Saturday, September 18, 2010

Elroy-Sparta Bike Trail, September, 2010

On Sunday, September 12, 2010, Schwee and I set out on a new and different kind of trip: a bicycle trip. Having just re-started biking after a 20-year hiatus, I really wanted to combine my love of travel with my new love of biking, and the nearby Elroy-Sparta Trail seemed the perfect idea, particularly when you factored in my new love of camping. Cheap, close (but not too close) and fun: a perfect vacation!

In a completely uncharacteristic manner, I planned nothing for this trip. In fact, we weren't sure until the night before where we were going. The toss up was camping in Munising or camping and biking in Sparta, and I left the decision up to Schwee because I didn't want to strong-arm him into doing something he wouldn't enjoy.  He ended up buying a used bicycle and chosing Sparta Saturday afternoon, which left me only a few hours to dig out the camping equipment, cooler, and shop for any supplies we were needing.

Seriously, no planning took place.  I simply looked up directions to the Forevertron, and then on to the trail, wrote down the directions, noted some addresses of campgrounds in the 5 towns along the trail, and we headed out.  At some point I did make the decision to try to camp in Wilton, having no idea what it held for us, simply because it was the center of the trail, and we drove there as if it had been the destination all along.

The Wilton Village Campground welcomed us warmly.

The entire campground probably only housed about a dozen sites and shared occupation with the town's only park and pool.

I spied this site and immediately knew that's where I wanted to be. The remoteness and the trees hugging the area were too inviting to resist. It called to me.

And so we planted our roots.

Schwee said these were ash trees and I thanked them for their protection and shade.

On the hill behind our tent each afternoon and throughout the evening, cows wandered the grass and grazed and mooed. Sometimes they were our only neighbors.

On the other end of the campground was a large field of horses.

While visiting the horses, I turned toward the river to follow it back to camp and noticed this mound in the earth, where I saw not debris and dirt, but a bear.  It looks like a black bear (and his beige snout) looking to the left just under the brown dirt, doesn't it?  OHMYGOD the panic!  Thankfully, my eyes realized that it was only leaves and mud and I managed to relax.  Bears were not a part of the obstacles I had planned for, and we all know I do not like any bumps in the road of my plans.

The Kikapoo River, as I found out later, meanders behind the campground, which kept the cows from grazing in our campsite.  Well, that and the barbed wire fence.

A HUGELY important feature of a campground is the bathroom, and having only camped one other place, these bathrooms and showers were a palace!

This pavilion and park seemed like it might invite townies to disturb our quiet campground, but surprisingly, it did not.

On our first night, there were a pair of bikers (when I say "bikers", I mean bicyclers) tent-camping near us and two RVs totally minding their own business and not acknowledging us, which we liked.  It's nice to be ignored in a campground.

Once set up for the night, we wandered into town with the hopes of finding dinner since it was already dark and I was not in the mood to cook on the stoves in the pitch blackness.  We were less than shocked to find out that we'd have to either eat at the bar or drive 19 miles to Sparta for dinner.  We drove to Sparta.  Culver's is good no matter where you are.

Outside the light pollution of Sparta, I was able to see that the starry night was going to be spectacular, and in Wilton at our campground, I stared up at the sky and was able to see more stars than I ever have before.  I had my first sighting of the Milky Way!  We stood there looking up at the sky for a while, Schwee pointing out the constellations he knew.  Quite impressive.

It was so cold that night when we got back to the tent.  We bundled up in extra clothes, tucked into our tent under multiple blankets, including the down sleeping bag, and spent the early night trying not to move to lose any body heat trapped under the covers.  Later we would find out the temperature went all the way down to 40º that night, and we felt it.  Any colder and we'd have been shivering all night long, which would've been terrible, but it was just cold enough to keep us struggling to stay unmoving under all the blankets all night.  It wasn't until the morning that I got any decent sleep, and that's when it started raining.  Schwee says it didn't rain and the weather record says it didn't rain, but the fly of our tent was soaking wet and I listened to the drips falling onto the tent for about an hour in the early morning.  He thinks it was condensation and dew dripping from the trees, but holy cow, it sounded a lot like rain.  I still think it rained.

The next morning we slept in and let the other campers get up and out before we even came out of the tent.  When we had the whole campground to ourselves, we slowly made our way out, made breakfast, packed up snacks and water for the trip, and headed down to the local gas station to buy our trail passes and hit the trail.

The Elroy-Sparta Trail is a bike trail converted from an unused railroad line that ran between Elroy and Sparta, 32 miles long.  What makes this trail special  is the series of tunnels that you walk your bike through, two being about a third of a mile long, and another being almost 3/4 of a mile long.  We'd been forewarned by many to bring a light of some kind, and though we had many lights we could have brought, we opted to chance it in the dark and instead carry more snacks and water.

The trail itself is packed dirt, some gravel, some earthly litter, but mostly smooth riding.  On the drive to Wilton I was daunted by the hilly landscape, entering the Baraboo Range and twisting and turning down winding, rising, and dipping roads, picturing the trail as a 32-mile rollercoaster ride that would have to be powered by our own strength, but I failed to consider that it's part of the rails-to-trails system and trains didn't do those kinds of dramatic dips and climbs.  The trail has inclines and declines, mostly leading up to a tunnel and then leading down from one, but the grades are mild.  What struck me immediately was the urge not to race these miles away, but to saunter along on my bike, take in the scenery, breathe the fresh air, and see things at a slower pace than I would zipping past in my car.  And oh boy did I!

I noticed that I was riding a mere 6.7 mph, but what really surprised me was I was leaving Schwee behind at my ambling pace.  We were both riding slowly, taking in the views.

There weren't many other bikers on the trail and we weren't passed by speeders except when we came to a complete stop and were wandering the side of a trail on foot.  There were many benches and picnic tables along the way, and it invited travelers to drift easily down the path.

The first day Schwee was still finding his comfort zone riding again while I was set to maintain some of my exercising dignity and ride for health as well as enjoyment.  We had pre-arranged spots where I would stop and wait for him because we knew he wouldn't be able to keep up with my pace, nor would he want to try.

Here he is way in the distance when I stopped at the first of the three tunnels that make the Elroy-Sparta Trail so cool.

This is Tunnel #2, nearly 1,700 feet long, and you are required to walk your bike through the tunnel -- not ride -- and I was a little amazed that people were actually doing this... before I was in the tunnel.

Once you were about 50 feet into the tunnel, you could not see the walls, the ceiling, the ground or the hand in front of your face .  You have no idea where you're going or what you're going to bump into, and the ground is not as regular as you'd imagine.  I tripped a few times on things unseen.  Knowing there were bats in the tunnel, I tried like crazy to see them, even flashed my camera up at the ceiling, but nothing was visible.  (I adore bats and desperately wanted to see hundreds of them hanging above us -- that would've been SO COOL!)

About a third of the way into the tunnel, I noticed that the darkness was disorienting, and the only thing visible was the tiny little archway at the end of the tunnel, and it seemed to never get any bigger than a pinprick in the distance.

Some panic shot through me.  I started to feel distressed, wasn't sure if my balance was right, and it was like those nightmares where you're running down a hallway and no matter how fast you run or how far you get, the end of the hallway gets farther away.  My breathing got erratic.  Schwee kept talking to me but I couldn't answer -- I had to keep my eyes focused and aimed at that dot of light at the end of the tunnel and get out.  All I wanted was OUT.  Finally, the dot of light got bigger and we could see the details of the burnt and rotting brick walls and the dirt ground.  It was cool, no doubt, but it was about 3 times longer than I wished it was.

Once out, I felt the stress peel off me and gaily got back on my bike to cruise on to the next stop.

From the tunnel it was a downhill grade and we were doing 15 mph, which felt like lightning speed in comparison.  Schwee kept up with me going downhill and we reached this underpass together, where he triumphantly hefted his bike overhead.

