S. St. Paul, MN to Red Wing, MN
Miles: 55 * Avg Speed: 12 * Crashes: 0 * Wildlife: 0 * Hotel with Pool & Spa: (pool only)
If we’d made it to the end of our planned ride yesterday, today would have been about 50 miles. Between stopping a couple of miles short yesterday and today’s adventure…I mean…d’aventure…we ended up at 55.
It wasn’t supposed to rain today, but we woke up to a very overcast sky and a heavy misty feeling in the air. It was as if the sky had post-nasal drip! We didn’t let it worry us too much – and hit the highway. The route looked relatively uncomplicated on the maps for today -so we didn’t worry about routing it in the GPS. We just decided we’d use the maps and our eyeballs to look for the MRT signs.
In a continuing theme, one of the first things we came across was this:
We were using a bike trail and they had it closed off at the intersection. We started to move out to the road, but they stopped doing whatever it was they were doing long enough to motion us through. I thought that was nice of them. The ride was mostly through countryside today. The elevation was rolling hills. There were some hills we had to work a bit to get up -but there was usually a nice down hill on the other side. I was surprised to realize how few pictures I took.
We’d gone more than 10 miles when we saw this large installation of abandoned standing cement walls in a field .
There were at least 3 offset rows deep and each row held at least 20-25 of them, spaced a bit apart. I was quite curious as to what they were for. My first guess was Minnesota’s answer to Stonehenge. The mystery was solved via Google. It turns out that during WWII that area was chosen by the government to build a large gunpowder manufacturing plant for the war effort. The walls were set up as blast barriers to protect the workers as they completed a part of the manufacturing process.
There were not many twists and turns on today’s route -but even so we managed to find ourselves losing the plot along the way. Not long after we saw Stonehenge we arrived at this sign:
I took a quick look at the map pages I’d stuffed in my bike bag and realized that there was a road ahead (just before the actual road closing point) that might work for a do-it-yourself detour. I was afraid that the official one would take us too far off our route and also add miles that we didn’t need.
We arrived at the point three miles ahead:
We were able to connect back to our original highway (the one with the bridge out) just beyond the construction zone and we soon saw an MRT sign with an arrow to the right. We took the turn and went about a mile through a housing development until the road came to a T and yep, no MRT sign. I turned the way I thought we should go and eventually we came to a stop sign at HWY 61 -which I knew was a good sign, but still wasn’t sure where we were in relation to the correct route. We’d skipped our 20 mile break, saying we’d rather stop in Hastings (around the 30-32 mile mark) and have a nice lunch. I thought the route was going to take us right through Hastings. So, when we were standing at the corner of Hwy 61, I figured out we’d somehow gotten to the far south end of Hastings. The only thing we could see was a car dealership and wide open spaces. I used my iPhone to locate the nearest restaurant, which was about 1/4 mile in the opposite direction we needed to go, but we both were hungry and wanting to get off the bikes, so we went for it.
In the restaurant, which was really good by the way, I went over the maps I had with me and tried to figure out where we should start riding after lunch. I’d grabbed several pages out of the stack of maps for this trip – and didn’t realize until I was sitting in the restaurant that the pages I had were routes for both sides of the river! No wonder I kept finding our route on one page and then I’d try to look at the next page to see what was ahead and nothing made sense. I was beginning to wonder what happened to my map skills because I’m normally quite good with maps. Turns out, the way the state had organized the maps -it wasn’t “these 3 pages for the East side” and “those 3 pages for the West side.” They were intermixed in a weird way that made me crazy until I figured it out. I was finally able to sort out where the route was in relation to where we were and it was literally almost outside the restaurant doors. That was a lucky decision we made to eat lunch there.
In the restaurant, Jane asked the waitress how far Red Wing was from there. The waitress wasn’t sure, but someone at the bar piped up and said it was “about 14 miles.” They continued, saying, “It’s a nice ride -all downhill. It should take you about an hour by bike.” I said to Jane, “Don’t forget my story about ‘local knowledge’. From what I’m seeing on the maps and my Googling, I think it’s more like 25 miles!” She was hoping I was wrong. I wasn’t.
The paddlers have a words of wisdom story about ‘local knowledge’. You’ll be going down a river and you know there’s a town ahead -but you don’t know how far exactly. You see a man fishing on the side of the river and say “Hey! How far away is the town?” The man answers, “Oh it’s just around the bend.” Eight or nine bends later you’re landing at the town. Nearly 25 miles later -we were at our hotel.
The last 25 miles between Hastings and Red Wing were a bit tough mentally because we were both hoping it wasn’t as far as it ended up being. The only bright side to that stretch was a solid 2 mile downhill that had us flying and not pedaling at all. It was a great rolling break. I stopped almost to the bottom to wait for Jane and when she rolled up she had the same big smile on her face that she had when I told her I’d booked a massage for her. The last few miles into Red Wing were a bit tough -the wind, which had been almost nonexistent all day, started getting a bit in our faces.
