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The Elroy-Sparta State Trail

This bike trail in central Wisconsin is  complete in itself but it also connects with three other trails, the LaCrosse River Trail, the 400 Trail and the Great River Trail. It stretches out for 101 miles. We didn’t get to ride all of it and concentrated on the Elroy Sparta State Trail and some of the LaCrosse River Trail. We got a good spot in the Village of Norwalk Park right off the trail.
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The highlight of this section of trail is the tunnels that remain with their large wooden doors to keep snow out of the tunnel. The first one we came upon on the way to Sparta was three quarters of a mile long and it was dark! You walk your bike through the tunnels and it’s a good thing…it is very dark and a spring in the rock above made for a constant cooling shower during the passage.

The “tunnel watchers” had a small hut outside the tunnel and they had to open and close the doors 50 times a day! Not sure why, if not snowing. There were also man-sized indentations carved into the sides where tunnel workers would sit and monitor the trains. Can you imagaine the soot?  From a coal fired engine? Ugh.

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When we entered I thought we could barely see the end of the tunnel but it turned out to be bikers walking toward us with their lights on. Once they passed, it was very dark again with no end in sight. Kind of creepy; just keep moving.

At the other end, the cool mist just pours out of the tunnel. Riding back, we could feel it cool off several hundred feet before we reached the tunnel. The gentleman on the left told us he comes to sit there all the time for the “natural air conditioning.” He lives right up the trail.
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Approaching the end…
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This is another highly recommended trail! The surface is hard packed dirt and gravel most of the way, and even with heavy rain in the area before and while we were there, the surface was good and very rideable. Is that a word?

We ate our lunch in Sparta which bills itself as America’s Bicycle Capital. Motorists were very deferential to bicyclists in crosswalks and everywhere. First time since Oregon that we’ve seen that.

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Along the trail…
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The next day it rained so we took a day off. Then we rode in the other direction toward Elroy. We wanted to eat at the Dorsett Valley School restaurant but they only served till 2:00 PM. After stopping in the town of Wilton and finding out how to get there, we literally sprinted the last three miles so we would make it in time. We did and were hungry by that time. We thought it was good but nothing special; we had the sandwich special of the day. And people raved about the pie on Yelp, so we both got a piece to go. Again, OK but not worth writing on your blog about. Oh wait…

The tunnels on this leg were much shorter, about 1700 feet. And no cooling effect from the overhead spring. You could see to the end of this one.
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In Wilton…

And Norwalk…
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A B&B in Norwalk
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Not to be outdone by Sparta, Norwalk proclaims itself the Black Squirrel Capital. We didn’t see a single one.

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Carmella liked Norwalk and got much exploring in. Astrid continues to be braver and Tikita just wants to eat grass.

From here we will have a night at the Elks Lodge in Iowa City, then another Elks in Council Bluffs. We signed up for the Pedaler’s Jamboree at the end of August. It is a 35 mile ride with lots of live music along the way. You ride from Mineola to Shenandoah, Iowa the first day with music along the way, then more on arrival. The next day we ride back to Mineola with more music. I hope they have food too!

 

 

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The Lake Wobegon Trail

From Ashby and The Central Lakes Trail, it was just a short hop to the city park in Melrose, Minnesota. This was a really nice spot right on the Sauk River and adjacent to the trail… we are getting spoiled!

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The kitties liked it here too. Astrid came out and got more used to being out on the string. She has resisted it forever and would just run in the bus and sulk when we leashed her up. But she was starting to go further afield and rules are rules. Somebody walking a dog made them stick close.
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The Lake Wobegon Trail stretches 46 miles from West Vales to St. Joseph, Minnesota. We try to go to the middle of the trail so we can cover both directions.

All the little communities, population about 600-1000 have a great big brick Catholic church, many with a large school and cemetery. The cemetery in Freeport probably had more people in it than live in the town. The martin house matches the church!
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And the cemetery was shady and peaceful. I like cemeteries and wandered around this one. When I saw the smaller section in back I first thought, “Oh that’s where the poor people are.” But it was the children’s section; compelling and sad.

