Half-fast Fall Ride

In this strange bike racing season, the Tour de France was barely over when the World Championships were held. Now we’re in the midst of the Giro d’Italia, and the Vuelta a España will overlap with that, beginning October 20, while the Giro ends on the 25th.

For those who missed the Tour, it was an exciting race, won in the final time trial by Tadej Pogačar, who also won the King of the Mountains jersey in that same time trial, after easily having sewn up the Best Young Rider competition earlier. Pogačar came back from almost a minute down to win by almost a minute over his Slovenian countryman, but not teammate, Primož Roglič. Not often do you get a time trial on the last day of real racing, with a categorized climb to boot.

A beautiful day for the Half-fast Fall Ride. Low-lying frost greeted us on the way to the meet-up. The usual breakfast place has gone out of business ( a COVID casualty) so we all ate our own breakfast at home. We tried a new morning route, bypassing the ferry crossing in exchange for exploring Sauk Prairie – the former Badger Army Ordnance Works now being restored by 4 owners – the Ho-Chunk Nation, WI Dept of Natural Resources, USDA Dairy Forage Research Center, and Bluffview Sanitary District. Less than half of the land is open to the public, but that leaves >3000 acres to explore via rustic roads and trails. The land formerly produced ammunition for WW II, and the Korean and Vietnam wars. That left a lot to clean up when it was decommissioned. Part of the Badger Army Ordnance Works’ claim to infamy is that at the turn of the new year 1969-70, the New Year’s Gang “borrowed” a plane from a nearby airfield and attempted to bomb the site to stop them from building munitions for the war in Vietnam. While the bombing failed, it is alleged that the same group bombed the Army Mathematics Research Center later in 1970.

Much of the land was and will be prairie, but it runs up into the bluffs just south of Devil’s Lake with some steep climbs up narrow roads, as well as some areas not open to the public. There is a beautiful and lightly-traveled (at least today) bike trail running through it. The climb up through Devil’s Lake was gorgeous as usual and a brisk tailwind pushed us for most of the morning. You know what that means for the afternoon.

We were able to eat lunch outside in Baraboo before our leisurely return to Sauk City. We earned the name half-fast today, this being the slowest 55 miles I’ve ridden in some time.

The ride was a perfect sendoff as I begin my two week tour of duty in the COVID-19 unit. Our Fearless Leader is home from his brief stint. On the way out he tweeted that we should not be afraid of COVID, because “we have developed, under the Trump administration, some great drugs…” What he didn’t mention is that you and I would not receive the treatment or the medication he received. Nor will we discharge to round-the-clock care with a staff of nurses and doctors. And he also neglected to mention that we paid for his treatment, since he paid $750 in taxes for the most recent year we know about, and his care may well have cost that much per hour, not counting his helicopter rides. He has no co-pays, co-insurance, nor worry that one of his care team might have been out of network and not covered at all. Lest we forget, the bulk of his taxes actually go to the War Department (now known, in one of the earliest examples of newspeak, as the Department of Defense) and debt service, so maybe his taxes didn’t pay for a whole hour. And, by the way, it has been reported that Dear Leader holds stock in the company that developed the “COVID-cocktail” and said stock price has gone through the roof since his treatment. So ask Dear Leader if he will pay for your care as you have paid for his. If so, have no fear.

Baraboo re-do

Who knew you could get to Baraboo by car as well as by bike? Even on some of the same roads! Frankly, any scenery that looks good at 60 mph looks better at 20. But this weekend found the half-fast cycling club off to Baraboo for the second time in a week; this time in a car.

The occasion was our 25th wedding anniversary. We stayed in an apartment above the Little Village Cafe. It was a beautiful 2 bedroom apartment overlooking the town square and decorated with circus posters.

I had no idea who Mister Mistin, Jr was, so I had to look him up. He was the star of the 1953 season of the Ringling Brothers Circus, discovered by John Ringling in a circus in Sweden. In Sweden he performed under the name of “Baby Mistin”, but Ringling, to emphasize the child’s prodigiousness, dubbed him “Mister”. Mistin had made his debut in Belgium at the age of two and, by the time he came to the US, claimed to speak five languages. His tenure with the Ringling Brothers lasted one season.

Baraboo is a small enough town to walk everywhere – to the Al Ringling Theatre next door, to the Circus World Museum, to the park and zoo, to the children’s museum, and to the Driftless Glen Distillery. Devil’s Lake State Park, Parfrey’s Glen, and Durward’s Glen are all a short ride (or drive) away. Walking past the children’s museum at night we saw a dragon (one of several in town) and a firetruck.

