I’m recently back from a two-day ride with a very special person, my son Maxx. We don’t get to go out and play as much as we did many years ago, so I’m glad he suggested the ride.
The Elroy-Sparta Trail is considered to be the countries first rail trail, opened in 1967. It’s thirty-two miles long, pretty flat and has three rail road train tunnels to pass through. It winds through wooded trail and farmland. Barns and cows far out number people and cars. With little villages spaced out along the way, stopping for coffee or lunch is easy. If you’re in the area, ride it, you won’t be disappointed. The train tunnels alone are worth the trip.
Rain, great! Nothing like starting in the rain.
We arrived in Elroy midday on a Thursday under cloudy skies and threat of showers. It didn’t start raining until we got out of the car to set up our bikes and change in to our riding kits. We were soaked through in the first ten minutes. Nevertheless we set off trusting the skies would clear. And they did, but not until two and a half hours later as I was fixing our first and only tire puncture. My advice, go tubeless my friends, go tubeless.
Talk. Talk. Talk.
As I’m a dad, like many of you may be, my first thoughts as to why my boy wanted to be alone with me for two days is that he had some big news to share. Of what nature I had no idea. As it turned out he had no news, he just wanted to get out with his pops to ride and talk. And that’s what we did. I think we covered just about every topic you could think of from politics, work, food, bikes, wives, mothers, family, money, past, future, travel – you name it we talked about it. We talked so much I was hoarse when I got back on Friday night.
Stay in the middle.
One of the reasons you’d want to ride this particular trail is the three train tunnels you get to pass through along the way. As you ride up the very slow 1.5% grade you know a tunnel is nearby when you feel the temperature drop. The colder air pouring out of the tunnel gathers in the canyon created as you get closer. For us, the temp dropped to what felt like 20F degrees less. Creating fog outside and inside the tunnel.
You need a light, and it is recommended you walk your bike. So we ignored that advice and rode through acutely aware of the sharp drop off left and right into the open drainage culverts. Stay in the middle was the mantra of the day. It seems a reoccurring theme for many of my cycling adventures. Mostly smooth, wet and slick the riding wasn’t a problem going slow with good lights. I wouldn’t do it with younger inexperienced riders. Walking is safer.
The darkness inside with only a light at the end of the tunnel, the constant dripping or should I say pouring water and the colder temperatures makes for an unusual cycling experience. Trying to shoot pictures and video in these conditions was difficult at best. I was happy to manage a few images to share. After our exit from the tunnel the temperature would go back up and we would ride to the next tunnel on our journey.
Justin Trails Resort, Sparta
Sparta, Wisconsin is a classic midwestern town west and north of Madison in the Driftless Area of the state. Boasting the title of “The Bicycling Capital of America.” Maxx and I stayed the night at a local resort called Justin Trails Resort. A farm converted into a series of camping huts and quaint cottages along with a “World-Class” Frisbee Golf course we were well taken care of. More talking by our fire pit, a little whisky with my son and life is good.
Setting off on our return ride along the same route was dramatically different than day one. Let’s start with the bright sunshine, blue skies and some local knowledge of the trail acquired the day before. We spent our second day laughing, talking more and easy riding our way back to Elroy for a brat and a beer.
Smiles not miles.
I think sometimes I say this too often but for me its true, my joy of cycling can’t be tallied up on an app and counted. Sure I keep my miles and routes on Strava, but the true joy happens when you don’t count the miles but you appreciate the time you spend with your friends. This current Covid era has made that more difficult. Sharing the day, the experience and a part of yourself with the people that matter most is a blessing.
I’m a lucky guy, for me this time, the special experience shared cycling with my son will be remembered for a long, long time.
Thanks for the ride Maxx, Pops.