October 2010 Archives

Weekend update

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Greetings, folks. Hope everyone had a good weekend. I had a rather busy weekend; it started on Friday evening with swimming sinking for 45 minutes at the gym, followed by a trip to the grocery store to stock-up for the weekend/week. I've discovered that my favorite time to go grocery shopping is at around 9:00pm on Friday nights because there's no one in the store, and the stores are fully-stocked in preparation for the weekend rush. I can get in and out of the stores pretty quickly, and parking is plentiful, so it's a win-win.

I woke-up early on Saturday with the intention of going for a bike ride and a run, but the weather didn't seem to get my memo... it was cool with a moderate wind and a light rain, so that meant no riding outdoors. The alternative was the trainer, which I absolutely dread using, so I sat and stared at it for a solid hour before forcing myself to crank out a boring 1.5 hours on the thing. I'm not looking forward to winter...

After the ride, I hit the road for a run - I've been running shorter distances for the past week in an effort to rest my legs a bit, so yesterday I decided to resume some normal mileage - managed to get just over 10 miles in, and I missed most of the rain.

Made an awesome egg sandwich (english muffin, 4 egg whites, 1 slice apple smoked turkey bacon, 1 slice of 1% sharp cheddar, 1 Tbsp garlic roasted salsa) and then headed to the library for a few hours. I returned home only to find my neighbors in the midst of UW badger game parties, which meant my apartment was incredibly "noisy" - I could hear both neighbors hootin' and hollerin' clear as day. Joy.

So, I decided to go to the movies, where I saw The Social Network - a movie about Facebook. I'm not a fan of Facebook, but I really enjoyed the movie - it was well made, interesting, and it kept my attention for the full 2 hours. Win.

Today, I woke-up early and once again cursed the weather. It was raining pretty steadily and I had a race planned for this morning - a 15K run that's put on by the UW Running Club. I don't really mind running in the rain too much, and upon quick glance of the thermometer, I saw it was 55F, so I figured all would be ok.

I loaded-up the rain gear, filled a water bottle with my pre-race fuel (EFS with .25 scoops of whey protein), and hopped in the car for the short drive over to Werner Park, where the race was being hosted. I grabbed my registration packet and then went back to my car, where I waited for the race to start.

And that's when the light sprinkle turned into a downpour. Buckets of water seemingly fell from the skies. And it wasn't a comfy summer rain - no sir, this was your typical "bone chilling fall rain," and to make matters even better, a 15mph wind kicked in. This was looking a lot like my triathlon conditions from a few weeks ago... joy again.

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I waited until the last possible moment before getting out of the car and making my way to the starting line, where I was greeted with a 10-minute wait for the start of the race. The race was a bit disorganized to say the least... which was a shock because I figured the UW would know how to run an event.

The whole experience was weird - picking up my packet was complicated and time consuming, complete with a super long line (for no apparent reason). The race started late for reasons unknown. The actual start was unusual - some random guy walked up to where everyone was milling around, and without a bullhorn or anything like that simply yelled "GO." I think everyone was surprised to see the first few runners taking off, because there was quite a "hiccup" to the start - people were turned the wrong way and didn't see other runners leaving, so they got bumped into/run over a bit.

And so I ran 15K (9.6 miles) around the Werner Park/Mendota Hills area, and I must say that whomever designed the course was both unimaginative and sadistic. Hills galore - and not just small/medium hills, mixed with a lot of "repeating loops" - we ran many of the same roads several times, which is super annoying to me. I hate running "laps" in a race - I'd rather see as much new scenery as possible while out and about.

The race ended - my time was 1:16 (oh, they also didn't have any timing system, so my watch kept my "official" time). Not great, but not bad. Here I am in the car, soaked to the bone and feeling rather chilly:

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After the race, I drove over to the local farmers market to buy some bison, then headed back to the apartment. I debated between taking a shower or loading-up the bike and joining my favorite local bike shop for their final group ride of the year. The skies were clearing, so I opted to go for the bike ride, which was supposed to be an "easy 30-mile route at a comfortable pace."

Turns out it was slightly longer and slightly faster than I initiall thought it would be. Our small group did a 45-mile route that we rode at an average pace of 20.7 mph. And, to make my legs feel even better, there were plenty of hills. :-)

And, despite the mercury showing 62F, it felt like about 45F for some reason (probably the damp air + wind). We finished the ride with a cup of coffee at the local coffee shop, and then I headed back to the apartment. I was starving - all I'd eaten so far was my pre-race drink, a post-race recovery drink, and a Hammer Gel (compliments of Collin, the owner of Cronometro - thanks, Collin, I owe you one!!) while on the ride... total calories: about 375.

I can't say enough great things about the Cronometro guys - Collin, Scott, Andrew and the rest of the crew are just fantastic folks to deal with. They've done a great job of helping me out with warranty items as well as with general maintenance and purchases. If you're ever in need of some bicycling equipment or some excellent service work, go see Collin and the guys. I'm definitely going to do some more of their group rides next year as well.

Once at the apartment, I fired-up the shower and soaked myself in the warmest water that I could stand. I made some dinner (bison steak, roasted broccoli, black beans, and a scoop of corn) and am now sitting on the couch trying to warm up. I'm still freezing!

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The blaze orange hat was in my race goodie bag - it says "UW Running Club Fall 15K." It may be the best thing I've ever received in a goodie bag! And last but not least, I'm also watching the shoot-out between the Packers and Vikings - holy cats have there been some big throws so far!

Enjoy your week - I'll check-in with you later on.

Oh - I almost forgot to ask about this... while in the Dells last weekend, I spied a totally awesome motorcycle, but I have no idea what model or year it is. It's obviously a Harley, but I cannot determine the model or model year. If anyone has any ideas or info, please let me know!

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A hauntingly timely rant...

