Wisconsin recently lifted a ban on night-time use of state trails, a restriction few knew existed until last year when an overnight bike ride took place on the Badger State Trail. Fewer still had heard of that 80-mile ride from the state capitol in Madison to the Wisconsin-Illinois border and back which brought the night-time travel ban to light.
The second annual Pick Me Up at the Border ride held in September 2012 caught the attention of Department of Natural Resources officials, who found the event in violation of the rarely enforced night-time closure of state trails. The threat of bike commuters and recreational riders on the trails at night being cited and fined prompted a successful lobbying effort, led by Silent Sports columnist and Friends of the Badger State Trail President Bill Hauda, to have the hours of closure rescinded.
Not going away is the Madison-Illinois-Madison ride, which may see an uptick in participation this year due to the recent attention paid to it.
Silent Sports talked to local mountain biker Richard Schick Jr. about the past and future of the unique Pick Me Up at the Border Ride he organizes, set to take place again on September 5.
Silent Sports: How old is the event and how many riders have taken part each year?
Richard Schick: This year will actually be the fourth edition of Pick Me Up at The Border. The first two years the turnout was about 50 riders. Last year it was down to about half that; a smaller turnout from having to lay low to avoid unnecessary scrutiny. This year I expect turnout to be bigger because of the publicity that's been generated by the DNR's challenge. The ride got a lot more attention than I ever intended.
SS: Will the time and format of the ride remain the same, starting at the state capitol at midnight and requiring the first rider to reach the stateline to hitch a trailer of beer to their bike for the return ride? Riders still heading south then turn around and follow the rider with the beer, stopping for a "social hour" at the tunnel south of Belleville, right?
RS: The format hasn't changed much from year to year. Whomever is dragging the trailer gets to decide how often we take breaks on the way back. Some years that's been every half hour and one year the guy was on a mission and barely made any stops. The exception is the tunnel. Everyone rides more or less as a group to the tunnel and then takes a nice long break. After that the ride splinters up with some groups bee lining it back to town and others continue at a leisurely pace. Normally about a third of the riders end up back at the capitol (where the farmer's market is underway) for an exhausted breakfast.
SS: Were you aware of the restricted hours that applied to the Badger State Trail and other state trails before starting the Pick Me Up at the Border ride?
RS: When I planned the first ride I looked for the laws governing the bike paths to make sure that we wouldn't be breaking any rules but missed the nighttime closure bit. The rule was not posted prominently anywhere specific to the paths and I hadn't made the connection that the paths were being treated as parks (which have set hours).
The first border ride happened without any attention. But shortly after the second year I was contacted by Bill Hauda, which was when I found out that that some folks in the DNR were not thrilled with the ride and were essentially digging for rules that we were breaking. That's when the night-time closure first came up and the spark was in the air.
SS: How do you feel about Pick Me Up at the Border becoming a catalyst for a change in the law? Is it a point of pride or does the event's sudden "legal" status take something away from the underground or rogue reputation of the event?
RS: The whole situation really makes me chuckle. The reason the ride is so much fun is because it feels rogue. But in reality I was quite careful when putting it together to make sure it was legit and only ended up accidentally violating one obscure rule that was bad for the trails to begin with. The irony is that riding at night is an intentional safety feature because it means there is a much smaller chance of any car-bike conflicts at the intersections and there are no other users on the path that need to be accounted for.
The only time we ever had an interaction with a car was the first year of the event. My heart skipped a beat when we rolled into Monroe and there was a police cruiser driving toward us on the bike path. I was sure the whole adventure was over right then and there. It turns out the police officer was using the bike path to search for a hit-and-run driver who had darted into some neighborhoods nearby. The officer was a bit confused why there was so much bike traffic at 3 a.m., but wished us well.
I have some mixed feelings about the attention (the ride has received). On the one hand, it was nice to have our fun under the radar and not bothering anyone. But on flipside, I do take some pride in that the ride was interesting enough to spark a positive change in bicycle transportation for the state.
You and anyone else is more than welcome to join us. We'll be making some changes to make sure Pick Me Up at The Border is fun and reasonably safe for anyone who doesn't value a good night's sleep.
There is no fee to participate in the Pick Me Up at the Border ride, although donations to the Friends of the Badger State Trail are encouraged. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.