The B. O. Loop – that’s County B and County O

by Angie Wright

September 18, 2009

I’ve been involved with the Cycle Southwest Wisconsin project for almost two years and in early September I finally rode my first loop from the map. I’m not a hard-core cyclist; I’m a mom with two young boys who can rarely find more than a few hours in her week to ride her bike. My wonderful husband got me a new bike for Mother’s Day. A shiny new Trek WSD 1.5. She’s beautiful – light and fast. My goal for the summer was to ride 500 miles. I missed it by a long shot; but I did ride about 30 miles a week throughout the summer (usually two 10-20 mile rides).

Now on to my adventure – the B. O. Loop – that’s County B and County O. A few years ago if someone would have said, “Hey, let’s bike to Potosi today” I would have thought they were crazy. But on a Sunday in early September, that’s just what my friend and fellow cycling mom did and I said, “Sure, let’s give it a shot.” I kissed my boys and sent them upstairs with their Dad for books and a nap and I got on my bike and headed out of Platteville on County B with my friend. County B is smooth. Just out of Platteville we had a nice long downhill stretch, followed by a climb, and then another climb, and then another climb as we headed into Potosi/Tennyson. We hit the half way point right around the Potosi School, then headed on down Hwy 61 to County O. What a beautiful road – dappled shade, fields and farms, hills and forests – mostly uphill again, but gentler and less steep. A few miles down County O there is a wonderful, long downhill stretch, unfortunately we were stuck behind a slow moving tractor for the first third of it, but luckily we were able to pass and enjoy flying down the rest. I think I hit 28 miles an hour. We came back into Platteville on Southwest Road, our tired legs conquering the brutal hill by the UW-Platteville stadium before delivering us back to our homes. What a great ride – just over 30 miles in two hours and fifteen minutes. Maybe I’ll do it again before the snow flies.

Next summer I’d like to tackle a few more loops. The new car rack we just purchased will make that easier. Next summer I’ll make my 500 mile goal. Happy cycling!

The Beers are on Mag (Part Three)

by Mike Magnuson

I was in a sour mood.  I had left my money at the Dew Drop Inn, and at that very moment, the strangers there were converting that money into Schlitz.

My buddies, as you might imagine, thought this was about the funniest situation ever.

Dave kept riding behind me and saying, “Bet you wish you could afford a cold one about now.”

I growled and kept pedaling and somehow, after a few miles, managed to feel a little better about life.  For one thing, Highway C is shady and flat and affords frequent views of the Wisconsin River.  For another thing, if you’re riding bikes with your buddies and they’re laughing and poking fun at you, you have to count yourself lucky.  Better to made fun of than not thought of at all.

Besides, our next stop was the town of Mt. Hope, and if you’re riding toward a town with a name like that, it’s awfully difficult to stay grumpy.

We did something crazy then.  We came to a bend in Highway C and saw a narrow farm road extending to the bluff that paralleled the river.  The farm road was called Kussmaul Road – the name had a tough-sounding ring to it – and the map suggested that if we took this road, we would be delivered forthwith to Mt. Hope and save ourselves a couple of miles in the process.

So we took a chance and took Kussmaul Road, and about a half a mile in, to our absolute delight, the road turned to gravel.  We picked up the pace and climbed on the gravel, our wheels making that happy crunchy sound that rubber makes on a loose road, and maybe we weren’t on the official route, maybe we weren’t doing what we were supposed to be doing out here (who really knew what that was?), but when the road turned into asphalt again and we cruised into the town of Mt. Hope, we were all grinning from ear to ear.

A long time later, we rolled back into Lancaster and loaded our bikes back on top of the van and stared across the street at the coffee shop that had advertised quiche earlier in the day.  It was closed.

My buddy John was philosophical about this.  “Next time we do this ride,” he said, “I’m eating the quiche before we roll out of town.”

Roberto patted John on the shoulder and said, “I’m with you, man.”

