Tentative 2021 Windy 500 dates/routes/details…


All,

2021 will be the 11th running of the Windy (10th anniversary). After the 2019 edition, I had grand dreams of making the 2020 version into something huge. As it turns out, that is what spoiled the magic in the first place. 2020 ended up being (because of COVID) one of the smallest groups of riders AND one of the top 3 best rides of all time.

(Lack of) planning is what made the first-ever year the gold standard. We had a mission (idea), 3 planned hotel stops, and UPS boxes en route to all 3. Aside from that, any “planning” that happened prior to launch was subject to change and/or ridicule. No SAG or support, a route that was all but abandoned 75 miles in, and 4 guys with no clue what they were doing. It was spectacular!

Over the years, the ride has grown and grown. Roughly 50 (?) different riders have taken part. Some just once, some two or three times, and others lots more. Mark Lampe has participated in every ride since 2011, bc has been there since the year 2012, but only Chris McArdle and I have covered all 5,089 Windy miles together.

Over the years, the ride grew by word of mouth and at some point, it just got too big. It became more of a guided tour. It’s easy for a handful of dudes to roll into the Town of Nowhere and get an “on-demand” burger and a beer for lunch. It’s nearly impossible with 28 guys unless you have a few hours to spare. Chris and bc spent hours upon hours designing routes and stops because there were “so many people” (an ode to Chris), it became a part-time job to plan and then execute the ride.

In 2019, we came up with the bright idea of limiting the riders to a specific number by using a scoring method. Yeah – that was stupid. ‘Nuff said.

2020 was wide open, and then COVID hit. I had intended to do a “Windy 1,000” for the tenth year. After COVID, we split it into 2 separate 500-mile routes. Yeah – that was stupid. ‘Nuff said.

The Windy 500 will always be the Windy 500. There were a few rules (guidelines really) that we used initially. After a few years, it became clear that spending a few days riding all day with friends and covering (+/-) 500 miles was spectacular. No rules or guidelines needed. Which brings us to 2021…

For the 11th ride/10th anniversary, we are still discussing the details. What we do know is:

  • The ride will be 500 miles. Ish. Not 1,000. Ish.
  • The ride will take 4 days. Friday to Monday. However, this year, we are considering a celebratory Thursday to Monday 5-day timeframe with a first-time-ever Saturday “rest day”. Hanging out somewhere all day; swimming, beers, jamming tunes, recovering, grilling out, bonfire and bourbon.

  • Limiting riders to 12-ish. Simply the first dudes with deposits in ride. Judgment free zone.
  • Rolling hills, no pride-busting Categorized climbs.
  • Probably headed North. Looking to do an Airbnb on a lake for the turn-around day.

More to follow. But if you know, you know. Find the link, pay the deposit, you’re in. There are a few dudes who’ve never done it that would be fantastic to ride with. There are a butt-ton of veterans who’d be awesome to ride next to. Don’t get left behind.

2020 Windy 500 Wrap-up


This is what 51 years old looks like.

More specifically, this is what it looks like at the halfway point of this year’s ride, with 2 days, 260 miles, and 11,000+ feet of climbing in.

In fact, this is exactly what 51 looks like after the tenth year of this ride.

5,089 total miles. So far.

That’s roughly Milwaukee to Los Angeles, then back to Milwaukee, then back to Los Angeles…

123,162 total feet of climbing (23.3 vertical miles). So far.

That’s the equivalent of Felix Baumgartner’s jump from space back to Earth – but going straight up, not down. Or climbing all 42 floors of the US Bank Center, the tallest building in Milwaukee…

205 times.

This is what this year’s crew looks like, including the breakfast crew and Johnny Croc, our lead-out man:

Let’s face it, 2020 might go down as one of the shittiest years ever in our lives. But this ride might be the only “normal” thing right now, and there was no way I was cancelling.

Ten years after dreaming this up, it’s just a part of life now. For me, and everyone that continues to make it happen. So it had to happen this year.

Day 1

It was weird having such a small crew. Weird, but really good. We normally roll out about 30 strong, including a few dudes that just roll to breakfast with us that first day. We normally have a full-sized Sprinter van, loaded down with bags, bikes, wheelsets, beer, you name it. This time, it was just an SUV with our gear and the bare essentials.

Weather was spectacular, the rollout was uneventful. Unlike having a giant peloton, we quickly found our rhythm this year, and it was on.

