Sunday, October 13, 2019

#coffeeneuring 2019: Ride 2, one gear, one coffee

Ride one of Coffeeneuring 2019 was warm and wet; ride two was cold and dry. What the rides had in common was a blustery wind. Temperatures had dropped rapidly from Friday to Saturday, and by Sunday morning it was barely above freezing. I did not appreciate that all and spent a good portion of the morning pouting on the couch, feeling sorry for myself, and reading indoor trainer reviews. By 10:30 I had finally pulled myself together and was determined to get out on my fixie, collect a tile or two, and get another coffeeneuring ride on the books.
Camrock connector trail

The wind was coming straight from the west, and I decided to ride it on the way out. The obvious coffee location was Kindfolk in Cambridge, a relatively new and hip coffee shop in this village of 1500. I took the most direct and navigationally easy route, the strong tailwind powering me along. The route is flat enough that I rarely spun out my 40x17 gear, and Strava says I got a number of PRs.

The coffee at Kindfolk was excellent. A light roast from Kickapoo, prepared as a pour-over. As I was drinking the coffee, I flipped through an old copy of Barista magazine that featured a special about coffee in Wisconsin, including Kindfolk. I always find it enjoyable to read trade publications of trades that I don't know a lot about -- what kind of themes do they cover, what products are advertised, ...
Crossing Koshkonong Creek

The way back was a different story. After leaving Kindfolk, I picked up one tile on the far side of Cambridge and then it was time to head into the wind. My gearing now was anything but ideal and I struggled along on my way to the second and last tile collection of the day. A previous attempt to get that tile had failed, and so this time I took it safe -- which meant riding on the shoulder of US 12/18 for a couple miles. The paved shoulder is narrow, but as there wasn't any truck traffic it wasn't too bad. A brief moment of excitement came when a a badly secured hunting blind fell off a pickup truck just after it had passed me. Fortunately there weren't any cars following closely and I was able to quickly stop and pull the debris to the shoulder as the driver backed up.

A few miles farther I got to the Glacial Drumlin Trail, a rail trail lined with trees that provided a little shelter from the headwind. Nonetheless, I was still struggling a bit and finally decided to stop and flip my wheel. I have a fixed/fixed flip-flop hub, and going from a 17 to an 18 cog made my life much easier. By the time I arrived home, I still was pretty done -- but happy that I had convinced myself to get out the house!
Kickapoo are a Wisconsin-based roaster. Out of respect for the Kickapoo nation, they're going to rebrand soon.

Rider name: Harald
Ride #: 2
Date: 10/13
Total mileage: 54 mi (93 km)
Drink: Kickapoo Guatemala Concepcion pour-over
Location: Kindfolk Coffee, Cambridge (WI)

Friday, October 11, 2019

#coffeeneuring 2019: A damp start into the season

It's Coffeeneuring season once again -- and I got another early start this year.

I had tried to get a little group together by advertising the ride among my local FB riding group, but between the timing -- 6:30-7 am -- and the weather forecast, I didn't get anything but a handful of "maybes." My alarm went off at 5:30 am. I was prepared for rain but wasn't sure how bad it would be. A glance at the weather radar looked promising: One system had just passed through and it seemed like the next one was still farther west. Well, don't trust the interwebs: As soon as I left the house, I knew that it would be a wet ride. It was warm, blustery, and the air was filled with something between mist and rain.

Coffee's ready!

The destination for the morning was McDaniel Park in McFarland. In theory, the ride there is very scenic: almost all on trails, including a long boardwalk along a lake. In practice, today it was too dark and rainy to see much.

Arrived at the park. No daylight yet, just my BUMM headlight
I arrived at the park at 6:28 am and, as expected, I was the only person there. I had picked McDaniel Park partly because it offers a picnic shelter for conditions like today's. The shelter certainly helped, but even then the wind howled across the open lake and made it difficult to keep my coffee-making supplies in place. One hand on the wind screen, the other holding on to my improvised tablecloth or whatever was being blown away at that moment...

