Milwaukee to Minneapolis – The Hard Way
MMM rides along on the M2M09
by Lucy Bacon
The M2M is not a race, but rather a ride on some country roads. You should follow and obey all traffic laws and signs posted, including speed limits. If you choose to disregard these signs, you, my friend, are on your own. If you get pinched, hide this sheet.” So begins the statement on the route sheet that you pick up outside the Fuel Café in Milwaukee early Saturday morning. You also get one half of an M2M09 sticker (for your helmet or your homeroom notebook) – you are awarded the second half when you finish. No one knows who chooses the route (it’s different every year), or who prints up the route sheets and stickers. No one knows who does the art for the posters, although someone who goes by Rutger Hauer sometimes takes credit. This ride has always been, and will always be, a mystery.
My friend Jim and I set out for Milwaukee Friday morning. The NOAA website said there was a 70% chance of thunderstorms from Madison all the way to Milwaukee. Now, I can handle riding in the rain – don’t like it, but I can do it – but thunderstorms are a whole different story. Thankfully, they were completely wrong. The day was clear and warm, and we saw little traffic on the county roads of Wisconsin. In the interest of time, we jumped on interstate 90 at Baraboo, and were rolling into Milwaukee just before 7:00 in the evening, and evidently right into baseball traffic. So we exited and pulled out our maps to figure out where we were headed for the night.
Saturday morning broke bright and clean and clear. Gathering at the Fuel Café in Milwaukee on Saturday morning, people were having coffee and pastries, milling around and ogling bikes, greeting old friends, making new friends, looking quizzically at the route sheets, and puzzling over maps. I saw several of the usual Minneapolis suspects there – a higher than average rate of Minnesota participation, I think. Then at 9:00 am, when the St. Casimir church bell rang, people casually wandered over to their bikes, fired them up, and started down the street in clumps. I joined one of the clumps and headed out of town. Large clumps became smaller clumps as people chose their paces, as the roads went from Interstate, to state highway, to county road.
As has been my habit since high school, I fell in with a pretty fast crowd. But when we came into Columbus, the route sheet indicated a right turn on County Road K. My crowd went straight, but I shrugged and turned as the route sheet directed. Suddenly, I was out of town on my own. Not a bike in sight for miles. I began to doubt myself and pulled over to look at my 1996 Wisconsin highway map. (I’m haven’t moved into the 21st century yet – I don’t carry a GPS.) As I was trying to locate the dot that was the town of Columbus, my fast boys went skipping by, giving me a quick horn toot. I quickly stuffed my map back into the tank bag, threw the bike in gear, and got myself down the road. I have no idea who these guys were, but I did get to chat with them, both when we stopped for gas in Lodi, and then again on the Merrimac ferry. Once off the ferry, I lost these guys – off like a shot, they were, leaving me stuck behind a station wagon going 50mph on a double yellow. I eventually got around the station wagon, but I never saw my fast boys again.
At this point, I feel compelled to describe the route sheets. They are 4¼” x 11”, and they just have arrows and letters and numbers on them in a column, such as: →K ↑ Herritz Rd ←108 And so forth. Suffice it to say, it’s very easy to miss a turn, especially if you’re not sporting a (good) GPS.
Rolling through the emerald green blanket of Wisconsin on an 80° day is just something everyone should have a chance to do at least once a summer. One must watch for some of the great race equalizers, such as farmers driving giant combines down a twisty road at 10 mph, Amish buggies with spookable horses, and of course, the local constabulary. And as I have been reminded more than once by said constabulary, I am a guest in their back yard, so passing a whole string of cars on a double yellow at 95mph just isn’t cool.
Crossing the river into Minnesota at Winona, you notice right away that Minnesota tends to hide its highway signs. In Wisconsin, every county road crossing is marked well ahead of time. The roads themselves are marked frequently, so you almost always know where you are. In Minnesota, the county roads are marked with little green street signs, so if you don’t crank your head around at every crossroads, you’ll never find your next turn. County Road 25 in Rolling Stone was a tricky one – a few of us met because we were all in a parking lot, scratching our heads. We eventually took a guess, which turned out to be correct, but we only knew we were right when the next turn presented itself as the route sheet predicted. I missed County Road 11 outside of Millville, and so missed the next three turns, which would have taken me by Hammond and Mazeppa. By this time, I’d been in the saddle for about eight hours. So when I found myself back on 61, I decided just to cut over to Cannon Falls on 19 and pick up highway 52 there. This was the last leg of the trip, and I spent that last 50 or so miles trying to decide whether to own up, or act as if I’d done every road the way I was supposed to.
Pulling up to Diamonds Coffee Shoppe in Minneapolis at 6:00 in the evening, I noted that I was far from the first to come in. I wandered over and started exchanging stories with the other riders. There were two minor mishaps, but they weren’t serious, the riders were able to ride their bikes in, and no one was hurt. And one speeding ticket – caught by the winner. Everyone was in a great mood – this was such a perfect day, and the ride had been so much fun. And, by the way, I came clean about County Road 11 after I realized that nearly everyone else missed it as well. Some went back to find it, some didn’t, but in any case, no one is disqualified for not following the route sheet exactly. There are no checkpoints, there is no purse; only the second half of the M2M09 sticker, which you get just for finishing.
I was also not the last to come in – the last few riders finally rolled in between 8:30 and 9:00. And of the 60 or so bikes that started, something like 40 or 50 finished, so overall the turnout was good, the mood was great, and everyone had a fabulous time. Someone put it this way: “I think I need to take up flying – I’ve had as much fun on a bike as a person can have!”