Many of the children didn’t make it but some people lived to be almost 100! Germans are tough.

Between Albany and Sauk Centre, more churches.

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In Albany… And in Freeport there is a cafe where Garrison Keillor came to listen to the locals for material for Tales from Lake Wobegon. Someone in Melrose told me that he also had a restaurant in Avon but we didn’t check that out since it was off the trail.

Sauk Centre was the home of Sinclair Lewis who wrote Main Street about the main street in Sauk Centre. They are understandably proud.
IMG_1876mural-panoWe did stay over an extra day to eat at the highly recommended Mexican restaurant in Melrose, El Portal. It was well worth the extra stay. We got in about 80 miles on this trail; it is a real treasure in central Minnesota. The section between Freeport and Melrose had little encouraging signs like “Exercise can be fun” and Exercise prevents disease.” My favorite; a shout-out to Michelle Obama, “Let’s move!”
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And in just the few days we were here, the sumac really started to change colors.

Winter is coming…

The Central Lakes Trail

After we left Sandpipers North, we set out to Ashby, Minnesota where we could ride the Central Lakes Trail in both directions for a few days. Jim found a spot at the Ashby Resort right on the shore of Pelican Lake. We had to jockey around a little to be able to get a satellite signal for watching the Olympics but the third time was a charm and we settled in. And we were right across the street from the Central Lakes Trail which, along with the Lake Wobegon Trail stretches almost 200 miles across Minnesota.

We finally got situated beyond that tree so we could get the satellites. And the Olympics was worth Jim’s extra perseverance.
The kitties loved it here. Tikita actually went out on the dock!

And how is this possible? The trails just keep getting better! The first day we headed toward Fergus Falls by way of Dalton. Hey Randy! They named the Opera House after you. And the town! And the water in the city park was ice cold, perfect for wetting your head during a very hot ride.
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The ideal time to ride this trail would be a few weeks from now. The small sumac, the first thing to turn red in the fall, was starting to show color and the huge banks of it will be alight with color in a few weeks. The next time we come back here, it will be in mid-September when it should be spectacular. Some landscape architect did a great job with the plantings on this section of the trail. Sumac interspersed with birch will be a colorful delight of orange, yellow, red and everything in between.

The next day we went a little past Evansville, about 20 miles. A few miles out of town I said, “This is a good place to turn around.” When we pointed the bikes back toward the bus, the skies were ominous. We had a big thunderstorm the night before and it looked like we would get another one.

We beat it back to the bus and hadn’t been inside for five minutes when the sky opened up. It didn’t let up for over an hour so we were happy we turned around when we did.

Next we will move to the city park in Melrose to ride in both directions on the Lake Wobegon Trail. Kitties say they’re ready to roll.

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Corn, Cantaloupe and Compadres

We had scoped out the Lake Wobegon Trail and the Central Lakes Trail in Minnesota and planned to head there from South Dakota. We also wanted to go north of Minneapolis to visit some friends from our park in Texas where we spent the winter and planned to do that after riding as much as we could of the 200 miles of the trails.

Frankie and Dick and Cindy and Jim are camp hosts at Avatan but when we heard that Randy and Sue and Gary and Carolyn were there too, along with Debbie and Jack and Judy and Frank, it was a no-brainer.

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From the bus: a field of sunflowers on the way to Avatan.

Naturally, we decided to head up there for a mini-reunion before hitting the bike trails. The timing worked out great! We got to spend a few days with our friends, catching up at Happy Hour, swimming laps, practicing yoga and playing water volleyball and relaxing at this beautiful spot in the Minnesota woods.
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These hibiscus blooms were as big as my head! Gorgeous!

We have been eating cantaloupe and corn non-stop this summer. Grapefruit are my go-to food for breakfast in Texas but the store-bought kind on the road are not nearly as good. We have been experiencing the best, juiciest, sweetest cantaloupe for weeks now.

And the corn! We were in time for Avatan’s corn extravaganza, which was a giant potluck dinner with corn as the star attraction. They even sold dozens of ears super cheap at the dinner and we are seriously stocked up. Add in a ripe tomato, as Sue pointed out, and we are in summer heaven food-wise.

