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Day 8: Nelson Dewey State Park to Grant River Rec Area, Potosi WI, 25 miles

Lingering in Cassville

After a chilly start to the day, where I was wearing nearly everything I brought, including the rain pants for the first time, not for rain, but for stopping the chill wind, as well as the rain jacket over the synthetic insulation pull-over, and my green wool cycling cap over my SmartWool stocking cap. I rolled out at 10:15 AM, the earliest yet. I had high hopes for the coffee shop I saw in Cassville, and it’s promise of WIFI, as the sign on its door proclaimed in capital letters. When I got there the WIFI sign was still up, right next to the CLOSED sign. Huh? Hours: 10AM – 3PM but only Thu – Sat. D’oh! So much for a second cup of coffee to go with updating the blog. Not feeling like hitting the “Silver Spigot” bar, and the “Town Pump” still looking inhospitable, I sat down on a park bench and perused the Mississippi River Trail guide book. Feeling no better about my options, I saw a street sign for the town library, and set off in hopes of wifi. I thought I must have missed it, as I passed the “downtown” section, then the middle school, then the high school, and was back to just houses. I almost didn’t see it in time, but narrowly avoided having to pull a U-turn. The library had a flimsy looking “wheel-bender” type bike rack, which I avoid like the plague, and cozied up to the wall opposite the book drop. Once inside I found my way to the back, much relieved to find wifi and an open power strip. As I was working one of the women at the front of the library asked behind my back “Is that your bicycle?” to no one in particular. Assuming they must have meant me, I turned around and answered “Yes” as the very confused looking gray-haired man who had sat down in one of the reading chairs facing her continued looking, well, very confused. The loudest four-way library conversation (all at normal speaking volume, not the proscribed library-whisper) I’ve participated in ensued.

As I finished editing and posting blog entries I’d written nights previously, I saw the clock had already slipped towards 1 pm. “So much for getting to Dubuque today” I thought to myself. As I was leaving, the librarian introduced me to a playwright, and I had to go through the whole Frequently Asked Questions list again. (One of these days I’ll follow through on that threat I keep making to myself while grinding up hills to actually write up a FAQ page, so I can just say “that information is on my blog”.) For the record, I claimed my hobby was eating, and I was sampling bacon-cheeseburgers the whole way along the route. Really, though, I think it’s the other way round, and my hobby is bicycle touring. But I digress.

The playwright (I’ve really got to get better about remembering names) mentioned that I was in for a big hill just south of town, and the librarian recommended the infamous “Town Pump” bar & grill as being the best place for lunch in town. I declined, and then changed my mind about 30 seconds after getting outside into the wind. Bacon-cheeseburger it is. Why I got the lousy restaurant coffee when they had $2 Spotted Cow pints on tap is beyond me. I blame the chill north winds on that lapse in judgment. Oh yes, the bacon-cheeseburger? It would have been better without the tomato, lettuce and mayonnaise. But it was still good, better that yesterday’s frozen-food toaster-oven fare next door at the Silver Spigot. The fries were better, too.

After several more cups of bad coffee I finished one more blog post and decided I had lingered long enough, and had to leave soon lest I put down roots in Cassville. Not that it’s a bad sort of small town. Just that I’ll never get where I’m going if I don’t move.

With the stiff north winds I was rolling along at close to 20 miles an hour. For about a mile, till I passed the library again, and reached the hill I’d been warned about. I generally make a point of not stopping part-way up a hill; it’s hard to get started again. This time, however, I was over-heating from the rain jacket, and decided I couldn’t take it any more. From there things settled into the routine: grind up the hill at 4 mph, then fly along at 20 mph on the flats with the wind (I think I even hit 37 mph going down one hill).

Before I knew it I had reached Grant River Rec Area, another Army Corps of Engineers park. This one, however, had free showers as well as $10 camping sites (marked with yellow flags), and to just set up camp on one, then register at the shack between 6 and 9pm.

Cruising through the park, I finally found the cheap sites way in back, between the river on the one side and the train tracks on the other. Fearing both the wind on the river side and the train noise on the other, I finally picked a spot in the middle. I had nearly the entire park to myself; I think I saw only three RV’s parked in the entire place.

