GRABAAWR XIV 1999
Great Annual Bicycle Adventure Along the Wisconsin River
June 26-July 3
by Art Lundquist
|Getting to the
This summer my wife Dottie and I headed to a state we have never ridden in - Wisconsin. There were two major rides in Wisconsin to choose from and riding along the Wisconsin River sounded like the best. It would be flat and it would be cooler, we hoped. The drive from Maryland was a long 1,000 miles, so we split it into 2 days. We had AAA give us their best route, but it wasn't very pleasant. Their route took us on all the turnpikes and through Chicago. Tolls were over $30. and the traffic in Chicago made us long for DC traffic! The ride is organized by having everyone drive to the end of the ride in Prairie du Chien and park their cars for the week. A bus takes everyone to the start in Eagle River which is way up in the northeast of the state. Bikes were loaded onto huge moving vans very carefully for the ride to Eagle River. The truck loading and the bus ride took all day. The bus didn't follow the bike route, but it did take back roads and we got a glimpse of the terrain. We were relieved not to see a lot of big hills, but there would be some.
The southern part of the state is mostly dairy farms and other farms. The dairy farms are diminishing and instead of corn and soy beans dominating the field crops, veggies are the big money crops. We saw virtually every kind of vegetable crop from asparagus to zucchinis. The most unusual crop we saw was ginseng which grows under a black cloth which cuts 50% of the suns rays because it likes shade. The northern part of the state was mostly woods, lakes and streams.
All 1,100 of us got to the start in Eagle River and took our luggage from the bus and found a spot on the Northland Pines HS grounds. We set up our tent in front of the school near the flagpole with several other couples who rode with us on the Michigan tour last year. For the rest of the week we all tried to camp together and usually camped in a similar location at each school. We couldn't get our tandem from the trucks, because they wouldn't arrive until 5:30 am the next day. This was a great idea as it kept them secure for the night and the school grounds were less cluttered all night.
As you can see the mileage's were long, at least for us, and there isn't a layover day.
The people who do this ride do it over and over again. Repeat riders account for 60% of the riders with thirty-one (31) riders who had ridden GRABAAWR ten or more times. Three had done all 14 rides. Riders came from all over, but about 500 came from Wisconsin. Only 5 came from Maryland. The longest distance was a man from Japan, but he was born in Wisconsin. There weren't a lot of children and the average age seemed to be high - 45 years old.
On the third day we mostly broke out of the hills and rode past some of the most beautiful farms in the US. The roads were flat and straight. There still were a lot of lakes that would be completely surrounded by houses here, but many didn't even have a single house there. Most of the side roads were dirt, probably going back to another good fishing lake. Most roads had a wide clearing down one side of the road for snowmobile in the winter. Many of the cross country snowmobile trails are bike trails during the rest of the year. Wisconsin has more bike trails than any other state. This ride didn't use any of them and I wonder why they all exist, because the roads were so easy to ride on.
The end of the ride found more development, but not much between towns. The land rolled more and south of where the glaciers once extended they were rather steep. In fact there were several where walking the bike up the hill was the norm. The last day featured the biggest hill of the week. It was about 3-4 mile long. It started with a slight upgrade. The top seemed close, but once there the road turned and got steeper. This happened over and over until a very steep peak was reached. On the tandem the downhills were very fast with tandem speeds over 50 mph likely. I'm glad to have a disc brake in the rear because several of the downhills were very curvy and one road was under construction exactly at the bottom of the hill after a turn. A triple bike passed us on one down hill and afterward they said they hit 60 mph. burrr...
Tenting is always fun, but several nights of rain even put a damper on the fun. We had to set up our tent one night in a heavy downpour which continued all night, but it ended in the morning when we were getting ready to ride. Our tent didn't leak a drop. We found out later that most of our friends had gone inside to sleep in the gym. They thought we had gotten a motel. Not us! The schools in Wisconsin are awesome. Some even put our great ones to shame. One school had an Olympic size pool - inside. The gym had those dry clay like funny shaped things stuck to the wall all the way to the ceiling for rock climbing practice - wow. There were 6 full size basketball courts in the gym. It felt like Madison Square Garden. Tennis courts were actually being used at all the schools. Most school grounds were much bigger than we have here and included lots of trees as well as the usual grass.
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July 29, 1999, updated October 28, 1999
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