Ride Report: Ride Across Wisconsin

Ride Across Wisconsin: August 17th & 18th

WRCC members Drew Hallet and Molly Cripe Birt attended the 5th annual Ride Across Wisconsin, a 225-mile ride from La Crosse to Green Bay that directly supported the Wisconsin Bike Fed. This was the first year of the new course, and there were multiple options for participating in Ride Across Wisconsin (RAW). Drew & Molly opted for the two-day course.

Why RAW?

After two (Drew) and three (Molly) years of participating in Ride Across Indiana, we opted for checking out a new state. We had heard some really cool things about the new state Ride Across Wisconsin (RAW) for several years. When it was announced that the route had changed from what seemed like a doable 175-miles to a bigger 225, we had some reservations.
It turned out, however, that there are options for tackling such a big ride! We could take on the full 225 miles in one day, or in two days by over-nighting in Plover. We could opt to ride day one for 130 miles from the start to Plover and end our journey there. Or we could choose to ride one day for only 90 miles: Plover to Green Bay. There were endurance options for all levels – which is pretty awesome.

We finally decided on the two-day option – with busy schedules and priorities outside of bike life, it made sense. Molly admitted that she was not sure how she would bounce back from Race Across the West, so she was totally using RAW as a motivator to get back on the bike.

Logistical Holy Cow!

We give mad props to the ride directors and their staff, who we had the pleasure of meeting multiple times throughout our journey. Organizing nearly 1,000 riders on a massive trek across a large state with so many options was truly a circus act, and they accomplished it! We will note that if the WRCC’s Britt Huff ever becomes connected to the ride organizers, world peace will likely be imminent; the three of them would be unstoppable. Molly also gives mad props to Drew for organizing the result of their own personal trek; she was hella burnt out by RAW-1, and he made final decisions that worked out perfectly. And, how did that look, exactly?

We drove to Green Bay early on Friday morning where we met motor coaches and vans that would haul us, our gear, and our bikes to La Crosse. The registration process was smooth (relatively, there was a minor flub in our registration which was quickly and professionally handled). The bike transport and mechanics were handled by an incredibly impressive team from Wheel & Sprocket, and the RAW staff went above and beyond to ensure that bikes were not stolen, lost or damaged in the process of storage and transport. Heck, the Wheel & Sprocket mechanics even acted as bouncers in the bike corral areas.

Once we were bussed into La Crosse, beer, food trucks, more registration, and our bikes greeted us. It seemed like every time we turned around, someone with a western Wisconsin accent shoved a beer into our hands – I mean, cheers! From there, we located our hotel, dropped our gear, and found some food… well, Molly needed food, she was getting hangry at that point. Local restaurants provided discounts for cyclists. La Crosse rolled out the welcome mat for guests!

Early, early on Saturday morning, we dropped off our bags and gear with the vans that would take them to Plover, our stopping point for the day. Once we arrived in Plover, we trusted Wheel & Sprocket with our bikes, ate lunch, located our bags, and cleaned up in the portable showers available for two-day riders. Now, there were plenty of hotels in Plover… but there were also very cheap and accessible campsites in the park where the ride made its midway headquarters. We opted to “rough it” at our halfway point, and, honestly, it was worth the hassle of lugging a tent and sleeping bags along.
On Sunday morning, we packed back up, dropped our gear at the van, and took off again to finish the ride in Green Bay. When we arrived, there was our gear, and a gigantic party.

It Was A Party!

Ok, so the registration for RAW seemed a bit steep – even with the early bird pricing we both grimaced a wee bit. But what did we get out of it? First off, our registration included the directors’ management of the logistics of getting our crap from one end of the state to the other and back. It included two free pints of craft beer upon arriving in La Crosse, as well as free entry to the RiverRoast party, a community music festival. It included professional mechanics to guard and service your bikes. It included breakfast burritos before the start and a huge send off, as well as dedicated mobile SAG and medic vehicles along the route. It included impressively stocked and staffed SAG stops – everyone was so nice! The route was marked, but paper maps and downloadable .GPX routes were also available. The route was thoughtfully planned – scenic, low-traffic, and challenging. The midway point included a caterer who served the most delicious ride food we’ve ever had, as well as showers. Did we mention there was more local craft brew at the midway point? We got to listen to a local musician as the afternoon wore down into the evening and made friends with some of the other riders and ride staff who were camping in the park. On day two, we were met with the same enthusiasm – just because we weren’t finishing the route in one day didn’t mean that the community thought any less of us. There was a gigantic party happening in Green Bay for the Sunday finishers, too: an announcer, music, a finisher’s mug, more beer, and more food.

Wisconsin, You Are Beautiful!

Even though Wisconsin is an agricultural state, let’s be very clear: it is beautiful. The start on Saturday was at 5 am, sharp. There was a massive send off – several famous names in cycling gave speeches, including some guy named Jens Voigt… A group of La Crosse residents celebrating the area’s German heritage sent us off in traditional dress and with a very enthusiastic toast. Also, there were pyrotechnics, which seemed ridiculous at the time, but also very funny.