Being still quite early, I set up my tent in the daylight, and then perused my Mississippi River Trail guidebook. A gray-haired fellow walking his dogs wandered by, then stopped to talk. His name was John Mest (sp?),  a resident of near-by Potosi. And talk he did. He told stories of famous people he’d met over the years, including  Bob Seger, Madonna, Dick Van Dyke, Alice Cooper, and more. I heard all about  his history in motorcycles, how he ran for town president, was defeated  (unjustly he thought) and how he intends to run again. Meanwhile, the freight trains rumbled by with disturbing regularity. Every half-hour, one northbound, then 30 seconds later a southbound one. Conversation halted out of necessity, and I wondered how much sleep I was going to get that night.

The park ranger, Terry, drove up at one point,  stopped briefly to listen to John’s stories, and asked me to stop by the ranger station before 9pm.

After dark had well and truly fallen, John eventually ran out of steam, and said he looked forward to meeting me again some time.

At the ranger station, Terry just smiled about John’s stories. He extolled the virtues of the Army Corps of Engineers parks, and offered me ACE park brochures for all of the parts of the country I was likely to pass through.

It was a quite night after that. Dinner. Trains. KP. Trains. Watching the stars, the river and the trains. Trains. TRAINS. And did I mention (wait a minute, there’s a train going by) the trains? They slowed down in frequency to about once an hour after dark. Still, somehow, I managed to sleep.

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Day 7: Wyalusing State Park to Nelson Dewey State Park, Cassville WI, 35 miles

After a noisy evening (Wyalusing State Park was quite full, and I think I overheard there was also a Scout Jamboree going on), I was treated to a quiet morning. The new windscreen made a big difference in using the Trangia; I think I may be able to make due with it now.

Leaving Wyalusing behind meant I was now striking out on my own into new territory. The first thing I did was notice the almost complete lack of traffic on the shoulder-less county roads. And the hills were back. Given my left Achilles tendon was sore I dwadled along, in no hurry and trying to soak in everything. At one point I rounded a curve, passing a gravel  road, and began climbing an endless hill on County Road A. Two miles in and still only half-way up, I turned on the GPS out of boredom and discovered I’d already climbed 200 feet. And discovered the GPS recommended the gravel road at the bottom of the hill, Dugway Road. With reckless abandon (not even consulting the guide book), I pulled a U-turn and sped back down in a fraction of the time I’d been climbing. It seems the GPS didn’t consider how Dugway Road was one-lane, frequently steeper than Cty Rd A, and often loose.

Squirrel Hollow Road Campground

On the up-side, it was incredibly scenic, and I discovered a hidden campground off Squirrel Hollow Road between County Roads V and Vv. For the bargin price of $5/night, it offered a pavillion with two picnic tables, three fire pits, electricity AND a one-hole outhouse.

Nelson Dewey State Park

Returning to the Great River Road with County Road Vv, I eventually came to Nelson Dewey State Park in Cassville, WI. Consulting the guide book, it seemed like this was probably the best camping around. I’ve learned to love Wisconsin’s State Parks, as they tend to be clean, quiet and quite scenic. The price one pays for that is more than the nominal $14 for a non-electric site, it’s the near-universal (so-far) tendency to put the campsites at 400 feet elevation above the park entrance. Nelson Dewey was no exception. But the views from the walk-in site on the side of the bluff were well worth the climb.

Mountain; Bike.


The sunset was equally beautiful. And the skies were the darkest I’ve seen in a very long time; the Milky Way was clearly visible. I saw at least a half-dozen satellites, and one shooting star.

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Day 6: Blackhawk Rec Area, De Soto WI – Wyalusing SP, Bagley WI, 50 miles

A Blustery Day

In addition to getting quite cold, yesterday’s wind neglected to calm down overnight. I’ve been wondering why it takes me so long to get going in the mornings; today I realized I spent 90 minutes trying to boil a little less than a quart of water for morning coffee and oatmeal. Having worked as a software engineer for 12 years, I’m sadly used to waiting around in the hope SOMETHING will happen, be it the meeting end, the compile fininsh without errors, or some test run to completion. Very glad I picked up the lighter because this morning I used it repeatedly in the cold until both thumbs wouldn’t grip; they’re still sore tonight. I decided I either had to get a windscreen in place for the trangia stove, or I had to take Lanny up on his offer of sending me his old, unused MSR Whisperlite. Salvation by mail would be at least at week off, pending my deciding where I will be in 10 – 14 days so that something could be mailed via “USPS General Delivery”. That left me with having to buy a windscreen or the materials to make one out of.
Eventually the stove warmed up enough that I made coffee and oatmeal, and even attempted to fry some bacon. By the time I rolled out of Blackhawk at the crack of 11:30, I was chilled to the bone, and my hands were barely working. It was cold enough that I didn’t care I had forgotten to get change for the pay showers; I wouldn’t have taken one even if it was free.

