Friday, August 22, 2008

Stopping to Smell Flowers, Eat Berries, and Watch Dinosaur Birds, by D. Furbish

The first week of August, I had the opportunity of cycling over 300 miles of rails-to-trails in Wisconsin. Wisconsin has an extensive rails-to-trails system with several trails near Madison, alone. My brother and I chose to ride two trails we had not yet ridden: Badger State Trail and Glacial Drumlin State Trail.

While portions of the trails are sometimes paved, most miles consist of firmly packed crushed limestone wide enough for four-wheel patrol vehicles. The surfaces were suitable not only for my 700 x 32 tires but for the even skinnier tires of two tri-athletes who passed us one day headed in the opposite direction.

Trail passes are required in Wisconsin and can be purchased at trail heads and at businesses in the towns along the route. I purchased a $20 annual pass, in part, a donation to a worthy cause. (Daily passes are $4.) Park rangers stopped me on two separate occasions to check my pass. The trails are well utilized by cyclists, walkers, and joggers, but definitely not crowded. There were cyclists on the trails even on week days.

We couldn't have asked for better weather. The sunny days were cool with lows in the mid-50s and highs in the low to mid-80s. Did I mention low humidity? Although it never rained, the usual threat of afternoon showers provided protection against the sun. Below are wildflowers in the foreground and one of many glacial drumlins of southern Wisconsin in the distance.

The Badger State Trail begins at the outskirts of Madison and extends south to the Wisconsin border where it joins the Jane Addams trail. The latter is part of the 500-mile Grand Illinois Trail. Bill and I rode a 90-mile out-and-back chunk that started just south of Madison extending into Illinois. We passed through several scenic towns: Belleville, Monroe, Orangeville. Along the way, we compiled a mental list of eateries that might provide a suitable lunch stop on the return leg.

I switched on my helmet light when we came to an old railroad tunnel that required lighting. The temperature inside the tunnel was easily ten degrees cooler than outside. There was a misty shroud inside the tunnel adding to the make-believe eeriness. A real troll pretending to be a "cyclist" guards the entrance.

The railroad bed cuts through limestone embankments, crosses numerous creeks, and is generally sheltered by a cool, green canopy of poplars, maples, oaks, ashes. The trail was festooned with wildflowers: pink and yellow coneflowers, pink bee balm, milkweed, and Queen Anne's Lace. Now we were riding through a wooded valley alongside a stream, now we were riding a ridgeline with a panoramic view of checkerboard fields of dairy farms below.

Bill spotted a mulberry tree whose limbs full of ripe berries extended to the trail's edge. It was time to stop. We helped ourselves to the sweet treats. Fortified with antioxidants, we continued our quest. I'd learned long ago that when I saw acorns on the ground, I expected to see an oak tree above. Similarly, little dark spots on the trail meant mulberries hanging overhead!

Chipmunks (ground squirrels) were out in force. We saw hundreds of these storybook creatures on and alongside the trails, engaging us in a game of cat-and-mouse, scurrying away at the very last second.

Our second long ride of the week was another out-and-back, this time on the Glacial Drumlin State Trail, which extends eastward from Cottage Grove (near Madison) to Waukesha (near Milwaukee). We included a brief side excursion to Aztalan State Park, an important archeological site inhabited 700-1000 years ago.

My brother is a true randonneur: he looks upon the opportunity of riding as one and the same as an opportunity for eating. We had made good time. So we were justified in our relaxed, late-afternoon lunch in Sullivan, WI, at Jamie's where we'd been told was the best best food in town and the Milwaukee Brewers were on TV.

The glacial drumlin trail is relatively flat. It is protected for the most part by a canopy of trees. There are exposed portions through marshlands that serve as bird sanctuaries. I saw ducks, geese, herons, and Sandhill cranes. The latter are interesting birds. The first time I saw one of these magnificent birds, I had no idea what it was. It looked like a brown ostrich or a mythical giant, long-legged kiwi. The Sandhill crane is unique. In fact, according to experts, it is the oldest known bird species still living! A dinosaur bird? Not quite. But this is as close as it comes. Time once again to stop and look.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Deano -- Good Stuff!