Monday, July 1, 2013

Celebrating Summer

Riding the rollers through the driftless zone near Mineral Point

There are times, I think, I forget how much I love summer.  I always know I love it, and wait eagerly each winter for it to bloom, but it's not until it embraces me that I feel it's warmth settle into my bones at which point I relax fully for a few brief months.  Nothing in this world--not even a good Bordeaux--can erase the creases on my forehead and send me into a total state of bliss faster than the arrival of heat and humidity.  I'm sure part of this is because I was born late in one of the hottest Augusts on record.  I'm a summer baby through and through and even though I enjoy winter sports like skiing and dog sledding, I would trade them all in for a longer summer.

You may ask why then, do I not live in Florida or Arizona.  One simple answer--I love the biking in Wisconsin.  My husband and I did live on the Big Island of Hawaii for a year, but the two safe bike routes wore thin after a month.  I enjoyed so many aspects of island life, the biking however, was not one of them.  This is a dilemma I've been struggling with most of my life.  The areas of the United States that "should" have the best cycling and pedestrian paths actually have some of the worst conditions.  So what am I to do but make the most out of winter and cherish every second of summer.

Coming off one of the longest winters I can remember, and one of the wettest springs, I was ready, once the solstice hit, to allow my white limbs to be kissed by the sun and ride like a madwoman.  To celebrate, my husband and I chose a four day mini vacation to Mineral Point--only an hour drive Southwest of Madison, yet deep into the driftless zone.  Our days consisted of three primary goals--biking, nature watching and eating--all to be done at a pace that matched the flow of molasses.

Our home away from home for three nights

Bluebird Hill Cottage

The view from the yard--overlooking a pond and Mineral Point

Our former Capitol is behind me 
Our bike routes looked like flower petals shooting off from our home base of Bluebird Hill Cottage, just South of Mineral Point.  We picked a different direction each day that led us through multiple small towns and parks--Belmont (the state's first Capitol and now home to Montchevre goat creamery), Yellowstone state park, Governor Dodge state park...and so on.  Each day brought new views of Amish farm hamlets surrounded by Burr Oak, beef cattle ranches, fields of wheat and corn that seemed to pulse in the strong winds, creeks with one lane bridges and of course, endless hills.  In fact, the hills were so relentless we began to laugh at their absurdity.  No, they weren't as steep as those found around Westby or Viroqua, but they NEVER ended.  On fifty to sixty mile loops, we may only have had two to three miles of flat road.  With hills, though, come views.  And the views were worth every aching muscle.

Looking down into Governor Dodge state park from County Road Z

Looking down onto Yellowstone Lake

On these rides, we would usually ride silently.  Sometimes we would draft each other to ease the pain of the headwind, but usually we'd be a 30-40 feet apart.  We gave each other space not only for the thrilling descents, but also to fully take in the magnitude of our surroundings.  At times, I would glance down at my increasingly bronzed arms and notice the toxic shimmer of sweat and sunscreen often coated with gnats.  These gnats were the only downside to our getaway.  Because of the recent deluge, millions of them decided to hatch and if we biked slower than 15mph--very common while climbing hills--they would engulf us.  Worse yet was what happened when we had to stop and check the map.  At that point, I must have looked like a crazed animal--swatting, twitching and shaking my head all at once.  It was because of these gnats we actually welcomed the strong headwinds, for that was our only time of reprieve.  As we rode on a long stretch of hilly road called Fort Defiance, into a 25mph wind, I thought of this poem by Bill Holm:

Above me, wind does it's best
to blow leaves off
the aspen tree a month too soon.
No use wind.  All you succeed
in doing is making music, the noise
of failure growing beautiful

We watched these baby ground squirrels for hours
And so this is how each day repeated itself.  Eat, ride, eat, walk/watch animals, eat, read, sleep.  Perfection at it's best.  I could live on this schedule for the rest of my life.  I hope to continue being able to savour every second of summer--now, if I could just figure out how to lengthen it in Wisconsin, even by a month, I would be the happiest woman around.

Here is a small collection of pictures I took while exploring one of my favorite parts of Wisconsin on two wheels and by foot.

Fields of corn and wheat "pulsing" in the wind

An icon in Mineral Point--home of the Cornish pasty

One of the many limestone cottages in Mineral Point

Mulberry Pottery, one of my favorite potters in the world

Hops farm outside of Governor Dodge state park

Me and my husband cruising down Norwegian Hollow Road

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