Riding down to highway 16 was nice. I rode highway 53 to highway T,
then T east to 108 and 108 south to 16 at West Salem. T and 118 are
the kind of roads that western Wisconsin is famous for; rolling hills,
fairly steep in places, through farmland. They were the nicest roads I
rode on in Wisconsin. 16 started out good and then, like the roads in
Minnesota, suddenly lost its shoulder. On the shoulderless section a
fairly large truck (i.e. too large for both of us to fit in the lane)
came up behind me as a car approached from the other direction. I
though he was going to slow down, but he didn't and once again I had
to veer off the road onto sand and gravel at 15 mph. It was
exciting. I was glad that I have lots of experience riding two wheeled
vehicles in loose material since loaded bikes do not handle well under
those conditions. I didn't crash and I did manage to get back on the
road without stopping. I suspect that he had just been driving too
long since he didn't blow his horn or give any sign that he saw me. I
have to assume that if I had not been alert and watching my rear view
mirrors, he would have hit me. Note that I was wearing a bright orange
jersey and visibility was excellent. Highway 16 parallels I-90, but,
thanks to inconsistent shoulders, is not a good place to ride.
In Sparta I stopped at a Subway for lunch. Subways are a good place since you can get a sub, an drink with unlimited refills, and a bag of chips for three or four dollars. I often save the chips (I get pretzels if I can) for a snack. A clerk asked me if I was 'riding the trail' and we talked about the Sparta-Elroy Rail Trail. I hadn't planned to ride it and she advised me that the first tunnel was long and drippy so it was better to get on the trail at Norwalk, 15 miles down highway 71. I planned to ride down 71 towards Madison.
The hill on 71 before Norwalk was pretty impressive (the tunnel is 3/4 mile long) and so, after stopping to get a drink and eat my pretzels, I left 71 and joined the trail before the next hill. There were lots of bicycles in Norwalk and obviously the trail was a big deal. I figured that getting a few miles out of town would get me around the slower riders and I'd see what riding the trail was like.
The trail surface is crushed limestone, but pretty smooth and easy to ride on. Dust is a problem, and the surface is slower than pavement, but not bad. The grades are very gentle since it is an old train track, so I could cruise at 12 mph uphill and about 15 mph downhill. Not bad riding and quite a pleasant change from the highway. There are fairly frequent small towns along the trail which offer food and drink. Most of the riders on the trail seem to be families with kids. Sometime the kids have their own bikes, sometimes they are in trailers. Traffic on the trails was not a problem except occasionally near the towns.
About half a mile
after I joined the trail, it entered the first of the two remaining
tunnels. They are each 1/4 mile long, and totally unlit. You have to
walk your bike through using your headlight (in my case I used a mini
Mag Light) to see a small patch of floor (somewhat irregular crushed
limestone) in front of you. The tunnels are just big enough for a
train and have roughly finished walls and roof. You cannot see any
light from the ends of the tunnels for most of the walk, so the
experience is a bit eerie. Definitely not recommended if you are at
all claustrophobic, but rather fun if you aren't.
After I rode away from that tunnel, I met the first and only park ranger I saw on Wisconsin's Rail Trails. He was checking passes and I, pleading ignorance, had to pay him $3 for a days pass. He explained to me that the Rail Trails are completely supported by user fees and that the Sparta-Elroy trail was the oldest (30 years) Rail Trail in the country.
I stayed on that trail to its finish and then took the 400 Rail Trail on down to Reedsburg. I had covered 100 miles to that point, most of it on the Rail Trails and I realized that I wasn't going to make my arranged destination (another 40+ miles) without some help. Since my destination was the home of Kathy's (on the recumbent) family and they were expecting me for supper, I called to tell her father, Tom, that I had under estimated the distance and that I didn't think I could get there before dark. He offered to drive up and meet me part way and I accepted. No purist I.
I rode on south on highway 23 (the shoulder went away after Loganville!) and Tom met me and carried me and my bike 35 mile to their marvelous home near Black Earth. Much of that distance was on highway 14 which I had planned to ride. I was glad I wasn't riding that highway when we crossed a long bridge with no shoulder. That bridge would be very dangerous to cross with even light traffic. 110 miles.