"Just Plain Pain" is a 107-mile bicycle ride in the southwest corner of Sauk County, Wisconsin, with 7,200 feet of climbing. I designed this ride a few years ago when I realized I could blend a few unique features of this area of Wisconsin into an interesting and challenging ride. The "plain" in the title is the village of Plain, population nearly 800, situated at the intersection of State Highway 23 and County Road B, 8 miles north of Spring Green. The pain is also the pain you experience in your legs as you climb the hills on the many backroads surrounding Plain.
This ride is far from being the most difficult ride I have ever designed, but it contains more than enough climbing to make riding it a great training exercise for any of Wisconsin's upcoming summer challenge rides, such as the Horribly Hilly Hundreds, the Wisconsin Triple Crown or the Insane Terrain Challenge.
Just Plain Pain consists of three completely different loops, each beginning and ending in Plain. The three loops are each hilly, but do vary considerably in difficulty. Because Plain is the focal point of each loop, the loops can be ridden in any sequence depending on how you like your pain.
Loop 1: The warm up
As I have designed the ride, Loop 1 starts at community park just east of Highway 23 on County B and heads northeast to Leland. At 37 miles with only 1,580 feet of climbing, this is the easiest part of the ride and works well as an ideal warm up for the bigger hills in the other two loops.
The route passes by Natural Bridge State Park on County C and has its most difficult climb on Dale Road at 24 miles in. At the finish of Loop 1 there are a number of good choices available in Plain where food and liquid refreshments can be purchased before starting out on Loop 2. Anne Marie's Garden Cafè or Phil's Food are good choices I have used in the past. They are both located on Main Street (County B) on the west side of the village, which also happens to be the direction out of town for the start of Loop 2.
Loop 2: Hilly & scenic
Loop 2 is 37 miles with 3,370 feet of climbing and is by far the most difficult portion of the ride, but it is also the most interesting and scenic. Ridden in a figure eight fashion Loop 2, which is actually two separate loops, contains two of the more challenging climbs on the ride, one south and one north of White Mound County Park near Loreto.
Encountered 49 miles into the ride, the 535 feet of climbing on Garvey Road is the first ascent requiring an effort on par with what is needed to get up the big climbs on Wisconsin's summer challenge rides. The climbing here can be a good gauge of your fitness and your choice of climbing gears.
Garvey Road also happens to be one of the most interesting roads on the ride. Following a major climb to a heavily wooded ridge, the road continues across the ridge top with a series of short ups and downs - the type of short hills that make you want to get out of the saddle and attack the road. Of all the memories that will be created on Just Plain Pain, the ride across Garvey Road will certainly count as one of the best.
The next big challenge, which may be the biggest of the ride, occurs at Sandusky Road. The 250-foot climb starts immediately after turning right off of Croal Road and continues for four-teths of a mile at a 12 percent grade. You have to be ready to climb this hill from the very start because once the grade gets steep, there is no relief until you reach the top. This hill will test the limit of your climbing ability for its entire length.
What makes Loop 2 really interesting is the ride through White Mound County Park. The park is located in a picturesque valley on the west side of White Mound Lake. There is a steep descent into the park from the south and an equally steep climb out of the park to the north. The Just Plain Pain traverses the park twice, once in each direction, which means you get to climb and descend the hill at both ends of the park. Water is available in the park, but you should have food along with you because none can be purchased anywhere on Loop 2.
Three short, steep climbs are encountered on the last leg of Loop 2 before the ride returns a second time to Plain.
You'll get a good indication of your fitness level by evaluating how well you feel after completing Loop 2. With 91 feet of climbing per mile, this loop requires nearly the same effort as the most difficult section on any of the summers challenge rides.
Loop 3 is not a true loop as it is a series of six traverses of the ridge that runs generally east to west between County B and County WC, just southeast of Plain. The loop is 33 miles, includes 2,250 feet of climbing and takes full advantage the unusual nature of the rural road design. Because of their close proximity to each other, the five different roads that cross the ridge keep Loop 3 reasonably close to Plain.
The real altitude gained and lost in this loop occurs on each of the roads abruptly near the ridge. This fact and the long leads into and out of the climbs brings down the average climb per mile compared to Loop 2 (68 vs. 91 feet/mile).
But don't be fooled into thinking this is an easy way to end the Just Plain Pain. At the end of a hilly 100-plus-mile ride, having to climb over the ridge six times can be very mentally and physically taxing. Because of the way the five roads on Loop 3 crisscross the ridge, you can create for yourself numerous completely different endings to the ride without sacrificing time or distance. You can develop your own Loop 3, which could maximize your hill climb training based on your preferred climbing style.
I usually like to end each of my hill rides with a climb, if possible, but no matter how you ride it, Just Plain Pain will finish with a descent into Plain.
If you are going to ride Just Plain Pain on a hot day, I would suggest doing Loop 3 and 2 in the morning before the afternoon heat and humidity build up. This variation saves Loop 1, the flattest, for the end of the ride. I would also suggest you ride Loop 1 backwards, which gets you past the bigger climbs before reaching Leland 89 miles into the ride. If you take this approach to the ride I know you'll want to stop at Sprecher's Bar for at least one Sprecher's Amber beer. There your beer will be served to you in a frosted mug by Junior Sprecher, the most likeable bartender I have ever met. I have finished the Just Plain Pain twice this way and I can honestly say there may be no better way to finish a hill ride.
Greg Krystek is a 61-year-old mechanical engineer living in Greenfield, Wisconsin. He has mapped many bike rides in the state since the 1970s, helping design routes for the Horribly Hilly Hundreds and the Insane Terrain Challenge. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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