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Ok, so I don't know if this rant will be hauntingly good, but as it's been a while since I've done any public complaining about something that is (in all likelihood) very insignificant, I felt it was time. And, truth be told, this is actually two rants in one, joined by a common topic: pumpkins. Here we go.

There's a semi-upscale mall located near my workplace. It's a "promenade" type mall that, upon first blush, appears to cater primarily to upper-class, middle-aged women, as evidenced by the roster of stores: Ann Taylor, Bath & Bodyworks, Chicos, J. Jill, and so on. I can't imagine the mall is doing terribly well; every time I drive through the area, I'm hard pressed to see more than a handful of cars, and foot traffic appears to be light at best.

So, imagine my bewilderment when The Bruce Company (perhaps the most expensive nursery/landscape/outdoor equipment dealer in the area) started to fabricate and build what appears to be a "halloween tree" complete with hundreds of carefully placed pumpkins, in the center of the mall's "roundabout."

I can't begin to imagine what it had to cost the mall management company to have the thing fabricated and built, let alone what they're spending on security for the thing. Oh, that's right - you heard correctly: security. They post a guard at the pumpkin tree every single evening, and the guard stays there all night to ensure that vandals don't smash every single last pumpkin in the tree.

Perhaps my assumption that the mall isn't doing well is unfounded and inaccurate? I mean, the tree had to cost several thousand dollars (maybe as much as $10k, as it took a full week for them to build it), and they must be spending thousands of dollars on security... I'd love to know if there's any measurable return on that investment.

And, speaking of pumpkins, I was listening to the radio yesterday when one of the newscaster folks shared a story about a shortage of pumpkin pie filling. Apparently, there's one farmer who is located just outside of Peoria, Illinois that is responsible for supplying more than 90% of the pumpkins that are used to make pumpkin pie filling - for the entire United States.

There's a shortage because he had a bad pumpkin crop last year, and as such, the processors were in short supply of pumpkin and had to scramble to find additional suppliers.

The maddening part of this story isn't that there's a pumpkin shortage. It's that the professional newscaster mispronounced the word pumpkin throughout the entire 3-minute story. Instead of saying puMPkin, she said, "pun-kin." And she didn't just say it once, she said it at least 31 times.

31 times? Yep - I started counting every single use of the word "pun-kin" in her story; it was like nails on a chalkboard. "Punkin shortage," "punkin supplier," "punkin processor," "punkin pie filling," "punkin patch," and so on. And, like Cool Whip on the proverbial punkin pie, she also mispronounced "Illinois" - yep, added the dreaded "noise" to the end of it.

So... if you can't find any punkin pie filling this year, blame it on the farmer from Ill-in-noise. And, if you absolutely must have some punkin pie filling, maybe we could get the local mall to donate a few of the punkins from their punkin tree.

Over and out.

As mentioned in the fish fry review (below), my friend Nat from Arkansas came to visit this weekend. It was super awesome that he was able to make the trek from Arkansas to Wisconsin - he's started a new business venture, so his time is incredibly scarce right now. The fact that he was able to make it up to Wisconsin was excellent, so I made sure to plan a "best of the best" weekend.

Nat flew in to Milwaukee late on Thursday afternoon, so I took off from work at about 2:00pm to go pick him up. First things first: some quality Wisconsin pizza, along with cheese curds and of course, a Wisconsin micro brew. After escaping the airport (and Milwaukee traffic), we set our sights on Jefferson's legendary Ken's Town Inn Pizza. I gave Dan and Tara a call to see if they could join us, and as luck would have it, they were available, so we agreed to meet at Ken's for some grub and good conversation.

We arrived to Ken's at around 6:30pm and were pleased to find the place just moderately busy. We easily scored a great table in the bar area, ordered a few $1 Supper Clubs, and caught-up on things.

Nat knows of my blogging penchant, so I suggested that we take a photo of us holding a beverage at every single event/place we visited over the weekend. It all starts here, at Ken's:

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Dan, Tara, and their kids arrived shortly after that photo, and we promptly ordered some food. Dan, Tara and I were starving; Nat had grabbed a light bite at the Chicago airport, and the kids were more interested in finishing their homework, so we decided to order three pizzas (two small, one medium) and some curds. Ken's has some excellent curds - they're surprisingly good, so when they arrived, I snapped a quick picture and then we destroyed them:

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The pizzas arrived shortly thereafter and while they were good, they weren't as great as they've been in the past. The sauce was a little heavy, and the bottoms were a little burned. Oh well - even bad pizza beats most other good things, so we didn't complain too much. Here's our pizza feast:

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After devouring the pizza, we decided to head to Lake Mills so that Nat could take in his first "brewery tour" of the trip. So, we hit the Tyranena Brewery for a beverage in their tasting room - not quite a tour, but the spirit was in the right place.

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Not the greatest photo (it's always quite dark in there), but you get the idea. We chatted with Dan about the Aztalan indians and their role in the Rock Lake pyramids, survival in this climate, and the carnivorous nature of fish (Dan's really knowledgeable about local history, hunting, fishing, and general survivalist-type subjects). It's always great to visit with Dan; it was even better to have Nat along to participate and share in the conversation. After a few hours, we bid farewell to Dan and hit the highway.

While driving back to Madison, I asked Nat if he had ever sampled a "boot," to which he responded, "I don't believe I have - rugby players used to drink from their shoes, but I can't say that I've ever tried a boot."

With that, our next destination was determined: The Come Back In for a boot of microbrew. We were fortunate to find a good parking space and even luckier to find a place at the bar. We grabbed a few bowls of the complimentary popcorn, ordered a boot of New Glarus Naked, and snapped the obligatory photo (backlight = bad photo, sorry):

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We spent a lot of time catching-up on things at the CBI, and we also had a chance to chat with some of the staff, all of whom are super friendly and fun to be around. I think I ate about 39 bowls of popcorn while there... not real good for me, but the CBI pops a mean corn. With the clock pointing far into the evening hours, and my belly overly full with popcorn, we decided to head back to the apartment. We had a busy day ahead of us, so rest was definitely the best order of business.

