Home: a love story

One of the half-fast cycling club graduated from UCLA. It was tough getting through college with dyslexia. He told me they gave him a sweatshirt. It looked like this:


Image from Pinterest

That’s not what we came to talk about today. We were riding in the Baraboo Hills and it got me thinking about places. Much of what I know about the place I call home came from the book The Physical Geography of Wisconsin.; and the physical geography of this place is one of the reasons I love to explore it by bike.

A question from a reader led me to realize I live in paradise.

Fifty miles to the west of me is Spring Green, home to Taliesen (the home of Frank Lloyd Wright) and American Players Theatre (one of the great classical theatres in the US – one of the founders was Randall Duk Kim – you may know him as The Keymaker from The Matrix Reloaded. I know him for playing Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the titular Titus Andronicus on back-to-back nights).

Spring Green is in the heart of the driftless area. Much of north central North America was covered by glacier in one or more previous ice ages. The driftless area in the southwest corner of Wisconsin was missed by every glacier. It is a land of steep and craggy hills. The eastern edge of the area is rich farmland (hence the town of Black Earth), whereas farther west it is too steep and irregular to support much farming and leans more toward wooded hills and dark valleys. The driftless area is home to the Dells of the Wisconsin River, known to geologists for its rock formations; known to the rest of the world for its waterparks. Much of my time on a bike is is the driftless area.

Stand Rock (WI Dells) image from Science Source. Don’t try this at home.

Fifty miles to the north are the Baraboo bluffs, home to our annual fall ride. This is on the edge of the driftless area and home to Devil’s Lake and the Circus World Museum, as well as Dr Evermor’s Forevertron. Devil’s Lake (roughly translated from Tewakącąk, the Ho-Chunk name, which may be more accurately translated as sacred lake or spirit lake but, due to the racism of European settlers who deemed anything sacred but not christian to be the work of the devil, was translated as “Devil’s Lake”). The lake was formed by a terminal moraine which trapped its outflow. While the bulk of Wisconsin drains to the Mississippi River and then the Gulf of Mexico, this lake drains slowly into the underlying bedrock. A drain was added in 2002 to remove years of accumulated phosphorus from runoff. The hills are Baraboo pink quartzite, and estimated at 1.3 billion years old.

Devils’ Doorway -Devil’s Lake. Image from journaltimes.com
Dr Evermor and the Forevertron image from Madison.com

Fifty miles to the east is the Kettle Moraine State Forest. A “kettle” is a depression left by a melting ice block as the glaciers receded, while a “moraine” is a ridge of rock pushed along by a glacier, then left behind as the glacier receded.

Ride one way and I can see what Wisconsin looked like before the ice age. Ride the other way and I can see how glaciers changed the landscape.

Hiking along a moraine. Image from u/alrobertson on reddit.com

Fifty miles to the south is New Glarus, home of my favorite of the Wednesday Night Bike Rides. (Actually, this one is closer. Fifty miles gets you past Monroe. New Glarus is only about 25 miles.) New Glarus was settled by Swiss immigrants who found the verdant hills and valleys reminiscent of home. It is one of the few places you can still find dairy cattle that are not Holsteins.

Contour farming near New Glarus. Image from halffastcycling.club.

Smack dab in the middle of all that is Taychopera or DeJope, AKA Madison, WI, AKA home sweet home. I can walk less than a mile to see an effigy mound that reminds me that this was sacred space long before I (or anyone who looks like me) was here.

Half-fast fall colors tour

Pandemic edition (again)

Every year about this time we round up the usual suspects and head for the hills (Baraboo, that is).

The usual breakfast spot closed early in the pandemic. Last year we ate at home. This year Our Fearless Leader went one better. He has a friend on the route, on a tiny road off of a town road. We gathered there for a breakfast that couldn’t be beat (3 kinds of quiche [“quickie” to GW Bush, if you know that old joke], bacon, bagels, coffee, and mimosas) and waited until the sun warmed things a bit. We rode the usual route (the ferryless variant), just from a different spot. It’s a circle, so we could theoretically start anywhere.

