Monday, October 19, 2009

Biking in Vikingland 7: On to Milwaukee

We've now made it to Milwaukee. After the 80 miles of the Elroy-Sparta Trail and its extensions, described in the last blog, we covered another 200 miles to the town beer made famous, 2/3 of those miles on trails.

The first miles, however, were on the road, and friends Don and Erica captured this action shot of us in traffic. It may be hard for you to imagine if you yourself don't do this sort of biking, but we hardly notice trucks like this when we're on roads with adequate shoulders, at least once we see in our rear-view mirrors that the truck is giving us a little room. And most trucks actually give us quite a bit more room when there's no traffic coming the other way.

Our destination was Spring Green Wisconsin, and what a charming little town it is. Then again, we tend to be partial to towns with great B&Bs, and the Hill Street B&B is certainly one of them. We stayed here 7 years ago and were astonished when the owners lent us their car for the day to hit some sightseeing spots that were a bit beyond a day's round-trip biking range. We got around this time on foot on our rest day, when we weren't lounging on the porch reading our novels, but did get first-class breakfasts once again. Do stop in and stay with them if you're in the vicinity.

We spent two nights here in order to canoe the Wisconsin River on that "rest day." It was a mile and a half walk to the canoe rental place on the river. Plunk down your money and they carry you by truck 13 miles upriver with a boat, paddles and life jackets, and ask that you be back before dark. Not a problem, as the river current added 1-2 knots to our paddling speed.
This is a large river, but at this time of year not overly deep, with plenty of sand bars to choose from for our lunch stop. Because it is untamed by dams, few buildings line its banks and we felt wonderfully transported to a world of nature.

From Spring Green we rode south, climbing out of the valley of the Wisconsin River and up to what was called Military Ridge after the army built a road along it in the 1855 to reach the lead mining region of Mineral Point. Curious fact -- holes dug by the lead miners looked like badger holes, and "Badgers" became the nickname for folks from Wisconsin. Later the railroad used the ridge, and after abandonment the state turned the rail line into yet another beautiful rail trail, the Military Ridge Trail. It took us past vistas of rolling farms, for we are still in the "driftless area" that the glaciers missed, and through small towns such as Blue Mounds where we were entertained by the high school marching band on maneuvers,

and little Norwegian Mount Horeb, where trolls large and small decorated many front lawns.

Not far beyond and we were in Madison, that quirky mix of student life and Wisconsin politics. The city is wedged between two lakes,
and we were able to ride to within a few blocks of the capitol building all on bike trails. We found a B&B at reasonable rates right downtown, and spent two nights so we could explore the "UW" campus, a short walk down pedestrian mall State Street from the imposing Capitol Building.
It was odd seeing "UW" in Wisconsin red instead of the University of Washington Purple and Gold, and odder still seeing such a hodgepodge of architectural styles on campus, few of them attractive other than a handfull of early buildings. But a major campus it was, complete with emblems of fall such as trees starting to turn color, kids tossing footballs, and the marching band getting ready for the Big Game.
Elsewhere on campus we found students enjoying the lakeside trail and a class of kayakers practicing eskimo rolls. Boy, don't you miss college?

From Madison to Milwaukee is about 90 miles, but only a dozen of those miles were on roads. Madison's well-used trails got us part-way out of town, after which we picked up the 52-mile-long Glacial Drumlin Trail.

Highlights there were a picnic lunch overlooking Rock Lake, and several small towns where we admired trees trying to celebrate Fall. It was right about the equinox,
but foliage season was not really cranked up just yet. A short ride off the trail took us to Aztalan State Park, the most significant archaeological site in Wisconsin. You can click on the photo to enlarge it and read more about it. One of the mounds and a reconstruction of the original palisade around the site are visible in the background.

After a short break to let a heron share the trail, Glacial Drumlin Trail brought us to the edge of Milwaukee. A series of trails then got us all the way to downtown courtesy of the Milwuakee Bike Map that we had printed off the web, but it was like a geocaching adventure or a hike to earn a boy scout mapreading merit badge. We made it with no serious wrong turns, although we did stop a lot and scratched our heads a few times as we navigated the twisty course. Our reward was this shot taken where we first touched Lake Michigan. We think of it as "tandemonium," for there are tandem lighthouses, kayaks and sailboats, as well as tandem bikes in the scene.

We spent an extra day in Milwaukee to see it on foot. We started with a walking tour of downtown architecture offered by the local historical society, with Milwaukee's over-the-top city hall, the river walk, and some 19th century atria as highlights.
We followed up with a boat ride down the river and out into Lake Michigan, and came away with new respect for this old city. It's doing a good job of rediscovering its waterfront, both on the rivers and Lake Michigan.
A nice final touch were the college crews skimming by as we had supper in a riverside cafe.

Well, all that remains is the train ride home. We'll describe that in one last blog entry, next time.