emJay’s 60th Birthday Celebration Ride
– gettting ready . . .

Oh how time flies . . .  from  shopping mall beauty pageant winner, to bathing beauty, to horse wrangler to a beautiful senior in high school with all of life’s  big adventures in front of her.

. . . and before you know it, emJay turns 60 years old!!!

I have missed so many of her birthdays because of bike trips, the only way she could guarantee I would be around for her 60th was for her to schedule a bike ride together. So it will be!!!

I’ve ridden home to Minneapolis from Madison, for Mother’s Day, several times and always thought it was a great ride along the Mississippi. especially along the Wisconsin side. With her limited remaining 2018 vacation time (oh yeah, she is still working)  it seemed like the perfect, end to end trip!

We will leave Madison and arrive in Minneapolis six days later. Much of the riding will be on state trails, from Reedsburg to north of LaCrosse.

But first there are the logistics. This will be credit card camping with overnights in Baraboo, Elroy, LaCrosse, Alma and Hastings.  All the hotel reservations have been made . . . but since it is one way riding how do we get back?

Easy . . .

First, I will drive her Honda CRV, along with Connie Cannondale,  to my sister Roxanne’s home in Maple Grove. (can’t take the Chevy Volt because, well  . . .  go here for the sad story)

Then, Roxanne will give me a ride to the AMTRAK station in St. Paul, drop Connie and me off on the platform and return to her home with the CRV where it will rest for a week. I will train to Columbus . . .

. . . where I will ‘detrain’ and ride Connie home to Madison.

Good thing I am retired!!!!

UPDATE:

Part A and C of the pre-trip logistics went smooth, Part B, not so much.

I had a smooth ride to MPLS and although the city is experiencing MAJOR traffic issues due to summertime road construction, by leaving MSN at 4:00pm I sailed into Mpls around 8:30pm with NO traffic issues!!!

A sound sleep at Roxanne’s was interrupted at 4:57 AM. I then remember one of the problems with train travel, when I received the first of many texts that would come in during the day from AMTRAK, stating the Empire builder was delayed. It’s regular time to leave St. Paul, 8:00am,  was continually pushed back during the day until 1:33pm, which I presume is when it finally arrived.

Roxanne was all set to take me to the depot at 6:15am (lots of construction going on in the metro area and we had NO WAY of knowing how long it would take to get there)  So we left at 6:15am and I would just hang out at the depot until the train arrive, at that time supposedly 10:40am AND she would get to work on time. Good thing I went down there early, because although it was not mentioned in their text’s, AMTRAK had buses line up to drive us rail riders to our destinations.

One left at 8:00am with all those going to Chicago, the end of the line. The bus I was on only had 7 people that were going to various stations between St Paul and Milwaukee, including Columbus my stop.

The new depot is a thing of beauty and Connie ‘The Clydesdale’ Cannondale, my trusty steed, had a hard time finding anything to nibble . . .

 . . . soon she was tucked into her own stall . . .

 . . . and had a nice six hour nap before we galloped from Columbus to MSN.

The bus stopped at all the regular Empire Builder train stops along the way picking up or letting off folks.

We drove though Hastings, LaCrosse, Tomah, and the Dells passing by one of the hotels we will stay at on the ride (NO camping on this trip!)

We eventually arrive in Columbus at 2:33pm, only 30 minutes later that the train would have arrived. And, in fact we would have beat the  ‘train time’ but when we got to Tomah, 37 minutes earlier than expected, we had to wait until ‘train time’ (the time the AMTRAK would have left Tomah) before we could leave!!!

It was a BEAUTIFUL day for riding and I was soon the the road riding Connie Cannondale down the highway. Forty-four miles later I rolled up to our front door. A half hour later emJay arrived back from her conference in Iowa.

Life is good . . . and it is time to pack!!!

 

Day 1 MSN–Baraboo, 45 miles

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And we are off! We left at 8:45 to avoid some of the day’s heat.

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Here we are, smoochie and smoochette, heading off on a big adventure.

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Our first noteworthy experience was crossing temporary waterways that were flooding the trail, thanks to four inches of rain the night before!

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EmJay noticed some critters needing help…

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…Pollywogs that were being flushed across the bike path due to the rushing waters.

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Rick found these folks at Rosa Park rehearsing for a parade!

