Day 4: Saturday, September 28
Route: La Crosse, WI to Prairie du Chien, WI
Distance: 287 miles
I’m up before sunrise, but the sun gets the hole shot, coming up over the horizon shortly before I actually hit the road. I wanted to hit one last Roadside America stop before I leave La Crosse – a giant baseball and bat outside a local ball park – but I’m repeatedly stymied by police roadblocks put in place for the Oktoberfest parade planned for later in the morning. Oh well – an excuse for a future trip, I suppose.
Once I’m well south of town, my route takes me east on US14, but only for a mile or so before I disappear down county road MM, a little side road that pirouettes up and around the hills onto the top of the capstone. After a succession of turns on the twistiest, most obscure roads I was able to find on the map, I come across a black horse-drawn buggy plodding along on the edge of the road. I scrub off speed and give them a wide berth as I pass by in second gear at light throttle. These are Amish folk;
there’s a substantial community of them here in Wisconsin. The horse is surely accustomed to traffic whizzing by at close range, but at 7:30 on a Saturday morning with the sun barely up on the horizon, somehow I feel like I’d rather not do that; whoever is in that buggy is out for a nice quiet morning ride in the country, and I don’t want to be the one who shatters that for him. Once I’m well past them, I slowly get back to cruising speed before continuing with my riding day. Given the Amish emphasis on plain dress,
I wonder what they think of my bright yellow jacket and my bike festooned with garish stickers.
I manage to cover 50 miles of excellent roads before hitting my first patch of gravel for the day. Wisconsin is generally great about paving their roads, but in my zealous efforts to stay as far as possible from main roads, I may have overdone it. Over the course of the morning I encounter several stretches of gravel road, some as long as ten miles. It’s tedious, slow riding, and it makes me resolve to buy a gazetteer before my next trip here so I can find out exactly which roads are paved and which ones aren’t.
During another brief interval on the Great River Road, I stop for a break at a wayside near Ferryville: (click on image to open a full-size panoramic view in another browser window)
The river here is over 2 miles wide; it must be absolutely massive
by the time it reaches New Orleans. If you think about it, it’s a pretty good spot for a set of train tracks: with the lumpy terrain of the Driftless Area
, the river bank is pretty much the only path where you’re virtually guaranteed to find ground with no wild changes in elevation.
One notable difference between this trip and previous visits to Wisconsin is the timing. This is the first time I’ve ridden here in late September. Harvest is in full swing, and many fields are shorn bare:(click on image to open a full-size panoramic view in another browser window)
If I had come here a month earlier – perhaps even just a week earlier – I probably would not have been able to see over the top of the corn in this field.
Down the road in Fennimore, I spot another horse-drawn buggy tied up outside the local hardware store:
The orange “SLOW-MOVING VEHICLE” triangle on the back of that buggy has been a source of serious contention for the Amish over the years. Their religious proscription against bright colors is so strong that some have gone to jail
instead of complying with laws that require their use. I’ve seen that triangle a few times on this trip now, but I suppose the buggy owners aren’t thrilled about it.
Further along the main drag I come across my third and final cheese-mouse for the trip, arguably the creepiest of the lot:
This mouse doesn’t make me want to stick around and buy cheese, it makes me want to flee the area as fast as possible.
Twenty miles to the southeast, Platteville hosts a branch of the University of Wisconsin.
Back before World War 2, the students here decided it would be a good idea to build a giant letter on nearby Platte Mound. But what letter? “P” for Platteville? “W” for Wisconsin?
How about the world’s largest “M” for mining (the focus of the school)?
There’s a well-built set of stairs leading to the top:
I start out taking two at a time, but with all my riding gear and a Camelbak full of water, I’m not very far along before I’m winded and my legs are wobbly. I finish the climb at a more sedate pace, and at the top, I’m treated to a beautiful view of the surrounding countryside.Here’s a brief video, shot at the summit.
A couple of miles away near Belmont, there’s the “flashing cow” of the Crazy Cow Saloon (you saw her at the beginning of Day 1)
Practicing for Moo-di Gras, no doubt. Sorry honey, I’m fresh outta beads.
After lunch back in Platteville, the weather starts looking ominous, which is finally consistent with the inclement conditions that weather guessers have been calling for all week. Undaunted (and underdressed),
I make my way south for my next roadside stop, an odd collection of metal sculptures in a field near Prairie Corners:
It’s a mix of dinosaurs and UFOs, but beyond that, I can’t see any coherent theme to it all. Despite my best efforts, I can’t seem to dig up any info about it. Don’t know who, why, or when – it’s just there,
, and that’s that.
