(Previously: Black Earth energy receptor fields, The Wisconsin desert)
O it’s fine to get up all in the morning
With the lark flying high in the sky,
And pack up all your belongings …
July 19th; second day of the Mississippi trip. In a way it wasn’t until I was packing up to head westward that I was really conscious of having an adventure: rather than turning around to go back home as I usually do on weekend trips, I was pressing on to fresh fields and pastures new.
I picked up the bike trail for a few miles to the very small village of Gotham – pronounced “Goe-tham” – where I joined Highway 60, which winds along with the Wisconsin River. Wooded bluffs rose on my right hand:
and the river with its many islands shimmered on my left:
and for the first hour or so, traffic was almost non-existent.
One of the bluffs that I passed bears the curious name of Bogus Bluff. In his book, The Wisconsin: River of a Thousand Isles, August Derleth has the following to say:
Around Bogus Bluff in the town of Orion has sprung up a really remarkable rigmarole of legend and fact. There is, for instance, the account which is purported to have appeared in print in the Vienna (Austria) Courier of a cave near the bluff in which abounded the bones of prehistoric animals, and the skeletons of a vanished race. One S. von W., supposedly the author of the account, wrote: “Fragments of rock were everywhere, amongst them the bones of prehistoric animals. Here and there were also fragments and antlers of deer and elk … I cannot describe the horror I felt. The bottom of the cave was covered with skeletons of a vanished race. Skulls were everywhere…”
But it is the counterfeiters who lend something of authority to the fascination of Bogus Bluff. There were counterfeiters, apparently…[t]he variety of the stories handed down is infinite.
Orion is a ghost-town now, but just across the river is Muscoda, Morel Mushroom Capital of Wisconsin. Though alive and well, Muscoda was not yet really awake. I stopped for a rest at a park with a war memorial and an appropriately-decorated Little Free Library:
which contained a copy of Susan Cooper’s Silver on the Tree, the final book in the Dark is Rising sequence.
From Muscoda westward again, on a path running through Big Cat Slough, and then onto Highway 133 and through Blue River. It was getting on towards mid-morning, and people were out and about as they hadn’t been in Gotham or Muscoda; people sitting out on their stoop waved to me. Looking south from the main drag of Blue River you could see a striking series of high, isolated bluffs rising out of the floodplain, with the sun shining on their tops, so I can well imagine that sitting outside is popular.
And beyond Blue River is Baraboo. Notable in trivia as the birthplace of the Gideons, and home town of Senator Blaine, the architect of the repeal of Prohibition, it was of interest to me in that moment largely as the location of the Unique Café, a popular little spot where I wolfed down two breakfasts in one sitting.
With that ballast, I crossed the river once more. The remaining 25 miles of riding, and particularly the last 10, were a heck of a slog which I won’t go into great detail about; except to note that the precipitous hill climb on the way into Wyalusing State Park was beyond grueling, and in fact for a substantial chunk of it I gave up and walked my bike, and for a percentage of that chunk I just flopped on a bank of grass and got my breath back.
Not far past the top of the hill is a little store selling odds and ends just outside the park entrance, where I stopped for a cold Coke and chatted with the woman who ran it. When I explained that I’d come from Madison on my bike – though, you know, not all that day – and climbed that freaking hill, her reasonable question was “What on Earth possessed you to do that?” The park ranger who checked me in asked more or less the same question.
Inevitably, there was another climb to get to my campsite, but after a couple of litres of water I was able to face that and make camp. I just rested my noodly legs for about a half hour, but then pulled up the trail map and went for a hike.
This trail wound past Pictured Rock Cave:
and down, across a road, across train tracks, to the waters of the Mississippi, where I took off my shoes and waded in the cool shallows:
Just a couple of hundred feet from the water’s edge the Sentinel Ridge trail begins. This climbs fairly steeply up the ridge in several stages, eventually taking you a few hundred feet above the water. It was steep enough that I kept worrying my legs, given all they’d already been through that day, would just give up. But apparently they were willing to do pretty much anything, as long as it wasn’t getting a bike up that damn hill on County Road C. I had to stop and catch my breath several times, but even before reaching the heights there were significant rewards. The constant reader will not be surprised that by “rewards”, I mean “ferns”; lip-ferns (Cheilanthes) to be specific:
This is my first Cheilanthes in Wisconsin, though I saw several in Yosemite.
At that point I thought I was close to the top of the ridge, but no – there were yet more steep pathways and steps to traverse. Finally I emerged onto a grassy swathe which ended in a parapet overlooking the river. Set into the bricks was a monument to the last Wisconsin passenger pigeon:
and spread out far below was the delta where the Wisconsin flows into the Mississippi:
It was an amazing sight that brought tears to my eyes. I don’t know that it entirely makes sense, but something about having reached that point under my own steam, having bicycled and camped and walked and climbed from my front door, was an answer to those questions from earlier: why I had undertaken the whole weird journey in the first place. Whenever a freight train passed over the tracks, the sound would carry across the water and upward, reaching the ear as a distant, muted and evocative clatter.
About the rest of the evening there is not much to tell, except that a little farther on, at the north end of the park, was a small concession-stand operated by the Friends of Wyalusing State Park, whose primary dinner offering was microwaved cheeseburger. I ate one, and then sheepishly went back for two more. It had been a good seven hours since breakfast in Baraboo, and those cheeseburgers tasted ambrosial. I wandered downhill and back to my camp-site, and read until I started to doze off, which did not, unsurprisingly, take long at all.
Concluded in Part 4: True journey is return.