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Thank goodness the sign was not flashing today. Onward to Merrimac!

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EmJay is proudly “flying the TNC flag” today!

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We met up with Laura and Heidi of Madison who were training for The Great Divide ride later this summer. Rick, Heidi and Laura compared notes on Ortlieb packs, camping gear, and cross country epic trips!

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One of the themes of this trip is: what should Rick give MJ for her birthday? This is a good option: a pork shaped food wagon!!

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Hmmmm… $6000 Or Best Offer. Rick has some thinking to do! What is a pig-shaped trailer really worth?!  MJ loves pork SO much….

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As biking up a hill on the Lodi Springfield Road, who should we run into but 3 people Rick biked across Big Bend with in April! David and Jane live in Austin TX and David has strong ties to Wisconsin. Tommy G is a local riding buddy of Rick’s. Small world!

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EmJay can’t resist horses! Here is to Milly the Horse from Newton Iowa who has long since passed over the Rainbow Bridge. Horse Number 2 looks a bit like Milly!

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But Horse Number 4 and MJ hit it off. Add Horse Number 4 to MJ’s potential birthday gift list. Let’s see…Pig Food Trailer; Buckskin horse that likes to kiss!

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Hot and just a bit tired (MJ at least), we arrived at the Merrimac Ferry.

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Bikes and their people get to clamber on first!

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The WoHus enjoy the ferry ride.

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The nice Schoep’s Ice Cream Man serves up a yummy Bear Tracks cone….

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….which immediately melted in the 94 degree temperature!

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Here we are at the Ice Age Trail lot…

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Where you can see the tremendous geological history of the area. Ancient mountain range laid down by Pre-Cambrian seas; river valley that carved through the range gets plugged on either end by the last glaciation, just a mere 10,000 years ago! It all comes together at Devil’s Lake.

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Holy Cow it was hot! Over 110 degrees reflecting off the black asphalt!!

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MJ needed some extra R and R. So we clowned around at the wonderful Circus World Museum in Baraboo.

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This is a lovely Ringling family mansion in Baraboo that is now a B and B.

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In the Old Home Stretch, we found a Culver’s… MJ was so ecstatic that she broke her rule of Only One Custard Per Day.

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Surprising, eh?!

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We met Stella and her people, who also love a nice custard!

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Just down the road we checked into our “credit card campsite” for the night….

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MJ was EXHAUSTED!!  By the end of the ride, we had ascended 2342.5 feet. And we had supposedly burned 2869 calories!

So we ambled down the street to Fratelli’s restaurant. Where Rick enjoyed a nice ‘tini!

And EmJay did some serious carbo-loading. Please note the broccoli!

All those burned calories justified sharing a yummy Mocha Panacota. Delicious! Served with locally grown strawberries.

Kathy, the hostess, is the owner’s mother and was very welcoming. Olivia was our server and took care of our every need with a smile. Pam, the homemade pasta- and dessert-maker was too busy in the back to join us! And once we left the air-conditioned comfort of Fratelli’s to walk back to the motel, it was still 84 outside! Yikes.

Day 2, Baraboo – Elroy, 40 miles

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Here we go, Day Two.  A key to successful long distance touring is carbo-loading. And the Baraboo Best Western did not disappoint! Scrambled eggs, sausage, English muffins….

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…oatmeal, waffles…. all the calories one could want!

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We left promptly at 9:00 after the rains ended; two inches fell overnight! We rode up Old Hwy 12 through a construction zone that was not bike-friendly!

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We then rode a lovely stretch toward Reedsburg, along North Reedsburg Road. Past historic farms…

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…with prairie natives like this spiderwort blooming in the ditches.

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emJay stops to admire the no-till soybean field (camera wouldn’t focus because of her magnetic personality!!!)

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And after 14 miles of riding, we were in downtown Reedsburg, looking for a bakery! We couldn’t find one so  we settled for donuts and long johns at the Kwik Trip.

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Beautiful historic homes along the main drag.

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….as well as a puzzling mural.  Where are they hauling these giant ice blocks?

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And why is there a hatchet on the pole atop the time capsule? Rick was told the hatchet was in homage to  the woodsmen who squared up the timbers into rectangular shapes. Of course!!

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Where but in Wisconsin do we advertise the cheapest markups allowed by state statute? Let’s buy some more beer, then!!

