September 2009 Archives

The final mountain bike race on my calendar was the Copper Harbor Fat Tire Festival on labor day weekend.  The only problem is, it's on Sunday. This is probably great if you're coming from out of town, but it kinda kills the whole weekend for us local folks. 

So what to do when you've got a whole day both before and after a race? Ride there and back, of course!  

My obsession with the Tour Divide race is fairly well documented here, and I was kind of frustrated on my Manitowoc tour with being banished to the pavement. So, I ordered up a rack for my mountain bike and stripped down my touring setup to the bare essentials.

I was feeling pretty smug about being Mr. Badass Touring Racer for my plans to ride to Copper Harbor and back until I was riding home from work on Thursday night and ran into a couple of guys from Marquette riding down the highway on their way to Copper Harbor for the race too.

Buncha showoffs.  :)  

Anyway, Saturday morning I took off. The plan was to stick with snowmobile trails as much as possible. Had a nice ride through the old mining ruins of the Keweenaw. 

Once I hit Allouez, I decided to make some time and rode pavement all the way into Copper Harbor. Had plenty of time to register, grab a nice dinner at the Mariner North and head out to my super secret camp site out past the tip of the Keweenaw. I was kind of worried about backcountry camping on labor day weekend, but only one other group had found my spot, and they were camping way down the beach.  

I registered 86 miles for the day. Despite rolling on 2.3" knobbies, I still managed to average about 10mph.  Only about 2mph slower than 35c touring tires and a heck of a lot more comfortable.  

I had myself a nice Polynesian themed happy hour with dried squid and pineapple while I watched the sun go down. 

Rode back into town early the next morning. Thankfully, the team tent was on hand to stash my gear in during the race.

Time to start mentally prepping myself for the race.  I decided to go with the "just have fun and cruise this one" philosophy. After all, I still had to pedal 80 miles or so back home tomorrow, and this race is very technical and it's easy for me to get in over my head and crash if I'm not careful.  

As usual, I took it easy for maybe a whole 5 minutes into the race. 

The first part of the race has a climb up some double track and I was stuck behind a couple of guys riding side by side. The people in front of them were pulling away and the gap was getting bigger and bigger.  Good thing I've got myself a pretty good bag of asshole roadie tricks now. 

I just inserted myself between them and held my ground. If you've ever ridden cyclocross or a crit, this is no big deal. You regularly come into contact with other racers and you sort of learn to lean on them without letting the bikes come into contact. 

This utterly freaks out midpack mountain bikers.  

The guy on the left held his ground pretty well, but the guy on the right immediately headed for the bushes. 

Well shoot, looks like I'm racing now. 

Which was really OK, as the first part of the course really suits me- lots of steep quick climbs that I can power up. The slower traffic from the long race was really killing my big gear mashing technique, but I still found myself in the top 20 for the short race. 

Of course, you know how these stories go now.  "I was doing great until..."

Well, I knew I couldn't hang onto that top 20 for long. Although the first part of the course is lots of quick, steep ups, the latter part is lots of quick, steep downs. It gets so bad in some places, I have to get off and run my bike, and I certainly can't bomb it at race pace.

Before that though, there's some intermediary fast and flowing stuff. Unfortunately, me and a couple of other guys were stuck behind a slower long course racer. After a bunch of incessant whining on our part, he finally let us by and I immediately started riding well outside of my actual ability. I knew I was being a little reckless, so I let the guys behind me by so I wouldn't have any incentive to try and stay ahead of them. 

Didn't work though.

I was happily bombing along when I caught my shoulder on a tree, which bumped my handlebars into another tree, which bounced me off a third and landed me in a pile on top of my bike.  I managed to land on top of my up pointed handlebars right on my collarbone. My collarbone area was screaming in pain, but didn't feel broken, although what really had me worried was the dull twinge in my knee. 

I managed to get up and get going before anybody passed me, but my race was pretty much done at that point.  The only way to get any kind of edge from here on out was to bomb the downhills faster than anybody else, and my confidence was so shaken, I'd have a tough time riding it at Sunday morning cruising pace. 

