My First Fatbike, Part II, Madison, WI

This build has taken about a month in total, from getting most of the parts to finally riding the bike for a short spin to bed-in the brake system. I wanted to highlight the build process and some of the parts.

Everything went together just fine, with only some minor issues along the way. SunRingle MuleFut 80 SL wheelset and Bontrager/DT Swiss thru-axles mated well. The SRAM GX 11-speed Gripshift shifter and NX rear derailleur went together with no problem and shifted great from the first click. RaceFace's Cinch typer bottom bracket and Next SL Gen3 cranks were a treat to build up and install. 

The biggest issue would be that it doesn't appear that mechanical disc brakes will work well with the rear stays of this bike. I couldn't find a brake that would fit on the frame without having the actuator arm of the caliper find issue with the seatstay. So, I had to source some full hydraulic brakes instead (which also why you may notice the rear brake hose still needs to be trimmed down to size). I was lucky enough to source a set of SRAM Level Ultimate full hydraulic brakes and am very happy it all worked out. They installed without much fuss and bed-in well. 

Of course, now that it's in ride-able form, the snow has pretty much melted away here in Madison, So, unless we get some more in the next few weeks, it will likely be seeing more dirt than snow in its first 6 months of life.

and here's how the fork's paint job looks as installed on the bike...


My First Fatbike, Part I, Madison, WI

You know what a "fatbike" is, right? It's like this...

If I have my history correct, they were oroiginally thought up by and designed to run in Alaska's Iditarod race. A multi-modal, multi-weekend, multi-species race recreating the saving of a town from diptheria, crossing the snowy landacape from Knik to McGrath, AK.

The bikes designed for and now from this event needed to ride well on packed snow, so rims and tires kept getting bigger and bigger to handle the demands of the riders and terrain. I believe, a company in Minnesota, called Surly, was the first brand to commercialize or produce products for this market, including rims, tubes, tires, etc. And now you can go down to your local big box store and get a fatbike-like two-wheeled steed for your kids. Ah, progress.

I've wanted to own one for some time, maybe even years, so it was time to make it happen this winter. However, it was a bit bittersweet when I realized not too long into my project that if I wanted to own my very first fatbike, I would have to build it up myself. Bitter because it takes more time, effort, and usually money to build a bike up on your own. Sweet because it's a great winter project, I love working with my hands, and it usually lets one be more creative with the bikes they ride and own.

This is just the first post in a series highlighting the build of this bike. I started out with a Trek Farley Alloy frame and fork. I decided to upgrade the fork to a Trek Haru Pro carbon model, in order to run a 150mm front hub, and save a little weight with the carbon too.

Additionally, I was able to try some Duplicolor Custom Wrap coating and help the fork match the frame with some highlights of color. This coating is removable within 6 months of application and was quite a fun project.

I'll post once more with the final pics and some thoughts on the parts I used. Stay tuned...


Quote of the Day

"You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, smarter than you think, and loved more than you ever know."

Winnie the Pooh


Governor Dodge State Park, Dodgeville, WI

As a child, my family kept gaining/making/having more and more kids. What numbered 3 when I was born became 5 by 1981 and finally 7 by 1987. With good jobs, but many mouths to feed, limbs to dress, and things to care for, we didn't take elaborate vacations to exotic locales, especially if  a plane flight was required, too expensive. (In fact, I didn't fly in a plane until I was 23)

What we did do though was camp. And boy did we. With a week off for Dad, and a station wagon full of kids, treats, & gear, we'd head into the great state of Wisconsin for some outdoor adventures - "I call the way-back!"

The place we seemed to bring that rental pop-up trailer to year after year was Governor Dodge State Park (GDSP) in Dodgeville, WI.  On the map below, it's the green feature at left-center - Madison proper and its blue lakes, are on the right.

Could it be that after many years of camping in GDSP, I would be living under an hour drive from that very place?! It not only could be, it can be. I decided during my moving that I had to take a quick day trip to the park, possibly in winter, to see if I could find some of the old spots that we found way back in the 80's. It turns out, though some of the park had changed, in many ways it was still the same old place.

