Shauna and I are back from Wisconsin safe sound and only a little sore. This trip grew organically out of my plan to do some loaded bike touring this summer. The first plan was to go South, I would ride to Natchez trace state park in Tennessee for a few days, then Shauna would come and get me. Eventually Mom and Dad were included, we would all meet there and do some riding. This trip was scraped when it dawned on me that it would be really, really hot and I would be camping for a several days.
The next plan began to take shape which was all of us riding the Katy Trail in St. Louis, I eventually scraped this plan when it didn’t address the fundamental problem of being too damn hot to ride, and the fact that I really didn’t want to ride the Katy Trail.
Eventually that led Shauna and I to planning our own trip North where the air would be cooler and bike trails are more plentiful. Her exact words were lets incorporate some riding into this trip. Using Google Map’s bicycling map I zoomed around the upper Midwest until I hit upon “The 400 State Trail” in Reedsburg WI. I said lets go there and that was honestly the end of my preparations. The northern direction worked well because that would give us a chance to stop and spend some time with some friends that live in Bloomington IL.
Shauna continued to prepare and do research about the surrounding areas and I continued to do nothing. I’m fuzzy about this part, I thought that she proposed that we ride the first 54 miles of the bike trail from Reedsburg to Sparta, stay the night, and ride home the next day. I thought this was a great idea since I would get to use my paniers and it would be kind of like a loaded tour, albeit a really small one. Shauna claims that the 54 mile ride was my idea and that i assured her she would have no problems because it was a bike trail and we’d go slow.
Either way we set off Thursday and drove to Wisconsin. Our first stop was the Wisconsin Dells, where we walked about a mile up the boardwalk and came to the conclusion that The Dells suck. We left the Dells and I made a wrong turn and drove a pointless 50 mile loop. We then went to the Lower Dells area and looked at all the huge indoor waterparks and drove around the Tanger Outlet Mall, we then came to the conclusion that The Lower Dells suck. We did stop and buy some cheese which I think is required by state law when visiting Wisconsin. We continued to Reedsburg and holed up in the Comfort Inn where I was too tired to even take my close off before going to sleep.
The next morning we awoke and enjoyed the free continental breakfast before heading to “The 400” trail head. Apparently the trail got its name from the train that could go from Chicago to Minneapolis in 400 minutes. The first thing we did was buy trail passes, it costs 4 dollars per day per person to ride the trail, or you can buy a year long pass for 20 dollars. Kind of annoying but worth it if they put the money into the trail. We purchased the passes at the very nice depot in Reedsburg which was indicative of how nice and maintained the facilities and the trail itself would be.
The trail surface was a mixture of crushed limestone and dirt, it was extremely well packed and smooth. I was riding a road bike with 25s, and Shauna had 23s, contrary to what some people will tell you, riding a bike trail with road bike tires is rarely a problem. The terrain was flat, and we followed along a meandering river and rode through fields of wild flowers and gazed upon red barns, silos and grazing cattle. Everything was going pretty good then Shauna’s tire exploded with a deafening boom.
Like I said I did almost no preperation for this this ride, I did take a glance at Shauna’s bike which she’s been riding for awhile and it seemed fine, the tires have almost no wear and everythings been working. Well the tire’s cords came unraveled and the rubber began to separate from the casing. This Maxxis tire has so little wear that it still has the little rubber things that are on new tires. I patched the inside of the tire and we made it to Elroy very carefully.
Elroy has a great depot called the Commons, there’s nice restrooms and showers along with a handy shop that sold some bike accessories and souvenirs, but sadly no tires. I was directed by the helpful person to a bike shop a couple miles out of town where I met George. George was an older gentleman who ran “The Bike Hut” out of his garage, he sold me a tire and extra tube and told me if I didn’t make him go to the trouble of writing up a receipt he wouldn’t bother with tax.
Another customer was leaving as I arrived and George told me all about him. He was the toughest bike rider in the county, he had ridden something called “The Firecracker” every year for last 15 years and never wrecked, or failed to finish. He rode a 30 year old Raleigh that had been broken welded back together several times. When we talked about the trails George told me the ones in Minnesota were better and didn’t cost anything, I eventually had to break off the conversation and go, but would have enjoyed spending more time there.
