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: