This weekend we drove up to Beloit, Wisconsin to ride in the 2nd Annual Beloit and Beyond Bike Tour. I had only found out about this ride 3 days prior, when a friend emailed me a link she discovered in Paddle & Trail’s email newsletter.
Severe thunderstorms were originally predicted but thankfully the system was pushed back later in the day. The new forecast predicted highs were to reach 96 degrees with abundant sunshine, giving way to clouds and wind preceding an afternoon storm.
We got a late start to our morning, leaving home 40 minutes later than intended. Sketchy GPS navigation combined with unfamiliarity of the city of Beloit had us lost for a brief time, but we soon spotted cyclists and followed them into the Paddle & Trail‘s parking lot where registration was set up.
This ride was intriguing because it had many options to accommodate all levels of bicyclists.
- 4 Miles – Local Loop
- 8 Miles – Beckman Mill One-Way ($5 shuttle fee)
- 16 Miles – Beckman Mill Loop
- 25 Miles – Brodhead One-Way ($10 shuttle fee)
- 50 Miles – Brodhead Loop
- 50 Miles – New Glarus Roads One-Way ($15 shuttle fee)
- 50 Miles – New Glarus Roads + Trail One-Way ($15 shuttle fee)
- 100 Miles – New Glarus Loop
We opted for the 50 mile one-way route. The concept of a one-way ride to New Glarus that shuttles riders home reminded me of a shorter version of The Eleventy. Since I don’t ride a sustained pace of 2omph – and I am not a guy – I’ll most likely never experience The Eleventy for myself. This Beloit ride was a good opportunity to ride something of a similar nature with about half the distance and half the testosterone.
The ride itself was free, but if you wanted to take advantage of the one-way routes there was a fee to take a shuttle back. Later we would learn that the shuttle was really a crowded minivan, not a bus as one might have imagined.
I had some initial hesitation with this ride. Although the website is designed attractively, there were some gaps in the information presented including the shuttle schedule. I had asked about the shuttle on social media and even sent them a message to which none of my efforts were responded to. My fear was that we would not make it to New Glarus in time to catch the shuttle (especially with our late start) and would be stranded many miles from home or forced to ride the full century which I was not physically or mentally prepared.
Thankfully the volunteers at registration were helpful and patient and addressed all my concerns. However I wish this would have been done beforehand, as the lack of response to my messages in days prior almost had be throw in the towel and not go. If you are going to use social media to promote your event, use it to communicate! Communication leading up to an event is key in getting riders engaged.
We were given a route map, a detour map, reserved seating wristbands for the shuttle, numbers of whom to call when we were ready to be picked up and a goodie bag. The goodie bag contained literature from the Beloit Chamber of Commerce “Visit Beloit” tourism campaign, a pen, bottle opener (which nearly broke upon first use), post-it notepad and perfume sample (a not-so-subtle hint for sweaty cyclists?). Instead of giving away things that will most likely get thrown out, it would be nice to have just one useful item such as a bandana, visor, drink koozie, pint glass or carabiner (just a few ideas) with the Beloit and Beyond logo (which is nicely designed). I understood that it was a free event so there were no complaints.
After popping our wheels on and filling our jersey pockets with Honey Stinger waffles, we were off.
The course was smartly marked with spray-painted arrows on the pavement, in addition to a few signs at main turns. Spray-paint or ground decals are the way to go as ill-intentioned individuals often tamper with signage at events, an unfortunate reality of society. The route had us traveling straight west through some neighborhoods with a few stop signs. A few miles later the roads became more rural with less homes and more farmland. A combination of minimal traffic and gentle rolling hills made for a smooth and fun ride. There were some roads that I’d describe as pebbly, a bit rougher than the roads I am use to riding but still enjoyable.
