- Sparta to Baraboo, WI
- 76.1 miles/2,717 total
- 50 miles of flat limestone Rail to Trail
- 3 Tunnels
- Sandhill Cranes
- Red-tailed hawk
- Blue Jays
- Blue Heron
It’s truly amazing how we can do basically the same thing every day and yet experience it so differently every day. Yesterday was incredibly wet. More showers were in the forecast for today. Accordingly, we went prepared for weather. We had both our panniers loaded with a variety of wet weather gear. This virtually guaranteed it would not rain on us. That was the good news. The other good news was that we didn’t see a single 18 wheeler along the roads today. Today was fated to be a day away.
We left Sparta around 7 and almost instantly got on the Sparta-Elroy Trail, the nation’s first rail trail. The lead up to it was this giant penny-farthing statue indicating that Sparta is the cycling capital of America. (They decided that because they have the highest per capita number of registered bikes. Hmmmm.) The trail isn’t paved which initially sounded dicey. After all, we’d done 30 miles of chipseal and 15 miles of gravel earlier in the trip and weren’t thrilled with it.
But a crushed limestone surface is smooth and well-packed. Since it had rained the day before, there was no dust. It was a very pleasant riding experience. Instead of roads with white lines or paved bike trails with tree root bumps, we had a gentle, tree-lined ride. At times it seemed we were alone in a deciduous forest. Comfort stations were plentiful. And there was precious little traffic.
One highlight of the trail was a series of tunnels. The first was 3,000′ long. The other two were about half that. None were lit. They reminded us of the Hiawatha Trail we rode last summer in Idaho. The problem was that the tunnels were unmonitored so people weren’t required to have lights. Without lights, you basically had to walk your bike. We had our great Costco lights, so we were confident about successfully completing the rides. But the first tunnel was so long, we had to eventually walk because we caught up to a crowd of walkers too large to get by. These tunnels were basically dug by hand and explosives. The big one cost $65 dollars a foot to build.
After the tunnels, the trail was virtually flat. It was Wisconsin trying to outdo South Dakota in boring roads. It was as flat, straight, and windy as South Dakota, but it was better because it had shade trees almost all the way. It was just as mesmerizing as the South Dakota roads too. But as I piloted us on, head down, Sheila yelled, “STOP!”. There were three Sandhill Cranes in the field next to us. Beautiful. They are pretty darn big birds.
Sheila continued to call out bird sightings until I finally started looking around for them too. I finally spied my first goldfinch, fluttering along to our left, chasing us up the trail. It was great. A little later a cardinal did the same thing. I think he stayed with us for a quarter mile. We saw hawks, herons, and bluejays too. Finally I made the big sighting. Two Sandhill Cranes were standing next to the bike path in the horse lane. We coasted slowly past not 5 feet from the birds. It was amazing.
We visited with a father-son team riding from the Twin Cities to Milwaukee at one stop. We saw them again at picnic, 58 miles into our ride. That was a long wait for picnic. By then we were getting very hot and very tired. We were back out on the roads after 55 miles of trails. The roads were all in the outback so there was practically no traffic. The temps were climbing toward 95. About 6 miles from the end we had another 15% grade. This one hadn’t been announced so it was especially nasty. It only lasted .7 mile. That’s just the way it goes. The story we were telling ourselves about the hill was painful, but the hill was just hard. Like the 55 miles of limestone trail. We could tell ourselves a story about how rough it was, but the reality was it was pretty pleasant. Would we really rather be hugging the white line near huge farm-to-market trucks? This trip just keeps on telling us to be here now. Flutter along with the birds. They get buffeted by the winds, but they always find a place to perch.