Kevin Revolinski has a new kayak. It's strapped to the roof of his car as he pulls into the north parking lot at Cherokee Marsh. He gets out of the car and sets off down a trail. The boat stays on the car. He's not here to paddle, but to talk about his new book, 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Madison (Menasha Ridge Press, $16.95).
It's a buggy but otherwise beautiful morning as Revolinski, 40, hikes down the trail. A native of Marshfield, he first moved to Madison in 1992 but left five years later to teach English in Turkey - the basis for his first book, The Yogurt Man Cometh: Tales of an American Teacher in Turkey.
Returning to Madison for good a few years ago, he had since published The Wisconsin Beer Guide: A Travel Companion, and was updating the second edition of The Best in Tent Camping: Wisconsin for Menasha Ridge when the Birmingham, Ala., publisher pitched the 60 Hikes project.
Revolinski jumped at the opportunity. "I like the idea of working outside," he explains. "What a great project: My office is going to be the trail."
He devoted last summer to hiking every step of every trail in the book. He carried a GPS receiver in one hand and a dictaphone in the other. The GPS yielded the book's maps and elevation profiles, the dictaphone its detailed descriptions of each hike. A bird book in one pocket, a tree reference in another, with a camera slung around his neck, "I looked more like a tourist than a hiker," he says.
At first daunted by the thought of coming up with 60 hikes, Revolinski's apprehension soon vanished. "I found, just in the first few days of my initial research, that it wasn't going to be difficult to get up to 60 hikes but rather down to 60 hikes," he says. "There were a lot that didn't make the cut."
Those hikes that did make the cut strike a balance between the familiar and lesser known. In addition to Picnic Point, two hikes each at Devil's Lake and Horicon Marsh, three more in the UW-Madison Arboretum, nine Ice Age Trail segments and trails located in city and county parks, there are revelations such as the Tom George Greenway off Cottage Grove Road, Columbia County's Rowan Creek Trail and Rock County's Pelishek Nature Trail.
"One of my favorite segments was the Ice Age Trail at Table Bluff," Revolinski says, "because they've done just an outstanding job of bringing back the wildflowers there, and it's a place that not a lot of people are hiking at all yet."
He hopes the 354-page book - available at local book stores and on Revolinski's website themadtraveleronline.com - will lead readers to explore places that aren't well-trod.
"Years ago," he explains, "when I'd go hiking, it was, well, you go to Devil's Lake or you go to the Arboretum. You've got your two hot spots, and you get in the habit of always going to them. But then you discover all these other places, and you realize it's far richer than you ever imagined."
Revolinski says he didn't do much hiking in his youth, but loved the outdoors and loved to visit his grandparents' farm near the Chequamegon National Forest. When he was five, he recalls, his grandmother introduced him to bird-watching.
"I guess it was a better way to satisfy my need to collect things," he says now. "I collected beer cans, coins, rocks, feathers - anything that was collectible, I collected. Bird-watching, you just check them off in the book. Nothing comes home."
During his research for his book, he checked off an American redstart. "It looks a little bit like an oriole," he says, "but when I first saw one at Yellowstone Lake Park last summer, I thought, 'That's not an oriole.'" Checking his bird guide confirmed this.
Revolinski suggests this is but one example of the rich experiences awaiting readers of 60 Hikes.
"Hiking is good exercise, and you never see the same thing twice," he says, pausing along a boardwalk before hiking back to his car and the new kayak on its roof. "The 50th time on a trail, you see different animals crossing or different wildflowers that you never noticed, or you just take someone along and have a great conversation in a nice environment."
Now working on Backroads and Byways of Wisconsin for publication next spring, he pauses again before settling on an evocative metaphor for his previous sentence: "It's nature's coffeehouse."