicament, though, when I passed a touring cyclist walking a fully loaded rig back to the side of the road from an intersection near the summit. While Pegasus is no lightweight, he certainly isn't any clydesdale, either, especially when compared to a fully loading touring rig. The tourist smiled and waived seeing my slow spin up the inclide. I offered a greeting of encouragement as I passed by, and continued toward the summit.
Descent from the Aufderheide Drive summit, the last major climb of the ride.
On the descent, I let loose at every opportunity. Though Aufderheide Drive was still a mountain road with its share of curves, compared to McKenzie descent it was an arrow. Unlike the McKenzie descent, however, that was straight down for 22 miles, the Aufderheide descent teased just as the climb did with each downgrade followed with another incline.
The next destination was an info control in Westfir-Oakridge, but after the experience the day before in Shaniko I was more concerned with making the services stop. The On the Way Deli would be another was 30 miles after Westfir-Oakridge, but I didn't know how late it would be open; the cuesheet only said that it was closed at night.
However, at the bottom of Aufderheide before the turn onto Westfir-Oakridge Road, I was pleasantly surprised by a volunteer at a picnic table offering soup, hot or cold. Kuan was stopped and partaking in his when I arrived. Right across the bridge and around the corner I could find a restroom with a place to fill my water bottles. Suddenly, making it to the On the Way Market & Deli before close wasn't as crucial as it had been moments ago. Nonetheless, it would still be an objective.
After the delicious soup, a couple salted boiled eggs, and a brief conversation with the friendly volunteer from Eugene, I took off on my way towards Westfir-Oakridge. After a short but steep climb I arrived at the Westfir-Oakridge Post Office, the final info control and last required stop before the arrivée. I answered the question and continued on.
The next 27 miles along the Willamette Highway required just forging ahead. Although a downhill stretch, the wind provided resistance, especially when clearings between trees opened the highway to the wind coming across from Lookout Point Lake. The view of the Willamette River to the right was beautiful, but the heavy traffic instisted that full attention be placed on maintaining my position on the shoulder, which varied considerably in width from one section to another. At least one driver voiced displeasure at my presence with a sustained blast from the vehicle's horn. Even bicycle friendly Oregon has bad apples, I guess.
I stopped only briefly to don my reflective gear at a weigh-station pullout, as dusk would soon be approaching. The sun was already starting to set as I approached Jasper, where road workers slowed and dirrected traffic because of construction. Fortunately, the start of the construction signaled my turn.
After the road workers waived me though, I arrived at my goal, the On the Way Deli & Market, which to my surprise turned out to be a Chevron Station. There I replenished fluids, had a quick snack, and reviewed my cuesheet before completing the last section of the ride. With only 22 miles to go, I didn't have any need to worry about the time. Nonetheless, it had been a long three days and I was looking forward to a full night of sleep. I didn't need to get thrown off course on the urban bike paths into Eugene. Now that it was dark, reading the cuesheet on the fly would be a bit more challenging, so it helped to familiarize myself before I was on the bike and moving.
Even in the dark, I didn't have any trouble finding my way to the destination. The bike paths made sense, the cuesheet was accurate, and the GPS track guided true. Further into Eugene, chalk markings at the forks in the path provided another navigational cue.
I took comfort in seeing everyday bicycle traffic as I made my entrance into Eugene. Though I was riding for sport on this trip, my sport riding never would have began if not for the foundation of a bicycle lifestyle. Getting further into the city, I could see that it was well set up for a bicycle lifestyle. On my entrance route, even widest roads had bicycle lanes or sharrows and paved paths for pedestrians and non-motorized vehicles contributed to the bicycle infrastructure. Eugene even had bridges across the Willamette just for pedestrians and bicycles. I was already starting to contemplate relocating permanently as the ride neared its end.
Next thing I knew I reached the arrivée at the Courtesy Inn. I checked in at the control, where I signed and turned in my brevet card. I had finished my first 1000K brevet in 64 hours and 57 minutes, well within the official 75 hour time limit. I stayed for a couple slices of victory pizza and a beer. It was nice to have a chance to chat with Theo who had put so much work into preparing and preriding this route for us and to thank him for his efforts.
[Note: There was another organizer, Vinny, who also was involved with the planning and prerode alongside Theo, but since he wasn't present, I never had the chance to thank him in person. The least I can do is acknowledge him here. Vinny, thank you for contribution to my first 1000K!]
Early morning start along the the Mississippi River Trail
The ride started early and cold. It was still dark at 6:00am when we left the starting control at the hotel. Even with the leg warmers, thermal jacket & windbreaker & toe warmers, I had trouble warming up early in the morning. The fingers were my week point; the long-fingered gloves I was wearing just didn't make the grade. Though the bright hi-viz orange with reflective elements is great for being seen, the didn't keep my fingers from becoming cold, useless apendages that were quickly becoming incapable of operating the brake/shift levers. I wished I had brought a warmer pair.
Though cold, the start was a sight to behold. Nearly all 29 riders stuck together in relatively close formation in the required reflective vests, ankle bracelets, and red & white lights as we set off from Brooklyn Center onto the trail in the dark. It was very pleasing to be shepherded through the unfamiliar bike paths by a knowledgeable rider, and especially during the darken hours when reading detailed cue sheet descriptions was difficult. This was a very welcome surprise after having gotten turned around on similar trails at the start of the Golden Pancake earlier in the year, before it had even gotten dark.
A pair of cheap garden gloves at the first control in Wyoming provided enough extra insulation to keep my fingers functioning after bringing them back up to temperature with a large cup of hot chocolate. By the second control, the sun had risen high enough in the sky that the extra layers was no longer necessary, so off came the garden gloves, thermal jacket, & toe warmers. Fortunately, any weather-related unpleasantness was behind us.
I had completely lost the group at the first control, but did catch up to other riders at the second in Taylors Falls. On route to the third, I caught up to Bob Booth, one of my favorite riding companions and de facto rando mentor. Before long met up with Mike Fox of Davenport, IA along the way and the three of us made into the control at the Community Center in New Richmond together.
The New Richmond Community Center control was a refreshing change of pace from the typical gas station stop. MN Randonneur volunteer Greg Bakke (Thank you, Greg!) manned the control, and a very pleasant community center staff welcomed our group. Sub Sandwiches, bananas, gatorade & even coffee provided us with fuel for the next stage.
This stop also brought much of the group back together. In fact, throughout the rest of the day I couldn't help but marvel at how many riders were still so close together at this stage of a 600K brevet. While it was uplifting to see such randonneuring camaraderie, it did make for lines at the controls.
It was also on this stretch where I had the pleasure of meeting the legendary Mark Olsen. Previously, I had heard the bards sing ballads of the viking warrior from Asgard who battled the wind and pulled any who could keep up with his draft behind him. The skaalds also recounted how he took long stops at controls in order to satiate his voracious appetite. I soon discovered the legends were true. In fact, I didn't know Kwik Trip had potato salad containers that large until I saw one in his hands at the next control in Burnsville. His explanation was simple and understandable: "You don't want to bonk."
Not long before the Richard Anderson Conservation Area, Bob, Mark and I encountered the first major mechanical catastrophe on route. A baffled rider on the side of the road analyzed how to deal with a jacket that somehow wound up stuck in his rear wheel and took out his derailleur. Realizing that there was nothing we could do to assist, Bob pointed out the nearby Holiday gas station where the rider could try to rig something and hopefully be able to limp along to the closest control. It is always unfortunate to see a mechanical issue of this nature, but it does serve to remind just how immediately something can go wrong. Never take anything for granted on a brevet.
Ahead at the Richard Anderson Recreation Area we met with the most formidable hill on the route. It wasn't a long climb, but at the steepest my GPS read 15% grade. This one warranted standing on the pedals in the lowest gear.
It was getting later in the day at this point. Dusk was approaching and it would be completely dark before reaching the next control.
