Just like my FrankenBike,
The Fetish has been many things, and can do all things:
Winter project – complete tear apart, sand, file, obsess, re-paint, rebuild…
To be continued…
I was on a motorcycle doing about 50 mph, and then I was on the ground in a pool of blood doing 0 mph. My femur was sticking through my leg, my hip was shattered and I was bleeding to death in the middle of a 3-lane highway.
It’s been 20 years, so I was feeling nostalgic a few nights ago and I pulled out the old manila folder full of “stuff” from the accident: photos, police reports, mountains of medical bills, and a thank-you letter that I had written after the accident. The letter was what I was after.
I have almost no recollection of what actually happened in the few minutes after I saw a van pull into my lane and I hit the brakes. I remember laying down and feeling wet (blood). I remember hearing sirens and then I remember seeing the hospital ceiling lights flashing past my eyes as my gurney was wheeled down a hallway. Then 3 days of mostly morphine-induced stupor. Most of my “memories” are pieced together from what I read in my own drug-permeated, fog-filled police reports, and stories I heard after the fact. The thank-you letter was my way of telling everyone what happened at once, rather than 1,000 times over and over, and also thanking the people that helped me through everything. The thank-yous were directed at the people closest to me; my wife, my Mom, a few good friends, and then there was a stranger I thanked named Tim Stalbaum.
So, because it’s 2019, and I can, I Googled “Tim Stalbaum”, and this popped up:
I’ve searched for the word to describe it – it’s not ironic and it’s not coincidental, it’s weird, it’s eerie, and it sucks. I’m really not sure how to process the information either. If he was still in WI I’d visit him and we could ruminate on the coincidence.
I wouldn’t wish my experience on my worst enemy, and certainly not on someone who selflessly helped a stranger the way he had. I hope and pray that he is able to recover the way I have, and someday he’ll have to pull out a dusty file to bring the memories back.
10,613 ft of elevation.
4 days of awesome.
That’s the facts. Now the fluff…
The Windy 500 (AKA: “The Windy”) is now 9 years old. In total, we’ve covered 4,594 miles (New York to Los Angeles and back) and climbed 105,704 feet (20+ miles straight up). For reference, the “Death Zone” begins at about 26,246 feet above sea level. At that elevation, unassisted from compressed air or oxygen, severe altitude sickness sets in, debilitating the human body and eventually resulting in death. I have certainly felt like death at the top of some of those climbs over the years… and we’ve gone 4 times the Death Zone height in total.
2019 finally marked the “return to form” (credit to bc for that term) for this adventure. For the past few years, the vibe of the ride has been “off”. For me, this is a mental checkout, an escape from the pressures and responsibilities of daily life: being a Dad, a husband, a breadwinner, a home remodeler, a boss, etc. Just my chance to do physical work all day long and then chill with friends at night. Then get up and do it again. No spreadsheets, no sports schedules, no meetings, no homework, no bills to pay… just pure work. And all of that pure work leads (me) to internal purity. Which leaves me with serenity, joy, strength, harmony, happiness, patience and magnanimity. Or it should.
For me, and a few others, the last few years have lacked that reward. This trip had become an organized Tour – more about the rest stops and KOMs than the journey. We ground people to dust with big dick contests on legit Category 3 climbs, and we raced to hotels to end the rides faster and faster each day. We yelled at each other to “Hold our lines!” and “Ride two up!” We took guys who normally ride at 16 mph and asked them to hold a wheel at 24 mph. And we were genuinely pissed when they couldn’t. And we called it a “vacation”.
This was not the ride that many of us needed anymore. To use a Lampe term, it had been “Kayzared”. You take something really good and turn it up to 11. Until it sucks. Oh, and to make matters even worse, I sent out invitations this year. Yeah. So, some people were not invited. Because I’m super cool. And I had to pick and choose people based on bullshit criteria because I had invited everyone I knew, which made the ride too big and unmanageable. Now I was barely looking forward to riding because I had pissed friends off, the ride sucks, and life was way too busy this year to even take 4 days away. I was feeling uber magnanimous indeed. And also like the world’s biggest fraud.
Fast forward to August 2. The day after my 50th birthday. The launch of the 9th Windy 500. I was excited, but my expectations were low.
Fewer of us than last year, by design. An almost on-time launch. Zero drama. All smiles. Things felt different already.
After a much shorter than usual amount of time, the group fell into a smooth rhythm. By the time we had crushed another delicious all-you-can-eat Alma’s breakfast, we were functioning like 1 unit.
