Wednesday, February 04, 2015

The Northwoods Rides

A couple of years back, Pal Andy came up with the idea of doing some mountain bike rides out of his cabin, which is on the eastern edge of the Chequamegon National Forest in northern Wisconsin. The concept was to do off-road rides more in the original spirit of the activity rather than riding laps on purpose-built singletrack trails.

The common thread has been a drive up to the cabin the night before, setting out on the road into the forest and then traversing any and all surfaces that present themselves. These rides would not be complete without either getting a bit lost or doing some swamp wading, and they're better if we end up doing both. If we arrive back without being exhausted, wet, dirty and scratched up, we haven't done our jobs.

Day loop: Andy and Eric M. I wasn't on this one, but it was the birth of the concept. They apparently saw a bear cub, got a little lost on the equestrian trails, did quite a bit of swamp wading, and Andy was bonked out so bad he was nothing but babble for the last 6 or 8 miles. Eric hasn't been back.

Downpour Segment
Day loop: Andy and I; Peace 29er. (Pix) This was my first go at wandering around in the northwoods, and it made quite the impression. My family made the trip up, but only Andy and I went riding. He served as tour guide and made it quite clear that he knows the territory really well. I can't remember for certain, but I don't think he even brought a map. Got dirty, rained on, lost and scratched up. Ate wild berries like bears. Came home and did some swimming and eating as a group; the family and I went from there to a vacation on Washington Island (a longer drive than I had expected.)

Route Chat
Day loop: Andy, Nate; Peace 29er fat front. (Pix) Nate joined us the next year, and the 3 of us rented a car and stopped for fish fry on the way up Friday night.

Cabin Driveway
Cabin to cabin and back again: Andy, Nate, Chuck; Peace 29er plus front. (Pix) This was a new twist on the existing theme. Nate drove me and everybody's drop bags up to Phillips on Friday, where we would leave supplies at his family's cabin and then drive to meet Andy and Chuck at Andy's cabin.

While in Phillips, we got groceries and then met up with Nate's dad, who has a job relocating problem bears. As it happened, he had a couple of bears already on his truck, so we went with him to release them. I got to open the trap gates and we watched them run off into the woods. We had fish fry with Nate's folks and took the stuff out to the cabin before taking off for Andy's place.

Andy's and Chuck's families were along for this one, and Andy's family accompanied us on the rollout. Chuck and Nate were on cyclocross bikes; Andy and I were on mountain bikes. Labor Day meant that there were lots of ATV riders out on the trails.

There was a bit of confusion on the way into Park Falls, followed by some swamp wading and bushwhacking. After a stop at the convenience store, we picked up the Tuscobia trail to the west and then dropped south to Oxbo. Made it to Nate's cabin just before sunset, in time for a dip in the river. Grilled brats and corn and ate like kings (but not nearly all the groceries we had bought) before dropping exhausted into bed.

Woke up Sunday morning thinking it was maybe 06:30 to find that the sun was much too high in the sky for that—it was actually 09:15. We made a hasty breakfast and set out on the return trip. Lots of roads that morning and the skinny-tired riders left me in the dust a couple of times. Chuck met up with his family at Solberg Lake and they departed for Madison. The remaining trio rode back to Andy's place, had a dip and ate, returning to Madison on Monday.

Tree Portaging
Cabin to cabin and back again, again: Andy, Nate, Madison Steve, Utah Steve; Peace 29er plus front. (Pix) Chuck was replaced by two Steves this year; Madison Steve joined Nate for the drop bag run and general tomfoolery for a couple days before the ride; the other joined Andy and I in the rental car for his first Wisco fish fry on the drive up to Andy's cabin.

Everybody rendezvoused at Andy's on Friday night, where Nate and Madison Steve gave us the scouting report. As expected, there was water everywhere from the recent heavy rainfall. Any deliberate forays into swampy areas were crossed off the itinerary.

We got up reasonably early the morning of and headed out on the road, picking up a cross country ski trail at Round Lake to visit the historic logging dam replica. From there we caught some ATV trails and gravel to Smith Rapids covered bridge, then skipped some equestrian trail and swamp wading to find an old railbed, now used as an ATV trail. There was some getting lost before crossing 182 near  Blockhouse Lake and catching some pavements to Park Falls.

