The Great Divide

We recently learned that our half-fast friend Jeremy is riding the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. This trail goes from Canada to Mexico. We’re following him via GPS and he has entered the US and is at Whitefish Lake in Montana. The plan is to average 100 miles/day which I, personally, consider insane. Or, to put it another way, this guy is an animal. We didn’t ride that much crossing the continent on (mostly) paved roads!

We’ve put out a call and are hoping for dispatches from the road to run here. Meanwhile, another great divide song that we didn’t use last year while crossing the divide ourselves.

We crossed the Great Divide Trail exactly a year ago, in Lincoln, MT (home of the Unabomber). He’ll pass through Lincoln just over a year after we did, but he’s doing it the hard way.

Head ‘em off at the past!*

Last call for this weekend – the half-fast cycling club has adopted a section of County Highway F at Brigham Park. This means we are responsible for keeping it clean, and our first cleanup is scheduled for Sunday, June 30, at noon. We’ll meet at the park (or I can take folks in the van). The Highway Department has supplied us with safety vests, road signs, trash bags, and gloves. I’d like to know how many are coming so I have enough vests. Let me know if you will join us (via the contact page or any other way you may already know for reaching the hfcc).

*Photo from one year ago today, in case that reference was too obscure.


The half-fast cycling club has officially adopted a highway. This means we are responsible for keeping the roadside clean. Our stretch of road includes one of our favorite climbs and one of our favorite views.

If you guessed County Highway F at Brigham Park, you are a weiner! Officially, it is from the intersection with Cave of the Mounds Road to the end of the park (just out of sight in the background) at Danhouser Road.

Now we’re looking for volunteers. The first cleanup is planned for Sunday, June 30. If you’re interested, let us know via the contact page on this site or by any other means if you know how to reach us in other ways. If you can’t make that day but want to be on the list for the future, tell us that as well.

After we clean, we can sit on the bench (from which these photos were taken) and enjoy the view and a cold beverage.

The day after the Horribly Hilly, I had the good fortune to meet Phil Van Valkenberg, who might be considered the father of bike touring in Wisconsin. When I first discovered, at the age of 21, that I could ride my bike out of town, it was to Phil that I turned for maps and advice. He just didn’t know it until now. I dedicated the ride to him. He was in Milwaukee for the Fat Tire Tour of Milwaukee. We met at a chamber music concert; nothing to do with bikes (except that it was in a really beautiful valley for a ride).

This section of highway is no longer an orphan!

Same half-fast guy, two 200K rides, 27 years apart. Wet both times.

Horribly Hilly

Yes folks, it’s time to fulfill the promise I made to a guy in Texas I don’t even know. One year after leaving for the coast-to-coast trip, it is the infamous Horribly Hilly Hundreds (or “Death Ride of the Midwest” as I call it), not to be confused with that other HHH, the Hotter ‘n Hell Hundred in Texas.

But first things first. Last week was the Marquette Waterfront Festival, the gateway to summer around here. Four years ago, we were wowed by the appearance of the March Fourth Marching Band, as they marched, danced, and stilt-walked their way through the park to the stage for a show that was talked about for the rest of the summer. Everyone wondered when they would be back.

Two years ago, they were scheduled to close out the festival again; but they called from somewhere in the middle of Iowa. A broken-down bus on a Sunday in Iowa is not a good thing. When we heard they were coming back this year, we were ready for them and hoped they were ready for us. A new(er) bus rolled slowly down Yahara Place at 5; just in time for the 6:30 set.

MarchFourth (they shortened the name) is one of those bands that everyone says you have to hear live. Everyone is right. But I did find a video that gives you a flavor of their work. If I had to describe them in a word, it would be “steamfunk”.

We had seats near the front, right behind the dancing section. The seats were not used.


A year ago today (Saturday) I was waking up in a motel at the SeaTac airport, then shuttling to the starting point of the coast-to-coast ride. Sunday we dipped our tires into the Pacific Ocean (and I sealed up a vial of Pacific water) and started east (more or less).

Yes, the Horribly Hilly Hundreds is horribly hilly (but also breathtakingly beautiful). When it was a mere 100 miles, it was just the “Horribly Hilly Hundred”. Now there are 100K, 100 mile, and 200K options. 200K includes an alleged 10,700 feet of climbing spread over “40 significant rises”. While the Death Ride includes 15,000 feet of climbing over the same distance, it is confined to five major climbs. Spreading the climbing out means you can’t just psych yourself up for the passes and it is tempting to see the top of the rise and power over it…until you realize somewhere along the way that doing that 40 times will reduce your legs to jelly.

And jelly is what my legs are now. I left home at 5:15 AM. Heading out Verona Road, many of the cars had bikes on the back. Turning off to head up to Blue Mound, the traffic became bumper-to-bumper, and everyone had a bike on the back.

Traffic coming into the park as I rode out.