Norman Ehrentreich was the route developer for the final stage for the evening, and he graciously led a group back to the hotel on this section which made use of bike paths through the urban areas. Like at the beginning, it was very appreciated to have a knowledgeable guide since complicated bike path systems can be tricky to navigate, especially at night when reading a cue sheet takes more effort.
Unfortunately, we were delayed by another major mechanical before we were very far out of the control. I had just made it up the hill toward the front of the group, so I didn't see just what had happened. But, after a semi-substantial wait, the (slightly smaller) group continued on with Norman serving as guide. We took this last section fairly slow, which was a nice relief after a long day of riding. About 15 miles of the route were unpaved, most of it crushed limestone along the Luce Line trail.
Upon arriving at the hotel control, Bob Booth was waiting. It turns out he lost his derailleur during a double-shift to deal with the hill we encounted leaving the Waconia control. The derailleur hanger on his frame also wound up getting tweaked, so that was then end of the ride for Bob. This was especially disappointing because injury prevented his completing the previous 600K with the GLR.
Despite the unfortunate news, the first day was over. It was time to get the stamp on the brevet card, get a shower, prep for the next day, and get a few hours of sleep before doing it all again early the next morning.
We were surprised by the "Open Streets" event in Minneapolis which opened the roads to substantial bicycle traffic.
While having breakfast at the Denny's adjacent to the hotel, I met up again with Mark Olsen and Mike Fox, who planned on leaving at the closing time for the overnight hotel control. I joined along and would teeter along the brink for the duration of the ride.
[Riding with the Seattle International Randonneurs a week later, Mark and his brother were described as the "Grim Reapers" because of how close they cut control closing times; it was told that those who rode behind the Olsens often would not complete rides within the required times.]
With our later start, we rode through Minneapolis to find the streets blocked off to automobile traffic and the streets jam packed with people on bikes. It was quite evident that many of these people didn't have a care in the world with the streets closed and had no idea how to safely operate in a group. It certainly was a sight to behold and I am glad to have timed it right to have that experience. Nonetheless, it was comforting to turn off from the route where this madness was taking place and onto another path where we could resume a randonneur's pace.
The most challenging section of the day, from an endurance standpoint, was battling the headwind through the open westbound stretch after leaving the Dakota Regional Trail until the turn northward to Cokato. It certainly beneficial to be riding along with Mark during this section.
At Cokato, we took a longer break to wait for Mike. He had dropped back on the Dakota Trail to ride with another group at a more relaxed pace. From this point until the finish, we would continue along at a pleasant, relaxed pace. As Mike described, we noodled along for a Sunday afternoon bike ride.
While waiting, we had a chance to chat briefly with the fellow whose jacket fell into his rear wheel the day before and took out his derailleur. He removed the derailleur, shortened the chain, and managed to get the bike to work as a single speed using the small chainring and one of the middle cogs. He had flown in from Connecticut for this ride since he still needed a 600K to complete an SR series. There aren't that many scheduled 600K brevets left this late in the season, so travelling was necessary. I was glad to see him have the will to overcome adversity.
Near the end of the ride we again came back into the urban area along a series of paved bike paths. We encountered a couple more riders along the way. We likely would have all finished together, but the second day of a randonneur's diet got to me and I needed to make a short, unscheduled pit stop roughly 10 miles before the end. It made for a much more comfortable ride. Mark & I then pedaled the remaining miles into Brooklyn Center.
It was a good finish to a great weekend. In completing this ride, I finished my second "Super Randonneur" SR series. It left me feeling very positive and ready to head west for the upcoming Volcanic Arc 1000K. I would never have imagined I would be at this point When I set off on my first brevet in April.
I arrived in Door County late Friday evening and set up came in Potawotomi State Park just as the sun was setting. I got up early the next morning and set off just after sunrise. It had been a cold evening, and it was cold enough the next morning to warrant that extra layer.
I stopped quick for breakfast and coffee in Sturgeon Bay before heading east to follow the lake shore north. I knew the Door County Century would start following the bay shore, so I decided to head in the reverse direction for this ride. I also knew that there would be little time for sightseeing beyond the designated rest stops during the next day's event, so I would make a point of taking care of such things today as well.
View of Lake Michigan from Whitefish Dunes State Park
On previous rides, I had never made it to Newport State Park, so I made a point of setting that as a destination. I had half planned to make a perimiter of the peninsula north of Sturgeon Bay from the start, and so I figured that I might as well make a point of hitting all 4 state parks on the peninsula while I was in the area. The first stop was Whitefish Dunes State Park. The main features of this park are its spectacular views of the beach on Lake Michigan and its many hiking trails. Having too much ground to cover in too short of time, I opted to skip the hiking, but did take a short walk to an overlook where I could get a nice view of the Lake Michigan shore before heading on my way.
I continued past Cave Point to Baileys Harbor, where I had to stop for the requisite piece of Door County Cherry Pie and then continued to work my way up the lake side of the peninsula from there. I decided to follow County Highway Q, a rode that I had not previously ridden. Seeing signs along the way for the Cana Island Lighthouse, I decided to follow them and see what kind of view I could get from the bike. The rustic road back to the scenic area was a pleasant ride, and I got my best view of the lighthouse along the road leading up to the "island" (it is actually a peninsula). Unfortunately, my camera didn't do such a great job of capturing the view.
I continued on toward my next destination, Newport State Park, but since no road ran directly to it along the lakeshore, I worked my way there gradually via Gills Rock. I have fond memories of Gills Rock because of the passenger ferry to Washington Island. Though the ferry ride wasn't on my agenda for the day, I made a stop at the Door County Maritime Museum in search of post cards and found a few worthy of purchase.
I stopped into the office at Newport State Park and learned that this was the only park in the Wisconsin State Park System with wilderness camping. Campers must hike or bike all of their gear into the site on unpaved, and largely unimproved, trails from the parking areas in the center of the park. After staying the night at Potawotomi in the typical state park family camping mileu, the though of a true camping experience appealed to me greatly. I look forward to coming back for a full Newport camping excursion and the contrast that it will provide to the typical Door County experience.
View from Eagle Tower at Peninsula State Park
I continued on from Newport through Elison Bay (where I was able to mail off the post card I had prepared earlier) toward Peninsula State Park. On my way, I saw signs for, and stopped at, Ellison Bluff County Park, where there was a very nice overlook providing a view of the bay. Though I wasn't knowledgeable enough of the area to tell what I was looking at, an old timer who was pointed out the shoreline of Michigan's Upper Peninsula and claimied it wasn't often to get such a clear view. I was glad to have the opportunity.
At Peninsula, I climbed the Eagle Tower, which seems to be becoming a tradition for me on those days when I pass through the park at my leisure. On the descent on Shore Road, a car had stopped for a piliated woodpecker that hopped along across the road. Unfortunatley, by the time I fumbled through the modes on my camera in an attempt at getting a picture, it had flown up into the woods, so I continued on.
I rode back through Fish Creek and along Cottage Row and Gibraltar Road toward Egg Harbor and along the bay shore from there back toward Sturgeon Bay. From here on out, most of the route was familiar territory from previous excursions in Door County, including my previous Door County Century experience. The route was all prepped up for the next day, and I simply followed the signs backwards toward the fairgrounds.
At the fairgrounds, I picked up my registration packet for the next day's century ride and met with Rob, an accomplice from the Heartland Club who would be joining for tomorrow's event. Rob was itching for a ride himself, so after he set up back at the campsite we took off for another short excursion with the day's remaining light and returned with our bike lights on and the light of the waxing gibbous moon. After getting back, we sat around the campfire for a while and reflected on the day, the weather, and looked forward to the big ride the next day.
We awoke early to break down camp just after sunrise and get an early start on the day. After getting in a reasonable breakfast, Rob & I met up with Brad, our third Heartland Club representative and started off on the ride.
