Frenchtown Rock

This area used to be home to the mound builders, including those we call the Mississippians. The Ho Chunk called this home. In the 1800s, German and Norwegian immigrants moved in. Then there was a small settlement known as Frenchtown. As usually happens, one person moved into the area and told others. Soon (in the 1850s) there was a small enclave of French immigrants among the First Nations, German, and Norwegian people who were already here.

image from Big River magazine

The other night I went for a ride on Frenchtown Road. It was hot, after a few weeks of fall-like weather. It was humid, during a brief break from the rain – a flash flood warning was issued just before I sat down to write this. One good thing about Frenchtown Road, riding on it always makes me think about Bob Marley.

I am a doer, not an organizer or a fundraiser. As a result, my fundraising for The Ride has been pathetic, and the ride is this weekend. We’ll see if I’m in any shape to ride after four days in motels and conference centers, talking instead of riding. I’m going to ask again for donations, as this hit close to home recently. Thanks again to Vikki for being the first donor on the half-fast page. The Ride is a fundraiser for the Carbone Cancer Center, and one of the half-fast riders recently had a biopsy for suspected cancer. That person doesn’t have cancer, but it reminded me that one needn’t look sick, feel sick, or seem sick in any way to have cancer. It is an equal opportunity destroyer.

Some rides come with unexpected thrills
Moonset after Fri the 13th full moon

It’s a beautiful evening for a walk, but I’m in that god forsaken wilderness made up of motels and chain restaurants; a landscape designed exclusively for the automobile. I walked to and from a nearby restaurant, strolling through parking lots and meandering entrance roads – the sort that are supposed to feel “organic” I guess; curving paths that might be intended to seem like they acknowledge the landscape, but are merely someone’s perversely poor attempt to do something other than make a straight road. Can we tell them there is nothing wrong with a straight road, when the landscape is open and flat? Okay; I know that’s not all it is. Those roads wander apparently aimlessly but not really aimlessly at all. The point of roads through shopping centers is to get you to drive past as many of the stores as possible in order to get you to spend more money. If it’s hard to find your way out you’ll drive past even more of them.

So while hanging out in cheap motels this week, I’ve been watching the Ken Burns series on country music on PBS. The most recent episode featured one of the best recordings around -the incomparable Patsy Cline singing one of Willie Nelson’s greatest songs:

I learned something new on the show. The song “Family Bible” was written by Willie Nelson. I was introduced to the song not by the original 1960 Claude Gray recording (which didn’t credit Nelson as the writer), but by the 1971 release by Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen (lest you think I’m a purist).

That album also brought the (in)famous country tearjerker “Seeds and Stems Again Blues”. This was a great crying in your beer song about lost love and lost everything else, with an obligatory spoken verse and a sobbing steel guitar, but maybe if it were written by the Onion (actually Bill Kirchen and Commander Cody). They don’t seem to want me to embed this video, so find it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GNWw2NFo_ec

Rather than give Commander Cody the last word, I’ll also add that it’s time to clean our adopted highway again. We’re looking at Sunday, October 6 at noon tentatively. Let us know if you can make it. The Dane County Highway Commission will supply the safety vests, gloves, and trash bags. The Dane County drivers will supply the trash.

I renewed my half-fast credentials…

on a recent ride with the Bombay Bicycle Club. It started innocently enough.

We met at a park near the edge of town. There were two options – short (30 miles) and long (70 miles). The ride leader urged those going long to head out first. There were maybe 8-10 of us. There were maybe 25 more doing the short ride.

As we headed out, we coalesced into one big group. A few folks worked their way up on the left. As we headed into more open road, the group started to spread out. A few faster riders began to disappear ahead. That was as it should be. I settled in near the back of the next group, at my usual leisurely pace for the first five miles. As we began to climb, I found myself moving to the front of that group. Another hill or two and I was in between the two groups. That was fine. I could enjoy the scenery and not look at a wheel or a back.

The fast guys must have gotten stuck in traffic at a crossroads, as I somehow found myself with them. The pace picked up to about 20 mph. Fine, as long as I was in a group. There were two guys who would ride along in the middle of the group, then one of them would accelerate up the left side and set a 25 mph pace. The next person would grab his wheel and we’d be flying along for a mile or two. Then he’d drop back and we’d settle into our usual pace. Then the other guy would do the same.

One year ago, crossing into Canada

It was exhilarating riding at a pace faster than usual. I had divided the route in my head into 7 mile segments – each 1/10 of the ride. At mile 21, my brain said “3/7 of the way. I can do this”. A bit later I said, “wait, that’s 3/10 of the way – this is not sustainable”. I drifted off the back. No way a half-fast rider can ping pong between 20 and 25 mph for another 50 miles.

One year ago – 100 is only a number. No century today.

I caught up with them when we all stopped for cold drinks at a gas station/convenience store. I had the sense to wait until they were out of sight before heading back out on my own, at a reasonable pace. I reached the MacKenzie Environmental Center, near the midpoint of the ride. The cue sheet said continue straight. The sign said “Road Closed”. The pavement said “I haven’t been maintained for 20 years.” I checked my phone for another route, but had no service.