The first water stop was around mile 8, too soon for us so we rolled on past. The next water stop was placed outside of a cemetery around mile 18. They had small granola bars, fruit snacks, fruit, and individual drink enhancer packets (Gatorade? Crystal Light? I wasn’t sure). I opted for a Smores-flavored granola bar, filled one of my bottles and then we rolled out towards Brodhead. Along the way was a suggested detour because of some freshly poured gravel that caused some last minute route changes, although volunteer Larry said that a few cyclists had already gone through and said it was fine. We decided to risk the gravel and so just past the Sand Burr restaurant on County T we turned onto the original route of Halfway Tree Road. Indeed there was fresh gravel all along Halfway Tree and most of Airport Road, about a 1.75 mile stretch, but it was doable on road bikes.
Once we reached Brodhead, we stopped at the Brodhead Depot Museum next to Veterans Memorial Park for a saddle adjustment. While off the bike, an ant had gotten into my sock which resulted in me hopping around with my shoe off. Brodhead looked like a cute town and I wished we had a little more time to explore and get some coffee but we wanted to get to continue on to New Glarus.
Only a half mile after our saddle adjustment stop we had to stop again as we approached Exchange & 3rd ave. – the road vs. trail juncture approximately 26 miles into the ride. From here you had the option to take the roads which are described as hilly and challenging or the mild-mannered Sugar River Trail. The road option included two category 5 climbs, one nearly a mile long. My lack of hill training combined with rising temps contributed to my decision to choose the trail option. I’m well aware of the hills that Southwestern Wisconsin has to offer and was not feeling like I was properly trained to attempt it this year. I also had a ride planned for the following day and did not want to trash my quads on those hills and have jello legs the rest of the weekend. This juncture had another water stop and self-registration for those deciding to use the trail. It cost $4 a person for a daily trail pass, exact cash placed into an envelope and deposited into a mailbox slot at the park shelter. After filling out the form and depositing our $8 we pedaled north along 3rd Avenue, past 4th (the turn-off for the road riders) towards the trailhead. Little did I know this would be a decision that I’d soon come to regret.
We stopped at the trailhead at Decatur & Pierce Road to take a mini break to eat a Honey Stinger and then began the last half of our ride. The Sugar River Trail is a rails-to-trails project and I assumed it would be much like my rails-to-trails back home which I often take my road bike on. Incorrect assumption. It was obvious right away that this trail does not see much use. Weeds were sprouting up in the middle of the trail like a suburban boulevard. Large branches and debris littered the path, and some areas were so soft and sandy that my skinny tires sank along with my spirits. Wish I would have read Tracy Doyle’s review which largely echoed my own. This trail may be fine for mountain or hybrids but it was not as hard-packed and smooth as the trails we are use to. The scenery diminished as both sides of the trail were bordered by trees and brush, making it impossible to see any of the country landscape. I became mentally bogged down by the thought of riding a full 25 miles (it later turned out to be 22) on this and missed the wide-open roads with views of spotted cows, weathered barns and rolls of hay on the horizon. The only benefit I saw to the trail was that it was partly shaded which was relief on a hot day and there was a neat covered bridge that was fun to ride through. Each mile felt like 10, and it wasn’t until we crossed paths with the Badger Trail and approached Monticello that I perked up a little.
In Monticello just north of County EE there is a restored train depot along the trail which is painted a bright and lovely shade of orange. We stopped here for another Honey Stinger and finished off the rest of our water. While there were 3 water stops in the first 26 miles of the route, there were 0 water stops out here on the trail. In fact we did not see any other cyclists from our ride while on the trail and we barely saw a soul at all. I had a feeling that 99% of the riders took the road option. At least we get points for being different, eh?
We had about 7 or so miles left to New Glarus and these last miles were tolerable. The trail seemed to get more use in this stretch so it was better maintained and we actually saw a few things besides trees and brush. We saw lovely white and brown birch trees with bright yellow goldenrod. We saw the manicured golf course of the Edelweiss Chalet Country Club. We saw open views of a farm with spotted cows. We saw a 4′ long snake spread across the path, a snake which we both nearly ran over. We began to see more people, mostly walkers, and could sense that we were close to town.
All of a sudden we popped out onto Route 69, crossed the road and continued behind Chalet Landhaus Inn and arrived at the finish (turn around for the century riders) on the deck of Fat Cat Coffee Works. I was surprised we arrived so quickly, my Garmin read just a hair over 48 miles, approximately 2 miles short of 50.
The volunteers seemed genuinely friendly and happy to see us. They said that a shuttle would be on its way and another rider was waiting at a local pub. We left our phone number with them and they said they’d call when the shuttle arrived. They suggested we leave the bikes under their supervision while we walked into town for lunch. Mr. Nine admired a Surly Moonlander that was parked outside of the coffee shop and then we headed off in search of food and drink. Walking on sidewalks in bike shoes is not an easy task and Mr. Nine was worried that he’d wear out his new cleats. We walked into one of the first pubs we found, only to see it packed with a biker crowd – the motorcycle kind. Leather & lycra don’t mix so we opted to walk a bit further until we found a place that seemed bicyclist friendly. We ended up going to Toffler’s Pub & Grill which had outdoor seating and New Glarus beer on tap. The waitress was very friendly and the food arrived quickly. I would say that it was the best burger with pepper-jack cheese and homemade chips that I’ve ever had, but truth be told I was so hungry that anything would have tasted incredible. It was washed down with my current NG fave – Moon Man. I wondered if the owner of the above-mentioned Moonlander enjoyed a Moon Man while in town…
We walked through town and listened to bells from the Swiss United Church and peeked into the windows of shops but didn’t stop in because we didn’t have appropriate shoes. It would have been ideal for the ride to offer a drop-bag service where cyclists could bring a bag with a change of clothes, shoes, food or other essentials and drop it off at registration. Then the first shuttle could bring it into New Glarus where it would be waiting for cyclists. This would have made it possible for us to change shoes and clothes and spend the afternoon in New Glarus.
After a short walking tour of downtown NG we walked back to Fat Cat and the volunteers said it would be another 2 hours before the shuttle was to arrive, and then another half hour before we’d depart. I wouldn’t mind if they had a drop-bag system as I’ve mentioned, but sitting around in sweaty bike clothes for another 2 1/2 hours was not ideal. I rode around the block a few times to make up my lost 2 miles to try to get to an even 50 (OCD behavior), got Americanos and a scone (the Americanos were excellent, the scone was horrible). Thankfully moments later a volunteer in a minivan arrived and offered to take us and 2 other cyclists, 2 hours ahead of the projected time. He had a 4-bike rack but it was not on the hitch. Turned out that he was missing a bolt, so another volunteer left to go to the hardware store to buy one. Meanwhile, we are now sitting in a gas station parking lot waiting for said part to arrive. Some time later, the bike rack is finally on the hitch and our bikes are loaded. There are only 3 seats in the vehicle, so one of the guys volunteered to sit in the back. The minivan was quite cluttered with everything from flowery glass trivets to spools of wire to shopping bags and it was very cramped amongst the clutter. Not really what I was expecting for our $15 shuttle, but it was a ride and we needed one so I kept quiet. On our 50 mile ride back the skies darkened and became ominous as the storm loomed not far away. I was glad we were not stuck in New Glarus waiting or worse – on the roads with our bikes.
We made it back to Paddle & Trail just minutes before the rain started. A few volunteers remained and they congratulated us on a great ride. We packed up the bikes and headed out just as the winds really picked up and the strong downpour began.
Overall I thought it was worth the trip. While I would have preferred better pre-ride communication, a real shuttle and a drop-bag option – we ended up managing just fine. Next time I would rather use my triple crankset to its full ability and burn my quads on those “demon hills” than to take the Sugar River State Recreation Trail again. While the ride is “free”, in the end it cost $19 each with the shuttle and trail fee. This ride is only in its second year and there is room for improvement. I overheard a volunteer say that around 120 people came out for this ride which was an increase in attendance from their first year. It is a good idea, run by friendly volunteers and has real potential to become a solid annual ride if they ask for feedback from the riders and listen. I’d encourage others to come out next year and try this versatile ride, there is something for the whole family.