We rallied at the convenience store in town before picking up a section of the Tuscobia Trail. Caught an ATV route south to Oxbo, where we took a brief rest. Then there was some bushwhacking around Mason, Evergreen, and Swamp Lakes before picking up a gravel and pavements to the cabin.

It was dark and chilly by then and the river was high, so not much swimming happened. The floods had forced mice out of their natural habitat and into the cabin, and they were running around in plain sight as we cooked and later as we sat around the fireplace. The traps were overwhelmed. I didn't sleep well.

Day Two found us catching a gravel to the Kimberly Clark wildlife refuge, where there was more bushwhacking to get back to an eastbound gravel and pavements to Solberg Lake. After a brief rest, more ATV trails to Sailor Lake; pavements mostly up to Riley Lake, an ATV to the railbed from day one and finally the Round Lake trails and home.

Looking forward to next year.

Monday, February 02, 2015

26 Years of Winter Riding

Right around this week back in 1989, I saw my then-boss MMacD lug his snow- and salt-covered Ross Mt. Hood down into our offices in the basement of Radio Hall. It was the first time I had seen a mountain bike, cantilever brakes, or a winter cyclist. He let me test-ride it a couple of weeks later, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

62 Miles of Mud and Snowpack

Triple D 2015
Mostly mud.

Utah Steve, PhD and I drove down to Dubuque on Saturday for the eighth running of the Triple D Winter Race. The weather had been warm, and the worry was that we'd be riding 62 miles of mashed potatoes. Turned out on the pre-ride that most of the snow was gone, but thankfully the ground was still frozen. We also attended the pre-race the night before and got some valuable insight into the course. Had dinner at an Italian place downtown and turned in for a long but somewhat restless night's sleep.
(Utah Steve and I at the start, photo courtesy of Utah Steve)

It was just below freezing and sunny at the start. race director Lance had wanted to say a few words, but the natives were restless and a couple of long-time vets sounded the rollout gun at 10:00 sharp. We were supposed to stage and sort into groups by speed at the actual start line, but the field just took off.

The ground was frozen and the trail pretty fast through the first couple miles of singletrack. Even the water crossings and farm fields didn't slow us down much. In the time since last year's race, I had adopted a more conservative and aerobic training style, but at this stage I was mostly ignoring my heart rate alarm—not burning all the matches, but definitely putting my shoulder to the proverbial wheel. The arm warmers, beanie and gloves came off, and I rode the rest of the race with my jacket unzipped.

(yours truly, rocking a cornfield, photo courtesy of Rob McK)

Tough climbs were to be had between the fun downhills, and the Humke B road (but really ice and rock chute, complete with downed tree blocking the main line) did not disappoint. We found a cold west wind up in the highlands, so the gloves went back on. I hit the Heritage trail before noon and grouped up with a couple guys. Drafting on the now-wet trail, we rolled into Chad's looking like Roubaix riders at about 13:30.

Fifteen minutes was longer than I had wanted to stay, but it was busy and I wanted to stick with newfound company Duane. Refilled water, crotch creamed, ate a little, and were well out of Dyersville before 14:00. It was still sunny and the trail was pretty soft all the way to the Holy Cross tunnel, where we found a few substantial, fast stretches of hard-packed snow.

Duane was good company and we rolled along not stopping much and picking up a few places as the trail continued downhill. We caught up to his pal Drew and became 3 for a while before getting another pulse of energy. The checkpoint in Durango had a lot of bikes out front, and Duane decided it was time to change his sweat-soaked base layer. He was cold enough, and his hands weak enough from his handlebars' bad ergonomics that I had to help him zip up his jacket. Riding again, he was chilled at first but warmed back up quickly.

We finished off Heritage and turned onto the Dubuque bike path along the Northwest Arterial, uphill and into the wind and setting sun. Pavement, road, grass, ditch, pavement and then onto the final section of singletrack before the gentleman's finish line. The course markings in the last section were really sparse, and Duane said he would have gotten lost repeatedly had he been by himself.

We cleaned the last few creek crossings and mucky hills, crossing the railroad tracks just a couple minutes before a long Norfolk Western freight rolled through. Ever the gentleman, Duane ceded me a place, I guess for serving as tour guide. We humped it back up to the hotel and put our names on the list at 16:58 for 32nd and 33rd places, respectively.