Norwalk was a few miles from the tunnel, and a very nice place to rest, refuel, and restroom.

As the sign states, there were tons of black squirrels all over, but whenever I encountered one, I didn't have my camera ready so I have no proof.

They have a nice park, but we definitely made the right decision camping in Wilton and not Norwalk.  Whew.

Schwee said he couldn't make it all the way to Sparta and he'd wait for me at Norwalk while I went.  I didn't want to go without him, but I didn't want to miss out on the challenge of getting to Sparta.  Begrudgingly, we split up and I went on.  Unfortunately, we also split up our loot and I left him with the water and my sunglasses.  Also, it was uphill again from Norwalk to the next tunnel, and I'd promised to be back in 90 minutes, but at the speed I was going, it was going to be over 2 hours, so I tried hard to push it.  I petered out quickly, and with no water and a sun headache, I didn't even get 3 miles to the next tunnel before deciding that it was stupid to split up so I turned back.  I mean, really, this wasn't a race.  This was a beautiful trail and we were on vacation.  We should've enjoyed it together and I felt badly for leaving him in Norwalk.  Clearly I was being punished (by myself) for making this bad choice.

Once I decided to turn back, I felt better.  I stopped many places along the way, watched some deer feeding in the woods, and took pictures.

This is a man-made watershed to help prevent flooding and erosion in the area, which felt very odd to be standing upon, so I had to wander down this land-dam, which stood many stories above the water below it.

Farmers were chopping down their crunchy corn crops for the year and finding fields where the corn still stood was getting rare.

One of my favorite aspects of this trail is the canopy of trees.  Of course, the trail landscape changes dramatically, but the canopy is easily the most charming.

Cows were all along the trail, some near, some far, all largely ignoring the bike traffic cruising along.

Farms and forests, sometimes together.

They call this a river in those parts.  I thought it was cute.

I'd choose the grass over the hay too, if I were a cow.

When I got back to Norwalk way ahead of schedule, I found Schwee relaxing in the shade on a bench in the park.  He'd ridden around town and accidentally dropped our water bottle and broke it, so there was no water for me when I arrived.  Imagine the horror if I'd gone all the way to Sparta and back!

It became clear that we were going to need a replacement bottle of water for the rest of the ride, likely for the remainder of the trip, so I announced I was going to walk through town to find a store.

Schwee said, "Why walk?  Ride your bike."  Oh yeah!  And so there would be no more walking for the remainder of the trip unless absolutely necessary.

I took a ride through town myself, was angry there were no stores open, and was intrigued by a Mexican restaurant.  I rode back to ask Schwee if he wanted to get a quick snack and drink before heading back to Wilton and was met with much resistance.  He didn't seem to want to go and we bickered, resulting in me storming off on my bike in a temper tantrum and him riding off to the washroom in the other direction.  I reached the bridge and dismounted the bike to wait for Schwee, to see if he'd actually join me when he emerged from the washroom, and then I spotted a muskrat in the river below, so I squatted down low to get a better view.  When he'd scurried out of sight, I stood up quickly and drove my head hard into the steel rail of the suspension bridge.  It was so incredibly painful and dizzying, I immediately had to close my eyes, and they filled and overflowed with tears as I held my head in my hands.  I kept checking my hands for blood, and when I found none, I kept pressure on the spot where I collided with the bridge, hoping to stave off the massive goose-egg I knew I'd be getting shortly.  My eyes were still watering when Schwee showed up, but I was so exasperated that I didn't tell him why I was holding my head and we rode off silently to the Mexican restaurant.

Los Tres Garcias was amazing and I quickly forgot that I almost beheaded myself just a few minutes before.

The fabulous woman who ran the restaurant brought us some authentic Mexican cuisine, ala Veracruz, Mexico, and we were in heaven.  Deep-friend, homemade tortilla chips, with spicy tomatillo dipping sauce, a refried bean dipping sauce, and a mild tomato dipping sauce were our appetizers.  We ate every last crumb of chips and went nuts for the tomatillo sauce.  When our meals arrived, it was even better.  I had chicken quesadillas and Schwee had a cheese quesadilla and a cheese tostada, and we both licked our plates clean.  That was some goooooooood food!

