Tuesday, September 29, 2015

There Will Be Hills: Finding myself in the driftless zone part 2

The hills were as long 
as my late summer shadows.
Do they ever end?

Looking down onto the Amish farms on Hickory Grove road

My face flushed red when I was startled from a near slumber...moments prior I swayed back and forth in a breeze, my body heavy like lead, forcing the branches supporting the hammock I was in to sag under my weight.  I had been brought back to a hazy awareness by the distant sound of horse hooves on pavement, yet continued to drift since I knew the closest paved road was a half mile up a long gravel driveway.  Not knowing the farm I was staying at did trade with the local Amish farmers, I continued to  "bliss out" with a beer in one hand and an unread book in another.  Before I knew it, the sound of a buggy and horse hooves came flying by me (I was positioned near the gravel driveway) and slowed almost to a stop.  Anyone who has spent much time in a hammock knows you can't just gracefully jump out.  So instead, I just waved and tried my best to conceal my beer.

It was Saturday afternoon.  I had just ridden a bit over 70 hilly miles, and yet I felt sheepish about choosing to be lazy when the Amish rolled by to collect eggs.  My Scandinavian/Lutheran work ethic, I realized at that point, had been far too deeply ingrained in me.  It is for this exact reason I choose to do mini cycling getaways in the driftless area a couple times a year.  Sure, the driftless starts a mere three miles from my house, and there are a plethora of jaw dropping rides I could fill my weekends with and never leave Dane County, but at home there is yard work and housework to be done.  If I were to stay at home, I would never find myself in a hammock--instead I would most likely mow the lawn and weed the moment I got back from a ride...in my kit no less. And so these 2-3 day getaways are a reprieve, not from hard work mind you since they usually spell miles and miles of climbing, but from reality.

Life O'Riley Farm seen from county road T

Old schoolhouse 

near Castle Rock

round barn near Blue River

saving turtles near the Wisconsin river

I have considered, many times, buying a few acres of land in the deep driftless and building a small cottage for trips like this.  The only issue is everyone I know who owns a cabin or cottage spends more time with its upkeep than they do enjoying it, so I've come to the realization that for now it's just best to rent or camp until I break down one day and buy a piece of land out there to live off of full time.  The driftless area, after all, is some of the best land to sustain yourself with ample spring water, fertile land and lots of folks who are willing to trade or barter with.  The only big thing holding me back is no matter how hard I try, I'm not monastic.  I really do need a strong social circle around me, and since the roads are tricky to navigate in the summer, let alone in the winter, my guess is I'd be spending a heck of a lot of time out there on my own--something which makes me cringe.

Like on most of my driftless bike adventures, my "ooooo's" and "awwwwes" make me sound like a broken record because each valley and ridge have that jaw dropping magic.  Even two valleys that are next to each other can have a completely different feel--brining their own surprises around each bend.  Pictures can never do this area justice and I often get a bit of vertigo because I find myself looking around so much.  But a sore neck and slightly dizzy head is worth what I experience each time I visit.

For this trip I stayed once again at Life O'Riley Farm in the granary.  It's location, four miles outside of Boscobel, perched high on a ridge, makes for a great cycling jump off spot.  Granted, every ride from there ends with an enormous climb, but that just makes the beer taste better once off the bike.

saving snakes on the road
My rides consisted of one low mileage road ride (a bit over 40 miles) down to Blue River, over to Excelsior and back through Boscobel, a moderate length road ride (70 miles) to Castle Rock, Highland and Clyde and finally a 50+ mile gravel road ride through Mt.Hope, Mt. Ida and Werley before heading back.  Each ride had hills ranging from a 16-20% grade (the gravel ride had a couple 20% grade hills), and each ride had descents that make me giggle and scream like a little girl (some of the fresh gravel descents just made me come close to crying).

On each trip I do into the driftless, there is one thing that usually stands out.  This time I realized my generation will be one of the last to truly experience the power of old barns.  As I passed barn after barn that was on its way out, I felt a bit more overwhelmed.  I knew in two years time, many of these structures would no longer be standing.  They were beautiful in their own right, weathered boards, a faintness of red lingering, but my desire to keep them standing outweighed my love for their current beauty.  I completely understand why farmers don't put money in them to restore them--instead opting to erect large red metal outbuildings--but it's painful for me to watch the essence of my Midwest farm dreams sag and buckle.

there are so many beautiful farms in the driftless

about to enter the "gravel zone"

low traffic gravel roads are found everywhere here

running with the horses

making friends with the farm kitties

If you find yourself in this area to ride, and you're nervous about the hills, just remember all the pain from climbing will be taken away by the sheer beauty of the views.  If it's not, there are usually three bars in even the smallest towns where beer runs like springs and the farmers sitting on the bar stools will understand your plight when you tell them the hills you just climbed.

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