This past weekend was quite possibly the last great weather weekend in the Midwest (hopefully I'm wrong). I had the privilege of riding with two great friends, Stephan and Damian, in the beautiful hillsides of Southern Wisconsin. This was our 4th [almost] Annual Hruszkewycz/Hider Long Weekend Ride.
The Bike Route:
We decided to start in Madison, WI (which could be a blog post all on its own) biking to Mineral Point (also a blog worthy city), and returning on the following day. All I'm going to say about Madison is that I MUST make a return trip. Apart from the friendly people, it usually ranks in the top bike friendly cities in the U.S. and I can see why....
- They have a whole network of different "bike lanes" including on/off street paths, dedicated bike lanes, wide curb lanes, and specific bike lanes on sidewalks.
- They have dedicated bike crossing traffic lights and reminders to share the road including the cities first bike counter! - which at 5pm on Sunday was at 1100 cyclists for that day alone.
- A bike shop on every corner, Not a CVS! (well maybe those also, I wasn't really looking).
- Cycle aid stations are placed along some of the bike paths for bikers to repair their bikes. - These come from Saris, who is also based in Madison.
- Quick and easy public bike rentals, B-Cycle Rentals, are available throughout the city.
- Wisconsin based Trek Bicycle Corporation donates money to Madison and other Wisconsin cities. For example, $50K to Madison Metropolitan Schools for the "Safe Routes To School Efforts" program.
Anyways, we found a great website from Jim Winkle showing many routes in and around Madison, and decided upon his "Pedal and Prance" ride, only we condensed from 3 days to 2.
I don't think I'm going out on a limb when I say I UNDERESTIMATED the hills in Southern Wisconsin!! Take a look at these elevations.....
If the maps don't register with you, it looked something like 6 Mph Up --> 40 Mph Down --> 6 Mph Up --> 40 Mph Down --> REPEAT for roughly 5 1/2 hours. There were some seriously challenging climbs, and seriously fun descents. Top speed on my computer showed around 42 Mph. Nothing like this exists in Minster, OH.
- Temp: Ave. 58°C (PERFECT!),
- Wind: 17mph WNW with 26 mph gusts (NOT SO IDEAL! AND MOSTLY HEADWINDS),
- Precipitation: NONE (PERFECT!)
- Temp: Ave. 57°C (PERFECT!),
- Wind: 13mph SE with no gusts (NOT SO IDEAL AGAIN!! HEADWINDS FOR THE RETURN TRIP),
- Precipitation: NONE (PERFECT!)
Apart from the extremely strong wind gusts on day 1, and the decision by mother nature to reverse the winds on day 2 so that we could have headwinds on our return trip as well, the weather couldn't have been more ideal!
Bike Gear / Nutrition:
We were able to try out some newish bike gear on this trip. I'm not going to bore you with the details, but here is a quick summary of what we LIKED or DISLIKED...
1. LIKED - KMC X10SL Pink Lady Chain: MSRP $79.50, It worked seamlessly with Shimano Ultegra Grouping, it uses a KMC MissingLink to connect the chain (which I like much better than Shimano chain), and supports a great cause. I won't be stocking these due to the price, but I can definitely order them for anyone interested (they only come in 9 speed and 10 speed if you want the pink version).
2. LIKED - Honey Stinger Gel: MSRP $33.36 Box of 24, Both the chocolate and ginsting flavors were very tasty with a slight honey flavor, possibly the best gel I've ever tried, the honey tastes much more natural than other gels. Our only complaint: the tabs don't stay with the package like the Clif Shot Energy Gels for example. Slightly more expensive at about $1.40 per pack (opposed to $1 for other gels), but worth the cost. I will be stocking these gels in the shop. (let me know what flavor you want)
3. LIKED - Nite Ize HandleBand Smart Phone Holder: MSRP $19.99, The day is coming when it will be common to charge your devices (phone, lights, computer, etc.) while riding [check out this awesome kickstarter project soon to be available by SIVA]. When that day comes, I want to be ready and this is a really good start. I actually tried out a few holders on this ride, but this one has some really nice features....it easily mounts to stem and handlebar in seconds, it can accommodate nearly any smart phone (or flashlight, or camera, or keys, or whatever you wanted to get out of your pocket), it is cheap, it holds the device really well, and it is relatively inexpensive, oh and it can open beer bottles as well! It is not without its faults....I assume the stretchy band will wear out over time, the band can cover up key items on the phone screen, the phone is exposed to the climate, and the band can interfere with power buttons (as we witnessed on the trip). I will be stocking these in the shop!
