Friday, July 23, 2010

Light at the end of the tunnel

Day 30. LaCrosse to Wisconsin Dells Wisconsin. Another long ride today. Today's ride puts our 4 day total at over 380 miles. We have another 80+ miles tomorrow. At least the weather today co-operated. It only drizzled a tiny bit and though it was really sticky and humid, it could have been much much worse. The moisture in the air really affected the quality of the video/pictures that I took with my iPhone, but it'll have to do. By the way, check out the photo of the ABB truck that was parked at our motel this morning. It has nothing to do with the ABB tour company (Dave said it is a huge Swiss robotics company). I just thought it was cool coincidence.

Before I get to today's ride, I need to make a comment about where we ate dinner last night. I want you to take specific notice of what I just said –"where we ate dinner last night". I'm not talking about what we ate last night, but where we ate it. On the whole, the food on the trip is OK. We are in a lot of out-of-the-way places and I really didn't expect much. So I haven't really been that disappointed (low expectations = little disappointment). A few of the meals have been lousy, a few have been great, and most of the rest are fine. Either way, it's no big deal. We eat at a lot of buffets which have enough choices that we aren't starving. We supplement our meals with great SAG stuff (cookies, PB&J, fruit, etc.) and make enough stops for Snickers, milk shakes, and Blizzards that I think we'll avoid starvation.

No, what's funny about last night's dinner was the directions that were given to us so we could find the restaurant (I think it was called the North Country Steak Buffet). The buffet was fine – salad bar, steak, baked potato, other stuff, desserts. However, you will probably have a good laugh when you hear the directions on how we got there (remember, pretty much every restaurant is within a 10 minute walk of our hotel). Imagine the fine ambience of an eatery located at the end of these directions:

"Take a left when you leave the motel. Walk along the divided highway. Cut behind the Citgo gas station and make sure you keep the Bowling Alley on your right. You are going to pass a garbage disposal area. After that you'll go by the Paycheck Cash retailer and the local Pawn Shop. When you see the Burger King, go left again and you'll find the restaurant just past the Goodwill center".

Mmmm, mmmm, good!

We laughed out loud when we heard that last night.

Anyway, on to today's ride. The highlight of the ride was that we rode the Elroy-Sparta bike trail today. We rode 35 miles of a 110 mile long bike path that is the oldest "Rails to Trails" path in the US. The "Rails to Trails" program takes funding and converts defunct railroad lines into bike paths. It is a cross-country initiative and many of the riders on this tour have ridden other parts of it all over the US. I guess the closest thing I've seen to it in Canada is the trail in Collingwood Ontario that uses the old rail line from Collingwood to Meaford. Before we got to the start of the trail in Sparta though, we did cross yet another milestone on the trip.

Today we crossed the 2/3rds mark! Over 2,400 miles down and around 1,200 miles to go. Amazing! I had a pounding headache all morning. I took a couple of Tylenol but it wouldn't go away. After about 3 hours of this I actually started to worry if I'd be able to finish today's ride – that's how bad it hurt. Then I checked my helmet fit and realized it was too tight. Seems I didn't re-size it (bike helmets have adjustable fittings) properly after yesterday's ride in the rain because I had made it larger to accommodate a riding cap underneath, and when I made it smaller this morning, I made it too small. Sometimes I am so stupid I shock myself.

So the first 25 miles of the ride until the trail was beautiful hilly Wisconsin dairy farms. Everything is so green because of all the rain they've had. The hills were actually ringing with the sounds of the dairy cows (and their cowbells on their necks) grazing in the pasture. It almost felt a little like Switzerland (without the mountains). So we got to the trailhead in Sparta and had a SAG stop. Here's video of everyone at the first SAG today:

Then we hit the trail. It was a dirt and limestone hard packed trail and it went on forever. We only rode about a third of it and the part we rode went essentially from our house in Toronto to Oakville. It was endless. But the coolest part (literally and figuratively) was going through the old train tunnels that run through the trail system. They are really long (one was almost 1 mile long) and are unlit. You can't even see the end of the tunnel when you enter them. The ABB tour people insist that everybody has a flashlight when you enter the tunnel. There is no way you could see your hand in front of your face without a flashlight. You have to walk your bike through each of 3 tunnels. You knew you were about to enter the tunnel about a quarter of a mile before you got there because the ambient temperature dropped significantly due to the wind tunnel effect of air blowing through a long tunnel and that air being quite cold.

Here we are entering the first tunnel on the trail (by the way, isn't the picture of Alex above great – what an adorable kid/girl/woman – I don't even know what to call a 22 year old any more, that's how long I've been away).


Here we are exiting the last tunnel on the trail. Just as spooky...

On the ride today Dave asked me if I knew anything about the way engineers designed and built railroads back in the day. He mentioned that the optimal grade uphill for building and operating a railroad was either a 1 or 2% grade and sure enough, my Garmin confirmed those grades almost to a T as we rode the trail today.

After the second tunnel we went through the town of Wilton that was famous for it's pies. After asking a young Amish man for directions we made our way to "Pies Are Squared" (seriously – how good a pun is that?). The former owner used to make square rather than round pies. OK, I don't know about square or round pies, but the strawberry rhubarb pie I had today (avec whipped cream) was mind-bending. Complemented by a cold chocolate milk, it was the perfect snack/lunch (see the picture of the cafe and pie – pie picture courtesy of Joe Schroeder, all rights reserved). The rest of the trail seemed endless. After about 25 miles, everybody was thinking the same thing. Enough with the cute dirt trail, get me back on some good old American asphalt so I can make time the rest of the way. Most (but not all) of the riders are really feeling the miles today. I dragged my sorry ass (and was dragged by Joe and Jeff) the last 25 miles and was extremely happy to see the Best Western sign. Dinner at Perkins was relatively easy to find tonight. We didn't pass any Citgo station, Goodwill center, or anything (OK, we did pass a Burger King and a Sunoco station). Topped by a large Frosty Shake at Wendy's, and I'm ready for bed.

It only occurred to me later today that the metaphor for today's ride presented itself so obviously around 10AM. As I exited the first tunnel, I realized that we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel for this ride. I've said it before, and it bears repeating here. I've never experienced anything where time moved so fast and so slow simultaneously. It's like we are subjects in one of Einstein's relativity experiments (without the goofy hair). We are way closer to the end than we are to the beginning and let's just hope we all make it safely to the Atlantic.

FYI – the DQ Blizzard and Snickers count is static today but the milk shake count is up one:

8 Snickers
14 Blizzards
6 milk shakes

Now on to today's mail:

Irwin from Toronto writes: "Remember what I wrote when you started back in Oregon about the drudgery of crossing the flat lands of the midwest. So, suck it up and let the rain wash away any disappointments. We are the ones who should sing Old Man River." We're getting plenty of rain to wash away everything, including my dry socks!

Here are my Garmin stats for the day:

This is Joe's blog:

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