Newly full, having made our peace, and confessing my horrible head wound, we went back to the trail together and decided to call it a day and go back to camp, sticking together.  This was the best idea of all.

On the way to Norwalk, I'd noticed this strange mound of earth with large "stairs" and took this picture on the way back, hoping someone might explain why it was like that.  Apparently, it's the grazing cows that do that.

I arrived at the tunnel before Schwee and waited for him, taking this photo of my bike about to reenter the scary tunnel.

It was no easier the second time through, particularly because it was now later in the day and the sun was mostly below the trees, making the the tunnel even darker and the distant pinprick of light at the end even dimmer.  Schwee was yelling about vampires and CHUDs hiding in the darkness, which didn't help.  However, there were other people going the opposite direction and they had lights with them, so while they were ahead of us and we could see from their light, it was okay.  Next time I will have to bring a light with, because all that darkness is just too disquieting, not because I'm afraid of the dark (which I'm not), but because it's so disorienting to be walking (and steering a walked bike) in utter blackness with nothing to guide your way other than a pinprick of light at the end.

The end of the tunnel deserves some kind of awe-inspiring music, I swear!

We found the homemade billboards along the trail to be off-putting.  Really, these are bikers on a trail and they're not looking for ugly advertisements to block the view.  I certainly wasn't going to Pettera's, if just because of the obnoxious sign.

Toward the end of the ride, as we got back into Wilton, the sun was going down behind us and we enjoyed the views of the farms with long shadows and silhouettes.  Schwee got ahead of me as I stopped to take a ton of pictures and found himself stopping to enjoy the scenery.

I logged over 18 miles that day and Schwee did roughly 12 or 13.  Not too bad.

Back at the parking lot, we met this very friendly cat and we all hung out together for a while enjoying one another's company.  We named her Trail Kitty Schwee.  I kinda wanted to take her back to camp with us.  She'd have made a great camp pet.

What do two fun-loving, creative grown-ups do while camping on a cool autumn night?  Color!!!

I love bananas, so clearly I had to color this picture.

Schwee picked a colorful parrot, which he didn't finish because he was too busy eating cookies and drinking coffee.  No focus, I'm tellin' ya.

When our RV neighbors had left that morning, Schwee scavenged their leftover firewood, a complete bundle of wood with newspaper kindling, and that night he made for us a campfire, which was a first for me.  It was so cold that night, and the warmth of the fire kept us from freezing as well as provided mesmerizing entertainment.  I just stared at the fire for over an hour, enjoying the leaping flames and shooting sparks.  Campfires are awesome.

Schwee tending to his fire.

To me it was colder that night than the previous night, though the temp was the same, 40º.  We had two new RV neighbors, but they too kept to themselves, and the quiet and near freezing temperatures, combined with the exhaustion of not getting much sleep the night before, put me into a sleep so deep I didn't want to come out the next day.  And so we slept in again.  Quite late, in fact.

Our quiet neighbors from the night before were morning people.  Morning people who thought that because they were outdoors, they had to use their "outdoor voices" which amounted to shouting to each other, though they were only a few feet away.  When they finally left at 9, we stole a single hour of added slumber in the silence that a small town with a mill, truck traffic, and a warehouse of electrical equipment provide to their campers.  There was no rainfall that morning, or as Schwee insists, dripping dew off the trees, so the tent was quiet except for a few falling leaves that fell onto it from our protective canopy above.

With some breakfast in our bellies and new trail passes for Day 2, we hopped on the trail and headed toward Kendall and Elroy this time.

Schwee didn't plan to go beyond the tunnel because he was sore from the previous day of riding, so to have more together time, I stopped about every mile so he could catch up and rest a bit.  Here we stopped at one of the many bridges over the Kikapoo River, always looking for fish, turtles or other wildlife swimming in the water.

