Touring Wisconsin on Two Wheels: Southwest Loop

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!

Our guidebook for the journey. We referenced the maps and charts in this book often throughout the trip!

Our guidebook for the journey. We referenced the maps and charts in this book often throughout the trip!

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):

Carrying all you will need over the course of a vacation really keeps your "needs" in perspective!

Carrying all you will need over the course of a vacation certainly keeps your “needs” in perspective!

  • Our homemade guidebook
  • Cash, ID’s, and credit cards
  • Backpack to hold all necessary possessions
  • Quick dry shirt
  • Quick dry pair of shorts
  • Sleepwear
  • Hand sanitizer/wipes
  • Extra bike tubes
  • Athletic tape
  • Energy gels and snacks
  • Phone chargers
  • Bike tools
  • Helmets
  • Bike lights and/or flashlights
  • Pepper spray
  • Water bottles
  • Bike pump and/or CO2 cartridges
  • Socks and underwear
  • Bike locks
  • Sunblock
  • First aid kit
  • Plastic shopping sacks
  • Pen/marker
  • Bathing suit
  • Sunglasses
  • Toothbrush & toothpaste
My ride for the trip. It's a simple Trek, but I LOVE IT! The smaller woman's frame made for some modifications like the new water bottle spot. And my road tires were replaced with hybrids to help stand up to the rocks, silt, and unpaved glory to come!

My ride for the trip. It’s a simple Trek, but I LOVE IT! The smaller woman’s frame made for some modifications like the new water bottle spot. And my road tires were replaced with hybrids to help stand up to the rocks, silt, and unpaved glory to come!

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.

Wisconsin has some wonderful trails to offer even the most casual of rider! They're well-maintained, well-marked, and well-loved by this group!

Wisconsin has some wonderful trails to offer even the most casual of rider! They’re well-maintained, well-marked, and well-loved by this group!

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.

A ride through the Wisconsin countryside wouldn't be complete without walls of corn for miles and miles!

A ride through the Wisconsin countryside wouldn’t be complete without walls of corn for miles and miles!

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!!!

Zach, myself, and Morgan--three faces full of pride and joy!!!

Zach, myself, and Morgan–three faces full of pride and joy!!!

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.

Storm clouds circled overhead and the air was heavy at times, but we never had so much as a drop of rain while we were out on the trails. The weather was just perfect for a little bike ride!

Storm clouds circled overhead and the air was heavy at times, but we never had so much as a drop of rain while we were out on the trails. The weather was just perfect for a little bike ride!

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

Until next time…

Make it a great day,

Mari!yn

Things I’ve Learned from the Snow, Part 2

1. It only takes a few months to completely run out of places to stack, push, or throw the snow to as you can only go so high and you can only throw so far.

2. Your driveways and walkways just keep getting more and more narrow.

3. I now understand why there is a (sort of true) perception about the “cheese eaters” physique. If you spend (what feels like) 10 hours a day shoveling, plowing, or otherwise doing manual work to adjust the snow, you run out of energy for other forms of exercise.

4. No one told me about the blowing. I know I covered this in part 1 of Things I’ve Learned from the Snow, but it begs repeating. If only the snow would stay put where you shovel or blow it that would be awesome…but noooooo, the wind cones along like we’re still living in West Texas and destroys your nice, neat, human-height snow banks all over the place!

5. Murphy’s Law states that when the wind moves your piles of snow, it only blows back onto driveways or walkways, never further in themselves to make your way clearer for more snow to come.

6. When you have your phone in your pocket while shoveling snow, there comes a time when it no longer functions because the temperature of the phone is so low. So, when you’re like me and really want to get pictures of the beauty that is in the sparkly snow, you better have a thawed out phone or camera first!

7. It’s a pain in the back, but I still LOVE living among the Wisconsin snow!
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Let’s Make Ice Cream out of SNOW!!!

What better to do with freshly fallen, fluffy, white, gorgeous snow than to whip up a batch (or 3) of snow ice cream?!?!

My children and I decided to make three snow ice cream recipes for you and judge which we liked best. The results are in…drum roll, please…

ICE CREAM #1, from AllRecipes.com (http://allrecipes.com/recipe/snow-ice-cream-ii/)
**The winner with 2 out of 4 votes**
-1/2 cup sugar
-1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
-1 cup milk
-8 cups snow

ICE CREAM #2 from Paula Deen (http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/paula-deen/snow-ice-cream-recipe/index.html)
**Received 1 out of 4 votes**
-14 oz sweetened condensed milk
-1 teaspoon vanilla extract
-8 cups snow

ICE CREAM #3 from the Duggar family blog (http://duggarsblog.blogspot.com/2011/06/snow-ice-cream-recipe.html)
**Tied for second place with 1 out of 4 votes**
-1/2 cup sugar
-1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
-3/4 cups heavy whipping cream
-3/4 cups half & half
-8 cups snow

This was SUCH a fun way to make the most of the snowy outdoor days here in Wisconsin! AND, we also found that they’re even better with all three recipes blended together ๐Ÿ˜‰

Make it a great day,
Mari!yn

Things I’m Learning from Snow

1) I’ve come to the conclusion that as a Southerner in the North, it’s safest to do all of my driving following the snow plow for the following reasons: they clear the roads for you, they sprinkle salt along your path, everyone can see and hear you coming, and it keeps your speed to a bare minimum on the slick roads.
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2) Once the snow stops falling I’ve learned that the wind picks up and starts blowing all the loose, powdery loveliness in all directions…not only flying in your face (usually the only exposed skin available), but also all over the sidewalks and driveways that you just spent an hour of muscle and back ache clearing.
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3) There are even the snow equivalent of “dirt devils” (mini tornado looking gusts of wind that pick up dirt in desert-like West Texas) here that swirl freshly fallen snow across yards and streets. I’m calling then “snownadoes.”

4) I’ve learned so far what -16 degrees Fahrenheit feels like…and it’s still early in the season.
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5) And, I’ve learned that weather that would have shut the world down in the South doesn’t even phase people in the North.

Stay warm, my friends &
Make it a great day,
Mari!yn