I think my trip-planning is becoming more and more half-hearted, and it’s a concern.
Let me explain:
I started this whole cycling thang primarily to break loose from the vice-like grip of the couch and to shed some flab going into the latter stages of a long and miserable life. I was a fat bugger and I needed to do something about it whilst I still could. My hips were going, my knees where shot and my energy levels were practically zero, and it was mostly a consequence of a decade or more of inactivity. I blame running my own business, working from home and being tied to a computer - but the real root of the problem is probably more to do with having a natural aptitude for laziness at a physical level.
So I picked cycling as the vehicle with which to set out down the road to recovery. And so far it’s worked out pretty well. But like any addict knows, I’m only one broken spoke away from falling off the wagon. Sure, I’ve passed through the six-month stage and it’s reasonably accurate to say that I’ve made ‘lifestyle changes’ which are likely to stick, but in the most part it hinges on my desire to keep riding, so I have to continue to find new ways in which to fuel the desire, or risk losing it all.
When people say ‘you must really love biking’; well it’s a fair enough conclusion to reach based on the amount of time I spend in the saddle, but it isn’t entirely accurate. There are parts of it that I really detest. For example, I hate it when my GPS turns me on to a road then announces ‘stay on County Road G for 14 miles’. What the hell am I going to do inside my head for 14 miles?
I’m never ‘at one with nature’ nor capable of ‘calming my inner-self’. I’m not one who is practiced in any of the core principals of Buddhism or any other Eastern philosophy, I just want to eat cake and let one rip. So being faced with long and boring roads ahead can often get me down, royally.
Another example of what I dislike about this hobby is riding the same old roads, day in day out. Linked to this is my dislike for doing anything physical that doesn’t have a purpose. Setting off from my porch, riding a loop around the county and arriving back at my porch some 3 or 4 hour later, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. At least not after the fiftieth time of doing it. So I’m constantly looking for ‘projects’; ways in which I can add some variety and a little spice, not to mention introducing some purpose, an actual point to it all.
Touring was one way of adding a raison d’être. It gives me a planning and preparation phase to help with motivation. It gives me the carrot of having an actual destination to aim for. The destination might be some place I haven’t been to before, so there’s the added incentive that’s lacking from doing a loop around the neighborhood. Then of course there’s selecting a destination constricted by a particular time-frame which can add varying degrees of challenge to the trip - can I get there and back within the allotted time?
The planning and preparation phase is one that I find enjoyable as I can do it from the computer mostly, without having to move. Like Ferdinand Magellan I spend long hours studying online maps, punctuated only by trips to the fridge to take on more sustenance. It’s the way I like to work. Route-planning, reading campground reviews on Yelp, checking online forums for ideas and tips, deciding on what gear to pack, shopping for new and essential ‘stuff’, it all adds the spice that is needed to fuel the motivation.
You get my drift.
But lately the motivation pool has been running a little dry. At the end of last years’ riding season my enthusiasm was at a high. I bought a Fat Bike to enable me to continue riding through the winter. I made plans for camping in the snow in January, and actually invested in some of the gear.
Winter camping didn’t happen, I chickened out.
And now I find myself looking at new riding projects thinking: ‘how can I make this easier?’.
And so when I set about making plans for the weekend gone it was very much a half-hearted affair. ‘What was the weather going to be like, I don’t want to ride in the rain’. ‘I want a campground with a bar/restaurant as I don’t want to mess with cooking gear’. ‘I want a place that isn’t too far from home’. So basically I was laying all of the wrong foundations for the trip and at a sub-conscious level I was really saying to myself ‘I don’t want to do this’.
So it has me worried. I need to re-stimulate my enthusiasm before I slide too far.
But anyway, I said something about a ride report, and here it is.
My step-son was due to be married at the Courthouse in Green Bay on Friday morning at 11.30 am. That really messed up my plans to cover any distance on the first day, but I couldn’t get him to switch it to an earlier time. (just kidding)
So the plan was to load up the bike and gear on Thursday night, throw it all into the back of the car, drive the hour or so down to Green Bay and spend the morning with the in-laws, haul bodies to the Courthouse for the ceremony, change clothes in the parking lot outside the Courthouse and then pedal off into the distance as quickly as I could.
I don’t really know my step-son all that well and I didn’t know most of the people at the wedding. It was to be a quick/quiet affair involving a few of his/her buddies etc, so I was excused from getting involved with and caught up in any post ceremony pomp, as there wasn’t to be any. As you can probably tell, that suited me fine.
The wedding was actually much nicer than I’d expected. The Courthouse in Green Bay is a beautiful old building with some wonderful architecture. There are many murals, paintings and photographs which capture the early days of the City and the development of the Courthouse in to ‘one which would have no other rival throughout the State of WI’, as was its mission statement.
