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.

Favorite Ride

It was sunny, hot, and humid when I left work. A light wind; a great day for a ride.

I arrived early at the meetup point. Someone said there was a thunderstorm in Dodgeville headed straight toward us. As I waited for my friends to arrive, I checked the radar. A thunderstorm cell was headed our way and looked like it would arrive just as we were to start. The air turned cool. The wind died. The sky turned dark. The wind picked up. A few raindrops fell.

The rain stopped. I checked the radar. The storm cell had changed from a yellow to a green spot and had veered south. It would be raining on the roads we were to ride, but would probably move east ahead of us. We saddled up and hit the road.

I had forgotten to bring a cue sheet, but these were roads I know well. I rode the 30+ mile route from memory. We rode on some slightly damp roads but never felt more than a few drops, just enough to cool us down a bit.

As we rode along Dougherty Creek, we came upon a steep and deeply verdant hillside with a small herd of Brown Swiss cattle. I imagined this is what Switzerland looks like and why the Swiss settled here and called it New Glarus.

The ridgetop vistas were stunning, as usual. The corn is probably neck-high. The short and steep climb from Dougherty Creek to the ridge seemed easier than usual. The broad sweeping curves we carved at 35+ mph on the descent into town brought ear-to-ear grins to our faces. Pizza and beer closed out the evening.

After darkness fell, one high cloud still caught the sun.
I learned a new use for Coban/vet wrap this week. (Note stegosaurus listening in the background.)
Dividing Ridge Road

I raced a train to work today. As I approached the tracks that I would parallel, I heard the crossing bells. I didn’t hear a train horn so I figured the engine was not nearby. Rounding a bend I saw hopper cars going my way. It was time to guess – if I was near the end of the train I could head for the nearest crossing and wait; if I was near the head of the train I could try to outrun it and cross up ahead.

I figured action beats inaction so I continued parallel to the tracks, and upped my speed. Approaching Brearly Street I heard the train horn. I was gaining, and knew I’d made the right choice. Approaching Paterson I saw the engine and knew I could pass it. I had three more chances to cross before I would have to revise my route. Approaching Livingston I heard the crossing bells come on and knew I couldn’t make it there. I found a reserve and went faster. As I approached Blount Street I knew I could make it. I heard the engineer back off the throttle a bit for the upcoming curve. Just then, the warning bells started. I had the train by more than a block, it was moving at 12 mph, and I could go just a bit faster than I was already. The crossing was a new one with rubber at the tracks so it was a smooth crossing. After I crossed, I backed off. As I turned on Main Street I saw the engine cross Blount. I felt the burn in my lungs from a hard effort. I still had 4.5 miles to cool down before I got to work.

Taking it easy, I made the turn to Carroll Street. The walk light at Johnson was on, which meant I knew I could make that crossing. It started to blink “Don’t Walk”, which meant I could make it as long as I didn’t dilly dally; my light would turn yellow on the 11th blink. I made the crossing and now I could sit up and take it easy the rest of the way. I could get to the wooded lakeshore path and enjoy the beauty of a cool and crisp morning – a morning that required a jacket. I could watch the dappled sunlight filtered through the trees. I could look out over the sailboats gently swaying on their moorings. I could wave to the early morning runners. And I could arrive at work way earlier than I planned, thanks to that early morning sprint.

AM commute, though not today.
Three years ago today. Dubois, WY.

Happy Father’s Day!

I’m not one of those people who thinks you have to be a parent to be fulfilled. I’m one of those people who thinks you have to be fulfilled to be a parent. It is fine to not want to be a parent – and even better not to be one if you don’t want to. Your kids will know.

I realized early in life that I didn’t want to be my dad and it was no better to be my anti-dad. I had to learn how to be me and be a dad. That took until I was 40.

I also want to acknowledge those who never had a dad. Maybe you had a father, one who provided DNA, but not a dad. Wil Wheaton says it better than I ever could, so go read this.

For those of you who are dads, happy day! I had a great day and I hope you did, too. I started with the laundry and breakfast (the usual Sunday) and then picked strawberries at our CSA farm. They’ve been growing organic vegetables for about 45 years and I’ve been buying from them for about 45 years. In 2016, they were named “Organic Farmers of the Year“. While you might not be close enough to buy from them, check out community-supported agriculture in your neck of the woods. There are plenty of excellent farmers out there. CSA, for those unfamiliar, is a way for the community to help capitalize farming and share some of the risk. We pay upfront for the season (there are variations), since farmers face major costs at the time of year when they lack income. If it’s a great year for strawberries, we get lots of strawberries. If not, we may get a lot of spinach that year. Each week is a new adventure and a lesson in seasonal eating.

When I got home I picked some rhubarb to go with the fresh strawberries. Strawberry season is short here (maybe three weeks) and there is not always a good overlap with rhubarb. I made a strawberry-rhubarb pie, strawberry-rhubarb sauce, a smoothie, a gallon of frozen berries, and my wife made strawberry shortcake. The pie still has to cool. We had a Zoom lunch with the kids and my daughter-in-law’s father. Later we re-enacted becoming a father, without the kids.

I am not a fan of single-use kitchen gadgets. One doesn’t need 37 assorted knives. An 8 inch French knife (nowadays known as a chef’s knife), a good paring knife, a serrated knife to cut bread; most of the rest are superfluous. I will admit I like a few single-use items – a strawberry huller and a cherry pitter come in pretty handy. A good rolling pin and a pastry cloth. You can tell I like to bake pies.

The Summer Solstice seemed like a good time for the New Glarus Ride. I wrote of it last year. The wild roses were in bloom this week. Dougherty Creek Road was newly chip-sealed. The sound of pea gravel striking the underside of a carbon fiber downtube is not one of my favorite sounds; but it beats the ride of many years ago when the chip-seal was so fresh that I had to throw away my tires after the ride – they were thickly coated in tar and gravel that I couldn’t get off. Usually they use oil instead of tar. The climb at the end of Dougherty Creek (up to Prairie View Road) required staying in the saddle. Luckily, most of the climb is after the turn onto Prairie View. I love when the road name tells you about itself.

The ride ends near a pizza parlor. They have good pizza and 80 beers. I looked over as I rode past. No masks, tables too close for comfort. I passed. I’m not ready to eat in a restaurant yet, not even outside. Maybe if the servers were masked and the tables farther apart. The next day I mentioned this at work, and all of my co-workers agreed – they aren’t ready, either. I guess working in a hospital does that to you.

The long and winding road – nothing beats a downhill S-bend!

Next weekend would be the beginning of Co-op Camp Sierra. Camp is virtual this year, like much of life. I’ll probably drink my morning coffee out on the front porch, as we would at camp. The ride back home to the Bay Area after camp follows the route from this song by Kate Wolf. (The title is misspelled in the video – it’s “Pacheco”.) Mentioning Kate Wolf requires a shout-out to Nina Gerber. Nina was Kate’s accompanist until Kate died, then branched out. She always played the right note and, more importantly, knew how to use the silence between notes. Highly under-rated by the general public, she is highly sought-after by other musicians.

from coopcamp.com. Not the porch for my morning coffee, but for afternoon fermented grape juice.

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.