Just eight miles later, the rain starts. It’s light at first, giving me time to take shelter under a gas station canopy before the really heavy stuff arrives. After waiting out the worst of it, I put on my rain gear and bypass the remaining portion of my route in favor of a straight shot to my hotel room at The Captain’s Cove
just outside of Prairie du Chien. It’s a minimalist kind of place: eight rooms in all, and the owner is the one who checks you in. You get a real brass key, not a magnetic card. Oh, you want heat? Stop by the front office and ask him to come down to your room and light the pilot light on your individual gas furnace. Sort of Spartan, but still it’s clean and well-kept, and the price is certainly right. Plus, you get to park right outside your room door; you can even nestle up under the eave, a handy feature for bikes when it’s raining.
After warming up and drying out, I head into town for one more waypoint and some dinner.
The waypoint? I was aiming for this sturgeon,
but somehow found this muskie instead:
Well shoot. I’m coming back someday for the ball and bat in La Crosse, so you can bet your iron butt I’ll be coming back for the sturgeon, too.
Dinner? I was looking for a great meal to cap off my Saturday, and I had heard good things about Huckelberry’s.
But when I arrive, it’s prime time; the parking lot is absolutely full, and I can see that there’s a wait inside. I bet it woulda been tasty, but never mind.
Instead, I roll down the street to Eddie’s Irish Pub
for some fish and chips. It’s an odd little place: from the outside it looks like a double-wide trailer home, but inside it’s very nicely decorated. On the other hand, the food falls a little short of expectations. If I’m coming back for the ball and bat and sturgeon, then dammit, I’m coming back for Huckleberry’s, too.
Back at my hotel room, I change out of my still-damp riding gear and into something that makes me look (and hopefully smell)
a little more sociable. As luck would have it, fellow moderator (and Moderate Fellow)
Mike Boomgarden is hosting a party in the area this evening, and when he heard of my travel plans, he extended an invitation. After a short ride, I roll up to the top-secret backcountry moderator fortress:
That’s what it would
have looked like, if I had arrived during the day. Mike posted those pictures last year in this thread,
where he has documented the construction process of his stunning cabin in the woods. The reality is that it’s dark out, and I can’t see much except for the massive party that’s in full swing in the barn (in the background in the above photo)
. It’s a helluva party, with dozens of family and friends gathering to celebrate the return of Mike’s son Alex from his tour of duty in the Army, as well as Alex’s engagement, and a handful of birthdays among the attendees. I finally manage to track down Mike, who gives me a warm welcome:
After taking me on the Grand Tour of the house and sharing the details of its construction, we return to the barn to join the party. There’s a grand spread of food on a buffet table, and coolers full of tasty beverages. Speaking of which, if you’re in Wisconsin, you ought to be drinking this:
It’s loud in the barn: there’s a band performing at the far end, “Boys’ Night Out,” and people are dancing. I’m not generally a fan of country music, but live performances are something special. Country or not, I enjoy seeing skilled performers making art happen on the spot – and besides, these guys are really good:Click here for a brief video sample
Moreover, they’re not just playing standard pop-country – they keep reaching back for classics from performers like The Charlie Daniels Band
and The Hollies
. All in all, it’s darn good stuff.
People seem to be having a good time on the dance floor, but unfortunately dancing is not in my blood. Not knowing anybody here other than Mike (and a few members of his immediate family to whom I had been introduced just moments ago)
, I look around for a spot to get comfortable and enjoy the music. Upon finding an unoccupied chair I occupy it, and almost immediately a wonderfully friendly lady next to me starts chatting me up. Before long she introduces herself: she’s Doris, Mike’s 85-year-old mother-in-law.
We spend the evening talking about travel, family, and all manner of things. Every few minutes our conversation is briefly interrupted by someone walking up to give her a hug or share a few words with her. After each of these interludes she turns to me and says “that was my son,” or “that was my granddaughter,” or even “that was my great-granddaughter.” It seems half the people at this party trace their lineage back to her.
Doris tells me she has had a number of joints replaced. The most recent was a shoulder just four months ago, and she proudly reports that she has already achieved full dexterity. Her secret? Do what the doctors tell you! She’s fastidious about following their instructions to the letter, and she’s proof that it works, as she still gets up and dances from time to time:
It’s only about 9:30 and the party is still in full swing, but I need to get an early start tomorrow. I offer my goodbyes, hop on the bike, and head back to my quiet little motel room.
Doris, if you’re reading this, thanks for keeping me company; I enjoyed spending time with you.