Leaving from La Crosse, we had to climb up out of the Mississippi River Valley. Although this part was all done in the dark, it was cool to be pacing along, feeling the elevation change and naturally moving our bikes over it. The sunrise was so calm and peaceful. We found ourselves in a cool, windless day, working with various groups of accomplished cyclists at a very fast clip. It was hard to slow our roll – the excitement and enthusiasm for the one-day riders kept our blood up, and we just found ourselves sitting in these massive pelotons, working towards a common goal.

There were several large climbs and descents up some bluffs at about miles 50 through 60. Knowing now that those were the worst of them, we both agree we could have taken them with more enthusiasm instead of caution. The roads were not in bad shape, except for a few large cracks across the roads. We’d hear people comment on the “state of the roads” and chuckle a little – have they never heard of Tippecanoe County chip and seal? That said, there were multiple cyclists along the routes who were dealing with flats and other mechanicals – don’t forget to bring your own gear to fix your bikes! If the mechanical was too complex or you were bonked out, the mobile SAGs would be along shortly to aid you, though. Once out of the bluffs, we hit some pretty flat to rolling roads through state forests and parks. These roads would go past marshes, moraines, rivers, and lakes and would be flanked by coniferous forests. Cool Observation: there does not to appear to be roadkill in Wisconsin. Why? Don’t know, don’t care!

Fun story, Molly sat on the wheel of some really famous cyclist named Jens Voigt when he made a crazy sprint to bridge the gap from a smaller to a larger group. More fun? She actually talked to him a bit – pretty sure it’s on Strava. 😉

On day two, the good vibes from the energy of the one-day riders had worn off. Our legs were pretty worn out, and we were a bit stressed about some tumultuous weather coming through. Also, it had been two days since Drew had coffee. We were both concerned about that last detail! Somehow, though, we threaded the needle through the two storm fronts, got through the worst of some stiff headwinds, and finally got our legs woken up. The route began to change from nature preserves into agricultural farms – but do not be misled. These roads did not take on the Hoosier classic Corn Canyon look. Instead, dense deciduous forests with outdoor recreational areas flanked rolling farmsteads: grain crops, dairies, and sunflower fields. And these roads really rolled: pedal your body weight on the descent, use the momentum and some dedicated pedaling to get up the other side. Lots of fun!

While on day one, we were working within large groups headed like a freight train into Green Bay, on day two we were mostly on our own. “That’s fine,” Drew would say, and Molly would respond, “Yeah, I’m being a grump, I don’t want to be around people.” Drew would laugh in agreement. Turns out, we needed about fifty miles of jamming on sweet Wisconsin rollers to cheer us up a bit. And there were some sweet rollers that we could really play around on. It wasn’t until we found some Coke at a SAG that Drew’s legs suddenly livened up and Molly’s RBF (resting bike face) disappeared. We fell in with a cool group of local cyclists that we met in Plover and hadn’t seen all day. We all rolled into Green Bay in good spirits.

The traffic on this part of the route was significantly heavier than what we encountered the previous day, and the route went past Lambeau Field (side note: the stadium is, apparently, a source of pride for any Packers fan. Go Colts/Patriots/Sports Balls!) We crossed a huge bridge over the Fox River, completely railed through a 90-degree turn onto the City Docks and across the finish line. An announcer yelled into a microphone and gave high-fives. Music was blaring. People were cheering… It was a little nuts! Like celebrities, we left our bikes with the bouncers, collected our finisher’s mugs, grabbed our drop bags, and hastily got out of our kits: Molly was done was soggy shorts!
Seriously, though, the after-party was fun. We enjoyed a beer out of our finisher’s mugs, ate the hell out of some tasty food catered by a local restaurant, and watched some of our cycling comrades cross the finish line. There were very proud people finishing – you could just see their joy and happiness at completing such a herculean task.

Then, it was time to pack up and head south. Drew finally got his hands on some coffee, Molly got some cheese curds… and off we went. Wisconsin, you know how to throw a bike party.

Final Thoughts?

10/10, would do again.

It’s hard to find something to complain about, and even then, it just feels picky. Molly would absolutely come back for the one-day journey! Drew is undecided. Neither regret the decision to do a two-day trek, as the midway point in Plover was a fun adventure.

We really loved the vibe – sure it was a tad pricey, but we found the value totally worth the experience. There were a couple of things that stood out, as far as accessibility, and inclusivity. First: there are multiple route options to accommodate more cyclists. Don’t want to do 225 miles in one day? Fine, do it in two. Don’t like 225 miles, at all? Do half of the ride and be proud of it. What was really cool was the option to stop, mid-ride, in Plover (thus making it a two-day ride) or to continue on to Green Bay for a one-day ride. The ride organizers’ ability to ensure that each cyclist got their drop bag hugely impressed us. Blew our minds that a ride could be organized to be so flexible.

We encourage you to check out your options with Ride Across Wisconsin – it really could be the “A Race” of your season, and worth every penny you spend to do it!