Traditions are a good thing. I have an eclectic assortment of time-honored, mostly pleasant occasions that I celebrate regularly. One of my favorites is the Milwaukee Cream City Cycle Club Hartman Creek camping weekend.
For 30 years, this bicycling organization has steadfastly planned and orchestrated an impressive array of rides. According to club historian Mark Steckhahn, founding members initially created bike routes around Milwaukee in a deliberate but unsystematic fashion. However, the concept of having an organization of like-minded individuals was solid from the start.
Steckhahn said route development continued steadily so that by 1984, there was an ample collection of weekend ride options during the warm weather months. Multiple-day rides including tent camping began in 1987.
The first was a self-contained two-day event. Those who participated carried lightweight camping gear, including tents, sleeping bags and pads packed in panniers. By design, it was a looped affair: Milwaukee Long Lake State Park in the Northern Kettle Moraine, where they camped, and back to Milwaukee. By trip's end, a band of bicycle enthusiasts had successfully scouted another enjoyable ride.
Through the years, there have been additions and adjustments to the club's annual ride schedule. Many of the original offerings have been altered. The Hartman Creek camping weekend is one that has withstood the test of time and remains essentially unchanged.
The history of this delightful sojourn to central Wisconsin began in the fall of 1991. It was introduced by a now unknown club member who likely made the suggestion because of its proximity for Milwaukee bicyclists. Located a convenient 2.5 hours away by car, the choice of Hartman Creek State Park seemed to embody the complete package: A forest and lake enhanced campground with all the amenities set amidst an abundance of quiet, bike-friendly rural roads and quaint communities.
The Cream City concept of driving oneself and bicycling to a designated campground and setting off from there on club-designed loop routes was a winner. The event was moved to the first weekend in June so that it coincided with the now defunct Waupaca Harbor Bike & Ski Shop's invitational metric century ride, which continued until about 1999.
A core of riders faithfully inscribe "Hartman Creek ride" on their calendars every year. Occasionally, we miss due to other conflicts, such as weddings and family graduations, but more often than not we manage to attend. Invariably, the event draws enthusiastic newcomers as well.
I appreciate this multiday riding event, taking place as it does relatively early in the biking season. It is an appealing means of easing into better biking shape. Happily, Cream City members have created plenty of rides of different lengths to choose from.
I am particularly delighted when the choice of one of the group rides is a 52 miler that passes through the small community of Iola. The route is a splendid composite of glacially formed, gently rolling terrain with a few stiff climbs thrown in to keep it interesting. It meanders through a scenic landscape of northern hardwood forests, wetlands, shimmering lakes and agricultural lands.
A much anticipated bonus at the halfway point is lunch at the Crystal Cafè in Iola where hungry bikers are treated to an impressive collection of fresh homemade bread, tasty fruit pies and crisps, and lively conversation.
Two other routes of comparable mileage and scenery have also caught my fancy. Both have planned food stops that identify each excursion. The route to the Merrimac restaurant in Waupaca includes an early stop for baked goods and shopping at a store with local artists' wares in Amherst. The second heads directly south of Hartman Creek to Wild Rose and then back through the tiny settlement of Rural, where bicyclists can browse at a well-regarded antique store and treat themselves to 25 cent ice-cream cones. The Cream City event provides excursions of shorter duration so that everyone is assured a satisfying experience.
Although participants scatter in different directions during the day, most congregate later for a group dinner at a nearby eating establishment. History has proven that even wet weather won't deter these hearty individuals from gathering around a campfire.
Just as dependable is the evening arrival of a nocturnal whippoorwill. This elusive bird's distinctive, repetitive and rhythmic sound, often heard throughout the night, can be annoying to some, but for me it is a welcome occurrence because it represents a gathering of friends on this annual heart-warming weekend.
Due to the Hartman Creek ride's popularity, holding constant at 20 to 25 attendees, the insightful Cream City Camping Committee decided to repeat it at the end of September, bringing the total number of camping weekends to a seasonal high of 12.
This all-volunteer organization also leads regular rides throughout the Milwaukee area from April to mid-November and orchestrates a yearly invitational century ride the end of August. There is much to celebrate about this energetic and tireless bicycling club.
2011 will mark two important anniversaries for the Milwaukee Cream City Cycle Club: The 20th anniversary of the Hartman Creek camping weekend and the 30th anniversary of the club itself. President Donna Hepp reports that plans are under way to commemorate this auspicious landmark year. And, based on the club's countless contributions, it needs to be a gigantic, gala affair.
Jane Stoltz of St. Francis, Wisconsin, is a bicycle tour leader for Adventure Cycling Association. She completed the National Scenic Ice Age Trail as a segment hiker in April 2009. In addition to enjoying the outdoors in a variety of ways, she teaches English as a second language to adults in Milwaukee.