Half-fast fall colors tour

Pandemic edition (again)

Every year about this time we round up the usual suspects and head for the hills (Baraboo, that is).

The usual breakfast spot closed early in the pandemic. Last year we ate at home. This year Our Fearless Leader went one better. He has a friend on the route, on a tiny road off of a town road. We gathered there for a breakfast that couldn’t be beat (3 kinds of quiche [“quickie” to GW Bush, if you know that old joke], bacon, bagels, coffee, and mimosas) and waited until the sun warmed things a bit. We rode the usual route (the ferryless variant), just from a different spot. It’s a circle, so we could theoretically start anywhere.

Our usual lunch spot is now closed Mondays (probably another pandemic casualty), so we went for choice #2, which we’d always rejected as too expensive. It is a distillery with a great patio overlooking the Baraboo River. Alas, the bar still opens at 11 AM on Monday, but the kitchen is closed. (If you’re not from around here you might wonder why the bar has to open that early if there’s no food. If you’re from around here, that doesn’t need an answer.) Choice #3 was a diner with outside seating. It was a beautiful day to eat outside. The diner, due to staff shortages, was not serving outside and there was a 30 minute wait for a table inside – both the wait and the table inside were no-gos, so we ended up at a supermarket deli and ate on the lawn of the Visitor Center/Chamber of Commerce. (Baraboo is home to the Circus World Museum and former home of the Ringling Brothers.)

We added a new rider this year – Cowboy Bob. Below is his steed.

Note the name – “Morab” is a horse breed – a cross between a Morgan and an Arab. The paint job is skewbald, not likely on a Morab, but don’t tell Cowboy Bob. All Morgans are descended from one horse, owned by a man named Justin Morgan. Bob named the bike for a cross-country self-contained bike ride. Why Morab? He read of an early transcontinental journey in which the only horse that made it was a Morab. FYI: The bike is a 1979 Bottecchia, steel frame, with updated components.
In case you missed these details – note the spurs extending from the dropouts, and the rope pattern on the rims. Double-click (or spread fingers on a Mac trackpad, or right click and click “open image in new tab” – whichever works for you) to zoom in.

In the morning we rode through Sauk Prairie – the former Badger Army Ordnance Works now being restored by 4 owners – the Ho-Chunk Nation, WI Dept of Natural Resources, USDA Dairy Forage Research Center, and Bluffview Sanitary District. Less than half of the land is open to the public, but that leaves >3000 acres to explore via rustic roads and trails. The land formerly produced ammunition for WW II, and the Korean and Vietnam wars. That left a lot to clean up when it was decommissioned. Part of the Badger Army Ordnance Works’ claim to infamy is that at the turn of the new year 1969-70, the New Year’s Gang “borrowed” a plane from a nearby airfield and attempted to bomb the site to stop them from building munitions for the war in Vietnam. While the bombing failed, it is alleged that the same group bombed the Army Mathematics Research Center later in 1970. (excerpt from “Half-fast Fall Ride”, October 7, 2020.)

Crane sundial, 11 AM. Photo by Rosebud

From the prairie we headed to Devil’s Lake. “At the time when white trappers, then settlers were moving into the area, they learned from the local Ho-Chunk people that their name of the lake was Tewakącąk which roughly translated, meant “Sacred lake”. Sometimes this was also interpreted as “spirit” or “holy” lake. So you can see how with a little misunderstanding, and most likely some prejudice as well, the name “Devil’s Lake” came to be. While the Ho-Chunk considered the lake sacred space, those early European turned toward something more sinister.” (Devil’s Lake State Park Area Visitor Guide) I would take that a step further to say that anything sacred that was not christian was deemed the work of the devil.

We stopped to wade in the lake before tackling the switchbacks up through the quartzite bluffs – favored by many rock climbers in the area. My jacket went to a jersey pocket for the climb and stayed there the rest of the day.

Devil’s Lake switchbacks.

The route back after lunch was shorter. Our usual route is 30 morning miles and 25 afternoon miles. The afternoon makes up for the lack of distance by adding a lot more hills. After 44 miles, TM told us he had an extra loop that would add three miles. Most of us joined him. Three turned into six. The long 40 mph downhill made it worthwhile – but we paid for it with a 300 foot climb on gravel (fresh chipseal of the sort that is just pea gravel spread on the road in hopes that vehicle tires will grind it into the pavement before it washes away – no oil, no tar) to get back up to the road we had been on. After 51 miles we were back where we started with time for wine and hors d’oeuvres before the sun sank behind the hills.

A splendid time was had by all.

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.

ringling-1
Al Ringling Theatre – from traditionalbuilding.com

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.