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2012 Road Diary

May 23, 2012, Are We in Heaven? No Just La Crosse

Another year has come to pass.  Months of preparation have led to this day, scouring bike maps, researching minor league baseball schedules and listening to hours of input about roads, trails, glacier movements, cranberry bog formations, aquifers and assorted other topics about Wisconsin, the destination of the 7th Annual Merchants Bank Christian Elder Memorial 900 Charity Ride for Kids ‘n Kinship.

The trailer has been remodeled, courtesy of Jay, with higher shelves to better accommodate the bikes and coolers and a new, but not yet patented, brace to hold the bikes in place.  And the RV has been remodeled with a brand new roof, courtesy of Jimmy and the insurance company.  We often tell people that the bicycling is the easy part; everything else takes much more time and effort.

Yesterday the entire CEM900 team, with the exception of Bob Porter, assembled for a sendoff lunch provided by the Kids ‘n Kinship staff.  Everyone was in good spirits as we discussed tales from prior years and our preference for a less eventful 2012.  We have raised $25,500 toward our $30,000 goal, and Skip Stovern announced that Merchants Bank will kick in another $500 donation if we reach $29,500, so please consider making a contribution, if you have not already done so, to help us reach this goal.

Today we finished loading the RV for our drive to La Crosse and the Pettibone Campground on the Mississippi River.  We stayed at this campground 5 years ago and knew it was a keeper.  After setting up right along the riverside, we were approached by a woman on a bike, Jan Belmore’s sister Terri.  Jan is the Director of Kids ‘n Kinship, for those of you who may not know.  Terri gave us some guidance on bike routes and asked us if Jan had ever shown us her scar.  Apparently Terri performed some knife-work on Jan’s hand in some sort of childhood dispute.  Terri claims it was accidental, but I have older siblings and I know better.  We’ll have to check with Jan on that story…

Jimmy fired up our new Coleman grill for steaks and sweet potatoes, and we followed up with a movie, The Usual Suspects, a 90’s movie starring Kevin Spacey.  We took an intermission for some of Sherry’s rhubarb pie with ice cream; something about this routine feels very, very familiar.  The storms have skirted to the north of us, for tonight anyhow, and we are hoping for a beautiful day tomorrow to begin our 900-mile trek.

May 24, 2012, Good Thing the Wind Has Calmed

After a great night of sleep alongside the river, we awoke to the smell of bacon and French toast.  We ate our breakfast, broke camp and drove to Riverside Park for our departure point.  While we got our bikes ready, Jimmy flagged down a biker to get directions to the La Crosse River Trail.  We didn’t need directions, but any excuse to chat someone up…nobody ever accused Jimmy of being shy.

The official start of the 2012 CEM900 was 9:44 a.m.  Dennis forgot to put the odometer on his bike and John’s was set to kilometers rather than miles (a tribute to Jay?), so Denny’s job for the day was to track our official miles.  We rode out of La Crosse on the Three Rivers Trail, although I only recall seeing two rivers, and then headed east.  The wind was blowing hard from the south, but we were mostly sheltered on our first 20-mile stretch, which was uneventful other than the black cat running down the path, hopefully not an ominous sign.

Off to Sparta, where we hooked onto the Elroy-Sparta Trail and continued southeast.  This trail has three tunnels, the first of which is a ¾-mile stretch of pitch black coolness with water running along the walls and dripping from the ceiling, so it was actually quite refreshing on a hot day.  The tunnels are quite interesting, but they can really slow the day down, since we have to dismount from the bikes and walk from end to end.  The most amazing thing is the blast of cold air that we would feel long before reaching the tunnels.  We met a large group from Waukesha coming through the tunnel, so Denny felt a little bit of home.  John stopped at the refreshment stand by the tunnel and received a tutorial on nearby towns and restaurants, roads and trails; seriously, there must be something in the Wisconsin water. 

Our second stop was in Norwalk, where Jimmy, surprisingly, was visiting with a local restaurateur.  Jimmy must have told a great story, though, because the guy brought out complementary lemonade for us on our break.  Refreshed, we proceeded to Elroy on our last 22-mile stretch, during which we encountered the final two tunnels, about a dozen downed trees and branches across the trail (did I mention it was really windy today?), and, of course, a closed trail sign.  What would the CEM be without some obstacles along the way?  We consulted and agreed unanimously to proceed along the trail despite the warning.  A couple of miles ahead a bridge was being rebuilt.  The workers allowed us to walk across, so our decision paid off.  The final 10 miles included big sections of a ferocious head wind.  By the time we reached Elroy, we were beat, although Jimmy, completely serious, said it was a good thing the wind had calmed.  Who asked him, anyway?

After debating our options for a while, we chose to drive an hour south to Dodgeville and the Governor Dodge State Park.  We backed into our campsite after 7:30 and chose a quick dinner of burgers and beans.  The rain finally caught up to us, so we ate our dinner and more rhubarb pie inside the camper.  The trail got the better of us today, so we hit the beds before 10:00 with no movie, no cribbage and no reading, just much needed sleep.

May 25, 2012, According to Plan (Almost)

We were on a mission today – get to Beloit for a 6:30 baseball game.  After a quick cereal and banana breakfast, we headed into Dodgeville for the start of the Military Ridge State Trail before 9:30.  Our first leg to Blue Mounds was very scenic with a rolling valley to the north, mostly dairy farms.  The trail was rough at spots, busted asphalt and some soft sand, but it was quite a nice ride.

From here we rode a few miles to Mount Horeb, which bills itself as Little Norway.  We left the trail for county roads at Mount Horeb to get on a more direct route toward Beloit.  After pedaling aimlessly through town for a couple of minutes, we asked for directions from the mailman.  Who better to get directions from?  We found our way to the south and east on a very lightly-travelled highway with rolling hills until we came to an intersection with roads going in five different directions.  We weren’t sure whether to take the first or second left or maybe the second right…it looked nothing like this on the map!  We studied the map and ultimately decided on a route, which turned out to be correct.