Riding to and from the bike shop was a liberating experience since I’d left my paniers with Shauna and was on actual road, it felt great to sprint up hills and go fast, but I had to return to the trail. The next part was “The Elroy-Sparta State Trail” and it was 32 miles with 2 long, and exceptionally long tunnel. Before each tunnel was a long very gradual climb, but with my baggage it was pretty tough. The tunnels were unlit, which I had planned for and brought light for. Signs told us to walk through the tunnels which we did, though I would have rode if I’d been by myself, since the longest tunnel was 3/4 a mile long and took about 15 minutes to walk though. I did try riding real slow through one of the tunnels and ended up with what I believe was a very slow leak from a pinch flat that required a rear tire change and more importantly another delay.
We arrived at Sparta, the so called bicycle capital of America, about 3 hours later then we planned and found the hotel we planned to stay at was booked up. Luckily the Country Inn across the street had a couple rooms. After we ate supper it was dark, we had no time to see what Sparta had to offer. Another night and continental breakfast later we were ready to roll. Now keep in mind that the farthest Shauna had ever ridden was 32 miles, the ride was supposed to be 54 but actually came out to 61, almost twice as far as she’d ever ridden. We discussed bail out options on the way to Elroy and it was agreed the best option would be fore Shauna to push on to Elroy and wait there for me to come and pick her up.
Surprisingly Shauna didn’t have trouble making it to Elroy, in fact we were passing people left and right with our blistering fast 12 average. After buying some souvenir patches and T-shirts she surprised me even more by riding the rest of the way back to the Car in Reedsburg. I couldn’t believe it, 120 miles in 2 days on a dirt bike trail. Even better we knocked like two hours off our traveling time on the second day, but that had to more to do with not having flats.
The next stop on our trip was “The House on the Rock” which is kind of an amusing way to spend a few hours, but also kind of expensive. If my aloof educated side were to comment I’d say its a low brow attraction for ignorant tourists, without order, educational or aesthetic value, at best a simple roadside attraction, at worst an outright fraud. If my normal down to Earth self were to comment I’d say its a neat collection of neat stuff that’s pretty amazing.
We Arrived at BLoomington IL at 11 O’clock and since Shauna had been unable to charge her cell-phone for the entire trip we were several hours later than expected. Our hosts took it all in stride and gave us room and board for the night. Sunday I took a morning ride around Bloomington and took in the town in a far superior way then a car ride.
Our hosts took us on the 25 cent tour, to breakfast and the Miller Park zoo, and then the historic mansion of Supreme Court Judge David Davis. Davis was a contemporary and political ally of Abe Lincoln and Bloomington resident. His splendid mansion is perserved and open for free tours. It was nice to see but the most awkward tour I’d ever been on.
After a very boring 20 minute video about toilet technology of the 19th century we embarked on the actual tour, our guide who I believe said she was a 17 year old guided us through the mansion. After welcoming us there were several awkward silent seconds and our friend Steve made a joke in an attempt to end it. She stared at him for a second then said, “If there are no further comments you may follow me.” The first room she showed us contained some stereoscopic photographs and viewers on a table which she said we could look at. Our friend Jami noticed a photography album and asked if she could look at it. The tour guide said she wasn’t sure, she though so. Jami opened the photograph album and the tour guide said tersely, “PLEASE refrain from touching the exhibits.”
It continued to get more awkward as the tour girl would pause and seem to forget what she was talking about, she had very little information and yet seemed aggravated we weren’t asking questions, but it was free and it thankfully eventually ended. We did a little shopping and some more eating and drove the rest of the way home.
Shauna is feeling no worse for wear, except for some soreness in her upper legs. I’m trying to remember the first time I felt when I rode 60 miles, and then rode 60 the next day. It would have to be my very first week long tour in Nebraska, and if I remember I took a sag on the third day. So in conclusion, Shauna is tough, don’t go to The Dells, Go ride the 400 state trail, go to The House on the Rock if you don’t care about authenticity, visit Bloomington but stay away from the David Davis tour.