If you ask why I live here, one answer could be “turn right off of hwy 33 outside of La Valle onto Schutte Road, follow it as it morphs into La Valle, turn right onto Twin Pine, left onto Old Ironton, and when you get back to hwy 33, look back and I think you’ll know.”
The town roads through these hills don’t go anywhere fast. Schutte Road may take you to the Schutte family farm, Enchanted Valley Road will take you through an enchanted valley. They may not be transportation TO anywhere but they are that “vehicle to something greater” that Ferrentino is talking about. Reedsburg may be farther away than it would be on the highway, but “something greater” is right around the next bend or up that next climb.
The ride today was to start on the Sparta to Elroy Trail, the first rails-to-trails conversion in the US. I was planning an alternate route. The trail is an experience not to be missed, with its multiple tunnels, but the crushed limestone surface means you need to clean the mouth of your water bottle before you take a drink and you will need to clean and lube your chain before you ride again. If it’s dry, it’s dusty. If it’s wet, it’s like riding in wet sand. I have ridden it both as part of this tour and as part of a loaded tour, carrying tent, stove, food, etc. I did’t feel the need to do it again.
At last night’s briefing, the alternate highway route was offered openly, and the second half of the ride, which was previously on the 400 Trail, was written as on roads with the trail as an orally described option.
State highway 71 started out with beautiful pavement with a clean and wide shoulder. After the town of Norwalk both deteriorated. There were about ½ dozen 1-2 mile 7% climbs. We had constant views of the heavily-wooded ridges. In the valleys we were in clouds and on the ridge tops the sky got light, almost as though we were going to see the sun.
At picnic the sun came out to stay and that is when the ride turned from very good to heavenly. The sense that the roads don’t go anywhere fast reminded me of this from Mose Allison.
Pictures were not the first thing on my mind and don’t convey the sense of riding these roads. I have written before of my hierarchy of roads (town roads with names preferred, county highways with letters if needed to get somewhere, state highways with numbers only as a last resort). Since this trip is partly about getting somewhere we have needed to ride bigger roads than I prefer. Today was one of the days that reminds me of why I ride. Today was like a Wednesday Night Bike Ride, when the destination is not important, the ride is.
The last turn toward Baraboo is onto Terry Town Road, one of my favorites. It meanders a bit and then turns up. Then it really turns up, but only for a very short distance, then just gradually climbs to an amazing ridge top vista, looking over the valley before a 40 mph descent and then a fast and gently rolling approach to West Baraboo. My face hurt from grinning.
…the half-fast go for a beer. Today, the going got tough. Today was supposed to be babysitting and rain in the morning, a solo ride in the afternoon. Last night the babysitting was postponed, and at 9 AM the sun came out – just enough time to join today’s club ride.
My MO with this club is to start near the back, let the fast folks disappear, and join the moderately-paced group. When we get to the hills, those riders disappear behind me and I end up in no-man’s-land between the two groups, riding alone for the rest of the day.
Today was a relatively flat ride so I hoped I could avoid that fate. We started out as usual. One of the fast group drifted back to us, saying he’d rather be sociable than fast today. I had several miles to get to know this person and we had a nice chat. We rode along in a group of six. Three took a shortcut so three of us were left. When we hit the wind, the third rider kept drifting off the back and we kept waiting for him. We picked up a fourth and had two well-matched pairs. We couldn’t talk much while headed into the wind and the two pairs drifted further apart. The person I was with tweaked his knee and decided to take a shortcut home. So there I was, in a 20 mph headwind which was pushing rain in my face, with 30 miles to go and no one in sight. Oops, I did it again.
Eventually I decided on a shortcut. I saw a way to get to a bike path that would cross my route and be a straight shot back. Trouble was, it didn’t actually cross the road I was on, it passed under it. It took some doing to get to the path. Now I was on a straight shot home, but the wind had shifted from southerly to southwesterly, so it was back in my face again. The rain stopped and the sun appeared again.