We spent time on roads that were very familiar and roads that we had never seen before. McArdle, our perennial RouteMeister, never disappoints and this year was no exception. Roads were rolling, beautiful and virtually traffic-free.
bc treated us to his usual round of surprises and delights by piloting us to the only authentic Mexican place within 100 miles, after lowering the bar by announcing that we’d be eating at fast food joints that day.
We made our way to the 1 and only hotel stop – a first for the Windy. Green Bay became our hub for 3 nights, which was a welcome change from schlepping bags of dirty kits back into the van every morning. From GB we rolled West into Central WI, North to the UP and finally back to Brookfield.
The pictures always tell the story better than words ever could. Suffice to say, the Windy is alive and well. We came, we saw, we made friends with retirees and biker gangs… and we were serenaded by the always entertaining Bill Finn. We received cake and medals to keep us safe, and smiles and warm hospitality everywhere we went. Except when we went past the laundromat. Do not go past the laundromat.
And suddenly, it’s over. Everyone says their goodbyes and we wake up in our own beds the next day and go to work and start thinking about next year.
I can’t describe what this event has become to me, for me. I can’t describe the level of gratitude I have for everyone that has participated over the years. This has truly become far greater than I had ever hoped, despite my best efforts to screw it up over the years. The funny thing is, everyone always remembers the Windy differently. And that’s OK. Everyone is free to pick and choose their own highlights, their own greatest roads or their favorite conversations. I am humbled to have created the vehicle to provide those memories.
The only way to make it better for the upcoming 10th Anniversary in 2020 is to make it 1,000 miles… and so we will.
509 miles this year makes it 4,083 total Windy 500 miles ridden for me so far. That’s the equivalent of a round-trip ride from Toronto, Canada to the Gulf of Mexico and back. For the rest of you Pop Tarts, your total Windy mileage ranges somewhere between 4,083 (McArdle) & 509 (everyone else). What matters most though is not the mileage, it’s the adventure.
This year, as with every year, the ride rolled from my house. Day 1 is a mix of veterans and newbies, well-wishers and tag-alongs who roll to the first stop with us and then head home. It usually takes a few hours after we roll out to find our rhythm. Some are better than others at riding 2 up in big groups. Those who’ve raced are comfortable on someone’s wheel at 30 mph, riding shoulder to shoulder. That type of confidence makes for very smooth, safe, confident riding. Others, not so much. This group is a mixed bag of experience and ability, so for some, it’s a bit of a crash course in technique (without the actual crash part). Eventually, people figure it out, and we do our best to ride as one unit for the next 3 1/2 days.
Day 1, stop 1, ALMA’S Cafe in Allenton. They’ve treated us way too well over the years, and after 35-40 miles of riding on fumes, their breakfast sandwiches are better than peanut butter dipped in peanut butter.
Our favorite stop is always Kwik Trip, because… it’s Kwik Trip:
Eventually, the hills find us:
We ride all day, and nights are dinners and renewing friendships.
Mornings are van loading and slowly rolling out of whatever parking lot we have taken over.
It’s riding, chatting, working, recovering and most of all, making memories that will last a lifetime:
The Windy 500 is just a bike ride, but it changes you, makes you better. The hardest day for me is always Day 5. The day when I wake up and shower and put on people clothes and drive to work and sit down at my desk. And I don’t pedal. Not once. And I don’t climb. And I don’t descend, screaming into a valley, tucked into my handlebars at 54, 55, 56 mph, with 5 guys right next to me, all doing the same, all smiling, ear to ear. I just sit.
It has taken me quite a while to sit down and compose my thoughts about this year’s ride. The Windy 500 has become an extremely important part of my life, and I generally start planning the next ride when we roll into my driveway on Day 4. During the ride, we discuss ways to improve the experience, and I arrive home with scraps of hotel paper and bar napkins with random thoughts and ideas scribbled down on them. This year, I rolled into my driveway alone. And it was over. I showered up and sat down to a home-cooked meal with my wife and kids. The rest of the group rolled on to Wauwatosa to celebrate Bill Finn’s birthday. I had developed some kind of sinus cold on Day 2 and once I cleaned up I was done for the day. And I didn’t think about next year’s ride until a few days later.
For 4 days on the ride, I control what I do. I control my time, my efforts, my thoughts. Well, maybe not my thoughts. But I really don’t think about manipulating Excel spreadsheets much. Or my mortgage. Or yard work. I just think about riding. And talking to my close friends. Mostly about nothing. Locker room talk and juvenile jokes. But sometimes it’s about really important stuff. Really deep stuff. The kind of stuff you can talk about when there’s nothing to do all day but move your legs in hundreds of thousands of circles.
