06.13.11 – The Milwaukee-Madison Corridor

Leaving Adam in North Chicago, I had planned on an 83 mile day. It was fairly hot but a tailwind helped me knock out miles. The great time that I had been making was completely ruined when I realized I had “left” my wallet in Kenosha, which I didn’t realize until Racine about 15 miles away. Thinking that I had left it at a bike shop I stopped in, I pulled out my phone to call them and noticed my father had called several times. He told me a gentleman had found it on the road and called the only number in the wallet (my father’s business card). At that point I remembered that I had sat my wallet on my rear pannier and forgot to put it away. So here I am, about to add 2+ hours onto my day by having to bike 15 miles back and pretty much start the day over! All in all it was a very small price to pay for something that could have ended this whole ride.

Finally getting into Milwaukee that evening, I met Shawn Cotter. Shawn is the engineer at a bicycle company that I contacted in hopes of having a brief meeting over lunch to talk about the industry and his experiences with it. As it turned out he was very excited to meet me and even offered me a place to stay while I was in town! Who am I to pass up such a generous offer!? We met up and rode the last 17 miles to his house, 10 of which were after dark in a thunderstorm. After what became my first century (riding 100 miles) I collapsed into bed and planned to stop by the Hayes HQ in the morning.

Shawn introduced me to pretty much everyone at the company (at least at that location) and with each conversation I grew more and more excited about the industry and Hayes in particular. It was exciting to see how a company with a relatively small number of core employees is able to function in multiple roles at a moment’s notice. Shawn then treated me to lunch, hooked me up with some sweet full-finger Answer gloves and I was on my way to Watertown to meet my friend, David. I cannot thank you enough, Shawn, for being such a great host and much thanks to you and everyone at Hayes for taking the time to talk with me.

Since my visit with Hayes lasted until the afternoon and I had to be at Trek by 10am the next morning for what I thought was a weekly factory tour, I hopped a bus 50 miles from Milwaukee to Johnson Creek and rode 10 miles north to Watertown where he lives with his roommates. After a quick shower, we all went out to a restaurant and had some good beers and pizza. I finally had the New Glarus Spotted Cow as well as Moonman. Both were good but I preferred the Spotted Cow. David is a super nice guy and even though I had only met him briefly in Rochester once before, he was very hospitable, kind and even paid for my dinner. You didn’t have to do that last one but thank you very much.

The following day I had an easy 15 miles to the Trek Bikes facility in Waterloo. Waterloo is a small town like the hundreds I’ve passed through on my ride. When I got to the facility it was so big that it took me a moment to figure out which door I was supposed to go into! When I told the receptionist why I was there, she remarked that Friday tours haven’t been done for a long time! So much for the internet! There happened to be two other people who seemed to see the same wrong information and so we all got an impromptu tour. Apparently, the reason a big company like Trek is out in a small town is because the two founders lived in towns on opposite sides of Waterloo and decided to open up shop in the middle. The tour consisted of a visit to most of the departments from industrial and graphic design to photography, engineering and parts of the manufacturing area. I watched as a carbon fiber rim had its spoke holes drilled on a special machine, which was very cool. Upon seeing the gym in which employees can also take all sorts of classes, I suggested they name this facility Trek University. When the tour ended, I was a little disappointed that more engineering was not shown so I asked the tour guide, Bryan, if he could find an engineer with whom I could briefly meet. He ended up hooking me up with a Composite Design Engineer, Reggie. It was great to hear first-hand how well Trek treats its employees and that they really encourage people to ride to work (but again, they’re in the middle of nowhere!). Reggie took my resume and told me to contact him towards the end of my ride and perhaps by then they’ll be looking for new hires. Will do, Reggie! I left Trek with a smile on my face having visited three bike companies that seemed to enjoy learning about me as much as I did them. Onto Madison I rode, looking forward to what I heard was one of the best cycling towns in the country.

As I rode into town, I paid a visit to Planet Bikes. Shawn from Hayes contacted Mark LaLonde at PB for me so Mark was expecting a visitor. We talked about how PB operates (it’s more like a mix between a distributor and manufacturer), Madison, touring, racing and coffee. It was super nice of him to take time out of his day to indulge me and he even hooked me up with their new turbo light. Here is also where I got my first bit of publicity! Thanks so much Mark!

