Friday, May 27, 2011

Elroy-Sparta trail, Wisconsin, May 24, 2011

After a hearty breakfast of pancakes at the Elroy Family Restaurant (server was the friendly and efficient Brittney, please tip generously), my son and I jumped on the famous Elroy-Sparta Bicycle Trail and headed north.

The beginning of the trail, in Elroy. The depot has bathrooms
and a gift shop.
This was the first long trip on the new bike, "Shadowfax," and it proved itself worthy. Other than the infamous stock Trek seat. Ouch.

The path is the usual rails-to-trails limestone screenings, in excellent condition -- packed down as hard as pavement for the most part. I cringed listening to the grit skitter off my brand new ride's frame and chainrings.
This centerpiece of this little park
is the stone foundation of Western
Wisconsin's largest train turntable.

I'd been a bit concerned about how the 25mm tires (at 120 PSI!) would perform on the limestone, but I needn't have. Other than a little bit of slithering on a rare soft patch, the ride was stiff but relatively effortless.

(Where has this bike been all my life? Featherweight frame and comfortable drop handlebars with at least four different hand positions. The bike wants to go just a few more miles, and take me along for the ride. I am insanely happy -- I think this going to be my all-time favorite bike. (Once I replace the stock Trek "prostate poker" seat.)
The town of Kendall has very
impressive monument to the area's
service men and women. Sobering to see
so many killed from the same families.

The trail is more or less ramrod-straight and level through verdant, rolling, bucolic (in the classic sense, meaning "a lot of cows") Wisconsin boondocks. Towns are pleasantly spaced about every 5-7 miles, and all have some sort of businesses catering to the bicyclist. However, on a Tuesday preceding Memorial Day, most of those businesses were closed.
The 1st tunnel north of Elroy, 1,694 feet long.
The doors kept out the cold in the winter,
so the constant water seepage wouldn't freeze
and cause rockfalls.

The Elroy-Sparta trail's claim to fame are its trio of tunnels. 10 miles or so north of Elroy, we hit tunnel number one -- 1,694 feet long. I was glad I'd remembered to bring a headlight; it was pretty darn dark in the middle. It's asphalt paved inside, but it drops away to either side into slimy-looking drainage ditches. They're only a foot or 18 inches deep, but I wouldn't want to slide down in there. What a cool -- and a little bit spooky -- highlight for the bike ride.

We walked through, as instructed by the warning sign, passing a couple of other trail riders as we did so. We rode another half-mile up the trail, and decided to turn around: we'd noticed that we were going to have a southeast headwind on the return trip, and didn't want to go too far north. Steven talked me into riding through the tunnel as we headed southbound. We survived.
My son had never been in
a phone booth. This one is
in Elroy.

Hadn't really noticed on the way north, but it had been two miles of slow but steady uphill grade before the tunnel. (What a marvelous machine is the Trek Madone 3.1! OK, I'll shut up now.) The return trip was a delight: downhill on a fast bike as the glycogen reserves started to kick in. I barely had to pedal at all. The miles flew by in a green blur.

All too soon, back at Elroy and the car. Today's total: 21.7 miles (plus another half-mile in the tunnel that the GPS didn't record). I am coming back with the wife at some point -- she'll be enchanted by the scenery and the tunnel. But I'm also going to return solo, pack a lunch and see all three tunnels on the trail.

Some of the delightful scenery along the way.
The last word: this is a trail every avid bicyclist should try at least once. You will need a daily pass, for $4, or an annual, for $20. Not that I've ever been checked, but the money seems to be well-spent on trail maintenance. It's a real gem.

dsj 110524

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