Our usual lunch spot is now closed Mondays (probably another pandemic casualty), so we went for choice #2, which we’d always rejected as too expensive. It is a distillery with a great patio overlooking the Baraboo River. Alas, the bar still opens at 11 AM on Monday, but the kitchen is closed. (If you’re not from around here you might wonder why the bar has to open that early if there’s no food. If you’re from around here, that doesn’t need an answer.) Choice #3 was a diner with outside seating. It was a beautiful day to eat outside. The diner, due to staff shortages, was not serving outside and there was a 30 minute wait for a table inside – both the wait and the table inside were no-gos, so we ended up at a supermarket deli and ate on the lawn of the Visitor Center/Chamber of Commerce. (Baraboo is home to the Circus World Museum and former home of the Ringling Brothers.)

We added a new rider this year – Cowboy Bob. Below is his steed.

Note the name – “Morab” is a horse breed – a cross between a Morgan and an Arab. The paint job is skewbald, not likely on a Morab, but don’t tell Cowboy Bob. All Morgans are descended from one horse, owned by a man named Justin Morgan. Bob named the bike for a cross-country self-contained bike ride. Why Morab? He read of an early transcontinental journey in which the only horse that made it was a Morab. FYI: The bike is a 1979 Bottecchia, steel frame, with updated components.
In case you missed these details – note the spurs extending from the dropouts, and the rope pattern on the rims. Double-click (or spread fingers on a Mac trackpad, or right click and click “open image in new tab” – whichever works for you) to zoom in.

In the morning we rode through Sauk Prairie – the former Badger Army Ordnance Works now being restored by 4 owners – the Ho-Chunk Nation, WI Dept of Natural Resources, USDA Dairy Forage Research Center, and Bluffview Sanitary District. Less than half of the land is open to the public, but that leaves >3000 acres to explore via rustic roads and trails. The land formerly produced ammunition for WW II, and the Korean and Vietnam wars. That left a lot to clean up when it was decommissioned. Part of the Badger Army Ordnance Works’ claim to infamy is that at the turn of the new year 1969-70, the New Year’s Gang “borrowed” a plane from a nearby airfield and attempted to bomb the site to stop them from building munitions for the war in Vietnam. While the bombing failed, it is alleged that the same group bombed the Army Mathematics Research Center later in 1970. (excerpt from “Half-fast Fall Ride”, October 7, 2020.)

Crane sundial, 11 AM. Photo by Rosebud

From the prairie we headed to Devil’s Lake. “At the time when white trappers, then settlers were moving into the area, they learned from the local Ho-Chunk people that their name of the lake was Tewakącąk which roughly translated, meant “Sacred lake”. Sometimes this was also interpreted as “spirit” or “holy” lake. So you can see how with a little misunderstanding, and most likely some prejudice as well, the name “Devil’s Lake” came to be. While the Ho-Chunk considered the lake sacred space, those early European turned toward something more sinister.” (Devil’s Lake State Park Area Visitor Guide) I would take that a step further to say that anything sacred that was not christian was deemed the work of the devil.

We stopped to wade in the lake before tackling the switchbacks up through the quartzite bluffs – favored by many rock climbers in the area. My jacket went to a jersey pocket for the climb and stayed there the rest of the day.

Devil’s Lake switchbacks.

The route back after lunch was shorter. Our usual route is 30 morning miles and 25 afternoon miles. The afternoon makes up for the lack of distance by adding a lot more hills. After 44 miles, TM told us he had an extra loop that would add three miles. Most of us joined him. Three turned into six. The long 40 mph downhill made it worthwhile – but we paid for it with a 300 foot climb on gravel (fresh chipseal of the sort that is just pea gravel spread on the road in hopes that vehicle tires will grind it into the pavement before it washes away – no oil, no tar) to get back up to the road we had been on. After 51 miles we were back where we started with time for wine and hors d’oeuvres before the sun sank behind the hills.

A splendid time was had by all.

The Ride (waiting 2 years for this)

I’m supposed to be in another town teaching for two days. When we canceled this course a year ago, we thought it would be safe after a year. No dice. In-person and hands-on training is not in the cards again. Too many metaphors for that paragraph, though all about gambling.

I request vacation time a year in advance. When the days come up and I have no plans, there is no sense in giving them back. Two days without plans, followed by a day on the bike. I could get to like this. When the word “septuagenarian” not only enters your vocabulary but starts to impinge on your reality, it’s time to think about how to spend a life without going to work every day. As the folksinger Charlie King reminded us “Our life is more than our work and our work is more than our job.”

