It wasn't long after my return from a road trip that it became clear that my needs and wants were starting to drift apart and in order to keep doing what I wanted I needed to do something I didn't. I had to return to work for a commercial company, at least part-time. For some reason, bills don't stop because I had decided to work for myself instead of someone else. This lead to possible opportunities out West in both Montana and Wyoming either working for a seasonal resort or for the National Park Service. However, due to either location or cost of living both places had to be turned down and I certainly wasn't going to leave Aria behind. Now it was time to look locally, which had me finding a job as a housekeeper for a hotel and the only good thing about it was the physical work and a steady paycheck.
I remained part-time for the next several months, while I looked for places to take photos, write about and magazines to post articles to. This also became the time for learning about the industry, social media, advertising and getting myself out to the public. Rejections and lack of responses were hard but they were even harder when I was working for a company I didn't really like.
One day it became too much and I got into the car and began driving the back roads. This lead to finding old and abandoned buildings and farms within an hour of where I lived. I was reborn, the road was what I loved and if I couldn't go out to see it then I would have to use what was around me to bring it back. It was said that a majority of travel writers work around the home and rarely go on long, glamorous trips. This struck a chord with me and I began doing more research on my hometown state.
Not far from my home was a country road that when growing up was called the Canyon Road. At that time, it was an all dirt road with very few residents back on it. It has since been developed with a few homes, a bed and breakfast and the road was now paved and had been re-named to Rustic Road. I had seen this sign several times but not only here, there were other signs I had seen along my back road drives and became curious about them.
When I did the research I discovered that the Rustic Roads program was created about 40 years ago and allowed hikers, bikers and motorists to enjoy the less traveled, scenic back roads of Wisconsin regardless of the season. These routes helped to enhance the beauty and serenity that the state had to offer. There were approximately 119 individual routes that travel through 59 counties and when added up equaled about 722 miles and the routes were not connected to each other.
I was determined to see as many as I could in the neighboring counties even if it meant visiting them one county at a time, one weekend at a time. It was also quickly discovered that these routes were poorly marked if not marked at all. There was also little to no cell signal and the routes, despite what the website said, didn't lead to any major road or highway. Most of them I had to guess what road I was on and it was quickly discovered that not only was the route itself not marked but if there was any kind of turn along the route to remain on it, it also wasn't marked. It was a guessing game that required me to have a full tank of gas and non-blinking eyes the whole way.
I learned quickly to print out the maps from the website and make notes about the area and nearby towns or markers. At least it gave me a visual of where I was going and where I would end up. Towns were also far and few between these routes and it was a great way to experience “countryside Wisconsin”.
On one particular route that hadn't been marked at all and even with the printed map, I still found myself in a lot of trouble. I was in the middle of nowhere, only fields and a bad one-lane dirt road were around me. I finally found a broken down home with a grassy driveway that I could maneuver my way around in but the thought of getting stuck had my heart racing. What made it race even more was this didn't look like a friendly area.
Even in the country, surrounded by trees and brush, there was still a sense of "get out of here!" screaming through my body. Paranoid visions of being captured and locked up for days flashed in my head as I finished getting myself turned around and headed back towards the main road. I tried not to go too fast as movies with spikes on the road also came flashing back.
I took several deep breathes and stayed focused on the road ahead of me, I finally made it back to the main road only to see deep in the brush a sign pointing the direction of the Rustic Road. I drove forward and up above flew a bald eagle as if guiding me to safety.
The other crazy thing was when the roads were marked, they were marked at every turn and curve to point the correct way instead of guessing and going in the wrong direction. Even so, there were more times than not I found myself all alone on these isolated and desolated roads. There was a beauty that could be found here not only by the natural vegetation but also the wildlife and the run-down buildings that would pop-up on occasion. The roads would also go around or through state forests offering even more scenery to the drive.
I saw a lot of Wisconsin on these roads as well as the small towns that were heard of but never actually seen up to this point. Even with the uncertainty and panic that would arise from some of these routes I fell in love with Wisconsin once again. I loved being in the country and being taken back to a time when this would be all that made up Wisconsin. Big towns and busy lives only existed in the cities of Madison, Milwaukee and Superior everyone else just sat back and lived their lives. It was nice if only for a moment, to see the beauty that made up this state.
Several more trips would take me around the Western Wisconsin region before shortened days and the bad weather began to set in to prepare us for the winter ahead.
These scenic drives are broken down by county as most of them are not connected.
Videos are also available on YouTube.