Baraboo re-do

Who knew you could get to Baraboo by car as well as by bike? Even on some of the same roads! Frankly, any scenery that looks good at 60 mph looks better at 20. But this weekend found the half-fast cycling club off to Baraboo for the second time in a week; this time in a car.

The occasion was our 25th wedding anniversary. We stayed in an apartment above the Little Village Cafe. It was a beautiful 2 bedroom apartment overlooking the town square and decorated with circus posters.

I had no idea who Mister Mistin, Jr was, so I had to look him up. He was the star of the 1953 season of the Ringling Brothers Circus, discovered by John Ringling in a circus in Sweden. In Sweden he performed under the name of “Baby Mistin”, but Ringling, to emphasize the child’s prodigiousness, dubbed him “Mister”. Mistin had made his debut in Belgium at the age of two and, by the time he came to the US, claimed to speak five languages. His tenure with the Ringling Brothers lasted one season.

Baraboo is a small enough town to walk everywhere – to the Al Ringling Theatre next door, to the Circus World Museum, to the park and zoo, to the children’s museum, and to the Driftless Glen Distillery. Devil’s Lake State Park, Parfrey’s Glen, and Durward’s Glen are all a short ride (or drive) away. Walking past the children’s museum at night we saw a dragon (one of several in town) and a firetruck.

A great dinner at The Little Village, breakfast at the Broadway Diner (where we sat almost close enough to the griddle to cook from our stools), but the hike in Devil’s Lake was derailed by a cold mist that made the apartment seem much more inviting. We finally ventured out after dark again for dinner at the Driftless Glen Distillery. A phenomenal dinner ( a great mushroom sauce on pasta) and the spirits weren’t bad, either. Back across Lake Wisconsin on the Merrimac Ferry and the real world beckons once again. The leaves that were just a pretty sight in Baraboo have to be raked here.

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Al Ringling Theatre – from traditionalbuilding.com

Top/bottom ten

The greatest hits and worst miseries of the tour, not necessarily in order of how good or bad they were and not necessarily ten of each:

Tour top 10:

New York week (after the first 50 miles) -Finger Lakes/wading in Lake Ontario after a cold front came through, temperature and humidity went down, tailwind all morning; up and down through the Adirondacks, beautiful day in Lake Placid. If you took away the first 50 miles and replaced them with the first 50 miles of the next week, this could be #1.867CEBD3-27F5-4014-AACC-1FC37BBC5BE8

Wisconsin week – Cannon Trail, the Great River Rd., Baraboo Bluffs/Devils Lake/Merrimac ferry, Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive. Great roads and no traffic all week. (Visits from family and friends put this one over the top, but it was already great.) 

The ride into Baraboo contained the single steepest climb of the entire trip ( a short stretch of Terrytown Road). 

The Sparta to Elroy Trail, while the first Rails-to-Trails conversion, has been surpassed by several others. It was actually the low point of the week. While the tunnels are a novelty, riding for 30+ miles on gravel is not my cup of tea and takes a toll on the bike. I know, gravel riding is the new thing, but I’d rather ride on pavement if given the choice. 

I’m almost reluctant to admit that the area I ride regularly was the high point, but it also assures me that I live in the right place.AA48B9A9-93D9-405F-B4A3-8637855C927A

Needles highway/Black Hills/Badlands – The Needles Highway was the single high point. This was a magical fairyland, otherworldly in its beauty. I am amazed that I never knew of this place. I could ride that road ten more times and still see new things. The area was phenomenal and the road was the best we rode in >4300 miles.   E2692CEC-A68A-498A-9B90-C0D7F1978AC7

The Badlands are also otherworldly. Different, in that they can be seen as bleak in broad daylight, but change minute-by-minute in early morning light. Like Needles Highway, I wanted to ride that same road again at sunset after riding it at sunrise. 

 

Bike path through Grand Teton National Park, climbing Teton Pass, descending to Jackson Hole and a great bike path. The path through the park kept us away from traffic and in view of the mountains. I met Santa Claus at the foot of Teton Pass, along with a group riding from Texas to Alaska. The pass was steep and tough, getting steeper as it went. Standing at the top of the pass was a feeling of accomplishment and gave a great view of the valley below. After descending to the valley we were led on a secluded path into town. The valley is well set up for bicycles, with paths connecting the towns.

