Sparta Depot, previously a C&NW station, now the Sparta Area Chamber of Commerce
and La Crosse River State Trail
headquarters. The Elroy-Sparta State Trail
also begins/ends here.
I went through all the trouble of acquiring a Real Bike last year, and then I get to the mother of all bike trails---the Elroy-Sparta State Trail in Wisconsin, arguably the very first rails-to-trails conversion in the entire nation and still wildly popular more than four decades later---and find myself surrounded by big-box mountain-style bikes, clunky beach cruisers, adult tricycles, and Trek/Giant/Specialized hybrids just like the one I left at home, all ridden by the kinds of weekend recreational riders (mostly families, of course) that we snobbish year-round urban bike commuter/transportation geeks look upon with such disdain, or at least a certain wariness. Worse, I'm wearing my roadiest roadie outfit, whereas even my boyfriend the Everything Geek is rocking a t-shirt and jeans just like any Normal Person (though I'd like to point out that my
bike, roadied-out cyclocross bike though it may be, is the one with the absurdly fat tires). Soon after taking the above photo I start laughing hysterically and don't stop until about halfway up the I-90 overpass. It's all just so hilariously funny. On top of it all, there are cows everywhere. Everybody knows that cows are always hilariously funny, otherwise nobody would ever go on vacation in Wisconsin.
It turned out that I'd picked a really good motel for our home base. For one thing, they had a dedicated bike shed, which we declined to utilize upon hearing that we were explicitly allowed to bring our bikes into our room anyway, but it was nice to know that they provided secure bike parking for their guests. A bike lane led right from the parking lot entrance to the Sparta Depot, and then on to the park with the welcome center and the gigantic statue riding the gigantic highwheel bicycle. And still we saw car after car with bikes loaded on top or behind roll out of the parking lot and turn toward the depot. We rolled our eyes and harumphed at this phenomenon---silly rec riders, even cycling all of one mile to the trailhead on a dedicated bike lane constructed for that very purpose is beyond them. We joked about riding to Walgreens and blowing everyone's minds (OMG, they're biking
WTF?), but then an old townie on an old mountain bike beat us to it. Maybe, I thought, there's some actual substance to Sparta's ambitious town motto: Bicycling Capital of America. Somebody should inform the city of Portland that a small midwestern railroad town already beat them to it a generation or two ago.