African Connection links are now in the sidebar to the right, just below the My Travel section.

Click here to see a La Crosse Tribune article about the mission in Uganda.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

What, Me Worry?

You might think that I'm really apprehensive about the Rocky Mountain ride, coming up now in only 22 short days. But I'm not. I don't know why, because I should be. But there's nothing I can do but ride, try to spend as much time as I can climbing then go and do it. It has been a while since my last update and there has been some riding since I last reported on the recovery ride after my 103 mile trek. Rides since then have been (miles / feet of climbing):

37.3 / 1,741
18.1 / 1,150
57.6 / 3,530
84.1 / 5,592
24.6 / 1,814

The last ride just completed about 2 1/2 hours ago. What an absolutely spectacular evening it was for a ride, too. Cool, but just right for riding in shorts and a short sleeve jersey (NEW shorts and jersey they would be, too) with no wind. I was on the Bianchi, because I took the Trek in to River Trails for a tune up before the big ride. Up Bliss Road, Down FO, up OA, right back down OA and up FO, back to Bliss, down to the local Subway and home. If only every day could be like this one.

Totals for the year are 1,448.0 miles (2,063.2 including the trainer miles) and 82,691 feet of climbing. That's Mt. Everest, K2 and Denali with over 5,000 feet to spare.

So, what about this Rocky Mountain ride? Details are on the the Cycle America web site ~ click here. We ride from Loveland, Colorado to Estes Park and Granby before heading to Steamboat Springs where we have a day off. I hope I make it there so I can enjoy the off day. From Steamboat Springs it is on to Walden, Saratoga, Wyoming, Laramie then back to Loveland. About 500 miles and an undocumented amount of climbing (but it will be a bunch). We've already been warned to bring cold weather / wet weather gear. Just a walk in the park.

OK, so maybe I am just a little apprehensive.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


I'm not sure of the exact definition of recovery ride. If it is something like "take an easy ride, something short and not too taxing because yesterday you did something really aggressive and now you are tired and sore," then today I set out to do a recovery ride. After a 104 mile, 6,400 foot day yesterday I:

a) wanted to do another ride today and
b) didn't want anything near 104 miles and 6,400 feet of climbing

I succeeded in both cases, too. Last Thursday as I was making great time on my way to Stoddard, two riders zipped by me with a friendly wave. Sheesh. Anyway, about a mile down the road I looked up and they were nowhere to be seen. Now they were riding a quick pace, but not that quick. I could see a good way down the highway. What had apparently happened is they turned off on Chipmunk Ridge Road, which does come down to the highway a bit past Goose Island. I thought then, "Wonder what that road is like?" Today, I found out.

Before actually riding the road, I looked at the map. I have ridden Mohawk Valley Road up from the river to the ridge. At the top, Mohawk Valley tees into Chipmunk Ridge which then takes you east, turning into Hamburg Road somewhere before ending at the top of County K. It is the section of Chipmunk Ridge from the river road to the this intersection at the top that I had not yet ridden. Now on the map, it looks as if the way up Mohawk Valley Road to the ridge top is about twice as long as the route taken by Chipmunk Coulee. They both start at river level and both meet at a point up on the ridge. You do the math. Chipmunk has to be a steeper climb. Undaunted by this realization, I set off to give it a go.

It takes all of about 10 seconds after turning off of the highway to realize that Chipmunk Coulee is steep. This was a recovery ride? As I climbed, I watched the display on my computer as it measured the grade. Seven percent turned into 10% then 14% and at one point, 18%. After a bit, the grade eased up, but only a little. Nothing like an 18% section to make 10% look like a chance to relax. But we were not done. Another steep section rose up to challenge. When I finally got to the high point, I found I was not yet at the intersection with Mohawk Valley. Riding on, I discovered in fact that I was somewhat higher than that junction~that was about a mile and short steep descent away. Yep, it was quite a climb.

Once on the upper part of Chipmunk Coulee, it was a wonderful ride across the ridge. The ever-present stiff wind was coming at me over my left shoulder. This cross wind can push you around, but doesn't demand the extra effort extracted by a headwind. Once again, the descent down County K was made a bit more exciting by the what was now a headwind. I'm guessing that my downhill velocity plus the wind speed gave me a face full of near 60 mph moving air.

Back in La Crosse I pulled in to Subway to pick up lunch/dinner. I do this a lot. And I always order the same thing. Exactly the same sandwich. Every time. And the young men and women who work there know this. I don't even have to tell them what I want ~ I show up and they grab the Italian Herb and Cheese bread, the roasted chicken and cheddar cheese. Toast it, add lettuce, tomato, green pepper and Chipotle sauce and you have a great recovery sandwich.

