Sunday, April 01, 2018

The Touring Series: The Bastard Trail

A Guitar Ted Productions series
 "The Touring Series". This series is a re-posting of a story I told here on this blog in 2008. The story is about what I named the "Beg, Borrow, and Bastard Tour". This was a fully loaded, self-supported bicycle tour from just Northeast of Waterloo, Iowa starting in a little village named Dewar and the goal was to get to Sault Ste. Marie, Canada in one week's time. The plan called for us to be picked up there and taken home by car.

  As mentioned, cameras, smart phones, and the like did not exist for us in 1994, so images will be few. There are some though, and I will sprinkle those in when they are relevant.
Welcome to

Today we take a look at "The Beg, Borrow, and Bastard Tour" as it rolls out of Minnesota and into La Crosse, Wisconsin, over a narrow bridge on the Mississippi River........

This was a very unsettling atmosphere to be flung into after miles of hard riding. Fortunately Steve pulled off to the side and we conferenced. I thought there was a tourist information booth nearby the bridge, so it was agreed that we should turn back and look for it. We didn't find it and essentially we went in a circle. Then after another stop we just bailed off the busy road onto an eastward leading side street.

After coming across a local convenience store and getting some directions to a local bike shop, we were off again. There we found out how to connect up to the La Crosse River Trail. That was our plan in the morning, but that seemed ages ago now. We had planned on going the length of that trail which ended in Sparta Wisconsin. After that point, we had no idea where we would be going.

After getting the directions to the La Crosse River Trail, and after I had repeated these directions umpteen million times to Steve until he was satisfied that he knew where we were going, we were off again. Troy was no help at all. He was too busy being confused! After a short bit, Troy and I spotted a Taco Bell. Yes! It had been some time since a major refueling, so we made the best of it. 

A map of the La Crosse River Trail
 Troy and Steve took advantage of the stop by taking their tents out and spreading them out to dry in the brisk wind. Troy also checked his "laundry". During the whole trip, Troy always had some article of clothing in the wind as we rode along. He would clip the clothing to his exposed brake cables, or his rear rack via wooden clothes pins. A rather domestic touch, wouldn't you agree?

After appetites had been satisfied and tents dried, we were off once again. We passed a New Orleans Saints pre-season training camp just up the road. Many people lined the chain link fences gazing at these "gods of the gridiron". Troy took this opportunity to yell, "Go Bears!" The ninny! He doesn't even like the Bears!

Our bike friendly directions led us up onto a sidewalk which took us right to the trail head. It also kept us out of all the heavy traffic. I was glad to leave the manic city behind me for the peacefulness of a bike trail. I soon changed my mind about this feeling for the trail though. I even changed my mind about hills!

This trail was as straight as an arrow, and having been a former rail line, it was also very flat. This was a formula for endless pedaling, boredom, and sore butts! Compounding matters was the lateness of the hour which did not allow for any dawdling. It was getting towards evening and we wanted to get to Sparta before dark. We did make one stop, to allow for Steve to go to the bathroom. In the meantime, Troy and I sprawled on the grass and watched the puffy white clouds sail over our heads.

We cursed the bastard trail, we cursed the poor cheese eating bastards of Wisconsin. We attached the word "bastard" to everything imaginable, including each other. Then a remarkable thing happened.

Maybe it was too many long miles on a bike. Maybe we were going insane. But, we all reach a point now and then when we laugh for the sheer joy of laughing. The point where laughter breeds more laughter. Like a chain reaction. A chain reaction of nuclear laughter! Well, we had a good belly bust right there in the grass. I think that is where the tour finally got its name for good. "The Beg, Borrow, and Bastard Tour" was now an official moniker. This was arguably one of the funnest, most free moments of my life up to that time.

Once back onto the trail the fun was soon forgotten. The endless ribbon of trail was brutal and relentless. We passed by the towns of West Salem, Bangor, and Rockland. Still we pedaled on. Somewhere along the way the conversation died out as each of us reached inside to find something to take our minds off the misery. Troy was leading, Steve was second wheel, and I followed. The only noise was the wind and Steve's radio. Suddenly, I was shaken out of my trail induced stupor by sudden movements by Troy and Steve. I came to just in time to see something go under my wheels...CRUNCH! "What was that?!!", I exclaimed. Everybody came to a halt.

This ended up being a really stressful day for me. The bridge, La Crosse's crazy afternoon traffic, and then the boredom of the trail. The "belly laugh" we had was really one of the most liberated times I have ever experienced in my life up to now. Something I'll never forget.

The rest of that trail was utterly forgettable. (Apologies to those who love it.) This trail fomented my distaste for "rail trails". To this day pedaling endlessly drives me nuts. But part of that was pedaling a heavy, fully loaded touring bike at an average speed of 13mph or perhaps higher, which is what Troy liked to do. Fully loaded "race touring" isn't a thing, but you'd have thought so if you had been on this tour!

Next: Hippies And Vagabonds

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