Friday morning came and I hit the road for a run. I pointed Nat toward a local bike/walking trail, and was happy to hear that he managed a 5-mile journey - not bad! With the miles under our belts we hopped into the car and headed toward New Glarus for a "hard hat" tour of the New Glarus Brewery.

It's become a tradition that we tour a brewery whenever Nat's in Wisconsin, so I scored us some reservations for the limited-availability hard hat tour at New Glarus. The tour is held once a week, on Friday afternoons, and is limited to 15 people. It's sold out for months in advance because you get to tour the brewery with one of the technical staff, look "behind the scenes," meet the owners, and sample some of their "R&D" beers along with a bunch of high quality local cheeses.

We met the tour group at the 'old' New Glarus facility:

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That's where it all started, back in 1993, when Dan & Deb Carey decided to start mass production and sale of their beloved home-crafted brews. Dan is a master brewer, of which there are just a handful in existence. Our tour guide gave us the details as to how it all started, and as to why the brewery has insisted that its beer never be sold outside of Wisconsin (quality control - they can carefully monitor how far it travels and under what conditions).

It's called a "hard hat tour" because you're required to wear a hard hat. The tour literally takes you into the production areas, so the hats help protect your gourd from any falling items and also serves to identify you as a member of the tour. Here's Nat and I, complete with our New Glarus hard hats:

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After some background information, we headed into the first brew room, which houses two copper vats that came from a small family-owned brewery in Germany. These are a rare find, as they're 100% hand-hammered copper; such devices are no longer manufactured because it's so time consuming (approximately 30,000 hours per vat) and expensive. Dan was able to score these from the failed German brewery and bought them for scrap value because the German brewmaster that was selling them was pleased that Dan would actually use them in production. They were disassembled, crated, loaded into a ship, and sent to the United States, where Dan and his crew reassembled them here in New Glarus:

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These two vats produced 100% of the New Glarus brewery product from the 90s through 2007. They're still used today, but primarily as R&D vats and limited edition production vats. The majority of the standard New Glarus brew is produced at the new facility in one of the four copper-clad (but stainless steel) vats.

We were shocked to find someone inside of the vats - Dave was inside of this vat, cleaning it, as it had just completed a batch of an "unplugged" limited edition beer earlier in the morning.

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From the "kitchen," we made our way through the rest of the old facility, where we saw their pre-world war II era grain mill (it still grinds all of the grain they use today), their old bottling line (it processes 16-bottles per minute), and their old quality control lab. We got to see the old cold storage tanks as well, which were impressive nonetheless:

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While we were there, the crew was bottling and packaging Raspberry Tart, which is a sparkling ale. It was pretty neat to see the bottling process; after spending an hour or so at this facility, we headed to the "Hilltop" facility, which is their brand new $20-million brewery.

We made the short drive through New Glarus and reconvened at the brewery's main entrance. Here's what the new place looks like:

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Before resuming our tour, Deb Carey came out to introduce herself and to share some information about the brewery with our group. It turns out that she created all of the design and architectural elements of the new facility, and she's also the person responsible for the artwork that you'll find on their bottles. She talked with us for about 10 minutes before resuming her normal duties as a co-owner/manager. Here she is talking with our group:

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After bidding farewell to Deb, we made our way into the new facility, where we saw their four new vats. As mentioned earlier, these aren't solid copper like the old ones; they're copper clad, with stainless internals. The stainless internals are easier to clean, and hold-up better to constant use. Look at these monsters:

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What struck me as so interesting about the New Glarus Brewery was that the place is spotless. Not just "clean," but surgical sterile clean. You'd be hard-pressed to find a speck of dust or dirt anywhere. I guess it goes without saying... "cleanliness is next to godliness."

From the cooking area, we headed through the rest of the facility, where we saw their yeasting machinery, new cooling tanks, new bottling line (the new one can process 100+ bottles per minute), and their "small sample batch" areas. Here are photos from each of those areas:

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After seeing all of the production facilities, we headed into the Quality Control center, where we learned that New Glarus employs more QC-related people than production employees. Dan & Deb are obsessed with quality and consistency - they triple check every single detail and personally oversee most (if not all) of the production aspects. It's probably one of the reasons their product is so fantastic.

Our guide, Dan (not Dan Carey) is one of the QC folks and we were impressed with is knowledge of not only beer but science and chemistry. He was rattling off tons of information about metabolic rates of various yeast strains, chemical reactions as related to yeasts and hops, cryogenics and so on. Here he is showing us one of the tests they perform as it relates to yeast content:

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I took about 20 additional photos while on the tour, but I don't want to bore you with every single detail, so I'll stop here. Suffice it to say that this tour was by far the best tour we've ever seen - the level of detail and the amount of information was staggering. If you'd like to take an in-depth tour of a brewery, look no further than the New Glarus hard hat tour. It's well worth the $20, just be sure to sign-up well in advance!

The tour concluded with a beer and cheese tasting - here's the cheese table, which featured six local cheeses, each of which was designed to be paired with one of six New Glarus beers:

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And here's our tasting table:

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The tasting flight included everything from Cherry Tart to two of the R&D beers, one of which was described as having notes similar to those of a "wet horse's saddle blanket." Despite that less than appealing description, we braved a taste - here's Nat pouring a small sample:

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And it was pretty good! The odor was a bit "unusual," but it didn't have a bad flavor by any means. And, it went really well with this ultra-exclusive cheese:

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I think I was more excited to have the opportunity to sample that Dunbarton Blue cheese; I'd read about it in several magazines, all of which raved about its earthy flavor and ultra-exclusivity. The folks who make it are extremely picky about where and how it's sold, so finding it is quite tricky. Nat agreed that the cheese was stellar - we both loaded-up on it before heading back to Madison.