We all nodded.  For us, there would be a next time.  We would ride here, together, and maybe make a few mistakes and maybe get lost and have a few laughs and maybe roll on some of the best cycling roads in North America, too.  No amount of money in the world is more powerful than knowing that there will be a next time to get together and ride.

The Beers are on Mag (Part Two)

by Mike Magnuson

The next morning, we were unloading bikes in the beautiful Lancaster town square, across the street from a coffee shop with a sign in the window that said “Fresh Quiche.”  Each of us carried cash in a plastic bag that we tucked in our jersey pockets, and we resolved that when we returned safely later in the day, we would have enough money left to get a cup of coffee and a piece of quiche.  Very civilized goal, don’t you think?

Not a cloud besmirched the sky while we happily tooled out of Lancaster on Highway 35, a relatively flat pleasant spinner of a road, then we turned off on University Farm and dove into a deep valley – implying, with absolutely certainly, that when we got to the bottom we would be climbing again.  My buddies live in an incredibly hilly area, so they are used to climbing, but even they had to admit the climbs here were leg-sapping, especially at the crest of each, when the grade is at its steepest.  Still, we didn’t push the pace.  We pedaled and talked about the old days and enjoyed the traffic-free cycling and the exquisite dairy-farm views.

Eventually, we arrived in the town of Bloomington and stopped at a convenience store.  The idea was to refuel and then push south, to the bottom of the Dugway Loop, where we would head west to the state line.  Unfortunately, we got the giggles at the convenience store because there was a sign in the bathroom that said, “Quit stealing!  It’s against the law.”  Is stealing really against that law?  That had never occurred to us before.  Maybe it wasn’t that funny, but we were so amused and having a such a time, et cetera, that when we got back on our bikes we took the wrong road out of town.

Seemed like a nice move at first.  We rolled on a lovely extra-black road surface that gradually climbed up one of the prettiest valleys in Wisconsin – a fantastic cycling road, for sure – except when we finally reached the top we found ourselves in the small town of Patch Grove.  Nice place but about ten miles away from where we expected to be.

Needless to say, we took a break and consulted the map.  We seemed to be smack-dab in the middle of the Wyalusing Loop the highlight of which is Wyalusing State Park, where, we had heard, there is a miraculous view of the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers.  So we picked a line across the map:  Highway P to Highway X.   A few hills, a few more laughs, more sunshine and farm field, and we’d see what might come of it.

At the intersection of Highway X and Highway C, we happened upon a small tavern called the Dew Drop Inn, and we decided, what the heck, we would definitely drop in.  Nothing much happened in there.  We each at a bottle Schlitz and explained our odd clothing to  a couple of folks who were whiling away their Saturday afternoon in the air-conditioning.  Friendly people.  A fine tavern.  A nice life.

Outside, in the Dew Drop Inn’s parking lot, we examined the map again.  Off to the west:  Wyalusing State Park and its storied view of the rivers coming together.  To the east:  a long, long descent on Highway C, which was the road back to Lancaster.

The next decision I will regret for the rest of my life.  I had been riding for days on my own and was tired and the thought of adding extra mileage to our journey, well, it just didn’t sit right with me.

I said, “Fellas, can we just go down that hill and head on back to the van?”

My buddy Dave objected.  “But that’s the greatest view in Wisconsin!  Why come all this way?”

But I gave him a pathetic, I’m-feeling-weak stare, and Dave agreed to go down the hill.

The descent was amazing, too – an incredibly long drop, the kind of descent you might encounter in a huge mountain range.  The whole way down, with the wind rushing through my helmet, I told myself I am so, so glad I’m not going up this hill.

Fifteen minutes later, we stopped at small picnic area along the Wisconsin River, which lazed and whirled its way toward the confluence we would never see.  I reached into my jersey pocket for the plastic bag where I kept the map and my cash, and it was gone!

I had left this bag on the bar at the Dew Drop Inn, all the way up at the top the hill.  The map, I could live without.  My friends each had a copy.  But I must have had forty dollars in that bag!

I said to Dave, “We gotta go back for my money.”

