BY KIERSTIN KLOECKNER
You spin me right round, baby
Right round, like a record, baby
Right round round round
– Dead or Alive
Several years ago, I was introduced to this goofy event called “100 Miles of Nowhere” by a good friend. I should say “event,” but that is a loose term since it mainly consisted of people, throughout the world, riding on either their trainer, around a track or around a roundabout for (or other things) for 100 miles. I kept thinking, “Who would ever want to do this?” Then, like so many other things, the goofiness of it all set a seed, which somehow took root.
Now to be fair, I haven’t actually completed 100 Miles to Nowhere yet, but I got a good taste of it at the inaugural Lake Monona 100 at the end of June in the heart of Madison, Wisconsin. Started by Dan Coppola (owner of Cafe Domestique), Lake Monona 100 was started to be different. No set start time (although most gathered behind the cafe and Cargo Bikes just before 8 am), no timing chips, no exact route or essentially no rules. The “suggested” route was a roughly 13-mile loop around one of our fair lakes. By adding the bay, a side trip past the capitol or a spur down Wingra Creek, you could add miles. The only rule was to have fun and ride around the lake as many times as you felt, with optional stops for coffee, beer, lunch or ice cream. You needed to ride at your own pace in either direction and keep track of your own miles. The nickname given to the event was, “The Chillest Century.”
In an email sent out to anyone who signed up for the ride, Dan said this: “At best, the Lake Monona 100 is a ‘loosely affiliated group of cyclists going for a ride a bunch of times around the lake.’ We’re riding on open roads and bike paths, on a nice Saturday in June, so expect to encounter cars, other cyclists, people walking dogs, etc. I know you’re cool people because you signed up for this ride, so make sure you’re being cool to other people out there. Stop at stop signs. Signal your turns. Ring your bell and say hi to folks. We can only expect to be treated as well as we’re treating other road and trail users. You don’t need to ride 100 miles around the lake. You can ride 12 or 50 or 99 if you want. This ride is about getting out on a nice day and celebrating how good we have it in Madison as cyclists. And meeting new friends. And eating ice cream. Ice cream is also important.“
And it was this message that set the mood for the entire day.
We’re on the road to nowhere
come on inside
Taking that ride to nowhere
We’ll take that ride.
-The Talking Heads
Although I’ve veered away from my former love of urban riding unless I’m commuting (I now usually opt for quiet country roads), I couldn’t resist taking part of what will surely be a yearly cult ride. How many folks felt the same way? Well, there was barely any advertising for the event and most cyclists didn’t even know about it until a week or two prior, but about 100 souls showed up for the rollout … which included coffee, doughnuts, stickers and notebooks made by the former founder of Axletree.
As I rolled into the parking lot, I recognized a solid half of the faces. Most were there for a long joyride, a few were there to “race” and the rest were there to push their limits in a comfortable way … knowing they were never far from provisions or home if they chose to call it quits. I chose to roll out with several of my cycling-group friends, hoping to use the time to catch up on their lives and do the loop I usually reserve for winter months.
Okay, so maybe a 13-mile lake loop can’t be considered a road to anywhere, but once you’ve done it four times or more, things start getting a little mundane and you begin looking for ways to spice the loop up. For us, a different group member would choose the route each time. There was the hills of Monona loop, the reverse route, the fewest hills route and the taking the closed roads for the fireworks loop. Some, I heard, took long detours off the route just to make things a bit more interesting, but always came back to do part of the lake. And the beauty of it all was no one was yelled at for doing their own thing or riding too slow or making too many stops. Essentially, it was just an enormous social-group ride.
Although I’ve done other neighborhood loop events (like Riverwest24, Open Streets, Ciclovia and Ride the Drive), this one felt different. Maybe it was because it’s on a much larger land scale or maybe it’s because it was put together almost at the last minute, but I really liked the looseness of it all. And that’s saying a lot coming from a type A organizer. We all knew going into the ride what it would and wouldn’t be and with this knowledge, it just took all the pressure off. So much so, I chose not to finish the 100 miles. At around mile 60 for me, I decided I had enough of the lake (and firework crowds) and chose to break from my friends and ride west, the long way home. I ended coming close to a century but decided in the spirit of the ride, close was good enough, and since I was on sensory overload, I was okay stopping short of my goal.
Why do we, as in Madison and every other community, need an event like this? First, non-timed, non-competitive, free rides are all-inclusive. No, you don’t get the swag-bags filled with things you’ll rarely use, you don’t get bragging rights for “winning” (although I’m sure lots of folks recorded the ride on Strava), and you don’t get a closed course or a police rollout. What do you get when generous folks put these events on? You get a sense of community, most likely more smiles in one day than you’ve had in months, the ability to meet new folks who also just want to have a good time and support for local businesses, since hopefully most riders stop for nourishment along the way (my group stopped for brunch and beer at one of our favorite taverns). What I’m trying to say is, it doesn’t always have to be about the chest thumping. In fact, most racers may be surprised how enjoyable a ride like this can be once they get over not knowing their standings. To meet folks who are attempting their longest ride yet is really inspirational. Rarely do the two worlds of racers and non-racers collide, but Dan has made it really about the love of two (or more) wheels. If I’m in town next year for the ride, you can bet I’ll gather more friends to do it with me. I may even use it to entice friends from out of town to visit and show off our wonderful city.