I started in the main park office, to pay for the day's pass and make a pit-stop. Which is fortunate as I got to see some of the local animal life preserved for my enjoyment in the office.

I don't recall seeing any of those as a kid.  Nuts.

Now, only some of the park's road system is plowed in winter, so I had to park near a trail head and walk my tired old bones into the Cox Hollow Campground. It sounded like a fun adventure to me, as I gained the power and energy from my youth simply by being back in GDSP. It was a bit sloppy and wet out, but no more than 3-4" of snow cover still left on the ground.

Of course, it being winter, there were no leaves on the trees, which made finding the first feature I wanted to revisit on this hike much easier. I was looking for an ominous patch of their forest that, as a 10-year old boy, seemed to drop off the face of the Earth (what did I know at 10?).

You can already start seeing/feeling the forest starting to drop off...

A little further in and it becomes a little steeper still...

Until you slip and slide (thanks, Winter) to a point that clearly can't be traversed on foot. It drops off for a good 10-15 feet at the ledge, then picks back up below.

Doesn't that look treacherous? I mean, at 10 years old even!? Well, it looked like trouble even on this trip. But I recall falling falling falling down this steep grade as that 10-year old and was luckily "clothes-lined" by my older brother, avoiding the ultimate plummet to my death... or at least another trip to the emergency room for my family at GDSP. He saved me. Thanks, Brother.

Of course now there are more hiking, biking, and skiing trails connecting parts of the park that weren't there when we were children. Many of the paths are situated behind the camping areas, so there seems to be less of a chance of getting lost and stumbling down a steep embankment to an early grave. Fine, today's youth, don't have fun.

I presume these central-WI hippies have been recycling since the 70's - thanks for modeling the way.

I liked seeing that! There's families here, Folks!

The second feature I was specifically looking for was a stretch of campground road that, as kids, was all gravel, very steep, and included a nice left hand turn to further test/mess with kids' bike-handling abilities. I found it alright, right where Park Ranger Brian told me to look.

It starts off innocent enough, but quickly becomes something of a widow-maker... just ask my older sister who lost her eyebrow and a good bit of skin one summer. You start high on the hill, to the upper-right in the pics below. Then roll a steep, sweeping left-hander to the end of the route.

Of course, now it's paved with blacktop, instead of gravel... so I'm sure it's easier for little hell-rasiers to navigate (I used to walk to school, uphill, both ways!). But, I have to say, it seemed much longer and a bit steeper overall than I remember. It's possible that having only one sibling loose some skin and hair on this thing was actually coming out of it pretty lucky.

After finding a couple things I wanted to, walking back to the car, and looking for a few more by car without much luck, I called it an afternoon. I can come back when it's nice out and bring a bike too.

Here's a final shot of some interesting "hairy" tree bark, no seriously, it's funny-looking alright. Maybe a Grizzly bear did it?!


The Frozen Lake, Madison, WI

Temps turned south recently, way south... and when that happens, the lakes can't help but freeze over. It was a cool way to see more of the lake front near my place of residence.

Late afternoon sun brings loooong shadows from anything in it's path

What's normally waves of water is now waves of fallen snow

The water kicks up along shore until it freezes, and freezes everything in it's grasp too
I tried to keep it quiet so I didn't wake up Mother Nature again


The Story of Sriracha (from the Los Angeles Times)

By Frank Shyong, Los Angeles Times
Apr 13, 2013 5:05 a.m.

