Highway is like a long-lost friend


HIGHWAY 23 TRAFFIC resumes earlier this month between Green Lake and Ripon. The stretch was closed since April 21. Through-traffic still needs to maneuver around the city of Green Lake, however, since the Puchyan River bridge remains closed until late November.    Aaron Becker photo

by Aaron Becker

First thing on a recent Monday morning, I happily took our new highway for a test drive.

That stretch had been closed since Monday, April 21. Exactly 20 weeks prior.

A third of the year, 140 days, 12 million seconds …

Not that anyone was counting, of course.

Before making a ceremonial trip to Green Lake, I parked at Alibi’s restaurant in Ripon and watched as westward drivers first noticed the wide-open black carpet before them. They were like whitetail deer approaching a hunter’s bait pile — curious and hopeful, but wondering if it’s a dirty trick.

Can I … Can I actually DRIVE on this?

Then …

Wow … This is awesome!

VROOOOM!

Crews had initially planned a “soft opening” of sorts later in the day Monday, but they instead dropped the gates at 6 a.m. for the morning commute.

Not everyone got the memo right off the bat, but word spread quickly.

We posted the news on the Commonwealth website and Facebook page, and soon there were 90-plus “likes” and lots of happy comments.

‰ Ya Hoo!!! Skippy Hooray!

‰ [I] had to drive it just to say I did it.

‰ I know a bunch of people who are very excited about this news!!!

And a mighty cheer went up from residents of Spaulding Hill and McConnell roads, which were used by everyone but three people to avoid the detour.

So when the highway opened, I took some photos on the edge of Ripon, then eagerly jumped back in the car and drove to Green Lake, like I had just waited in line for a roller coaster.

With the morning sun behind me and a freshly minted road ahead, the driving surface was crisp and clean. The vibrant paint had barely dried. The grass along the fringes seemed greener, the sky clearer than normal.

All the trees were just the right height.

There were several new changes and improvements to the roadway, but the journey was as familiar as ever. Like reuniting with a long-lost friend.

Plus, traffic was light, since the region was just waking up to the news.

Moments like this make a man feel like singing. I flipped on the FM radio and was greeted by Willie Nelson.

On the road again … Going places that I’ve never been … Seeing things that I may never see again … And I can’t wait to get on the road again. 

In reality, I had seen these places a thousand times, but it seemed like a distant memory.

I reached Highway 49 just outside Green Lake and pulled a delicate U-turn, careful not to leave a skid. I turned as one might cradle an expensive gadget for the first time.

In a week, it’ll be more like “Out of my way!” SQUEAL

For now, just relax and enjoy cruising the Green Lake-Ripon artery with ease.

No, this isn’t the end of the Highway 23 construction, with work continuing farther to the west (including Green Lake’s Puchyan River bridge) until late November. But still, this is a reason to celebrate.

Everybody now!

On the road again … 

Aaron Becker can be reached at 748-3017.

P.S. Check out an exciting time-lapse video of the trip from Ripon to Green Lake on our website, www.RiponPress.com

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