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.