Following the bay shore out of Sturgeon Bay at the start of the Door County Century. Bikes dotted the road as far the eye could see.
Our starting pace revealed more of a feeling of excitement and an eagerness to ride and less of the wisdom shown by long distance riders who typically pace themselves with the duration of the entire ride in mind. Perhaps it would have been wiser to take it easier at the start, witht he wind at our backs we simply couldn't resist the temptation to fly. At first, it seemed like we passed every bike we met until catching up to another similarly paced threesome. We rode alongside long enough to learn that they were from the Milwaukee area. We swapped a few stories about our recent rides and before we knew it, we had made the first rest stop at Murphy Park.
After a few donut holes and some fruit, Brad, Rob & I regrouped and set off to the next stop, Welker's Point at Peninsula State Park. This stretch featured more climbing that the first stretch. By now it was clear (except maybe to Brad) that our initial pace would not be sustainable for the entire 100 mile ride. This stretch offered more spectacular views, including the quite extravagant "cottages" along Cottage Row leading into Fish Creek.
The climb up to Welker's Point in Peninsula State Park was another fine example of Door County. With the park, signs told cyclists to remain in single file, and the need for this was evident as traffic, whether motor-vehicle, bicycle, or pedestrian, went by in either direction. Indeed, Peninsula is one of the most popular state parks not only in Door County, but in the entire state, and this was evident as we passed through.
During this climb, we passed a group from the Wausau Wheelers, who unlike our ragtag operation, were easily identified by their matching jerseys. I think Brad was jealous.
Brad waiting patiently for us to catch up after climbing the hill up to Eagle Tower in Peninsula State Park
The sandwiches at the Welker's Point rest stop certainly hit the spot. It was only 16.8 miles since the last rest stop, but they had been enough to build up an appetite for something more substantial than donut holes. They would be more than adequate to provide a boost until the strawberry shortcake stop in another 12 miles.
After the rest stop, it would soon be evident that the real climb in Peninsula had not yet begun. The grade up toward Eagle Tower was much steeper than the climb up to Welker's Point. Lines of riders struggled to make it up the hill, each climbing at a different speed. One rider in a arm-powered recumbent plugged along slowly, but surely. His suffering was inspirational.
Fortunately, the climb was rewarded with a descent that made the effort pay off. From there we Peninsula and moved on toward Sister Bay. On Settlement Road the route looped in such a way that we could see the riders who were leaving Sister Bay heading in the opposite direction from us, most of them with grimaces on their faces. We just enjoyed our tailwind while we had it. We knew that we would be in their predicament soon enough.
In Sister Bay, strawberry shortcake was served as advertised, though for the first time on the ride it was necessary to form a line. It was a fast moving line, though; evidently, they had done this once or twice before. In any event, the shortcake was worth the wait - it was a delicious treat.
I also encountered another randonneur I had met on the Rochester - Harmony 300K a month prior. He was back visiting Wisconsin and had ridden out to Door County from Rib Mountain before starting the event.
I made a point of finding the post office before leaving Sister Bay. I had a couple of postcards I wanted to send off, one of which the three of us signed and sent back to Jack & Jeannette wishing they were along.
We had the longest, hilliest, and least motivating stretches ahead of us leaving Sister Bay. Aside from a brief view of the waterfront at Baileys Harbor and the Kangaroo Lake crossing, the next section traversed the interior of the peninsula on straight roads through largely open, unsheltered farmland until Jacksonport.
Bikes parked at the final rest stop at the Sturgeon Bay Canal Lighthouse Coast Guard station.
After Jacksonport, the route again followed the coast, this time along the lake side. The winding roads and views of the coast had returned, and trees again provided some shelter from adverse winds.
After the long open stretch, the Cave Point rest stop provided a much needed break. Toward the end of the last stretch, it was evident that Rob's energy was starting to fade. I was beginning to feel the effects of the cumulative miles over the last few days as well. A little fruit and another sandwich helped me get motivated to finish the ride. After the open stretch through the sun, Gatorade finally sounded appetizing as well, but by now their supply had run dry. I contented myself with a few glasses of water after topping off my bottles, which was really all I really needed, anyway.
After a slightly longer stop, we again regrouped and continued on the ride. By this point in the ride it seemed that many of the smaller groups that had formed earlier were starting to bunch up to form one large group, whereas earlier in the ride the tendency seemed for the large group to stretch out into smaller groups. It made sense for riders to take advantage of the draft provided by a larger group, especially those who were feeling worn out and could use any help they could get.
Though me made a point of sticking together, the difference in energy levels was evident within are own group, as well. On one hand, Brad seemed as fresh as when we started. On the other hand, Rob appeared to be just holding on and complained of cramping. I was feeling somewhere in between. Though I had no pain, I didn't have the same spark that I did at the start. I was content to calm our pace to a nice, relaxed but sustainable tempo and forge on. Brad dialed it back also to stay within sight of Rob and I, but in seeing him dart up every hill it was clear he had the most energy left.
At the Sturgeon Bay Canal Lighthouse we had one last chance to pull together for the final six and half miles. In fact, it almost seemed gratuitous to have another stop so close to the finish, but it was a beautiful day and a beautiful ride and there wasn't any point in rushing to finish. Besides, being a Coast Guard station, the approach to the lighthouse isn't typically open to visitors so it made sense to get close while the opportunity presented itself.
Crossing the Door County Century finish line
Seeing the pickles that were being served reminded me of the pickle juice home remedy for cramps that I had first learned of on the GRABAAWR earlier this year. Rob was already eating pickles when I shared this information. I went for the the cheese curds, which, by this point in the day, anyway, were quite dry. Compared to all of the other tasty treats that were served over the course of the ride, these didn't do Wisconsin cheese justice.
After the final rest stop, we were within a stone's throw of the finish. We continued on into Sturgeon Bay toward the county fairgrounds. Like at the beginning, bikes dotted the roads as far as the eye could see. Signs marked each passing mile announcing the remaining distance to the finish. With two miles left, the end was near, but the organizers still managed to throw in a last short climb to remind us that we weren't done quite yet. We would be soon enough, though, and before long we turned into the Door County Fairgrounds and across the finish line. Unlike other events, there was nothing anticlimatic about this finish. Music played loudly toward the approach to the well marked finish line and spectators cheered as cyclists crossed.
Following the ride, we sat down to share a fine post ride pasta dinner complete with Door County cherry pie. I found the accompanying glass of New Belgium's helles beer quite refreshing. Not having enough to eat certainly wasn't an issue on this ride. The dinner concluded an outstanding day, and we were already discussing doing it again next year and how we might be able to share the experience with more Heartland Club members. With four distance options available and an entire summer to get in shape, this well organized event is accessible to riders of all fitness levels.
My auto racing weekend in Michigan quickly turned into another bicycle adventure due to a shipper's error that would require my trucker chum to go back for another cross country run. I wasn't about to let the birthday vacation I had been planning since spring go to waste. I had been refining a route between my home and the state capital for use as a RUSA permanent, so I took advantage of this open weekend to ride the route again and to proofread my cuesheets.
While in Madison, I would also take the time to reunite with a grand randonneur from whom I had been learning a great deal during my first year and ride his permanent route.
Approaching the capitol building on King Street
I was blessed with beautiful conditions for the ride down from Stevens Point. I wasn't pushing myself to the limits, though I did move to make time when I could. Being summer, I encountered fresh chip seal in a few stretches which would slow me down some, but I fortunately didn't have any major construction obstacles to deal with.
My primary purpose was to proofread my cuesheet. I found myself stopping much more frequently than anticipated to make adjustments. While most of the adjustments were clarifying road names so that the cuesheet would match the actual signs over Google Maps, or clearing out redundant cues added by RideWithGPS, I did find a few spots where cues wound up getting lost somewhere between the GPS route and the cuesheet. Since a single missed turn could be the difference between a successful permanent and a DNF, it was paramount that the cuesheet be accuarate and not the source of any such error. The whole process reconfirmed the need to pre-ride any route before submitting for approval.
