Daily miles – 116. Total miles – 3183
We departed this morning early with plans to have breakfast in La Crosse and finally decide on a route into Madison. Mark (Chandra’s dad) had checked in with the Wisconsin Bicycle Federation and some friends in Madison for suggestions. So, we stopped by a Super 8 to borrow a little WiFi and pick up messages, then asked a priest on the street where a good breakfast spot was (Marge’s – he was right!). Looking through the messages, we found mention of a bike path all the way from La Crosse to Reedsburg – close to Devil’s Lake. We stopped by Smith’s bike shop to pick up the excellent Federation state maps and then to The Grounded – a local coffee hangout. As we sipped our coffee, we talked to a bunch of people, most of whom agreed that, although the bike path is not paved, the crushed limestone is OK for a road bike nonetheless. We decided that a flat, rails-to-trails conveyance accross the state was good for our penultimate day. We were a little concerned about riding on a non-paved surface considering all the flats we’ve had, but we decided to go for it.
Unfortunately, we were already about 10 miles south of the trail, so it would be a little longer than roading it, but we thought it would be nice to have something different to experience. We got to the trail after some searching and found the surface to be totally fine! It’s a little softer and looser than hard roads, but we didn’t see too many large rocks, ruts, or anything so we went for it! The trail is actually a network of three continuous trails – The LaCrosse River Trail, The Elroy-Sparta trail, and the 400 trail. It turns out that from LaCrosse to Reedsburg is 74 miles. That’s 74 miles without cars, trucks, relatively flat, three old tunnels, and crazy scenery. It was a beautiful way to finish our final full day of riding.
Once we discovered the distance was 74 miles (we had been told it was about 50) we revised our goal from Devil’s Lake to Reedsburg. We spent to much time chilling in LaCrosse, enjoying some coffee, visiting a food co-op, and discussing route options that we had to push hard to make it before dark. The start of the trail was close to the Interstate, but flanked by wetlands and farm fields, and passing through small towns along the way. Perhaps most importantly though, there were trees on either side providing shade. We both felt strong, fit, and tried to make the most of the rapidly approaching end.
A highlight of these trails for many people is the old tunnels. The longest is almost one mile, and they are not lighted with a pretty rough path through them and water dripping from springs. For me, it was not a big deal – we strapped a headlamp to the front bag, took it pretty slowly, and I could see just enough of the terrain ahead to react to bumps and ruts. For Chandra, in the stoker seat, it was an extreme exercise in trust. She could not even see the light at the end of the tunnel, and had to ride in complete darkness until close to the end of the tunnel. 3000 miles (not to mention 14 years!) together make this kind of trust part of the game for us.
We cranked as hard as we could all day with few but necessary breaks. The terrain got progressively more hilly and totally gorgeous. We couldn’t help thinking throughout the day that this terrain will become our new home riding ground. I don’t think we will ride this trail for its own sake in the future, but it was an excellent way to preview this part of the state.
We made it to Reedsburg around 7pm, got groceries, and got directions to the only nearby campground – a private campground about 2 miles out of town. We finally got there just before dark to find it closed permanently. No water. No Trespassing signs. We went to a nearby home and, unfortunately woke up a woman there alone. She gave us water, but we didn’t even ask to crash in the yard – she seemed uncomfortable about us. So, we left to look for a sneak camp spot but ran into a farm and decided to ask them. Again, the woman who answered the door seemed a little uncomfortable also but told me to ask her husband out in the barn. It was pretty cool to see a milking barn – a first for me – and once I explained what we were hoping for, the men working the farm said we could crash in the yard and showed me where to get water in the milkhouse.
So – our last night, was spent next to a cornfield on a Wisconsin dairy farm. From up on the hill, we could see the green agricultural and forested hills all around. It was quiet, cool, and beautiful. Time to reflect a little but also to prepare for tomorrow, the final day.