If you ask why I live here, one answer could be “turn right off of hwy 33 outside of La Valle onto Schutte Road, follow it as it morphs into La Valle, turn right onto Twin Pine, left onto Old Ironton, and when you get back to hwy 33, look back and I think you’ll know.”
Mike Ferrentino wrote an essay called “Vehicle to Something Greater” describing the changes in his mental state as he rode home after work one day.
The town roads through these hills don’t go anywhere fast. Schutte Road may take you to the Schutte family farm, Enchanted Valley Road will take you through an enchanted valley. They may not be transportation TO anywhere but they are that “vehicle to something greater” that Ferrentino is talking about. Reedsburg may be farther away than it would be on the highway, but “something greater” is right around the next bend or up that next climb.
The ride today was to start on the Sparta to Elroy Trail, the first rails-to-trails conversion in the US. I was planning an alternate route. The trail is an experience not to be missed, with its multiple tunnels, but the crushed limestone surface means you need to clean the mouth of your water bottle before you take a drink and you will need to clean and lube your chain before you ride again. If it’s dry, it’s dusty. If it’s wet, it’s like riding in wet sand. I have ridden it both as part of this tour and as part of a loaded tour, carrying tent, stove, food, etc. I did’t feel the need to do it again.
At last night’s briefing, the alternate highway route was offered openly, and the second half of the ride, which was previously on the 400 Trail, was written as on roads with the trail as an orally described option.
State highway 71 started out with beautiful pavement with a clean and wide shoulder. After the town of Norwalk both deteriorated. There were about ½ dozen 1-2 mile 7% climbs. We had constant views of the heavily-wooded ridges. In the valleys we were in clouds and on the ridge tops the sky got light, almost as though we were going to see the sun.
At picnic the sun came out to stay and that is when the ride turned from very good to heavenly. The sense that the roads don’t go anywhere fast reminded me of this from Mose Allison.
Pictures were not the first thing on my mind and don’t convey the sense of riding these roads. I have written before of my hierarchy of roads (town roads with names preferred, county highways with letters if needed to get somewhere, state highways with numbers only as a last resort). Since this trip is partly about getting somewhere we have needed to ride bigger roads than I prefer. Today was one of the days that reminds me of why I ride. Today was like a Wednesday Night Bike Ride, when the destination is not important, the ride is.
The last turn toward Baraboo is onto Terry Town Road, one of my favorites. It meanders a bit and then turns up. Then it really turns up, but only for a very short distance, then just gradually climbs to an amazing ridge top vista, looking over the valley before a 40 mph descent and then a fast and gently rolling approach to West Baraboo. My face hurt from grinning.