The Red Granite Grinder recently took place through corn mazes, private land, and historic passageways around Wausau, Wisconsin with 12, 50, 85, OR 144 mile options. Here Chris Schotz outlines the beauty of the unexpected adventure during a time of year where the gamble of the weather is part of the excitement.
To learn, more, visit the Red Granite Grinder website.
Words by Chris Schotz
Photos by Dave Schlabowske
October can be a shock to the system, but this ride keeps it interesting. Start beneath the Grand Theater marquee at the chilly crack of dawn and follow the red flashes of your law enforcement escort past the Landmark building. Roll out of Wausau across the wide Wisconsin and take the tunnel beneath the Interstate to the foot of Rib Mountain. Here the 50-milers head to their corn maze while the grind gets real for those confronting the 85-mile endeavor or the all-day 144-mile beast of a ride.
We’re not ascending 700 vertical feet with temperatures in the 40s because it’s going to be easy. We’re not out in October expecting sunshine and tank tops. We sign up for the Ironbull Red Granite Grinder for the test. Can we regulate our temperature on this brisk morning climb? Can we get a gravel bike through the trails of Rib Mountain State Park with damp bridges and stubborn stone? Can we adapt to the unexpected that lurks beyond the rock and waterbars of that ripping descent that can only be ridden for one day a year?
Shane Hitz didn’t fashion these adventures for placid pelotons with nothing in view but the tail of the dog in front. The Grinder hits the calendar after the predictable races have gone into hibernation. 2023 was a year like every other when the mid-October forecast keeps everyone guessing until 7AM on Saturday, and still we were ready to adapt in case that dark sky to the north opened up far from the comfy confines of 21st Century civilization. Get ready to escape the big city for a land that has slipped back in time from a 19th Century heyday.
The rocks of Rib Mountain lead to asphalt and the iconic red granite gravel to school forest singletrack and the graveled lanes of Nine Mile that will spark the deja vu of many a 24-hour mountain biker. From there you find a buddy to tackle the winds of the wide rolling boulevards through the farm country that beget a century of cream to an icy dairy state. Before long you’ll find refuge on the remote rail line that rolls through tree-lined shelter to a spot on Scotch Creek that looked like a nice townsite to a railman named Edgar in 1881. Past the BP station and a quiet neighborhood is a steep surprise. A stair-step drop leads to the narrow bridges and old school singletrack of Scotch Creek Preserve that will quickly snap a rider to attention. This year’s route placed the 50-mile aid station at the adorable Minnow Ponds Park where the Ironbull volunteers had spread out drop bags and anything you’d ever need before bucking the overpass into the wind across Highway 29.
After Rib Falls it’s Pomeranian farmland through Hamburg land and the fox farms beyond the Lincoln County line. North of 64 your exploit ebbs back to the 1800’s as you roll through the grassy rail lines of Rib Lake Lumber Company past three lumber campsites dating from the days of crosscut saws and mighty draft horses. Hitz has negotiated access through this remote private land for this day only so enjoy the moment past the pristine pond and don’t come back until next year. State owned land of the Newwood Conservation Area merges with vast county forests that pass the haunts of enigmatic Boom Decker Becker and the Ranger Island wolf pack. Imagine a log church and railroad station as you pass the Newwood Cemetery at the corner of Whiskey Bill Road. Soon you’ll find the 100-mile aid station at Averill Creek Firelane where riders saw wolf prints over bike tracks in the mud and the indispensable volunteers crossed paths with the primordial hunter.
The brushy lane pulls you back to a time when a shingle mill rattled across the pond. Poachers in Model-A Fords outran Trapper Morrison and moonshiners distilled their product way off the grid. Rustic Tesch Road plunges to the Newwood River just upstream from the 1847 trading post where Bill Cross loaded furs and composed a native dictionary with his Ojibwe wife. The ride is in the home stretch once wilderness gives way to the hilly farm country and the penultimate tests of the Billy Goat Hills. Brokaw was still an incorporated town when the Red Granite Grinder was founded. Brokaw Hill still stands as the final challenge before the roll into the city streets and bike paths of Wausau on the way to the 400 Block party.
Don’t sign up for the Red Granite Grinder if you seek the predictable. A day off the mark on the October calendar would have been a soaker. There have been years of rain and slush so you’ll just have to make your own luck. Get your mind and your bike ready for anything because everything is what you’re going to get.