We rolled into New Glarus, which apparently has a fascination with cows, so we stopped for a picture.  Already 43 miles into our ride and still very early afternoon, things were going very well according to plan.  Yep, it’s probably too much to ask for on the CEM.  The last ride for the day was south on the Badger State Trail.  With less than 5 miles to go, Dennis got a flat.  He stopped to change the tube while Denny and John rode past.  Further ahead Denny had an even bigger problem, a broken derailluer.  Luckily he was right by an intersection.  Initially Denny was going to wait for us to come back with the RV, but when we learned it was less than a mile to the finish, we decided he could walk. 

Quickly we cleaned up and headed to a bike shop in Beloit, Paddles and Trail.  Things didn’t look good initially, but Brad, the repair guy, found the part he needed on a brand new bike and used it to repair Denny’s bike.  Not only that, but he dropped everything he was doing and only charged $30 for the total repair.  The shop owner even came out to take a picture of the CEM boys for their Facebook page.

We were still on pace for the baseball game until Jimmy ever so gently brushed the front of a parked car with the trailer.  The little scrape seemed to be the least of the issues with this car, but nevertheless, John left a note on the car.  Despite these minor setbacks, we were in our seats for the first pitch.  Unfortunately, the Beloit Snappers, who are the Twins A affiliate, didn’t look any better than the parent club.  We sat through a short rain delay and made it through 7 innings before leaving to find a place to camp.  Unlike all other ballparks we have visited, this one had no parking lot.  We searched online for any available options, but ultimately had no other reasonable choice than the Wal-Mart parking lot.  Exhausted again, we didn’t really care where we were as we went straight to bed without even taking time for dessert.


May 26, 2012, After the Rain

Wal-Mart parking lots are not a bad place to camp, as long as you are only there to sleep and if there is a loud thunderstorm to drown out all of the noise.  The rain came heavy during the night, and from the sound of things from inside our metal trailer, the lightning strikes were very close.  It was a great night for sleeping with the sound of rainfall all night long.  In the morning the rain continued, so we couldn’t fire up the grill.  Jimmy did not want to cook cold cereal again, so he volunteered to buy us breakfast at a local café.

News flash!  We were parked within walking distance of a Starbucks, and John decided he didn’t want to stop.  Mark it on your calendar.  Bypassing Starbucks, we headed back toward Monroe and Jimmy pulled into the Sand Burr Restaurant, where we feasted on omelets and biscuits and gravy and watched the rain pour down outside.  We were certain to get soaked today, although none of us was happy about it. 

As we arrived in Monroe, there was a break in the clouds to the west.  A check of the radar showed that the storm was almost past us.  By the time we were ready to ride, the sun was shining.  On the downside one of Dennis’ tires went flat while still in the parking lot, probably from a pinched tube.  Oh well, better here than out on the road.  He quickly switched bikes and we were on our way. 

While we were on our drive the wind seemed to be blowing from several different directions, and we settled on a route that seemed to be beneficial.  Luckily we guessed right.  Today we rode on county roads back to New Glarus, where Dennis used his break time to change the tire and tube on his cyclo-cross, so he could switch back to his original bike.  John seemed to enjoy this more than a team player should.  From New Glarus we retraced our route from the previous day in the opposite direction back to Mount Horeb and on the trail back to Blue Mounds.  Dennis stopped in downtown Mount Horeb to find some lefse for a snack…this is Little Norway after all.  He was not disappointed in his search.  Also in Mount Horeb Denny rode the wrong direction on the trail.  He has taken to carrying notes with routing instructions, so he doesn’t make a wrong turn, but he evidently forgot to make a note of this one.  He quickly discovered his error and caught up to us in Blue Mounds.

 Sometime while we were taking our break the wind changed to northeasterly, so we had to buck a headwind on our last leg.  To make matters worse we had a steep double climb north out of Blue Mounds.  There was a beautiful view at the top of the climb and all the way down and down and down into Pleasant Valley.  The hills were rolling and the headwind was strong, making this last stretch a bit grueling, ok maybe a lot grueling.  Our riding day finished at 5:00 in Mazomanie, and at promptly 5:15 another downpour hit, so our timing today was impeccable. 

There are no available campsites on Memorial Day weekend, but we found a great little park next to a lake outside of Mazomanie.  Jimmy cooked chicken on the grill, but we revoked his corn on the cob duties after the Lawry’s seasoning salt incident of 2011.  Jimmy thought we were cooking too much chicken, but we managed to polish off the whole tray plus all of the corn, the salad and later on, the second rhubarb pie from Sherry.  Earlier in the day we also finished the vat of pasta salad Sherry made for us, and we ate some chips and salsa as an appetizer.  We must have worked up an appetite.  After dinner we started up the generator and had another movie night, Cinderella Man, the dramatized story of boxer Jim Braddock.  By 11:00 it was lights out for all of us.

May 27, 2012, Where’s Denny?

Our campsite outside Mazomanie was amazing overnight.  The cool breeze was blowing lightly, and the night sounds were spectacular as we were serenaded by a variety of nocturnal creatures.  Morning came way too soon, but the smell of fresh brewed coffee and bacon and French toast Jimmy was grilling got everyone moving.  After breakfast we chose to bike out of our campsite, so we were on the road before 9:00.

We headed back through town to the north and east on a route to Lodi.  It was flat and calm as we started, but became more hilly and breezy as we finished our first 22 miles.  Dennis biked around Lodi for a while searching for Jimmy, and they eventually connected as Jimmy pulled into town after finding a dump station.  One of the drawbacks of using campgrounds without services is that we need to find a spot to dump and refill the water at some point during the day.  Jimmy has been able to find those spots the past two days, so we have been able to keep things moving smoothly.

After a snack of pineapple and cantaloupe, we rode east toward Keyeser.  The directions seemed simple enough – about 20 miles on County Road K and then turn right on County C.  Denny wrote the direction down on his note pad, so he was good to go.  Or at least that’s what we thought.  Dennis reached the RV and ate lunch with Jimmy while waiting for John and Denny to arrive.  John showed up and ate some lunch while visiting before eventually asking “Where’s Denny?” 