Just outside Beaver Dam (home of the Golden Beavers…), bc flatted (1 of only 3 flats on the entire ride) and we rolled into a driveway to get out of traffic. As soon as we stopped, out walks Fred Kaping. Retired Navy Vet, realtor, jack of all trades, and phenomenal home brewer! We offer PBR as payment for blocking his driveway, he returns the favor with Fred Brew – a deliciously smooth 14% ABV homebrew.

THIS is what the Windy 500 is all about. Random acts of kindness. Meeting new people and seeing new things you’d NEVER otherwise experience. We all roll out from Fred’s agreeing that his grandkids are some of the luckiest kids on Earth.


From there, it was a fairly regular roll the rest of the way to our home away from home for the weekend, the Spring Valley Inn. If regular includes a “biker” in a leather vest and boots on an E-bike playing Pantera through his phone…

We did what we always do, offered him a PBR, and listened to his stories.

Then food, drinks, fire & bed.

Day 2:

Rolling hills are supposed to be rolly… Right?

We had some beautiful scenery and some modest climbs, but apparently, Chris thought the best birthday present of all for me (and all of us) was a kick in the nuts:

6,300 ft of climbing with (7) Category 4 climbs. Really? And no receipt with this gift, so I couldn’t even return it. Asshole.

Fast forward to Saturday night – where a bunch of very tired riders enjoyed a delightful 5-star meal of deep-fried fat under the too-bright fluorescent lobby lights of the hotel.

Without Janisch, we all had pizza AND wings!

Day 3:

Another long day in the saddle, but nowhere near the soul-sucking climbing of the day before. Tapped out the day at an easy pace, dodging a few raindrops and falling temps along the way.

What would the Windy be without Mother Nature imposing her will??

More bike riding, PBR stops, etc., etc., etc…

Day 4:

Locked and loaded for the trip back home. Could not have done it with the Brothers Sag – Nick and Jon. You guys are AWESOME. Thank you so much.

That one time when Dino forgot he wasn’t at ToAD…

Finally some Mexican!!!! Beef tongue with habanero sauce. Least calories consumed ever on this year’s ride, but I still managed to gain 6 pounds??

We’re all getting older, but I’ll do this until I die. It’s become such a part of me, that I can’t imagine NOT doing it.

The beauty of the Windy 500 is not the ride. It’s not the “500 miles in 4 days”, although that’s always fun to tell people – especially non-cyclists. That’s just the road map. The true joy is the journey – all the moments in-between. There have been countless memories over the past 10 years. Sure, a few of them involve Mt Kickintheballs Hill, and wanting to heave up your spleen, but almost all of them have nothing to do with bicycles.

For me, this was never about riding bikes. It was about adventure. It was about people. And the ride has never disappointed. Yes, some years have been better than others, but after 10 years I wouldn’t change much.

I can’t wait until next year, and I can’t thank every single friend who’s ridden next to me enough for all of these memories.

You guys are the best.

See you in 2021.

 

Reflections on the 20 year anniversary of my death


On August 17, 1999, I was run over by a van.

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:

MOTORCYCLE RIDER HURT IN NORTHWEST WICHITA CRASH

20 years later, the stranger that came to my rescue after I was in a life-threatening motorcycle accident, was in a life-threatening motorcycle accident in Kansas.

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.

 

2019 Windy 500 wrap-up


511 miles.

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.

2018 Windy 500 wrap-up


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.

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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.

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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:

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I would not recommend human consumption of ice purchased at Kwik Trip. Just sayin’.

Eventually, the hills find us:

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We ride all day, and nights are dinners and renewing friendships.

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Mornings are van loading and slowly rolling out of whatever parking lot we have taken over.

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It’s riding, chatting, working, recovering and most of all, making memories that will last a lifetime:

Geez Janisch, lighten up and enjoy yourself!

“No one is dumb who is curious. The people who don’t ask questions remain clueless throughout their lives.” ~ Neil deGrasse Tyson

As always, if you weren’t there, you’ll never know.

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.

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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.

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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? 

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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!

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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:

  1. You must ride a bike 500+ miles in 4 days
  2. You must ride in at least 2 states

Unfortunately, the rules have been amended over the years to include:

  1. Hotels must have pools. And hot tubs.
  2.  Support vehicle must be stocked with refreshments, spare wheels, spare bikes, (maybe spare riders next year?)
  3. Rest stops can take as long as the anyone wants them to.
  4. Anyone can make up rules as we go…

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:

Group 1: 

Faster guys, stronger climbers, fewer stops. NOT race pace, but it will be challenging.

Group 2:

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:

“AWESOMENESS.”