Travel: My Therapy, My Drug

Playground

The map you see above, encompassing parts of Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin, represents my intended playground for the next couple of months, based on the road trips that I have planned. Some are day trips; some are overnighters. Most, but not all, involve my motorcycle. This has gotten me to thinking, once again, about my love affair with traveling and the open road.

Whether I look forward or back, I spend a lot of time thinking about my travels. Over the years, I have been on some fantastic journeys—some of them alone, but most of them with other people, and nearly always with people who matter to me. There is a relationship at work there, between me and one of the things I love to do most, and between me and those who matter most to me. Is it so surprising that I endeavor to weave these together?

img_2874

Family… Friends… Loved ones, all… I strive to share with them the things that matter to me most, just as they themselves matter to me. Both of my kids have had a taste of my wanderlust and each now develops their own in their respective ways. My wife, she had it at least as bad as me before we even met. So in some ways, our kids never had a chance. Ha!

Yes, there is an element to this that is all my own, even when I have others with me. I’ve said many times that I do not consider myself to be a good “alone” person. Sure, it’s beneficial at times, even necessary, but I just don’t care for it. I love sharing experiences. So even shen I take the ocassional solo trip, I inevitably find myself looking for things to share on future journeys.

I have made new friends in the course of my travels, and I have also drawn old friends into my wanderlust experience. Surely some folks look at all this and wonder whether I’ve gone off the reservation, taken leave of my senses, etc. And my answer to them will always be, emphatically, yes! This is who I am. This is what I do. And if you want to get a taste of something really neat, follow me just once.

The open road is my therapy; the journey is my drug. Those I take along for the ride are the ones who matter most to me. Thanks for hanging with me.

Advertisements

A Few Thoughts about the 2016 Chicagoland and Wisconsin Ride for Kids

The view from my hotel window at 6:00 on Sunday morning was not encouraging, nor was the radar image on my phone’s weather app. A rather large, albeit not severe, storm system was moving into the area from the northwest. With a few hours remaining until I would head for Lake Geneva for the combined Chicagoland and Wisconsin Ride for Kids, or not, I kept checking the radar and looking out my window as the system rolled in.

Within an hour, my friend Ann had messaged me her regrets. It was already pouring rain and thundering by her, so she opted out of joining me for the ride. I agreed with Ann’s decision 100%, though I’d by lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed.

A little while after that,the rain arrived in Kenosha, too. I decided to go downstairs, load a few things onto the bike, grab some breakfast and see what the weather was going to do. And what it did was get very, very wet in short order.

But then a funny thing happened. By the time I walked out of the breakfast room, it had stopped raining. I walked outside, just to make sure my eyes hadn’t been playing tricks on me. The pavement was still quite wet, but there was not a drop of rain falling any more. I checked the time. It was just after 9:00, still plenty of time to pack up, check out, and head for Lake Geneva. So that’s exactly what I did.

I had donned my rain gear as a precaution. The rain was gone and the sun was beginning to peek out from behind the dissipating cloud cover, but there was still plenty of spray being kicked up from the wet road surface—at least until the road dried out, which happened surprisingly quickly, thanks in part to the plentiful gusting wind.

As I pulled into the Grand Geneva Resort, I couldn’t wait to get out of that rain suit and put on some sunscreen. The wind was still whipping, but the day had become sunny and dry. Unfortunately the damage had already been done with regard to attendance. I have been participating in the Chicagoland event since 2003 and this was by far the least attended of any to which I have been—and the donations collected reflected this as well. But those of us who were there managed to have a good time and came away with the satisfaction of knowing that we helped the kids. In the end, that’s what matters most.

As always, thanks for hanging with me.

Our First Full Day in Western Wisc


What a fantastic day! We started off with breakfast at the La Crosse Family Restaurant, which is located just across the parking lot from our hotel. I can’t say enough good things about that place. The food is good, the people are friendly, and the prices are more than reasonable. It’s just a great place to start the day.