John called Denny and found out his location several miles to the east and still on County K.  The big “County C” signs at the stop sign had somehow eluded him.  John told him to wait at the intersection of K and A, and we would meet him there.  Jimmy took off in the RV to find him, but he found no Denny at the appointed intersection.  It seems that Denny chose to go visit the farm family living near the intersection instead of waiting.  Luckily he came walking down the driveway as Jimmy made the return pass, so we were all back on the route.

The wind had picked up from the southeast during our ride east, and was blowing strong from the south as we headed north.  Dennis and Denny finished their 60-mile rides in Doylesville, but John had 9 miles left to ride, since he had stayed the course rather than traipsing off to the east on County K.  He looked a little gassed as he sprawled in a ditch under a big shade tree.  The temperature had reached 90+ and it was draining our energy.

John made the 10-mile ride to Cambria solo.  We picked him up and headed to Portage hoping that the County campgrounds were available for our use.  We pulled in, found a spot with electricity and John and Jimmy grilled steaks and veggies.  John tried tuning in the NASCAR race on our TV, but had no luck, so we settled in for another old movie, Dream Team, a story of four escaped mental patients.  Four of them, four of us; hopefully the similarities end there, but I’m not so sure.  Our treat tonight was root beer floats, which we thoroughly enjoyed before dragging our tired bodies off to bed.  Another day down!

May 28, 2012, Happy Memorial Day! 

Frankly, one day seems like any other out here, but we saw preparations for festivities in small towns and freshly groomed country cemeteries with lots of flags reminding us all weekend long.  It is also a reminder that we are on a memorial ride for Christian, who like way too many others, died much too young.  We always ride with a purpose, but today is even more purposeful.

Jimmy cooked omelets on the grill this morning, which can be quite a challenge, and also toast and coffee to start the day.  We planned our route out of Portage on County Road X, but had some difficulty locating it and ended up driving north on Interstate 39.  We drove nine miles on I39 before turning around at the first available exit and driving back to Portage.  I guess we are supposed to know that an unmarked frontage road is what leads to X. 

Nobody regretted the decision as we had a beautiful ride northwest to Briggsville and north to Oxford.  After a quick break we continued north to Westfield, a convoluted little town with county roads criss-crossing, but no County CH.  Dennis rode a couple of loops around town, but still found no CH, so he finally broke down and went into the Happy Tap to ask for directions.  The directions weren’t real clear, but he thought he was on the right path as he waited for Denny and John, and all three rode north toward Coloma.

Dennis arrived in Coloma ahead of a small thunderstorm; about five minutes into a downpour John poked his head into the RV and asked “Where’s Denny?”  Seriously?  We waited out the storm, which moved through rapidly, and then Denny showed up, explaining that he had taken cover in the restrooms near where we were parked.  Good thing, too, because the rest of us weren’t interested in chasing him down today. 

We finished our ride north into Hancock.  Today was our first day with predominantly tail winds, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.  The ride was serene, the roads were good with little traffic, and the pedaling was relatively easy.  The red-winged blackbirds in Wisconsin seem even more protective and angry than in Iowa.  One dive-bombed Denny and crashed into his helmet.  Another attacked John, clawing and scratching at his back and shoulder.  Nobody witnessed the attack, and he has refused to show us the claw marks, but it is his story, and he’s sticking to it.

We found a campground with a laundry room nearby, set up the RV and had burgers, beans and veggies for dinner.  Jay arrived and made the trade-off with Denny, who has finished his 300-mile ride!  Denny seemed even more prepared for the ride this year than last, and he finished very strong.  Thanks, Denny, for your contribution to the ride, and safe travels back to the Cities!

Jay brought fresh-brewed root beer from his local farmer’s market for our floats tonight; we all agreed it may very well have been the best root beer we have ever tasted.  It was a great way to finish off a very good Memorial Day.

May 29, 2012, A Day Built for Speed

The morning was cool, but the sun shone brightly as we had our morning coffee and breakfast and went about our morning tasks.  We pulled out of the campground at 9:00, once again getting an early start.  We decided to take advantage of the slight 20-25 mph breeze from the west as we rode County Road C from Monroe Center straight east to Hancock.  The road was in great shape, but we didn’t notice much else while cruising at a good pace.  Dennis slowed to take a photo of two old motorcycles with dummies next to a driveway, but a large dog was growling and gnarling his teeth, so he thought better of that idea.  There will be other things to see that aren’t quite so potentially dangerous.

Our road options were somewhat limited in Hancock, so we loaded the bikes and drove northwest to jump on a long stretch of highway running west to east for about 30 miles.  We cruised through this section also; it’s amazing what a little wind assistance will do.  Along the way Dennis spotted a Farmall M tractor and surprise, stopped to take a picture.  We coasted into Wild Rose with 54 miles down, made a quick stop to check out the map and then headed through town and to the east for a couple of miles.  After turning back to the west and straight into the wind, a strong gust stopped John in his tracks and nearly blew him over.  That is why we rode east all day long! 

We were done riding by 2:00, so we snapped more photos in the ice cream store parking lot, including Jimmy with an old Dodge pickup truck, Dennis next to another Farmall, John and Dennis by a giant ice cream cone, John on a stand-alone merry-go-round horse, and finally Jay riding into the parking lot in a “look Mom, no hands” victory pose after completing his first 60.  That was right before he almost crashed.  I wouldn’t want him to crash, but it would have made a great picture.

Little known fact:  The Wisconsin River is the hardest working river in North America. 

We showered and then headed for Wausau and Rib Mountain State Park.  We arrived and drove up the mountain road to what we thought was the campground entrance.  Then we saw it – campground closed due to conversion to a day park only.  Awesome!  We turned around and headed 20 miles further north to Council Grounds State Park, but only after calling first to make sure we could camp there tonight.  There was a sign at the park entrance stating that the water is undrinkable, which drew jeers from the rest of the CEM boys, since Jay has previously informed us that all Wisconsin water is the best water, something about aquifers from before the last ice age.