I was going to do this ride two years ago but it was canceled due to thunderstorms. Last year was canceled due to the pandemic. The ride is a benefit for the Carbone Cancer Center. By the way, you can still donate at https://runsignup.com/half-fast

I’m starting this post before the ride and I have to add one COVID-19 related piece. My employer has now mandated the vaccine. We have until October 1 to get the first shot or be “placed on unpaid leave and terminated by October 11.” There are both medical and religious waivers. The medical waiver is very specific and must be signed by your health care provider. The link to the religious waiver is restricted – as an employee I can’t see it. Maybe my boss can. [Update: I can now see the religious waiver and it just asks me to attest to a religious, moral, or ethical anti-vax stance. – nothing like the Arkansas hospital below.] Most of us were vaccinated in December and January 2020-21. There are a few holdouts. A hospital system in Arkansas is allowing religious exemptions on the assumption that people are objecting to the use of a 40+ year old fetal cell line in the research and development. The CEO of the hospital chain, Matt Troup, had this to say:

“‘(W)e provided a religious attestation form for those individuals requesting a religious exemption,’ The form lists 30 medications and asks employees to ‘truthfully acknowledge and affirm that my sincerely held religious belief is consistent and true and I do not use or will [not] use any of the medications listed as examples or any other medication … that has used fetal cell lines in their development and/or testing.‘” (From Becker’s Hospital Review, Kelly Gooch, 9/16/2021)

The list includes Tylenol, Pepto Bismol, aspirin, Tums, Lipitor, Senokot, Motrin, ibuprofen, Maalox, Ex-Lax, Benadryl, Sudafed, albuterol, Preparation H, MMR vaccine, Claritin, Zoloft, Prilosec OTC, and azithromycin.” (from Ars Tecnica, Beth Mole, 9/16/2021)

So if you are objecting to the vaccine on religious grounds due to your anti-choice stance, stop taking anything in the list above; and be sure to check the full list for the other 11 medications you shouldn’t be taking. And if you are truly religious you will (of course, this goes without saying) check to see that there are no other substances you use which benefit from research involving that fetal cell line, as it sounds like that list of 30 is incomplete.

If you object to vaccines on principle, be sure to NOT get a tetanus shot if you step on a rusty nail. If bitten by a rabid animal, avoid the rabies vaccine on both grounds. A Darwin Award could be in your future!

Big Ring Ride

Wednesday night’s warm up for the century was a fairly easy ride. Part way through I realized I had not yet used the small chainring, so decided to make it a big ring ride and stay on that ring the whole way, just for the hell of it. Saturday was going to be a short ride just to stay loose. Minutes after I changed back into regular clothes, I got a call for an emergency errand so I changed again and did a second ride of the same length. So 30 miles;”just to stay loose”.

The Ride

Sunday dawned chilly so required tights and a jacket for the first couple of hours, then shorts and a short-sleeved jersey for the rest. The wind was supposed to pick up around noon, by which time it would be a tailwind. Right.

We headed into the sunrise, so it was bright until the sun got higher. There was a mass start, complete with a countdown by the MC over a PA and the option to download a tracking app so folks could know where you were at all times. I considered tearing the sensor out of my ride number. All a bit much for me. There were mile markers every mile for the first ten and again at the end – they were from the 25K route, so mile 101 was announced as “Mile 16”. Cruel. All distances were generous (since 25K is 15.5 miles.) The forecast was for early sun, then clouds. The temperature hit 80 (27 C), the clouds didn’t come until well after we finished, and the wind was a factor by 9:30 – by “factor”, I mean “not a tailwind”. The canopies at the rest stops were blowing over, trash receptacles blowing away, the signs (despite being weighted) were falling down, flags were snapping (and shredding) in the “breeze”; and that’s not to mention the effect on the riders. As usual, a great day for a ride; just a bit harder than last week (and despite being only two miles longer, it took a half hour longer).

Religious diversity in Rockdale – two Lutheran churches within shouting distance

Thanks to all the donors for the ride! Shouts out to Mark (California Alps Cycling), Tim, Candice, Celeste, Patti, Vikki, John (A Midnight Rider), KR, all anonymous donors, and anyone I forgot, missed, or couldn’t identify. Thanks to blogging friends I have met only online. Thanks to 50th reunion classmates who are partying while I am riding (stay safe and have an extra beer for me).

The last miles contained tributes to people with cancer. RIP Jerry, Carol, Geoph, Kate, Lloyd, Mary and the rest of you. This ride is to stop that list from growing.
High clouds appeared around 3 PM.