Tyler U. from Madison won it, Utah Steve, PhD took fifth, and Nick took 18th—so Wisco represented. There was some confusion about the final leg of the course (not surprising, given some ambiguity at the pre-race and less than ideal marking) and a bit of a dispute about the top placements.

The bikes and our clothes were well and truly a mess, covered in limestone from the Heritage trail. We left a trail of it in Chad's and back at the hotel. We ended up not taking our bikes inside and just locked them up on the hitch rack for the overnight.

So overall, a success for me. Not great time or placement, but I felt good for the vast majority of the race and recovered quickly afterward.

Now, a couple of weeks off before training commences for the Race That Shall Not Be Named.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Time For Fat Bikes

Snowy Ride
Winter is the best time for fat bikes. Yes it is.

It's funny to have been in on this fat bike thing from pretty early on. Ruby was one of probably the first dozen fat bikes in Madison back in 2010, but they seem to be everywhere now. I spent a lot of time on the MTBR Fat Bike forums in the beginning, when it was mostly Alaskans and other adventure types using fat bikes to go where no bicycle had gone before.

There's been a trend lately that amuses me quite a bit, with people I've met in real life and on the interwebs saying that they love fat bikes so much that they've sold off all of their other bikes. That sentiment sure smells of fad.

Sure, fat bikes make pretty good mountain and trail bikes, but honestly, riding them on pavement just isn't that much fun. They really shine on snow, sand and other loose material where floatation makes a big difference. Those are the occasions that make it worth dragging those big tires around, and the idea that I'll get to ride my fat bike more also helps me have a more positive attitude toward winter.

Though it may puts me in the minority, I just think bike fun can be had in a lot of different forms.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Another New Bike (Sort of)

New Ogre
Last spring and summer I did a lot of thinking about how many bikes I own and whether I need to own as many as I do. So I wrote up a matrix of bikes (which will be the subject of another post) and decided that the slot currently occupied by my old garage sale winter beater could be filled by something better and more versatile.

So I looked at what was available and settled on getting a Surly Ogre, with the idea of building it up with parts I already had. Surly had begun ED coating a number of their offerings in 2012, so I emailed to ask whether the Ogre was ED coated, and ended up getting one of the first ED Ogre framesets to arrive in the states.

I also decided to give singlespeeding a try, since maintaining a derailleur drivetrain in the winter can be quite a chore. Because conditions can vary widely, I came up with the idea of creating a dual-singlespeed with two rings on the crankset and two cogs on the cassette body.

So this is what I came up with:
  • Ogre frameset, size Large, tan
  • Front wheel: Shimano DH-3D71 dynohub with 160mm Centerlock rotor, laced to a 32h Sun CR-18 rim with butted spokes. Handbuilt by my LBS.
  • Rear wheel: unknown Shimano 6-bolt disk hub with 160mm rotor laced to an Alex rim. This one was a gift from my neighbor, who took it off some Specialized hybrid.
  • Tires: Schwalbe Marathon Winter
  • Crankset: Suntour XC Pro square taper 36/34t on a Shimano BB-UN-72 bottom bracket.
  • Cogs: 17/19 Shimano 9-speed cassette pair for the moment, will replace with Surly when I decide on a final gear combination.
  • Chain: from the parts bin.
  • Headset: FSA Pig
  • Stem: generic takeoff from a Kona
  • Handlebars: Nitto Albatross CroMo 560mm
  • Seatpost: Easton alloy 2-bolt (taken off my GT Peace)
  • Saddle: Bontrager RLX 146mm
  • Brakes: Coda-badged DiaCompe SS-7 levers pulling Avid BB-5 road calipers (the latter suck and will likely be replaced with TRP Spyres)
  • Lighting: first-generation Schmidt Edelux headlight with B&M DToplight XS Plus taillight
  • Fenders: Planet Bike Cascadia 29er (purchased new and worth every penny)
  • Rack: Bontrager BackRack S Disc, gifted from a different neighbor.
That's the current build. My other wheel options include:
  • current wheels with Clement MSOs or really any 29" tire I have around.
  • Speed Disk wheels with Clement MSO 40s, Big Apple 2.35s or Nokian Extremes
  • 26er XT/Rhino wheels with Freddies or Vredstien Black Panthers
I also have an Alfine dynohub and a Salsa Delgado that might become yet another front wheel.