At the campsite Jay took over cooking duties so Jimmy could play cribbage with John.  First he pulled out some home canned pickled beets, and then grilled chicken thighs with his homemade barbeque sauce, grilled asparagus and baked beans.  We ate it all; leftovers have really not been an issue on this trip.  We had no internet service and very little phone service, so after dinner we settled in for the Academy Award winning Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector.  John and Dennis made it long enough for root beer floats before retreating to the trailer for a chilly night of sleep.  We need a good night of sleep, too, since tomorrow will be a busy day.

May 30, 2012, “At Least the Ice Won’t Melt”

Overnight was quite cold, in the 40’s, morning was overcast, and the forecast was for a high in the mid-50’s.  After one last bacon and French toast breakfast with Jimmy, we dressed in our bike gear, long and short sleeved jerseys, jackets, long pants and full-fingered gloves, a little help to stay warm for the day.  John, the optimist, declared “At least the ice won’t melt!”  Yeah, we’ve got that going for us.  We left our campground and drove into the City of Merrill to email the road diary and pictures and a bid for Jay.  Yes, a little bit of real work goes on out here…very little.  This task was very reminiscent of years past when the technology was so much worse, a time when we often were without cell coverage and internet connections.

We unloaded the bikes in Merrill and made our first ride to Marathon City along highway 107.  We had a 5 – 10 mph tail wind for most of our ride south, which helped us on the hilly route.  Most of the hills were rolling up and down, enough to make us work, and a handful of really nice climbs were mixed in as well.  The hilly terrain is much more suitable to Dennis, who was riding with a smile, and John likes a little of this variety as well.  Jay, on the other hand, uttered something derogatory about the hills as he met Dennis along the road.

We had a really steep, long climb out of Marathon City on 107 before riding west to pick up County  Road S for the rest of our ride.  Dennis waited at the crossing of the Big Eau Pleine Reservoir to snap a photo of John, and then we continued south into Milladore.  Almost 50 miles into the ride at this point we rode out our remaining 10 to the south and ended very near Wisconsin Rapids, just as planned.  Gordy was waiting for us at the ballpark, where we met to make our exchange of drivers.  After the official handing over of the keys, Jimmy departed, and John went to buy game tickets and to ask for permission to park in the ballpark parking lot overnight.

John was told that the City prohibited overnight camping there, but we still had a few hours before the ballgame, so we found a quiet little county campground, where we unhooked the trailer and headed back to the ballpark.  This was opening night for the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters, and their opponent was the La Crosse Loggers, so Jay was quite pleased.  The crowd was raucous and having fun, the atmosphere was great and the food was interesting.  John did not like his cranberry jalapeno brat, but Dennis and Jay found some Rocky Rococo pizza.  It was a chilly night, the hometown team got thrashed 7-3, and the 7th inning stretch was in the middle of the 8th inning, but we still had a great night.

Back at the campground we went straight to bed.  A whole new series of adventures awaits us tomorrow as Gordy takes the wheel from Jimmy.  And to Jimmy, thanks for the memories; it’s been quite an experience once again.

May 31, 2012, What Are Salvage Groceries?

For some reason we were a little less motivated today.  It was another great night for sleeping, dark and quiet and cold, supposedly down to the 30’s overnight.  We opted for a quick cereal breakfast and then drove back into Wisconsin Rapids for gas and a better internet connection.

John had a route all planned heading west on County Road 73; however, Jay protested the route.  Apparently Jay has studied the road patterns on 73 more thoroughly than the Wisconsin DOT.  I personally think that he was worried about 73 rolling into the very hilly drift-less area of southwest Wisconsin.  Go ahead…look it up.  Or better yet just ask Jay, and he’ll gladly fill you in.

We allowed Jay to have his way, and we drove north past Stevens Point to County Road P.  By the time we got there it was already lunchtime, so we ate a sandwich as we prepared to leave.  It was almost noon already by the time the bikes hit the road.  Jay’s route turned out to be very nice, rolling through the countryside with some decent sized hills as we rode to the west to Unity.  A few miles before Unity there was a gravel pit, and the gravel trucks were hauling past us, but we never felt endangered.

Next we rode a zigzag route to Withee into Mennonite territory and finally made a 10-mile ride into Thorp on County Road X, the worst pot-holed, cracked, wrist-breaking (and other body part) pile of asphalt we’ve come across in Wisconsin.  Jay had a few choice words about this as well, none of which can be repeated here.  Along the ride today we encountered many interesting roadside sites, including numerous mailboxes, including one that reminded us of the movie, “A Christmas Story”.

In Thorp John and Gordy went into a grocery store with a short list and came out with exactly one item – ice cream.  The “grocery” store had no ice, no chicken, no salad, no wheat bread, and no root beer, among other items it did not have.  When questioned as to what they did have, John said they had bags of “salvage groceries”.  Hmmm…there must be a Super Valu nearby.  Thankfully, there was.

After our second stop for groceries, we drove 10 miles to the Mead Lake County Park.  Despite our late start, the finish was still around 5:00, and we had plenty of time for dinner and a movie.  Jay cooked brats and veggies on the grill, and we also had baked beans, salad, and beet pickles.  By 9:00 we were watching the Magnificent Seven, a classic western.  Dennis made it through about 45 minutes before retreating to the trailer for sleep, and he missed out on ice cream and brownies that Gordy’s wife Joann made for us.  Only John and Gordy claimed to make it to the end of the movie before also making their way to bed.  Tomorrow we continue the journey north and west toward Jay’s cabin, wind permitting.

June 1, 2012, At Least We Have That Going For Us

Gordy had a big test this morning.  It has been nearly two years since he has cooked a breakfast for us.  Our bacon and French toast was very nicely done, so it looks like he passed with flying colors.  We had no internet connection or cell service in our little county campground, so we were unable to get our diary and pictures posted in the morning.  It’s become so normal to expect these connections everywhere we travel, but we have definitely been challenged.

