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PHOTOS: Daniel Wakefield Pasley
Blue Mound State Park is on the tallest hill in southern Wisconsin. And at 1,716 feet above sea level, Blue Mound is the seventh highest peak in the state. Had Chicago won the bid for the 2016 Olympics this area would have hosted Olympic road racing. The most infamous group ride in the area, Horrible Hilly Hundreds, is the toughest one-day challenge ride in the Midwest, according to the Viking Biking Club. And from the top of Blue Mound it is immediately evident that while it looks flat from above, it most certainly is not.
Blue Mound is flanked to the north by the Wisconsin River Valley and the Baraboo Range. (While the term 'range' in most cases suggests extensive and rugged mountains, the Baraboo is in fact a monadnock: a small mountain or isolated rock hill.) To the south and west, Blue Mound is flanked by the mounds, buttes and rolling forests of the Driftless Area, which Wikipedia describes as: an area of deeply carved river valleys owing it’s existence to it’s escape of glaciation during the last glacial period. To the east it's flanked by glacial plains and the city of Madison. Blue Mound is a big green bump in vast sea of little green bumps.
Rollers through there are not tight or claustrophobic or even that steep like the Appalachians. They are not a uniform height, depth, radius, or direction, like the nearly perfect sets of rollers you encounter in Nebraska. And they are not without a flat-bottom like the rollers in New England. They are not even like rollers in the West where the distinction between roller and climb is mutable and shifting, without consensus. Nor are they like the rollers in the south: short and wicked.
The rollers in southern Wisconsin are pastoral and green and medium. The countryside here is like an organic quilt, green-on-green, dotted with a blue-green patchwork of farms, paddocks, fields and pastures. But the hills, in perfect Midwest character, are plain and simple, soft-spoken but strong.
In the morning, over breakfast, the evening before over drinks, on the phone with a few days to go, someone who has done this ride says the word rollers. It is not a word that is easily forgotten or is just one of those words that gets easily passed around when talking about rides. Either way it has been confirmed that we will be facing rollers on this ride. And it is always followed up with the question “but what kind of rollers?”
After much deliberation, research and input, and the benefit of 50 epic rides all across North America, this is our understanding. Rollers force you to shift, stand-up and charge. That’s it. You can sit through them and pace them out if you like but shifting, forcing and charging is the appropriate response. And that’s what we did for a little over five hours on our way through the better than average - picture book quality - Norwegian bachelor farm country around Blue Mound State Park.