Fall means football and pumpkins but it also means the end of the cycling season so I looked around to find a fall ride that had my 3 favorite criteria: a memorable ride, a fun challenge, and a new location. When I came across the University of Wisconsin’s ‘The Ride‘ with routes through the hills and dales of America’s Dairyland, I thought ‘yes, let’s do this!’ Plus ‘The Ride’ is also a fundraiser benefitting UW’s Medical School cancer research – what’s not to love?
The hubs spent his first two years of college in Madison at the University of Wisconsin but he hadn’t been back since he transferred to Arizona State University. Those formative college years at the picturesque the little college town on Lake Mendota were during the tumultuous ’60s when students were rioting weekly, blowing up the math building, protesting the Vietnam War and fighting racial inequality. The U.S. was divided along political, social, and racial lines then but what was Madison like now? We loaded up the F150 for a road trip and drove 2,000 miles to find out.
We arrived a couple days early to stroll down memory lane and take in all things Wisconsin including – the beer/brats/cheese curds combo, a Friday night fish fry at the Avenue Club and the Bubble Up Bar, the Saturday Farmers’ Market at the Capitol, State Street, and the UW campus. The campus had grown but we found all the old favorites – Jones Hall, the Student Union, The Rathskeller, Bascom Hill, and the Dean’s Office. Nowadays students were protesting for inclusive ice cream, (ice cream contains beef based gelatin an ingredient that makes the treat inaccessible for certain faiths and diets). When Bob Dylan sang, ‘for the times they are a-changin’, I don’t think he had ice cream in mind.
So, after two days of eating, drinking, and touring, we finally came to the main event – The Ride! There were 5 ride distances to choose from – 100, 63, 34, 17, and 3 miles- something for everyone. We went with the century and got our money’s worth riding the backroads of Dane and Jefferson Counties. The century loop took us from the start at the Sun Prairie Cabela’s, through Marshall, Lake Mills, Deerfield, Cambridge, Rockdale, Hillside, Hoffman Corners, Cottage Grove and back to the finish at Sun Prairie.
We peddled along 100 miles of rolling hills through neat-as-a-pin farms, never-ending corn fields, glistening lakes, shady wooded lanes, and small town Americana. If you’ve never visited the mid-west, this is what John Cougar Mellenkamp was singing about – “Little ditty bout Jack and Diane, two American kids growing up in the heartland.” (That, by the way, was the song that kept playing through my head during the entire ride along with “Born In The USA” by The Boss.)
The Ride was one of the most well supported cycling events I’ve ridden! Aid stations were placed every 15 miles or so and were fully stocked with sport drinks, water, fruit, and snacks. Volunteers were friendly, helpful, and organized! The best thing was the cold gear drop at aid stations 1, 2, and 3. It was 42 degrees when we started at sunrise but warmed to the mid-60s by the ride’s end so as we shed layers during the ride and lightened our load, it was a relief to know our gear would be waiting for us at the finish line. We dodged a few tractors along the route but most of the time we had the farm roads to ourselves.
By the end of the day we’d ridden 104 miles, made a few new friends, and knew Madison better than we ever imagined!