After getting off the Yellow Breeches at 6:30 on Saturday, I drove only a couple hours before I was ready for dinner and a good night’s rest. Thanks to Hotwire.com, I found a very cheap hotel just off the interstate in Shithole, PA.
You can’t find it on a map, but it's there. Just like every state seems to have a scenic Springfield or a charming Centerville, every state definitely has a Shithole. Or 10. Or 100.
I say that with all due respect, having grown up in Troy, New York, which when I lived there was nicknamed Troilet. (As a positive aside, Troy has been having a renaissance of late, and is now a happenin’ place, the new Brooklyn, they say. So check out the resurgent downtown and the fabulous architecture, especially Market Block Books where I did a signing last year.)
Anyway, I was in a crappy Quality Inn in Shithole, USA so, of course, I decided to stay there for an extra day to catch up on writing. I looked around for someplace quaint in town to sit and sip coffee on Sunday while pounding the keyboard (think Hemingway at a café in Paris), but couldn’t find anything remotely suitable.
Even the Starbucks was grim. So, I went back to my room and made the best of it.
Losing My Memory
My laptop has been giving me fits. My hard drive had filled up just as I was leaving on the trip, so I had to continually offload stuff onto my external drive. With only 100GB of disk space (and I was down to 1GB available) on my second-hand laptop, and with programs expanding like the universe at the speed of light, I couldn’t even upload photos to Lightroom or video to GoPro to edit.
My computer tech had also told me a few months ago that I should upgrade my RAM, which I didn’t do before I left. Bummer.
I limped along, figuring I’d never be able to upgrade on the fly while driving from town to town and state to state every day.
On Monday, I decided to push through to Wisconsin (with a quick stop at a Cabela's store in Wheeling, WV). I rocked out to my Storied Waters playlist through Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. That was a very long day on the road from 10 am to 11 pm.
I finally rolled into another el cheapo hotel in S. Beloit, IL, a mile short of the Wisconsin border. This and the previous hotel at least had fitness rooms, so I was able to get in some cardio two days in a row. Free breakfast, hot shower, decent bed and a workout. Not bad for $60 a night (thanks Hotwire!).
Dr. Leopold, I Presume
On Tuesday, I definitely wanted to get some fishing in.
I homed in on Mt. Vernon Creek, southwest of Madison. I had learned from the good folks at the Aldo Leopold Foundation that Leopold had been involved in a stream restoration project in this spring creek on the edge of the Driftless Area. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources also had great things to say about Mt. Vernon Creek which has a good amount of public access. So I decided to give it a go.
For those who may not be familiar with it, the Driftless Area comprises portions of southwest WI, southeast MN, northwest IL, and northeast IA, sort of an island in the middle of the last Ice Age. The glacier did not cover this area, and therefore neither scoured the landscape nor left behind deposits of sand and gravel (called glacial drift by geologists), hence the name “driftless.”
The landscape is very interesting and scenic with low hills, steep bluffs of sandstone and limestone, and deep valleys dotted with ubiquitous Wisconsin dairy farms. It also has numerous spring-fed creeks emanating from the limestone bedrock. Ideal trout habitat.
When I pulled into the parking area at the public access point, there was Dr. Leopold's ghost to greet me, standing right next to the sign! He said he be happy to hang with me for the next few days as I toured through Wisconsin, learning more about his important work in advocating a Land Ethic, as expressed in his lyrical masterpiece, A Sand County Almanac. Dr. Leopold also was a fly fisherman. Check out this video from a trip on the Lily River in the 1920s.
With Dr. Leopold guiding me, I had a fabulous day on Mt. Vernon Creek with perfect conditions: overcast and threatening rain, with clear water and a good current. Trout were rising all afternoon, up and down the stream in all the classic spots, under cut banks, near logs and under overhanging trees. It was challenging to get the fly where it needed to go (with many snags in the tall grass and branches overhead), but a fun afternoon. And the bird life was incredible!
I caught the first rising fish I saw, a small but beautiful brown trout. The second one rising nearby took my fly (a #18 foam flying ant) and promptly went under a log. I was lucky to get my fly back.
I caught another half dozen browns, missed three more, and was unable to fool another dozen rising fish. Quite an adventure!
On to Baraboo
My next stop for the evening was Baraboo, so I would be near the Leopold Center for my scheduled visit there on Wednesday. I had thought about camping in Devils Lake State Park, but the forecast called for thunderstorms and downpours. I booked another cheap hotel.
The back roads are more fun, so I coaxed my GPS app, Waze, to take me cross country rather than on the interstate.
As I drove through Mt. Horeb, a suburb Madison, at about 5:30, I slowed for the approaching roundabout. To my left, I noticed a very friendly looking computer shop – sales and service - called TrollBytes, with a guy standing at the counter looking bored. “What the heck!” I said to Dr. Leopold, "let's give it a try." I did a loop around the roundabout and pulled in.
“I am on a fishing trip and I need more bytes,” I told him. “Can you help?”
“Yes,” he said, “we can upgrade you to 500GB and 8MB of RAM. Come back at 10am tomorrow and we can have it done in a few hours.”
Really!?! Wow. I little more driving than planned, but it could work.
I came back the next morning and dropped off the laptop at 10:15, and headed to the Vermont Creek Fishing Area about 6 miles away: a very small spring creek, running clear despite the rain overnight, about 10 feet wide with tall grass and sedges overhanging steep banks. Very tough to get a fly on the water without hitting the overhanging vegetation. The pools and runs were the size of a coffee table. And the fish were very spooky.
I managed to get five or six fish to splash at my fly, but no real bites. Too quick and too wary. I tried the foam ant and a small caddis pattern. It was great fun trying to sneak up on the fish, hit the target, hoping to fool them… but I have to report I was unsuccessful. So far on this trip I am 0 for Vermont - strikes, yes, but no fish caught on the Battenkill nor on Vermont Creek.
As we walked back to the RogueTraveler, Dr. Leopold reminded me of his quote in Sand County Almanac, from the essay 'Alder Fork – A Fishing Idyl'
"What was big was not the trout, but the chance. What was full was not my creel, but my memory; full of the stuff that fishermen's dreams are made of."
Black Earth Creek
I decided to check out another spot on the Black Earth Creek about 5 miles away. Vermont Creek feeds into Black Earth Creek, which is much larger. While the smaller creek was crystal clear, Black Earth lived up to its name. It was running up to the top of its banks, the color of Hershey’s syrup.
I plunked a green and black woolly bugger into the fast moving current and promptly snagged a stick. The second woolly bugger lived through a few more casts, but the fishing seemed futile.
Off came the waders and in went the rods (they have remained fully rigged since Walden Pond), and back to TrollBytes I went.
Plenty of Bytes
Success! Incredible- in three hours I had a new hard drive and a RAM boost and was back in business. What are the chances? Many thanks to the nice trolls from Mt. Horeb.
I plugged the Leopold Center into Waze and headed back north. The route took me past the Sauk Prairie Restoration Area and Devil’s Lake, the only non-man-made lake in the Driftless Area.
Soon I was in true Leopold country. I couldn’t wait to see the Center and the Shack where he wrote the book. As I pulled into the parking lot at 2:30, Dr. Leopold said, "come on in, I'll introduce you to some folks."