On the way out of town, we stopped that the Glarner Stube in New Glarus so that we could see the midwest's largest urinal. Apparently it's quite a site, and I figured it would make for a good story, so we stopped in, ordered a quick drink, snapped the obligatory photo:

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...and then checked out the restroom (at separate times, of course). I'm not sure that it was all that impressive - to me, it seemed like a standard urinal with really huge sides. I had pictured something taller/wider - this was a bit of a disappointment. But, oh well - it was just a urinal, after all. It was a popular site, however. While we were there, several groups came in just to check out the urinal. Go figure.

We headed back to Madison, where we made a quick stop at Brennan's market so that Nat could pick-up some cheese to take back to Arkansas. I also grabbed some "zip dip" to snack on, along with some fresh blueberries for my breakfast cereal. If you've never been to Brennan's, it's quite the place - they have an incredible selection of farm-fresh produce, cheese, and meat, and they allow you to sample nearly everything prior to buying it. Here's one of their many cheese coolers:

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With pockets full of cheese, we decided to head down to the UW Wisconsin's Memorial Student Union to enjoy the wonderful weather while getting in a dose of people-watching. The weather was fantastic - the temps were in the low 60s, with just a slight breeze. Unfortunately the sun was setting, so we enjoyed a quick beverage and snapped the obligatory photo before the light ran out:

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With respect to the rest of the evening, as you saw in the entry below, we hit Cahoots for some mediocre fish, and then called it an early night. Saturday would prove to be a monster day.

I woke up at around 7:00am, went for a run, and then we ventured in to Middleton to visit the National Mustard Museum:

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The National Mustard Museum recently moved to Middleton; it had previously called Mount Horeb "home." I'd visited the store portion of it once before, but had never toured the museum, so I figured it might be fun for Nat and I to give it a quick "once over." Besides, when else would Nat be able to boast that he had toured the National Mustard Museum?

The place features a ton of mustards from around the world, most of which are available for sample and/or purchase:

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They even have a mustard vending machine:

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We ventured down into the basement, which is where the museum is located. It's primarily a collection of mustards from around the world, organized by region/location, along with a small movie theater that plays mustard-related movies/commercials/information. One of the best parts of the museum, though, were the old mustard advertisements. Most of them were from the 20s and 40s, and one of our favorites was this one:

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Some of those ads were absolutely hilarious - they used language like "beguiled" and "epicore" and phrases like, "men deserve a hearty meal and will appreciate your thrifty nature." It was an absolute hoot to browse through them all.

With the museum thoroughly explored, we headed west, toward Black Earth, where we had a date with a wiffle ball field. Along the way, we spotted something "unusual" along the highway, and it almost caused us to have an accident. Not from traffic, but from laughing so hard.

We spotted these halloween toilets at a local farm:

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We saw them, kept talking "as normal," paused and simultaneously started laughing. We both said at exactly the same time, "We have to turn around and see those again." So, we pulled a safe (and legal) u-turn to go back and inspect the hallowed stools. What a genius yet quirky idea. I loved them:

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After seeing those, we decided the rest of the day would be a "bonus" - things couldn't get any better. But, little did we know...

We continued on along Highway 14 and within a few minutes arrived at Rookie's Pub in Black Earth, which is home to a regulation wiffle ball field. What is a regulation wiffle ball field? Well, it's basically a scaled down version of a baseball field... the outfield fence sits at 81 - 105 feet; the bases are closer together, and pitchers "mound" is 42-feet from home plate. Seems like it would be a great place for a bachelor party or something like that. The field had been rented out to a group for the day, so we snapped a quick photo and hit the road:

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Where were we headed? Well, if you hadn't already guessed, the theme for this visit was "Oktoberfest," so we were headed to Wisconsin Dells, where their Autumn Festival was in full swing. And part of that festival included a brewery festival, wherein thirty Wisconsin microbreweries would be in attendance to handout samples of their wares.

We made our way through the downtown area, found the park where the festival was located, stood in line with a few thousand people, ponied-up $35 for a ticket, and scored a tasting glass:

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And with that, we were thrown "into the mix" - the place was insanely busy with beer enthusiasts from around the United States:

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To say it was absolutely crazy in the place would be an understatement. We had no idea where or how to begin, so we started with some cheese - Carr Valley Cheese was there with a bunch of cheese samples - all of which were available for purchase. We sampled the various types and selected a bag of curds before moving along:

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With curds in hand we decided to just "dig in" and sample a few brews. I really like these types of events because it gives you an opportunity to try things you might never otherwise be willing to order. For example, I'd never dream of ordering a pint of "pumpkin spice ale," but thanks to this festival, I tried a 2oz sample of it and discovered that it was incredibly delicious - in fact, it may have been the "best in show" beverage for me.

All of the breweries in attendance had one thing in common: they were from Wisconsin. That's right - 30+ local breweries, all gathered under a single tent. One of the breweries that attended is a favorite of mine: Lake Louie. They're located in Arena, and crank out some seriously delicious and crafty offerings. They also have a sense of humor, as evidenced by their slogan:

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In addition to the creative slogans, there are some equally creative "costumes" and "accessories." If you'll recall from my report from the 2009 Quivey's Beerfest, there's an invention known as the "pretzel necklace" that consists of a large string fitted with dozens and dozens of pretzel twists. Well, the folks at this festival stepped things up a notch (or two) by including cheese dip on their necklaces (a pint-sized cup of dipping cheese), string cheese, gummy pretzels (for the sweet tooth), and summer sausage links. Talk about serious.