Fortunately I had found my cool-weather cycling cap, the one with the ear flaps, so I didn’t have to suffer through the day with a headache.

Once I was on the road, and away from the wide open river, everthing became much more pleasant: the gale-force winds subsided to merely stupifying, the temperatures soared to almost pleasant, and I settled into the day’s routine of climbing hills, the likes of which I hadn’t seen since I left Red Wing several days before.

I passed the Great River Road House restaurant in De Soto about noon, and briefly considered stopping for lunch even though I wasn’t hungry yet. I decided to take my chances with the next town, Ferryville, and rolled on. The next town almost let me down. I passed two bars that both had crowds of pickup trucks and were assummedly full of hunters. As I came to the edge of town I passed a non-descript bar that wasn’t crowded and bore the sign “LAST STOP”, so I did.  The menu proclaimed hamburgers in 4, 8 and 12 oz sizes, and I almost ordered the latter till I remembered a pound was only 16 oz; 3/4 pound of beef seemed like the quintessential gut-bomb to ruin the day. Exercising self restraint, I went for the half-pounder, with bacon and cheese (of course). And onion rings. Chased by coffee. And apple pie. Because *that* isn’t a gut bomb, It’s Just Lunch. The onion rings were excellent. The bacon-cheeseburger was simple yet met expectations. The pie was sadly lacking. I still ate the whole works.

I rode on to Prairie du Chien, stopping at the Cabella’s in hopes of finding an answer to my stove problems. No luck. I continued into town, looking for the Prairie Peddler bike shop. It’s on the corner of Blackhawk Ave & Prairie Street, GPS coordinates N 43 deg 03.088′, W 091 deg 08.887′. Sadly Marty, the owner, had taped a sign on the door stating family matters had called him back to Minnesota today. While I was trying to find directions to Wyalusing State Park, a white haired gentleman with a cane (and an attractive young brunette who could have been his grand-daughter) came up to me and asked where I was from, where was I going, and is that how people pack for long distance bike tours now? Turns out he had done four trips from Alaska to South America, at one point having had his tent stolen by “banditos” so he learned to pack much more lightly. He said he finally had to quit bicycle touring when he had his knee replaced; he could still ride but walking was now very difficult. Any time I asked a question he acted light he was in a hurry to leave, so I never got his name. I can only imagine at the stories he could have told.

The coffee shop next door to Prairie Peddler had closed at 3pm, so I headed for the grocery store on the south end of town, scoring another pint of 91% isopropyl and a pair of heavy-duty aluminum foil “oven liners.”

Wyalusing State Park

Riding towards Wyalusing State Park, County Road C curves to the right and then proceeds to climb 400 feet in one mile, an 8% slope. It climbs another 120 feet over the next mile, topping out at 1180 feet. The climb into the park itself is feels steeper, but is not nearly as long nor as high.

Windscreen for Trangia Stove

The first order of business, (after checking in, setting up the tent, and stringing up the line for hanging the food bags of course) was constructing a wind screen for the stove. As luck would have it this campsite was almost windless, a welcome change from the rest of the day, although the wind did gust up a little, generally I think the windscreen makes a big improvement, especially considering how it contains the heat around the pot.

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Day 5: Perrot State Park, Trempealeau WI to Black Hawk Rec Area, De Soto WI, 55 miles

A Day of Suffering

The day got off to an inauspicious start when Shaun & Julie’s dog “Maya” died overnight, and they went to a vet in the morning. Having just lost one of my dogs that way back in April, my heart goes out to them.

It was Cold this morning: 48F. Naturally the campfire wouldn’t light.

I misplaced my green wool cold-weather (has ear flaps) cycling cap,
the three of us looked all over for it, finally found it this evening in tent.

Without the green cap riding was unpleasant because my ears hurt from the cold.

I took the Great River Trail from Perrot State Park all the way in to La Crosse, where I ventured into town for lunch, and got lost. Finally finding my way to People’s Food Coop, where they not only have an excellent selection of groceries, they also have an awesome deli counter. And WIFI.  I stocked up on groceries and hit the deli counter for lunch: a bbq chicken cordon bleu pannini with potato salad.

