Day 3: Saturday, August 21
Route: Rochester, MN to Madison, WI
Distance: 378 miles
Up bright and early, I pack the bike up for departure. When I come back inside, Susan has breakfast almost ready. She confesses that itís an experiment; I chide her about the wisdom of experimenting on guests, but the result Ė tortillas filled with fresh fruit and some sort of honey sauce, served with sausage on the side Ė is fantastic.
After breakfast, Wayne shows me an invention heís been working on. He has a patent pending on it; I wonít disclose much about it, except to say that itís a simple, ingenious solution to a serious fire safety problem, and when it becomes widely implemented, it will undoubtedly save lives.
A little after 9:00, itís time to hit the road. I say my goodbyes and hit the highway under cool, sunny skies. 20 miles later, I roll under a thick layer of clouds. The ceiling gets lower and lower, until the fog almost reaches down to the road:
Thankfully, there is still no rain. The forecast is good, so in spite of the current conditions, I still hope to complete the trip without getting wet.
Just before reaching Ellsworth, I turn in behind a group of maybe 10 riders, a mix of Goldwings and touring Harleys. In town, they stop at the same gas station I was at yesterday. I need gas too, but I donít need delays, so I turn in to the station across the street from them, knowing that theyíre probably grumbling to each other about the antisocial bastard across the street on the Beemer.
After fueling up and switching to the clear visor on my helmet, I head north out of town. This seems odd, since Madison is well south of here, but then it is not my intention to reach Madison before about 5:00.
Ten miles down the road I putter through El Paso, a strange name for a town in a state with Germanic and Scandinavian roots.
People and vendors are congregating, some folks are unloading horses on a field and fitting them with saddles, and some folks are starting to grill food; for a town of just a few hundred, they sure know how to party
A further ten miles down the road I find myself in Elmwood. At the edge of town is Sailerís Meats
, a meat cutter/vendor thatís been around for nearly a hundred years. As I roll by I spot an interesting display in the parking lot, and a few blocks later I decide to turn around and come back for a photo:
The display makes me laugh. The whole thing is comical, but thereís actually some quality workmanship in those UFOís. I donít understand the significance of the display until after Iím home, when an internet search reveals that Elmwood is the UFO sighting capitol of Wisconsin
. Itís such a big part of the townís identity that they actually have an annual ďUFO DaysĒ festival
Thankfully the fog seems to be lifting a bit, and after leaving Elmwood, the full-on twisty rollercoaster ride continues:
Clearly very wary of Mr. Yellowjacket, but they also donít seem terribly interested in re-moo
-ving themselves to a safer distance.
100 miles later (with a short break again in Gilmanton)
I stop for lunch at Beedleís Bar & Restaurant in Galesville. The cheeseburger isÖOK. Not the best in the universe, but the venue (and even the not-awesome cheeseburger)
is a welcome change from the usual fast food chain. Somebodyís heart and soul is invested in this family-owned business, and theyíve worked hard to establish a personable relationship with the locals
Afternoon delight:(click on image to open full-size panoramic in a new browser window)
75 miles later I stop in Viola for gas. Soon after, I come to a stop in the middle of a valley that affords a clear view for a half a mile in either direction:
I pause here for a few minutes, taking in the scenery and solitude. A car passes by, but itís the only one in several minutesí time. Itís pretty nice out here.
Itís August, and so the corn is just about at its full height. When miles-wide fields of it butt up tightly against roads, they can block your view to either side, lending the impression of riding down a narrow chute:
Itís been a long day, but all too soon, itís over: I roll through Crotch Pains (sorry, Cross Plains )
and click off the last few miles of US14 to my west-side hotel. After checking in and resting/cooling off for a bit, I head for downtown Madison to take in the sights.
Just a few blocks from the engineering campus, I pass by a group of buildings dedicated to agricultural science. For well over a hundred years, UW-Madison has been a venerable name in the field of dairy research
, and they do in fact keep a herd of dairy cows here on campus; in most cities it would be an exceptionally odd thing to smell cows in the heart of downtown, but around here, it just smells like home.
On the engineering campus, I find my former place of employment:
I spent six years working in this building. Our department occupied one side of the basement, and the nuclear engineering department performed mysterious fusion experiments on the other side of the basement, apparently doing something with scary-strong magnetic fields. A few times a week youíd hear a muffled ďwhumpĒ, and all of the screens on our old tube-style monitors would undergo a most peculiar distortion.
Immediately after snapping the above photo, a biker 30 yards away waves and begins walking toward me. He tells me about a great photo op at the top of a nearby parking ramp, which is open/free on Saturdays. We chat for a bit; heís a Ph.D. student in the mechanical engineering department, studying friction welding
. His qualifier
is coming up, so heís been studying his ass off. I wish him luck as I head off to check out the top of the parking ramp.
The ramp itself is a hoot. Itís Saturday afternoon, so itís virtually empty, allowing a more spirited ascent than would be possible if it were packed with cars. The ramp wasnít here when I was a student; itís been built within the past ten years, concurrent with some modifications to Camp Randall Stadium
right behind it. The result is indeed a fine spot to take a photo:
If only Iíd knelt instead of parking my big stupid head in front of the sign!
I scoot down to the bottom of the ramp again, where the Ph.D. student is still readying his bike for departure; I give him a thumbs-up and a thanks on the way out.
I wander through town, gradually making my way toward the Capitol building.
Itís a grand structure, only a few feet shorter than the nationís Capitol building:
In addition to being the seat of state government, itís also a cultural focal point for the city. During the summer the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra holds weekly Concerts On The Square
, during which the Capitol lawn becomes crowded with picnic blankets as listeners enjoy wine, cheese, and live classical music. On Saturdays, the street around the Capitol is closed off for a truly massive farmerís market
, providing a mind-boggling variety of locally produced foods.
After looping around the Capitol, I head west again to relax on Observatory Hill
. The view out over Lake Mendota is stunning:
This is a great spot to watch the sun go down, but itís still far too early. A quick check of the celestial data in the GPS tells me exactly
when the sun will set here. I make a note of it and then head back toward State Street for dinner.
In most well-developed cities, space is precious, especially parking space. Madison has an extra problem, as itís centered on a narrow isthmus
between two lakes, like this:
Since the city canít expand past either lakeshore, space Ė especially parking space Ė is all the more precious. Even tiny slivers of space get used, if only to make room for a motorcycle so as to free up some other space that a car can use:
Now that Iíve parked the bike, thereís only one thing I want:
Did you really think I was going to get anything else?
After another round of people-watching on State Street, itís time to head back to Observatory Hill for the sunset. I arrive just in time to settle in on a prime spot on the grassy slope, and after a brief wait, the sun touches the horizon.
Iím still not ready to retreat to my hotel room. As the twilight fades, I head back to Capitol square for one last photo opportunity. And thatís when I realize itís hard to find a truly unobstructed shot of the Capitol building for a night photo. My little point-and-shoot camera isnít sensitive enough for a quick hand-held shot; it needs a steady tripod platform for a timed exposure, so I canít exactly stand in the middle of the street like I did earlier. After checking out a few locations, I finally park the bike and strap my tiny Ultrapod
to the handlebar of the bike. If I sit still with the engine off and the bike leaning on its side stand, the inertia of the entire chassis should provide a stable platform for an exposure lasting a couple of seconds.
And indeed, although I still canít get a clear view of the entire building, the photo still comes out sort of OK:
Finally, Iím done; itís time to degrease and get some rest, so I head back to the hotel to turn in for the night.