 

Thompson Pass – first time over the continental divide and first big pass, descent into Thompson Falls, a town mostly owned by a single family, where we saw their bar, ice cream shop, catering service, and bus service.

Devils Tower. A campground situated right at the base of the tower. The tower itself rises out of nothing. It is not part of a mountain range but, like Ayers Rock in Australia, is just there. It is no surprise that it was used as the backdrop/centerpiece of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. 9DCB1F78-14DE-4EBC-9051-1754A42439FD

The margarita party was our first real chance to sit down as a group and just hang out together. 

Smugglers Notch. A day that started with threatening weather that never fully materialized. The pass enveloped by clouds as we ascended, never really sure how high it was, on the approach or while actually climbing it. A climb that was over before I realized it; not because it was easy (it wasn’t) but because the top was invisible until we were there. The steepest descent of the trip, made hazardous by the wet pavement so we took it slowly. 

 

Bottom 10:

Riding 105 miles in 40° rain. The camaraderie made it tolerable. A day that I would have stayed in bed had I been on my own. 

Climbing a mountain pass in a hailstorm. Another day saved by a group – the same group. As Greg told me before the trip, the 70 degree and sunny days will all blend together, but it is the days like this that will make lasting memories. 

72 mile ride that turned into 102 mile ride, the last 1/3 into a brutal headwind, finishing with a helmet splitting crash in an endless industrial waste land. The only day that I wanted the van to stop for me. I got back on the bike and rode the final ten miles, so I did ride EFI. We stopped at a convenience store for a cold drink and found other riders draped over coolers and freezers. Misery loves company.

The first half of that day was actually really nice. 

Mile after mile of horrendous pavement,90+ degree heat, and endless headwinds across the Great Plains.

Mile after mile of flat and boring countryside in Michigan with bad highways and rude drivers.

Re-entering the US at Niagara Falls and riding 50 miles before getting into the countryside.

Bone jarring expansion cracks through Central Minnesota.

Hill City to Custer – uphill, bad headwind, relentless sun/heat, horrendous traffic, grooved pavement causing painful whining noise – and there was a reasonable alternative route nearby.

A few random thoughts:

  • had some great encounters with bikers (of the Harley persuasion) – both on-the-road salutes and chats at the roadside.
  • In the first week I waved to a Corvette behind me to acknowledge it and, as it passed, I saw a peace sign flashed out through the T-top.
  • A random motorcyclist flipped me the bird for no apparent reason.
  • A friendly bar owner brought watermelon out to us on a hot, dry, and windy day.
  • On another hot day I stopped in a coffee shop for an iced coffee and the air conditioning was so cold I just hung out for awhile. It was a day when I realized getting somewhere was only a small part of the plan.
  • When I walked into a brewpub, I was met by applause. Another rider had arrived before me and told our story and they knew I was part of that group.
  • Greg repeatedly referred to the Lake Michigan ferry crossing as “The shortest longest day”. We rode only 40 miles but got into camp with just enough time to pitch our tents before it got dark.
  • Somewhere out west (I think on the Tetons day) a Russian couple riding from Denver to Seattle stopped in and joined us for lunch.
  • On another day, in the middle of nowhere, I happened upon a scruffy-looking guy walking his bike in the opposite direction. I asked if he needed help. He said, “Is the next town about 4 miles ahead?” I agreed that it was. He thanked me and kept walking. (Only 4 miles from town it wasn’t really the middle of nowhere – it just seemed like it.)
  • The look of incredulity when I told some kids at a lemonade stand (on our last day) that I had ridden >4300 miles for that lemonade.

That’s it for now folks. Daily life is intruding on my writing time. I have a sewer line to clear and more. Posts will be a little more irregular after today. Maybe when my bike gets here I’ll look at the odometer and give you my total mileage. Maybe not. Numbers don’t really say what I want to say. Thanks for joining me on this journey. It’s been real.

I’m not going away entirely. As Phil Ochs said:

I will never wear shoes

There is only one thing better than walking barefoot in damp grass – that’s walking barefoot in water.

I have kvetched more than once during this trip about my burning feet. You can buy chemical foot warmers to slip into your shoes, why not foot coolers?

I’ve heard lots of comments from other riders about the fact that my shoes come off as soon as I get off my bike.

Bill Camplin understands. Sorry I can’t find a link to the whole song. Today is the closest we’ll get to his place, so today is the day for this song.