I managed to hang on to a 36th overall, 30th in my division. A really good finish on my part that I'm quite proud of.  


(Image courtesy of Juskuz.)

This was followed by the famed "Festival" part of the Fat Tire Festival. I kicked back with a beer in my hand and a bag of ice on my knee and it wasn't long before I was feeling no pain whatsoever.  

Just after sunset, I cruised out to a secluded spot a couple of miles out of town and passed out for the night.  


First problem was, it hurt like hell. The most concerning issue was the fact it was now approximately twice the size it used to be.  Once I actually got on the bike and started pedaling though, it didn't really bother me all that much.  I couldn't hammer, but I could certainly spin.  

I ambled my way into town to survey the wreckage left from last night. 

Ate a huge breakfast and pointed my bike southward.  

Man, that was a slog home. but I made it. And I'm now horribly, horribly hooked on this whole bikepacking thing.  I'm now lusting for a 29er hard tail with some custom bikepacking bags and a lightweight sleeping setup to carry with me. I could really get into this touring/racing thing. It adds a whole new spin on "run what you brung".   

And it only took a week or two for my knee to return to a normal size and color.  


Manitowoc Tour - Day 8 & 9

Somehwere south of Crandon, WI to Lac Vieux Desert, WI- ~90miles

By this time, I'd learned an important lesson in bicycle touring- never, ever, EVER stop on the side of road unless you want company.  Closely examine any feature of your bicycle and somebody will offer mechanical help, look at a map and people will offer directions, lay the bike on the side of the road and duck into the woods to take a leak and MY GOD THERE'S BEEN A HORRIBLE ACCIDENT!!!  (I really need to get a kickstand).  

Anyway, one thing I find completely odd is the number of people who ask me for directions. Seriously, the last guy you want to ask for directions is the strung out touring rider with a map and GPS strapped to his handlebars.  Nonetheless, I had some guy in a minivan wave me down to ask if I knew where "Chicken In The Woods Road" was? 


Yep, I guess I heard that right. 

"Uh, no. I don't."

Although I felt I should have responded with something like "No, but the blue dog barks at midnight." just to see where it got me. 

About thirty miles later though (man, that guy was lost)....


Had another nice ride on Military Rd. that day and pressed on up US-45 to a National Forest campground right on the border of MI on Lac Vieux Desert (it's French for "big lake that stays shallow enough to wade in about 1/4 mile out from the beach"). Nice for a National Forest campground, but I gotta say- those private campgrounds spoiled me. They were all cheaper, had hot showers, and had surprisingly way better tent sites.

 Lac Vieux Desert, WI to Askel, MI- ~100 miles

 Crossed the WI/MI border early in the day.


The ride was pretty pleasent until Kenton, MI. After that, I was on the home stretch and couldn't wait to get home. Those final miles just dragged on and on.  I was half tempted to dump the bags in the bushes and come back for them with the car. 

I made it home without incident, just in time to watch the weather turn cold and rainy for the rest of the weekend. 

I'm really tempted to wax poetic here about how the whole touring thing is awesome and i had such a great time and blah, blah, blah. But really, I was kinda glad to be home and off the bike for a bit.  Although it only took a couple of days before I started planning my next stupid bike trip.  Don't touch that dial.... 

Manitowoc Tour - Days 6 & 7

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Manitowoc, WI to Shiocton, WI - ~80miles

I'm running a bit of backlog now in my dumb bicycle stories, so I'm going to try and get this wrapped up here soon by writing up a few days at a time. 

Besides, given an outdated AAA map of WI and MN as my only paper maps available to me in Ludington, I didn't have much to go on to assemble a different route back than the one I took down. 

There were some promising choices heading up the coast, but all of them put me within close proximity to Green Bay or Appleton. Without detailed info from a cyclist point of view, I could easily wind up in some kind of suburban shopping mall hell. It's be navigable, but not much fun. I figured I'd stick with what I knew. 

