Saturday, July 15, 2017

Million Meters of Milk - 1000 Kilometers in Wisconsin

"While the world spins underfoot, we start another day with wild hearts and fierce desire"*

Michele, the Great Lake Randonneurs' Regional Brevet Administrator, described the Million Meters of Milk as a 1000k where all riders would receive the same experience whether they were first finisher or lantern rouge.

I arrived at the start physically undertrained. A right knee injury in the Spring had hobbled me to the point of using a thrift store cane for a few days in April. In the lead-up to this day, I had dnf'd two hilly rides and wondered whether my atrophied right thigh would recover. But after an MRI and the opinion of a specialist that I had no structural damage, I rode again. Then when PA Rando Guy H. told me that he had heard that riding a fixed gear bike was good for the knee, I chose to believe him and started riding my fixie to work and back. After all, I believe in the power of a good placebo.

Still, a few weeks commuting on a fixie is not great prep for a 625 mile ride and, when all was said and done, I arrived in Wisconsin undertrained but willing to trust experience and muscle memory to complete the user friendly course.

Chris N. (from New Jersey) and George S. (from New York) opted to share travel arrangements with me. Then we decided to ride the event together. Riding with one other person for 1000K, let alone two people, that you did not train with is a huge leap of faith. But they are friends, PBP Anciens, and Randonneurs, so we leapt together.


Day One: Cherries Jubilee

North to Sturgeon Bay. Keep Lake Michigan on your right for the first 125 miles or so.

Before we set out, Michele warned us of possible electrical storms in the afternoon. The term was new to me. "How do we know if it's an electrical storm?" I asked. "When you see a bolt of lightning go from the sky to the ground you're in an electrical storm. Don't be the tallest thing on the road. If you need to wait it out in a barn, do that!" With that scary fact tucked away, we were soon ready to roll.

I've often said that a good Randonnuering route showcases the best cycling its area has to offer. This ride illustrated the point. On the first day, the ride started at 4:00 a.m., intermittently bumping over the seams between the large concrete blocks that make up the road as we made our way out of town. We experienced dawn over the successive rollers of Seven Hills road. As the sun rose, the morning light slowly unveiled horizon filling expanses of farms, an endless sky, and colossal turbines stoically waiting for the wind.

The cool and dry weather was a welcome change after the heat and humidity of the east coast. We rode north along roads bordered by vast swaths of land. The size and scale of the land dwarfs the tall silos of the sparsely scattered farms.

photo by Chris N.
Sandhill cranes, with long thin legs and elongated necks, strode prehistorically  through fields of prairie grass. A bald eagle soared majestically in the sharp blue sky.

Lake Michigan lay east of us, initially invisible beyond the horizon. But then after reaching Kewaunee, we see it. 

The beaches, lighthouses, and a water horizon surprise me. We wonder what early explorers thought when they first reached the coastline of this northern freshwater sea. Simply amazing.

The wind picked up along the way to the turnaround at Sturgeon Bay. Our group of three formed a pace line and took turns pulling north. We leap frogged at the controls with Bob from Madison WI and the tandem Trot team

Of the three people in our group, I am the "newbie" and I have been doing this for seven years, including completing PBP in 2015. George rode LEL and PBP. Christine is multiple time K Hound, multiple time PBP finisher, multiple time Super Randonneur to name just a few. Riding with these two means that all the potential drama was resolved thousands of kilometers before the ride even began. Now, we just ride.

The info control at Renards has cheesy potato soup, cheese hats, cheese curds and - you get the picture - lots of cheese. It also has ride volunteers with water, food, fresh watermelon and lots of positive vibes. We refuel, restock and head back to where we started.

Turning south, the western sky slowly grows ominous: dark and stormy. We make good time in the cross wind, but the blue is soon replaced by roiling grey clouds. Bob rides with us. As we close in on an evening control, we feel the rain from the leading edge of the storm. A bolt of lightning cracks down to the ground and a flash of fear races through me as fast as the exclamation "f**k!" leaps from my lips. Someone points out a church with a large carport as a possible shelter, but after determining that the next control is less than two miles away, we press on, speeding up to reach safety.

We reach the Dinostop/Arby's minutes before the heavy rain falls. The tandem team arrives shortly after us. We wait out the storm indoors with hot food, cold milkshakes, clean rest rooms but no drama.

With evening approaching, Bob, the tandem and our group of three opt to ride in as a group, sharing the road, lights and stories under the Wisconsin night sky back to the hotel where fresh hot meals, cold beer and tireless volunteers were waiting.

Returning to the same hotel as the start worked wonders. A shower, some sleep a fresh kit, and all my things right were I left them. Nice.