Dave shook his head in a manner that suggested ain’t no way he was climbing back up that hill.  He said, “Looks like you just bought a few rounds at the Dew Drop Inn.”

So let me say this now, to those friendly people I met at the Dew Drop Inn that afternoon, You’re very welcome for all the beers I bought you.

The Beers are on Mag (Part One)

by Mike Magnuson

And lo, my old cycling buddies – John and Dave and Roberto – appeared in Southwest Wisconsin.  They had driven eight hours to get here, all the way from the hills of southern Illinois, and when I first saw them getting out of their van in the Mineral Point Fire Station parking lot – three skinny guys with shaved legs and a full season of St. Louis-style criterium racing in their tanks – I sensed that the up-and-downhill experience I’d been having in Wisconsin would now enter a newer, tougher, more disoriented phase.

Before I moved to California, I used to spend about half of my waking hours riding bikes with these guys.  We trained constantly, traveled to events on weekends, and on weeknights, we’d get together and eat more food than normal human beings should be allowed to consume in one sitting.   In terms of cycling friends, of course, this made us very typical because ideally, cycling is a group activity where the fellowship is almost more important than the riding itself.  True, I had gotten out of the loop with the lifestyle, I guess, but by the time we were sitting around the dinner table, stuffing ourselves with pasta, I found myself comfortably in the fold again.  Roberto was raving about the local cheese and sausage; John was waxing philosophical about a fantastic white wine made in Wisconsin, Wollersheim’s Prairie Fume; and Dave was wanting us to finish up with dinner already so we could wander over to the Midway Bar for a glass of Spotted Cow.

After supper, I suggested we should take a look at the map, which we did.  We spread out the Cycle Southwest Wisconsin map on the table and assessed the merits of the various loops – I did mention, several times, that all the loops were hard – and somewhere in there, John pointed to the town of Lancaster, which borders the U-Farm, the Rodgers Branch, and the Green River loops, and said, “Let’s take the bikes over there and see if we can get lost.”

Everybody agreed.  Because getting lost on bikes, to us, is the essence of cycling.  If we know where we’re going, the old saying went, why go there in the first place?

There might be a profound error in logic associated with that way thinking, but in any case, we didn’t consider it.  We folded up the map and set out in the direction of Spotted Cow.

Give Cheese a Chance

By Magnuson

A few years ago, at the start of a century ride in a regions of the United States far, far away from Southwest Wisconsin, I heard a middle-aged guy offer up his formula for enjoying life on a bicycle. He called it the Three S Method. Sacrifice + Self-discipline = Success. Ten miles into the ride, I heard the guy explaining his musical taste. “I only sing in one key,” he said. “The key of pain.” Fifty miles later, he revealed his culinary leaning. “I haven’t eaten a piece of cheese for nine full years.”

To this day, I occasionally light a candle for that guy, in the fervent hope that he may someday figure out how to be happy.

Late one afternoon this week, the Three S guy crossed my mind. I was wandering the streets of Mineral Point in search of I didn’t know what, and I saw a sign outside a liquor and bait store: Cheese. From the pure cyclist’s perspective, cheese is fat, fat is lead weight, lead weight is to the Three S Method what a standing rib roast is to the dining table at a Vegan Commune. Obviously, I followed the sign into the store and bought a hunk of cheese and a box of crackers and snuck back to my room to develop a theory along the lines of Cheese + Crackers = Happy Cheesehead.

This was no ordinary cheese I had purchased. I had selected a wedge of Hook’s Blue Paradise – the name had a ring to it, I guess – and I can say now, without reservation, as a fan of cheese and of food in general and of all things in the world that bring happiness to the world, that Hook’s Blue Paradise is the finest cheese I have tasted in my whole life. Perfectly tangy, creamy, pungent, pleasant – if God Himself had presided over the making of blue cheese, this is what He would have created. I ate the entire wedge in one sitting. And I didn’t feel the least bit guilty. Quite the opposite, when I awoke the next morning, I called the Great Cheesemaker himself, Tony Hook, and asked him if I could come down to his cheese factory (conveniently, this was about three blocks from my room) to shake his hand.

