Good-Bye Burbs, Hello Rolling Hills

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Gone Summering, July 1998

Good-Bye Burbs, Hello Rolling Hills
Just beyond Chicago's sprawl, a two-wheeler's playground awaits
By Craig Vetter

Cheeseheads, Revisited

The area around the southwestern wisconsin town of Spring Green is an odd melting pot. As you wend through the countryside, you'll be sharing the roads not just with other river-runners looking to ply the maple-lined Wisconsin and mountain bikers heading for the hills of Governor Dodge State Park, but also with farmers, Frank Lloyd Wright groupies, and fleshy motorists in search of their next fish fry. With this much elbow room, though, you can afford to be magnanimous. Vive la diff‰rence.

Getting There: Spring Green is three and a half hours northwest of Chicago. Take Interstate 90 north to U.S. 12, which loops around the south end of Madison. At Middleton, turn left onto U.S. 14, which runs due west to Spring Green, 33 miles away. Governor Dodge State Park is another 15 miles to the south on Wisconsin 23.

On Your Own: Sauk Prairie Canoe Rentals (608-643-6589) provides maps, shuttles, and canoes ($30-$48 per day) for Wisconsin River trips. In Governor Dodge, rent rowboats and canoes for use on Cox Hollow and Twin Valley Lakes at the park's concession stand ($10-$24 per hour; 608-935-7501). Pick up a mountain or road bike at Atkins' Verona Bicycle Shoppe ($10-$15 per day; 608-845-6644), and then ride the 40-mile-long Military Ridge rail-trail, formerly a Civil War munitions route, which ends just outside the park.

Outfitters: Flasher's Canoe Camping Trips, in Wilton (608-435-6802), organizes custom multiday outings on the Wisconsin for $45 per day, including boats, paddles, PFDs, and meals. Doby Stables in Dodgeville (608-935-5205) leads half- and full-day trail rides in the park for $12 to $27 per person.

Bedding Down: Governor Dodge State Park has 268 family campsites (with flush toilets, showers, and electric hook-ups), six backpacking sites, and 17 horse camping sites. Make reservations in advance ($8-$12 per night; 608-935-3325). On the outskirts of Spring Green, try the Spring Valley Inn (doubles, $85; 608-588-7828), originally designed for a local golf club by Frank Lloyd Wright's firm and now a 35-room shrine to the exalted architect. — M.L.N.

I think I fell a little too in love with the roads around Spring Green, Wisconsin, last summer. It was one of those times where you get out of the city, the earth begins to wrinkle and roll, and the suburbs give way to a lush green landscape of farmland and woods. Sinking into a contented zone, you find yourself losing track of such mundane details as space, time, and regrettably, speed.

My wife and I had decided to use our day away from Chicago to bike and watch Shakespeare under the stars. To that end, we drove first to Governor Dodge State Park, a little-known, 5,029-acre knobbydrome an hour west of Madison, where the hills rise from the surrounding land in a tangle of oak, hickory, and maple. Pulling out our bikes, we giddily sped down the trail leading into the park, a high-speed, hair-flapping descent that had some of the thrill I remember from the early "repack" races in Marin County. Alas, the route here, unlike that of my antediluvian memory, also had a commensurate supply of big climbs. Midway through our ride, I found myself developing a keen interest in bird-watching: Hey, isn't that an eagle? Let's stop and see.

Early evening found us driving north on Wisconsin 23 past Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright's summer home. Seeing his native palette for the first time — he grew up here on the banks of the Wisconsin River — I couldn't help but think that his notions of architecture as the bride of nature were inspired by this gentle green landscape.

Around sunset, we stopped at a Wisconsin River beach to watch shadows fall from the woods. The songbirds along these placid shores are outnumbered only by the mosquitoes. We allowed the little bastards a ten-minute smorgasbord on our flesh while we watched canoeists slide past. Then we fled.

The day ended in a hilltop amphitheater in Spring Green, where we saw Richard III murder his entire family while bats hunted the night sky. After the final curtain, we wordlessly drove back on 23 in the tired glow of a long day in a beautiful place. The car floated over the bank and swale of the two-lane road, our headlights the only intrusion in the otherwise perfect country blackness. Except for the growing burble of blue lights in the rearview mirror.

I told the sheriff I really had no idea how fast I'd been going. But I knew it was bad. And it was: 80 on a 50-mile-an-hour road, $230.67. At first I told myself this was a fair tax on the day we'd had. But as we neared Chicago, as the mood and the road flattened, as my urban crust returned, my tolerance frayed. Yes, I'd loved Governor Dodge and Taliesin and the river and our hours of serenity. They should have been worth any price. But damn if that 67 cents didn't seem just a little bit much.

Craig Vetter wrote about harrowing rescues in the Southern Ocean in the January issue of Outside.

W h e n   I n   . . .
... Spring Green, don't miss the singularly bizarre experience of House on the Rock (608-935-3639), the eccentric sandstone-perched abode of now-deceased visionary Alex Jordan. Popular attractions include the world's largest carousel, a 250-foot fiberglass sea creature, and the vertigo-inducing Infinity Room — 218 feet of glass and steel leaning way out over the Wyoming Valley.

Illustration by Jason Schneider

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