I have mixed feelings about rails-to-trails conversions. They mean a dedicated off-road path, but they also mean that railroads will never come back. Other than the route, the infrastructure is gone. They are good for the slow and casual rider, families, people with strollers, and others who feel safer away from cars and moving slowly. They are not paved, and riding on dirt or gravel takes its toll over time. The town roads follow the contours of the land. I am riding in and of a place. The railroads cut through the land – flattening and straightening the world – but when the world grows back along the path, it can become a smaller disruption in the (adapted) natural world. Today’s path mostly ran through open land with no respite from the wind. In the last 10 miles I came into some woods for a bit of relief. When there is a bike (or multi-use) path, drivers think bicyclists no longer belong on the roads. Today the pros outweighed the cons.
The spring peepers are out in force and the magnolias are blooming.
The greatest hits and worst miseries of the tour, not necessarily in order of how good or bad they were and not necessarily ten of each:
Tour top 10:
New York week (after the first 50 miles) -Finger Lakes/wading in Lake Ontario after a cold front came through, temperature and humidity went down, tailwind all morning; up and down through the Adirondacks, beautiful day in Lake Placid. If you took away the first 50 miles and replaced them with the first 50 miles of the next week, this could be #1.
Wisconsin week – Cannon Trail, the Great River Rd., Baraboo Bluffs/Devils Lake/Merrimac ferry, Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive. Great roads and no traffic all week. (Visits from family and friends put this one over the top, but it was already great.)
The ride into Baraboo contained the single steepest climb of the entire trip ( a short stretch of Terrytown Road).
The Sparta to Elroy Trail, while the first Rails-to-Trails conversion, has been surpassed by several others. It was actually the low point of the week. While the tunnels are a novelty, riding for 30+ miles on gravel is not my cup of tea and takes a toll on the bike. I know, gravel riding is the new thing, but I’d rather ride on pavement if given the choice.
I’m almost reluctant to admit that the area I ride regularly was the high point, but it also assures me that I live in the right place.
Needles highway/Black Hills/Badlands – The Needles Highway was the single high point. This was a magical fairyland, otherworldly in its beauty. I am amazed that I never knew of this place. I could ride that road ten more times and still see new things. The area was phenomenal and the road was the best we rode in >4300 miles.
The Badlands are also otherworldly. Different, in that they can be seen as bleak in broad daylight, but change minute-by-minute in early morning light. Like Needles Highway, I wanted to ride that same road again at sunset after riding it at sunrise.
Bike path through Grand Teton National Park, climbing Teton Pass, descending to Jackson Hole and a great bike path. The path through the park kept us away from traffic and in view of the mountains. I met Santa Claus at the foot of Teton Pass, along with a group riding from Texas to Alaska. The pass was steep and tough, getting steeper as it went. Standing at the top of the pass was a feeling of accomplishment and gave a great view of the valley below. After descending to the valley we were led on a secluded path into town. The valley is well set up for bicycles, with paths connecting the towns.
Thompson Pass – first time over the continental divide and first big pass, descent into Thompson Falls, a town mostly owned by a single family, where we saw their bar, ice cream shop, catering service, and bus service.
Devils Tower. A campground situated right at the base of the tower. The tower itself rises out of nothing. It is not part of a mountain range but, like Ayers Rock in Australia, is just there. It is no surprise that it was used as the backdrop/centerpiece of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”.
The margarita party was our first real chance to sit down as a group and just hang out together.
Smugglers Notch. A day that started with threatening weather that never fully materialized. The pass enveloped by clouds as we ascended, never really sure how high it was, on the approach or while actually climbing it. A climb that was over before I realized it; not because it was easy (it wasn’t) but because the top was invisible until we were there. The steepest descent of the trip, made hazardous by the wet pavement so we took it slowly.
Riding 105 miles in 40° rain. The camaraderie made it tolerable. A day that I would have stayed in bed had I been on my own.
Climbing a mountain pass in a hailstorm. Another day saved by a group – the same group. As Greg told me before the trip, the 70 degree and sunny days will all blend together, but it is the days like this that will make lasting memories.
72 mile ride that turned into 102 mile ride, the last 1/3 into a brutal headwind, finishing with a helmet splitting crash in an endless industrial waste land. The only day that I wanted the van to stop for me. I got back on the bike and rode the final ten miles, so I did ride EFI. We stopped at a convenience store for a cold drink and found other riders draped over coolers and freezers. Misery loves company.
The first half of that day was actually really nice.
Mile after mile of horrendous pavement,90+ degree heat, and endless headwinds across the Great Plains.