He agreed.

Here’s the place I’m talking about: http://www.hookscheese.com

I only stopped in for a little while, basically enough to time to pay my respects to the master. Turns out, Tony Hook is a really nice, really smart and incredibly hardworking guy. He’s also the kind of guy who smiles, who is humble, and who genuinely seems content with himself; this is a common trait, I believe, in people who are truly great at what they do. Tony produces cheeses that have been recognized all over as world class – you can find Hook’s cheeses at the very finest cheese shops in the America – and he makes all this cheese with his brother and his wife. That’s it. Three people. He told me he usually works twelve hour days, frequently longer days than that, because cheese-making his a passion. He said that he couldn’t imagine doing anything else with life. He said he was happy, and I could see he was telling me the truth.

Someday, I’m going to find the Three S guy and bring him to meet Tony Hook. I’d like Mr. Three S to know that hard work and discipline are self-sacrifice are indeed excellent attributes, but a life without cheese is not a life.

A Wet Oddity.

By Mike Magnuson

So the big rain I mentioned?  The storm blowing in from Iowa at 60 miles per hour?  Later in the evening, it arrives in Mineral Point with the sort of crack, bang, and deluge that encourages a worrywart like me to put on a life preserver and hide under the dining room table.  The rain pounds down for a long time.  Rain comes in through the ceiling and works its way through the windowsills.  I tremble and anticipate the end of the world.   Outside, I hear screaming and make my way to the window and gaze down on High Street in Mineral Point, which has so much water in between its curbs that it brings the raging Colorado River to mind.   A number of young-looking people are standing in the flowing water, laughing, screaming, having a great time.  Looks like they have wandered out of one of the bars to enjoy the storm.  It occurs to me – with a kick-in-the-butt feeling – that maybe the world isn’t coming to an end, but instead we’re merely having a nice, heavy summertime nighttime gullywasher.  I wave to the people playing in the street, but they’re having too much fun to notice me. 

            The next day – a humid, gray, soaked leftover of a huge rainstorm – I’m out for a long ride again, charging moistly over hill and dale in my endless successful search of happiness and tavern food, et cetera, and I find myself rolling toward Mineral Point again, turning on to Ferndale Road.  While I should be impartial and say that I appreciate all roads in Southwest Wisconsin with equal zeal, Ferndale Road is my favorite:  it twists, it dives, it climbs, it affords excellent views of Mineral Point looming on the horizon, signaling the end of a long day in the saddle and perhaps a homemade pizza at the Midway Bar and Grill.   The first circus-like riding entertainment on Ferndale Road, in any case, is a sweeping downhill left hand 90-degree arc that bottoms out at a small creek.

To my horror, then, I see that the road is blocked off.  A sign says, Road Closed:  Water on Roadway.

            The creek’s out of its banks, for sure.  I ponder this dilemma for a moment.  I could undoubtedly scan the map and find another way back to Mineral Point, but then again, if there’s water over the road, how much water could there be?  Couldn’t I just carry my bike across the creek?  And if the water’s too high for that, well, shoot, I can ride back up the hill and move on to Plan B.

            So I bomb down the hill toward the creek with a reckless enthusiasm I haven’t felt since I was a little kid.  I get to the bridge that spans the creek:  no water on the road.  But ahead, I can see about a foot of water streaming steadily across the road from one cornfield to another.  This streaming-water segment of road is perhaps a hundred yards long, and on the other side of this I see a couple of pickup trucks and four-wheelers parked in the road and a group of people milling about.  I look at the people, at the water on the road – no more than a foot deep – and I decide, what the heck, I’m going to ride through it.  The water flows more swiftly than I’ve expected, forcing me to concentrate carefully and keep my eyes down, but I can hear people cheering the closer I get.  When I make it through safely, I roll to a stop and note that the group here is maybe 10 men and 10 women, all drinking canned beer.  They clearly have arrived here just to enjoy watching the water flowing over the road and my presence has contributed significantly to quality of the show.