A great dinner at The Little Village, breakfast at the Broadway Diner (where we sat almost close enough to the griddle to cook from our stools), but the hike in Devil’s Lake was derailed by a cold mist that made the apartment seem much more inviting. We finally ventured out after dark again for dinner at the Driftless Glen Distillery. A phenomenal dinner ( a great mushroom sauce on pasta) and the spirits weren’t bad, either. Back across Lake Wisconsin on the Merrimac Ferry and the real world beckons once again. The leaves that were just a pretty sight in Baraboo have to be raked here.

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Al Ringling Theatre – from traditionalbuilding.com

Top/bottom ten

The greatest hits and worst miseries of the tour, not necessarily in order of how good or bad they were and not necessarily ten of each:

Tour top 10:

New York week (after the first 50 miles) -Finger Lakes/wading in Lake Ontario after a cold front came through, temperature and humidity went down, tailwind all morning; up and down through the Adirondacks, beautiful day in Lake Placid. If you took away the first 50 miles and replaced them with the first 50 miles of the next week, this could be #1.867CEBD3-27F5-4014-AACC-1FC37BBC5BE8

Wisconsin week – Cannon Trail, the Great River Rd., Baraboo Bluffs/Devils Lake/Merrimac ferry, Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive. Great roads and no traffic all week. (Visits from family and friends put this one over the top, but it was already great.) 

The ride into Baraboo contained the single steepest climb of the entire trip ( a short stretch of Terrytown Road). 

The Sparta to Elroy Trail, while the first Rails-to-Trails conversion, has been surpassed by several others. It was actually the low point of the week. While the tunnels are a novelty, riding for 30+ miles on gravel is not my cup of tea and takes a toll on the bike. I know, gravel riding is the new thing, but I’d rather ride on pavement if given the choice. 

I’m almost reluctant to admit that the area I ride regularly was the high point, but it also assures me that I live in the right place.AA48B9A9-93D9-405F-B4A3-8637855C927A

Needles highway/Black Hills/Badlands – The Needles Highway was the single high point. This was a magical fairyland, otherworldly in its beauty. I am amazed that I never knew of this place. I could ride that road ten more times and still see new things. The area was phenomenal and the road was the best we rode in >4300 miles.   E2692CEC-A68A-498A-9B90-C0D7F1978AC7

The Badlands are also otherworldly. Different, in that they can be seen as bleak in broad daylight, but change minute-by-minute in early morning light. Like Needles Highway, I wanted to ride that same road again at sunset after riding it at sunrise. 

 

Bike path through Grand Teton National Park, climbing Teton Pass, descending to Jackson Hole and a great bike path. The path through the park kept us away from traffic and in view of the mountains. I met Santa Claus at the foot of Teton Pass, along with a group riding from Texas to Alaska. The pass was steep and tough, getting steeper as it went. Standing at the top of the pass was a feeling of accomplishment and gave a great view of the valley below. After descending to the valley we were led on a secluded path into town. The valley is well set up for bicycles, with paths connecting the towns.

 

Thompson Pass – first time over the continental divide and first big pass, descent into Thompson Falls, a town mostly owned by a single family, where we saw their bar, ice cream shop, catering service, and bus service.

Devils Tower. A campground situated right at the base of the tower. The tower itself rises out of nothing. It is not part of a mountain range but, like Ayers Rock in Australia, is just there. It is no surprise that it was used as the backdrop/centerpiece of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. 9DCB1F78-14DE-4EBC-9051-1754A42439FD

The margarita party was our first real chance to sit down as a group and just hang out together. 

Smugglers Notch. A day that started with threatening weather that never fully materialized. The pass enveloped by clouds as we ascended, never really sure how high it was, on the approach or while actually climbing it. A climb that was over before I realized it; not because it was easy (it wasn’t) but because the top was invisible until we were there. The steepest descent of the trip, made hazardous by the wet pavement so we took it slowly. 

 

Bottom 10:

Riding 105 miles in 40° rain. The camaraderie made it tolerable. A day that I would have stayed in bed had I been on my own. 

Climbing a mountain pass in a hailstorm. Another day saved by a group – the same group. As Greg told me before the trip, the 70 degree and sunny days will all blend together, but it is the days like this that will make lasting memories. 

72 mile ride that turned into 102 mile ride, the last 1/3 into a brutal headwind, finishing with a helmet splitting crash in an endless industrial waste land. The only day that I wanted the van to stop for me. I got back on the bike and rode the final ten miles, so I did ride EFI. We stopped at a convenience store for a cold drink and found other riders draped over coolers and freezers. Misery loves company.

The first half of that day was actually really nice. 

Mile after mile of horrendous pavement,90+ degree heat, and endless headwinds across the Great Plains.

