Sparta, Wisconsin

Sparta bills itself as the bicycling capital of America. It sits at the end of the Elroy-Sparta Trail, considered to be the oldest rail-trail in the country. The community actively promotes four trails in the immediate area: Elroy-Sparta (of course), the Great River State Trail, the LaCrosse River Trail and the "400" State Trail. Collectively, these provide over 100 miles of trails.

As the main road passes through the town there is a park with a welcome kiosk. The focal point is a sculpture of a man riding a penny-father bike. This is known as Ben Bikin'. The downtown is a couple of blocks from the main road.

One of the attractions in the downtown is the Deke Slayton Space & Bicycle Museum. This quirky museum is mostly a collection of mid 20th century bikes with a couple older models and some astronaut memorabilia thrown in. Street signs in the town include a penny-father bike logo. Smaller versions of the Ben Bikin' sculpture are in front of several businesses in the town.

Sparta is just another small town without a lot to offer. Their embrace of bicycling does however elevate it to a sort of pilgrimage status for dedicated cyclists. If you are a devoted cyclist and are anywhere near western Wisconsin, stop by Sparta and allow yourself enough time to try some of the trails.

Mickelson Trail

The Mickelson Trail is a TrailLink Hall of Fame trail located in southwest South Dakota. Bicycling magizine has named the Mickelson to its top 10 list of the Best Long Rail Trails in the US. This trail runs about 109 miles through the Black Hills. I rode it as part of a guided tour starting in Edgemont and ending in Deadwood over a period of five days. This trail is in close proximity to several attractions that you should consider including if you decide to travel to ride this trail. These include: Mammoth Dig, Wind Caves National Park, Crazy Horse Memorial (right on the trail), Mount Rushmore, and the town of Deadwood.

My tour was facilitated by Bicycle Adventures, my third time with this company. There were two guides, Carrie and Renee along with eleven of us guests. Carrie and Renee would alternate days riding with us while the other drove the van ahead to meet us a few miles along the trail. This gave us a chance to refill water, shed clothing and grab a snack. At the designated lunch stop a feast of a picnic lunch was presented; my kind of bike ride. Everyone was very friendly and just plain fun to be with. It was so nice to go for an entire week without a single mention of politics. Since many of the places along the trail have limited cell service, most of the week was free of depressing news also.

The trail itself is crushed stone and is generally in great shape. It is well marked with just a few road crossings, mostly on lightly traveled roads or driveways. Since it is a rail-trail, the grade is less than 4%. The trail includes four tunnels but these are short enough that a light is not required. Most of the trail is between 4000 to 6000 feet elevation. I found it more challenging than the mileage would indicate, perhaps due to the elevation.

The trail requires a pass that costs $4/day or $15/year. You can find additional information about the trail here.

Day 1
We started the trail with a 33 mile ride from Edgemont to Pringle. This included a picnic lunch at the Minnekahta Trail Head at MM 16. This day's riding was all climbing with a 2000' elevation gain.

A video of this segment may be viewed here: Day 1

Day 2
On the second day we toured the Mammoth Dig and Wind Caves National Park prior to riding. The ride picked up where we left off in Pringle and continued to Stockade Lake in Custer. This is about 16 miles with an 800' gain. The first 9+ miles is steady climbing and the remainder is mostly downhill.

A video of this segment may be viewed here: Day 2

Day 3
The third day started with a 7 mile climb of 1100' out of Custer to the Crazy Horse Memorial. After a tour of the memorial and a quick lunch it was an easy downhill for about 9 miles to Hill City.

A video of this segment may be viewed here: Day 3

Day X
The group had a planned rest day at Sylvan Lake Lodge. I opted for an 8 mile hike to the top of Black Elk Peak. With 1400' feet of climbing to an elevation of 7200'+ it was not exactly a rest day. Later in the afternooon we toured Mount Rushmore.

Day 4
The fourth day of riding was a 23 mile ride from Hill City to Rochford. This included 1300' elevation gain for the day. We started with an 8 mile climb followed by another 8 miles of descent. The last 7 mile was another climb.

A video of this segment may be viewed here: Day 4

Day 5
The fifth day of riding was our last on the Mickelson. Starting from Rochford, where we left off, it was a 12 mile climb, gaining 1300' followed by a wonderfull 13 mile descent into Deadwood to finish the trail.

A video of this segment may be viewed here: Day 5