Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Study: Cycle Touring Through Southwestern Wisconsin, or Nine Days Driftless, or The Only Cool Thing I Did This Summer

Realized I never really made much mention of the tour Agatha and I went on this summer.  We spent nine days riding our heavy ass bikes up and down the hills of the Driftless Region in Southwestern Wisconsin. We passed through towns like La Crosse, Trempealeau, Richland Center, and Dodgeville.  Weather was basically perfect, aside from a hairy night at Perrot State Park featuring wind, rain, and hail, culminating in a flooded tent and the fun associated with such events.  The Driftless region itself is a place that resonates with history and intrigue for me.  If you live nearby, you owe it to yourself to go spend some time out there.  The roads and sights will blow you away.  Views up the Mississippi River Valley at sunset are certainly unmatched by anything else in the Midwest.   This wasn't really an "adventure" for us per se...  More of a bike vacation.  We had no set route, just a timeframe in which to operate.  This is a fun approach to touring, as you are sure to get tips from locals or find stuff you didn't know about before the trip that you are going to want to check out.  We took it easy, lingering where we wanted and moving on when we felt like it.  The long lazy days of summer are perfectly suited to the attitude of bike touring.  We ate delicious local produce whenever we could, and being the end of summer there were plentiful roadside fruit and vegetable stands selling squash, zucchini, onion, green beans, peas, etc...  I don't think we had any mechanicals at all on this trip.  It was just a plain old wonderful time living outdoors with someone I love and doing things that I love, and reflecting on it really makes me wonder what the hell I am doing with my life that it does not allow me to do things like this more often.  Bike touring is not expensive, it is not scary, you don't have to be an athlete. If it feels too hard, you are doing it wrong!  If fulfills all my ideals pertaining to simplicity.  It is the best way to travel and I hope everyone who has ever dreamed of taking a long bike trip gets to do it some day. Someday I will leave on one and never come back.

Nelson Dewey State Park

Dugway Rd., best road of the whole tour.

The mighty Casseroll, master of all terrains and tasks.

Amazing gravel hill, count 'em--1, 2, 3!

Navigation... Don't worry about it, you'll get there.


Yellowstone Lake State Park

I want to enter this picture in a llama photo contest

Yeah, that seems pretty good to me!

Nine days, 558 miles (according to web mapping, more like 600 by our count), 32,306 feet of climbing.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Brief: Rock Climbing in Shawnee National Forest, Southern Illinois

A few weekends ago, Agatha and I made a break for it to one of my favorite places in the whole world--The Shawnee National Forest.  At the southern tip of our long, long state lies a beautiful reserve of public land that bears no resemblance to the rest of our geologically infantile home.  Almost seven hours by car from DeKalb, it feels a world away and might as well be for how different and beautiful it is.  I have been going there with friends since high school to camp, climb, and generally fuck around out in the woods, and places like Giant City and Panther's Den are the places I learned to love the outdoors when I was younger. Agatha and I were feeling the grind of daily life and the and the cold onset of winter, so we set our sights south to Jackson Falls, a climbing area located in the National Forest.  Jackson offers no amenities aside from a pit toilet, which is a good thing. Camping is free and visitors are expected to practice Leave No Traces ethics.  We spent three days climbing, hiking, and relaxing out in the woods and had a spectacular time.  We definitely can't climb as hard as we used to, but we gave some old routes a try and survived to tell the tale. We did a lot of hiking around less traveled areas of the canyons and found some neat spots.  The Shawnee is an overlooked gem and the people who live in the area don't seem to mind one bit.  Very few published guides to the area exist, and I imagine "locals only" spots probably compose a lot of the potential climbing in the forest down there.  I love it, and if/when I make it out of the midwest, I will still come back to this place for the fun and memories it holds for me.

Agatha cleaning up after finishing a route

Bouldering the "Yosemite Slab"

Collapsed cliff overhang

Exploring under the collapsed boulders.  Pretty scary once we realized how precariously some of the house sized rocks were balanced.

I am the speck up top.  Climb known as Venom, 5.10a.  One of my favorites in the area.  Fun moves on small holds over the small overhang to delicate slab moves to gain the top.

Route-finding error resulted in some stupid climbing here.  Agatha laughed at me for looking like an idiot (which was deserved).

Beautiful cliff lines everywhere.  So much to explore.

Till next time...