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A Wisconsin Glacial Gift

This article appeared in the April, 2011 issue of Owners News

The 37th Great River Road Rally (GR3) – A Wisconsin Glacial Gift

An odd thing happened around 20,000 years ago. The great glaciers of the Wisconsin Episode, which covered most of Canada, the Upper Midwest and New England with ice as thick as a mile, began to recede northward as the world warmed up, leaving behind scoured terrain and glacial drift. The odd thing? Those glaciers never covered the Driftless Area located primarily in southwest Wisconsin. The result? Gorgeous rolling hills separated by lovely rivers and streams, leading to wonderful scenic rides on a multitude of federal, state, county and town roads. This is what the Madison BMW Club's Great River Road Rally is all about.

The "GR3" gets its name from the Great River Road, WI 35, which straddles the bluffs along the east bank of the Mississippi River. The rally site used to be on the river at Bagley, a quick hop from WI 35. It moved northeast some years ago to Soldiers Grove on the meandering Kickapoo River in the heart of the Driftless Area, providing a strategic location with great camping, comaraderie and amazing riding. Wisconsin's "little dragons", WI 33 through Wildcat Mountain State Park and WI 108 over the hand-hewn Mindoro Cut, make a great day trip with plenty of other twisties along the way. You may want to stop on the way back at one of the many wineries in the area. Looking for great views of the Great River? Visit one of many scenic high spots, such as Mt. Hosmer across the steel bridge at Lansing, Iowa. Want to ride that GS on some back roads? Join the rally's adventure ride. A guided touring ride is also offered.

The GR3 is most definitely a "riding rally." Although there are small "seminars" on topics like knife sharpening, and several vendors are on hand to sell their wares, the focus is on camping, eating and riding. The rally has the enthusiastic support of several local community groups - it kicks off on Friday with hamburgers and brats sold by the local horse and pony club, an all-you-can-eat breakfast provided by a local church group follows on Saturday, and the Lions Club presents the Saturday evening meal, which is included in the rally fee. Lots of great door prizes are given away, and a motorcycle movie is shown Saturday night. If you register before May 7, you may win a pre-rally Thursday night motel stay on the Mississippi River (particularly handy if you're traveling from the west).

But, above all, it's about the roads. Type "Soldiers Grove, WI" into Google Maps, set the display on terrain, and be amazed. The town roads all have "Hollow", "Ridge" or "Coulee" in their names, and that's a good thing. You can ride along magnificent ridge roads with amazing views over the hills, or tool along a hill-shaded valley road where horses drink from nearby streams (watch out for deer!). Best of all, of course, are the roads that cross the grain, with twisty climbs and drops.