We were so glad we could easily change our plans and meet up with everybody. There is something to be said for being flexible.

Now… Off to the Central Lakes Trail!

 

 

 

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The Cowboy Trail For The Win

Since we were pointed east we planned a side trip to see our friend Win in Valentine, Nebraska. We had wanted to see her and couldn’t get this close and not stop by to give her some hugs, love and support. Once we got settled she came over to the bus. What a great reunion! I think she was actually happy to see us – ha!

We went on a drive around the Sand Hills area of Nebraska. Valentine is about nine miles from South Dakota. It is rugged and beautiful here and they get some extreme high plains weather too, as we found out the first night.

Win is an encyclopedia of knowledge about the area, its flora and fauna and we went through the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge where we saw buffalo and elk in the rolling terrain that changed from prairie grassland to river valleys and high overlooks.

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Part of what we love about traveling in the bus is that people are always willing and eager to show us their corner of the world. The benefits of this are huge; we get an up-close and personal tour and explanation of the very best things to see and do. Win knew all about the edible plants, the wildlife, the surrounding area and the terrain. It also turns out she is something of a storm chaser too. She said they can often see lightening from Pierre, South Dakota, 60 miles away. The plains go on for miles. She showed us a picture on her phone of a tornado forming. Yikes!

After our tour, we had an early dinner with Win and retired for the evening

Once we got back to the bus we got a text from Win warning us of 60 MPH winds and three inch hail. We had seen the weather and taken down all the awnings and closed the inside shades. There’s not a whole lot you can do except keep your face away from the glass. That was hard to do because outside it was ominous and beautiful. Since I am terrible about seeing/answering texts, Win actually drove back over to see if we wanted to shelter in her basement. We decided to stay with the bus. It looked like this when she left.
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We did get a good downpour and hailstorm but it was more like quarter size, not three inch. No damage. Whew.

We spent a couple nights right next to The Cowboy Trail, a 263 mile rail trail from Valentine to Norfolk. We decided to ride from Valentine the first day, then move to ride another section. When we turned around back to Valentine after about 15 miles, the sky started changing. We made it back to the bus, got the bikes put away and it started pouring. Good timing! No hail this time.

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Panorama of the Cowboy Trail

The next day we said our goodbyes to Win after getting much needed haircuts at the salon downstairs in her building. Valentine’s main street is well populated, unlike many small towns we go through. Probably because the nearest Walmart is two and a half hours away. It was hard to leave.

We went down the road to Ainsworth where we had the city park to ourselves. The kitties liked that. It is also right on the Cowboy Trail and we got in more miles riding to Long Pine.

True to the Sand Hills, the trail surface was a little like riding in wet sand. We had more rain and that contributed too. With the headwind and the sand, we were glad to be back after about 26 miles.

Next we are off to South Dakota where we will wrap up some legal stuff since we are “residents” there. Get our will revised and signed…stuff like that.

And the will? No, you’re not in it. We plan on spending it all anyway.

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Little Bighorn Battlefield, Devil’s Tower and The Badlands

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After we left Greg and Debbie’s place, we headed for the Little Bighorn Battlefield. We had visited this during the Oldsmobile Tour but Jim had never been there. When I was there in June of 2011, it was cold and snowing. This year it was very hot, 100 degrees, a good example of the harsh weather extremes on the high plains.

The first time I basically considered it a photo opportunity and endurance test due to the weather. I used my Nikon for one exposure HDR and played with my new iPhone 6S+.

My main emotions were shame, disgust and guilt for what we put the Native American populations through. Quotes from Sitting Bull and the Lakota Sioux simply said, “We just want to be left alone. We don’t want your civilization.” Yet we fought them, stole their homeland, relocated them, forced our way of life on them and wondered why they could not adapt. We are all still dealing with the consequences since the reservations are beset with problems like alcoholism, drug use and inertia. We brought a proud and honorable people to their knees in exploitation of our lifestyle. And it isn’t necessarily the greatest lifestyle either.