As it turned out, my mom was down in Dane County that day, so we were able to meet up in Madison for dinner and a walk near the university, which was bustling with activity that day. Students were moving into and out from their various places of residence. The curbs on the streets in front of the fraternity houses were loaded with the unwanted furniture and other items of the previous residents. Near lake Mendota, crowds of people, the sound of live music, and kiosks selling wristbands and beer indicated some event was taking place. Were it another day, I would have spent more time checking out the scene, but it had been a long enough day, and I still had two more early morning days with brevet-length rides ahead of me. I was content to retire for the evening and get some rest.
Tobacco curing in a vented barn near Evansville, WI.
The next morning at the PDQ, Bob, the route owner, Fred, a visiter from Iowa, and I prepped to head off on the "East of Madison" permanent. It was still just before sunrise when we set off on our way.
On the early stretch after climbing out of the bowl that is Madison, we rode through a mist that was thick enough to dampen riding gloves and leave a layer of moisture on our reflective vests. Though it may have dampened the clothing, it certainly didn't dampen our spirits. In fact, the cooler temperatures were welcome and refreshing and helped to delay the hot and humid conditions that we would be dealing with later.
Sections of this route follwed the same roads used on the GLR 200K and 400K routes, but in the opposite direction. It wasn't at all redundant to be riding these same stretches, though. For one, riding them from the other direction offered a whole new perspective. Additionally, the shared sections were so far at the end of the GLR 400K route that we always passed through them at night, so it was pleasant to have the opportunity to ride them during daylight. The rolling hills between Lake Mills and Columbus seemed that much more challenging when you could actually see them.
Riding with Bob was advantageous for several reasons, not the least of which being his company. We certainly didn't have to worry about getting lost while riding with the route owner, for one. He also was very familiar with the route and could point out intersting facts and features as we passed through. For example, he brought attention to the tobacco farms near Evansville and pointed out the Farmers and Merchants Union Bank in downtown Columbus, WI which was used as the set for the Johnny Depp movie Public Enemies.
The next morning, I took a little bit of time on State Street before heading back home. I took just enough time for a cappuccino and a pastry while looking around and taking in the city around me. I enjoyed seeing the heart of the city before the hustle and bustle ramped up to normal levels. My timing was perfect. From there, I continued on to the Kelley's Market on West Washington which served as my starting contrôle for the return trip, and began to proofread my cuesheet in the other direction. City life was happening around me by the time I made it back across the Capitol Square. I have to admit that I lost a little time from confusing "Martin Luther King Jr Blvd" for "King Street" [Note: I'm glad to have been able to catch this and have added the respective warning to my cuesheet!]. After the few minutes it took me to sort out the difference, the speed of the day was in full swing.
An abandoned sign serves to remind that this county road was once the main highway
After catching the Capital City Trail, the rest of the return trip more or less flew by. Aside from a brief stop north of Token Creek to take some notes and photos, Pegasus and I zipped along from control to control. It was pleasant to have the wind at our back for the return trip, and at least as far north as Coloma, we couldn't have asked for nicer weather.
Just after leaving Coloma, though, the weather changed. The blue skies darkened to grey in the west, the south wind shifted east, and a few stray raindrops fell from the sky. Conditions gradually continued to darken as we continued northward through Plainfield and Bancroft.
Upon leaving Bancroft, the skies couldn't take any more and let loose. Fortunately, I had taken heed of the warning signs and had already donned my rain jacket and reflectives and turned on my lights. This rain came down fast. In moments, the roads were covered and visibility reduced dramatically.
I was glad to have good lighting knowing motorists often don't expect to see bikes unless the weather is fair. I was also appalled by the number of motorists who continued to drive without their headlights on in these conditions. Apparently, these drivers are ignorant of, apathetic to, or fail to comprehend the safety benefits of making themselves visible to others. Unfortunatley, the Wisconsin headlight laws don't address precipitation or fog specifically and do little to encourage passive lighting or to educate drivers regarding its safety benefits.
Though the rain came down hard and fast, as is usually the case, it passed just as quickly. By the time I had reached Plover, the rain had stopped. By then, though, I was thoroughly soaked, even with the rain gear. This really was of no consequence to me, however, as I only had a short stretch left to go before I would be back at home in Stevens Point after a very successful rando permanent weekend.
Barn and dairy cattle on County Highway D
I joined a special contingent this year that rode our bikes out to the Clearwater Harbor bar in King, WI for the annual Heartland Bicycle Club King Corn Ride. Jack and I met off early and set off east to meet up with Rob & Brad en route. Our rendezvous with Rob proceeded as scheduled, but Brad had met with delay. Jack wound up dropping back to meet him while Rob and I continued on. Jack was able to convince Rob to come along with us, so came along with the goal of completing his first century ride.
The actual event started from the Clear Water Harbor Bar at 9:00AM. After getting our route maps with several distance options, we divided ourselves into groups based on our selected routes. Although we'd split up as the routes diverged, they all started enough together that we left as one group.
While Jack opted for a shorter route in order to ride with his wife, Brad, Rob & I all decided on the longest option of 53 miles. Also selecting this route was Dave Loomans from the Wausau Wheelers, and another rider, Todd, from the Waupaca area who I had not previously met. Dave was so familiar with this route he turned out the be the defacto ride leader.
The ride iteself was a beautiful course through the glacial morraine regions in Waupaca, Portage, and Waushara counties. Because of the morraines, this was a hillier route than was typical for the Stevens Point contingent of the Heartland Club, which made for a challenging yet rewarding ride. Near the halfway point, we took a brief stop in the quaint village of Wild Rose to refill water bottles and grab a quick snack before continuing back toward the Clear Water Harbor in King.
As was expected, the group choosing the shorter route was waiting for us when we arrived back at the restaurant, though we still arrived before the roasted corn was served. We took advantage of the time to socialize and replenish our energy stores, and also to recruit two more riders, Jeannette & Edie, to join us for the ride back into Portage County.
Perhaps thanks are due to Jeannette and Edie, but we pedaled back at a nice relaxed pace for the return trip. Though there was no excaping the hills of southwestern Waupaca and southeastern Portage Counties, we were in no hurry and had no reason not to take it easy on the inclines. Even so, it was turning out to be a long ride and Rob had hit the 100 mile marker with still a substantial distance remaining to his final destination. Though he got more than he bargained for, he met and exceeded his goal in fine fashion. Way to go, Rob!
[Note: after the main ride was over, Jeannette would go out and ride some more to hit 100 miles for the day as well, and Jack would put on enough to reach 200K (124mi). Way to go Jeannette & Jack!!]
Though I had ridden long and hard the day before, I had to come back for the company ride. The inaugural event two years ago, a 70 mile ride from Berlin, WI to Stevens Point to celebrate Sentry Insurance's 100 year anniversary in Stevens Point, is the event that got me started into distance cycling. Even though I had lived by bicycle for transportation most of my life, and had even ridden a unicycle to Amherst and back just to see how long it would take, I had never really considered long distance bicycle riding previous to that first ride. Needless to say, I've gotten pretty deep into the sport since and feel more than a little grateful for the initial stimulus.
At the start, I was thinking I'd take it easy, but in fact, it turned out that I would do just the opposite. I started out the gate at a pace that felt strong yet still comfortable expecting to be passed shortly, but instead soon found that I had set the pace that the lead pack would follow for the rest of the ride. We soon formed a pack of four. One rider I had ridden with for a portion of the previous year's event; another I had recognized from the same. The third I had not yet met, but nonetheless, we came together pretty seemlessly to form a tight paceline. It was the first year that I rode the event non-stop; I did get a bit of rest with some slow pedaling, though, while one of the group quickly filled for water and another got ride of a windbreaker at mile 40. We held together pretty tight until somewhere around mile 55, when one fell off the back. When two of us stuck together to pull him back to speed, the third pulled ahead. Still, the four of us all finished within minutes of each other.