I rode back out to the main road and picked up a signal. I began to plot a new route, when the map disappeared and all I had was a blue beacon telling me “you are here”; but there was no here there. The signal came and went. Three more riders appeared. They acted like they knew where they were going. I decided to follow them.

We rode back to the “Road Closed” sign and rode through the barricade. Garmin said to continue, according to one of them. The mix of pavement and green was about 50/50; except for the places where it was obscured by all of the fallen twigs and small branches. We picked our way through and, just as I made a cyclocross joke, the pavement came to an end. There was an expanse of grass ahead of us; nothing even remotely resembling a path – but we could see an actual road just ahead so we continued on. In retrospect, there oughta be some pictures here. I didn’t realize this was going to be a story.

Back on the road, we had about 35 miles of headwind to home. I managed to hang on.

Some days are just too exquisite

to stop and take pictures. After careful deliberation,I have to say the New Glarus ride is my favorite of the Wednesday Night Bike Rides.

The Swiss who settled here called it New Glarus because it reminded them of home. While most of the cattle are now Holsteins and not Brown Swiss, there is still a Swiss atmosphere around here.

The ride started with a long and gradual climb. I didn’t realize how steep it was until gliding back down at 35 mph at the end of the ride. We turned onto Meadow Valley Road for a downhill followed by a few ups and downs. On to Farmers Grove Road for four miles of roller coaster hills, then to Dougherty Creek (which sounds sort of like “dirty crick” in case you’re not from around here). Four miles of following the creek through the woods and it was time to head back up top. A steep climb up Prairie View Road and to the left we saw the pale green of flowering grasses; to the right the deeper green of alfalfa and the deeper still of the thick woods along water courses. Steep valleys meandered off to the right – I thought about stopping for a picture but the scents, the light, the dark recesses in the wooded glens, the killdeers careening around while the hawks circled overhead were way too much to capture with a camera.

After another five miles of not having to think too much because there was no need to turn, we dipped down onto Holstein Prairie Road and another gradual climb with a few roller coasters for good measure. Back up on to a ridge for some great views before the next ear-to-ear grinning descent; and so it went for 30-some miles before we returned to New Glarus for pizza. New Glarus is also home to one of Wisconsin’s worst-kept secrets, the New Glarus Brewing Company. To avoid production pressures, they will not sell their beer outside of the state and, if a distributor is caught doing so, they lose their supply. I won’t say they are my favorite brewery, but I did have a bottle of their Uff-da at the end of last winter’s run and know I need to try it earlier in the season next year before it runs out.

Hats off to the unofficial Maglia Nera winner for 2019: Sho Hatsuyama of Team Nippo Vini Fantini Faizanè. He finished over 6 hours behind this year’s winner, Richard Carapaz of Movistar. Among the elite of the world, there are those who are not-so-elite. Just remember that he could still ride circles around any of us; and, in the third stage, he broke away in the first kilometer and rode a 145 km solo break until caught.

The adoption has been finalized and the results are in: 1.4 miles of highway that looked clean from a passing car yielded 22 pounds of trash. The biggest contributor was Anheuser-Busch, with more Busch Light beer cans than any other single item of trash. Add the Busch, Bud, and Bud Light cans and bottles, and they were breakaway winners.

Driving out, we passed through a serious-looking thunderstorm. Tim swore he saw Miss Gulch fly by on her bike (at 52 seconds in the video below).

The rain let up and it was a beautiful day by the time we finished. Gratuitous photos to follow.

On the way to work, looking east.
Storm on the way. A day like today, but on the way to work. Made it with minutes to spare before the deluge.
One year ago today – breakfast with Einstein, Jackson, WY.

Adopt-a-Highway

The half-fast cycling club has officially adopted a highway. This means we are responsible for keeping the roadside clean. Our stretch of road includes one of our favorite climbs and one of our favorite views.

If you guessed County Highway F at Brigham Park, you are a weiner! Officially, it is from the intersection with Cave of the Mounds Road to the end of the park (just out of sight in the background) at Danhouser Road.

Now we’re looking for volunteers. The first cleanup is planned for Sunday, June 30. If you’re interested, let us know via the contact page on this site or by any other means if you know how to reach us in other ways. If you can’t make that day but want to be on the list for the future, tell us that as well.

After we clean, we can sit on the bench (from which these photos were taken) and enjoy the view and a cold beverage.

The day after the Horribly Hilly, I had the good fortune to meet Phil Van Valkenberg, who might be considered the father of bike touring in Wisconsin. When I first discovered, at the age of 21, that I could ride my bike out of town, it was to Phil that I turned for maps and advice. He just didn’t know it until now. I dedicated the ride to him. He was in Milwaukee for the Fat Tire Tour of Milwaukee. We met at a chamber music concert; nothing to do with bikes (except that it was in a really beautiful valley for a ride).

This section of highway is no longer an orphan!

Same half-fast guy, two 200K rides, 27 years apart. Wet both times.