Biking to Blue Mounds

Picture of John and Katie.

John discusses the geological history of the region with Katie.

Ever since our bicycle excursion to Devil's Lake last month, my girlfriend Katie and I have been talking about other places we could bike to. We got our chance last weekend when we took a sixty-mile round-trip ride to Blue Mounds State Park with some friends from the Hoofers Outing Club.

We were supposed to leave on Friday morning, but a forecast of all-day thunderstorms caused us to postpone the trip by a day. It was still drizzling when Katie, John, Genya, and I met on Saturday morning, but the rain was a far cry from the torrential downpour that had hit while we were supposed to be on the trail. After navigating through Madison's extensive paved trail network, we left the city and joined the gravel Military Ridge State Trail, which crosses much of southwestern Wisconsin.

By late morning it stopped raining and we were able to shed some layers. Katie and I were covered in mud, which taught us the importance of fenders on bicycles. By the time we got to Mount Horeb, the mud had dried in to a dust that could easily be brushed away.

Starving after having biked twenty miles, we stopped at the Grumpy Troll, a brew pub with an assortment of delicious burgers. Another Dan joined our group at the pub, and we made sure our stomachs were as oiled as our bike chains before leaving.

We had a few more miles to go, but there was a problem: The previous day's storms had felled several large trees across the trail. On at least two occasions, the foliage was large enough to block our entire view of the trail which lay ahead. Glad to have postponed our trip, we blazed new routes through the blockage.

Picture of bike.

My fender-less bike gets a muddy beating.

All of the normal campsites at Blue Mounds State Park were reserved, but they had several sites cordoned as first-come, first-served for walk-ins and cycle tourists (an oft-overlooked advantage of not driving) and most were still free. We set up camp, had a quick nap, and went for a swim in the park's pool (Cost: $2) before returning to camp to cook our dehydrated pasta dinner.

While cooking, it became apparent that we were about to get hit with another thunderstorm, so we retreated to a shelter built by the Boy Scouts near our campsite (Thanks, Boy Scouts!). The rain continued unabated for most of the night, and in lieu of sitting around a campfire, we resorted to entertaining ourselves with silly stories and John's signature Tang-quila Sunrises.

The next morning was sunny, so we dried our gear before packing up and biking to the park's two towers, which overlook large portions of southern Wisconsin. Afterward, we had a fun ride down the large hill back to the park's entrance which brought back memories of the Death Road in Bolivia, though scaled down by about 1000 times.

“Let's have a contest to see how far we can go without pedaling,” the other Dan said to us before we went down the final hill out of the park.

“Sure,” we all agreed. It started innocently enough, with each of us building our speeds up to about 35 MPH as we neared an intersection before slowing down to a sane velocity. I took the corner onto the Military Ridge Trail as fast as I could without wiping out and rolled another 400 yards before stopping.

I won the contest and waited for Dan, but he didn't show up. Turned out he had blown a tire and was in the process of changing it. With painstaking attention to detail, he squeezed his spare tube underneath the tire, but as he blew it up with his fancy CO2 cartridge, the presta valve broke off and the tire deflated with a hiss. The original tube was so pockmarked, patching it did no good, so he rode the last few miles to Mount Horeb on his rim, which was oblong to begin with and likely the source of the flat tire. It happened to be the perfect opportunity for Dan to invite his parents to dinner and drive him home, so all was well.

Despite the inclement weather and flat tires, this was another fun weekend of cycling. My next longish trip might be to Governor Dodge State Park, which is another fourteen miles past Blue Mounds, in a combination biking/climbing weekend. Biking gives you low-impact exercise and it's fast enough to not be boring, yet slow enough that you actually take in your environment during your journey. If you haven't tried it yet, what's stopping you?

More photos from the weekend

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