Though I've ridden hard and I've ridden long, I'm not sure if I've ever ridden that hard for that long. I admit I could feel it in my legs the next day, even after a summer of pedaling to the extent I don't get that feeling so much anymore. It certainly was a good ride. And Kudos to Pegasus for holding on and keeping up with the carbon fiber!
I might be able to read a cuesheet OK, but I don't seem to have the same knack for following detour signs. With the exit ramp nearest the start location closed, it seemed I made every wrong turn possible and I wound up arriving just as the group would be taking off. At least I got there in time to get my brevet card. I should have given myself more time to begin with, and all's well that ends well. Now it's up to me to learn from the experience.
Arriving late as I did, I rushed off as soon as I got the bike down off the truck. I wasn't even out of the parking lot when I realized I still had on my street shoes, but I wasn't about to go back to change them. In retrospect, I could have done so easily, but at the time I was in panic mode and needed to get moving.
It didn't take me too long to catch up with the pack, though. In fact, from a few miles out up until the first control I found myself riding fast in a paceline that I likely would have not been able to sustain for the duration of the 300K ride. It turns out the majority of that group were doing the 200K, which followed the same route up until its turning point at Wykoff. The pace may have well been sustainable for some of them.
In any event, another randonneur and I lost the group as a light turned red just after leaving the first control. Knowing the distance we had left, it didn't bother me in the least that they took off. In fact, I found it more of a relief. Still, I kept up a respectable pace. Another 300K rider who had made it throught he intersection before the light changed dropped off of the lead pack as well, and then there would be three, at least for a while. I had met and ridden with this rider during the Dairyland Dandy two weeks back. I knew him to be a strong rider and together we would keep a consistent pace for most of the ride.
A mild climb along one of southeastern Minnesota's signature rocky bluffs
The country side was mostly open. In fact, the cornfields and dairy farms reminding me much of Wisconsin. What seemed to me to be the signature feature of southeastern Minnesota were the rocky bluffs. Rocky bluffs go hand in hand with climbing. Somebody said this route was flat. I guess "flat" is a relative term, but from my perspective, it's not the right word to describe 7700 feet of climbing over 185 miles. Some of the hills were fairly steep with 7-9% grades, but mostly it was a matter of 3 or 4% grades for stretches that lasted several miles. The terrain certainly wasn't like anything I experienced before. I didn't really mind the hills, but I don't think I could say the same for my riding companion for most of the ride. In fact, he had mentioned putting on a wheel with a higher geared cassette because he was expecting flat. I guess the lesson learned is that it's better to be prepared to handly anything.
From my perspective, the real factor that needed to be considered was the heat. As the sun came up into a mostly clear sky, the temperatures came up also. Sun, high heat, and ample climbing can be a recipe for overheating which is more likely than anything else to cause me problems on a long ride. Fortunately, stopping often enough to keep the water bottles filled, and to add ice when available, was enough to finish the ride in good spirits.
The events of this weekend were hosted by a fellow randonneur and his family, with the sponsorship of the Minnesota Randonneurs. It turned out to be not only a weekend chocked full of good riding, but also of excellent camaraderie in the true spirit of randonneuring. To encourage this spirit, the start times between Saturday's 300K and the 200K were spaced with the intent of having more riders finishing closer together for the sake of socialization at the post-ride barbecue. Our host and his family were wonderful and all of their efforts were greatly appreciated! Thanks also to the Minnesota Randonneurs and TCBC for putting on this event!
I probably should have left the house with a bit more time to spare, but I managed to arrive right on time for the 5:00AM start. After having to drive to Delavan and Minneapolis, the roughly hour and a half drive seemed short in comparison. Though it was still dark upon arrival, it was the peak of summer and the sun began to break over the horizon shortly after we set out on the road.
About the same time the last of the morning twilight had passed, the group split in two as it seems is usually the case. Of the nine riders, three broke away to form the lead group as the remaining six of us held a more relaxed pace. I was quite content to ride at a casual pace and to enjoy the companionship of friends made earlier while meeting other randonneurs for the first time. Besides, I knew this was going to be a challenging route in the hills and bluffs of western Wisconsin; there was no need to burn out early.
Black River Falls is hilly in it's own right, but the further west we ventured, the taller the hills and the longer the climbs became until we reached our western terminus along the Mississippi River. On turning back, the same general trend continued: we encountered the most significant climbs as we first turned and they lessened in intensity the further east we went. The climbing wouldn't be entirely over until reaching Black River Falls, however, much to the chagrin of one of our remaining contingency.
The six of us had made it little more than half way through when one of the group began fading fast on one of the steeper climbs. Though we eased for a while, it was clear the group wouldn't hold together at a pace that could accommodate everyone. Fortunately, another rider was content to lower the effort a notch, and the two of them would break off and become the lanterne rouge; nobody would finish this ride alone!.
Staging to leave the control at Strum
Although many opted to only ride the populaire the following day, four of us came back to ride another brevet. Though still hilly, this route would be relaxed compared to the previous days climbing.
"Relaxed" might be a relative term, but of the four riders, three of us had completed Old Abe's Parade the day prior, and the remaining rider had completed a challenging 200K. We were all fully capable, though admittedly a bit worn out. Though the previous day's weather was nothing to complain about, the temperatures seemed a bit cooler for this ride, at least at the start, which was appreciated by all. The wind was more noticable, however. I don't recall even considering the wind an issue on Old Abe's Parade, but during the Dairyland Dandy, we did have open sections heading into the wind.
We handled the winds well riding fairly tight in a paceline like fashion, though. In fact, our group did a pretty good job of holding together throughout the ride. Of course, long distances and substantial climbs tend to stretch a group out, and ours was no exception near the end. Though we didn't all make the penultimate control at the same time, we all left it together. On the final leg, we held together strong, maintaining our paceline and taking turns on the pulls. Like the day before, even the final leg had hills which did their best to stretch us out; nonetheless, we held together for a strong finish to an excellent randonneuring weekend.
Although the GLR season had ended, it had only whet my appetite for randonneuring, so I found myself headed to Brooklyn Center, MN for my first ride with the Minnesota Randonneurs.
We set off from the départ, a Super American in Brooklyn Center, at 8:00pm and would ride throughout the night.
The lead pack took off just a bit more swiftly than I planned on starting, and I missed a turn early on as a result of being unfamiliar with my surroundings, failing to keep ahead of the cue sheet, and following others who were in the same situation as I.
I didn't expect to recognize anyone on this ride, but I had seen one of the others who missed the turn before on a GLR brevet. He and his wife, an aspiring randonneuse, and I grouped up and retraced to get back on course. We had some trouble navigating through a park, and by the time we made it back on track, there would be no chance of catching up to the lead pack.
Cue sheet for final leg
The first control was only 27 miles out, but it was dark by the time we arrived. Due to the missed turn, we arrived closer to its closing time than I had previously experienced. Because of this, I panicked slightly and took off at a bit faster pace in order to get back on schedule. I felt much more comfortable after catching up to a few riders from the Minnesota club. I still managed to miss another turn, which added a mile or two to my ride, but thankfully it didn't lead me too far off course. As I caught back up to the group that I had drifted ahead of after leaving the control, I realized that faster was not the answer. There was no need to panic; there would be plenty of time provided I didn't keep losing time getting off course. It finally clicked in my head that it would be more important to focus on navigation than speed.
I would ride the rest of the brevet with the aspiring randonneuse. She had the right mindset and the right attitude to complete her first brevet, which is every bit as important, if not more, than having all the specialized equipment. From the Princeton control on, we would maintain a steady, respectable, yet sustainable pace. We wouldn't miss another turn, either. Eventually we'd even catch up to and meet a few Minnesota Randonneurs and ride along with them for a while. This camaraderie and non-competitive spirit of randonneuring is the element of this sport that makes it so attractive to me.