The morning was bright and sunny, but cool.  It was nice to have some sunshine after a couple of cloudy days.  We found a nice spot to start biking a few miles from our campground, County Road MM about a dozen miles west to County D eight miles north to Boyd.  At least that’s how it looked on the map.  MM ended and became G, then G turned to the south, but DD seemed to be continuing west after a curve.  Also, the right turn on D was unmarked, but everyone made it through the unexpected maze.  County D was loaded with redwing blackbirds, our nemesis, so it was Jay’s turn to experience their protective ire as two different birds attacked his helmet.  John had said days earlier that one had “hissed” at him, but we didn’t give it much credence – a hissing blackbird?  Today one snuck up about a foot behind Dennis and hissed like something out of Jurassic Park, sending shivers up his spine.  A little redemption for John, perhaps.

From Boyd we headed a mile south and then east back toward Withee.  Our ride took us through more Mennonite territory today.  The four of us are pretty much experts on every topic that comes up, but somehow none of us knows anything about the Mennonites.  We’ll have to look that up later, maybe when we have an internet connection and some time on our hands.

The ride to Withee was a long 27-mile haul, so we were down to 13 miles to go.  We biked south and then east to Atwood, which consists of a baseball field and a tractor graveyard.  We had managed to bike all day long and end up about 15 miles from our starting point, and actually about 15 miles further away from tomorrow’s destination to the northwest.  Oh, well, that’s why we have the RV.  We drove 45 miles west to Lake Wissota State Park just outside of Eau Claire. 

After setting up camp, Jay grilled steaks and veggies; apparently we were famished again, since there was not a scrap of food left when we were done.  Jay made the movie selection tonight, the classic “Caddyshack”, which never gets old.  After the movie we ate another round of Joann’s brownies with ice cream, and Dennis was sure not to miss out tonight.  It should be another good night for sleeping.  Like Carl the groundskeeper (Bill Murray) would say, “At least we have that going for us…which is nice.”

June 2, 2012, There is No H, But There is a G

The weather is getting a little nicer each day; the sunlight was starting to poke through to our secluded campsite as we prepared for the day.  John and Jay were checking wind directions and speeds on their IPhones…the days of windsocks and tossing grass in the air have passed.  We settled on a route about 40 miles north heading mostly easterly, not surprisingly with a 10-15 mph tailwind.  Most of the first 20 miles ran along the Chippewa River, so it was a peaceful, scenic ride into Sheldon.

Dennis plotted the route continuing east on County D.  John took off first after a quick break, and everyone else left 5 or 10 minutes later.  Dennis biked a few miles out to County H for the first turn and did not spot John.  By the time he rode another 5 miles to the next turn at County M without siting John, he knew there was a problem.  John had left a voicemail for Dennis saying in part, “I got to the end of County VV and there is no H, but there is a G, so I’ll take that to the right.”  VV??  I don’t remember VV being part of the routing.

Dennis and Jay contemplated the options and decided Jay should continue ahead toward the RV while Dennis would stay back to ensure John got on the right route.  Dennis checked the map on his phone and saw the John had headed out of town to the north on VV, which curved to the west before coming to G.  A right turn on G would send John to the north.  John’s self-proclaimed “dead reckoning” meter had somehow failed him by 180 degrees.  In fairness, he did recognize that he shouldn’t be biking into the wind, so he got directions from the postal woman and was already back on track by the time he and Dennis connected via text.

Meanwhile John was biking south on his new route when he came face-to-face with a big black bear on the road.  He took evasive action and sped past before the bear could maul him.  He continued east following the other CEM boys into the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.  This was another beautiful ride through the forest to Perkinstown.  Along the route Jay nearly crashed head-on into a pheasant of all things.  It wouldn’t have been the first time a pheasant smashed into his face, but it would have been the first time while biking.  Evidently Dennis was the only one having an uneventful ride.

From Perkinstown Jay continued east while Dennis biked back to make sure John was not out of water from his extended ride.  Jay instructed Gordy to stop at precisely 12 miles, because that is what he had left, and he did not intend to ride any further.  After John and Dennis got back to the RV they overrode Jay’s instructions and told Gordy to park wherever there was a safe spot, even if it meant 5 an extra miles to town.  Gordy actually accomplished both as he found a perfect spot at exactly Jay’s 60-mile mark.  Jay cheered himself and raised his arms in triumph as he rolled past the RV.  The rest of us cheered silently.

 It had been a great day for riding, sunny and 70’s, and John and Dennis, unlike Jay, didn’t mind logging a few extra miles.  After toasting the completion of 600 miles, including 300 for Jay, we showered and made the drive to Jay’s family cabin on Long Lake.  We pulled in at 9:00 and still hungry from the day’s ride, took a pontoon ride to Pioneer for some hand-made pizza.  We devoured the pizza and then rode the pontoon back to the cabin.  Jay offered a selection of beds and bunks in the cabin, but we opted for the bunks in the trailer, which provide such comfortable sleep in the cool, open night air.

June 3, 2012, A DAY OF REST…….

John is working the keyboard today.  Dennis stated that he deserved a day off, and he probably had a hunch that I was anxious to get in a word or two. 

As always, the trip takes unexpected turns every day, and always the riders and support driver find a way to alter the route, fix what is broken, or otherwise solve the unexpected problem.  If they discover that a campground has closed, they spend the night in a Walmart parking lot; if the wind blows in the wrong direction, or if the intended route is unsafe, the course is altered.  They find a way to make everything work out, for sixteen days and 900 miles.

The trip always carries the significance that it is ridden in memory of Christian Elder, something that Christian would feel honored by.  And it is ridden to provide funding for Kids ’N Kinship, an organization that does so many wonderful things for children in need of mentoring.  And it is ridden with special appreciation given to our title sponsor, Merchants Bank, and to all of the other businesses and individuals who have supported the ride.  As this is being written, over $28,000 has been donated this year.

We pass a special greetings on to Dante; John is anxious for a return match on the cribbage board after being drubbed so badly last time out.  Thank you to Sherry and Joann for the rhubarb pie and brownies.  We have become accustomed to your treats each night before the lights go out.  And finally, the 900 Boys all look forward to seeing friends and family at the Merchants Bank reception on Saturday. 

