The Wisconsin Bike Fed is hosting its Ride Across Wisconsin (RAW) August 19-20, 2023 – perfect for anyone who likes a rewarding challenge. With both mixed-surface and all-paved routes ranging from 100 to the full 235 miles in one or two days, RAW is epic…and worth it. Here’s some inspiration (and an incentive) for female cyclists to RAW this year!
“ I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel…the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.” —Susan B. Anthony
Today we stand and rejoice for the women who Ride Across Wisconsin! Only 20% of RAW participants are women – but not only do women complete RAW, they keep coming back for more. We interviewed a panel of R.A.W. (Really Awesome Women) experts – from Milwaukee and La Crosse – to hear more about their experiences.
Thanks to Contributors: Laura Wing, Megan Starshak, Amalia Schoone, Mary Gorski, Randi Pueschner, and Jennifer Zakem
What inspired you to Ride Across Wisconsin the first time and what keeps you coming back?
A.S.: This is my third RAW. I am coming back in 2023 because I enjoy the feeling of success that comes with crossing the finish line. Completing this ride makes me feel like I can do anything. And I get deeply inspired by Wisconsin’s pastoral scenery. It’s also a fun time throughout the ride, from Friday in La Crosse to the rest stops and then the finish line party.
M.S: I’ve had it on my radar since the first year it debuted, and last year (2022) was the year everything worked out with schedule, training, having a ride group, etc. I would like to return to continue to push myself, as well as to celebrate our beautiful state and experience it from the miles on the bike route.
J.Z.: I have participated in Ride Across Wisconsin twice, first in 2021 from La Crosse to Green Bay, and last year from La Crosse to Milwaukee. The year before my first RAW was when I first started getting really into cycling and I was trying to find new ways to push myself. I was also very interested in fitness, and with cycling I had found a new way of staying fit that I just fell in love with. I first heard about the RAW event from the gentleman at Smith’s in La Crosse who sold me my current bike. I started looking into it, decided to make it a goal. Once I began training in earnest I was hooked. After the first ride I really wanted to try the new route to Milwaukee and I am so glad I did. My second RAW experience was totally different than my first. I felt stronger and more comfortable, I found more people to ride with, I had a better road crew in my husband and kids. Both rides were tough, and both rides were awesome!
M.G: The first time that I did RAW was in 2017 or 2018 (can’t remember) — I did the one-day, 175 mile route from Dubuque to Kenosha. What inspired me the first time was that I LOVED the idea of riding my bicycle across the state in one day. At the 175-mile distance, this was doable for me. My goal was to finish before dark and I did. Happy day!! I love accomplishments like that. “I biked across Wisconsin before the sun set!”
When the distance was upped to 225/235 miles (I can’t remember which) I decided that was too much for me to do in a single day…And I especially loved the idea of doing a long weekend from one end of the state to the other without use of a car… it was a fantastic weekend, riding beautiful roads, with darn lovely friends.
R.P.: I rode from La Crosse to Green Bay in the 2-day ride. It was amazing. I rode with a small group so we all took turns pulling. Eventually, we kept picking up others and our group got bigger and bigger both days. I had such a great time meeting and chatting with new people, the miles seemed to just fly by. The 2-day was perfect for me because I got to enjoy two manageable days. Being a mom, I didn’t have enough time to train for the one day ride and I didn’t want to be miserable. That’s what is so great about RAW, no matter where your training is, there is a ride that you can confidently tackle.
Having done the La Crosse to Milwaukee route in 2022, do you recommend the “all road” route or the mixed surface route? If doing RAW again, Anything you plan to do differently this year?
A.S.: I got wider tires for my road bike last year for the gravel paths, and really enjoyed how much more secure I feel on my road bike – I didn’t switch back to narrow tires. The all-road surfaces added an extra challenge to the ride, which I enjoyed. I plan to ride with some first-timers this year, so we are sticking to the road ride.
M.G.: I loved the mixed surface route but I had the right bike for it (32m tires) and had previously done a lot of bumpty-bump gravel riding. I generally felt comfortable on the trails. But I was probably the only one in my group who was… I think that wider tires were key, as was experience riding a road bike on dirt trails. The rain certainly added to the challenge (slippery trails) but for the most part, if you had wider tires with lower tire pressure, it wasn’t bad riding. Some people said that a gravel bike would have been better. A gravel bike would have made for a smoother ride but I don’t think it was necessary. Prior experience riding a road bike on packed dirt would have been more helpful. Emphasizing this in pre-ride prep would have helped people understand that packed dirt is more than just brown pavement. It isn’t mountain biking, but it isn’t road riding either. If a rider has not ridden her road bike on packed dirt, I’d suggest she stay on all road route. If she is willing to prepare a little, the mixed surface is a lot of fun and breaks up the miles.
J.Z.: It’s hard to say, I think that’s a really personal preference. With road tires on the gravel it was tough in the morning because it had rained, so there were actually a lot of wipe outs and some injuries. People may want to skip the packed gravel just to have better conditions for their tires, but they would miss really neat parts of the state. The tunnels on the Sparta-Elroy trail are so beautiful and unique and were absolutely a highlight of mine of the whole trip. If a person were to stick to only road, they would miss some really neat things to look at, and then also you’d have to deal with more traffic.