We rode through the night and into the sunrise. I never had ridden completely through the night on a brevet before. I had completed both 400Ks while it was still dark, and since I took a nap at the same point in the route on the 600K, I missed the sunrise on that ride also. Riding through the night like this brought its own sort of charm. I've always enjoyed the reduced traffic and the cooler temperatures of riding at night in summer. Animal activity seems increased during the times of transition from day to night and night to day as well.
On this particular day, though, the sunrise was obscured by rain clouds. The rain began to fall maybe an hour before sun up. The wet roads were covered with frogs, which we carefully avoided as we continued into the morning. The rain and would continue until near the end of the ride, but it didn't dampen our spirits. In fact, it was sort of refreshing on a hot day. By now, we had made all of the controls prior to arrivée, and had plenty of time to make it to the end. Even near the cities, the roads were tranquill on an early Sunday morning, although the traffic would gradually increase by the time we arrived at the finish. The rain let up for arrival back at the Super America in Brooklyn Center.
My riding companion had completed her first brevet, earning the title randonneuse. I felt proud to be able to be part of the experience. For me, another ride was completed successfully. May this experience be the first of many with the Minnesota Randonneurs!
Getting out the reflective gear prior to leaving control at Columbus, WI.
Though initially in conflict with the GRABAAWR, I decided to come back for the last event of the Great Lakes Randonneurs (GLR) season. Having rode the route twice prior, I knew what to expect from the perspective of pacing and climbing and the like. What would make this different would be not having the same cushion to rest and prepare before the ride as I had in the past. Instead of waking up from a full nights sleep at the hotel in Delavan, after a relatively short period of sleep following a week long bike tour I took off from home at oh-dark-hundred in order to arrive with enough time to register and still make the 6:00AM start.
Though starting in less than optimal condition, upon staging at the départ I did not regret the decision one bit. I was glad to meet up with many of the randonneurs I rode with in the earlier rides of the season, in contrast to the start of the 600K two weeks prior. On this particular day, I knew pacing would be especially important, and set off with the goal of simply completing the ride on time. I certainly had no intention of finishing in less time than I had previously, as would turn out to be the case.
I have to admit that on the final stages, the reduced amount of sleep time before the ride was catching up with me. It seemed that it took all I had to stay awake, despite taking on more coffee than I had on past brevets. And this time, I didn't have the adrenaline that comes with completing a challenge for the first time pumping through my veins, either. Frequently, I would find myself trying to find anything even close to relavant to talk about just to stay awake. I hope that wasn't too annoying to the others in the group who didn't seem so talkative.
The threat of inclement weather was a concern on the final stages, as well. We could see lightning flashes ahead to the left and to the right as we worked our way to the finish. Although it was dark, there was just enough ambient light to see that we were headed directly toward the big, black storm cloud. One rider called out with optimism that it wouldn't rain until we arrived. While I'm cautious of tempting fate in that nature, those spoken words rang true. I felt the first drops as we turned into Delavan Super 8 parking lot, and just as we parked bikes under the canopy of the entrance the skies let loose. I just narrowly escaped the experience of riding through rain for another randonnée.
Lac Vieux Desert - Headwaters of the Wisconsin River
One of many hodags in Downtown Rhinelander
Sunday was the first day of the tour and the day with the official century option. This year the century took us up to Land O'Lakes (last year's starting point), and past Lac Vieux Desert, the headwaters of the Wisconsin River.
This section of the route through the Wisconsin Northwoods and the rolling hills that accompanied them was an ideal way to start the ride. Ample rain from the week prior ensured that the canopies from the trees were especially green and vibrant.
An old restored theatre in Three Lakes, the Center For the Arts, made for a fine rest stop before venturing on through the final segment to Rhinelander.
According to the monument erected by the Merrill Knights of Columbus, Father Menard was lost nearby.
Busy morning at Mary's Hangout. Apparently, I wasn't the only one to find the idea of an early morning Moscow Mule intriguing.
Monday's stretch out of Hodag country, through Tomahawk and down to Merrill was another beautiful day through the Wisconsin Northwoods. Tomahawk is a neat town and made for a great stopping place. First, the Tomahawk Family Restaruant left a favorable impression on me this spring so I was eager to return for a second breakfast. Second, stories from the year before of Mary's Hangout and the refreshing Moscow Mule served properly in a cupper mug was intriguing enough that I'd just have to stop and see for myself. The stories are true: the drink is refreshing, and the mug makes all the difference.
The rest of the day's ride followed the river along State Highway 107. Though a relatively low traffic highway, the traffic included local logging trucks. This section was another hilly stretch, and Father Menard's Hill was the hill of the day. Even if any ties between the hill and Père René Ménard are purely tall tales as is likely, after climbing this hill the remaining stretch was easy. Of course, a stop at Bev & Tom's for a bratwurst with sauerkraut and one of the best pickled eggs ever made was in certainly in order to replenish the reserves...and don't forget the can of Blatz!
Later, after having set up camp in Merrill, I took a ride into Wausau to visit the old man and the dog knowing that I would be too busy to make time for it the next day. By the time I made it back to Merrill, I had my hundred miles in for the second day in a row.
Passage through Marathon County involved some climbing
The ride from Merrill to Amherst was riding through home territory for me. In fact, the route followed many of the same roads I use when travelling to Wausau or Merrill. Admittedly, because this section was my home turf some of the stops, like Mullins Cheese and the Point Brewerey, didn't have the novelty to me that they offered to others. However, the kind folks at the Mosinee United Methodist Church put together another fine rest stop that I couldn't pass up. I did take advantage of being close to home to take care of some quick laundry, to mend a leaky camp air mattress, and visit a friend, but I didn't shortchange myself of the GRABAAWR experience - I still rode to, and stayed at, the Portage County Fairgrounds in Amherst knowing that my bed would be patiently waiting for me after the trip was all over.
I was also trying to coordinate so that I would make it out to the O'so Brewery to rendezvouz up with other riders to whom I had been describing our local brewery and taproom. Of course, my timing was off and in my final mile approaching the brewery, I saw the riders I was hoping to meet leaving enroute back to the fairgrounds. Such luck! Nonetheless, by the time I rode from the Fairgrounds to O'so and back, I had hit the 100 mile mark for the third consecutive day.
I spent the evening out with other riders, most of whom I had met the prior year and only see on the GRABAAWR. If I would have stayed at home, I would have only been cheating myself out of my own vacation experience. However, it would turn out that I hadn't seen the last of home for the week either. My attempted air mattress repair didn't keep the thing from leaking, so upon waking up uncomfortable again at 3:00AM, I took another ride home to swap out the inflatable for a bulkier, yet more reliable mattress.
Camp at the Portage County Fairgrounds in Amherst
Biron paper mill
The Wisconsin River is, or at least was, known as the hardest working river in America. On this section it was easy to see why passing through the mill towns of Biron, Wisconsin Rapids, Port Edwards and Nekoosa. Not all of the mills are still operating, but they packed quite a few into a fairly short stretch of river. We were well past all of them by noon.
The rest of the stretch was mostly flat and relatively open, with at least one stretch on County Z that seemed to last forever. At one point, the grey skies turned into a tangible liquid mist as the edge of a passing storm crossed our path. We really had no cause to complain as this relatively minor encounter with precipitation would be the worst we would experience on the bikes through the week. Fortunately, I had met up with a friend from last year's GRABAAWR at the last rest stop and we plugged through this section together, making even the wet section enjoyable.
