Beach riding is one of my favorite ways to enjoy bikes. I was born and raised on the shores of Lake Michigan and the moment that I got my hands on my first pugsley, I explored Lake Michigan and Lake Superior’s shorelines. We had 3 epic years of beach riding and then the Lake froze over for two winters and that caused water levels to rise. On the Wisconsin side, we lost a bunch of beach real estate. Some of the Southern Michigan Beaches are still ride-able, but from Grand Haven, up to Manistee, where Fat Camp, Ken and Andy live, the beaches shrunk from what they’d been 5 years ago.
Back in November, we spoke with George from Broken Spoke, up in Green Bay and he told us that the beach was back, up near Two Rivers. That was all we needed to hear, to get the ball rolling. We set up a group ride out of Port Washington, WI. We planned to head south and see if we could get down to Lyons Park. We didn’t make it far, before we hit a snag of willows that blocked (dry) passage. So we decided to cruise through town and head north from the band shell. We could tell right away that there was a lot wider expanse of sand along the public beach. When we reached Pink Floyd Rock there was a good 20 feet of beautiful sandy beach. For the last two years, PF Rock has almost been at the waters edge. These were all positive indications that we might just have our beach riding back!
The ride was rustic. There are spots that you have to climb over some snags, ride through creeks and probably get your feet wet. So its not for the ultra-meek. We made it to the creek that’s about 3.5 miles from Port Washington. We hadn’t been able to get to that creek for the last 2 years.
A couple days later, on Thanksgiving, I came back and rode for quite a way past the creek with my wife, Bethany, but we didn’t make it to the rocky point or Herrington State Park, which is 9 miles north of Port Washington. In the best years, we could ride all of that and an additional 12 miles north to Kohler Andrea State Park. It made for a really nice beach-packing trip. We ran a story about it a few years ago.
The next time that we rode the beach out of Port Washington was one of the freakishly warm, sunny, sixty degree, days that we had this past February. In addition to the warm temperatures, there was a mere wisp of a wind, so the lake was as calm as I’ve ever seen.
Just the perfect idyllic set of conditions, which should have boded well for getting further up the beach, but we got near that same area, where we could see the same rocky point, where Bethany and I had stopped before. The blockage there seems to stymie every wet shoe ride that we’ve tried, during the winter, when lake water temperatures stay in the high thirties……or… maybe, we’ve discovered a glitch in the matrix 😉
That take’s us to present day, Spring of 2017 after one of the warmest winters, on record and one of the earliest springs that I can recall. One of my Bike Black Ribbon Cousins, Netto, scheduled a beach ride that he named the Moist Capybara Ride! I’ve been encouraging folks to set up fun group rides, so when this moist capybara thing popped up on my feed, I signed on with a solid maybe. As the date grew closer, the weather got nicer and all the trails opened and we wore short pants while riding among delicate spring flowers, the air perfumed by the sweet nectar of springtime, till a few days before the event. The rain and normal springtime temperatures returned and it snained. Many areas around the great lakes got some spring snow, which closed all of our trails and turned my maybe into a probably, since foul weather beach rides, are one of the things that I dream about.
The forecast for the Moist Capybara was a High of 42 with 15-20 MPH winds straight out of the North, then shifting to 35 MPH winds out of the Northeast and sheets of heavy rain or sleet. We certainly wouldn’t have to worry about crowds of people, but the winds would create waves; and waves eat up beach and make wading and riding in the lake a lot more difficult. So the conditions were basically the exact opposite of the ride that we did in February, but with, similar lake water temperatures. I didn’t know how far we would get, but I set the creek as a goal.
I posted this to the event page the day before the ride – “High of 42 tomorrow and windy. These are the days that are responsible for back/chest & ear hair. Also known as the best days. Gird thy loins with neoprene and whiskey, for tomorrow (insert dramatic pause) WE RIDE!”
I knew that Netto would show, but I doubted anybody else would volunteer, but I was wrong. Our amigo Tony decided to join in the fun. The lake was looking really rough. and temperatures that would have been considered balmy before we got a little taste of spring time weather, seemed pretty chilly as the three of us set off into a stiff headwind. Sand conditions were soft, so Tony and I both stopped to bleed some air. We caught up with Netto at Pink Floyd rock and the water was just a foot below the rock. The waves and wind had pushed the lake levels up and covered the 20 feet of sand that we’d gained!
Of course riding on soft sand into a strong headwind, just so happens, to be the perfect cure for feeling chilly. I seemed to be having some magnificent timing for skirting through the various blow downs and terrain features that presented themselves for the first couple of miles, but it only takes one miscalculation to submerge the lower half of your body in the cold lake water. It didn’t take long before I had the double soaker. I shared my thoughts about trying to get to the creek with Netto and Tony and then we did it! We had to bushwhack quite a few times and I found myself shouldering the nice light carbon Fatback Corvus in spots, where we had no choice, but to wade among the crashing waves and boulders and break walls. After some moist hike-a-bike we came to the creek and man, the creek water felt like a hot tub compared to Lake Michigan. After the creek, things opened up and we rode marbles and sand till we got to the usual turn around spot. We looked back and we had lost Tony. Or the Matrix wanted us to think that we lost Tony. So we turned back and it turned out that he’d broken his chain. On the way back, on one of the hike-a-bike sections, we came across an area of ramps (wild leeks) and fiddle heads, which are both tasty edible plants, so I picked a nice bouquet and stuffed them into my pack for dinner, later that night.
So once again, we didn’t make it up to Herrington Beach State Park. I know that the matrix is just a movie, so maybe it’s gnome magic or a left eyed gypsie curse that’s thwarting our efforts to surge past the rocky point and on to glorious victory, but I also know that summer is coming. In summer, the lake water temperatures moderate and the air temperature and humidity percolate to create a much more inviting aquatic environment for success! I’m actually encouraged by the fact that in the absolute worst wind conditions, we were able to scratch and claw our way to nearly the same spot that we reached, when the lake was as calm as a bath tub, back in February. So I think that we need to pack some saws and return to the spot that we can’t seem to circumnavigate and make like beavers for a triumphant victory. I bet if I cached a cooler full of beer up at Herrington, we could get there. Who’s with me?