This year will be the fourth annual Ride Across Wisconsin, but the first year I have ever been able to ride the route. In the last four years of planning and working RAW, Tom Schuler and I have driven every stretch of road between Dubuque and Kenosha dozens of times, but always in a car or van. We don’t mind, as that is simply the job description of a ride organizer, you work hard while everyone on the ride has fun.
Although Tom and I enjoy organizing and managing rides, we did feel like we owed it to the other RAW participants to ride the route on bicycles to have an even better feel for how we can keep improving this event. It is one thing to know a route, and another to ride it. Thanks to my wife’s kind offer to drive us and our bikes to Dubuque last Sunday, Tom and I were finally able to ride RAW!
After a really great meal at 7 Hills Brew Pub in the hip Millwork District of Dubuque Sunday (seriously, go there!), we said goodbye to my wife and rode off to the Holiday Inn for the night. The next morning, we left Dubuque around 7:30 AM, knowing we only had to ride the 105 miles to Beloit that day. We took the side path on the Julien Dubuque Bridge into East Dubuque and then Wisconsin Avenue northeast to join the official RAW route on County Road 5 W. If you want to preride the RAW route, please take the older Julien Bridge, as we are only allowed on the Hwy 51 bridge
The steep climbs tested our morning legs as we pedaled along Wisconsin’s southern border. The fast descents got our adrenaline flowing better than a double espresso. We passed dozens of cute calves munching on fresh spring grass beside their mothers in the many scenic pastures, but we were only passed by two vehicles in the 22 to New Diggings. The night before spoke with Donna Anton from Anton’s Saloon, host for our first rest stop in New Diggings. She said she was looking forward to hosting the first rest stop on our route again, but we knew better than to wake up an innkeeper that early in the morning! We waved as we passed by, but kept pedaling on without stopping.
RAW veterans know how beautiful (and hilly) the route is in that unglaciated corner of southwestern Wisconsin. Almost entirely on very low-traffic town roads, Tom and I were able to ride two-abreast pretty much the entire way. We stopped to check in at the Holland Dairy Farm and found Kerry Holland hard at work fixing a broken chain on one of his farm implements.
Kerry took a short break from his work to chat with us. He said they were happy to share their farm with our riders again this year. We talked about the low price of milk, and the dairy crisis, how Wisconsin lost 500 dairy farms in 2017 and the trend continues this year. When we started RAW, we wanted to do something to thank the farmers and residents in the small towns we ride through, so we promised to double any donations our registrants made for the local 4-H groups that help us with our rest stops.
Last year we were happy to be able to give $3,000 to the Green County 4-H. That was a big donation for their group, but with the tremendous stress from the dairy crisis, we are going back to our budget to see if we can give more this year to help support the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin. Tom is also a partner in the Tour of America’s Dairyland race series, so he has a long history of working with our state dairy industry. As we rode off from our short visit at the Holland farm, we talked about either by expanding our support for more 4-H groups or contributing to a scholarship fund to help farm kids with their education.
Due to federal rule changes, Wisconsin lost virtually all of our state funding for bicycle and pedestrian safety programs. That means the elimination of the Bike Fed’s Share & Be Aware program, which will result in a big hole in our budget. But when things get tough, we need to try even harder to help each other. Bicycling in Wisconsin would not be as good as it is without all the wonderful paved rural town roads where we all enjoy riding. I’m sure we can find a way to give back a little more to the farmers we pass by on our ride. If you have not done so already, please consider a donation to the 4-H, and we will match what you give at a minimum. Hopefully, we can afford to give even more if registrations go well for RAW this year.
While every day can be a struggle for our state dairy farmers and bicycle advocates alike, we both love what we do and believe we are part of what makes Wisconsin such a wonderful place to visit, live, work, farm and ride a bike. So drink some chocolate milk after your next bike ride and register to Ride Across Wisconsin with us.