That’s my Windy 500. I work really hard at times, not so hard at other times. I wake up, grab some coffee and wait for the hotel’s breakfast to fire up. Then I get ready and I ride. All day. For 4 days. It’s as pure as it gets.
But this was Year 8, and I’ve done this before. 7 times before. And it was an adventure. A long time ago. In fact, I heard some of the guys who weren’t there in those early years telling the stories, and they even got some of it right.
Every year, somewhere along the route, people will ask:
“What are you riding for?”
I was recently reminded of this by my friend Dr. Long, and it stuck in my head like glue. The Windy 500 has become an event without a purpose. Without a True North. Why indeed?
Do you know what homogenized milk is, Billy? It’s bland Billy. Bland. And the Windy is pretty well homogenized. We eat in fancy restaurants and we have name tags, Billy. Name tags!
Don’t know how to change a tire Jimmy? It’s OK, we bring lots of extra wheels! And at the end of your long day, you get to swim and relax with other busy execs!
Meh. I think it’s time to shake it up again.
Don’t get me wrong – this ride is still SUPER awesome. The route, the riders, the endless miles in the saddle. But it’s become so big, such an event, that it’s not what it was originally intended to be. For me.
For many of the other guys that did the ride this year, and for those who have done it in past years, maybe it’s exactly what they want it to be. But the ride is at an intersection, and for Year 9, 2019, I need more. Or maybe less.
Here’s the complete list of rules for the original Windy 500, back from 2011:
Unfortunately, the rules have been amended over the years to include:
I realize that this is not just my ride anymore. Heck, I’m barely even responsible for it now. And don’t get me wrong, I like the pools. I look forward to cooling down after the ride. But the sense of adventure that launched this journey is long gone. So 2019’s route will have 2 fully supported options:
Faster guys, stronger climbers, fewer stops. NOT race pace, but it will be challenging.
Casual pace. Riders will re-group at the tops of climbs. More frequent rest stops. This group will most likely leave 1/2 hour prior to Group 1. Both Groups will meet at the lunch stop and at the hotel. No need for the faster guys to feel held back and no need for the more casual guys to turn themselves inside out. And having 2 smaller groups will do wonders for safety.
That’s all. We’ll probably go West again. The route is really beautiful and certainly challenging. And everyone is welcome back.
Oh, and to answer the question “What are you riding for?” I defer to McArdle’s answer:
Yeah, that just happened. The Windy 500 just became the most spectacular thing ever. And you weren’t there.
It was Sofa King awesome, that it may never eclipse itself. Like Leo Sayer singing with Barry Gibb AND Justin Timberlake. Or donut wrapped hot dogs. It was that good. We may as well all put on some Nikes, cover ourselves in purple sheets and drink some Kool-Aid now…
I usually get right to the point, but I honestly don’t even know where to start this year. This was by far, the best and the most challenging time I have ever spent on a bike. We have hundreds of pictures, and it’s hard not to include all of them…
For 7 years we’ve ridden. Iron Mountain, Michigan and 545 miles the first year. 45 extra miles because we were lost. A lot. 105 degrees. Rain. 4 riders. 162 miles on Day 1 at almost 20mph average speed. No sag. Epic. Me, McArdle, Lampe and Gary Johnson. A proper beat-down, the likes of which may never be duplicated. Upon arrival, just after dark, the hotel staff hands us a small box that we UPSed there. A new kit and disposable toothbrushes for everyone. Yay! McArdle and Lampe are the only 2 to have done this every year, and McArdle is the only one who’s matched me mile for mile for the past 3,574 miles. Last year our cumulative mileage surpassed “The Ultralineamentum” – the longest possible route across the US – my initial dream/goal in this stupid plan.
Year 2: 7 guys, we decided to go West. Winona. Hills, hills and more hills. 500-something miles and 17,000+ feet of climbing. Jeremy drove his own truck for sag. Holy crap, we could actually pack a bag this time. Jeremy (aka: TRJ , aka: The Real Jeremy – ask Balden) met up with us every 25 miles or so. He thought we were nuts.
Year 3: This was the Van Halen III year – great compared to sitting at a desk, but shitty compared to the original ride. 9 riders, southern route. “Southern” was Illinois to Indiana and back. Flat, urban, and full of debris. Ridiculous number of flats, a zero score for scenery and fairly forgettable. Still, we spent 4 days riding 500+ miles, so it wasn’t all bad. Jeremy on sag again, this time rolling right behind us the whole route. Still thinking we were nuts, but now “bike-curious”.