The Indians won this battle resoundingly but they lost the war.
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After a sobering look, we landed in Lame Deer at a small out-of-the-way RV park and cranked up the AC.
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We rarely use the air conditioning in the bus, but this summer it has been essential.
We have the Driver’s AC for while we go down the road and the rest of the bus gets pretty hot as you can see. We also watched the Republican Convention but I got tired of the shouting, vitriolic furor and fear mongering so I went outside and watched this instead.
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After a short drive to Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, we got a campsite with a view of the Tower, which was the first National Monument. The morning we left we hiked around the base and saw deer, chipmunks and climbers on the face of the tower.

Off to the Badlands. This National Monument is a drive-through and it was fun to do. The ideal time to visit would be sunrise or sunset but pretty during the day too.
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More photos here. And here.

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Montana Bound

It was getting really hot in Cheyenne so we decided to go north. I knew that our friends Greg and Debbie had a good bus parking spot at their ranch so we took a couple of days to get to Laurel, Montana. Greg had assured us that the weather would be a respite from Cheyenne and for a couple of days it was. Then the heat started creeping in. Exactly how far north would we have to go to beat the heat? Alaska?

I met Greg and Debbie in June of 2011 when he organized an all-Oldsmobile tour over the Beartooth Pass in Montana. He offered to put me up in a hotel if I could get myself out there and do an article in the national magazine about the tour.  I immediately said “Yes Sir!” There were about a dozen Oldsmobiles from all over the country and we had several great days touring in the area, enjoying Happy Hours and dinners together. We tried the pass twice. The first day, it was snowing and the pass was still closed. The next day was the official opening and they had the snow and ice cleared. There were 12 foot walls of snow on the sides of the road. More pics here. I made several very good friends from that week-long trip. I love Montana and look for any chance to go back. Here is the issue of the magazine highlighting the tour. OCT-2011-RTR

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Joyce and Ed let me tag along in their ’58


I called Greg when we got close and he was not home but said Debbie was. When we arrived, she didn’t even realize he wasn’t there. There are several outbuildings on the ranch and she said she doesn’t know where he is even if he’s home. She said, “He’s like a two-year-old! I never know where he is!”

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Greg has other cars besides the 1950 Olds he drove on the tour. As it happened, the next day there was a big all original car show in Billings. He went in early in his 1969 Jaguar XKE to help with the show and we ended up there later in the afternoon. It was a really nice show with all different types of cars; all original.

We settled in for a few days, visiting the horses, Roundup the dog, who I met during the tour, two kitties; one with three legs and six horses. We had cocktails in the evenings and Debbie made some delicious dinners and snacks. Jim and I went for a ride with Greg in his 1951 Mercury and saw a lot of the surrounding countryside. There’s a good reason they call it Big Sky Country.

Charlie is Greg’s roping horse. He wins two heeler competitions often and brags that he is the oldest roper there. He ropes the calf from his horse, in just the correct manner, and his younger partner ties the two back heels together. Debbie trail rides with a group often. Greg contributes to the Oldsmobile magazine I put together. They were planning a two week trip in their 1959 Ford Fairlane. They have a lot going on but they are easy to talk and laugh with, generous with their time and company (and car). We enjoyed our time together and will definitely make it back there another time. Again, we are humbled and thankful for such generous and caring friends.

There is a lot to tend to around the ranch. Jim helped Greg with a couple of projects in the garage. We walked our kitties, went to the car show, talked to the horses, got some work done and met up in the evenings. At least driveway guests aren’t in your house all the time. Debbie paid us the ultimate compliment when she said we could stay as long as we wanted and that we were pretty easy to have around. Ha! Fooled them!

More pictures here.

 

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Cheyenne is For Shopping!

I hate shopping. I am not the type to browse and check different stores for a better price. My method is blitzkreig-style; in and out as fast as possible. Get what is on the list and get outta there. This applies to grocery shopping as well as every other type. Thank the Lord for online shopping.

Having said that, Cheyenne was a different story. We holed up in the Greenway Trailer Park and Campground to wait for the solenoid that Jim ordered for the generator. Once he installs it, we are in for a couple of days of urban boondocking on the way to Billings and we will need the generator. Staying put for a few days made sense so we broke out the bikes and planned to explore Cheyenne.

