“Aren’t you going to go and talk to that person sitting over there?” Pat said to me as we were cycling along the La Crosse River Trail in Wisconsin. “What person? “I said, totally oblivious. “The woman with all the bicycle bags – I thought you were anxious to talk to other long distance cyclists”, Pat responded. And with that, we walked over and introduced ourselves to Miranda. “My partner, Phil, is out getting drinks at the gas station,” she said. “We are cycling from La Crosse to Milwaukee and then taking the Amtrak back to our vehicle in the train station parking lot.” Phil returned shortly carrying two bottles of chilled blue Gatorade. As we continued conversing we learned that they have plans to be in Vermont in late summer and are interested in good cycling trails and good breweries. (They definitely sound like our kind of people). We then parted company as they were planning on cycling further than us. I am sure we did not think that we would bump into them again. Pat also pointed out that he thought we were cycling right next to the tracks that we rode west from Chicago through Wisconsin in early June.
Later in the afternoon we arrived in the town of Sparta, which promotes itself as the bicycle capital of the country. The 32 mile Elroy to Sparta trail was established in 1967 and is well known for being the first rail trail in the USA. And that is etched in my memory because years ago, my father caught wind of the news and proposed that our family of five pack up our bicycles and give the trail a whirl. When I heard of this plan (at age 11), I was ecstatic. And yet, for whatever reason this trip never took place. Now at the age of 65 I am fulfilling this childhood dream.
After a restful night in Sparta, I was anxious to get going but then some strong thunderstorms appeared. After the storm subsided, we encountered plenty of downed trees requiring hand clearing and carrying our packed bicycles over several downed trees. The trail was a bit soft in places but as Pat said – “Wisconsin knows how to treat their trails”. It wasn’t long before we entered our first tunnel, close to a mile long. Only two more to go along with a detour on a busy highway.
When we came to the second closed section of the trail, I balked. I wanted to do the entire trail and regardless of the fence and signage that said trail was closed, I ignored it. In fact, I also ignored the next sign that said “Bridge Out”, thinking that perhaps they had fixed the bridge and not taken the closed sign down. Not! Pat shook his head, mumbled a few choice words and we retraced our steps to the highway. And so, we did complete the trail but had to cycle the last seven miles on the road.
After a water break at the trail’s end, we were ready to keep on cycling another 22 miles, this time on the 400 Trail (named such because of a locomotive way back in history that covered the territory between Chicago and Minneapolis (400 miles) in 400 hours. And 14 miles into our ride we caught up with Miranda and Phil. Turns out we were all planning on camping in Reedsburg at the local town campground equipped with a shelter, a few tables and a shower.
We quickly set up two campsites and then walked into town to enjoy dinner and a brew at the local brewpub. Upon our return, the skies had clouded over and we could see some flashes of lightning in the distance. After showering and getting into our muggy tent, we heard a scream and saw Miranda and Phil running from the picnic shelter. “Hey what’s going on?” I yelled out. “There’s a rattlesnake next to the trash can”, Miranda answered. “Great,” Pat said. “If we get a storm now, we won’t be able to go to the shelter.” Sure enough, two hours later, the storm came in. full on, with wicked winds, plenty of lightning and thunder. Pat and I decided to make a run for it – zipped up the tent, and ran to the shelter. The snake was nowhere to be found. By 1 a.m. we were back in our tent. Morning came quickly and we shared a meal Miranda had prepared. Together the four of us cycled seven miles before each going in different directions. We hope that our paths will cross once again in the future.
Shevonne and Pat
Follow us as we spin our wheels