Heading back on the boardwalk
After enjoying my cup of coffee as it slowly got lighter, I didn't linger long. The rain accompanied me on the way to my meeting downtown, and I was glad to have brought a change of clothes.
Short respite from the rain in our famous Monona Terrace bike elevator

Rides like today's are what coffeeneuring is all about for me: Without the challenge I certainly wouldn't have ridden 20 miles on a day, or had coffee anywhere but on my couch.
Arriving at work, now really soaked

Rider name: Harald
Ride #: 1
Date: 10/11
Total mileage: 19 mi (31 km)
Drink: Equal Exchange Breakfast Blend, prepared in a Moka Express on a DIY alcohol stove
Location: McDaniel Park, McFarland (WI)

PS Apologies for all the selfies and potato-quality pics. In the morning rush I had left my proper camera at home.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

To the Alps! Day 1

The Alps are one of our favorite places to vacation. And so after enjoying a hiking vacation in England last year, the SO and I were going to return to the Alps again this year. Our vacation logistics are always complicated, and this trip was no exception. But fortunately those complications also meant that I had a window for a short bike tour: From my parents’ house in southwest Germany I would bike to the Kleinwalsertal, a valley in the Allgäu Alps.

The most direct route would have been about 230 kilometers (140 mil) – a little too far for riding it in one day, especially when riding the MTB that I have stashed in Germany. Instead I used Komoot to come up with a longer, more scenic route and did it over two days.

Day 1: Welzheim to Füramoos (155 km/95 mi)

The destination for the first day was Füramoos in Upper Swabia. Why Füramoos? When browsing for vegan-friendly places along my route on HappyCow, to my surprise I had found a traditional inn in this 600-people village. They offered a couple vegan and vegetarian items on their menu and also had rooms.

The ride started a little after 7 am. Despite it being July, it was still chilly and pockets of fog were hovering in the morning light. For the first half hour I was on roads and paths familiar from having grown up around here.

Leineck Lake
I descended into Lorch with its beautiful former monastery on a steep gravel path, part of the Limes bike route, which follows the route of the old Roman fortification wall. Up the other side of the Rems valley my route took me through the Beutental. This one-lane road is closed to motorized traffic on the weekends because it’s a popular hiking destination, but on a Monday morning there was hardly any traffic either. After the long-but-not-too-steep climb I connected up with a rail trail that connects Schwäbisch Gmünd in the Rems valley with Göppingen in the Fils valley.

Lorch Monastery

Restaurant in the Beutenal -- a very popular hiking destination

Much of my ride was on paths and roads like this

Rest stop on the rail trail. With bike parking, a self-repair station, water, and even an e-bike charging station!

Church in Rechberghausen

One barrier on the way from my parents’ to the Alps is the Swabian Jura. Its German name is Schwäbische Alb, sometimes leading to confusion between Alps and Alb. This mountain range is much lower than the Alps, but its northern edge forms a steep escarpment, which is a barrier for all kinds of traffic. Of course, the most gentle grades up the escarpment are occupied by motor vehicle and train traffic, while the quieter climbs are also the steeper ones. A good reminder of this was a chance encounter with a rail construction project: In an effort to reduce travel times between Stuttgart and Munich, a new high speed rail corridor is being built. At the portal to one of the tunnels up the Jura, I had the opportunity to take some nice pictures from an observation deck.

Near the Swabian Jura

Kurhaus Bad Boll

North portal of the Bossler tunnel

I wasn’t afforded the luxury of a shallow-grade tunnel and continued farther west along the foot of the Jura to Neidlingen. This was where Komoot had suggested climbing the escarpment on an unpaved path. To get to the path, however, I was routed first on an incredibly steep paved path and then on an even steeper single-track trail---even walking my bike up there was a challenge. Presumably the routing algorithm was trying to avoid roads, which in this case wasn’t ideal. Once I got to the Neidliner Steige trail I was greeted by a fence: Because of the risk of rock fall, the trail was closed. Clearly there was a goat trail around the barrier, though, and so I continued on. It was a scenic climb, and I’m happy to report that I wasn’t hit by any rocks.

Filling up my Madison Public Library bottle before the big climb

Public weigh station, where you weigh your cider apples and pears before dropping them off at the press

Neidlinger Steige

Once you’ve climbed the Swabian Jura, the landscape turns into a sparse, undulating high plateau. This has always been a poor region, with rocky soils and low population density. That’s probably also what led to the creation of the Münsingen military training area, the remains of which I would bike through. Abandoned by the French military in the 1990s, the area is now a nature preserve. Because there is undetonated ordinance and other contamination, cyclists and hikers are only allowed on a few roads. The rest of the area is left to nature and grazing sheep – watching a traditional shepherd with pole and sheep dogs was fun! The area also features an abandoned village, Gruorn. Most of the village was razed when the Nazis expanded the military training area in the 1930s, and all that remains now is a church, graveyard, and the old school house.

