Max elevation: 623 ft
Min elevation: 548 ft
Total climbing: 732 ft
Total descent: -728 ft
Average speed: 9.23 mi/h
Short and beautiful. This is one case in which words aren’t needed:
The Chicago and North Western railroad built a line from Elroy to Sparta, Wisconsin, in the 1870’s. In order to accommodate the steam engines of the time, the grades were modest, and three tunnels were bored through the hills.
At one time (this is in 1907), three passenger trains per day thundered each direction.
Passenger service ended, and the line was torn up, and in 1967 this became the country’s first rail-trail conversion.
It’s now recognized as one of the premiere bike paths in the country, and Sparta advertises itself as the Bicycle Capital of America. The size of the parking lots along the 33 mile route are a good clue that it’s heavily used on summer weekends.
It was a perfect day to explore this trail; the weather was warm but not hot, and puffy white clouds and a canopy of green trees kept the sun away. The trail itself is not paved; it’s covered with fine gravel which probably could be ridden on a skinny tire road bike, but I was glad to have the 40mm wide tires on my bike.
Leaving Elroy the old railroad grade proceeds up a slight (1-2%) grade through lovely farmland (the Wisconsin license plates used to boast that the state was America’s Dairyland).
The yellow tag on my bike is a bike pass; as a state park, you need to pay $5 per day (or $25/year) to use these trails.
The roadbed continued north and west, and the hills (I refuse to call them mountains) on each side narrowed. Suddenly: the first of three tunnels.
It’s dark and cold inside; you must walk your bike because riders have become disoriented and crashed. It’s not very big, and is hard to imagine that there was much clearance for a full sized locomotive and railroad car. The pinhole on the far side got bigger and the opening to the rear got smaller, and about 1600′ later, I emerged into the sunlight. A nice downgrade, and I arrived at Kendall’s, a little town with a depot, restaurants, and Georgia, who had driven ahead and waited for me. She discovered an Amish street vendor from whom she bought some nice presents to take home.
Tunnel #2 was pretty much the same; on the downhill to the next town and upgrade to #3 I passed an old man who had set up an ice cream cart accessible only to riders. I imagine he sells out in the summer; and wish I’d stopped.
Tunnel #3 is almost 3/4 of a mile long, and the porous limestone leaks water which gives bikers a cold, refreshing shower through the eastern half. A school group of middle school boys was walking their bikes the other way, and watching their flashlights bob up and down, and listening to the Halloween noises they were making made the trip very … interesting.
The Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail runs from downtown Mankato to Faribault. Our ride was probably three miles longer than the map above indicates, because I forgot to turn on the Strava timer until we stopped at an intersection. Our trip was abbreviated because we left late in the morning, in what looked like a break in storms; one thunderstorm had rolled through and it was overcast but cool and pleasant. However, the darkening clouds to the west made us decide, very wisely as it turned out, to turn back well before my original goal of Elysian.
As in Iowa, this is a reclaimed railroad grade with a right of way wide enough to permit trees and underbrush to grow up an create the effect of riding in a large, green tunnel.
But since this was Minnesota, there were often glimpses of large and small lakes and streams.
I rode with Dan, the host of the AirBNB apartment we rented in Mankato. He and his wife Sandie exemplify Minnesota nice. What great people. And Mankato turns out to be a fascinating, vibrant, prosperous city about the size of Grand Junction. Who knew? You might think your were transported to Lake Wobegone.
Anyway, the farther away we got from the trailhead, the more ominous the dark and roily clouds to the west appeared. But Dan timed things with his weather app, and we decided that we should turn back before we had gone too far. We stopped for a moment at a bike trail-side lounge, but neither of us was in the mood for the walleye lunch special, so we headed back to Mankato, arriving about ten minutes before the heavens opened up and it rained, and rained, and rained. In the next couple of hours they received almost 2″ of moisture. It’s been a very wet July and August, and the leaves are just beginning to turn. Maybe we’ll get a chance to see more in Wisconsin.
Built in the last few years on the roadbeds of two abandoned railroads, the High Trestle Trail runs from Ankeny, Iowa to Woodward. No wind, mild overcast day, and flat. Very flat. And straight. The map is deceiving; the incline and descent were almost imperceptible
I joined a friend from Cedar Rapids. Over twenty years ago we had participated in a bike tour down the Wisconsin river; he took his son, I took Jackie. we’d kept in touch. Thanks, Facebook…
The trail itself is asphalt and concrete, plenty wide and did I say flat? For several miles, it proceeds northwest from Ankeny through miles of green trees and along rich farmlands. The forest has reclaimed the area between the plowed fields and the railroad, and creates an effect like riding through a tunnel. However, the birds and occasional views of sky and little creeks and the birds and squirrels tell you otherwise.
There’s even a strategically placed potty stop. And signs in each of the towns welcome you to fill your water bottle, enjoy their parks…
The Milwaukee Road mainline crossed the Des Moines River on a very high trestle built in 1912. When the government created Saylorville Lake in 1971, the trestle had to be rebuilt, this time using concrete pillars. The railroad lasted only another thirty years; when the Union Pacific tore down the bridge, they donated the pillars for the construction of a bike path. It’s really quite spectacular:
We joined Sharon and Georgia for pizza at the trailside bike-themed Flat Tire Lounge.
For more pictures, click on the thumbnail:
What We Learned Today: Allen and I learned that the gas plant can’t be reached from 20 Road.
The weather yesterday was delightful – a tailwind to Fruita and calm winds thereafter. Temperature in the mid 80’s. Few clouds. As has become our custom, we stopped at the Bestslope Coffee Company at 129 N. Peach Street.
It’s run by a former middle school science teacher and was backed by the Hot Tomato ladies. The coffee is good, particularly their cold brew, and the company pleasant. We ran across the parents of 8 week old twin boys, who had taken them out for a ride while Mom & Dad enjoyed coffee:
I think the mom is the sister of the owner, and SHE was the one who was hauling the trailer with the little boys.
Cheyenne has a surprising variety of bike paths, although like Grand Junction, they’re poorly marked. But if you have a guide, you can see a lot of this interesting city.
The National Weather Service promised zero percent chance of rain, so we ignored our lying eyes which saw some pretty dark clouds to the west. Of course, our eyes were correct and we had to take shelter under a portico of a rather pretentious apartment house for it to pass. We then rode to an underpass. The Union Pacific mainline was to the north, and the city fathers had created a chain link tunnel. Was it to stop us from running out on the train tracks or throwing things at the trains, or to protect us from things thrown from the overpass?
Evenutally the rain passed and we were on our way. A very nice trip.
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