Mile after mile of flat and boring countryside in Michigan with bad highways and rude drivers.
Re-entering the US at Niagara Falls and riding 50 miles before getting into the countryside.
Bone jarring expansion cracks through Central Minnesota.
Hill City to Custer – uphill, bad headwind, relentless sun/heat, horrendous traffic, grooved pavement causing painful whining noise – and there was a reasonable alternative route nearby.
A few random thoughts:
I had some great encounters with bikers (of the Harley persuasion) – both on-the-road salutes and chats at the roadside.
In the first week I waved to a Corvette behind me to acknowledge it and, as it passed, I saw a peace sign flashed out through the T-top.
A random motorcyclist flipped me the bird for no apparent reason.
A friendly bar owner brought watermelon out to us on a hot, dry, and windy day.
On another hot day I stopped in a coffee shop for an iced coffee and the air conditioning was so cold I just hung out for awhile. It was a day when I realized getting somewhere was only a small part of the plan.
When I walked into a brewpub, I was met by applause. Another rider had arrived before me and told our story and they knew I was part of that group.
Greg repeatedly referred to the Lake Michigan ferry crossing as “The shortest longest day”. We rode only 40 miles but got into camp with just enough time to pitch our tents before it got dark.
Somewhere out west (I think on the Tetons day) a Russian couple riding from Denver to Seattle stopped in and joined us for lunch.
On another day, in the middle of nowhere, I happened upon a scruffy-looking guy walking his bike in the opposite direction. I asked if he needed help. He said, “Is the next town about 4 miles ahead?” I agreed that it was. He thanked me and kept walking. (Only 4 miles from town it wasn’t really the middle of nowhere – it just seemed like it.)
The look of incredulity when I told some kids at a lemonade stand (on our last day) that I had ridden >4300 miles for that lemonade.
That’s it for now folks. Daily life is intruding on my writing time. I have a sewer line to clear and more. Posts will be a little more irregular after today. Maybe when my bike gets here I’ll look at the odometer and give you my total mileage. Maybe not. Numbers don’t really say what I want to say. Thanks for joining me on this journey. It’s been real.
We started the day soaking wet as usual. I tried packing my sleeping bag in a different duffel from the tent, in hopes of keeping it dryer. The tent fly is double-bagged in zippered plastic bags.
We started riding on the same path we ended on yesterday. After a few miles it became fairly impressive. The path claims to be in the Rails-to-Trails Hall of Fame, something which I didn’t know existed. It was about as wide as a town road, leaving plenty of room to ride side-by-side or to pass people with dogs and/or strollers. The pavement was good. Intersections were well-marked. The only problem was the frequency of intersections, all with stop signs and limited visibility. Since the limited visibility was due to the forest we were riding through, I can’t complain.
The stop signs actually provided the only variable in the morning. Otherwise we rode at a constant 19 mph for the first 35 miles. I rode with Ole Steve until lunch.
We left the trail and rode through Midland, home of Dow Chemical and (if memory serves)the childhood hometown of the only DAR I know.
There is a Dow High School and a Dow Museum. Whether they have a display featuring the uses of Napalm, I don’t know. Leaving Midland, things turned ugly.
We rode through miles of industrial wasteland on busy roads, which gave way to miles of not-quite-suburbs and not-quite-farm country. The roads are straight and flat with suburbs that never seemed to coalesce giving way to corn, bean, and beet fields. Even in the rural area there seems to be a grid system of roads every mile.
There is a lively electoral campaign for Road Commissioner. One candidate’s signs say, “Fix our roads now!” I saw and felt his point. The road is beyond repair. Jackhammers, new road bed, and new pavement appear to be the solution.
There are crack-filled ruts corresponding to the four paths worn by vehicle wheels. The shoulders are crumbling.
We arrived in the tourist town of Frankenmuth. I stopped for ice cream and walked through town before heading to our campsite at Jellystone Park. “Toy Story 2” is showing in the camp theatre tonight. I don’t know if I can stay up that late. A moot point, as our dinner and meeting ran well into the movie.
Dinner tonight and breakfast tomorrow are in dueling restaurants across the street from each other. Greg says a local family controls much of the town but an internecine feud resulted in part of the family opening a restaurant across the stree from the already-existing family-owned restaurant. To keep the peace we eat in both.