Spent my final night in Ludington at my grandparent's house, woke up early on Monday morning, and had myself a nice little ride over to the ferry dock.  The day crowd is definitely a different bunch than the midnight crossing crowd, that's for sure.  The batteries in my camera died right after I boarded, so not much photographic evidence of this trip.

I do have to say, they serve some damn fine cinnamon rolls on board the SS Badger. But, don't fill up too much- about 45 minutes before you dock, they cut the price on all hot food to a buck. I did what any touring cyclist would do in this situation and gorged myself on pizza, corndogs, and chicken wings.  Brunch of champions!   

Manitowoc was all exciting on my trip over as it was the end of the road with a few days of rest awaiting me. After docking at 1pm on my return trip, it didn't take long before I wanted to get the city as far behind me as possible.  I took the ACA route out of town and found myself on better quality roads than what I came in on, but it was through some kind of suburban mall hell- the worst kind of bicycle riding there is for me.  It didn't take long for things to go from bad to worse either- I promptly flatted on the edge of town.  

Now I was just pissed. I still had that rear wheel issue I discovered on the way down, and now I was down one spare tube as well, but still faced about 350 miles of riding.  No use dwelling on the possible what-if scenarios. Every mile pedaled was a mile closer to home. After 4 days of partying with the family, I was in the mood to make some miles anyway.  

I had a similar plan to my trip down for accommodations on the way back and was planning on stopping just 40 miles down the road or so at High Cliff State Park again.  When I went zooming by that early enough in the day, I figured I could hunker down and make Shawano and the swinger hotel again no problem.

Didn't quite make Shawano, but I had one of my best nights on the road just about 20 miles short of there in Shiocton.  There was an update to the ACA maps featuring a new hotel in town that looked kind of neat- The Rustic Wolf Inn, but I sort of shrugged it off as I couldn't find any pricing information, and it was one of those "call me from the front door and I'll meet you there" sort of deals.  Nonetheless, after ~80 miles, I was beat- and when I passed by the place I saw there was somebody there.  

So, I poked my nose in to check out the place.  Man, I'm glad I did.  The owner was there and offered me one hell of a good deal for the night- but even at the regular rate of $75, it's a steal.   Beautiful, beautiful place. I can't say enough nice things about it or the guy who runs it. I'd do this trip again, just so I could stay there.   

Shiocton, WI to somehwere south of Crandon, WI ~90 miles

I was still kind of somwhere in farm land, and really anxious to get it behind me and back to the northwoods, so I hunkered down for another day of pedaling.  

Through the rain.  

And cold.  

I just can't win, can I?  

Well, once I made it over the hill by good ol' Kettlebowl ski hill, the trip took one of those remarkable turns for the better. The rain stopped, the skies turned blue, the temperature warmed up, the road turned downhill and I was getting close to the "halfway back home" mark, so I was feeling pretty good.  

Nontheless, I once again fell short of my goal for the day when I stumbled across a nice little bar/campground/resort about 20 miles shy of Crandon.  

The bar was closed, which had its positives (no drunk people wandering around), and its negatives (no drunk me wandering around). Still, I scored myself a very nice, grassy campsite and a hot shower for $10. Best of all, I had the place to myself.  I amused myself by exploiting the one cool trick I can do with my cheapo camera-  "sunset mode".   


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I think she's on to me.


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We interrupt this tour report to bring you an important message.

On August 28th, 2009, the editors of "Bad Decision Bicyclist" mistakenly reported that "Touring by bicycle is awesome." 

This is incorrect, it should read as follows:

Touring by bicycle is for fat, slow guys with beards on overloaded bikes with yellow fenders and blinkie lights.

Bikepacking is, in fact, where it's at, yo. 

The editors of "Bad Decision Bicyclist" sincerely regret this mistake and are also incapable of growing a beard. 

Manitowoc Tour - Day 5

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High Cliff State Park to Manitowoc, 40ish miles.  