Mile after mile of flat and boring countryside in Michigan with bad highways and rude drivers.

Re-entering the US at Niagara Falls and riding 50 miles before getting into the countryside.

Bone jarring expansion cracks through Central Minnesota.

Hill City to Custer – uphill, bad headwind, relentless sun/heat, horrendous traffic, grooved pavement causing painful whining noise – and there was a reasonable alternative route nearby.

A few random thoughts:

  • had some great encounters with bikers (of the Harley persuasion) – both on-the-road salutes and chats at the roadside.
  • In the first week I waved to a Corvette behind me to acknowledge it and, as it passed, I saw a peace sign flashed out through the T-top.
  • A random motorcyclist flipped me the bird for no apparent reason.
  • A friendly bar owner brought watermelon out to us on a hot, dry, and windy day.
  • On another hot day I stopped in a coffee shop for an iced coffee and the air conditioning was so cold I just hung out for awhile. It was a day when I realized getting somewhere was only a small part of the plan.
  • When I walked into a brewpub, I was met by applause. Another rider had arrived before me and told our story and they knew I was part of that group.
  • Greg repeatedly referred to the Lake Michigan ferry crossing as “The shortest longest day”. We rode only 40 miles but got into camp with just enough time to pitch our tents before it got dark.
  • Somewhere out west (I think on the Tetons day) a Russian couple riding from Denver to Seattle stopped in and joined us for lunch.
  • On another day, in the middle of nowhere, I happened upon a scruffy-looking guy walking his bike in the opposite direction. I asked if he needed help. He said, “Is the next town about 4 miles ahead?” I agreed that it was. He thanked me and kept walking. (Only 4 miles from town it wasn’t really the middle of nowhere – it just seemed like it.)
  • The look of incredulity when I told some kids at a lemonade stand (on our last day) that I had ridden >4300 miles for that lemonade.

That’s it for now folks. Daily life is intruding on my writing time. I have a sewer line to clear and more. Posts will be a little more irregular after today. Maybe when my bike gets here I’ll look at the odometer and give you my total mileage. Maybe not. Numbers don’t really say what I want to say. Thanks for joining me on this journey. It’s been real.

I’m not going away entirely. As Phil Ochs said:

I will never wear shoes

There is only one thing better than walking barefoot in damp grass – that’s walking barefoot in water.

I have kvetched more than once during this trip about my burning feet. You can buy chemical foot warmers to slip into your shoes, why not foot coolers?

I’ve heard lots of comments from other riders about the fact that my shoes come off as soon as I get off my bike.

Bill Camplin understands. Sorry I can’t find a link to the whole song. Today is the closest we’ll get to his place, so today is the day for this song.

Tonight is the full moon (and a total eclipse for much of the world – not here, as it occurs in daylight for us). That calls for another of my favorite songs:

Dear Trauma Team: I hope Tyler is doing great, but not so well that you won’t want me back in a month.

Thursday – Baraboo to Beaver Dam, WI

My boss picked me up after our meeting Wednesday night and took me out for beers. It was great to re-connect and hear some work news. Hey fifth floor! – I hear you are reading these over lunch. Are you reading them aloud?

At breakfast I was met by half-fast friends Rosebud and Tim and my son Mikko. We rode off to Devil’s Lake. As I introduced Mikko to folks on the first climb, they wanted to know how it was we could talk on this climb, when they could barely breathe. Since Mikko is not an experienced distance cyclist (but a very experienced commuter), I explained that he didn’t know any better. It might also help that he’s 40 years younger than we are.

The ferry crossing of Lake Wisconsin (which takes about 8 minutes) was a treat for folks who hadn’t done it before and is always a high point for me on rides in this area.

We headed off (again on mostly town roads, a few county highways, and only brief stretches on state highways) moving east with a strong tailwind. The prevailing westerlies have finally arrived in the sixth week.

I was having too much fun to stop for pictures. Quiet roads and chatting with friends as we rode made the miles fly by. The tailwind helped.

Mikko bailed out at lunch (with a play to go to tonight about 100 miles in the other direction and a busy schedule for the next week, riding all day was not a viable option).

The rest of us rode on to Beaver Dam, stopping for root beer floats on the way in. We found a  bar with good beers on tap (Badger Club from Wisconsin Brewing for me), then strolled around Beaver Dam before dinner in a Mexican restaurant, Palenque. A flock of pelicans were hanging out just above the dam. We also saw a statue of Frank Lloyd Wright as a beaver, and life-sized stone lions guarding a house.

Tomorrow on to Plymouth, where I hope to be met by my friend Jeremy. Saturday it is on to our next ferry, this time crossing Lake Michigan. That will take a bit longer than 8 minutes.