They also crafted some unique accessories, including this cowboy hat as fashioned from a Miller Lite box. How in the world they accomplished this is beyond me:

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We wandered around the festival, sampled a few New Glarus offerings, tried some true microbrews (Rush River?), and then took a stroll around the craft fair, where I spied this cute little guy taking a breather:

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We thought the crowd would eventually thin out, but it never really seemed to slow down. It was hard to navigate our way around the fest and we were growing tired of fighting the crowds (plus we were getting hungry for some "real" food), so we snapped the obligatory picture and headed out in search of some grub:

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As we made our way down main street in the Dells, we stumbled across a bar/restaurant with a rather unique name... Now, before you get upset by the name, it's not what you may think. The story goes that the owner's name really is what it is. I'm not going to post a picture of the place on the blog - you can click here to see the sign; the place has been a Dells institution since 1947 and draws tens of thousands of people every year. Despite the "backstory" it was a bit odd being in that place, so we took one quick photo and continued on our search for some food:

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Our search eventually landed us at Moose Jaw Pizza Company, which is a Canadian-themed "up north" type of place, complete with some rather uniquely outfitted delivery vehicles.

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I think Nat questioned which one was the "butt" - nice... :-D We really enjoyed the pizza, which included an order of beer bread. The bread was super dense, slightly sweet, and perfectly chewy. Along with the pizza, it made for an excellent feast. If you're ever in the Dells and in search of some quality pizza, be sure to check out this place. Here's a picture of our delectable pizza:

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We raced back to Madison with the hope of meeting up with Jed & Jamie so that we could watch the Badger game. Jed and Jamie were going to be downtown with friends, so Nat and I did our best to meet up with them. Turns out they were at Jordan's Big 10 Pub, which is located about a block from Camp Randall. To say it was a zoo would be an understatement:

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Nothing like trying to watch the Badger game with a few thousand of your closest and rowdiest, drunken college student friends... We did manage to find Jed, Jamie and Tony, so it was a good time, even if it was loud and far too busy. These places must make an absolute fortune on game day weekends - the line to get a drink of anything (soda, beer, wine, whatever) was ridiculous. I stood in line for a solid 20 minutes before getting service, and they must have had 30 bartenders working the outdoor area alone!

Here we are with our prized beverages:

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We tried to stay and chat with Jed and Company, but it was just too crazy. It didn't help that the Badgers were up 21-0 while we were there, so we decided to head up to the square to see if we could find a more comfortable environment in which to watch the game. We eventually settled on The Old Fashioned, which is located on the capital square.

Generally speaking, I'm not a fan of The Old Fashioned, primarily because I found their fish fry and cheese curds to be a supreme disappointment, but they had seating available, and it is a bit of a Wisconsin institution, so we swung in and grabbed a seat at the bar. Here's the obligatory photo:

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We did order some of The Old Fashioned's homemade potato chips, and I'm pleased to report that they were quite tasty. They were served piping hot and included a side of ranch. Think "kettle chips" but not as crispy, and you'll get the idea of what they were like. We stayed at The Old Fashioned through the third quarter, and then decided to head down to one of the campus establishments so that we could get the true "university experience."

We decided to try Brothers, which is more or less the epitome of the "hey, I just turned 21 and want to go hang out at a college bar where everyone will think I'm really cool" college bars. Believe it or not, we managed to score a seat at a small table, where we had a clear view of the televisions and didn't have too many obnoxious college kiddies to deal with.

For those not familiar with the outcome of Saturday evening's Badgers vs. Ohio State game, the Badgers pulled a major upset and beat the #1-ranked Buckeyes. When the game ended, Brothers (and most of Madison) erupted with celebration. Here we are at Brothers just as the Badgers were sealing their victory with a last minute interception:

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For those daring enough to download a video, I shot a quick video of the post-game celebration as well. It's in QuickTime format, so you may need to download a player or plug-in from Apple to view it. I like the crutch that's "dancing" - it makes me chuckle every time I see it.

College kids are a crazy bunch, and we quickly started to feel a bit "out of place" so we decided to leave Brothers and find a more adult location for one last hurrah before calling it a night. The fine folks at the MTP took excellent care of us (as always); Nat and I took a final picture, paid our meager tab, and bid farewell to the MidTown Pub:

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We went back to the apartment, watched a little AppleTV, and then went to bed. I forgot how great the air mattress is - I really missed that thing. I may have to leave it aired-up so that I can sleep on it from time to time... Shiloh seemed to miss it, too - I found him sitting on it every time we returned back from our travels.

Nat's flight was due to depart Milwaukee at 2:30pm today, so I woke-up at about 8:00, went for a run, took a shower, and then fired-up the car to take Nat to the airport. We made a quick stop at the farmer's market (I needed a few tomatoes) and another quick stop at Culver's for a final dish of that infamous frozen custard.

We made great time to Milwaukee - just about an hour and a half from Madison, thanks to a light traffic load. There wasn't any wait at the airport either, so Nat was able to quickly check-in and make it to his gate with plenty of time to spare. He just sent me a text to report that he made it home safely, and that Tanner (his dog) was happy to have him back at the home.

Talk about a great weekend, if not one filled with a bit of over-indulgence. I think I probably gained about 15-pounds, thanks to the gobs of bad food and drink... but, it was worth it. I hadn't seen Nat for quite some time, and he and I were/are good friends thanks to our time together at the bank. We talked about another visit - perhaps for the Milwaukee Mile next year? My waistline and cholesterol should be recovered by then... :-D

Nat - if you read this, thanks for stopping by to visit - I hope you had a great time. And to everyone else who helped make the weekend such an enjoyable success, "Thank you," as well. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to get some rest!

Fish Fry Review: Cahoots Bar, Verona

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My friend from Arkansas, Nat, was in town this weekend and wanted to sample a Wisconsin staple - the infamous fish fry. Truth be told, he has had a fish fry before (by way of The Esquire Club in 2008) when he and Karl joined me for a Packers game weekend. So, we set about trying to determine where to get our fill of fish.

We considered several places, from The Owl's Nest to Fitz's on the Lake to Norm's Hideaway, but most of these candidates were located a bit too far away. We'd spent the day in New Glarus and didn't want to spend another hour-plus driving to and from a fish fry, so we decided to try Cahoots Bar in Verona. We programmed the GPS and hit the road.

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First things first - this place wasn't real easy to find. It's on "Railroad Ave," of which there are two in Verona. We even called for directions and still had to struggle to find the place. When we did, we immediately liked the look - it had a "riverboat" feel to it, with a large, two-story fascia, double decks, and loads of rectangular windows.

Upon entry, we were immediately "greeted" by a rowdy and rambunctious local crowd. It was loud, brash, and a bit surly in the place - full of overweight cougars screaming innuendoes and suggestive comments over a blaring jukebox. A crowd of drunks surrounded the bar, each telling the other, "you're too drunk to drive - you can't drive after a dirty martini!" Ugh. Oh well, we were committed to try the place at this point.

We grabbed a table near the edge of the bar, only to discover that it was located directly in front of a window that wouldn't close (primarily because it was missing the actual window pane). With the temperature dropping, we decided to brave the bar, so we bellied-up and ordered a few beverages, along with an order of cheese curds.

We inquired about the fish options, and were told our choices were: fried cod, fried perch, or fried walleye. We asked which was the crowd favorite and were told that the "cod is the best around." The waitress pointed to a recent newspaper review that boasted the headline, "Cahoots serves a really good fish fry." Ok, we were sold.

The crowd quickly thinned (thankfully), and things quieted down considerably. As we chit-chatted, the bartender kept a close eye on our drinks, as did the other employees - I think we were checked-on no fewer than three times before our food arrived.

Which is where problem #1 came in - the curds were ordered as an appetizer, but they arrived at the same time as the fish plates. No big deal, really, but worth noting. I went to move a piece of the fish aside and literally burned my fingers - this stuff was piping hot. I can't recall receiving a hotter plate of fish, and hot fish is usually a good sign.

I decided to let the fish cool for a minute, so I eagerly reached for one of the cheese curds, which appeared to be battered. I could tell from their appearance that they weren't homemade, but they looked to be cooked really well - no signs of oozing cheese. I said to Nat, "I've got a good feeling about this place."

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I dipped one of the curds into the ranch sauce and took a bite. I immediately recoiled - twice. Once from the ranch, which was awful, as it had a strong vinegar flavor and was incredibly watery, and again from the actual curd, which was cold in the middle and actually "crunchy" as I chewed on it. I hesitantly tried a second curd and it was more of the same... for some reason, the curds were "crunchy" and the "batter" actually tasted like and felt like a breading. It was the oddest experience ever. I ate a few more, but didn't enjoy a single one of them.

And now it was time to sample the fish:

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The fish was still steaming hot as I doused it with lemon and cut into it with my fork and knife. A huge poof of steam arose from the fish, and I salivated with anticipation. The batter looked to be expertly applied, and it was clinging perfectly to the flaky white cod. A quick scan of the plate showed no signs of grease. So far, so good.

I took a bite of the fish and... nothing. Nothing as in: no flavor, no "yum," no "wow," nothing. Sure, it was a nice piece of fish, and it wasn't greasy, but it was so "ordinary." Nat commented that he'd had more exciting fish at Long John Silvers. I couldn't believe it - that awesome looking batter may have well been wax paper. And the perfectly cooked fish could've been milquetoast - it was so dull and drab.

So, hoping for some salvation, I turned to the matchstick thin fries. Disappointment once again - despite being served at about 8-billion degrees Fahrenheit, the fries were somehow limp, soggy, and lifeless. I suspect they were "suffocated" by the fish which was perched on top of them. The fries also lacked any flavor - I tried salting and peppering them, but the net result was a soggy flavorless starchy thing that tasted like salt and pepper.

Remember my earlier comment about the "good feeling" that I shared with Nat? By the end of the meal I was apologizing profusely and beating myself-up for the choice.

Our server, the cook, and the manager/owner all stopped by to check on our meals - we said it was "ok," but after leaving more than half of our food behind, you'd think they would've thought something may have been awry. We paid our tab, hit the local Culver's for a scoop of ice cream, and drove back to Madison.

Cahoots = FAIL

Food = 1.75 stars
Service = 4 stars
Value = 2.5 stars ($11.50 for the cod - 3 pieces)
MISC = 1 star (I generally don't mind bars, but this one was annoying and "skeevy")

Summary: If you're going to drive for fish, do yourself a favor and drive a little farther to a known performer. Sorry, Cahoots - your service was stellar, the fish was of high quality, but it lacked any sign of life or flavor.

It's been a little more than a year since we made the trek over to Palmyra's Nite Cap Inn, so when Mark suggested we take the drive for some potato pancakes I didn't hesitate to take him up on the offer.

We had originally planned to meet-up with one of our former managers (he was recently promoted to a director position with our sister company), but unfortunately, those plans fell through. No worries, we knew the Nite Cap Inn would knock our socks off, even without our full entourage in tow.

The drive from Madison to Palmyra takes you through some great little towns. We hit Cambridge (home to NASCAR star, Matt Kenseth), Milton, and Whitewater (Mark's home town) before landing in Palmyra. The scenery and the small towns make the 1.5-hour drive worthwhile.

We arrived to the Nite Cap promptly at 6:00pm and were shocked to find the place... empty. There were less than five cars parked out front, which was quite unusual. We wondered if they had closed, but were relieved to see someone exiting the restaurant.

We walked in and found an empty bar and a nearly empty dining room. The hostess asked us if we'd like to put in an order for fish, and we did, but not before inquiring about the deserted setting.

"I've worked here 23 years," said the hostess, "and I've never once seen it this slow on a Friday night. I think it's related to all of the homecoming activities falling on the same night."

Fair enough! The small crowd meant faster seating, so we didn't complain. Mark grabbed an Old Fashioned from the bar; I sampled a Sprecher Amber. And with that, our table was ready.

The Nite Cap treats its diners to some great rye bread - there was a small basket of this beautifully seasoned bread sitting on the table, along with a bowl of apple sauce, coleslaw, butter, and maple syrup. We had just finished a slice of the bread when our waitress appeared with our grub (you place your order with the hostess, and when your food is ready, you get seated at a table).

The fish looked superb - I went with the baked cod, Mark opted for the fried. Both of us chose the Nite Cap's signature side: potato pancakes. Folks, I'm not lying and I'm not exaggerating - the Nite Cap's potato pancakes are worth their weight in gold. Man, are they delicious.

Here's a really poor photo of the baked fish and a potato pancake:

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With the fall season upon us and the sun setting quite early, I didn't have much light to work with, so I apologize for the photo. Trust me when I say that both the fish and the potato pancake were superb.

The baked cod is done "right" - not greasy, not drenched in butter, not overly seasoned, not steamed. It's so fresh and clean tasting - the fish really shines through here. Texture was spot on, flavor was perfect - everything about the fish was excellent.

The fried cod features a light cornmeal breading that works well with the fish. It's not too heavy, it's not overly seasoned, and it's fried to a perfect golden brown. I sampled a piece of Mark's fried cod and wow - excellent as well.

But... as good as the fish is, the potato pancakes are the real star of the show. I've never had a better potato pancake. These feature a wonderfully crisp "crust" with a perfectly flavored and just slightly chewy (and moist) interior. There's a hint of onion in there - just enough to let you know it's around.

The best part of it all? The entire meal is All You Can Eat, and boy, did we take advantage of that... I had 3-4 servings of baked fish along with 6-7 potato pancakes. Mark kept up as well, and the kitchen never once complained. Everything came out on cue, piping hot, super fresh, and incredibly delicious. Desserts were offered, but we passed, as our bellies were full of fish and potato pancakes.

The Nite Cap Inn = WIN

Food = 4.5 stars
Service = 3.5 stars
Value = 4 stars ($31 for two, with drinks)
MISC = 4 stars (superb supper club feel)

Summary: Definitely worth the 3-hours you'll spend driving roundtrip from Madison to Palmyra, and be prepared to wait a long time for a table on a normal night. This week's visit was definitely an anamoly. Get the potato pancakes and then prepare to be blown away (and disappointed with every potato pancake you'll have in the future). The Nite Cap scored a big win and will likely advance to a higher ranking than it previously held - this is some seriously good eating.

PS: While in Palmyra, stop by the local grocery store and grab some Rhinelander Potato Chips. We spied these while grabbing a soda on the way out of town... Rhinelander may be about the size of Palmyra, but somehow managed to score its own brand of chips... :-)

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I love not knowing what I'm doing...

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It's so unfortunate that I don't know what I'm doing, especially when it comes to things that I'm not formally educated in. Like picking stocks. I'm terrible at it.

Sirius closed at $1.28/share today. I bought it less than two years ago for $0.11 per share. Today, my $1000 investment is worth, well - you do the math. Low risk, high return. I was told I was throwing my money away; wasting my time; destined to never make a penny from that investment. Wow - glad I tossed that money away so foolishly...

Now if only I had that Google stock I so desperately wanted to buy when it was offered at $85/share. It closed at $538/share today. Or if I had that Apple stock I had wanted to buy back in the 80s... but, I don't - people that are smarter than me advised against those purchases and forbid me from investing. Whew - thanks for looking out for me!

Yesterday was the 8th annual Tyranena Oktoberfest Bike Ride event, as hosted by the Tyranena Brewery in Lake Mills. The event draws 1750 bicyclists from the midwest and has become an incredibly popular event - it sells out every year - so I made sure to get my registration in early.

I also managed to convince a few friends to join me on the ride, which offers several course routes, with distances of 18, 30, 45, and 65 miles. We decided to do the 45 mile ride - it would be a challenging ride and would help justify the post-ride feast. :-)

The weather here in Wisconsin is "unique," to say the least. All last week, the weather was phenomenal - low 70s, sunny, calm winds - just gorgeous. It rained on one evening, but was otherwise unbelievable. The weekend forecast started out great, but quickly went downhill. When Saturday morning finally arrived, the temperature (at ride start) was just barely over 40, with a relentless northerly wind that clocked an average of 15-20 mph. NICE.

My morning began at 5:30am with a nice 8.15-mile run. I say the run was "nice" because I actually felt great during the run - something that hasn't happened for quite some time. I effortlessly cranked out the miles and even managed a respectable pace of 8:31/mile. I'm not sure why my legs decided to "play nice" but they did and I wasn't about to complain. After the run, I took a quick shower, packed my things, loaded my bike into the car and drove over to my friend's (and co-worker) house in Fitchburg.

We decided to drive to the event together - he has a truck, so we could easily fit our bikes in his vehicle, and with 1750 people at the small brewery, we figured carpooling would help the parking situation. We left his house promptly at 8:30am and made our way to Lake Mills, where our plan was to drive to Dan's shop, unload and set-up, and then ride our bikes down to the Brewery.

We arrived to the Brewery at about 10:00am and were shocked by the number and volume of people. It really is a huge event. The Brewery does an excellent job of managing the event - there were plenty of large tents set-up, registration was quick and painless, the "goodie bag" was really nicely done, the staff and volunteers were friendly and knowledgeable, and best of all, the route map was clear and easy to read. I had a good feeling about this event and we hadn't even hit the road!

After donning our number tags and wristbands, we made a final "pitstop" and then set about on our 45-mile voyage. The first stop on the ride was at the Trek factory in Waterloo, WI, and our route took us through downtown Lake Mills, around Rock Lake, and down some quiet country roads. We bucked the wind for the entire first leg - 11-ish miles of an unforgiving headwind.

The Trek facility had set-up a few tents with food and water; people were eating the food as fast as the volunteers could get it out there. I believe they had peanut butter sandwiches, fruit, and some sweet treats (I didn't eat anything at the stops). Just like at the brewery, the volunteers here were superb. They happily dished out large amounts of food, all with a smile and with nary a complaint or grimmace.

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Trek also invited everyone to take a "tour" of the factory, but it turns out the tour wasn't much more than an invitation to stroll around in a "hall of Lance." It was sort of disappointing, although there were some interesting items. I've highlighted a few of them here:

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They had all of Lance Armstrong's bikes from the various Tour de France efforts; each bike featured a brief story/background, along with some minor technical details.

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They had a mock set-up of the current Trek/Radio Shack team, complete with Lance's current ride. I'm not sure if the mannequins were true to scale, but it looked as if they might have been.

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There was also a section that included some Trek history; I thought this passage about how Trek was created in a Lake Mills tavern was rather interesting...

And after the "tour," Dan, Dan, and I posed for a self-portrait in front of the Trek factory sign. It's not the greatest photo, but it's sort of cool:

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After snapping that photo, we made our way back to our bikes and prepared to head out for the next section of the ride. Despite the temperatures being quite frigid and the wind still plenty blustery, I found myself a bit warm. I had layered "heavily" - a wool t-shirt, a wool long-sleeve shirt, a wind-proof Under Armor shirt, two fleece half-zip shirt/jackets, and a wind-proof/water-proof bicycling jacket. I needed to lose the fleece jackets...

My jacket has several pockets for storing water bottles, and try as I might to roll them as tightly and compact as possible, I wasn't real comfortable. Thankfully, my friend Chris offered to store them in his knapsack - he had thoughtfully brought along an empty knapsack, and I took him up on the offer. Thank you, Chris - you're a lifesaver!

In the interest of keeping as much stuff "out of the wind," he tucked the knapsack under his sweatshirt, which resulted in a Quassimoto look - we all got a chuckle from it:

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Trust me - Chris does NOT have a hunchback.

And with that, we were back on the road - we left Waterloo and headed east, using back roads and so on. Our route would take us to Jefferson, where there was another rest stop. We decided to skip the stop - we had warmed-up, our legs felt good, and we kept riding.

Unfortunately, when we left Jefferson on highway J, Dan quickly discovered that J would intersect with highway G... in a very hilly section. I personally don't mind the hills (I sort of enjoy them, actually), but Dan and Dan were starting to feel the effects of 40-ish miles of riding. To their credit, they took on the hills without hesitation, and even with that nasty headwind blasting them straight-on, they conquered the hills. Kudos, my friends!

We deviated slightly from the course to take advantage of our proximity to Dan's shop; the course map would've had us go around the east side of Lake Mills and then loop around to the Brewery on highway B. We kept heading north on highway G and eventually landed at the shop. My odometer showed 48.89 miles of total riding. Not a bad effort, especially given the brutal winds.

Dan's folks were at the shop where they treated us to a 3 Musketeers bar. We also took a "finisher" photo:

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We loaded the bikes into Dan's truck, changed our clothes, and then drove down to the Brewery where a celebration lunch was waiting for us, complete with Tyranena beer, soda, and several live bands. Tyranena certainly knows how to throw a post-ride bash!

The meal included a pulled-pork sandwich, chips, fresh cut fruit, potato salad, pickles, and cookies. I skipped the potato salad but tried everything else - it was superb! The food came from Glen's Catering in Watertown, and I can't say enough good things about the food and service. It was so fantastic.

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We were able to find a table with some open seats, so we settled-in, wolfed down our grub, enjoyed a few beverages, and listened to the bands. The tents did a great job of blocking the wind and helping to contain the heat that was being generated by the 1000 or so people that were on-hand for the celebration.

Here's our group, sitting at the table after our ride:

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We stayed at the lunch for about an hour or so and then Dan and I headed back into Madison. I was freezing, Dan was tired, and the thought of getting home to shower was a much stronger argument than staying at the post-ride event. So, we hopped into the truck and made our way home:

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Interesting side note: Dan's wife Becky was one of my teammates for the Madison-to-Chicago 200 race. She's quite a runner!

Once home, I enjoyed a wonderful shower (I think I emptied the hot water heater), straightened-up the apartment, and washed all of my riding gear. I also had the pleasure of learning that Dan, Tara, and their kids (Mallory and Christian) would be coming in to Madison to join me for some dinner. Mallory and Christian were going to stay at the apartment and watch TV (Mallory is old enough to babysit and does a wonderful job of it) while Dan, Tara and I went out for some chow.

I made a quick stop at the local Sonic to grab dinner for Mallory and Christian, and then Dan, Tara, and I made our way over to Roman Candle for some pizza!!

We ordered two pizzas: a "Professional" (chicken, pesto, bacon, jalapenos)

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and a "Supreme" (sausage, mushroom, onion, pepperoni):

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After enjoying that pizza, we hit the Hubbard Avenue Diner for some pie, and I was a complete glutton as I had two slices: a banana cake and a peanut butter cream pie. Both were so amazingly stellar - especially with a hot pot of coffee as a chaser. Yummo.

Dan & the family left for home and I hit the hay. I woke-up this morning and did a 50-mile ride, followed by another stellar 8-mile run. As I mentioned before, I'm not sure why the 'ole legs are feeling so good, but I'm not going to question it too much!

I'll definitely be registering for next year's Tyranena ride - it was a great time, and I really had a blast, especially since I got to ride it with my friends. Yes, the weather was challenging, but it was worth it in every way. Thanks to all for joining me on the ride, and thanks to Tyranena for putting on an outstanding event - the event went off with out a hitch, the staff was incredible, the volunteers were life-savers, and everything was so superb. I can't say enough great things about the event! If you haven't done this event, please consider attending next year - you'll love it!

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This page is an archive of entries from October 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

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