How is it that I lived in Wisconsin for eight years without bicycling on the state's magnificent system of recreational trails?
True, from time to time I have hopped on the state's Capital City Trail, south of town. But the state maintains dozens of trails in addition to the Cap City, more than 1,650 miles of paths that wind through hill and dale, town and country. Many of those miles are paved with crushed limestone gravel, which means they aren't suitable for fast biking or skating. But they are perfect for leisurely pedaling.
Which is precisely what my boyfriend and I did Sunday on the Military Ridge trail, the 40-mile path that connects Fitchburg to Dodgeville by way of Mount Horeb and Blue Mounds. On a whim last week we had successfully biked a portion of the Glacial Drumlin trail, which runs from Cottage Grove to Waukesha. On the strength of that trip, we decided to spend our summer weekends exploring as many of the state trails as we can.
And so we came to Military Ridge. Although the trail has its eastern terminus in Fitchburg, we drove a little further west to park, in the booming suburb of Verona. First we got lost in Verona, of course, but some friendly triathletes-in-training pointed us to the city's Hometown Junction park shelter, on Main Street next to the trail. Parking is there, as well as restrooms and water. We parked, unloaded the bikes and headed west.
Or, more precisely, southwest. From the park, the trail juts through a tunnel underneath Highway 18-151, meanders briefly through some wetlands, then north through another tunnel beneath the highway. Next is the six-mile ride northwest to the town of Riley, but it takes some time to leave the development of Verona behind. The trail goes by homes west of the city, and also Epic Systems Corporation, the software firm whose new campus looms over the path.
But soon we left the sprawl, and also the roar of the highway. We pedaled over grasslands and handsome wooden bridges. On that cloudy morning we weren't the only bicyclists on the trail, but it wasn't particularly busy. The countryside was bursting with life, though, what with the blooming trees and the newly grassy plains. We looked at orioles and geese.At the trail kiosk in town of Riley, a green SUV blocked our path. It had been parked there by a young state-park official, who grinned sheepishly as he stepped in front of us. He welcomed us to the trail, made some small talk, then asked whether we had our trail passes. Indeed we did because last week, at the Glacial Drumlin trailhead in Cottage Grove, we paid the $15 each for our annual passes. He waved us through.
On we went, through woods and farmland. The trail gradually rises as it heads west to Blue Mounds, but it was an easy climb. Somewhere near Klevenville we ate our lunch at a picnic table by the trail. Later we stopped at a boardwalk jutting into a marsh, where a placard told us that the water we were looking at would eventually find its way to the Atlantic Ocean. And we thought we'd made it far to Klevenville.
As we approached Mount Horeb, about 90 minutes into our ride, we saw signs of civilization. We passed backyards, and someone seemed to have planted an asparagus patch by the trail. Finally a handsome sign greeted us: "Velkommen to Mount Horeb."
We decided we had come far enough, so back we went to Verona. We were glad the ride was downhill from there.