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A "blue collar" cyclist's adventures from the saddle of a bike.
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Salsa Ride Camp: A Utopia
As I pulled into the inaugural Salsa Ride Camp I quickly noted a small tent city popping up out of an expansive grass field with the occasional cyclist weaving in an out of imaginary streets. Distant voices and laughter were in my ears as took some initial instruction regarding parking and when the afternoon ride was to depart. "This is SO COOL" I kept repeating to myself as I looked for a place to stash my car. With only 13 minutes until my first opportunity to ride was scheduled to leave I ended up with a frantic start to what I planned to be a very relaxing weekend. Just like Superman in a phone booth, I changed from casual summer wear to a Salsa riding kit in seconds and was soon rolling toward a large congregation of cyclists. I made it just in the nick of time.
Soon we were under way and I was chatting with some old friends and saying "hello" to some new ones. At the trail head we re-grouped for some final discussion and words from Pete Koski, Salsa engineer, shredder, and creator of my all time favorite mountain bike, The Spearfish. Dropping into the trail I was quickly reminded of the sweet single track that the Chequamegon National Forest has to offer. It is a cross country rider's paradise! Wheel to wheel, 20 riders swooped through the turns as the crispness of the early Fall air flowed into our lungs. It felt so good.
Things began to move from good to great as a healthy fish dinner was served and a thoughtful speech was delivered by Salsa Marketing Director, Mike Riemer. Mike took the time to acknowledge the sponsored riders that were in attendance and I was flattered by his comments to say the least. The evening then moved into a presentation by Jay Petervary and his experience with this year's Continental Divide Race which travels a mind boggling distance from Banf, Canada to Antelope Wells, New Mexico.
The temperatures dropped quickly as darkness descended reminding us all that it really was Fall in northern Wisconsin. A trip or two to my car for another brew had my feet freezing and soaked as the dew laden grass seemed to hover just above freezing. It didn't matter as the weather forecast had me certain that all that moisture would burn off quickly in the morning. Plus, it was the aurora borealis that had all of our attention. Lights shimmered in the Northern sky while the stars burned brightly in nature's perfect painting. I couldn't take my eyes off of it.
I woke the next morning to the sounds of distant laughter and conversations that I just couldn't make out. This was quite the opposite from what I'm used to when camping with large groups of people. Typically, it's loud cars, or loud mouths that one deals with in these settings, not here. Rather than being annoyed by disrespectful people I was rather intrigued. The good mood and good vibe was palpable and running with this feeling was the back ground noise of free wheel hubs buzzing riders coasted past. "Is this heaven?" I asked.
I was surrounded by like minded, fun people who were all happy to be sharing a beautiful field of grass together. Could this get any better? I kitted up for the morning ride full of anticipation of another great day. This time we'd be heading a different direction on a piece of trail that I was vaguely familiar with. I couldn't wait to see what it had to offer. As expected the ride was everything I hoped for, tasty single track in an old growth forest, and good people.
That afternoon I could feel the miles in my legs, due to a few hard efforts I had thrown in for good measure. The fatigue I felt had me making the decision to take a little time away from camp for an old fashioned bacon cheese burger down at the Seeley Sawmill Saloon. The alone time was nice as I enjoyed the burger and a little Wisconsin Badger football action on t.v. Although I wanted to stick around and catch the game I knew the late afternoon and evening events were scheduled to get under way soon, I wanted to get back. As I pulled into camp I noticed a classic game of kick ball going on, each of the game's players had ear to ear grins plastered on their faces. "Man, this really is like camp, but with BIKES", I said to myself, a smile crossing my face.
My favorite presentation was Bjorn Olson and Kim McNett's story of their "Ring of Fire" expedition. Bjorn and Kim are from Alaska and two of the nicest people you'd ever meet. Their story was humble, honest, and compelling. They weren't afraid to discuss failure in a time when everyone expects success. I appreciated their style as they told their tale with class and dignity. Kim's reading of an article she wrote describing the adventure was riveting to say the least. I strained to soak up every word as well as the tone of her voice. The story was that good. I was moved and what's more is that Kim thought nothing of offering everyone a piece of smoked Salmon straight from Alaska. These were my kind of people.
That evening I had a chance to talk with my friend and teammate, Danielle Mustog. I asked her if she and her travel companions would be interested in skipping the group ride and joining me on a ride that would push a little further than the regularly scheduled one. She and her friend "Spoo" quickly agreed. We'd meet after breakfast promising not to rip each other's legs off- yeah right.
Breakfast was behind us and there we were once again promising to ride easy. As Spoo arrived Mike Riemer wished us a good ride and with that we were rolling. Holding true to our promises the ride was controlled, full of conversation, laughs, and beautiful country. What we thought would be 15 miles of single track gradually turned into 25. It seemed that we took turns complaining about how tired our legs were while laughing away the pain. It was one of those rides that didn't have a thing wrong with it, save my squeaky brakes.
Sadly, it was time to take down my temporary home. As I slowly dismantled my tent I contemplated the weekend. The memories were good and while I scanned the little tent city known as Salsa Ride Camp I asked myself one final question, "Is this a Utopia?" The answer was clear.