Start line

We reached the park and got ready for the day. The first 1.6 miles didn’t count, as we rode into the town of Blue Mounds for the oficial start. The road out of the park was steep. In the back of my mind was the knowledge that we would have to ride back up that hill after 120+miles of riding.

Start line

The route was divided into 5 “stages”, roughly 20% of the miles each; except that the 4th stage was over 30 miles and contained some of the toughest hills of the day.

Enchanted Valley. Note tiny bikes on the road.

The day started cool and sunny. All week the forecast had been for scattered showers throughout the day. This morning it changed and called for later afternoon rain. Around noon it was bordering on hot, when clouds rolled in to cool things down. The clouds looked ominous at times but the rain held off – until about mile 110, when it let loose. I put my jacket back on and tried to scrub rainwater off my rims on a long downhill. The rain stopped in time for the final climb up the infamous Mounds Park Road and the even worse final climb to the park.

I overheard a guy in a “Triple Bypass” jersey telling someone that the HHH is harder. She asked, “even with the elevation?” He said yes, because the mountain roads are only 5-7% grades and the HHH has many stretches of >15% and “you have to go anaerobic to get over them.”

I was thinking that this was harder than the Death Ride for the same reason; though I can’t make a fair comparison since I rode the Death Ride more than 25 years ago. Maybe if I were to ride it again next summer I could compare. I will say this was the hardest single day experience I have ever had. Being 66 years old could have something to do with that;)

Finish line.
Food by Friends of Blue Mound State Park.

I stayed in the saddle for all climbs for the first 30 miles. In the last 30, I got over them any way I could. A friendly farmer’s offer of rhubarb water got me over one climb. (Rhubarb water: a lightly sweetened infusion of rhubarb, seasoned with cardamom.)

My calves started cramping at mile 25 – a bad omen with 100 miles to go. Bilateral quad cramps and a left sartorius cramp followed. Lots of pickle juice as well as electrolyte drinks and Clif Shot Bloks (the extra-salty margarita flavor) helped stave off the cramps. My triceps are not happy – but I am.

The free post-ride beer was a raspberry radler. I don’t know about you, but I like fruit and I like beer, but I like to keep them separate. When I was a teen (in the era of the 18 year old beer drinking age) there was a product called “Right Time Malt Liquor”. I referred to it as “training beer”. It was an attempt to market to teens, to get them drinking even if they didn’t like the taste of alcohol. (Sound familiar? Just like the tobacco industry making fruit and candy-flavored vaping products as training cigarette to hook kids on nicotine; though I don’t recall the beer industry was “shocked” to find kids drinking.)


Grace ran the kitchen with an iron fist. Bob ran the bar with an iron elbow.

To understand this story, you need to understand a bit about Supper Club Culture. A supper club is where you went out to eat when you wanted familiarity in the days before franchises. Friday night was fish fry; preferably all you can eat, served family-style. The platters came out as fast as the deep fryers could work – battered perch and french fries. Saturday was prime rib with baked potatoes. The leftover baked potatoes were grated on Sunday morning to become hash browns. Sunday was turkey and mashed potatoes – served in the afternoon. Yellow food coloring made sure you could tell it was turkey gravy and not beef gravy. If Bob (the other Bob – every man was Bob, Tom, John, or Bill, it seems) was a little heavy-handed with the Yellow #5, the gravy took on an otherworldly, fluorescent hue.

Every day you could get Broasted chicken. Broasted is a portmanteau of basted and roasted, and only refers to chicken that came from the Broaster, a machine made by The Broaster Company of Beloit, WI. It is deep-fried under pressure. If memory serves me correctly, you could go from raw to crispy fried chicken in seven minutes. (My dictionary says broiling, not basting, and that the term originated in the 1980s. What do they know?)

Every supper club has to have an extensive salad bar. Cut glass bowls are arranged in crushed ice. Three bean salad and pickled herring are required, as are mountains of iceberg lettuce. [You do know why it’s called “iceberg”, right? Before refrigerated railcars, it was shipped east in waxed cardboard boxes, loaded into insulated railcars. After the lettuce was packed, crushed ice was poured over the top. The tops of the heads stuck out, like the tips of icebergs.]

So Grace ran the kitchen and Bob ran the bar. His job was to hold down a stool at the end of the bar and schmooze. It sounds like an easy job, but her liver lasted longer. On Saturdays we had a piano bar. Grace figured that busboys were a waste of money, so one dishwasher doubled as busboy each night. When you were the busboy, you wore a white shirt and black necktie. You had to stay clean, including your apron. You were only in the dining room when you were clearing a table because, while you were gone, the dishwashing got behind. Your reward was that, at the end of the night, each of the waitresses shared a quarter from her tips. I don’t mean a quarter (¼) of her tips, I mean a quarter (25 cents) from her tips.