This was another spot where I waited for Schwee.  One of the old train whistle markers still stands with a plaque explaining that the markers alerted engineers to sound their horns because they were approaching a town or major intersection.  W is for Whooo-whoooo, not whistle.

I found this sunny bridge over a gravel driveway and decided to wait here for Schwee.  That's my bike resting as well.  When he arrived, we had a seat on the bridge and munched on some of the snacks we brought along, played acorn baseball briefly, and chatted with other passing bikers.

The tunnel was less than a mile from our snack spot and I didn't get too far ahead of him this time.  Tunnel #1 is in a dramatic canyon and the temperature drops about 10º as you approach it.  It was noticeably colder, seeming to be deeper underground, roughly the same length as the previous tunnel, but something about this one was less foreboding.

Our bikes clinging to one another for support at the entrance to the tunnel.

Schwee sang old crooner songs through the tunnel, which helped.  He also led the way, and having someone to follow made it much easier and less disorienting.  Also, there were others coming through the tunnel who had lights, and though they all commented on how brave we were to go through without the lights, we played up our toughness and swallowed how miserable we were in the dark.  Once out the other side, it was still somewhat dark because of the canyon walls and the canopy of trees, but we made it once again without a light.

The wooden frame archway in this picture has metal wires hanging from the top to alert the man (who worked the brakes) situated on top of the train that he needed to duck because they were approaching a tunnel.  Yikes.

From the tunnel it was all downhill riding, in opposition to the uphill riding on the approach, so while Schwee wasn't planning on joining me for the rest of the ride to Kendall, the thrill of the downhill coast was enticement enough.  Soon we found ourselves 3 miles away and approaching the depot in Kendall.  We were the Kendall Depot's only bike visitors at the moment and had the entire place to ourselves.

It's a beautiful building which houses a small concession and souvenir shop, as well as a bit of a depot museum.

The leaves were starting to turn already, no doubt the weird weather of spring and summer contributing to the early cold nights that snuck up on us making this possible.  Throughout the trip we'd run into Amish buggies on the roadway and right in Kendall there was one "parked" next to the trail.

After resting a little bit in Kendall and enjoying an icy cold 7-Up, I looked up to notice that the sky was changing.  Dark, ominous clouds warned of inclement weather.  Having been camping for two nights, we were without access to TV, internet or other methods of checking the weather, so the forecast I had when we departed on Sunday had obviously changed and the clear skies they predicted for us were rescinded without our knowledge.  What do you do?  It was 4pm in Kendall and we had a 9-mile ride back to our tent, 3 miles to the shelter of the tunnel, and a storm of unknown severity approaching, so we had a choice to make.  We chose to ride and not wait it out.

Roughly a mile into the trek back to Wilton, the rain started to fall.  It was cold rain, with big, huge drops.  I had to stop under some trees to pack my camera away into my backpack, and Schwee suggested we sit under the tree until the rain stopped.  I'm not really sure what possessed me, but I thought this was a bad idea and riding 2 miles to the tunnel in the rain would be a better option, thinking the rain might last all evening.  So I did.  I rode alone, as fast as I could, uphill, in the pouring rain, spraying mud everywhere, approaching the cold canyon of the tunnel.  As I arrived at the tunnel entrance, the rain stopped, but by then I was soaked through and through.

About 10 minutes after the sun came out, Schwee rolled up to the tunnel completely dry, giggling at the sight of me standing there, cold, miserable and soaked to the bone.  He made me leave the tunnel briefly to stand in the sun, where he rubbed me to create friction warmth.  It didn't help.  And we still had the tunnel to get through.  He announced defiantly that he was going to ride through, regardless of the rules and potential ramifications of getting caught, but it's even harder to negotiate the path on a bike than it is on foot, so he quickly abandoned that idea and we walked.  The rain had brought with it something else we didn't expect: fog.  The tunnel filled with fog, so instead of having a pinprick light at the end to guide us to our destination, there was a blurry, foggy pinprick light at the end, as well as a temperature so cold that I shivered multiple times in my wet clothes.  This whole tunnel experience was starting to wear me out.  With only about a quarter of the distance left to walk, Schwee said, "Just ride the rest of the way.  Let's get out of here!"  And so we did.  Freezing, soaked, rule-breaker that I am, I'm glad I rode through that damn tunnel.

