As our sun-starved pallid bodies become reintroduced to the bright warm stranger in the sky, I’m compelled to recall a recent last bit o winter biking frolic. During my typical mid-February cabin fever-induced blues I came across a quaint blurb from a bike-minded Gnomish friend talking of turning cranks across a local frozen swamp. Needless to say, I was intrigued. Nature’s forecast seemed to play along providing a week or so of resolute absolute zero temps thus ensuring a swarthy supportive ice pack to cradle my winter heft. Thus a subsequent inquiry was dutifully submitted to get the inside dope on the general whereabouts of said swampland.
After getting the line, I then needed to convince myself that this endeavor still had merit. I jumped on my venerable exploration-bike-trip-recon tool, Google Earth, and took a look-see. A bit o route measuring indicated about 8 miles of potential exploration, thus certainly justifying the ride out west! The sweet spot was a swamp about 50 clicks to the west of Brew City. With the plan in hand, I kept the peepers out for a suitable date. Saturday, February 19th fell in between other winter riding gigs and the weather looked to be Primo! Invitations were sent out to a few other winter riders though as rightly expected there was reluctance to participate on frozen water in a desolate area. As it is, most of my friends display intelligence far above my own along with rationale culled by the long grey grind of winter, consequently, there was little interest. As it was, I then framed this gig as recon for future group rides.
Therefore ignoring common sense I set out on my own with a deliberate Jack Torrence lust, though certainly with expectations of a different ending. Fortified with a spam-eggs-taters-mushroom ladened breakfast skillet, of course, topped with cheddar all washed down with mugs o Joe, I grabbed the Silver Surfer, gassed up Bert’s sexy vintage Honda Element, dropped her into gear, and set forth. The day was one of those Wisconsin calm sparkly sun-laden winter days that devilishly belied the brisk low temps. About 53 minutes later I pulled into a small parking lot near my select put-in. My ride start placed me smack dab in the middle of a breakfast sausage-shaped route offering an easy bailout if conditions short-circuited exploration. Tossing back a ceremonious snoot of Mr. Jack Daniels I decided to first hit the north section, slowly descending over a frozen bank and easing out onto the gleaming ribbon of ice that beckoned before me.
At first, I nervously exercised a bit of caution and held closer to the bank until I got the lay of the ice. Peering down I noticed the frozen solid shallow depth afforded a confident kick out into the middle of the waterway. As I pitched to the centerline, the ice intermittently was in some places covered with a thin hard grippy crust of snow, or beautiful crystalline smooth ice allowing one to eyeball the frozen submerged Lilliputian world or expanses of granulated pebbled ice that sparkled like a prismatic jeweled carpet. Rolling northward the waterway began to close in, though never enough to prevent me from continuing on. Matter of fact the lack of site lines amplified the mystery!
The experience was truly new for me. I worked against riding faster to see what was around the next bend as one truly needed to slowly drink in the experience. Every once in a while I’d come across various animal tracks and stopped in an attempt to ID the critter. Being a city boy I did my best. Eventually, I rolled up to a tiny field mouse that unfortunately succumbed to the winter in the middle of the waterway. I noticed the to and fro zigzagging tracks laid down that sadly told of the little one’s final struggle. Given the surrounding beauty and the quiet solitude I initially was compelled to take a picture of the little creature but after a quiet moment of reflection afforded it a bit of dignity and refrained. I saddled up and continued on. \
Each bend opened up to multiple smaller frozen rivulets which I happily explored, some reconnecting with the main artery some dead-ending allowing meandering double backs. Pushing on I came to a pack of crunched-up ice that groaned and squeaked as the Silver Surfer slowly climbed up and over it. Although there I could see a bit more to the north explore I elected to turn back to see what the south section had to offer.
The turn south rewarded me with a warm blast from Mr. Sol dutifully turning the ice shimmer up to 11! Glinting and squinting, I giggled to myself as I alone indulged in this sweet sensory buffet. As I rolled past my original put-in, I relished in the reality that was only 1/2 way through my frozen Swampo Explorato!
Whereas the northern section was secluded and closed-in, the southern section opened up to wide vistas with the waterway more river or lake-like. I scampered zig-zagging across the ice enjoying the unfettered freedom of space. Coming across a wide-open area of unadulterated snow I used my creaky bike handling skills and crafted a spiral into the white tableau. With my mark left I slowly made my way back to the car.
The experience was truly different with a mellow, contemplative vibe. Whether one does it solo or with a few friends, methinks the experience will be memorable.