I’ll spare you the actual wedding photographs for obvious reasons.
Planning the Trip
I’d had two contrasting routes in mind and the decision on which to take was always going to be made based on what time the wedding festivities were concluded.
My first-choice route was to ride through the city and pick up the Mountain Bay State Trail-head at Howard WI, then the Nicolet State Trail heading north-west into the heavily forested areas I’d ridden through on the Bear 100 a few weeks ago. I had a campsite picked out and the route programmed into my GPS. However, it was a long ride, around 78 miles, and I didn’t want to get away late from Green Bay then have to ride in the dark. Again, another sign of my waning commitment and attempts at making life easy.
So plan B was a shorter route headed south on the Fox River Trail towards Lake Winnebago. I had nothing arranged as far as accommodation on either route as the decision wouldn’t be made until after the wedding.
I was changed and ready to roll from downtown Green Bay at around 12:15 pm. I decided to head for the Fox River Trail and to ride south based solely on not having to deal with downtown traffic. The trail-head was situated just a few blocks from the Courthouse whereas the Mountain Bay Trail would’ve required 45 minutes or so of dealing with heavy traffic and road-construction.
Fox River Trail - Green Bay WI to Greenleaf WI.
I’d only ever ridden a short section of the trail from the Green Bay bridge to Riverside, in the past, so riding the full 25 mile trail was a first and I was quite looking forward to it.
The trail between Green Bay and just south of De Pere is mostly asphalt and is very much geared towards tourists with several pay-stations, many benches, distance markers every 0.1m and other touristy touches along the route.
I was pleased to get through De Pere at around 1 pm and onto the gravel section of the trail headed south towards Greenleaf.
There really isn’t anything remarkable about the Fox River Trail particularly to one familiar with the Ahnapee Trail or the Mountain Bay trail, they’re each cut from a very similar cloth. The surface is hard dirt or tightly packed gravel, is mostly flat (the gradients are easy and barely noticeable) and the scenery is typical of rural Wisconsin - green fields/pasture, dairy farms, flies and enough horse-dung to fill Paul Bunyan’s bucket.
Exiting the trail I headed south on Irish Rd with a route in my mind that would take me down towards Chilton. But as the miles unfolded there were a few things going on in my head that caused me to stop and to re-assess.
This was Friday, the skies had been overcast for most of the ride so far but the sun was starting to break through and the latter stages of the day were forecast to be sunny and warm. Saturday was also forecast to be sunny and warm, around 75F max. But Sunday was forecast to be a rotten sod of a day, wet and with thunderstorms. So I figured it might be more sensible to curtail my journey south to leave myself with a more manageable ride home on Saturday, rather than the two-day homeward trek that would have me riding in the rain on Sunday. There I go again, you see - taking an easier option, avoiding the rain, not fully committed. This from a guy who was excited about camping in the snow just a few short months ago.
So I pulled over and consulted Google Maps to find a place to stay and a suitable route. The time was around 3.30 pm, way too early to have been thinking about calling it quits.
At this point I was faced with the option of continuing south for a further 3 hours, as I’d originally planned, or turning around and heading northwest for ninety minutes or so, to a campground on the northern shores of Lake Winnebago. Again, I took the easier option. Heading north today would make a ride home on Saturday more manageable with about 100 miles or so to cover in the one day.
The first site I arrived at was ‘Lakeside Campground’. I’m not sure exactly where it was but it looked very nice, very picturesque with wonderful views over the Lake. It had a fully-stocked camp store, a fun looking clubhouse advertising ‘Friday Night Fish Fry’ and it looked very clean and well maintained. It was also full. I thought about getting into it with the woman on the desk - ‘I’ve ridden 60 miles in the heat….I don’t have anywhere else to go….can’t you just squeeze me in….my son was married earlier today….’. I decided against it when she offered to make a call to another campground on my behalf, one located quite close by.
They had openings so off I went.
I rode through Stockbridge at around 5pm and headed down a steep hill, past an interesting looking supper-club, to arrive at Calumet County Park a minute or two later. It looked good. The supper-club was within walking distance. The camping plots ran lakeside and though they were quite close together they were only one layer deep. Again, I’m looking around for comfort and convenience as the prime-drivers.
I got my plot picked out and reluctantly coughed-up the $21 then setup my home for the night on the shores of Lake Winnebago, just north of Stockbridge Wisconsin. I’d never heard of the place before rolling through it an hour or so earlier in the day, but here I was.