The Midwest Motorcycle Rally officially opened late this afternoon, so Ann and I had more than half a day to ourselves before then. After gassing up the bike, we headed out of La Crosse on Highway 14.

We eventually switched to Highway 82 and a few secondary roads, until we arrived in La Farge. This is an area where part of Ann’s family (on her mom’s side) settled many years ago. I got to see several points of interest, but the crown jewel was touring Bear Creek Cemetery, where a significant number of Ann’s relatives and ancestors are buried. We also stopped to see a farm that has been in her family for many years. It was a great experience for me, because even though Ann and I have known each other for over 35 years, there is so much we don’t know about each other—and I get the biggest kick out of discovering new things about her and showing/telling her things she never knew about me.

And the roads! There were no harsh twisties on this route, but not much in the way of straight roads, either. Instead we were treated to a seemingly endless string of sweeping curves and elevation changes. It was great fun.


We got back to La Crosse in the early afternoon and stopped downtown for lunch. We just parked the bike and started walking around until we found a place that appealed to both of us. That place turned out to be The Old Crow, a gastropub featuring a variety of craft beers and some pretty interesting food dishes, too. I’ll be back.

Once we got back to our hotel, we didn’t have much time before the MMR kicked off with a quick ride to the Dahl Auto Museum, for a private after-hours tour. Dahl has been in business for many years, first as a dry goods store and then as a seller of automobiles. The museum’s collection is noteworthy and our visit there was a fun one.

From there we went directly to a Bike Night event that was going on at Rudy’s Drive-In, a favorite stop of mine in La Crosse. I got to see some cool bikes, reconnected with owner Gary Rudy, and thoroughly enjoyed introducing Ann to Gary and his 50’s style drive-in experience.



After a quick stop at the hotel, we were off again, this time on a “Bug Run” to Grandad’s Bluff, overlooking the city of La Crosse. The view from up there is beautiful and the ride up the bluff, especially at night, can be an attention getter, too.

We finished our day with some classic MMR socializing in the parking lot of our hotel. I only mention this because I had the pleasure of being introduced to three gentlemen who were attending the rally for the first time and had learned of this event by reading the article I wrote about it for Thunder Roads magazine two years ago. On top of a fantastic day that was already over the top, that made me very happy.

If all days were half as good as this one was, I would have no bad days. Thanks for hanging with me.

Here is a video excerpt of our ride today…

Ann & Me: Kenosha to Delavan 4/17/16

RoadIt was destined to be a bad hair day, first by virtue of helmet hair and then by the wind-in-the hair effect. But I knew this day would be magical just the same. My friend (and favorite pillion) Ann and I had been talking about going riding again ever since our last time out on the bike together, which was last November. Even a relatively mild winter in the Midwest doesn’t hold a lot of riding opportunities for two people who live 150 mile apart. So we bided our time, even getting together a few times to attend non-riding events, cook some awesome dishes together, watching the winter crawl by and talking about places we might visit when riding season came around again. On Sunday, April 17, the day we’d been waiting for came.

TrolleyWe met that morning in Pleasant Prairie, on the Wisconsin/Illinois state line, sort of a halfway point for both of us. From there we secured Ann’s car and took the bike over to Kenosha’s Simmons Island Park (http://www.visitkenosha.com/attractions/parks-nature/simmons-island-beach) on the shore of Lake Michigan. As we got closer to the lake, the air got downright crisp, but not uncomfortably so, because we had geared up in anticipation of riding in a fairly broad temperature range that day. When you travel by motorcycle, by virtue of being on the outside of the vehicle, you experience whatever is going on around you firsthand. Wind, rain, beating sun, odors, steep temperature gradients, you name it, you’re not just passing through—you’re in it.

BoardwalkBack when I was a boater, I used to “put in” at Kenosha Harbor, right behind Simmons Island, which was home to the Simmons Mattress factory long before it was repurposed as a recreation area, but that was years ago. Much of it still looked the same, but there’s a nice boardwalk along the beach now. Ann and I strolled the boardwalk in order to get to the Kenosha North Pier Lighthouse, also known as Kenosha Light. I hadn’t realized it at the time, but the Coast Guard auctioned off Kenosha Light as “excess property” in 2011 and it is now under private ownership (see http://kenoshalighthousestudio.com/).