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The Reedsburg Chamber of Commerce staffs the trail headquarters owned by the WI DNR. This is the trail head for the 400 Trail. What’s in a name? It took 400 minutes to travel from Minneapolis to Chicago, back in the Day. Beverly was welcoming and answered all our questions.

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EmJay shows off her new 400 Trail T shirt!

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Reedsburg business is venting and burning off excess natural gas. But why?!

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Here is a biker’s oasis along the trail. Friendly! And lots of tricycles on display too.

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Baby robin displaced by all the rain last night. S/he sat very still as we checked him/her out. Nature notes: riding across Wisconsin is as much about what you hear as what you see. Yesterday on the Lodi-Springfield Road, and today, lots of dickcissels, eastern meadowlarks, towhees….Lots of singing, especially in the mornings.

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MJ rides across one of many wooden bridges over the Baraboo River and its tributaries.

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As we rode into Wonewoc, we wondered why a trail station would be closed for the season in June. There was an adjacent horse trail, so maybe the horsies are done until later in the season…due to the deerflies! See below.

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Along the trail we saw several areas where turtle nests had been disturbed. Snacking raccoons or coyotes? We hope we are wrong and that everyone hatched and went on to live happy turtle lives. The painted turtle can live to be 55!

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Bucolic biking.

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We stopped in LaValle which used to look like this! The bluffs are completely forested today.

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We were pestered continually today by deerflies. See the 4 or 5 on MJ’s shirt! They enjoyed biting us through our shorts, gloves and shirts.

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We stopped in tiny Union Center and shared a sandwich.

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Across the street was a chapel….

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with a year-around, 24/7, round-the-clock vigil. Hey, who is on for 4:00?!

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Shhh. Vigil at work.

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You don’t say. Where is Tommy today?

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Here is our new home, the Trail Gate B and B. Up a very steep hill!

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Our cozy room, the Steeple View….

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And this is our view.

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All the local restaurants are closed on Mondays. So innkeeper Debra will make her famous “the Works” pizza if you make arrangements. Only for Trails Gate guests!

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Deelicious!

Day 3, Elroy – LaCrosse, 60 miles

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MJ girds her loins for a BIG day…with artichoke frittata and rhubarb crisp served up by hostess Debra.

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Deb and her little Yorkie Pickles waved goodbye as we rode down the hill from the Trail’s Gate Inn.

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Wet but scenic was the theme for the day. We headed out in a drizzle which lasted several hours.

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What is this all about!? Made us think of our friend Gail!

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One of many bridge crossings, over the Baraboo, Kickapoo and La Crosse rivers today.

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Our first trail town was Kendall, with a historic depot. The trails are on old railroad right of ways.

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Parts of southwest Wisconsin have large Amish populations. Don’t scare the horses!

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EmJay alerts Rick to one of many “widow-makers” across the trail, caused by the recent storms. Rick nearly hit one near Tunnel Campground…which would have ended our trip. Luckily he listened to Wifey when she said “Tree!!! Tree down!”

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The Elroy-Sparta bike trail runs 32 miles and is famous for its three tunnels. Tunnel #1!

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Crossing over County M near Wilton. You can see the wet condition of the trail.

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Friendly welcome station in Wilton!

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Yech! And we are doing this for fun?! MJ’s bike is not a touring bike, and has no fenders. And it shows!

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Oh my!

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MJ pauses by a little waterfall just before Tunnel #2.

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Every town needs to be famous for something!

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We saw a big red DNR pickup truck coming down the trail, and we greeted Ranger Jane and had a big chat. She was out checking the trail conditions after the rain and storms. Turns out Ranger Jane got her conservation start in Wisconsin as an intern with The Nature Conservancy in the early 1980s! She had worked with Emily Earley, John and Olive Thomson, Donald Kindschi, Lori Otto and other legendary volunteer conservation leaders. Jane was a little shy and didn’t want to be photographed, but she happily photographed us!

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These tunnels are DARK, and wet! You need a light to get through. In one side…

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…and out the other!

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Here is some of the fine Driftless Area sandstone that is now being mined for fracking operations.

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You can see how soft it is and how it lends itself to defacing and graffiti.

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Here we are crossing over Interstate 90 near Sparta.

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YeeHaw! This marks the end of our first trail today.

