Thursday, July 29, 2010

Elroy-Sparta trail

Mosquitoes were thick and traffic is light on the trail. (Just a few folks who hadn't been on a bike in a few years.) We wore mosquito. hats and left the helmets off.

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We set out from Onalaska on the third day of the tour, quickly reaching the end of the Great River Trail and taking a bridge over some railroad tracks to the Lacrosse River Trail, heading up the river toward Sparta. We traded our helmets for ExOfficio Insect Shield Cape Hats. The risks of falling off a trike seemed smaller than the risks of going crazy from deerflies. We had previously determined that you can't escape deerflies at less than 14.7 miles per hour, and it's hard to maintain that speed while pulling a fully-loaded trailer on a limestone trail.

The trails weren't as safe as we thought, though. As we left Lacrosse, two young cyclists coming from the other direction were so engrossed in their conversation that one of them nearly ran head-on into us.

We passed another trike -- a guy from Lacrosse with a very old and heavy-looking trike that is no longer being manufactured. We had seen him last year, too.

The Lacrosse River Trail links the Great River Trail to the Elroy-Sparta Trail, which then connects to the "400" Trail, for a total distance of 101 miles. Together, they are supported by the Bike4Trails group and by Wisconsin's trail-use fee. On the Elroy-Sparta trail, the crushed limestone surface is well-worn and smooth, but the trails on either end have some grass and weeds in the center stripe, a particularly slow arrangement for trikes with trailers.

We were running behind schedule as we reached Sparta, Wisconsin, but we found time to talk with a cross-country cyclist, Tom Wild, riding from California to New York. He was blogging on CrazyGuyOnABike and was kind enough to snap a picture of us and give us a link to his blog before we hurried off.

We had gotten the American flag jerseys for a Fourth of July parade in which we decorated four trikes and rode them in a train. They are recumbent-specific, with pockets on the sides rather than the back, and they evoke friendly responses along the road. Mt. Borah is the manufacturer, and they were being sold by Hostel Shoppe.

The trail out of Sparta climbs steadily to the famous three railroad tunnels. We knew from our previous experience that you can close one eye for the last mile before the tunnel and be able to see better when you get into the dark tunnel, but that it is hard to do. This year, we had bought eye patches, knowing that we would certainly want to ride through the tunnels rather than walk. With a two-wheeler, it's hard to stay upright without visual cues, but the only problem with the trikes is running into the ditches along the edges or coming upon unlit hikers.

We had plenty of lights on the trikes, including headlights, blinky taillights, and downlow glow neon tubes, but we used only a few of them, since we didn't want to dazzle the oncoming traffic, and we didn't want to spend much precious time turning lights on and off.

Patching one eye proved highly effective, but the weirdness of seeing very well with one eye and scarcely at all with the other bothered Dale. It was also a bit odd to ride with just one eye as we neared the tunnels.

Riding on a weekday, as we did, was probably a lot better than the weekend. Even on a Thursday, the Elroy-Sparta section was crowded with riders who looked as if they hadn't been on a bike for twenty years. They stopped in the middle of the path, wove back and forth, and wobbled. We love to see people out on bikes, but we would have preferred that they practice a couple times in the parking lot first.

In Wilton, we rushed to Gina's Pies are Square shop -- and it wasn't there. Our smart phones quickly informed us that Gina had sold out and moved on to other adventures. We had a decent late lunch and left the crowded center section of the Elroy-Sparta trail, passing through the remaining tunnel and speeding down to the quieter "400" trail to Reedsburg.

On the "400," we acquired a name for our rig. Two saddle horses that appeared to have come from a local riding stable eyed us with much suspicion as we stopped the trikes, stood up, took off our helmets, and spoke softly to them. They tapped their hooves and shook their heads, looking as if they had urgent business back at the barn. I don't think the riders realized how risky it is to take a horse past something it hasn't ever seen before. These two seemed to be saying, "hey, buddy, that sure looks like a tiger-snake to me, let's run for it!" They settled down and sniffed my hand, apparently deciding that Tiger-Snake wasn't so bad after all. We waited until they were safely past, then stepped up the speed.

Deerflies and mosquitoes were thick as the sun began to set on the last section of the trail to Reedsburg. We had reservations at the Voyageur Inn, which did have a restaurant with feeders for the numerous black squirrels in the area, but was otherwise the least satisfactory motel of our trip. (The motel also hosts a large collection of Norman Rockwell magazine covers and some other prints and artworks.)

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