A trip to the showers, the purchase of bottled water for the night, a poke around the store and I was ready to walk back up the hill to acquaint myself with the little fish place I’d passed on the ride in.
Here’s another illustration of the decline of my state of mind vis-à-vis motivation and the lack thereof. I’d left my little liquid fuel camp stove at home along with my tin cup, plate, folding utensils, waterproof matches, wind-shield and other accoutrements essential to anyone partaking of a bikepacking trip into the nether-regions, and substituted all of it for this:
If I’m going to fall off the wagon I may as well do it with a certain amount of style and dignity: Chicken tenders and a house salad. Baked cod with loaded mashed potato, coleslaw and a deep-fried chocolate filled profiterole dessert with ice-cream and chocolate sauce, all washed down with a couple of O’Douls…. and there you have it. Or ‘Bob’s your Uncle’ as the Brits like to say.
So there are those who ride off into the wilderness, sleep among the snakes and bugs wrapped in an old tarp, eat out of a can of beans, crap in a hole in the ground (having dug it first) and survive on wild berries and rabbit droppings etc; then there are people like me.
‘Glamping’ is a term coined for it, where you basically put wheels on your house and tow the whole fucking thing to a campground two blocks away.
Yeah, I’m slipping alright.
I rose a little before 6 am after a pretty good night and slowly began to get my gear organized. I confess to not really having a firm plan for the day as I started out. Guilt and other demons were keeping me from fully committing to the idea of breaking camp and riding home. The mileage from tent to home showed 106 on the GPS, so I could be home easily by late afternoon. But what had it all been about? The planning, the packing, getting changed in the car at the Courthouse….all of this for a simple overnighter? Surely not.
At the fish-joint the night before I’d planned an alternate route and loaded it into the GPS. It took me south then east to the most southernly tip of the Kettle Moraine State Forest area around Kewaskum WI. I would then ride north through the forest to a little campground on the most northern tip, around 75 miles. That would leave me with around 80 miles on Sunday to get back home to blighty - but in the rain. I really didn’t fancy riding in the rain. Perhaps the forecast for Sunday had changed overnight, as it often does.
So I got packed up and set to go. ‘Breaking camp’ as the experts call it.
A word about my Revelate Designs gear, reviewed here. If you read the review you’ll find I have some not-so-complimentary views on the Sweetroll handlebar bag, the Gas Tank top tube bag and the Viscacha seatpost bag. My general lack of enthusiasm for this gear is based around the difficulty involved in getting it packed-up and attached to the bike. There’s no easy/quick way to do it, and it’s a real pain in the rear. It took me a full hour to pull the tent and get everything back onto the bike. That’s about 40 minutes too long by my estimation. Were I faced with a 150 mile ride it would be cutting too much time out of the day.
Anyway, I rolled out of the Calumet County Park, trundled along the shoreline of Lake Winnebago then immediately encountered the steepest hill on the entire trip. It was the hill I’d coasted down the night before and walked back up to get to the fish place, and now with a loaded bike, stiff legs, an empty stomach and a head full of broken biscuits, I was having to tackle it right out of the gate.
Again, more demons were telling me this whole escapade was nonsensical at many levels.
Oddly enough I’d been reading something during dinner the night before, some obscure prose laying down the concept that humans are basically receptacles for supernatural entities which ‘occupy’ us and control our body, mind and spirit without us necessarily being cognizant to the fact. At its most rudimentary conceptual level a person of faith might refer to this phenomenon as being possessed by a demon or occupied by a non-malevolent spirit. But the notion of being unaware of such a thing is rather profound. Perhaps there’s a cycling demon or some other supernatural force that likes to fuck with your head when you’re out taking a bike ride.
Deal with it and pedal.
It was a short trundle into Stockbridge where I found a gas station and stopped to refuel. The place had a little cafe annex so I picked up their equivalent of an Egg McMuffin, grabbed some Joe and picked a table next to the TV hoping to catch the weather.
Sure enough the forecast for Sunday hadn’t changed. Torrential rain, thunderstorms throughout the day. Wonderful stuff.
It made my decision easy. I selected the ‘get me home’ route and loaded up the GPS.
The Trek North
It was around 9.15 when I pulled out of the cafe headed towards home. The ‘default’ route offered up by Google Maps (in cycle mode) was actually pretty good and didn’t require much alteration. An hour or so negotiating the small country lanes from Stockbridge to the Fox River Trail. Twenty five miles or so on the trail to Green Bay. A quick re-route to switch away from University Ave onto Bayshore.
The Fox River Trail was much as I’d left it the day before.
I enjoyed the section of the trail that took me through downtown Green Bay. I hadn’t realized the trail extended all the way through the downtown area and almost onto the southern tip of University Ave. There are several downtown businesses that back onto the trail, some with outdoor seating, and it all looked very inviting.
