We’ve done a lot of cycling around Milwaukee and a few rides in other parts of Wisconsin, as well as several long rides elsewhere in the US. But I couldn’t help but drool while poring over the Bike Fed maps of the state and seeing all those great looking rail trails that are so abundant in our state. I’ve ridden on the Glacial Drumlin several times, the Ozaukee Interurban many times, and of course almost every mile of the Oak Leaf. But it was the trails that are just too far from home to cycle to in one day that kept catching my eye.
So on a recent weekend my husband Dave and I set aside three days to explore some new trails; it worked out that three of them could easily be ridden by doing a loop of about 180 miles. I suppose we could have loaded the bikes on the car and ridden each one separately; but we like to tour and have all the gear. So with a little planning and maps in hand, we rolled out of our backyard on our touring bikes, lightly loaded with camping gear, a change of clothes, necessary tools and toiletries. Friday morning the northerly winds were already strong, and would end up making our first day one of the toughest 60 mile days we have ever ridden.
We headed northwest from Milwaukee on familiar trails and roads until we reached the little town of Jackson; the rest of the day as we headed north we faced the 25 mph winds that often gusted to well over 30 mph. North of Jackson and just south of West Bend, we picked up our first trail, the Eisenbahn, which took us right through West Bend at lunch time. Those first few miles were paved, making for easy riding. Only a few times after lunch did we find the trail was sheltered enough to protect us from those strong winds, but at least it was flat. The crushed limestone surface was in excellent shape, and we saw almost no other trail users, especially after leaving West Bend. This rail trail passes through Kewaskum and Campbellsport, and has several benches along the way where one can take a break.
For several miles the trail is elevated and lined with steep sides, and it’s marked with signs to warn cyclists. A couple of times we crossed the Milwaukee River on smooth wooden bridges. As would be the case with the next day’s trail, the scenery is primarily farmland once leaving West Bend, which means it’s pretty quiet, which is one of the main benefits of trail riding. The Eisenbahn ended 25 miles later in the small town of Eden, just a few miles southeast of Fond du Lac. After 62 miles of headwinds we were exhausted, and happy to pull into the driveway of our Warmshowers host for the night.
Saturday morning the winds had died down some, though thankfully not shifted direction too much, so we were blessed with a tail wind once we reached the Wild Goose State trail. Plus the weekend was very pleasant with temperatures in the 70s, not the mid 90s that we had been experiencing quite a bit this summer. Leaving Eden that morning we had only to ride about 14 miles west to pick up the Wild Goose State trail near Oakfield. It also has been well maintained and is almost totally covered with a canopy of trees.
This 33 mile trail runs from Fond du Lac to Clyman Junction and goes through farmland that borders the western edge of the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge. Typically there would have been many birds, but I believe the drought has kept the numbers down. Locals told us the water level of the Marsh is extremely low, and that many fish have died. Plus the trail is a bit too far west to actually see the Marsh, but we did spot some herons and small songbirds, and just enjoyed the serenity of the almost empty trail. I thought we might see more people out since it was a beautiful Saturday, but we saw very few cyclists and joggers. We hit Juneau about lunchtime and were fortunate that the local American Legion post was having a fundraiser; we contributed by eating our fair share of their grilled brats and burgers!
The southern trailhead of the Wild Goose is only a parking lot, but beautiful, lightly-travelled rural roads through rolling hills led us into Watertown, ending another 60 mile day. At least this one didn’t leave us exhausted, and entering town we happened upon Mullen’s Dairy Bar, where we saw several cyclists gathered. It seems we hit the jackpot; the ice cream was really good, and somehow it always taste better after a long ride! Unknowingly we were visiting Watertown during its annual Riverfest, so the town was abuzz with activity. After a stop at the police department in search for a place to camp, we learned that tents aren’t allowed in the city parks. (Often on our long tours, small town police or fire departments would allow us to pitch a tent in their yard, or direct us to a spot where we could.) After a couple of phone calls we found the motels were all booked, so we resorted to another stratagem that we learned on past tours- we rode around a residential area until we saw someone in their yard who looked approachable, told him of our predicament, and were soon setting up our tent in his backyard and having a friendly conversation. We walked into town for dinner, and later, once the fireworks were over, we slept soundly.
On Sunday morning we awoke to overcast skies, which we were thankful to have the rest of the day. Dave and I packed up our tent, said goodbye to our new friends, and after a quick breakfast we headed east on wonderfully quiet roads through rolling farmland. Wisconsin has such incredible rural roads made perfect for cycling; we always marvel at how fortunate we are in this regard. As we have noticed on this whole trip, the corn crop this dry summer just isn’t what it should be; some farmers had already cleared their fields of the poorly-yielding stalks.
About 25 miles into the morning we found ourselves at the western terminus of the Bugline Trail in the town of Merton. A coffee shop now resides in an old church at the trail’s end, making this a great destination for those wanting a nice 25 mile out-and-back ride from the other end of the trail in Menomonee Falls. Once again we found this trail to be in excellent condition, though it was soon obvious there is much more traffic on this than the Eisenbahn or Wild Goose. We were able to keep a faster pace here too, even with its higher usage; the popularity of the trail has hardened the surface making for less rolling resistance. Though the Bugline isn’t as rural as the Eisenbahn or Wild Goose, it’s amazing how isolated much of the trail feels as it passes through residential areas.
We rode through the town of Sussex before passing the Lannon Quarry, the reason the railroad was built here in the first place. Just over 12 miles after getting on the trail in Merton we reached Menomonee Falls, perfect timing for lunch. Our route home took us right through town on Main Street with several lunch options; we indulged in the buffet at Harvey Moy’s and definitely got our money’s worth! As expected, we had to stop a couple of times on the way out of town to make sure we were headed the right way, but actually quite easily found the Oak Leaf trail along Bradley Road.
Once there we were on familiar turf, taking the Oak Leaf trail to Silver Spring, where we headed east with one more stop in mind before reaching home; we figure we had earned a custard at Kopps! Another 60 mile glorious day ended as we rolled into our own backyard. What a great way to spend a weekend! Now…to figure out which trails to hit next!