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MJ’s bike is very gritty and dirty. Tough cookie!

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Happy sigh. The day has improved; MJ has removed her “shower cap” over the helmet to keep her head dry. No more rain! On either side of Sparta there were native prairie remnants along the trail. She’s admiring one of her favorite plants, the hoary puccoon.

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Here they are up close. Also lots of spiderwort, baptisia, milkweeds. And dickcissels again!

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Here is a quiz for you. Name the plant! Latin or common names accepted.

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One of the big joys of a trip like this is meeting other “through-riders.” We had a lovely chat with Jennifer and Becky from Milwaukee. They had trained to St. Paul and were taking a week to bike back to Milwaukee, essentially on the same route we are taking. So we compared notes on track conditions, gear, places to eat. They have a great WordPress site here: Life at 15 mph

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We are now on the La Crosse River trail. There are 4 connected trails that we will ride, making up a total of 101 trail miles. Here is a preserved metal truss bridge over the La Crosse River.

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And at last! We have completed 60 miles for MJ’s 60th, and we arrive at the Stoney Creek Inn in Onalaska, WI.

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We piled up our dirty gear to take to our room. And hey! They are giving us a suite because it is MJ’s birthday!

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The highly coveted Trail’s End Room. Do you see a theme? Trail’s Gate B and B? And now this? What lies ahead?!

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Roomy, all amenities, and with a combo “western and up north” flair in the décor.

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We celebrate the day down the road at the Texas Roadhouse restaurant.

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Can’t get away from the land trust thing! MVC does a nice job in the La Crosse area. There was a hiking trail behind the hotel.

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We are located on a hillside, overlooking the vast wetlands and riverbottom we just biked through!

Day 4, Onalaska – Alma, 55 miles

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Every riding day starts with a full breakfast! This one, thanks to the Stoney Brook Hotel.

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It’s hard to believe that emJay can fit all this into two panniers!

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She kisses the Stoney Brook moose goodbye….

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And we leave the La Crosse River trail, and ride off on the Great River trail heading north along the Mississippi on the Wisconsin side (of course!). All totaled, we have ridden 101 miles on Wisconsin state trails. They are all crushed limestone surfaces; note for later entry….

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We stop at the lovely trail head at Onalaska and enjoyed all it had to offer, including a great view of the river valley.

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MJ took in the cultural music exhibit….live concert below!

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The views of America’s greatest river are truly spectacular.

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We saw several places where food and other amenities were available after a short walk up the bluff!

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We biked past lovely managed and restored prairies.

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Native wild rose.

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Remember the crushed limestone surface? We rode on long parts with little exposed crushed gravel. Instead, soil and organic debris that were wet and slippery covered much of the path. And emJay’s zippy road bike spun out on her! See details below.

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MJ picked up this mellow turtle to examine his/her patterns.

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And yes, there were more trees across the trail. And did we tell you it rained lightly for several hours today? Some trees were just toppling over due to the saturated soils.

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Many great concepts originate in Wisconsin, including the Great River Road which now runs through multiples states.

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We were very excited to arrive in Trempealeau, not only because of Catfish Days…

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…but also because we were hankering for walnut burgers at the Trempealeau Hotel. But it was not to be, due to limited hours mid-week. Very sad, hugely sad.

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But we managed to make do at the cozy River Café a few blocks up the street. Burgers and cheesecake! Yum!

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Joyful to be in Trempealeau and Perrot State Park! Note soil stains on left shoulder from big fall.

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We learned about the Prairie Loop…

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Then had a delightful ride through it. As long as you didn’t stop to let the deerflies find you!

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Butterfly Milkweed.

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And now we are done-done-completely done with gravel trails!

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Cycled past beautiful farmsteads.

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We are now in the magnificent bluff country of the Mississippi, where you  can imagine ancient rivers stretching from bluff to bluff, Minnesota to Wisconsin, setting the stage for the great floodplains and backwaters of today.

 

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Thanks to a tip from the guys at Broane’s Bikeshop in Fountain City, we meandered off of busy Highway 35 and into rural roads along the floodplains and river. And we stopped to admire this beautiful field of wheat!

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Buffalo City offered scenery and character, like these two Vikings Rick found!

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Home sweet home! We arrived at our inn at 5:00.

