Sometimes a trip down Memory Lane involves two wheels.
This was the case when I made my way to Waukesha County to tackle the Lake Country Recreation Trail, a 15-mile paved multi-use trail that runs from Pewaukee to Oconomowoc.
I grew up in Pewaukee, but I had never ridden the Lake Country Trail until recently, nearly 10 years removed from living there. As a teenager, there's nothing more embarrassing than expressing an interest in anything, much less your hometown.
But just as I've come to appreciate that my parents actually are usually right, so too have I come to appreciate everything my small hometown was and is. And there was no better reminder than a pedal on one of its premier trails.
The Lake Country Trail follows an old railroad line for most of its route, and because of that is relatively flat, save for a section in the middle where the rolling Kettle Moraine challenged my weak winter legs and lungs.
First built in 1994, the trail has seen large improvements over the past 15 years, perhaps an excuse for why I hadn't ridden it until recently. Major extensions were added in 2008 and 2009, and by 2011 the entire 15 miles was paved. The route is well-maintained and great for a spring ride, when limestone and dirt trails can be too wet for bike travel.
Setting out from the eastern trailhead at the Landsberg Center just off Golf Road, I began my pedal into the past. Within a hundred yards I passed the Country Springs Hotel. Looking up I spotted the balcony where a few years ago I spent a warm September Saturday morning in a bridesmaid dress folding programs for my brother's wedding.
The first signs of spring — frogs croaking, geese honking, robins and red-winged blackbirds zipping overhead — dotted the trail as I breezed past swaths of cattails and patches of woods. Power lines straddled the trail at reliable intervals; the trail is also a right-of-way for the Wisconsin Electric Power Co.
I crossed County Highway G, a road that leads into the heart of Pewaukee and toward the campus where I spent all 13 of my precollege school years. A road my friend once drove in her mom's minivan with a full pizza box on top. It survived, and so did we.
I continued pedaling west, the sun behind me and my past ahead. At Prospect Ave. I followed the trail south past St. Anthony on the Lake, where more than half of my friends were confirmed and a few were later married.
The trail turned west again and followed the northern edge of Western Lakes Golf Club, where, if you were lucky, you got a summer job and made enough to pay for custard at Bubba's and a few games of late-night bowling at Lakeview Lanes (rest in peace, divey little bowling alley). It was also the first (and last) course I golfed with my dad. He still golfs there once in a while; for the sake of innocent bystanders and vehicles, I'm retired.
Past the course I finally caught a glimpse of the lake to my right. As I reached the top of a hill, I paused to take in the view. This western section of Pewaukee Lake is officially in the Town of Delafield, but growing up it was all ours.
Everybody seemed to know somebody who lived on the lake or owned something that floated. It was where we spent Fridays after class and long, lazy summer days, blasting mix CDs and complaining about whatever trivial things teenagers have to complain about in a suburb where people can afford things that float. It was where my high school boyfriend tried to teach me to sail and where my friends and I celebrated high school graduation by jumping in during a downpour. It was simultaneously a source of smiles and sighs, one of the state's best spots for nabbing a musky and also continuously plagued by algae and dangerous E. coli levels. We had a typical love-hate relationship with that lake, but it made our small corner of the world feel just a bit bigger.
I huffed and puffed my way up a beast of a hill by Naga-Waukee Golf Course and cruised down the other side toward Highway 83, where big-box stores and fast-food places dominated the landscape and broke the back-in-time spell.
The trail extends west another 9 miles, through Delafield and into Oconomowoc. But Highway 83 was the turnaround point for me that day. To the west was a different past: Madison and the University of Wisconsin, full of its own triumphs and tragedies and enough memories to fill more than a few columns.
Trail notes: The trail parallels I-94 for most of its route, and a distant hum of traffic is audible, but not bothersome, in some parts. While most of the trail is off-road, a few sections follow or cross city streets.
At Cushing Park Road in Delafield, a trail connector links the Lake Country Trail with the 52-mile Glacial Drumlin State Trail that runs from Waukesha to Cottage Grove. The trail is paved for the first 13 miles from Waukesha to Dousman. While the Lake Country Trail is free to ride, those 16 and older will need a state trail pass ($25/annual, $5/daily) to bike the Glacial Drumlin.
While you're there: Stop by Water Street Brewery, 3191 Golf Road in Delafield, for a refreshing pint of Bavarian Weiss and classic brew pub fare including burgers, sandwiches and salads.
Pewaukee's Park Avenue Pizza, 121 Park Ave., is a local favorite for pizza (of course), but also serves a great Friday fish fry.
Have your burgers, fries and custard delivered carside by rollerskate-wearing carhops at The Kiltie Drive-In, N48 W36154 Wisconsin Ave., just off Highway 16 in Oconomowoc. The drive-in has been around over 60 years and is open through mid-September.
Getting there: The Landsberg Center trailhead is on Golf Road just east of County Highway G in Pewaukee, about 20 miles west of Milwaukee via I-94.
More information: For more on the Lake Country Recreation Trail, see waukeshacountyparks.com.
Updated: April 11, 2016
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