During our first leg, in Sept. 2014, we rode the Trans Wisconsin Trail from Galena, IL to Marquette, IA. Our plan for our Sept. 2015 trip was to pick up where we left off and ride as far as we could go in 2 days and use the 3rd day to ride home.
You are probably thinking, ‘how lame, a lot of people do the entire route in 3 days”. Well, we are not like a lot of people. I probably ride slower than most people, we take rest breaks, we stop and hike,we take detours and side trips, and we tend to end the riding day fairly early. Our goal is not to get to the end of the road quickly, it’s to enjoy our time exploring back roads together.
Indeed, of all of the memories I have from this trip, one of my favorites was just riding…on a sunny day, on a back road, with my wife and best friend.
Here is a look at our 3 day route:
The first leg of our trip was Blue River, WI, to Marquette, IA
In order to save time, for this leg we trailered up to Blue River (which is about 40 miles East of Marquette). Our day started fairly early, we got up at 5:00, but by the time we got to Blue River, unloaded, and geared up it was 8:00.
It was a little chilly and a little foggy when we left. But as the morning wore on, the fog burned off.
When we got to Marquette, we stopped for gas. This is the point where we ended our ride the year before, so as we left the gas station, we were finally continuing our TWT journey.
Marquette, IA to Lansing, IA
Leaving Marquette takes you up the Great River Road sandwiched between the river and the bluffs. It’s an amazing start to the ride. After the Great River Road, we went into Yellow River State Forest.
The road through the forest was amazing. There were lots of twists and turns and altitude changes. Although there were a lot of hiking trails in this park, we didn’t stop for any because we wanted to make it farther on the first day of riding.
Coming out of the park on the North side we stopped for a drink and a stretch.
After leaving the state forest we went on to Harper’s Ferry and then took back roads into Lansing where we stopped for lunch.
Here are some shots of the road between Harper’s Ferry and Lansing.
View of the Mississippi River from the road.
After Lunch in Lansing, we went to the lookout.
Here is the bridge we will be crossing. It is another steel deck bridge, similar to my ‘favorite’ bridge in Sabula, Illinois.
Crossed the bridge into Wisconsin
As soon as we crossed the river, we were back onto gravel road which took us almost all the way to Viroqua.
When we had stopped at a rest area near Liberty Pole, we decided to leave the Trail in Viroqua and go straight to Sparta to our hotel. This turned out to be a great decision. We got to the hotel and jumped into the hot tub. After a long soak we went searching for food and found a great local pizza place.
The next day, we rode back to Viroqua to resume our journey on the Trans Wisconsin Trail.
Here is our Viroqua to Sparta Leg of the Trans Wisconsin Trail:
The 2nd day of riding started early.
Viroqua to Viola is a pretty short stretch so we took a few detours from the standard route to avoid Hwy 14 and to stay on back roads as much as possible. One of the side roads we took was called Hankins Road.
It started out like this:
And ended up like this:
We were almost to Viola when we picked up this hitchhiker. Ok, this is Renee jumping in here for a second. What Dale failed to mention is my primal fear of grasshoppers. Ever since an incident in my childhood I have been terrified of the little buggers. So, when I looked down and saw this on my boot, I panicked and did the only natural thing…started pounding on Dale’s back and gesturing wildly. (This was before we had our communication system!). He pulled over quickly and we managed to get this guy off. We, of course, had to take a picture first because it was a funny exchange we wanted to remember (of course if you are deathly afraid of grasshoppers, like me, it is not something you are likely to forget any time soon.) Ok, back to Dales report…
In Viola there is a nice little park called Bankers Park right between the road and the Kickapoo River. We stopped for a drink and to take off some layers.
The Kickapoo River is named for the Kickapoo Native American tribe that occupied Wisconsin before the influx of settlers in the early 19th century. Kickapoo is an Algonquian word that means “one who goes here, then there”, which is an appropriate name for this river as it winds back and forth all the way to the Wisconsin River.
After a short stop at the park, we continued on our way. Between Viola and LaFarge we took a detour onto Tunnelville Road, which is one of the Wisconsin Rustic Roads. It was a neat gravel road with this old barn at the end.
