Last week, Arbor Day Foundation staff members Pete Smith and Matt Harris rode in the Tour Des Trees bicycle ride through Wisconsin as Team Arbor Day. During the seven day, 585 mile trek, Pete kept a journal recapping the day’s events.
Day 1: Milwaukee to Madison
Today’s 92-mile stage didn’t provide that, since Madison lies directly west of Milwaukee and we stared down a relentless 25-mph headwind for the entire day.
We made a brief stop in Waukesha (a Tree City USA community) for a tree planting ceremony. We concluded our night with dinner and a movie at the University of Wisconsin-Madison arboretum, where we dedicated a tree to the memory of the parents of Wisconsin state forestry coordinator, Dick Rideout.
Day 2: Madison to Wisconsin Dells
After a tree dedication at the state capitol, we rode through the UW-Madison campus to trails that led out of town before our first climb up the Blue Mounds. The rocky hills were untouched by the Wisconsin Ice Sheet that ground down most of the surrounding landscape, and posed a steep challenge for our tour riders. Our tour director Paul called this stage the Queen’s Day— homage to the famous tour in France each July, referring to the toughest day on the tour. From the fast decent from Blue Mound State Park, we rolled through bucolic farmland and past wooded hillsides, to the toughest climbs of the day up to and out of Devil’s Lake State Park. Steep, switchback roads that refused to show an end in sight, pulling our modest peloton apart and stretching riders for miles.
But all who wanted to were able to finish the 105 miles of all that Wisconsin has to offer in natural beauty!
Day 3: Wisconsin Dells to Stevens Point
Wisconsin has already shown us many of her natural wonders, from bucolic farmland to wooded hills to wind and rain, but today she showed her milder side. We headed north along the Wisconsin River to Stevens Point.
Professor Elwood Pricklethorn’s (aka fellow rider, Warren Hoselton) lunchtime lesson to the children of Nekoosa on the wonders of photosynthesis was a big hit! So was the stop for ice cream near the end of our 87-mile “active recovery” day. We visited the UW-Stevens Point – a Tree Campus USA recognized campus for dinner—which graduates more students in urban forestry than anywhere else. We dedicated a tree to longtime professor Bob Miller with a ceremonial “watering” using Wisconsin’s finest!
Day 4: Stevens Point to Green Bay
Our 100-mile effort was the fastest of the week so far, with our small group averaging 17 mph–up considerably from the 13 mph efforts of the first two days! Fair and gentle winds, flat terrain and good roads with light traffic made this century a memorable one.
Seymour, WI, claims to be the home of the first hamburger, memorialized in large form just at the edge of town. And as a nightcap, we toured the not-so-frozen tundra of Lambeau Field. And if the bus shows up to take us back to the hotel, I may even get some sleep tonight!
Day 5: Green Bay to Sturgeon Bay
Today’s weather brought back memories of the day we left DC in 2001 after the National Urban Forestry Conference, only to be followed a couple days later by the tragedy of 9/11. The urban forestry community lost one of our own that day, Christine Snyder, who boarded Flight 93 and perished in a field in Pennsylvania. Joined by the city forester and mayor, we planted a tree at Tree City USA community Green Bay’s 9/11 memorial to honor all those we lost that day, a sapling grown from one of the only trees to emerge from the rubble of the twin towers at Ground Zero–a flowering pear tree.
A short recovery ride for most, a paltry 60 miles to the hotel.
But a hardy few of us took the scenic “bonus miles” tour of Door County to peek out along the shores of Lake Michigan, an additional 27 miles!
Day 6: Sturgeon Bay to Port Washington
Many riders left early to avoid being taken off the road at 5pm— myself included—watching the hazy sun rise above the glass-smooth surface of Sturgeon Bay. With Lake Michigan on our left the entire day, mostly clear skies and light winds, our progress was hampered only by our appetites–amply satisfied at each rest stop!
I want to pause to recognize the great work of Dick Rideout, the state urban forestry coordinator for the Wisconsin DNR. Dick has made the Tree City USA program the bedrock for community forestry in his state, and we witnessed his guiding hand as we rolled through dozens of Tree City USA communities along our tour. We heard mayors sing the praises of their city forester, in Madison, Stevens Point and Green Bay. They know what trees mean to their community and the importance of the TREE Fund. We riders are proud to represent the professions of arboriculture and urban forestry at the many events we conduct along our route.
Day 7: Port Washington to Milwaukee
Our final day is as much pomp-and-circumstance as it is a bike ride, just a short 42-mile “noodle” through leafy lakeside suburbs, staging at several spots to keep the 80+ riders together for the mass roll-in at the International Tree Climbing Championships being held at Mount Mary University. We had time for group photos of the various teams, as well as those sponsored by the various ISA chapters. We can be grateful for having the strength of mind and legs to pedal through more than 600 miles on behalf of the TREE Fund. As donors, you helped all of us raise more than $513,000 to support tree research and education projects around the country!
We can bask in the glory of rolling into the climbing championships to the cheers and applause of the real athletes of the day–those climbing arborists who work daily to care for our urban trees. This is the joy we share with one another, brought together by the love of trees and riding bicycles.
It seems like eons ago we left Milwaukee headed west. Time and miles melt away, leaving us with precious memories…and friends, both new and old. This was my third consecutive tour and I think I’m finally getting the hang of it. I could tell when I filled out the informal awards ballot on Thursday night and knew who the “Most Improved Rider” (Laurie Skul) and the “Best New Rider” (Karen Jenkins) were. I think I could recite Professor Pricklethorn’s tree blessing in my sleep! These are my friends. Now and forever. I am indebted to them–and to you, dear sponsor for your support–and I offer my hand and a hug to you all…. Until next year, and the Sunshine State, I remain… Your friend in trees, Pete