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:
Do not talk about Fight Club.
youra bike 500 miles
- Complete the ride in 4 days
- Cross a state line.
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.
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”
– Hunter S. Thompson
There are certain questions that only you and I can answer for ourselves. In the midst of life – job, kids, hectic schedules, etc., those questions and answers are often perpetually set aside. Suddenly a week goes by, then a month, a year, a decade. Time is a constant. Even though it feels like it speeds up every year, it hasn’t since I was a 10 year-old cruising the neighborhood with my BMX bike on one of those those long, hot July days. It seemed like the sun would never set and when it finally did I was all too happy to crawl into bed and wait for the next day’s adventure to unfold.
The Windy 500 has become that endless July day to me – literally. Years ago as I approached my 40th birthday, I found myself needing to find that place in my soul again. That same year, a random business conversation took an extreme turn when I found out that the person I was talking to had ridden across the U.S. as a teen with his whole family. We were having lunch at a sports-themed restaurant and the Tour de France flashed across one of the TV screens. One of us mentioned it, and he dropped the bomb. His younger brother heard a speaker at school talk to the kids about a cross-country adventure, so that night at the dinner table the entire family of non-cyclists committed to a cross-country trip. His story was fascinating: Schwinn Varsities, sleeping in front yards, Dad going back to work after 2 weeks leaving Mom to complete the trip with the kids, racing to the post office to pick up Western Union funds before closing time… No phones, no GPS, carrying everything they needed. The journey had shaped him, and made a permanent mark on the man he has become.
I began reading all the books I could find about those types of cross-country adventures and began planning to cross the U.S. by bike. Then, reality happened. I had a job, a family, a company – responsibilities. The Windy 500 quickly became the “stunt double” for the cross-country trip that never happened. Last year, as we rolled into my driveway and completed the 5th annual Windy 500, I had essentially completed my transcontinental trip. As the crow flies, it’s about 2500 miles, +/-, across the USA, so this year’s edition will mark the beginning of the return trip.
I can’t really put into words what this adventure means to me, though I’ve tried: Getting There… It’s something that has come to mean a lot of things to more and more people every year. Whenever I try to describe it, I end comparing it to seeing the mountains for the first time – “…you just had to be there…”
Maybe this is your year to just be there. Maybe it’s next year. Doesn’t matter to me, I’ll be there every year until I have no more left.
Windy 500 Planning Session:
Wednesday, February 24, 2016
7:00pm – ?
Big Head Brewing Co.
6204 W. State Street, Wauwatosa, WI 53213
Alright folks, here it is – the one and only Windy 500 has once again shocked and amazed. Old friends got reacquainted, new friends were made, beers were consumed and miles were ridden. If you weren’t there, here’s a little glimpse of what you missed. If you WERE there, consider yourself down, and take a minute to sop it up…
Roll out – Friday, July 31, late (as usual)…
Out on the open road, and within about 1/2 a mile we lost our sag. We went right and the van went left. (Note from Al Krueger – 10 miles later, Jason’s bike that he cobbled together the night before, unsurprisingly and finally, gave out. So, we sat on the side of the road for 35 minutes in the lovely Holy Hill area while we waited to get re-grouped with the sag, get his bike that actually worked and then we continued on.) 10 miles later we re-grouped and continued on. The winds whipped up, making it impossible to communicate but we hammered on. Eventually we fell into a rhythm, but not before stopping to all yell at each other a little. The 5th Windy 500 was off to a very predictable start.
Further up the road (Oshkosh) we made the first of many mandatory stops for Mexican food and hydration.
Back on the road, and back to the brutal head and crosswinds. This year the Windy finally lived up to its name. The was very little shelter from the wind, but having 21 riders sharing the work certainly helped a ton.
Friday evening I was treated to a fantastic birthday celebration. It’s easy to have fun when you “know SO many people…”
A great time was had by all, or so I’ve heard. Back on the road on Saturday, a spectacular day all around.
It wasn’t long before we checked off one of the few Windy requirements: cross a state line.
The best part of rolling into the U.P. has become a stop at the legendary La Cabaña.
After a relatively long but uneventful day in the saddle, we finally reached our turn-around.
And then there was Sunday. A very long day on tap, 152 miles, and the forecast looked absolutely beautiful… a week ago. By that morning the forecasters were predicting severe thunderstorms, hail and we even heard 60 mph winds at one point.
The weather started off OK, but shortly into the ride there was a millisecond of lost focus and a couple of guys went down hard. Road rash, bruised parts and egos, and a completely shredded derailleur hangar on Jeremy’s bike. Then, to add insult to injury, the first storm hit. Al made quick work of repairing the bike damage, and we found a temporary haven with the Briguglios in their Lake house.
While Al was hard at work fixing bikes in a musty shed, the rest of us got to work screwing around.
Just as we’d fall into a groove, the storms would whip up out of nowhere. A quick stop for fuel at a gas station would turn into shelter from the hail and driving wind and rain within 5 minutes.
Although this day was the second longest in Windy history, and definitely the worst weather ever, it was epic. Everyone will remember it, and it made for some awesome riding.
Sunday evening we enjoyed pizzas by the pool and hot tub, along with Jameson and “guess my age” with strangers. I’m not sure who won, but Finn definitely lost. Monday morning we cashed in the points we earned on Sunday and were treated to the best weather we could have asked for.
502 miles – done. Definitely one for the books. At this point, it’s hard to have a favorite year. What’s not hard to do, is start thinking about next year’s trip already.
This year’s ride is dedicated to Sugs who lost a week-long battle for his life after a serious accident last week. They don’t make many like him, and the world will miss you Rob. WORS, the Rampage, and countless other places and events where friends gather to ride bikes together will never be the same.