Mileage: 76 miles
Weather: Sunny. Low 80s to start. Low 90s to end. High dew point & humidity. Another HHH for the books. Winds light out of the SSW.
Highlights of the day:
We headed out of La Crosse on two-lane farm roads. Sound familiar? And guess what we saw…. Corn, soybeans, cows, and some horses. It was very pleasant. Winds were mostly non-existent and we all made it quickly into the first SAG stop in the town of Sparta. Sparta is the self-professed capital of bicycling in the US. Why? Locals say it’s because of the amazing rail trail and a really big penny-farthing with Ben Cycling perched on its seat. Quick side bar, penny-farthing is the old fashioned bicycle with a really large front wheel and a tiny back wheel. Its name comes from the British coins, penny and farthing, and their relative sizes. Oh the things you’ll learn!
Out of Sparta we entered the Elroy-Sparta bike trail. It’s one of the first rail trail projects in the US. The trail is packed gravel, but the surface is as good or better than some of the roads we’ve ridden. What made it really interesting this year was a strong thunderstorm cell that blew through here last night resulting in lots of downed trees & tree limbs. Riders bushwhacked over through and around several downed trees. Some referred to it as an adventure. Others talked about AbB ala Lewis & Clark – ok, so we’re not exactly on their trail but you get the idea. The trees became too thick and we heard rumors of people taking 2½ hours to cover 7 miles, so we detoured them off the path and onto the state highway that parallels it. A few miles and an added climb later, we got back on the trail with reports of clearer paths ahead.
The trail runs through woods, often under a full canopy of trees, and well away from roads. Most riders walked their bikes through two converted railway tunnels, missing the first mile long tunnel due to the downed trees. Bikes are walked because the tunnels don’t have lights. Riders carry flashlights to find their way. Some of us geeks quoted the King of the Dead from the third book of the Lord of the Rings, proclaiming that “The dead do not suffer the living to pass” as we entered the cool dark cavern. Others just shook their heads at us and walked on. Well, full disclosure, perhaps it was just me who said this while waiting at the van for the riders to come by on the path.
After the trail, we had 15 more miles and the big climb of the day. It was less than a mile but with legs used for almost 30 miles on an unpaved bike path & climbing over a few trees, it was noticed. We finished the day on farmland rollers into Mauston.