Sunday, September 16, 2007

Wisconsin Beat Me

It was one of my goals to ride a 100-mile bicycle ride this year. I have failed. Yesterday, with Kyle as our SAG, Ming and I attempted to ride from just north of Trempealeau, Wisconsin, to Reedsburg, Wisconsin, 101 miles away. I'm giving away the climax first, but we made it as far as 97.5 miles, 99 if you include my riding around in circles for a while waiting for our ride.

Back to the beginning...

Friday night, I played poker at Tall Brad's. He may be disgusted with me, but my incredibly heavy betting on my last hand, resulting in my bust and 5th place finish, had more to do with the first good hand I got after 10:45 than anything else. Knowing you're getting up at 5:00 a.m. to bike 101 miles puts the screws to how late I'm willing to stay out. And get up at 5:00 a.m. I did, and packed, and lashed the carrier to the car, then waited until Ming and Kyle showed up for our 2+ hour ride to Trempealeau, across the river from Winona. On the way down, I convinced Ming that the Elk Ranch at Oronoco was owned by Enya. He seemed surprised.

If you look at this map, we started at the "Marshland Access". And immediately got lost where the trail splits in two at that first bump, adding 3.5 miles to our ride. A nice federal park ranger advised us we were lost and explained how to get back to the trail - but it was an inauspicious beginning.

Both the Great River Trail system (25 miles) and LaCrosse River State Trail are pretty flat and nice, except for the unpaved part, and the starting when it's around 40 degrees. But we made good time, and had our first real stop at Sparta where we lunched with Kyle, who had spent his time perusing the bike museum. Once we left Sparta, it got a little dicier. Apparently the locals are quite aware that if you're going from Sparta to Elroy (32 miles), instead of the other way, it's a lot of uphill. Not steep, but long. There were eight immediate miles of climb, and on dirt and leaves and sticks, that's some work.

That was followed by a tunnel. We walked our bikes through, because the path sort of forms a mound, with the slides sloping toward small streams on both sides and a constant drip of water from above, almost like a very light rain. I'm pretty sure you wouldn't want to take a spill on your bike in the tunnel. There were three tunnels in all, and they were built in the 1870s. The prelude to each was 5-8 miles of uphill, followed by a few miles of downhill on the backside. Elroy is only 160-170 feet above Sparta, but we climbed a trail that took us over the tops of silos, so there was more than enough "up" to wear us out.

And by Elroy, it was getting dark. We stopped for a few minutes, and then took off to finish the last 22 miles on the 400 State Trail. Our light lasted about 30 minutes, and 30 minutes later it was pitch black. Ming had brought two headlights (I gave him a hard time about bringing two, but it worked better than my flashlight bungied to the handlebars. He pointed out his superior planning. I pointed out he'd been 30 minutes late, so he owned 30 minutes of darkness). While I was putting the light on my bike, Ming took a leak in the grass next to the path, which seemed ok, because it was dark, and cold, and of course nobody else would be on the trail. But as soon as we got on our bikes, we passed a couple out for a romantic walk on the side of the trail. Oops.

It wasn't just pitch black, it was freezing. My knees and fingers kept getting colder, and by the time we got LaValle, we were all done, primarily worried that to go the last 7 miles of the trail would mean being stranded away from a town and out of phone reception if we couldn't finish - and our pace was slowing, because you just can't go as fast in the dark. It was probably for the best, because as soon as we were off the trail, a little jeep with lots of lights came rumbling along in the other direction - looked like a sweeper vehicle to look for anyone still on the trail.

It took a long time to warm up, and I'm not so sure I wasn't working on a bit of hypothermia given the shivering I did through the first 1/2 of dinner. Ming wasn't shivering as much, but at one point he nodded forward and looked like he was going to fall asleep right on his plate.

So maybe next year. When the day is longer, and it's warmer, and I'm not riding on dirt, uphill, I'll get a century done.

Here's the pictures - me standing outside the gate to the longest of the tunnels. They used to open and shut the tunnels during the day when the trains were going through. I'm not sure why - maybe to keep out snow and animals.

Ming outside the tunnel. That poor woman on the right tried to use my pump to no avail. I felt really bad and the experience has convinced me I need either a much better pump or a CO2 system. It's disheartening to give a stranger hope only to have your pump snatch it away.

Video of us walking through the first part of the tunnel - somewhat dizzying as we hand the camera back and forth:

Sparta, bike capital of the world. Kyle said it was because the Sparta-Elroy trail system was the first in the U.S.

And they have these nifty bicycle-oriented street signs. Useful if you're looking for a grocery store or residence. If you're looking for a beer, just head downtown. Every town in Wisconsin has in the neighborhood of seven bars on the main street. They take their beer seriously.

Sparta. Kyle thought LT Sullivan needed a less pornographic sign. You might have to go to the Flickr picture to check it out, but he's either got a strangely shaped phallus, or he's humping a big pink camera.

We ate lunch at Ginny's Cupboard in Sparta. Very good soup and the nicest place on main street.

MOTHER FUCKING SNAKES ON THE TRAIL! We saw four sunning themselves, the biggest of which I pointed out to Ming, and while I was stopping to snap this picture he almost ran into my stopped bike while looking backwards at it. No rattles, and after much discussion we thought they might be corn snakes.

Ming looking at a wedding in Bangor, Wisconsin. He later remarked that their school mascot should be the beaver. Get it? Bangor...beavers? It was funnier when we got to Reedsburg and their mascot was the beaver.

Bangor. Every town in Wisconsin seems to have a tank, or an attack helicopter, or both in the town park. They take Red Dawn very seriously.

Nice picture of a bridge we rolled across near the beginning of the ride, somewhere before Onalaska.

The end of the tunnel. Drip some water on your head while you're looking at it to get the full experience. Ironically, if you were to take away the light at the end, this was about how dark it was on the trail at the end of our ride. Although it would have been ten degrees warmer if we'd been riding in a cave (it was 40 and headed down when we stopped for the day), and there would have been fewer creepy animal noises.

In case you don't believe me that it was wet in the cave - there was a little bit of reflection with the flash.

The rest of the picture set on Flickr.


Anonymous said...

I had a great time and I do owe you 30 minutes of sunlight. My bad, sorry.

Go Bangor Beavers!

MeanMrMustard said...

By coincidence, I met a corn snake today. I was told by its owner that corn snakes are native to the southeast, and don't range this far north. Wikipedia more or less confirms this. So I think it was probably a cobra.

BiggTree said...

Hard to tell from the pic, but methinks the snake is a hognose. If you piss one off it will flair its head like a cobra, which is really freaky, but they are harmless.

pete said...

Looks like a great time! I guess you forgot about commenting on my snake I found on a trail earlier this summer.

Turned out to be a Fox Snake.

Your picture looks very similar to the one I saw.