-By Jeff Tetzloff
Hartman Creek: 2021 The first day of the adventure began with the classic anticipation ride to PABS, knowing when you get there a crowd of like-minded adventure weirdos were congregating. When you arrive you see familiar faces, compare gear, recant a recent ride story, check out the latest stuff at the shop, and share that energy when you know good times are ahead. We had the luxury of knowing the PABS team had already thought of everything we might have forgotten; all the details were worked out and anything you couldn't carry on your bike was brought to the campsite by their van. All we had to do was show up and ride. For many of us, it was our first bike-packing test, and we wanted to see how prepared we were. On our ride out to Hartman Creek, we had a hot early summer day above us and a lot more gear than we'd typically carry on a Green Circle rip. I had a nagging feeling the later miles might be harder, but the energy you get from the people around you kept the miles flying by, and soon we got to the city limits. Our gravel bikes were then put in their natural habitat on the Tomorrow River Trail, a beautiful stretch of rails-to-trails with hanging canopies of trees and rolling hills of agriculture. After a chunk of miles, we stopped for a refuel, with snacks provided. Sunscreen re-applied, water bottles refilled, and we were back on the move. After passing through some picturesque Wisconsin farmland roads the route brought us to Hartman Creek, and we all dispersed to set up our camps. Collectively we compared how difficult our tents were to set up, helping each other when necessary, and shared a celebratory beverage. Some of the single-track minded folk convinced others to arrange a run through Hartman Creek's trails. For me, it was the first time doing single-track on a drop-bar gravel bike, and more importantly, the first time I had done single-track while clipped in. We survived and laughed at how silly it was to celebrate a long bike ride with more riding, but it made a ton of sense at the time. After returning, some folks had begun random badminton matches, some tended the fire and traded stories, and a few of us decided on another bike ride down to the beach for a quick swim. It was a glorious downhill to the waterfront, coasting at near scary speeds. At this point the PABS crew had an amazing meal prepared; we all replenished the calories we burned and then some. The sunset and the fire began their gravitational pull on us. The campfire stories danced between the profound and the absurd, as any good conversation should. At one point I looked up and gasped as above us the Starlink satellites crossed the sky, in a disturbing and altogether alien horizontal pattern, moving across the sky slowly alongside the typically arranged chaos of the stars. Another moment I won't forget. As we all collapsed in our tents at different times, a shared worry we carried into the morning was the forecast. A storm was on the horizon, almost assuredly guaranteed. Luckily it stayed the morning, and after an amazing breakfast, we all struck camp and reattached our gear to our bikes for the ride back. A few of us (me included) tossed extra gear into the van than we did the day before, knowing the ride ahead might be tough. They really did think of everything. Initially, the ride back had the same energy as the ride there, with an enhanced camaraderie gained from the day before. Then the rain came. And the energy only got better. It poured, and poured, relentlessly rained. But every single rider had a smile on their face as we shared the madness of it all. We're getting home, we're on a bike, life rules. As the rain-soaked miles continued, conversation was less frequent, interspersed with segments of quiet focus, as the promise of getting home and dry quicker kept our pace high. I think I had set a PR on a Tomorrow River Trail Strava segment on the way back, even with camping gear attached. When we finally arrived back at the shop, we compared how crazy we all felt (and looked); I admired the sheer amount of dirt that had accumulated on my bike's seat kicked up from my tires. Altogether I don't think you could have arranged a better experience, from the route to the food to the crew. Soon afterward I took my newfound confidence and harnessed it to go bike-packing alone and had another spectacular time. As for Hartman Creek, I was fortunate to be a part of it and I heartily recommend #ridewithpabs to any of the other adventure-weirdos out there. The PABS crew does it right. Get rad, take chances, stay upright!