Touring the labyrinth of county and township roads that wind their way along shifting rivers, through intersecting ravines, and around plunging hillsides leads to eventual departure from the world as you know it. As your compass needle spins in utter confusion and you reach for a map, you look around and realize you have discovered some lost paradise never before seen by man; at least not on this day.
I found myself in this pleasurable quandary not long ago while on a guided fly fishing trip with Driftless Angler Fly Shop out of Viroqua. Their expert guide and novice chauffer took me to Timber Coulee north of Westby off County P. My father grew up in rural Westby, a Scandinavian community that knows its way around its heritage. Dregne’s Scandinavian Gifts on Main Street claims “You won’t believe what is in our store!” But a quick look around will find glassware, collectibles, flatware, gifts, clothing, clogs, and all things Norwegian this side of Norway.
On the way to Timber Coulee, I soon lost my sense of direction and location while hurtling along township roads wedged between lush hillsides and meandering streams that peek luminescent through intermittent clearings in the trees. I’d never seen this place before and probably could not find my way back, owing to my directional incompetence and my guide’s sworn secrecy for hot fishing spots.
It was this surefire way of discovery that I found Johnstown Road in the Kickapoo Valley. I was setting up a rest stop for the Kickapoo Brave (bicycle) Ride a couple of weeks ago at Star Valley, a whimsically named place near the junctions of County Roads B and C, which seem to head in eight different directions at once. I took a wrong turn onto Johnstown Road on the way back to Gays Mills, and ended up 20 miles in the opposite direction in Fairview – yes, the view is more than fair – one of the most delightfully scenic diversions I have ever stumbled upon.
Getting lost has its rewards, especially around Gays Mills, which fancies itself as the Apple Capital of Wisconsin. The title fits considering the seven orchards perched along Highway 171 and Orchard Ridge. Cool weather, fall colors, and apple orchards go nicely together this time of year with a warm cup of apple cider. Along with cider you will find 50 varieties of apples, jams, jellies, syrups, specialty foods, and Driftless area arts and crafts.
It’s always a good idea to have a bag of apples in the back seat when you get lost. You’ll have something good to munch on while warding off starvation and admiring the scenery. At least until you swallow your pride along with the apple and get out a map.