The WisconsinHighways.org website’s State Trunk Highways section says: “One of the noticeable idiosyncrasies is the meandering nature of some of Wisconsin’s state highways. Just pick one of the state’s longer routes, and more than likely you will find many extended stretches concurrently designated with other highways and some meandering behavior.” I like highways that meander. My favorite ride includes State Highways 32, 47, 52, and 55. It’s not the Smoky Mountains, but it has some of the best motorcycle roads in Wisconsin.
This route is a figure-8, and I prefer to start at the top in Laona. The Shell station there has ethanol-free 91-octane gas and Trig’s beef sticks. Fuel for both the bike and me is a good way to begin the ride, and several stops for both are available along the route.
I head west on U.S. Route 8 toward Crandon. It’s a sunny, pleasant day, but with haze in the air. The faint smell of smoke rolls over the windshield. News reports say it’s from large wildfires in Ontario. It occurs to me that I have not been to Canada in 10 years, and that’s way too long. Hopefully someday soon crossing the border will be easy, Covid will be under control, and the fires will be out.
These are some of the straightest highways of the trip, and I turn up the wick on my old Twin Cam to get to the curves. I have owned a variety of bikes over the years and toured on all of them – a Honda Gold Wing, a Suzuki V-Strom, a Yamaha FJR1300 – but I always seem to have a Harley around. It’s a Wisconsin thing.
Outside of town, I enter green hardwood forests. Many are part of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, which limits development and provides opportunities for nature viewing with minimal human intrusion. I am approaching the Forest County Potawatomi Community, enjoying the rolling hills and views from the tops of those hills. This section of U.S. 8 lies about a mile from Sugarbush Hill, the third highest point in Wisconsin.
The small city of Crandon provides another opportunity for food, fuel, and lodging, but I’m in a hurry. I roll through town and pick up Highway 55 south and cruise toward Mole Lake. The pavement is in nice shape with wide shoulders and a few gentle curves, but this is an agricultural and residential area that keeps the road relatively straight. The highway continues through the Sokaogon Chippewa Community, which has a casino and anything else a traveler might need.
I’m on a mission, because when I clear Mole Lake, I’ll enter Langlade County. The road changes. I can feel the curves and elevation changes. The forest closes around the road with a lot of nice 40-50 mph sweepers. This continues toward the town of Pickerel, where the road opens back up into an agricultural area and we see the Wolf River for the first time. The back-and-forth change of scenery continues for miles as we pass through the small town of Lily, the middle junction of the figure-8.
The smell of fresh-cut hay pushes out the smell of wildfire haze. The V-Twin continues to thump along at a nice cadence. I gradually slow coming into Langlade, and get a closer look at the Wolf River, which parallels Highway 55 all the way to Keshena. The number of curves increases as the road follows the path of the river.
Crossing the Menominee County line, the road changes dramatically for the better. The Menominee tribe has been managing their land for sustainable timber for around 150 years. The mature trees are allowed to grow right up to the shoulder of the highway and canopy over in some places. The mix of curves, the views of the Wolf River, and the feeling of riding right through the forest are the best parts of this ride. This is what I’ve been waiting for, and I enjoy leaning the old Ultra back and forth all the way to Keshena Falls, which is the bottom of the figure-8.
Taking a right onto Highway 47, I ride in a northwesterly direction. The curves aren’t as spectacular, but I’m still enjoying the area’s scenery. I run through a few more areas of shaded canopy and bend around the backwaters of the Neopit Mill Pond. Returning to Langlade County is like riding out of a forest tunnel and into the neatly organized fields of traditional Wisconsin dairy farms.
The road opens as I sail up through Phlox into Antigo, the largest city on the route with plenty of opportunities to stop. I like to take old Highway 52 past the hospital and city parks and into the large orderly fields of the Antigo Flats. This is the home of Antigo Silt Loam, the official state soil of Wisconsin. Highway 52 has 90-degree curves along the boundaries of dairy and potato farms. The highway climbs out of the flats into the Kettlebowl area, which has a volunteer-run ski hill and the only “Caution Steep Grade” signs of the ride. The climb up the south side of the Kettlebowl is rough, but the pavement coming down is new and smooth.
The broad curves continue into the town of Lily, where we cross the center of the figure-8 again and turn north onto Highway 52. The path is wonderful, but the pavement in this area is a decade or two beyond its service life, so I keep speeds mellow for safety. The road follows 90-degree curves for a few miles through the community of Freeman. Folks are still farming here, but with much smaller operations than in Antigo. Highway 52 terminates at Highway 32 just west of Wabeno, and the ride is almost over. I aim north and relax a little on the wider, straight highway on the return to Laona.
I experienced great roads, sights, and smells, as well as diverse settings, bends, curves, hills, and even a little bit of sunburn. It’s hard to beat a day spent meandering on a motorcycle.