Woolly Bears

Around here, the woolly bear caterpillar is said to predict the winter weather. This caterpillar is generally brown in the middle and black on the ends. More black is said to mean a harsher winter. I saw four on the ride – two with narrow black bands and two that were all brown with no black on the ends. That is supposed to mean a mild winter. I had to look this up, because I thought it was the other way around. One source said a small study confirmed the folklore. Another said the relative sizes of the color bands actually shows what last winter was like. A third source claims no correlation. We’ll see.

It’s a beautiful day for math!

It is a perfect day. Too bad the century ride is tomorrow. The sun is out, the sky is blue, it’s beautiful and so are you…wait,

The title comes from the kids’ algebra teacher. I rode past him on the footbridge on the way home from the co-op, buying supplies for the camping weekend…

As I set up camp, the front blew in. The sky turned dark and the wind kicked up. The temperature began dropping. I closed up the tent before going to Sister Bay to pick up my ride packet. The threatened rain (whose chances and number of hours forecast kept shrinking as the week wore on) never came, but it will be a cool ride tomorrow. I’ll be getting up at the usual time for work due to a 7 AM start two towns up the road from here. Carbo-loading tonight with pumpkin tortelloni covered in pesto I made this morning.

I got up in the dark, normal at home but a little different when camping. Breakfast and coffee and off to Sister Bay at 6:20. First decision – what to wear. The temperature was in the low 50s (11 C), with a forecast high in the mid 60s (18 C) and it wouldn’t get to 60 (15 C) for a few hours. I opted for a long sleeve jersey, figuring it would be good all day, and shorts, figuring they’d be chilly at first but the right choice later. In a variation on the old bike racer trick of stuffing newspapers down the front of the jersey, I used the plastic bag we got our swag in. No ink on your chest, and no peeling off the disintegrating newspaper when you sweat through it. I needed that for the first 25 miles. My knees were cold in the morning and the sun felt pretty good when we were in it.

I avoided the mass start, not liking anything with “mass” in it these days. I rode out with someone I would see off and on all day. We started at a comfortably slow pace. The other advantage to avoiding the mass start is avoiding the adrenaline rush of the big crowd, which makes me ride faster than I should with 100 miles ahead of me.

At the 28 mile rest stop they served brats – only in Wisconsin (at 9 AM). I passed. A few miles on, I saw topiary in the shape of a camel. I wanted to stop and take a picture, but there were barking dogs on the other side of the fence. I figured they’d go nuts at someone stopping right outside their gate. It didn’t matter, since 100 yards later I came upon a couple of real camels grazing.

Camels? in Wisconsin?

At 46 miles I was hoping for some substantial food, but there were only melons, donut holes, and cookies. I noticed I was riding faster than I intended to, so I thought I’d slow down a bit to save strength for the end. A few miles on from there, R from Milwaukee rode up beside me. I had seen him coming and figured he’d pass me, but he settled in and started talking. The next 15 miles flew by – both because I don’t notice them while chatting, and because we were riding faster than I intended.

At mile 64 his family was waiting to meet him. After saying hi to them we started off with 5 more of his friends we met at the rest stop. From there to the mile 80 rest stop was easy going as a result. At that stop, all the talk was about the big hill coming up.

We hit that hill at 85 miles. It was pretty much like the average sort of hill we climb several of on every local ride. The Milwaukee crew disappeared behind me on the way up. I didn’t see them again. At mile 90 I talked to a couple of Ironmen (I don’t know why we don’t call a woman who completes one of those an “Ironwoman”, but we don’t.) I didn’t plan to keep up with her or her partner. They hadn’t done our local Ironman last week, but were planning two others this fall. This was just a warmup.

The miles were starting to take their toll after that as we rode into a headwind. A group of about 8 passed me with 6 miles to go. As they were young enough to be my children, I wasn’t tempted to try to keep up, even though it would have helped with the headwind. Miraculously, they did not disappear up the road and I followed them into Sister Bay after 101 miles and 6 hours and 6 minutes in the saddle. I had expected it to take 7 hours. The free beer was a welcome sight. Even better, they had several choices – all from One Barrel Brewing. It was a perfect day for the Oktoberfest while wading in Green Bay.

It was, by the way, a great ride – well-organized, through beautiful country, and less crowded than the more famous ride up here a week ago (which I did once and will now avoid). In a week, we’ll see if I can do it again (though close enough to home to sleep in my own bed).