Sunday, August 10, 2014

Dairyland Dare Elixir No.9

Getting ready to roll out
A mere six weeks ago, around 10pm, tornadoes ripped through the driftless area of Wisconsin.  Roofs were torn off buildings, some buildings were moved off their foundation, and trees were turned into kindling in a matter of moments.  This same storm hit Madison a short time afterwards.  I remember the sirens going off, I remember being an idiot and choosing not to go in the basement and I remember watching the news the next morning only to hear tornadoes had touched down in two spots about a mile from my house.

It's rare for tornadoes to touch down in Madison, but the driftless area, sadly, has seen its share of destruction.  Almost thirty years ago to the day from the Dodgeville tornado, Barneveld experienced the most destructive tornado to date in the United States.  The entire town was demolished and many lives were lost.  Just like the Barneveld tornado, it took almost the entire city of Dodgeville to come together and clean up after the tornadoes this summer.

There were so many trees without their tops from the tornadoes
Soon after the storms, there was a note published on the Dairyland Dare Facebook page letting cyclists know what they would see on this year's ride.  Riders would be going through the hardest hit areas, including the property owned by the ride organizers, Stewart and Michelle Schilling.  They would ride along CR ZZ, and stop in Bethel Horizons Camp.  They would see stumps where trees once stood…many, many stumps.

Just one brief week prior to the storms, I rode through this entire area.  I wrote about how the hills kicked my ass, and I wrote about the never ending beauty.  Little did I know that when I rode through the area again, it would be a different landscape.

I'm not trying to make this a "Debbie Downer" post, I just want to give some background on what led up to this year's Dairyland Dare and I can't help but make comparisons on how the community of Dodgeville comes together, with strength, to rebuild in so many different ways.  Without this amazing group of people, the ride wouldn't exist and many residents may still be suffering from the loss of their property from the storms.  On to the ride!

Rest stations, like this one, are run so smoothly by volunteers

DD, known to some as the best supported ride in the Midwest, and to others as a pukefest.  I would have to say both are correct.  On this magnificent day, cyclists can choose how much of an ass kicking they want to endure.  50km-300km--none of which is easy, but all of which is beautiful.  Although I had the idea of riding the 200km, other commitments which forced me to head back home early sealed my fate at 150km.  Was I upset, um, not really.  Climbing hill after hill, some long steep accents, some blackout farm rollers, is "fun" for about 100 miles in my book, then it just becomes work…at least for me.

Cut it short, or just keep rolling?

Like in years past, the DD starts at the Lands' End corporate office just outside of Dodgeville.  Riders are greeted as the sun comes up with welcome packets, cue sheets, Kickapoo coffee and smiles.  As the sun begins to climb, the cyclists are staggered in their starts, with the 300km riders rolling out first. Personally I think this is a brilliant approach since it not only prevents the roads from clogging up but also keeps the aid stations running smoothly.  Just another reason I see Stew and Michelle as being some of the best ride organizers in the country.

I rolled out with two gravel riding friends a bit after 6:30 to the sound of a fellow bike fed board member making announcements through a microphone.  "This is an open course, follow the rules of the road, signal your turns, thank the volunteers and only make 'five fingered waves'.  You will be seeing the organizer's neighbors on the nice."

All of the distances brought riders into one of my favorite state parks, Governor Dodge, for our first thrilling descent, followed quickly by our first accent.  Within moments I began to wonder if folks had low enough gears.  It's not a good sign when almost everyone around you is climbing out of the saddle with a hundred more miles of hills to go.  One gentleman, insisted on calling out our gradient changes throughout the entire first two climbs.  I wondered quietly to myself if this made him feel stronger.

Meeting one of the group members from my father's cycling club in Minnesota

The hills ticked by, I got to ride a new one which will also now go onto my "favorite list", and it was shaping up to be a perfect day to be out on the road...for hours.  Around mile 25, a guy rode up behind me and said "Hey, I know that kit!"  I had wondered if anyone from the Twin Cities would be down here, and the kit I had on was from my father's riding club in Rosemount.  It only took me stating I was Gary Johnson's daughter and then a slew of chatter soon followed for about 15 miles.  This is what events like this are, a rolling reunion/social event if you will.  I often get to catch up with folks I only see a couple times a year, and I always end up meeting people I know through other riding connections.

Cresting another hill with just another beautiful farm
Around mile 40, a knee/hip issue I've been struggling with this summer started to creep in.  There was no way in hell I would pull out, so I opted to stop at almost every rest stop (Stew and Michelle place them every 15-20 miles apart), and stretch.  Sure, it ate up time, but it also gave me a chance to slow down, take in the scenery even more, and chat with the volunteers and other riders.  There is something to be said about going all out, but there is more to be said about enjoying the experience you are in to its fullest.

farm rollers
South of Dodgeville brought the endless farm rollers I experienced on my tour earlier in the season.  I silently thanked the bike gods for prepping my mind--knowing what to expect is almost always good when it comes to hills.  I was even more thankful to be on my "plastic" bike vs. my steel touring frame
with loaded panniers.  Sure, the hills were still hard, but not once did I come close to puking or blacking out--a sensation I played with multiple times on the tour.  A quick spin through one of my favorite spots in Wisconsin, Mineral Point, and then it was on to my nemesis road--Survey.  Yep, those rollers were still the hardest ones on the entire ride for me, but low and behold I ran into a riding friend from Madison, and we got to do them together.  Misery loves company...enough said.

Paul made Survey road "fun"!

As I made my final turn, and pulled back into the Lands' End compound, I was greeted by cheerleaders.  Yes, you read that right, cheerleaders stood out there all day with pompoms actually chanting cheers for each cyclist who passed under the finish banner.  Awesome.  A quick stop to say "thanks" to Michelle for putting on such a stellar event and I was off to gorge myself as well as partake in the "elixir" brought by Capital Brewery, who so often sponsors bike events.

finish line


Me and Chris at the finish line

As I go over my day in the saddle, about 6 hours 50 mins with over 9,000 feet of elevation gain (the DD site says about 7,500 ft. but everyone's Garmin was reading higher), the riding itself is not what comes to the forefront of my mind, although it was a grand day cranking the pedals for sure.  What really stands out is all the volunteers.  Everyone seemed so happy to be helping and everyone seemed to be having just as much fun, if not more, than the riders.  This event really is about the community. You can read more about the community fund that Stew and Michelle started here.  If you want to be a part of a ride that is flawlessly executed, beautiful beyond words and raises money for so many great causes, I highly encourage you to sign up next year.  Until then a HUGE THANKS goes out to everyone who made this event possible!

For more information on Stewart and Michelle Schilling, and the work they do with bike events, as well as advocacy, here's an article I wrote about them for Silent Sports magazine.

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