I was about two hours early as I pulled into the lower parking lot of the Red Pines Bar and Grill for the Holland to “the Cut,” the last of the Bike Fed’s traditional Spring Classic Rides. There were no other bikes around yet, but there was a guy was heading out on Lake Onalaska with his paddle board. With full sunshine, almost no wind and the mercury hovering around 80 degrees I knew there would be no extra Flanders points today.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. After a delicious smoked catfish sandwich on the back patio at the Red Pines, I snuck in a power nap in the grass along the banks of the Mississippi River. I woke up to the pleasant sound of bull frogs and people talking bikes with Kevin Müller from Blue Heron Bicycle Works. I scared a nearby muskrat as I sat up to see the parking lot was now full of people unloading bikes (and the guy was done paddle boarding).
Of the 75 people who showed up for this one, most were La Crosse area locals, but we did tempt Art of Art Doyle’s Spokes and Pedals to bring some of his customers down from Hudson and the Twin Cities with him. I also chatted with some Madison area riders, but I was the only person up from the 414. Local organizers Rick and Julie Diermeier had maps, cue sheets and printed waivers for anyone who did not sign the online form. The only thing for me to do was kit up and ride my bike! I wish that happened every time I took a nap.
After the obligatory group photo at the start, the group rolled out a little after 1pm. I began the ride in the lead group who were pulling a “conversational” pace of 20+ mph. That quickly shattered the pack, but with the maps, GPS coordinates and on-road arrows Rick had painted, nobody was worried about getting lost.
I took some photos of the fast group as we rolled through the Town of New Amsterdam early in the ride, and then waived goodbye when I pulled over to the side of the road to shoot some of the other riders as they pedaled past a particularly scenic farm outside town. Hopping back on my bike, I then rode with Jack Zabrowski, his wife Aimee and a friend of theirs.
The low-traffic, rolling paved town roads in the Driftless Region outside La Crosse are some of the nicest riding anywhere. The scenery offers one stunning view after another, but what pulled me over again was the little farm with the windmill collection. I’m not going to tell you where it is because that would spoil a gorgeous ride getting there. You can find the routes on the event Facebook page. For me that kind of real country charm does add to a ride and is another part of what I love about Wisconsin cycling.
While there was a slightly shorter route, all the riders made it to New Amsterdam and Holland since those towns were early on the route. The primary destination for our ride was the Mindoro Cut, outside the nice little Town of Farmington. The Mindoro cut is on Wisconsin Highway 108, between West Salem and Mindoro, the home of Swiss Valley Farms. At 74 feet deep by 86 feet long, and 25 feet wide, the Mindoro Cut is the second-deepest cut built by hand in the Western Hemisphere and the oldest functional cut which has not been improved upon. It was started back in 1907, and workers used only hand tools and dynamite. They finished the project 1908.
The Mindoro Cut did not disappoint, and I was happy to have ridden there. Thanks a bunch to Rick Diermeier for the suggestion and wonderful route to this iconic Wisconsin destination. I highly encourage any of you who are interested to follow our same route. If you run out of water like I did, there is a nice bubbler in the public park down the hill in Farmington. Otherwise, bring everything you need for a long, lumpy ride, because there are few places to restock along the way on this rural ride.
The Mindoro Cut is a great example of the transportation improvements that resulted from the advocacy efforts of the “Wisconsin Good Roads Association” and the Wisconsin Highway Commission, which was a very progressive organization for its time. Nationally, the Good Roads Movement was started on the east coast about 27 years earlier by the League of American Wheelmen , whose “Good Roads Magazine” attracted more than a million subscribers pushed by our state Dairy industry and the growing popularity of cycling.
Back in Wisconsin, our “Bader Highways” magazine even featured the Mindoro Cut on the cover of the November 1927 edition. Inside, I found this poem by Lorene D. Brackin of River Falls an interesting retrospective read:
Sunny skies and fields of green,
Rolling, wooded hillsides,
Laughing, bubbling, trouted streams
That is old Wisconsin.
Lots of folks both good and bad
Make you glad to see them.
Really, I’d lots rather be
In the State of Wisconsin.
Miles and miles of winding roads,
Somc are now sealed over
Made of pavement, shale or clay
Thai’s a part of old Wisconsin.
Roadsides all aglow it seems
Natul’es many colors.
Bl’ight with sumach, shrubs and trees
All along Wisconsin.
Purple hazes all about,
Hanging o’er the hilltops.
Hills and mounds just seem to crown
Queen of States-Wisconsin.
Let me linger there awhile,
Let me call it holy.
For to me ’twill always be
Dear old Wisconsin.
There I’U give my life to work,
Try to make things better,
Still I think I’d rather be
Other states may boast of fame,
Flaunt forth their many colors
In all my mind I’ll only find
The beautiful – - – - – - – - – Wisconsin.
The final two Spring Classic Rides are yet to come. First, why not add a little gravel to your Spring with the Strada Fango Spring Classic on May 8th, and you can restock your supply of frozen cherries and get a good ride in at the Door County Silent Sports Association hosts their Route du Sudm May 15th. Hopefully I will see you there.