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The Answer

July 27, 2012

We drive up Interstate 5 from Oregon to the Sabin’s near Seattle often. On the way, we always pass the exit to Onalaska, Washington, and invariably wondered where the name came from. On Wednesday (July 25), as I was riding out of Onalaska, Wisconsin, toward Sparta, searching for the start of the Lacrosse River Trail, there it was-the answer-it means “dwelling together harmoniously” in Aleut.

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After about 20 miles on the Lacrosse trail, which is made of crushed limestone, I spotted the water tower for Sparta. If you look closely, you will see there is a bicycle riding across the face of the tower.

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From Sparta, I continued on another limestone trail, the famous Elroy to Sparta trail.

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It is a rails to trails conversion, and, besides the beautiful countryside, one of the things for which it’s famous is the three spooky old train tunnels along the way. Since I was going “backward” on the trail, I entered Tunnel # 3 first. It is 3800+ feet long and, for a LONG time after entering it, I could see no light at the other end. Water dripped from the ceiling, landing on my head, and I could hear sizable streams of water flowing down either side of the tunnel, forcing me to stay in the center. I had a light on my bike but it simply illuminated the clouds of fine mist swirling up from the tunnel floor, like high beams reflect off the fog. A sign at the cave entrance announced that bikes must be walked through. How anyone could have ridden is beyond me. To complete the picture, this sign was at the entrance to the cave announcing that the bats in the cave must be protected from disease but incidentally making clear that bats would be present.

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I was totally alone inside that tunnel for what seemed like an eternity with just the sounds of running water and my cleats crunching against the gravel. I was happy finally to see the light at the far end.

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The other two tunnels were not as bad as tunnel # 3, although tunnel # 1 also involved a considerable walk in the dark before the exit was visible. Before entering tunnel # 1, I saw these hillsides terraced with corn. I thought it was interesting because, before this, I had seen corn growing on hills but the hills retained there natural configuration. In the US, other than the rice fields in California’s Central Valley, I cannot recall seeing cropland terraced like this.

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This next shot is just to provide an idea of what most of the trail looked like-just a ribbon of crushed limestone without much in the way of uphills or downhills. It was serene but slow, given that my bike did not freewheel at all on the limestone. I had to pedal every inch.

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One Comment
  1. The Sabin's permalink

    Oh creepy. I’m not sure I would be the one walking through – I’d pedal. But then again, I probably wouldn’t have entered at all!! there is a 2 mile tunnel here outside Seattle and I’ve always wanted to take the kids throuhg it. But now, not so sure!! Your ride is beautiful. Someday I need to do that one!

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