The most unusual feature is a second stem and a bit of 1" aluminum tube from the hardware store to make an accessory mount for lights, etc. A 1" star nut holds the Edulux.

New Ogre

Rides really well so far. Can't wait to see how it does over time.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Cheese Soup, Served Cold

"Oh look, stars," Steve said, pointing overhead, and sure enough, the inky night sky was full of them. I was a little surprised, given that it had been foggy or overcast since before sunrise. We all groused and joked again about the soft conditions, knowing that we'd be underway again soon. This was the longest wait yet, and I was beginning to wonder if we should backtrack to look for him. I grew impatient and walked back up the trail and into the box culvert. Maybe halfway in, the other end took on a pale blue glow, and ten steps later, the point of Brian's headlight appeared. I turned and walked back toward my bike, not eager to get back on.

I had posted a concept for a ride both as a blog and on social media with the idea of traveling the only mostly-gravel loop from Madison, sometime around the winter solstice. Long Ride, Short Day.  People have done this route before both as solo efforts (as I did this summer) and as group rides with names like the Big Ass Long Loop Shindig (BALLS) and the Militant Badger, but never as a group ride in the winter. It follows the Badger rail trail south to Monroe, connects to the Cheese Country ATV trail west and north to Mineral point, then goes along some paved bike path and road to Dodgeville, returning to Madison on the Military Ridge rail trail. Just over 130 miles, 110 of which are not paved.

The first attempt in 2013 was a solo ride for me that went only to a point just south of the Stewart tunnel on the Badger. Four inches of ice-crusted snow proved too much to bust through for that kind of distance.

This year had seen early cold, but with not a whole lot of snow, and with only minimal precipitation for the 3 weeks leading up to the ride. The forecast called for mid-forties and fog on the day of the ride. My guess had been that there would be patches of mud on the low spots along the route, but that most of it would be reasonably dry and firm.

The Start

It seemed that I was mostly right for the first half of the ride. Steve, Nick, a newcomer named Brian (who had done the Militant Badger) and I met up at the trail kiosk in Fitchburg at 06:00. Steve was a little late thanks to a non-functional taillight, but we soon enough struck south on the paved section of the Badger. When we reached the limestone, it was covered in ice and snow. This is not unusual, since this first section is in a groove cut through a hill that sees precious little sunlight, so we pressed on in our optimism and were soon rewarded with fast sections of exposed limestone.

I hadn't finished an important part of my morning routine, so we made an early stop at a C-store in Belleville. At this point, the ambient temperature was just coming up to about freezing.

Abandoned Road Bridge
The approach to the tunnel was also through a cut and covered in ice and snow. Nick and Brian both fell, fortunately with no harm done. Icy stalagmites had already formed on the floor of the tunnel, along with several loose chunks of limestone from the ceiling.

The Cheese

Further south we rolled through Monticello and on to Monroe, where we left the Badger and picked up the Cheese Country ATV trail. Though the surface is a larger aggregate mixed with more sand, the going was still pretty good despite some long icy stretches.

We stopped for lunch at a c-store in Gratiot, filling up on wedge sandwiches, pizza and chocolate milk. Upon returning to the trail, we found that it had begin to get soft and the spray was beginning to make a mess of the bikes. We made another brief stop at a Casey's in Darlington, which, disappointingly, was out of pizza.

Cheese Triangle
Nick had a brake problem out near Calamine (the spring on his rear caliper somehow got caught in the rotor) and I decided to inspect my nonfunctional rear brake while we were stopped. Turned out that the grease I had used in my rear hub is not waterproof and had leaked its grey matter all over the caliper and rotor on one side, the cassette and chain on the other, and all around the inner circumference of the rim. There was nothing to be done but rely on the front brake. Brian, being the slowest of the group, decided to forge ahead to Mineral Point, and I did the same a couple minutes later.

By this time, the temperatures were in the forties and the trail has turned to soup. The most effective strategy was to ride the narrow margins where roots made the going spongy but rideable. Steve and Nick caught me in short order, and it was clear that I was still not fully recovered from the flu I'd had the week before. We found Brian in Mineral Point, and pressed on after a brief break, wanting to clear the ten miles of road to Dodgeville before it got dark.

