This week OnMilwaukee.com is celebrating Bike To Work Week with a series of stories from June 6 to June 12.
The day started out at a brisk 41 degrees. As we arrived at the Marcus Center hundreds of people were lined up in the middle of Water Street ready to go. Getting there as late as possible, I wondered how early everyone had gotten here and did they have as restless a night as I? I looked through the immense crowd to see if I could find any of my mates from Team OnMilwaukee.com-CyclingChainring.com.
The only person I saw was Morgan Sawicki, my girlfriend whom I had arrived with. She headed back for the 50-mi. race and soon enough the ride began and the masses took off. I kept scanning the crowd and eventually I saw teammate Marcello Ocampo. He would be riding 75 miles with me.
It was a slow start as we veered around city construction working our way towards the lake, but gradually as our pace picked up I began to see most of the rest of the team. Coming upon Jake Rohde and Sam Dodge, we could see his bushy beard blowing in the wind. Then Will Kort approached from behind us. He would be following Marcello and I through the rest of the ride. And despite starting behind us, we even saw Morgan, too, who must've had a strong start.
The wind was whipping off the lake at a brisk pace and my hands were freezing. Marcello, in the meantime, overdressed and was heavily sweating. The first oasis was about 10 miles in and we took the opportunity to grab some fuel for the road (Gatorade, apples, bananas and Powerbar Gel). As we pulled up we saw another teammate Matt Gauger sitting on the grass near an ambulance, cradling his shoulder. He had hit a set of railroad tracks at the wrong angle, fallen and dislocated his shoulder. His weeks of preparation would end there.
Will, Marcello and I headed out on the road again, gradually working our way north. We took turns leading the way, each person cutting the headwind while the others drafted behind. City properties and the open lake gradually gave way to green rolling farmland. At one point another teammate, Joe Stevenson, who was riding the 50-mile route, overtook our small breakaway with his highly coordinated, charging peloton. He paused long enough to say "hey" and charged on (his average speed was about 20 miles per hour while we were managing about 14.3). Eventually we rolled into Port Washington and took a break at just under the halfway point.
Then the clouds rolled in, we took in some food and water, and realizing the headwind would now be our tailwind, hit the road with lifted spirits. But those spirits would begin to dampen as those clouds broke up and began peppering the field. It rained about three or four times during the ride. None of it lasted long and none of it was terribly torrential but in the case of any ride, it was still highly unnecessary.
At 55 miles in we made one last stop for bathrooms, more food, and a chance to raise Marcello's seat, which was sitting slightly too low for most of the trip. He lamented the amount of water he had lost during his sweaty, 10-mi. start and the amount of energy he had sacrificed because of the seat problem and wondered how much better he'd be feeling if he got it right the first time.
We struck out again to conquer the last 20 miles. There was one more oasis left, but we wouldn't be stopping for it. It was time to get this ride in the bag. Shortly after we hit the road I took to the front and set a good pace for myself, but after a few minutes I realized that my teammates were starting to fall behind. The rain picked up again and I used this as a sign that it was time to strike out on my own. I locked in my pace and concentrated on the people ahead of me. As I passed each person I shifted my gaze to the next. Each became a mini-goal for me, lots of tiny victories to get me to the grand finale at the finish.
I hit Fox Point and charged on. I passed through Whitefish Bay and breathed a sigh of relief, took another breath, and headed towards Shorewood. It was all downhill from here, especially when I hit the lake and the road turned down and launched me into the final stretch down Lake Drive. I grabbed a small granola bar from my bag, took a swig of water, and struck out over the last mile.
The finish line was not as victorious as I would have hoped. In fact, I passed right by it thinking I'd surly see a large finish line, a "congratulations" banner and a cheering crowd, but it was not to be and it served as a reminder for what this adventure was really about: the United Performing Arts Fund. There were 3,000 victories for each of the riders who volunteered and a million mini personal victories throughout the ride, but the biggest winners of the day were the performing arts and the larger community that benefits from it.
Did you ride on the UPAF Miller Lite Ride for the Arts? What's your story? Let us know by using the Talkback feature below.
Jason McDowell grew up in central Iowa and moved to Milwaukee in 2000 to attend the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.
In 2006 he began working with OnMilwaukee as an advertising designer, but has since taken on a variety of rolls as the Creative Director, tackling all kinds of design problems, from digital to print, advertising to branding, icons to programming.
In 2016 he picked up the 414 Digital Star of the Year award.
Most other times he can be found racing bicycles, playing board games, or petting dogs.