I wore an American flag tie tack to keep my tie out of the food. To the diners, it appeared upside down. During the time that we were invading Viet Nam, this was commonly used as a sign of distress. If a diner commented, I would just look down and say, “It looks rightside up to me.” Occasionally a diner would smile or wink. Sometimes Grace would make me turn it over.

Grace insisted that silverware had to be hand-dried. It had to be dried as soon as it came out of the machine so the water couldn’t evaporate and leave spots. The final rinse was 180 degrees. To this day (50 years later) my hands are less sensitive to heat than most. Drying the silverware was not as bad as putting away the 180 degree china.

Grace and Bob tried to turn their son into a chef. When that failed, they bought him a liquor store. John was best known as the supplier for the biggest beer party in our high school’s history. The parent of one of my classmates was a realtor and selling a parcel of land between our town and the next town up the road. It seemed like a good place for a party. Folks pulled their cars off the road and parked surrounding a clearing, lights shining inward so they could see (this being out in the country and dark). An enterprising cop, seeing the light in the woods, crept up to find hundreds of high school students and a row of half barrels. He called in reinforcements. When they raided, kids escaped into the woods in all directions, leaving cars and purses behind. Those who weren’t swept up that night were corralled the next morning. School was pretty quiet while they all served their three day suspensions. John was cited for supplying beer to minors. Of course, this is all hearsay, as I was working in the restaurant that night.

Dishwashers working for Grace didn’t last long. She did, however, inspire this:


I eat in the corner.
I sit on a 5 gallon plastic bucket,
the kind that mayo comes in.
I hold my plate on my lap.
No table –
I’m just the dishwasher.
The waitresses eat at a table in the dining room,
the one by the kitchen door that nobody else will take.
But me, I’m a machine –
Fuel ’em up and get ’em back on the road.
I don’t need the good food,
or a table to sit at,
or even a chair to sit on –
that would take too long.
Sometimes she takes the bucket away.

“Dishwasher” she calls me.
“Busboy” on days when I’m lucky.
Some days she leaves out the “bus” part.

“Busboy! There’s a table out there!”
One day, I was “steve”.
Just once, I had a name.
In Grace’s world, names aren’t given
to busboys and dishwashers.
They’re parts. They get changed pretty often.
Leslie has a name.
He’s been here more ‘n two years. A record.
Me, I’m next in seniority.
I’ve been here a whole year.
Pretty impressive in Grace’s world.
If I make it ’til graduation, I might break Leslie’s record.
I might get a name.
The other dishwashers will throw a party.
We’ll take Warren’s dad’s convertible and drive around the square…
try to get somebody to buy us beer.
Wait! I’ll be 18! I can buy the beer!

How long has she been yelling?
“Table out here!”
We’re not allowed into the dining room
unless there’s a table to clear.
But when there is one, she yells like we were supposed to be there already.
I still haven’t figured out how I’ll know
when there’s a table to clear
Unless I’m in the dining room to see it.
I guess that’s when I’ll get a name.
For now, I try to cheat.

As I clean the table, I scan the room.
Table 4 is just getting their coffee.
Maybe 10 more minutes.
Table 17 just got their check.
Could be any minute now.
Then I can check 4 again.
I try to keep track of every table in the place,
how far along they are,
so I can time it just right
and get to the dining room just as they head for the door
so it will look like I just knew.
Then I’ll get a name.
Then I’ll be “Steve”.

Then one day
Like Buddha, I’ll know.
I’ll smile serenely
as I grab my tray and rag.
I’ll go straight to the table that needs clearing.
No thought. No doubt.
No need to look, to keep track.
I will be enlightened.
I will be the busboy buddha.
Grace won’t know what hit her.
She’ll try to figure it out.
She’ll stand gaping as I clear the table
she was about to come and tell me to clear.
She’ll see me out of the corner of her eye
as they bring their check to her station,
and wonder how I knew they were leaving
when they hadn’t even gotten to the hostess station yet!

She’ll try to catch me at the kitchen door, peeking
out into the dining room.
But I’ll be helping the dishwashers,
a serene smile on my face.
My buddha nature content as I dry the silverware so
it doesn’t spot.

Grace will call me Steve.

Les died March 13, 2019, at the age of 67. He was also the guy who taught me how to fold newspapers.

So Vikki, that’s where Al and I spent our Friday nights, dreaming of our cross-country motorcycle trip, while you were out drinking beer. (Did you get caught that night?)

I found out, as the previous post went to press, that Dr John, Mac Rebennack, died Thursday, June 6, 2019. In his alter ego as “Dr John, the Night Tripper”, he wove a mysterious tapestry of psychedelia, jazz, and Louisiana voodoo (not the same as Haitian vodou). As Mac Rebennack (or just plain Dr John), he was a pianist in the mold of Professor Longhair.

Singing harmony on this recording are The Neville Brothers. Brother Charles Neville, saxophonist, died April 26, 2018.