Up on the Swabian Jura's high plateau

Warning signs at the former military training area

Former tank ring road, now being used as a test track by Mercedes and Liebherr


Former Gruorn school house

Gruorn church

From Gruorn, it wasn’t far to the next highlight of the tour, the Great Lauter valley. The bike path follows the small stream of the Lauter on its curvy 42-kilometer run toward the Danube. Flanking the valley are castles (or ruins thereof) and pointy rocks of corallian limestone. The bike path appeared very popular, with people of all ages on regular or electric assist bikes.

Inspired by the lovely children's book Friends

Rest area at the Lauter River

Lauter valley

"What you sow you will reap"

Farm-made ice cream self-serve station!

At the end of the Lauter valley I reach the Danube long distance bike path. This is part of the EuroVelo 6 route, which connects the Atlantic with the Black Sea and is one of the most popular bike touring routes in Europe. For some reason I didn’t encounter many other cyclists here, but I also didn't follow the route for very long. As the Danube ran southeast, I continued straight south toward today’s destination. One could feel that I was getting closer to the Allgäu region: Catholic churches with their characteristic “onion” domes, crucifixes along the road, and rolling hills.

Onion dome

Weir on the Danube

The SO is easily amused by German town names such as Assmannshardt...

Market square in Biberach

Finally, I saw a sign for Füramoos. Unfortunately it was accompanied by a sign warning of a 12 % grade for x km. But the climbing wasn’t all that bad and soon I arrived at my inn. There was a brief moment of panic when my name didn’t appear in the reservation book (yes, an actual, handwritten book), but in the end all was well. After a shower and washing out my kit, I enjoyed a vegan meal and a couple of wheat beers in the Rössle‘s beautiful beer garden.

The view from my room

Tired and happy

Sunday, May 19, 2019

It's been a while: Blue River 200k

My last brevet was in 2013, back when I still lived in Montreal. One major advantage of the brevets in Montreal was that they started within riding distance from my home. Not so much in Madison, where the choice was to either ride with the Driftless Randonneurs out of Richland Center—a 60-mile drive—or with the Great Lakes Randonneurs out of Delavan—also 60 miles from Madison. So while over the years of living here I had been interested in doing brevets again, in the end it never happened. Too much hassle for someone living without a car.

Things changed this month. Two weekends ago, a friend and I rode to Milwaukee, starting at 3 in the morning. I thoroughly enjoyed that 145 km (90 mi) ride. And so when my friend Andy asked on FB whether anybody was interested in a 200 km or 300 km brevet with the Driftless Randos, I was all ears.

Kevin was in as well, and he offered to give me a ride. We drove toward Richland Center on Friday evening after work. Andy met up with us for dinner in Spring Green at Freddy Valentine's, a lovely pub in a historic bank building. Andy spent the night in his Bike Mobile van, and Kevin and I stayed at the Ramada White House Inn. Yes, it's themed after that White House, meaning it has cheesy portraits of various US presidents inside, a half-collapsed awning pretending to be a prostyle portico, and a giant US flag flying in front of it. At the front desk we were warned that a high school class was staying near our room and if they were too noisy, we should just call... Well, the beds were comfortable and the students were quiet. At 6 am we were ready to roll.

Our group was about 15 riders strong. The 200, 300, and 400 kilometer routes shared the same course until after the first control. The whole group stayed together in a fast paceline, and it only took us 1 hour 18 minutes for the 23 miles to the control in Spring Green. Kevin and I got back on the road quickly, but not before 4 or 5 other riders had already left.

Pacelining into Spring Green (Photo: Andy Quandt)

We did catch up to one rider, and we stayed with him until the 300 km or 400 km course that he was on took him in a different direction. From the Wisconsin River in Spring Green, the three of us had the first of four big climbs ahead of us. The grade was subdued, rarely requiring us to get out of the saddle or even getting into the small chain ring. So far this season I had done few rides with significant climbing, and so I was committed to taking it slow on the hills. Kevin, who has ridden way more than usual this year, also took it easy on the climbs. Partly because of some back issues; partly because his drivetrain made it difficult to get onto the largest cog.

