By Ben |

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on August 17, 2004]

I know, three posts in three days, I'm pushing it... but I've got dialup access here in Mauston, WI, so I thought I'd send some of my notes from the past few days.

Saturday morning I left Perrot state park and followed the Great River State Trail into Onalaska, just north of La Crosse. The ranger told me a Target there was my best bet for 1-hour photo developing. I wasn't ready for the experience of re-entering "civilization" (essentially suburbia: big box stores, no sidewalks, lots of aggressive SUVs). It was a nightmare!

After getting only half my errands done in over 2 hours I gave up and headed east on the La Crosse River State Trail. Just east of La Crosse I found a little town where I thought I could stop and find a phone line suitable for my modem, and I found one in a little computer store that just opened last week. I talked shop with the proprietor and she let me send the e-mail I'd been storing up on my Visor.

The La Crosse River State Trail is about as flat as it could be, except that the river flows west, so I was going slightly uphill all afternoon. Very tiring on an essentially dirt road. I got a personal recommendation from another cyclist for a campground where I'd been planning on heading anyway, but instead I decided to check out the "walk-in" campground east of Sparta. It's for cyclists and pedestrians only (being on the trail), it's totally unstaffed, and it was totally empty except for me and the critters. I had to scare off a pair of eyes from my tent while I typed this -- probably a raccoon. This was much more special than any private campground. There was a bunch of firewood collected at my site, so I tried my best to start a fire, first using just matches and kindling, then using my bike lube as lighter fluid, but no luck.

I began Sunday on the Elroy-Sparta State Trail. There were other ways to go, by road, but I wanted to check out the (former railroad) tunnels along the path. The trail maintains a maximum of 3% grade, so it's much easier going than the roads alongside. There were places where the railroad grade (made entirely of cinders) towered at least 200 feet above the landscape! The first tunnel I reached turned out to also be the longest, fully a mile long! It was blasted through solid granite, so there's no need for supports to hold the ceiling up, but there's an overhead spring halfway through that drips throughout most of the tunnel. Signs at either end instruct cyclists to walk their bikes. I started in not knowing how long the tunnel was -- it's perfectly straight, and you can see the light at the other end clearly. I kept turning around and seeing that I wasn't yet halfway through! Finally as I got near the halfway point and the dripping water turned into a rain shower, I started to panic and got out my headlamp. As I put it on, I realized I was still wearing my sunglasses!

I left the trail at the little town of Norwalk, whose twin mottos are "Gateway to the Tunnels" and "Black Squirrel Capital of the World." I didn't see any squirrels, but the logos were cute. I got an early lunch and prepared for the road portion of my ride. The route I had chosen bypassed the town of La Farge via a local road. This seemed like a good idea on the map, and it looked that way for the first mile, but then the pavement gave out and I had to climb a long, steep hill on gravel, pushing the bike. So that wasn't fun at all. But I still wound up arriving at Dreamtime Village at about 5:00.

Most of the residents of Dreamtime Village are artists and few are handymen. The buildings, which were in disrepair when they were acquired more than a decade ago, are still in disrepair, though most of the walls have been artistically painted. I was reminded of the Golgafrinchans in the Hitchhiker's Guide stories. But they're great people, very laid back, very much into living in harmony with each other and the land. There are about a dozen adults and two teens who live there most of the time. The feeling when you walk around the grounds is that civilization has ended and nature is taking everything back, and the people have decided to let it.

This morning I managed to find a relatively flat route out of the hills (the "driftless" area of Wisconsin that has never seen glaciers). The route I found was so easy going that I made it all the way to Mauston -- on the edge of the driftless area --by 1:30. That gives me the whole afternoon to get to a campsite!

Happy trails! --Ben