Tell us about your RAW training plan/strategy.
A.S: 2022 was my first 2-day RAW. Hills were my biggest fear however there were fewer compared to the year before and I trained for them. My biggest tip for a successful ride: keep an even pace. Decide your speed based on what you can handle and stick with it. Inconsistent speed and cadence tires me out. Also, I work on overall cardio fitness. In addition to biking, I run and also work on core stabilization. I drink a lot of water throughout the day to remain consistently hydrated for biking or running.
M.G: I usually start doing 50+ mile rides in April and then sign up for events that keep me motivated to increase my mileage. Typically, I’ll do things like Dairy Roubaix, the Heck of the North gravel events in northern Minnesota, some bike camping trips, etc. Endurance and hill climbing seem to be my strengths but my steady pace on flats is diminishing. If I have any actual training plan it is to add more pick-ups and/or threshold-type training to develop a little more pep in my pedals. My strategy for RAW itself is just to relax, have fun with friends, and make sure that I get enough fluids and calories.
J.Z.: For both rides I tried to follow some of the guidelines given from the RAW training guide such as getting in a few century rides prior to the big event. I also was careful with nutrition and making sure that I had a good handle and on what foods my GI would do well with while out on my bike for long hours. I did a LOT of bluff climbs during my weekly training rides so that I would have an easier go with any elevation thrown at me during the event. I think I was probably climbing Irish Hill at least 2x a week with other bluff climbs peppered in. I also planned out longer training rides a couple times a month on top of my dailies. I tried several brands of shorts to find what was most comfortable to me, and I used lots and lots of chamois butter on my long rides.
R.P.: I trained for RAW by joining group rides. I found a great group of women cyclists in La Crosse that have now become lifelong friends. I suggest putting yourself out there and joining a group in your area. Most cyclists I know are great people that will go out of their way to give you tips on riding. If you don’t know how to find a group, go to your local bike shop, they can help you find a group.
Any advice for people Riding Across Wisconsin for the first time?
M.S. There is nothing like spending an entire day on a bike, with a great ride group, with nothing to do except pedal and take in the experience. The memories made along the miles, the conversations you have over hours of cycling, and seeing the Wisconsin scenery change as you experience different areas of the state is an experience like no other. And when you’re done, look at the map! You rode so far, and that’s amazing!!
L.W. : Getting long rides in, time in the saddle is key…. Mixing up the routes and distances. Definitely do lots of hill training…..western Wisconsin hills are no joke. Nutrition and hydration…super important. ALSO, riding with a group…. Knowing how to lead, draft makes it more efficient and fun!!!
A.S. First of all – congratulations for making this commitment to yourself! Prepare to feel strong and confident as a result of your participation in RAW. I suggest finding other people to train with (because riding is more fun with friends!). Lean in to the parts of riding where you feel you may need training and ask for help – bike friends are the best and are always willing to help. Last but not least, make sure to tend to bike maintenance and keep hydrated. And prepare to have fun!
M.G: Make sure that you get a few long rides in, including a couple of good back-to-back longish rides. You don’t have to do the full distance in training, but you should do enough to have the confidence to know that you can cover the distance. Once you feel capable of that, then it is just pace. If everything goes well for you, you may be able to have a fast RAW. If you have a weekend where your stomach isn’t cooperating, or the weather is crap, or a family stress weighs heavily on your mind, you know that you can be kind to yourself, take an easier pace, but still have the confidence to know that you can finish. Realistic confidence in your body’s ability to do the distance seems to be the most helpful thing a person can have for RAW. You don’t need to do crazy high mileage if you are just out for a comfortable finish, but you do need some long rides. If you’ve got those, everything else is gravy.
J.Z.: It’s all about your mindset. You have to tell your brain that it’s not an option to quit, and then just do it. It’s very hard, but incredibly rewarding, and if you train hard and prepare for it, you can totally do it. I did my first one with a 5 year old at home. Thankfully I also had a husband willing to pick up some of my slack so I could be out on my bike on weekends and long rides. For my daily rides I would try to wake up early and be out and back before my little guy was even out of bed, and that often meant I was going to bed at the same time as him that night, but it worked for us, and it was totally worth it. You can do it if you prioritize it!
R.P.: Get your training miles in and practice with the nutrition you plan on using on the ride. Invest in your bike and make sure your it fits you. I can’t stress enough how much better a ride is when you have a comfortable bike. P.S. if you have some women-specific questions that are a little more personal, talk to other women riders, we have probably experienced it too!
RAW organizers (mostly women) would like to see more gals out on the course! If you don’t have the time to train for 235 this year, consider the La Crosse/Wisconsin Dells Century – or even the 22 mile Family Fun Ride. You don’t even need to bring the family!
You and your partner both ride and you don’t know what to do with the kids? One parent could register for the first day and the other parent the second! Bring the kids along for the journey we have lots of fun family activities planned.
Need further encouragement?
Any women registering for RAW from July 8 – 31st can take 20% off by using the code RAWWOMEN20 at checkout. Visit RideAcrossWisonsin.com for more details and to sign up!