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.