Wanderlust and Walk Wisconsin season has arrived
Besides a disheartening growth of lawn material to be cared for, the recent sun and semi-warmth have brought us to that point in the year when we start yearning for an open road or a quiet trail.
“Quiet” may not be the best term to describe Walk Wisconsin, a time now just two weeks away, when the Green Circle Trail is at its most crowded (and most loved). If you haven’t already, think about visiting www.walkwisconsin.com and signing up for what locals like to consider the premier walking event in the Midwest.
Participants can do everything June 4 from a full marathon-length walk to a quarter marathon. Remember that it’s noncompetitive; I’m sure nobody would care if some walkers just went directly from the sign-up at the Pfiffner Pioneer Park bandshell over to Emy J’s for breakfast and then walked back for the entertainment later.
But I digress. This week’s column is about my first serious bout this spring with wanderlust, which struck me during a recent lunch break and caused me to head out to a reunion with a favorite stretch of local road, see some scary bullet holes and think about access to open space.
Use open roads and trails when you can
A couple of interesting New York Times articles from the last three weeks serve as a reminder of how different our country is about the notion of public access to land. Even though we’re credited with inventing the idea of national parks, we are, in some ways, woefully behind other developed nations when it comes to being able to enjoy the land.
This week, I read a piece about Sweden’s Gotland Island, where author Christin Smallwood enjoyed the benefits of “allemansratten,” which guarantees access for walking, camping and swimming, picking of berries and other activities “pretty much anywhere they choose except where prohibited by law.”
Earlier, I’d read an April 21 article by Ken Ilgunas, author of “Trespassing Across America,” a book about his 136-day hike from Hardisty, Alberta, to Port Arthur, Texas, along the route of the XL pipeline. Much of it was across private land – including in Kansas, where only about 1 percent of all land is owned by either the state or federal governments, he wrote.
Ilgunas had a fascinating short summary of our lost history of access to the land and contrasted it with countries where access to far more limited space is generally easier, such as Germany, which allows walking through privately owned forests, unused meadows and fallow fields.
He noted that there’s a substantial emphasis in those countries on responsible access – taking care of the land that people roam, with limits to what can be done there and primacy given to loving the land. He concludes with a simple opinion about America: “Walking across the so-called freest country on earth should be every person’s right.”
Fat chance of even having much discussion of that here. But at least we do have such jewels as the Green Circle and the Ice Age Trail, which rely on the willing generosity of private landowners and taxpayers who elect and direct more far-sighted politicians (remember those? Yeah, not so much).
These thoughts were on my mind during a recent lunch hour as I headed to a noon workout at the Y, but got distracted by the beautiful spring weather and decided to hit the trails and roads instead. I stayed on my bike and headed west toward the Wisconsin River, the Green Circle and West River Drive.
There’s little that’s more inviting than a crushed-gravel path curving along the river or a near-carless road twisting off ahead under a tall canopy of green trees with sun dappling the asphalt through breaks in the leaves.
I get both of those for a decent portion of one of my favorite bike runs, which takes me past Rusty’s Backwater Saloon and out to where River Drive meets Wisconsin 66. It’s about 17 miles from my house out and back and I can usually do the whole thing in just over an hour if there’s not too much wind, too much heat or too many distractions.
The first four miles or so are primarily in sight of the Wisconsin River, making it a particularly scenic stretch – despite the water-treatment plant across the river from the old NewPage/Verso site, at the larger of two dams between downtown and the Wisconsin River Country Club.
I saw a beaver out on the road for the first time during my ride, but it scooted back across the blacktop under the boulders lining the west bank of the river just downstream from the dam.
I’ve ridden this stretch dozens of times in the last five or so years, and even though I rarely see fewer than 20 or so cars headed in both directions, it’s a road where drivers seem respectful and courteous, generally moving far to the other side and avoiding the kind of missile-shot speeding that can scare the bejeebers out of a cyclist.
Once past the golf course, riders see a few open fields and scattered country homes. It’s a road that’s neither crowded nor isolated, and generally pretty safe.
Still, it seems there’s always got to be some reminder that we take our lives into our own hands wherever we go. This week’s reminder was when I circled around Timber Shores and Timber Ridge drives, in a development of new homes just behind Rusty’s.
When I came to the stop sign on Timber Ridge at River Drive, I noticed a half-dozen bullet holes that had pierced the stop sign – new since my last ride in the fall. They had come from the River Drive side, meaning the bullets appear to have been shot toward the home across Timber Ridge that is directly behind the sign.
It didn’t ruin the ride for me, but it certainly made me thankful to be alive on a sunny day.
Happy hiking, biking and driving everyone.