I then stopped into Revolution Bicycle Shop and Geoff, the owner was super excited to stop and talk a bit. He even hooked me up with some locally blended coffee, which was really nice of him to do. It certainly made my food pannier smell delightful. It seems the best shops are the ones owned or run by someone who genuinely want to see more people on bikes and want to share anything and everything that remotely has to do with bicycles. Riding over to the Bicycle Federation I saw a girl in the grass with a really cool bicycle rack on her bike. She gave me the kind of smile that said, “Hey you’re touring, that’s awesome!” A couple pedal strokes past her I realized this and decided to turn around and make a new friend. My new friend’s name is Leah and she designed and fabricated the rack that I thought was so cool. As a carpenter, she needed a bicycle rack capable of holding a toolbox. Turns out she also used to be a welder for Seven Cycles! For those of you who don’t know’ Seven makes some pretty awesome bikes on the east coast. After a couple moments, we split ways with plans to rendezvous at her place for some salad and good old Wisconsin grilled cheese. Leah reminds me a lot of Hannah, free-spirited, interesting, always smiling, and knows a lot more about cooking than I. It was kind of like having my old riding buddy back for a bit. Leah talked about her 3 month bicycle adventure in Patagonia. It was really interesting to hear about bicycle travel in other countries. After an amazing grilled cheese, we split ways so I could head to the Clips of Faith event. You should all check out her work and buy a rack if you’re looking some sexy stainless steel.

After leaving Leah I headed to Olin Park where the New Belgium Brewery (Fort Collins, CO) was hosting the Clips of Faith event. It’s a bicycle oriented event where they showcase their beers, invite a couple local restaurants to supply food and show short bicycle films on an inflatable movie screen. It was very overwhelming to see so many people on bicycles. Yes, there are big organized bicycle rides where the whole family can have a fun day pedaling around but this was different. There weren’t just people on bicycles, there were bicyclists, people who regularly chose two wheels instead of four, and they were all there celebrating that choice. It seemed that almost everyone I talked to had either ridden across country, planned on it, or was doing some other amazing adventure. The whole evening was quite a lot to take in but I managed to grab as much as I could in the form of food, photos and fun.

One of the videos they showed

The next day I did a lot of what I thought I should do and only a little bit of what I should have done. Riding down State Street, a full size street in the heart of town dedicated to walking and biking, was pretty cool. I spent most of my time at the Fair Trade Coffee House where Lori hooked me up with her homemade coffee cake and I got one of the best strawberry smoothies I’ve ever had. Blogging, routing, and couchsurfing took up most of my time but at every opportunity I talked with people if they stopped to look at my bike. One gentleman in particular, Nathan Eide, picked me out of the crowd (I was inside using the power outlets) and asked about the bike. He is also a rider and owns a few Long Haul Truckers. We talked about bikes for a while and when I asked him where he lived, I was delighted to hear Rochester, MN. Immediately and perhaps at the risk of being a bit too forward, I blurted out, “Oh! Do you have a couch?!” Just as quickly I followed with a chuckle and gesture to show I was only (half) joking. Nathan, however, being the friendly Minnesotan that I would soon learn is the most common type, accepted my request and we exchanged numbers.

Stupidly, I missed the farmers market despite hearing of how amazing it is. I regret doing that now that I see there are so few opportunities while on the road. To redeem myself, I went to one of the nearby lakes and simply enjoyed the view. Here I met a girl my age named Missy. She seemed excited to hear about my adventure and wanted to make sure my time in Madison was enjoyable so she invited me to concert that evening (unfortunately I was too tired when the time came and had to be up early to ride). A couple days later I would receive one of the most warmhearted emails with two beautiful quotes that she thought I would like. I’ve copied them here because I think they’re pretty great.

(1) “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” -Mark Twain

(2) “So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more dangerous to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.” -Chris McCandless

I returned to the coffee shop to do some more uploading and blogging. For the life of me I cannot remember what I ate for dinner but I do remember having cheese curds during lunch, which were really good. They’re like tater tots filled with cheese instead of potato. Don’t forget the ranch dressing! I ended the night with a cruise around some of the streets I hadn’t yet visited to make sure I got a little more acquainted with lovely Madison.

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