Despite all the beer, I was feeling pretty good this morning. I guess I figured I was almost within walking distance now.  Not much to worry about. 

Still, with all day to cover only slightly over 30 miles to go to the edge of Manitowoc, I just couldn't find my rhythm. The first twenty miles of any given day are always the toughest for me. Once I get into it, I can go all day.  With such a short distance to cover and some less than remarkable scenery as the rural landscape began to turn more suburban, the miles just seemed to crawl by.   

Despite that though, the end of the road beckoned, and I made some good time. Pulled into Manitowoc just in time to watch the 1PM ferry crossing heading out. 

So now I had 11 hours or so to kill, waiting for the ferry to get to Ludington, turn around, and pick me up shortly after midnight.  

First thing I did was hit the bikeshop downtown to buy a new tube and a bike lock so I could ditch the bike for a couple hours.  The dude behind the counter knew a couple MTU students whose names I didn't recognize, but it was cool to see how popular MTU and the Keweenaw are with bicyclists in the midwest.  He gave me a couple good restaurant recommendations too.

So, time to do the tourist thing! 

You can't miss the Manitowoc Maritime Musem- it's a pretty prominent feature of downtown. Looked like a great place to kill a couple hours- and it was.  Oh, sure- they had all kinds of neat things-

A tour of the USS Cobia, a WWII era submarine similar to those that were built in Manitowoc during the war.


A big section devoted to boats built in Wisconsin. Here's a really neat wooden C scow, a type of boat I always thought was cool. 

But tucked away in a corner was one of those unique historical anecdotes that gives you a whole new perspective on the people from a certain place and time.

After all that local history, I needed a nap, so I rolled down to the waterfront and stretched out in what I thought was a public park.  When I woke up and hour or so later, I noticed that that just 30 yards away or so was a patio near a hotel that was now setup for some al fresco dining. The patrons seemed slightly less than impressed by a sleepy cyclist crawling out of the nearby bushes.  I should have gone over there and asked if they had any spare change. 

I was hungry now, and ultimately decided that the "Tequila Rose" would work. What an odd place it turned out to be. 

The first thing you notice is that it's a Mexican Restaurant/Biker Bar. And like any good modern "Biker Bar", it looks like somebody raided the Harley Davidson(tm) dealer tchotchke trove just last week. The place was finley appointed with the latest and greatest in officially licensed merchandise from The Motor Company(tm).  I think the ultimate in this culture clash was their fajitas with smoked sausage and ham.  

Anyway, they had an awesome selection of localish beers on tap, and I set to work sampling each one, pint by pint.  As I was doing this, an interesting phenomenon was happening. Packs, literally packs of women would come in, order a bunch of margaritas and once the tequila and their curiosity about the loaded bicycle parked out front got the better of them would proceed to start flirting with me such that even a bonehead like me could pick up on it. 

This was probably more female attention than I've had in the last 10 years combined. A man with more social graces may have been able to use this to his advantage, but I was in a purely dumbfounded state of shock and awe.  Besides, ladies- this Prince Charming needs to get out of here and get his ass on a boat by midnight and before your tequila buzz wears off.   

OK, my exploits as the suave, sophisticated, homeless, beer swilling cyclist of Manitowoc aside- I was really looking forward to my trip on the SS Badger.  I've been watching this thing come and go from Ludington ever since I was a little kid and have wanted to ride it for years.  At midnight, in Manitowoc, it's a little different than I remember.

Backed into the dock.

Loading up the coal for the boilers.

The empty cargo hold.

I had read that a popular option on the midnight crossing was to grab a deck chair and sleep out on the deck during the 4 hour crossing. With a light rain falling, there weren't a whole lot of takers. Still, I followed one guy's lead and dragged a deck chair under one of the lifeboats. 

Shortly after departing, the rain stopped and we had a nice tailwind and some nicely rolling waves.  With the light midnight crossing load, the boat would roll with the waves and made for a very, very pleasant snooze on the way over. 

