Snap…snap. So begins another ride in Wisconsin’s Northwoods. I had been attempting to get a ride together with one of my Diablo mates for a few weeks now. I had started to make plans a few weeks prior but our weekend option turned elsewhere that weekend and I ended up riding solo up Granite Peak (I don’t call it Rib Mountain). This was the weekend the plan came together. We agreed to meet at 7:30 am and my buddy planned out an 82 mile ride.
A New Road — Glory!
While I would not characterize the weather as cold I wish someone would have told the morning it was late spring. I had knee warmers on and took no other precautions against cold. I am a skier and the knees are precious. While being cool the day was otherwise promising to be a great one. My buddy and I set off riding side by side. We went down Eagle River’s Wall street merging single file and taking care when we needed to get out of the door zone. We made our way out of town and the tempo picked up. My buddy is a much stronger rider than I am and I was keeping up with him. We pedaled and chatted following the gentle contours of the road gliding around the road’s gentle bends. Down and around we would go followed by a short and gentle rise to repeat the sequence. Eventually, the coolness of the morning was a faint memory as our bodies started to get into their jobs.
Eventually our casual backroad jaunt gave way to a long stretch on Highway 70 to the East. I am very familiar with HWY 70 as an auto-driver and as a cyclist. HWY 70 is a great road, it is broad with well defined shoulders, it is mostly straight with a few curves, and is hilly enough to present some challenge without being gruelling or providing surprises for cars. I latched onto my buddy’s wheel and rode. By this time we had full on daylight. The trees were busy getting on with the work of putting out their leaves but the woods on each side of the road were still very much open. We crested a swell and had the longest climb (one I am intimately familiar with) on HWY 70 ahead but then my buddy informed me we would be turning off HWY 70 onto Divide Road about half-way up the climb. I was quite happy about this as I was about to go down a new road.
A New Road — New and Yet, Not New!
I will admit, most of these roads are not really new. They are all pretty much the same. The Woods are close in, are moderately twisty, and have regular rollers. These rollers are gentle you can punch up the short climb, settle in tight on your bike, upshift, GO, and repeat! The speeds one can achieve on these rollers makes the moderate twists and turns into borderline extreme twists and turns where you need to use your hips! Get down into the drops, weight the front wheel, drive your hips, and pedal! It’s the stuff I dream about! Jon and I worked Divide Road with most of the distance having me on his wheel but every now and then I would give him a yank (ie a very short pull) and then fade back, he would then soft-pedal and let me catch up and we would get back up to speed.
At one point we saw some whitetail deer grazing on and around the road in the mix of shade and green. Normally I don’t worry about the deer when I’m cycling but due to the number and the fact we were pretty much in the group of them before they noticed us I was much more concerned about them, however, we did not have any close calls. I don’t get too excited by seeing deer but of course seeing any wildlife on a ride is a bonus.
The Eagle River area is the headwaters of the Wisconsin River and there is much water about with the region pocked by lakes, blanketed by swamps, and etched by small streams and creeks. So standing and flowing water was a common sight. We would leave the forest-shaded road and cross into a luscious sun soaked stretch of road bridging a creek, perhaps we would hear water rushing around a dam or locks. Of course, I would twist my head to take in the sights and see what sort of insects were out, which was not many as it is still generally too cool for the most interesting insects to be hatching. As we would pass by swamps and bogs we would be greeted by choruses of spring peepers serenading us.
When off of HWY 70 the auto-traffic is near non-existant. Even on HWY 70 the traffic is light (just know a higher percentage of such traffic will be towing trailers of some sort usually fisherman towing their boats). The only animals to be seen were deer, birds, snakes, and early insects. NOT a single dog giving chase or concern to us. I fear loose dogs more than cars, a driver may hate us but at least they know if they act out on that hate they stand to be punished, dogs don’t have that same knowledge. Even if the dog is small, it still can get tangled up in a bike and cause a crash.
We eventually turned off of Military Rd and found ourselves again on HWY 70. This time we went West and then onto E Bass Lake Rd. More of the same, forested roads, gentle rollers, and moderate twists. Serene is the word best summarizing the roads we were riding (well, not HWY 70). I stayed on Jon’s wheel and kept going, one turn of the pedals at a time. Looking at the numbers we were averaging well over 19 mph and in some stretches we averaged 20+ mph. Then we had to get into city riding mode again in Three Lakes. The last time I was in Three Lakes on my bicycle was last July 4th on a solo century ride. I stopped for ice cream and a break. This time there was no stopping, it was all business.
We had stopped cars and door zones to contend with but as you can imagine (if you don’t know) Three Lakes is a not a city but a crossroads summer boom town. We did not have to spend much time in Three Lakes. We approached the right turn to continue out of town on HWY 45 and then it hit us full on for the first time. Riding in woods covered road not only provides serenity and shade from the sun, but also blocks the wind. However, riding up HWY 45 we did not have the benefit of the wind block anymore and we had a strong north wind we were riding into.
Highway 45 is a much busier road than HWY 70 but again it is open, straight, has a good shoulder, and is even flatter than HWY 70. I don’t mind riding on this highway either and have ridden HWY 45 from Antigo to Pelican Lake as well. Of course, I prefer side roads but sometimes we don’t have much choice. I clung to Jon’s wheel and rode low and then he called for a left turn. I was ecstatic not only were we getting off of HWY 45 but we were turning out of the wind and into shelter of trees. While we were definitely on a back road again the nature of the roads differed from the earlier roads. The road was more open and less rolly. We continued on the road which shortly delivered us back to Eagle River and we cruised back to our starting point.
A New Road — Pay it Forward!
Most of us have a solid work ethic and want to share the work to be done. I will admit that was not where I was on this ride. I was the beneficiary of my Diablo brother’s hard work. I noted this to Jon and he said no worries and I thanked him and admitted that even though I was drafting most of the ride I was still working every bit as hard as if I were on a solo ride or even on my other group rides. Looking over the numbers confirms this, my average heart rate was higher than on most of my rides.
Of course, I know if I am riding in another group I may be the strong rider and then I will step up and pull those riders along and not worry about it. This is one thing I like about cycling, these group rides are not cutthroat, they are about building other people up they are about people working together to achieve a goal together. Jon was my motivation and inspiration on that day and on a future ride I will be motivation and inspiration for someone else.
A New Road — Goals!
We did not make the 82 mile mark but we made 72 miles and achieved my rather capricious and arbitrary goal of winning my Strava May Gran Fondo badge. This is also the long ride of the season and by one of the better rides of my career.
Jon and I bid our farewell to each other, I packed my bike away, and continued on with my day. The next morning, I was with another buddy Jim, casting for largemouth bass.