The Hodag Country Ramble took place for the first time last September at Jeff Frane's parents' land near Rhinelander, Wisconsin. Now the sophomore year was recently announced and event tickets and camping reservations are onsale. Learn about what made year one spectacular and what's shaking up for year 2.
This year's Hodag Country Ramble takes place September 8-10, 2023. To learn more, visit the Hodag Country Ramble event page or follow Bike Jerks on Instagram.
Interview with Jeff Frane.
This is HQ’d on your family’s land, right? Tell me about the lay of the land there and what’s good about it?
Yes, the Ramble is based on my family's land, 80 acres in the middle of the beautiful Wisconsin Northwoods fifteen minutes from my parents house and fifteen minutes from downtown Rhinelander, Wisconsin.
The land itself is pretty ideal for this sort of event as there are few neighbors and my Father takes immaculate care of it. Working that land is his passion. Two big mowed fields with lots of nice flat spaces to camp. We ask that the riders bring in everything they need, but there is a well and we bring in hand washing stations and porta potty's. There's a lake nearby for swimming or fishing and we do Friday nights Bandit Cross right there on the property.
What was year 1 like and are there any changes for year 2?
Year one went as well as it possibly could, the only bummer was the weather, it was raining pretty hard the morning of the big ride so most folks opted out of the longer route and dropped into the fifty miler. The course is mostly double track with a bit of gravel and some pavement sections so even fifty miles is a great work out, especially in those conditions. For most, the weather just made it more memorable and I think it's safe to say that everyone had a great time.
Luckily the skies cleared up in the afternoon so we were able to have family dinner and our post ride celebration comfortably. We picked the date based on the best chances of no bugs and swimming weather which is a combination you don't often get over there. At least we got the no bugs first year, hopefully we'll get both in '23.
The changes for year two came from rider feedback. One, we need to have more hot vegan options at dinner and bigger portions for all, and two, we need to change the check out time on Sunday. I asked people to be out by noon and we'll be extending that well into the afternoon so that folks who want to ride on Sunday can do so without feeling stressed about packing up.
I'm also working hard on route development. Part of the reason for doing this is so that I can have projects to accomplish in Rhinelander and thus spend more time with my family. I've been combing the woods and maps all Winter. I've made some major tweaks to the fifty mile course to make it even better and will have a new long route as well. I want to make sure that repeat riders don't get bored.
What kind of experience do you hope people have during the Hodag Country Ramble?
Hodag Country Ramble is the prototype for what I hope is a new type of event that spread far and wide, the Ramble.
I want events that prioritize community and grass roots. It's not only my version of the most fun bike weekend, but it's also a great counterpoint to the big corporate events that have come to dominate the formerly alternative space of gravel.
"I think the most important thing is that it's not a race, so no rider's experience is prioritized over others. All experiences are equally valued and encouraged. Ride fast, ride slow, set a personal best, blow off the ride to go swimming and take photos, or stop a bunch to eat a million snacks."
We don't care, we just want you to be there with all of us and to have the experience you want to have.
What’s your favorite part about all of this?
My favorite part of this was getting to share it with my family.
While they follow my Instagram and Facebook, you can't understand the bonds of the cycling world without experiencing it yourself. That weekend they got to see this thing that I have dedicated my life to, and the best part of it too.
Everyone who came was there with the best of attitudes and intentions. And then I also got the joy of getting to share my family and this place that means so much to me with all the riders. People from all over the country showed up to a little town in the Northwoods that otherwise they'd never ever visit. The route went through my old neighborhood and there was a rest stop at the house I grew up in. My Sister and Mother were so stoked to chat with all the riders at the aid station, and having attendees come up to my Dad to thank him for letting us be there and tell him that this property that he so lovingly cares for is beautiful.
"Well those interactions were a highlight of my year and a real highlight of my life to be honest."
I was on cloud nine the whole weekend, surrounded by friends old and new. A buddy of mine brought his teenage son to the Ramble and when asked what he was most excited about in 2023 he reportedly said that going to the Hodag and this year doing the fifty miler was the thing he was most looking forward to. This is real stuff.
I get to be the facilitator of a great experience, I get to share my people with my family and my family with my people. What could possibly be better than that?