Feeling pressed for time before sunset because of getting lost in La Crosse, I didn’t stop at much of anything. (Having painfully cold ears didn’t help.) I got to Black Hawk ACE park about 5 (an hour before sunset); but found the registration shack closed for the season, so I had to go back to general store for change and forgot to get quarters for shower.

Very windy, had a lot of trouble with stove. Had a hard time learning how to use a (butane?) cigarette lighter, but finally got it to light. Seems to work best about 2/3 full of fuel (using rubbing alcohol, isopropl, 70%) without riser. I’m thinking an additional wind screen would help.

I also learned to love baby wipes: they’ll clean anything, not just dirty bottoms, without soap & water! This really helps with cleaning up sooty & greasy pots.

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Tour Day 4: Merrick State Park, Fountain City WI to Perrot State Park, Trempealeau WI. 26 miles

It was a good day.

I finally braved the sprinkles about 7:30AM. Merrick State Park Ranger Ron stopped by while I was cooking breakfast. He looked and sounded just like my Uncle Dave, but 60 years old and fit as a fiddle. He told me how he had just built his own house last year “while he was still young enough to do so.  He also recommended checking out Brone’s bike shop in Fountain City.

Brone's Bike Shop

When I got there I finally changed out the front tube that had gone flat on me three days in a row.

I crossed river to Winona for lunch & groceries; the bridge had a good shoulder. At Jefferson’s Pub I ordered the “World’s Best BLT” (1/2 pound of bacon) & side of cornbread, both recommended by friends and both melt-in-your-mouth good, but a little small for this monster appetite.

Jefferson's Pub "Worlds Best BLT" and cornbread.

I then rode on to Perrot State Park where my friends Shaun & Julie had invited me to camp at their site, treated me to beer and then dinner @ Trempealeau Hotel. I had the hotel’s special walnut burger. The band “Sons of Biscuit’ played mostly Beatles tunes, but we couldn’t get in to see them, only hear them from bar area.

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Tour Day 3: Frontenac State Park – Merrick State Park, Fountain City WI, 54 miles

Today was the stuff adventures are made of.

Camp at Frontenac State Park

After a leisurely breakfast of “expired” bacon (I should have been suspicious when the Marathon station only had one package, but I didn’t notice the “best by 9/15/2011” till this morning), fried potatoes and oatmeal, where I managed to not quite burn down the picnic table, I checked out the showers (highly recommended) and rolled south. In Lake City I stopped at Chickadee Cafe for a pulled pork sandwich and apple bread pudding, a la mode. The sandwich was ok, albeit small; the bread pudding was excellent.

Apple Bread Pudding A La Mode at Chickadee Cafe, Lake City MN

Then it proceeded to rain intermittently for the rest of the day.

Merrick State Park, Fountain City WI

After 54 miles of wet headwinds & hills I made it to Merrick State Park, after hours, where a sign at the self registration station informed me the showers would be shut off at 9 am on October 12th. Oh well. Then I proceeded ride through the entire campground in search of the $14 campsite I had paid for. The entire North loop was electric only (read=more expensive). The South loop seemed to be either the more expensive “island” campsites or table-less. As the sun finally fell below the horizon, I gave up, turned around and set up at the first site with a table.

Cooking diner in the dark I discovered my Trangia alcohol stove is still not behaving, but I didn’t manage to get pics of any of the fireballs. I also made the really stupid mistake of unscrewing the cap from my fuel bottle and taking a big swig. Fortunately I realized the taste was wrong and spit it out before swallowing it. If I show up blind or eyebrow-less next time you see me you’ll know why. :-)

The sounds of wildlife, the water and the falling leaves made it strangely hard to sleep. Fortunately, trying to post via “swype” on my touchscreen phone was exhausting enough to remedy that.

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Tour Day 2: Cottage Grove – Frontenac State Park, 55 miles

I rolled out at the crack of 10, give or take 35 minutes. I strongly suspected I’d forgotten something important, but was too choked up after photos with my folks to think about going back. It was quickly forgotten as I got out of the residential neighborhoods and into the cornfields that still (barely) surrounded the suburb.

Prescott, WI

Not long after that I reached Prescott, scoped out its downtown and grudgingly settled on Subway for lunch, even though I wasn’t hungry. Suitably fortified, I rolled south on Wisconsin state highway 35, recalling how I was retracing the route of my first century ride, just two years ago. I almost passed the Great River Road visitor center, without stopping, but I’m glad I did because I met my first fellow touring cyclists on this tour.

