I hadn’t done it since I was 23. But with a gale blowing at my back my trip by bicycle to Milwaukee from Madison to take part in the Polish Moon Ride was a blast. I felt like I pedaled once in Cottage Grove and before I knew it I was in Bay View.
It didn’t hurt that the last day in July was a gorgeous Wisconsin summer day – clear, dry, temperatures near 80 degrees, and that strong wind out of the west pushing me along. Plus the trip is almost all on trails – the Glacial Drumlin from Cottage Grove to Waukesha, the New Berlin Trail from Waukesha to Greenfield Park in Milwaukee County and then the Hank Aaron Trail right downtown. From Dousman on in it’s all paved, but the hard-packed limestone west of that isn’t bad at all.
Along the way I met a couple in their sixties who were biking from Portland, Oregon to Bar Harbor, Maine. They told me that Wisconsin and Minnesota were their two favorite states for biking so far on their trip. They were headed to Milwaukee to pick up the ferry to take them across Lake Michigan. We biked together and chatted for several miles until my lighter packing and fresh legs called me to break away. I left them with good wishes for the remainder of their trip.
For the benefit of my favorite bike shops, the trip instructed me on the inadequacy of some of my accessories – by the time I was done I decided I needed new biking shoes, panniers and a holder for my iPhone. But the basic item – my 1976 Takara touring bike – held up great thanks to some new pedals and a new rear wheel, courtesy of the good folks at Motorless Motion in Madison.
And the payoff was amazing. The Polish Moon Ride was an even bigger success than last year’s inaugural event. About 700 people, including a lot of young families, rode slowly through the streets of the old South Side. It means a lot to me because my mother’s family came from those neighborhoods. We rode past the former Gimbels-Schusters department store where my mom worked and St. Josaphat’s Basilica, which my great-grandfather helped build, and many corner establishments that my grandfather helped keep in business. He used to say that he drank beer out of civic concern – because “the brewery needs the bottles.”
My hat’s off to my fellow Milwaukean Polish guy named Dave (Schlabowske) who conceived and organized the Polish Moon.
My only complaint with the whole day is the lack of signage in Jefferson, Waukesha and Milwaukee County. I was able to navigate my way through Jefferson and Waukesha with the help of maps, but I lost the trail in Milwaukee. In any event, a little money spent on some good signs in those three communities would go a long way toward making the experience even better.