Ann at K LightWe walked out to the end of the pier. A rather historic-looking electric trolley was trundling along the opposite side of the harbor channel at the time. We also saw a number of people fishing off the southern side of the harbor mouth. The pier itself was almost deserted, save for one or two people who came and went as we looked out across Lake Michigan. Despite it still being April, we saw a couple of boats out there, too. One was a cabin cruiser, passing just beyond breakwater. The other was a twin screw sport boat, its hull barely touching the glass-like lake surface as it flew by. Gulls flew overhead. Ann and I just stood there, breathing the crisp air and taking it all in, occasionally offering a few words about some aspect or another of the area that we respectively recalled.

Old LightBefore heading back to the bike, we walked farther south, to the historic Kenosha “Southport” Lighthouse, which stands in remarkably good condition, thanks no doubt to some benefactors who cared enough to want it kept that way. It’s a well-preserved bit of this city’s history that deserves a visit, if you are ever in that area. For a glimpse at the history of Kenosha’s lighthouses, check out http://www.lighthousefriends.com/light.asp?ID=240.

Fat TuesdayOnce we got back to my 2012 Victory Vision Tour, affectionately named Miss Scarlett, it was time to head toward Delavan, home of Fat Tuesdays Kitchen (http://fattuesdayskitchen.com/), a delightful little Cajun/barbecue/soul food restaurant that I had fallen in love with when I stopped there last July. My biker friends and I must have made a Foodpositive impression, because the people there—good people, I might add—still remember me. What a great little place to visit, especially if you are hungry. Ann enjoyed the red beans and rice. I tried their signature Fat Tuesday’s Sandwich, an awesome combination of sweet and spicy that still makes my mouth smile when I think of it. When in Delavan, please stop in for a bite and tell them “MGD” or “that biker Mike” sent you. You will not be sorry, believe me.

We bade our goodbyes and got back on the road, this time hopping Interstate 43 to Highways 11 and 142, respectively, which brought us to the Richard Bong State Recreation Area (http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/richardbong/), where we paid our $11 out-of-state entry fee and went walking. Technically we were 50/50 (Ann is a Wisconsin native; I’m the flatlander), but the nice girl at the guard hut went by the vehicle on which we were mounted, which is registered in Illinois. Ah, well…

In contrast to thAnn at Bonge cool air along the lakefront, it was quite warm out near Brighton, at the Bong SRA, a 4,515-acre parcel that was once designated to become an air base, but was abandoned before it was built. There is plenty to do here for the outdoor enthusiast, including hiking trails, horse trails, fishing, hunting, dirt bike and OHV trails, camping and even a small beach. Ann and I had no horse. It was too cold to swim and besides, we had no swimsuits. We had neither fishing tackle nor camping gear. It was not hunting season. And believe me, Miss Scarlett is not a dirt bike by any definition. So we checked out a trail map and went for a short hike.

There is a fair amount of wetland to be found here, so we did encounter a few muddy parts along the course of our walk together. But it was nice to just walk for a while. And despite the beating sun and somewhat humid conditions, we enjoyed ourselves out there. We also saw some wildlife, including ducks, geese, a beaver, a crane (I think) and two small, rambunctious kids (under adult supervision) on the sandy beach. Again we often just stopped to breathe, enjoying each others company as we took it all in.

PetrifyingWe had just a little bit of time left together, but what to do with it? We headed for Petrifying Springs Park (http://www.visitkenosha.com/attractions/parks-nature/petrifying-springs-park), a lovely area just off Green Bay Road in Kenosha County, just north of the city of Kenosha. But alas, I had forgotten the park was on Green Bay Road and headed for Sheridan Road, by the lake, again. Woah! We both commented on the steep drop in temperature, which was substantial, as we rumbled into town on 142.  Ann had a good chuckle when we realized that I had put us on the wrong road—but she remains my favorite pillion and besides, you’re never really lost when you’re on a motorcycle.

Bad HairPetrifying Springs Park, or “Pets” for short, turned out to be a real find. We didn’t have a lot of time to spend here, but we soon found ourselves wishing we had come here earlier. Relative to the other places we had visited that day, there were a lot of people here, and for good reason. This place is beautiful and many area families obviously enjoy going there. Ann and I strolled along the flowing waterway, presumably fed by the artesian well for which this park is named. Several foot bridges cross the stream as trails continue on either side. We had no time to follow the trails, but we couldn’t help but stop for a quick selfie on one of the bridges. It was at that moment that Ann and I both realized how unkempt our hair had become after a day of walking and riding. We may not have looked all that well-groomed at the moment, but the shared laughter sure felt good.

Ann n MGD 04172016The time to part ways and head for home had come all too soon. Ann and I said our goodbyes and exchanged hugs, both quite happy to have shared some time together and pretty darned sure there would be a next time. Roughly 90 minutes later, we were 150 miles apart again, but I have no doubt we were both still grinning ear to ear. Good friendships are like that.

Until next time…

 

Photos by Ann M. Fischler and Michael G. D’Aversa

There Was Once This Beautiful Place That Kept Trying to Kill Me…

Holding KidsJust a few miles south of the somewhat better-known High Cliff State Park lies this lovely place called Calumet County Park, at the end of County Trunk EE on the eastern shore of Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin. For the better part of ten years, from 1991 through 2000, I took my then-young family there, along with our boat and about a month’s worth of camping provisions, for a few days of rest, relaxation, and the occasional near brush with death.

Don’t get me wrong. I loved going to Calumet County Park during those years, despite the outward indications that somebody or something didn’t want us there. It’s a beautiful, beautiful place, situated on the Niagara Escarpment—which means level (or soft) ground can be a little hard to come by across its 200+ acres. And Lake Winnebago, the largest inland lake in the state, was ideally suited to the Sweet 17, my Bayliner runabout that I had won in 1990 by looking in the bottom of a pop can at just the right time. This park had a small harbor with launch ramps as well as some decent camp sites, very close to the water. What’s not to love? We would soon find out the answer to that one!

Karen and I first arrived at the end of County Trunk EE on a Friday in 1991, which we affectionately referred to as 1 Year B.C. (Before Children). We pulled into the park with the Sweet 17, trailered behind our trustworthy (ha!) 1980 AMC Eagle 4WD sedan. Ah, those were the days! You could say we lived on love, mainly because it was the only thing we could afford back then. It was getting late on the day as we arrived—I no longer recall why we arrived so late at a destination that was only four hours from home—and immediately fell in love with our new surroundings, at least until we discovered the spider population (Karen has always been deathly afraid of spiders, especially big ones). The sun was shining (for the last time until the end of that weekend) as we set up camp. We dined on hot dogs and beans, spent hours sitting by our campfire, made the most of our private tent accommodations, and fell asleep.

DinnerBy Saturday morning, a steady rain had set up over the region. There would be no boating that day, no frolicking in the lake, either. Instead we talked, read books, and otherwise amused ourselves within the cozy confines of our tent. Sometime during that afternoon, our dear friends the Tabors arrived to check in on us (remember this was before the days when everybody had cell phones). They had known in advance where we would be staying and, having camped with us once before—when we ended an area-wide drought by bringing down torrential rainstorms and at least one confirmed tornado—they also knew it would be raining. After they arrived, we laughed about the weather conditions for a bit and then sought out the confines of the Fish Tale Inn, a bar and supper club (then) located on EE, just outside of the park.

