What a fantastic day! So far Ann and I had toured the beautiful and historic Wollersheim Winery, stopped for lunch at the Blue Spoon Cafe in downtown Prairie du Sac, and taken a detour to visit what was once The Old School House, an out-of-the way eating place of which I had been quite fond. Now we were once again aboard Miss Scarlett, heading north on 113/DL, enjoying the sights and smells of a crisp autumn day. My touring rig’s big-inch V-twin beat out a deep, pleasant rhythm as my favorite pillion and I reveled in every hill and curve that the rolling countryside presented to us. Our day together was already half over, but my focus remained solely on the simple pleasures that remained ahead.
We were on our way to Devil’s Lake State Park, interestingly enough the first stop to which my somewhat local passenger had been to before. Ah, but I was betting she had never been there via the route I intended to take – and I was right.
Located to the south of Baraboo, this 9,217 acre state park is the largest in Wisconsin. There are two primary entrances to the park, one at the south end and the other at the north. We were riding up from the south, but I purposely rode right past the turn for the south entrance, following County DL up and around the park’s perimeter, to the northeast corner, where the somewhat poorly marked north entrance is to be found. That particular stretch of DL is a motorcyclist’s delight, featuring a series of gentle hills and curves, each decorated with brilliant fall colors to either side of us.
Approaching from the east as we did, the turn from DL into that north entrance is sharper than 90 degrees, requiring a safe, slow approach followed by a somewhat deep lean, which we executed nicely. And by “we” I mean Miss Scarlett, Ann and I. Each of the three plays a key role in every maneuver while underway, and our respective roles as rider, passenger and machine have become increasingly well-integrated, but that’s a topic for another time. In mid-turn, out of the corner of my eye, I saw an ominous-looking temporary sign at the mouth of the park entrance that said something about full parking lots, but I wasn’t overly concerned. In general it is easier to find a spot for a bike, even a big one, than for an automobile.
Riding into Devil’s Lake State Park via the north entrance felt a little bit like entering a grand cathedral. We made our way slowly, beneath a towering canopy of trees, surrounded by fall color everywhere but on the road directly beneath us. All along the long, winding, narrow drive, we passed parked cars and people out of their cars. Some held cameras. Some were posing. Everybody seemed to be trying to capture the essence of the beauty around us. In reverence to the moment, and so as not to attract stares, I turned off the stereo and kept my engine’s RPM’s at idle speed. Behind me, Ann was taking photos – something that she does very well, even when armed only with a smart phone. Unbeknownst to me at the time, she also captured a brief video from our journey in. This intuitive ability of hers, to capture memorable moments in this fashion, even while we are underway, is amazing to me, because I don’t have that ability. I could go on describing the qualities that make a given individual ones pillion of choice, but I digress.
After paying our entry fee, we motored into a large parking lot within view of the lake itself. And what a view! According to Wikipedia, Devil’s Lake, for which the state park is named, was part of the Wisconsin River prior to the last ice age, but now has no visible inlet or outlet. It sits in a chasm between the moraines, and the resulting scene as a whole exudes a raw, natural beauty that is unique to this place.
Ann and I walked a portion of the lake’s perimeter together, sometimes talking, but many times not saying a thing. Occasionally we would stop for a period of time and just stand there, or sit, and attempt to take it all in. There were people all around – individuals, couples, families and groups, many with children and dogs of all sizes – yet there was no feeling of crowdedness. And the further out we walked from the boat house, gift shop, concessions, etc., the quieter things became, this despite that there was still a somewhat steady stream of people and dogs walking the same path as us, in both directions. In fact we were sitting out on a boulder, watching people go by, looking at the scenic beauty around us, when we realized that the sounds we heard – or couldn’t hear – did not match up to the population or the activity that we had been observing. The lake, rocky hills, and trees somehow came together to dampen whatever noise was being made by all that humanity.
Eventually we were forced to acknowledge the passage of time, which was not in our favor. We had a bit of a ride ahead of us in order to get Ann home, followed by another two-to-three hours to get myself back to from whence I came. Still smiling genuine smiles, we headed back to the motorcycle. We had found a happy place here. Perhaps we already sensed that we would return? I don’t know. But there was more satisfaction than sadness in our departure.
The sun was still high enough for neither Ann nor me to feel any sense of rush to get back. We took 113 south to Merrimac, where we caught the free ferry across the Wisconsin River.
Although this river crossing was not a destination in itself, it was planned. I had made this crossing before, on two wheels as well as four, but had never realized that motorcycles are to proceed to the front of the line prior to boarding. This is because, when in small enough number, the bikes get parked between the rows of cars. Thanks to the advice of a fellow biker, who happened to be in a truck that day, we eventually proceeded to the front, where we got priority boarding on the next available ferry.
While waiting for the next boat, I took the liberty of calling my wife, to fill her in on the events of the day. Though not an avid rider or passenger herself, Karen has always been completely supportive of my own immersion in the hobby, which began roughly 17 years into our marriage (again a topic for another time). In similar fashion, Karen had blessed this planned outing with our friend Ann, along with the few that came before and the many that have not yet occurred. She was overjoyed to hear that the trip had gone so well so far and wished both of us safe travels home.
Maybe it was the time of day. Maybe it was the charm of the Merrimac Ferry. Maybe it was the experience of sharing such things with a dear friend. Whatever it was, Ann and I both agreed that it was beautiful. We had traveled some miles from Devil’s Lake, yet we we still found ourselves in a happy place.
Before long, we were back on the bike and rolling down the ramp off the ferry. We still had a fair number of miles to go together – and for that I felt grateful, because all the sightseeing we had planned for the day had now been completed. And so we rode, first on two-lane, then onto the Interstate, back to civilization. The bike’s stereo was back on, blasting out an iTunes playlist that I had created called “Rides with Ann,” more or less a compilation of music that I thought she would like, sans a lot of material that she might not, mixed in with some of my own less objectionable favorites – roughly six hours worth of music in all, easily three times what was needed. But that’s my nature.
We pulled into Ann’s place and made sure that we each had our proper belongings. When we embraced and exchanged our goodbyes, there were more smiles than tears, from both of us, and this was significant, given my tendency to feel post-departure/event letdown in a major way, no matter the circumstances. I knew this would likely be our last ride together, of any consequence, until the 2016 season. That’s merely a factor of the 150 miles that lie between our respective homes – obviously not a barrier, but still a valid consideration. But no great letdown set in as I rolled out and headed for my home. Why? Again, perhaps just the certainty that there will be a next time.
And so it ends here, sort of, the third installment of a trilogy that encompasses a single day’s ride with my dear friend and favorite pillion. Not bad for a cool, sunny day at the end of October. A few more degrees of warmth would have been welcome, ditto another hour or two of daylight. But then there would have been no challenge, and as many people know, a worthwhile goal should be realistic yet challenging.
If you’ve been following along through all three parts of this one, thank you. I has been my privilege to have you along. Will there be more stories like this on my blog? Oh, yes, I certainly hope so. Because after all, we don’t call this MGD Time for nothing. Ha!
All photos by Ann M. Fischler and Michael G. D’Aversa
Video by Ann M. Fischler