"It's on an Isthmus-- which is such a rare geographic phenomenon," Ben explained. "And It's a capital city... It's a college town." We were sitting on the porch of the Coop where Colin lived. It was evening and there were six or seven of us on couches outside watching the sunset over lake Mendota from beneath a sheltered overhang. The several imperial looking support columns that outlined the perimeter of the porch had been decorated with tubed christmas lights. We hadn't turned them on yet, but someone was about to go looking for the switch.
"Madison is a pretty great place." I followed their gesture to the lake and the atomic tangerine glow. "There are still times when I'm amazed that I live here." Ben nodded his head. Madison was his favorite place we'd visited so far. It was hard not to see that.
We were drinking New Glarus's Moon Man and the crew on the porch debated whether or not the recent switch from bottles to cans had altered the taste or experience of Wisconsin's finest brew . The conversation was over the top of my head, but I caught the inflection in their voices. It was clearly their beer. I felt lucky to be in Wisconsin, the only state where the brewery distributes and sells. In Milwaukee, someone told us that a New Yorker had tried to stock Spotted Cow at his bar and was run down by New Glarus-- forced to just leave it out on the street for people to take. It's only legal to sell in the State of Wisconsin. For Wisconsinites only.
The sun went down, the christmas lights went on, and we talked past midnight.
"Would you rather be remembered as Good, Trustworthy, or Great?"
The night before we left Madison, Colin took us to trivia at City Bar, a little basement bar that would fairly described as a "dive," down the steps on State Street and into the dimly lit. We sat in a horseshoe booth by the door and watched the bartender from across an isle. We ordered fried cheese curds and truffle fries and drank Wisconsin brewed beer for $3 a pint while struggling with questions on "movies that share the same name as their theme song." Think Wild, Wild West.
There was much side-conversation on who Hillary would pick for her VP nominee... among other things. There was a bet running. Warren was much liked. Although Kaine's Southern roots and close affiliation with the Clintons was definitely acknowledged. Interesting to be a part of the public policy and english circle at our booth.
I talked for a while with a guy on our team named Fuzz about the myth of Sisyphus and the story of Echo. He mentioned his plans to get a tattoo of Pan on his left forearm as a symbol of wilderness and fertility. He'd written a poem every day for the past year.
We came in fourth place and got a round on the house before we left. The citrus brew I had went down pretty easily. Maybe too easily, but who's to judge? The walk home only took about 5 minutes. Once we got off of State Street it got quiet very quickly. Slept well.
While I waited for Ben inside the double doors to Wall Mart, I took a seat on one of the charging electric carts to watch our bikes. I'd just bought some fresh fruit inside. My legs were a bit sore. I looked out the window. Watched people walk into the store through the sliding doors. Felt like a bit of a spectacle with my helmet on and my hands on the handlebars to the charging cart. The cart was parked next to the quarter-run candy dispensers.
After about five minutes an older man on an electric cart came out of the store and parked his cart next to mine. We both sat there in silence for a good while. Watching people walk into the store. Watching people walk out to their cars. We made eye contact.
"Where are you going?'
"Headed for Seattle."
"I've never been out there. Furthest West I got was Wyoming."
"Heard that's a beautiful part of the country."
He thought about it. "I have family out there."
"Where in Wyoming is your family?"
He stared out the window. Then down at his feet. I wasn't sure if he didn't hear me or if he was trying to remember.
"Well, have a great trip." He picked up his cane and walked out the door with everyone else.
We walked around the block after dinner in Richland Center with our host. We showed her how to play Pokémon. Went to the local gym and ran into some kids that were also playing. They didn't seem so interested in talking to us though. We were all double their age and then some.
Our host was a nurse and informed me that, although I was biking a lot, it probably was not a good idea to try to eat another dozen doughnuts in one sitting again. We were both educated on pulmonary health and lectured on the dangers of consuming too many sweets.
Dr. Suess must have spent time in the Driftless. The hills look like oversized melted chocolate chips with trees on top of them. Oh the places you'll go. Winding through farmland that nestled between these awkward-looking ridge lines. Started to rain just after Ben and I left Richland Center. Limited shoulder on the road and irregular truck traffic on the rural road. The ride was even more exciting when we peaked at 35mph going down a hill in the rain with a dirt-loaded truck behind us.
Rain stopped before lunch and the rest of the hilly ride to La Crosse was in the sunshine. Biked up and down through "Organic Valley" farmland. Biked past one of the dairy's distribution centers in the middle of the afternoon. Final crest of the day peaked several miles later and then took us downhill to the edge of the Mississippi river. Couldn't contain my excitement.
"BEHOLD! The Mississippi River!"
"Isn't that just a swamp?"
Our hosts in La Crosse will one day receive Michelin Stars. I guess that's what you get when you stay farmers and training sommeliers. Ben and I arrived and were treated like kings.
[Thank you so much, Abbey and Casey. I hope that your adventures this summer continue to bring excitement to your lives!]
There was a troupe of cyclists in a park on the side of Route 35 that we stopped to talk to on our way from La Crosse to Stockholm, WI. Turns out it was a Bike and Build group that was biking to Minneapolis. We swapped contact information and planned on meeting up down the road. Been crossing paths for too long apparently not to. They'd gone through Chicago though. Told us it had been a mess. Felt another rush of pride for making that decision to take the ferry.
There are bluffs on the east side of the Mississippi river that run all the way from La Crosse to Prescott. It might be an obscure way to describe the hills, but the cliffs that pop out every once in awhile look like the foreheads of aged people staring out across the river. They're a faint yellow-brown limestone with layered cracks in their face that give them an especially charming wrinkled look.
Climbing the hill at the end of the day on our way into Stockholm was less charming. I was about ready to give up and walk my bike up the hill. These hills at the end of the day... they tested us.
Our hosts that night owned a beautiful farm on top of the ridge. Rest and food were so wonderful. Thankful for the evening that we spent with their family and farm apprentices.
Rode into Minneapolis the next day in scorching weather. Ben showed me how to fix the squeaking resistance I felt on my bike and gave me a lesson in humility. A lesson that I dearly needed. He'd been telling me what was wrong with my bike for several days [which I consistently refuted] before he pointed the issue out... and fixed it in 5 minutes.
[Happy [late] Fourth!] days 14-26: "West. We're going West. And tomorrow we're going West... And then we'll go West some more."
July 6, 2016
days three and four: Dover and Durham, NH
June 14, 2016
Alex Freid: On Building the Post-Landfill Action Network