Nightfall, and after a long tiring ride we turn into the drive of The Inn at Timber Cove, our tour base camp. Hidden behind old, massive trees, this romantic Bed and Breakfast lies in a lush green meadow. The owners Tina and Brian Miller escort us to our cottage and light the fire. As the wood crackles cozily in the fireplace, we dive in on their welcoming gift, soon devouring two thick, delicious pieces of homemade raspberry cake.
The First Loop
The sun is on my face and I hear birds singing far away but they aren't the reason I wake. A louder mosquito had just launched a dive-bombing attack and my eyes popped open with the wild, reflexive twitching of my hand.
After a terrific, calorific breakfast served in our room, we are, literally, ready to roll. I feel like the Doughboy, but moments later we're feeling lighter and cruising the Road King and Ultra Classic along Hwy 2 and Hwy 13 to Bayfield. A stiff breeze blows through the narrow roads of this quaint town located on the pristine waters of Chequamegon Bay, where everyone catches the ferry for trips to Madeline Island, the largest of the 22 Apostle Islands. Fourteen miles long and three miles wide, it's home to only 180 people year-round, but many nature lovers and stressed-out city dwellers are drawn to its long sandy beaches. No wonder Bayfield is so busy this morning. Planning to stop by later in the afternoon, we hope the wind is milder and the temperatures higher so we can enjoy a cup of coffee in one of the sidewalk cafes.
We pass the Red Cliff Indian Reservation and Siskiwit Bay before taking a left on county road A in Port Wing. After the smooth sweepers along the shore of Lake Superior, a ruler-straight part follows to lead us south over rolling hills. The wide-open landscape is fascinating and incredibly clean. The only dark spots in all the greenery are cows. In Iron River, we stay on A for a few miles longer before we take a left on N. These, of course, are some of Wisconsin's "alphabet roads," a network extending over the entire state. And for the motorcycle enthusiast that means mostly narrow, empty roads. Sometimes the surface is a bit tricky. Potholes and gravel reminds us to ride cautiously. On Hwy 63 we share the road with plenty of other vehicles, but this experience lasts only 15 miles until we take off on H. With smooth up and downs, and some tight turns and soft sweepers thrown in, we race through the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. Still in the forest, but already back on Hwy 2, we ride back towards Ashland. I discover a nice additional loop, so I use my signal and lean the bike into a sharp left turn back onto Hwy 13. In Washburn we take C, winding over a remote plateau and ending up at the shoreline village of Cornucopia. Back on Hwy 13, we head back to Ashland. Only the coffee break in Bayfield delays an early arrival in Ashland. As we had hoped, the temperatures are mild and the wind is gone when we find a seat in the green grass at the village's little park. With coffee in a foam cup in our left hands and a tasty ice cream in the right, we review our first loop.
The radio wakes me with a blast of "Raindrops keep falling on my head..." And still somewhat fuzzy with sleep, it takes a few moments for my brain to register that I'm not hearing drums. Fat drops are hitting the roof and the wind lashes the downpour against the window like a showerhead in a stall. That's all I need to hear to turn and listen to whatever the pillow wants to tell me.
The extra two-hour nap was just right. The rain seems to have departed and only deep hanging clouds are left. Christa and I decide to proceed as planned and swing our butts in the saddles. We take Hwy 2 east. Cold wind hits our faces and in Saxon we exchange bikes. The Ultra Classic gives her more protection from the elements than the Road King does. We turn on Hwy 122 south and the next ten miles prove extreme challenging. We're wide awake now, trying to negotiate potholes large enough to easily swallow a front wheel and a rough surface covered with gravel and wet spots. In Mellen, we stop at a gas station for some hot brew to warm our bones.
We arrive in Phillips with 60 unpleasant miles in drizzle and heavy traffic behind us. I pray for better, more exciting roads ahead, and just like that the next two alphabet roads W and GG turn out to be perfect for our purposes, but eerie too, given the weather. Now and then, winding along into the Flambeau River State Park and then into the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, we see deer cross the road. Especially frightening today, they appear and disappear, faint shadows in dense fog.
Five hours and 236 miles later we're back at our cozy base and feeling like we deserve something special. Tina recommends Zeis's Platter Restaurant on 314 Turner Road. Running the operation in this lovely Victorian-style house, David and Theresa Zeis serve a creative mélange of contemporary and traditional dishes. It's a great place to head for when you just want to chill out and pamper the palate.
The Mission and Lumberjacks
This morning we're looking forward to 192 miles in bright sunshine. Yes! The weather shows up in the friendliest guise imaginable: I can't spot a single cloud in the sky. But since the state doesn't have the protection of any high mountain borders to keep the weather like it is, I'm still doubtful about the changeability of conditions in Wisconsin. The afternoon could look totally different.