The gig: David Tran, 68, founded hot sauce company Huy Fong Foods Inc. in Chinatown in 1980 and a few years later introduced Sriracha sauce to the U.S.
His Sriracha, a version of a hot sauce originating in Si Racha, Thailand, quickly spread through the San Gabriel Valley and eventually the nation. The fiery red concoction in the clear bottle with the distinctive green cap and rooster logo has since gone mainstream: Google "Sriracha" and you'll find such things as cookbooks, water bottles, iPhone cases and T-shirts.
Huy Fong Foods, which is still privately owned, sold more than $60 million worth of sauce last year, office manager Donna Lam said.
Refugee: When North Vietnam's communists took power in South Vietnam, Tran, a major in the South Vietnamese army, fled with his family to the U.S. After settling in Los Angeles, Tran couldn't find a job — or a hot sauce to his liking.
So he made his own by hand in a bucket, bottled it and drove it to customers in a van. He named his company Huy Fong Foods after the Taiwanese freighter that carried him out of Vietnam.
Packing heat: Early on, one of Tran's packaging suppliers told him, "Your product is too spicy. How can you sell it?" Add a tomato base, some friends counseled. Sweeten the flavor to pair it better with chicken, others said. But Tran stood firm.
"Hot sauce must be hot. If you don't like it hot, use less," he said. "We don't make mayonnaise here."
Pricing it right: Tran had just one guiding business principle: "Make a rich man's sauce at a poor man's price." In more than two decades of operation, Tran has kept the wholesale price of his sauce constant, but he would not disclose it. A 28-ounce bottle goes for about $4, depending on the retailer.
"My American dream was never to become a billionaire," Tran said. "We started this because we like fresh, spicy chili sauce."
That means cranking up the chili content of each bottle and making sure each pepper is as hot as possible, Tran said. As the company grew, Huy Fong Foods developed a relationship with a supplier in Ventura County and carefully monitored the entire growing process from seed to harvest.
Now, each chili is processed within a day of harvesting to ensure peak spiciness.
Production strained: In 2007, the company oversold its sauces and ran out of the peppers with three months left in the year. Stores marked up their prices and many started to hoard the sauce, Lam said.
Under immense pressure from customers, Tran considered his possibilities. He could buy supermarket jalapenos, but that left no way to predict the heat of the sauce. Brined peppers were also out of the question — who knew how those had been grown?
So, Huy Fong Foods went to each of its customers and asked them to wait — and they did. "We didn't lose any customers," Lam said.
Now the company sets a monthly production quota for each sauce. Every bottle of sauce produced already has been sold, Lam said.
Competition: The popularity of Huy Fong Foods' Sriracha sauce has spurred many copycats and competitors. Because the sauce is named for the Thai city, the company cannot trademark the name.
Roland Foods in New York makes its own variety, Sriracha Chili Sauce, in a similarly shaped yellow-capped bottle featuring two dragons instead of a rooster. Frito-Lay is testing a Sriracha-flavored potato chip, and Subway is experimenting with a creamy Sriracha sauce for sandwiches.
But Tran said he's not bothered by the fact that others are trying to capitalize on the market his sauce created.
"We just do our own thing and try to keep the price low," Tran said.
Revenue grows about 20% a year even with all the competition. Huy Fong Foods has never spent a dollar on advertising.
Family business: Tran has no interest in branching out beyond making Sriracha and two other hot sauces, Chili Garlic and Sambal Oelek. All the Sriracha-branded products online are made by others. He spends hours Googling "Sriracha" and chuckling over fans' creations.
He's turned down multiple lucrative offers to sell his company, fearing his vision would be compromised.
"This company, she is like a loved one to me, like family. Why would I share my loved one with someone else?" Tran said.
He intends to keep it a family business: His son is the president, and his daughter is vice president.
He has repeatedly rejected pleas to sell stock in the company and turned down financiers who offer him money to increase production significantly.
"If our product is still welcomed by the customer, then we will keep growing," Tran said.
New quarters: Huy Fong Foods has operated out of two buildings in Rosemead since the late 1980s, but it's moving to a $40-million, 655,000-square-foot factory and headquarters in Irwindale that could triple its production capacity. The company expects to complete the transition by June.
"Who knows where the company will go? We just always try to make the best sauce possible," Tran said.
Getting personal: Tran and his wife, Ada, live in Arcadia. They have two children.


Alchemy, Madison, WI

I'd heard from co-workers early on in my time that Alchemy had one of the best burgers in the area. Being something of a burger fan and aficionado, I've wanted to try this place for some time now. That time came this past weekend when I decided to throw caution to the wind, jump on the bike for a 1.5m ride, and head on in for a helping of beef.