By the time the sub and I got home, 24.7 miles and 1,021 feet had been put behind me. What a great way to recover.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

That's Odd

You know, there are those days when just nothing goes right. The miles and meters drag on as you suffer in the rain with the wind in your face. Today was not one of those days. It was, in fact, one of those glorious days that are made for being on a bike. The day started cool and warmed as the day went on. The stiff wind which promised to punish was only rarely coming at us head on. Skies were clear and the scenery, as always, was fantastic.

I started out climbing Bliss Road at 7 a.m., taking it easy on the way up where I would meet Bill for the ride, thinking that it was nice to be able to climb the hill AND take it easy at the same time. It wasn't always that way. We rode out through Barre Mills, up County II, picking up Antony Road at the top. From there, it was out to Highway 33 at Middle Ridge for the trip to Cashton. One of the customers at the convenience store where we refueled asked me where we were heading. I answered, "Here." Seemed obvious enough to me. He thought it was hilarious.

Leaving Cashton, we headed back towards Coon Valley on County Roads D and P. Here's where we thought the wind would take back what it had given on the ride east. However, it somehow managed to not hinder and even at times, help. I'll take it. On this stretch, we saw a number of cyclists going the other way; a tour we'd missed, I suppose. I was riding so well that I got way ahead of Bill; I stopped at HIghway 27 to wait for him. When he arrived, he said he'd stopped several times to take pictures. Sure.

Continuing on P, the wind finally met us head on. So, we decided we'd climb up County X. You're going to have to work hard no matter what, so you might as well get in some altitude. After descending on H and riding through Bohemian Valley, we pulled into the Coon Valley Kwik Trip. Here we see a gathering of several dozen motorcyclists at one of the local watering holes. We'd met and been passed by numerous groups all morning. Seems as Coon Valley was the rallying point. I had noticed that the motorcycles seemed to travel in odd-numbered groups. With the exception of a couple of rider pairs, all of the groups were 3's, 5's, 7's or 9's. Maybe they don't want ties when voting on which bar to visit at the end of the ride.

After climbing HIghway 162, I suggested that Bill, who was again waiting for me at the top, might as well just ride on in. I'd finish the ride at my pace, which is slower than his. So he took off. After climbing County M to St. Joseph, I decided to make a real ride of it. Instead of heading back towards La Crosse on Highway 33, I went down M on the other side of the highway into Barre Mills. I turned on to County YY and climbed back up to 33, which I took to OA. I dropped back down OA so I could climb FO. When I finally got home, I had travelled 103.7 miles and climbed 6,386 feet.

And even with all of that extra time to think about it, I still can't really figure out why the motorcyclists ride in odd-numbered groups.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Blissful Riding

You know, there are those days when everything just clicks. The miles and meters fly by as you enjoy the warmth of the sun with the wind at your back. Today was not one of those days. Checking in at weather.com, I see that the afternoon forecast is for mostly cloudy skies, the rain showers predicted earlier for this afternoon now not anticipated until after midnight. This is good news for someone planning to bike at 4 p.m. So, I headed out for a ride up Bliss Road, this climb to be followed by another up OA before returning up FO. I was off at 4:10 p.m., ready for a couple of hours on the Trek.

All went as planned until just past the halfway point up Bliss. Then it started to rain. Not so hard, but rain nonetheless. Up at the top, the rain picked up as I rode to the weather station. It was there that I decided I would NOT continue on away from home; instead, I headed back down Bliss. The plan now, turn around and climb again. Maybe I could get in three or four climbs, yet stay relatively close to home in case the weather turned worse. But still, the forecast had been for mostly cloudy. Surely the rain was an aberration.

This time I made it about three quarters of the way up the hill before it started to rain again. By the time I reached the Alpine Inn, it was pouring. The road and my brakes were now certifiably wet and slick. I was cold. My socks were swimming in the small lakes that had formed in my shoes. It was clearly time to head for home. This meant dropping down into the pounding rain, losing body temperature with every foot of the descent. This was about as much mostly cloudy as I could take.

At home it was the dryer for the wet clothes, newspaper in the shoes and a warm shower for me. There are those days when everything just clicks. And then there was today.