I chose to press on.
I stopped for a Subway sandwich on Nicolet Drive and had an encounter with one of those ‘yoots’. The spotty faced kid served me up a 6″ with the works, wrapped it lovingly and placed it inside a little plastic Subway bag then set it down adjacent the register next to another sandwich in an identical looking bag.
Meanwhile I was filling a soda, so after paying I thought it pertinent to ask him which of the two sandwiches sitting side by side belonged to me? ‘Huh?’. ‘These two bags here, sonny, one of them is mine the other isn’t, which one is mine?’. “Oh, ughhh… this one I guess”. He thrust a sandwich bag into my hand and stopped short of gesturing towards the door, leaving me to my own devices to find my way back outside. I’m no Sherlock Holmes but at the door I knew something was wrong as whatever it was I had in my bag was hot, and I hadn’t ordered a hot sandwich. “Well it must be this one then…”. Very kind of him to help me figure this out and switch bags.
These little encounters with people along the way often serve to spotlight the reason I ride a bike, long distances, on my lonesome. It’s not them, it’s me. But I have a choice and being the good sociopath that I am I choose this as a way of minimizing my exposure to them and theirs to me.
Bayshore State Park and Campground, Green Bay WI
I wasn’t in need of another campground on this trip and if I were, it wouldn’t be this one. I hate this place with a passion, having spent a night from hell here at the termination of the Ride on Aqaba. It’s also the place where I hit a speed-bump whilst fully loaded, broke a spoke and had to make an emergency ride to a local bike-shop, the return leg conducted entirely in darkness without lights. But Google Maps was routing me through the park to pickup County Road DK to the north, just outside of Dyckesville.
I’ve been using Google Maps for navigation now for about a year. Mostly it works great, there have been a few exceptions. Firstly, never set off on a trip relying solely on Google Maps. Several times I’ve encountered a ‘network error’ where no map access is available. Often these errors come at the end of a long ride, so I suspect Google allocates you a certain amount of resource then pulls the plug when you’ve had your share and leaves you stranded.
Also, I’ve had a couple occasions where Google has tried to route me onto a major highway, even though I’ve had cycling mode selected. So be careful.
I got lost trying to navigate through the park and after a nice chat with a fellow cyclist I finally hooked-up with a Park Ranger who got me on the correct trail and out of the park headed north.
County Road DK is a long stretch of road running parallel with the main artery into Door County WI, Hwy 57. I rode DK to H then across the highway and out to Maplewood where I picked up the Ahnapee Trail for a short 7 mile hop on gravel to Sturgeon Bay. Then the short 18 mile run from Sturgeon Bay to Egg Harbor, landing at the house at 5.30pm with another 106 miles on the clock.
I have to say that my Salsa Warbird handled herself flawlessly under this heavy load. I’ve bike-packed with her before but not with the tent. If you look at the photos you’ll see that I had the bike setup quite unevenly with most of the weight over the front wheel (tent, pad, bag) but in spite of this she handled pretty well. Sure, it takes a little time to get the feel for the front end and no, I wouldn’t have wanted to ride any singletrack with the bike setup this way, but overall it worked very well.
My only mechanical concern during the trip came from what appears to be a noisy BB bearing. This is notable for two reasons, one - I only have around 1000 miles on the bike from new, and two - I just had a new BB fitted to my Salsa Beargrease. There’s something about my pedaling style which is causing an issue, it certainly has nothing to do with muscle power.
I awoke the following morning around 4am to the sound of torrential rain hammering down on the roof and the slow rhythmic claps of distant thunder. The rain continued unabated through until noon on Sunday, where it finally let up. As I lay in bed I knew I’d made the right decision to curtail the trip and any lingering pangs of guilt were washed away by the sound of the lashing rain, metaphorically speaking.
Later in the day on Sunday the clouds cleared and it actually turned into a really beautiful day. I figured that the heavy rain would’ve washed away most of the tourists from my local State Park in Fish Creek, so I decided to throw the Fat Bike into the back of the SUV and head out to do a short recovery ride around Sunset Trail.
The ground was wet, lots of standing water to negotiate and a few perilous mud patches here and there to make the ride more interesting. There was a cool lingering mist riding through the trees and it felt good, a soothing balm for my aching bones and sunburned skin.
The beach was deserted. It doesn’t happen very often during the tourist season, but a good heavy rain drives people away from the park and indoors to the local businesses; like brushing out the cowshed after milking hour, sweeping out the refuse to the midden with a hose and a stiff bristled brush.
It was a fitting end to a long weekend of purging.