I’ve camped in Red Wing on the river trip and remembered it as a quaint old river town. Red Wing was named after a Native American chief who lived in the area. As you come down the river you know Red Wing is close when you see the huge bluff that towers over the river and town.
It is called Barn Bluff because early French explorers thought its profile resembled the side of a barn. Of course, on the river trip one is limited to how far they’re willing to walk. How funny to see how big Red Wing actually is when arriving by bicycle and pedaling along what seems to be a never-ending outskirts!
It was with great excitement and relief when we saw the sign for our hotel up ahead. After showers and bit of down time, we went to see Barn Bluff.
It is quite a hike to get up to the vantage point. Laura wanted to try and Jane decided to hang back to help her. They sent me on ahead so I could get my pictures. I turned left at a fork in the trail thinking they were within eyesight of me and would follow. They weren’t and they chose to go right. That trail took them to a different part of the hill and they didn’t get quite the same view I did. I managed to find my way to the top and take a few pictures.
I joined the ranks of famous Barn Bluff visitors like Zebulon Pike and Henry David Theroux. I’m glad I did it -but it was quite the hike! After that I decided I’d earned a beer. We stopped for dinner at a place called Liberty’s in the older part of town.
If you’ve ever heard of Red Wing Shoes – this is where they’re from. There is also a unique type of pottery, called Red Wing Stoneware that was made here between 1877 and 1967. The pottery brand was revived in the 1980’s and it is possible to visit the pottery works.
Because of a rainy forecast, we declared the next day a rest day. Jane’s car needed an oil change and her bike needed an adjustment to the derailleur. We ended up driving down-river to Wabasha where the nearest bike shop was located. The bike shop was quite interesting as it was full of old reconditioned bikes and used gear. The owner and his wife were remodeling an old laundry mat and he enjoyed telling us about his plans for the building.
We left there and went a few blocks away to Slippery’s Bar & Grill.
Slippery’s was made famous by the movie Grumpy Old Men. The guy who wrote the original story based it in Wabasha and Slippery’s was a big part of the story. When Hollywood decided to make the movie, they filmed a different bar’s exterior and another different bar’s interior -but still called it Slippery’s in the movie. When you see the real Slippery’s -you wouldn’t even connect it to the movie if you didn’t know about it.
Starting just South of Red Wing and extending 21 miles almost to Wabasha is Lake Pepin -a natural formed lake on the Mississippi. We crossed over the river at Wabasha and drove North to the village of Pepin (located at about the half-way point of the lake) where there is a Laura Ingalls Wilder museum. Laura Ingalls Wilder was born about 7 miles outside of Pepin. I read all of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books when I was a kid -so I thought it might be fun to check out the museum. While it’s true she was born in the area, she didn’t really spend much of her life there. The museum doesn’t have many artifacts directly related to Laura Ingalls Wilder, but they do have a lot of things relating to the era when she was living there. I didn’t know much about her beyond the stories in her book -so it was interesting to see a few facts and photos.
It was time for lunch so I suggested a place I remembered from the river trip called the Pickle Factory -an original name derived from the fact that it is located on the site of an old pickle factory. We had a nice lunch with a nice view.
We drove the 7 miles out into the countryside to see the replica cabin placed on the original site. The little house in the big woods.
As they say on the sign – the big woods are gone – but I did get a real sense of the isolation and distance from the nearest town that the Ingalls family must have experienced.
I enjoyed seeing the cabin. It was amazing how small it was.
Completing a big circle around Lake Pepin, we arrived back in Red Wing in time to visit the pottery works and buy a few things. I got a mug because I’m drinking tea every morning and I’m tired of the tiny cups at the hotels.
We enjoyed looking at all the unique pieces they had in the store. There was A LOT to look at.
Red Wing, MN to Winona, MN
Miles: 64.4 (oops!) * Avg Speed: 12.4 * Crashes: 0 * Wildlife: 0 * Hotel with Pool/Spa: 😦
We woke to a gloomy day. The prediction was for 30% chance of rain so we were a bit worried we might be dealing with weather. It wasn’t the prettiest day, but at least it didn’t rain.
We wove our way out of Red Wing following the MRT route along some back streets. That worked out nicely since Highway 61, the major route through town was having some major reconstruction going on. I took a few pictures on the way out.
Our route today was mostly along Highway 61. We weren’t able to find a hotel at the right distance for us, so we booked one in Winona thinking that we’d do a shuttle when we were at our stopping point. Initial estimates were that we’d ride approximately 50 miles. We weren’t sure exactly how far the hotel was from Red Wing -but the educated guess was about 65-70. While Highway 61 runs more or less directly between the two cities, the MRT map showed that the route veered further afield in several sections. We pretty much decided that we weren’t going to go wandering – that we’d just stick with Hwy 61 today.
