Rocketing your bike down a steep hill toward the Elroy-Sparta Trail, you'd swear the morning wind starts blowing stronger. Silos and farmhouses pass in a blur at the edge of the small town of Elroy, where the converted rail-trail begins (60 miles northwest of Madison). You can head out on a multiday adventure, choosing from more than 100 miles of converted rail-trails that vary in length and difficulty. Some cyclists start with a daylong pedal over the Elroy-Sparta Trail's 26 miles. Your tires hum past couples pedaling leisurely, as well as moms adjusting tiny helmets. "Great day to ride!" a fellow biker calls. You wave without breaking your stride.
Three old tunnels add chilly mystery to the easygoing ride. Your heart thumps, as you walk your bike through the darkness. Sunshine awaits at the other end. Bikes fill a rack outside Gina's Pies Are Square in Wilton, a small town the bike trail has helped revitalize. After refueling with a sandwich and piece of pie (which isn't square!), you head out, sailing past swaying grasses. Your work ends when cinders give way to pavement. With a warm smile, Olga appears and loads your bike. A comfy bed and breakfast such as the elegant Strawberry Lace Inn in Sparta awaits. Before you hit the trails again the next day, owners Jack and Elsie Ballinger treat you to a bountiful breakfast. But tonight, you burrow beneath linen and down, remembering the words of biker Carol Nussle of Big Rock, Illinois: "What a peaceful place to be!"
Planning Your Trip
For more information about visiting the area: Wisconsin Department of Tourism (800/432-8747) travelwisconsin.com; Elroy-Sparta State Trail Headquarters (608/463-7109) www.elroy-sparta-trail.com; La Crosse River Trail (608/269-4123) www.lacrosseriverstatetrail.org. FEATURED OUTFITTER Speeds Bicycle Shop, Sparta, Wisconsin. (608/269-2315.) www.speedsbike.com.