The Last Roundup (Blue Spoon to Little Village)

“It was a fine fall morning; early and cold and sweet as cider. It was one of the prettiest times of year at one of the  prettiest times of the day…” (Ken Kesey, Little Tricker the Squirrel Meets Big Double the Bear)

And so we met at the Blue Spoon Cafe in Prairie du Sac, WI.  Breakfast (for me) was cakes bluespoonand eggs with coffee. It was about 35 degrees, no wind, a bright sun low in the sky. By the time we finished our breakfast and were ready to hit the road, it was over 40; still pretty crisp, but with a promise of warmth to come.

We (the stalwarts of the Half-fast Cycling Club) headed out, crossing the Wisconsin River and making our way to the Merrimac Ferry.ferry (For Cycle America folks, the morning route was more or less the route from the July 26 posting “I will never wear shoes“, only in reverse.) We wound our way up the switchbacks of Devil’s Lake State Park and on to lunch at the Little Village Cafe in Baraboo, home of the Circus World Museum (and former home of the Ringling Brothers). Lunch was a grilled chicken sandwich with pesto accompanied by an Argentine Malbec, followed by bourbon pumpkin cheesecake and espresso. No pictures of food. I’m not that kind of guy.

Leaving Baraboo the temperature was over 60 degrees. The wind began to pick up, out of the west, meaning we’d have a headwind early but a tailwind to push us home. The afternoon is the hillier part of the ride, so it was a good thing we were well-fueled. We headed up Happy Hill (and were happy), Freedom Road (where we felt free) and Swiss Valley (where we saw Brown Swiss cattle).  Rollie and I waited for the others by an old stone barn foundation with a silo in the middle. Since I’m used to seeing silos outside of the barn, I decided it’s really the top of an ancient and long-buried castle.

You can see the slits for the archers to shoot through at the top of the parapet, and the lookout tower above. After crossing a busy highway (with only a few feet of milled pavement – see the August 6 post “Back in the US, back in the US, back…”) we crossed onto a bike path for the last few miles. We saw a bald eagle perched above the river, which looked much better through the viewing scope than in the accompanying photo.eagle

Back to the Blue Spoon for drinks and hors d’oeuvre on the patio overlooking the river (just upstream from the eagle) and then it was back home for dinner, driving into the rising and nearly-full moon. Today was probably the most beautiful day of the month, a perfect day for what may be the last ride of the year that is just for fun and not to get somewhere. We’ll see how many of the Half-fast Club are up for the New Year’s Day ride.

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.