            One of the men says, “That was terrific!  I thought you were gonna fall for sure.”

            I think about offering to ride across again – to provide more amusement for these folks – but instead, I say, “That was some crazy rain we had last night, wasn’t it?”

            The man swigs from his can of beer and says, “We sure needed it.”

            Before riding toward Mineral Point, I regard the water flowing over the road.  I have to admit:  it’s a beautiful sight.

Even the Rain Is Perfect

by Mike Magnuson

            Of course, not all the loops in Southwest Wisconsin are epic, leg-smashing, soul-destroying slogs toward a certain doom. Well, they could be, if that’s how a cyclist chooses to ride them.  Then again, a person could turn a session on a stationary bike into a death ride, if this person were of a mindset to suffer.  Me?  I’m feeling mellow this morning, at peace with my legs and with my bike, and the jaw-dropping panorama of Highway 39 ridge before me does what it’s supposed to do:  it drops my jaw.  Endless green farmland, stands of deciduous trees, the flow of valleys and ridges:  it’s gorgeous.   I’m riding east the Yellowstone Lake loop, pedaling easy circles and nursing sips of water from my bottle.  The morning is warm and gray and moist and the only other life forms along the roadway are the pickets of red-wing blackbirds I encounter every few miles.  The blackbirds are not happy to see me; they chirp and squawk and dive-bomb me; but I’m certainly happy to see them!

            Eventually, Highway 39 passes Nick Englebert’s Grandview –  http://www.nicksgrandview.com/Welcome.html – which is quite interesting combination of historical site and art museum and which is appropriately named for the view from here is grand indeed, leading to a sweeping downhill run-in to Hollandale itself.

            I take a break at the Cenex in Hollandale –  a place that seems to be the hub of local activity.  When I’m leaning my bike against the wall, a little old lady drives up to the gas pump on a riding lawnmower.  She sees me and shakes her head and looks to the west, which, true enough, is looking rather dark.

            “How much longer you riding?” she says.

            “Probably for a few more hours.”

            She says, “There’s a big storm coming across Iowa. Radar says it’s moving at 60 miles an hour.”

            “How much time you think I have?”

            “Not much,” she says.  “I’m mowing my lawn before it gets here.”

            I’m too content today to worry about rain ruining things.  I go about my business, re-top the fluids in my water bottles, eat a Snickers bar, and get back on the bike. The loop heads south now, into the trees on Highway K, an interesting, well-kept road that looks to be straight on the map but feels twisty to ride it, and sure, the sky is looking rather menacing to the west, but I don’t care. This loop is so nice – in fact, were I to rate the loops, I would put the Yellowstone Lake Loop at the top of the list:  the roads are so quiet, the views so broad. 

            Eventually, after a quick water stop in Blanchardville and after riding the magnificent smooth black asphalt through the woods near Yellowstone Lake State Park, I arrive in open country, cornfields and soy, and commenced cruising eastward on Highway F.

            If a big storm had been on the way earlier in the day, by the time this storm reaches me on Highway F, it has mellowed to the type of storm that is equivalent to the cyclist I am trying to be today:  mellow, steady, content.  The rain merely falls.  And I merely keep riding.  The water feels nice and cooling, and despite the gray murk, I can still see the greenness of the landscape and feel the pleasant essence of cycling in my body.  The joy of cycling, after all, is the ability to ride with joy through anything. 

            A while later, I deviate from the Yellowstone Lake loop and descend in the rain into Darlington, not because I want to get out of the rain but because I’m having such a nice ride that I’m thinking there’s no reason not to find somewhere to have lunch.

            I find my spot, a place at the very bottom of the town’s hill called the Corner Bar, where the sign out front says they offer beer, food, and advice.  I take off my helmet and step inside, dripping wet and grinning, and I ask the bartender for advice.

            She looks at me, sees the water dripping, and doesn’t mention it.  “Steak sandwich on special today,” she says.

            That is just the kind of advice I need.