The Stretch

Rolling north up Shake Rag St., the fog started to get pretty thick, and stayed so all the way to Dodgeville. Fortunately, there's a separated bicycle path for most of the way that runs parallel to, and then crosses the four-lane US Highway 18.

A mile or so south of Dodgeville, the path dumps out onto state Highway 23, but we chose the option of crossing onto a short section of gravel named Lover's Lane. It was immediately obvious that it doesn't get much traffic, and still had snow drifts stretched across it that were weeks old. Dusk was almost over and the lights came on. There was more falling on ice and slogging through gravel slurry. I got off and pushed my bike at one point and declared that I could drop out and call my wife right then and there for a ride and be done with the whole thing. Steve gently reminded me that we'd soon be taking a break and to let him know if I needed anything. We rolled onto a Dodgeville pavement just as the daylight was giving its last.

Lover's Lane
Right about mile 95, we rolled into the KwikTrip parking lot soggy, tired and covered in limestone. We stalked the good provisions aisle by aisle and I remember thinking that this is about as lousy as I had felt at the very end of some of the longest, most difficult rides I've done. We did our best to eat, rest and rally, but concern about the 40 miles of unpaved rail trail ahead was clearly weighing heavily on our mood. I said I was concerned, which was sort of an understatement. I bought some string cheese, a banana, some chocolate milk, jerky, and chips. We were there for maybe 45 minutes, and somehow we rallied.

The Darkness 

It was dark when we left the store. We started out riding north on the main drag but quickly opted for back streets. We found the trailhead easily enough, but as we had suspected, most of it was soupy. There were a few stretches of snow or dry surface, but we mostly had to ride on the vegetation at the edges of the trail. There was a stretch of paved trail before Ridgeway we got to ride at speed, but it ended too soon. The parts through Ridgeway and Barneveld were the soupiest of all, and we rode the parallel streets where we could.

All of us were miserable, but Brian, riding a regular mountain bike with 2" tires and narrow drop bars had it the worst by far. We found ourselves waiting for him at regular intervals for increasing lengths of time. He told us a couple of times that we should just leave him, but no way would my conscience allow me to leave somebody alone after dark, in the middle of nowhere, on a trail with no other traffic. No way. As we rolled up on Riley, there was some joking about stopping at the Tap for a beer, and I suggested that we could also call and ask how much a cab back to Madison would cost. Brian vetoed the idea:

"I've come this far. I'm not quitting now."

So we slogged on. The low section of trail between Riley and Verona might not have been as bad as we had expected, but it was still some of the worst. The wait between the box culverts was probably one of the longest, but the last section before hitting pavement was also long enough to cause some worry. Steve and Nick and I were clearly past our Bike Fun freshness date, but I really have to hand the prize for raw determination to Brian. I honestly have no idea how he did this ride on the bike he had chosen.

The pavement was a major relief. There were some icy stretches, but forward progress was suddenly much easier and faster. The last miles rolled by in some kind of daze as the fog returned. We parted ways at the Three Trails, and I was the first to cross the bike counter at six minutes past midnight.

I Was Number One For a Day
I pulled in the driveway at 00:28 on the morning of the 14th of December and the wife was still up. She fed me and I took a shower before falling into bed. I was so exhausted, wired and mentally shattered that restful sleep refused to visit me. Taking the burden of others' well-being upon myself had taken a real toll on me—something I have to learn to deal with more constructively. I took it really easy all day Sunday, doing laundry, washing the bike and watching a couple of movies, finally sleeping well Monday night.


My hubris needs a check after this one. Frank and Tyler had both tried to warn us that the warm temperatures in the forecast were going to turn the trail soft, and it turned out that they were mostly right. It's sort of a shame that this is the only trail loop to which we have access from Madison, because it's really a little too long. Either that or my motivation is too short.

Pics on the Flickr.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Gravel Rig

Woody Anne (Trans Iowa 2014 configuration)

This is Woody Anne, my 2000 model year Surly Cross Check. It's the bike I've been riding the most for mixed-surface adventure rides and gravel events, including Almanzo, Dairy Roubaix, Trans Iowa, Heck of the North, Gravel Metric and more recently the Ten Thousand.

Really, she's nothing all too special. My parts choices are mostly based on wanting high functionality and durability at a reasonable cost. This usually means simple, yet effective. A full component list is available below for hardcore bikegeekery, but in a nutshell it's a 2x8, drop-bar cross bike with a good wheelset.

