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Mountain bikers gear up for fall season in Kettle Moraine

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Ted Sullivan
August 30, 2008
— Seth Eckert ripped down the single-track mountain biking trail, his shoulders slapping tree branches and his wheels hopping rocks as he twisted around the corner and squeezed the brakes.

“It’s one of the fastest mountain biking trails around, and of course, it’s rocky,” Eckert said, standing over his bicycle, sweat dripping from his face. “There are some tight turns and some switchbacks around some trees.”


The 27-year-old Madison resident had just finished a 10-mile loop along the John Muir Trail in the Kettle Moraine State Forest’s Southern Unit, a Mecca for outdoor recreation in southern Wisconsin.


The 30-mile state forest offers year-round recreation—beaches, hiking and cross-country skiing—but the best time for mountain bikers is the fall, local riders said.


The season offers cooler weather, less humidity, fewer mosquitoes, smaller crowds and breathtaking autumn scenery, they said.


“I personally love mountain biking in the fall because of the colors and the leaves and all that stuff,” Eckert said. “In the summer, it’s humid in the woods.”


The state forest boasts more than 20,000 acres of glacial hills, kettles, lakes, pine woods and hardwood forests, according to the state Department of Natural Resources. It also is home to the 3,500-acre Scuppernong River habitat, the largest wet prairie east of the Mississippi River.


The area had nearly 900,000 people visit its forest and trails in 2006, the state reported.


Kettle Moraine has 10 loops of trails open to mountain biking, totaling about 40 miles if a rider pedaled every loop. The two trail systems, which are connected, include the John Muir Trail and Emma F. Carlin Trail.


The level of difficulty ranges from flat, wide and smooth dirt trails to narrow, steep, rocky and stumpy trails.


Riding can be slow, grueling and technical, but it can be speedy, fun and simple.


“Here you can just go fast and keep going fast,” Eckert said. “I guess I like the speed aspect.”


Peter Tamayo, 46, East Troy, said he moved to Walworth County from Chicago to be close to places such as Kettle Moraine. He said he bikes in the state forest a couple times a week.


“When you look at the number of miles of trails we have and the accessibility to the cities of Chicago, Madison and Milwaukee and the quality of the trails, you just can’t beat it,” Tamayo said while stretching after a 10-mile ride.


He enjoys the idea of being in nature on a man-powered machine, rather than using something that requires gasoline. While riding, he gets comfortable in the saddle, glides across the trail and watches the trees pass by.


“It’s almost like a form of meditation to get out on a mountain bike,” Tamayo said. “You get away from all the hustle and bustle of the world.”


Andy Radloff, a Delavan Township police officer, said he mountain bikes in Kettle Moraine for exercise. He has lost 47 pounds from biking and other forms of exercise.


He chooses mountain biking over running because it has less impact on his body but keeps him in shape for his job.


Radloff also likes the challenges of navigating the wheels and controlling his speed on challenging terrain.


“This is something where I have to really think about what I’m doing while I’m doing it,” Radloff said while preparing his bike before a ride. “Running just seems a little mundane to me.”


Chad Vande Zande, 41, and Mike Tweet, 42, both of Oconomowoc, were sipping coffee on the rear deck of the La Grange General Store in their cycling clothing and shoes. Their bicycles were parked at the metal bike rack nearby.


They had just finished riding about 20 miles of trail in the national forest. They began their day at 7 a.m. and rode for two hours.


Both are road bikers, but they also hit the trails.


“Why we go out here is to just break the monotony of road biking,” Vande Zande said. “To have this in your backyard, people just don’t what they have.”


They said the trails were in great condition and should get better.


“The trails are good, not overgrown with branches and leaves,” Tweet said. “The trails are as good as any in the state.”


Kettle Moraine has become more popular in recent years, Vande Zande said, and the trails draw all kinds of riders.


But the increased popularity has brought crowds and less solitude, he said. That’s less of a problem in the fall.


“Everybody is kind of done with mountain biking in the fall,” Vande Zande said. “As far as bikers go, it gets a little bit less.”


JOHN MUIR BIKING TRAIL
Red loop
Distance: 1.25 miles
Scenery: Open fields with scattered pine trees, spruce trees and hardwoods.
Difficulty: A flat trail with one challenging downhill.
Orange loop
Distance: 5.21 miles
Scenery: A view of the largest of three leather leaf bogs.
Difficulty: A narrow, steep trail with flat and rolling terrain.
Green loop
Distance: 6.74 miles
Scenery: One of the most diverse sections of the forest.
Difficulty: Flat fields and rough, steep hills.
White loop
Distance: 3.95 miles
Scenery: The first two miles of the trail wind through open areas with scattered pines, then later through hardwood and pine plantations.
Difficulty: Flat ground and rolling hills.
Blue loop
Distance: 9.96 miles
Scenery: Varying landscapes of small lakes, fields and hardwood forests.
Difficulty: A long distance with varying terrain.
Kid’s loop
Distance: 0.35 miles
Scenery: Varying trees.
Difficulty: Level on the main trail, but short loops off the main trail have sand, rocks, narrow beams and logs.
EMMA F. CARLIN BIKING TRAIL
Red loop
Distance: 1.7 miles
Terrain: Hardwood forests with a steep ridge off the trail and a glacial sand plain.
Difficulty: The terrain has flat land and climbs.
Orange loop
Distance: 2.34 miles
Terrain: Hardwood forest.
Difficulty: This trail used to be a logging road.
Green loop
Distance: 4.1 miles
Terrain: Open and wooded areas with views of a lake.
Difficulty: Flat land and rolling climbs.
Source: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
FALL COLOR

The annual Kettle Moraine Fall Color Festival mountain biking event is Saturday, Sept. 27, at the John Muir Trail to help raise money for trail development and maintenance.


Schedule of events:


-- 8 a.m., registration opens, rider packets available.


-- 9:45 a.m., 30-mile ride, two laps of blue loop and connector trail. Cost: $25.


-- 10 a.m., 20-mile ride, two laps of blue loop. Cost: $25.


-- 10:15 a.m., 10-mile ride, one lap of blue loop. Cost: $25.


-- 11 a.m., women’s clinic, lunch and bike checkup. Cost: $50.


-- Noon, beer garden opens.


-- 12:30 p.m., 4-mile ride and youth pro class, one lap of white loop. Cost: $25.


-- 1:30 p.m., women’s specific ride, one lap of blue loop. Cost: $25.


-- 2 p.m., youth clinic, skill-building ride with UW-Whitewater cycling team. Cost: $10.


-- 3 p.m., children’s ride. Free.


-- 3:30 p.m., grand prize raffle.


IF YOU GO
What: Kettle Moraine State Forest—Southern Unit
When: Open year round.
From Janesville: About 30 miles east to La Grange.
Vehicle admission sticker: $7 a day, $25 annual.
Trail pass: $4 a day, $20 annual.
Contact: (262) 594-6200 or (262) 594-6201.
For more online: www.dnr.state.wi.us.

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