I was in Wisconsin for over a week, and though that isn’t enough time to see all of, it is some and I have enjoyed it.
I stayed in a hostel in Chicago. I feel good about this choice. I shared a room with two women, Avni, from India in town for an architecture conference, and Rachelle, from Detroit in for alumni obligations at Northwestern, both of whom I much enjoyed talking to. It was lovely to talk about travel and places and lives (as a generalization).
I had planned to stop before getting into Wisconsin that night, at the Illinois Beach State Park Campground perhaps, but I got there and didn’t feel like stopping, so I went on. I was looking for a place to stop as I got into Kenosha… I’m sure my impression of a place depends a lot on what I’m looking for when I get there. For example, I’m happy to come into a town when I’m looking to take a break during the day, as there may be parks or shady places to sit for a bit. When I am looking for a place to camp, rolling into a city is pretty unwelcome. So maybe Kenosha is a nice place. I can’t honestly say. It felt dirty and full of people and it was not where I wanted to be. I wasted time looking, I should have just rushed to the other side. Eventually (out of Kenosha) I was pointed to an overlook park, right against the water, listened to waves all night, and watched the sun appear out of the lake in the morning. (I recognize that the city was there long before me and I have no right to disapprove of its existance)
I didn’t have far to go to get into Milwaukee the next day. (Milwaukee is bigger than Kenosha, but I knew where I was sleeping and did enjoy my stay.) The rest of that day was pretty relaxed. I ate things and explored a little and my friend B took me out to some places and I met more people. B and Ashanti both were not working Saturday and we all went to The Domes (three glass dome botanical garden type place, each dome being a different climate environment), then over to the Milwaukee Bike Collective for a little bit, then to a building somewhere full of art galleries which were open and we walked through them and looked at many different art (there were six floors each with a few separate studio or gallery spaces) and munched snacks. I did very little exploring on my own in Milwaukee, which is nice, socially, but means that the map in my head of this city is quite lacking.
The ride between Milwaukee and Madison was straight forward, and I was on trails for a lot of it. The second trail, which I picked up in Waukesha, was the Glacial Drumlin State Trail. I’d never heard of a state trail before, which is I guess like a state park, and wants admission fee. Drumlins, I learned, are little cigar shaped hills left by retreating glaciers. I feel like Wisconsin has a solid (topographical) relationship with glaciers. I later passed through the Driftless region, driftless referring to the fact that it wasn’t flattened by the glaciers like everywhere else.
I got to Madison late Sunday evening. I learned much about Wisconsin while I was in Madison. Most museums are closed on Mondays, this is a thing I learned. I saw some small art exhibits in the Overture Center, (though most of the building and the adjoining Contemporary Art Museum were not open and I didn’t try them the next day) and I wandered around the Capitol area for a bit, then went out to the Geology Museum on the UW campus. Lots of rocks and historical land formation type stuff here, but also a lot of fossils. I thought a bit about how much we can learn from them (as demonstrated by the explanations and extrapolations in front of me there) and how much more there must be that we are missing that we can never know. I hung around Madison another day and went to the Aldo Leopold Nature Center and to the Wisconsin History Museum (and played games with Charles and Tara). The history museum had a whole half a floor devoted to bikes-their development (physically and culturally) and Wisconsin’s role. Did you know that bicycle riding is even more popular of an activity than hunting there? And that I could have (though didn’t choose that route) ridden on the first ever rail-trail (the Elroy-Sparta State Trail)? The rest of the museum taught me about early Wisconsin life and industry, of various immigrants and native peoples, and such.
Mt. Horeb is home to a Duluth Trading Co. store which holds a small tool museum. I stopped there to look at these tools. It is also the troll capital, I hear, there were many troll figures along Main St. I also sat in the food coop for a snack for a bit. There was some snow dark sky and heavy wind this day. Skies cleared in the evening and I saw very many stars from the campground in Lone Rock where I slept (and woke and went out of the tent to pee and look at stars ~2am).
I came through the town of Viroqua, which you can be sure is in the “driftless” part of the state because of how many times the word is used in naming things (Driftless Cafe, Driftless Traders, Driftless Anglers, Drifless Bookstore, etc). I really liked this town, as do many other people, I gathered, there are a lot of folks moving there. There are still only about 4400 people living there, and lots of cool things going on. The frame maker at Driftless Traders offered that I could sleep in the shop and so I did, and so had a chance to eat at the local organic-y restaurant and have a beer with one of the bike shop guys and visit the community radio station (which has 80 volunteer djs), get more snacks at the food co-op, etc.
I reached the great river, which is magnificent. There are islands in some places far enough off to warrant those telescope things at the road pull off overlook spots, through which I viewed pelicans and herons and other creatures.