“O”

by Mike Magnuson

One sunny morning, before my ride really began, I put my foot on the ground and decided to take stock, to reach an understanding, for once and for all, between me, the bike, and the road down which I was going to ride.  I stood astraddle my Trek Madone on Ridge Street in Mineral Point, on the western edge of town, and stared into a vast, bumpy, open-looking landscape to the south.  My mission this day was not complicated, The Prairie Loop, 51 miles no doubt of heavenly joy.  This would require me to head south on Highway O all the way Shullsburg, probably a 25-mile jaunt, a route so easy to follow, as they say on TV, that a caveman could do it.

I said the highway’s name, “O,” and let the vowel extend into the inevitable groan that the letter O brings to the windpipes.

By this point, I had ridden enough of the hills hereabouts to have developed a keen, cerebral sense of what I would face on Highway O.

On the Far Look Loop, for instance, I had lumbered up High Point Road (with a name like that, where else would it go but up?) southward from the American Players Theater:  High Point Road was craggy and twisty and steep and just at the point where I thought I was going to die, I heard cowbells and then saw a small happy herd of spotted cows, walking along the fence up the hill with me.  One of the cows said, “Mike, why don’t you get off and walk?  You’d go a lot faster!”

And once, on the Burton Loop, on Highway U heading eastward, the road dove from a high plateau to a riverbed area and then meandered through the trees, only to climb remorselessly to a peak near the Potosi city limits.  When I climbed this, highway crews were working on the road, and I passed an amused-looking fellow holding a slow sign. I assured him that, yes, I was gonna be going very slow.  He said, “I believe you, man.”

In other words, on this sunny morning, when I stood with my bike and stared into my future on Highway O, I knew what was coming.

But then again, I didn’t.

My old friend Headwind Gunderson blew in my face and I pointed toward him, to the south, and vowed to make the best of O.  A few miles later, it became apparent that while there are many individual monster climbs in Southwest Wisconsin, Highway O qualifies as a limitless set of monster climbs.  The landscape here was wide open, only the occasional tree, and at the top of each climb, I could look out and see more rollers and more rollers and more rollers.  Highway O was like one of those simulacrums that you can make with a set of mirrors, where one image continues reflecting into the mirror for what seems like eternity.  Only Highway O was not a mirror, it was not an image, it was a straight-line stretch of dairy-road asphalt, steep pitch after steep pitch, all leading toward a higher point on the road, which, when I would reach it, revealed another even higher point on the horizon.  I thought I would never reach Shullsburg.

A long time later, I did finally roll into the lovely downtown area of Shullsburg and stopped to collect myself.  A woman saw me along the road and asked where was I coming from?

“O,” I said.  “O”

“What?” she said.

I pointed to the north.  “O.”

“O,” she said.  “I understand.”

I exaggerate.  But not by much.

Now to make this clear, Highway O doesn’t exactly qualify as a single monster climb but instead a SET of monster climbs.  The landscape here is open and spectacular and prone to headwinds, and what you encounter here is rollers, large rollers, an endless line of rollers stretching off to the eternity – Shullsburg, that is.  At one point, after rising ever higher over a series of rollers, you would swear to God that this is it, you reach the top and, stretching as far as the eye can see, even more rollers!  Whew! 

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