4: Escanaba, MI. Fantastic Mexican food, awesome route and full blown sag support. Jeremy jumps on a bike this year and becomes a legit rider. DuWayne (TRJ Sr.) takes the helm as all-time sag driver. 18mph average on a fairly flat route for 496 miles. Veterans bank their rollover miles from previous years while rookies do laps in every gas station to ensure the 500+ mark. Escanaba is a glorified shithole, but the route is a success. This thing is taking on a life of its own…
5: Back to da U.P. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. 21 riders now up to Escanaba. Beer, Mexican, etc. It has rained every year to this point, we expect it to continue doing so long after we are all dead.
6: Escanaba again. 3rd year in a row. Bike practically rides itself along the route by now. It’s an awesome route for a big group, but becoming a bit vanilla. Biblical rain (again). Hail. Sun. Fun. Laughs. 27 guys. bc and McArdle have become co-Directeur Sportifs, and apparently from April through July they only work part-time at their real jobs. The “Windy” has reached legendary status. The world is divided into two halves; those who’ve done the Windy, and those who haven’t.
Fall, 2016: Windy 500 2017 Planning session: Lampe’s firepit. Talking about Escanaba v4.0. Longing for the excitement of the early years. Lampe calls bullshit on a 4th year to MI. We all agree. You know what would be awesome? Some soul-crushing climbs and 55mph descents. Really riding. Not another charity ride. It was undeniable. It could not be undone.
Windy 500, 2017, year 7 – Winona, Minnesota and back. 22, 23, 24, 22? riders. Picked up another rider on Saturday on his way home from 7 days of RAGBRAI, lost one the same day to Volmonia, a new communicable disease that is apparently contracted from staying in shithole hotels. 18,500+ feet of climbing this year. But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.
I contacted Pabst before the ride, and they hooked us up with some sweet swag and enough PBR to keep Jeremy hydrated for 4 days…
8 O’something a.m. Go time. The mayor sends us off as usual. Reaches VO2 max on the first climb out of the subdivision and taps out. Maybe SPD Crocs for 2018?35 miles from my driveway to Alma’s again for the most spectacular breakfast on Earth. Riders may believe that this kind of stuff just happens, but bc and McArdle have toiled for weeks going over the finer points of logistics, including trial runs to Alma’s. Rookies are clueless.
From there we rolled, fatter and happier, to Reedsburg. 136 miles. 5,000 feet of climbing. World’s worst hotel, The Voyageur. Don’t Google it, you’ll get some kind of disease just from looking at it. I’m not kidding. Most riders have checked in post-ride with some form of malady. All part of the adventure. I guess.
You know it’s a classy hotel when you see wheelchairs and organs for sale in the lobby.So, who wants to ride to Winona, MN? Let’s roll.
123 miles, another 5,000 feet of climbing. Seemed a lot harder than yesterday. Dozens of world-famous Bloedow’s Donuts were waiting for us upon arrival, laughs and even a little rest that night. By the way, the most spectacular weather ever. Mid-80s, sun and (I swear this is true) a tailwind for 500 miles. It has rained at least one day of the ride for the past 6 years straight. Rookies Dino, Janisch, Walls and Lex think this is the best thing since sliced bread. They have no idea that every year prior we’ve had to assume the tornado position at some point during the ride. Pop Tarts.
Rolling into Winona, we were all just happy to be clear of the Mississippi, avoiding eye contact with Leach, fearing that he might kill again.
Sunday morning church service at 6:30am, courtesy of Dr. Long. This is a secret portion of the Windy that I really look forward to every year. Steve is an ordained Methodist minister and Professor of Theology. He offers it up to anyone who wants to participate. About 8 of us shared a private service, and it left me energized and focused on the task at hand. It also reminded me of how awesome this slice in time with this caliber of men was.
Breakfast and some foreshadowing – the hills await. 6 monster climbs. Inclines as high as 17%. We all rolled out. A bit nervous, a bit excited. Road was flat, but we could see what was coming.
No way to avoid it. The first “hill” punched us in the throat. And by throat I mean balls. It officially qualifies as a Category 3 climb. Al Krueger now has the 5th fastest ascent (all-time) on Strava with an average speed of 9.1mph. Soul crushingly steep and long. We also climbed 2 Category 4s that same day. While I was praying for a swift death, I was reminded that it would be considered a relatively flat day in the Tour de France. Really glad I took the last year off of cycling… not.
By the end of the day, I think everyone was smoked. We rolled into Spring Green well-done and STARVING. It was the hardest day EVER on my bike, I would have cheerfully eaten any of the various roadkill we passed in the last 50 miles. 7pm. 8pm. 9pm. FINALLY the pizza dude showed up. At that point – no one cared. We’d have eaten a dog turd or 10. Crap-ass pizza x 15. Thanks? I know that I ate (probably) an entire pizza in about 5 minutes. I hear that there were wings too, but they were set in front of Janisch and no one ever saw them again…
I’m excited and exhausted simultaneously. bc takes the lead on getting the fire going, and we’re in the happiest place on Earth. Again.