I still remember the four of us hanging out at the Fish Tale that afternoon, having no place better to go, sipping beers and solving the problems of the world. There was a huge sturgeon mounted over the inside of the doorway. It was a monster, easily twice as long as the doorway was wide. Beneath it was a placard, providing details of the sturgeon’s prehistoric origins. My eyes were drawn to that until I noticed two raccoons, very much alive, peering into the Fish Tale from two ground-level windows that were at or above eye level inside the place, which had been built into a hillside. They were just walking along the hillside, like nobody’s business, and stopped to check out the humans on display inside the bar. Apparently I was the only one who noticed them, as everybody else in the establishment seemed oblivious to our furry observers. Sadly the Fish Tale is no more, but it was a rather interesting place in which to hang out on a rainy Saturday afternoon, at least for those two young couples, back in the day.

Eventually our friends departed and we were left to fend for ourselves. The firewood we had purchased had become quite damp, but this did not deter me. While Karen retired into our tent for a nap, I set about figuring out how to get a fire going. I arranged some soggy wood into our sunken fire ring and then set about looking for something dry to help get the fire started. The Kleenex went quickly. The few pieces of dry news paper and advertisements went almost as fast. Still no fire. I looked around for something else that would burn. Just before giving up hope, I smiled faintly as my eyes settled on a nearly full can of Coleman cooking fuel.

I doused the wet firewood soundly with the white gas, oblivious to the heavier-than-air vapors that were filling the fire pit the whole time. Fortunately for me, I struck a match from a yard or two away and tossed it into the fire pit. I never saw that match land. Instead, I saw this blue flash erupt and spread horizontally across the top of the fire pit.

FOOM!

I felt a wave of energy pass through the ground beneath my feet as the atmosphere compressed my head to a point where I could feel the insides of my ears touching each other. Then… silence. If there had been birds singing and squirrels chattering before then, they weren’t doing so any more. A meek voice called out from within our tent, “Hun…? Are you okay?”

“Fine,” I stammered, “I’m fine.” I vaguely felt around my lower forehead to see if I still had any eyebrows left, then added, “I got the fire going.” And that much was true. The fire raged on for hours and we enjoyed another simple campfire meal, undisturbed by mosquitoes or wildlife of any kind.

Karen w RopeThe following day, on our last day at camp, the sun rose and there was no more rain. For the first time during that trip—for the first time ever—we launched the Sweet 17 and took her out of the harbor and out onto Lake Winnebago. The water was like glass and there was little or no other marine traffic on the lake that morning. It was glorious. It was also bait, set to convince us to come back. And we did, with our children, foolish mortals that we were.

Harbor LaunchThe years that followed were a combination of the best and worst vacation moments of our lives.

One of my fondest memories involves Nat King Cole and pancakes. I had this portable radio that I always took along when we went camping and there was only one station that I could get clearly from Cal County Park. It was an oldies station that played the likes of Glenn Miller, Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, etc. On one amazingly calm, sunny morning, I was frying bacon over hot coals and flipping pancakes on the camp stove, while Nat King Cole sang Unforgettable. I can still recall every bit of what that morning was like. My view of the lake, the smell of the forest intermingling with the aromas of my food cooking, the sound of that song playing on an otherwise quiet morning, everything. It was awesome.

We did not come back in 1992, the year our Teresa was born, or 1993, when John was born, but we made up for lost time in 1994, when we returned to Cal County Park with our new family. This was the year I sliced open my right-hand pinky with a brand new (and very sharp) Swiss Army Knife, while setting up camp. This was also the year we were treated to record cold temperatures. Karen checked on our son in the middle of the night and began heaping all of our bath and beach towels into his portable crib, because she had discovered the boy was turning blue.

