Monday, April 23, 2012

Going Driftless on Earth Day

Riding between Muscoda and Boscobel

There are moments, I feel, that magic occurs.  For some reason, this Earth Day, my husband and I stumbled onto the quintessential spot to celebrate one of our favorite days of the year.  For the past few weeks, we had found ourselves a bit bogged down with daily life--work, meetings, yard work etc. and needed to get away.  We could never have guessed that a short hour and a half drive would bring us into a whole different mindset.

Although we love where we live (the oldest neighborhood association in the United States, the former home to the one and only Gaylord Nelson, and current home to Spencer Black), sometimes we get an itch to explore--to see beyond our 77 square miles of "reality".  Since we are both enamored with the driftless zone, and since it's right out our back door (the driftless zone starts about three miles West of our house), we decided to make our way to Boscobel.  We knew of this area from visiting friends in Muscoda on the Wisconsin river and exploring the Spring Green area by bike--what we didn't know was how much we'd fall in love with the landscape and cycling a bit further West.  What better way to celebrate Earth Day than by biking and hiking?

Life O'Riley Farm
Our destination was Life O'Riley Farm--a small bed and breakfast/farm located on a plateau overlooking two valleys.  The moment we stepped into the old granary (now revamped into a one bedroom cottage), my exact words were "Oh, I could live here."  The simplicity was breathtaking.  A long porch, salvaged whitewashed timber, windows everywhere, no television and an old ceramic kitchen sink that brought me to my knees.  Having chickens, cats, a dog and two cows running around didn't hurt since I'm such a sucker for critters.

The old granary, now a cottage.
As I said, "simple" is the key word for the farm.  This doesn't mean, however, that it isn't modern and luxurious at the same time.  The farm is powered by solar panels, has on demand water heaters, all the bulbs are CFL and each kitchen has a compost bucket.  Browsing the library, I found old friends and immediately felt at ease.  There are books of poetry from Mary Oliver and e.e. cummings as well as guides on making home made soap and gardening on small plots.  This felt like home...only better!  Did I mention that the breakfast provided is almost entirely from the farm? 

Once my husband pulled me away from petting the cat, we ventured off on our first ride South of Boscobel, through Fennimore, and past Castle Rock before heading East to Muscoda and back to Boscobel.  We travelled up and over sandstone bluffs with only hawks and vultures (this made us a bit concerned) following us.  We "slid" down one of the steepest hills I've ever been on--that of course was covered in sand. After our white knuckled decent, we climbed for miles to top off on rolling plateaus where we could see for what seemed like forever.

Those who know me have heard my praises for riding in the driftless zone.  Yes, you must learn to LOVE hills, but note that they almost always provide you with a beautiful view and an adrenaline raising decent down the other side.  I actually look forward to climbs for these reasons.  The other gift of riding in Southwest Wisconsin is the plethora of routes.  There are so many possibilities that I will never tire of riding these roads.  Each valley holds a new surprise--each season the route changes entirely.  I am not joking when I say that this is the best cycling I've come across in the entire country--and my husband and I spent years moving from state to state.

The Wisconsin river with it's "coulees"
The following day of riding brought us North of the Wisconsin river.  Climbing up the steep coulees banking the shore.  We coasted down into Stueben, following the Kickapoo river and wound our way up, up and further up to Mt.Zion (almost eight miles of climbing ).  You hear of mountaineers talking about "false summits", well cyclists have the same experience.  You think you've reached the top and then you turn a corner and realize you have a lot more climbing to do.  It can be retching but there is nothing like the feeling you have when you actually crest the hill.  From Mt.Zion, we flew down to the river and headed back to the farm (another rolling five mile climb). 

The end of our ride marked the end of our stay on the farm.  As we drove down into Boscobel, we were already making plans for our next visit...maybe an entire week next time.  I feel so blessed that we were able to experience such an amazing place on such an amazing weekend!

the kitchen in the granary

solar panels on the farm
our breakfast providers

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