Great Taste of the Midwest

Last August Kiddo had an event in Madison, WI, and I was killing time by sightseeing around the city on a bike. As I passed Olin Park, I noticed hordes of folks with pretzel necklaces walking toward the park. Having been to the Great American Beer Festival, I knew exactly what those pretzels signified. I later learned it was the Great Taste of the Midwest, a beer festival hosted by the Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild. Further research found not only was it one of the premier beer festivals in the nation, it was an extremely hard ticket to get. Ticket sales occur each spring with a limited number sold at area beer destinations and the remainder via lottery. Ticket sales are limited to 6000 with over 2/3 of the lottery requests unfulfilled. At the time I made a mental note (but not a calendar reminder) to get in the lottery in the spring.

And then forgot.

However, was pleasantly surprised on Friday when hubby walked in the house saying he was offered two tickets including a bus shuttle from a brewpub not too far from home. Did I want to go?

Duh.

The day began at Delafield BrewHaus with a Ketel One Bloody Mary and in typical Milwaukee fashion a side car of beer. This was their tasty Naga-wicked Pale Ale (Nagawicka is a lake close by), a bit of lunch and an hour bus ride west to Madison.

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Again hordes of folks, lots of pretzel necklaces, some including salami and cheese. Yes, its Wisconsin. But a well organized system to get folks in quickly, ID’s checked, wristbands applied, sampler glass and programs in hand.

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I was surprised how well organized the entire event felt. Much more manageable than GABF, but still with more excellent beer than I’d be able to taste in one afternoon. Not just more manageable from a waiting in line for a sample perspective, but also the crowds a bit more behaved. Porta potties were ample. Water stations easy to find. Next year, tho’ think I’ll take a clue from folks I saw, and wear a camelbak. (Hydration is key to 5 hours of beer sampling!!) Lots of music and interesting entertainment – unsure if planned or buskers, either way great.

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I tried to focus on trying things not generally available, special tappings and limited releases. I was on a quest for sours. Others in my group seemed to go for Porters and Stouts, hubby was trying a bit of everything. I’ve been hearing great things about the sours being made by Troy Casey, a brewer with AC Golden/ MillerCoors, and hoped some of his stuff was at the Tenth & Blake booth. Headed there first and was not disappointed! The Peche was wonderful, the Berliner Weisse with flavor bubbles tons of fun. But it was Barry White, an amazing barrel aged sour using Leinekugel BerryWeiss treated with lactobacillus and Brettanomyces then aged in oak bourbon barrels that really stood out becoming one of my favorite beers of the day. From there on a tip, we headed over the to Shorts Brewing booth to try their PB & Banana…and fell in love with their Ginger in the Rye.

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We bounced around from that point on, trying special releases things from breweries we knew, and discovering breweries we didn’t know. The Tripel Crown from Cumberland Brewery in Lousiville was another favorite of the day as was the Exodus from Central Waters in WI.

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While food was obviously not the focus of the day, the bacon on a stick from Smoking Cantina was to die for. There was a small food court (pizza, italian beef, sub sandwiches) in addition to the Smoking Catina booth, and tons of picnic tables to stop and rest or eat a bite. (Oh look there’s Brook and Kyle! Thanks guys for the invite!!!!)

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Equally to die for were the views across Lake Monana. Madison is not only the home of the University of Wisconsin it is also the capital, and the Capitol is visible across the lake.

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All in all a great day. Grabbed a nice full pour of Triple Crown from Cumberland (others in the group were raving about their Coconut Porter), and headed back to the bus.

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And, yes, I have a reminder in my calendar for next year’s ticket sales…..

Annual visit to the Wisconsin State Fair

IMG_1080Closing day of theWisconsin State Fair meant it was now or never for Kiddo and my annual trip to the fair. We have a bit of a routine to our visits…venturing into some new things, but generally following a similar path each year. We’re not big midway people (despite being theme park junkies), nor do the expo halls really call us. For us is more about the cream puffs, the corn, the milk, the barns and the people watching.

With Kiddo now a teenager, and becoming more independent, increasingly wrapped up in the world of his friends, I’m thrilled that this is still “our” thing.

