Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - September 9, 2016

A roadbed less traveled

When I'm traveling with husband Art, as often as not, we end up on unplanned adventures. Our international trips are full of those "serendipitous" moments - times when things come into the picture that invite us to stray from the path we had previously chosen.

Even our trips to our North Woods cottage can bring unexpected bends in the road. On our most recent journey, one such experience was prompted by an unwelcome event. Several weeks earlier while Art was headed to work, the day had shifted from cool to warm, so he decided to close the car windows and turn on the air conditioning. He immediately heard a loud pop and, glancing back, saw the partially-raised passenger-side rear window disappearing slowly into the door. The window regulator had failed and so, needed to be replaced.

Fast-forward to Wisconsin with the now-repaired car. We were on the way to Rhinelander to get ButterBurgers at Culver's when I decided to close my window to shut out the cool evening air. I was greeted by a loud pop which startled me. Seeing nothing, I turned to Art and asked, "What was that?"

From that earlier experience, he knew.

"Watch your window," he said calmly.

I turned to see the window descending gracefully into the door.

The local GM dealership had to order the part. Once back at our cottage, Art was able to coax strips of packaging tape past the window's water seal and press them onto the glass. These strips were used to pull the glass up. He then taped it in place in case of rain.

"That beats taking the door apart to reach the glass," he commented when the job was done.

Two days later, they called to let us know the part had arrived. We headed over to the dealership, but once there, rather than sit and wait, Art suggested we take "a walking adventure."

By most standards, it didn't begin as much of an adventure. We followed along the sidewalk leading toward the local Menard's building-supply store at the edge of town, thinking we might do a little shopping. But as we reached the edge of the city, there were no more sidewalks. So we stuck close to the curb, giving the fast-moving traffic a wide berth.

The route we were taking was a large arc and Art pondered whether it was possible to walk through the woods directly from Menard's back to the dealership, thereby avoiding the street altogether.

While he did mention this, he didn't say he was going to pursue it, feeling I might balk at such an attempt in an area laced with ponds and streams. I like adventures, but I didn't want to go back looking as Art does when he returns from a fishing trip.

We stopped to get a drink and some fries at the Arby's next to Menard's. By the time we were finished, he said we didn't have time for shopping and should return to the dealership, but via a "different" route. I somewhat reluctantly followed along, wondering what we might be getting into.

We first negotiated the gently-sloping grass south of Menard's until it gave way to a field of calf-high weeds. Next, we came to some old Wisconsin Central Line railroad tracks and began following them west. The tracks hadn't been used for quite some time, as evidenced by the rusty tracks, rotting wooden ties and weeds growing between the rails. But at least they provided relatively good footing.

Every now and then, I could see buildings through the trees. I also saw three places where the ties met the edge of ponds. Swampy areas lay on both sides. Up ahead, the weeds were larger and the trees on both sides were pressing in toward the roadbed. I was wondering if we'd be seeing civilization any time soon. I wasn't particularly pleased.

"Do you know where we're going?" I shouted to Art, who was up ahead. He either didn't hear me or ignored me. Of course, the reason he was up ahead was because he hadn't stopped as I had to take pictures.

Continuing, we came to a place where a tree had fallen, blocking the tracks. We had to go down from the roadbed to skirt around it. I grumbled.

But then, I noticed how quiet and peaceful it was. I could hear crickets chirping, the soft rustling of birch leaves and bees buzzing near purple and yellow wild flowers. I saw cattails growing near the water and dragonflies flitting from here to there. I even stopped to observe the railroad ties. Some were embedded with red moss-like flowers. Others had rows of tiny round black pellets wedged closely together. When I asked Art what he thought they were, he said he wasn't sure, but they might be taconite (iron ore) pellets that had dropped from railroad cars. (A little Internet research later proved they were!)

As the rails began to turn to the left, Art left the tracks and headed southward. I was far enough behind I didn't see exactly where he had turned.

"Which way did you go?" I yelled.

"Through the blackberry bushes," he shouted back.

I left the roadbed at the bushes and soon joined him. From that point, we were on firm ground. We passed a fenced petroleum storage area, a commercial truck repair business and then reached an east-west street. We followed it west until it curved to the south, taking us in the desired direction. After a few hundred feet, we cut through the parking lot of another business and then the lot of the dealership.

The car still wasn't finished, so we settled into chairs of the showroom, feeling pleased with ourselves. Not only had we exercised rather than sitting on our sitting parts, but we had seen a part of the city I doubt many of its inhabitants had seen - all by venturing down a roadbed less traveled.

Top-left: Art disappears into the distance while I stop to take an "artsy" picture of the lone flower along the abandoned rail line; upper-right: a small tree had fallen across the tracks. It wasn't much of an obstacle, but the areas at the edges of the roadbed were wet; bottom: taconite pellets collected in the crack of a tie.

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