Michael's Excellent Adventure

Day 18, 7-5-2002

Railroad

John and I left Trempeleau on the Great River trail, which segued into the LaCrosse River trail in Onalaska, which took us to Sparta. In Sparta, there was a short segment on the streets, and then we picked up the Elroy-Sparta Trail. Southwestern Wisconsin has a marvelous network of trails that have been created from old railroad rights of way, very popular and very useful. The surface wasn't the perfect, but it wasn't bad — crushed limestone, certainly nothing that even a skinny set of road tires couldn't handle. And the advantages — no cars, gentle railroad grades, beautiful scenery — were very compelling. As far as I was concerned, the crown jewel was the Elroy-Sparta Trail, which went through some magnificent emerald forests, and whose three tunnels were announced by the original doors featured when they served the trains, like gateways to a fantasy world. Also, the towns along the trail rivaled the river towns for charm and friendliness, and several had converted their old passenger depots into information stations/trail-side pit stops. We ate lunch in one little town, at a little cafe called "Pies Are Square", where they serve square pies. This part of Wisconsin makes a good deal of money from people who come to ride the rail trails, and is startlingly bicycle-friendly. I mean, big banners saying "Welcome Cyclists!" Seriously. A goddamn breath of fresh air, if you ask me. An experience not to be missed, for either the cyclist or the railroad enthusiast.

Maybe it was a fantasy world, after all. We left the trails at Elroy, soon enough and had a vigorous climb over a ridge that stood in the way between Elroy and Mauston. (Though not soon enough for John, who bitched the whole second half of the day about wanting to find some interstate or something to ride on. Whatever, dude.) I knew Mauston as basically a freeway town, a Greyhound stop on all of the bus trips I took between Madison and St. Paul. We stopped at a fast food restaurant where we met a very insistent Russian who for god knows why was trying to convince us to stay at some inexpensive motel there in town. We replied that we had a few more miles to go that day, and that, No, we had no intention of going to the Dells.

So John and I left Mauston heading due east, and the terrain opened up and flattened out. Which made for decent riding, although with some pretty hairy holiday weekend traffic, but certainly not the stuff of daydreams. We pulled into tiny Oxford pretty late, and found a B&B for the first time on the trip. Grateful for any room on such late notice on a holiday weekend, we opted not to push our luck and took it, quitting with 125 miles.