Saturday, January 27

Sunday Rides any day of the week!

Someone brought Barbara Barber’s book, Sunday Rides on Two Wheels: Motorcycling in Southern Wisconsin, to my attention and I’m glad because chances are I might not have discovered it on my own. Barber’s motorcycle rides remind her of the Sunday family automobile outings of her childhood. For Barber, why not have Sunday rides any day of the week—not on four wheels but on two? How else can one fully feel the wind on her face? No more sticking her neck out of a car window in search of that summer breeze.

Barber’s book is compact; it is 178 pages and spiral bound. Black and white photos sprinkled throughout the book capture some attractive sights along the routes. In the back of the book, one finds two pages of county, park, and commerce information, including pertinent phone numbers and website addresses. In addition, for the biker’s peace of mind, the books lists six pages of contact information for motorcycle dealerships in the region. The author has beautifully anticipated the resource needs to travel comfortably here.

I like almost everything about this book. The one thing I don’t like is minor—and I hesitate to mention it. First, the things I like: I like Barber’s simplicity. The book is straightforward; the language is clear and accessible. Barber divides southern Wisconsin into five sections: Glacier Country; Kettle Moraine: Driftless Area; Coulee Country; and, Baraboo Hills & Beyond. In each one, she outlines a full range of multi-distance rides in turn-by-turn level details. I haven’t tried any of the routes yet or checked them against Google maps, for example, but it appears that Barber has done her homework. She demystifies the region and the routes. You’d have to try hard to get lost. This is a huge plus! As a female riding solo, this is exactly the type of guide you want as a riding companion. (Sidebar: I know men get lost too and would benefit from such a guide too--and they can feel overwhelmed (maybe even scared) at being lost. BUT they at least have a fighting chance should anyone try to hassle them. People out to do wrong are less likely to attack a man they think might give them trouble—nut cases want it easy, they look for victims they perceive as weak. To such people, women and children fit this category most).

I also like how easy one can string together rides within one region, making for singular rides or multiple hookups. I’ve reached a destination before and then wandered aimlessly about looking for other fun roads. The search rarely incontinences me as I like to explore and I always have a map (sometimes GPS) with me. But my trial and error approach sometimes means I miss out on some dynamite roads that only an insider can pinpoint. Barber is that insider and her book eliminates guesswork while not inhibiting the roaming instinct.

Each chapter begins with some history of the area—more than enough to whet one’s appetite but not so much that you find yourself reaching for the highlighter. Wonder no more about the unique topography of the area and why southwestern Wisconsin looks dramatically different from southeastern Wisconsin. The answer? Glaciers! They pushed through the southeastern parts creating geological disparities that make for a compelling tale that in Barber’s hands is entertaining and informative. Barber devotes well-appreciated time to “Notes & Highlights” that deliver what it promises. These enlightening sections articulate the diversity of the landscape, reveal the best twisty roads, and underscore the must-see architecture in the area. We know where the best working farms exist and where not to aim our two wheels. The book outlines only paved roads but one can easily figure out the location of the unpaved roads from the text should they want to explore those.

In addition to turn-by-turn route directions, Barber has easy to follow, bold maps outlining each route in the five geographical sections. Don’t expect to find the level of detail on these maps that one associates with an atlas--for that, take out your basic Rand McNally. At the end of each section is a “For More Information” page with phone numbers, web addresses and a calendar of events for the area, which makes it simple to schedule—or not—a trip during certain time periods. It is not fun getting to a town only to learn that you’re blocked in all directions because of a parade. Glimpses of Barber’s wisdom are dispersed throughout the book and smartly placed inside boxes with block lettering text that makes the advice seem friendly and personal. Initially, I found myself drawn into all of these boxed musings and caveats before finally settling in to read the book. Her insights give the book a compelling, warm fuzzy feel.

So what is it I don’t like about the book? Well…I said it was minor. Here goes. The black and white photographs. I love black and white photography and have taken many such photographs myself. Often the pictures here are too dark to make out much detail. Only a very few capture the allure of black and white photography. While I appreciate the visuals from the routes, many of the photos lack clarity and eventually detract from the book’s general excellence. This is a tiny criticism that should not diminish the book’s overall charm. There is more than enough here to keep two wheeling rolling happily for a long time. Sunday Rides on Two Wheels…should be on the shelf of everyone who lives within 500 miles of Wisconsin—and any one else thinking about traveling to the region. And that’s my humble opinion!