Possessed By Those Little Green Dots
by Tim Leary
It started out innocently enough. Just a quick ride around one of my favorite loops: Highway 96 out of New Brighton to Stillwater for a soda pop riverside at the St. Croix. Then up highway 95 to Taylors Falls for a root beer float at the drive in and a climb on the rocks. Next, over the river and onto Wisconsin’s highway 35 south. One final stop in Osceola to check out the antiques (and maybe even peek into the windows at the new Victory motorcycle factory) before heading back over into Minnesota and home. Three hours max.
I made it to Stillwater as planned. But while illegally perched on the dike slurping my Fresca, I pulled out a map for the next leg to Taylors. Don’t ask me why; I could drive to the Falls while comatose. There I was, Goofus the Map Boy, quickly becoming intrigued by a series of roads designated as “Scenic Routes” with little green dots.
Because it was the first warm sunny day of ’97 and I had nothing on the agenda for the afternoon, I opted to check out some new scenic roads. Crossing the river into Wisconsin on highway 64, I imagined lush Eden-esque lands, bountifully filled with fruit, where animals and humans coexisted peacefully.
The first three miles of rolling hills, thick stands of white birch and occasional glimpses of the river reinforced my decision to explore. The next 51 miles, however, were pancakes. The points of greatest interest were the enormous collections of rusty machinery. Cars, tractors, snowmobiles, you name it. If it was capable of rusting, it got placed in a finely manicured field for world display. The general rule seemed to be this: If you place many of the same kinds of rusty items together in the same location, it is a “collection”; if you mix different kinds of rusty items together, it’s a junk pile. Art is difficult to understand sometimes.
By the time I reached the intersection of highways 63 and 8 near Turtle Lake, I was nearly asleep. I debated making a westward escape to Taylors Falls and its guaranteed beauty. But those cursed little green dots actually spoke to me, urging me onward. Besides, this trip was like a bad relationship; I’d already put a lot of time into it and didn’t want to break it off because I knew it just had to get better.
Aaahhh, and there it was. Highway 63 north out of Turtle Lake quickly became very pretty. Thick hardwood and pine forests come right up to the edge of the curvy road masking from distant view the large roadside lakes.
Sadly, the little green dots were just toying with me, giving me one little five-mile morsel of beauty simply to keep me hooked. Onward I pressed, frantically determined to find something scenic. I wanted to see something beautiful, dammit!
Turning east onto highway 48 brought some slightly rolling hills, but the area’s highlight was definitely Rice Lake itself. A cute lakeside park provided a peaceful escape from the midday rumbling of jacked-up pickup trucks.
Next, the little green dots steered me north on county road M. After suffering through several miles of monotony, the road instantly became gorgeous. I entered a thick forest, descended a lengthy hill and there in front of me was the very appropriately named Long Lake. The twisting, hilly road commanded the majority of my attention, but I still managed a few peeks at the lake’s large islands. Stunning.
To continue following the shoreline (as recommended by the little green dots), I steered onto county road B. Its beauty was almost as impressive as M’s with heavy woods, Long Lake views and several roadside ponds. Reaching highway 70, I continued east until meeting highway 27. Exercising my independence from the dots, I veered off highway 70 opting instead for 27 straight north into Hayward.
What a mistake that was. From what I could see before turning, highway 70 looked deserving of its designation as a scenic route. Highway 27, on the other hand, was comparatively dull. But I was eager to get to Hayward, so I could ride along the Namekagon River…with its little green dots.
After being lured (ahem) into the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame for an obligatory photo stop, I rolled south on Highway 63, reunited with my beloved little green ones. Once again, I felt duped by the dots, as the scenery fell far short of anything considered even mildly attractive. (But it had a great personality.)
Taking 53 south I quickly turned right onto county roads E east and A north near McKenzie Lake. These peaceful country roads wound tightly between and around several large resort lakes. With numerous old supper clubs, restaurants and inns, this would be a fabulous area to return to in the heat of summer.
I rejoined the little green dots just north of Siren, WI. Turning south on highway 35 for the final leg of my extended trip, the scenery livened up pleasantly. It’s almost as if those little green dots wanted to leave me with a positive impression after torturing me earlier.
Too late, greenies. You’ve left me scarred.
I learned two things from this madventure.
Number one: I’m an idiot. Do you think for one instant I ever considered that these roads were probably designated as “Scenic” by some dwert sitting in a cube at a map company on the 103rd floor of a Manhattan skyscraper? He’s never been anywhere near these roads. And even if he had been, he’d still think the roads were scenic, since the only farmland he’s ever seen was on the side of a milk carton.
Number two: If you’re going to argue with your map, do so out of earshot of the local county sheriff.