Anybody who knows me knows that I like this bike quite a bit. It's stable but lively, I've been fitted on it so that it's very comfortable, and I have little doubt about its durability. Even though I originally ordered the dark blue frame with the 1" headtube, I've really grown to like even the color of this one.

Here she is, all set to make our first attempt at Trans Iowa:

Trans Iowa Configuration
Note the custom headlight mount, which replaces one of the headset spacers.

Hey Tink
No plans to replace this one for the foreseeable future. Might switch out the bars for a set of Salsa Cowbells at some point. The current spec:

Frame: Year 2000 Surly Cross Check, TIG-welded double-butted Reynolds 631 cro-moly steel.
Fork: Matched, with lugged crown and 1-1/8" steerer

Wheels: Shimano 600 8-speed hubs, Velocity A23 rims, Wheelsmith stainless butted spokes

Crankset: Shimano SLX touring 170mm arms, RaceFace 38t single-speed ring; 29t granny
Bottom bracket: Shimano XT external
Cassette: Shimano 12-30
Front derailleur: Shimano Altus top-swing, top-pull
Front Shifter: Shimano stem shifter mounted on a clamp on the left side of the seat mast just below the top tube. Cable runs directly to the derailleur.
Rear derailleur: Shimano SLX short-cage with alloy pulleys
Rear shifter: Shimano 8-speed bar-end mounted on a Paul's Thumbie on the top section of bar just to the right of the stem.
Chain: Sram PC-851

Brakes: Tektro CR-720 with salmon pads
Brake Levers: Cane Creek BR-5 and Cane Creek Cross-tops

Headset: Chris King NoThread Sotto Volce, silver (recent addition)
Bars: Ritchey WCS, 42cm, 26.0, ergo.
Stem: Bontrager 100mm, 25˚ rise
Seatpost: Ritchey WCS alloy 27.2
Clamp: Surly Constrictor with Surly cable stop
Saddle: Currently a Brooks Cambium

Typical gravel loadout: Medium Relevate Tangle bag, Relevate Mountain Feedbag, Planet Bike Lunch Box, Planet Bike seat bag, Garmin 500 or Touring Plus, Lyzene HV mini-pump, Zefal bottle cages, Banjo Brothers map case.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Devil's Ferry Fall Outing

Grant came up with an idea for another cross-border operation for a fall color ride. Set up to start at Blue Mound state park, it ran north to Spring Green, Ferry Bluff, Devil's Lake state park, the Merimac Ferry, Gibraltar, Mazomaine and back to Blue Mound.

We did a couple of prep rides, the first just he and I out of the village of Blue Mounds; the second to Gibraltar with Steve joining us. We rode very little of the course, but hit a couple of the more questionable highlights. I had never been to Gibraltar and found it to be magnificent, but both prep rides were excellent in many other ways too.

The course was revised several times by the day of the event, most importantly to eliminate a screaming descent immediately upon leaving the park in the pre-dawn darkness.

Family life has been busy lately, so I ended up driving out to the park the night before, arriving after dark. Grant and David had already set up in an adjacent site, and I was soon joined in mine by Jakey. It was in the upper 30's and windy, and I was a little cold that night. Apparently the coons couldn't sleep either, and they woke us up a couple of times.

We were slated to take off at 06:15, and we were pretty close. Grant's neighbor Mark had gotten up early and rode 30+ miles from Madison to join us. Rolled out in the dark and cold at 06:30, west on the rail trail to Barneveld and then north on roads toward Spring Green.

About halfway there it was gloomy as the sun came up, and it started lightly to rain. The breakfast place was a welcome sight with its big flapjacks and hot coffee.

Headed north out of town, the clouds started to break up and we got to practice our headwind skills. Leaf colors were a little past peak but lovely.

We stopped at Ferry bluff and hiked to the top for a look at the Wisconsin river and points east. The weather continued to improve as we embarked on the long climb toward Devil's lake.

Ferry Bluff
We stopped for a snack break but lost David shortly after resuming. Retraced the route to find him fixing a flat.

The longest climb of the day commenced just as the sun came out and the clouds rolled away. We reached the summit near North Freedom, finding some surprise gravel and getting buzzed by an angry motorist. We rode a short stretch of a very busy US 12, crossing onto Ski Hi road toward Devil's Lake state park.