4. DISLIKED - BRAAAP Honey Graham Nutrition Bar: MSRP $24.00 Box of 12, At a first glance this looks like it will be a smart, healthy choice for a bar due to Gluten Free, Soy Free, 9g. Protein, No Preservatives, All Natural, Non-GMO, etc. etc. However, on first bite into one of these bars, your mouth is invaded with this strange chemical taste like nothing I've ever had before. Secondly it works its way into your nostrils and lingers for minutes (similar to strong mold on blue cheese). And, thirdly, it decides to work down to your gut and stay for up to half hour as your burps remind you of the terrible chemical taste. I am so glad I tasted these BEFORE packing them along on the trip. What did the others think? I let 3 other riders (full disclosure: these are 3 of my good friends, not random strangers) try these and all three agreed that they were terrible. "The worst #$%%ing thing I have ever tasted", said one friend who has lived in/traveled to countries like Ukraine, and Norway, and in his free time experiments with homemade Ukrainian Sausage (Kovbasa). He is used to interesting/weird/different tastes. We tried to open a second bar just in case, and we confirmed the expiration date was a year out. I have no explanation as to why they taste so bad - they just do. I will NOT be stocking these bars in the shop.
The Ride and The Views:
What can I say other than beautiful? This was possibly one of the best, if not THE best weekends to ride. Mild temperature meant not overheating, and not having to bundle up. The fall leaves were slightly over their peak and half fallen, but gorgeous all the same. The Wisconsin hills were difficult but lovely when viewed from the top. Fields had been either recently harvested - or in the process of. We saw many old farm homes / buildings nice enough that artists were stopped by the side of the road to paint them. And the back roads were the NICEST I've ever seen. I don't know if this comes from high taxes or minimal traffic, but it was much different than the back roads we have encountered in OH and MI.
I believe this area of Wisconsin to be some of the greatest road biking in the U.S. (at least top ten - let me know in the comments if you agree/disagree). At least one other person agrees with me.....
1. Never underestimate a ride. Yes, in retrospect, I should have known...My first major ride of the year and I'm not in shape, The topographic map showed it was hilly, the weather predicted it might be windy, etc. etc., and still I didn't put in enough prep time. I can't wait to do this ride again after getting back in long distance riding shape.
2. You can never plan enough. This is our fourth long weekend ride we have executed and we still forgot things....
- The PB+J sandwiches in the fridge
- Keys to the bike locks
- Chap stick
- Poncho (luckily didn't need it)
- A good map holder (usually we use aero bars, which we forgot)
Make a list, use it, reflect on it, modify it and each consecutive ride will become easier and easier.
3. Long rides are a blast. To name just a few of the joys...
- The Joy of being outside.
- The Joy of comradery, such that when I struggled with the climbs, or a fellow rider struggled with knee pain we distributed weight from one rider to another. We are in the ride together, to the finish, no matter what.
- The Joy of accomplishment.
- The Joy of your body feeling really worn down, but really good at the same time.
- The Joy of meeting new people and seeing new places. We had several amazing meals, and met several very friendly and interesting people, and saw several unique towns along the way.
- and finally, The Joy of the unknown. You always encounter challenges along the way like, Where to stay, Where to find water, Where to eat, How to reroute to save time/effort, How to rig the bike to make it to the nearest hardware store or local bike shop. These unknowns are what make even the most common routes interesting and worth repeating.
Have you biked Wisconsin? Do you have a favorite tour route or weekend riding location? Do you have any additional suggestions for a successful ride? We would like to hear from you in the comments section.
Cheers and Happy Riding!