The weather looked entirely different by the time we arrived at the Adams-Friendship High School. All threats of inclement weather were past. It made for the perfect day to just relax. Due to the early morning air-mattress swap, I had already put on enough miles to have my century for the day. A nice, easy walk around Adams-Friendship and some lounging around the school were all I needed. Even so, I still managed to slip out for a little revelry with the crew before turning in for the night.
One section of the 303 step staircase to the top of the mound at Roche-A-Cri State Park
Before leaving the Adams-Friendship area, I was determined to climb the staircase to the top of the mound at the nearby Roche-A-Cri State Park. Most of the surrounding area is flat, but there are a few high points with the Roche-A-Cri mound being one of them. From the top, you can see the other high points on a clear day. The State Park system considers the staircase a strenuous climb; after several days of real riding, it felt good to stretch the legs off of the bike. I climbed to the top, spent a few moments looking, but not wanting to fall too far behind schedule, I didn't dawdle long.
After the stop, it took a bit to get caught back up to center of the bell curve. I arrived at the first water stop near the end of its open window, but I did make up ground fairly quickly. By Lyndon Station I had caught up to a good number of folks, but by the time I ordered & ate my Chicago dog, it was back to playing catch up. Now, however, I was well within the open windows of the remaining scheduled stops. Before long the flats of Adams & Juneau Counties gave way to the hills of Sauk County.
Three GRABAAWR Centurions and their bikes outside the Gem City Saloon in Baraboo
Lake Delton and the Wisconsin Dells didn't hold my interest so I continued onto Baraboo instead. After setting up camp, I still had much of the day left. Due to another rider's rave reviews of Parfrey's Glenn, I decided to follow a portion of tomorrow's route early and check out the state's first natural area. Much of the route I would be following was starting to get quite familiar, since it followed most of the same roads used on the GLR 400K brevet routes through Devil's Lake. The return trip would be the first time, though, that I would ever ride them in the other direction.
The stop and short hike at Parfrey's Glenn was well worth the time. While it felt good to once again stretch out the legs off of the bike, but that turned out to be secondary to taking in the surrounding natural beauty of the gorge.
By the time I made it back, I had my 100 miles in, now for the fifth consecutive day. I timed it right to catch the other GRABAAWR centurions, Larry & Earnie, and to tag along as they headed out for their traditional post-ride pizza. They introduced me to an outstanding deep dish pizza at the Gem City Saloon.
Waiting to board the ferry at Merrimac to cross the Wisconsin River
Because of my decision to finish the ride a day early, reaching the end point in Richland Center would be an anti-climactic finish to the ride. Nonetheless, being alone on the roads with a plan and a mission made for a meaningful journey. I was armed with both a GPS unit and a cue sheet, and was determined to find my way.
The final segment was a challenging ride with all of the steep rolling hills and bluffs for which the driftless area of southwestern Wisconsin is known. The route began with the climb and descent through Devil's Lake State Park followed by the ferry crossing at Merrimac before following the river down to Sauk City. Honestly, I was a little surprised how many of the roads through Sauk City were the same as those followed on the GLR 400K brevet route, but I have to admit it makes sense. There are only so many roads, and of those few stand out as the best roads for bicycles. Nonetheless, most of the route was new to me, especially after leaving the area surrounding Sauk City.
It turned out that the break I took for lunch in Sauk City gave the volunteers enough time to finish marking the route, so from there on out I had signs to follow in addition to the resources I had been using from the start. Little by little, with each steep climb and I approached closer and closer to the end point, taking in many scenic views of Wisconsin farmland a long the way. Often it seemed that the closer I came to reaching the end, the steeper the hills got. Though as in many cases, a descent followed the climb and arriving at the Richland County Fairgrounds was just moments away. After a quick shower & change of clothes, I loaded Pegasus onto the truck and we were off in preparation of the next adventure.
Since the Great Lakes Randonneurs run their 600K as the 400K route and the 200K route back to back, and since I had completed those in the weeks leading up to this event, I at least knew what to expect as far as the route was concerned. What I wasn't sure on was how I was what "strategy" I would use to get through the night. Instead, I approached this like the others: with a "Let's take it as it goes" attitude, which as is turns out, served me well.
Flags in downtown Evansville, WI show the direction and strength of the wind
While certainly no expert, I had learned a few lessons on the previous brevets that would prove useful on this one. For example, being this far in, I knew better than to think I could provide for my nutrition through nothing more than energy bars and sports drinks, and I had a better idea of what sorts of foods I could eat on the bike and what to look for at controls. I also had a better idea of how to pace myself than I did coming in at the beginning.
Early on, I found myself moving around, riding along and chatting with different people all riding at different rates. By halfway through the third stage, though, I had met up with the two fellows I would continue riding with until the 400K route was complete. We passed through the controls much more efficiently riding as a group of three when compared to our group of around five on the event two weeks prior. The time saved was put to good use for a few hours sleep upon finishing the first route. Honestly, I'm not sure how I would have fared had I decided to ride straight through without the nap, but I certainly felt reenergized after a shower, a few winks, and a fresh set of clothes.
Leaving the hotel again was the hard part. The weather forecast confirmed that the strong southwind would not die down, and predicted average speeds of 20 miles per hour. Setting out knowing I would be fighting a headwind through open, unsheltered terrain on the return was neither comforting nor easy, but I hadn't come this far just to turn back. Also by now, the distances between the remaining riders had grown to the point I wouldn't see another GLR rider until well after completing the brevet. Nonetheless, I rode on. I had become accustomed to riding alone for long distances from my regular weekend rides, so being alone was not an issue. If nothing else, I certainly enjoyed being free to ride at my own comfortable pace (though it would have been nice to have other bodies to block some of the wind on the windy stretches). And so it was, I plugged along one control at a time until arriving back at the Delavan Super 8. Although the finish was somewhat anti-climactic without other riders around to share in the glory, finshing the brevet, and thus the Super Randonneur series, still felt like an accomplishment.
Approaching the Stewart Tunnel
Light at the end of the tunnel
Since I was in southern Wisconsin for the GLR brevet, I decided to check out part of the Badger State Trail before coming back home to make use of my trail pass. I didn't have the time to ride the entire trail, so starting from Belleview, I rode for a while in each direction. My abbreviated route between Belleview and Monticello to the southtook me through the Stewart Tunnel, which was the highlight of the ride. This tunnel, although relatively short (especially compared to tunnel #3 on the Elroy-Sparta trail), runs at a curve, so light is not immediately visible on the other side when entering the tunnel.
The Wisconsin State Park System does advise that bikes be walked through the tunnels, but Pegasus is equipped with good lights and I couldn't resist the opportunity to put them to the test. Since I saw virtually no activity on that secton of the trail I figured it would be safe if I went through at a reasonable speed. The cool of the tunnel provided a very pleasant break from the otherwise hot and sticky conditions of the day.
I was glad to see riding companions from the prior brevets at the start of this event, and was also happy to make the acquaintances of several riders I had not previously met. Two of these were long time randonneurs, in fact, both had earned the title of ancien, which is earned by completing Paris-Brest-Paris, the holy grail of grand randonées.
I was psychologically prepared for this ride after riding to Madison and back the week before. On that ride, I had already surpassed the distance of this route; however, I knew the Madison ride was much flatter. This route would take us through the eastern edge of the Driftless Area and into hills the likes of which are not known in Central Wisconsin.
The "Hill of the day" as it was phrased by one of the anciens, was roughly a three mile climb starting 12-13% grade for the first 3/4 mile, a "rest" of 6 to 8% grade for another 3/4, before 11% for another half mile before dropping back to a more gradual grade for the remainder of the climb. Climbing the hill in the heart of the afternoon on one of the hottest days so far this year was exhausting. On the other hand, coasting down a 12% grade on "Happy Hill Road" afterwards was exhilerating. Although there would still be more climbing to come, it was comforting to know the worst was over.