Day Two: Dairyland Jubilee

After hitting the event's oatmeal and yogurt breakfast bar, with its various topping selections, Chris, George and I rolled out for the second day. First west then south and east before riding north through the length of Kettle Moraine. 

On the second day we ride rolling hills. In the morning, we ride past massive fields of industrial corn with deep green leaves that are  remarkably devoid of any other life, including plants, birds, insects or mammals. This is not sweet corn for barbecues, maybe not even feed corn for cows, we imagine that this is thousands of acres for corn products and ethanol. This is an engineered natural resource, a commodity, growing in great tracts of land between towns where the populations are less than 500. 

photo by Chris N.
We also see plainfolk farms and their horse drawn carriages clip clopping along on the otherwise empty roads. It is Saturday and their freshly washed monocolor clothes hang from from lines like unintentional prayer flags. On one Amish farm, a young daughter hand tills a garden, a son rhythmically swings a scythe on a long wooden pole and the father guides a horse drawn tractor to comb through a field of dirt while baby is strapped into a seat just above the tines. The difficulty of the labor is evident but their calm approach quietly speaks of a simplicity that seems lost in the distractions created by the conveniences of modern life. We ride on, simply, quietly, undistractedly tending to our own difficult labor of choice.

The Chalet at Fox Lake is at the western end of the route. They are only open from 8 am to 2 pm. They serve breakfast lunch and offer a full bar. We opt to skip the cocktails. 

Drink Wisconsinbly!

The hills of the day are neither long nor steep but they arrive with greater frequency. Near the end of the day is a 27 miles ride through Kettle Moraine.
A kettle (kettle hole, pothole) is a shallow, sediment-filled body of water formed by retreating glaciers or draining floodwaters. The kettles are formed as a result of blocks of ice calving from glaciers and becoming submerged in the sediment on the outwash plain
A moraine is any glacially formed accumulation of unconsolidated glacial debris (regolith and rock) that occurs in both currently and formerly glaciated regions on Earth (i.e. a past glacial maximum), through geomorphological processes. Moraines are formed from debris previously carried along by a glacier and normally consist of somewhat rounded particles ranging in size from large boulders to minute glacial flour.

At then end of Kettle Moraine is a 12% climb at the base of which I drop my chain due to chain suck. I pull it out and then grind up the climb in the granny gear to meet Chris and George who waited at the top. We regroup and ride back to the control together, the full moon transforming wind turbines into shadow giants that stand guard on our night passage.


Day Three: Polka Jubilee

On the third day, we rode again. 

The course looped clockwise around Fond du Lac. George, Chris and I rode northwest into the wind for fifty miles to get the first control taking turns to share the push into the wind. We then turned northeast toward New London.

On third day of the 1000K, time is in our favor. We have over 24 hours to ride 186 miles and the route is has no extended climbs or challenging terrain.  After New London, the wind is at our backs and we effortlessly ride our fastest segments yet.  We devour miles like the cans of Starbucks black coffee that George discovered at the Kwik Trip.

On the third day of the ride, then end is in reach, but the ride is not yet over, so we savor the passing day.

We reach the hotel later than we originally planned but still early enough to get some good sleep. Michele and Rick, the chef, are there to greet us. There is hot food, cold beer, and multiple deserts. We receive the same greeting as those who finished before and they will wait for those still to arrive. Michele kept her promise. 

This was a world class, memorable event. For even more pictures click this link.
Thanks to Great Lakes Randonneurs and the fantastic team of volunteers:
  • Michele B., RBA aka Top Cheese 
  • Dawn P. Social/Beer/SAG, Registration, aka Dairy Queen 
  •  Rick S. - Chef extraordinaire
  • Joel S., Pre-Ride, Route Design aka Milk Run 
  • Regina S., Control Staff aka Clarabelle 
  • Kathy M., Control Staff, SAG aka Princess Buttercup 
  • Karon S., Control Staff aka Wife of Milk Run 
  • Melissa H., SAG aka Guernsey Girl 
  • Mike and Christine W., Registration and support 
  • Bob H., Pre-Ride, registration aka Money Man 
  • Richard B., Registration; and 
  • Bob from Madison, WI who volunteered on day 2 and 3
And special thanks to my riding partners Chris and George. 


*This quote is excerpted from a sign outside of the Milwaukee Museum of Art titled:
Shoreline Repast.


  1. Nice write-up, thanks! Glad you had a great ride, and we'll be looking for you next time we do this.

  2. Nigel this is wonderful, You are a superb writer, maybe Day Three can be longer? Shalom

  3. Love that you enjoyed my home state so much. :) Hope your curds squeaked and that those desserts were bars. We do so love our bars in Wisconsin