Happy Trails to Two
This cycling couple loved a leisurely
summer ride across the state.
By Scott McMurray, Waukesha, Wisconsin
WHAT BETTER WAY to tour a state filled with natural beauty and diversity than from the seat of a bicycle? A bit unconventional, yes, but oh, so rewarding.
My wife of 3 years, Michelle, and I are both in our 60s. We bicycled from Minneapolis back to our home in Waukesha over the course of 9 days last July. It wasn’t as hard for us as people might think.
Married in 2015, we share a love for bicycling. We decided to take this long summer trek and started some conditioning. Short jaunts around town were extended into the countryside, then we gradually took on some longer destination rides.
You don’t have to be a well-toned athlete to do this. The key is to have a well-fitted bicycle designed for touring and to pace yourself. Start with short distances and increase them. When you can do three 20-mile rides comfortably in a week, you’re ready for a longer ride.
My father and brother dropped us off in Minneapolis, wishing us well as they turned for home with our van. We’d be self-supported on this trek, which means carrying all your gear. We took about 20 pounds each.
The next morning, Michelle and I started our ride of more than 400 miles. With a mix of anticipation and fear, we pedaled out of the city toward our first destination, the historic town of Northfield, Minnesota, then to Red Wing. Our average daily distance would be about 60 miles.
We crossed the river into Wisconsin at Nelson. Headed south on Highway 35, the Great River Road, we took in the scenic bluffs and the contours along the largest river in the U.S. with an unimpeded panoramic view from our bikes.
Nestled between the water and the bluffs, Alma and Fountain City are among the quaint historic river towns stretched out like a thread along the highway. Both are good stopping places to explore or enjoy a meal.
Just south of Fountain City, we gained the first of a series of bike trails, which took us nearly all the way home to Waukesha. Wisconsin has one of the finest bike trail networks in the nation.
At La Crosse, we turned east and started across the state. The standout Elroy-Sparta Trail with its three railroad tunnels provided a cool break from summer heat. Nature lover Michelle stopped frequently to photograph flowers, birds and scenery.
ADVENTURE BEGINS. Michelle has crossed the Mississippi, headed to the town of Nelson. Below: A charming Parkview B&B in Reedsburg was a well-needed resting place to break up the couple's trek. Below left: Scott and Michelle in the lobby of a Minneapolis hotel before embarking.
Planned a Break
Since speed is never the operative word in bicycle touring, we broke up our trip with a 2-night stay. We chose the cozy and charming Parkview B&B in Reedsburg, where hosts Neal and Lorraine provided gracious hospitality.
Our method of travel caught the interest of other guests, so there was no lack of congenial conversation. One of the best parts about bike touring is getting cleaned up at the end of the day and finding a nice place for a leisurely supper before falling into bed for a well-earned night of rest.
After Reedsburg, it was on to colorful cosmopolitan Madison for our last night. We were planning to stop at Lake Mills for an additional night, but Michelle was by now so well conditioned she thought we could do the nearly 80 miles between Madison and our home via the Glacier Drumlin Trail in a day.
We turned into our driveway late in the afternoon on the next day, tired but little worse for wear.
Traveling by bicycle allows you to see, hear, smell and savor the passing countryside that all-too-easily goes unnoticed when you’re cocooned inside a speeding car. The sweep of the clouds, the song of birds, the sight of wildflowers, the glimpses of wildlife and the interesting things people do with their properties can be savored at length and taken in fully.
A lovely thing Michelle and I appreciated on this trip, and on destination rides we’ve taken since, are the friendly and helpful people we meet. Many are on journeys of their own.
The heart and soul of America is easily seen in the common decency and care the people of Wisconsin extend to friends and strangers alike.
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