The following year brought record high temperatures, when Karen sought urgent relief for our kids by tossing them into Lake Winnebago. It was then that we discovered how much water a standard disposable diaper is capable of holding. This is also the year that our young son potty-trained himself, having decided, after having had his epiphany in Lake Winnebago, that he no longer wished to wear diapers. And true to his word, he never had to again. As we drove toward Appleton on Saturday afternoon, seeking relief from the extreme heat, a news report came on over the radio detailing local livestock losses due to the extreme heat. Our Teresa became very upset at the news of cows dying from heat exhaustion. We eventually tried to interject humor into the issue by adding wisecracks about chickens exploding. For some reason this seemed funny at the time. But we were punished for our mirth by picking a Burger King at which to have lunch, only to discover that their air conditioning had broken down.
Kids eating

You would think this next experience might have scared us off for good, but no. Another set of friends of ours, the Shermans, and some friends of theirs, joined us at Cal County Park, and believe me, we all had the time of our lives. Things went well enough by day. We frolicked in the sun, we cooked over our open fire. We fished from the shores of lake Winnebago, where I caught a fairly impressive (and very angry) walleye. Then the storms rolled in.

We had settled in for the night, but the storm continued to build. Sometime during that night, I was awakened from a sound sleep by my loving wife, who had grown concerned because the once-vertical walls of our tent were being bent horizontally by winds of extraordinary magnitude.

“Michael…”

“Hmmm…”

“Michael!”

“Huh… what?”

“Look!” By this time the walls of our tent were bending horizontally toward my face and our entire world was being lit up by continuous lightning in strobe-like fashion. We were literally in the storm.

“Should we stay put or get out?”

“Let’s get in the car,” I reasoned. I didn’t think the tent would hold out much longer. We gathered everything together and woke the kids up.

Teresa woke up in a flash and then helped her brother wake up by screaming into his face, “John, get up now! We’re gonna’ die!!!!” I guess she didn’t want him to miss it. My son played his part perfectly, first opening his eyes and then screaming for all he was worth.

After a moment of frantically searching for our car keys, only to discover they were already in my hand, we lined up and prepared to exit. As soon as I unzipped our tent, the storm took it. As we drove toward the main (read: the only) park building, the storm sheared our tent pegs clean off at ground level and flattened our tent, our battery-powered lantern still glowing from within.

We arrived at the park office, we saw the maintenance garage doors were open. Turns out they had been opened for us. We parked facing the lake, gathered our kids in a handful of beach towels and headed up toward the building. From somewhere behind me, lightning struck the lake with a blinding flash followed by an immediate explosion of thunder. With my daughter wrapped in my arms, I ran for all I was worth. Even more amazing,Karen was right behind me, with John bundled into her arms.

The following Sunday morning, as we prepared to head for home, I discovered some tee shirts at the camp store proclaiming, “Experience nature’s peace.” Laughing hysterically, I bought two of them, one for Karen and one for myself. Amazingly enough, those who were friends of ours upon arrival, remained friends of ours, even after this experience.

You would think that would be it, but we are slow learners. We cae back, one more time. The year was 2000, Teresa was eight years old, John was six, the weather was uncharacteristically perfect, and we had been caught well off of our guard. Sometime that Saturday afternoon, Karen and the kids had decided to go down to the lake. I was doing something at the campsite, intending to join them shortly, but I never got the chance.

I remember Karen running toward me, cradling Teresa, who had been screaming in pain. She had slipped on a moss-covered rock and smashed her front teeth onto the same rock. I took John with me and got supplies out of our first aid kit for the girls. Long story short, one of my daughter’s adult teeth had been damaged in the fall. We called our family dentist, packed everything up and headed back to Illinois, never to return.

There is more to the story. Calumet County Park is more than just a campground, situated on the Niagara Escarpment. The land also includes a number of effigy mounds, Indian burial grounds, up on the escarpment. Does that play into this story? I don’t know.

I haven’t gone back since summer of 2000. I have often thought about taking a motorcycle trip back to the park. But dare I do so? I welcome your thoughts.

Until next time…

Find Your Happy Place

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.

Surrounded by Fall Color

Surrounded by Fall Color

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.

Like Entering A Grand Cathedral

Like Entering A Grand Cathedral

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.

What A View!

What A View!

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.

Occasionally we would stop... and attempt to take it all in.

Occasionally we would stop… and attempt to take it all in.

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.

