The greatest thing about moving north to an entirely new state that spends half the year (a slight exaggeration) completely hidden under snow cover is that when the snow thaws, everything is brand new, again! As it is now my family’s second Autumn season in Wisconsin, we see patterns emerging from memories of a year ago when we were finally either unpacking the last of the moving boxes, or wondering why we had bothered to move this or that in the first place, and rather than further deal with it, shove it away in a dark corner of the storeroom. We see the geese beginning to practice their flights instead of their continual summer grazing and lazy swims on neighborhood ponds. The farmers are beginning to cut the crops of corn and soybeans that fill every unpaved spot on the landscape. Wood is being gathered and chopped for the coming winter fireplaces, wood-burning stoves, and backyard fire pits. And, the last of the fruits and veggies are being canned and jammed to be enjoyed throughout the coming months of barren ground.
As a way of fully immersing ourselves into our new community, my son, Morgan, and I took to the plethora of multi-use trails around our area. We love living near the capital city of our state for several reasons, and the exceptional trails in our new home state take the cake for this bike-loving clan! Mid-winter, when we were missing the beautifully lined paths, Morgan and I started dreaming of these wonderful trails, wishing we could explore them every day and see how far they would take us. That’s when we came up with a wonderful idea: a cycling vacation to explore Wisconsin!
A quick look at Google Maps (with the cycling paths highlighted) reveals a nice loop through the southwestern corridor of our cheese-loving state. Roughly 131 miles from Fitchburg to Dodgeville, then south to Darlington, over to Monroe, and completing the loop (rather–it’s more of a square) by heading north back to Fitchburg. It was a genius idea!
Morgan and I started dreaming through the snow-lined streets, of a summer vacation on bicycle. And, like one of my all-time favorite motivators, Zig Ziglar, said many times, “If you can dream it, you can achieve it.” Achieve it, we did!!!
We also recruited a friend and fellow cycling enthusiast, Zach, to join in the fun.
We put together packing lists and to-do lists. We met over coffee and scones to discuss and plan. We checked and double-checked everything from tires or water bottles. And we set out on a journey we will not soon forget.
PACKING LIST (in no cohesive order):
- Our homemade guidebook
- Cash, ID’s, and credit cards
- Backpack to hold all necessary possessions
- Quick dry shirt
- Quick dry pair of shorts
- Hand sanitizer/wipes
- Extra bike tubes
- Athletic tape
- Energy gels and snacks
- Phone chargers
- Bike tools
- Bike lights and/or flashlights
- Pepper spray
- Water bottles
- Bike pump and/or CO2 cartridges
- Socks and underwear
- Bike locks
- First aid kit
- Plastic shopping sacks
- Bathing suit
- Toothbrush & toothpaste
TO-DO’s PRIOR TO LAUNCH:
- Wisconsin state trail use pass (purchased through WI Department of Natural Resources)
- Full bike inspection and tuneup
- Hotel reservations (because at the end of the day, we wanted showers, beds, and cable)
Check. Check.. and Check…all the way down the line.
The day we took off from our designated starting spot–a convenience store–the weather was still chilly and quite windy. The first half of the day was spent in some pretty open areas where the crosswinds made us question our sanity pretty often. But, we knew ahead of time that we would each have our doubts along the way, and that it was each of our jobs individually and collectively as a group to keep the momentum up and the spirits light.
For three days and two nights, we had no responsibilities or obligations beyond riding from one point to the next. Stopping along the way whenever we were tired or saw a pretty spot to relax and stretch, or a random stray kitten crying out to us from alongside the path. Our only “job” for three whole days was to enjoy the journey.