Tonight is the full moon (and a total eclipse for much of the world – not here, as it occurs in daylight for us). That calls for another of my favorite songs:

Dear Trauma Team: I hope Tyler is doing great, but not so well that you won’t want me back in a month.

Thursday – Baraboo to Beaver Dam, WI

My boss picked me up after our meeting Wednesday night and took me out for beers. It was great to re-connect and hear some work news. Hey fifth floor! – I hear you are reading these over lunch. Are you reading them aloud?

At breakfast I was met by half-fast friends Rosebud and Tim and my son Mikko. We rode off to Devil’s Lake. As I introduced Mikko to folks on the first climb, they wanted to know how it was we could talk on this climb, when they could barely breathe. Since Mikko is not an experienced distance cyclist (but a very experienced commuter), I explained that he didn’t know any better. It might also help that he’s 40 years younger than we are.

The ferry crossing of Lake Wisconsin (which takes about 8 minutes) was a treat for folks who hadn’t done it before and is always a high point for me on rides in this area.

We headed off (again on mostly town roads, a few county highways, and only brief stretches on state highways) moving east with a strong tailwind. The prevailing westerlies have finally arrived in the sixth week.

I was having too much fun to stop for pictures. Quiet roads and chatting with friends as we rode made the miles fly by. The tailwind helped.

Mikko bailed out at lunch (with a play to go to tonight about 100 miles in the other direction and a busy schedule for the next week, riding all day was not a viable option).

The rest of us rode on to Beaver Dam, stopping for root beer floats on the way in. We found a  bar with good beers on tap (Badger Club from Wisconsin Brewing for me), then strolled around Beaver Dam before dinner in a Mexican restaurant, Palenque. A flock of pelicans were hanging out just above the dam. We also saw a statue of Frank Lloyd Wright as a beaver, and life-sized stone lions guarding a house.

Tomorrow on to Plymouth, where I hope to be met by my friend Jeremy. Saturday it is on to our next ferry, this time crossing Lake Michigan. That will take a bit longer than 8 minutes.

Are we there yet?

Since this is the closest we get to my house, it’s time for another local favorite, and a question I have asked many times already:

We started our morning with a great breakfast at Ginny’s Cupboard in Sparta. The route quickly left the streets and entered the Sparta to Elroy Trail, where we would spend most of the morning. The trail includes 3 tunnels, one of them over 3800 feet long. Water drips from the ceiling and runs down drainage ditches along the walls. In some parts of the tunnel there is a steady rain. Even with a good light, the tunnels require walking. Photos: tunnel entrance, the light at the end of the tunnel, rock cairn outside of the tunnel

 

 

The surface is “crushed limestone”, mostly hard-packed dirt. Even so, the surface was better than a lot of the chip-sealed highways out west, and there are no trucks flying by at 80 mph.

Still, it was good to get back on roads for the afternoon. We started on state highway 33, which could have been any highway anywhere. We soon turned off onto town roads and I started grinning. Now this is Wisconsin riding!

We rode up and down ridges with short, steep climbs, big vistas at the top, fast descents, no traffic. After our afternoon water stop we were on flatter roads, but still no traffic and iconic Wisconsin farmland. Saving the best ‘til last, we turned onto Terrytown Road. If my instruments are correct, we climbed 50 feet in 0.05 mile, which would translate to a 19% grade. It continues steeply, though not quite that steep, for a bit farther before returning to rolling hills and on into Baraboo. Photos: Terrytown Road vista, Terrytown Road (not the steep part)

 

 

 

 

Photos from Tuesday: Sunrise over Twin Bluffs, Nelson, WI; Viking statue, Buffalo City, WI.

 

 

Final photos: Rock-in-house (viewed from back yard and through bedroom door) Yes, the bedroom is completely filled by the rock.

Graeme met someone else from Melbourne on the trail and said, “Five weeks I’ve been here and she’s the first one who understands me.”

Tomorrow (today as you read this), if I guess right, we will ride through Devil’s Lake State Park (called Devil’s Lake by the white folks because the real name, which translates more closely as “Spirit Lake”, or “Sacred Lake” must have referred to the Devil since it didn’t refer to Jesus) and ride the Merrimac Ferry.

I expect to be joined by two friends and my son; all half-fast, if you ask me.