Once we were out of the canyon, the challenge became finding sunlight.  Those beloved canopies were now irritations keeping the warm and precious sunlight from our cold, wet bodies.  Here we found a patch of sun and basked, lizard-style for a while.

Once in Wilton, we were too tired and cold for activity, and it was getting late.  I was starved and had a craving for salad and meat, and I didn't care where we had to go to get it.  Back to Sparta, we drove!  This time, after much debate, we dined at a local pizza place.  I won't name it because I'm not recommending it, although the owner bragged how good his pizza recipe was compared with how bad Chicago pizza was.  I looked at Schwee and rolled my eyes.  Let me tell you something about his pizza, people.  If there were three drops of sauce on the whole damn thing, I would be surprised.  Also, no spices.  No oregano.  Nothing.  Only when eating bad chain fast-food pizza have I been forced to pour on salt, pepper, Parmesan and red peppers just to wake my tongue up enough to cooperate and help the eating process.  If there had been mustard and ketchup available, I'd have put that on the pizza as well.  It was just so pathetically bland.  And the salad looked gorgeous with big, curly, leafy lettuces of different kinds, but the house Italian dressing... bland.  It had no flavor.  It was all oil.  In my entire life, I've never had to salt and pepper a salad, but I did that night.  And the owner, a friendly guy, stood over the tables and commented on everyone eating his food, telling people to eat more, quit being picky, etc.  I'm sure he thought it was endearing, but when the staff has more personality than the food, I am not a repeat customer.  And being from Chicago, you do not insult the food from Chicago, particularly the pizza, and expect me to have a warm and fuzzy reaction to you hovering over me, telling me to eat more of your antithesis of good food.

Anyway, you get the point.  We should've gone to Pizza Hut.  (And if you know me, you know that was a dire statement to make.)

Back at the campsite, Schwee started another campfire to warm our bones.  We snuggled on the bench as we watched the wood burn and I had the brilliant idea to go shower quickly so I could toast myself dry in front of the fire before we settled into bed for the night.  Oh, that was a good idea!  I was much toastier that night, and it was a particular treat because we had the entire campground to ourselves.

Sleep didn't come easily, despite the fact that we were alone.  A teenage couple came down around midnight and used one of the campsite's fire pits to have a bonfire and talk loudly into the wee hours as we tried to sleep.  Schwee didn't wake up to them, but I did and very nearly went out to tell them to shut up, but figured they were townies and tried to ignore them.  All night long the wind blew and leaves fell from the trees onto our tent, which was a nice, peaceful sound, but continually woke me up as I thought there were more people poking about our camp.  Next time we're pitching in a remote field in the middle of nowhere.

On Wednesday morning I woke up around 9 to the normal noise of traffic and people hustling and bustling about their lives in Wilton.  I noticed that the morning sun had not started lighting up the tent, and when I emerged from the tent, I saw a frightening sight.  Huge, gray, swirling storm clouds approaching.  I got dressed and began packing up the car right away.  This was to be our last night camping and taking down the tent in the rain seemed a poor way to end such a cool trip.  Schwee heard the ruckus and asked what was going on, so I informed him that we were about to be hit with another ugly storm.  This got him moving.  We got the tent dismantled and the car packed in record time, and only a few drops of rain fell on us during the process.  Once we were packed, the sky cleared and the storm passed.  Of course.  However, it was only in the 50s and we'd packed up most of the cooking gear, so we were forced to sit the pavilion and eat leftover pizza from the previous night, and anything else in the cooler we could access, like cheese and pickles.  Not surprisingly, adding our own cheese and pickles to the bland pizza made it better.

On the way home, we retraced the road version of the Sparta-to-Elroy trail route, visited the trailheads on either end and made a few stops as well.