The scene was bustling as I walked in. It's a multi-level kind of layout, with the bar in the upper left corner. I made my way over and wound up having to stand for just a little bit as some of the people seated at the bar got seated in in the dining room. I ordered a fall pumpkin brew and took it all in. Once seated, I spent some time with the menu below, but mostly just to make sure which burger I wanted to order - "the AppleRum Burger, Deluxe, please."

It was also nice to know they have a varied menu and could satisfy most palettes and dietary needs. I happened to sit right by the kitchen at the end of the bar and watched much of the food come out for other diners. All of it looked good, with the Flank steak being really popular and inexpensive (to my mind).  

It being a Saturday night with a concert happening at a venue nearby, this place was hopping. The kitchen had plates stacked out the door and onto the bar counter. I was pretty impressed, surprised, and entertained by the circus of it all. Kitchen staff, Wait staff, and the bartenders - everyone was all hands on deck. 

It must have taken a good 30-45 minutes for my order to arrive. Frankly, I was fine with it. The bartenders took kindly on this sad sack and chatted with me on and off. Once the burger arrived, for those that know me, it didn't spend too much time on the plate. It was delicious from the first bite, with solid, steak-cut fries alongside. 

(Funny, tasty Cheddar cheese clearly melted in first pic, not melted in second pic)

After the first course, I decided to order one of their fancier cocktails (blamed partly on the 8.6% ABV in the first beer I had) and decided to try their Alchemy Old Fashioned. Well, it's not a normal whiskey-cherry-orange type Old Fashioned, and I didn't really like it. To be clear, its taste matched the description of ingredients, it just wasn't what I was looking to drink. I mentioned this to the bartender and she happily traded it out for another pumpkin beer on their seasonal tap. Thanks, Ma'am.

Due in part to my drink ordering gaff and the fact that it was nice to be in the middle of a bustling place on a Saturday night, I decided to order one of their dessert offerings, sourced from local Honey Bee Bakery. It was touted as a fancy butternut squash cheesecake with marshmallow frosting. I have to say, it was just ok. No flavors really stood out or wowed me. And as a fan of marshmallow, the limp pool of something white on top was nowhere near what I was expecting or hoped for - I thought it was a meringue, not marshmallow. It's ok, I'm still glad I tried it. I think if I'd seen it first, I would have chosen differently, so bad on me for not asking more about it. 

Having said all that, I'd absolutely go back. The service was excellent, the food was solid, and the atmosphere was perfect for an autumn Saturday night in Wisconsin. I also realized afterwards that the drinks made me mistakenly undertip, so I really need to make amends for that too (Sorry, Kat!).


Quote of the Day

These are lyrics this time, from London Grammar. I thought them appropriate as the days grow short and the nights grow long...

My only friend keep on Wander or leave, Turn into winter lights Keeping your strength When it gets dark at night


Behind the Cheddar Curtain, Woodman's Food Market, Madison, WI

Did you know the state line between Illinois & Wisconsin is affectionately referred to as the Cheddar Curtain? I knew it was the case when I moved here, but only recently caught a really good glimpse into the fromaginations* of the residents here.

Below are pics from a local grocer's cheese selections. The grocer is Woodman's and even though they have locations in other cities and states, I don't think any other location, even in WI, can rival this locations cheese breadth or depth. It's insane. I loved it all. 

This bad boy alerts you to the fact that you're not in Kansas anymore... you're in Wisconsin!

Dive in!!!

Sort of the fancy case

Any size you desire - 1/4lb, 1/2lb, 1lb. 2lb, rolls, blocks, squares, etc. (that's not a mirror halfway down, it's another ~20-feet of cheese selections

All the shredded cheeses
And up-close

It took me four pics to capture another 20-30-foot section of refrigerated, solid form cows' milk

Don't forget the creamed cheeses (and some bagels)

You can find me on Instagram ('mkator') or Facebook where I'll be posting a weekly pic of a new cheese variety from this store's cheese cases. Watch for some clever hashtags too, like #cheesedtomeetyou, #quesoloco, #fromagefix, #grateshots, and "#curdesyofWI.

* Fromagination is the name of a very nice cheese monger in downtown Madison, FYI. I didn't come up with the word myself.


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