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We set about enjoying our cozy room and nice clean bathroom…and did I tell you, a wonderful shower?! That is all you want at the end of a long day biking.

Day 5, Alma, WI – Hastings, MN, 68 miles

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The morning view of the Blue Door Inn.

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Alma has character: nice shops with clever displays like this crow with beads.

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and these shoe planters….

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…and this bench at the Alma Hotel in memory of Henry Schultz.

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Back in the homey kitchen at the Blue Door, we enjoyed homemade muffins, fresh orange juice….

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and had the roomy table all to ourselves! There were 8 others at the inn, but we got first pick of muffins, which meant rhubarb!

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Inn owner Cathy makes a mean quiche.

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And we are off! We hope that today, this barn is the only thing falling down.

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Today we will wind through numerous small Wisconsin towns along America’s Byway on Highway 35.

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And it is bluff country!

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On a bike, you cannot overlook the impacts that humans and our machines and fast pace have on nature.

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Wisconsin has so much water–beautiful rivers and sloughs. Here we are along the Tiffany Wildlife Area. We are greeted by wafts of scents: elderberries; common milkweed; basswood trees in bloom.

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And the water is high!

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Here EmJay stops to admire the mighty Chippewa River.

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Is it art? A fawn that now rests in peace.

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We rolled through Pepin, near the birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

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And past the home of the family that either had lots of kids, or owned a ski shop….?

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Happily, many towns have held onto their old depots, like this one in Pepin.

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MJ is happy to see that the Pepin Park we enjoyed was funded in part by the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a great federal program funded by offshore oil drilling fees (note, no taxes) to buy conservation land and do park projects like this.

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As we cruised out of Pepin, things began to change.

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And suddenly we were in Italy at a lovely fountain in a public courtyard!

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It was a little surreal! No one was there. Wine tasting starts at 3:00!

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In Stockholm, population 66, we stopped at an old stone building.

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EmJay visited here back in the 1980s when she lived in St, Paul, Today it is a Swedish gift shop, selling dishtowels for $30. It is expensive to live in a small town!

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Little villages like Stockholm draw an artsy crowd. And sometimes, after a big night, the creative juices go wild and the cars get painted!

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Approaching yet another bluff…

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Maiden Rock, where the story says a young Indian woman protested her arranged marriage by…jumping.

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We learned that Lake Pepin is a natural lake, caused when the smaller and steeper flow of the Chippewa River into the Miss created a significant delta.

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Ugh…then we had hills! Here MJ tops one of the big ones. Highway 35 meanders away from the river a few places, and that means hills.

The beautiful indigo bunting, whose “sweet, sweet, chew chew chew” happy calls have made us feel good all along our ride.

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Our last Wisconsin town, Prescott!

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We visited the very nice Great River Visitor’s Center, with fun art!

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And then, we began the worst part of our trip to date, along Highways 61 and 10 through Hastings, MN.

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This is part of the Mississippi River Trail, a biking trail from Itasca, the source, to New Orleans, the mouth!

Day 6, Hastings – Maple Grove, 60 miles

 

Oh, yeah, forgot to add these from last night: after our biggest ride yet, we had a great dinner to celebrate. MJ started out with a raspberry cosmo…

…and ended with a yummy chocolate lava cake.

After a restful night at the Astoria Motel in Hastings, we biked down Vermilion Avenue to Emily’s Bakery and Deli for breakfast.

Downtown Hastings.

The very handsome Dakota County Courthouse.

What!?! We are going up that hill already?

Partway up the big hill we entered into the Recreation Area.

We rolled along past houses, farms and pumpkin fields!

We pedaled through Cottage Grove….

…where Rick surprised MJ with this shiny red Corvette, to match her bike and panniers!

Still very rural as we entered St. Paul Park.

Just $10k for 37 Willies! Maybe this is better than the red Corvette?!

Soon we could see the St. Paul skyline ahead, including the Basilica to the left.

The trails left a bit to be desired. With the help of another biker, we hoisted our bikes over a concrete barrier about a mile back. Now we understand why it was blocked. Three quarters of the trail had collapsed!

But things got better as we neared downtown St. Paul. There was a lovely bike trail along the river.

A local cyclist urged us to try the food truck at the City House, a restored grain elevator right on the river.

Friendly staff served us a Cubano sandwich and a walleye bowl!

