Gone Summering, July 1998
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.
Illustration by Jason Schneider