Steve and Penny were riding a coupled Rodriguez tandem, pulling Bob trailer and on the final day of their 36 day long Great Lakes Gambol.

Steve and Penny

I didn’t longer at the visitor center like I wanted to because two of my best friends, Jim & Lanny, had “coincidentally” chosen to take their Brompton folding bicycles to Red Wing via Amtrak, and there was a chance I could meet up with them if I showed up early enough.

The day was unseasonably warm, borne by the strong South winds, and the route quite hilly. “Sunburns and headwinds and hills, oh my” kept going through my head, incessantly. I made Red Wing about 3pm, and found a text indicating they were at a park less than a mile away. While I was puzzling how to get there, they showed up at the coffee shop I had stopped in front of. After hauling my heavily laden touring bike up countless hills into the unceasing headwinds I was exhausted; I can’t think of a better ending than enjoying a cup of coffee with these two friends, brothers I never had.

Lanny & Jimat Frontenac State Park

Having time to spare, they went one better, and rode all the way to Frontenac State Park with me.

Frontenac State Park featured 6 cart-in campsites for $12 a night, a welcome reprieve from the $20/night space in the RV park like main campground.

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Tour Day 1: Minneapolis – Cottage Grove, MN

This morning began all-too-early; after getting only four hours sleep on move-out-Friday, my friends Lanny and DeAnn then hosted a fantastic going-away party till late into last night. We pushed the launch-party brunch at Aster Cafe back 45 minutes and then enjoyed a leisurely ride through the glorious sunshine, late-summer-temperatures, and falling leaves, arriving a stylish 15 minutes late. Kevin and Bob had already secured a table for us on the patio, and we marveled at the unbelievably-good-for-October weather we’d been blessed with. DeAnn left early for a yoga-class, and her seat was shortly thereafter taken when Jim showed up, all three kids in tow. All too soon brunch was over, people were leaving and Jim offered me a hand. Momentarily speechless, I shook it.

What I’d been only dreaming of for 22 years had suddenly come to pass: not only had the open-ended tour begun, I couldn’t even thank him for the huge role he’d played in making today reality. (For those of you keeping up via the RSS feed, please take a moment to check the full site for the side-bars, including the donation button.)

We rode down East River Road towards St. Paul. At Lake Street Lanny and Bob peeled off, leaving Kevin and I to ride on. At Kevin’s house Kevin refilled my water bottles, we said our good-byes, and I was riding solo.

riding solo

The ride was thankfully uneventful, just my 110 pound bike and I seemingly alone in the world. I switched to polarized sunglasses and marveled at the way the colors switched to eye-popping intensity.

Downtown St. Paul

Downtown St. Paul came and went. My thoughts turned from my old home and friends in Minneapolis to the mighty Mississippi River, and the unknown ahead.

Mississippi River Trail sign

I saw my first Mississippi River Trail (MRT) sign, just before the first in a series of climbs along the way to my folks house in Cottage Grove. The trail along side US Highway 61 was frequently covered in fallen leaves, reminding me the August-like temperatures were but a temporary aberration.

At long last I reached my folks’ house, exhausted from the cumulative effects of insufficient sleep, sweat-drenched from the exertion of motivating 250 pounds of man and machine 37 miles, all while trying to ignore my growling stomach; brunch having become but a distant memory.

Following a much-needed snack, shower and dry clothes, my sisters showed up for one last meal together. When siblings re-unite they frequently seem to revert to a child-like state, and I found myself getting annoyed at their rambling stories and inappropriate behavior. Then I caught myself: the whole point of this tour was meeting other people, seeing how they lived, and accepting them as they are without judging them for being “different” from my pre-conceived notions. Naturally the evening came to an end all-too-soon; even though *I* may have time enough for lingering, most everyone else is still caught up in the rat-race, in the parlance of our times.

The evening wound down with much necessary screwing around: introducing my folks to skype, installing Linux (UNR) on my brand-spankin’-new-(referbished) Asus EEE PC1015PE netbook, and sorting out through boxes of stuff my folks had hauled from my house for storage.

While I may not know what lies ahead, I do know it will be an adventure.

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Aster Cafe at 10:45AM

The 10AM meetup at Aster Cafe has slipped back to 10:45AM. Sorry for the late notice; it was quite the party last night.

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Every New Beginning is Some Other New Beginning’s End


The open-ended tour begins now. Today Minneapolis, tomorrow the world.

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