MERRILL — Jo and Ray Resch appear to be out for a leisurely ride aboard their Trek 7300s.
Their 4-year-old hybrid bicycles feature modified handlebars that allow them to sit upright instead of hunched over like a road racer. The large, padded seats provide extra comfort and the pedals are absent toe clips. That means Keen sandals, not stiff, hard-to-walk-in biking shoes, are the footwear of choice for the husband-and-wife team.
The Madison couple isn’t clad in colorful spandex and their bikes cost hundreds of dollars each instead of two or three mortgage payments.
“Your butt is made to be sat on. We have no shoulder or wrist problems or anything like that,” Ray Resch said. “It’s very unconventional, but it’s what we like. We feel good at the end of the day, other than some tired legs sometimes.”
The Resches may be riding in comfort this summer, but their trip is far from typical and their sore legs understandable.
Since July 10, the semi-retired couple has logged more than 2,000 miles in an attempt to visit the state’s 72 county courthouses in 72 days. By mid-September, when they’ve reached their final destination — the Dane County Courthouse in Madison — they will have logged nearly 3,000 miles.
That’s more than a coast-to-coast trip, something the couple has contemplated.
So instead of deserts, mountains and miles of desolate highways found in other states, the Resches have immersed themselves in Wisconsin terrain. It has included rides along the Flambeau, Mississippi and Wisconsin rivers, through the Chequmegaon-Nicolet National Forest, the Black River and Kettle Moraine state forests and county roads named after every letter of the alphabet except “u.”
The adventure is being broken up into three different loops, all of which begin and end in Madison.
The first hit 31 county seats in 32 days between July 10 and Aug. 10 and covered the southwest, western and northwestern sides of the state. The second leg began Aug. 14 and will take the Resches to 32 counties in 26 days and is focused on central, northeast and eastern Wisconsin. A third leg should take about seven days and cover the remaining nine counties in southern and southeastern Wisconsin.
“It’s reinforced what I kind of knew but we have met and have had road angels or people we have stayed with that are so kind, so generous, so nice and so caring that it’s hard to think about the bad people out there,” Jo Resch said. “You also learn how to judge hills because sometimes they look worse than they really are.”
If the Resch’s trip sounds familiar it is.
In 2011, they saw the story I wrote of Timothy Johnson and his two sons. Johnson sold a strait jacket from his MAD Magazine collection to fund a $1,000, seven-day trip with his boys, then 11 and 7. The trio visited each of the state’s county courthouses and racked up 2,856 miles on the family minivan.
“We loved it and we thought what a great thing,” said Jo, 59. “We thought it would be really a fun thing to bicycle.”
“We were born and raised in Wisconsin, but we haven’t seen half the counties and county seats,” said Ray, 60. “This trip has been in the planning stages for about three years.”
The Resches sold their bookkeeping business about four years ago, but still manage an office building they own on Milwaukee Street. In April 2014, they swapped their house on the East Side for a condo owned by their daughter, who is now raising her family in the home in which she grew up. The swap has allowed the Resches to focus on their travels.
I caught up with the duo Monday as they pedaled east along the paved shoulder of Highway 64 between Medford and Merrill. They were easy to spot on this day as they wore bright yellow rain jackets to repel intermittent mist and shield them from a stiff west wind that fortunately was at their backs on the unseasonably 55-degree day.
Despite their unconventional road bikes, they made steady time through Lincoln County’s rolling topography — a mix of farmland, woods, dirt roads to the north and south and ATV trails. As they pedaled past Scott Schug’s home on the corner of Leafy Grove Road, his coon hounds were remarkably quiet.
“We get lots of bikers,” said Schug, a former stock car driver who has his own excavation company. “Wish them luck for me.”
A few miles down the road, they turned their 25-pound bikes with 50 pounds of gear onto Joe Snow Road where Ed & Sharon’s Restaurant has been an institution since 1984. Two miles later, the Resches kept their steady pace past St. Paul’s Cemetery and the now-closed church. (Its steeple collapsed.)
On their Facebook page, “Bicycle 72 Counties in 72 Days,” which is updated almost daily, they call the Old Abe Trail leading into Chippewa Falls “perhaps the nicest (because it is paved) trail we have been on in Wisconsin. So peaceful and so green!”
Other highlights include the Iowa County Courthouse in Dodgeville, the state’s oldest courthouse; the domed courthouses of Calumet, Grant and Taylor counties and asking the Mayor of Stevens Point to take their picture in front of the Portage County Courthouse. On Wednesday, the Resches posted about their 26-mile ride from Rhinelander to Eagle River, home of the Vilas County Courthouse, their 48th courthouse on the trip.
“Biked such a beautiful county road called Pine Lake Road,” they wrote. “Curvy and perfect up and down hills.”
Routes for the trip have been meticulously planned. Ray has downloaded PDF maps of each county onto a tablet and also follows the GPS on his smartphone that is dialed into a Google map specific for bikes that shows elevation changes. Their shortest day as of early last week was 20 miles, their longest ride 70 miles.
The Resches estimate their trip will cost around $5,000, which includes food, bike maintenance and lodging. As of last week, about half of their 40 nights were in hotels. The remainder have been with family and friends and with fellow bike enthusiasts who open their home as part of the “Warm Showers” program, “a community for touring cyclists and hosts,” the website says. No money exchanges hands but desserts, bottles of wine and six packs of beer are often shared. The Resches also have gotten tips on better routes from their hosts.
“We have gotten the most beautiful routes,” Jo said. “We would never have known (about them) because we’re just looking at a map.”
Jo grew up in Fond du Lac and Ray in Phlox, a hamlet along Highway 47 southwest of Antigo in Langlade County. But despite their Wisconsin upbringing, they’re discovering their state in a different way. On a bike, they hear deer crashing through woods, spot turtles and garter snakes and smell the scent of pines before they are seen.
“We have really come to appreciate the beauty and diversity of Wisconsin. The Mississippi on one side, Lake Michigan on the other, Lake Superior to the north and the thousands of rivers and lakes in between,” they wrote in an e-mail after our visit. “Along with the miles and miles of dense forests and yes; even the never-ending and steep hills and bluffs in the southwest corner of the state are beautiful once you reach the top.”