Here is the Elroy Depot, which closed at 3 pm on a Wednesday afternoon, and we arrived just after 4, so we were unable to see what it had to offer.

Sparta's trailhead had a very interesting sculpture.

While in Sparta, we visited their library, which is gorgeous (fixtures, furniture and architecture are gorgeous but the collection is sparse), and the crossed the street to visit a very special museum.

The Deke Slayton Space and Bicycle Museum was housed on the second floor of the old Masonic Temple, upstairs from the Monroe County Museum.

Try though I might, I just could not make connection they tried to make that incorporated space exploration and bicycling.  Sure, the curator explained it's about "transportation", which, okay, yes, astronauts do use a vehicle to arrive at their spacey locales and they "transport", but from bikes to astronauts is quite a leap.  They tried very hard not to look so silly by having a few other transportation devices there, like old plane replicas and models and a hot air balloon, but so many means of transportation weren't even represented (like the most common one of all, cars), that I could not help but to make a little fun of it.  The "space" portion of the museum was Deke Slayton, hometown hero, and another man involved in the Space Program, whose name I forget.  It was not about "space".  It was not about space shuttles.  It was about Deke Slayton.  So, you have hundreds of bicycles spanning the ages, and a Deke Slayton memorial, really.  The whole Space and Bicycle Museum aspect was a gigantic leap for mankind.  Oh wait!  There it is!

Usually Schwee gets a joke in his head and he will run it into the ground.  And often, it's inappropriate for the setting.  And often, he talks about it a little too loudly.  But this time, his joke about Deke being trapped in the glass display was pretty funny and I didn't try to hush him up.  He repeatedly yelled, "DEKE!  They sealed you in a glass tomb!  How could they do that!?"  Or, "AH!  It's Deke!  He's dead!  They put his body on display!"  Because stuffing the spacesuit and laying it prone really made it look like a dead body in there, and that's just creepy.

The bikes on display were very cool!  I really enjoyed the looking at the progression of bike evolution.   

Here, I captured bikes and space in the same image.  That's all I got to say about that.

I felt a little bit proud seeing all the Schwinns and having a Schwinn myself.  Too bad they don't have the kind of brand name power they used to.

As if to cap it all off, an enormous painting graced the wall that depicted the lovely Elroy-Sparta Trail changes from railway to bike trail, and the timeless nature surrounding it.  Or, as I saw it, a gigantic deer watching a ghost train mowing down some bikers coming out of a tunnel.

Coming home from the Elroy-Sparta Trail, we stopped in a gas station where Schwee picked up a box of pastries for our picnic at Devil's Lake.  They were these heavy cinnamon-roll-type things with thick frosting, and on top it said 6 Persians, $2.00.  Cornball that I am, I said, "Ooh, look!  We are leaving Sparta and devouring Persians!  It's perfect!"  Sometimes the lame jokes come from my side of the car and not his.

Devil's Lake was beautiful, and we ate sandwiches and Persians at a picnic table on the shore while watching the amazing ospreys floating in the sky, then diving straight down to the water to catch a fish, and taking off to a tree to eat it.  What a show!  We took the long, scenic route home, avoiding the expressway, just like we did on the way up, and even though it added a lot to our travel time, it was time well spent rather than time stressed out.

Despite the bickering, the uncooperative weather, the violent bump on the head, the not-so-impressive pizza, and the sleepless nights, we had really nice daytime riding weather, gorgeous views, absolutely ridiculously friendly bikers sharing the trails with us, fabulous Mexican food (and a recipe for tomatillo sauce to try!), a clean bathroom and private shower rooms, ice cream in abundance, the Milky Way, campfires, coloring books, cows and horses for neighbors, an awesome air mattress, a campground mostly to ourselves, the Forevertron, the diving ospreys, well over 30 miles of trail under our belt, the experience of walking two tunnels four times total in the total darkness, numerous wildlife sightings, and three wonderful nights snuggled up under the stars together.  I may never stay in a hotel again, and I look very forward to the next bicycle trip.  And yes, there will be more bicycle trips.