Now for an update on today’s activities:

 After ten days and 600 miles, the 900 Boys had a day of rest to look forward to on Sunday.  The day was made extra special because the day was spent at Jay’s lake home.  Everyone slept in an extra hour or so before rising to Jay’s fresh omelet breakfast made with cubed venison sausage, cheese, green peppers, green onions and mushrooms.

Next, the motorhome was cleaned, laundry was washed, dried and folded, and bikes received a much needed cleaning and tuning.  Soon after, Kathy Kelly and Bob Porter arrived, ready to take on the final 300 mile ride along with John and Dennis.

Work completed, Jay provided the group with a beautiful pontoon ride around Long Lake; a ride that included sightings of Loons, Bald Eagles and some rustic “up north” lake homes.  Following the ride, Jay served up a dinner that included his famous BBQ ribs along with green beans, corn on the cob, and two salads.  All concluded it was the best meal of the trip, but that the quantities consumed will require some extra hard pedaling tomorrow to eliminate the calories.

Tomorrow the new team of John, Dennis, Bob, Kathy and support driver Gordy will say farewell to Jay as they begin the final 300 miles of the journey.  The route will take them east, pedaling in the direction of Wausau, where they plan to be by the end of the day on Tuesday to watch the Wausau Woodchucks take on the LaCrosse Loggers.

June 4, 2012, A Beautiful Ride

After one last monstrous meal at Jay’s, a breakfast of bacon, scrambled eggs, and pancakes, we needed to hit the road to start burning some calories.  We said our good-bye’s to Jay, drove from the Saterbak Camp to the south side of Long Lake and biked 8 miles into Birchwood.  From here our intention was to bike County F all the way to Weyerhauser, but at the 2-mile mark, we pulled up at a closed road sign, of course with no previous warning.  Bob asked one of the construction workers about the detour, and we opted to take it. 

Following the minor re-routing, we found our way back to County F and headed south again.  The ride was fantastic, perhaps the most beautiful scenery thus far.  Bob, in particular, enjoyed the brilliant green forest after his years of running and more recent biking in the Arizona desert.  The route had some very long steady climbs followed by a couple of steep hills to really get the legs working.  This is the second year that we have started Kathy on some very challenging terrain, but neither she nor Bob was complaining.  Dennis reassured Kathy mid-ride that it would be all downhill into Weyerhauser, although he had no idea.  He was very happy to be right on this point.

The day had begun overcast with rain threatening, but had turned into a beautiful sunny afternoon, a great day for a ride.  The wind was not a factor, so we were free to go wherever we wanted.  We were already 35 miles into the ride as we chose to continue the route to New Auburn.  The hills on this section were rolling, and we rode through farm country, the smell of fresh-cut alfalfa and other less pleasant smells along the way.  At least we have not contended with pig farms and poultry barns like we did in Iowa in years past, but we still are traveling past several dairy farms.  We were also passed by a truckload of turkeys, the roadway littered with feathers, so there must be a turkey farm somewhere nearby. 

There were a few more turns on this route and Dennis backtracked a few times to make sure everyone was on the same path.  We hit the 60-mile mark just before arriving in New Auburn, so another day was done.  We loaded up and headed to Chippewa Falls for groceries and a private campground with Wi-Fi, so Bob could get some work done.  Just as we arrived at camp, rain showers moved through.  We ate a quick snack of leftover ribs while the rain passed, and then Dennis grilled salmon for dinner.  We also had baked potatoes and salad and more ribs.  Everyone was beat, so we started the move to bed.  John offered root beer floats, an offer which a couple of us accepted.  After dessert it was lights out for all of us.

June 5, 2012, A Walk-off Finish!

We were a lively and eager bunch this morning….well, at least most of us.  Kathy had to call the school to excuse her daughter for being late the day before.  She made the call and left a message, “My daughter was late for school tomorrow, but I know about it, and it’s ok.”  We started laughing and told her that she had said “tomorrow”, so she called again.  By now all of the CEM boys were howling in the background, and Kathy could not keep a straight face as she laughed her way through a second message.  Chaska High School administrators by now must think this is a student prank.  Sorry, Kaitlin, if you got detention, but we thought it was really funny.

We were hoping to get an early start to make it to Wausau for a ballgame tonight, but our propane gauge on the RV was showing empty.  After some searching we located a place in Eau Claire and refilled the tank.  It was after 10:30 when we found a starting spot, County Q heading east out of the city.  The state had this road marked as bike friendly, but garbage and gravel trucks and 18-wheelers were blasting past us.  The road had a perfect 3-foot shoulder; however, it was littered with shards of broken glass and other debris, and all of the riders were reluctant to use it.  After about 6 or 7 miles the traffic lightened and the road cleared, and we were happy that nobody had blown a tire.

As we continued east, Gordy stopped for directions to make sure he was on the right path to Wilson.  A guy in a diesel pickup truck told Gordy that Wilson isn’t really a town and the tavern was closed, but he could get a drink and some grub at the new lounge down the road.  Thanks…that will come in handy.  The riders were coming up with new ways to remember the route and came up with a little jingle, “right at the T and left on D”.  It must have worked because everyone made it to the first stop at Wilson.

The next leg was a 25-mile ride mostly east into a persistent headwind, with rolling hills at the start.  The hills got bigger and bigger the further we went past the Lake Mead county park, and each climb seemed a little more grueling than the last.  On the last turn into Greenwood Dennis once again encountered a very aggressive redwing blackbird.  He ducked at the last minute to avoid being hit.  He turned and biked back toward Kathy, who thought he was being quite chivalrous until she saw him pull out his camera.  She realized that she was bait for a photo op.  Dennis was too far away, and the bird was too fast as it attacked Kathy’s helmet twice, so Dennis moved further down to try to shoot it attacking John.  The bird responded by moving further back and still dive-bombing John.  Sorry, but there is no picture.

Bob asked, no begged, for a flat road with a tailwind for the final 13 miles, so we headed north on 73 to Withee.  The road to Withee wasn’t exactly flat, and the wind was a crosswind, but it was the best we could do.  At Withee we quickly showered and took off for the Wausau county campground, nestled in the middle of the city, and found a campsite to drop the trailer and pitch a tent.


We were running late for the 6:30 game, and we meandered a bit as we tried to locate the ballpark, but we finally made it.  It was a beautiful night for baseball, and the ballpark was very quaint.  The game was already in the 4th inning as we arrived, a scoreless pitcher’s duel with only one hit by the hated La Crosse Loggers.  The hometown Woodchucks scored first on a solo homer, and the game went back and forth the rest of the way with stolen bases and sacrifice bunts and daring dashes to home plate, successful and unsuccessful.  The Woodchucks were down to their last out with a runner on, courtesy of a botched double play by the Loggers, and down by a run.  The Wausau batter crushed the offering from the Loggers pitcher, a two-run walk-off homer that sent us back to the campground in great spirits.  We agreed that this was the best game we have ever seen on our CEM journeys.  What a great way to end a very good day!

June 6, 2012, A New Club for John

The night was a little rough for Dennis and Kathy; their air mattress in the tent had a small hole and they ended up on the hard ground.  Everyone else slept very well, and we awoke to a beautiful Wednesday morning, Bob much earlier than the rest of us.  Our campground was unbelievably about 200 yards from a Starbucks, and Bob needed a Wi-Fi hookup to get some work done before our real day began, so off he went at 5 a.m.  He was returning to camp just as the rest of us rolled out of bed at a much more reasonable time around 7:00.

We took our time with stories and breakfast, Gordy’s French toast and sausage, and we learned the code for the bathroom doors, so we had that going for us.  After packing up and driving out of the campground, we made it precisely 200 yards...John was not going to pass by Starbucks today.  While he was in Starbucks we picked up a few more groceries, and then we took off to find our starting spot.

Having learned our lesson a day earlier about starting a little too close to a city, today we drove 5 miles west of Wausau before off-loading the bikes.  Bob’s bike came out of the trailer with a flat rear tire, and John, who fancies himself a bit of a pit crew guy, proceeded with the tube change.  We chastised Bob about the short stem on his new tube and grabbed a longer-stemmed tube from the supply.  After a minor delay, we were finally on our way at nearly noon, one of the latest starts this year.  Good thing we had nothing to be done for today, other than a big steak dinner.

Dennis had promised Bob no hills on the route, but he really had no idea.  Our start included some really nice long climbs and also some short, steep hills as we rode through some beautiful countryside to Athens.  John and Kathy both separately said that this was the nicest, most pleasant ride we had done, even though the day before had been so splendid.  We rode another 15 miles to Stetsonville, made a quick stop and continued on the final 25 miles to Lublin.  Bob asked for a phrase for the home stretch, so we gave him “A, A, stay on A” or “all the way on A”.  Despite several turns along the way, we all made it to Lublin on County Road A.

The day was absolutely perfect, mostly sunny and 75 with a light breeze all afternoon.  We made great progress to the west and back toward home, and we finished riding shortly after 5:00.  We drove back to Chippewa Falls and our Hidden Valley Campground.  Not so hidden after all, we decided as we pulled in to a full campground.  Apparently, we had intruded on the annual convention of the Wisconsin State Club of Winnebago – Itasca Travelers.  Who knew such a thing existed?  We were quickly welcomed to the group, however, as we pulled in with our 24-foot Itasca Spirit.  In fact John was invited to become a member of their exclusive group, an invite which he is carefully mulling over.

We were directed to the overflow camping area, which was fine with us, since it was completely separate from the rest of the campers in an open area.  We had a final dinner on the road, a meal complete with thick, juicy steaks, asparagus, baked potatoes and salad.  By the time we cleaned up and visited a while longer it was past our bedtime of 9:30.  Tomorrow is a new day, and we are intending an early start to get back to Minneapolis in time for dinner.  We shall see how that works out for us.

June 7, 2012, Hills, Big, Big Hills

We were up and going about our morning by 6:30…diary and pictures, breakfast, roll up the tent, change into bike gear, dump the RV, refill the water tank, everything takes some time with five people.  We had found a starting spot on the west side of Chippewa Falls, labeled as bike “urban escape route” on our map.  Pulling bikes out of the trailer, we noted that Bob’s rear tire was very low and Kathy’s front tire was flat.  Dennis changed Kathy’s flat while John assisted Bob, although ultimately decided to just re-inflate Bob’s tire as it seemed to be holding air.  Foreshadowing…will this be the right decision?

Despite the early problems we were on the road by 10:00, and the first ride was a pretty little ride to the west through the hilly countryside with a destination of Colfax, “like the Dodgers pitcher” John said.  Ok, not quite, but it does help us remember; it’s amazing that while we are riding we often forget the one thing we should be remembering.  Upon arrival in Colfax, John stated that it had been a great ride, except for those last two hills.

The wind was blowing steady at 10-plus mph out of the south and we turned north for a dozen miles to Sand Creek and then west for another dozen to Ridgeland.  The scenery was beautiful.  Dennis saw a huge eagle soar across the road about one hundred feet in front of him, but could not react quickly enough to get a photo.  Later, along a creek bottom, we all saw a couple of deer moving across the road and in the trees along the creek.  The day had begun overcast, but as we rode the sun was breaking through and the day was warming.

In Ridgeland Gordy was parked at a city park for our second stop.  John said that he really enjoyed the ride, except for that last hill.  Hmmm…a theme is developing here.  Bob called the hill a bugger, which I think is bad, but we can only imagine what Jay would have called it.  We took a longer than necessary break here, Bob icing his Achilles, Kathy icing her neck and all of us checking emails and making calls.  We learned that our fundraising effort had blown right by our $30,000 goal with over $1,000 coming to us in the past 24 hours!  Thanks again to all of our supporters!  Merchants Bank has generously added another $500 donation for reaching our goal, although Skip claimed we were sandbagging.

