In Wisconsin, taking the road less traveled is worth it

People who know me are aware of my slightly contrary nature. I travel my own path.

So, when almost 20 years ago this Arizona native packed up and moved to Wisconsin with her young family — a state with which I had no connection, not even a job — friends and family were not shocked. However, I did routinely get the questions: “Why?” or “You know it’s cold and snows there, right?”

The weather was not a surprise, but for me, the beauty of the state in every season was.

I would find myself driving the interstate between my home in Jefferson County and my job in downtown Madison in no hurry as I watched the seasons change. And I wondered if the people speeding past me were immune to the landscape and if some day that would be me, too.

My kids hoped that day would come soon, just so I would stop talking about the trees. My running commentary about the changing colors of fall while I took the kids to school each morning would usually elicit groans. They didn’t understand there aren’t a lot of maple, oak, or birch trees in Phoenix.

And it wasn’t just the trees. Coming from the desert and a very large urban area, it was also about the farms. For years I biked county roads, usually starting my mornings by watching the sun come up over cornfields and cows, and encountering deer and other creatures along the way.

Recently, while driving in Cottage Grove, I took a detour onto R-96, also known as Nora Road. For those of you unfamiliar with the R designation, it means this road is part of Wisconsin’s Rustic Road program.

This program, which has been around for over 40 years, provides motorists, bicyclists, and hikers an opportunity to leisurely tour the state's scenic countryside. There are 120 designated rustic roads covering more than 724 miles. Fifty-nine of Wisconsin’s 72 counties have at least one rustic road.

R-96 is not a long stretch of road, only about four miles, but it packs a punch. As described on the Wisconsin Department of Transportation website, “R-96 is a mix of rolling hills, farmlands, woods, and marshes inhabited by cranes, deer, and a variety of other wildlife.”

The sun was struggling to overcome morning showers the September day I traveled this road, but the less-than-perfect weather didn’t diminish its appeal.

While we usually think of our transportation system as a way to get places, taking the detour on R-96 reminds me our transportation system is also a way to experience places.

As the famous poem, The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost concludes: “I took the one [road] less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”

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