Friday, July 11, 2008

Like to Hike

It’s hard to keep up with a weekly blog when you take seven days of vacation. I didn’t post last week and I hope I don’t fall down on the job again for a while. Catholic guilt is never far from my conscience.

If you read my last entry, you know I spent time in the northwoods, where the lakes dot the landscape like fresh drops of deep-blue paint. I’ve spent nearly every summer of my life there, yet each time I return I am in awe. As far as the eye can see, evergreens stand tall and stoic around these glacial kettles, resolved to be there for as long as Mother Nature will have them. It’s hard to come back after a respite up north.

Several miles before we reached the cottage on this particular trip, a big black bear came lumbering out of the forest and across the road in front of us. I hadn’t seen one in more than fifteen years. The next day we heard there were more bears—and bear sightings—than in years past. Like my fear of flying, my bear anxiety got the best of me and I only ventured out once to hike my favorite trail on earth. Environmental and science writer—and Madison Magazine contributor—John Morgan included Fallison Lake Nature Trail in his tote-along guidebook 50 Hikes in Wisconsin (The Countryman Press and Backcountry Guides, $17.95), which he co-wrote with his wife, Ellen. John and Ellen compare the trail to a movie set, and describes a lake that “shimmers like black glass.” He’s right on both counts.

Like pocketknives and bug spray, the Morgans book is a nature trek essential. It heightens the adventure, and even gives advice on how not to encounter a bear! Sounds counterintuitive, but making noise while I hike and smelling like sun block and insect repellent are two of his suggestions, both of which I will do from now on.

Winter, spring, summer or fall, Fallison is achingly beautiful. I’ve heard coyotes howling in the spring, seen beavers damming the creek in summer, crushed leaves under my feet in fall, and trekked through new-fallen snow in winter. When I read John’s chapter on this magical place, I felt better gushing about it and bringing new visitors to hike it every chance I get. I’m not crazy—it IS the most majestic places on earth!

Back home, I used 50 Hikes for some trails in and around Madison. In addition to digestible and descriptive prose, John and Ellen did a really nice job with charts, maps, directions, and safety recommendations (like how to keep the bears away!).

A few weeks ago 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles (Menasha Ridge Press, $16.95) showed up in my mailbox. I knew about the Madison-area trail guide by Kevin Revolinski because the publisher had sent my a galley and asked me to write a review for the back cover. Since I’ll probably never have the patience to author a book of my own, I was honored and excited to be asked. I called the book “spectacularly comprehensive, well organized and fun to read.” I was truly impressed, and now, flipping through the actual book a few months later, I’m amazed at the level of detail Revolinski, who lives in Madison, provides for each of the hikes he recommends.

I especially like the way he organizes the hikes. The table of contents lists them by city and county, but a few pages later he also breaks them out by all sorts of measurements: length, best maintained, good for kids or bird-watching, dogs or wheelchairs. The hike descriptions are accurate down to the bat houses, benches, and where the mosquitoes are particularly bad.

If you’re my kind of hiker, you’ll be looking for a place to grab a bite or a cold one after your adventure. Fortunately, Revolinski’s got that covered, too. At the end of each chapter, he recommends “nearby activities.” For Cherokee Marsh just a mile or so from my house, the book recommends taking in a Mallards baseball game while you’re in the neighborhood. I can taste the veggie burger and Mallards Ale already.

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