From there, we rode into LaFarge and decided to get some food. There was no real place to eat so we got some bad gas station food and we started out again. I had planned another detour, however, I found out that you can’t always trust google maps. The back road we were going to take dead ended at the entrance to a horse riding trail.
So we turned around and were headed back to the main road when we saw another side road, so we decided to take it. It turned out to be a short straight road that was on top of a weird formation that looked man-made. When we got to the end, we saw this strange tower rising up out of the valley floor in the middle of nowhere.
To get a sense of the scale, you can barely make out crows sitting on the top.
We couldn’t figure out it was so we turned around and took off. Later that night I looked it up and it turns out we were on top of a partially completed dam that was part of the LaFarge Dam project. This was a large flood control project that was started in the laste 60’s but was delayed several times before it was eventually halted due to environmental concerns and due to concerns that it really wouldn’t help flooding. In the end the government spent $19 million, uprooted a bunch of families, and accomplished nothing. Today the land is part of the Kickapoo Valley Reserve and is open for hiking, hunting, camping and other outdoor activities.
Once we got back on the main route, we quickly came to Wildcat Mountain. We stopped at the park office and bought a sticker so that we could hike. We spent the next few hours riding and hiking in Wildcat Mountain State Park.
These next few pictures are of the roads on and around Wildcat Mountain and the hikes we took at the park.
When we were done hiking, we hit the trail again and soon we were back in Sparta for another soak in the Hot Tub.
A couple of bikers in Sparta.
Sparta, WI to Blue River, WI:
The next day was spent riding back to Blue River. We backtracked to Ontario and went over Wildcat Mountain once more because the roads were so much fun the first time.
Found this neat railroad underpass between Sparta and Norwalk.
On Hwy 131 between Wildcat Mountain and LaFarge we came across another Rustic Road. Since we were not in a hurry, we took it. We were happy to find that it was another great road and along the way we saw several Amish farms. This road was taking us back to the North, and since we were heading South, we turned off and wound around back towards Hwy 131.
We tried to be respectful of the horse drawn buggys and wagons. So I gave them a wide berth and kept the engine noise down when I passed them.
The bakery was inviting, but it wasn’t open that day.
The neat thing about this stretch is that most people would wave back if we waved to them. The only exceptions were the older adults. The picture we missed was a pair of cute Amish children playing in their front yard.
From there it was a quick trip down hwy 131 to Viola, Readstown, Soldiers Grove, and Gays Mills. Outside Gays Mills we stopped at our favorite orchard for some apples and donuts.
A short ride later we were back in Blue River and loading the bike for home.
Our 3 days of riding took us almost exactly 400 miles.
As always, we learned some things along the way that we wanted to take into account for our next trip. Here is what we learned and what we have changed:
- We need to plan our food stops better. This is a little difficult because we didn’t know where we would be when we wanted to eat. Solution: We started planning better and packing snacks and a picnic lunch for longer rides.
- We need to buy some communication system. Communicating through tapping and pointing just doesn’t cut it. My wife told me she missed a lot of good pictures because she couldn’t get me to stop. Solution: if you have read about any of our more recent trips, you will know that we bought a Sena system.
- I needed to adjust the position of the panniers. The current position does not allow my wife to move her feet around. Solution: I did some garage engineering and came up with a method which added a few more inches of space for Renee.
- I need to come up with a better method of locking the gear on the bike. We didn’t have anything stolen, but it was not very secure and I don’t want to come back from a hike and not have any boots, etc. Solution: We bought a PacSafe, which is a locking steel mesh bag, and a dry bag to go inside the mesh bag. This set up packs into a small space and and works well to keep our things secure.
- We need to do this more often. We have only been able to schedule 1 multi-day trip per year. We definitely need to do this more often. Solution: We were able to ride a lot more last summer (2016), and rode several single day and overnight trips.
- I love this part of Wisconsin. I grew up in this area and riding here brings back a lot of memories. I enjoyed our ride so much I started organizing a 1 day ride for my dad and a bunch of my friends for next May. This ride became the 2016 MayHem ride.
- I like using the Trail as a starting point and planning side trips and detours off of the route. As good as the Trail is, some of the best roads we found were just off the trail. I will continue this strategy on our future trips.
Thanks to my best friend and riding partner: