BY ALICE ERICKSON
My husband Dave and I, while distance riders, hadn’t been on a bike tour in 30 years. We started up again with a multi-day ride over our Memorial Day anniversary weekend. Day two took us from Platteville to Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. Its scenery is to die for: beautiful farms, Holstein cows, magnificent bluffs along the Mississippi – what more could one ask for? Well, I was asking for cold and lots of it! We were loaded down with our panniers and grinding away up the enormous bluffs under a cloudless sky. We were one with the sun. Drip, slog and curse – we peddled our way across the popping tar of the heated pavement, salted sweat dripping in our eyes as we inched towards our day’s destination.
Fast forward to the following September for an end-of-the-season-century ride in the same area. It had been a very odd summer in Wisconsin, so we were hesitant to expect the normal beautiful fall day. We started checking the weather the prior Sunday and were delighted to hear the weatherman proclaim this would be the best weekend of all. Looking back I think he said, “The best weekend this fall,” as fall started that Wednesday, thus making it the first and only fall weekend so far and thus a win-win situation for the weatherman. He also predicted that there would be rain on the prior Wednesday and Thursday. Anyone who works in estimation knows that you always pad your answers, so immediately I said to my husband “the system will stall and rain Saturday.” Sometimes I just hate being right.
As the weekend neared, it was looking like I might have a new career as a weather forecaster. In any case, Friday night we packed up and headed to our hotel in western Wisconsin. We brought a carload of clothing for a 100-mile ride. In our motel room we planned what to wear the next day and then worked to stuff the remaining items in small front bags and pockets.
Saturday dawned – or maybe not – it was too dark to see at 5:45 am. We turned on the Weather Channel – 70 degrees … whoopee! Oops, that was in Virginia, not in western Wisconsin where we were still showing 40s and 50s and rain. We crossed our fingers and headed out for the 7 am start and ff we went. It is simply beautiful countryside with wide rolling hills – nothing better. It was downright chilly, but we smugly smiled as we were prepared and warm. Life was good until we hit the stretch where I had prayed for cold the previous May. I must have a direct line up to the top guy, because it started to rain, a steady drip and then it increased. This wasn’t just a sprinkle or a short shower, it was a storm that dug in for the duration. Having almost frozen in a storm a year ago, I was still smiling as I brought twice as many clothes and was toasty warm. Miles go by, minutes go by, raindrops go by – it became endless and was starting to become ‘not fun.’ We stopped at the next aid station where the workers were huddled under a tiny tent. They were on the walkie-talkie with the next aid station 20 miles down the road, who promised it was only a sprinkle there. We wiped off our glasses and continued on hoping for the sprinkle, but instead found only big, wet, cold drops.
Soaked through to the bone and watching the sag wagon taking frozen bikers back to the home base, we continued on. We paid our $40 … we wanted our miles! The huge bluff we climbed in the heat of summer was now pointing downhill. We were freezing, soaking wet and coasting at 25-mph downhill. I prayed for the sun, for a hill to climb – but I guessed the odds were slim until next May. I was also starving and pulled out a GU packet. It had solidified and needed a hydraulic press to be extracted. I tried to squeeze one handed, but my fingers wouldn’t bend. I leaned both of my forearms on my handlebars so I could attempt to mash the GU out of the silly packet with my palms. If nothing else it took my mind off the situation for a bit.
We finally reached a tiny village with a bar and charged inside in hopes they might possibly sell hot chocolate, hot coffee, hot beer or hot anything! We were there about 30 minutes when it was announced that the ‘real’ bikers were coming. It was a motorcycle rally and in they poured – bikers in warm leather jackets. We oozed jealousy. However, we needed to get going as the lunch tent back at the finish closed at 3:00, so we dragged ourselves back out into the pouring misery. Off we charged for the home stretch peddling past happy Wisconsin dairy cows also snuggled up in their warm leather jackets.
About 15 miles later we finally pulled into the Potosi Brewery which hosted this splendid day. An outdoor tent with music, food and beer was set up. Souls smarter than us, who rode the 20, 40 or 60K, or chose the sag wagon, were chowing away along with the few 100-mile riders who had more peddling power than we did. I aimed for the car to get dry clothes and go to the Brewery to change. My husband, a good old Wisconsin boy, headed directly for the beer tent and stood shivering, but definitely relishing a cold, Potosi brew.
So in the end, I got what I wished for: cold, ice cold, freezing cold, and wet cold. Did I regret it? Not in the least. A 30-year desk job protected me and numbed me from the elements. Some days I didn’t even stop to look out the window as the world passed me by. However, this day provided me an opportunity to jump in the pool of life and fire up all my neurons. It was a gift!