But first, the trailer park. It was one of what we call “long term” parks where most of the trailers haven’t gone anywhere for a long time. Some are never going anywhere again. These parks are real eye-openers. If you want to get a good real-life picture of the working poor, this is the place to come. It is quiet because everybody works, but they are never going to get ahead. Many have lots of “good stuff” surrounding their trailer, from kid toys to motorcycle engines and old cars.

A few people have children and they pack the whole family into an old and often rundown unit. While taking Carmella out for a walk, I got to know the kids next door who were visiting their divorced father for a while. It looked like Dad’s main priority was beer drinking but the kids were cute and smart and personable. They have a big friendly kitty named Sebastian and Jordan posed for me with him. He was much friendlier than our neurotic cats.

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Jordan and Sebastian

One morning I thought somebody was knocking on the bus door but it was Dad Next Door under his trailer banging away on his plumbing. Sure enough, his black tank valve was open – WRONG! He beat on it for a while, becoming obviously frustrated and then they left for a few days, probably to a motel. Maybe he hadn’t lived in a trailer very long but everybody knows that you only open the black tank valve when you are ready to dump or the liquid will run out creating a mountain of poop in your tank. I have heard it is not fun to clean out. Our neighbor across the way. He was friendly but obviously stuck in a bygone era.
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Cheyenne is another town that is really easy to get around by bike. There are some dedicated bike lanes on the streets but you can always find a back route through neighborhoods to get where you’re going.

Downtown is unlike a lot of other towns we have passed through. The main street is bustling and shops are open and plentiful. Some of the sidestreets storefronts are empty but not like some places. We scoped out the Wyoming Rib and Chophouse and made a reservation for dinner. They rate highly on Yelp. We found a jewelry store that does repairs so Jim could get his fancy New Mexico pawnshop bolo restrung. We had lunch at El Charitto Mexican restaurant, and like all of our Mexican lunches, it was dinner too.

It is about 10 days until Frontier Days, the big annual rodeo, and we want to make sure we are out of town by the time that happens. I want to do that but not this year.

Around Cheyenne.

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Cattleman’s Row

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In the front yard

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These were all over town. Like the KC Cows a few years back and the donkeys in Philly now

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The railroad depot, trains still going through

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Train yard selfie

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The Wrangler

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The Wrangler

The Wrangler, right on the main street. Many thousands of years ago, when my family went on our working ranch vacations in Montana, we always stopped here for cowboy boots, hats and jeans. The Western Ranchman Outfitter, which was katty-korner to it, is no longer there.

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Western Art Show

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Western Art Show

We stopped in to the Cheyenne Artist Guild’s Western Art Show. These remind me of my talented friend, Catherine Hall.

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Railroad station

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Tagged!

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Alley mural downtown

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Mural detail

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Cheyenne Bench on the bike trail

Back to the shopping. You can see it is not a high priority. While we were walking around downtown, we passed a Consignment Shop. Jim said, “This looks like an interesting shop.” I thought WHAT? But he had bounded into the store and the next thing I knew I had bought two very cool western style jackets. I had the one picked out as soon as I saw it but the other one had So. Much. Fringe. I couldn’t resist. I also bought a blouse. I haven’t bought clothes in ages so making up for lost time. I wore the fringiest one to dinner at the Chop House.

The next day we were on the bike trail and passed a bike shop in an out of the way spot. I discovered in Denver that my bike shorts were a little threadbare. I don’t know why, I’ve only had them for around thirty five years. We went in and found a two for one sale. And the best thing? They weren’t all black! So I should be good for the next 35 years.

We stopped at the Lincolnway Super Pawn thinking they might have some Indian jewelry. When we went through the Southwest in Jim’s Falcon in 2000, we discovered the pawn shops were full of the good old heavy turquoise and silver jewelry. That’s where his bolo came from. We were in shopping mode so I thought what the heck?

Unfortunately Fortunately they only had one silver/turquoise watchband sans watch. We passed.

The generator part came and Jim installed it and working fine.

Time to hit the road.