Many had apparently assumed that this was the last beautiful day of the fall, so the park was really busy. We rode down to the lodge, ordered lunch and ate it while enjoying the view of the lake and its surrounding bluffs.

Back on the road, we arrived at the Merrimac Ferry to find that it was also in great demand, and we bought concessions and chatted while waiting for it to arrive. Fortunately, there was plenty of room for bikes.

Next up was a stop at Gibraltar Rock, which entailed an almost impossibly steep climb up an abandoned, moss-covered pavement. The view was worth it.

Mark split off from us at Mussen Road and County Y and headed back to Madison with the hope of getting there not long after dark. Soon after, we rolled through Roxbury and then back into the hills just as the sun was setting. Then we made the mistake of wanting to cut off a few miles, and allowed Grant's Garmin Touring to reroute us onto rather busy highways 19 and 14 to Black Earth as it got really dark. Fortunately, both highways had pretty decent paved shoulders, and we shortly returned to much less-travelled county highways.

By this time, the batteries in both Grant's and my Garmins had run out of gas (a disappointment and a story for another time) and we switched to navigating by knowledge of the local topography. Luckily we were already on County F, which ran into Blue Mounds, but nobody knew how far we had still to go. Uphill and in the dark. Turned out that the final climb was huge, long, and beginning to get quite cold. But persistence pays off, and we finally passed Brigham county park and began the short descent into the village.

David left us before we even arrived at the Hooterville Tap and set out to drive back home to Illinois. Grant, Jakey and I went in and had burgers, beer and pizza before shivering our way back to camp. Even though it got down into the lower thirties, I was ready for it and haven't slept so well in recent memory.

Broke camp the next morning, and had breakfast at [Scholind's] in Mt. Horeb with Grant and Jakey. Drove home.

125+ miles. Good, good stuff.

Pics on the Flix.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Edge of Driftless

This was another cross-border ride we did with our friends Mike, Tim, David and Dave from Illinois, and Dan from Des Moines who happened to be in town for a conference. Met up pretty early at the Jane Addams trailhead in Orangeville and struck northeast onto a couple of gravels. Once in Wisconsin, things changed over to mostly pavement.

The weather and the scenery were both beautiful, and we ended up riding a bunch of stuff we had never seen before.

All the pix can be found here.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Ten Thousand

Went to the inaugural running of Axletree's Ten Thousand down in Freeport. Grant and I got up early and took off on time, but missed an exit in Monroe and ended up getting there about five minutes before the start. Went to the pre-race before we took the bikes off the car and ended up starting a couple minutes behind he field.

Meh. So what? We were in it just for the ride anyway.

It rained on us pretty good starting maybe 20 minutes in, fogging glasses and covering us in slurry. Rode with a fat biker and leapfrogged with Kierstin and Dan, who would all ultimately do the short route.

This was the maiden voyage for the roll chart, and I was really glad I made it shed water. Speaking of maiden voyages, Grant had built up his new Soma Wolverine the week prior and put the finishing touches on the night before. There were a number of stops for adjustments.

The route ran north and west into the Driftless area, and some of the hills were just about steep enough where a person had to walk. The rain quit eventually and we swung back and forth between gravel and pavement; occasionally, in the middle of nowhere, the pavement would just start or end.

Where the Pavement Ends
There was one checkpoint and one c-store, both with ample water. Good thing, because we got a couple peeks of sun and it warmed up and got good and humid. Grant and I mostly rolled and talked but also took occasional turns at dropping or lagging.

There was some very pretty scenery on route, and a B road that couldn't be beat. Came upon some good ol' boys parked near the end of the B, drinking and having a good ol' time with the laughing and the bullshitting. They asked whether we were the sweepers, and well, we said no but knew then that we were at the back of the pack for the long route.

Minimum Maintenance Road
The joke then became that we would welcome some rain to cool us off a bit. Nearing the finish, we passed Pearl City and I agreed to the rain, but only if it hit after we got back on the pavement. Within a few miles of the finish we got our wish and it poooouuuurrrred. Rolled into Krape park as the second to last group to find only Chad and a couple of others still there. The last group came in as we were changing into dry clothes in the parking lot.

Had a lousy meal at a hotel restaurant in downtown Freeport and drove home in a huge thunderstorm.

Great day, all in all.

Pictures are in the album.