Silhouettes of bicyclists captured my attention as I entered a wooded area of the Oak Leaf Trail in suburban Milwaukee. When my eyes adjusted to the darkness of the shade, I could see a group of 20 to 30 young men on BMX bikes. As I slowed, I heard a call, “Biker coming through.”
The BMX crowd cleared enough space for me to coast through the gathering in a wide spot along the path, maybe 10 feet of asphalt pavement on either side of the trail. I had slowed almost to a stop when I saw a rider approaching a homemade bar and two standards. As he became airborne, he somehow pulled the bike frame toward his midsection, and amazingly jumped over the bar on his bike.
“What are we at, 36 inches?” a call shot out. “Thirty-five” was the response. I grabbed a spot at the end of the line of riders that hugged the sides of the clearing, and watched as another cyclist rode toward the high jump. With an approach of no more than 30 feet, and without the benefit of a ramp to increase his speed, he cleared the bar without knocking it from the standards.
I grinned and nodded at the riders in line. “Righties, you’re up,” the young man who seemed in charge of the event called out. As the BMX bikes shuffled into position for the next phase of the competition, I pedaled away. There was more to see down the path.
It was Sunday afternoon, and I was exploring the Oak Leaf Trail. The 100-plus mile trail encircles Milwaukee County, and was largely unknown to me until that day. I hooked up with the trail in Greenfield Park and headed southeast toward Hales Corners. It was my first serious ride on the trail.
Construction is closing sections of my usual rides along the Glacial Drumlin Trail and the New Berlin Recreation Trail, so I was searching for new riding experiences. A Friday evening conversation with a friend, spurred my interest in the Oak Leaf Trail. I poked around the trail on Saturday, and was determined to explore it at length on Sunday.
The section of the Oak Leaf Trail that I rode winds along the Root River Parkway, through woods, wetlands, open fields, parks, under freeways, and intersects busy city streets.
I had never traveled more than a couple of miles along the trail, so it was all new to me. Besides the BMX high jump, I also passed by a disc golf course and a group in a park playing Capture the Flag with Nerf guns.
Curious to see what was around the next bend, I rode more than 30 miles that afternoon. When I had crossed enough highways, and passed through enough Y-intersections that I became concerned that I might not be able to find my way back, I turned around to retrace my path and experience the wonder of a newly discovered trail all over again.
After winding my way through Greenfield Park, I was back in familiar territory. The New Berlin Recreation Trail was wider and straighter than much of the path that I had followed earlier, so I was able to ride a bit faster. But it wasn’t nearly as interesting as the new trail. I knew that I’d be back to pick up the path, and it would be soon.