The next control came soon. The Hyde Store—which in typical Wisconsin fashion isn't a store but a tavern—was deserted at this time of day. We walked around the building, just to be sure we weren't missing anything, but eventually we decided to just note the time in our control cards and take a selfie as proof of passage.
Hyde Store control

The route now took us toward Governor Dodge State Park, and I started recognizing some of the roads from previous rides. Two more climbs were between the Hyde Store and the next control in Highland, which would also be the half-way point of the ride. Kevin and I stayed together, but he was clearly the stronger ride and I sat on his wheel for significant amounts of time. I started to fade a little and was excited at the prospect of a slightly longer break in Highland.

The BP gas station in Highland was hopping when we arrived. We were confused by our brevet cards, which indicated that this was an info control—but didn't provide us with a question to answer! I bought two small bottles of V8, a pickle in a bag, and a gallon of water to share. On the bench outside I had one of the peanut-butter-tofu-and-kimchi sandwiches I brought (I couldn't really argue with Kevin's assessment, “That's weird”). After a couple minutes, three other riders including Andy arrived as well. Sitting down and having food helped me feel refreshed. But I was also still a little chilly, as the day had warmed up less than forecast. In retrospect I probably should have had a Pepsi or some other sugary thing, but I wanted to save that boost for later in the ride and I was also counting on the route being downhill to the next control.

All five us rolled out of Highland together, but we were separated quickly. Because the bathroom line at the BP had been long, me and Gabe had to take a quick stop on the side of the road. Whereas Gabe on his fancy Pinarello was able to catch up with Kevin and Andy, I gave up the chase quickly and rode at my own pace. Which wasn't particularly fast. Highway Q followed the wide Blue River valley toward the Wisconsin River. The highlight of this section was spotting a bald eagle on a tree; the low was being chased by a St Bernard.

Kevin and me (Photo: Andy Quandt)

As I got to the gas station control in Muscoda, I knew it was high time for sugar and caffeine in form of a Pepsi. All five of us headed out together again, with the next control being only a few kilometers downriver. On the dead straight highway 133 we were battling a stiff headwind at this point, and I think we were all very glad that Gabe took a strong pull all the way form Muscoda to Blue River. Here it was time to cross to the northern shore of the Wisconsin River again, with a quick control stop at a gas station. The Pepsi had done its job at this point and I felt much better. So much so that heading out of the gas station I unintentionally rode away from the group for a little bit. After going east on Highway 60 for a little bit, we turned north onto Highway E. The highway follows the valley of Mill Creek, and for the first time of the day we were able to catch a tailwind. Kevin, Andy, and I rode together, making good time. The valley very gently climbs for almost 20 miles.

Andy and me (Photo: Kevin Mulcahy)
Only once we turned onto Patch Hill Drive did the grade pick up. I shifted to the small ring and took it slow. I could definitely feel the kilometers in my legs and I didn't want to blow up in the last stretch of the ride. Ultimately, the climb was pretty short and I arrived at the info control on top of it not much after Kevin and Andy (who was slowed down by having to answer a bike shop call as he was climbing...). And not much after, the two other riders arrived on top as well. After we had counted the number of zip ties on the street sign, we departed for the final leg of our journey. The climbing was done for the day, but now we were riding into the wind again. With the final destination close, the group fell apart. Kevin and Gabe pushed ahead, followed by Andy; I was slowly falling back, and somewhere behind me was Bill.

Bonking, but not too bonked to take silly selfies

Not far from Richland Center, the Man with the Hammer came for me and made me pay for not eating enough. I snarfed down some more peanut butter pretzels and just made peace with the fact that the remaining few kilometers would be slow. A quick bathroom stop and eagle selfie on the outskirts of Richland Center helped me regain my composure and after 9.5 hours I arrived back at the White House. I was very happy with my time. The route had been great and the cue sheet accurate.

Even though it had been a hard effort for me (and I was really thankful for Kevin and the others whose wheel I could sit on), the next day I could hardly wait to get back on the bike again and ended up riding 50 kilometers (30 miles). I still very much enjoy riding brevets, but the complicated logistics probably mean that I won't do them all that often. I know that there are some permanent routes starting out of Madison, and maybe we can organize a little event around here to do them in a larger group.