My ride today was a mere 13.4 miles with just over 1600 feet of climbing. My total for the year is 1,032.8 miles (1,648.0 counting the miles on the trainer). Climbing has gone past the 58,000 foot mark. Progress. Now, if you will excuse me, I need to go to weather.com ~ we have some issues to discuss.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Free Range

A new route today. Same ride to Stoddard, taking the scenic highway along the Mississippi. Same quick stop at Kwik Trip for chocolate milk and a small cake donut. Then, instead of the usual loop around to Chaseburg on Highway 162, I took Dennis and Gordy's recommendation to climb up Proksch Coulee Road. And a wonderful suggestion it was.

It does not take long to get through Stoddard and out into the rural countryside. The road winds through a valley, past farms and homes. I ride along, enjoying the scenery and the fact that the substantial "breeze" that I pushed against on the ride to Stoddard was now at my back, more or less. After a mile or so, I come to the chicken farm that Dennis had told me about. They (the chickens) take the free range thing literally, the range including the roadway. I weave my way through the rust red roosters ranging the road and ride onward. Later on there is the farm with the herd of Scottish Highland cattle. How is it that the cattle you see in the fields, those cattle that you think maybe aren't so bright, are always able to give you this look that says, "What in the world are you doing here, on that thing?" Well, that's what I think they are thinking.

It is just past this farm that the road finally climbs up to the ridge above. A very pleasant ride up through a narrow, tree lined valley before popping up (figuratively - I do not ride up hills THAT quickly) into open fields. Now the wind is a little less accommodating as I make my way through the farmland to the church at the top of County K. And the drop down K towards Chaseburg was really dicey with the wind coming up the hill with almost the same velocity as I was going down. But, I made it and was soon on Wrobel Road going back up the hill and on to home.

Chickens, cattle and bicycle riders. Out enjoying a late afternoon in southwestern Wisconsin, each moving about in their own range, wondering what the other is thinking.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

YY, Oh YY?

What was I thinking yesterday? That I'd get in a 30 mile ride before the storms rolled into town. Just a few clouds overhead when I left, but the situation changed quickly. By the time I'd reached the top of FO skies to the south and west were dark and rainy. Do I turn around? Well, noooo... I'll just drop down FO to OA, turn around, climb the beast and head home. Worked like a charm; I didn't get rained on until I was about half way up the steep end of FO. COLD rain and wind. For about 10 minutes. I had to stop to put my phone and wallet in plastic bags. I'd have put on the light jacket, too, if I'd had it with me. Starting back up again, my chain came off the small ring. Why did I even think I could squeeze in a ride?

Tonight, however, was so much different. If there was a problem it was that it was a bit too cool for riding without the jacket and a bit too warm to ride with it. Oh well. It was up Bliss then down FO into a wind strong enough to keep me under 50 mph. After riding past Hayfield, I put the wind to my back as I rode along, then up, County YY. At the top, I headed west on Highway 33 then turned onto the southbound section of YY that dropped down to Highway 14/61. This was the first time I'd been on this part of YY and it was a wonderful ride. The road was in good shape and wound through more of the cool, green rural landscape that lies east of La Crosse.

Why do I ride? The challenge of cold rain and steep hills. And the reward of County YY and the roads like it.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Them Barre Hills

I thought I'd follow up yesterday's 67 mile long, 4,291 foot tall ride with another day of climbing. This one was closer to home, not like Saturday's that took us to Coon Valley and eventually into La Crosse from the south. Instead, I went up Bliss Road and down into the valley where the unincorporated community of Barre Mills is situated. There are a number of climbs from county roads OA and M back up to Highway 33. A good place to get in some vertical riding.

On this day, I climbed Bliss then dropped down on FO, reaching, by the way, 53.3 mph, only 0.3 mph short of my quickest descent. At the bottom, I went right back up OA to the highway, down OA again and around to County O then M. Just past the Hayfield cafe / pizza shop / convenience store / used to be gas station, I turned and went up County YY. Back down to M to follow it around until it rose to Highway 33 at St. Joseph. Then, you guessed it, back down M, past Hayfield to OA and eventually up FO. Whew.

After all of this, it was down Bliss Road to find I was short of another day of 4,000 feet of climbing. Can't get that close and not go for it, so, back up Bliss Road and back down again. I had my 4,000 feet now, but just for good measure, I climbed the 263 steep feet of Old Vineyard Road. Whew^2

The final tally? 54.7 miles and 4,341 feet of climbing. No land speed records, but a 121 mile, 8,600 foot weekend on the bike, thanks in large part to the hills of Barre Mills.