For the record, Ronnie James Dio once stayed at this hotel. He wants you to pull his finger.
Day 4: Rested, humbled, ready. Just 112 easy miles, only 3,000 feet uphill to go. No real climbs, just all rollers. I could go on and on, but honestly – you had to be there.
Did we have fun? We’ll never tell, but I’m guessing by the smiles that you already know the answer…
I think Jeremy McKinney’s second cousin Cat Stevens sang it best:
AKA: 14.5 Reasons Riding Bikes 500 Miles Will Make You More Awesome
The 2016 Windy 500 rolled out sort of on-time on Friday, July 30th at 8:20am-ish, 27 strong. Blake signed on again as our lead-out man.
We would have left earlier if not for a mystery deuce or two. No idea who was responsible, but I have my suspicions.
This ride is only a success because of the year-long pre-planning that goes into it, specifically from bc and McArdle. Our first stop was breakfast at Alma’s in Allenton. We were treated to a hot and ready breakfast buffet that would have made your momma cry. 30 or so guys had even made a recon run up to the restaurant 2 weeks earlier to make sure they’d be ready for us. Unbelievable.
With bellies sufficiently full we rolled on, destined for more food and drink. Most new guys scoffed at the fact that we all gain weight on this ride, yet post-ride scales generally register 5-6 pounds heavier (I was at almost +7). Next stop – salted nut rolls and PBR.
Next stop – MEXICAN FOOD! Roughly 80 miles in is the Oshkosh food stop. We filled the outdoor seating area and watched a massive amount of planes flying in and out of the EAA.
Parking was somewhat of a premium.
A very different scenario from the 4 random, haggard, unsupported cyclists that found this gem 6 years earlier. Hey, I think that’s the guy that took a big grumpy at my house before we left!
Alright, this is a bike ride after all. According to Strava, we covered over 515 miles in 4 days. We all stared at many a man-ass for hours at a time. I try to block that part from my mind.
Day 2 got us up and moving toward Escanaba. We had a number of bonus stops to make, so we got right to it. Random roadside bathroom breaks allowed Duwayne to pick up a hitch hiker destined for the border. He liked our group so much that he stayed on for the whole trip.
There are only 3 guidelines for the Windy 500:
Shortly after we cross into Michigan we stop at our favorite Mexican restaurant:
If you haven’t been there, you suck and you should not be allowed to reproduce.
Some day we may figure out that wearing the tightest clothes you have and eating until you can’t breathe, followed by riding bikes in the heat is a terrible idea, but I really hope we don’t. So, 2 miles later we went to Freddy’s Grandma’s to eat the world’s largest chocolate chip cookies.
Next stop – Bruguglio’s. Last year we had our only* crash. 2 minutes later the skies opened up and it started to pour. We were taken in by the kindness of a family at their lake-side cabin, so we decided to stop by again this year and deliver some of those world record cookies.
Day 2 – done. 116.6 miles. Running total – 253.7 miles.
* yeah, so… crashes. Only 1 “officially” in all Windy’s combined. Unless you count the 3-4 solo (stone cold sober) parking lot crashes in 2016. I can’t explain it. First Aid was administered to boo-boos and we rolled.
Saturday night we stayed in the dumpiest dump of all, complete with Glade Plug-Ins and a cold-plunge pool that was once a functioning hot tub. The town shuts down at sunset, so it was pizzas delivered to the conference/breakfast room for dinner.
Early Sunday morning Dr. Long treated a group of us to a very moving outdoor service, while sporting a Ben’s Cycle shirt. This year’s ride produced so many memorable things that it’s really hard to cram them all in, but this was definitely pretty high on the list.
Did I mention that we also rode bikes? Blah, blah blah.
Day 3, rolling, rolling rolling. Our longest day, 152.7 miles – running total 406.4 miles. Unbelievable, spectacular, unicorns and rainbows weather. 82° and a tailwind. We covered the first 100 miles like butter in a hot pan.
Day 4 – home. 109 miles – 515.4 miles all in.
We learned a lot along the way:
Lastly – don’t ever be the last guy to use the bathroom, or we’ll move the van and hide behind the gas station when you come out so you think we left without you.
Windy 500 2017 planning has already begun. It is becoming too amazing to contain. We may begin limiting spots. If you want in, raise your hand now or you may be left behind.