We started with a trip up the fairgrounds on the sky glider, noticing changes from prior years, chatting about past visits, what was here when I was a kid. Talking about all the crazy foods along the grandstands. We were at first alarmed when we got to the other end, and there was no milk booth. Then we noticed the sign saying it had moved to the south end of the grandstand.

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We began to weave our way through barns, checking out the chickens, rabbits, goats, cows. Making our way towards the corn. I typically pause at this container garden along the way.

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The New Berlin Lions Club roasted corn has been a fair favorite of mine since I was a kid. Signs above the booth say it’s been there 55 years, so definitely older than me (yes, I know, but not by a whole lot).

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The racing ducks are new this year, and were a fun stop.

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Finally we found the milk booth. I’m always surprised by the lines here. They move fast and at .25cents a cup, one of the best bargains at the fair. Unfortunately, the Cherry Vanilla and RootBeer flavors were sold out. This is often the case on the last day of the fair. We did a bit of our own mixology, trying Strawberry-Banana and Chocolate-Banana.

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Of course, Wisconsin is not just the dairy state, it also has a strong beer culture. Which was even apparent in the Horticulture and craft exhibition hall. Kiddo suggested I need this Christmas tree.

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Finally we made it to the Cream Puff Pavilion. Went through the line so we could watch them being assembled. Then grabbed a box to go. Another fair visit complete.

Aug 11, 2013

Looking back at my write up of our fair visit in 2010, not much has changed…other than Kiddo growing up. ACK!!!!

Chicago DivvyBikes #fail

20130807-225850.jpgI love bike share programs. As someone who adores being able to tour a city by bike, or sneak a quick ride into a business trip, they provide a great option to me. I also think they help embed the idea of using a bike as transport into many people who wouldn’t think of them as such. I love when I hear about another city adding a bike share program, be it New York City or here in Milwaukee, and hope the concept becomes the norm in all cities.

It was sad when the B-cycle experiment in Chicago ended after a single season a few years back. Due to that and my frequent visits there, I’ve been following the news and buzz about Chicago’s new bike share program called Divvy Cycles. I was excited to give the system a try during this week’s business trip to Chicago.

I thought ahead to bring my helmet (personal preference, saw tons of people on the bikes sans helmets all around the city).

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Having downloaded the Cycle Finder app to my iPhone, I headed from my hotel around 5:30pm to the Divvy station at Grand and Fairbanks Court , which was the nearest station and had 11 bikes available. The touchscreen on the rental kiosk seemed very slow to respond, and kept looping back to the initial language choice welcome screen. Finally it asked me to “dip my card” (swipe my credit card), and began to process. And process, and process. Back to welcome screen. One more try, same thing. A young man came up, tried with his credit card. No luck. Said same thing happened previous day. App in had we both headed to the station at Illinois and McClurg. This time we both got a screen with an error message suggesting we contact Divvy via phone.

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Divvy’s customer service rep told me that machines often time out, and to try again, try another station, or come back another time. No exactly helpful advice. Off to the next station at Illinois and Streeter. Same thing. Although here we did see a person successfully take out a bike – but using a credit card already in the system. By this time, between the other guy and I we had tried 4 different credit cards at 3 stations, multiple times.

I had planned the stations with a Plan B in mind, as I was determined to ride a bike. Off to Bike & Roll at Navy Pier to rent a “fitness” bike (a Trek 7.2). A more expensive option, but at least an option.

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My plan of touring around the city for a couple of hours from Divvy station to Divvy station swapping bikes every 30 minutes, turned into “go for a long ride along the lake”. Off to the Lakefront Trail I went. Which was PACKED. Still was a great ride. Navy Pier is roughly in the middle, and I planned to ride the entire 18 mile length for a 36 mile round trip ride. First headed north to the zero Mile marker at that end.

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About 15 miles in, I paused at the Ohio Street Beach to eat an apple, and watch the swimmers train along the breakwater. As a former competitive swimmer and lifeguard, I’ve always been fascinated by these swimmers – water is so cold.

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Shortly after passing the Shedd Aquarium, my phone rang repeatedly. Again and again. Enough that I couldn’t ignore. It was Bike&Roll calling to warn me of an incoming storm and requesting I bring the bike back ASAP. Turned around at the 10mile southbound marker, making my ride an even 20miles. Was sad I couldn’t do the entire length – but realize even though no storm appeared, the crowds had slowed me so much that it would have been very dark when I made the trip back from the 0 marker south.

