Saturday, July 11, 2009

Kettle Moraine, etc.


Last Sunday I went for my first ever proper mountain bike ride. Having spent years riding a mountain bike in the wrong terrain before discovering that road bikes are for roads (!?), I finally went to see some of the terrain that spawned the most common bikes in the city.

As stated on the Wisconson Off-road Bicycling Association's website:
"Located in the Southern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest are some of the best mountain bike trails in the country. Both the John Muir and Emma F. Carlin trail systems offer a great opportunity to test your riding skills.

Well, my friend JBI and myself drove up so I could take said test. He is an old, old hand at the mountain biking who had hit these trails many times, but hadn't been in a couple of years. After some reallly dumb driving detours courtesy of the iPhone's Google Maps app (do not put too much trust in such maps in rural areas as "approximate location" can, and did in this case, mean "give or take 20-ish miles"), we arrived at Backyard Bikes where I was to rent a suitable bike for my foray. I just told them my size and to set me up with what seemed good. What I ended up with was this Gary Fisher Cobia, a 21" frame 29er mountain bike. These are mountain bikes with 700c wheels (rather than the smaller 26" wheel), which seem to be all the rage these days.

The first thing I had to do was ride this thing about a mile and a half down the road to the trailhead and, let me tell you, I remembered why I was so floored when I first rode a decent road bike. Riding even a modified mountain bike in the city is like riding a road bike through molasses, but with the Stay-Puft tires on this thing, it was like riding through setting cement! I pulled up to JBI in the parking lot and asked "are these tires really necessary?" to which he replied "you'll see once we're in there."

He did a little parking lot tinkering on his custom built Ted Wojcik bike, which apparently regularly gets some "whoa dude, old school!" reactions in the forest, I futzed with my seat position and went over and bought a couple of trail passes and off we went.

We went in on the Blue Trail, which is the big loop around the whole area (10 miles) and is "intermediate" apparently. I would not yet want to see "advanced" because intermediate was plenty! This trail is like a roller coaster that you have to navigate yourself. In many places the clearance is barely wider than your handlebars and its just a shoulder shaking, upper body crushing job to move along at a decent pace and keep yourself on the trail. I found it highly amusing what you could roll over on this bike. I'd be swinging wildly back and forth on the narrow trail and suddenly hit a little jog left, not quite staying on the trail and see that I was veering into a 2' high boulder and think "I'm done for," only to roll right up over it without even trying. Same for giant tree trunks in the path, pipe-sized tree roots, etc. etc. It was pretty funny! Another thing that you learn very quickly (thanks for the tip beforehand JBI!) is that it doesn't really pay to climb out of the saddle as your traction pretty much completely disappears if you are not in the saddle to weigh your back wheel down. Sometimes it can't be avoided (standing) and then you just end up in this comedic mix of climbing and skidding in place. There were a few climbs where I was absolutely sure I was not going to make it, but somehow I always did.

I had to stop about every 15 to 20 minutes to just sweat from every pore in my body and gulp down some precious water. The nice part was that the sweat was great air-conditioning once you started back up.

Did I mention that this is some GORGEOUS, GORGEOUS forest out there? Every once in a while we'd come into a clearing where you could look around (like the area in the picture above) and it would just take my breath away. We rode around 3/4s of the John Muir trail loop and then went off onto the Emma Carlin connector trail to add a few miles in. The main loop is one way, which means that once you're on it, you're on it! The connector was ostensibly two way, but we ended up being the only people we saw going back the way we came, so that was a bit confusing. There were some pretty new cuts and confusing signage back there though, maybe next time I'll ask at the bike shop.

After a couple of miles on the connector trail, JBI came down with a flat and we decided to fix it and head back as the day was waning a bit by then.

Speaking of which, what a beautiful day it was! Low 80s, sunny, just a picture perfect day.
All told, we rode something like 15 miles in about an hour and a half. Not exactly a marathon distance, but it left me feeling as if I'd ridden 60 hard miles on a road bike.

Once we got back to the bike shop, we sampled the wares from their great little cafe/snack shop. They make an assortment of tasty healthy sandwiches and salads and also have a STELLAR beer selection. I pounded a New Glarus Cherry Ale (750ml) to slake my considerable thirst and then finished off the last 1/3rd of JBI's for good measure. We had a nice drive back home (nice for me anyway as I just vegged out in the passenger's seat) and I collapsed onto the couch for an hour or so before I could do anything. Exhausting!

I would not describe it as relaxing, by any measure, something that I often think of with road biking, but it was certainly exhilirating! I am looking forward to my next trip. Not sure if I'm ready to dip my toes into building/owning a mountain bike yet, but knowing myself, I'm sure that will change eventually!

In other news, I have ridden about 140 road miles this week and am still hoping to squeeze in another 30 today. I'm feeling pretty good about my very unstructured "training" so far. I did a really nice ride day before yesterday into the Forest Preserve off-street trail system up northwest of me. It is a pretty beautiful ride up there. Similar to Madison but with more crappy major street crossings to contend with (Touhy, sheesh!!!). I didn't make it all the way to the Botanical Gardens, but got pretty close before having to ride back to some work in the real world. We'll see if I make it today. The missus might come up there with me for a ride later.

I am going to shoot for riding to Milwaukee a week from tomorrow. I'll have to research the route, but I feel ready to do it. This will be the real test run for the HHH ride. I got some clip on aero bars in the mail yesterday at work, though I probably will not get them mounted until Monday. I think having this option will be a big help on a long, windy ride. Also, provides a great position to stretch a tight back out.

More soon...

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