Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Trials and Tribulations on a Trail (Day 36-39)

I got up around 9am and strolled the 2-3 miles to downtown Mauston, arriving at the McDonald's just as the rain started coming down. The McDonald's there was one of the biggest and busiest ones I've ever seen. The parking lot alone was the size of a Walmart. By the time I was finished downing my three McDoubles and filling up my bottles with iced tea, rain had stopped and was replaced with glorious sunshine, so I headed back onto the road. Before leaving town, I passed the local Middle School where a long line of 13-15-year-olds were practicing their marching band routine. They were a bit muddled and out-of-tune, but provided a good soundtrack for my strut down State Road 82.

I spent the rest of the day walking along windy roads through the Wisconsin ranges, which is composed mostly of a metamorphic rock left behind from the Ice Age. As night swooped over the interlocking land of ridges and valleys, I reached the outskirts of the town of Elroy, WI. This was a significant milepost. From there on in, I'd be on nothing but off-road trails... all the way to the Minnesota border.

The next morning, I woke up to cold, heavy thunderstorms that swept over the land like a gigantic Eskimo car wash (if there is such a thing). I fortunately had the foresight to camp near a large gazebo, to which I quickly ran under to use as cover. Knowing that scattered showers were expected for the entire day, I dashed back into town during a short dry spell and hid in the Elroy library, waiting patiently for an opportune time to venture out onto the trail. According to the radar map, a big band of rain clouds were heading our way from the west, but it looked like they might skirt up to the north and miss us completely. I looked up into the questionable sky and decided to take a chance and head down the Elroy-Sparta Rail Trail.

It was 6 miles to the next town of Kendall and I figured I could walk it in about an hour and half to two hours. Unfortunately, it was around mile 4 that I got hit with a vicious downpour. Basically, every single part of my body got drenched. Slosh formed in my shoes, solid waterfalls emerged down the arch of my back, and every piece of clothing stuck to my skin so close, it felt like they were painted on. But as awful and unfortunate of a moment in hiking as it was, I still managed to keep my sense of humor and laugh it off. (Man, this walking is bringing out the best in me!)

By the time I reached Kendall, the precipitation had stopped, but the sun remained hidden behind the predominate clouds in the sky, so any attempt to dry out my soaked items was pretty much futile. So, resolved that I wouldn't be wearing any dry and comfortable wardrobe, I bought a fist-full of Tabasco-flavored Slim Jims at the local mart and hoped that their spicy boldness would warm my soul. (The Slim Jim is the number 1 brand of meat sticks in my book, and they got that intense flavor and snap that I love! Regrettably, they did not help dry out my shoes or clothing.)

The next day, more scattered showers were in the forecast, but luckily, they ended up skipping our particular area. However, that didn't stop me from constantly staring into the sky, scrutinizing every Cumulus cloud that entered my field of vision, and gasping with dreaded anticipation every time I thought I felt a raindrop. So, even though we had a dry day, it didn't stop me from being in constant panic-mode. However, I did still manage to find occasional moments of relaxation as I trotted down the serene trail.

The best thing about the E-S trail (besides giving me a break from the loud, speeding cars) is that it is on an old RR bed, so it has a nice low grade; never more than a 2-3 degree incline. Often, I was walking above the general lay of the land on these man-made ridges, or through hillsides that were blasted open, which made for a very picturesque hike. The trail also happens to have three old tunnels on it that shoot through various mountainsides (the last one being almost a mile long). Some friendly kids were at the opposite end of the first tunnel, and they were kind enough to help me find my way through the dark passageway by screaming and hooting and hollering as I stumbled along the path. Gee, kids in the Badger State sure are accommodating.

The next morning, it was only 4 and half miles to the town of Sparta, which not only had a surplus of fast food restaurants to choose from (something lacking in the small towns I was passing through the last three days), but also had the world's largest bicyclist. When I read about it the days leading up to my arrival, I thought the description was slightly off and what they really meant was the world's largest bicycle... but nope... sure enough, it was a gigantic man on top of a bike. And he talked, too! They had a corny 90-second message that kept repeating over and over, telling you all the wonderful sights and attractions you can see while staying in Sparta. The best part was the beginning when he blurted, "Hi there!" and then directed you to gaze up at his face by clarifying, "No, up here!"

From Sparta, I started walking on the La Crosse River trail that took me further west and closer to the Minnesota border. My plan is: once I reach the end of Wisconsin and cross the Mississippi River, I will finally rent a car and complete the retracing of my 2001 walk at 65 MPH.


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