Tuesday, June 17

Milton, WI--Site of an underground railroad station

Saturday was a perfect day for two wheel travel. Mid-seventies, gently wind and a bright blue sky with cotton ball clouds. I took the long way to Milton, which means I avoided the interstate in favor of long stretches on US 14, US 20 and Rt. 41. Riding along county roads like Y and M offered nice rolling hills and the kind of isolation that makes you think you're alone in the world. The open spaces lined with tall grasses on each side of the road tempted me to open the throttle. Effortlessly, Jesse sneaked to 90mph for a brief, exhilirating stretch of road. The ST is smooth, fast, and naughty (in a good way). The push to activate a lean requires little more than thinking about it. The ST's respond is immediate--I'm loving this ride.

Milton, WI, named after the poet, John Milton, was founded by Joseph Goodrich in the 1800s. Goodrich, who hailed from upstate New York, made his first trip to WI with two friends to find fertile land where he and his family could establish new roots. A devout Seventh Adventist Baptist, Goodrich believed that people should not own other people. Period. Goodrich espoused his anti-slavery views through bold acts of resistance by housing runaway slaves in the underbelly of his cabin.

In many ways, Goodrich was a man ahead of this time. He built the first poured grout building in 1844, the Milton House, which is now the oldest concrete building in the US. In fact, Milton WI has more standing grout buildings from this era than any other city.

Milton's population is now less than 6000. A quaint, friendly sort of town that seems more distant from Chicago than it really is. At the Milton House, the volunteers treated me well and pretty much figured out that I was there mostly for the history of the underground railroad. As one young teen lead my private tour, word traveled that I was asking questions about Milton's underground railroad history. Just as the tour got underway, the museum's director entered the room and apologized to her young docent and said, "I'll conduct this tour since it's more specialized." She did Milton proud and spent considerable time explaining the history of the Goodrich family (I asked if they were related to the B.F. Goodrich, but the director didn't know--she's new in her position).

A trap door in the floor, leading down a dark stairway must have been a scary yet welcoming sight to escaping slaves. I could feel my heart quickening as I walked sideways through the narrow, tight tunnel that runaway slaves passed through long ago. Once inside the room where the slaves would remain until safe passage out of WI, I took a deep breath and tried to think of how frightening it must have been to live with the fear of being hunted like animals and discovered by slave trackers. Listening to the zealous presenter kept me from getting angry.

The Milton House sits at the end of John Paul Road right at the intersection of Highway 26 and 59. It is a hexagonal structure that is akin to an early shopping center. It housed different specialty shops, including a hotel, train depot, horse stable and general store in strip mall style. Goodrich also founded The Milton Academy, which later became Milton College, a small liberal arts college that operated for 138 years before financial woes forced it to close in 1983. I spent so much time at the museum and on the grounds that I jettisoned my plans to make a side trip to Racine, WI.

I took the long way home and enjoyed the sights--and smells--of the WI farmlands. I saw two strange things on the way home. The first was a guy (and his friends) riding on a two lane highway doing a wheelie. They appeared to be in some sort of odd formation as if executing a well planned act. The second sighting really freaked me. On the same highway, moments later, I spotted a guy standing up!! (I couldn't tell if he was on the seat or on the pegs. I think, however, he was on the seat (is that possible?) because he was incredibly tall. His arms were outstretched like Jesus on the cross--except his head was held high--and he was balancing himself on the bike! I was heading south, he was heading north but I got a good long look at him.

What's up with that?!

Ride fun 8/10

275 miles