Descending South Lake Road to Devil's Lake
Next was a scenic stretch through Devils' Lake State Park and across the Wisconsin River on the ferry at Merrimac before the next control. After that was the toughest section yet, at least psychologically. It was flat, open, and long, with little variation. The heat didn't help. Though I knew I needed to keep eating to sustain my energy, I had no appetite. In this stretch, the group shifted as some riders fell back and some of us met up with others. Eventually, the water tower that indicated the next control was not far off came into view and made pedaling on that much easier.
A longer rest in Columbus allowed the group to reform, and in fact grow. Darkness was approaching and many riders who rode solo throughout the day adopted the "safety in numbers" mindset. Although groups would continue to shift, for the remainder of the ride there were always companions close at hand. At one point we had at least a dozen riders, all with good front and rear lights as well as the required reflective ankle bands and vests. It was quite a sight. It must have impressive to anyone else, if not a bit unnerving.
I felt a new surge of energy that would last until the ride was over. I'm not sure exactly what it was, but I attribute it to a variety of factors: the cooler nighttime temparatures, the size of the group, the adrenaline of knowing I'd soon be finishing my first 400K. I'm sure the short cup of coffee in Columbus didn't hurt, either.
In fact, the last real challenge was learning to navigate at night. Since I had plotted the Madison route on my own and since I was returning on the same roads I had already ridden during the day, I knew where I needed to go already. This route through unfamiliar territory was another story. While mostly helpful, the GPS had been wrong before, so the cue sheet was still a must. Whiel the GPS track was accurate, somehow the Garmin couldn't recognize where on the route I was so it wasn't providing turn-by-turn directions correctly. Eventually, I got comfortable using my helmet lamp to read the cue sheet and made a point of always knowing the next two steps to watch for. One turn at a time, we advanced closer to the destination. Eventually, I announced our last turn before arriving at the destination. We continued on for the final stretch in high spirits and arrived at the hotel shortly thereafter. After getting our cards signed and bikes secured, we reconvened one last time to celebrate our achievement and share in some well deserved beer.
Riding to the state's capital has been part personal goal and part pipe dream for a few years now. Uncertainty of metropolitan traffic and road conditions near the more urban part of the state kept me from every actually setting out that way. Between the state DOT's bicycle friendly road maps and the Dane County bike maps, I plotted out a bike route that wouldn't tack on unnecessary additional distance. With the extra time cushion of a Monday holiday, I set out over Memorial Day weekend which gave me more than enough time to complete the trip.
Entering the capital by bike turned out to be surprisingly easy. I came in on Portage Road from the north and east. Marked bike lanes signaled the change from rural to city street. The bike lanes led to a bike path through a park onto less traveled roads and onto the Capitol City trail bike path which took me right down town. Entering for the first time at night, I have to admit that finding some of the trails took a couple of passes. Still, I made it to the capitol without too much difficulty. Being a living city, I did encounter construction near the capitol, and the capitol square happened to be closed for the spring marathon. In any event, the infrastructure made the city very accessible by bike. It was quite a pleasant contrast to similar sized and smaller towns where the autocentric infrastructure keeps all but the boldest from travelling even the shortest distances by anything other than an automobile. Madison is certainly a model that other communities should follow.
I finally made it to my first Poky Pedaling Stevens Point event and had a wonderful time. The ride was a pleasant, potluck picnic in a Stevens Point park. Fitting with the ideology behind Poky Pedaling, we rode a short distance at a very casual pace. Before the ride, the organizer, Bob Fisch, addressed safety with a group involvement activity covering the rules which remininded riders to obey all traffic laws and be mindfull of the other riders. Nonetheless, he and other riders were chastised in the Stevens Point Journal for not wearing helmets.
Unlike the accusing letter, Bob's response defends personal choice and argues that risk assessment should support a rider's decision to wear or not wear a helmet.
Brevet card at finish with stamps and times
Even after the grueling finish on the 200 through the brutal headwinds, I came back for more. This time, I was more concious about not starting out too strong in order to save energy for later. Even so, toward the end I found myself putting out more power than I would have preferred in order to keep up with my riding companions who were intent on hanging on with two couples on flying tandems. It turned out to not be so bad with the end in sight; however, if I had another 100K to go I feel the wise decision would have been to drop off and keep a more sustainable pace. That said, upon returning to the Super 8 I felt significantly better after 300K than two weeks prior after 200. Certainly, a lot of that had to do with not fighting a 20+ MPH headwind, but I'm sure proper pacing also played an important role.
I also reflected on my equipment choices and decided to make some changes. This particular route featured significant climbs. Although I made them all without a problem, an easier gear would have been appreciated on the steepest ascents just to save some of that important glycogen for later. Also, although I typically reached the peaks before my companions, on the way down I would have been left in the dust had they not chosen to slow up for me. I partially attribute the cause to my bulky pannier on the left side of the rack. I've since picked up a trunk bag, and hope that its relatively aerodynamic design will cut down on the wind brake factor. I guess I will find out next time!
Ride details (Unfortunately, old Garmin flaked out between Mt Horeb & Oregon, and the unit needed to be restarted resulting in some silly data. Thank goodness for brevet cards!
It was a damp, cool day with scattered showers, but I had taken the day off of work so I took off anyway. It was also a good chance to test the new Carradice raincape & spats under real conditions. The raincape did perform quite well when it was needed, and was easy enough to roll up and tuck under my sleeping bag straps when I did not.
I had used up the last of my water the night before, so I left Camp New Wood in the morning and went north to Tomahawk for breakfast, coffee, and to restock for the next day of riding and the next night of camping. I should have remembered the hand pump in the adjacent Camp New Wood County Park. Nonetheless, Tomahawk is a town worth seeing, and I found it more enjoyable early in the year before the summer tourist peak. An Eggs Florentine breakfast at the Tomahawk Family Restaurant alone made the extra miles worth while.
Riding on Tomahawk's rebuilt business 51 on a "road diet" made for safe bicycle access to businesses. Without a passing lane, speeding traffic and other reckless driving wasn't a problem, either. It is too bad Stevens Point is too short-sighted to grasp the benefits of a properly constructed "complete" roadway for its own section of business 51. With any luck the DOT will take it back and rebuild it to meet state and federal requirements, but I digress...
From Tomahawk, it was a pleasant ride through the hilly, wooded rural roads of Wisconsin's northwoods to Antigo. The sun and the tailwind made up for any rain the day before. A stop for a tasty fettuccini plate at The Refuge provided a well-earned rest before heading on to the campground at the Eau Claire Dells.
I saved the shortest segment for the last day, which gave me time to check out the falls and hike a portion of the trail along the Eau Claire river before heading home. Certainly, this park has more to offer than I have had time to take in on a single trip. The park is popular, and there were many visitors even this early in the year. It might be unwise to count on finding an open campsite without a reservation during peak season.
I rode and completed my first brevet: the Great Lakes Randonneurs 200K route. I had taken on this distance before, but never as a randonneur. Though I started off solo, during the first segment I met up with two others who were also riding their first brevet. We grouped up and finished the ride together. It's easy to appreciate the randonneuring philosophy: comeraderie, not competition!
As is turned out, there was more benefit to grouping up than just the social aspect. The elements of mutual encouragement and protection from the wind that come from working together as a team became invaluable during the final stretch. As luck would have it, the winds picked up to more than 20mph as the day progressed, and they just happened to be coming from the direction we were going. Almost instantly as we turned into our last 15 mile stretch through open farmland we could feel the full force of the winds. Perhaps we should have maintained an easier pace on the previous segment, but our steady pace turned into a crawl. What felt like very sustainable minutes ago turned into near torture. Nonetheless, we endured through the open fields one pedal turn at a time. It was a psychological relief to read "Delavan" on the water tower as we approached, just as the buildings of the town itself provided physical relief from the winds. Getting the final stamp on the brevet card at the Super 8 felt like quite an accomplishment; we deservingly congratulated each other on a job well done.
May this ride be the first of many!