 

 

Then we cycled northwestward along the Mississippi parkway, getting this glimpse of downtown Minneapolis. Biked past MJ’s old haunts from when she lived in St. Paul…35 years ago!


Then we began yet another series of adventures. While the trails are wonderful, the signage stinks! Nowhere were we warned about the high waters. Check out MJ’s big adventure!


Oh, now they tell us, now that we are soaked with river water!!

Then we came to a place where the river completely blended into the shore and covered the trail with even deeper water. Thank goodness the trail was clearly blocked! We had to turn around and bike up the steep hill to the main trail.

Ford Dam near Highland Park neighborhood of St. Paul.

Rush hour traffic begins by 3:00 on Friday!

This is the bridge that Rick crossed daily from the East to West Bank Campus of UM during his formative years!

The Weisman Art Museum, on the UM Campus, was built by renowned architect Frank Gehry.  And Rick just loved the stainless steel look!

Here we are at The Nature Conservancy office in Minneapolis, conveniently located on the bike trail and next to the river!

The TNC team from MN-ND-SD shows off their strength with MJ!

Then outside we catch up with colleague Matt, who was just leaving for his 7 mile commute home.

This is a vibrant part of the city, with old warehouses and flour mills being rehabbed and restored. And lots of groovy urban dwellings going up everywhere!

The scenic old stone arch bridge.

And thankfully it is almost time for a Grain Belt Beer!!

Here we are at Sunny and Phil’s recent residence…

And now we are at their new residence just a half a mile away!

Woo hoo! Trip complete! It’s great to be here!

Stay tuned for final thoughts and reflections . . .

Final Thoughts:

After our six days of riding, and the 325 miles we covered, we took time to rest, relax, and enjoy time with family and friends in the Twin Cities. (And to nurse sore knees and achy but strong quads!)

We enjoyed a wonderful dinner al fresco with MJ’s BFF Lynn, and her friend Tony, in St. Paul. It was Lynn’s birthday too so the party continued.

Then on our last night, Rick and his family celebrated MJ’s birthday with a backyard picnic! Four little people under the age of four entertained us with their antics.

We had yummy appetizers, a great dinner, thoughtful gifts, and lots of family fun.

They know me well — I received an oak leaf tray!

MJ felt well-loved.

And even had a cake decorated with a bicycle!!

And then, for the final icing on the cake, Rick and MJ had breakfast with Becky and Rob in Stillwater –in a bike-themed coffee shop to boot — before crossing the Cheddar Curtain back into Wisconsin. MJ and Rob have worked together for 20+ years and it was great to see him and Becky in their home territory.

Reflections by MJ:

50 miles a day is my sweet spot for ride length.

We heard more dickcissels in Wisconsin and Minnesota than I expected.

The ride’s ubiquitous bird was the indigo bunting.

Through-riding is a lovely way to contemplate life.  Sights, scents, and sounds triggered memories of specific people and experiences that have touched me. I thought back to college-era time spent in Costa Rica; of conservation leaders in Wisconsin who have been part of my life; of my parents and grandparents.

I am fortunate and blessed to have a wonderful husband….who was delighted that I never complained! He was a thoughtful and fun riding partner.

You have to eat a lot if you ride 69 miles in a day. Holy cow we ate a lot of food!

Here’s to my mother and father, who 60 years ago were surprised to learn that their newborn was a girl, after having three little boys (who are my wonderful big brothers!).

May the ride continue!

Reflections by RW:

When we do end up on the same bike trip, I usually do the photo part and emJay handles the text or story line. That’s the way we did it on this trip and it worked great!!!

I didn’t take this photo . . .

. . . but I did ‘tweak’ it a bit!!!

I have been on a LOT of bikes trips through the years but this was the best of them all!!!

Not because of the scenery, not because of an exotic locale, not because of ‘interesting’ foreign food, not because of exquisite lodging and not because of exciting cycling  . . .

. . . but because of the six days my Smoochie  and I spent together, just the two of us, cycling through time, and our own little world, as we passed through Wisconsin and Minnesota, but it could have been anywhere in the world!  I can’t remember the last time we took a vacation together. . . just the two of us!!! It was fantastic to spend this quality time with the most important person in my life.

There will come a time when she retires and we can do this sort of thing for as long as we want and where ever we want . . . just the two of us.

I’m counting the days until then . . .