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A couple of notes about the Strava from this ride. First, the elevation map (or lack thereof) makes me laugh…so much grey space with the tiny bumps at the bottom, but seriously, 0 feet gain, I don’t see a flat line. ;-). Secondly, it makes me sad to see there were 43 visible segments in this 20 miles and 27 hidden segments. This is a very, very crowded path with bikers, runners, walkers, dog walkers, rollerbladers, skateboarders and clueless tourists peering through cameras mid path. This is not a path to earn KOM/QOM. Tracking mileage is fine. Going for record speeds, dangerous. Don’t be a Stravasshole

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Wordless Wednesday: Bikes. Water.

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Not sure why, but I’m drawn to taking pictures by water of the bike I’m riding. Obligatory almost. This collection currently on my iPhone.

Mountain Biking Family Style

“Oh, c’mon Mom, you’ve ridden over much harder stuff than that!” That’s what you’ll hear if you’re around and I take the bail out, easy way around a trail obstacle. It’s the voice of my kiddo pushing me forward, urging me on, seeing skills and technique in me that I doubt in myself. We’re not your stereotypical mountain biking family….you know the ones you see at trail campgrounds and race weekends. The ones where the husband has been riding for years, the wife picked it up from him (or just watches from the sidelines), and the kiddos have been riding trails nearly as long as they could walk. Oh no. That’s not us. Not at all. At times I joke, we’re like the blind leading the blind.

But a mountain biking family we are.

A bit over 3 years ago after years of being a sloth, I started cycling as a way to get fit and lose weight. Road riding was good. I enjoyed it, but as a new cyclist in a semi-urban area, the traffic gave me pause. Riding paved paths was good, but still something was missing. On a whim in September of 2010, I attended a women’s mountain biking demo event. 2 hours later I was hooked. Convinced Hubby and Kiddo to try some local trails. In June of 2011, the whole family attended clinics at the Midwest Women’s Mountain Bike Clinic weekend. Fast forward two years, we’re a month away from our third trip to this great event. We ride together nearly weekly. Have been season pass holders at Ray’s Indoor Mountain Bike Park the past two winters. Kiddo, now 13 but at 10 years old was afraid to ride his bike fast, will be attending his second freeride/downhill camp at Woodward at Copper in July. We plan vacations around mountain biking. Bought a bike or two (each). Even tried our hands at a couple of races. I won the women’s intro class of The Brown County Super-D, while Kiddo and Hubby both earned medals in their age class at the Fall Colors Festival in WI.

To say mountain biking has changed our lives, brought us closer, made us healthier is a huge understatement.

Last weekend was our first family trail ride of the season. I’d been out riding by myself a few times already this year. In fact having done the most riding I’d done in months combined with starting a new strength training program, I was in need of an easy rest ride. Well, a full rest day, but the sun was shining and the trails were open. Hubby and Kiddo were eager to go. Especially Kiddo. He asked if he could go ahead and push to see how far and fast he could go without stopping. Last summer, our rides consisted of resting at nearly every bench and the top of every climb in our main local trails, the John Muir system in the Southern Kettle Moraine of southeast Wisconsin. Kiddo wanted to see which bench he could make it to before he had to rest. We agreed to do a 5 mile loop of the brown&white trails and meet back at the shelter. Kiddo first. Hubby behind. I’d take up rear (knowing I was going easy and stopping to take pictures). They quickly dusted me. Never saw them after the first descent. Hubby got dropped at the first climb.

I got back to the shelter to find two smiling guys. Kiddo was still breathing hard with a bit of a flush on his face behind his beaming grin. He’d done the whole loop, 5 miles without stopping. Totally clean, no dabs, no feet down. The trail is flowing up and down with a challenging, root filled, sustained climb (yeah, yeah it’s WI, challenging and sustained to our scale). He was so fired up. Kept saying how glad he was he’d tried. That he had to prove to himself he could do it. The pride and passion in his voice made this Mom proud.

Yes, we’re a mountain biking family. It’s gonna be a great summer.

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