There is a county in Wisconsin said to be so wondrous that a 19th century traveling preacher once claimed he had found the “Garden of Eden.” Today, many claim Trempealeau County a Garden of Eden for bicyclists as well. Stories in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and recently in Bicycling Magazine painted a picture so lovely that as Laura and I planned our June journey, we decided to include rides in the mystical county that sounded so beguiling. It all seemed too good to be true.
The reality? No, Trempealeau County was not the Garden of Eden in the true Biblical sense. However, this west-central county surely was a place of beauty and did not disappoint us on two days of riding portions of the 487 miles of paved back roads in this one county. Turns out we owe it all to a bunch of dairy cows.
Wisconsin cows produce more dairy product than all but those happy cows from California you see on TV ads. The milk these Heartland cows produce requires a gentle ride. While our usual riding spots of Topeka and Lawrence include many miles of gravel roads, in Wisconsin pavement covers those same back roads for smoothness to ease milk to market. For cyclists, that does make the county a Garden of Eden.
Now, if this really is some sort of Garden of Eden, there has to be an Eve running around tempting man with these luscious ripe riding roads. Sure enough, we found her. Her name is Linda Mossman. With her family, she runs the Oak Park Inn in Whitehall, the epicenter of cycling in the county. From her beautifully kept main house that serves as the bed and breakfast’s dining area, there are other small buildings that house quaint rooms spread amongst many comfortable outdoor seating areas. Just a relaxing time at the Inn would be a pleasant enough vacation, but Mossman is one of the driving forces behind the growing cycling community.
Even though we were camping in the northern part of the county, we drove to Whitehall to begin one day of our rides. We thankfully decided to go to the source. Mossman greeted us and in minutes produced the map you see of all 17 loops that details the length and difficulty of each loop. That was only the beginning. Once we determined which loops we would tackle, Mossman began printing out even more detailed maps with “Ques” for distance and direction before each turn. All this, and we were not staying at her Inn. “I couldn’t let you two get lost out there,” she responded with a big smile. Mossman even opened a room for us to change into our cycling kit and demanded that we park our car on the property during our ride.
Mossman discussed the rules of the road when it came to getting help. Amazingly, there is not a bike shop in Whitehall, but trail stewards have yard signs identifying their willingness to help. These include the many Amish families in the area. She also marked good way stops and locations of water on the routes. Of course, as any good Wisconsinite should, Mossman marked all the good ice cream stops on our routes. They really do love their ice cream in Wisconsin.
We rode two complete loops with a stop for a real frosty mugged root beer after the first loop. The roads were not pristine, but were still a far cry from Kansas gravel. On our first loop we saw only one car and a brown UPS truck that passed us again and again after each of its stops to deliver a package. The driver even joked with us about his constant passing disturbing our ride as he would pull into the next farm road and then come flying by again. Our second loop was not as traffic free, but all the drivers seemed more than willing to give us a wide berth.
This allowed us to ride two-up and worry-free as we enjoyed the beautiful Wisconsin scenery. The state prides itself for its dairy, but there are corn fields everywhere. Never have we seen so many rich shades of green spread over the rolling Wisconsin countryside. No wonder the Green Bay Packers NFL football team wear uniforms of green and yellow gold. The green of the lush crops and the yellow of corn kernels made viewing enjoyable all along the loops. Even a ride the day before, away from one of the marked loops, was quiet and peaceful. Our pace was brisk, but we never felt rushed. Every mile was a joy shared side-by-side.
When we returned, other riders sat in one of the many shaded seating areas enjoying beer and conversation. When one rider heard what loops we rode said, “Boy, you two look worn out from all the climbing. Guess you are not in Kansas anymore, huh Toto?”
Oh, I was so thankful to be in such a good mood from the ride because I truly grow weary of those worn Oz lines. The fact is that the rolling hills of eastern Kansas take a bigger bite out of us on long rides than the mostly gentle climbs we faced in Wisconsin. We found the hills in the county a refreshing break from what were many flat miles.
Our hope is to return again for more rides. Six cycling series events spread throughout the spring, summer and fall help spread the word about the joys of riding Trempealeau County. While the three-day Tour of Trempealeau County in September is the biggest, we really would enjoy the early October Galesville’s Apple Affair Bike Tour.
How sweet would it be to ride in a county rich with fall foliage and enjoy stops at apple orchards spread throughout the tour? Biting into one of the apples would not be tasting a forbidden fruit, either. It would just be a very sweet part of a ride in what might be a true cycling paradise.