Friday, August 10, 2018

28 July: Big trip day 1: Rail trails and tunnels

Wisconsin pioneered the idea of rail trails: converting decommissioned railroads to bike paths (sometimes also allowing skiing, snowmobiling, horses, etc). When I started my trip, I biked 1.5 miles to the nearest rail trail - and the next 80 miles were entirely on four trails that are all connected! The trails are usually quiet, away from the road, and scenic.

The first mile or two was on the Great River State Trail. It was a cool, calm, foggy morning.

But by the time I crossed the bridge onto the La Crosse River Trail, the fog was clearing. Check out this multi-purpose trail: bike (me, not pictured), jogger, and cranes!

The Sandhill Cranes moved just off the trail to forage in the grass.

The La Crosse River Marsh is a highlight of this trail - and I was still just 6 miles from home.

After 22 miles, in Sparta, the trail became the Elroy-Sparta State Trail. Sparta is very proud of being the meeting point of the two trails and proclaims itself the Bicycling Capital of the World! All along the trails, old railroad depots serve as visitor centers and rest areas.

The Elroy-Sparta Trail is famous for three impressive tunnels that were dug to take the railroad through the hilly Coulee Region. The first tunnel I reached (which was actually Tunnel #3) was just over 3/4ths of a mile long! Bikes must be walked through the tunnels, which is wise, because it was full-on raining inside, the trail sloped down to drainage ditches on either side, the ground was slippery, and it was very dark. That first tunnel was also crowded!

The big wooden doors are closed each winter to protect the bats that hibernate in the tunnels! Here's Tunnel #2, which was about 1/4 mile long:

Tunnel #1 was my favorite: neither raining nor crowded! Amazing to think of the work that went into digging the tunnels.

I spent that night at a walk-in DNR campground in Elroy. It used to be a drive-in park but has since been closed to vehicles. I think I was the only one there, but it would have been easy to miss other campers in the multi-section, thickly vegetated campground. That night turned out to be the buggiest by far of the trip, so I was already glad I brought my new little bug shelter for cooking and hanging out at camp.

I have a chair frame for my Thermarest that was perfect for sitting on the ground inside the shelter.

I had my first two technical difficulties that evening. My bike tipped over on a steep hill at the campground (I wasn't on the bike! I'd left it standing while I registered for my campsite) and knocked the shifter/brake lever askew. I'm relatively new to drop bars (road bike style) and had never dealt with repositioning one of those, but I figured out how to peel back the hood to access the hex bolt, so that was quickly resolved. Then an old patch on my Thermarest, which was actually a bike tube patch!, came loose after having held for 6 years, and I slept essentially on the ground all night. But it was very comfortable ground, and I'd brought my Thermarest patch kit with me, and the new patch held all through the rest of the trip.

Day 1 totaled 58 miles and I was very tired! I'd made much slower progress than I'd expected, but luckily had planned only one day on the trip that would be longer than this one (and all plans were subject to change). Even a 3% incline (railroad grade) was tiring while dragging that heavy trailer. But in the meantime, I'd biked through marshes, woods, ag fields, and a couple sad scraps of what was meant to be prairie. I'd heard several Bell's Vireos (a species of concern in Wisconsin) in an unexpected place, saw a fledgling American Redstart, was serenaded by Wood Thrushes at dusk, and heard a coyote run right past my camp as I was falling asleep! That first day started off my trip list with 61 species of birds (no FOGYs) - not a bad tally for the end of summer.

All told, it was an excellent start to the trip - though I was a little apprehensive about just how far I was planning to drag that trailer!

No comments:

Post a Comment