Back to school?

I’m back to being a student again. As part of the Wisconsin Idea (also see, the university has a program for Senior Guest Auditors. Old folks are allowed to take university courses (for no credit, just to learn). We aren’t allowed to turn in assignments or take tests, and we are supposed to sit quietly at the back of the room as observers/passive listeners. I figured that last thing would be the hard part.

My first class was in the Department of Agriculture and Applied Economics, called “Cooperatives and Alternative Forms of Enterprise Ownership” . The professor asked us to introduce ourselves, say why we were taking this class, and, if we could eat only one kind of cheese for the rest of our life, what would it be? (Aged Cheddar; if I had to be specific, it would be Renard’s Two Year Cheddar. While I love older Cheddars, I’m not sure I would want to eat them all the time. Feel free to answer the question in the comments.) She clearly wanted me to answer like everyone else. After class I told her our instructions as Senior Guest Auditors. She considered that silly and wanted me to talk like anyone else, especially since I spent a career in co-op management. Whew! That was going to be a hard class in which to sit down and shut up.

My next class was “History of the Cold War” with a professor whose primary work is in Southeast Asia, with published works including “The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia:CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade“, and “A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror“, and “Torture and Impunity: The U.S. Doctrine of Coercive Interrogation“. And those are just the books of his that I’ve read. I was far from the only old fart in that class, so he did let us know that we are not welcome in the discussion sections, though a fellow old fart did ask a question at the end of class, so we might not have to be totally silent, just circumspect. I didn’t have access to course materials until a few hours before the first class, as I wasn’t allowed to register until the first day of classes. I found there were 110 pages of required reading for the first class. I didn’t finish. There are about that many pages every week, plus hundreds of pages of suggested readings. This may keep me busy if I want to keep up. Luckily I don’t have to write papers or take tests. The class was in a packed lecture hall and only a few of us wore masks.

Bike? What bike?

It’s been awhile since I posted anything about riding. I have been commuting to school and the library. Virtual rides have been in Norway and Austria. I have yet to try Fulgaz, as the free rides on YouTube have suited me just fine.

The winter is at an awkward stage. For a while it was too warm for anything involving ice or snow. It’s cooling down and starting to look like winter. There has been too much snow to skate and not enough to ski. That might be changing (1/27) and I have a ski outing planned (1/29) with a bike club.

Last minute addendum: went to friends’ house for dinner Saturday night. Five inches of snow fell while we were there and I’d already shoveled there times today. Still coming down. I hope I can get the car out in the morning to join folks for skiing. Otherwise I may just have to ski out the front door.


We rolled out of Pepin and down the Great River Road, through towns crammed between the Mississippi River (and dual sets of RR tracks) on one side and steep bluffs on the other.

There was a chill in the air and clouds that were slowly thickening. It felt like September in Wisconsin, not July. With rumors of rain and my rain jacket packed away, I wondered how I would fare with a chilly rain.

In Fountain City we stopped to visit Brone’s Bike Shop, a place better-equipped than you have a right to expect in a town of 800. He had bikes from Cervelo, Pinarello, Colnago, Waterford, and a Schwinn Paramount. He had a time trial bike. One Pinarello had downtube shifters and C-Record Delta brakes. Had it been there for nearly 40 years, or was there a story behind it?

The other side of the shop sold coffee (from Wonderstate) and ice cream (from The Chocolate Shoppe). We wasted spent a lot of time there before getting back on the road. A couple of people bought helmets. On my way out, as I was taking my cleat covers off, Roberto asked for my help in getting the protective cover off of a new button battery. I set my cleat cover on the stair railing (as I discovered later) rather than putting it in my pocket, and sat down to try to help. When I went to take off my cleat covers later, I discovered one was missing. I searched my pockets, the floor of the store, the porch, the steps, under the steps. I searched a second time. Finally I went back inside and bought a pair of new cleat covers, putting on one to walk back out of the store. On the way down the stairs I found mine, as I was no longer looking down to search. Gene says it’s all Roberto’s fault. I’m sure he’s right. Now I have a spare set.

The healing power of coffee came through. As we left the bike shop, the sun came out. It was a warm and comfortable day with a bit of sunshine.

Quarter barrel mailbox – is this an only in Wisconsin moment?

We continued on down the river before turning inland and climbing a few of those hills. We started on a state highway, spent some time on a US highway with bad shoulder and high speed traffic, and made a very welcome turn onto county highways and township roads for the end of the day. I made a detour to visit the Mindoro Cut.

The detour started out as a gentle climb. There were signs warning of loose gravel. The road was freshly chip-sealed, by which I mean they spread a copious amount of pea gravel on the road and left it to its own devices. Some may get ground into the surface, some will be churned up and spewed around by car tires, some will wash away.

As the climb steepened and the switchbacks began, the gravel thickened. It was clearly going to be a seated climb and a hair-raising (and slow) descent. It was an out-and-back detour, as there were no roads turning east to Sparta after the cut.

Hand-hewn – no power tools, no explosives, just hammers and chisels.
Cut by a whole crew of John Henrys
For those who don’t want to watch a video, here is the Mindoro Cut
The road surface at the cut and through the switchbacks

With the detour, I turned into our destination in Sparta after 101 miles. Tomorrow, on to Baraboo and then Devil’s Lake State park Thursday.