I woke up just as we were pulling into Ludington, met my dad for breakfast, and them promptly embarked on a strict training program of beer consumption, eating, sleeping on the couch, and falling off of tubes being pulled behind boats in preparation for my trip home. 



Manitowoc Tour - Day 4

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Shawano, WI to High Cliff State Park, WI - 80ish miles


"Look at all those dead fat squirrels." 

"Did I do that?"  

Morning on Day 4 was a little rough. 

Thankfully, the hotel had a pretty good looking spread for breakfast and I set to work getting us much of my $104 back as I could in waffles, biscuits, and gravy.

Got off to a good start. Although Shawano is pretty much the point where you go from idyllic rolling farmlands like you'd see pictured on a butter container to the factory farms that produce that butter. Still, the morning start was nice and the roads were good.   Even some nice scenery along the way. 

"Hey, if that last ski hill was super awesome, maybe this one is too."

"Oh, maybe not."

It was a pretty good day up through Shiocton.   It still wasn't exactly bad after that, but I had a 14 mile straight stretch of road to do.  Wind wasn't exactly against me, but it wasn't behind me either.  Besides, on this stretch I started to become familiar with the "liquid waste" trucks.  See, two things are trucked out of factory dairy farms. One is made into delicious cheese curds, the other is transported in uncapped tanker trucks. Yay for fenders!  

Anyway, all those Fat Squirrels from the nigh before finally caught up with me around Freedom, WI (Midwest capital of cheesey American Flag imagery).  I decided a nap in the park would be just the thing. I sat and snoozed amongst the 47 american flags flapping in the breeze, when I looked over at my rear wheel....

"*%&#$*(%!!!"   (I know, it hardly seems like I censor myself in this blog- but in this case, I should.)

 Yep, nearly every one of the rim eyelets for the drive side spokes on my rear wheel was cracked.   I guess I shouldn't be surprised. After two cyclocross seasons and all kinds of other offroad abuse under me, it's a wonder these wheels haven't run off and joined the circus. Still, massive rim failure was not a problem I was equipped to deal with.  

Not much I could do about it though. Just time to get back on the bike and ride.  

Getting through Wrightstown wasn't a whole lot of fun, but it sure beat trying to ride through Appleton.   Finally arrived at my destination for the night- High Cliff State Park near Sherwood, WI.  

The night before, I used the hotel computer to connect with some friends.  My friend Nancy had warned me about this supposedly huge climb I'd have to do to get to the campground.  Somehow, I sort of snuck into the park on a service road and made it to the campground with no climbs.  Except I couldn't find an office or anything in the campground to register.  I finally asked somebody. They directed me to the office.  Down the hill. 


"That was fun." 

I get myself all registered up for the night.  

I then realized I should have ditched all my baggage back at the campground.  

Still, once I was back at the top of the hill, I was done for the night. 

30 minutes later, my buddy "Hodag" from ADVRider pulled in with a cooler full of beer.  After discussing my trip so far and the various merits of ditching the tent for a hammock, we head into town for some grub.  

So, I have this little problem.  I always meet really weird people at bars.  Not good weird. Creepy weird. They always leave everybody I'm with alone and just sort of naturally gravitate towards me.  I guess I'm special like that. 

I'm on about my third Spotted Cow and I notice this guy on the barstool next to me will just not stop staring at me.  Not covertly either.   After about a half hour of creeping me out, he goes off on same ramble about "trying to figure me out" and "wondering if I'm some kind of surfer dude".  No, my drunken creepy new Sherwood, WI friend- just the unfortunate effects of too much SDC pool chlorine combined with too much sun.  

Eventually he wanders off, and after a few more Spotted Cows, Hodag drops me off at the campsite with a few more beers. Had a nice night, sitting on the cliff watching the sun go down over Lake Winnebago whilst polishing off the last of the Miller High Life. 

Now, maybe I had too many Spotted Cows or something, but all night, it sounded like the campsite was just crawling with raccoons.   I never actually saw any, but I like, totally swear, man... there were tons of them out there.  Or something.