The first day began in Fitchburg and ended in Mineral Point, travelling through Verona, Mount Horeb, Blue Mounds, Barneveld, Ridgeway, and Dodgeville along the way. We stopped at a wonderful hidden coffee shop tucked into the back of a convenience store in Mount Horeb called Mary’s Coffee Express, and enjoyed lattes and scones to pump up our energy while we sat and charged our cell phones. Morgan–ever the seeker of future Tour de France mountain climbing glory–took a few additional detours when we came to side-shooting climbs around Blue Mounds State Park. And in Dodgeville, we had to take to the streets where traffic doesn’t seem as accommodating to those of us using two instead of four wheels for our travel. That evening came and our hotel in Mineral Point had an indoor swimming pool/hot tub combination, a Subway next door, and a marathon of Dance Moms on TV. All was right in the world.
We allowed ourselves a slow start on our second day out on the bikes. It was nice to just kind of hang around, eat a slow hotel lobby breakfast, load our bikes back up, and remind ourselves that we weren’t punching any time clocks and could relax into the trip. We had no idea how grueling the second day in the saddle would be, but we were soon to find out.
The Cheese Country Trail, which stretches from Mineral Point to Monroe (our entire second day’s journey) would be a fabulous, teetering on “heavenly” ATV trail. However, as a bike trail it makes life pretty difficult. It’s very rocky with a loose, silty (is that a word?) under-layer, so on our bicycles (even on Zach’s mountain bike with big, knobby tires) we were literally “spinning our wheels” and getting nowhere. We had a couple of issues over the course of our second day out on the trail. We’d fall over from trying so hard to move forward but going nowhere and just toppling. We’d get angry and yell at the trail when forward progress got really frustrating. And, we’d celebrate when little towns would pop up with their hometown food, benches, and patient folks.
Day two took us from Mineral Point to Darlington, through Gratiot to South Wayne, and on through Browntown to Monroe. We’d never been so happy to see a hotel before in our lives as we were when we reached our destination in Monroe just as the sun was beginning to settle on the horizon, but once we finished the 50 mile day relief kicked in and we felt like we could conquer the world!!! Out of nowhere one of us would exclaim something along the lines of, “If I can do that, I can do anything,” and we’d all chime in, all so proud of our day’s work. That night we loaded up on all the Italian fare we could get into our bodies at a wonderful restaurant just around the corner from the hotel, Vince’s Italian Restaurant & Pizzaria. It was the tastiest way to end the day!!!
Our final day out was also the shortest, with only the last 30 miles left to cover and a beautiful day ahead. Riding the Badger State Trail from Monroe, through Monticello and Belleville, and into Fitchburg was such a relaxing break after the day out on the ATV trail!
We stopped along the way a LOT in this last day. Sometimes, when we’d stop, I’d smile to myself because this journey that we’d imagined had been such a neat adventure that none of us were quite ready for the adventure to end, so we’d let the smallest things distract us and be a cause for pause along the way. My riding buddies are such neat guys; these teenage boys who still aren’t even old enough to drive cars had to dig deep on this trip to keep going and they did so without ever really considering quitting. Quitting just wasn’t an option, and although we had some bumps and tired times, we were operating as a team out on the trails. At one time we’d be laughing and joking around, other times we’d each be playing music for the rest to hear blaring from the tiny speakers on our cell phones, and still other times we’d be riding in perfect precision and harmony like a pro cycling team, sharing the workload in the front of the line and riding in complete silence but for the sound of our tires and trail meeting.
Finally, however, each journey must come to a close, even if it’s just to ask, “Same time next year?” We arrived back at our convenience store in Fitchburg to cheering family, fresh bottles of water, and car air conditioning!
Even though there are more serious riders who will easily get our 130+ miles into a single day’s ride, ours was an adventure of epic proportions to us! Perspective is key when your dreams take you over hurdles or on adventures you never imagined before that you could actually accomplish. Whether it’s your first 5k or scaling Mount Everest, if it’s a BIG accomplishment in your eyes, and you’re proud of yourself, then that’s all that matters in the world!!! Keep your head high and your dreams higher…and just keep peddling 🙂
Until next time…
Make it a great day,