A well-known Wisconsin cyclist, former employee at the Telemark Lodge, and one of the founders of the Chequamegon MTB Festival, Phil Van Valkenberg, will get a trail named after him in his home town of Cambridge, WI. Phil started working at the Telemark Resort in 1978 as the Vice President of Sales. Below is the story of how Phil and some local residents came up with the idea of creating a mountain bike race to bring more silent sports enthusiasts to the area in the off season for skiing back in 1983.
Remember, mountain biking was in its infancy then. The Chequamegon Area Mountain Bike Association would not be created for another nine years later in 1992.
How about a bike race on the Birkie Trail?
In a unique attempt to hatch a postseason tourist draw to the area, Telemark employees Tom Kelly, Dan Hunt, Mike Cooper and Phil Van Valkenberg and Phil Rasmussen of the Lakewoods Resort brainstormed the idea of a bicycle race on the American Birkebeiner ski trail.
The Chequamegon MTB Festival was born as a featured point-to-point 40 mile off-road event from Main Street Hayward, WI to Lakewoods Resort in Cable. Contrary to popular belief, Gary Crandall, aka “The Fatman” and soon to be long time event director, did not dream up the event concept, however he did race in it the first year and finished a very respectable 12th. Admittedly there were only 27 riders but not bad for his first off-road race.
If ever there was a case of the right people, in the right place, at the right time, coming up with the right idea, this was it. Mountain bikes were coming into popularity, the American Birkebeiner trail offered a challenging race course, accommodations and volunteers were plentiful, and it doesn’t get any more beautiful than Northern Wisconsin in mid-September. The originators thought it couldn’t miss and 25 years later it is clear that they were rightChequamegon MTB Festival website
I’ve known Phil for around two decades now. I most recently saw “Pee Wee” or “Pee Oui” if you are a Francophile, and his partner Georgia Kaften riding with the Chequama Mamas in the 4th of July Parade in Cable and then had lunch with them afterward at the Sawmill Saloon in Seeley.
It is a testimony to Phil’s vision that the Chequama Mamas Bicycle Club still have regular group rides today that leave from Cable. According to Phil’s longtime friend Gary Crandall “The Mamas started as a casual Thursday after work ride from Telemark in 1978. Weekly Thursday rides continue 40 plus years later as the Mamas help define a long running social active sports lifestyle in the Cable-Seeley-Hayward and beyond area.”
When he told me the Village of Cambridge plans to name a new bike trail after him, I couldn’t have been more thrilled for the 2017 inductee into the Wisconsin Bicycling Hall of Fame. The trail will connect CamRock County Park with the Glacial Drumlin trail via some new off-street paths and quiet town roads.
The Cambridge Village Board approved naming the bike trail in honor of Van Valkenberg on April 13. Construction is expected to begin later this year on the extension of an existing off-road route that begins at CamRock and runs west along U.S. Highway 12/18 from England Street to an existing path through The Vineyards neighborhood. From there it will go north through property owned by the Cambridge Foundation, and then on low-traffic town roads to the Glacial Drumlin State Trail.
The new trail is estimated to cost about $400,000 with funding from public and private local contributions, Dane and Jefferson County grants and a state stewardship grant.
Phil is well known in the Seeley/Cable area. Not only was he the head of marketing at the Telemark Resort, the engine from his old AMC Rebel ended up powering Gary Penman’s first sawmill in Seeley. When his “Rebel Without a Clutch” as he called it, finally died, the ever ingenious Gary Penman transplanted the still good motor to his sawmill that was used to make lumber for so many of the development projects he built in Seeley.
Phil is recognized as the father of Wisconsin bicycle tourism since he published the first guide to cycling in Wisconsin in 1974 with his “Wisconsin Bike Trips, Twenty Tours for Young and Old.” Since that first Wisconsin cycling guide, he privately published eight more books on bicycling in Wisconsin and the Midwest and seven editions of the Wisconsin Biking Guide for the Department of Tourism.
He has also led guided tours in Europe, helped organize the first Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival in Hayward, started the Fat Tire Tour of Milwaukee and the Steel is Real Ride. All of which continue to attract thousands of riders every year and are now considered bucket list rides for cyclists from across Wisconsin and beyond.
In order to help fund the trail, Van Valkenberg is donating three of his vintage bicycles for auction on eBay. The links for the bikes on eBay are below, but you can find any of these bicycles by searching the cycling category for the word Camrock:
- A 1977 Exxon Graftek, which is one of the first carbon lugged bicycles.
- A 1975 Sekai Superlight 5000, which only weighs 17 lbs, incredible for a 21-speed incredible vintage steel bicycle.
- His very rare 1940 Hetchins curly-stay frame, built with a Sturmey Archer 3-speed hub.
- And his partner Georgia Kaften is donating her custom Waterford Precision Cycle road bike built with S&S couplers.
In an interview with the Cambridge News, Van Valkenberg called the new route “a fantastic opportunity for the village of Cambridge,” to tie into a key Wisconsin bike route that further ties into trails in neighboring states. He said he hopes the second phase of the trail project will add additional off-street paths to further improve the connection with the Glacial Drumlin State Trail.
The public is invited to the trail dedication ceremony and party, scheduled August 1st from 2:30 – 4:30 p.m. at the Cambridge Winery, 700 Kenseth Way. The festivities will include free soft drinks and hors d’oeuvres, live music by the Trophy Husbands, of Cambridge, and a silent auction. The actual groundbreaking ceremony will be at 3 p.m.
There will be a 4:30 pm ride with Pee Oui on the new trail immediately after the event.
Gary CrandallJuly 23, 2021 at 7:11 pm
So look at the main photo of Phil on an early mountain bike. He is the only one with a bicycle computer and horn mounted on his handlebars. Always the fun loving innovator on two wheels.
David SchlabowskeJuly 24, 2021 at 8:14 am
I hadn’t noticed that bike computer too Gary, but you are right about Phil always being on the cutting edge of bike technology. His Graftek and Sekai were certainluy leading edge at the time.
Gerry HansenJuly 27, 2021 at 9:47 am
Road the Firehouse 50 with him on a 4 person time. No matter his fitness he knew Lake Owen Drive and how to maximize his speed. We had a lot of fun that day. A great man and visionary.
David SchlabowskeJuly 27, 2021 at 9:52 am
He certainly is a visionary Gerry.