I try to go on a January 1 ride every year. Sometimes it is just to a nearby coffee shop. This has been a warm December (after a cold November) so I thought about a longer ride. Just before Christmas it seemed like a great idea to tour the solar system for the New Year.
In 2009 the University of Wisconsin Space Place created a scale model of the solar system that one can tour by bicycle. They commissioned graphic artist Tsela Barr to design a sign for each planet and placed them to scale. Thus, Mercury is only a few feet from the sun and Pluto is 23 miles away via the Military Ridge State Trail. What better way to welcome the new year than to ride to Pluto and back?
The trail starts at the Monona Terrace Convention Center, which was conceived in 1938 by Frank Lloyd Wright as a civic center on the lake. The idea was fought over for years, dying and being resurrected through the decades. In the 1970s, Madison was served by Mayor Paul Soglin, who decided to put an end to the fighting with a new proposal. He suggested taking the existing Capitol Theatre (a 1928 movie palace) and combining it with a former department store (Yost-Kessenich) and a few other storefronts to create a civic center away from the lake and closer to the state capitol. It worked and, in 1980 the Madison Civic Center was born.
Soglin took a hiatus in civilian life and returned to the mayor’s office in 1989. He decided the time was ripe and spearheaded the effort to build the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed civic center on the lake. It was repurposed as a convention center (since the city already had a civic center) and opened in 1997.
Meanwhile, the civic center was showing its age; the result of compromises and the fact that the Capitol Theatre was designed as a silent movie house. Along came a couple of wealthy philanthropists. Jerry Frautschi had made a fortune in the printing business (Democrat Printing Company, which became Webcrafters) and bankrolled his wife’s plan for a company that would make historically accurate dolls with a complex backstory supplied by a series of books. The Pleasant Company was born. When Pleasant Rowland sold the company to Mattel, the family had a few million dollars to spare and bequeathed the Overture Center to the city, a massive renovation of the civic center with a new, larger, and acoustically superior theatre where the department store had been. In 1997 the Frautschis pledged $50 million. Eventually that grew to over $200 million. Overture Hall opened in 2004 during Soglin’s second hiatus away from the mayor’s office.
In 2000, local singer/songwriters Lou and Peter Berryman wrote the song “Madison, Wisconsin”, with a chorus including:
“So how’s old Madison Wisconsin
Is that Paul Soglin still the mayor,
And is Rennebohm’s expanding,
The Club deWash still there?”
While the Club deWash burned down (under suspicious circumstances, but that would be another post) and Rennebohm’s was swallowed by Walgreen’s, Paul Soglin returned to the mayor’s office in 2011 and is still there today. While their songbook says the song is from 2000, I could have sworn they sang it when I heard them in San Francisco back around 1990.
Enough back story! Let’s ride!
New Year Ride
We rang out the old year in the usual fashion, with a potluck at the home of old friends Vic and Shel, followed by the (last) annual New Year’s Eve concert by Lou and Peter Berryman. Potlucks call for pies, so we made Chocolate Ancho Pecan Pies, from an Eldorado Grill recipe.
We had a surprising white Christmas when it snowed overnight on Christmas Eve. (Living on a narrow strip of land between two lakes, we often sing that old Irving Berlin favorite “I’m dreaming of a wide isthmus”.)
Back to rain and sleet and the snow was gone. New Year’s Eve started with rain, changed to sleet, and then to snow. This made for great riding today. I put the studded tires on my winter bike and abandoned the thought of riding the Bruce Gordon. Side roads and bike paths were solid ice. Without the studded tires I’d have spent much of the day picking myself up off the ground. With studs, it was like riding on clear pavement, except much prettier.
To get to the sun I first had to ride over the river and through the woods.
As Lou and Peter told us:
“Up in Wisconsin, up in Wisconsin
The weather isn’t very nice.
Up in Wisconsin, up in Wisconsin
They gotta fish right through the ice.”
I rode to the sun and then started on my way out through the solar system in a winter wonderland. The heavy, wet snow on top of ice stuck to the trees. I had to photograph the planet signs from the leeward sides, as the windward sides were invisible under the snow.
A sticky disc brake piston made it harder and harder to reach escape velocity as I passed the larger planets. Finally, at Saturn, I used the gravitational force for the slingshot effect to launch me back toward Earth, after a brief vist to Titan.
Cafe Domestique called to me, and an espresso and baklava were in order before returning home. Happy birthday to my baby sister, who has entered the decade in which Officially Old begins – she’s not That yet. Since she was born on January 1, too late for a 1958 tax deduction, our father called her “Pokey” as a child.