Twenty-plus years ago, I fell in love with Wisconsin on my bike. At the time, me on a bicycle was a visual oxymoron. If I had any personal time left over from my sit-oriented endeavors like reading, writing and stained-glassing, I’d celebrate the end of the work-week by watching television while enjoying pizza and a glass of wine.
When I began dating my now-husband, we lived in Chicago. One big problem. He was one of those runner-biker-exercise-eat-well types. During our early dating days, I was smitten enough to agree to purchase a bicycle. Since I hadn’t ridden a bike in over fifteen years, I wondered if I could still keep upright on one.
On our way out of the bike shop, a notice on a bulletin board grabbed my attention. “Pedal Across Wisconsin!” a brochure announced, with photos of grinning people on bikes, all gesturing with a thumbs up. Always an easy mark for advertising (I own loads of products from infomercials), I decided I could maybe get into this biking thing. I grabbed one of the flyers, and we signed up for a bike weekend in Door County.
Two months and 25-miles later (my first biking distance other than a jaunt around my heavily-trafficked neighborhood) my seat was on fire, but so was my soul. We biked through Door County, then Pardeeville, the Driftless Area and the North Woods. On various trips we experienced country roads with almost no traffic, bike trails redone from Rails-to-Trails train tracks, Amish farms with bonneted little girls and suspender-clad boys holding puppies (no kidding, I really saw that!), and rolling farmland; we pedaled through towering trees in Lord of the Ring forests, along rock-strewn beaches of Lake Michigan, and enjoyed the best ice cream stops on the planet. Who wouldn’t fall in love?
I made it a point to get in shape for my next summer of rides so I could enjoy the longer routes and experience even more of Wisconsin on my bike. After every trip, we’d pack our bicycles on top of the car and head back to Illinois. As we re-entered heavy traffic and slowed to a crawl over the state border, my heart would sink.
After twenty years of married life, my husband heard about a job opening in Dodgeville. He asked if I’d consider moving to Wisconsin. The resounding “YES!” I screamed was heard in the next house—which wasn’t difficult since the houses in Chicago are built five feet apart. Three months later, we became official Wisconsinites.
My husband and I made life-long friends on those bike rides. We still ride during biking season, except now our commute from Spring Green is much shorter. Speaking of my little town, the human connection in small-town Wisconsin is as strong as the biking one. From the first day, over ten years ago when we moved in, I felt like I was finally home.
I love Wisconsin. I love my town. I love my bicycle. I love my husband. Not necessarily in that order. Oh, and I’m in great shape. Much better than I was in my 20’s. Little did I imagine that biking in Wisconsin would become more than a fun weeklong tour, but a life choice.
Kathy Steffen is a novelist and writing teacher in Spring Green.