We made a short ride from here to Prairie Farm, the kind of place where a kid can get a permanent sign coming into town if he wins a state championship in wrestling.  We headed north toward our finish, and Dennis told Kathy there was nothing but sunshine and tailwind to the finish.  Oh, and hills.  Lots and lots of hills.  It was like we were stair-stepping up and up to a giant downhill run, a downhill that never came.  Along the way Bob’s tire lost air again.  John had one CO2 cartridge with him, so he filled the tire, and Bob was able to make it another 5 miles before going flat.  John left Bob at the roadside and said we would be back for him.  Meanwhile, the rest of us turned west for the finish and encountered the mother of all hills on this ride, a monster going up and up and up from a river bottom, the top of which was our finish line.  John was speechless at the top of this one, but only because he was trying to catch his breath.

We drove back to get Bob and offered to drop him at the bottom of the hill the rest of us had just finished.  He politely declined the offer.  We made a quick drive to Turtle Lake for better cell phone coverage, so Bob could make a conference call with a judge.  Always working, that guy is!  After the call we departed for Bloomington.  It’s been over two weeks on the road for John and Dennis, and they were really looking forward to getting back to their homes.  One more day of riding to go, and tomorrow it will be on some select trails in the Minneapolis area, a request of Bob’s with which we gladly complied.

June 8, 2012, Rain, Trains and ___ (Fill in the blank, because I’ve got nothing)

It’s great to be home, even though we knew there was one ride to go.  We met at the Hopkins Depot at 9:00 for a trail ride to take us to the finish.  Before the ride began Bob and John had taken the time to diagnose the problem with Bob’s tire and had found a minute piece of metal barely poking through the tire.  They were able to remove it and replace the tube, so Bob felt a little more at ease heading out for the ride. 

We pedaled west from the depot through Hopkins and picked up the limestone trail toward Victoria.  We rode along Lake Minnetonka, where we stopped for a quick break before continuing through Excelsior.  The day had started cooler than we expected, and the clouds were staying with us, but nobody was complaining.  We reached the end of the trail and made a pit stop at the Holiday Station for water and energy bars as the rain started for the first time.  We chatted with a guy at Holiday who was amazed by our journey.  He told us that he had ridden RAGBRAI (the ride across Iowa) with his kids a year earlier, although he referred to it as “next year”.  Kathy could totally relate, and she thought this vindicated her tomorrow vs. yesterday gaffe with Chaska High School, but the rest of us were unimpressed with this “logic”.

From here Kathy led us to Chaska and on some city trails to connect with the limestone trail that runs from Chaska back to Hopkins.  Along the way she fell over when she stopped and couldn’t get her foot unclipped from the pedal.  She said she felt like a dork, but we’ve all done it at some point.  It’s actually quite impressive that she has been riding for four years without this ever happening before.  She got up, brushed herself off and continued, just like we would expect from a CEM boy!

We continued biking in the off-and-on rain back to Hopkins for a lunch break.  Next we proceeded on a favorite ride of John’s, the Cedar Lake Trail north out of Hopkins and east toward downtown before hooking the greenway back to the lakes area for a trip around Lake of the Isles and two loops around Lake Calhoun.  John shared with us that he had done this ride with Christian 5 years earlier after our 2nd 900 mile ride, so it has a special significance to him.  While we were riding this section, we waited at a railroad crossing as a train rolled by, the first time any of us has seen a train here.  We turned and rode alongside the train and passed it, and Bob said we were faster than a speeding locomotive, but I don’t think that was the metaphor he was looking for.

We stopped for lemonade and ice tea at Lake Calhoun, as the day had become very warm and sunny, and then rode out to Hopkins for our final five miles.  John and Dennis rode in for a ceremonial photo finish, actually four times until the photo looked good.  We also found a passerby to snap the photo of us hoisting our bikes.  High-fives all around; we have done it for the 7th year!

June 9, 2012 Fact or Fiction

Merchants Bank and Kids ‘n Kinship once again hosted our Welcome Home Celebration in Apple Valley.  We chose to drive the RV to the celebration this year and disembark “astronaut style” as John liked to say.  There was much fanfare as we stepped out and were greeted by friends, family and supporters.  The day was warm, sunny and breezy.

Skip Stovern, representing Merchants Bank, provided opening remarks, including a commitment to sponsor the ride “as long as you keep pedaling” I believe was the quote.  We will hold him to it.  Merchants has been such a great sponsor to work with from the very beginning, the 2006 Big Sky 900 as it was originally known.

Apple Valley’s Mayor Mary spoke next, lauding the accomplishments of the riders, but also speaking of the necessary role played by Kids ‘n Kinship and of her appreciation of the great corporate example provided  by Merchants Bank.  Mayor Mary, who enjoys biking herself, chided John about perhaps riding with the CEM boys in 2013.  We could probably find some really big hills for her!

Jan Belmore, the Director of Kids ‘n Kinship, gave an emotional thank you to the team, but we’re suspicious that the emotions were related to us riding in her homeland of Wisconsin.  She also called into question the truthfulness of the daily diary, the black bear encounters and attacking blackbirds, asking whether the stories were fact or fiction.  The riders adamantly defended the stories, and we even have pictorial proof of the big, black bear by the side of the road, the same bear that tried to attack John.

In reference to our losing Denny along the route one day, the Kids ‘n Kinship staff gave us each a collage of photos entitled “Where’s Denny?” or “Where’s Jay?”, etc.  Jan didn’t seem to think we showed enough urgency in tracking down our lost rider, but to us it is old hat by now, and there’s only so far a 66-year old man can ride in an hour.

John thanked the riders and drivers individually for their efforts, sprinkled with a few anecdotes from the ride.  He also thanked those who made things easier along the way, Ann Gurholt for tracking the donations, Cindy Higgins for helping with our online site and loading the pictures and diary each day, and Casey Elder for updating our website and solicitation letters and for handling the 2012 t-shirt order.

Finally, Dennis presented the fundraising check to Jan, a record $33,000 and hopefully still counting.  We all posed for pictures and mingled with guests, while the Merchants Bank staff served hot dogs and, appropriately, root beer floats.  Another ride has come and gone, and we have surpassed our fundraising goal with the help of so many people.  Thanks again to all for your generosity, and see you in 2013!