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Review: North of Highway 8 by Dan Woll

A Mature and Thoughtful Cycling/Adventure Book

“North of Highway 8” by Dan Woll is a series of short stories dealing with various sorts of outdoor adventures. There’s canoeing, camping, some climbing, and a fair amount of bicycle riding. The stores are thematically linked by the type of adventurous spirit that you feel when you head “North of Highway 8.” The title refers to the Highway that runs through the Northern half of the state of Wisconsin which very much delineates where the “rugged/frontier” territory begins. Having myself been born and raised “North of Highway 8,” I can attest to the veracity of this book. “North of Highway 8” contains sincere affection for the Wisconsin Northwoods, and the spirit that you feel in that great frontier can indeed spur you on to many memorable endeavors.

The stories contained in this book are all of extremely professional variety. Many of them are reprints that originally appeared in local newspapers and regional magazines. Woll has a reflective yet concise writing style that makes this book a quick read. He very effectively constructs a compelling narrative, and knows when to sprinkle in just enough philosophy to give the story some kick, but not so much that it slows anything down. His work reminds me of Michael Perry with perhaps a little Sigurd Olson mixed in as well.

As a cyclist myself, I was naturally drawn to Woll’s reflections on the Leadville 100 and the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival. The stories on these subjects effectively convey the both solitary and social nature of bicycle racing. Woll is keenly aware that although you are racing with hundreds of other competitors, all of them enduring the difficulties of the course the same as you, in the end, every racer suffers to the finish alone.

The best chapter is probably “The Untold Story of the Barneveld Tornado” which discusses the rebuilding process of a small town ravaged by a tornado. From the outside, we’ve all witnessed scenes like this where communities are wrecked and people come forward to provide aid. However, this fascinating account goes beyond the initial rush of support and examines the permanent scars that are indeed left by such an event.

“North of Highway 8” is a worthwhile read for anyone who enjoys adventure or outdoor activities. It offers a mature and philosophical account of many activities that are physically and emotionally draining. For cyclists especially, this book is a must read.

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