There was a sense of deja vu for the 30 miles to Wabasha because we’d driven the route the day before. I told Jane that I almost wish I hadn’t seen it in advance. It was rolling/hilly, but we found that the hills weren’t that tough to climb, but also didn’t provide any fun downhills after. Lots of pretty views along the way.
We usually hadn’t been seeing Laura along our route because her routine was to check out of the hotel and go almost directly to the next one and check in. Before now, she’d had better highways to use than whatever road we were on. Through this area of Minnesota, she needed to use Hwy. 61 just like us. She stopped in Lake City and waited for us to pass – Paparazzi!
One of the MRT twists and turns took us through the back streets of Lake City, which is located on Lake Pepin. It was interesting to see some houses, more lake and to get a break from Hwy. 61.
Our next stop was Wabasha – 30 miles already! When we were at Slippery’s the day before, we had noticed that the MRT passed right by. We told Laura to meet us there today and we sat down for a nice lunch.
Wabasha had several extensive Halloween displays around town.
We hadn’t had a chance to stop for Jane to buy Gatorade by lunchtime and so we asked Laura to find a gas station and pick some up and deliver it down the road when a convenient spot appeared. As we pulled into the small town of Kellogg, Laura was stopped at gas station and we got what we needed from the car. I had had a long sleeved shirt on all morning and was getting too hot as the day warmed up – so I did a quick change to a short-sleeved top in the car. And we were off once again.
Jane had said that she didn’t want to ride much more than 50 today. By our estimates, that would have left us about 12 miles to the hotel. Our plan was to have Laura come get us when we were done and then bring us back to that point the next morning. As I was riding along, it was really bugging me to think that the next day we’d have to ride for an hour just to get to the place we’d woken up that morning. During one of our breaks, Jane and I compromised. She said she could go to about 55 and I said having under 10 to go the next day would make me feel better. The last time we stopped for a quick break right around the 50 mile mark, I told her that at 53 miles I would begin to look for a place where Laura could safely pick us up and that I’d try to find it before the 55 mile mark.
I’m a faster rider than Jane, so she lets me shoot off ahead and do my thing. Every few miles, I pull over and wait for her just so we don’t get too far apart from each other. As usual I was a bit out ahead of Jane when I crested a hill and saw a sign for Lock & Dam #5 …right at the 54.5 mile mark! PERFECT, I thought! I was excited that I found a great stopping place within the agreed distance. There weren’t a lot of places that would have worked along the way. I also thought it was cool because maybe we’d be able to see a barge go through while waiting for Laura to come find us.
So, I decided to cross the road to the entrance to the Lock & Dam, where I stopped to wait for Jane in what I thought was an extremely highly visible spot and almost directly (I thought) in what would be her line of sight as she came over that hill and around a bit of a curve. I saw her come over the hill and thought, “OK, I better call Laura now.” I got Laura on the phone and told her where we were and assumed that by the time I was done with the call that Jane would be crossing the highway to join me. I put my phone back in my pocket and turned to look for Jane and … nothing. WHAT? I was turning in a circle, looking every which way… OH NO! She rode right by! I grabbed my phone and called her about 5 or 6 times, redialing as soon as it went to voice mail… No answer. YIKES! Then, down the road, off in the distance… a red dot… looking quite far away… YIKES! I called Laura and said, “Jane passed me by! When you get out here, get turned around and go stop her! I’ll catch you guys. I gotta ride NOW!”
I got myself back across the highway and hightailed it! It was like I was in the Tour de France time trials. I was hitting 17, 18, 19 mph and riding my guts out (note -those are NOT Tour de France worthy speeds -but I was working hard!) It still took me almost 2 1/2 miles to catch her. Just when I finally had her in my sights and was finally closing in, I could tell she was, at last, stopping to figure out what was going on -as I’d been hoping she would. Boy was she surprised to see me come up from behind her! By then we were at about the 58 mile mark and she had been riding along wondering where the heck I was and getting a bit miffed that I hadn’t stopped as promised. She had even wondered why I didn’t stop at the Lock & Dam! I said – “I bet you were looking everywhere for me except behind you!” Just when I said, “Well now we know that you can’t hear your phone ringing while you’re riding”, her phone rang. She went to get it out of her bike bag and I snarkily said, “Oh, now you can hear it fine!” She looked at it and said, “It’s a missed call from YOU!”
Meanwhile, Laura had taken a wrong turn leaving the hotel and was still working on finding us along the highway. By the time I caught Jane and we’d told each other our stories from the last couple of miles, all we could do was laugh and we agreed: Let’s just finish it since we’re so close now. It wasn’t until we agreed to keep going that Laura showed up and told us we had 5 more miles to go -not 3 as we’d thought. Three…five… whatever. We were too tired to care. But we were also very proud that we’d set a new milage record for the trip!
Categories: South St. Paul to Winona