Genuine Smiles

Genuine Smiles

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.

It Was Beautiful

It Was Beautiful

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.

Priority Boarding

Priority Boarding

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!

– MGD

All photos by Ann M. Fischler and Michael G. D’Aversa
Video by Ann M. Fischler

Fruit of the Vine – Wining in the Heartland

CrispThe air was sweet and crisp on the morning of October 25, as Ann and I made our way toward Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin beneath a big blue sky. On board Miss Scarlett, my fully-faired touring bike, we ran the Interstate west and north, through the Madison metro, before exiting onto Highway 60 toward Lodi and points beyond. The sights and smells of autumn were all around us as we left the more urban environs behind.

Cows. I could definitely smell cows.

The village of Prairie du Sac lies on the banks of the Wisconsin River in picturesque Sauk County. While the town itself lies immediately west of the river, our first destination of the day, Wollersheim Winery, is found immediately east of the river on Wisconsin Highway 188. I’ve traveled to this winery enough times between 1986 and now to be able to get there without the aid of maps or signs. Until this day, however, my friend Ann had never been there. As a longtime fan of Wollersheim, I took great pleasure in making this introduction.

VineyardWe followed the gentle, sweeping curves of WI 188 only a short while before parts of the vineyard came into view. Less than half a mile farther, we were leaning into the winery’s main drive. There were other vehicles in the parking lot, but ours was the only motorcycle thus far. After dismounting, we locked up our helmets, gathered our phones and other necessities, and began making our way uphill toward the main building.

My wife Karen and I used to go weekending in these parts in the mid-to-late 1980’s, before our kids came along. At that time, the winery essentially consisted of an old stone building on a hill and a cave hewn into a hillside further up. The facility has grown and developed considerably since then. Additions have been built onto the original building, which is still recognizable, especially from the inside, and the grounds, once quite utilitarian in appearance, are now beautifully landscaped. Most recently a distillery has been added, where brandy is made.

Although Bob Wollersheim is no longer with us (he passed away in 2005), Philippe Coquard, the winemaker that Bob brought on in 1984 from the Beaujolais region of France, is still quite active in the day-to-day operations. Philippe is also an avid motorcyclist. I have never had the pleasure of meeting him in person, but have seen him tending to his craft during past visits.

Wine2This being Ann’s first time at Wollersheim, I made sure we took the tour, which takes about an hour. The tour includes stops at points like the fermentation and aging areas, incorporating informative videos along the way, and concludes with a guided tasting session. I grew up in a household where my father made wine, as did others in our extended family, so I am somewhat familiar with the processes, sights, and especially the smells of wine making. I caught my first whiff of fermenting grapes before Ann and I even entered the building. When we entered the fermentation room, despite being behind the glass windows of an observation area, my nose was immersed in the familiar, heady aroma. I’m reasonably sure I was smiling the whole time.

Wine1At the conclusion of our tour, Ann and I tasted a number of reds and whites, ranging from dry to semi-sweet, and concluded with a white port. Port wines are usually ruby or tawny in color, quite sweet, and fortified with brandy, making them ideal as an after-meal treat. The white port we sampled fit all aspects of this description, except for the color.

AnnWollersheim Winery also has a large shop, where visitors can purchase wines by the bottle or case, as well as all manner of wine-related utensils, vessels and apparel. Since this was our first stop of the day, with many more hours planned, we opted not to load the bike with 750 ml bottles. Perhaps next time. Instead we strolled the grounds together, making a point of stopping in to see the historic cave, where wine was once stored, before heading back down to the motorcycle and continuing our day together.

Will we be back? Given my track record so far, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised. But to anybody who is into touring rural Wisconsin and visiting wineries, I wholeheartedly recommend a visit to Wollersheim.

Ann n Me in ShadowsI already talked about our next stop in my inaugural post, made earlier this week. So next time I’ll tell you about our final, perhaps most magical destination of the day. Until then…

– MGD

All photos by Ann M. Fischler and Michael G. D’Aversa